‘Canon’ in the Japanese popular media: Gundam, CLAMP and 「公式設定」[koushiki settei]


Macross ‘Cannon’
I simply couldn’t resist – it’s the first thing that comes up every time I search!

When referring to the concept of ‘canon’ in Japanese popular media, but there are a few key authors and franchises that people will mention. The most famous one is arguably the Gundam franchise, which is comprised of many series, OVAs and films, as well as numerous titles in other media, that belong to one of several parallel universes. As ghostlightning has already observed in a comment on my previous post, the timeline of each universe is maintained separate from the others, but is consistent within itself. From what I understand, if there are serious discrepancies between a series broadcast and a film, for instance, these are officially resolved so that there is a consistent ‘canon’ for each universe.

Another manner of world creation – and one that I am more familiar with – known as ‘Crossovers’ is exercised by the mangaka group CLAMP. Basically, a number of their manga series are set in the same universe, and characters and locations in one CLAMP work will commonly appear or be mentioned in others – for example, Icchan and Kaede from Angelic Layer in Chobits, and those from Wish, xxxHOLiC, Lawful Drug/Drug and Drop and Kobato. The most famous one of all is, of course, Tsubasa-RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, where CLAMP also explored the idea of parallel worlds. In this case, however, most of the characters were different people of the same core personality and path of life existing in parallel universes – their idiosyncrasies, loves, hates, friends and enemies were all the same, but they were different people. However, where they were actually the same individual, then what happened to them in any one work in CLAMP‘s universes was always consistent.

Courtesy of the Crossover Queens...

Courtesy of the Crossover Queens…

NB: This appears to be similar to how Matsumoto Leiji has done with his works, at least from what I’ve read, though in this case, his fans appear to hold the canonicity of particular events to be quite important, unlike with CLAMP. Skimming over his Japanese wiki entry, what strikes me most is how little is dedicated to the question of his universes – just two short paragraphs. However, I am really not familiar with Matsumoto-san’s work, so I will have to leave it at that. If anyone has anything relevant to share, please do.

The million dollar question: just what is “koushiki settei“「公式設定」?

With regards to Macross, the term “koushiki settei” 「公式設定」 that appears in the disclaimers of the Valkyrie Masterfiles is arguably the term of interest. Literally, “koushiki” [公式] means ‘official’ or ‘formal’ and “settei” [設定] means ‘setting’, which some tend to translate as “official setting”. Based on that, you’d think: okay, that pretty much refers to ‘canon’, right? Well, that’s certainly how it seems to be used by some Western Macross fans, meaning that the relevant phrase of the disclaimers is translated as ‘this book is not part of the “official setting”’. In other words: “game, set, match, the Valkyrie Masterfiles aren’t canon”…which has certain implications for what has been, for some, a particularly vexing debate in the fandom since the second Frontier film, Wings of Farewell 「劇場版 マクロスF 恋離飛翼 〜サヨナラノツバサ〜」 came out.

The use of the term in the Japanese (popular) media, however, is rather vague and undefined. Just as in English-speaking circles, but with a slightly different outcome, IMHO. The wikipedia articles on Frontier and the Valkyrie Masterfiles diligently repeat that stock disclaimer that these books aren’t ‘official setting’ (「公式設定」ではない. See here, for example.) However, when I asked some of my Japanese friends what the term referred to, none of them were able to say. Admittedly, none of them are all that interested in the anime, manga and game industry, where “koushiki settei” is most frequently encountered. Furthermore, these friends probably belong to the majority of individuals who are not particularly concerned with the ‘canon’ of a favourite series or franchise. Just as most people probably don’t spend much time or energy on it in the English speaking world.

Ending that tangent, this prompted me to investigate the term a little further. Googling the kanji for “koushiki settei” (公式設定 (NB: google in different regions may find slightly different hits. This one’s from Singapore)) produces some interesting results. Most commonly, it is not used on its own, but rather as a part of several other key phrases in the anime, manga and game industry. The most common one is “koushiki settei shiryoushuu” [公式設定資料集], or “official (setting) documents collection”. Next, we have “koushiki settei gashuu” [公式設定画集], that is, “official (setting) art collection” and “koushiki settei shuu” [公式設定集], aka the “official setting collection”. And yes, the unwieldy English has resulted from me merely lumping the WWWJDIC translations of the individual terms together, though it’s important to note the common word: ‘collection’. If one then investigates what these collections are, one discovers books that detail many of the important official materials produced in the development of a particular work or franchise. They typically consist of sketches of the characters, vehicles and even backgrounds, along with interviews with key creators – the director, the writer, the character designer, the composer, even the seiyuu – detailing how a particular work was made. In other words, one finds what we in the West might call ‘guidebooks’, ‘materials books’ and ‘artbooks’.

