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September 5, 2012

Manly Songs: I’ll Make a Man Out of You

…Really?  Do I really need to say anything?

All right.  Let’s pretend you’ve never heard this song.  If you weren’t a child of the nineties (or you childhood was just kind of blah in general), then that’s possible.  And let’s pretend you don’t know which movie the song is from -- also possible if you have an aversion to movies in general…and happiness.  And let’s pretend you don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet.  No Facebook, no Twitter, nothing; while we’re at it, let’s assume that you’ve never watched The Disney Channel, ABC Family, ABC whenever they show certain movies, Toon Disney (or whatever it’s called now), certain movie channels on extended cable, have no contact with anyone who is either a child of the nineties or has access to all of those things, and have an unspoken ban against anything related to China in your home.  Fair enough.  I’m not here to judge.

Even with all that in mind -- even with a hypothetical embargo against any number of informative outlets -- there really is nothing more I need to say about this song.  I could end this post right now without even embedding the video, based solely on the title and an implication of “take my word for it.”  In fact, I’m probably doing you a service.  If you have heard the song, you know that there’s no need for words explaining why it’s manly.  If you haven’t heard the song, then even the slightest dosage -- even a half-second of the chorus -- is lethal.

Still, I suppose I wouldn’t be much of a webmaster if I didn’t entertain the thought and threaten my readership’s well being.

*sigh* All right.  Let's get down to business.

Song: I’ll Make a Man Out of You
Composer: Matthew Wilder
Lyrics: David Zippel
Artist: Donny Osmond
Year: 1998

Song recommended by: Joey Harpel of [Insert Title]

This song is…I mean…well, it’s…look, just listen.  Just…listen.

You know what?  Frankly, I am flabbergasted that this song was featured in a Disney movie, of all things.  I know Disney can be pretty dark and horrifying at times, and deep as well, but manly?  This, from a company whose major export is pretty princesses?  (I guess to be fair, there IS a precedent…)

In any case, there’s a certain complexity to this song.  It’s manly in its own right, but it’s inexorably linked with Mulan and the scene therein.  So while it’s possible to analyze the song based on its own merits (lyrics and notes and all that), it’s also unfair to do so without taking the ancient Chinese training montage into consideration.  So I’m going to go ahead and bleed them into one another.

First of all, this song is as much a primer on how to be a man as it is a showcase of true manhood; the one doing most of the singing -- outside of a few decidedly unmanly lines from the rest of the case -- is Shang.  And he spends most of the song being damn near superhuman; he’s cut, he’s handsome, he’s got incredible strength, speed, endurance, and reflexes, he can vault over a whole damn group of trainees, and he can do it all while waxing philosophical through song.  Seriously; at 2:26 there’s a strong implication that he’s been singing at the troops for days.  That’s certainly one way to get the infantry fired up.

Shang is something that the troops can all aspire to; it goes far beyond just turning Mulan from a failed marriage candidate into a rough-and-ready warrior.  He is the epitome of human potential, and he wants to pass on that knowledge to his men.  He wants them to better themselves, if not for the safety of China and their families, then for their own pride and honor.  He can sense the untapped and uncultured ability to ascend inside each of his troops, and he’ll pound that ability out of them if he has to…but in the interest of time he’d rather resort to song:

Tranquil as a forest
But on fire within
Once you find your center
you are sure to win
You're a spineless, pale
pathetic lot
And you haven't got a clue
Somehow I'll make a man
out of you

In spite of that, there’s a sense of desperation and even defeat to Shang’s song.  When he starts out, he says “Mister, I’ll make a man out of you,” because he’s damn sure he can.  Then it’s “Somehow I’ll make a man out of you,” and ultimately it turns into “How could I make a man out of you?”  He knows that as good as he is, he can’t win the battle on his own; he needs soldiers as good or even better than he is to defeat the Huns.  But Mulan’s failures and the others’ failures go beyond just putting their homes in danger; they highlight Shang’s failures as a leader, and you can see him questioning himself and the war effort at 2:04.  “What if…what if I can’t make a man out of them?” he asks with a despondent sigh, just before shedding a single moonlit tear.

Thankfully, he’s not alone. 

Seeing as how the movie is called Mulan and not Shang, Mulan ends up being the lynchpin to the army’s evolution.  She starts off as the resident punching bag and screw-up for an inordinate amount of time, and you can practically taste her spirit breaking in two at 2:20.  (It tastes like licorice, as all failures do.)  But in spite of that, and in spite of Shang telling her to pack it up and head home, she does what no one else could: she gets the arrow from the top of the tree trunk.  With that decisive motion, she does more than just earn respect; she reinvigorates the spirit of herself, the troops, and even Shang, compelling them to go forward with renewed passion in their training.

In a way, Mulan is manly (and becomes manly) because she doesn’t start out manly -- and it’s because of it that she manages to do what Shang can’t.  As strong and as disciplined as Shang is, his strength has made him distant; he’s far-removed from the capabilities of the average man.  Can they reach their full potential?  No doubt.  Will they?  Not with Shang’s training alone.  His answer to a lack of troop morale would probably be “shut the hell up and go run a mile.”  Not exactly a motivational speaker.  But Mulan’s actions cement the teachings that Shang tried yet failed to get across; hard work, determination, and zeal can turn anyone from a zero into a hero.  But there was an additional point that Mulan taught while Shang didn’t: in order to become strong, you have to understand weakness.  You have to know how to push yourself, and why you should push yourself.  Adversity builds character -- and with it, mental as well as physical fortitude.

