Friday, December 23, 2016

Character Archetypes in Manga, Part I

Archetypes have been famous since Jung help kick-start psychology and proclaimed them integral aspects of dreaming and storytelling. Of course, archetypes existed before Jung came along--as mythologists like Joseph Campbell point out. The reason Jung is important is because Jung justified the use of archetypes, making them intellectually acceptable.

Despite Jung, conveyors of so-called literary fare  still tote the so-called "well-rounded" character--as opposed to the archetype. The "well-rounded" character is supposedly more substantive, better written, more interesting, more "realistic," and more demanding intellectually.

These qualities are assumed. That is, literary types assume that the "well-rounded" character is achieving all these marvelous, literary things. But then literary types rarely stop and ask, "But does all this actually make for a better story?"

The power of the archetype is that it invites more reader participation, not less. 

An archetype is like a good metaphor or simile: it provides instant recognition but also new insight. The end result is "Hey, I know people like that! I never thought of them in this way."

Recognition is the first step: for characters and for metaphors/similes. If I write, "The knife was as sharp as the teeth of a Suvagian tiger," and you've never seen or spoken to a Suvagian tiger (probably because I made him up), the simile will fall flat.

One of my favorite examples of a recognizable simile comes from Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus":
Like a vessel of glass, she stove [broke by collapsing inward] and sank.
Imagine a glass bobbing in a sink full of water. It turns until it begins to fill. As it fills, it descends to the bottom of the sink.

This sinking glass is a recognizable, everyday image applied to a ship. In the poem, the simile becomes a slow motion moment in a series of fast-moving verses. It packs a wallop.

Archetypes accomplish the same thing by giving us recognizable personalities: The leader. The friend. The gossip. The bully. The tough guy. The tough gal. The mentor. The student.

Manga romance specifically offers the calm, worldly, experienced lover; the cocked-eyed optimist; the troubled, angsty hero or heroine; the grouch; the steady planner; the inspired dreamer; the rival; the rival who tells the truth; the helper; the sarcastic helper; the damsel in distress; the damsel who appears in distress but can kick your butt and so on.

A cocked-eyed optimist and a grouch like Kasahara and Dojo from Library Wars are instantly recognizable. They are also endearing. Most importantly, they invite the reader to discover more--what about this couple enables them to overcome their differences? How will they handle each new event in their lives? They are archetypes, so we know them. They are well-crafted archetypes, so we are led to ask, What makes their story unique?

Archetypes invite writers and fans to speculate (with varying degrees of accuracy): What might happen with them next? As I mention elsewhere, the success of such speculations is often measured against the already givens. Readers will say, "Yes, that sounds like them!" or "No, I don't think they would do that."  

Stereotypes, in comparison to archetypes, are similar to poor metaphors or similes: It was as cold as ice. It was as white as snow. Eh: been there, done that. The sense of recognition is slim, and nothing new is learned.

So what is the line between stereotype and archetype?

To be continued . . .