Spotted Flower 26.5+27: Keep your eyes on me, now we’re on the edge of hell

Sempai, I may have left my scent on your hanten.

Spoilers ensue

0) Nor see three great movies… (a diversion as prologue)

I just heard that some philosophy professor became an internet sensation with his cranky “get-off-my-lawn” conservatism partially by the trick of slipping some simple life tips into his screeds. Could it be that “You might do better impressing a girlfriend if you brush your teeth and floss. Now here is some softpedalled transphobia…” is a winning rhetorical strategy?

Fine, two can play. Here’s one from left field: Your shower. You got one? Does it have a shower head on a hose? If so, I am going to make your life a tiny bit better. Most shower hoses are those metal clad thingies and they are typically 80cm-1meter long. Urasai! Buy a 1.5m, no screw that a 2m one! Wrap the shiny ends in duct tape before tightening with rusty pliers. Don’t mess up the rubber washers. I should sign up for an affiliate on these but haven’t yet. Here’s an Ebay search: Wow, lookie $5-$7 including postage. Oh heck, is it cheaper on Aliexpress? Coolio! Here’s one on an affiliate link:[http://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/bXNbbDcM] Grab one, it will get to you in a month and then your life will be a tiny bit better and you will subconsciously associate all my opinions with happiness. I think I’m going to do more of these, as a semi-regular annoyance/ feature. Mwahhh Hahhh Hahhh!
Anyway, what kind of philosophe aspires to be a bully?

Enough! Roll the first feature:

1) Une Saison en Enfer

In chapter 27 of Kio Shimoku’s Spotted Flower ‘the Husband’ AKA Harunobu Madarame has arranged to meet up with his university club junior to nail down an alibi as to how a certain Mangaka’s signature scent ended up on a house coat/ hanten in Mada’s apartment. At least that’s the excuse. Madarame has clearly set up the meeting so that he could brag about his adventure to ‘the boyfriend of the other mangaka (Ogiue) who the boob-grabbing girl foreigner (Sue Hopkins) helps out’ (the habit of eliding names in Spotted Flower is getting clunky, c’mon it’s obviously the once and future…) Kanji Sasahara.

Just to make the exchange somewhat balanced, Kio-sensei added a surprise earlier this summer in a 2-page web-extra chapter (26.5) on the Rakuen Le Paradis website. After many years, Chika Ogiue’s assistant couldn’t take it any longer and jumped her sleeping liege, stealing a deep and thorough kiss, as Ogiue had a nap-dream of a romantic moment with her boyfriend. As the long-overdue dawn of explicit f:f intimacy in the Genshiken verse, the execution feels rushed and troublesome. I am also at a loss to translate the colloquial European scanlator’s final dialogue; I am guessing that Sue’s retort was something about “not being finished yet” (playing on the page inking that Ogiue requested before napping off) followed by a declaration that she has yet to secure Ogiue’s .. panties (???) This translation is clearly NOT even close:

One of the machine translations dropped the word “pants” into the output. It would fit… Who knows? Meanwhile at least one of Sue’s hands is up Ogiue’s sweatshirt and much further “taking” is strongly indicated in a final cut-out panel.

Hmmmmmph! Maria Sama is still watching.

I am even less impressed because any Sue x Ogiue appears to have been whomped up primarily as a set-up so that Sass-boy can have a somewhat equivalent “triangle” situation to discuss in comparison to Mada’s. Oh wot the heck. Steamy Sue x Ogiue times finally. Kio, may I suggest grabbing some Takemiya Jin for a few pointers, so it doesn’t come off as pure Loser Fanboy service… Please. OMG, no, not the Kurogane Kenn stuff !!!

Mada’s triangle is judged trickier as there is a newborn baby in the mix. For the most part, Sasahara-kun plays his role perfectly by re-iterating how much of a dawg/ player/ scumbag his sempai has become, all while dropping asides about how he would lurv a threesome with Ogiue and Sue (1).

So yeah… Guys.

Putting aside the growing suspicion that Spotted Flower is a Shimoku’s Gate probability line where the majority of all annoying fan pairings/ ‘ships’ that the author was pestered about over the years are to be played out by bored and horny 30-something year olds, the discussion between Mada and Sass is odd in that “no danger of accidental pregnancy from -this- infidelity” is a talking point… As opposed to say; ‘Hato finally got his wish and he uked me, as in took my ass, quite thoroughly!” — although the occurence is mentioned in passing. Madarame appears to be enthusiastic about sharing details, treating the tryst as a Man-of-the-World Experience Points bonus round, rather than displaying any uncertainty over his sexuality. Neither does he give any hint of having a crush on Hato.

Instead of the insecure and flustered contemporary guy harem lead, Madarame now aspires to an earlier (1970’s-1980’s bubble, pre-1992-crash) model of male infidelity as natural privilege, of the kind that so often made a complete fool out of Urusei Yatsura‘s “Darling”, Ataru Moroboshi.(2) If winning the “most interesting mistress experience award” wasn’t enough, Kio-sensei piles on a few extra privilege points. When Mada grumbles about a sense of melancholy and unreality surrounding his life of late, Sasahara spills to Mada that ‘the ex’, (who can only be Makoto Kousaka) was in a pitiful state after seeing [Kasukabe-san], crushed that he had not been judged worthy of husband-and-father-hood by her.

“In my opinion, the idea of getting married to someone as eccentric as him didn’t suit her. And it’s normal. So really, you won her over with your own merits, senpai. And poor guy went back to my place, dejected, after you showed him your newborn daughter.
“Eh? You think so?”
“You look like you’re gloating. Disgusting.”

Also, a fortunate choice of translation: Madarame! You ‘three times asshole’ (as the italian scanlators put it) You DOUCHEBAG! (as Genshiken Dropout’s Asandyrabbit suggested.) I found this great essay on why douchebag is a perfect term for entitled manchildren (4).

Aggressively Foolish and Annoying; Expects Privilege.

Lest you think that I went on too long in previous posts about Madarame being Kio Shimoku’s Japanese exploration of the same themes as Updike’s ‘Rabbit’, (3) I can only say that I lack the mangaka’s skills at condensing the argument to a few lines of dialogue. Disappointed fan-boy butthurt over the manga story arc is no longer relevent; Kio-sensei’s ambitions have grown along with his chops. Or as with Heat Haze/ Kagerou Nikki, Yonensai and Gonensai, his confidence and abilities have grown to match his stories. If anyone dropped the pictures and framed the dialogue with a smattering of convincing descriptive filler, Spotted Flower could stand toe to toe with most Murakami short stories. No talking cats required. Background music allusions optional. But such would be a criminal waste; Kio Shimoku loves the visual medium: Consider the cute, dishabille bedroom Hato and the look on their half-turned face! Priceless!

Wither Spotted Flower‘s Hato? Kio Shimoku missed his creation, returning them to the story in chapter 12. If their role was only to be the instrument of Madarame’s downfall, why was so much time spent adding depth to her character, her work life as an ero-donjinshi convention sales supported mangaka and her curious partnership with her manager-lover-(collaborator?) Merei Yajima? Unlike Murakami, whose women creations remain magically opaque to their male main characters, the spotted verse has tantalising snippets of characterisation for its women characters, and of course almost a complete character study for Hato as trans-fujoshi-ero-mangaka.

At first glance, and if you continue to squint, Hato has succeeded with Yajima’s help. Their dream of a fennish world to envelop them has come true, even if the cost has been pronounced. Rotten has consumed them. Rotten and the requirements of a hyper-expressed fujoshi practice govern far too much of their lives. In bed with Merei, Hato is still “collaborating” in their production. Merei will send her off, grudgingly citing “research”, even as she knows it is far more. Hato’s long-held infatuation is real and true, but can only be expressed as one or another variant of a late 1990’s BL bonk scene. And in her own way, Hato is just as irresponsible and immature as Madarame. This may tread perilously close to the sin of misgendering but she makes “guy” mistakes about relationship stuff, or at least Kio-sensei has her make mistakes in a way that echoes her residual – kept for BL field missions – guy-ness. Wondering if Yajima “had turned into” a lesbian and was in danger of being seduced by Sue was the most obvious example. The mpreg rediculousness was so off the charts as to be impossible to keep track of; with Hato’s body alternating between being treated as alienated residual and fujoshi lore turned post-gender sci-fi wish fulfilment.

Others can later debate how clumsy Kio-sensei was and where. The fact remains is that it was not necessary to a simple ‘The World of Mada Will Fall‘ plot to do any of this.

2) Wait for me, you’ve gone much farther… Too far.

I fear that both readers and writers of romantic comedies and romances have one thing in common. We have scant idea how a “real” romance (het or other) should “naturally” work. Is it that we suspect that without delusions and puppet scripts and assigned roles no one could ever meet up and sustain interest in another? Twitter and Tumbler are full of pseudonymous queer comments condemning this or that clumsy heterosexual pairing as “too het”, which I take as a shorthand for a sense of alienation and reification with the social role demands and expectations tack-welded to too many girl meets boy stories. And that feeling reflects a truth. Guys and girls go to “sports bars” to find “normal, straight, hard-working, easy to understand potential partners as much as they did 600 years ago at the harvest market’s festival.

When I was younger I used to wonder about the innocent fools who would slowly drive their customised cars up and down the main street of my town on warm summer weekend nights. Would they sit down years later and tell a child that he or she was born because some butt-ugly piece of Detroit metal with oversized tires attracted mom to dad?

Yes, Tyler, you’re here because of that ’73 Cordoba with the bitchin’ chrome mags!

This uneasiness is part of why straight folks womp up queer characters for romance tales; supposedly the “scripts” and roles apply less, so perhaps we can watch attraction play out unencumbered by anything more than lust and genre clichés. Simulations. Reduce the variables and re-run the scenarios. We might yet understand the human heart, or at least come up with a few more stories as to how hearts might romp if only they could slip their leashes.

Hello!, have we forgotten someone?

When LGBTQ+ characters show up in vernacular narratives, too often the impression for IRL LGBTQ+ readers is mixed, if not problematic. Even if run-of-the-mill bigotry has been somewhat toned down, rendered déclassé and boorish in the better neighborhoods of the global village, those of minority sexualities and gender expressions face further challenges of “erasure”. ‘It is fine whatever you get up to: I/ we/ society simply don’t want to see (any trace of) it“. The mere public existence of LGBTQ+ people acting as if they have as much right to be where and as anyone else -might- “frighten the horses” . When Shadow-of-gay characters appear, they are no longer invisible but too often they are routinely used in annoying one-dimensional story conventions: over-fanserviced or one or a couple of tragically killed off lesbians, outlandish performing ‘Hard-gay” guys and for trans*/ gender non-conforming/ non-binary folks, the otokonoko, the okama, the butch dyke and the crossdresser. No wonder IRL LGBTQ folks feel whiplashed. The choice between erasure or burlesque representation is not much of a choice.

