The concept behind Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru is that while a stereotypical manga/anime coach and team structure is usually an evil fascist hellscape, a self-governing runner’s collective can redeem the sport. All power to the Soviets!
I thought it would take a lot to get me to watch a shonen, oopsseinen sports anime but Run With the Wind (Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru) has gently tricked me into enjoying it, much in the manner that it’s protraganist Haiji has suckered the rest of the Chikusei-sou dorm/ lodging house into practice runs. To do so, it has jettisoned – if not subtly framed in opposition – most of the competitive tropes characteristic of sports grinders; tropes which to me highlight the exploitation, hypocrisy and monstrous bad faith of commodified competitive sports: In other words, all that sportsy stuff that sports-heads just love. Alexa; play We are the Champions…
“I just want to know what running is all about.”
Run WIth the Wind instead approaches the core idea of “what for?” with an insouciant “for a while”. If true compulsion were to rear its ugly head, it might carry a whiff of The Wages of Fear, re-tooled for long distance relay running. Or perhaps not. The “why” of running is asked in Run With the Wind as a deeply personal, existential question (and otaku t-shirt). Indeed, why do anything? The unlikely athletic misfits of the Chikusei-sou are nowhere near the dire situation of say; recovering Scottish heroin addicts, in the matter of other classic loser-dog redemption team movies and there will be no hidden superpowers that shatter class barriers, as in the Chinese 2001 soccer comedy Shaolin Soccer.
The Kansei University Track and Field Team might initially come together to keep a low-cost roof over their heads (along with 2 meals a day, all for a bit over $300/month !!!) but none of them -really- have to run.
This makes the story beautiful.
As well, by way of side consideration for us guys who get antsy about such things; while a pile of -guys- hanging out and doing the team sport thang will undoubtedly look like irresistible yummy yummy ship candy to a certain demographic of woman viewers (among others), at least the writers have left out most of the coy wink wink nudge nudge subtextual fujo-baiting that has recently become a box-office imperative. I venture that by doing so, the writers and production staff have gained more in mood that those so inclined can treasure (and use) than crude attempts to pander and tease would have done.
This could be a side effect of the anime as artifact. Run WIth the Wind is based upon the 2006 novel Feel the Wind by Shiwon Miura, who also wrote The Great Passage. It has previously been adapted into a 50 chapter manga, a live action movie (2) and a stage play (!?)
Run WIth the Wind bears other neato cultural traces as well. Though situated somewhere in a dimension warped fictional space that alludes to the Osaka region but looks like Tokyo’s Setagaya ward, the Chikusei-sou dorm/ lodging house owes a debt of inspiration to the infamous Yoshida-ryo dormitory at Kyoto University (3)
Kyoto’s anarcho-syndicalist Yoshida-ryo is co-ed. The Chikusei-sou is exclusively male (and devoid of any high-spirited student political airs). As well, aside from the greengrocer’s high-school age daughter who has drafted herself into the role of a Japanese school team ‘manager” (gopher and mascot) Run, (so far) is devoid of women: girlfriends, women teachers, school nurses, big or little sisters and moms are all MIA. Similarly, the Tokyo-Hakone Ekiden (4) is a guy’s race. While there are women’s Ekidens held yearly across Japan, there is no women’s Tokyo-Hakone run.
As well, the race is only open to teams from the 20 universities which belong to the Inter-University Athletic Union of Kanto. For January 2, 2019, 21 teams will run but in the real world but they will still all be from university teams from the Kanto region. Presumably some storytelling magic will be slipped in to open participation to a long-lapsed and now revived Kansai-in-Tokyo University team for the anime race. Or the English subtitles are a mess – which would also explain how Kakeru Kurahara used to be on the Sendai Josei Highschool track team.
Wow! Sport trivia; which feels to this sport-abjurer as wildly beside the point yet introduces the characters’ mixed feelings about the race and running as diversion and placeholder for all the other big, nagging and ultimately unsolvable questions in their university lives. Why indeed?
The key to the larger story is not Kakeru Kurahara, the 10th man – because he is a sports story cliché, even if his arrival sets the tale in motion. The hinge point characters are the King and the Prince. The Prince, as completely out-of-shape and frail otaku at first looks as if he has as much chance of running 20km as I, or countless other out of shape viewers, have. Why Haiji is not figuring out a proper stride for him while the Prince is still a complete noob is one big question. Another is why Haiji hasn’t started him on the walk 4, run 4 method? The butterflies were a nice touch.
With ‘King’ we draw closer to nut of the story. University will end. Jobs and the world of work; regimented, conforming and relentless for the next 40-50 years (barring burnout or karoshi) loom large on the horizon. Yonder before us lie deserts…We who are about to… King is freaked. Reality is a bitch and she isn’t impressed one bit by his recruit suit.
Meanwhile his roomies are one by one pledging to an inane, out in left-field, whatever, how far can we get, this is crazy but in a good way, we should just, because why the fuck not exploit of infiltrating a famous (and famously grueling) long-distance run. Oh snap, why not streak the Ekiden while they are at it?
Is Haiji a running-obsessed time traveller, esper and alien who will work magic training tricks on the ragtag team? He handles all their cooking; is he slipping steroids into their hot-pot? The anime is set for 23 episodes – though five episodes in it feels as if it might need twice that number. Is it possible that the 23 episode run is timed to end near the running of the IRL Ekiden? Smooth scheduling trick!
Run from, run to, run with
“Running is all about strength, not speed–the strength that comes from being you and forming a bond with someone else.”
No surprise that the fast bonds of friendship forged through grueling training and the race will be one of the big big themes woven into the tale. Guys. Friendship. Large neon sign over the Chikusei-sou. It would be impossible, given the set-up to be otherwise. But long-distance running is fundamentally an alone-in-your-own-head-while-your-body-falls-apart-painfully endeavor. Mind over matter. Solitary. Sure you have to make it to your checkpoint and get that sash to the next team member (and do so within 20 minutes of the fastest runner’s hand-off or they will be sent off with a substitute sash and your extra time to the checkpoint will be added to the team – If you drop out of the race, even for an injury, your team is out!) but those 18-23km sections are going to test whether the competitive urge to match or surpass nearby runners will be enough to distract you from the pain and that ever-present WHY?
Figure out the answer later. For now, keep running. No regrets.
(2) Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (2018) is the latest adaptation of the novel by Shion Miura. The book has also been adapted as a manga by Sorata Unno which began in Weekly Young Jump in 2007, moved to Monthly Young Jump in 2008, and concluded in 2009. The anime adaptation was announced by the launch of an official website on May 31, 2018. The series will premiere on NTV and BS-NTV in October 2018.Feel the Wind (2009) More on the 2009 live-action Kaze ga tsuyoku fuiteiru (2009) at IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1517476/ http://losmovies.cx/free-movie/tt126951/watch-online-feel-the-wind
You may or may not have already heard the term ‘the male gaze‘. It originally came from a film criticism essay. We now find it used to examine all kinds of visual culture artifacts. I was thinking about it recently as I was going over my anime watch list for the January-February-March 2018 season. Most of what I had settled on watching was “girly stuff” or rather exclusive girl character stories, except for one slapstick comedy and one fanservice train-wreck. Thankfully, there seemed to be a sliding continuum of moe/ CGDCT / fan-service, so I am not damned for all eternity.(Slow, slow run the horses of the night…) I’m not exactly sure who these stories’ gazes are made for or rather, whether the strict gendering of gaze has not been blurred by dint of market pressure. (1)
Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho/ A Place Further than the Universe is a girl’s adventure story with lead characters who are all responsible and have their own reasons for wanting to go on an expedition to Antarctica. Of note as well are the two expedition organisers we see the most of, who are both serious 20-something women and who have done this before. One of them is conflicted about the first girl’s determined reason for going on the trip. Men pop up in the background but this is overwhelmingly a women’s story of women’s efforts.
In another all women show, Takunomi, 20-something working women drink during their free time. Short 12-minute episodes about career women who live in a share-house and drink to relax while eating side dishes. Even less detailed than the manga Nomi Joshi. (1) Each episode features a different booze and each is a product placement deal. A manga has been whomped up to go along with the campaign.
One couldn’t say that the show is a fan service fest. It looks like it is aimed at office ladies looking for tips on how they should be drinking during their precious few moments of time off. The talk is mercifully free of ‘I’m getting old and need to find a guy” crap. Again, guys show up in the background but this is a women’s homosocial – another one of those academic-ish terms, originally invented to describe all-guy stories by literary criticism types who wanted to read gay subtext into every single 19th century manly-man‘s novel with no women doing anything of note in them. Kind of like slash and/or BL, only with tenure. Lest I be accused again of being ‘smarmy’, E.K.Sedgwick was probably dead right about most of the manly-man stories she set her sights on but from then on it gets complicated. The term remains useful.
Drinking with friends is important for working women. Here is a panel from the just-ended, long-running twitter web comic by @black9arrows about the tribulations of the Lone Office Lady:
Next up is the wonderful Yuru Camp/ Laid-back Camping. It starts off with one solitary camping girl who doesn’t like company and the Genki Airhead Girl who pesters her to be her friend. Airhead Girl bugs her older sister to drive her to campgrounds around the Hakone area. Then it picks up two more high school girls in a camping club that has yet to go camping. They discuss camping gear. They go camping. They go to a campground onsen. They cook camp meals. Mount Fuji comes into view. Again there’s nothing much in the way of fanservice or appeals to weird guy-otaku interests.
There are some great moments; as when the young camping club members who have never gone camping before discuss the ultimate winter camping tent and end up re-inventing the kotatsu.
At the bottom of my list of Cute or not Girls or Women doing things that may or may not be Cute in the winter 2018 anime season is Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san/ Koizumi-san loves Ramen.
It definitely is a male-gaze property and seems to exist so that we can get close-ups of Koizumi-san (who looks like she escaped from Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei’s classroom) slurping ramen and blushing. Also Koizumi-san’s legs as she walks away wearing a too-short school uniform skirt from the POV of the girl who wants to be her friend and has a clumsy yuri crush on her.
You get to learn a lot about varieties of ramen so it’s not a total write off. Guys watching get to dream about meeting a beautiful high-school girl who won’t mind going on endless cheap dates to ramen restaurants and would not complain that an exclusive diet of ramen might make them overweight.
I also tried watching something called Marchen Madchen. Nope…
Finally my last two choices: Franxx and Psi(2). Saiki Kusuo No PSI Nan (2) sticks very close to the manga, which is stupid and yet howlingly funny in unexpected ways. It has a high school ensemble cast of self-absorbed guys and girls who drag our hero into ever deeper layers of trouble – I’ll be back to it later, as it inadvertently suggests an approach to understanding part of the problem I’m digging at.
Darling in the Franxx or rather Infinite Stratos meets Logans Run is a return-to-Gainax fanservice train-wreck. Disposable orphan boy and girl child soldiers have to pilot giant Evangelion-ish robots by getting into doggie-sex positions because the mad scientist who invented them is a pervy creep. Also, monsters attack the post-apocalyptic city walls. Also, the part-monster girl babe who wants to be “on top”. The characterisation for all besides Monster Girl are boringly thin, The other pairs can’t “get it up” sufficiently to fight the monsters and only crazed Monster Girl and whatever hapless guy she snares, can. The kids are all named with numbers, their “names” are nicknames. Monster/ Demon Girl is without a nickname and known only as 02. Zero-Ni. “O-Ni”. Wow; subtle…
So; January, February, March 2018. If I exclusively needed guy stuff, aside from Franxx, I would be in despair. I am probably missing some other anime that failed to pop up on my radar and may be full of conventional gendered roles and bro heroics, along with endless level-up battles, try-your-best lessons and buddy-banter. They must be out there somewhere.
Meanwhile I seem to have snuck in a generic “this is what I’m watching this season” anime roundup into this blog, along with a few grumbles about thin pickings. You could go to any number of other blogs or Twitter and get better recommendations.
I need a reason for doing this.
I’ll try grinding on the male gaze or gendered gaze thing. First set out extremes. For the women’s gaze, something like Maria-sama ga Miteru/ Maria-sama Watches Over Us. I made it 7 episodes in before I ran away, creeped out. It wasn’t the soulful friendships between young women that threw me. The Cath stuff snuck up on me. Somewhere in the world there are Catholic high schools that do wonderful work with students who love the experience and cherish the education and the friendships that they made there throughout their lives. I didn’t go to one of those. I’m sure they were plenty worse educational experiences but those didn’t happen to me. My 4 years in a Catholic High School felt like being trapped in the Hitler Youth while secretly being not quite Aryan (and loathing nazi shyte). I managed to get out of there more or less intact but it took a lot of work and emotional turmoil. I’m sure imaginary Japanese’s Catholic girls schools do a much better job of things.
