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Fabien Bièvre-Perrin
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Élise Pampanay

When Apollo tasted sushi for the first time. Early examples of the reception of Classics in Japanese comics

Carla Scilabra

Résumé

This paper analyses the first appearance of classical themes in the Japanese manga production. The author offers a general overview of the cultural background in which such works were created and examines how these comics can be read within the local pop-culture. Afterwards, she presents three different mangaka’s approaches to Classics – Osamu Tezuka, Go Nagai and Hideo Azuma – in order to understand the role that the Greco-Roman heritage assumes within this production.

Cet article se propose d’analyser les premières apparitions de thèmes antiques dans l’univers manga japonais, en donnant tout d’abord une vue d’ensemble du contexte culturel de création de ces œuvres, avant de voir de quelle manière la pop culture locale pouvait les interpréter. Il s’agira ensuite d’étudier trois approches différentes de mangaka : celles d’Osamu Tezuka, Go Nagai et Hideo Azuma, afin de comprendre le rôle joué par l’héritage gréco-romain dans ces productions.

Texte intégral

  • 1 About this anime see: Hernández Reyes 2008, p. 639–640; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 183–185.

1The aim of this study is to analyse the path followed by classical themes to find their place in the Japanese manga production. The title of this article is actually a joke that wants to recall an image of the reception of Classics in Japanese comics and animated production, which could be familiar to a European audience. I guess that many people living within the old continent can remember the anime Poron, broadcasted on western TV channels in the eighties. In this series, the god Apollo used to eat bento – the typical Japanese boxed lunch – and other Japanese dishes with chopsticks, and drink sake along with the other Greek deities that lived on Mount Olympus. Additionally, in Poron, gods and goddesses – from Zeus to Hera, passing through Aphrodite, Poseidon and all the other characters that populate Greek mythology – act in an utmost Japanese way, not only when eating and drinking sake but also when performing miracles, praying with Buddhist beads and using a Shinto wand in order to enhance their powers1.

2This example is a good illustration of the main point of this contribution, which is the analysis of the first appearance of classical motives within Japanese comics and animated productions. Actually, it is a well-known fact that many anime dating between the eighties and the nineties – some of them being very popular in Europe – were a clear example of classical reception, as the already mentioned Ochamegami monogatari, korokoro Pollon, aired in 1982, which will be the topic of further discussion below.

  • 2 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 554–555; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 187–189.
  • 3 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 552–553; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 189–190.

3Another example is Saint seiya, aired since 1986, that depicts a world of never ending fights among the Olympians and their followers, in which the guardian of justice, Athena, is reborn about every 400 years2. To mention one more title that has become a real blockbuster in the West too, it is impossible to forget Bishojo senshi sailor moon, broadcasted since 1992, a tale about female warriors whose guide, Tsukino Usagi, as well as her lover, are the reincarnation of the lunar deity and of Endymion3.

  • 4 A further discussion about this matter can be found in Scilabra 2015, p. 94.
  • 5 Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 193-194; Scilabra 2015, p. 96.
  • 6 Settis 2004, p. 6–7; Theisen 2011, p. 62. In general, the reception of Classics inside Japanese ma (...)

4Aside from Poron, in these works the classical heritage – basically myth, as we will see better in the next pages – only constitutes a sort of frame; its role is mainly to offer the ideal setting to put on stage, in a fairy-tale-like environment, epic battles and tragic loves4. This free use of the classical heritage could also be read as a proof of the diffusion of at least a basic knowledge of lassics among the audience. These anime, aired in the last twenty years of the 20th century, are indeed characterized by multiple close references to the Greco-Roman pantheon and folklore that clearly show how the cultural background shared by the authors and the audience definitely included Classics as an exotic, yet well-known, component5. Even if it has long been argued in scholarship that Japanese manga artists and their local audience should not be supposed to be familiar with such topics6, the last four decades, in which elements taken from the classical world have been abundant, tell another story. The present inquiry aims therefore to understand when exactly this phenomenon started, and which forms it assumed before the Classics became part of the shared knowledge, language and world of metaphors that characterize the Japanese pop-culture.

