Monday, 5 November 2012

Western Fairy Tales in Manga


Western Fairy Tales in Manga

In the spirit  - Here is me Mangafied!

What’s Manga?  

Literally translated Manga means, ‘whimsical sketches’ – and it is the name for Japanese graphic novels and comics. Manga became prevalent in the post WWII Japan; believed to have been born with the publication of  Osamu Tezuka's, ‘Mighty Atom’ or ‘Astro Boy’ in 1951. 

The Manga I read is Shōjo Manga, which dates back to 1969 when a group of women manga artists known as ‘Year 24, debuted their Shōjo Manga’s, which is largely manga by women for women.

I was a late comer to Manga but have became a fan and at some points an addict when my mother (yes you read that right – my MOTHER) introduced me to ‘Fruits Basket’ by Natsuki Takaya. Since then I've read many Shōjo Manga series, being an artist and writer I'm drawn to the way story is delivered by both the illustrations and text working together as one entity.  For stories where text is used frugally they pull you in with concepts, story arcs, characterization, and quality of writing to rival any well penned novel.

One thing that I have noticed, is that every Manga series I have read references WESTERN fairy tales. Of course they reference Japanese and also Chinese folktales and mythologies, but there seems to be an abundance of western fairy tales coming through too. So I thought I'd talk about how the Shojo Manga use western fairy tales, starting with Tachibana Higuchi's, ‘Gakuen Alice.’  In future blogs I will  talk about ‘Fruits Baskets’ by Natsuki Takaya, and ‘Grimms Manga’ by Ishiyama Kei.



Gauken Alice or Alice Academe is about Miikan a 10 year old girl who travels to Tokyo to the Alice Academe in search of her best friend Hotaru. When she arrives Mikan finds that the Academe is a school for ‘gifted’ children who have superpowers called Alices.’  Mikan becomes enrolled as she too has a powerful alice, and soon discovers that the academe is much more sinister than it seems.  

The Gakuen Alice books use a lot of western fairy tales, in addition to an on-going,  ‘Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass’ theme. The reason for the’ Alice in Wonderland’ references is probably due to the shared Alice in title, but is used repeatedly throughout the series, for example the front covers of every book refers to, Alice Looking Glass, as each character in framed in a mirror.   In addition many of the characters costumes are also Alice in Wonderland themed emulating Alice’s iconic pinafore dress or have white-rabbits hats or even have playing card motifs.

In book 3 chapter 12, the cover illustration has Hotaru and Mikan outside a house made of sweets, and then later in the chapter Mikan puts on a performance of ‘The Little Match Girl’ to earn money to buy sweets. 



Then again in Book 5 chapter 23 the main characters do a play called, ‘The Sleeping Snow White in the Woods.’ The play has a mash up of Grimm’s fairy tales, (with a boy playing the princess) yet still preserves many of elements that construct western fairy tales.


With in the series the use of the western fairy tales puts Mikan again and again in the place of the poor fairy tale hero, having to overcome poverty and  adversity with just her wit. This is a clever reflection of Mikan's adventures throughout the series, where she is the poorest and most resented student within the school. Mikan character is also very much in accordance with western fairy tale heroines, she is naive, good natured, kind  and hard working yet suppressed by those who fear her.

The Gakuen Alice book’s are still being translated so I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the series to see what other fairy tale delights are in stall for Mikan and her friends.


I hope you enjoyed reading this blog, and do comeback and read the other blogs in the series. Also I'm hoping to do more research about Western Fairy Tale in Manga, so if you can think of any examples, please let me know by leaving a comment , thanks!

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