“It's because he reads only manga.” That's what some tabloid media blame for the recent series of verbal gaffes by Prime Minister Taro Aso. Recently, renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki said he was embarrassed that Aso would publicly admit that reading manga was his hobby.
The prime minister has long declared he is a manga and anime fan and has visited Akihabara many times to show young anime enthusiasts that he is cool. So what's the big deal? Is manga really bad for adults?
“These days, manga are being used for PR pamphlets on the pension system and upcoming lay jury system. The medium is an effective tool to introduce social and economic systems to the public,” says Tomohide Kure, president of the Japan Society for Studies in Cartoons and Comics.
Manga creators put a lot of research effort into their work. One former manga editor says, “In the case of sports manga, such as golf and baseball, for example, Japanese authors and editors often visit America's Augusta and major league baseball's Yankee Stadium to get the right feel. For medical and law manga, they hire professionals in each field to check their contents. We research story backgrounds in much more detail than TV dramas whose writers visit those professionals maybe only once for their program.”
Manga are in fact spreading worldwide as a useful means of disseminating information on Japan in addition to their conventional entertainment factor. Manga markets in North America and Europe now top 25 billion yen.
“In the U.S., very few people see manga as having a negative influence, something that 'dumbs down' readers," says Hidemi Fukuhara, president and CEO of VIZ Media which publishes translated Japanese manga in North America. "Rather, school PTAs and libraries encourage people to read manga as an opportunity to keep the reading habit alive in this digital multimedia era. Microsoft, for example, was highly praised for including manga in its manuals. Even physics textbooks currently include manga.”
Considering how widespread and popular manga are in society, it seems pointless to criticize Aso just because he reads manga. Eiji Ostuka, a manga author and critic, concludes: “In Aso's case, he uses manga as a means to connect with young people. It is obvious from his performance in Akihabara, the way he was speaking to people there. He was addressing them as 'my dear otaku guys.' We shouldn't confuse his election campaign strategy with the true value of manga.” (Translated by Taro Fujimoto)© Japan Today