I’m somewhat disappointed with anime and manga news sites. My biggest problems with those sites are the lack of analysis and the privileging of anime over manga. So, what do I want to see when it comes to manga reporting/ analysis?
I’m a nerd. I want to know how mangaka work. What kind of research do Kishimoto and Mashima do? Does Arakawa and Kubo outline or write in the moment? How do they deal with the influence of the greats like Tezuka and Toriyama? These questions fascinate the heck out of me. But, like with comic books, often times interviews with mangaka tend toward promotion of upcoming storylines. Though I could be wrong and there are such in depth interviews. I hope I’m wrong.
I also want a stronger critical analysis of manga. Rather than reviewing Naruto or Fairy Tail, what do those two series mean? Now, I’m sure there is some good lay analysis laying around the internet somewhere, but I haven’t found it. And academic criticism is even harder to find (there is a dedicated journal, though). Here are some questions I’d like to see answered (or maybe even answer myself when I have the time):
Why is Naruto the most popular shonen manga series in the U.S. ?
How does Naruto relate to the concept of the child soldier? Does Naruto glorify the child soldier? Or condemn the child soldier? How does tone form the perception of meaning?
In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Ishvalans are the victims of an attempted genocide. For Western readers, the Ishvalans are reminiscent of Arabs, but for Japanese readers, the Ishvalans are inspired by the Ainu. How does this knowledge affect readers in both cultures?
Waiting for Fairy Tail to end, can the series reveal where heroic fantasy begins and epic fantasy ends?
I could go on. Hell, there are likely hundreds of potential research topics available.
But sources to answer and prove one’s arguments might be harder than one wants to imagine.
There aren’t that many scholarly books on manga. So far, I’ve only found a few histories. And there is that journal. I don’t know if The Journal of Popular Culture has ever featured articles on manga. Plus, one must be aware that manga are Japanese cultural products, and it would be stupid to not keep that in mind. Really stupid.
All that said, I do want to read more analysis and scholarship of manga.
I have no idea why I’m obsessed with pastels. But I am. I remember back to taking art in high school and finding the pastel sections to be the most fun I’ve had in the class.
In a way, pastels are a callback to childhood. Their form are identical to the crayons of youth. But they are so different. While crayons are single application colors, pastels are versatile with their ability to create various effects.
Using pastels also require other art skills, namely my old bane- drawing. I’ve never been very good at drawing. Or at least fine drawing. My drawings are often fat and clumsy. And uneven.
But I remember when I drew from some old National Geographic magazines that I wanted to get it right. There was this one picture of a butterfly on a leaf. I loved that picture. I loved drawing it. I loved giving it color. And most of all, I loved the fact that it was, in the end, a gift to my Mom, who loves butterflies (and the ultimate tragedy of that butterfly painting’s fate still pisses me off, years later). I also remember a young Indian groom I painted. As I drew, as I gave it color, I fell in love with him (as much as an artist can fall in love with their model). (And like such loves, I have no idea what happened to that painting).
Remembering all of this just reinforces what I loved about drawing and pastels, though it has been years since I have done anything other than quick sketches (Sara Simblett’s ball point ink doodle drawings are amazing, by the way).
Damn it all! I need some pastels. And paper.
Applying that Drive to Manga and Comics
When I’ve blogged about art, I’ve almost exclusively written in terms of my ambitions to write comics (either manga or traditional comics). Clearly, I’m being stupid putting the end goal before building up the skills needed to accomplish it.
I’m still passionate about manga both as a storytelling form and as a form of art. I make a better writer than an artist, though.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t use a manga style in my own art. And I’ve been dying to experiment with applying pastels to comics art.
Has anyone ever used pastels to color manga or comics? I know that the traditional method is water colors, and the current method is using computer programs.
Something to look forward to, even if it is just for me.
If taking lessons is a problem, how then can someone learn (or relearn) how to draw and paint? Well, get some books, watch PBS how to programs, or check out what the net has to offer.
Now, be aware that some books, programs, sites, etc. will vary in quality and use.
For example, PBS (to my knowledge) exclusively has painting programs with no drawing, pastel, or sculpting programs. Art books obviously vary in quality and usefulness. And the same can be said for using the web.
Personally, I find using the library to find interesting and useful books for future perusal to be very helpful. However, I am disappointed by the pastel books on offer at the library, oh well. The drawing books are excellent, though.
