Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Variations on a theme... 

For some reason I feel like Cartman when he says "That's what I say!" when his Mom says he's just big boned. Christopher on this Previews Review has the following to say:

Two interesting new manga this month from Viz’s SHONEN JUMP line of books. Though these titles aren’t being serialized in the actual magazine, they are similar in tone and intended audience: namely, boys adventure stories for ages 12 and up. It’s interesting that, in direct opposition to the North American comics market, the Japanese have decided to do an infinite number of genre variations on a theme, rather an infinite number of thematic variations on a single genre. Instead of “Superhero comics for every kind of consumer!” it’s “Every kind of comic for one type of consumer”, and then multiplied across different kinds of consumers. This month’s new releases are Hikaru No Go, about a 12 year old boy who gets possessed by an ancient spirit who plays the game Go (think Chinese Chess versus Chinese Checkers), and Bleach, about a boy who can see ghosts and decided to work to protect people from evil spirits. Hikaru No Go’s adventures take place on the chessboard, as he enters competitions and beats new opponents at the game. Bleach out in a ‘real’ world just next door to our own. Both became ridiculously popular in their native Japan, with Hikaru No Go reviving the once-moribund sport of Go and feeding thousands of children into “GO” tournaments with the same fervor that they entered Pokemon and YuGiOh tourneys… Comic books as the barometer of cool… Fare be it from me to restate the obvious, but maybe the Japanese approach, by drawing on new genres and ideas and keeping the same basic themes MIGHT be onto something that is… missed… by infinite variations on the same genre and idea? Something to consider.

I'm glad to see I'm not alone in noticing this, and I think that methodology is a not a bad way to go in general. Superheros started off mainly as entertainment for kids, boys especially. What are that group usually into? Action, adventure, battles, striking visuals, etc. You can have a character who is a hero and fights evil and has a distinctive visual look without necessarily delving into the surface attributes we associate with western superheros like spandex and codenames.

Think about cartoons in the 80s. Transformers and G.I. Joe and Thundercats and He-Man/She-Ra all have battles and teams of good fighting evil. Yet the surface details tended to be different. Two are in the "real world" and two in totally fantasy worlds. Of the real world, one is (somewhat) more grounded in a military sense while the other is more sci-fi. For the other two, one has a protagonist with a secret identity and the other doesn't.

On the surface they seem to be totally different, but there is a lot of underlying themes that are the same. Slam Dunk and Hikaru no Go have some similarities. They both have a main character who initially had no interest in a competitive activity, but eventually prove to excel at it after a lot of hard work. But one is about basketball with a character who starts playing in order to impress a girl. The other has a kid starting to play a stuffy old strategy game because of a ghost that attaches itself to him, and all it wants is to play the game again.

Taking the more superhero approach would be to do something like take basketball and try to find all the possible variations. Basketball with romance, basketball with mysteries, basketball in a sci-fi setting, a horrific creature stalks a basketball team, etc. Now, all of those stories could be good and it gives some unique combinations of stories you might usually not have. But still, not matter how good the romance or horror is, I think a lot of people are just not interested in basketball, making it a harder sell for them. I'd say it is easier to dismiss a bunch of basketball comics than it is to dismiss some comics centering on competition and action, a couple of which deal with Basketball..

Anyway, enough of that from me. I haven't read any Bleach yet, but Hikaru no Go is a lot of fun. I was in chess club a bit when I was younger, so the theme is that much more familiar to me. If you think a comic about a board game can't be exciting, you are sorely mistaken. And remember, Go isn't some game that marketers made up to sell to kids, but an old respected game like Chess. Just as in the comic, games like that aren't as popular as they used to be, but one can only hope this comic causes more to learn...

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