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Fautopias published on

Recent Adventures:

* thegeekgene and I took it in turns driving Mom to Bowling Green last Sunday (Mom is teaching at a summer camp, and thegeekgene is volunteering – Mom broke her leg and can’t drive herself). I drove back myself on Monday, cutting the time down from five-and-a-half hours to five with judicious use of the ancient art of speeding. This is the longest I’ve ever driven without causing a Problem. Very exciting.

* Coming back, I took a two-hour detour to Mammoth Cave. Because I could. (Unfortunately, my camera battery was dying and I couldn’t take as many pictures as I’d wanted.)

* Mail! I ordered the Shojo Manga: Girl Power! exhibition catalog on Saturday, and it was there when I got back Monday.

I’ve only read the first article so far, which is by Masami Toku. Something that interested me was her statement that, in giving examples of the specialized visual vocabulary of manga, blond hair meant foreigners and dark hair meant Japanese people – something that I don’t think works, or at least is more individual in meaning than that.

Taking what I’ve been reading recently as an example, the modern Japanese characters in CLAMP’s manga can have basically any hair color. In Cardcaptor Sakura, which is set in the present, even the miko, a character-type that is usually treated as sort of a guardian of Japanese tradition, is blond. This pattern seems to hold in the vast majority of manga – Japanese characters can have any hair color.

In CLAMP’s Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, the characters are constantly hopping from world to world, and many of the worlds are based on specific cultures. In the various “European” and “modern” Japanese” worlds, the characters can, again, have any hair color. (They also seem to have no other distinguishing racial characteristics – once they get some appropriate clothes, no one ever really questions whether the characters are from ’round these parts.)

There have so far been seven worlds based fairly unequivocally on Eastern cultures:
– Kurogane’s Japan – early feudal Japan (not sure what specific period to call this, but it’s clearly pre-Heian – aka, 700’s or earlier)
– Shara – Edo-period Japan (early 1600’s to mid 1800’s)
– Outo – based on Taish?-period Japan (early-20th-century)
– Yuuko and Watanuki’s Japan – “real” modern-day Japan
– the Hanshin Republic – based on modern-day Osaka
X Tokyo – post-apocalyptic Tokyo (though we only really know that because we’re told Tokyo Tower’s there somewhere)
– Koryo – feudal Korea
– Shura – vaguely Hindu-mythology-based

There are also two that are unequivocally Western European-based:

– Jade Country – 17th-or-18th-century England
– Lecourt – deranged fantasyland Europe *

The signals on all those seem pretty clear to me. Some of the others are less so.

– Edonis – far-future Japan? Or possibly Europe?
– Infinity – same deal as Edonis
– Celes – Mongolia? Russia?

Now, the sort-of-Hindu-mythology world also has polychromic hair – but it turns out to be (volume 10 spoilers) the ancient past of the apparently Tokugawa-Japanese world of Shara, and even to begin with was only sort-of-Hindu-mythology-based. Tatooine’s also kind of – okay, completely – lacking in clear cultural markers, and again has both dark and light hair.

Koryo, on the other hand, is clearly identifiable as Korea, based on the clothing and names. And everyone in Koryo has black hair.

Going sideways – Battle Angel Alita, a shounen manga. The protagonist, dark-haired, is called Gally when we first meet her (in the Japanese – in English she is, of course, Alita). The other major characters’ names are similarly culturally fuzzy – there’s a blond doctor named Daisuke Ido; another blond doctor, from the same place as Ido, named Desty Nova; a dark-haired teenaged boy named Yugo; a black smuggler named Vector; and two Anthy-colored characters, a warrior and an apparently-mentally-disabled girl, named Jashugun and Shumira.

These characters all appear in the first three volumes, at which time, Kishiro has allegedly said, he had no idea where he was going in the manga – Gally is an amnesiac when she first appears, and Kishiro supposedly hadn’t yet figured out what her mysterious past was when the manga started publishing.

By the last few volumes, however, it was clear that Kishiro had started thinking about his world-building, and now had specific cultural backgrounds in mind for his various characters and locations – Gally acquired a clearly Japanese name, and it became obvious that the racially diverse Scrap Iron City, where most of the protagonists lived, was located in the post-apocalyptic United States – and that everyone in the “floating city” of Zalem, which disinterestedly ruled over Scrap Iron City, was white and blond. By this time every new character native to Zalem being introduced had a clearly Western name.

* Digression: My personal term for this sort of setting, which is pretty common in anime and video games, is the Fauxtopia, or the Fucked Aryan Utopia. A Fauxtopia should have at least three of these five characteristics:

1) An apparently poverty-free and peaceful society with magic or high technology spouting out of everyone’s ears.
2) A pale-skinned populace with light-colored or blue/purple/green hair.
3) A concealed dark underbelly, frequently a ruler gone mad or a dark-haired slave class that makes the abundance possible.
4) Everything going down in flames, possibly due to the actions of a protagonist not native to the utopia.
5) Elements associated with the Western image of Atlantis – ie, pseudo-Greco-Roman architecture, societal emphasis on academia and learning (particularly astronomy and occult knowledge), water.

Lecourt skipped 3 and stopped halfway at 4, which kind of surprised me. But it did hit 5.

For examples of Fauxtopias, see Battle Angel Alita‘s Tiphares, Revolutionary Girl Utena‘s castle in the sky, Chrono Trigger‘s Zeal, that place with the name I forget in Soulblazer, Golden Sun‘s Lemuria, and heaven in Angel Sanctuary, The Demon Ororon, Unico, and let’s-say-Saiyuki.

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