research * the future * culture

What is the "Watchmen" of manga?

For American Thanksgiving, I visited Texas and read Watchmen. (It’s surprisingly pertinent Thanksgiving reading; there are a lot of very clever, very painful observations about family dynamics throughout.) I’ve been holding back on posting about it, mostly because I haven’t entirely digested it yet. This post at MangaBlog, however, made me wonder:

…what’s the equivalent of Watchmen in manga? What title made artists and readers re-consider the medium? Is there any manga title that simultaneously uplifts and undermines a whole genre (like superheroes), and proved to be a game-changer?

Ignore my verb tense agreement issues and consider this problem, especially that last question. I might argue that Evangelion did this for mecha anime, in that it (like Watchmen) proved how unnecessary and even harmful giant mecha would be, while also showcasing entirely new levels of mecha action. It was the apotheosis of the mecha genre, in many ways. But that’s anime, not manga. For that, we might have to turn to Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Utena, if you’ve never read the manga or seen the anime, has all the standard tropes of a shoujo (girls’) story: high school setting, multiple possible romantic partners, deep dark past histories, lesbian characters…the whole nine. In fact, when I first watched a few episodes, I rolled my eyes at how similar it was to other stories in the same genre. Years later I re-approached it, and my mind was changed. The aesthetics (much like those in Watchmen) are all window-dressing for a story that subtly undermines what we’ve come to expect about a given genre.

Most shoujo stories are about gender and power. That’s a given. (It’s also true of most YA entertainment for girls, East or West.) Where Utena differs from most stories is in how it proves, again and again, how ultimately limiting and harmful those standard meta-narratives can be for both girls and boys. Yes, by now we all know that forcing oneself into a “type” is a bad idea. But Utena takes that message above the level of “hanging out with the wrong crowd” and tells a story of abuse, both inside and outside the home, and how choosing one’s role can dictate one’s response to that abuse. Being a prince (or a witch, or a warrior) is easy, but being yourself? And being okay with that? That’s tough.

Which, as it occurs to me, is yet another message nestled inside Watchmen.

« Previous post
Next post »
  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

  • Books

    Madeline Ashby's books on Goodreads
    vN vN (The Machine Dynasty, #1)
    reviews: 342
    ratings: 2160 (avg rating 3.43)

    Company Town Company Town
    reviews: 232
    ratings: 1217 (avg rating 3.68)

    iD iD (The Machine Dynasty, #2)
    reviews: 73
    ratings: 439 (avg rating 3.66)

    Social Services Social Services
    reviews: 3
    ratings: 10 (avg rating 3.50)

    A Clock Stopped A Clock Stopped
    reviews: 2
    ratings: 5 (avg rating 4.20)

  • Profiles

  • Twitter

  • Madeline 's bookshelf: read

    Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices (2nd Edition)Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways: To Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients into Your CookingGluten-Free Girl and the ChefPeople Crossing Borders: An Analysis of U.S. Border Protection PoliciesHalf the Day Is NightThe Magicians

    More of Madeline 's books »
    Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists
  • Tags

  • Categories

  • Calendar

    April 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Mar    
     12
    3456789
    10111213141516
    17181920212223
    24252627282930
  • Archives