Hey, Answerman! - Character Arc de Triumph

by Brian Hanson,

Nevermind the stench of death and coughing and wheezing you see hovering over your computer screens - I am here, and this is Hey, Answerman!

Hereby, this introduction shall be brief. Thither, I am starring in yonder play, Love's Labours Lost, this weekend and the next! I am whole volumes in folio!

Okay, I'll stop. Here are your questions:

Hey there Answerman!

I have a question that's really been bugging me. I just recently watched the new remake of the classic yaoi anime Ai no Kusabi. It's a very kinky master/slave romance story, and I've noticed that a LOT, if not most, of yaoi deals in some way with kink and/or a relationship involving dominance and submissivness.

Now, watching it reminded me of a shojo OVA called Honey x Honey Drops, which similarily concerns a master/slave relationship, but it is a straight pairing. I really enjoyed it for all of the same reasons I enjoy Ai no Kusabi, but all of the commenters were calling it "disgusting, misoginistic, degrading towards women and sexist". Not that I really disagree with this, but I have to wonder: Why is it that anime viewers tend to accept kinkiness and sexual harassment when it is between two men, but if its between a man and a woman they don't?

Ai no Kusabi for example involves a man capturing another man and forcibly making him his own personal sex slave, and it's hailed as one of the great classics of the yaoi genre. Honey x Honey Drops involves an upperclassmen forcibly making a girl his own personal sex slave and it is sexual harassment and degrading. Are we really saying that forced sexual encounters are OKAY if its between two men?

Personally I like kink romance, and don't find either offensive, but it just seems to me that if one is offensive then so is the other?


I kid! Misandry isn't real. And if you think it is, please do not talk to me ever.

Before I get into this, let me just make one thing abundantly clear - whatever your personal "kink" is, I'm not going to judge you for it. I've gotten a lot of flak from people who think that I'm some sex-hating prude, and I can assure you that's not the case. Whatever gets you off, folks, is your business and your business alone. You don't need some internet columnist to validate your sexual proclivities. If bondage and domination is your thing, that's all well and good. My opinions on it are moot.

So! Let's examine these two titles here. And just in case anyone doubts my commitment to providing decent answers, I forced myself to watch the first episodes of both of these shows. Ai no Kusabi is, basically, high-minded S&M erotica written for explicit yaoi-hungry readers and was published in the predominantly BL-oriented magazine June. While the new OAV series avoids showing anything explicit, it certainly leaves little to the imagination. Outside of the sci-fi trappings, this is a world that is governed by sex; sex is power, and power is sex. There's some hokum thrown in involving caste systems and social classes, too. In other words, this is an elaborate fantasy; there was some thought prepared in the execution of Ai no Kusabi to inform its readers that this in no way resembles the real world.

Meanwhile, Honey x Honey Drops was published in Shojo Comic, which - while it certainly treads into seedier territory than most of its Shojo contemporaries - is mostly aimed at high-school girls. The story is seemingly set in the present day, in what appears to be your everyday high school; except that this particular high school is run by shadowy secret societies as a way to prep youngsters for a future of high-ranking public governance, and their "Honeys" are forced to do everything they are told, so long as they help their male dominators graduate with honors. Again with the arbitrary overtones of social classes!

So, for my money, which one is gross and which one is fine? They're both gross. Let's not kid ourselves. They're both stories about people being dominated by caste systems they don't understand, and in the process, grow to "love" their captors by some bizarre plot contrivance/Stockholm Syndrome. That's icky.

But you're right - the perception is that Ai no Kusabi is "okay" while Honey x Honey Drops isn't. And the reason is simply - perception. People see Ai no Kusabi for what it is: well-thought-out kink. It basically screams "Adults Only." The only people brave enough to sit through it are the people who would be into it anyway. Honey x Honey Drops is far less explicit, and therefore, the "perception" is that it is intended for younger audiences. And that's not okay. What person on the planet would want to present young girls with this gross story where the female protagonist is forced to do a man's every bidding, and then loves him for it? It's enough to raise hackles, I say!

