Thinking Out Loud: Even A Gaijin Can Draw Manga August 4, 2006Posted by Samurai Tusok in Manga, Thinking Out Loud.
OEL manga is a highly divisive subject among those who are fundamentally concerned with the semantic particulars of what makes manga and what gets called manga or not.
I haven’t really formalized by thoughts on the matter yet, but I think some of them began to crystallize when Naughty Ninja brought up Offbeat tonight, citing its excellence yet still hesitating to call it manga, let alone be comfortable with the existence of the term ‘OEL manga’ and conversational hoo-ha ensued.
But for the most part, I believe that OEL manga should be an aspirational ideal and not a marketing/publishing conceit, that ideal being that non-Japanese creators who choose to write comics using the forms and conventions of manga as a ‘narrative style’ rather than just its visual tropes.
For example, manga makes use of a lot of temporal decompression across multiple panels that spread beyond the confines of one page. For dramatic effect, an author can have one spoken line of dialogue running across two pages to preserve the emotional gravitas of that moment, which was pretty well described in the following ENGINE post by Josh Hechinger:
Manga’s big on what I call “Holy shit” moments. Dramatic reveals in the middle of the story. Lemme whip up an example real quick, using how I write scripts:
PAGE ONE Close, full on shot of VADER, staring down impassively.
– VADER: LUKE…
Close up of LUKE, barely hanging on to the outcropping. He’s determined looking, he’s got fight in him.
– VADER (off panel): I AM…
Extreme close up on LUKE. His eyes go wide with horror, his jaw drops. The piss has totally just been taken out of him.
– VADER (off panel): YOUR FATHER.
Hechinger goes on to elaborate that it’s this sort of “Da…da…DOM” pacing, that may be spread across multiple pages at the author’s whim, is in stark contrast to the use of end-chapter cliffhangers that Western media favors. In a Mark Millar comic, that line would be an entire page on its own with a glamour shot of Vader as if he’s wearing a shit-eating grin under his mask.
Naughty Ninja pointed out that the lack of manga-narrative style in Offbeat is in stark contrast to Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon which occasionally utilizes some of the ‘anti-grid’ busted panels that characterizes shoujo. But having not read Offbeat, the issue of whether or not it is manga is hardly my point.
To reiterate my above point, to talk of OEL manga is to talk not of big eyes, exaggerated hairstyles and other surface visual hallmarks, but rather is to talk of a world where if Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga, well then so can Gaijin! That, to me, is what OEL should be from a theoretical perspective.
But here’s a final thought: Fred Gallagher is clearly doing a very manga-style thing with MegaTokyo, at least from what little I’ve seen of his work. But it still fails to click with me for some reason, most likely because my brain is having trouble processing the use of such a culturally rooted narrative style as manga to tell the culturally uprooted experience of a gaijin.
It’s like Lost In Translation, manga-style, though Gallagher’s work clearly predates that movie by a handful of years. Which is actually pretty clever when you think about it, it just fails to click on a personal level for me. People insist its gotten very good, but the other problem is that I’m compelled to try to read it from the beginning and those early parts are awfully meh for me.
Warren Ellis describes webcomics as a place for creators to teach themselves, in the same way Glenn Fabry and Brian Bolland taught themselves through ‘American doujinshi’ so it’s quite possible that MegaTokyo reads this way as Ellis has called it on its initially embarrassing level of crudity in the same breath he uses to praise it. Okay, I’m off-topic.
In any case, manga is not just an art-style, but a specific cultural reaction in Japan. Quite honestly, having gaijin replicate that without being born of the same cultural circumstance might be seen as problematic, but that’s neither here nor there, and frankly, a whole ‘nother post altogether.
Feminism in Shoujo Manga: NANA by Ai Yazawa July 18, 2006Posted by Naughty Ninja in Feminism, Manga, Nana, Shoujo.
Previously >> Feminism in Shoujo Manga: Introduction
This article is the first installment of a series exploring feminism in manga marketed under the shoujo genre outside of Japan.
