Kabir Vega Castellanos
HAVANA TIMES — Though Japanese animation is officially referred to as “anime”, most people in Cuba call it “manga” (which is actually the Japanese word for “comic strip”).
Manga animated films are a huge hit among young Cubans and the characteristic look of its stylized characters, showing triangular heads, flowing straight hair covering part of their faces and large, feline eyes, is imitated by several social groups in the country.
Animated series like Naruto, One Piece, and Hunter X Hunter travel from computer to computer and then onto DVDs in the blink of an eye. To give you a sense of this industry, suffice it to mention that Naruto and One Piece alone have an average of 500 episodes.
Most are fantastic tales involving characters with mental powers or plots that unfold in ancient Japan, where the references to Japanese mythology are constant. For the most part, they are full of action sequences and watched mostly by males. Some of the series most watched in Cuba are Full Metal Alchemist, Devil May Cry and Shingeki no Kyojin.
There are also other kinds of series that are very popular among female audiences, the so-called “school series”, where the main characters are young students (almost always in high school) and the most recurrent topic is love (e.g. “Karin and K-on”).
Comedy series, such as Blood Lad or Kotura-san, tend to be very popular but are quickly forgotten. They are small productions which aren’t sold on DVD, but rather shown on television and uploaded to the Internet. Hence the simplicity of much of their design and its repetitive character types.
Those series with a touch of eroticism and humor (such as B Gata H Kei and KissXsis) are very popular among teenagers of both sexes.
Most of these series are characterized by the superficiality and banality of its characters and plots that border on the absurd. Some typical gestures exceed the bounds of caricature and become ridiculous.
Another bothersome aspect of these series is that they tend to stretch out the story like gum and then end it abruptly. This is what happened with Zetsuen no Tempest, which had a promising beginning, but which was ruined because the story was drawn out too much and elements of comedy were added.
Though it may sound contradictory, Mangas aren’t always a waste of time. Zetsuen no Tempest actually motivated me to read Shakespeare, because of its constant references to Hamlet and The Tempest. I read Hamlet in one sitting one night and The Tempest the following day. I became so obsessed with Shakespeare that, in a week’s time, I had already read all of his major tragedies: Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet and others.
Some prestigious directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have used the style of Manga animation in highly beautiful and conceptually rich films. Chijiro’s Journey and the Grave of the Fireflies are my favorites.
Animation historian Ernest Rister compared Tomb of the Grave of the Fireflies to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, saying “it is the most profoundly human film I have ever seen.” It received a special mention at the Blue Ribbon Awards and obtained the Best Film and Rights of Children Awards at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Another excellent Manga film is Jin Roh, a terrifying drama about human fears and the traps of power.
With the arrival of 3D animation, the Manga genre has broadened its horizons with such films as Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, which was a huge sensation because of the virtuosity of its animation.
In brief, if one is selective you can come across good art among popular Manga films. Though most young people watch the more banal series, this is less dangerous than going out to a disco or doing things that can lead to delinquency.
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