"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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Please note, all my fic posts here are summaries with links to my archive site. To search for fic most easily, you will want to visit my fic archive itself which has all the series/arc/pairing/character indexes and tags. *tips hat*

Posts Tagged: 'anime-manga'

Apr. 15th, 2009

Wave of the Future

So it looks as though free, official streams is the up and coming anime distribution mode.

Not only do we have the experiment at Crunchyroll.net, the new Fullmetal Alchemist series is being streamed, subbed, a bit less than a week after each episode airs, at Funimation.com. Having watched it, I think it may be worth waiting a few days for. The quality of translation is actually higher than the fansubs that came out more quickly. (And thank goodness the commercial concerns have finally figured out that sub fans tend to prefer minimal ‘cultural translation’.)

Presumably this is supposed to pay for itself via advertising, kind of like network television, and also provide a market draw for the permanent media (download and dvd) sales. I hope it works out, because this seems to me to be a very positive direction for anime distribution to take. Certainly the approach of licensing for permanent media distributed months or years after the series airs and is fansubbed has signally, and predictably, failed. A prompt, high quality, free release in a medium not easily recordable, certainly not at anything approaching original quality, followed by reasonably prompt sale of individual episodes alongside dvd collections has certainly worked for domestic television shows. I see no reason it shouldn’t work as well for anime.

For those who want to watch these versions, bookmark the show page.

Apr. 12th, 2009

KHR: Mixed Messages

There are times when I really wonder about Amano, and this issue was one of them.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

She had an opportunity to do some really good character interaction and development, here, and she made it about halfway. Bianchi, as the voice of older experience, provides a frame for the idiocy the boys have recently been displaying; through her eyes we see all the younger characters in perspective, with sympathy for their emotional dilemmas and uncertainties but also a clear understanding that they are acting foolishly and immaturely. Through Bianchi’s prodding, Tsuna actually gets his head out of his ass and realizes that he’s been very selfish in his attempts to ’shelter’ the girls, and tells Kyouko what’s going on. Kyouko, in her turn, provides some much needed insight into the relation between Tsuna and his box. This is all lovely, and pretty sophisticated narrative.

Unfortunately, it’s undercut by the other things going on this issue.

The most bizarre one is the juxtaposition of explicit fanservice, in The Bath Scene, with Bianchi’s mature-person explanation. The combination of the wound over Chrome’s back and the shot of her bare ass was especially peculiar. Through the whole thing, over against the emotional and psychological complications, we have the kind of deliberate full-body nudity shots one expects to find at the start of an ecchi manga. The text-subtext clash was weird and distracting, and I have to wonder why Amano chose that particular setting and emphasis. Bathing scenes can be done in a non-fanservice way easily enough. Why did this moment of wisdom and insight need to be so explicitly sexualized, hm?

Then there’s the girls’ reaction to Bianchi’s explanation, which boils down to “Yes, the boys are being selfish and immature, but they’re manly to do so; let’s not try to hold them accountable any more and instead continue to enable their domestic helplessness”. Once again, the girls’ actions get used as comedy and not to actually spur significant action or development. Bianchi has to lie about what’s really happening to spark Tsuna’s realizations, which has the structural effect of emphasizing only his emotional growth. This badly undercut Kyouko’s display of insight regarding the Vongola box; I was very disappointed, because her character deserves better than to be a two dimensional yamato nadeshiko.

I didn’t find the aforementioned domestic helplessness particularly amusing, either. The reinforcement of exclusive gendered spheres makes me gag. The events of this issue would make a perfect set-up for allowing both the boys and the girls to learn and contribute a little something across those lines, but I do not, for one instant, believe Amano will take the opportunity. The way she handled this issue indicates nothing but a desire to wear the main characters even deeper into their gendered segregation.

Amano, get a grip on your Issues, please.

Apr. 5th, 2009

FMA: Brotherhood, premier

*contemplative* I am unsure quite what I think.

The visual style is very similar but more… flexible? It definitely partakes more of the manga Arakawa-version superdeformed style, which I’m not really partial to. I’ll have to see if the animated style really takes with me or not. The detail of the motion is definitely a plus, though.

I can get used to Miki doing Musting. He and Ohkawa both have that flex to their voicing of Mustang, so there’s a reasonable continuity. The one major difference touches on the one thing I’m very unsure of, though.

The characters aren’t as sharp. At least in this pilot episode, neither Ed nor Roy have the edge that the first series provided. A big part of that is the script; there’s just more slapstick going on. And I loved that edge, it was probably the thing that topped the list of “why I totally love this show”.

So, while I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see the manga storyline animated (supposing that is the goal), I don’t know if I will be as wildly in love with this second series as I was the first. I will hope otherwise, but we shall just have to see.

Mar. 25th, 2009

Sketch of characters getting older

I keep contemplating how the younger KHR characters got to their TYL selves, and what they are at that age and I think I want to jot this down.

Gokudera: Gokudera calms down as time goes on. This does not mean he becomes any less heart-bound to Tsuna, but as he becomes more confident of and secure in his place in the Family he stops needing to yell about it. The point at which Tsuna confirms that Gokudera is his right hand is the true turning point for this. As he calms, Gokudera becomes more efficient, his edge shows more clearly, and he starts to solidify a reputation quite separate from his old one of ‘feral punk’, one of absolute loyalty to Tsuna and his wishes and of complete incorruptibility–the Vongola’s feared right hand, as Gamma says. Given the ruthlessness we see in, for example, 61, I suspect that Gokudera becomes extremely dangerous as he becomes cooler and more effective, and that it is, in large part, only Tsuna’s kindness that restrains him.

This ran rather long )

Feb. 26th, 2009

X speculation

I finally went and hunted up those last five uncollected chapters of X. Dear me, it really does end on a cliff-hanger, doesn’t it?