As of late, more pop culture enthusiasts have come to question the representation of women in manga, particularly those within shoujo. There are those who choose to interpret the soft-spoken heroine as an exemplifier of what they perceive as an inherent regressiveness in Asian gender roles.
The more forgiving choose to regard this as part of a simple cultural difference that can be overlooked in favor of shounen manga. Then there are those who enjoy shoujo well enough to not write it off as completely counterfeminist, but may not have found a way to articulate why this is so.
With this series, I endeavor to find a way to do so.
The immensely popular shoujo manga sensation known as NANA recently hit shores outside of Japan, and starts out strong for its first three volumes. It takes a more mature route than most shoujo titles, and seems to be a perfect place to start our feminist analysis of shoujo manga. However, being immensely popular has always been an invitation for mean-spirited cultural punditry.
I can already imagine a slew of women writing off NANA as another title wherein use of romantic tropes and melodrama makes it just as trite as all the other shoujo entries that have come before it. These naysayers would insist on “stronger female leads” or “girls who don’t need love to be happy”. And let’s face it, there’s no faulting a desire for ass-kicking heroines disinterested in romance.
But to look for feminist value in manga is not the same as looking for ball-breaking monuments to womanhood, as that would be a shallow reading of what feminist values are in the first place. It is not necessary for female characters to masquerade as men and claim masculine qualities to be deemed “strong”.
Proper representation should focus on what is truthful and free of delusion just as much as it should focus on the ideal and the empowered. The girl you find on the street is just as important in her mundane ordinariness as any other representation, complete with her flaws and shortcomings. And one thing manga has proven capable of is showing these women, resolutely mundane or extremely symbolic, as possessing genuine desire for change and self-actualization.
NANA begins with two young women on a train to Tokyo, both closing the final chapters of their late adolescence and journeying towards tumultuous adulthood. No two girls could be anymore different, or lead such disparate lives. It’s love that drives them to the city, but more than that, it’s a calling to find their true selves. Both these girls have the same name: Nana.
Feminism in Shoujo Manga: Introduction July 3, 2006Posted by Naughty Ninja in Feminism, Shoujo.
The representation of the female in shoujo manga has at times been misinterpreted or dismissed as anti-feminism fodder. This is despite the fact that most content is created by a large number of female mangaka (numbering in the hundreds), and is meant for a significantly large female audience. This affinity between creator and consumer almost guarantees the production of beautifully crafted stories brimming with honesty, depth, and respect towards the female condition.
In an interesting article entitled American Girls’ and Women’s Comics : White Space, Rachel Nabors covers what others have already recognized as the gap in the comic market, and encourages women to become creators and be more vocal in their opinions of female representation. A part of the article includes (bold emphasis my own):
Q: Isn’t shoujo manga enough?
A: Sure, if you don’t mind subtly throwing away all the feminist ideals our mothers fought for in during the Women’s Liberation Movement. Japan is not what you would call “female friendly.” In Japan, it is acceptable for a man to grope a teenage girl on the train. I recall reading that a hideously large percentage of young women only go to college to seek husbands then drop out when they get married. Women are still considered inferior in business and the glass ceiling is more like a brick wall.
This chauvinistic attitude is visible in Japanese comics. Even in stories like Kare Kano that seem to champion strong young women, the females inevitably give up their own will, dreams and hopes in favor of adopting their sweetheart’s.
I imagine Nabors’ intent is to enjoin women to throw off the dependence on manga (shoujo or otherwise) as a proxy means to fill the female gap in comics. Perfectly understandable, but it doesn’t quite justify her sweeping generalizations, and outright fostering of misconceptions.
While I strongly admire the intent of her message I feel inclined to educate her on the baselessness of these misconceptions, but such well-intentioned commentary would be doomed to appear as bitchy nitpicking. Perhaps as the overeducated otaku, I should understand how a Westerner would look at us Asians so strangely, especially since so many of the books she owns are written from that Western-stranger perspective.
I discussed the matter at length with Samurai Tusok, and he has an amazing way of bypassing the geek babble and insulted sputtering, and distilled it into the following, in the form of a comment on MangaBlog:
First of all, [Nabor’s] dismissal of shoujo as counterfeminist pabulum is based on a picture of shoujo manga that is filtered entirely by whatever gets exported to the U.S., as if that were somehow representative of shoujo in Japan itself.
