Anime for Comics Fans; Comics for Anime Fans: Rebels with a cause
Have you ever overheard (or gotten caught in the middle of) an argument between a certain type of fan of mainstream English-language comics and a similar type of fan of Japanese anime and manga? Many of us know a Comic Book Guy who dismisses all anime and manga as nothing more than giant robot fights and salacious encounters of big-eyed schoolgirls with tentacle monsters. Then there’s Mr. Otaku, who dismisses the majority of comics and cartoons (especially American ones) as empty slugfests between over-muscled thugs in spandex.
In reality, both art forms actually have a lot of threads in common. The word “anime” is simply the Japanese word for “animation” (or “cartoons”). The word “manga” is simply the Japanese word used to describe what we usually call “comic books” or “graphic novels.” There’s really no fundamental value judgment inherent in any of these words, which simply describe a type of medium, not a genre, and they’re certainly not in and of themselves a measure of quality.
In fact, the art forms have influenced each other back and forth over the years. For all that some otaku rag on Western culture, the art style that we commonly associate with anime and manga was largely inspired by the cartoons of Walt Disney, brought to Japan by American soldiers after World War II. Osamu Tezuka, often referred to as the "god of manga,” spoke reverentially of Disney (the "Kimba the White Lion" controversy is a whole other matter we won’t go into here). In more recent times, Western artists have been increasingly inspired by anime and manga, to the point where we have things like the Teen Titans cartoon series, which is based on a long-running American comics series, but uses the character design and visual symbols of Japanese anime. Cross-cultural collaborations are becoming increasingly common. A few years ago, Korean-American animation artist Peter Chung, who brought us the Aeon Flux animated series for MTV, was called upon to do the character design for the anime series Reign the Conqueror from Madhouse studios. More recently, Marvel’s Stan Lee has been working with Hiroyuki Takei on the manga Ultimo in Japan, and manga artists have been drawing comics (e.g. Kia Asamiya worked on Batman) for the English-speaking market.
This article is the first of many, based on a panel given at the recent New York Comic Con by Summer Mullins, editor, and Angela Hanson, managing editor, at Anime Insider magazine. Mullins said she is a fan of "old-school" stuff like Ranma 1/2, and also likes Bleach as a "guilty pleasure.” Hanson said her "all-time favorite” is Trigun. Both said they were fans of English-language comics before they were into anime and manga. "The world is shrinking, especially in the digital era," said Hanson. The theme of their panel was how to introduce fans of English-language (especially American) comics to Japanese manga and and anime, and vice versa. To do this, the panelists discussed several match-ups of Japanese series with a Western title that resembles it artistically, thematically, or would otherwise appeal to a common fandom.
In this article, we’ll begin the discussion with some works by very prominent creators in their fields that have been getting a lot of attention in the mainstream media lately. If you are a fan of either Japanese or English-language titles, and are looking to try something new, or if there’s someone you know whose horizons you’d like to expand, why not check some of these out?
REBELS WITH A CAUSE — BUT LITTLE CONSCIENCE
Anime/Manga series: Code Geass
Anime series directed by Goro Taniguchi/ written by Ichiro Okouchi.
Manga adaptations illustrated by various artists.
In an alternate high-tech future, the British Empire has never fallen. In fact, it’s added Japan to its conquests, subjugating it and stripping it of its cultural identity by calling it “Area 11” and treating the Japanese as second-class citizens. A teenaged prince of the Empire, Lelouche, is attending boarding school in anonymous exile in Japan when he receives a mysterious psychic power known as the “geass.” Using the code name “Zero,” he uses the power to start a rebellion for Japan’s independence, motivated not so much by sympathy for its people, but more by his own desire for personal revenge against the Empire that wronged him. He is not averse to using ruthless tactics to achieve his goals.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion originated as an anime TV series in 2006. The character design, significantly, was done by the superstar shojo manga and anime studio CLAMP. (They’re known for such series as X, Cardcaptor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth and Tsubasa.) There is some giant robot mayhem in Code Geass but there are also strong threads of character development, high school drama, family dynamics, and even romance.
Four short manga series have been created so far from the anime series. Each one presents aspects of the plot from the point of view of one of the major characters, though also with differences in certain elements from the anime (this is not uncommon with manga adaptations of anime series). Three of the manga series have been licensed for release in the US so far (issues from two series are currently available).
|Availability||Current Numbers||English-Language publisher|
2 seasons with 25 episodes apiece (total of 50) have aired so far
4 manga miniseries adaptations so far
Code Geass: Lelouche of the Rebellion
Code Geass: Suzaku of the Counterattack
Code Geass: Nightmare of Nunally
Code Geass: Tales of an Alternate Shogunate
Currently airing on cable television, dubbed into English
Check out also www.codegeass.bandai-ent.com for official video streams
5 of 6 volumes of Season 1 have been released in US so far (also in boxed sets)
English-Language Comic Series: V for Vendetta
Written by Alan Moore
Art by David Lloyd
In an alternate near-future where Britain is a fascist dictatorship, a mysterious masked figure, known only as V, performs acts of terror in rebellion against the government and recruits another to his ideology.
Alan Moore has been one of the major players in the English-language comic book scene for about 20 years. This is one of his major early works, which debuted in a British magazine starting in 1982, though the magazine folded in the U.K. before reaching the end of the narrative. DC Comics picked it up and re-released the complete story in the U.S. as 10-issue miniseries ending in 1988. It has since been collected into a trade paperback by DC’s Vertigo imprint that is still available.
The story was very much a product of its time. It was a future history, based on the idea of a nuclear war taking place in the late 1980’s, and its subtext critiqued British politics in the Cold War era. In 2006, the Wachowski brothers, (producers of The Matrix movies) released a movie version of V for Vendetta, updating some of the political themes to resonate more with the post-9/11/Bush/Blair era. Moore publicly voiced his opposition to the film adaptation, saying it distorted his intended themes and politics. However, you may want to decide for yourself and see and compare both versions.
If Moore’s name sounds familiar to you lately, it’s because he is also the writer of the original comic miniseries upon which the Watchmen film is based. Yes, Moore has come out publicly against this film as well. However, if you like V for Vendetta, especially the comic version, you should definitely check out the Watchmen graphic novel collection now also available from DC Comics – even if you have already seen the movie.
Full story released originally in 10 issues in late 1980’s
Now available in Trade Paperback
(DC) Vertigo Comics
2006 movie adaptation available on DVD
Warner Bros Home Video
- Dystopian futures with oppressive governments
- Disturbed geniuses are rebels who are "sticking it to the man”
- Ambiguous protagonists – are they heroes, terrorists, psychopaths? Are their tactics justified?
- Stories with political intrigue, spies, double-crossing
- Parallels can be drawn with real-world political issues