manga no tsukurikata – le cristal se venge

Wherein I go out on a limb while trying to figure out what has been slipping by me when I marathon Yuri fluff.

Reading manga no tsukurikata by Hirao Auri, I noticed that it meandered, and that it didn’t do much, as a story, or as a light Yuri romance, but I kept reading it anyway. Have another chocolate.. Chomp! The artwork is pleasant, there were bits of light humor, the main characters are written as genuinely liking each other, even as they were unsure of their ability to formally commit as a couple, and both were entry-level mangakas who suffered from (and indulged in) incredible bouts of lazy procrastination when it came to creating their mangas.

Harmless romantic fluff!

Also rather chaste fluff, as there is very little overt f/f intimacy depicted; a reader could get the impression after 5 volumes that the two have spent 2 years in Anne o’ Green Gables soulful friendship rather than jumping each other on the weekends. This was oddly soothing for me, as I didn’t have to continuously switch thought modes between light-fluff mode and hawt-damn (!!!) show me some sugar mode. For a thrill, echoing prof. Saito Tamaki’s libidinizaton of creativity observation, the two help each other out drawing when they land in perpetual deadline crunches. There is also the hint that  both of them are mining the relationship for inspiration for their respective works, but no big crisis develops out of that practice. Some initial tension comes from older-chan’s kid brother, who is always around the house, and who has a desperate crush on younger-chan, but it soon becomes clear that he is relegated to permanent long-suffering support status.

There is also the very serious/ severe/ cute assistant-san; a well-worn character type, the hardworking aspiring artist slogging her way towards her debut, who is sent by older-chan’s publisher to enforce the schedule. She gets to fume and wish that the older-chan would shape up and concentrate on her work – even if that means dumping starry-eyed Pollyanna younger-chan. Additional fun comes from assistant-chan’s refusal to believe that younger-chan really is her favorite young prodigy mangaka hero, until the evidence becomes overwhelming five volumes in. By then younger-chan and assistant-chan have improbably become roomies in Tokyo and are well into a Felix and Oscar routine.

A bit of frisson and a major God iz a iron! Oh Why me? moment comes from assistant-chan finally realizing that the messy scatterbrain she has deluded herself into sharing a flat with, the major inconvenience to her work and her job of getting older-chan to meet deadlines is also really and truly the mangaka “Sachi” ,whose stories and artwork transcends whatever shoujo-ai subgenre they all work in and who is sought by 5-7 publishers at a time.

No triangles or polyhedra seem to seriously threaten our main couple. Even the calculating older lady editor who had been acting creepy towards younger-chan has backed off after a weird episode involving a fan of older-chan, who strangely looks a lot like younger-chan, (the “can only draw x number of faces” effect?) but radiates an insane Pollyanna personality field power that distorts reality.

reality warp gmanga_no_tsukurikata_36.36_16

It even looks like assistant-chan might finally be getting over her extreme annoyance with younger-chan’s airhead antics. So we have a light, occasionally funny shojo-ai manga that meanders a bit. Its motto seems to be:

God does not help fools, God just makes sure that there are plenty of other fools to help fools.

Hardworking types fume that life is unfair while they keep slogging and the airheads get all the lucky breaks.

Since this is an ongoing Yuri series, I googled it and Erica Friedman’s blog Okazu to see what she had to say about it:

Manga no Tsukurikata Manga, Volume 6 (まんがの作り方)
January 29th, 2013

Do not start with me. I know, I know, this manga is a wasteland. It pretends to be Yuri, so here we are. I try, to the best of my ability, to keep Okazu as comprehensive as possible without violating my own standards of entertainment (which is why you have not seen a hentai collection review in a long while. They are so boring. Girls have unrealistic, messy sex. Wow. Really, how exciting.)

So, while Manga no Tsukurikata, Volume 6 (まんがの作り方) is not actually indecent by my very relaxed standards, it is no way decent, either. Indifferent manga artist Kawaguchi has been abandoned by Morishita who has a crush on her. Takeda, who has a crush on Morishita and hopes one day to debut herself has moved with her to Tokyo.

But, when Takeda sees Morishita’s editor macking on her, she realizes that her chances of debuting are small and something important happens – Takeda suddenly becomes the only character in the book that has a plot.

