Rutgers Today, the newspaper of the New Jersey-based university, interviewed a Japanese literary professor about the history of manga, but doesn’t actually give answers why manga’s bettering its US counterparts in the superhero genre, if anything:
Superheroes may rule at the movies – but where comic books are sold, manga reigns supreme. Last year, the Japanese or Japanese-inspired comics and graphic novels reportedly outsold old-fashioned superhero comics for the first time ever in the United States, a trend expected to continue.
Satoru Saito, an associate professor of Japanese literature at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, teaches courses on Japanese pop culture and anime which explore the foundations of these narrative forms and how they relate to the wider Japanese culture.
Saito spoke about trends in manga and other Japanese literature that set them apart from American storytelling and help fuel their popularity here.
One of the examples given is:
Many manga and anime also adapt stories from Japanese popular literature called light novels – including a new genre called “otherworldly.” These stories generally follow a specific plotline: Someone who has lost his/her way in the world, such as an office worker in a dead-end job, dies in the beginning of the story, then is reborn in another world, often with superpowers. The character can remember a past life, and navigates the new world as if it were a video game – including having the ability to check vital statistics, look up menu options, wield swords and summon wizards.
It sounds like another variation on the concept of parallel dimensions and universes, which DC and Marvel both had examples of, but largely botched by the 1990s. But interesting as these ideas are, how does any of this actually explain why superhero comics have fallen well below their Japanese counterparts? This does not relate to story merit of a finished product, and neither interviewer nor interviewee get into the topic of why superhero comics are failing and the audience abandoning them, due in no small part to uninspired writing and art, overly political scripts, alienating violence, company-wide crossovers depriving the ability to tell a self-contained tale, and company staffers harboring contempt for the audience, something that’s gone on for years now, with 1994’s Emerald Twilight an early example.
If not even manga specialists are willing to research and go in depth about why manga’s surpassing US superhero comics in success, what’s the use of pointing out the contrasts?
Originally published here.