It's been days since Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda as it's called in the Philippines/PAGASA naming system) struck the Visayas regions of the country. At the time I'm writing this, approximately 2,500 people were confirmed dead from the disaster, with a large swath of the affected region in tatters, with parts still either cut off or in disorder (whether from looting or raids on emergency aid). Even with the government mobilization and international help (particularly with the Americans, British, Japanese and Australians quickly responding), it would take months before some semblance of normalcy could even return (though the local authorities promised that they'd try to restore power before Christmas). At this point, there's really little more I can say.
That said, I'm still set on working on stuff to post soon, even if partly to alleviate the depressing news. So...without further ado, here's something to lighten the mood:
Reading and writing are something of a hobby if not a passion that have developed over many years. In that time, I've been exposed to and influenced by quite a few authors, though usually of the fantasy/science fiction bent. Whether it's Naomi Novik or Lois Lowry, Arthur C. Clarke or Neil Gaiman, J.R. Tolkien or George R. R. Martin, their works helped shape my interest in making stories or ideas about things. When it came to fanfic, I was first inspired as a kid to draft out Pokemon stories in my head (then again, who wouldn't?) and later on as a young teenager draft out a continuation of the 2003 version of Fullmetal Alchemist
...none of which I ever really got to finish.
But among the Japanese mangaka and writers in particular, one did provide a rather surprising source of inspiration: Hidekaz Himaruya
. Now for those scratching their heads, let me say this right away: he's not exactly a famous avant-garde auteur like Haruki Murokami, nor should he be. His works, including a certain webcomic/manga/anime series called Axis Powers Hetalia
have become something of a cult classic if not surprisingly popular; and in the case of certain male fans, a guilty pleasure.
So why him then, you ask. I guess there are quite a few raison d'etre
that would make much sense. For one, this native of Fukushima and Parsons
(New York City) graduate managed to combine a handful of my favorite things (fantasy, history, magical realism) onto one package and do so surprisingly well.
Another more substantial reason is how he treats the source material for something like Hetalia. It's pretty clear through the guy's footnotes and content that he does do research, even with the (understandable) creative license but it goes a bit beyond that: he manages to make a work that manages to be affectionate yet respectful of the countries, cultures and histories being represented as well as being (at least relatively) accessible to people whatever their cultural/political beliefs; the personified Nations for instance, while based on stereotypes at first glance all have different quirks, faults and strengths based in part on their respective peoples. Quite a few works out there have a tendency to devolve into hardline nationalistic drivel, be condescendingly ideological or come across as mean-sprited satire. Through Himaruya however (along with some of the other authors mentioned), I found that it is possible to avoid those pitfalls while still being entertaining, that one can reach out to others without talking them down or shoving one's worldview down their throat.
The last reason would have to be his attitude towards fandom. As some may or may not know, authors/writers/mangaka/etc. have differing ways in dealing with what that entails (including fanfic), with some like George Martin disapproving on his fan base making (and subsequently banning) works or tributes based on his Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones
series. Himaruya on the other hand evidently falls in on the side that not only accepts said fanbase but actually approves of them. If this translated Q&A
is anything to go by along with his habit of doing requests and stuff explicitly for fans to work on, he's pretty open to if not supportive of fanworks/fanfic/etc. (meaning that his work is pretty much fair game and shared with the fandom) with a "gentleman's agreement" of sorts that they at least acknowledge him should they decide to sell their works. To my initial surprise, it's shown to work pretty well for all it's worth; when there are fans from as far afield as the Philippines, Russia, Poland and Canada, it virtually explains itself. And while Hetalia
isn't perfect or going to land on the New York Times bestselling list anytime soon, I'm inclined to think that the way he deals with issues like that is really encouraging for the future (and in my case, I just couldn't turn away for long
before coming back).
To be sure there are some other things I could say. But however I decide to take my writing next, I'll say this much: thanks, Mr. Himaruya and keep up the good work.
Guess that's it for now then!