Spoilers ensue (0)
1) Une Saison en Enfer
Sempai, I may have left my scent on your hanten.
In chapter 27 of Kio Shimoku’s Spotted Flower ‘the Husband’ AKA Harunobu Madarame has arranged to meet up with his university club junior to nail down an alibi as to how a certain Mangaka’s signature scent ended up on a house coat/ hanten in Mada’s apartment. At least that’s the excuse. Madarame has clearly set up the meeting so that he could brag about his adventure to ‘the boyfriend of the other mangaka (Ogiue) who the boob-grabbing girl foreigner (Sue Hopkins) helps out’ (the habit of eliding names in Spotted Flower is getting clunky, c’mon it’s obviously the once and future…) Kanji Sasahara.
Just to make the exchange somewhat balanced, Kio-sensei added a surprise earlier this summer in a 2-page web-extra chapter (26.5) on the Rakuen Le Paradis website. After many years, Chika Ogiue’s assistant couldn’t take it any longer and jumped her sleeping liege, stealing a deep and thorough kiss, as Ogiue had a nap-dream of a romantic moment with her boyfriend. As the long-overdue dawn of explicit f:f intimacy in the Genshiken verse, the execution feels rushed and troublesome. I am also at a loss to translate the European scanlator’s colloquial final dialogue; I am guessing that Sue’s retort was something about “not being finished yet” (playing on the page inking that Ogiue requested before napping off) followed by a declaration that she has yet to secure Ogiue’s .. panties (???) This translation is clearly NOT even close:
One of the machine translations dropped the word “pants” into the output. It would fit… Who knows? Meanwhile at least one of Sue’s hands is up Ogiue’s sweatshirt and much further “taking” is strongly indicated in a final cut-out panel.
Hmmmmmph! Maria Sama is still watching.
I am even less impressed because any Sue x Ogiue appears to have been whomped up primarily as a set-up so that Sass-boy can have a somewhat equivalent “triangle” situation to discuss in comparison to Mada’s. Oh wot the heck. Steamy Sue x Ogiue times finally. Kio, may I suggest grabbing some Takemiya Jin for a few pointers, so it doesn’t come off as pure Loser Fanboy service… Please. OMG, no, not the Kurogane Kenn stuff !!!
Mada’s triangle is judged trickier as there is a newborn baby in the mix. For the most part, Sasahara-kun plays his role perfectly by re-iterating how much of a dawg/ player/ scumbag his sempai has become, all while dropping asides about how he would lurv a threesome with Ogiue and Sue (1).
So yeah… Guys.
Putting aside the growing suspicion that Spotted Flower is a Shimoku’s Gate probability line where the majority of all annoying fan pairings/ ‘ships’ that the author was pestered about over the years are to be played out by bored and horny 30-something year olds, the discussion between Mada and Sass is odd in that “no danger of accidental pregnancy from -this- infidelity” is a talking point… As opposed to say; ‘Hato finally got his wish and he uked me, as in took my ass, quite thoroughly!” — although the occurrence is mentioned in passing. Madarame appears to be enthusiastic about sharing details, treating the tryst as a Man-of-the-World Experience Points bonus round, rather than displaying any uncertainty over his sexuality. Neither does he give any hint of having a crush on Hato.
Instead of the insecure and flustered contemporary guy harem lead, Madarame now aspires to an earlier (1970’s-1980’s bubble, pre-1992-crash) model of male infidelity as natural privilege, of the kind that so often made a complete fool out of Urusei Yatsura‘s “Darling”, Ataru Moroboshi.(2) If winning the “most interesting mistress experience award” wasn’t enough, Kio-sensei piles on a few extra privilege points. When Mada grumbles about a sense of melancholy and unreality surrounding his life of late, Sasahara spills to Mada that ‘the ex’, (who can only be Makoto Kousaka) was in a pitiful state after seeing [Kasukabe-san], crushed that he had not been judged worthy of husband-and-father-hood by her.
“In my opinion, the idea of getting married to someone as eccentric as him didn’t suit her. And it’s normal. So really, you won her over with your own merits, senpai. And poor guy went back to my place, dejected, after you showed him your newborn daughter.
“Eh? You think so?”
“You look like you’re gloating. Disgusting.”
Also, a fortunate choice of translation: Madarame! You ‘three times asshole’ (as the italian scanlators put it) You DOUCHEBAG! (as Genshiken Dropout’s Asandyrabbit suggested.) I found this great essay on why douchebag is a perfect term for entitled manchildren (4).
Aggressively Foolish and Annoying; Expects Privilege.
