Something to be commended.. is the enthusiasm for mangaka to continue on drawing, due to a love/passion for their craft. Like a geisha perfecting their skills with years of relentless practice… of course in this case, the editor is going to end up pushing the mangaka in their grueling schedule to meet deadlines.
Avoidance of editors in their relentless pursuit of manuscripts have became running jokes, and you see a lot of this type of procrastination/avoidance humor spoofed/reflected upon in series such as Gintama, Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, Bakumon and others.
Recently I have been chuckling as I saw Shonen Jump editor Sasaki Hisashi on Twitter posted a completed doodle from Eyeshield 21’s artist, Yusuke Murata. CrunchyRoll happened to translate the running dialogue here.
Happy to be back on the air in some capacity, and felt it right to go ahead and address a defense that has appeared more than once via Twitter. Now this social media platform, as much as I have loved how it has become a groundbreaking means of blurring lines between users from the most influential celebrity to the most isolated blogger, it does contain a blind spot within its character limit. The big stumbling block of it is that context can get lost in between posted statements, retweets, and so on. And one that caught my eye this week was one regarding the often incessant derision from many fans regarding the almost endless use of character archetypes, particularly in current anime. (I myself can count as one of these many voices decrying the use of this practice) And the oft used Devils Advocate statement states that the use of said character types is a practice common to even literature, and has been so for ages, so why is it a problem?
A fair statement, however, being that this is Twitter we are talking about here, such a complex subject should not be highlighted without acknowledging something even more obvious…That archetypes function as templates, not as a means to an end. I believe I brought this disconnect up recently, and i will do my part to illustrate what makes certain characters more memorable than others. And yes, this is clearly a subjective viewpoint I’m coming from here, but hopefully this will help visualize what some anime fans are trying to say when they see stock types rule each oncoming season.
For this experiment, I will go ahead and break out an older series that helped establish one of anime’s most tired premises, the high school love comedy/drama.
The Control: Kimagure Orange Road
Now before proceeding, I must admit to a little bias at the offset. And I do acknowledge many a blogger/ fan who considers this show to be the beginning of a sort of downhill trend of character idolization, and even the birthplace of many one-dimensional romantic/slice-of-life works. The animated version of Izumi Matsumoto’s coming of age love triangle tale with a dash of psionics has its issues, but it also does offer much in the way of what makes stories like this work. (Even in a prototypical sense) Even as the show establishes its characters, and prepares us for an extended ride through the smiles and winces of young love during the latter days of Japan’s bubble era, the show falls victim to what so many other shows made afterward have, and is only made worse when the show was renewed for a second season. (and let’s not start mentioning the arbitrary OVAs either) As much as I love the show, the ensuing frenzy for the show’s focal love interest was merely a symptom of other forces at play. A phenomenon that grew out of the show’s need to make this character an ideal led to some of the more leery moves made by the anime producers, including Kenji Terada.
So let’s look at the main characters of the series, shall we?
The show’s central lead & narrator, Kasuga Kyosuke is something of a variation of the ever-typical loser hero, who’s fortune takes a turn when he becomes entangled in a volatile love triangle between childlike & oblivious Hikaru Hiyama, and mature & often mysterious Madoka Ayukawa. Newly moved to the city, Kyosuke is something of a country bumpkin in many ways, which only makes his strangely grafted on ESPer abilities (coming from a family complete with psychic power wielding little sisters!) all the more unpredictable. And this is where, at least for this writer, the tacked-on issue of being young, and having psychic powers makes for both story fodder & curious subtext. (Fans of Brian DePalma’s CARRIE, take note) As empty as this character should be, he is strangely interesting in how he is set up as this completely clueless lead, and yet has to worry about his lack of understanding about his own inherited ability. Where it comes into play is when he is faced with at times the most domestic problems, and comes face to face with the corruptive possibilities of being empowered. (IE- Library Study with Madoka, or Pool Party with Hikaru & pals-At The Same Time) In fact, a lot of what transpires in the series is borne out of his “hidden” talent. From this point on, the ethics of being empowered comes into play as Kyosuke is now on/off dating the bubbly, and often caustic Hikaru, while quietly pining for her more level-headed best friend, Madoka. It is this central internal conflict that gives the show its juice for better or worse. But it is in Kyosuke’s unflagging, bright-eyed naivete that the show relies on to help viewers better understand the story’s examination of latter Showa-era feminine roles. He’s as much an archetype as he is a classic 1980s male audience surrogate.
Which leads us to looking at Kyosuke’s clueless girlpal, Hikaru. As my previous words have described, she is the smaller, cuter, and hopelessly immature foil for our leads, who functions as a sort of safety net since he can never seem to tell her how he really feels. Having fallen for Kyosuke after accidentally seeing him using his ESPer abilities to make an impossibly perfect freethrow in the school gym while thinking he was alone, she sees him as the coolest guy around. Her lack of knowing the truth behind the shot makes for a lot of the show’s at times tiring humor, but it also sheds light on certain character traits that allude to the classically immature high school girl with a love of artifice, rather than with anything substantial. What makes Hikaru so interesting to me is that even as the show establishes her as an unrealistic, and at times agitating person, she also begins to display an unexpected amount of caring and resilience that even the show’s ideal seems incapable of exhibiting. There is a well hidden maturity to her character that is only made apparent in specifically timed moments. Even under all that sugary kawaii, there is a young woman tearing at the seams, and this is the element that becomes the show’s central ticking clock; how long can any of this last before Hikaru realizes how Kyosuke truly feels? Again, as far as archetypes go, she is kind of a classic (Knives Chau, anyone?), but it is this deceptive hint that she knows exactly what is happening that makes her worth continuing to watch.
