Tuesday, March 15, 2011

anime and manga bloggers for japan

As I hope you're aware, Japan is reeling in the aftermath of the worst earthquake since they started keeping records on earthquakes. Whether you call it the "Great Tohoku Earthquake" or the "Great Sendai Earthquake", what you need to do is to haul out the cash you fritter away on the sort of goofy junk I usually write about here, and send it to any one of these relief agencies. Hell, send them ALL some money.
Doctors Without Borders You know, Medecins Sans Frontieres, risking life and limb to help people around the world.
The Red Cross is in on this action, of course, as they always are. In America you can text REDCROSS to 90999, which will donate $10 that's added to your cell phone bill (seriously, how easy is that?) or call 1-800 RED CROSS. In Canada you can text REDCROSS to 30333 to donate, or call 1-800-418-1111.
Shelterbox is fascinating, they send premade emergency kits to disasters. "Each box supplies an extended family of up to 10 people with a tent and lifesaving equipment to use while they are displaced or homeless."

You can join the
Humanitarian Coalition - that's CARE, Oxfam Quebec, Oxfam Canada, and Save The Children. And there are a dozen, a hundred different other places to donate time & money. Get busy.

This post is thanks to
all about manga, whose "Anime & Manga Bloggers For Japan" post inspired me to quit watching disaster footage on TV and actually do something. If you ever enjoyed reading Let's Anime or any other anime & manga blog, or enjoy cartoons or comics from Japan; well, the time to say 'thank you' is now. Right now, this minute, go.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tomo Book No. 47

Depending on who you ask, the “golden age” of American comics starts somewhere in the late 1930s and ends anywhere from the Korean War to the Kennedy inauguration. Straitjacketed by this America-centric comic book collectors mindset, it’s tough to categorize Japanese comics from the same period. Is there a Golden Age of manga? Is there a Bob Overstreet-san categorizing faded Shonen Magazines and dusty stacks of tankubon, grading each according to condition and scarcity and injury-to-the-eye-motif
covers? God I hope not.

It’s this lack of raw data – raw data in a language I can read, anyways – that makes uncovering this kind of mid-Showa period manga (hah, here I am, categorizing away) so thrilling. What is this? Where did it come from, who was tracing Tezuka characters when they drew it, and what was it doing in an estate sale in Marietta GA in the mid 1980s? That’s where I found it, casually placed on an antique dresser next to a O.E.S. New Testament.

Number 47 in the “Tomo Book” series, this particular volume is titled “THE VANISHING WORLD” (forgive my rough translation) and features 4 stories of rockets, robots, Martian flying saucers, atom bomb tests, jet pilots romancing jungle girls, and general science fictional adventure; the Japanese equivalent of the Tom Swift sci-fi juveniles that American ten year olds were devouring at the time.

The artwork is generally pretty crude. You can get away with faking the cartoony Tezuka style once or twice but eventually the lack of structure or perspective, the weak crosshatching, the general ineptitude of the artwork (inside front cover signed “Yasuhiro Kozako”) shows through. And this is 1955: Tezuka was right in the middle of one of his most productive periods, Ishinomori was just getting into his Shonen Magazine groove, Tatsumi was moving beyond current styles and percolating the ideas that would, in a couple of years, emerge as "gekiga". Our Tomo Book No. 47 is an anachronism, even for 1955. Still, the breakneck pacing manages to brute-force the stories right through the weaknesses of the illustration, and the blue ink gives the entire production a reassuring elementary-school handout atmosphere.

Sometimes you meet robots on Mars;

And then sometimes the robots turn out to be beautiful girls. Life's like that.

Budding manga geniuses aside, most comic books everywhere are pretty much like “The Vanishing World” here – crude lowest-common-denominator distractions for children barely able to read. Impulse purchases for those who are barely old enough to have enough pocket money to learn what an impulse purchase is. Fifty years on, its value as a cultural artifact may outweigh its utility as an adventure story for children. But that’s OK. Rest easy, Tomo Book No. 47.