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Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007
MIMEI SAKAMOTO AND CHARLES DANZIGER
A cute and kind of sexy guide to Japan
By TOMOKO OTAKE
Manga has conquered America. Or so declares the November issue of the U.S. tech magazine Wired, which carries a 10-page manga story describing how manga is reshaping American pop culture. Booming manga sales — which, according to the magazine, account for almost two-thirds of the $330-million graphic novel market in the U.S. — also mean much of the traditional American comics are doomed.
Charles Danziger, a New York lawyer with Japanese clients and a keen cartoonist, has been inspired by the reversal of fortunes between the two forms. That's why he teamed up with manga artist Mimei Sakamoto on a cultural guide to Japan titled "Harvey & Etsuko's Manga Guide to Japan" (MG Press, U.S. $9.99).
The book, which mixes manga illustrations with American comic strips, features four characters — Danziger and Sakamoto, as well as their alter-egos: Harvey, a New York mouse drawn by Danziger in a Garfield-esque, traditional cartoon style, and Etsuko, a sexy manga cat drawn by Sakamoto. Harvey, originally not interested in Japan, comes to the country looking for work. There he meets Etsuko, and the two discover Japan together and become great friends.
Danziger said the book is for a foreign audience who might be familiar with manga, but don't necessarily know Japan.
"I love this country and I wish more Americans had access to it," says Danziger, who studied and worked in Japan for two years in the late 1980s, during a visit to Tokyo last week. "And I think the manga genre, particularly in combination with the American cartoon genre, is a nice way to introduce Japan to an American audience."
West and East meet cute
The 189-page paperback covers aspects of Japanese society that many Western visitors find odd or amusing, such as the common sight of men practicing golf swings on train platforms. It also contains "Harvey's Little Extra Guide to Japan" — Danziger's short, witty essays on various Japanese customs and cultures, ranging from tea ceremony and society's tolerance for the yakuza to the kawaii (cute) phenomenon and plastic food samples seen in restaurant windows.
Many episodes in the book are based on real-life exchanges between Danziger and Sakamoto, who met a year ago through a Tokyo talent agency that Sakamoto belonged to and Danziger knew through his work as a lawyer. The two immediately hit it off, they say, though they are totally different people. "I was blown away by his reactions to everything here," says Sakamoto, who shares Danziger's rapid-fire style of talking, albeit in a high-pitched voice. "He would say things like, 'Hanten (a traditional cotton jacket considered unfashionable among Japanese) are so cool!' "
Like many of the female characters in Japanese manga and anime, Sakamoto's drawings of herself and Etsuko are cute — but also busty and seductive, often pouting their thick and glossy lips. Sakamoto, who rose to fame drawing "ladies' comics," a manga genre for the adult female audience rich with graphic sex scenes, insists that these are badly needed features to give the book an "edge."
"Why would we be involved in creating a guide book if it looks like a school textbook?" Sakamoto says defiantly when asked about her characters. "I think our book should have a bit of badness. Japanese culture, by nature, is sexual. Sexual imagination is incorporated in our culture. Look at maid cafes! It would be meaningless if we take that element out."
Both Danziger and Sakamoto are quick to add, however, that the story itself is one of innocent, nonsexual friendship between two extremely different characters, and that the book can be enjoyed by all people, including kids and families.
That's up to readers to decide, but Danziger and Sakamoto say they are already planning to do a sequel, noting that their future books together would not be limited to guidebooks.
"Global warming," they say when asked about their next project. Seeking even more fame and success, Sakamoto also says her ultimate goal is to make it big in Hollywood.
"Some day, Disney will buy my manga," she says with a straight face. "When it happens, Charles will be my lawyer."