12 days 2018 #6: my isekai power is comiket

Mahoutsukai no Insatsujo/ A Witch’s Printing Office
Story: Mochinchi, art: Yasuhiro Miyama, manga, 2 volumes ongoing

“Kamiya Mika is a “magic printer” who can create grimoires and other magical books for witches and wizards to use, despite having no powers of her own. Desperate to find a spell that could send her back to her home world, Mika decides to create a “Magic Market” where magicians can trade and show off their creations.”

I don’t know much about the Isekai (another world) genre beyond the usual “hero ends up in fantasy world with magic power(s)” bit and that they are such a plague upon the land that last year a big Japanese light novel contest banned them. I’m sure there are other examples of a young woman main char who ends up in, etc. but I like the conceit behind A Witch’s Printing Office.

Could have been called: “I was a fujoshi transported to a magic world so I started a comiket for grimoires to get back to my world because I know how to do it.” 

Anyway, I think the idea is kewl as anything, not to mention being a playful reminder of how powerful the IRL Japanese women’s fandom has always been.

Magical powers, indeed.

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12 days 2018 #5: gender and agency in Tripeace

Ten years ago I was following Tripeace. It was a manga, liked well enough by its readers, if a mite too random back in 2008-2011. It never really took off in the outlander anglosphere. If you want to check it on Wikipedia you have to go to the French Wikipedia site. Translated, it sold well in France. Was it ever licensed in English?

Maybe it tried to do too much.

Post-apocalyptic crossdressing action adventure comedy. An incidental spoof on Full Metal Panic‘s Mythril. A world destroyed by war over a rare substance that can either power machines. be worked into megaton-range bombs or miraculously cure the sick, even bring them back from death’s door. A lad, our main character, who has lost all his memories and in a moment of grief, anger and desperation tries a crossdressing bluff against hunter-killer walking tanks. A very very angry young girl who works for the eponymous Tripeace….

If fans remarked upon anything in the series, it was usually the curious anarcho-philosophical organization of the peace force. Team leaders were those who, among with having super powers or skills, had developed their personal philosophy of “peace-making”, expressed in a quirky tripartite formula: “peace, love and X”. Peace, love and violence, peace, love and money, peace love and sleep, peace love and bestiality with sheep, etc…

So maybe I made up the last one.

What stuck me was the more subtle play of gendered modes of action behind the comedy of mistaken identity. Sure you had the usual Shakespear-ish pastoral comedy stuff – suitably updated for the sci-fi war setting but something odder began to pop up the instant that the girl Shiro developed an admiration crush on the self-confident and resourceful “Nanako from the other, mystery division of Tripeace”.

In retrospect, this might have been asshat plotting because Shiro -could- be read as a young lesbian and here she is being fooled… Fortunately Tripeace is very, very thin on romance. Later there will be increasing amounts of fanservice but for most of the story it is all shonen manga style battles, even if Shiro did far more of it than Nana.

Nana of course gets his own admiration-crush on Shiro, even if Shiro doesn’t think much of him, or guys in general; though she respects her ultraviolent squad leader Belial. She is none too pleased that Nana (male) gets mysteriously accepted into Tripeace as a junior, lowest ranked fuck-up and gopher. Belial and his assistant think the Nana-Nanoka thing was a suitable response to their challenge and -shame on them-  think Shiro / Nanoka is not only funny but might eventually “help” her in some way. Or they just have asshat senses of humor.

Shiro is hella strong for her size, dresses shabby-butch (she’s too short for the suits she favors) and hates everything. Later it turns out that she has a load of guilt from her past, plus mom issues; Her mom is a psycho cold-blooded super bomb making uber mad-scientist. Nana has his own genocidal backstory as well that gradually dribbles out.

All this would have made a fairly standard fighting adventure sci-fi story without the guy main chara crossdressing.But then we wouldn’t get any of the fun of messing with ideas of who does what how in battle adventures.

