Initially I wanted to slot Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Kobayashi%27s_Dragon_Maid] into the yuri section but recurring complaints about how it plays fast and loose with busty dragons sexually harassing young boys (named Shouta — jeesh!) led me to notice something else. Boobie burlesque routines aside, the manga, the anime and two other spin-off mangas are loaded up with charas who all desperately long for company and affection. Dragons and wage slaves alike, everyone is ronery but some of the charas do ronery wrong:. The most serious complaint that can be raised against Dragon Maid is one that is all too common to Japanese ensemble comedies:
Foreigners, outlanders, gaijin are always too loud, too touchy-feely, clumsy and ignorant of local customs and codes of behavior. They lack discretion. They are inevitably in need of socialization — even if the freedom behind their irresponsible behavior is secretly envied..
WARNING: Adult themes and over-consideration of traditions of Japanese cartoon intimacy below the cut. Fourth and last of a 4-part essay series on Japanese vernacular visual narratives conventions surrounding the depiction of intimacy. Snark. Some spoilers.
Work-in-progress warning: Even though this is the last installment of this essay series – and the one that took forever to wind up – I will be still messing with it. As the sections shake out, I may return to this and other sections and make a few changes. Hit refresh if returning. I’ll remove this when it feels done and dusted.
Also, they like weird food.
The source of many complaints with Dragon Maid rest with the alchemist’s son and the dipsomaniac Aztec love goddess dragon he summoned. Hello! Comes from America (Central). Blonde, busty, over sexed, far too flirty and loves to tease easily flustered young’uns. Where have I seen this before? Lucoa keeps pushing her ample boobies at the kid; it takes him a while before he is able to muster the self-confidence to order her to behave. All part of his magical training, says his father; you are responsible for controlling what you summon.
Shape-shifting furreign dragons are sneaking into town to corrupt Japanese youth, seduce the wimmin-folk and freeload off hard-working salaried employees. Tohru, Kanna and later, the somewhat cognitively impaired Iruru plant themselves in the Kobayashi household. Miss K; emotionally cauterised and prone to insensitive behavior, nonetheless finds that lesbian dragon collective family life was something that her soul needed. Soon she has become the focal point of an entire dragon ex-pat community. She gradually learns to return Tohru’s feelings. She get hugs.
The over-sexed blonde outlander woman who has no idea about personal space is such cliché in Japanese pop culture that IRL foreign blonde women in Japan have to carry bear spray to deal with relentless legions of creepy guys.
Unfortunately, she is only a symptom of a larger pattern. I could go all post-colonial here but that would lose me two of my five readers, so I won’t. I also have to hold off an any critical-theory-psycho-babble comparing the Lacanian phallus with the ideal of adult Japanese citizen behavior, even if both work from a big empty at the core of an oppressive mass delusion. After all, it’s not about what you believe, it is how you act. Belief will only get you into trouble, while proper behavior within interlocking systems of nested hierarchies will put food on the table and pay the rent. Therefore we have the perfect Japanese salaryman and his good- wife- wise- mother plus all the diligent youth readying themselves for their responsible future roles… and everyone else in the loser and misfit sack. Their lives might be worth shit, but lookie at how they grab what little happiness they can, unconcerned with appearances.
“The flame that burns twice as bright burns only half as long…”
Put away the Voight Kampff machine. Watch for the PDAs
How can a respectable, slightly reserved mid-twenties Office Lady find love under such stifling circumstances? Unlike her North American romance novel counterpart, she has already moved to the big city and no good boy and bad boy are vying for her attention. Will she have to finally give in and go to the matchmaking meetings set up by her parents? Will she end up in Hokkaido as a farmer’s wife? As the younger mistress to her older married boss? What a girl needs is a dashing, respectable executive in the company she works for, who is secretly a freak — for her.
At first, Ase to Sekken‘s weird guy claims he is only sniffing her because he is the company’s fragrance development hotshot.
[ https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=150904 ] Soon enough he wants more. Shoganai, one can’t expect self-restraint from freaks, no matter how well they manage to hide their true natures.
Or can you? After they spend the night together and start “going out” conformity and self-consciousness sneak up on them. Meeting up for a dinner and movie date is torture for him, while she is wondering why he is suddenly distant. No matter how much he wants to, he just can’t nerve up to sneak any PDA’s. At least they manage to hold hands.
Fortunately they get back to someone’s apartment in time to tear each other’s clothes off and save their romance. Whew!
