Wednesday, June 27, 2012

51 Ways to Save Your Girlfriend and Yourself

Disaster stories always walk a fine line between being poignant and being contrived. This comes from the fact that most of the plot points can really only run on the extreme side. Since the situation and setting are all an extreme, the rest of the story and characters must follow suit. What follows is usually the deterioration of humanity and a bleek outlook on the future. While they do make the audience or reader think, they usually leave a 'been there, read that' impression.

I thought all of this while I was reading 51 Ways to Protect Her written and drawn by Furuya Usamaru. He is the man who brought us Litchi no Hikari Club and it's sequel Bokura no Hikari Club, so it is not surprising that there would be more graphic depictions of rape and murder. This manga has obvious pros and cons with using such points as rape, post traumatic stress syndrome, and survival all rolled together to create a society on the edge. I'll be looking into how they are used throughout the manga, which is only 5 volumes long.

Before I start into my discussion, I want to make it perfectly clear that this manga was written and started serialization at least 5 years prior to the 9.0 earthquake on March 3rd 2011. Indeed, Furuya uses the 1995 Kobe-Hanshin Earthquake to justify most of what happens in this manga. There is absolutely no connection between what happens in this manga and what happened in Tohoku. I wish to make this perfectly clear because I do not want people to get the idea that this manga is in anyway a real life story. It's not and quite honestly, I don't think it ever could be. The manga is rather poignant now that the world is waiting and watching for the earthquake that will happen along the fault line around Tokyo.

Let's set the stage. Tokyo. February 23, 20XX. Jinn, 21 years old, is attending a recruitment orientation in Odaiba. As he is leaving, he spots a girl dressed in gothic lolita searching for tickets to a concert. She is an old classmate, and crush, from middle school Nanako Okano. Moments later there is an 8.1 earthquake and Tokyo falls into chaos. Jinn, Nanako, Rika and the rest of Tokyo are left to fend for themselves and that is where the real story of survival beings.

Our three main characters Jinn, Nanako, and Rika are where I'm going to start this discussion because the way that they all react to the disaster is very different. Besides reflecting their different personalities, their reactions also pose a social critique by Furuya. First Jinn, the ideal Japanese young man. Fresh out of college, he has already started the process for securing a good job in a competitive work force. He is calm, popular, charismatic and has the innate and mysterious ability to get others to follow and listen to him. We then have Nanako a victim of bullying in middle school, she has never developed the personal strength to stand up for herself. She used music, specifically a visual-kei band, to escape and has encased herself in the gothic lolita fashion world. This includes ridiculously expensive shoes and clothes. Then Rika, who has relied on her looks to get her through life. She wears stylish mini skirts, tops, and boots to attract the attention she does and doesn't want. She jons Jinn and Nanako by attaching herself to Jinn because she sees that as her best chance of survival, him being cute is a plus.

Jinn, the commander and leader, jumps into trying to save those who are trapped and dying under the rubble of collapsed buildings. He sees people cut in half, missing limbs, and hears the cries of people that he has no chance of saving. He is the first to develop PTSD as he cannot get over survivors and rescuers guilt of not being able to save everybody. Jinn becomes paralyzed by the eyes of the people he could not save during moments he is needed. Using eyes as the source of his stress is a very interesting symbol. When one thinks of eyes it is that we are being watched by others and being judged by society and those that surround you. Keeping this in mind, Jinn being judged by the people he couldn't save, he is being judged by the families that he hasn't and most likely never will meet. Compounding his own guilt when he actually did more than those that were around him.

The way that women are used in this manga is something of a pro and a con because they cannot be discussed without the biggest con of this manga, rape. Furuya uses rape in this manga to become the catalyst in the collapse of society after the earthquake. Following along the lines of those who loot stores and houses during a riot or disaster, rape is used as a way to represent how far Japanese men fall. I'm not really sure if this is also a poke at how sexually repressed Japanese businessmen are that they would jump at the chance to rape a woman, because that is how almost all men are portrayed in this manga. They drink ro relieve stress and then rape women and instead of owning up to their actions they blame the earthquake or something else for what they do. I honestly thought they had turned into Vikings with the amount of raping and pillaging that was happening.

Yet at the same time, the women are shown as defending themselves from these Viking impersonators. They come together and keep each other safe within the Shibuya 009 building. They all work together to get food, share responsibility for those around them and also figure out how to appear ugly when the men finally storm the building. Since the men are going to rape only beautiful women, making themselves as ugly as possible saves them from abuse. My main issue with the use of rape in this manga is that instead of being a point of consideration and thought, it becomes too much apart of the plot. If Furuya had only used it the first time to make his point and then moved on it would have been more powerful.

Having it and then pushing rape into one of the main plot devices was what made the ending too much. The same could be said for using the cult to push the society even further to the brink of collapse and instigating the riots. The cult and rape became overkill to the plot and a lot of the power behind the manga was weakened. Now instead of discussing how each plot device is used to build up a strong picture, it just builds up into a mess.

One of the big pros of this manga for me was that Furuya had actually done his homework and researched a lot of what happened after the Kobe Earthquake and incorporated them in his manga. For example the fact that Shinjuku has a festival put together by yakuza, explaining how Odaiba would actually start falling apart because it was build on reclaimed land, and other inserts of information to explain why something may seem strange to the reader but it actually realistic. It is those inserts that gave the manga such a powerful impact in the first place and engage the reader on more than a surface level. 

Who else has read this manga? What did you think? Comment and let me know! 

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