Shiro hates heroics. Previously, as a member of Belial’s squad, she respected his ultraviolent approach to peacemaking. Smash anything and everyone doing war but now the approach leaves her feeling hollow.

Nana in male form has been training with Tripeace battle bots so as not to be completely useless in a crunch but as Nanoka, eschews violence, saves wounded foes and takes ridiculous risks to mediate between combattants. Which just seems to win her ever more confrontations with overpowered psycho baddies.

Then Shiro has to go off and fight her psycho mad scientist mom.

When Shiro faces her big last boss battle, it of course has to be Nana, his memories – including the ones of his founding and leadership of a nihilistic terrorist organization – intact. -And- He still likes to crossdress. But in the end, both are left exhausted after a classic shonen dusk-to-dawn gag battle. The story ends before we find if any of this nonsense leads anywhere.

Whew! I forgot how random Tripeace was. Also it was full of clumsy, naive gender politics. Whatever.. It was still fun.

12 days 2018 #4: Find and watch Wood Job

Wood Job! (2014) 116 minutes
based on a novel by Shion Miura
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_Job!

For my 4th post for #12Days(of)Anime(etc.). a small diversion from anime/ manga: this is still a massively fun thing to spend time watching. You should find and watch the 2014 Japanese movie Wood Job!

Shion Miura, of “Run with the Wind/ Feel the Wind” as well as the novel behind the 2016 anime version and the 2013 live-action version of The Great Passage wrote the original novel. Talk about a track record!

Young guy can’t get a job, bumbles into a forestry intern project, ends up in nowhere mountains rural Japan, learns forestry, falls for the girl, gets roped into big secret village ritual (based on similarly dangerous but less symbolic real ritual/ festival) and wins true love.

Possibly THE WORST ENGLISH TRAILER EVER MADE. Really stupid joke angle fail:

Better trailer:

Japanese guys in fundoshi miraculously avoid splinters!

12 days 2018 #3: Hibiki against the impermanence of all things

“Gion shouja no kane no koe
shogyou mujou no hibiki ari…”

Hibiki: Shōsetsuka ni Naru Hōhō (響 小説家になる方法)
by Mitsuharu Yanamoto, Seinen manga.
Big Comic Superior, August 2014 – ongoing, 10 Volumes
Spoilers ensue

Fuck yeah, I believe!

OOOPS COOLIO # 12Days(of)Anime(etc) post #3 MIGHT GET DELAYED DUE TO OUCHIE KNEE TWIST THAT WANTS TO SOAK IN HOT BATH. Go find some Hibiki, read it and check by later

Meanwhile have some Hibiki caps:

Hibiki is naturally pissed off

Except when she isnt

It’s not that she’s a psychopath or anything…

Her childhood best friend wants a safe normal life for her

Because he fears the alternative

So don’t underestimate her, or she’ll grab a 2×4 and come after you.

Because it’s all about being a Japanese author.

More later…

12 days 2018 #2: mirrors of desire

For my second post for 12days(of)Anime (etc), I should take a moment and go on a bit about the “why?” of this strange blog, for those of you who are dropping by for the first few times. Yup, I do the usual anime and manga reviews of stories that catch my eye and I have even been known to do “season line-up” coverage but that isn’t my main interest.

Kind of hard to explain…

Herr Doctor Professor Saitō Tamaki summed it up in his brilliant post-lacanian examination of otaku desire; Beautiful Fighting Girl. Libidinised desire, even displaced and sublimated through fantasy narratives can re-cathect and/or re-enchant an otherwise dead reality. Think of it as an updating of what Freud swiped from Mary Shelly.

Go back 8-10 years. I was reading scanlated manga and watching a few fansubbed anime and was beside myself. I blame  Kōji Kumeta and his insanely long-running and arch manga Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayonara,_Zetsubou-Sensei] The anime versions, staying quite close to the source material but cranking the problematic aspects to 11 only made matters worse.

I was soooooo embarrassed that I was reading and watching that sick shit.

