Duty of care

–this post is under construction, but as I have been slacking off for the last month, best to post it fast and clean it up later.. Needs some pix too —

To what extent should an author feel responsibility for their characters? A teacher who was very important to me once asked me: “at what point did art start having to be moral?” My answer was somewhat sophomoric, even though we were both a bit too old to be seriously considering debating club absolutes. Both the question and the answer were a form of ritually exchanged gift. I still treasure it.

A work of art, even a story can be as moral or as amoral as an artist or author cares to make it at any point in time, but when they wager a small token of morality, internal consistency or humanity they must take care that they do not find themselves caught out as the ante is upped and the pot grows beyond their means.

Or to add a further answer sensei’s question: “when the artist is so foolish as to promise a moral work.”

At some point, I am going to have to spend a bit of time mulling over the issues raised by http://caffeinesymposium.blogspot.ca/  whose proprietor did me the honor of using some of my earlier writing as a jumping-off point for a serious examination of how Shimoku-sensei is treating Madarame in the current Genshiken. Visit and read, it is damn fine. I both agree and disagree with his analysis. And the minute I started thinking about why, something else got in the way. It feels to me that if I figure out a way of expressing my unease with the current problem, the bigger one will become less fuzzy. To cut to the chase:

Why Angela Burton?

Kio Shimoku is not normally so clumsy.

Of course reading too much into the english language Japanese press can be dangerous…

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2010/10/26/issues/foreigners-victims-perpetrators-of-sekuhara/#.U6j2VmhD8oQ

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/10/23/voices/japan-no-safe-country-for-foreign-women

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/11/04/voices/no-safe-country-for-foreign-women-the-debate

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/06/16/issues/harassers-exploit-gabas-man-man-lesson-format

http://www.japantoday.com/category/opinions/view/safety-tips-for-foreign-women-in-japan

(If you go over the article limit, open the links in a browser with cookies disabled)

http://thisjapaneselife.org/2014/06/23/sexual-harassment-sekuhara/

… but still it is not hard to see that the sexually adventurous busty blond gaijin woman is a bit of a notorious stereotype among Japanese males. One can posit the effect is 10x as strong with otaku males. And Angela Burton is, at least so far a perfect example of the fantasy, even to the point of drawing a bead on the most nerdy, otaku-ish guy in the Genshiken. This leaves her character- development- to- plot- importance ratio dangerously out whack. Shimoku-sensei is hanging a lot of story on an otherwise enigmatic (or extremely thin) stereotype. This is fine when the character is first whomped up to push the story along, but can be problematic later.

Warning: Playset field has been engaged(!) – even if only at the service of a consideration of plot mechanics.

Consider that for two consecutive Comiket visits Angela has been used as a significant plot device by pushing her over-the-top sexual adventurousness to extremes. She is either a cardboard cut-out, or something else entirely. And she had better become that something else soon or she will cease to function at all. How does the author top his last trick? Does Angela show up at the next comiket with all the high school girls from Shoujo Sect, five male Hosts, a troupe of otomeyaku midgets brandishing sex toys and some sheep???

It won’t wash.

Someone so sexually adventurous would have little time for obscure Japanese yaoi (and yuri) dojins, let alone the inclination to jet halfway around the world every six months to buy a crate of them. A cosplay hobby might explain a bit of her wanderlust, her friendship with Ohno and Sue a bit more but the rest is hanging by a well-worn thread of Japanese xenophobia, or at least exoticism.

Yes, Japanese folks are notorious for falling for the “They are alien, that’s why they do alien things” view of all things not-Japanese – at least as much as we Euroethnic types do… Perhaps a bit more in certain areas. And the collapse of the bubble economy has only exaggerated this “cocooning” effect. Kio Shimoku can get away with Angela a bit longer, but not too much longer.

After all she might well be the only character who can wiggle Madarame (and therefore the author) out of the corner he has been painted/ painted himself into. She called dibs on Mada first. No need to rehash the problems with the rest of the harem – they are excellent plot twist material, but they fail as a good ending material.

