Last month I posted an essay titled The Cultural Cross-Pollination of Shōjo Manga in which I argued that the work of young comics creators in North America has increasingly come to demonstrate narrative and visual allusions to shōjo manga.

Such influences are readily on display in the Artist Alleys at anime conventions, which I illustrated in an earlier post on fan comics at the Los Angeles Anime Expo. Transformative works based on anime and manga are obviously drawn to reflect the artistic conventions employed in these media, as are the majority of the original comics distributed at anime conventions.

What about comics conventions that aren’t directly connected to anime and manga?

This past May, I had the opportunity to travel to Canada to attend the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), one of the largest and most prominent gatherings of small comics presses and independent comics creators in North America (others include the MoCCA Arts Festival in New York and the Small Press Expo just outside of Washington DC). On the day I attended, the venue was absolutely packed with fans and creators, and there were tons of references and homages to manga to be seen.

The most high-profile celebrations of manga culture at the TCAF came in the form of two special guests from Japan, the contemporary alternative manga posterchild Taiyo Matsumoto and the god of bara (male/male) manga Gengoroh Tagame, both of whom were enthusiastically welcomed. Established and well respected comics publishers such as Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly also actively promoted their releases of translated manga.

In addition, the TCAF was bursting with self-published comics of all shapes and sizes, and I’d like to share my scans of the covers of some of the manga-influenced work I had the great fortune to get my hands on while I was there.

Destroy Rape Culture

Destroy Rape Culture, by Starchild Stela
In which the Sailor Senshi encourage you to smash the patriarchy.

Magical Beatdown

Magical Beatdown, by Jenn Woodall
In which a magical girl beats the everloving crap out of street harassment.
(This comic is brilliant and should win the next Nobel Prize for Literature. Sorry Murakami.)

How to Make a Magic Wand

How to Make a Magic Wand, written by Chris Eng and illustrated by Jenn Woodall
A field guide to utterly decimating the sexist assholes in your life like a badass mahō shōjo.

Lacrimancer

Lacrimancer, by Jade F. Lee
I’m digging that Revolutionary Girl Utena realness.

Louisa Roy Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts, by Louisa Roy
Such gorgeous art, such lovely writing, such interesting research, so Rose of Versailles.

This Tastes Funny

This Tastes Funny, an anthology by the Suddenly Sentai collective
Stories about food with shōnen manga stylings.

No Scope

No Scope, by Sara Goetter
And let us not forget that video games are part of the manga media mix too.
(Sara Goetter’s RPG-inspired original comics are amazeballs, by the way.)

The Enemies of Twenty Something Mega Man

The Enemies of Twenty-Something Mega Man, published by The Devastator (NSFW)
They also have a book about otaku, but it’s too close to home and it hurts.

This is the standard disclaimer that the work posted above is not universally representative and is subject to my own taste and resources. If I have misrepresented an artist, or if you are an artist who wants any links or images removed, please let me know.

Nicolle Lamerichs, in a 2013 essay titled The Cultural Dynamic of Doujinshi and Cosplay: Local Anime Fandom in Japan, USA and Europe, writes:

I argue that anime fandom is not easily understood as a global phenomenon but rather is composed of different, heterogeneous values and communities. The local iterations of cosplay and doujinshi, which may seem homogeneous activities, are read as manifestations that are firmly anchored in particular traditions. (156)

Essentially, the fan practices and productions on display in anime conventions are different in different countries. Lamerichs readily points out that this has less to do with any sort of “national character” and more to do with the fact that “these fan cultures are individual events with their own ecologies” (158). Nevertheless, Lamerichs argues that, in comparison with Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands, American anime conventions exhibit “a very different tendency towards prints and hand-made drawings rather than full-fledged comics” (161).

Lamerichs is absolutely not wrong, but I would like to respond by positing that online communities primarily used for fannish artistic production and consumption, such as Tumblr, DeviantART, and Pixiv (along with many mirrors, offshoots, webcomic serialization platforms, and independently run artistic collectives), have put not just individuals but fannish cultural norms into closer contact with one another during the past several years. Among other things, this trend has led to an explosion of anime-inspired comics and fan comics at anime conventions in the United States.

I picked up a suitcase full of these comics at the Los Angeles Anime Expo this past 4th of July weekend, and I’d like to share some of them here in order to document this change. Independent artists had tables in the main Exhibition Hall and in the smaller Artist Alley section, but both areas are huge, and I’m not entirely certain I was able to cover the entire floor. Also, as much as I would have liked to buy everything I saw, my financial resources were limited. What I am posting here should therefore not be considered a representative sample. Furthermore, while I am focusing on fan comics based on well-known existing media properties, the reader should keep in mind that there was a great deal of original work available as well.

Without further ado, here are the scans I made of self-printed fan comics from Anime Expo 2015. Click on any of the thumbnails to see a larger image.

Ending to Naruto

The 100% True and #Confirmed Ending to Naruto by Kelly (on Tumblr)
based on the shōnen franchise Naruto

And Steven

…And☆Steven! by Mike Luckas (on Tumblr)
based on the Cartoon Network animated series Steven Universe

Tomoyo's Secret Diary

Tomoyo’s Secret Diary, edited by Yuj Lee (on Tumblr)
based on the shōjo manga and anime Cardcaptor Sakura

Pokémon Cross Breeds

Pokémon Cross Breeds, by Nathan Nguyen (on Tumblr)
based on the Pokémon series of video games

Artisan Ordinance

Artisan Ordinance, edited by MERODii (on DeviantART)
based on the video game Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Bubbline

Bubbline, edited by Schnekk (on Tumblr)
based on the Cartoon Network animated series Adventure Time

Shimotsuma Zine

Shimotsuma Zine, edited by FANGRRLZ (on Tumblr)
based on the novel and film Kamikaze Girls

I Will Always Be Here

I Will Always Be Here, by Karen and Britney (on Tumblr)
based on the animated Disney film Big Hero 6

In addition, there were several cool fan comics and comic anthologies based on the Marvel cinematic universe drawn or edited by Krusca (on Tumblr), and I also came across a cool book based on the manga of CLAMP put together by Lärienne (on DeviantART), GYRHS (on DeviantART), and Samantha Gorel (on DeviantART).

All of these books are *amazing.*

If I have misidentified an artist or editor, or if you are an artist or editor and would like me to remove or update any links or images, please let me know! I have nothing but admiration and respect for people who self-publish their art and comics, and I don’t want to misrepresent or appropriate anyone’s work. Stay awesome!

