POPULAR MANGA: BLACK JACK, NARUTO, FAIRY TAIL AND K-ON!

BLACK JACK

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Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka was a popular series that ran in Shukan Shonen Champion from 1973 to 1983, featuring the dark hero Black Jack, an unlicensed surgeon who can cure people of most anything as long as they pay his outrageously high medical fees. The series featured life and death situations and E.R.-like operation scenes. Jacks's arch enemy was Dr. Kiriko, who among other things practiced euthanasia for hire. Some regard Black Jack as Osama Tezuka masterpiece. The series has recently been brought back as a movie made by Tezuka’s son Macoto Tezuka.

Black Jack helps people with severe frostbite, cancer radiation burns and earthquake injuries. He is especially good at reattaching severed limbs and transplants, once even successfully performing a brain transplant. But that doesn’t mean he is perfect. Patients sometimes die at the operating table, including people he cares about deeply.

A typical Black Jack story begins with a woman near death’s door desperately in need of an operation that only Black Jack can perform. Jack is available but refuses to begin unless he is paid $300,000 up front, a sum the woman’s poor son has a hard time coming up with.

It is not always clear what Black Jack’s motivations are. Although he is widely accused of being greedy he does occasionally perform operations for free to patients in need. In the case of the $300,000 operation above it not clear whether he is motivated by a desire to help the woman or simply is so greedy he is willing to enslave the son in debt rest of his life.

Naruto

Naruto is one of the most popular manga characters and the best selling ninja action comic ever. Created by Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto Uzumaki is a young, hyperactive, reckless, brave ninja. He and his friend are in battles with enemy ninja on almost every page. The main appeal of the comic is the action.

As much 80 percent of each story is devoted to action and fight scenes with the other 20 percent explaining the intent of the action. Describing some of the action in Naruto, Ikuko Kitagawa wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Powerful blasts and clouds of dust raised by battles cover entire pages, while the characters’ alert and agile movements are thousands of action lines with an aggressive touch.” Most of the fights are between Naruto and his pals and their various enemies’some of whom are more important than others to the flow of the story.

Naruto is an orphan who is attending a ninja academy with dreams of becoming the head ninja in his village. As a student he is not a star but his instructors feel he has the potential to be a great ninja because of a demon fox he possesses inside him. The fox destroyed Naruto’s village and is sealed inside Naruto. He gives Naruto incredible powers and come live when Naruto loses his temper.

Naruto’s friends include Sakura Haruno, a female ninja, and Sasuke Uchida, from a famous ninja family. At first Naruto and Sakura are rivals but become increasingly close as they get know each other better. Sasuke is arguable more important to the story than Naruto himself.

Naruto is popular in its manga and anime forms. The book form of Naruto had an initial printing of 2.4 million copies. Sales and rental figures for videos and DVDs are also high. The series has also been made into popular video games.

Of the 40 Naruto volumes that had been released in Japan in 2008, 25 have been translated to English. The first 27 volumes follow one story. The second story begins after a 2 ½ year break with volume 28. The story gets complicated as more and more enemies are introduced, with readers sometime s have to go back to earlier volumes to follow the story,

Popular Manga for Women

Popular manga classics for women include Soma no Shinzo (“The Heart of Thomas”) by Moto Hagio, a complex 1975 story about love, life and friendship at German boys' school; Shoku na Kami ga Shihaisuru (“After Us the Savage God”) also by Moto Hagio.

Among the popular shojo titles are Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play by Yu Watase, Fruits Basket by Natsuki Tajay. The former is about schoolgirl named Miaki Yuki who is depressed about exams but finds her life changed when she discovers a magical library book that allows her to travel to ancient China, where she meets a ravishing but greedy warrior.

Oke no Monsho is a story about a girl named Carol who travels back in time to ancient Egypt in 1000 B.C. and has a love affair with the King of Memphis after a series of adventures It was serialized in the monthly magazine princess and appeared in its 51 paperback in 2006.

