New post! In a long time!
Hi, folks! It has been so, so long since my last entry here. And now that I am writing a new post, this is something entirely different: this entry is not about Hayate no Gotoku!, and it is not even about Japanese manga/anime. I doubt that you have even heard of this manga, let alone this character, at all.
This post comes as a bit of a surprise for me as well, actually. You all know that I am lazy, and I have repeatedly (?) mentioned that I write stuff when I have the urge. I suddenly have this urge to talk about this character, so I write this post; simple as that. As to why I suddenly have this urge… well, let’s just say that I accidentally discovered an official spin-off of the main manga, which features this character as the deuteragonist, and in her full glory as well.
Synopsis (sort of…)
So, what manga is this? The manga is titled “Origami Fighters” (official English title), written by a Taiwanese artist. The original manga ran in about the late 90s to the early 2000s on Taiwanese magazines (and official exports in Chinese-speaking regions). A sequel titled “G” (long series) and two spin-offs/sequels “X” and “F” (short stories) were also published. The one that I “accidentally discovered” was F, which was published in 2014; it took me four years to discover that it even exists.
It must be said that with no official English sub and next to no fan sub, this manga is known almost exclusively by the Chinese-speaking community. There was an anime series that was produced by the Koreans, but with all the drastic changes to characters and plot, let’s just pretend that it is something totally unrelated to the manga – the manga itself is much closer to Japanese Shonen in style and character design.
The manga features origami arts on special papers (some form of very advanced circuit boards, actually) which can be used to summon corresponding things from the Moon (half-seriously): magical fairies, items, and most importantly warrior armours. As per standard plot templates, bad guys want to do bad things with origami, and the good guys have to defend themselves – and then the worlds – from the bad guys.
This – the good guys bit – brings us to the featured character, who by standard definition should be considered the female lead. It is not necessarily a good thing: a whole bunch of Shonen female leads are nothing more than “a background character who is very close to the male lead”. Only after the male lead saved the world would he have any time to think about his feelings for the female lead. What makes our female lead in Origami Fighters a bit different is that, well, she is a bit different.
I know, these English nicknames are stupid…
Before we go on, let’s tackle one of the most obvious questions: just what is the name of our female lead? Sure enough, a Chinese-speaking manga would give the female lead a Chinese name, so what we have in Chinese is 曾麗蓮 (Zeng Li-lian). It can be translated into “Beautiful Lotus”, but… has anyone known a girl named “Lotus”
(or worse, “BL”)? On the other hand, from her pin-yin “Li-lian” we do have a commonly used name in “Lilian”, so perhaps let’s go for this.
Lilian was an ordinary 11-year-old daughter to ordinary (if wealthy) parents, and a childhood friend to the male lead 王志哲 (Wang Jhih-jie; let’s call him JJ here). JJ got his hands on some origami papers and an instruction book by accident, and he shared the toys with Lilian and another childhood friend (a brainy bookworm whom can be nicknamed “Nerdy”). It was just that simple.
Of course, as the origami papers turned out to be the “circuit board” stuff mentioned above, strange things happened: Lilian and Nerdy both completed their origami (JJ sucked at art, so he needed longer time and further help from Lilian) and summoned magical fairies. “Black League”, the evil organization which wanted to do bad things, caught wind and sent out mooks to hunt down the children and seize the origami.
JJ, being the hero of the series, transformed into an Origami Fighter (the mechanism involved a fusion with your magical fairy) soon enough to fight the bad guys. Lilian and Nerdy, meanwhile, kept their fairies for self-defense and support (fairies themselves could only use defensive and/or healing spells). This changed when the bad guys overwhelmed all of them with sheer power, and it was during this moment that Lilian’s character shined.
I am just a kid from Brook… I mean, Taiwan
Lilian and Nerdy were nursing the recently exhausted fairies at JJ’s home when the mooks attacked them. As mere children, they were no match for the mooks, but thankfully the fairies woke up in time to save the day. The fairies wanted their masters to run as they held off the enemies, but Lilian returned to the battlefield with this line:
“We cannot run from them forever! We have to face them in the end! I believe that if we do it together, we can beat the enemies!”
This sounds more like a line from Captain Steve Rogers than an 11-year-old girl, but come to think of it, Lilian did have those qualities: she had a kind heart which loved her friends, and she had the guts to face the threat rather than running away. She even entered the battle in the nick of time, saving the fairies from powerful magical arrows – they did not kill her, but damn they hurt a lot. You have to admire her just for the sheer bravery to save the fairies.
