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July - September 1997

Japanese Comic Strips and Cartoons

How many Japanese comic strips can you name? You may have heard of Doraemon, Dragon Ball, City Hunter, Dr. Slump, Sailor Moon, Cobra, Akira, or Ranma 1/2. Japanese comic strips (called "manga") are very popular in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Fans like them for their high-quality art and interesting story lines. In Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other places in Asia, there are several magazines about Japanese comic strips. And in Britain, France, Italy, and other European countries, there are manga shops as well as magazines for manga fans.

Many manga have been made into TV cartoons, which are broadcast in many different countries. These Japanese cartoons are usually dubbed into the language of the country where they are being shown. For example, when a Japanese cartoon is broadcast in the United States, the voices are in English. Because of this, many people don't realize they are watching Japanese cartoons.

Of course, manga are popular in Japan too. They can be found in many places in Japan. They appear in magazines, and there are even whole books devoted to one comic strip. Many comic strips are made into TV cartoons or animated films. Over 2.26 billion manga books and magazines are sold each year in Japan. (That's 2,260,000,000!) This is about 40 percent of the total number of books and magazines sold in Japan each year. Manga are enjoyed by readers of all ages, from elementary school through adult. The number of readers is estimated in the tens of millions. In Japan, reading manga is a national pastime.

Manga have been around for a long time in Japan. Single-panel comic strips and silly comics for young children have been around since before World War II. However, story manga did not appear until after the war. Story manga were first created by Osamu Tezuka, a famous Japanese comic strip artist who was born in 1928 and died in 1989. Tezuka has been called the "Walt Disney of Japan." He has created many popular cartoons, including Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom), Janguru Taitei (Kimba, the White Lion), and Hinotori (Phoenix).

Comic strips that become popular through newspapers or magazines are sometimes made into books or TV cartoons. Tetsuwan Atom was the first manga to be made into a TV cartoon series. It was first shown in Japan in 1963. Many cartoons, such as Doraemon and Sazae-san, have been on TV for a long time.

Doraemon, a cartoon featuring a robot-cat from the year 2125, started out as a comic strip in a manga magazine. The comic strip became popular in 1970, and was made into a TV cartoon in 1979. Even today, children still love the Doraemon show. Sazae-san is even older. It started out in 1946 as a four-panel newspaper comic strip, and was made into a TV cartoon in 1969. The show still has a high viewership today.

Sometimes popular manga are made into animated films. The three big hits in the world of animated film this summer were Mononoke Hime ("The Princess Mononoke"), Shin Seiki Evangelion ("Neon Genesis Evangelion"), and Kimba, the White Lion.

Mononoke Hime was written and directed by one of Japan's most famous animation directors, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is also the creator of many other popular Japanese cartoons, including My Neighbor Totoro and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The main characters in Mononoke Hime are a courageous young man named Ashitaka and a young girl who was raised by wild dogs. The story, which takes place in a forest in Japan around 600 years ago, shows how human beings struggle to survive in a world where nature is not always kind. Mononoke Hime will be distributed in the United States by Walt Disney, so you might see it in movie theaters as early as next spring.

Photo: (Top) Fujiko F. Fujio and his creation, Doraemon; (middle) Osamu Tezuka poses with his famous characters (Ministry of Foreign Affairs); (above) the futuristic Evangelion was a huge hit this year. ( Gainax)