Behold: the typical contents of a book with "koushiki settei" in its title...

Behold: the typical contents of a book with “koushiki settei” in its title…

The one exception that I’ve been able to find is from the Gundam franchise, where “koushiki settei” appears to have been used, by both fans and creators alike, to refer both to those official materials, and also to in-universe materials. A key example is the volume known as the Anaheim Journal (Mobile Suit Gundam Official Setting Collection [機動戦士ガンダム公式設定集 アナハイム・ジャーナル U.C.0083-0099]), which has been written as a bunch of material produced in-universe by Anaheim Electronics, a fictional weapons producer that appears in the U.C. Timeline. It’s an interesting book: from a quick glance, it reads like a magazine that has been produced by Anaheim to showcase its technology, replete with ads from other groups that have helped fund its publication!

But I’ll come back to this later.

Now, for the lovers of quantitative data out there (not that this has been subjected to any positivist methods, admittedly), here are some approximate google stats on the use of these terms over the WWW:

1. “公式設定” [koushiki settei / ‘official setting’] nets some 1,750,000 hits
2. “公式設定資料集” [koushiki settei shiryoushuu / ‘official (setting) documents collection’] 679,000
3. “公式設定画集” [koushiki settei gashuu / ‘official (setting) art collection’] 293,000
4. “公式設定集” [koushiki settei shuu / ‘official setting collection’] 308,000
Which leaves in excess of 400,000 hits for the uses of “公式設定” that exclude these 2, 3 and 4 (including incidences of “公式、設定”, which I can’t figure out how to discount). Not that I think this is foolproof, as some of the hits for 2-4 would undoubtedly have contained the [koushiki settei] phrase separately as well – interestingly enough, using google’s advanced search function to search for “公式設定” -“公式設定資料集” etc gives rather different results – but it’s probably a good snapshot for my purposes. For a little more perspective: googling for Kawamori Shouji in Japanese nets 813,000 hits, with Macross registering 21,700,000, whilst searching for “ガンダム” [Gundam] produces a whopping 104,000,000 hits. Oh, and “木村拓哉” [Kimura Takuya], one of the most famous Japanese idols over the past 20-odd years, is apparently found in 11,400,000 different places on the web.

What do these results tell us? Well, I’m not going to claim to be an expert, but here are some of my hypotheses:

1. The term really isn’t used all that much outside the industry. This is, however, in parallel to the way that ‘canon’ is used predominantly to refer to certain types of popular shows in the West, particularly sci-fi and fantasy ones.
2. Even within the industry, it is not used all that much. It seems to be used most often as part of the name for certain types of products.
3. And most importantly, it’s not typically used to to mean ‘canon’. Rather, it’s used either to refer to (a) the background setting of a particular work, or (b) the materials that are developed during pre-production and production of the work, which usually includes the background setting anyway. In the case of the former, this means that there could be as many ‘official settings’ as there are versions of a story in a particular franchise! (For a Japanese perspective, here’s a commentary on the issue by one Japanese Gundam fan.)
4. That said, exceptions like the Gundam franchise’s Anaheim Journal do exist…

Alright then, but what in the world does that mean for Macross ‘canon’? Well…I’ll get to that in a little more detail in the final post.

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

4 Responses to ‘Canon’ in the Japanese popular media: Gundam, CLAMP and 「公式設定」[koushiki settei]

  1. Pingback: Macross History – a shout out to Kawamori Shouji and postmodernism « HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  2. Pingback: Some final comments on Macross Frontier part 2: As Good As It Gets | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  3. Pingback: For the record: Yack Deculture! | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  4. Pingback: Some final comments on Macross Frontier part 1: ‘Canon’, creators and the fan community | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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