It’s that time of year again. Karleen and Malia have rounded up their favorite (not necessarily the best) media of the year enough times now it officially has its own tag: Favorites of the Year.
It’s been one year since Devilman Crybaby, Masaaki Yuasa’s anime adaptation of Go Nagai’s classic manga, took the world by storm. Devilman Crybaby increased the presence of women in the main cast from a single girl named Miki to two both named, well, Miki. Although they share a name, they have distinct personalities and roles in the story. Miki can no longer be reduced to “the girl,” nor does one character have to represent all of womanhood. Between the Miki Makimura admired by her peers and the Miki Kuroda left behind, Crybaby paints a picture of how misogyny affects women deemed good or bad when they’re truly not so different.
This post contains discussion of rape, as well as spoilers for the original Devilman manga and Devilman Crybaby.
Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida, at the time of serialization, was once a contemporary story. It began in 1985 and ended in 1994, while the timeline of the main plot spanned from 1985 to 1987. So in a way, modernizing the anime adaptation of Banana Fish to be set in 2018 is appropriate. Rather than a near complete replication of a story set in the 1980s, there can be a parallel story that integrates the ideas and themes to be timely like the original was.
However, updating Banana Fish raises some clear issues. The original manga is deeply 1980s, from its aesthetics to its politics, and if handled without care, you wind up with a story that’s already dated from the very start. It’s one thing for a story to be old; we still have centuries old classics. Plus, our suspension of disbelief can be higher when we know a story was from a different time. However, with an adaptation you’re already setting up a compare and contrast situation, to mix in modernization too, it’s key to think through what needs to be changed, why it needs to be changed, and how that affects the original story. This is different for all kinds of adaptations and renditions, but ultimately it can be done in a lot of fun, unique, creative ways. In the case of Banana Fish though, it’s all about the lack of change. Though the style and technology is there, the story ultimately feels like a rerun in different clothes. This especially feels like a missed opportunity with the legacy that Banana Fish has as a classic manga that tackles heavy social issues.
This isn’t to disparage the work put into the anime or to imply it’s a complete waste. Translating a story to a new medium is difficult work and there are plenty of parts I enjoyed. It’s at least introduced the story to new audiences, including me, and opened up new avenues to discuss it. In this spirit, I want to talk about some of the missed opportunities that the anime passed over when modernizing the manga in the context of the social themes Yoshida touches on. There are some issues that are thoughtfully examined in the manga but would be reflected differently in a modern setting, and other issues that weren’t examined as deeply as they could have been in an adaptation.
Spoiler warning for the end of Banana Fish, including the side story Garden of Light.
Content warning for discussions of police brutality and sexual trauma (including child sex abuse).
As part of my research for Asexuality in Manga and More, a lecture panel on asexuality in Japanese media, I looked into asexual and aromantic spectrum interpretations of anime and manga characters. Such interpretations are usually referred to as headcanon, “a fan’s personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of canon.” Occasionally I would find overlap in popular asexual headcanons and gay headcanons for the same character, such as Makoto Sunakawa in My Love Story. Sometimes this overlap means a character simultaneously interpreted as asexual and gay, or a character widely interpreted as aroace (both aromantic and asexual) or as gay. I wasn’t a stranger to these fandom activities before my research, as I have my own aro/ace/gay headcanons and enjoy reading those of others.
However, the conversations around asexual and aromantic spectrum headcanons, especially asexual ones, has changed in recent years. More and more, reading a gay or widely considered gay character as asexual (aroace or not) has been looked down on. The yuri manga Bloom Into You by Nio Nakatani has long been discussed in terms of asexual and aromantic identity, and the anime adaptation this year has brought new attention to it. While others may argue over the “correct” interpretation, I find differences in headcanons say more about what experiences have in common than which one is right.
Digimon has approached grief throughout its life as a franchise, despite how the eponymous digital monsters are inorganic and may be revived when they die. Digimon Adventure Tri, the second sequel series to the original Digimon Adventure, tried its hand at grief over lost memories.
