The Friendly Ones — Hatsukoi Zombie

HATSUKOI ZOMBIE/ First Love Zombie
Comedy, Ecchi, Gender Bender, Romance, School Life, Shounen
Minenami Ryou (2015 – )

Warning: Spoilers ensue. Also blog stuff and why? why? why?

For those of you who have dropped by looking for a simple review of Hatsukoi/ First Love Zombie, I should attend to the preliminaries and warn you about what goes on here. It is good, go read it. Need a summary? The TV tropes page is useful:[http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/HatsukoiZombie]. I like the clean drawing style and that the storyline pacing keeps up with the ridiculous premise. It is also a fan-service mess penned for young guys who like exaggerated drawings of healthy, curvy and busty high school girls and a brilliantly contrived piece of foolishness designed to provide endless opportunities for somewhat plot-justified ecchi cheese dropped on top of a Shakespearian gender-bendery love comedy. Good wholesome fun and a competent teen-age love triangle all in one. It is drawn by Minenami Ryou — his newest series after the rather dire seinen Himegoto-Juukyuusai no Seifuku — and has been running in the weekly Shonen Sunday magazine since November 2015. There are somewhere around 90 chapters of it out so far; it appears to be durable enough of a concept.

Now for what this blog essay is going to grind on (and on) about: longtime readers will note that I stray into the sexuality and gender stuff, as portrayed in manga and anime. I blame Kio Shimoku and the Genshiken, but until I see if Kio-sensei is planning to level up on Spotted Flower (the somewhat less than a decade later, somewhat followup with characters that sure look like Genshiken alumni), I continue to cast about for odd things to snag and do kitchen sink something-that-might-look-like-sexuality-and-gender-studies on manga and anime, to; from the point of view of a middle-aged, het euroethnic guy.

Why?

Why indeed? Why did Kio Shimoku, whose nom-de-plume supposedly conceals a married Japanese guy, re-start his tale of a university otaku club only to stuff it with fujoshi and one crossdressing boy who wanted to be a fujoshi? And why did he crib and simplify all manner of academic theorising about the wayward hearts of otaku, fujoshi and minority gender and sexuality expressions, in Japan circa 2002-2006 to do so?

I stole the tagline conceit of this blog from Jean Baudrillard’s The Mirror of Production (which you don’t have to read to get any of this). The title conceit is somewhat more complicated. The method is akin to literary reviews, bad sociology, some of the useful bits of “critical theory” and a touch of post-lacanian conceptual jiu-jitsu that Zizek sometimes does well and that he swiped from Jimbo when the latter was in full Nihilist Spasm poetic mode. While I try not to be ignorant about real-life gay guys and lesbian women, as well as queer, non-binary, trans and gender-fluid folks, beyond a few posts noting resources and perennial cautions that there are real folks out there that are concerned, I stick to the way manga, anime and game production — aimed as it is at a “majority audience”, can’t stop making up distorted reflections of LGBTQIA, ect., people.

I wonder why “we” need to do this?

For one thing “we” are incorrigible kleptomaniacs. High modernist cultures are like graduate thesis advisors; they grab any shiny new thing they come across. Good ones give credit. Bad ones steal and try to cover their tracks, often by pissing on who and what they swiped from. For how to do this in a self-aware manner, search this blog for Adrian Piper and read those posts later. I have a background in sociology and then bureaucracies and cities and policy stuff about them. Then I went to art school because I could and it was a blast – due to having the good fortune of being in the right country, during the right recession. The whole postmodern thing was just hitting the fan back then but the neat thing about the way a somewhat competent, if theoretically inclined art programme handles that stuff is that it doesn’t really take any of it seriously. It only grabs what it can use to make something, presumably “art”, with. “Uhuh, Foucault, yadda yadda yadda, every time I try to make something using his shit I get another useless Panopticon ref“. Your mileage of course, may vary. Misunderstanding on purpose is how sausage gets made. Details available at your discretion.

I immediately get some of why the straight boys and girls are dreaming in queer, beyond any interest we might have in satisfying our immediate curiosities (they’re looking in the wrong place, Indy…) Now that a few of the better neighborhoods in the global village are getting somewhat less barbaric, we might soon see less fantastic shadows and more interesting, new and authentic points of view that ‘we’ can misunderstand and try to squeeze some value-added out of. Better than spending all night on nasty little misogynist and racist patches of the web until you go paranoid and convince yourself to hysterically lose your job at Google by penning a manifesto that “proves” that “those people”, shit, “all people not exactly like meeeeeeee can’t do Google stuff. It’s a Conspiracy! Lizard Men! High paying job bye-bye. “I would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling Social Justice Warriors!” This is not a new affliction: one of the dudes who helped invent the transistor went all squirrelly that way 70 years ago. As they used to say in the ‘hood; ‘watch your head’.

Or was it ‘always do the right thing’?

Meanwhile, it is glaringly obvious that when the shadow of queer falls on a character in a “mainstream” narrative, it is there for a reason; for a use. And we are well beyond needing to dig out such for dumb scary villain roles. Nope, we need someone to “highlight the contradictions” and/or do something that we can’t or wouldn’t — beyond any bodies getting tangled up in new and interesting ways. Finally “we” will keep using these shadows because perhaps, maybe, somehow, we can find stories that offer new ideas as to how two people can put up with each other beyond being forced to do so by custom and law.

“The last violence we impose upon the queer of our straight imaginations is the burden of our hopes.”

We have these needs. We wont stop.

It’s been six years since I started this blog. It has been a lot of fun and I have at the very least learned enough to venture a few opinions, or maybe mansplain to myself and whoever cares to read this stuff, why I like some things and really loathe others. Some academic types call this deep reading. I think of it as paying attention or even being a fan. And it remains far more fun than detective novels or politics. No one gets killed, most of the time. The worst that happens is that I stumble upon some interesting research being done by gay, lesbian, queer researchers and geek out on it and go all off-topic on their interests with my het-ish concerns. So far the overwhelming majority of these researchers have been patient and gracious when I kibbitz, even as they try to figure out what possible interest I would have in, for example 1970-1980’s patterns of ‘types’ among patrons of Tokyo gay bars (short answer: I’m guessing early fujoshi went on a verisimilitude hunt for their stories and organising schemas are useful when you need to be able to locate your doujin in big thicky Comiket catalogs).

If Kio Shimoku can grab such research to whomp up a university fujoshi social, why can’t I do so to understand his, and similar works?

Odd hobbies are a thing in manga and anime… neh?

Enough of this; time to tear into First Love Zombies or “Psychic manifestations of high school guys’ first loves and how they can really cause grief for anyone who can see them.”

1) They are distracting
2) They are embarrassing
3) You now half-remember her
4) Everyone at school thinks you are gay
5) Your manifestation is now self-aware, sentient and will watch you fap, so you can’t.
6) You have to learn how to understand complex interpersonal human dynamics surrounding teen crushes and you are a 15 year old guy. Guys are not supposed to have to do that kind of bucket work!
7) Your one childhood friend who you remember as a girl is a guy. He hates your guts.
8) Your other childhood friend, (you just noticed) is HAWT and she might like you but with these damn things floating around, you be SOL.
9) The wound on your forehead keeps re-opening and bleeding down your face.

10) Ha Ha Ha. Sucks to be you.

A few questions: why rig the story so that the main character Tarou Kurume gets to be misunderstood as the school’s gay guy? Why are there absolutely no floaty beefcake guy ghosts among all the cheesecake girl ghosts? This is statistically impossible. At least the school is an idealised high school romcom bastion of open-minded good behavior. Perhaps it is because Tarou got beaned on the forehead and has been acting not-quite-himself in other ways; it might too nasty to drop a full load of ijime on him. As for the ‘Ewwwwww, don’t come onto me’ thing; he does it so poorly that he isn’t considered a threat. Besides, Ibusuki Ririto is kind of bishie and one could understand why one would, if one was going to go that way…

Next question: Isn’t it a bit unfair, or at least sloppy to do gay — or some manner of ‘queer’ — in such a slipshod fashion? This is not a simple transposition of the BL “I’m not gay, it’s only you“. This is a confused, naive male audience view of “the gay”: attracted to a bishie guy, so one wishes he was a girl. Perhaps dressing as one would be sufficient? This sounds like a josou game but seems to be a “thing”; a popular subset of the imagining and negotiation with same-sex attraction in Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture narratives. One would need a lot more sociology to see if and how it maps to current and historical IRL practice. [1]  Of course the story also gets around this, because…

Time for the standard caveats. This will probably be annoying to some real-world gay readers but at least it is only on the level of an old-school crossdressing romantic farce. Besides, it is needed as a setup for the next plot trick.

Why does the “amazing new power with a serious drawback” almost immediately trigger the “mistaken for gay” and…

Why does the character need conditions one and two to get dragged into becoming the school’s love advice expert?

Well, Duh!

The mangaka could instead have done something equally foolish with an isekai setup, wherein the hapless protrag fell into a video game that then transported him to a fantasy world full of scantily clad girls where he has to defeat the demon king…

…By solving teenage love problems at a magic high school/ academy for young heroes…

Urrrrrr, maybe that wouldn’t work. And this stinker’s author would probably end up make the hypothetical groaner character mistaken-for-gay again anyhoo.

See what I mean about the very heterosexual story finding a cut-n-paste use for the shadow of gay? So what if two levels of fakee instead of one are applied to the character design? Maybe three… who’s counting? Must get the main character to solve relationship problems in the process of trying to unravel his own.

It gets more convoluted: the guy who Tarou-kun thought was his kindergarten first love girl, really is a girl who is crossdressing as a guy because she has the same damn curse/ super-power, has had to live through the hell of it for ten years and blames him for it big time. The last thing she is going to do is reveal to him that he (she) is really a girl. Ibusuki-now-kun does boy to avoid having to see cheesy cringe-inducing fantasy versions of her girl-self that would be created if she went around in her girl state. No wait; the-fiend-responsible-for-this-curse has one floating above him; it clearly is modelled on “her”, she talks and is self-aware and she even has a bigger bust than the original. Goddammitalltohell! The idiot even copped a feel in the dark and still thinks that Ibusuki just has chubby man-boob baby fat. Thefoolmustdiepainfully!

Also: boobage as plot device.

This convoluted setup was needed so that slacker everydude high school guy can be forced into playing boy relationship detective. Normally one would need an eroge or dating sim to get a shonen manga (/anime) guy to give a flying squirrel about all that complex can’t/ don’t even wanna try feelings stuff — at least in a game it is systematized and rule-bound. You can grind at it and there are save-points. We need this bullshit setup to solve the shonen/ shoujo problem. Wonder what manner of contrivance would be needed to get a more adult male character story to play with the kind of emotional complexity and painful relationship angst that is routinely rolled out in josei mags?

I recently read a josei manga by the mangaka who does a lot of the covers for Rakuen Le Paradis. Said covers by the way are uniformly hawt as hell. It might have had a guy main character but the ‘Femme Fatale‘ he was fixated on drove him so far around the bend to next Sunday that it was hard to follow. Induced headache. Dude, you have a crush. Don’t over think too much. Just tell her and be there. She’ll do the deciding. You keep third and fourth guessing her while she of course is doing the same. And don’t tell me that the primary audience for this thing are dating-confused twenty-something guys.

Of course Tarou-kun normally wouldn’t bother with anything so confusing — in fact he protests and drags his heels at every opportunity — but those psychic apparitions can go bad and cause real-world harm, so he keeps finding himself having to help, otherwise someone is going to mysteriously trip out of a third-floor window.

And now a complete side excursion that is only slightly related to Tarou-kun’s concussion, confusion, troublesome psychic power and turning him mistaken-for-gay so that he can become the school’s lurv expert.

Time to run this essay off the road:

Over at the (famous and respected) long-running blog on all things Yuri, Okazu’s [okazu.yuricon.com] Erica Friedman recently published a very fine survey of the cliché/ trope of the “mentally ill” lesbian character. “A Survey of Lesbianism and Mental Instability in Yuri” (August 28th, 2017) [http://okazu.yuricon.com/2017/08/28/a-survey-of-lesbianism-and-mental-instability-in-yuri/] Not real-life lesbians as (or as represented as) pathology/ pathologized. Not about similar pathologizing traditions in lurid North American pulp magazines, not about lesbian activism in Japan and not about how to brew your own farm sake:

Characters
in
Yuri
Manga
(and anime)

It is a finely crafted presentation that flows naturally using notable manga (and anime) examples from the early 70’s on up to current practice. Of note is how Friedman advances the argument that the early juxtaposition of mental instability with same-sex desire in characters has slowly given way to the depiction of lesbianism as identity, with its recognition and acceptance a balm to the souls of characters who had previously suffered trauma — often at the hands of patriarchal authority figures. [2]

Friedman has previously written other examinations, notably on the trope of two young women first experiencing attraction for each other — what she has christened Story A — in her 40 Years of the Same Damn Story essays [Pt.1: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/04/overthinking-things-04032011/  Pt. 2: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/05/21840/]. I may be mistaken, but I also recall the subject of why lesbian couples kept meeting unfortunate ends (at least until 2007?) had also been examined by her, even as I believe V. Maser went into greater detail on this, as well. Since Erica Friedman knows yuri and knows how it intersects with, but is not anywhere close to a direct mapping of any IRL “lesbianism”; she sticks to THE STORIES. As cliché. As trope. As an exercise in literary/ manga/ moving pictures/ anime criticism while briefly noting historical trends for clues as to why anyone would do such a thing. Note the small changes in the iterations of the form, suggesting evolution in the trope. End of presentation. Any questions?

Cue confusion from the peanut gallery.

Before we consider trying to expand the frame of discussion, asking for footnotes, further examples, prequel studies and a multi-part series considering all the possible tangents from the subject at hand, including real-life spill-over, ethnology and full societal social anthropology, a simple guy like me must stop and ask myself:

Did Jim Morrison really have a massive Daddy-Mommy complex?

Twitter poll:

() Oh Yes, just like Mamet
() No, he got high and went all hacky-copy-pasta.
() Huh? Was he in Nickelback? Song sucks.

Add one more sin to the pile to be layed at the altar of the demon bones of Dr. Freud.[3] Save a bit for Krafft-Ebing too.

Modern medical research is done with record-keeping, coding, statistics and clinical trials. Shoddy pop psychology however remains a treasure trove for writers who need a quick and dirty “just-so” hook to hang a character design on. Shoddy pop psychologizing is also dangerous, as are most mythologies and just-so stories. Governments have routinely grabbed such and used them to push any number of nasty agendas. Then they sit back and do nothing to correct past vicious impositions of such because persistent low levels of discrimination and infighting among the plebs keep the bolshies from getting too many seats in the Diet and demanding crazy things like sensible work hours, living wages and affordable daycare spaces, rather than continuing old-boy cronyism.

I immediately geeked out on Friedman’s essay and dashed off a late-night email, offering excerpt quotes and a link to a neato essay from the early 90’s that I found while researching Edogawa Ranpo lore  [https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/your-own-private-game-of-laplace/]. Friedman was gracious in her reply, encouraging me to pursue some of these lines of enquiry myself.

Time to put effort rather than foot where mouth is:

The effect I found fascinating was the possibility of further examination of what happened with the official Japanese adoption of certain late 19th century “western” ideas about sexuality that I am sure must have affected the Japanese stereotyping of lesbian desire, along with gay male desire from the 1920’s on through the early 1960’s.

