Rue Amelot

Manga Mon Amour: On French Passion For Japanese Anime

The visiting American writer pieces together how the French culture of comics (bandes dessinées) mixes with their deepening love of Japanese anime'.

At the Paris Manga Sci-Fi Show
Genevieve Mansfield

PARIS — When I was in sixth grade, Cartoon Network aired episodes of the TV show Code Lyoko almost every day around 3 p.m. I was a loyal fan — watching practically every day when I got home from school.

In the show, a group of teenagers wage virtual battle against a virus-like artificial intelligence force that threatens to wreak havoc on the physical world. If I had to categorize it, I would place it loosely into the "anime-influenced Western animated series" box. Uninformed as I was, I had simply assumed the show was a real Japanese anime, when in actuality it was a French animated television series. Fast forward a decade: I had just moved to the Paris region and begun work as a middle school English teacher. About halfway through the day, it was time for free reading. As I told my students to take out their reading materials, I was struck as, one by one, virtually all pulled out the same thing: Manga.

This mainstream status in France surprised me after my experience in a U.S. middle school, where being a manga (or anime) fan was typically frowned upon. If you were looking to secure popularity, your book of choice might be the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, or the Uglies series. Manga was more of a niche interest, and as such, frequently viewed as "weird," indicative perhaps of some latent xenophobia. And yet, here were my French students — those aspiring to coolness and the wallflowers alike — flipping eagerly through their copies of Demon Slayer or One Piece.

Of course, in recent years anime and manga have entered more of the mainstream in the United States. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Michael B Jordan are open fans, to the chagrin of those who detest the thought of the genre being overtaken by "normies." But in France, the story is different altogether. Anime and manga are extremely popular, and have held a special place here for a long time, as noted in a recent article in Le Monde.

"All you have to do is look up and you'll see it all around the school," Solal, a 16-year-old highschooler in Brittany, told the French daily. "Tons of people wear anime-inspired t-shirts or sweaters. Some people even have phone cases with characters from their favorite series on them, while others might be a bit more discreet and just have anime on their computer screen."

Manga actually overtook the traditional BD style, becoming the most popular comic sold in France.

France is ranked, in fact, as the second largest consumer of manga outside of Japan. And it's a love affair that goes back decades, to 1978 to be precise, when it appeared on public television as after-school series.

Young viewers tuned into the public television channel of a production group called Club Dorothée to watch series such as Goldorak or Maya the Bee. These lower budget shows would pave the way for well-known shows like Dragon Balland Sailor Moon. Interestingly, anime as a genre was originally met with backlash, as naysayers decried the genre's tendency to oversexualize characters and portray too much gore and violence. And yet in some ways, the bad press served to make anime more popular, and as anime took off, so did manga.

France was already fertile ground for the manga market given its rich history of graphic novels, or as they are known in French: bandes dessinées (BDs for short). Cultural phenomena like The Adventures of Tintin (1929) and Astérix (1959) have marked generations of French people, with some in France even referring to BDs as the "9th Art." Every year, France hosts the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the second largest comic festival in Europe and the third largest in the world, after Japan's Comiket Festival. Several French government officials attend the event each year, and in 2019, Franck Riester, a former culture minister, even gave a speech where he likened the import of the comic festival to that of the Cannes Film Festival in cinema.

France was already fertile ground for the manga market given its rich history of graphic novels — Photo: Visual/ZUMA Wire

Thus, converting to manga was not that big of an ask for an already comic-loving culture. But by 2005, manga actually overtook the traditional BD style, becoming the most popular comic sold in France. And as manga and anime have taken hold of France, the French have started to create their own comics and series — à la française. Publishers that have sought to create "French-style" manga, or Manfras, tend to feature art inspired by Japanese manga while sometimes offering left-to-right reading styles or incorporating a bande dessinée-style hardcover. Their popularity is growing too, both in France and even in Japan, as evidenced by the success of Radiant, a French comic written and illustrated by Tony Valente, and published by Ankama, the French entertainment company.

Satoko Inaba, editorial director at the publishing house, Glénat told Le Monde that publishing houses have been overwhelmed by requests for publication in this style. "We have piles of projects coming in," he said.

This is where Code Lyoko, the show that grabbed my attention so much as an 11-year-old, fits in. Created by French animators Thomas Romain and Tania Palumbo, the illustration style in the show is an homage to manga iconography and drawing style, even though it is presented through 3D CGI animation. But the imagery is simultaneously inspired by scenes from the Paris area, from a Renault production plant in Boulogne-Billancourt to a high school in Sceaux.

Code Lyoko represents the way that manga and anime, adapted with a few French twists, has triumphed in France — to the point even of being beamed into living rooms in the United States, where the show dazzled at least one curious (and unsuspecting) middle-schooler, who could hardly have imagined she'd one day call Paris home.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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