Until recently I moaned about being unable to find hashioki featuring manga, Japan’s sophisticated cartoon genre. But lately that has changed. On my last trip to Japan I found a hashioki depicting a character who looks like he reads manga, even if he’s not a manga protagonist himself. at Kyoto’s International Manga Museum (see “Otaku” posted in May 2016). And now I’m beginning to see hashioki depicting modern manga — meaning the chisel-jawed men in spandex body suits and big-eyed girls in short skirts with frilly petticoats — on Internet sites like eBay.
This trio is a good example. They show three of the stars of a popular Japanese manga series called Shingei no Titan or Advancing Giants. From left to right they are Eren, Mikasa, and Armin. In addition to a series of comic books, this trio appear in a TV anime show, multiple video games, and a live-action movie rumored to be in production. There’s even a version in English.
But manga, which means “random sketches”, are not limited to these twentieth and twenty-first century characters. There are manga dating back to 745 CE in the Todai-ji temple’s treasure house in Nara. The caricature drawings of rabbits, monkeys and frogs in the 12th century Chōjū-giga scrolls are recognized as an early form of manga. The famous woodblock print artist Katsushika Hokusai also drew thousands of manga during his career in the late 18th.and early 19th. centuries.
But perhaps my best manga example is this frog hashioki set that actually tells a story with its random sketches. The story begins with two lily pads in the middle of a pond, as shown in the first fan shaped piece here.
In the next hashioki the hero of the story arrives. Maybe he’s just swimming by, but then again maybe he’s struggling, worn out by the daily grind of being a frog. The retailer’s description said that Frog Story had pathos, so maybe this is what they meant.
Struggling or not, this little green guy is the hero of Frog Story, so in the next hashioki (below left) we see the frog summoning all his energy to jump high in the air, so high in fact that he can touch the branches of an overhanging willow tree. There isn’t really a logical reason for a tired frog to jump high in the air except it’s the kind of bold thing that heroes do, and it’s a dramatic illustration.
In the next hashioki (above right) we see the frog landing safely on the lily pad. Can you hear his sigh of relief? According to an insert enclosed with this set by the manufacturer, Japanese frogs make a noise that sounds like kero kero, unlike the ribbit, ribbit sound made by their American cousins. But frogs’ sighs probably all sound the same.
In the final hashioki we see the frog resting contentedly on the lily pad. The scene here looks very much like the scene in the first hashioki, but there’s one important difference. Frog Story has introduced a hero, one that can leap tall lily pads in a single bound, into the pond environment. Things are never going to be the same in this pond. Keep your eyes peeled for Frog Story 2, although I’m not optimistic about selling the rights for a live-action version.
Of course my rendition of Frog Story is just one narration of these manga hashioki. There could be others. In fact, I think it would be fun to invite four friends to dinner, set the table with this set of hashioki, and invite my guests to join me in creating a new version of Frog Story. Except next time I think I’ll change the order of the five manga fans so we can wring a little more pathos from this frog tale.