The Feat of “In-universe Parody” & What it Does for Shows (e.g. K-ON!!, Genesis of Aquarion)

[CoalGuys] K-ON!! S2 - 18 [63552577].mkv_snapshot_12.33_[2010.08.07_07.51.40]

I noticed that I enjoy it when characters in a show make impressions of each other, i.e. play each other for laughs. In the latest K-ON!! episode (18), Mio and Ritsu are thrust to play Romeo and Juliet respectively for their class’ cultural festival offering. Ritsu is too masculine to play Juliet, Mio is too much of a wuss to play Romeo. This was intentional on the part of their classmates because lulz would ensue.

The two girls end up taking the roles seriously, and they make their breakthrough when they end up using each other as templates for acting in a way that is not their nature. Mio’s Romeo is basically Ritsu, and Ritsu’s Juliet is basically her copying Mio’s manner of speech and behavior. Of course, neither of which are anywhere close to accepted interpretations of Shakespeare, but the point is they used copying each other’s’ behavior to solve a problem. There’s more to this.

[CoalGuys] K-ON!! S2 - 18 [63552577].mkv_snapshot_09.23_[2010.08.07_07.49.31]

This episode is NOT about Shakespeare. His work is there for convenience and he is not privileged as a canonical playwright. Ritsu even delivers an impassioned editorial on how cheesy Juliet and her lines are. The real feature is what I call the ‘in-universe parody.’

What this accomplishes is to layer characterization in terms of presentation. You see Ritsu “doing a Mio” and it is very cute. It appeals to the wishful thinking of some viewers who wonder how Ritsu would be like if she were more to their preference of girly-girl. The same applies to Mio, whose displays of assertiveness alone is either fanservice for those who are into her tsun-tsun mode or simply a welcome relief from her annoying cowardice and meekness.

[CoalGuys] K-ON!! S2 - 18 [63552577].mkv_snapshot_12.58_[2010.08.07_07.52.50][CoalGuys] K-ON!! S2 - 18 [63552577].mkv_snapshot_13.09_[2010.08.07_07.53.35]

The irony is, this actually reduces the characterizations into caricature. It reduces Ritsu as a graceless tomboy, and Mio as a wussy princess (or versions of such). While this seems like a bad thing, it’s actually a bet made on the strength of the characterization done since the first season. We already know Ritsu is also kind and gentle and would go to extraordinary lengths for a friend (as she did for Mugi). We already know that Mio is the most serious musician in the group and makes up for lack of lyrics writing talent with sheer effort.

So did the gamble pay off? I think so. Without taking away from established characterization, we are reminded of how cute these characters are in a meta way.

[CoalGuys] K-ON!! S2 - 16 [EF4834DA].mkv_snapshot_03.17_[2010.08.07_07.46.56]

It’s not the first time the show has done something like this. A different approach was used in episode 16 where Azusa was worrying that she was losing her character. Every time she would try to pump herself up for her “comeback,” she’d end up saying it the way one of the other club members would.

What a clever show. The episode would then explore Azusa’s ‘quest’ for her own identity through individual interactions with the different members while reporting it to the ‘outside world’ (Jun-chan). This allows the episode to invest and invest in character presentation that allows for the ‘in-universe parody’/caricature in episode 18 to cost nothing or hurt character presentation.

genesis of aquarion poster

Genesis of Aquarion devoted an entire episode to this contrivance. The characters are in a team of robot pilots and teamwork is very important. The hook is that for them to truly work with each other better, they need to understand each other fully. Thus, their training would be to portray/cosplay/crossplay each other for the duration of the exercise (more than a day).

The triumph of this is while I never did form affinity for the characters of the show (I can’t even recall their names as I write this), it became the most memorable episode in a rather forgettable series. I genuinely laughed out loud and I’ll most probably rewatch the episode shortly. The funniest bits were when the opposites were paired, which is an essay on post-structuralism waiting to happen but I won’t indulge this here.

genesis of aquarion wallpaper

My question is, what other shows/manga have done something like this and how? (I remember laughing a lot when Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge did it but nothing else comes to mind right now).