Ground Zero Nagasaki

Title: Ground Zero, Nagasaki
Japanese Title: 爆心 (Bakushin)
Author: Seirai Yūichi (青来 有一)
Translator: Paul Warham
Publication Year: 2014 (America); 2006 (Japan)
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Pages: 182

Although Seirai is a relative newcomer to the Japanese literary scene, having won the Akutagawa Prize for his story collection Seisui (Holy Water) in 2001, he was born in 1958 and was 47 years old when Ground Zero, Nagasaki was first published in November 2006. Although its stories are all set in contemporary Japan, Ground Zero, Nagasaki is deeply engaged with themes of personal and historical legacy.

Each of the six stories in this collection is about the physical and emotional damage suffered by Christians living in Nagasaki in the wake of the atomic bombing. The memory of the atomic bomb is extremely subtle in most of the stories, but it’s never completely absent. Even more powerful than any real or imagined trauma generated by the bomb, however, are the moral dictates of Christianity, which demands that its adherents bear witness to suffering.

The second story, “Stone,” is narrated from the perspective of the brother of a Diet member who is being forced to resign from office because he hired his girlfriend as his secretary. While his brother is giving a talk to local business association at a hotel in Nagasaki, the narrator, a 45-year-old man who calls himself “Adam,” waits in the lobby, where he is approached by a female journalist named Shirotani. Adam is on the autism spectrum, and his conversation with Shirotani is almost frustratingly elliptic.

It gradually becomes clear that Adam’s mother is dying. She has sent Adam to intercept his brother in order to ask that the politician care for him, as he can’t live by himself. Shirotani, who has a brother like Adam, is sympathetic, but the author does not allow this story to become sentimental. Instead, the reader is hit with the full force of Adam’s sexual attraction as he fantasizes about the journalist: “If she wouldn’t marry me, at least I could carry her smell around with me. I would bury my face in her panties and inhale her woman’s scent to my heart’s content” (33). Adam’s mother has punished him for such thoughts in the past, asking him how he could dare to entertain such un-Christian notions “‘after our ancestors went to the stake with pure thoughts and prayers on their lips'” (32).

Adam’s brother Kutani is caught in a the grips of a similar moral vise. He entered politics for the most noble of reasons: to ensure that a doctrine of peace was represented at the highest levels of the Japanese government. The woman with whom he has cheated on his wife had come to him looking for a job after her husband’s family cast her out with her newborn son, who was born severely handicapped. Kutani explains to Adam that he initially wanted to help her as he wants to help all of his constituents, but that he couldn’t help falling in love with her. He says: “‘As long as I had her in my arms, nothing else mattered. Even if war had broken out and nuclear bombs were exploding all over the world, I probably wouldn’t have cared'” (41). His adherence to Christian doctrine, which has guided him along his path as a politician, allows no leeway for his identity as an individual. His affair with his secretary is merely an indication of a deeper emotional dissonance that has also estranged him from his mother and brother, who need him to be a person instead of a politician.

As Kutani struggles with his conscience in the penthouse suite of the hotel where he will offer his resignation, his brother is overwhelmed by feelings he doesn’t understand. After Adam leaves the hotel, he is afraid that his body will turn to stone in response to the emotional overload as it has in earlier catatonic episodes triggered by stressful situations. The story ends with Adam begging God to not leave him alone without a family and without ever having experienced intimacy, his longing for comfort inseparable from his sexual desire.

Another story that I found especially trenchant is “Shells,” which is also told from the perspective of a highly unreliable narrator. Six months ago, the narrator’s daughter Sayaka suddenly came down with a fever and ended up dying of a brain hemorrhage. Since then, he has become convinced that the ocean has been rising during the night, covering entire sections of the city and leaving behind cowrie shells and other assorted sea creatures in his highrise apartment. His delusions became so powerful and persistent that his wife has left him and his brother has placed him under outpatient psychiatric care.

While walking in his neighborhood one day, the narrator encounters an old man named Nagai who tells him that his late sister used to be friends of a sort with Sayaka. His sister had become senile, and the narrator’s daughter was the only one who would listen to her rambling stories. The narrator, overcome with gratitude, invites Nagai back to his apartment, where the old man tells him that his sister spent her entire life trying to forget the day of the atomic bomb, when she was forced to leave her siblings behind in a burning house as she fled with her mother. Nagai’s sister had once spoken to him about the sea of flames engulfing the city, saying, “‘I wish the sea would wash over it all,'” suggesting that she wished her memories would be washed away as well (146).

The narrator, who has his own fantasies of the sea, feels a connection with this woman, but he is terrified of losing his memories, specifically his memories of his daughter and the love he felt for her, which he describes as “the best and brightest, the truest feeling I have ever had” (117). He realizes that the shells that the ocean leaves behind for him every evening after the flood recedes are akin to physical manifestations of his memories, but this insight does not weaken his conviction that the city of Nagasaki sleeps under the waves every night. He tries to convince Nagai that his visions are real but fails. The story ends with his understanding that the saltwater coming in from the bay is not a purifying force like the Biblical deluge but rather indicative of a spiritual wasteland in which God allows the innocent to suffer and perish.

Obviously Ground Zero, Nagasaki is not light reading, and I found that I had to let a week or two pass between the stories, each of which stayed with me long after I had closed the book. Reading Seirai feels a lot like reading Ōe Kenzaburō, yet his style is pellucid where Ōe’s is confoundedly literary. Seirai’s narrators are not philosopher poets citing The Great European Male Thinkers in casual conversation, but this does not make them any less complex and compelling; their proximity to the mundane and mimetic “realness” serves to emphasize how the lasting reverberations of Nagasaki’s violent history have touched the lives of even the most unassuming of its citizens.

I would be remiss if I did not conclude this review by stating that Ground Zero, Nagasaki has the best book design I have seen in a long time. A faded image of the black circle on the cover, an inverse of the red rising sun of the Japanese flag, is on every page of the book, a reminder that the proverbial gross insult to human dignity in the room can never be ignored. Each chapter begins with a progressive series of diagrams illustrating how to fold an origami crane, indicating that somewhere inside this terrible mess is hope. These illustrations suggest that the reader, by sharing the experiences of these stories with the author, is in effect performing a symbolic act of prayer resembling the dedication of a chain of paper cranes to the atomic bomb victims. Kudos to designer Julia Kushnirsky!

Is Ground Zero, Nagasaki worth the $35 asking price for the hardcover? Yes, I think so.