Given that us straight folks ain’t gonna stop making up LGBTQ charas, some pointers or at least suggestions from the tojisha community might be a really really good idea. A decade ago Dr Mizoguchi made it clear what she thought should be extirpated from BL: so-called “rapes of love” and “I’m not gay, it’s only you”. Less obvious was her weariness with both exotic and straights-struck-by-lightning guys. What of just-so, hard-working, “yeah, I’m a gay man, what of it?” protags for BL stories?

Without looking for one singular “rulebook” for lesbian representation, one can probably intuit that extreme fanservice, including threesomes and moresomes; “killing your gays” and the insidious Maka Maka effect (fanservice angst-y f:f schmexy while either or both of a pair wait for “the right guy”) should take a rest. For gay guys, probably it’s more a matter of degree. You have the guy who works with the woman MC. You don’t have to  “queen him out” so that he can be a team-mate/ sidekick and not a romantic interest. An offhand mention is sufficient. See how useful guy privilege is?

To these obvious pointers, we can now add a few new ones for trans* characters, thanks to Twitter threads by Bogi “Takács PERSON, 100% migráncs @bogiperson”.

Who?

“I both edit and review a lot of trans-related fiction. I edited Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016 (#Lammys winner) and the upcoming Transcendent 3 too. :)”

Ok, thems sound like experience points.

  • Writing thread! Introducing trans and/or intersex characters – some common and less common pitfalls! 
  • Worldbuilding thread! Some pitfalls related to shapeshifting, gender, and trans people.
  • Worldbuilding thread! How (not) to include trans people as background characters – some common mistakes.
    — Threads archived at: [ https://threadreaderapp.com/user/bogiperson ]

Nowhere in these is there a requirement that trans* charas must be perfect Whoever-Xues (we need a name/term for the wish-fulfilment self-insert non-binary chara – my suggestion with an X in this case follows the Chinese convention of pronouncing a leading X as Sh) These tips make plenty of sense and as a bonus, rid potential stories of more than a few groaners.

It was a dark and stormy night as our otokonoko protagonist stood naked in front of the mirror” can now be excised for one further reason. I found it a fun game to keep a tally of how Kio-sensei’s Hato fares as I went through the lists. Some of the tropes might be too western-specific, others subverted (the Stand(s) were incredibly useful) while others were purposefully worked against to follow a theory-ish plot-point. The last of these; a trans social for Hato remains glaringly absent because Hato instead chose a fujoshi/ otaku social. We shall see how far Kio Shimoku continues to push a conceit noted by Takahiro Ueda; that “otaku is a violence against gay” [http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/acd/cg/lt/rb/623/623PDF/ueda.pdf]

Is it time to make Spotted Flower‘s snoopish editor Endou queer, so that she can drag Hato and Yajima off to a cozy Ni-Chome bar?

3) Per Aspera

That’s two of them.. Please read the thread archives for the rest. My two cents towards adding to a “best practice” code of conduct for straight writers dreaming in queer would be that that ya can’t go wrong if you keep the tone of the settings, or at least of the actions of your idea-of-queer character “aspirational”. That appears to have worked well a few times. You can also hide a fair amount of sloppy behind it.

Meanwhile…

Kio-sensei’s new thing about the chorale ensemble seems to be taking up most of his recent attention. I look forward to eventually reading it, even buying the tanks next time i make it to Japan.Spotted Flower remains viable and exultingly open ended. Yajimacci! Hato-sensei’s mainstream debut and how Endou-editor-san manages it (is she completely out of her depths when it comes to broaching the DMAB subject?) Saki’s suspicions; Saki going home to see mom for a month (a very typical Japanese post-natal tradition) Mada at loose ends.

Mada and Hato must end up at a love hotel! It should be one of those really tacky ones that look like a castle! Bonus if they get to their room and Mada pulls out 2 six-packs of beer, munchies and a game console loaded up with ototkonoko games. Hey Mada, if you dont bring some blue pills then we’ll all know that you plan to do the po po pitiful me sou-uke hime routine… forever!

Otherwise, Mada’s next level-up event will be Kousaka popping him one in the snout.

 

ENDNOTES:

(1) As well as the European fan translators, I am indebted to Genshiken Dropout’s Asandyrabbit for help puzzling out chapter 27. Please support the magazine and Kio-sensei; Rakuen LeParadis can be purchased as an e-book/ Kindle publication on Amazon.co.jp
[https://www.amazon.co.jp/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?__mk_ja_JP=%E3%82%AB%E3%82%BF%E3%82%AB%E3%83%8A&url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=%E6%A5%BD%E5%9C%92++%E7%99%BD%E6%B3%89%E7%A4%BE&rh=n%3A465392%2Ck%3A%E6%A5%BD%E5%9C%92++%E7%99%BD%E6%B3%89%E7%A4%BE]

(2) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urusei_Yatsura] . Rumiko Takahashi [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumiko_Takahashi] remains a living god of manga. As of writing at 60, she is still working; her current project being the retro flavored (Kyōkai no) Rinne.

(3) Not for a microsecond am i suggesting that Kio Shimoko is cribbing from Updike. Guy misbehavior is ubiquitous, there is plenty to go around. I’m just suggesting they both have booths at the same county fair.

(4)[ https://gawker.com/douchebag-the-white-racial-slur-we-ve-all-been-waiti-1647954231 ]

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Till human voices wake us

“Another damned thick post! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Muda?”

“Hello yes every single manic pixie dream girl is queer, but they’re viewed entirely through a straight male lens, so their personality is reframed as the quirky saviours of sad straight boys, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk”
— Mia Steinberg [@MiaSteinberg] https://twitter.com/MiaSteinberg/status/992188834661089282

That just took care of an entire essay on Genshiken/ Genshiken Nidaime‘s Sue Hopkins

Taken in concert with ASandyRabbit‘s essays on Spotted Flower over at Genshiken Dropout:
https://genshikendropout.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/the-all-gender-gaze-also-chapter-22-of-spotted-flower/
and
https://genshikendropout.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/spotted-flower-26-or-is-it/

… And we have a firm basis for an expanded understanding of Hato and Sue.

Plenty more remains to be said about Harunobu Madarame aka The (once and future) Husband in Spotted Flower. I am fascinated by the puzzle. Mada is the cisgendered heterosexual avatar of geekyness main character. Straight boy POV works for me. Whereas a slashy, or queer POV will bring alternative readings. The trouble is that Kenjiro Hato/ The Mangaka, as well as Sue Hopkins the future boobie grabbing terror of Comiket are both queer-ish creations whomped up by a straight cartoonist for a mostly straight-gaze audience. They are Dreaming in Queer™ artifacts. That Kio Shimoku manages to imbue them with something more than one-dimensionality is a tribute to his storytelling skills, even as it is apparent that Spotted Flower is a Harunobu Madarame (thinly veiled of not) adventure tour.

“left brain: it isn’t healthy to obsess over fictional characters constantly because you lose touch with reality
right brain: bold of you to assume i’ve ever been in touch with reality.”
Twitter, tits mcgee @afairyhoe, May 24 2018

As such, Spotted Flower, more than Genshiken Nidaime is a Mada meet shadow of queer, shadow of queer meet Mada story (coming on the heels of a Mada meet responsibility, responsibility meet Mada, Mada run screaming into the night story); one built for primarily for the entertainment (and/ or consternation) of straight boys and girls. A tojisha reader will notice things that I don’t. They may even find a measure of satisfaction from seeing the flame that burned for years in the heart of Kenjiro Hato given the chance to blaze forth in a night of passion. Damn fine and more power to all. Hato has clearly been (written as) besotten all this time; their motivation is “pure” even as the execution is designed to be jarring to some fanboy (including my) sensibilities.

It is Madarame/ The Husband’s motives and motivations that remain opaque, diffuse and layered. Beyond the surface alibi of feeling belittled by his peers, his excuses branch forth like intricate, crystalline growths. On top of this, his character can also be viewed through the reductivist lens of allegory. Madarame variously “secretly wanted” to try sou-ukery and/or is testing the limits of his salaryman privilege and/or seeking maturity by getting “dirtied” along with a raft of other tenuous just-so stories all while standing on stage as the very model… – if increasingly out of reach — of salaried adult Japanese male conformity.

Were I more into queer theory, I could say cis-heteronomative conformity[1]. Were I more doctrinaire in my wishy-washy leftishness, I would be qualifying the conformity with capitalism. If I worked at it, I betcha I could sneak in some post-colonialist conformity as well. As it is, I am more interested in the conformity part of the conformity. Here again, the Hato character is useful, constructed and deployed to serve as high contrast to Madarame and his position.

Is Kenjiro Hato ( as one long-time correspondent suggested) Kio Shimoku’s unconscious fujoshi slipping out? Possibly; Kio-sensei has been mooching around the rotten sandlot for a decade and a half. Hato however, as his creation is first and foremost a mangaka and one who (along with their lover-manager) ekes out a living on convention doujin sales. Kio-sensei’s creation therefore stands in opposition to all rule-following, securely salaried figures as avatar of creativity, resistance and precarity. Ronin, Freeter, Artist. All who draw a salary, including the new editor character Endou are natural enemies, even if they may appear to be allies of the moment. Japan has centuries of experience in enforcing conformity, most often through social exclusion and starvation. Creative types act out their individuality and their token rebellions but the leash is always near and very, very short. Kenjiro Hato is a queer creation but the reason for their queer must mention how they stand as a symbol of nonconforming individuality and freedom; purchased not only by their skill and enthusiasms but at the price of economic and social insecurity.

Years ago, I ventured in a post that Madarame only falls for the feminine aspect of the heroic. Kasukabe Saki was interesting but Saki as Ritsuko Kubel Kettenkrad busting an upskirt filming creep made his knees go weak. Pity that carrying a child to term, even if it is his child is somehow too real to be heroic and out of consideration. Hato’s project in Nidaime was ambitious but Madarame would have found it difficult to view it as heroic; whereas their current life drips exotic and dangerous individuality, at least from the viewpoint of a very safely employed yet vexed salaryman.

Other essays touched on the Japanese concept of “Ikki“, the impermanence of doomed beautiful creatures of the floating world. Tyrel’s final pronouncement in Blade Runner: “the flame that burns twice as bright burns only half as long”, wishful, poetic license notwithstanding is a close approximation of the point of view. The usual outcome is more likely to be something along the lines of “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din”. Gunga seldom survives to hear the grudging praise.

Hato has been constructed queer or as a shadow of queer but like so many such straight creations, with details that are improbable, wonky and off-spec. There are reasons for this; if anything there too many reasons. Almost every odd thing about Hato fits like a puzzle piece into the larger story, which incidentally once more hammers home the case for Spotted Flower being a veiled continuation of the Genshiken-verse. If one is not up on the lore of Genshiken and Nidaime, The Mangaka character comes off as predatory at worst; at best unable to exercise self-control and good bedroom manners. One does not demand the indulgence of your fave fetish on the first date! Only those of us familiar with the long history of the pas-de-deux between Madarame and Hato would understand that Hato as trans-fujoshi — a conceit wherein the character used BL and the female fan homosocials surrounding the genre as a way to negotiate their gender and sexuality issues — was custom-built to really really want to top Mada as proof of their love the first (or second) chance they got.

