Big Hero 6, the Manga (Volume 1), by Haruki Ueno

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The manga of Big Hero 6, or, as it is known in Japanese, Baymax, has a very curious provenance. It is, apparently, a Japanese adaptation of the American movie of the same name.  According to the things I found, it debuted before the movie in Kondansha’s Weekly Shounen Magazine, but under the aegis of Disney…?

The reason I find this curious is that it is NOT AT ALL a straightforward re-telling of the movie.  I was really surprised by several of the major differences, given that it supposedly came out conjunction with/as an advertisement for the movie.  I mean, the differences are the sort I would totally expect, *if* the magna had been the original source material.  These days it’s kind of a given that Disney (in particular, but all of Hollywood) has a tendency to go their own creative way that often deviates quite substantially from the original.

But the manga, as far as I can tell, is NOT the original.

I’m also somewhat unconvinced that Haruki Ueno is a real person.  As far as I can determine they have done no work on any other manga, ever.  And, while that’s not impossible (debut mangaka are a thing, after all), it kind of makes me wonder if the name is just a placeholder for a group of people in a manga factory-workshop… some kind of overseas Disney manga sweatshop.

I do have to wonder who wrote this, and why–why write it at all, and why change it as much as they did.

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SPOILERS

Normally, I like to provide a link to somewhere you can read a version of this online, but, well, Disney.  As expected, they have a pretty tight hold on any pirates/scanlations.

It may also be that there’s just not a huge drive from typical manga fans to get the chapters, hot off the presses, as it were.  Because manga readers are, by in large, geeks and nerds.  One thing geeks and nerds like myself absolutely hate is a sense of being played by big corporate giants like Disney.  I kind of think that’s what happened here because when “Big Hero 6” (movies get quotes; books get italics.  My English degree was not for nothing, I tell you!) came out I had several friends tell me, their anime/manga friend, OMG YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS IT’S LIKE DISNEY FINALLY MADE A MOVIE JUST FOR YOU.

And I’m pretty sure Disney has the kind of marketing strategy that would go like this, “Listen, fellow suits, these anime kids will want to know there was a manga.  It had better f*cking come out of Japan or they’ll call us posers. So, yeah, make up a mangaka and tell them they have some artistic license with the story so it looks, you know, original…”

I almost bought it.

Because the story seems, at first, very Japanese.  Hiro, the hero (which right there, is kind of ‘no’ because it not a homonym in Japanese, you morons, only in English–although, yes, I could buy it because of the heavy slang use of English by the Japanese), is already enrolled in college, so it feels like the kind of manga that is everywhere, the school drama.

In the first few chapters, there’s a lot of what I would call typical classroom banter, including Tadashi physically assaulting Hiro in very onii-chan ways.  The humor card of “teacher who is a pompous idiot who secretly wears a toupee that our hero ‘accidentally’ knocks off in some way” gets played. (I think I’ve seen that now in three different places: here, Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, and Haikyuu.)

There are several other differences to the movie some very minor, with a couple of outstanding major ones.

Minor one: Hiro is written much more like a hikikomori, in that we keep seeing a panel description of him as liking machines more than people.  So his whole, robot death match side-job is completely eliminated, despite the fact that that felt the most Japanese part of the movie (but maybe only to an American, eh?)

Major change: Tadashi doesn’t die.  He gets sucked into the Masked Man’s portal.  The implication in the scene, actually, is that Tadashi is working with the Masked Man, possibly due to an inferiority complex and a desire to surpass his younger brother’s genius–or do some good in the world, despite being second-rate to his younger brother… that part is left open for ‘tragic potential’.

Frankly, that “must rescue!!/but was he a betrayer??” set-up feels way more shounen than the movie did, so I was still on board with the idea that the manga might be legit at this point.

 But, then the friends are introduced and everything falls apart.

One thing I liked about “Big Hero 6” was the shounen-ness of Tadashi’s friends and how Baymax arranged to call them in to help Hiro get over his grief.  Also, they were brush-stroke developed in the movie, i.e. we were given just enough information to hang a personality trait or two on each of them at the very beginning, which then developed into something more well-rounded by the end.

In the manga, the cadre of friends just show up…. like, we’re supposed to already know them, and Hiro goes straight into making their costumes/superhero outfits without ever knowing jack about them (in text.)

That was the moment I stopped and thought: WTF.

That was the moment I put the book down and Googled to see which came first the movie or the manga.  I looked at the back cover at the publisher hoping to see a Japanese distributor I might recognize… and there’s Yen Press, which distributes Black Butler and Souleater and Devil is a Part-Timer and Barakamon and zillions of other completely legit manga… which just continued to confuse me.

I’m still confused.

I mean it’s probably just what it seems–a kind of publicity stunt meant to legitimize a Disney film–but it’s still weird.  If you’re going to go to all of the effort, and presumably expense, why not go all the way and introduce the sidekicks properly?

It seems weird.

It seems lazy.

It seems very… un-shounen.

On the other hand, the art is nice.  Clearly, they did a good job manga-izing the movie (which was already attempting to look like a manga):

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I guess there’s at least another volume out there.  I’m kind of curious to see what happens next, but I’m really feeling the loss of the character development of the sidekicks, so I’m not sure I’m going to bother.  Of course, to be fair, I would never have picked this up in the first place had my library not had it on the shelf.  So, if they get volume 2, I’ll probably read it.

I certainly wouldn’t buy it.

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3 thoughts on “Big Hero 6, the Manga (Volume 1), by Haruki Ueno

    • Okay, I normally consider myself a pretty serious Marvel fan, but I have no memory of Big Hero 6. Must be pretty new? (I was a serious fan from the 70s to the 90s, but fell out during the 2000s and came back again, believe it or not, for Civil War.)

    • Okay I just looked it up and Silver Samurai was a member? Wow. Okay, I NEVER read this title, but I was a huge mutant nerd (I actually liked Sunfire, too.) It’s weird that I never saw this when I was reading.

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