Anime and manga are vastly underappreciated forms of art, but to a small percentage of people who have discovered these art forms, they are some of the most exciting and enjoyable types of entertainment.
A manga (mahn•gah) is a Japanese style book written with picture panels, though they aren’t exclusively produced in Japan anymore. An anime (an•i•may) is a manga that has been adapted into a television show in the same style. My dad says that a manga is like a graphic novel (a thick comic book), except that it is often read from right to left instead of left to right; in other words you start at the back of the book. Manga volumes are commonly referred to, by adults and teenagers alike, as “backwards books.” But many mangas are American made. They are written like comic books, just in the original Japanese art form. The same goes for the Chinese “manhua.” The Korean “manhwa” is read from top to bottom in long vertical comic strips.
Every major bookstore now has huge sections dedicated to manga. My dad’s generation saved money to buy the monthly comic book issues of Spiderman and Xmen. Today many teens save for their monthly dose of manga. Some popular titles are Bleach, Dragonball, FullMetal Alchemist and Fruits Basket. And if you want to experience anime for the first time you can catch episodes of Bleach on Saturday nights on the Cartoon Network. You might feel a little lost to begin with since Bleach is currently in its 10th Season, but you will catch on if you give it a chance, or you can rent the entire series at most movie rental stores.
In the early 1970s, a television show created a national sensation. It was called Star Trek, and it produced a fanatical fan base. Conventions, books, spin-off television shows and movies all are part of the Star Trek franchise, and the fans became known as Trekkies. Anime and manga fans are referred to as Otakus. Otakus are extreme enthusiasts of anime, mangas and related video games. This term is usually used with negative connotations—even in Japan—so don’t go around using the term on every anime fan you know. I, myself, am a fan, so I mean no disrespect when using it in this article.
Otakus don’t just read manga or watch anime; they practically center their life around it. They write their own fan fiction, listen to Japanese music and participate in cosplay (costume-play/dress up as characters). And the otakus come out in droves to attend anime conventions. There will be one here in Middle Tennessee this April 22-24. It’s called MTAC, or the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention. Info about the convention can be found at mtac.net.
At an anime convention, you can expect to see all kinds of things from panels of guests in anime pop culture to a cosplay competition, where everyday amateur actors and actresses act out real or made-up scenes portraying their favorite characters. Most everyone is dressed up, but this isn’t restricted to just anime and manga characters; it includes anime and manga objects, comic book characters, cult classic characters and video game characters. You could go to an anime con and see the cast of Ouran High School Host Club (a popular manga and anime), a throng of soldiers from the Halo video game franchise, or even a platoon of Stormtroopers from the Star Wars series.
To most otakus, going to an anime convention is the chance to be themselves without people calling them stupid or lame. They get to meet other people with similar interests and generally have a good time. Everyone hugs each other even though they’ve never met. They show off costumes they slaved over to make perfect down to the last stitch and get autographs from their anime idols. They get to interact with celebrities of the anime world and celebrate anime by listening to guest musicians.
Many may see anime and manga fans as misfits of society, but the uneducated don’t know how important anime is to a true otaku. The otaku couldn’t care less about public opinion because they have their own society of people just like themselves. It’s hard to imagine just how many people enjoy anime and manga until you see for yourself and experience it first-hand at an anime convention. It will truly blow your mind to see just how major the minority is.
Rachel Parnell is a 14-year-old freshman attending Central Magnet School. In light of the recent tragedies in Japan, the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention is focusing attention on ways to help the victims there. Please visit mtac.net for information on how you can help people in need.