As I write this, we are 24 hours from arriving in Japan, one of my most anticipated countries on our epic round the world adventure. You see to me, Japan has it all, culture, tradition and bags full of history. The people are thought to be some of the most respectful in the world, the food is awesome and even the technology in the bathroom is second to none. For me though, Japan has always stood out for two main reasons – Samurai and Manga.
Manga is the term given to Japanese comics – which are traditionally printed in paperback format and typically tend to be black and white, though the term is now used to describe the colourful characters that you can find everywhere across Asia. Anime, on the other hand is the name given to animated manga – animated cartoons if you will.
We’ve recently been to Taiwan where Sarah and I have been amazed at the way far-east Asian culture uses the artistic influences of Manga in pretty much everything you see. Warning signs in construction sites and public service posters always seem to feature creative hand-drawn characters in a variety of poses. In particular, the subway system in Kaohsiung even has a brand associated with their anime characters – the KRT girls, and there’s a rather large gift shop in their main terminal where you can buy a risqué keyring or even a 6” action figure of your favourite KSRT girl. I particularly like the blonde with the whistle who stops you running through closing doors.
Growing up, I was particularly interested in Anime – animated cartoons which are aimed at both youngsters and adults alike. Both of my brothers are huge Anime fans and we used to watch all sorts of shows on TV or DVD such as Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon. My younger brother also had the opportunity to watch all sorts of spin-offs such as BeyBlade and Digimon after the huge success of Pokemon. After tasting mainstream Anime we then moved onto more obscure yet highly regarded series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and even specials such as Ghost in the Shell (which has just been given the blockbuster treatment and stars Scarlet Johansson).
More recently I’ve been watching Attack on Titan (eagerly anticipating season 2 this year), have almost finished Death Note (which I love) – one of the most highly regarded anime series of all time and I’m also about to start watching One Piece which is one of the best-selling Manga’s of all time. Personally I prefer watching the Anime series rather than reading the Manga.
It doesn’t stop at TV though, as the culture of Manga grew through the 80s and 90s it naturally flowed into other mainstream areas of entertainment such as video games. Some of my favourite games of all time draw their artistic designs from Manga. As a kid I spent hours navigating through the worlds of Final Fantasy, slashing monsters in Vandal Hearts or Devil May Cry and of course catching-them-all on the original Pokemon Red on my yellow GameBoy (yes it was black and white and ran on AA’s!).
Manga and Anime are so much a part of what I love about entertainment that I can’t quite contain my excitement at seeing it in it’s natural home, but that’s also part of the problem. You see I’m not sure Sarah (or Sarah’s mum for that matter who will be joining us in Japan) will see it quite the way I do. With the exception of Pokemon, I’m not sure Sarah or her mum would know a single one of those Anime series that I mentioned above, or the games or the books. As a fan of Anime it’s actually quite hard to explain why it is so good to people who haven’t been immersed in it the way I have.
A common misconception that is quoted literally everywhere is that Manga and Anime is for kids or adults who still behave like kids. There may be some truth to this but of course it’s not the way we see it ourselves. We think of Anime and Manga as a medium whereby the storylines and the content is utterly boundless. There’s really only so much you can believe when it comes to real-life TV series and even films stretch it too far sometimes.
With the advent of CGI, live action films and TV are getting more and more believable but in essence thats always going to be it’s limiting factor – you’re trying to make an unbelievable thing, believable – and it’s hard work! With Anime and Manga however, we know we’re watching a cartoon or reading a comic, the characters are drawn – it’s definitely not real and we don’t treat it as such, it’s not limiting our feelings towards it – we just go with the flow and enjoy the over-the-top storylines and characters.
The most important thing about Anime and Manga though, just like other comics worth their salt, is that the stories touch on something very human, whether it’s a question of morality or tugging the heartstrings of emotion, there’s always something important underpinning everything.
The same goes for the western versions of this art form, the cartoons, comics and most importantly films from Marvel and DC. If you were to walk down the same street in England and ask if anyone has heard of Iron Man, the X-Men or Superman you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t or, even more importantly, anyone who claimed not to know the franchise for fear of being judged.
The great thing about Japan however, as I mentioned previously, is its fantastic mixture of culture, history and tradition. I’m pretty sure that a few days of wandering through the Japanese Gardens with Sarah and her mum, visiting the Ancient Temples, gazing at the startling Cherry blossoms and dressing up as traditional Geishas (all of which I equally enjoy – perhaps not the dressing up part) will grant me maybe one or two hours of comic book visiting and maybe a Final Fantasy themed Cafe or two, complete with Chocobo Egg on toast. If not I’ll just sneak out late at night, we’re in gender divided dormitories after all!