Two weeks ago, I attended this particular lecture on the canon of Western Literature. According to the lecturer, the Western Literature Canon is a way for writers and readers to read intelligible books that reflect the progress of humanity. It is a list of books that, you may say, have changed the world. Wow. They are chosen not because they are the most popular but rather because these are the books that, as I mentioned in that discussion, if humanity gets wiped out and most likely not a human was left and our only legacy to visiting aliens is a treasure box containing the books that best represent humanity, then the canon would best represent humanity. Before I even venture (which I really shouldn’t, unless I’m in front of my Philosophy teacher) into how these books represent humanity and their transcendence, what really struck my head was the idea of a canon for manga. Could we come up a list of mangas that would best represent humanity and the manga genre? Another interesting question would be… what good would a manga canon bring? Does the world of manga need one?
Some said that the canon is a great way to know what to read and what not to read. We are actually drowned in the number of manga titles we see everyday. Today, I went to the bookshop and just crossed a lot of English-translated mangas. Each weekend, I visit Bk1 to check on some latest mangas coming out and I am suggested with a long list of new mangas that I’m interested in. Honestly, I’m quite overwhelmed with the volume of mangas in the market. Just remembering that manga list in BK1 reminds me how little I’ve read. Nonetheless, with the range of mangas available to us, it’s so difficult to pinpoint what’s really nice and what’s not. Sometimes we cross a manga with great art but a really pathetic story line. Sometimes, we take a giant leap and buy a manga of substandard art only to realize that it is one of the best love stories ever told. Even as a regular manga reader, everyday I’m baffled with leaps of faith often finding this sampling of mangas as a stroke of luck. Some days they’re great. Most of the times, they’re not. Is there a way for us to know what are the greatest mangas out there? If so, how do we gauge them!? Do we go by genre? Art? Do we go by what was popular during their time? Or, should we also place ourselves, like the literary critics of the West, in a thinking chair and start pondering on what were the greatest manga stories ever told? These selected stories will represent this aspect of Japanese culture. They shape and influence upcoming mangakas who dream of getting their stories told.
Honestly, it is quite a bold task. Like literature, the world of Japanese manga has a very inclusive aspect to it. It will have lots of dimensions, from the traditional to the cosmopolitan, from the religious to the atheist, from the dreamer and to the hopeless. With the world of manga as wide as Japanese literature, you can also think of how the art in manga is also another aspect to it. Will you consider style of the art alone or will you look at the fusion of both the tale and the art? Will you take those Tokyo Punch comics of old? Or will you start with Ozamu Tezuka?
As I look at my shelf and how strangely embarassing it is in comparison to the list of titles that are now erupting in my head as what should be in the canon, I thought that maybe having a manga canon is a great idea. As learned from the discussion of Western Literature Canon, it’s a great way to institute standards on stories. Simply put, it could save us from intellectual stagnation. Having a canon challenges writers to create a story that could change the world of manga forever. More so, it serves as a standard to perhaps, keep us away from those raunchy sex-infused shoujo stories. The idea of a canon for manga leaves a great aftertaste in my mouth. If I had a chance to make one, what would I put in it? What would you put if you had a chance to make up your manga canon???????(????????????????) Quite a difficult task. You can’t even figure where to start.