kaigou: the kraken stirs, and ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance. (3 the kraken stirs)
[personal profile] kaigou
In this post: GetBackers, Vampire Knight, D.Gray-man, Amatsuki, Di(e)ce.

I gave up on GetBackers, despite [personal profile] branchandroot's rec. Mostly, though, because of its discordance. Background, if you're not aware: it's the usual shonen bromance kind of story, with a fair bit of quasi-science-fiction/supernatural mixings, and plenty of the usual cliches. Two things about its development stuck in my head while reading. Hmm, make that three. I made it about halfway through the anime, then tried the manga, and quit about halfway through. While watching the anime, I also checked into the anime's development, and noted an unusual bit of info about the series' wrap-up (which happened prior to the story wrap-up, so there was the usual question of whether to do an anime-original ending).

Note: the story is actually a three-way invention, from what I gather. I think, not sure, but I seem to recall the author is actually a brother-sister penname, who work jointly with an artist. That is, the penname gives credit to brother and sister, but apparently (why am I surprised) the only mention of author quotations act like it's just one guy. So, dunno what the sister does. Anyway.

I can't find where I came across this bit -- I think in one of the articles cited in the wiki entry. Apparently, the anime director suggested making Kazuki's relationship canonical (anime canon, that is) with his second, Juubei. (Their respective weaponry, threads and needles, even suggest the pairing... among the many, many other things that do, including their own dialogue.) The mangaka-author refused, saying that Kazuki already had a destined pairing, Ren Radou.

Then I got to that character's introduction in the anime, and discovered the character isn't even real. She's part of the 3D/holographic construct. Alright, it's one thing if there's a flesh-and-blood half to match with the flesh-and-blood (err, in context, that is) character, but I have major issues with a story-author who'd insist there's a pairing, and choose a pairing in which one character is a computer program. It'd be one thing if the author insisted it be left undefined, but it says a lot to me about the author's agenda if he'd choose this real/nonreal pairing over the damn-near-text of a real/real pairing. There's erasure, and then there's replacement that reaches the level of ridiculous.

The second bit was the mangaka-artist, who -- based on the copious amounts of ho-yay artwork -- has some serious yaoi fanboi leanings. Like, not even leanings. I'd say that tree fell over in the forest awhile back. Flat-out yaoi fanboi. But in the manga, in the chapter's end-notes, the mangaka-artist makes reference consistently (and by "consistently" I mean, "in pretty much every author's note") about how he wanted to "lighten up" the story or give it a bit more fun... and his only means of doing so is taking any female characters introduced and giving them double-D cups, anatomically painful-looking tiny waists, and a heaping of panty shots and cleavage.

Meanwhile, if the text itself were a main-female main duo, it'd be hitting every shoujo-action trope known. You've got the "can sense each other's feelings", the "constant calling of each other's names", you've even got the bad guys who have serious hard-ons for one or the other of the main duo, with the attendant implied (or sometimes outright) jealousy, alternating with smug assurance that the duo can't be broken apart.

And for every intensely "this is bromance, really" moment of deep emotion between the main duo, the artist throws in a post-story footnote of one of the two (usually Ban, I believe) surrounded by chicks and doing his best to get laid. But from my western eyes, it's the kind of "doing his best" that's got an edge of desperation akin to someone seriously, seriously self-denying. Like someone so far into the closet he's gone through the drywall and ended up in the apartment next door.

And the third thing? The artist makes a comment in his notes, in one of the early volumes, that he was interested in the story for Kazuki, because he'd always wanted to draw a male character who "looked like a girl" (or "could pass for a girl", can't recall now how he phrased it). The problem? I think the artist basically drew a girl, but removed the standard double-D breast part. Kazuki has hips. Like, hips as large as any of the girl characters, and shoulders as narrow as the girl characters.