Fruit Basket is a bestselling shojo by Natsuki Takaya serialized in a manga magazine from 1998 to 2006. It is about a high school student who finds herself living in a tent in a forest after losing a her family. In the forest she is adopted by a family possessed by a cat and the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac who turn into these animals every time they are embraced by members of the opposite sex. The cut boy she likes turns into a rat whenever he is hugged. Bookstore manga of the series and sold millions copies in 23 volumes. A stage version of the manga is being prepared by an all-male revue.

Swan, a hit shojo manga about at aspiring ballerina by Kyoko Ariyoshi, has been features segments at Bolshoi in Moscow and has been described as literary

See Garasu no Kamen Above

Rose of Versailles

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The Rose of Versailles by mangaka Riyoko Ikeda has been called the “most influential comic for girls ever.” Debuting in the weekly girls manga Margaret in 1972, it is set before and during the French Revolution and revolves around the life of Marie Antoinette and the fictional character Oscar Francois de Jarjayes, a daughter of a nobleman who was raised as a boy and becomes a bodyguard for Antoinette.

The Rose of Versailles, is scrupulously researched and focuses of intrigue among ladies in waiting at the French court. The manga was turned into a popular Takarazuka all-female musical theater show and was aired as a television anime series in 1979 and 1980. It has also been made into a French-Japanese movie, a ballet, Italian opera and has even turned up on French TV.

Saori Kan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, The Rose of Versailles “has all the elements it needs to appeal to girls---a life of royal luxury, beautiful characters, romance, unrequited love, conspiracies, tragedies---and long, gorgeous dresses more extravagant than anything we would ever have the chance to wear on our lifetime.”

Main storylines include Antoinette’s rumored affair with the Swedish Count Fersen and Oscar’s unrequited love for the same man, and the developing romance between Oscar and Andre, Oscar’s childhood friend and his nanny’s grandson. Disturbed by the wealth of the French nobility and the impoverishment of the masses, Oscar joins the French Revolution and is killed during the storming of Bastille. The story ends with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette being sent to the guillotine.

Toriko

Toriko , a manga series by Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, has become one of the top comics in the Shonen Jump catalog, with its 13 volumes having sold a total 5.5 million copies. The weekly manga is filled with action, adventure and gourmet culture. Its wild atmosphere is much-loved by Shonen Jump’s target audience: teenage boys. In 2011 Toriko it debuted in its anime film and television form.

Toriko follows Toriko, a "gourmet hunter" who searches for and captures hitherto unknown exotic delicacies. Tall and masculine, the jumpsuit-clad protagonist is charismatic, which means he often receives work from restaurants and rich gourmands. One episode starts off with Peck, a malnourished boy who finds Toriko at a bazaar with stalls peddling a variety of ingredients and animals. His village faces a serious threat from the Gerold, a gigantic bird-like beast with five heads, so Peck has been sent by his village to ask Toriko to get rid of the beast. Toriko accepts the offer with the aim of eating the beast. He said, "I don't kill animals I don't eat." In other words, he battles with beasts and animals that he thinks would make tasty meals. Unfortunately---or fortunately---the beasts in the film didn't appear all that appetizing, though the way in which Toriko ate them had a certain appeal.

Seven Billion Needles

Tom Baker wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Hikaru Takabe is a loner. She has no friends at her high school, and she doesn't want any. To keep people from talking to her, she goes around wearing an oversized set of headphones, playing music to drown out the world. Her solitude is invaded one night when an unseen space alien takes up residence inside her body, melding itself with her. Not even her earphones can drown out its voice. "I'm able to directly stimulate your eardrums, forcing you to hear me," the invader tells her. The alien, who asks to be called Horizon, tells her that he is hunting for another alien, called Maelstrom, who is hiding in someone else's body. This other alien has a murderous disposition and poses a threat to the entire human race.” [Source: Tom Baker, Daily Yomiuri, December 10, 2010]

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Dokuru
“So go the opening chapters of 7 Billion Needles (“70 Oku no Hari”), a manga series by Nobuaki Tadano that debuted in Japanese in 2008 and began an English-language run this year. Manga fans will immediately note the story's conceptual similarity to mangaka Hitoshi Iwaaki's famous 1990s series Parasyte (Kiseiju), in which swarms of violently carnivorous aliens take over human bodies. In that series, one alien fails a complete takeover and becomes a friend of Shinichi, the Japanese high school boy whose body it lives in---and an enemy of its fellow invaders.” [Ibid]

