Anime? This is a Damn Textbook! (When Anime and Manga Stop Being Anime and Manga)

So I was flipping through the Fall 2009 Anime Catalog that I get every season from Right Stuf when I caught this really oddly placed listing. GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class is not listed under ‘manga.’ Instead, it is placed farther back in the ‘books’ section under ‘Drawing & Crafts‘, which is situated between ‘Cooking‘ and ‘Learning Materials.’ The reason I find this odd is because, well, GA is a 4-koma comedy manga, and not a ‘drawing and crafts’ book. Other books in the section are ‘Drawing Manga‘ and ‘Manga University’s Manga Tarot + Cards.’ The surrounding categories are all made up of mostly reference material. So I had to ask myself, what does it mean to consider GA a ‘Drawing and Crafts Book‘ instead of a ‘Manga Book’?

I’ll start by claiming that it isn’t horribly inaccurate to say that GA is in some ways a drawing and crafts book. The manga takes an often educational tone to discussing art theory and fun projects, and with the opening pages about ‘teaching’ the main character to draw, one might easily believe that this was meant to be a very fun and comedic instructional guide to art basics if they didn’t know any better.

But that’s not really what it is. This manga was published in the seinen magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat, from which came the likes of K-On!, Hidamari Sketch, Doujin Work, and the Last Uniform (In other words, everything they publish is comedic slice-of-life featuring an ambiguously lesbian cast of all women and inexplicably aimed at older men. Yes, folks, take it all in.) What’s more, author Satoko Kiyuzuki states in the notes at the back of the first volume that she created the manga when she was told to create a ‘puni-moe’ manga for the magazine. (yes, your emotions are being played with!)

So GA, while it can be very instructional, isn’t necessarily meant to be thought of as an instructional work (just as Hidamari Sketch can be instructional sometimes as well, in many of the same ways). I’d even venture that the likes of Cromartie High School (which I’m mentioning because the anime has the same director as the GA adaption) are more instructional than GA, because while hilarious, Cromartie is in many ways a novel of manners (thanks to Ghostlightning for pointing this out) and could be put under an instructional category just as easily as GA. It isn’t, though, because it is not written to be an instructional work, but a comedy manga with instructional jokes. (Much like one of my favorite webcomics, Basic Instructions. I need to stop saying that word…)

Teach me to draw, sensei!

Teach me to draw, sensei!

So I think I can justifiably state that GA should not be in this section. But, let’s say that I am a person who goes in with the belief that it was supposed to go in this section, or even lets say it really did go in this section (since it won’t be a stretch once we cut out author/publisher intent.) If we do so, can we still think of GA as being a ‘manga’ in the sense of ‘a piece of art meant to entertain?’ Would I still write a review of GA in which I judged it by it’s strength as a ‘manga’, even though it isn’t really trying to be what any regular manga is trying to be?

We’ve all seen shows like Sasame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Barney & Friends, right? I don’t think we’d go comparing these shows to others on the basis of their plot or characters – we would know that these shows exist for educational purposes. I might get into why Baby Looney Tunes is better than A Pup Named Scooby Doo (and it is) even though they are both shows for little kids, because both are meant to entertain, but I wouldn’t go comparing, say, Pokemon to Shimajiro Toilet Training.

So I’m wondering, if we take certain anime and manga to be educational, do they loose the need to be compared to other anime and manga? My favorite example (and the one that will take us out of kiddie-land) is Futari Ecchi, a manga that is meant to be a guide to sex for virgin newlywed couples. The manga provides comedy, a decent story, and some steamy sexual moments, but before being called pornographic or comedic, it is meant to be instructional. This shows in the tons of information and statistical data scattered about the manga and genuine educational benefits that could come from it.

Futari Ecchi is a fun read, but not so much great as a manga where it is as a textbook. And there are plenty of anime and manga like this – Moetan, Mari and Gali, Isshoni Training, etc., all of which are considered to serve a purpose first and be an anime/manga second.

This brings up a question that I will have to expand on in another post, and that is: how many different ways can we think about our anime and manga? Many people see fit to think of all anime and manga as being in comparison to one another (hence things like ratings, reviews, etc.) because they seek the same things out of all of them – however, anime and manga can really be whatever you want it to be, and it can also aim to be whatever it wants to aim for, be that regular entertainment or even education. I think that with this knowledge, we can come to enjoy more anime and manga by seeking out reasons to enjoy them other than necessarily to see something that you think of as ‘anime and manga’ in the traditional (by way of their use in the English lexicon) sense.

8 thoughts on “Anime? This is a Damn Textbook! (When Anime and Manga Stop Being Anime and Manga)

  1. I’ll tell you what, if Japan ever starts drafting soldiers again, I’d make Haruhi my spokesperson for some sweet Haruganda campaigns. If she can sell Endless Eight, she can sell anything.

  2. I think what also must be said here is that educational material works best when it’s entertaining. If anime, manga, and games are designed to teach, they can be better tools than a boring professor droning on. You mentioned Sesame Street, which was designed with the sole intent of teaching disenfranchised inner city kids by entertaining them just long enough to pick up words and numbers and so on. It’s been shown to work, yet for some reason schooling has not attempted to adopt similar tools and tactics. Oh well. That’s a theological debate for another day.

    • Indeed, and surely something like GA would be excellent learning material if it was a little more focused on being such. As a matter of fact, I’m in art college now, and I actually recognized a handful of terms from the manga!

    • Yeah, it’s kind of hilarious that this categorization even happened, since I’m sure this wasn’t something the publishers wanted. Did someone in the Right Stuf office get confused when they saw it laying around, read the first page, and assume it was a guidebook or something?

  3. The problem with an entertainment medium attempting to be educational when covering a more complex subject than basic 1+1 is that they can get into Dan Brown territory; that is, the author doesn’t have a clue about what he is writing, this turns the work into rage-inducing material for people informed on the subject and gives misinformation to other people.
    Either an author who won’t shy from doing appropriate research (happens more often in Japan than it does everywhere else) or an author with previous experience on the subject is necessary to make educational material actually educational. This is why when an author includes this type of material in their work, it’s often planned way ahead, even if they won’t admit it (this, I’m sure, is the case with GA).

    • Points well made, and you know we could get a lot into how fiction can be used to express spiritual or philosophical points wherein the point itself is probably more in the creator’s interest than the plot (The Fountain comes to mind, one of my favorite movies.) I haven’t finished Noein, but from what I hear, it’s a very nice lesson in Quantum Physics.

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