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Foxy. Manga.

by Laura C - 0 Comment(s)

Kitsune at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

Once you've started to read a few manga (Japanese comics) you begin to notice some trends: repeated symbols, plot-lines, art styles, etc. One of these is the motif of the kitsune (fox spirit). The kitsune is associated with numerous Japanese myths and legends and is at home in many fantasy manga series.

In Japan, good kitsune are most famously associated with (and companion to) the shinto diety Inari Okami, the god of foxes, fertility, rice, tea, sake, harvest, industry (among other things). There are over 30,000 shrines dedicated to this deity in Japan, the most famous (and main shrine) being the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. This is one of the featured locations in the film Memoirs of a Geisha.

The fox is present in many different aspects of Japanese culture. For example, if you're a sushi fan, you'll recognize the name Inari Zushi (taking its name from the deity); these deep-fried tofu packets resemble the shape of a fox -- and just happen to be a favourite snack of the kitsune (and mine, as well). Find out more about mythology by doing a search in the Gale Virtual Reference Library found in our E-Library.

In manga, there is no end to allusions of the kitsune/fox spirit. Try some of these:

Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto is one of the library's most popular manga series. It's an adventure series whose title character's great dream is to become Hokage, the greatest ninja of the leaf village. To do this he will have to learn to tap into the fearful power of the nine-tail demon fox which has been sealed within him... but first, he has to pass ninja training.

Foxes are not usually referred to as "good" creatures in Japanese mythology and it is not unusual for Japanese foxes to have many tails; they can have as many as nine. The more tails a fox has the older and more powerful it is.

The nine-tailed fox in Naruto is definitely a force to be reckoned with!

Inu Yasha by Rumiko Takahashi is a romantic/adventure series starring Kagome, an average school-girl transported to ancient Japan through an old well. There she discovers that she is the reincarnation of a priestess who once protected the powerful Shikon jewel (which has the power to grant its possessor their wish). When the jewel shatters, scattering pieces across Japan, Kagome must team-up with half-demon Inu-Yasha to reclaim all of the pieces before they fall into the wrong hands.

There are a number of kitsune in this series, including their adorable traveling companion Shippou. But, the most important reference is actually the shikon jewel. The jewel is a common symbol of the kitsune and some tradition even suggests that if you return the jewel to a kitsune it will grant you a wish.

Kamisama Kiss by Julietta Suzuki is the story of high-schooler Nanami who after saving a stranger from a dog is given his home to live in. As she has recently been abandoned by her father and homeless she accepts the gift only to find out that the home she's been given is not a house, but a decrepit shrine and she has become the new earth deity. She works hard in her new role -- and begins to have feelings for her new companion and protector, the fox-spirit Tomoe.

This story essentially twists the elements of the Inari Okami myth with his kitsune companion and turns it into a fun and frolicking romantic-comedy.

Spice & Wolf by Isuna Hasakura is the story of Kraft Lawrence, a 25-year-old traveling merchant who, while traveling through the town of Pasroe, discovers the stow-away wolf/girl named Holo (the wise-wolf) in his cart. She happens to be Pasroe's harvest goddess. Believing that the town no longer has use for her she convinces Lawrence to take her with him on his travels in an attempt to return home.

Despite writing Holo as a wolf instead of a fox, the author seems to have taken elements from several kitsune myths to create her character, including: her wisdom, her ability to transform into human form, and her association with the harvest.

Fresh! Manga Eyes

by Laura C - 0 Comment(s)

Robin Brenner in her book, "Understanding Manga and Anime" suggests that if you didn't grow up reading manga, that you might find the distinct style and symbolism used by the artists to convey meaning off-putting. For me, this is exactly the reason why I love manga: it is packed full of hidden messages that tell a story of a culture different from my own.

Over the next few months I'll attempt to share with you what, in my opinion, makes manga great! Hopefully it will encourage you to try some for yourself or at the very least, give you some insight into why your teenager has become so involved in this burgeoning fandom. So, let's start with those huge eyes...