Crush, crush, nasty crush…the Yuri landscape painted in Manga no Tsukurikata is grim. So grim, it’s a veritable DMZ of emotion. But now, after 6 volumes of watching two talentless hacks inexplicably make it in professional manga without hardly any effort, drive or skill, Takeda, bitter, unappreciated Takeda, stands up and takes this crappy series over as the only 3-dimensional character.

Art – Hirao nails ennui
Character – Practically existentialist
Story – I don’t know, maybe we’ll get one in Volume 7
Yuri – One for each crush (so, 3)
Loser FanBoy – I don’t want to think about it

Overall – Somewhere out there, someone must like this series. I wonder why I absolutely love how miserable Masato spends the entire volume being drawn as if he is a total babe, surrounded by the three woman on the planet who think he’s as attractive as a slug. Get out kid, it’s your only hope.”

Yipes! Huh? Have I like…  missed something?

If I had any emotional investment in tsukurikata, I might growl from the pain of cognitive dissonance, and start raging, (blah! blah blah!) but I was only snacking on it to take my mind off work, (and homework which i should be doing). So when a senior blogger whose opinion I mightily respect, and who knows 15 tons and 20 years more about a genre than I do throws her hands up in exasperation, (and does it with considerable economy, panache, and a deft, precisely measured tone – c’mon that was a pro smack-down)  – I can only conclude that my fanboy gaze has blind spot large enough to drive a truck convoy through. 

A small dim lightbulb begins to glow a bit brighter, then brighter, then incandescent..

Hot Damn! Behold the engines of the Krell! -only made of wooden gears!

Free POV shifting workshop time! Apologize for using Erica-sensei’s review as raw material after making a mess! (Oooops, I apologize in advance, right now. I am sorry if cutting and pasting the entire review goes too far, and if spending 20+ hours on your short review is overdoing things. Clumsiness to ensue. [ later: and obsessive re-editing ] For some reason it feels like it needs to be done. At least I can provide an answer to “Loser FanBoy – I don’t want to think about it” , for all that’s worthI wonder what Erica-sensei, and the majority of her comment-writers saw that I missed?

An exercise for the student, then… (ease off clutch, engage gears!)

Time to re-read the fluff! This time with a critical eye…

The Wasteland:

As mentioned, tsukurikata is very chaste and restrained in its depiction of f/f romance. At first one could read it as a one-sided crush by younger-chan, that evolves into a friendship, but it is clearly a relationship, with “I Love You’s (eventually) exchanged on both sides. Does what a timid fanboy consider as almost-safe-for-work read like “the closet” to those who want to see f/f relationships depicted as normal, out, publicly accepted and well-characterized? A lack of these features could scream “no progress despite years of hard work!” and signal lazy, cowardly or hypocritical writing. But Japan isn’t very big on any, even heteronormative PDA’s – It was easy to pass on the “where is the romance?” in this romance as a nod to whatever social constraints. Wait, there were girl-boy couples in campus scenes being affectionate in public, so being too reserved for f/f is suspect. Besides, the genre demands better. The genre must be aspirational or it is nothing but titillation.

Add to this that pining away forever can get tiring fast, and it takes a heck of a lot more skill than Hirao Auri cares to deploy in this work to pull off well. Sasameki Koto could take three years before the fated couple kissed, but that tension was the entire story, and it used a lot of skill to stretch the tale out. Even then, fans grumbled and grumbled and grumbled some more. Snog already ferkrissakes! We all support you! Whatever Koto had to keep ’em reading, this one need a bit more of.

Well, at least there is no outright bigotry, right?

That debbil older lesbian lady:

On second read-through this one can only be classified as a real piss-off, even though I let it slide during my first reading as a mere throwaway. I also thought that editor-san had calmed down after a dose of MLP reality warping by older-chan’s curious magical fangirl. Ouch! Free will returning! Head hurts! And then it would be all be a setup for having editor-san fall into the strange event horizon of cheerleading and teeth- grinding- all- while- we- all- support- the- two- fools- and- their- wonderful- romance.

The Okazu review has the advantage of dealing with the whole of Vol 6, in the original Japanese:  -ahem-  Certain lazy cheapskates have to -cough- wait a bit. I have only seen the first chapter of vol 6, so the whole thing may degenerate into a real nasty antediluvian artifact in the next few chapters. Even without this, it is clear on second reading that editor-san is a thin and unpleasant stereotype. The small attempts at humanizing her are insufficient to the task. What next? Does she start forcing herself on younger-chan and get whacked with a fire extinguisher?