A younger Hato could have said Ski-da or D’ai-ski while walking with Mada back on the Nikko temple grounds and both would have long ago satisfied their curiosities, if not their hearts. Instead Hato fugued out and started blubbering about BL seme x uke lore because that is all they knew of love between men and the only way they could (and can) process the concept (perhaps of any manner) of love. Future Merei Yajima suffers from this as well, stuck in the role of virtual lesbian fujoshi sex-friend, manager and confidant [2]

It isn’t a case of a deceitful (grown up) girly-boy out to bone a foolish salaryman — even if it might look so to the uninitiated.

Past essays have explored a number of reasons why supposedly gay, trans, queer characters get written into stories made by and for nominally straight audiences. Young guy charas with the hots for each other can “stand in” for a young women’s readership and explore romantic carnality in ways that might be jarring or at least too close to home if one or more of the bodies were female. (hi Ten, Taiyou…) A gay and/or gender-queer outsider perspective gives a chara, especially a male/ DMAB chara licence to show interest and even a sophisticated understanding of interpersonal dynamics in settings where such skill would be harder to sell if done by a straight male character. Male agency, physical strength and emotional inarticulateness; male hysteria is a good excuse for adding entertaining noisy melodrama to what would be otherwise mundane romance stories. At least we are slowly moving beyond adding “the gay” to a scary scary villain chara to make them that much scarier as well as the related urge to turn them into an antagonist by circumstance, ultimately defeatable and redeemable whether they like it or not (who again in the Franxx?).

I have found a new one; a “secondary use” for a genderqueer character as a “lite” alternative to a fully gay male character. Portions of Anime Twitter have recently been going on about a crossdressing boy figure skating character introduced in the latest (Hugtto) Pretty Cure/ Precure. (Of all things!) While the character does get to serve as an argument for less rigid gender role considerations (“Girls can be Heroes and Boys can be Princesses [that need saving] too.“) one must acknowledge that the half Russian, half French figure skater transfer student might like “beautiful clothes” (and I have no beef with the sermon or its placement, Yay Precure…) but is also there to serve as a kid’s “lite” version of a Yuri on Ice character. Difficult questions about that sexuality thing, out-of-place in a kid’s anime are thereby brushed aside. I think I will christen this the “kid’s doujin” effect.

As well as keeping track of the conventional in-story uses of shadow-queer characters, it is also useful to keep an eye on their just-so backstories. The oldest of these I shorthand as the “Gatsby effect“. The rich are different from us, they have fuckloads more money and so they are afforded a greater measure of societal freedom. This one shows up a lot. The next most popular I borrow from Nagaike; [http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue20/nagaike.htm] the “Exotic Outlander(s)” As in the above figure skater, outlanders are prone to odd habits and might even occasionally break into quaint ethnic dances. Mustn’t gawk.

To these we can add “Guide to a weekend taste of freedom and non-conformity“. For an extreme example, ask yourself if Brad and Janet were fundamentally changed in any way by their encounter with the denizens of Doc Frank N Furter‘s mansion.

Dirty….
Really?

Harunobu Madarame/ The Husband (even with the earlier Genshiken-verse backstory) has been painted in thin strokes – as one would expect from a few pages four times a year manga – but the direction of these strokes is unmistakable. Indeed it would be nothing but a jumble of lines without the over-powering archetype of his salaryman role. This archetype is so strong that even a woman chara, with a few tweaks, can don it and comfortably ride the commuter trains back and forth to work every day. Perhaps Miss Kobayashi’s fear of making an honest dragon out of Tohru stems from a subconscious fear, not of para-lesbianism but of succumbing to the larger (including the domestic) role of the salaryman. Then again, as a woman and a programmer Miss Kobayashi can never truly approach the core of Japanese salaryman-ness. As a programmer, she is expected to actually accomplish work that is objectively measurable as accomplished, if not productive. This places her within an elite subset of salaryman-dom as a “specialist” but also outside of its mainstream social practices.

Add to this her role as asexual leader of a lesbian dragon collective (NOT a harem!) and one can see the Kobayashi household and its allied domains as a rose-colored stealth queer subversion, if not a surpassing of the salaryman archetype.[3] Then it turns out her workplace is owned by an alchemist whose underaged son is being sexually harassed by a dypsomaniac Aztec love goddess dragon and…

Ohh.. fugget it…

In contrast, Madarame as The Husband, from what we can infer from his past behavior is cast firmly in place of all conforming, modestly successful team-playing, check everything with your coworkers and report the consensus as progress while asking for further direction from your boss “hourensou” practicing worker-drones. That is why he is allowed to earn enough to support a wife and child.

“To be a good employee, you need to understand hourensou. If not, you´ll be constantly told off by your boss. I think I´d be one of the bad one[s]. You must report your progress of the work and the result (houkoku), you must pass the actual information without your opinion (renraku) and you must ask for an advice when you can´t decide (soudan). But of course, you cannot just do it. There are some techniques to do hourensou, otherwise your boss thinks you are not sensible enough and again, you will get told off. ”
http://www.iromegane.com/japan/culture/what-is-hourensou/

Yadda yadda yadda. We are endlessly told that Japanese workplaces prize cooperation and consensus. The actual mechanisms are seldom explained. Along with strict hierarchy, we get “go along to get along” raised to a fever pitch. You and all your similarly ranked colleagues must report that you all have the same understanding and belief in yesterday’s stated goals, that there is incremental progress in that direction and that you await critique and further elaboration of how the consensus is to proceed. Any actual output of product or service might well be incidental. Under such conditions Mada’s “spinelessness” is not just a survival strategy; it is his winning attribute, the source of his success and social position.

Is Kio Shimoku suggesting that all good Japanese salarymen are primed and conditioned to pantomime sou-uke behavior? (or seek it as release?) Or even that the seme x uke trope might have been invented as a woman’s burlesque of annoying and all too prevalent patterns of male deference and demands for authority; suck up, kick down recast as fetish? More likely he is spinning a parable that affirms that as long as the employed male respects the order of forms they will be economically rewarded, given agency over underlings and allowed a measure of “play time”, even misbehavior outside of the all-important work social. Those who screw this up will have a harder time of it.

Everything remains all about Madarame the salaryman. Even the manga title is a play on hs name. Where it not for the novelty of queer desire (used as shorthand for minority sexuality and /or gender expression [4]) and queer sex, Mada’s entitlement and the “luck” that his “spinelessness” purchases would bend the story out of shape. The first Rabbit book by Updike [5] works more or less. The second is a nightmare because ‘ya just know that jerk boy will eventually emerge relatively intact out the ass end of the exercise, hippie love cult commune notwithstanding.

Obviously secondary, precarious characters are going to get bent about to fit this hellish distortion in the plot-gravity field. Is there any other character in Spotted Flower who approaches Mada for economic security? Temp agency editor, mangaka and assistant, boutique entrepreneur catering to a niche fashion market… Future Kousaka might come close as an ero-game developer; even if his job once compelled him to wiggle into the costume of a chara from Crossdressing Valley and perform as a Comiket booth babe otokonoko.

Likewise, any problematic depictions of trans characters (as well as of besotten heavyset fujoshi girls and somewhat same-sex attracted manic pixy outlander girls) is a secondary, even unintended effect. Making a trans character look predatory was never the point of the story. Did not Kio-sensei go through the trouble of spinning an elaborate backstory to position their almost-but-not-quite trans woman/ trans-fujoshi character outside of serious IRL consideration?

Almost… but not quite. Hato might self-identify as trans-fujoshi and occasionally as residually male but eventually even the most stick-in-the-mud cis-het-aged-paleskinned-anglo-euroethnic close reading fans of the Genshiken must eventually admit that HATO IS TRANS. That their creator does not deploy approved western self-identification scripts and terminology is no excuse not to afford the character their obvious identity.[6]

spotted hips web.jpg

Those future Hato/ Mangaka hips did not come about as bonus surgery along with the boob job. Magical fan-fiction aside, if Kio-sensei draws the ero-mangaka like that, a backstory that includes years of hormone treatments must be stipulated. Did the Hato character justify estrogen treatments to themselves as a path to becoming a better fujoshi? Something is off here. [7]

Hato as a trans character, or as a character who is the straight-imagined shadow of one manner of transwoman is a trickier spirit to conjure than a wayward salaryman. If Hato was a depressed socially isolated lesbian who gradually learned to draw in order to tell her story, Kio-sensei would have available material if he was looking for a realistic – or realistic reading – source to rip off/ borrow. Storytelling uses exaggeration, clichés, chara types and tropes because they makes a hellishly difficult task somewhat manageable. If a queer character’s design aims for something closer to “realism” these will be folded into the larger lore as well. The reason why the “okama” and the “otokonoko” reappear in manga and anime is because they are clichés, even if one of them is drawn from surface impressions of IRL Japanese gay history. Then again, perhaps Kenjiro Hato/ The Mangaka has already ascended to trope-dom. Ms. Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon‘s author has a small manga series, drawn in rough copy-bon/ na-me form; “Danna ga Nani o Itte Iru ka Wakaranai Ken/ I can’t understand what my husband is saying“. Cool Kyoushinsha has his own take on the otaku husband and riajuu wife and just to cover all the bases soon introduces the husband’s brother who is transitioning to sisterhood. The latter is full-metal rotten, an accomplished ero-dojinshi Comiket seller and a brocon who only draws their brother as uke with a thinly veiled version of…  Themself!

Congratulations to Kenjiro Hato and his demiurge Kio Shimoku on their ascension to trope-dom.

All who can, shall!

 

And here is where this essay breaks down. I hesitate to wade into the appropriation of voice swamp but I still feel that something is off about the way Kenjiro Hato of Nidaime and Hato/ The Mangaka, as character is used. Tojisha folks don’t want to see there lives erased but aren’t these token, often wonky “dream-in-queer” chimeras of LGBTQIA+ life almost as problematic? Or are they better than nothing; Hobson’s choice, they’ll take Campbell’s, etc. artifacts? Manga and anime so seldom approach “realism” that it might be futile to demand it. Likewise declaring that henceforth yuri should only be written by out lesbians, BL by gay guys and anything using a genderqueer character by someone in the life is going to work as well as ordering the tides to stop. (What about collabs? Expert advisors?). It would however be great to see more genre works from authors who know a bit about what their charas could be like. It would also be way loads of fun to see tojisha authors run roughshod over a metric shit-ton of well-loved (or tolerated) genre tropes and mangle them. Takako Shimura already did a serious take on this trick with Aio Hana. I wonder what Jin Takemiya would do with a confident young lesbian character stuck in Class-S Melodrama Lesbian High School™?