Three things happened next: first, her gutsy (if reckless) move inspired Nerdy to transform into an Origami Fighter in order to save the day; second, when Nerdy was not helping much (his origami had the lowest level of them all), the enemies decided enough is enough and destroyed JJ’s house, trying to bury the children (and their teacher) alive; third, Lilian’s fairy then used all of her last powers to shield her allies, and she herself was close to death.
This led to yet another shining moment of Lilian. Acknowledging the need for more power to the team, and wanting to save her fairy from dying, Lilian fused with her fairy to become an Origami Fighter herself. It must be said that they were at the time (correctly) speculating that such fusion could bring nasty side-effects to their bodies, so Lilian’s decision was a very bold sacrificial move on her part (her fairy even said “thank you” to her). Again, very not bad for a young and ordinary girl.
Even better, Lilian actually showed how intelligent she could be as she fused with her fairy. In her own words: “We have to enter contracts when we first transformed; it means that there must be a way to void the contract.” Even Nerdy, who was the undisputed “brain” of the team, admitted that he had never considered this. Lilian might not be as knowledgeable or even as intelligent as Nerdy, but she proved that she could be very insightful – and had the rare ability to think outside the box.
Quite a lot of muscles in the brain
As a “fighter”, Lilian did not have any combat skills or powerful offensive spells, so she ended up being the designated (and only) medic of the team. It was shown that she would test new spells (after a level-up) to figure out what they could do, though, and one arc or two were devoted on how she worked out the new spells.
When, for whatever reason, she had to step up and do the fighting herself, she would do it with her main strengths: her (hidden) guts and her wits. Her greatest moment as a warrior was arguably during her fight against a dinosaur fighter, who lost his mind and transformed into a beast. All the offensive spells that the team used would do nothing because there was a killer barrier behind the beast that absorbed everything, including the energy of the spells. There was no way anyone could attack the monster effectively.
In came Lilian, who claimed that there was a tactic which only she could use. So she transformed and summoned a whole lot of wooden branches to pin down the beast. Comments on the tactic flew in immediately: JJ had the dull look of “what?”, Nerdy yelled desperately that the beast could get out of that “simple spell” easily, and their (evil) commander called out that the spell had no offensive power.
And yet it was exactly this spell that defeated the beast. Why? The energy of the spell, and all the branches that came with it, were pulled into the killer barrier, which ended up absorbing the beast. It was only when he saw how the spell worked in action that Nerdy – once again, the brain of the team – realised what Lilian had in mind. Once again, this was a clear demonstration on how Lilian did her job as an effective fighter – with guts and wit – without impressive offensive spells or combat skills.
There was also the time when she desperately tried to heal a dying Nerdy. You could see everyone paying full attention on cheering her and Nerdy on, an aloof ally advised her to give a shot with an untried spell (which, given the situation, was a wise piece of advice), and looked keenly as she finally cast the spell. You could argue that this was the moment Lilian stole all of the spotlight, in and out of universe.
So, so far, so good. Lilian has been established so far as a very positively likable character, but that sounds a bit flat, doesn’t it? In fact, one might actually argue that while Lilian showed all the qualities of a great character, she hasn’t actually faced any hardship that would prove that she was indeed a great character. So, what did the author do? He gave her the ultimate hardship: she was killed in action; then she was revived, but with drastic changes in personality.
You either die a nice girl or live long enough to see yourself become a bitch
The incident itself was a rather cliched “power up” moment for JJ. Nobody knew exactly why Lilian had to die, except to trigger JJ’s “ultimate form” (exact words). Still the scene was written to convey the sadness nicely, and as I read this scene when I was young (I was 14 or 15 back then, I suppose), I was personally very troubled by this scene.
Lilian was the first good character that lost her life in the series, and among the good Origami Fighters she was actually the only one. So, the author wisely used her death to explain what would happen to Origami Fighters who lost their lives. This led JJ and co. to find a way to revive Lilian from death: they restored her soul to her body, which was stored in a tank somewhere in the fairy world (on the Moon). All they needed to do now was to release her from the tank – with permission.
JJ, as your standard idiot hero, decided that he needed permission from nobody and released Lilian’s body at his first opportunity. And out she came, alive again, but there were two problems: first, her personality was altered drastically; second, she lost all memories of JJ. As it was explained later, these were the exact punishments from the in-tank AI for releasing revived warriors without permission.
This caused huge troubles for the party. Lilian had become a violent and volatile person, who used physical violence on her friends whenever she was annoyed. But “femininity” aside, the most serious problem was that she had become a berserker in fights; she stopped using her brain and simply charged into her enemies head-on. Although her “new-found” fighting will gave her better combat skills, her Leeroy Jenkins tendencies almost got herself killed – twice. Ironically, she became much less useful in fights after she was revived.
