Instead, I’m gonna bring a crowd pleaser to the important part of my readership who is currently saving on their weekly imported Poki consumption, to fulfill their teenage wet-dream of a pilgrimage to the fantasy land they have come to associate with Japan in their head. I know they’ve been reading ever since their google search for “japanese upskirt pictures” or “pokemon furry porn” got them here.
Today’s topic is: Manga.
Mangas can be summed up approximately thus: they suck. They suck big hairy giant mutant robots balls.
Now I know I’m causing a lot of grief among the otaku crowd here. At least those who haven’t already gone back to humping their pillows dolls or building that lifesize gundam robot…
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
While allegedly taking from their western cousins, Japanese comic books differentiate themselves in that they are produced in unspeakably high volume and diversity, at a frequency that would make Stakhanov himself blush. Popular manga series in Japan release a new volume every month or so. Compare that to the two to four years it takes some European comics. American comics often sit somewhere in between (and note that, while I’m at it: most US comics, à la Marvel or DC Comics, end up quite crappy for the exact same reasons). In these conditions, there is little surprise in finding out that your average manga board consists of a dozen strokes, twenty still-frame repetitions of the same expression and endless full-page insert with hardly any more work put into them.
Of course, a few mangas have better art and show some attention to detail.
Like countless people, the first Japanese comic I ever read was Otomo Katsuro’s Akira (for those of you who think mangas started with Dragon Ball Z: that was ages before pimply western teenagers in Sailor Moon outfits started becoming a tripping hazard on the streets of Harajuku). Akira simply kicked the hell out of anything else made at that time, and reasonable time was taken between releases… but that didn’t prevent the latter volumes to suffer the fate of every single manga: a progressive straying into the most ridiculously incoherent plot ever made.
And don’t come telling me there is a cultural element in there: why in the world should ten volumes make sense, at one degree or another, to suddenly degrade into accumulations of pseudo-spiritual gibberish and science-fiction clichés?
The answer probably lies at the crossroad between greed and loss of inspiration: to increase manga plot quality tenfold, all one would have to do, is keep a few trained ferrets in publishers’ offices and have them frenetically go for the nuts, the minute an author considers going past the tenth volume. Magically, plots would stop running on endless silly digressions and useless props, loose ends would be tied without the use of painfully artificial deus ex machina and story-telling would be enjoyable from start to finish.
Yet, knowing when to stop is a completely foreign concept to manga editing and, few, if any, manga authors have ever considered stopping before they have milked their character dry to the point of irrelevance.
But the authors/editors are only partially responsible for this sad state of affair, since in the end, they are only caving in to the pressure of the market. Manga readers do not care about the drop in quality, as long as they keep getting their weekly fix of familiar characters and rehashed storylines. That same symbiosis between greedy makers and undiscerning public is what allow George Lucas to churn out monumental cash-hungry horsedungs with no other apparent purpose than the systematic raping and destroying of our childhood memories, and still have fanboys wetting themselves in line to see them. Instant gratification and junk-food mentality are about the two strongest drives in this market. Mangas are the cheetos of comic book art.
And this is only to name the most prominent and universally shared flaw of this industry. I could also point out the shameless pandering that drives most teenage mangas, preying on the insecurities of the average otaku and doing their best to build that fantasy bubble where curvaceous giggling girls in maid outfit, inexplicably fall for socially inept, manga-obsessed shut-ins, apparently oblivious to the lack of personal hygiene and the fact they keep a collection of love-dolls in their living room.
You may tell me that this is no different from Danielle Steel or any other sort of low-quality pulp material in the western world: I realize that suspension of disbelief and building imaginary worlds are precisely the point of most fiction, including quality ones. But there is a fine line here, and self-serving marketing teenage-oriented mangas step over that line with the subtlety of a stampeding godzilla herd.
While insipid romance novels certainly do a lot to keep the average housewife numb in the fuzzy expectation that a charming prince may one day come and ravish her from her suburban home, it is still understood to be somewhat of an improbable option. Compare that to my weekly encounters with dejected gaijin otakus, fresh off the boat and heart-broken at the realization that Tokyo is nothing like the otaku-dreamland they had been led more or less subconsciously to believe: the only girls that will talk to them in Akihabara are paid 3,000 yens an hour to wear stupid cat ears while serving sodas and will charge an extra ten for pictures, while the bubbly Shibuya teenagers in mini-skirts and fluorescent make-up will look right through them, and stick instead to pimp-lookalikes with ridiculous hairdo and the sort of semi-carbonized tan one doesn’t acquire reading mangas… You wouldn’t believe how many of these pour souls I’ve bumped into, in my years here, coming to the sad realization that most Japanese, at best don’t give two craps about manga (particularly the sort that tends to be popular abroad), and in most case, will actually give them the same judgemental looks they get from folks at home.
They are only the western counterpart to the local otaku crowds who have long decided to retire completely in a fantasy-world of their own, where girls come in software box with a bonus inflatable pillow and showers are optional. It is with these people in mind that most of the adult manga industry market their products. Which is pretty sad for them, and anybody else who like the eye-rolling factor in their reading, to remain at a bearable level.
“But”, I can hear you ask, anxiety glowing from the corner of your unrealistically saucerplate-sized twitching eye, “is there really nothing to save from the vast emptiness of the manga world?”
This is a legitimate question. One that we will attempt to answer in Volume Two of this ongoing series (or maybe volume 28, if the series work and we can get a publishing contract).
Note: feel free to attempt and change my poor opinion of the genre by pointing me to recent manga works that shatter my close-minded stereotypical vision of the industry. Be aware, however, that any manga recommendation that starts something like “this is the story of a lonely love-doll collector who, despite all odds, meets and seduce a young, fresh, innocent and smart girl with cat ears inexplicably sprouting out of her hair”, will likely be met with my own reading recommendations.