Archive for September 1st, 2012

By Bob Clark

Japanese manga amounts to a sub-genre of comics in the west, albeit one of increasing popularity and devotion among younger and younger readers, enough to the point that it’s more and more common to see western artists and writers imitate the form as little more than a commercial trick to lure new readers in. But within manga itself there are at least a dozen or so genres for the form to be subdivided into, ranging into all kinds of different creative directions based on the content, style and intended audience. Most visible and popular in the United States tend to be the shonen series, aimed chiefly for young boys and filled with action-packed stories ranging from the martial-arts fantasy of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, the magical adventure of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist and any number of works from groundbreaking creator Osamu Tezuka. Skewing towards an older, college-male audience are seinen series, typically filled with far more mature content in terms of sex and violence, and at the best of times created with a more mature artistic sensibility as well– it’s here that we get the root of classics like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and the whole creative output of Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed creator Masamune Shirow.

At the same time, there are josei works aimed at college-age and adult women, mostly focusing on day-to-day realism and emotional stories ranging from romance to simply finding a place in a busy world, a fine example being Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone’s Only Yesterday, later made into a film by Isao Takahata. As the co-founder of the storied Studio Ghibli, Takahata’s creative output has helped make him one of the defining voices of anime, and even a defining voice within the studio itself, even as it is defined by the influence of his colleague, Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata’s stories tend to center more on realism and emotional drama, as opposed to the adventure and fantasy prevalent in Miyazaki’s work, and as such his decision to adapt a josei makes a kind of sense. More surprising, however, may be his colleague’s decision to adapt a piece of pure shojo— one of the most popular manga forms, aimed traditionally at young girls, mostly concerned with school-crushes and romance– the resulting work being the modest classic Whisper of the Heart.


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