The exaggerated and dynamic art inspired by Japanese animation (anime) and comics (manga) has helped sustain brand recall, whether through collaterals (cup noodles, for example) or wide‑eyed mascots. But why has anime and manga remained effective and widespread despite their actually dwindling popularity?
“Anime and manga are a part of our popular culture. Consumers of pop culture are always looking for something different or foreign,” said Dr. Karl Ian U. Cheng Chua, director of the Japanese Studies Programat the Ateneo de Manila University, when interviewed at the June 17 opening of the Manga Hokusai Manga exhibit at the Ateneo Art Gallery.
The exhibit, which runs until July 28, shows the evolution of manga from the late Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (who used the term as a title for his collection of sketches) to the Japanese comics that we know today.
“That’s why the moment you see something that is manga‑illustrated, people first think that what they’re seeing is Japanese without realizing that a lot of our local artists also take their inspiration and draw like manga itself,” added the professor, who has come out with a number of publications on Japanese and Filipino pop culture.
Mr. Cheng Chua illustrated how long anime has become part of Filipino pop culture, recounting when television screens showed Voltes V, Daimos and Mazinger Z in the late ’70s. Manga, meanwhile, came in much later in the ’90s, with illegal manga translations coming to the Philippines from Taiwan and China. (The professor, who will also deliver a lecture on “Manga and the definition of the manga‑esque” at his home university on July 20, is also currently researching the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos’s banning of Voltes V at the height of its TV popularity, ostensibly because of its violence—although the program’s themes of oppression and resistance resonated in the political realities then).
Anime and manga have persisted, even after the onslaught of Korean pop culture, boybands, and K‑dramas. “Manga will continue to be popular, because when we see art that is inspired by manga, we become curious about its source,” Mr. Cheng Chua said. “By copying manga art, artists are reproducing it. The more we consume manga art style, the more we perpetuate it.”
The Filipino’s consumption of Japanese pop culture has actually led its people to make it their own, they just yet have to give it a name.
“When a Filipino draws manga, what do we call it? We imagine anime and manga as Japanese, but there are aesthetics in Japanese manga that are not always carried over in the way Filipinos draw,” the professor said. “Up to where can we actually label something as Japanese?”
For University of the Philippines (UP) assistant professor Maria Ana Micaela G. Chua-Manansala, who was president of college organization UP Anime and Manga Enthusiasts during her time, the technique made the manga-esque style more popular.
“Manga is more expressive and iconic than the general‑known American art style, which is more realist,” Ms. Manansala said. “Drawing manga requires less of a ‘skill’ in drawing anatomy, so it’s a more accessible style for amateur artists who want to pursue a narrative because of the iconicity of the typical manga style.”
“The facial expressions in manga are close to emoticons,” she added. “You’d think its easy to come up with drawing style that we can readily associate with emotions but it also takes a lot of skill.”
“Manga and anime are now more accessible due to the internet, unlike before when we were growing up we can only access these in comic book stores and television,” said Ms. Lucero. “Now you can simply search online to watch anime or read manga. The style can also be used for a whole range of products like toys, cards, stickers, etc.”
But historically, the allure of Japanese culture is nothing new. “A part of modernist art history was the Japonism movement, which inspired artists like Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gaugin,” explained Ms. Yap, whose graduate thesis was on anime and manga. “They found Japanese prints because they were used to wrap ceramics shipped from Japan.”
“Now manga and anime are officially exported as is [no longer as wrapping paper], and they present their stories in a very Japanese way, whether they’re about Japanese culture or something foreign like vampire folklore,” she added. “There’s something about the way that the Japanese present these topics that are different from how they’re usually presented in Western media that gets the interest of kids today.”