By no means does most manga clingy end up at a love hotel:
Tomo-chan’s classmate Carol is a rich hafu (one parent is an outlander), so she can be extremely naive and chaste and still inappropriately glomp her close friends. [ https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=120945] The rich are different from us, The foreign rich even more so. This kind of foolishness is not restricted to het romances, see: Kazumi Nagaike’s 2009 “Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others: Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga” [ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue20/nagaike.htm ] What is surprising is how the effect has spread from a niche genre into mainstream narratives. Along with the slow but steady disappearance of the Japanese nuclear family in manga (etc.), can this “otherization” of affective behavior be part of a greater contraction in imagined Japanese lives?
Post-bubble economy yadda yadda yadda. It’s been almost 30 years. Get over it already!!!
Back to Tomo-chan. She gets all the skinship she wants from her childhood friend Jun but only because of her improperly socialized upbringing. Raised in a dojo, feared at school as the “gorilla woman” and ever-ready to rough-house with her favorite guy, it is up to her women friends to bend her back to some semblance of femininity — which will have to involve less touching.
As long as nothing weird happens, a happy het high school couple can still dream of making the jump to proper, normie Japanese adult couple-dom. (pray the economy gets better…) Avoid the loser and misfit sack.
“…as long as nothing happens.”
Another hypothesis: one that could be parsed as fallout from a larger passive-aggressive response to nascent demands for gender equality and respectful behavior in public and work socials: guys had problems understanding consent and the result is an almost 40 year confused snit. The befuddled Japanese middle-manager in his 50’s comes out of the anti-harassment training session and declares that he “now can’t talk to women”. Time to schedule the ‘would you like some tea?” short as mandatory viewing every year of school, plus at the next work retreat. Extra sessions for talking to faces and not chests. Do the restrictions on fictional affective contact merely mirror confused, slowly evolving IRL practices and preferences? The whole “time, place and occasion” thing should eventually sort out. In the meantime, keep your hands to yourself. Fictional characters who maintain personal space and resist touchy-feely displays of affection are simply over-emphasising current rules for being “respectful” and “proper”.
Compared to all too common atavistic behavior, this can be read as a small improvement.
“Perhaps the most common remark one hears from men accused of sexual harassment is that they had no idea the woman was offended. A senior police officer, explaining why he repeatedly squeezed the thigh of his young female partner as they rode in their patrol car over a period of half a year, said, “It felt good, and she didn’t say anything, so I kept doing it” (Asahi Shimbun, June 8, 2012, evening edition). Such insensitivity is exasperating, but it is only to be expected in a culture that counts on women to be pleasant, compliant companions regardless of the indignities they endure. In such a society, we can hardly expect men to spend much time or energy considering women’s innermost feelings. Nor can we expect an end to sexual harassment.
–Why Japanese Men Still Don’t Get It: Structural Roots of Sexual Harassment
Society Culture by Muta Kazue, Nippon.com May 18, 2015
Unfortunately, once we start considering misbehavior, in this case mostly male misbehavior, we quickly get lost in how “permission to misbehave” shakes out at the edges of Japanese social patterns of hierarchy and deference. If outlanders and outcasts can break codes of behavior then such codes can also be broken at them. Things get lethally Nanking really fast.(1) hence, bear spray.
As well, while Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture narratives will sometimes attempt to lead public opinion by offering aspirational models and situations, most of the time these will follow, even over-emphasise conservative conformist behavior patterns. Doing so not only advances an atmosphere of “realism” within the story but gives the characters something recogniseable to chafe against. A recent IRL example I witnessed while on vacation sticks in my mind. On the first warm weekend, on a beach in Japan, a short train ride from the residential compounds of American naval base at Yokosuka, a few base rat teen couples were busy making a big show of making out while sunbathing. At least they left their boombox at home so that the rest rest of the folks on the beach didn’t have to try to ignore them while “Born in the USA” was blaring. Undoubtedly, more than a few onlookers might have secretly wished that they could have such fun canoodling with their lover.
The base rat younguns on the IRL beach were “acting out” but they were also “performing” their role of “other” for the greater Japanese beach-going public. That’s why when the same public goes hunting for light reading materials, enough of them will consume narratives that feature all manner of “others” doing exciting things that respectable members of society never quite nerve up to do. Japanese society’s addiction to hierarchical social identity roles has a strong ascriptive component. Urban Japan is densely populated, everybody is in everybody else’s business.
“It is not up to you to decide who you are, it is up to the people around you.”
As well, social opprobrium does not fall equally among the sexes. Could it be that any woman who is seen holding hands or willingly participating in PDA’s worries that they would bear %90 of the fallout? This seems to be at odds with the reported practices of harassers, who seek meek victims. For these douchebags, frightened silence still equals consent.
