animefringe february 2003 / reviews

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga Vol.1
Format: Left-Right manga, 149 pages
Production: VIZ / Aihara Koji / Takekuma Kentaro
Comments: A great graphic novel for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of producing manga...while laughing uncontrollably.
Animefringe Reviews:
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga Vol.1

First of all, a warning: this book is very Japanese. That is, there are numerous cultural references, discussions of the various genres of manga, and some rather odd jokes. In fact, there's a good chance that an honest-to-goodness Japanese native would find some of the material just as bizarre as we do. If you're familiar with all things Japanese, then this is fantastic. If you aren't, then there's a frightening possibility that many of these jokes will go over your head.

Now, assuming that all of our fine readers here are, in fact, well-versed in cultural diversity, this is hilarious. This is a unique work. If you had to pin down a plot, then I'd say it follows the two authors in their quest to become successful manga artists. Each chapter covers a different aspect of the creative process, from drawing tips to choosing the correct genre for your audience to implanting subliminal messages in your products, it's all here. The authors themselves are characters in most of the collection, but there are occasionally example manga pages that illustrate whatever point they may be trying to make. Also included are frequent informational sidebars offering in-depth information about a particular subject. However, while many of the tips may be worthwhile, this was written primarily as a comedy, and thus most of the information parodies the way things are really done.

For instance, when giving a tip on how to draw anime-inspired manga, we're told "For background (sic) and accessories just steal from Katsuhiro Otomo and if someone accuses you of ripping him off, just proudly reply, 'Oh now, I'm actually more influenced by Moebius.'" There's also an in-depth discussion of the "No, Boom" phenomenon. This occurs frequently in Ceres: Celestial Legend (or Ayashi no Ceres), so while reading this quote from Aihara & Takekuma's guidebook, have Aya (the main character from Ceres) in mind. "...the main character is an average high school girl or something. She is a potential psychic, but she isn't aware of it yet. But for some reason, the evil secret society, or some ancient intelligent form of life that preceded human civilization called evil or the devil, finds out about her and attempts to murder her before she has her 'revelation.' This is when the 'No, Boom' phenomenon occurs. The main character awakens to the powers within her. Before she can even say, 'So I'm really psychic...' she is pulled into the eternal war between Light and Darkness...Then you must have her 'No, Boom' with every climactic scene, and with a little fan service you can show her naked."

It's scary how their simple outlines have the ability to describe fifty shows at once. Of course, this isn't a perfect book. There's a lot of reading to do here, and for weaker readers (or those of us with limited attention spans) it may take some work to get to the punchlines. However, it's always worth the effort. Also, there's a bit of content that may be offensive to some, especially around the chapters that talk about drawing Erocoms, or Erotic Comics. There's some potty humor, and some sex organ humor, and plenty of dirty words. This is not for children, for even if they were "mature" enough to handle the sexual references, they wouldn't understand any of the jokes, anyway. And while I thought it was painfully funny that they called "A. Hitler" the "father of modern advertising," some especially touchy people may still shudder to hear the man's name. Still, this is an excellent parody of the manga industry, the creative process that drives it, and the works that arise as a result. The artwork would be right at home in classic issues of MAD Magazine, but this is undeniably a Japanese product at its core.

The book is printed nice and big (it's about as large as Dark Horse's fancy Akira manga collection, if not nearly as thick) and it's still only $15.95 - the price of practically every other Viz manga. The cover features a 60's style photo of the writers looking rather smug, as if they're about to reforge the world thanks to their brilliant instructional aid. The book has been flipped, which cost the score a few points, but it doesn't adversely affect this title. It's just nicer when companies stay true to the source material.

There are a few typographical errors (as seen above, in the quoted passages), but overall, this is a commendable translation. There are paragraphs and paragraphs of text here, and they're all still very understandable and very funny. Kudos to Oniki Yuji, the person in charge of the English adaptation. It had to be one heck of a task to localize this beast of a manga, and it reads better than plenty of other smaller works. If you're a fan of manga, this book is for you. There's a high probability that you'll be quoting it to all of your friends for years to come. The only trick in getting this title is that it may not be carried by most stores as part of their regular stock. I had to special order mine, but pretty much any mall bookstore should be able to ship one in for you at no charge, so run out there and order your copy today!