When we consume media, a discourse occurs between the information we recieve and what we know/remember from what we’ve consumed in the past. We actively seek out patterns, checking it with instances where we’ve seen similar things. We make statements that are accusatory [->], and at times supportive [->], but always in reference to a historical event (anime/manga/product consumed prior). These patterns are what we’ve come to know and use as tropes [->]. At present, it isn’t established that GAR itself is a trope. Rather, we see a number of tropes and representations and take/experience it as GAR¹.
Essentially what I’m asking is, can GAR be overdone in such a way that it loses all its charm? It becomes a cliche? The subjectivity of GAR aside [->] (where GAR can be read into just about anything), there are obvious GAR examples. After all, one does not look for subtlety in GAR portrayal, does one? In Sengoku Basara, there is no subtlety. Subversion, perhaps (though no evidence of such yet) – but the manliness here reeks of underarm sweat and weeks of unwashed fellowship and fraternity.
Excess? WHAT EXCESS?
Feats. There is a direct corellation between GAR and awesomeness. If a character is GAR, he will do awesome things. A character who manages to do awesome things however (through luck or intercession by another), may not be GAR. GAR requires that the character is decisive and an active agent within his life.
I will slightly modify a trope known as ‘The Rule of Cool’ [->]: The limit of the ‘Willing Suspension of Disbelief’ [->] for a given element is directly proportional to its degree of awesomeness of the result. ‘Cool’ is a larger set that contains the concept of ‘awesome’ [->]. GAR characters are imbued with awesome using very dramatic entrances that either demonstrate some awesome ability, or hyperbolic reactions of awe among witnesses. Shows such as Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, and recently Shin Mazinger Z Hen [->] present litanies of awesome character entrances — each character vies to be memorable by doing something awesome.
Both shows I’ve mentioned are directed by Imagawa Yasuhiro, who is also noted for another show of exaggerated manliness: Mobile Fighter G Gundam. An example of such feats and how Sengoku Basara runs with them:
Once upon a time, men on horseback were the last word in manliness. However, men look pretty much the same on top of a horse. Furthermore, it’s become quite an equalizer since one’s height doesn’t come into play as much. How does a man become manlier on a horse? Master Asia shows us how:
As I’ve insinuated, Sengoku Basara takes these extreme acts of manliness in anime celebrated for their GAR content and pushes it to ridiculous degrees. Takeda Shingen takes two horses and outdoes Master Asia’s feats of horsemanship:
He does this by using TWO HORSES and by performing a one-man storming of a fortress by making the horses charge up a sheer wall with an almost vertical grade. LOOK AT HIM, HE’S STANDING UPRIGHT WITH HIS WEIGHT RESTING ON HIS PALMS OVER HIS BATTLEAXE²!
The logic of this (yes, I said logic) is taken to its extreme (yes, I said extreme) in the trope called ‘Crowning Moment of Awesome’ [->]; the moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever, winning for them the eternal loyalty of fans. The TV Tropes Wiki gives us this example:
In Dragon Ball Z, Son Gohan’s is his complete mental breakdown followed by his handing Cell his ass as a Super Saiyan 2. Also the transformation was accompanied by a song created just for that moment in the original Japanese. And it was sung by Hironobu Kageyama. Do the math.
It’s been said that Tenggen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a litany of these moments, piled on top of one another in a variable but inexorable escalation to galactic (no, bigger than that) proportions. I believe it. I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing crowning moments of awesome in Sengoku Basara until near the end, but I speculate it will make a spectacle of each character in the ensemble cast making a bid for one.
Violence is a man’s love. Once upon a time, coburn wrote [->]:
The bit where our boy hero cocks up is vital to many a stereotypical anime plotline. But how can our plucky protagonist recover his mojo? It is simple:
He needs a (male) ally to hit him.
To hit him in the face.
Corporal punishment has been widely discredited as a child-raising practice. I wouldn’t suggest that anime offers a serious alternative view – I mainly think that a smack in the face is just a good way to dramatise things.
Still, when said punch is coming from an admirable elder male, it makes me wonder just what sort of masculinity these shows believe in.
coburn here takes note of a particular trope [->] that, through the process described the younger male gains or regains his senses and the course of his path to awesomeness is corrected.
In the very first episode of Sengoku Basara, we see this taken to ridiculous ends:
First of all, despite the apparent differences in wisdom, maturity, and power, Sanada Yukimura and Takeda Shingen are both already awesome and powerful. The scene was comic rather than dramatic. However, the force of the blows are greater than in any show I’ve seen – thrown with much seriousness, but giving off a feeling of tremendous playfulness as well.
In Zeta Gundam these beatings were institutionalized in the AEUG as ‘corrections,’ not that it made a lot of difference [->]. There’s just a lot of smacking in Gundam from the very beginning.
I imagine that there is a ratio between the punitive and communicative/instructional elements in the smacking, and that the determining factor is the intensity of the blows.
|Characters Involved||Intensity of Blows||Favorable Response||Teaching vs. Punitive Content|
|% of strength used||100 point scale||% ratio|
|Bright Noa vs. Amuro Ray||40%||0||40 / 60|
|Kamina vs. Simon||70%||90||100/0|
|Takeda Shingen vs. Sanada Yukimura||60%||85||70/30|
|Wong Lee vs. Kamille Bidan||80%||0||15/85|
Now the values in the above table are entirely my own speculation, just for the purpose of demonstrating an idea rather than arriving at a definitive science of things. Note that the Tenggen Toppa Gurren Lagann characters and those from Sengoku Basara are the more obvious examples of GAR. They’re louder, less whiny, and if we look at the relationships between the intensitiy of the blows they throw at each other, the teaching content within them, and the overwhelmingly favorable results they get. They out-BRIGHTSLAP Bright Noa handily. The favorable response is such that these characters don’t really need smacking anymore, unless they relish it (which I suspect Sanada Yukimura does to some degree); Amuro and Kamille on the other hand, you just want to keep smacking them.
