Tomoji (とも路; German title: Ihr Name war Tomoji)
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Authors: Miwako Ogihara & Jirō Taniguchi (writers), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 1
Price: € 17
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/ihr-name-war-tomoji/978-3-551-76104-0 (German); https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=119718
A very short summary of this story would be that it tells the life of Tomoji Uchida (1912-1967), who, together with her husband Fumiaki Itō, founded a Buddhist sect. But that would be misleading. Instead of a hagiography, Taniguchi (together with co-writer Ogihara) does what he is best at: telling a story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. He is able to pull this off by having the story end in 1932, after Tomoji had married Fumiaki but before they became religious leaders.
What makes this story interesting nevertheless is that it’s also a portrait of Taishō and early Shōwa era Japan. We see Tomoji as a young girl in the countryside of Yamanashi Prefecture, helping out at her family’s shop, working in the rice paddy, going to school, and later going to town to attend a sewing school. Some dramatic events in Tomoji’s life are also shown – e.g. her father’s death, or how her mother abandons the family – but the only historic one is the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, which is mainly depicted from Fumiaki’s perspective in Tokyo.
This is actually one of the more unusual aspects of the manga: Tomoji and Fumiaki don’t meet until 1932, but the perspective shifts several times from her to him, and it is strongly implied that they are somehow destined to be together. For instance, on p. 111, Fumiaki in Tokyo looks out of the window; the next panel shows a bird of prey in the sky; the one after that shows Tomoji looking up from her work in the rice paddy near her faraway home village – as if they were both watching the same bird – and then on the next page the sequence is reversed until in the last panel we’re with Fumiaki in Tokyo again. The caption on the page after that reads: “Fumiaki was 18 years old, Tomoji 12. Both were looking at the same sky, but some more years would pass before they met.”
With the knowledge of how Tomoji’s life story continues after the end of the manga, one is tempted to look for other hints in the story, apart from her fateful meeting with Fumiaki, as to how and why she became a religious leader. And indeed there are many little episodes which one can read as examples of young Tomoji’s kindness, compassion, humility, studiousness, piety and spirituality, all of which are probably appropriate prerequisites for a future temple founder. That being said, Tomoji remains a charmingly ‘ordinary’ slice-of-life manga.
Art-wise, Taniguchi is once more at the top of his game, which shows particularly in the many landscape panels and the endless variations of the page layout. Thankfully, the German edition also includes all the watercoloured pages (22 including chapter title images) in colour, and I have already sung Taniguchi’s praises as a watercolour painter before. Then again, the colour pages are probably German publisher Carlsen’s reason to charge the hefty price of € 0.10 per page for this book.
If Tomoji can be considered required reading for Taniguchi enthusiasts, it’s because it bridges two gaps in his oeuvre: as some people have pointed out, it is one of only two of his manga with a female protagonist (the other being Sensei no kaban from 2008, adapted from Hiromi Kawakami’s novel). And, chronologically, Tomoji is another piece in the puzzle that is Taniguchi’s manga history of Japan, as it were, as the time period that it covers fits nicely between the Meiji-era Bocchan no jidai (1987) and Harukana machi e / A Distant Neighborhood (1998), small parts of which are set in WWII.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
It already feels good to get a PhD thesis completed and submitted, and defended. But the icing on the cake was to receive the ‘August-Grisebach-Preis’ of the Institute of European Art History at Heidelberg University for one of the two best dissertations of the year! Along with the award came the honour of giving a speech at the semester opening of the Institute in October. Usually such a speech would be a summary of the thesis, but I thought it would be more interesting for both the audience and me if I talked about a different topic (that still is loosely related to that of my thesis).
When I received the news in early August, I was engrossed in the Olympics, and I felt that as an expert on Japanese pop culture, I might have an interesting thing or two to say about the manifold ways in which manga, anime etc. were present at that event. At the same time, I wanted to make some statements about the place of (Japanese) pop culture in (European) Art History, and discipline-specific approaches to it. Perhaps that was a bit of a tall order for a twenty-minute talk, but I’m still happy with the way it turned out, so I decided to translate it into English, add some footnotes and publish it on Humanities Commons: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:43623
(This also marks the first time that I deposited something on Humanities Commons. So far, I’m very pleased with it.)
Here’s the abstract:
Spectators of the 2020/21 Olympic Games were frequently confronted with references to Japanese popular culture, particularly at the opening and closing ceremonies. However, these references to anime, manga, video games and other visual media were often so subtle that they were easy to miss unless pointed out and explained by television commentators. Art historians should not shy away from engaging with such objects and images.
November is Wikipedia Asian Month. Each year, Wikipedians are invited to write new articles relating to any aspect of Asia. Depending on the number of articles you manage to create within this month, you are awarded bronze, silver and gold virtual badges (though that might be specific to the German Wikipedia), and anyone who creates at least 4 articles gets a postcard (by snail mail!) from a random Asian country.