Will the stories in this book be of interest to anyone outside of the academic field of Japanese literary studies? Absolutely. It’s not easy to read this book, but that’s a major part of what allows it to dig so deeply into the reader.

Review copy provided by Columbia University Press.

The Art Lover's Guide to Japanese Museums

Title: The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums
Author: Sophie Richard
Publication Year: 2014
Publisher: The Japan Society
Pages: 176

According to the good people at The Japan Society, art historian Sophie Richard’s The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums has been very popular, quickly selling out of its first print run. Between its convenience as a guide and its beauty as a physical object, it’s easy to understand why.

The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums is so titled because it’s aimed at serious art appreciators who are willing to go off the beaten path in order to visit smaller museums that offer a more personalized and intimate experience. Richard skips the large national institutions and instead highlights private or regional galleries that would be worthy of a day trip or that necessitate a willingness to venture off the beaten path in urban and suburban areas. Based on my personal experience with several of these museums, the trip will definitely be worth it.

The main body of the guide is divided into five sections: Tokyo, Around Tokyo, Kyoto Area, West, and East (with “West” designating the area from Osaka to Hiroshima and “East” designating the area from Nagoya to Aomori). 29 of the 52 museums profiled are in or around Tokyo. In some cases, a location “around Tokyo” might require a long train ride and an overnight stay, but most are well within the city limits or accessible by commuter rail.

Most of the entries are two pages long. Each opens with the museum’s address in English and Japanese and general information (hours, holidays, access, website). This is followed with three paragraphs of description. The content of varies but can include information about the museum’s history, the highlights of its collection, and the availability of English text or audio guides. The short “In the neighborhood” section at the end of every entry tempts the reader out into the open to take in the layout of the town, the local cuisine, nearby temples, and even other museums. Each entry also includes two or three full-color photographs of the museum space and representative works from its holdings. The occasional four-page entries are usually longer because of their inclusion of more pictures, all of which are gorgeous.

Even if you’re not planning on visiting Japan, browsing through The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums is still enjoyable, as Richard’s articulate prose guides the reader through the experience of visiting the galleries. For example, writing on the Chichu Art Museum designed by Andō Tadao, Richard offers this intriguing description:

The museum’s complex space includes passageways and stairs set at sharp angles and a courtyard with evergreen plants that contrast starkly with the grey concrete. The interior of the building is lit with natural light alone. At the heart of the museum, five monumental paintings by Claude Monet from the late Waterlilies series appear to float mysteriously in a serene space gently illuminated by the sun’s rays, which are diffused through channels in the ceiling. Security guards wearing futuristic white uniforms ask visitors to remove their shoes before entering the room, which adds to the compelling atmosphere.

As in the excerpt above, Richard does walkthroughs like Sherlock Holmes, albeit with less of an emphasis on dry facts and with more of an emphasis on atmosphere. If you’d prefer to travel from the comfort of your own sofa, Guide to Japanese Museums is a perfect companion.

Also included in the guide are a short “Introduction” in which the author explains her motivations for embarking on this project, an overview of “Museums in Japan,” a six-page essay on “Looking at Japanese art,” and a brief list of “Tips and advice.” These sections are useful regardless of whether you’re making plans to visit Japan or whether you’re already there. For instance, this is the first time I’ve heard of the Grutt Pass, a ¥2,000 booklet that provides one-time admission to several of the museums profiled in this guide.

I should add that Guide to Japanese Museums came with me across the North American continent twice during the past two months, and it’s still in pristine condition. The book is lightweight and flexible, and it can easily be slipped inside a backpack or a suitcase. If I couldn’t destroy it, it’s more than likely safe with you as well, so don’t feel as if you need to leave it on a shelf while you go and have adventures, whether those adventures are in Japan or at your local café.

Review copy provided by The Japan Society of the UK.

Link's Inventory

Many of the games in the Legend of Zelda series of video games re-enact versions of the same story, which is centered around the heroic Link saving the princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil Ganondorf. Due to the rarely challenged repetition of these plot elements, the Zelda series has become an archetypal example of what game critic Anita Sarkeesian has called “damseling,” or using the disempowerment of female characters as a motivation for the male player-protagonist. What do female players make of this story? Is it necessary to take the plot elements at face value, or are other interpretations possible? How do the games look from Zelda’s eyes?

To answer these questions, I’d like to investigate fan work based on the Zelda games from Canada, Australia, Japan, and the United States. I’m going to demonstrate how fannish creators deconstruct the damseling narrative common to the series and recombine its elements in ways that reflect larger conversations surrounding gender, culture, and media. I also argue that the activities of these artists and writers reflect a tendency in many fan cultures to view media properties not as passively consumable content but rather as templates from which more personalized and individually meaningful stories may be created.

First I’m going to introduce the series and explain why it’s important before zooming out and justifying critical interest in video games as a relatively recent storytelling medium. I will then examine a small sample of fanworks from several global territories. I’ll conclude with a broader discussion of international, internet-based fan cultures and their potential to shape and transform high-budget mainstream media at the local and at the global levels.

It's Dangeous To Go Alone

The Legend of Zelda series began in 1985, two years after Nintendo had released its home video game console, which it called the Famicom, a portmanteau of “Family Computer” (Famirī Konpyūta). In the United States, this piece of hardware is known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES for short. Miyamoto Shigeru, the creator of Nintendo’s iconic Mario character, the current senior executive director of Nintendo Corporation, and the general producer of the Zelda series, was then working on a new Super Mario Bros. game, but a disc system periphery for the Famicom was slated to be released soon. Miyamoto was thus asked to help develop a new title that would take advantage of the new technology, which allowed, among other things, the ability to “save” a game so that the player could return to a previous moment in her playthrough, preserving her progress even after the machine had been turned off. I’m going to summarize a long and interesting story by saying that the title that ultimately came out in 1986 is the original The Legend of Zelda (Zeruda no densetsu), which Miyamoto directed. The image above this paragraph is an iconic screen from early in the game in which your avatar character, Link, is given his first sword.

A sequel, titled The Adventure of Link (Rinku no bōken), was released the following year; and, in 1991, the third title in the series, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Zeruda no densetsu: Kamigami no Toraifōsu), became one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed games in the series. Lest you think that the game’s age has consigned it to obscurity, I want to assure you that it’s still being played and appreciated by the gaming community. To offer just one example of just how popular this game continues to be, the Game Grumps, a Let’s Play webseries hosted by Arin “Egoraptor” Hanson and Daniel “Danny Sexbang” Avidan, recently concluded a playthrough of A Link to the Past, and each of their videos received more than 200,000 views within the first 24 hours of being posted.

