Death, Rebirth, and the End of Coppelion

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Coppelion, the science fiction manga about genetically engineered clones tasked with finding any remaining survivors in a radioactive Tokyo, finally wrapped up last month on February 20, 2016.

Running since 2008 for over 20 volumes, Coppelion has had a rather turbulent history. Its story about an earthquake that triggers a nuclear meltdown in Japan and changes the course of many lives went from “what if” to “what now” with the Fukushima Triple Disaster on March 11, 2016. Its animated adaptation was canceled, then revived with heavy censorship and a strange modification to its aestheticsCoppelion has seen multiple tonal shifts over the course of the series that had people wondering if it was a manga about radiation or an excuse to see high school girls fighting.

For all its ups and downs, I believe tha its author Inoue Tomonori had the best intentions in mind throughout Coppelion‘s run. Elements that one might assume were there merely to cater to manga readers actually carried with them a great deal of subtlety, and the subject of nuclear power never truly disappeared from the manga. In fact, I suspect that the decision to conclude Coppelion at this point is very deliberate and designed to make a statement.

Not only was the final chapter of Coppelion published in Monthly Young Magazine right before today, the fifth anniversary of 3.11, but the initial disaster that sets the story of Coppelion is supposed to take place this year, in 2016. What better place could there be to bring this narrative to a close?

Though I have no evidence as such, I think it is very likely that this final chapter was planned to land in this time frame, as a symbolic reminder of the potential dangers of nuclear radiation, as well as the problems created when both people and the governing bodies responsible for its regulation become negligent towards nuclear safety.

You can read the Coppelion manga online at Crunchyroll.

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Coppelion Anime, Smooth and Round

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Coppelion anime feels like the Coppelion manga with its edges filed down. I don’t mean just that they’ve removed all references to nuclear radiation, or that if you add up all of the elements of each version that one is more “serious” than the other, but that there’s a distinct difference in presentation.

Though the manga is more overt with its criticisms of nuclear energy, at least at first, it’s also wackier in a lot of ways. Amidst the tragedy, characters make wild and contorted faces almost like they’re One Piece characters, and there’s even more fanservice to boot. Aoi, who comes across as more cutesy in the anime, has a greater degree of comic relief in her in the manga, and I think it just has to do with that sense of exaggeration.

Here’s Aoi in the anime:

And here she is in the manga:

Also note the difference in Ibara’s facial expressions.

I think in some ways, this difference in feel does more to change the contents of Coppelion than even the censoring, like the wackiness adds a certain element of permeating ugliness to the story which helps to foreground the social and environmental issues a bit more. That might just be my personal preference though, and I find as the show gets into the second arc it starts to adapt the original material better.

JManga Needs Exposure

I recently had a conversation online about the industry-backed digital manga site JManga that went something like this:

Guy: Man, Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru has nine volumes out in Japan, but only three are scanlated!
Me: You know, most of those volumes are available on JManga.
Guy: What.

And then he went and bought all 8 volumes.

Sometimes you’ll hear people pushing for the manga industry who also like to draw lines in the sand between “REAL FANS” who do everything by the book and “filthy pirates who call themselves fans,” as if to say that this explains the industry’s woes. Here, on the other hand, is an example of someone who you can’t categorize as a leech, someone who is willing to pay money for the manga he likes, but simply had no idea that JManga (and its offshoot JManga 7) are actually quite up to date with the titles they carry, or that they even carried them at all. This is also a concern because Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is actually one of JManga’s flagship titles at this point, so it’s even more curious that the guy didn’t know about it.

What this basically reveals is an exposure problem for JManga and other similar sites, one that undoubtedly needs improvement because if the site can’t reach the people who are willing to use its services, what hope does it have for reaching the people who are more hesitant towards it? This is basically why I’m writing this post: I want to make more people aware of JManga as not only a legitimate way to read a lot of manga online and, and not simply as a way to “support the industry,” but as a convenient site which carries titles that readers of manga might very well be looking for.

Did you know that Fujoshi Rumi (aka Otaku-Type Delusion Girl a title I recommend by the way) is on Jmanga and only one volume away from finishing? How about the fact that they have yaoi and yuri sections in addition to shounen series both well-known and obscure? What if I told you that there are (for some reason) multiple titles about cougar detectives? And from the looks of their recent translation contestCoppelion, an interesting and timely work about three girls having to traverse a Tokyo devastated by a nuclear fallout from a natural disaster, is going to be available in the future as well.

The site has its flaws, such as the clunkiness of their reader or the fact that not all titles are available in all regions, but they’ve definitely been working on improving the site. In fact, the site used to be United States-only and worked to change that over time.  One “problem” I need to address in particular is the fact that I’ve heard people say before that the reason they never used JManga was because their old “pay us to give you an allowance” pricing structure was too much of a commitment, because that is no longer an issue with the site. Now you can pay volume by volume a la carte-style without commitment, but if you subscribe then you can get a little extra every month, which means there is likely a pricing structure more attuned to your needs.

My goal isn’t to push the site over other alternatives and to make you feel guilty about not using the site sooner, but mainly to say that a site like JManga is available, and that it offers some things the scanlation sites don’t. While my readership is a small fraction of the total manga readership and thus my influence limited in scope, I hope for those of you reading that you’ll at least give it a shot, whatever your reasons for being a fan of manga.

Super-Expressive Faces

I’ve been reading the manga Coppelion lately, about three teenage girls who are genetically engineered to be immune to radiation in a post-nuclear apocalyptic Tokyo. One of those girls is Fukasaku Aoi, whose most prominent feature is that she has an incredibly expressive face compared to the other characters around her. It kind of makes her an endearing character even when she complains (which she does often), and I feel like she can really liven up scenes as a result. She shares this trait with Kurumi Erika from Heartcatch Precure!, and as is evident from previous posts, I like Erika quite a bit as well.

I find myself wondering about the candidness of such characters and why they can be so appealing, particularly when they’re grouped with characters who, while not necessarily reticent, still don’t have quite the range of expressions that someone like Aoi or Erika does. In thinking this through, possibly the best explanation I can find is not from manga or anime but from bande dessinée, Franco-Belgian comics. Though all sorts of things have been written about the expressive nature of eyes in manga, I think I might be best served by The Adventures of Tintin.

At the Belgian Comic Strip Center museum in Brussels, there is a Tintin exhibit which features profiles on all of the major characters. Among them is Haddock, a ship captain and friend of Tintin. Like Erika and Aoi, one of his most distinguishing features is his capacity for making wild facial gestures, and a display in the museum talks about the relationship between Captain Haddock and Tintin, who is usually much more calm in his demeanor. I don’t quite remember everything it said, but it mentioned something about how the visual contrast between the two makes for an ideal scenario where both characters complement each other with their respective approaches and make the comic better as a result.

If that’s the case, then taking that idea and applying it to the three-character structure of Coppelion‘s central cast, I have to ask myself what purpose does that middle character serve, the one who is less expressive than the Haddock but more expressive than the Tintin. My initial thoughts towards this is that the middle character, who in the case of Coppelion is its protagonist Naruse Ibara, is that if you think of the three characters as a spectrum to gauge the direness or excitement of a situation, the point at which Ibara starts to get facial reactions close to par with Aoi’s is when you know things are really getting serious. If it gets to the point where the third girl Taeko is freaking out, then it’s doubly so. Proper use of characters with different capacities for strong facial expressions can potentially control the level of excitement in a comic while also distinguishing the characters for variety.

I get the feeling that much of what I said was pretty obvious, but I still wanted to write it all down.