intro:manga is the term commonly used for Japanese comic books. The word itself was popularised by the famous woodblock print artist Hokusai, but, contrary to a popular myth, it was not invented by him. The word is composed of two Chinese characters - the first meaning ‘in spite of oneself’ or ‘lax’ and the second meaning ‘picture’ - and has been used to describe various comical images for at least two centuries.
The production of manga in Japan today represents about one third of the total publishing output of the country. In Japan manga is read by both sexes, all ages, and people in all walks of life. Like any genre of art it ranges from the wonderful to the mundane to the truly awful. Manga and anime (the animated equivalent) is a worldwide phenomena today.
eco-manga: taking root in traditional Japanese beliefs such as Taoism and Shintoism, the belief that humans should work within and in the respect of nature is well reflected in today’s modern Japanese manga.
The recent surge in environment-relevant manga is a sign that more and more people are starting to notice what’s happening and are trying to rouse others, raising awareness on environmental issues: works such as the ‘Jungle Taitei’ series (‘Kimba the White Lion’) or ‘Doraemon’ by Tezuka Osamu, the father of manga, are examples of nature protection representation in Japanese comics. A ‘Doraemon’ episode that appeared in 1974 tells the story of Nobita, a wolf hunter who learns about the wolves’ difficult life, of how they lived peacefully before humans came and began exterminating them and, eventually, changes his mind by becoming a wolf protector. More recent manga have continued the legacy of environmental sympathy and awareness.
green heroine: today the most potent flagship of environmentalism is ‘Nausicaa’ by Miyazaki, acclaimed not only in Japan but all over the world. It is the story of a princess who struggles to live in a world filled with ecological disaster, war, hatred and anger. In it the theme of the conflict between Nature and Man is approached in a way both evident and subtle, to stimulate people and make them aware and more sensitive to the issue.
An alternative voice, reclaiming more care for our environment, is being heard in Japan as elsewhere. And this time manga’s heroes are also on its side.