Friday, April 30, 2010

Identity 3.3 - "The Amazon Charter"

"The Amazon Charter" on I actually decided to reorder acts and swap "The Nine and the Three" (originally act five, now four) with "Occupation." "The Nine" continues Shampoo's story and adds more suspense when "Occupation" follows it, so I think this makes sense.

Commentary below.

As I related to R. T. Stephens in reply to his review, I found this chapter particularly difficult to write, in part because Shampoo's character is so fundamentally different from the other girls. I strove to a great extent to impart her foreign mindset on the reader, to give context to how a girl from what's literally the backwoods and sticks of China would see the modern world. In this act, Shampoo looks upon her environment very darkly, and I consider that outlook influenced as much by Ranma's disappearance as an actual cynicism and nostalgia for her home. There are times when Shampoo comes off to people as ditzy, but I consider these more a product of her background, a misunderstanding of Japanese culture and language, or perhaps even a deliberate act to endear herself to Ranma. In truth, I'm not sure of any of these.

This act is heavily introspective, even more so than the last two. A lot of the time, Cologne serves as an instigator of Shampoo's pondering. If you can't tell, I really like Cologne as a character, too, to the point that, at times, things I had planned for Mousse, to develop his relationship with Shampoo, I often found more naturally came from Cologne as part of her maternal quality, her role as an old sage and advisor. Yeah, she comes off as almost a trickster mentor in the manga, and that's not something I would refute or deny, but Cologne, too, has capability for much depth to her.

But let me get back to Shampoo for a second. I said I had difficulty writing and understanding her, and in a lot of ways, I still do. To me, the paradox is thus: this is a girl who absolutely loves Ranma, yet from a rational observer's perspective, she has no reason to. She's forced by law to marry him, but that doesn't make someone love. In trying to explain Shampoo's love, you have to wonder: what is it about Ranma that she likes? His body? His strength? It's true Ranma has a lot of good qualities (when he's not being a jerk, but hey, that's comedy). And, perhaps, a lot of the same things Akane likes about Ranma are what attract Shampoo to him as well. Again, I make no firm pronouncements.

Equally interesting a question, though, is how Shampoo perceives Ranma's feelings. A big thing over this act and the next is Shampoo's confidence that Ranma loves her--or, if he doesn't, that she can make him love her, that she can seduce him. In this, I want to portray Shampoo as different than Ukyo. Where Ukyo is questioning the justness of her actions, Shampoo should be uncompromising and unapologetic. In some sense, that makes her ruthless. In another, it shows that if she doubts herself for even a moment, it will cripple her. It will cripple her in a way that she can't really handle. In a frightening sort of way, Shampoo's sense of self-worth is too tied to Ranma to disentangle.

Again, this is why I call the story Identity.

The other things that are important in this act: Surma and the Council. Cologne is often portrayed as an Elder of the Amazons, and I thought it'd be a nice little meta-joke to subvert that (or actually...well, wait until act six to see). I'll talk more about the nature of the Council as I conceived it and all that in the next act, but I'm quite pleased with how Surma turned out. She's got a good personality to her and complements Cologne well.

Before I go, though, ask yourself: why should Cologne say goodnight to Ceruse? Remember what I said about her act one exposition being important? Heh. I love these puzzle aspects of a story. Maybe it's a little too obvious, though.

Edit: I'm always forgetting stuff I wanted to mention. One of those things was the location of Jusenkyo. I already made a post about it, but I thought I'd at least mention that I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out reasonable times and distances for travel. To me, this level of detail is important. It makes a story feel subtly more real, even if it makes some storytelling elements more clumsy. It's a personal choice, though.

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