That’s like drawing conclusions about the value systems of independent filmmakers based solely on films distributed by Miramax. But the fact is that manga distributors seem to focus on a ya-lit audience of pre-teens and up, an audience that they’ve concluded to not be interested in manga featuring something more than counterfeminist pabulum.
Oh, and to say that “In Japan, it is acceptable for a man to grope a teenage girl on the train.” is two hundred fifty six shades of problematic. That train molesters are rampant is not the same as being ’socially acceptable’.
At any rate, Ms. Nabors has compelled me to actualize an idea that’s been brewing in my head for the last few days: a series of articles discussing the various feminine values found in shoujo manga. To be specific, those that make their way outside of Japan.
I won’t stand to see a perfectly wonderful art form like manga and its shoujo genre to be written off as uniformly counterfeminist, moreso by someone who reduces it to nothing but the product of a culture of Asians-as-Patriarchal-Savages.
As such dear readers, I shall endeavor to do everything within my power to showcase the ideological plurality to be found in manga, and that feminist messages can indeed be found in your local bookshelves.
I was initially oblivious to the marketing appeal of Gunslinger Girl, an anime which features a prepubescent girl solemnly holding up a SIG-Sauer P239 as its primary promotional image. Yes, I am the special kind of numbskull who fails to notice the combination of submachine guns and forlorn innocence as a calculated attempt at moé appeal.
Gunslinger Girl’s premise is that of a near future Italy in which a counterterrorist group, euphemistically known as the Social Welfare Agency, ‘rescues’ young girls in critical physical condition and discarded by society. Then they turn them into doe-eyed killing machines with cybernetic enhancements.
It’s the kind of fiction-packaging whose depth is seems to be visible from the surface: “Does military exploitation know no limits?! God save the children!” The kind of conceptual substance that appeals to resolutely self-serious anime fans who think Ghost in the Shell qualifies themselves as deep-thinking existentialists.
However, this smattering of speculative fiction tropes becomes nigh invisible at some point, mostly because Gunslinger eschews high octane action scenes in favor of decorating each moment with the elegance of neoclassical Italian scenery and solemn piano music. As it stands, gunshots are few and far in between — with every bullet acting more as an infrequent exclamation point than as pure visceral thrill.
This is because the meta-sci-fi existential implications of Gunslinger’s premise are secondary to the interpersonal relationships and character drama. Rather than being concerned with what is ethically humane or not, the series chooses to focus on the girls’ traumatically sheltered lives and their arrested emotional development.
As a series of relatively self-contained stories, Gunslinger strikes an elegiac chord primarily through the awkward relationships of these girls, particularly with their Handlers, who act as paramilitary surrogate father figures, most of whose parenting styles are some variation of Tough Love.
If Gunslinger Girl can be faulted for anything, it is that it has no concern for anything resembling a larger plot or resolution. Even though each vignette is placed against the backdrop of a war between the fanatical Republican Faction and the morally ambivalent Social Welfare Agency, the relationship between it and the character drama is tenuous at best.
Inevitably enough, one starts to recognize that Gunslinger is not about bad-asses in kawaii dressing designed for people with a lolicon fetish. But rather, Gunslinger cuts to the heart of what what moé appeal is really about — the need to protect and nurture that which appears to be in need of protection.
These girls have nothing left to live for, but yet they are placed in a conscienceless existence devoted to murder. Thus, they are constantly working for the approval of a welfare organization that has little to do with the humanitarian, waiting for the day they die knowing that they can never grow up.
The Secret Ingredient: Cultural Repackaging X! June 26, 2006Posted by Samurai Tusok in Anime.
Naughty Ninja just discovered a very bizarre magical bishoujo revisioning of the Powerpuff Girls, which suffice to say is the strangest cultural feedback loop I’ve seen. It defies Understanding, and by that I mean, trying to comprehend it in some form other than a mindwank academic fuckpiece piled with CTheory-type textual hypnotics.