Did I worry too much? Would you, even today post a series of opening (or closing) credit sequences from a Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei anime on your normie Faceebook page? No, really... Aside: search Vimeo and Dailymotion, the OP’s and EPs routinely get scrubbed from Youtube.

Even the mild Rolly- composed and sung Teacher’s Pet ED slips in a whackload of cringy and strange bits. It wasnt good enough to dismiss the entire mess as edgy satire. (BTW: that’s his sister who is wiggling her ass at sensei)  Sure; makes fun of… Ha Ha Ha, It’s a Japanese thing, they just do that kind of in-your-face pornish, death-obsessed, pedo-bear, lolicon weirdness. Then add the Showa bits to lampoon the “exoticization” of a past Japan; a trick Mamori Oshii cranked to 11 in his forgotten 2006 Tachiguishi-Retsuden [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachiguishi-Retsuden] (1)

Kumeta is making fun of all it, including all the Showa-era graphic conceits, nasty shout-outs, the insane labyrinth of footnote-able pop sociology (the manga scanlating crew was heroic, with end-pages full of references and decoded snark) and the ironic-but-still-get-to-gawk fanservice overload…

Yeah, that’s it.

Time to re-watch Full Metal Panic. Pacifist Japan dreams of warring secret societies with robots and futuristic weapons built with super tech from girls who dream of the future, playing global games of apocalyptic geopolitics. Complete with a chaste love story. You have to get through ALL the light novels before they even get to kiss. Jeesh! What’s left of the Arbalest’s AI wants a Camaro.

Suicide, bondage, stalking, madness, murderous jealousy. A high school class full of under-age nubile girls chasing a drama queen rich-boy teacher. A Japanese take on Harold and Maude, without the sex granny?

Why does this THING exist?

Uh, lookie: a few blogs I follow have gone ecstatic about the revival of some old manga. Is Genshiken even a Japanese word?

Pause and rewind. Dr Tamaki wrote Psychology of the Armored Cutie in the year 2000. He didn’t care to delve into the women’s flip side of the effect; he even dismissed the possibility that there were any significant number of Japanese manga fans who might not be quite “straight”. Write what you know. Tamaki, a Japanese Lacan-influenced psychologist [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamaki_Sait%C5%8D] dabbled in otakology only as a sideline to his work with social isolates. He had no interest in developing a unified otaku schmex-und-desire field theory. Besides, bricolage-ing Lacanian and Freudian pop cultural analysis at a very Japanese phenom was a wry joke in itself. Had not Lacan declared that the Japanese were fundamentally un-anylyze-able?

Want to know what was weirder? His simple monograph on otaku stirred up a half decade debate-feud among Japanese guy otaku “experts”. Watch a whole bunch of  Japanese pop-cult theory guys manspalain that while –urrrr some otaku might, urrrrr, hmmmm, dojinshi, kleenex boxes, figurines, whatever– that was all beside the point, or the result of wimmins shoujo-ish poison infecting heroic manly sci-fi anime and manga, or just more of the same militaristic nationalism mind control, or something about databases…

They should have asked the women, since Japanese women had been quietly playing with this stuff since the 1970’s. Or, the boys had to go the long way around because the girls were being very very secret secret society about it all. I did mention the “second generation’ of the Genshiken, right?

So: stare into the pit too long and the pit does not stare back. Once in a while however, it glances provocatively over it’s shoulder and winks.

If you get geeked on this kind of theory-behind-the-genres thing, you can go all Da Vinci Code fast. Or you end up with the beginnings of a post-graduate research project. If young, with a passing grasp of Japanese, you may want to seek an advanced degree in some cultural studies-ish field related to Japan. Fair warning: most of the Japanese faculty positions open to outlander experts to reflect Japanese cultural ephemera back to Japanese undergraduates are already filled on a long-term, renewable every five years contract basis.