Aonuma Eiji

Despite the broad appeal and international success of these three games, the major turning point for the Zelda franchise came in 1998, when The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Zeruda no densetsu: Toki no okarina) was released for the N64, a home console whose upgraded 64-bit processor allowed for 3D graphics. Although Miyamoto produced Ocarina of Time, the game was directed by Aonuma Eiji (the adorable nerd pictured above), who had overseen a 1996 Sgame titled Marvelous: Another Treasure Island (Māverasu: Mō hitotsu no Takarajima) that was strongly influenced by the Zelda series. Aonuma has continued to be involved with every main Zelda title, in part because Ocarina of Time immediately attained an appropriately legendary status. Not only did it break records for video game preorders and first week sales in Japan, the United States, and Europe, but it also received perfect scores from game critics in publications such as Electronic Gaming Monthly, Famitsū, and Edge, as well as gaming websites such as GameSpot and IGN.

The Zelda series has continued to move from strength to strength across subsequent Nintendo consoles; and, having sold almost 75 million units worldwide, it’s one of the top twenty bestselling video game franchises. The Legend of Zelda isn’t quite as big as some of Nintendo’s other franchises, namely Super Mario and Pokémon, but it’s still well respected and can claim widespread brand name recognition. See, for example, Nintendo’s recent partnership to promote a series of concerts featuring symphonic arrangements of the music of the Zelda series through a select number of McDonald’s in the United States.

McDonald's Symphony of the Goddesses

So the Legend of Zelda is a big deal in the world of video games, but why should we care about video games? To my fellow gamers, this is a silly question, but it’s been raised in a number of academic contexts, so I might as well address it briefly here. To begin with, games make a ton of money, and they’re only making more as the market expands. At the end of 2013, the information technology research and advisory company Gartner valued the worldwide video game industry at US $93 billion, with a projected increase of at least US $10 billion for every subsequent year based on past performance. In other words, more people have been buying more games, and more types of games, with each passing month. To give a comparison, according to the professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers, the worldwide cinema industry generated a revenue of US $88.3 billion in 2013. Therefore, even if we consider nothing more than the revenue they pull in from eager consumers, video games are just as much of a cultural force as movies.

As with any such cultural juggernaut, video games are orbited by countless satellite media discourses and debates on the purpose, future, and validity of the medium. Many of the more recent and troubling of these discussions within the context of the English-language gaming community have been amalgamated under the moniker “Gamergate,” which has become shorthand for heated internet flamewars over the role of gender in video games and gaming cultures. It’s difficult to pinpoint the origins and spread of Gamergate, but an initial outpouring of vitriol was directed at Anita Sarkeesian, the founder of the media criticism website Feminist Frequency.

In May 2012, Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a video webseries titled “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” Sarkeesian was able to raise US $158,922 from 6,968 donors, but accompanying this incredible interest and support were death and rape threats from people on the internet who were angry that she was dragging her dirty feminism into the hallowed temple of their favorite video games. Such reactions, ridiculous though they seem to an outside observer, did not peter away but escalated; and, last October, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a talk at the University of Utah after the school received an email from someone claiming that they would commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if she were allowed to present her lecture. This unfortunate series of events is beyond the scope of this essay, but I think it’s fair to say that the Gamergate nonsense clearly demonstrates how people take the stories told by video games seriously – and personally. Simply put, games and their stories have enormous cultural currency.

Tropes vs Women

The Legend of Zelda is one of the video game franchises that Sarkeesian critiques in Tropes vs. Women, as the earlier games are classic examples of an easily identifiable trope that she refers to as “damseling.” Damseling, in its purest form, is the process by which a female character is rendered inert and thereby positioned as an object that will motivate the male player-character to complete his quest. The point of the game is therefore to rescue the damsel in distress, who is subordinate to the hero and is not allowed to rescue herself.

In the Zelda series, Princess Zelda is frequently such a damsel. Although there are many variations, the Zelda games all share a basic story and a common mythology. The setting of these games is the land of Hyrule, which was created by three goddesses. These goddesses departed from the land, but they left behind a representation of their demiurgical power called the Triforce. As a magical relic, the Triforce is so powerful that it can grant the wish of any person who touches it, and so it has been sealed away by various means. When threatened, the Triforce can split itself into three parts: courage, wisdom, and power. Each part is held by a chosen bearer. Link, the player-protagonist hero of the games, is the bearer of the Triforce of Courage. Zelda, the princess (or queen) of Hyrule, is the bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom. The primary bearer of the Triforce of Power is a man named Ganondorf, who is described as a thief from the desert. Although Ganondorf is not in all of the games, Zelda is in most of them, and she is variously kidnapped, imprisoned, placed into an enchanted sleep, crystalized, zombified, and turned into stone. The player’s job, as Link, is to acquire a weapon powerful enough to kill Ganondorf (or whoever happens threatening the land) and save Zelda, thus returning peace to Hyrule. Again, there are variations, but this is the eponymous “legend of Zelda.”

If you go to any anime or comics convention in the world, you’re certain to see all sorts of cosplay and art prints based on the Zelda games. Recently, self-published fan comics have started to pop up as well. Although everyone loves Link, the hero of the story, many of these comics give agency and interiority to the female characters of the series.

Zelda The Dark Mirror II Page 23

In Canadian artist Louisa Roy‘s ongoing series Zelda: The Dark Mirror, a minor female character from Ocarina of Time named Malon is instrumental in saving Hyrule. In the original game, the young farmhand serves no other purpose than to provide Link with a horse. In The Dark Mirror, which is set several years after the events in Ocarina of Time, Malon has grown into a warrior in her own right; and, when Link and Zelda vanish from Hyrule, she spurs the kingdom’s soldiers into action. Other female characters from Ocarina of Time, such as Impa, Ruto, and Nabooru, are important equally important in the fan comic, which passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. The Dark Mirror is thus a story less focused on a single male hero saving the world than it is on the concerted efforts of multiple female characters, who are only accorded a few lines in the original game.

