krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
A while ago, I stopped thinking too much about the stacks and stacks of anime DVDs and Blu-Rays I've bought over the years to now just take out when I have the chance what I've been thinking about watching, which includes series I want to watch again, but I do still tell myself I can at least keep even with the manga I buy. That does seem to mean I haven't returned to any favourites for a while now (save for when titles are "license-rescued" and reprinted in nicer editions), but just lately I did manage something with a faint resemblance to that when, once more having read all of the new volumes of the series I keep up with (with eagerness to dutifulness), I looked at the volumes that pile up unread for one reason or another and started two old series I've had sitting around for a while.

They were both adaptations of "anime originals" from now more than a few years back. I've long been aware how easily those manga series in general can be dismissed as journeyman efforts offered to those people in Japan who don't deserve anything better because they won't pay for the expensive discs over there, but every so often I come up with a fresh reason, however slim, to buy one of them.

RahXephon is one of a cluster of mecha anime series from a few years on either side of the millennium fans over here looked at and declared to be "inspired by Evangelion." (In its case at least, some people demonstrated how many anime series they were aware of by pointing further back to a "super robot" anime from the 1970s.) It seems to have been the most well thought-of of them even if it's not brought up as much as it used to, but I do wonder if people praised it in direct proportion to how dissatisfied they wound up with Evangelion itself. I'm not altogether sure my own first interest in Evangelion and my awareness of the positive interpretations some people have provided of it outweigh the nagging feeling that first interest left me wanting the series to be something it's not, and if that adds to the suspicion it's too easy to interpret it as a conspiracy narrative where the masterminds overwhelm the sympathetic characters without those victims even understanding just how rigged the game was against them. For that reason, my reactions to RahXephon itself do seem sort of right in the middle. The characters do seem generally likeable (and this might be very significant to someone dissatisfied with Evangelion), but that might add to a personal sense the series avoids explanations just because that's what's supposed to happen.

The manga was only three volumes long, and something that short might be that much easier to dismiss. I remember glancing into it once and thinking it did seem different from the anime, and there I left things for years until one day when I was visiting a very well-stocked comics store in the city only to find the new releases I was looking for weren't in. Not wanting to leave without buying anything, when I saw the three volumes still on a shelf together I decided to take a chance and bought all of them. When I started reading them that extra while later, I took note again of what seemed the first big difference between anime and manga: in the manga, the character Reika had changed from etherial and elusive (which can bring Evangelion's Rei Ayanami to mind) to a long-time friend next door. I did notice with some interest one moment that seemed to make a big piece of early world-building easier to just accept (the anime establishes bit by bit how the world "beyond Tokyo" seems excluded, but I was inclined to think you can't just cut off a major city from the rest of the world and have life continue in it comfortably; however, later allusions did seem to explain this in that version). With the speed of the manga narrative, I had less of a feeling its protagonist Ayato was somehow holding back from asking questions for the sake of letting revelations spin out over the course of twenty-six episodes. However, this speed also wound up leaving me thinking the secondary characters were getting short-changed; that feeling might have been strongest with Quon, demure and leggy in the anime (and the second character who brings Rei to mind). Every time I thought some of them might have been left out altogether, though, they did seem to show up after a while. That feeling perhaps also came from thinking the art in the manga didn't have quite the same character as in the anime, and it's possible a perpetual sense of low-grade "fanservice" (which one of the end-of-volume author's notes wound up joking about) didn't help there either. However, this manga did seem to have been produced before Viz developed its bad reputation for retouching anything that might have caused the slightest offense to people picking its volumes up off bookstore shelves. One of the most resonant and memorable developments of the anime (which I've seen even people making unfavourable general comparisons to Evangelion be more positive about), in sharing in the general abbreviation, might have suffered in a particular way. However, the manga's conclusion worked in a somewhat different fashion than the anime's, interesting in an elegiac and tragic way (if leaving the "aha, so that's how they relate to each other" realisation of the anime a bit more reliant on the musings of the reader or just memories of the anime itself).

That I kept the RahXephon manga waiting alongside a second series also based on an older anime might have accounted for why I took a long time getting to either of them. To read the My-HiME manga would mean reading the last Tokyopop series I had to be read, the volumes themselves in the last Right Stuf sale of them acquired after the company had folded up, when there weren't many other series left in full stock. I'd been aware of negative opinions of this particular manga on the Anime News Network forums (although this isn't a rare sort of thing), and with the cover of the first volume making the already busty heroine Mai look that much more overendowed, the content warning labels on all the covers, and the shrinkwrap on the volumes when I did get them my advance impressions might not have been that impressed.

When I ripped the shrinkwrap off the first volume, though, the art did seem better than I might have been expecting, just about as good for the characters as in the anime itself. Remembering how, when I'd got around to opening the anime itself years after it had attracted attention but also its own share of dismissive comments, it had looked "not brand-new any more," might have made the manga look that much more interesting. The manga made the "significant other" characters eventually part of the high stakes in the anime, a few of whom I'd just been sort of intrigued were there at all given how they seemed to get in the way of fannish fantasies, necessary to call forth the mecha-beasts of the heroines, although that just might have tied into a feeling the monsters that were the excuse for fighting were downplayed, which just left the characters to fight each other in a chaotic series of low-stakes battles. I plugged away at that for a volume or two, convinced the content warnings must have been a matter of nervous overreaction, only to hit a moment that did seem kind of raunchy about midway through the series.

Right around there, though, the character I remembered from the anime as the smug manipulator who pushed the heroines into the dark developments got a somehow appropriate comeuppance at the hands of the characters who'd been the mere "midway through" antagonists before, and I started taking more interest in things. As much as I hadn't quite just dismissed the whole anime for its conclusion (or even the conclusion itself) the way some others seemed to have, I was also aware of how the followup series My-Otome had seemed a bit more satisfying for seeming to provide a "second chance." The manga was offering a different second chance, even if it did keep reminding me of impressions the whole franchise was more a matter of presenting a variety of potentially appealing characters than of a story developed with rigour. (So far as characters go, one who in the anime seemed to do the most to appeal to a further demographic yet with "girls' love" content seemed underplayed in the manga.) As with My-Otome, I did get to wondering if the My-HiME manga depended to some extent on recognizing characters first developed in the anime but giving them a more easily likeable story, but there was something satisfying about finishing that last Tokyopop series, even if that had me thinking back to the first Tokyopop series I'd bought back when small manga paperbacks were new arrivals in comic book shops instead of regular bookstore subjects, a series that just happened to be an anime adaptation as well (in the days when I thought of manga as "poor man's anime") but one which added to that sense of how easy they were to dismiss.
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