I came to manga late, relatively speaking. Even after I started watching anime and enjoying it, it was years before I even gave any thought to the media from which so many of those animated stories were derived. If I ever did think of manga, it was usually with some level of disdain. Most of this comes from my general distaste for comic books during my childhood. It's not like I ran into comics often as a kid, even now I can only remember a few instances including a copy of GI-Joe, but the entire idea repelled me. I loved books and would devour them at a ridiculous rate. That's one reason I think I drifted toward fantasy where authors tended to be prolific and even the shortest story ran as a trilogy. With certain authors like Piers Anthony, even his trilogies ended up having up to a dozen books in the end.
A comic book, by comparison, provided so little content and then broke what little there was into chunks you had to wait for and then purchase again was anathema to me. Not to mention I figured the pictures were just wasteful and took up way too much space. I could very easily imagine the images of a story in my head and didn't need someone sketching them out for me. It frankly seemed like comics were the domain of the generally illiterate or people who needed to be amused by pretty pictures. Yeah, perhaps it was harsh and even undeserving, but that's what I believed through most of my life. It's for that reason that I never even gave comic books a second look when the whole graphic novel phenomena appeared and new works became geared more toward adults rather than kids.
Because of all of that baggage, I didn't given manga a try until a few years ago, and even then there were plenty of false starts. Rather than just picking a random title, I tried to read manga of anime series I already enjoyed. That ended up being problematic since the overlap was often total. When an American company might make a tv show or movie adaptation from a comic or book, you know they are going to change a shitload of things. In fact, it's often a miracle if the final product even slightly resembles the original which leads to a lot of fan angst and gnashing of teeth. I assumed the same thing would be true of anime made from manga. I assumed wrong. I have no clue if it's tradition or lack of imagination or the strictness of buying the rights to a work, but the overlap between an anime and the manga it is created from is almost total in most cases. If you've seen the anime, then for all intents and purposes, you've read the manga. There might be small snippets that were left out or storylines that were combined, but in general we're talking about a handful of pages out of perhaps volumes and volumes of manga.
This repetition made it hard for me to get into manga since it was a complete retread and in many cases I had just finished watching the damn anime. What ended up saving me in a way is the infamous Gecko Ending. While most anime lasts a season or two, your average successful manga goes on for _years_ if not _decades_. I mentioned this amazing longevity when I wrote an entry about One Piece which is still going strong after 12 years. Because of this, anime adaptations often have to have a Gecko Ending, meaning an anime-exclusive end to the storyline because the actual storyline is still going on in the manga. Well, if you really like an anime and get to the end, it sort of makes you wonder what's really supposed to happen, right? That's what hooked me in the end.
While I started to read manga more often, what really hooked me and converted me was Mahou Sensei Negima by Ken Akamatsu. Ken had authored the manga to my favorite anime for years, Love Hina so it was a natural fit that I would give the Negima anime a whirl. When I really enjoyed it and the series ended, I naturally went to see what ended up happening in the manga to all the characters and how the plot continued.
Amazing does not even begin to describe it.
It turns out that Negima was a prime example of author jujitsu on an epic scale. When Love Hina ended, Ken Akamatsu's publishers wanted him to write and draw another similar manga, namely a harem story. A single guy and a bevy of attractive girls who all swarm him for no particular reason. Ken on the otherhand really had it in his mind to do a shounen battle manga but as you can see from the image of the characters from Negima above, seemed to give in. It wasn't just a harem series. It was a freaking harem series turned up to 11. We didn't have 3 or 4 competing girls but 31 in a class (though to be fair not every single one was in the competition) and it was like he created the characters going through some sort of massive fetish/moe checklist.
- Loli *check*
- Tsundere *check*
- Megane *check*
- Cheerleader *check*
- Gymnast *check*
- Ojou-sama *check*
- Robot girl *check*
- Ghost girl *check*
- Ninja girl *check*
- Kung-fu girl *check*
- Twins *check*
- and so on, and so on, and so on....
That wasn't the true genius part, though I imagine plenty of people burst a nutbladder thinking it was. The genius is that the manga eventually evolved into a freaking shounen battle story rather than a harem one. It seems absolutely ridiculous that you could turned a story about a 10 year old Welsh teacher at a junior high school for girls who almost all want to Marshmallow Hell him to death and somehow morph it into the ultimate red-blooded, gun-ho, ass-kicking battle story, but he managed to do it.
The story was amazing and engrossing as all hell. In fact, I was reading the manga at the airport while waiting for a flight from Chicago to Indianapolis for Gencon a couple years ago and _missed two flights_. I had never missed a single flight in my life up to that point but the manga so captivated me that I missed two separate gate change announcements (not to mention not realizing that the boarding area I was in had turned into a ghost town). The festival arc and the beginning of the magical world arc were just that good.
Of course, from reading the title to this entry, you know that I wouldn't be writing this if there were any joy in mudville. Negima is over. It ended in just about the worst way possible with huge storylines left unresolved, frankly none of the main storylines had actually been resolved, and just plopped like a dead fish out of nowhere. No one really saw it coming and the nerd rage was pretty virulent. Conspiracy theories abounded as to why an ending would come out nowhere like this with a single shocking message that there were just four chapters left. 4 chapters to resolve plot points that couldn't be unraveled with justice if there were 4 VOLUMES left, much less chapters.
I won't go into the details because frankly, even if someone is reading this I'll wager dollars to doughnuts you don't care about them. The nerdrage hit nearly epic proportions when the following imagine was leaked ahead of the 4th chapter from the last.
Oddly, the idea that the hero dropped dead didn't actually bother me that much. As I reflected on things, it seemed a kinda poignant way to go. Nothing comes without sacrifice and if you want to save the world, what are you willing to give in exchange. Maybe it's just me being maudlin and a sign that I'm even more of a pessimist in my old age. I thought there would actually be a lot of meaning in an end like that where all the characters (with the exception of the one who time-skipped forward to wake up 130 years later with all of her friends dead) lived their lives and then passed on, without the readers ever knowing the details. What I feared more was some sort of saccharine deus ex machina which would just fix everything and have it all be happy joy joy without pain or loss or a price.
Guess what happened in the next chapter?
*sigh* I guess I can see where Ken Akamatsu is coming from. If he had left it with the death and depression ending, there would probably be otakus burning him in effigy outside of his house. Even as it is, the unwashed and disturbed masses are pretty pissed he won't resolve the whole 'Which Girl Wins?' question, not to mention all the other plots left hanging from the noose. Frankly, the whole thing is just sort of depressing all around.
Still....no matter how sad and unsatisfying it ended up, I can still remember that day at Midway Airport when I was crouched by that electrical socket with my laptop, feverishly reading and lost in a world of magic.