Similarly, in Australian manga artist Queenie Chan‘s novel-length “prose manga” The Edge and the Light, Link is in grave danger, and it is Princess Zelda who must rescue him, along with the help of the three oracles from the Gameboy Zelda titles Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons (2001, Zeruda no densetsu: Fushigi no kinomi ~ Daichi no shō and Jikū no shō). In these two games, the young female oracles are kidnapped and must be rescued by Link, so it’s quite satisfying to see them team up with Princess Zelda to solve mysteries and fight evil. At the end of Chan’s manga, Zelda is forced to make a difficult choice concerning the ultimate fate of Link, who is chained to his role as the hero regardless of his own desires. This twist emphasizes the difficulties faced by the Zelda characters in the original games, who must often manipulate events in order to force Link along on his quest. Like The Dark Mirror, The Edge and the Light foregrounds the female characters of the Zelda series, allowing them to drive the plot through their action instead of their misfortune. It’s worth noting that these fan works don’t significantly alter the tone of the Zelda series or completely rewrite the canonical characters. Rather, they divide the screen time a bit more equally as they offer perspectives other than that of the male hero.

The Edge and the Light Page 177

The Zelda series is just as popular with gamers in Japan as it is overseas, and in Japan there are entire fan conventions (dōjin ibento), devoted to Zelda-themed self-published fan comics, or dōjinshi. I’m going to simplify things greatly by putting forward the generalization that dōjinshi tend to fall into two categories. The first is dansei-muke, or “directed toward men.” Dansei-muke dōjinshi tend to feature graphic heterosexual pornography; and, from what I can tell, there are very few of them based on the Legend of Zelda series (although they certainly do exist). The second category is josei-muke, or “directed toward women.” A common assumption regarding josei-muke dōjinshi is that they’re all about male/male homoerotic encounters, but the level of homoerotic content depends on the fandom, and in any case this stereotype doesn’t reflect the reality of the broad range of fan comics that female artists create for a (presumably) female audience.

When it comes to josei-muke dōjinshi based on the Zelda games, a significant number are four-panel (yon-koma) gag manga meant to poke gentle fun at the characters, while others focus on the implied romantic relationship between Link and Zelda. As in the genre of shōjo manga, which serves as an inspiration for many josei-muke dōjinshi, the relationship unfolds through the eyes of the female character – in this case, Zelda.

Zelda Smacking Ghirahim

In Sakura-kan’s 2012 dōjinshi Wake Up! (excerpted above), which is based on the Wii game The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, Zeruda no densetsu: Sukaiwōdo sōdo), the reader is presented with several touching moments between Zelda and Link. When Ghirahim, a servant of the evil demon lord Demise and the primary antagonist of the game, shows up to kidnap Zelda, she swiftly attacks him in order to punish him for interrupting her time with Link. This is an interesting reversal that exposes both how creepy and weird the antagonist is for wanting to kidnap Zelda and how strong Zelda actually is in the original game, in which it is suggested that she undergoes a number of the trials that Link later undertakes. Although the artist plays the scenario for its humor, she seems to be suggesting that, in a world in which Zelda weren’t required to act as a motivational MacGuffin, she would have no trouble dispatching the game’s villain herself.

Likewise, a one-page short manga Shiroyui Hiromi‘s 2004 dōjinshi Kaze dorobō (which might be translated as “Thief of the Winds”) plays on a scene from the The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002, Zeruda no densetsu: Kaze no takuto) in which Link finds Ganondorf hovering over Zelda, who is lying in an enchanted sleep. Wind Waker‘s incarnation of Zelda has spent her life as a strong and hyper-competent pirate queen named Tetra, and so it is strange that she would be so incapacitated. Kaze dorobō offers symbolic resistance to this strangeness by mocking it, showing the brash and outspoken Tetra arguing with Ganondorf and refusing to sleep on his bed. In the process, she calls him an ossan, a derogative term for a middle aged man. When the two see that Link has arrived, they grudgingly assume their positions as villain and kidnapped princess, as if they are only staging a show for Link’s benefit. By highlighting the illogical artificiality of Tetra’s damseling in her role as Princess Zelda, the artist offers her readers a veiled critique of a game that refuses to acknowledge the full complexity of its characters and themes, which it subsumes under highly gendered tropes.

Nemuri Hime

As many media producers are fans themselves, what happens in fandom spaces is of obvious interest to entertainment industry professionals, and a surge in feminist consciousness (regardless of whether it is explicitly identified as such) is now fully capable of influencing the development of media properties. One of the more interesting responses to fan discussions of the Zelda series in particular is the 2015 graphic novel Second Quest, which is titled after a feature in the original 1986 Legend of Zelda that allowed the player to start a remixed and more challenging game after she had mastered the first.

Second Quest, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and published by Fangamer, was written by game critic Tevis Thompson and drawn by David Hellman, whose most well-known project is the award-winning 2008 puzzle platformer Braid, which is famous particularly for how it upends many video game conventions. Specifically, as the player progresses through the story, she learns that the male-player protagonist is the monster whom the female quest-object is attempting to escape, a cogent deconstruction of the “damsel in distress” trope.

Second Quest is narrated from the perspective of its Zelda character, who is torn between her desire to be a useful member of her society and her strident rejection of the hero-and-princess narrative that this society has imposed on her. In one particularly moving scene, she tosses her own treasure chest full of hero’s tools off of a cliff and into a void, signifying that she doesn’t want to be a damsel or the sort of hero who runs through the world killing things for fun and profit.

Second Quest Page 073

The graphic novel’s website states that it was inspired by a painting of Hellman’s that depicted a Hyrule that was open to the player, allowing her to create her own narratives as she moves through the world. In an interview with the feminist geek media website The Mary Sue, Thompson added that he was motivated to explore the fate of the “missing woman” prevalent in so many games. He says, “It’s not so much a question of whether a princess – or anyone – needs to be saved or protected. It’s that no one ever asks the princess what she wants to begin with. It’s really a question of agency and subjectivity.” What we’re seeing here, then, is how feminist discourse within fandom has shaped the viewpoints and ideas of creators who have pushed their fannish interests into the realm of professional production.

And what about the games themselves? Has any of this fanwork acted as a catalyst for a transformation of the actual Legend of Zelda series?

Video games, as a medium, are well on their way to becoming the same sort of big-budget, focus-group-oriented affairs with which Hollywood has made us familiar; but, as is the case with both live-action cinema and animation, there are also many independent creators using open-source technology to create their own low-budget but high-creative artistic experiments, some of which later become commercial products. A number of career and aspiring game designers communicate through online gatherings called “game jams,” many of which are organized around a common theme. One of the most outspoken and prolific advocates of game jams, Anna Anthropy, wrote the following in her 2012 book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: “Every game that you and I make right now – every five-minute story, every weird experiment, every dinky little game about the experience of putting down your dog – makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness.” Game jams are amazing and deserve their own essay, but suffice it to say that there have been many interesting voices finding each other in the darkness and then sending up sparks with their games, which, because of the magic of the internet, are more widely shared and distributed than any printed zine could have been.

