Takekuma x Akamatsu, A Must-Read Discussion of the Future of Manga

Kransom over at 2chan.us (formerly known as Welcome Datacomp) has posted a translation of a fantastic discussion between Akamatsu Ken, author of Love Hina and Negima!, and Takekuma Kentarou, co-author of Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, manga editor, and professor at Kyoto Seika University. The two of them talk about their mutual forecasts of a collapsing manga publishing industry, as well as their widely varying opinions on what they think should be done to correct that. I highly recommend reading all five parts.

They touch on a great number of topics, including the origin of Akamatsu’s J-Comi site and Takekuma’s research into how Shounen Jump became king as an indirect result of the 1973 Oil Crisis, but one of the particularly interesting topics they discuss how the roles of artists and editors may change in an age where big manga publishers such as Shueisha and Kodansha might not even exist. Akamatsu, rather than being the stereotypical artist who cares little for profit, is incredibly practical and sales-oriented, whereas Takekuma concerns himself more with thinking about what the artists want to do.

The danger of self-publishing, be it in a printed book format or as something viewed online or on an e-book reader is that there is a lack of quality control. While the environment that Takekuma and Akamatsu are thinking about is not quite at that point, the common idea here is that a lack of editorial feedback is something which can limit the success of both a weaker manga industry as well as a self-published title. Both Takekuma and Akamatsu agree to the importance of editors, and believe that the key will be an increase in freelance editors who, rather than being able to rely on a salaried position at a publishing company, will have to make a living by showing their skills at fostering talent. They’ll also have to act somewhat as agents for their independent artists, or if not, the artists themselves have to be their own agents. Those who can only draw will not survive, not only because they won’t know how to market themselves, but because they won’t be compatible with this new breed of editor.

I can’t help but think about the power structure that would exist should such a system come into existence. Ideally, the artists, editors (freelance or otherwise), and publishers will all regard each other as equally important in the whole process, but I get the feeling that it wouldn’t quite turn out that way. Granted, the role of editor and artist even now is not consistent across each publishing company, so it’s not like the manga industry would be changing from one universal form to another, but the fact that the manga industry would, in Takekuma’s view, become even more free-market, especially for editors, makes me picture some kind of wild west frontier for manga. Again, this has its benefits, but as Akamatsu points out, one of the benefits of manga is that compared to making a television series or even an anime, making a manga is much less expensive, and so a greater variety of ideas can be explored with less risk to those involved.

If the manga industry does get to a level where those involved with manga have to put more on the line to get published, there is a chance that it might stifle one of the great strengths of manga, and I doubt the artists who tend to be so overworked will have any less of a burden on them. In the face of this, Takekuma’s point that we may see many more manga artists with modest salaries instead of wealthier artists (Akamatsu, for example) may simply be the result of a changing perception of what it means to be “successful” manga.

THAT Anime Blog, Home of Utopian Philosophy

This past Valentine’s Day, ExecutiveOtaku over at THAT Anime Blog offered a service for all of the single ladies and gentlemen who found themselves alone on February 14th, a “Harem Finder” that would allow you to enter into a Love Hina-esque setting, custom-tailored to your specific wants and passions. Though obviously a joke, the Harem Finder is not without historical precedent, at least in literary terms. In particular, the concept resembles the writings of utopian philosopher Charles Fourier.

Fourier (1772-1837) believed that the denial of passion was the most major problem with the world, and in his utopian writings he proposed a society where everybody would be able to indulge in their passions in a way that would benefit their society. For instance, a man predisposed to death and slaughter would find a job as a butcher. Fourier (somehow) calculated that there are 810 character and personality types to be satisfied. This of course includes sexual passions, so a sadist would be able to meet a masochist, same-sex relationships would be condoned, and so forth.

Priests and priestesses would gather everyone together and initiate extensive tests involving multiple meetings between potential partners, keeping in mind that “love at first sight” does not always happen. And for those dorks who worry about their physical attractiveness, Fourier has them covered too.

In Harmony sheer physical attractiveness will not have the colossal influence that it has in civilization where everyone is transfixed by the sight of a beautiful woman. Of course the Harmonians will not fail to appreciate physical beauty; in fact their judgment will be considerably more discerning than ours. But when it comes to the selection of sympathetic patners their choices will not be determined by physical charm. For their desire for sensual gratification will be satisfied in several different ways.

In a way, the concept of the “harem” in anime and manga is a form of utopia, acting as a very localized, almost self-functioning society where happiness is being surrounded by women (or men) and everything that happens in the world comes from that harem setting. The same idea could be extended to the most slicey slice-of-life shows, especially when you factor in their utility as a form of cathartic escape. These are, after all, “better worlds.”

In a different era, I think Charles Fourier could have very well been an otaku. He would spend every day after work focused on writing about his utopia, and his devotion to passion is well-represented in anime and manga. He also had a thing for lesbians, making it very possible that he’d be a big yuri advocate, and his obsession with precise calculations seemingly pulled out of nowhere (he determined that there are 26,400 men in the world who also enjoy lesbians) would not be that far off with numbers-obsessed mecha or idol fans.

