Author's Note: the following piece was  submitted to the Turin based sf  fanzine
Klaatu in November 1992, and published with a different title in January 1993 as
a teaser  for a  subsequent longer  piece, also  available on  this site;  it is
reprinted here with minimal corrections and an up-to-date addendum. 

Zero A Short and Biased History of Anime and Manga in Italy

(C) 1993, 1998 Davide Mana

0 - The Basics

Let's begin... Here's the gist of the story so far: Japanese comics (manga) were born as an independent form of expression in 1947, with Shintakarajima ("The New Treasure Island"), by Osamu Tezuka. Before that, ever since 1862, the market had been dominated by comics that, in graphical style, montage and themes were completely undistinguishable from the ones produced in the West (Punch was an eary influence). 1963 - sixteen years after Shintakarajima - comic series are turned into animated series. 1976 - twelve years after the first animated series - Japanese cartoons reach Italy. They cause a modicum of fear and some attacks from worried parents and teachers, subtly amplificated by the media. They become a great advertisement vehicle (and are butchered and filled with ads). Italian artists start publishing apocriphal "manga" just like in the decade before they produced apocriphal Star Trek stories. Nobody cares for the originals, that are not translated. There's no fandom organized as such. 1990 - fourteen years after the first Italian airing - Glenat Italia (alias Rizzoli Editore) announces, with the support of an overwhelming and frankly suspect media coverage, the publishing of a Japanese comic that has already taken France by storm: Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo, up to that moment a totally unknown artist. 1992 - forty-five years after Shintakarajima - in Italy are published about 25 manga titles each month. The word manga is suddenly adopted by fans and experts andopposed to the US-influenced "comics". The former interest of a few has become art, and an highly sellable commodity, with all the classic consequences, from editorial proliferation to the publishing of articles and studies on the new phenomenon. Meanwhile the fans - with their love for the tragic character of the misunderstood outsider - start in their talks, conventions and fanzines, a battle between Good and Evil to make selected Biblical passages pale in comparison. The evil hordes of Chaos are represented by western (and American in particulal) comics, usually rejected in toto, on the basis of some rather nebulous considerations - ironically, much of the arguments used by the prophets of manga are the same used, in the late '70s, by media and parents associations against the Japanese products. And the last bit should not surprise anyone that has an interest in science fiction, fantasy, horror, mistery, even pornography... It's the same old story, and the transition from sub-culture to cultural phenomenon has its risks. But what's Japanese comics, in the end? And why should a science fiction fan spend some time looking into it? Science fiction was always a theme close to the heart of comics, everywhere in the world, so that Japan hardly makes an exception. The main differences are in the attitude towards the medium, that ever since the very beginnings (since 1947, that is) was seen as a complete expression form, through which all age and interest fields could be reached. Not just "kid's stuff", in other words. The Japanese market does not suffer from the prejudice that long influenced its western counterpart, and that only much later, if ever, was left behind by critics and readers. But the true difference is much deeper. Japanese culture, with zen philosophy and other deep-felt attitudes, permeates this art form (as any other), influencing it from the page composition, to the storyline, to the plot. Japanese art is extremely careful when it comes to details, as the detail is as important as the whole, and this is visible in comics too, often maniacally detailed while apparently stilistically poor. And the perception of the whole influences the the single comic cell montage. The aim is to give to the reader all, characters, background, movement, dialogue and sounds, at the first glance. It's only in a second moment that rational mind can break the image in its components. The first impact is, or should be, instictive impressionist. All this is of course much helped by the use of ideographic writing (1 sign= 1 concept), grantig a high reading speed and often giving multiple layers of interpretation. And again, because of the Japanese cultural habit, the Japanese comic does not try, like the western comic does, to negate death. The admission of mortality of each character is explicit, and weights radically the story athmosphere. This attitude was probably the first cause of much of the original opposition to Japanese cartoons in Italy, as the grown-up audience was taken aback by the fact that a kid show (perceived as such because of an illicit logical passage) could be not only non-consolatory in contents, but downright brutal in its portrayal of character violence and death, and therefore "sadistic". So here's a high reason for reading Japanese comics, if you want it: if fantasy fiction is essentiallya representation of reality (cut the umbilical chord with reality, and any fantasy loses its meaning), then an interest in Japanese science ficion (in any form) comes from the fact that it relates to a reality perceived and experienced in a different way. But there's of course a much less intellectual justification, and a much more immediate one: the high fun content of the medium. Maybe in a future piece, we'll try and expand on the subject. Davide Mana Torio, November the 7th 1992


0.1 - Six Years Later The piece above (about which I have quite a few misgivings myself - please don't be too harsh in your judgement) was written at the very beginning of the "Manga Phenomenon" in Italy, for a science fiction fanzine that was trying to expand in the magna direction, and owes much to the bad feeling I had about the whole biz. Already the market was saturated by a great number of titles, all presented as "classics" but often representing the dregs of the Japanese market. Fan clubs were sprouting everywhere while TV stations steadily reduced their Anime offering and publishers went for the much more lucrative direct-to-video market. Self-styled experts were preaching hearsay as truth and personal opinions as facts. How did it go from there on? 1992 - 1994 - the peak of the Italian Manga Fever is somewhere in between these dates. A staggering 40 titles per month are published. Fan clubs flourish all over the national territory, often retrofitting their short life history to document a dubious first-hour (as to say 1976) involvenment in the phenomenon. A few fans are hired by mainstream publishers, turning home-grown fanzines into "proper" professional magazines to ride the tiger of the populat demand. Some entrerprising guys actually make quite a lot of money selling pirated videos to kids. Some fans start calling themselves "Otaku", a term of which they do not know the true meaning. All of the above gets close to no media coverage. 1996 - the tide seems to turn and, as with all fads, Japanese comics fall from the general appreciation, replaced, among other things, by Image-style comics first and Hong Kong action movies later. The number of available titles is reduced, and many of the 'zines are back to the photocopier after the publishers have found new pastures. A relatively high number of hardcore fans is still at large, having taken a radical stance in their hobby, and a few publishers still cater for them. They tend to be classified with trekkies and other obsessives at conventions and fairs, and are ignored or avoided by the public at large; their average age is 16, with a few thirtysomethings among them, often struggling to become "Masters of Fandom"/"Otakings". Then, all of a sudden, they start airing "Sailor Moon" on national TV. Anime is back with a vengeance. 1998 - another boom in the market, heralded by new titles like Nadeshiko (comics) and Evangelion (animation), fills the news-stands with small booklets and videoshops with VHS. Glitzy books are produced on the phenomenon and another steady flow of cash fills the pockets of the publishers. How long will it last? What Effects will it have? So far the Anime/Manga fan scene in Italy has yet to produce a serious, widely circulated work on the subject of these 20-odd years of viewing pleasure, despite the interest shown by some fringe critics.