The tactics of mistake

wherein your correspondent finally winds up a post that started as a review of “Boys, Be Ambitious!; Shounen yo Taishi wo Dake!” that went nowhere for the longest time, even though he should be doing homework…

Shounen yo Taishi wo Dake! (Boys, Be Ambitious!) is a so-so drawn soft-pr0nish manga about a gormless lad who goes to an art school in Hokkaido and gets lucky, repeatedly. It claims to be written and drawn by HANAMIZAWA Q-taro (see also this), but is really written by a gaggle of graduates from a Hokkaido art school, to convince gormless boy manga readers to go to art school in Hokkaido.

It might be cold as heck up there, but you will get laid! (they lie!)

It could solve a lot of problems for the ronery boys, girls and in between – both real and imagined… If only…

It also illustrates a few problems with the kind of manga that Genshiken-ers and other dojinshi enthusiasts are reading and creating.

But first, a word from our sponsor:

I think that scanlators must have the best fun reading manga, even if they have the hardest time of it. In going slowly over the originals, photoshopping out and/or over the original text, figuring out the japanese, the idioms, the references – you would have to be without curiosity to not be drawn in by every reference that you need to track down, to get it all just right. Anime fansubbers used to be obsessed like this too – I remember the first grey copy of Spirited Away I saw, there were so many footnote subs running with the dialog subtitles as to shame an undergraduate essay. The immersive feeling was breathtaking. I guess this kind of obsession is now considered to be too invasive, but some of it still survives, for some series. The folks at Sumimassen used to go completely crazy on my favourite Despairing Sensei. Alas, that is all over now, and I have no idea if the detective episodes in the anime somehow refer to Genei Hakurankai.

Blogging has its advantages too: Half of me is greedily consuming slightly outre, often cheesy manga, the other part of me is trying to situate it in my crummy understanding of Japanese society, of otaku tropes, and of the various harebrained theories that I am trying to trot around the park. And I have an excuse to try to read almost any genre I can stomach, at least for a few pages, on the principle that I need more data.

Mmmmmmmmm Shoujo Manga! Do Japanese girls read this treacle! Wow! this one is a bit low-class (underage monogamous sex, wish-fulfilment fame and money, absent upper middle class parents, la la la, true love, happily ever after at 17) Who the heck is this aimed at.. (shibuya? gayu? yankee girls?) Oh look: another bishie male lead! here comes a shout-out to the “goggles” tribe.

Class-S Yuri? Wow! her first boyfriend caught a bad case of magic cock syndrome and acted like a snotty 14-year-old boy who thought he was a Host – plot crank! “She cannot trust men after this!” -crank- Query: are Japanese LFB’s subconsciously “absorbing a “don’t do this” lesson while they turn the page waiting for the next 2D thigh shot? Whooooeeeee! Here comes the “mother set up interviews for an arranged marriage” trope! What exactly are the current m-f demographics in Japan right now for teens, young adults, etc. A female shortage should cause a certain change in behaviour. Hmmmmmmmm.

Revolutionary Girl Utena? Don’t know if I can handle the pointy faced artwork and the high-school fight tropes without retching. Oh well, It is undoubtedly a milestone first order derivation from a certain groundbreaking historical gender-bender. ROSES! get it? ROSES!!! Oh wait, have to work tomorrow, and for the next few weeks, months..

Heh! free Penguin Musume Heart on Viki.com (wow: legal fansubbing model!) wait! Gahhhhhkkkkk! Oh! A “Sebastien” butler! Cosplay geek girl school election! Hijinks galore . This thing is still pretty lame. I wonder how much of this POS shows up in slightly mutated form in Genshiken. In SZS? Do I care?

Franken Fran: Huh! where the ^&%&^%* does this fit in? Oh fugget it!

etc…

Back to “art school confidential”…

Why am I bothering?

I wanted to take a break from challenging manga for a while, and since I wandered into the shallow end of the gender studies pool, I thought I would back out and try to find some good wholesome guy manga (Gintama to be dealt with later). Next thing you know I find myself in ecchi-land.

Besides – “art school confidential” is a subject dear to my heart, even if the
school ‘o’ art that our happy hero bumbles into bears no relation whatsoever to any real- life art school on this planet. Come to think of it, the movie was pretty fail as well.

Cue the synopsis that snagged me:

“Without doing much research on the school or surrounding areas, Hibino Ryouichiro picks an art school in Hokkaido. Tricked by the school advertisements, he goes to the campus only to find out it is a desolate and cold campus. The only glimmer of happiness for Ryouichiro are the girls on campus. Just hours after meeting Kisaragi Riho, the cute girl on campus, she seduces him only to find himself outside naked after she is done with him. Feeling heartbroken and used, he finds comfort in Aso Tomoe, who lives on the floor below at the dorms. Although it is freezing outside, it is hot underneath the sheets for Ryouichiro.”