Lest you think that I went on too long in previous posts about Madarame being Kio Shimoku’s Japanese exploration of the same themes as Updike’s ‘Rabbit’, (3) I can only say that I lack the mangaka’s skills at condensing the argument to a few lines of dialogue. Disappointed fan-boy butthurt over the manga story arc is no longer relevant; Kio-sensei’s ambitions have grown along with his chops. Or he is revisiting an earlier fascination with conflicted emotional plots; Heat Haze/ Kagerowic Diary/ Kagerou Nikki, Yonensai and Gonensai, as his confidence and abilities have grown. If anyone dropped the pictures and framed the dialogue with a smattering of convincing descriptive filler, Spotted Flower could stand toe to toe with most Murakami short stories. No talking cats required. Background music allusions optional. But such would be a criminal waste; Kio Shimoku loves the visual medium: Consider the cute, dishabille bedroom Hato and the look on their half-turned face! Priceless!
Wither Spotted Flower‘s Hato? Kio Shimoku missed his creation, returning them to the story in chapter 12. If their role was only to be the instrument of Madarame’s downfall, why was so much time spent adding depth to her character, her work life as an ero-doujinshi convention sales supported mangaka and her curious partnership with her manager-lover-(collaborator?) Merei Yajima? Unlike Murakami, whose women creations remain magically opaque to their male main characters, the Spotted-verse has tantalising snippets of characterisation for its women characters, and of course almost a complete character study for Hato as trans-fujoshi-ero-mangaka.
At first glance, and if you continue to squint, Hato has succeeded with Yajima’s help. Their dream of a fennish world to envelop them has come true, even if the cost has been pronounced. Rotten has consumed them. Rotten and the requirements of a hyper-expressed fujoshi practice govern far too much of their lives. In bed with Merei, Hato is still “collaborating” in their production. Merei will send her off, grudgingly citing “research”, even as she knows it is far more. Hato’s long-held infatuation is real and true, but can only be expressed as one or another variant of a late 1990’s BL bonk scene. And in her own way, Hato is just as irresponsible and immature as Madarame. This may tread perilously close to the sin of misgendering but she makes “guy” mistakes about relationship stuff, or at least Kio-sensei has her make mistakes in a way that echoes her residual – kept for BL field missions – guy-ness. Wondering if Yajima “had turned into” a lesbian and was in danger of being seduced by Sue was the most obvious example. The mpreg ridiculousness was so off the charts as to be impossible to keep track of; with Hato’s body alternating between being treated as alienated residual and fujoshi lore turned post-gender sci-fi wish fulfilment.
Others can later debate how clumsy Kio-sensei was and where. The fact remains is that it was not necessary to a simple ‘The World of Mada Will Fall‘ plot to do any of this.
2) Wait for me, you’ve gone much farther… Too far.
I fear that both readers and writers of romantic comedies and romances have one thing in common. We have scant idea how a “real” romance (het or other) should “naturally” work. Is it that we suspect that without delusions and puppet scripts and assigned roles no one could ever meet up and sustain interest in another? Twitter and Tumblr are full of pseudonymous queer comments condemning this or that clumsy heterosexual pairing as “too het”, which I take as a shorthand for a sense of alienation and reification with the social role demands and expectations tack-welded onto too many girl meets boy stories. And that feeling reflects a truth. Guys and girls go to “sports bars” to find “normal”, straight, hard-working, easy to understand potential partners as much as they did 600 years ago at the harvest market’s festival.
When I was younger I used to wonder about the innocent fools who would slowly drive their customised cars up and down the main street of my town on warm summer weekend nights. Would they sit down years later and tell a child that he or she was born because some butt-ugly piece of Detroit metal with oversized tires attracted mom to dad?
“Yes, Tyler, you’re here because of that ’73 Cordoba with the bitchin’ chrome mags!”
This uneasiness is part of why straight folks womp up queer characters for romance tales: supposedly the “scripts” and roles apply less, so perhaps we can watch attraction play out unencumbered by anything more than lust and genre clichés. Simulations. Reduce the variables and re-run the scenarios. We might yet understand the human heart, or at least come up with a few more stories as to how hearts might romp if only they could slip their leashes.
Hello!, have we forgotten someone?
When LGBTQ+ characters show up in vernacular narratives, too often the impression for IRL LGBTQ+ readers is mixed, if not problematic. Even if run-of-the-mill bigotry has been somewhat toned down, rendered déclassé and boorish in the better neighborhoods of the global village, those of minority sexualities and gender expressions face further challenges of “erasure”. ‘It is fine whatever you get up to: I/ we/ society simply don’t want to see (any trace of) it“. The mere public existence of LGBTQ+ people acting as if they have as much right to be where and as anyone else -might- “frighten the horses” . When Shadow-of-gay characters appear, they are no longer invisible but too often they are routinely used in annoying one-dimensional story conventions: over-fanserviced or one or a couple of tragically killed off lesbians, outlandish performing ‘Hard-gay” guys and for trans*/ gender non-conforming/ non-binary folks, the otokonoko, the okama, the butch dyke and the crossdresser. No wonder IRL LGBTQ folks feel whiplashed. The choice between erasure or burlesque representation is not much of a choice.
