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Dragon Ball—From Japan (editing)

Now that we know who the series came from, we should examine where it came from.  Professionals make a living debating whether our habits and creations are completely genetic (phonology), or based on our surroundings (ontology).  I for one, as a few do, say it's both.  So to really and truly understand Akira Toriyama (in as much as we can through the power of this book) we have to unearth a little information about the place he grew up, and the country he called home.  Once we know this, the rest of the Dragon Ball world might just make a little more sense.

Among the fallout of the dropping of two nuclear weapons on Japanese cities to force a quick Japanese military surrender were the elements—artistic, not radioactive—that would lead to the creation of Dragon Ball. The occupation years of 1945 through 1952 gave way to a Japanese people that were in a sort of meditation on their identity, the war, the nuclear bombs dropped on them, the technological  and cultural future, and new world issues such as environmental impact. It was a frothy time of questioning, debate, the wedding of corporations and government ministries, and rebel art that caught the spirit of rebellion of many Japanese against the old pre-war ways. The cult movie classic Godzilla—first created in the early 1950’s—would come out of this collective brooding.

To understand with insight, both historically and psychologically, the Dragon Ball phenomenon, a brief exploration of its home country is helpful. The series creator, Akira Toriyama, is a Japanese artist born just as Japan was emerging out of the US armed forces occupation and reconstruction led by General Douglas MacArthur.

In short, this section is about Japan.  But just saying that might mean nothing to you if you're not even familiar with Japan as a nation or where the world has agreed it should be placed on the map.  I presume that most readers are familiar with such things, but for fun, here's a quick refresher:

Just as Dragon Ball would feature story lines set in super-extraordinary landscapes, Japan itself is an extraordinary land. Like Hawaii, it is an island mass formed from the geology of ocean-floor volcanoes. Some of these are still active, a sort of constant reminder of geological dragons. And, Japan is crisscrossed by earthquake faults—leading to occasional devastating earthquakes—and to a subconscious fear/fascination with catastrophic destruction. These psyche and environmental themes again crop up in Dragon Ball story unfoldments. Unlike Hawaii, known for its subtropical lushness, Japan is much further north, on the western side of the Pacific Ocean, tucked in near Korea and China, and receiving snow in winter and muggy, hot summers just like New York.

Japan is an island country in East Asia, located in the Pacific Ocean.  Japan is referred to by its native people as Nihon, or Nippon— literally meaning “Sun's Origin.”  Its closest neighbors include North and South Korea to the west, China and Russia to the northwest, and Vietnam lies to the southwest.  It's Japan’s capital is Tokyo, which is comprising one of the nations 47 prefectures. Tokyo is a metropolis of twelve million people and is the most expensive real estate on the planetand it has a national history dating back thousands of years.

Japan is a very literate country, with a wide-ranging publishing business that literally tidal waves Japan each year with newspapers, magazines, books and the comic books known as manga.

See?  Fun stuff.  And now we all know what I am referring to when I say “Japan”.

But where do we even begin talking about Japan?  It has such a long and arguably uninterrupted national history that it's difficult to pick a starting point.  But for this particular section I believe it makes the most sense to start around the time our author, Toriyama-San, was born.

In the late 1940's and 50's, the post World War II era, for Japan, was one of regrowth.  The drop of the Atom and Hydrogen bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had forced the nation to surrender, and for His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor Hirohito to renounce his divinity to the nation.  Furthermore, he admit that for the survival of the country it must bow before the Americans.  This involved an acceptance of American terms and a full borne occupation of the Islands under Japanese control by American forces.  This period was rife with change.

Japan has a history stretching back many thousands of years (some scholars say 13,000 years), with a rich exchange of culture, ideas and trade with China, and, as well, a deep rivalry and antipathy with China that would culminate in the Japanese occupation of China from 1937 to the end of WWII. This bridge—built and broken—with China would bring religion, metaphysics, myths, legends, practices into Japan that directly contributed to the genesis of Dragon Ball. And, as China exported martial arts—through the Shaw Brothers of Hong Kong, a perfect storm of conditions was created for the enormous popularity of Dragon Ball. The tao (a Chinese word meaning way or path) of Dragon Ball is as much Chinese as Japanese.

The religions of Japan include its ancient root religion, Shintoism, and the import from China, Buddhism, which in turn China imported from India. There are networks of spiritual and metaphysical thought and practice that transmitted to Japan from China and India along the fabled Silk Road. All these streams would empty into the revolutionary river of thought creating the new art form of Japanese comics.

