Thursday, June 11, 2009

Manga for adults?

So the other day I was in a rather typical situation - getting my haircut and making small talk with the barber. The place I go to get my hair cut is actually pretty interesting - they measure my hair on different points of my head with a ruler after cutting it and put it all on this spiffy diagram to save for the next time I came in, so after a few times they know exactly to a science how to cut your hair. Not only that, but everyone in the whole store knew me and my girlfriend by name after the first time going there... and to top it all off they give this awesome scalp massage. Spectacular service!

Anyway, my barber seems like at least a halfway intelligent guy and is pretty cool, and the last time I went in the conversation somehow got onto tv. I find Japanese tv to be barely tolerable in most situations and spend my time in front of a computer to avoid it - I'll spare you the reasoning, but if you're interested then reading this might give you an idea why - so I tried to change the topic by asking him what he's read lately.

Read? Nope, not him. Or at least, not books. He apparently devotes all his reading energies into either manga or magazines. I've personally never been able to get into manga, but I know that a decent portion of the Japanese population, including adults, spends a fair amount of their social reading energies with it.

If I were to pick up the latest issue of X-men or whatever at my age back home then I'd be labeled a nerd before I got the front page open, but I'm not even sure if it's possible to ride the train home from downtown Tokyo without seeing at least one 30 or 40-something salaryman flipping through this week's issue of whatever manga. I can see ulterior motives sometimes though as some of these are interspersed with pictures of J-girl nekkidness... I'm talking about pictures of actual girls here, but you will also find plenty of adult-content manga out there with nudity as well, which just boggles my mind.

There are all sorts and kinds of manga out there on any topic - from your standard Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist to the more obscure, like the Kuroudo title I mentioned the other day to manga versions of famous books like Vagabond (based on the classic novel Musashi, written in the 1930's and translated in 1981 if you want to look for a copy) and even on historical events. Predominantly it's targeted towards boys/men, but there are also female-oriented manga out there as well.

It is probably because of this range that many people flock to manga as a lighter, more enjoyable alternative to books, but I'm still not sold. There are certain titles out there that I'm sure I'd enjoy (Vagabond and Kuroudo are probably both interesting), but I'd just rather stick with books... how much of it is just a personal prejudice I'm not sure, but books just feel more sophisticated. To me, reading manga for something would be akin to opting to wait for the movie to come out back home, and with some exceptions I'd say that in my experience the original format is far and away better when it comes out in book first (or movie for that matter).

Sure it's probably easier to get through the manga, but maybe that's another reason I like the books... if I'm going to pick up language from reading, I'd prefer it to be as sophisticated as
possible. Also as a translator, it's important to stay read up in both languages to keep my skills from dwindling. You get plenty of people who come out to Japan and lose their high-level communication abilities in English due to lack of native-level input, but then trying to avoid talking over everyone's head will do that to you... I'd like to keep that from happening, in both languages.

Also I don't want to make it seem like everyone out here only reads manga - I'd say books on the train probably still outnumber manga... there's also a fair bit of PSPs and DSes out there, as well as the girls that will sit there and just mess with their phones the entire time they're on the train.

So bottom line, does reading manga instead of books make my barber a simple person? Nah, I think it just makes him more Japanese. I think I can deal with that.

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