COMICS REVIEW / Little kid’s low humor runs deep
Cristoph Mark / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
By Yoshito Usui (Translated by Sheldon Drzka)
8 volumes and counting / CMX Manga, 119 pp and 7.99 dollars each
Back in 1992, 4-year-old French singer Jordy Lemoine had a worldwide hit with his song, “Dur dur d’etre bebe!” There were (likely unfounded) rumors at the time that the talented tot was already a womanizer, sacking his nannies when they complained of his groping. It was this image I could not remove from my mind as I read through the first volumes of the long-running manga Crayon Shinchan.
A number of Westerners quickly jump to the conclusion that raunchy kindergartner Shinnosuke Nohara is a blatant rip-off of Bart Simpson, a character who has been around only slightly longer. (The Simpsons made their debut in 1987, while the manga version of Crayon Shinchan first appeared in 1990.)
But Shinnosuke–known to his family and classmates as “Shin-chan”–is closer to the aforementioned French pop star, or even Eric Cartman from the groundbreaking, adult-oriented U.S. animated comedy South Park.
He is vulgar and constantly referring to genitalia, usually his own or that of his short-tempered mother. (One long-running gag in the comic involves Shin-chan using his mother’s lipstick to create an elephant between his legs. Let’s leave the details to your own imagination.) He also spends his time ogling and groping the twenty-something women of his town, in addition to photographs of the love of his life–Jessica Alba.
Now, of course, this is only in the English edition, which unlike many manga translations, is actually quite good. The language in each of the four-page nonserialized stories is smooth, the jokes have been cleverly altered and the references–such as Ms. Alba–are culturally relevant. Because of this, there is little need for explanation about Japanese culture. But when the need does arise, the translator provides a short footnote explanation.
What is surprising about the manga, which also has been adapted as a TV show and a series of movies, is that it is both realistic and occasionally wholesome–Shinnosuke’s repeated comments about mother Mitzi’s lack of ample cleavage are certainly insulting and crass, but, unlike those muttered by Eric Cartman, they are not meant maliciously.
Of course, also unlike the American Cartman, the Japanese Shin-chan must face being knocked about a bit by fed-up parents, highlighting the differences in the two cultures’ concerns over political correctness. (The Simpsons, however, noticeably ignores conventions over portraying child abuse.)
In fact, Shin-chan’s disruptive behavior is only a slight exaggeration of what I’m sure every parent has experienced at one time or another. Many of the things that Shin-chan does are not that unlike what an actual kindergarten-aged boy would do–ranging from the cute mix-ups over the usage of greetings such as “I’m home” and “welcome home,” to the inability to properly wipe his butt after using the toilet, resulting in “skid marks.”
Several paragraphs ago, I accused Westerners of being quick to jump to conclusions about Shin-chan’s origins. Japanese, however, are quick to conclude that Shin-chan is a horrible little comic about an obnoxious boy. And, well, they’re right. But like social critic Bart Simpson and French pop star Jordy–whose career was apparently stopped short by the French government over fears his parents were exploiting him–there is so much more (and, well, so much less) to Shin-chan than anybody wants to give him credit for.
(May. 29, 2009) Daily Yomiuri