Now, it was not her own fault. She had her memories and mind screwed up by a computer, and if anyone was to blame it was JJ. To be fair to the boy, JJ did acknowledge that it was all his faults, and he was determined to “restore” Lilian to her normal self – just as Lilian punched another female ally in the face again.
The other thing about this new Lilian that worried JJ was related to Lilian’s affections. If you still could not tell it (you might not), there was a mutual affection between JJ and Lilian, with Nerdy being the third wheel (he also had a big crush on Lilian). With memories of JJ removed from Lilian’s head, Nerdy suddenly became her closest friend, and her admiration for his intellect suddenly became something more of an affection. It sounds very ironic that a berserker would find affection in the “intellectual type”, but there you go. This created a rather interesting dynamic between the three: JJ started thinking about regaining Lilian’s affection, Nerdy was enjoying Lilian’s affection, and Lilian didn’t even know she had changed affection.
This is a rather dark period for Lilian: she stopped being the lovable person she once was, she stopped being the effective fighter she once was, her new armour was ugly (so was everyone’s, but still), and we suddenly have a rather pointless love triangle between the main trio – they were at most 12 years old, for God’s sake. There is very little about Lilian at this point that would make her a great character, so… what would she become?
I know you are still in there…
As the story went on and Lilian started living her new life a bit longer, signs began to show that the changes made to her were not entirely “complete”. She showed remorse to their robot guardian as it was being dissembled (after strangling the owner of the robot for making the call), and both JJ and Nerdy remarked that this was the kind of thoughts the old Lilian would have (which annoyed her). She got jealous when a female friend hugged JJ, which she did not understand but (poor) Nerdy did. When she was rescued by JJ after almost getting killed for the third time since her revival – no sight of Leeroy this time, though – she found the experience familiar. All the signs pointed to the possibility that Lilian was reversing the changes to her mind, bit by bit.
This became even more apparent when the story took a time skip of one year. By natural maturation or retracing her old self, Lilian became more gentle in general (she did elbow a friend in the face for saying something wrong, though), and she started paying more and more attention to JJ, who recently had a drastic decrease in blood temperature due to losing his parents in the latest battles. Nerdy had it summed up most accurately: the old Lilian was almost back.
The reversal of Lilian’s personality actually reflected in her fighting style as well. She was no longer the berserker she once was; instead, she kept her cool in fights and made the necessary calculations to protect herself and her friends (even the one she elbowed not long ago). She started resuming her role as the team’s chief medic too, putting her magic spells in use again.
Even more impressively, during their fight with the Dragon of the Big Bad, Lilian displayed her battle smarts again. Facing an enemy that was too fast for the eyes, Lilian located the enemy with poison ivy (not that one), accurately caught him with a plant beast she summoned, and attempted to throw him into the killer barrier that popped up again. It was the only time that the enemy – an arrogant ass – commented that he had to pay attention to the Origami Fighters. True, her tactic did not work as planned, but props for trying…
… or, did it not work? As it turned out, Lilian was secretly casting healing spells on an unconscious JJ as she fought the enemy. So the entire point of her fight was to buy time for JJ to recover. JJ thanked her for this, the enemy commented on this, and readers should remember this.
Later on, as JJ mindlessly charged into the Big Bad alone, Lilian was the one who yelled at his idiocy and tearfully asked him not to do everything by himself. The very vengeful JJ looked like he was ashamed of himself, and before the team’s next move, JJ actually said to Lilian that they would fight together this time. As Lilian’s caring nature and affection for JJ slowly returned, she was able to melt the heart of JJ and make him more like his old self as well.
Let us highlight one thing: while JJ swore to himself that he had to restore Lilian to her normal self, he never had the chance (too busy fighting) or way (the technology was too advanced) to do this. Yet while the memories of JJ were still missing, Lilian still managed to recover most of her old personality, fighting style and care for JJ on her own. This, while not exactly character development, is at least character rerailment. The readers want to witness it, and Lilian delivered, making her character arc something very interesting and fruitful.
The end of the main story ended with JJ and Lilian heading to another dimension to find his parents (who turned out were only missing, not dead) and her memories. This brings us to the spin-offs X and F.
And they will become better… much better
X came first, and at this point of the story Lilian already had her memories restored. The dynamic between JJ and Lilian at this point was that of a very young couple, with Lilian showing jealousy whenever JJ had his eyes at big boobs, and JJ struggling to cope with her wrath.
