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Manga in Chinese

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Title: The Cat Returns and Spirited Away
Author: Hiroyuki Morita, Aoi Hiiragi, Hayao Miyazaki
Year: 2002, 2001

Recently, I’ve been reading less manga in Chinese than I intended, but I’ve still managed to finish a couple of them. This post will be a joint account of two of them, both adapted from Studio Ghibli movies, namely The Cat Returns and Spirited Away.

To start with, I think the basic idea is a bit cheap and feels mostly like a strategy to wring some more money from an already exhausted concept. They have basically taken frames from the movies and printed them, together with the subtitles and some added phonetic symbols to denote specific sounds (although these are in Japanese and thus meaningless to me). So, the Cat Returns is not the manga on which the movie is based, but a manga based on the movie (which in turn is based on a manga).

However, the two stories involved are quite good. Spirited Away is a movie dear to my heart and I’ve watched it many times, each with great appreciation. The Cat Returns is new to me, but reading this manga made me want to watch the movie. It tells the story of a young girl who saves a cat from being run over, but it’s no ordinary cat, but one with connections in the kingdom of the cats. Before she really understand what’s going on, she is being spirited away to their kingdom and more or less forcefully married to the king. A simple but fascinating tale.

As I’ve stated before, reading manga in Chinese is a great way to learn the language, mostly because it grants me access to spoken Chinese in a written form, which is a lot easier to study without help and a lot easier to analyse. I hope I will be able to get hold of interesting manga even after I go back to Sweden, but it will definitely be more difficult than now.

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Title: 聖克麗歐學園
English title: Afterschool Charisma
Author: 末包 久美子 (Kumiko Suekane)
Year: 2009+

Having finished Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack, I continued reading the next manga I borrowed from the same friend. Afterschool Charisma is something quite different, coming closer to the stereotype of Japanese comics: high school drama. However, if it was a pure drama, I very much doubt both that my friend would have recommended it to me, and that I would have liked it.

The twist in this story is that all the characters are young clones of famous people throughout history, including Hitler, Curie, Nightingale and Freud. Among them is a single student who is an ordinary human, the head master’s son, although nobody really knows what role he plays.

The story of the two volumes I’ve read so far focus on some intrigues on the school itself (Beethoven commits suicide and Curie wants to play the piano instead of being a scientist), but the overall plot centres on the question of predestination after one of the first to graduate from the clone school, John F. Kennedy, is assassinated just like his progenitor. Will the other students follow his fate or can they create their own destinies?

Afterschool Charisma is a lot easier to follow than Black Jack, probably because the story is more straightforward and perhaps also a bit more childish. I don’t know for what age groups these two are aimed, but it feels like this is for younger readers. That doesn’t mean that it’s boring, but I feel that a little it too much time is spent on idle dialogue without anything really interesting happening. After two volumes, some interesting social things have happened, but the overall story has just barely begun.

I might read more in this series if it’s convenient to get hold of the books, but I’m not going to get out of my way to do it. Still, as was the case with Black Jack, this is really good for my Chinese, at the same time as it’s at least moderately entertaining.

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Title: 怪醫黑傑克:特別篇
Original title:
English title:Black Jack
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Tezuka Productions
Year: 1973

Comic books often receive scorn from parents and the elder generation because they are inferior to “real” books when it comes to teaching a language. However, as a grown-up studying a foreign language, I’ve found out that comics is very useful. It’s true that the language is less formal, but that presents me with a rare opportunity to study spoken Chinese in written form.

I didn’t so much choose this book, it was recommended and lent to me by a friend. I had heard the name of Osame Tezuka before (in the Wikipedia article about him, he’s likened to the Wald Disney of Japan, the father of manga), but I had never watched or read anything by him. The shadowy and unlicensed doctor Black Jack is one of his more well-know characters and this book is a collection of short episodes relating to him and his life. It mostly consists of weird or special cases where people need medical attention but cannot hire legal doctors. Black Jack is called in and with a grim face and some dark humour he does his job expertly, demands heaps of cash (although it’s unclear what he want to do with all the money) and then tries to untangle himself from whatever situation that led him to be hired in the first place. The stories are quite serious, but a nice touch is that Tezuka more often than not manages to be quite funny or at least add details that make me smile.

Although I don’t think this book is bad, it’s probaly the wrong end to start. I would have preferred longer stories with more coherence, so perhaps I should have taken a look at the series instead (which wasn’t available to me at the time, however). This book, and perhaps most others similar to it, fits in a neglected nische in my language learning and as such, it’s highly appreciated. Still, I do think I could find manga that are more suited to my taste and personality, but Black Jack was still a good first try. Expect me to review lots more manga translated into Chinese in the future. If I can find series or authors I really like, this is a veritable gold mine, a combination of entertainment and language learning!

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