Meanwhile the ever-returning urge of the straight writer to dream and write in queer will not go away, nor should it, if only because it is a powerful, wonky societal diagnostic port. It might also be the height of folly to attempt to try to seal it up. Fujoshi (at a minimum) would tell you (politely) to buzz off. They ain’t givin’ up their art form. It theirs. Yaoi Ronso Ver. X? Scrub the Tumblr pages, password the forums. Crash dive, crash dive. Rig for silent running…

I circle back to the fujoshi (and their slash-y cousins across the pond) because they make such a great example, but there is plenty of the same effect in other genres, perhaps more suitable to cis-old-pale-het-outlander tastes and considerations.

Twenty years (or less) from now there will be a heck of a lot more mundane manga and comics written by gay, lesbian, trans and queer (as well as IS and Ace) writers and that will mean that the ones that take off can be pillaged by straight boys and girls to create improved queer character knockoffs using a wider range of established tropes. Secondary queer characters will stand a better chance of not ending up as cardboard villains, disposable sidekicks, selfless Mary Sues/ Marty Stus and /or improbable three-sexed (so no, the author is not insulting “real” LGBTQIA folks) alien werewolves in heat.

Because the ultimate privilege that a straight cis-gendered writer of the majority ethnic group in their locale can afford to a character that looks like them is the freedom to be written as acting like a jerk. A fool. A layabout. A slacker. An asshole. A coward. A spineless wishy-washy nebbish. Then these can “grow” or fall and then grasp at redemption. Or run off on a journey of discovery. Or be nudged into becoming a world traveller.

Or….

For now, the best that can be advanced is the day-to-day imperative of encouraging venues for a diversity of voices and stories; including speaking up to demand that major internet platforms do not restrict and worse DE-MONITISE nascent minority sexuality and gender expression content.

If I was a creator with any rep, I would lend whatever public support I could give to any efforts of enlarging the chorale and ensuring that folks can eke out a few coins from Adsense on them. Not only as a backstop against “first they came for…” but for an entire new pile of tropes and clichés to borrow — because that’s what we do. We grab everything that ain’t nailed down and turn it into deodorant (and noodle cup) ads. And then we tell stories with what’s left over.

Also: Hugtto Precure is ok and has much theory moe.

ENDNOTES:

[1] If I was more into queer theory I would be also be more prone to over-exaggerate the symbolic importance of one obscure “queerish” moment in a text, rather than its entire tone. Here are 15 pages of nitpicking on Future Sue’s Comiket bra unhooking stunt. Kio-sensei is overt in what he does. The question is why he does it for his audience. And academics tend to DO that kind of stuff, heck….

[2] And I really have to compare my at-the-time Batoto captures with the currently available grey source translations of the later evening’s proceedings. More nuance in Madarame’s excuses seems to have crept in. I don’t remember Madarame going into that much detail about his take on Hato’s reluctance. I only remember “uncomplicated” and “fudanshi”. This was Madarame’s parting gift, solidifying Hato’s position in the club with a fallback “official” identity if their trans-fujoshi identity ever grew strained.

[3] I note that in a spin-off manga focussing on the smol dragon Kana and her friends and adventures, Ms. K has slipped into one of the Two Moms roles and that the series must take place after the onsen Valentine’s exchange because Tohru and Ms. K have before-sleep quiet times with nightcaps and then they sleep together.
OH YES! SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!

[4] Dr R. M.Thorn; https://twitter.com/rachel_thorn_en/status/989913928472842240
See also:  https://twitter.com/rachel_thorn_en/status/968669958715555841

[5]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbit,_Run

[6] See: Kastel’s: “Proud to Be a Failure: Queer Ethnographies and the Art of Queer Failure” https://mimidoshima.wordpress.com/2018/06/06/no-exclamation-mark-no-future/
The “ethnographic” studies referenced point to a larger ball-of-wax as gatekeeping and taxonomy fold into neo-colonial pressures. Just who exactly gets to say who someone else is anyway? I also tracked down Judith/Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure (Duke University Press, 2011) but that one is going to be a tough slog and perhaps a mite too infra for an old straight boy like me. They do, however have slightly more accessible works available on a blog that features writing by a collective of like-minded and equally theory-savy writers with a taste for the provocative and pointedly arch. See: https://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/about/

[7] This leads to another curious aspect of the night of passion. Madarame/ The Husband always looks like (to the point of never removing his glasses!) himself. Meanwhile The Mangaka’s form seems to oscillate between late 20-something curvy-busty femininity and a more boyish form – especially apparent as Mada attempts doggy position on them. I could swear their height is slightly variable as well. This is probably the result of the logistics of redrawing the sex scene but if Kio-sensei snuck it in on purpose, it is a master-stroke of disquieting ‘uncanny” representation.

8) This hopefully is the last of my grinds on Spotted Flower’s Ch22 etc. Been less productive than usual of late, my eyes (goddam!) have suddenly decided to age at an accelerated pace and maintenance had to be scheduled. Hooray commie-canuck medicine. All free, thanks! Also, it’s Kayak season, and aside from Hisotan, Amanchu2, (dammit, I’ll finish that Precure) and on the manga front, Hibiki, I’m not feeling it. Shouldn’t have read the fan xlations of the FMP Light Novels – will pass on the dire for now, marathon it later. Yeah, I’ll huh-watch Franxx but C’mon! Was this designed to remind us all how random golden age sci-fi anime was? Pull much plot out of ass lately? Nice titty robots, the bad aliens did it, whatever… Go out doors Naow!

Homewrecker

Spotted Flower chapters 22/ 23 reconsidered in light of the recent English fan translation. Spoilers Ensue. See also the earlier posts
https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/spotted-flower-chapters-22-23-les-etrangers/
and
https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/privilege-set-me-free/

— Fer krissakes, give it a rest already!
— No Way! Roll third feature:

Nine months after the Japanese publication of Spotted Flower chapters 22 and 23, a definitive English scanlation appeared in mid-March 2018. While most of what transpired within had already been known and discussed, the English version has served to put some readings into sharp perspective and (unfortunately, to me) close off others.

It doesn’t look like “It was all a dream” and worse, it looks like someone while eager for sex, repeatedly suffered hydraulic pressure failure and so agreed to other arrangements. As well, they prefaced their invitation to the bedroom with an outpouring of whining self-pity. The tone of the encounter shifts from “two guys (or at least dick-owners) trying things” to raw BL (yaoi) seme x uke roleplaying.

Continue reading

Privilege / Set Me Free

I think (after scrubbing the follow-up essay 8 times) that I finally can wrap my head around Spotted Flower Chapters 22 & 23

Yup, that’s it:

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihiro_Miwa
and
https://www.avclub.com/sherlock-gets-a-high-camp-makeover-in-a-forgotten-class-1823876762

Thinkin’ about Hellshake Yano

“I just want to stress this: Yano lost his entire band. He didn’t lose 20% of his band. He didn’t even lose 50%. He lost his whole band. Look at what it’s done to him. You can see the death in his eyes, but he keeps on going. This is why I’m thinking about Hellshake Yano.”

 

Mwah Hah Hah Mwah! While other peeps were thinking about Hellshake Yano, I was busy. Went and spent real money; money I could have used to buy food or booze on registering up http://www.hellshakeyano.com/  Surely, there is something wrong with my sense of judgement (1)

Namesilo had a domain reg sale on and I had a credit in paypal. You want to go reg up a domain name cheap? Go to namesilo.com, grab one or more, use my discount code HELPHOFF and we both save a buck. YEAH, THIS IS A BLATANT PLUG.

So…
1) I can leave it until the registration runs out next year.
2) Give it to someone with a great idea for it.
3) Put a high price on it and sell it to an ad-sense farmer.
Done! There’s a $200 price on it, Someone can just go to Namesilo, type in HELLSHAKEYANO and buy it if they have more bux than judgement.

4) Go to the commercial Shared Hosting Offers section of  Web Hosting Talk forum, find a $10/year hosting company and go completely nuts making a HELLSHAKE YANO shrine site.  http://www.webhostingtalk.com/forumdisplay.php?f=4

OR?

Use the comment section to add suggestions.

Not gone to Japan yet… Oh heck, one more time:

 

 

(1) I think my judgement was already blown to ifny when I regged up thecalifornianrepublican.com last week because I grew annoyed with a certain congresscritter and their low-rent PR stunt that bounced a domain to a facebook page.
Fer krissakes, a domain reg co will redirect for free; I could just did a redirect of hellshakeyano dot com to here; my lowly wordpress blog! This is what they call a “cloaked” redirect, so even if you go to “Home” it will always read www.hellshakeyano.com in the url bar, if you came here that way.
Hmmmmm maybe make a hellshakeyano shrine site and direct the californian republicans to it?
Oh, yeah, OMT: Don’t call me Shirley.

LATER: I have been one-upped by a pro. Someone snagged popteamepic.com and did a cloaked redirect to 4chan’s /a board.

Well Played!

Here I go again

Blog will go on mostly-hiatus for March, early April.

Bend to my will, oh giant iron fish and take us safely through the big wetness!

It’s official. I have tickets, and insurance and maple syrup.

Off to Japan I go for March (and a tiny bit of April). To avoid steerage, I had to cough up a good deal more cash than last year, plus the passage there is going to be a nasty 30 hours of automobiles, planes and trains (also known as I Remember Narita. I get Haneda on the way back). Also, I have never done the Toronto – Calgary detour before; Twitter informs me that it is traditional that the co-pilot must intone this spell over the PA: “Bend to my will metal sky bird and take us to the big blueness!” and all the passengers must chant “Sky bird! Sky bird!” to convince the plane to take off.

Do not Google Gimli Glider.

There will be plum blossoms, then cherry blossoms, hills around Kamakura to hike with my friend, my trusty one-speed granny bike and yummy food. I might even make it to a few manga/ anime related events in and around the greater Tokyo-Yokohama area in March. If I am really lucky there might even be something nifty and academic-ish vaguely to do with some of the themes I grind away on in this blog.

I am available for lectures, symposia, panels and any other events that will let me over-enthuse about stuff that I only have the most passing knowledge about, until the mods cut my mike.

I will again set up a data sim for one of my cheap android phones so I can post twitter pix (and use Google Maps so that I don’t get completely lost) As always I recommend Asahi Net [https://asahi-net.jp/en/] who will get me a data and SMS sim for a month and a few days for around $40. I can set it all up in advance and have the sim waiting at my friend’s place. Nice thing about Asahi Net is that if I go over my cap, I still get data, unlimited data in fact – just slowwwwwww….

I don’t really otaku out on these trips; I might pick up a Book-Off used copy of the 3rd volume of Spotted Flower but I have never doujin‘d out and I don’t see myself starting. After all, what good is it as a cultural thang unless it is already ubiquitous across the global inter-tubes. This also keeps me out of trouble with customs on the way back.

