Now, to clarify a bit, the first post put forth a model of signification, which in itself is fairly problematic (the details thereof I’ll address below):
visual appearance [signifies] personality [signifies] ideology
The second post briefly investigated how visual appearance itself is a structure of signs, so thoughts on the more “micro” elements of the character were developed. In this third post, I hope to look into the act of signification (to fix this model), the processes which glue these seemingly inert, semiotic paradigms together, using glasses, once again, as the main investigative clue.
To start off with, the problem with the previously mentioned linear model is that, in the cases where visual appearance doesn’t signify personality, and in such light I would be tempted, therefore, to draw a diagram wherein all three aspects have reciprocal means of signification, there really isn’t such a hypothesized reciprocity of signification. This statement holds only when we analyze characters from the bottom up, or in other words, in that very order of appearance to personality to ideology. In such a hierarchical ordering of signification, it is literally impossible to say that ideology has the potential to signify before visual appearance simply because we cannot conceive of the object’s ideology until we see and come in contact with the object. This is in contradistinction with a “bottom down” approach to character construction where we are presented with opportunities to imagine characters before we see them – film using, arguably, the most powerful techniques of print media summed up in the hedonistic proverb “more is less”. If we are informed, vaguely or otherwise, of an idiosyncratic “mecha anime”, we are presented with the ideological framework – war, fighting [robots], emo [teenager pilots] – onto which personalities and visual appearances are referred to (ie. Suzaku, Kira, Shinji, etc.). Thus we are left with a hierarchical model with three usages: (1) ideology signifying personality and appearance; (2) appearance signifying personality and ideology; (3) in the rarest case, personality simultaneously signifying ideology and appearance. The third case is a rarity since it implies we have a personality that isn’t necessarily restricted to appearance – perhaps a disembodied voice or a visage continuously obscured in shadows.
For good measure, there isn’t a single anime I can think of that effectively uses personality as a basis for signification and in its entirety. 5cm begins to fictionalize Akari through Takaki’s destinationless texting and her gradual disappearance (though she does return), though we had already seen Akari in the beginning, nullifying any real sense of visually unconcretized personality as the basis of signification. However, and of all things, Charlie’s Angels has the bodiless “Charlie” whose voice is the only kind of signifier available to us. You could make an argument that anime utilizing narrators pose a case (DBZ, LoGH, Hayate), but I would suspect their fictive “being” to serve no function within the story itself.
In Mitchiko to Hatchin, the similarities are given; the family wears glasses. From this image you can posit “this family of cruel people wear glasses,” but such syllogism does not allow for the predictable “thus, all cruel people wear glasses.”
Michiko herself is undoubtedly the most important visual element since…
…she is the only character that willingly removes her glasses: the police officer never has glasses, and Maria’s are forced off by Hatchin, who even remarks, both literally and metaphorically at that, “do you know who you’re looking at? Look at me!” and…
…Michiko’s face, most importantly eyes, are obscured while in prison, the first time we see them are when…
…she faces off against the helicopter outside the prison with the search light shining on her face.
The important bit here is “the Morenos family”, or, more precisely, the metaphorical and discursive space that constitutes and upon which the ideology of family, house and home is contingent. It’s significant to note that, while Mitchiko is the only one that willingly removes her glasses, she only does so within the household (on the table on her bike), further corroborating the metaphorical space as the typical Plato-esque “cave” out of which the soon-to-be-enlightened crawl. (It’s more of a Matrix-esque “this is what you really see”.) However, in this case, it’s not really about the spatiality that constitutes the binary of in and out, but of self-consciousness, the looking-glass and self-imposed ignorance which are, just as glasses are, imposed or removed from the individual: it’s more of a way of seeing (or not seeing) things. Just as those with glasses cannot comprehend vision outside the lens, the police officer cannot comprehend such vision within those very lenses. It is for this reason that Maria is most frightened after her glasses, her only sense of worldly comprehension, are knocked off of her face.
It is apparent that, while glasses are sometimes removed, the actual, visual appearance doesn’t change; it serves as our control variable here. We’re able to determine the signifying effect of glasses, and, as was stated above, that (for instance) the removal of Maria’s glasses rendered her a helpless girl on the receiving end of Hatchin’s rage, it is the lack of the contextual signified which, at the basis of our pyramid model, alters the visual appearance, subsequently signifying an altered personality (cowardliness) and, furthermore, a different ideology (ie. justice, karma).
The recurring phrase “look at me” also deserves further investigation. It’s used exclusively by Michiko and Hatchin, the protagonists that also conveniently make up the title (by no coincidence, I suspect). Taken both figuratively and literally, the visual relationship between the two women is indicative of the metaphorical power of vision and sight. Michiko’s sunglasses are also meaningful, since they obviously set her apart from the nearsighted, clear lenses; the instance when she removes her lenses situates her within the metaphorical space of the family, she receives clarity of perception and judgment. The visual appearance of the lenses, that they are tinted (pun intended), emphasizes her more conspicuous personality in relation to the rest of the Morenos family, and finally the ideologies – again, [poetic] justice, karma, retribution, penitence, sin (large Christian symbols like the crucifix buttress this, as well as the theme of incarceration) – that engulf her being.
Considering the top-down approach to signification – ideology signifying personality and visual appearance – the prison scene does offer a slight example of this. The institutional incarceration that we are more familiar with is accompanied by, amongst many things, the homogenization of the object of the prison’s function, imprisonment, the prisoner, of course. What are in actuality diverse humans we see as these representations of a faceless mass of people donned in the same drab garments. When faces of prisoners are shown, and rarely at that, they are typically low in detail. The ideology of the prison is oriented towards the signification of people as brash and crude with almost no visual appearance: the lack of appearance only denotes a coarse, unattractive aesthetic with in turn corroborates that very dehumanizing ideology of imprisonment.