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Monday, August 19, 2013

Theory Musing: Möbius Strip Anime & Manga

Well this is certainly unexpected... I had done a post this past October that I gave the moniker "Theory Musing", because it was simply me explaining an idea I had on my mind, in that case the "Three Pillars of Sports (Boxing) Anime & Manga". Honestly, I had no plans on doing another "Theory Musing" post, mainly because it's not something I can come up with easily or at any sort of vaguely-defined "rate". Anime Sols, though, recently reminded me of something I once said in passing during a conversation last year that really made me think about it in more detail: The concept of "Möbius strip" anime & manga.

Discovered in 1858 by German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius & Johann Benedict Listing, the Möbius strip is, to put it simply, a surface with only one side. If you were to draw a line across the entire surface of a looping Möbius strip you would end up back at the start, having drawn the line across the entire surface, without ever having to stop. In real life, it's very simple to create a strip like this: Simply take a strip of paper, give one end a half-twist, so that one end is the opposite side from the other end, and then tape the ends together. If you want to think about in a more complex way, a simple strip, or line (if you will), is defined in one way by the fact that it acts as a boundary that is defined by two components: Each "side" of the line is a separate thing. A Möbius strip, though, is a boundary that is defined by only one component, because what would normally be two disparate components are now one & the same. So...  How can this apply to anime & manga?

Excuse my hastily-done MS Paint-job...  I think the intent is clear.

In traditional thought, one can easily describe how anime & manga made for males (i.e. shonen & seinen) is different from anime & manga made for females (i.e. shojo & josei): Themes, storytelling, concepts, art styles, & simply overall execution. Think of these two markets (or four in two pairs, if you want) as opposite ends of the same coin; normally they are distinctly opposite to each other, absolutely defined by their boundary. Technically, it is possible to go from one side to the other while sticking to this dually-composed boundary, but due to the sharp contrast (a "steep drop" of sorts) it is very difficult. Imagine if the Earth was truly flat and you wanted to visit the other side of the world... It would be tough & a fair bit harrowing to do so.

A Möbius strip anime/manga would then be defined as a title where that very defining market has been blurred. Instead of being solely meant for males or females, it is a title that, somehow, has become appealing to all. Now, yes, every title can appeal to the audience it was not originally meant for, but, in my opinion & "theory", Möbius strip anime & manga are those titles that actually handle themselves in ways that actually make it seem like it honestly is being aimed at more than just the initial/obvious audience. Now, unlike when I covered the "Three Pillars" (where history was [kind of] on my side to back up my theory), this theory of "Möbius strip" anime & manga is not so rigidly defined that I can name titles that are the "one & only" titles of its kind. That being said, I can at least bring up titles that I define to be as such, if only to bring up some examples.

First, let's bring this back to the very reason why I'm doing this post. Last week Anime Sols, coming off of the successful funding of the first box sets for Creamy Mami & Black Jack TV (hey, 2 out of 8 isn't bad for a first try...), debuted their crowdfunding effort for Dear Brother, Tezuka Production's 1991-1992 anime adaptation of Riyoko Ikeda's (The Rose of Versailles) 1975 manga. In the first day alone, the funding effort earned nearly 1/4 of the $13,000 that's needed for the first box set to get released, and as of this post it is at slightly over 1/3 of the required amount (and they still have until November 2!). Anyway, I would absolutely call Dear Brother a Möbius strip anime, and the first episode alone showcases why perfectly. The basic idea of the show is that Nanako Misono is entering Seiran Academy, a prestigious private school for girls, and her potential admittance into the exclusive sorority that basically rules the school. That concept is absolutely meant for female audiences, but the execution is done so overtly dramatic & epically-styled to the point where it is seemingly also meant to appeal to male audiences that once you watch a single episode you're hooked.

