Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Full Metal Milieu: Neighborhood

There are just these things that happen in American Movies, TV shows, and Comic Books.

Evil Aliens, Supervillains, and monstrous Monsters all seem to have it out for noted landmarks. You can't have a spaceship land in California and not have it pass by the Golden Gate Bridge. Likewise, the army of extraterrestrials invaders is going to have to battle the Superhero team in Times Square, Grand Central Station, or possibly in the air over the Empire State Building. Why else fight in New York? You don't a lot of battles at Hoover Dam but when you do you can be sure it's going to be a doozy. 

Teenagers do crazy stuff like drag racing the family car, make two romantic dates for the same night, and participate in school spirit events like cheerleading and sports. I guess. Honestly I live in New York City and I'm a geek. I have no idea what normal middle American teenager do. 

The point is...American films have their tropes and cliches tied to Americana and the cultures and traditions of the United States. We have our, Japan has theirs. 

My previous post addresses Japanese Anime/Manga settings with a very general, wide scope lens. With this post, we get close-up and take a look at some details that tend to show up in a good number of series. Not all of the bits I'm going to mention are going to fit in with your particular campaign, maybe none will given its specific contents and context, but these are elements often seen in a wide variety of stories. 


Tokyo, the de facto capital of Japan, is officially known as the Tokyo Metropolis, is arguably the most world renowned and prosperous prefecture in Japan. A port city at the edge of Tokyo Bay, the city is to Japan what New York is to the United States - the primary target for giant monsters, mad scientists, and would-be world or universe conquerors. 

'Open 24 hours' like it's America cousin 'The Big Apple', Tokyo has a history of appearances across Japanese pop culture entertainment. It is the favored destination of Gojira (Godzilla), the location of the Metropolitan Police Department's 2nd Special Vehicles Section in Patlabor, and of course the central focal point of Tokyo Ghoul, Tenchi in Tokyo, and Tokyo Babylon.

It might interest some of you to know that the population of the 'city' of Tokyo and its 23 wards or districts is 9.7 million as of 2020 estimates. The nearest, next largest populations are in Yokohama at 3.8 million and Osaka at 2.8 million. Tokyo has more than double and a half times the number of people as its closest rival!

Tower of God

In the Shiba-koen District of Minato, Tokyo, there is a 332.9 meter tall (1092 ft.) replica of France's Eiffel Tower used primarily as a communications antenna and observation post. It is an extremely popular tourist attraction, bringing in sizeable income thanks to an influx of three million visitors each year. 

Tokyo Tower as it appears in Tokyo Babylon
Art by CLAMP

In Anime and Manga, Tokyo Tower appears all the time, across numerous series, in genres ranging from horror, to romance, to modern and near-future Mecha stories. As Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958, it has been appearing in Anime and Manga stories for nearly as long as there has been Anime and Manga. 

In addition to being an impressive and easily identifiable location, making it an excellent backdrop for battles in the skies over Tokyo, the observation decks - located at 490 ft. and 819 ft. respectively - are common sites for teenage romantic meet-ups. 

Summer Wars

Episodes/installments in which the characters go to the Beach or visit Hot Springs are prevalent in a great many Anime and Manga, especially those focused on modern times. It is not unknown to see this is period series though, as Japan's Hot Springs have been a draw to those trying to cleanse the mind and body for many centuries. 

The Beach Episode gets first mention: it is not about anything culturally Japanese per se, except that it allows the artists, animators, and producers to show their characters with a lot more skin - the guys are all shirtless, the gals in bikini swimsuits, and such. Beach episodes are usually announced in advanced as if they are particularly special events 'you won't want to miss'. It is a merchandising opportunity for the show as well - how many figures can you produce of a character in her same-every-episode sailor suit or battle dress? Now fans will be clamoring for 'One-Piece Yellow Bathing Suit Yuki-Chan'!

Hot Springs, known as Onsen in Japanese, are naturally heated pools, geothermally heated groundwater that comes up through the Earth's crust. Japan has a large number that are at a safe temperature for bathing and resort/spas have been built around them. It is a popular vacation destination for Japan citizens and visitors alike, with many just many a day trip out of it. 

