Remember me? It’s Pontifus, that guy who has successfully ignored the blog he created for about a month! Why, you may or may not ask? Because I’m embroiled in another of my regularly scheduled methodological crises, and those are well and truly crippling. But that’s boring, so let’s move on.
I realized recently that Baka-Tsuki and its cadre of rogue translators are working their way through the Toradora light novels, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge. Normally I would resist; I don’t like to be in the middle of more than one adaptation at a time. But I’m willing to make exceptions when I’m far enough in one that I’m well past the beginning of the other, and when I really like the franchise in question.
In retrospect, I almost wish I’d exercised some restraint.
I really like the Toradora anime, and I mean really like it. A lot of people do, it seems. It reminds me so much of my own high school and college years that it’s painful to watch1 at times, which is, come to find out, a good thing by my reckoning. I suppose this means I’m even more predisposed than I normally am by pure literary douchebaggery alone to find flaws in the Toradora light novels.
And that’s all well and good, but why is it so? I have a few guesses, several of which may apply. There are, by my reckoning, two repeat offenders: disparity of written imagery and visual images, and disparity of narrative techniques. These differences are not in themselves bad things, but they go a long way in rendering my response to the Toradora light novels less positive than my response to the show.
Join me, if you will, as I examine a few lines from the first chapter of the first Toradora novel2 and try to explain what in God’s name I’m talking about (with the help of plenty of spoilers from the show, so if you haven’t seen much of it, turn back!).
A frustrated hand wiped the mist from the mirror. The run-down bathroom was foggy due to an early morning shower. So after wiping the mirror, it returned to being cloudy. It was pointless to take anger out on the mirror no matter how frustrated one was…
Make yourself gentle with floating bangs — That slogan was seen in the latest men’s fashion magazine. Takasu Ryuuji’s bangs were now “floating”. As the article instructed, he pulled his bangs at length, blow-dried them until they stood up, and then gently rubbed them sideways with some hair gel. He specifically woke up a half-hour early in order to make his hair resemble that of the model’s and have his wish granted.
Even though he had always wiped the steam off, even after spending a whole day last week cleaning out the mold in the kitchen and bathroom… All his effort had gone to waste in that horribly humid room. Biting his lips begrudgingly, Ryuuji tried to see if he could wipe off the mold with some tissues. Of course, it was never going to be that easy, and he ended up tearing the tissues to shreds.
Ah, right, this scene — you know, I barely recognized it at first as the same scene with which the anime opens. This is one of those narrative technique issues I mentioned. In the show, it’s a very kinetic scene, all movement and very little language, and it’s entertaining for that reason; we begin to get a feel for Ryuuji without any need for straightforward exposition. But, here, that movement is slowed by the explanation (maybe necessary, maybe not) of certain minutiae: we’re told that the bathroom is foggy in the aftermath of a shower, for example, and that Ryuuji has a habit of cleaning things. We could probably figure out the cause of the fogginess for ourselves, and the obsessive cleanliness could just as easily be shown later on — we can see it when Ryuuji attacks the mold immediately with whatever cleaning implements he has on hand. Note that this is not a criticism; the novel’s way of doing things isn’t necessarily bad, as it does serve the purpose of situating us more thoroughly in Ryuuji’s thoughts. It’s probably safe to say that film is better at conveying movement while literature excels at conveying thoughts and emotions, and the writers of the respective adaptations may have been playing to the strengths of their media. In this case, though, I prefer the movement, and while this may be the fault of bias set in place by my having seen the show first, I suspect it may have more to do with general personal preference; I like movement and physical response in novels more than long, unbroken tracts of description. I wouldn’t describe the above excerpts as long, unbroken tracts of description, mind you, but they certainly aren’t as active as the corresponding animated scenes, and again, maybe it’s a constraint of the medium.
Last year, just a few meters from the south side of this house, a ten-story luxury apartment building was built. As a result, the sun no longer shone through. This had driven Ryuuji to the brink of madness and frustration countless times already — the laundry could no longer dry; the tatami now expanded due to the humidity, curled at the corners and grew moldy; and sometimes it would even get frosty. The wallpaper was starting to peel, which must have had something to do with the humidity as well. It doesn’t matter since this is just a rented apartment, Ryuuji wanted to tell himself. Yet being extremely sensitive about keeping a place tidy and clean, Ryuuji just could not get himself to tolerate and compromise on such a thing. Looking up towards the white-tiled high-class condo, there was nothing those two poor people could do but stand shoulder to shoulder with their mouths open.
