Today, I bring you a guest post by by Kenneth Mugi about coolness and where you might be able to locate some pointers on creating that coolness.
Some folks got it, some people haven’t. They haven’t got the languid air, indifferent stare or wind-swept hair required. When a crisis comes their hearts pulse and they ask about the weather instead of keeping calm and calling the Doctor. They’re the wannabes, the should’ve-beens, the coolness-is-subjective-anyway citizens.
As a person, that’s fine. I don’t have to be cool. I don’t even have to be square. I can be a circle and make friends with a rhomboid. As a writer though, it’s not possible for me to toss aside the lounging, cynical detective with flat shoes and a disdain for her job. She exists, and when I write action and adventure, I need to have her saunter across my pages as if she belongs there.
Unlike warmed-up celebrities, I can’t egotistically aspire to redefine the word either, I need to know what ‘it’ is. And if my reading days tell me anything, then (some) other writers do too. They’ve forgotten Dean McCoppin, from The Iron Giant and Rick Blaine from Casablanca. Their characters have too many emotions, share too much about their histories, and when trouble hits the spinning space-station, they talk about their kids.
What those writers don’t know, what they can’t know, is that it’s at that point I roll my eyes. Right then, when the indifferent, husky-voiced, chain-smoker opens up about their life after a wild night of sex, I want to be reading another author’s work. I want to be watching something else.
I want to be watching Shinchiro Watanabe.
A couple of published auteurs have said that you shouldn’t start writing until you’ve read a 1,000 novels. I think people shouldn’t create cool characters until they’ve devoured all of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo…in Japanese. (English subtitles are permitted.)
First, there’s Spike. He’s a bounty hunter who eats instant ramen, smokes and wakes up terrified about his artificial eye. How did he get this thing? We’re not told. He wears a blue suit, fights people even while on the verge of death, and is constantly wondering if this time is going to be his last.
We learn he was a badass Yakuza, just. What he did though, we need to fill in the blanks.
When he’s threatened with imminent doom, he smiles, and pulls the trigger on his semi-automatic. Jazz plays as he does this. Jazz, man. Off-beat cuts that break through your psyche and make your fingers tap.
At the end, when he knows he’s about to go to his possible demise, he tells one of his travelling companions he has a robotic eye. That’s it.
She wishes he hadn’t told her.
He’s got it.
Then Shinchiro Watanabe reaches into his bag of characters and gives us Mugen and Jin. Samurai are inherently cool. They’re like ninjas in that regard, but they wear kimonos and speak in short, punctuated phrases. So you’ve got to dig deep if you intend to stand out in the sub-genre, Samurai Champloo does.
Jin wears glasses that are fake. He has an immense vocabulary; he barely says anything. When he grabs the hilt of his katana a little more tightly than last time, that’s him showing his emotion. He wants to be the strongest samurai in Edo, he’ll fight anyone for the title.
Mugen is a wild, self-trained fighter from the islands down south. He never shuts up. He talks in impolite Japanese, uses a form of break-dancing in his fighting style and is constantly taking risky jobs. He often gets tricked by female characters and acts on impulse.
He asks for no help, and Koza, the one woman he loved, betrayed him. Then he trusts her again, even though he knows better, and gets betrayed once more. He tries not to hate her, tries not to love her.
He’s Mugen, he wears red.
There’s a scene. Possibly one of the greatest scenes ever directed (in my humble opinion) where Mugen gets his revenge. Koza has just finished manipulating him, and is going to collect her ill-gotten treasure with her new partner. Mugen’s limping and wounded, but he heads to where the pair is traversing—the top of a cliff. The sun is setting, the three of them (Mugen and the duo) are simply silhouettes walking towards each other from opposite directions. Discordant music plays in the background.
The boyfriend runs to attack, Mugen kills him in a single stroke. He continues towards Koza. The music builds. He walks past her, doing nothing.
The same music is used again, later in the anime, for a fight between Jin and a blind, female assassin. We, the audience, expect a victory. Jin loses, badly.
Shinchiro Watanabe’s got it. His works are covered with it. Colours splash out of the screen, characters growl and mumble but don’t ask for mercy. They know fate has already decided their lives’ parameters, they know they’re traversing pre-destined paths yet they still fight. Revolver in one hand, sword in the other—Shinchiro’s characters shuffle through their existence and show us what it means to live on the other side of square.
One day, I might touch the hem of his flowing kimono with my writing. One day my characters might wink a little more knowingly, they might banter a little more angrily—but until then, you need to watch Shinchiro Watanabe’s works if you want to write cool. He’ll open the universe to you, and show you a world where indifference is an art form.
Kenneth A. Mugi doesn’t direct anime, but he writes fantasy tales with violence and swearing aplenty. You can find his latest work, The Salvation of Yellow, on Amazon.com or read his most recent short stories on his website: http://www.noshovelshere.com.