Is It Manga?

by Christopher Macdonald, Mar 1st 2000
This editorial was written as a guest editorial before Christopher Macdonald became editor-in-chief of ANN

Foreign influence on a country's culture is inevitable. To some, such influence is beneficial, while to others, it signals the loss off the home culture, a sort of invasion. The protection of culture is so important to many that it can be the cause of great conflict. In fact it is one of the issues behind many nationalist arguments such as the separatist movement in my home Quebec. There is also the similar situation where one aspect of an exported culture becomes exceedingly popular in a foreign country, however over time the foreign country imitates and adapts the original to it's own liking and interpretation. Then it is the original culture (the exported culture) which is perhaps put on the defensive if it wants to protect its distinct character.

Over the past 10 years Anime and Manga have become more and more popular within North American society. In fact, certain Anime have become so popular in North America that people don't even know that they are Anime; I can guarantee you that there are more Americans who know what Pokémon is then there are who know what Anime is, even among Pokémon fans. This isn't a necessarily bad thing, although I personally have some issues with it. One of the issues are imitations. An imitation as you surely know is something which copies an original but is not necessarily identical, and is often inferior in quality.

North America has it's own comic industry, an industry which unfortunately is much less versatile than the Japanese Manga industry. This lack of versatility is illustrated by the fact that the American comic industry is dominated by one specific genre, the "Superhero Comic". Manga on the other hand is much more diverse incarnating action, comedy, romance, drama and many other genres and mixtures of genres, without being dominated by any single one. Additionally, mainstream Manga is intended for a much wider audience, read by many Japanese adults, whereas most American comics are geared towards children and teenagers while adult comics and adults who read comics are the minority.

Over the past few years many imitations of Manga have appeared in North America. Marvel, Image and DC have all published comic strips with Manga like art styles. These are not Manga, they merely look a bit like Manga, there is a whole lot more to Manga than big eyes and purple hair. Do it once or twice and it's a tribute, convert multiple series to this "manga like art style" and it becomes an inferior imitation showing a lack of originality on the part of the imitators.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that authentic quality anime and manga can not be created in America by Americans (or by any one else who isn't Japanese for that matter). What I am saying is that the attempts by Image, Marvel, DC and Co. are failures, and they harm the general image of Manga. People who have never read Manga before will pick up one of these imitations and say, "So this in Manga... Hmph, nothing special, it's just like any American comic except that it looks different".

So what should the fans of Manga do? I'm not really sure, unfortunately I am the herald of ill news without bringing forth a viable solution. Perhaps next time you see someone reading one of these cheap imitations you should tell them, "By the way, that's not Manga", tell your local comic book dealer to get them out of the Manga section, and maybe even write to these American Publishers telling them to give up the imitations, and either go back to what they're good at, or spend the time and effort into creating a good American Manga.

In the mean time a new company, Liquid Manga Studios based out of Illinois, is producing what seems to be an attempt at an online Manga. I don't want to shoot them down before they get off the ground; in fact I sincerely hope they succeed, however in the meantime I remain skeptical. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to come back and give the site my humble blessing.

A small after thought: While the word "Manga" is Japanese for comic I believe that it can acceptably be used to describe any comic which is of the same style as Japanese Manga, even if they do not originate within Japan.

Therefore I also believe that not necessarily every comic originating within Japan should be called a Manga (unless of course you are speaking Japanese and using the word manga interchangeably with the word comic).

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