How “Over-Animating” Manga Can Change an Anime

Adapting comics into animation involves taking images which, at most, hint at or represent motion, and filling in more of the gaps that or imagination would have otherwise. While how faithfully an animated work tries to adhere to its comic can vary, I’ve noticed that even those that try to follow the source material can at times “over-animate,” providing what is perhaps too much flair and thus changing the overall fee of a given title.

Over-animating isn’t an established terms by any means, but they’re convenient for my purpose. The way I’m defining it is the degree to which added material not found in the original can make a given scene feel noticeably different. This is often done by taking the source material and then exaggerating what’s there, either through the sense of motion or by adding additional elements. Think of it as the opposite of those times when a show fails to capture the splendor of a good fight scene from a manga—when it comes to over-animating, the spectacle can potentially wind up either being a distraction or changing how we even think of particular characters or moments.

Three examples come to mind in this respect: Mysterious GIrlfriend X, Dagashi Kashi, and Laid-Back Camp.

Mysterious Girlfriend X, about a boyfriend and girlfriend who literally swap spit. Whereas the manga portrays saliva as a simple white, the anime drool glistens and drips like honey, giving it an extra dimension that makes it feel less ethereal compared to the original. When I read the manga, the saliva seems like a means to an end. In contrast, the anime seems hyper-focused on that particular fetish.Dagashi Kashi is similar. While both comic and cartoon feature attractive female characters and a degree of titillation, the first season takes it one step further every time. Suggestive moments like eating tube-shaped snacks called fugashi while blindfolded are exaggerated by the addition of a massive, super-sized version. A flashback featuring kids playing doctor as a way for the character Saya to get closer to the boy she likes has an accidental chest-touching scene thrown in. The manga is fairly racy, but the anime is hyper-horny.

Unlike the other two, my use of Laid-Back Camp (aka Yurucamp) has nothing to do with perversion. Instead, it has to do with how the character Nadeshiko is made to be extra ditzy compared to the manga. At one point, Nadeshiko notices her new friend Rin, only to run into a window like a bird not knowing how glass works. This isn’t especially different from how Nadeshiko is portrayed in the manga, but it’s almost not quite the same either. She’s not especially bright and she’s ruled to a large degree by her instincts, but Nadeshiko is never quite so dumb as to literally run into glass.

While I have my own preferences, it’s not as if I’m saying that sticking faithfully to the manga should be the way to go all the time. The drool of Mysterious Girlfriend X might resonates more with fans if it’s thick and viscuous. The girls of Dagashi Kashi might make a greater impact when the suggestiveness is turned up a couple (dozen) notches. And perhaps Nadeshiko being a little dimmer makes her a more endearing and humorous character. Even so, I want to emphasize how these changes can transform how we view a title and its characters, despite having so many similarities between versions. It’s the little things that can make all the difference.

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Love Grows in Odd Directions: Mysterious Girlfriend X

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Note: This post contains spoilers.

When you look at the manga Mysterious Girlfriend X, it’s hard to believe that it lasted for over eight years. Sure, it’s not much compared to  Ah! My Goddess, which also ran in Monthly Afternoon but for an astounding 25+ years. Yet the everyday romance of a boy and a girl connected by, of all things, a literal swapping of saliva, feels less like it should have been a consistent presence in manga and more an odd one-off (which it originally was). But last Mysterious Girlfriend X has, getting over the years not only an animated adaptation that is available both streaming and on home video in the US, but even seeing the actual manga itself available in English.

Given its long publication history, I’ve found that my life has naturally progressed since I began reading it all those years ago, and that when I come back to the title it’s from a different place. Yet, I still remember my feelings towards Mysterious Girlfriend X from back then, and it’s interesting for me to compare both the feeling of reading it one month at a time versus all at once, and from a person about 8 years younger to where I am today.