Worse, the IRL blowback from this little fantasy is beginning to loom as a messy concern. Shimoku-sensei can ill-afford to have his opus degenerate into an overtly crude and prejudiced tale. Hato can have bad memories of high-school ostracism, as Ogiue did, but neither were savagely hunted down and beaten up. If the stuco boys ever find out that Hato has been cross-dressing in the Genshiken, one can expect some embarrassed tittering, and the obligatory “we can’t have that here” vs “we have model regulations protecting strange people like you‘” condescension, but I doubt that Kio Shimoku will have any of them act like vicious homo/trans- phobic thugs – it would shatter the tone of his story. Similarly, the over sexed gaijin blond is beginning to look as crude as a nasty step-and-fetchit person of colour stereotype.

And while I am at it, I don’t suggest for a moment that the ‘blonde babe x nerd’ effect is an exclusively Japanese Otaku problem. See: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html

The author neglected to mention roofies… JEEZUS WEPT! And yeah, he killed guys too, and was “mental” and yadda yadda yadda with the big river in Egypt…

Lest I seem to be getting wayyyy tooo -feminist- in this essay, I must declare that I harbor a serious and deep hate-on for all manner of vicious, violent, stupid, barbarous human behaviour. I usually try to moderate its manifestation with the sad knowledge that real-world complexities tend to foul up any simple off-to-the-re-education-camps!!!! urges towards solving these horrors (the rule of lawthe shitheads would immediately take over any camp-offing functions, those who hunt monsters, etc etc…)  Ok, I’m a Liberal. In my country that means that a Liberal Prime Minister might surprise you by imposing martial law on an entire province just as fast as he declares that “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the Nation”. I haven’t given up on representative democracy yet, but I fear that it might take a hit soon if we all don’t stop succumbing to the well-funded temptations of treating politics as personal psycho-therapy-theatre.

The night is long, the stars so very far away…
The project of civilization continues…

The IRL world is a complex and sometimes nasty, crappy place. Lately it feels like the crappy-ness index has been rising a bit too fast. Must be the time of year… Sometimes we all need a fun, fictional, safe space. The Genshiken opus prides itself in presenting such a fun and safe place while deftly, ever so gently skewering otaku (and now fujoshi) social stupidity. It does not unconditionally validate it.

Angela has to either vanish in the next 5 story-time months or undergo some serious retconning and/or character development. And that means she has to have her “carnivorous’ act toned down and explained away as a sly put-on job, much as Sue’s Loli-bakka-gaijin-de-gozaimus-hai! act was cleaned up. We will also need a reason for this cleanup and a further elaboration of Angela’s character.

Angela has become a liability as a character.

One possibility to explore would be her athleticism, another her means.
She must have resources that allow her to jump on a plane every six months. The rich are different from you and I is a well-worn trope, and one of the few remaining bastions of politically correct other-ness allowed among right-thinking citizens of the world. Sports-mad athletic types are also assumed to have no time in their lives for mundane romantic drama – all their passion is to be reserved for their game. That would also provide some wiggle room. We already can posit that Angela treats the whole of Japan (or at least the Tokyo region) as a greater part of her twice a year Comiket convention experience. It should not take much to turn her into a rich, athletic weaboo tourist who goes a bit too far looking for a fantasy-island convention romance.

In the post-Nadaime anime comiket OVA, Angela gets to meet and interact briefly with Saki. I may have missed something in the manga, but this is a new one for me. There must be a reason for plopping a Saki cameo into the frame. Angela can be expected to have heard from Ohno about Madarame’s crush and now she has been seen to have met the woman who bent her intended out of shape. If she is at all as calculating as she has been made out to be, she at least now has some material to work with. “Otaku boys like this kind of thing” has been tried and found wanting. When will she switch to plan B?

Angela is thousands of miles away, which means that Ohno and Madarame need to have a talk. Poor Mada is going to need some harem-survival advice soon and who better to seek it from than Genshiken’s resident matchmaker,  fairy godmother and purveyor of bootleg cosplay pix?

A long distance relationship and language barriers are but wisps of fog compared to Madarame’s current roneryness.

Ohno can fix!

Ohno can get to squirm a bit over the risk of ruining any chance to see some 3D BL Hato x Mada x Hato drama, or she can work the rotten girl POV into the exposition: “Poor Madarame! If the male version of Hato shows up at your apartment and cooks for you, wouldn’t it be worse?” (Query: now that Sue is dropping by Hato-neighbour for chow, is Hato in chan-mode when she visits?) Madarame is not the only one trapped within the dynamics of the harem farce.

