- Tezuka Is Dead:Manga in Transformation and Its Dysfunctional Discourse
With its provocative title and thought provoking argument, Itō Gō's book Tezuka Is Dead altered the landscape of manga criticism when it was published in 2005.1 A cultural critic, Itō problematizes the dominant position of Tezuka Osamu as the absolute origin of Japanese manga history, a view he argues has prevented the construction of a history of representation in manga (manga hyōgenshi). Itō instead reveals that the realism of modern manga originated from the suppression and effacement of its postmodern elements—epitomized by what he defines as a kyara, a "proto-character" entity that turns into a complete kyarakutaa once the reader identifies it as "human-like."2
Throughout the book, Itō criticizes scholars who have failed to recognize the postmodern underpinnings of manga and who have evaluated manga based only on its storyline and other orthodox, modern values. His larger goals are to come up with a theoretical tool that can analyze manga as a distinctive representational form (as opposed to theories that simply conflate manga with anime and film) and at the same time to bridge the gap between today's theoretical discourse surrounding manga and the actual status of the texts—in terms of their readership, approaches, and postmodern qualities. [End Page 69]
What follows is an abridged translation of the book's foreword and its opening chapter, "Manga in Transformation and Its Dysfunctional Discourse," where Itō expounds on the aforementioned breach and calls for a new theoretical framework.
Tezuka Is Dead: Manga in Transformation and Its Dysfunctional Discourse
The discourse surrounding Japanese manga has failed to capture manga's present state. As a result, manga of the last fifteen years or so has been seen as existing in a "postmanga" historical vacuum. My book Tezuka Is Dead arose from my frustration with such a situation, for what appears to be a historical vacuum is actually the symptom of our lack of a history of manga representation (manga hyōgenshi).
There must be a reason for this lack, and the reason is to be found within manga representation itself. This project is concerned with the textual analysis of manga and the ideal framework for such an analysis. Through my research, I have come to the conclusion that the framework of so-called postwar manga that claims Tezuka Osamu as its "origin" was itself responsible for the impossibility of constructing an appropriate history of representation in manga.
Why Can't Manga Discourse Confront Manga's Present Condition?
I want to begin with an excerpt from Yonezawa Yoshihiro's3 "Commentary on the Terminologies of Manga Culture" from Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki (2001, Contemporary terminologies):
Manga magazines and paperbacks have subdivided and increased their number in answer to readers' needs and to address various generations, genders, and tastes. But as a result, it seems that they have also lost their economic clout. Since 2000 the number of magazines and paperbacks published has decreased across the board, and in the past year manga has reached a point where it has not produced a single huge hit or popular new genre . . . Manga will deteriorate if it cannot create works that are engaged with their own time and that also transcend time—works that will be read over and over. [End Page 70] With the arrival of the twenty-first century, it seems that manga has reached a difficult point.4
Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki is an annual encyclopedia that contains explanations of terminology from various genres by specialists in each field. Since it is a yearly publication, it tends to emphasize recent events, and this piece by Yonezawa reflects back at the year 2000 to describe the status of manga. I am sure many readers felt sympathetic to his outline of the situation and his conclusion.
On the other hand, immediately following the above quote, in "Recent Topics," Yonezawa takes up the popular work One Piece. Here is what he says:
An ocean adventure shōnen manga by Oda Eiichirō, currently serialized in Shōnen Jump . . . quickly gained popularity due to its simple...