A recap on the earlier Laplace piece: something always felt a bit ‘queer’ about Japan’s Sherlock Holmes, for good reason. Edogawa Ranpo learned that his detective mysteries sold really well when they were situated in a pervy, pathologized fantasy re-imagining of the ‘floating world”. He didn’t invent it; it already existed in lurid, sensational pulp magazines that hid their fetishization of porny deviance behind quasi-pop-scientific examination (much like the western practice of hiding nekkid lady pictures in Nudist Life magazines) but he sure glommed onto it. There were all kinds of these Ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) mags and Rampo earned his living writing true crime detective stories for them, even as when these were later republished he would be acknowledged as Japan’s answer to Conan Doyle. He also had a friend, an amateur ethnologist and historian who was really annoyed at the way furreign 19th century quack-medical ideas of mostly male same-sex desire were over-writing Japan’s history and traditions surrounding that part of the human experience. Whether Jun-ichi Iwata himself was gay and/or whether Rampo was is besides the point. Iwata’s life research project was pure cultural nationalist reclaiming of the gay as Nihon Jinron Bunka and so he set out to make the ultimate bibliography of all historical literary mentions of Japanese same-sex desire. The big complaint against same-sex desire among Japanese reactionaries is that it was and remains “un-natural”. Iwata sought to show that it is as natural as any other human behavior and that it was always part of Japanese life.

Here’s where it gets interesting: He couldn’t get it published in a scientific journal! There was the militarist police state thing in the 1930’s and then the war started… So buddy Rampo got the first bits of it published in some of those psychologized pulp fiction mags! And after Iwata died his friend Rampo continued to get the rest published as he could, as tribute to his friend’s life work. It was as if Masters and Johnson failed to find any place to publish but Playboy Magazine and then Playboy backed out and it all ended up in something like True Manly Man’s Adventure Man’s Magazine.

Better researchers had already pointed this effect out. See the quotes and citations in the Laplace post. I just thought this quirk of the Japanese 20th century approach to the study of human sexuality needed a quick ‘n dirty, perhaps a tad too snarky Cliff Notes tour, as well as bringing some disparate sources together for the laity. The Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace anime needed context. Laplace is still massively weird; especially how it works overtime to erase the well-known homoerotic subtext in Ranpo lore, turning all the pervert criminals into very, very heterosexual (over-) enthusiastic perverts but then jamming a BL reading onto the friendship between two members of the Baker Street Irregulars ooops: Boys’ Detective Club.

Needless to say this entire shambles is about guys.

What about women who happened to like other women? If there was an urge to lump lesbians together/ explain lesbian desire with (as they used to say in neolithic sociology classes) “deviance” in the imagination of the Japanese public, the Ero-guro and those weird little pulp hentai (literally; strange) magazines would be where this trope would hide for all those years between the 1920’s Flower Stories and the re-emergence of the “lesbian” character in early 1970’s shoujo manga.

One more time: Hentai does not literally mean smutty or dirty or lewd in Japanese. It means strange. Abnormal. Its milder cousin Ecchi literally means “Somewhat “H”(for Hentai)-ish” or “(mildly) strange-like/ish“. The legacy of pathologization of minority sexuality and gender expression is pernicious.

My chance of doing any significant primary research on any of this is on par with my chances for scoring a free Vip tour of the International Space Station but I’ll bet a small box of donuts that something must be hiding there. I can smell it!

Crap! I’m mansplaining (again). Anyone who has researched the field knows this stuff; especially if they have skin in the game. I bet some mighty powerful researchers in Japan are already on the case.

I have a whole boat-load of other interesting notions for trope research. I will stay away from BL; I’d be out of my depth — besides Nagaike did excellent groundwork on this with her “Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others:
Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga” essay [http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue20/nagaike.htm] — the structure is easily adaptable. In Yuri however, I wish I knew more of the classics. The rich older role model who may (or may not) be one member of a beta couple needs a survey. It would be interesting to watch as she/they evolved. Perhaps she has to be teased apart from the beta couple trope itself into two separate character trope categories? Her opposite/ opposites; the wild child/ war child/ child of the streets. Being poor is almost as unfortunate (and useful) for character design as  mental instability, or unbelievably wealth.

All are marked, even multiply marked as living outside of mandated social roles and behaviors — which is why we keep making up slipshod tales with them. And since they are also outside of social mores and modes of behavior, they can do things. What else? Most 20th century pop psychology maps reality about as well as political commentary on Fox News. It might be better to now go easy on all the sexuality and gender stuff when designing outsider charas but bitten by a radioactive spider is already taken.[4]

Back to the “I’m not gay, it’s only my childhood girlfriend who turned out to be a guy (only he hates me now and I don’t know that he is really a she)” hero of First Love Fanservice Apparitions, Tarou Kurume. His whole class thinks he is gay. It is too complicated to explain otherwise and he wonders if perhaps he might be; at least for Ririto Ibusuki. And if everyone thinks he is gay, it will take a lot of pressure off him because this is an ideal manga high school and no one bullies gay people and besides he can’t deal with love and attraction right now because he is too distracted by all the cringe-inducing cheesecake love-ghosts floating above the heads of all the guys in class – including his own ghost, Eve. The only person who is really left out by all this is his other childhood friend Mei Ebino; an incredibly beautiful, tall and buxom sports girl who is slowly developing feelings for him and wishes he would notice her. (He has, but he also knows that his other friend has a severe crush on her – It’s complicated!)

Being “the gay guy” has its advantages. None of the girls consider him a perv like the other guys — at least in their direction. The guys have settled on the idea that he is only interested in one particular guy (who despises him) and he gets to avoid all manner of messy jealousies and puppy-love triangles. Also, to his classmates he seems uncharacteristically (for a guy) insightful about everyone else’s crushes (he can’t help it – they float over the guys’ heads) and has therefore become the class “love expert” who can solve everyone’s teen-age heart breaks and longings. Solve is a bit of a misunderstanding, he exorcises; the ghosts can go bad and cause real-world harm and Tarou can’t sit back and let it happen. Eve won’t let him.

Clearly the whole puberty thing is just a trail of thorns and tears. Tarou can’t even take solitary enjoyment in porn mags because Eve is always there to make cutesy comments, she talks to him, incessantly! Porn mags? What kind of porn mags? He already gets to see what all the other guys’ fantasies looks like. All the guys in his class. Floating above their heads. Every day.

Cringe!

This has got to be one of the most ingenious ways of mixing an excuse for ZOMG overload with embarrassing laughs over adolescent male discomfort with desire ever devised. Kudos to the mangaka!

Then add a not-so much love triangle between him, Ibusuki and Ebino-chan. Then add Ibusuki’s crossdressed-as-a-girl-child-for-family circumstances cover story and why she hates him: he ‘contaminated’ her with the curse, unconsciously made up cheesecake Eve and the cursed ability was instrumental in breaking up her family — her father is a flake and ran off after his first love (quel disaster!). Therefore everything is all Tarou’s fault.

Ha Ha Ha.

Of note is the plot conflation of being able to read subtle interpersonal clues and notice other people’s desires as a “super power” and/or “curse” for a “normal” heterosexual young male chara. Cartoon guys are not supposed to have or want to have a clue — let alone publicly admit to having a clue about such things. Emotional bucket work is women’s work. Emotional complexity the fabric of their recreational fictions. Exceptions to this rule are a marker of “the other”; often the minority sexuality and/or gender-expressing male, who by nature of their position outside of the social norm is attuned to such patterns, even beyond the normal abilities of conforming women members. At least, like the two-souled indigenous-culture shaman or Thai transperson they are worth consulting for a second opinion.

I will not go all J.G. Frazer here. On Shinto, nope…

Yet desire and identity are irresistible subjects to question and play with. And nothing highlights the contradictions like a character that doesn’t fit the authorised specs. Take these away and there is nothing left but fighting, money, machines and freezing to death on the top of a mountain. Unfortunately, being creative is hard, low paying work and we are, all of us rather lazy when it comes to constructing and/or accepting characters and fleshing out (/buying into) their motivations.

One axis of this mess is how an author needs a convincing excuse for a character that is “the other” in order to give the character a measure of freedom and agency, as well as an outsider vantage point towards social structures.

Another axis runs the length of the question as to why all manner of people who are not attracted to the folks that their fave characters are attracted to will continue to need to make up far-fetched shadows of real minority sexualities and gender expressions. Even if we do get a tale spun by an authentic LGBTQ author, it will still have to pander to majority clichés or, at least until recently settle for very limited publication runs. There are too many of us riajuu underfoot; companies want our patronage.

If you wade into ethnicities, race and colonialism, we also all go wild making up (or supporting) exotic “others” as charas to fetishize too. Let’s not go there right now, except to mention that part of why the weeb legions of the west are so geeked on Japan is that we watch the Japanese reader/ viewer doing it back to us. And they do it in all kinds of interesting yet somewhat disturbing ways, which is an entire new experience! (again: Adrian Piper). Such illusions remain surprisingly resistant to disruption. At their simplest, they reinforce the useful delusion that the greatest threat to our well-being lies outside, rather than within our own socials.

Thank Ghu these aren’t floating around above our heads. Wouldn’t that would make for one nasty manga…

How about a preliminary, if transactional schema:

Complete alien/ THREAT => opponent/ threat => comic relief/ not a threat => faces challenges poorly because of X/ not a direct threat but disconcerting => faces challenges and surmounts them once realises that X is their strength/ not a threat, abstract moral example => different point of view/ not a threat, might be useful => interesting friend/ valuable as an ally.

I wish they would go more into Aeschylus’s The Friendly Ones when they teach the Merchant of Venice in high school. Shakey dumbed Shylock down wayyyyy too much for the cheap seats. Of course the well-educated caught the reference to the earlier classical play. Even rich bigots need good accountants.

Ceremonial robes of citizenship for the useful ones.

Being able to process and cope with complex interpersonal emotional situations is not a shonen lead chara thing. Have I mentioned that I cannot get into Evangelion because having a teen boy shit-fit-freak-out in order to power up a giant robot is just too far around the bend for me to care about — even as it is posited as the “correct” shonen response to emotional turmoil. Part of the charm of Koyomi Araragi’s harem in the Monogatari franchise is that all the emotional problems that beset its good-looking young women turn into physical supernatural manifestations that, while dangerous can be “purged” by contest (mostly finished by the ruined mini-vampire) or trickery. Or you can just let the girls bat you around until they get bored and work it out themselves.

If you have an insightful, resourceful teenage guy character who can understand and resolve complex interpersonal conflicts and who does not have a hidden super-power or is not marked as having queer desires and/or gender expressions, then he has to be a depressed, self loathing hater of all humanity; as in “My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected“. The outsider vantage point necessary for insight and agency. Come to think of it, Araragi-kun had a touch of this too before he met his vampire. His “bad uncle” Kaiki is even worse.

One other hole in the plot structure: why does a girl need the ability to see such apparitions, when she would “normally” absorb the gender-marked ability to read all manner of complex emotional interpersonal dynamics in the process of socializing into her role as a woman in society? Ibusuki was “contaminated” by an ‘abnormal’ male power, is wealthy and therefore somewhat isolated from mainstream socialization pressures and adopted male presentation as an interim solution to her affliction, thus probably dooming herself to her continued condition. Yikes! Another heavy-handed just-so story sneaks into the tale to do some gender-role policing!

Beyond all these fantasies lies the last boss of reality; the insurmountable fact that messy teen longings cannot be solved by anyone, let alone by a boy relationship detective, no matter what manner of fantastic status is given to the main chara as/ along with small super-powers.

You do not understand the heart of a man.

First Love Cheesecake Apparitions remains fun and far less dire than the mangaka’s previous effort. Floating pantsu overload aside, it is chaste and well-behaved. No playing with fire, everyone has their whole lives ahead of them — as long as they can get through adolescence without getting maimed by a jealous first love ghost. The other interesting bit about the story setup is how it foregrounds the emotional turmoil of the high school guys. It becomes, in effect a mechanistic boys-do-simplified-shoujo-manga analogue. Note who gets to work through, or fail to work through their romantic problems. Of the two women main characters only the one who presents as a boy gets significant wrestle-with-their-feelings time. It takes the other one, Ebino-chan some 80 chapters and a school play before she realises that she might actually like her childhood friend, that way.

It’s all about the lads after all.

A final complication lies dormant in the story set-up; how young guys’ fantasies of their crushes over-write the reality of the actual person they are supposed to be interested in (the grandpa arc touched on some of this). If the mangaka wants to spin the tale out for another hundred chapters, they can have most of the happy couples that boy relationship detective brought together split up, with a chorus of angry young women complaining that the guys immediately grew bored with (real girls) them. This effect also jumps over to reader expectations; forum discussions about a current “gummint-pairs-up-teens” anime has (at least on one forum) derailed into a nostalgic revisitation of why Mysterious Girlfriend X was much, much better.

Destroy everything we touch

Tarou is the quintessential low-energy male romcom lead. The only remedy for such lethargy is edgy romantic confusion (spoon-fed to him in a linear, easy to digest manner). Guys are suckers for this kind of nonsense, as it is far easier and much more fun than paying attention to the person in front of you. Better than naughty knickers too!

If Hatsukoi Zombie lurches to a standard, predictable conclusion Ibusuki will decide that she-as-she still has feelings for Tarou and then stop “presenting” as a guy. Then the “super power” can get toned down or controlled for both her and Tarou, so that only Eve remains with autonomy enough to wander off and/or disappear as she choses. And Ebino-chan will find someone who makes her heart go doki-doki more than Tarou does.

BORING!

Ibusuku should be maneuvered by the mangaka into dropping their masquerade, trying girl mode for a week, surprising the entire school, claiming Tarou as her own and then reverting to a bifauxnen guy school uniform presentation because “I feel more comfortable this way’. She is rich and can do anything she wants. Drop in some mumbo jumbo about it minimizing Ibusuki-chan apparitions and this otherwise vanilla cheesecake manga can go out (or drag on) in ways that Uso Lily dipped its toe into but never developed.

I’m not gay, my girlfriend just likes the boi look“. Eve to have fun with Utena cosplay and otokoyaku Takarazuka outfits.

Straight folks won’t stop making up our ideas of the gay (etc.). We won’t stop. Ever. We have needs. The best that everyone can hope for is that some of the worst squick and dirty versions that get whomped up are retired as massively uncool and finally so hateful that to drag one out would indicate that something is not entirely ok with anyone who did so’s head space. Maybe real gay folks can even add some new, better stuff to the trope stockpile, so that the rest of us can pillage them.

Oh Lookie! A shiny, shiny new thing called queer! I got this great shonen manga idea…

Facepalm.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] See “Japanese gay men’s attitudes towards ‘gay manga’ and the problem of genre” by Thomas Baudinette for a contemporary view of how Japanese gay men view these narratives and associated character types.
https://www.academia.edu/25044799/Japanese_gay_mens_attitudes_towards_gay_manga_and_the_problem_of_genre
Of note by the same researcher, on modern Japanese gay male identification by self-identity/preference-type; “Constructing identities on a Japanese gay dating site: Hunkiness, cuteness and the desire for heteronormative masculinity” and how this maps out in urban space in Tokyo’s gay bar district; “The spatialisation of desire in a Japanese gay district through signage“, available at his Academia.edu page:
https://mq.academia.edu/ThomasBaudinette

[2] I nominate Princess Principal to any appendix list, with “spy des” as stand-in for clearly imputed women’s affective bonds. All the father figures in that anime so far are sexist, often dangerously harmful shits. They get killed a lot too. Oh heck, there should be room for Haibane Remnai too; that face in the train apparition

[3]  I better watch my own soul here. Herr Doktor and an ancestor were academic rivals and the latter’s complaints with Freud were undoubtedly tainted by bad faith.

