Back on the Manga-go-round

Over on his website, Paul Gravett writes a cogent, well-reasoned article about what manga is not. Which leaves us with only one workable definition of what a manga actually is.

A manga is a Japanese comic. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

Inconvenient for the artist Joe Bloggs, who wants to sell you his How to Draw Manga book. Inconvenient for Large Corporation, that wants to sell you a book of non-Japanese comics with the word “manga” on the front. But that’s what happens when you try try to sell apples and call them oranges. Gravett admits that you can’t boil down a definition of manga to specific elements of style, or attitude or content. An argument that some of you may find familiar, and may even have expected.

In which case, there is no point in using the word manga at all unless we are talking about Japanese comics. In fact, it’s insulting to the broad church of Japanese comics if one tries to strip down such a rich medium to such simple (and, as six years of my Manga Snapshot column should have demonstrated by now, not necessarily universal) aspects as big eyes or spiky hair.

We got there in the end. Only took, what, five years? Ten? What are the odds that this will put an end to the tedious “debate”* on definitions?

No, the odds are not good, for all the reasons I cited in 2008, and on innumerable occasions preceding.

* (I put it in quotes because it’s hardly a debate if the other side consistently turns up empty-handed and wearing ear plugs)

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Made in Wales

Back from Cardiff, where Skillset Screen Academy Wales invited me to teach my infamous workshop on Storylining in a Corporate Environment, pronounced on previous occasions as “life-changing”, “instructive”, “terrifying”, and “better than the guy we had last week.”

The venue was the swish multimedia Atrium building of the University of Glamorgan; the task, distilling a series of contradictory directives into an idea that would displease everybody equally. After initial instruction in the way that Japanese animation is put together, the students, largely postgraduates studying Film or Scriptwriting (but also Animation and Business Management), were forced to come up with their own ideas for a story bible mixing criteria from Japan, America and Europe. And within half an hour, we were arguing the merits of High School Knights versus Hattie Bast, a British schoolgirl who is also a reincarnated Egyptian cat goddess, as well as debates on tokenism, individuation, transforming robots, the merchandising value of magic amulets, and why it’s never a good idea to name your toy line after a natural disaster. There was even time out for a brief lesson in forensic pathology, as we discussed the alleged Death Note Murders. Also, there was free coffee.

My favourite idea of recent classes remains Decontaminators, the series pitch worked up by students at the Irish Film Institute last week, which was concocted as a sci-fi franchise designed to sell soap to anime fans, but there’s no telling where the wild tangents and industry related rants will take any given group of participants. It’s a calculatedly hit-and-miss affair, and we’re obliged to compress debates that take weeks in the professional world into just a single morning.

The recurring theme is “monoculture” – that deadly affliction of cliche to which so many TV serials and toy lines are dragged by the demands of their corporate sponsors and management teams. But surviving such pressures and getting the job done is really what the workshop is all about. I always have a lot of fun doing it and the students seemed to enjoy themselves, too. One of them called it a “wake-up call”… that’s a good thing, right…?

One day, I really must just give them a title like, I don’t know, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, and see what ideas they come up with to fit it.