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This is a follow-up to my previous post, A Sexy Star is Born: Thoughts on the History of Romance in Shoujo Manga.
While romance has been the dominant force in shoujo manga for around 40 years, lately I’ve begun to wonder if a quiet revolution is occurring within the shoujo manga industry, or at least within the publisher Kodansha.
For example, recently there has been a comedy manga about young girls who use model guns and play in survival games. “But Stella Women’s Academy C³-Bu isn’t shoujo!” you might say. You’d be right, except that I’m actually talking about the shoujo manga Survival Game Club! by Matsumoto Hidekichi.
What’s remarkable about Survival Game Club! is not only that it’s a manga which eschews romance in favor of firearm gags, but that it runs in Nakayoshi, a magazine whose primary demographic is 5-10 year old girls and whose alumni include Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. These aren’t jaded manga experts looking for the next big thing, they’re readers who just want to enjoy their comics (and their free goodies). Though, the expectations for 10 year old readers might be surprisingly different, given that Survival Game Club! starts with one of its characters threatening a train molester.
Survival Game Club!
Other titles currently running in Nakayoshi include No Exit/Deguchi Zero by Seta Haruhi, about a school for aspiring actresses which becomes a survival horror story, and Kugiko-chan by PEACH-PIT (Rozen Maiden, Shugo Chara!), a gag spinoff of a manga about a ghost who is said to drive nails into people’s eyes. Both of these series not only revolve around a horror theme but are fairly unorthodox when it comes to art style.
According to Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt), the shoujo magazine Bessatsu Friend began to shift away from romance because of manga by artists such as Suenobu Keiko. Notably, her 2009′s manga Limit, a story about a group of girls in a life or death situation where the social statuses afforded to them by their school cliques no longer matter and feelings of betrayal and revenge run high, stands out as being very far from the romance-centered stories associated with shoujo. While Bessatsu Friend targets an older age group compared to Nakayoshi, I wonder if its influence slowly bled down to the younger audience.
The sense that there’s a quiet revolution isn’t just coming from shoujo manga which de-emphasize romance, however, as there’s a sense that titles about love and relationships are approaching them with greater mindfulness and breadth of topics. For instance, 3D Kanojo by Nanami Mao, about a popular girl and her otaku boyfriend, deals with the lack of respect that sexually active girls can get. One story from the girl’s past involves her trying to express her feelings of frustration and loneliness to her then-boyfriend, only to realize that he wasn’t really listening and was trying to just make out with her. Pochamani by Hirama Kaname, about a chubby girl and her handsome boyfriend, looks at body image issues and the ability to be confident in an appearance which does not fit the social standard. In both cases, these manga are about relationships already in motion as opposed to the journey towards one, and so bring to attention the challenges which can confront couples.
Of course, this is all more or less a hunch, and while I read a good deal of shoujo manga I’m not as well-read in it as other bloggers like Magical Emi or Kate from Reverse Thieves. If anyone can provide examples to further prove (or even disprove) the idea that shoujo manga has begun to move somewhat against its long-standing conventions of love and romance, I’d be more than welcome to hear it.
A common complaint against shoujo manga is that it’s too obsessed with romance. When you look at shoujo as a whole, love is not just a major factor in a lot of series, often times it’s the only factor. It all boils down to a simple question: “Why can’t shoujo manga be more ambitious?”
To a fair extent, this criticism is justified, but I finished reading the English-language release of Hagio Moto’s The Heart of Thomas recently and the afterword by Matt Thorn provided an interesting context to the romance-heavy nature of shoujo as we know it. Thorn writes about how, in contrast to the shoujo manga of the time which assumed that girls had no interest in stories in the more adult side of relationships, manga like The Heart of Thomas were revolutionary because they introduced the thrill of romance and sexual desire to shoujo manga. This is not to belittle the shoujo manga before Hagio and her contemporaries as somehow inferior as that’s certainly not the case, but it’s clear there was a trend of chaste stories about daughters reuniting with their mothers and such, which was supplanted by shoujo manga as love story. Romance in shoujo is the 800 lb. gorilla now, but it wasn’t always that way.