As their adventure went on in a new world, the two of them had very distinct roles. JJ, now being the only one with origami armour (Lilian’s did not work in this world), took up all the fighting. Lilian, with a better brain and sharper mind than JJ, made sci-fi theories on the unsolved mysteries about their journey. She might not be able to make detailed explanations like Nerdy, but she made use of some interesting metaphors to help JJ understand. While JJ did not understand a word, it seems that the readers were expected to understand her explanations.
Lilian, now a teenage girl, also seemed to have picked up the ability to sense if two people were in love. During the adventure, she and JJ headed into a pair of young people who had secret crushes for one another. Lilian correctly pointed their crushes out, actively encouraged them to be together, and helped JJ plot their escape from a hostile community.
Lilian was handsomely rewarded for her helping hand, as she was given a very powerful new origami armour – slightly weaker than JJ’s, but his was considered a nearly invincible armour anyway, so no point comparing with him. With her new powers, she helped JJ in the final battle in X, and served as the most powerful character in the other spin-off F.
The F story was important to Lilian as it was a story without JJ – Lilian was on an individual mission in this one. Without JJ, the undisputed main character of the main series, it was time for Lilian to show that she could take care of herself. I would not be afraid to tell you upfront that yes, indeed she could. And, let us say that her success was a result of her entire journey thus far.
Our first impression of Lilian in F was her elegance entrance from the sky, rescuing the male lead of this short story from a monster. We could see that she was no longer the berserker we knew and hated back then; this was a graceful and powerful warrior that we collectively went “wow”.
Sorry about the mess(y scan)…
Ironic enough, as much as we would like to state that F is Lilian’s story, the main conflict of the story had nothing to do with her. Yes, she had her mission, but the mission was not about the monster she just defeated – or the ones she would have to face later on, either. She was here solely as a helping hand to the male lead, who was right at the centre of the conflict.
Maybe this is why we could see Lilian remaining totally composed and cautious throughout the story, but I am actually pleased about it. Someone had to solve the mystery of the plot and to pay attention to the little details, and Lilian did a superb job in this role. Her perception skills ended up saving the male lead in the confrontation that followed, and then everyone at the climax of the story. Most importantly, she did these mostly out of her armour.
These are not solely my words either. The male lead – who was rather quick-thinking in his own right – commented on Lilian’s sharp mind
and her young looks.
Take that (the suit) off , what are you?
Speaking of Lilian’s armour, it was clear in the first two battles that Lilian was at least two classes above all fighters (and monsters) in this story, so the author had to limit the use of her armour. As such, Lilian spent more time without her armour than with it, but she proved herself capable in both forms.
While the normal Lilian was physically just an ordinary teenage girl, she still managed to dodge the Big Bad’s attack and inject him with an antidote in one move. The use of said antidote was also suggested by her, so she proved herself to be able to help save the day just by talking.
Let us also point out that, while the “original” Lilian might be even more gentle to her friends and even the enemies, she might not have that kind of guts and skills to pull off a stunt mentioned above either. So, the “character derailment” might not be completely negative; it just took away a bit of her gentleness and replaced it with a bit of assertiveness and physical skills. This gives more balance to Lilian’s character – and this is what we call “character development”.
When she was finally able to transform, she took care of the Big Bad, with whom the male lead struggled so much with, in one single move. And it was done very cleanly in two panels: panel one, Lilian began to transform; panel two, the Big Bad was (literally) blown into the sky. She did allow the male lead to cast the finishing move, but the feeling is that it was a courtesy to the male lead; she could do it herself if she wanted to.
In short, Lilian showed almost everything good about her in a six-chapter story: she was a powerful yet graceful fighter. While not fighting, she put her perception and wit into good use, pushing the plot forward mostly by talking and thinking. She was caring and well-mannered, but also assertive when the situation demanded. Her presence was a very positive influence on the plot, and the male lead was seen to be grateful.
Ah… this hasn’t been “very brief” at all…
So here is the type of character I like the most: the right balance between guts, brawn and brain, the ability to be helpful to the plot, a kindness backed by effective decision-making. These all came from a long journey, a traumatic event, and things that were learned along the way, so her growth was something precious. The facts that she was a girl, who could look (all the time) and behave elegantly (sometimes) were mere bonus points.
Yet here is such a wonderful girl in a series, so is there any reason not to love her? Coupled with the fact that I haven’t read many other Chinese-speaking manga series (I am not a fan of Hong Kong manga, and those are totally different things really), it is very safe to say that Zeng Li-lian is my all-time favourite Chinese-speaking manga character.