  • 7 Pellitteri 2008, p. XVI-XVII.
  • 8 The word mangaka itself, with its suffix – ka indicates a total mastership of manga production, th (...)

5Before getting there, though, a quick premise is necessary, to highlight a few topics that are essential to understand the manga industry and the cultural milieu in which it was developed. First of all, we should make a clear distinction between manga, meaning the comics production, and anime, that are animated series7. Anime can be an adaptation of previous manga or be an original creation, but only very seldom successful animated works become comics. This is not just due to the difference between the two media, but to a completely different production process. Japanese comics are for the most part a “one-man show”: the author – called mangaka – is responsible for the creation of both the storyline and the drawings of the series8. On the other side, anime are the result of a team work, even when they are the animated version of a previous manga. This distinction is therefore very important in order to understand the creative process that brought to life some peculiar works.

6Japanese comics also consist in various genres, each of which is characterized by the recurrence of typical themes that satisfy different kinds of audience. Indeed, the choice of the main target of the series strongly influences the topic around which the story revolves, as well as the way in which the subject is told.

  • 9 For an exhaustive review of different genres see: Ito 2008, p. 36, 38; Norris 2009, p. 238–240; Br (...)

7Thus, generally speaking, manga are different according to the audience to which they are aimed: this differentiation is based mainly on gender, and secondarily on age. In short – this has been widely analyzed in scholarship9 – there are manga and anime explicitly created for a male audience: shonen (aimed to a teenager audience) and seinen (mainly for adult men); other works address female readers: shojo (a genre meant for adolescent girls) and josei (which is produced to catch the interest of adult women). Next to them are also kodomo manga, whose main targets are young children.

What are the classical themes represented by mangakas?

8To answer the question about the first appearance of classical themes in the Japanese comics and animated production, and to understand the process that brought the authors to start drawing comics about the Greco-Roman heritage, it is necessary, first of all, to ask which part of “Classics” is received and used by that generation of mangakas. The answer is very easy: it is mainly myth.

  • 10 Bryce, Davies 2012, p. 35. This manga was also turned into an anime aired in 1988 (Clements, McCar (...)
  • 11 For an analysis of the use of Classics in this work see Scilabra, forthcoming. This manga was also (...)
  • 12 Scilabra, forthcoming; about the animated version of this work see Clements, McCarthy 2012, p. 240 (...)

9Needless to say, all the titles cited at the beginning of this paper evoke mythological themes. Myth is indeed the absolute protagonist of all the early examples of classical reception in the manga industry, from Ikeda Etsuko’s Akuma no hanayome (1975)10, the story of the present reincarnation of Venus and Deimos, to Yokoyama Mitsuteru’s Mars (1976)11, that revives into the present day some titans, entrusted with the judgement of the human race, up to Yasuhiko Yoshizaku’s Arion (1979)12, which is a retelling of the Hesiod’s cosmogony through the adventures of Arion, the son of Poseidon and Demeter.

  • 13 On Hiwaaki Hitoshi’s world and production see Kinsella 2010, p. 189–190.
  • 14 About the use of history in Yasuhiko Yashizazu’s production, that includes also titles about Asiat (...)

10To see mangas that take an interest in the Greco-Roman history, we have to wait almost until the new millennium. One of the most important authors in this revolution could be Iwaaki Hotoshi, whose works, mainly seinen comics, had a great success both in Japan and in the West, and were translated in many European languages. His first manga with a classical theme is Heureka (2001), a short story about Archimedes’life and studies during the Second Punic War. Right after this volume the author started to draw his masterpiece, Historie (published since 2003 and still ongoing), a biography of Eumenes of Cardia, which, starting with his childhood, has reached in 2016 (volume ix) the point in which Eumenes is a general and the personal secretary of Alexander the Great13. Another key figure in this new approach to the Greco-Roman heritage is Yasuhiko Yoshizaku, who, after drawing about myth in the late seventies, shifts to history in his more recent production with a title about Anton, dating to 1998 and, above all, with his work dedicated to Alexander the Great’s conquests: Alexandros – sekai teikoku e no yume (2003)14.

  • 15 This manga is actually a little understated in literature, even though at present it represents on (...)

