One Punch Man’s Japanese and American Superhero Lineage

One Punch Man has been a hit, both with the people who have long championed the manga, and with those discovering it through its animated adaptation. The story of Saitama, an invincible superhero who literally finishes most of his fights with “one punch,” the series puts a great deal of emphasis on humanizing its Superman figure. It handily deflects the classic criticism of invulnerable protagonists as “boring” while also drawing from both Japanese and American superhero traditions, and I think it’s worth exploring what it does to make Saitama a sympathetic figure.

To talk about a Superman-type character is to also naturally bring up the Man of Steel himself. Originally conceived with incredible strength and speed and gradually transformed into a being that could move planets and reverse time, much of the past three decades’ stories concerning Superman have been finding ways to make him human. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel film focused on the psychological and emotional struggle of having to hold back all the time, something shared with select episodes of the Justice League cartoon. Superman has been reduced to the point of being not quite so omnipotent, and also turned into a brooding teenager for Smallville. Numerous “what-if” scenarios have made him Soviet, nearing death, old and out of touch with the youth, and alternative takes on Superman-esque figures have dealt with mental problems, become amoral, and more. Even other superhero-themed series such as Tiger & Bunny and My Hero Academia will build in flaws into their Supermen, though the fact that they’re in the distance means that it’s more about how their image and reality compare.

One Punch Man ties Saitama’s ongoing turmoil to the fact that his astronomical power levels have made him unable to fulfill his heart’s desire, which is to be pushed by a powerful foe and go beyond his upper limits. He wants to feel like Son Goku being brought to the brink by Frieza. He wants to be Ryu from Street Fighter, constantly pursuing the next challenge. He draws from that popular tradition in manga and other Japanese media about the thrill of the journey, and yet while Akagi brushes with death before defying it, even that is denied when it comes to Saitama. Even if we’ll never as powerful as that, I think it’s easy to understand why this would be so painful.

Perhaps the more important element is that Saitama is kind of an idiot. The fact that Saitama doesn’t quite think through his position in the world (or perhaps choose to actively ignore it) brings a certain quality that reminds me of the earliest Superman comics and stories, back when he could only leap tall buildings in a single bound. If you look at the very first Action Comics, Superman spends a lot of it bullying the bullies. There’s a certain satisfaction in the fact that Superman’s personality and character aren’t so elaborate, that there isn’t almost a century of material exploring his psyche. One Punch Man achieves something similar by just having Saitama’s morality have good intentions but generally be kind of vague. He hasn’t thought too much about his role as a superhero other than that it’s “fun” (or at least should be), though at the same time it puts a twist on that basic desire to be so powerful that no one can stand in your way.

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A Mission for Myself: New York Comic Con

General Thoughts

As New York Comic Con has come to rival San Diego Comic Con and become its east coast counterpart, the scope and demand of NYCC are constant points of consideration for any potential attendee. While the convention pretty much improves every year and little can be faulted for how it’s run, the guests they bring, and just the amount of stuff there is to do (aside from perhaps the inevitable over-emphasis on professional and industry panels), I find that there’s a certain evaluative process I notice my friends and me going through every year, which all boils down to the simple question: should I attend next year?

First and foremost, as an anime and manga fan I have to say that NYCC delivered, and in ways I hadn’t expected to affect me so deeply. This year, they most notably brought Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi and Uzumaki Naruto voice actress Takeuchi Junko and premiered Boruto: Naruto the Movie for the first time outside of Japan (see my review here). Aside from some hiccups in terms of the Hammerstein Ballroom venue—the overly strict no food policy went so far as to ban bottled water, and the concert-oriented seating obscured the screen for significant portions of the viewers—it was the most memorable part of the convention for me, and it brought me back to 13 years ago when I was at the height of my own Naruto fandom.

