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First published in ejcjs on 29 January 2010

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Manga and Anime

Fluidity and Hybridity in Global Imagery


Mio Bryce, Christie Barber, James Kelly, Siris Kunwar and Amy Plumb

All of

Macquarie University

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Along with the rapid spread of manga and anime in the global media market in recent years, there has been a growing interest in how this diffusion has occurred. With this in mind, this paper explores the ways in which manga and anime have been manipulated to generate diverse, hybridised commodities. It also examines how manga and anime have become a site of fluid, multilayered cultural interpenetration: translation involves reinterpretation of these media on multiple levels, in which representations and perceptions of the source culture continuously change; cultural interpenetration also occurs when consumers interact with manga and anime, and each other, in both virtual and physical worlds.

Key Words

Manga; anime; globalisation; translation; glocalisation; media mix; fandom



Recent decades have seen an extraordinary growth in the international reception and consumption of manga and anime. Manga and anime have been central to Japan's popular culture but these powerful narratives, characterised by hybridity and fluidity, have spread out from their local source to achieve global reach and appeal. They often involve their readers/audience in their creation and offer imaginary sites for the diverse needs of individuals of different ages, interests and backgrounds. Once translated, they are capable of connecting people from different cultures and languages, forming a new forum for entertainment, as well as cultural and social communication. This translation becomes more than replacing one language with another – cultures are intertwined and the way in which this occurs leaves origins and boundaries blurred, and raises questions about cultural identity, power and authenticity.

This paper aims to provide an exploration of manga and anime as global commodities. It will examine how the kaleidoscopic imagery in manga and anime is created and shared by global society: what we are actually sharing, and how and why it is shared. Along with the hybrid origins of manga and anime, analysis will also cover aspects of the promotion and consumption of manga and anime, including multidimensional marketing strategies, glocalisation and interactive fandom. It will also briefly examine the reasons behind the popularity of manga and anime amongst non-Japanese consumers, and the position of manga and anime in the global media sphere.

What are we sharing?

The imagery of manga and anime

Manga and anime interweave difference and familiarity – foreign and local, traditional and new – on several levels. Throughout history, they have demonstrated their originality and versatility, from highly stylised drawing techniques to the creation of entertaining yet profound narratives. The process of hybridisation and innovation is constant and manipulated from above (i.e. by editors, distributors and so on) and participated in from below (i.e. by readers, viewers and amateur artists).

Manga and anime are hybrid texts, evolved from the encounter of Japanese art and Western comic art. In the late 19th century, magazines published in Japan by Westerners exposed Japanese artists to new artistic techniques, such as using frames for temporal or spatial boundaries, and speech balloons in different sizes and shapes. Japanese artists were also influenced by the social and political satire in Western magazines. The artists of the early decades of the twentieth century were also influenced by the comic art of the West, especially North America. North American comics were translated and published in Japan, and Japanese artists soon assimilated and developed their style and produced their own comics (Schodt, 1983). By the time the influential manga and anime creator Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989) was exciting manga readers in the 1940s and 1950s with works such as Shintakarajima (New Treasure Island) and Tetsuwan Atomu (lit. Iron arm Atom, published as Astro Boy in English), a clear fusion had developed. Unlike some much shorter comics produced in North America at the time, his manga were hundreds of pages long and featured complex plots and extensive character development. At the same time, Tezuka was heavily influenced by Western comic art and film, especially films by Walt Disney (Kinsella, 2000; Schodt, 1983; 1996; 2007; Shiraishi, 1997). This hybridity and transmutability of manga, and thus anime, exist in, and dictate, modern manga and anime production from the outset.

