Wednesday, April 21, 2010

:anime: Blacks and Head Shots in Anime (Part 4)

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(Note: As before, because these cases not only involve the death(s) of a particular character(s), but can also delve deep into a show's storyline, naturally spoilers will be involved. Also, most of the titles covered are either for older teen or mature audiences.)

Case #4

Title: 3-D Magical Play
[Official Site - Japanese]

Character: Coffee/Cofy (Spelt as "Cofy" in the credits, but as "Coffee" in the subtitles. Because of the connection between names and food items in Magical Play, I will be sticking with "Coffee" for this piece.)

Episode: 1 (single-episode OVA)

Description: Mayor of Dance Valley and self-proclaimed "master of magic and dance." Heavy-set; wears tight, form-fitting green spandex, small white high-heels; wears a large round pendant around her neck and other forms of golden jewelry. Small, thin lips with silvery gloss. Tall, white box-cut hair with a purple-highlighted top. Overall appearance looks to be fashioned in an Afro-Caribbean flavor (introduction shimmying included) with an '80s-'90s flare. Likes to do a lot of dance moves and singing and combine magical attacks with them. Additionally, her musical cues bare resemblance to late '80s, early '90s dance and hip-hop beats. Has three stick figure-like attendants who dance along with her and act as her personal chair together.

Background: Padudu is a young girl looking to make a name for herself as a "Magical Girl" and win a tournament that will allow her to go to Earth and make it big there. She soon finds herself in jail, however, after being suspected of carrying magical weapons, which are illegal in the town she floated through (Magical Girls included). In Dance Valley's jail, she meets an older female Magical Warrior named Nonononn, who tries to discourage her from the path she's following, and is approached by the mayor, Coffee, who makes a flashy entrance and berates the two. After Nonononn insults the land's Queen (with whom she has shares a sordid history with), an angered Coffee decides to up her execution date to that night and invites the whole town to it. At the "party," she issues a challenge that if her "sister" could be defeated, she would be let free. The catch? The green Padudu would be fighting in place of the veteran, with both of their fates on the line.

The Situation: Padudu is given an array of magical weapons to choose from to defend herself. Boldly, she picks out a heavy lance-like weapon before her opponent drops from the ceiling. The "sister" that Padudu has to defeat turns out to be a vicious black panther with a cutesy hood over its head. Once the cat shows her fearsome face, "Panpan" soon knocks the lance out of Padudu's hands, forcing the girl to whip out her far more puny magic wand to do battle with. Both land glancing blows that draw blood, but Padudu gets the worse of it. Nonononn, chained up as a spectator right on the arena grounds, coolly coerces her to pick up the cumbersome lance from before and try to land the killing blow on the panther before it does on her. Padudu manages to distract Panpan before following Nonononn's words and charges straight at her with it.

This, though, was only a diversion for Nonononn to break free and sucker-punch Panpan. She then picks up the weapon--which is actually her's--and uses it to shoot the panther dead. The two try to escape, but an incensed Coffee stops them by using her great operatic singing voice to make gigantic stone letters materialize in the air and fall onto them. Nonononn makes a difficult stand fending them off, but the weight of all of the letters causes the stage to become unbalanced and topple over. Coffee continues her singing attack unfazed, using a giant "S" to hook onto a giant statue of the queen and a couple of other letters to knock Nonononn off it. She nearly succeeds, but Nonononn grapples herself back up and uses the ballistics in her weapon to destroy the statue--and Coffee's perch. Both women begin to free-fall, but as Coffee gloats over Nonononn underestimating her, she places a single round right in her forehead. Padudu, gliding through the sky, catches Nonononn in time and escapes, whereas Coffee is left lifeless on the ground in a massive pool of her own blood.

Analysis: Of all of the cases, this one is perhaps the most appalling. There are a number of things questionable about the character Coffee, starting with her death. It can be argued that she has the most violent and bloodiest one, shown with a stream of blood emitting out of her head (in slow, dramatic motion) and in a scene later surrounded by it. Going by standard story structure, Coffee was the villain (in a one-episode series) and was going to get her "comeuppance" at the end so the heroines could escape. The resultant end, however, felt very excessive and unnecessary.

