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April 27, 2010

Over at his joint, 2DT talked about the nasty treatment that women tend to be subjected to in super hero comics and Key anime series and light novels. He mentioned that the main difference between the two is that women in Key stories are meant to be objects of sympathy and emotional release, while women in super hero stories tend to become victims as a means to escalate a storyline’s seriousness.

He’s right on both accounts, but I’d argue that the super hero genre isn’t without its “sad girls in snow.”

Jean Grey was doing the “dying for fanboys’ catharsis” shtick decades before Key came around.

Jean Grey has made a career of being victimized for our reading pleasure, and her deaths are almost always utilized to evoke some feeling of emotional climax much in the same way as a Key torture victim.

The first time she died (Yes, first time.), she died sacrificing herself to save the lives of the rest of the X-Men. As the X-Men were returning from an adventure in space, their ship had trouble reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Jean used her telekinetic powers to control the shuttle’s descent, but in the process she died. This death wasn’t as dramatic as the sorts you see in Key dramas, since her death led to her being taken in by the Phoenix Force. This cosmic entity saw Jean’s actions and decided to “reward” her by having her rise from the ashes and granting her its powers.

All well and good, save for the fact that this resurrection was merely a set-up for a far more tragic and extended demise.

The Hellfire Club, a group of socialites with super powers, take advantage of Jean’s newfound psychic powers. They use a mind controller to craft an elaborate false reality in hopes of binding her to their will. It works, but it also unleashes the evil potential that dwells within the Phoenix Force. This leads to Jean nearly killing her teammates, going insane, and leaving Earth on a crazed killing spree that ends with her destroying an inhabited solar system. When she’s arrested by an intergalactic police force, she’s tried by combat, where her fellow X-Men risk their lives to “prove” her innocence by fighting a rigged gladiatorial battle royale, and in the end Jean sacrifices herself again to make sure that her friends don’t die for the sake of defending an admitted propagator of genocide.

All of this happens against Jean’s will. She’s an unwitting victim of fate, much in the same way as the various women in Key storylines are victims of circumstance. None of them have control over their dismal fates, and it’s that unfair tragedy that gets at reader’s hearts. And while the intent may be different, since I don’t think Chris Claremont set out to deliberately “make grown men cry” the way the dude behind Key has claimed, but the end result is the same: a woman’s helpless demise is used to evoke sorrow in an audience that stereotypically doesn’t seek such emotional release.

So the super hero genre is capable of the same sort of tragic story that Key fans are seeking. You just gotta dig down and find it amongst all of the amoral anti-heroes and kinky spandex.

And this brings up something interesting about anime/manga fans and American comic fans. There’s a tendency amongst fans on each side of the issue that the other side is somehow shallow and lacking in substance. As someone who has been a fan of both for quite some time, I can say that both sides have their fair share of “deep” storylines and utter crap. And fans of both media tend to read what they read and watch what they watch for the same reasons.

 I find it amusing that there’s some sort of disconnect between the two fandoms where they somehow see the other side as being some sort of unfathomable “other.” They’re quite similar when you get down to it.

Also: Anyone familiar with X-Men history knows that Jean has died many more times after the Dark Phoenix incident. Diminishing returns apply, much like how most people can only take so much Key melodrama before it starts to feel the same and forced.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2010 5:19 AM

    You’re right, superhero comics are capable of just as much depth as their manga counterparts. But I’d even say that that’s their Achilles heel– appealing too much to the sensibilities of adults who have grown up with the continuity. Angel Beats!’s pain is here, it’s now… and then we move on to the next one when we’re done.

  2. Landon permalink
    April 28, 2010 7:00 PM

    That’s probably one of the reasons why I don’t like Key. In that sense, there’s a certain disposable nature to it all. At least Marvel has the decency to bring Jean Grey back to life so they can kill her all over again. She has a reoccuring gig. The Key girls die and get cast aside in favor of the next dying idol. Despite the ridiculous predicament of dying over and over again, I’m attached to Jean Grey to some extent. I never got that from the stuff I’ve watched from Key. As much as I like Angel Beats, it has nothing to do with any sort of connection to the characters and feeling their plights.

    Then again, I’m a cold-hearted bastard.

  3. April 29, 2010 10:42 AM

    1. The death must alter the personalities of the cast for the rest of the series.
    2. The character must be significant, and the loss has to be significant.
    3. The death has to be sudden rather than melodramatic and drawn on.
    4. Finally, the dead must stay dead.

    Rules for effective character deaths from a blogsuki post years ago.

    The obvious criticism of well-known superhero comic books is not sticking to rule 4. Key, on the other hand, adheres to rule 3, but in the worst possible way. The deaths are forced and the cause usually completely arbitrary; might as well have been struck by a meteor falling from the sky.

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