Fan Art vs. Comics (and Manga, too)
When it comes to how to draw manga books, I get the feeling that most of them are designed for the fan artist. The focus is almost exclusively on how to draw the figure. There is no attention paid to laying out a scene, the forms of perspective, page layout, etc.
If you are a budding comics artist, whether manga or not, it probably is a good idea to check out comic book how to books (there are a lot of good ones) merge those lessons with a manga style (and add some comic book writing books, too if you want to write as well). (Of course nothing can beat actually studying various manga series). I should also rant about the lack of any books on how to actually write manga. The only book I know of that touches on the subject is McCloud’s Making Comics. So, is there any doubt why I think most western manga how to books are geared to the fan artist?
Wrapping It Up
I may, eventually, write up a post on the artists and styles I like in manga, comics, etc.. And I really should have a rant on why Art 21 doesn’t have more seasons. I love that show.
I think I have a love/ hate relationship with Naruto. On the one hand, it is an extremely entertaining series. But on the other hand, almost every arc frustrates the heck out of me. Though, to be honest, I haven’t had the chance to read the entire series, yet. I really should rectify that. Once I actually buy the volumes. I really don’t want to damage library books. Cause I know I’ll throw them at the wall at some point.
But before I rant, I must admit two things. One, I haven’t read the whole series. I’ve read the first volume and from Sai and Sasuke to the present. Two, I’m not Japanese. I’m not an expert or scholar of Japanese culture. I’m interested in Japan, yes, but my knowledge is barely a pinprick. So, I’m going to miss a bunch. There are cultural cues that are going to fly so far over my head that I’ll never see it, let alone understand what the hell I’m looking at.
This is a rant, however, so I’m going to unleash, regardless.
As I’ve said on multiple occasions, my biggest issue with Naruto is Uzumaki Naruto himself. I get it, he is the hero. He has to be the messiah, the shining beacon of hope and inspiration not only for his (fictional) world but for his readers in this (real) world as well.
But damn it all, it still bugs the shit out of me how Naruto responds to his treatment. I just hate how it’s handled. Take the fight with Pain where Naruto nearly gives into his hate and anger before he is conveniently stopped by his father, the Fourth Hokage. I’m left bitterly disappointed by that. Yes, Naruto punches the bastard, but all is made right again because Minato has “faith” in his son. Seriously?
Or how about the confrontation between Naruto and his dark side? So fucking disappointing! I mean, seriously, could Dark Naruto not have been less of a threat?
To be honest, I’m okay that Naruto is who he is as a character. But I’d prefer some more anger and resentment in him.
When I last wrote about Naruto, I focused on Uchiha Sasuke’s character. I still feel the same about him. I get why a lot of American fans hate him. But I do at points prefer him to Naruto.
Though I can’t say that with total conviction. You see, I think Kishimoto killed Itachi off too soon. Why? Well, that is Sasuke’s story. Sasuke’s life goal is to “kill a certain man.” And when he finally accomplishes it, what then? What’s Sasuke’s epilogue? Shifting the hate onto Konoha and (largely) absolving Itachi of his villainy might not have been the best decision. Especially given that all of the antagonist cred Sasuke has managed to rack up since Itachi Pursuit has been negated with Sasuke’s latest heel face turn (which bugs the shit out of me).
But what could Kishimoto have done instead? I don’t know. Having Sasuke try to restore the Uchiha Clan? Killing him off to give Naruto something rage about? I don’t know. Maybe having him go off the deep end was the best choice at the time, but in hindsight, not really.
And maybe that is where another problem I have with Naruto comes from. The plotting and world building has become too unstable. I don’t know how Kishimoto plots the series, though I suspect he writes by the seat of his pants.
I could point out all of the ways that Naruto’s initial background is hampered by recent revelations. As practical Konoha royalty (he’s the son of the Fourth Hokage, related to the Senju Clan, and is one of the last Uzumaki), why the hell is he so behind? Who raised him? Where were Jiraiya and Kakashi when he was growing up?
Yes, as the main protagonist, Naruto has to be the underdog. He has to be in a weaker position compared to his comrades and enemies (especially regarding his rivalry with the initially superior Sasuke). But why would Konoha neglect Naruto’s potential, given his background?
Part of the problem is that Naruto is a discovered prince when he really works better as an orphan with a similar background to Kabuto or the Ame Orphans. But being Konoha royalty buttresses the messianic resume.