But, again, for clarity's sake, your kink is fine and anyone who judges you for it is a grade-A butthole. However, judging these shows "on their own merits," as it were, you can't exactly be surprised if people are more than a little bit put off by them. Especially Honey x Honey Drops, which seemingly presents itself as a bright and colorful teen Shojo romance but then reveals itself something much more sinister. That's definitely sexism, plain and simple. Ai no Kusabi is no better, but at least it has the balls (PUN INTENDED!!!) not to pussy-foot around its sexually-charged origins.

Hey Answerman!

I recently read the kerfluffle about Aloha Higa's halting of the Polar Bear Cafe manga because she was left out of anything having to do with the anime adaptation; on the other hand, today I read that Kodama Yuki (Kids on the Slope) was credited as an animator on the last episode of the anime based on her manga. I have a feeling that it's common that the creators don't have much involvement with the anime based on their manga, but does anyone have any other examples where the mangaka actually contributed to the anime?

It's all on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, the more popular the mangaka, the more influence they can spread over an adaptation of their work - or not, if they'd rather be left to their own devices. Rumiko Takahashi, for one, couldn't be any less interested in the anime adaptations of her work, and typically lets the animation staff do with her stories what they will. Meanwhile, Tite Kubo and Eiichiro Oda are themselves big anime fans, and take whatever opportunity they can - workload permitting - to involve themselves in anime production. While they certainly don't have the time on their hands to, say, direct an episode, they love to pitch character designs and story ideas for things like movies and specials.

But the honest truth of it is, since most manga that gets adapted to anime is no longer owned by the artist, any involvement with the original creators is unnecessary. The manga is owned wholesale by the publishers, who then turn around and sell the rights to an army of companies who then go about making the anime - toy companies, DVD companies, TV networks, and so forth. The number of mangaka who are powerful enough to fully retain the rights to their own properties are very few, and the rest are lucky if they are consulted on anything.

So, the number of mangaka that have in any way consulted on their anime adaptations are very few. They only seem to come about when they absolutely have to - i.e., whenever a new Dragon Ball project is being made, since Akira Toriyama is powerful enough to retain majority ownership of his characters, and he has the final say regarding any new adaptations. (Although, if Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Evolution are any indication, he doesn't exactly have too high of a standard.) Or, in the case of Kids on the Slope, which is sort of a "prestige" project considering the talent involved and the noitaminA timeslot, no doubt Yuki Kodama was brought on as an honorable act of respect on Shinichiro Watanabe's part, since his clout in the entertainment industry far outstrips hers.

In the Olden Days of Yore, it was far more common for popular mangaka like Leiji Matsumoto, Go Nagai, Shotaro Ishinomori, and obviously Osamu Tezuka to invest themselves heavily in the anime production of their own work. And let's not forget the one-two punch of Nausicaa and Akira, wherein the mangaka themselves directed their own adaptations, to extraordinary results.

But really, when you think about the hellish deadlines of being a working manga artist, why would many of them opt to add more to their workload? Aside from the fact that most of them don't have any sort of control over their work, many of them simply don't have the time to devote to anything else. Same reason why you don't see to many working mangaka at conventions and the like - they are far, far too busy to be concerned with anything but their manga.

Dear Brian,

This isn't a question about anime per se (though I suppose it could be construed as one given how you used to get a lot of questions of making anime), but a question about story and characters.

Specifically, how do I create them? Now you just spent a lot of time in your last column talking about archetypes and characters and how characters need to feel and make the audience care about them, but that doesn't exactly talk about the how or the why - it's just the "it is." And I notice that in a lot of the e-mails you get about making anime (and a lot - and I do mean a lot - of the webcomics I see out there too, anime-influenced or not) fall far onto the archetype side of the scale too, so I'd guess this is something important people might want to learn. I get the basics - characters need to feel, etc - but making the audience care about those feelings and etc is a long ways further still.

