14-sai no Koi: Yuri, Iyashi and the lives of others (part 2)

14sai-nurse-and-shiki-web

14-sai no Koi (Love at Fourteen) by Mizutani Fuka
Comedy, Josei, Romance, School Life
6 Volumes (Ongoing from 2010)

Continuing from part 1, when I started to examine some of the not-so-obvious reasons for the popularity of light romance genres that feature minority sexualities among their characters, this installment will focus on a case of yuri pining in an otherwise heteronormative setting. The question for this segment is: “why stub the young girl’s heart?”

Warning: Spoilers Ensue.

“The second year of junior high, when most students are in the throes of puberty and feeling the pangs of first love. It’s no different for Kanata Tanaka and Kazuki Yoshikawa, a girl and a boy who have been friends since elementary school. But even though Kanata and Kazuki are at the same point in life as their classmates, an air of adulthood sets the two apart. Kanata is taller and more attractive than the other girls, but the boys stay away because she seems too mature for them. Kazuki too stands out from the other boys, but the girls are wary of him because he seems like a player. And so, Kanata and Kazuki are thrown together in a charming, bittersweet tale of two very adult students falling in love like the teenagers they are.”
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=66093

14-sai is cute, almost to the point of cloying. The lead couple are so earnestly smitten that they need little in the way of analysis. The heart-bruising stories of the secondary characters that swirl around the school are what makes this sentimental romp tolerable, even exemplary.

One of the girls in Kanata’s class is shocked to her core to find herself dealing with her first crush, on Kanata. How did this happen? Whats wrong with me? Why do my dreams of her look like Takarazuka stagings with Kanata as a otokoyaku prince? Exhausted and feverish from a cold, she seeks refuge in the school infirmary and the Wise School Nurse ™ suspects, then confirms the issue. Distraught Shiki has to face her feelings and who she is.

14sai-fever-questions-web
14sai-no-cure-web
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The writer is playing coy but also dropping hints that the Wise School Nurse ™ is also a lesbian, though this is never directly stated. Some of the banter between her and the young music teacher, Hinohara-sensei have them scolding each other over student-teacher boundaries that must not be crossed. Hinohara-san is a bit of a hypocrite (or a fool); she is showing far too much interest in a sullen young delinquent with a beautiful singing voice and has already flirted with him. Things may be more diffuse in Japan. In the United States or Canada she has already committed a firing offense. Romantic fantasies aside, she is one grope away from a felony. Even the scanlator crew was compelled to post a warning.

14san-ch25warning-1-web

And then a second one

14san-ch25-warning-2-web

Hinohara-sensei is also being stalked by another student, who sits up on the roof watching her in the music room with binoculars while his childhood girl(-) friend tries to get his attention. Who knows, perhaps even Wise School Nurse ™ is intrigued by Hinohara-sensei. And there’s another young man who is suddenly fixated on a Random Office Lady who he sees every day on the bus to school (a cross-over to another of the author’s works). We get the point. The kids are all going a bit crazy as THAT TIME hits.

I can hardly wait for the Anime. They will use Bolero as a leitmotif. A few in Japan will get the ancient Trekkie joke.

Later Shiki-chan peeks in the door of an empty classroom to see Kanata kissing that Kazuki boy. Of course she knew they were sweet on each other, she had even clumsily tried to mess up the relationship, then had backed off. Still, seeing them like that hurt. Retreating to the Nurse’s office, mumbling that she is not sick or injured but not saying much else, she sits, downcast and heartbroken.

Wise School Nurse ™ first pulls out a band-aid, then remarks that this will need more. Then Nurse pulls out a bandage roll and wraps Shiki’s arm.

14sai-nurse-bandage-web

That’s all. That was enough.

It was breathtakingly good.

So what if it is sentimental mush. It worked.

Dropping Shiki-chan into the story was a calculated move on the part of the writer; it makes sense. All the other kids are running around bubbling about love and crushes and first dates, to often idiotic excess. The feels! At this point Shiki has only the vaguest idea about how this will affect her; so far it is hurting at least as much as an unrequited straight crush. Her ham-fisted attempt to unmask Kazuki-kun as a math-dunce was odd but she did not fill his school shoes with mayonnaise (which for some reason comes in squeeze bottles in Japan, making it a classic school-shoe vandalising choice). Kuzuki does not shame her for her feelings, even as he warns her not to stoop to dirty tricks again. He then steps out-of-the-way as she finishes her shopping outing with Kanata. Or is he dense as a board and reads nothing beyond Shiki’s disapproval for him into her actions?