Vape juice with nicotine in it is impossible to get in Japan; that will be a problem but I hear they are ok with up to 120 ml brought in by shaky outlanders who are sweating through their third month off ciggies and gradually tapering down the amount of brain candy they are putting in their glycerine steam. Recently I have again been able to string two concepts together and type them out for this blog, although I miss the focus that chain-smoking brought to my previous writings. I understand the shaking eventually subsides.

Maple syrup. It seems to be the only thing one can bring as a gift that is not already available cheaper in Japan (and that comes in a bottle, unless you want to give 400-strength ibuprofen to the folks who invite you over for dinner). Don’t bother with booze, even duty-free: whatever you bring is cheaper at the local supermarket. Japan does alcohol.

My sis turned me on to kayaking. Maybe I can rent a kayak and paddle around Enoshima. With a kayak, you can sit on your ass if you mess up your ankles hiking the hill trails.

I got sick of snow.

LATER:

shinkai 1.jpg

Way Kewl! This tries to turn your pix into Makoto Shinkai -ish photo-illustrations:
https://everfilter.me

shinkai kayak.jpgKayaking – I do this now!

Stop me before I Everfilter everything!

STILL LATER:

I stashed 40lbs of inflatable Kayak-ish boatery in my luggage and have been paddling around the bay and on a few rivers around Kamakura and Yokohama.

Lookie at all the sakura blossoms!

DSC01853-ANIMATION

The boat is this: https://www.amazon.com/Intex-Explorer-2-Person-Inflatable-Aluminum/dp/B00A7EXF4C

Recommended!

What happened to my gaze?

You may or may not have already heard the term ‘the male gaze‘. It originally came from a film criticism essay. We now find it used to examine all kinds of visual culture artifacts. I was thinking about it recently as I was going over my anime watch list for the January-February-March 2018 season. Most of what I had settled on watching was “girly stuff” or rather exclusive girl character stories, except for one slapstick comedy and one fanservice train-wreck. Thankfully, there seemed to be a sliding continuum of moe/ CGDCT / fan-service, so I am not damned for all eternity.(Slow, slow run the horses of the night…) I’m not exactly sure who these stories’ gazes are made for or rather, whether the strict gendering of gaze has not been blurred by dint of market pressure. (1)

Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho/ A Place Further than the Universe is a girl’s adventure story with lead characters who are all responsible and have their own reasons for wanting to go on an expedition to Antarctica. Of note as well are the two expedition organisers we see the most of, who are both serious 20-something women and who have done this before. One of them is conflicted about the first girl’s determined reason for going on the trip. Men pop up in the background but this is overwhelmingly a women’s story of women’s efforts.

In another all women show, Takunomi, 20-something working women drink during their free time. Short 12-minute episodes about career women who live in a share-house and drink to relax while eating side dishes. Even less detailed than the manga Nomi Joshi. (1)  Each episode features a different booze and  each is a product placement deal. A manga has been whomped up to go along with the campaign.

One couldn’t say that the show is a fan service fest. It looks like it is aimed at office ladies looking for tips on how they should be drinking during their precious few moments of time off. The talk is mercifully free of ‘I’m getting old and need to find a guy” crap. Again, guys show up in the background but this is  a women’s homosocial – another one of those academic-ish terms, originally invented to describe all-guy stories by literary criticism types who wanted to read gay subtext into every single 19th century manly-man‘s novel with no women doing anything of note in them. Kind of like slash and/or BL, only with tenure. Lest I be accused again of being ‘smarmy’, E.K.Sedgwick was probably dead right about most of the manly-man stories she set her sights on but from then on it gets complicated. The term remains useful.

Drinking with friends is important for working women. Here is a panel from the just-ended, long-running twitter web comic by @black9arrows about the tribulations of the Lone Office Lady:

“I drew a picture of an OL living alone who had become sick of everything.”
https://twitter.com/black9arrows?lang=en
Also: https://en.rocketnews24.com/2015/05/07/japanese-twitter-users-comics-depicting-office-lady-life-will-hit-you-right-in-the-feels/

Don’t ‘ronery out!

Next up is the wonderful Yuru Camp/ Laid-back Camping. It starts off with one solitary camping girl who doesn’t like company and the Genki Airhead Girl who pesters her to be her friend. Airhead Girl bugs her older sister to drive her to campgrounds around the Hakone area. Then it picks up two more high school girls in a camping club that has yet to go camping. They discuss camping gear. They go camping. They go to a campground onsen. They cook camp meals. Mount Fuji comes into view. Again there’s nothing much in the way of fanservice or appeals to weird guy-otaku interests.

There are some great moments; as when the young camping club members who have never gone camping before discuss the ultimate winter camping tent and end up re-inventing the kotatsu.

Violet Evergarden is on my list as well. The story is about Violet. Please see my other posts on it. [https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/tag/violet-evergarden/]

At the bottom of my list of Cute or not Girls or Women doing things that may or may not be Cute in the winter 2018 anime season is Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san/ Koizumi-san loves Ramen.

It definitely is a male-gaze property and seems to exist so that we can get close-ups of Koizumi-san (who looks like she escaped from Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei’s classroom) slurping ramen and blushing. Also Koizumi-san’s legs as she walks away wearing a too-short school uniform skirt from the POV of the girl who wants to be her friend and has a clumsy yuri crush on her.

You get to learn a lot about varieties of ramen so it’s not a total write off. Guys watching get to dream about meeting a beautiful high-school girl who won’t mind going on endless cheap dates to ramen restaurants and would not complain that an exclusive diet of ramen might make them overweight.

I also tried watching something called Marchen Madchen. Nope…

Finally my last two choices: Franxx and Psi(2). Saiki Kusuo No PSI Nan (2) sticks very close to the manga, which is stupid and yet howlingly funny in unexpected ways. It has a high school ensemble cast of self-absorbed guys and girls who drag our hero into ever deeper layers of trouble – I’ll be back to it later, as it inadvertently suggests an approach to understanding part of the problem I’m digging at.

Darling in the Franxx or rather Infinite Stratos meets Logans Run is a return-to-Gainax fanservice train-wreck. Disposable orphan boy and girl child soldiers have to pilot giant Evangelion-ish robots by getting into doggie-sex positions because the mad scientist who invented them is a pervy creep. Also, monsters attack the post-apocalyptic city walls. Also, the part-monster girl babe who wants to be “on top”. The characterisation for all besides Monster Girl are boringly thin, The other pairs can’t “get it up” sufficiently to fight the monsters and only crazed Monster Girl and whatever hapless guy she snares, can. The kids are all named with numbers, their “names” are nicknames. Monster/ Demon Girl is without a nickname and known only as 02. Zero-Ni. “O-Ni”. Wow; subtle…

So; January, February, March 2018. If I exclusively needed guy stuff, aside from Franxx, I would be in despair. I am probably missing some other anime that failed to pop up on my radar and may be full of conventional gendered roles and bro heroics, along with endless level-up battles, try-your-best lessons and buddy-banter. They must be out there somewhere.

Meanwhile I seem to have snuck in a generic “this is what I’m watching this season” anime roundup into this blog, along with a few grumbles about thin pickings. You could go to any number of other blogs or Twitter and get better recommendations.

I need a reason for doing this.

I’ll try grinding on the male gaze or gendered gaze thing. First set out extremes. For the women’s gaze, something like Maria-sama ga Miteru/ Maria-sama Watches Over Us. I made it 7 episodes in before I ran away, creeped out. It wasn’t the soulful friendships between young women that threw me. The Cath stuff snuck up on me. Somewhere in the world there are Catholic high schools that do wonderful work with students who love the experience and cherish the education and the friendships that they made there throughout their lives. I didn’t go to one of those. I’m sure they were plenty worse educational experiences but those didn’t happen to me. My 4 years in a Catholic High School felt like being trapped in the Hitler Youth while secretly being not quite Aryan (and loathing nazi shyte). I managed to get out of there more or less intact but it took a lot of work and emotional turmoil. I’m sure imaginary Japanese’s Catholic girls schools do a much better job of things.

But I digress. Aside from me getting weirded out, Marimite works as a series of slow, intricately built character studies and emotional interactions between young women. Not so much yuri or romantic subtext as much as a fully imagined society. A senior blogger’s recent paean [http://okazu.yuricon.com/2018/01/28/maria-sama-ga-miteru-20-years-of-watching-mary-watching-us/] to the entire opus praises it for among other things; showcasing the development of leadership skills among young women.

Consider Marimite a “women’s gaze” story exemplar.

On the other end of the scale, maybe draft Gintama, Gasaraki and/ or Evangelion. Made for guys. Women characters are there to support the guy main chara and for guys to look at. Perhaps the “which is the most manly-man anime ever made?” debate has already been done to death. I have probably picked the wrong animes but I never got around to Fist of the North Star, so I burn/ (am already…).

Once we get beyond simple surface appearances, we are into the moe thickets and the loli-bait. Looks like a young girl’s magical girl series but is for “older friends”. Then you get Idol schools and finally the current crop of CGDCT nothing-much-happens shows that build on K-on and Joshiraku. Surprisingly, these are easy to understand on a meta-level, especially when one considers extreme variant phenomenon like BL and fanservice yuri.

Meanwhile, a bit more about the original male gaze concept. The observation was that movies were shot from a POV and for the “view” of the default viewer, which usually meant the guy viewer. Other writers and even the original theorist went back and added caveats which can be summarised in the observation that a filmic narrative is uniquely suited to imposing a gaze, including a gendered one, upon the viewer. After all, the viewers are along for the ride, neh? It just seems to be a western conceit that a lot of movies/ videos tell their stories from the POV of a guy, usually a straight middle-class, even pale-skinned guy.

From this observation we can better understand the various “gates” involving games and the noisy butthurt that occurs when say, Ghostbusters is re-done with women charas. The folks pushing back implicitly acknowledge that the default gaze is not set in stone. If they don’t scream to the heavens, they will be “cast on the ash-heap of history” or some other portentous sounding nonsense. At very least, some resources that once went to exclusively pandering to them might be diverted to other audiences and the absolute number of way kewl things made for them could diminish.

Or something…

Note the assumptions in this kind of thought. Creativity is a zero-sum game, narratives can be somehow “contaminated” or “usurped” and most importantly, that there are proper ways to do a guy-view story as well as ways that are not as good, descending on a scale to “recruit you for ISIS” to “make you gay” or… I have no idea. Maybe turn us guys into Drag Queen school busses or robot toaster cats enslaved to feminazis. Also no more Mom cooking for us and doing our laundry.

Or something…

Meanwhile, am I second guessing myself because I find myself bingeing on girl main chara anime? Why am I doing this? Am I secretly lusting for high school girls? I used to be pretty sure this was not my thing; I don’t even jokingly entertain the idea of “waifu“. Overdone fanservice annoys me. I better get back to Japan fast and spend quality time with She-who… The best I can figure is that the stock types of girl main and secondary characters do not annoy me anywhere as much as the limited range of stock shonen guy characters.

It is all about avoiding over-used annoying things.

