Saturday, April 16, 2011

On Broken Borders (Meta-Humor and Broken Blade)

Moments of self-reflection within works of fiction almost always stand out, especially when the viewpoint of the characters in the scene and that of the reader are placed at odds.  Yunosuke Yoshinaga’s Broken Blade explores this idea in a scene where two characters act as viewers of a work suspiciously similar to the manga in which they exist.  It is also worth noting that this scene was largely downplayed in the anime adaptation, though it was still present, and adaptational decisions like that fascinate me.  The scene is largely comedic, but there is a serious undertone to the frivolity of Sigyn insulting Rygart’s drawings that look so much the panels that the author, Yoshinaga, drew some pages earlier.  This self-deprecating joke serves to remind the readers of the fantasy inherent in this series, and in fact in all media and storytelling in general.  The levity of the scene and Rygart’s humorous reinterpretation of his own near-death experience are juxtaposed against the deadly desperation of his first fight in the Delphine, driving home the detachment from reality necessarily present in fictional media.  Further, Sigyn’s summary dismissal of Rygart’s work reinforces the idea that there are, fundamentally, more important things going on, even in the world of the manga, than Rygart’s artistic endeavors, to say nothing of the comparative importance of events in our own world.  Yoshinaga raises the hard question about the actual, tangible good that stories can provide, although he slips out of answering with another joke at his own expense.  Despite his teasing non-answer, it is nonetheless fascinating that Yoshinaga would raise this problem of media in his own work in the first place.

The difference between the ‘reality’ in the world of the manga and the world that Rygart presents in his manga-like ‘report’ becomes clear when the two are compared side-by-side.  Rygart and Sigyn are fictional characters, but they are also, briefly, viewers of what is almost their own manga.  Yoshinaga brings our attention to an interesting point through their self-reflection: even inside of a manga, ‘reality’ and media are clearly differentiable.  This is obvious on some level, but at least for me, it is not something I usually actively consider while reading.  Broken Blade is a fairly dark series as shounen manga go, portraying warfare in a sobering, if not truly ‘realistic’ manner.  When Rygart is unceremoniously hurled by fate into the cockpit of the Delphine and then into a desperate fight for his life, he is naturally unsettled by the experience.

Broken Blade: Volume I, Yoshinaga, p. 101-102

In these panels, Rygart’s fear is clear, if not overwhelming, from the cues we can derive from the art.  His eyes are wide, his pupils small, and sweat is running down his face.  He grits his teeth as he comes to the decision to charge head-on instead of waiting to be shot by a better-armed enemy.  The stress of the situation is, understandably, taking its toll on him.

Yoshinaga, p. 150

However, Rygart’s own rendition of his facial expression in his version of the scene betrays none of the emotions he was actually feeling at the time – though the sketch is simple, it is obvious that he is supposed to be composed – his eyes are relatively smaller, with pupils undilated, his mouth is closed, set almost in a smile, and he is not sweating .  Instead of desperately searching for a way to avoid swiftly oncoming death from a wrathful not-quite-loli, Rygart presents himself as thinking the laughably clich├ęd line “at a time like this, I knew that as a man I couldn’t be afraid to fight!!!”  The pure bravado of this piece of dialogue, which could easily appear less ironically in many other series, illustrates the difference between reality and Rygart’s small piece of historical fiction inside of Broken Blade.  Further, the violence in the scene is reduced in Rygart’s rendition.  Instead of the detailed crash shown earlier, his version shows merely a pair of silhouettes, the Delphine’s arms outstretched in a tackle while the other golem flails about wildly instead of collapsing inward to protect itself from his blow.  Though the collision could have proven fatal to either pilot (which Rygart notes at the time), the later drawing, which lacks the detail of the original scene, is funny because its simplicity hides that dangerous truth.  The catastrophic impact between the two war-machines is literally dulled by humor in Rygart’s reinterpretation of the scene.

Sigyn’s reaction to Rygart’s ‘report’ is almost as telling as his sketches themselves.  Her curt dismissal of his work relegates it even further into the realm of frivolity.
Yoshinaga, p. 152

Sigyn is not interested in the fantasy that Rygart has concocted, telling him that she “want[s] it explained in words, not pictures.”  As she explains, “[the characters are] in different times now,” and she does not have time to decipher his “scrawl[ings]” given the war looming over her country.  Facts are import to her, not Rygart’s “mettle as a man,” as she describes his means of presenting himself in his so-called report.  Sigyn thus brushes aside Rygart’s fiction based on “pictures” and “scrawl[ings]” in her search for a useful truth grounded in the more serious, adult realm of “words.”  She calls for Rygart to be mature and professional, and to provide her with data that might save lives and win wars instead of a story that aims to compel interest at the expense of accuracy or realism.

By casting Rygart and Sigyn as viewers of this manga so similar to the manga that encompasses their lives, Yoshinaga invites the viewers of the manga (who are also viewers of the manga-within-the-manga) to focus on the differences between the two, and also on the differences between fantasy and our own reality.  Sigyn sees Rygart’s 'manga' as inconsequential, and given the situation they face, it is not unreasonable to say that it is.  However, both of these levels of reality still fall within the universe of the manga – in other words, fantasy.  When Sigyn says that she “need[s] a report done in words, not pictures,” Yoshinaga implicitly asks the viewer why he or she wants or “need[s]” the “pictures” that he (Yoshinaga) draws.  Though his attitude is tongue-in-cheek, it presents a reasonable problem: in a world where there are bigger problems, what can art really do?  If a neat little fiction cannot even change the course of the lives of a few fictional characters in a manga, can it change the lives of real people?  Yoshinaga does not engage this problem head-on in Broken Blade, at least not in the first volume, nor does he attempt to offer an answer.  And this is probably for the best - Broken Blade is, after all, a fantasy story about giant robots smashing each other up, and not a diatribe on the morality of fiction.  Thankfully.
Yoshinaga, p. 153

Rygart is indignant that Sigyn dismisses his artwork, drawing a comically stylized version of himself blurting out some unknown word (though “wench” seems a strong candidate).  Still, he does not attempt to change her mind, and this may betray a bit of Yoshinaga’s response to the problem: he cannot offer an answer, but he does not intend to stop producing fiction, either.  He acknowledges the challenge, and then, like Rygart, draws a funny picture (of Rygart drawing a funny picture, in this case) stubbornly rejecting this line of logic without actually refuting it.

In the end, it is kind of appropriate that what begins as a self-effacing joke also ends as a self-effacing joke, but Yoshinaga nonetheless explores interesting territory in the interim.



  1. I couldn't find exactly what I wanted, but this was the closest, so you better appreciate it since I spent more time than I should have finding it.

  2. As you said, sometimes pictures aren't enough, and words are what's needed. I took your paper's lesson to heart.

    If nothing else, I'm surprised there doesn't seem to be any Broken Blade fanfiction, especially the kind I was looking for for that post >_>

  3. Well trolled, sir. Though if you were really dedicated, I suppose you could have written and posted your own ...interpretations... of such fanfiction just for this purpose. Still, that would be a lot to ask for blag trolling.



  4. >


  5. Essentially because Max was telling me and expecting me to post a picture of Sigyn from the anime version of Broken Blade, where she at least once per episode shows up essentially naked. I obeyed his expectations, in a certain sense. :-D

    Also, tell me you didn't actually read that, Aaron.

  6. No, I was telling you that I *expected* naked Sigyn trolling from you, not that I wanted it. There is a difference.

    I guess my reverse psychology *sort-of* worked. Or backfired, as case may be.