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Weekly Linkage: Where I Cheat With A Non-Link July 27, 2006

Posted by Samurai Tusok in Links.
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Paul Pope, a purported ‘rock star’ of alternative comics who has never shied away from congratulating himself, but makes some interesting observations from his experiences as a gaijin manga-ka at Kodansha:

…the best manga is character-driven. Take, for example, Lone Wolf And Cub. A great concept, a great story. It doesn’t matter that it’s about a samurai … that it’s about a father and son so much. It doesn’t matter, the setting so much, or the way that they look. You know what I mean? It’s about the personalities that are coming through the stories. The stories seem very medieval in a sense, like The Cantebury Tales. He goes on a journey, and hears these various people’s stories in these character sketches.

When I was working at Kodansha, they’d always want to reduce things to the most basic elements of character. You’d tell them, “I have this story…” and you’d start telling them all of these plot elements, and they’d say, “We don’t care–just show us the drawing of the character.” “This story is about a young girl, who’s doing XYZ,” or “This story is about a young man, who’s an honest young man in a place where everyone’s corrupt.” You know what I mean? That’s what they wanted to see. They wanted to see these characters.

And then, on top of that, you might have some sort of facade to make it more interesting, based on whatever people are interested in right now–you know, maybe this year it’s going to be golfing, because of Tiger Woods. Or maybe this year, ships are popular because of Titanic. I will say that one thing they did really well in manga was to capitalize on topical trends, because the artists are trained to work so quickly. If there was some movie that was really popular, the editors would say, “Make your manga so that people would want to see it as a movie.”

Carl Gustav Horn is an editor at Viz Communications, but I remember him best as a contributor to Japan Edge, the Gen-X-era coffee table guide to Japanese subculture. In one chapter, Horn explains why fandom’s desire for self-insulation from the unwashed masses and wannabe otakus makes little sense to him at all:

I never started an anime club at Pomona [College], as I never did in high school. In part because I still walked funny from those early club experiences, but mainly because I truly believed anime was for everyone. Viewed one way, it’s just TV shows, video, and movies; so why would you need a secret handshake to see them, any more than you do to watch The Blues Brothers or Northern Exposure? I would simply have showings of the anime on campus, as if it was unextraordinary film and television.

Rob Vollmar, the former ‘Occidental Tourist’ of the late great Ninth Art and is currently the co-creator of Bluesman. In an article entitled “Woman Seeks Manga“, Vollmar devotes a couple paragraphs to bemused wondering about the appeal of shounen-ai comics:

It is important to point out that while shonen-ai manga may have homoerotic themes in them, they are not, in their essential function, works of pornography. In fact, one of the most popular shonen-ai manga, Banana Fish goes on for dozens of volumes without any act of sexual contact between the two male protagonists… This palpable sense of delicacy, while not applicable to all manga … is still one of the central tenets of shojo manga and in place more often than not.

Given [its] immense popularity […] the casual Western observer [is probably] wondering if millions of Japanese women are secretly fantasising about their husbands making love to other men. While not having a direct line into the psyche of Japanese women, it is my opinion that perhaps shonen-ai manga merely represents a sacred space for its creators and fans, where the masculine/patriarchal value system simply does not apply and they defend that space with the poison pill of “gay-ness” (these are straight men we are talking about repelling, don’t laugh!), thereby repelling potentially intrusive husbands and sons who would see such images and storylines as obviously not for them.

Weekly Linkage: J-Rock Deconstructed, Fantasy Matters and Portable Culture July 17, 2006

Posted by Samurai Tusok in Links.
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Bread rocks.We apologize for the lack of updates here at Bento Physics, but Naughty Ninja and I have been really busy. Juggling our responsibilites such as her day job and my thesis work has proven to be challenging. Yes, you heard me right – Naughty Ninja works now so she can earn money to support the material for this blog – such as manga, anime and lots and lots of coffee.

