Source Material

Bit of housekeeping in this month’s Pulse column: I’d like to take the chance to knock another misconception on the head before a whole new generation start using it as gospel truth. Somewhere back in the mists of time, probably in a press release from the early 1990s, someone made the inadvisable claim that anime were all based on manga. I guess it was an attempt to inextricably link two buzz-words in a breathless twofer. Even though anyone with half a brain must surely realise that it can’t be true, I still regularly have to deal with journalists who think it is a fact. Sadly, this assumption has wormed its way into several academic publications as well. Of course, anime and manga will always enjoy a strong affinity, but the idea manga forms the foundation of the anime business has not been supported by the facts since the late 1960s.

So, for the record. In the early days of anime, many cartoons were indeed based on local comics. In 1963, the year of the broadcast of Astro Boy, 100% of anime were based on manga. But even by the year I was born, 1971, I estimate that only half of all the anime on TV were based on Japanese comics. The rest were ideas concocted in a hurry at boozy lunches, or ripped off from pre-existing works, such as the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Ten years later, amid a bunch of toy tie-ins and adaptations of famous children’s stories, the number had dropped still further, to something like a third.

These days, manga have enjoyed something of a resurgence. Last year, 46% of anime were based on manga. That’s by far the largest sector, against 19% based on novels, 17% based on computer games, and 15% created entirely out of nothing. That just leaves 3% of “other”, which could be anything. If Hollywood can base Pirates of the Caribbean on a theme park ride, then anime can be inspired by mascots, chocolate bars and political satire if it so desires.

Just because you know that there is a manga with the same title as your favourite anime, it doesn’t follow that the anime was based on it. Many manga are merely created to advertise a particular show, and to encourage younger readers to seek it out in the first place. Similarly, ever since the 1990s, many manga have been conceived purely as marketing tools, part of a “multi-media” spread designed to sell the comic. Yes, technically, Sailor Moon was “based on” a manga, but the Sailor Moon manga was steered and influenced heavily by shadowy figures preparing the franchise for broadcast, not for publication.

Needless to say, that still leaves lots of areas open to misunderstandings. One wonders, for example, how many of the “novels” that inspire anime productions are actually “light novels”, in other words, individually published novellas, often insanely dialogue heavy and seemingly intended less for textual printing than for reading on a mobile phone. (Many of them, in fact, appear to have been written on one, too).

You may be wondering what difference it all makes. I, for one, think it’s healthy to remember that Japanese animation has just as rich a field of inspiration as any culture’s cartoons. If the general public think that anime can only stem from comics, they will have greater trouble understanding its fancier inspirations: the works of Alexandre Dumas, for example, or the novels of Yasutaka Tsutsui, or, well… the Bible.

This article first appeared in NEO #78, 2010.

1 thought on “Source Material

  1. Pingback: Animation Plus | The Official Schoolgirl Milky Crisis Blog

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