Sunday, January 11, 2009

Manga ga daisuki! (I love manga)

So, I fell in love with manga as a teen.

I mentioned that I had been an anime fan for a long time. A really long time. So long that I was a fan before I knew what Japanese animation was. Even before I knew what Japan was. And that was thanks to Gatchiman. Or as I knew it first, Battle of the Planets. I loved that show. I was in grade four when it arrived here and I was absolutely crushed when it got cancelled. Then I discovered Captain Harlock, in French. I stumbled upon it by accident on one the CBC's french channel. I couldn't understand any of it but I was convinced that it was somehow related to Battle of the Planets because the characters looked the same.

Then years later, when I was in high school, Robotech came on. I was hooked again. For Christmas that year, my parents gave me the book, The Art of Robotech. It was from there that I finally learned what I was. An anime fan. I discovered that all of my favourite cartoons from childhood were originally from Japan. Well, from there I was able start seeking it out, although where I was from, there was precious little to be found. The thing that really got me about all this anime was the look of it. I loved the designs. Especially the characters. I learned to draw from freezing videotaped episodes of Robotech and copying them. Which brings me back to where I was.

In the comic store looking at manga. I couldn't get my hands on enough of these wonderfully designed anime cartoons. But manga is like anime in print. The aesthetics are the same; the story values are the same. I was in love again. As I mentioned before, the first issues I bought were Appleseed and Nausicaa. At the time I liked Appleseed better. The drawings were less crude (Miyazaki fans, bare with me) and there was more action. But there was something about Nausicaa that I liked, too. I just couldn't define it at the time. That was the beginning of my comics collecting phase. I decided to collect there two titles and anything else that caught my eye until both of them were finished. I though they were five and seven issues, respectively and that I would be collecting for only a few months.

I was wrong. Both stories were published in volumes of five or so issues at a time, with months and sometimes years in between. So I would devour them when they came out and fill the times between collecting other manga titles. I continued to study them and learn from them. This went on for a few years. Then I went to Japan.

I first visited Japan while in college for a couple of weeks and enjoyed it so much I wanted to try living there. I had my chance after being in the animation industry for a couple of years. I worked for a man with connection in Tokyo who helped me get a job as an assistant animator. I was living my dream! Or was it a nightmare? I was there for six months and although I have very fond memories of Japan, few if any of them are of working there. It was an incredibly valuable experience, but it wasn't fun. And one of the side effects of that experience was that anime and manga now longer had the same magnetic hold on me. Simply put, now that I had been behind the scenes, the magic was gone. Now that I had made it myself, in Japan no less, anime (much like the Japanese language itself) was no longer exotic and mysterious. It was a job. And a dirty one at that.

After I returned from my adventure, I was the opposite of a fan boy. I was vehemently critical of the Japanese style. I would harp on about how all the characters look the same and how annoying speed lines are. All the things I used to defend with equal fervour­. It was made worse by working closely with others who also hated anime.

It took time for the bitterness and the disappointment to fade. But it did. And little by little I was able to recognize the value of manga and to see it for the first time in a truely objective light. So, yah, the characters do look a lot alike, but there's a lot more to comics than character design.

Next time: if not manga, then what?

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