Sunday, November 6, 2016

Politics in Manga: And then the Yakuza

Frasier: [responding to a caller] Roger, at Cornell University, they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. Roger, if I were using that microscope right now, I still wouldn't be able to locate my interest in your problem. 
Yakuza: real in background; romanticized in foreground.
Frasier's disinterest in Roger's problem ("What should I name my boat?") reflects my massive disinterest in mafia stories.

I have never seen The Godfather--which doesn't prevent me understanding its tropes!

Consequently, my initial reaction to yakuza in manga was "YAWWWWWWNNNN."

The saving grace, at least with yaoi, is that quite often the yakuza presence leads to enormously fascinating human politics (see prior post). That is, I'm rarely asked to read about yakuza just being yakuza. This is good. I don't much care whether a crime boss orders a hit on another crime boss or a member of his own family or a Martian.

Blue Morning: at its best, yakuza
manga--like 19th century fiction/
manga--is about the party.
I am marginally more interested in whether the police will catch the crime boss but even there my interest quickly wanes (as in, I stop caring when the plot extends to more than one episode of Law & Order). Somebody suborned somebody so somebody who was undercover didn't discover something and then somebody whacked somebody else because somebody felt betrayed and everybody got upset over some other problem. Ho hum.

What I do find interesting is humans struggling to find their feet in a society with A LOT of rules.

That is, my interest in yakuza in manga is not all that different from my interest in Jane Austen fiction.

It's about surviving not by whacking people but by figuring out how to avoid or maneuver through conflict. Of Youka Nitta's work, I find yakuza-based Starting with a Kiss far more captivating than Embracing Love (Spiritual Police is still too new to judge). The issue in Starting with a Kiss is whether the father and the lover can manipulate events to keep Toru alive and uncorrupted--yet Toru (like Akihito in Blue Morning) proves a greater wild card than anticipated, forcing several people to change tacks and choose new approaches.

Likewise, Twittering Birds Never Fly by Kou Yoneda is less about the yakuza and more about masochistic Yashiro (the adjective here is quite literal) deliberately walking into a dark and dangerous world out of indifference to his own well-being. The issue isn't how many people he can control but whether or not he can walk out again. (For a more upbeat version of this theme, check out Kou Yoneda's Nights-based short stories.)

While contemporary fantasy novel Fox and Wolf by Eugene Woodbury involves outmaneuvering yakuza through more supernatural means--and wits!

In complete opposition to the type of yakuza drama discussed above are the token yakuzas. Asami from Finder (see above) is a token yakuza (personally, I would call him a "fixer"). He belongs to no clan and all his subordinates are hired help, not family. Ayano Yamane needed a rich, handsome, powerful, and ruthless protagonist. Making him yakuza (or, rather, apparently yakuza) is short-hand for the necessary qualities.

I will discuss "typing" characters in a future post--a writerly skill of which I approve!