Yet theory holds its own form of moe. I remain a sucker for it. And because I try not to essentialise too much, I fixate on those odd bits of Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture that travel well into outlander (that’s you and moi) regions. Grey channel patterns of distribution help a lot. If a whole bunch of folks go through the trouble to translate, etc., etc., etc… there must be something there. Oh! Moar pr0n

Now that Genshiken Nidaime has concluded I have less concentrated raw material to play with. I have to wander further afield, even if Kio-sensei continues to have fun with the old gang in the quarterly Spotted Flower. If you have not yet, you really should. That means the full manga run, not just the anime(s). As for Spotted Flower; the story takes place on a probability line where the original crew have all grown up as bored and horny 30-somethings. Either this is the Kio’s Gate result from playing with obscure IBM computers or the author is taking every single lewd doujinshi pairing and mulling over whether he could do better. Kio Shimoku is proprietary about his creations; competitive too.

Which invariably leads to, ahem, minority sexuality and gender expression in Japanese stuff.  Set aside the made-by-and-for properties. They face sterner scrutiny than I, an outsider could ever offer. What gets fascinating is when “queer” characters get dropped into stories for nominally straight audiences. On one hand, real-life folks in somewhat similar circumstances gush to see representation that looks even a tiny bit like their realities. For the rest of us, reactions vary from hard-reactionary “get that xyz stuff out of my zyx” to -hmmmmmmm- and even “yes please, can I have another?”

It’s that old “the other” thing again, with a fresh coat of paint. Different classes, ethnicities, nationalities, cultures and (dare I use an imprecise term) “races” have all suffered this kind of interest before. Why not throw some queer into the pot as well? And am I not redoubling the offence by projecting my interests on the Japanese expression of this effect? Yes and no; Japan and co. are all grown up high modernists too; they are doing it back to us, we see them doing it at us as we are doing it at them and both of our gazes lock in mutual fascination. Could this be love? (2)

Search this blog for Adrian Piper

Meanwhile, queer characters are no longer used (as much) as scary villain sauce or even tragic object lessons (you can have your “pure, not-approved by society” love but the fates will be cruel in the end). What the sociology types call “established models of gender roles, desire, romance, family formation and child-rearing” are under heavy structural and economic pressure. They are falling apart all over the world and a few teens (or others) who really really don’t fit some highly idealised models are not the ones causing the collapse. Repeat: Gay marriage does not “threaten” marriage. Gay folks holding hands and sneaking a smooch in public does not destroy hand-holding, smooching or the public. No money, no steady jobs and /or benefits/ health care and crazed authoritarian politics are probably closer to what has gone sour, causing the Japanese high-end beach-front Pizza restaurant to close its tacky wedding chapel and reno it into a bus tour friendly mega-dining hall.

We all knew that reactionary religio-politico types; Japanese or North American or other were all just spewing bullshit to line their pockets by leading group-hate cheers. Shame on those who go along with it.

Curiously, after decades, even centuries of being nasty toward the gay, what do we now suddenly want from it? We imagine “they” must be experts at getting around all that rigid asshat proscriptive stuff and figuring the important stuff out for themselves, right?. So they must have secret insights! Also, they do the “to yourself be true” thing, which I sometimes call “the doctrine of authenticity” (and which gets all of us one way or another) and that is heroic in a way that removes no skin from my nose and is heartwarming to cheer on. Gawd, this is transactional and selfish as all get-out, just as it always has been. We are like that, even if we’re working on it. And if “they” are less than interested in sharing tips, we’ll just go and invent crude shadows of “the gay” to try out our nifty ideas in a story or two..

