Manga Mon Amour: On the French passion for Japanese anime
PARIS – When I was in sixth grade, Cartoon Network aired episodes of the TV show Code Lyoko almost everyday around 3pm I was a loyal fan – I watched pretty much every day when I got home from school.
In the show, a group of teenagers engage in a virtual battle against a virus-like artificial intelligence force that threatens to wreak havoc in the physical world. If I had to categorize it, I would loosely place it in the “anime-influenced western animation series” box. Little informed as I was, I had simply assumed that the series was a true Japanese anime, when in reality it was a French animated television series. Fast forward a decade: I had just moved to the Paris area and started working as an English teacher in college. Around halfway through the day, it was time for free reading. As I was telling my students to get their reading material out, I was struck by the fact that, one by one, virtually all of them released the same thing: Manga.
This mainstream status in France surprised me after my experience in an American college, where being a fan of manga (or anime) was generally frowned upon. If you were looking to gain popularity, your favorite book might be the Sorority of travel pants, or the Ugly series. The manga was more of a niche interest and, as such, was often seen as “bizarre,” perhaps indicating some latent xenophobia. And yet here are my French students – those who yearn for freshness and wallflowers – avidly leafing through their copies of Demon slayer Where A play.
Of course, in recent years, anime and manga have become more popular in the United States. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Michael B Jordan are open fans, much to the chagrin of those who hate the idea of the genre being overtaken by “normies”. But in France, the story is quite different. Anime and manga are extremely popular and have long held a special place in them, as a recent article by The world.
“You just have to look up and you will see it everywhere in the school,” Solal, a 16-year-old high school student in Brittany, told the French daily. “Tons of people wear cartoon-inspired t-shirts or sweaters. Some people even have phone cases with characters from their favorite series, while others can be a bit more low-key and just have cartoons on their computer screen. “
The manga has actually gone beyond the traditional comic book style, becoming the most popular comic book sold in France.
France is in fact ranked second among consumers of manga outside of Japan. And it’s a love story that goes back decades, to 1978 to be precise, when it first appeared on public television as an after-school series.
Young viewers tapped into the public television channel of a production group called Club Dorothée to watch series such as Grendizer Where Maya the Bee. These low budget shows would pave the way for well-known shows like Dragon balland Sailor moon. Interestingly, the anime as a genre originally encountered a backlash, as opponents decried the genre’s tendency to over-sexualize the characters and portray too much gore and violence. And yet in some ways the bad press served to make the anime more popular, and as the anime took off, so did the manga.
France was already fertile ground for the manga market given its rich history of graphic novels, or as they are called in French: comics (BD for short). Cultural phenomena like The Adventures of Tintin (1929) and Asterix (1959) left their mark on generations of French people, some in France even qualifying comics as “9th Art”. Each year, France hosts the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the second comic strip festival in Europe and the third in the world, after the Comiket festival in Japan. Several French government officials attend the event each year, and in 2019 Franck Riester, a former Minister of Culture, even gave a speech where he compared the importance of the Comic Strip Festival to that of the Festival de Cannes at the cinema.
France was already fertile ground for the manga market given its rich history of graphic novels – Photo: Visual / ZUMA Wire
So converting to manga wasn’t such a big demand for a culture that was already in love with comics. But in 2005, the manga surpassed the traditional comic book style, becoming the most popular comic sold in France. And as manga and anime took hold of France, the French began to create their own comics and series – French-style. Publishers who have sought to create manga “à la française”, or Manfras, tend to feature artwork inspired by Japanese manga while sometimes featuring left-to-right reading styles or incorporating a bandaged design-hard cover style. Their popularity is also growing, both in France and in Japan, as evidenced by the success of Radiant, a French comic strip written and illustrated by Tony Valente, and published by Ankama, the French entertainment company.
Satoko Inaba, editorial director of the publishing house, said Glénat The world that publishing houses have been inundated with requests for publication in this style. “We have loads of projects coming up,” he said.
It’s here that Code Lyoko, the show that caught my eye so much as an 11-year-old fits in perfectly. Created by French animators Thomas Romain and Tania Palumbo, the show’s illustrative style is a tribute to the iconography and drawing style of the manga, even though it is presented through 3D CGI animation. But the imagery is simultaneously inspired by scenes from the Paris region, from a Renault production plant in Boulogne-Billancourt to a high school in Sceaux.
Code Lyoko represents how manga and anime, adapted with a few French twists, triumphed in France – even to the point of being teleported to living rooms in the United States, where the show dazzled at least one curious (and unsuspecting) college student, who could hardly have imagined that she would one day live in Paris.
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