Quick Reads: Manga Mania
Today's Quick Reads article will be a little bit different because it won't be about regular books like previous installments – instead the focus will be on a form of literature that's distinctly Japanese: manga. If you're a long time enthusiast of Nipponese vehicles chances are you've heard the word before or you may even be a fan of it but for those of you in the studio audience who've never heard of the term manga are basically Japanese comic books.
That's an oversimplification of course since there are several unique traits that differentiate manga from the Batman, X-men, and Archie comics you used to read on the toilet (or maybe still do while using your newfangled Squatty Potty). First of all, just as “anime” differs from Western “cartoons”, manga caters to all audiences in Japan, not just the young and/or nerdy like comics are widely perceived in the West. You'll find all types of manga catering to all manner of readers: young, old, guys, gals, sci-fi lovers, horror fans, pervs, military nuts, cat fanciers, overweight Italian plumbers who save princesses on the side, etc etc.
Manga has also remained traditionally black and white unlike Western comics that long ago made the jump to color. Also unlike Western comics that traditionally come in 7” x 10” sized monthly releases, manga typically is first published in phone book sized anthologies then later gets released in handy 5” x 7” collections called tankobon. And just like the Japanese prefer to drive on the wrong side of the road they also read from the wrong end of a book so manga reads right to left instead of left to right like us gaijin have been taught to do since we were mistaking Play-Doh for tasty comestibles.
The Nissan GT-R is a distinctly Japanese car so it seems only fitting that way back in 2005 when Nissan unveiled the GT-R Proto concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show that it would use a distinctly Japanese medium to help educate the unenlightened Western press on the history of their vaunted marque – and this gave birth to the official GT-R manga.
|This book is either about GT-Rs or it's about a giant floating head who drew a penis on the back of his evil twin-brother's race helmet.|
This little gem was only given out as a press freebie so I was lucky to snag a copy from a GT-R forum way back when all my memories were as black and white as the drawings inside. It apparently came in both a Japanese and English version but mine is the latter – which helps because my ability to read Nihongo is about as stellar as my ability to read Shakespeare in the original Klingon.
|Tokyo Motor Show 2005 - the GT-R Proto concept car debuts and a bunch of journalists get free manga. Image credit: Motor Authority|
It's a rather thin tome at only 64 pages but as you can expect from a company promotional book it's pretty informative. Using nice line art, the occasional photo, and a LOT! OF! EXCITED! JAPANESE! FACES! (who all seem to look alike for some reason) it hits the highlights of GT-R history from its origins as the Prince Skyline up until the unveiling of the GT-R Proto in 2005. Even with the short length the book is full of fascinating trivia for the GT-R fan such as how the debut race for the original PGC10 GT-R was nearly lost to a Toyota but won on review after the first place car was disqualified and that the R32 GT-R was actually called the GT-X all throughout development and wasn't revealed to use the legendary name until the day of its debut.
Unfortunately as a press giveaway you can't just go out and buy this little primer on Skyline history but it still pops up on eBay from time to time so if you keep an eye out you may be able to get a copy from there or if you just want to read it scans are posted here:
Interestingly, that 2005 manga wasn't the only one to feature the GT-R's history – in 2007, around the time of the reveal of the actual R35 production car there was another one released. There's very little information on this second manga out there since it was apparently only published in Japanese and it seems it was a commercial release by a manga publisher, not an official promotional piece from Nissan like the previous version. I did see someone online claim there was an English version but I think he's confusing this manga with the 2005 version. The small amount of info out there in English is thanks to one guy who graciously translated a small part of the manga and posted it online here:
The manga seems to have been a much thicker volume than the 2005 version since the translator mentioned in a forum post that the first pages were text and that his translated section from pages 14 to 51 was just a fraction of the manga part, with the whole book weighing in at 260 pages! Unlike the official 2005 Nissan manga which is basically a straight-up documentary retelling of GT-R history this later publication decided to frame the history-telling within a touching story of the budding love triangle between an innocent young boy with his hand-me-down S15, the ex-mechanic owner of a GT-R themed cafe who's blessed with a mustache of power, and a rare, restored PGC10 GT-R. Read the scans if you think you're hard enough.