There’s something to be said for well-placed exposition, though. As someone who knows what’s coming, I like this description of Taiga’s apartment as a shadow over Ryuuji’s home and a blight upon his tatami mats — he’ll be tossed out of his comfort zone, and whether that’s a good thing is a matter of reader opinion, but it’s certainly a thing that happens to most (if not all) teenagers at some point. I wonder if first-time readers would find this passage tedious — the lead-up to the above paragraph seems to make it obvious enough to me that the apartment will be important later, but then, I knew that much from the beginning.
In order to give birth to Ryuuji, Yasuko dropped out of high school when she was still a first year, so she was not familiar with what life as a second year was like. Ryuuji felt a sense of sadness for a moment.
Wait, wait, wait…did they just make Yasuko tragic? I always wanted the show to give her more depth — single mothers are characters for whom I can muster a lot of sympathy — but I imagine it may have been hard for the writers to balance sympathy with her visual portrayal as altogether ridiculous. In animation (and probably any film, really), I suspect a character’s layers of depth will always be seen through the shadow of their physical form. Surely some film critic has written about that, but I don’t really know film criticism. It reminds me of literary mind-body dualism (which Cuchlann mentions toward the bottom of this post, if you’re curious), but unavoidable insofar as making judgments at first sight, however cursory, is unavoidable3. We might say that the dualism, if there is dualism, is an end rather than a means.
…[Ryuuji's reputation] could be partly blamed on his rough personality. He spoke in quite an unrefined way, which had something to do with his extreme sensitivity. This was why he rarely joked around or said anything foolish.
Interesting; I didn’t get “rough” or “unrefined” out of the show’s characterization of Ryuuji. Where social class is concerned, though, I suppose he isn’t exactly at the top of the pecking order. If anyone could give me this paragraph in the original Japanese, I’d appreciate it, as certain connotations of whatever words Takemiya used may have been lost when they became the English “rough” and “unrefined,” and I’d like to try to puzzle through it myself.
To use soccer as a metaphor, Ryuuji would be a center defender who hardly ever had any chance of participating in offense.
OH LOL, for lack of a better term. Ryuuji is a professional wingman, of course, a groundskeeper of the friend zone, and it caught me off guard when the novel came right out and said so. Maybe it shouldn’t have; it’s funny, I suppose, but Ryuuji’s unfortunate predicament is pretty obvious anyway.
Her various cheerful expressions.
Her delicate body and exaggerated movements.
Her innocent smiles and clear voice.
Despite his intimidating appearance, she still managed to keep her usual cheerfulness in his presence, even to this day.
That’s Kushieda Minori for you.
As I read, I found myself trying to poke holes in this description of Minorin in spite of better judgment, which tells me it’s best to consider adaptations as independent entities, at least during the initial reading of each. I wonder now if that’s even wholly possible — it may be possible for someone, but my record is perhaps suspect, and it’s not as if I don’t know better. Is it related to my broader inclination to compare things with other things often and at length? Is it possible that those who disparage the Toradora anime for not being more like the novels (just as I feel inclined to disparage the first chapter, if not vocally or with any belief in the objective rightness of doing so, for not being more like the anime, or perhaps for not being the anime) aren’t consciously at fault? Perhaps we’re dealing with some mechanism of reading here, some attribute of the body of narrative art. Or — and this is of course an implicit corollary of all artistic interpretation, analysis, and such — maybe it’s just me.
