Artifacts from Japan, part 5: Morning #43, 2018

Two years ago I already introduced another original Japanese manga magazine here, Weekly Young Jump, but I don’t want to give the impression that all manga magazines in Japan are like that. So here’s a look at a magazine that is also filed under seinen (i.e. targeted towards young adult men), but much more mature.

Language: Japanese
Authors: various
Publisher: Kōdansha
Pages: 400
Price: ¥370 ($3.30 / €2.85)
Website: http://morning.moae.jp/ (Japanese)

Morning (or “Weekly Morning” according to Wikipedia, but the word “Morning” is not on the cover as far as I have seen) is not quite as widely read as Young Jump, but its circulation (well over 100,000 copies per issue) is still huge compared to Western comic magazines. In the past, Morning has run famous manga series such as Gon, Planetes, Space Brothers, and Vagabond.

The copy of the issue at hand (dated October 11, but actually published two weeks earlier) has the same dimensions as Young Jump and the same printing quality (or lack thereof), but already on the outside, the content is quite different: instead of an erotic photograph, there’s a cover image that actually refers to one of the manga inside – グラゼニ / Gurazeni by Yūji Moritaka and Keiji Adachi, a baseball series that seems to be relatively popular in Japan. Inside there is very little editorial content apart from a 4-page interview with Moritaka and film director Hitoshi Ōne.

Which brings us to the manga in this issue. There are roughly 20 chapters of 18 pages on average, and these are the more noteworthy ones apart from Gurazeni:

A particularly striking page from Toshiya Higashimoto's <em>Theseus no fune</em>.

A particularly striking page from Toshiya Higashimoto’s Theseus no fune.

As you can perhaps see from these short descriptions, most of the manga in Morning are set in the real world rather than some fantasy or science fiction setting. Considering Morning and Young Jump alone, the vast variety of manga within the seinen demographic becomes palpable – a variety hardly represented by the few of these titles that have been published in the West.

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Tokyopop loves shōjo, but Kōdansha doesn’t love Tokyopop

I Love Shojo logo

Some weeks ago, manga publisher Tokyopop Germany launched a website, <http://iloveshojo.tokyopop.de>, as part of a promotional campaign for their shōjo manga titles. Readers can ask questions by using a form on this site, which are then answered publicly by Tokyopop staff. Without counting them, I guess the topics most frequently brought up by readers are:

  1. recommendations which new manga Tokyopop should publish next (which the fans, I believe, have discovered via illegal scanlations);
  2. questions around promotional items, such as “ShoCo Cards” (“Shojo Collectors Cards”);
  3. publication of drawings, a.k.a. fan art.

Many postings contain an awful lot of typos, which makes me believe that these are real readers’ writings and there is not much editing going on. I guess the published posts are carefully filtered by the Tokyopop editors, though.

Occasionally, some really interesting information can be found amidst all this fannish chatter. For instance, about a week ago, there was this question:

Screenshot from iloveshojo.tokypop.de

My translation: “I keep hearing you’re unable to publish works by Kōdansha, why is that?” – “The publisher Kōdansha told us some time ago that they had decided to let the contracts for all current series expire, and that they won’t license any new series to us. We weren’t given any reasons for this decision. We were only told that the decision was unrelated to the previous collaboration between Kōdansha and Tokyopop Germany. Therefore we won’t publish any new Kōdansha titles for the time being. If the situation changes, we’ll inform you immediately!”

A few days later, a similar question was posted:

Screenshot from iloveshojo.tokypop.de

My translation: “Which Japanese publishers collaborate with you?” – “Basically all the major ones – except for Kōdansha and Square Enix… Of course there are still many smaller ones from which we haven’t requested any titles yet – but this is always worth a try.”

In other words, some Japanese publishers license their manga to some Western publishers and some don’t. This means that the selection of manga that get translated into European languages often appears, for all intents and purposes, to be random. For if the business decisions of Japanese publishers are apparently inscrutable even to their Western partners, how are we researchers supposed to comprehend them?


Daisy Yamada’s Boyfriend and the purported superficiality of Japanese pop culture (review of vol. 1-3)

Detail of a page from Boyfriend vol. 2 by Daisy Yamada (via http://mangamoon.com/)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Daisy Yamada
Publisher: EMA (originally Kodansha)
Pages: 160-176
Price: €6.50 (D)
Website (German): http://www.manganet.de/index.php/cat/C882_boyfriend.html

(This is the first reviewed item here that actually costs 650 cents, by the way.)

Japanese popular culture is often accused of being superficial, shallow or hollow (probably most entertainingly so in an episode of Andreas Michalke’s comic strip Bigbeatland). While I don’t want to discuss this hypothesis now, Daisy Yamada’s manga Boyfriend is a pop cultural work that could easily be seen as an example of this alleged superficiality. At least that’s what I took it for at first.

The German publisher’s promotional text is titled “Boyfriend – bullying concerns everyone”, and reads: “Hijiki leaves everything behind, the cruelties of her schoolmates, the dreadful helplessness. She starts anew, with new classmates. But can Hijiki make true new friends with her faked cheerful self? Maybe even a boyfriend?”

So I thought this three-volume series was about a girl being bullied at school. But let’s see what actually happens:

Vol. 1: Hijiki starts 8th grade at a new school, but we don’t know why she changed school until towards the end of the volume. She is a somewhat insecure girl, but nevertheless quickly makes new friends and even falls in love with the haughty Horai. In the last chapter, we learn that she has been bullied at her former school, and now the girls in her new class turn against her because she has become too popular with the boys. However, there’s not much bullying going on so far.

Vol. 2: In the beginning of this volume, three girls attack Hijiki verbally, break her mobile phone, and lock her up in some sort of shed or warehouse. That’s bullying alright, but the remaining 160 pages focus on the budding romance between her and Horai.

Vol. 3: This volume is shorter than the others (or rather, there’s a long backup story after the end of Boyfriend on page 116) and is primarily about Hijiki’s and Horai’s families standing in the way of their relationship. Apart from a two-page scene at Hijiki’s old school to which she briefly returns (plus two flashback scenes), there’s no bullying in here.

If we assume that this manga is meant to have bullying as its central topic, then we can call this treatment of bullying superficial indeed, in the same vein in which, e.g., Masami Tsuda’s Kare Kano might be seen as a superficial treatment of teenage pregnancy, or Setona Mizushiro’s X-Day as a superficial treatment of parental abuse. Those and other comics don’t give enough room to such problematic topics to provide the reader with several points of view and background information, thus degrading them to cheap plot devices. However, who says that Boyfriend is supposed to be a profound and comprehensive discussion of bullying? Actually no one does. It’s just what I expected after reading the promo text – paratextual evidence at best.

To expect Boyfriend to teach you something about bullying is like expecting Maid Sama to teach you about maid cafés, or Twinkle Stars about astronomy (cf. my review of Daisuki): these themes are present in the comics, and you get pieces of information about them, but they are only one subject among several. So you can’t say Yamada did anything wrong, unless you take Boyfriend for something it isn’t. It’s just a nice, compact (if somewhat generic) high school romance manga, nothing more and nothing less – and with beautiful artwork at that.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○