Graphic Lit: Oh those naughty Japanese comics!
The Japanese, it’s been said many times, tend to be more relaxed about depictions of sex, violence and potty jokes in their comics than we Americans are.
As a result, a lot (though certainly not all) of the manga material that gets translated over here tends to be:
A. Aimed squarely at teen audiences.
B. Censored, edited or otherwise altered so that nothing too gross or overtly sexual gets into little hands. Just as often, a series aimed at younger readers will be marketed for adults in the West.
But as manga and anime become more and more popular here in the U.S., more and more publishers are starting to take a chance with releasing edgier — or more risque — manga.
Take for example, “Crayon Shinchan.” Originally released (and ignored) by now-extinct small press publisher ComicsOne, the series is being revived by CMX, no doubt mainly due to the fact that the animated version of the character can be seen on the Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” lineup.
Shinchan is a mischievous boy, 5, with a knack for mortifying his parents, teachers and any other adults who have the bad luck to come into his vicinity.
He frequently runs around without pants on. He mistakes his mom’s underwear for a swim cap. He sneaks looks at dirty magazines at the bookstore and plays games like “scene of the accident.”
He has a habit of asking incredibly inappropriate questions to complete strangers (most of which cannot be repeated in a daily newspaper).
Frequently uproarious, “Shinchan” is often compared to “The Simpsons,” but “South Park” might be a better example.
Not that Shinchan is as worldly or foul-mouthed as his Comedy Central brethren. What makes the series so funny is the way Shin remains essentially clueless despite his constant misdeeds. He doesn’t understand everything he says and does, he just knows it gets a reaction.
Another, perhaps even better example of the increasing willingness of mainstream publishers to take risks is Tokyopop’s release of “Manga Sutra”
Known in Japan as “Futari Ecchi,” “Manga Sutra” is, as its title not very subtly hints, a how-to sex guide for the clueless.
The story focuses on newlyweds Makoto and Yura.
After a whirlwind, awkward courtship, they get hitched only to discover that not only are they both virgins, but they’re both utterly clueless when it comes to the intricacies of bedroom intimacy.
As the manga progresses, friends and family members offer (often unwanted) advice, and we follow the couple’s attempts to figure out how sex works, often with comedic results.
As you might expect, there’s a high level of nudity and frank talk, though the book stays an arm’s length shy of being actual pornography (Japan’s obscenity laws, for example, require that any naughty bits below the waist be obscured).
If fact, perhaps the most amazing thing about “Manga Sutra” is how conservative it is. Its emphasis is firmly upon monogamy and education over titillation and lust.
Unfortunately, that attitude includes an adherence to some regrettable sexual stereotypes. The husband is a dopey horn-dog while the wife is a demure innocent who feels guilty about being “kinky.”
The ultimate problem with “Sutra,” though, is we never see Makoto and Yura develop as a couple outside of the bedroom.
They don’t seem to have any common interests or interesting personality traits. If the series weren’t already up to volume 37 in Japan, I wouldn’t have given much hope for its future.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008