Denpa-teki na Kanojo, episode 1 – tropes

Before we start let me say that this is not a review of Denpa-teki na Kanojo. If you want a review – we already have one written by Shaurya, you are welcome to read it. Here I want to discuss this OVA rather than to review it, so I’ll assume you’ve seen it. It is a good show by the way, and it is fairly short too, so if you haven’t seen it you can start watching it now and come back in 40 minutes =)

Ame Ochibana

I decided to write about Denpa-teki na Kanojo because it gives me a great opportunity to talk about certain recurring setups in anime. Before we start though I would ask you to try not to let any negative preconceptions about these tropes to guide you as you are reading.

The first trope I want to mention is “harem”, basically it is a setup where you have a guy and a group of girls who are showering him with their attention. It is a weird definition, but I find that it works pretty well. I’d personally consider it to be a harem setup if there are at least three girls who show interest in the protagonist. If there are just two of them you can use more specific terms like love triangle or something; these are just words anyways. First episode of Denpa-teki fits this pattern nicely, as Fujishima Kanako (the class rep girl), Satsuki Miya (the girl who turned out to be a psycho) and Ochibana Ame (the Juu’s knight with weird haircut) are all talking with Juu (the protagonist boy) almost exclusively, and each of them shows a distinct interest in him, though their feelings may be different in nature and depth.

Juu Juuzawa and Miya Satsuki

What do you think, does it make sense to call it a “trope”? If you have a character-driven show it is only natural that there would be people of both genders, and since all of them are teenagers it is also natural that there would be a bit of a romantic tension there. And since Denpa-teki is a short anime you can argue that there wasn’t enough room for more than one male lead, so it just happens that Juu has lots of girls interacting with him. Right?

Juu with Ame

While this is a reasonable thing to say, I don’t think it is quite right. Regardless of the writer’s intentions, making your protagonist seem popular with the opposite gender affects the way the show works. Supposedly, it makes the guys who watch the anime associate themselves with the protagonist, and it makes the girls pay more attention towards him because he is popular. These ideas sort of popular are psychology-based speculations, and it is a broad-brush picture. It doesn’t have to work this way, if at all, for you in particular, my dear reader, so don’t complain :P So anyway, making your protagonist popular will likely change the way your audience views him, in particular it would likely make people to wish him well. And this can be exploited.

Kanako Fujishima

Let me give you an example of another show that falls under the harem definition I gave. In Neon Genesis Evangelion its protagonist Shinji Ikari is living together with Misato Katsuragi and Asuka Langley. He is also the only friend of Rei Ayanami, thus making it thee girls none of whom likes him very much, but they do hang out together almost constantly. This anime definitely does exploit the extra attention that Shinji’s popularity draws to him. It does so by making him fail miserably at everything he tries and by making him give up without trying half the time. So, because you wanted him to succeed you feel disappointment, frustration and even anger. Read what people say about Shinji, you’ll see just how well this worked out, he is a legitimate contender to be the #1 in the “most hated characters” list. All because the show is very effective at making you wish for Shinji to succeed. Of course, it is not just about him being popular with the girls, there are like half a dozen different ways the anime establishes him as a character you root for. Check it out, it is a pretty great anime series.

Shinji Ikari, Misato Katsuragi, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley. The white haired boy is also a friend of Shinji’s

So with Evangelion I’d say using the harem trope was an effective choice that helped the show in achieving its goals. What about Denpa-teki na Kanojo? It is similar, in a way. Imagine you don’t care about Juu at all. Then the events of the OVA become bland, like a not-so-scary horror film. But then imagine that you do root for Juu very much. Or, better still, imagine that you are Juu. Then how do you feel about Fujishima’s death? She is a person who was always running around you, she was a classmate, she was generally friendly and so on. Feels pretty horrible, right? And what about Satsuki’s betrayal? Forget the emotional side of the situation, just being beaten up with a bat and then stabbed is awful enough already. This is how the first episode of Denpa-teki na Kanojo is supposed to work, I think. It tries its hardest to make you root for Juu, and then it uses this connection between the viewer and the character to deliver the impact.

Juu with Satsuki

If you doubt that the OVA was set up to exploit this trick, remember when Juu was attacked by Satsuki. It was a second after she finished a sentence that was worded as if she was going to admit her love for him. If you were gonna root for Juu this was the time. And a second later he is beaten with a bat but that same girl.

 

So, I think this trope can be used as a writing tool, rather than just being a fanservice device. Of course, there are dozens of anime where harem is the genre, and that is a different story altogether. Also there are anime like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where the harem setup seems to be used only to make the show more appealing, so in a way it is just a fanservice.

