vietman war

Takemiya Keiko and Uchida Tatsuru’s theory of manga as culture

I just finished it! This post isn’t a thorough review of the book or anything, just some brief thoughts. Basically, Takemiya Keiko and Japanese “intellectual” Uchida Tatsuru sat down to have a conversation about manga one day, and this book is a transcript of what they said. After a while I ended up only skimming what Uchida was saying, because while it’s obvious he admires Takemiya, his thoughts and opinions on manga were either shallow or wrong. For example, there’s a pages long passage of him talking about how shojo manga of the 70s must have been an expression of anti-America in the face of pro-US sentiments prevalent in Japanese culture after the end of the Vietman war, exemplified by Gilbert Cocteau who embodies everything America hates (European, decadent, and homosexual), and how he admired the women of the time for not falling for pro-US propaganda the way the men did… and then Takemiya pretty much shoots him down saying “Haha, no, we weren’t trying to be anti anything out of political beliefs; Europe was all the rage in media targeted at women back then, and we totally jumped on that bandwagon.” I laughed; thank you, Takemiya, for knowing what’s what because you were actually there to experience it.

Takemiya says some interesting things in this book, although it clocks in at a measly 250 pages and thus lacks a bit of depth. (Takemiya Keiko no manga kyoshitsu, edited by Fujimoto Yukari, is still the far superior book.) I really enjoyed her description of how she traveled Europe for 45 days back in the early 70s, with Hagio Moto, Yamagishi Ryoko, and her friend/collaborator Masuyama Noriko. Takemiya! Hagio! Yamagishi! Traveling through Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Austria! This is how they all became enchanted with Europe, and why so much of their work took place in Europe, especially at the beginning of their careers.

Takemiya doesn’t talk about her fellow Year 24 Group artists all that much in this book, but she does mention Hagio here and there, referring to her as a genius, which I found very interesting (I’ve been curious about the personal relationship between Takemiya and Hagio for a while). Takemiya has mentioned many times that around the time of Rondo Capriccioso (her figure skating manga) she was in a huge slump that lasted for years, and she says that it did not help her that she was close to someone as outrageously talented and original as Hagio. She compared herself to Hagio, and saw herself as a much more orthodox, old-fashioned manga artist, with no originality of her own; she worried for a long time about how her form of expression wasn’t new or interesting, that she was only mimicking manga artists who came before her. Finally she realized that the only originality she could bring to the table would be through theme and content, and this is how she came up with Kaze to ki no uta. She also credits Hagio with influencing shojo manga to become more complex and deep, and mentions jokingly that Takemiya herself surely did not have any influence there.

In my post about the contemporary popularity of the Year 24 Group I mentioned that Hagio didn’t rank very high in popularity polls but received a ton of fan letters, and Takemiya mentions here that her situation was the same. Her work pre-Pharaoh no haka would rank at the bottom of the polls, but she had dedicated fans who would write detailed letters to her. Takemiya has talked extensively about how Pharaoh no haka was a series she wrote specifically to become popular enough so the editors would allow her to write Kaze to ki no uta, and she mentions this here as well. Ugh Uchida Tatsuru how can you not even know that and act surprised when she mentions it… that was the part where I realized he hadn’t bothered to read much about Takemiya’s work and stopped paying attention to him. She wrote Pharaoh around the time Hagio was writing Star Red in the same magazine, and they started realizing that you could win over readers merely by having many close-ups of faces in the manga. I think this is still true for shojo manga, and kind of hilarious! Takemiya also mentions referencing Mizuno Hideko’s Hoshi no tategoto (the first shojo manga to feature romance between a man and a woman) a lot while drawing Pharaoh, and how she put in a lot of effort to figure out what girls enjoyed so she could cater to it.

She also goes into the relationship between the manga industry and the dojinshi market, something I haven’t seen her talk about much before (except I once did see her complain that people’s Captain Tsubasa yaoi dojinshi were so much better than the original BL they tried to write, which made me laugh). She mentions how Weekly Shonen Jump once considered suing dojin writers – but when they talked to manga artists and editors about it, no one thought that’d be a good idea because dojin artists are fans, and alienating them might have financial consequences. After this, Takemiya has noticed an increase in manga that seemed to be created for the specific purpose of attracting fans who are into yaoi dojinshi, e.g. by having the whole cast be pretty boys. I’m including this bit of info here because “What do local Japanese publishers and artists ACTUALLY think about dojinshi?” and “Are titles such as Prince of Tennis and Katekyo Hitman Reborn ACTUALLY intentional yaoi bait?” are topics I sometimes see discussed endlessly in English-language fandom.

Other interesting things: Takemiya is aware of OEL manga and finds it to be an underdeveloped genre that is still at the imitation stage; she believes fan translations are often better than professional ones and wishes there could be a way to make official translations of manga an open source project; many current Hollywood creators are inspired by people who were once inspired by manga and anime back in the 70s and 80s, and thus don’t even know that they have been inspired by manga and anime; Yoro Takeshi’s theory that because Japanese people process kanji and hiragana/katakana/romaji in different places in the brain (the former being ideograms and the latter being phonograms), this has enabled them to neurologically process images and text simultaneously, which has had a huge impact on the development of manga.

Blah, this ended up being way longer than I intended. This wasn’t an amazing book, but there were loads of interesting tidbits in it, and I’m glad I read it. It was also kind of fun to see Takemiya having completely forgotten that Lindsay Anderson’s If… was what inspired her to write about European all-boys schools, and then going “Oh! I remember now! It was If!” While I remembered that vividly because I just read about it in her Kagami no kuni no shonen-tachi artbook, and I was thinking “It was If, sensei! If!” while reading that passage. Heee.