Considering the 2channelers in Densha Otoko

June 3, 2006 at 5:01 am (Analysis, Dorama)

Well it’s been like two months since I finished watching the show, but I seem to have recalled most of my thoughts on it. The most interesting part of Densha Otoko, by a whole lot, was the 2channelers.

When I was wee I had trouble watching anything dramatic. I tended to rapidly identify with characters for some reason, in such a way that I would just sit there when they were about to do something that was obviously going to cause a tragedy and be like “no no no!” desperately wanting to transport myself into the picture and stop them. Alright so that still happens to me sometimes, but I’m less quick to identify with characters like that these days.

Well, anyway, suppose there’s a book so great that its audience all identifies with the characters enough that they have some desire to be able to insert themselves and provide assistance, or at least comfort. That’s pretty much what the 2channelers in Densha Otoko are. Actually they fill the spectrum of audience reaction, because it is implied that there are silent 2channelers who don’t care or don’t care enough to interject themselves, and there are also h4ters who flame Densha. This isn’t weird at first glance, because, well yeah, they’re all reading along with Densha’s story as he posts it. But I can’t think of another show or book where there’s an audience represented within the text like that. Densha gives them a (as far as we can tell) pretty accurate description of events, and they are often able to help him, though since they’re flawed themselves sometimes their help goes awry.

Since Densha has this interesting and unique element of an active internal audience, I’m curious what effect it has on the story. I mean I know what effect the 2channelers have on Densha’s plight; I’m thinking about what that interaction itself does to this story.

Though near the end they get more entangled in Densha’s actual story, for most of the show there is a divide between the 2channelers and Densha’s IRL life. This gave the story a feeling of dichotomy as well, alternating between 2channel-consultations / sob / cheer sessions and his offline life. Normally I think that kind of narrative split would feel cumbersome and annoying to me (maybe that’s why I hate Law & Order so much), but I didn’t really mind it here. I loved how the climax of many episodes was a piece of SJIS art, though that was probably just my appreciation of microcultural irony.

Densha’s love story was pretty classic in most senses. Actually it’s a really formulaic cinderella love-drama with a happy ending. The only thing that makes it stand out at all is the addition of the 2channel stuff. Okay it might have been original in inserting an Akiba-Otaku into one of the formula roles, but the story is super-duper formulaic in many ways. Well maybe not. Densha is an unclassic hero, since he sucks at everything. He sucks so much that he needs lots of help to succeed. And not even help from a loving friend, because his confidence is bad and he can’t talk to anybody, well and he doesn’t have any useful friends like that but that needn’t be true. He actually needs help from a large anonymous virtual audience; he is both comfortable talking to them, and they’re large enough to give him some measure of confidence with their support.

I am thinking that it would normally be really cumbersome to have this kind of active internal audience in a story, so to use such an eelment the story would have to require its presence somehow. In Densha Otoko, it’s required by the specific circumstances of the hero. Fortunately for the creators, it’s based on actual events, because I’m struggling to come up with other workable scenarios that require such an audience without being extremely meta.

The presence of the 2channelers provided an opportunity to show how an audience are affected by the stories they read. Various 2channeler people drew on Densha’s story for confidence, and I think there really are people that do this with the books they read or the movies they watch. The show is clearly suggesting that its viewers may be able to draw confidence similarly, and that kind of active audience interaction is pretty rare in TV. Okay, that’s a lie. There have been an ass-load of “very special episodes” of American TV shows coupled with messages about how rape and drugs and violence and war are bad, or how some tragedy was tragic, or whatever. But I found the active encouragement in Densha a lot easier to stomach, even if I didn’t feel it really applied to me; it didn’t feel canned.

So, in conclusion, cool.



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