Since the 1984 publication of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, manga has emerged as an odd barometer of Japanese society, an indulgence that gives away the obsessions of a people. This book, the sequel to Manga! Manga!, brings us up to speed on the current state of the Japanese popular mind by re-establishing manga’s greater cultural context, one that seems to get divorced from the work during export. Besides an in-depth introduction to the artists, the essays cover topics as obvious as the increasing role of women manga artists and the growing popularity of manga with female audiences, the heightened sex and violence in manga, the affective quality of the work versus its mimetic characterization of Japanese life, and the idea of the crossover of the artists from primarily pictorial storytellers to literary novelists in their advanced careers.
Some uniquely Japanese issues the book delves into include the emergence of an otaku class, young people “growing up with unprecedented affluence and freedom of choice in a media-glutted society [yet] still being put through a factory-style educational system designed to churn out docile citizens and obedient company employees for a mass-production, heavy-industry-oriented society that had ceased to exist…” The author asks, “with physical and spiritual horizons seemingly so limited, who could blame these children for turning inward to a fantasy alternative.”
Even more curious are the many sub-genres of manga. There’s one, for example, that presents a parallel view of history, a serial called Adolf set in World War II which has three central characters named Adolf—one a Japanese-German, the other a Jewish-German, and Adolf Hitler himself. Another popular sub-genre is manga whose storylines revolve around homoerotic male relationships, but whose target readership consists mainly of straight females. Perhaps the central area that the author is able to clarify in his book is the role of the individual in a society that has yet to firmly redefine itself.
Paperback: 296 pages