11Along with series that depict specific events from Greek and Roman history, within the last ten years a completely new genre appeared, which integrates pure fictional characters into a classical historical setting. Particularly interesting in this sense is Kusanagi Mizuho’s NGLife (2006), a series that narrates the life of a group of young people in ancient Pompeii on the eve of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. All the characters meet a tragic death and are then reincarnated in contemporary Japan, where they have a second occasion to fulfil their aspirations and to learn how to forget the past. The storyline follows both their past lives and their contemporary ones, switching between the two settings through continuous flashbacks15.

  • 16 Heinze 2012.

12A quite similar setting characterizes the famous manga written and drawn by Yamazaki Mari, Thermae Romae (2008)16, which achieved huge success both in Japan and among Western readers, and which has been transposed in an anime and in a movie. In this series the protagonist is the Roman architect Lucius, who travels through past and present in order to enhance his ability in building thermae: passing through water flows, he can reach modern Japan, where he learns all kinds of tricks that he will then apply to his constructions when back in Rome.

The cultural background of the first mangas that depicted Classics

13We have just underlined how the first topic that characterized the reception of Classics inside the Japanese manga production was myth. This is not a coincidence, as a brief analysis of the manga production and of the Japanese pop-culture of those years can demonstrate. It is indeed necessary to underline that the first appearance of classical myth in the Japanese comics industry is not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a more complex process.

  • 17 On the reception of classics in Mishima’s production see Cardi 2015, p. 163–166.
  • 18 About this matter see the considerations presented by Gravett 2004, p. 98; Schodt 2014, p. 291–292

14Between the late sixties and the early seventies the Greco-Roman heritage, or better, fragments of it, spread widely within Japanese pop-culture. There is no space to discuss this here thoroughly, but it is at least necessary to highlight that Post-War Japanese literature counts plenty of texts displaying a massive reception of classical culture. The most significant name in this sense is Yukio Mishima (1925‑1970), whose production counts, at least starting from his Niobe (1951), numerous modern retellings of Greek mythology and literature, in plays and novels17. Even if Mishima admitted many times that he was fascinated by the world of manga, it is absolutely impossible to argue that the comics influenced his work. At the same time, it is also impossible to argue that Mishima’s work had any kind of broad influence on manga aesthetic18. The chronological and thematic correspondence in the development of an interest for classical Antiquity must therefore be explained by a general evolution in that direction of the entire Japanese culture.

  • 19 Schodt 1983, p. 63; Drummond-Mathews 2010, p. 63; Brainbridge, Norris 2010, p. 243; Castello, Scil (...)
  • 20 Clements 2013, p. 150.

15During the same period, the production of manga and anime was gradually opening up to a more general Western influence. It is not just a question of technical details and style, such as the preference accorded to long serializations and to some Disney-like graphic conventions, features that the Japanese productions inherited from the American and European comics industry right after World War II19. It’s more than that: there was a massive reception of European literature and folklore in the Japanese entertainment industry, and specifically in the products aimed to the younger generations. Important examples are for instance the Sekai meisaku anime series (World masterpieces theatre in english, aired since 1969 and putting on stage titles coming from the Western literature for youth, such as Heidi, Little Women, Anne of Greengable and Pollyanna)20.

  • 21 For a short history of this ancient Japanese tradition see McGowan 2015, p. 13–24.
  • 22 Bouissou 2010, p. 25–26.

16Last but not least, the first “pioneers” who decided to bring the classical world into the manga imagery chose, as mentioned, to draw about myth, a theme that was definitely popular among Japanese comics authors. Myth appears indeed in the Post-War manga production in many works focusing on the local folklore. This was also due to the tradition of the kamishibai, literally “paper dramas”21, which, according to scholars, can be identified as one of the ancestors of manga itself along with the aka-bon, the red books that were circulating right after World War II22. The kamishibai is a narrative technique that involves the use of pictures, showed along the narration of the story; it was born in the 12th century and had a great diffusion between 1920 and 1950: in this period, it was mainly targeted at children (it had a strong educational and ethical content) and made use of stories taken from the local folklore.

  • 23 About this interesting work see Foster 2008, p. 166–169.

