Adapting Shakespeare’s literary works for introduction into Japanese popular culture has been an act of intercultural translation. Shakespeare and Japanese popular culture, particularly manga [Japanese graphic novels] could be seen as cultural polarities: the West vs. the East, as represented by Japan, a contrast between high culture and pop culture, the canonical vs. the lowbrow. Yet Shakespeare’s works as adapted in manga format do, as this article argues, problematize such hierarchical distinctions. Shakespeare found in manga can be both a challenge and a tribute to his authority, giving him a global and intercultural after-life. The first group of Japanese manga with Shakespearean motifs dates back to the early 20th century. Similar efforts have since continued through to the early 21st century, making manga with Shakespearean motifs a conspicuous, widespread phenomenon as part of Japanese pop culture. The greatest recent contribution in this regard is Manga Shakespeare Series. Published by a British publishing house, it helped to turn manga into an important vehicle for the intercultural translation of Shakespeare.
This article aims at placing into perspective Shakespeare and his presence in Japanese pop culture in general and in Japanese manga in particular. Specifically, efforts will be made to introduce Japanese manga with Shakespearean motifs as a genre and show how it has become a representative intercultural art collaboration form. Western graphic novels with Shakespeare incorporated will be contrasted with Japanese manga, including Classics Illustrated, to see different levels of faithfulness to one of the world’s greatest writers.
The findings indicate that while Western graphic novels tend to show a higher levels of faithfulness to the original works, Japanese manga takes greater liberty with Shakespeare. This suggests that manga with Shakespearean motifs should be viewed not as debasement of his literary authority but as creative innovation. Rather than trying to remain strictly faithful to Shakespeare’s original works, efforts should be made to identify previously overlooked aspects of Shakespeare’s works and expand the possibility of making the most of his legacy in enriching the human culture through hybridization and glocalization.
Shakespeare, Japan, manga, animation, popular