Monday, January 29, 2007

For Children Who'll Become Adults

So I've been doing bits and pieces of research on manga lately, from its history to what kind of works are popular these days and what kind of general tendency can be observed. I'll post these kinds of things on the website shortly, but today I would like to write a little about how manga was viewed socially when it first came out, since I happened to see a program on it a couple of nights ago.

It was a short documentary program on not a manga artist (mangaka, as we call in Japanese) but an editor of one of the earliest manga magazine. Until then, I tended to think that the manga culture we have today was created by the early masters like Tezuka Osamu and so it is, in terms of the style and form and content of the manga itself. But it wasn't just the quality of the works these masters have produced that built up the Japanese manga culture into an established subculture a large part of the society enjoys. A good portion of the credit of the spread and social acceptance of manga belongs to an editor named Kato Kenichi.

It's only too bad that I didn't know about this program and couldn't watch the entire story, but anyway, I'll introduce what I learned from the show.
Kato was a very talented editor who loved manga himself and spotted the positive potentials of manga in the earlier stages of the culture. He knew what kinds of stories kids loved and he also knew which mangaka created excellent works. If it were not for him, Tezuka might have not become a manga artist.

But back then in the early 20th century, manga was not socially accepted in Japan like the way it is today. It was rather viewed as a ridiculous children's stuff - ridiculous though, dangerous as the government viewed. They feared the potentials and influence of manga on children of letting all kinds of imaginations grow including those that were considerably against the government's policies and their education of good and healthy citizens.

For this reason Kato was once caught by the government for spreading out bad influences on children's education and was forced to leave Kodansha which is still one of the biggest publishers today.
To the icy looks and disapproval against manga being children's stuff, Kato confronted the situation claiming,

"sure manga is for children, for children who will grow up into adults who create and support the society one day. manga can teach children the joy and happiness of life, morals and virtue, of what's right and wrong. manga has the power to guide children to the right direction so that they won't cause a horrible war like we have."

At that time he had already known Tezuka, but Tezuka then was standing on the crossroads of his life of becoming a mangaka or not. He wasn't confident. Kato who strongly believed in Tezuka's talents gave a kick in his back and told him to open up the future of manga with this message, and like this, the culture was established and spread at once.

And so half a century has passed since then. The children then are adults now, who have greatly contributed to the massive and rapid economic growth of the country. Whether Kato's belief turned out positively or negatively is a big question - for we have not exactly caused nor have seriously suffered from war for over six decades now, but the society seems to have become a bit feeble in a different sense even though the spread of manga may not have anything to do with it. Anyway, this is how manga became one established subculture of this country.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I would like to write about the general tendencies of manga related business soon. I'll let you know when I'm ready.

BTW a manga-based movie called Sakuran is going to be shown at Berlin International Film Festival as the only Japanese film under Official Selection. So far it's only scheduled to be shown in Japan (in theaters Feb 24) but the participance opens up a great possibilityof distributing the film internationally.

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