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Manga Fever Rages In Paris: Sugoi, N'est-ce Pas?

  • (Photo courtesy: The Daily Yomiuri)

Japanese pop culture, manga in particular, is enjoying a boom in France. A recent event showed how much young people in France are learning about Japanese culture through manga and developing a longing for their 'dream country'.

The ninth Japan Expo was held July 3-6 at Paris-Nord Villepinte Convention and Exhibition Centre. The venue, more than twice as big as Tokyo Dome, was packed with a variety of manga and related items and thronged with cosplayers, as if to reflect the strong yearnings for Japan among manga lovers in France.

The bulk of the exhibition was given over to booths operated by publishers dealing with French editions of Japanese manga. But I was more amazed by other booths handling a great variety of items, ranging from kimono, swords and character figures to calligraphy items, round-headed kokeshi dolls and origami.

As I walked among the exhibition visitors, most of whom were participating in cosplay, I felt a mild culture shock at the chaotic and extraordinary space.

Two middle school girls, clad in 'Gosu-rori' outfits--a colloquial abbreviation of the terms Gothic and Lolita--they bought from a Japanese mail-order company, told me they like One Piece most among Japanese manga. The also said they find Japanese culture very interesting as it is 'modern'.

"I was amazed by the freedom in the Japanese manga expression."

"Through this event we hope to introduce Japanese lifestyles into our own through manga culture," said event staffer Thomas Sirdey, 28.

The expo, which started in 1999 with 3,000 visitors, this year attracted more than 130,000 people--a record for the event--over four days, up 50,000 from last year, when the event ran for three days.

Most visitors were aged between 15 and 22, but there were parents with children as well. Sixty per cent of the visitors came from in and around Paris.

"I am attracted to the Japanese spirit of teamwork and also to its culture, which cherishes old things. Nowadays, futons are more popular than beds among young people here, although it does not mean we can become Japanese (by using futons)," Sirdey said.

The rapid expansion of the Japan Expo was due to the success of the translated version of the ninja manga Naruto, published by French company Kana. In French, this work by Masashi Kishimoto has sold a total of 7.7 million copies in 37 volumes.

In 2005, Naruto exceeded the annual circulation of Dragon Ball, a seemingly unbeatable long-seller created by Akira Toriyama, bringing Kana, a newcomer in the publication of Japanese manga in France, to the top in terms of market share.

The manga generation in France is called the 'Dorothee generation', a reference to the popular television programme Club Dorothee, which aired Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya from 1987 to 1997.

The start of the publication of the French version of Dragon Ball in 1993 had people rushing to bookstores, fueling a craze for manga. Dragon Ball has since sold more than 19 million copies in total.

"The large manga sales drowned out criticism from older generations that Japanese manga were unacceptably 'violent' or 'erotic,' said Pascal Lafine, 40, editor in chief of Tonkam, which has been publishing the French version of Denei Shojo since 1994.

Among other best-selling Japanese manga in France in 2007 were Fullmetal Alchemist, published by Kurokawa, and samurai action manga Kyo, published by Kana.

But the dominant manga in France are those initially run in boys weekly Shonen Jump.

One of the latest is the French version of Death Note, whose publication started last year. It is believed to be on the verge of a massive breakout.

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, the magazine made its first presentation at the expo this year.

Shueisha Inc director Kazuhiko Torishima said the company aims at "conquering the world" by increasing public awareness of the name of the magazine, which still is not well known in France.

Lafine said he has had Shonen Jump sent to him every week from Japan since the 1980s and has devoured it. "I was amazed by the freedom in the Japanese manga expression."

He said manga is something that gives him magical feelings.

Manga's popularity may be new to the country, but France and neighboring Belgium have their own established comic book style called bande dessinee, or BD, which dates back to the 19th century.

French reporters looked a little surprised when Death Note creator Takeshi Obata, 39, who visited the expo and met 500 of his fans, said he is a fan of the great BD artist Enki Bilal.

BDs usually are drawn in colour and come in 48-page A4 size format. The contents vary from fantasy to humour to history, and they tend to be more artistic than manga.

It is often said that the BD tradition is the reason manga has been accepted most readily in France as compared with other European nations.

According to Armande Bourgault, an official at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysees--one of largest bookstores in Paris--37 per cent of comics sold at the store are manga. The figure is nearing sales of BDs, which now stand at 45 per cent.

A study also showed that 1,152 of the 3,312 comics newly published in France in 2007, or about 34.5 per cent, were Japanese manga.

A 19-year-old man shopping at the bookstore said he read BDs when he was a child, but he now reads manga as he feels that no BDs deal with adolescent issues. A 20-year-old woman, who also was at the store, said manga are more dynamic and thrilling than BDs, and manga are published more often.

But sales of BDs, whose readers are mainly men aged 30 and older, are not necessarily being eaten up by manga, and the number of new BD publications is rising. There are nowadays also mangalike BDs, inviting mixed reception.

Popular BD creator Philippe Buchet, 46, said many young BD artists have been influenced by manga.

Buchet, who also is a fan of manga, said, however, that just imitating the style does not work. "Manga is characterised by its distinctive way of expressing emotions, which is different from that of BDs, which are based on actions and clipped expression," he said.

Buchet, who said he finds the spirit of Zen in manga, called manga expression peculiar to Japan.

From the Japanese viewpoint, the BD culture with its links to Western art looks very rich. BD creators enjoy high social position, and are regarded as occupying the same cultural level as serious literary writers. That is why publishers do not force them to create salable works, for instance. Obata said that is a point he envies.

Manga excel as entertainment, while BDs stand out in artistic quality. The collision and reconciliation of the two forces may bring about a unique, novel manga culture. (By KANTA ISHIDA/ The Daily Yomiuri/ ANN)

MySinchew 2008.08.19


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