17The first mangas that involved myth were thus also strongly influenced by this ancient tradition. The most astonishing title is Shigeru Mizuki’s Gegege no Kitarō (also called Hakaba no Kitarō: Kitarō of the Graveyard, 1961), which was actually first created as a kamishibai a few decades before. In this comical series are several yōkai – Japanese supernatural creatures – some of which come from local folklore, while others were completely invented by the author23.

18Starting from the late sixties, thus, in accordance with what was happening in other media, the spotlight shifted to the Classics, but the cultural context in which these works were created seems, for a good part, to remain the same.

19Starting from these premises, the following pages will consider some early works which can show the different paths followed by Classics to reach for the first time the mangaka’s pencils and the different readings that these authors gave of the Greco-Roman heritage.

The world of Osamu Tezuka

  • 24 On this mangas see Power 2008, p. 20–23, 105–106, 123–126, 171.
  • 25 Theisen 201, p. 64–70.

20The first mangaka that brought Classics in the world of manga and anime is Osamu Tezuka, universally considered almost as the “god of manga”. In his many productions are several titles that involve the reception of Classics, like Hi no tori (Bird of fire, 1967), Umi no Toriton (Triton of the sea, 1969), Aporo no uta (Apollo’s song, 1970) and Yunico (Unico, 1976)24. Leaving aside Hi no tori – in which the reference to classical heritage is confined to the allusion to a mythical immortal bird that, in Tezuka’s works, appears through different times and places, while the story spans from ancient Japan to distant future, never touching the ancient Mediterranean Sea – and Aporo no uta – a complex work that has recently been read as a reinterpretation of Aeschylus’Oresteia and that has already been widely analysed in literature25 – the works in which Classics assume a central role and that need a further reflection are Umi no Toriton and Yunico.

  • 26 Some reflections about the reception of Classics in the animated version can be found in Castello, (...)

21Umi no Toriton is a shonen manga that was serialized from 1969 to 1971, then turned into an anime aired in 197226. The animated series is slightly different from the original storyboard, as it gives more space to adventurous elements and softens the more dramatic and violent tones and events of the manga. The plot of both versions is nonetheless similar: it is the story of Triton, the young heir to the sea kingdom, whose race was totally annihilated by Poseidon, infuriated by jealousy for their success and wealth. As the only survivor of his kind, the orphaned boy was hidden in Japan, where he was rescued and raised as a human child, until he discovers his true origins and decides to go back to the sea and seek his revenge. And thus the adventure begins, bringing on stage the sea inhabitants, from Poseidon’s court to mermaids, nymphs and wise turtles, mixing up classical elements and Japanese folklore.

  • 27 Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 180.
  • 28 Triton made its first appearance in Fantastic Four #45, printed in December 1965. His creators are (...)

22This series, especially – but not only – in the animated version, reflects a strong Western influence, visible not only in the classical inspiration, but mostly in the contacts with American comics production: it has been pointed out for instance that the setting seems to have been at least partly inspired by the Marvel Namor saga27. It should be stressed how in the animated version Triton is characterized by green hair, a feature that will become common in successive works to qualify characters connected to the sea: in this sense, it is worth remembering that Triton – a side character from the Marvel Universe that made his first appearance in Fantastic four in 1965 and then became somehow connected to the Namor saga – is characterized by green skin, due to the exposition to the Terrigen Mist28.

  • 29 Gardner 2008, p. 201–204. On the use of these topics in contemporary manga and anime dealing with (...)

23Yet, the themes that are brought up in this manga are really Japanese – starting from the importance given to the sea, and from the topos of the orphan – and quite common in the works of mangakas active in those years: from pollution to oppression, passing through the scarce confidence in mankind, felt as unable to interact in a pacific way with different creatures and to preserve the environment in which they live29.

  • 30 See above, note 25. On the animated version of this work see also Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 180– (...)

24Yunico is a kodomo/shojo manga that was serialized between 1976 and 1979, which later received three anime adaptations: Kuroi kumo shiroi hane (Black cloud, white feather, 1979), Unico (1981) and Unico: mahou no shima e (Unico in the island of magic, 1983)30.

