"I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth."

--Ursula K. Leguin

November 2009

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How not to cross genres

Genre crossing, when done well, can be a very effective storytelling technique, allowing the author to hit the reader with unexpected plot turns and presentation that is sufficiently unusual that it will make the reader think twice about the scene. Alas, when not done well all we get is a hot mess.

Amano is currently demonstrating Not Well with Katekyou Hitman Reborn.

This is especially a shame considering that her first cross went off very well. When she had written sixty issues of a gag manga, full of underwear shenanigans, and suddenly decided she wanted to write a serious, indeed dark in places, battle manga, she made the transition quite smoothly. The underwear phased out and was replaced in a plausible way, the change presented as a moment of personal development for our main character, such as we might expect in a good battle manga. The initial premise, that our hero is slated to inherit a mafia family, offered plenty of material for a darker turn. So far so good. The next two and a half arcs were a marvelous sweep of fast-paced action with personal development and growth for the whole ensemble of characters.

And then we hit the bump. Possibly even the shark. Somewhere, for some reason, the decision was made to extend the Future arc with a new set of villains, and the storytelling fell apart. The pace jinked and faltered, new characters got no background or development, the fights were truncated and disappointing compared to the intense confrontations of previous arcs, and even the first half of the Future arc.

Worst of all, Amano turned back to the gag genre, and, at this juncture, failed to make it work.

This is most evident in our hero, Tsuna. Tsuna has always flailed a lot, to be sure, but less so as time went on; indeed, when he came to the future, the pressure of events and responsibility seemed to wash the flailing out of him and push him toward a more mature presentation even when he isn't wrapped up in Dying Will. With this latest turn, however, the flailing is suddenly back to early levels, to the extent that his weapon reflects it and allies comment on it. The plot provides us with no explanation for this.

This is characteristic of the gag genre: character development is neither necessary nor, in most cases, desired. The character quirks that are used for gags must remain constant, and the nature of the genre is such that readers are usually willing to suspend any disbelief and accept them, however implausible. It's part of the genre expectations.

The genre expectation of a battle manga, and especially a serious one, is that characters will develop, both technically and emotionally. Sudden backsliding of personal development needs some kind of cause or explanation.

As I said at the beginning, these expectations can be crossed, if it is done well. Many battle manga use brief gag moments to break tension; bathroom humor is a favorite. Even the development of the hero can be let to fail briefly, for the sake of increasing dramatic tension. But if the audience is not to reject that tactic, it must be framed, supported, explained in some way--it must be presented as a dramatic moment, in order to be accepted as such. Tsuna's reversion is not.

Hence my fear that Amano has no clue where she's going with the current sub-arc and has fallen back on her roots because she is at a complete loss. If this is due to editorial pressure, to draw out the Future arc more, I hope someone kicks that editor in the teeth soon. If it is due to Amano losing her grip on the story, paging editor!Reborn, please. In either case, the current issues are a fine example of how not to do it.

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