It also, however, prompted me to come back around to my occasional speculation about how X might end and what, exactly, Kamui’s true wish is supposed to be. After all, in the last panel he seems right on the edge of maybe, finally, articulating it, though in all likelihood this is just another CLAMP tease.

Spoilers ahead, obviously, supposing you can say that of something that’s six years old and no new material in sight.

The last few issues emphasize, repeatedly, Fuuma’s words to Karen: if it’s wrong to kill people because of the pain it causes, why do people so easily forget the most important thing? He even thinks that the Seals themselves have forgotten it. Now, using CLAMP-logic, which is always a dicey proposition but still, and taking into account what Fuuma says to Kamui about his belief being his truth, it seems that we should turn this around. The question is the answer. If life is precious, then the most important thing should be… life. The life that no one seems to be paying much attention to. One’s own life. If life is precious, and the pain of those left behind is critical, then it is everyone’s first duty to guard their own lives.

This would certainly march with the statement that Kamui can never defeat Fuuma until he realizes what his true wish is: not to save Fuuma, but to live, to save himself. You notice that, even just before the major battle, Kamui is still hesitant to fight for his own wishes, on his own behalf. It’s belabored over and over. If Fuuma is trying to make Kamui realize this, it also makes sense of why Fuuma constantly threatens Kamui’s life but never actually kills him.

This does not actually clarify the ending in any way. It suggests that Kamui will realize his wish, and that Fuuma will grant it, because that’s what he does. But it leaves Fuuma’s own wish up in the air, and we still don’t know what form granting Kamui’s wish may take in a world where the apocalypse is merrily under way. In particular, it still leaves up in the air the question of exactly what the “icy cold” influence on Fuuma is. Kakyou speaks of doubled selves and the Dragon of Earth being undefeatable and eternal for as long as there is a Dragon of Heaven, and this may hint that the influence is, in fact, Kamui’s shadow self. If so, then part of the ending will almost certainly be Kamui reclaiming that part of himself. It also seems possible that he will, maybe even as part of his true wish, repudiate his role as “kamui”, thereby freeing Fuuma also. This might even be the one thing that will alter the foretold future. It does seem likely, given the various statements about the killing sorrow of the one who loves left after a death, that Fuuma’s wish is for Kamui to bloody well wake up and want to live so Fuuma can let him, which would point them toward breaking out of the foreordained Heaven-Earth dichotomy.

Given that the series is on hold due to fears that the direness of the ending will, in the current climate, affect readers badly, I suspect there is no reset button to be had, here, either way. I expect they will, however, stop short of actual apocalypse, while leaving ruins and lots of dead people; it’s the CLAMP thing to do. For similar reasons I also suspect the responsibility for actually fixing or destroying the world will fall to all of humanity, rather than the single savior/destroyer.

For some further ruminations, which I pretty much agree with, visit As You Wish.

Feb. 23rd, 2009

Hell in a Fruits Basket

I just recently read a post to one of the comms I browse, from someone who was a ways into the Fruits Basket manga and wanted to know whether Yuki ever gets to be less of an asshole (translating fairly freely) and whether the angst ever lets up. This reminded me of all my Issues with FB, and rather than burden the poor woman’s post with extraneous stuff, I went to write up a proper post of my own.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

Having finally slogged through to the end of the manga, I find that, yes, there really is a reason I left off two thirds of the way through, the first time around.

It isn’t the characters, who I quite like, by and large. It isn’t even the plot per se, though I do think that Yuki’s romantic plot was done a severe disservice. If his new romantic interest had received the same development as his new boy buddy I might well feel differently, but she didn’t.

No, the part that really gets my goat is twofold. One is the whirlwind of heteronormativity at the ned, foreclosing any possibility of expressing the homoeroticism that is waved in our faces all the way through, or even just continuing to dangle the possibility. Two is the lack of consequences.

One is made most obvious in the person of Akito, who is insane the whole way through until the very last moment but is miraculously restored to sanity by having one person offer friendship. Okay, that’s actually kind of par for the course, because Tohru is Kwan Yin. Squared. But as soon as she’s sane she is, well, she. All of her insane actions are paired with her male guise, and all of her sane ones are paired with a ‘return’ to femininity. Indeed, when she comes to apologize to the Juunishi, she is in a formal girl’s kimono, and they seem equally and equivalently stunned by both those things, which I find narratively significant. She isn’t the only representative, though. Every single ambiguously sexualized male is firmly paired off at the very end, one after another: Ayame with Mine, Shigure with feminized Akito, Hatori with Mayuko, Hatsuharu with Rin, Yuki with Machi, Ritsu with Mitsuru. Indeed, every single major character is paired off, sometimes resulting in bizarrely random happily-ever-afters such as Hanajima and Kazuma. It’s a downright heteronormative panic.

I find two more pernicious, actually, and two is the deeper reason I just can’t read Fruits Basket with pleasure. These characters do absolutely horrible things to each other, most especially Akito, but also others, notably Shigure and Yuki. And there are no consequences to this. The manga does make it clear that, in most cases, the characters are passing the buck, acting out of pain that they have endured previously. But they don’t act toward the authors of that pain, or even take constructive flight from its source; no, they take it out on the defenseless. Akito tortures Yuki. Yuki beats up and taunts Kyou. Shigure ‘teases’ anyone around him who isn’t fast enough to guard themselves, notably Ritsu, Tohru and his editor, and has absolutely zero care for the genuine distress he causes.

This might be very realistic, but frankly I find such realism exceedingly emotionally and ethically unsatisfying.

