Comic Relief: Anime and Manga in the digital era

I’ve been interested in anime and manga ever since the 6th grade.  I was a dorky little middle-schooler who was obsessed with Shoujo manga (yes, I was one of them).  Until only very recently, however, I didn’t quite understand the role anime and manga played in the media — only that it was there, and I loved it.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen to an amazing panel discuss the topic in detail.  The accomplished panel: Kun Gao, co-founder and CEO of Crunchyroll; Keith Chow, outreach director for SIUniverse Media; Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo, creators of the Dim Sum Warriors iPad app; Lela Lee, the creator of “Angry Little Asian Girl”.  It was any manga/anime-lover’s dream.

Anyone who tries to search for an anime or manga series on Google has probably come across Crunchyroll, an online community consisting of lovers of all things Asian as well as a video services that streams hit anime series.  Being a major fan of it myself, I was delighted to listen to Mr. Gao speak about the concept behind Crunchyroll.  It started off as as a small forum in which people would post about various manga and anime series, and Mr. Gao decided to build on the community.  In creating the manga/anime delivering site Crunchyroll.com, he negotiated with the top Japanese Anime and Manga studios in Asia to stream anime for free (or for a subscription, which includes extra features).  The quality of the content on Crunchy roll is superior.  To quote Mr. Gao himself: “The reason the quality of manga is so good is because of the huge filtering process.  You can’t find this quality of imagination, of art, in a lot of the western world.” According to Mr. Gao, even though manga is associated as being for kids here in the US, it’s an entire form of communication.

KOLIN GOH and YEN YEN WOO created the Dim Sum Warriors, an iPad app that features various groups of….well, Dim Sum warriors.  Really.  The warriors are different types of Dim sum.  How cool is that?  It is the first interactive bilingual comic app with audio ever, and it combines wacky entertainment with education: you can learn Mandarin Chinese!  Bonus!  Goh and Woo learned early on that they needed to control the content delivery process and engage in a continued relationship with the audience.  To do so, they are building a studio with a mix of big-tent and small-tent titles.  Using iPad apps, they also are able to distribute their comics online.  A lot of their impulses stem from their wish to create something for their child and wanting to create characters that are human, even if they are in the form of kung fu fighting food.

KEITH CHOW, the outreach director for SIUNIVERSE MEDIA talked about the creative impulse that took him from being an English teacher to creating an educational media project.  The result is “SHATTERED”, and Asian American Superhero Anthology at www.secretidentities.org. The anthology features a partnership of many leading Asian American artists and writers creating a unique universe and combining both Western and Eastern cultures.  A story in the collection, you ask?  “Bai Bai, Bai Tsai”, a parody of “Ni Hao, Kai Lan.”  Brilliant.

I’ve known about LELA LEE since I was a kid.  I’ve always felt that I could relate to her, but the seminar today took that to an entirely different level.  She talked about growing up with a lot of angst and struggling with the pressure to succeed.  She created Angry Little Asian Girl after class at Berkeley one day, but  was embarrassed and put it away.  Then she was working at her mom’s dry cleaners and decided to pick it up again.  The rest is comic book, T-shirt and tote bag history. Lee tried to get development deals for ALAG, but execs either said, “there was no market for Asians”, or “Can you take the Asian girl out?”  Currently, after all this time, Mnet is now going to air the show starting on Oct. 26th.  The digital age is important because it helped her find her following and the people who felt like she did, encouraged and promoted her. “I feel like Mnet is the right partner…because they make me do everything!”

Eileen Hsu, V3con blogger

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