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  xMonday, March 24, 2003

(continued from the previous post)

[A]ll of the cartoon shows currently in the ratings top 10 for their category had their beginnings in manga. The longest-running and best-loved is "Sazae-san," which has been on the air since 1969 and is rarely out of the No. 1 spot. A gentle-spirited sitcom about a three-generation family living in suburban Tokyo, the show is based on a manga by Machiko Hasegawa that, since it began in 1946, has become a national institution.

Meanwhile, of the 10 top-grossing Japanese films in 2002, four started as manga. Though one of the exceptions, "Pokemon the Movie," may have begun as a game, the Pokemon brand is well-represented in the comic racks. In nearly every Japanese pop-culture franchise, manga is a crucial cog -- if not the main engine.

...Manga used to be what comics still largely are in the West -- cheap entertainment for kids that was not allowed at the grownups' table of the publishing business. In the postwar years, however, a young star arose who would change the face not only of manga, but of publishing in Japan. His name was Osamu Tezuka, and his manga, beginning with his 1947 hit "Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island)," were explosively popular.

An avid movie fan, Tezuka incorporated cinematic techniques into his work, including closeups and long shots, with the aim of adding dynamism and impact to every panel. His early manga -- such as the "Tetsuwan Atom (Atom Boy)" series about a superpowered boy robot -- were mostly adventure yarns for kids, but in the 1960s, as he graduated to industry-icon status, Tezuka turned to heavier, more complex themes, including the life of Buddha and the political struggles of Japan's feudal clans.

In short, Tezuka and his disciples not only made manga an enduring obsession with Japan's Baby Boomers, who boosted sales of fat weekly and biweekly comics to the millions in the 1960s and '70s, but produced manga that adults could enjoy without embarrassment (though men might hesitate to take some racier ones home).

Personally, I'm much more into anime than manga, simply because the former is easier to find Stateside, and I don't read Japanese (or speak it, for that matter). I do have a few untranslated manga, and Dark Horse Comics has been doing a pretty good job of publishing translated manga ever since Akira, which I was reading back in the '80s.





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