Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Old-School Influences

One of the things I enjoy doing is finding certain influences that sprung from certain comics.  Some of them are obvious ripoffs.  Others are more subtle about it.  And others can be downright obscure.  The fun comes from finding connections, and how they wound up creating the building blocks to what would later become compulsive reading material.  And when you dig further back, those influences become even more obvious.

Comics are rife with stealing material from each other and other forms of media, which makes it somewhat easier for me.  One of the first instances was reading the history of Andre the Giant.

Until Ultimate Muscle (Kinnikuman) showed up, I had practically no interest in Wrestling.  (I still don't for live-action), but ironically enough, enjoy reading Wrestling history comics.  And Andre certainly made a big splash in Japan, who expressed their fondness with displaying larger-than-life characters in their entertainment. 

But it wasn't just the use of overly exaggerated bulky antagonists that was utilized.  What surprised me was finding out that within the macho portrayal of Wrestling, there were stories of fights between good and evil played up to lofty heights to garner audience attention.  So many of the tropes that are so inherent in Wrestling apply to a lot of Manga.  From the over-the-top acting to gritting through the pain of hurtful cheap tactics, to the taunting between two rivals before the big game, to the miraculous comeback to the tragic backstory reveal.

This is especially prominent in Sports Manga, but can also apply to Shonen rivals, Tournament arcs, and everything in between.  But sometimes the influence can be less overt.  Take this page from the early translation of Battle Angel Alita for instance:

This page in particular always stood out for me, because that piece of narrative insight in the second half of that textbox never shows up anywhere else ever again.  I always wondered why it was presented this way.  Then, out of morbid curiosity, I checked the recent Kodansha translation, which did away with the superfluous additive text.

I haven't been much of a fan of the latest translations, since they're notoriously dumbed down and more literal than natural modes of speech.  But a look at another Manga property showed where the previous insertion might have come from.

Every episode of Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro ends with a chorus of crickets saying "GE GE GE GE GE" in thanks of Kitaro.

It's a little annoying, but it's a note that the story is over.  When you see something enough times, it lodges itself in your head, and I suspect that the original translator might've taken influence from this old-school Manga and inserted the extra bit as a reference point to explain the need for transitioning from a girl's inner monologue to the sky city's tubes.

It is a difficult thing to make a badass character have an air of innocence, and yet, Alita seamlessly manages to pull it off.  The only American examples I can think of are Horridus from Savage Dragon and Cassandra Cain of Batgirl fame.  Yet, for as much as she's an original (each book was radically different from each other), she's actually the combination of multiple factors.  And to explain that, I'm going to have to delve into some spoilers for the third sequel version of the series - the Mars Chronicles, which quite frankly, are the least interesting so far.

There's potentially spoilery material coming up, so if you want to remain blissfully ignorant, stop right here, and ignore everything after the cut.

Yukito Kishiro's decline started when the series moved away from philosophical arguments and more into the realm of martial arts fighting.  Sure, fighting opponents the size of houses was part of its charm, but the true emotional strength was in its emotional focus, and when that was gone, so too was the heart of what made Alita stand out.  Last Order started out promising, but was laden down with space politics and too much needless padding with random characters who were deemed necessarily important, rather than introduce multiple interesting offbeat characters spontaneously.

And those problems only got further compounded with the Mars Chronicles, delving into the secrets of Alita's mysterious past, which were far less interesting than they should've been.  There were multiple loathsome characters, scientific terminology and too many warped scientists in a Universe where Desty Nova was the definitive Mad Scientist.  Not to mention obvious twists that could be seen coming, and Alita's childhood friend having more personality than the main character.  Add those sins up, and the faults become compounded.

In the latest chapter, after many false reveals, we finally got to see Alita's Mother, and... well, she needs to be seen to be believed:

Basically, she's suffering from a form of facial tumors, where faces show up all over the body, and she was put in a sideshow attraction.  Later, surgery was done to remove the tumors, but it was found she was "pregnant" somehow, and was given a body of its own.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's pretty much the origin of Pinoko from Black Jack.

But it's not just Pinoko, but also the facial tumors that's borrowed as well.

One of the points made in Even a Monkey can Draw Manga was that ALL Mangas were basically rip-offs of Osamu Tezuka.  And Alita's mother was basically a cross between two Black Jack stories.  This shouldn't be too surprising, since Alita is basically Cyberpunk Pinocchio.

So, let’s break this down.  Alita was inspired by Astro Boy, who in turn was greatly inspired by Walt Disney's Pinocchio, who in turn, was inspired by a prank based on the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.  That’s some recursive inspiration there.

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