But I digress. Aside from me getting weirded out, Marimite works as a series of slow, intricately built character studies and emotional interactions between young women. Not so much yuri or romantic subtext as much as a fully imagined society. A senior blogger’s recent paean [http://okazu.yuricon.com/2018/01/28/maria-sama-ga-miteru-20-years-of-watching-mary-watching-us/] to the entire opus praises it for among other things; showcasing the development of leadership skills among young women.
Consider Marimite a “women’s gaze” story exemplar.
On the other end of the scale, maybe draft Gintama, Gasaraki and/ or Evangelion. Made for guys. Women characters are there to support the guy main chara and for guys to look at. Perhaps the “which is the most manly-man anime ever made?” debate has already been done to death. I have probably picked the wrong animes but I never got around to Fist of the North Star, so I burn/ (am already…).
Once we get beyond simple surface appearances, we are into the moe thickets and the loli-bait. Looks like a young girl’s magical girl series but is for “older friends”. Then you get Idol schools and finally the current crop of CGDCT nothing-much-happens shows that build on K-on and Joshiraku. Surprisingly, these are easy to understand on a meta-level, especially when one considers extreme variant phenomenon like BL and fanservice yuri.
Meanwhile, a bit more about the original male gaze concept. The observation was that movies were shot from a POV and for the “view” of the default viewer, which usually meant the guy viewer. Other writers and even the original theorist went back and added caveats which can be summarised in the observation that a filmic narrative is uniquely suited to imposing a gaze, including a gendered one, upon the viewer. After all, the viewers are along for the ride, neh? It just seems to be a western conceit that a lot of movies/ videos tell their stories from the POV of a guy, usually a straight middle-class, even pale-skinned guy.
From this observation we can better understand the various “gates” involving games and the noisy butthurt that occurs when say, Ghostbusters is re-done with women charas. The folks pushing back implicitly acknowledge that the default gaze is not set in stone. If they don’t scream to the heavens, they will be “cast on the ash-heap of history” or some other portentous sounding nonsense. At very least, some resources that once went to exclusively pandering to them might be diverted to other audiences and the absolute number of way kewl things made for them could diminish.
Note the assumptions in this kind of thought. Creativity is a zero-sum game, narratives can be somehow “contaminated” or “usurped” and most importantly, that there are proper ways to do a guy-view story as well as ways that are not as good, descending on a scale to “recruit you for ISIS” to “make you gay” or… I have no idea. Maybe turn us guys into Drag Queen school busses or robot toaster cats enslaved to feminazis. Also no more Mom cooking for us and doing our laundry.
Meanwhile, am I second guessing myself because I find myself bingeing on girl main chara anime? Why am I doing this? Am I secretly lusting for high school girls? I used to be pretty sure this was not my thing; I don’t even jokingly entertain the idea of “waifu“. Overdone fanservice annoys me. I better get back to Japan fast and spend quality time with She-who… The best I can figure is that the stock types of girl main and secondary characters do not annoy me anywhere as much as the limited range of stock shonen guy characters.
It is all about avoiding over-used annoying things.
My sweetie will often remark how she can’t watch an anime because the voices of the girl characters are annoying. Or they use Keigo inappropriately – why the over-polite mode towards everyone including your cat in Flying Witch? Why so squeaky and high voiced in a number of other anime? Other viewers might condemn an entire anime because no high school girl could be so hopelessly inept and helpless as to forget how to ride a granny bike on the first day of school and therefore all the young women in the show as well as the viewers, writers and producers are class enemies!
As a guy, especially a guy who can barely understand 40 Japanese words, I don’t pay much notice to such things. Unless the fanservice hits in a tsunami of pantsu shots and asymmetrical boobie jiggles, I just read the girl charas as “young human, no annoying chara tropes, pray continue.” The girl charas have, by process of elimination (of annoying things) become the “default” characters.
What then has happened to my gaze?
It is as if the condition noted decades ago by Yukari Fujimoto in her “Where Do I Belong? The Shape Of the Heart As Reflected in Shoujo Manga” [fan translation at: http://owlectomy.dreamwidth.org/114796.html ]
regarding the gendering of the female character/ subject in the view of the male has been tumbled butt over teakettle.
I want to see the cartoon young women of “A place Further” make it to Antarctica, have an exciting time of it and get back safely. I hope the first of them doesn’t have to experience unbearable trauma over the memories of her mother who vanished in an Antarctic blizzard. I really, really hope they don’t find the frozen body! I will cry foul if Mom is still alive, working as a cook at a nearby base and she played dead because bill collectors were after her (a trick used in The Otaku’s Daughter). Otherwise, watch them go on an expedition. Girl #2’s best friend was all clingy, secretly tried to sabotage the mission and tearfully repents. Ok, I’ll buy that. No BL subtext fistfights required. Frenemy should pull up her socks and get on the next expedition. I’ll keep watching this. I wonder how involved it will get?
With Takunomi, I take refuge in prior academic/ sociological studies (3) for context. I also remember the similarly themed Office Ladies Go Drinking manga. So far they have held forth on Ebisu Beer, some shochu, a cat-labeled light Belgian-style beer and some Chu-hai. That’s cool. Hope they get into speciality shochus. I had a buckwheat shochu from Nagano that was really tasty. I wonder if they will do unfiltered sake or farm sake. Otherwise, more background on the Japanese propensity of guys and girls to socialize among themselves in gender-segregated groups plus tips on side-dishes. That “homosocial” thing again. Mixed nights out turn into “mixers’ and those feels like work. Speaking of work, “night out” events are not workplace drinking events; the latter are fraught with hierarchy, difference, seku-hara to be avoided and office politics. More work.
With Yuru Camp I was struck with an irrational worry during the first episode that the Genki Airhead Girl would be denounced in outlander blogs as a class enemy for acting like a helpless idiot. Genki Girl soon redeems herself by proving that eating alone is far less fun than sharing a spicy hot-pot. Using the ubiquitous portable hot-pot gas heater as camping equipment was a good twist as well; everyone in Japan has one of those, although for hardcore campers, such a rig is probably considered too bulky. Solitary camping girl is still ranging farther than the outdoor club trio but we can expect that they will camp together sooner or later. So far no fanservice (that onsen sequence did not count), some light humour and the potential for location tourism in the Hakone area.
This is a a rather restrained example if it is CGDCT. Do young Japanese women watch it? I have no idea if they would zero in on some fatal flaw in the story and/or a character depiction that would leave them cold. As an outlander guy viewer however, it is again mercifully free of annoying things and populated with neutral, sympathetic characters doing interesting things.
What if Psi Nan tried something like this? All the characters, male and female, young and old except Saiki are idiots and extreme character trope types. Imagine them all camping. Or all of them except Psychic Saiki go camping. Chuni guy goes on about “Dark Wing”. Big Oaf guy acts stupid. Rich guy acts spoiled. Ex-yankee guy attempts to not get angry. Perfect girl mooches for attention; go through the checklist. Add some conflict to overcome with friendship and a few try-again-harder gambattes. Psychic Saiki can swoop in and fix things behind the scenes. Rinse, repeat.
I do not want to watch another nondescript guy who has become a NEET transported to a fantasy world and/or trapped in a vidja game with one amazing power and a bevy of comely young women to harem out with. Nondescript grumpy highschool loner guy who suddenly has the hot girl exchange student get interested in him, triggering new interest by the childhood friend girl and then add more girls every episode (if manga every 3-5 chapters) will be a stretch. It might slip by if the writer(s) add(s) something quirky, although we are running out of exploitable quirkies. Zombie Apocalypses and/ or everybody must fight to the death cruel survival game thingies can just fuck right off.
Guess that leaves nothing but Lupin III.
It appears that there is a cost to being written as the default main character with the entire story built to rotate around your… axis. Character development atrophies.
The two guys in “Just Because” were a teeny bit better than the normal cyphers guys usually trotted out but it looks from here like the real neat characters have of late been mostly women. Miss Kobayashi and Tooru. Violet Evergarden. The entire student cast in Little Witch Academia. The young women and girls of Flying Witch, The girls of A Place Further. Even photographer girl in Just Because was hands down the most interesting of the bunch. I could go on by going back through past seasons.
It is not like manga is devoid of interesting takes on guy characters or that all light novel and game guy characters are paper-thin unoriginal Cardboard Everyslackers or Earnest Burning Youth. But something seems to happen to stories and guy characters when they get turned into anime that is happening a teeny bit less to girl characters. (Or I don’t notice the grinding same-same of the women characters because I am a lazy guy?) Or It could be simple economics. Create an interesting new take on a guy character and guys –might– tune in but you may well lose some of them because new dude does not fit the expected comfortable same-old same-old male MC mold. Hmmmm… Must be there as fujoshi-bait. And truthfully, you wont get much in the way of women viewers for shonen unless you throw in some token fujoshi-bait. Whereas if you center a story around interesting, capable young women characters, you can pitch towards women viewers and you are sure to pick up a good number of guys peeking in; for service, CGDCT or even just mildly competent and likeable characters doing something with purpose.
The young woman character has somehow ended up as the new default pov choice for anime.
I blame the Beautiful Fighting Girl, if only because I go on and on and on about Dr. Saito Tamaki. Once she was no longer a supporting romantic interest to the guy hero, the inexorable march towards character domination took off. Now we are at such an advanced stage of the assimilation that a fan-service-y girl cast might attract even less viewers than serious, sympathetic non-fan-service-y girl/ young women/ women charas. Don’t piss off half of your audience. Exceptions to be made for magical fighting game-based grinders that go on and on and on. The novelty of turning male historical figures into armored fighting girls continues to pay off, even if the occasional crossdressing bishonen hawtie sneaks in. As I have mentioned, I am holding out for William Tecumseh Sherman to be reincarnated as a foul-mouthed loli girl with a serious cigar and whiskey habit.
Meanwhile, try to do something like this so that it makes sense with run-of-the-mill guy charas:
It would still be difficult to trick a bunch of otaku guys into watching the entire run of Marimite, based on the promise of an exciting adventure story and a lot of yuri subtext but such hot-house settings no longer seem necessary. You can get a more up-to-date version of a similar effect from a high school band without the creepy Cath drag.
Fleshing out a character is hard work and chews up precious screen time. The Fate trick is even scarier; we need to find guy charas that don’t end up more interesting if they are turned into young women – fanservice sexy or otherwise. I could watch an anime about a bunch of characters methodically building a garden shed but I fear the conventions of anime scriptwriting — what is agreed upon to be expected — would shonen-out the characters if they were guys. If they were girls, I probably wouldn’t notice the chara clichés as much, so long as it didn’t turn into a fanservice train-wreck or have too many instances of squeaky voiced ineptitude for too long.
In contrast, look what Shinkai had to do to Your Name‘s Taki Tachibana to make him interesting.
Perhaps the angry guys screaming about Ghostbusters are “on” to something, even if their reactionary and inarticulate fear-driven rage is hindering a precise examination and diagnosis of the condition. There is also the deeper problem offered by the paper-thin young guy hero: along with his limited characteristics, he suffers not only from a limited range of behaviour but a limited path to the future. Salaryman or sleeping under a bridge. Ending up magicked away to a fantasy world video game otherworld where he gets to be king is not something to draw life lessons from. Why defuk can’t guy charas get off their asses and go to Antarctica? Or go camping? Even getting out of Japan has been fading as a dream, unless it it by way of magical isekai effect.
An aging manga/ anime/ games consumer demographic may also have something to do with the problem. Who wants to be reminded of what an idealised guy adolescence could have been when you yourself are a 30-something slipping towards 40 guy and the future appears ever narrower ahead of you. In this case, not being able to identify with the young women characters on the screen or page is a very good thing. If we want charas that we can identify with, we will wait for more Bruce Willis, Tommy Lee Jones and “Beat”Takeshi Kitano movies. Undoubtedly 30-plus-something women readers/ viewers might similarly find the girls of the Antarctic expedition and the Camping Club annoying. This continues until the readership all gets beyond middle age and then we can all be as virtually bemused uncles and aunties and finally catch up on the anime and manga we missed.
Designing guy characters for today’s demographic is a challenge but is not impossible, even if an anime is a huge capital investment with hundreds of people working on it. While the pressure to stick to formula is intense and the penalties for failure are severe, innovation is possible. Check out the guys in these sneaky cup noodle commercials. The teen Tombo updated from KikI’s Delivery Service holds his own with teen Kiki.