It actually reminds me about one of the biggest difficulties in discussing depictions of women with respect to feminism, which is that both the denial and exploitation of women’s sexuality have been used to control women in the past, and good and bad intentions exist within various a complex array of cultural contexts. Romance in shoujo manga is a way for readers to learn about their own desires, but perhaps at the same time also a way to control their interests.
On a certain level, the reason behind the proliferation of romance-based shoujo is obvious: money. Girls liked romance, it sold a lot, and so it became de rigueur for an entire industry. It’s understandable, as is the criticism against it. While romance is just the thing that many fans (including myself) look to shoujofor, at this point, it could stand to have some more variety.
The funny thing is, I’ve recently begun to suspect shoujo manga is undergoing just such a transformation, but I’ll leave my thoughts on that for a follow-up post.
Last spring marked an unusually robot-heavy season of anime where three mecha shows, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince, and Valvrave the Liberator, took three different angles each of which had their own unique appeal. I originally wrote about them as a package, so now with all three shows finished (aside from the fact that Gargantia has another series on the horizon) I figure it’s best to look back on them all at once.
Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince, which had a strong tokusatsu or even 90s anime feel to it, ended up progressing almost as expected, but without it being tedious or losing something in the process. In shows like Majestic Prince, there’s usually some sort of humble beginnings, in this case the main heroes being the “losers” of their class, and comedy gives way to a more serious story as the narrative progresses until it ends up in a giant space battle. It’s par for the course, but while I can’t say Majestic Prince will change the way we think about giant robot anime, I do find that the show is a little bit of everything, nothing in particular that screams, “Wow, this is amazing!” but lots of minor things done well which make for an overall satisfying experience, and a more consistently forward-moving story compared to Gyrozetter. It’s a popcorn anime, something you might show to an anime club or a group of friends to relax, where you find yourself gradually more invested by the final string of episodes. Because of this, Majestic Prince is the show I simply have least to say about, though I do want to point out that it has one of the most memorable death lines ever. You’ll know it when you hear it.
Although Majestic Prince isn’t a show I can talk about too extensively in terms of conceptual or thematic depth (it skims the surface of topics like genetic engineering and human behavior at the very mosy), Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is the strongest of the three shows in terms of both its ideas and how it presents them. Its initial format, where Ledo, a boy from another galaxy who knows only war, is exposed to the everyday lives of the Earth characters and their concept of family, acts as a part of the science fictional exploration of its world and which become the backdrop for the show to reveal its secrets was somewhat of a source of disagreement and controversy. As people wondered how the story would turn out, there were both complaints that Gargantia spent too much time focusing on the daily lives of characters and that it too much time on its narrative drama. Personally, I think it ended up striking a very nice balance, as we got to learn about the culture of Earth away from the galactic war which they were ignorant of (perhaps for the better), but when it came time to get “serious,” the show effectively used the context it established to make the circumstances and solution directly connected to the characters’ “everyday.”
Significantly, the series did not do the predictable thing and “bring the war to the people.” Instead, it brought the philosophy and ideas which came out of the eternal state of war in which mankind out there in space had become accustomed to, and challenged the people of the Earth (as well as the lead Ledo) to confront and address them. The everyday lives of the characters became the very “weapon” by which they could defy the way of thinking imposed by the world Ledo comes from, and I think there’s a lot to think about in that regard.
Out of the three anime, however, I suspect Valvrave the Liberator will, if not be the most memorable show, stick around the longest in the overall consciousness of anime fandom, though not necessarily for the best reasons. The rape scene in Valvrave is going to remain infamous, and it’s something which is impossible to ignore but also shouldn’t define the entire show. I really think the creators of the show wanted to use it for dramatic purposes but didn’t quite understand what they were getting themselves into, evidenced by the fact that they eventually just drop the subject after some questionable followups. Whether that’s better or worse than keeping at it, I’ll leave you to decide that, but one thing I will say is that having the victim still be in love with her attacker doesn’t inherently make for a bad or “harmful” story, as Watchmen manages to deftly incorporate something similar into its narrative and point out the difficulties associated with such a circumstance.
