About Battle Manga

imgAn interesting analysis of battle manga from logical and existential standpoints:

Regardless of whether they are Jump or non-Jump titles, when reading manga which involve a series of mysterious battles (no clear objective or reason in sight), we can draw up a very simple quadrantal categorization in our minds: on one axis, we have good and evil, and on the other, whether or not the character is aware of the "truth." In this quadrant system, characters who are evil and unaware of the truth would be your typical throwaway villains, like Jagi from Fist of the North Star. And most bosses are evil characters who know the truth. Stated differently, no matter how powerful a villain is, if he does not know the truth he cannot be considered a boss. The protagonist is good, but is initially unaware of the truth. However, as the story progresses he becomes enlightened to the truth. In other words, a story is the process whereby a "good" character, who is unaware of the truth, gradually gains awareness. On a somewhat related note, characters who are good while being unaware of the truth are rather rare: one example, though not from a Jump title, would be Bo Brantze from "Spriggan." Characters based on this archetype can no longer be found in a later Ryoji Minagawa title, "ARMS."

Then what is this "truth" we speak of? What we put into this definition affects the resulting story we end up with. It could be a certain organisation, or, expanding further, a mystery of the world (i.e. Minagawa titles); or it could be an ethical value (friendship in Jump titles). However, from Evangelion onwards, we have seen the manifestation of an extremely useful question for seeking the truth: "Who am I?" In fact, we can see that many battle mangas are based on some variation of this theme. This was true of the aforementioned "ARMS," as well as "Narutaru (Shadow Star)" and "Hagane." Many titles by BONES are also plays on this theme. A major defining feature of all these titles is that the protagonist has no idea why he or she is fighting; the reason they fight is the crux of their existence, and the two are intertwined and inseparable. Basically, they exist, so therefore conflict occurs. In such titles, affirmation of one's existence by a third party becomes an absolute necessity. Why? Because the question of who we are cannot be resolved unless somebody else anwers it, telling us, for example, "I don't care who you are [but I still affirm your existence]" In that sense, "Shadow Star" had the worst conclusion possible.

Characters from Jump titles are far-removed from these issues; rarely has the question of why they fight been raised in Jump manga, nor have we seen any characters question the nature of their existence. Whether it be Kinnikuman or Goku, or Taikobo, the protagonist of Houshin Engi, they have barely show any sort of emotional conflict or anguish when they discover their true identities (although Kinnikuman may have been bewildered). In that sense, Jump titles generally manage to steer clear of the issue of the affirmation of self by an outsider.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from these titles which raise existential questions, we have "Hunter x Hunter." The problem here is no longer the existence of any particular character, but the descriptions and detail given to the concept of "nen," which is the foundation of all battles in this manga. Up until now, if a character in a Jump manga had the ability to create bombs out of his hand, the manga would never ask the reader (or attempt to explain to them) "why their hand doesn't explode as well." In this manga, details such as these are seen to be more important than who these characters are, or why they exist. And when this description of underlying systems is separated from fighting, "Death Note" is born. These titles can be described as being "unhealthy," the reason being that the description of systems and concepts is on the opposite end of the spectrum from existentialistic thought, and ethics in manga (at least from Evangelion onwards) can be found as an extension of the latter. The reason being that if ethical values were given consideration, it would not be possible for the systems in each manga to be described in full detail.

When we think about it, all battle manga can be organised on a linear scale, with titles which raise existential questions on one end of the line and those which spin a descriptive system on the other end. Shadow Star would be an example of the first extreme, while Hunter x Hunter would be placed on the other extreme, however those 2 titles are exceptions to the rule. For example, although Naruto and Ichigo may be tormented by questions as to just who they are, they never stop fighting. There are 2 reasons for this: first, even if they were to stop fighting, their opponents would not stop attacking; in other words, there is an urgent need for them to fight. The word "urgency" is the key here, as opponents show up one after another, and as they get progressively stronger, so too must the protagonists. Here, we see a typical Jump-style story/character development, and, as we progress further into the story and opponents and allies alike get more and more powerful, we see an "inflationary" rise in power. Here, urgency (the necessity to fight) and ability (power) are inseparable; the more they fight, the stronger they get. The first title to separate these two factors was probably Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, and the "stands" that they incorporated. Naturally, one would assume a certain degree of separation seeing how it is the stands doing the actual fighting, but the distinctive feature here is the fact that power and ability are externalised and portrayed separately from the characters who use them, and that there is no common standard by which to quantify their strengths, (Although there may be distinctions about how one stand is more useful than another) Hunter x Hunter and its externalisation of the powers of Nen are quite evidently extensions of the same concept. In Jojo, there was a heightened sense of urgency, but fighting a lot usually did not result in any sudden spike in ability, but in Hunter x Hunter, the urgency of battle itself is low. To elaborate, you can win even if you are weaker than your opponent (vs Gensuru); sometimes, you can get out of the situation without even fighting (vs the Ryodan/Spider Gang). However, unlike Jojo it requires a common standard to compare abilities when describing the complex Nen system, so in that sense there has been an inflationary rise in characters' abilities (i.e. the effective radius of characters' En)

The second reason is that, although Naruto and Ichigo struggle with who they really are, it is very obvious that the enemies are, indeed, enemies. In other words, the immediacy of battle and the self-evident nature of the enemies are in line with their raison d'etre and their reasons for fighting. However, in Hunter x Hunter it is not evident why the enemies are enemies: even the boss Chimera Ant asks questions about his own existence. In that sense, the "adversaries" in Hunter x Hunter take on a different meaning from other titles.

Excerpted from M??li-m??lodie - "About Battle Manga"

Notes from translator: Yes it ends abruptly, and plus I left out several points that were directed at ideas raised in 2 other articles (which I really must say I lack the will to translate), but fuck I am absolutely sick of this thing now. Do with it what you will.

Translated by Neuroretardant??