Usotsuki Lily was at least more direct when someone got pushed into a fountain.

Is it unfair to use a young gay woman character as a plot condiment, along with an inappropriate teacher-student flirtation, a binocular-wielding stalker, the ignored childhood friend of the latter and who knows what other peripheral young romantic misadventures? It counts at least as a nominally sympathetic representation. I am somewhat happy that the mangaka did not try a male:male unrequited pining side-story. Takamyia Jin can pull off such as background in a yuri tale but I doubt if Mizutani-sensei could, at least in this setting. The writer is at best tip-toeing through Maramite territory. Trope-bleed-over is expected but manageable. A serious male-male crush in Hormone-bashi Junior High would Tweek x Craig out so fast as to induce nausea and break whatever pretense of realism the manga has managed to maintain. Japanese schools bully and are homophobic, enough times violently so. Avoid! Avoid! Avoid!

Shiki’s crush that dare not speak its name is also a convincing way for the exemplary mature-for-their-age duo to be threatened by a love triangle. The rest of their year considers our heroes to be stodgy, calm, earnest, serious, responsible and what fun is that? Blink and you will miss the author’s sleight of hand. Somehow other folks are not crushing on Kanata or Kazuki. Kanata is reserved and tall; even a smidgen taller than Kazuki-kun so we can roll our eyes and give the “boys are afraid of tall, serious girls” trope a conditional pass. But what of Kazuki? Somewhere in the manga descriptions it is mentioned that his maturity is scary because it might mark him as a “player”?

Huh? Not buying it.

Take the case of Kanata worrying about the class rep’s mystery crush. Nominally a stickler type, she gets over-enthusiastic about class activities. It also turns out that she secretly admires someone (assumed to be male) and for a moment Kanata worried it was Kazuki. It turns out that Etou looks up to one of the male teachers but does not want to cause any trouble. The chapter served to highlight the cute delusion field that our happy pair are co-generating. They actually believe that no one in their school has figured out that they are an item.

Duh!

Everyone who would care must have already guessed; they all simply assume that the two will be intensely level-headed, responsible and boring about the whole thing. What fun is that? This must be the case, otherwise Kanata or Kazuki should be besieged by all manner of struck-by-lightning admiration crushes. Somehow they are left in peace to sneak off to their daily after school rendezvous in the science room. How romantic.

The Fall Girl

Shiki’s sudden crush is not merely the first manifestation of same-sex desire. It is also a blatant case of “They are alien, they do alien things, that’s why they are called aliens.” As well, we can catch a glimpse of a light yuri restatement of BL- lore’s “Thunderbolts And Lightning, Very Very Frightening, why is this happening, I’m not gay it’s only you” onset of mad same-sex desire. All romantic infatuation is seen as disruptive, but gay infatuation, especially directed at a straight person must be far more dangerous and completely unpredictable. Gay people should only crush on other gay people, lest they disturb the order of forms. OMG! Shock and outrage, Shiki-chan’s desires could convert, corrupt, turn Kanata! This is the pinnacle of homophobic bullshit but it is also the hidden trick behind a morsel of very attractive plot-candy. Because of the unpredictable, transgressive, disruptive nature of the infatuation, an author can deploy it in places where a straight crush wouldn’t be as easy to work in.

Moreover, who among the readers could be repulsed by Shiki’s unrequited crush? As she is more interesting than a heterosexual rival she is also far less likely to disrupt the Vanilla One True Boring Pairing. A queer mature reader might find the way Shiki is used annoying, but I’m guessing that they would grumble and give it a pass for the sermon. Only a raging homophobe would object, so the plot device, like the threat that Shiki-chan offers is ultimately safe while offering some novel excitement. Shiki as a young lesbian is simply out of serious consideration – but only in this particular case. The VOTBP is out-of-bounds to everyone. The author is free at any time to introduce a tall, first-year tomboy sports girl with an attitude to tease Shiki and then meet cute. Start by making appreciative noises about Kanata within earshot and then turn the inevitable Shiki-rage-fest into an introduction. Ooops, how did the playset field get turned on? Better stop now. Shiki-chan could also go off and crush on another straight girl; perhaps she will have better luck next time. Tomboy X, however would restore the order of forms, stabilise the instability and create “profit” within the tale with the addition of one more happy (bonus diversity points!) couple.

