Just recently I read Blue Drop, or rather the three different manga incarnations of Blue Drop, because Owen told me to and I’m his bitch. It’s a yuri or shoujo-ai – I lack the patience to negotiate a path between the two terms – franchise, with three separate stories set at different times on an Earth devastated by an alien invasion.
Said aliens are all female, their male gender having died out, so in a sense Blue Drop is what happens after the end of one of those trashy movies with titles like Invasion of the Sex Vixens From Outer Space. Blue Drop, however, takes a slightly more logical approach to the idea of a human-like alien race with one gender: the invading Arume are all – in human terms – lesbians. (Or at least, all the ones depicted are; presumably if there are heterosexual or bisexual Arume then they’re regarded by their peers as deviants.)
Blue Drop: Tenshi no Bokura is the most interesting, and the most graphic, part of the franchise. It has a premise in equal parts bizarre, disgusting and weirdly hot, and swiftly becomes a raucous journey through Earth as ruled by the Arume. This journey rather reminded me of Satyricon, as the characters kept falling out of one sexual (mis)adventure and into another. Petronius is, of course, much more respectable reading matter than Blue Drop, as knowledge of Classical literature is an indicator of Sound Moral Fibre. Anyhow, once one gets over the LOOK! BOOBS! phase, the interesting aspect of TnB is the society it depicts.
The Arume set different interest groups (men and women) in the native population against each other, and urban night life in particular is segregated: the Arume live the high life together with any human women who are in a collaborative mood in female-only zones, while ghettoised men resort to the expedients of boarding-school life. Speaking of boarding schools, the Arume also maintain institutions which educate a native elite in the attitudes and behaviour of their masters (or mistresses, rather). Mind you, in this case ‘attitudes and behaviour’ seems to boil down to ‘orgies, and lots of them.’ PSHE was never that simple in my day.
Tenshi no Bokura was apparently cancelled after two volumes; I wouldn’t say I thought it was particularly good and I can’t really recommend it. If you’re looking for a comic romp through humanity’s wackier fetishes you should try My Balls (as the bishop said to the actress). What TnB does do well, however (this thought is originally Owen’s) is to talk about oppression.
It makes us look again at the coloniser’s power by swapping race or nationality, the factors which traditionally divide the Haves and the Have-Nots, for gender and sexuality. The setting’s an obvious, but also pretty far-reaching, reversal, being not just a matriarchal state but also a lesbian one where men are irrelevant – even more irrelevant than women were in Aristotle’s theory of reproduction. Reading about this world felt pretty threatening, and I’m hardly an alpha-male, as I’ve spent too many seminar hours being the Only Man in the Room. Unless that’s what makes me so canary-in-a-mineshaft about masculinity in the first place – hard to say.
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Reading about Blue Drop’s world fostered an unsettling sense of oppression, but it was also stressful for a much more practical reason: reading manga on a computer screen is unpleasant. The on-screen pages are rarely at the optimum size for one’s eyes. Buttons must be clicked. Images must load. Progress is spasmodic.
I’m told that this distaste for manga-on-a-screen is common. Unfortunately, the obvious solution to the problem, physical (and legal!) manga, makes it much harder to hide your power level. It’s quite possible for a (purely hypothetical) young man who doesn’t collect figures or plamo, ignores conventions, and moves house a fair bit, throwing away DVD cases as a waste of space, to entirely conceal his Japanophile habits from those closest to him, potentially for years on end.
Add fourteen volumes of Love Hina to the picture and concealment suddenly becomes a difficult weight to carry. (‘What books wrapped in brown paper? These books wrapped in brown paper?’) Something like 120 Days of Sodom, by contrast, is considered a perfectly acceptable addition to a student’s bookshelf: it’s a conversation piece for Foucauldians (Foucaultaku?) and its possession is taken as evidence of an open mind.
So it takes a lot to get me to read manga. Even Historie, which not only seems to have been written with Xenophon fanobys such as myself in mind but also, by doing an acceptably mild amount of violence to history, provides the odd strangely hilarious line, failed to sustain my interest. True, I enjoyed as much of A Portrait of the Comet as a Young Man (no really!) as I could find translated (itsubun very kindly tracked it down for me) but that’s more testament to the excellent concept (any story with Char Aznable as the hero is automatically excellent) than to my own efforts as a reader.
I am resolved to Try Harder, though, for various reasons. Because manga doesn’t require big budgets and is home to more original material, I suspect there’s a lot I’m missing. (‘Cept for original mecha material, of course, since – as I’ve pointed out before – the power of merchandising can fuel originality in anime. Robots are cooler in motion, too.) Moreover, manga doesn’t have a soundtrack. Music’s one of my blind spots, so I must surely be less blind reading a comic book than I am when I’m watching television.
There’s also the little matter of Shugo Chara!, a franchise I’ve had my eye on for some time. Otou-san’s reconnaissance report was positive, but faced with the anime’s much-rumoured fillers I plumped for the monochrome option. So far I have to say it’s been a good read, good enough to crack my inherited West Country Dissenter’s thriftiness and make me consider spending money on it, for all that those covers are rather pink. (Volumes to shelve with their spines to the wall?) At least – and this is a comforting thought after reading Blue Drop - it’s free of sex.