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Comics in form, not always in content

May 18, 1999

Asahi Shinbun

Comics writer and critic Fusanosuke Natsume has been nominated for a special award of the Third Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize for "years of meritorious service in comics criticism."

There is nothing surprising about the choice. Anyone who has read his admirable books on comics, such as "Manga wa Naze Omoshiroi noka" (Why are comics interesting?) published by Japan Broadcast Publishing Co., Ltd., can see that he is worthy of the special award.

Why do adults in Japan read comics? "The sight of adults reading comics in public seems to strike Westerners as shocking and extraordinary," writes the 48-year-old commentator. Even in Japan, some elderly people find it to be a lamentable phenomenon.

So in answer to the question of why adults continue to read comics, Natsume is succinct, saying: "It is because Japanese comics have become good enough for adults to read."

The comment he offers is to the point and profound. His analysis of why Golgo 13, the hitman in the "Golgo 13" comics that began to appear in 1969, keeps an expressionless face offers a good example. "Partly it is an exaggerated representation of the Japanese, whose facial expressions are said to be unreadable in the West," he writes. "At the same time, it shows the reverse side of the psychology of Japanese who find themselves taking a smilingly servile attitude in dealing with Westerners."

Analyzing the face of Doraemon, the cat-doll hero of the vastly popular "Doraemon" series, Natsume says, "The unique feature of his face is that the eyes are set in an upward area. This is contrary to the fact that ordinarily, the eyes of cute cartoon characters for little children are set in a downward area, as is the case with the faces of children."

"The fact that the eyes of Doraemon are set in an upward area means that he is an adult," he goes on to say. This, he adds, suggests that Doraemon, an almighty character, is an ideal adult who can grant any wishes for children.

The analysis makes excellent sense.

Natsume sees things like a comics author, and the writings by which he conveys his views are interesting and edifying. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he has Soseki Natsume, the great novelist whose portrait is printed on 1,000-yen notes, for his grandfather.

One other book, "Manga to Senso" (Comics and war), published by Kodansha, in which he analyzes how postwar comics have been depicting war, is also an eye-opener. As a result of his study, the way Japanese look at war now becomes clear.

Studying the relationship between comics and war was an excellent idea because the war images held by those born after World War II--the people accounting for the great majority of Japanese society--have mostly been derived from comics and other media.

Asahi Shinbun, May 28, 1999

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