[4] There is even a curious rejoinder to this Fox News psychologizing effect; if the battleground shifts from science to fabulation then the fables themselves must become contested ground. Iwata was not the only example of this impulse. What the devil was I doing reading Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick? One of the founders of queer theory‘s main works was in effect historical literary analysis and critique: lookie at all those 19th century high literature tales of male friendship. Lookie what must be hiding between the lines. Ok sure, but I reserve the right to voice a “Helmut” rejoinder now and again. It is as easy to fetishize (male) friendship as it is to fetishize gay and lesbian desire. I would never consider imputing “slashy” praxis to Sedgwick. Nope, not me…

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Fearsome Asymmetry

“This Story Is Just 2,000 Words Of A Baby Boomer Mansplaining Hentai”
— A Twitter Bot post

“Conclusion: I love cake”
— A not-bot twitter post.

Nise x Koi Boyfriend/ Nise x Koi Boyfriend Lovely
Ataru Yamamoto  (2014)
Serialized In Be x Boy Magazine
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=113661 
SPOILERS ENSUE.


Instead of adding to the essay series “The Naming of Parts” I have been diverted; first by the recent plot twists in Spotted Flower and now, by stumbling across an exemplary bit of Shoujo-fied BL. Normally, the latter is not my favorite thing but Nise X Koi does a superb job of showcasing one aspect of BL that is usually hard to wrap one’s head around. You could call it a mode of melodrama or the fetishization of male same-sex romantic confusion; you could call it hot dogs but you would be just as close to understanding the true (insidious) nature of the trick. Theorists dryly describe it as “asymmetry”: an emphasis on the emotional dynamics between characters rather than on a character (a Beautiful Fighting Girl, or a Loli Moe-blob) alone; sometimes to the point where the atmosphere itself is almost a secondary character.

It is worth examining it in action, at least once.

As a bonus, if you were already uncomfortable with stories about male same-sex intimacy, this stylistic trick is going to boost your hate levels into low orbit. Take a deep breath. Not a bug; it’s a feature.[1]

“”Soutarou Inugami is a shy and reserved high schooler interested in anime and manga. Although content with his lot in life, Soutarou also wouldn’t mind having a fateful encounter with a cute girl someday. Lucky for him, he comes home from school one day to find a girl sitting at his doorstep who he’s never seen before, but who happens to have the same red earrings as Meguru Satoi, a cool and good-looking guy at his school.””

Vol. 2 Nise x Koi Boyfriend Lovely: A sequel to Nise x Koi Boyfriend as a continuation of Soutarou’s and Meguru’s relationship.””
Mangaupdates summary

As one can tell from the description, here there be otokonoko (just one). The English fan translation is being done by a group who go out of their way to scanlate gender-bent fluff manga. They seem to favor shoujo-ish stories, hewing close to the root genre of many contemporary works that play with gender and sexuality. You can get away with almost anything in shoujo manga — as long as you shoujo-fy it. Also, I am using the clunkier otokonoko/ josou/ crossdresser terminology because the conventional western-anglo term has been condemned as hateful out in the real world. Real folks suffer harm because of the original reading of the term. A small measure of polite discretion costs nothing.

A socially clumsy otaku guy and a crossdresser who gets a crush on him. Sounds familiar. Is this a version of the same BL cliché that Genshiken Nidaime‘s Madarame and Hato riffed on? Not quite. If anything I have renewed respect for how the Genshiken‘s author avoided convention. Some of it does however look like something that Hato would draw. It gets lewd.

When a Japanese female-gaze story uses an otokonoko they invoke tropes from past works as well as scavenged real world lore from Japanese (and other) gay communities. Very little about these characters is “trans”; they remain essentially male and inclined toward subjective same-sex intimacy, even if not avowedly “gei“. It is worth emphasizing that the rotten tribes consider male-ness as an irreducible characteristic. Straight, gay, crossdressing, gender-fluid, gender-queer, Japanese, outlander, rich, poor, whatever are all just minor variations in specs of guy-ness. All are fresh meat; therefore male-ness in the gender-fluid character must be preserved.

If human societies are rigged to favor male agency and privilege, shouldn’t all guys then be fictionally frogmarched into taking advantage of all manner of opportunities, so that they can really get “interesting” in stories? Too late for “just because you could don’t mean you should” or “real guys don’t do that!

I have a notion that some fujoshi stories are as, or even more disquieting to real-life gay guys than they are for straight guys. Straight guys will just “oh heck, two guys screwing” and tune out. The chance for a gay male reader to get drawn into the story while feelings of “wrong wrong wrong!” creep up their spine could be a serious factor. The “wrong wrong wrong” effect isn’t necessarily all about the bonking either. Anyone who has researched the genre has run into mentions of the 30-year-old “yaoi controversy” (Yaoi Ronso) in Japan. The substance of the complaints against BL-ifying gay guys is reported as “objectification” and in more recent reoccurrences, ‘fetishization” and mis-representation. The only problem is that such complaints dwell on unintended ends. The mechanics of the “wrong, wrong wrong” (beyond airbrushed violent non-consensual sex and “I’m not gay it’s only you“) remain largely opaque.

Extreme and variable emotional dynamics between the characters is generally not mentioned. Or perhaps a finer distinction is needed. “A Night at the Opera” is Ok every so often, when done by pros. When clueless Chads are nudged into doing a cover version for fujoshi because the audience is geeked on the raw charm of the fail…

If you were an ambitious mangaka and you really wanted to turbocharge this (jarring) effect, you could drape its presentation in the visual stylings of adolescent girls’ romance manga. Wispy hair, expressive big eyed longing glances, floral/iconic backgrounds, flare effects. Since we have a crossdressing character, add cute frilly girl clothes as well. Then pile on all of the usual miscommunication, “notice me sempai”, “who is going to make the first move”, “failing self-confidence”, “I need to prepare my heart”, “no, not yet, not like this” mush from the shoujo genre, only with two male leads who can take turns grinding through the clichéd sequences. This is funny in itself. As well, at any moment either or both characters can snap back into shonen-esque selfishness, resentment, indifference, arrogance, weakness and violence. Drama ensues!

Feeling woozy yet?

Boyfriend lovely ???

Nise X Koi “feels” at first as if it escaped form the pages of Margaret or LaLa magazine and ran gibbering off into the night. Later it gets nasty. Isn’t it in “bad faith” right from the title? Nise as in “fake” or “trick”? Again from the sypopsis, with an upgrade:

“Soutarou Inugami is a shy and reserved high schooler interested in otokonoko genre anime and manga”.

Not only is our diminutive doormat lad an otaku, he’s an otokonoko otaku; the bully-ish group of popular guys at school spot his fave manga and shame him for it. By spitting out his angry “cuteness is justice” defense; “so what, as long as they are cute!’ he lights a flame of hope in the heart of an onlooker. One of those handsome, popular guys has a secret and a fierce need to share it with someone who might accept them for all that they can be.

“…he comes home from school that day to find a girl sitting at his doorstep who he’s never seen before, but who happens to have the same red earrings as Meguru Satoi, a cool and good-looking guy at his school.”

She ain’t just sitting there smoking a ciggy. The crouched down, dejected look on the mystery girl speaks volumes to the longing she initially feels. The mangaka is going to dance along the edge of seduction by deception for a full chapter and a half, as the crossdresser is so wrapped up in their own excitement and insecurities that they forget to check if shy nerd guy has clued in to who the mysterious cutie barging into the apartment is. She and later he just assumes it is obvious and that nerd boy recognises them. This takes a bit of work to clear up but along the way nerd boy gets to show how heroically smitten he has become when the crossdresser gets in trouble and then by dismissing minor details and declaring that he’s enraptured with the complete Meguru-chan experience. Hooray, they now have a happy secret romance. Even some physical intimacy. Roll credits on a two chapter one-shot.

When the story resumes nerd boy starts by backtracking on his commitment to fully appreciate his lover and then develops a severe case of fleeting self-confidence. Then a rival appears. Nerd boy wavers. Otokonoko guy (in guy mode) gets wound-up angry and decides that if boyfriend is going to act like a cowardly doormat, then boyfriend should be spitefully treated in a –ahem– more traditionally yaoi-ish manner. The resulting near sexual assault is mean-spirited and pure raw meat thrown to the intended readership. Satoi-san stomps out of their lover’s apartment in a snit after no finally means no, angry that the one who understood him won’t show any backbone or prove his resolve.

A mite over-wrought, perhaps? [2]

At this point, a gender-studies sociologist might cut in and point out that because they are both well-socialised Japanese males, even if one dresses up like a cute girl, neither of the two are particularly inclined to carry the empathy bucket of sorting out the other’s feelings or do the work of negotiating understandings within the relationship. That’s a plausible excuse for later and perhaps one of the “features” that fujoshi enjoy. For now, it is expected, in-genre behaviour. They are both horny-excited and each wants their shiny new adventure to go their way. Also, those feelings: so intense, so conflicted! Why not let them slip? Fireworks time with light guy-sex.

In female-gaze yuri, everyone would run off for a while and eventually have a frank, serious, somewhat tearful discussion and work things out like adults. Someone would not end up paired off but would wish the happy couple well.

In male-gaze yuri, all would end up in the sack.

In bad faith whoever-gaze yuri one or more involved would be suffering from a serious personality disorder, so that the behavior that causes the suffering can be endlessly repeated over and over; with ever-increasing levels of emotionally wounding sex.

In a bad faith nominally heterosexual melodrama, at least one character might have a severe personality disorder, another a masochistic need for an older woman, another a narcissistic fixation on an self-centered useless old guy and there might be a pining lesbian thrown into the mix. Then the characters can variously paw at each other, because they have agency and therefore they can (neener neener neener) but they will not enjoy any of it because the story is dramatic and shall not feature any happy. Momentary physical pleasure during sullen making out only – this telegraphs literary pretension and allows for a few more turns of characters bouncing between each other for bonus spite-groping. Then all will abruptly stop, grow up and decide to get real lives or wake up and remark that it was all a dream.

The framing of any idea of “bad faith” is, in itself a highly subjective exercise. If you view any particular hetero (or homo-) normality as stifling and oppressive, anything that subverts its expectations is just peachy; even if to the riajuu, it looks like getting stuck in a temporal loop on emo night in a small-town bar.

Forever.

Bad faith is avoided in any of these genres by advancing the plot towards some resolution. Otherwise the game is just endless grinding while wandering the labyrinth. Even someone’s head ending up in a school bag is preferable to endless grinding. When a genre has a whole warehouse-load of plot tropes available for ready use, these can be strung out in service of some eventual resolution. Perhaps even a “good ending”. You lose the “serious literature” vibe with a good ending but more people buy manga than serious literature. Vox Populi, vox profitable publishing company.

If one is more inclined toward linear storylines, characterization and action, having a clump of characters run around going bat-shit random over their horny might not be your idea of a fun read, no matter what manner of bodies are involved. You want the Supply Module to meet up with the International Space Station. You expect a bit of excitement over the launch and docking maneuvers but you will have your mission accomplished!. Having everyone on the station, in the module and in mission control self-sabotage because their heads are all jammed up their particular cray-cray thing de moment (subject to abrupt change in the next 10 minutes) so that the docking almost-but-repeatedly fails, or goes horribly wrong and still repeats, will strain your patience.

No matter how many times Riley sings Kathleen.

For another group of readers, bonking pretty boys may be fun and interesting but it is much, much better when both parties are working through their stereotypical male inability to deal with new emotional situations and overcompensating dramatically while they go at each other’s bods. They can then not only switch positions but cycle through new and unexpected emotional states. Amateurs may deploy some manner of fetish-ry, but this is less effective because it is always marked as play-acting (and is a cheat to avoid actual sex and thereby edge around certain regulations enacted by a past Tokyo Governor). Far more satisfying if the two creatures are pity, hate, fear, love and disgust fucking each other all at the same time!

And they cannot stop!

“Therefore, we can conclusively state that BL holds the potential to be far more obscene than either het, yuri, fetish or gay romantic pr0n. (And that I like cake.) Q.E.D. Certain classes of Bara to remain outside of the comparison range because those are allegorical and if you don’t consider them as such, you will lose your lunch.”

Perhaps my thesis is not completely convincing?

Shoujo-fied BL often feels like a pretty-fied train wreck with light man-secks. (Or it’s just me?) What’s with this story? What’s with the characterisation? What’s all this overdone emo crap? No way that they’d do that! Now they are going at it; at least getting past necking to pawing, nibbling and pulling. Now the other one has gone all sullen and pissy. Sheeet! We get it already! BL guys not fast on the uptake. Please, can they sit down and talk it out? Please? Maybe they should watch some gay pr0n? No luck, urusai continues. Wonder what they are going on about now? Somebody must liek this. STFU!

Other views in the theory-verse suggest that while the characters are male, their emotional responses have been “upgraded” to reflect an improved male subjectivity that can do emotionally complex interaction, while enjoying the agency and freedom to act on their desires. That may be the case for stories like the Uso Lily spin-off previously considered, but it is not the only way to rebuild a guy character. What if you freed them from the need to act “supportive” or “understanding” and gave them male agency enough to go after what they wanted? Then make it so they also get wound up over their feelings, because — Hey! they are new at these and they also have the privilege and agency not to be shy about taking them out for a test drive.

That might get messy. What? Messy good you say?

There is one further “technical” aspect to the genre that arises from the canon, from fan practice and from tradition and that has evolved either into a happy accident or a sneaky author’s trick. Recalling one of the roots of the term “yaoi” – no climax, no resolution, no plot – a term of art in Japanese literary criticism long before being adopted by fujoshi, points towards a tradition within the genre for disconnected, stand-alone scenes or tableau. Porn movie directors would call these the “money shot”.

cue the wikipedia entry:

“The term yaoi is an acronym created in the late 1970s[1] by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu[8] from the words Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (山[場]なし、落ちなし、意味なし) “No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning”. This phrase was first used as a “euphemism for the content”[9] and refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the “difficult to understand” shōnen-ai being produced by the Year 24 Group female manga authors,[10] focused on “the yummy parts”.[6] The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure.[11] Kubota Mitsuyoshi says that Osamu Tezuka used yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi to dismiss poor quality manga, and this was appropriated by the early yaoi authors.[9] As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered “common knowledge to manga fans”.[12] A joking alternative yaoi acronym among fujoshi (female yaoi fans) is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い, “Stop, my ass hurts!”).”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

Once again, Genshiken Nidaime‘s Kio Shimoku left clues about larger rotten practice in his trans-fujoshi character Hato’s inability to draw anything but one-page sex scenes. Fanzines/doujins must accommodate page restrictions and low-output amateur artists. There is a strong bias towards jumping right to the lewd. When creating a parody work that brings together two wildly improbable giant robot piloting guys, the scant dialogue can stick with luvvy dovey fluff or they can expressively work out their conflicted feelings while they go at it. Same printing bill.

