Thursday, March 24, 2005

Precocious Curmudgeon had a comparison of the manga Cheeky Angel and Fruits Basket, asking why the latter consistently tops the sales charts, while the former bumbles along, never really attracting much of a following. I started this as a comment on his blog, but decided that it was getting too long for a comment, so I'm just linking it over here.

One theory forwarded on the question of the sales advantage in question postulated that the successful Fruits Basket anime gave it a leg up. Cheeky Angel did have an anime, a full-year-length 50-ish episode extravaganza, in fact. It's extrodinarily faithful to the manga, and I couldn't understand why it was never picked up in the states.

Part of it has to be the art. The art in Cheeky Angel, anime and manga both, is wacky-shounen ugly. It's a school-punk action comedy, at least in presentation, and that dictates a certain harshness and ugliness which tends to come out in the goofy facial designs. Once you get used to the design aesthetic, it's funny as hell, but it is something to *get past*. Especially if you're familiar and trained in the standard shoujo aesthetic.

Fruits Basket's aesthetic is the very model of shoujo mannerism. The ziptone, the lines, the chara, the backgrounds - all high shoujo mannerism. It's the real deal. If there are funny faces, they're cute funny faces. If there's violence, it's beautiful, immaculate violence between pretty boys. There are no ugly characters. None. Even the assholes are merely average-looking. No punks, no sexually threatening older man, or gangsters, or real danger, aside from bishounen-in-the-shadows Akito. Even the gangs are girl-gangs. The driving spirit of Fruits Basket is kindness. The protagonist, Tohru, is just this side of an incarnation of Kanon.

Meg of Cheeky Angel, on the other hand, is a punk-shounen parody of shoujo girliness. She's got the proportions and lines of a shoujo female crush-interest, until you get to her face. There the lines are twisted, distorted - like a work of aristocratic art re-drawn from the view-point of a lumpen Mitteleuropan potato-farmer. Meg's ideal isn't kindness, it's justice. She's the feminine-shaped paragon of a comedic ideal of manliness - protector of the weak, prosecutor of the persecuting, brash, loyal, just, violent.

The two manga aren't similar. They are, in fact, soft opposites. Cheeky Angel is a broad shounen fighting-comedy. Fruits Basket is a pretty, light shoujo romance.

Personally, I prioritize Cheeky Angel over Fruits Basket when it comes to buying manga. There's a lot of shoujo light romance on the market right now, and Fruits Basket is merely a high-average example of the genre. There just isn't that many decent shounen fighting-comedies getting published right now, not that I'm willing to buy on a regular basis. At this point, it's basically Cheeky Angel and Bleach. Maybe I'm missing something else, something extraordinary, but if I am, I'm, well, missing it.

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