He hints at substance, at least as much as teen Kiki does, as does his nameless counterpart in this Armageddon Confession that sneakily turns into …. Another damn Cup Noodle commercial.(4)
Goddammit! Lookie at both of them. In the space of a few seconds we have two interesting people painted in a few deft strokes. Sure confession scenes are a big cliché but both parties appear, in their brief instances of screen time, as having their own stories. These hint that creating better, nuanced characters is not a zero-sum game. A better developed male chara shouldn’t suck the oxygen out of the story for the well-developed woman character. (even with a cameo by an anime Bruce Willis) Crap; these Nissin Noodle commercial are dense texts in their own right. Here someone does a complete analysis, including shout-outs, cameos, character notes (!) and easter eggs: https://youtu.be/-VKFWLn7FlM
If guy charas (or now girl charas) are sucking the oxygen out of the scene, something is off with the conventions of the way they are written. Or is Japan so sex-segregated that the vast majority of its stories must be as well? Suddenly the location (and temporal) separation breached by the body swapping in Shinkai’s Your Name takes on an extra significance. Girl in village. Boy in Tokyo. Each bound to “act” in their territory.
It is great that women and young women characters are being better written and written into lead roles in more stories. These upgraded girls show us that the guys could use an upgrade as well.
Maybe they can build a shed or something for next fall’s season.
“Work remaining on map” Taisei Corporation CM
(1) They could ALL be male-gaze and I am hopelessly trapped within my own strictly gendered and class-derived perspective, forever unable to recognise my predicament and escape.
Consider one of last season’s less obvious action and adventure offerings; Princess Principal. Amid the elite private high school’s girls led by royalty doing spy stuff adventures and the princess/ pauper subplot; the out of chronological order episode jumble; the ninja girl, the mechanical throat girl; the Checkpoint Charlie divided Britain; Sandbaggers-level vignettes of loss and betrayal; invariable bad (or at least disappointing) behavior by almost every male in the show and spy-des as shorthand for class-S same-sex affection, we have one more thing of note that might have slipped by:
PriPri had a strong steampunk motif and did not get tripped up on it.
This is quite rare for anime and manga. Steampunk drag usually overpowers the story and then plot fail hits hard. Contrast Pripri to the trainwreck that was Empire of Corpses. Anyone remember Steamboy? Steam Detectives?
If you have not yet, Princess Principal deserves a watch. I liked it a lot, enough to put aside a few misgivings (the OP would have been better without the grating throwaway english lyrics) and fall into the treacherous hostility of alt-victorian BritlandiaAlbion and our heroines’ deft navigation of its dangers.
Over on this side of the ditch, Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio [http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php] has been going like gangbusters with the same basic perilous formula for years. Does strong woman character(s) quite well, complete with corsetry, powerful women-friend allies and requisite good boy/ bad boy (plus assorted other jack-ass boys and men) competing for her favor. Yup, looks like Agatha (The) Heterodyne has got herself a reverse harem and a posse. Girl Genius might not be the only way to do steampunk but it serves as a good indicator of how to make it work for, rather than bumble about at cross-purposes to, your story.
Princess Principal has some of the same mojo.
I had been expecting a greater Japanese use and enjoyment of steamish settings and backgrounds for some time now. Fantasy Europe has a long tradition in shoujo properties and their subgenres, including early bishonen (and we know where that ended up – which might be why Empire of Corpses foundered) stories. Euro-gothicky stuff is always a safe bet for a shonen adventure romp populated with Stoker-ish creatures and para-vatican-ish cabals. Why is it so damn hard to add a few brass valves, corsets and a dashing hat or two?
It’s all about the corsets and the hats, really. And the yuri subtext. You probably can get by without the Cavorite, the Babbage Engines, brass telescopes and dirigibles. We learned this from Iono the Fanatics. Guys get tweed, vests and goggles. Some of the more spunky girls can go for these too.
Fortunately the folks at Tokyo Steam Garden The Tokyo Inventor’s Society [ http://www.tokyosteampunk.com ] are out to change this. They might not even need the yuri, though they appear to have a good number of exotic outlanders.
Last time I was in Japan I ended up with a swollen ankle (again!) and skived off on the chance to spend one and a half hours on a train and $40 to attend one of their greater Tokyo (area) Hunter’s Fair get-togethers. I understand that one can’t be cheapo all the time with one’s enthusiasms in Japan – someone has to scrape the yen up for the hall rental and long commutes to events are a given. (the October Hunter’s Fair had some free admission times; was not in Japan. Drat!) One should be happy that the commutes are possible, convenient and inexpensive. Just charge up your pasmo card and hop on the train.
I probably unconsciously wimped out because I didn’t have a nifty costume. If you follow their twitter feed [https://twitter.com/TokyoSteampunk] you get the gist of it fairly fast: SCA-ish impulses melded with alt-historical romanticism, cosplay and indie fashion design. Why cosplay someone else’s hero when you can be your own? Why act out someone else’s adventure?
hunters fair world market detail via TokyoSteampunk
At this point this post needs LOTS of pictures from Steam Garden events but there is undoubtedly some polite protocol about randos grabbing such off Twitter and using them – especially identifiable pix of participants at these events. I will have to get by with a few pix lifted from their website. Notable that if one was a member of the fairer sex, one can enjoy the stylings without having to present a half acre of skin and goosebumps to the world and still come off as powerfully hawt.
I suspect that the community is recruiting followers and mustering their forces for an eventual foray. Whether they decide to invade Harajuku’s (or some other street’s) street fashion or Comiket (or both) they will be something to be reckoned with. The costumery and accessories are their secret weapons.
The works are elaborate, detailed, handsome and sexy without necessarily succumbing to otaku impulses. While there is a fair degree of crossover and appropriation from the local gothic lolita fashion folks and even some of the more elaborate (and expensively niche) European fetish wear designers, the stuff already appears to have a robust local design and sales ecology (and economy) supporting it.
lifted from Tokyo Steam Garden website
And then there is the “gear”. Every adventurer needs a retro zapgun or two. If you have an urge to learn how to spray paint plastic to get that weathered brass patina look, these folks have you covered. There is on this, by necessity some crossover from the plasmo community.
What with Princess Principal, I was surprised Comiket didn’t get a corseted expeditionary force this winter. Perhaps it did and I missed it on the Twitter machine feed. The closest I saw to it was one lone Rory Mercury. Or perhaps the hardcore Steam Garden folks tut-tut Pripri as cute but beginner level? Perhaps different fan communities are rigidly siloed in Japan?
I understand it was 5 degrees during the day over the year’s end weekend and I am only going by the twitter feed (and the memory of 2 year’s ago’s winter ‘ket and the previous March mini-ket) but cosplay in Japan seems to be weathering a bit of an enthusiasm shortfall. You are not getting that many Genshiken-level ensemble efforts. That many… The Land of the Lustrous ensemble this winter looked impressively dedicated and well organised.
The solo efforts, while fun and inventive appear to have to navigate the perils of the “celebrity cosplayer/ model” vs everyone else. Its grandparent, the SF Worldcon second evening “Masquerade” costume parties and competitions suffered from similar frictions.
Going by the twitter pix feed, the folk most organised and into making sustained efforts with their costumes/ outfits this Comiket were the military fanboys (ostensibly cosplaying video games such as Call of Duty), followed by the super sentai fans. Otherwise, there were many solo or pair efforts of whichever charas were sexy (and wearing painfully revealing costumes) this year. A good amount of Fate stuff popped up on the feed. Most memorable to me were the novelty efforts; such as the guys doing the Japari park serval-kun bodybuilder poses.
Thank the eight hundred thousand gods of Japan – and the hardcore cosplayer Yurikotiger for her Dragon Maid this ‘ket.
Comiket’s non-profit organisers might still be getting comfortable with cosplayers. A short while back they were regarded as a disruption and peripheral to the main autonomous fan collective fanzine/ fan-made artifact raison d’etre of the exhibitions. Like unruly lineups starting the night before, cosplay was seen as a possible subject of complaint from businesses surrounding the Big Sight. If too revealing, an excuse for the secular authorities to invade, interfere and proscribe. While cosplay is now acknowledged as a pure fan-made activity and as “The Ambassadors of Otaku Culture” residual unease persists.
You still have to keep the cosplayers proper (and their photographing followers) from getting in the way of the corporate booths and the traditional fan-made goods tables. And you have to manage the photographic consent rules implicit in Japanese privacy legislation – posing in the cosplay area, yes: if one-on-one be polite, ask, give, exchange meshi/ cards. Outside of designated cosplay areas; NO without expressed consent. Shoop in stickies over bystanders faces. I have yet to sit down and fully sanitize my pix from 2015, even though I rashly said I would up them way back then. (besides, they are mostly boring as I wimped out on documenting table sales and did not have the patience to do cosplay scrums)
So perhaps there are many good, local reasons why the steam tribes and the Comiket folks have yet to co-mingle. Perhaps it is because the Steam Garden folks have a whiff of the commercial con about them. They are in no way a trade show for any industry (yet) so there is no fundamental culture clash – unless the steamers find the otaku crew too far into the bad-taste amateur pr0n lewds for to want to cozy up to.
Hope for a second season of Princess Principal and better weather during this summer’s C94.
Queer Transfigurations — International Symposium on BL media in Asia.
Saturday, July 1 & Sunday, July 2, 2017,
Kanagawa University, Yokohama Campus
“My critical examination of yaoi begins with the premise that yaoi does not represent any person’s reality, but rather is a terrain where straight, lesbian, and other women’s desires and political stakes mingle and clash, and where representations are born.”
— A. Mizoguchi, “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond” http://imrc.jp/images/upload/lecture/data/143-168chap10Mizoguchi20101224.pdf
‘Fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality’ opine the characters of the Genshiken, echoing a claim made by Dr Saito Tamaki that despite the libidinised nature of otaku (and fujoshi) consumption — or because of it — the Japanese fan, even (or especially) the most committed of these are able to keep the walls between real life and “play” separate. They are all in effect flaneurs, connoisseurs of their outre fictions and these fictions’ effects (or affects). The riajuu may be bombarded by the relentless flow of images and desires and retreat into numb passivity, even reactionary withdrawal but the L33T fan surfs the shock-waves and hacks the spew.
How’s that workin’ out for you all?
Ok, so what if this sounded a lot like an update of the old floating world brothel-crawler notion of “iki” — which incidentally influenced european ideas of the flaneur – – as well as trying to drag the old-school practice of situating narratives of minority sexualities and gender expressions in lurid pulp exploitation settings into a better neighborhood [see: https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/your-own-private-game-of-laplace/] via Comiket, shoujo manga and its more interesting offshoots.
Along the way, a lot of folks pretended that they forgot someone(s).
If you are a not-quite-straight kid in Japan (or adult) and you value your privacy, this pretense or at least quiet convention had (and still has) its uses. The last decade’s general agreement about BL and yaoi in Japan was that %90+ of the readership was female and that the overwhelming majority of these were straight women who enjoyed it as a relaxing and amusing diversion. If you were a gei male, there was manly-manly Bara for you and nobody really bothered about what 3D women who liked women cared to read. There were even a few convenient broadsides from honest to goodness flesh-and-blood homosexual male polemicists who criticised the rotten tribes for acting like “dirty old men” (though the major flare-up of this controversy happened decades earlier). If real gay guys groused about the stuff, it must be some kind of odd straight-girl fantasy thing and therefore harmless. Pay no attention to the fujoshi behind the curtains.
Meanwhile in the euroethnic mostly anglosphere west, research spotty as it was, indicated that slash readership was closer to %50-50 male-female and that the desires and identifications of the readership were all over the map, with a strong ‘queer’ gradient.
Something was due for a change.
I wonder how many casual fujoshi will make their way to the conference this weekend? What the devil is a casual fujoshi anyway?
In truth, gay folk, queer folk have always, apparently been part of creating these stories and consuming them. Folks are doing the historical research so that concealment does not end up as erasure. At the same time, there is a vast readership and fandom made up out of straight women and even (per the two extant fan studies plus hints about secret secret publisher data) somewhere around %1 straight male readership (%10-15 of the male readership). And then there are lesbian fujoshi, who while unfathomable in terms of demographic representation, make up some of the most productive and articulate champions of the genre. And there are gay guys who like it too. (those fan studies would put them at %80 of the male readership or %8 of the total readership) Over across the boulevard are the Yuri fans with all those pesky mostly-straight male yuri-danshi (I still prefer the older, western-anglosphere LFB term), even if them’s are for a different conference (which I would also really like to attend). We LFB guys aren’t too good on holding up our end of the fandom, but our Japanese brethren keep buying the magazines, so that’s something.
A lot of the academic interest in fujoshi and otaku fandoms in Japan has been carried out as informed by queer interests and situates comfortably within a larger idea of “queer theory”. If you are going to read any kind of academic writing about your fave manga, anime and/ or games you are going to get hip deep in it fast. After all, BL and yaoi (and yuri and even weird otokonoko/jousou) stories sure look like ‘queer texts’. Lookie: same-sex bonking! How long can the publishers keep up the pretense that they are all just something like sci-fi-ish or fantasy allegory and mostly for straight folks dreaming in queer?