I was once asked why I kept up with Valvrave even though the show has a lot of odd and nonsensical twists to it, and I explained that the appeal of the show for me was about seeing if Valvrave was trying to celebrate the power of youth or criticize it. Even within the same episode it became difficult to tell if the show was saying, “Kids are the future, a source of new ideas and ideals,” or, “Kids are so damn stupid! Man, I can’t believe we let them touch anything!” I think by Season 2 it leaned more towards the former, but never entirely, and to its credit I think the second season was a huge improvement on the first, as its ridiculous qualities were focused down into a clearer direction while still remaining just as strange. Overall, I think the show turned out okay in the end even with the issues mentioned, if only because it managed to use its social media aspect to great effect, and shows a kind of tempered idealism. It also has a more satisfying conclusion than the Gundam 00 movie despite being fairly similar, but I’m not really sure why I feel that way.
It’s difficult to judge the effect of having so many mecha shows close together has had on anime, if any at all, but it is true that a number of new giant robot shows premiering in 2014, from Captain Earth to the bizarrely named Buddy Complex. I think what I liked most about having each of these shows is that even through their ups and downs, Majestic Prince, Gargantia, and Valvrave all manage to maintain their identities as shows, with developments, characters, endings, and themes which keep the mecha genre from feeling like “more of the same.” None of them are really similar in any way, and I hope this trend continues.
Between the Negima creator’s J-Comi, Viz and Kodansha, the defunct JManga, or the recent Crunchyroll Manga, the quality of official digital manga readers has varied tremendously, but they all lack one feature I keep wishing for. I want to simply be able to magnify or shrink the page quickly and conveniently on a regular computer without having to use magnifying glass icons which either make everything super big or not at all. Most preferably I would like to be able to set my mouse’s scroll wheel to shrink and enlarge the page for when I want to get a closer look at a particular panel or set of panels.
I know that it’s easier on tablets, and when I do read manga on a tablet it’s just a pinch or a finger drag away, and that digital readers are made more for tablet users, but I just think having this option would go a long way in making the reading of manga on a desktop or laptop so much more natural and convenient.
At this point a lot of people know that it’s fun to watch other people play video games, whether it’s a Let’s Play or a competitive esports event. A subsection of these people additionally know that it’s crazy fun to watch AI opponents fight each other, provided the right context surrounds it. That’s what we get with Video Game Championship Wrestling, a gaming stream where various gaming culture icons fight each other inside of a WWE video game, and with Salty Bet, a place where you bet fake money on fighting game characters.
Though similar in that they both involve having non-human-controlled characters duke it out, they’re opposites in terms of how these AIs are used. VGCW is a curated experience where, much like actual pro wrestling, a single person writes the story and decides the overall direction of his “show,” but ironically is missing the most crucial pro wrestling component of having match results predetermined. Instead, the show clearly alters its path from week to week according to the results of its own matches. For me, the highlight of the entire thing so far has been when Little Mac came back from getting hit by a car and had an amazing match with Dracula that ended with Mac landing a powerful Star Punch counter on Dracula and then throwing him inside a coffin.
Salty Bet on the other hand is not about “story,” it’s about seeing how different characters crafted by M.U.G.E.N. creators across the world fare against each other, a complex interaction of not just who the characters are but the skills of their makers, their desires to make the strongest or the weakest characters, and even sometimes their desires to be in video games, as many of the self-insert avatars in Salty Bet show. Largely, the “drama” is created at random when two strangely appropriate opponents face each other, or a clash of gods occurs. The exception is that once every Thursday the owner of Salty Bet holds custom tournaments, often around a certain theme (the week of Pokemon X & Y‘s release there was a Pokemon character tournament).
