The Friendly Ones — Hatsukoi Zombie

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

I wonder why “we” need to do this?

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

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

Or was it ‘always do the right thing’?

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

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

We have these needs. We wont stop.

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

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

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

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

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

10) Ha Ha Ha. Sucks to be you.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, Duh!

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

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

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

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

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

Also: boobage as plot device.

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

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

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

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

Time to run this essay off the road:

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

Characters
in
Yuri
Manga
(and anime)

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

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

Cue confusion from the peanut gallery.

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

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

Twitter poll:

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

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

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

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

Time to put effort rather than foot where mouth is:

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

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

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

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

Needless to say this entire shambles is about guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cringe!

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

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

Ha Ha Ha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about a preliminary, if transactional schema:

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

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

Ceremonial robes of citizenship for the useful ones.

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

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

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

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

You do not understand the heart of a man.

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

It’s all about the lads after all.

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

Destroy everything we touch

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

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

BORING!

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

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

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

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

Facepalm.

 

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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2 thoughts on “The Friendly Ones — Hatsukoi Zombie

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