In Japan, probably for a while longer, especially if it has something to do with sales revenues.
Take a close look at the conference presentations, the presenters and the moderators. All-star line-up! Welker, Mizoguchi, Nagaike, Baudinette, McLelland, Galbraith and a whole bunch of others whose names look vaguely familiar from my amateur theory scrapings. Note as well the titles and subjects of the presentations/ papers. This is about how a certain Japanese cultural product hits the rest of “Asia” and then creates its own context and readings. Ichiban Nihon Bunka!
Note as well, the absence of the dreaded fashionable academic neologism “Gl-ocal“.
Oh frabjous day!
Wonder how many Cool Japan bureaucrats will be in attendance? You wanted “soft power”? Congratulations! Now about the way Japan is sluggish about the rights and protections of minority sexualities and gender expressions and the upcoming 2020 Olympics… Do I hear whistling from the audience?
One academic not on the program (perhaps because the historic role of the wider shoujo genre is mentioned only in passing) is professor Rachel Matt Thorn, who in a recent Twitter thread went into the changing face of the Japanese fandom — at least the university-attending fans in her classes. TLDR: they ain’t the Genshiken. They are hyper-social, engaged, productive and even activist. I hope that she gets around to expanding upon these observations in her blog. [http://www.en.matt-thorn.com/]
(Update: per Twitter, prof Thorn plans to attend.)
I suspect that the student attendees at this conference will be equally unrecognisable to anyone expecting Genshiken style fans/ fujoshi, even as their updated versions will be undoubtedly surprised at the range, influence and effect of their fave genre. A few might even wonder if any of the diaspora product needs to be tracked down and studied, for the sake of a wider cultural perspective. …Won’t even get into speculation over the straight, fujoshi, fudanshi, gei continuum issues. I have a feeling that Dr. Mizoguchi has long since updated her 2010 observations to include male interest, even as the genre remains a powerful primarily female-authored form.
Readers of this blog know my angle on all of this and I would be curious to see how the conference presentations handle the clashes, not only between cultures, but between the readerships who want their fantastic allegorical (and somewhat racy) dream-in-queer diversions and readers who seek aspirational representation and support from the genre. So far the only strategy I can identify that does not involve proscription would stress authenticity as verisimilitude; in effect a value added approach — which is damn crass when real lives are at stake.
Unfortunately, publishing and content creation, like most capitalism is crass, and often brutal.
A final thought: Open Access = mega citations and academic fame.
It would be wonderful if the uni streamed the proceedings, or at least vidded them and put them up on YouTube. (Later: have been informed that presenters were not asked/ warned about the possibility of video recording, so that’s out. As someone who participated in a conference that let me use my blog nym, I should be better clued in on privacy concerns for presenters/ attendees.. Duh!)
(LATER: Howbout an audio transcript for Soundcloud? They embed well. I should stop; my previous gallery gig – we always tried to at least get a sound transcript from a presentation. We’d put a volunteer/ student intern in charge, do a little Audacity trimming and up it went, even if the sound quality was atrocious. Again, prior warning, privacy concerns… So much to consider…)
Publication of the papers/ presentations in an open source journal or collection so that the conference doesn’t end up on some shelf or stuck behind a paywall would be wonderful.
(LATER: Prof Welker points out that he “shares all published articles & book chapters on request. As do many scholars. Just ask!” Regging up an indepedent researcher account at Academia.edu makes requesting such fast and easy. I was even able to do so using my blogging nym. Such individual ‘sharings’ are legal and allowed by journal and/or publication contracts; which otherwise lock down academic articles and books behind paywals that even notorious [-cough- sci -cough- hub] russian academic study sites fail to worm their way past.)
Soon, the last chapter of Genshiken Nidaime will show up on various grey places on the internet, with magically shooped-in english words. To say that I am feeling withdrawal symptoms already would be an understatement.
Rest assured, I will keep this blog going: the search is on for a viable approach to the continued examination of how Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture and its artifacts do so many neat things with fan desire. It is just going to get a bit bumpy as I fit new landing gear to this thing.
Meanwhile… Diversion Time!
From the 11th, on through to the 25th, the September Grand Sumo Tournament is on!
Don’t ask me how I became a somewhat-fan of Sumo. I loathe professional sports. I loathe professional sports on a visceral and intellectual level. Do not go there, Just think of everything you despise and hate, add logical arguments for your feelings plus a gut-level disgust and then multiply by a factor of as much free time as you can muster. I have lots of time.
If it is 4pm through to 6pm in Tokyo, what time is it in my time zone?
Why must the Japanese Sumo Association and NHK be so freaking tight-fisted about live-streaming the tournaments? $10 a day on Ustream or a cable subscription to NHK sports, IF the local cable co has it and IF I have cable.
Highlights and daily summary videos don’t cut it. It is all WHOMP when the wrestlers launch at each other and then one of them is out of the ring. No build-up, no drama, NO RITUAL! In short; it is treated like a sport. Add one more thing to the “why I hate” pile. It has to be live feed to capture the drama and the spectacle.
However, If I find that a Japanese government cultural initiative has made the live NHK feed of the tournaments available to an asian country’s national broadcaster, on the basis of that country’s longstanding interest and involvement in Sumo, and that for some reason, their web streaming service is available to me…
A live Sumo tournament is a wonder to behold, even if one is way back in the cheap seats during a weekday, early on in a tournament. Actually there are no “cheap” or “seats” but you and a friend might manage to get an entire four-cushion railed-square to yourselves. Yes, you take your shoes off and don’t spill your food and drink on the carpet, please! The crowds are well behaved, except for the drunk oyagi who yell out their fave’s name and sing randomly during matches. If a high-ranking wrestler wins a difficult bout that clinches a loss-free tournament, the crowd might toss their cushions in celebration. These displays invariably only happen after the last, highest ranked match of the afternoon. Everything is usually over by 6pm.
Unlike western pro sports, the wrestlers make a show of good sportsmanship, modesty and serious behavior in the ring. There is no trash talking, prima donna acting out, or cheap shots. The closest I have ever seen to a foul was what looked to me like a masterful fake-out: a high-ranked veteran, nursing an injury on his left side, faked to one side, then dodged to the other during the face-off and effortlessly face-planted his bewildered opponent with a light tap on the back. To me, it looked like a genius move but it earned the winner the vocal disapproval of the crowd and later, a warning from the association. It might be a “legal” move but it was considered a cheat to the fans, who paid to see the wrestlers wrestle.
So: a holy rite. Stop with the TV coverage that treats it like a mere “sport”.
If I had the ears of the highest ranks of the Japanese government, I would beg they knock heads at the NHK and the Sumo Association, then drop a nice hefty subsidy on both in the name of tourism and cultural exchange, that the tournament feeds be made available free for a worldwide audience.
Make sure the bow ceremony at the end doesn’t get cut out, DAMMIT!
That also means showing the entire award presentation at the end of the tournament too, down to the last 40kg bag of rice and chromed tractor engine (the awards get odd, it becomes a charming form of product placement) that the lucky tournament champ has to lift to accept. I swear, I would never get tired of it.
Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture is full of all manner of fantastic depictions of sexualities and gender expressions, the overwhelming majority of which are made up for the -ahem- use of the straight readership. A fair amount of this gets placed into high school settings because young and sexy sells. All manner of synthetic “queer” is considered easier and more fun to slip into manga and anime than space aliens, and only slightly more of a plotting stretch than ‘returnees’ and outlander transfer students.
While some manga or anime show bullying, insults and ignorant behaviour, CJVC generally presents sexual and gender minority characters as ‘interesting’ and accepted, at least by the ‘good’ characters.
Unfortunately it looks like this is pure bullshit.
The big balloon full of jello that is the Japanese educational system is squeezed down mighty tight in the service of ‘harmonious behavior’ and ‘common values’. It has a really nasty habit of going all bulgy on anyone who might be different in any way. Bullying is epidemic and government policies to reduce it seem ineffectual and willfully blind.
Since we western manga and anime fans occasionally enthuse over the neato and somewhat risqué depictions of Japanese high schools in manga and anime, the good folks at Human Rights Watch, Japan Branch, decided to include a few testimonials, some rendered in manga-esque form, about how things really play out for LGBTQ+ students in Japan.
Not cool, Pretty fucking typically vicious. I guess that humans behaving badly is endemic to our condition. But then, so was lice.
(Tokyo) – The Japanese government has failed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students from school bullying, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Japan has a bullying prevention policy, which is up for review in 2016 amid a growing national debate on equal rights for LGBT people.
School bullying is notorious in Japan and has been for decades. For LGBT kids in particular, the harassment, threats, and even violence in schools can be unbearable. School policies don’t adequately protect these students. At best, teachers are confused about how to handle LGBT bullying; at worst, they take part in it. Although same-sex marriage is being debated in Japan, the shortage of real LGBT role models is so stark that kids turn to gay manga characters for inspiration and very basic information about gender and sexuality.
Looks like Fujoshi Rumi, Sasameki Koto and the Genshiken got at least one thing right. Folks with minority sexualities and/or gender expressions in Japan had best get good at Judo.
Where do LGBT kids find their information?
Most of them turn to the Internet and to comic book characters. The “Boys Love” genre of comics have gay characters, but they are mostly read by young girls, and the characters aren’t taken to be real. When kids came out to their classmates, their classmates said, “Oh, we thought this was something just in comic books.”
What the comic books captured was the isolation these kids felt. Many kids we spoke with said they knew the characters weren’t real, and that they wanted more real role models – not ones based on fashion.
Of course, butt-insky activist NGOs have a habit of raking up problems all over the place and are professionally committed to wa-disturbing on a global scale.
Everyone knows that the harmony of the Japanese social is at best a polite fiction and at worst a horrendous lie but they also know the terror of the unknown that lies behind it is as real as sudden and catastrophic destruction. Perhaps the educational bureaucracy needs to throw a virgin into a volcano before enacting any changes, so petrified are they of any change.
Japanese schools continue to promote conformity and harmony over individualism and rights. The national bullying prevention policy calls bullying a human rights violation, but then promotes moral education on social norms as a bullying prevention measure. The concerns and needs of individual students get lost. “Bullying can happen to anyone” becomes bullying will happen to anyone as required to frighten everyone else into blind, strict obedience.
Geh! this smells like the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of the 1930’s. Ultra-nationalist pols are still fighting over getting supposedly lefty teachers to stand and sing the “Kimigayo“. Hooray for all marching together! “Duty is as heavy as a mountain, while death is as light as a feather“. Except when it comes to the duties and responsibilities of pols and bureaucrats.
Pity that all those neato fantasy Japanese high school manga and anime are now such an important part of your economy. How does your Cool Japan sell all those happy stories when the reality is proto-fascist violence and lethal neglect?
The manga testimonials were undoubtedly done as part of a communication strategy. They also read as an inadvertent grim rebuke to all those happy fantasy-inclusive manga and anime high school tales. I wonder if kicking the educational bureaucracy and the pols hard in their Cool Japan might provide some incremental benefit in any upcoming push to address their utter, criminal failure.
At least, all fans should see this and know this. It should be inescapable.
Such behavior from teachers left students in a vulnerable position. As Akemi N., an 18-year-old transgender male bisexual in Okinawa said, “If the teacher had any knowledge, I could have gained positive knowledge about myself instead of so many questions all of the time.” Instead, he said he learned about gender and sexuality mostly through comics he could find in local stores—an increasingly common medium where LGBT issues are discussed openly. A researcher studying the use of manga cartoons in lieu of comprehensive sex education observed that while “teen manga and magazines have taken up the slack and provide young people with a wide range of information about sex … those informal sources of sex education prove confusing rather than instructive.”
The point of all this relentless grimness is that our favourite manga and anime might be innocently abetting some powerful desperation and nasty behaviour, if only by accident and omission when it deploys its fantastic characters. Even Kio Shimoku, with his “sorry, I’m not either…” approach to Hato’s diffuse gender expression and desires might play a bit part in “fetishsizing” real minority gender expressions and sexualities. The author’s fujoshi collective are of course built to highlight this problem even as they try to edge around it. Kio-sensei has made it clear that he sought to avoid entanglement in real-world LGBTQ+ issues. Perhaps he needs to modify this approach and apply a small nod towards corrective realism or even idealism; as in the light rom-com hyper-shoujo teachable moments that Usotsuki Lily’s creator deployed when she dropped a slightly more “real” trans-girl character into her fantasy safe-space “crossdressing-lite” comedy.
Saki alone mentioning that the Genshiken fujoshis are unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable with real LGBTQ+ folk is no longer enough.
