Education About Asia: Online Archives

Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga

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Manga is one of the most often mentioned topics of the Japanese popular culture, and it tends to inspire two types of reactions: some refuse and look down on manga, while others are fascinated. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, is written by Frederik Schodt, an American who has been fascinated by manga and has been “observing and writing about the manga industry in Japan over the last sixteen years” (p.12). Dreamland Japan is a new addition to Schodt’s previous book, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1983), and skillfully presents artistic, social, and economic aspects of the Japanese ‘story manga’ industry. Dreamland Japan also provides a rich information source of Japanese animation (pp. 275–304) and manga-related activities in the English-speaking world (pp. 305–47).

What are manga, and where did they come from? The author defines manga as follows: “In a nutshell, the modern Japanese manga is a synthesis: a long Japanese tradition of art that entertains has taken on a physical form imported from the West” (p. 21). Throughout the book, Schodt claims that manga is the amalgamation of a Japanese traditional art (monochrome line drawings such as chojugiga, kibyoshi) and the physical form of American newspaper comic strips.

However, several significant differences should be identified between Japanese manga and American comics. One of the crucial differences is that much, but not all, Japanese manga are “the comics of normal people doing normal things” (the celebration of the ordinary), whereas American comics must “have incredible people doing incredible things” (p. 28). The difference leads the author to an important reason why foreigners should read manga. Because manga portrays the ordinary life of ordinary people, manga offers a discourse between tatemae (surface images and intentions) and honne (true feelings and intentions) which otherwise confuse most foreigners. Reading manga helps foreigners make the inscrutable Japanese society and people into something scrutable. Again, according to Schodt, “Reading manga is like peering into the unvarnished, untouched reality of the Japanese mind” (p. 31). His claim was exemplified by some selected story manga artists (e.g., Fujiko F. Fujio, Shigeru Mizuki, Osamu Tezuka) and their works in three chapters (pp. 81–274).

While Dreamland Japan is designed for the general public, it should prove especially useful in advanced undergraduate courses dealing with the crossroads between Japanese art history and Japanese popular culture, for the book succeeds in correcting a stereotyped negative image about manga and informing readers of the traditional artistic aspect of Japanese manga. In a sense, Schodt accentuates another category of Japanese art comparable to Kabuki, Bunraku, Sado, and so on. This study almost appears flawless in terms of the discovery of a Japanese art. However, the discovery made by the author, an outsider of Japanese culture, appears nothing new for the natives of Japanese culture. The natives of Japanese culture have known the tradition and the presence of manga, whether or not manga was discovered by outsiders. In this respect, the discovery may be valuable only for outsiders of Japanese culture, and the discovery appears to be ‘the discovery of America by Columbus,’ as is often the case with the discoveries of Asian arts made by American Asianists.

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