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.