(This post also contains my review on some of Tomoko Naka’s works, namely Lady Guinevere and the Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi series.)
I like to hear jokes which make me laugh and brighten up my mood. Then of course, I do hardly take jokes seriously…. that’s until I come across the website of Kyoto Seika University’s 4 Year Gag Manga Course.
I enjoy reading shoujo gag manga from time to time, whether it is in the context of romance comedy such as Tomoko NAKA’s Lady Guinevere, or (homo-esques) parodies such as Yasuko AOIKE’s Sons of Eve, or dry deadpan humour used by Izumi KAWAHARA in her works such as Koushien no Sora ni Warae! and its sequel Maple Senki, or slapstick (adult) gags created by artists such as Yuki YOSHIHARA……. the list can go on forever!
From left to right: Lady Guinevere (Tomoko NAKA), Sons of Eve (Yasuko AOIKE), Koushien no Sora ni Warae! (Izumi KAWAHARA), Darling wa Namamono ni Tsuki (Yuki YOSHIHARA). (Images obtained from the net, copyright to respectable original artists.)
However, personally speaking, reviewing a gag manga is challenging….. and it is not a fun matter – I could write a long page of sentences about what I find funny, but probably an insult to IQ in the eyes of others. After all, comedy is all in the point of view.
Kyoto Seika University’s Gag Manga Course did make me ponder again on not only the techniques behind the creation of gags and comedy, but also mostly the philosophy of humour, i.e. What is so funny about comedy and gags?
Firstly, according to some film studies: “Comic surprise can generate much of the laughter of a romantic comedy, in the guise of the unexpected event…. The gag operates around such moments of comic surprise, when the narrative can be punctuated by moments of visual comedy… The gag may actually enhance the spectator’s knowledge of a specific character, or serve to test them in order to demonstrate their weakness in the face of adversity.”
For instance, in From Eroica with Love (by Yasuko AOIKE), the tension created between Dorian, a flamboyant character, and Major Klaus (or “Iron Klaus”) of opposite personalities forms the chemistry, and hence the core that brings the “romantic” couple together.
Furthermore, “gags are focal points of our cognitive and affective experience of comic films, in that they demand attention and involve spectator participation in terms of affective response, and thus are highly memorable. The gag does not have the central importance in generating laughter in the romantic comedy that it has in other comedic forms. The romantic comedy tends to rely on more on narrative situation to create comedy. The gag serves to crystallise narrative themes and issues, and can have plot consequences.“
In short, gags (in romantic comedy) serve to support narrative context and characters’ emotional responses to generate laughters.
Secondly, there are three common causes of laughter (according to theories) – incongruity, aggression and a cathartic release of emotional tension, usually sexual in romantic comedy. In Lady Guinevere by Tomoko NAKA, the young and egoistic aristocrat Rianda first encountered Guinevere in an equestrian competition. Rianda was stunned by her equestrian skill as well as her beauty – to him, it was like a love at first sight. Their second encounter a few years later (again at an equestrian competition) was however slightly unpleasant; somewhat upset by Guinevere’s coldness, Rianda turned around and refused to acknowledge Guinevere. In contrast, Guinevere was seemingly interested in Rianda – she looks at Rianda’s horse-jumping with a smile (and we would know why later in the series. *smile*).
Rianda’s first encounter with Guinevere
Rianda is shown to be a sensitive man of little self-awareness in regards to his marital relationship with Guinevere, a rather detached individual in contrast, whose only keen interests are horses (her standards of potential love interests are intriguing linked to qualities of horse breeds!). As the train of events in the series continue, tension between the couple deepens, or so as Rianda thinks – Rianda’s frustration on Guinevere’s (seemingly) lack of romantic responses; his self-sympathy and jealousy over Guinevere’s potential love interests as well as their firstborn son, and etc….. Rianda’s inner narratives often show his conflicting/ confusing/ paranoid feelings towards his relationship with Guinevere:
Nonetheless, despite of the presence of his girlfriend and mistress, all of whom have shown qualities of his ideal of a perfect woman, as well as Guinevere’s “romantic encounters” with other horse-lookalike males, Rianda’s attraction to Guinevere grows only stronger, as shown by his constant blushings at the scene of his wife (and later his son who grows up looking like Guinevere!).
In Lady Guinevere, above its funny dialogues and visual gags, the humour comes mostly depending on the build-up and release of sexual tension between the couple, as well as their colliding personalities.
One thing to note: There is a surprise scene in Lady Guinevere. However, far from being a comic surprise (….and yes, it is sexually related), I can only presume it as a shoujo manga plot device, which was typical at that time, to create aggressiveness and sexual tension in the narrative.
(P.S. My say: It is fair to say Tomoko NAKA is one of my favourite manga artists, by the fact that her works guarantees beautiful arts and above all, Naka’s typical screwball comedies create “realities” where madness and absurdities become normality and where anything is possible, regardless of society, gender and sexualities.
Pre-sequal of Lady Guinevere: Funwari Kariudo
Other works by Tomoko NAKA: see here
Another core element of comedy is ensemble cast, be it in the form of a family, group of friends or co-workers and etc….. meaning which the plot and narrative do not revolve around only the main character(s). Instead, they are shared by an ensemble cast of characters with more or less equal importance to the plot, in which the relationship between these characters, as well as their colliding personalities, are highlighted.
Example of ensemble cast in shoujo manga: 7 Seeds by Yumi TAMURA, or in other forms of ensemble cast narrative using rotating protagonist or switching Point Of View which are more commonly used: Fruits Basket by Natsuki TAKAYA, Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (His and Her Circumstances) by Masami TSUDA, Koppamijin no Koi by Rika YONEZAWA, The Complete Series of Akiyoshi Brothers (Banri HIDAKA), Warau Daitenshi by Izumi KAWAHARA, The Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi series by Tomoko NAKA…. etc.