It is just so old-school shojo that it almost feels shonen, & the prolific production duo of director Osamu Dezaki & character designer/animation supervisor Akio Sugino just pushes that feel all the more. The late Dezaki's directorial style, complete with his trademark "postcard memories", effectively dramatizes this semi-everyday school story to the point where even the quick movement of classmate Mariko Shinobu's red-painted thumbnails leave red movement lines on the screen. Likewise, Sugino's design style results in two of the major females, "Prince" Kaoru Orihara & "Saint Juste of the Flowers" Rei Asaka, looking more like really pretty males than distinctly female characters. By the time you've finished the first episode, you have gone from an obvious shojo title to something that almost felt downright shonen and then you've returned to shojo land! It's awesome, and I do hope that Anime Sols can get that first set funded, followed by the rest of the show; I've put my money down, how about you?

Yes, this is simply taken from ANN...  I'll admit it.

Dear Brother becomes a Möbius strip anime through dramatization & execution, but how about if a title outright uses the tropes & ideas of its opposite market? Well, CMX showed people that with Kyoko Ariyoshi's Swan, a 1976-1981 manga that the company was only able to get 15 volumes (out of 21) released before DC Comics killed its manga division. I haven't read this title myself, but from what I can tell, it's the story of a girl who wants to become an exquisite ballet dancer, complete with all of the hard work, competition, & tough times that comes with it. Swan has commonly been called one of the most shonen manga in the history of shojo simply because it takes a strongly female idea, ballet, & puts it into the good-old shonen action execution machine, complete with blood, sweat, tears, harsh training sequences, & even strong competition between dancers. Admittedly, I can't fully explain how Swan is a Möbius strip manga, but luckily Jason Thompson explained it excellently back in January 2011 when it became the 38th entry into the House of 1000 Manga.

Being a Möbius strip manga doesn't just have to rely on dramatization or utilizing the opposite's ways & means. Sometimes it just requires being so downright focused on one side that the other side has no choice but to twist. Probably one of the best examples of a mangaka who can consistently do that is Arina Tanemura. Without a doubt, a manga like Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne is absolutely shojo; the character designs, the character drama, the love, & (most blatantly) the artwork. But therein lies why Jeanne caught my interest: It was so absolutely shojo & magical girl that a guy like me, who normally stays with shonen works, just had to check it out... And I loved it! While I haven't exactly been keeping up with Tanemura's works in general after finishing Jeanne, I did buy the first few volumes of The Gentlemen's Alliance Cross and I really liked that as well. Eventually I will buy more Tanemura manga & that's because her work is definitively a Möbius strip. Well, that's enough shojo, so can shonen do the same?

I honestly don't mean to always bring up Kurumada...  I swear!

Ed Chavez, the man most identified with manga & novel publisher Vertical, seems to love poking fun at the fact that I enjoy Masami Kurumada's works, especially Saint Seiya. In particular, Ed loves pointing out that he feels that Seiya is nothing more than fujoshi bait, and things like that cover up above certainly doesn't argue that feeling. Last year at AnimeNEXT, it came to the point where Ed & a fellow Vertical employee tried arguing how female-centric Seiya is, which resulted in me saying that the title was, indeed, a "Möbius strip" that went from male to female back to male, and so on. But, as I the creator admitted himself, Saint Seiya was purposefully meant to be a mainstream hit. Combined with Kurumada's general feeling that women can enjoy shonen manga as well that obviously means that Seiya will have those classical & romanticized scenes that can appeal to females (Shun warming Hyoga up after being encased in ice via body heat sharing is a real-world idea, but it's easy to see what everyone thinks from that scene...). While one could stretch it out to all of Kurumada works, Saint Seiya is easily the best example of a Möbius strip anime & manga from his catalog. Admittedly, that's not a bad thing at all, so Ed can toss all of his little jokes, because I just find it funny that a guy who loves josei will easily poke fun at something that appeals to women, in some ways, just as much as it can appeal to guys.

I could honestly keep this post going with more & more examples, but I think the titles I've mentioned give a good idea of what I mean when I say "Möbius strip" anime & manga. What I listed are my own personal opinion, so naturally others will likely have their own ideas of what titles are like Möbius strips. As the moniker states, this is all simply a theory I have, so it can be argued for, argued against, or simply expanded upon with more examples. All I'm bringing up is a way to look at some titles & maybe it can result in people being willing to try something different. Who knows, maybe you'll find something so different that it might just feel familiar...

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