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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33 Responses to The Feat of “In-universe Parody” & What it Does for Shows (e.g. K-ON!!, Genesis of Aquarion)

  1. lolikitsune says:

    Ichigo Mashimaro. All the time.

  2. RyanA says:

    I want to say something like Nodame Cantabile, but I just can’t think D:

    • I haven’t read enough of the manga nor want to see more of the anime to confirm this. I do know that they didn’t quite do this in the jdrama, save for Nodame giving Mine Chiaki’s advice leading up to his revalida for violin (they ended up playing together, Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano “Spring”). Nodame delivered the advice giving her best Chiaki impression.

      The context however, is very different from what I present here though I do think it achieves some of the results.

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  4. scantling says:

    Posts are rare involving K-ON! that explains what’s going on in the episodes or the series without using the standard generalizations

    Understanding what’s underneath the surface means you can fully enjoy the anime series

  5. Kaioshin Sama says:

    K-On! characters being portrayed as caricatures? I refuse to believe it! Honestly though the bet you are talking about is one that the show would be all but guaranteed to lose with me anyway and I would gladly take it for all it’s worth. :)

    But seriously (really this time) you do help raise an interesting question with the K-On example and that is whether you can call the impersonation of a character by another character within a show a proper parody. I would argue no because the very purpose of a parody is that it pokes fun at and/or acts as a commentary on a separate work (while sometimes also functioning as a tribute), but all the time remaining it’s own body of work. K-On seems to fulfill only the latter function of remaining it’s own work by what you describe with this episode and within a limited capacity of character personality swapping at that. As a result I wouldn’t even call what you describe in-universe or self-parody personally.

    As for Aquarion, no interest in the show itself , but I have become somewhat familiarized with it via Super Robot Wars (wherein I found all the characters impressively irritating, which I might add is remarkable since that makes this article two for two in that regard) and let me tell you it doesn’t stop at them merely just getting to know each other via wacky cosplay adventures etc. Apparently when they combine it’s taken quite literally within the show and especially by one of the characters who essentially has a….well I’m sure I don’t need to tell anybody that’s seen it.

    Anyway I’m afraid I can’t think of an example off the top of my head of a show that has specifically done what you describe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority that get mentioned by others fall within the bounds of the slice of life comedy genre that I very rarely watch anyway. Peace.

    • derpsan says:

      You should just go watch the show instead of bitching here

    • I don’t know how to even respond to you regarding K-ON!! because you have no interest in seeing any value in it, and yet you are perfectly willing to challenge any effort by anyone who asserts there is value in it. So I’ll ignore the first part of your comment.

      As for Aquarion, you’re right that the characters while unremarkable, can get very annoying. I do remember what I like about it so much:

      • Kaioshin Sama says:

        I suppose this isn’t the best place to mention that that is the only song I’ve ever willingly substituted out in an SRW? Not a fan of that one by any stretch.

        • Myssa says:

          Different strokes. I have the original JP version of the song, it’s English dub, AND it’s orchestral version on my iPOD.

      • Myssa says:

        I’m not even sure if it’s a valid term, but kind of like Armchair Critic? :P Though one has to question how that works, since it implies that the one doing the critiquing actually has an active interest in the issue, and not just doing so vicariously through information gained from second and third-hand sources. :D

  6. gwern says:

    > My question is, what other shows/manga have done something like this and how? (I remember laughing a lot when Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge did it but nothing else comes to mind right now).

    How about Evangelion? http://wiki.evageeks.org/Episode_09

    • While there’s a lot of characterization going in that episode — and I consider this ep one of the most representative of the interesting and entertaining elements of the anime medium, I don’t see the “in-universe parody” that I’ve mentioned here.

      The distinction is that the characters do impressions of each other, in order to complete the training. Had Shinji tried to “be” Asuka and vice versa, it would be such an example.

  7. kadian1364 says:

    OK, you’ve made me drag out the MAL to see how many personality swap I can dig up.

