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Manga goes global

Abstract : OTOMO Katsuhiro''s Akira was published in Japan from 1982 to 1993. When translated into French (1991-1995), the eleven volumes serie was given an unusual first-class treatment -complete with colors and hard-cover. Its French publisher targeted well-educated high-income urbanites at a time when manga were still considered cheap stuff for children or semi-illiterate teenagers. The fact is that Akira is in a class of its own. It stands out as a highly sophisticated cultural object far away from the standard manga''s violence and sex routine. It became a cult-serie in France, although this fortress of the " école franco-belge" is a very difficult market for foreign comics. It also succeeded in the US -which is hardly an easy market either. Akira the movie enjoyed worldwide success. Akira''s echo in the West -like Doraemon''s success throughout Asia -epitomizes the fact that contemporary manga is the vehicle of a culture which appeals to audiences all around the world. This makes it a major element of Japan''s soft power and a worthy subject for academic research. The aesthetical and ethical standards of manga are worlds apart from those of American mainstream comics (Disney and superheroes) and the " école franco-belge". They are deeply rooted into what Saya SHIRAISHI calls " the Original Experience and the Original Picture" -A-bombed Japan of 1945. Since this experience was unique, the first mangas were not so much for export. Akira transcends the Original Experience by combining it with the " postmodern" sensibility. Space, time, narrative logics, meanings and values systems are methodically de-constructed -until the way to the future is left wide open to the optimistic energy of the youngsters with no signpost at all. Akira is an empty structure for every reader to fill with his or her own experiences, dreams and desires. This is quite the opposite of Disney''s way to reach " global" audience -but nevertheless an efficient one. Furthermore, OTOMO broke with both the Japanese-ness and fantazy typical of many mangas by enriching Akira with the real-life experiences common to teenagers from all over the world. This is especially noticeable in the subtle manner in which sexual emotions are depicted. OTOMO also " globalized" Akira by using innumerable images and clichés drawn form Western culture. His work is an amazing cultural melting-pot -complete with Buddhism, Big-Bang theory revisited and a main character who mixes the bad boy next door with Jesus-Christ, Frankenstein, Superman, " Lord of the Flies", " 2001 Space Odyssey" and much more... Last but not least, OTOMO made the best of the movies-like narrative technique of the manga, which removes the language barrier. He pushed this technique to a point where almost no printed words are necessary and the reader is drawn into an interactive relationship with the book, as if he or she plays a videogame. Thus, even the Japanese version of Akira is almost readily accessible to any foreigner. OTOMO built upon both the Original Experience''s heritage and the narrative technique peculiar to mangas to produce a cultural object deliberately intended for the world market. Thus, Akira is a striking example of successfull globalization. But it remains to be seen if it carries any meanings or ideology which might be an original contribution to the " global culture" of the next century.
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Jean-Marie Bouissou. Manga goes global. The global meaning of Japan, Mar 1998, United Kingdom. ⟨hal-01052943⟩

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