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

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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?

violet_evergarden fire web

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.

TTmiado p103 legend web

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.

Violet-Evergarden warchild web

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]

X days #11: Tokyo Steampunk is hardcore should infiltrate cosplay

Consider one of last season’s less obvious action and adventure offerings; Princess Principal. Amid the elite private high school’s girls led by royalty doing spy stuff adventures and the princess/ pauper subplot; the out of chronological order episode jumble; the ninja girl, the mechanical throat girl; the Checkpoint Charlie divided Britain; Sandbaggers-level vignettes of loss and betrayal; invariable bad (or at least disappointing) behavior by almost every male in the show and spy-des as shorthand for class-S same-sex affection, we have one more thing of note that might have slipped by:

PriPri had a strong steampunk motif and did not get tripped up on it.

This is quite rare for anime and manga. Steampunk drag usually overpowers the story and then plot fail hits hard. Contrast Pripri to the trainwreck that was Empire of Corpses. Anyone remember Steamboy? Steam Detectives?

If you have not yet, Princess Principal deserves a watch. I liked it a lot, enough to put aside a few misgivings (the OP would have been better without the grating throwaway english lyrics) and fall into the treacherous hostility of alt-victorian Britlandia Albion and our heroines’ deft navigation of its dangers.

Over on this side of the ditch, Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio [http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php] has been going like gangbusters with the same basic perilous formula for years. Does strong woman character(s) quite well, complete with corsetry, powerful women-friend allies and requisite good boy/ bad boy (plus assorted other jack-ass boys and men) competing for her favor. Yup, looks like Agatha (The) Heterodyne has got herself a reverse harem and a posse. Girl Genius might not be the only way to do steampunk but it serves as a good indicator of how to make it work for, rather than bumble about at cross-purposes to, your story.

Princess Principal has some of the same mojo.

I had been expecting a greater Japanese use and enjoyment of steamish settings and backgrounds for some time now. Fantasy Europe has a long tradition in shoujo properties and their subgenres, including early bishonen (and we know where that ended up – which might be why Empire of Corpses foundered) stories. Euro-gothicky stuff is always a safe bet for a shonen adventure romp populated with Stoker-ish creatures and para-vatican-ish cabals. Why is it so damn hard to add a few brass valves, corsets and a dashing hat or two?

It’s all about the corsets and the hats, really. And the yuri subtext. You probably can get by without the Cavorite, the Babbage Engines, brass telescopes and dirigibles. We learned this from Iono the Fanatics. Guys get tweed, vests and goggles. Some of the more spunky girls can go for these too.

Fortunately the folks at Tokyo Steam Garden The Tokyo Inventor’s Society [ http://www.tokyosteampunk.com ] are out to change this. They might not even need the yuri, though they appear to have a good number of exotic outlanders.

Last time I was in Japan I ended up with a swollen ankle (again!) and skived off on the chance to spend one and a half hours on a train and $40 to attend one of their greater Tokyo (area) Hunter’s Fair get-togethers. I understand that one can’t be cheapo all the time with one’s enthusiasms in Japan – someone has to scrape the yen up for the hall rental and long commutes to events are a given. (the October Hunter’s Fair had some free admission times; was not in Japan. Drat!) One should be happy that the commutes are possible, convenient and inexpensive. Just charge up your pasmo card and hop on the train.

I probably unconsciously wimped out because I didn’t have a nifty costume. If you follow their twitter feed [https://twitter.com/TokyoSteampunk] you get the gist of it fairly fast: SCA-ish impulses melded with alt-historical romanticism, cosplay and indie fashion design. Why cosplay someone else’s hero when you can be your own? Why act out someone else’s adventure?

hunters fair world market detail via TokyoSteampunk

At this point this post needs LOTS of pictures from Steam Garden events but there is undoubtedly some polite protocol about randos grabbing such off Twitter and using them – especially identifiable pix of participants at these events. I will have to get by with a few pix lifted from their website. Notable that if one was a member of the fairer sex, one can enjoy the stylings without having to present a half acre of skin and goosebumps to the world and still come off as powerfully hawt.

I suspect that the community is recruiting followers and mustering their forces for an eventual foray. Whether they decide to invade Harajuku’s (or some other street’s) street fashion or Comiket (or both) they will be something to be reckoned with. The costumery and accessories are their secret weapons.

The works are elaborate, detailed, handsome and sexy without necessarily succumbing to otaku impulses. While there is a fair degree of crossover and appropriation from the local gothic lolita fashion folks and even some of the more elaborate (and expensively niche) European fetish wear designers, the stuff already appears to have a robust local design and sales ecology (and economy) supporting it.

lifted from Tokyo Steam Garden website

And then there is the “gear”. Every adventurer needs a retro zapgun or two. If you have an urge to learn how to spray paint plastic to get that weathered brass patina look, these folks have you covered. There is on this, by necessity some crossover from the plasmo community.

