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Japanese Manga Mania Is Contagious

March 05, 2020

The author lived in Japan from 1970-1973 and was captivated by the Japanese Moomin cartoon features on Japan TV which was a relief from the troubles in Southeast Asia. In actual fact, the dialogue and plots were simplistic enough for children to understand as well as both "geijian" -- foreign and Japanese adults. In actual fact, Moomin escapism most likely appealed equally to both age spectrums.

Many years prior to then, the original Moomin characters and story were created by Swedish-Finnish illustrator, Tove Johanson, in a series of comic strips that began following World War II. In all likelihood, most Japan TV viewers, including the author, thought it was a pure Japanese product. The round, fairly-tale characters illustrated below had snouts that resembled hippopotamuses living in Moomin valley with lots of snow. In Japan, one assumed they lived in the mountains of snow-covered Hokkaido.

It was about this time that cartoon characters began to emerge in both children and adult Japanese comic books to evolve into "manga" or "aime" to dramatically shape the future entertainment industry of the country and throughout the world. Japan Today has published several articles on the strange appeal of Japan's fascination to cute cartoon characters or manga/aime which extends through the entire spectrum of life in Japan, including pornographic adult comic books.

Informed opinions relate the phenomenon to two attributes of life in Japan. The first theory is based on animism that is core to Shintoism and centers on the premise that every object has a soul which allows people to form a close personal relationship to non-living things such as fictional characters. Further, this general setting is enhanced by the harsh, structured setting of the Japanese work environment and the formality of most personal relationships. Nonetheless, most foreign viewers would not understand animism when engaged with Pokémon. However, manga characters abound far beyond those featured in Japan.  

It appears that manga creators are now in search of new heroes as some of the old favorites have begun to dim in popularity. Perhaps there is a lack of real heroes in the world today given scandalous disclosures, fake news and weak political leaders around the world. In fact, Prime Minister Abe of Japan periodically has his own problems. Nonetheless, some of his predecessors lacked clean hands. Perhaps, the crime novel equivalent manga characters shown below have the greatest appeal though they are beginning to dim a bit and changing Japanese tastes need a new concept face.

Nonetheless, the Nikkei Asia Review recently published a current financial history of the $2.3 billion manga e-book market and it is significant though a declining population suggests that the new characters need a wider appeal outside of Japan.

However, the broader overall manga ecosystem including movies, dramas and merchandise is massive at over $30 billion so we should not feel sad about the business at this juncture. Moreover, a new application has emerged. The Nikkei Asia Review published an article entitled Japan's Virtual Celebrities Rise to Threaten the Real Ones. A performer fitted with sensors can direct the movement of a virtual entertainer as shown below.

The commercial benefits of virtual entertainers are readily obvious-they have no scandals, no drug problems, make vast amounts of money for the managers and never ask for anything in return. Perhaps this alternative is the perfect direction for the entertainment industry.

Moreover, maybe it could be expanded to other professions such as politics. Just think about manga prime ministers and presidents around the world. A linear computer program coupled with artificial intelligence could derive political and economic solutions far more logical and reasonable than what transpires in today's world. Moreover, the characters could always be attractive and switched on.

In fact, there is a clear track record of the worldwide transport of Japanese-created manga images to become daily products throughout the world. Emojis were commonly used in Japan from the 1990's but were not opened to the world until Apple bowed to Japanese pressure to add them to their 2008 iPhone as emails without emoji were not emails in Japan.

Japanese designer, Shigetaku Kurita, drew upon manga images to expand the range of emotions that could be incorporated into the emoji world. Emoji equivalents had long been used in shorthand Japanese writing to soften emotional commentaries. Symbolic illustrations were even more subtle resulting in their daily use by a large portion of the population. Therefore, the Japanese manga world has become that of the world.

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