At my Borders store, I am in charge of keeping order in the Genre section, which consists of mystery, horror, science fiction, Western, romance, graphic novels, and manga. Every morning, I arrive at work to begin shelving the inventory we received the day before. Without exception, manga is a complete mess. This is because the store is plagued by what my coworkers and I refer to as:
man · ga kids (mahng-guh kids)
1. Japanese-pop-culture geeks, age 7 to 40. [See also: otaku.]
2. Socially inept individuals who infest the narrow aisles containing manga.
3. Obnoxious emo kids whose headphones make them oblivious to everyone around them as they park themselves in the space where I'm trying to goddamn work.
These unsavory specimens generally appear between 10 and 11 a.m., although the less sleep-reliant among them enter the café between 7 and 9 and wait for the store to open. They then take up residence on the floor between the racks, curling up with their quarry and absorbing it for free. Once they've had their fix, they proceed to stuff the spent manga on top of whichever shelf happens to be closest. This is where I find it in the morning, and that's why I always shelve manga first.
My friends at work and I love to rip on the manga kids. It's one of the few things guaranteed to brighten up an otherwise shitty day. They don't deserve to be treated with respect; they consume product without buying, ignore everyone around them, and view the staff as their own personal cleanup service. I was unwise enough today to begin unloading a new cart in the afternoon, when a twenty-something kid with big glasses filled the entire second row with his bulbous frame. Despite my numerous attempts to shelve around him, he steadfastly refused to budge. This is not atypical—most of his ilk won't move an inch unless forced to. In this way, manga kids are a lot like my cat.
Manga itself is a strange commodity. It is designed to resemble the standard mass-market paperback novel, roughly 7 inches x 5 inches around and usually 200 pages or so. This lends it a slight air of sophistication over its emotionally stunted cousin, the comic book. The artwork of manga can range from the masterful to the banal, depending on the frequency with which a given series is released, but the storylines are almost invariably bizarre. Whereas American graphic novels of the last twenty years have attempted to gain mainstream credibility by mining the same emotionally complex terrain as their text-only brethren, manga seems to have taken the opposite course. At least two titles—Fruits Basket and Man's Best Friend—concern werepeople who change form during moments of physical intimacy. In the latter instance, said wereperson is a stray dog capable of transforming into a strapping young twink when aroused. Absolute Boyfriend details the romantic misadventures of a girl named Riiko and her animatronic lover, Night, who find themselves continuously quagmired in love triangles with other women who want Night to service them as well. It's no wonder so many titles are shrink-wrapped, nor that I usually find shrinkwrap all over the place in the mornings. At least half of the titles feature a parental advisory label, but I wonder about the supposed maturity of these titles' target audiences.
The most annoying aspect of manga is its current stranglehold on American youth culture. This is the reason our manga aisles are congested in the first place: series such as Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh! are hot shit among the middle-schoolers who hang out at our store in the afternoon. My most memorable encounter with a budding otaku occurred near the end of the holiday season, when a harried young mother approached me with her children in tow and asked me if I knew anything about manga. "My son is always talking about it, but I don't know what it is," she pleaded. I informed her that manga was popular Japanese fiction, and compared it to a novel-sized comic book. At this point, her son, who looked alarmingly similar to me at that age (buzzcut, too-big glasses, grimace), furrowed his brow and sniffed, "They're graphic novels." Thankfully, I was able to suppress the urge to punch him in the face.
Despite the deepest wishes of the staff, our manga kids will not go away. The only option is to learn to deal with them. My friend Christine has posited that we could probably transport them from the section without any resistance; when I suggested that we simply pick them up and move them elsewhere, she said, "They probably wouldn't notice!"
I may just try that tomorrow.