All the while, I continue to maintain my useless standing in society as a perpetual student, but that’s okay, because earning money is what girls are for. See how feminist we are like that?

Ix of Yuri to Boushi to Hori no Tabibito deconstructs a track from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and examines the appeal of Japanese appropriation of Western rock by using the phenomenal manner in which bread culture has been appropriated as a point of comparison in order to come up with some interesting conclusions:

However, the genius in which some Japanese rock and pop songs are written, I believe, is embedded in the way they embrace Western culture. Let me give you an example. I went to Japan last year, and one of the things that made a great impact on me was bakeries. You can’t go 500 yards inside any largish Japanese town without finding at least one bakery.

And these aren’t your regular run down British affair, oh no. Bread is an extremely big business in Japan […], but the types of bread on offer may surprise many Western bakers. For instance, Kare-pan; a deep fried doughnut type bread with curry inside, when the most adventurous thing we put inside ours is jam. Even more controversial, Meron-pan – the fusion of two different kinds of dough (cookie dough and normal sweet bread dough).

It’s as if Japanese bakers took one look at Western rules for baking, gave it the finger and just did whatever they wanted. In the UK: starchy things like potatoes in sandwiches? BLASPHEMY!”

I had heard of Queenie-chan before Bento Physics came to being, but I am glad to have rediscovered her excellent musings particularly this rant about the nature of role models, personal fantasy and manga (bold emphasis mine):

“[…] I just came back from the NarutoFan forums, with it’s legions of shrieking fangirls who live, breathe and drink “Naruto”. They all probably fantasise about becoming really powerful female ninjas, and romancing equally powerful, handsome male ninjas – which is a pretty good fantasy to have. Now, “Naruto” is a shounen manga, but the discussion we’re having is the effect manga is having on young female minds, no?

And the discussion has leaned towards shoujo manga, because it’s assumed that young girls tend to read shoujo, right? Well, NarutoFanatics prove one thing – young girls are just as likely to have power fantasies as young boys. And girls who are inclined towards power fantasies will seek in out in whichever manga provides it, which is usually not shoujo romance.

So if you’re worried about impressionable young girls, keep in mind that only a small percentage of them are impressionable in the way that people ought to be worried about. The majority are probably too sensible to take it seriously, or would rather be given a fantasy world where they can be a powerful adventuress and go butt-kicking with alot of handsome warrior-types.”

One of self-proclaimed love swami Warren Ellis‘ musings that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is a bit old, but is worth linking anyway. It’s about why manga’s ‘small format’ fuels comics literacy (at least with respect to Japanese commuters):

See, that right there is a big part of the manga success — those things go in a coat pocket or in a backpack. It’s why paperbacks were such a revolution: they were cheap and they could be stuffed in a pocket. Dave Gibbons, talking about the later Martha Washington books he did with Frank Miller, talked of his desire to do a “roll it up and stick it in your pocket comic”, which speaks to why that form lasted so long.

Portable culture is crucial to any society in motion. Manga in all its indigenous forms has been a thing built for Japanese commuters. Part of why that style of anthology doesn’t play so well in America is that America’s a culture of private cars, not public transport.

Personally, if I’m going to spend an hour or two on a train, I want something I can stick in my pocket. A paperback book, or a copy of LONE WOLF AND CUB or something similar. […] But mostly, it’s a form/ambition thing. You’ve got 90 pages and a perfect portable format. Write something so important that people have to carry it with them – because they can.

Weekly Linkage: Learning Language, Episode Counts and the Anglophonic Fandom July 4, 2006

Posted by Samurai Tusok in Links.
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Just don't call him an otaku to his face.Frederik Schodt, professional manga enthusiast and J-pop academician recently wrote at Japan Times Online about manga as a learning aid for the Japanese language and makes some very informative distinctions about the varying differences between how different manga-types use the language differently:

It may be easier to start reading gender-neutral or male-oriented stories, rather than girls comics, because the page layouts are less abstract and more orthodox. It also helps to read stories on familiar subjects, and for that reason I recommend avoiding samurai-oriented jidaimono (period pieces) as all but the history buff will find the unfamiliar terminology daunting. When I was learning Japanese, I liked a tragic-comedy, “Otoko Oidon (I am a Man),” about a starving student living in a four and a half mat tatami room, because I lived in one, too. 

