Monday, January 04, 2010

My issues with manga (Part 2)


I'm very aware that this one was long delayed, and I'm sorry. In my defense, last year was hectic and posting was impossible, but I hope that now, I can do this more often. Especially as I finally managed to connect Word with my two blogs (English and Spanish) and thus, it should be easier to post.

Last time I was talking about my issues with manga (almost two years ago, sorry, but here's the link if you want to check it out ) I mentioned mostly my issues with the fans of manga, and the general attitudes about everything that comes from Japan. Now it's about the genre, and since I'm aware that what I'm going to say might not be very popular, here comes a small disclaimer: All this is my opinion, and in my experience. It is not the absolute truth, I might be wrong in a lot of stuff, and yes, if I'm wrong, I'll apologize. Are we clear? I hope we are, because now I'll start.

Last time I ended the post with the myth that manga is somewhat better for women artists, and how the division of manga between 'for girls' and 'for boys' is one of my main problems with the genre. The division between Shojo and Shonen (And Josei, and Seinen since we're on the subject) might be very logical commercially speaking. Just like action movies are separated from romance movies depending on the demography you want to attract, and the good reasons why I'm not going to find Stephen King's books in the home arrangement section. The labels are good to help readers to find what they're looking for, what they like.

But usually those labels do not limit the demography on their own. "Horror" means what happens in the story, and not what kind of people might or might not like horror. Yes, there are people who talk about rom-com movies as chick flicks, because they're only for women to watch and enjoy, but even with all their sexist bullshit (And thanks, Warner Bros. for declaring that women as main action characters aren't viable) they do try to keep themselves open to the fact that yes, a woman can watch and enjoy Die Hard 4.0.

Shojo and Shonen, on the other hand, do limit the public just by the sake of existing, not only by gender, but also by age (And this goes double for those fans of shonen older than 30, since shonen is usually marketed to younger than 18). Women read Shojo and Josei, and men read Shonen and Seinen: the division is so defined that we also see different type of art and panel work in the different magazines. And yes, at first many said that shojo was romantic stories where the girl only wanted to find true love, and shonen the action stories where Seiya would run trying to save Saori.* But when manga started being translated by the dozen, we found more stories like Oh My Goddess! Or Video Girl Ai, so we could see that shonen also dealt with romance, and on the other side of the coin, CLAMP showed us that gore did had a place in shojo, and there was more to it than just love and rainbows.

But even so, people insist that the division is absolute and unbreakable. Even if we have evidence that in Japan a story is catalogued as shojo or shonen depending on the magazine where it's published (So Oh My Goddess! Is seinen because it runs in Afternoon, and if it was run in Ribbon, it would be shojo, with the exact same story (Although if it was run in Ribbon we might get less loli-shots of Hild and less 'peeks' at bathing Urd) by the exact same author. And honestly, Why the division has to be by the readers' gender and not the stories content? Isn't it better to say that Oh My Goddess! Is a romantic comedy with fantasy and magic realism, than to say Oh My Goddess! Is a fantasy Seinen? Or at least, isn't it more descriptive? That without taking in account that what might be good for some ages in Japan might not be the same outside that country (And that takes us to the censorship, the complains, and the insistence that no one understands the real art of anime, especially the art behind the pantyshots that are usually the ones censored)

It gets even worse when fans decide that those divisions must be absolute and respected and if you're a woman, you have to love CLAMP, Sailor Moon, and every single romantic thing filled with nice flowers and manga glitter, and if you're a man, you better start brushing up in your Naruto because you're going to love that. And on top of everything, when authors and editors decide that they're going to be strict about the division, they create a collection of stereotypes that we'll check in the next part (Coming soon, I swear. And soon as in before January is over and not as in somewhere before 2010 ends) because if I start with the phobias and the discrimination right now, we're not going to end anytime soon.

Issue number two, manga has become incredibly repetitive (Or maybe it always was, and we hadn't realized it until now due to the sheer quantity we get) What do I mean? Well, that even if the titles themselves seem to be diverse, every single one with something different and special that we've never seen before… How many magical princess are there? How many young men who are good at X and thus want to become the best at it? How many chosen ones to save us from X, Y and Z with their friends in battles that always, always end up when a stronger enemy comes forward? How many average guys who end up with an accidental harem? Yes, there are manga that are amazingly original, but the quantity of 'same' stuff is way too big (And yes, comics do have that problem too, as we have way too many superhero vigilantes and people dressed in tights to save the world. But we're not comparing them, Ok?)**

When even the most ardent defendants of the genre complain about 'yet ANOTHER Harem comedy' is because there are way too many harem comedies. Or sport adventures, or kids with little collectionable critters. And the stereotype is so great that when a non-manga comic touches those subjects, it is more than enough to end up called 'manga', or 'manga style', like W.I.T.C.H. that couldn't be more Disney unless the animated series had songs by Alan Menken and even SO it gets called Manga (Even when, despite being a world-wide success, in Japan it had to be re-written and re-drawn by a Japanese artist because it wasn't manga enough, and isn't that stupid?) While stories that do have manga influences, just because they're not the usual manga style stories, end up as "fake" manga, like anything done by Adam Warren after Dirty Pair.

