It’s not often that one hears of a commercial venture that sustains itself in spite of obvious piracy, but one example that does fit the bill, rather well, at that, would be the mangas or the Japanese comics. Although called ‘Japanese Mangas’, they are written by Chinese and Korean authors as well. Spinning a $3.6 billion industry, mangas may not beat the classic Spiderman in the number game, but as far as popularity goes mangas have managed to hold their own, undeniable charm.
Mangas are comics – they really are. Like any other comics they too have pictures and speech bubbles. The similarity ends there.
For one thing most mangas are originally Japanese so they have to be read from right to left, albeit Koran and Chinese mangas are read left to right. In a manga one won’t find the tried and tested formula: Superman beats bad guy, saves the day, then repeat. There’s just no scope for that kind of clique in a manga. The mangas reads like a proper novel with justifiable doses of drama, action, humour, and they are far more diverse than the run of the mill Marvel universe release. Another key difference is that mangas are rich with Japanese culture and often make various references to Japanese traditions, customs, proverbs, as well as modern Japanese lifestyle. Many also have references to foreign cultures and the research and artwork the Mangakas (Manga writers) put into their creation is not something to sneeze at.
The mangas readership is like a brotherhood. They span a readership cutting across all segments of society – espcially in Japan. There are mangas with adult contents as well, and their sale is restricted. To understand the phenomena called ‘manga’, to learn how seriously mangas are followed just google Naruto. With a new chapter released on a weekly basis Naruto has been going on for more than 13 years. Its readership has only grown with time. Can any novel claim that feat for itself? Mangas are readily sold outside Japan as well with publishers like Viz comics bringing mangas to the shores of USA, Canada and most of Europe.
Another proof of the pudding is the video adaptations of mangas. Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, Digimon, Bayblade are among the few cartoons everyone’s sure to have at least heard of. Some of the older readers might recall a TV show called Speed Racer, of which an English movie was made which made a killing in the box office a few years back. All of these anime shows are based on mangas written and illustrated by their respective authors and later animated into these shows. At times the anime board changes the storyline a little but in under no circumstances does that refute the fact that all the anime shows are based on the mangas that preceded them.
A little quip: When the Fukushima plant disaster took place manga patrons exchanged information on the Mangakas who were confirmed to be alive via their posts on twitter or face book or some other social networking site. For a while some rumours were spread that Naruto author Masashi Kishimoto had died in the disaster. Manga affiliates everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when the rumours proved false.
About the piracy bit mentioned in the beginning: Most manga translations are done by an active global community as a project – not a commercial project. Scantalation i.e. scanned translations of mangas are active ventures that is carried out by the global manga community. People buy raw Japanese mangas, scan each page, send these scanned pages to be cleaned i.e. to remove watermarks and the like, then have the text translated, following which the original Japanese text is cleaned and then finally the translations are filled out into the speech bubbles. The final draft is then uploaded to the web for manga lovers to read. Given how lengthy the process it’s quite a feat that the manga community not only keeps up with the Mangakas but it does so without charging the end consumer a dime. Technically it is piracy but the manga industry doesn’t seem too bothered. In fact many believe that these scans introduce more and more people to mangas thus increasing the consumer base.
Whether or not that is true remains to be seen albeit the manga community appears far more lenient than the music community regarding free access to content via the web. That said the Mangaka community did have an extremely popular manga hosting site which was shut down a few years back. In fact many Japanese celebrities have said on air that they are happy that the mangas and anime, rich with the Japanese spirit have built their own niche abroad as well.
Mangas inspire their own conventions where manga lovers dress up as their favourite characters much like the western sci-fi conventions. One difference though is that since some mangas are based on school life so the fans ditch the red and blue tights in favour of street clothes or at times school uniforms that resemble their manga character’s taste.
Manga is now a part of the urban lifestyle, with manga-inspired from our own heroes like Karna – yes, that’s right there is a manga out there on Karna. Long story short anyone with a little free time should check it out.
(The author is a college student and an avid manga fan).