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Japanese Manga and Cyberpunk

by Andrew Mayer

If animation is the fire of Japanese science fiction, then comics are its fuel. Popularly called "Manga" (French for comics), over 1,000 different comic books are published weekly in Japan. Most of these -- anthologies of ten or more separate stories in each issue -- are greedily consumed by a highly literate Japanese population. While few of these stories ever rise above the multitudes, a number of titles that have achieved super-stardom feature common Cyberpunk themes.

Of all the Manga artists who have embraced the Cyberpunk aesthetic, Masumune Shirow, creator of "Appleseed" and "Dominion" has held it perhaps the tightest. Although his stories usually take place in a dark c-punk future over-run by pollution, war, and sleazy politics, they also always come with a sliver of hope attached to them. Obviously Shirow still thinks there is a chance that science can pull us out of the same dark hole that it has helped to dig. In Japan, a country that has both embraced and been radically changed by its technology, this is a welcomed message.

Although seen as a passing wave in American fiction and comics, Cyberpunk continues to dominate SF in Japan. It has also evolved there beyond "Hard" SF comics and into such titles as "Five Star Stories." Basically a fantasy tale, "Five Star" contains many details and themes that, while they wouldn't seem out of place in a Gibson story, they owe as much to the "Arabian Nights" as to "Neuromancer." In this "Mecha" (giant robot) comic, Mamoru Nagano's characters face a world where the lines between humanity and the products of its technology have become blurred. The beautiful "Fatimas" are android females who connect mentally with the pilots of the giant "Mortar Head" robot suits. Although an integral part of the most awesome weapons ever created, they are still considered less than human because they are too perfect.

"Silent Moebius," currently the most popular Manga title, takes place in a future that bears a more than passing resemblance to the one depicted in films like "Blade Runner." The story is about a team of female ghost-busters called the A.M.P. (Abnormal Mystery Police) who fight supernatural creatures in the Tokyo of 2026AD. The demons they fight are uniquely Japanese.

Manga is a vital part of Japanese society, read by males and females of every age group. The fact that Cyberpunk seems to have found a permanent and dynamic home in their society is interesting, but not completely unexpected. While their culture may be a conservative one in many respects, once they become intrigued with an idea they are uniquely able to take it and make it their own. The concepts of Cyberpunk are no exception, and Manga showcases many of these "second generation" stories as they blend it with their own folk archetypes. In the next decade, a totally new movement may start, born from this mixing of past, present, and future cultures and concepts.



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