At this point I had hoped to segue into examples of “outlaw” characters acting transgressively affectionate in public or otherwise. Unfortunately I have not read enough “Delinquent High School” manga and the few Yakuza-infused tales I did consume don’t have very much “public”. Repeated pleas for recommendations on Twitter came up with nothing; I lack examples. I have to exclude Murcielago‘s Koumori Kuroko and a few others because this is an oversexed het outlaw hunt. I also exclude any self-professed teen “scum” because it is errant bullshit that they can paw at each other like the beach base-rats and still perform whining emo-angst because they can’t get their fantasy crushes exactly the way they want. (Yeah; my loathing for that series is boundless)
I can vaguely remember at least one, possibly two high school harem grinders where a girl-gang leader fixates upon harem lead boy but since he always weaseled his way out of her clutches, again no PDA’s or even hugs. More’s the pity; I find ankle-length pleated old-school school uniform skirts ridiculously hawt. Knee height regular issue and hiked up variants do little for me; except when they elicit cringe-worthy memories of a certain Catholic High School eons ago. Memo to Japan’s Education Ministry; even way back then, young women had the option of (hideous, wool, plaid) uniform slacks but then, I grew up in a cold country. File digression under state-imposed sex-role training and ascription.
One further scene from a forgotten manga comes to mind: a young woman, attending university gazing wistfully at the boy-girl couples walking by on campus. Some are even -gasp- holding hands or clinging on each other. She thinks of her girlfriend and wonders what it would be like to be able to so freely show affection. The scene is from a “serious” yuri manga, where women’s same-sex desire is treated realistically — the understated simplicity of a queer gaze turning the trope on its head stuck with me, I will add to this if I ever find the scene again.(2)
The wistful lesbian puts the problem into stark relief. Up until recently the queer gaze greedily sought out what few crumbs of representation it could find. Things are better now but the habit remains. People want to see reflections of themselves and their desires in the narratives they consume. If one is a gay man, a lesbian, trans, genderfluid or otherwise queer, seeking out “the other” in your fave stories is a complicated endeavor. There is no shortage of straight characters, often acting exaggeratingly so. They are your “others” but of course they are not written that way; they are the “default setting”. Their gaze towards their “others” can be taken on by you, but you will always know in the back of your mind that their next “other” might end up being a crude, insulting caricature your own life and/ or desires. As an old het guy with pale skin and Anglo-euro ethnic background, I can just barely “get” that this effect exists – to fully process it, let alone live it on a daily basis is far beyond me.
And if this isn’t enough, while “dreaming-in-queer” straight gaze narratives make all kinds of demands on queer characters, out in the real world there are still plenty of violent straight randos who will physically assault anyone or any couples that dare show any queer public affection. Recently, in the UK a lesbian couple was brutally assaulted by a pack of yobs after they were called out and refused to kiss for the entertainment of the pack.
Those straight base rat teens have all kinds of layers of privilege.
Don’t expect it to stop. Other-izing, fetishizing, using a “the other” is ubiquitous in fictional narratives not only because it remains a quick and easy trick but because such characters can do things that the readership and any stand-in default characters can’t or won’t do. They are, in a sense, like costumed super-powered characters.Years ago I snarkily suggested that the tired cliche of the young male character who crossdresses for “other reasons” becomes a weak variant of the superhero; given one small super-power and set lose to try to make the world – or their small patch of it – hold off on the inexorable shit-flood of grim reality for a few fleeting moments.
Needless to say the world always intrudes. Desire is a quick and effective shortcut to character depth, gender expression another. Throwing magic terms like “the other”, “fetishization” “post-colonial” “inclusiveness points” or the like at the trick avoids almost all of how the mechanism works at plot and reader/ viewer level.
“Teaching people about LGBTQ+ issues does not make them gay. Seeing gay people in cartoons does not make people gay. THOR: RAGNAROK makes people gay. Get it right, homophobes. ”
–Twitter @lilah_sturges 6:12 PM – 21 May 2019
And while we are in the neighborhood, why, oh why must every single adult woman villain in magical girl tales be dressed as if they own a fetish gear store?
“Aren’t I villainously sexy without all that junk?” (she asks)
Perhaps some nominally cisgendered heterosexual readers and viewers are in the situation of questioning their own sexuality and/or gender expression but I think the majority are not. Any “dreaming in queer” is being done partially to comfortably distance the fictional problems of a main character from our own and partially with an eye towards vicariously enjoying and perhaps transposing (or wishing we so could) some of the neat things and behaviors we read /view back to our own mundane lives. As long as we don’t get all crazy jealous, mistaking fictional others for real others who are afforded the opportunity to do stuff that we can’t, all should be fine, right?
Could Japanese folks cosplay American base-rats if the urge to grope each other on a public beach became overwhelming?