In either case, what I find most amazing about their experiences is the necessity of the audience. Sure, audience matters at a Starcraft or Street Fighter IV tournament in that it livens up the mood and makes things just feel special, and in a Let’s Play of course you the viewer are the audience, but with VGCW and Salty Bet watching them is substantially worse when there is no chat available. The chats, with all of their memes and running jokes, make the fights feel “real” because real emotions are being poured into them. Scholars like Henry Jenkins talk about active fandom and audience participation, but with these “shows” the audience is in many ways the reason to watch. That’s not to say the work the owners of VGCW and Salty Bet don’t matter, as they’re of course important, but their successes are also tied into the image created by the very people viewing them.
Given the success of its Kickstarter, it’s highly likely that you’re already aware of Mighty No. 9. The brainchild of Inafune Keiji, co-designer of Mega Man, it’s very much a successor to Mega Man, starring a robot with variable powers named Beck. While there are plenty of things to discuss when it comes to Mighty No. 9, one of the more fascinating topics is the “Roll” of the game, a female character named Call. Garnering enough fan support for a “Call gameplay stage” stretch goal to be reached, what is curious about Call is that her popularity was achieved well before we knew really anything about her.
From the very beginning of the Mighty No. 9 project, it was announced that there would be this female supporting character. However, she had no definitive design (though a few possibilities were shown), no determined color scheme, and very little information about her background or personality. Even her actual name was a later addition to the campaign, while these were the only notes eventually provided about her:
Call is a female robot originally created by Dr. White’s friend, Dr. Sanda, to help assist him with his research; she somehow avoided being infected by the virus causing all the other robots to go berserk and has pledged to help Beck.
Call was not imbued with the human characteristics that make Beck unique, so she’s more of a pure robot — as you might imagine, this contrast can lead to some interesting differences and misunderstandings whenever they interact!
And yet, even with this utter lack of information about Call, she developed a fanbase, such that the vote to decide what will become her finalized look has become a big deal among Mighty No. 9 fans.
A common answer these days for this sort of thing involves referencing the Hiroki Azuma’s database narrative concept in a reductive fashion by pointing to how disparate features such as blue hair or a tsundere personality act as patchwork parts to create characters appealing to otaku, but I don’t think you can even refer to Call’s initial concept as a “database character.” It was less of a database and more of a less-than-1kb .txt file, and I think Call’s popularity actually comes from something else entirely.
My own guess is that the reason Call gained fans before we really knew anything about her is that her basic position, as a female character in a new video game which has as one of its guiding principles heavy interaction with the community during development, made her an open canvas for fans’ perspectives. Whether fans see Call as someone to potentially relate to, or an opportunity to establish a strong female character who can go a step beyond Roll in Mega Man, or even just as “the cute girl,” Call’s initial lack of features combined with faith in Inafune and the staff of Mighty No. 9 allowed people to project onto Call their various ideals. In this prototype state Call fans see in her the very best.
I’ve been thinking a lot about female characters in anime and manga recently (not exactly a surprise, I know), and it’s something where, even if I don’t have a fully formed argument or point to make, I feel compelled to write something down. Forgive me as I meander through my own thoughts in an attempt to piece it all together.
About a month ago I was reading the comments section on polygon.com in regards to the portrayal of female characters in video games. I can’t remember which game they were talking about, but one commenter said something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t bring up Japan when trying to show strong women in video games because it’s such a sexist culture. Just look at anime and manga,” and it made me bristle. I do think Japanese culture is sexist in many ways, but the idea that this perception of Japan as sexist made it impossible for Japanese fiction to have really good female characters in this person’s eyes bothered me because I’ve seen plenty from every period of anime and manga.
I know it was just one comment on a video game article, but it got me thinking more broadly about what people see in anime and manga, and to what extent the image of anime and manga as sexist is fueled by what people want to see. I recently saw a comment that criticized Heartcatch Precure! for encouraging girls to be stereotypically feminine by having the character of Itsuki, who normally dresses like a boy, express a desire to be more girly. While I know there are plenty of examples of tomboy characters who end up feeling like they need to dress like girls to attract their male love interest, Itsuki’s story is more about how she suppressed the side of her which enjoys cute things out of a somewhat misguided sense of duty and responsibility. Yet, rather than taking this as the message, it was like as soon as the person saw the rough outlines of the stereotype, surely it would play out the same as always.