Mysterious Girlfriend X is the story of a young couple. Tsubaki Akira one day meets the eccentric Urabe Mikoto, and on some bizarre impulse decides to taste some of her drool that had been left on her school desk. Afterwards, he finds himself ill in a way inexplicable to doctors. Eventually, he learns the cause from Urabe herself: he’s having withdrawal after not being able to taste her saliva after a few days. The reason? Love, simple as that. According to Urabe, Tsubaki has fallen in love with her, and their only choice is to become a couple, especially given how Urabe herself reciprocates his feelings. However, their relationship is an unconventional one, and though they won’t even kiss or hug, they’ll taste each other’s drool. For some strange reason, this “bond of drool,” which allows them to communicate unspoken thoughts and feelings with each other, is a connection beyond typical human comprehension, brought about by love and desire.

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Given this description, it would be very easy to assume that Mysterious Girlfriend X is some kind of saliva fetish manga, but in that regard the title is often misunderstood. What I described above is the initial premise to get things moving, and rather than having the manga consist of different ways to present drool lust as some sexual deviancy, it’s more a means to an end to explore various facets of their relationships, from Tsubaki learning about Urabe, to Urabe understanding her own feelings better, to the growth of their relationship in comparison to others’. In Bakemonogatari, the character Senjougahara comes up with a word to describe the main character Araragi’s feelings towards her: not moe or whatever, but captivation. Tsubaki’s view of Urabe is a similar phenomenon.

Having re-read the entire series recently, I noticed that marathoning it results in quite a different experience. This is obvious to a certain extent, but what I mean more specifically is that when I originally read the series month to month, it was easier to notice long trends (some might even call them ruts) that the manga was going through. However, reading it all at once made me aware that Mysterious Girlfriend X has rough arcs and turning points for Tsubaki and Urabe. I doubt the series had some kind of intricate forethought behind it (Legend of the Galactic Heroes this manga is not), but some seeds were sowed along the way, and by the end they bear fruit.

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At the start of Mysterious Girlfriend X, the narrative is mainly about Tsubaki trying to learn about firstly what it means to have a girlfriend and secondly the utter enigma that is Urabe. Here, both he and the reader get to see for the first time not only the bizarre “bond of drool,” but also Urabe’s superhuman skill with a pair of scissors that she tucks into her underwear, her willingness to swap spit but not kiss, her refusal to ever let Tsubaki have a photograph of her smiling, and other eccentricities that separate her from others. She comes across as alien both literally and figuratively, perhaps even occult, especially when compared to the relatively normal relationship between Tsubaki’s best friend Ueno Kouhei and his girlfriend Oka Ayuko. We also learn about Tsubaki’s family, particularly his very motherly sister.

Gradually, the layers of mystery surrounding Urabe are peeled back. The first major turning point comes amidst this relationship between Tsubaki, Urabe, and the reader, as we learn about Tsubaki’s late mother through the fact that Urabe can read his latent memories from when she passed away (through his drool of course). Though Tsubaki is unmistakably a reader-insert character to some degree, here he becomes an individual of his own, and the connection between the two deepens.

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From there, we get to see how Urabe herself changes, how she sees the relationship from her perspective. In particular, the manga begins to present Urabe’s own character flaws, such as her possessiveness (which turns out are also shared by Tsubaki), as well as her own growing desire to be with Tsubaki. Here, she becomes more human, and while still an unusual person is less mysterious by virtue of how much time the two spend together. The most notable events in this part of Mysterious Girlfriend X occur when Tsubaki’s bond with Urabe is put to the test. First, an old crush of Tsubaki’s comes back to try and seduce him. Second, an idol who bears a striking resemblance to Urabe (and thus a source of jealousy for Urabe when Tsubaki begins to secretly collect magazines of her) trades places with Urabe. When I first read these storylines, they felt like mini-arcs much like what came before, but now I realize that they are more or less milestones for Urabe and Tsubaki, the points at which their feelings resonate more strongly than mere appearances or past loves.