On top of that, the announcement of a Tiger & Bunny film helmed by Ron Howard was the biggest surprise by far of NYCC, and the opportunity to get a personal drawing from Attack on Titan animator Asano Kyouji was a rare treat. While I was unable to get Asano to draw Holon from Real Drive like I hoped (to be fair that show is 10 years old), this image of Sasha from Attack on Titan is the coolest thing I brought home from New York Comic Con:

However, my experience with NYCC made me realize just how disconnected I am from a lot of current fandoms. This isn’t to say that I disliked New York Comic Con, or what it does. I’ve always enjoyed the mix that New York Comic Con brought, between the opportunity to meet professional artists, the focus on entertainment media that has extended out from the superhero movie boom, and just the general celebration of nerd culture. However, partly because I was out of the country for four years, and partly because of my own general taste for things, I haven’t been as deep into certain popular works in recent years as I might have been in the past.

What really brought this point home to me was how much I enjoyed the Justice League Reunion panel. Seeing Carl Lumbly talk about bringing his cultural heritage to the role of the Martian Manhunter as an immigrant with a traumatic past, finding out that Justice League Unlimited was a clever and creative compromise with a soulless marketing engine that wished to use the cartoon purely as an action figure commercial, and hearing Kevin Conroy sing “Am I Blue?” flooded me with so many fond memories of what made that series great. It made me recall the character of A.M.A.Z.O. and how incredibly deep and interesting his story was, and the “Ask the Justice League” portion was downright hilarious, especially Martian Manhunter’s greatest enemy being “a villain made of flaming Oreos.” It made me want to find this feeling again within more non-Japanese works.

This is certainly not a criticism of the current state of animation; many fantastic works have been and are still being created. Rather, it has made me aware of just how much a connection to the “nerd mainstream,” as it were, fuels New York Comic Con. NYCC is a for-profit convention backed by the entertainment industry, and it will aim for the works that hit the widest audience, or at least the widest audience within a niche. This is what fuels the decision for a Firefly panel, or indeed inviting a manga megastar like Kishimoto. Rather it fuels my desire to expand my interests further than where they are currently, to get a better sense of the zeitgeist of current American (and non-American!) fandoms.

Exhibitor Hall, Artist Alley, and Panels

Again, when it comes to the actual con, there was much to enjoy. In the Exhibitor Hall, I got the chance
to try Street Fighter V, say, “Domo” to Ninja Slayer, and get that cool Sasha drawing from Asano.

The Artist Alley, as always, was a great place to meet artists, find out about new works, and see the trends that fuel the creators. Superheroes are a no-brainer, anime is less prominent but if it is it’ll be something that captured the imaginations of American fans, such as Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon. Stylistically, I made just one purchase at Artist Alley this year, issue 1 of a comic called Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk, the premise of which is exactly what it sounds like. The Artist Alley filled with everything from amateurs to industry veterans, with talent abound. However, I tasked myself with a challenge, which was to find something that spoke to me, that didn’t rely on name recognition, and that wasn’t too tempered by my own preferences for specific types of characters or heroes. Gudsnuk’s drawings resonated with me the most because of the humor and soft, cartoony style. If you’re curious, you can read the comic online for free.

The other highlight of the Artist Alley might have been seeing a small kid, probably no older than 6 or 7, hand a copy of Days of Future Past to Chris Claremont.

As for panels, it’s no secret that a for-profit con like NYCC will have a different flavor from a fan-oriented endeavor such as Otakon. I generally enjoy the latter kind more when it comes to programming, but NYCC has a pretty consistent track record of quality, possibly because it’s such a big deal now and encourages industry hosts to bring their A-Game, as seen with the Justice League Reunion.

The Kishimoto panel was a rare opportunity to get into the mind of one of manga’s most successful creators. While the questions were curated, the host did a great job of opening up Kishimoto, and I’m sure that him no longer having to keep deadlines or worry about how his answers might influence sales of Naruto allowed him to give responses that were a bit more candid than what is usually seen from Japanese guests. Probably the best thing I found out from the panel was the friendly rivalry shared by him and One Piece‘s Oda as Shounen Jump‘s two frontrunners, as well as the titles that influenced him most. That said, I hope the audience that was mostly silent after hearing Kishimoto mention Tezuka Osamu’s Phoenix get the chance to find out more.

