An introduction to the pop culture history of comics and animation in Japan, particularly adult comics, and the obsessive fantasy world of comic & animation fans, called ‘otaku’, their media mecca, cybersex paradise, Akihabara Electric Town, and the world’s largest comic market, Comiket.
Comics (manga in Japanese) and animation (anime) are the biggest pop entertainment media in Japan. More people in Japan read comics than any other country. Comics account for 40% of all magazines & books sold in Japan. 60% of all cartoon animation broadcast around the world on TV is made in Japan.
Comics in Japan are for adults, not only children. Politicians, doctors, office ladies and salarymen read them. Otaku are geeky adult males who mostly live with their parents who lack communication skills and don’t date girls, preferring to reside in a comic/animation virtual reality world.
The film reflects on the Japanese penchant for ‘cuteness’ exploring cultural psychological innuendos evident in comic/anime character craze and doll figure fetish. And stylised, sentimentally, in the ‘Moe’ character trend, which have a fairy tale erotic mythos and violent heroism themes.
Comics have evolved into sophisticated interactive computer games where otaku geeks can escape into a cosy familiar imaginal world. An emotional simulacrum fantasy media for adult children. A wish to live in a protective imaginary world free from the alienations of a paradise-lost, impersonal, technocratic, metropolis.
The core theme of Manga Mad is to illustrate and explain the passion Japanese have toward comics & animation. It is estimated otaku spend up to $200 million a year on comic & animation related products. Akihabara is the current boom district in Tokyo with IT companies now relocating there in the latest crop of office high rise.
There are diverse comic genres: psychological, mythical, graphic novels thru to gratuitous hard core porn with heavy violence. Japan is a Buddhist country morally tolerant toward extreme themes in media and has liberal censorship.
Historically, Japanese art history – ukiyoe for example – is rich with explicit erotic pictures, and sword-culture blood lust. Art, movies and comics are not shy of strong themes which intrigue and confound western sensibilities. In striking contrast, the society itself, is highly ordered, mannered and polite, with Tokyo rated the safest city in the world.
“The narrative of comics & animation are mirrors and windows into Japanese society, it shows what we really think and feel ”, says Toshi Ueno, Professor of Sociology at Wako University.
Manga Mad features scintillating, eye popping, footage of comic/anime fantasia in architectural, sci-fi surreal, Tokyo, with it’s denizens happily at home in a cartoon world. The stories they are reading or watching reveal other sub realities, cravings, yearnings, fears.
It’s literally a pop, surreal, disneyland, megatropolis, where comics and animation are omnipresent in advertising, magazines, books, TV, mobile phones, music, fashion and public signs. Comic character iconography is so embedded in the cultural media melange and environmental milieu that it has become an integral national language akin to pictogram kanji, katakana & hirogana alphabets.
The Godfather of Japanese comics – ‘the Walt Disney of Japan’ – is Osamu Tezuka. His sophisticated manga stories during the post World War 2 era were the primary popular entertainment and his Atom Boy series was the first comic to be animated and translated into English for the American market. The film features interviews with is daughter, Rumiko and producers remaking his stories, plus rare material of his days as a medical student during the war. He graduated as a doctor, but persued his passion to draw and write comic stories professionally instead, which had profound philosophical plots and themes.
The film features the biggest comic market in the world – Comiket – which is staged two times a year, at the inverted, pyramid-like, gargantuan, Tokyo Big Site. It’s a feverish spectacle of fans and otaku from all over the world. The three day gathering, of 200,000 people per day, show cases the independent underground, dojinshi comic creators, as well as commercial mainstream exhibits.
The rooftop costume play by fans is an exotic masquerade of innovative, eccentric, and classical anime & manga character styles and uniforms. Plus ubiquitous, ever present, camera magnet, maid & school girl poseurs, surrounded by adoring possees of otaku.
Interviews include: Leiji Matsumoto (veteran comic & anime artist). Shozo Furukawa (President of Manderake comic chain store). Rumiko Tezuka (daughter of Osamu Tezuka), Yoshihiro Yonezawa (president of Comiket, world’s biggest comic market), Fusanosuke Natsume (comic critic & historian), Kodansha Publishers, IG Animation & Gonzo Animation producers, comic artists, fans & collectors.
The soundtrack is exotic, cyber and racy.