Friday, July 08, 2005

Manga Goes Mainstream

Manga, Japanese graphic novels, and anime, Japanese animated films, have been a rage among American teens and tweens for several years. My daughter Allison has been reading and watching these stories of empowered young women --battling evil, competing in sports and school and negotiating the world of dating -- for several years. In fact, manga has been a huge industry and export from Japan for the last twenty years.

Now that US sales levels have reached $207 million in 2004, driven in-part by a steady investment of Allison’s baby-sitting earnings, CosmoGirl will launch a monthly manga strip entitled “The Adventures of CG” in conjunction with TokyoPop, one of the leading importers of this genre. GC (clever huh?), a college sophomore living in Tokyo, will be drawn in the wide-eyed manga style and will be a “spunky every-girl hipster heroine” – the kind of aspirational figure that has attracted huge numbers of girls to a genre (graphic novels and comic books) that was traditionally a male bastion in America.

Not only is the adoption of this form into mainstream media interesting, but the strip will be drawn by 25-year old Svetlana Chmakova, a woman with a decidedly non-Asian name, suggesting that not only has this form crossed cultures but that non-Japanese are embracing and morphing the form. Viz Media, another big manga house, will bring out a US version of its hit teen magazine Shojo Beat soon and will publish its greatest hits in English beginning this Fall.

And while you can find American-drawn adaptations of manga all across the Web, it will soon be at newsstands and book stores everywhere. An agreement between Dark Horse, another manga importer and translator, and Harlequin, the publisher of paperback romance novels, will produce manga versions of Harlequin best-sellers by December 2005.

So what does all this mean?

1. Globalization is working in every direction.
2. Kids usually know about and gravitate to these cross-cultural forms long before adults and main stream media types do.
3. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of commercial communication.
Girls still respond to traditional female themes but rally to and embrace characters that defy traditional female roles.
4. Kids expect multimedia on-demand. They expect their favorite stories and characters will be in book, online, game and animated formats accessible to them whenever they are in the mood. Before too long adults will expect the same.
5. Mythology, science-fiction, competition, success, the future, personal insecurity and the mysterious relationship between the sexes are endlessly interesting themes.

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