Manga Made for Theater: Maku Musubi

Whether it’s Glass Mask or Beastars, there’s something exciting about seeing theatrical performances in manga. Perhaps it’s because we’re viewing a medium that thrives on ingenuity in presentation and strongly projected emotions through the lens of another that emphasizes dynamic page composition and intense closeness. A recent genre work, Maku Musubi by Hotani Shin, stands out because of how it delves deeper into the process of creating a play, told from the perspective of a girl discovering her potential as a scriptwriter.

The plot: When she was little, Tsuchikure Sakura loved to draw manga. But now, as she starts high school, Sakura sees her childhood art as a hurtful and embarrassing part of her past. When one of her old drafts inadvertently ends up in the hands of the school’s drama club, Sakura gets drawn into their world. While her drawings don’t make for the best manga, they might just be the perfect material for theater.

It’s always a little heart-wrenching to see someone’s dreams get shattered, and Maku Musubi goes in depth on just how much drawing manga meant to Sakura. It was her way of letting her imagination flourish, unbeholden to the judgment of others, but it’s also due to past criticism that she feels unable to keep making comics. This is not uncommon in stories both fictional and real about creators, but I find the angle about Sakura’s pivot towards theater to be filled with storytelling potential. 

Many works would keep her on a path towards pursuing a career in manga with a “never give up” theme. Maku Musubi instead presents the interesting notion that its heroine isn’t necessarily untalented as an artist, but rather just hasn’t found the avenue of expression that best fits her. Although a story about teenagers, I think it has the power to resonate especially with adult readers, who might look at their own lost childhood aspirations with a bit of regret, but who could find inspiration in channeling those dreams in a different but still fulfilling direction.

This manga also has a great cast of supporting characters, especially the members of the drama club. A mix of experienced but eccentric upperclassmen and newcomers looking for change in their own lives, it greatly reminds me of the club aspects of Sound! Euphonium and even Kannagi to some extent. The introduction of a nationwide competition between school drama clubs also brings it away from a slow-paced slice-of-life feel and towards challenging its characters to change and grow. 

Maku Musubi was actually on my radar for a while, and I’m actually kind of mad that I didn’t get around to it sooner. As of Volume 1, Hotani’s work really appeals to my taste and aesthetics, especially with its cute yet striking depictions of both inner and outer human emotions. Consider me a fan, and I can’t wait to see these characters on a bigger stage.

Got a Pocketful of Rainbows, Don’t Know What to Do With ‘Em

Others and I will be attending the Union Square showing of the one-night-only US theatrical premiere of Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers, which is sure to be a rip-roaring good time and a great way to spend an evening. I’ve actually already seen the movie, but I wouldn’t pass the chance up to see it in a theater. The theater showing will be dub only, but it isn’t that much of a problem, and I’m interested in seeing how the dub crew tackles this movie.

If you want to read my review of the the E7 movie, it’s right here.

I also managed to win a copy of volume 1 of the Eureka Seven light novel adaptation, so there’s a good chance I’ll be reviewing that some time in the future. Who knows when though; I still have a Gundam 00 Second Season Review to write!

Oshii Mamoru… and a Play About Tetsujin 28???

Below is an article from the Mainichi Daily News’ website, translated for your convenience.

Actually it’s for my convenience as it lets me practice my Japanese, but we’ll leave that aside.

Tetsujin 28: A 500kg Iron Man Stands Tall! Minami Kaho Claims the Robot “Has a Life of Its Own” at Public Dress Rehearsal.

The robot manga Tetsujin 28 [Originally brought to America as Gigantor] by Yokoyama Mitsuteru (deceased) has been transformed into a play by Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence fame. During the public dress rehearsal on the 9th, viewers witnessed the roughly six-meter-tall [approx. 19.7 ft], 500 kg [approx. 1102.3 lbs.] Tetsujin. They also showed the climax where main character Kaneda Shoutarou (played by Minami Kaho) rides in Tetsujin’s hand as the robot itself stands up.

For the theater edition of Tetsujin 28, Oshii Mamoru helped with both the script and production. Originally known as “Prototype 28,” the giant robot emerged towards the end of the Pacific War as a decisive weapon of the Japanese Army and is later revived in 1964 around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. The story tells of boy detective Kaneda Shoutarou, who takes control of the Prototype 28 in order to fight against a terrorist organization. After the dress rehearsal ended, Minami Kaho remarked that to her surprise she was able to sense life in the robot, claiming, “It feels as if it has a life of its own.”

The performance will be open to the public in Tokyo at the Galaxy Theater  from January 10 – 25. In Osaka, the performance will be at Umeda  Arts Theater’s “Drama City” from February 5 – 8. S-rank seats go for ¥11,000 [$121 US] while A-rank seats go for ¥8000 [$88 US].

Writer: Kawamura Naruhiro (I don’t actually know how you’re supposed to pronounce this name. If anyone could help that’d be great)

The Theatrical Nature of Anime

American movies and television in general involve very little soliloquy as one would see in theater. I’ve been told before that if a movie or television series has a person talking to himself that it’s not considered good. After all, movies and television aren’t theater, right? Also, internal monologues used as voice overs are apparently a no-no as well.

With this in mind, I watched Gundam 00 Episode 24, and watched as Setsuna F. Seiei spoke to himself, alone in a room, for about five minutes. And I liked it that way.

I’ve known for a long time that when comparing anime to American entertainment, there are some things which are very different. I’ve thought of plenty of possibilities: plot, character archetypes, story progression, even simply visual aesthetics, but upon seeing Setsuna speak to himself, I came to realize that perhaps anime relates more closely not to television or film, but to theater.

I suspect that it may partially have to do with anime often times being an adaption of manga works, where still images and word bubbles work together to provide greater amounts of information, where internal monologue or long exposition are almost necessary to truly get what’s going on with a character, perhaps due to manga’s relationship to written text.

Another similarity I see involves the criticism of the Sunrise-style 52 episode shows which take 13 episodes to develop into their true plot. The criticism leveled at this method is that it takes too long to get anywhere, which I think may say more about attention span of viewers than anything else. This reminds me of Shakespeare’s plays which can go on for 3-4 hours in one sitting. And yes, I have found myself dozing off during them as well, despite the fact that I didn’t necessarily find them boring. Count me among the guilty.

I realize that I like the theatrics of anime, be they melodramatic 70s shoujo or a more down to earth style of storytelling such as in Honey and Clover. Not that I don’t like other forms and methods of storytelling, even the American style, but  I really wouldn’t have it any other way.