July 21, 2010
Koji Aihara / Kentaro Takekuma – Viz – 2002 – 2 volumes
the Viz edition stops at volume one, the 2-volume edition is a recent Japanese omnibus that doesn’t line up with the Viz edition… not that that matters
Jason Thompson recently wrote this book up over at House of 1000 Manga. I’d been looking to pick it up for years, but the prices were always insane. They were way down on Thursday night (after I read the article), so I bought a copy. It was here Monday morning. I’m writing it up here Tuesday night. God bless the internet.
For the uninitiated, this is a book that discusses manga on a topic-by-topic basis. It has chapters for shoujo, shounen, seinen, and ladies’ comics, different chapters on how to draw, a chapter on “art,” chapters on mahjong manga, salaryman manga, gag manga, merchandising manga, subliminal messages… the “preview” for the next volume is a discussion of the 4 (or maybe 3+1) major shounen magazines and how the same story would be told differently in each one. It is legitimately educational, and yet each chapter describes the topic to you in the most jaded, crude, and vulgar way possible. Using this method, it is far better than any other “how to” manga book will ever be. There are diagrams and charts describing why the lame friend character is necessary in shounen manga, why ladies’ comics… er, have to be the way they are, and even the evolution of panties. Each lesson uses styles that are equivalent (or at least 80s equivalents) of art from real manga for whatever it is they’re talking about. Frequently their points are emphasized using naked photos or naked drawings of themselves for reasons I don’t want to think about.
It’s impossible to talk about this book without posting pictures, because I think everyone (myself included) reads it in slack-jawed amazement. You just have to see this thing. Everything it says is true. This is incredible because… the book itself is 20 years old, and the English translation of it is nearly 10. There are a few points that could be updated, but almost everything else stands as an eerie pillar of truth, supported on either side by one of the naked authors. The other incredible thing is that it’s not a parody. Not really. I mean, I think it’s meant to be, except it’s all correct information. Even when it’s making jokes, it’s actually taking things from real manga that sound like a joke, but aren’t. Sometimes it even offers decent advice. It could be argued that it offers decent advice on every page.
The ugly art you often see are the “characters” in the manga, the two who are pulling the manzai routine and have to say everything with their veiny eyes bugging out. But each chapter is introduced by the “real” Aihara and Takekuma, and those pages are drawn in a very simple style, with the two bespectacled, dark-haired authors addressing the reader in an educational, calm manner. It took me three chapters before I realized why I found this so unsettling.