The fusion of Japanese and Western comic art has produced quite a distinct style of visual and textual storytelling. What makes manga distinct is the thorough integration of the linguistic elements, flexible frames and speech bubbles, and iconographic images, which allow the reader to grasp different levels of meaning simultaneously. As many scholars have noted, in manga, the narrative is conveyed through composite, cinematographic narrative with integrated frames. Speech bubbles in diverse sizes and shapes and auditive onomatopoeia in different fonts convey atmosphere and intensity of emotion, aspects which may be communicated in US comics with a caption or description (Rommens, 2000). Manga regularly utilises abundant iconographic symbols, which evolved from a monochrome scheme. For example, a sweat drop indicates a character's nervousness or embarrassment, a nosebleed shows sexual arousal, and flowers indicate a romantic atmosphere. Speed lines of different shapes and thickness depict not only sequence and direction, but also level of impact and atmosphere of movement. The different size and shape of eyes conveys aesthetic and/or moralistic meaning (e.g., large eyes with stars signify innocence and cuteness and/or beauty, while smaller angular eyes are connotative of coldness, evil, or intelligence in some cases). Heavy reliance on iconic graphics is exemplified by the common use of pre-drawn screen tones (e.g., backgrounds of starlit skies, classrooms and high-rise buildings, which are used repeatedly to simplify and accelerate the production process). Moreover, depictions of characters shift from realistic in one frame to 'super-deformed' or cartoony the next, which is usually indicative of the character being affected by strong emotions. These conventions (or grammar) are versatile devices to add different dimensions, perspectives, or temporal, spatial, physical and/or mental states into the narrative (Schodt, 1983; Takeuchi, 2005; Yomota, 1999). Iconographic symbols or conventions also allow the reader to grasp meaning and read quickly. Depending on the genre, some manga appear to lack the detail or complexity of US comics, which may rely on text to tell the story or to frame the action or circumstances. Also, narrators and captions are used more regularly as storytelling devices in US comics (Rommens, 2000; Schodt, 1996). The extraordinary diversity of narratives and genres in both manga and anime also distinguishes them from non-Japanese comics and animation (Poitras, 2008; Schodt, 1996). Manga and anime cater to target readers/viewers of all ages and genders and the variety of manga and anime on offer meets a wide range of interests and tastes. Further, although manga and anime were originally defined according to target readers/viewers (children's, boys', girls', men's, women's) – with each genre having a distinct style, now, these genres frequently intertwine, in that the manga or anime incorporate elements from several different genres and create new, diversified and hybrid works. This allows manga and anime works to reach an extremely broad range of consumers.

How are we sharing it?

Global diffusion

Manga and anime have spread out from their local source, as a core component of Japanese popular culture, to gain popularity across the globe. In fact, the global popularity of manga and anime has progressed inversely with the considerable decline of the Japanese domestic markets. In 1995, manga accounted for 40 per cent of all printed material (Schodt, 1996); however, in October 2007, a Wired Magazine feature on the Japanese industry revealed that the number had shrunk to around 22 per cent (Pink, 2007). In 1997, domestic sales of manga were worth 580 billion yen, but in 2007, the value of the Japanese manga market had dropped to 400 billion yen (McCurry, 2009). Sales of anime have decreased from a peak of 97.1 billion yen in 2005 to 77.9 billion yen in 2008. Also, fewer new anime series are being produced in Japan (Asahi.com, 2009).

The domestic markets are supplemented by the popularity of manga and anime and their related products in many other countries. JETRO estimates that the US anime market was worth approximately 280 billion yen in 2007 (JETRO, 2009). US manga sales were worth US$175 million in 2007. In 2006, France's manga market, where manga from Japan overwhelmingly dominate imports, was valued at 87.5 million Euros, and that of Germany at 50-70 million Euros (ComiPress, 2006; Dolle-Weinkauff, 2006). Although by no means an exhaustive list, manga and anime are also available in many other countries across Europe, including Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway (Beldi, 2008; ComiPress, 2006; JETRO, 2005; JETRO, 2006; Moline, 2008; Pellitteri, 2006), as well as Central and South America (Pellitteri, forthcoming), Australia and the United Kingdom (Horn, 2008; Jamieson, 2009).