There are most certainly a good deal of works which go out of their way to objectify women for male consumption, but I just find that there are also plenty of instances of well-portrayed women and girls in anime and manga. Whether it’s Princess Jellyfish or Rideback, Kekkaishi or Gowapper 5 Godam, it seems like these female characters get ignored because they’re, somewhat ironically, not as eye-catching as a Queen’s Blade or an I Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! There seems to be this idea that anime = sexism, and while even the works I mentioned as strong examples aren’t entirely devoid of sexism themselves, I also don’t think it’s as simple as just slapping the misogynist label on Japanese media as a whole. Messages regarding women in anime and manga can be so diverse and divergent.
At this point I’ve seen a lot of 60s and 70s shoujo, and I’ve noticed a clear trend of mischievous tomboy heroines from that time period. Even putting aside an extreme example such as Oscar from Rose of Versailles who was raised as a man to uphold her family’s proud military tradition, you have Candy from Candy Candy, who’s adventurous and constantly challenging the conceitedness of the upper class, and Angie from Petite Angie, who is portrayed as an extremely clever detective. You have Ayuko from Attack No.1, whose aggressive desire to win at volleyball inspires the rest of her teammates, and Yumi from Sign wa V! who initially plots to sabotage her teammates because of how much she despises volleyball. Hiromi from Aim for the Ace, Lunlun from Hana no Ko Lunlun, Masumi from Swan, the list goes on and on. All of these characters have their fair share of personal agency (even if it’s not always an ideal amount). Given that the trend of the strong, mischievous tomboy was clearly a “thing,” and I do believe it continued in some form well beyond the 70s (Utena is an obvious one, but perhaps Lina Inverse from Slayers counts too, for example?), I just have to wonder about the disconnect between that and the perception of anime and manga as inherently misogynistic and where it may have come from.
Is it a matter of age of these older titles, that if people were able to access the works these characters are from, that they would change their minds? Is it that shoujo doesn’t act enough as the “face” of anime and manga? Could it be that, as much as we’d like to think we’ve gone beyond the stereotype, anime is still viewed as essentially “porn or Pokemon?” If the ratio were different, and there were just fewer fanservice titles or works where girls are basically a cheerleading squad for the heroes, would detractors be more charitable towards anime and manga, or is it inescapable as long as some titles are still like that? For that matter, to what extent does the western image of the submissive Asian woman affect and interact with how people see all female characters coming from Japan, and how does it differ from the similar stereotype as viewed by Japan (I can of course admit that it’s there too)?
What shapes people’s views of female characters in anime and manga? I guess that’s the question I want to explore the most.
There’s a general trend I’ve been seeing with male anime protagonists from light novels, or more specifically anime adaptations of light novels. In many of these titles, the main characters tend towards having passivity as a defining trait, sometimes to the point of “aggressive passivity.” Not to be confused with someone who’s passive-aggressive, or even someone who’s mostly passive and occasionally active (like Shinji in the Evangelion TV series), the aggressively passive protagonist is someone whose passivity is almost a badge of honor, either in the form of a passive special ability, a self-image in which passivity practically defines them, or a reputation for passivity.
Let’s look at a brief list.
- My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Hikigaya Hachiman persistently mentiones how the real world is harsh and unforgiving and how it’s best to kind of just coast through it with little ambition.
- Mayo Chiki: Sakamichi Kintarou has the nickname of “Chicken Tarou,” indicating what a pushover he is, which he tries to fight.
- A Certain Magical Index: Kamijou Touma, though not truly passive, operates on an extremely loose philosophy of “do the right thing, I guess.” In addition, his ability is a defensive one which neutralizes other superpowers.