But 7 Billion Needles has roots that go back further than that. It's very loosely based on Needle, a 1949 science fiction novel by Hal Clement. This book is no longer in print---using the strictest definition of "print"---but Amazon.com sells it as a downloadable audiobook. In Needle, an alien police officer called Hunter takes up residence in the body of Bob, an American high school boy, after his ship crash-lands on Earth while in hot pursuit of an alien fugitive who has also crashed. Hunter, whose own body is two kilograms of intelligent jelly, might be described as a massively multicellular virus. [Ibid]

The 1949 book is "hard" science fiction, meaning it focuses as realistically as possible on the technical details of how such a creature might function in the real world. In contrast, 7 Billion Needles falls closer to the fantasy end of the sci-fi spectrum. The aliens aren't even biological. "You earthlings call my physical state 'plasma,'" Horizon lectures. "It's neither solid, liquid nor gas." ("Give it a rest!" Hikaru replies.) [Ibid]

The plasma beings can disintegrate solid objects and can also cause their hosts' bodies to shape-shift. Maelstrom, for instance, turns his human host into a dinosaurlike creature, after first bulking up by killing and absorbing additional people. The aliens' rivalry is an ancient one. Maelstrom has tried to destroy many worlds, and Horizon has tried to save them. In Volume 2, Maelstrom issues a challenge: They can settle things once and for all on the basis of a bet over whether Hikaru can endure the special anguish that Maelstrom has prepared for her. [Ibid]

Tadano's style of storytelling strikes a nice balance between words and pictures. We are told some things and shown others. For instance, Hikaru is shocked when Horizon tells her she will have to talk to everyone in her school in an effort to learn whose body Maelstrom is lurking in. Nearly a hikikomori recluse, Hikaru wants to do nothing of the sort. But later, a wordless frame showing that she has left her world-muffling headphones on a shelf at home conveys the idea that she is coming out of her shell. If Tadano's story tends to the fantastic, his artwork leans toward "hard," with realistic and expressive faces, characters who all look different (except when the plot requires them to look alike) and detailed, photo-like backgrounds that are sometimes recognizable as specific places in Tokyo. B14

Fairy Tail and Its Vulnerable Hero

The stronger a fantasy hero is, the more necessary it becomes for him to have an Achilles' heel---a weakness to keep his victories from being foregone conclusions and make it easier for mortal onlookers to identify with him. Superman has his kryptonite, Ultraman has his limited energy supply, and Achilles had, well, his heel. Natsu's weakness is motion sickness. He is part of an ensemble of wizards who are the heroes of Hiro Mashima's manga series Fairy Tail . One appealing aspect of this manga is that Mashima shows us Natsu's vulnerability long before we see his strengths. [Source: Tom Baker, Daily Yomiuri, October 15, 2011]

“Natsu, who appears to be around 20 (his true age is unknown), often cuts a dashing figure with his pale, spiky hair and trademark ensemble of sandals, calf-length pantaloons, a vest to show off his abs and arm muscles, and a long scarf that trails in the wind. But when we first see him on Page 9 of Volume 1, his eyes are pinwheels and he is dripping with sweat as he sprawls on the rocking floor of a moving train. On the next page, his cheeks bulge as he fights the urge to vomit. Later in the series, boats, cars and rockets will affect him the same way. It is not until Page 62 that we see him use his magical power---eating fire and then shooting it from various parts of his body---and by then we have gotten to know him as a believable, likeable and vulnerable character.” [Ibid]

“Natsu and his friends---Happy, a cute talking cat; Gray, an ice wizard; Lucy, who can summon genie-like "celestial spirits"; and Erza, whose magical armor makes her look like Joan of Arc---are members of Fairy Tail, a wizard's guild in a country where there are many such guilds, overseen by a governing council of powerful wizards. Over the course of the volumes currently out in English, political scheming and betrayals within the wizard's hierarchy are a slowly developed theme. Another very gradually rolled-out story is Natsu's search for his old teacher Igneel, a dragon who disappeared seven years earlier.” [Ibid]

