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Thursday, 08 July 2010

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Jonathan Dresner

Please, please don't try to shoehorn Hiroshima and Nagasaki into this: aside from the fact that it's irrelevant, the idea that immediate post-war Japan was some kind of "happy ending" is historically... uninformed.

I'd like to blame this on the victorian literature to which Japan was exposed in the Meiji - certainly it's a structure which is familiar in popular romantic and adventure literature - but for a fairly strong pre-modern Japanese analogue, I'm strongly reminded of Kabuki theater (bunraku puppet theater, too, as they shared scripts), though I can't offhand think of a theoretical or summary work to point you to. I'll think about it and get back to you, but just reading some of the plays might work.

SEK

the idea that immediate post-war Japan was some kind of "happy ending" is historically... uninformed.

Well, in both films, the natural renewal occurs not at the end of the film, but after the credits roll, which suggests that a good deal of time has passed. (Because if you sat through the credits, subjectively speaking, it has, what with credit sequences not being inherently entertaining.)

I'd like to blame this on the victorian literature to which Japan was exposed in the Meiji - certainly it's a structure which is familiar in popular romantic and adventure literature - but for a fairly strong pre-modern Japanese analogue, I'm strongly reminded of Kabuki theater (bunraku puppet theater, too, as they shared scripts), though I can't offhand think of a theoretical or summary work to point you to.

This is what I needed to know, as my knowledge of Japanese literature basically begins with Abe and ends with Murakami.

Rich Puchalsky

I've watched all of Avatar: The Last Airbender (having kids in the right age range) and, as far as I know, it's really not Japanese. It's an American series, and only has the structure that you see as an imitation (or homage, whatever) to Japanese works that it's following. So whether it's a tic or is structural is not something that Avatar: TLA can really bear on.

Going back to some of the Japanese originals, many of which I've seen in translation: I thought that they were quite notable for a certain kind of naive pacifism. "Naive" because pacifism is girlish in these works, and therefore can't be the main focus of action until the end, when the girl-hero ends the war pacifistically and saves everyone. It can only work once the requisite number of explosions have occurred, and isn't really a focus of struggle in its own right.

There's certainly (well, arguably) something there that's left from WW II in general, the A-bombs in specific. Not an imitation of catastrophe-then-renewal, because as said above, the immediate aftermath wasn't renewal, but revulsion at war does seem to me to be left from that period.

These are children's stories though, in the main, and it's done childishly. Or perhaps just badly translated. And because it's genderified, there's a whole second level of possible discomfort there.

Rich Puchalsky

Just as an example -- though I'm not certain where it stands within Japanese lineage -- there's Minmei, the teenager who finally ends the war by singing.

tomemos

Just so we're clear, are you making this claim (sorry, this "quick question") based on

—three works,

—two of which are by one director, and

—one of which is American?

Or are there other works you have in mind here? I mean, the Evangelion TV show ended this way (the movie, not really). Akira…kind of. We could talk about different works, but I just want to make sure that you're not generalizing about an entire genre (two, really, if we take manga as different from anime) based on such a scanty sample size. If not, apologies, but the post made it seem that way.

SEK

It's an American series, and only has the structure that you see as an imitation (or homage, whatever) to Japanese works that it's following. So whether it's a tic or is structural is not something that Avatar: TLA can really bear on.

That's just why it's important, though: its commitment to its source material would indicate that there is, in that source material, a similar structure.

Just as an example -- though I'm not certain where it stands within Japanese lineage -- there's Minmei, the teenager who finally ends the war by singing.

I wrote a post about that years ago, but don't think I ever posted it: Robotech's a bad example for the very reason it's interesting: it's three entirely unrelated series dubbed to make them seem contiguous. Quite an amazing feat, actually, of early mix-tape-type culture.

Just so we're clear, are you making this claim (sorry, this "quick question") based on

—three works,

—two of which are by one director, and

—one of which is American?

I just chose those as examples, because Avatar is clearly, and I think playfully and quite brilliantly, derivative; it revels in its imitation of form, which suggests that its structure isn't incidental. I've been reading manga and watching anime in my spare time this summer, so I've got quite a bit of it under my belt at this point—in truth, this post initially concerned adaptation, but the structural similarities Nausicaa and Avatar ended up not being the point, as Miyazaki's film ends the same place the manga did because of the production schedule.

It's a wonder you were able to finish your dissertation if you didn't allow yourself to generalize from examples.

Rich Puchalsky

"Robotech's a bad example for the very reason it's interesting: it's three entirely unrelated series"

Ah, but I didn't link to Robotech, I linked to Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the Japanese original (and what became the first part of Robotech after the adaptation). The whole singing-girl-ends-the-war thing is there from before the three series were glued together.

