Wednesday, June 20, 2007


On Tuesday I caught a great radio program on my local NPR station, KQED. They featured an hour-long discussion with a few of my favorite mangaologists on the legacy of Osamu Tezuka and the current state of manga in America.

Forum explores the growth of Manga, a form of serialized comics extremely popular in Japan.
Host: Michael Krasny
Carl Horn, the Manga editor for Dark Horse Comics
Fred Schodt, author of "Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics" and "The Astro Boy Essays." Schodt is also a translator and Tezuka Osamu historian.

You can stream the show from their page or download it as an MP3 (right-click to save).

My impressions from the program (SPOILER ALERT!):
  • Schodt has a awesome voice. Also, he would make a really cool uncle.

  • Schodt is the go-to guy for discussing Tezuka, and talks anecdotes both here and in his latest book, The Astro Boy Essays, about his personal friendship with The God of Manga.

  • Horn compares & contrasts the American and Japanese comics industries. In the US, the '50s comics code killed off their "ability to create stories that ordinary people could relate to" and also "contributed to a narrative stereotyping of comic books in which the acceptable types of stories you could, not just in terms of nudity of violence but of world view, gradually narrowed."

  • Schodt says that translating manga into English has gotten easier and easier in the past 20 years. There was a time when early manga translators worried that American audiences wouldn't be able to handle the cultural details and exotic minutiae. There has been a mindmeld between young Americans and young Japanese in the past 15 years; American kids grow up eating sushi, sleeping on futons and are raised on a lot of Japanese ideas filtered through cultural exports. Gags, language puns and visual puns are very hard to translate, sure, but it's much easier to pitch things now than when he originally was translating Phoenix, etc.

  • Horn notes the difference in geopolitical discourse about the Japanese in the 80s, which was always about Japanese politics and economy, and never about pop culture. Now it's the exact opposite, and the only thing the US media covers is Japan's "soft power" AKA pop culture. In response to an aside from the host about the Rape of Nanking, Horn notes that an upcoming issue of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service has the crew going to Harbin, China and raising discussion about Unit 731 and other Japanese war crimes during WWII.

  • Schodt talks about flipping comics, and how the young, sophisticated readers of nowadays prefer the unflipped editions (that's you guys).

  • Schodt makes the point that what most Americans see as 'MANGA' is a few steps removed from how Japanese would describe it, for two reasons. One is the inherent (but shrinking) time lag between a manga's release and popularity in Japan and it's release in English in the U.S. The second is the natural filter of what is profitable and gets picked for release in the US; Looking simply at that, Schodt notes, Americans would think that manga is weighted heavily toward technology, atomics bombs, the internet. What is hard to see from here is that manga is much more broad in Japan that what bit of it we get exposed to here. American publishers are forced to focus on works that they think there are a market for; this means the most manga in English until now has been focused on young male readers.

  • Schodt discusses 'gekiga' as a reaction to Tezuka, as a realist movement read by construction workers and college students.

  • Otaku culture notes from the guy who helped design the Hotel Tomo in San Francisco. The hotel is totally themed in anime/Japanese '90s pop culture, and is basically way over the top and insane.

  • Why do nerds and computer geeks specifically also like anime and manga?

  • Why do the humans all have big "Betty Boop" eyes in manga? (DERRRR) Short answer from Schodt: Blame Tezuka's love for Disney and early American animations.

  • Questions about Adolf series-- Was Tezuka anti-semitic? Schodt dismisses this and talks about the breadth of subject matters in contemporary manga. He also mentions that he's re-reading an autobiographical manga by "an aquaintance of mine" about his time in Japanese jail: Sounds like he's talking about Kazuichi Hanawa's Doing Time. Dang, Schodt knows everybody!

  • What do you recommend for a teenager studying Japanese that wants to try to read a manga in the original Japanese? Schodt says read a manga about something that you already like so it's easier to follow. Horn recommends the dude reads a Japanese manga magazine directed at young kids for practice.

  • Caller asks about anti-war themes in Tezuka's work, and Schodt expands on these themes in Astro Boy and Jungle Emperor. Schodt also says that in America, the manga that is very popular is about robots, destruction and conflict, but that this is based more on supply & demand than prevalence and reiterates that Japanese manga covers board games, salaryman life, etc.

All in all, it was a pretty excellent hour of radio. Man, I've never heard something mispronounce the word manga so many times in one hour though. MAIN-ga, MEHN-ga but never 'manga'-- Not to be the otaku king who gets fussy about that sort of thing, but jeeez.



Jake said...

I can never understand how people mispronounce japanese words. There is only one way to pronounce vowels! It is the easiest language to speak correctly...

Chris said...

It's not as easy or as natural as you say. In English, vowels can be pronounced in a number of ways (long, short, etc.), so people who don't know anything about Japanese wouldn't know how to properly pronounce them - they only have their English language schema as a guide.

Anonymous said...

It was annoying to hear "manga" mispronounced so much, but as Chris said, it is difficult sometimes to know how a vowel is pronounced. I know this from helping my daughter read. She's always getting the vowels mixed up. I just wish Schodt or Horn would have corrected the host. It was a great interview otherwise.

bittermelon said...

this is an AWESOME breakdown. good work guys. i'm gonna link to this on our blog.

Anonymous said...

Americans are losing their phonetic skills in English. So of course the Japanese mispronunciations will be incorrect to those who lack the skill.

Bernie said...

As of March 2010 this is still up and still worth listening to...just sayin'.