I was on a manga-related forum a while back, where there was this guy giving it the usual lip about how “western comics” were failing because they’re “all superheroes”, and how manga is “succeeding” because it “has variety”. He went on to astound us with the amazing news that in Japan, there’s “even NAVAL MANGA”.
Of course, we know that’s complete nonsense. In fact, here’s a completely non-Japanese NAVAL MANGA I bought only a few weeks ago:
Which is actually a 25 year old reprint, but Commando can theoretically produce brand new NAVAL MANGA at any time.
Of course, the British comics industry (when somebody can be bothered to invest the millions it needs to make it worthy of such a name again) could do better. For instance, while we do have NAVAL MANGA, we don’t have a 400 page monthly anthology ABOUT CATS.
Nekopanchi, issue 73, October 2012
Nekopanchi seems to literally mean “Cat Punch”. One of the first ‘modern’ Japanese humour magazines was Japan Punch, a Japanese(ish) version of the british Punch magazine which was produced by immigrants. For a while afterwards “western style” cartoon illustrations (as opposed to funny Ukyo-e pictures) were actually called “Ponchi-e”, cementing the magazine as a solid phase of Japanese cultural history. Which may be the inspiration for the name Nekopanchi.
The issue opens, as is customary, with a colour section. First of all with an unsullied, and signed, reproduction of the cover illustration (more comics ought to do this, if they’re going to bury their covers under a million neon-coloured blurbs. And that goes for Japan and the UK!).
On the back is this, Either a slightly-blurred photo, or an AMAZING painting. I can’t quite tell. The background suggests it’s a photo, but the cats don’t look quite right to me.
The strips themselves appear to be a mixture of short comedy strips and longer instalments of advenure serials. Except they’re all ABOUT CATS (did I mention that?).
The lead story in this issue (though the order probably cycles, as is typical in Japanese comics. Even Naruto isn’t always at the front of Shonen Jump!) is called Kizutora Neko no Koume-chan. No idea what “Kizutora” is, but “Neko” is Cat, and -chan implies the name of somebody young and/or female, so presumably it’s about a cat called Koume. The story itself appears to be a kind of light-hearted soap, featuring one family, and the cat’s experience of what is happening. I suspect all of the cat’s dialogue is along the lines of “FEED ME, INFERIOR BEINGS”. This is followed by a more cartoonish story about the same cat going into a forest and having a meeting with other cats. Presumably about how to make humans work harder.
Our mouths are A’s
This story also features cats meeting in a forest, but appears to be a bit more ‘serious’ (and is brilliantly drawn). It appears to be set in a fantasy world based on the Edo period, where cats and humans can talk to each other, and some sort of giant goblins also exist. Oh and the cats appear to be led by a dematerialising giant monk. Or maybe he is Buddah himself.
This spread shows a couple of short gag strips commonly known as “yon koma”. No doubt “the faithful” insist that these are an ancient Japanese tradition, steeped in the mysteries of the orient and passed down through the generations from father to son. In fact they are exactly the same as newspaper strips like Dilbert, just vertical. They were probably originally inspired by cartoons in… Japan Punch! Because foreigners care more about British comics than the British do. There’s also an apparently complete story about a couple who are seemingly being kept apart by a “ghost” linked to an evil dragon statue, but a cat is able to see and fight the ghost XD.
This one is called Last Boss, and appears to be about a scarred cat who fights other cats for control of the neighbourhood. There’s also a small kitten who dares to stand up to those terrifying monsters called “swans”.
This story appears to be about a police cat who helps a woman to solve crimes. Later on it even gets it’s own uniform! Of course, her superiors aren’t impressed to begin with, but then the cat appears to pick out a suspect who (I suppose) is shocked into confessing that he really did it.
Some more gag strips, and a short story which appears to be about a very cute, small stray kitten that decides it wants to be adopted by some people, so just stands in their garden and refuses to leave. I’ve seen that before!
cha cha cha cha
More gag strips, this time with very simple, big-eyed artwork.
I beleive that gate is one leading to a temple near Tokyo Tower
Another story which is like a cat experiencing a soap opera. Except this time the ghost of an old artist is involved! The artwork is very good, though the people are drawn in an 80’s-looking style. Could it be a reprint from that time? It’s not out of the question for there to have been cat-related comics back then too! Japan’s comic industry is just the absolute best. Nobody in other countries should rest until their own is as good (though that does not, of course, mean mindlessly copying “the manga style” and complacently assuming it will fly off the shelves).
This is also marks the 6th anniversary of Nekopanchi, so there is a short article with several drawings (perhaps sent in by readers) to celebrate. Could you imagine such a “focused” comic lasting 6 years here? It’s hardly guaranteed even The Phoenix will! Still, though Nekopanchi is monthly, it’s actually quite small (by Japanese standards). The pages are about the size of reprint books, and most monthlies have 6-700 pages, or more.
Oh yeah, that book is about a dog detective XD
You may be wondering if there’s a similar comic about dogs (or ABOUT DOGS, even). Some people who know a little Japanese may even be thinking about looking out for an “Inupanchi” next time they go there. Well actually the dog-based equivalent is not called Inupanchi (or “Dog Punch”) but Wanpanchi (or “Woof Punch”).
“You’re biting my ear”
I’ll keep my eyes open for that next time, perhaps. Not that I can really read any of this stuff, and my next visit to Japan is likely to be the last, so I might never actually be bothered to learn the language properly.
Anyway, by way of comparison, here’s a couple of looks at British stories which are also about animals.
Nibbles, from the 1976 Beezer Book (which I actually bought when I was a kid in the 90’s, and read over and over! Far more entertaining than the annuals I had then) is a fantastically-drawn tale about a red squirrel who saves a boy after he falls down the stairs, by attracting the attention of the neighbours.
Daring Adventures for Boys is a book from the 20’s or 30’s with a lot of stories that are told from an animal’s point of view. Most of these stories result in the animal being killed by human hunters. I did actually wonder if the book was more modern than it appeared, and had been written by some animal rights organisation, but another story is about a black boy coming to a boarding school and ‘daring’ to be a better boxer than the white champion.