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At the same time, the introduction of the Urabe look-alike, Imai Momoka, also signals another turning point for the series, towards what might be the most meandering and out-of-control part of the manga. Here, Mysterious Girlfriend X begins to enter a realm of fantastic occurrences and even stranger fetishes. While Mysterious Girlfriend X is not exactly a realistic series in certain key aspects, it starts off feeling somewhat grounded in an almost palpable sense of intimacy and desire between Tsubaki and Urabe. In early chapters, the dark attractiveness of Urabe is expressed in moments such as this, which are weird but understandably thrilling for Tsubaki:

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In contrast, immediately after Imai Momoka we get, of all things, “eating bacon while wearing cat ears”:

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Other questions from this part of the manga include “Wouldn’t it be great to count the moles on your girlfriend’s body?” and “What’s more attractive, droopy eyes (like Nozomi from Love Live!) or slanted eyes (not in the racist sense, but like Ogiue)?  Eventually the series is able to parlay this into some forward progression between the two, introducing another rival for Urabe in the competition for Tsubaki’s affections (the aforementioned “droopy eyes”), but when you’re reading from month to month it can feel like a kind of narrative limbo. I do want to point out once again though that all of this has more or less nothing to do with saliva, further reinforcing the fact that the drool in Mysterious Girlfriend X is more a kind of means to an end, and representative of many more things than simply a fetish. It’s a substitute for kissing but also much more, a way to access each others’ feelings and to capture the otherworldly feeling of being young and in love.

Even with the holding pattern that the series suffers, one thing that becomes especially clear during that most unusual section of Mysterious Girlfriend X is the evolution of the creator Ueshiba Riichi’s art style, which becomes less round and cute as was his way in his previous manga, and a bit sharper and more angular. Whereas his characters looked shorter and rounder, by the second half of the series they begin to look not only more mature but more expressive as well, especially with Urabe’s cat-like eyes. Even Ueshiba himself points this out when he discusses how his changing art style might make things difficult for the character designers.

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Another clear indication of Ueshiba’s improved character drawing skills is Oka, who physically is supposed to be as small as an elementary school student but with the body of an adult. The way this is originally portrayed is rather jarring, as Oka looks more like a human being who was hit by a shrink ray, but as the series progresses she ends up looking more properly like a girl who’s simply really short.

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Eventually though the series begins to wrap up, and I think the most telling thing about Mysterious Girlfriend X and its motivations as a bizarre romance come from how it builds up towards its conclusion. The most significant developments at this point are not characters taking the next step physically so much as them sharing more information with each other. We learn how Oka and Ueno became a couple. More and more characters learn about Urabe and Tsubaki’s relationship, notably Tsubaki’s sister, who throughout the series has run into Urabe multiple times under the pretense that she is merely one of Tsubaki’s classmates. As Urabe reveals the truth about her connection with Tsubaki (conveniently leaving out the drool thing), there is a passing of the torch as Tsubaki’s sister, who has pretty much been a mother to Tsubaki all his life, acknowledges Urabe as the one who will become the most important woman in his life. Whether reading on a monthly basis or altogether, the way in which Mysterious Girlfriend X heads towards its ending is somehow surprisingly tame yet still quite appropriate for how the series has been throughout.

There’s a bit of controversy surrounding the ending to Mysterious Girlfriend X, as the manga throughout its 92-chapter run has teased a kiss between Tsubaki and Urabe while also showing many other couples kissing. Even in the final chapter a kiss never happens, as while Urabe finally asks for one, Tsubaki refuses upon learning that it would mean the end of the ritual that has defined their relationship up to this point (kissing is basically exchanging saliva, so there would be no need to do it the other way). Instead, Tsubaki asks if they can’t just keep doing their routine as they always have, at least until they graduate high school. For some readers, this ending is the ultimate denial of what the series had building towards, and indeed the series appeared to be working its way towards their first kiss. However, I find that it’s clear, given how much their relationship grows over the course of the manga, that their first kiss will happen, they will have sex for the first time at some point, but these events will happen off the page, in a future that the manga does not allow us to witness except in our imaginations. By keeping their kiss away from readers’ eyes (but at the same time showing plenty of other characters kissing throughout the series), it is the final emphasis the bond of drool as representative of their strange love as indicative of not just how love looks when you’re young, but also how it feels. Following that, one might say that the point of those almost-kisses is purely in the tease and enjoying that tease is fun in its own way.

