Lukas R.A. Wilde (Tübingen)
“Characters without Stories – On the Pre-Narrative State of Fictional Characters”
This presentation was given as part of the "Beyond Narrative" conference on October 11, 2019.
Abstract: Transmedia character theories and narratology may seem to be inherently related to each other; on closer inspection, many peculiar tensions reveal themselves. Since character theories in a narrower sense focus on narrative media – media artefacts which offer representations of a coherent storyworld or of a diegesis – characters are often considered as “first and foremost elements of the constructed narrative world” (Eder/Jannidid/Schneider 2010: 9). My contribution proposes to take a closer look at a variety of contemporary Japanese “character” franchises which cannot be accounted for if the entities in question are primarily understood with reference to diegetic worlds or stories. Rather, virtual idols like Hatsune Miku, mascots like Kumamon, or product placement figures such as Hello Kitty all seem to exist in denial of narrative artifacts about them. They circulate mostly on material artifacts such as clothes, office supplies, or decontextualized artworks, and within mediated performances such as stage musicals, cosplay, or public appearances in full-body suits. Such “kyara” (characters in a “pre-narrative” state) are nevertheless quite typical for the Japanese “media mix” franchising model, designed to allow for user-level reshuffling and reenactment. Kyara are thus best understood as “mediated performers,” as fictional actors that can take on any fictional role attributed to them within the participatory cultures and collective creations of fan manga (dōjinshi), fan artworks, or even cosplay. Theorists such as ITŌ Gō (2005) or AZUMA Hiroki (2009) therefore argue that kyara can just as easily be enacted and performed as they can be brought back into narrative contexts as contingent character. I will situate these discussions within the field of international character theory, arguing that a systematic divide runs through existing literature on how to deal with decontextualized, pre-narrative entities. My contribution closes with some indications on what a discourse, often seen as specific for Japanese studies, might contribute on a variety of international phenomena and perspectives.