|Love blossoms between a man, a boy, and an old Japanese saloon car. Image credit: Urbanslide.com|
Also interesting is the fact that the translator appears to have been an American who moved to Japan to live with a host family and was keeping a car enthusiast blog which you can find if you follow the root directory of that link I posted. His blog is actually a fascinating read for anyone who's ever thought about visiting Japan whether they're a car enthusiast or not. Sadly, it hasn't been updated since 2010 with no reason given for why it was abandoned. I did find a forum post dating from 2012 that seemed to be from the owner which didn't explain why he stopped his blog (reading his forum profile it sounds like he moved back to the States at some point) but did at least shed light on why he couldn't finish his translation of the manga – he lost his copy. Too bad because even the characters in it said it was just getting to the good part! Hopefully the good part remained suitable for audiences of all ages because otherwise that would just be too weird.
His forum post was asking anyone if they knew where to find a copy so he could finish his translation but his call was left unanswered and unfortunately he never scanned the cover which would have made finding the book much easier. If anyone reading this happens to know more, please, please for the benefit of the GT-R fan community post a message in the comments or send me an email because I'd love to learn and write more about this intriguing book and maybe even acquire a copy myself.
Although I sadly don't have a copy of that GT-R manga I did manage to luck into another one called Car Imp. Comic while browsing a Japanese used book store a while back.
|This book is about a dwarf who worships a giant steering wheel and likes to stand on the roof of vintage cars.|
It's not strictly about GT-Rs but it does feature the R32, R33, and R34 along with some other very cool cars like the Mclaren F1, Toyota 2000GT, and that ultimate paragon of ultimate performance: the Daihatsu Midget. With my aforementioned limited Japanese reading ability don't even bother asking me what the “Imp.” in the title stand for or why it segues in the middle of a chapter from talking about the Ford Mustang to some Middle Eastern sultan with a fetish for the Colt 1911 pistol, or why the chapter on the Chevy Corvette shows two dudes donning tactical gear, M4 carbines, and H&K USP Tacticals to raid a warehouse. Did I mention they threw in the Saturn V rocket for some reason?
|It's saying something when this page that shows Nazi's throwing grenades at a Volvo is one of the LESS weird parts of the book.|
Fortunately or unfortunately the GT-R sections seem far less wacky – although the R34 chapter shows the car being worked on by a dude in prison overalls so I'm probably totally wrong there. Oh well, maybe when I can clone myself to have more free time to improve my Japanese skills I'll translate this so everyone can join in the insanity.
|This section is about one lucky bastard who owns an R34 and likes to pretend he's a spy.|
In case you think the GT-R is the only hallowed Nissan nameplate to get the historical manga treatment I have one last book to show you. Back in 2006 a small publishing company in California picked up the rights to release an English version of a manga series called Project X. No, it wasn't about the sexy escapades of Japanese race queens if that's what you're thinking, instead it was based on a TV show that featured important Japanese products. One of the products they featured before the English translation was abandoned due to low sales was the 240Z and the resulting book is a 207-page retelling of the origins of the Z from the very beginning. Since the Z was the brainchild of Nissan USA pioneer Yutaka Katayama the book also shows some insight into the early years of Nissan in the US – which apparently involved random used car salesmen in sunflower-print Hawaiian shirts and a whole lot of legwork from Mr. K himself.
|This book is about a ghostly Datsun Z that terrorizes the Japanese racing circuit on its endless quest for revenge and a good ramen joint.|
This manga is also sadly long out of print and I don't believe any full scans are online. They can still be bought from used book sellers online but they're asking 80 bucks for a volume that retailed for $12.95. Gotta love capitalism.
Of course, these books are just the tip of the iceberg as far as Nissans in manga. With the legendary status of the GT-R and Z plus various other famous models Nissans often make their way into fictional manga like Initial D, Wangan Midnight, Shakotan Boogie and so forth but that'd be a story for another day. I hope you enjoyed this not-so-brief foray into the land of manga and you'll come back for a future edition of my Quick Reads articles. Have fun and drive safe out there!