The case of the stolen trope:

Predatory editor-san serves one more purpose: She elicits an “I’m not really like that – it’s only her for me” declaration from younger-chan. Whoooops! That’s a variation on the old BL/Yaoi “I’m not into guys , I’m only into you” thing, and (at least as explained to us dunderheads by Akiko Mizoguchi) such has been known to grate on and hurt real-life gay and lesbian folk. What was supposed to be an awwwwwww moment comes off as something else on second reading.

Magical prodigy mangaka girl:

(some background music to set the mood..)

Salman Rushdie played this chord once too, somewhere in the midst of The Satanic Verses. There is something horribly fascinating, while at the some time deeply irritating about an undeserving character written as being continuously, impossibly, incredibly lucky. Call it a nasty author trolling trick. Younger-chan is not a complete idiot all the time, but she has a habit of slipping into idiot-mode when it suits her whims. Also, she draws haphazardly, has rotten work habits, can barely apply screen-tone, spills coffee and ink on the drafts, and yet made her professional debut while in middle school and now has five,  perhaps seven editors clamoring after her for work. Oh, and we rarely get to see her do the work, she just pulls it out of her ass.

Poof! A wizard did it!

Of course her manga so transcends the genre that she really doesn’t need conventional drawing skills because her stories draw on the great and pure lurv she has for older-chan. She wields a naive power of love power level of about 6000. (Doppelganger fan-chan with a ridiculous power level exceeding 9000 is dropped in to highlight this.)  

Cut to something neat I found in a blog essay on early magical-girl series, arguing that naivety is equated in eastern cultural narratives with innate goodness, while sophistication risks corruption by the messy moral ambiguities of the world.

“Where Christendom is born with the Original Sin and the premise of forgiveness by a Greater Being, Confucian and Daoist Asia begins with the premise that people are inherently good. People at their core already know the moral course for an action without even being told, without needing guidance. Why, then, is evil done?


With intellect, a person can simply reason a justification for an immoral deed. It was necessary; it was the best compromise; it will lead to a better tomorrow. Your being may be shaken to its core with pangs of guilt telling you that you are doing wrong, but you persist nonetheless because your mind convinces you that you must. In the process of learning and becoming adults, people grow out of touch with their inner core of goodness and gain the tools to ignore it.

So in all concerns of ethics and morality, since man is inherently at a state that aligns with what is right (the Dao or The Way), the intuition–the heart–always takes precedence whenever it and the mind come into conflict.

Hence, the tale of the Hero who does not compromise, even against overwhelming odds, is iconic, in both fiction, mythos, and oral history. Unfailing virtue is said to gander support, and thus ultimately put power in the hands of those who persist in being so. It is how Camille is able to have all those girls headbutt Mr. Evil Jupiter with him. It is how a simpleton like Guo Jing can win over so many people, many much more intelligent, crafty, or even powerful, to become his allies. It is why King Wu was able to defeat the last Despot of Shang despite being outnumbered, simply because the people would not defend a tyrant against such a virtuous individual of clean conscience.

Reason isn’t a means of taming the evils of nasty, brutish man; it’s the means of subverting the good in man.

And the only kind of people reason cannot prevail on? The only ones the flawed, misguided villain who has admirable intentions cannot tempt with a wrongly attained ideal?

Children and morons.

Usually someone who’s both.”

Wow! Good Job!

It looks like Transistor Glamour has rounded up the younger siblings of the Mishima Koha type noted earlier in this blog, along with some hints of why such continue to hold appeal.  But it also calls to mind a scathing review i read 1/2 a century ago, when a noted sci-fi author considered the first Star Wars movie within the tradition of western science fiction: “Trust in the force??? A fine philosophy for slaves !!!” The reviewer saw the whole Jedi thing as a sin against hard-fought civilization and reason, not to mention humanity, and went at it with hammer and tongs. A deliberate over-reaction perhaps, but he felt that the point was worth making.

A related point should also be brought up when Genki gets turned into no-talent- pain- in- the- neck- Genki: the cynical trick of dumbing down and pumping up a pop idol, so as to minimize the fearsome, alienating aspects of talent and hard work while maximizing the potential for fantasy projection by an impressionable audience. This is a lot like the illusion field that lotteries project: Play! Win! Fun! while whitewashing the inescapable fact that any winnings, and the house take is extracted from the %99.99 of the hopeless impoverished deluded losers.

