Winter 2020 Anime: Official Info, Airdates & Trailers
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
It’s an eternal struggle for teachers to get their students interested in important works of literature from years long past. Since the material is so old, it can put younger people off from reading it entirely, even though they might’ve actually enjoyed the content if their eyes hadn’t already glazed over from the presentation. So, what’s the magic bullet that can make these books appealing? …Manga, of course!
Both in and out of Japan, manga is a huge sensation among kids and young adults (as we nerds already know). So naturally, several companies, both Japanese and otherwise, have made it their mission to bring classic literature and other important works to this generation by adapting them into manga. Today, we’re going to examine three of these adaptations, each from a different publisher, to try to figure out why they were reimagined in the style of Japanese comics.
Did it come from a genuine desire to expand the audience of a classic by bringing it to life in a new way? Or was it for the publisher’s own benefit and manga was just the latest trend they could use? Let’s take a look!
Manga Classics is a collaborative project between Canadian graphic novel publisher Udon Entertainment and Hong Kong-based animation studio Morpheus. Their goal is to ‘introduce a whole new generation to the joys of classic literature.’ They use manga because it ‘not only creates a greater appeal of classic literature for a new generation but it also provides context, making the story even more accessible.” In addition to The Scarlet Letter, they’ve also produced seven other classic literature adaptations including Les Miserables and several Jane Austen novels. All of them have been released in English.
Their version of The Scarlet Letter is surprisingly thorough and well done. It stays faithful to the original novel both in plot and dialogue, while streamlining the story so that readers don’t get bogged down by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notoriously verbose writing style. Pages and pages of unending description in the novel have been reduced to a simple exchange of meaningful glances between characters in the manga. It takes what comics are good at and uses it to enhance the story (something I can’t get enough of)!
As a bonus, the back of the book includes the staff’s process and opinions about adapting the classic novel, as well as explanations of important symbolic devices like the rose bush and Dimmesdale’s self-flagellation. Their website also has lesson plans for teachers who want to use the books in their classroom. Manga Classics has a clear love for literature as well as manga, which makes their adaptations enjoyable not just as vehicles for the classics, but also as compelling stories in their own right.
From Canada and Hong Kong, we now move on to a collaboration between Norway and Japan. Or rather, a Norwegian missionary named Roald Lidal and a group of Japanese Christian manga artists who formed NEXTManga to create their 6-part manga adaptation of The Bible called Manga Messiah. There are 5 volumes published so far, and I’ll be taking a look here at the 4th volume, Manga Messiah, illustrated by Kelly Shinozaki. The series has been published in 33 languages around the globe, including Japanese, and intends to ‘reach children who might resist traditional Bible translations and never attend a church.’
This group isn’t the only one to reimagine The Bible as a comic, however. British Nigerian artist Ajinbayo ‘Siku’ Akinsiku created his own version called The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation in 2004, and famous underground artist R. Crumb published a sobering and realistic adaptation called The Book of Genesis in 2009. But NEXTManga’s series Manga Messiah is unique in that it positions itself as a ‘movement’ to bring the gospel to people who would otherwise be uninterested. Its website encourages donations to complete the final book in the series, as well as testimonials from people who’ve been able to get others to read scripture through their manga.
Whatever you think about evangelical Christians, it seems as though this group has good intentions at their core. They want to use ‘the heart language of young people’ to spread their faith and help people in need. Unfortunately, that attitude is why Manga Messiah doesn’t work very well on its own. Its illustrations are amateurish and the use of comedic facial expressions and generic-looking characters makes it come off as a caricature instead of a serious attempt at using the strengths of a new medium to transform the material. NEXTManga has a passion for the gospel, but they don’t seem to understand why their audience feels the same about manga.
Okay, now we’re getting to the most controversial manga adaptation of all, and possibly the reason why you clicked on this article in the first place: Adolph Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf. To be clear, Japanese publisher East Press doesn’t explicitly market its Manga de Dokuha (Reading Through with Manga) books to children, like the other two companies we’ve talked about. Their stated intention is to ‘get people to read well-known works perceived as tough reads by turning them into manga and selling them at convenience stores.’ They cover a wide range of works, from a manga adaptation of Soseki Natsume’s famous Japanese classic I am a Cat to the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle. There is even a manga that stars a young American working in a modern Japanese company to give a unique telling of Ruth Benedict’s famous study on Japanese society, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. It’s worth remembering tthat afterall, unlike North America and Europe, Japan doesn’t have the lingering perception that manga is only for kids.
However, this doesn’t mean that East Press is free from controversy. They have ruffled a few feathers by adapting communist works like Marx’s Das Kapital, but by far the most uproar came from Germany after the release of the Mein Kampf manga. The original book has been banned in all forms following World War II, and Nazism is still a touchy subject in the country. Toshio Obata, Japanese representative to Germany’s region of Bavaria, wondered if East Press had thought through the implications. ‘Did it consider the difference between Japan and Germany as to how manga is viewed as a medium?’ In the end, the book was never released outside of Japan.
According to editor Kosuke Maruo, the real purpose of Manga de Dokuha’s Mein Kampf is to ‘provide clues about Hitler as a human being, as to his way of thinking that led to such tragedy.’ I can understand his desire to use the dynamic visual style of manga to switch focus from the hateful words themselves to the man behind them. The detailed illustrations portray much more emotion through characters’ facial expressions than a reader might be able to interpret from the original text. It’s debatable whether or not Maruo was insensitive to Germans and others affected by Hitler’s reign, but at the very least, this version has a unique perspective that intentionally uses manga to prove its point. If you want to see some of this manga, then just click here to read the first few pages (Japanese only).
Manga isn’t just something we love because it’s cool. We love it because it brings stories to life in a vibrant way that normal books aren’t always able to do. So when companies like Manga Classics truly understand and share our passion for the medium, we get fantastic adaptations like The Scarlet Letter that successfully bring older literature to the modern age. But when a group like NEXTManga seems to be using it as just the newest trendy thing to get their message out, the end product doesn’t make much sense. And… you can draw your own conclusions about Manga de Dokuha.
What do you think? Would you read any of these manga adaptations? Do you think these companies had their hearts in the right place? Let me know down in the comments, and thanks for reading!
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
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