The space station metaphor once again becomes instructive. A mangaka might already have a number of schmexy hawt mis-en-scenes in mind, complete with a who-is-wound-up-which-way script for the drama component. Wouldn’t it be cool if this one surprised that one, but is still angry about such and such, while the other has lost confidence? And they still go at it while sniping at each other! “Talk dirty to me” taken to a new level.

What if the next big scene has the two emoting in completely different ways? Do they both have multiple personality disorders? Did some magical girl gimmick their headspaces? Nothing so fancy. They are just completely overwhelmed with a whole new range of feelings and are cycling through all of them. If we can acknowledge that smut with emotional fireworks delivers more than just smut with the dialogue turned off, story mechanics becomes an exercise in logistics.

When a mangaka becomes responsible for a monthly serialised work, instead of 12 pages of doujin smut they have to maneuver the characters from one “yummy parts” scene to the next. Using the “new at this, making a hot mess out of it” excuse, a mangaka gains extra maneuvering thrusters and fuel. She can even make one of them do an end over end tumble before docking.

It is almost impossible to pull anywhere near this level of variable characterization and emotional range with boy-girl romantic shoujo. Even if the boy is Doctor Jekell and the girl is Harley Quinn. Uso Lily tried with a crossdressing boy and a girl and had to concuss the guy for multiple cases of soap opera amnesia. At no time did the heroine take her turn getting banged on the head so they she could become the male lead. Lady Chatterley may switch between haughty and horny while groom Mellors gets to be servile and then forceful but he never gets to be her ladyship. Neither does she have to muck out the stables.

Only the “carnivalesque” excesses of drag and camp offer more potential. Perhaps the entire genre needs to be theoretically re-positioned when subjected to critical analysis. Normalities must be (over-) performed so they can be subverted.

I remain uneasy with the entire genre but at least now I have some idea (beyond gehhh! dudes making out!) why something as simple as Nise x Koi set off my wrong, wrong, wrong alarms. Nothing like a bit of attitudinal gymnastics to negotiate a new understanding with one’s prejudices. [3]

Anyway, I Shouldn’t Take It Personally, It Just Ain’t My Story

Against the tautological structures of excessive emotional drama and characterisation within the genre, complaints by nosy outsiders are easily brushed aside.

Guys don’t act like that! Hmmmmmm, you sure? They might if they were sufficiently smitten and unhinged by their conflicted desires…
Your plotting and characterisation is bat-shit random! Hmmmmmm? Repeat.
Gay guys don’t act like that! Hmmmmmm? Repeat.
Transfolk don’t act like that, and you are being insulting! Hmmmmmm?

Back to weaponised queer shoujo. This type of story seems to be popular and commercially viable. Outsider opprobrium is not going to put the idea back in a box. Can’t un-see once seen. An entire “lore” surrounding the genre makes it easy for rotten newbies to crank out more. It’s not just ‘seme” and “uke“; a range of off-the-shelf roles come with modular, emotional scripted subtypes such as “wimpy seme” and “trickster, inviting uke” (which is the second link of the chain back-tracking the origins of the “emotional range character trope” effect that I will resume grinding on about in future “Naming of Parts” essay instalments.)

Recall the brief summary of Nise x Koi above. Classic BL clichés favor the smaller guy “taking” the taller, initially dominant-appearing partner. In this story, the latter is already inscribed as female-role, even if he has previously initiated, even attacked. A challenge has been issued to wimpy nerd boy. Anyone care to guess how this one ends? [4]

If heteronormative narrative tried this kind of dynamic “making progress in a relationship” story, one would end up with a Taming of the Shrew retread.

Disapproval by phobic old-school guy otaku of BL will continue but as this mirrors the emotional dynamics of the conflicted characters, the hate-on becomes an unexpected bonus for fujoshi onlookers. When reading distressed fan reactions to the alt-Mada x alt-Hato fling in Spotted Flower I began to wonder if one of the thread originators might have even been a stealthed slash-fan trolling for a taste of honey. (“the misery of others is like…” ) Yesteryear’s girly-boy threads on 4chan’s /a board were a lot more inventive and far funnier. They usually started with “If it wears a skirt, it’s a girl” and went sideways fast.

Then a further notion struck: what is all that rage really about? To properly appreciate what is so disquieting (for straight guys) about BL, one needs to untangle the fujoshi “gei” or gender-queer character from the (straight) male subjectivity gay or gender-bent character.

Here’s a fun insight into contemporary fan practice and its intersection with activist gender politics — although I might be grabbing at fog. (requires more research, subjective evaluation, database coding, yadda yadda yadda). More and more anon on /a seem to be sort of, kind of Ok with “the gay”, as long as a gay male (secondary) character gets treated “seriously” within the story and isn’t trotted out as a cardboard joke or creep or abruptly vanished – in other words; afforded male respect and privilege. No depictions of male same-sex intimacy either, please! What sets off rage is when a gay male and/ or their same-sex desire is portrayed and/or deployed in a way that appears to pander to fujoshi tastes. “Real” gay; it’s 2017 – just don’t scare the horses. “Fujoshi-fied” gay; bad thing!

As for the otokonoko as male-gaze fantasy eye-candy creature, far fewer instances of vocal hate rear up in social media venues than one might first imagine. Pro-forma surprise is usually followed with a “that’s coolio too” rejoinder. Edgy quips that “the extra” makes her even better are not uncommon. The slightly sheepish reaction (cute cartoon girl character plus slightly pervy bonus) has become a safe consensus position. Public over-reaction would telegraph any manner of weak unresolved personal issues. All good, no biggie. Similarly, creating her is remarkably easy. Design a cutie, go easy on the boobs and impute a “little bit extra”. You can even make her act with less reserve than a usual female character has to maintain. Drop one as needed into each new franchise.

However, when the rotten tribes get their mitts on an Otokonoko character, Astolfo the hottie will be mangled into something else; something complicated and insidious. Far worse than Kio Shimoku’s Hato Kenjiro. Designed to highlight male wonkiness. Does things not-for the male reader/viewer’s enjoyment. Problematic. This will not end well.

Aside: Astolfo was originally a (male) magic-using sidekick character from 1500’s European-knights-do-heroic-things tales; most notably from the poem-story Orlando Furioso (the Rage of Orlando). The hero’s “wits” get stolen, so he rages. Only Astolfo has enough magic to go to the moon and retrieve said wits in a bottle. Astolfo MkI does not crossdress. In medieval Europe, guys got all the fun clothing anyway. Magic users are expected to be a bit eccentric.

What remains are complaints against the problematics of fantasy cross-dressing characters in light of real-world fall-out; including any deceit implied in that term. Anglosphere fandom needs a new short, snappy and less loaded descriptor. It should be noted that current best practice in manga and anime invariably has the character matter-of-factly announce that they are male or have a body that others would “deem male at birth” to any who have a need to know, well before sparks fly (as well as to any number of obnoxious types who should have minded their own business before they get their comeuppance). Seduction by deception is rarely any issue, though fetishization remains one. If the otokonoko and another (usually male) character hook up it is not because the latter wanted a “girl” but because they wanted “more than a girl”.

Fetishization in general is why a majority of cartoon characters are dropped onto the page and screen; male-subjectivity otokonoko remain “flattened” to their eye-candy outward appearance, as much as any other female-ish fanservice character. Their gender-queerness is their “hook” in the same way the glasses-girl and the athletic tomboy have theirs. When deployed in slice of life comedies, she is often used as a variant and/or extra moe-blob. In adventure scenarios, a variant Beautiful Fighting Girl.

“For duty, a woman. For understanding, an otokonoko. For ecstasy, a melon.”
— Slavoj Zizek

Only when one wanders into the recycled BL thickets of josou narratives, where some emotional complexity is necessary to move the plot along, does the revealing of the “feels” component of the “better than” come into play. Her gender-fluidity and essential male “core” posits her as more sympathetic to a class of male lead. The author must then tread lightly and leave much unsaid. The two are in sync; they understand each other perfectly and therefore dialogue can be kept to a minimum. A few reassuring quips, an exchange of knowing glances because they have (re-)invented sex, a few tender words and finally the frenzied mutual tearing off of clothes that leaves at least one female-marked accessory or piece of clothing still clinging to the otokonoko‘s body, can progress through to mutual exhaustion. Both will be blissfully happy because the genre posits, then leaves to the reader’s imagination a vague intimation of mutual physical and emotional satisfaction that is for the two of them “better than” heterosexual or conventional same-sex intimacy. The novelty and transgression masks a “just so” story. One may speculate that the difficulties of fine-tuning the move from pure transactional exchange towards affective interest is why the genre remains a niche market and why the one magazine devoted to such stories went under. Lewd twincest tales play a similar trick. You need some token emotional charge but not too much, or too fast. The overload/ overwhelmed effect is what remains disquieting.

The “deception” that the straight male subjectivity fears is not present upon the body of the otokonoko but within the emotional complexity of any interaction. [5]

Snowflakes!

Understandable then that male subjectivity fan discourse has kind of, sort of, begun to make peace with matter-of-fact, just-a-guy gay male characters and even simplistic eye-candy otokonoko characters. As long as neither of them bear any marks of “rotten” purpose or complexity. A diffuse, consensus notion of essential male identity is thus preserved. There are far scarier things in the world than a touch of queer in a lad. As for secondary appropriation, the fujoshi will always come out at night to cut up what remains. Look what they did to poor Holmes and Watson!

Good luck to us all.

Have some cake.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] This entire essay may be complete and utter bunk; the result of my residual homo-panic freak-out when a quick read of a harmless looking shoujo-ish one-shot (that looked interesting because “that scangroup” distrod it), turned into confusing guy-smut. WTF? Run Away, run away! You’ve heard of the ‘unreliable narrator” trick? This is the unreliable critical essayist version.

[2] Someone reading this might actually be here for a “review” rather than a subjective over-reaction, followed by a mess of speculation about plot mechanics and conventions. If one is really into BL-ish things, I’m betting that NiseXKoi is probably a quite good an example of its kind. The art-work is pro level. The emotions are not completely random (if you pay real close attention), the two characters are noobz enough to justify their mildly selfish fuckups, the “rival” is not a jerk; the thing is well constructed and the author has her own active doujin circle. Since I have few comparison points, I can’t say whether she is genius rank but I suspect that experienced readers would find her work solid, and “yummy”. She knows how to tell a story and play within the bounds of a style.

[3] Keep reading. It’s really easy: all you have to do is displace one bias with a different one. It just becomes a matter of fully understanding what one’s original bias was trying to protect. We guys should all thank the fujoshi tribes for “highlighting the contradictions”.

[4] MUCH LATER: In fairness to those wanting some manner of “review” and to the mangaka, I should add that the story ended on a surprisingly happy, vanilla, aspirational, linear and not too crumpled out of shape by semexuke conventions, way. The young crossdresser was snagged by the school drama club as “the princess‘ in a play and used the opportunity to solve the issue of his childhood friend blindly crushing on his girl prsentation. Meanwhile doormat boy showed some spine at school and begins to socialise, then used his new found confidence to declare his resolve to the crossdresser. Both vowed to have a happy high school romance with lots of sex, with the crossdresser both as a boy and as a girl. (I am almost tempted to D’awww here…)

A few points of note: once the mangaka decided to wrap it up, the characterisation and story lines became more linear, with the motivations easier to follow. Resolve. Follow through. Also of note, both characters try to abstractly empathise with the other’s situation; not at shoujo girl levels but at least they make a token effort. Even the childhood friend, while at first embarrassed, is supporttive. He also now understands why the two were hanging around with each other at school. Duh! moment. The otaku is not an intrusion, he has been vouched for within the male social/ circle of friends.

Finally, the happy ending recalls why all the straight girls are reading smutty romantic guy:guy highschool love stories. The two get to (at least promise to) sex themselves down to exhaustion because they are in a relationship. Because they are horny teenaged guys, even gay, they should really want to do so even more than playing video games. And they can, because no one is going to be labelled a slut or have to deal with a teen pregnancy and/or D&C if something goes awry.

(At some point will future general-interst high school romcoms feature stock zoned-out falling asleep at their desks with stupid grin on their faces male beta couples?)

To this end, the “formalism” of older rotten rigid BL pairing conventions are jettisoned for a more up-to-date “versatility”. It might even pass muster as aspirational ending for a young gay male reader, although the gay crossdresser type is apparently considered one of the least desireable “types” in IRL Japanese gay communities. At least Meguru doesn’t “femme out” while crossdressing, so he’s not completely outre.

[5] Ha! I have made it through this thing and not mentioned a certain game.
Slick, or whot? Oh yeah, almost forgot: Praxis! Now is must be legitimate academic-ish essay! What else? No mention of Dr. Tamaki or Lacan, although if you scratch the cheap paint you can see that old “ontological consistancy” chestnut; it’s harder to paint over than magic marker. And then there’s the “shota” component in nerd boy. Crap: even wearing shorts on the frontspiece! Pure Dr. Nagaike bait, though Tamaki called it first. Mangaka sure covers all the bases. 

Spotted Flower Chapters 22, 23: les etrangers

Spotted Flower Chapters 22, 23
Kio Shimoku
Rakuen Le Paradis, Vol 24, June 30, 2017

WARNING: Spoilers ensue. Methodical, theory-sodden clinical speculation on cartoon man-sex scenes and grating 4chan excerpts below the cut line.

 

Continue reading

Spotted Flower Chs 22-23

What the hell just happened?

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to interpolate Italian text, when you only know French? That said, some of the more impatient fans across the pond have applied their arts and their passion to chapters 22 and 23 of Spotted Flower.

That sure didn’t look like a dream sequence? What happened?

Oh My! What fools.

THE NAMING OF PARTS 1: Too smart by half

On the origins of peculiar terminologies:

WARNING: Multi-part work in progress. Refresh for typos, corrections, revisions. Let me see if I can string all the pieces together over multiple posts in the next few weeks. Feel free to add your 2 yen via the comment section if you have extra material, ideas, whatever. Not much to mull over so far — wait for it. I plan to go full-bore fandom/comiket apocrypha on this one. Mimeograph machines, doujins, Fido BBS’s, 20yr old occult lists of fan terms and too many cached pages on Archive.org. Wheeeeeeee!  

 

“Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.”
— “The Naming of Parts”, Henry Reed

Something feels odd (to me) about the Japanese (and derived) otaku practice of naming character trope types. Something doesn’t fit, or fits too well, gives too much information. I have ideas as to where the larger practice was borrowed from but then I must ask; from where did the previous instance arise? To uncover the roots of the practice will require a highly subjective, speculative romp through the traces of fandoms from 20, 30 even 40 years ago.

I must break this essay up into installments.

If I were to mention that a certain anime or manga (or game, visual novel or doujin) had a noteworthy “Blonde Loli”  character in it, one would not only immediately know what she looks like. Any reasonably experienced fan would have a good idea of how she would act and relate to other characters.

  • Female, young, somewhat pre-pubescent and/or appears as such.
  • Blonde hair, short of stature, flat-chested (petanko)
  • Outlander or hafu background in relation to a Japanese cast.
  • Wealthy, of means. Has hidden skills and/ or powers.
  • Disruptive, arrogant; does not know or care to follow established social conventions.
  • overcompensates for her feelings of social isolation and rootless upbringing.