They could have killed her off any number of ways if they wanted to go that route (villains can die even in G-rated films, remember), without resorting to having her get shot in the head (i.e. letter crushing her, shot in the chest, just falls to her death--with a smaller pool of blood, perhaps). Portrayed as the hardened, "cool" action-type, Nonononn and her fight against Coffee plays out in a very "action movie" way, so it might not be as fortuitous that things played out the way they did. However, it also brings to light a serious problem that undermines the OVA: the juxtaposition of violence, blood, and serious content against lighthearted, comedic designs and elements. None of it, to be blunt, meshes well and feels out-of-place. With 3-D Magical Play showing the bloody aftermath of an apparent magical battle in one of its opening scenes and with Panpan getting shot to death by Nonononn later on, something in the manner of Coffee's death not only emphasises the issue, it in turn underscores and magnifies the pattern of black characters being shot in the head with the level of violence present. That the moment was also depicted in protracted slow-motion only made it worse and a bigger distraction.

Not helping matters are Coffee's design and mannerisms, which border on being stereotypical and racially-insensitive, if not outright crosses it. Against the backdrop of the bigger picture, it may not come as a great revelation that the creators decided to make the mayor of "Dance Valley" a black woman, as she seems to embody more than a few black stereotypes, some of them female-centric (i.e. big, heavy-set figure; does a bunch of dancing and singing; the amount of jewelry), and not much of it ironic. Her powers themselves are based around said artistry and her looks are akin to a mix between Afro-Caribbean (something not lost on the English dub producers, who cast her voice in that light) and what you'd expect from a late-'80s - early-'90s hip-hop/R&B act (and both show in her mannerisms).

What is the chief issue here is not so much that she does those sort of things, but how she does them, especially her dancing. It felt a little offensive and short-sighted in the way she gyrated in an exaggerated manner to some hip-hop-ish, island-tinged music (we're not talking "1920-30's blackface/minstrel" levels here, but it is still something to be taken aback by). I do not necessarily believe the creators meant to be insulting or coarse when they created Coffee, but regardless, there seems to be some ignorance at play concerning her as a whole. There is also the matter of Coffee having a black panther she adored as a "sister" that one could draw any number of conclusions to. While I do think it was a deliberate choice on their part, like her very name of "Coffee," I do not see it as particularly derogatory, though perhaps in slight bad taste. That aside, Coffee's design and cavorting was distasteful and lacking in wit.

Curiously, 3-D Magical Play has a relatively large number of dark-skinned (and not as questionable) characters displayed in the background. The same can be said of its stand-alone successor, the 2D Magical Play, which features the two dark-skinned officers from 3-D MP and a dark-skinned magical girl who travels with Padudu and another girl who serves as that show's primary fanservice bait. None of them have unflattering designs (unless you are put off by Myumyu's barely-there outfit) or traits and are treated like any other character. On a similar note, Coffee actually has a decent personality (and a nondescript, suitable pair of lips, unlike some of the cases), in spite of her presentation and death. She's more of the authoritarian/snooty villain-type and doesn't have a hint of racial overtones in how she talks (script-wise). Yet, those overtones elsewhere outweigh most of the positives found in her.

Coffee's demise in 3-D Magical Play stands out particularly from the others because there is little reason from a plot standpoint as to why she was shot in the head and that the act itself was a exceedingly violent and bloody affair. Unlike in Blassreiter and Blood+, there was no viable excuse on some level for it and nor was there any narrative justification for it along the lines of Bear in Gungrave. The character could have died any number of ways, but once again, a black character dies by a wound to the forehead. One may claim it was all in the name and spirit of an action scene, but when looking at the larger scope of black deaths, it makes you wonder more if it was the result of institutionalized thinking that she, as a black villain, had to die that way. In addition, her mildly offensive design and physical antics make her more of a stereotype than anything, or anyone, else. The crassness of her death blow only made it worse and perhaps the worst of the bunch. In all, one may ask if such a physical stereotype was perhaps a byproduct of an encompassing stereotype, given the death Coffee received...

[NOTE: Screenshot Source: DVDs]

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