“Push Boundaries Forward: Gender, Diversity and Representation in Comic Books,” featuring Marjorie Liu, Darryl Ayo, David Brothers, Amber Garza, Jeremy Whitley, Joey Stern, and Shannon Waters was one of many panels over the weekend that focused on addressing the changing dynamics of comics creators and readers. Both the audience questions and panelist answers showed a strong desire to move forward, to learn, and to understand that greater diversity in comics is a multifaceted challenge that never ends, and is ultimately beneficial to comics as a whole.

The Felicia Day panel was pure Q&A, and that’s exactly what the audience wanted out of it. Incredibly charismatic in that awkward way that appeals to geeks most, Felicia Day genuinely engaged her audience with an attitude that was both deeply caring and kind of flippant, bringing a realness to her answers. The best moment was when she complained that you couldn’t have sex with her character in Dragon Age 2, which her manager had ordered the studio against.

The Sunrise panel showed once again that they’re one of the direct-from-Japan studios to really get what it means to throw a panel. In addition to the surprising news about Tiger & Bunny, their announcements were varied and spoke to different portions of their audience. By the way, if you heard a couple of loud guys cheering for Giant Gorg, that was me and Patz from the Space Opera Satellite Podcast. We were serious, too. Giant Gorg is a rare series directed by the character designer of the original Gundam, and had been in licensing hell for years.

GORG!!!

Yo-kai Watch is also a thing.

Finally, I decided to attend a screening of a Love Live! concert, partly to satisfy my curiosity about this particular aspect of Love Live!‘s media mix, and to see the fan reaction. What I got out of it is exactly something I mentioned in my review of The School Idol Movie: the series is extremely malleable by fans, going from a warm, inspiring story full of interesting characters to a mountain of instant memes at the drop of a hat. As people shouted at the character Ayase Eli, “DON’T LET YOUR DREAMS BE DREAMS,” I wondered if that could somehow be parlayed into the slogan of Love Live!: “Make our dreams alive!”

Cosplay

As with most con reports at Ogiue Maniax, I’d like to leave off with some cosplay. Truth be told, I wasn’t digging a lot what I saw, but Sunday really turned it around.

Old Spice’s Isaiah Mustafa vs. Terry Crews is the Batman vs. Superman of This Generation

Commercials about deodorant are not a common topic on Ogiue Maniax, a blog dedicated to anime and manga discussion. However, one thing that anime, Old Spice in 2015, and superhero comics have in common is a love of crossovers in varying capacities. With Old Spice, this comes in the form of ads where its two biggest spokesmen, Isaiah “Hello Ladies” Mustafah and Terry “POWERRRRRRRRRRRR” Crews pit their respective deodorants against each other. It’s been a long time coming (and basically instant money for Old Spice), but what stands out to me about these commercials is just how much they actually pay attention to keeping their respective superhuman abilities consistent as they’re utilized to both entice the viewer and outdo each other.

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When placing characters into a crossover, especially one that involves a direct conflict, what’s important is maintaining the strengths and identities of the characters being brought together. Superman is immensely strong, unbelievably fast, and has a variety of astounding abilities, while Batman is extremely intelligent, excels at planning, and puts in more effort than anyone else. Detective Conan is a master of deduction and observation, while Lupin III is renowned for his deception and improvisation. When these characters meet, there is ideally a clever interaction that enhances their mutual reputations, and that’s what happens when Isaiah takes on Terry.

Both Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews exhibit reality-bending powers in Old Spice commercials, but they’re uniquely different when compared to each other. Isaiah’s “ability” is that he can quickly and seamlessly transition one environment or object to another without a moment’s notice, owing to his status as the ultimate ladies’ man. Terry essentially invades space through the sheer power of his intensely hyper-masculine personality for men, cloning himself, appearing where he shouldn’t, and even blowing himself up. What you see in these series of commercials is how the two try to one-up and counter each other with their specific skill sets, a battle of equals who realize that the other is just as potent and manly as the other, only in different ways.