The point of calling out this kind of violent ignorance is not just touchy-feely “social justice”, it is an economic imperative. Violent stupidity and authoritarian notions of social conformity, like fraud and corruption are a drag on the economy and a wound to a modern, creative-capital driven mass culture. Crypto-authoritarianism provides short-term gain to a few well-placed individuals while it fools the rest into digging themselves deeper into unproductive holes. It produces nothing. It destroys everything it touches. If it worked, North Korea would be the richest county on the planet. Even the current Japanese government grudgingly admits as much, at least as they try to paper over a few overt manifestations of bigotry and hysteria in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
What happens when the fujoshi project runs smack into the problem of complicity with the fetishization of real-world gay folks, especially vulnerable teens? Some accommodations are going to have to be worked out. Some western slash fen transpose their fantastic rapey gay fantasies further into fantasy-space. Make them all super-powered gay werewolves! Unfortunately this does nothing to de-mystify real-world folks who just so happen to… etc. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done.
‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’
— Bertolt Brecht
…Or a distorted mirror; one that does not announce its distortions. There are no OBJECTS IN MIRROR etc. markings below the images. The pretty pictures are but entertainments. If you take them as reflections, you do so at your peril.
Yet Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (CJVC) operates with strong feedback loops between producer, publisher and consumer/ commenter/ transformative fan worker and gives rise to certain effects, most which could be roughly categorised as over-emphasis. More interesting is the way the process also serves to mediate participant opinions and desires. The temptation to stare into the mirror is great. As is the temptation to try to bend the reflection to one’s ends.
A few right-wingers and/or cults have in the past made clumsy attempts at taking advantage of this effect; so far their successes have been limited. A nominally ‘apolitical’ fandom holds advantages as well as drawbacks. But when the fandom devours stories that point towards a fleeting shadow of social progressivism, the temptation to nudge the canon is hard to resist.
At what point does Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (CJVC) pick up the hammer?
“Fuji TV announces Japan-first lesbian drama, but attracts criticism for ‘outdated’ portrayal by Andrew Mckirdy
Fuji Television has announced a drama series featuring a lesbian love story as its central theme — a first for Japan.
But a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist has slammed the show’s promotional material for portraying an “out-of-date” image of same-sex couples.
But Maki Muraki, the leader of nonprofit organization Nijiiro Diversity, which promotes workplace equality for LGBT people in Japan, believes the show is sending out the wrong message.
“Having two girls lying naked on a white sheet and using words like ‘forbidden’ is a little out of date, I think,” Muraki told The Japan Times on Thursday.
“The things we do are not about sex. We face a lot of difficulties in our life, for example in the workplace. To be told that the image of us is one of sex doesn’t make me happy.”
A machine translation of an interview with Muraki-san:
More Google-fu reveals that Transit Girls is most probably going to be a live-action Citrus-lite retread. Nearly underage step-sister angst and fanservice. Not much chance to confront any real-life issues. Erica Friedman’s Okazu blog review was short:
The subs look like they are in old-school/TW Chinese. Skimming through looks like they swiped a bit of Kanojo to Camera to Kanojo no Kisetsu as well.
Contrast this to her review of Otouto no Otto:
“If there is, in 2015, a single series I would call “most-anticipated,” Tagame Gengoroh’s Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) is that series.
Tagame-sensei is best known in North America for his overtly sexual comics by about and for gay men, known as bara, with an emphasis on large, hairy men (what are called “bears” in western gay vernacular).
The protagonist of Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) , My Brother’s Husband, is Yaichi, a single father, who has been estranged from his now late twin brother for many years. The volume begins on the day his brother’s widower, Mike Flanagan, arrives at Yaichi’s home. Yaichi is not at all comfortable with Mike, or the fact that his brother was gay, or married, but Kana, his daughter, can’t see the problem. The only problem she sees is that she had no idea she had an uncle at all! So when she invites Mike to stay, Yaichi can’t really say no.”
– Erica Friedman, Okazu blog, Nov. 8, 2015 http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/11/08/lgbtq-manga-otouto-no-otto-%E5%BC%9F%E3%81%AE%E5%A4%AB/
Is this juxtaposition unfair? Can Bara auteurs can do things that Yuri and BL auteurs can’t?
How’s that for a range of fictional treatments of LGBTQ lives and desires; from silly fantasy through to social realism written by and for the community? Note the strident “anti-“ in the comment section that plays the class card. (And yes, the author of the piece has the numeral 8 in her name. Google her for her wiki page if you are wondering.)
I sincerely hope this stuff pops some reactionary county clerk’s cookies (or not; I suspect the whole controversy was a cynical attempt to cash in on the wingnut celeb circuit) Here’s a backgrounder, to soothe residual knee-twitching:
What’s Good for the Kids
By LISA BELKINNOV. 5, 2009
“…approximately 1 in 5 male same-sex couples and 1 in 3 female same-sex couples are raising children, up from 1 in 20 male couples and 1 in 5 female couples in 1990.
In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.
More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.
There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.
115,772 same-sex couples in the USA were raising children circa 2009. So says the statbox on the side of the article. That’s less than half the population of my town. C’mon folks, get with the program! Or perhaps I need to get with the program, as an “old” who hasn’t being paying attention to the changing social.
Since the NYTimes Magazine was running a series on the topic, here is some more fieldwork (note the approaches used):
These families exist because in their neck of the woods the state can no longer deny folks their rights to get married and be parents. And random jeebus-spouting, publicity crazed asshats cannot grab the power of law and regulation and use it to bash a subset of queer folks for smug and profit. It means that happily married guy couples and happily married gal couples are afforded the same rights as everybody else. This is how we expect it to be in civilized countries. In some European countries these families, like all families would enjoy even greater rights and benefits; generous mandatory parental leave, better health and education opportunities, and even less Kim Davies.
Meanwhile in Japan…
Representations of minority sexuality and/ or gender expression in vernacular narratives are treated as entertaining variants on the theme of having a minor super power. Even Hato Kenjiro gets a super power (no, not be-dazzling Mada…)
It seems you can now build an interesting story either with the MC being bitten by a radioactive spider or by having the MC struck by sudden same-sex desire or with the incomprehensible urge to start dressing in clothing not conventionally ascribed to their gender.
Why not try all three?
You could kick it up a notch by actually having realistic tōjisha characters from the start, but perhaps Japan still finds that to be ‘too political’. There is also the readership’s fond attachment to the ‘out of the blue, its only you, mad love to ensue’ (tm) dance. If everyone already had super spidey powers the comic would be boring.
The limits to this type of use seem not to be “realism” but a simple-minded form of narrative utility. (lazy storytelling.)
Sometimes the thought experiment justifies the hack. There might not be that many crossdressing, liminal/ conflicted fudanshis struggling with their awakening sexualities at real university otaku clubs in Japan and even less of them back in 2009, yet Hato Kenjiro remains an interesting and useful construction. But Saki is right, the club should meet and try to make friends with some real gay/TS/TG folks.
At least these representations are not pulled out of the central casting sack for want of a quick clown or villain.
A sympathetic “truthy” representation of LGBTQ-ish characters is certainly better than using them as orcs and shikigami novelties and serves at least a few wider societal goods, but we should be cautious as to how far we suspend our disbelief. While these may serve an incidental purpose of “queering” a narrative, providing visible (shadow) representations of lives and desires, even offering the chance for the majority straight vanilla audience to dream in queer, ‘cross-dream’ or at least cheer on the cause of justice and true love; unless these narratives are positioned as testimony for and by the (tōjisha) populations they claim to represent, then these effects are afterthoughts and subject to problems.
And those of us who would examine why they exist risk missing the central question of their creation, use and popularity.
Why are all the straight boys and girls reading (and sometimes making up) so many stories about minority sexualities and gender expressions?
This observation is sound for the moment. It can even be taken as a mild reproach towards the timidity of the publishers and the conservative tastes of the audience. Stick to gauzy depictions of “forbidden love”, high school romances and secret crushes but avoid realistic depictions of the daily grind (and the daily joys) of living an “out” identity. Study after study, as well as the obvious structure of the stories themselves remind us that the main audience for these tales of “forbidden love” are not the people “in the life” / lives supposedly depicted, but the rest of us curious (mostly) heterosexual tourists. The timidity of the representations, the reassuring same-old same-old plots and the aversion to tackling serious issues is a side-effect of conservative traditions of production and conservative expectations in our escapist reading and viewing matter.
And you thought this meandering essay was going to be about social/ political activist tropes in vernacular stories that featured LGBTQ characters? I was going to go on and on and (shudder) make recommendations, do some re-inventing the wheel, mouth off and give free advice… Unfortunately, that too will creep in. But it is an afterthought. The focus must remain on the majority, nominally straight audience for these little tales and how this audience limits or could get behind activist stories.
Let me try to make this clearer by example. Assume there is enough of a market in Japan for a subset of gay desire to have their own vernacular narrative form. We’ll call it Bara. Gay guys write and draw stuff for other gay guys. Some of it is heartwarming, some of it looks extremely nasty, but it is a conversation within a social, with characters from that social. Whether or not it wants to go activist is it’s own business, because in the end it will be preaching to the choir. Few rotten girls go buying Bara mags for inspiration for their fantasies. Maybe they used to for drawing tips? Who knows, there are now pose-books out there for aspiring mangakas.
But for BL, Yaoi, Yuri and a few other odd genres that center around fantasies of gender expression, there is no “this is for real lesbians and or gay people and or trans people” subsections and/or “riajuu welcome but you may find it boring” sub-genres. And despite some of the warning disclaimers on Japanese (and other) fansites, there are no “real lesbians don’t act like this, these are straight fantasies, proceed at your own delusion” stickers on Yuri Hime or on Transit Girls. Obviously this warning is implicit, but we are easily distracted, we often forget. It would all be easier if we stuck to sci-fi and made all the queer folk Cat-aliens. Japanese Cat-aliens. Gay Japanese Cat-aliens. Oh wait, we tried that already, Nevermind.
Along with real Japanese queer folk who might wish to see characters that they can relate to, somewhat realistically and sympathetically presented, we have a huge pile of straight boys and girls visiting for the fanservice and staying for the feels. Apparently my taste in feels, or at least the tastes of my Japanese LFB counterparts runs to the simplistic (or fantastic – and don’t forget the fanservice, we want our fanservice!). Across the boulevard, the shape of the rotten girls’ hearts is apparently equally simplistic (and fantastic – they want their fanservice too).
Understanding why we silly tourists come poking around could be useful.
Time for a digression!
There is an elephant in the room and it needs to be vaporized. It is the old “reading this stuff will make you gay“. First off; as quoted/ noted previously, gay folks have to deal with overwhelmingly straight narratives all their lives – these do not turn them (back into???) straight. Ah! that just means that gay is insidiously, powerfully contagious! Fine, then everyone would be gay by now. Besides, these stories are overwhelmingly cooked up by straight people. Ahah! That’s why they don’t work! Guys, stay away from the Bara! The Genshiken’s Hato Kenjiro is safe, fake girl-made stuff won’t turn him. Or it will turn him into… (dum dum Dumm..)
Don’t laugh. The contagion theory is still very powerful. Youth are considered especially vulnerable. Even if the gatekeepers admit the impossibility of the majority of readers being bent by these silly stories, there are always the few on the margins who should at least stay unhappily straight, marry, reproduce and then go off to have a sordid mid-life changing adventure later. Or kill themselves. More to the point is the worry that the proscription against the queer, as a social category itself may be threatened. Story A and “I’m not gay, its only you” may be grudgingly tolerated as fire-breaks but you get the sense that the mythical “authorities” would be happier if all that stuff stayed in the seedy floating world of “The Black Lizard“.
Too bad that we have finally figured out that this kind of bullshit is a drag on the smooth functioning of a modern post-industrial society and its economy. And no, we aren’t going back to slavery, bond servitude and private health care insurance plans either. (Right wingers forget that in the early 20th C it was business heads who pushed for early social policy innovations – they wanted them as common utilities that couldn’t be snapped up by the competition and used for unfair advantage – only my workers get a hospital bed, yours die, I will own whole town by next year!) Have an asbestos suit, welcome to Star Fleet, now get back to your post.
You doubt me? Go read why Bismark instituted old-age pensions.
Once the “contagion effect” is dispensed with, or at least toned down to a dull roar, we can go back to wondering why all of us straight people are reading Yuri, BL, Yaoi, even gender-benders and Josou weirdness. Start from the fanservice again and work through it.
And what of putting complex “political” situations into silly “feels” tales? Won’t the iyashi be killed?
