When it began in 1988, Chibi Marukochan became an immediate super hit, and it has stayed phenomenally popular ever since. Although Maruko started out as a manga serial, today it is a weekly television show and a merchandising phenomenon (there is even Maruko mayonnaise). Not only are there DVDs and other commercial goods, but there is also a Maruko Land, which opened in October 1999 in Shimizu Bay, and a Maruko museum. The Chibi Marukochan series has withstood the test of time, and it has had fundamental appeal to successive generations of young Japanese.
Several reasons account for Maruko's appeal. Written in a confessional style by a successful artist, Maruko, for one thing, satisfies our appetite for voyeurism, because it depicts the author's biography and includes all warts and embarrassments. She did not live in the glitzy mega-city Tokyo but in the plain regional city of Shizuoka. She got poor grades in school, and lived in a house that didn't even have a flush toilet. Her family could rarely afford to buy beef for dinner. Her grandpa was a bit senile, and Maruko was often jealous of her sickly sister who got more attention than she did. At the same time, Maruko also satisfies our yearning for a Cinderella ending.
After all, readers know that Maruko eventually became a successful manga artist as an adult, who is now rich and famous. The lesson is this: you can succeed in life even if you don't work hard in school and get poor grades. An underachiever can become a celebrity. There are alternative routes to success. It appeals to the sensibility that even Einstein flunked school.
So, Maruko offers an important affirmation that it's okay to be an underachiever. In a world where not everybody can be a high achiever, the non-achievers are actually the majority. In an achievement-oriented society, it is especially important to find an alternative source of affirmation for those who are not in the top of their class. From Maruko, the average reader gains a sense of relief, comfort, and security, just as Maruko receives her comfort from her loving family.
Although many family manga depict an ideal, warm and happy family like Maruko's, Hasegawa Machiko's Granny Mischief (Ijiwaru bāsan) takes on an entirely different aspect by depicting everyday problems to hilarious effect. Granny is a mean, cranky old woman, who routinely inflicts devilishly comical suffering on her co-resident family and well-meaning neighbors with her devious actions. No one is spared from her mischief: her sons, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, neighbors, shopkeepers, and even her late husband. Through all the mischief-which usually succeeds in ruining parties, sullying vacation plans and squandering fruits of hard work-Granny exposes the often hidden realities and hypocrisies of living in the "happy" multi-generational family in Japan.
Created by Hasegawa Machiko, arguably the most successful newspaper cartoonist in postwar Japan, Granny Mischief first started as a popular weekly comic strip in the 1960s, and then subsequently went on to sell millions as it was published in paperback.
As a classic still in print today, there are over thirty volumes of Granny Mischief available. After its initial success, it soon became a television series starring Aoshima Yukio (a male, wig-wearing comedian, he later became the mayor of Tokyo), and the series has been revived several times over the past decades.
Granny breaks the taboo against exposing the problems and strains of family life, and tells us that multi-generational co-residence, while a cultural ideal, is no guarantee for happiness. Granny is lonely: she has nothing to do all day, and she is totally unneeded by her family, so her unbelievable mischief comes from wanting attention. She acts as though she is happier than those who went to the nursing home, but in reality readers see that she isn't that much better off.