Besides the whole thing with Naruto’s background, the timeline itself doesn’t make sense. How old was Itachi when he slaughtered the Uchiha? Was he really old enough to have a lover? Shouldn’t Anko be older than Yamato? Shouldn’t Juugo be older than Anko? Shouldn’t Naruto be older than his classmates? He did fail the exam twice. (I really actually don’t get the Ninja Academy to be honest).
And you know something, why are Naruto’s initial skills rejected in favor of him being a pure brawler? Don’t traps and tricks have a place in the ninja life? Plus, while I’m at it, why didn’t Kumo go after Neji? Or a live Hyuuga rather than a dead one? Okay, okay, now I’m just nitpicking.
You know what, though? This ranting, this nitpicking, is actually a good thing. Because I’m inspired. And that leads me to ask, how would I have done it. And that’s a joy.
PS, For those of you who read my Bond film list from yesterday, I forgot a film. Guess which one for a no prize! I’ll reveal the answer and its position in Saturday’s post. Unless someone answers first.
Part Three: Why Can’t I Get This Comic Book Post Right?
Previously, I almost talked myself out of my desire both to write and to do the art on any comics projects I had coming up. It didn’t stick. There is a desire, a need to do the art. I’m compelled. So who am I to argue?
Now, I had originally wanted to write an analytical post on LGBT comics. But I really don’t have enough background to do an adequate job. I don’t (usually) read comics by and for LGBT.
And that led to my second plan. Why don’t I take Dale Lazarov’s article in Bleeding Cool and go from there. That could work despite my limited knowledge.
But, would you, the reader, really want to read me review a small amount of gay erotica from Class Comics?
So, I’m in a bit of a bind as to how to approach this.
Maybe what I can do is discuss what I want. What I want to see and what I want to write when it comes to comics (by which I also mean manga).
For most of you who read this blog, you know that I’ve had my eye on two projects recently, a shonen inspired series and a gay erotic comic. I’m going to set the more mainstream project aside for a bit and focus on the erotic project.
My initial idea was a type of slice of life inspired by my college years. But the more I thought about the idea, the harder the time I had finding a plot. I want to write something more than the romantic and sexual misadventures of a promiscuous young gay man.
Idea B was centered around an island and a criminal enterprise. I don’t want to go into too much depth here, though. I like the idea. It would give the characters more to worry about. But, there is a huge issue. How economically feasible would it be to set up such an island?
So, I’m stuck. Until it hit me. Why not just use one of my other ideas that involve a gay protagonist? Or modify another project. And then sexy it up. That could work, I think. Or soap up the first idea.
Going on a tangent to discus art, I know that I need practice. A lot of practice. But I can build up my skills while writing novels. (One of these days, I need to blog about my idea notebooks).
To get back on subject, the kinds of comics I want to write and read have LGBT characters. But they’re not overly concerned with what could be called an LGBT common culture.
Take Class Comics. I like some of the art, but the writing is, often, atrocious. There’s that same quality to it that reminds me of Dryland’s End that I just cannot stand. I don’t quite know what it is, but it is just downright off putting. Maybe there’s too much camp. (Remind me to revisit the issue after I’ve read more comics by and for LGBT.)
To be honest, I’m not happy with this post either. But it will have to do. So ends my three posts in one day.
Now I need to go get the laundry.
Sasuke Uchiha. Friend. Rival. Enemy. Antagonist. Cool. Emo. Occasionally the most popular character in Naruto. Sasuke is a difficult character to come to grips with. On one hand, he is very popular in Japan, but in America, he is widely disliked. He is, simply, controversial. He fascinates me. And I what to look at why he does so.
At times, Sasuke is the most compelling character in Naruto. Naruto Uzumaki is an interesting character. But I think Sasuke’s story, his tragic descent into darkness and revenge is truly considerably more interesting than Naruto’s rise from hated nobody to beloved hero.
Part of my issue with Naruto is that Naruto has never satisfactorily had a reckoning with Konoha over his ill treatment. That Naruto can so easily love the village that so despised him for so long is, ultimately for me, troubling. Meanwhile, Sasuke’s pursuit for vengeance is, ultimately, heartbreaking.
