Plus ca chūmon, plus c'est la meme usagi

rabbit

Matt Treyvaud examines the increasingly eccentric ways that anime studios use titles to differentiate seasons.

For a four-panel moeblob manga/late-night anime in the character-driven genre known only half ironically as “cute girls doing cute things”, Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka? is pretty standard fare. But its title is another story. The fact that the four-mora abbreviation of its title is Gochi-usa rather than, say, Gochūsa will surely play a significant role in future scholarship on the morphology of Japanese fanbbreviation. And the (official!) English title, Is the order a rabbit?, is the greatest use to which English has been put since that Peter Frampton talk box guitar solo. But what I really want to talk about is the punctuation.

You see, the first 12-episode season of the anime adaptation was just called Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka? But the second season, which began airing October 10, is called Gochūmon wa usagi desu ka??, with two question marks. Presumably the English version will follow suit: Is the order a rabbit?? Same content, but with a hint of hysteria creeping in at the edges — like a Hitchcock zoom.

This isn’t the first time that an anime production company has used this technique. The earliest example I am aware of is K-On! (2009) and its second season K-On!! (2010). Dog Days (2011) was followed by two more seasons, Dog Days’ (2012) and Dog Days” (2015). (These are pronounced “Dog Days Dash” and “Dog Days Double Dash” respectively, but a natural English translation would use “Prime” instead of “Dash.”) Working!! (2010) had two followup seasons combining these conventions: Working’!! (2011) and Working!!! (2015).

There are more cryptic examples too: Nisekoi (2014) and Nisekoi: (2015), Seitōkai Yakuindomo (2010) and Seitōkai Yakuindomo*, and Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (2010) and Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai. (2013). Oreimo also deserves some recognition for its mildly Beckettian video game title scheme: in translation, the first is My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute Portable, and the second “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute Portable” Can’t Go On.

On one level, this is just a trend. Production companies have decided (or, perhaps, learned) that they need some way to signal to consumers that the current self-contained batch (“season”) is connected to but different from the previous one, and punctuation is in right now. In the past, other methods have been used — OG fans will recall that Sailor Moon was followed by no less than four variations: Sailor Moon R, S, Super S, and Sailor Stars.

But is it a meaningless trend? You can’t discount the influence of K-On!, I suppose — it was huge — but I think something deeper is at work. Differentiating seasons by punctuation alone is a way for anime studios to modulate their signals for fans alone, since anyone liable to notice an extra colon here or there is, pretty much by definition, a nerd. The form of the signal also sends its own message: this season is just like the last one, only more so.

The order can’t be a rabbit, it must be a rabbit, it is a rabbit.

Matt TREYVAUD
October 13, 2015

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

7 Responses

  1. leoboiko Says:

    The Mahō Sensei Negima! manga is from 2003. The first anime series, Negima!, which more or less follows (part of) the manga, is from 2005; and in 2006 there was an “alternate” version by studio Shaft, Negima?!. The (awful) live action was Negima!! (2007). Notice that they’re distinguished by punctuation.

    Also of note is the Guilty Gear videogame series:

    Guilty Gear (1998)
    Guilty Gear X (2000)
    Guilty Gear XX (2002)
    Guilty Gear XX #Reload (“Hash Reload”)(2003)
    Guilty Gear XX Slash (“/”)(2005)
    Guilty Gear XX ^Core (“Accent Core”)(2006)
    Guilty Gear XX ^Core+ (“Accent Core Plus”) (2008)
    Guilty Gear XX ^Core+R (“Accent Core Plus R”) (2012)
    Guilty Gear Xrd (“Exard”) (2014)

    But that’s kind of cheating, because the punctuation character names are spelled and pronounced out loud. (Notice also how they carefully avoided calling the 2014 sequel Guilty Gear XXX.)

  2. leoboiko Says:

    I’m interested in the trend for long, complete sentences:

    • Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai
    • Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darō ka (“Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?”)
    • Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabu-Kome wa Machigatteiru (“Of Course my Teen Romantic Comedy Turns Out to be Wrong”)
    Harem Manga no Shujinkō da ga Dōseiaisha nanode Mainichi ga Tsurai (“I’m the Main Character of a Harem Manga, but I’m Gay so Every Day is Hell for Me”)

    And my absolute favourite,

    Kata-Chikubi dashita Ossan no Ato-tsuketara Tenkū-no-Ken mitsuketa (“I Stalked Some Guy with a Single Exposed Nipple and Stumbled Upon the [Dragon Quest’s] Zenithian Sword”)

  3. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    “Negima?!” is interesting because it actually has a function there — like, “This is Negima?! But it’s totally different!” So maybe “Negima!!” should be understood as a sort of Hegelian synthesis rather than an arbitrary change. Either way, this is definitely a pre-“K-On” example of the phenomenon in question — thanks!

    Re the long sentences: these fascinate me too. Stay tuned for future post once I get my thoughts on the topic in order.

  4. sakura Says:

    I suppose that Matt Treyvaud, given his family name, has francophone origins; so speaking about punctuation, typo and spelling, my picky-self couldn’t avoid noticing 3 typos, and therefore cannot resist to propose an edit to the (half-French) title:

    “Plus ça chūmon, plus c’est le même usagi”

  5. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Sakura, thank you! I got called out on Twitter about this too. Who knew Francophones were so particular about language?

    In my defence, the ç and ê were calculated omissions for technical reasons (I can see how leaving the ū in makes that sound pretty weak, though.) The “la” instead of “le” was pure ignorance — I did not realize that French assigned gender to loanwords by analogy with the semantically equivalent French word. The more you know!

  6. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    (Oh, and sadly my branch of the family immigrated from the Francophone homeland so many generations ago that we don’t even pronounce our name right any more. Me moving to Japan and katakanafying it hasn’t helped matters either.)

  7. sakura Says:

    We are picky (at least for the ones from the “mother land”), indeed, especially myself… ;-)

    Yes, we LOVE to assign gender to things. One of the first things that I asked my Japanese teacher was how to call female animals, and especially how to differentiate cows from bulls… That sounds pretty silly, but that’s sometimes strange for a Francophone when things are too neutral.

    The original expression would be: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, but as “usagi” is “(le) lapin” and that it sounds also a bit like “usage”, which is also a masculine word and would also fit the current topic, so the proper article to use is definitively the masculine “le”.

    I just can’t imagine the katakanafication of a Francophone name pronounced the Anglo way… ;-)