Basically, while it’s always been clear that a lot of thought is put into Old Spice’s recent commercials, what we see here is an actual consideration for Isaiah and Terry as unique, superheroic characters. Isaiah can’t do what Terry can and vice-versa, and never is there a conflation of what the two are capable of. It’s the superhero duel the world has been waiting for, and in a way I hope it comes to define and influence all future crossovers in mainstream media and advertisement.

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Authenticity I Never Knew I Wanted: The Shadow Hero

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Superhero revivals are a dime a dozen, but few are like The Shadow Hero by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew. The basic idea behind the comic is that it provides an origin story to a hero who never had one, the golden age character known as the Green Turtle, but Yang and Liew take it further by essentially “reclaiming” the character for Asian-Americans.

Originally created by a man named Chu F. Hing, the publisher for The Green Turtle had tried to make its titular hero white. Hing, it is argued by Yang and Liew, appears to have defied this order by never showing the Green Turtle’s face, either having him face away from the reader or having his features obscured by a cape or something else. Yang and Liew take this further by actually making the Green Turtle undoubtedly Chinese-American, but what’s really remarkable about this series is that it manages to ground this character in both Chinese culture and that early 20th century United States in which they live so well that it actually made me realize I’ve been missing out on an important component of superhero comics all along.

While superheroes have been created since the beginning by people of practically every ethnicity (the most famous example being Superman’s Jewish creators), they have traditionally exuded predominantly a sense of whiteness. This does not make them bad stories or bad superheroes. Nor does it make them unrelatable. I don’t need to have my uncle shot and killed to understand why Peter Parker takes Uncle Ben’s famous great power, great responsibility line to heart. After all, I’m mostly a manga reader and I do not connect all that directly to Japanese culture, either. However, what’s amazing about The Shadow Hero is that, as an Asian-American, the relationship the protagonist Hank Chu has with his family hits so close to home that it makes me feel as if my own culture, that hybrid of my parents’ values and the values of the country I was born and raised in, is being expressed right there on the page.

The best example I can think of comes fairly early in the story, when Hank’s mom is rescued by a Superman-like hero and becomes enamored with the idea of superheroes in general. Wanting the best for her son, she decides Hank should be a superhero too, and goes above and beyond to try to make it happen. Whether it’s dragging him close to chemical spills or getting him to train in martial arts, the mother has her mind set on the idea that the best future for Hank is for him to don a cape and tights and fight crime.

When I replaced the word “superhero” with doctor, lawyer, engineer, pharmacist, or whatever is the most current profession that my parents and older relatives and their friends mention as being the most reliable path to success and prosperity, it all just clicked in my head. Here in The Shadow Hero was something my siblings and I, as well as many of the kids we knew growing up, would encounter on a regular basis. We knew their eagerness over this one thing could be a bit much, but we knew they meant well.

Other signs of Chinese culture can be found throughout. The main villain’s daughters are named after mahjong titles. When Hank first becomes a superhero, his mother makes him an outfit with the Chinese character for gold/money on it, because in Chinese culture it’s common to wish people well by saying that they’ll makes lots of money. This sounds like something you’d do to mock DC superhero Booster Gold, but here you can sense the mother’s earnestness, as well as Hank’s own conflicted feelings towards her.

For the longest time, I’ve felt that I do not look enough at comics that represent Asian American culture. Over the years, seeing David Brothers consistently question the marginalization of black characters in superhero comics and how this is reflective of the historic injustices done to the black community in the United States has made me aware of how little I look at my own culture in the mediums that I love. The Shadow Hero, and that sense of inherent cultural understanding I experienced, made me even more keenly aware that there is so much more I can do.

Two Characters Cut from the Same Wonderfully Terrible Cloth: Chargeman Ken and Stardust the Super Wizard

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I had an epiphany recently: Stardust the Super Wizard is the American superhero comics equivalent of the anime Chargeman Ken!

