The conclusion

15 10 2008

Well, not a definitive one… I thought it would be worth writing a quick follow up on my seminar.

It’s been an interesting and intense introduction to writing for an audience that may know less about the topic then me (my classmates) and, simultaneously, much more (the online manga fandom community). I struggled with the tone a bit because I was intimidated by the idea that I was setting myself up as some sort of authority on the subject. I have my own predilections and biases and struggle with my inability to read Japanese out of context… Not much of an authority, really.

I would like to know more about manga as both creative and corporate industry in Japan and it’s history as well as the growth and convolutions of both Japanese and worldwide fandom (and fandom is by nature intense and complex, isn’t it?). Most academic writing I’ve found focuses on fandom in the United States but what about the relationship and hybridity, for example, between la bande dessinée and manga in France? It’s a bit of a challenge to talk about manga rigorously and lucidly but still convey the fun, energy and genius of the medium.

As for my classmates, I think many of them were pleasantly surprised to discover that shojo and shonen are not the only manga genres out there. I spent a bit of time talking about the basic aesthetics. It’s easy for me to forget how manga looks to the unacclimatized eye.

For the library geeks – Eva made a great comment based on my survey of a selection of 5 titles and their inclusion in the collections of four large public libraries. Was how they had been integrated in to each library’s collections and if the way they were cataloged an indication of how they were perceived and selected?

Vancouver Public Library had current and complete series of volumes of Nodame Cantabile, Nana and Suppli. Nodame Cantabile has been cataloged with a “YA FIC” call number and added to the “Young Adult Graphic” collections while Nana and Suppli were both given a “FIC” call number and placed in the “Adult Graphic and “Popular Reading Graphic” collections.

Toronto Public Library had current and complete volumes of Nana, Nodame Cantabile and Paradise Kiss and all were in the “Teen Graphic Books” collections with a “FICTION” call number.

New York Public Library didn’t have very comprehensive series coverage for any of these titles. Nana only seems to go up to v.6, Nodame Cantabile has a curious holdings gap between v.2 and v.14 and only v. 2 of Paradise Kiss is in the catalogue. Nana was included in both the “YA Graphic Novel” and “Graphic Novel” collections under the call number “GN FIC Y” and Nodame Cantabile was also in the “YA Graphic Novel” collection but with the call number “GN FIC N”. The single volume of Paradise Kiss was in the “Pop General Fiction” collection with the call number “GN FIC Y”.

Los Angeles Public Library has the greatest number of the titles from this survey in their collection. The only exception was Tramps Like Us. The volumes for each series were current and they are all given the Dewey call number “740.9999” (740 is “drawing and decorative arts” but I don’t know what the subfield 9999 stands for) with a Cutter number for author. I’m not that familiar with Dewey so I’m probably missing some of the cataloging methodology at work here…

Vivianne commented that the Winnipeg Public Library had copies of Nana, Paradise Kiss and Tramps Like Us(!). Nana and Paradise Kiss were current and both in the “Adult Graphic Novel” collection. However, only v.1 and 2 of Tramps Like Us were in the catalog – oddly, in the “Young Adult Graphic Novel” and “Adult Reference” collections(?) Again, I may be missing something in the methodology here…

Based on this review I find it hard to draw any definite conclusions. Each library seems to have dealt with manga, and graphic novels in general, slightly differently. It does seem that the more solid and comprehensively applied a library’s methodology for purchasing and processing manga the more likely it is that there will be a large, diverse and complete collection. Makes sense.

It was great to get so many helpful and friendly comments from the wider community – thanks everyone! It’s really encouraged me to do my best to keep posting!

Images: panel from Yotsubato! by Kiyohiko Azuma, character art from Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita





Anticipated text – Usagi Drop

2 10 2008

Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita (links to Japanese website) is about Daikichi a thirty year old bachelor with a successful career. When Daikichi’s grandfather dies his family is shocked to learn that his grandfather had an illegitimate daughter. Rin, who is six years old, is now fatherless and alone. Embarrassed and annoyed the older family members are slow to respond to the situation and show little consideration the feelings of the little girl. Angry at his family’s behaviour and affected by Rin’s quiet manner and obvious isolation Daikichi offers to look after her himself.