And finally, rounding out the triangle is what has always seemed to be KOR’s main selling point, the enigmatic & beguiling Madoka. Now I won’t go into too much about what makes fanboys all over go nuts for this character, but I will state here that she offers more than what some detractors have stated. As the quiet, and beautiful delinquent-turned ideal good girl, Madoka is something of an archetypical break, especially in regarding anime which at the time was largely only placing female leads in pulpy male fantasy & science fiction roles. What makes her interesting to me is how deceptively “perfect” she is. While she exhibits musical talent from the getgo, and over the course of the series, seems to be good at just about EVERYTHING, it is interesting to note that the show also exhibits a darker side to this character than some fans would rather acknowledge. From her never-truly-established checkered past, to her sneaking out and drinking, to even encouraging Kyosuke’s duplicitous nature toward her so-called “best friend”, there is more to this romantic ideal than meets the eye. In a broader context, she is a break in how the average japanese male in the mid 1980s viewed females, and therefore represented an oncoming paradigm shift that continues to take place today. She is on the surface, an independent young woman, while still tending to some deep-seated abandonment issues, perhaps even leading to her stringing Kyosuke along, and possibly even betraying her lifelong friend. Madoka defies not only cultural “norms” of the time, but also of the very concept of an ideal altogether. For every talent she miraculously pulls out of the red hat, there always seems to be a more mundane psychological trade off of some kind. She is only “perfect” in Kyosuke’s mind.
So does the show come through with all of this character complexity intact? Well, no. And this isn’t a matter of character so much as it is of stretching out a series beyond credulity, which is what ultimately hurts KOR as a whole series. However, what does work is a cast of characters that while on the surface may look like a test-type model for any other high school romantic comedy anime, serves to pose some dynamic enough questions by mashing worldviews against one another. And this is indicative of many a classic show. Sometimes, it is this kind of love for characters that allows it to last in the mind of viewers. But it takes work, and craft to make this happen. And in the era of 13 episode show lengths, and amped visuals, it has become hard to settle into a character’s shoes to see how they operate as themselves. Shows today often have to just get things over with, which is a shame.
And yet, when all is said and done, KOR still works for me because the blueprints for what made the leads was well established in the source material. Had Matsumoto not have gone out of his way to make these characters not only interesting, but representative of the time in which they were created, the show may not ever have had made such an impression on me all those years ago. And even as we have become much more sophisticated as anime views and collectors over the years, it can’t be disuputed that far too many shows made in the mold of an animated visual novel, often resort to mass produced concepts as opposed to real characters. One thing that the Kimagure Orange Road series did so well was find the varying character dimensions and played them against one another in sometimes sneaky ways that undermine what we think we know about them. In short, archetypes are the standard when it comes to populist entertainment, but it doesn’t have to stop there. In fact, the more that is played with in between the lines is what makes characters leap from the page and or screen. It isn’t enough to have a “type”, and leave the viewer scraping to add their own two cents in to make them seem more human than what they actually are- moppets for making products out of. People are more multi-faceted than this, and nothing is more reductive of character than lazy, underthought-by-committee writing. Even a little extra effort on the parts of anime & film writing can go a long way in making a cast stand out amongst an ever expanding crowd.
Because it is a lot like what Miles Davis once said, “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
Around the November-December period, the holiday seasons begins, and at this time, people are typically in the mood to give other gifts, so what is a good general choice in my opinion, other than graphic novels of course. The reason why I am calling this list – Take 2, simply because I wrote one last year on my own blog here and another Yaoi gift guide list here. This year’s 2010 call for lists was made by Daniella of All About Manga, so if you want to consult other lists and selections, refer here for other lists and suggestions.
I won’t give straight on plot summaries for these suggestions, but take not that of all the links that there is associated with the title, it ties to an Amazon.com link. I will be including information on the publisher, how much volumes are out in English, and the year that the title is published in the United States.
This has been a slightly difficult list for me to compile, because I don’t really want to repeat my choices from last year, and definitely not sound like echoing many of the other fantastic lists on the #GMGG, but if you have read through the other lists, and see duplicates, then most definitely the book recommended is a book to giver or a keeper. I spent the last week trying to think of 10 titles, and I really can’t seem to push it. >_> So here are nine possible present ideas!
