Category Archives: Japan

Manga and digital media: Where David’s swinging at Goliath

NYT’s resident chef Mark Bittman took a break from everything electronic this weekend. Seems Mr. Bittman, like us, has Internet Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and promotes a secular Sabbath — one day a week sans cell phone or modem.

We pondered what we’d do with a day truly offline, and thought — what about manga? This Japanese form of cartoons is deep, mysterious, dramatic, and covers everything from commerce and science to fantasy and horror. Over in Japan, cartoons aren’t just for kids anymore — they’re a $4.4 billion major player in publishing, and businessmen and women read them out in public with no chagrin. If you are going to put down the web for a day, hypergraphic sexual dramatic information overload in cartoon format is probably the closest substitute.

And then, researching manga, we found inspiration: The Manga Bible by British artist Ajin-bayo Akinsiku. The book boils the vast canonical writings of Judaism and Christianity down into 200 colorful pages, showcasing Moses and Jesus as dark, moody superheroes — think storyboards for the film 300, and you get the idea. While the book targeted youths 15-25, it has already sold 30,000 copies in the UK and been embraced by the Church of England.

There’s a historical parallel between the birth of manga in Japan and today’s raucous internet content. Manga started just after the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and Japanese artists such as Osamu Tezuka played with darker themes and illustrations that mimicked the cinema — zooms, close-ups, incredible details of action now seen in films such as The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf. Just as manga broke out of comic frames, when a nation was going through a revolution, today digital communication is leaving mainstream media via blogs and Tweets and videos uploaded by teenage skateboarders. The stiff formality of journalism’s inverted pyramids, nutgraphs, libel laws and leads is morphing into a stronger, grittier realism. The creation process is no longer controlled or edited — now any individual can post to the world. Sure, results can be messy, but the speed with which raw information or inspiration spreads is amazing.

Perhaps communication, at its best, is drama poured from the soul without gatekeeping or heavy edits. We’re certain that the scribes who put down the scripture for Islam, Judaism or Christianity focused more on inspiration than self-censure, without a backspace key. There’s something liberating about looking at the root of an idea.

All we know is that if Peter Jackson had written the Bible, it would have looked like this.

(For intelligent commentary on what happens when religion crosses paths with communication, visit the blog of David Dent.)

Japan strips down in PR groundswell

Cool Biz, Japan’s effort to rid the world of suits, ties, and carbon dioxide pollution, has made news since it launched in 2005. Seems Japan’s environmental minister Yuriko Koike had the bright idea to convince businessmen to stop wearing suits — in a culture that is very buttoned up — so offices could ease up on air conditioning. This in turn slashed electrical use and stopped 1.4 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

We ran through the news archives to try to see when, exactly, this ideavirus tipped the point. It helped that a core group, central government, was mandated to adjust office temperatures to 82.4F through September. Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi showed up for work without a tie. And in a brilliant move, the executive chiefs of Toyota, Fuji Xerox, Show Shell Oil and Sanyo were invited to model fashion sans ties in a gala held by Japan’s top designer Hiroko Koshino.

All of which makes us wonder: How can anyone control such crowd psychology? Marketers try and try to push their products into mass adoption, but Razor Scooters, Hush Puppies, and tapping fists instead of high-fiving are all viral events in the U.S. that seemed to happen overnight, with little push or control.

Perhaps viral PR can only be achieved if the cause resonates with the pop culture of the moment. Regardless of our politics, we think all of us may feel a bit bad about driving SUVs while it’s 91 degrees in October. So Japan, by accident or design, followed the rules of Seth in launching an ideavirus: make your concept virusworthy — will people really care? — and then identify the “hive” or core group to participate, expose the idea to key influencers, and give them the tools to spread the word.