Daikichi struggles to be a good parent to Rin despite the steep learning curve. He panics in the childrens’ section of the clothing store and agonizes over finding a daycare. These scenarios will seem very familiar to anyone who has cared for a child and the pragmatic and humorous narrative is both realistic and revelatory. The story also conveys how quickly social and family communities around Daikichi shift in response to his new role as a parent. By taking the act of becoming a parent out of its conventional context Unita draws attention to often undocumented aspects of parenting and it’s confluence as both a complex societal role and an internalized process of self-definition.

Unita seems to be able to convey inner turmoil through line weight alone. There is a lot of effective restraint shown in her panels and page design and the draftsmanship of her interiors and street scenes is excellent.

I hope I can find more information on her other titles – they all look really interesting – and a number of them seem to perfectly fit the josei/slice of life genres I’m advocating. This is a josei title that I would love to see licensed and translated in North America.

Images: cover and character art from Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita





The future

2 10 2008

There are some legitimate reasons for public libraries to be hesitant to consider josei for their collections. Concerns about content aside, young women who currently read manga might abandon the medium as they mature. The possibility also exists that non-Japanese readers, confronted with Japanese texts that represent more realistic and specifically Japanese norms, will be unable or unwilling to negotiate cultural degrees of separation.

An equally likely outcome is that young women will continue to read manga. Manga readers in general, as they become more acclimatized to Japanese texts, will accept and perhaps demand more realistic and diverse texts then the manga currently being translated in North American. Initially, North American manga publishers offered readers series that conformed with North American comic consumption expectations. The titles were targeted to boys and young men and were usually variations on super heroes, science fiction and fantasy themes. With the success of manga for girls and young women the market has been completely redefined.

This series of articles creates an interesting chronology:

Girl Power Fuels Manga Boom in U.S. New York Times (December 28, 2004)

Girls’ Manga Goes Stateside, Manga for Girls Catches On in America Web Japan (March 28, 2006) *um, I don’t know about the “caused a sensation on par with that of the release of the latest Harry Potter title” part

Librarians Harvest New Manga Titles At Comic-Con NPR (July 18, 2008)

There is more popular demand for genres like josei and more realistic “slice of life” comedy. These genres have diverse representation in the Japanese manga market. More readers who have never considered reading manga may be attracted to these more mature and humorous titles. There are a lot of excellent Japanese titles available to be translated and offered to this growing and diversifying North American market.

There has recently been a reevaluation on the part of some of the larger North American manga publishers (and three-part interview on ICv2.com with Dallas Middaugh, Associate Publisher at Dey Ray Manga, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading documented and commented on the changes at TokyoPop) and this has left room for some very new publishers to step forward with small, carefully selected catalogues. Some of these publishers are focusing on josei or including josei in their roster of titles. New imprints Yen Press and Aurora Publishing both have josei titles represented in the About.com’s “Best New Josei of 2007” readers poll as does vanity press/comic and graphic novel imprint Last Gasp. Last Gasp’s licensing and translation of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms represents a modest indication that publishers are becoming willing to risk bringing more complex and adult manga titles to North American audiences.

Another small press licensing interesting work is Fanfare/Ponent Mon. This imprint has a mandate to license alternative comics from Japan. Josei titles like Blue by Kiriko Nananan and Kinderbook by Kan Takahama are part of their catalogue. (Brigid Alverson from MangaBlog interviews Fanfare/Ponent Mon editor Stephen Robson.)

The average manga consumer might hesitate at the higher price point of this imprint’s books and this is a good opportunity for public libraries to provide access by purchasing these more expensive but good quality titles on behalf of their patrons. Again, the quality and aesthetic of these titles has potential to appeal to readers who wouldn’t generally consider reading manga.

Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading has posted a few very good articles about the future of josei that have generated thoughtful comments:

The State of Josei Manga

Josei Manga in the US

Images: panel from With the Light by Keiko Tobe, character art from Walkin’ Butterfly by Chihiro Tamaki, panel from Blue by Kiriko Nananan





The trouble with josei

27 09 2008


Manga is immensely popular with young female readers and many of them have been reading manga since it began to be integrated into public library collections in the early 2000s. These readers are now in their late teens and are familiar with manga and comfortable with its format and conventions. It could be expected that they will continue to read manga but be interested in more sophisticated subject matter and narratives. More good quality josei translations are becoming available in North American to meet this demand and there has been a precedent set by the integration of many seinen titles into public library collections. Despite this josei titles are currently under-represented in many public library collections.

There are a few potential reasons for this.