Part of my fondness for Sasuke is because he is, essentially, the protagonist of my favorite arc of Naruto. “The Itachi Pursuit” arc, is for me, the best arc I’ve read yet. And Sasuke is the protagonist. It is a fight between him and Itachi. And Naruto plays the role of minor antagonist! That is, to me, awesome. Even as Naruto is, obviously, the overall main protagonist of the entire series, he does not always act as the main protagonist for every arc. (Shikamaru serves as the main protagonist for “Hidan and Kakuzu” and Sasuke again serves as the main protagonist for “The Five Kage Summit”).
All that said, I think that Sasuke Uchiha would make an excellent manga series. I get why Naruto exists. Naruto Uzumaki is the more standard shonen protagonist. Sasuke best serves the role of “friendly” rival. But I think that a manga featuring a hero like Sasuke would be very interesting. Just think about it. . .
That gives me some ideas. Maybe later.
Anyway, I wish that I could do a deeper study of Sasuke Uchiha and Naruto as a whole. But I do not know what the critical literature looks like for manga and Naruto in particular. That, I think, is a shame.
Next up: “Hating What I Want to Love (Though I Wish I Didn’t)”, my epic, tortured, and (hopefully) crazy take on Glee and myself.
For some time, I’ve toyed with the idea of setting up an online anthology featuring OEL manga. I’ve since fallen out with the idea. A number of factors came together to question the viability of the project. But, I think there are some good bits from the carcass of this project that can be useful in other projects.
What Was the Idea?
My idea took inspiration from Viz’s Shonen Jump (and by extension the source Japanese magazines like Weekly Shonen Jump and Weekly Shonen Magazine among others). What I wanted to do was gather manga inspired artists and writers together in a similar format. I know that Eigomanga (I think that is the publisher) had something similar with Rumble Park and Sakura Park. But I don’t know if those magazines are still in active publication. And I know of others that have failed.
I think (and this is where things get nebulous) I would have gone with a donation model of funding like Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, etc. The actual making things work never got much past the idea stage. Certainly not into the research phase.
What Went Wrong?
As I mention above (and in several other posts), OEL manga in the United States is not very popular or viable economically. Readers just don’t want it, except in very rare cases, and none of them are even remotely as popular as authentic Japanese manga (baring tie-ins or adaptations like Twilight). So many attempts have been made to promote OEL and none have succeeded. So, it begs the question, why bother?
That said, to edit and publish an online magazine or anthology takes a passion for the material. But I personally have been ambivalent about OEL manga (what I’ve read have been largely terrible- Jason Thompson’s work comes to mind). And, to be honest, I’ve gradually lost my passion for reading manga, anyway. Baring Fairy Tail and a few others, that is.
Besides my fickle nature, I don’t know the first thing about setting up an online magazine. I can research and learn what I need to do. Unfortunately, I’m not the most tech savy person. When I took a course on website construction, I remember struggling mightily. And I doubt I’ll have any better success now.
Furthermore, I don’t know the first thing about editing a magazine. I guess I could learn by trial and error. But seriously, that seems to be a recipe for disaster. How would I attract talent? How would I keep everyone happy? And would I have to sacrifice my own creative ambitions?
Cobbling Together a Monster
While I no longer have any interest in setting up an online OEL manga anthology, I do believe that there are some elements worth keeping and incorporating into other ideas. Perhaps just not a magazine. Seems to be enough of them, to be honest.
I can just transition between comics forms. Instead of working on OEL, I can work on American style comic books. It could be fun playing with a web comic series. And likely easier.
Another idea I’ve had is to experiment with an online strictly prose serial. One that aims to mimic comics and television. This could be very fun and interesting. Although I did make a statement at some point that I did not want to write a very long series. But hey, I don’t remember making a promise.
All this said, it will call for quite a bit of research. It’s been years since I worked on constructing websites. So, I’ll need to read up on the subject. I also need to gather more research on self publishing and epublishing. Plus, there are a few other issues that require research.
Finally. . .
In the end, it kind of sucks that my original plan went nowhere. But I can be glad that something of the project will survive. Even if it is cobbled together. However, if anyone reading this is inspired to try an online OEL manga anthology, please feel free to do so. Good luck.
Next time: Learning from the library.
I’ve been thinking about what I want to be as writer. Do I want to write the same basic narrative over and over again? Or do I want to push myself and experiment outside of my comfort zone? And where do I want to go with it?