The Heroines of My Hero Academia
hanging at a Hot Spring

Like Beach Episodes, Hot Spring Episodes are often an excuse for Fanservice - most hot spring patrons go in naked, wearing a towel and from the changing areas but otherwise going bare. In Anime and Manga, strategic and often extremely clever use of towels, furniture, steam, and of course the water itself are used to hide the characters' most private particulars. 

That said, at some point one character will likely see another naked even if the audience (the Anime viewer or Manga reader) doesn't actually see anything. This most often occurs accidentally, though the Undisciplined Character may be actively trying to catch a glimpse of the boys or girls across the way. At resorts the baths/pools are usually separately by a wall of some kind with males on one side and females on the other.

A variant on this is the Public Bathhouse, usually only seen in Anime/Manga where a previous episodes battle has somehow damaged the plumbing/water supply at the characters' home, forcing them to use the Public facilities. 

In all these cases, taking the characters out of their normal environment and letting them relax gives them a breaking from intergalactic invasions and ghost stomping to get to know each other better. Some of the best Beach and Hot Springs episodes further romantic plots or subplots, add a touch of comedy to an otherwise dramatic series, or a touch of personal drama to an otherwise comedic one. 

One last note - while not common, the Beach/Hot Springs Episode can have a plot/action sequence all its own. The Summer, not the Fall, is the time of telling scary stories and a bit of horror (or horror mixed with humor) at a Hot Spring resort adds an additional layer to the outing. 

The Wind Rises

Anime and Manga characters seem to spend a lot of time on rooftops. Whether it's their own house or the roof of their school, there seems to be no place like the top of a place for dramatic confrontations, epic one-on-one battles, or just a moment of peace.

It is a common sight in many, many series - a teen climbs out of their bedroom window to sit on the roof of their house to be alone with their thoughts or feelings. Before long, one or more other characters are sitting right up there with them. This is sometimes comically exaggerated so what begins with just two people on the roof - a parent and child, a [possible] romantic couple - ends with the top of the house hosting the entire regular cast and a half dozen reoccurring secondary characters as well. One common gag trope is to find someone up there who is very old and normally couldn't have gotten up onto the roof by themselves. Another is a character who seems to have been up there during the entirety of the original duo's conversation even though they weren't 'on camera' until the moment they speak or otherwise reveal themselves. 

Alternatively, a male or female character goes to the rooftop of their school after making a fool out of themselves in front of their crush and the next thing you know 'Senpai'* comes up there looking for them. Oh my goodness! Senpai noticed you! 

School rooftops allow for unobstructed martial arts combat and for planning your bands next gig or discussing the details of the mystery you're investigating. Curiously, this is an Anime and Manga trope but not something actually done by Japanese kids. Most school roofs are closed and no one is allowed up there without supervision or special permission. Over the past couple of decades it has been more and more common to have small greenhouses or vegetable gardens growing up there but it is still well regulated. 

One of the big reasons it became popular in Anime and Manga is because it is comparatively easier to draw then say a crowd scene on a busy streets of Tokyo or Yokohama. Staging a scene against open sky, a few fences, maybe a wall, allows the reader to focus on the characters and let the background fade into 

Well this post took much longer than anticipated due to unforeseen real world circumstances. I am way behind for the month and don't know if I'll be able to catch up but rest assured, this is still a subject I am interested in pursing. I have a lot more to say on the subject and some very specific ways I want to apply what I am coming up with. 

Until next time...

Barking Alien

*Senpai is a term meaning 'Senior', as in senior student or upperclassman. It can also refer to anyone older that a younger person looks up to or idolizes. 


1 comment:

  1. Your opening sentences reminded me of a trope that Rachel and I always find amusing, how (if TV and film is to be believed) every hotel - if not every apartment - in Paris, France, has at least one window with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower.

    BTW, really enjoying this series on tropes and themes. Thank you for doing the work.