The second trope I wanted to talk about is quite similar to the first one, but it is slightly less obvious. I would call it designing a character to be likable. In Denpa-teki it is Juu, of course. Lets describe him. He is a strong and brave guy with a clear sense of justice. He is slightly wild, but not dangerous. In fact, even when attacked he might not fight back, if there is a reason not to. He would rather get hurt than let another person be hurt. He wouldn’t take advantage of a girl, even if there are no consequences and more over he wouldn’t even want to be in such a position. He is sensitive, being able to understand how a person feels, even if that person offended him or physically hurt him. This particular trait has an absurd magnitude, as Juu is able to be worried about a person who just broke his arm and leg. Even when stabbed in the gut, he thinks of the mental torment his attacker is in. He is also a nice guy to hang out with. When he decided to spend time with Ame he asks her where they should go to, even though she was willing to tail him wherever he himself would want to go. He treats Ame as a person and as an equal even though she constantly suggests that she is his servant.

So, what do you think? Half of those traits are just a normal behavior of a good person. Being strong, brave, just, chivalrous, selfless, nice, that is a reasonable package for a protagonist, there are tons of characters like this. But that is not all there is to it. While the traits themselves are fine, the show obviously puts a lot of effort into showing that Juu has ’em, to the point that half the anime’s run time is spent on establishing his character. As a consequence it feels like half the show was written in such a way as to allow for Juu to display various aspects of his personality.

The disproportional amount of time the show spends on Juu, the more than impressive set of great qualities he has, the fact that the show is willing to throw some of its realism out of the window to make Juu look cooler (as with the scenes where he displays kindness towards Satsuki who tries to kill him), the fact that the show is interested in minute details of his personality while the rest of the cast gets a bare minimum of development, all this makes Juu a “designed to be likable” character, at least in my opinion. In particular, it seems he is sort of designed to feel dateable, as a good portion of of his qualities relate to the way he treats girls. Also his character does not display any human faults that would allow him to grow later, which shows that the writers weren’t interested in his dynamics, rather they wanted to see him in his perfect form from the get-go. And, as I mentioned, some of his actions seem unrealistic and even clash with his personality, which indicates that giving him those characteristics was more important than keeping him “real”. These choices are also a part of the reason I call him a “designed” character.

Just to make it clear, I wouldn’t call most of the characters designed to be anything because they aren’t. Satsuki and Fujishima are both just functional characters, they serve their purpose and that is pretty much all there is to them. Ame has a bunch of different and interesting characteristics, but they don’t have a purpose; she isn’t meant to fit in any kind of mold, like Juu is. Most anime characters aren’t designed to be anything, they are just written to the best of writer’s abilities to fit into the story, serve their role and hopefully be interesting. Sometimes a character would fall into an archetype or something like that, but as often as not it wasn’t because the writers wanted it to happen, but rather because they couldn’t do any better or didn’t care at all.

At any rate, the designed to be likable Juu serves the same purpose as the first trope, making you more invested in the guy and in all the stuff that happens to him. I think all together it does a reasonable job, and the episode leaves a good aftertaste too. Tropes often feel like a lazy writing, but in the case of Denpa-teki na Kanojo they seem to work fine. The show’s impressive visual language holds your attention, and the writing is fairly clever too. Just as an example, remember the scene where Juu asks Ame to hit him because he was doubting her, thinking she was the murderer? She hits him making him bleed. This establishes yet another great quality of Juu’s, him being proactive in setting things right, apologizing the way that would not take advantage of the meek disposition of the person he apologizes to. But it also shows that Ame is not a doll and has feelings as well. If she wasn’t at least slightly annoyed with Juu’s lack of trust she wouldn’t have hit him hard enough to make him bleed. This is a clever way of achieving two goals with a single brief scene.

What do you think about it? Do you think the use those setups I talked about takes away from the anime? Do you think it is meaningful to talk about designed characters the way I did? See you in the comments ^^/

Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso is a movie about a former fighter pilot Marco who does bounty hunting work in a pre- World War II Adriatics. The sea is lawless and chaotic with bandits and bounty hunters being about indistinguishable; people still remember the WWI and the next war is approaching. It would make a great setting for a dark and heavy story, but the movie doesn’t go there, it tells its story with good humor and positive attitude. And it is not serious about trying to be a period piece. I mean, the pilot Marco is a pig, that kind of throws the realism out of the window from the start.