Frankly, Kazuki doesn't look like a boy, at all. He looks like a, well, a woman whose shape and build says she should be a curvy thing, except her chest is completely flat. Or he looks like a boy whose triangle is completely upside-down, to the point of a slender kind of pear-shape. I know my share of androgynous people, and given the choice it's a look I prefer, but generally speaking, either you're going to see subtle tells that indicate the body's development during adolescence, or you're not going to see those tells at all. So a woman will still have proportions that indicate estrogen showed up along the way, though her body may be more slender/athletic. (Himiko Kudou, in Getbackers, is a good example.)

If you look at manga with more androgynous (by Western standards, I suppose) male characters, there's still the inverted triangle of shoulders broader than their hips, to some degree. So Kazuki... I guess you could say, he's got the wrong tells. To me, that's a failure of the artist, for not understanding the anatomical 'shape' of things. Basically, the visuals of Kazuki made me feel like the artist's unintentional message was: "(feminine) man" is just "woman without breasts". Or the more problematic version: a woman without breasts is automatically not-a-woman, ergo, a man.

The combination of those factors are what made me eventually give up on the series. It felt like I was being constantly hammered with these conflicting undertones. Here, these two main characters are totally life-partners, and we're going to hit you with every shoujo/romance cliche in the book to reinforce that impression. But wait, they're not gay, so now we'll slap you with the same characters being so TOTALLY and COMPLETELY and REGULAR-GUY in their HET SKIRT-CHASING footnotes. Just so you know, because their love is so, uh, not-gay. Also, this flat-chest girl-character is really a boy, even if we've also thrown in every shoujo/shonen romance cliche between her him and his het life-partner, Juubei. But not gay! And since we know you couldn't possibly be seeing anything like romantic, dedicated, monogamous life-partners in this story, we'll throw in random big-boobed, purely-for-the-eye-candy, playboy-posed female characters because that's what you're really here for. Because you, too, must be reading this as cover, and have every intention of waving this around on your morning commute as proof that you, too, are totally HERE FOR THE BOOBAGE and TOTALLY NOT GAY.

I get enough of that shit in other stories. I don't need to waste my time on a series that not only gives me that usual really-so-not-gay erasure shit, but does it with a massive heaping of T&A like we're living in some kind of closeted early-eighties horror story of suburban repressive and oppressive living.

Moving on, to Vampire Knight.

Yes, I know it's a total gothic send-up, and it's got vampires, and I have no idea why I like it so much. I put it down as one of my guilty pleasures, right up there with early afternoon naps and a secret envy of people who look good in hotpants as the kind of things you'll never hear me admit in person. I also am aware that the mangaka has professed that she actually ships the two male leads, which I find funny -- but also rather... curious. Given that in the anime, there are two different (and pivotal) scenes between the two male leads, the vampire and the vampire hunter. These are not illustrated in the manga, unless I ended up with scanned releases that exised those scenes. Oh, one scene is referenced as a flashback, except I could never find the first instance. The second, the manga version cuts to black. It's tell, and no show, and if I hadn't watched the anime, I probably would've been both baffled and stunned to find out, several volumes later, that Zero had drunk Kaname's blood, at least twice, and no one bothered to let me, the reader, in on this important detail.

I find that rather strange, in comparing the manga to the anime. Like, maybe the mangaka didn't think she could get away with (in LaLa's pages) that kind of homoerotic tension, but the anime knew their potential audience and was willing to make the implied-text explicit. (Well, explicit in the sense of showing the blood-drinking; the rest remains subtext, but it's really more of a rivalry/hatred kind of subtext.)

For that matter, the anime ends right where the manga really starts to get interesting. The anime really only covers the first few volumes, because the manga actually moves at an incredible clip through the storyline. High school setting, childhood friends, all the usual shoujo cliches, and then our presumed primary character -- Yuuki -- leaves the private social-experiment human/vampire school, we get a one-year timeskip, and then the story really kicks in.

