Sunday, March 5, 2017

Workplaces and Plot

I comment in a prior post that manga (really, all fiction) works best when the main characters have jobs (one likely reason that Buffy went downhill after Buffy graduated high school was her character was far too realistic as a waffling, non-employed 19-year-old, and waffling, non-employed 19-year-olds are not exceptionally interesting).

Manga use workplaces in a variety of ways. 

The Workplace as a Useful Way for the Protagonists to Meet
Much yaoi and shojo revolves around salary(wo)men and their problems. The office environment becomes a useful source of obstacles but also a useful excuse for the protagonists to meet (followed by the useful obstacles).

However, as mentioned in the previous post, a vague office environment is not nearly as effective as a specific one. 
False Memories by Isaku Natsume uses the setting of a toy company and its contractor (the company that will make the toys). One protagonist, Nakano, belongs to the toy company. The other protagonist, Tsuda, belongs to the contractor. They know each other but haven't met in many years.

In classic networking business style, once their respective bosses realize they knew each other in high school, the bosses stick them together as the respective point men for their teams. So they have to meet a lot and talk, no matter how much Nakano (says he) doesn't want to. Useful, believable context that creates masses of ongoing tension.
The Workplace as a Useful Source of Conversation
Even a couple that doesn't work together needs something to talk about. No matter how much they love each other, ordinary life must still be dealt with--and ordinary life includes work.
In What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga, Shiro and Kenji work as a hairdresser and a civil lawyer. They discuss their friends, their families, food (of course), and their jobs. Even when they don't discuss their work directly, what occurs at work affects their attitudes and conversations at home. In the image, Shiro realizes with a shame-faced shake of his head that he finds it easier to listen to his clients' problems at work than to Kenji's far less complicated problems at home.
Everybody's Getting Married by Izumi Miyazono: This screwball-like shojo comedic manga revolves around a young career woman who wants to get married and her boyfriend, a young newscaster/host for entertainment shows who doesn't. But they love each other anyway.

They can't talk about not getting married ALL the time. The rest of the time they discuss their jobs, mostly his, including the tension he feels having to host a live televised show and how he handles his critical boss. 
The Workplace as a Useful Source of Plot
And sometimes the job is the plot. Toko Kawai's In the Walnut and Loveholic are both excellent examples of work supplying the main problems. Character development is linked directly to how the protagonists handle these problems. 
In the Walnut is the title of a 2-volume series and of the art gallery around which the series revolves. In the Walnut is owned by Hideo Tanazaki. His boyfriend, Sohei Nakai--a film student graduate who works for independent (starving) directors--often visits, only to get embroiled in slightly shady transactions. Sometimes, these transactions involve condoning a forgery; sometimes, they involve uncovering a theft; sometimes, they involve outbidding bad guys at auctions. In fact, the manga is a kind of mystery series in which Tanazaki solves art problems by moral though not always legal means.
Note: "In the walnut" refers to Hamlet's speech in Act 2, Scene 2: "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." ("Nutshell" is sometimes translated as "walnut.")

The protagonists of Loveholic are an independent photographer and a manager from an advertising agency. Problems at work often spill over into their personal lives. When Daisuke Matsukawa's jealous co-workers sabotage his marketing campaign by stealing his ideas, Kentaro Nishioka agrees to supply him with new shots and even delivers them to the office. He also agrees to enlarge prints for Matsukawa at the last minute; in revenge for the unexpected request, he includes a silly picture of himself which sends Matsukawa into fits. The silly picture becomes a recurring motif throughout the manga.

On a more somber note, the issue of work and family leads Nishioka to decide to relocate. He has gotten as much as he can out of living in Tokyo. He is ready to move back to Osaka and give back to his community there. Naturally, the issue, Do I ask you to go with me? arises.
Whenever I'm reading a book with vaguely defined characters, the first fix that comes to mind is always, What do these people want to do with their lives? Work-wise?

The next question is, What books do they read!?

1 comment:

  1. You can use lack of employment as plot device too. To use a non-romantic example the anime Samurai Champloo the main characters are on a journey. Their lack of money is often used as a plot device. Need money hire on as muscle to two rival yakuza clans. Need to eat. Join an eating contest and meet a stranger from outside feudal Japan. Travel with a musician that has money and dark secrets.

    That said more often than not characters need jobs.

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