Looking For the Next Trend? Answer Might Be in Manga

Dave McCaughan From Tokyo

By Published on .

Next time you walk into Barnes & Noble and see all those shelves of manga, suggest moving them to the social-sciences section. That's what manga really is: textbooks on life.

At one point in the late 1990s, I researched lifestyles in Southeast Asia. As always, my first choice for doing detailed analysis of people's current brand and lifestyle preferences was to talk to the world's greatest observers of consumer behavior: hairdressers (and if you don't think that's true, I'll explain in a future column). Thai hairdressers kept telling me if we wanted to understand the latest fashions and insights into what teens were trying to look like, we better read more of the local translations of Japanese manga.
Dave McCaughan
Dave McCaughan is exec VP-director of strategic planning at McCann Erickson and a Tokyo-based trendspotter.

Why? Kids were constantly walking in with their favorite manga books and saying, "Give me that haircut." Sure, they were cartoons. But those canny Thai teens knew the stories were from Japan, the place where the trends of the future are set, and that if that is what the characters in the manga looked like, then Japanese kids would be into that look too. They were right. Walk around any big Japanese city, and you'll notice an awful lot of people with haircuts that look exactly like those from "Pokemon" or popular manga "Dragon Ball".

Look at the most successful manga in Japan, and you find some interesting examples of its influence. The hit series of the last year has been "Nodama Kante-Bire," the tale of a teenage girl with a passion to become a cellist. Sound boring? Over a million teens have been buying it.

Meanwhile a series called "Nana" has had two amazing years. More than 16 books, movies and PlayStation games follow the adventures of two identical-looking girls, both named Nana, as they take very different paths in life. In a society that was a benchmark for "sameness," "Nana" is seen as teaching that differentiation is fine, that a girl can make her own choices.

And if you don't think your 10-year-old's passion for Pokemon is helping him, think about all that training in memorizing. Well, that's what I hope it is doing for my son.
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