  • 31 Yunico, volume 1, chapter 0: Venus lives in a temple and wears Greek-alike clothes; Psyche is repr (...)

25This work is highly indicative of Tezuka’s style and poetics. The plot of this manga is quite simple: Unico, a little unicorn, was once Psyche’s pet; Venus, grieving with jealousy, banished him to the future, where the little animal strives to help his loved ones to find happiness, only to be shifted away again, with his memories erased, every time that he reaches his aim. Especially in the first part of the manga, in which the author depicts the facts that led to Unico’s tragic fate, it is possible to find Tezuka’s distinctive description of Greek myth, with Venus getting jealous of Psyche, Eros falling in love with her and so on. These events are narrated in a quite comical way, yet it is possible to catch the mangaka’s almost philological attention to classical tradition in the description of the single characters31. Yet, also in this case, classical heritage is obviously not the only source of the series: iconographically, Tezuka seems to have been deeply influenced by Disney productions, whose style left a significant mark on the rendering of the human and animal characters of this manga.

  • 32 See above.

26The striking peculiarity of this manga, anyway, is that the little protagonist needs to deal with situations in which he is confronted with racism, pollution, violence, scepticism against inter-racial marriages and has to fight to bring justice. In other words, Tezuka, even if his main target readers are children, is not scared to put on stage controversial and uncomfortable themes that were in that moment at the centre of Japanese political debates, and which also represent recurrent topics in his production32. By getting his memories erased each time, the little Unico can also be read as a symbol of reincarnation, a theme on which Tezuka particularly lingers: maybe it is not a coincidence that this theme also appears in two other works in which he stages Classics: Hi no tori and Aporo no uta.

27This short manga thus contains almost all the most relevant aspects of the author’s poetics: ecology, peace, faith in the new generations, reincarnation as a cathartic process, criticism of violence and abuse. All this is symbolised in a classical figure, which clearly reveals a deep appropriation of the ancient imagery. It almost seems that the author finds in the classical world values as universality and optimism; it is in the imagery of the classical that one can find that pure whiteness that, along with children’s innocence, is the only remedy for the violence of the present world.

Go Nagai’s approach to classics

28A completely different approach to classical Antiquity can be found in the work of Go Nagai, a mangaka who is well known and appreciated also in the Western world. In particular, it is interesting to focus on his most famous mecha trilogy, composed by Mazinger Z (1972), Great Mazinger (1974) and UFO Robot Grendizer (1975).

  • 33 Go Nagai’s trilogy has been the object of interesting studies that underlined the political messag (...)

29In the universe created by Go Nagai, the earth is facing a hard battle, striving for survival. The threat is represented by the ancient Mycenaeans, a tribe that hid in the depths of the earth for a long time and is now aiming to reach the surface and conquer the world. The responsibility for their return rests on the evil Dr. Hell, a scientist who discovered their ancient technology during an archaeological campaign33.

30Go Nagai’s use of classical Antiquity is different from Tezuka’s mostly because he does not directly elaborate on Greek mythology. At the same time, in spite of the reference to the Mycenaeans, he definitely does not take his inspiration from Greek history. Nagai ends up rather creating his own mythology, based on an ancient Mycenaean tribe with a superior technology and that disappeared from the earth’s surface, thus evidently playing with the myth of Atlantis.

  • 34 On the use of the Mycenaean history in the modern construction of myth see Carlà, Freitag 2015.

31In the introduction of this short review we said that the first classical element that was received and represented from Japanese mangakas was myth. However Go Nagai’s use of the past doesn’t literally concerns myth. Yet, we can’t really say that he takes inspiration from the Greek history: we could almost say that he creates his own mythology about the ancient Mycenaean tribe, characterized by a great deal of superior technology that got lost with their disappearance from the planet surface, almost in an echo of the Atlantis legend34.

  • 35 Di Fratta 2000, p. 60; Pellitteri 2008, p. 158–160.

