Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Trouble with Manga: Part 1

Ah god damn it.

Why do I do this to myself?

Well reader if you go looking into the comic world of manga... It’s a bit like a roller coaster. At first you have the tension and excitement of slowly going up, building up to the stories crescendo, until finally you’re dropping down at break neck speeds screaming all the way. That was fun wasn’t it? Want to do another one? OK then!

Repeat a million times.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with roller coasters, but let me just say there’s a reason most people only go to them on special occasions and not all the time. It is because regardless of how much fun it is, too much of it will ruin the whole experience. Now I made the comparison for a few reasons, but here’s the main one:

Most manga’s are exactly the same. They all have these exact slow bits, leading up to the big dive. If I had the time I could probably prove this with mathematics. It all stems from the problem of tried and true methods of storytelling, which most media’s suffer from. In manga’s case you have the Japanese clichés and cultural jokes, there almost always in there (Nothing wrong with that of course, I mean.... It is made by Japanese people?) but there’s this story tool they use over and over again, and it’s just frustrating.

I’ll give you two examples, now I am actually reading these as there kinda good.... but every now and again I do wonder if I should carry on.


Blue hair, really? And that white hair, too much bleach is bad for ya.

Let’s see, how to sum this up... well here’s the synopsis anyway:

The story follows Yoshina Ageha, a high school student for hire who will solve any one of your problems for a fee of 10,000 yen. On his way home one day a payphone suddenly rings, when he answers it all he can hear is his own voice. His life is changed from this point on through a series of events as he’s drawn into a mysterious new world.

First of all our main character is introduced with his ‘part-time’ job, and I guess this is supposed to characterise him? After like the first chapter this is never mentioned again, so it makes me wonder why it’s even in the synopsis. The story is about him and a bunch of other people being taken to this strange world, and they set off trying to unravel its mysterious and get home. For those of you who do read manga, it has a very Gantz feel about it.

It’s a good story tool, because thanks to this you can place characters with very different backgrounds and motivations into a pot and see what happens. So then it’s just a matter of deciding if the story is about the characters or deeper meanings and mysteries.

Psyren is about psychic powers.

I know what you’re thinking “What? Where did that come from?” and believe me, it’s well random. The story starts off interesting like gantz but then... descends into a story about becoming powerful psychics with dragonball z like powers. You’re left wondering “Why the hell did they take this angle? It’s completely off the premise of the start of the story isn’t it?” (And we’ll get to that answer later).


Ok, so it’s actually about the future and how the world as we know it is gonna end in death and monsters. For awhile it’s still interesting because the char’s come to the conclusion that they were brought here to find out what happened in the past and stop it (At this point the whole idea of meeting new and different people is thrown away, as now we have a cast set in stone... so now none of them die.... ever).

Eventually they actually track down the one bringing them to the future and... Honestly? I wish they hadn’t. Not only does it destroy almost all of the mystery in this manga, a serious mistake to do before the end (At the point it’s revealed it’s only like 2/3 in the series, I think), but the answer is a total bitch slap to the readers face.

Ageha: If you didn’t bring us here to change the past, then why did?
Nemesis Q: ..... For shit’s and giggles.

I wish I was joking, but that’s basically what she says. Its total bullshit, and a dick move by the writer.

Then you’ve got the bad guy who is a super psychic raised in a military lab yadda yadda, you know it. He wants to destroy mankind and so on. Characters like this have always frustrated me, even when they’re done well, because it gives the writer some sort of license to demean the value of life. You know that character in the background, just minding his own business and doing some shopping? Then boom! Laser cannon through the head, just because he stepped into the background of the main characters. This always annoys me because there’s no after for these characters, no value placed on them whatsoever, there like pop corn. This always angers me cause the writer seems to be playing favourites at this point, so even if the good guy’s cause a bunch of people to die in the background there never given any flak for that. And honestly, it looks more ridiculous then anything... Oh no! The villain just killed 30 faceless people! What a monster! See if you humanized those people first then the audience would get a better feeling of the gravity of what he just did.