Providing access to mature material in a comic book format presents a challenge to public libraries. In North America comics are still primarily perceived as being for children and young adults – mature content in this medium can provoke controversy. Josei could be perceived as inappropriate for the public library patrons it might attract but despite the potential for censure public libraries regularly purchase both classic and current seinen titles that would generally appeal to a male demographic. Manga like the revered classics Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike (violence! non-consensual sex! single parenting!) and Akira by Katsushiro Otomo (violence! non-consensual sex! mutation!) and newer titles like MPD Psycho by Eiji Otsuka (just think of the worst thing you can imagine!) contain violence and sexual themes. The “mature content” warnings affixed to these materials during cataloguing and processing can be expected to deter some patrons (and attract others) regardless of their age. These titles are included in public library collections based on their cultural and artistic merit or by public request and they are potentially accessible to inappropriately young readers. Clearly, this is a risk that selectors have been willing to take in adding seinen titles to their collections. Public libraries make these purchasing decisions because they have a mandate to provide diverse materials to their patrons and existing policy allows for the incorporation of comics that contain mature content into public library collections.

Reservations regarding mature content should not be a deterrent to providing access to josei. If the aesthetic extremes of seinen have been judged acceptable for public library collections there must also be a place for the decidedly more humane and often humorous mature content represented in josei.

Another facet of comic collection development is that the established readership for comics in North America is still predominantly young men. Public libraries must always consider the needs of the communities they serve. Without a demand for comics marketed for women there is no impetus for public libraries to provide them. Manga, however, has reached a level of acceptance with young women the far exceeds their interest in North American comics. While North American comics have failed to attract a significant market of loyal female readers the potential exists for young women who read manga to retain their interest in the medium. While many public libraries shape their collections based on popular demand there may be a lack of awareness amongst female manga readers that genres other then shojo exist.

Public libraries could be positioned to facilitate awareness of the some of the josei titles that are available to their patrons through recommended reading and personalized title referral services. With a bit of judicious purchasing josei could become a legitimate and popular part of public library collections.

Images: image from the anime television series based on Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino, panel from Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa, character art from Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa





An important tangent – Seinen

27 09 2008

The demographic compliment to josei is seinen (SAY-nen) or men’s manga.

Seinen skews to a more mature demographic then shonen but generally retains the more youthful genre’s emphasis on adventure. In some cases it can be difficult to discern what makes a manga seinen rather then josei as the topics addressed and the way they are handled seem appropriate to either demographic. The gender of the mangaka is not a good genre indicator as there are many examples of women who create seinen narratives and men who write josei (thought there seem to be fewer). The differentiation seems to come down to the art style and if the manga is published in a seinen or josei weekly publication.

It’s often easier for a North American audience to grasp the difference between shonen/seinen then shojo/josei because the shonen/seinen duality generally fits Western censorship templates. Seinen has more graphic depictions of sex and violence then it’s youth-targeted counterpart. However, it would be misled to think that even the more explicit examples of seinen can be dismissed as prurient and exploitative. There is also a lot of textual complexity and themes intended to appeal to older readers (not just men).

The seinen genre strongly influenced North American comic artists in the 1980s and lead to the first wave of the self-reflective and genuinely artful “super hero” redux. Much of durability of Batman’s and Wolverine’s cultural credibility is owed to seinen comics.

Two seinen titles that are in the top five “Top Viewed” titles on the fansub site One Manga are Bitter Virgin and Gantz. Taken together, these two titles are a good illustration of diversity of seinen.

Bitter Virgin by Kei Kusunoki is about a young man who inadvertently finds out about the troubled past of one of his female classmates. The story is seinen in the way it appeals to the protagonist’s (and the reader’s) sympathetic and protective response to the shy, unfailingly adorable and fragile young woman. However, the story reaches a surprising and intense narrative peak with a heartbreaking sub plot based directly on the manga-ka’s (artists) experience with the stillbirth of her first child. (Thanks to Solaris-SVU for all their work on the Bitter Virgin fansub.)

Gantz by Oko Hiroya has recently been optioned by DarkHorse and it is therefore harder to find scans online. Gantz embodies everything that parents are afraid manga is about. It has an interesting premise, good plot development and the art and page design are creative and compelling. It also begins with the graphically rendered decapitation of the two main protagonists. (Sorry, if you can’t imagine where the story will go from there, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out.) Gantz is nightmarishly violent and there are lots of depictions of enormous breasts.