Transit Girls could suddenly get “political” as easily as the usual “personal”. There was a strong tradition of hard hitting politically aware gekiga manga well into the 80’s, (Here is something typically class conscious, socially aware and grim) though the genre faded to yakuza grinders thereafter. Shoujo manga and later anime offshoots pioneered socially transgressive subjects and genres but now feels set in its ways. Transit Girls won’t break any new ground because it’s a Citrus retread and it is safer to play out the almost-incest schoolgirl forbidden lurv story but there is no structural storytelling reason why a tale of two young women who happen to like each other has to creep out and/or stick to hackneyed “personal” story tropes.
The limits lie in the perception of what the audience will buy.
Would a mostly heterosexual audience run away from a tale if a bit of social realism or “political” was snuck into the story? Can we lay the blame at the feet of Japanese LFBs and rotten girls? If you are a young person who suddenly finds themselves having feelings for someone of your own gender and all you have to go on is BL or Yuri (as the case may be) you sure have a good argument for being pissed off. Congratulations, you are now a unicorn! A bit of realism would sure feel supportive, even reassuring. Something that gives the idea that mundane every day life, friendship and happiness is within reach can go a long way. In some respects, the Story A bubble at least provides a small personal space where the impediments are manageable and a happy ending is possible.
Most of the time the impediments are personal: bullying, whispers at school, parents, the thwarted opposite sex suitor who thought they were close to winning true love. It does all get a bit claustrophobic, doesn’t it? Sure the meet the parents challenge can be dramatic. And the usual steam (and cheese) can be squeezed out of the step-sisters under the same roof set-up. But there is no reason why you can’t get good story mojo out of I can’t visit my partner at the hospital if it is done well. At very least, tossing one small true love vs structural discrimination challenge ups the story’s realism points. It also assumes that there is life after the happy pair graduate from high school. Will we fanboys and fangirls buy it?
If it works well once, can it too become a trope?
Then we can try for the family register hell episode!
Followed by the same-sex-partnership certificate on Friday, fired on Monday episode.
And the “stop listing our kid as a bastard” episode.
Better ration these lest the tale gets too dire: give the lovebirds a chance to surmount the obstacles, catch their breath, and cuddle. Friends and supporters can grin and give a thumbs up. A whole new slew of happy event tropes could go a long way too: visit Comike, go to a public bath and relax after, visit a shrine with your friends on New Years (hey, wait a sec, where have I ???) The audience wants a few victory parties and their D’awww moments too. Sooner or later some enterprising auteur must stage a vacation- marriage in Hawaii.
Throw too many bureaucratic bigotry hurdles at the couple all at once and it will smother the tale in grim. Then you end up back on the old “thorny path” cliché; which would be downer and a waste. Unless you personify each structural obstacle (Nurse impose-the-rules Ratchet comes with a tragic back story) and appropriate the endless level-up battles of shonen fight grinders as some kind of fantastic comedy exercise. (Once Nurse Ratchet is defeated, she realises that her opposition was because of a long suppressed childhood disappointment, resolves this and becomes an ally)
Since the playset field somehow got flipped on…
…I always suggest a rich beta couple hovering in the wings (I’m hobby horsing, so what?) Maybe they went to New York on family business empire duty for a few years, met and tied the knot. Per the conspicuous consumption deployed in the play referenced in the above NYTimes article, a shitload of posh from the prop dept goes a long way toward legitimizing ways of living in aspirational fiction.
Ah, for the support of the wealthy and sophisticated almost-foreign other. Naysayers can’t even play the nihon-jiron card.
I’m playing clumsy social tinkerer here. I wonder what someone more knowledgeable about the issues would have to say about the series if they could contrive to find a way to watch it? Or if better extant examples exist?
Along with the attractions of more “truthy” representations of minority sexuality and gender expressions in terms of verisimilitude, interest and a ripping good yarn with a happy ending (or a wise and poignant one), the possibility for the advancement of a social policy agenda comes into view, at least to the extent that the changes advocated and the support for these can be personalised. In other words;
We’ll probably keep reading if you make the political personal.
Heck, we might even start seeking out stories with such tropes in them. Why? Here’s where I go out on limb:
1) Do the right thing:
People as individuals are fundamentally good at heart. (Hand-waving; it gives us bystanders something to do.) Neighbors and small socials invariably support and encourage diversity if given a risk-free chance, though older and/or wounded ones may struggle dramatically with their initial reactive positions. Common folk support one another, this is the wisdom of the village. This is flattering for us hand-wavers. It makes us feel like we are townspeople in a Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie.
2) Fight the evil machine:
Only bureaucracies, faceless edifices of power and profiteers enforce repressive structures and punitive rules. Again, we didn’t act like shits towards you folks, it was the bad bureaucracy!
3) The wars are over:
Conformity/ taboos/ rituals which once saved the tribe now weaken it. A new generation points the way forward. … Even if we did behave like shits it was because of the “old ways”; which we are so over with…
4) Careful with that hammer Maxwell.
Don’t go overboard on the new personalised political challenges; keep the main story on track with all the usual hackneyed melodramatic same old same olds. Yup, the happy young couple still get the bed-sheet publicity pic – we drooling fans expect it. All peasant village weddings come with a wedding-night charivari! We really do get into hand-waving, and pot banging, and…. Any excuse for a party.
Sure it’s all fantasy, but it comes with a bonus drama CD.
Given the opportunity, there seems no great reason why a readership that is somewhat predisposed to open-mindedness (we are reading about the MC’s neh?) would not adopt a supportive attitude/ enjoy the fantasy of activism, especially if the d’awwwwww payoff is presented at no cost to us.
In the United States, reactionary forces recognise this and have spent decades subtly insinuating narratives of fear and cost into arguments against human rights and social justice issues. Social justice reforms sound good but in reality they will steal our jobs, destroy our families, degrade our manliness, corrupt our youth, slip into our daughters’ bathrooms, cause bad weather and tooth decay…
…And they will take down those damn slaver flags.
Less so in Japan.
As Japan is a culture of conformity, surface appearances, restrictions and arbitrary rules, the overwhelming majority of which have long since outlived their raison d’etre, the attraction of putting the different folks out on the front lines for societal change is universally attractive. (sounds like the plot for the Seven Samurai) A large amorphous issue like gay marriage (what of all the rules and regs and forms and laws and procedures and the prefectural governments and the constitutional amendments needed?) might be too much (for now). But when a tale or a campaign takes aim at specific day-to-day petty injustices, most of which are part of the larger portion of the soul crushing bullshit that everyone has to suck up and smile at, we have a market for some good ending aspirational fiction. As long as Japan doesn’t get serious again and have everything end in a hammer-of-the-fates disaster barrage. (The Japanese movie happy ending: everybody dies.)
Unable to get an apartment (or twice the key money), bullshit at the municipal office, sleazy yakuza blackmail(!), a loved one alone in a hospital, civil union-ish certificate on Friday then fired on Monday; make the challenges specific, personal, understandable, unfair and let them loose to tug at the heart. I sense the chortling shades of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens in the shadows.
To a degree, the instability of traditional patterns has already wormed its way into the tropes of the social depicted in Japanese manga and anime. Fifteen or twenty years ago, the young MC’s family would have been fun, supportive and very nuclear. Now fractured families, absent parents, single parent households, dramatic fob the kid off on distant relatives (note the setup in Transit Girls) or not even relatives settings are all over the landscape. Strong, intact families like those in Wandering Son are rare exceptions. Compared to these, having two moms or two dads would read like an idyllic solution.
And here we come to the final reason why all of us vanilla fanboys and fangirls might be paying attention and cheering from the sidelines, even if it is a bit unfair:
Put the queer folk out on point
One would have to be in suspended animation to miss that for all the sturm und drang, the activist agenda advancing LGBTQ rights in the West has done an amazing job. It might not look like it from the eye of the storm, and it has been one heartbreaking mess of a long slog, but their activists and advocates have scored an impressive set of wins. Big wins that have and will shape society for decades to come. Compare these to say, average family incomes in America over the last 20 years. You have to respect what works. Seeing anything that works gives us all hope.
Is this too odd a reason to add to the pile of why so many straight boys and girls are fascinated with the odd notions they themselves dreamed up about LGBTQ characters?
Compared to the the rest of any progressive agenda, LGBTQ activists have done the impossible and that makes them mighty. So much so that reactionary types will even whisper of a “gay conspiracy“. Conspiracy? When is decades of hard work, organizing, lobbying, advocating and litigating a magical thinking “conspiracy”?
Guess what the reward is for a job well done. (2)
And yup, popular art forms get drafted do their part. Note the tone of this review, complete with the reference in the lead to earlier civil rights issue films:
I remember hearing about the first movie; Love is Strange a year ago, it sounds like it is on program. The appeal to social justice is clear, compelling and personal. After all if someone can lose their job for one thing, anyone can lose their job for any other form of religio-bureaucratic sanctioned bullshit. I live in Canada. Most of the provinces (like states, only bigger) still implement constitutional guarantees that mandate taxpayer-funded school boards for certain faiths. You want to keep your taxpayer-funded job, you go to mass on Sunday and you watch your Facebook posts. Exceptions are at the discretion of the board. How’s that for faith-based exemptions?
The second film is new to me; it might be a bit too stridently bolshie for American tastes. The third, I had a chance to view inflight and it felt like a Cumberbach vehicle. It got grim really fast. We know what happened to Turing. Since I loathe the British class system, I found no entertainment value in watching a fetishization of its murderous small-mindedness.
Doubtless there are many more useful examples out there, with at least half of them making up episodes in Glee. I must get over my aversion to anything that flies under the dread flag of Fox.
In the meantime, off the top of my head, something close to this was pulled off for the girl couple in Mouretsu Space Pirates. Not content to have the thwarted arranged marriage trope leave a dangling disappointed dude, it went on to show our plucky heroines unmasking the boy as a young Goebbels fronting a crypto-fascist conspiracy out for power and big bucks. The arranged marriage was just part of his campaign to seize power. Well; that was kind of political, even if set in a scifi far future light-years away.
Activist themes and tropes within stories cannot directly change society, at best they can “win hearts and minds” and displace older tales of dire abjection and deviance while lessening “the shock of the new”. We all tend to resist things we have not run into before; if we run into them in fiction, we can fool ourselves into feeling some manner of familiarity with the situation and the folks caught up in it. Coupling a story to appeals to justice and enlightened self-interest; This sucks, we wouldn’t like this to happen to us, we should support a fix so that everyone can breathe easier has been a part of storytelling since we all sat around the fire in caves. Ally of Justice makes for a nicer story than “when bad things happen to people, run away from them and/or throw rocks at them to drive them off otherwise the bad things will get you too“. The latter may be closer to human nature at its worst, but it raises problems for story tellers; they risk getting rocks themselves instead of a meal.
These concerns are for the rest of us scared villagers. For someone who finds themselves trying to negotiate a queer identity, having stories that say “you are not alone“, and “this is normal, life is good“, “be proud of who and how you are“, especially ones that are not too fantastic and/or loaded with dire oppressions can be a life-changer. Not everything has to be a “fight the power” tale to do some good, but it’s OK too to add “why should asshats think they have any right to jack you around?” to this above list.
Significant reform is more than ever now possible in Japan. At first glance the Oyagi-cracy of the LDP looks like the barnacle least likely to do anything progressive: first looks can be deceiving. It has been argued that Japan’s perpetual party of power, the LDP is no longer anywhere as ideological as it appears and that it will swipe any policy platform, even socially progressive ones, if it thinks another (non-communist) party could possibly get traction from such. For a supposed right-wing party, its appetites have become amazingly ‘catholic’. It has assimilated policy initiatives from opponents and allies alike, especially if these present a good face for Japan to “the West” (look how smooth-running and progressive our society is, please invest and do business with us.) Bonus points if the grab pulls the rug out from under an opposition (or even an allied) party. The Olympics are on the horizon, Japan doesn’t want to look like Putin’s reactionary Russia. Mrs Abe shows up at the Pride parade. The LDP reads Krugman for economic policy advice. It’s not personal or ideological, it is just what it takes for the LDP to remain in power at all cost and render any alternative parties or alliances thereof weak and ineffectual. The LDP is the developed world’s most left-wing right-wing government. They have a parliamentary supermajority and they no longer give a flying… squirrel about ideology. They can pass progressive legislation at the drop of a hat if it suits their party’s strategic purposes.
Aside: Shisaku and Tokyo on Fire are great Jp politics/culture backgrounders! (from whence I have have cribbed much of my sloppy analysis)
UPDATE: Tokyo on Fire does a short segment on “Tokyo’s First Same-sex Marriage Certificate”
Conceivably the LDP could even do something really nasty and militarist: full equality and marriage rights at all levels of Japanese government and civil society for same-sex couples as long as one of the couple is serving in the new bent-article-9 JSDF! Yearly mandatory visits to the that shrine required too. Nothing too good for our patriotic boys and girls in uniform. Supermajority, remember?
