by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
A few days ago I got an excited quick email from none other than Stu-senpai. "Wow, saw this at Walgreens!" Attached were two photos of a new L'Oreal cosmetic product: Miss Manga™ mascara, on display at the store.
Yes, when big international corporations like L'Oreal seize upon manga as a way of promoting their product, you definitely can tell that it's no longer a cult phenomenon. It is assumed that you know what they are talking about when it comes to manga and how they associate the traditional big-eyed look of bishoujou (pretty girl) characters with their mascara.
Use our mascara, they say, and you will have those big, soulful eyes you see in manga and anime. The packaging even has the distinctive eye style drawn on it: big eyes with big sparkly highlights in them.
The L'Oreal Miss Manga™ mascara website attempts to explain what manga is. Unfortunately they didn't do their homework very well, because the factoids they present were not entirely on target.
Manga has been around for a lot longer than the 1960s. Its roots go all the way back to illustrated storytelling by itinerant storytellers in Japan, and to the popularly-priced prints sold during the Edo era. However they were correct...to a point...about the influence of American pop culture on Japanese manga and anime. The acknowledged shaper of both art forms was Osamu Tezuka, and Tezuka's influences included Walt Disney and the Fleischer Brothers. You can see the influence, in particular, of Betty Boop on his theories of character design if you look at Tezuka's character Ribbon no Kishi and Boop side by side.
Big head, big eyes, small body, baby-like "cute" proportions. You also see this, to a lesser extent, in the character design of Walt Disney's Snow White.
The proportions are less babydoll-like and more like a grown woman, but the head and eyes are bigger than life, the body is smaller, and the nose and mouth on the face are smaller than the eyes. There is another reason why these proportions are so important in animation: the "acting" of a character is very strongly conveyed by the eyes. Smaller, more proportionate eyes don't "read" as well on a movie screen or on a manga page as bigger eyes do. So this is why you see this convention both in American and Japanese visual storytelling since the beginning.
Betty Boop was also the first 2D animated "idol star" to be embraced by Japanese audiences. Fleischer Betty Boop cartoons were a huge hit in Japan in the 1930s, in spite of official disapproval of too much influence of Western culture in those days of increasing military adventurism and jingoism in Japan, and the rise of men like Hideki Tojo in the Japanese government. The Fleischer Brothers Studio in New York acknowledged the popularity of Betty Boop in Japan by making the animated short "A Language All My Own" where Betty Boop flies to Japan to do a live concert. She sings in both English and Japanese, and wears Kimono. Contrary to some rumors, the Japanese language lyrics of the title song are a perfect translation of the English lyrics, and do not have any added "ecchi" content.
Which brings us right back to the subject, as Betty Boop is, when you think of the character, not so far removed from modern virtual idols like Hatsune Miku, A few years ago, she became the spokesmodel for Toyota cars in the US, and also in other parts of the world. Bringing it full circle, here's the long-form version of the 2011 commercial that you might remember.
The first two photos were by Stu Levy.