October 19, 2014

MANGA MONDAYS | What is 漫画? 

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By MARY CHEN

I can give you the simple definition that it is a style of Japanese graphic novels, i.e. a more mature (debatable) form of picture books, except that would not underscore the cultural and social significance of manga.

What do shounen mangas such as Bleach, Naruto and One Piece teach us about friendship, perseverance, and the value of hard work? What about shoujo, a fluttery genre often characterized by young girls trying to find romance in high school? At the outset, these genres are themselves typified by their intended audiences, yet upon closer examination, we can find a great deal of intrinsic worth even the most seemingly mundane manga.

For today’s post, I would like to bring to your attention one of my favorite mangas: Liar Game by Kaitani Shinobu. I consider Kaitani (note that Japanese last names are printed first) a genius among geniuses, for the intense psychological warfare he has his characters wage against themselves, and each other.

To first summarize the premise: We have a naïve female protagonist – Nao Kanzaki who mysteriously receives a note that she’s a participant in the Liar Game Tournament, along with 100 million yen in a briefcase. What’s her objective? To increase her money by the end of 30 days, upon which she must return the 100 million yen to the Liar Game company. Of course, she can keep any extra money in her possession, and whatever losses she incurs she must find a way to pay back. In just a few days, Nao had all of her money stolen from her, and out of desperation, she teams up with ex-convict Akiyama Shinichi, to win the game and find out the real purpose of the Liar Game Tournament.

As the story progresses, naïve Nao takes on a savior role to free all the other participants of the Liar Game Tournament from their astronomical debts gained from the game, but of greater interest is the psychological games these characters play with each other in each of the tournament rounds, with some surprising insights into human nature. At one point, Akiyama says to Nao:

There are rather profound implications here regarding not only human nature, but our attitudes towards each other. So, the next time you talk to your friends, question them about their lives. Listen, and ask more questions to get to know them better.

My goal is to introduce worthwhile (in my opinion) mangas to you that might make you question human nature, want to set off on a grand adventure, or just enjoy the beauty of life for what it is. At the end of each post, spend some time and give these manga a try. I promise you that it’ll be worth it.

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