The theme is carried right through to the end, where we find that the Cat has been cursed for centuries on end for the dire sin of… being right. Being the only one with its head screwed on straight, the only one who has the wisdom to not want the co-dependent reincarnation cycle that the God offers.

And in the end, no one calls anyone on any of these actions. The God et al flit off into the spiritual beyond and we never even find whether they learned better. Yuki never gets a boot to the head over Kyou (or, more significantly, never has anyone whose opinion he cares for tell him that what he did was wrong). Akito winds up with Shigure, and while I admit they probably deserve each other, they are presented at the very end as a suddenly, miraculously happy couple. No one even apologizes for the wrong they do, aside from Akito’s blanket and somewhat token apology, but Poof! the magic wand of All Better descends anyway.

And I don’t believe it. I can’t. The narrative work hasn’t been done to convince me, to satisfy me. So it leaves a very nasty aftertaste instead.

Wherefore, I suppose my response to the initial post that got me thinking could be summed up as : not so much. Give me Utena and  Sailor Moon any day, or even Fushigi Yuugi and CLAMP for pity’s sake. Tohru in particular and FB in general are a classic example of the reactionary as it emerges from Japanese culture and I never get on well with that.

Feb. 9th, 2009

Uni and the orange pacifier

Sounds like it should be the title of a children’s book.

At any rate, I’ve become increasingly convinced that Uni is the same person as her mother.

The account of why contains spoilers, of course )

Jan. 28th, 2009

Femslash: cross it up

So there are a handful of posts lately about femslash and the technically conservative trends in that genre. It made me think about my own femslash stories (well, actually, it made me think about the western-media vs anime/manga fandom divide, and how never the twain shall meet even for the sake of being able to read more girl-on-girl stories, and how the western-media side is defining the whole genre of femslash as western-media over against yuri when the anime/manga side is more likely to want to use both, terms and conventions alike, and that this exclusion/division pisses me off personally, but after that it made me think about my own stories), and, indeed, I note a pattern. The ones that work with canon-possible pairings are little bits of fairly isolated fluff or smut. The ones I think are really kick-ass are the ones that do weird stuff like crossing canons. I still think the Une/Hawkeye was one of the best I’ve ever written.

I think part of the reason for this trend in my own writing is that the f/f pairings tend to have hidden stories. You have to dig for them, for the possibilities, for the way these two women might interact. Rukia/Orihime, for example, has marvelous possibilities, but none of them are obvious because the two of them don’t interact enough in canon to create a strong template. Most of my m/m, on the other hand, comes out of dynamics that are pretty much shoved up the viewer/reader’s nose.

Given this, you’d think that a fandom like Utena would be the one to produce reams of f/f, but… really not so much. And when I try to imagine Utena/Anthy stories, I have to admit, I get lost. I could write fluff, I could write smut, but how to write actual plot when I’m already drowning in glorious, glorious plot in the source? It’s like trying to write Julia/Spike. So there’s the other extreme: not hidden stories but huge, wide, deep stories. It’s hard to find a place to start with either.

Then, too, most of the hooks, the suggestive situations, the shoved-up-your nose, well canon doesn’t give us much of that for the girls. Fraught relationships, competition, saving each other, about the only place I find that is in some, not all, shoujo and it’s always accompanied by such relentless, centralized het romance that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. Consider, for example, Sailor Moon or Fushigi Yuugi. We can step around the boys, the same way slash steps around the girls, but we have to step wider because they’re taking up more space.

And so I come back to the weird stuff: not the huge stories, not the hidden stories, but the stories that don’t exist at all yet, the hooks that can be created if you’re willing to ignore common sense. Utena/Anthy is hard, so what about Anthy/Lain instead? If Miaka is hard to separate from Tamahome, what about Yui and Shuurei? Orihime could probably do with a good lecture from Sakura about how the healer has a duty to guard herself.

A few of those get my brain loosened up, get me thinking about how, actually, if Daley just pounced Leon, then I bet Linna would take her opportunity, and Priss, with both hands. How Ami is really the best answer to Makoto’s constant boy trouble. How age seems to mean nothing to shinigami and therefore I could totally get something going with Unohana and Orihime.

Settling for the simple answers seem to be part of what hobbles femslash and/or yuri, at least for me–a weird sort of inverse of pairing wars, in which cleaving to the obvious pairings leads, not to war, but to silence. The odd possibilities seem much richer.

Jan. 3rd, 2009

Moments of ‘oh dear’ in anime

Okay, so I’ve been rewatching Meine Liebe, mostly thanks to Phoebe’s yuletide story.  And the other night I got to the end of Weider, with the fraught face-off between heros and villains.  And, at the moment of peak tension, the Headmaster returns.  There is a burst of orchestral “here I come to save the day” music, and the large doors are pushed slowly open, and there he is, all backlit and savior-esque.

And his every fat ringlet curl is bouncing in dramatic slow motion.

I had to pause the file until I could stop laughing. It took a while.

The fact that even this does not make me love the series any less should be all the recommendation anyone could want.

Also, this time around, I noticed how hot Nicholas is (Lui’s kind-of counterpart, the commoner-Strahl group leader with the green eyes).  I feel called to write some fic for him.  Possibly for him and Lui, because Nicholas enunciates his admiration of Our Heros and the logic behind it so clearly, and I think that probably makes Lui twitch when loyalty is directed at him.  *grins*

Dec. 18th, 2008

Kishimoto grinds the gears

Reading Naruto, of late, I feel like I’m reading Death Note all over again. As Ohba did, Kishimoto has drastically altered the structure and themes of the story he is telling, halfway through. And, as with DN, I like the first part better.

