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Establishment stops fighting comic-book culture

JAPAN

AFTER years of trying to wean the nation's young off comics the establishment has finally relented. Along with the rest of the country it plans to embrace the "manga" culture.

Like Pokemon, nearly all Japan-inspired games graphics and characters started life as comic book-style manga cartoons that fill millions of magazines the size of telephone directories.

The market is worth an astonishing 540 billion yen (pound;314m). Latest figures show that at least 133 million copies of more than 100 titles are sold to adults and children.

Now a government White Paper is extolling the virtues of the massively popular genre calling it a "powerful representation of our times".

Manga cartoons follow the usual comic-book format, but look nothing like their American or UK counterparts. The stereotype is of fantastically-bearded characters with enormous eyes, familiar to anyone who has seen a Japanese fantasy game. The art itself varies from the mainstream sentimental - saucer-like eyes full of stars and drippy backgrounds - to weird and violent images.

Manga energy has overflowed to computer games, graphics and animation. But manga remains an esoteric oddity to most westerners although successful comics have inspired celuloid heroes such as TV's Marine Boy, Astroboy and Pokemon.

"There is a wide variety of manga some of which can be philosophical and can be a good influence on children, but others tend to emphasise outmoded sexual stereotypes," said marketing consultant Yuka Kaneko.

The education ministry also noted that some universities have set up degrees on "mangaology" in recognition of its status. Experts believe that even more Japanese textbooks will now be published in manga form. There are already several available on the national curriculum including classics such as the Tales of Genji. Tokyo's Kokugakuin University is using a manga law text, and Kyoto Seika University wants to set up a department to train illustrators.

Meanwhile, there are still worries over some extreme manga and their influence on young minds. An alleged teenage killer told investigators that a manga$$$$$$$ comic gave him the idea to bludgeon to death members of his school baseball team with a baseball bat.

Police said the 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, confessed it was "Yamikaryudo", a story from the late 80s about a would-be comic artist teenager who leads a double life as an assassin-for-hire that motivated the attack.

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