That’s pretty well it, except that girl 2 refers to, and gets the boy to secretly refer
to girl 1 as “the slut”, boy gets to have pagan/ fake witchcraft sex with the hawt 28-year-old lady teacher (gets scared, runs away after), boy and girls 1 + 2 go out drinking and end up in a drunken threesome, boy makes a list of pr0n sex tricks to get the girls to agree to, gets caught out, boy and girl 2 break up, boy seeks solace in the arms on girl 1, and so it goes, on and on and on.

Looking at the mess askance, it is like Archie comics at an art school, with sex – the girls are even somewhat jp-manga-ized versions of Betty and Veronica.

Again why bother?

The smut pages are what gives it away: if Hato drew het scenes, they would be like this!!! They are usually full-page, focus on the girl (or woman) involved, are laden with flare effects and sensitive lines, with the women in the throes of pr0ny passion.

“My characters are making love”

Well, they are doing something.

The quality of the drawing in the rest of the scenes is just enough to bump the plot on down the road – lots of it is extremely weak, even factoring the comedic “chibi” sections, the fave crutch of deadline challenged manga artists.

One can surmise that the artist started with, and still dotes on static sex scenes in dojins, then tries to flesh out a plot as best as he/they can! A missing link in the jump from dojin to pro manga! Discovered in the wild! Wow!

The style, kleenex-thin plot and treatment of the sex scenes also follow the norms of soft core dojinshi and manga pr0n. The lad’s member goes transparent/ outline, and then disappears for a better view of the “action”. The girls look too damn young. Girl 1 is a dark-haired princess type, girl 2, is labeled “plain” even though she is of course good-looking, and the intimacy is fast, forced, lacks whole-body contact (sometimes referred to as cuddling), and affection. You would think buddy boy would at least fall in lurv, get a bit sentimental, but to him the whole mess is the frantic clearing an eroge. If he was caring and sensitive he’d be too much of a Mary Sue – this way the otaku readers can identify with him and feel superior at the same time. This is how we do characterization.

At least they use rubbers; two cheers for health education.

In contrast to a slew of other school harem manga (well this IS a University after all) the girls don’t just fall all over the idiot boy and flash their breasts and panties. All that relentless and essentially chaste teasing falls away before a “might as well get it over with now” approach to moar hawt secks naow dammit!

In her 2009 TED lecture Cindy Gallop put out a very short critique of internet delivered pr0n as default sex education for American males, and claimed that it made them lousy lovers (she likes younger guys, dates them, and gets intimate with them). She even tried to set up a web 2.0 site, to flesh out the idea, but it is pretty thin, looks like she hoped she could get an instant book off the effort and then gave up/ wrote one anyway. (the possibility that she could just be enjoying a bit of boasting as an experienced older lover should not be discounted either)

In Japan, the default sex education for males must be “modern visual culture” – as well as net pr0n. For females? Hmmmmmmm.

What of the “ambition” (or perhaps “daring”) of the title. Our hero isn’t very either,
unless you count his urge to go through a little black book of porny things to try on women once they invite him into bed. Most of the time he just walks around in a daze and gets hit on be bored females. Girl 1 seems to use sex as a way of getting and keeping friendship – our hero is a side interest to her between sessions with her (offscreen, never seen) boyfriend. She will even try to make friends with Girl 2, and then cement that friendship in the only way she knows how. The older (oops, past 25 – practically a crone!) lady professor is taken with the idea that the kid would stare at her boobs and likes the idea of going all pagan while making big ugly sculpture.

Girl 2 is mildly jealous of Girl 1 and wants to “lose it”. She also wants to try things
like a better hairstyle and nail polish, and going steady, which of course boy doesn’t notice and screws up. I would venture that %99 of all males in a relationship have fucked up on this one too, so it is cruel to expect buddy boy to come up with the accepted response, but heck, it lurches the plot forward, so whatever. Not that any Otaku out there are going to be suddenly more observant while dating because of this, but they might be a tad less bewildered when they mess up in the real world.

“Oh shit! I did that! Duh!”

Wonderfully educational this wish-fulfillment manga is, neh? Gallop also makes the point that pr0n grazing allows young guys (and I suppose young females) to sample and then draw their own personal lines, beyond which lies the “too weird” stuff, thereby constructing and validating a “normal” desire.

So a simple romp like “ambitious” can hide a few tricks in plain sight.

Like a dog that finally catches the car tires he habitually chases, and unlike the usual takes- forever- before- they- finally- get- up- the- courage vehicles such as “my too-hawt aunt wants me to seduce 14 coeds so that she can finish her research on Genji, but so far it’s an uphill climb, because I was bullied by girls as a kid” we get to imagine what happens when normal clueless manga lad catches the eye of one, or two, or three, or more manga girls. At least he hasn’t gone all “leisure suit Larry” yet. That will lose him his stunned deer- in-the-headlights charm.

He hasn’t forced himself on any of them, and the manga is doing its best to make such an approach pointless, so ‘Ambitious” gets another two points for teaching the important stuff first (no forcing, use a condom, smile and go for it) before it starts preaching fine points of etiquette and sensitivity. Oh, and the girls always take the initiative in sex and relationships – at least in mangaland. I am not too sure what the guy’s duty is. Perhaps the next few chapters will whittle it down to daily bathing and rudimentary grooming… and getting rid of that damn list. This kind of list-ticking-off seems to be an endemic error of western pr0n watching guys, and the habit looks like it is near universal. A ton of ero-games and ecchi manga, on top of the net-pr0n has probably exacerbated this problem – though it would be interesting to see if certain sub-forms and narrative tropes actively resist it.