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

Sorry, but long, long ago too many of us (guys) were scared spit-less by Alice Sheldon’s (writing as James Tiptree Jr) “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston,_Houston,_Do_You_Read%3F]  This, incidentally also explains gamer-gait and similar spasms. So, harm reduction…

Whether it is teen (and on) young women reading about two young good-looking guys trying to figure out their first make-out session, because guy characters can do things that might be too smutty or objectified for the readership if one (or both) of them were girls, or otokonoko otaku guys reading about stand-in straight boy getting hot and bothered over the crossdresser or trans continuum character (who incidentally does “girl” better that the run-of the mill cis version, in numerous subtle but important ways – (jeesh dude, what happens if you fall IRL for a cis girl who doesn’t look/present like a BFG in bikini armor, OL/ hawt teacher or moe blob?) whatever “model breaking” ends up relentlessly circling back to our majority cis heteronormative concerns – if only because they are so many of us. That, bucks and printing presses.

Whot De…??? They made the boy figure skater a full precure ??? This is a show for Japanese girl children! It was inevitable after they made the android girl from the future one earlier. Check out the heavy-duty sakuga in the battle scenes with the guest precures…

All this means something.

Scribble, scribble…

 

(1) 10 years ago I got half-way through puzzling out English subs from machine translated Chinese subtitles for Tachiguishi Retsuden (Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters) before I gave up. Only the folks at Sumimassen Scans could even hope to do this one justice. Brain Hurts! And yet I am convinced it was a big influence on Kumeta’s decision to Showa-out Zetsubo Sensei. Someone, please…

(2) “Since the 1950s area studies programs throughout the United States have produced knowledge in multiple disciplines about strategically identified geographical “areas.” But this knowledge tends to remain ghettoized in area studies departments and only rarely feeds back into the mainline disciplines. This is a result not only of continuing Eurocentrism in academia, but also of the isolating effects of the organization of area studies departments according to nation state, as well as, in the case of Japan studies, an insistence on Japanese cultural uniqueness that is underwritten not only by many Japanese scholars themselves but also by the funding priorities of Japanese government entities that are charged with propagating Japanese culture abroad. The vast amount of knowledge produced outside Japan about Japan thus remains suspended in a curious limbo, jealously guarded by its producers, like a fetish that compensates for their lack of access to the “larger” scholarly community. As Harry Harootunian and Masao Miyoshi put it, employing a striking metaphor that Freud would have had a field day with, “More than fifty years after the war’s end American scholars are still organizing knowledge as if confronted by an implacable enemy and thus driven by the desire either to destroy it or marry it.” 

— Intro, Perversion and Modern Japan: Psychoanalysis, Literature, Culture. Edited by Nina Cornyetz and J. Keith Vincent. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. 

(Don’t get too excited; the book is all about turn-of-the-century Japanese literature, except for the last entry on the rise of the pantsu fetish in 70’s Japanese “pinku” soft-core porn films. The research therein must also be taken with a grain of salt as it started out as a conference joke research paper, originally titled “Die Zizek Die!” )

12 days 2018 #1: Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru is strong

Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru / Run with the wind  —  to ep. 11
Mild spoilers ensue

For my first post for 12days(of)Anime (etc) I’m doing a quick revisit to the 2018-19 anime; the latest version of Run with the Wind as it nears its midpoint. You did know that it previously was a novel, a manga and a live action movie, neh? This iteration might well be one of the best (barring the novel of course). The anti-organised sports (and associated tropes) mood continues, as slowly the Chikusei-sou dwellers make peace with their reasons for running and with each other. One by one they win their 16:30 official times.

I had a chance to re-watch the 2009 live-action movie with my sweetie (still no English subtitles to be found), though she declined to do any real-time translating. Her verdict: A typical gambatte sports grinder with pretty boys, To be fair, a good third of the live-action flick is the Tokyo-Hakone Ekiden itself. Then there is the big meet before when the teams compete for one of the remaining 10 spots in the Ekiden (10 are already “seeded” from last year’s best). The movie version of the Prince is nowhere as pathetic as his anime incarnation and less time is spent helping him with his form. After some in-depth help in the anime, Prince-san breaks 30:00

She did however correct one big misunderstanding that I have been harping on..

That’s Kansei University, not Kansai. Missed that. Closest thing I can find to approximate Kansei is “Technical” or “Engineering”. So no plot magic from the aged ex-coach needed. They are in story-verse Setagaya, which is in Kanto and presumably were at one point (and still eligible to be) a member of the Kanto Association.

