An otaku lost in superhero territory
"The Unwritten," by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, is a Western comic book with manga reader appeal.
April 10th, 2012
12:09 PM ET

An otaku lost in superhero territory

Where do I begin to read an American comic series? Do I have to start at the very beginning?

These are thoughts that run amok in my brain as I stand in the comic store, a place I love to go because of its naturally nerdy trappings. I've been going since I was about 14, actually. You'd think by now I'd be well-versed in what comic book series I like, but in fact, I'm not.

Every time I go, I wander the shelves looking at titles people tell me are good, but still feeling not quite right about making the investment and walking home with a book in hand.

A few years after I started wandering into comic shops, I discovered anime and manga and felt that I'd found my calling.

Manga is not afraid to take pause. It's alright with long silences and time spent to contemplate, just like most of Japanese media is (Haruki Murakami's work is a good comparison). While manga looks cute and innocuous, it still has a courage that I believe Western comics once lacked. It invites readers to form long relationships with the story's characters, to look deeply into them and look into ourselves in the process.

Before discovering manga, I thoroughly searched my comic book store for inspiration. Although I liked the iconography of American superhero comics, I wasn't compelled to read them. I tried "X-Men" and "Excalibur," but neither ignited my passion in a way that made me want to go back and read more.

That didn't happen until I discovered "Sandman," one of the few comic series I faithfully read from the first issue to the last. I was drawn in by the Dave McKean covers first, unlike any art I'd seen before. But Neil Gaiman told stories the way that no other comic book did - he forayed into fantasy worlds, speaking a language that made perfect sense to me.

So I knew that the Western comics I could love as a manga devotee were out there. But I still felt lost about how to discover them. FULL POST

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Harada Mariru
April 6th, 2012
06:47 PM ET

Wonderland: The otaku's bedroom

A peek into an otaku's bedroom or living space can be a bit of a surprise for the average person.

But it's not unusual for fans of anime and manga in Japan to decorate their small rooms even more elaborately. Otaku rooms can be covered in posters and pillows or shelves with hundreds of collectible figurines, all emblazoned with favorite anime or manga characters. Some fans make a point of collecting as much merchandise associated with the object of their affection as they can, and making sure it's all on display. It's a form of decorative expression that many otaku in the rest of the world have also adopted.

You might have seen it in the Japanese drama "Train Man," the main character's bedroom is crammed floor to ceiling with shelves of statues and figures from popular anime series like "Mobile Suit Gundam" and stacks of manga.

Let's be clear: This is not "normal behavior" in Japan. While the otaku population is strong there, Japanese who get involved in any fandom to this degree earn a certain amount of disapproval from others. Some are reserved about letting people see their personal space because of it.

In his new book, "Otaku Spaces," author Patrick W. Galbraith digs even deeper into the way otaku choose to decorate their surroundings, and the reasons why they choose to do so in the way that they do. Just like American collectors, comfort plays a key role in why they choose to collect.

"Whether we look at bedrooms, stores or even neighborhoods where otaku hang out, it seems almost as if there is a colonization of space by interests," Galbraith said. "Whatever it was that interested them, they could encounter it anywhere and anytime in daily life, increasing feelings of intimacy. The more they consumed, the closer they felt to favorite series, characters or moments."

There's nothing weird about collecting things - in fact, most people do it. Whether it's DVDs, video games, stamps, vintage lunchboxes or even rare Star Wars figures, there's something attractive about the lore of the hunt, finding that oh-so-rare item. FULL POST

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Japanese live action adaptations are always awesome
"Rurouni Kenshin" will show in movie theaters in Japan at the end of August.
March 30th, 2012
11:57 AM ET

Japanese live action adaptations are always awesome

When it comes to classic stories in manga, it's almost a sure bet that you'll eventually see your favorite Japanese actors and actresses take to the screen to adapt them to live action.

That's why fans of the Shonen Jump martial arts manga "Rurouni Kenshin" are excited about an upcoming live action adaption of the series. It's slated to come out in October 2012 and stars up-and-coming actor Takeru Satoh, whose face you'll remember if you're up to speed on your J-dramas.

This adaption is hardly setting a trend, though - in Japan, if a manga becomes popular, it's likely to pop up in various other adaptations. It's not unusual to see anime, video games, light novels and even theatrical stage productions of popular franchises spawn after an audience proves they love a manga story.

One example is the popular science fiction manga "Gantz," which tells the story of two friends who die in a train accident and become involved in a cutting-edge game in the afterlife in which they are forced to hunt aliens. "Gantz" quickly became a bestseller and was published in English by Dark Horse in 2007. It has also seen adaptations of every type, the latest being two live action films starring popular Japanese actors Kazunari Ninomiya (also a member of boy band Arashi) and Ken'ichi Matsuyama (best known for his role as "L" in the live action adaption of "Death Note"). FULL POST

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What's up with manga? A comics fan's deep dive
"Bakuman" is written by Tsugumi Ohba and drawn by Takeshi Obata.
March 29th, 2012
02:17 PM ET

What's up with manga? A comics fan's deep dive

Editor's note: Christian Sager is the creator of "Think of the Children" and "Border Crossings." He has also written essays about the comics industry, punk subculture and national identity.

Why do readers of American comics often ignore Japanese manga? Vice-versa, what is so different about American comics that turns off manga readers? The stories in both styles are told in the same medium but for some reason their audiences rarely overlap.

As a reader of American comics I can offer one possible answer: If I wanted to try something new like manga, I would have no idea where to begin. The manga shelves at the book store are intimidatingly packed. How can I know I’m starting with the right manga for me?

My CNN Geek Out! colleague Colette Bennett is a manga expert. I asked her to compare and contrast these two different comics styles in order to find the starting points where curious readers could jump into something outside of their comfort zone.

In preparation for this discussion, I dived in headfirst and read more than 1,000 pages of manga to get a better sense for its stylistic differences. Then, Bennett and I discussed production, pacing, storytelling diversity, themes, regulation of sex and violence, and the economic struggles of both industries. FULL POST

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MEMEopedia: Aki Higashihara, the alleged 'Death Blogger'
March 26th, 2012
06:49 PM ET

MEMEopedia: Aki Higashihara, the alleged 'Death Blogger'

Editor's note: Know Your Meme is a research lab from the Cheezburger Network that documents the history of Internet memes and culture. Occasionally, they invite CNN's Geek Out! to go on a very deep dive with them, into the stories behind the memes they profile. Together, we'll learn how memes become the cultural expression of nerds.

At a first glance, Aki Higashihara may seem like just another pin-up idol in Japan's burgeoning gravure magazine industry (somewhat equivalent to bikini swimsuit models in American magazines).

But if you look up her name on the Internet, you'll soon find an impressive track record of misfortunes that has made her infamous in her own right. From the disastrous reception of Sega’s Dreamcast to the Japanese Judo team's all-time low results in Beijing Olympics, the name "Aki Higashihara" has gained quite a reputation for bringing bad luck to anything she publicly endorses on her blog. (Which, as of publish time, looked like it was down for maintenance.)

Thanks to the comparably doom-centric story line of a popular manga called "Death Note," Higashihara's blog  inevitably became known as the “Death Blog," - and she became the topic of a meme. FULL POST

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