X-Treme: Big in Japan, soon to be big here

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Crying Freeman is a hit man who sheds a tear every time he completes a job...

A giant warrior obliterates an entire army by turning his body into pure steel and crushing them...

These storylines offer a sneak preview of our future entertainment. It's called Manga

Forget Men Behaving Badly, Ethel's dog and the return of Frank Butcher. How about super lasers, giant tanks, smart bombs, heat seeking plama missiles? Welcome to the world of Manga!

Manga has become the English generic name for Japaneseanimation and has attracted a huge underground following over the past two years from lovers of graphic novels (formerly known as comic books) and action fans alike.

The first Manga title was the classic Akira, which was shown on the ICA cinema circuit. The film gained good reviews but gave no hint of its imminent popularity. Six years on Akira still sells about 8,000 copies a month.

Titles like the Akira series, Street Fighter II and Fist Of The North Star have now attained legendary status. Manga's cocktail of technology, breathtaking animation, action and bangin' soundtracks sits comfortably with thousands of people who read graphic novels, go clubbing, play computer- game consoles and watch action movies. The only difference is that Manga's cartoon format means no creative boundaries.

"We've been stocking Manga products for about three years now with many fans buying sought after artwork in Japanese," says Jan Wiacek from London's Forbidden Planet store. "It was very hard to get the stuff a couple of years ago but now there are quite a few companies that translate the material from Japanese.

"In the UK, cartoons mean Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny. In Japan Manga are prime-time features - but that would be unheard of over here."

Imagine a cinematic fest of John Woo films, multiply the action and stunts to the power of 10 and you start to get an idea of the genre of Manga.

Its cult status has seen its influence spread far beyond the world of graphic novels and videos. Two clubs promote nights called "Manga" and use their distinctive visuals. Tribal Gathering 97 boasted Manga as a co-sponsor of their film tent and hip-hop legends, Wu Tan Clan have been discussing the possibility of making a Manga film in addition to providing soundtracks for future productions.

"Visually Manga is more exciting than traditional American comics," says Wiacek. "Most US comics come out every month while their Manga counterparts come out weekly and can run for years.

"They can afford to take more time over characterisation and action sequences than many US comics, who have to get through a certain amount of action in each issue."

Crying Freeman and Street Fighter have already been given the big-budget Hollywood treatment; in an ironic twist, they have been turned into live- action films, with real-life actors. While Manga purists won't appreciate watered-down presentations of their heroes, it certainly will not be Hollywood's last attempt to capitalise on the Manga phenomenon.

Manga products can be purchased from Forbidden Planet, 71 New Oxford Street, WC1 (0171-836 4179) or contact Manga on 0181-748 9000

MANGA OFFER

Win one of five copies of the new Crying Freeman box set (worth pounds 39.99) Send postcards to Manga Comp, The Coalition Group Ltd, 12 Barley Mow Passage, London W4 4PH by 5 December.

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