The first part of Naruto dealt with personal growth and the formation of personal and communal bonds. It dealt with children learning their own strength and, perhaps even moreso, each other’s strength. It also had vivid characters with engaging stories, dramatic enough to be exciting and regular enough to relate to easily, who carried these themes. The team that we follow all through the first part has a wonderfully high-tension relationship in Naruto and Sasuke plus the balance wheel of Sakura, who made it possible for them to operate as a team and thus keep bouncing off each other. It had shifting relationships and growing bonds of love and loyalty between the three of them, plus, for a bonus, the Sardonic Teacher in the form of Kakashi to serve as a commentator on their development.

I’m inclined to call the breakup of the team the first in a series of sharks this story jumped, but on reflection I think that, while true, this was not inevitable.  The development of the above themes actually lasted a bit past Sasuke’s departure. It would have been possible to preserve the momentum. Alas, that is not what Kishimoto chose to do.

Instead, the second half not only breaks up the team (which could have been a perfectly valid narrative move to spur further character growth) but it takes the focus away from their development and their relationships. Instead Naruto finds himself largely in isolation again, this time with the support of adults, cultivating his power.  It’s like his friends have only served to help manifest his solitary destiny, which is totally counter to the early themes.  Sakura seems to have an interesting storyline, from what little we see of it, but that’s the sticking point right there–we see so little of it. As for Sasuke… he has interesting things happening around him, but they seem to have absolutely zero impact on his character; he appears to have actually regressed and, while that too could have been turned into a useful narrative point, nothing is made of the fact.  Instead he’s just been bumped back as if none of his early development happened at all.  He, and Naruto to a large extent, have ceased to grow as characters; instead they just get glitzy new powers. The dynamic tension of their relationship has lapsed, and with it most of the zing of the series.

By the same token, one of the deepest themes of the first part was friendship and rivalry and what they mean and how they interact. That theme has disappeared. We have lingering references to it, but the actions of the characters show no urgency or plot-energy invested in the theme at all. Instead we have the growth of an historical theme, one that steps back and looks at the philosophical issues of ninja-dom in this universe. That could be interesting, but it isn’t what I want while the plot and character threads from the first half are still dangling around unfulfilled!

Really, Kishimoto should just have kept writing Naruto the way he was and spun off a completely different manga, probably focusing on Itachi, if he wanted to address the historical thread. They might have been crossed again later, and that could have made a fascinating maturation opportunity for the youngsters as they got older, but trying to do both in the same narrative space clearly isn’t going to work. And if this is, as is rumored, the fault of the Jump editors… then may the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits and may an unclean yak back into their linen closets and may they always have papercuts when they go to prepare vinegared rice.

Dec. 4th, 2008

Odd Ducks in KHR: Xanxus and Iemitsu

So, thinking about odd characters.

For one, we have Xanxus. He’s presented to us as completely selfish and more than a little psychotic, and never shows regret for any of it. Then comes his defeat, more by Fate than by Tsuna, and he gets a Revelation scene. Normally a Revelation scene gives the audience the backstory of a villain and explains to us why they have done whatever dreadful things they’ve done. This may or may not be accompanied by repentance and may or may not affect the character’s final fate, but it generally secures some sympathy for their motivations. Only, in Xanxus’ case, his backstory makes it clear that he’s always been a selfish bastard, that he was arrogant and carelessly cruel and full of exactly the kind of pride that goes before a justified fall. Just to drive the nail in further, at the end of the Revelation, Xanxus affirms once again that he has no noble motives at all, he just wanted to be praised and elevated, to have the prop of a high position.

What this suggests about his character is that he has no real sense of self-worth. The Revelation shows his pride in his (supposedly) birth-given position, and, when he realizes the position isn’t his by birth after all, shows Xanxus himself saying that he’s actually lower than all those people he scorned and abused. This makes his motivation blindingly clear; if he has no other source of worth, then of course he would go to whatever lengths it took to reclaim a “rightful” position as the Ninth’s heir. But it also suggests that Xanxus has no belief in his own abilities and his strength is less in rage than in desperation, which makes him… well, rather pitiful.

Pitiful, but stubborn, because he utterly refuses Tsuna’s empathy and any redemption that might come out of accepting a worldview in which the Ninth genuinely loves him as a son. Instead he is explicitly preserved as someone among the Vongola who, despite defeat, does not accept Tsuna and will undoubtedly be trouble for him one way or another.

And then we have Iemitsu. He stands in a long line of shounen genre dads who are genius weirdos and useless as actual parents. Some examples of this include HxH’s Jinn, PoT’s Nanjirou, GB’s Kaizer, Naruto’s Fourth, Ranma’s Saotome; occasionally we see genius weirdos who are decent parents, such as IniD’s Bunta, or who can be argued either way, such as Bleach’s Isshin, but they are far less common. Normally, if they have any excuse it’s that they’re dead. Unusually, Iemitsu is given a really good reason to be a deadbeat dad: he has an extremely dangerous job that could easily spill over onto his wife and child if he stays with them, and we are shown first-hand evidence of how dangerous both when Xanxus and the Varia show up and in the death toll of the Future arc.

Iemitsu is shown to be dedicated to his job, to the Family before his family. He doesn’t try to get Tsuna out of it, when the putative Ninth’s orders place his child in life or death competition with practiced killers. He is the one who returns to Italy during those battles, to rescue the Ninth, leaving Tsuna in Reborn’s care. This demonstrates his faith in Tsuna’s strength, to be sure, but also an iron commitment to his duty above the natural reactions we might expect a father to have. He is not the usual sort of useless-genius parent.

Indeed, the complexity of both these characters and how they are deployed in the narrative are far more typical of seinen than shounen, and I find myself wondering if post60, at least, more deserves the seinen genre classification.

Dec. 1st, 2008

Hibari and Mukuro

So, I was thinking about Hibari and Mukuro, and their philosophical or symbolic furniture, and figured I’d better scribble it all down before it got away.

