So, in a recent article I saw from Anime News Network, it appears Akira Toriyama was recently given the decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French government for his contributions to popularizing manga in France.
Other notable manga and anime creators knighted by France before Toriyama were:
- Leiji Matsumoto (Space Battleship Yamato, Harlock)
- Jiro Taniguchi (The Walking Man, A Zoo In The Winter)
- Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Robot Carnival)
- Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya)
Of course, Akira Toriyama isn’t an actual knight like you imagine. It’s more of a prestigious title given to people who have had major contributions to the world of art and literature. With how big Dragon Ball Z was, it’s definitely worth the recognition.
It’s no secret how much France loves anime and manga from Japan. In modern day, Wakfu is proof of that love. It’s as close as you can get to an anime made in France.
They also got JoJo’s Bizarre adventure on display in the Louvre for a good while. That’s already proof of how into the stylings of Japanese manga and anime France is.
Although it’s true France is just a country that loves art in general, the relationship between France and Japan has always been one that interested me. I hope to go more in-depth about the strange fascination Japan has with France, and vice versa. How do two countries on opposite sides of the world have such a fascination with each other’s culture?
We can start with France’s relationship with comics. France is a culture that has a heavily ingrained appreciation for the arts. Not just renaissance pieces such as the Mona Lisa, but also of cartoons and comic strips. In France, comic strips are called BDs, or Bandes dessinées. Famous BDs include classics such as Asterix, Valerian, and of course, The Adventures of Tintin.
This natural interest in artistic stories is what led to the natural shift into Japanese manga. Japanese manga is simply the BD of Japan to French people, and so the transition was easy. There are even several manga authors I hadn’t even heard about that are apparently very famous in France.
In the world of French art, there even exists a term called Japonism. This is a term used to refer to art which has a heavily Japanese style. An example of this would be the interest in ukiyo-e, which a little known artist by the name of Vincent Van Gogh was highly inspired by. That’s right, Japan helped give us Vincent Van Gogh’s distinct style. It was during his stay in France that he discovered his inspirations.
Compare the subdued Renaissance colors famous at the time with ukiyo-e‘s vibrant woodblock color palette. You can see why an artistic pioneer like Van Gogh started molding his style inspired by the latter.
By 1977, anime was becoming the new hotness in France. The relationship between France and Japan when it came to animation is nothing short of intimate. While growing up, you may have even encountered some old anime that adapted famous European literature. For that, you can thank Nippon Animation.
I have fond memories of this studio because like France, the Philippines loved anime. Every morning, besides the usual shounen and shoujo shows I’d watch as a child, I’d also end up watching shows like Heidi, Anne of the Green Gables, and Princess Sarah.
It’s a brilliant move. French parents can now feel waves of nostalgia seeing the stories from their childhood books brought to life by animation. French children were now exposed to these classic stories that their parents likely grew up with. It only served to solidify the respect France has for animation that came from Japan.
By the 2000s, the critically acclaimed wave of Ghibli movies such as Princess Mononoke had enraptured the artistic hearts of France. More mature films such as Jin-Roh and most notably, Innocence: Ghost In The Shell 2, were a major success for the market. Notably, Ghost in the Shell 2 was the first ever animation finalist in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Only Persopolis, a French-Iranian animated movie, has received that honor since then.
On the flip side, Japan also has a romantic perspective on Paris. They awe at the food, fashion and general royalty that one feels at the sight of Paris.
So much that they made their own Eiffel Tower.
All in all, the cultural exchange between these two countries was a fun read for me. It just feels like they wouldn’t ever interact. Looking closer, I started feeling like it would be weird if they never had. In food and art alone, Japan and France already find common ground. It’s this kind of cultural impact that makes me believe anime can be a strong force of good even in real life.
All credits for photos used go to their respective creators.