Hi everyone!

Karin Welss here. The Dublin Library was kind enough to invite me here to write about the hot genres of anime (Japanese animated films and TV shows) and manga (Japanese graphic novels). I’ve been watching anime and reading manga for nearly ten years, and my collection is…large. Very large.

I was pleased to see that the Dublin Library has a fairly large collection of anime and manga, and according to the librarians, these are among the most popular young-adult items.

AnimeAnime series, dubbed into English (and frequently edited for language and content), air regularly on the Cartoon Network and other channels. And many translated manga titles have become bestsellers in the US and Europe. There are shelves of manga at most local bookstores, and my friends in Germany and France report that translated manga are very popular in Europe, as well.

But just what *is* manga and anime? And how do you tell whether it’s appropriate for your kids?

First, a little background. Japanese pop culture is very focused on demographics. For example, for manga, there are separate publication lines aimed at teen girls, teen boys, anime4women in their 20’s, businessmen, sports fans, etc. When I was in Japan three years ago, I noticed a lot of people, old and young, reading manga on the buses and trains.

Successful manga series are often adapted into anime, or cartoon series, which run anywhere from 6 episodes (“Here is Greenwood”) to 300+ episodes and counting (“One Piece” and “Detective Conan”).

Manga/anime directed at teen boys (“shounen”) are typically action-adventure series, featuring a teen-aged hero who becomes stronger and more mature by facing a series of trials. “Bleach” and “Naruto” which are long-running manga series (and also successful anime series), are good examples of this genre. In both cases, the teen-aged heroes have extraordinary abilities (15-year-old Ichigo, the hero of Bleach, has strong spiritual powers, which enable him to become a shinigami, a death god, whose mission it is to battle demons who eat human souls; 13-year-old Naruto is the village outcast, who dreams of becoming a strong ninja and the eventual leader of his village.)

Some of the shounen series feature strong female characters, but more typically, the girls are cast either as romantic interests, victims in need of rescue from villains, or there to anime2cheer on the hero and his buddies. Violence is usually bloodless (magic swords are a staple of the genre) and sexuality may discussed/joked about but sexual relationships are rarely shown on-screen. The typical shounen series hero is a 15-17 year old boy, rough around the edges, with a foul mouth and bad manners, but a kind heart and noble spirit.

Manga/anime directed at teen girls (“shoujo”) is typically more relationship-focused and more overtly romantic. For action-adventure series, the heroine is typically a teen girl sent to an alternate universe where she must save the day (“Inuyasha;” “The Vision of Escaflowne;” “Fushigi Yuugi” are all popular example of this storyline). Alternatively, she stays in the everyday world, but acquires some sort of magic talisman, and a mission to go along with it (“Cardcaptor Sakura;” “Sailor Moon”).  The heroine is usually cheerful, modest, upbeat, and loyal, and overcomes challenges with the help of her friends. There is frequently a beautiful young man (or men) assisting her, with multiple young men often vying for her romantic attention.

A subgenre of shoujo romance manga/anime feature relationships between beautiful young men (genre name: shounen-ai, translated, “boys’ love”), and many shoujo titles may have handsome gay men in supporting roles. The level of sexuality in shoujo isanime3 usually focused on the heroine’s first kiss, but may include tastefully-done sex scenes (esp. in shounen-ai series) where it is implied, in a pan-to-fireplace sort of way, that that sexual activity has taken place.

There is also a wide variety of anime and manga aimed at adults, though fewer of these titles have been translated into English. Some of it is sexually explicit in nature, some of it extremely gory (such as “Berserk,” a blood-drenched but engrossing tale of a mercenary company in late-medieval Europe), but often, the dividing line between YA and adult anime/manga are the maturity of the characters, and the depths of story and characterization.

Adult manga and anime series often have heroes and heroines thrust into ethically-gray areas, where the stakes are high, and there are no easy answers. Sexuality is frankly discussed, and sometimes (but not always) there’s onscreen nudity.

One excellent adult-oriented anime series released recently on DVD in North America is “Black Lagoon,” where an average-Joe office worker/mid-level manager is kidnapped by modern-day pirates while on a business trip to the South China Sea. Realizing that his employer has set him up and betrayed him, the hero chooses to throw his lot in with the anime5pirates, but soon realizes that he’s becoming a stranger to himself, even as he tries to hold on to his ideals.

Another excellent series, aimed at 20-something women (“josei” genre), is “Story of Saiunkoku,” which is set in a fantasy kingdom that resembles ancient China. The heroine is the highly-intelligent daughter of noble family, who yearns to become a government official despite the fact that women are forbidden to take the Imperial civil exams. Weathering the distractions thrown her way by politics, court intrigues, and a bevy of gorgeous suitors, the heroine persists in pursuing her dream of a career in government service. Unlike shoujo series, the focus of “Saiunkoku” is on the heroine’s growth as a career woman, rather than her romantic entanglements.

So, how do you tell if an anime title on sale at Best Buy or Circuit City is appropriate for your kids?

There are a lot of anime/manga-oriented websites, but my personal favorites are:

– the Anime Encyclopedia (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php), which offers plot summaries, genres, age ratings, and episode guides for nearly every anime series ever made

– the Manga Encyclopedia (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php), which offers the same information for manga series.

The Anime News Network site also offers up-to-date reviews of new anime and manga releases in all genres.

In future weeks, I’ll be reviewing various anime and manga titles in the Alameda County Library collection.

Until next time!