March 28, 2011 | 10:15 a.m.

‘America’s Greatest Otaku’: Japanese pop culture hits the road in U.S.

REVIEW In Japanese, otaku simply means “you,” but in America, it’s used to describe a fan of Japanese pop culture: anime, manga, video games, J-pop and/or cosplay. American otaku range from casual enthusiasts to hard-core fanatics; the latter are the subject of the eight-part reality series/documentary “America’s Greatest Otaku,” which premiered on Hulu on Feb. 24. Stu Levy, the founder of TokyoPop, a major publisher of manga in the U.S., serves as host, assisted by six college students who are self-proclaimed otaku. Over eight weeks, they visit 20 U.S. cities, observing various aspects of Japanese fandom and interviewing candidates for the title of America’s Greatest Otaku. It’s an uneven series, veering from interesting to just plain silly and superficial. In one of the better sequences, the apprentice reporters visit the Texas headquarters of Funimation, the largest U.S. distributor of anime. After […]
March 18, 2011 | 6:52 a.m.

‘Bakuman’ review: A tale of manga gambles with winning characters

MANGA REVIEW Bakuman Volumes 1-3 By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata Viz: $9.99 each, paperback; 194 pp. Thousands of kids in the U.S. and Japan dream of becoming manga artists; 14-year-old Moritake Mashiro, the hero of the new manga series “Bakuman,” isn’t one of them. He draws well, but he draws for fun. Moritake just assumes he’ll fulfill his parents’ wishes and become an ordinary white-collar worker, although the idea is hardly appealing. But when his classmate, A-student and aspiring writer Akito Takagi, sees Moritake’s drawings, everything changes. Akito proclaims, “Manga is the pride of our Japanese culture! We can become famous through it worldwide!” But Moritake’s not buying it. He lacks ambition, and his uncle Nobuhiro was a manga artist who scored one big hit, then worked himself to death trying to match it. Akito has also seen Moritake’s […]
Jan. 26, 2011 | 7:01 a.m.

‘Inuyasha’: A farewell to Rumiko Takahashi’s feudal fairy tale

Charles Solomon checks in with a farewell to Rumiko Takahashi’s long-running manga “Inuyasha,” which comes to a conclusion this month with the publication of Vol. 56. Rumiko Takahashi’s “feudal fairy tale” began as a serial in the magazine Shonen Sunday in 1996; it debuted in the U.S. two years later and has sold over 1.9 million books to date and, along the way, taken on the weight of a true epic and earned the affection of an old friend on the page. Kagome Higurashi, a normal 15-year-old girl, falls down a dry well in her family’s small Shinto shrine — and finds herself in the feudal past, 50 years after her ancestress Kikyo imprisoned the half-human/half-demon Inuyasha. After unwittingly freeing Inuyasha, Kagome fetters him with the help of her priestess-ancestor Kaede. As the reincarnation of Kikyo, Kagome possesses the magic Shikon […]
Nov. 29, 2009 | 2:38 p.m.

The superheroes of Japan who predated Superman and Batman

Hero Complex contributor Liesl Bradner offers an intriguing look back at a forgotten age of heroics in Japan… Five years before Lee Falk’s masked-man adventures with “The Phantom” began in newspapers, a hero called Golden Bat was saving damsels in distress in the streets of Depression-era Japan (who were, in fact, exhibiting signs of depression). He was first seen in 1931 (seven years before Superman first took flight and eight before that Gotham City fellow who dressed like a bat) and his exploits were told in kamishibai, which was street theater that used painted illustrations. Author Eric P. Nash examines the little-known art form and predecessor to modern-day anime and manga in his recent book “Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater.” I wrote about the book and this long-gone street entertainment for Culture Monster, the arts blog for the Los Angeles Times. Here’s […]
Nov. 01, 2008 | 12:39 p.m.

Chip Kidd unmasks Batman’s secret identity in Asia

EXCLUSIVE The designer talks about his "secret history of Batman in Japan" and reveals his favorite screen version of the hero — and it’s not "The Dark Knight." In a world that judges a book by its cover, Chip Kidd is a visual genius in high demand. The author, graphic designer and pop-culture connoisseur is the art director for American publisher Alfred A. Knopf, but like many of the superheroes he adores, Kidd has a secret identity as a “Batman purist.” The 44-year-old (who has designed memorable covers for the novels of Cormac McCarthy, James Ellroy, Larry McMurtry, Elmore Leonard and Michael Crichton) had a childhood fascination with the caped crusader that has turned into an full-fledged obsession. More than a collector, Kidd has been both an archival force and a sort of safari hunter when it comes to intepretations […]
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