South Korea is another important overseas market (Teramura, 2008; Wong, 2006). Japanese imports occupy the vast majority of the South Korean comic market, and this has led to widespread appropriation, hybridisation and some domestic development (Rowley et al., 2005). The popularity of manga and anime has also grown in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Hong Kong and Vietnam, and manga heavily dominates local comic industries in both Taiwan and Indonesia (Lent, 2006; Ng, 2001; Ng, 2002; Wong, 2006). Further, despite heavy government-imposed bans or censorship, the media have developed immense popularity in China since the late 1970s (Ng, 2002; Wang, 2005). Japanese comic art is a source of inspiration for artists in Asia, and Japanese producers collaborate with artists from Hong Kong, Korea and China (Ng, 2002; Wong, 2006). From this brief summary of the position of manga and anime in the global media market, it is clear that these once culture-specific media have reached a widespread consumer base in a marketplace often dominated by Western media. What underpins this global diffusion of manga and anime is a fluid, multi-layered process of integration into cultures outside Japan. This integration is achieved in various ways, and is driven by a range of factors, and we outline some notable aspects of this process next.

Media mix and cross-media collaboration

In the global media market, images are often consumed, transformed and then re-consumed in order to maximise exposure and ultimately profit. Manga and anime typify this process. Images are appropriated and utilised for a wide range of purposes, from entertainment to education, and in diverse forms. Not only are there usually manga and anime versions of the same title; popular titles may also be converted to live action movies or television drama series. Different versions spawn further marketing opportunities: DVDs, soundtracks, clothing ranges, accessories, confectionery, toys, stationery, board and card games, household goods, video/computer games and so on. Some notable examples of series for which this multi-modal marketing strategy has been used include Sailor Moon, Naruto, Pokemon, Death Note and Nana. This phenomenon of the constant re-shifting of the image – the media mix – is not isolated to Japan has become increasingly common practice and is often the main contributor to the high status and profit margin of an image (Iwabuchi, 2002; McVeigh, 2000; Pellitteri, forthcoming; Shiraishi, 1997). Indeed, this is not a new phenomenon. We can find the manga and anime media mix in Japan since the postwar period, as exemplified by Tezuka's Tetsuwan Atomu, which was published as manga, then animated and merchandised from the early 1960s (Shimotsuki and Shida, 2003). Consumers can engage with the product on many levels, and this engagement is prolonged by the enormous variety of associated commodities which are constantly updated (Buckingham and Sefton-Green, 2003; Jordan, 2004).

In the English-language market there has been a similar cross-media development of manga. Not only is the range of merchandise associated with a manga and/or anime title available to non-Japanese consumers, various collaborative ventures have integrated manga and anime into the popular culture of countries outside Japan. For example, in an arrangement between the publisher Tokyopop and HarperCollins, original manga are created based on the prose works of HarperCollins authors (Publisher's Weekly, 2006). Another permutation of cross-media collaboration is the adaptation, into English language manga, of manga versions of Harlequin romance novels published in Japan. These manga target the young adult female readership, and aim to appeal to readers by re-packaging the familiar Harlequin romance narrative in the apparently unique and different format of manga (Cha, 2006).

By pairing bestselling authors or genres with the manga format, publishers are simultaneously capitalising on and reinforcing the established success of a work; drawing in consumers by re-presenting the product in the manga format, a new format which appeals to them; and gaining manga market share, a market that is usually dominated by titles from Japan. This kind of cross-media collaboration seems essential in the rapidly changing overseas manga market for two main reasons. A market dominated by teen consumers is often fickle, and offering a range of formats extends the attention a product or image can command. Cross-media collaboration also offers some security as each party relies on and utilises the established knowledge, logistical expertise and market share of other collaborators (Cha, 2006; Koulikov, 2009). These collaborations may also enable US publishers to publish material produced by local authors; they can support and expand the local industry, an option which decreases the reliance on Japanese publishers for licenses for Japanese material (Cha and Reid, 2005).

