Recap: As she walks toward school, Miki is ambushed by her best friend and classmate Yumi, who quickly drives the conversation towards boys, specifically, which one(s) Miki is interested in. Miki claims that she’s not interested in any of them, and that she doesn’t need them.
“Look, Miki, no offense, but truth and excellence and all that junk can only take you so far. At the end of the day a girl without a boyfriend is just…sad.”—Yumi
“Miki, you are waaay too picky. I mean, look at me and Kazu. He’s far from my ideal, but you know what? It beats being alone.”–Ditto
I’m a reasonably big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve seen the entire series, read some of the comics, and enjoy partaking of the discussions it generates on the internet. It’s far from my favorite show, but I like the it fine, particularly in its earlier incarnations.
One of my favorite characters in earlier seasons of Buffy was Cordelia Chase, the popular Sunnydale high alum who served as Buffy’s archnemesis in that particular realm. While her more noticeable role was that of comic relief, she also self a deeper purpose: if Buffy was a character who in existing served to invalidate (some) traditional gender norms, Cordelia existed to enforce them. Where Buffy tried to reconcile the masculine (vampire slaying) and the feminine (her desire for a “normal” life and all that entailed), Cordelia stayed at the sidelines arguing that it was impossible: real, successful women were those who embraced sexist norms.
In her introductory scene, Yumi serves much the same role as Cordelia, without any of the things that made Miss Chase fun to watch. While she doesn’t share her concern with popularity or class status, she makes up for it in her belief that Girl’s path to fulfillment can be found only via Boy. Not The Boy or any that would make her happy, even, just Boy. Any boy. Love the one you’re with, even when that guy is a sleazeball or goes catatonic every time a girl makes eye contact with him, as Miki describes guys who Yumi suggests she should hook up with.
And that would be fine, if it ended there. Yumi is perfectly entitled to her beliefs, no matter what I personally or anybody else thinks of them. They only become problematic in her insistence that her ideas are universal, and that any others are literally laughable. It makes her intolerable in my eyes, and while she does get scenes where we find that this is not all she thinks, they are not enough to wash away the bad first impression this scene creates.
What’s more, I’m not entirely sure what the book thinks I should be taking from this scene. While Cordelia and her ideas exist to be proven wrong, the same can’t really be said of Yumi’s. After all, Miki’s thoughts will eventually come to focus on a boy, and the whole series is about how said boy brings her life to a tailspin. We never do see how Miki has “plenty going on” (her words) without boys: while she’s single for half the series, she’s only really happy insofar as her friendship with her love interest goes well. At best, what one can take from this scene is that Miki is fooling only herself, and that while she can’t be happily single, other people can*, proving Yumi wrong in general if not in the specific. At worst, the book believes what Yumi believes: women need a relationship–any relationship–in order to be truly happy. And while I don’t believe that second one is actually the case, just the fact that it may be so depresses me.
* At least, if the idea of happy single people weren’t arguably contradicted in the third volume, for reasons I will get to then.
Recap: On a sunny April morning, Miki prepares for her first day of school by resolving to be more assertive this year.
I’d blown my whole junior year obsessing over the expectations of others.
This year everyone would see a different Miki…… a Miki they’d never seen before.
I’m a big fan of starting stories at the middle. I like having to try to figure out what came before, and trying to follow a story that requires a flowchart to understand without having the actual flowchart handy; not only does it add a nice mystery element to the whole thing, it means re-watching/-playing/-reading it will make for a rather different experience. Still, I find Falls‘ approach rather peculiar, especially in conjunction with its point of view. We’re told Miki has decided to change, but given how we don’t get any perspective but her own, the reader has no way to know just what this means, just what it meant for her to “obsess over the expectations of others” or how different her new behavior is from her old one. For all we know, she didn’t change at all.
In fact, pretty much the only indication we get of Miki’s changes is her mother’s startled expression when she calls her daughter to the breakfast table, which earns a response of “I’ll come down when I’m ready to come down” from Miki.
As big a fan I am of self-improvement, I’m not entirely sure this qualifies.