If “Ambitious” is “wholesome”, normal, ecchi or hentai manga, it isn’t any worse – and perhaps a lot better than a previous generation’s reliance on skin magazines (hundreds of them, easily accumulated when the university students moved home in spring – literally bales of porn, free for the hauling! gahhhhhhhhhh!) Of course, there is an abundance of squick out there, but as Gallop suggests, it serves a small purpose as well.

Part of me can see the advantages, in terms of plot novelty, of forgoing another 20-chapter boy meets girl, girl meets boy, but both are too shy to confess fest to cut to the chase and tackle basic relationship etiquette.

To expand the argument a bit, a noted reviewer / blogger on Yuri, has often commented on how she gets bored and annoyed with what she calls “story A” (meet cute, overcome shyness and misunderstanding, declare love – even in face of societal pressure, have some idealized girl-sex, walk off into sunset.) I presume she means that she would prefer to see some more working out of the day-to-day frustrations of relationships, beyond simple fight- over-nothing-make-up-with-sex scenes.

The trouble is that within the flavours of Yuri that valorise f/f love (as opposed to
pure nasty hentai for LFB’s), the sex act itself is privileged – it is the holy defining
big thing of the relationship and the participants’ identities, and of course it is perfect and satisfying beyond all bonds of imagination. Uh huh! Yuri lesbian characters don’t have problems with one or more of the couple being lousy, clumsy, clueless lovers? having pr0nish lists? having personal grooming and hygiene issues?

I won’t even speculate about yaoi puppets..

Recall that monsieur Zizek characterises all eroticism and fantasy within the realms of repeated, epic fail.

Kio Shimoku’s Spotted Flower has a nice het couple with otaku backgrounds trying to get through their first few year of happy domestic life, with job pressures, looming GROW- UP!/ maturity fears and pregnancy making the road a bit bumpy. Whether or not they are alternate-reality versions of the Genshiken characters is beside the point. The big question is how they can reconcile their otaku tastes (and yup – these tastes are “libidinized”) with the “realities” of domesticity.

Here’s some rai-ju “same-old same-old” on the pr0n vs reality debate in the west:
(http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/11/11/does-pornography-deserve-its-bad-rap)

Shimoku-sensei (remember, his mangaka persona is a pseudonym – he is a well-married, somewhat normal-ised family man in the solid world) will occasionally try to work the difficult, grotty bits of “life” into his manga: A little searching will find grey zone scans of Digopuri /Hell’s Princess (Jigo Puri: The Princess of the Hell)
to frighten the heck out of prospective couples.

Could it get worse? How about a “yuri” manga based on this story:
http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/transsexual-denied-recognition-as-father

So… Did the “father” really want to do a full re-assignment, (news report unclear if the change was paper work or paperwork + surgery) or was originally-she just a bit butch and wanted to marry her sweetie? No matter, the ass-hat bureaucrats in Japan required her to “become a man”. Fine! Ok!, Happy marriage! Later, after a bit of turkey baster improvisation (or clinic fees) sweetie is with child. Surprise! The ass-hat bureaucracy strikes back: the kid is a bastard! What next? A tsunami? A power plant melt-down?

All epic Japanese tales either start with an ass-hat inflexible judgement from authority, or a suicide.

Do the vast panoply of narratives in manga offer more in the way of possible social scripts to Japanese readers than the more segmented paperback fiction/ comic book/ high literature/ net pr0n categories offer Western consumers.

Japanese auteurs seem far more willing to stretch a narrative beyond any reasonable limit if they feel that the story is gong nowhere. How else does one explain the movies of Minoru Kawasaki Fave domestic send-up: http://www.smh.com.au/news/film/koala-carnage-whale-of-a- film/2006/02/03/1138836416714.html

So, the problem resolves simply: Western fiction is too effing limited, and lingering puritanism segments fictional narratives in a way that undermines possible benefits to developing social scripts. Anyone want to ride this hobby-horse through some grad school halls?

Only Futurerama can save us.

Yawn!

Finally, as for real art schools:

1) Art school girls are exogamous. The last thing they need after a hard day of forced creativity is another budding narcissist under foot, especially one with an earning potential as low as theirs. Art-school guys, be ambitious, go after the Drama dept. girls. As a friend remarked: once one does you, it becomes a competition. Higgamous hoggamous..
2) Tip for getting along with your peers: NO ONE likes your taste in music – try
earbuds!
3) Learn to floss! Your breath stinks! Bathing and laundry are good too.
4) Protip: Boys and girls – resist the urge to chat up the life-drawing models. Polite interaction during breaks to demonstrate that you do not objectify them is ok – anything more ist verbotten! Snap out of it and keep drawing!
5) Sex is ok, but learning to draw is better than the “I know Kung Fu!” thing in the Matrix.

Ars longa
, vita brevis

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