Many of my favourite manga have quirks that distinguish them from other graphic narratives. In Oyasumi Pun-pun, the protagonist and a few other characters are depicted in an abstract style that sets them apart from the world around them. However, the world makes no note of this difference: the dissonance we see in Pun-pun’s design comes to parallel the dissonance he feels from the world as we follow his troubled life. His crude form suggests a kind of innocence inherent in him; as his depiction transforms as the story goes on, the cruel nature of society becomes more and more reflected within him.
This technique is called ‘de-familiarization’: we see it often in surreal and abstract art, but it can find its way into all sorts of fictional media. Through patterns of genres and themes, stories tend towards a sense of habitualization when it comes to processing characters, settings and situations. But artistic choices can be made to isolate and distort particular aspects of a work, negating our expectations and placing us in a liminal position between understanding and uncertainty, disrupting the automatic consumption of a story and encouraging us to see beyond the surface of what we’re experiencing.
De-familiarization is a tricky task: make things too bizarre and you risk alienating an audience rather than bringing them closer into what they traditionally enjoy. When the entire premise of a work rests on the disruption of a particular reading habit, everything can fall flat if the abnormalities are poorly introduced or managed throughout the work. We could point to Handshakers as an example of a failed attempt of this: most of the attention the show received was made up of its followers pointing and laughing at everything they saw. There was little discussion of the potential artistic merits of the bizarre animation, because barely any potential was seen. Regardless of intent, the strange stylistic choices came across as little more than, well, strange.
You don’t need to be flashy to de-familiarize something in your story, though. Simple touches can be all you need to draw your audience in and make them feel like they’re experiencing something ‘new’. Some creators do this by not adding anything at all: rather, they take something away. In minimalist works, like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, this can be taken to the extreme: whole dimensions of setting and plot progression can be brought close to nothing. But again, one simple subtraction can be enough.
What if the most interesting character almost never spoke?
Continue reading Komi-san wa Komyushou Desu: Saying More Through Silence
“In many ways, it was both a tragic and a preachy story, but I wanted ‘Metamorphosis’ to be about seeing the charm of a girl who is going through genuine misfortune” – ShindoL, ‘Afterword’ to Metamorphosis
People like to uphold a firm line between ‘art’ and ‘porn’; there is a difference, they will say, between ‘erotica’ and mere pornography. The former is sexually explicit in a way that conveys some kind of recognizable artistic merit; the latter has no such merit to speak of. But in the maelstrom of stories and drawings and bits of film that seem to serve little other purpose than titillation, like needles in haystacks, we often come across works marked ‘porn’ that strike us as something else by the end.
Pornography occupies a space in media that rebels against the idea that a story needs narrative themes and fleshed-out characters. In traditional narratives, every element combines to serve the audience’s immersion into what will happen next, and the possible greater meanings of what’s happening now. In porn, we know what will happen next – characters will fuck, or be fucked, to engage in some other activity to stimulate the voyeur and make them satisfied with their fantasy. Everything is supposed to serve this end – any narrative matter is just foreplay, or something to encourage the viewer to seek out this kind of fictional fulfillment again. These are the rules, the patterns we trust when we come to enjoy some ‘me time’ with this material.
ShindoL’s Metamorphosis doesn’t play by the rules. Continue reading ‘Metamorphosis’ and the Meaning of Hentai
A few weeks ago, anime fansite Manga Tokyo launched a new column with its first article, Redefining ‘Otaku’ in the Modern Era. Within it, columnist Tim Rattray (who also writes for Crunchyroll, and his personal blog) takes aim at the stereotype of otaku as extremely anti-social, which he claims is still prevalent in how ‘otaku’ are discussed. He believes that the English-speaking sphere of the anime community needs to take responsibility in ‘redefining’ the word that has been loaned to us, and that we likewise need to set an example for the future of ‘otaku’ worldwide: “Let’s show the world why being otaku is great”.
Tim’s more recent article for this column asserts simply, and correctly, that when it comes to talking about otaku from as an ‘outsider’, “the fine line comes down to but one thing: respect” – but I don’t think Tim’s discussion of “Redefining ‘Otaku'” is respectful at all. Continue reading What Manga Tokyo’s ‘Redefining Otaku’ Article Gets Wrong