When manga artist Nobuhiro Watsuki created the fictional character Kenshin in Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai X, he probably did not even think that this Himalayan country would also fall under his magic spell. Kenshin, as erstwhile assassin, takes a vow to fight injustice, and his popularity surged across the world, and it is still increasing. It was created in the manga form in 1994, which was later turned into an anime in 1996. Its latest version Rurouni Kenshin: Master of Flame was published in 2014.
Manga is a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels.
Similarly Dragon Ball Z (1989), One Piece (1997), Naruto (1997), dark fantasy manga series Berserk (1989) and Pokemon (1997) are several other examples of manga and anime that have crazy fans from all across the world. And Otaku is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly the anime and manga fandom. Such fans have created the Comic Con International Day to celebrate this fandom and promote the Otaku culture.
It is surprising that Nepal, a developing nation in South Asia which didn’t have a wide reach to television just two decades ago, has had a huge following of anime and manga since the early 90’s. With the broadcast of popular mainstream animes like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and Pokemon in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the fanbase has become stronger and is growing. Plus the Internet and rise in digital media have opened a portal to thousands of anime and manga easily to the new generation contributing even more to the growing fanbase.
Japan has been the hub of modern pop culture which has fascinated the whole world with its unique and subtle trends, entertainment and technology. Manga and anime culture had been an integral part of Japanese culture and has become a global phenomenon amassing a huge fanbase all over the world which known as Otaku culture.
Manga was initially done only in black and white. Anime means any animated film. Many believed that the United States is the origin of manga and anime, but manga was published as a scroll in Japan since the 12 Century, according to Wikipedia. They used to be humorous drawings of animals and caricatured people. Later Osamu Tezuka, known as ‘Father of Modern Manga’, was influenced by Disney and Max Fleisher.
The modern form of manga journey started from World War II, when Tezuka founded the Production Company in 1962 and published his famous work Astro Boy and manga Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion). There was much controversy about this anime when Disney released a similar version with the movie The Lion King with Simba. Tezuka exploded his characters with life and emotion.
Later on, other artists such as Akira Toriyama, Rumiko Takashi, Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and many came on. Toriyama’s Dragon Ball became one of Japan’s most popular anime shows. Later, the series went on to form Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT. Similarly, Miyazaki, who works for Studio Ghibli, is taken as one of the most famous and most respected anime artists of today. His several works are Kiki’s Delivery Service, Heidi, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and his masterpiece Princess Mononoke.
Wataru Shrestha, a student of Fine Arts in Kathmandu University, opened Nepal’s first Otaku store — ‘Otaku Store Nepal’ — three years ago. The store was a means to supply comic posters, costumes, wigs, props like crescent and striker and makeup for the characters. However, the store opens only on Saturdays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm as he is a student and cannot manage more time for the store. Being a child of Japanese mother and Nepali Father, “I spent many years in Japan and became a huge fan of manga and anime. I wanted to promote the Otaku culture in Nepal and I opened the store to supply these things. So, we formed Otaku Club Nepal.”
The Club has 70-plus members, but only 60-plus are actively working. Every Sunday, the Club members assemble at Jamal in the Otaku Store and celebrate it as Club Day. They hold meetings planning events to promote their Club and exchange animes with each other (on pen drives) and donate money for further events.
On July 30, in collaboration with Otaku Next, the Club celebrated its fifth Comic Con and Cosplay Convention. At this Convention, the first Nepali manga Daemon Ijnition created by Anish Raj Joshi was launched. They celebrated the Convention for the first time in Nepal in collaboration with the Irish Pub in 2013 but on small scale.
Anime lover Rohit Shrestha, 21, from Nayabazar exlained how he became crazy about this art. “I used to watch Dragon Ball Z on TV, then I watched Naruto and followed mainstream anime. They have great storylines, characters and themes.”
As per Shrestha, “The Cosplay costumes are very expensive. Most of us are college students and can’t afford costumes made in Japan as it is expensive due to the shipping fare — upto Rs 6,000. We buy costumes in Otaku Club. It offers both types — made in Nepal by local people and made in Japan. We use costumes made in Nepal.”
Club Founder Wataru revealed he is appointing a local designer to promote the Otaku culture. “We are producing prop-like weapons and shoes through a Fine Art student Anil Uday and dresses by Sakun. Though these costumes don’t look professional and of fine quality — lack of fabric, we are trying to do our best to satisfy anime lovers.”
Otaku Next, the first registered organisation, was formed in 2014 to gather Nepali artists to bring out Nepali manga as founder Kavin Shah, Shalini Rana and Krishant Rana were highly motivated to bring out Nepali manga.
Shah, 27, had experienced Comic Con International in Australia as manga lovers takes it as a part of their life. “We grew up with these characters and stories. One Piece is running for the last 15 years and its creator says it will run for 15 years more, which is huge. So, it is a part of your life.”
He criticised people who put manga as comic. “Comic book is for children and manga is for people of all age groups.”
Co-founder Rana, who grew up watching Animax and AXN channels, befriended animes like Samurai X and Flame of Recca, and later became a crazy fan while studying in Singapore. “Asians are a huge fan of Japanese manga and anime. Manga is available for every genre. Shōjo manga is for the female reader where romance is centralised, and Shōnen manga is for boys where action is centralised.”
Krishant Rana, another co-founder of Otaku Next, passed his childhood with Pokemon, and disliked it when people questioned him about wearing anime costume.
“When football lovers wear jerseys of their favourite teams and tee-shirt of their favourite player and go to outside any time, nobody ask them why are they wearing that, but when we wear our favourite anime dress, they ask us why.”
As per him, “The Convention is the day where we celebrate wearing their costumes, applying makeup to look like them, play Playstation, perform action, nobody judges us then.”
In Nepal, there is a huge crowd who love Korean dramas, but did you know that some of the famous dramas are based on Japanese manga. Be it Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) by Yoko Kamio, or City Hunter by Tsukasa Hojo, Playful Kiss ( Itazura na Kiss) by Kaoru Tada, Full House by Won Soo Yeon, and Pretty Man (Bel Ami) by Chon Kye Young, they are all based on manga proving the popularity of manga and anime.
A version of this article appears in print on January 15, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.