One of my favorite new voices is Alice Maz, whose contribution to the 2014 session of the apocalypse-themed Ruin Jam was a play on Super Mario Bros. titled Average Maria Individual, which cuts to the core of the physical and emotional violence that many of us take for granted when we play video games (see Jess Joho’s wonderful essay in independent gaming web magazine Kill Screen Daily).

Average Maria Individual

Feminist critique through media development is far from uncommon in the international gaming community. For instance, this April saw an enthusiastic set of contributions to the Female Link Game Jam, which was organized in response to Aonuma Eiji’s comment that the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda game currently in development was definitely not female. When large game development studios continue to offer only tired tropes, then, creative game fans respond with feminism, offering interesting and viable alternatives to dominant video game narratives that marginalize women both real and fictional.

This is not saying, however, that Nintendo hasn’t been paying attention to its legions of fans. In the 2014 Zelda spin-off game Hyrule Warriors (Zeruda musō), the player can hack and slash her way across large battlefields teeming with enemies as Princess Zelda herself, as well as several other female (and nonbinary) characters. These characters proved so popular with players that developer Koei Tecmo recently announced that it would include Tetra (Zelda’s pirate queen incarnation from The Wind Waker) in the lineup of the game’s handheld release. Also, earlier this month, at the gaming trade convention E3, Nintendo released a promotional video of an upcoming game called The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (Zeruda no Densetsu: Toraifōsu san-jūshi), in which Link can gain various abilities by wearing different outfits, including Zelda’s dress.

Tri Force Heroes Zelda Dress

I could happily go on and on, giving endless examples of how media production companies in North America, Japan, and Europe have pushed back against and responded to fan demands for more female representation in video games, but I’d like to conclude here by emphasizing that the active and creative fans who thrive in social mediascapes do have voices that are heard not just by their peers but also by the senior producers whose positions they will one day inherit. Video game fan communities hold respect for the texts that they engage with and critique. After all, it requires a high level of passion and dedication to attain the skills not only to fully appreciate the games but to express one’s reaction through art and design. Despite their strong admiration for the source texts, however, fans have demonstrated that they understand these digital texts as open-access narrative platforms to be challenged and reconfigured to better reflect social and political concerns and their own personal identities.

Royal Commander Zelda by Alex Chiu

Royal Commander Zelda by Alex Chiu

Natasha Allegri Madoka PuppyCat

On January 18 of 2015, Ed Chavez, the Marketing Director at manga publisher Vertical, replied to a Twitter user’s question on ask.fm regarding whether manga is becoming a niche entertainment industry outside of Japan. Chavez’s response was a definite “maybe.” After stating that shōnen manga is selling just as well – if not better – than it always has, Chavez added the caveat that, “Unlike the 00’s, where a shojo boom introduced a whole new demographic to manga, there hasn’t been a culture shifting movement recently.” Johanna Draper Carlson, one of the most well-respected and prolific manga critics writing in English, responded to Chavez’s assessment on her blog Comics Worth Reading. She agreed with him, adding, “I find myself working harder to find series I want to follow. Many new releases seem to fall into pre-existing categories that have already demonstrated success: vampire romance, harem fantasy, adventure quests, and so on. It’s harder to find the kind of female-oriented story that [has always appealed] to me.” Meanwhile, the manga that stood at the top of the New York Times’s “Best Sellers” list for manga that week was the seventh volume of a series called Finder, a boys’ love story targeted at an over-18 female audience.

What we’re seeing here, from Chavez’s reference to a former boom in shōjo manga sales to evidence that even a title from a niche category for women can sell just as well as the latest volume of the shōnen juggernaut One Piece, is that girls and women in North America do care about manga, and that they are active participants in manga fandom cultures. What I’d like to do today is to provide a bit of background on how female readers were courted by manga publishers – specifically Tokyopop – and then to demonstrate how manga has influenced the women who grew up with it to reshape North American comics and animation with a shōjo flair.

I’d like to argue that, despite periods of relatively low sales in the United States, shōjo manga (and the animated adaptations of these manga) have had a strong cultural impact on recent generations of fans. During the past fifteen years, fan discussions and fannish artistic production have nourished diverse interests in Japanese cultural products, which are in turn beginning to exert a stronger influence on mainstream geek media. Using M. Alice LeGrow‘s graphic novel series Bizenghast and Natasha Allegri‘s animated webseries Bee and PuppyCat as case studies, I want to demonstrate how it is not only the visual styles and narrative tropes of shōjo manga that have increasingly begun to influence North American media, but the creative consumption patterns of shōjo fandom communities as well.

Tokyopop Smile Magazine July 2001

Before I talk about American interpretations of shōjo cultures, however, I’d like to skim through a bit of publishing history. In the mid-1990s, there was a Barnes-and-Noble-style big suburban box store called Media Play, which had an entire section devoted to manga and Japanese culture magazines. One of the most prominent of these magazines was fledgling publisher Tokyopop’s manga anthology MixxZine, which began serialization in 1997 and ran the manga version of Sailor Moon as well as the similarly themed fantasy shōjo series Magic Knight Rayearth and Card Captor Sakura. In 1999, the magazine changed its name to “Tokyopop” and began to target an older male audience by dropping its shōjo manga and focusing on shōnen and seinen titles. Tokyopop the magazine folded in 2000 but was survived by a publication called Smile, which was a bulky, 160-page monthly magazine that serialized only shōjo manga. In 2001, Media Play’s parent company was bought out by Best Buy. When Media Play stores were closed, Tokyopop lost a major venue for its magazines, and Smile folded in 2002.

Now that a large fanbase had been created, however, Tokyopop was able to launch a program it called “Global Manga,” which was kicked off by the 2002 “Rising Stars of Manga” talent competition. The winning entries were published in a volume of the same size and length of the publisher’s Japanese manga titles. There were eventually eight volumes of The Rising Stars of Manga, with the last appearing in the summer of 2008. During this time, certain winners were encouraged to submit proposals to Tokyopop, which published their work as OEL, or “original English language,” manga. By my count, about half of Tokyopop’s OEL manga were shōjo series. Examples include Peach Fuzz, Shutter Box, Fool’s Gold, and Sorcerers & Secretaries. Tokyopop promoted these titles with free “sampler” publications distributed by mail and at anime conventions, which were exploding in number and attendance in the United States and Canada during the 2000s. Although users of anime-related message boards and fannish social media sites debated the company’s use of the term “manga” to describe these graphic novels, Tokyopop was able to attract well-known American entertainment franchises to the medium, such as Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, World of Warcraft, and for the girls, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, featuring David Bowie’s Goblin King in all his spandex-clad glory.

