BENGALURU: The Tokyo Olympics nudged me to re-discover the world of manga. The nine Olympic ambassadors featured on official Tokyo Olympics merchandise created a greater interest around the world for manga characters. The ambassadors are Son Goku (from the Dragon Ball series), Usagi Tsukino (‘Sailor Moon’), Naruto Uzumaki (‘Naruto’), Monkey D Luffy (‘One Piece’), Astro Boy (‘Astro Boy’), Cure Miracle and Cure Magical (‘Pretty Cure’), Shin-chan (‘Crayon Shin-chan’) and Jibanyan (‘Yo-kai Watch’). Manga was used at the opening ceremony in multiple yet subtle ways: the placards for the country names for the parade used manga speech bubbles, and the costumes for the placard bearers and assistants had manga touches in their design.
Manga’s roots can be traced back to 12th century Buddhist monks who created scrolls depicting animals that behaved like humans. The word ‘manga’ in Japanese means whimsical pictures; it is used to refer to comics and graphic novels from Japan, while ‘anime’ is Japanese (film or television) animation. Manga is read from right to left, is almost always published in black-and-white, and has numerous genres (action, adventure, business, romance, science fiction, horror, sports, erotica) and subgenres.
The first manga I read was Ichi-F by Kazuto Tatsuta, an amateur artist who signed onto the dangerous task of cleaning up the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, after it was destroyed by the devastating earthquake in 2011. One reason why manga fascinated me was its ability to create new epics; it has its own gods, fantastic creatures, histories and invented futures.
Manga stands out for the sheer volume of content it produces with titles running into hundreds of volumes and thousands of pages - so collectors beware! Tito Kube’s Bleach series has 74 volumes and over 120 million copies in circulation; Noriyuki Abe has directed four animated feature films based on it. Bleach incorporates the traditional Japanese belief of spirits coexisting with humans. It follows the adventures of the hotheaded teenager Ichigo Kurosaki, who journeys to various ghostly realms while defending humans from evil spirits and guiding departed souls to the afterlife.
Goku, a naive but determined warrior, is the main character of ‘Dragon Ballz’. Usagi Tsukino, whose alter ego is Sailor Moon, welcomed many women into what had previously been a predominantly male fan base. Naruto is a quirky teenager determined to become his village’s strongest ninja. Astro Boy is a compassionate kid robot from the first popular televised anime series in the 1960s that inspired the genre; his creator Osamu Tezuka, dubbed the ‘Father of manga’, has been compared to Walt Disney. Luffy is the main character of ‘One Piece’, the best-selling manga of all time with about 490 million copies sold in 58 countries. ‘Gantz’ is one of the most expensive manga series (around $ 2000).
The artists who create manga are known as mangaka. A mangaka has to produce a new manga every week, and a weekly reader survey can determine whether you are good enough to be retained, or must be replaced. One Piece author Eiichiro Oda says that being a manga artist is “voluntary enslavement”.
I have observed that manga has been occupying more and more shelf space in American bookstores compared to DC and Marvel comics. The reason, I discovered, was that besides the rising demand, bookstores found it easy to stock them because they come with serial numbers, in a similar spine design and the same size. As a lover of comics, it took time for me to come to enjoy manga. I won’t call myself a manga fan yet, but I won’t bet against becoming one.