It’s notable that Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann seems to almost play this trope straight in comparison to Sengoku Basara. The latter feels more like spectacle for the sake of astounding and astonishment. It works, and is repeated in episode 3 which begs the question: is Takeda getting through Yukimura? Or, does Takeda really just relishes smacking someone who doesnt buckle as much as Yukimura enjoys getting smacked by his idol. At the very least it demonstrates the characters’ relative power levels, which is tantamount to showing how awesome they are.
GAR isn’t just about manliness, but manliness is a big shareholder of GAR. Sengoku Basara delivers excessive manliness, in terms of spectacular (or ridiculous) feats as presented above. It’s a big part of what makes the show entertaining. Martin notes:
excessive manliness can offer entertainment value if it doesn’t take itself altogether seriously. Kamina wears shades and a grimace of fearless self-confidence and no shirt – but he couldn’t care less about what other people thought of him. [->]
I don’t think Sengoku Basara takes itself seriously at all, and is wildly entertaining; from its completely unwarranted use of gratuitous engrish to the orgasmic reactions of a female character as a result of mere proximity to her um, crush.
Iknight will do a better job than me in exploring gender and GAR, particularly the nuances wherein manliness does not equal suppression of emotions that are characterised as feminine, as well as examples of female GAR characters [->]. But as things stand, male characters will manifest GAR attributes to a greater degree, and a higher frequency. The likes of Revy, The Major, Cornelia li Britannia are more like exceptions that prove the rule.
To contribute to the discussion these writers initiated, I submit anecdotal evidence/reference on how masculine gendered opponents determine the GAR standing of male protagonists. Oda Nobunaga is not only male, he is voiced by Wakamoto Norio [->]. This detail for fans of manly shows predispose them to relate to the protagonists as GAR even before they do awesome things, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. The idea is that it will take stupendous manliness to defeat a character so manly, that he has to be voiced by the manliest voice in the business.
Consider Disney’s Sleeping Beauty: who remembers the name of the prince³? I had to look it up despite seeing this movie many times. This is because Maleficent the enemy, is a witch and despite her awesome turn as a dragon the conflict/struggle is more between Maleficent and Aurora (despite her complete inability to champion herself) than the Prince and the Dragon. In Macross Frontier, the true enemy and final boss is the female representation of the executive committee of the Macross Galaxy (government/corporation). She took a female form and controlled an alien queen. The aesthetic of her monstrous form, is female. The lead protagonist Alto, had a mentor in a veteran pilot Ozma Lee who gave him an equivalent of the Brightslap. However, Alto’s main rival is so feminine in appearance (never mind Alto’s own feminine appearance and former career as an actor playing female roles) that manliness is far from the impression that he provides as the main protagonist. Sleeping Beauty’s Prince and Macross Frontier’s Alto (-hime) can still be considered GAR, but only after rationalization and reflection.
So, what of it then?
Sengoku Basara is pushing things to ridiculous extremes, which do create characters/caricatures who are GAR. After three episodes we’ve been treated to quite a few spectacles. The question is, can it be sustained? The other question is, if it is sustained, what can we expect from other works in the future? I ask these because I’m pestered with this notion that Sengoku Basara isn’t a classic, and isn’t interested in being one. I’ve characterized it as this season’s K-ON! for GAR fags: a fanservice delivery module primarily for fans of gratuitous manliness.
On the one hand, Sengoku Basara should excel at providing GAR spectacle – if my reading of it is correct why shouldn’t it be otherwise? On the other hand, I’m kind of miffed that these awesome feats and depictions of manliness are ‘wasted’ (I apologize for this wholly intentional bit of elitist reasoning) on a show that is little else but a fanservice vehicle; I’d rather see it in the next Tenggen Toppa Gurren Lagann, or other would-be masterpieces or near-masterpieces in the future.
And in yet ANOTHER hand (my most GAR move yet, I’ve been saving this move for a post like this), it doesn’t really matter if Sengoku Basara portrays the most awesome spectacles of manliness ever. Distinctions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture are ultimately meaningless especially since the anime is an enjoyment delivery vehicle more than anything else. Future creators/producers/writers would just have to suck it, and make even better demonstrations of awesome manliness.
I submit a conclusion, only because this post needs to be concluded somehow. I acknowledge that the way I’m concluding this post isn’t GAR. It’s not conclusive enough, but here it is anyway: GAR in itself isn’t subject to becoming a cliche. Rather, the tropes that represent GAR, the signals that come our way to portray it — can. I don’t think I’ll be groaning “Oh no not another GAR character!” Rather, I may roll my eyes if another character charges up a wall standing on giant bears or some other ridiculous animal.
¹ I don’t really believe that GAR as a concept and as an experience is so complex that it has to be enacted and realized through the interactions of/and gross effect on an entire cast of characters, as lelangir remarks [->]. While such complex interactions and experiences can be had (and perhaps increase one’s fulfillment once analyzed and reflected upon), GAR is a sensory and visceral experience that can be easily triggered by spectacle.
² That said, I still believe G Gundam has the last word, because Master Asia pilots the Master Gundam, and his horse Fuunsaiki pilots a freaking horse mecha that the Master Gundam rides! [->].
³ Prince Philip, named after Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh [->].
The Animanachronism, via ani-tations (屮゜Д゜)屮, extensive discussion and analysis of GAR [->]
Sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette, but only some of the time [->].