Celebrity endorsements are also part of the English-language manga market, with both Courtney Love and Avril Lavigne collaborating with artists to create series (Balog, 2004; Reid, 2007). The manga featuring Avril Lavigne, Make 5 Wishes, was simultaneously released with one of her albums, and her record company and the publisher collaborated to promote the manga. Again, by disseminating the image of an established commodity through an appealing format, collaborators can cater to the tastes of the target audience in diverse formats and maximise profit.

Also, international artists use manga style to portray political and social issues, such as multiculturalism and discrimination. For example, the series 1 World Manga covers international issues like HIV/AIDS, poverty and climate change, and was co-produced by publisher Viz Media and the World Bank (Cha and Reid, 2005). There is also manga Shakespeare, such as Romeo and Juliet, featuring feuding yakuza families in Shibuya (Gravett, 2007; Reid, 2003), as well as manga by the Libyan-born, Muslim British artist, Asia Alfasi, which feature a girl wearing a Muslim head scarf and promote tolerance and reconciliation (BBC Birmingham, 2005; BBC Radio, 2006). In these instances, publishers are capitalising on the popularity and currency of manga as a vehicle to communicate messages and draw readers to content or issues that may otherwise seem inaccessible or unfamiliar.

We can find another representative example of diverse forms and channels of manga and anime global imagery in video or computer games. Image-based games flood the market, and some popular multiple part game series developed and initially released in Japan include Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Phantom Brave, Suikoden, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and Valkyrie Profile. These games have increased their presence outside of Japan in recent years and utilise hybrid imagery. For example, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria features manga-styled imagery, evident in the characters' large eyes and costumes, but these characters journey through worlds that have apparently Western architecture and landscapes. Perhaps the most notable example of hybridised imagery in video games is the Japanese role-playing game Kingdom Hearts. The game is a cross-media conglomerate that manages to bring together the characters and narratives of Disney films with elements of the Final Fantasy media mix, also created and initially released in Japan. The Final Fantasy elements bring many typical characteristics of manga and anime imagery to the game, such as the deformed body proportions, large eyes and spiky hair of the characters, and the emphasis on self-development in the plot. The juxtaposition of the two styles of imagery effectively conveys the difference or originality of manga/anime, but simultaneously integrates a sense of familiarity into the work. This attracts a wide range of Japanese and non-Japanese consumers of different ages and backgrounds.


This brings us to glocalisation: the process of adapting global works to suit a local audience (Iwabuchi, 1998). Certainly, some degree of modification is inevitable when media is shared between cultures. As producers and distributors expand their market and supply to new cultures which differ from the Japanese original, in order to ensure the new audience is not alienated, they alter the source text, perhaps adding visibly recognisable symbols and/or removing material deemed potentially offensive (Katan, 2004). Many transnational companies utilise this strategy of localisation for promoting their products in many countries simultaneously, and manga and anime are no different (Galeota, 2004). Indeed, many manga, and especially anime – as audio and linguistic elements are readily manipulated – have been altered to suit local audiences, as exemplified by the heavy editing for Astro Boy in the 1960s in the US (Cubbison, 2005).

The glocalisation of manga and anime connects to long-standing debates over the translation process, and its connection to cultural power, authenticity and nationhood, and discussion on the role and significance of the Japanese origins of manga and anime in the cross-cultural, global communication process spreads throughout academic and non-academic circles. The cross-cultural communication process, during which a work is translated or adapted, is complex and multi-layered; it is not simply a process of replacing one language with another. The relationship between the communicating cultures influences the texts that are chosen for retelling, and the way in which they are retold (Venuti, 1995). Cross-cultural communication of a text also often involves adapting or translating cultural and national identity, which are fluid and unstable concepts, and thus open to varied interpretation. Cross-cultural communication of texts therefore has an important role to play in defining or changing the way in which a culture or nation is viewed and understood by others (Carbonell, 1996; Franco Aixela, 1996; Pym, 2001; Wolf, 2002).