I'm a bit iffy about argument-from-Avatar here. Avatar is playfully derivative, yes, but it's playfully derivative of the same anime that Americans were most likely to see and be influenced by -- the same ones that you're presumably most likely to have seen. Do you remember the Season 3 Avatar: TLA episode "The Ember Island Players" where there's a play within the series that parodies and re-tells the story of the series, distorted in line with fan comments? Remember how in that one Katara is parodied as someone who keeps weeping about how the Avatar is going to bring peace to everyone? That's how Americans tend to perceive that role, which recurs in many of the series that Americans have watched. I don't know whether it's really representative of Japanese series as a whole, though, so I can't tell whether it's an influential creator's tic that being imitated or something throughout the genre. If you want to talk about the Japanese genre as opposed to its American reflection, I think you have to go back to Japanese works.

anonymous cow

Your wrong. Cowboy Bebop. Fullmetal Alchemist. Trigun. (not the new anime which more closely follows the manga since that hasn't ended yet). All of these don't follow the pattern that claim anime follows. I am sure there are others. Of course, you'll probably claim that these are exception
s or try to twist them into your formula. This is lazy analysis is beneath you.

SEK

Your wrong. Cowboy Bebop. Fullmetal Alchemist. Trigun. (not the new anime which more closely follows the manga since that hasn't ended yet). All of these don't follow the pattern that claim anime follows.

I've only been reading this intensely for a month, so I'm open to suggestions. I did get through a bit of Cowboy Bebop, and thought it'd be interesting to teaching alongside Firefly—since CB appropriates from the West, Firefly from the East, and yet they're both mostly about bounties—but it does actually seem like an exceptional show, inasmuch as it borrows so many American motifs and stances. I'm not familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist or Trigun, but I'm not averse to looking into them. Just the opposite, in fact.

Again, posts like this one should indicate a fundamental insecurity and a reaching out to people who, like you, and as the title suggests, are bigger "fans of anime and manga" than I am. That said, I still feel a responsibility to cover them in a book about visual rhetoric, given their increasing domination of the market.

Orzelc

I'd need a clearer definition of both "epic nonsensical climax" and "grossly sentimental denouement" to say for sure, but I think a case could be made for both Fullmetal Alchemist and Trigun fitting the pattern. Both were good fun along the way, had climactic moments that didn't entirely make sense, and ended in a fairly sentimental manner (IIRC-- I don't recall all of the details of either ending).

Cowboy Bebop is a clear exception, I think. Samurai Champloo, though, by some of the same people, would tend to fit. Again, depending on the definitions.

Jake

I did get through a bit of Cowboy Bebop, and thought it'd be interesting to teaching alongside Firefly—since CB appropriates from the West, Firefly from the East, and yet they're both mostly about bounties—but it does actually seem like an exceptional show, inasmuch as it borrows so many American motifs and stances. I'm not familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist or Trigun, but I'm not averse to looking into them. Just the opposite, in fact.

You might want to check out Outlaw Star too, since it is like Cowboy Bebop and Firefly in that it is about bounty hunters and rag-tag group of misfits traveling around space and whatnot, and also because Firefly (strangely) quotes the very image in Outlaw Star of "the-girl-in-the-suitcase." The parallels are discussed more on this forum.

stompie

...the structural similarities Nausicaa and Avatar ended up not being the point, as Miyazaki's film ends the same place the manga did because of the production schedule.

May I ask, are you working with just the film of Nausicaa, or the extended-story manga that Miyazaki produced after the film? I'm sorry, it seems like you mention the manga here, but since it doesn't end at the same point as the film, I can't quite tell. Either way, i think the ending of the manga is much more ambiguous than that of the film. Mononoke is often billed as Miyazaki's do-over of Nausicaa, but the more advanced technological world of the Nausicaa manga allows for an epilogue to the epic-disaster climax that is fairly cynical when compared to both Mononoke and the Nausicaa film.

I absolutely second the "please please don't" comment about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but, that said, if you're interested in reading something that does posit a relationship between anime & manga, fandom, victim consciousness and the bombs, Takashi Murakami is all over that in his writings on superflat and his Little Boy exhibition. Also, I'd be really really surprised if you hadn't discovered or had this recommended to you yet, but Thomas Lamarre's recent book The Anime Machine would probably be great to mine for secondary sources and other good leads. He touches on Murakami and goes into pretty deep detail about Miyazaki's many personal tics.

