Propp Meets Anime and Manga
|Anime Wallpaper source. Vladimir Propp source.|
For today's A to Z Challenge post we have something totally different.
I am a fangirl for those of you who haven't noticed, but at the same time I love looking academically at popular culture in all its forms. So for today I'm going to share the foundation of a larger essay I have been wanting to write for a some time now. It concerns a Russian scholar and the world of long running shonen anime/manga (shonen means targeted to boys but many girls love these series as well.)
Let us start with Mr. Propp whose major work concerns studying the structure and morphology of Russian fairytales. He basically dissected as many fairytales as he could and put together a list of functions that take place within any given story. While each story may be different they all follow a particular pattern that he divided up into 31 functions. Not every fairytale will have all 31 functions and they won't always be in the same exact order he lists them as but more often than not, they fall under the same path he laid out. If you are interested in looking at the list of functions you can do so here.
He also came up with seven broad character functions that can be found in each story: the villain, the dispatcher, (magical) helper, princess or prize and her father, the donor, the hero, and the false hero.
Again, not all seven have to be included and their functions can overlap. Two or three character functions can belong to one specific character in a story or the same function can belong to two or more different characters.
Now Propp isn't without his critics but it is true that his functions will work on narratives other than fairytales; movies and novels in particular.
This is where anime and manga come in. A movie and a stand alone novel, even a book series, while being longer than the average fairytale, are still at a reasonable length of making the Propp functions work. Long running manga and anime narratives however can last for years. Popular anime and manga One Piece has been running for over 10 years and there is still a few years to go before the end.
These long standing narratives function by working through story arcs. Mini narratives within the larger narrative that move the story along. Yet each of these arcs can still last for months at a time. And we are fed the narratives in small doses, about 20 minutes an episode (excluding commercials). Each episode with its own beginning middle and end. Although anime episodes and chapters do tend to end in cliffhangers for the most part.
Now what I find interesting is that Propp can still work within these types of narratives, he just has to be tweaked a bit because many of the functions HAVE to repeat themselves several times. Because they have to repeat so often, one would think that after a while such a series with an intended story line and specific ending thought up in advance, would become tiresome or boring.
Yet, when done correctly, it never does. The writers and artists of these types of Japanese cartoons manage to keep us hooked and entertained as long as need be to end the story. That is the reason I've been drawn to study them in a more academic fashion. They manage to maintain a similar structure for YEARS and still manage to work.
These animated series are different from the avarage Western cartoon, which while having the same characters, will not have an overall single plot line. Children's cartoons in the West follow the pattern of each episode standing on it's own or will sometimes have smaller narrative arcs that will rarely have anything to do with each other.
The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is Avatar: Aang the Last Airbender (with a four year run). Yet this story was based on an Eastern style cartoon narrative.
Whoo! Okay I think I'll leave it at that. I could go on forever with this. But like I said it is a larger essay I've been wanting to write. I still would need to do a lot of research but I think it would be worth looking into.
Any thoughts? Or do you guys have any future projects you have in the planning stages?