A Single Word to Describe Morihiro Kitoh’s Character Designs?

I was reading about Kitoh’s character designs on a Japanese site and noticed a word I had never seen before: kyasha 「華奢」.  I immediately looked it up in a dictionary and then went into Google to see if other people used this word to describe the man’s characters.  I found lots of instances.  Here’s a list of quotes gathered from the first two pages of a 「鬼頭莫宏 華奢」 (“Moririhiro Kitoh + kyasha”) Google search (translations mine):

1. …characteristically, boys and girls with a kyasha build… (“Morihiro Kitoh” Wikipedia entry)

2. …the children with a kyasha silhouette which Kitoh draws… (“Narutaru” Wikipedia entry)

3. …I love the kyasha, nervy hands that Morihiro Kitoh draws… (comment by an artist on pixiv)

4. …very kyasha characters… (comment on Bokurano, from bestmania.com)

5. …the girls are kyasha but beautiful in any case… (comment on Kitoh by a blogger)

6. …kyasha and deformed-looking…ill?.. (comment on the Narutaru characters on a 2ch thread)

7. …the characters Morihiro draws, both men and women, are kyasha… (comment on another 2ch thread)

8. …if you like girl’s dolls that are kyasha you should read Vendemiare (comment on yet another 2ch thread)

9. …do you like the kyasha women that Kito-sensei draws?  YES. (Noririn review by a blogger)

10. …by Morihiro Kitoh, who has an excellent reputation for drawing kyasha boys and girls… (book reviewer, wishing the cover were drawn by Kitoh instead)

I also found that Kitoh, in his debut manga Wings of Vendemiare, has one of the characters address Vendemiare with these words: “I have noticed for a long time now, that your right hand is oddly kyasha.”  The consensus is clear and both Japanese fans and the master himself agree: his designs and characters are kyasha; if you need to use a single word to describe them it would be kyasha.  But what the heck does kyasha mean??

The Nelson Kanji dictionary has the following definitions: (1) luxury, pomp; (2) delicate, slender, gorgeous.

Hmm…which one is it then?  Let’s look at another dictionary.

The Daijisen Japanese dictionary reads: (1) with a slender shape, seen as refined /  seen as delicate and frail; (2) said of a container that is not of sturdy build; (3) refined and showy. (my translation)

This is somewhat confusing, so let’s look at the characters themselves: 華 and 奢.  The first character, according to Nelson can mean: splendor, flower, petal, shine, luster, ostentatious, showy, gay, gorgeous.  The second one can mean: extravagance, luxury.

Clearly, if you just take this word literally (by focusing on each character) the meaning is closest to Nelson’s first definition and the Daijisen’s third definition.  But “showy” and “extravagant” are not the first adjectives that come to mind when we think of Kitoh characters.  We have to go deeper.

When I look at the two Nelson definitions, I feel I can establish a causality between them.  In ancient and medieval societies, those who lived in luxury and pomp often became delicate and slender (and sickly).  And of course this didn’t prevent them from looking gorgeous in the eyes of each other and the poor.  I can do the same with the Daijisen definitions, where “refined and showy” leads a person or a family to grow “delicate and frail”.  The term kyasha probably shifted from one meaning to the other, although the original meaning remained in use as well.

So one can speculate that the reason people are drawn to the word kyasha when describing Kitoh goes beyond the simple matter of characters being slender and weak (there are many other words in Japanese to describe such attributes).  I think there is an inkling in fans’ hearts that the delicate frames that Kitoh endows his characters with are the result of a fundamental decadence born out of an ostentatious genealogy.

I think about Shiina Tamai in Narutaru and how everyone is always going on about how tough and full of life, how genki, she is…  As readers, though, we are taught to be suspicious of this general opinion.  First of all, Kitoh hasn’t drawn her that differently from his other characters.  She’s not exactly plump and rosy-cheeked.  More ominously, she is named Shiina (=husk) and there’s a suggestion that she’s sterile somehow, that decay lurks within her.  And yet she runs around like there’s no tomorrow (though come to think of it, that’s a grim expression right there).  It all reminds me of this passage in Mann’s Death in Venice:

“It was the first time Aschenbach had seen him close at hand, not merely in perspective, and could see and take account of the details of his humanity.  Someone spoke to the lad, and he, answering, with an indescribably lovely smile, stepped out again, as they had come to the first floor, backwards, with his eyes cast down.  ‘Beauty makes people self-conscious,’ Aschenbach thought, and considered within himself imperatively why this should be.  He had noted, further, that Tadzio’s teeth were imperfect, rather jagged and bluish, without a healthy glaze, and of that peculiar brittle transparency which the teeth of chlorotic people often show.  ‘He is delicate, he is sickly,’ Aschenbach thought.  ‘He will most likely not live to grow old.’  He did not try to account for the pleasure the idea gave him.” (tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter)

So kyasha-ness is not exactly a positive thing, though the kyasha ones have their admirers.  And I don’t think being kyasha is Shiina’s or Tadzio’s fault.  Likely they are but the last fruits of centuries and even millennia of human luxury and pomp.

