Sunday, June 17, 2012

Manga 101: Japanese anime & comic books

A Japanese genre of cartoons, comic books, and animated films, manga typically have a science-fiction or fantasy theme. Our truly encyclopedic item Manga Impact!: The World of Japanese Animation is an essential guide to this highly diverse yet distinctive art form, with 500 color illustrations. But perhaps you'd like a little more background before delving into it? I recommend an illuminating article on the subject by Cory Gross of Network Awesome, which takes both a historical approach and singles out groundbreaking shorts, which you can watch on their website. Here's an excerpt from his essay (scroll down on the page I linked to and you'll see it):
Why do anime characters have such big eyes? That is one of the most common questions asked of Japanese animation and it has one of the most unexpected answers: because of Mickey Mouse….
One of the finest-preserved examples of this generation of Japanese animation is Ugokie-Ko-Ri-No-Tatehiki. Directed by Ikuo Oishi in 1933, it demonstrates a level of skill in movement and character design that is easily equal to the work of Ub Iwerks on the first Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons. Many commentators also draw a comparison to the early Fleischer cartoons and Otto Messmer's late-Twenties Felix the Cat. In Oishi's work we see the same fluid, refined animation found in the best examples of American animation of the same time period.
We also see that unique adaptation of the American form to Japanese content. The title roughly translates to “Fox and Racoon-Dog Playing Pranks on Each Other” and features two mythologized versions of Japanese wildlife. After a wandering peasant crawls fretfully through a midnight scene worthy of Disney's Skeleton Dance, we are introduced to Kitsune, the Japanese fox. Foxes are indigenous to Japan and have taken on a unique set of folkloric characteristics there. White foxes are considered to be the messengers of Inari, the “kami” (god-like spiritual being) of fertility and harvests. Kyoto's Fushimi-Inari Shrine with its thousands of tori gates lined up in rows – made world famous by Memoirs of a Geisha – is adorned with white foxes. The more tails a fox has, up to nine, the more powerful it is (think of Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog). Amongst its powers are shape-shifting, and foxes are often thought to turn into humans for various purposes good and ill.

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