One night, bored and trawling the web for reading material, I landed a seinen romantic comedy that promised the addition of laser-beam-firing alien antics. A recently completed four volume series, so far 13 scanlated chapters of Ashita Dorobou exist in English. While those chapters deliver on the promised romantic shenanigans and alien antics, it is the relationship between the protagonist and his ex-girlfriend that sparked my curiousity, for in the very first chapter I noticed the resemblance to that newly-coined romantic trope, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Originally phrased by A.V. Club critic Nathan Rabin to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character in the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown, Rabin depicts Manic Pixie Dream Girls as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” This cliché vacation born amid the romantic comedies and dramas of the independent film scene, and cited examples include Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical feature, Almost Famous, and the eponymous Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer. But the classic example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is Natalie Portman’s character Sam in Zach Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State.
In Garden State, Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a detached young man suffering quarter-life malais, called home by his psychiatrist father to attend the funeral of his late mother. During a doctor’s visit he encounters Sam, a bubbly pathological liar with a fondness for The Shins. Large’s journey takes him from graveyards to mansions, hotel peepholes to stone quarries, and as he revisits the old friends and haunts of his childhood home town he reawakens to the value of life and its relationships. And the flighty Sam’s vivacious accompaniment contributes a spark to Largeman’s revitalization. A spark that, by the end of the film, he could no longer imagine living his life without.
So, in what way did Ashita Dorobou trigger associations with Garden State and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? You may’ve noticed in Garden State that there is another crucial ingredient to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: a rudderless, melancholy lead in need of that effervescent catalyst. In Ashita Dorobou, we first see salaryman Kyouichi Miyasako reflecting on his past relationship with college sweetheart Ashita Tendou, half-asleep amid a strenuous work environment. Caught in slavish devotion to his occupation, Kyouichi recalls the child-like dream of his ex-girlfriend when a mysterious sphere disrupts both Tokyo air traffic and his remembrances, delivering Miyasako’s spark: Ashita Tendou, just as she appeared in his college memories.
At first, the combination of Kyouichi’s work-devoted rut and the dramatic appearance of college ex-girlfriend Ashita Tendou, whose existence represents child-like rejuvenation, seems to fit the MPDG bill; however, mangaka Masaya Hokazono throws a couple twists into the story. Ashita’s appearance and supernatural capabilities—such as shooting a beam of light at a disruptive helicopter—cast doubt on her identity. And in addition to the mysteries of the alien Ashita, at the end of the third chapter Hokazono introduces the real Ashita Tendou, a best-selling novelist coincidentally fixated on extraterrestrial existence. Her debut doubles the manga’s MPDG body count and promises a novel love triangle with the shallow entity who embodies Miyasako’s vision of Ashita’s college self.
As scanlations continue to develop I look forward to seeing the development of Ashita Dorobou’s relational triangle and the unveiling of the mystery surrounding alien Ashita. Will Hokazono subvert the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope by developing his two eponymous characters, or will one or both, like Natalie Portman’s Sam, merely serve as a catalyst for Miyasako’s resurrection? While the latter would be a bit of a disappointment, Hokazono Masaya has captured my attention with an entertaining concept, and I am curious to see its promise fulfilled.
11 responses to “Ashita Dorobou and Manic Pixie Dream Girls”
Thank you for blogging this and bringing a great manga to my attention. :)
You’re welcome, and thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy it, or at the very least find it interesting. . . .
I zoomed through the first two volumes this morning before leaving for class. It was well put together and I will be on the lookout for new scanlathons.
Now I can re-read your post with full knowledge of what you’re critiquing!
This is one of those tropes that I’m strangely blind to (surprising, no?), but am working on seeing it more when it shows up. Maybe it’s because I eschew rom-coms these days…
ANYWAY, it’s important to remember that the MPDG has no wants or needs of her own, or if she does, they’re not shown by the narrative. The dream girl exists to solve the main character’s problems, not as a character herself and so acts more as a force of nature. This is why the Elizabethtown example is so good, because we learn very little of what makes Dunst’s character tick besides that she’s quirky and a free spirit. In many ways this sets them aside from the handiest anime characters that spring to mind because they have subservient desires, but desires nonetheless, OR they represent different problematic tropes (Inori of Guilty Crown STARTS like an MPDG, but she’s really a macguffin pretending to be human).
At least, that’s how I read it.
Yes, that’s an important point that can’t be stressed enough: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl isn’t an independent character w\ dreams & motivations of her own but a representation of another character’s lost dream and a catalyst, or force of nature, meant to spark or spur that other individual to reawaken to life’s “infinite possibilities.” She (or, less often, he) represents an ideal rather than a character.
Having re-read the blog, I can fairly vouchsafe an opinion: the manga seems to play off the trope by presenting the main character with the real world inspiration of his ideal MPDG and at the same time, exaggerate the trope itself as a MPDG with powers, but without her own humanity. Since the story conveniently has the original Ashita remaining single after 9 years, I suspect the writer will not develop the MPDG, but use her as a prop for the main character as well as the original Ashita. Hopefully the writer will develop her, but I doubt it, cuz that is not central to the direction of the story.
Yeah, I agree w\ both your description of its MPDG & the direction of the story. I think the mystery surrounding alien Ashita may be explored, but there are no guarantees that it will lead to development.
Of course, this won’t kill the story by any means–it still has the potential to continue as a charming romantic comedy w\ an element of sci-fi–but I do think it would be infinitely more fascinating w\ 3 well-rounded characters than w\ 1 or 2.
I think one of the ur-Magic Pixie Dream Girls is Maude, of Harold and Maude.
But this evening, as I was watching the first episode of Tsuritama, I couldn’t help but think that Haru is a Magic Pixie Dream Boy.
I must admit that I haven’t seen Harold & Maude, but I’ve definitely seen it cited as an example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.
Some of my favorite classic Hollywood comedies are also cited as early examples–Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story. Comedy is, I think, a different beast than dramas such as Elizabethtown & Garden State–static characters are often a source of comedic material & the MPDG’s foil is also often static for that very reason–but such films like Harold & Maude are proof that the trope itself is actually well-worn, despite its recent coining.
I like applying it to Tsuritama! Those two were quite the pair–both eccentric, yet polor opposites. I look forward to their relationship, in addition to the vibrant visuals!
It’s interesting to hear about manga like this. I’ll definitely have to check this one out.
Ah, thank you for reading, and I’m glad it sparks your interest! I look forward to your thoughts on it!