The final chapter also has a number of callbacks to significant events throughout the series, including Tsubaki’s late mother, and the excitement that sparked Tsubaki and Urabe’s relationship in the first place. The example below also of course shows off the difference in art mentioned above.

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Ueshiba writes at one point that he never had a high school romance, let alone something as unusual as the one depicted in Mysterious Girlfriend X, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to find that the quirks that were seemingly brought forth through sheer fantasy on Ueshiba’s parts are closer to reality than perhaps he even realized. Moments which seemed ridiculous five to eight years ago are not so far from actual reality as I’ve witnessed it. Sure, I haven’t seen anyone stick their finger into someone’s mouth and eat their drool, but the meaning and intent behind those actions also exist in reality, or at least the “realness” of one’s emotions.

A Homosexual, a Prostitute, a Gamer, and a Sadist Walk into a Restaurant: The Kurosaki Rendouverse

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Kurosaki Rendou is a manga creator with certain recurring themes, notably an obsession with both food and bizarre, highly sexually charged relationships. However, in terms of where those general tendencies go, the sky’s the limit. Kurosaki’s most well-known work, Houkago Play, is about a gamer guy and his leggy, sadistic girlfriend arguing with each other. On depicts a very sexually graphic homosexual relationship. Receptacle is a manga about women candidly discussing their active sex lives, who find themselves in a bizarre love triangle and mutually attracted to each other.

The last title I’ll mention, Chou Nettaiya Orgy, features prostitutes arguing with each other about mundane things, made all the more bizarre by the fact that it runs in an actual porn magazine which mostly features the kind of work you’d expect from an 18+ magazine. Imagine if there was an adult video compiling various pornographic scenes, and in the middle is an episode of Seinfeld.

Kurosaki’s gender is unknown. though I suspect Kurosaki is a woman, I have no proof, and instead merely have an inclination because of how Kurosaki’s manga runs the gamut when it comes to sex.

One interesting wrinkle in Kurosaki’s work is the fact that a lot of these manga take place in a shared universe. While Kurosaki isn’t the only artist to do this (not to mention the fact that American superhero comics tend to thrive on this concept), normally these worlds are kept separate. Yuri manga will take place in an environment where yuri is ideal; yaoi manga is a similar deal. With Kurosaki’s comics, characters from one will cross over into another, making all of these different fetishes and types of sexual attraction exist in the same space. To give kind of an extreme example, it’s as if finding out Busty Blondes 5 and Macho Firemen 3 (I made these titles up) are set in the same neighborhood.

Personally speaking, I really like Kurosaki Rendou’s artwork. Characters in Kurosaki’s manga share the common traits of heavy use of black in their designs, deep empty voids for eyes, and constantly uncomfortable (or discomforting) expressions, like a more extreme version of Ueshiba Riichi (Mysterious Girlfriend X). Kurosaki’s distinct style exudes a strange kind of sensuality that transcends typical depictions of sexuality and attractiveness in manga for either men or women. Rather than having a “male-oriented” approach or a “female-oriented” one, there is only Kurosaki Rendou style. Perhaps this is why Kurosaki is able to draw all sorts of manga, and to bring them all together into one cohesive setting.

Three of My Favorite Manga are Ending Soon

It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.

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Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.

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Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.

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81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.

In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.

 

 

Mysterious Girlfriend X is Somewhat Different in Anime Form

I’m actually a pretty big fan of the manga Mysterious Girlfriend X, so I naturally had to check the anime out. While it followed the manga very closely, I still came away with a somewhat different experience (though not necessarily a bad one), and it has something to do with some of the choices they made in adaptation, as well as the very act of adaptation itself.