This makes finding something really original and new quite hard because it makes harder to find things that are not already a proven formula. Because even before the first chapter is published, many people have decided that it will not sell, that is not commercial enough, and it will be cancelled around chapter two (Or worse, they'll make the story fit no matter what with the old stereotypes and a good premise might become the most incomprehensible mess of the decade. But more on that later)

And all this takes us to the third issue that will come in the next post, and that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago and it is all the problematic content that you can find in more than just one manga –and that sadly end up reflected in the attitude of their fans.

And before I forget… Happy 2010 to everyone who is still reading my ramblings :P

*I'm very sorry I keep using Saint Seiya as an example, but it's the most shonen-like series I known. Even more than Dragon Ball, because even in Dragon Ball we had some family time with Goku and his kids, and in Saint Seiya *everything* is just fighting, and the few flashbacks we get are… about fighting.
** In their defense, a huge part of the manga fandom try to fight against that stereotype and get very angry when manga is dismissed as 'schoolgirls with long legs and huge eyes', but that doesn't change the fact that for each Monster or Uzumaki, we get 45 stories that just copy Naruto (That does has a lot in common with Dragon Quest, Dragon ball, and similar stories) or Sailor Moon. Which for a genre that is supposed to be original, new and special, it's really sad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Comic book Death should mean something

First post of the year, and it’s about a depressing theme. Sorry about that, but my reading choices ended up on this (Besides, you all know how rare is it that I update this so I had to keep the monumentum going).

Anyway, Comic Book Deaths. They’re a joke, right? “No one stays dead except for Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben” and the three have come back already (Granted, Uncle Ben was an alternate – earth Ben and he died again, but the sentiment remains). There was a story in which a villain pretended for all of five minutes to be Thomas Wayne, and if the Waynes can’t be counted on to stay underground, who can you trust? Harry Osborn is back, thanks to One More Day and an incredibly convoluted explanation with Goblin!Juice and even when some heroes have had the decency to stay dead, despite their loyal fans wanting them back (Kon “Conner” Kent, Ted Kord, Panthra… and I think that’s about it at least of the top of my head and not counting the last three months deaths as well, it’s been only three months. They can come back next Wednesday. They’ll count when they have at least a year underground), most of the shock deaths of the last three years have been undone. Even some older deaths have been undone thanks to ‘Superboy punched the time-barrier’ and ‘It was a Skrull’. As happy as I am to see Mocking Bird back, I can’t help but think this was the cheap way out.

Because if even a 10 year old death can be retconned… well, Death has no meaning. Batman is apparently dead, so what? He’ll be back after another non-event. So the Wasp is dead (In two universes, even!), she’ll be back before you have the time to see the other characters deal with her dead. Aren’t we due to yet another return of Jean ‘I can’t stay buried’ Grey?

No matter how spectacular you make one death, no matter if it’s the goddamn Batman fighting against Darkseid, or Captain America not dodging one bullet, all comic book fans know that they’re going to come back. The bigger the body count, the longest the yawn from the public because… well, either they’re cannon fodder (See Ultimatum #1) or they’re a shock death (See Batman, Ted Kord and so on). There are deaths that are wonderfully written (Unfortunately, the one example fresh in my mind is in this week’s comics so let’s try and avoid that spoiler) but even so, it becomes pointless as the readers know that, if it’s a superhero comic book and the dead character has a name, he or she will be back sooner or later. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, much more than the old phrase leads to believe, but most of them are ignored as they aren’t readers favorites. I still well up when I read Cypher’s pointless death in New Mutants, and even when I’m sorta glad that Douglock wasn’t really Doug Ramsey as that would cheapen his death, at the same time I wonder why my favorites don’t rate the revolving heaven door like other characters who seem to have a death-long pass.

All this came to mind while I was reading Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s a manga set during a war, the last few (Japanese) episodes deal with a full blown civil war and the mangaka, Hiromu Arakawa, has always had the custom of counting her death characters at the end of each compiled volume by showing them flying to the sky. The first few volumes had an average of one death per volume (And a friend still doesn’t forgive me for lending him volume 2 that had one of the arguably crueler deaths on the whole run), volume 6 had to resort to a dead fox and two dead rabbits, although volume 7 had ‘too many to count’, same as volume 15 that counted every single death during a past war. However, as the episodes advance closer and closer to what I assume will be the ending (It hasn’t been announced to my knowledge, but I doubt it will be longer than a year before the story wraps up), Arakawa has started to be very careful with her death toll. If a named character (Be it a main one, a secondary one, or an incidental one) dies, it is because there was no other way for that character to end. But when many characters manage to get saved in the second to last minute, I grew worried about the main characters. Because mrs. Arakawa is counting her deaths, and when she reaches the end, I’m not that sure even the main characters will be safe. Hell, half the fandom still haven’t gotten over the last supportive non villain character death to the point that seeing him in a flashback is a welcome thing even if the flashback itself was critiziced!