Straight girls aren’t worth the trouble

Another random guy showing up and pestering Kanata, another girl getting suddenly all flutter-y around Kazuki would drop the tone of the story into the shoujo cliché sub-basement and easily become annoying. A recent essay on Anime Feminist hinted at this effect, even as it tried to highlight issues of personal space and consent in the hit franchise “Kiss Him Not Me” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss_Him,_Not_Me]. [http://www.animefeminist.com/discourse-force-him-not-me/]

Face it: if not for the fujoshi spice, all of the suitors save the rich Taka girl are useless and the heroine doesn’t need to cuddle with Taka girl either. Serinuma’s fujoshi-dom seems to overlay her discomfort with real-world intimacy and even Taka girl should clue in and shape up. And Serinuma is an annoying doormat.

Some fujoshis undoubtedly do use their hobby as a substitute and a sublimation for real-world intimacy, even as most do not. If she does not want to date, if she is uncomfortable with the idea, leave her the fuck alone. All of you! Only the “sin” of her fujoshi imagination keeps her in thrall to the group and its competition for her. Stuck with new-found attractiveness, she must now choose from a gaggle of pesky suitors. The AF essay also hints that she feels somehow complicit in a larger culture of sexual assault because some of her enjoyed fantasy pairings go berserk and attack each other. Read rapey yaoi comics, you deserve to be mashed on? This misses the point of the fujoshi exercise and the implicit (still extremely problematic) critique within it – by a country mile. Even so, some western slash fen have bumbled together a temporary solution to this quandary: “Only if I am a perpetually in heat male-ish third sex super-powered alien werewolf, and only with other super-powered alien werewolves.” Ta-Dah! No real-world blow-back!

I would argue that 14-sai is a ‘better” narrative than Dōsunda precisely because of how its characters worry and care. The latter of course is a burlesque reverse-harem so expectations are dialed back. Even within Dōsunda, the surprise yuri interest had to be powered up to insane levels. Nishina is rich, attractive, confident, a fujoshi herself, a doujin-circle artist, a high-level school athlete and an admirer of Serinuma’s fujoshi-fu from before Serinuma shed her flab. At night, she fights crime. And she still won’t get the girl.

Once again, I am reminded of the solution to an “out” high school lesbian (light comedy variant) character offered by Whispered Words/ Sasameki Koto: Make her incredibly rich and powerful and pair her up with a “spouse”, so the two can be an invulnerable inspirational supporting couple.

If we are to delve even further into why Shiki-san is here to get her heart bruised, we have as well to deal with a curious haze that not only envelops her nascent sexuality, but the life-path her desire offers her. Put another way, what the heck do we know of how adult lesbian women live in Japan? Aside from imagined sexy bits and in the absence of the legalization of gay marriage and the reform of civil and family registry legislation, what comes after the Rose of Versailles Takarazuka dream sequence? Happily ever after how? Move in together, start a bookstore in Kamakura and keep cats? Use god-like probability shifting powers to do your life over and over again until you can take over the world science cult and drive your second-choice hate-fuck frienemy crazy time and time again? Do the Stretch manga but with intimacy, forever?

If the heterosexual ideal of stable employment, marriage, child rearing and a slow shuffle into grandparent-hood and the grave is becoming harder and harder to pull off for the girl:boy couple, where does that leave the girl:girl couple, let alone the girl by herself who has some notion of finding another girl?

