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My initial idea of having manga about all styles of mahjong.
In one of my earliest posts I ever wrote for Ogiue Maniax, I talked about my desire for Kyoto Animation to go beyond its own limits, to go from just adapting work to making their own original material. Though my opinion of Kyoto Animation isn’t quite as rosy as it was back in 2007, with their new original anime Tamako Market I actually feel like they’ve finally fulfilled those expectations to a fair degree.
Kyoani is known primarily for two things: really solid animation and cute girls. Together, the resulting product is a soft, delicate quality that is unmistakably Kyoto Animation (and which shows like Kokoro Connect and Sora no Woto have tried to mimic), and it affects different adaptations in different ways. For Haruhi and their Key game adaptations it lent weight and significance to characters’ movements, while in K-On! and Nichijou, two manga with sharp and abrupt humor, it caused the anime versions to slow down in terms of comic timing. In the end, it seems to all come down to the cute girls.
Tamako Market is the first Kyoto Animation show I’ve seen to really let the animators spread their wings. Tamako Market has allowed Kyoani to show personality through movement in a greater variety of character types of all shapes and sizes, from small children to geriatrics, to even a person of ambiguous gender and a silly talking bird. The show then places them in a deliberately slow-paced setting in the form of a small-town shopping area, which makes that Kyoani “slice of life” style feel appropriate. What’s more, even though there are indeed still cute girls in Tamako Market, all of the other characters are portrayed differently from them, giving the viewer not only Kyoani’s bread-and-butter but also something even more substantial.
Given the sheer amount of character variety in Tamako Market, I have to now wonder if it wasn’t just that their old shows didn’t allow them to “push their envelope,” but that having to adapt works limited them due to the contact of the original sources. Most of what Kyoto Animation has adapted has come from dating sims, light novels, which often times are all about cute girls, or manga which center around cute girls. While I think Kyoani isn’t ideal for making certain types of works, it’s clear to me from Tamako Market that their strengths, namely their ability to have characters move with almost a sense of tangible liveliness, go beyond what’s expected of them.
As a follow-up of sorts to my previous post about American Mahjong, I drew this (read left to right):
The Current Genshiken Club Members
The Hokuto Brothers (I think Toki turned out the best)
Yoshimori and Tokine from Kekkaishi
I’m not much of a fan of Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, the moe-fied Cthulhu mythos-themed comedy anime, but I find that the main character Nyaruko has a really appealing character design. While she doesn’t look that different from other cute anime girls, Nyaruko draws the eye and leaves a memorable impression to the extent that it makes me want to maybe, just maybe, give her show a second chance. In looking at her more closely, the element that visually differentiates her from other similar character designs, the lynchpin which transformers her into something more distinct and complete, is her checker-patterned dress.
My reasoning has relatively little to do with personal preference (at least as far as I can tell about myself), but is based on the amount of contrast that the checkered pattern provides on Nyaruko’s overall design. Nyaruko does wear other outfits in her series, namely her school uniform, and if you compare the two outfits the checkered dress simply stands out more. There’s the inherent contrast of dark and light that a checkered pattern already has, but there’s also the fact that the pattern stands out against the broad swathes of flat color that make up Nyaruko’s hair, skin, and the rest of her clothing.
You could get a similar effect with stripes, but a checker pattern is like a stripe pattern taken to the next level, and I think that the way the checker pattern is only a small part of her dress instead of the dominant pattern as you might imagine a striped dress to be keeps it from overpowering the rest of Nyaruko’s design. It’s also somewhat of an uncommon clothing pattern among anime characters, which makes it easier to associate the checker pattern with her character before others. What you’re left with then is a visual design which not only pops out but causes others (including other characters in Nyaruko-san) to recede.
Manhwa, or Korean comics, are something I am relatively unfamiliar with. I can spot the similarities and obvious influences from manga in modern manhwa, and I’ve looked at a few titles here and there, but I have neither the knowledge of history nor the personal experience to say I have a firm sense of how manhwa “is.” Given that my expertise (if you can call it that) is primarily in manga, however, I found it quite interesting when a manhwa title I’ve read recently, Dragon Who, takes elements clearly inspired by manga but cross-pollinates them in a way which normally never happens among Japanese comics.
A title from 2009, Dragon Who is about a dragon boy named Roa Coatl who travels to South Korea to find the descendant of Quetzacoatl to make her his bride so that they can prevent an impending global disaster. In other words, it’s a shounen-esque school comedy/romance/action title that probably wouldn’t feel too alien to manga readers aside from the decidedly Korean names for most of the characters. Given that comfortable familiarity I think one would expect certain stylistic approaches, and indeed Dragon Who looks the part of a shounen manga to a good degree, but take a look at this image:
(By the way, for those unfamiliar, manhwa reads left to right.)
The character designs look quite shounen, perhaps even closer to late 90s shounen titles, but the use of blooming flowers in the foreground to introduce a character (and this is the main heroine Go So-Ahn’s first appearance) is an element straight out of shoujo. When combined with the fact that So-Ahn herself is designed to be fairly normal as opposed to strikingly beautiful, looking closer to a best friend character than a main character herself, it makes for an almost defiant combination of visual elements: a shounen title with a shoujo-esque heroine with shounen heroine looks.
Not only that, but Dragon Who has its own fair share of attractive guys, and while the title is neither harem nor reverse harem, the following image can give a certain impression as to how the title skews.
At this point, I think it would be easy to chalk it up to the popularity of shounen titles among female reader inside and outside of Japan (and I would have to assume Korea as well), and the titles which are designed to appeal to girls in Japanese comics to varying degrees such as Black Butler and Kuroko’s Basketball, but I’m not so sure that explains it. For one thing, Dragon Who is still keen to include elements like beefy muscular guys who aren’t all lithe bishounen, as well as fanservice for male readers.
Just to be clear, this is not a matter of manhwa looking “enough” like manga or not, but rather seeing how the manhwa inspired by manga doesn’t have to play by the rules (or at least plays with chunks of rules from four different places). To me, it feels more like Dragon Who is the product of authors taking aspects and visual language from manga regardless of genre or intended audience and putting them all in one place, or like if a shoujo writer were paired with a shounen artist. It’s a crossing of assumed boundaries which can show how thin and permeable those walls can be if only we’d allow them to be.