Given that us straight folks ain’t gonna stop making up LGBTQ charas, some pointers or at least suggestions from the tojisha community might be a really really good idea. A decade ago Dr Mizoguchi made it clear what she thought should be extirpated from BL: so-called “rapes of love” and “I’m not gay, it’s only you”. Less obvious was her weariness with both exotic and straights-struck-by-lightning guys. What of just-so, hard-working, “yeah, I’m a gay man, what of it?” protags for BL stories?
Without looking for one singular “rulebook” for lesbian representation, one can probably intuit that extreme fanservice, including threesomes and moresomes; “killing your gays” and the insidious Maka Maka effect (fanservice angst-y f:f schmexy while either or both of a pair wait for “the right guy”) should take a rest. For gay guys, probably it’s more a matter of degree. You have the guy who works with the woman MC. You don’t have to “queen him out” so that he can be a team-mate/ sidekick and not a romantic interest. An offhand mention is sufficient. See how useful guy privilege is?
To these obvious pointers, we can now add a few new ones for trans* characters, thanks to Twitter threads by Bogi “Takács PERSON, 100% migráncs @bogiperson”.
“I both edit and review a lot of trans-related fiction. I edited Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016 (#Lammys winner) and the upcoming Transcendent 3 too. :)”
Ok, thems sound like experience points.
- Writing thread! Introducing trans and/or intersex characters – some common and less common pitfalls!
- Worldbuilding thread! Some pitfalls related to shapeshifting, gender, and trans people.
- Worldbuilding thread! How (not) to include trans people as background characters – some common mistakes.
— Threads archived at: [ https://threadreaderapp.com/user/bogiperson ]
Nowhere in these is there a requirement that trans* charas must be perfect Whoever-Xues (we need a name/term for the wish-fulfilment self-insert non-binary chara – my suggestion with an X in this case follows the Chinese convention of pronouncing a leading X as Sh) These tips make plenty of sense and as a bonus, rid potential stories of more than a few groaners.
“It was a dark and stormy night as our otokonoko protagonist stood naked in front of the mirror” can now be excised for one further reason. I found it a fun game to keep a tally of how Kio-sensei’s Hato fares as I went through the lists. Some of the tropes might be too western-specific, others subverted (the Stand(s) were incredibly useful) while others were purposefully worked against to follow a theory-ish plot-point. The last of these; a trans social for Hato remains glaringly absent because Hato instead chose a fujoshi/ otaku social. We shall see how far Kio Shimoku continues to push a conceit noted by Takahiro Ueda; that “otaku is a violence against gay” [http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/acd/cg/lt/rb/623/623PDF/ueda.pdf]
Is it time to make Spotted Flower‘s snoopish editor Endou queer, so that she can drag Hato and Yajima off to a cozy Ni-Chome bar?
3) Per Aspera
That’s two of them.. Please read the thread archives for the rest. My two cents towards adding to a “best practice” code of conduct for straight writers dreaming in queer would be that that ya can’t go wrong if you keep the tone of the settings, or at least of the actions of your idea-of-queer character “aspirational”. That appears to have worked well a few times. You can also hide a fair amount of sloppy behind it.
Kio-sensei’s new thing about the chorale ensemble seems to be taking up most of his recent attention. I look forward to eventually reading it, even buying the tanks next time i make it to Japan. Spotted Flower remains viable and exultingly open ended. Yajimacci! Hato-sensei’s mainstream debut and how Endou-editor-san manages it (is she completely out of her depths when it comes to broaching the DMAB subject?) Saki’s suspicions; Saki going home to see mom for a month (a very typical Japanese post-natal tradition) Mada at loose ends.
Mada and Hato must end up at a love hotel! It should be one of those really tacky ones that look like a castle! Bonus if they get to their room and Mada pulls out 2 six-packs of beer, munchies and a game console loaded up with otokonoko games. Hey Mada, if you don’t bring some blue pills then we’ll all know that you plan to do the po po pitiful me sou-uke hime routine… forever!
Otherwise, Mada’s next big level-up event will be Kousaka popping him one in the snout.
(1) As well as the European fan translators, I am indebted to Genshiken Dropout’s Asandyrabbit for help puzzling out chapter 27. Please support the magazine and Kio-sensei; Rakuen Le Paradis can be purchased as an e-book/ Kindle publication on Amazon.co.jp
(2) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urusei_Yatsura] . Rumiko Takahashi [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumiko_Takahashi] remains a living god of manga. As of writing at 60, she is still working; her current project being the retro flavored (Kyōkai no) Rinne.
(3) Not for a microsecond am i suggesting that Kio Shimoko is cribbing from Updike. Guy misbehavior is ubiquitous, there is plenty to go around. I’m just suggesting they both have booths at the same county fair.