Poking at the way Hibari changes over time, it seems to me that he’s got two major influences in what we might call his philosophy or mind-set: Naturalist and Traditional. These are my own terms for them, of course.

The Naturalist aspect is the ‘nature red in tooth and claw’, carnivore/herbivore, survival of the fittest or at least rule of the strongest gig that is his stronger influence earlier on. For a high-profile example of how this philosophy manifests in modern Japan, look up Fukuzawa Yukichi.

The Traditional aspect shows up in his devotion to the school, tendency to wear his school uniform exclusively, and later in his design of his Foundation, and tendency to wear kimono at home. All of these suggest an investment in the values of form and conformity, and, as time goes on, in the aesthetics of wabi and iki.

Pause for translation: Both of those are pretty broad concepts, and Hibari is nothing if not selective in how he adopts Traditional ideas, so let me gloss the aspect of wabi he seems most engaged with as “the beauty of imperfections that arise from a thing being what it is” (e.g. liking a corny anthem because, well, it’s the school anthem and those are pretty much supposed to be corny). I would not say he’s much into the “humility” aspect, for example. Iki is usually translated as “refinement”, which is fine as far as it goes. Getting into the further connotations, I’d say Hibari is most engaged with the aspects of simplicity and what we might call “perfection of manner”, witness the classically sparse arrangement of his future quarters.

These things don’t actually contradict each other, provided we assume Hibari is at the top of the food chain, which Hibari clearly does assume.

And then we have Mukuro. Mukuro draws on the concept of Samsara, Buddhist flavor, the cycle of reincarnation through the Six Realms. To have been through this cycle is not an unusual thing to claim, but remembering each life and being able to draw on the nature of each realm certainly is. Despite having all those strengths at his beck and call, of course, Mukuro is clearly not enlightened, has not escaped the cycle. Indeed, based on his current life’s emotions and actions, he’s probably bound straight for Hell again.

The human state is, however, supposed to be the one from which enlightenment can be best achieved, and I find it very interesting that, after his fight with Tsuna, Mukuro starts using a new signature illusion: lotus flowers. Those are one of the prime symbols of enlightenment. An illusion of a lotus has some rather curious connotations, too. On the one hand, Buddhism does suggest that the world around us is, indeed, illusion, from a spiritual point of view. The illusion of the lotus could be the very purest expression of this, showing that all the symbols of this world we use to explain enlightenment are inadequate. It could just as well be the ultimate symbol of Mukuro’s denial of enlightenment.

I suspect we won’t be able to resolve the ambiguity until we find out what Mukuro’s new agenda really is.

Nov. 30th, 2008

Character ages, omg

*staring at the info book translations*

Okay. So, when the KHR info book came out, the timeline set ‘current time’ in the middle of Our Hero’s second year of Namimori Middle school, and their ages are given as (for the most part) 14.  To be more precise, 13/14, given Kyoko’s age.

This… actually does match up.  I kept seeing their ages set at 15, and was wondering how on earth they could be first and second years in middle school and still be 15; that’s the age for a high school first year.

But, no, it looks like the times are not screwed up, and, indeed, these characters are middle school students.

And, theoretically, Hibari’s age is unknown, but it doesn’t seem in character for him to stay in middle school when he should properly be in the high school range, so he’s probably only a year older than they are, if that, and this is going to make my futurefic for Dino/Hibari a bit more difficult to set.

*makes small ‘argh’ sounds*

Nov. 24th, 2008

KHR: winning and losing

Another of the structural points that interests me is the way the characters win or lose. In the Mukuro arc, this is fairly straightforward, though there are some instances where losing is not a final thing, especially in Ken’s case. The ring battles start out looking equally simple and definitive but, after the Guardians’ matches are done with, takes a sharp left turn away from that built-up expectation. Once Xanxus’ overall plan is revealed, the structure of the previous fights breaks down into an impending free-for all, driven by passion and conviction and blood on the ground right then and there.

And then Amano cuts it off, leaving audience expectation without sure direction.

We appear to return to the strict (and rather sadistic) structure the Cervello have imparted to previous battles, for a time and, within that structure, Tsuna wins. Almost. The almost turns out to be critical and, despite having beaten Xanxus, having proven himself stronger, Tsuna and his side wind up losing by the numbers. Xanxus Guardians make it to the scene sooner, and the rings go to him.

And then we get another twist.

Xanxus’ prize rejects him and Tsuna wins by default. Only not, because, of course, he has already proven that he has the peculiarly Vongola strengths. It’s a marvelous tangle of mixed messages, and paves the way for the demi-redemption of the Varia. Audience expectation has been destabilized repeatedly, leaving Amano more elbow room to do unusual things without instant resistance–at least, not resistance because of her own narrative momentum. In this case, she uses that room to inject some sympathy for the previously quite unsympathetic Varia and Xanxus (see post re Villains) and, in the next arc, to rehabilitate them to an extent, presenting them as allies.

Given Mukuro’s appearance as Tsuna’s Guardian, it’s pretty safe to say this is a maneuver Amano likes.

The fact that she seems to be using the win-only-not/lose-only-not tactic again with Irie only increases my suspicion that it will wind up being used for Byakuran. But what most interests me about the whole pattern is that it allows for something we rarely see in the shounen-fight genre, which is the heros really losing–not just a motivational loss, but a “you lost the big stakes” loss. So far, this has not translated into an overall narrative loss, but only due to a personal failing in the winner, not any effort on the part of Tsuna and Family. That’s unusual enough to catch my attention, and pretty convincingly presents Tsuna as simultaneously increasing greatly in power and still in need of further build-up.

