Only a Quisling From the Waist Downwards?

It's not ice cream, unfortunately.

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.

(There was a Blue Drop anime series, which I haven’t seen and don’t plan to. Kabitzin covered some of its episodes; Josh gave it 86.8% and OGT sounded positive if not ecstatic about it.)

* * *

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.

31 responses to “Only a Quisling From the Waist Downwards?

  1. “because Owen told me to and I’m his bitch.

    No, because Owen likes to try and set things into motion behind the scenes. :P

    “It has a premise in equal parts bizarre, disgusting and weirdly hot”

    I do think that’s the feelings that it’s supposed to indicate, especially with all the crossdressing that went on in the Tenshi no Bokura‘s first volume, coupled with the main genderbend that sets it off. The story is an interesting example of oppression, but more importantly, about it’s consequences, as flippant as complaining about how “Arume made me lesbian/gay” to “‘X’ group isn’t considered necessary anymore”. It’s sad to hear that it was scrapped after two volumes though. It’s in the vein of Sundome to me: Once you can move through all of the titillation (of which there is a crapload), there’s some interesting social commentary and other stuff abounding.

  2. I not one for reading Manga on screens either. Part of the enjoyment for me is taking a break from such things, while prolonged reads are impossible without inducing bloodshot eyes. Unless it’s something which cannot be read anywhere else I’d rather pay for it or wait for a local release.

  3. I’ve found myself spending some time with online manga. Mostly that’s because I’ve been reading several (long) series which I don’t think have much real re-reading value. It’s a bit like only listening to music on leaked mp3′s, or attempting to watch porn on blurry cable – a quick and clumsy thrill. Though for all that I rely on the disposable pleasures, in a hidden corner of my room there may be found a few pristine delicacies which speak volumes (and most of the chosen volumes speak quite delicately).

    I enjoyed reading this, but I can’t say I’m at all attracted by the idea of Blue Drop. Perhaps I should try considering it intellectually.

  4. The premise of Blue Drop sounded intriguing at first, but then I remembered that awful anime adaptation. Eww.

  5. All you need is your lower body!

    (Please tell me you’re watching Detroit Metal City)

  6. I’m disappointed that I never finished the anime of Blue Drop, although that’s mainly because I wish I’d stuck with a story that, with hindsight, has lots of alien invasions and shoujo-ai. *sigh*

    I share your discomfort with reading scanlated manga – several years of internet use have failed to shake off the idea that novels are read on paper, so I’m still getting used to the idea of on-screen reading. Owen did get me reading the labyrinthine piece of genius that is Nijigahara Holograph though, and on the third reading it feels like Krauser II is having a one-man orgy inside my brain.

  7. Dammit I never finished the anime and I thought it was pretty good? Then again I am not an avid fan of manga.

  8. On reading manga on the computer: I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve never really had any troubles with that (having the CDisplay Comic Reader helped out with that a lot), but I can understand why others could get annoyed by it.

    Yamcha: The mangas all have separate storylines from the anime, which is the prequel to all of the mangas and focusing on how the invasion really gets going in a way. As someone who’s seen all of the Blue Drop anime and read two of the three manga, I’d definitely say the manga is better than the anime. Granted, the mangas contain deliberate yuri fanservice instead of the lighter stuff you saw in the anime (and the Tenshi no Bokura manga adds traps and genderbends into the mix, further complicating things), and if you’re not interested in that stuff, I’m not sure that you could enjoy them. But in my opinion the underlying stories for the mangas are pretty interesting.

    coburn: I’d say give it a shot looking at it intellectually. While I didn’t really say it right in my first comment, I think there’s some interesting stuff there, as also seen in IKnight’s post. :P

    Kairu Ishimaru: But to many people, it’s something better.

  9. Hell, the Blue Drop anime just got real boring real quick, to the point where not even shoujo-ai could keep me watching. And that’s very surprising.

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  11. Hmm, how large is your monitor? My experience reading it on a 17″ CRT was downright masochistic, but ever since I upgraded to a 20″ widescreen LCD the experience has been positively divine. I’m also curious as to what software you’ve been using for the job.

  12. It is quite ironic for Owen to find Blue Drop chilling. I thought he’d be be a drooling fanboy all over it, considering his penchant for oppression.

    Of course, Owen then would insult me for believing a bearded sky fairy and then throwing a wildly baseless (though not completely untrue) charge of idolatry.

  13. All I remember about the anime is a very slow-paced story and a lot of blushing. Oh, and that dad with the fantastic purple mustache!