I came across a post from one of the translators (of SGK scans, I believe) who observed that fundamentally, this isn't really shoujo in the usual way. Sure, Yuuki is a main character, but what drives the story, ultimately, is Kaname (the male vampire). Normally, a major definition of shoujo is that the story is the girl's story, but in Vampire Knight, it's really a story with three main leads. And of them, Kaname is the pivot; his actions are the point around which all the rest revolve, and his choices warp the story violently in one direction or another. The most recent chapters really exemplify that, with Kaname suddenly (and with no warning that I could see) apparently ditching his previous pacifist intentions and is now on, well, a killing spree. This torques the entire story (not in a bad way, but it does torque it out of its previous track).

Sure, a part of me feels like there was little warning, and at some points I wonder if the author is introducing conflict for the sake of conflict (with disregard for character history). Except Kaname's always been enigmatic enough that there is wiggle room for him to make an apparently-sudden change of direction. Part of the problem there is, oddly, the translations. When I could find chapters done by SGK, I nabbed them, because SGK (I think) is a one-person act... who really, really does translation proud. There are footnotes on at least every two out of three pages. Sometimes it's simple things, where it's not entirely clear that all these thought bubbles are such-and-such a character, so it's nice to have a note, somewhere, on the side, letting me know who's speaking. (It's not like english has a distinction between male and female "I" or "you" patterns as a signifier, after all.)

And sometimes, it's because the dialogue is colloquial in some way. Like a conversation where Yuuki refers to herself as "realizing she's just in the palm of Kaname's hand", or some such. Now, in English, we have the phrase "in the palm of your hand" but it usually implies manipulation to some degree (whether or not malicious), or at the very least, is somewhat synonymous with "wrapped around your finger". In the original, however, Yuuki is referencing the story of Monkey King and Buddha, where Monkey King challenged Buddha to go to the ends of the earth, mark the spot, and return, to demonstrate who's the most powerful. Monkey King travelled in massive leaps and bounds to the mountains at the edge of the world, peed off the highest peak, and returned... only to discover that he'd never left Buddha's palm (and had peed on one of Buddha's fingers, at that).

It has little to do with manipulation, and has everything to do with realizing that you're so incredibly out-classed, just by the very nature of your so-called opponent. And there's the aspect of thinking you're actually something pretty amazing, in your own right, only to cross the entirety of the world and discover you never left Buddha's palm.

While I guess there might be a way for a translator to put this in English and convey it (and it wouldn't be with use of the English colloquial "in the palm of your hand"), SGK's translator attempted it... and then put a nice long footnote in the side margin. Thing is, you don't realize how much you're missing in a story until you've learned to rely on a translator who takes the time to let you know what you're missing. Or, in some cases, to remind you about characters reappearing, and where you've seen them before.

Because the other thing Vampire Knight has is a massive cast of characters. Many of them showed up in cameos, here and there, unnamed, in the first few volumes -- and then reappeared as major players in the most recent volumes. The first two or three volumes, in the high school setting, is really a fake-out. You get past that, and suddenly you're knee-deep (and getting deeper) into major political, ambiguous, multi-meaning interactions with characters you've only seen once or twice before, drawn in the background or mentioned in passing. Having a translator willing to remind you politely that so-and-so first showed up in vol X, chapter Y, at such-and-such a party, really... really... helps.

Enough that when SGK went on hiatus, and another group's releases became available, it only took two chapters and I was utterly, completely, lost. It's right around what will probably be vol15 (ch69-73, based on the pattern of previous volumes' sizes), and some of those chapters, wow. I couldn't tell whether the mangaka had just totally ditched any kind of linear storytelling, or if half of it was flashbacks, or if there was supposed to be some kind of a connection between the myriad jump-cut scenes in the chapters, or what. The translation is adequate, but a little too literal to manage the political undercurrents and ambiguity that are getting layered into the story. Either you expand the dialogue in some way to contain the implied information encoded in the original language, or you provide footnotes. When there's neither, it's like reading a textual version of a D.Gray-man fight scene: you haven't the faintest clue what's going on.