It also supports her less redemptive than usual redemptions. It’s a classic genre move to have opponents be rehabilitated or enlightened or otherwise saved by losing to the hero. The characters are generally engaged in explicit trial by combat already, and the winner has demonstrated the superiority of his side’s philosophy, as well as fighting skills. Amano has done this once, with Mukuro, but the ring battles do not resolve by combat, which leaves Xanxus and the Varia in an ambiguous position, defeated but not vanquished and, to all appearances, not redeemed either. This marches well with her approach to villains in general, providing a wide enough spectrum of despicable-ness to make characters who act very dubiously still palatable to the audience. Already pre-conditioned to accept ambiguous behavior, we are less likely to kick when frankly psychotic killers are presented as viable allies.

I will be very interested to see just how far Amano carries this, and whether the ambiguities will be resolved by the end or left as they are.

Nov. 17th, 2008

Yamamoto’s character

Okay, first off, just because I have to get it out of the way: hot like fire.

Onward, then.

Yamamoto is another of those contradictory characters that’s so much fun. On the one hand he’s laid back and cheery. He smiles at everyone, including Hibari and his opponents. On the other, he has, starting in post60, a definite ferocious streak. The way it’s most often characterized is as a will not to lose, and when he’s in that mode he’s downright alarming–still smiling sometimes but in a very different way indeed.

Yamamoto’s fierce streak is paired with a protective streak, and sometimes protectiveness will bring out the fierceness. Consider Yamamoto’s fight with Ken, in the Mukuro arc. He looks fierce after his bat/sword gets broken, and engages readily with a strong and uncanny opponent, but he doesn’t fight all out. Not until Tsuna is in danger. That’s when he throws it all down, even to the point of sacrificing his arm to get his opponent in range. And in more general terms, a good half of Yamamoto’s entrances seem to involve rescuing someone, most often Tsuna but sometimes other family members as well.

All of this, however, is also matched up with a set reluctance to kill. Squalo, during their fight, asks several times if Yamamoto is screwing around or not taking him seriously enough because he keeps striking with the spine of his sword instead of the edge. It seems like quite a legitimate question, given that Iemitsu’s evaluation of Yamamoto, at the start of this arc, is that his fighting spirit lacks the harshness necessary to fight the likes of the Varia. I find it interesting that Yamamoto never actually answers Squalo; he simply keeps fighting his own way.

So Yamamoto’s intensity is consistently tempered. Going all-out, for him, I speculate, has little to do with bloodlust. Besides his protectiveness, I think what drives, and equally gentles, his ferocity may actually be the same things that make him so suited to athletics: a team spirit and a will to win on the gameplay level. Let us consider. On the one hand, I get increasingly suspicious of his apparent cluelessness about mafia doings as time goes on. If he’s serious, then either he’s stunningly, moronically oblivious to the stakes involved in these encounters, which sorts oddly with his general perceptiveness and ability to do things like redirect uncomfortable conversations, or else he’s psychotic enough to consider grievous bodily harm reasonable stakes for a game. I’m more inclined to think he has an arcane sense of humor and is enjoying the looks on people’s faces when he makes like he doesn’t quite get it. On the other, I think his tendency, even  post60, to interpret things as a game points to something significant: he’s that intense even over games. The flipside of this is, of course, that his understanding of fighting and winning is shaped by and bound up in forms that are not life and death.

I imagine this is why he drives people like Squalo, and possibly Hibari, to absolute fits. He doesn’t have the same scale of measurement they do for winning and losing.

I think this is also why his patience with Gokudera finally snaps. Yamamoto clearly understands team play, and the more dire the situation the more strongly he seems to return to that touchstone. Strongly enough, indeed, that he cannot just stand aside and let Gokudera’s stubbornness be its own punishment; instead he’s driven back to insist on the point.

This is not exactly to say he’s the sane one, because anyone who jumps that readily into the path of weaponry even before he’s trained and looks for training just to even up the score with explosive, sword-wielding maniacs doesn’t really qualify as sane. I do think, though, that he’s probably the most stable of Tsuna’s Guardians.

Nov. 13th, 2008

Women in KHR, a rant

I kind of wish there weren’t any. See, KHR is that unfortunately common kind of shounen in which all women are useless frills, even the strong ones.

Incidentally, there will be spoilers here.

The romantic interests don’t fight. They cook. They get dragged into the future and have to be rescued and, upon witnessing the boys’ determination to grow in strength and get everyone home and safe, they exclaim that they have to do their best too–to the kitchen! That is the actual line; they want to do their best too, so come on to the kitchen and let’s cook meals for the boys while they train to become stronger fighters and more mature people. *spits*

The women who do fight, at least on the good guys’ side, consist of a dying girl who only ever wins when she lets herself be possessed by (I’m sure you guessed it) one of the male fighters, the anti-cook whose “fighting ability”, as preserved from the initial gag-manga story, is a joke, and a young woman who was “saved” from the curse involved in being one of the strongest so that she could live a more ladylike life. Again, this is the actual line. Only, of course, she’s not entirely saved, so she’s a good fighter but winds up being comparatively weak and useless. On top of that, she’s billed as a great trainer but totally fails in training Tsuna (where Reborn, of course, succeeds with one sentence). *spits again*

This is why I wish there just weren’t any women along to the KHR action at all. When it’s something like Rurouni Kenshin, and Kaoru is excluded when things heat up, at least I can imagine her having kickass adventures of her own back home! (Okay, in between the soppy pining, but still.) KHR doesn’t let that space open. No, the women have to be there, they have to be present, so it can be palpably demonstrated that they are not as good as the men. *downright froths*

The only time women get a fair shake at competence in this series is when they are the villains, and not just normal villains but all the way over to the “disgusting sociopath” end of the spectrum.

