Friday, May 30, 2008
Manga is the name given to Japanese comic books, although most people over the age of 35 or so will use the word to describe animation on TV as well. The word literally means "whimsical pictures" and was coined by Edo Period ukiyo-e artist Hokusai (the dude who painted the famous Red Fuji and Great Wave Off Kanagawa pictures you may have seen) to describe a book of woodblock art he'd done. Although manga can be associated with obsessive otaku culture, there really isn't a single Japanese person who didn't grow up with a favorite manga that they still feel nostalgia for, whether they're an active fan now or not. On Sundays our rural liquor shop gets the new issues of the popular weekly manga magazines, a day earlier than the large chains and convenience stores, one of the few bones thrown to small retailers in Japan. I always marvel at the customers who stop by to pick up the new issue: elementary school and junior high kids, of course, but plenty of adults, including a businessman in a really nice BMW who makes small talk with me and, since we live next door to our city's mayor by some strange coincidence, the deputy mayor of our city. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Shonen Jump, the popular manga weekly, and Japanese canned coffee maker Roots is putting on a major advertising campaign for its new coffee called "Innocent Blend" (I am not kidding), showing panels from the great Jump comics of the past, from YuYu Hakusho to Dragonball Z to Saint Seiya all the way up to Death Note. So everyone celebrate manga by, er, drinking some canned coffee, or something!
Gokuh: "After he shook hands with me, he wiped his hand off when he thought I wasn't looking!"
L: "I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock twice this morning, and ended up being late."
Here are some more. This is from Kimagure Orange Road, the novels for which I translated back in the day. This is from the last volume when the love trianble between Hikaru, Madoka and Kyosuke (who is a secret esper) is resolved. The ad says, "I went to make a purchasae with my 'point card' but it had expired..."
Another favorite of mine, Video Girl Ai, which is 1000% times better than the short anime they made, although the anime had Noriko Sakai to make up for it. This is Ai saying, "This guy only makes jokes that make himself look bad." Which is very funny when read in Japanese, very funny.
For the Bleach fans. This says, "S- So she was really trying to break up with me!?"
No work is ever created in a vacuum, and everything is constantly being influenced by everything else. Every time I watch Silence of the Lambs, I marvel at how blatantly the X-Files draws its core inspiration from the film, right down to the geeky Lone Gunman characters who help out on the case, and I'm sure the creator of CSI: Las Vegas got his idea for that series while watching Manhunter, the 1986 film that introduced Hannibal Lecter (the 2002 film Red Dragon is a remake of Manhunter). The world of Japanese animation is not immune from taking inspiration from other sources either, for example the many cues Fist of the North Star takes from The Road Warrior, or my pet theory that the "magical girl" genre of anime rose in response to the popularity of My Wife is a Witch, aka Bewitched, which was popular in Japan during that era. If you've seen the film The Matrix, you know how Hollywood has been influenced more than a little by the world of anime. While a lot of the inspiration for the movie obviously comes from Shirow Masamune's hard-hitting Ghost in the Shell sci-fi series, a larger part of the story is a tribute to Megazone 23 (pronounced "two-three"), one of the breakthrough anime concepts of the 80s. In the series, the population of Tokyo thinks its the end of the 20th Century, but in reality it's 500 years in the future and everyone is living inside a space ship. Many elements of the Megazone series are borrowed for the Matrix, including the hacker-as-semi-messianic main character idea.
MZ23 the first was one of the great Haruhiko Mikimoto creations. He could snare fans with any illustration on a record album, a model box, you name it...
Part II has radically altered designs, although I didn't dislike it as much as I used to. This was the best anime sex scene of its era, though, You know you're an old-school anime nerd when you can say honestly that a girl has broken up with you over differing opinions on Megazone 23 character designs.
Part III is a new generation, several hundred years into the future. A lot of the Hacker Neo stuff comes from this one.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
When learning Japanese, I found myself fascinated by words or phrases that were completely unlike what existed in English. For example, there's a class of single-word phrases which, for some reason, have many possible translation paths in English, making them challenging (but fun) to use. First there's yahari (alternately, yappari), which you use to express your own expectations about something, roughly equivalent to "I knew it" or "just as I expected." When someone tells you something that you didn't know, you can use naruhodo (nah-roo-ho-doh), which means "I see" or "that's news to me." If you watch an hour of anime in Japanese, you'll likely hear the phrase masaka (mah-sah-kah) at least once, usually said by a shocked character -- it just means "it can't be!" or "you've got to be joking!" Finally there's a great word to pull out when you want to praise someone: sasuga (SAH-soo-gah), which roughly means "I always knew you were incredible!" So if you have a friend or coworker named Yamada-san who does something good, hit him with "Sasuga, Yamada-san!" and know that you've made his day.
Do you know the story of Toire no Hanako-san, or Miss Hanako of the Toilet? It's a Japanese urban legend that can be found at most every elementary school here, and it goes like this: if you go to the fourth stall of a specified girl's bathroom, usually on the third floor of the school, knock three times and call out "Hanako-san, are you there?" then you'll hear her reply, "Hai" (yes). Open the stall and you'll see a shimmering figure of a girl with bobbed hair with a red skirt on standing there. It's the ghost of Hanako, a girl who committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates (ijime), who is said to haunt the girl's bathroom looking for revenge. Or in an older version, Hanako is a girl who was playing hide-and-seek in the school bathroom during the war and was killed in an American air raid because she couldn't hear the air raid siren. Hanako-san is part of a pantheon of "school ghost" stories that are well known in Japan, like Kuchisake Onna or Split-Faced Woman, a female ghost who asks you if she's beautiful before trying to devour you, and Teke-Teke, the upper torso of a female who claws her way around Japan searching for her lower half, which was severed in a train accident in Hokkaido. Anyone hearing this story will supposedly see Teke-Teke's lower half walking aimlessly around the countryside within three days. Let us know if you see anything!
Here's another one. Click to enlarge.