Seth Johnson of Gnostic Lone Wolf Poetry talks about how episode counts affect television storytelling, whether in longform multi-season serials or as compact single/double-seasoners:

The 26-episode show, however, seems to have a particular sort of pacing to it. A common progression I see, is the one found in Trigun and Mai Hime, where roughly the first half of the show is devoted to comedy-(insert genre) and after that it’s dark-(insert genre) as, the characters now being familiar, the humour of the audience is taken advantage of to elevate the pathos of the drama by comparison to what preceeded it. More generally, most 26-episode shows seem to split into two 13-ep arcs, though they aren’t self-contained arcs most of the time (you generally need to watch from the beginning).

JP Meyer of “a fairy tale of love and courage” brings up the difference between American anime fandom and English-speaking anime fandom and how the two can never be assumed to be the same thing:

The ANN blogs just started a few days ago [but so] far, we have two posts about Anime Expo, one on recently-licensed live-action titles, and two on American tours by two Japanese musical acts. These are all anime-related, just like posts on an anime blog well, are supposed to be. There is however, a huge difference here: they’re not about Japan, but rather about America. This band is touring in America. These doramas are being released in America. Here are fun things to do at this con in America. Contrast this to what anime bloggers generally blog about: These are the upcoming new anime this summer in Japan. These figures go on sale next week in Japan. A man in Japan stole a little girl’s swimsuit and shat in it.

Text Hickeys June 26, 2006

Posted by Naughty Ninja in Links, Yaoi.
9 comments

Teacher and Student, Boy and Boy.

The form, spectacle, and popularity of yaoi (boy and boy love comics) has always been of high debate and controversy. Most experts and pundits can't even settle on a definition, let alone finalize speculations of why the biggest fans of yaoi are heterosexual women. The following two articles supply an introduction to yaoi, and cover various topics at differing depths from entirely different approaches to the subject matter. (All bold emphasis mine)

Mark McLelland attempts to phenomenologically understand the genre in "Why Are Japanese Girls' Comics Full of Boys Bonking?"

These stories about men bonking created by and for women do not trivialise gay life because they are not about 'gay' men. In women's yaoi fiction, homosexual love has been naturalised which is why so many of the stories are situated in futuristic fantasy societies where the political divides over sex and gender issues that polarise contemporary communities are largely redundant.

"Yaoi Ronsō:Discussing Depictions of Male Homosexuality in Japanese Girls' Comics, Gay Comics and Gay Pornography" by Wim Lunsing is a more recent one that's a heavier but rewarding read:

In 1992, Satō Masaki, a gay activist/civil servant/drag queen, harshly attacked yaoi—using the term in a personifying manner: he attacked women who draw and read yaoi—with the phrase: 'yaoi nan tte shinde shimaeba ii' [that yaoi may die]. He did this in the minikomishi [small-scale non-commercial magazine] Choisir, a feminist magazine devoted to the discussion of female sexuality by women. He felt that his human rights as a gay man were harmed by women drawing and enjoying yaoi manga. He compared them to the 'dirty old men' [hentai jijii] who watch pornography including women engaging in sexual activities with each other. In addition, he accused yaoi of creating and having a skewed image of gay men as beautiful and handsome and regarding gay men who do not fit that image and tend to 'hide in the dark' as 'garbage' [gomi]. In addition, he attacked them for creating the 'gay boom', a media wave of interest in gay issues sparked by women's magazine Crea, which, according to him, did nothing for gay men at large.

*Above image taken from the two volumed manga Passion; story by Shinobu Gotoh and art by Shoko Takaku.