To avoid making this a manga vs. comic thing, I also looked for an example of a great comic book death that counted because it was final. There was David Quin’s death in Strangers in Paradise, which was telegraphed from around the second volume of the series and still there were fans who hoped against hope that wouldn’t happen, but was pretty much final (As well as the off-screen death of Griffin Silver, which we only see through the consequences it has on everyone else’s lives). There was One Eye’s death on Elf Quest, which was heart-wrenching and kept even the widow in denial for a long while (Actually, all deaths in Elf Quest, at least in the original quest and all the way to Kings of the Broken Wheel are quite touching. But at the moment, the one that I can remember clearly is One Eye’s). Besides the whole fantasy vs. reality thing, what makes the deaths similar is that they’re final. David was not going to come back in the last page of Strangers in Paradise, and there was no coming back for all the death elves either. See Runaways, from Marvel too. Both Alex and Gert were loved by the readers, and even if we got a glimpse of Alex in limbo, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to come back.

At this point, more than event fatigue, readers have death fatigue. No matter how spectacular a death* one writes, if it’s a superhero, no one believes he’s really death, even more if it’s a A-list hero. Makes one wish that the ‘Dead means dead’ policy had been truth. Maybe then, the writers would be more careful when killing characters, and their deaths would be truly felt by their readers.

* or faked deaths, as the case may be. If all deaths are taken as fake deaths, then when a character is revealed not to be death after all, is not a great reveal, it’s just business as usual.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

2008-2009 Nominations for the Friends of Lulu Board of Directors.

The time has come again to nominate the best and brightest for the Lulu Board of Directors! We need our members to nominate dedicated people to keep up the good work, changes and new adventures for Friends of Lulu that has been the hallmark of 2008.

Nominating and voting individuals to the National Board is one of the privileges enjoyed by members of Friends of Lulu; if you are a member please visit our online nomination page at and submit your nominations!

Comics professionals and members are welcome to run for the board; self-nominations are also accepted and encouraged! We are looking for a few dedicated souls to volunteer their time and energy for a year as we go about bringing women and comics together. Being part of the national board can be very rewarding, enjoyable, and you will make a huge difference in the FoL organization.

We currently need to fill the following positions:

The Treasurer keeps account activities up to date including PayPal and checking accounts,establishes & adheres to budget for Friends of Lulu projects and programs, and processes retail purchases through the website.

Recording Secretary:
The Recording Secretary sits in on monthly online meetings, records minutes and presents them, maintains an archive of previous minutes, and prepares documents as necessary.

Membership Secretary:
The Membership Secretary keeps an updated record of current and lapsed members, and maintains e-mail and snail-mail correspondence with them. Mails out welcome letters and membership cards to FoL members, new and returning. Regularly sends membership updates to the Newsletter Editor.

Make a nomination online by using our form at: php, and please include the full name and email of your nominee.

We are always looking for volunteers to help us out at conventions, on our website, and in our newsletter! If you wish to donate your time and energy to Friends of Lulu but do not wish to be on the Board of Directors, please contact us by e-mail: We are currently seeking volunteers for many positions, and your skill set may be just what we are looking for.

Nominations will CLOSE on Monday, November 10th and voting shall begin shortly thereafter.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Follow up on the Memin Pinguin situation.

Yesterday post gathered a lot of responses, not here on my blog but on the blogs that linked to it. I'm glad I took my time to read those answers, even if I still don't know if it would be wise to answer them one by one, because it really nailed it to me what the whole problem is.

American people are complaining about the ART in Memin Pinguin, more specifically, the way Memin and his mom are drawn.

Mexican people are defending the STORY of Memin Pinguin, trying to put some emphasis on the fact that it was the story we paid attention to, not the art that sure is dated.

As long as the argument runs around those lines, we're not going to get anywhere.

So I was talking with my business partner Aurea Freniere, and we decided that while we don't have the power to change the way in which Memin was drawn, and the industry in our country is not in the shape to support a complete re-make of the series, we can at the very least do something to show that we understand the problem and that, if we could, we would change it, and, at the same time, try and showcase exactly why we love Memin and his pro-equality (Because, in the end, Memin preaches equality in every way) message.

Yesterday I made an open call in my DeviantArt account to all mexican and spanish-speaking members who knew Memin to redesign Memin. To take him away from the racist and stereotypical designs from which he took influence as a drawing, and instead focus on the good things he gave us. To show how we wish Memin looked now so his message wouldn't be lost and we could have avoided both controversies. After all, we can't expect every one who sees Memin in the states to understand Spanish enough to understand the context, and while I still maintain that before condemning the whole country as racist and ignorant the people behind the media reports should've done a better research, I am not saying that people in general got offended 'for nothing'. They had the right to be offended, they had the right to protest, and I hope this shows that, even when we're powerless to make a bigger change (say, get that modernized comic), we understand, and we're willing to learn and to change for the better.

And if you're still interested on this whole thing three months from now, tune in here for the announcement of the page where Aurea and I will recopilate all the new Memines.

I firmly believe something good can came out of all this, that we can use this to understand each other, and make those cultural differences smaller, respecting both cultures at the same time.