 When the American military occupied Japan in 1945, the Chinese/Japanese bridge was joined with a very contemporary bridge to the west.  of the effects that the occupation had There was an infusion of American and to a lesser degree British culture into Japanese society.  And this infusion went right into the bloodstream of the rebellious Japanese art community. Perhaps taken with a bit of reluctance, but accepted nevertheless.  A concrete example: Of note were The British comic books known as “Punch” comics, which were typically used as satirical works reflecting the edgy perspectives of their English authors about the on current politicians and political times.  The Japanese had their own version of “Punch” as well, used heavily during the WWII for propaganda purposes. During the occupation these Japanese “Punches” had a way of suggesting the Japanese look at what was brought with the Americans the Americans were introducing.  This style of comic eventually caught on with the Japanese.  They began to adopt it and make it their own, much as the Japanese did for many other areas of manufacturing, economics and culture in those formative occupation and post-occupation years.  This isn't to say that comics in Japan were strictly 'borrowed' from the British. Far from it, as the Japanese had a long history of refined art that stretched back hundreds of years, including an entire field devoted to comic-like strips.

But it wasn't until 1947, when Osamu Tezuka, who had formerly been training to become a doctor in an attempt to avoid transcription (what is this?), made a remarkably incisive decision to forgo a medical career and become a mangaka (what is this?)  Much as in America, deciding to give up a medical career for one of comic book artist had a kind of beatnik social stigma attached to it that was anything but promoted.  But Tezuka simply sped over this social road bump moved beyond this difficulty and developed his first major book— titled New Treasure Island. It is widely recognized as the world's first graphic novel (a novel composed more of pictures than words).  It was 200 pages in length, which was astounding in its own right at the time. The images inside were even more seminally innovate and charming captivating as they singularly fused traditional Japanese artistic style with that of Western comics and animation, such as similar to that found in Disney movies and shorts, and the Punch comics.  The New Treasure Island captivated in a remarkably psychological way the reading Japanese public—at that time looking for new meaning and purpose in their lives.  Unfortunately due to the length (and subject) of this book we will avoid going into an expose on Tezuka.  Tezuka’s first work, and all his works to follow (including those who were inspired by him), laid the ground work for the next six decades of manga to come.

We will also avoid going into too much depth on the history of manga itself, and it's growth as an art form, as this could be an entire book all it's own.  Yet it is safe (I feel) to say that Since the introduction of manga after World War II to the Japanese culture, Japan has become a somewhat comic-driven society.  Manga Zasshi, or simply manga, is a word denoting the breadth of all the available comics produced in Japan.  They typically fall into four categories:  Youth comics (seinen manga), boys' comics (shonen manga), girls' comics (shojo manga), and adult comics (seijin manga).  Each is designed and packaged to appeal to a certain demographic.  There are other sub groups, and certainly different genres, and each of these varieties is published weekly, biweekly, and or monthly.  This results in a proverbial deluge of comic books which are published in Japan each year, accounting for around 40% of all published works.  And the Japanese continue to read them with enormous gusto, especially young boys and girls.

Traditionally, boys' and girls' comic books are released in combination paper back books: one issue of a certain comic is presented next to a series of others, around 10-15 serialized comics per book, and about 200-400 pages total.  The breadth and size of the books varies based on the style, but their overly large status combined with their typical release on less than high quality paper had coined the term “Phone Books,” a fitting description for these behemoths.  These books usually don't contain much color, though the pages themselves  will occasionally be colored to denote special sections or to denote the start of each new individual manga.  Once a manga has appeared in a combination journal enough times it is typically bound into its own volume.  A collection of these volumes can stand on its own as a representation of the series.

It is the goal of many mangaka to have their creations serialized in this bound volume format because this is where the majority of readers tend to get their dosage.  The amount of readers that purchase these journals is astronomical, and to be featured in one is to have near instant recognition.  Of course not all of the mangas do well, but in many ways it is similar to having a television show or movie air during the prime time slots.  The more people that could witness it, the better, at least financially, for those who created it.

As of 1994 it was estimated that two-thirds of all boys between the ages of 5 and 18 read these magazines regularly, and one-sixth of all girls were regular readers of their respective comics.  Concerning the boys; With a population of boys of that age range in Japan of 16.5 million (Check the facts on this) it becomes clear that the majority of Japanese boys are comic readers.  This phenomenon is similar to young comic book readers in America, but it is even more popular (and accepted) in Japan.  The stigma that accompanies adult comic book readers who are adults in the U.S. is absent from Japan, and this enables readers of all ages to openly enjoy this art form.  The number of readers is even higher now (in 2006), and it quite possibly one of the factors behind the high rate of literacy Japan compared to that of others other countries.