- Monogatari Series: Araragi Koyomi helps others out, but his abilities as a vampire mainly manifest in his ability to endure pain and injury, and even his method of active help comes across as essentially philosophically passive.
- Ookami-san: Morino Ryoushi, Ookami’s partner, is someone who can only help fight from the shadows, as he fears direct confrontation.
- Suzumiya Haruhi: Kyon, though he eventually enjoys it, starts off talking about how much he’d rather not be having strange and crazy adventures.
If you look, you’ll also find such characters in non-light novel anime. This is somewhat different from the classic milquetoast harem lead, whose averageness is taken as a way to make him the everyman and the avatar of the reader, because often-times with these aggressively passive characters a lot of time is spent talking about just how average they are and how being average/passive is the way to be.
I’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it may have something to do with the “herbivore men” concept that has taken hold in Japan. Herbivore men are defined as guys who shun the life of wealth, success, sex, and family, the classic symbols of masculinity, and embrace a more passive lifestyle which shirks society’s expectations. This trend gets tied to a number of things by those curious as to why it’s occurring, such as the poor Japanese economy driving down ambition towards employment, and it’s possible that the protagonists described above are a product of this environment, that the people reading (and perhaps even writing) these light novels and watching their anime adaptations also see the traditional path of Japanese men to be fraught with lies and deception.
Of course, in many of these cases, it’s not like the characters sit back and do nothing, but that passivity on some level becomes a part of their characters, either as something to be celebrated or something to be worked on. If anything, even the sampling of titles above speak towards a broad range of viewpoints as to what passivity is and whether or not it’s something to be embraced or to be worked on.
This trend is actually why I think Kirito in Sword Art Online has become such a popular hero for anime fans both male and female. It’s not that the aggressively passive hero is inherently bad, but that in this environment an aggressive protagonist stands out that much more. In SAO, Kirito is an extremely skilled fighter who helps the downtrodden, attracts women left and right, and has a powerful reputation among those inhabiting the world, while also being gentle, considerate, and devoted to those he loves. He becomes the exemplary light novel hero for those who’d rather not have a passive protagonist.
When it comes to manga oriented around a fujoshi main character, there are two big trends. First, they tend to come from pretty unknown authors in fairly obscure magazines. Second, the story typically revolves heavily around how their love of yaoi impacts the heroine’s relationships. Often there’s a romantic bent to this, where the girl’s fantasies directly impact her interactions with the guy she’s into. Even titles I adore such as Genshiken and Fujoshissu! possess these qualities in part, and while the fujoshi heroine subgenre is not exactly big, it’s produced a lot of similar works.
This is why Tora to Ookami is such a fine oddity. Having ran in Betsuma, which has been home to other popular titles such as Lovely Complex and Aishite Knight, what’s even more interesting is its creator, Kamio Youko. Fans of shoujo might recognize her as the author of Boys Over Flowers, a title which is spoken of in the same breath as other big shoujo works such as Nana, and has been adapted not only into anime but multiple live-action dramas around the world in different languages. In a certain sense, this title is quite a leap for fujoshi-themed manga, skimming along the mainstream even if not directly a part of it.
What I find especially impressive about Tora to Ookami, however, is how it addresses the second trend. A lot of times fujoshi characters, whether they’re in the spotlight or on the sidelines, are fujoshi first and foremost. Their hobbies revolve heavily around anime and manga if not yaoi outright. They’ll throw out random lines from an anime, most often Gundam or Glass Mask, or just have a one-note gimmick (constant pairings or glasses, for instance). They either have, or have had in the past, personalities and appearances which tend towards the image of the shy and nerdy girl. With Mii, the heroine of Tora to Ookami, however, you get a stronger sense of a well-rounded individual where she’s certainly into yaoi but it doesn’t dominate her life, nor her approach to interacting with others.