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Even if you’ve never heard of either title there’s nothing to worry about, as their first point of similarity is that they’re both obscure titles which have garnered fanbases specifically due to their lack of quality. Their second point of similarity is that little effort is made to expand on the characters themselves, as both Ken and Stardust can be defined as 1) heroes 2) who kill villains and 3) that’s it.

The third point of similarity is what allows them to be spoken of in the same breath (not that I think people have), which is that both titles are utterly irresponsible when it comes to the stories they present. I don’t mean that they glorify violence or that they don’t send the proper moral messages or that they’re limited by the cultures in which they were created. The reason why I use the word “irresponsible” is that both Chargeman Ken! and Stardust the Super Wizard consist of adventures where, if one were to stop and think about what goes on in them, they break down into a kind of pure spectacle that isn’t so much morbid or horrific as it is just somewhat…thoughtless.

Chargeman Ken‘s most infamous episode is titled “Dynamite in the Brain.” I’d recommend you watch the video above first (it’s only 5 minutes long) to get the full impact, but to summarize: the episode is about an innocent scientist with a bomb implanted in his head, but rather than trying to figure out a way to remove the bomb, Ken decides to just unceremoniously dump the scientist out of his personal jet. As Ken activates the trap door underneath the scientists, he quickly says, “Professor Volga, please forgive me!” as Volga lands on an enemy aircraft and explodes. The thing that really drives home the sense of thoughtlessness though is the fact that at the end of the episode the characters are talking about how Volga, the man Ken literally ejected out of his ship and watched as he exploded in mid-air, is looking down from the skies above. It’s like giving a eulogy for someone you shot to death five minutes ago and expecting people to take you seriously.

Stardust the Super Wizard, unlike Ken, has a seemingly infinite array of superpowers which have little rhyme or reason, but similar to Ken his application of them shows little in the way of foresight by the character or the creator. Just look at the punishment he dishes out to the villains of his story, where the issue isn’t that his solutions are strangely grotesque but that they almost exist in another dimension of thought.

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Both Chargeman Ken and Stardust the Super Wizard operate on a level beyond even GI Joe‘s image of sanitary militarism or the violent works of Nagai Go. And this is why they’d be the best crossover ever.

Superhero Comics and Being Sexy on an Individual Basis

Introduction

When it comes to the controversial approach to sexuality in superhero comics, probably nothing is more exemplary than the oft-seen exaggerated pose where a female character twists her torso such that both her butt and her breasts are facing at the reader directly. Known as the “brokeback,” the pose is frequently the target of criticism as an example of sexualization gone wrong. Generally, the criticisms concern the fact that, as action-based stories, the pose is a completely impossible and extremely impractical thing to do in fighting. The idea is that, by showing them as such, comics communicate the idea that when it comes to female characters the T&A is more important than their identities as heroes or characters in general.

The point at which I might diverge from other opinions is that I believe strongly in freedom of artistic expression and think that such works have a right to be drawn and a right to be enjoyed by readers on a sexual level. While I think that the disparity in idealization between genders can definitely be too much, something has to be said for the fact that the visual arts in general can make the impossible happen in the first place. If people are literally physically incapable of contorting themselves into the “brokeback” pose, then mediums such as comics are the only places where it is possible at all.

I also think people have the right to admire a character while simultaneously desiring her or the pose that she’s taking. Again, the fact that forms of fiction such as comics make it more than possible for the portrayal of a female character to be an effective fighter while doing the least physically sensible thing possible is not an inherent negative, as long as we’re being honest about the fact that it is indeed done for sex appeal. No matter how much we’re able to point out that those contorted positions would shatter someone’s spine, or that other poses come straight out of pornography, they successfully generate sexual attraction. Individual tastes may vary, but they’re also called “porn poses” because they work, and at the end of the day pornography drawn or otherwise does not automatically turn people into misogynists.

But while the act of making or consuming such products causes no harm in and of itself, when the brokeback pose becomes the default method for portraying sexual attractiveness, it creates two major problems in particular. First, while anyone has the right to enjoy any type and degree of sexualization, if the goal is to try and attract a larger female readership, then no one should be surprised when such portrayals lessen their desire to pick up superhero comics. Second, and what will be the primary concern in this article, is that by having that style of sexualization be so ubiquitous, it creates a singular image of how a female (character) is supposed to look when they’re being “sexy.”