“These issues form a consistent backdrop for several shorter story arcs, at least three of which involve the revelation of secrets in various Fairy Tail members' pasts. In each case, the character in question feels torn apart by guilt over the unintended consequences of a perfectly innocent (or even noble) action. But in each instance, the true wrongdoer is confronted, and the other members of Fairy Tail cheer up their guilt-stricken comrade with reassurances that they are still a loved and valued member of the guild family.” [Ibid]

“It's a mark of Mashima's storytelling skill that some of these moments are actually touching. The artwork is another appealing aspect of the series. Its visual style, paradoxically using sharp lines to make soft shapes, and somehow managing to be detailed and uncluttered at the same time, has a lot in common with that of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece series---including the big-eyed, big-mouthed look of the main character, who wears a similar wardrobe. One shortcoming of the artwork is that while Fairy Tail's male characters come in all shapes and sizes, the female ones all have one big thing in common. Or rather, two big things.” [Ibid]

Dogesen, the Power of a Very Deep Bow

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Death Note
Kanta Ishida wrote in the Daily Yomiuri that recently “I found myself charmed by the strange Dogesen . The manga, by Keisuke Itagaki & Rin, revolves around a gentle, effeminate high school teacher named Hajime Seto. There is very little at which he excels. In fact, he has only one strength---an unbeatable one at that: dogeza, a formal apology or request that involves kneeling down on the ground. For example, in an attempt to free a sex worker from her yakuza pimp, Seto performs the low bow in the middle of a pedestrian scramble crossing, pressing his head to the road. Seto's alarmingly resolute attitude---which goes far beyond mere subservience---overwhelms and deflects the yakuza. Accompanying his actions is the following narration: “Dogeza. The ultimate form of attachment to life; it is an act of begging for life, of craving life.”" [Source: Kanta Ishida, Daily Yomiuri, April 1, 2011]

Amazing. I was impressed that somebody decided to turn this theme into a manga. Itagaki, who writes this story in full partnership with mangaka Rin, is best known for his work in the world of combat sports manga, through titles such as Baki the Grappler or Garoden, which he wrote based on the story by Baku Yumemakura. In his previous works, Itagaki has focused on the idea of strength to the point of absurdity. Though Rin is credited with the artwork for Dogesen, the style is very much in that of Itagaki, leaving many readers wondering if Itagaki is in fact illustrating the series. Perhaps Dogesen is actually Itagaki's own attempt at suddenly seeking a way to express a world of weakness or nonviolence.

The idea that dogeza may be the best offense is only one step removed from a joke. But it's also quite moving. Dogeza is a rule of decorum that is peculiar to Japan, and is exemplified in phrases such as "losing is actually winning," "you win when you say 'sorry'," and "you win when you do away with pride." But nowadays, the word's meaning no longer evokes the same lofty principles. Dogeza diplomacy, for example, refers to token diplomacy. But the philosophy behind Dogesen, that survival itself is a form of winning, even if you have to lose face to do it, gives me a sense of courage.”

'K-On!': Manga About High School Girl Rock Band

K-On!, a manga about the everyday lives of high school girls in a rock band club, has carefully evolved from comic strip to TV anime series to a movie which debuted in December 2011. The film's main characters are lead guitarist Yui, bassist Mio, drummer Ritsu, keyboardist Tsumugi--all classmates--and rhythm guitarist Azusa, one year their junior. The quintet are forever hanging out in their rehearsal room, not practicing but chatting over tea.[Source: Makoto Fukuda, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 9, 2011]

Makoto Fukuda wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: K-On!, the explosive popularity of which is even said to have inspired a social phenomenon, began its serialization as a comic in 2007 in Manga Time Kirara by Houbunsha Co. The manga, which is originally drawn by Kakifly, was adapted into a TV anime in April 2009 and was aired for three months in a late night slot by TBS and other broadcasters. "[At that time] I never would have imagined this anime would become such a big hit," said TBS producer Yoshihisa Nakayama.