So, in short, how does one make the audience care for characters? I'm sure you have no shortage of examples to illustrate, anime and non-anime. And is it different when you're, say, making a web comic vs. writing a story?

Hot damn, I get to be pretentious!

Here's two examples about what to do versus what NOT to do. Here is the trailer for Resident Evil Retribution. Now, here's the trailer for The Master. Resident Evil is filled with blank, expository statements that you've heard a million times before. A bad guy says "Good luck. You'll need it." And "This is humanity's last stand. The beginning of the end." What? Dear Lord, who talks like that? No one does. Unless you're a movie villain. A one-dimensional movie villain, who exists solely to provide threadbare plot contrivances so they can usher the attractive protagonist from one action setpiece to the next. Far be it for the filmmakers to provide senseless violence with no consequence - no, this is a movie, so it needs to have a plot. An idiotic one, but a plot. I guess. Basically, you already know everything you need to know about the characters in that two-and-a-half-minute trailer.

Then you look at The Master. What's going on there? You get a sort of sense about who these characters are - Philip Seymour Hoffman's enigmatic and charming author, Joaquin Phoenix's aimless and opportunistic vagrant - but you get the sense that they're holding back a lot of what makes those characters tick. You can tell that the relationship between the two of them is not set in stone, and the film could surprise you in the way that these characters behave.

But then, I guess I'm comparing two different kinds of movies - an action movie devoid of character, and a character movie devoid of action. But what about The Dark Knight? What about The Avengers? There's a reason those two movies have been the highest-grossing and most beloved comic book movies of all time. It's the characters. The Dark Knight was unafraid to really delve deep into the depraved psychology of its two sparring entities - Batman and The Joker - and the film was all the more richer for it. Sure, it had its spectacle, it had its moments of action and suspense; but that action and suspense was made all the more breathtaking by the fact that WE GAVE A GOD DAMN ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. Ditto The Avengers - it's not nearly as dark, but who didn't feel a little bit bad for Hawkeye? Or for Bruce Banner? Joss Whedon can do great things with his characters with only a sparse scene of dialog; he understands better than most pop-screenwriters how to perfectly exude the right amount of empathy without bloating the running time.

And honestly, when it comes to characters, I've been lucky in that I've been involved in several Shakespeare productions throughout my theater career - and if you're ever curious about how to create engaging characters, there's no better place to learn than from the master. I'm performing Love's Labour's Lost this weekend, and that play is filled with all sorts of characters that fill any number of roles, despite the fact that it's mostly a silly comedy concerned with wordplay. Berowne seems lifted from any number of later Shakespearean plays - a quick-witted and angered young Lord who swears an oath to stop himself from falling into the foolishness of love. His transformation into full-on lovebird is the fulcrum of the play. Meanwhile, there are wonderful characters like Costard and Boyet, who exist mostly for plot reasons - to signal other characters and deliver things to them, and so forth - and yet their mannered dialog reveals much about their particular lives. Costard is a joyful whoremonger, while Boyet is a put-upon storyteller. These characters are not particularly "deep" in the sense that their motivations are difficult to contemplate, but they are fully-formed and have their own unique voice.

And that's the key. Each character needs to sound like something different. If you put a gun to my head and told me to identify either Tycho or Gabe from a line of Penny Arcade dialog, I wouldn't be able to tell you. The personalities of each Ninja Turtle are only different in incredibly simplistic ways. When Brett Ratner makes his next sucky piece of crap movie that somehow requires 24 writers, I doubt any one of them is being told to focus on "character."

I can't exactly say that there's an exact science to creating great characters - much like writing itself, there's no one correct way to do anything - but you know what can never hurt? Investing the time. For all the time spent on "world building" in your graphic novel or webcomic, spend at least double that focusing on your characters. Make sure you understand them inside and out - make sure you know exactly where they came from and how they will react to any situation. Whenever I start writing a new play, I make sure I start with the characters first. I might have an idea for a plot or a setting, but before any of that stuff is written down on paper, I need to make sure that I have the right characters to make it work.