Finally, while it definitely makes sense to focus on epic destruction narratives because they're internationally the highest-profile variety of anime and manga,it helps to remember that there's also a lot of manga about baseball (for example). Very few explosions, but still lots of sentimentality.

JPool

I'm no expert on anime or manga, but I worry that "grossly sentimental denouement" is expansive enough to cover anything short of bleak nothingness. Also, it's animation. One would never even bother to describe a Disney film as having a "grossly sentimental denouement," because it would be impossible to imagine them as ending any other way. On the other hand I wonder if "epic nonsensical climax" is quite the thing. I mean, yes they often feel that way, but I don't think "nonsensical" is what the films I've seen are actually going for. I think it's more that they tat together a set of abitrary but semi-coherent rules for the world that their constructing and then explain that it was fine at the time but the laws have changed, yeah, and so there's now a starchild, who legend foretells... Anyway, the point is that I think anime generally does some version of the Fantasy thing of world-building, but then tries to do so as impressionistically as possible. So the world only has to maintain enough internal coherence not to trip over itself irreperably. Sometimes this works ("FCLC" attains only the loosest kind of coherence by the end of the series, and it's creator basically made it up as he went along, but the characters and visual and stylistic sensibility still hold together) and sometimes it doesn't ("Metropolis" for me, despite stunning visuals, never became more than a series of borrowed plot elements in search of a shared movie), but with a few surrealist exceptions (like the haunting dream-tastic "Cat Soup") they're all at least trying for the impression of coherence.

Chris S.

Well, if you really wanted to you could trace it way back; Genji dies about 3/4ths of the way through Genji Monogatari, and the remaining 13 chapters could well be described as a lengthy denouement, with the rest of the characters carrying on and finally overcoming Genji's legacy. But then you'd have to justify cultural essentialism in a culture with several major historical breaks.

I think a more relevant cultural phenomenon is serialization; Japanese literature is produced in serialized form to a much greater extent than in the West. Most of the "novels" in the modern Japanese literary canon were originally serialized in newspapers and magazines, and of course manga is almost exclusively serialized.

Unlike the tight control over form and structure the coherent novel affords, serialized works tend to be more relaxed structurally. Or perhaps it would be better to say their structural focus is on the individual chapter; each serialized unit must intrigue the reader and advance the plot, so perhaps a lengthy denouement after the plot climax, where the loose ends are tied up after readers are already invested in the story, makes sense in that context.

But I suspect newspaper readers clamoring for another installment that ties all the loose ends is a major reason you see less of the quick denouements with much left unresolved that you do in the West.

Of course, the movies you mentioned were not (to the best of my knowledge) serialized as manga first, but that is the kind of literary environment they were conceived in.

I would be interested to know if there are further examples.

Martin Wisse

Dear SEK: you're treating anime and managa as genres, not media. This is unlikely to lead anywhere constructive.

SeanH

The counterexample immediately coming to mind is Azumanga Daioh, which doesn't have a climax of any sort. Having followed our characters for three years, in the last episode (which isn't, as far as I remember, built up to or hinted at) they graduate from high school and go their separate ways.

Jonathan

First of all, Avatar ended the way it did because Nickelodeon didn't want to pick it up for another season. Avatar was originally supposed to run four seasons (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air).

Most of the ticks you see in Anime and Manga are products of two things: Disney and Manga release schedules. Anime is directly based off of the early Disney films that were imported to Japan. Things like the large-eyed, small-nosed features of the characters, the dopey sidekicks, and animal friends were drawn directly from Disney films. And how do most Disney films end? In an epic nonsensical disaster followed by a natural renewal.

A lot of Anime, not just series but movies as well, is based off of popular Manga. Manga is released usually in either monthly of quarterly installments. It is picked up after it becomes popular, which is usually six months after being initially released. If you factor in the time it takes to produce an animated film or series (6 months to a year), this ends up with you having 6-18 installments of a Manga by time the series or film is released. The average length of a Manga series is 2-4 years, with a total of 8-48 installments. The end result is that most series or Anime will be finished and released before the Manga reaches it's conclusion. This requires an ending to be written for the Anime. This ending is ususally written by someone other than the original author. That's why most fans agree that Manga tend to have better ending than Anime. It also leads to Anime having more contrived/formulaic endings as compared to Manga.

Rich Puchalsky

While I agree with the people saying that Scott shouldn't generalize to a whole genre (much less a whole medium) from a few works that are not representative because they are the ones that were translated and not e.g. all the baseball ones, I'm puzzled by the "don't go there" bit about the atomic bombings. How would you possibly talk about the Godzilla movies, say, without reference to them? It's clearly a major idea within Japanese culture, and I don't see why people seem to be treating as a sort of Godwin effect. If I wrote "the Holocaust is a major idea within Israeli culture" that's not a Godwinning, it's just fact.

