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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, July 18, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "ACT ONE" (GIRLS BRAVO, 2000)



In this near-myth essay I observed that although manga-artist Rumiko Takahashi possessed a genius for character-creation, often she settled for putting her characters through fairly formulaic paces. Such stories are, without a doubt, greatly entertaining, but usually they don't have the symbolic complexity of a mythcomic. Her signature series URUSEI YATSURA is notable in that the opening story shows great myth-potential which is never explored.

I found a similar missed opportunity in the setup for Mario Kaneda's GIRLS BRAVO. Kaneda is nowhere near Takahashi's equal in terms of creating memorable characters, although he's almost as good in terms of drawing voluptuous females. On that basis, it's understandable that a lot of manga-readers have dismissed GIRLS BRAVO as a lukewarm, if well-drawn, harem comedy with little beyond fanservice to recommend it. And in truth, most of the series is that and nothing more.  The opening episode, "Act One," outlines a psychological myth that could have been fascinating, had it been fully realized.

Most harem comedies focus on a protagonist, usually male, who's either exceptionally ordinary or exceptionally dorky (though in both cases he tends to be moderately attractive, rather than a real "uggo").  Yukinari Sasaki is the dork-kind, and he attends a Japanese high school where-- in defiance of the usual pattern-- all of his bullies are girls, who look down on him literally and figuratively. Even the one female teacher seen in Act One gives him crap, as if he's a magnet for female sadism. He's so disenchanted with the XX gender that he develops hives when a female touches him.



Yukinari is an only child, apparently living with his mother, who appears very briefly in early installments of BRAVO but who is quickly written out so that the youth can have a place where his "harem" regularly convenes.  However, in place of a domineering sister, he has a domineering neighbor-girl, Kirie, who seems to have a problem with locking the bathroom door.


This is a familiar pattern in the majority of harem comedies: the male gets to indulge in his scopophilic desire to ogle the female-- however much the male may protest his innocence-- and the female gets to indulge in violent retaliation.



This time, a punchout from one woman hurls the ineffectual Yukinari into the bath-waters of another. For no real reason, the youth finds himself in another world called "Seiren," and in the company of a young woman named Miharu, who shares none of the aggressive tendencies of Kirie and most other females in Yukinari's life. Miharu not only doesn't attack Yukinari for accidentally seeing her naked, she cares for his wounds as well. She's the very epitome of the nurturing woman, and the only thing excessive about her is that she always wants something to eat, though in keeping with the male fantasy she never gains weight from all of her gustatory activities.

However, the spectre of female aggression isn't absent on Seiren, though it manifests for a different reason: only ten percent of the world's population is male-- and so even a wimp like Yukinari is a pearl beyond price, especially to Miharu's overbearing sister Maharu.




Eventually, Yukinari's been convinced that Seiren's no better than Earth, except for Miharu. The young woman reveals that Yukinari may be able to cross back to his own plane, for no reason except that Miharu's bath-water shows the reflection of Kirie, and has apparently done so on earlier occasions.




There's no logic given as to why the bathtub in Seiren ought to be attuned to Kirie, nor is it explained how either Miharu or Yukinari can figure out that Kirie is having sentimental thoughts about her wimp-neighbor, since neither of them is a telepath. The symbolic reason is that on some level Kirie regrets being so "butch" around Yukinari-- though she clearly likes dominating him as well-- and that her feminine side puts her in tune with the ultra-feminine Miharu, her mythic opposite. However, Kaneda isn't skillful enough to suggest this equivalence.

Yukinari evidently has some submerged feelings for Kirie as well, since he elects to cross back to his own world. However, the genie is out of the bottle, and Miharu ends up back on Earth with him-- specifically, in Kirie's bath. Kirie is so happy to see her feckless buddy back that she doesn't even clobber him for having seen her naked again-- though she does as soon as she notices another woman in the bath with the two of them.

A few more episodes center upon the unspoken competition between Kirie and Miharu for their wimpy prize, but it's not much of a competition, since Miharu isn't inclined to initiate romantic moves (too busy wanting to chow down all the time) and Yukinari's too shy to make a move. Kaneda then proceeds to introduce a couple of other cute girls to the mix, just to justify the "harem" aspect, and also decides to take most of the pressure off Yukinari by introducing another student, the hyper-sexual Fukuyama. Fukuyama is everything Yukinari is not, being tall, handsome, and rich, and he soon drives most of the stories with his passion for finding ingenious ways to grope all the series-females. The "triangle" relationship of Yukinari, Miharu and Kirie is largely dumped, and with it, any interesting psychological permutations of the series-- in marked contrast to Ken Akamatsu's LOVE HINA, which managed to maintain some mythic touches no matter how much goofy fanservice was ladled into it.

Tokyopop printed an English translation of all volumes of GIRLS BRAVO, but this online version probably comes closer to the phrasing of the Japanese original.







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