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While I love anime and manga, I also like cartoons and comics the world over. I grew up with superhero comics, so even though I don’t keep up with them terribly much these days, I still like to know what’s going in them. In reading American comics blogs, it makes me aware that certain topics which garner extensive discussion and debate are hardly blips on the radar for anime and manga discussion. One topic in particular is character interpretation.
Spandex-and-cape comics, particularly the big mainstream ones from Marvel and DC, have a long history of changing writers, and so too with them comes different ideas of how the same characters should act. In time, you have notions of things like “definitive runs,” or the story or series of stories where the portrayal of a particular character ends up carrying through well after that writer has left. Examples include Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, where a B-level character whose power was basically vegetation-based was revealed to have been an “Earth Elemental” all along, or Frank Miller’s Daredevil, which gave the blind superhero’s stories more gritty realism as he fought the mobster dregs of New York City. As time goes on, a character’s chances of getting more definitive portrayals increases. With a longstanding character like the Joker, the wild variation from comic slapstick villain to utterly mad mass murder can seem almost schizophrenic. Appropriate in a way for someone like the Joker, but perhaps less so for others.
Fans can discuss which is the best, most true face for the character. Others can argue that all of the portrayals are authentic, and that the character is an iconic concept to be interpreted by the creators. It’s just the kind of talk that doesn’t have very much opportunity to occur in manga given the difference in history between it and superhero comics. The closest thing anime and manga have to discussions of continuity and portrayal is probably Mobile Suit Gundam. Granted, it’s pretty close, especially with something like Turn A Gundam, a series which takes the idea of all portrayals of Gundam being “true” Gundams and turns it into a cohesive story. But sometimes I look over and think, “I wonder what manga discussion would be like with more of that.”
Then I look at all the downsides of continuity and retcons and the arguments that come with it, and I’m pretty okay with where anime and manga are. It’s a fair trade-off, I think, and I’d rather have the comics of the world be more different than the same.
Although continuity is commonplace in anime, while growing I always assumed a kids’ show would essentially reset itself after the half hour was over. It was safe, it was reassuring. Nobody died or suffered any lasting consequences unless it was a two-part episode, and then it would simply reset back to square 1 at the end of the following week. I craved continuity, piecing together episodes in my head and a personal fanon (before I knew of the term) in the way a child only could. That’s why it was all the more amazing whenever a show would tease the viewer with bits of continuity.
King Mondo directly confronting the Zeo Power Rangers impressed me. So was finding out that one of Grimlord’s lieutenants was the father of the primary VR Trooper. But nothing comes to mind more than Conan the Adventurer.
Conan the Adventurer was a child-friendly version of Conan the Barbarian where Conan and friends sent their enemies “to another dimension” before Saban decided to bestow that phrase upon its Dragon Ball Z dub. And while Conan met his friends across the land and sea, and they didn’t go away after an episode, Conan never seemed to get any closer to reversing the spell of living stone cast upon his family by the evil Wrath-Amon, the very impetus of his quest. Imagine my surprise one morning(no really, do it!) when I saw Conan and his allies directly fighting not only Wrath-Amon but his lord and master Set, the big final boss master of the series. Not only that, Conan actually managed to soundly defeat both of them and even finally save his family. To actually have a satisfying conclusion to a cartoon adventure, it was such a rare sight that the memory stuck with me, as you might have noticed) even if the show was actually not that great.
But even if a show had no sense of continuity or concept of lasting consequences, I wanted there to be some. It wasn’t what I would call a burning desire, but the shows which gave me a taste of what continuity could add to a story, and the shows without continuity which simply made me want it more, I think it’s definitely one of the many factors that got me into anime.