What with Princess Principal, I was surprised Comiket didn’t get a corseted expeditionary force this winter. Perhaps it did and I missed it on the Twitter machine feed. The closest I saw to it was one lone Rory Mercury. Or perhaps the hardcore Steam Garden folks tut-tut Pripri as cute but beginner level? Perhaps different fan communities are rigidly siloed in Japan?

Meanwhile, Cosplay…

Winter 2017 Comiket Twitter hash searches:  

I understand it was 5 degrees during the day over the year’s end weekend and I am only going by the twitter feed (and the memory of 2 year’s ago’s winter ‘ket and the previous March mini-ket) but cosplay in Japan seems to be weathering a bit of an enthusiasm shortfall. You are not getting that many Genshiken-level  ensemble efforts. That many… The Land of the Lustrous ensemble this winter looked impressively dedicated and well organised.

Twitter posted by kira @kira__nm7 See also: https://twitter.com/kira__nm7/status/948873066100137984

The solo efforts, while fun and inventive appear to have to navigate the perils of the  “celebrity cosplayer/ model” vs everyone else. Its grandparent, the SF Worldcon second evening “Masquerade” costume parties and competitions suffered from similar frictions.

Going by the twitter pix feed, the folk most organised and into making sustained efforts with their costumes/ outfits this Comiket were the military fanboys (ostensibly cosplaying video games such as Call of Duty), followed by the super sentai fans. Otherwise, there were many solo or pair efforts of whichever charas were sexy (and wearing painfully revealing costumes) this year. A good amount of Fate stuff popped up on the feed. Most memorable to me were the novelty efforts; such as the guys doing the Japari park serval-kun bodybuilder poses.

Thank the eight hundred thousand gods of Japan – and the hardcore cosplayer Yurikotiger for her Dragon Maid this ‘ket.

Never have embedded a tweet before, lets see how this works:
https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/947350989970972672  

Comiket’s non-profit organisers might still be getting comfortable with cosplayers. A short while back they were regarded as a disruption and peripheral to the main autonomous fan collective fanzine/ fan-made artifact raison d’etre of the exhibitions. Like unruly lineups starting the night before, cosplay was seen as a possible subject of complaint from businesses surrounding the Big Sight. If too revealing, an excuse for the secular authorities to invade, interfere and proscribe. While cosplay is now acknowledged as a pure fan-made activity and as “The Ambassadors of Otaku Culture” residual unease persists.

You still have to keep the cosplayers proper (and their photographing followers) from getting in the way of the corporate booths and the traditional fan-made goods tables. And you have to manage the photographic consent rules implicit in Japanese privacy legislation – posing in the cosplay area, yes: if one-on-one be polite, ask, give, exchange meshi/ cards. Outside of designated cosplay areas; NO without expressed consent. Shoop in stickies over bystanders faces. I have yet to sit down and fully sanitize my pix from 2015, even though I rashly said I would up them way back then. (besides, they are mostly boring as I wimped out on documenting table sales and did not have the patience to do cosplay scrums)

So perhaps there are many good, local reasons why the steam tribes and the Comiket folks have yet to co-mingle. Perhaps it is because the Steam Garden folks have a whiff of the commercial con about them. They are in no way a trade show for any industry (yet) so there is no fundamental culture clash – unless the steamers find the otaku crew too far into the bad-taste amateur pr0n lewds for to want to cozy up to.

Hope for a second season of Princess Principal and better weather during this summer’s C94.

Or… (not steampunk but I couldn’t resist)

X days #10: Too many Bodhisattvas

Warning: Spoilers for Kingdom of the Gems/ Land of the Lustrous (1)

Land of the Lustrous has concluded with 12 episodes with Phos, staring grimly at the horizon wanting answers. The manga from which it is drawn, Houseki no Kuni/ Kingdom of the Gems continues, further apace and as with the 4chan Eastern European starving farmer joke, Suffering Continues.

If anything it intensifies.

I really, really wanted to do a short essay on Land of the Lustrous for my 12 Days of Anime marathon. Unfortunately IRL stuff crashed my run and anxiety of influence has derailed any re-engagement with the subject until now. Lustrous made a BIG impression on the segment of anime fandom I follow and there are more than a number of great essays on it already. Why add one more to the pile? I could get picky about some aspects of it – that’s an easy way to start an essay but I’m getting tired of doing that. I don’t review properties I dislike here, unless they are such exemplary stinkers as to serve as straw high-school students doing self-harming relationship melodrama asshats and even then, I usually scrap those posts because of “why bother?

Lustrous is in no danger of having even a fragment, or a shard of it being slagged here. It is beautiful and painfully tragic: perhaps it is a Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture adoption of the newest mundane Japanese literary trope; “detective stories written by women that leave you feeling bad”: Iyamisu.  Blame NieR Automata and/or the current lousy world situation. Then add a metric tonne of Buddhist Imagery.

Desire leads only to suffering.