If I was ready to do two or three more installments of this essay series, I could divert into Japanese notions of public shame and embarrassment as somewhat parallel with Western judeo-xtian concepts of sin-as-kink and draw a distinction between cosplay, as it has evolved from worldcon masquerade costume parties and the vibrant Japanese steampunk scene. The starting point for the analysis would focus on how women participants in each fandom approach costume and character. Both dress to become, to take on the character of the other, but one class of these others have been previously marked by the desires of their creators and fans, while steam fashion is bricolaged together to suit the the individual dreams and desires of the wearer. The latter also seems to flash more gear and far less skin.
In the end I can catalogue instances of the trope but solving The Case of the Over-Affectionate Others is going to be like one of those too-complicated and slightly less satisfying resolutions in a detective manga. Three different antagonists were after someone other than the victim and then chance, in the form of a speeding truck and an escaped capybara threw everyone’s plans out of kilter. When conflicted desires are not part of a story’s characterisation, CJVC has no problem showing two people – even straight couples (!) acting affectionate — though I maintain that representations of sexual intimacy still have a long way to go. Hurried (and underpaid) authors just find the trope of inhibited “normies” contrasted to uninhibited “others” as too off-the-rack affordable to long ignore. Makes its own gravy. Congruent with uptight norms of IRL public behavior; whether these have to do with uchi/soto, nosy neighbors and onlookers, scarce public personal space and privacy or even confusion over evolving standards of personal autonomy and respect. Adds realism and plot mojo. Gives characters something to chafe against. Encourages
xenophobia Love of a Beautiful Japan™.
The unexpected blowback from this narrative trick is not only that it inevitably cycles back to a posited “normal” –even to the point of imposing a pinched and unsatisfying “normal”, the “too het” of the title, on the desires of othered characters. Along the way, any “normals” so posited also invariably end up reduced, pinched and constricted. Reality and desire erodes, becomes grey, rusts. Melts into air… It is as if zombifying another as “the other” depletes us onlookers of our own reality points. Every het guy who reads het guy harem manga knows this on an instinctual basis. The more exotic the babes, the more of a beige-every-schlub the harem lead becomes. Eventually, even Araragi sempai — the ultimate over-powered-up, world-revolves-around-my-ass harem grinder MC ends up as mr. confused, ineffectual weaksauce.
What is to be done? (3)
(1) In a similar vein, once you start scratching at the edges of an edgy comedy that features zombie girls as idols, you quickly slip past Japanese toxic work culture to historical practices of sexual bond slavery for the girl-children of the poor. (hiya Yūgiri) and from thence to wartime “comfort women” and Korean Kisaeng /gisaeng traditions Before you know it, everybody’s historical barbarisms are being dug up, dragged through the streets and lobbed at each other like grenades.
(2) Nope, didn’t find it but I found something better! Third story in the 2019 semi-pro doujin anthology “Just You and I” by circle Hyper Kettle Yesterday (Canno, Nega and Kawauchi) is “The Meaning of Us” by Kawauchi. Entire doujin available here:
[ https://ec.toranoana.jp/tora_r/ec/item/040030729547 ]
The rest of the story is aspirational as all heck and the two of them venture out holding hands, thereby inspiring two high school girls who like each other to do so as well.
Oh, yeah, the English-ified version is a fan effort and -ahem- can be found.
But wait! Order now and get this amazing “The Cat Returns the Gift” backgrounder from Vol 1 of circle member Canno’s big hit A Kiss and a White Lily for my Dearest Girl (ca 2012)
D’Awwwwwww! Love it. found reference to this side-story when hunting the circle name in Okazu back-posts.
(3) Almost a month since I got back from my Japan visit and I FINALLY can wrap this beast up. I have been holding off on other hobby-horse posts because this one was gonna get finished –dammit– one way or another. And, while I am at it, WTF wordeepress.com hiding the spell-check functions in both online editors???
Ok, so what is to be done?
The usual incremental bullshit to tone down the over-use of the trope, more agency for the gals, less performed timidity for the guys, better sempai beta couples, less wacky over-amorous outlanders, hafus and returnees, better canoodling for all sexualities and gender expressions, more striving to achieve the five-year plan, yadda yadda yadda.
Or not. I want better, I should make my own, especially considering that I can sling words, kick computers and nominally hold a degree in fine art. (multi-media, installation, sculpture, photography – my life drawing chops are weak) One more thing into the wish jar. Screw that, goin’ kayaking tomorrow.
Thanks for dropping by.
— Mudakun, May 2019
PPS: Shout-out and props to correspondant and occasional guest-poster Asandyrabbit [genshikendropout.wordpress.com] for convincing me to watch Sarazamnai, even though Ikuhara stuff makes my head hurt and Japanese hemorrhoid folklore is just plain weird shit.
It is… fascinating… And queer as all…
Also THAT GORGEOUSLY ANIMATED, CATCHY ED by The Peggies: