One of the big factors in the development of my japonohpilia was manga. For the unaware, manga, pronounced “maan-ga,” is, essentially, Japanese comic books, and they are similar in many ways to their western counterparts, though notably different at the same time. As it is in American comics, many manga focus on characters with unique powers who work with as well as fight other characters with their own respective powers, and the stories of these manga center around the development and eventual resolution of these conflicts. And it is also very common to have long-running series in which the chief antagonist will change several times over before the story’s conclusion. However, there is one large differentiation between Japanese manga and America comic books: Manga end; comic books do not.
Yes, it is true that manga characters can be brought back in homages or continuations, but those are rarely the case. Once a manga’s story is completed, the manga ends, unlike the American comic book which will continue in perpetuity until the end of time or the end of the publisher. Whichever comes first. Because of this innate, finite nature of manga, I have been able to enjoy manga in a deeper way than I have comic books; I know I can read Bleach from the beginning rather than having to sort through 79 years of serialization like i would with Batman, and then have that story eventually conclude rather than persist ad infinitum.
Manga is also a much wider medium than comic books, with manga written in many conventional, and most unconventional, literary genres. There are manga about super-powered Death Gods who fight inter-dimensional monsters, and there are manga about boxers trying to become world champion. There are manga about the manga industry itself, and there are manga about horror stories. And there are manga about romance, just as there are manga about musicians trying to make a name for themselves. The final of these is the subject of a manga that I found this week: Blue Giant Supreme.
I had not heard of this manga prior to last week, but it caught my eye while I was in a convenience store. The stark contrast between the light blue and the bright shine of the metallic saxophone was intriguing, so I stopped to appraise the story. Naturally, the volume was written all in Japanese, so I could not understand everything written in it, however the pictures alongside the writing aided me in making out the story. Blue Giant Supreme centers around a Japanese man named Dai Miyamoto as he comes to Germany to pursue his dream of becoming “the world’s #1 sax player.” Once I was able to piece together the premise of the story, I immediately knew I would enjoy this manga, so I added it in with my purchase of Sapporo, Pizza Mans, and mint gum.
Over the past week, I have read through this first volume of Dai’s journey, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I relate very much to him and his drive to become the best in his field. I often joke to the Japanese friends and acquaintances I have that I want to become the #1 gaijin in terms of Japanese proficiency, and while there is a certain amount of hyperbole in the jest, there is a kernel of truth in it as well: I want to thrive rather than survive. I want to attain a mastery of this language good enough for me to read any book or talk to any person. I want to become the best English Teacher in the country. But, most of all, I want to be an exemplar to my friends and family both inside and outside of Japan, a testament to how a person can make their own way, even in a completely foreign environment.
Though, that is much more easily said than done.
Just as Dai has to overcome a language barrier as he comes to Germany, I too have had to overcome a language barrier in Japan, and just as Dai has attacked his own ignorance through self study German, I too have undertaken self study of Japanese. And while Dai has kept momentum as he finds venues to perform his music, I have myself maintained a stiff upper lip as I have developed more engaging lessons to give my students the best education possible. In finding a somewhat kindred spirit in Dai’s character, I have found a certain resolution in myself.
What I am doing has been done by people all throughout history. It was done by my ancestors as they came to America, and it was done by their forefathers in the centuries and millennia that preceded them. In each person’s life, they found their way and made a life for themselves before they passed away. In that realization, I find a quiet serenity. One day I will come to the end of Dai’s story and move on, and one day I will die myself, and then the people in my life will have to move on themselves. But that does not discount my efforts before that, and I do not intend to let that happen.
I will become the #1 gaijin. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not even 10 years from now. But I will do it. Because it has been done before. And if they can do it, so can I.
Song of the Week
“Stand By Me” by Florence + The Machine
While the original version of this song by Ben E. King is a wonderful piece of music, this cover by Florence + The Machine is one which hold more emotional heft for me, mainly because of its connection to the release of Final Fantasy XV. I had waited literally half of my lifetime for that game, from age 10 to age 20, and when it was finally released, this song was part of the soundtrack. As I took in the sights and gameplay that I had anticipated for ten years, this song played, and I felt a surreal sense of happiness. I was playing the game like I was an excited 10 year-old again, and I had Florence + The Machine serenading me through all of it. Final Fantasy XV released two years ago last week, and I listened to the song again to remember those times. In this song, I find myself transported back to those sublime, childlike moments, as I do each time I listen to it.
If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!