I guess it takes a deft hand to play the happy-go-lucky- pure- hearted- idiot- always- wins routine without either far more nasty comedic effect, or some deeper characterization. (unless your reader demographic are inexperienced youngsters who just want to read a pleasant fantasy where having a pure heart is enough to bring fame and fortune in a cruel hard world) Without these she soon degenerates into a snub to everyone who has to work their ass off to live and pursue their hopes and dreams. Assistant-chan is rightfully pissed off, all while almost feeling the hand of the lazy deity that plotted out this mess. It is as if assistant-chan just knows that she has been cursed with one more effing job to do, continuously… Or two more jobs…

The case of the missing crush.

Holy crap! How did I miss that little slip-of-the-toungue by assistant-chan at the end of ch 33 ??? Assistant-chan is beginning to crush on idiot-chan younger-chan.  That does take it down a few more notches: I can hear the gears grinding now. Some kind of conflicted feelings were bound to emerge once assistant-chan finally realised that she was roomie with her teen prodigy mangaka hero, but to plop a first-ever Yuri crush on assistant-chan so soon is unfair. Instead of an awakening to feelings, it reads like an affliction, in a genre where such feelings are supposed to be “a good thing”. What will she get next? Athlete’s foot?

A fist-full of Yuri tropes:

Shinobu Handa meet Helmut: Why can’t a bunch of women who become acquainted in the course of perusing their dreams to make it in the manga industry be friends? Why must they be irresistibly drawn to crush on each other and then just get trapped in a slow never-resolving angst limbo. It must be that they need this to write (and edit) Yuri manga.

Hirao Auri draws shojo-ai well enough, in fact the artwork is really well done – one can see the traces of what the mangaka admires in the watercolor frontispieces, the mid-range and closeup work on the faces,  But a closer look shows that the plotting suffers from a lot of blunt trauma injuries as Yuri and Shojo romance tropes are deployed in key scenes and then left to languish. Not quite “saying it but not showing it”, just that the showing is extremely random.

And yet this series won at least one award: a “silver dragon of the dragon god” of which my poor understanding of Japanese causes me to find nadda about on Google. And while this series is onto its fifth or sixth scanlation group, (earlier ones evaporating or dropping it) someone(s) still cares enough to go through all the effort involved to pilfer it and make it available to cheapskates like moi with no profit for their troubles. It is not as if it is a complete fail; it is rather that successful, satisfying mastery of the tropes and their conversion into a solid story remains always tantalizingly over the horizon.

Consider editor-san once again. She sees younger-chan arrive at the office and act stupid-helpless-cute. Thump! She be smitten. She decides that she will take charge of her, gets her into a room and immediately mashes on her.

borg macking b29_17Ok, as a 28-year-old Christmas-cake lesbian manga editor, she must feel that… (ooops! trope mixup) Oh c’mon! If she is really that smitten, she should be able to do better to worm her way into her intended’s favor. What ever happened to “dazzle the innocent sweet young thing with bright lights, big city restaurants, new clothes, attention” and all the rest. If the mangaka wanted to drag game out and load on an extra ton of clichés, what better excuse for 3 more volumes than a slow corruption/ seduction scenario?

Idiot-chan could go along with it, string along editor-chan, keep up with older-chan, encourage assistant-chan to worship her and even pat bother-kun’s head and stare soulfully into his big fool eyes. Why can’t a Yuri lead character get a harem ending?  Did the SCP Foundation finally catch up with Haruhi Suzumiya?

Instead editor-san gets to be a disposable villain: “How much for the blond girl? i offer many oxen! Or would you rather face my guns?”  Huh? As a financially secure, (god-fearing -sorry couldn’t resist) hard-working 28-year-old lesbian, an editor at a publishing house that manages female Yuri-writing managakas, why is it so fricking hard for her to get a date?  Sweet young things, either in full cynical casting-couch mode or full-blown “I’ve heard the mermaids singing” find- romance- and- success- all- at- once mode must be climbing up the sides of the building trying to attract her attention. Then one could throw in Traps and Yuri-writing fanboys if the author wants to further piss off some of the readers. So why the fixation on magical idiot-girl?

Why indeed? Do I smell a Mary Sue?

Move to big city, be wildly successful, good love interest, bad love interest…
Where are the designer accessories?