This loony example belies a serious point. The main legalistic impediment to same-sex marriage rights in Japan is a close reading of the Japanese constitution. Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman. Any move to revise the constitution to fix this legitimises the Abe/ LDP program to revise other parts of it. Similarly, the re-interpretation of article 9 for “collective self-defense” points to the strong possibility of other re-interpretations, as long as one is willing to legitimise the entire exercise of re-interpreting.
Political chess-playing ensues. At least the pieces can move.
Despite initial appearances there never was a better time to sneak a few progressive social reforms through the Japanese Diet. Or I am completely deluded and the removal of one class of institutionalized pariah-dom in the Japanese social will so threaten the mechanisms of control and subservience that keep the salaryman at his (sometimes her) desk for 12 hours a day and the rest of the losers happy to scrape by on low-paid temp jobs, as to completely up-end the power structures and economic foundations of the nation. There goes our weekly group hate sessions… And those sound trucks.
Naw… The entire Abe/ LDP program has been to build up a monolithic appearance of progressive stability in Japanese society and politics. No more Prime Ministers of the month, no more low-class cabinet scandals, no more bureaucrats fighting out policy initiatives with competing press leaks. A nice promise of structural reforms for the business world. Quantitive easing to grease export earnings. Woman-omics. Now if they can get the Olympic stadium embarrassment cleaned up; the old pols who ran the original stadium committee have been ritually shamed and neutered. Abe’s technocrats can now step in to save the day. Everything looks stable and peaceful. As long as mildly progressive social reforms don’t come off as looking like something forced upon Japan by pesky outlanders, the pols have no reason to dig in their heels. We are talking at most of gay marriage here; not ending the whale hunt or that messy thing with the dolphins…
Oh my; a silly manga and anime blog is going on about pop poli-sci and Japanese politics!
Muda Muda Muda!
Watch for my future post on Keynesian macro-economics and Japanese monetary policy presented as allegory in Gintama:
Any progressive and/ or activist themed expansion of the range of tropes and stories available to the hack mangakas and anime script teams is pure profit for ambitious authors a and publishers, as long as these new tropes can be successfully deployed at least once. I think the fandom/ public could well be way out in front of the publishers, authors, producers and TV executives.
Given that CJVC already supports a number of viable market niches that at least superficially appear to venture into the territory of representing (and perhaps supporting) minority desires and gender expressions, simple capitalist competition and the need for new interesting grist for the story mills should be sufficient to grease the wheels of social progress a bit.
There is no structural reason for the absence of activist, progressive story- lines in CJVC. Advocacy is possible and can advance progressive change. Politics has a nasty habit of getting personal but the personal is the realm of storytelling. These stories can once again recognise this as we take comfort and inspiration from the possibilities set forth in their telling and enjoy the opportunity to vicariously support progressive social change. Because the rest of us were all too busy and tired and distracted to have done anything to fix our shit; perhaps you folks will have better luck. We’re rootin’ for you…
Hand-waving for great Justice!
(1) Hmmmm… I could draw a pyramid chart of these and cash in big time over in theory land. Mudakun’s hierarchy of prurient interest over Yuri and BL ™. Come for the novelty pr0n fantasies, stay for the abstract concerns. Where my newest bit of why are we interested about this stuff slots in is another matter.
(2) For a job well done, you of course get another job. And raised expectations. And spectators cheering you on. And the idea that perhaps your program could make a nifty ‘point of the spear‘ for some larger, more diffuse program of change. And that your unique experience gifts you with rare insights and the facility to give general relationship advice to couples, fix defective technology by touching it and dress sharp. Such is the price of success!
UPDATE AND ENDNOTE:
This was not my brightest post but I still figured I needed to thrash out some of the ideas. Further attempts to develop them hit a snag, so still working on the troubling intersections of “gay” vs “shadow of gay, written by straight folks for their own odd purposes, not all of which involve pr0n” on one axis and realism vs fantasy on the other axis. Realism implies a certain temptation towards activism. Leave it at that for now.
Transit Girls has finished its run, and by reports, is not execrable. Shoujo, rushed, but at least the background characters are supportive. Google with the terms “watch” and perhaps the optional “247” (note download tab) added to the series name and you can probably find eng. subbed versions somewhere out on the intertubes. Raise ad-blockers to maximum, ahead full impulse.
The last violence we impose upon the queer of our straight imaginations is the burden of our hopes.
(Later: redacted a bit of me overdoing it in the comments section. The main point is of course not tweekcraig or the slashy nonsense but the needs of the town’s citizenry. Given the alternatives, call it a win)
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace and the curious case of the detective novelist’s good friend’s hobby.
(Warning: Here there be honking big block quotes – Game o Laplace mild spoilers too.)
The currently airing anime Ranpo Kitan: Game of (lets shorten it to) Laplace is of course a bit more and a bit less than a commemorative retelling of the iconic Japanese detective stories of Tarō Hirai/ Edogawa Rampo. There is also a toned-down re-visiting of the mood of the “erotic grotesque nonsense” (ero-guro) genre that played a prominent role in the original stories, with a deft updating of the tradition by laying out bait for otokonoko fanboys and yaoi fangirls. Anyone who wonders why this little weird thing exists is bound to do a quick peek at the wiki entry for Hirai/ Rampo.
From thereon however, things get odd and very, very Japanese.
Tarō Hirai, AKA Edogawa Rampo is considered the father of the Japanese detective story and was a great admirer of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His Akechi, the first recurring detective character in Japanese fiction was clearly inspired by Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. In Laplace he is a grouchy 17-year-old genius with carte blanche from “The Imperial Household Agency” (we wont go there, just as we will not dwell too much on how the civilian casualties of the Ginza invasion in the anime version of GATE were kept low through the timely intervention of ‘higher authority’). Plagued by ennui and a never-relenting (per previous; caffeine withdrawal-get that kid to make you some strong coffee dammit!) headaches he ends up with two unwanted “assistants”. The first of these, Kobayashi is a diminutive junior high school (middle school) student who is often mistaken for a girl and displays a curiously amoral, detached passivity.
Grotesque murders – even those that he is accused of committing seem to be the only thing that interest him. His friend, serious rich-boy Hashiba has appointed himself as Kobayashi’s protector and gets dragged into the Boy Detective Club that updates an original Edogawa Rampo conceit. As well, Kobayashi has started to crossdress, whether for solving crimes or just to amuse himself. I recommend episode 6, A Glimpse of Hell; the remaining episodes so far try too hard but not hard enough at giving the viewer a pasteurized taste of both “ero-guro-nansensu” and “iki”, that fatalistic, refined detached air which was a big thing in Edo Japan and which I suspect is the hook for the Kobayashi character.
“As an aesthetic expression, iki alludes to a certain style of life and of art that was current in the amusement districts of Edo, reaching a fashionable climax around 1830. However, in spite of its mundane outlook, iki has spiritual roots enabling it to reconcile the idea of Buddhist renunciation with Bushido idealism. Kuki Shûzô (1888–1941) established iki as a more abstract, philosophical term by attempting to define it, in his famous book The Structure of ‘Iki,’ with the help of Western metaphysical and anthropological methods. Surprisingly, Martin Heidegger mentions the notion of iki in an essay published in 1959 entitled “Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache.” Though Heidegger’s reflections are interesting as such, they do in not grasp the real concept of iki.
Kuki writes that “‘iki’ has its origin in the ‘World of Suffering’. […] Now, ‘resignation’, that is the disinterestedness in ‘iki’, is an urbane and well-formed heart which has gone through the polishing of the hard and heartless floating world”. Iki is produced through a “resignation to fate and the gaiety based on ‘resignation’”. Iki asks for the negation of an “everyday world” which Kuki calls the “conventional” world. If we resign from the “conventional” we discover style: “You will be chic when the conventional has been rubbed away”. In many ways iki comes close to a philosophical ideal of “coolness.” The decisive point is that through the negation of the “conventional,” iki will not be “discovered” as an “essence” that already existed “out there”, outside everyday life. On the contrary, the act of resignation from everyday life reveals a kind of iki that always existed within everyday life (and even within ourselves) but that was covered by the conventional. In this sense, Kuki writes: “If we are able to combine the abstract conceptual moments of transformation obtained through analysis, and to constitute the being of ‘iki’, that is because we already carry iki with us as experiential meaning” (73). The particular act of stylization through which the conventional is “cut off” depends on the stylistic cut called kire, which is essential to the aesthetics of iki.”
– The Structure of Detachment: The Aesthetic Vision of Kuki Shuzo: With a Translation of Iki no kozo. University of Hawaii Press 2004. Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten.
In less elegant words; stray kittens, beautiful prostitutes, pretty boys and attractive boi-dykes get into horrible life situations. Life is messy and cruel, only the fleeting moments of beauty redeem it – be careful not to over-react to these. You can pet them and occasionally feed them; you can admire the sublime moment but nothing can save them. Falling in love or sympathy with any of these is folly and will only drag you and everything around you down with them. We’re all going to die and they will die sooner, in messy circumstances. “The flame that burns twice as bright burns only half as long” and dwelling on this ruins the moment, so shut up and enjoy the cherry blossoms. Note that Iki predates the European idea of the flaneur by half a century or more. Also note that “the floating world’ was a miserable place to be stuck in for either sex; bond-servitude prostitution (slavery) remained open and accepted until the advent of the post-war constitution.
As well, Kobayashi embodies another aspect of the homage-a-Rampo-ness in Laplace; the True Crime/ Tokyo Reporter nudge nudge wink wink “deviancy” of all sexuality, be it riajuu or minority. It may seem odd to the Western mind, but high levels of Japanese literacy and cultural engagement, combined with the heavy hand of the state resulted in tons of important discussion on sexuality, gender and society being carried out during the twentieth century in sensational, lurid vernacular publications. Imagine if Masters and Johnson had to release their landmark sexuality studies in Real Man’s Manly Adventure Monthly, sharing space with “Flesh Eating Marmoset Attack!!!”.
When he was not writing detective stories Hirai/Rampo spent time with his friend Jun-ichi Iwata, who appeared to have been determined to prove that a separate, long-standing nihon-jinron ‘gay in Japan’ tradition existed independent from contaminating Western notions of sexual and gender minorities.
“Another of his interests, especially during the late 1940s and 1950s, was bringing attention to the work of his dear friend Jun’ichi Iwata (1900–1945), an anthropologist who had spent many years researching the history of homosexuality in Japan. During the 1930s, Edogawa and Iwata had engaged in a light-hearted competition to see who could find the most books about erotic desire between men. Edogawa dedicated himself to finding books published in the West and Iwata dedicated himself to finding books having to do with Japan. Iwata died in 1945, with only part of his work published, so Edogawa worked to have the remaining work on queer historiography published.”
– (per Jeffrey Angles, Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-6970-7.) – Wiki entry for Edogawa Ranpo/ Rampo, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edogawa_Ranpo
… And here I do a bit of link following and lookie what turns up! A Cliff’s Notes summary of the whole ball o wax by Brad Borovitz, academic, cultural critic and conceptual/ software artist originally written back in 1993. (This is damn fine, take some time later and read the whole thing)
“Iwata’s friend Edogawa relates that he was completely disinterested in Western materials on sexology while Edogawa found them both fascinating and important. In fact, Iwata refused to treat the ethnographic dimension of homosexuality; but his relationship to ethnography is complicated. He did do other “ethnographic” work (such as a study of Toba area pearl divers) and was associated with minshukugaku (民衆苦学) especially through his correspondence with Minakata Kumagusu (南方熊 楠). If, as I assert, Iwata’s historical project is a response to a new sexuality that has everything to do with the West, his refusal is significant; it seems to suggest a reactionary positioning. It may represent a reaction against the ethnographic attentions of the West—Edward Carpenter (1911), Ferdinand Karsch-Haack (1906) and Magnus Hirschfeld, all wrote about the phenomenon in Japan —and an enactment of defiant self-definition, a “writing back”; or, it may be defensive appeal to tradition in response to the undesirable influence of Western notions of sexuality. In doing history, Iwata performs an implicit rebuff of a privileged foreign knowledge and in a claim for identity and consciousness absents the imposing voice of the West.”