    Body Swaps: a variation of the in-universe character parody, and a common trope in comedy manga/anime. Maybe not true caricatures, but the displacement of personality and body makes us notice the individual quirks more. There’s usually a rule about the characters having to hide the switch for the duration, so they have to try being the other person.
    – Utena: Utena and Anthy for a day
    - Excel Saga: Excel and Hyatt in the last episode
    - Cardcaptor Sakura: Syaoran and Kero for a day
    - Dragonball Z: Captain Ginyu with others

    Possession: like body swaps, only one-sided. Through ghosting or mind control someone acts out someone else in that person’s body. Sometimes a hilarious exaggeration, sometimes completely off.
    - Kamichu: Yashima regularly possesses Mitue to communicate with muggles
    - Yu Yu Hakusho: While he’s dead, Yusuke takes Kuwabara’s body
    - Le Chevalier D’Eon: D’Eon’s sister’s soul cohabitates in his body
    - Inuyasha: does this a fuckton

    Imitation: the most basic form of mimicry, sometimes aided with disguises.
    - K-ON!: Ui impersonates Yui
    - Fullmetal Alchemist: Envy impersonates others
    - Lucky Star: Konata caricaturizes her friends frequently
    - Infinite Ryvius: the DVD extras caricaturize the cast
    - Ouran Host Club: in mocking or for a punchline
    - Turn A Gundam: of course

    Of special note was Asatte no Houkou, whose entire premise was two characters swapping age which entirely changed the dynamics of all their relationships.

    Not nearly an exhaustive list, but one that gives a wide variety of in-universe impersonations, how they do them, and the impressions they make.

    • Awesome. You are one of the best readers a blogger can have and hope for.

      Your comment works like an official appendix to the post only something beyond my powers. This merits meta-archiving. Thank you.

  8. Pingback: Kadian on Characters in Anime Doing Each Other « The Ghosts of Discussions

  9. adaywithoutme says:

    Argh, folks like you will make me watch K-ON yet… I hate when people point out the good stuff about shows I’ve written off!

    • The show has merit. There’s good work being done here, particularly in the second season. I don’t know if you’ll end up liking it, but I stand by my feelings for this show.

  10. F*ck, this is what I get for coming late to a convo (which actually doesn’t get punished very often), but it looks like every thing I can think of has already been posted.

    I guess I could think of a few times in Azumanga Daioh when Chiyo-chan was mocked with hilarious results. Shounen manga/anime often does this with very mixed results, usually in a filler arc of some sort. Those times I find it very annoying simply for the reason you mentioned in this post. If the characterization isn’t strong, then they really are exposed for the simple, shallow creations they are. Someone acting like Ichigo from Bleach is not the least bit enticing or entertaining. Someone acting like Naruto is (let’s be honest)annoying beyond belief; and someone acting (to be random) like Cagalli of SEED fame would seem like nothing more than a stock tsundere character. But let me stop calling out characters lest some of my own favorites be singled out.

    Regardless of my rant, I think I agree with you on this one. K-ON did it well, based on our now high level of familiarity with them. As demonstrated by Asuza a mere two episodes earlier, mere gestures, phrases and stances can clue us into the identity of a character. The show knows this about us and plays with it. It’s fun based on fun, to be short.

    • You mentioned something pretty interesting here. In a large cast it may not work as good because of the rather flat characterizations for many or most of the cast. To pull something like this off requires a lot of familiarity and a lot or “small wrinkles” in the characters. A show like this, or Aria is well suited for it because of the subtle expressions the may (or may not) get parodied. The parodying of the more over-the-top characterization while retaining a whole lot of other detail, is a good way to keep the characters from becoming one-note, which Aquarion below, was not able to overcome (it was still hella funny though).

  11. ZeroOBK says:

    This blog entry reminded me of episode 21 of Martian Successor Nadesico. Their repressed selves come out while their dominant selves are stuck playing mental Mahjong. The characterizations in the episode are largely the opposite of what they usually are. Akito becomes self-confident and gung-ho while Nagare becomes rather meek. It’s not a true role reversal, but I do think it counts as an “in-universe parody”.

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