One cannot fault a Japanese manga for deploying hackneyed tropes. The entire manga tradition rests on the fact that the myriad tropes are well understood by reader and writer alike and can be deployed in a modular fashion, so as to increase productivity and variation within a comfortable universe of the familiar.
Azuma Hiroki went far too far turning them into a database, there are many other fields of narrative that are even more modular, but we have yet to see “Manzai: Japan’s database comedians” any time soon. Workmanship still counts, and the more one looks closely at tsukurikata, the more cracks in the walls appear.

Older-chan was herself a teen mangaka prodigy. Editor-san  knew of her work, obscure as it was. Younger-chan knew of the work too, but casually dismissed it as “not her thing”, preferring to find inspiration in older-chan’s success at a young age. (Ouch! that must have hurt!) For some reason older-chan gave it up to work in a bookshop. While we get a flashback to see how the two met, we never get to see why older-chan developed a block and stopped drawing manga. The only reason that she stopped seems to be so that she can be sempai to younger-chan, while younger-chan is sensei to her. (Is this some slide-over from yaoi-land?) Perhaps it was something like the “adults don’t read manga” snub that irked her when she met her ex-classmates?  looks like we’ll never know.

Then she starts going out/ hanging out with younger-chan for reasons she cannot really figure out beyond research for her own Yuri manga (all while younger-chan is using the day-to-day events of their time together as material for her stories.) Eventually feelings develop. Lets see what the Yuri manual says we should do next. This could be funny, lets see them mess up the manual; waiting, waiting, waiting…

Initially, all the pieces are here: we have a Yuri manga about two young women mangakas drawing Yuri manga, while trying to figure out their feelings and how to do a “real” woman-woman relationship. How about some tension between manga tropes and real experience? Hmmmm sounds difficult, pass… Instead,  the romance clichés are staged to happen in “real life” then hints are dropped that they are recycled in the respective mangas that the two are drawing, which we never really get to see.

Now can i appreciate the brilliance of Genshiken’s use of secondary artifacts.

For a few Yuri tropes more:

All this is easy to miss if you are a casual reader, and are not expecting more than “awwwwww-candy”. The characters are interesting enough, likeable on the surface, hanging out day to day, slowly growing closer. Nothing really exploitative is happening, and we get to read about yuri manga being created in a yuri manga.  If you know the genre, and /or have an interest in its development, and have given the series a few chances to get its act together, even wished against reason for its success,  and 4, 5, 6 volumes later nothing aside from irritating missteps have been offered up for the reader’s patience, then the hammer is getting pulled out.

What can be done to turn this around? As the series progresses, it becomes clear that younger-chan is its focus, the center around which everyone else dances, and that perhaps her cheerful innocent act is masking something else.

Are we to be subjected to a yuri mangaka remake of A Star is Born?

Why not push this to the limit? Why not have younger-chan suddenly morph into teen- sociopath- telepathic- emotional- vampire- chan?

Melty tsukurikata

“But of course you are unhappy that I will not resolve our relationship.
Your place is to be unhappy. Forever! That is what all you fools must do to worship me, Me, Me! Your despair is like honey to me! Suffer! All of you! Mwahhahhahh! Now I must go and disembowel some kittens!”

Can assistant-chan shake off the delusion field and stop the monster in time before it pulls a city-killing Melty Blood Walpurgisnacht ritual on top of the newly constructed office tower in the center of town?

Waiting, waiting, waiting,,,

What did I miss? I think I got them most of ’em. Still, it was a lot of work for a piece of fluff. Fluff that is somehow still doing well in Japan, that someones are still going through efforts to scanlate, and that other folks are still noticing enough to review.  Something about tsukurikata keeps suckering folks in.

And now I am just plain curious: How does “Takeda, bitter, unappreciated Takeda, stand(s) up and take(s) this crappy series over as the only 3-dimensional character.”  

Hmmm! The rest of Vol.6 will be out soon enough. Then Vol. 7…

Now I get it! manga no tsukurikata is a tiny perfect engine designed to lure readers in and then frustrate their expectations! It is one gigantic exercise in serial provocation and seduction, followed by waiting, waiting, waiting… And the main character is a perfect mirror of this effect. The entire exercise is just one gigantic Yuri manga never-ending prologue!

Liminal space! A fun, privileged place to inhabit, but a real pain in the neck for everyone around you.


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