Saturday, February 22, 2014

Delayed Reaction Crying

I've written before about some emotional scenes that've affected me, and since it was the month of February, figured it was time to expand the list.  As mentioned, there was Moto Hagio's Hanshin, of conjoined twins which was reprinted in A Drunken Dream.  But there's also The Willow Tree, a short mostly silent comic about an anthropomorphic representation of a lone tree in a field that I won't bother spoiling.  Even Trina Robbins in the foreword cautioned having tissues handy when reading it, and even with that warning, it still made me cry.

But there's another realm of tearjerker scenes that only affect me AFTER I reread them.  This is in a different kind of reaction than the emotional gut-punch that turns on the waterworks like there's no tomorrow.  I didn't cry the first time I read them, but when I reread them a second time, I do.  Knowing the story behind the build-up and prelude beforehand is what sets me off.

Before going onto the field of slow build sucker punches, I might as well expand upon the list of comic pages that never fail to bring a tear to my eyes, whether I know about them or not.

The top contender would be in Please Save My Earth where after a brutal psychic battle, the poster bad boy, Rin starts to have nightmares of his former life as Shion.  Shion's past as a constantly abused war child finding solace only found refuge when he was found by Nuns who relocated him to a safe haven.  He's later put in care of a guardian acting as a foster parent, Lazlo.  Even though Lazlo treats Shion respectfully, Shion is still alien to the idea of being in a family, having known war all his life, and is unsure how to handle his teasing personality.  Eventually, he gets in a fight with some other kids at school over his status as a war orphan to the point where the bully needed stitches.  Rather than reprimand him for his actions or outright scold him for inappropriate behavior in the face of teasing, Lazlo simply forgives him for his actions, and treats him with nothing but kindness..

I simply can't understand the purpose and meaning of forgiving someone doing what would be considered a reprehensible act, but that simple act of kindness towards his trauma never fails to break me up, either in animated form, printed page or memory.  And then he died in a car accident shortly after, causing further damage to Shion's psyche.  "What'll I do if you aren't there?" is constantly running through his head.  Alice (Rin's reincarnated love interest) attempts to soften this rush of painful memories by singing to his sleeping body.  Child abuse is such an overdone cliche that acts of trying to undo that kind of damage is extremely rare.

Naoki Urasawa is a great manipulative storyteller for constantly creating stories that plucks at the heartstrings.  As much as I enjoy his work, I can't really recommend his latest series Billy Bat, because it's filled with silly conspiracy theories that don't quite mesh, such as another look at the JFK assassination and the fake Moon Landing, which was debunked with Darryl Cunningham's excellent comic essay on the topic, along with other Science subjects.  Not to mention the titular character, which is supposed to be representative of 1930's newspaper comics looks closer to a Modern-Day Manga with funny animals.  His reliance on children as hostage devices doesn't help either.

His masterpiece, 20th Century Boys is much more tightly plotted, and is particularly unique in that it has not one, but TWO emotional scenes in it.  The first is where a character grew up being basically ignored through life, and had no pictures of him as a child finally getting his sense of worth justified when his childhood teacher handed over a long-forgotten photo of him.  To me, its akin to hearing stories of war survivors where family memories of their deceased relatives is proven only through rare photos, because the frames were worth money, and the pictures were tossed away only because they had sentimental value.

The second scene is where Kanna finds a video of her absent mother, after believing that she was responsible for the virus that destroyed the world, only to find out that her comparison to Godzilla was more out of in scales of destruction rather than taking pride in such an act.  (A Robert Oppenheimer "I am become Death Destroyer of Worlds" kind of thing)  Then the video ends with her determination to stop the virus, and a last barely audible message to her child to "Be happy."

That does it for the straightaway tearjerkers.  Now, here's the second half - the slow build-up to the emotional gut-punch that affects me that when I reread them.

I'm no stranger to seeing Death on the comics page, but the notion of someone dying has lost its shock value, especially considering how cheap it is.  (Especially when they come back to life)  I'm much more interested in the question of how long someone can possibly survive while in hostile and potentially hazardous territory.  This is why I prefer Suspense to Horror, because unlike the latter, you're more likely to care for what the characters are going through.  Death would only be a release for them.  While other people are affected by the deaths of household pets, such as Old Yeller and W3B, I have no such comparisons.  To me, the concept of the livelihood of animals is a binary equation.  They're either dead or alive.  There's no middle ground.

Where this differs is in the first story (or sixth, chronologically speaking) in Matt Kindt's Super Spy, a collection of loosely-connected stories set in WWII.  It shifts between the life of a girl visiting a seal in a zoo and her grown-up life unwittingly sheltering people for the Resistance.  Everytime the girl sees the seal, she tosses a pebble over to his cage, and watches in glee as the salty dog eagerly gobbles the little treat up.  She continues in this vein for several days, in absolute joy, until the seal exhibit is closed.  It turns out that all the rocks she'd fed the seal wound up lodged in its stomach, and it died.  The key closing words "I had no idea" never fails to impact me, because there are multiple instances where I've wound up hurting someone without realizing the consequences of my actions.  The equivalent would be a kid feeding their dog chocolate, figuring they'd like it as much as they do, not knowing that the sugar would be poison to their body.

This is also tangentially related to the next scene.  Throughout the magical Gorn-filled world of Dorohedoro, there's been hints of Nikaido's reluctance to use her time travel magic, which had been hinted at causing the death of a friend of hers.  It isn't until the 12th volume that we finally get some context for the backstory that's been building up all this time.  It turns out she first started to experiment with her magic when she was still a child, and went back at a pivotal moment in time.  When she came back to her present time, she was confused as to why no one remembered her sister Yakumo.  Since she'd never seen any Time Travel movies, it took her awhile to put the pieces together.

Because she interrupted her parents at the crucial moment in time that would've saved a baby from the water, they never had an extra child in their house.  It was only when she explored past the river that she saw a headstone commemorating a grave of a nameless baby who'd drowned that she understood what she'd done.  The result caused a mental block that prevented her from using her magic again, since it was too dangerous, when she was too young to understand its power.

Unlike the others which I've been able to analyze the specific reasons behind their emotional issues, this last one is something I have trouble rationalizing properly.  For some reason, the cover of last chapter of Sandman's epic arc, Brief Lives, which gives bullet points of what the epilogue contains in a circular arc in the middle of the page before ending on a repeat of the Title Drop.  (For some reason, the Trade is missing the first heading, Farwells.  Whether this is corrected or removed in later printings, I haven't checked)  Unlike the others on this list, it confuses me why this particular layout affects me so much.  It's not as if there's any emotional trigger in it.  There's nothing truly remarkable about the cover.  It barely even visually represents any of the images in the chapter.  And yet like the various tactical stimuli that make Erika "DAR!" Moen climax, it affects me.  I have no idea why.

Are there any other scenes out there that have similar impacts on you?

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