For the adult and hardcore yaoi readers
Under Grand Hotel (801 Media) (2 volumes) (2010)
This is a classic that is known as UGH to readers. I have purchased both volumes, and it is a fantastic read, the size of these books are in typical Japanese style, so it can easily fit in your pocketbook. This book is rated 18+ since it is has themes of smutty sex, murder, rape, the setting is in a prison, but the tormented angsty bl-plot is enough to draw a fujoshi into the storyline. Most of what I have seen of this book is shrink wrapped, even when I see it in bookstores, so while you can’t pursue the storyline yourself, it is good for a fan who enjoys hot steamy man sex. ^_^
For foodie and adventuring readers
Toriko (Viz) (2 volumes-ongoing) (2010)
Ahhh a mixture of enjoyment for food lovers and adventure seeking readers. An earlier review here. This is set in an alternative world, but with the unique food species, it is interesting for readers to compare and contrast. Also what makes it a great food book, is the enjoyment of reading about eating food. So while the food topic is creatively false… shouldn’t you also try to find your life’s menu? Either by eating or cooking it yourself?
For pet lovers readers
Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical) (3 volumes-ongoing) (2010)
I recommended this last year, and once again can’t rush to definitely recommending it this year. With the fourth volume, Chi has definitely made in onto NYTime’s best selling manga list. It is appropriate for all age, and the cuteness of the kitten cannot be beat! It is also a great contrast for readers, since Vertical spared no expense with having it all printed in color. Also with their new portal up, there includes bonus that was only available with the Japanese editions. Now it is available in English for fans of this dear kitten.
For vampire and adaptation readers
Cirque Du Freak (Yen Press) (7 volumes-ongoing)(2009)
This is an adaptation of what appears to be a great English series. It has a rich storyline, and for friends who enjoy reading about vampires, not necessarily Twilight, this is a great engrossing tale to get into. Personally I love the story of how Darren Shaw perseveres and survives.
For school life and opposites attract themes
Monkey High! (Viz) (8 volumes) (2008)
This is a story of a very unlikely couple. While it is already several years old, if your teen friend haven’t read of this series from Shojo Beat, why not get it for her then? There is a great chemistry between the two leads, and what makes it great is that even with the difference between them, their love holds true. Probably as I mentioned in my earlier review for the series, this is a good shorter read for fans of Love.com or other comedy shojo.
For readers who enjoy comedy and parody
Gintama (Viz) (20 volumes-ongoing) (2007)
How many times can I praise this great under appreciated story? Similar to several other titles, it stayed in my mind frequently to even make it onto this list. Review here. Sure you have to have already been a fan of other Shonen Jump series, but what better way to read of it from another perspective of poking fun at it. Jokes may be crass, but they are witty to the point of side splitting.
For slice of life and human drama readers
Saturn Apartments (Viz) (2 volumes-ongoing) (2010)
Fans of of science fiction, should take note of this slice of life written storyline of a boy who grows up the planet of Saturn. If you enjoy books like To Terra, or Tegami Bachi, then this is a similar read. It is quite a beautiful read for the most part, showing an inherent kindness toward the people around you, no matter if they are strangers.
For suspense and mystery readers.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse) (11 volumes-ongoing) (2006)
Fans for forensics, detective, crime, and paranormal stories should take note of this engrossing story of figuring out whodunit and whatever repercussions from a crime can karma take. This is a dark humor series, that can definitely entertain reader who enjoy logic and paranormal situations.
For android and teen readers
Karakuri Odette (Tokyopop) (4 volumes-ongoing) (2009)
First impression from reading this blurb definitely can remind readers of Chobits, and really that’s where the comparisons can end. In some ways reading this book has been for me, reading a bit like Dr. Slump, but on a more serious/teen note. An android explores from her perspective what exactly is human life/feelings. Mostly likely a good choice for friends who like to read about aspects of what makes a person unique and individual from the larger group.
He dryly notes, “Maids in the original sense are not sex workers, though this is perhaps not always the case at the 200-plus cafes around the country.”
This I find interesting. Though it may be a one-sided perception, there has long been a sense of exotic sexuality tentatively attached to cosplay in the West. It’s not new; as far back as Richard Feynman’s 1985 autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! one finds a well-educated Westerner at a nice Japanese inn uncertain as to whether or not the kimono-clad attendant is going to provide sexual favors. How much more confusing, then, would one find it at what is often translated into English as a “fetish cafe”?
It’s not hard to think of the supply of willing maids in familiar terms: just as waitresses in Los Angeles are often aspiring actresses, Galbraith writes of the maids, “most do it because they enjoy it, but a lucky few can become cosplay idols.” Given that this fits the mindset so well, is it any surprise that Los Angeles has its own maid cafe?
For the Japanese otaku, perhaps personal interaction is at the heart of it. In an increasingly isolated society, people are starved for personal interaction. Japan, with its workaholic culture leading to deaths of karoshi, can only feel this problem more acutely. Twitter, Facebook, and all social media – including, yes, blogs – aim to provide people with regular interaction. This would seem to be confimed: Galbraith reports that many customers are regulars.
Is it really very different from going to Starbucks because you chat with the barista, or going to the local pub where the bartender knows what you like? The more people hold up these behaviors as examples of how otaku differ from normal society, the more apparent it is that they see differences primarily because they want to see them.