~ by Haloed Bane on November 23, 2011.

15 Responses to “A Single Word to Describe Morihiro Kitoh’s Character Designs?”

  1. I am reminded of Sustan Sontag’s early edition of Illness as metaphor, where she talked about the romance, the mono no aware (though I don’t know if she used that term) of tuberculosis in late nineteenth, early twentieth century literature. Thomas Mann provides a wealth of examples of the sort of thing she was talking about, see The Magic Mountain in addition to A death in Venice.

    She later updated the work in the midst of the emergence of the AIDS epidemic, which provided another

    • Oh yes, I remember feeling ill while I read Magic Mountain, and yet finding the experience pleasurable at the same time.

      Classical-era Kyoto was racked with tuberculosis, so the link is there and it’s strong. All those kyasha Heian poets had an average life expectancy of 30 years. I bet you their ancestors (the founders of Yamato lost in the mists of prehistory) were far sturdier…

  2. This is brilliant, though I wish there was a simple English word that would serve for this purpose.

    I do like Kitoh’s designs very much, though now I don’t feel bad at my utter inability to articulate how I feel about them, or to simply describe what I see.

    It’s very satisfying to read your stuff about Shiina… how genki she is in static illustrations while remaining in her incredibly skinny Kitoh style design.

    • I thought of English words, but couldn’t come up with any. I’m still quite optimistic there is one and we just need to find it.

      Shiina is an amazing character. To do what she does with her frame and circumstances requires some amazing spiritual power (or chi or genkiness or just innocence). I fear for what Kitoh might do with her before the end…

      • I love that this word encompasses both the sickly thinness and the beauty that comes with it. I wonder if Benkyou Tamaoki’s designs would be called Kyasha? They probably don’t qualify as well because whereas Kitoh puts effort into his characters always looking beautiful, Benkyou seems to put effort into making them ugly. Yet, not dissimilar. It’s all a rich tapestry… of kyasha.

        • I googled Tamaoki and kyasha, and could only find one match. It’s an Amazon review of one of his manga. The sentence in question reads:
          “As always, (he has) a kyasha and pure-looking girl do unspeakable things, and the gap between the two excites me.”

          One big difference between Kitoh and Tamaoki is in the eyes, right? I don’t know if that’s supposed to affect Japanese judgments on what’s kyasha and what’s not…

          • Well, Benkyou’s bodies are way less sharp and defined. He favors bodies that are more human-like and covered in lines, grooves, bruises, ugliness. Also yes of course the eyes, my favorite thing ever~

            • Maybe Benkyo’s characters are Kitoh’s characters once they have been killed, reanimated and fed various tropical drugs to keep them in an undead “zombified” state. They’re beyond decadent, they’re already fallen and brought back from the grave?

  3. Very interesting. Your description reminds me a lot of the Leiji females, such as Yuki Mori. Would they be considered kyasha?

  4. “As for the character design, Leiji Matsumoto’s characteristic kyasha physique..”
    “I love the women that Leiji Matsumoto draws. They’re kyasha, seemingly ephemeral, with such slender bodies you’d think if you embraced them they would break.”
    “In this work Miime is your usual Leiji Matsumoto kyasha, beautiful oneesan.”
    “All of his characters are the same (as Maetel): they look like white women but aren’t rough, they’re kyasha, mysterious and brimming with maternal feelings.”

    These are all from the first page of a “Leiji Matsumoto + kyasha” thread. Darn. So either the Japanese describe anything and everything as “kyasha” or it just so happens that all my favorite character designers share this je ne sais quoi (well, je sais quoi now)..

  5. I think referencing the Japanese “wabi-sabi” aesthetic might be of help here – it has the connotation of transience and beauty found through natural asymmetry and imperfection.
    It’s often used in reference to teaware – a teacup made in the wabi-sabi style would probably be, to the amateur observer, misshapen and lumpy.

    I think the same sort of idea is at play with this term “kyasha” – not exactly beautiful in the conventional sense, but made elegant due to the portrayal of a sort of transient vulnerability.

    • Interesting theory, though it would involve looking at human beings from the standpoint of God (since wabi-sabi are terms normally used to describe created objects). I still prefer my generational-genealogical explanation though 🙂

  6. oyari ashito, an artist I just discovered, draws kyasha-tastic designs. NSFW http://gelbooru.com/index.php?page=post&s=list&tags=oyari_ashito

    • I’ve run across this guy before.. He’s definitely into kyasha, and I did a quick google search and a lot of people say that his specialty is “kyasha” so there you go!

  7. […] appear, Sensei approves.  There are two factors: oversized jersey sweaters make girls look more kyasha and they make men want to protect them (=moe).  Sensei then has Umika pull her sweater over her […]

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