He was also a life-long virgin, but I’ll leave those jokes to you.

Ruminations on Harem Anime, Part 1: Responsibility

I’ve been doing some thinking about the concept and tropes of harem anime recently. Here is Part 1 out of I don’t know how many parts but expect at least one more. Today’s topic is the concept of responsibility in harem anime.

The basic concept of a harem show is that it involves one guy surrounded by multiple gorgeous women who are all either vying for his affection, or could be conceived as such. As such, it tends to be a rather divisive genre among fans. Some of the more controversial topics in anime spring to mind, such as sexualization of anime characters, arguments about whether or not harem shows hurt or help anime, what makes a “good” anime character, or whether or not the fans of such shows are just perverts with no taste. One common criticism of harem anime is that they tend to feature a do-nothing protagonist who sits around and lets his gorgeous harem girls sexually tease and prompt him without himself applying any sort of initiative. However, what I have come to realize is that harem anime, with very few exceptions, requires a certain level of passivity from its male protagonist, without which the “harem” concept would weaken and crumble.

The “Arms’ Length Harem” as I have dubbed it is a simple concept. It is where, as stated before, a male protagonist in a harem anime never actively makes a move on any of the girls until perhaps the very end when the story is nearing its conclusion. The reason for its existence is also quite simple: as long as the protagonist is at “arms’ length,” he is absolved of responsibility. What this means is that as long as the male protagonist does not make an active effort to start a relationship with a female character, he is in a sense still “innocent” and can maintain the harem illusion. It doesn’t matter how many times he accidentally walks in on girls taking a bath or how many times their breasts fall on his face because he is not the initiator and thus it is never actually his fault.

As soon as he makes a move, he must take responsibility, and if he tries to maintain the harem while also in a relationship with a girl, he loses the support of the male viewers who want the benefits of being considered a good and pure man at heart who is surrounded by beautiful women who tend to be in various states of undress at any given moment. The male protagonist cannot be an uncaring, unfeeling womanizer if he wishes to keep the support of the men viewing him.

Even in erotic games and dating sims, this sense of innocence and responsibility is maintained. In games where you pursue only one girl per story path, while you can sleep with all of them eventually, in the specific plotline the player is pursuing there is only one “true” girl. In games where you have sex with multiple partners, sometimes simultaneously, the girls are usually the ones to initiate. And in games where the hero is actively trying to have sex with multiple women, at the very least this is displayed front and center and the main character is given a predatory personality to match his actions, i.e. making it not an Arms’ Length Harem at all.

An interesting case study is Itou Makoto from the School Days anime, who is a male harem protagonist who goes against this “unwritten” rule of harem protagonists. Makoto starts off just like any other harem protagonist, being a nice if innocuous guy who finds himself in a situation where multiple girls are interested in him. However, unlike most protagonists, Makoto gains an extreme amount of confidence from the knowledge that girls can find him attractive, and it transforms his personality from a caring individual to a player who manipulates girls so he can sleep with them. As one might expect, Makoto does not have many fans in the anime community beyond those whose who like him in an ironic sense. However, it’s not just his sleeping with multiple women that garners him hatred, it’s the way in which he does it, as well as how his sense of responsibility is entirely lacking.

Makoto tries to do exactly what I said is death for the male harem protagonist: he attempts to maintain the harem while actively pursuing girls, but on top of that he tries to act as if  he is still an innocent protagonist along the lines of Negi Springfield from Negima. It is Makoto’s two-faced dichotomy and his active deception of the girls he pursues that makes him such an unlikable character.

Makoto’s situation is different from heroes who sleep with multiple women such as Golgo 13 or even Minase from Bible Black because they do not hide this facet of their personality. Characters such as those are sexual dynamos who act as they truly are and accept responsibility for their actions, something Makoto never manages to do.

Makoto eventually finds his extensive harem crumbling, with girls blocking his phone number and refusing all contact. In this situation, where Makoto basically manipulated countless girls into having sex with him by being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, h reacts poorly to the sudden change in his daily life, from constant sex to no sex whatsoever. However, the thoughts that spring to Makoto’s mind are all along the lines of, “Why did this happen to me?” and “I don’t deserve this!” With this mindset, where no matter what he does or which people he hurts he still considers himself the “nice guy,” he completely alienates the male viewers who might be supporting him otherwise.

No matter how the real world is, an Arms’ Length Harem must have a male protagonist who is essentially pure of heart, even if his libido rages with the power of a million exploding suns. While the girls are important for any harem, it is actually the main character that is necessary in order to keep the harem in its ideal state. What can be said about this mindset, then? Is it just a symptom of otaku being unable to handle women in real life? I would not simply say “yes” to that. What I think is important in this subject is that there are certain contradictions which cannot be reconciled because they violate how the target male viewer perceives himself and others. This viewer, whether he truly exists or not or is simply a fabricated “ideal viewer” by the show itself, sees himself as a person who would not betray his responsibilities. However, if responsibility can be avoided then there is no need to take it.