It all goes back to the song itself.  Consider the (awesome) chorus:

(Be a man)
We must be swift as
the coursing river
(Be a man)
With all the force
of a great typhoon
(Be a man)
With all the strength
of a raging fire
Mysterious as the
dark side of the moon      

The reason this song is so infectious, people remember it so well in spite of it being more than a decade old, and that a YouTube video of it can have over twenty-four million views, is because at its core it’s showing and telling you how to be a man.  The additional voices chant “be a man” in no uncertain terms, so that there’s ZERO confusion as to what you should be doing.  Shang’s teachings flow through, commanding you to evolve and make its brazen descriptions into truth.  You’ve seen what Mulan had to go through, and how she transformed tribulations into triumph; you know that you can do the same.  And as the music swells and the brass swells and the strings cry out, you feel the power.  You internalize it.  You feel like you, too, can climb impossible heights, even with twin weights tugging you to the earth and hoping to have you revel in failure.  But you don’t.  You get back up.  You put your body and mind to the test, and come out stronger because of it.  You feel yourself becoming swifter, more forceful, stronger, and even more mysterious.  Shang, and Mulan, and all of Disney-animated China wants you to be a man.  And little by little, just by listening to that song, you feel yourself making the strides.

I shouldn’t have to say anything else, but in case there’s someone who zoned out for the past fourteen hundred words, here it is:

Mulan:  proof that you don’t need a wang to be a man.

Don’t forget to check out [Insert Title]!  It’s just as manly as Eddie Murphy playing a tiny dragon!

Do you have a manly song to recommend?  Then you, too, can have your suggestion turned into a full-fledged post!  Just leave a comment naming a song (limit one song per comment), and your song will be analyzed -- and if you have a blog or other net-haven, you’ll be suitably honored.  So get to it; feel the rush of testosterone, and help make THE MANLIEST PLAYLIST IN THE UNIVERSE!


  1. Son of a...you're having problems, too? This is starting to tick me off -- I would've figured that Disqus would make commenting easier for everybody, but there have been more than a number of quirks. I'll have to look into the matter soon. (The most advice I can give is to not be logged into anything else, like Facebook or Twitter, when trying to comment -- though I suspect that's not much of a solution at all.)

    But that aside, I'm glad you actually got to comment. I was starting to worry that nobody would post any video game-related songs -- but it's nice to know that SOMEBODY pulled through. And Jin's theme...an interesting choice, indeed. I wouldn't have expected that one, given that he was my brother's character (and back in the day he was opposed to the concept of blocking, so his characters didn't usually stay on-screen for long). Buuuuuuuuuut if you suggest that it's manly, then I've no reason to doubt you.

    I'll gladly add it to the list of future repository posts. Till next time then, stay MANLY AND COOL.

  2. That is a very interesting exposé on Mulan and the message of the song. You could teach me a lot on symbolism and metaphors. I am sorry my post discouraged you, I meant the exact opposite. I honestly believe you are a great writer and as long as you keep on fighting for your words...I can't see why you might need to wait 5 years (like Agatha Christie) to publish. This is my honest opinion as a reader...believe it or not....And my advice is...submit submit submit...until your fingers crack... Kisses and good luck

  3. To elaborate. Jin is an all or nothing character. All of his moves are basically Fierce / Roundhouse strikes that shatter houses. His balls to the wall approach is perfectly complimented by summoning a Giant Ass Robot to punch you in the face, a throw that drags you around all four corners of the screen (While on fire), arming himself with localize explosives that turns his clothing into SHRAPNEL, If left unattended with his taunt he will catch on fire with proper button mashing (and you can hit your opponent with it!), Riddling his opponent with Vulcan Rounds and the fact he HAS NO INDOOR VOICE. Seriously, this guy loves his exclamation points.

    But, the culmination of this lies in his music. Because in Marvel vs. Capcom he was born to be your anchor. If his partner he comes in angry. You do not like Jin when he is angry. It's something I was glad they brought back in MVC3. There's no better motivation to making a comeback while hearing your character's theme blasting. (Also being denied this is a key reason Phoenix Wright in MVC3 is so awesome. Turnabout hogs the music even when he tags out!)

    Jin's theme, with it's Fanfare start captures the essence of this perfectly. Especially since said fanfare heralds his super armor and attack power boost he gets when his partner is taking a dirt nap. It managed to strike fear in your opponent before you can shout "BRODIA!"

  4. By the golden hair of Gullinbursti! Why in the world did Capcom leave Jin off the list for MvC3? I mean, I know they say Nova hits like a grown-ass man, but I wouldn't mind playing as a BAD-ass man. He could have been a definitive answer to Captain Falcon -- but, alas, missed opportunities...

    And yes, getting Wright into Turnabout Mode always puts a smile on my face. Doubly so when I get him powered up, and tag out into another character (Captain America or Haggar, usually) so that my opponent has something very pleasant to look forward to...assuming they get past Haggar or Cap.

  5. I'll agree with you about how manly this song is. In fact I actually like ALL the music in Mulan.

  6. Ah, so I take it you're a fan of "Honor to Us All"?


    Bam! Now that's what I call general haberdashery!