In October 2001, Frédéric Boilet was launching in Tokyo the “Nouvelle Manga” event, part discovery (through a series of exhibits around the Ueno museum), part meeting with a few invited French authors — David B., Fabrice Neaud, Loïc Néhou.
If it is regrettable that a mini polemic arose around an awkwardly-written Manifest, Fréderic Boilet’s sustained efforts for making authors and cultures meet can only been saluted, whether in his translations (in Japan as well as in France) or through more original experimentations.
Indeed, Japan is not very different from school exchanges, with high graders from Germany or elsewhere came to share our classroom for a week. Eight French-speaking authors (including the bicephal beast of Schuitten-Peeters) fly to Japan, and are here confronted to eight local authors (including Boilet the expatriate) and in turn give a vision of the country. The anthology then follows a slow trail along the Japanese archipel, starting in Amakusa in the South of Kyûshû, and ending in Sapporo in the North on Hokkaidô island.
As it is always the case in a collective work, this book ranges from the touching (Taniguchi, Takahama) to the “so-so” (Schuitten-Peeters), from discoveries (Igarashi, Little Fish) to confirmations (Matsumoto). The locals go back to their native place, and evoke a vision of Japan where legends are never far away, and where spirits still roam.
The visitors have nothing to be ashamed of, and all have made the effort of not chosing the easy way of a postcard-like report — but strangely, this brings back their little quirks and habits : from Joann-Sfar-who-has-lessons-on-everything to Fabrice-Neaud-who-get-obsessed-with-details to Fréderic-Boilet-who-explains-Japan.
But here lie without a doubt the limits of this book, with the French-speaking authors discussing at length their trip report while doing their usual thing, somewhat shadowing the more interior voyages of their Japanese counterparts, more intimate and personnal in their confessions.
Finally, it is more regrettable that this project did not generate any true collaboration, but only provides a juxatposition of talents, visions and sensibilities. Maybe next time …
- A Manifest that was rather badly received by a microcosm working for the acceptation of manga as a whole, and which wasn’t happy to see this new, self-proclaimed prophet claiming for himself the right to separate the grain from the chaff.
A polemic that was given new legs recently with the motto of the Sakka collection, under Boilet’s supervision at Casterman : “Once you’ve read a Sakka, you won’t read manga any more”. A marketing ploy to reach out to a different audience, but of which the diector denies any responsibility.
- Lessons that are all grounded in truth, but which, in this accumulation and shortened in a few one-liners, end up drawing too caricatural a portrait of the Japanese, unbalanced in the absence of a positive counterpoint.
- Beyond the knowledge of the country and its cultures, this fantasy of becoming more Japanese than the Japanese, criticized by Oualtérou a few pages away, is omnipresent in Tokyo est mon jardin, an idealized view of all a westerner fascinated by Japan would dream of becoming.
- The Japanese authors ending up covering only a third of this book.