As well, most of the notable previous examples of the type would color your expectations. Evangeline A K McDowell of Negi and Uq Holder fame; Shinobu Oshino/ Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade from Monogatari; the pale knockoff of the previous two in Vampire Bund; Hayate The Combat Butler‘s Nagi Sanzenin and The Genshiken‘s Sue Hopkins. Recent iterations include Sana (who is a child) in Alice to Zoroku and Erii in Eromanga Sensei. Many more can be found.

Hiroki Azuma’s musings on the database seem to have come true. [1] A database model has advantages. While characters might feel cookie-cutter-ish, a good writer is expected to elaborate sufficiently to add charm to their version. If a notable restatement of the character emerges, these elaborations will fold into larger conventions of the type, as common resource for future story-telling.

Such a practice favors iteration in ephemeral products and production on a large, diffuse scale. She is closer to a piece of metal drywall edging than a craftsman’s creation. You can’t finish office towers and thousands of basement rec-rooms with bespoke techniques. You need cheap, modular, easy-to-use commodified bits and pieces and the simple techniques that employ them.

Our Blonde Loli is not a creature of high literature. She bears very little resemblance to Nabokov’s original, even if part of her type-name originates from his tale. The idea of character types or stereotypes runs in direct opposition to the originality and authenticity of the project of high literature. The character type is a Barbie or a GI Joe doll, or somewhat less, even as they are somewhat more; their range of behavior is more circumscribed even as their use implies a commodified “published” narrative structure.

Their implicit invitation is that of creative seriality; “the differance” of repetition — if you care to wax high-fallutin’s faux-French post-structuralist about it.[2] I digress. The point takes the complaint of early critics of diaspora anime that “all the characters are the same!” and recasts it as a feature, not a bug. Off the shelf means easy to build and easy for everyone to build with. You get far more absolute output that way and you get lots of individual variations/ iterations of the base model. An ecology, complete with evolutionary surges, population explosions, extinctions and mutations nudges aside the privileged solitary, exalted role of the auteur. [3]

Add that this year’s model is a lot less opaque to new readers because of vestigial familiarity. Does what’s on the label. Pick up a six-pack today.

Most of the benefits of this modular approach were mentioned at least in passing by Azuma in his 2002 work. It remains interesting, but its limitations must also be recognised. In many ways, recognition of what he leaves out, glosses over or shades to his purposes makes his work far more valuable than the first reading of the work itself.

The database as strained metaphor. In Japan, before 2002 there was no organised trove of data sitting up on 2chan or some other occult internet-accessible BBS or forum that contained mix-and-match build-a-bear input screens for churning out custom proto-moe-blob femaloid characters. (was it a mere list?) If such existed or exists today, looking like some demented police sketch assistant program, I have yet to see it (Tits or GTFO! Make her breasts bigger, bigger!). Why was he driven to posit one? Fortunately, TV Tropes came along: the entire meta of tropery has caught on and spread like wildfire during the last decade. Early iterations of the site had a strong “I’ve seen it all before” flanneur/ connoisseur weariness to them. The current versions are exuberant.

No sex here. Grazing ungulates, sea creatures drifting in the current. Post- sex to match the end of history and a pile of hooey about the twilight of grand narratives. One word for that: Chlorine. As in water treatment. As in, which is a newer idea; modernist grand narratives or cholera free city drinking water? Maybe it was the latter killed off grand narratives? Are you sure they are dead? Go argue with any number of repressive regime apologists and stop picking on anime babes. Meanie!

No girls allowed/ (aloud). It’s a boy thing, all about pin-ups and scratching boy itches. The company omiai session will eventually, properly mate up sarrarymen and office ladies to produce the next generation of corporate Japan, so sex is barely necessary, almost a distraction. If required for procreation, the newly wed good-wife-wise-mother-to-be will initiate the required mechanics. (parodied in volume extras from Kio Shimoku’s Spotted Flower manga, a somewhat continuation/ decade later reprise of his Genshiken)

Definitely NO NO NO minority sexual and or gender expression. We have rendered all majority expressions obsolete, so variants are superfluous. Cyborg bodies perhaps? Wires? Phone sex? iPhone sex? iSex? Or nothing but that dry theory hump jouissance?

We remember the database. We remember love.

A quick glance back at Database Animals recalls the swirl of pop debate about vernacular culture in Japan in the early noughts, set off by Dr Saito Tamaki’s 2000 publication of Psychology of the Armoured Beautiful Girl, Aka; The Beautiful Fighting Girl.[4] She dripped heroic sex appeal. She inspired onanistic fantasizing. She most definitely had a use. And her use or uses were in the clinical sense of the term, perverse, her range of manifestation on the stage of (mostly) male dreams running from the chaste Miko-type to the scary hermaphroditic creations of the American naive artist Darger. [5]

She caused trauma in a Freudian/ Lacanian sense. That is: “What the heck just happened to my wiring? Did I just pleasure myself by fantasizing about a line drawing!!!! Oh shit! I will never get a girlfriend! I can’t shake this. The path to enlightenment must lie through the doors of excess! Where do I get more of these hawt manga babes? Comiket? Oh Yeah!

Your mileage may vary.

That was it. That was all. That was enough. The great unsaid thing was said. It had been said before, by cruelly mocking critics. Akio Nakamori’s article in the July 1983 issue of Manga Burriko taunted those he had previously labeled as otaku:

“No, otaku do not love like normal people because they are attracted to fictional girl characters”[6]

Only now a doctor-professor with a big impressive book rather than some rando jerkwad doing a guest column in a sketchy loli magazine had spoken, and the good doctor was not being insulting about it either. The good doctor was even speculating that this approach may be a healthy, adaptive behavior mechanism. The good doctor also had a list of sub-types for his Beautiful Fighting Girl(s)

Hooray: Taxonomy!

Two more interlocutors were involved: The Ota-King [7], who lamented the waning of classic shonen-esque sci-fi battle/ quasi-imperialist stories that involved giant piloted robots/ battle suits and/ or carrier-battleship spaceship fleets. And Ōtsuka Eiji, who could smell fascism under every last one of these rocks [8]. These worthies had some really fine arguments/ debates, which worked to bring them all into public prominence. Dr. Tamaki’s interest in Otaku and their libidinous imaginations was in any case, peripheral to his life work on social isolates/ Hikikomori. Azuma’s Rousseau redux is not that good. What happened to the Ota-king? Who knows?

Who did we miss?

An important clue lies in the curious something “extra” in some of these terms. Something not mirrored in the vulgar. angry way young males filled with braggadocio and a wounded sense of entitlement have been known to classify real-life women: Bitches and hoes. Frigid, tease, stuck-up, slut, whore. Insulting, objectifying, simple-minded. Any “relation” or interaction posited is immediate and transactional. She gives/ does not give that which I demand now. Very little narrative complexity is implied by any of these epithets, beyond the threat of sexual violence.

Given such lazy, low practice as the default setting, how did male otaku evolve complex trope/ type terms like tsundere or yandere?

Admittedly these do not reference high modernist literature or even Shakespeare plays but at least they imply changing emotional states in the female character over time — if certain conventions of behavior in the main (assumed male) character are followed. Manga, anime and games — specifically get-the-girl games, either galge or eroge may have normalised the expectations behind such complex constructions but where did male otaku first “take permission” and/or find inspiration for reducing these character-behavior-narrative patterns to type-trope shorthand and then elevating them to archetypes?

They are far too complex.

Next up: Fail-through-over-confidence-hero-guy

ENDNOTES:

1) “Dobutsuka-suru Postmodern (Animalizing Postmodernity)” by Hiroki Azuma  (2001) Translated as “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals” by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono (2009)
See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroki_Azuma

2) Tenure GET! No? Perhaps a lecture fee and lunch at the faculty cafeteria. If I wanted reliable income, I would be rebuilding truck and construction equipment starters and alternators.

3) …Then the solitary auteur secretly gorges on the cheap stuff, because they fear picking up some other big’un’s recognisable style and inadvertently committing plagiarism if they read highbrow stuff. Ya can’t plagiarise gruel and even if you do, the gruel-pots can’t mount a serious objection. I understand the tactic of pissing on the carcass you find by the side of the road, but doing it while cosplaying Cirrocco Jones decades ago at book signings… Hmmmph.

4) “Sento bishojo no seishinbunseki” (戦闘美少女の精神分析), Psychoanalysis of Beautiful Fighting Girl by Dr.Saitō Tamaki (2000) . Translated as “Beautiful Fighting Girl” by J. Keith Vincent  and Dawn Lawson (2011) With a foreward by Hiroki Azuma. 

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamaki_Sait%C5%8D

The BFG reviewed: “You Fight like a Girl” by Brian Ruh, Brain Diving column an Anime News Network, (Jul 26th 2011)
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/brain-diving/2011-07-26

5) Darger was by no means unique. Someone should forward a copy of this to Dr Tamaki: “My Dad, the Pornographer” By Chis Offutt The New York Times Magazine (FEB. 5, 2015). TW: descriptions of fantasy violence, rape, squick.
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/magazine/my-dad-the-pornographer.html

6)“Otaku Research and Anxiety About Failed Men” by Patrick W. Galbraith
www.academia.edu/12327055/_Otaku_Research_and_Anxiety_About_Failed_Men
See also earlier post: “Kio Shimoku, Madarame & Hato vs Akio Nakamori” https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/kio-shimoku-madarame-hato-vs-akio-nakamori/

7) Toshio Okada, The ota-King: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshio_Okada

See also: THE CONSCIENCE OF THE OTAKING: THE STUDIO GAINAX SAGA IN FOUR PARTS — Interview of former Gainax president Toshio Okada on Gainax’s history, Wings of Honneamise, Aoki Uru, etc. (anime, NGE)
originally in Animerica Magazine Volume 4, Issue 4 – April 1996: ANIMERICA talks with Toshio Okada Interview by Carl Gustav Horn. Text archived on gwern.net blog
https://www.gwern.net/docs/eva/1996-animerica-conscience-otaking

And for a Cliff Notes on Okada Toshio’ s “Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: Historical Perspectives and New Horizons”, see: “Introduction to Otakuology” on the Fantastic Memes blog
https://frogkun.com/2016/04/15/introduction-to-otakuology/

Context: “An Interview with Patrick W. Galbraith on Otaku Culture – Part Two” by Matthew ALT, May 24, 2012, NEOJAPONISM blog post
http://neojaponisme.com/2012/05/24/an-interview-with-patrick-w-galbraith-on-otaku-culture-part-two/

8) Ōtsuka Eiji: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiji_%C5%8Ctsuka
In the 1980s, Otsuka was editor-in-chief of Manga Burikko, a leading manga magazine where he pioneered research on otaku sub-cultures in modern Japan. He has published a host of books and articles about the manga industry.

“Ōtsuka Eiji and Narrative Consumption: An Introduction to ‘World and Variation,’” in Mechademia 5 (2010)
http://www.academia.edu/2093053/_%C5%8Ctsuka_Eiji_and_Narrative_Consumption_An_Introduction_to_World_and_Variation_in_Mechademia_5_2010_

See for example “An Unholy Alliance of Eisenstein and Disney: The Fascist Origins of Otaku Culture” by Ōtsuka Eiji, translated by Thomas Lamarre in Mechademia, Volume 8, 2013 pp. 251-277 [paywalled/ MUSE]

on point

An academic conference in Yokohama, this weekend:

Queer Transfigurations — International Symposium on BL media in Asia.
Saturday, July 1 & Sunday, July 2, 2017,
Kanagawa University, Yokohama Campus

“My critical examination of yaoi begins with the premise that yaoi does not represent any person’s reality, but rather is a terrain where straight, lesbian, and other women’s desires and political stakes mingle and clash, and where representations are born.”
— A. Mizoguchi, “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond”
http://imrc.jp/images/upload/lecture/data/143-168chap10Mizoguchi20101224.pdf

‘Fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality’ opine the characters of the Genshiken, echoing a claim made by Dr Saito Tamaki that despite the libidinised nature of otaku (and fujoshi) consumption — or because of it — the Japanese fan, even (or especially) the most committed of these are able to keep the walls between real life and “play” separate. They are all in effect flaneurs, connoisseurs of their outre fictions and these fictions’ effects (or affects). The riajuu may be bombarded by the relentless flow of images and desires and retreat into numb passivity, even reactionary withdrawal but the L33T fan surfs the shock-waves and hacks the spew.

How’s that workin’ out for you all?

Ok, so what if this sounded a lot like an update of the old floating world brothel-crawler notion of “iki” — which incidentally influenced european ideas of the flaneur – – as well as trying to drag the old-school practice of situating narratives of minority sexualities and gender expressions in lurid pulp exploitation settings into a better neighborhood [see: https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/your-own-private-game-of-laplace/] via Comiket, shoujo manga and its more interesting offshoots.

Along the way, a lot of folks pretended that they forgot someone(s).

If you are a not-quite-straight kid in Japan (or adult) and you value your privacy, this pretense or at least quiet convention had (and still has) its uses. The last decade’s general agreement about BL and yaoi in Japan was that %90+ of the readership was female and that the overwhelming majority of these were straight women who enjoyed it as a relaxing and amusing diversion. If you were a gei male, there was manly-manly Bara for you and nobody really bothered about what 3D women who liked women cared to read. There were even a few convenient broadsides from honest to goodness flesh-and-blood homosexual male polemicists who criticised the rotten tribes for acting like “dirty old men” (though the major flare-up of this controversy happened decades earlier). If real gay guys groused about the stuff, it must be some kind of odd straight-girl fantasy thing and therefore harmless. Pay no attention to the fujoshi behind the curtains.

Meanwhile in the euroethnic mostly anglosphere west, research spotty as it was, indicated that slash readership was closer to %50-50 male-female and that the desires and identifications of the readership were all over the map, with a strong ‘queer’ gradient.

Something was due for a change.

I wonder how many casual fujoshi will make their way to the conference this weekend? What the devil is a casual fujoshi anyway?

In truth, gay folk, queer folk have always, apparently been part of creating these stories and consuming them. Folks are doing the historical research so that concealment does not end up as erasure. At the same time, there is a vast readership and fandom made up out of straight women and even (per the two extant fan studies plus hints about secret secret publisher data) somewhere around %1 straight male readership (%10-15 of the male readership). And then there are lesbian fujoshi, who while unfathomable in terms of demographic representation, make up some of the most productive and articulate champions of the genre. And there are gay guys who like it too. (those fan studies would put them at %80 of the male readership or %8 of the total readership) Over across the boulevard are the Yuri fans with all those pesky mostly-straight male yuri-danshi (I still prefer the older, western-anglosphere LFB term), even if them’s are for a different conference (which I would also really like to attend). We LFB guys aren’t too good on holding up our end of the fandom, but our Japanese brethren keep buying the magazines, so that’s something.

A lot of the academic interest in fujoshi and otaku fandoms in Japan has been carried out as informed by queer interests and situates comfortably within a larger idea of “queer theory”. If you are going to read any kind of academic writing about your fave manga, anime and/ or games you are going to get hip deep in it fast. After all, BL and yaoi (and yuri and even weird otokonoko/jousou) stories sure look like ‘queer texts’. Lookie: same-sex bonking! How long can the publishers keep up the pretense that they are all just something like sci-fi-ish or fantasy allegory and mostly for straight folks dreaming in queer?