This is a shounen mode that annoys the everliving fuck out of me. The fact that the mangaka is a woman disgusts me; it doesn’t entirely surprise me, mind, but it definitely disgusts me. This is the one thing that will probably keep some distance between me and KHR, despite how much I like the not-women character development and dynamics. I can engage with a series that leaves the women out, but I can’t fully engage when women are so explicitly positioned as inferior.

On this score, fannon is the only thing that might save the day.

Nov. 11th, 2008

More on Hibari

The difference between young Hibari and adult Hibari is an interesting one, to me. They’re both sublimely confident of winning, both prickly and short-tempered around most people, but adult Hibari seems to be somewhat calmer and more balanced.

Now it’s not difficult to get more balanced than young Hibari, because he strikes me very much as the shounen trope of the crazy-strong character. They’re all over the place. They’re the one who’s never been beaten, who never holds back, who loves to go all out with no holds barred and is a little insane with it. The classic method of dealing with this character is to have the hero defeat them, after which they get a lot saner (PoT’s Akutsu, RK’s Soujirou), or, sometimes, to just leave them as the crazy, ambiguous, dangerous one who’s never been beaten (HxH’s Hisoka).

My own framing of that particular dynamic is that the crazy-strong characters are as if running, down a hill. They’re full tilt and flat out, and they’re a breath away from falling, and nothing can stop it–and they know it. That’s what makes them crazy, that edge of almost-disaster, that lack of balance. When they find an equal opponent, then they have someone to lean on, someone who can push back; that way they can still go all out and not be in danger of falling over from lack of resistance. Having someone capable of standing against them balances them.

And I suspect this is, indeed, what happens to Hibari. The part that interests me is that he doesn’t quite follow the classic curve. We never see him being defeated by anyone except Mukuro, and that does not, of course, do anything to make him less volatile. It does, however, seem to focus him, witness the way Reborn uses the possibility of a rematch to lure Hibari into the family properly.

Immediately after that is the event that I think points toward another part of this equation. Yamamoto tries to talk Hibari down, as he is wont to do, and, when that fails, actually stops him. On the one hand is the physical move, which impresses pretty much everyone, and on the other is the psychological move; Yamamoto claims Squalo as his opponent, owning to an actual will to fight and win (to carnivore-hood, as it were). That, I suspect, fixes Hibari’s attention just as much as the way Yamamoto caught his strike.

This, incidentally, is one reason I think that Hibari’s character really changes between the first story and the second. There is a rather similar moment during the scrap for the sakura-viewing spot, in which Yamamoto interferes and catches Hibari’s strike. At that time, Hibari does not focus on him; indeed, he seems put out, perhaps even petulant. The difference in response on those two occasions is notable. Similarly, in the Mukuro arc, when Gokudera busts Hibari out, Hibari (of course) says he could have done it himself, but he then asks if he can/should get rid of Mukuro’s two henchmen. It’s remarkably polite, in comparison to Hibari pre-60, and indicates at least some awareness of obligation. Arrogantly, to be sure. He even hauls Gokudera up the stairs with him, something that the young Hibari does again when he comes forward in time, once again to discharge the obligation of having been helped out.  This suggests that he does acknowledge having been helped, which is very much not the same character we are shown in pre-60.

At any rate, I suspect it’s these two things together, falling invisibly in the ten year gap, that calm Hibari: being able to fight again with Mukuro, apparently his eternal opponent given what he says in the future about honing himself against illusionists, and having Yamamoto around, as irregularly intense as he is, to fight with as a friend and probably to puzzle over as a hobby given how often Yamamoto acts in ways Hibari classifies as herbivorous.

Of course, there’s a third element in here: Dino. I also find it very interesting that we barely see the fights/training between Dino and Hibari at all, even though Dino apparently persuades Hibari to not only keep training but to do it away from Hibari’s precious school. However Dino does it, and we don’t get to find that out, this may form the necessary bridge between the loss to Mukuro, which is both tempering and inflaming, and the theoretical sparring with Yamamoto, who I speculate both interests and frustrates Hibari because Yamamoto exists outside the rules of Hibari’s worldview (more on that later). Between these three points, and taking into account my theory that Hibari transfers his love for the institution of the school to the institution of the family, we have a possible explanation for future Hibari, who is calmer and  capable of cooperation–possibly even with Mukuro, witness Mukuro’s routing of information to Hibari.

Alternatively, of course, we could put it all down to Tsuna’s powers of redemption as the pure-hearted hero, but those haven’t been leaned on hard enough for me to call that the only reason.

Nov. 9th, 2008

Structure of KHR

I find this interesting because KHR is really kind of two manga.

The first one, which runs for the first sixty issues, is basically an extended gag manga. There’s slapstick, in place of plot, and zero in the way of character development. The characters are presented full-formed with about three identifying characteristics each, which are used for recurring gags. Gokudera 1) sparkles for the Tenth, 2) has bad attitude for everyone else, 3) passes out when he sees his sister. Bianchi 1) loves Reborn, 2) is the anti-cook. Yamamoto 1) is endlessly athletic, 2) has a habitual problem-causing fast pitch, 3) thinks the mafia thing is a game. Haru 1) loves children, 2) crushes on Tsuna 2) leaps to conclusions. Tsuna is 1) unskilled, 2) apathetic, 3) nice. Hibari is 1) bloodthirsty, 2) a dictator, 3) a thug/extortionist. Ryouhei 1) is boxing obsessed, 2) shouts all the time, 3) is extremely straightforward/gullible. Dino is 1) a caring boss/anideshi, 2) a klutz in isolation. And so on.

Let us not even speak of Longchamp, except to note that he is symptomatic of this first manga.

