Till human voices wake us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirty….
Really?

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

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

Ohh.. fugget it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spotted hips web.jpg

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

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

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

All who can, shall!

 

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

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

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

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

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

Or….

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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