My sweetie will often remark how she can’t watch an anime because the voices of the girl characters are annoying. Or they use Keigo inappropriately – why the over-polite mode towards everyone including your cat in Flying Witch? Why so squeaky and high voiced in a number of other anime? Other viewers might condemn an entire anime because no high school girl could be so hopelessly inept and helpless as to forget how to ride a granny bike on the first day of school and therefore all the young women in the show as well as the viewers, writers and producers are class enemies!

As a guy, especially a guy who can barely understand 40 Japanese words, I don’t pay much notice to such things. Unless the fanservice hits in a tsunami of pantsu shots and asymmetrical boobie jiggles, I just read the girl charas as “young human, no annoying chara tropes, pray continue.” The girl charas have, by process of elimination (of annoying things) become the “default” characters.

What then has happened to my gaze?

It is as if the condition noted decades ago by Yukari Fujimoto in her “Where Do I Belong? The Shape Of the Heart As Reflected in Shoujo Manga” [fan translation at: http://owlectomy.dreamwidth.org/114796.html ]
regarding the gendering of the female character/ subject in the view of the male has been tumbled butt over teakettle.

I want to see the cartoon young women of “A place Further” make it to Antarctica, have an exciting time of it and get back safely. I hope the first of them doesn’t have to experience unbearable trauma over the memories of her mother who vanished in an Antarctic blizzard. I really, really hope they don’t find the frozen body! I will cry foul if Mom is still alive, working as a cook at a nearby base and she played dead because bill collectors were after her (a trick used in The Otaku’s Daughter). Otherwise, watch them go on an expedition. Girl #2’s best friend was all clingy, secretly tried to sabotage the mission and tearfully repents. Ok, I’ll buy that. No BL subtext fistfights required. Frenemy should pull up her socks and get on the next expedition. I’ll keep watching this. I wonder how involved it will get?

With Takunomi, I take refuge in prior academic/ sociological studies (3) for context. I also remember the similarly themed Office Ladies Go Drinking manga. So far they have held forth on Ebisu Beer, some shochu, a cat-labeled light Belgian-style beer and some Chu-hai. That’s cool. Hope they get into speciality shochus. I had a buckwheat shochu from Nagano that was really tasty. I wonder if they will do unfiltered sake or farm sake. Otherwise, more background on the Japanese propensity of guys and girls to socialize among themselves in gender-segregated groups plus tips on side-dishes. That “homosocial” thing again. Mixed nights out turn into “mixers’ and those feels like work. Speaking of work, “night out” events are not workplace drinking events; the latter are fraught with hierarchy, difference, seku-hara to be avoided and office politics. More work.

With Yuru Camp I was struck with an irrational worry during the first episode that the Genki Airhead Girl would be denounced in outlander blogs as a class enemy for acting like a helpless idiot. Genki Girl soon redeems herself by proving that eating alone is far less fun than sharing a spicy hot-pot. Using the ubiquitous portable hot-pot gas heater as camping equipment was a good twist as well; everyone in Japan has one of those, although for hardcore campers, such a rig is probably considered too bulky. Solitary camping girl is still ranging farther than the outdoor club trio but we can expect that they will camp together sooner or later. So far no fanservice (that onsen sequence did not count), some light humour and the potential for location tourism in the Hakone area.

This is a a rather restrained example if it is CGDCT. Do young Japanese women watch it? I have no idea if they would zero in on some fatal flaw in the story and/or a character depiction that would leave them cold. As an outlander guy viewer however, it is again mercifully free of annoying things and populated with neutral, sympathetic characters doing interesting things.

What if Psi Nan tried something like this? All the characters, male and female, young and old except Saiki are idiots and extreme character trope types. Imagine them all camping. Or all of them except Psychic Saiki go camping. Chuni guy goes on about “Dark Wing”. Big Oaf guy acts stupid. Rich guy acts spoiled. Ex-yankee guy attempts to not get angry. Perfect girl mooches for attention; go through the checklist. Add some conflict to overcome with friendship and a few try-again-harder gambattes. Psychic Saiki can swoop in and fix things behind the scenes. Rinse, repeat.

Urasai!

I do not want to watch another nondescript guy who has become a NEET transported to a fantasy world and/or trapped in a vidja game with one amazing power and a bevy of comely young women to harem out with. Nondescript grumpy highschool loner guy who suddenly has the hot girl exchange student get interested in him, triggering new interest by the childhood friend girl and then add more girls every episode (if manga every 3-5 chapters) will be a stretch. It might slip by if the writer(s) add(s) something quirky, although we are running out of exploitable quirkies. Zombie Apocalypses and/ or everybody must fight to the death cruel survival game thingies can just fuck right off.

Guess that leaves nothing but Lupin III.

It appears that there is a cost to being written as the default main character with the entire story built to rotate around your… axis. Character development atrophies.

The two guys in “Just Because” were a teeny bit better than the normal cyphers guys usually trotted out but it looks from here like the real neat characters have of late been mostly women. Miss Kobayashi and Tooru. Violet Evergarden. The entire student cast in Little Witch Academia. The young women and girls of Flying Witch, The girls of A Place Further. Even photographer girl in Just Because was hands down the most interesting of the bunch. I could go on by going back through past seasons.

It is not like manga is devoid of interesting takes on guy characters or that all light novel and game guy characters are paper-thin unoriginal Cardboard Everyslackers or Earnest Burning Youth. But something seems to happen to stories and guy characters when they get turned into anime that is happening a teeny bit less to girl characters. (Or I don’t notice the grinding same-same of the women characters because I am a lazy guy?) Or It could be simple economics. Create an interesting new take on a guy character and guys –might– tune in but you may well lose some of them because new dude does not fit the expected comfortable same-old same-old male MC mold. Hmmmm… Must be there as fujoshi-bait. And truthfully, you wont get much in the way of women viewers for shonen unless you throw in some token fujoshi-bait. Whereas if you center a story around interesting, capable young women characters, you can pitch towards women viewers and you are sure to pick up a good number of guys peeking in; for service, CGDCT or even just mildly competent and likeable characters doing something with purpose.

The young woman character has somehow ended up as the new default pov choice for anime.

I blame the Beautiful Fighting Girl, if only because I go on and on and on about Dr. Saito Tamaki. Once she was no longer a supporting romantic interest to the guy hero, the inexorable march towards character domination took off. Now we are at such an advanced stage of the assimilation that a fan-service-y girl cast might attract even less viewers than serious, sympathetic non-fan-service-y girl/ young women/ women charas. Don’t piss off half of your audience. Exceptions to be made for magical fighting game-based grinders that go on and on and on. The novelty of turning male historical figures into armored fighting girls continues to pay off, even if the occasional crossdressing bishonen hawtie sneaks in. As I have mentioned, I am holding out for William Tecumseh Sherman to be reincarnated as a foul-mouthed loli girl with a serious cigar and whiskey habit.

Meanwhile, try to do something like this so that it makes sense with run-of-the-mill guy charas:

It would still be difficult to trick a bunch of otaku guys into watching the entire run of Marimite, based on the promise of an exciting adventure story and a lot of yuri subtext but such hot-house settings no longer seem necessary. You can get a more up-to-date version of a similar effect from a high school band without the creepy Cath drag.

Fleshing out a character is hard work and chews up precious screen time. The Fate trick is even scarier; we need to find guy charas that don’t end up more interesting if they are turned into young women – fanservice sexy or otherwise. I could watch an anime about a bunch of characters methodically building a garden shed but I fear the conventions of anime scriptwriting — what is agreed upon to be expected — would shonen-out the characters if they were guys. If they were girls, I probably wouldn’t notice the chara clichés as much, so long as it didn’t turn into a fanservice train-wreck or have too many instances of squeaky voiced ineptitude for too long.

In contrast, look what Shinkai had to do to Your Name‘s Taki Tachibana to make him interesting.

Perhaps the angry guys screaming about Ghostbusters are “on” to something, even if their reactionary and inarticulate fear-driven rage is hindering a precise examination and diagnosis of the condition. There is also the deeper problem offered by the paper-thin young guy hero: along with his limited characteristics, he suffers not only from a limited range of behaviour but a limited path to the future. Salaryman or sleeping under a bridge. Ending up magicked away to a fantasy world video game otherworld where he gets to be king is not something to draw life lessons from. Why defuk can’t guy charas get off their asses and go to Antarctica? Or go camping? Even getting out of Japan has been fading as a dream, unless it it by way of magical isekai effect.

An aging manga/ anime/ games consumer demographic may also have something to do with the problem. Who wants to be reminded of what an idealised guy adolescence could have been when you yourself are a 30-something slipping towards 40 guy and the future appears ever narrower ahead of you. In this case, not being able to identify with the young women characters on the screen or page is a very good thing. If we want charas that we can identify with, we will wait for more Bruce Willis, Tommy Lee Jones and “Beat”Takeshi Kitano movies. Undoubtedly 30-plus-something women readers/ viewers might similarly find the girls of the Antarctic expedition and the Camping Club annoying. This continues until the readership all gets beyond middle age and then we can all be as virtually bemused uncles and aunties and finally catch up on the anime and manga we missed.

Designing guy characters for today’s demographic is a challenge but is not impossible, even if an anime is a huge capital investment with hundreds of people working on it. While the pressure to stick to formula is intense and the penalties for failure are severe, innovation is possible. Check out the guys in these sneaky cup noodle commercials. The teen Tombo updated from KikI’s Delivery Service holds his own with teen Kiki.

He hints at substance, at least as much as teen Kiki does, as does his nameless counterpart in this Armageddon Confession that sneakily turns into …. Another damn Cup Noodle commercial.(4)

Goddammit! Lookie at both of them. In the space of a few seconds we have two interesting people painted in a few deft strokes. Sure confession scenes are a big cliché but both parties appear, in their brief instances of screen time, as having their own stories. These hint that creating better, nuanced  characters is not a zero-sum game. A better developed male chara shouldn’t suck the oxygen out of the story for the well-developed woman character. (even with a cameo by an anime Bruce Willis) Crap; these Nissin Noodle commercial are dense texts in their own right. Here someone does a complete analysis, including shout-outs, cameos, character notes (!) and easter eggs: https://youtu.be/-VKFWLn7FlM

If guy charas (or now girl charas) are sucking the oxygen out of the scene, something is off with the conventions of the way they are written. Or is Japan so sex-segregated that the vast majority of its stories must be as well? Suddenly the location (and temporal) separation breached by the body swapping in Shinkai’s Your Name takes on an extra significance. Girl in village. Boy in Tokyo. Each bound to “act” in their territory.

It is great that women and young women characters are being better written and written into lead roles in more stories. These upgraded girls show us that the guys could use an upgrade as well.

Maybe they can build a shed or something for next fall’s season.

“Work remaining on map” Taisei Corporation CM

 

(1) They could ALL be male-gaze and I am hopelessly trapped within my own strictly gendered and class-derived perspective, forever unable to recognise my predicament and escape.

