Franchising Abstraction and Open Endings

A simple existence

If you’re ever partial to nail-biting bickering about trivial nothings, we’re having a contest here. It’s on right now and have been for a little while, and will continue for the next month and plus some. The difference between this and SaiWhatever is that there’s promises of gift prizes at the end of the long, hard-fought road. Read the rules for what little details there are available.

But more pertinently, as people struggle to come up with every possible kind of incentive under the sun to get those swing votes, I’m just drawing out one point for further attention.

Let’s take Type-Moon’s Fate/Stay Night for example. It’s a good example because I have to remind myself of the pictures I still have yet to take (at least you don’t get snow in Singapore! lol. Jeff Lawson so should get a figure photo blog going…) and blog entries yet to be written about F/SN’s cast of characters. What do you get when you remove, say, Saber, from the context of the game/anime story? Who is Saber?

We know by the game/anime setting, that she is a magical being summoned to fight in a contest. She is also a heroic being, who died and now lives again for the purpose of this contest. We know it’s a she; we know she is a swordswoman. We know she has blond hair and blue eyes. We know she wears armor like nobody’s business–probably dating her to an age where wearing that kind armor was practical (disregarding anime’s crazy design licenses for impractical character designs). She speaks with a fairly solemn voice, and is a serious individual. Most of her official character art reflect that as well.

Now we look at Rin Tohsaka in the same way. Rin is a she, too; and also a serious individual. But beyond that the two quickly diverges. Rin is darker, and sports a design style that is a little gothic but also much more Japanese-schoolgirl. She expresses a variety of attitudes and feelings with her facial expression and body language that is missing from Saber. She has an attitude. In fact, she quickly reminds me (at least) of the Oujosama archetype.

The two of them, Saber and Rin, are characters in a franchise. We know a lot about them without knowing what happened to them in the anime or game. Such is sort of the mode of modus operandi of anime concept design and character design that we are used to and see in mainstream anime stuffs. Anime companies sell franchises, not just video on DVDs or ads on TV. They attach products to concepts, and be it story, character, or even just a name, this is how you make money selling from video games to cell phone straps to massager to maid cafe services.

And it is not so the case for every anime character under the sun. Take Youko Nakajima for example. To me Twelve Kingdoms is an awesome show that more people needs to watch because it captures the feel of a good high-fantasy with strong characterization. However it’s a fairly typical example how the characters don’t really live beyond the screen or pages of text that detailed their adventures. Sure, that doesn’t stop anyone from attaching stuff to these characters for $$$ (save maybe this), but in the minds of fans and readers, do these characters live on? Do they drive us into mad fans? Maybe. Is this the kind of fandom that makes us want to write slash fics and doujinshi? Maybe. Is the fandom dimension that makes all the difference between a character chained to the original work versus a character liberated?

I felt that Youko Nakajima is a character imprisoned by her story. Indeed the magnificence of her existence is really meaningful mostly in that context. And it isn’t like Twelve Kingdoms is lacking in interesting elements in the setting–it’s full of interesting stuff, in fact. The Shokei and Suzu arc, rather than building on an epic story of coming-of-age for a high school girl, puts it in the perspective of a life-long (in this case, could be hundreds of years) drama series serialized in juvenile fantasy novels. Could it be that Youko is chained to the serial nature of her story?

We want to know what’s up next with her. We want to take part in her character growth and the continuing discovery of the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. But to do that we can’t venture off on our own…

Alas. Is this yet another case to be made about the power of freedom of creative expression, a gift from creator to consumer, who in turn, become also a creator? It’s a content-layer concern that is very subtle and amusing at the same time.

So chalk one up for open endings!

4 Responses to “Franchising Abstraction and Open Endings”

  • TheBigN

    A little bit of campaigning here? :P

    But I agree with you on the concept. It’s why we have a doujin on a bastardized doujin, or A-cat-is-fine-too Shiki, or even 4chan memes for people like Yomi. I think a character who can go beyond his/her original source material should be considered with all encompassing newly-created traits, good or bad. It makes things more interesting, and it adds depth, whether true or not.

  • dm

    The flip side of the Youko story is, I think: not just characters, but the worlds they inhabit. Tell me more about that world. Simoun might be a good candidate — let’s revisit Yun at the Spring a century from now, shepherding the great grandchildren of her comrades through their choice? Let’s find out what happened to that girl Limone rejects? I can’t think of any other examples at the moment (maybe Last Exile) — it happens more with novels than with anime, I suppose because the fantasy worlds of anime rarely seem to stretch very far beyond the edges of the screen.

  • dreamshade

    Take a vote between Saber and Youko alone. Bring in a person who’s never seen either series and is going to vote based on persona and description alone. Who’s going to win?

  • omo

    N: No, it’s nothing about campaigning, even if it’s much like what dreamshade is saying. I like both character concepts and how they were narrated. The problem is that one exists better individually and apart from the story she comes from, the other isn’t.

    I took a course about character copyright last semester. It is enlightening because once we ignore the practical and legal reason why character copyright protection exist, you start to think if the creation of a character–a mixed entity of ideas and tangible, fixed form in a story/stories–is something that is even constitutionally sensible to think of it in terms of copyright. Is it an idea? How far does this “idea” go? The Youkos in the world are the traditional characters we see in books and novels, as dm pointed out. Characters like Saber, OTOH, are $$$ makers because it’s creatively flexible and you can attach a ton of money off it. Yet, is it protectable?

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