My answer is firmly in the later camp. My current work in progress can best be described as an apocalyptic- steampunk-southern gothic mashup. After that I want to tackle a heavily fantastic planetary romance. And after that? Maybe an anthropological fantasy crossover?
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m struggling over whether I just want to stick with novels (which would arguably be the easier route) or work in both novels and comics (perhaps a harder route but also more fun). Honestly, I haven’t decided yet which way I want to go (and hopefully this post will help push me in a direction).
For fun, I wrote a comic book script. To be honest, I really enjoyed that. And there is something about comic books (and manga) that irresistibly draws me creatively to those genres.
The truth is that I want to write a comic book series or two (or more). Despite all of the difficulties involved, I still want to write comics.
But, and here is the big but, I don’t want to write for Marvel or DC. While I have rediscovered my love for superhero comics, I don’t want to write them. Too much of a Scorpio for that, I think. I want to write my own stories that I (and the art team) control.
Let’s forget briefly that I want to write comics and explore why writing a large novel or series of novels will not work.
The omnibus idea I mentioned a while back was an attempted out. My intention was to collect a certain amount of material (perhaps say three novels and some shorter pieces) and release it all at once. The more I look at this idea, the more I think it’s stupid. Seriously, it can’t work.
I’ve also played with the idea of a novel series. But even that doesn’t come close to working for me. I want the feeling of an actual serial not individual standalones that may refer back to each other or those bloated monstrosities.
And that is, I think, part of why I want any long running series idea I have to be a comic book series rather than something like A Song of Ice and Fire. I don’t want to write something like that. With a comic book, I could focus on several projects at once rather than devoting myself solely to a single project for who knows how long.
I’ve already pledged to myself that if I ever write an epic fantasy in novel form, it will be no larger than The Lord of the Rings. Beyond that, I’ll have to get out my authorial Vorlon planetkiller.
But I can, and want, to do several long term comic book series. Including an epic fantasy.
This brings me back to thinking about manga. I’ve been on a bit of a manga break over the past few months. The siren song, however, is starting to get louder. So, I’ll have to indulge in some reading soon.
Thing is, I would love for some of my ideas to be manga (heck, my favored idea positively screams occasionally for it). Unfortunately, that ain’t happening for the foreseeable future (if ever). The main thing is that I want the serialized nature of comic books (and manga). And the more manga influenced American comics don’t really have that due to the fact that the manga market in America is almost exclusively in collected form rather than serialized (excepting scanlations).
All of that does not mean that I cannot be heavily influenced my manga. I’ll just have to condense everything to fit 24-32 pages a month!
Damn, pantsing blog posts can be very therapeutic. But hell, it did push me in a direction. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got to say on this topic (for now at least). But if you have any comments, please do so.
Anyway, here is a brief look at what I hope to have for next week:
Part two of my myth series where I review The Implied Spider.
A review of Chris Colfer’s The Wishing Spell.
And maybe a few things I haven’t thought of yet.
I contemplated writing in a manga style for a time before settling on American style comics for those ideas of mine that demand to be comic books. But, Ihave never quite let go of ideas that could possibly help young artists (and writers) who want to work in manga.
The first question one has to answer is: Is there a genuine demand, a possible market, for original manga created outside of Japan that does not tie in or adapt other media? It is clear that any such demand is a tiny fraction of the demand for Japanese manga. The key, possibly, is to produce a series that is compelling and accessible that creates an increased demand.
So, there is a young artist who wants to get into manga. What should she/ he do? There is always art school. Now, I won’t pretend to know what type of education beyond just art a typical art school provides. But, I suspect going to a traditional university may be a better bet for a burgeoning manga artist. Now, if doing only art is the goal, art school may be the best option.
But to be a manga artist also means that one has to be able to tell a story (unless there is a writer collaborating). So, I would recommend majoring in art and minoring (or double majoring) in creative writing. While I’m at it, ask around and see what types of business classes would be good for artists to take. A tragedy of arts education is that the business side of it is typically neglected.
Once that is out of the way, what should our hypothetical artist do? Well, getting one’s name out there is certainly key. So, be willing to work on adaptations and (maybe) super hero comics. Have a web presence that showcases your work. Maybe just samples or an entire web comic.
Now, what to do when it comes time to create one’s own series? Right now, the manga market is rather depressed. While this means that it is unlikely that any of the major surviving manga publishers are actively looking for “home grown” manga talent, it does not mean that one cannot get lucky (and it does not hurt to submit a proposal). But, I think there may be another option.
