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Old 14-11-2006, 10:32 AM   #1
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manga Mary Sue characters in OEL/Global Manga?

I've been reading quite a bit of American manga recently, and all the recent examples I've read suffer in some way from Mary Sue protagonists. I wonder what people think about this, and whether it is in actuality a problem, or whether it's not important.

Let's start with the definition:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue
Mary Sue (sometimes shortened simply to Sue) is a pejorative term for a fictional character who is portrayed in an idealized way and lacks noteworthy flaws, or has her flaws unreasonably romanticized. Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies on the part of the author.
The titles I'm thinking of are 'Fool's Gold', 'Dramacon', 'MBQ', 'Peach Fuzz' and 'Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life'. All of these titles are fantastic titles in their own right, critically acclaimed and adored by fans. However all of them, to an extent, have something of a Mary Sue nature to them. The main character always appears to be based on the creator, and with the exception of MBQ, are usually represented permanantly in a pretty positive and fortuitous light. Felipe has touched upon the theme of 'frustrated artist' a few times before, including his excellent RSOM winning piece, but it is by its very nature a Mary Sue sort of approach.

Swapping the gender of your protagonist doesn't necessary free you of this curse either, with quite a few girls writing girly males (that like to be sexed by men...), or guys writing female leads who are tough, sarcastic or tomboyish. This is a little different though, and less of a blatent 'this character is me' scenario.

My question is... "is it really so bad?"

With Tokyopop's published titles, the authors are pretty closely in line with the target audience (perhaps a few years older). A lot of the people who want to read manga actually enjoy drawing manga too, so its relevant to see stories about people such as aspiring artists. It's also easier for the creator to draw upon their own experiences and apply them within the framework. The reader can presumably relate pretty well to someone who also spend their teen years reading comics and fitting within the social circumstance the geekiness of the hobby dictates, and is thankful to see anything expanding from this scenario. It's also a great way to make your title stand out and offer something that Japanese titles can not, by representing life as a western teenager.

The main problem is that it can often lead to infallable lead characters, whose failings are short and inconsequential. This is the fundemental problem with Mary Sue characters, and the reason people feel the can lead to flat and predictable storytelling, but sometimes you can get away with having a predictable character if the dialogue and comedy are handled well enough.

So, what do you think about this, and do you use Mary Sues in your stories?
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Old 14-11-2006, 10:56 AM   #2
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Ah, but where do we draw the line? I mean, just about every one of my lead charas has got something of me in them. It can't really be helped.

The one character of mine you could really level the accusation at is Tuzi from RB. But her knowing what's going on while everyone else runs around like headless chickens is pretty much the point of the story...
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Old 14-11-2006, 11:11 AM   #3
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There's always a bit of the creator in their characters, but in the case of the stories listed above it's a much more blatent and direct Mary Sue scenario, with contemporary non-fantasy environment, and everything else.

So I'm just talking about those sorts of things really.
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Old 14-11-2006, 11:20 AM   #4
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True, true.

Well, the most important thing is: Does it result in an entertaining story? If the answer is yes, then it doesn't really matter if the story is in any way omnipotantly autobiographical or not.

I think you're right - the biggest problem is that if a writer relies on this approach, then they are very quickly going to run out of stories. We can only hope that the writers in question can move forward.
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Old 14-11-2006, 12:01 PM   #5
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I don't mind admitting that I Mary Sue a lot. I'm an artist by nature, not a writer, so I try to draw on personal experiences to create stories that feel real. (In a way, maybe it adds more depth if readers know that what I create isn't fiction but based on personal experiences). Similarly, I agree with Dock that Mary-Sueing can be a way of creating unique mangas that target the (mostly teenage) western market on a personal level which japanese ones can't.
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Old 14-11-2006, 12:38 PM   #6
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I donít really like Mary Sue-ing and I hope to god that Iím not going to be found massively guilty of it at some point down the line @_@ though up to now I had mostly understood the term to be more of along the lines of ďEverybody loves Mary-Sue and he/she is perfect in damn near every way shape or formĒ rather than the Wikipedia entry and other forms of it being discussed here about the author recreating themselves as a main character.

I like characters that are balanced and have a fair amount of good and bad things about them, even though it might make them less idealistic it makes them more interesting and real, and I want to be able to connect to them which is hard if theyíre perfect. On this particular description of it, I donít mind authors giving the main character a big injection of themselves, after all I think that everybody does this to some extent *but* as long as they inject their flaws (or add some different flaws) to go with it. Perfect characters get on my nerves a lot unless itís done for comical value, then I enjoy pointing and laughing at said character because I like to see them suffer XD

As for the question of whether itís such a bad thingÖ it all boils down to what makes up the rest of the cast/story and whether it works that way. If the author can pull it off then hurrah for them.

