What If Manga Had No Japan

When people in the past have argued about the definition of manga and anime, the grounds of contention have had to do with this idea of manga as “by Japan, for Japan, made in Japan,” and which pieces, if any at all, are relevant in categorizing. While I have my own ideas in this regard, I want to set that aside and ask, how would we define manga if Japan ceased to exist?

A lot of these debates occur because people bring their own values and their own priorities to “manga-ness,” such as personal desire to draw manga, or a desire to have clear-cut difference to make it easier to discuss, but generally they assume that there is a Japan, that as a nation-state, as a land mass, as a culture, it will never disappear. I do not wish this upon Japan or the Japanese, but with 3/11 and the Tohoku Earthquake and the subsequent fear of radiation, there is the possibility however small, or at least the notion implanted into our (my) thoughts, that someday there will be a great diaspora or maybe the government will have no one left to govern, and that included in this movement out of Japan would be the people who work in anime and manga.

If the vast majority of people move to the same location, is that where “manga” is located? If the artists spread around the world, and have to decide whether to draw for the scattered Japanese audience or for the country they’re now living in (with its potentially vastly different culture), are they considered manga artists either way or is there now a significant difference? What if we then fast-forwarded 100 years and now those artists had children if they didn’t have any, had maybe integrated more thoroughly into their adopted homes, and now a new generation takes over for them? If young people who grew up with the made-for-new-country comics of the now-deceased artists are drawing for that same audience but influenced by those artists’ styles which clearly derive from their days in Japan making manga, are they now manga artists too?

As it stands, I must admit that these questions don’t really impact the health or condition of manga or its fandom, but I thought about it and how it might alter the notion of Japanese-ness in anime and manga, and I thought it interesting to present, even in this half-formed state.


5 thoughts on “What If Manga Had No Japan

  1. Noah often says that the solution to Japan’s dwindling population is opening the borders to more immigration. Since the Japanese are legendarily xenophobic, however, they don’t even think of that as an option.

    I think that after the next big disaster Japan will cut itself off from the world again for a couple hundred years. The next Admiral Perry will discover a nation of very polite robots that embarrass easily.


  2. I think the notion of a modern country, more so one the size of Japan, being completely evacuated due to a localized disaster like an earthquake or nuclear fallout is too naive to even entertain. However, there is a valid question in this post: that of whether a product can survive the downfall of its champion industry.

    Anime and manga are no rarities in the world of capitalism. Some markets just turn out to be more nurturing to certain companies (whether it’s due to society or its government) which in certain cases can create a nearby ecosystem that becomes hard to parallel as this effect snowballs. Just look at China with manufacturing, or Hollywood and blockbusters.

    If and when studios or their artists are somehow forced to move en masse, either because of market pressures or some tragedy befalling their homes, another geographical area or interconnected community will be waiting in the wings to supply the demand that is left over. Assuming there is any.


  3. I’d rephrase the question as: “To what degree is Manga dependant on an audience that lives a Japanese cultural experience?” IMO, without a Japanese audience as the primary consumers, you would certainly still have episodic graphic storytelling, but it would cease to be “Manga” in any meaningful way.

    I remember an individual who was being interviewed about the future of anime at a con I attended, and he insisted that anime was “over”. It turned out that he had made his money on the Pokemon boom in North America; and so for him, looking for a big monetary score, anime was indeed “over”. I bring him up to explain my perspective both on people decrying the dropping Japanese birthrate and the loss of fad status by manga/anime globally. These are poroblems for Alpha Capitalists, not for Cultures. People will still want to read manga and watch anime even when some corporation cannot make $100,000,000 off the property. Japan at one third it’s current population would still be a sizable country, and it wont even have lost half it’s present population by the turn of the next century at it’s present rate.

    Again very much IMO, the present Japanese elites don’t derserve a growing population, because they are not providing them with employment that could fund new families in their current economic landscape. Not enough real jobs = Not Enough Babies, be real about it!

    If Manga can leave physical media behind and slash it’s production/distrobution costs, I think there could be an expansion of excellent and inovative titles for the future. Anime will be harder, because there is still no real substitute to gifted animation artists or voice actresses/actors, and so production costs cannot yet be cut

    But I don’t believe Manga could survive the loss of a Japanese cultural audience. It would morph into something that would be very dissimilar, with at best some lingering influnences of what Japan had been.


  4. Those are semantics concerns. The truth is, mediums change constantly over time. Your question is the equivalent of asking your patched up teddy bear is still your teddy bear.

    Now, if you remove the birthplace of manga and most of its consumers, it certainly would dramatically change. But that’s the same thing as saying that if the USA disappeared, the American comic book as we know it would too.

    Those what-if scenarii don’t hold any value. I don’t quite get what the big dilemma is.


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