Monday, November 11, 2013

The Death of Canon part 3: How I learned to stop worrying and love Kawamori-san

So far I have walked through what canon is in regards to genre fiction; some of its issue and how it is in most cases a construction of fandom rather than author. We left off touching on something I like to call canon entropy, the issues that arise when you add and revise too many elements of a canon.
The comics industry has been grappling with canon entropy since the 1990s, Marvel and DC had comic ranges that had in some cases been running plotlines for thirty or forty years. In the early 1990s Comics saw a new boom and often a new obsession with their own canon which was being more and more scrutinized by the now even more connected fanbase. Comics went through a long period of basically not caring about presenting a constant canon, but as comic book writing became more and more sophisticated authors quickly found it necessary to reset the cannon of their titles periodically. Why? Well over the course of stories characters change and die off, some of these are not popular while some are and there are only so many dramatic escapes and sudden reversals that are possible before the integrity of storyline is affected. (This was also caused by the explosion in the number of titles as well; in the 1990s I was following 4-6 X-men titles at one stage for example) These resets were occasionally done via in universe mechanisms (Events like Infinite Crisis or Onslaught to name just two) or sometimes just by issuing a new title that started the characters back from square one. (Marvel's Ultimate titles for example) Not everyone can be Perry Rhodan, long stories written by multiple authors experience issues with integrity no matter how good your style guide is. (Perry Rhodan is a German pulp series that to time of writing has been running for 2799 issues with a continuous story arc)
So where does that leave us? Canon in fiction becomes more and more problematic as the frame of the work expands. The proliferation of reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels causes issues for the purest, your favorite fictional universe theory is only as good as the next installment that is made.
Earlier this year I was lamenting Doctor Who and the strange place its fifty year canon journey has taken it, the rich universe which I felt had been a dumbed down a little in its Nu-Who incarnation.
Something else happened this year as well, I "Remembered Love"; that is I came back to a few Anime series that I loved years ago but had forgotten in my cynical 30s. (That and I had a distaste for what Anime was popular at the time) Macross was the series I came back to, quickly consuming it and it's sequels (yes all of them) after I came back from Japan.
That re-peaked interest in Macross started me reading some of the background history of the series and resulted in the creator Kawamori Shoji's elegant solution to canon issues. Taking a step backwards, from my investigations canon obsession is something that western fans do, fans in the east seem less concerned with this construction. In fact it seems normal for stories to be told over and over again; Journey to the West is probably the best example of a story that the Chinese and Japanese retell constantly in their fiction. We do it as well in the west but in Asia they are nowhere near as circumspect about it. Take a look at "Ghost in the Shell" for example; it was originally a Manga before being turned into a movie, then it became an animated TV series. These three iterations exist in mostly separate canons, and there is no fuss.. In fact the TV series is named "Stand Alone Complex" ; basically stating that it is "stand alone" from the rest of canon but using and exploring the same characters but with a totally different story and continuity. No one series needs to overrule the others, each is a story by itself which can be enjoyed alone. (And I have seen forums of western anime fans obsessively debating what elements of a particular property should and should be canonical) Now this generally doesn't happen when a series has a consistent author throughout (Dragonball or One Piece for example) but seems to happen when authorship changes.
But that doesn't come to the idea that enrages fan boys but set my mind at ease about Doctor Who and every other canon mishap I have encountered and described here. You see, Kawamori authored the very successful series "Super Dimensional Fortress Macross" in the early 1980s, he then followed up with movie version "Macross:Do you remember love?". Now the thing was, the Macross movie told the same story as the series but in a radically different way to fit to a two hour running time. They are both Macross, both by the original author but depict very different versions of the same events. Kawamori-san's answer was as follows: "The real Macross is out there, somewhere. If I tell the story in the length of a TV series, it looks one way, and if I tell it as a movie-length story, it's organized another way" Now he has elaborated on this answer since, probably best discussed here on the excellent "We remember love" blog. (sadly now closed) But in short every piece of Macross media produced is a piece of media within the Macross universe. These series/movies/OVA do not depict the actual events within a fictional universe, they depict a retelling of those events by people who live in that universe. It's a hard one to wrap your head around, but can be applied to almost any canon issue you come across without destroying continuities. Maybe the Star War prequels were a chunk of revisionist history? Maybe Doctor Who is a BBC series about this mysterious figure who shows up and saves the world every few months? Maybe the new Star Trek series is harsher and more action orientated as the federation populous is weary and cynical after the Dominion War and crave that sort of entertainment? Even crazier maybe Robotech and Macross 2 are works of speculative fiction created within the Macross universe?
What this theory allows us to do is keep the core of a fictional universe and enjoy or critique any media created within it on the merits of that media alone, or comparatively. Basically freeing us from the canon skulds but not nullifying their attempts to make Cyberman history work in a timeline. We can examine a series, book, movie, comic, game or slash fiction as we like, bringing dead worlds back to life or examining topics in our favorites in more depth. Naturally all within the bound of copy-write and trademark, I don't advocate producing commercial alternatives to the intellectual properties of other. But wouldn't it be nice to read Alan Dean Foster's "Splinter of the mind's eye" and enjoy it without being reminded as to how non-canon it is? Or Dark Horse's original Alien comic series? (which even had the space jockey aliens in it, utterly struck non canon by Prometheus, not to mention a living Newt and Hudson) So why not?
So yes, thank you Kawamori-san for freeing me from such a trap of hating Star Wars due to Jar Jar or Doctor Who because I thought some of the new eps were naff. I'm not sure if he as an author and creator is aware of how complex a universe he opened up with his comments to fans...

Till next time space cowboy....