One man’s fanservice is another’s relevant artwork
(one of these people is a reverse trap)
I don’t like this entry very much. It seemst to me to be a collection of disparate fragments of argument. However, I think it is worth posting in any case, and I promise that the next one in the series will be more focused.]
Manliness and GAR
Martin (of The End of the World) wrote a seminal entry about manliness in anime, in which he suggested that
[r]eally manly characters, by their very nature, only let you see sides of their personalities that they want you to see: manliness involves hiding your emotions away because a man is judged by his actions.
‘Manliness’ in a show can be taken too far, resulting in a lack of emotion and an excess of meanlingless sex and violence. (I don’t mind meaningful sex and violence, mind you. I’m a fan of meaning.)
What I think this leads to is the conclusion that something is wrong with our concept of masculinity (always a rather tenuous item). For GAR is not really about supressing your emotions. Characters who are GAR are prepared to shed MANLY TEARS if something worth losing has been lost. There’s no shame in mourning the death of a worthy hero. Indeed,
[i]t is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters.¹
And it’s a commonplace that a character (or indeed a person in real life) who’s too concerned about his masculinity and suppressing his emotions is often actually displaying insecurity, whereas those who are GAR simply get on with being GAR. (Only a somewhat emasculated literary type such as myself would actually bother to think about GAR.) A pretender to manliness suppresses his emotions, whereas a truly manly man is prepared (when appropriate) to express them.
[Hence the image from Infinite Ryvius: as you might expect from teenagers, neither Aiba brother is GAR at the beginning of the series. Yuki maintains a facade of faux-manliness, as described above, but his childish relationship with Kouji belies his emotionless image. Kouji is an indecisive wreck, mired in bad faith.]
GAR and Moe
The relationship between GAR and moe was both raised by Stripey in this simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking (one of my favourite cocktails) post.²
The two can appear in the same character. Here’s a suitably complex example: Kawazoe Tamaki from Bamboo Blade. Tamaki is small for her age and slightly-built; she’s quiet and tends to blush silently when complimented. Moe. But upon seeing ‘injustice’, Tamaki turns into a taciturn, shizue-wielding avatar of vengeance. GAR. It’s by no means top-rank GAR, but she certainly has GAR.
But – and here’s where it gets really clever – the reason she fights injustice in such a GAR way is because she’s imitating the characters in what appears to be a superhero tokusatsu. Isn’t that just adorable?
Because of her motivation for being GAR.
My head hurts. But, but-but-but, the two remain fundamentally incompatible because of the power relationships involved. One of moe’s essential ingredients is that the viewer feels him/herself to be in some way more powerful than the object of the moe feeling. But GAR involves admiration for someone stronger than oneself:
[in feeling GAR] [W]e feel ourselves to be less GAR than the character concerned. After all, if you really were as GAR as Kamina, you wouldn’t find him admirable, merely normal.
Tamaki in GAR mode is decidedly unadorable. Moe Tamaki is not GAR – if the two intermingled, the humour that Bamboo Blade extracts from her transformation from one to the other would be lost. A character can provoke moe and GAR, but never at the same time.
In fact, this means that someone who feels moe may think that he (I assume a male gender here) deserves to be considered GAR by others (as he feels himself to be in a stronger, protective position). Whether or not he is truly GAR is, of course, not determined by himself but by the reactions of others (real others, rather than fictional moe girls).
[I shall return to the connection between power and GAR when I consider Akagi, Kaiji and the morality of GAR. I beg your patience ’til then.]
If we’re taking the nominations for SaiGAR as definition by example – and we are, because I say so – then there are certainly female characters who provoke GAR reactions. Seirei no Morbito‘s Balsa is a fine example, a character whose role as a mother-figure for Chagum combines traditionally maternal attributes with ferociously brutal defensive violence. (It’s tempting to read Chagum as moe, and Balsa as his GAR protector.)
I do wonder if there is actually a tradition of GAR female action heroines which we can link Balsa into. I have compared her in the past to Kusanagi, but I really lack the encyclopædic grasp of anime and manga required to back this up with more examples. There may not be many more – Seirei and Stand Alone Complex were both directed by Kamiyama, so maybe it’s a Kamiyama thing.
I think, however, that it’s rare to find a young female character who’s GAR; Tamaki’s level of GAR stands out, though it’s not dramatically high, for this reason. Possibly this is because GAR is – as I have established previously – relational. We feel GAR towards a certain character who we admire, so characters cannot possess GAR without an audience feeling in some way inferior. And I suspect that some of the anime audience simply can’t consider themselves in a situation where they are less GAR than a young woman (again, I lament my ignorance of Nanoha).
This is all a rather sticky issue, especially when it comes to a character like Revy, from Black Lagoon. Is Revy GAR? By all accounts, she’s violent (battle-hungry, indeed), badass and so forth. But does this constitute GAR? I’m inclined to the view that on its own it does not. Revy’s violence is rather directionless – there’s none of that striving for an impossible goal – and she seems rather nihilistic to me; I get the impression that she doesn’t think there’s much in the world that’s valuable enough to mourn its loss. Badass on its own is merely badass.
1. Thus the significance of GAINAX’s refusal to resurrect certain characters in the closing minutes of Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. If death ceases to be a problem, it cheapens those remarkable exit scenes.
2. Regarding said post’s opening image, I must watch Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha sometime; currently my knowledge of it doesn’t stretch beyond its amusing TV Tropes entry, but the title is fodder for a whole slew of ‘Lyric mode’ jokes. Will there be villanelles? The People Must Know.
[No Blogiography as I think everything which is relevant is linked within the entry.]