In Japan, probably for a while longer, especially if it has something to do with sales revenues.

Time for some Academic Cool Japan jiu-jitsu:

[http://human.kanagawa-u.ac.jp/BLinAsia/Transfigurations_Program.pdf]

Take a close look at the conference presentations, the presenters and the moderators. All-star line-up! Welker, Mizoguchi, Nagaike, Baudinette, McLelland, Galbraith and a whole bunch of others whose names look vaguely familiar from my amateur theory scrapings. Note as well the titles and subjects of the presentations/ papers. This is about how a certain Japanese cultural product hits the rest of “Asia” and then creates its own context and readings. Ichiban Nihon Bunka!

Note as well, the absence of the dreaded fashionable academic neologism “Gl-ocal“.

Oh frabjous day!

Wonder how many Cool Japan bureaucrats will be in attendance? You wanted “soft power”? Congratulations! Now about the way Japan is sluggish about the rights and protections of minority sexualities and gender expressions and the upcoming 2020 Olympics… Do I hear whistling from the audience?

One academic not on the program (perhaps because the historic role of the wider shoujo genre is mentioned only in passing) is professor Matt Thorn, who in a recent Twitter thread went into the changing face of the Japanese fandom — at least the university-attending fans in her classes. TLDR: they ain’t the Genshiken. They are hyper-social, engaged, productive and even activist. I hope that she gets around to expanding upon these observations in her blog. [http://www.en.matt-thorn.com/]
(Update: per Twitter, prof Thorn plans to attend.)

I suspect that the student attendees at this conference will be equally unrecognisable to anyone expecting Genshiken style fans/ fujoshi, even as their updated versions will be undoubtedly surprised at the range, influence and effect of their fave genre. A few might even wonder if any of the diaspora product needs to be tracked down and studied, for the sake of a wider cultural perspective. …Won’t even get into speculation over the straight, fujoshi, fudanshi, gei continuum issues. I have a feeling that Dr. Mizoguchi has long since updated her 2010 observations to include male interest, even as the genre remains a powerful primarily female-authored form.

Readers of this blog know my angle on all of this and I would be curious to see how the conference presentations handle the clashes, not only between cultures, but between the readerships who want their fantastic allegorical (and somewhat racy) dream-in-queer diversions and readers who seek aspirational representation and support from the genre. So far the only strategy I can identify that does not involve proscription would stress authenticity as verisimilitude; in effect a value added approach — which is damn crass when real lives are at stake.

Unfortunately, publishing and content creation, like most capitalism is crass, and often brutal.

A final thought: Open Access = mega citations and academic fame.

It would be wonderful if the uni streamed the proceedings, or at least vidded them and put them up on YouTube. (Later: have been informed that presenters were not asked/ warned about the possibility of video recording, so that’s out. As someone who participated in a conference that let me use my blog nym, I should be better clued in on privacy concerns for presenters/ attendees.. Duh!)

(LATER: Howbout an audio transcript for Soundcloud? They embed well. I should stop; my previous gallery gig – we always tried to at least get a sound transcript from a presentation. We’d put a volunteer/ student intern in charge, do a little Audacity trimming and up it went, even if the sound quality was atrocious. Again, prior warning, privacy concerns…  So much to consider…)

Publication of the papers/ presentations in an open source journal or collection so that the conference doesn’t end up on some shelf or stuck behind a paywall would be wonderful.

(LATER: Prof Welker points out that he “shares all published articles & book chapters on request. As do many scholars. Just ask!” Regging up an indepedent researcher account at Academia.edu makes requesting such fast and easy. I was even able to do so using my blogging nym. Such individual ‘sharings’ are legal and  allowed by journal and/or publication contracts; which otherwise lock down academic articles and books behind paywals that even notorious [-cough- sci -cough- hub] russian academic study sites fail to worm their way past.)

 

Best wishes for a successful conference!

Many Happy Returns: Spotted Flower Ch 20.5

Will Spotted Flower become Genshiken Sendaime?
Spoiler lamp is on for Chapters 20.5-21.5(?)

The latest English scanlation of Kio Shimoku’s Spotted Flower has surfaced. Chapter 20.5 is just plain wunnerful. It has been less than a year since the Genshiken ended and it looks like Kio Shimoku is getting busy again. Our win; we get 16 pages of alternate-universe, ten-years-later fujoshi fanning; starring a recognisable genderbent ero-dojonshi-mangaka and their manager, plus a new character (their editor for their commercial output) and some old friends at Comiket. Kio-sensei packs a lot into those 16 pages, along with the an overload of boobie jokes.

A brief refresher on Spotted Flower. Because of its publication in a different magazine, owned by a different publishing company, Spotted Flower could never be an “official” follow-up to Genshiken. Contracts and intellectual property issues. “The Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions…” Unofficially, Spotted, which has run for 7 years of three-times-per-year shorts, most recently as a regular in Hakusensha’s Adult/ Josei Rakuen Le Paradis magazine (and later collected into 2 tankobon volumes) has always served as Kio-sensei’s personal AU (Alternate Universe) fanfic and spinoff of his Genshiken. With the source story ended, Spotted is free to seek its own destiny. I hope that the mangaka and the magazine are thinking about permanently expanding the number of pages for each release; becoming in effect a full series. A web and Twitter search has turned up news of further larger chapters. 14pps in the March 2017 volume 23 of Le Paradis. Volume 21 carried the baby naming chapter 20.

The upcoming Volume 24 of Le Paradis threatens to release 28pps + 4 bonus pages (ch 22?) on June 30 (2017). See: http://www.hakusensha.co.jp/rakuen/vol24/

Spotted Flower chapter 21 looks like the old gang visiting the new parents. As well, alt-Hato’s editor is about to find out more about her rising star BL auteur. We will have to wait. The 0.5 numbered chapters are devoted to alt-Hato and alt-Yajima, the whole number ones to the happy couple.

A few oblique observations on Spotted Flower:

Boobies as text:

Kio-sensei knows that guy otakus like boobies and uses them as signifiers for “sexy” and “womanly”. Sometimes one would prefer that he spend more time on the entire character rather than mashing the boobie button. He spends far less time on say, legs, butts or curvy hips (though alt-Hato, following perhaps on the Nidaime anime, has been given an impressive silhouette). When he bothers, his adult, especially adult female body chara renderings are varied and respectful – especially for larger frames. As well, he can deploy incredibly nuanced facial expressions to depict emotion. But those boobies! Alt-Ohno’s overdone nursing breast explosion. Alt-Hato and Alt-Sue’s assisted developments. Breast size is also marked as one of the stereotyped things that female socials are supposed to natter on about and rank themselves /display envy about. For a mangaka who inventively and respectfully depicts different body types, especially women’s body types, this trick feels like a throwback or at least a concession to an earlier form of stupid, easy service for Chads.

The entire Sue the pettanko western girl doing exploratory feels of well endowed Japanese women joke – which had gone on for years – is a reversal gag on a hoary manga/anime fanservice trope. It might even have slipped into reality. A friend reported that it happened to her for realsies in a women’s public bath in Korea but any envy/competition reading strips off complex layers of social interaction within the act: “Oh look a foreigner in our bath. How do we break the ice? This will be something to compliment her on, talk and laugh about and thereby welcome her into our social.

Nope, just competition and jealousy in the hen-yard. Fail!

Angela Burton(!) The sleep-over at Yajima-san’s parents’ house. And now, alt-Merei’s tender service to her lover interrupted by alt-Hato’s (at first impression) idiotic blundering question. Add to this all the Madarame-sempai interaction: “I have no breasts”(!) from Hato. Sue feeling under-endowed and therefore somehow inadequate in his eyes. While Mada might mutter to himself that it’s no big deal; lolicon, otokonoko games, etc., he neglects to open his pie-hole, announce the point and set worries to rest. Mada=otaku. Otaku=boobies want. A simple equation; the burden of more personal, more fraught exchange avoided.

Boy Detective.

Genshiken Nidaime turned on the character of Hato Kenjiro, the boy who wanted to be a fujoshi. Not a Fu-Danshi but a fujoshi. From this ridiculous conceit, everything he has (been written, etc) done followed naturally. And so continues to follow alt-Hato.

I though BL could make everything come true.

Fer krissakes! Unreliable narrator is unreliable! Google is your friend. Science can’t do that yet. If it could it would kill you and besides, an ero-dojin-mangaka could not afford it. Still, this kind of foolish banter is perfect and poignant for the worries it lets slip. Folks are growing up, settling down, having kids. Sempai is a father?!? Note the obvious (fertile, clock ticking, ticking) unsaid in the room. Nope! Didn’t notice it at all, La La La. Poor alt-Merei, like she needs another handful.

My thanks once again to long-time correspondent B.Sellers for not only giving me the heads up about ch 20.5 hitting the sites but for citing the venerable 90’s manga Family Compo in the report.

The problem of course lies squarely in the lap (ooops, yeah, but for now lets stick to metaphor) of alt-Hato’s (and their creator’s) unique vision of genderqueer. Whether to avoid drawing the attention of IRL tojisha folks or to grind off the serial numbers and avoid a trace-back conformity audit to source material, alt-Hato remains a “mostly” cis-gendered, heterosexual male person who does not think that they can “be” a woman. A Fujoshi? Perhaps, and fujoshi is all that Hato (and alt-Hato) ever dreamt of being. This of course is extremely problematic but Japan (and the mangaka) pretends not to worry about such things. It is possible, along the furthest edges of considered western non-binary, genderqueer activism to respect this dream. Hato will be Hato. Fuck everyone’s categories and nasty self-serving infra-tribal battles. Queer is as queer does. Leave the ero-dojin-mangaka alone.

Until editor-san finds out.

“If the fujoshi ever found out I was a guy…”

What a fun plot twist! As a dojin artist, alt-Hato could remain as anonymous as they wished. You can hide all manner of participation within a “dojin circle” Going pro means entirely different levels of public accessibility and interaction. The editorial staff are the first hurdle. Then come interviews, signings and publicity. Kio-sensei knows all about these challenges; his nom-de-plum and his standing plea to his fans to only photograph his hands can serve as inspiration. A booth at Comiket need only feature a someone or two, perhaps wearing the ubiquitous Japanese allergy/cold mask(s). Once in the spotlight, the pressures on alt-Hato to conform to ancient and annoying Japanese stereotypes of public behaviour for persons with ‘deemed male at birth’ bodies who present as female would be intense. Alt-Yajima’s “Host of a TV Entertainment show” suggestion and alt-Hato’s “No Damn Way!” must be considered in the light of the Japanese entertainment industry’s past ‘use’ of such.

Going public would again open up the confusing question of sexuality, this time on a far more dangerous stage. Crossdressing + breast enhanced guy BL ero-mangaka? Must do guys, right? Likes girls, or one particular woman? This is confusing – wouldn’t that be Yuri? The situation is as troublesome but not identical to all manner of internal shit-fights within western activist feminist and trans communities. Those controversies have been ongoing for decades. Japanese practice removes much of the heated activist controversy and replaces it with brutal commercial objectification and exploitation. “New Half“? “Okama“? “XXX Resbian Sex Secrets“? Crossdressing Gay Actor“? [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihiro_Miwa] “Hard Gay“? [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masaki_Sumitani] An ero-mangaka can keep one foot in the exalted realm of “the author”; the man or woman of letters; Nihon Bunka — Japanese Culture with a capital C. …Even as the other foot dances along the edges of “the floating world”. The latter might float but it always was and remains brutal.

Alt-Hato as a trans-fujoshi virtual lesbian might work as a manga character. For Hato Kenjiro’s creator, the character served a number of useful functions, including testing the limits of support and accomodation that a “good fan club” and a fujoshi social could offer. Let’s run the setup once again and see how it could be adapted to the meta of a character that is an “out” genderqueer ero-mangaka:

Women enjoy BL and Yaoi even though the tangle of fictional, sexed bodies excludes representing them. Numerous women who like women share in this enjoyment, even at one further remove from IRL desire. Within the Genshiken/Spotted Flower verse, the old line explanation of BL/yaoi as a pure fantasy of desire and romance holds like an absolute game engine rule. Why should Hato/alt-Hato have to desire 3D guys just because ze enjoys women-written fantasies of guy-looking characters fucking? Sex with a 3D guy for Hato and or alt-Hato is a non-playable character, even if the Hato continuum has built their lives around the enjoyment and then connoisseur-ship of fantasies of such intimacy. Therefore it is not improbable that Alt-Hato likes girls, either as residual straight guy or virtual lesbian fujoshi. Mada always was part of the fantasy. As “the only man I’ll ever…” he remains so. The only loose end would be the ero-mangaka’s 3D immersion/ performance/ commitment to the romantic ideal of the genre. Does this mean that alt-Yajima has put on a public “butch” or “tachi” persona? Family Compo Redux!

It could be more complicated; the Genshiken could have had furries.

Oh snap! Scrag the furries jokes! This is serious! it is all fine and fun to speculate on well-worn story tropes in Japanese anime, games and manga. And then to speculate how to cookie-cutter these into a manga. Behold the violence of the database. In meat-space the way trans/ gender-nonconforming folks are represented can hurt. Can be complicit in real harm: even more so than most obnoxious fictional otherings. The kind of things that authors, readers and societies have to learn not to do any more, if only because we now have better, more exciting and more nuanced replacements for these chestnuts.

Kio Shimoku created a complex character who only wished to expresss as a female subjectivity within the context of fujoshi fandom, for a number of internal story-mechanics reasons. Now a reflection of that character re-appears and they (are written, etc.) have built their entire life around living in that fandom and presenting as a woman. Kio-sensei may in the future have his character self-identify as a transwoman, a  transwoman who is a fujoshi or even the improbable idea of a trans-fujoshi. Or as something else. What interaction alt-Hato now has with anyone removed from their immediate circle of aquaintances is either as an anonymous female person or as a (gendered as female) fujoshi-ero-dojin-mangaka. The character remains fraught with internal contradictions – why shouldn’t they/ their character be given the space to breathe within them? Can Spotted be both libidinised low comedy and aspirational fiction?

I can only hope that Kio-sensei does not “reveal” the initial impetus for both alt-Hato and alt-Sue’s “urge to augment” as fallout from comments by a very dense alt-Madarame who brushed both of them off for being flat-chested. Note to Kio Shimoku: Please Do Not Go There. Even Madarame’s legendary and insufferable “spineless perv luck” has limits. I remain puzzled by why either of them would bother with augmentation. A ridiculous rack is a pain in the back – for life. Any of their women friends should have (been written, etc.,) told them this on numerous occasions. Boobies remain problematically over-inscribed in Kio’s story-worlds.

The Strongest Fan

Sue Hopkins and her alt-Sue incarnation has always carried within her character a large measure of inscrutability. The outlander woman fan/ fen as Force of Nature. Purposefully opaque. Trouble with capital T. Ariel the magical spirit. Her lore is deep, her reserves of magic yet to be revealed You saved my life so I will save yours 3 times, then go my own way. In the meantime she observes, prods, samples, tastes and gorges on experience, even as nothing touches the core of her being. None shall ever know moi. Were she native Japanese the mangaka would turn her into another Benzaiten manifestation.

Impatient. Unconcerned with social mores and prescriptions. Beyond good and evil. Grabs boobies.

