Medium Doesn’t Matter?: Joshi Kausei

There’s something we keep coming back to here, and that is that manga and anime are very different media, and the ways they are different influence the ways they can be used to tell stories.

Manga has a lot of text. It can tell slower, deeper stories because there is room, and time, for explanation and back story and such-like.

Anime is visual. It does much better with action, pace. It can sometimes be much more powerful emotionally because it can focus on nuances and touch, the difference between showing lovers holding hands and watching their hands caress one another.

Manga is cheaper, and can be edgier since it can make money with a smaller audience.

Then you run into something like Joshi Kausai, where whoever was in charge said, “You know, we don’t have to play by those rules.” So they made a manga that was essentially textless.

Right. No dialog. No narration. The only words are those little blips that identify emotions floating in the sky next to the characters’ heads. That’s it.

Well, hmph! Take THAT for slow and deep!

If you haven’t read or seen it (There’s nine manga volumes, and also an anime of twelve five-minute episodes, so you can knock it out instead of sleeping through your Tuesday-Thursday class if you like), Joshi Kausai is the story of three high school girls, plus a couple outside characters (a sister, a teacher, plus extras), and as you might expect for a story written in a style that has very little ability to actually tell a story it’s largely slice-of-life. The three girls go to and from school, and sometimes go on outings or go home.

Without the ability to get into a lot of nuance the three of them are visually stereotyped into roles, and particularly the common Mind, Body, Soul trio. Intellectually-gifted Shibuni is slender and wears glasses; physical Momoko, the main character, is voluptuous and athletic; sweet little Mayumi is, well, sweet, and also smaller and more child-like than her classmates. You know who they are as soon as you look at them. After all, that’s the only way to know.

From left: Shibuni, Momoko, Mayumi. Look twice. You can see Momoko’s pantsu.

The artwork in the manga is pretty good, good enough that you can tell what the characters are thinking at the moment (especially when manga conventions like striped faces to indicate embarrassment and the open-ended crosses to indicate frustration are added to the mix). You know what’s going on right then and there.

The anime isn’t as well done, but of course the anime can put the characters into action to get the point across. After all, that’s what anime does, right?

As likable as it is, though, as the manga goes along there’s not a lot that can go on. To get some tension into the story they have to rely on some pretty basic gimmicks, and one in particular: Hot little Momoko is frequently treated as a sex object. Her miniskirt swirls up to expose her panties repeatedly, and she seems to get her thin white blouse wet in a wide variety of ways that cause it to cling to her lacy brassiere.

And so, the question the series ultimately asks is this: Will we get to see Momoko’s goodies?

Let me save you the time. No, we don’t. (The anime is MUCH tamer because, after all, it needs to attract a larger, and in the case of Joshi Kausai, younger audience.)

It’s a neat experiment, that’s for certain. It is charming in places and amusing in places, and a quick, easy read.

But it never gets deeper or more profound than charming or amusing because it really can’t. There’s no way to get more than skin deep into the story because the approach to storytelling they have chosen doesn’t allow them to.

Medium really does matter. If you take a medium and chuck out what it does well, like tossing the text out of manga, you’re left with a story that is almost forced to be superficial.

You know they used to make “silent” movies, right? Back before there was a way to display sound along with the visual images in a flick, they’d show the film without sound, sometimes accompanied by a live piano player hammering out the score.

But even silent movies needed to tell stories, and to get that done as soon as they freakin’ could they started inserting cards containing text to be read by the audience. AS SOON AS THEY FREAKIN’ COULD. Because they needed the words to tell the story.

So you have Joshi Kausai. There will probably be another textless manga at some point; the anime and manga businesses are BIG and they need new content ALL THE TIME. (I know there is a textless novel. You can get it from Dover Publications if you like. Me, I didn’t like.)

But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to look at a medium, look at what it does best, and throw that away on a regular basis. You can do it once or twice, for novelty effect, sure, but you can’t make a habit of it, no matter how “edgy” you want to think you are.

Sorry, Joshi Kausai. Medium DOES matter.

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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