The Independent’s Arts section is excited to have two columnists this semester: Joan Li ’17 and Christina Bianco ‘17. Our columnists will alternate writing each week, with Joan’s first article appearing in this week’s issue, and Christina’s appearing in next week’s.
As a publication, The Indy prioritizes content that not only engages readers, but also truly matters to our writers. Over the years, we’ve found that the strongest articles come about when our writers are given the chance to share their passions and to explain why they are so passionate in the first place. Thus semester we’ll be exploring two such passions: Joan’s column will discuss anime and manga, and Christina’s will explore opera. We hope you’ll read their column proposals below and follow their columns each week.
Christina Bianco: When the average person thinks of opera, he or she probably imagines a fat lady in a Viking helmet singing ungodly high notes. One might picture a five-hour opera in German with no subtitles and a plot that is incredibly stupid. While some truth hides in this perception, only a couple of operas fit these criteria. But why do people assume these stereotypes are the norm? Many people believe that they would never enjoy opera so they never give it a chance. And because of this image of a large bellowing person, opera singers are very underappreciated artists in American society today. I have personally been singing opera since I was twelve years old, have seen over 40 operas live, and have listened to the recording of countless others. The general aim of my column will thus be to help make the opera review accessible to people who are not opera veterans like myself.
Despite a common misconception, opera is not just “controlled screaming” as my mom likes to call it. Opera is actually some of the most beautiful, pure music of any genre. Brilliant composers write the music, and extremely talented singers perform it. To be an opera singer, a person must go through years and years of training before he or she can attain the proper technique required to sing arias. In addition to learning difficult music, they must have proper diction, breathing, vibrato, vowels, support, raised soft palate, and masque placement. Vocal technique is one major distinction between opera and other types of music. The music industry of today no longer stresses proper vocal technique (or any vocal technique for that matter). Synthesizers and auto-tune manipulate the sound of people’s voices to make them sound “flawless.” With all of these technologies to enhance a singer’s voice, singers like Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus are almost painful to hear live. But opera singers are completely dependent on their own vocal skills, even developing the ability to project easily without microphones.
But aside from operas being impressive and beautiful to hear, they are also very enjoyable to see. In order for the opera singers to be cast, they must have great stage presences. It is essential that they be able to act and dance. Also, in the past twenty years or so, opera companies have made efforts to modernize opera to entertain a twenty-first century audience. Operas rarely lack subtitles now, for the directors want to make sure that the audience can follow the plot. The directors have also found many ways to reinterpret the operas and give them an entirely new context by adapting them to different time periods. I have seen a few post-modern productions of operas, one of which where the set consisted of just a couch and a large clock. And many other operas have such elaborate sets and costumes that it seems as though the set designers have transformed the stage into an actual street in Paris.
It really saddens me that people have come to consider opera — a medium frequently misjudged based on stereotypes — a dying art form. And I think that if more people were to give opera a chance, they actually enjoy it.
Joan Li: The first person I ever wanted to be was a magical girl. At the age of five, my friends in ballet class wanted to be dancers or a pop star singers with dance routines, but I was just there because I believed that acquiring a tutu was a necessary task for my future career as a heroine with supernatural powers. After that, all I needed was a magical staff of some sort and to grow up into a teenager, which I waited for with each passing day, when I came home from school, sat on my mother’s lap, and watched Sailor Moon.
I never grew up from anime — I grew up with it. As art forms that tell stories through both the unlimited mediums of language and visuals, Japanese animation and its artistically related comic style, manga, have accompanied me through my stages of life. It followed me through my transitioning years from Singapore during which I had to learn English through dubs, to my awkward years as a try-hard tomboy making Yugioh! card deals on the playground, to my beginning years as an aspiring writer who didn’t know where to start and so gained confidence through publishing fan fiction online. As my tastes and interests evolved, so did the series I read and watched. They are unique art forms in an aesthetic and literary sense, providing a wide breadth of themes and genres relevant to people of all genders, ages, sexual orientations, and interests that mainstream culture has unfortunately barely skimmed.
Just recently, a friend from my hometown had been persuaded by his new college friends to get into anime. Remembering the enthusiast I am on the topic, he texted me about it. “What have your friends suggested to you?” I eagerly asked. He gave me the following: Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Attack on Titan, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and Sword Art Online. The last one is just plain awful in its plot and ridden with sexist fanservice that is somehow overlooked in the unwarranted hype over the show. The first three — the long-running, dominant series in the industry — are considered the “Big Three” in the sh?nen genre that is geared for boys. The second to last two are shorter and more recent, but are also popular works contributing to the action-fantasy genre that eclipses other categories even in the general anime and manga community. It frustrates me to see the art form limited to common battles and superpowers, high school love triangles and vampires that make it no different from superhero comic or CW show. Although many well-known, action-packed series are worthy of their large viewership, I’ve also found suspense in a show about the poetic Japanese card game karuta, compassion in a manga about a single man raising an adoptive daughter, and heavy thought in a bildungsroman of a boy who desperately wishes to be a girl.
I hope to have the opportunity to introduce anime and manga that do not seem to have a large, prevalent fanbase, yet stand out to me in their genre. Through writing about these series, I would like to explore the artistic and literary devices that make them notable while comparing them to, and criticizing, the typical tropes that show up in anime and manga. My goal is to share the range of enjoyable experiences I’ve had with these two art forms in their kaleidoscope of forms and to broaden the general perspective of the topic.