Poor alt-Hato! While alt-Sue is a good-looking woman (character), it is not her bod and new tits that make her attractive. She radiates. Anyone would… And so alt-Hato lets slip his clumsy insecurities. This was wonderfully handled, even as the poor jerk reveals his fears and delusions. Yes your manager loves you… Asshat! Lookie at all the up-with-you-put she has to lavish upon you and your misbehavior. Yes, you are massively dependent on her arts and her charms.

Don’t fuck up!

Nope: your mad genderbent lurv skillz have not turned her into a lesbian despite your new tits, stylish wardrobe and constant rotten-girling. That means that at least for now, she is not going to throw you over for alt-Sue, even if alt-Sue is amazing. All this may carry a crude whiff of some idea of virtual-lesbian fujoshi-dom, even as it denies any same-sex desire by alt-Yajima. Whatever. Women in Japan, regardless of inclination still get stuck carrying the relationshippy bucket. Yo alt-Hato-chin; you should consider a grovelling apology for vamping in front of your old sempai while your manager had to stew in the next room. Reason by analogy time. If you became worried and insecure…. wait for it… Duhhh!

Kio-sensei has always been better at showing couples chafing than at being lovy-dovey. Also falling apart. Lets hope he keeps that one in the bottom drawer.

Alt-Sue is undoubtedly chief assistant to alt-Ogiue-sensei, the successful commercial ‘mainstream” mangaka. A voracious consumer of women’s pop libidinised fiction. The uber-fen. Probably does not like girls “that way” if only because the creator of this ‘verse seems to go out of his way to avoid “realistic” lesbian desire – whether from a fear of clumsiness with yuri tropes, to hide one of the main sources for the making of the Hato character (cf Mizoguchi, 2005) or out of a larger predisposition. So how is alt-Sue doing?

A digression with Lost Extras:

Has anyone noticed that we thieving leeches have not yet laid our mitts upon any English-translated Genshiken Volume Extras since volume 15? The extra panels from volumes 16 through 21 remain un-scanlated. These are traditionally whomped up as a bonus by the mangaka as the originals are re-formatted for release in a tankobon. I have gone out of my way to secure all 21 volumes of the original Japanese run of the Genshiken. There they sit in a neat pile. Sorry about my complete inability to understand Japanese. Google photo-recognition translate is a mess. No, I am not going to bring down the wrath of the big K upon myself and this blog by copying them and plopping them onto the web. Besides, If I did so, I wouldn’t admit it; I haven’t yet figured out how to chain VPNs together and wouldn’t trust the dodgy new owner of 4chan not to track IP addresses of image uploaders in any case. I can never get Tor to work and remain suspicious of it.

The only images I upload here are by way of critical comment, study and analysis. Even the parody ones by a dodgy eastern-European (or something) scan-group, who insist on putting their own wrong words into the dialog bubbles, are presented by way of example of fannish secondary production. As I hold an art degree and have given at least one conference talk on these matters, this is pure “fair use”. Have another fricking Zizek quote, just to hammer it home. Lookie at my Academia.edu account. No 3.1416-R8-cy here, nothing to see, move along.

I declare that the yet-to-be processed volume extras will remain as a way for us outlander fans to prove our devotion and appease our curiosity by buying up all the official English releases when they finally hit the shelves.

Whenever something finally happens, we will all be able to see that one page in the volume 21 extras (or was it the bonus leaflet cover?) that looks like Sue dragging Mada off, perhaps to silence any speculation as to exactly how things are going with them?

Did I mention the extremely irritating spineless perv luck effect? Sarraryman-boy privilege at 9000, again! Be sure to accompany her home, Casanova!

Perhaps alt-Sue is not a kiss-less rotten-girl wizard (sorceress? witch?) with a boob-job. I wish her chara well. May she have snacked on all the 3D cuddles she desired as she gorges on 2D yaoi-smut.

As for Alt-Saki, the wife, not the child; despite petabytes of online fan speculation it was ridiculously easy for Kio-sensei to pair her up with alt-Buddy Boy. The volume extras for Spotted Flower are instructive. Again, the woman had to do all the work. Perhaps Spotted Flower ch21 will have ‘the ex-boyfriend” casually mention how he still does not feel the urge to start a family. Wham! You didn’t have to disappear Kousaka-san or have him screw around, go gay or get hit by a beer truck. He had only to stand in the way of a ticking fertility clock. Women DO that kind of thing in manga, otherwise Japan sinks, -urrr- suffers irrecoverable population decline. Can we all say rigid gender role expectations? Stories are easier to plot out that way. All together now…

See also: loser-dog women, christmas cake women, the unmarried, amazingly hawt but still single and slightly psycho 29-year-old woman high-school teacher. Cross reference with Merei’s mom’s comment upon first setting eyes upon Madarame and Kuchiki.

Why this digression on sexuality and gender expression in Spotted Flower (with carry-over from the Genshiken) characters? I must point out that despite featuring a transwoman-appearing character, their virtual-lesbian-appearing partner, the libidinized BL/yaoi fandom they work in, the discussions of improbable male-pregnancy plot-lines, the flirting with alt-Mada and the hints of his married-life kinkeries, that Spotted Flower remains the most heteronormative “queer” manga that I can find. Buddha on a Bicycle! This thing is about having a baby and becoming a good child- raising couple. Alt-Ohno and the yet-to-be-met Alt-Tanaka (was he there in ch20’s hall somewhere?) already have two kids. And the pressure will be building – I predict – for our lesbian-appearing couple except that, yes! Japan will have no problem whatsoever registering their marriage certificate. Meanwhile, all the queer-appearing characters drop caveats and disclaimers: “Nope we still… and/or nowhere enough… not.

“I’m not gay, it’s only you.”

Spotted Flower must provoke all manner of mixed reactions within the Japanese queer community. If I ever get wind of any these reactions, I’ll try to repost/ mention them here. For now, I stick to my side of the street. As well, despite alt-Hato’s breasts (and possibly hormones) all the Spotted Folk are earnestly vanilla. Cosplay and Stripsu Pantsu. Otokonoko games. Alt-Hato is drawing dojins that follow the kind of historical story-lines that Yoshitake used to obsess over. Alt-Hato and alt-Yajima cuddle (and presumably bonk the old-fashioned way). Happily boring; male bodies with female bodies trying to stay together trying to find some small measure of contentment – 1.2 times per week (barring pregnancy).

Genshiken‘s Saki-prime once mentioned that she had gay friends/acquaintances. Alt-Saki/ the wife seems to have forgotten them. Fer krissakes, Kio-sensei; the dog was barking before with the absence of IRL lesbians in the Genshiken. This also masked the absence of IRL gay men. That pooch is now out in the courtyard howling. It is going to look rather insulting unless someone in the new Spotted-verse, even a peripheral someone likes members of their own sex.

Over here in the outlands, it is called “erasing“. It is considered a not-good thing.

On the other hand, if you clumsily represent, you risk doing a different not-good thing.

Oh heck! This is complicated!

You don’t have to make Kousaka gay. Or Sue non-binary (newfangled speak for ‘Bi”). Any of the female editorial staff at the publishing company can be a fujoshi who likes 3D women. Or you can whomp up an honest to goodness gay male BL fan character. Some do exist. Go get that handy fan-fudanshi study “Fudanshi ni kiku [Talking with fudanshi]“. by Yoshimoto, Taimatsu.The author still sells copies and has a website for orders. [http://www.picnic.to/~taimatsu/common/milk/milk_postal_taimatsu.htm]
It has testimonial interviews that you can swipe. The research is much easier now. Then you can have everyone feel uncomfortable when the editorial staff meets the mangaka and assistant.

Profit!

Since I’ve switched on the infamous ‘playset field’, it’s time for:

How the mangaka got their verisimilitude back!

We outlander types can peer in on (parts? of) chapter 21.5 as a web preview on the Rakuen Le Paradis web site – at least for now. Click on the cover image to load the pages.

No, here: 
http://www.hakusensha.co.jp/rakuen/vol23/trial/0424_kio/index.html?pagecode=1

Forget the problem of creating a believable otaku university club crammed with 2017-era geek guys and rotten girls. Instead, why not use a contemporary adult social; something that you can get research notes on. Say, the offices of a manga magazine publisher. Far more interesting too. The following in no way reflects upon the real conditions in any division of hakusensha.co.jp or its staff.

I like Le Paradis. They keep putting sexy adult women on their covers. All of them look like they are in the middle of torrid, romance-drenched assignations. Very grown-up and steamy. A fair amount of yuri, some BL and a noteable amount of heterosexual romance. Some backsliding, as the works inside have their share of teen characters. A josei magazine that can interest guys too – and I think that goes a bit of the distance towards explaining why Spotted Flower ended up there. Spotted might have been one of the lightest of the regular offerings. Time to up the game, now that the happy couple have their new child to deal with.

Then again 14-sai runs in Le Paradis, So do works by Takemiya Jin, Rendou Kurosaki and even of late, Kōji Kumeta. Yipe! I could run this entire blog solely on their output. I am now a convert to “Neo-Josei“! Fer krissakes, make a licensing deal with Crunchyroll Manga Service for simultaneous translated releases or something. Give me advance preview peeks and a pittance and I will regularly sing/ blog forth thy praises. Retain an aged outlander!

YO Hakusensha!!! I for one welcome my new Josei overlords.

Not holding my breath.

May I first suggest putting a hard link for Le Paradis at the bottom of your main magazine listing page? It is one of yours, right? Why are you hiding it? If the gravure bikini model pics mag gets a link, why not Le Paradis?

Towards an expanded topology of contemporary fen praxis

(Whooo-boya! I got to use praxis in an essay, again!)

Please review the Ogiue Maniax re-reading of the original Genshiken; [https://ogiuemaniax.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/return-to-genshiken-volume-3-stimulation-simulation/]

This is an excellent examination of the details that went into making the original mid-2k’s Genshiken a beloved classic. Note how the blog’s proprietor highlights how “infra” the game discussion gets (even as the English translation struggles to keep up with it). The youtbe clip of the fan-made fighting magical girls game drives home the weirdness of hardcore fandom at the time. As I have previously noted, behind some of the old-guard male fandom’s vitriol about the women-led second generation’s club practice lay the obvious conclusion that Kio Shimoku knew very little about what fujoshi and women otaku actually enjoyed and DID when they fanned out. (To be fair, fujoshi socials were a lot more secretive in 2009 than they are today.) The boy Genshiken followed anime and manga, read naughty derivative dojins, played games and derivative fan-games, constructed plasmo, even gunpla models (Plastic models, a subset being models from Gundam franchise) helped out with female-led cosplay events and wrote TLDR fan essays for publication and kept up with online fan BBS’s.

All the guy readers were perfectly willing to put up with girls running the club if they could peek in and pick up some anthropology. More fun then K-on; Fujoshi-raku. Perhaps they could then make interesting small-talk if they ever ran across a real live fujoshi. Instead: BL, BL dojins, pairing talk and unconfortable sparks between a young guy who wants to be a fujoshi and the leftover uber-geek. WUT?

Where are my secret fujoshi secrets revealed?

BLergh! “It’s all rotten stuff now and THAT TR*P!”

I have also pointed out that No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular (WataMote) had more female otaku verisimilitude in it than all of Genshiken Nidaime. And a magic wand personal massager too!. Criticise New Game as Cute Girls Doing Karoshi, but the idea that games for women, made by women are a robust market and not just a niche shelf of silly otome games involving pigeon boyfriends (or butler vampire dogs) offers glimpses of what Genshiken Nidaime missed. Women do Gunpla. There is a huge game market for women. Voice actor audio, Net-broadcast extras. The merchandise. The Cosplay. The online fandoms. The posters and limited edition whatevers that come with the BD release.

The whole effing spend your entire adult paycheck Media Mix.

This requires field study!

Now we have an ambitious young genderqueer mangaka and their very able manager/ assistant, with an editor pushing to mainstream their output. Opportunity seldom knocks twice. Played right, Spotted Flower could expand into a full mad romp/ game map through the entirety of the beat-a-property-to-death process that is modern Media Mix Marketing in CVJC. Stick to the women’s side of the avenue. You can still pop back every chapter for at least %40 coverage devoted to Otaku hubby and wife raising their first child hijinx.

Kio could get to do a manga (partially) about making manga, the holy grail/ old chestnut dream of all mangakas – if only because there is always plenty of material for next month’s chapter close at hand.

Oooh, A signing for the mangaka.
They are planning an anime!
Seiyu! Production committee meetings.
Marketing Department!
Theme music by dodgy Talento agency bands.
Console and phone game versions
Lookie; a spin-off light novel series!
Bonus audio disks, posters, key chain fobs,
Figurines, CM’s, PV’s, online forums, fanfiction.

Long walks down Otome Street to take notes.
A scene where the editorial staff gets to meet and query a group
of grown-up, employed, married contemporary fans?

Why should Saekano have all the fun. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saekano:_How_to_Raise_a_Boring_Girlfriend]

Welcome back, we missed you!

Gripe, gripe, gripe. Picky fans are picky.
We wouldn’t pick if we weren’t already completely, hopelessly sucked in.
Urusai!
Wait – the contradictions have sucked us all in… again!
Sensei knows best.

Hey? Are you gonna give the characters names?

 

Update: See also: Astro Nerd Boy‘s review, if only for the “Brian” graphic
(damn! forgot that ‘un!)
https://anime.astronerdboy.com/2017/06/spotted-flower-chapter-20-5-1-manga-review.html

In [something] of [whatever] time

By way of the May status report for this blog…

It’s been more than a month since I made it back from Japan and I have found scant material that really, really got me fired up; fired up enough to grind out one of my usual TLDR essays. Have I forgotten how to write? No biggie; I should absorb someone else’s writing style, perhaps something that is more reader friendly and sympathetic. Also, shorter and easier to read. I should also plug a new theme into this WordPress, one of the catchy modern ones that throws honking big widescreen pictures across the top of the articles and lets the text slide over them as you read. I think they look really good on smartphones and tablets.

Mark that down on a list.

I am a creature of habit, I even avoid composing posts on the new WordPress online editor. I force the old one because it is less distracting. On the laptop, I write on Notepad. I like 14 point Arial. I like my 2011-looking blog layout. It’s easy to read and It loads over crappy connections – the first 3 years of this blog were written, I shit thee not, on dial-up. I maintain my $3/ month dial-up account as a backup. Long blocks of text found their way onto the pages of this blog, even at 44k/bpm. Long blocks of text (and a few rigorously re-sized jpgs) rendered out across the pages as the nights crept toward dawn. Naught but the soft white glare of the page background and the words lay before me. Nothing save patience stood between me and the fancies I conjured to cast out into the void. I knew my redeemer and I knew my redeemer worked.

But just in case, I have made sure archive.org regularly scrapes this thing. I also keep backups.

Not at all the worries about forgetting how to put words together to make thought stuff, I am. Duhh!

Sometimes I find it maddeningly difficult to read posts on some of those snazzier-looking blogs. I wonder it is just me (inevitable, creeping decline, mortality) or the newer themes were designed for visual appeal and just so happen to be stupidly hard to read. Is reading, beyond 140 characters now obsolete?

140 characters remains the limit on SMS/ mobile phone text messages, in case you forgot why Twitter is so stuck on it. Not a lot of phones did data/ internet back in the Cretaceous era. I wonder if anyone still uses SMS messages to tweet?


