Sunday, February 5, 2017

Animals and Personality in Manga

When I was growing up, my family occasionally played a kind of 20-anthropomorphizing-questions game; the answer was always a person while the questions included, "What kind of animal would this person be?" "What kind of plant?" "What kind of wrapping paper?" and so on.

The question did not refer to the type of animal or plant or wrapping paper the person liked but, rather, what characteristics the person shared with the animal or plant or wrapping paper.

Manga employs these sorts of comparisons consistently and naturally;  animals are the default analogy. Although characters are most often compared to cats and dogs, they are also compared to bears, rabbits, even tigers.

In Apple & Honey: His Rose-Colored Life, Natsuki compares Komano to a cat AND to a dog. In Honey Darling, the main protagonist not only finds and cares for an (actual) adorable little cat but has the personality of one (he compares his roommate, the veterinarian, to a bear). And in Rabbit Man, Tiger Man (see below), the entire point of the characters is that one is a rabbit (the Doc) and one is a tiger (Yakuza-san). Can a rabbit and tiger get along?

Hilariously, the bonus story at the end of otherwise serious-minded Maiden Rose is an over-the-top farce where the main characters are re-imagined as a cat and a dog (see above). Forget Gnomeo & Juliet: when it comes to satires, looks like Animal Farm hits closer to home!

Generally speaking, throughout manga, cats/cat characters are quiet, clever, and luxury-minded while dogs/dog characters are extroverted, blunt, and friendly. Cats are quite popular in Japan though dogs have their own following. Being compared to any animal is a mark of having "arrived"!

1 comment:

  1. Comparing people to animals exists in all cultures, but it seems to appear in manga and anime as short hand a lot. To use two non-romantic manga examples: There's a funny scene in Rurouni Kenshin where one character thinks of what animals three female characters are like.

    I can also think of two non-romantic examples from the (REALLY DARK) action/crime manga Black Lagoon: Roberta, one of the major recurring characters was a guerilla with FARC upon a time. During her time, she earned the name "Bloodhound of Florencia" because of the tenacity which she would accomplish her missions and kill her targets. (She's actually also compared to The Terminator.)

    Another example in Black Lagoon is the main character Revy is compared to a junkyard dog by a Yakuza. She is vicious and territorial person who cannot exist in normal society. Despite this explains her relationship the other (more sympathetic) main character the salaryman Rock. He's the one guy who was able to make nice with the junkyard dog. For all her violent nature, she shows him considerable loyalty. It's debatable what the exact nature of their relationship is: comrades-in-arms, romantic but her issues keep her from consummating it, or they go to be regularly but off-panel.

    Okay, that's a bit of a tangent (particularly from the whole romance part), but it shows how useful animal metaphors can be.