Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spanner R4 Update: The Tough Edits, and an Old Influence Unearthed

First, the influence I'd forgotten. Its name is Sukeban Deka, and Erica Friedman of Yuricon brought it up in a recent blog post that links to her new article on this classic manga, "Hooliganism, High School Crime, and Giant Snakes", in which she declares it "one of the most awesomely outrageous series ever made."

Back in the early 1990s (1993?), during my anime club days, I watched the OVA series. If fortysomething me had seen it back then (or read the original Shinji Wada manga), I would have howled, raised the devil-horns salute, and cried out, "rock 'n' roll!" But twentysomething me was a virgin of sorts, and I saw it just as I had barely begun developing the early Spanner concept with just the five heroines, two mentor figures, and four villains of the "Class of '92". There's a group of characters who can be considered the "Class of Sukeban Deka": the Fleer sisters (the first three, oldest to youngest: Charmian with the long blond princess-curly hair, Christian with the short brown hair with pink highlights, and the less villainous black-haired Julian), their mother whom I would later make part of the villainous Becket clan, and the characters I would much later name Mimi Scott and Polly Parker. A late addition to this "class" is the Fleer sisters' father, Alan Fleer, whom I would make not just an admiral but the son of a fascist Argentine general. The twist on my part is which of the "Class of '92" heroines would get the loaded yo-yo: not Debbie Longmuir (who became another Becket!), she of the impossible aim, but rebel protagonist Shira Thomas herself. And since unlike Sukeban Deka title character Saki Asamiya, a sukeban (roughly "gangster bitch") drafted by the Japanese government and made a deka (cop), Shira is manipulating an American government that hates her skin color and conscience. For this reason, her loaded yo-yo is not government-issue like Saki's, but a Go-Yo, in homage to a now-forgotten American comic called Go-Man.

Back when Sukeban Deka was published, 1978-82 in the shoujo manga anthology Hana to Yume, anything still went in manga, while American comics and television were subject to strict censorship codes. Today Saki would not be allowed to drink and smoke in the censorious new Japanese climate, while on American TV (at least on cable) you get such things as True Blood, Breaking Bad, Diary of a Call Girl, and The Borgias, and American comics can get as outrageous as anything from Europe (case in point: Sin City). A Sukeban Deka could not be published in Japan today, but it sure as hell could make it onto American TV. Japan and America, it seems, have switched places in this one respect. In its original concept and final execution, Chaos Angel Spanner is very much a homage to an age of freedom in Japanese comics and animation that is now lost, and Sukeban Deka is one of its earliest pivotal influences. Saki Asamiya may be gone forever (she dies at the end), but Shira Thomas has only just begun.

Now for the tough edits: it took me over a month to finish the Fourth Revision versions of Chapters 4 and 5. Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised that editing them turned out to be so difficult; after all, it took me about four months to edit Chapter 1. But Chapter 1 is special; its purpose is to sell the novel. Absolute awesomeness was absolutely required. Maybe the problem is that the final edits of Chapters 2 and 3 had gone so smoothly and fast. One scene in particular, "Meeting at Mudlark House" in 4.4 (it's the second big scene), I rewrote over and over and over till I got it right. The first two scenes of 4.6 (before the flashback) also gave me a lot of difficulty. To wrestle these three scenes into shape, I came up with a new trick to help me. It's a three-step process:
  1. take the scene I want to edit in the ebook's HTML file,
  2. go to the corresponding part of the TV-episode script, and
  3. start a new text file as a workspace in which I can combine the two versions.
While editing 5.2 and 5.3, I forgot this method and did a new one:
  1. tear the long scenes into pieces,
  2. write a new outline around the pieces, and
  3. rewrite and rearrange until everything feels right at last.
I ended up creating new transitional scenes, particularly in 5.3, whose major scene I had already divided in half and set in different high-school sports venues.

For the climactic sequence of Chapter 5 I used a different technique entirely:
  1. break up the sequence into its constituent scenes,
  2. put them in the correct order using the cinematic intercutting technique I first used in Chapter 1, and
  3. flesh them out.

It's been very much a learning experience. It's almost as if I've had to unlearn and relearn everything repeatedly, or at least learn to do everything a new way every time I do it. I think I may have left Chapter 5 a little rough in dialogue and style in comparison to the obsessive sheen of Chapter 1, even if the plot is now far more cohesive than it ever was before. But at least I know a little bit more about what I'm doing, and I'm going to take that knowledge into my next edit, in which I sink my teeth into that bloated mess that is the current edit of Chapter 6...

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