For my part, my impression of Minorin does include some of the novel’s descriptors, but is best summed up by the three particular incidents from the show which come to mind when I think of her — the first, representing her genki girl craziness, which rubs off on her friends once or twice…or thrice:
The second, representing her dedication and dauntlessness:
And the third and most recent, in which Ami throws all her flaws in her face (and for great justice):
These are the images which really stick with me, and pull the most weight in determining Minorin’s character for me — the first because it made me laugh for five minutes, the second because Minorin is fucking gar, and the third because I still feel anxious just thinking about it (for about an hour prior to the writing of this sentence, I’ve been jittery at the prospect of having to watch that scene again for the sake of grabbing the screencap). Regardless of their taking place later in the…not shared narrative, as the two adaptations give us two different narratives, but maybe the Toradora proto-narrative…I can’t help bringing these and other scenes with me when I read the novel. Perhaps they’re confounding influences, mere distractions, but even if they are, they exist; when the novel cues me with “Kushieda Minori,” I need to mentally construct a character to attach to that name, and if I’ve already done so for an alternate adaptation, I don’t know how I could completely and utterly disallow that Kushieda Minori from lending qualities to this one, considering the importance of prior knowledge and experience in reading.
Specifically, expressiveness, physical exaggeration, and cheerfulness are all things I associate with Minorin, and so I didn’t have trouble accepting those traits when the novel handed them to me. But “delicate body” gave me pause — maybe she looks delicate, but she’s proven her ability to hold up under physical duress more than once in the show, rendering half the connotations of “delicate” inapplicable. Granted, that may be attributable to a translation nuance, but “innocent smiles?” We viewers all know what lurks beneath that presumed innocence by now. Of course, there’s no way the novel could convey all that in one chapter, and Ryuuji doesn’t know Minorin well enough at that point to judge her accurately. I comprehend that on a conscious, logical, intellectual level, just as I comprehend that the two Minorins are not practically one and probably should not be considered as such, but that isn’t going to stop impatience and jadedness from being emotional byproducts of reading, and it isn’t going to stop my mind from being hypersensitive to possible “inaccuracies” against my will. Knowledge of the one version affects the experience of the other, and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it (and I try, believe me).
Oh, and let’s not forget that the light novel offers its own visual depiction of Minorin…
…which isn’t wholly analogous to the Minorin I’m used to lately, who is prone to romantic dilemmas and hitting people who point out her flaws. These alternate depictions and their discrepancies inform and perhaps confound one another, especially when the adaptations in question are fairly similar; I’m starting to suspect that whether they should or not is of little consequence.
Her long straight hair softly fluttered and covered the tiny body of the Palmtop Tiger.
Speaking of those illustrations present in light novels, I wonder if we should consider them separate in terms of characterizing influences from the descriptions of the characters they represent, and, if so, to what degree. I mention this because this…
…is not “straight hair.” Is this a minor discrepancy? Yes, but it illustrates that different creators bring different agencies to different depictions of the same character, and this isn’t mitigated by the two depictions coexisting in the same physical text. I don’t know how much this matters, but it could certainly lead to situations in which the reader must contend with differing adaptations in deciding, consciously or not, what to include in their mental image of the text.
At the end of the day, I’d maintain that adaptations of the same “proto-narrative” should be considered separate texts, and that “I like this less because it isn’t like the other thing” shouldn’t be considered an objective basis for making a value judgment. As Cuchlann more pithily suggests, we should at least try to appreciate varying adaptations on their own merits rather than simply throwing them against one another. But personal preference is a shifty bastard, and if knowledge from one adaptation creeps into the experience of another, I don’t suppose there’s a whole lot we can do to keep the resultant webs of influence from becoming significant and often complex.
Of course, much of what I’m talking about here depends heavily upon my own reading nuances, as those are the only reading nuances about which I can speak accurately. Maybe you can erect impenetrable walls between adaptations, in which case I’m curious to know what that’s like.
1See also Casshern Sins and Clannad ~After Story~. Damn this season is deliciously painful. Damn that last sentence sounds creepy in retrospect.
2You can find the chapter in question here, though, due to the wiki nature of Baka-Tsuki, the wording of the translation may have changed since I quoted it.
3See this recent article from New Scientist for more on that. I’m not so sure about “new physiognomy,” but I suspect that the idea of judging by appearances and the inevitability thereof carries over to fictional characters with visual representations. Even in the case of Ryuuji, whose fierce appearance is deliberately mismatched with his gentle personality, that sense of being mismatched is a ubiquitous element of his character, as we’re reminded of it by his physical form, central as that form is to the depiction of his thought, speech, and action.