Tomoko NAKA’s Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi, or “Pleasure of Duke of Chartres“, is pretty much about what the translated title says:
“Focusing on the depiction of three generations of the French prestigious aristocrat who is also the millionaire and the duke of Chartres, romance and marriage in the upper European classes are spelled with gorgeous brushwork.” (Wikipedia JP)
…… the “pleasure” kicks in then, in respect to the different (and unique!) personalities and sexualities of the Chartres members:
1. Duke of Raoult-de-Chartres, 2. Duchess of Chartres Vistalia, Chartres’ wife 3. Henri, Chartres’ son, 4. Chartres’ daughter, Athens, 5. Philip, first son of Henry and Leopoldine, 6. Crowdia, second child of Henry and Leopoldine, 7. Leopoldine · Hapsburg, Henry’s wife, 8. The Grand Duke of Lyon Carlos de Lonos (the Crown prince), 9. Michael
The Story starts with the young aristocrat Vistalia, who was flamboyant as well as flirtatious with any beautiful girls in sight! Ironically she only found out from rumour, already spread in the upper-class society, that she was going to marry Raoul, a family friend who is cool-head and egoistic! Vistalia repelled the idea of being married, Raoul calmed her by telling her it was a win-win situation for both of them and their families, since he was under pressure to get married anyway and he could offer her to continue her flamboyant lifestyle even after marriage!
With “a bit” of gender bending and crossing dressing twists in between, and with some “intentional assistance” of their wicked friends, Vistalia and Raoul ended up *being in bed* together….. the marriage deal – done! At the end of the day, as Vistalia’s devilish friend sums it: “It is very hard to find a good man, but it is very easy to find a hard man.”
In the Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi series, Raoul is shown to have a cold and distant personality, especially demonstrated by his behaviour towards women. (NB. it was clear that neither was Raoul a misogynist/ gynophobic, nor it was related to his sexual orientation.)
Raoul was emotionally attached to Sarah at one time, who later became Raoul’s mistress – it was encouraged by Vistalia who was also attracted to Sarah!
In a couple occasions, Henri deliberately attempted to wind up his father and successfully managed to agitate Raoul’s jealousy over Vistalia’s apparent love affairs with other males, who were younger and more handsome looking than Raoul….. Raoul finally realised his true love for Vistalia.
Vistalia, one of the most unique female main characters I have ever seen in shoujo manga. Somewhat a rich and spoiled “trouble-maker” who has given Raoul and Henri many sweet-&-toxic headaches in many occasions as a result of her flamboyant behaviour.
Vistalia represents an androgynous character in the series. Despite of being a wife and a mother, she lives separately from the Chartres household and continues with her exuberant lifestyle. She is never shy to show off her flirtatious behaviour towards the same sex. Her gender ambiguity is shown by her appearance – a slender juvenile figure, short hair, and was often mistaken for a young man in her early days. Whilst Raoul’s appearance has changed as he ages, Vistalia still looks beautiful despite of being a grandmother!
Vistalia has become more mature later in the series, as shown by her toned-down dialogues and facial expressions….. presumably especially so after the time of Henri’s kidnapping incident (which was featured in Jukai no Toriko/ Hana no Bijohime).
Henri – Raoul and Vistalia’s first son, who I see as the central character who unites other ensemble characters together. Early in the series, Henri is a small child genius acting as the P.O.V., observing the awkward relationship between his parents and occasionally making sharp-tongue criticisms about their problems (and his concerns for his own well-being!).
Growing up in an unusual family and of whom he perceived as immature and emotionally void parents, Henri showed signs of detachment since he was a child and later developed into a somewhat narcissistic and sensitive teenager….. until he crossed path with Silvi and her master thief husband, Silver Rat, in Gin Nezu Iiro no Mademoiselle when Henri turned 14. It was also then he reconciled his feelings towards his parents.
Gin Nezu Iiro no Mademoiselle
Coming of age, Henri appeared in Hana no Bijohime as a close friend of the protagonists, then Akakke Junjo Monogatari in which Henri met his former fiancee Anemone, and again in Jukai no Toriko and Kogane no Shonen (short SF stories spin-off from Hana no Bijohime, which tells the story of Henri’s apparent kidnapping incident and the reason behind his Prosthetic Leg as seen in Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi). Note that Henri would cross path with those characters from above series again in Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi.
Upon returning to the Chartres family, Henri inherited the duties from his father as the Duke of Chartres. Although Henri managed to reconcile his resentment feelings with his parents, his narcissistic traits remain that form the comedic chemistry and tension between him and his parents, Athens his new baby sister with ESP ability which has caused problems for the family and herself, Leopoldine who preys on wealthy men (including Henri’s father!) but ended up becoming his wife, Philip his genius but detached child, Michael his bishonen companion and a bisexual…. not to mention other characters, including business rivals, wicked cousins, bisexual/homosexual/ heterosexual love interests and flings…. and etc.
Far from being a romantic comedy, I would rather view Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi an ensemble cast comedy that dares to cross borders and challenge its readers on the norms and social perceptions. As per any other works of Tomoko NAKA, the narrative of Chartres Koushaku no Tanoshimi is in many ways illogical, unpredictable, irrational and even absurd!……. But it is so much fun to read! 🙂
====== PS. Besides screwball comedy, there are other forms of humours in shoujo manga, such as Noriko SASAKI’s Doubutsu no Oisha-san, Reiko OKANO’s Onmyouji or Kazumi YAMASHIAT’s Tensai Yanagisawa Kyouju no Seikatsu (or The Life of Genius Professor Yanagizawa)….. Hopefully I will get a chance to cover those in greater details *some other time*…….