Sex as Character

Over the month of February, comics news and editorial site Comics Alliance published a series of articles on sex in comics. One of the articles discussed Adam Warren’s Empowered, where writer David Brothers argues that, even though Empowered is more sexually explicit and has more overt fanservice than regular superhero comics, it still approaches the topic of sex in a much healthier and more mature fashion.

Although a majority of commenters have voiced their understanding of David’s points and explanations, there are a few dissenting responses which I found interesting for what they imply. The recurring criticism, which not only appears in David’s article on Empowered but also many of the other posts, basically calls out the writers for having a double standard, praising the portrayal of sex in indie comics, while lambasting the presence of sexuality in superhero comics, in something of a high art, ivory tower, porn vs. erotica-type argument. Another criticism leveled at Empowered in particular, is that its crass displays of actual sexual content and juvenile-sounding dialogue make it worse than the other superhero comics to which David compares it.

I think David actually addresses this well in the article itself when he describes the primarily sexual relationship in Empowered, that of the main heroine, Emp, and her ex-henchman boyfriend, Thugboy:

Empowered‘s eponymous heroine is a superhero with issues. Her costume is too skintight and ineffectually fragile, and neither her teammates nor her nemeses respect her. She gets tied up way too often for her liking.

They both get different things out of the relationship, aside from just sex. Thugboy clearly loves Emp, and expresses that in a way that’s both a little paternal and a lot touching. He gets her issues with her body and career, and when she doubts herself, he’s there to point out how wonderful she is. He supports her, and the reverse is true, too.

More important than that, though, is the fact that she’s comfortable expressing her insecurities to him.

The thing to take away from their relationship is that when Emp has sex, it’s not simply a display of sex but rather shows the specific scenario of “sex with Emp.” It takes all of the various bits and pieces of her characterization and doesn’t forget them even during moments of titillation. The trouble with how sexuality is frequently visualized in superhero comics then, assuming the goal is to show female characters in a sexual manner in the first place, is that this level of specificity doesn’t exist in most portrayals. Rather than a female character making a sexy pose, it becomes a female character conforming to a sexy pose template, no matter her personality, history, or quirks. When combined with the way that superhero comics can grow and reinforce bad ideas, we end up in the current situation where this approach to sexuality generates an entrenched position that causes people to staunchly defend it as if it is simply the way that comics communicate “sexy,” as if there is little alternative.

The issue of posing isn’t confined to just “bad” artists, as the above example from Jim Lee demonstrates. Taken from his famed X-Men run in the 90s, the image is well-drawn and the women are idealized without necessarily going off the deep end, but aside from Jubilee (front) all of them are taking the same sexy stance. Psylocke (left), Rogue (center), and Dazzler (right) all have very different backgrounds and personalities, so it seems strange that they would all be in the same pose. This goes double when you compare them with all of the male characters, each of whom showcase their individuality in the way they’re standing or sitting, or Jubilee once more, whose “attitude” comes across in her slouched position.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with showing attractive girls in exaggeratedly attractive poses in and of itself, nor is there any fault in enjoying them, but superhero comics are in the business of creating unique, iconic characters. This is why they have different origin stories, different costumes, and different powers. The goal is to be able to see how a particular character stands out from the rest, and if sexuality is involved, then comics can benefit from making sure that the erotic is also made to fit the characters.

Alternatives from Anime and Manga

I’m going to steer away from superhero comics and take a look at anime and manga, a territory I’m much more familiar with, and one which I find provides some strong examples of works where the sexuality of their characters is both emphasized and individualized. This is not to say that anime and manga are devoid of sexism, or that any of the examples shown below are perfect in their portrayal of women. Instead, I want to show how these works go out of their way to portray their characters’ sexuality in ways which also reflects their unique characteristics, and to point out how the issue with pushing just one type of sexuality can be an issue even when the goal is to portray characters in a sexual fashion.


