There has been a tendency for Western commentators to differentiate strongly between Art and Literature (and Music, of which more in a later post series). In Japan, this is much less so.
Let’s first look briefly at three commercial shorts made for Marubeni, a major Japanese business conglomerate, by Isao Takahata (高畑 勲 Takahata Isao, 1935 – 2018), the co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. Takahata had been an intimate colleague of Miyazaki’s since the union protests of their youth.
Headlined as: “STUDIO GHIBLI MAKES SHORT FROM WORLD’S OLDEST MANGA.”
These shorts are based on Choju Jinbutsu Giga, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, a set of scrolls from the 12th and 13th centuries which are widely considered the first examples of manga in Japanese history. At this point, I must make my point; which is that Takahashi is showing us his deep love of traditional Japanese scroll storytelling and how it continues to inspire contemporary manga and anime.
Sadly, I threw out my rare copy (a VHS rip) of an interview Takahashi did for Japanese TV about traditional Japanese scrolls; it shows him kneeling on the tatami and watching a scroll laid on the floor, winding it from right to left as is the way of Japanese visual scanning (our radar goes clockwise from left to right, theirs from right to left).
As the scroll unwraps the animals hop and run and bounce and a wonderful illusion of movement is created. This was an 800-year-old scroll telling a story.
From scrolls to manga and finally to anime; the Scrolls of Frolicking Animals
(note: all three scrolls play through this single link, wait for the first to finish and then select the next. these are all tv commercial length, just over 30 seconds each!).
Millenia. From rock painting, stone age stories by nomadic campfires, to twenty-first-century graphical storytelling is a long road to take a view on. So I will compare, over a much shorter time period, the changes in three of the most popular detective, crime and police series, all still running; these are the massive media franchises of Detective Conan (名探偵コナン Meitantei Konan) [DC1], Lupin the Third (ルパン三世 Rupan Sansei) [LTT2] and Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai) [GITS3].
Conan is a detective who solves crimes (“There is only One Truth!“). Lupin is a master criminal (“The Greatest Thief in the World!“). Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子 Kusanagi Motoko) (“Just a whisper. I hear it in my ghost.”) is a policewoman working in public security, straddling the mirror worlds of crime and punishment.
- Detective Conan – Author Gosho Aoyama (青山 剛昌 Aoyama Gōshō). Manga 1994-2018 ongoing. Anime 1996-2018 ongoing. Films 22, tv series 27 seasons (1000 episodes); numerous OVA and specials.
- Lupin the Third – Author Monkey Punch (モンキー・パンチ Monkī Panchi). Manga 1967-2018 ongoing. Anime 1971-2018 ongoing. Films 25, tv series 7 seasons (c300 episodes); numerous OVA and specials.
- Ghost in the Shell – Author Shirow Masamune (士郎 正宗 Shirō Masamune). Manga 1989-2018 ongoing. Films 3, tv series 2 seasons (48 episodes); numerous OVA and specials.
Deconstructing the universe(s):
- DC – Seventeen-year-old genius high school detective, is poisoned by the mysterious Black Organisation [BORG4] but instead of dying is somehow returned back to his childish body aged seven. He retains all his faculties and memories. He has one elderly helper, the genius inventorHiroshi Agasa (阿笠 博士 Agasa Hiroshi) and three primary school classmate assistants, the wonderfully named “Detective Boys Club“.
- LTT – Master gentleman thief.
- GITS – Public Security Section 9 headed by “The Major” Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子 Kusanagi Motoko)