32The iconographical representation of the Mycenaeans is striking: it is impossible to find any attempt to call upon a classical, or even pseudo-classical, atmosphere. The Mycenaeans and their mechanical monsters are rather vaguely demonic and robotic35. Even when it comes to the characters’names, the references to the classical tradition in the Mazinsaga are meagre and mixed with fragments from different traditions: among the enemies of humanity are Grand Duke Gorgon, a Minister Argos, a Marquise Yanus and a General Yuri Caesar – with a mixture of Greek and Roman onomastics, which is quite common even in works characterized by a more philological approach – but also a Lord Valallah, of northern inspiration, and a Baron Ashura, probably a figure that wants to recall the Asian tradition.

33But even so, the selection of the Mycenaeans as enemies of humanity is anything but random and their Hellenic origin is constantly repeated. This detail becomes even more significant if we take into consideration the evolution that the universe created by Go Nagai will undergo in the third chapter of the saga, represented by the series UFO Robot Grendizer, in which the new enemies of humanity come from space.

34This completely new scenario sweeps away the sharp dualism between past and present and, above all, between Japan and the West that was the central idea of the first two chapters of the saga. In this change of perspective it is possible to see a reflection of the Japanese socio-political change during the seventies: the new Japan-US axis that characterizes the Grendizer series is definitely an echo to specific concerns that were widely diffused in Japanese society of Japan, in particular in connection with the Cold War and therefore, with the need of American support to remain a part of the democratic bloc and contrast Chinese and Soviet expansion policies.

  • 36 Scilabra 2015, p. 103–104.

35This development, however, does not overshadow the dominating message from the first two chapters of the saga, in which classical heritage represents without any doubt an otherness, and a decidedly hostile one. It is difficult not to see a metaphor of the Western world in the Mycenaeans that appear in the Mazinger series. While the Mycenaeans undoubtedly represent the Western world, perceived as an aggressive alterity, they can be understood, at the same time, as a warning for Japan too. The Mycenaeans have used in an evil way their technological knowledge, so what was originally a noble population, characterized by aristocratic values (the Homeric one), has become a dangerous group of monsters attacking innocent citizens (with a quite clear hint to Hiroshima36). But Japan, firmly on the way to complete industrialization and technologization of society, should be aware of the risks of a possible decline into barbarism of the same sort.

A classical kamishibai: Hideo Azuma’s Olympus no Poron

  • 37 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 489.
  • 38 Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 183–184.
  • 39 About the use of didactic notes in manga involving classical themes see Scilabra, forthcoming.

36The last work that we are going to analyse is the series that suggested the title of this paper: Hideo Azuma’s Olympus no Poron, a manga published from 1977 to 1979, which had also an animated version, aired in Japan from 1982 to 1983 with the title Ochamegami no monogatari. korokoro Poron (The tale of the little goddes. Korokoro Poron)37. The story follows the adventures of little Poron until she manages to become a goddess: on her journey she meets different characters from Greek mythology and in each chapter she learns something about the importance of values such as kindness, modesty, humility and honesty. The characters of this manga live on Mount Olympus, move on a scene identifiable as “classical”, live in houses resembling temples, wear Greek-alike clothes, yet they seem to have really Japanese behaviours when it comes to daily habits or to the demonstration of their powers38. Interestingly enough, this series is also characterized by the frequent recurrence of didactic notes – a feature that is less frequent in the animated version of this work – explaining who the different Greek mythological figures are. This is a use that will become rarer and rarer in the manga production that involves classics, and, at such an early stage, it is highly indicative of how the mangaka felt the need to explain something that his audience was not really expected to know39.

37This series represents a unicum and is at the same time the most classic and the most Japanese of the manga inspired by Greco-Roman heritage. We are not far from the truth if we say that this work has been the primary source of knowledge of Greek mythology for a whole generation of Japanese. But how exactly was it born?

  • 40 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 161.
  • 41 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 315.

38In order to answer this, it is necessary to consider the context of its creation. In this period, there were other authors who adapted classical themes and created stories and figures inspired by ancient (mostly Greek) traditions, but this work literally puts the ancient world itself on stage. Hideo Azuma himself was not new to manga inspired by myth, since in the same year he also wrote Kimagure Gokuu, his version of the Journey toward the West, an Asian legend that is among the most diffused in the Japanese comics, and represented in series such as Dragon ball (1984)40 and Gensomaden Saiyuki (1997)41.

