Anime/Manga Month Cheat Sheet

(Scroll down for new terms from the 7/16/2014 post!)

These are some commonly used terms when discussing anime and manga. Note that not all of these are Japanese words, for Japanese, just like English, is a language all too happy to straight up steal words from other languages and give them new meanings. Let confusion abound.

Anime – This is one of those stolen words. It comes from French and it means animation. Oddly enough it’s used in a straightforward fashion – it refers to any kind of animated story, much like we’d use the term “cartoons” except that it never refers to pictures that don’t move only ones that do.

Dono (see also Honorifics) – Not used much in modern times, this was the term you would use when referring to the person who was your direct superior in the feudal structure. If it is used in modern times it is often done in a joking fashion.

Honorifics – American culture is, by world standards, fairly informal. But by Japanese standards we’re downright hicks. The Japanese language uses a set of honorifics to define relationships and I’ve included a few of the more important ones here. These titles would usually be used after a person’s name almost like a suffix. Thus if I was your writing teach I would be Chen-sensei. These honorifics serve to set some social ground rules between people and generally say a lot about the structure of a group, plus they’re considered polite. Most Americans will get this. What they might not realize is that not using any honorific at all is considered either A) a sign the speaker knows the person he’s addressing very intimately or B) the speaker intends to be very rude. Something to keep in mind should you ever visit Japan.

Manga – This is a very broad term in Japan that refers to pretty much anything that’s been drawn. But for our purposes it covers the things American audiences would refer to as comic books, comic strips and graphic novels. The two are very similar but manga tends to be more image focused where American comics are very dialog heavy. The differences are very stark if you take, say, a page from DCs New 52 and place it next to a page from Shounen Jump…

San (see also Honorifics) – This is the catch-all, general purpose, polite honorific you use if you and the person you’re talking to are equals or your relationship is as-of-yet ill defined. The rough equivalent of Mr. or Mrs. in English.

Sama (see also Honorifics) – This term refers to someone more important than you. Your boss, the mayor, the Prime Minister, it can be pretty broad and how important the other person has to be before the speaker uses it varies, assuming it gets used at all.

Shoujo – This word basically means “young girl” and means a girl between the ages of 12 and 16, dealing with the new complexities of interpersonal relationships that define that age. It’s also a genre of entertainment. Shojo entertainment tends to focus on… well, romance. But also the societal pressures girls face in what Americans would view as highly regimented school systems play a major role. Gossip, appearance, grades and the like are very, very common themes.

Shounen – This word basically means “young boy” and refers to a man on the cusp of adulthood, somewhere between 12 and 16 years old. Anime and manga called “shounen” are just what you’d think – aimed at boys in that demographic.However shounen also tends to be the best selling and most popular genre in Japan, so this may be a bit of a misnomer. Shounen Jump, the most popular shounen publication in Japan, has the motto “hard work, friendship, victory” and that may be the best summation of the genre there is.

As the month goes on I will come back and add to this page as needed. Of course, I don’t expect you to read this straight through, although some of you might be doing just that right now, but rather look up the correct entry whenever you encounter something you don’t understand in the course of one of this month’s posts. So be aware that the contents of this post will be changing over time.

7/16/2014 Update

Bakumatsu – A roughly three year time period from 1866 to 1868 when the Japanese Shogunate was overthrown and the Emperor restored to actual leadership of Japan. While it’s sometimes compared to the American Civil War the only real similarity is the time period and that a formerly unified nation divided into factions that fought with each other before being forced back together in a sometimes uneasy peace. In truth it might be closer to the American Revolution, as it overthrew one kind of government and instituted another… but in all truth comparing the history of one nation to another is kind of futile. The Bakumatsu was a civil war that changed the government of Japan and ushered in the Meiji era. It is one of the most often romanticized periods of Japanese history. ‘Nuff said.

Ishin Shishi – The faction of the Bakumatsu set on overthrowing the Shogun and restoring the Imperial form of government. The ultimate victors of that conflict and, oddly enough, often cast as villains in stories set during that era.

Katana – This is the Japanese equivalent of the long sword. The blade has a slight curve to it, so that the force of impact is focused in a smaller area than it would be with a straight blade, and it is forged and tempered in such a way as to withstand incredible impacts without breaking. The weapon is sharp on only one side. The Japanese consider them works of art and those forged by Japanese smiths in the isles of Japan are actually national treasures that cannot be exported legally. There’s a lot of other technical stuff but basically all you need to know is they’re pretty and deadly.

Meiji Restoration – A period of Japanese history stretching from the late 1860s to the early 1910s. The samurai and other deposed ruling classes were still around and both causing and solving problems but, on the whole, the imperial government, along with growing militancy and modernization that would characterize the nation until the end of the Second World War, were the driving forces of the times. While the Bakumatsu wasn’t really anything like the American Civil War there are a lot of similarities between Meiji and the American West, particularly in how they are romanticized.

Rurouni – A samurai with no master and no place to call home. Samurai were the backbone of the Shogun’s feudal system and, with that system overthrown, all samurai were essentially homeless. To carry the analogy between Meiji and the Old West one step further, rurouni would be the Virginians of the era, part of a dying breed who still held just enough power in the minds of the people to have an impact one last time.

Sakabato – Roughly “a reversed blade” a sakabato is a katana with the cutting edge and the blunt edge reversed so that striking with it in the normal fashion hurts like the dickens but won’t kill you (much). In theory, this allows a trained swordfighter to enjoy the balance and heft of his normal weapon without running the risk of randomly chopping someone’s head off. He can just leave them crippled for life or something.

Shinsengumi – Literally “newly chosen group” these people were the elite of the Shogun’s defenders, a special police force pulled up to defend Kyoto (then the capitol of the nation) against Ishin Shishi activities. Historically they were about as nice as you’d expect hardline police to be during wartime but they were exceptionally good fighters and popular culture has romanticized them a lot. In fact, if there’s an elite fighting group in a Japanese work of fiction there’s a 50/50 chance both it’s structure and leadership are modeled on the Shinsengumi.


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