Is that pretentious enough for everyone? You're lucky I didn't start quoting Joseph Campbell.

Well, lookee here! That banner can only mean ONE THING - I get to stop talking now, take a spoonful of Robitussin, and give you fine readers the chance to expound upon a topic of my choosing! Last week, I wanted to know this bit of con drama:

We begin with Matt B, to whom I'll say this - those autograph lines are pretty murderous, man:

Hi Mr. Answerman,

To answer your question about what my big con regret is… Well looking back I've realized I never seem to fit in time to meet or get autographs from the voice actors. Somehow I'm always busy at panels, roaming around, or I see how big the line is and decide I don't want to spend that long for an autograph. That used to be a big part of me going to cons though and I want to get back to my roots and expand my autograph collection. Especially when guests are coming over from Japan, I have no idea if I will ever get a chance to meet them again.

Melissa is similarly beguiled by lines:

Hey Answerman,

I've actually got a lot of regrets from cons, like the time I passed up hearing "I take a chip and I eat it" from Light Yagami himself (okay, his English VA), or the time at Anime Boston I didn't go see The Pillows. But more recently, my biggest regrets have been not staying at cons as long as I like and not making room to enter the cosplay contest. Saying "I feel old" at 22 might seem a gross exaggeration, but it's true, I don't have the energy I used to right when I turned 18 and could stay up for all the 18+ naughty panels. I'd love to start staying up later at cons like I used to, since there's really nothing like the bonding experience of watching a terrible hentai dub with a room full of strangers or sitting through one more mediocre yaoi panel.

And more recently, I've started to take cosplay more seriously and am taking the time to sew my own costumes to enter in the cosplay contests. I'll have to make panel sacrifices to attend pre-judging, but I definitely find the contest rewarding, even if to showcase months of hard work. I guess all this energy put into cosplaying at cons is contributing to my "early con bedtime" but hopefully there won't be any more con regrets (really, the line for the Pillows was just TOO LONG).

Dev is immediately required to take Remedial Anime 101:

Yoko Kanno was a musical guest at the very first Otakon I attended, but I didn't know who she was at the time, (I know, I know, I failed anime). When I realized my mistake, I resolved to always learn about the guests, which stood me in good stead as the next Otakon had T.M. Revolution, who was awesome. However, I still live in hope that Yoko Kanno will come back to Otakon I'll get to see her live.

Andrew's definition of Anthropology is a bit skewed, but I'll accept it:

Dear Answerman,

Tapping into the anthropologist within me, I thoroughly miss having the time to stand around and watch people. Just a few years ago when I was less inclined towards hitting all the cultural and discussion panels, I would take hours out of my weekend and merely observe people interacting throughout the convention. Not only could I see all the various cosplay outfits, but it also afforded me the opportunity to really absorb the atmosphere that a convention exudes with people talking, engaging in wacky shenanigans, doing photo shoots, or - a personal favorite - seeing the how parents or other non-con attendees reacted to the whole process. In addition, with conventions having a significantly greater number of people of more varied ages showing up on Saturday, watching the grounds on Friday/Sunday and Saturday can be utterly different experiences. While the anime-related shopping, shows, and events are enthralling, the people attending a convention are equally as fascinating.

When I attend Anime Weekend Atlanta this year, I'm hoping I will have the time to do this again especially as the venue for AWA has a particularly nice place where people congregate with floors above where one can stand and watch. Unfortunately for me, AWA tends to have way too much programming I'm interested in. We'll have to see how it goes.

Next week's question lies below this utterly unnecessary sentence!

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.

* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

I'm all out of stuff to say, and I've got to high-tail it outta here to make my call time, so I'll see you all next week! Hopefully I'll be less infected with death! Remember, sending me questions or responses to answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com helps the healing process!

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