Sunday, May 11, 2008

My issues with manga. (part I)

Ok. First of all, anyone who has seen my deviantart account, or my webcomics, or even my banner will be puzzled at the title of the post. After all, I must like manga, if I'm so heavily influenced by it, right?

Well, of course. I do like manga. I have a pretty big collection of manga in my house, have read even more manga due to my wok, and admire a lot of japanese artists, as well as the people who are influenced by their style* But that doesn't mean that I don't have certain issues with it, and with the assumptions people make about people who like manga, and about people who don't like manga.

When I decided I was going to use this blog to write about comics and such, I originally said (I don't remeber if I actually posted that or not, but let's assume I did) that I wasn't going to talk about manga. I do that in my work. I review about three manga every two weeks for my job, and that's a lot of manga, especially if you take in account that there are some mangas that I read for review purposes that aren't picked for publication. So I was totally against the idea of doing even more reviews for my blog, even for those manga that I had already read.

There's a lot to be said about the idea of 'too much of a good thing', especially when half of those manga aren't that great to begin with.

Now, obviously I've changed my mind, mostly because due to the nature of the reviews, my personal opinion isn't important. I've got to be as impartial as I can, and sometimes, that can be a bit frustrating **

And that's my first issue with manga. That, for many fans, if you like one manga (or even, say, twenty), you must like all manga. Every single genre, every single author, and not find any possible flaw in comercial hits like Naruto or Death Note, and if you don't think the hit of the season is the best thing since sliced bread, then you're a hater. Maybe it's not that extreme with fans from the USA, but in Mexico, you can't say that you like, say, Saint Seiya, but you find its treatment of Greek Mythology and female characters reprehensible (True story, a friend of mine was actually threatened with physical violence for daring to say that she found plot holes in Saint Seiya, and that she didn't like Evangelion. And not just threats. She was actually followed to the bathroom during a convention, and barely managed to escape getting beaten. For not liking an anime, if you can believe that). You can't like Tokyo Babylon but find CLAMP's treatment of cross generation romance sickening at best and problematic at worst, and so on. The almost cult-like following that some animes get is one of those things that actually put me off anime and manga, and the reason why some titles are in my 'only if boss asks' list.

This of course, goes hand to hand with the idea that some fans have that somehow, manga is inherently superior to comics. I have no idea where that one came from, or why is so popular. Of course, there's also the opposite, and t comes to a point where manga-fans don't talk to comic-fans and vice-versa, and, even worse, they sneer at each other. It's like superhero readers and independent comic readers all over again. And meanwhile, there are hidden jewels that go unnoticed due to this attitude.***

Finally, or at least for this part, is the eternal idea that 'Girls love manga' and 'Girls draw manga'. Sure, I'm a woman, and I like manga. But my best friend is a woman, and she doesn't like most manga. And there's a thousand women like her. I don't know if Nicola Scott likes manga, but I can swear her style isn't manga no matter how broad your definition of manga is (Well, unless it is so broad as to include every single comic style). On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Adam Warren isn't a woman and whatever else you may say about him, his style is very manga-influenced. And the problem with this particular stereotype is that it alienates women. Both as readers and as artists. Sure, offering a particulary good manga to someone isn't alienating, but if said someone is a woman who happens to be saying that she wishes there were more strong female characters in, say, X-men or Avengers... it's not going to go well. It's just like saying "No, you can't play with this toys, but here, have a Barbie."

There's also a lot to be said about the myth that manga is somehow more 'girl-friendly'. Yes, it does has a lot more genres than the mainstream american comic industry, and yes, it appears easier for a female author to publish and become popular, however that doesn't mean that there aren't problems, starting with the division of stories 'for girls' and 'for boys'.

But I already went way too long, so that will be for another post.

*I'm not going to go now in the whole mess that is the whole debate about if manga can only be done in Japan or not. That's for another post, another day.
**That is not to say that it doesn't slip from time to time. But my editor is cool with that and understands that there's a point in which no one can find something good to say about a title, no matter how much you're grasping for straws.
***And that's not going into the art style situation, and the thousand of 'how to draw manga' books that are around now. Because, yes, if you're only copying manga you're doing it wrong, and it will take years to unlearn what you're doing now. Oh, I know. I'm still on the process of unlearning many things.


neto said...

In my goo-olde-years (4 years ago, lol)I used to say "I'm an otaku". Now..I'm just an ordinary 'animanga' fan.
Why? Simple. If you don't like Naruto, you are almost killed or billed as a jerk. If Haruhi Suzumiya is overrated for you, they tell you ad infinitum "was the anime of the year in japan and almos declared the best in history" (like if I could care...). If you don't like some issues of Evangelion (my favorite anime...isn't perfect!)they tell you (again ad infinitum) that you can't understand that deep philosphy (ok, i can get some philosophy issues there but...don't suck the *** to Anno, lol). Is a real hostile ambient.
The common otaku is closed to new ideas and very disrespectful. And are the ones that claim for respect for the japanese culture (the most of them doesn't know anything about THE REAL JAPAN. Just ask them:"Who the hell is Yukio Mishima. Their answer: a mangaka) and is 'style' (wearing jeans and shits with lousy transfers of anime wallpapers ins't a style).
Maybe the otaku community needs a Commodore Perry to open their minds.

