Crimson Hero Volume 4
I was a bit stunned to see the cover on this installment of the series by Mitsuba Takanashi, especially in comparison to the first book. That volume showed a girl in traditional dress struggling to play volleyball, indicating a culture clash aspect that seems to have gone by the wayside. Now, it looks as though it’s sun, sex, and oh, yeah, sport.
The cover is a bit misleading, as advertising sometimes is. But it is true that the driving force has moved from Nobara fighting her family’s expectations in order to follow her dream (an aspect of the story I quite liked) to Nobara struggling to win competitions and figure out her feelings for certain members of the opposite sex.
Nobara’s been working as dorm mother (a mix of housekeeper and cook) for the boys’ team. One of their members has been quite supportive of her, giving her strength to continue fighting. Now, she’s met his girlfriend, a discovery that has shaken her more than she suspected.
It’s bad timing, too, because her small team is about to play their first tournament game. They’ve been matched against a very strong team, setting up the typical underdog battle so common to sports stories.
Much of the opposing team’s strength comes from their “superace”, a hard-charging attack player. I was surprised to note that, unlike the other round-eyed characters, she’s drawn with more typical Asian eyes. Given the contrast, it makes her look hard and almost mean, like she’s squinting to stay focused on her goals. It definitely sets her apart. Speaking of the art, I didn’t see any of the distracting glitches on display in volume three, which is a plus.
It’s a shame for me that the book is growing in a direction that’s not where I’d like it to go, but that doesn’t make it a bad story, just not as much to my taste as I’d hoped it would continue to be. I’d like a little more family and cultural concerns to go with the volleyball matches and glimmers of young love. Perhaps I’ve gotten spoiled by some of the other series I read, where there’s cross-dressing and other complicating factors to jazz up the stories. A simple tale of hard work and competition isn’t as exciting to my jaded palate.
“I was surprised to note that, unlike the other round-eyed characters, she’s drawn with more typical Asian eyes.”
I had never really thought of that before. I pretty much went along with the “Big Eyes = Child, All Manga Heroes are Kids” hypothesis and didn’t look any further. But a “Round Eyes = Gajin” meme puts a whole new spin on it. Certainly “Big Eyes, Small Mouth” just happens to be what became popular in America first. (Just a Founder Effect, or do we only like Manga that is “like us”?) But it is not like the style is unpopular in Japan either. What does it say when so many cultural heroes don’t look like that culture?
(I mean, I don’t look much like the Jim Lee Batman, but at least we are both WASPs.)
I’m sure there have been many many analyses written about why manga characters (who are intended to be Japanese) look American. The simplest explanation is “because they were strongly influenced by Disney cartoons”, but there’s got to be a lot more to it.
I’m not sure about the “why” of this trend – i.e. clearly Japanese figures drawn with Europeanised features – but it definitely predates manga. If you can find examples of, say, Japanese newspaper illustrations from the 1890s on, the people in them look, apart from the clothes they wear, very like those you’d see in – oh, Charles Dana Gibson illustrations. (Frederick Schodt provides a few examples in his MANGA! MANGA!) Even the characters in late ukiyo-e woodblock prints (1900 to the mid-1920s), a traditional Japanese artform, often look Caucasian. Since the primary audiences for all these media were Japanese, AND since these representations began to appear at a time – the late Meiji period – when Japanese militaristic nationalism was at its height, I don’t think either the desire to attract European consumers, or a Japanese inferiority complex, can be the explanation. My own theory is that artists and illustrators, suddenly exposed to the full range of Western visual art, used it as a new lens through which to (re)view a familiar reality – but as always, I’m open to knowledgeable correction. – JennyN
In my line of thought the big round eyes in Japanese characters is because you can make them show more expression than smaller asian eyes.
Even if the love life of Nobara is non-existant I believe Crimson Hero to be an interesting story, not so much for Nobara and her desire to play volleyball, but because the characters around her are a great part of the story, which doesn’t happen in other works by Takanashi Mitsuba.