A manga is, for lack of a better term, a Japanese comic book. And believe it or not, it is a key element of Japanese society. It’s not just for kids. There are thousands of genres and stories, ranging from prisoners to mailmen and everything in-between. It may be hard to believe, but manga allows Japanese people to survive in a high-pressure world. However, in order to understand manga, one must first take a look at the Japanese people and their customs.
To say that the Japanese revere their ancestors is an understatement. Each Japanese citizen is not just one person. He is the representative of all the family members that came before, as well as those descendants unborn. Their actions, their successes and failures, honor and duty, they all echo onward to the future children. The Japanese bear the heavy weight of their ancestors and descendants on their shoulders in everything they do. It’s an intense burden to bear. It’s what drives the Japanese people to succeed. Japanese children often overshadow American children in school subjects like science and math. They have to, lest they bring dishonor to the family. Their lives are work, sleep and work. There is nothing else: no relaxation, no vacation, no breaks from success. There simply isn’t enough room for it.
That is where manga comes in. It serves the same purpose that all fictional mediums serve. It is an escape. They provide fantastic worlds and characters that the readers project themselves into. For a short time, the readers are the heroes, slaying dragons, meeting fairies or spirits, having relationships with the hottest girl in school, connecting with their ancient samurai ancestors, the list goes on and on. For the short length of a train ride, a businessman finds a small release from the heavy pressures to succeed. He doesn’t have to think about quarterly reports or productivity in advertising or any number of factors that dominate his waking hours. Manga allows the Japanese people permission to turn off that business sense and just be people.
The price of success is costly. Endless meetings with incompetent clients, hours of carefully scanning program code in search of devastating glitches, or any of a hundred ways that things could go wrong. People can crack under the strain. Everyone knows a person that has, or they are on the verge of buckling under themselves. People need a place and time to turn that part of themselves off. For a business ethic like the Japanese, that release is greater than ever. For them, that salvation comes in the form of comic books and cartoons. It may sound silly, but each society has its own unique way of relieving pressure. Audiences would do well to keep that in mind the next time they pick up a manga or anime. To each his own off-switch.
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