(2) Nomi Joshi would probably make a better anime, see: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2015-09-06/new-manga-focuses-on-29-year-old-women-drinking-beer/.92516 ]

(3) “License to drink’: White-collar female workers and Japan’s urban night space
by Swee-Lin Ho, National University of Singapore (2015)
http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/sochsl/ho%20license%20to%20drink%20egy2015.pdf
Another from the same researcher, which further examines friendship among businesswomen has an edge; “Tokyo at 10: establishing difference through the friendship networks of women executives in Japan“, Swee-Lin Ho (2012)
http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/sochsl/Tokyo%20at%2010%20JRAI2012.pdf

Profile and links to other journal articles by Dr. Swee-Lin Ho:
http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/sochsl/stf_sochsl.htm

(4) Japanese Commercial Messages (CM) have really been going to town of late.
More in the Hungry Days series:

https://youtu.be/thJBzLyaxTw

https://youtu.be/Q4CxNksGo5Q or  https://youtu.be/PN0hmvuFSd4

Somebody got annoyed with Nissin Cup Noodles:

Hungry Titans
https://youtu.be/LGAZiGTROD8  or https://youtu.be/DoP3iIYSB-0

Noodle-free, with designs by Makoto Shinkai

Z-Kai: Cross Road Special PV HD
https://youtu.be/H8Xd5BiHAa0  or  https://youtu.be/AfbNS_GKhPw

An anthology of more in the same style (Incl the Z-Kai CM):
https://youtu.be/Zscr1k_A36E

Mirror of the collected Taisei Engineering CMs:
https://youtu.be/MXP2aHpIgMM

The Girl I kinda write about is a Sergeant – Violet Evergarden eps 2 and 3

Warning: Violet Evergarden spoilers ensue:

We are 3 episodes into Violet Evergarden and so far it is a loving mix of beautifully rendered scenery, slow character development and jarring holes in the world-building, back-story and characterization. I must tread lightly so as not to sound like I am picking at it, rather than trying to squeeze past the discontinuities while still enjoying the story.

As a whole, Violet Evergarden remains charming and a must-watch for the season; the turn-of-century quasi-European city setting is almost as attractive as the terraformed Neo Venezia of the Aria opus. No one would pick Aria apart, that tale is too satisfying. At the same time, Aria‘s world building and characterization is a lot tighter. There are far few holes to pole a canal boat through. Even Cait Sith can’t break the spell.

With Violet Evergarden, we have troublesome bugaboos, even if they are the kind of thing that one presumes the Japanese anime viewer and/or light novel reader wouldn’t waste a second on – any more than they would fixate on the consistent use of flight technology in Studio Ghibli’s Castle In the Sky. If Violet is to join a profession that will have her and her women co-workers referred to as “Auto Memory Dolls”, beyond any presumed clunky translation effects and problems of reconciling the anime to the light novels, such fanciful conceits are completely within the rights of the author. It could have been stated that in this fantastic turn-of-century quasi-Europe, the profession of typist & public stenographer is called “Giant Robot Cake Chef” and thereafter have no giant robots, kitchens or cakes anywhere within the storyline. Fantasy turn-of-century quasi-Europeans just do that kind of wacky thing (see also: pants, below).

But of course there is more to this. I suspect that Violet’s profession was given its odd name specifically for Violet’s benefit, for the atmospherics surrounding her story – though of course, not –within– the story. In the light novels, there apparently was something about an inventor who created a machine to help his wife when she was stricken with an illness. Episode 2 briefly alludes to this; mentioning the inventor, his author wife who went blind and a machine he invented, all while holding on a still image of a typewriter with a doll behind it.

“Auto Memories Doll: Quite some time has passed since this name created a commotion. Professor Orland created a machine to record human speech. Originally made just for his beloved wife, the machine quickly became popular worldwide and an organisation offering rentals was also established.

If a customer so desires it, I will hurry to wherever they are. I am Violet Evergarden of the Auto Memories Doll Service.” Says a blonde-haired blue-eyed woman, looking as though she’s stepped out of a story, in a voice sweetly ringing with robotic beauty.”
— per show synopsis: https://honeysanime.com/violet-evergarden/

Some confusion between the light novels and the anime adaption has crept in. Why bother about it any more than bothering about the other jarring incidence of “just-so”; Violet’s prosthetic arms and hands? Before she gets down to some serious speed-typing, Violet rolls up a sleeve and changes a setting or adjusts the tension on her mechanical elbow. Violet’s mechanical arms and hands are far in advance of any of the other technologies shown in the story. Was the original doll some similar manner of steampunk techno-magical text-recognition automaton that was not made available in the production model? Once again, the question is moot to the story. Such discontinuities are even characteristic of Contemporary Japanese pop narratives; almost as if the fuzzy parts are dropped in as a hook and/or for reader enjoyment. What is important is the atmospherics; the feeling that the profession’s name casts upon the lead character who is seeking her personal redemption within it. What better way to ease an asocial over-trained girl-child soldier back into civilian life, mechanical limbs and all, than as a pretty, emotionless and partially mechanical “doll”?

We must postulate that the eventual “good ending” of Violet’s story is that she finds her “humanity”; an empathetic, socially aware sense of self that will incidentally be appropriately gendered to the larger society she moves within. Of course, she will still be lethal in a close fight but she will be able to understand love, be again loved and be able to return such feelings as a full human being. To highlight how far she has to go, the story has done a simple trick during episodes two and three:

It has turned her into Full Metal Panic‘s Sagara Sousuke.

This is a wonderful economy of storytelling because we not only get a taste of Violet ‘The Weapon‘ in a civilian setting but we see her accommodation to her war injuries contrasted to those of Luculia’s brother; a wounded warrior who has become a traumatized, survivor guilt-ridden drunk. Again; Violet is immune to PTSD because her barebones instrumental war-child “self” is in itself a far greater trauma.

Kaaaaa-shim!

And yet, the flash of empathy towards a fellow wounded soldier and her characteristic economy of words come together to write the letter that Luculia needed to give to her brother and that her brother needed to read so as to begin working towards recovery. This breakthrough as well redeems Violet’s efforts at the Doll Academy, awarding her the delayed graduation along with her first successful commission. Perhaps she also wins an awareness of the condition of an “other” grounded in, or at least resonant to her own condition. This is “the writing of self through the writing for (and of) others” that I mentioned previously as the over-arching theme of the story and what makes Violet Evergarden stand out from mundane “What is this thing called Love?Beautiful Fighting Girl grinders.

Episode 3 advanced with a mechanical precision and economy reminiscent of Violet’s hands and demeanor. An Auto Memory Doll is not a Lacanian psychoanalyst who practices the “short session” while they type letters. A letter can by necessity only provide momentary comfort to those who request and those who receive them. The second episode took the time to introduce the characters and position Violet as completely at a loss to understand civilian social interaction – and still deeply fixated on the memory of her commanding officer, Gilbert Bougainvillea. The third begins in earnest the pattern for the next few episodes. It does so well, playing to Violet’s experience as a soldier as her first point of empathy with a client, allowing her to write the letter that was needed and that few, perhaps none of her coworkers would have been able to write. The moment before she hands Luculia’s brother the letter, deflecting his crutch blow with her metal arm was a masterstroke of understated symbolism.

violet crutch vs metal arm.jpg

Meanwhile, the plotting hole or narrative space of the “Doll” term looms, whether or not there were advanced steampunkish magic-technological robot maid secretary typists that were supplanted by cheaper flesh and blood women behind a machine that presses type to paper. Her declaration; “If a customer so desires it, I will hurry to wherever they are. I am Violet Evergarden of the Auto Memories Doll Service.” carries with it uncomfortable undertones of gendered selflessness/ “un-selfing” within a gendered profession which further complicates Violet’s project of creating/ writing her own self. Then again, sex role expectations are already being messed with in the nation of Leidenschaft; her male patron’s first name is Claudia and the guy stripper pants and high heels on the delivery rider Benedict are almost as much of a hoot as the dangerous putt-putt moped he drives.

For me, the wonky moped cinched the show. I had one something like it in my youth. Restored to somewhat ride-able condition from “basket case” condition while out west then crated up and brought home, I even found an old-stock OEM over-size piston and bored out the engine with the help of a friend who was heavily into classic English cars. I then drove it around town enough for it to try to kill me a couple of times before it was stolen out of my garage one night.

The episode 2  scene with Benedict’s putt-putt moped threw me into a fit of nostalgia and occasioned hours of net-searching until I was able to find pictures and then a video of a 1952 Villiers New Hudson. Note the handle-bar arrangement: they are prone to vibration-induced metal fatigue and can snap off at speed. Meanwhile the lever throttle control remains wide open. Lunge forward, grab the front fender, hit the fuel cut-off with your knee and hang on for your life until the evil thing coasts to a stop 3 blocks later.

It didn’t corner for shit either. Skidded over nicely though…

I don’t miss it at all. I am alive today because it vanished into a long-past night. Still, I am a sucker for any anime with something similar in it.

High heels? Ventilated Chippendale’s pants? WTF?

Komi-san and everybody’s crossdressing best friend

Komi san wa komyushou desu / Miss Komi has a communication disorder
by Oda Tomohito. Comedy, Romance, School Life, Shonen.
7 Volumes; Shonen Sunday. Magazine, 2015 – ongoing.
https://myanimelist.net/manga/99007/Komi-san_wa_Comyushou_desu
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/KomiSanWaKomyushouDesu

Mild spoilers ensue:

On the first day of high school Hitohito Tadano (his name a pun of “just another guy”) is smitten by the class beauty Shouko Komi. Still reeling after a clumsy introduction, his sixth sense kicks in and he realises that the school’s cool, aloof beauty is a girl of few words only because she suffers from crippling social anxiety. Tadano-kun rashly introduces himself to Shouko Komi and promises her that he will help her overcome her social anxiety and make 100 friends

Komi-san wa komyushou desu (Miss Komi has a communication disorder) is a cute, chaste high school slice-of-life shonen manga by Oda Tomohito. With over a hundred chapters and seven collected volumes it is well-liked, even if some readers have grumbled about the stock characters and the overdone situation setups. Itan Private High School is chock full of trope characters; the big guy mistaken for a thug – he has his own anxiety issues, the chuuni girl (there’s a chunni ninja guy too), an over-enthusiastic sports girl, a low self-esteem glasses girl, a yandere lesbian and the first friend after himself that Tadano-kun tries to get Komi-san to meet: Najimi Osana (長名 なじみ, おさな なじみ) a mysterious person of an unknown gender who is also a phenomenal networker with an ability to get close to anybody after just a few minutes of interaction.

Osana-san is literally “everybody’s best friend” (1) (most of the chara names are puns). As far as the reader (and most of the school’s teachers and students who care) can puzzle out, she is a female-presenting non-binary person with a DMAB body; in simpler terms, a crossdressing guy who may well have “the heart of a girl”, even though she will at times still identify as a guy. Or she might be a gender-fluid person with a DFAB body who used to present as male. Osana-san aint telling. The mangaka obviously heard of the X-gender phenom and decided to work along similar lines.