I'm holding off on reading more VK, in hopes that SGK will start releasing again, and I can go back to getting my top-notch translator notes to help me remember who the hell is who in the cast of however many characters there are now...

Speaking of D.Gray-man.

I'd read to, uhm, about ch120 or so, I think, then watched the anime. Only recently did I pick up D.Gray-man the manga again, and wow, it really did get adaptation decay much worse than I'd originally realized. In the manga, Lenalee has her moments of transitional damsel, but she also gets a fair bit of straight-up shonen hero (who just happens to be female), including the beaten-down and powering-up. In the anime, well, it's overshadowed by all the episodes she has to spend crying uselessly (and the random filler episodes that always, always, cast her as the damsel to be rescued).

And I do love D.Gray-man, on some levels, because it plays with a lot of things that hit sweet spots for me. Okay, with failings on the way it hits some of those things, since I remain unimpressed with the fact that Cross Marian gets valourized, let alone a late-model retconning that I guess is supposed to give us 'insight' and to me amounts to nothing more than trying to rehabilitate a character whose actions were, without exception, nothing short of abusive. And then there's the way two different main characters (Lenalee and Kanda) are manipulated by story events -- or, in Kanda's case, not even that much -- into deciding on their own to fight for a cause that had previously given them every reason to be justified mass murderers in their own defense rather than sign up for that same abusive cause. Lenalee's backstory is horrifying, and Kanda's is simply horrific.

Lenalee, at least, gets put in the deliciously tense (story-telling-wise) moment of having to make a decision to support an abusive process simply because her family/friends lives are on the line. As a reader, I hated it; as a writer, I thought it was awesome, because it could provoke such unease. The Black Order had basically kidnapped Lenalee as a child, abusing her in the pursuit of forcing her into the position of an exorcist, and putting her through immense physical and emotional trauma. When she loses the ability to use the Black Order's weapon (a type of material/energy known as "innocence"), she feels incredibly free, and light, no longer weighed down by this role that had been forced upon her.

Then, due to circumstances arranged by the story and the bad guys taking out countless numbers of characters in a major attack, she chooses to walk back into that prison, re-accept the weapon, and come back stronger. She might be the one hope for tipping the scales in the good guys' favor, but that requires she not only accept, but condone, a process that had basically made her childhood a living hell.

To me, it reads like taking a decade-long torture victim, freeing them, and then putting them in the situation of having to choose that torture again (with major risk of death, this time), to save the ones who matter to them. It's an incredible burden, and Hoshino thankfully doesn't shy away from the emotional pain, tension, and uncertainty of such a choice, so it ends up being pretty powerful, too.

Thing is, Kanda gets nearly triple the chapter-time in his backstory, which is even more horrendous, since he didn't even have the (eventual) emotional support of a sibling to accompany him on his path. In fact, the closest thing he had, he was forced to kill. Yet, after being able to escape and written off for dead, he returns. He gets maybe a line or two, to explain his reasons, and that's it. Given the flow of the story, and the mangaka's obvious intention to mislead us for a bit (with the implication that Kanda is MIA, presumed dead), I can see why we didn't get at least a few pages of Kanda grappling with his decision. But still. His return is so deadpan (in-character for him, true) that it's not until he reveals his own motivations that it's possible to accept his apparent heel-turn. It's a weakness in the story, but it's one endemic to the way the author chose to tug on reader heart-strings.

All that said... damn, I have trouble following this series. I've become too spoiled, I think, by reading mangaka like Tito and Kishimoto and Watsuki, who can choreograph a fight-scene such that you can always tell at a glance, who's doing what, who's where, and what's going on. Not only can Hoshino still not choreograph a fight scene to save her life (and after two-hundred-plus chapters, wouldn't that be enough practice to start getting at least a little of the art?), her style has also subtly changed. It was somewhat consistent, then began evolving, and then has a definite and obvious shift somewhere around the start of Kanda's major arc. I'm chalking it up to a new assistant with a strong style that didn't quite flex enough to hold onto Hoshino's designs, which in turn then began influencing the rest of the team. (Now if only they'd do the same, for the fight scene parts...)