If you’re reading this weblog, chances are you’re particularly knowledgeable about manga, so how about participating in Wikipedia Asian Month by checking if there’s any manga or mangaka not yet in the Wikipedia of your choice (but should be)? However, there are two caveats:
- Make sure that any articles you’re about to create meet the appropriate notability guidelines. There’s already too much stuff in Wikipedia that shouldn’t be in there, and if no one else cares about the topic of your article, it won’t get improved much by the Wikipedia community.
- I won’t say “Writing a Wikipedia article is easier than you think”, because probably the opposite is true: successfully creating an article takes a lot of effort, particularly because you need to properly cite published sources for everything you say.
Last year I took part in Wikipedia Asian Month for the first time and created articles on the German Wikipedia on a Japanese live-action film and its director, an anime voice actor, and an anime series. This year I’ll try to reach 4 articles again on the German Wikipedia, maybe with a stronger focus on manga this time.
Speaking of grids: in his book about Japan¹, Empire of Signs (L’Empire des signes, 1970), Roland Barthes doesn’t mention manga and their panel grids directly. However, he comes close to it in a chapter titled “Packages”: “every [Japanese] object […] seems framed. […] around it, there is: nothing, an empty space […].” (p. 43 in the Hill and Wang translated edition; italics by Barthes). This sounds like comic panels and gutters alright. On the other hand, “this frame is invisible; the Japanese thing is not outlined” (ibid.).
Now, while outlines are certainly a typical feature of comic panels, they are by no means a necessary characteristic. Borderless layouts are rare, but they do exist. The bottom row of the Kimi ni todoke page I’ve shown in my Rosalind Krauss blogpost is one example. In the same volume, there are entire pages without panel borders, such as this one:
Still, Barthes is more concerned with traditional Japanese room furnishings, ikebana, and wrapped souvenirs than with comics. The interesting question here is: if the Japanese culture has developed a general fondness for framing, packaging, delimiting things, does this explain why comics with their framed panels have become so popular there? From the way in which Barthes characterises his framed objects, the answer seems to be ‘no’. “The [Japanese] thing is […] distinct […] by an excision which removes the flourishing of meaning from the object” (ibid.). Comics work the other way round: by placing a panel into a sequence of other panels, meaning is bestowed on the panel. Thus the gutter between the panels doesn’t excise them – on the contrary, it glues them together.
It’s curious and regrettable that Barthes doesn’t mention manga (or anime, or most other contemporary Japanese pop cultural media for that matter) at all in Empire of Signs. Perhaps, if he had written it 20 years later (if he would have still been alive by then), at the height of the manga boom in Japan, he wouldn’t have been able to ignore them.
I have already lamented the demise of German manga anthology magazines on this weblog (Daisuki, the last monthly anthology, was cancelled in 2012). But what about journalistic periodicals that write about manga? As far as I know, there are two German-language magazines of potential interest for manga readers: Animania (or “AnimaniA”) and Koneko.
Frequency: every other month
Publisher: Animagine, Hachenburg
Price: €7.80 (DVD edition)
The launch of Animania predates that of Koneko by 10 years: first published in 1994, Animania is probably the earliest German magazine on Japanese pop culture. As the name suggests, its focus is on anime rather than manga. However, on average more than 20 of its pages are exclusively devoted to manga (including artbooks). Additionally, a lot of manga articles refer to their anime adaptations and vice versa. Apart from manga news and reviews, the latest issue (06-07/2013) even contains short interviews with manga authors Tite Kubo, Kanan Minami and Mikiko Ponczeck. Animania covers other areas of Japanese pop culture as well, but not as extensively as Koneko (with the exception of video games, which are given slightly more coverage in the former).
Frequency: every other month
Publisher: raptor, Frankfurt am Main
Price: €4.95 (D)
Koneko covers a lot of different areas of Japanese pop culture, which reduces the space given to manga coverage. A typical issue contains only 13 pages on which manga are the sole subject (although there are many other pages on which manga is one of several subjects). This includes drawing guides, portraits of fan artists, and also 6 pages of a dōjinshi, an original comic submitted by a reader (arranged on 3 magazine pages).
Generally, Koneko seems to reach out more to its readers, the vast majority of which appear to be teenage girls. Animania on the other hand makes a somewhat more mature impression, and is more focused on the anime/manga scene. For this reason I find it more appealing than Koneko, which I would only recommend to someone who is also interested in J-pop. Still, it is a pity that, after the cancellation of MangasZene in 2007, there is no German magazine in which manga are the primary topic, and not just one small part of a purported all-encompassing fandom of Japanese pop culture.