Welcome to another installment of Mudakun’s “why are we making up queer characters with tiny super-powers for our straight stories?” Osana-san could have been a cisgendered (heterosexual) girl, except that as childhood friend, she would then be in an immediate set-up as a rival for Tadano-san’s affections. Osana-san has no romantic interests whatsoever that they have let slip (beyond some initial teasing of Tadano when they meet on the first day of classes); they are far too busy keeping up their social calendar and making new friends. They never forget anyone they meet and they can listen to seven conversations at once. They seem to enjoy introducing people, promoting new groupings with entertaining dynamics and occasionally stirring things up.

Osana-san’s parents moved around a lot due to work so they seem to have gone to most of the nearby schools that feed into the private high school’s catchment area. They used to present as male but now, given the relative freedom of an elite school seem happier with girl-mode. The school we later learn, accommodates her, with a gender-neutral bathroom and changing facilities. During the onsen trip, Osana-san will bathe first, although she will bunk with the girls.

Otherwise, she is always within earshot. She is the school’s or at least the first year students’ social organizer, the assistant class rep who knows everybody and gets along with everybody.

Osana-san isn’t superhuman; she is sometimes exhausted and often selfish. Komi-san initially was a personal source of trauma to her because when younger, they had never clued into Komi’s problem and had agonised over their inability to befriend her. Komi-san also has an overpowering eye-contact stare when she is trying to nerve up to say hello. Osana was bedridden with shock for a week after this first friending failure. Komi-san makes amends by staring down a pest who was mashing on Osana and thereafter Osana-san is %110 on board with the 100 friends project. As well, she soon begins to prod our two leads towards noticing each other.

In her role as an all-purpose story advancer, she is ubiquitous.

Although gender-nonconforming and/or genderqueer and asexual, Osana-san is never an object of ridicule. She is deployed as a subtype of gender diffuse character; the magic-pixy social secretary and relationship expert. She gets to be a younger genderfluid version of Auntie Mame. Beyond teasing Tadano-kun on the first day, she has never displayed any romantic interest in anyone and therefore is an exemplary “queer” character for a chaste heterosexual setting. Non-normative, over-the-top desire instead comes from Ren Yamai’s overdone girl-crush; which is physical, psychotically jealous and prone to inappropriate, even violent actions. As such, she is treated as a ridiculous, sometimes dangerous joke. Ren Yamai is a junior psycho lesbian and a creep. After her Valentines Day antics, she is a pitiful panty-hose swiping creep.

Given that there is very little youthful sexuality and desire deployed in this story, the role of most characters must necessarily balance between friendly sociability and transactional utility. This is about making 100 friends, not resolving a harem or a love triangle. Cycle through the stock events of a high school year and steadily introduce new quirky characters. Sports day, Onsen trip, Kyoto trip, School Festival, Valentines Day. There is something soothing about a relatively conflict-free progression through the rites of high school education, although it is jarring how Tadano-kun suffers one class clique attack and one psycho lesbian drugging and kidnapping.

Narcissist guy may be confusing as well but he is too self-absorbed to show interest in anyone but himself. He is however up for spontaneously organising a he-manly (or burning male youth) topless muscle-posing photo session during an onsen visit. Near as I can make out the story was he was sharing exhibitionism tips: Try it; all guys should be exhibitionists every so often.

Huh? That was odd.

A closer reading of this work must focus on what the manga leaves out. There is minimal conventional fanservice and also very little in the way of trifles tossed at the rotten gaze (manly topless posing aside). Instead it is mostly Shouko Komi, the tall, shy, demure and beautiful Yamato Nadeshiko over and over and over again; considered from Tadano-kun’s vantage point. Questions of desire and sexuality are uncomfortable distractions, even intrusions into school life – at this time. Anything that carries the slightest vibe of such worrisome feelings and urges is going to be used to set up a situation built on a base of this discomfort; that is how high school rom-coms work. The kids are new at these feelings, therefore they will make a mess out of them.

Osana-san got mashed on by a delinquent from a nearby school. Tadano-kun is avoiding his feelings for Komi-san by pursuing an overly ambitious project for her. Why shouldn’t the mangaka take an old chestnut like a high school yuri crush and make it ridiculous and extreme?

Uhhh…

Because it is a throwback to a nastier time, a cheap shot and lazy writing. And because it is so, it risks the good will of the reader and the suspension of disbelief needed to keep the story on track. The wires are showing and they ain’t pretty. And the mangaka keeps going back to them by recycling the same gag. If the mangaka cannot figure this out – or worse has, but brushed it aside because they needed a fresh gag for the next few chapters….

It is disappointing.

Just Stop it.

 

1) Her name おさな なじみ, Osananajimi means childhood friend is the same word for the verb なじむ, Najimu means to be acquainted or adapt.
http://komisan-wa-komyushou-desu.wikia.com/wiki/Osana_Najimi

Violet Evergarden: Beautiful Fighting Girl or headless robot maido?

Who is Violet? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she;
The heaven’s grace did lend her,
That she admired be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being help’d, inhabits there.

Then to Violet let us sing,
That Violet is excelling;
She excels in each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us our troubles bring.

Apres W. Shakespeare,Two Gentlemen of Verona

Recently a certain lazy trick of dramatic license is beginning to wear on my nerves. It is something like the Old Yeller effect, aka the Bambi’s Mom effect. Want to add some dramatic tension to your tale? Toss in some senseless violent tragedy as prologue and / or ending. Tadah! Must be serious literature-like because it is sad.

If I want grief I will turn on the news.

Because of this kind of crap, Chise in Ancient Magus Bride has to go through a creepy slave auction. Strange; you have all manner of over-powered magical creatures inhabiting that world, all with their own sense of what is right and fair and good. It would take one of them to wipe any such an abomination from existence. Even Black Butler, a series that is nothing but violent creepy-tastic shotacon-BL-bait starts by obliterating a similar perv-pit. I didn’t like it when Chip Delany did it for one of his gay sci-fi morality tales 30 years ago and I still don’t like it. Just me.

Why not give one or more of the young women in Aria a senselessly violent and creepy back story, just for Otaku juice?

With Youjo Senki (young girl’s war diary/ The saga of Tanya the Evil), the whole of the story is drenched in war. The extra twist, that she is a reincarnated asshole salaryman caught in a Job-like wager with a deity just winds the karmic clock springs:

Get a safe behind-the-lines sinecure but let’s do just one more teeny weenie over-the-top-murderous-stunt to prove to my superiors how effing qualified and worthy of promotion I am, even if it will get me near-killed. Do not succumb to any weak spiritual mumbo-jumbo and let being X win. Oh frick! Looks like I really like killing! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

“Ps, God personally hates me and the feeling is mutual.”

So what happens when your perfect child soldier/ girl golem/ vague unexplained war-“doll” is smashed up in battle, decommissioned and then told to find a life among civilians? Pretty much the same as what happens between battles for any of the other examples of Dr. Saito Tamaki‘s Beautiful Fighting Girl; she starts to wonder what all those complicated and confusing feelings are and then shoujo manifests. Or the shonen-ish shadow thereof, as the magic, miracle girlfriend slowly goes all dere-dere.

Fortunately, an obscure manga had the final last word on this kind of nonsense years ago

I always liked the tomboyish shojou-ai young women’s homosocial of Transistor Teaset (2009). On my first visit to Japan, I toured Akihabra and even chanced upon the night swap market in the parking garage featured in Akihabara@DEEP. Russian amp tubes, American and JSDF army surplus radio parts. Sadly it was gone to redevelopment a few years later and fewer of the original small “radio town” shops remained.

Perhaps by now they are all gone, replaced by otaku-ish cafes and giant camera-and-consumer-gadget stores for the tourist trade. I found the older electronic parts stores more to my taste: even before I messed around with early PC’s I soldered together transistorised kits, designed primitive vacuum tube amplifiers and fixed up clunky tube tv sets. One day someone will write of the connection between ham radio swap meets, sci-fi conventions and Comiket style zine events; a secret history of the 20th century. In Japanese vernacular culture, the associations between radio waves and eccentricity lingers, viz the young detective in Paranoia Agents, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko (Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl) and the Akiba’s Trip franchise. Think “tinfoil hat” if you need a localized equivalent.

The young protagonists of Transistor Teaset, eccentric as they might be, are formidably deadpan in their knowledge and consideration of the current, limited definition of Otaku.

Otaku once meant any type of well-versed hobbyist and the electronic hobbyist always considered themselves among the most hardcore elite of old-school otaku. (Computer nerds? Hah! I will see you one clone AppleII and raise you my JLS OBM-l00 XT motherboard in the attic). Therefore by divine right they are entitled to take a dismissive stance towards the most sacred tropes of lesser aotakudoms.

The Auto Memory Doll of the Violet Evergarden anime is just a clunky, fanciful way of saying public secretary for hire. Before the term typist was used, people reportedly used the word type-writer to refer to the woman behind the machine rather than the machine itself.

In the light novels it is suggested that the Auto Memory Doll was the unspecified creation of a scientist made for his novelist wife and later mass-produced.
For our purposes it appears to be the clunky English translation of an imagined profession for human women.

Violet herself does not seem to be some mysterious robot magic golem; she bleeds when caught in explosions. More likely she is a traumatized hyper-trained child soldier. Bodyguard and factotum to an officer? Secret weapon? Assassin? Newly cashiered and fitted out with prosthetic arms and hands. Why no military pension for her? Why the hush-hush socialization into civilian life if not to play out an over-used trope?

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What is missing, through the convenience of her vague raised-and-trained-as-a-war-machine back story are the normal human weaknesses that come with an emotional sense of self. Violet suffers no PTSD, no “millions of her mouthless dead across her dreams in pale battalions go“. Violet does not wake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, lash out at her friends and family, self-medicate herself into substance abuse and contemplate suicide. Her convenient back story pre-dopes her to the gills with the plot-line equivalent of SSRIs, leaving her with only the robot maido’s trite question with which to tether her humanity to.

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Violet Evergarden the PTSD-proof Maido-Secretary

Only the epistolary conceit of her (re-) socialization into civilian life redeems her.

Her country is full of illiterates who nevertheless need to send letters to the ones they are separated from. As creatures of language as well as speech, it is presupposed that an inability to write one’s feelings must indicate a difficulty speaking, even thinking them. A new appreciation for some of Lacan‘s work emerges, if one considers it grounded in the peasant illiteracy of immediately post WWII France. Once abandoned to a rural high school I raised weekend drinking money by writing essays for inarticulate farmboy university students – I can appreciate this story trick. In writing for others, Violet will write herself and her self. Very post-war European critical theory-esque.

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This is a tall order.
We shall see how well the anime’s remaining episodes can pull it off.

I am indebted to Kastel’s consideration of the Violet Evergarden Light Novels
[Let’s Talk About Japanese Books: Violet Evergarden]