Friday, 13 May 2011

Your Plot Point Has Expired #1

Mr. Ixolite here, whom some of you may know as The Daz of Apforums. Being overly analytical and rational in my way of thinking, I’ll be concerning myself with the fields of contradictions, plot holes, and less than stellar writing. I too started out genuinely liking this series; after getting hooked on One Piece and Naruto, checking out Bleach came naturally, and I’d heard stuff about an awesome twist and a menacing villain. I quickly made it through the Substitute and Soul Society arcs with a sense of satisfaction, though I frowned a bit at the Aizen twist. Come the arrancar arc I caught up and lost interest due to the slow pacing, and I put the series on hold for a while. When I picked it up again I could read all the way to the “winter wars” beginning, and though I was considerably less invested in the series now, my hazy memory concerning earlier events made me resolve to reread the series. Older, more observant, and with a knowledge of future events in the series, this reread caused quite a few more frowns, and catching up again just around THE HEART I was reading the series for very different reasons than before.

Now, for this first post I thought we’d take a look at the writing style of the man behind the white, Kubo Tite.

Writing a long running series is hard, and writing it on a weekly basis is very hard. The longer it keeps going the bigger baggage the series has; characters, relationships, plot points and explanations pile up, and the writer needs to keep track of it all—you need only look at Marvel and DC, with their franchises spanning as many as 50 years, including different writers, continuities and crossovers, to see how this can get messy. Though compared to American comics, a manga artist has the advantage of not having to share his work with any other writer, and having significantly fewer years of continuity to remember, in addition to the slower pacing and fewer story arcs than the average shounen fare found in Bleach.

That still doesn’t mean that writing a coherent weekly series isn’t difficult, however, and authors have several ways to counter rampant plot holes and contradictions to keep a logical story flow.

The most exhaustive and taxing way would be to plan every single event in minute detail, which is probably only feasible with shorter or non-weekly series. More plausible is creating a general outline of the story, most importantly the ending and the major events leading up to it. By having a skeleton to put the narrative meat on, you ensure that you always have something to work towards.

The author may take time off to get an overview of the story, and plan ahead.

If your series is made up of loosely connected “episodes,” then not only are arcs shorter and easier to write, it’s also easier to discard unneeded plot elements and characters.

Or you could just make a gag series, where nothing is required to add up.

And finally you could just give up and reboot the whole damn thing.

So what does Kubo opt for? How does he overcome?


Bleach may feature a hefty amount of reality bending illusions, but the universe hasn’t been reshaped just yet. It could be called episodic for the first few volumes, but 95% of the series is currently made up of two inseparable arcs with the exact same villain and cast. Kubo very rarely takes breaks, and often has more pages per chapter of Naruto and One Piece (the amount of content found on those pages, on the other hand, is a topic for another day). And although some of the other writers on this blog may disagree, Bleach isn’t officially a gag manga. Yet.

This just leaves us with the standard method of good old fashioned planning ahead. Sure, Kubo has stated that there’s no ending of Bleach he’s aiming for, and there’s no theme or message that he’s trying to convey, but at the very least you’d be safe assuming the current arc having some direction and structure. But you’d be wrong, because this is where Kubo sets himself apart from other mangaka.

TK: I think it (Bleach) maintains a freshness because when I create manga, I don’t think about what’s going to happen—I just come up with an idea and let it flow. It’s a weekly installment, so I have a very short time to create manga, but the good thing is that because it’s short, I can come up with the idea and start creating it.

(From the Anime Insider interview)

Now, a little improvisation has never hurt anyone, but it’s a bit overwhelming that he seems to do it on a weekly basis. So how does he ensure that these improvised decisions don’t conflict with the past? Maybe he just has a really good memory? After all, Bleach’s pacing has resulted in it having just two major arcs of plentiful fighting and limited story to remember.

PWCW: Have you ever gotten yourself into a situation that made you say, “Uh-oh”?

TK: I don’t really face that kind of situation because it’s a long story and sometimes I forget what’s happened in the past, but I read the previous volumes of Bleach and that usually helps me to create and have a new idea.

(From the Anime Insider interview)

I guess not. “Oh, but he does say that he rereads Bleach! This doesn’t mean his writing makes no sense!” I can hear some people saying already, but that’s not the real issue here. Aside from the obvious danger of contradicting yourself by writing on the fly while forgetting the past, take a look at Kubo’s actual answer:

He never runs into problems with writing his story because he forgets the old stuff. Ooookay.

Still, the constant improvisation and forgetting could just refer to minor, unimportant things, and not affect the story progression itself. And even if some story elements are improvised, it doesn’t automatically cause contradictions.

But when the improvised events are some of the most pivotal moments in the entire series, and you combine it with a lacking memory of your own work, you have a recipe for disaster. When Ichigo was Rukia’s subsitute, there was no such thing as Captains in Kubo’s mind. When Ulquiorra and Yammy appeared, there were no Espada. Kubo had no idea who the murderer would be when he killed Aizen off. Aizen’s escape from Soul Society only occurred because Kubo “felt he wouldn’t die”—not because he’d already thought of the Arrancar arc. Up until the very end, Kubo didn’t know how the Arrancar arc would draw to a close. He doesn’t know how the current arc will end.

And so on. It has even reached a point where there is no such thing as true foreshadowing in Bleach.

To draw or not to draw. Some foreshadowing lines and such, will for sure be tied together one day. That is, closer to "coming around (the idea)", and "remembering it" than "thinking of it". In the beginning, I myself do not know the reason but "this is best for this", "there's nothing but this", those thoughts run through my head and (I) decide on drawing that for the character. If I do that, while drawing the following [next/future] story, I'll definitely come across that scene thinking "was this thing I drew from that time for this?"

(Masked interview)

There is only Kubo introducing incomplete concepts, maybe remembering concepts later, and maybe explaining them even later. Well, that’s assuming he even intends to do as much as that, and not just leave it to the readers’ imaginations.

So the answer to how Kubo maintains Bleach’s continuity is simple: He doesn’t, really. Now this post doesn’t prove that Kubo creates plot holes, but it exposes the series’ propensity for plot holes. To see the plotholes themselves you have to stay tuned, but thankfully the great insectoid overlord Aizen has given me a true bounty of material to work with.

BTW, I apologize for not having pictures or drawings in this wall O’ text, but my laptop is down and my options are limited.

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