This foggy, uncertain future, its very unreality, is quoted every time Shiki looks longingly at Kanata. It telegraphs wet kittenish harmless and cute because it appears far less possible and far less real. While it does not hint at some soul-crushing ‘well of loneliness‘ life as previous generations’ sensational fiction did, neither does it offer the vista of two happy lesbian women raising a family while running a soba noodle restaurant. The fundamental importance of the social and legal acknowledgement of the rights of gay people carries over even into shoujo manga. The lack kills dreams themselves and because it does, this crime cries out to the heavens because dreams are sacred. Without dreams, the young lesbian character floats as an ethereal, somewhat interesting secondary character who is dropped into the pot for flavouring. And like a Bay Leaf, she is ultimately left in the bottom of the pot.

Even for Kanata-chan and Kazuki-kun, the future is cloudy. Kanata has the right idea. Get English – real fluent English by doing home-stay study in Australia (somehow get the boy into one too) and then get them both into flight attendant jobs. See the world, have a late dinner date on the Left Bank in Paris and get the fuck out of Japan. Get as far away as possible, as well paid as possible and as fast as possible. Return only to work at a powerful outlander corporation, as no Japanese company will ever hire anyone “tainted” in their formative years by foreign experience and habits.

This is the gift-feast laid at the feet of the old men who run today’s Japan. May they choke on the bitter taste.

Shift the POV on this tidy analysis: what of the Japanese readership? They are paying for light fluffy romance stories and they are damn well going to get them. Random cute characters will be slammed together. If the readers want asexual friendships, especially sex-segregated “homosocial” ones, they have plenty of those in real life. Nobody in Japan seems to be dating any more. Alarming numbers of guys and girls of prime pairing age are throwing up their hands and giving up. No time, no money, too much hassle. He can’t fulfill her expectations, she can’t fulfill his. Neither understand the need to floss regularly. Omaii suck and once you pair off societal roles lock in like inexorable doom. Everybody is living in cramped apartments and/or with their parents or grandparents. Intimacy is performed in 4-hour time blocks at tacky sex hotels. Everybody is pissed off, worn down and disillusioned.

It is as if we have again re-doubled the field strength of the “why would anyone give a flying fuck” generator. That’s why the charas have to be 14, beautifully drawn and full of hormones and innocent self-doubt. Phantom limb syndrome.

We remember love.

Given such a desert of the real, it can be entertaining to vicariously sympathize with Shiki as you watch her face her disappointment, pull herself up off the floor and soldier on. You can process her situation but unless you remember being a young gay Japanese school-girl faced with the realisation of where your desires lie, as well as the realisation that for this first devastating crush you are shit out of luck, the experience of your sympathy must remain abstract. You can step back and notice how well the situation is deployed, how it unfolds and how Shiki’s wounds are bound up by someone who may, fictional as she and Shiki are, be in a better position to understand the hurt and confusion Shiki is (written as) going through. These feeling are borrowed and will be put aside when we are done tasting them. They may recall to mind one’s own slightly analogous feelings but from a safe perspective, distanced, denatured and rendered remote as a gay sexuality is added to the mists of fiction and time.

Isn’t that soothing, even healing?

Next up: What’s with all the arm bandage thing for young lesbians???

Legends of the fall, conditions of the fall

The fall Genshiken web

Spoiler lamp ON for Genshiken Ch 110.

Once again Reality is reality and fantasy is fantasy is the fall-back mantra for Kio Shimoku’s fave conflicted Genshiken character. I should be doing a big wrap-up of the whole Kuchiki’s farewell trip arc, but it ain’t over yet. Yet a few things are already nagging me, and the jet-lag from my return trip is refusing to let me sleep.

As ch 110 ends, Hato-as-kun has just been tripped over and is pinned on a bed, drunk and helpless by an equally drunk Madarame. Rotten girls everywhere are letting out small squeees, or perhaps only grudging “hmmmmmmmm”s. Three full pages with explanations were needed to explain the mechanics of how A tripped and fell on B. Surely, thou doth protest a bit much. (Don’t call me…)

Aside: Qualia‘s last chapter has surfaced. Amazing how another clichéd trip and fall into the arms of… can disrupt the entire structure of reality across multiverses. And some folks thought that Sasameki Koto went to insane lengths before the happy girl-couple nerved up to share a smooch…

Qualia clench web

A clichéd fall into each other’s arms scene, one of the oldest tricks in the book. Is it ironic presentation? A forced trope moment to send a confused and no longer “objectively viewed” (and directed) Hato into a full BL fugue state? Service to the rotten- girl readership? (if so, it is pretty vanilla, we’ve seen steamier in Haganai) or pure burlesque?

