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Thursday, March 30, 2023 

France has a huge manga following

The UK Guardian gave some history of how anime and manga became such a big deal in France, more so than any other country outside of Japan proper:
The new animation Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by France-based animator Pierre Földes, shows that the French love affair with Japanese visual arts is still throbbing. Anime and manga are a worldwide cultural force but nowhere more so than France – an unbelievable 55% of comics sold there in 2021 were manga, according to consumer research body GfK. A beguiling mashup of six Haruki Murakami short stories set in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman emerged foremost from Földes’s own first contact with Japanese literature as a teenager. “I loved the fact the style of storytelling was so different to the west,” says the director. “It’s more contemporary, less structured. Here, everything is very structured, with a beginning and end. The story goes from here to there, through different moments of emotion. I’m not so much into that.”

[...] Földes is at the arthouse end of the second coming of Japanese pop culture in France, which began in the late 1970s. This time, instead of Mt Fuji, boozy geishas and melancholic peasants, it was giant robots, Corgi bounty-hunters and tumorous apocalyptic psychics. After a few unsuccessful attempts to introduce anime to France in the early 1970s, the arrival in 1978 of mecha (ie robot) cartoon Goldorak on A2, one of the country’s three public TV stations, was the breakthrough. Featuring the eponymous Swiss army knife of a transforming robot, it quickly become a phenomenon, getting its own Paris Match cover, and opened the door for a deluge of anime to hit French children’s TV.
Great as it is France has had a huge following for this medium, they also had their brushes with censorship and opposition to the broadcasts:
Meanwhile, outlandish import anime with that kinetic vibe was taking over French TV, under the auspices of competing CBBC-style kids’ omnibuses. Chief among them was Club Dorothée on TF1, fronted by wholesome singer-actor Frédérique Hoschedé (known as Dorothée) from 1987, who had been poached during this anime boom from the A2 children’s umbrella that put out Goldorak. During the late 80s and early 90s, Club Dorothée kept French youth weaned on a steady diet of Japanese mayhem: the likes of mythological romp Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque (Knights of the Zodiac), high-school superhero fantasy Sailor Moon and what spiralled into a generational phenomenon, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball.

But the schoolyard stampede caused a moral backlash – particularly against edgy fare like the Mad Max-inspired Ken le Survivant (Fist of the North Star) – among those who feared Japanimation was corrupting French youth. Future presidential candidate Ségolène Royal was among its most prominent critics, lambasting among other things its recidivist violence in her takedown book Le Ras-le-Bol des Bébés Zappeurs (Fed Up of Baby Channel-Zappers).

Manga expert Nicolai Chauvet remembers the furore: “The kids had become hooked on this drug. It was pure serotonin, the kids needed their shot of Dragon Ball. And she politicised it to stop French kids going crazy because of Japanese cartoons. So then there was this deprogramming. Anime disappeared almost completely from Club Dorothée, and was replaced by disgusting French sitcoms with ridiculous teenagers having their first kiss.” Club Dorothée shut up shop for good in 1997.
Not mentioned clearly is that Royal was a socialist, and at this point, it's hardly at all a shock a leftist would be willing to go to extremes to undermine the medium, recalling the Vice news site took a hypocritical stance on manga in past years. Luckily, however:
But it was only the end of the beginning for Japanese pop culture in France. Manga in properly bound formats – such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, hitherto only distributed in throwaway comic form – began arriving en masse in the country in the late 90s. With the Japanese industry at its apex, the riches of five decades of imaginative labours poured into the country. Chauvet, who under the pseudonym Méko is now one of France’s leading collectors, had an even stronger culture shock than Földes: “Manga slapped me in the face. It was even more punk than Franco-Belge comics. The freedom to do whatever you want: I’m going to have some dinosaurs in the midst of some Chinese kung fu thing with daft legends, and stick the Terminator in there too! With humour and drawings that had a surgical, diabolic precision. And all serving the reader, without the illustrator’s ego in the way.”
And since then, there have been channels on TV dedicated to broadcasting various Japanese cartoons that can surely be found around Europe too. But freedom to do what you want? I think it'd be ill-advised to assume Japan's welcome to producing manga/anime about Islamic terrorism, and the very leftist Guardian's not making the argument either. Only the future will tell if anybody's willing to gather the courage to confront such serious issues again.

For now, France is surely outdoing the USA in popularizing Japan's art, and not as PC when it comes to the subject matter as the USA can sadly be.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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