39We already pointed out how the early productions involving myth were strongly influenced by the local tradition of the kamishibai. In this sense, Poron is definitely the series which shows such an influence in the strongest way. Indeed, this series is in the end a kamishibai manga with a classical flavour. First of all, the mythological narration is the main theme of the whole work. Other than that, the series is episodic and deals with different mythological stories experienced by the main character, who always remains the same: this is what kamishibai’s masters did, bringing out new chapters of their stories during their repeated visits to a temple or a village. Finally, the aim of this work seems clearly to teach ethical values while entertaining, just what the kamishibai meant to do. In other words, this manga is almost a paradox: while on the outside it could seem at first glance to be the most “classical”, it is actually the one that is most strongly influenced by the Japanese cultural background.

Conclusion: Classics before pop-classics

40In this short review we have seen three works and three different poetics. The position represented by Go Nagai’s works appears quite unique and isolated in its cultural context: in his mangas, classical heritage is used as a metaphor for Otherness, displayed within a clearly political (and politicized) approach. While this view could seem not so far from other contemporary mangakas, who used Classics in a similar way – as Yokoyama Mitsuteru, that in his Mars (1976) entrusts the titans with the final judgment of the human race – Nagai’s works show an extra layer of meaning, especially in the first part of the saga, in showing the existence of a clear boundary between Japan and the West.

  • 42 Gardner 2008, p. 201–204. About this manga and its main character see also Hairston 2010, p. 175–1 (...)

41On the other side we have two works that are quite the opposite in their approach to Classics and to Japanese heritage, society and culture. Osamu Tezuka uses a “western” language to deliver a message that is strongly bounded to Japanese social emergencies, from pollution to human rights. In some ways he is not far from Hayao Miyazaki, who named Nausicaa one of his heroines in a manga that is especially concerned with the fate of the human race after its total lack of interest for the environment (Kaze no tani no Naushika, Nausicaa of the valley of the wind, 1982)42. On the contrary, Hideo Azuma uses a Japanese language – borrowed from the kamishibai tradition – to bring Classics on scene, entrusting them with a pedagogic intent that surpasses any cultural or geographic origin.

42In this sense, the three authors’approach to Classics produced three different answers. How is this possible within the same media, and in the same, and quite short, lapse of time? First of all, as highlighted above, manga must be understood as an artwork, and an individual one: each mangaka has his own poetics and his own view of the world, and that is transferred to his works.

43But next to that, there is a further reason. The times were ripe for such a classical influence, and the Greco-Roman world started to inspire the manga world. In this context, each mangaka gave his own reading of this somehow new imagery. Afterwards things will get more standardized and the classical world will become more and more a sort of fairy-tale kingdom, in which true love survives for eternity, or an ideal land of values in which hoplites and gladiators fight for freedom and justice (showing their boushido).

44But this is another story.

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Castello, Scilabra 2015: M.G. Castello, C. Scilabra,Theoi becoming Kami. Classical mythology in the anime world”, in F. Carlà, I. Berti (ed.), Ancient Magic and the Supernatural in the Modern Visual and Performing Arts, London, 2015, p. 177–196.

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Notes

1 About this anime see: Hernández Reyes 2008, p. 639–640; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 183–185.

2 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 554–555; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 187–189.

3 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 552–553; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 189–190.

4 A further discussion about this matter can be found in Scilabra 2015, p. 94.

5 Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 193-194; Scilabra 2015, p. 96.

6 Settis 2004, p. 6–7; Theisen 2011, p. 62. In general, the reception of Classics inside Japanese manga and anime productions has already been the object of study in several cases, with works that aimed to offer a general overview of the matter (Amato 2006; Hernàndez Reyes 2008; Castello, Scilabra 2015) and researches that focused on specific subjects, such as Pellitteri’s publications concerning Go Nagai’s Mazinger saga (Pellitteri 2008, id. 2009), Theisen’s analysis of Osamu Tezuka’s Aporo no uta (Theisen 2011), and my own researches about the use of Classics as a metaphor for otherness (Scilabra 2015) and about the representation of Greco-Roman characters within the contemporary Japanese society (Scilabra, forthcoming).

