Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Teen Melodrama)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Teen Melodrama)

This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo.

I want to dive into all the social commentary and Okada’s experimentation with the “generic” (“modal” in this case) mythos as soon as possible, but we’ll take things step by step. Most people have been exposed to teen melodrama in some form—especially with its recent resurgence via Twilight and teen fiction in general. So we all know what teen melodrama is, but it can be hard to put into words. Things can get even trickier if you think about how “teen” or “young adult” labels are really just a facet of marketing. However, we can still pinpoint unique elements of teen melodrama and investigate how Okada utilizes them.

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The defining feature of a teen melodrama is its particular “situation”. This is kind of a vague concept, but the general idea is that certain kinds of characters are in certain settings under certain conditions/stresses. The situation of teen melodrama involves archetypal teenagers in a school or home who are in some kind of identity or agency crisis. All of this is then soaked in the woes of puberty and sweet, sweet angst. As with all melodrama, the climax takes the form of an honest release of emotion. I quoted Douglas Sirk last time, so now here’s actress Molly Ringwald speaking on the melodrama in The Breakfast Club:Read More »

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (A Melodramatic Basis)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (A Melodramatic Basis)

This is the second part in a series of essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, start at the Introduction instead! No spoilers ahead for now.

Before we can start talking about anything relevant in Mari Okada’s work, we have to establish a melodramatic basis for analysis. In other words, we have to know what melodrama is and where it comes from—which means chugging through some history and exposition. The history of melodrama is actually quite interesting and I’ll be keeping it light and to the point, since it’s way more fun (and useful) to talk about the gritty details once we’re engaged with some specific anime. In addition to history, I’ll give a brief overview of the most universal elements of melodrama to be expanded upon in future essays.

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Melodrama originated as a method of performance in the theater, not as a genre or tone. Music was used to add or fine-tune emotion within a scene, hence melo+drama. Here’s the entirety of Ariadne auf Naxos and an excerpt of Medea so you can get an idea of what this would look like onstage. As you’ll quickly notice, theatrical melodrama is not far removed from opera, and the functioning of melodrama (i.e. the method of acting, the emotional impact of the music) has greatly influenced modern media. Most notably, early cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and most silent films (Nosferatu as a random example) rely heavily on a melodramatic mode to better convey character motivation and emotion. I’m leaving out some details about the overall bombastic nature of melodramas, but this is a fine starting point.Read More »

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Introduction)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Introduction)

Welcome to the start of what may be a long, long series of essays on the woman I find to be the most interesting of all notable anime writers. We’ll be adventuring through a jungle of diverse shows and discussing a variety of topics, so it should be fun. With that: adventure start!

If this title sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen Digibro’s “The Queen of Anime Melodrama” which refers, of course, to Mari Okada. If you haven’t seen that video, I recommend checking it out as Digi provides some useful background info and speaks from a perspective I’m going to (sort of) criticize in these essays. In particular, Digi umbrellas Okada’s work under the incredibly nonspecific term of “melodrama”. I can’t really blame Digi for this, since he’s just trying to give an overview Okada’s work and melodrama is an apt term for that. The purpose of this series of posts isn’t to directly engage with Digi’s video anyway. Instead, our goal throughout these essays will be to develop a more nuanced understanding of melodrama and its features, as well as investigate how Okada both utilizes and revises those features.

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So, what is the issue with lumping her writing under the catch-all of “melodrama”? This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it misrepresents Okada, her work, and melodrama as a whole. Simply designating Okada’s writing as “melodramatic” with some vague definition of the word does us no good. Digi speaks as though melodrama is the feeling an anime gives off, and as if it’s something Okada can just crank up like a volume dial. As we proceed, we’ll see how lacking this perspective is. I’m not saying “melodramatic” can’t be used in a broad sense—it’s a legitimate adjective. I’m just hoping to provide a more specific context to the melodramatic mode and to get us all to like Okada more as a writer!Read More »

Meaning Revisited

Meaning Revisited (Flip Flappers Analysis)

A little while ago, I wrote about the temporality of meaning in Flip Flappers. Due to the story not being completed, that post was more speculative than I would have liked. This essay will act as a redefining and expansion of the arguments in the original post. I recommend you check out that essay if you haven’t, as I will be trying not to repeat myself too much and will be referring back to my original work throughout this piece. With all that being said, let’s take a fresh look at how Flip Flappers plays with meaning.

