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Ash vs. Shahryar

That title makes it sound like a new fighting game, or a superhero comic, but there it is. :) I said in my last post that there was a lot I had to say about Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok’s One Thousand and One Nights that didn’t make it into my Manga Recon review, and one of those things was elaboration on a particular statement from the review. I said at one point, regarding the relationship between the two main characters in the story (Sultan Shahryar and his “Scheherazade,” Sehara):

“Their relationship is reminiscent of that between Ash Lynx and Eiji Okamura in Akimi Yashida’s classic shojo manga, Banana Fish (though more overtly sexualized), as both stories feature a pure, open heart coming to the rescue of a man with too much blood on his hands.”

More than that would have been out of place in the review, but I’d like to discuss it further here. The truth is, Sehara and Eiji are very much alike, and both of them are of a particular type that draws me to a story like Touya Akira to a goban. My “bullet-proof” character-type if you will. Both are unusually pure of heart, but in a wonderfully understated kind of way that fills me with delight.

Ash and Shahryar, however, though each a fearsome leader with a bloody history, differ in one especially significant way that I’ll explore after the jump!

Probably the real key to what separates Ash Lynx and Sultan Shahryar is their vastly different social positions, as lame as that sounds. Though Ash earned the respect of his gang (and the New York criminal underworld as a whole) with his own nerve, sweat and blood, he was originally placed in that position by someone from whom he endured years of degradation and abuse as essentially a slave (sexual and otherwise). Ash must fight to maintain a position of power, all the while being entirely powerless to change his own fate, or to escape the bonds placed on him by his abuser, who is a powerful man in their society. For all his strength, he is the primary victim in his story–raised up and twisted into someone else’s violent tool. Because of this, he struggles constantly between feelings of horrified regret and cold cynicism. His strength is fueled by bitterness and the instinct to survive. As far as his society is concerned, he is the dirt under their shoes, and nobody believes this more than he does.

Shahryar, on the other hand, was born to be king. He was raised to be a leader in an environment wherein men like him are elite citizens, who may pillage and plunder at will. Surely he has had to develop his own strength, and was (before he went mad) a respected, even beloved leader, but the the power of absolute rule has given him particular brand of arrogance and a sense of entitlement that can only be found in those born into extreme privilege. His actions have no immediate consequences. He may treat those below him as mere objects, and there is nobody to hold him accountable. The great tragedy that drove him mad was a wife who sought sex with other men, and he does not see any irony in the fact that he himself has an entire harem of women with whom he may seek carnal pleasure. I’m being a little unfair here, since his madness does have somewhat deeper roots, as Sehara discovers along the way, but still. The guy is in a position to be a tyrant, and he (unsurprisingly) becomes one. As the story begins, he feels no remorse or regret for the systematic murder of dozens of innocent young women, and why should he? As far as his world is concerned, he is a god (or as one character refers to him early on, “the sun”).

These differences in history and position greatly influence how each character wields his power over others. To illustrate my point, I’m going to present here a few panels from each series. Both are scenes in which one character (Ash, and then Shahryar) asks the other (Eiji/Sehara) to stay by his side.

First, from volume seven of Banana Fish (read right-to-left):

And from volume five of One Thousand and One Nights (read left-to-right):

I’m sure you’ve noticed the glaring difference. Shahryar asks Sehara, “Can you promise me that you’ll always be at my side to protect me?” Ash, on the other hand, asks for Eiji’s companionship, but only after it has been offered, and it is Eiji who promises, “Forever.” It is this gap in confidence–in the certainty that one is worthy of someone else’s complete devotion–that most separates Ash and Shahryar. Though perhaps what is most interesting about it, is that the response from each of their companions is the same. Both Sehara and Eiji are willing to offer themselves completely to another person. Shahryar expects this, while Ash does not.

As far as I’m concerned, these two scenes say it all. And “all” is a mixed bag. Despite my obvious disdain for Shahryar’s position and what it has made of him, he is also in a much better position to accept someone else’s love, and one of the things I’m most looking forward to finding out as One Thousand and One Nights continues, is how this might influence the end of his story, and particularly how it might differ from Ash’s. Here are two men, each with a soul deeply damaged by the past, each being offered the love of a pure, shining heart. Who will be saved? I can’t wait to find out!

(Note: Please try not to spoil the ending of Banana Fish with comments to this entry. If you want to go there, send me an e-mail!)

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  1. wow i love japanses manga

  2. Nice essay. Nice comparison. No spoilers makes it hard to say any more than that. :)


  1. […] And lastly, Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok‚Äôs One Thousand and One Nights. Despite being set in 13th century Persia and having nothing at all to do with juvenile delinquents or organized crime, the main relationship in this series reminded me so much of Ash and Eiji’s in Banana Fish that I actually wrote an essay about it. […]

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