– The Discourse on “Love Between Men” in Interwar Japan: Iwata’s History of Homosexuality by Brad Borovitz http://onetwothree.net/writing/discourse-%E2%80%9Clove-between-men%E2%80%9D-interwar-japan-iwata%E2%80%99s-history-homo
Unfortunately, there were not that many academic journals available to social anthropologists in inter-war Japan, so…
“Edogawa Rampo relates that Iwata spent a great deal of time searching in old book stores for sources and meticulously taking notes on his material before he ever wrote anything for publication. It was apparently at Edogawa’s urging that he published the series of essays called Honcho Nanshoku Ko, “Reflections on Love Between Men in Our Country,” in Hanzai Kagak, “Criminal Science [Magazine],” starting in June of Showa 5 (1930). This first series proceeded chronologically from the beginning of recorded Japanese history—citing the Nihon Shoki (c. 720) and the Shoku Nihon Gi (c. 797)—up to through the Kamakura era (1185-1333). Other essays, published mostly in the in the same journal, also covered the Muromachi era (1333-1573). He went on to publish, less systematically, work that dealt with the Tokugawa (1603-1868), but he tended to focus more and more on the literature of nanshoku, through collections of stories. His final work, never published in his lifetime, was Nanshoku Bunken Shoshi (男色文献書誌), “An Annotated Bibliography of Male Love.” The manuscript was finished in 1943, but it was not published until Showa 31 (1956). Nanshoku Bunken Shoshi is a 370 page long carefully annotated bibliography of all references to nanshoku in Japanese literature from the Manyoshu and early chronicles through the literature of the Edo period. Considering even just the scope and form of his project, it seems that a great deal of rhetorical force is collected behind an assertion that, as something that pervades the history and literature of Japan from the earliest time, nanshoku is thoroughly Japanese.”
– Ibid Borovitz
Other vernacular publications at the time included “Sex-Customs Storybook Magazine”, “Sex-Customs Science Magazine” “The Grotesque Magazine” and “Hallucinatory Literature Magazine” (per,Jeffrey Angles, Index, Ibid, passim.) Rampo made his living writing demi-monde thrillers and critics argue that he went from cerebral detective fiction to straight pulp sensationalism very quickly.
“The prescriptive literature of Habuto, Sawada and other experts who offered their counsel to the officials of law enforcement and education, found another audience in the bored urban middle class. Valued for their ability to titillate with descriptions of deviant sexuality, these works became part of a growing underground culture of sexology, part of the era’s popular fascination with ero-guro-nansensu (エロルロナンセンス), erotic-grotesque-nonsense. Iwata’s work, published as it was mainly in crime magazines, may teeter on the line between these genres of academic sexological discourse and popular erotic interest.” – Ibid Borovitz
See also this short passage from Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s by Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano
Despite his “fall” the move proved popular and ultimately secured his place in the popular imagination. A flaneur detective who can slip through the seedy underbelly of Tokyo proved to be a durable creation.
Recall as well from an earlier post how 1950’s discourse on minority sexualities ended up in pulp magazines:
“The second characteristic of the genre was the animated exchange that took place between specialist researchers, amateur researchers and the readers themselves. The hentai magazines frequently organised round-table talks where medical doctors, writers, readers and editors came together. Here the discourse of modern medicine which categorised perverse sexual desires as ‘abnormal’ stood alongside testimony from people who themselves had interest in these marginal sexualities. This queer space of the hentai magazines, then, allowed the official scientific discourse of the sexologists to interact with personal testimony from people designated ‘abu’ [abnormal]. That is, these magazines themselves functioned as a type of ‘contact zone,' in which hegemonic and subaltern representations encountered and interacted with each other. Hentai magazines like Kitan kurabu created readers’ columns that stimulated discussion about articles and encouraged exchanges between their readers. Such readers’ columns not only functioned as personal advertisements which offered people with the same interests the opportunity to meet, but also they enabled readers with different sexual interests to engage in dialogue together.”
– ‘The Process of Divergence between ‘Men who Love Men’ and ‘Feminised Men’ in Postwar Japanese Media’ by Ishida Hitoshi and Murakami Takanori, translated by Wim Lunsing http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12/ishida.html
The point of this excursion into pulp fiction is that like “Pulp Fiction” or better, “Blue Velvet” anything that did not lead a salaryman and a mom to raise normal offspring had one foot already into a strange and probably lethally dangerous hentai demi-monde.
So put aside this childish stuff, shape up, marry and reproduce!
The feminization of men and the masculinization of women and the neutered gender that results is a modernistic tendency that makes it impossible for the individual, the society, or the nation to achieve great progress. Accordingly, since the manliness of man and the femininity of woman must forever be preserved, it is imperative that we not allow the rise of neutered people who defy nature’s grace.
– General Ugaki Kazushige [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazushige_Ugaki], per Borovitz, Ibid
If you want more ero-guro nonsense in updated form, hunt out a copy of the 1968 film Black Lizard, directed by Kinji Fukasaku:
” The movie was adapted from Rampo’s novel of the same name by noted author Yukio Mishima, who also appears briefly in the film. The story pits the detective against a female mastermind, known as the Black Lizard, who is played by transvestite actor Akihiro Miwa. The film is considered high camp with its bizarre conventions and over-the-top performances but has a loyal following among fans and critics alike.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kogoro_Akechi
Yukio Mishima and his transvestite lover ??? Laplace’s cheesecake derivative is a pale shadow! Many years later this Black Lizard will re-appear as the voice of the witch in Howl’s moving Castle. Miwa is alive and well today and still getting TV gigs. The soundtrack was composed by the now-famous composer Isao Tomita [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isao_Tomita] who would later go on to score a slew of renown anime classics and collaborate with an orchestral composition for Hatsune Miku [http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2012/08/27-1/hatsune-miku-to-collaborate-with-japan-philharmonic-orchestra]. Mishima’s cameo in the film was as an embalmed corpse.
A little more digging turns up a bit more info on Rampo’s original Akechi character:
“Kogoro Akechi is a tall, handsome man with heavy eyebrows who dresses well. He is married to a woman named Fumiyo (文代) and lives with Yoshio Kobayashi, the leader of the Boy Detectives Club. Kobayashi often plays an important part in solving cases. Like his mentor, he is an expert at disguise and is especially adept at posing as a young woman. Aside from these relationships little is known of the detective’s personal life, which always takes a back seat to the mystery in his adventures.
Modern references to him can also be found in Gosho Aoyama’s popular and long-running manga series, Detective Conan. One of the characters, Detective Kogoro Mori is a persistent and courageous yet highly flawed and lecherous private detective — almost a parody of Kogoro Akechi. He has his cases solved for him by the youthful main character, Conan Edogawa. The name of young Conan’s elementary school detective club is the “Detective Boys”. Akechi himself is highlighted in volume 2 of the manga, in “Gosho Aoyama’s Mystery Library, a section of the graphic novels (usually the last page) where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from literature. Further Akechi references can be seen in Aoyama’s other series, Magic Kaito, where a master thief who steals high-profile items for recognition.
Both Akechi and the Black Lizard are referenced in the Sakura Taisen series of video games and anime. One of the musicals performed by the Teikoku Kagekidan is Benitokage (“Crimson Lizard”) and features the title character, a criminal femme fatale, along with a handsome young detective named Akechi Kojiro. The manga and anime Nijū Mensō no Musume, or the Daughter of Twenty Faces, focuses heavily on Akechi’s arch-rival. Akechi himself is featured as well, but as a much more minor character. Akechi is also referenced in the character of Police Superintendent Akechi Kengo in Kindaichi Case Files, a popular detective manga series. In the media franchise, Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, Akechi is represented by a girl police detective named Kokoro Akechi.
Recently, a new Anime series entitled Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace has been created, based off the Mystery novels of Edogawa Ranpo, and in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. The story follows Kobayashi (a reference to the leader of the Boy Detectives) who becomes assistant to eccentric 17 year old Akechi. In this Anime Twenty Faces also makes an appearance as a vigilante serial killer.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kogoro_Akechi
Back to Laplace and Kobayashi. Like the second iteration of the Genshiken, the point of view shifts to the otokonoko character; Akechi, the nominal hero is a grumpy cypher. Unlike Kenjiro Hato though, Kobayashi is a far more problematic character. Wake up in a pool of blood holding a hacksaw to find the dismembered body of your home room teacher nearby? “Wow! Neato, school was beginning to bore me!” When the case resolves, it turns out that the murder victim was himself a murderous pervert who in turn was killed by a jealous complicit almost-victim who suddenly was tossed over as the dead perv began to fixate on the beautiful but emotionally vacant Kobayashi.
What follows after this is a sad parade of child murderers, vigilante killers, sex crazed female criminal masterminds, industrial magnate sex cultists and other assorted freaks.
One wishes that this Akechi gets a Fumiyo to calm the whole mess down a bit.
Aside from Akechi and Laplace, the weird circumstances of the study in Japan of minority sexuality and gender expressions in the twentieth century remains. The first and for a long period thereafter, the sole comprehensive examination of historical Japanese homosexuality was midwifed/ or mid-husbanded by the foremost pulp detective writer of 20th century Japan. The Legendary Professor Munakata also makes an appearance. There is a strong feeling that he is modelled on the famous Japanese folklorist/ biologist Minakata Kumagusu [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minakata_Kumagusu] [The Legendary Musings of Professor Munakata http://myanimelist.net/manga/24090/Munakata_Kyouju_Denkikou]
“The well know biologist and folklorist Minakata Kumagusu initiated a correspondence with Iwata about nanshoku after reading Honcho Nanshoku Ko in Hanzai Kagaku. The fact that Minakata read Hanzai Kagaku, and took Iwata’s work seriously enough to engage him in dialogue shows the degree to which popular and high culture were integrated and the extent to which ero-guro-nansensu was part of both. The correspondence lasted from 1931 through 1934, a total of 58 letters that take up over a hundred of pages in Minakata’s collected works. ”
– Ibid Borovitz
The odd circumstance of the evolution of early Japanese sexology as topic for popular discussion was that it was often soaked in “Japan-ness vs foreign-ness”, the discourse of nihonjinron. Faced with Western research that pathologized minority sexualities and/or wrote them as a symptom of societal breakdown, the historicist approach held the possibility of rebutting at least some of the wild claims that were beginning to wash up on Japanese shores. From the inescapable historic fact that throughout human existence some folks experienced same-sex desire and others felt that they don’t quite fit into how their genders were supposed to behave, all manner of mapping and other-ings can be invented to fit the whims of the moment. Years later, in the West, some theorists will throw up their hands as well and look warily at nature/ nurture, convinced that either or both approaches can and have been too often refashioned into crude cudgels to be turned upon the subjects of their speculations. A historicist approach instead normalizes, with a message of “it has always thus so been”. Only the tales that the nosy neighbours tell change.
What we are left with is a curious and long-standing tradition in Japan of using vernacular cultural spaces, normally the locus of cheesy stories, as contested space (or spaces) for competing views, interests and arguments over sexuality, gender and therefore identity. That this practice continues today, in the myriad spaces of Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture is part of a long running dialogue, and inseparable from the larger project of modernity. (1)
In this wider context, the common complaints levelled at otaku and fujoshi seem beside the point. We must wait to see what larger projects emerge from these hobbies.
The Genshiken lacks an ero-guro otaku, though I suspect that Rika is written as knowing most of the historical materials. The lack of guro even if there is sufficient ero is curious.
Bonus: Ero-Guro nonsense – with Yakuza!
Track down Branded to Kill and its over-the-top sexploitation yuri remake Pistol Opera”
Here is a short vid on the director; Seijun Suzuki
LATER: The approach taken in this post risks trivialising and sensationalising in a way that mirrors the tone of the pulp magazines that ended up serving as the informal channel for important social discourse. The point should not be lost that without these discussions and the localised historicist approach taken by Iwata et al., Japan might have been even more open to the extreme pathologizing impulses that characterized ‘western’ approaches. Pulps may sound cheesy, but there are far worse ways of discussing the lives of others and then putting them into little boxes.
Once more I must position myself; this is not my battle, I see only small parts of it and I will make clumsy mistakes. One would be to give the impression that ‘the west‘ pursued a more enlightened or scientific or principled approach to understanding and ensuring the rights of those with minority sexuality and or gender expressions. No. No we didn’t. We fucked up. We let the discussion be led by barbarians, idiots, bullies, thugs and charlatans, as we usually do in our ‘other-ings‘.
For some reason, I tend to get annoyed, even worried when I find that the life-support systems on my section of the planet are being tampered with, or worse run by barbarians, idiots, bullies, thugs and charlatans. You would not want your airline pilot or surgeon to suddenly start announcing their ideas about how ‘those people’ are somehow ‘a problem’ and need to be ‘dealt with’ in mid-flight or mid-operation, but sadly this is too often the condition of past and current social discussion in my neck of the woods. A reminder of this effect popped up in a recent book review in Slate: A 750-Page Journey Through Gay American History (Review of Lillian Faderman’s The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle) by Victoria A. Brownworth http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/10/02/the_gay_revolution_by_lillian_faderman_reviewed.html
I also suspect that the aforementioned barbarians, idiots, bullies, thugs and charlatans made good, well paid careers out of their mischief, as the current crop is doing. We live in a democracy, so we must liek it this way. Reading the review saddened but did not surprise me.