Senjougahara Hitagi (above) and Kanbaru Suruga (below) from Studio SHAFT’s Bakemonogatari/Nisemonogatari

The first title is Bakemonogatari (and its sequel Nisemonogatari), which features a number of attractive and highly-sexualized female characters. The characters depicted above are both the same age and both attracted to the main character. However, Senjougahara’s seductive body language is fed by her sardonic personality, whereas the athletic Kanbaru, a self-admitted pervert and an exhibitionist, shows a more forward and aggressive approach. What isn’t as clear from these screenshots is that the show banks on their sex appeal being highly individualized down to the very way that conversations happen.

Left to right: Ran, Madoka, and Muginami, from Rinne no Lagrange by Studio XEBEC/Production IG

Next is the recent Rinne no Lagrange. The three main characters depicted above are all clearly meant to be attractive, but in addition to having varying styles of dress which set them apart at the same time that they emphasize their figures, the three girls also literally sit differently. Just having them relaxing on chairs in unique manners suggests the differences (as well as differences in physical appeal) between them, and I might even go so far as to say that a person could get a rough idea of their personalities based on this image alone.

What of the brokeback itself, then? Is the pose forced to contain only one connotation, such that it cannot become a characterization factor? I believe the answer is that any way of posing a character, even the brokeback, does not automatically void its own potential to be a factor in showing a character and their particulars. The easy answer here is that if some seductress character wanted to stand that way to entice men sexually (and I’m assuming heterosexuality here mainly because that is the site of this debate), then it would make sense, but it doesn’t require that the character herself to be hypersexual, provided that it does not take over her overall portrayal or the view of sexuality in the comic itself.

Akashi Kaoru (right), heroine of Zettai Karen Children by Shiina Takashi

In these pages from Zettai Karen Children, we have its main heroine Akashi Kaoru standing in a way that emphasizes both her chest and her rear. It’s in the context of “stretching for a run,” which lends some practicality to it, but as I said in the introduction, I find arguing from a point of realism as if to say that once you undermine the physics of the pose, you break its spell to be a flawed one, somewhat like arguing that Superman shouldn’t fly with one arm out because that would just create unnecessary wind resistance. Instead, the reasons I see Kaoru’s pose as being be different on some level compared to the typical broke back are that first, the twist of the torso isn’t quite as exaggerated, and second, it is shown to be just one pose among many within these two pages, let alone the rest of the book. Her stance is neither the primary display of athleticism nor the primary display of Kaoru herself, and on top of that she contrasts with the other girls shown.

To re-emphasize, my goal with these examples isn’t to assert some kind of general superiority of manga over American comics, but to say that the problem with having the brokeback and what it represents be the default for comics in general is problematic for more reasons than simply “sexism.” Comics and other media don’t necessarily have to go so far as to possess the highest quality of characterization, nor do they have to be the most tasteful or thought-out. Rather, if the goal is to create unique characters, then that uniqueness shouldn’t be subsumed by some generic template, sexual or otherwise.

Conclusion

The topic of poses and how they emphasize female sexuality in certain ways almost inevitably leads from the action of the body to the body itself. That is, the idea of “defaults” and “templates” can also encompass specific body types, and even a cursory glance at superhero comics shows that certain proportions on women are far more prominent than others. To address the issues of “body” and “body image” would make for an entire essay (or several) in and of itself, so I won’t touch on it except to acknowledge it, and to state that, like the brokeback for poses, the “big-breasted porn star” look isn’t inherently valueless, but it can be abused. Instead, the real problem lies not in the porn poses or the porn star bodies in and of themselves, but in their sheer ubiquity, as the singular image of sexuality that they create winds up narrowing the overall perception of beauty and idealization in comics. However, by broadening the approach to sexualization and showing that different forms of “erotic” exist, it is possible for even female characters with extremely similar bodies to show a greater degree of variety as characters, and can help to expand the number of ways a woman’s sexuality can be portrayed.