Atta Ikede

December 24, 2008

The excruciating emo-honesty of manga

Filed under: Uncategorized — attaikede @ 12:50 pm

I got into anime about 2 years ago. I was in London staying with a friend who was totally addicted to Naruto. We’d watch an episode in the morning before leaving for the day (she to work, me to wander happily). The episodes are only around 20-25 mins long so they’re very convenient to watch in the little gaps of time between getting dressed and leaving for work, or coming home and relaxing before making dinner, etc.

Anybody who has watched Naruto during a time of their life when they have doubts about themselves (meaning, any year of their life when they are between the ages of 12 and 30 .. haha) and can get over the lame jokes and foreign-ness of manga will know what I mean when I say that watching 5 episodes of Naruto with her had me gripped! (The episodes we watched were in the arc where Naruto and the gang are in the forest training and Orochimaru comes and leaves his mark on Sasuke. Major drama.)

When I got home, I started watching the whole series starting with episode 1. Those first few arcs were crazy good. I was addicted! After that I started exploring other shows and these days I watch more anime than normal TV!  (Note – I use the terms manga and anime interchangeably in this post.)

What is it about manga that’s so addictive? Considering all the annoying things about the format and typical characteristics, I’d say it’s definitely not an obvious thing to get into, especially for females. Females are usually skimpily and suggestively dressed, a lot of the “comedy” is slapstick, a lot of plots involve supernatural/other unrealistic elements, many take place with teenaged characters, there’s usually some perverted stuff, and the typical drawing style with the humongous eyes is kind of weird to look at. Perhaps most obviously, the comic format is tricky to read. The comics aren’t tidily organized into a grid like on the funnies page. Instead, sometimes it’s vertical, sometimes horizontal, etc.

I think ultimately what gets people hooked on manga is the emo quality of many of the series’. A lot of the most popular titles are emo. Naruto? Bleach? Sure, they’re targeted towards teenaged boys but they’re sooo emo! Social misfits, kids with no parents, kids who were bullied, kids who were the bullies and become reformed, etc. The fight scenes, supernatural plots, ninja moves, etc. … these might be the base, and those have to be good for the series to be interesting, but the emo stuff is the spice that make the best series’ addictive.

Most of us have had a time in our life when we were the social misfit, or worse, the outcast. Maybe there are aspects of our life where we have to put on a happy face and pretend that we don’t care about something we don’t have. Maybe we have families that are a source of anxiety that give us neurosis rather than a source of support that give us confidence.

Of course there’s a lot in typical American mainstream media that explores these issues, but there’s rarely any tenderness in their efforts to do so. Sopranos is the best example I can think of a series that does it well — the mix of “slice of life” episodes with the others, the thousands of details which we see in Tony and Carmela’s relationship and their lives, their discussions w/ the therapist, Tony’s dreams, etc. Compare that with say, House, where you get only a relatively cursory understanding of the characters. The girl married a dying guy. The cute doctor hates his dad. End of story. It’s hollow and shallow.

I feel like in our culture, though on one hand it’s socially acceptable to be open about things, I think there’s also a lot of tendency to be reserved about one’s true feelings. At work, at home, with friends, I think most of us wear our civilized happyish masks and probably don’t think about the weird stuff. The weird stuff is something to laugh ironically over and claim it doesn’t affect us, and not bring up in an honest sense. “What did you do on the weekend?”. “I had a housewarming party which I agonized over for weeks because I was afraid nobody would turn up, but luckily people did and I was happy, but i’m a little worried it wouldn’t happen a second time.” Yeah right. Nobody says that, and if somebody did, nobody wants to hear it. These statements are a cue to laugh awkwardly and change the subject. That stuff is to be shared only with one’s therapist.  lol.

A good manga/anime though, has scenes that totally bring that stuff to life. And it’s excruciatingly detailed. Scenes like “Every time I saw you, I wanted to be your friend but couldn’t bring myself to say anything.” – illustrated with flashbacks from the character’s childhood. “I’m the class clown because it was the only way kids in my class would accept me.” “At first I was happy when somebody called me XYZ but then I realized it was not a compliment.” Etc.  In between watching really exciting ninja fight scenes you’ll suddenly realize you’re watching a barely remembered vignette from your own memory being re-enacted by cartoons.

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