Monday, February 28, 2011

History: Zettai Ryouiki

Immediate disclaimer- I cannot for the life of me remember how to spell the name of this trope. I had to run a Google spell check just now on my best guess (Zettai Ryoukki). This should give you some clue as to why this trope was challenged- no one, absolutely no one, can consistently remember how to spell this title save certain portions of the Anime fandom and people who actually speak Japanese. And I'm not totally sure about the latter group.

However, as the ensuing rename discussion showed, there was a pretty good reason for this. Outside of the Anime fandom, it's hard to imagine who else would even want to classify this trope. Zettai Ryouiki refers to the exact amount of skin seen between a woman's skirt and her socks. There are different grades of Zettai Ryouiki, though I can't remember which grades means what ratio or how exactly the classification system works, just that it involves a great deal of math.

It was this backdrop that framed one of the first arguments for why a trope name should be in Japanese when English translations are available. When the proposal was presented, members of the Anime fandom used as their defense the fact that this is a pre-existing term that only exists in the Anime fandom. No one outside of the fandom ever discusses the exact ratio of skin to clothing on (usually) teenage girls. The only reason the trope was classified at all was based on these discussions that took place before and outside of TV Tropes.

Even as my opinion was pretty strongly for a rename in this case, I had to admit that they made a fairly good point. Zettai Ryouiki is an interesting trope that tells us a great deal about the nature of fanservice in fiction, but in the end I can't even think of any places to apply the trope to except Anime. Most Western works of fiction when they want to show fanservice, well, let's just be blunt about it. They never settle for only allowing the audience a look at the thighs. What makes Zettai Ryouiki interesting is that it usually dovetails with the Japanese obsession with schoolgirls, and aside from the whole thigh thing, Anime is pretty good about keeping the schoolgirl uniform only somewhat sexualized as opposed to using the uniform as thinly veiled wanking material. Looking at you, Western portrayals of school uniforms.

In addition to being an early argument about the use of foreign words in titles, this was also one of if not the first Trope Rename forum topics with intense crowner voting. And as with most high-volume crowner votes, this one ended with a decided majority in favor of keeping the current name, where it remains to this day. Even though the side I supported lost, I didn't feel particularly bitter about this because I felt they made a reasonable argument. In concession, I noted that for the few non-Anime obsessed people who would want to use this term, English redirects would allow us to make correctly spelled Wiki Words, the main easy one to remember being Golden Thigh Ratio. The more general rename issue about people finding the page was moot point- Zettai Ryouiki was and is quite popular.

This brings us to the main philosophical question brought up by this proposal- did comprehensibility matter in a trope title if it was popular and incredibly specific? The consensus reached by this debate and the tone to come was no. Tropes for the individual fandoms belonged to the individual fandoms, and there wasn't much sense trying to take them away since most people probably didn't even want them in the first place.

With Zettai Ryouiki this wasn't so much of a problem because of the genuinely pigeonholed subject matter. But as you may have guessed, "popular" and "incredibly specific" aren't ideas that coincide terribly often, especially not at a site with as much user-generated content as TV Tropes. The proposal on Zettai Ryouiki was ultimately badly timed- it was an unusual case that influenced a great deal of procedure largely because of the relatively early time period in which it was challenged rather than any reasonable comparison to other Japanese titles.

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