Part of the problem with self publishing is that, often, it comes across as having poor quality and polish. Now, there is a trend for self published writers to take the time to make their work as professionally polished as possible. This is a great development, but I do not know how long it will be before the stigma is eased.
So, here is my idea. Take a page from creator owned comics and work on producing your own publishing company (or group). Find like minded manga enthusiasts and artists and create a webzine similar to Shonen Jump, Weekly Shonen, etc. There are a number of excellent web magazines in existence that can provide inspiration (like Clarksworld and Lightspeed). Focus on web and e publishing before taking on print. And finally, do not be afraid to market outside of manga fandom.
So, this is my, perhaps, dumb idea on how a manga artist could break into the industry. So, I wonder, can it work and be a success?
So, I was planning on getting a comparison of the novel and film versions of Howl’s Moving Castle posted. But, as with much of this blog, other events have preempted it. In addition to the Howl post, I was thinking of writing my thoughts on the role of the critic. However, I think I can actually incorporate that post into the present one. So, what is this post about?
Well, it’s about taking stock of things. Of analyzing where I’ve come and where I’m going. It’s about questioning ideas and directions. It is, largely, about revising.
For one thing. I’m not going to do a post, an essay, a research paper, etc. on the grimdark in fantasy. I’m interested in the topic. But, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to waste my time reading books that I don’t like several times to make sure I don’t mess it up. I certainly don’t want to waste my time reading a bunch of secondary sources and texts of influence that will bore me to death.
The simple fact is that I really don’t want to be a critic. I’m not a scholar. I don’t have the credentials or, honestly, the wherewithal to do it. For a while, I wanted to be an academic. To be a professor of English. But not any more. So, why should I beat a dead horse anyway? I shouldn’t. Time to buy the damn thing.
And, finally, wasting my time with all of these genre fights takes time away from me doing what I really want to do. Which is writing fiction. And I don’t need distractions.
As many of you who read my blog on a regular basis know, I am keenly interested in writing comics. Lately, I’ve taken a harder look at that interest.
My harder look has convinced me to pursue both novels (prose) and comics. Some of my ideas clearly make better novels than they would comics. And some of my ideas positively demand to be comics.
For a while, I toyed with the idea of writing a manga influenced series. But I’ve changed my mind on that. For one thing, Deb Aoki’s recent posts on About Manga have explored the problems of “original English language” manga publication very well. To be honest, unless something changes, it is nigh impossible for “OEL” to even begin to gain in popularity. I hope that is not the case, but I’m not sure how the situation can change.
Another problem with me doing manga style is that I’m a writer not a drawer. I wish I could draw, but I don’t have the talent. My lines are crooked and never look right. I’m not very good at it, period. So, I’ll need actual artists to work on the art side of it. And manga style is largely a melding of the role of writer and artist.
Finally, the more I think about the differences between manga and American comics, the more I’m convinced that I’m split. I like the storytelling style of manga. But I love the artistic style of American comic books more. And when I envision my embryonic comic book series, I see it being a series that would be carried in a comic book shop.
Now that I’ve got all of this hashed out, where do I go from here? Well, there is publication. I’ve looked into traditional publishing in addition to self publishing. Honestly, I don’t think self publishing is the way I want to go. If I were to go the route of self publication, I would demand of myself as nearly professional level of editing, book design, etc. that a traditional (and more experienced) publisher can bring to bear. Honestly, I don’t have that kind of money. And I don’t have a sense for business (yet). So, I think a more traditional publisher is the way to go, at least for now.
So, that’s it for now. There’s a few things I want to do before I go to bed in an hour and a half. But there is one thing I want to do before I leave: a taste of the posts coming as I march to our two hundredth post. Next time will be the Howl post. Then comes a post on research. And I’ll cap off with Post 200- Why I love Fairy Tail.
Well, since it is so near my bedtime, I’ll leave you with a goodnight.
Pluto by Naoki Urasawa proves an assertion I made in my guest post for Black Gate. Pluto can go up against any science fiction or fantasy novel, even the greatest, and come out the victor. Now, I am not going to do a review because I clearly think any manga fan who has not read Pluto should get on it as soon as possible.
