This is quite a lengthy essay and while I've tried my best to keep my thoughts coherent, English is not my mothertongue, so some things might be unclear or appear rough or strange.
I apologize for this and hope that you'll still read this and, if possible, share your own thoughts on this matter with me. This is my opinion, but I could always be horribly and completely wrong, so I'm always open for discussion! ^___^
A few semesters ago, I had a seminar about narrative in popular movies. One of the things we discussed there was Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s quest”.
I guess that a lot of you are familiar with Campbell’s ideas (if you’re not, Wikipedia sums it up pretty nicely here) and while they can be debatable, they clearly show the underlying structure of not a few myths and have had a great impact on modern narration, especially in movies.
The reason why I find “the hero’s quest” interesting when thinking about Uchi and Kusano is that, while the typical hero’s quest goes along the lines of “Hero goes out for adventure, overcomes many trials with help of a mentor, gets the prize and goes home again, putting the prize to good use there”, this “formula” can be, and often is, converted at some points:
In a lot of anti-hero stories, every single of these steps is inversed, with a hero who runs away from the adventure or refuses it, tries to avoid the trials, doesn’t really get the prize or gets it by sheer luck (Shaggy and Scooby Doo come to mind).
In another concept, the classical hero’s quest is not so much inverted as re-interpreted, leading to something like a “fall from grace” (which was a term used by an author whose name I can’t find anymore, because I’m horribly disorganized and thus my notes on that seminar are not complete).
In this concept, the hero’s quest starts with him not “going out for an adventure” but “being cast out because of a mistake/misbehaviour”. The prize he aspires to have is not something new, but the return of the things as they were. He seeks not to win but to reconcile. The trials he has to endure are those of regaining trust, proving himself worthy of his old place and amending for the wrongs he has done. In this he is often helped by a modification of the mentor: a person who is willing to lend a hand, trust him and believe in him despite his ill reputation.
(On a side note: I believe that it is debatable if this type of hero belongs to the category of “anti-hero”, but this is a negligible point here. I will treat this kind of narration as set apart from the anti-hero category for now.)
As you’re certainly all aware, the stories in Japanese manga and anime are full of those “hero’s quests” – and not a few of those “quests” are of the kind mentioned above.
Just to give a few examples of this kind of stories:
- Prince of Tennis has (among others, the list is long) Shishido, who became too cocky (=the hero’s misbehaviour), got publicly humiliated (=the fall from grace), got dropped from the regulars (=the beginning of the “quest”) and, with the help of Ohtori (=the mentor), worked his way up from the bottom again (=the trials) until he was able to show he was reformed (=the last, most important trial) and earned a spot in the regulars again (=the price). Granted, not the same spot – that was impossible, because nothing could be anymore as it had been before – but he was taken back into the "family" and allowed to (successfully) participate in competitions again (=the use of the price).
- Gokusen (the life action drama in this case, since I haven’t read the manga, unfortunately) very heavily features the “fall from grace” narrative, focussing on the helpful/trusting mentor, who in this case even is a mentor in the truest sense of the word. (This is best seen in the story of Sawada, of course, but pretty much all of the Gokusen episodes use this formula.)
- Most sports manga seem to have at least one character who has fallen from grace – someone who isn’t bad, but either made a mistake or had other bad experiences and who usually has a (short or long) period of quitting the game until he is taken back by the “family” – a sports-team that is able to overlook his “mistakes” and glad to take him in (again or for the first time, depending on the story) – and proves himself.
- The idea of the “hero’s quest” is, not surprisingly, very typical for shonen manga; however, it is not uncommon in shojo either, though it is usually not the main focus (CLAMP’s work features the “fall from grace” in some instances, the same goes with “Angel Sanctuary” and other Kaori Yuki manga, You Higuri’s work likewise).
What is quite noticeable about stories with the “fall from grace” narrative is how much they resemble Uchi’s (and Kusano’s) problems:
The underage drinking – The Mistake/Misbehaviour
The personal suspension – The Fall from Grace
The bands’ suspensions, the constant rumours, the insecurities concerning their future (at least perceived by the fans, since we can’t look into JE to confirm our assumptions), Playzone – The Trials
The wished-for price – Return to the status of a debuted JE member (Return to the status of a Kanjani8 and NEWS member being what fans wish for)
Now, I am perfectly and completely aware that real life can NOT be explained by a narrative. (If you’re interested in an article about that, I’ve found this one Wikipedia linked me to quite fascinating) No matter how much it resembles a popular story – a mistake like Uchi's (not so much the drinking itself, but the whole "losing face, causing trouble for the others" issue that went with it) is not easily over-looked or forgiven in "Everyday-Japan".