So not only do you have Hoshino's apparent dislike of bothering to draw intelligible fight scenes, you can't even tell which characters are which. At least, I can't. Allen's face-shape goes from the more oval, narrowed jawline that Hoshino had given him, to an almost roundish shape. Kanda does the same, as do a number of the other characters. Allen's hair also changes, in subtle ways. I'm left studying the images, trying to find clues as to which character is in the image. Just a hint, fer crying out loud.

At least with Tito, Kishimoto, Watsuki, and the other big mangaka-shonen names I can think of, there's attention to some kind of detail that lets you know -- if nothing else -- that this character, or these characters, are what you're seeing. You get a glimpse of Naruto's distinctive jacket, or the way he rolls up the bottom of his pants, or a flash of Sakura's skirt, or the jagged edge of Ichigo's hakama. Something that signals, it's this character.

Hoshino doesn't even do that -- it's like she figures, well, everyone in the Black Order wears this basic uniform (which curiously, she adapts and updates over the course of the series, in a way that reminds me of the Gundam franchise mid-series update as a way to push more toys). And then she draws just that basic uniform, and gives you a bit of hair, and some swirling motions. When I'm turning on the loupe just to see if there's a squiggle on the face of Allen's scar, it's pretty bad. (Especially since she, or her assistants, frequently leave off the scar in the fight scenes, as well as the large-enough-to-be-seen, even just partially, of the inverted star on his forehead.)

At least I'm not alone, in that. I dug up the wikia for D.Gray-man, hoping the chapter summaries would tell me what's going on. I mean, if I don't know who's winning or losing, how do I know whether to be upset, worried, scared, or hopeful? Unfortunately, the way the wikia's summaries are written... I'd say it's pretty clear their authors don't know, either. They seem to be guessing just as much as I am. Cripes.

Next: Amatsuki.

I wanted to get into this anime, I really did, but I couldn't. Too much adaptation decay with the female character. Most obvious instance: her breasts go from normal-sized to larger-than-normal. Okay, not quite GetBacker's double-D, but still. The manga, I'd read some of, set aside for watching the anime, and then never returned to. Trying again. Still not sure of it, but there are some parts that are just so unusual that I can only hope the mangaka has more waiting for me in the story, down the line. And I mean historically, sociologically, culturally unusual, like the notion of how modern people think versus how people thought before those modern categories and compartments were created.

Last: Di(e)ce.

Look, it's bromance done right. Or maybe I should say, it's bromance without GetBacker's kneejerk need to dismiss, ignore, gloss, or evade with no-really-we're-all-straight antics. Diece doesn't make apologies for its two main characters being two opposites who are still firmly each other's best friend. They rely on each other, and are attuned to each other, as much as any other pair of best friends, and while they don't go quite as far as GetBacker's "I can feel it when he hurts" text, the story dances close.

But it makes no apologies; instead, it acts as though this is the natural state of affairs for a truly strong friendship. In a way, that makes the unbelievable (another quasi Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale notion of games to the death with two friends forced to fight) more accessible, because it creates a solid emotional grounding. And, unlike GetBackers, the author/artist doesn't dismiss or deny this emotional grounding, let alone mock it. Diece's mangaka respects it, as the pivotal friendship we must accept, as readers, to believe the pain the two characters face at being forced to oppose each other.

...and that should be enough for now. Back to catching up on Amatsuki, and at some point, I really will finally finish Kekkaishi, and catch up on Nurarihyon no Mago. Well, once I finish two other major projects on my plate, and there's always the kitchen...
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

October 2016

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