I first heard of Pluto on SFSignal in a post titled “Words and Pictures: If Isaac Asimov Wrote Manga” by Brian Ruckley. From there, I waited for my local library to put them on the shelves. After some cajoling, they did. I then proceeded to check out two volumes a week for a month. Reading Pluto has been a revelation. I agree with Ruckley that the series is an excellent jumping on point for fans new to manga.
As most readers know, Pluto is Urasawa’s reimagining and expansion of “The Greatest Robot in the World” arc from Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy series. Readers of Urasawa’s work do not need to be familiar with Tezuka’s original, but it is interesting to catch all of the different and various references that Urasawa makes (some of which are pointed out in the analytic afterwords of each volume).
The theme of the series is wonderfully encapsulated in the oft stated phrase at the end of the series: “Nothing comes from hatred.” The entire series proves this. The hatred that the antagonists have for the world only leads to destruction. To death of the antagonists’ own dreams as much as the protagonists’.
To see the depths of despair and destruction that infects the antagonists, one must look to the past, the back story of the various characters. While the hatred of the antagonists are ultimately destructive, they are not alone in facing hatred.
The hate begins when the Persian Monarchy is invaded by a coalition of nations led by the United States of Thracia. The rationale of the war is that Thracia accused Persia of having a secret robots of mass destruction program. This accusation and the discovery of a mysterious robot graveyard led to war. A war that ultimately destroys Persia and gives rise to a hatred so destructive that the entire world is endangered.
It is clear that the Iraq War played a major influential role in the construction of the 39th Central Asian War. As an aside, I think a further exploration of the political themes of the series would be valuable. Especially in how the Iraq War and other influences play a role in Pluto’s construction.
The motives of the antagonists is to target the seven greatest robots in the world for their roles in the war (even though two of those robots played a strictly post war peace keeping function), assassinate the group of inspectors who found the graveyard, and gain a final revenge on Thracia.
The ultimately sad realization is that both Pluto’s AI and Bora were intended to make a garden of flowers in the desert. Darius XIV’s dream was to make the desert bloom. That was Bora’s intended role. And Sahad, the AI controlling Pluto held a similar dream. But infected with the hatred of Abullah, the dream becomes perverted. Instead of a garden, the world becomes a wasteland.
Hatred is not solely an issue for the antagonists. Hatred also plays a role for the protagonists. Gesicht’s murder of a human (a supposed impossibility given the robot laws) is a product of hatred. The man Gesicht kills kidnapped, murdered, and dismantled robot children for parts. One of the children kidnapped and killed is revealed to be the antique adopted child of Gesicht. This event gave him hatred. A hatred that simmered until his death, when he realized that hatred leads to nothing.
Hatred, as a strong emotion, plays an important role in awakening the most powerful AIs. The balance of six billion must be tipped by a strong emotion. The interesting question is whether or not any other emotion but hatred can act as a similar bias.
The struggle is overcoming hatred. Gesicht overcomes it at his death, and Atom and Sahad overcome it during their battle. Becoming Sahad again allows Pluto to defeat his father’s plans and save the world. By getting past the hatred, the characters become more fully human.
But, is hatred the only source of negativity here? In a very real sense, Abullah’s hatred is manipulated by the supercomputer Roosevelt and the President of the United States of Thracia. The entire war was little more than a plan to ensure Thracia’s ascendancy as the most powerful nation. And Pluto’s murder of the seven greatest robots further plays into Thracia’s hands (as none of the seven are Thracian). And of course, the destruction of the world plays into Roosevelt’s plans to create a world of robots.
The machinations of Roosevelt are coldly cynical, emotionless. How does this attitude, this lack of emotion play with the stated attitudes towards hatred? In many ways, Roosevelt is a true monster, like Brau 1589. That the two can act without emotion makes them inhuman.
A related theme is how desirable it is for Robots to become more like humans. Increasingly, robots are having emotions (or simulations of emotions) that mimic human emotions. I suspect that there is a continuum of emotion at work here. From a lack of emotion, to strong emotional bias, and finally to balance, I think facing hatred (or another destabilizing emotion) and getting past it leads to the characters becoming ever more human.
I have never read Astro Boy, but from what I can tell of its themes (compassion, a dislike of fighting) I see how Urasawa takes those common themes and reimagines them in his own vision. Strong emotion is a sign of being human, but so is overcoming that emotion. Pluto asks what is the measure of being robot and human is.
This is, at the end of the day, one of the greatest manga series I have ever read. This is just an indication of how great manga can be.