What Do David Bowie and the Boys of Shojo Manga Have in Common?
After developing something of an addiction to shojo manga, Japanese comics written specifically for a female audience, this past year I became consumed by a nagging thought: Why is it that the male characters, particularly those who serve some sort of romantic purpose, all remind me of David Bowie?
It didn't seem like a conscious reference to the rock 'n' roll god, but so many of the elements were readily apparent: the lanky physiques and thin, slightly angular faces; the penchant for glam rock-inspired clothing, sleek suits and cutting-edge hairstyles; the air of sophistication that seems to hover around the characters. Is there a correlation here or have I spent too much time listening to Heroes?
Image Courtesy of Funimation. Ouran High School Host Club
In keeping with this theme, we matched up several popular manga characters with corresponding personae from Bowie's career.
L'univers de Maxtat Shin with bandmate Nana
Persona: Glam Rock Bowie
Deb Aoki, About.com's manga guide and a frequent panelist at conventions, notes that one fairly common manga character is "the sensitive bad boy-- the guy who is kind of honorable, brave and sweet -- but is also has a touch of being cool / dark / dangerous / misunderstood," which is an appropriate way of describing Shin, the bassist for BLAST in the rock star saga Nana. Like Ziggy Stardust, Shin is an outsider, although instead of being a "starman," he's Swedish. Like Bowie's Aladdin Sane incarnation, he's a wild spirt and, as with the Diamond Dogs characters, a child of the streets. He's a teenage runaway semi-masquerading as an adult and an up-and-coming rock star with a past of-- how do we say this delicately?-- servicing older women. His interest in women, alcohol and, occasionally, drugs, could pose problematic in a subplot of the manga that reads like a glam-teetering-on-punk epic.
Character: Tamaki Suoh
Manga: Ouran High School Host Club
Persona: Thin White Duke
The Thin White Duke, associated with the album Station to Station, was seemingly conceived as a snooty, bored aristocrat. But long after Bowie retired The Thin White Duke, the name lived on as a general description of the singer, referring more to his appearance and rock icon status than the negative connotations of the character.
Though not nearly as controversial as The Thin White Duke, Tamaki Suoh is, in his own way, a snooty, bored aristocrat. He is a character largely out of touch with the outside world, treating the staples of the common people's diet as exotic fair and making remarks that are frequently insensitive to those who are not as privileged as him. Perhaps unlike The Thin White Duke, though, Tamaki means well.
Nancy Thistlethwaite, an editor for Viz Media, notes that Ouran High School Host Club is intended as a parody of the genre where "the leading men are extreme versions of the type of male characters that can be found in shojo manga." Consider Tamaki, then, a send-up of "prince" characters, where you could also view The Thin White Duke as Bowie's satirical take on the idle rich.
David Bowie "Station to Station," live rehearsal, 1976