Even more disquieting for me though, on a personal level, is not the violence in some manga, or even the porn manga, which I personally don't bother with, much, but a technique used in a lot of manga to signify embarrassment or belittling, literally, by drawing the adult characters, or one of the adult characters, as children or a child. I find this very unsettling when it happens in a story where I've accepted the characters as adults. Oh, I know it's a technique some Japanese illustrators use, but I personally dislike it very much, especially if it happens in a manga that includes, er, bodily interaction or those frequent up-skirt angles. Heck, I don't even like it in the more mild knicker-showing stories like Change123 - which is otherwise fun.
Hopefully it's clear then that I do find fault with some manga, and I'm not blind to the fact that there is as much pap-manga as there is superpower-pap indie-pap and pap-graphic novels.
Anyway, that said, I got to thinking about the amount of posts out there hypothesizing about the death of manga, or at any rate those suggesting that there is no new great manga being created. The posts reminded me of a phenomena that the poet and critic Tom Paulin pointed out at the turn of the Millennium, when quite a lot of writers began to produce a lot of work that focused on sleeping. It is sort of zeitgeist moment, coupled now, as it was then, with a sort of quasi-New Testament panic about a possible end-of-days. It struck me that such thinking is understandable, because we do seem to have come to the end of a particular cycle, with the likes of Death Note, and Monster, and MPD Psycho, completely finishing. After all, in one form or another, whether available only from Japan or as scanlations following their publication in the weekly or fortnightly or monthly Japanese comics, these titles were around, literally, for decades. And now, having finished their run in Japan, and having been removed from scanlation sites as they appeared in full volumes here in the West, there is something final about their disappearance.
Not that the genius behind Monster, Naoki Urasawa, has stopped producing work, he has followed 20th Century Boys and Monster and Pluto, with Billy Bat, which I wrote about at some length on a post below. I've been keeping up with the story and there is little doubt in my mind that "the god of manga" has created another classic, although it was a safe bet that he would. In a sense, although it is, strictly speaking, less so than than the current manga that explore the job of working as a mangaka, it is also very self-referential in that it is a story based around a fictional comic book character, and a manga creator.
Just as Urasawa has a new title that is developing nicely, so to does the team behind Death Note, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Unlike Billy Bat, Bakuman deals directly with the business of aspiring to become a mangaka, bringing us the story of Moritaka Mashiro, a high school student and the nephew of a man who was himself a mangaka.
I suppose, to be honest, that there must also be a certain amount of disenchantment involved in these posts. After all, many of these writers discovered manga like Death Note years before it appeared in the West, and then became ubiquitous as merchandise and anime and as live action movies, and they wrote a great many posts extolling its virtues and the virtues of manga in general. And perhaps there is no need to do so now, or at least they may feel there is no longer any need to do so, now that the mainstream press is sniffing around. It is, perhaps, not so much that there is no new great manga being produced, but that there is no longer any great need to try to impress upon the reading public that manga is great. They are preaching to the converted, not only that but they are preaching to those whom they themselves converted, and the converted have all gone their separate ways.
Whether you or I think it is a great manga or not, a title like Antique Bakery deserves its place in the manga firmament. It is a popular manga, and it is well drawn and to be honest, it is just another one of those ideas that at first glance seems unlikely to appeal to us in the west, and actually turns out to be a complete joy. To dismiss work like this out-of-hand because we don't like the way the eyes are drawn or for some equally idiosyncratic reason, is just plain silly, it is clearly work executed by an expert hand.
No, the great manga has not stopped, it continues in an unbroken chain that eventually winds its way to our shores, and it takes different forms and slips between genres of manga. YKK is a great manga, a great voluminous sprawling epic that meanders peacefully towards its final chapter. It is nothing like Monster, which is nothing like Death Note, which is nothing like Nana which is nothing like Billy Bat which is nothing like Homunculous which is nothing like Mushishi which is nothing like Until Death Do Us Part (UDDUP) which is nothing like Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture. In other words the great manga is still out there, if we don't recognise it that says more about us, than it does about the state of manga. I mean, be honest, if someone suggested that you might like a manga called Tales of Agriculture, you would be a little skeptical, until you actually caught a glimpse of the fantastic artwork and then started to read the thing that is.
To be honest, I also think there is something else going on, an undercurrent if you will; a subtext, perhaps one that the authors of the pieces are themselves unaware of. It just might be that Tom Paulin's observation can be applied here, and the blog writers are all displaying a end-of-days style panic, based not just on fact that a few great stories have come to an end, but also on the fact that printed comic books are being replaced by digital comics. To people of a certain generation, and again I am also one of those, that really does represent the end of an era. There was always something elemental about making marks on pulped wood with a liquid that itself came from deep beneath the earth. Perhaps, and I'm only surmissing here, the bloggers concerned cannot with any certainty look 10 years down the line and see any future at all for comic books, let alone "great" status for a title like Detroit Metal Blues.
Then again, perhaps I am just reading too much into it. After all, I noticed a reply to a post on the TCJ forum that more or less suggested that the "big-eyed manga", as the poster called it, is the wrong kind of manga. Which informs us that the poster is either completly unfamiliar with manga classics like Black Jack and Astro Boy, or has probably only ever read a limited amount of Seinen manga, and decided that is the only style of manga that counts. It is, I think, to be sure, befuddled way thinking, but it may be no more than a failure on the part of some people to embrace titles that look a little different from the ones they usually pick up. Perhaps, it really is no more than that.