Mysterious Girlfriend X is definitely a weird concept that just isn’t for everybody. The story centers around a high school couple, Tsubaki Akira and his girlfriend Urabe Mikoto, and their connection through saliva, specifically the fact that Urabe’s drool seems to have paranormal properties related to empathy. As boyfriend and girlfriend, rather than kissing, they exchange saliva by finger. I’ve seen it argued that the series is solely for people who have a saliva fetish, but I think this is really shortchanging the series and its viewers, because the reasons for following it aren’t as overly specific and narrow as “liking drool.” The appeal is more basic than that, as you have this thrilling and bizarre romance between an established couple who share a bond that seems to go deeper than anyone else’s.

That said, I found the experience of watching the whole saliva exchange to be different between the anime and manga in a way I’m not entirely for. In the manga, the drool is kind of a visual motif, drawn very simply, something that while ever-present is almost just like a rendered symbol. In the anime, however, they go out of their way to make the drool glisten and glow, to give it depth and dimension. The real killer is the sound, because in addition to all the effort they put into it visually, they also tried to make it sound as loud and slimy as possible. Again, drool is definitely a part of the series, but I think a little too much attention is given there.

Another thing that makes the anime quite different is the lack of manga-style paneling. This is kind of unavoidable, as anime is a different medium that works along different rules (unless it went out of its way to mimic the panel-based structure of manga), but Mysterious Girlfriend X has really fantastic page composition and paneling, especially in its smart usage of the contrast between black and white. I even used it in my article about decompression in comics. Take a look at the page above, and you’ll see that even if you took every one of those panels and animated them together, it would simply lack the overall structure of the “columns” created by the characters. When you then add color to the film-like style of the anime, it just makes for a different impression.

There are also a couple of more minor things to note. The first is that the elaborate dream backgrounds, which are fully drawn in the manga, are rendered in CG in the anime. A practical change of course, but one which kind of takes away that impressive bit where you realize someone drew all of that. The second is that the voice actor for Urabe doesn’t sound like I imagined she would, though that’s more on my end than anything else. Her voice actor also seems to be quite new at this, showing something of a similar effect to Omigawa Chiaki in her days as Maka from Soul Eater.

I’m still going to keep watching Mysterious Girlfriend X, of course, and I’m probably going to enjoy it. I just wanted to say something about the subtle changes that are present, and perhaps how this speaks to the things that can occur in adaptation from one medium to another.

The Joys of Afternoon and Kuroda Iou

Recently I found out that Kuroda Iou, creator of Sexy Voice and Robo as well as one of my favorite manga artists, has a new series entitled Atarashii Asa (New Morning) in one of my favorite magazines, Monthly Afternoon. Afternoon was home to Genshiken, and is where Kio Shimoku’s current series about a teenage mom Jigopuri, as well as Mysterious Girlfriend X, are running. Suffice it to say, at this point I am almost, almost tempted to consistently buy Monthly Afternoon even though I understand how much the costs tend to add up after a while.

This got me thinking about why I like Kuroda’s artwork, as it’s a wild style unlike most other artists in the anime and manga industries. If you look at my previous Sexy Voice and Robo review, you can get a good idea of what his drawings entail. He’s detailed but not meticulously so, and his brush usage leans away from the “cleaner” style that is so popular with so many people. Often times his drawings and panels aren’t completely coherent, but I feel like these “mistakes” are part of what make his style so unique. I call them mistakes only in the sense that in the end he did not decide to redraw something so that the thickness of the lines made a little more sense or the proportions of a character’s fingers were more realistic, but ultimately it was a decision, and it’s these decisions of which I am fond.

I’ve mentioned before that his style is pretty much what I wish I had, and it really has to do with conveying a sense of energy that goes beyond “accuracy.” Accuracy has its place in that world, but it is not at the forefront, much to the dismay of people who scrutinize single frames from Naruto episodes. While I don’t think my own style will ever be JUST LIKE his, it’s good to know that he’s still in Japan producing works that hopefully will get brought over to America at some point.

Oh and I found out Jigopuri’s first volume should be out, but that’s it’s not listed on Kinokuniya’s website. Maybe it takes a while for new series to get over there.