Still waiting for Kurahara’s high school to be cleared up.

Another difference between the anime and the movie: The ex-coach is younger, a portly late 50’s – early 60’s with a van that follows the runners and a PA system to yell encouragement. I like the older version in the anime better.

Other differences: exhausted Haiji does not end up in the hospital. Shindo-san gets a brief cameo as her girlfriend dumps him. Musa has too many African masks in his room. We are getting a few more reminders of Haiji’s knee injury and the Ace runner previously shown acting with sportsmanship drops an oblique reference to “new, strong runners” in competition for a spot in the Ekiden. Haiji tells Kurahara the “strong” is the greatest compliment a distance runner can give; not fast.

So, yeah: #Kazeanime. I’m calling this as one of the best , if not… of the season. I should sign up at their fan site. (I wonder if the production cttee promo-types???)

12 days 2018, post 0

It is almost December and soon will be time again for the yearly 12 days of Anime (/manga/ visual novels/ contemporary Japanese otaku junk/ etc.) blogging challenge. Am I up to it?  When will it start? December 6? December 10?

Gotta try.

I was lukewarm about this fall-winter season but bit by bit, some solid properties snuck up on me. I have already posted on Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru and  Irozuku Sekai no Ashita Kara which are shaping up to be my two faves for this season. Space Fish and Himote House remain curious enough that I keep watching. Himote‘s last episode came up with a blase excuse to run through heaping piles of yuri tropes – that was fun.

Skull-faced Bookseller Honda-san needs something. Trouble is that it is exactly “what’s on the tin”. Only items of note are the huge number of outlanders who wander into the bookshop and their tastes in libidinised reading material. Ok… rinse, repeat.

Gegege no Kitarou was looking promising but I fell behind. That show requires stamina! Must catch up on it.

For some reason, I was/remain lukewarm on Index III, Gridman, SAO: Alice, Goblins, Slime, whatever, meh, it’s just me. Wondering how lolicon can Tonari no Kyuuketsuki-san go; too put off to watch much more.

That leaves the Zombie in the room. ZombieLand Saga. Goddammit. I am really having trouble with my essay-post on this one. Just as I am about to call in an air strike on “haha idol exploitation is funny, but they are all dead so LOL“, the writers sucker-punch me right in the guts. RESPECT LILY. And for all my suspicions, the writers handled it well enough. It could have gone bad fast and might still get worse but for now, it was simple and heartfelt. The Chicken/ Mudfest episode was good too. The rain concert lightning strike was Ok, even if expected.

Honestly though, aside from linking greater exploitative trends in Japanese work culture and systemic sexism to historical militarist and mercantilist impulses — while finessing around a certain nuclear hot-button topic, I don’t feel the rush of any significant theory moe in any of these properties. Kaze surprised me a teeny tiny bit. If it breaks from the rushed atmosphere of the 2009 live action movie (please, please, SOMEONE dig up some EN subs for it) and continues putting on existentialist airs while contrasting authoritarian-coach-bullshit sports culture to older, richer currents of personal heroic defiance in Japanese stories, it will just make me all warm and stupidly fannish about it.

On a side note; that protagonist/ antagonist friction dance must be some big team cliche thing. I could swear the zombie girls were doing it too, almost riffing on the Kaze script, last few episodes.

Maybe it’s time to kinda-sorta run through some spoilers/ a “script” translation for Spotted Flower 27.5? TLDR: Nekkid Shower Reveal plus moar alt-Sue trying to start things with alt-Ogiue. Mebe your Italian is better than my Google Xlate efforts, so you don’t need?
Surprise us Kio-sensei and queer Endou-san the editor girl for next issue.

Winter is almost here. Wonder if I have enough time to order in some plastic food phone straps in time for Christmas?
https://fakefoodjapan.com/products/lotus_root_tempura_large_keychain