In the quest for creating a visually appealing story, authors and/or artists may sacrifice adherence to historical accuracy, for example, the manga Oiran Girl, by Hibiki Wataru (Oiran being Japanese for a courtesan in the red light district). To give some background information, oiran were “prostitutes,” but they were also a little more than that. They went through rigorous training and were educated in the arts, practicing in calligraphy, the Japanese tea ceremony, and often played instruments and sung. There was a very strict sense of etiquette and manners, and customers could be thrown out for being rude. It was only after passing certain standards that a woman could sell sex, and even then, the suitor would be tested through adherence to etiquette and how much he could spend.
But oiran went through various styles throughout the eras of Japan, and in side notes, the author mentions that she is not as concerned about the historical accuracy of the depiction of the oiran. For example, their hairstyles and dress were rather plain for the target period, and that the style she uses in this story is actually from a much more recent period.
In one such author’s note, Wataru explains that “if you get too caught up in setting the story in ‘this stage of this period,’ you end up with very few choices of what you can draw.’” I found this very striking. Being “historically accurate” in the first place means that there are certain requirements and expectations that must be met. But it also provides a structure. The author did research on the time line of the Yoshiwara red light district (the setting for this manga), and had some idea of how the characters would be drawn if she had been more true to the time. The following author’s note (larger image can be seen here) includes a depiction of what a character might have looked like if drawn accurately to the time, as opposed to the previous image.
My question is why didn’t she continue on the track of trying to be particularly accurate to the time? While the author may have been limited to certain styles, she certainly did have the option to draw the characters true to the period. That isn’t to say that she couldn’t have added her own flair to the work, but she seemed to choose a radically different route, so much so that she encourages the reader to view this manga as being “a sort of parallel universe.” For myself, I believe that a large part of it comes down to our current sense of beauty. While Wataru described the style of the oiran of that time as “plain,” this must be viewed through the lens of our current definition of beauty. It seems to me that the profession of an oiran necessitates having a beauty or a style of some kind in order to draw in customers, so surely during that period, the style and attire was not seen as “plain,” but actually quite beautiful. By drawing the characters in a more elaborate fashion, with more detail, it seems that she caters to a more modern sense of beauty.
In conclusion, I think it is important to note that historical accuracy does not necessarily equate to absolute truthfulness to the time. Dodge the Bullet Comics has an insightful and somewhat humorous blog on this. I believe it is important as readers to recognize these sacrifices. I’m not arguing that each and every thing must be correct right down to the last detail, but rather to question the motivations behind picking and choosing which details to depict, because we might just find that it reflects ourselves more than the subject.
Image Credit goes to mangafox for hosting and Hibiki Wataru, creator of Oiran Girl