The incredibly successful and highly publicized comics (often in tandem with their own serialized television show) are able to last 10 or more years in one of the combination books, and the combined circulation of these comics is around 10 million per week.  But what about the other forms of entertainment that sprung up in the world at this time, what about the movies, and Television?

With the invention and rise of television came the fall of the movie theater.  The development of the television in Japan was one built on big businesses that were founded shortly before or during World War II and grew as a result, or created as a result, of new technology brought over during the occupation.  In 1958 the attendance at movie theaters was at an all time high of 1.1 billion, but due to the rise in production of affordable televisions, in 1968 that number had fallen to 300 million, and around half of all movie theaters in the country were shut down by the end of the decade.1  Television, as we'll soon see, played a monumental role in shaping Japanese society.

Why do people read manga exactly?  There are various reasons, and not all of them can be analyzed to the fullest extent fully, especially considering the variety of genres and the readers who read them.  But an easy, and most probably correct answer, would be the same one that applies to all forms of entertainment. (rewrite this, Derek) It's entertaining!  Manga allows people to escape their daily 'real' life and enter a world that's funny, filled with emotional drama, action, suspense, and excitement.  And when you know that every week or so you're going to have another helping waiting for you on the shelf, you start to follow along with the cast and plot. You start to imagine what they're going to do in the future.  This is the stuff of dreams for young children, and for older readers alike.  One genre in particular, that of the 'Salary Man', is aimed directly at Japanese businessmen who typically work extremely long hours and have very little time to relax.  The manga pokes fun at this situation much like the American Dilbert comics, and have been widely supported by its fans.  The mangaka were speaking the language of the masses, and scratching them right where they itch.

The rise in popularity of manga as a whole, and the advent of a new medium for entertainment and artistic expression (TV) spawned a whole new class of art—anime.  Or, in typical translation, Japanese animation, which is occasionally (though often begrudgingly by its hardcore fans) referred to as Japanimation.  Running on the coattails of the With new household luxury and free time in Japan came TV shows, which focused on raw action and suspense, that were able to draw out the plot for several episodes, often taking weeks, months, and years to complete.  Shows which showcased showcased the life of 'Yakuza' (Japanese mafia) agents in the a grimy underworld became especially popular, as were super hero shows like Ultra ManBut especially relative to this book, programs such as the previously mentioned (and legendary) Astro Boy.  Astro Boy was one of the first wildly successful Anime to hit the airwaves, and, being based on a manga, paved the way for future mangaka artists and anime titles to come.  It just so happens that By the mid 1980's anime had become a well accepted form of entertainment, and was now 'mainstream'.  Anime was not quite as large as manga, but television, therefore, had become a perfect setting for a show like Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball and other creations of the period—such as Gundam and Robotech—became increasingly in demand demanded, and there was an extreme amount of growth in the industry.  That is until the 1990's when the Japanese economic bubble burst, and a depression began resulting in a depression. During the mid 1980's when Dragon Ball was created and introduced the country and people were flourishing.  Television in combination with the VCR were a match made in heaven perfect match for fans of anime, and this was a great aid in Dragon Balls corner.  It also helped promote Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, into super stardom.

Since the early 1990's there have been so many successful anime that it's difficult to even summarize what has occurred in the last 15 years to the Japanese scene.  A few (among many) of the noteworthy titles include Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Moe' (accent on the e), and of course Neon Genesis Evangelion.  Evangelion is of special note because in 1995 it was one of the first to make a direct effort at reflecting the anime industry itself inside the anime that was being watched.  In addition to being extremely violent and controversial, it also combined intensely psychological and religious themes.  which left This created an intentional confusion/conflict and a desire to make sense of resolve that confusion in its viewers.  It helped This psyce-challenging  approach marked the age of maturity in mainstream anime. Evangelion is a show who's which stylings have been mimicked by others, such as Serial Experiments Lain, and RahXephon.

Of course at this point in history Japan was no longer a country secluded to its Island geography, and was linked to every other part of the world in almost every concievable way. 

In fact, By this time in the mid-1990’s the commercial and art/cultural connection between Japan and the West, particularly America, had come full circle from the time of the American occupation and reconstruction of Japan. Japanese anime directors were producing large portion segments of anime that was produced was done with an eye for what Westerners would find appealing.  Movies such as Akira, which had not done well in Japan, had become an international sensation, and American audiences in particular were enamored with it.  The Japanese had realized that their creations, which a decade or two earlier had been relatively ignored by big business in the West, were now becoming the thing to watch, and Japanese culture as a whole was coming along with it.

Which brings us to the rest of the world.

 

1  Japan:  Profile of a Nation, Pg. 290
2  Japan:  Profile of a Nation, Pg. 342

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