.Old, Quality Translated Titles article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 5, April 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
VIZ Communications has been publishing translated Japanese comics in the U.S. for fourteen years, longer than some manga and anime fans have been alive. Since VIZ first began publishing, slow and constant changes have turned this niche into a respectable piece of the comic market pie. To date, over a dozen publishers have translated more than 150 titles. With so many titles and companies spread out over so much time, there have been a number of great stories which were either overlooked or have been forgotten. In our continuing effort to call our readers' attentions to great manga everywhere, we decided to reminisce about some of the late and great manga in the U.S.
Long ago, there was a time when no Japanese comics were published in English.*
It all began in 1987 with three titles: Mai the Psychic Girl, Area 88, and Legend of Kamui. Although all three have faded into obscurity compared to the blinding success of series such as Ranma ½ and Sailor Moon, these three stories are worth reading not only because of their historic significance as the first VIZ comics (published in tandem with Eclipse) but because they are all exceptional titles.
Loosely based on the lengthy Meiji Era martial arts saga Legend of Kamui by Sanpei Shirato, the Dagger of Kamui movie had wowed anime fandom with its engaging mysteries and epic scope. Fans of the film were eager to try the comic, even though the translated series picked up several volumes into the story.
Area 88 also had an anime fan following, thanks to its three spectacular videos. This gritty story of pilot Kazama Shin being shanghaied into a mercenary air force has enough angst to addict any romantic and enough beautifully illustrated airplanes to make any mecha fan drool.
Interestingly enough, the most successful of these first three was the one which had no direct connection to anime. Set in modern times with a thrilling story by Kazuya Kudo (Pineapple Army) and stunning art by Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman, Samurai Crusader, Sanctuary, Strain, etc.), Mai the Psychic Girl was the only one of the three to be translated in its entirety. With an action-packed, intrigue-riddled story and a cute heroine with psi-powers, it's no wonder Mai has bounced around Hollywood for years as a potential live-action movie.
Another great first, though still fairly famous today, is Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA. The violent, futuristic tale of social decay and genetic manipulation was a first in two ways. Originally released in 1988, AKIRA was the first Japanese title to be translated by a major U.S. comics publisher --the Marvel subsidiary Epic. The other reason AKIRA is historically significant is that it was the first import to be colorized. Although many fans argue (justifiably so) that such a masterpiece should not be tampered with, when AKIRA came out domestically, black and white comics were only a fraction of annual comic sales. If you wanted big sales in the U.S., you needed a color comic. Several other comics, such as Ranma 1/2*, followed the trend of colorization, however, this artistic irreverence has since been abandoned thanks to the growth of U.S. anime and manga fandom. Perhaps Pioneer's re-release of the AKIRA film this spring will rejuvenate the following of this cult classic. Hopefully the same will happen with Buena Vista's eventual re-release of the Miyazaki (Totoro, Mononoke) masterpiece Nausicaa, for many older fans feel the comic is a definite must read.
The first comic by Osamu Tezuka, the legendary God of Manga, to be translated in its entirety is the gripping WWII saga Adolf. Beginning with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the mysterious murder of a Japanese student leads to an ever expanding web of political intrigue and international espionage. Although it has received critical acclaim, the public seems willfully inclined to ignore it. That makes those of us familiar with it want to yell, "Read it! Read it! For gosh sakes, READ IT!" Of course Black Jack, another translated Tezuka title, is also an excellent read. Still in the process of being published in English, the episodic tales of this rogue master surgeon are dramatic, poignant and occasionally macabre, drawing heavily on Tezuka's medical background and his interest in humanity. Unlike Adolf, Black Jack has been animated, and the videos have been translated as well. But even that hasn't helped it gain the recognition this Tezuka title deserves. There's also Frederik L. Schodt's (Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, Dreamland Japan) translation of Tezuka's remarkable adaptation of Dostoevski's Crime and Punishment. This comic's limited print run in 1990 by Japan Times has contributed to it's unfortunate obscurity.
Inspired by the fan fervor for the fantastic four-episode OVA series, Antarctic Press translated the original Vampire Miyu manga in 1995. In Japan, this cult classic about a vampire who is responsible for casting spirits out of the human world was only one volume in length at the time, so its brevity contributed to its obscurity as a comic in the U.S. Other than the ethereal beauty of Narumi Kakinouchi's art and the compelling charm of the title character, one of the reasons Vampire Miyu deserves more attention is because it was the first complete shojo series to be published in the U.S. VIZ had published a number of shojo short stories earlier --including Moto Hagio's ground-breaking space thriller They Were Eleven-- but Vampire Miyu predates Viz' first shojo series, Moto Hagio's one-book sci-fi collection A, A', and CLAMP's X/1999. Although in 1981 Sanyusha released a translation of the quintessential shojo classic Rose of Versailles, only two volumes were made, and Sanyusha is not a domestic publisher. This makes Vampire Miyu America's first, but thankfully not the last, shojo series to be brought across the Pacific. Since then, Studio Ironcat has acquired the rights to many other Narumi Kakinouchi titles, including New Vampire Miyu.
No list of great, under-read imports would be complete without Barefoot Gen, the tale of author Keiji Nakasawa's survival of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. With graphic portrayals of the endless horrors of a nuclear bomb, it's not an easy comic to read, but its clear and undeniable anti-war message makes it a comic which should be read, especially by the citizens of any country with nuclear capability. Only visiting the memorial museums of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can compare to the experience of this short series. But don't think it's all doom and gloom. Ultimately, Barefoot Gen is a tale of humanity and hope, of overcoming prejudice and the trials of war to find a new life. Originally published in the early 1970's, within a few years the volunteer organization Project Gen was formed in order to translate this remarkable story into as many languages as possible. Although now out of print, the translation was picked up by New Society Publishers and released in the U.S. in 1988. There are also two Barefoot Gen movies, the first of which is available in English from Image Entertainment.
While Banana Fish may still be running in Pulp, we felt this modern day crime drama also deserves more attention than it gets from the comic buying public. Akimi Yoshida's series offers a flinty view of the streets of New York city in the 1980's. When a savvy street punk gets his hands on a secret substance stolen from his mafia connections, suddenly people around him start getting killed. Add cops, Vietnam vets, and a pair of wide-eyed Japanese reporters into the mix and you have the makings of a complicated, action thriller.
There are plenty of good manga out there which we couldn't fit into this article. Perhaps, with enough feedback we'll consider doing this again sometime. Until then, please try a few of these old favorites; we hope you'll find a couple you'll enjoy as much as we do.
* If you want to leave this out, that's OK. I just left it in for fun.
Please, add more colorized imports if you can; I couldn't remember nor research any others.
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