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That’s Marco

But regardless, just the settings alone would sell the movie for me. Such a specific time and place, and not even something obvious or well known, it was bound to pick my interest. Also it is a Ghibli movie and so far I liked all they have put out. Porco Rosso was made in 1992, directed by Hayao Myazaki. The art and animation look very good, lots of moments worth pausing to have a better look at. I recommend this film to everyone who like anime movies.

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Now come the spoilers, so feel free to stop reading and watch the film instead.

If you kept reading I assume you’ve already seen the movie :P So what that film was about? The only plot line that persists through the whole film is rivalry between Curtis and Marco and maybe slight romantic tension between Marco and Gina. But the story doesn’t really spend most of its time on either of those. Instead it would give you a good look  into the life of an Italian family that builds Marco a new plane. We even get a new main character Fio out of the blue, and she quickly gets the story to rotate around her. It feels strange when she jumps into the movie, you can almost say that Miyazaki just wanted to have an obligatory teenage girl in his film.

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Fio, a 17 years old engineer

But I don’t think it is as simple as that. I think it is one of those stories that want to play a game with you, that give you a chance to guess what is going on without being told. And it is intentionally complicated, as the bits and pieces come in randomly, in no order. So I’ll try to give you my view on it, and you can decide if that makes sense or not.

First is Marco’s “curse”. I don’t think I need to argue that it is weird and out of place for such an otherwise realistic movie. What’s more, no one reacts to the fact that Marco is an anthropomorphic pic, a completely unnatural creature. The way people treat Marco is as if he just has some weird attribute, but nothing more. It is definitely intentional too. So it tells me that this is how I suppose to see that curse, as an attribute, or maybe as some sort of mental state.

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Then let’s look at Marco himself. The key ingredient of his personality is him being self-centered, at least on the surface level. As Marco said to one of his friends: “I only fly for myself”. He lives alone in an isolated place, he works alone, he defies governments and laws. Even for people he cares about, like Gina, he remains distant. And it makes sense, with him being a pig. You can say that it is a what the curse has done to him, since we know he wasn’t a loner his whole life. Later in the movie Marco would say “It seems to me God was telling me I was a pig and maybe I deserve to be all alone”. I quote the dub, the lines are different the subs, but the  meaning is about the same.

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A pirate plane, makes me wish Miyazaki had done more sci-fi movies *_*

We learn that Marco once was a fighter pilot, he fought in the Great War (WWI), and the finale of his career was a horrible fight where his best friend died while Marco was doing his best to save himself. Judging by Marco’s words I can guess the killing during the war and his actions during that last fight that he viewed as cowardly, that created a burden that Marco has carried with him since then. He left the air force and gave up on his former life. When talking to Gina he said “Good guys always die”, implying that he does not see himself as a good person. And it wasn’t a pose, it sounded like something he believed in. What’s more, he was not implying that his morals were twisted, rather that he failed to live up to what a good person is. Seeing himself as that sort of failure, wouldn’t that be a curse.

You can see where I am going with this. The curse was not a magic spell, Witch of the Waste didn’t have to be involved. It was Marco giving up on his own humanity. Unable to live up to his own ideals he turned to follow another road, more suitable for a pig, as he refers to himself every so often. And I can quote Marco yet again, as he says to Fio “Seeing you makes me wish I’ve never given up being human”. That line is pretty different in the subs though, much more neutral. And since I’ve compared the two, let me pull up another quote that I like and I feel it is missing from the subs. After that “I deserve to be all alone” line Fio tells Marco that he is a good person, to which he replies: “No, the good guys were the ones who died. Or maybe I’m dead and life as a pig is the same thing as Hell”.

Now why did we need the Piccolo family and Fio in that movie? Remember that scene when Marco was going to close the deal with his mechanic because he didn’t want his plane to be designed by a woman? And how he had given in the next day, seeing that Fio had what it took to build one? He given in because he wasn’t so stupid to actually be bothered by prejudice and he wasn’t rotten to actually believe that a woman can’t do as good job as a man. All he needed to do was to stop acting as a pig and give the girl a fair chance, and it worked out great for him. And I think that is a big part of Fio’s role in that movie, she makes Marco act decently, thinking of others instead of only about himself. Like that time when Fio was going to fly with him sitting in a tiny compartment on top of a machine gun. Marco couldn’t do that to her, so he got rid of one of his guns instead. Fio’s honesty and enthusiasm did way more for Marco than a company of his old wise friends could.

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I really like that scene. A myriad of planes against the blue sky, it looks amazing.

My friend Shaurya said that the story feels like a fairy tale. I think so too. I am very happy that I got to watch that fairy tale about a middle aged man who once lost his own self. Tell me what you think about it! See you next time.