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But first, a quick refresher! To start, Flip Flappers encourages viewers to engage with “immediate” latent content by making adventures in Pure Illusion act like parables, beating us over the head with symbols, or straight up telling us the point. This gives us initial interpretations of events/characters/symbols—let’s say: coercing us into a particular analytical perspective. As we move forward, we discover that our initial interpretations weren’t exactly wrong, just that they weren’t complete or we were right in ways we hadn’t intended. This reflection on our own perspective is the essence of Flip Flappers’s unique storytelling and content temporality. Note: I originally call this “temporality of meaning”, but as I thought more about the show I decided “content temporality” is more accurate. It’s not just meaning that morphs, but perceived purpose and other qualities as well. All the content we take in changes.Read More »

2016 Retrospective

2016 Retrospective

There are spoilers ahead. If you see a show title you haven’t watched yet, you might want to skip it until you have.

The time has come to reflect back on our most questionable hobby: seasonal anime. According to my research, a lot of anime was released in 2016. Too much. My home and body fell into decay trying to keep up with it all, but I regret nothing. I lived my life as a moe-infected caveman in order to make this retrospective possible, and I’d do it again. I live for the list, you could say (the secret is to drop all the boring trash immediately).  Thus, as I finally shave, as sunlight breaks through my shades for the first time in months, let’s recap the five anime of 2016 that I am most likely to remember. The five anime that will define—for better or worse—2016 in my mind.

I’ll be applying the same rules as last year, so that means no shows continuing from cours or seasons that began in 2015 (or earlier). Additionally, I won’t be including any movies. This is primarily because I prefer/have to wait for disc releases. With all of that out of the way, here we go!Read More »

Patchwork Confession

Patchwork Confession (A Toradora Analysis)

Around this time last year, I wrote about three symbols in the Christmas party episode of Toradora. Apparently cold weather and Christmas lights put me in the mood for symbolism, because I want to explore another Toradora symbol this year. Although this symbol first shows up in Episode 1, I’ll be talking about the series as a whole and assuming you’ve seen it in its entirety. You can consider this the start of my love letter to Toradora.

But hopefully my letter has a little more substance to it than Taiga’s.

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Taiga attempts to put a love letter in Kitamura’s bag, but mixes his up with Ryuji’s. Ryuji then finds this letter, only to discover it is empty. All of this confusion results in Taiga attacking Ryuji and Ryuji winding up with Taiga’s empty envelope. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Taiga’s mix-up with Ryuji and Kitamura’s bags is a foreshadowing of her initial crush on Kitamura giving way to her love for Ryuji. I called it obvious, but this is certainly an important interpretation (and probably the main intended one). However, Toradora is not satisfied until it’s packed every bit of meaning into a symbol as it can.Read More »

EM: Character Acting in Hibike! Euphonium

Character Acting in Hibike! Euphonium

Somehow I went nine weeks into the season without talking about Hibike! Euphonium. Obviously that has to change, and luckily Episode 9 gave me a great example to wrap up an idea I had been working on. The second season of Hibike! Euphonium relies primarily on character acting—as opposed to actions of consequence or dialogue—to portray character growth. Since I like to keep Extra Minutes short, this essay will only focus on Reina, but you can see this technique (though to a lesser degree) used to signal Kumiko’s and Asuka’s growth, too.

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This isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it even all that different from the norm. However, this is a small change from the first season, where we primarily trace character growth via the revelations characters experience or the words they use to describe each other. If you check out my character analyses of Kumiko and Reina, you will see that the best evidence of growth comes from larger, thematically relevant actions or decisions, and less so the way those moments are acted and animated.Read More »