The Threat of Emasculation in the World of Fictional Icons Beyond Manga

For many years now, manga has undergone a curious transformation. Where once comic magazines devoted space to stories which taught boys how to be men and provided ample role models for how to live, that innocent desire has been corrupted by a display of weak-willed, wobbly-kneed pretty boys who fight not to save the world but to draw power away from men and place their entertainment in the hands of the opposite sex.

Originally, even though I could only shake my head at the manga aisle at the Barnes and Noble, I at least was confident in the knowledge that this breakdown of integrity in fiction was limited to what we’d call “entertainment.” Manga, television shows, books, it was as if the ovarial agenda was happy to willfully quarantine itself to the realm of fictional tales. But I realize now that I was simply too naive, and that the attack goes well into the realm of iconic figures who exist in our daily imaginations.

Look at this man here. You might think he’s the main character in the newest Jump comic, or perhaps his clean-shaven look and gentle eyes mean he’s the latest teen heartthrob. But sadly, truly sadly, you are incorrect. This is the Brawny Man.

Looking back, the clues were obvious. Paper towels absorb the messes of kitchens and bathrooms and store a record of human activity. Likewise, manga pages absorb the ink from the artists’ pens, also resulting in a similar record of human activity. Paper towel rolls and manga magazines are essentially cousins, and if the integrity of one can be damaged, the other is just as vulnerable.

It’s a likely possibility your mind blocked out the first image I showed you. For your benefit I have included a picture of the previous Brawny Man to help transition your mind into the harsh reality of the present. Comparing the two, it is clear that at some point  the powers that be decided that the Brawny Man was too great a symbol of all that is good and decent in the world, and so took steps to correct this “error.” They were threatened by his full mustache and his rugged looks, and concluded that the only solution was to begin depriving him of the very essence of his influence.

The new Brawny Man is still fairly masculine, but the fact that he escaped still well on the side of the Y-chromosome is attributed more to his inherent fortitude than anything else. A lesser male character would have transformed into a female baboon. A visual kei member would have found new life as a sentient petticoat. It is an ordeal few can survive even once.

Let us pray for the Brawny Man. Though he may now be too malformed and misshapen to ever inspire a generation of true men, we must still accept and forgive him.

The Idiotic Protagonist

I’ve been taught that the most dramatic stories come from having protagonists who have to do what comes most difficult to them with a fervent desire to accomplish their goals, and lacking intelligence is one way to stack the deck against the main character. You want your hero to struggle, to earn his progress. Protagonists in manga, particularly shounen manga, are often designed to not be the sharpest tool around. Be it Naruto, Goku, or any number of heroes who act before they think (or omit the second part of that combo altogether), the reason why they’re made to be dumb is to make them more of an everyman, to tell its readers, “Hey, this could be you.” However, with some readers an opposite effect occurs, and you’ll often see people gravitate to the supporting characters on account of the heroes being, at least in their eyes, bland or possessing little merit as characters.

In trying to make the hero an everyman, authors run the potential risk of making their hero a no-man, someone to whom the reader simply cannot relate, but I don’t think that’s the problem at hand. I have this feeling that some readers do not wish to see certain negative traits in a story’s most important characters. Sometimes it’s because they’re passive, other times because they’re idiots, and other times because they are totally moe.

There’s a division of sorts when it comes to making this kind of shounen-esque protagonist. Should you have a protagonist that acts as a stand-in for the reader, to allow the reader to be immersed in the world, to feel as if he or she is the one saving the day? Or is it more important that the hero be someone who is already skilled, someone the reader can look up to? Both are paths for readers to live out their fantasies through protagonists, both are forms of wish-fulfillment, but each is different in the types of interaction required by the reader, and people may prioritize one over the other.

I have to wonder if age of the reader factors into this division of stand-in protagonist vs larger-than-life protagonist. The stand-in protagonist is something that I think appeals more to that crowd of boys 12 and under who run around in the school playground pretending they can fire lasers. Meanwhile, the larger-than-life protagonist seems to appeal more to the rebellious teenage crowd. A magazine like Shounen Jump has readers well beyond its originally intended audience of young boys, and disagreements as to what makes a good main character in a shounen series may simply be a result of different groups reading the same story.