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Japan expresses its love for Apple and Steve Jobs, in manga

by Akky Akimoto

Apple Inc. has been always loved by people in Japan. Even during its toughest years, in the 1990s, after cofounder Steve Jobs had been expelled and the company was almost dead, its Macintosh computer held a much greater market share in Japan than in other countries. At that time, Apple made up over 10 percent of all personal computers sold here, when the world share was around 5 percent.

Then, after Jobs made his comeback, Apple’s iPod mobile music player knocked the Sony Walkman off the top spot in Japan. This was followed by the success of the iPhone, which became a bestseller even though over 80 percent of people already had Internet access on their Japanese cellphones. That success was even more remarkable, considering that it was only available with the third-ranked phone company SoftBank — in other major markets, Apple had shaken hands with the No. 1 or at worst, the No. 2 carriers. Now, with Japan’s No. 2 carrier, KDDI-au, also offering the iPhone, it is a major threat to Docomo’s strategy and position as No. 1. The latest shipment share for the iPhone is reported to be 16 percent, which is higher than Macintosh’s success in the ’90s, and makes Apple the No.1 handset maker in Japan now.

Jobs was often reported to have an affection for Japanese culture — for example his love for Zen, sushi and his trademark Issey Miyake black turtleneck sweater — so maybe that has something to do with why the Japanese liked him so much. Or maybe it was because Jobs sometimes showed respect for Japanese electronics vendors, especially Sony in its golden age. Whatever the reason, there have been always loyal Apple fans here.

It is no wonder then, that Apple and the story of Steve Jobs are thought of as good themes for manga. While Jobs is celebrated by Hollywood in the shape of a movie starring Ashton Kutcher, in Japan several manga have taken up his tale.

In 1984 — the year that Apple introduced its Macintosh computer with a now famous Ridley Scott-directed TV commercial — manga artist Mitsuru Sugaya wrote a manga titled “Apple II Story” in the kids magazine Korokoro Comic.

Sugaya is best known for his kids manga and anime, “Game Center Arashi,” which began in 1978 and was about a video-game loving boy named Arashi, who fought it out with rivals on popular arcade games of the time such as “Space Invaders.” Sugaya also created many other manga about technology, computers, amateur radio, radio-controlled cars, pre-Internet online service and so on. And it’s said his manga affected a lot of kids who grew up to be engineers. His homage to Apple fit right into his interest in technology and in 2008, he republished the whole of “Apple II Story” digitally on his blog.

“Steves,” by the popular manga team Ume (planner Takahiro Ozawa and a cartoonist Asako Seo), is a series of e-manga that follows both of Apple’s young founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The story is written by Keiichi Matsunaga.

Ume is mainly known for its award-winning series “Dai Tokyo Toybox,” but it also has a reputation for blazing a new trail on the Internet with its 2010 manga “Aozora Finder Rock,” which was the first Japanese e-manga released on the Amazon Kindle in the U.S.

“Steves” is the team’s second digital-only manga, the first episode of which was published in 2011 for free. It even had an English version available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-book reader. Last November, Ume decided to raise production costs for the second episode on the Japanese crowdfunding website Campfire — which is similar to Kickstarter or IndiGoGo — and successfully collected half a million yen within two hours, the fastest record on the service.

Generally, Japanese manga authors live under the control of publishers. And Ume also have several successful series running in traditional magazines. But the team has an interest in finding new ways to deliver its manga directly to readers using the latest technology, and the story of the two Steves who built Apple is an obvious match. According to the Campfire page for the project, the manga will be released in four sections of at least 10 pages each over the next few months, (for more details in Japanese, visit camp-fire.jp/projects/view/484)

Another manga that looks at the founding of Apple is manga artist Mari Yamazaki’s new series “Steve Jobs,” which will begin on March 25 in the monthly manga magazine Kiss, which targets adult women. Yamazaki is best known for her popular series “Thermae Romae” — a strange tale of two bath-loving races, the ancient Romans and modern Japanese. It became the second highest grossing movie last year. Her new manga will be the official comic adaptation of the authorized biography of Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson.

Yamazaki is hardly a typical manga artist, having lived in Europe for about 20 years and currently living in Chicago with her Italian husband. Adapting Jobs’ biography for female manga readers may not be the obvious choice, but if she can get women interested in the life and times of Apple’s cofounder the way she was able to evoke interest in Roman bathing customs, then Surely it will be another hit for her.

Interestingly, these manga authors who have taken a shine to Steve Jobs have a certain thing in common: Each of them has done something that other manga artists have not. Whether that involves releasing manga in new forms or choosing subjects that no one else has touched. That attitude overlaps with that of Jobs himself. They may be attracted to him because they themselves are pioneers in their field.

Akky Akimoto writes for Asiajin.com, an English/Spanish blog on the Japanese Web scene. Follow him on Twitter @akky.

  • wolf morrison

    An Apple a day makes Steve come to stay

  • phu

    Hopefully they’re not romanticizing Jobs too much. The man was a brilliant and effective businessman, but a great person? Absolutely not. He was a tyrant to the people who worked for him; people were resources to him, that’s all. This was obvious not just in his office behavior (consistently screaming at and berating people) but in his consistent choice to exploit cheap third-world labor to maintain the astronomically high profit margins Apple has enjoyed.

    Telling the story is good… hopefully they tell all of it, or at least give the right impression.