Fond of comics? Heard of Manga Shakespeare? If you haven’t, this article’s for you. If you have, I’m going to blow all your assumptions and fantasies away, by stating the obvious: Manga Shakespeare is not manga, and certainly not a teaching material promoting Shakespeare. If you still want to read it, I will prove it to you…
The analysis of the manga adaptations of Shakespeare’s dramas appeared to be a clear and achievable task at first. Manga is only a collective noun used for all Japanese comic strips, including many subgenres that are, according to Jérôme Schmidt (Schmidt, 2006), clearly defined and differentiated from one-another regarding both form and content. This is why the term Manga Shakespeare is problematic. Apart from this issue, the adapters’ failure to specify the subgenre of the adaptatons further complicated the analysis (the perspective of the adapter team can be seen on the Manga Shakespeare website. There are mangas for women, mangas for men; boys-manga, called Shounen, with much of action, combat and fighting, and girls-manga, called Shoujo, containing some striking love story, and many other manga subtypes with specific content and purpose. The main problem I experienced was that I couldn’t include either of the analysed Shakespearean manga-adaptations (especially that of Hamlet) in any of these subgenres. If these adaptations are not mangas, so what are they?
As I browsed through the literature on this subject, I discovered another category: other genres converted into manga, borrowing only its techniques of representation and narrative, without the restrictions and rules of the genre. This category called world manga, however suitable for my texts, was not satisfactory, because, as I read these works more carefully, I realized, they are not dramas in manga style, but comics, in the general American (Batman-like) sense of the word. I found further proof for this presupposition in Antal Bayer’s work on comic adaptations, where the Manga Shakespeares are mentioned as examples of a strange subtype of comics, commercial adaptations, made on basis of literary works out of commercial interest (Bayer 2013). I do not agree with Bayer, these adaptations are not replica, dependent on their originals, but individual works, since they can be understood and enjoyed without knowledge of the plays. Still, this gave me the idea to combine the paradigm of western comics superficially converted into manga with that of comic strips converted into commercial replicas of literary works.
This unusual method of mine led to the conclusion that in the case of Manga Shakespeare, we bear witness to a double adaptation: on the one hand, the conversion of plays into comics, on the other hand, the accommodation of comics to the superficial clichés of manga. I have yet to explore what this further implies in the case of Hamlet, but I suspect that separating comics from mangas is inevitable and undoubtedly troublesome, because the differences are mainly superficial and cultural, the contents and functions are very similar, this is why Bayer calls mangas: Japanese comics.
While analyzing Manga Hamlet I realized, that by changing the temporal and spatial context of the plot (to 2107 in Cyberspace) and by modifying the appearance of characters with technologic accessories (head antennas, microchips, which can be inserted in the body, etc.), the adaptation creates an independent fictional world, which has nothing to do with the world of the play. Their relationship is only analogical. Furthermore, regarding visual representation, the adaptation mixes the illustrative techniques of the Shoujo and Shounen, which is against the conventions of manga-art. Elements from the textual play are also represented, for instance, the initial character-list before the plot, the prologue, and the epilogue, which refer back to the original play, just as the text of the manga, which is almost entirely made of quotations from Shakespeare.
In conclusion, the tension, which makes Manga Hamlet special, is the result of the contrast between two opposing forces condensed into the same work: the unique visual and semantic universe created by the blending of the two manga subtypes (Shoujo, Shounen) and the modified context of the plot (time, space, accessories), a universe that moulds the adaptation into a unique work of art, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, the elements transferred from the play (character-list, prologue, epilogue), as well as the abundance of Shakespearean language, preserve its dependent status as a derivation of the original.
This dual tension can be extended to every Manga Shakespeare I examined, for example, to Romeo and Juliet or Othello that are neither mangas nor derivations., but recontextualized Shakespearean works.
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