India provides an interesting opportunity to relate these ideas to the sharing of manga and anime by global audiences. In India, two satellite television channels, The Cartoon Network and Animax, adopted different strategies when presenting Japanese content to local audiences.[1] Initially, both networks offered Japanese animated series with English dubbing, but not with a Japanese language track with subtitles (Mathur, 1998; Techshout.com, 2007). The viewer therefore had no access to what is seen by some as a key link to the authenticity, or even the Japaneseness, of the work - the Japanese dialogue, with all the culture-specific references that may contain. Accepting that full translation equivalence is unattainable – that meaning will be lost or gained, to some extent, in the translation process – the dubbed version of the anime offered to Indian audiences would certainly have produced an understanding of the work, and by association Japan or Japanese culture, that is different from that produced by the original Japanese work (Carbonell, 1996; Hatim and Mason, 1990; Pym, 2001). Now, however, Animax employs a different strategy: it sees and promotes Japanese animation as offering a distinctive artistic style, and more importantly, more mature and dramatic content than other styles of animation (Techshout.com, 2007). In keeping with this philosophy, Animax now promotes itself as a global leader in making Japanese animation available to viewers, and airs animation series simultaneously or shortly after the Japanese release. This rapid release schedule means that the Japanese language track, with English or regional language subtitles, is now used (Animax India, 2009). Their focus has now moved to providing the viewer with immediate, exclusive access to what they describe as high quality, unique material. Whilst this strategy is likely motivated to some extent by commercial concerns, within it Japanese popular media is promoted as distinct and trendy, and viewers are coming into more direct contact with the original Japanese version of the work. Of course, the accuracy of a viewer's understanding of a text, and the related source culture, is inherently flawed, as texts themselves are representations or interpretations (created by the original producer and also by translators) of culture. Indeed, Wolf (2002: 186) sees translation as the site where cultures interact, and concepts of self and other ‘interpenetrate', making all cultures translations of each other. As manga and anime make their way across the globe, they become part of this interpenetration of cultures, and consumers' understanding of Japan will continuously change.

The comics industry in India also provides an indication of the impact the movement of manga and anime across the globe has had on popular culture production and distribution processes. In 2006 what was then Virgin Comics published an assortment of comics by Indian artists, or collaborations between Indian and non-Indian writers or artists, which incorporated Indian history, mythology and art.[2] The stated aim of the venture was to replicate the success of manga; just as Japan had built what McGray (2002: 44) labelled ‘gross national cool' through its popular culture exports, the publishers of these Indian comics aimed for global success through the creation a product that had specific cultural connections to India as well as transcultural appeal (Marcinko, 2006). It seems that their aim was to capitalise not only on the popularity of elements of Indian culture amongst non-Indian cultures (for example, Indian fashion and food, Bollywood), but also on the popularity of difference, originality or uniqueness (in the form of non-Western culture) packaged in a familiar, accessible format (in the medium of comic art or animation). Their efforts serve to crystallise what they see as a formula for success in the global media market: the combination of elements of a non-Western culture with what is familiar to the target consumer. Their efforts also indicate the role of culture and national identity in the global popular media market. They aimed to appeal to international consumers by incorporating essentialist images that not only linked their product with images of Indian culture which were already fashionable in and/or familiar to non-Indian cultures, but simultaneously offer a strong connotation of the exotic or mystical. Whilst it is outside the scope of this paper, exploration of the postcolonial subtext to India's desire to build cultural capital using the Japanese soft power framework would certainly highlight the complexity of the global media market. To reiterate, this brief examination of one sector of India's role in that market indicates that transnational sharing of texts becomes a site of negotiation of national and cultural identity. Next, we will consider the forces behind this sharing of texts.