Rich Puchalsky

Here's a question: does The Lord of the Rings have an "epic nonsensical climax followed by a grossly sentimental denouement?" It has an epic climax, yes, but is it nonsensical, given that the whole work has been pitched towards making you believe that it's what needs to be done? (Despite the inherent nonsensicality of "world conflict resolves when hobbit pitches ring into volcano".) Is the denouement grossly sentimental, with the Scouring of the Shire and all that?

The description, by itself, doesn't seem specific enough. The epic climax that you're thinking about specifically has to involve mass destruction, doesn't it? The problem is that in many Japanese works that I've seen, the destruction happens at the beginning, followed by a long squabble over the ruins, and an epic climax to the fighting at the end that does not lead to so much as permit the renewal, which happens via other mechanisms. Think Avatar: TLA and the epic fighting in the invasion, and later, among the airships, and even between the Avatar and the firelord. None of that really turns out to matter. The whole thing is settled by the post-fighting conflict of powers between Aang and the firelord, in which peace sort of drives out war.

SEK

Rich:

I'm a bit iffy about argument-from-Avatar here. Avatar is playfully derivative, yes, but it's playfully derivative of the same anime that Americans were most likely to see and be influenced by -- the same ones that you're presumably most likely to have seen.

I'm not sure whether that's a feature or a bug, though, as the book's aimed at an undergraduate audience who won't always, as is the case at UCI, more familiar with anime/manga than I am.

Do you remember the Season 3 Avatar: TLA episode "The Ember Island Players" where there's a play within the series that parodies and re-tells the story of the series, distorted in line with fan comments? Remember how in that one Katara is parodied as someone who keeps weeping about how the Avatar is going to bring peace to everyone?

My understanding of that episode is that it served as a recap for fans, especially younger ones, prior to the series finale. That it also worked as a parody of the series, and, potentially, how anime watchers might perceive it is a bit of brilliance.

If you want to talk about the Japanese genre as opposed to its American reflection, I think you have to go back to Japanese works.

This is still a question that's up in the air.

Orzelc:

I'd need a clearer definition of both "epic nonsensical climax" and "grossly sentimental denouement" to say for sure

I am, admittedly, speaking in shorthand, but I'd define the former as "anything involving a sometimes hyper-mystical, sometimes hyper-technological armageddon-type clash between outrageously powerful forces," and the latter as "anything that fits with what we commonly identify as sentimental tropes, i.e. the death of a child, a long-awaited, oft-postponed, but non-sexualized consummation of a love affair, etc." Admittedly, you can shoehorn quite a bit into those definitions too, but its the frequency with which they arise together in the genre I've been reading---which means, not the high school melodramas, or sports books, or tentacle porn, etc.---that's struck me.

Jake:

But that's what I'm not doing in this chapter! It's just damn interesting in the way the two series reverse cultural polarities, so to speak; but it is something I'll end up investigating anyway, because now I can't not.

Stompie:

May I ask, are you working with just the film of Nausicaa, or the extended-story manga that Miyazaki produced after the film? I'm sorry, it seems like you mention the manga here, but since it doesn't end at the same point as the film, I can't quite tell.

Since the book is about visual rhetoric---titled Seeing Rhetoric---I'm trying to stick to comics that have film counterparts. I read all of Nausicaa, though, and agree that it's far more ambiguous. Still, it's significant that the first book was considered, say, "complete enough" to stand alone as a narrative. That it's not the end of the narrative is significant too, but that's one of the aspects film vs. comics that will be highlighted in the book as a whole---starting, most likely, with Eco's take on eternal recurrence in the comic medium in "The Myth of Superman."

I'd be really really surprised if you hadn't discovered or had this recommended to you yet, but Thomas Lamarre's recent book The Anime Machine would probably be great to mine for secondary sources and other good leads. He touches on Murakami and goes into pretty deep detail about Miyazaki's many personal tics.

That would be a negative on both fronts: I've spent the past month with primary texts and haven't started in with the secondary ones yet, as I like to have a feel for the sources; otherwise, the criticism overdetermines my reading of them ... as I learned during my qualifying exams.

Finally, while it definitely makes sense to focus on epic destruction narratives because they're internationally the highest-profile variety of anime and manga,it helps to remember that there's also a lot of manga about baseball (for example). Very few explosions, but still lots of sentimentality.

Availability is also an issue. While the Barnes and Noble in Southern California may have a wall of manga, the same can't be said in, say, Wisconsin.

More replies in a bit. Need to run some errands.

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