With its adorable characters set in a relaxed atmosphere, the show attracted anime fans who posted comments online while tuning in, gradually increasing the show's popularity. The places and things that appear in the anime are quickly identified by viewers within minutes. "We've even received many messages to an official online forum from middle and high school students saying, 'I wasn't into anime before, but I watch [K-On!] because it's fun,'" Nakayama said. The hit anime has increased the TV anime-viewing audience, he added.

Marketing 'K-On!'

Makoto Fukuda wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Amid the unabated craze, the second series, K-On!!, made its TV debut in April 2010, airing for six months’ double K-On!'s run--on 28 networks, 20 more than the first series. The opening and closing numbers in the second series hit No. 1 and No. 2 on the Oricon chart. The CD featuring songs from both K-On! and K-On!! sold 2.8 million copies, while DVD and Blu-ray copies of the anime sold a combined 1.1 million. [Source: Makoto Fukuda, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 9, 2011]

When a new song played during the program, a commercial for the CD that includes the song was shown afterward, a strategy some Net users described as "cunning." "It's the other way around," Nakayama insisted. "I asked [the CD promoters] to play the ad after the show so the song could air for the first time during the program...I believe we chose the right way to release it." The CD includes multiple versions of the same song with one of the character's instruments muted on each track so listeners can play the part with their own instrument to enjoy the feeling of playing with K-On! members.

The fictional band's music has become so popular that high school bands cover K-On! songs at school festivals and other events. "I think young people today relate to and admire the K-On! attitude of enjoying life by doing things they like instead of practicing hard and steadily," Nakayama said.

Another reason K-On! has become a big hit is that the animation was done by Kyoto Animation, which is known for depicting beautiful and lively female characters. The Kyoto-based creators deftly recreated the original manga with a realistic depiction of the daily life of students.

In the film version, members of K-On! travel to London for a graduation trip. The filmmakers traveled to London twice for field research, setting the familiar story and its characters against the realistic backdrop of the British capital. The film is made both to entertain long-time fans with familiar humor and to smoothly introduce newcomers to K-On! Also, the theme of friendship is taken up in a touching way. I was almost in tears.

Popular Comics and Manga Art

Popular conventional comic strips in newspapers that have been popular over the years include Sanwari-kun by the late Yoshiji Suzuki, which ran for 11,240 installments in the Yomiuri Shimbun; and Kobo-chan , about a small boy growing up with in household with his parents and grandparents, which reached its 10,000 the installment in the Yomiuri Shimbun in June 2010.

Shojo-ga (“illustrations for girls”) features girls with large, shimmery eyes, accentuated by long lash and curls, and surrounded by flowers and cute animals. The king of the artform is Makoto Takahashi, who was born in Osaka in 1934 and debuted as a mangaka in 1957. When asked what has inspired him he told the Daily Yomiuri, “I have this lingering image I had when I was a sixth grader, right after the war. There was a church of the Allied Occupation Forces near my house, and one day I saw a girl over the fence., She was about 5 and was playing in the garden filled with flowers, ...The girl, her leg in cast, was called by her mother. She turned around and ran to her mother, her beautiful blonde hair flowing, It was such a beautiful scene in such a gloomy time as was postwar Japan. The image stuck with me, and I came to want to paint that girl.”

Thermae Romae (2012) is movie directed by Hideki Takeuchi based on a popular manga. Hiroshi Abe plays Lucius, an earnest bathhouse designer in ancient Rome. For no apparent reason, he begins repeatedly traveling through time, landing in bathhouses in modern-day Japan. He brings back various useful elements of Japan's bathing culture to win the confidence of the emperor. Thermae Romae is based on manga by Mari Yamazaki about a Roman architect who specialized is designing pubic baths who is transported to a bathhouse in modern Japan where he finds all sorts of cool things. Thermae Romae is Latin for “Roman Baths.”

Image Sources: 1) Sailor Moon site 2) Tezuka English fan site 3) 5), Japan Zonem 4) Hector Garcia, 6) Takarazuka site

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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