7 Pellitteri 2008, p. XVI-XVII.

8 The word mangaka itself, with its suffix – ka indicates a total mastership of manga production, thus including both drawing and narrating. On the world of mangakas inside the Japanese industry see McCarthy 2006, p. 14.

9 For an exhaustive review of different genres see: Ito 2008, p. 36, 38; Norris 2009, p. 238–240; Bryce, Davis 2010, p. 34–61.

10 Bryce, Davies 2012, p. 35. This manga was also turned into an anime aired in 1988 (Clements, McCarthy 2012, p. 76–77). A further analysis of this work can be found in Scilabra, forthcoming.

11 For an analysis of the use of Classics in this work see Scilabra, forthcoming. This manga was also turned into an anime, broadcasted in 1981 (God Mars: Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 240–241). About its author, it is worth remembering that he was one of the most prolific authors of his generation and created the first giant robot of the story of Japanese comics production (with his work Tetsuijin 28-Gō, published in 1956: see Drummond-Mathews 2010, p. 68).

12 Scilabra, forthcoming; about the animated version of this work see Clements, McCarthy 2012, p. 240–241; on the use of classics in this work, see also Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 185–186.

13 On Hiwaaki Hitoshi’s world and production see Kinsella 2010, p. 189–190.

14 About the use of history in Yasuhiko Yashizazu’s production, that includes also titles about Asiatic history, see O ‘Dwyer 2013, p. 123–126.

15 This manga is actually a little understated in literature, even though at present it represents one of the most interesting results of the process of reception and reconstruction of Classics in the Japanese comics production. Further reflections about it can be found in Scilabra, forthcoming.

16 Heinze 2012.

17 On the reception of classics in Mishima’s production see Cardi 2015, p. 163–166.

18 About this matter see the considerations presented by Gravett 2004, p. 98; Schodt 2014, p. 291–292.

19 Schodt 1983, p. 63; Drummond-Mathews 2010, p. 63; Brainbridge, Norris 2010, p. 243; Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 180.

20 Clements 2013, p. 150.

21 For a short history of this ancient Japanese tradition see McGowan 2015, p. 13–24.

22 Bouissou 2010, p. 25–26.

23 About this interesting work see Foster 2008, p. 166–169.

24 On this mangas see Power 2008, p. 20–23, 105–106, 123–126, 171.

25 Theisen 201, p. 64–70.

26 Some reflections about the reception of Classics in the animated version can be found in Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 179–180.

27 Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 180.

28 Triton made its first appearance in Fantastic Four #45, printed in December 1965. His creators are Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

29 Gardner 2008, p. 201–204. On the use of these topics in contemporary manga and anime dealing with classical themes see also Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 181 ; Scilabra 2015, p. 106–107.

30 See above, note 25. On the animated version of this work see also Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 180–181.

31 Yunico, volume 1, chapter 0: Venus lives in a temple and wears Greek-alike clothes; Psyche is represented as the most beautiful girl, loved by everybody, Eros is a mischievous child that goes around with his arrows causing people to fall in love, etc. It all takes place in an environment that Tezuka clearly classifies as classics, characterized by a somehow arcadic ambience, with temples, etc. that a reader would imagine to be in ancient Greece.

32 See above.

33 Go Nagai’s trilogy has been the object of interesting studies that underlined the political message of the mangaka’s work (Pellitteri 2008, p. 155–158, 251–276; id. 2009); see also Di Fratta 2000, p. 132–143; for a deeper analysis of the use of Classical characters in these saga see Scilabra 2015, p. 99–105.

34 On the use of the Mycenaean history in the modern construction of myth see Carlà, Freitag 2015.

35 Di Fratta 2000, p. 60; Pellitteri 2008, p. 158–160.

36 Scilabra 2015, p. 103–104.

37 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 489.

38 Castello, Scilabra 2015, p. 183–184.

39 About the use of didactic notes in manga involving classical themes see Scilabra, forthcoming.

40 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 161.

41 Clements, McCarthy 2006, p. 315.

42 Gardner 2008, p. 201–204. About this manga and its main character see also Hairston 2010, p. 175–176.

Auteur

Università di Torino