The plot is episodic in the extreme and there is no character development for anyone but Tsuna, who only gets just enough to make him a bit more cheerful about daily life.

And then, around issue sixty, Amano Had A Better Idea, and decided to start writing the second manga. This one is pretty classic shounen fight manga, which means a plot manifests involving increasingly difficult rounds of fighting, complete with overpowered opponents and weird weapons, and the characters start to develop. This is the point at which we start to hear Tsuna valuing his friendships to the point of acting to defend them, when we find out that Hibari loves the school and is kind to animals, when we see Yamamoto having real focus that can be applied to fighting instead of just ad hoc athleticism. This is the point at which I, for one, start to wonder whether Yamamoto’s comments about mafia cosplay are some kind of arcane joke he’s playing on absolutely everyone. The bonds of silly friendship are suddenly bonds of true loyalty.

This is not, of course, a seamless transformation. The characters’ backgrounds remain sketchy, as a legacy of how they were presented. Their motivations are left to the reader to interpolate, in most cases. I suspect that Amano initially intended to play the Arcabaleno straight as actual babies, otherwise the shot of an adult Shamal delivering Reborn makes no sense, and this was simply retconned. Nevertheless, it isn’t nearly as rough as it might have been, and that’s fairly impressive. The characters are still recognizably themselves; the only one I think really transforms into someone else is Hibari, who suddenly has depth and motivations and becomes a great deal less arbitrary in his violence. More on that later.

The two different parts involve very different deployment of the characters, though.  While most of the initial caricature characteristics are carried through, sometimes in fading degree, they are no longer used for gags.  Instead they are part of the character’s place in the plot and serve as elements in a progression of events rather than a circling in place.

So, despite the general continuity between the first and second manga, I think that attempting to construct consistent characterization across both is a mistake. To the extent that it can be done, Amano has done it, but the characters in the first manga were not written with any kind of depth, and attempting to find depth in those issues is likely futile. We might, instead, consider them first drafts of the characters in the second manga.

Nov. 7th, 2008

Villains in KHR

There’s a curious spectrum of villains in Katekyou Hitman Reborn. For one thing, as the story goes on, it’s made clear that even the good guys aren’t necessarily good.  Our core heros are the only really good people, and their support group consists of people who explicitly run gambling houses and protection rackets. Things just go downhill from there.

First we have the Interesting Villains, which are not uncommon in manga and anime. They are the people who have understandable reasons for what they’re doing and some shade of sympathy or even nobility in there somewhere.

Spoilers ahead!

Take Mukuro, for example. He thinks of people as toys, things he can break if he likes; prime villain material that we should abhorrer. But there’s a double-whammy in his background, counterbalancing that. One is his tortured early life as an experimental animal; this is the part that makes him understandable. Then there’s the care he takes of the very few people he identifies as his, his loyalty to them and theirs to him, even to the point that he will sacrifice his own escape to give them an opportunity to get free. This is the part that gives us some sympathy for him.

Squalo and, to a lesser extent, Xanxus, follow the same pattern. Squalo’s understanding of Xanxus both illuminates Xanxus’ reasons for us and makes Squalo more sympathetic by that loyalty and connection to another.

Given this, I’m kind of expecting Byakuran to turn up with some interesting background, too.

In addition to these villains, however, we also have the Disgusting Villains. These are the ones who are completely unredeemable, the unapologetic sadists and sociopaths, the ones who visibly get off on torture. They seem to be provided for two purposes. One, they act as canon fodder, fighters in the early rounds that we, the audience, will not mind seeing beaten or killed and will, in fact, probably cheer while it happens. Two, they serve to make both the good guys and Interesting Villains look better. After all, they could clearly be so much worse. This permits good guys to be ambiguous while still looking good, and the Interesting Villains to do worse things than are usually acceptable while still retaining some audience sympathy. Consider, once again, Mukuro. The things he does are despicable, but in comparison to the canon fodder who lead up to the fight with him, he seems far more palatable.

I have some suspicions that the Cervello will also benefit from this comparison. They have shown up twice on the bad guys’ side, but the first time they clearly had some kind of ulterior motive for orchestrating things the way they did. In comparison to the Disgusting Villains, that motive may well appear acceptable, if and when it comes to light.

Nov. 5th, 2008

Preliminary reading of Hibari’s character

Having finished up KHR’s Varia arc, it’s time to take my first go at parsing out my favorite character.  Incidentally, there will be spoilers up to there, in here.

I think a major key to Hibari’s character really is his guardianship: the cloud that can never be bound. For someone like that to be a Guardian, I think he would have to be loyal, not to a person, but to the abstract ideal of the family.  Hibari’s attitude toward the school speaks of something similar, to me; he loves the school while seeming to hold every human in it in contempt.  This says to me that what he loves and defends is the ideal; defending the actual is kind of incidental.

I think this dovetails with another part of his character.  He likes to fight.  He likes to win.  He likes things to go the way he wants them to go.  His ideal gives rise to a vision (an order, as he puts it), and he fights to enforce that vision.

In his own way, I think he’s a complete romantic.  It’s just all abstract and he doesn’t actually like the messy humans cluttering things up, however much they’re required.  He may feel they don’t understand the ideal well enough.

The things he respects are another clue.  He seems to respect both passion and control.  Consider that Yamamoto seems to be the only one who can talk him around without getting ‘bitten’.  Usually.  Similarly, consider Hibari’s reaction during the ring battles, when he says that he’s all for anything that will bring out Tsuna’s true strength.  Tsuna is the pure-hearted one, recall, the one who fights for ideals of his own.  Hibari seems to respect that, which suggests he understands that.

So I think what we have here is one variation on the Black Knight.  Hibari seeks strength/victory/control in order to defend (and enforce) his shining ideal, be it the school or the family.