The driving forces of glocalisation: technology and fandom

There are two significant factors that have underpinned the global success of manga and anime: advances in technology, and a devoted fan culture. Advanced technology has been an important factor in accelerating and expanding the global penetration of manga and anime. Through improved technology (for example, DVD, mobile phones, satellite TV, the internet) and distribution methods, manga and anime producers can reach wider audiences. DVD technology, and now Blu-ray discs, provide a more personalised experience of foreign works, with multiple choices of language preferences and special features which enhance the viewing experience (O'Hagan, 2007). They cater to multiple viewer preferences: audiences who enjoy dubbed versions, which may help to make the content more accessible; viewers who prefer to listen to the original Japanese voices, with subtitles, even if they don't understand the Japanese language; and viewers who do understand the Japanese language (Cubbison, 2005). In a move that echoes the strategy of publishers in Japan, who are turning to new technologies to attract readers, distributors in North America have launched manga and anime downloads for mobile phones and websites offering video-on-demand, and made anime online downloads available through sites such as iTunes. The effort to offer digital manga and anime is an attempt to diversify product range – another example of media mix – in what is now a slowly declining market. It is also a response to the significant proportion of readers/viewers who consume manga and anime illegally via online downloads (Anime News Network, 2008a; Koulikov, 2008; Koulikov, 2009).

The popularity of manga and anime outside Japan is also promoted by enthusiastic fans, who might belong to a subculture or alternative culture, particularly in the earlier period of their fandom. The nature of the commodification and marketing of both media results in diversification of fandom. For example, manga can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated because of its visual and linguistic vocabulary, which is quite distinct from that seen in North American or European comics. Translated manga are also relatively expensive – in Australia they can be three or four times more expensive than the Japanese original. These limitations on access to manga form a further subculture of specific consumers who are relatively young and have sufficient disposable income.

Anime, in contrast, can reach wider audiences than manga, especially works backed by major production studios or distributors. Certainly in recent years, along with greater critical acclaim, the marketing of anime films and television series has increased. Foreign countries first accepted anime largely through TV broadcasting, initially because of the inexpensive licence fees for the artistic quality (Lent, 2006; Pellitteri, forthcoming). It was usually not until such anime as Akira (1988 in Japan, 1990 in US, 1991 UK and Australia) and Ghost in the Shell [Kōkaku Kidōtai] (1995 in Japan, UK and Australia; 1996 in US) appeared, often vigorously promoted by enthusiastic fans, that the quality of anime as adult entertainment became recognised outside of Japan (Patten, 2004). Perhaps the acceptance of anime by the wider western audience was achieved when Miyazaki's Spirited Away [Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi] won an Academy Award in 2003. As anime DVDs are available at similar prices to other films or television series – which is a relatively recent development – they are more readily accessible and thus have more potential to become a part of mainstream culture.

Fans of manga and anime are part of an interactive cross-cultural communication process. Their knowledge is specialised and their membership is privileged, but they also often work towards distributing this subculture to a wider audience (Newitz, 1995; Norris, 2005). Their key role in the distribution process is through translation: fans subtitle (or even dub) anime and scan translated versions of manga for those who cannot understand the Japanese original. Fans then distribute these translations (fansubs and scanlations, respectively) through organised networks (usually online) (Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez, 2006). Although such activities are illegal, they have had important effects on the global market for manga and anime. They probably provide a good indication to publishers and/or distributors which titles may become successful in official releases. However, in the US, competition created by freely available illegal online downloads is considered a factor in the decrease in sales of manga and anime, and reduction in the number of titles released or broadcast (Anime News Network, 2008b; Koulikov, 2007; 2008). The translation efforts of fans also allow more consumers to be exposed to works that may otherwise never have been available (Cubbison, 2005; Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez, 2006; Leonard, 2005). Further, fans expand the cross-cultural communication process: local interaction with the text (that is, the individual's translation effort) allows global interaction, through the open, usually unrestricted forum for these translated works, the internet.