The reason why I’m still making those comparisons, is because we are talking about Johnny’s Entertainment – and JE is, above all, about dreams and drama.
JE is about giving the fans what they want to see, something that matches their dreams – and thus, the way JE presents itself and its talents often has the kinds of dramatics that are more commonly found in manga, anime and dramas. (Ryo’s and Ueda’s enmity and public reconciliation is a good example for that; likewise also K8’s loud and rambunctious behaviour – they definitely enjoy it, but you can see by the clothes they’re wearing in PVs, by their sillier songs and by their TV-shows that the jimusho does everything to further the image they have as the archetypal “wild, loud and fun-loving Kansai-boys”.)
Again, I have to stress that we’re talking about real life and real people. Real life doesn’t work like a fictional story and just because Uchi’s story (I neglect Kusano a bit, here, since I don’t know enough about him) resembles a popular narrative to some extend doesn’t mean that it will end like one, too.
JE does use narrative structures, though, and for me (and bear in mind that this is my very personal, biased opinion that – to quote a very popular article – “has no basis more reliable than my own, meandering experience”), the way Johnny’s Entertainment presents Uchi and Kusano to the media at the moment, the rumours that go around and the things that are said by the spokespeople of JE, all hint at the possibility that the jimusho knows about the “fall from grace” narrative and has decided to play along with it for economical reasons.
I see the evidence for this in a lot of the things that have happened in the past and are happening now:
From the long suspension, over the “trainee status” and the casting for “Playzone”, to the jimusho’s announcement that this play will be the “big test” for Uchi and Kusano, it seems to me that the things that happened to Uchi and Kusano bear a striking resemblance to the “trials” a hero has to endure.
This would mean that if the jimusho decided to play along to a popular narrative (and again, I say if – I have no idea about the inner workings of JE), the rumours that Uchi and Kusano will be out of work after Playzone, or that they “won’t come back again” would just be more trials those two (the “heroes” of our narrative) would have to endure before being forgiven in the end.
(Unfortunately, if this should be true, it would probably mean even more dramatics in the coming months than what we already have seen, since the jimusho would definitely try to get every last drop of emotions – and money – out of this. But at least Uchi would be back in the end!)
I see the way JE acts in this matter as a hint that they use the narrative structure of the “fall from grace journey of the hero”.
What is the consequence of this?
- Certainly that Uchi and Kusano will still be members of JE at the end of it all.
- That Uchi and Kusano will return to NEWS and Kanjani8?
It might be, but this is not a given.
In the “fall from grace” journey, the hero often ends up in a different place than he started from. A good example for this is, again, Shishido, who started out as a singles player and ends up as a doubles player.
Uchi and Kusano might end up in another unit, separated from K8 and NEWS forever. There is one factor, though, that might prove beneficial to their reunion with their groups:
Kanjani8 very loudly and publicly want Uchi back.
This may sound very trivial, but it is hugely important when one looks at the role Kanjani8 play in this narrative:
From their “hidden” messages for Uchi when they leave a space for him, to the rumours that he and Ryo are still in contact despite Uchi’s long suspension and Ryo’s full schedule, Kanjani8 are very definitely the most obvious “helping hands” or, to use Campbell’s terms, “mentors” that Uchi could have.
Let’s take a look at Prince of Tennis in comparison again: Shishido’s “mentor” (i.e. “helping hand”) is Ohtori. They end up playing doubles together.
To give just one western example: In “Jerry Maguire”, the “helping hand” (the young lady who believes in the guy who just lost his job) ends up with the hero.
Unlike in the classical “hero’s journey” in which the mentor is usually old/older and not seldomly separated from the world, the mentor in the “fall from grace” stories is very often rewarded for helping the hero by being allowed to continue the journey together with him.
The jimusho knows this. The jimusho also knows that both Kanjani8 and the fans want Uchi back. The people in charge seem to encourage Kanjani8’s open support for Uchi – it would be easy for them to not allow the covert messages K8 gives to the fans and Uchi, but they turn a blind eye here.
Is it so much of a stretch to believe that, with JE’s dramatic tendencies and their well known policy of adhering to fangirls’ dreams, the jimusho might decide to go along with the given narrative structures and let Uchi come back?
I don’t think so.
What do you think?