Last time, we explored the ins and outs of three classic manga visual gags: sweat drops, sprouting animal ears, and growing mushrooms on one’s head. Today, we’ll be tackling the origins and cultural significance of another batch of well-known Japanese jokes, as well as highlighting our favorite examples of each one. If you’ve ever wondered why manga characters get bloody noses from seeing something sexy or rocket off into the sky with a twinkle when punched, we’re here to put those wonders to rest. Let’s get started!
Nosebleed of Arousal
Originating as an old wives’ tale about sexual arousal leading to dangerous changes in blood pressure, the gushing nosebleed has become a ubiquitous feature of fanservice manga and anime. It can range from a small trickle to a full on geyser of blood, but the cause is always the same – something sexy is going on right in front of the character’s face.
Pretty much any manga with ecchi elements features this gag, but some characters can harness the power of the nosebleed for their own devices. Yamcha uses Master Roshi’s profuse nosebleeds to win a tournament battle in the original Dragon Ball by ripping off Bulma’s top while Roshi is standing in front of his invisible opponent. And Kakuka of Shin Koihime Musou has such frequent and exaggerated nosebleeds that she can use them as weapons. A little unorthodox, but we certainly admire the creativity.
Souls Escaping the Body
In the Shinto religion, souls aren’t inherent in humans—they “inhale” divinity from the outside, so steps must be taken to ensure that the soul doesn’t escape the body. So it makes perfect sense that when a manga character is so comically shocked or injured that they feel just about dead, their soul trails out of their mouth.
Mutsumi from Love Hina and Kon from Bleach do this so often that it becomes a running gag, and ghost girl Oshizu from To Love-Ru literally escapes from her artificial body when sufficiently surprised. But we especially love this joke in Fullmetal Alchemist, when Winry whacks Ed with a wrench so hard that his soul comes out of his mouth. Al, who is actually a soul bonded to a suit of armor, freaks out and grabs it, yelling, “I’ve got your soul, brother!”
Twinkle in the Sky
To emphasize an incredibly strong attack, manga authors might show the recipient of said attack rocketing off into the sky and disappearing with a twinkle. Surprisingly, this gag originates from World War II—Japanese gunners on naval ships were trained to watch for an approaching dive-bomber’s gleaming canopy, which would appear as a faint twinkle in the skyline.
Fairy Tail and Fushigi Yuugi make frequent use of the twinkle in the sky, and it’s used to emphasize particularly awesome beatdowns in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, My Hero Academia, and Fist of the North Star (where Kenshiro kicked a guy in the balls so hard that he flew off into space). But, of course, the most famous version of this manga joke actually comes from the Pokémon anime—it looks like Team Rocket’s blasting off again!
Even though we Westerners didn’t grow up naturally understanding these gags as easily as those from our own culture, we’ve absorbed them over time and even incorporated some of our favorites into Japanese-influenced Western media (such as nosebleeds in The Loud House). Humor truly can transcend culture!
What did you think of our list? What are your favorite manga visual gags? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to come back next time when we explore more classic manga visual gags for your enjoyment. Thanks for reading!
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