Return to Labyrinth OEL Manga

One of the Tokyopop’s most popular OEL manga titles was M. Alice LeGrow’s eight-volume series Bizenghast, which, like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, is a shōjo story with shōnen elements. LeGrow’s story takes the adorable mascot creatures, monsters-of-the-week, cute costumes, adoring and beautiful young men, and powerful female villains of Japanese manga for girls and transplants them to the small Massachusetts community of Bizenghast, which becomes an Edgar Allan Poe-ified Gothic wonderland after dark. The art style combines the huge eyes and wide panels of fan-favorite shōjo manga like Fruits Basket and Fushigi Yûgi with steampunk Art Deco motifs and Edward Gorey-style line etchings. The artistic and narrative conventions of manga and the stylizations of Western fantasy are so delicately blended and intermixed that it’s impossible to tell whether Bizenghast is a manga with American influences or a graphic novel with Japanese influences.

Bizenghast Volume 1 Page 075

What I want to highlight is the way that the Tokyopop publications of each volume in the Bizenghast series included a section at the end for fan art and cosplay photos, thus encouraging and legitimizing reader participation in the way that shōjo magazines have done since the early twentieth century in Japan.

Bizenghast Fan Art Spread

Instead of eschewing or actively opposing fandom involvement, and specifically female fandom involvement, Tokyopop pursued it, allowing LeGrow to maintain her presence on the fannish artistic networking site deviantART, where she was able to interact with her fans. Due to the non-localized nature of the internet, LeGrow was able to build a fanbase that stretched around the globe, with Bizenghast being published in translation in Germany, Finland, Russia, and Hungary, as well as in several countries of the British Commonwealth, including Australia and New Zealand. In addition to assigning Bizenghast its own dedicated website, Tokyopop released a light novel adaptation, an art book, and even a coloring book based on the world of the manga. Although Tokyopop shut down its publishing operations in May 2011, it continued to offer certain titles through a print-on-demand service managed by the online anime retailer The Right Stuf. The initial line-up of these titles included the massively popular manga Hetalia Axis Powers and the eighth and concluding volume of Bizenghast. What I’d like to emphasize here is that, in its publication and promotion of Bizenghast as an OEL shōjo manga product, Tokyopop actively promoted the sort of interactive fan consumption utilized by Japanese shōjo manga publishers – and this encouragement paid off, quite literally.

Multiple market watchers have located the peak of United States manga sales in the mid-to-late 2000s. Even though Tokyopop ceased its manga magazines earlier in the decade, Viz Media stepped in with an English-language version of Shonen Jump, which was paired with a monthly sister magazine, Shojo Beat. Shojo Beat, which ran from June 2005 until July 2009, also styled itself as a lifestyle magazine, running articles about clothing, makeup, and real-life romantic concerns. Although Shojo Beat did not include OEL manga, manga publisher Yen Press’s publication Yen Plus did. From its launch in July 2008, the editors of Yen Plus solicited reader contributions, which resulted in both one-shot and continuing OEL manga appearing within the pages of the magazine.

In addition, Yen Press’s parent company Hachette began releasing manga adaptations of some of its biggest young adult properties, including Gossip Girl, Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series, and, of course, Twilight. For our purposes, it’s interesting to note that these manga adaptations all had a strong shōjo feel, as did other franchise manga revisionings created by longstanding American comics publishers such as Marvel and Vertigo. What these publishers seemed to be jumping on was the idea that manga could reach an audience of young women (and young-at-heart women) who may have felt excluded from traditionally male-centered genres like action comics and science fiction. These female readers increasingly came equipped with access to online and in-person fandom networks, which could help ensure the longevity and profitability of any given franchise, as was famously the case with Star Trek and Harry Potter.

Twilight Manga

What we’re seeing, then, is the creation and growth of an audience for shōjo manga that began in the 1990s and has extended throughout the past two decades. So – has this changed anything? I’d like to argue that it has, and that we’re starting to see a definite shōjo influence on mainstream entertainment media in North America.

One of the most interesting incarnations of this trend is Cartoon Network’s animated television series Adventure Time, whose producers have actively scouted young talent from places like comic conventions and fannish art sharing websites such as Tumblr. A number of these artists are women from the generation that grew up reading and watching shōjo series such as Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, and easily identifiable references to these titles occasionally pop up in the show. Rebecca Sugar, a storyboard artist for Adventure Time, ended up being given a green light by Cartoon Network to create a magical boy show, Steven Universe, that features all manner of references to anime, manga, and video game culture. Natasha Allegri, another storyboard writer and character designer for Adventure Time, launched a Kickstarter project backed by Adventure Time‘s Studio Frederator for a magical girl animated series called Bee and PuppyCat, which received an overwhelming amount of support from both Adventure Time fans and the enormous shōjo manga fanbase on Tumblr.

Lady and Peebles

What’s really cool about these three properties is that they all have separate monthly comic book incarnations published by Boom! Studios. There’s a lot to be said about these comic books, but what I want to emphasize here is that each monthly issue features shorts and variant covers by young and upcoming artists. The comic book version of Bee and PuppyCat is especially notable in that most of its contributing artists are female, and many of them include obvious stylistic and topical references to elements of Japanese popular culture such as Studio Ghibli character stylizations, magical girl henshin transformation sequences, and role-playing video games. Although Natasha Allegri has stated in multiple interviews (here’s one) that she’s a fan of manga such as Sailor Moon and Takahashi Rumiko’s supernatural romance InuYasha, and even though the influence of these titles is quite clear in her work, Bee and PuppyCat has not been promoted as a type of OEL anime but rather as just another cool new addition to the Studio Frederator lineup. In other words, the strong shōjo elements of the show and its comic book are presented as completely natural and naturalized to a North American audience.

