Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (2/3)

     The first part where I talk about the realism in Inio Asano’s works and from where does it originate may be found here. Now it’s time to think about how Asano transforms the world to suit his stories and finally to bring some thoughts about Nijigahara Holograph in the third part.

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     It’s not hard to agree that generally manga industry tries to promote positive, inspiring and uplifting stories (pretty much typical shounen stuff), so inevitably there appears a niche for some deeper studies of darker characters that may come close to being antiheroes. Though the world in Asano’s manga is shining with realism, it also is created to be very dark, a place where no one would rather live. For example school life in Asano’s works definitely isn’t the pinnacle of human existence as many anime seem to propose. Children are often left to their own devices as adults have their own problems and that ensures survival of the fittest with bullying at its best. Asano portrays school experience as a journey to a wider and always expanding world, but it has little parental guidance or visible influence by the teachers – kids try things on their own, discover ways to deal with various problems on their own, and just try to survive an environment that’s certainly not the most sympathetic.

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     It’s not only school – anytime and anywhere tragedies sometimes just happen, sometimes you invite them yourself, but nobody is safe. There’s no such thing like “oh no, my friend was eaten by zombies, but after two chapters I’m absolutely alright like nothing happened”. Unpleasant things ensure that the characters are affected to the core as it provides means to dig deeper into human nature. Characters may not show how their experiences influence their decisions, but at critical moments you see that even the most secretive emotion may find a way through all the barriers. Widely appreciated Oyasumi Punpun begins like a somehow weird but ultimately harmless tale of a little boy trying to find a place under the sun and his journey through years, but the influence of the unfriendly world increases as the time goes on and by the end you end up being almost terrified what became of that sweet little kid, and the saddest part is that many of his not the best decisions weren’t his fault. Also, the viewer is left to ponder whether at the start Punpun’s life was any different from that of a random statistically averaged person and if truly everything that occurred could happen to anyone – is it true that either you’re just lucky or you aren’t? The effect is enhanced by the fact that Punpun himself is made to look like a bird-like doodle – naturally his emotions are visualized in a limited way so the reader may imagine himself in Punpun’s boots a lot easier. Punpun isn’t a character meant to be clear cut and having a rigidly defined personality – you may construct your own Punpun from a doodle to an actual person like any other.

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     Punpun starts as a fairly normal person, but as the characters are just the products of their own universe, probably there was no right way for him from the start.  Asano’s rather pessimistic world just isn’t forgiving for any little mistake that may come to haunt you later, seemingly harmless choices may lead to sad outcomes. Then it’s no wonder that pretty much all of Asano’s characters are broken people in one way or another. Each of them comes into the society naïve and hopeful but then the life just bashes their hopes, dreams and entire worldviews and in return thrusts a question “What will you do now?” The answer obviously is “I don’t know” and at this point characters begin to differ by trying to answer the question properly to the best of their abilities.

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     As Asano’s world is unrelenting, it’s filled with various individuals some of whom may appear to have gone absolutely nuts. To some extent that’s again a confirmation how hard is to live there. Some characters use this kind of behavior only as a way of dealing with their problems but everyone has his own internal logic and what’s perfectly fine with them. On the surface that may seem abnormal but that’s how Asano’s characters are. To think metatextually, some of these weird moments provide a little bit of comedy relief that brings a tiny ray of humor in seeing how ridiculous the world actually is apart from all the gloomy stuff. The humor often comes from totally unexpected and at the first glance illogical actions of the characters, almost on the same level as in Nichijou. Anyway, ultimately Asano’s existential questions lead to the conclusion that virtually no one knows exactly how to live. Everything just happens and in a blink of an eye you can end up in a horrible mess that no one warned you about. The harsh environment has broken many, shattering dreams and wishes, but as lonely creatures as they are, Asano’s characters strive to form connections and somehow live on.

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     Even a person without goals or aspirations still needs to live somehow. An idea being explored in practically all of Asano’s work is the necessity to choose your future. Probably the two most important decisions in human life are the choice of a partner and a choice of profession, and Asano’s characters struggle with both of them as there is no right way do one or another and everyone just has to find his own path which usually isn’t that filled with joy. It’s practically impossible to find a perfect partner, especially since at first we are prone to overestimate the good points of a person we want to like. Entangled in imperfect relationships, Asano’s characters sometimes try to go their separate ways only to begin a new cycle of imperfectness. Sometimes they try to work things out and stick together even if there seems to be no logic behind it. Speaking about relationships, Asano doesn’t shy from sexuality. He tries to portray it as a very casual thing, just like eating lunch or something similar and that makes his works exceptional among many stuff nowadays where there’s tons of teasing and fanservice, but everything ends with only that. Well, I myself am not a person who particularly looks for such scenes in manga and anime, but the idea of treating it as a normal thing once again brings the realism, or rather a world without thinking about sexuality as a stigma. A perfect example of that is another Asano manga – in Umibe no Onnanoko characters (that are just in the beginning of their independent lives) experiment, err, try again, and just continue living on as best they can.

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     The other big question isn’t any easier. No one during their school years wants to become an average person, that is to work long hours of a salary man or, even worse, to be able only to achieve a position of a part time shop assistant. Continuing education in a college in this regard is a no better solution since a person at that point usually still doesn’t have a slightest idea what he wants to do with his life. Or rather, what he could do with his life because as children the characters have many huge dreams but virtually all of them are shattered sooner or later. Despite of that, usually there are opportunities to break out of all these cycles of misfortune. Not every character is able to make the right step, but among all the unhappiness there are moments of joy and salvation, moments when someone just finds the right answer to one of the multitude of questions that the life continues to ask.

     Please continue reading the final part about Nijigahara Holograph here. The first part examining Asano’s realism may be found here.

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  1. Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (1/3) | Aldael's Attic
  2. Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (3/3) | Aldael's Attic
  3. Musings and Reflections – end of Winter 2017 | Aldael's Attic
  4. Neat Blogger Award | Aldael's Attic

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