Another thing that pissed me off was the addition of a small girl with god-like powers that is probably the cause of all this mess, and the fact that she’s ‘too young’ to tell right from wrong. This frustrates me as a person cause I always just want to sit these little buggers down and put them straight. I don’t care if they can make my head explode, you got to show some tough love to these little shits. While I would say there’s nothing stopping you put a character in like this... it does strike me as a bit lazy. You don’t need it to be the focus of the story because other people have already done a great job at that... so otherwise if you put them in... it’s just a villain, expect you don’t have to work on any back story or motivation.

*Spoiler end*

Defence Devil

Try finding a bigger picture of this, I rather like the art.

Ok, so let’s say you got kicked out of hell for being a bit of a pussy and you lose all of your powers, what are you gonna do? Well since demon’s are powered by people’s sins you can just abuse a loop-hole where you prove some people were framed into going to hell... and... take their pretend sin power?

I know, it doesn’t make sense of paper, but that’s basically what this is about. Thanks to a good mix of great art, comedy and action scenes though it works.

The story then hits off with our devil going through different clients, learning about them and there problems, and generally seeing how nice our little devil is. We also get a few chapters about this Nun thinking our devil is evil, thus she pulls out guns and shit.... cause according to Japan nun’s are all young women prone to violence. It’s a fun little side step off the story, but were quickly back to the way things were...

.... Or not. Turns out she’s a main plot character... and there’s been a revolution in hell so our devil needs to get back home. So they team up to kick some ass!

Wait, what? When was the last time you had a client? Wasn’t there like a whole plot about there being a conspiracy to frame humans for sins? Was that only done by the five dude’s you beat? What?

Another thing while it has a hell and Christianity, at first it’s still very fantasised, but later on your hit in the face with very big Christian message... and while I guess that’s alright, it puts me off somewhat... As I like to keep my religious beliefs and my fictions separate.


So reader, what did you notice?

Everyone who said “Massive change in overall plot” you get a gold star (Remember to keep track of how many you’ve got). There’s a very simple reason why this happens, there’s the plot the writer wants to tell, and then there’s the plot the writer has to tell. The first parts of each of these stories are tried and true methods, which translate to: Use a basic story already used before, but mix it up with one or two gimmicks. The gimmick’s are necessary in order to separate themselves from other works in the populated world of manga, it’s almost impossible to get noticed without them.

The basic idea is to hook your audience with an interesting premise, then when there already dedicated change the premise when no one’s looking. Very few people notice this, and even if they do they might already be caught in the stories traps... you have to find out what happens because you’ve put too much time into it (I.e. Me and Psyren). Why do this? Simply because the story they want to tell is usually very bland, full of the most generic fluff ever. Once you’ve got the ball rolling and a small fan base you can easily get away with being generic, I see it all the time, even in anime.

Anyone know Bleach? I thought that used to be about a High school kid fighting monsters in his spare time, in order to protect the souls of people in his town. We go through this whole monster of the week thing, but then suddenly shifts... and now it’s about conspiracies and rescuing friends, because there too ‘honourable’ to put up a fight themselves? There’s a whole bloody season without a single monster. Then it shifts back... But then they just retell the same god damn story over again, expect now you get only monsters and the good guys are exempt for most of the season.

What? Surely there’s a smoother way to tell that story? Plus your whole setting makes no god damn sense. I dare anyone to argue that point with me. Where do souls go when they die in soul society? How can you grow up in a place for dead people? Why is there a rich and poor divide in the afterlife, surely one of the nice powerful good characters would try to fix that? (Hint: they don’t) and finally, why was hell mentioned like once? Don’t you think that setting would be interesting to explore? Instead of just ignoring it?

So then, you must be asking yourself, James... If all manga is like this, why do you keep reading it?

I’ll tell you, I read it for things like Liar Game and Break Blade. Next post I’ll tell you everything good that can come out of manga.

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