I’m going to wrap things up by summarizing my main points. First, I think we can say that the iconography of shōjo manga and anime are entering American popular culture full force. Second, I believe that seeing better representation of diverse female characters in shōjo manga has encouraged more young women outside of Japan to seek careers in comics and animation. Third, although it’s difficult to make strong statements in the current market, I think it’s safe to say that the “reader participation” model employed by Japanese shōjo publishers has been fairly financially successful in the United States. Fourth and finally, I’m going to conclude that we will therefore see an even stronger embrace of shōjo-related narrative influences, art styles, and fandom cultures as the members of the Adventure Time and Bee and PuppyCat generation, who are currently in college, start coming out with their own work. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of shōjo manga, and I’m happy that young women and men are still as excited about shōjo-flavored comics and animation as I was when I first discovered Sailor Moon almost twenty years ago.

Bee and PuppyCat Comic Issue 06 Meredith McClaren

The above image is a scan of a page from Meredith McClaren‘s short comic in the sixth issue of the Bee and PuppyCat comic book series.

The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past

Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Japanese Title: ゼルダの伝説 (Zeruda no densetsu)
Artist: Ishinomori Shōtaro (石ノ森 章太郎)
Translator: Dan Owsen
Publication Year: 2015 (America, new edition); 1993 (America and Japan, original edition)
Publisher: Viz Media
Pages: 196

Full disclosure: I read this manga countless times as a kid, and the game it’s based on is one of the greatest loves of my life. This review is biased, because of course it is.

My own adoration aside, Viz Media’s new publication of manga giant Ishinomori Shintarō‘s adaptation of the 1991 Super Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has been selling extremely well since it was released a month ago.

A Link to the Past on the NYT Bestseller List

This success makes perfect sense. Not only is The Legend of Zelda a major video game franchise with its own culture cachet, but Viz has also managed to put out a handsome publication, and manga’s story is easy to follow and immediately accessible to readers not familiar with the games.

The teenage orphan Link lives peacefully in a quiet village in “the pristine land of Hyrule” when, one stormy night, his uncle is summoned to the castle. Link is awoken by a voice claiming to be the princess Zelda, who telepathically tells him that she is being held prisoner in her own dungeons. Link, fearing shenanigans, rushes to the castle in the rain only to see his uncle put to death by a powerful wizard named Agahnim (whose dark skin and Orientalist stylings are how you know he’s a bad guy, yikes). Link manages to infiltrate the castle and rescue Zelda, only to have her immediately kidnapped once more by the wizard, who intends to use her to break the seal on an even greater evil. Before she’s spirited off to wherever princesses are stashed away in such situations, Zelda manages to tell Link that it’s his destiny to save Hyrule and that he must locate the legendary Master Sword, which is the only blade capable of defeating the powerful force controlling Agahnim. Off he goes, and adventure ensues.

Video game adaptations into other media tend to be hit or miss, but Ishinomori, genius that he is, pulls off his manga rendering of A Link to the Past flawlessly. Although Link is never really alone in the game (as he is always accompanied by you, the player), his quest is a lonely one, as he bears the sole responsibility for delivering the land from a terrible fate. Ishinomori especially excels at portraying Link’s smallness in a vast world filled with hostile creatures. The action sequences – and there are a lot of them – are nicely choreographed, with a smooth flow facilitated by expert paneling. This flow is so dependable that, when it’s interrupted, the reader is instantly made aware that Link has encountered a true threat, as he does in his final battle with Ganon, the story’s ultimate villain.

A Link to the Past Link vs Ganon

The manga is also populated by friendly characters who aid Link along his journey. The most striking of these fellow wayfarers is a bird-like “mystery knight” named Roam (a classic Ishinomori archetype in both personality and visual characterization). The inhabitants of Ganon’s dark world, a mirror reflection of Hyrule that changes the shape of people based on the truest form of their hearts, are also given small roles that help raise the stakes of Link’s battle. For example, immediately after Link is exiled to the dark world by Agahnim, he encounters a talking tree who explains to him that there are many other people who, for whatever reason, followed Ganon into the dark world only to become trapped there, doomed to wander as beasts or serve an evil master until a hero can purify the land. Such accounts add layers of depth to the story that aren’t to be found in the original game, in which the player progresses from objective to objective simply to experience the next challenge.

Despite the assistance of friends he encounters, Link is still one boy caught up in a legend much larger than his own life, a theme Ishinomori emphasizes with splash panels depicting Link as a faceless dot at one corner of a daunting landscape. In the game on which the manga is based, the enemy the player must engage most frequently is the environment itself, and the artist’s translation of this element into menacing backgrounds and elaborate framing devices is beautiful to behold. Ishinomori’s interpretation of Ganon’s castle, the revelation of which is a climactic moment, is especially awe-inspiring.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are also some fun Easter eggs for Zelda fans scattered throughout the manga. I don’t want to spoil all of them; but, to give an example, Link flies to the Desert Ruins in a winged hang glider. As the villager who provides him with this contraption recounts, “They say these miracle wings belonged to a powerful bird that carried the knights of Hyrule into battle!” In retrospect, this statement seems to refer to the events alluded to in Skyward Sword. And yet, considering that this was written more than ten years ago, one can’t help but wonder how much of the lore explored in more recent games was already in place as the earliest titles were being developed. Or, conversely, was this manga perhaps a guiding influence for subsequent world building?

This manga was originally serialized in the American gaming magazine Nintendo Power from January to December 1992. The following year, it was published as a full-color collected volume by Nintendo of America and in a black-and-white tankōbon by Shōgakukan in Japan. As such, it’s an interesting slice of both manga and video game history. Manga was still relatively unknown in the United States in 1992, and Viz Media only started publishing its groundbreaking Animerica magazine the following year. Meanwhile, Gail Tilden (the marketing manager at Nintendo of America) and the editors of Nintendo Power, the first publication of its kind, were responding to the sudden appearance of a rabid gaming public in the wake of U.S. release of Super Mario Bros. 3 in 1991. (More information about the early years of the magazine can be found in Jon Irwin‘s excellent Super Mario Bros. 2.) It’s extremely interesting that Nintendo was already attempting a manga/game media mix marketing strategy through the burgeoning medium of English-language video game journalism. It’s also interesting that Viz seems to be using a similar strategy – using the popularity of a gaming franchise to promote manga – with this new release.

Even if you don’t usually care for video games or manga, Ishinomori Shōtaro is a force of nature and a credit to the human race. Since it’s difficult to find his work in English translation, Viz’s new edition of A Link to the Past is a fantastic opportunity to see a master artist and storyteller at the top of his game.

A Link to the Past Link's Battle Against Trinexx