The other concern that inhibits analysis is the risk of spoilers. The manga from which the anime is drawn is much further along its story line and a few questions concerning the natures of the gems, Kongo-sensei and the lunarians have been answered. As for Buddhism and bodhisattvas, there at first appear to be too many while upon further examination, there are none.

The Buddha averts his gaze, turns his head away.

The Buddha has left the stadium.

I see only a vague echo of Terry Pratchett’s All Things Strive confronted by implacable nemesis.

The lunarians bring only destruction, perhaps even death to the Kingdom of the Gems. The gems resist and so it continues throughout eternity.

“”The most numerous of the Lunarians are based off the appearance of apsaras. Apsaras are cloud and water spirits that are prominent in Buddhist as well as Hindu artwork. They are typically depicted with lithe-looking and lightly-clothed bodies that sway in rhythm to dance and music.””

“Then there are the Lunarians who look like bodhisattva, themselves the rough Japanese Buddhist equivalent in service and function to Christian saints. Depicted in the center of a Lunarian grouping, they tend to be more heavily embellished with raiment and jewelry. Whereas buddhas have already transcended the cycle of reincarnation (buddhas in general as opposed to the Buddha specifically), bodhisattva (of the Mahayana branch that is popular in Japan) postpone their transcendence from the cycle so that they can intercede as guides to enlightenment for those who still struggle with attachments, loss, and suffering.”
— ‘Buddhist Iconography in Land of the Lustrous‘ by ZEROREQ011 (see footnote below)

Time, on a geological scale has buffeted, eroded life. The lore of the sea-slug/ jellyfish on the tripartite residue of absent humanity becomes a murky allegory. In the furthest reaches of Kongo-sensei’s memory are fragments about one human being, his creator. As for the Lunarians, though they appear as Buddhist or Vedic deities and demi-urges, they are most certainly not some veiled allusion to any positive mystical force. They are pure selfish evil and probably best destroyed – although it is most likely impossible for them to be destroyed in any conventional manner. Very good-looking preta, hungry ghosts, malign and damned.

If we are seeking a bodhisattva we must try to identify them by their works:

“If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? … if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi.”
— see : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kshitigarbha
https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/tstang-txt.htm

No one in Lustrous functions as a bodhisattva, although the male-appearing Kongo-sensei is dressed as a Buddhist priest ready to read funeral sutras in memory of the dead. His name is somewhat close to the Japanese esoteric names of the six Jizo that assist in the six realms of existence but no clue is given as to what realm the Kingdom of the jewels is analogous to. Nor can he be considered analogous to the Jizo who rescues the souls of dead children from torment on the shores of the river Sanzu by hiding them in his cloak – the jewels have no parents but sea-eroded rock.

The androgynous, girlish presenting gems themselves wear outfits somewhere between school uniforms and mourning clothes, though short-shorts and lithe bare legs ending in flats or heels are nowhere near funeral attire. The gems do not eat or age, though they sleep and seem to require light to sustain their life energies. They can and do go into coma-like states for decades, even centuries to recuperate from injuries. Their sense of selves and their memories are diffuse throughout their bodies. Losing a portion of their bodies means losing a portion of their memories but like holograms, the entire remains with details lost and resolution blurred. The manga hints that within the minerals themselves are life-causing somethings that are the true source of the gems sentience and mobility.

The Lunarians relentlessly seek to harvest them, preferably in pieces. The Lunarians also harvest sentient sea creatures. The implacable hostility of the Lunarians is, of course one of the big mysteries of the story. Phos will later confront them and their dispassionate evil. A resolution is obvious, so obvious that there must be a reason why it had not been previously attempted. From the perspective of plot mechanics, it is as if the Lunarians exist solely to impel the long-limbed gems to run through the veldt with katanas and give the viewers moments of fighting action and class-S yuri affection between each other (even if they are nominally asexual), followed by the ache of loss.

Phos curses themself to a starring role in a body-horror bildungsroman when they make a promise to Cinnabar that they will find something “better” for them to do than their current perpetual exile. As Phos loses and gains new legs, arms and more, along with the details of memory and self encoded in their original body mass, the one thing that remains as a token of their self-identity is the promise.

Phos always returns to it.

Perhaps, eventually that will lead to the resolution of the tale.

The sole Buddhist-related plot resonance I can make out from Land of the Lustrous is the suggestion that the task of the Jizu grows exponentially more difficult as the hells are emptied. The last of the damned are very very damned indeed, even if they have made it to some manner of ‘pure land” purgatory. The closest thing to a bodhisattva in the Kingdom of the Gems is a broken prayer wheel creaking in the wind, self-jammed on its spindle.

(1) I am indebted to the examination of Buddhist themes and iconography in the essay: ‘Buddhist Iconography in Land of the Lustrous‘ posted in their blog THEREFORE IT IS by ZEROREQ011 (December 16, 2017)
https://thereforeitis.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/buddhist-iconography-in-land-of-the-lustrous/