Constructing a Beginning Badly: Plus-Sized Elf (Vol. 1)

Okay, when I’ve got nothing else I come back to talking about writing and how it’s done, but then, that’s the thing (one of the things) I do.

So I was a bad, bad boy, and bought a manga that Amazon said I’d probably like, probably because I like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (and the spin-off, Kanna’s Daily Life). I do like the Kobayashi books: the basic three characters, Kobayashi, Touru, and Kanna form a classic Father, Mother, Child trio that subverts the trope but draws from it as well. They aren’t really a F/M/C trio but they function like one, and it works, both emotionally and as the grounds for comedy.

So…Amazon decided I’d like Plus-Sized Elf.

I like the IDEA of Plus-Sized Elf. Basically, said forest elf, Elfuda, has come to our world through a (dun dun dun) MAGIC PORTAL (Oooooh!) and found in our world she has an affinity for french fries. Several thousand fries later she’d too heavy to fit back through the portal and return. So she seeks help at a weight-loss clinic, where she is handed over to Our Hero Naoe, who is some kind of combination weight loss counselor and masseur. (Yeah, I don’t get the combination either. Perhaps it’s a nihonjin, er, Japanese thing.)

Plus size elf

Elfuda and her downfall: french fries.

So, as Naoe tries to help, he runs into other people from the other world: Kuroeda, a dark elf who is an enemy of Elfuda’s and also has found our world’s food too fattening; a mermaid working in the fish market; Kusahanada, a mandragora who works in a flower shop; an ogre trying to sweat out a few pounds in the sauna; and Laika the lycanthrope.

Okay, it’s volume one, so it’s the beginning of the story, and the beginning of a story is supposed to do a few things:

Introduce the characters. Okay. See above.
Establish the setting (Modern Tokyo, but one that has a portal to that other world)
Get the reader interested (Yeah, the female characters have breasts that start at E-cup and go up from there, and yes, they’re almost all topless. This is NSFW fer shure.)

At the same time, the story feels pointless. I mean, I like fan-service-grade breasts, but I have access to the Internet. If all I want is to see fat boobies, all I have to do is Google “fat boobies.” And despite the fact that it does the things a beginning is supposed to do, the story feels like it’s missing something.

What’s missing is not the potential for conflict between the characters, or the characters and the setting. There’s natural tension between Elfuda’s desire to eat and Naoe’s job, to help her lose weight. Forest elves and dark elves are enemies, so there’s Elfuda v. Kuroeda. And there’s the desire of all the creatures of the other world to get back to their own. So the open has established sources of conflict. Plus there’s something going on between twenty-something Naoe and his forty-something boss, but she’s only a D-cup, so she’s got no real chance, but it’s still conflict.

You know what’s missing? An inciting incident.

The inciting incident is some act that moves the narrative from the beginning to the middle. Something happens that drives the meta-plot forward. In Macbeth Macbeth’s dad comes back as a ghost to say, “Dude, I was whacked.” In Samurai Champloo Fuu recruits Mugen and Jin to help her find the samurai who smells of sunflowers. In FLCL Haruko wallops Nauta upside the head with a Rickenbacker bass. In Outlaw Star Gene opens up the suitcase and finds Melfina inside (Or was it Jim who opened the suitcase?).

In Plus-Sized Elf nothing happens. You get through volume one and, while you’ve seen a lot of boobies, nothing’s really happened. Not only that, you have no sense for what might happen. There’s no discernible meta-plot.

There’s nothing that requires that the inciting incident happen right away, but it usually does. In Black Lagoon the story opens exactly at that moment. With two minutes of the start of the show Revy’s decided to kidnap Rock. BOOM! Meta-plot (Voyage of Discovery) starts. Heck, in Cowboy Bebop the inciting incident is before the series, at the point where Spike leaves the mob.

But you read Plus-Sized Elf and you say, “Well, that didn’t go anywhere.” And that’s because it didn’t go anywhere. It introduced characters and setting, but without an inciting incident the story is just spinning its wheels.

From a commercial standpoint here’s the problem with that: If all the manga has to offer is nice titties, why buy volume two? I’ve already seen the titties. Want me to buy volume two? Get some story in there!

I have another problem but it’s not from my areas of expertise, so I don’t want to make a big deal about it. Through the manga Naoe offers lifestyle and exercise tips to the ladies, and they seemed pretty reasonable to me. In fact, some of the exercises he shows them are things I have done, and I can vouch for the fact that they do what he says they do.

The use of massage in weight loss I’m less convinced about, but who knows? It certainly can’t hurt. While Elfuda’s on the table, she can’t eat.

But there’s a subtext here that all obesity problems can be treated with diet and exercise. All of them. There’s no such thing as an eating disorder in Naoe’s version of Earth. The addictive nature of certain foods – Elfuda’s french fries are a great example – is ignored. No one has glandular problems.

I’ll be frank. For health reasons I’ve dropped 25 pounds in the last year and a half, and I did it with diet and exercise. But I don’t have an eating disorder. It’s a formula that worked for me, but it won’t work for everyone and could screw up some people pretty seriously. But it’s treated like a one-size-fits-all panacea. And that could be a problem.

But I’m not a fitness professional. So I’ll shut up about it.

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.

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