Self-imposed standards and innovative methods of translation dictate the activities of many fansub and scanlation groups. The illegal translations tend to prioritise preserving the original text, even at the expense of including clunky sentences or excessively long subtitles. These standards and strategies are not simply an indication of the fans' respect for and devotion to the original work, but are also often a response to the translation strategies of the international distributors of manga and anime (Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez, 2006). For example, because the target audience of animation in the US, at least initially, was usually children, the translation strategy (i.e. dubbing or subtitling) usually aimed to alter the original in such a way to make it appropriate for those younger viewers. Works often become more informal or simplistic and adult content is reduced. In reply to this, some fansub and scanlation groups view themselves as providing other fans with alternative, more authentic version of the work (Cubbison, 2005; Gateward, 2002; Poitras, 2008).

Manga and anime fandom is not limited to fansubs and scanlations, and the online downloading of these translations. Anime and manga fandom is incredibly active in other ways on the internet: there is an enormous number of news and information sites, fan sites, forums, manga- and anime-style online games, chat rooms, electronic mailing lists and interactive chat sites which use moveable avatars inspired by manga and anime, for example Gaia Online. Moreover, consumers do not simply want to view manga and anime, they also want to create them. There are online art sites, one of the most well known being DeviantART, where aspiring artists can post their work and receive feedback. Many artists use this site to showcase their own manga. Fan fiction sites are also popular, and are used as an avenue to develop new storylines, not in the original, for established series. There are numerous instructional books such as the How to Draw Manga series and Manga for Dummies. The tools to digitally create manga are also available to fans. With interactive self-publishing software like the TOKYOPOP Manga Creator, fans can produce their own manga using licensed digital content from Tokyopop (one of the largest publishers of manga outside Japan). Other manga creation software include Manga Studio EX, Comicworks and Comicart CGillust. Tokyopop also runs the annual Rising Stars of Manga competition, held in North America, and at one stage in the UK and Ireland. The amateur winners of these competitions have their work published in an anthology, and several have gone on to produce original manga works for Tokyopop (Cha and Reid, 2005). Further, fans of manga and anime interact with and embody the characters and narratives of manga and anime. In a way not dissimilar to fans of other styles of comic art, film or television series, manga and anime fans create and dress up in costumes, styled on a manga and/or anime character, and attend conventions or compete in competitions. This activity is called cosplay (costume playing) and indicates an assimilation of and intimate familiarity with manga and anime narratives and culture. In other words, this close connection created with manga and anime characters indicates not only the integration of the broader culture associated with manga and anime – highlighting the penetration of Japanese subcultural practices into non-Japanese culture – but also the level of devotion fans have for manga and anime, a key component of their success in non-Japanese markets.

Why is it being shared?

Much has been written about the reasons why manga and anime are popular among non-Japanese consumers. Both Napier (2007) and Iwabuchi (2001) highlight the role of technology in making global media like manga and anime more easily and rapidly accessible to consumers. Where once fans endured the laborious and time-consuming process of dubbing anime on to videotape, and then shared their efforts at clubs or conventions, fans now have much more immediate, inexpensive access to manga and anime, allowing them to compete with other media available to consumers (Cubbison, 2005).

Also, that manga and anime feature characters, themes and plots with which consumers can align themselves is another much-explored reason behind the popularity of manga and anime. This alignment occurs in various ways. The emotional intensity and complexity of the characters and their experiences appeals to some consumers as it reflects their own experiences. Others place themselves in imaginative, often unreal universes and plotlines to escape their own reality (Allison, 2000; Bouissou, 2008; Levi, 2006; Napier, 2007; Newitz, 1995; Norris, 2005; Pellitteri, forthcoming).

