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.