Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Washington Post's TR Reid on manga

I just finished reading Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West by T. R. Reid (Random House, 2009), and while I love Reid when he is writing for the Post, I've got a few issues with his conclusions in this book. Or maybe even his starting premises.

But that's not the subject of this blog. Reid has 2 paragraphs on his favorite manga, coming after a discussion of Japan's view of America as crime-ridden:

While in Japan, I became a huge fan of mahnga, the ubiquitous comic-book magazines that sell tens of millions of copies every week. It seems to be conventional wisdom in the United States that Japan's "adult comic books" are routinely "adult" in the sense of being filthy, but this is not accurate. There are some filthy mahnga - so bad that stores won't carry them, and you have to buy them at vending machines. But the vast majority of Japanese comics are family fare. Some are funny, and some are serious novels - serial novels, really, like the one-chapter-per-month novels that Dickens and Thackeray used to write for Victorian magazines. I was particularly taken with the enormously popular weekly comic Section Chief Shima, about a junior executive named Shima Kosaku, who works for a giant electronics firm and fights a never-ending battle for truth, profits and the Japanese way.

In one extended episode, Section Chief Shima is dispatched to America to oversee his company's acquisition of a giant Hollywood movie studio (just like the acquisitions Sony and Matsushita had made in real life). One thing that deeply concerns the young executive is the possibility of a U.S. backlash if an Asian company buys a famous American firm (just like the reaction to the Sony and Matsushita purchases in real life). But an American-based executive tells Shima he need not worry: "The government won't be a problem, because we've already put a half-dozen ex-congressmen on the payroll, and they are lobbying for us." This exchange didn't bother me excessively, because it's probably what big companies actually do when they plan an acquisition. But it was disturbing to see what happened to Section Chief Shima personally during his stay in Los Angeles. When he sets out to see the beach, his rented Ford breaks down. When he tries to negotiate his business deal, an employee of the U.S. branch of his company sells corporate secrets to a competitor. When he walks outside his hotel, he's mugged on the sidewalk. Just your typical American business trip.

Our family grew increasingly angry at this depiction of a dirty, dangerous, dishonest America, partly because we found it hard to avoid, anywhere in Asia.
(p. 208-209)

So 11 years later, I have no idea if this remains a common occurrence in manga, or views of Japanese, or even if Shima was ever translated. Reid is a good writer and a keen observer though, so I'm sorry the Post lost him as a foreign correspondent. He heads their Rocky Mountain Bureau now.

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