Eyes, they say are, "a window to the soul"… and nowhere except in manga can we see this message so clearly. In manga, size of eyes is often an indicator of innocence; the bigger the eyes the “purer” the character, and vice versa. This is particularly obvious in fantasy, romantic comedy, and adventure-type stories.

cover: Kenshin vol. 1 Cover: kenshin v. 11

One of the best examples of this is in “Rurouni Kenshin” by Nobuhiro Watsuki. It is the fictional story of Himura Kenshin who was the legendary assassin Hitokiri Battosai during the Meiji Restoration. Kenshin has pledged never to kill again, and has become a wandering samurai using his sword to protect the people in an attempt to atone for his sins. But, because he is strong and because society is still in turmoil, his resolve to not kill is continually being tested. Every time his eyes change from round orbs to tight slits you know that he's about to do something dangerous!

Cover: Ceres vol. 1Another good example of this can be found in Yuu Watase’s manga. Watase is primarily known for her shoujo (for girls) fantasy stories starring cheerful and naive teenage girls. Compared to her other protagonists, Aya in "Ceres: Celestial Legend" has been drawn with a slight downward angle to her eyes. Watase intentionally uses this device to help create a heroine with a bit of "attitude".

Personally, this is my favourite of Watase's translated works. "Ceres: Celestial Legend" is about twins Aya and Aki, whose destiny's overtake them on their 16th birthday. The goddess Ceres has been reborn in Aya; her mission is to find her long lost Celestial robes which were stolen by Aya's ancestor... the man who just happens to have been reborn in Aki.

The hidden messages and meanings that are found in manga are often the same as those found in Anime (Japanese animation) -- find out even more hidden meanings in, "The Anime Companion" and, "The Anime Companion 2" by Gilles Poitras. Or, if you're interested in learning more about the symbolism and history of eyes in manga, check out the book, "Manga" by Stuart A. Kallen.

Fresh! Manga

by Laura C - 0 Comment(s)

It may have escaped your notice, but the Calgary Public Library has a wonderful collection of comic books and graphic novels -- we call them graphix! Within this collection my personal favourite format is manga, (pronounced mah-n-gah) – or, Japanese comics. I borrowed my first manga nearly a decade ago from the Calgary Public Library, and I’ve been obsessively reading them ever since.

There are so many things that I love about this format: the dynamic art, fascinating stories, and engaging characters, in a wide and varying range of genres: romance, comedy, mystery, horror, science fiction, fantasy, etc. There really is something in it for everyone. If you’re new to the format and interested in giving it a try, here are three suggestions to get you started:

Yotsuba&! vol. 1 book cover Black Blizzard book cover Akira vol. 1 book cover

For the Absolute beginner or, if you like to read the “Funny Pages”, you might like:

Yotsuba&! By Kiyohiko Azuma. This series has the flavour of comic strips without relying on the regular 3-paneled format.

Yotsuba& is named for and follows the small adventures of a happy-go-lucky preschooler. The stories are short, heart-warming and laugh-out-loud funny. And although this series is shelved in the children’s area, I highly recommend this comedy-gem to readers of any age and experience level.

If you dabble in comic books, or enjoy graphic novels, you might like:

Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Black Blizzard fits into the “Gekiga” tradition of manga. Gekiga, a term coined by this author, refers to “dramatic pictures” and I feel it closely resembles the Western tradition of graphic novels. If you’ve some experience with graphic novels like Maus, Blankets, or Persepolis, this might be the manga to start with.

This story follows two criminals who attempt to escape their fate while discovering they have more links in their life than the chains binding them together.

If you’re a regular reader of American-style comic books, you might like:

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo. This is a disturbing psychological sci-fi series set in post-apocalyptic neo-Tokyo. The story follows two orphaned teenagers and their connection with a group of scientifically modified telekinetic children. Akira is one of the children, and his power is believed to be the cause of the first apocalypse and destruction of old Tokyo – if his power reawakens, he could cause a second apocalypse as well.

When reading this series, the differences between American-style comics and manga don’t feel quite so obvious: It’s quickly paced, less stylized, and even produced in the familiar left-to-right reading direction. I urge you to give it a try.