I have been watching too much anime and reading far less manga. For some reason, anime feels more time-bound and ephemeral to me. A scanned manga is either always out there, and/or proceeds at a monthly pace; sometimes, as the Genshiken and Spotted Flower, for a decade or more. There is time enough for love. An anime cours comes and goes like cherry blossoms. Mono no aware. Sure they remain, out there, somewhere but the rush of chasing the car hubcap as it slowly motors past is lost. The stupid car just sits there. You can bark at it, even gnaw on the rubber but it just ignores you. Maddening. I find its refusal to acknowledge my challenge a deliberate provocation.

A reviewer has 12 ,13, perhaps 24 weeks to mull over a current anime and engage with other fans caught up in the viewing. With the slower pace of manga releases, one may even entertain the delusion that the mangaka or someone at the publishing house might read your impressions, make note of them and then set loose the contracted outlander hounds to chase down whatever misguided enthusiasts are messing up the chances for an official translation and publication. Two points for Crunchyroll anime then. Three when they put Karaoke romaji and english subs up for the OP and ED.

With these scattered threads in mind, a notes:

Little Witch Academia draws to a close.

As of this writing, only four episodes remain un-aired. I have thoroughly enjoyed this anime, not only for what it avoids – which seems to be part of the greater problem with anime and Japanese Visual Cultural artifacts of late – but for what it joyfully re-affirms. The story line is engaging, even as it puts a new spin on the hoary old Magical High School setting. No moe-blobbery or fanservice.

Faves so far:

Ep 3 Broom Race


Ep 8 Mushroom Samba

Ep 17 Amanda’s Taka sword fight

Ep 18 Giant Robot

Not dismissing the other eps: you know nothing really bad will happen. That might make the episodes tame, but it also makes them a balm in troubled times.

If you get bored you can try catching all the shout-outs and tributes stuffed into the show. Did you catch the line Diana Cavendish muttered in episode 19: “It is our way to leave quietly, without being seen.”?

Holy effing wobbly halos and grey feathers! How did that sneak in there?

Good shows bring forth noteworthy blogging;

Among the many, Wave Motion Canon is having a lot of fun with the cinematography in LWA, Studio Trigger‘s past efforts and it’s Gainax legacy. The essayists are even managing to get some of them Sakuga-ish ideas across to me. See: https://wavemotioncannon.com/tag/little-witch-academia/

Atelier Emily on LWATV: I like the writing and the insights, I really appreciate the gentle style, and the approaches taken in the reviews.
See: https://formeinfullbloom.wordpress.com/category/editorialsessays/little-witch-academia/

I am half way through my own long-stalled grind on LWATV. I’m stuck in mud. Must keep slogging. Writing is hard. I have a antic conceit; a compare-and-contrast against something else that will annoy fans of either. This one could go full ass-over-tea-kettle Antarctic south, so don’t hold your breath.

Other writings of note:

I don’t do games and visual novels but I could not help but notice how the Twitter-verse was all over NieR:Automata. From what I could make out, it looked like doomed fan-service fetish-androids wandering around post-apocalyptic ruins killing each other while slowly getting emotionally wrecked. Plenty of boob-window, garter and thigh flashing from the tall femalish android. A shorter shota or boi-droid. It made very little sense until I read:

YOKOO TAROU’S ETERNAL RECURRENCE: TRANSHUMANISM IN NIER: AUTOMATA by Kastel, March 21, 2017
Blog: 墓碑銘の楽しき混乱 A FUN DERANGEMENT OF EPITAPHS
https://tanoshimi.xyz/2017/03/21/violet-evergarden-spoilers/

Wow!

Also of interest is that some of the lewd fan-art that is being created around NieR is inventive and touchingly sensitive. I think the artist is Korean. Feel free to Twitter-search.

Addenda: And some is not. Plenty of Cosplay too. Go Nuts:
https://twitter.com/search?f=images&vertical=default&q=9S%202B&src=typd

It would be way kewl if the essayist hove about and turned their guns on Tanya, the Evil. Jest of God tales, especially murderous sardonic ones set in para-European settings require in-depth familiarity with the western philosophical canon and its attendant chestnuts. I don’t have the ammo for that kind of bombardment.

I still won’t play NeiR: Automata. I have no inclination to spend the first 10 hours walking the babe-droid into the first ruin wall after the intro, over and over and over again. Me + games: not working. I am back on Prince of Persia’s first screen. I can’t jump that. I will now do an interpretive dance and the orc-thing will stab me. Then I down another shot and pass the controller over. Repeat.

Seikai Suru Kado/ KADO: The Right Answer.
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kado:_The_Right_Answer]

http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-feature/2017/05/24/kado-the-right-answer-is-3dcgs-answer-to-rejection

Ok; that’s what this thing does. At first it looked like one of those weird anime movies commissioned by wacky Japanese cult religion political parties.
[http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/buried-treasure/2013-05-29/pile-of-shame-rebirth-of-buddha] [http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=7406] Here’a good roundup of ’em: https://animesolstice.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/happy-science-and-their-relationship-with-anime/

As for Kado; I am not too taken with the male or male-ish alien leads. The genki young woman scientist is fun. Give her another bowl of Skittles and a 6 pack of Red Bull! The military-politico crisis room scenes borrow from Shin Godzilla without the former’s redeeming ironic critique. I have nothing against stylish 3D CGI in anime, just don’t wave it around all over the place. On the plane back from Japan I had a chance to watch the painful Marvel Doc Strange movie. Those rotating cement- mixer sideways skyscrapers! Druggie flick for Cumberbunnies? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

“Why aren’t you watched Seikaisuru Kado? There is a naked CGI bishounen making whale sounds in that anime.”
— Twitter, kousora‏ @Imoko, April 15, 2017

I don’t think it is fujoshi candy, it’s too weird. Will keep watching.

Other stuff: 

Alice to Zouroku has slightly less CGI. No notable blog reviews found. Will keep watching

Sakura Quest. I really like this, even as I recognise – as has been pointed out – that it’s a continuation of the studio formula that worked so well in Shirobako. The women are adults, only a teeny bit service-y (Did studio have to make them walk knock-kneed?) As outlanders, we miss a fair bit of the desperation of the small-town tourist revival effort. The reality is far, far more bleak. The ED theme is catchy, I like that the five protrags lip-sync it.

Charas lip-syncing the song lyrics during an OP or ED seems to be a new thing. I swear I could hear the words omoide and kaze in there somewhere. Krrrrching! Most definitely will keep watching.

Kabukibu: CLAMP designed the charas. Admit it: it plods even as it deploys every high-school sport / club trope in the book, with the dial set at 4 out of 10. CLAMP designed the charas. It is good-hearted and watchable and what the heck, gives the viewer a teeny tiny peek into the world of Kabuki. Rakugo Shinjuu raised the bar too high. The OP song is suck. The ED song is only slightly better. I keep forgetting who the tall character without the glasses is. CLAMP designed the charas. Oh right, a big guy dancer who is worried that some consider him effeminate. Did I mention?
Will keep watching.


Natsume’s Book of Friends: An exception to the time-bounded-ness of most anime. This I can watch any time. I can watch it again and again. Years from now I will be occasionally snacking on back episodes from the prev 5 years. Will watch forever.

Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head Kidō Kyūkyū Keisatsu.
[http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=19214]

No, really! I must watch one or two episodes just to see the newest iteration of a venerable form. How to sell die-cast metal toy cars to mostly male grade school children. Pokemon originally started as something like this. So far the OP music has made me hard power-down my laptop every time it started but I will eventually build up a resistance to it. I expect to find hidden well-springs of shonen tropery in their most annoying natural state. From what I can can gather, the kids get to drive cars, then these cars slot into bigger rescue trucks (I hear you liek cars, so we put a car on top of your car so you can drive while you drive) and then the combined thingies turn into giant robots. One is called White Hope.

The announcer intoned without a hint of irony…

We’ll take a few seconds for a pause here.

Uchoten Kazoku: I am supposed to love this, but the uncomfortable, dread feeling that comes over me whenever the Friday Fellows appear has hit again and I am avoiding it. Yes; I am susceptible to having my mood and emotions jangled by fictional narratives. Other than that, Benten, on whom the whole story hinges is fraying at her cardboard edges. She is too thin, her capricious, enigmatic isolation and her concealed sadness (I presume she had some kind of happy family when Akadama snatched her away as a child to become his somewhat tengu protege) is threatening to cause her to drift away on the wind. Capitalise: The Enigmatic Female Character. Having her tussle with the Nidaime simply reveals his gauze-thin character as well. And I don’t like that dangerous climbed-out-of-hell fucktard either. Strange; I usually like Kōji Kumeta-designed charas.

The tanuki might all celebrate their Idiot Blood but their lives are worth squat and they know it. And now we know it. For all of its charms, Kyoto begins to feel like a refugee camp in a war zone. Horrible pointless tragedies to ensue. I don’t care if the effing Ebichunk twins misbehave any more. Their lives are all too precarious and the story, wrapped up in sweet sweet touristy trappings is too jarring in shit times like this. On the back burner.

Eromanga Sensei: Mebee later.

Saekano S2: ditto. I sometimes read the manga(s) – it is hard to keep the stories in order. The property is my go-to example of the ‘If not for the harem, this fool would have no friends, anyone to talk to, female or male at all.” effect. The conceit in the full title is obnoxious. Oh wait, it shares first place with the manga Shin Seitokai No Ichizon No Friends Female Male Or Even Pity From Familiar Animals, which I only read because I have a bet with myself on how long noted yaoi/ otokonoko pr0n-meister Suemitsu Dicca can keep drawing it before shota otokonoko bondage scenes sneak in. Good throat-slashing by psycho girl so far.

Haine: Never made it to ep2 . Fujoshi diabetes. Haine is coincidentally the french word for hatred, though I doubt the producers planned this. They were probably going for Heine.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records: Notable that it was used as a straw man to ‘prove‘ that anime was crap (in comparison to something western, whatever, who cares) by a hack New York Times writer. Cue the predictable anitwitter outrage. Gawd; those idiot outfits. Fanservice made painful, not sexy. I will still watch it if I am bored and can’t get to sleep, just to see how a grade D filler show plods through its paces.

Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Manga and Anime: 
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moyasimon:_Tales_of_Agriculture]

I finally sat down and went through both seasons of the anime and caught up on extant chapters of the manga available to my comprehension. Sadly, the manga concluded in 2014. Some have called it the Agriculture School Genshiken. Close but no kewpie doll. It remains a long-running, serviceable and enjoyable university slice-of-life comedy. Perhaps it was started to ‘sexy up’ Ag colleges in Japan.

The woman characters are the most interesting, although their formidable natures are bent towards fanservice. The main chara’s dodgy male upperclassmen sometimes redeem themselves. The childhood best friend who vanishes and then reappears as a gender-confused goth loli crossdressing booze store clerk feels forced but is tolerable so far. The conceit that the main character can ‘see’ and ‘talk’ with microbes – which his senses process as cartoonish avatars – doesn’t really get in the way of the story and is not used as too much of a story crutch – which is one heck of a writing trick. I recommended both seasons of the anime and the manga.

Manga

Himegoto – Juukyuusai no Seifuku is ending, amidst horrible and dire events, as expected. At least it did its smutty melodramatic genderfuck tale of ruin as true to its intentions as it could. Tomboy girl escapes, all else walk back into the flames. Something like The Terminator, only with desperate sex instead of killer robots. For all its faults, it remains miles above and ahead of Scum’s Wish, in internal consistency and faith to its premise. It “Does what it was born to do.

Shimanami Tasogare: The understated tale of queer adolescence set in a small inland sea cost town continues. The casual stupid cruelty of an interloper mouthing off as she volunteers with the abandoned house collective that serves as a drop-in center and safe space for the town’s queer community is devastating. Anonymous/ Someone (another Benten-ish character, though better realised and deployed – translations of her name vary) is temporarily missing. The young guy MC is having no luck dealing with his sexuality or helping another member of the group come to terms with theirs.

Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa: After some powerful emotional chapters as the cohort faces graduation, the story has gone back to goofy time-travel hijinks that promise to deliver teeny doses of moralizing. Think Kids in The Hall try to re-do Auntie Mame as a highschool romcom. And now my capsule review module is officially broken and slinging pasta at the wall.

Where is Kizumonogatari Part 3: Reiketsu when I need it ?

Patience…

Owarimonogatari S2?

More patience!

 

Promises to keep and miles to go:

Where the heck are my Genshiken Nidaime wrap up essays?

Genshiken Nidaime and the imaginary Fujoshi Homosocial in Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture

Conformity, Cowardice and Privilege: The Luck of Harunobu Madarame.

Becoming Fujoshi, becoming adult: the fearsome project of Kenjiro Hato, the fearsome project of Kio Shimoku.

On Fanfiction

I really really really need to do a full participant-observer consideration of fanfiction writing. Not just the burlesque thing I did a few years back on machine generated and analog versions of crapfic. Not all fanfic turns into shmex scenes with the One True Pairing; which is a relief if only because (pour moi) smut-fic leads to ennui. Boyo Wilde (or was it Slavoj?) nailed it when they noted that “friendship is far more tragic than love – it lasts longer.” Still, any analysis of fanfic writing must gaze deep into solitary wells of shame and embarrassment. Is this some kink thing? Then there are those self-inserts, which even without Mary or Marty stomping around, are unavoidable. I learned never to put myself into my art because my pet Id-monster beat me to the parking spot every fucking time. Why do you think so many artists are geeked on Procedural Generation?

Out out damned spot!

NO! Avoid the easy way out of referencing to machine-generated fic!

At the same time, if someone is going to spend hours, days, week writing fic on a property, they must love it, love the characters and the situation and the setting and simply, honestly and with great purity in their hearts, want more… Want it never to end. The hunger for the narrative is frightening. Stories end. Then you move on. Unless you are 2 years old, in a car-seat on a long long ride and the driver has put the 10-hour mp3 of Diggy-Diggy-Hole on the stereo to distract you. (this works by the way)

“AGAIN!”
“wait for it…”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”

There is something fearsome, even tragic and yet exalted-ly human here: Schmex und Tod. Happy Endings. To go back and fix things, To repair the things that have been broken. That wind.. Gedicht und Grab… Ver haff I heard dis before? I blame visual novel-style games. They blame fanfic. The world-snake devours all.

Only the sky remains.

Theory:

An Industry Awaiting Reform: The Social Origins and Economics of Manga and Animation in Postwar Japan by Oguma Eiji, Translation by Yokota Kayoko
http://apjjf.org/2017/09/Oguma.html

An important primary source for the Japanese popular discourse on “Herbivore Men”, ca 2005. Now translated and open source on the author’s web site:
Confessions of a Frigid Man: A Philosopher’s Journey into the Hidden Layers of Men’s Sexuality” by Masahiro Morioka‏
http://www.philosophyoflife.org/tpp/frigid.pdf

Fan Culture

Not a survey this time. The proprietor of the Otaku Journalist blog is collecting fan ‘origin stories’; testimonials from fans on how they got hooked on CVJC. See: http://www.otakujournalist.com/whats-your-anime-origin-story/
Stories end up here: http://www.animeoriginstories.com/blog/
Earlier takes on the same theme:
http://nopybot.com/2011/02/22/my-history-with-anime/
https://dorrykun.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/my-history-with-anime/

Oh goodie! I made it. It is still May.

Added: I consider a few more manga in the comment section…