I haven’t exactly neglected to mention Negima! in the past year. I’ve written about Nodoka and Yue, my favorite members of Negi’s unwieldy harem, and Ako, who starts out as a bit player, but comes into her own, and with a vengeance. What’s left to write about?
“What’s left to write about?” Ha!
I thought of continuing what I began with my Ako post, which just scrapes the surface of her character and then promptly ends. But let’s save that for later. Instead, because you asked for it, let’s talk a little about Chisame. And I do mean a little; we’re talking about a manga that’s currently over 270 chapters long here, and Chisame plays into quite a bit of it. But we can at least try to get a handle on what she’s about — which, I think, is probably the tallest hurdle a blogger writing about Chisame would need to jump.
(And yeah, I know this isn’t a “moment,” per se. If I were to choose one moment, it’d be something from my Nodoka/Yue post, but I don’t want to repeat myself. Still, I have to give Negima! credit for being generally momentous somehow.)
Negima! handles most things rather metafictionally. Characters are established within archetypal (or perhaps stereotypical) frames only so that they might comment upon or subvert these frames as they develop. Ako is the generic minor character; Nodoka is the timid one; Yue is the quiet and strange one; Asuna is the tsundere and the magic-canceling swordsperson, the dense fighter — the list goes on. Here we run into our first problem. What type or trope is Chisame supposed to represent?
When we’re first made privy to her thoughts (in chapter twelve), we might assume she’s another kind of tsundere — that quality has been bestowed upon Asuna already, but it’s hardly homogeneous.
Tsundere is old enough and prevalent enough that it takes a number of forms. There’s romance-tsundere and friend-tsundere; there’s oldschool tsundere (the character warms up over time, with relative permanence) and new-school tsundere (the character switches from cold to warm and back throughout); there’s local tsundere (which applies mostly to the character’s relationship with one other character) and global tsundere (applying more generally to the character’s interactions with others). And of course there are all sorts of things in between, since absolute extremes are rare in any case. Asuna’s tsundere is more local, while Chisame’s is more global; Asuna is more representative of the new school and Chisame the old; Asuna’s tsundere is more about romance (I’d say, though I guess that’s debatable) while Chisame’s is not so specific. The difference here is that Chisame’s tsundere is mostly played straight (so far), and that sets her apart, in a way, from the heavily self-referential cast. For comparison, Asuna’s is undercut by the fact that the object of her conflicted feelings is ten years old, and it’s complicated to some degree by her relationship with Takahata. The former might be true of Chisame, but not until quite late in the story.
So I suppose Chisame might provide for tsundere fans who aren’t buying what Asuna is selling. But she’s hardly the tsundere character of the cast insofar as she doesn’t really act as a nexus of commentary thereupon. But then what is she?
She usually has her serious face on, at least in public. She’s not one for nonsense, and this renders her contrary, most of the time, to most of the class; her potential allies in this regard (Evangeline?) are themselves loners, for whatever reason. And she’s an impressive skeptic with impressive powers of deduction — well, no, her deductive abilities may not be that impressive, but she’s allowed by the narrative to figure things out on her own when most characters aren’t, as the festival arc demonstrates.
Negima! isn’t hesitant to poke fun at itself for its conceits. Chisame may be one of the ways it does so; while most are willing to attribute the veritable miracles of the school festival’s tournament to “special effects,” Chisame essentially uses them as evidence to figure Negi out. Perhaps this is less impressive, so to speak, than the fact that nobody else can do so — but then, if I remember correctly, Chisame becomes instrumental in ensuring that the secrets of the magi aren’t revealed to the world. The point is that she’s no idiot. She may be a little genre-savvy, even, albeit not as much so as Haruna — or perhaps not about the same things.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Returning to chapter twelve, we find that Chisame also values normalcy.
This may be a natural extension of her seriousness, granted, but it probably deserves mention on its own. Hers is an impressive shell. I mean, this is the class that got Ako to relax and open up a little, the class in which even Nodoka feels relatively comfortable. And here Chisame keeps herself separate, condemning the lot of her classmates for ruining her “normal school life.”
Also, she’s a net idol.
Well that comes out of left field — but does it really? For one thing, there’s been a connection between computers and the supernatural in the Akamatsuverse (if such a thing can be said to exist) since A.I. Love You/Ai ga Tomaranai. It isn’t so surprising that the internet would feature into Negima!, a comic ostensibly about magic, as long as Akamatsu-sensei’s at the helm. And, really, if she can’t express herself in “real life,” or if she doesn’t feel that she can, why wouldn’t Chisame turn to the internet? It’s served as a haven for many who are too disillusioned or too reticent for human interaction in their “normal” lives.
But that she’s skilled with computers and knows a few things about costumes brings us back to her genre savvy. Or perhaps, given her otaku inclinations, we should call it audience awareness. She knows something of moe…
…and is evidently no stranger to cosplay.
Ah, but she’s no straightforward, brazen otaku.
I think I’m finally starting to get a handle on what makes Chisame tick. She’s Negima’s commentary on its audience — and, as commentary, I suspect she hits rather close to home for some of us. Perhaps branding her “tsundere” does her a disservice. She’s simply insecure. She doesn’t know what people will think of her if her hobbies become common knowledge, and she doesn’t want to know; her fear that the “real” Chisame isn’t good enough keeps her from forming meaningful relationships. In all likelihood her insecurity isn’t even tied inexorably to her hobbies. That she’s into things that aren’t “normal” just gives her a convenient focal point for her worries, worries that are in fact more fundamental.
I understand her position (perhaps all too well). And I think I understand why, to Chisame, internet stardom is “what being loved is all about.”
But I don’t agree.
Here’s what Ghostlightning has to say about love in Macross and its fandom.
… All these Macross fans who supposedly ‘love’ the Misas and the Sheryls of the franchise talking about ‘loving’ a character who ‘deserves’ it. I like these characters a great deal. But love? PFFFT. That ain’t love. That’s too easy. It’s easy to appreciate excellent qualities such as maturity and strength, decision-making and competence under pressure. Loving a character for those qualities is safe and conservative.
If it fits in the pocket of one’s preferences. That’s not love at all! That’s like saying I love anime and only mentioning Ghibli films, and maybe Legend of the Galactic Heroes. That’s not love! Appreciating such excellence is what you’re supposed to do. [Ghostlightning, "Discovered Deculture: My Fair Minmay ~ Dreaming Prelude"]
And in a reply to my comment on that post, he added:
Rather than overlook, I’d rather choose ‘forgive’ as the operative recourse [regarding the flaws of the object of love]. I’m not into the ‘blind’ kind of love that overlooking may lead us to adopt, not that some amount of overlooking will inevitably occur.
Chisame seeks “love” in a place she knows she’ll find it, and at any rate what she gets from her fans isn’t any kind of love. These people don’t know her. They haven’t accepted her quirks and her flaws for what they are. They’ve never seen a picture of her that hasn’t been doctored in Photoshop, and they don’t know her real name. What Chisame presents isn’t Chisame, but Chiu; the fans love, or think they love, Chiu. Perhaps this love is indeed “real,” but the object of love is not. Chisame remains a spectator, living vicariously through her creation.
Genuine love is not so easy — I don’t doubt that Chisame realizes this on some level. Perhaps this realization is itself the source of her insecurity; perhaps she knows, or thinks she knows, that the greatest threat to her “normal school life” is herself. Or perhaps she has erected her shell to keep in the illusion, or the delusion, that such a thing as normal school life exists at all.