Manga and anime present to consumers an appealing combination of familiarity and difference. They are different because they incorporate elements which are unlike other forms of comic art or animation, such as the visual style, or the narrative structure and/or character types and development. They are familiar because the plot or experiences and emotions of the characters may reflect the experiences and emotions of any reader or viewer, regardless of ethnicity or nationality; or they may also incorporate elements of no distinct culture, such as an unnamed or unrecognisable setting; they may even seem familiar because they feature characters that appear to non-Japanese viewers to be Caucasian (Allison, 2000; Levi, 2006; Napier, 2007; Newitz, 1995; Norris, 2005). Much debate centres on the role such familiar elements play in terms of appealing to non-Japanese consumers. Iwabuchi labels manga and anime as ‘mukokuseki' (nationless) (1998: 167) and ‘culturally odourless' (2002: 455). He argues that although there are some elements of manga and anime that we may associate with Japan or Japaneseness, the complex process of global communication alters products such that notions of cultural specificity or authenticity are untenable. When products are shared, according to Iwabuchi, the process of translation, adaptation and/or re-presentation blurs the boundaries between what is foreign and local, and consumers of manga and anime are not connecting specifically with Japan or Japanese culture, whatever they may be (Iwabuchi, 2002). He also argues that the features of the characters in manga and anime, and the contexts in which they appear, usually do not clearly indicate that the narrative occurs in any specific culture or location (Iwabuchi, 1998). However, Pellitteri (forthcoming) demonstrates that despite the modifications made to Japanese works when they enter non-Japanese markets, the layers of culture-specific elements incorporated into a work cannot be thoroughly removed in the cross-cultural communication process, and these elements, such as the clothing or behaviour of the characters, the setting, and the themes and messages of the narrative, make the Japaneseness of the work recognisable. Further, surveys and analysis done by Napier (2007), indicated that a connection to Japan (‘Japan' and ‘Japanese culture' of course, being subjectively defined and constantly changing concepts) was an important part of the appeal of manga and anime for some consumers.

Ultimately, what has occurred is that manga and anime have become part of an increasingly expanding sphere of popular media. This sphere may not be destined to be a monoculture – the aforementioned efforts of Indian comics publishers appear to indicate that – and access to the sphere is enabled by shared channels or platforms that connect consumers to some perceivable sense of difference or uniqueness. These channels might be glocalised cultural products like manga and anime, or the platform may be the interactive space of the internet, where consumers connect and share on a global scale. The examination of the position of manga and anime outside Japan highlights the negotiation of cultural and national identity that occurs when texts are shared – and undoubtedly to some extent modified in that sharing process – in today's global media market. This modification of texts – which can be viewed as both different and familiar – from above and below, creates an interactive, fluid space of communication.

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[1] The Cartoon Network targets the children’s market and broadcasts some globally successful anime, such as Naruto, Pokemon and Dragonball Z, but the majority of its programs are non-Japanese series. Viewers usually have a choice of Hindi or English language tracks (Cartoon Network India, 2009). The channel Animax targets 15-24 year old viewers and broadcasts such series as InuYasha and Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no renkinjutsushi); the vast majority of its programming is Japanese animation (Animax India, 2009; Techshout.com, 2007).

[2] Virgin Comics was part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. It was founded by Branson and several others, including the Indian writer Deepak Chopra and Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (Marcinko, 2006).

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Akira, 1988. Film. Directed by Ōtomo Katsuhiro. Japan: Tokyo Movie Shinsha.

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About the Authors

Mio Bryce is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Japanese Studies in the Department of International Studies at Macquarie University, teaching Japanese language, literature and manga-related units. She has a PhD in Japanese classical literature, on The Tale of Genji. Mio is particularly interested in historical, socio-cultural and psychological issues depicted in fiction.

Christie Barber is a PhD candidate in Japanese Studies at Macquarie University. Her research focuses on representations of masculinity in Japanese popular media for young people, in particular manga and anime. She also teaches Japanese Studies at Macquarie University.

James Kelly and Siris Kunwar are former Macquarie University students who took the unit (Manga: Global Imagery) at Macquarie University upon which this paper is based.

Amy Plumb is a Macquarie University student and completed her Honours degree at the end of 2009. Amy also took the above unit.

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Copyright: Mio Bryce, Christie Barber, James Kelly, Siris Kunwar and Amy Plumb
This page was created on 29 January 2010.

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