Why Do Manga Artists Prefer To Stay Anonymous?

by Justin Sevakis,

Federico asks:

Why in recent years are manga artists so obsessed with privacy, to the point we know next to nothing about them? Decades ago they had no problem in being interviewed, filmed, photographed, and mostly anyone who was interested in their works knew who they were. Now they hide behind pseudonyms, never let others take pictures, and in some cases we fans don't even know their real names or their genders. For example, we still know nothing about the Death Note authors. Why is that? Are they afraid of being stalked? Has the mangaka job became something one should be ashamed of? Are they ashamed of being regular guys/girls and thus hide themselves in order to appear "cooler"? I don't quite get it.

I don't agree with your statement that manga artists were once public figures. While there are famous exceptions (Osamu Tezuka being the biggest), the tradition of manga artists being more or less anonymous goes back quite far. Masamune Shirow, for example, is a pen name, and nobody really knows what he looks like. Most manga artists are not public people, and the majority do not publish photos of themselves. Some of them occasionally depict themselves in silly cartoon form, either in the sidebar "notes from the author" column or afterwards in the graphic novels. But that's pretty much it. Many anime directors also tend to shy away from cameras.

Being a manga artist is generally not thought of as a glamorous job. Most of the artists prefer to have quiet lives, keeping their private life separate. You must remember that the majority of these people spend their lives hunched over a desk in a small office, drawing either manually or with a tablet. For the majority of them, they are not rich enough to hire assistants, so the hours are long, and the deadlines are never-ending.

So on the rare occasions that they do go out, the last thing most of them want is to be recognized. Otaku can be scary. If they stay anonymous, otaku won't hassle them or their family over whatever series they draw, or approach them on the street about a character, or their choice of story arc. It really is a profession for a quiet art nerd, who would much rather keep their head down.

Or at least, that's the stereotype. Obviously sometimes successful manga artists become prominent in the media, and become higher profile. But this is rare, and even most the ones who break out and have a huge bestseller keep a pretty low profile. Video of Rumiko Takahashi is very hard to come by, despite the fact that at one time she was one of the most popular manga artists in Japan. The manga artists I've interviewed tend to be pretty shy people, and don't engage in things like interviews.

One must also remember that the Japanese press is a lot less cavalier than Western media about showing pictures of someone without their permission. Unless the artist and/or their corporate representation approve of an image being used, most press outlets won't print it.

Anonymity is also something that Japan as a society seems to crave much more than Americans. The country's preference for using anonymous usernames on social media is often cited as a major reason why social network mixi got such a head start on Facebook in the country. While the desire to have some level of personal notoriety is hardly restricted to America, our trademark individualism makes us the opposite of Japan in that regard.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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