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.