While Mii writes BL fiction, she’s also a chef who works at her family’s small restaurant, and that aspect of her plays a much more significant role in Tora to Ookami than her googly eyes over seeing her two love interests interact with each other. She may be a fujoshi, but she’s also a strong-willed person who’s more than willing to sacrifice her social life in order to help her grandma maintain their restaurant because it’s what she cherishes. Liking BL is just a natural facet of her among others, and because Mii’s fujoshi identity isn’t the central focus of the manga, her romance is able to develop in a way where the outcome isn’t simply determined by who can accept her for being a fujoshi. Although her fandom pops up occasionally in her interactions with her love interests, especially the titular Tora and Ookami, it’s pretty much never about wanting them to act more like characters from BL manga, nor does it involve confusing fantasy with reality.
I don’t know how well Tora to Ookami did in Japan, but six volumes is a fairly decent run, and at the very least it shows that fujoshi heroine manga don’t have to be limited by the fujoshi “gimmick.” As much as I enjoy the stories which do utilize the recurring fujoshi manga trends, Mii’s character is rather refreshing because of how she has more to her than yaoi, but also doesn’t trivialize that aspect of her. She’s believable as a fujoshi, but also believable as a human being.
When the Robotech/Voltron crossover comic was announced a few months ago, my immediate response was, “Why?” Of course the answer is “nostalgia grab,” but there’s something strange about both of these works and their continued presence in the geek public eye (and perhaps even beyond that). Unlike Transformers which not only has a huge variety of toys both old and new, as well as a long history of cartoons both from America and Japan (not to mention the live action films), both Robotech and Voltron do not really renew themselves, aside from the occasional thing like the The Shadow Chronicles or The Third Dimension.
Though this speaks more about the people I associate with, I can’t say I’ve ever talked to anyone, online or offline, who is hardcore into either Robotech or Voltron. I know that there’s a Robotech community of course (they even have an official site for it), though I have little interest in it. With Voltron, I know people who have fond memories of it, myself included, but the foundation that Voltron has in geek culture seems not only deeper than Robotech‘s but to the extent that, when you say cool giant robot with a signature finisher, Lion Voltron is just the default, or it shares that spot with the Megazord from Power Rangers. It’s like Voltron as a source of nostalgia goes so far beyond itself that the vague perception of it exceeds the influence of the actual anime.
What’s funny about a show like Voltron and its emblematic presence in US geek culture as de facto super robot is that the process of dubbing and adaptation that turned the anime King of Beasts Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger into Voltron: Defender of the Universe happened with different anime in different countries to similar effect. In the Philippines, Voltes V exploded with popularity. In France and Italy, UFO Robo Grendizer captured attention as Goldorak and Goldrake respectively (with success in the Middle East to boot). In Brazil, Gloizer X became O Pirata do Espaço, the country’s first real exposure to giant robots. While it’s possible say that this was all a matter of timing and that they’re all interchangeable in that respect, I do think that the specific properties of each show had a major impact on how each country perceived giant robots from that point forward (I’m less sure about Gloizer X so if any Brazilians want to help, feel free to leave a comment).
One thing that I do believe plays a role in how these series become more specific in their nostalgic output is the level of support the original works have in Japan. I visited France recently, and when I went into the comic stores I would regularly see displays of Grendizer merchandise. Whether it was the Super Robot Chogokin or the Soul of Chogokin or a chibi version, it was all straight from Japan, sitting prominently in the store. Grendizer has enough cultural presence in Japan that it can continue to get these toys and even a fairly stable presence in Super Robot Wars, whereas Golion has had to content itself with just one Nintendo DS appearance. In lieu of support from Japan, Voltron‘s had to carve its own place, and often times it’s not even from the company World Events which holds the Voltron license but from fans conjuring it up in their own minds. And while Robotech is an utter legal mess due to the way it stifles the presence of Macross in the US, if you put that aside part of Robotech‘s prolonged presence comes from the fact that its fans want new Robotech to constantly feel like old Robotech, whereas Macross changes according to the whims of its dark lord Kawamori Shouji.
Actually I wouldn’t mind at all if Voltron got a revival with a solid piece of fiction to support it which doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia. I know we got Voltron Force, but the less said about that the better.