May 25, 2007

Looking adult

I find myself bothered by Pixy's strong negative reaction to the art style of the Ah! My Goddess! TV series. He says, in part:

The character designs for the TV series are off-model, inappropriate, and ugly.  All the characters are very young.  Megumi has just started college at the start of the story - she's only 18.  Keiichi is only a year or so older.  If that's an 18-year-old in your picture, she needs to book herself into detox, pronto.

Of course, some of this is just fanboy bickering. But I think there's something else going on here.

It's not uncommon for manga adaptations to anime to make changes in the character art. In the Fruits Basket anime, one of the things they did was to massively tone down the bishounen look of several of the major characters. The mangaka made all the males look androgynous. For a character who is distinctly macho like Kyo, that look was incongruous. Besides which, that art style would have driven away a large part of the potential audience.

They changed the character designs in Someday's Dreamers. In the manga, Yume isn't just cute, she's a total knock-out, the complete babe, tall and sexy and gorgeous. It turns out that the manga is quite short, too. In order to even stretch it to 12 episodes they had to create quite a lot of story and include several new characters. I think they realized that if Yume was too cute it would distract from the story, since one of the decisions they made was that they were not going to include any romance sub-plot for Yume. If, in the anime, Yume had looked like she did in the manga, there would have been guys swarming all over her. (Or the audience would have wondered why there were not.) The attention Kera ended up paying to Yume would have seemed less innocent, less about just being buddies (which is how it actually does come off in the anime).

It's true that the character art in the AMG movie and TV series is different than in the manga and the OVA. It's true that the OVA is more true to the manga. But the manga character art is more neotenized. For whatever stylistic reason, all the characters have baby faces.

Kids' aren't proportioned the way adults are. Kids faces are not shaped like adult faces, and kids' bodies aren't the same. There's been a trend in anime to loli-ize characters who really should be grown up. In this year's series Manabi Straight and in the currently-running Lucky Star, the characters are high school students but they all look like they're ten years old, except with boobs.

The five main characters in Petite Princess Yucie are all 17 but have the bodies of ten year olds, but that's a plot point and it's only those five. Furthermore, it's recognized by them and everyone around them as being the result of a magical curse. There's no such in-plot explanation for why the characters in Manabi Straight or Lucky Star look like that.

Those are extreme cases, but in general characters in recent anime are more neotenized. The biggest difference between an adult and a child is the ratio of head size to body size. That's also the difference between short people and tall people. A tall person's skull will be larger than a short person's skull, but it scales at a lower rate than body size, which means a tall person's head is proportionally smaller though absolutely bigger.

That's why you can look at a picture of a person and figure out if they're tall or short even without any visual context.

Pixy says that the characters in Ah! My Goddess! are "young" -- but they aren't young. They're college age, and in the movie and TV series they're drawn proportionally as adults. He complains that Megumi looks like she's 29 -- but if she's 18, then physically she is the same as she'll be when she's 29. By age 18 a girl is fully grown.

The character art is a plot point in the series, because one of the stories is Skuld's resentment at being treated as if she's a kid. She is the big exception; she's shorter than everyone else by quite a lot, and she's also drawn more neotenized, and there's a deliberate artistic contrast between her and everyone else including Megumi which is intended to emphasize the fact that she's very young.

One episode of the TV series is the "battle of the kid sisters", and part of the foundation of that episode is that Megumi seems in every way to be much more adult than Skuld is. If Megumi had been drawn the way Pixy wants her drawn, that episode wouldn't have worked as well as it did.

There's another episode, the 26th, where this art style is even more critical for Skuld as a character, but I can't really explain why without spoilers.

On a deeper level, this show isn't about puppy love. This isn't high school romance. This is supposed to be a love story about adults. And I think it's important that they be drawn like adults; it helps get that point across.

It seems as if the only way some artists can make a female human look adult is to give her boobs like the ones in Divergence Eve. But another important point in AMG is that the women vary a lot in that regard. Again, that's in service of the plot: there's a contrast between Urd, who has a magnificent chest (and knows it) and pretty much everyone else. As it turns out, Megumi is quite slender and isn't at all top-heavy; and that's realistic. (The substantial variance in tit size also sets up another joke, when one character suddenly grows tits which rival Urd's in size.)

Pixy is, I think, reacting first to the series history and objecting to the changes that were made. (Fanboy loyalty.) But he's also reacting to the current anime context where "adult" girls are being drawn more and more young looking, a kind of genre-wide pervasive lolicon. Within that context, Megumi as drawn in the TV series looks scandalously mature, even old -- but only because the context itself is distorted. Megumi doesn't look 29; she looks 18. The reason she looks out of place is because so many other girls that age (or slightly younger) in anime are drawn to look 12.

UPDATE: Some pictures below the fold.

UPDATE 2: Spoilers below the fold.


Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 03:11 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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