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‘Disney Manga: Donald Duck Visits Japan!’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Meru Okada
Published by Tokyopop

 

The Three Caballeros Manga. Just…wow. What a weird world we find ourselves in.

As any Disney or classic cartoon fan knows, The Three Caballeros was a feature-length 1945 live-action/animated mash-up that stuck Donald Duck into a colorful travelogue alongside José Carioca, a Brazilian parrot from the earlier, similar movie Saludos Amigos, and Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican rooster.

Neither of the new characters caught on in America although both have popped up here and there on TV, in newspaper strips, and in comic books, ever since. Outside the US was a whole different story as both were consistently popular in non-American Disney product, ultimately culminating in a pretty cool animated series, The Legend of the Three Caballeros, about five years back, that did eventually turn up in the US.

That exact same period, from 1945 until the present day, also saw the slow but phenomenal rise of Japanese Manga, at first copying US comic books but soon developing into its own unique art form. At the bookstore where I worked in the early 1980s, the company experimented by carrying a small selection of Manga titles, but since the subjects were all across the board they didn’t know what section to put them in! At first stuck in the children’s section until someone noticed they could be pretty violent, the official word came down to put them on the bottom shelf at the end of the science-fiction section. Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of sales. At the last bookstore where I worked, though, in 2018, our Manga section was huge and one of our most popular sections among teens and young adults. We even had some adult Manga, sealed in plastic. Well…until the teens and young adults ripped ‘em open.

All of that is my long-winded way of making the point that, looking back, Donald Duck, José Carioca, Panchito, and Manga were all on approximately the same course at the same time. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would eventually collide.

It’s a darn shame the result isn’t particularly good.

Donald, Panchito, and José are all working in an office for a big corporation but they are all clueless as to what they’re supposed to be doing. In order to get rid of the screw-ups, their boss sends them on a long-term mission to Japan to study Omotenashi. The next 190 b&w pages show us their travels and travails as they learn about Japanese culture, similar in a way to the two 1940s features.

In fact, I just kept thinking as I read this (right to left in the Manga tradition), that this would have made a nifty 1940s cartoon itself, with “Uncle Walt” promoting the U.S. post-war effort at recharacterizing Japan as America’s friend and ally.

As it is here, though, there’s barely a trace of Donald Duck in the book’s lead character, visually or otherwise, and José and Panchito are even less recognizable as who they’re supposed to be. They might as well have been Dewey and Louie. No accents, no characterizations. Just hangers-on. Only in a couple of scenes where the characters wear their trademark hats do they look at all familiar.

The book itself presents the trio as having done little to no research before their trip and thus they’re surprised and nonplussed when they end up working at an Inn, when they’re supposed to be learning the meaning of Omotenashi. It’s in connection with this, as well as a couple of brief sight-seeing tours, that we see our hapless heroes come to terms with their new environment.

Eventually, the story just stops, presumably to be continued in a next volume. I won’t be there, though, as this one didn’t do anything for me.

Oh! It did do ONE thing!

I don’t know about the Three Caballeros but I, at least, came away knowing the meaning of Omotenashi!

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