Images: Gantz v.2 (cover image) by Oko Hiroya, character art from Bitter Virgin by Kei Kusunoki, panel from Gantz by Oko Hiroya





A bit of methodology

27 09 2008

This is a brief survey based of the OPACs of a selection of four public libraries in major cities in both the United States and Canada. With one exception (Toronto) the criterion was that the city had a “Book Off” – a Japanese used-book chain store. In both North American and Japan a generous portion of these large stores is devoted to used manga (predominantly in Japanese).

The public library OPACs I searched were:

Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL)

New York Public Library (NYPL)

Toronto Public Library (TPL)

Vancouver Public Library (VPL)

Nana by Ai Yazawa: LAPL, NYPL, TPL, VPL

Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya: LAPL, NYPL, TPL, VPL

Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa: LAPL, NYPL, TPL

Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino: LAPL

Suppli by Mari Okazaki: LAPL, VPL

Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa: [none]

A review of the collections at these public libraries indicates that there has been investment in established josei titles like Nana, Nodame Cantabile and Paradise Kiss but that it isn’t comprehensive. Three of the more recently released josei titles currently available in North America are not well represented. The popular and critically well received titles Pet Shop of Horrors and Tramps Like Us are almost completely neglected.

Images: panel from Yotsubato! by Kiyohiko Azuma (I know, it doesn’t fit the genre, but I love her so much!)





Bête noire text – Tramps Like Us

26 09 2008

Despite the popularity of this title (Amazon.com reader reviews) and its positive critical reception this series is generally not included in public library collections.

Sumire Iwaya, the protagonist of Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa (licensed in North America by TokyoPop), is an ambitious and attractive journalist who has found herself isolated by her success. She returns home at the end of a particularly bad day to find a young man sleeping in a box near her doorstep. Exhausted and lonely she invites him to live in her apartment on the condition that he assumes the role of being her pet. Sumire even going so far as to “name” him Momo after the dog she had as a child. (The original Japanese title is Kimi wa Petto, literally, You Are My Pet.)

The premise seems potentially risqué and, indeed, much visual and textual tension is generated by the odd proximity this living arrangement creates but this manga is not particularly explicit and the adult themes are handled with a lot of nuance and humour.

Tramp Like Us has all of the narrative tropes that make josei so enjoyable and relatable. The complexities of office relationships and the tensions between personal expression and social expectation endlessly vex Sumire. Romantic relationships and her ability to negotiate them are far from idealized.

The manga-ka of the series, Yayoi Ogawa, is talented and prolific and her work continues to gain popularity in North America. Her art work is very distinctive. The line work in particular is an extraordinary balance of elegant fluidity, expression and simplicity and Ogawa’s page designs are effective without being distractingly over-executed.

This manga is an illustration of how public libraries could expand their collections to include titles that would appeal to older female readers while also enhancing quality and diversity. When purchasing for public libraries a bit of extra time taken to read a few online reviews would clarify the quality and content of what might initially seem merely a lascivious amusement. There is a lot of bluntly pornographic manga available and public libraries have to act judiciously in selecting more adult material. Increased knowledge of josei and awareness that the genre has a lot of merit should help to insure that josei titles are not dismissed along with other more shallowly explicit titles. Tramps Like Us is a series for adult readers but, particularly when the quality of the story as art and entertainment are considered, it seems a good candidate for public library collections.

aside: Why was Tramps Like Us chosen as the title for the licensed translation in North America? It makes this series sound really questionable and is also, well, lame. Is it a reference to the Bruce Springsteen song that also comes up when Googling this manga? Double lame.

another aside: Ogawa does seem to have a unique ability for choosing subject matter that looks really incendiary at first glance. (The links in this section are all over the place…) Some of the plots of her josei titles are a bit eyebrow-raising; Baby Pop “cool and gorgeous Nagisa paired with her perverted and stupid step-father Ryunosuke”(!), Candy Life “39 year-old man or the hot 19 year-old guy which is the 39 year-old’s sort of adopted son?”(!), Extra Heavy Syrup “Yuki and Emiri are staff at Syrup Cleaning Service, but they actually only have one true goal… and that is to find their long-lost boyfriend, Akira.”(!?). (I’m really hoping that this is a gonzo-josei riff on Katsushiro Otomo’s Akira.) Needless to say, it may be a while before Ogawa creates another series as amenable to public library collections as Tramps Like Us.

Images: panel from Tramps Like Us, Extra Heavy Syrup (cover image) by Yayoi Ogawa,








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.