Friday, August 19, 2011

Deconstructing Shirow Masamune: A Blog of Ambivalence

I finally finished Shirow Masamune's cyberpunk manga Appleseed. It was started in '85 and ended in '89, and while it received an OVA and a Super Famicom game, it wasn't until 2004 when they released a bullshit CGI film that everyone started giving a shit. If anything, my exasperation is obviously nerd rage--but goddamn, the film is bloody ugly as sin. ANYWAY, I started to bitch and moan and write a huge whiny rant, but yeah, I digress, and that sort of thing.

I'm still trying to figure out in my head which of Masamune's works I prefer: either Ghost in the Shell, or Appleseed (regarding the respective manga, only). Both stories are full of intricately drawn tactical action; have lusciously drawn, yet physically strong and toned leading ladies; and each plot delves into politics, philosophy, and insanely elaborate techno-babble, which is one quality of Masamune's writing that I consider simultaneously a weak point, as well as a strong point. This is something entirely different that I will cover on it's own later in this post in more detail, hopefully making some sense of my accusation.

I view Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed in an odd manner: I see them as a wonderfully drawn, thought-provoking, cyber-punk masterpiece for manga, but at the same time I can't help but think that a portion of it is a wonderfully drawn, esoteric mess that is hard to follow--not for content, but simply because it is poorly constructed and too detailed for it's own good at times. I absolutely adore the idea of the complexity of exploring rational possibilities of a technologically advanced society, where cybernetic augmentations are common practice and artificial intelligence is not only prevalent, but also imperative for daily living--be it large corporate establishments, law enforcement, or simply for pleasure, but I also believe there is a point when such a setting can become convoluted, especially at the point when asterisks much be placed every page or so-or an entire index has been implemented at the back of the book-just so you can "keep up", rather than be explained via dialogue or narration. I dunno; I think if anything such an abrupt addendum every page or so describing why this Class-A 0093 Mech can deflect these .009 Caliber Gauss Rifle rounds at 15° Celsius because of the fucking angle the antagonist shot the gun takes away from the story, rather than add to it. Like I said: I love technical details, but why wouldn't you just implement these into the story, or simply let the reader think for themselves? Why have some omnipresent force interrupt every couple of pages to add in some nonsensical information only to confuse you further? Want an example? This is a word-for-word note in the index of Ghost in the Shell to compliment a particular panel on page 338:

Concerning the fissioning pyramid indicated with protons (yangerons): this is a diagram of a system, so it ignores the actual numbers at each different leve.. As with powers of ten, in terms of size, the progression would be [microscopic constructions -> human size -> heavenly body size], but in terms of structural complexity it would instead be [microscopic constructions -> heavenly body size ->human size], which is also the order which they were actually created.

...And it goes on for another few sentences. To be fair, GitS (I'll begin to abbreviate it; it should be quite obvious) has an index. It's been a few years since I've read the original manga in it's entirety, but I do not recall the constant barrage of asterisks and side notes that is so commonplace in Appleseed.  What bothers me even more is the fact that there is a book entitled Appleseed ID, which is sort of an appendix comprised of schematics, notes, explanations, sketches and the like. Something like that I can appreciate--BUT that's not it! No, there also exists Appleseed Hypernotes: another book explaining everything you ever wanted to know about Appleseed, but thankfully another story is included showcasing the events after the original story arc. I greatly enjoy supplemental material like most fans, but if the extra information isn't introduced in the story itself, I feel like I should either A.) Use my imagination; or B.) Seek it out for myself. Shit, sometimes I just like things to not be explained at all. What makes David Lynch's Eraserhead still so interesting and enigmatic today? If Lynch had a disclaimer at the end of the movie that explained everything, wouldn't that certainly take away from the film? Hell, since this blog is focused on the otaku sub-culture, what if during Neon Genesis Evangelion an asterisk appeared at random points explaining what the Angels were, or why 13 year old children are used to pilots the EVAs? Maybe this is a personal grievance, but if such details aren't implemented in the story itself, shouldn't it be up for interpretation, or at least an addition further along in the story line? Wow. Didn't realize I felt so strongly on the subject.

To end this rather side-tracked note, I'd first like to establish that I am a huge Shirow Masamune fan. I absolutely adore his work--be it writing, art, or the world he creates. Certainly, most writers do have their flaws, but as I make out my grievances with Masamune's works, I can't help but express that although I write with passion regarding the aforementioned grievances, they still remain very minor, and if anything, the strong points of his work greatly out shadow his faults. I wholeheartedly recommend both Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed to fans of science-fiction, manga, or both. It's a shame he has pretty much stopped writing comics now, for he primarily focuses on drawing calendars, art books, and hentai. Still, if anything, his artwork shines the brightest of his attributes. Masamune draws absolutely stunning females (to which I have hanging in multiple spots on my walls), as well as intricately designed mechs and robots.

Too bad he can't draw men for shit.

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