Filed Under (Manga) by Maestro on 14-03-2005

A recent article talks about the controversy of public libraries adding manga to their offerings.  As seems to be usual for this type of “controversy”, the naysayers appear to not have bothered to check their facts before spouting off.  Perhaps it’s simply misperception, but there’s no real excuse for it.  You should have the facts before you form an opinion, and you most definitely should have the facts before you make a fool or yourself to the news media.

Some of the arguments are so far off base that I just had to respond.

some people dispute the value of books that feature female characters dressed in sexy outfits

Well yes, that can be a problem, but your kids see female characters dressed in far sexier, skimpier and more revealing outfits daily on TV, in magazine ads, on billboards, etc.  If this is really a concern for you, manga is the least of your problems.  At least the characters in manga aren’t real females dressed scantily!

and sometimes behaving in ways that conform to sexist stereotypes.

Now this is really getting silly.  While they’re not depicted so in actual pictures, there are many classic works of fiction that depict women in sexist stereotypes.  Laura Ingle Wilder’s (famous for Little House on the Prarie) entire series of books does for instance.  Why?  Well she grew up in a time period where women didn’t even have the right to vote and she wrote about her life.  This is just one example, I’m sure there are plenty others, but would these people want Wilder’s books banned as well?

In a recent column in the Deering High School newspaper, senior Colleen Hagyari questions why the school is spending tax dollars to buy “written garbage” such as the “Mew Mew” series, which averages six words a page and features seventh-grade girls who learn to “dress and act like floozies” to get what they want.

Well Ms. Hagyari, I highly recommend you work on your reading comprehension, or perhaps the problem is you didn’t do more than give the Tokyo Mew Mew manga a cursory glance.  I own this whole series, the English translation in fact so we’re talking about the same books here.  The average words per page is much higher than 6, on average throughout a volume it’s probably a good 20 or higher.  Yes there are some pages with very few words, but the art is the focus on them, and the art does all the speaking necessary.  After all, pictures speak louder than words, the same goes for art.  As for the girls “‘dress[ing] and act[ing] like floozies’ to get what they want,” sorry, nope, not even CLOSE.  Their cover is working at the cafe, and they don’t have a choice in the uniforms.  This is, in fact, a standard Japanese practice for businesses to provide the uniforms and employees change at work.  Beyond that if she’s talking about the outfits they’re wearing when transformed, they don’t chose those either, they come with the super powers.

What’s perhaps most telling about this is that Tokyo Mew Mew was written with a young female audience as its target.  To be fair Hagyari is older than the target age (which appears to be middle school age), but that doesn’t excuse her vastly misinformed words.  It’s hard to take a critic serious when it’s blatantly obvious they didn’t actually read the books/manga they’re criticizing.

The cover of another book, “Peach Girl,” depicts a girl with her pants unzipped wearing a shirt that barely covers her breasts, she says. It was promoted on a school bulletin board.

Sure it does, but it’s far less risqué than most magazines targeted at teenage girls.  How can we forget the way Brittany Spears dressed back when she was popular?  Peach Girl’s covers are quite tame in comparison.

“The innuendo is so heavy,” Hagyari said in an interview. “By buying something so trendy and obviously new and exciting, they want to bring kids to the library. But it wasn’t done carefully.”

Quite frankly it appears they were far more careful and responsible than Hagyari was in her criticism.  I fail to see how she thinks she could do better when the librarian(s) actually read the material first and she didn’t.

The school librarian, Ellen McCarthy . . . writes that “Peach Girl” explores racism by telling the story of a dark-skinned girl in a Japanese culture that prizes pale skin. The American Library Association recommended it for high school girls.

This is quite true, in fact I first learned about this form of racism by reading about the story in Peach Girl.  (I’ve never read the manga, but I know the basic storyline.)  What she doesn’t mention (because she may not be aware yet, it happens later on) is that Peach Girl’s story will delve deeply into the horrors of rape.  From what I understand it’s very frank and open about the subject when it comes up and that’s great as it does not flinch away from the truth.  Hopefully no girl will experience rape, but if they have, or do, it cannot hurt to know that what they’re feeling is normal.  It might just make the difference between living and dying as many rape victims try to commit suicide.  (This is something I have dealt with personally as an online friend got date raped and tried to kill herself.)

“I hope we don’t get censors pounding at the door to get the books removed,” McCarthy said. “A lot of people might say they shouldn’t be in a school library, but kids are reading them and they appeal to reluctant readers.”

I find it somewhat amusing that almost the exact same arguments have been made against the Harry Potter books (“they promote witchcraft and the devil!”).  Why is that people will complain their kids aren’t literate but fight tooth and nail to keep the things they WILL read off of library shelves?  Does having a kid mean losing your common sense or something?

In the end though there’s a ray of hope (and sanity):

[Rawding] checks each graphic novel before [her son] reads it, she says, and they discuss it together. At least he’s not hiding the books, she says. “At this age, I’d rather keep everything out on the table.”

Imagine that, a parent actually parenting and taking responsibility for their own kids morals and ethics.  It’s sad that this appears to no longer be the norm, we need more parents like Rawding!

(2) Comments   


Satoshi on 14 March, 2005 at 10:11 pm #

Good commentary! There are points to be made for and against manga, but categorizing the whole based on some of the works done in the medium is rather silly. We have Playboy and tabloids, so are all magazines trash? (Whoever just said ‘Yes!’, sit back down.)

Importing something like manga is, in general, going to cause some culture clash, but if folks would take some time to understand the differences, rather than ridiculing them, perhaps we would all be more enlightened as a result.

Maestro4k on 14 March, 2005 at 10:50 pm #

Thanks Satoshi. :)   There are actually non-porn magazines out there that are trashier, and
much less respectful of women, than Playboy.  (Check out Maxim, Stuff or GQ sometime,
at least Playboy tries to be classy.)

Sadly I doubt Ms. Hagyari will ever see my comments, not that it’s likely to help if
she did.  People that readily jump to conclusions before finding out the facts have
made up their minds beforehand and won’t let facts get in their way.  If the media
would just ignore these people, or at least check the facts before giving them their
15 minutes of fame, it’d really help out a lot. :)

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