  14. @ TheBigN: I’m not entirely convinced that TnB‘s rapid pace of thought and action could’ve been sustained for a long run of chapters, so perhaps it was best that it did die early. Sundome sounds somewhat interesting, though it lacks the sf hook that BD has.

    @ Wildcard: I don’t know if I’ve ever really had bloodshot eyes from onscreen manga, but they’ve certainly felt like it once or twice. Local releases seem a more hopeful prospect with manga, even quite obscure manga, too.

    @ coburn: Well, as I said in the body of the post, I don’t really recommend Blue Drop as something good or entertaining. I remember your entry about the Nausicaä manga, which I ought to read – its reputation is rather daunting, sadly.

    @ Yamcha: Hmm, the blog entries I found were generally positive, but I suppose it wasn’t to everybody’s tastes?

    @ Baka-Raptor: I’m going to watch DMC, but since everyone else is at the moment I’m planning to do so in a while.

    @ concretebadger: Onscreen novels, don’t get me started. I’ve read some studies which suggest that we actually read in a different way online (even eye movements differ), and it’s a way which is efficient for websites but detrimental to extended prose.

    @ Panther: As I said to coburn, it’s not really something I’d recommend anyway.

    @ Kairu Ishimaru: Disappointing, isn’t it?

    @ TheBigN: Hmm, thanks for the link to CDisplay, I’ll give that a shot.

    @ omisyth: Sounds like my experience trying to watch Ideon, only with shoujo-ai instead of mecha.

    @ Owen S: My laptop’s screen is a 17″ one, so masochism’s the word, yes. As for software, I was using some hideous part of the Windows interface – Windows Gallery or Windows Image Viewer, or something like that.

    @ drmchsr0: Well, it’s probably possible to find a story chilling and enjoy it at the same time.

    @ Kabitzin: I wonder if ‘a very slow-paced story and a lot of blushing’ is a stylistic description for shoujo-ai as a genre?

    @ Kairu Ishimaru: Read the manga and see for yourself!

  15. HEY LESBIANS

    MUST DOWNLOAD

    (j/k)

  16. I can vouch for the moderate embarrassment of owning masses of manga when moving home. It’s also bloody inconvenient!

    But then, I’ve never had much of a problem with online apart from the eye-strain after a few solid hours of reading. My biggest qualm is how much the art suffers after the scansalation process – even Naruto’s artwork looks more refined/elegant in hardcopy.

  17. ^manga

    (get a comment editor plugin!)

  18. @ Michael: There are shallower reasons to read something . . . but perhaps not many.

    @ Hige: Art quality’s a good point – I’ve been reading Junk in hardcopy recently and besides the obvious things like better-defined lines, I’ve noticed that the onscreen version can’t bring out the murkiness that Asamiya uses.

    Plugins? THIS IS WORDPRESS.COM! *kicks you down a well*

  19. Windows image viewer? I remember a time when I had to unarchive chapter/volume files, then use that old (but still functional) program. Nowadays, I found CDisplay, which is a comic book reader that allows you to read from archives (zip/rar) directly. Here’s a link: http://www.geocities.com/davidayton/CDisplay.

  20. As of the moment, I’m mustering up the courage to read TnB (I promised Owen I’m gonna give it a read, oh gawd what have I gotten myself into!), and I can only hope I can get past the “distracting pandering” aspects, and find it mindfuckingly awesome or something. If ever I get scarred, there will always be shoujo mangas I can turn to for “healing”.

  21. While it’s relatively graphic in its treatment of sex (at least for something that isn’t hentai) I doubt it would scar anyone, so you can probably relax on that score.

  22. I’ve been meaning to watch the Blue Drop anime for a while now, I just haven’t got around to it yet…on the other hand, hearing people talk about shows that I haven’t seen like this always makes me want to go and catch up.

    Alternatively, I could also just read the manga, but one of the reasons why I don’t read as much manga as I should has already been addressed by you: I hate reading manga on screens as well. Sometimes it’s because of the size/quality/other problems, but more often than not, it’s also because I like to lie around while reading. It’s lazy, I know, but it’s comfortable ;P

  23. Yeah. It is not ice-cream. No wait… That is not right.

  24. @ ETERNAL: Ah, a fellow sufferer! I’m not comfortable reading while lying down myself, though I wouldn’t say that makes me any less lazy. I think it’s because my arms are too weak to either hold a book up above my head or to lift my body up so I can get my head over the pages.

    @ The Sojourner: More to the point, would you lick them?

  25. I don’t think I would, but then I’ve never been very adventurous when it comes to new tastes.

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