John Evans' Blog

Why the Japanese Hate Sequels

by on Aug.07, 2006, under Uncategorized

Okay, okay, the Japanese don’t necessarily hate sequels; that was mere hyperbole. But it seems sometimes like they don’t entirely grasp the concept. Look at Legend of Zelda Wind Waker vs. the previous Zelda games. Look at Dark Cloud vs. Dark Cloud 2. Heck, look at all the various Final Fantasy games!

However, I’ve come across things in recent researches that may shed new light on this tendency. It all goes back to Osamu Tezuka, the “Father of Manga” or even “God of Manga”. A prolific pioneer, he published hundreds of different manga in many different genres. Along the way he came up with an interesting idea called the Star System.

For those who might not want to read the whole article, I’ll summarize. Reportedly, Tezuka was inspired by the film industry, who were promoting actors and actresses as “stars” over and above simply promoting their roles in specific movies. This is, of course, the standard way of doing things nowadays in Hollywood…Tezuka took it in a slightly different direction. He reused characters from manga to manga, but in different roles. One of the most famous characters is Shunsaku Ban, a portly, middle-aged man with a large walrus-like moustache. In Astro Boy he sometimes plays Astro’s teacher, but in most works (such as the manga and film Metropolis) he plays a detective.

Of course, I say “he plays” but the character really has no existence outside the manga…Or does he? Tezuka imbued his characters with such life that I do not doubt he believed they had independent existences…perhaps only within his own mind, but independent even so. So the conceit of seeing these characters as “actors” playing recurrent roles became a natural one. It draws a curious layer of metatextuality over Tezuka’s oeuvre.

And perhaps the “Star System” influenced over Japanese creators. Anyone who’s run into the various versions of the Tenchi Muyo canon would no doubt find it simple to think of “Tenchi” as an actor appearing in several different “Tenchi-ish” works.

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