I havenít read any of the OEL manga listed here (in fact, I havenít read any new mainstream titles at all for the last couple of years except Eyeshield and TenTen) but please tell me theyíre not as massively Mary-Sue as that @_@
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Old 14-11-2006, 01:03 PM   #7
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I'm with Scorpio on this one, exactly! I'm pretty guilty of doing this but also spreading aspects of me throughout all my characters and emphasising all the traits, emphasising different ones in each.

Though, every single one of my characters are rubbish in some way or another, they have very obvious flaws which the stories play upon. Does this mean that this is Mary-Sue-ing it up?

I've only lived my own life so regards the experiences I put my characters through, they will only be able to react in the way I would should I be in those circumstances.
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Old 14-11-2006, 01:24 PM   #8
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I'm always kinda detached from my characters. To me they're just a way to tell a story/make a point. I think obsessing over your own characters can lead down the path of Mary-Sueisms (but not always.)

The character of mine which I like the most at the moment... his flaws will be his downfall. He's not getting away with it just because I like him!
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Old 14-11-2006, 01:58 PM   #9
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Because so many Japanese titles have Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu leads, it kind of follows that their western counterparts would too, not because of lack-of imagination but because it's often one of the ingredients in manga-style story telling and characterisation, in the end you want people to be able to relate to it.

I don't think it's a problem though, I mean I like reading upbeat stories in manga with characters that may seem impossibly preppy. The only time Mary-Sueing becomes ick worth is not when the character seems perfect, but when all the characters around them think Mary-Sue is perfect as well, if your whole plot balances on one character who has no flaws then you have a problem.
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Old 14-11-2006, 02:07 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by anna louise
Because so many Japanese titles have Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu leads, it kind of follows that their western counterparts would too, not because of lack-of imagination but because it's often one of the ingredients in manga-style story telling and characterisation, in the end you want people to be able to relate to it.
Hmmm. I must admit I've never really thought MS to be a trait of manga in general, and I'm not sure I agree. Can you provide some examples?
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Old 14-11-2006, 02:22 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Subi
Hmmm. I must admit I've never really thought MS to be a trait of manga in general, and I'm not sure I agree. Can you provide some examples?
Almost every magical girl lead character has some Mary-Sueism about her - they're preppy, generally well liked, pretty, and their flaws tend to be something that isn't detrimental to them being liked - Sakura in CCS for instance is very dense, but this isn't really a terrible character flaw, in fact if anything it simply makes her more likeable. I love CardCaptor Sakura, but I also realise people like this in real life don't exist.
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Old 14-11-2006, 02:24 PM   #12
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My main beef with Mary Sue is that a lot of the characters are infallible, which leads to quite boring storytelling (outside of whatever comedy is dotted throughout the story). The story can become pretty predictable. Sometimes you can make up for it with supporting cast, but some stories really don't pay much attention to anyone other than the protagonist.

Quote:
Originally Posted by anna louise
The only time Mary-Sueing becomes ick worth is not when the character seems perfect, but when all the characters around them think Mary-Sue is perfect as well, if your whole plot balances on one character who has no flaws then you have a problem.
Yeah, this is pretty much what we're seeing with certain titles. Sometimes they'll have flaws, like they'll be 'zany' or clumsy, but only in convenient manners that are appealing anyway. The closest thing you'll get to a flaw will be 'shyness' or something, and again - never to the extent that it's a genuine problem.
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Old 14-11-2006, 02:33 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by anna louise
Almost every magical girl lead character has some Mary-Sueism about her - they're preppy, generally well liked, pretty, and their flaws tend to be something that isn't detrimental to them being liked - Sakura in CCS for instance is very dense, but this isn't really a terrible character flaw, in fact if anything it simply makes her more likeable. I love CardCaptor Sakura, but I also realise people like this in real life don't exist.
Ah, but. Being liked isn't everything - Sakura has family problems, and the pressure of the huge responsibilty of the tasks set before her. Plus, she could die at any time. Sailor Moon has to contend with the deaths of close friends, the constant risk of being killed, etc.

