KANTA ON MANGA / Morally instructive 1937 novel popular again in manga form

© 2017 Genzaburo Yoshino, Shoichi Haga / Magazine House

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe manga this week

Kimitachi wa Do Ikiru ka (How do you live?)

Manga by Shoichi Haga, based on a story by Genzaburo Yoshino (Magazine House)

If I were asked which manga was the most talked about this year, I might pick the one I’ve chosen to discuss this week. An adaptation of a classic novel for children written 80 years ago, this manga was published in August and has become an exceptional hit, selling more than 600,000 copies so far. You might say that this novel and its manga adaptation have developed into a social phenomenon.

No doubt it drew public attention when Hayao Miyazaki announced he is working on a new anime with the same title, reversing his previous announcement that he was retiring from creating anime feature films.

The original “Kimitachi wa Do Ikiru ka” (How do you live?) was written in 1937 by Genzaburo Yoshino (1899-1981), an editor and writer of children’s literature, as one of the volumes of the Nihon Shokokumin Bunko (A library for Japanese children) published by Shinchosha.

At the time, Japan was rapidly becoming militarized following the Manchurian Incident of 1931. In opposition to this social climate, the library was an excellent project designed to educate children based on humanitarianism. “Kimitachi wa Do Ikiru ka” is the most famous volume of this library and is available today as a paperback from Iwanami Shoten, Publishers.

The contents are still valid and meaningful because it is a universal story about how an ordinary junior high school boy nicknamed Copel exchanges notebook memos with his slightly eccentric uncle. They carry on a philosophical dialogue contemplating various subjects, such as friendship, bullying, irreparable mistakes and the right to self-determination.

Each subject is taken up one by one to help deepen Copel’s understanding. Yoshino says he wrote it as a book on morality, but there’s nothing pushy or demanding in this book.

Moral education will be a special school subject at elementary school from the next school year and at junior high school from the following school year. I think this book alone would be quite sufficient as a textbook.

Thinking about this book leads me to reflect on the recent trend in publishing manga adaptations of great works of literature. Sure enough, a reprinted text version of this novel would never have sold as many as 600,000 copies. I read both the text version and the manga version to compare them, and was more impressed with Copel’s anguish in the manga version when he is not able to stop his friend from being bullied.

However, the manga version is ultimately a digest and therefore can’t be better than the original. I don’t want the reader to be satisfied reading the manga version and stop there. The manga this week should be read as a guidepost to lead you to the original book. Artist Shoichi Haga is little known, but he created this wonderful guidepost that is visible even from far away. I have nothing but praise for his great work.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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