From July 5th to 18th K: Missing Kings, the filmic emissary of the K (aka: K Project, K (anime), [K], and Gay among other monikers) franchise, premiered in Los Angeles and Paris and hit Japanese theaters before infiltrating cities across the United States in specially arranged screenings. Though weighed down by its character leadened plot and slightly caffeinated muzak, the K anime series nonetheless maintains a hearty international fan base propelling this film’s vigorous virgin voyage that will perhaps drive the franchise’s further media venture.
K is moderately popular. So what? This is all fine and well for K fans, but what has this to do with my beloved [insert popular series]. While not particularly acclaimed or easily understandable anime series or film, the way in which appeal operates between the series and fans provides an entry point understanding how anime and manga today, particularly those geared toward fujoshi, operates.
Enter Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animal.
A slim book originally published for the general Japanese populace in 2001, it reached American shores in 2009 with under a more academic guise. Due to that eight year translation gap combined with the normal passaged of time, the book tends to feel a bit dated especially with its discussion of technology and female otaku, or rather for the latter, its lack of discussion on female otaku and fujoshi. However, Otaku provides a useful model to begin dissecting female fandoms. In Otaku, Azama explains beginning in the 1970s, Japanese media consumption shifted from the consumption of large “grand narratives” addressing vast themes on human existence to “database consumption,” or rather the consumption of specific traits and archetypes, typically associated with character types, that stem from a larger “database” of character types. Rather than searching for vast themes and narratives, the consumer are instead seeking characteristics provided by media that satisfy desires. Thus, the Otaku becomes the consummate database consumer as he (since Azuma only discusses male otaku) forages anime, manga, and games for the right scratch to his itch.
Let us return back to K. Perhaps among the most outstanding flaws of the series is the lack of coherent narrative. This is particularly apparent in K: Missing Kings (or rather K: Missing Plot). However, the film succeeds in drawing from this “database” of desirable traits embodied by the lightly developed and well designed characters.
Without even examining the content of the movie, the key art of K: Missing Kings overwhelms the viewer with a variety of character fitting a particular “type” based on design and body posture, a process relying on audiences, even those not familiar with the series, reading these traits and associating it with past characters and anime with similar designs, or in other words, the database. Herein we can see how narrative is backpedaled in the K franchise, instead relying on the the invisible but pervasive database used as a seductive means to draw fans.
Tune in next week for Part II for a further discussion of K and Azuma’s Otaku.