Anonymous said...

This of course, goes hand to hand with the idea that some fans have that somehow, manga is inherently superior to comics. I have no idea where that one came from, or why is so popular.

I'm not sure about Mexico, but ~10 or so years ago, when I was considerably more active in anime fandom in the US this viewpoint seemed to arise because anime and manga were considerably smaller and more niche than western comics. In just about every case I've seen, the niche fans will denigrate the mainstream as inferior (regardless of actual quality). Now that we've seen manga explode in popularity to dwarf all other comic sales, the situation's reversed.

Common reasons for the "manga is superior" viewpoint tended to fall into broad generalizations. Western comics were seen as these massive, bloated collaborative projects which suffered from too many chefs syndrome and didn't have any clear vision (please note that even among people I knew who were fans of both, non-superhero comics weren't really considered). In comparison, manga was praised because it was always done by one writer/artist who had complete control over the creative direction.

Cassandra James said...

I totally agree with everything you've said. The rivalry between Western comics and manga really strikes me as odd. As someone who likes drawing and reading both I feel very torn at times.
In my eyes all comics are a wonderful form of art and of sharing great stories.

Anonymous said...

You are not the only with those issues, I agree to every one of the points you made.
I knew many fans in Mexico went into the “weird” territory but violence threats for daring to say one work is not perfect? God, things are worse than I thought.
I too consider ridiculous the idea you have to love each and every manga in the market, you can’t like all the genres and there will always be authors that will want you bang your head against the wall. There comes a moment you start seeing past the novelty and shine and get picky with the titles you choose. Specially now that there is a lot to choose.
But these problems are more of the fandom than of the genre per se, and won’t disappear until many of those obsessive and dangerous fans start thinking really thinking with their brains, which unfornately many won't.

Adalisa said...

@Neto: I'm going to assume you don't like Haruhi, right? I honestly have no opinion as I am avoiding it like the plague. I draw the line at cutesy , perky shonen heroines that grab other girls's breasts in my anime intake, lol. And yes, that's a good reason not to call yourself an otaku. For a group that hails themselves so open about certain things, they can be amazingly closeminded, right?
@damienroc: I guess it was a similar situation in Mexico, as we tend to follow trends from the USA. The only difference I see in the timeline is that anime/manga got their big boom with Saint Seiya, ten years ago, and the original reason was 'when characters die, they stay dead'. Which St. Seiya proved wrong. And later Dragon Ball blew out of the water ;) True what you say about how manga seems more creator-controlled. We rarely hear anything about the creator's assistants, who usually do all the hard work...
@cassandra: I'm glad to hear that you enjoy both mediums. Isn't it tiresome when people want to force you to choose?

Adalisa said...

@romanticide: The physical violence threats always make me wonder exactly what is going on in the minds of otakus here. Even now and then she gets weird emails about the stuff, and it's one of the reasons why she refuses to go to conventions now, and only goes if she can't avoid it completely.
If I had a dollar each time I hear that 'if it's manga it's good', I would be able to buy myself a condo in Manhattan by now, and it's not only by fans. I've reviewed honest crap, and have my coworkers tell me I'm being too harsh with the title (Remote comes to mind. I have no idea why that thing was licenced)

Romanticide said...

"The physical violence threats always make me wonder exactly what is going on in the minds of otakus here."
The majority of the fandom just went crazy in my opinion, they feel raw passion but don't know exactly what to do with it. Many seem to think that by being otakus they don't have to abide to convivence laws even common sense. We really need an "otaku etiquette manual" as many people seems incapable to understand it on their own.

"If I had a dollar each time I hear that 'if it's manga it's good', I would be able to buy myself a condo in Manhattan by now, and it's not only by fans. I've reviewed honest crap, and have my coworkers tell me I'm being too harsh with the title"
I think is part of getting old on the fandom, you become less tolerant of crappy works. Maybe they think you are being too harsh because anime magazines are supposed to atract more new people into the fandom, which are way more tolerant at the beggining and will probably run away from negative reviews.

Anonymous said...


You just summed up the American otaku and the American ignorant in one article.

I envy you. XD

I consider myself to be an educated member of the in-between, that realizes that while there is a load (LOADS) of good manga out there, there is also bad manga.

Agree 100%.

GiantKillerMantis said...

Good post! Comics is comics, IMO.

Part of being involved in a fandom is about building a community. Unfortunately, communities usually define themselves by what they oppose as by what they embrace. So, a fandom that likes a particular type or tradition of comics is very likely to denigrate other types in order to solidify their community.

You can see it among gamers, too; and music fans, etc.

It's encouraging to read so many people here who don't fall into that trap, but rather enjoy a variety of comics. :)