Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sprite with a Splash of Time

So yesterday in my culture class, we had an introduction to the theme we would be discussing until the end of the semester, Japanese literature that reflects post modernist themes and what they are trying to reflect on Japanese contemporary society. The professor, a older Japanese man, started throwing out names of Japanese authors that I hadn't heard of and then looked at me and asked me who my favorite mangaka was. I was slightly surprised since I thought we were only going to be dealing with "literature", as in novels and short stories, but when I told him that my favorite manga was 20th Centure Boys by Urasawa Naoki he got very excited and ran to the board to write it down in English and Japanese. He followed that up by stating names like EVA, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, The Matrix, and 7 Seeds.

What do all of these titles have in common? Of course, they all deal with a post modern world, the end of the world, atomic energy and how humans react to these different themes. The real answer is that they are all sekai-kei, 世界系, or stories that revolve around saving the world. Over the last 20 years many Japanese contemporary authors have started using these themes as major issues in their works. What my professor wanted us to start thinking about was this; what could have brought a rise to these themes? And not only in "literature" but in popular culture as well? What kind of reflections to they make on Japanese society and the Japanese mindset?

As a reader and as a social scientist, I am very excited about this subject. I have spent a lot of time and money reading many books and manga that deal explicitly with these themes. In preparation for this class I went looking for new titles in my logically titled "Manga I want to read" folder in my bookmarks and pulled up Sprite.

Now before you ask, no I am not talking about the refreshing lemon-lime soda that was brought to us by the great soda capital of the world, the United States of America. I am talking about the very well thought out and interesting manga drawn and authored by Ishikawa Yugo. Currently on volume 8 in Japan, it has only been scanlated up to volume 4 in English and has yet to be picked up by an English publisher. Now I usually don't pull up and discuss manga that hasn't been finished or further along in plot on this blog since I like to have a full range of the plot and characters before I start making my theories and observations. I am making a good exception for this manga because I want it to be on people's radar.

Yoshiko, or Suu, sees something akin to black snow falling over Tokyo. What she has yet to find out is that the sea of black that later flows over Tokyo like a tsunami is actually Time. Instead of getting aid from rescue workers like Suu and the other occupants of the 42nd floor think will happen, the reader is taken into the year 2060 and forced to not only accept what has happened but to also survive.  

I, probably like most readers, was pleasantly surprised when what I thought was going to be another disaster manga evolved into a huge philosophical question about the cosmos. Time is a very peculiar science fiction plot line and it usually brings up images of H.G. Well's classic novel, The Time Machine. Usually the reader is dropped into a utopian world and then discovers that it is in reality a dystopia. With Sprite, the reader is dropped into a world that has already fallen apart and the group, and therefore the reader, is forced to learn how to adapt as they slowly learn what has happened to the world after they unknowingly jump through time.

This dropping of both characters and readers into an unknown world and then slowly releasing secrets and revelations on them made me immediately start thinking of 7 Seeds and how Tamura used the same device. With the 4 volumes that I read, there are numerous similarities between the 2 manga in how the groups deal with finding themselves in a new world. What also struck me was that both of these mangaka know how to affect the reader with lightening speed and that is by making sure the reader and the protagonist receive information at the same time. By making the characters and readers find out pivotal information together makes the reader identify with the characters and makes them develop a symbiotic relationship. It is that symbiotic relationship that further extends and develops the psychological aspects of the plot. Similar to watching a horror movie.

As a reader, I am always very attracted to plots that take characters out of their protected worlds and leaves them stranded in a fight for survival. Seeing how different characters react and who becomes a leader is always thought provoking. Especially in Sprite and 7 Seeds, where female characters take strong roles in leadership, those leaders tend to approach their new roles rather quickly. Of course, this is what makes them strong characters, but it also makes them good role models for Japanese readers. In a culture where men have always held power and women are usually marginalized, I find this to be a wonderful thing. 

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