Just because someone is well liked doesn't mean they've got a perfect life. A true Mary-Sue would be completely invincible and never under threat.
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Old 14-11-2006, 02:54 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Subi
A true Mary-Sue would be completely invincible and never under threat.
*nods*

To be honest I haven't seen much genuine MarySue-ism in professional manga/anime. However what is lacking in there is more than made up for by the sheer amount of MarySue fancharacters in fanfics @_@;
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Old 14-11-2006, 03:19 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Subi
Ah, but. Being liked isn't everything - Sakura has family problems, and the pressure of the huge responsibilty of the tasks set before her. Plus, she could die at any time. Sailor Moon has to contend with the deaths of close friends, the constant risk of being killed, etc.

Just because someone is well liked doesn't mean they've got a perfect life. A true Mary-Sue would be completely invincible and never under threat.
The issue with Sakura's family is that she has all these problems (the death of her mother) and they never really seem to have any profound psychologically impact on her. You can throw in as much tradgey as you like, with a Mary-Sue usually the more the better, it's about the character's attitude and the reactions of the supporting characters.

Sakura doesn't crack under any kind of pressure, she doesn't really complain about what she has to do that often, she doesn't break down and cry every night about the responsibilty, her personality isn't really changed from her experience.

The magical girl archetype typically means that they are exactly the same character at the end and beginning of the story. Maybe they're a little more mature but nothing seems to affect their outlook on life. With maybe the exception of Sailormoon, but that was quite an epic story, not many artists have the oppotunity to develop their characters over 18 volumes.

I think it's just a result of the fact that manga (generally) are plot-driven stories opposed to character-driven stories. I think it's much more difficult to convey the complexities of a character in a manga-format compared to say a novel or theatre.
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Old 14-11-2006, 03:22 PM   #16
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Dead parents are usually more convenient for young protagonists than anything else. (in story telling, that is)
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Old 14-11-2006, 03:55 PM   #17
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I think this is a combination of the manga wish fufillment thing that's popular in series like magical girl and harem shows, and the American idea that kids only like postive stuff. I rather suspect if say Naruto was American that he wouldn't get kicked about so much
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Old 14-11-2006, 03:59 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by anna louise
Sakura doesn't crack under any kind of pressure, she doesn't really complain about what she has to do that often, she doesn't break down and cry every night about the responsibilty, her personality isn't really changed from her experience.
Hmmm, are we reading different CCS manga here? Because I distinctly remember seeing her panic, franticly wonder what to do, say what amounts to "So this is it, we're going to die" (before suddenly thinking of a solution, of course). That is not Mary-Sue behavior. Not to mention her performance in Tsubasa. A Mary-Sue would never, ever, be out of control of the situation.

Even if you do take Sakura's behavior as MS, magical girl stories are not all manga. Things like Ai Yori Aoshi, Anne Freaks, Arm of Kannon, Alita, Battle Royale, etc (to take the first couple of letters of my "currently collecting" list) are not in the remotest bit Mary Sue.

I just thought you were generalising when you said MSing was a general trait of manga. Plot-driven stories do not make for Mary-Sues automatically.
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Old 14-11-2006, 04:39 PM   #19
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I agree with you but there's a difference between reacting to external events and creating some kind of evolution of the character. Sakura does get put in life or death situations (and reacts to them in an appropriate manner) but when it's all over she's still the same happy-go-lucky person. And none of the things she faces really underline any flaws in her character, they are just things that happen to her. Most people when they are involved in a life-or-death situation, it effects them for the rest of their life and they're never quite the same as they were. One of my best friends was involved in a car accident where she saw a lorry speeding towards her and there was nothing she could but sit there and wait for the lorry to hit her. She was a very cheerful and bubbly person. Even though she still smiles, makes jokes and such, she's not the same person she was before; I don't think I could ever convey exactly what it is that makes her different now, and it's that kind of character complexity that's often lost in manga.

There are still loads of really good manga series that have nothing mary-sure/gary-stuish about them (Death Note probably being the best example in my mind where character and plot directly link together) but when I open up Nakayosi every month and can describe nearly all the lead characters as 'cheerful, friendly, clumsy/crybaby so and so...' you know that you're not going to be reading a deep and meaningful insight into human behaviour.
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Old 14-11-2006, 05:47 PM   #20
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Quote:
The only time Mary-Sueing becomes ick worth is not when the character seems perfect, but when all the characters around them think Mary-Sue is perfect as well
It gets really ick if the character is actually named after and looks like (a glamour model version of) the author .

That's good point about archetypes...people enjoy mary-sue type stories because they fulfill an expectation. Some really typical ones:

1) Shy, unpopular girl attracts a really hot guy.

2) Nice, normal girl whose only flaw is being 'clumsy' (in a cute way of course).

3) Gorgeous, popular bitch and her glam lifestyle.
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