Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Kiznaiver)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Kiznaiver)

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 Kiznaiver.

Now that we’ve established a melodramatic basis and looked at the particulars of teen melodrama, we can start to criticize those particulars and flesh out the complexities of melodrama. Mari Okada herself engages in this criticism via her writing of Kiznaiver. I think it’s fair to assume that, after many years of writing for and adapting melodramatic projects, Okada has some opinion on the mode or has learned something from it. This might sound like an endgame essay topic (like we’re looking at the culmination of Okada’s career), but discussing this early on allows unique insight into the melodramatic mode and why Okada would be continually asked to/interested in working on these projects.

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Digibro explained Kiznaiver as The Breakfast Club told in the style of Cabin in the Woods, and I think that’s a hilariously accurate description. Kiznaiver is quintessential teen melodrama manipulated and ramped up to the point the narrative doesn’t make any sense if you stop to think about it. Yet, that’s why it’s so interesting. (Side note: if you haven’t seen either of those movies, do so immediately. The Breakfast Club is my favorite film of all time and Cabin in the Woods is one wild ride). But anyway…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 »