In Confession, the only chance to save the world from destruction is to perform a “reboot” of the Digital World. It will leave the digimon uninfected by darkness, but without memories from before the reboot. In a series where digimon exist to unconditionally love and support their partners for a lifetime, the loss is immeasurable.
This post contains spoilers for Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, Digimon Adventure Tri and A, A’ by Moto Hagio.
Digimon Adventure Tri, a sequel to the original Digimon Adventure television series, came to an end this year with its final installment Future. Tri‘s development began when Toei teased it with a digiegg that would “hatch” once their webpage received enough hits in 2014. A return to the original digidestined (chosen children) held promise, but one issue was present from the very beginning and only grew more glaring as the series went on. The main characters introduced in Adventure 02, the first continuation to Adventure, were written out of Tri. In the first minutes of Reunion Daisuke, Miyako, Iori, and Ken unceremoniously die at the hands of a mysterious digimon and leave a gaping hole in Tri‘s continuity.
Of course, this post contains spoilers for Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, and Digimon Adventure Tri.
Neo Yokio, Ezra Koening’s satirical urban fantasy animated series, arrived on Netflix in September of 2017 to mixed reviews. Season one followed Kaz Kaan, a wealthy and recently single exorcist, in his adventures slaying demons and perusing the city of Neo Yokio. With still no second season confirmed, Neo Yokio returned for a Christmas special this month. For a show that dabbled in ideas of class, materialism, and socialism, Christmas is the perfect homecoming. Most animated Christmas specials aired in the United States either focus on the myth of Santa Claus or the birth of Jesus Christ, if not both. Neo Yokio, an anime hybrid of a US Christmas special, is about neither. Pink Christmas looks at the holiday for what it’s become–materialist, self-serving celebration–through the eyes of its fictional wealthy.
This post contains spoilers for Pink Christmas and The End of Evangelion.
2018 was a big year for Devilman, if not The Year of Devilman, propelled by the success of adaptation Devilman Crybaby from the mind of Masaaki Yuasa. More people discussed my once-obscure (in the United States) favorite series than I can count, and I couldn’t get enough. Whether new to Devilman or an expert, favorable or scathing, I agreed or not, I had to know what people thought.
One of my New Years resolutions for 2019 is to leave direct comment more on articles and other online media I enjoy. Unfortunately I didn’t always comment on the posts about Devilman I read, so for now I’d like to show my appreciation by sharing some studies of Devilman (mostly Crybaby) that have stuck with me over the year.
Kumoricon 2010 was not only my first Kumoricon, but my first time at any pop culture convention. The panel I enjoyed most was the LGBTQ Convention Meet-Up Panel the night of Day Two, where the host gave an overview of LGBTQ portrayal in anime and manga from the past year through a slideshow. I arrived late, but there were plenty of seats left with how few people were there. Despite its humble size and attendance, it left a huge impact on me. It was the first time I heard LGBTQ topics in media or in general discussed outside my friends or the Internet. For years panels like those disappeared in my local convention scene, but now they’re back and stronger than ever.
As more anime fans push to be more self-aware, progressive, and inclusive in their activities, different trends in fanworks are happening. One trend is fanartists deliberately illustrating anime characters with darker skin than what’s portrayed on-screen. (I’m linking to no examples because I don’t want to inadvertently attract toxic attention to artists.) The rationale behind such fanart is to compensate for the lack of representation of dark skin in the majority of popular media, including anime. Part of this emerges from Western fans also noticing similarities within their own culture of Western media, where white people are still overwhelmingly represented, even as tides are changing.
There is backlash as some argue it’s inappropriate to try to “correct” media from a much different cultural context. Beyond racist trolling, there’s genuine worry that people are clumsily approaching Japanese media the same way as media made by white Westerners, replicating racial dynamics that may not be applicable to Japanese media. The racial and ethnic demographics in Japan are vastly different from other Western countries. There’s definitely something here to look into and talk about.
So let’s talk about it then.