I can totally get pushing back when pushed. I can support pushing back. But what Miki is doing here isn’t that: it’s pushing even when nobody is pushing. It’s not saying “my needs and wants are thoughts are just as important and deserving of respect as yours”, it’s “my needs and wants are thoughts are MORE important”. And this isn’t just a one-off, either: the plot of this volume explicitly requires to disregard other peoples’ feelings in favor of her own. While its thankfully not the only way she manages to express assertiveness–there are plenty of moments later on when she pushes back against people who would police her actions–this streak of “my feelings are more important than yours” sours the character for me, particularly in this volume–especially since the book doesn’t really try to call her on it: it’s always presented as a good thing, particularly since its her commitment to harassment that manages to break down The Guy’s mask of aloofness and allows their friendship to take hold.
And normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I don’t require my protagonists to be paragons of virtue, and given the first-person perspective and the fact that Miki is a teenager with lots of room for growth, this bit of selfishness doesn’t necessarily make her a horrible character. What does bother me is the packaging of jerkish tendencies as self-improvement, especially since we don’t actually know how she was before. Perhaps Old!Miki was indeed perfectly willing to push back when pushed, and “becoming more assertive” is actually her way of saying “I’m going to become a jerk”. Or perhaps old Miki was indeed the sort of person who wouldn’t push back when pushed, and her narration is entirely accurate: we don’t know, and there’s no way to know.
Recap : Miki breaks out of a house through a third floor window. She falls into the grass below and loses consciousness. As this happens, she begins thinking back to the events of the beginning of the year.
Miki: I don’t know what my plan was […]. I don’t even know if I had a plan at all. All that mattered was getting away from the people in that room. And if that meant broken bones or a concussion…or something a whole lot worse…well…that was a risk I was willing to take.
If asked to describe Mark Crilley’s graphic novel series Miki Falls in one sentence, it would have to be “Twilight in Japan”. While the truth is more complicated than that, it’s also not wholly inaccurate: like Twilight, Miki Falls is the story of a high school girl living in a small town, who meets a mysterious guy who turns out to be more than human—what’s more, he forms part of a secret community of similar not-quite-humans. They both fall in love with the other, but their relationship is not even slightly accepted by the boy’s community. At the very least, there’s lots of potential for audience crossover.
I first learned of Miki Falls rather accidentally: while browsing the manga isles at Borders (moment of sadness, please—its downfall means I can’t access most books anywhere but online, and It’s Just Not The Same), I stumbled across the creator’s name in the series’ first volume, which immediately got my attention, since Crilley was responsible for Akiko, a fantastic little series which can be most concisely described as The Wizard of Oz meets Star Wars, and which I heartily recommend to anyone with young children. Anyways, I decided to buy it. And then I bought the second volume and so on and so on. Twilight had not yet entered my personal consciousness.
Based on what I’d heard and read about Twilight (I have not read the series, save for roughly the first half of the first book) I’d come to believe that Falls was Twilight done right, in that the characters were likable an root-for-able and that the work itself was not inherently problematic. However, the last few months—thank in no small part to Ana Mardoll’s fantastic Twilight deconstructions—have made me to see Falls rather differently. And it turns out that when seen in a critical light, Miki Falls is, in fact, rather problematic, and the fact that I didn’t see those problems before doesn’t speak very highly of the kind of person I was a year ago.
So I’m writing these now—partly to compare and contrast the work with Twilight, partly to highlight its own particular ideas, and partly to exercise my critical writing skills. I can’t promise I’ll do it regularly, because I have a history of not keeping those, but the aim is to make one of these per week.
The book is divided into four manga-sized volumes, one for each season of the year, which form the titles for each individual volume. Given that each book covers roughly three months of time in great detail, I’ll be discussing individual scenes, much in the style that Fred Clark first popularized among Slacktivites. While I intend to quote passages, I am not entirely sure to what extent I’ll be doing that, since I’m not sure how much would be considered fair use in a medium in which I could repeat all the words and only tell half the story. There will also be occasional pics, depending on what I can find online and how well scans work out.
So without further ado…