I mean think about it: The Powerpuff Girls was born from a mutant blend of exported Japanese kawaii aesthetic crossbred with the aesthetic affectations of children’s storybooks. And now Cartoon Network wants to take that and pump it BACK into the J-pop machine.
Naughty Ninja recommends the following related links,
she came across them mostly because she was dying to know what the magical transforming sequences looked like:
Official Demashita!Powerpuff Girls Z trailer on YouTube – Features glimpses of the revamped Professor, Mojo Jojo, Mayor and Ms. Bellum.
D!PPGZ Wikipedia Entry – Small and not entirely well written, but details some of the key differences between the original and upcoming series.
Online Power Puff Girls Doujinshi at Snafu Comics – Fans claim the new anime series is based on this, or “how things should have been done”. Enjoy the doujinshi for what it is, with cameos from Samurai Jack, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Dexter the boy genius. Unfortunately, it features tasteless energy balls in the first arc. It makes up for it with Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon parodies in the second.
Ouran High School Host Club: Let’s Have a Romantic Love June 25, 2006Posted by Naughty Ninja in Anime, Ouran High School Host Club.
There’s little dispute among most that ‘harem anime’ love comedies thrive on formula. Few distinguish themselves beyond the pretty boys and physical comedy for one to be even worth recommending against another. As Theodore Sturgeon put it so eloquently, “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” However, every once in a while, a promising gem emerges from the rabble. After all, Sturgeon’s famous words also implied that ten percent of everything ISN’T crud, and that in my opinion, is certainly the case for Ouran High School Host Club.
Its clear that Ouran is unapologetic in getting its shoujo on — an immense amount of roses, sakura petals, and intricate lace borders decorate the opening sequence (as well as in the episodes themselves) with a clear ironic intent, and bounces to the beat of an opening theme reeking of hyperactive genki energy. The opening theme, Sakura Kiss, has the earnest Chieko Kawabe sings, “The reason for which people fall in love, is different for everyone but– maybe you’re my love.” the last hopeful sentence sung in sweet Engrish.
Essentially a fast paced comedy, the titular Host Club of Ouran is an exclusive social group where six gorgeous boys surround themselves with things of beauty and using their refined manners to entertain female guests with innocent fliration. The most engaging component of Ouran is in the intense polarization between its protagonist, Fujioka Haruhi, a “studious commoner” student on scholarship who could care less about the high society trappings of opulence, beauty and wealthy refinement and Tamaki Suoh, the Host Club’s reigning bishounen King.
But the show’s penchant for the unapologetic does not merely lie in its self-conscious air of visual winks and nudges, but in the metafictional gags as well, which while not entirely novel are witty enough in execution. In one instance, Tamaki declares, “Yes! This is a love school comedy to begin with! Haruhi and I are the main characters of this love comedy. Obviously, the rest of you are homo side characters.” He finishes by brandishing a stick and drawing a line between his importance to the plot and the supporting characters ostensible destiny as mere filler.
It has been pointed out by viewers that Ouran has the potential to be the next Fruits Basket, but seven episodes in, and we’ve yet to see any deep emotional confessions, romantic hijinks, relational development, or dark and painful familial past. The general flow of the show seems to swing between two basic plots: Tamaki’s awkward and bizarre attempts to gain intimacy with Haruhi and his crusades towards granting the wishes of the heart to men and women alike.
If there’s anything it can be faulted for, it’s that it doesn’t give much of an impression that it plans to go anywhere in particular with its premise. Nonetheless, even though I may not know what’s going to happen at the end of the road, I’m pretty much enjoying the ride.
Related Links Sakura Kiss, Anime Opening – On YouTube. Not of the best quality, but you can generally get the feel of the series.
For Richer or Poorer – A large fansite dedicated to both the anime and manga title. Holds an obscene amount of content: information, profiles, summaries, screen captures, galleries, a forum, etc.
Ouran Koukou Host Club Icon Awards – As always, livejournal supplies a healthy amount of fandom, both in healthy and wanky variants. This particular community concentrates on themed icon contests.