Recently I got into another conversation on how characters in Japanese comics look just like white people. I’ve had several conversations and arguments about this and I personally do not agree that all characters in manga look like Europeans because they have big eyes and hair that is not black. Today I remembered an episode in which I bought comics and a friend who doesn’t read manga decided to comment on them. I had two comics with me that day, one was a Korean comic (manhwa) and the other was a Japanese comic (manga). The Korean comic was Cynical Orange while the Japanese comic was Ooku. Both comics are vastly different in themes and plots and this obviously affected their respective cover artworks. As soon as my friend saw the front cover of Cynical Orange her reaction was akin to disgust and she said something that went like this; ‘What is up here? Why does this character look so white? I mean look at her eyes and her hair. Why can’t they draw characters that look more Asian?’
I tried to explain to my friend (who is Persian and white btw) that the character on the cover, the heroine Hye-Min actually didn’t look like that within the pages of the comic. She actually has black hair and though the big eyes are to be expected in any manga or manhwa that does not mean that she’s white. I also mentioned that the fact that she’s drawn with blonde hair on the cover should not be taken as proof that the author has some sort of racial inferiority complex and secretly wants to look white etc. However when my friend saw the cover of Ooku, she was much more satisfied saying something that went like; ‘This is more like it. This comic is definitely better, the character looks more Asian.’
Somewhere along the line I must have mentioned that the comic with the blonde woman on the cover was Korean and the one with the ‘more Asian’ looking character was Japanese. Due to this my friend concluded that Korean authors like to draw their comics so the characters look European while Japanese authors are more realistic in their depiction of characters in their comics. Needless to say I found her reaction interesting.
In case you’re wondering, here are the comics she commented on
Cynical Orange (the Korean manhwa)
and Ooku (the Japanese manga)
Like I mentioned above both comics have vastly different themes. Cynical Orange is the typical shoujo manga about a beautiful high school girl bullied because of her perfect looks and actually very ugly (and violent) on the inside who falls in love with a playboy. The major conflict is that the heroine has to discover and deal with the fact that the man she has always looked up to as her older brother may actually be in love with her etc. Ooku on the other hand is a mature comic with more complex. It is a historical (I guess a more suitable term would be alternate historical) piece of work set in an alternate feudal Japan in which most of the men have died due to an unknown plague causing the women to take up the men’s jobs leading Japan to become a completely matriarchal society where women hold the most important political positions and men are their consorts. The comic is particularly centred on a female shogun and is named after the ooku (which was historically the harem of the Edo castle accessible only to the shogun during the Tokugawa era).
Of course I could go on about how the plot influenced the cover artwork and all but I know that if my friend had seen another work by Fumi Yoshinaga (the author of Ooku) she will not have reached the conclusion she did.