Pretty maids all in a row

I saw a story on the BBC about these all-girl pop groups that are cropping up in Japan under the sponsorship of just about everyone, from corporations to vegetable growers associations to urban redevelopment committees. And it reminded me of the truth that, when you put four or more attractive people in a row and give them some common purpose, your chances of achieving your aims improve at least slightly, depending on how appealing those four or more young people are.

They can come together by inspiration or design, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Origins in inspiration are obviously more highly regarded than manufacture, but, one or the other, people can still develop attachments to even the most cynically constructed assemblages. If they look good standing in a row, if their types connect in comforting ways, you’re in good shape.

The tale of local-produce promotional singing sensations mentioned above also reminded me of the truth that success replicates, even if you’ll never quite capture the lightning in a bottle that inspired the original. Entire comics companies have been born out of a desire to replicate the grim and gritty success of Wolverine. Intriguing notions become franchises, for better or worse.

In the case of the cast of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh (Yen Press), they are the best they are at what they do, and what they do is be funny and cute, particularly funny. Azuma’s ensemble seems to have inspired a host of imitators, temperamentally balanced groups of girls with their weapons set on “charm.” That they will almost certainly never rank any higher than second place, given that it’s unlikely that Azumanga Daioh will ever drop from first, isn’t reason for them not to exist. People didn’t stop writing plays about crazy, southern drunks after Tennessee Williams or musicals about neurotic people after Stephen Sondheim.

Of course, not all of these imitations fully justify their existence. I thought the four cute girl students of Ume Aoki’s Sunshine Sketch (Yen) were totally forgettable, like adorable collectibles rather than proper characters, in spite of their promising art-school setting. The music-club girls of Kakifly’s K-On (Yen) are just better enough that I can see myself spending a few volumes with them.

Yes, there’s the serious one, the loud one, the dingbat, and the rich girl. Yes, there’s the obnoxious teacher who should probably find another career. Yes, they go to the beach and wear kimonos and maid costumes. They basically go through all of the Stations of the Cross. But I enjoyed their company, and I got a reasonable number of chuckles out of their delivery of admittedly familiar situations. I can even abstractly appreciate the thoroughness with which Kakifly has abetted the audience’s wish fulfillment – there isn’t even the silhouette of a male character to present competition.

But, at the same time, I’m not the author’s ideal reader, either. I didn’t read the magazine, then collect the paperbacks, then watch the anime, then download the soundtrack of the anime, then buy the DVDs, then collect the figurines, play the video game, and track down the sexy fan comics, all while discussing with my friends which character I’d ideally like to marry, judging them for their choices. If that sounds like I’m judging the franchise for being cynically commercial, I’m not. Kakifly and company took a successful formula, turned it into something likable, and built a mini empire out of that. It’s better than building an empire based on something awful, right?

12 Responses to Pretty maids all in a row

  1. James Moar says:

    Though is Azumanga Daioh the template, I wonder, or just the first and best in English?

    • davidpwelsh says:

      I wasn’t sure, so I tried to refrain from saying that it started anything rather than being a really great example of something, you know what I mean?

  2. 4-koma have been around long before Azumanga Daioh, but for the US audience, it was definitely the first taste.

    I agree with you David about Sunshine Sketch. I’ve tried hard to like it, but Yuno is so very dull. K-ON! I’ve had no trouble liking, even having gone so far as to track down some doujinshi (non-adult) and yes, coughed up the cash for the music. (Houkaga Tea Time II – worth every yen!) But no, I have never once considered which character would be my waifu, and the color of Mio’s underwear is of zero interest to me. Call me 90% fit to be the audience.

    I hope one day you get to see Poor Poor Lips, which is a 4-koma without an ensemble of attractive people that works. And I hope you never have to read the many thousands of Ichiroh!s, Lucky Stars, Rakka Rysuusuis, Issho ni Kaeros, Gakkou no Senseis, Tori Koros, Hyakkos, etc, the multitude of utterly forgettable, same-old comic strips that numb the mind with their formulaic pattern. which I described recently on Okazu as:

    Panel 1: Somebody shouts or declaims. Often inexplicably.

    Panel 2: Request for clarification or explanation

    Panel 3: Set-up for…

    Panel 4: Punchline, which is almost always delivered in bold, italic, large font.

    Slide whistle, clown horn or trombone going bwah-~wah~waaahhh~ must be supplied by the reader.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      What are your thoughts on GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class by Satoko Kiyuduki? I may have an irrational resentment toward it for bringing about the truncated end of Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, and Sean Gaffney always makes me feel guilty for my boycott of the title.

      • Erica says:

        I haven’t read it. I know Sean likes it, but he knows when I’ll like something and he hasn’t told me to read it, so I’m not. :-)

  3. gia says:

    For some reason the first idea that came into my head was to start an anime bloggers’ girl band.

  4. gia says:

    (Note that I said ‘first idea.’ Subsequent ideas included a competing boy band, a coed choir, and a Broadway musical.)

  5. Jade Harris says:

    OMG! How dare you call Sunshine Sketch forgettable! ;D

    I saw you asking after GA above: It’s pretty much a knock-off of Sunshine sketch that focuses more on the art school aspect. Imagine a comic that’s nothing but otaku-culture references and replace all those gags with sleep-inducing observations about colour charts and pen nibs. Eheheh.

    I’m pretty sure it actually preceded Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro; it at least ran concurrent to it. Either way, her comic work was actually more cut short by her game work in the likes of Yggdra Union and Knights in Nightmare.

  6. Oliver says:

    When I thought of all-girl groups, I thought of the castrating all-girl band in DMC Vol. 2. That’s all.

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