Notes on Velveteen & Mandala
In addition to discussing the original text where appropriate, the following notes intend to provide to the reader who may not be versed in Japanese culture, especially its animation, to which the graphic novel often refers, some fair place to begin. They are not meant to elucidate the nature of events in a work that does not allow a definitive reckoning.
Though the actual word is never used, it is worth noting given later developments that the “sunny-side up,” a recurring visual motif, is medama-yaki (eyeball-fry) in Japanese.
Mandala is Mandara in the original, an allusion to Buddhism anchored by the second chapter’s title drawing. Meanwhile, Velveteen’s name is Becchin in the phonetic hiragana script. Since the diminutive –chan is sometimes elided as -chin, a possible rendition would be some variation on “Betty,” whose echo is audible to the Japanese reader especially in light of the heroine’s blond hair. The meaning was translated instead because it bears on the central theme: make-believe.
The first of many references to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, “God Warriors” are giant humanoid weapons capable of plunging the world into a conflagration. They once did so but hence lie unused.
The sound effect in the bottom panel would be transliterated as kiiin: precisely the jet-plane onomatopoeia shouted out by robot girl Arale as she dashes about, arms similarly outstretched, in Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump.
In the top panel, the right-most figure is drawn like Rei Ayanami, a hyper-reserved clone from TV anime Evangelion, in which a mysterious force invades Earth and must be repelled by giant robots piloted by minors. She also makes an appearance on p. 93.
Note the tin can of “drops”—a possible homage to Grave of the Fireflies, a Ghibli anime about WWII orphans that strikingly features such a container. As far as bugs go, it may be worth recalling that Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, incorporated the kanji character for “insect” in his pen-name.
Ashitaka is the young hero of Princess Mononoke, the Studio Ghibli production also mentioned on p. 84. Unlike the super, he is the very picture of wholesomeness.
While Crab Vader may include a nod to Darth, it spoofs the now-ancient arcade hit Invaders whose aliens moved sideways swinging claw-like appendages up and down.
When Mobile Suit Gundam was re-aired after an initial unsuccessful run, it won a feverish following among youthful viewers of Matsumoto’s generation. The TV anime redefined the giant-robot genre and set a new bar of verisimilitude for ensuing attempts. “Guncannon” on the next page is a mobile suit variation from the series.
The school’s name “Ohta” is taken from the original publisher.
Though Mandala has managed to escape the gravitational pull of Gundam, she does not travel far; Space Runaway Ideon is by the same creator.
In Ponyo, Hayao Miyazaki’s environmentally conscious retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Mermaid,” the love interest’s name is Sosuke.
Lord Yupa is a venerable elder who appears in Hayao Miyazaki’s comic/anime Nausicäa of the Valley of Wind, set in an apocalyptic future where pollution has made most of the planet uninhabitable.
Mandala’s “Will there be bananas for snacks?” alludes to a “stupid question” infamous in Japanese school lore (where there are such things). Because there’s a limit to the amount of snacks a pupil may bring on a school trip, one slyly asks the teacher if bananas count as snacks. Instead of being lauded as clever, the pupil is roundly mocked.
As Romanticism gained popularity in Japan after the Meiji Restoration, many littérateurs, most notably Doppo Kunikida, found inspiration in the plains of Musashino, which offered the least spoiled nature within close range of the metropolis. The art school Matsumoto graduated from is also located there.
The Tales from Earthsea that the super is poking fun at is not Ursula K. Le Guin’s work but the Ghibli anime adaptation directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son. A theme in Le Guin’s celebrated cycle—one’s double as a formidable foe—is pertinent here.
Ms. Osono is a helpful big sister figure in Kiki’s Delivery Service, another Ghibli reference. Tellingly, none play such a role in this dystopia.
Akira Kurosawa’s film Ikiru (To Live) is about a dozy bureaucrat who undergoes a change of heart and does everything he can for a park—a depository of nature where citizens young and old may find peace.
The repeated sun-like drawing is in fact the standard Japanese graffiti for female genitalia. Incidentally, both the conclusion and the “reasoning” leading up to it making no sense are reminiscent of Kurtz’s scribblings in Heart of Darkness. The Mekong-like bottom panel perhaps echoes Coppola’s film version, as does the bombing-interlaced opening dream.
My Neighbor Totoro, a deceptively simple Ghibli anime about two young sisters who meet spirits in the countryside (and who may by the end belong with them), features a catchy theme song that repeats those titular words syllable by loving syllable. Sazae-san, Machiko Hasegawa’s long-run comic strip/TV anime about a housewife and her family, opens with a song describing her chasing a stray cat holding a fish in its mouth (stolen from her, presumably). For some time now, children have delighted in singing the lyrics in modified form.
The Moon-based rebel forces’ workhorse mobile suit in Gundam, the Zaku model is as easily destroyed as it is replaced.
Buddhist sutras are still chanted at funerals in Japan. Far less common today is the practice of intoning them to ward off evil or of copying them to reduce one’s karma; not even the odd pious psychiatrist would engage in the latter while seeing a patient. While it may be tempting to read these scenes as “real,” the suspended glass of water further argues against such an interpretation.
The Prajna-paramitra sutra is what the psychiatrist is also writing out on p. 295. Though perennially popular in Japan, it would never be intoned by a civil servant on such an occasion in contravention of the separation of Church and State. The sutra expresses in condensed, poetic form the Mahayana Buddhist belief that all notions are relational, including “so bright” on the preceding page.