Friday, October 28, 2011

East and West - Emotions and Archetypes

Eastern and Western Entertainment. Some people can love both, others choose one side and live with it, and even others choose one side and start mocking the other. I'm here to clear up what the ACTUAL difference between the two sides of this apparent argument is. I'm a fan of both, but seeing both sides making strawman arguments against the other has reached a sickening point. I'm sick of this, none of these are 'genres' and should never be regarded as such. This can't really be covered in one article without being kinda overwhelming, so I'm going to touch two subjects at a time.

Emotions are an important part of storytelling, if your characters don't have emotions it will be hard for the reader/listener/watcher to get into the characters and plotline. What I've basically tried to illustrate is the difference in which Western and Eastern animation/comics will show the emotions of the characters. Of course neither case is exclusive to the region and vice versa.

Basically, you can compare Western emotions to movies from the sound era. The story will be told in close-ups and facial expressions. There is a difference in which a human being can show sadness, and the detailed drawings of the west have the opportunity to capture this, if done well. A prime example of human facial expressions captured in animation is Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt. Particularly in the scene where Moses returns from having met God. He meets up with his brother Rameses, now Pharaoh of Egypt. Rameses hopes that everything will turn back to normal. Unfortunately, Moses returns a ring given to him as a gift earlier in the movie, asking Rameses to free the Hebrews. Rameses' facial expressions through his reaction is beautifully animated, it manages to show by my count at least 6 emotions in about 40 seconds of animation. The Nostalgia Critic has also mentioned this in his video "Old Vs. New, The Ten Commandments vs. The Prince of Egypt" Which you can find HERE. (Around the 6:34 mark, but I really recommend watching the whole thing, it's good stuff!)

While the Western audience is treated to a more 'subtle' approach when it comes to conveying emotions, Eastern series often resemble what you would see in a silent movie or in a stageplay. One of the first rules I was taught in drama class was to never face away from the audience. The audience can't be allowed to see your back unless it's absolutely nescessary. In the same way, you have to 'emote with your hands'. Words have little meaning on their own, and since those in the back of the room can have a hard time conveying your emotions from your face, being able to emote with your whole body is a pretty good tool. Take a look at any silent horror film and you will understand. I especially recommend the public domain movie "Phantom of The Opera" starring the man with a thousand faces himself, Lon Chaney. Both of his parents were deaf, so he mastered the art of body language. Good news, it's public domain now, Go get it!

A good example of the Eastern animation making use of the whole body language thing is apparently best in their fighting scenes. Every punch and kick, however weak, is given special attention. The lights seems to dim around the action, and only the most important things are animated. My nifty drawing above also illustrates the difference in showing emotion in the two kinds of media.


Here's where it gets fishy. When it comes to archetypes, the Eastern audiences are treated to archetypes way more often than in the West. Or at least, the Eastern creators are more open about it. A bad example of archetypes being put to use can be found in the series 'Naruto'. The creator himself, Masashi Kishimoto, has stated that when he first pitched the series to his editor at Shounen Jump (the biggest shounen manga magazine in Japan, and possibly, the world) his editor told him to add a rival for the titular character. Thus Uchiha Sasuke was born.
Masashi Kishimoto has stated that in order to create Sasuke, he studied the archetypical rival character in other manga, and he created what he himself has named "the perfect rival". Sasuke bears all the typical signs of a rival character: he has a tragic past (which only became more complicated as the series went along), he's adored by the main character's love interest (nevermind that the main character is oblivious to someone else loving him as well) and he's a bitter, emotional mess. He is the complete opposite of the main character. Sasuke has since gone on to be one of the most notorious examples of cardboard cut-out anti-heroism in the modern era of the genre. Among elitist manga fans, he is outright and publicly loathed and he bears a large part of the guilt in Naruto cosplayers being looked down upon. Don't trust me? Try cosplaying Uchiha Sasuke at a convention sometime. See what happens.

In the west, a more common archetype is the villain who is evil 'just because'. I'm not talking about a villain who is supposed to be a demon, that in itself is pretty obvious. I'm talking about the villains who just got out of bed one day and decided, "you know what? I'm gonna fuck it up for everyone but me!". Not that such a character can't be well-written, but there's the example of Victor Kruger, the Kurgan (played by Clancy Brown). For those that don't know, the Kurgan is the main villain of the first Highlander movie - his entire purpose in the movie is to go around killing off the other immortals so he can become a formidable enemy for Christopher Lambert's character, Connor MacLeod, the Highlander. While the Kurgan's background is fleshed out in the novelization, he just comes off as a mass murdering brute. Throughout the movie, in the modern era (I use the term loosely, the movie was made in the 80's), he wears punk clothes and hangs around in motels, and in the past he "killed Ramirez and raped his woman before his corpse was cold" (Ramirez being the teacher and friend of the Highlander). This could of course be explained by the Kurgan being born into a barbaric tribe in Russia around 1005 BC, but it's really not that much of an excuse. You'd think that after more than 1000 years the guy would at least have picked up some basic understanding of morals, but apparently not.

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