Ohno is rooting for Angela x Mada. Add water to Chuck Wagon Dog Chow (tm) Tadah! It makes its own gravy!

Ch 101 appears (! rejoice!) even if there is plenty of Risa fun (and post valentines day apocalypse fallout) to be had for now.

Gadzooks! Even rotten girls are using the josou/ young-looking crossdresser thing to edge themselves out of their uncomfortable, soon to be even more illegal than it already is in Japan appetites!

Well played Shimoku-sensei, well played!

With short-shorts no less…

2 thoughts on “Duty of care

  1. First of all, thanks for the plug and I’m really glad that my thoughts have had an impact just as much as your insights have had on my perception and enjoyment of Genshiken.

    Second, you hit the nail on the head when it comes to Kio Shimoku’s approach to Angela. She’s the thorny issue for me as well. At first, I found both Sue and Angela kind of annoying for being so stereotypical. Sue was the standard weeaboo gaijin girl whose Japanese was entirely derived from all the anime she watched. Her transformation into an actual character was gradual and I went from really disliking her to actually really hoping she comes out on top. Angela, however, has actually become “sluttier,” if you’ll pardon the word-choice. I’m not really sure what Kio Shimoku’s game with her is. And therein lies my fears and frustrations.

    My dislike for Angela (and originally Sue) was because I very-well KNOW that a lot of college-age American girls go to Japan and have a certain… behavior pattern, if you will. Sue is, especially, a kind of anime fangirl that I’ve met in college and grad school and for whom a colleague and friend (who teaches Japanese to college students) finds very frustrating to deal with when he takes students to Japan every summer semester.

    A more fun and less stressful version of the stereotype can be found in Rulia-nya (http://www.batoto.net/comic/_/comics/rulia-nya-r248) but the idea and sentiment is there. Foreigners are weird, loud, inexplicable, act like slightly brain-damaged children, disturb harmony with their rampant individuality and vociferous self-expression, and are often a nuisance, even though they’ve got pretty blue or green eyes and blond hair.

    (I assume you’ve traveled to Japan. I visited often but lived for three years in South Korea and I had no end of people questioning me as to why I wasn’t tall nor had brown eyes and black hair instead of the stereotypical American tallness, blue eyes, and blond hair.)

    Is Kio Shimoku subtly lampshading the Japanese readers’ expectations of stereotype? Or is he such a product of his environment, prejudices, and cultural expectations that he cannot help but express foreignness through these cliches? Indeed, I find myself wondering why, at all, did he decide to introduce, let alone include, foreign characters into the story in the first place? Is Shimoku looking to overturn the stereotypes? Or is he starting with stereotypes, carving characters out of them but still locked into that tyranny of expectation when it comes to foreigners?

    • Hi! Thanks for dropping by again! I too have oft wondered why Kio Shimoku has 2.5 foreign females in the Genshiken. Aside from their use as fun (I’ll borrow your approach…) Wa-disturbers, and a bit of exoticism, I hope he has some other tricks in mind.

      For instance, Japanese society, and especially its University graduating elite youth have become a lot more insular since the bubble went -pop-(!). A year spent at a furreign University is a liability now in the job market by some reports! That insularity is somewhat echoed by otaku/fuloshi insularity. For example and per my hobby horsing on A. Piper; Japanese culture is fully “modernist” in swiping gaijin exoticism and doesn’t care about “rest of the world” ‘authenticity” as long as it works for the local application.

      I.G. productions et al. could have given Sue, Angela and even Ohno better English voices in the anime(s). Their English is laughably crude, even to Japanese listeners, but the production folk don’t care – perhaps they even want it that way for their own reasons?

      At this point, we are in the realm of subtle shadings in “the feel of the work”.

      One thing I can make of this is the impression that Shimoku-sensei is in for the long haul. I was worried that he’d begin to wrap it up after Ch100, but the story is still unfolding nicely. Plenty of time for any number of characters to face a life-changing crisis and find redemption!

      Keeps me hooked.

      Cheers, M.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s