It seems like I end up writing about anime a lot more than manga. That’s probably not an accident. While I have an anime on the tube or in the DVD player I can do other things; it’s a lot harder to multitask with a book. It has a tendency to occupy one’s hands.
But let’s take a look at one of the manga I regularly read. I’ve talked about Interviews with Monster Girls before, to point out that the Monster Girls are carefully disguised stereotypes. As a narrative technique that’s useful because it makes them relatable.
Machi, the dullahan, may be the best example. For pete’s sake, her head’s not attached to her body. She walks around holding in her head in her hands, or even letting her friends carry it around. How bizarre can you get?
But at the same time Machi is a high school stereotype, the girl who gets her boobs first. Everyone accept that Machi is a dullahan; what fascinated both Hikari, the vampire girl, and Tetsuo, their teacher, is that Machi has fat knockers.
The others are stereotypes, too.
So I read the first five volumes of the manga, which is roughly the amount of their story that is covered by the anime. It was pretty clearly obvious that the genre was slice of life: as a narrative the story was going nowhere.
Seriously. There was no discernible meta-plot.
The story digressed into “scientific” explanations of the Monster Girls’ nature…That Hikari, the vampire, didn’t like garlic because she had heightened senses and so disliked strong flavors, that Yuki, the snow woman, could use her feelings to cool herself, that Machi, the dullahan, had her head connected to her body by a stable wormhole. That was cool, and the processes they went though to find out those things were fun, but that’s not a plot.
See here’s the problem: In the absence of a meta-plot, where is this going?
Going it has to be. Interviews is well-reviewed and received substantial critical acclaim. If it’s also making money (I don’t have sales figures), there’s no reason to just end the series, especially since without a meta-plot it has no natural ending point.
But where can it go?
At the end of volume five and into six they head into no no territory meta-plot wise: They start to introduce new characters. In five (this is where the anime ends) Tetsuo meets an invisible woman (who he accidentally gropes). This goes nowhere. Then, in six, it turns out his niece is a monster girl, too, able to see and interact with a zashiki-warashi, a household spirit that brings her (after she thinks about it) happiness.
That would be one way to keep Monster Girls going: keep trotting out new monster girls. Would you get tired of that after a while? I might not…I’m interested in Japanese culture and folkways, and new monster girls might be new ideas. But a Japanese person…I mean, we have to remember that the primary market for manga is in Japan…probably knows about these monsters and is saying, “Ho hum, another monster.”
It seemed to me that the writers figured that out, because once Yoko (the niece’s) story was done she disappeared, too. It was as though they said, “You know what we need here? Not more characters. A plot.” Because you know what they needed here? Not more characters. A plot.
So in volume six Tetsuo and Sakie, his succubus colleague on the faculty, have started to engage socially. The story is starting to turn into a love story.
Sakie is labeled; that’s Tetsuo with his eyes bugged out.
THAT’s a meta-plot! Specifically, it’s Overcoming the Monster, the two of them overcoming the cultural divide between a human and a succubus.
As a meta-plot, that works. There will always be tension between them because they will never be sure that he is attracted to her because of the pleasant, charming, caring person that she is, or because she is a succubus with E-cup boobs. That’s a guaranteed source of creative tension that need not ever end. It’s existential!
There’s also a second source of tension in that even excluding her identity as a Demi. There is also a significant age difference between them; he’s about nine years older. To a twenty-four-year-old like Sakie that’s a fairly large age gap. That’s the normal element that underlies a lot of tensions in Monster Girls: each of them is a real-world archetype. In this case Sakie is a younger woman looking up at an older colleague and wondering if she’s attracted to him, or to what he represents: success, wealth, maturity, stability, or whatever. So even if Sakie’s NOT a succubus, there’s still a question as to whether the two of them are right for each other.
I enjoyed reading these six volumes. In the absence of a meta-plot, the story started to lurch around randomly; when they hit on the romance plot, they got their story back on the tracks. I look forward to Tetsuo and Sakie’s wedding. I can’t imagine two nicer people to get hitched.
And I like a story that is going somewhere.
Of course, it was over a year between the fifth volume and the sixth. There’s no word on a seventh. Maybe their audience is gone. Maybe readers didn’t like the actual plot, or that the visual center of the story, Hikari the vampire girl, has almost disappeared. Maybe this story will never end outside of our minds.
But at least we can imagine how it ends.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.