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An otokonoko version of a hotel room scene would be obvious and direct.

typical otokonoko fall web

A yaoi version even more so. (insert your own…)

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A restrained 1970’s shonan-ai version would drag on a bit longer, be drawn in wispy lines and come with a floral panel and an over-the-top vow of eternal soul-mate-ness that would transcend time and death via both re-incarnation and the “other shore”.

Thomas web

(Are there no Photoshop users among hardcore Genshiken fans? C’mon; Hato, plus a rose-filled floral background, plus big, wordy word-balloon! Am I the only one on this fricking planet who would find such a pastiche funny???)

Other options are as quickly dispensed with. I note that when considering how the Genshiken could” play out (eg: “the playset”) I lean towards more dialogue. So apparently do more than a few fanfiction writers – it is a common error: Genshiken is a visual narrative, not a light novel.

Kio Shimoku stages the scene in his own way. His authorial voice, his style demands that he write it like a middle-aged married guy mangaka who is peeking in on the current version of the male otaku of his youth and the newly emerged tribes of rotten girls and then arranging his characters to play out situations that highlight certain weaknesses and contradictions in their social codes. All with plenty of light chiding humour and enough economy of dialogue and enough movement to keep the story going. A very skilled, veteran middle-aged guy mangaka…

Hackneyed tropes will be deployed, but they are done so in a manner that looks like a shout-out, or an ironic presentation at first glance. Only with closer consideration do they morph into something else, something in the way.

HSDXD clench fall web

Why does it take 3 pages for Mada to fall onto Hato? Three pages that could have been better used, perhaps for talk-talk?

Kio Shimoku has always maintained a distanced, anthropological view in his slice-of-life relationship-py manga. It is a guy’s take on the more serious Josei form and/ or a holdover from 1980’s 1990’s manga that attempted to fuse comedy with some aspects of social realism. Slice of Life says a bit about what he is doing; how he does it is far more interesting.

With the excessive amount of porn in fan materials why are his characters almost all 3D intimacy-avoiding virgins? And while at university? What the effing hell is university good for if not for losing it? It is not as if they are trying and failing – even nerds can find true love if they clean up and try a bit. That’s how we get a technical class. All the Genshiken critters are experts in 2D intimacy and scared crapless of the messy random painfulness of 3D affection.

CJVC narratives are full of way too many happy young folks who are too paralyzed to make a move. That allows their authors to pile on even more shiny young characters, usually female and run the usual gags. But the Genshiken is set up with older characters, 19-22 age range, at a University, who are enthusiasts of the diverse genres that trot out all of these cheesy tropes.

So each trope that plays out on and with the Genshiken characters is at once a shout-out, an ironic presentation, a curious deja-vu moment, something to go along with for fun and a nuisance, and an impediment to authentic 3D human interaction and friendship.

Saki’s presence, as bullshit detector and reality check is sorely missed.

Note the economy of dialogue between Madarame and Hato-kun. Recall that Mada and Hato haven’t really talked much anyway, which is part of the problem if not a formal structural law of romantic manga and anime comedies of error. Nope; there never is enough time to talk over the “important stuff“. The urgency of the exchange when it finally takes place can be cut with a knife.

“You stopped coming by!” “I was afraid!” “I am not the fantasy I created – chose someone else!” “By the way, I need pantsu to draw…” “OOOOPS!”

Of course keeping the dialogue lean and to the point keeps the story moving along at a fine clip. A newb would drown it in text, Shimoku-sensei reins in the urge.

But then…

We now pause to consider the prodigious drink intake by Madarame (and Hato) over the course of the evening as well as the effect of Kuchiki’s weight on Mada’s knees, his general state of exhaustion, the previously highlighted thrown shoe, plus the angular momentum of the earth and the gravitational constant of ….

3 pages later…

Trip and fall accomplished!

“Buffy: The next thing I knew we’re being attacked by this mutant ninja demon thing, and then we’re on the floor on top of each other, and it’s just really confusing being around you.”  – Slavoj Žižek

Resume game.

F1 – Black out
F2 – Throw up
F3 – Kissssssssu!
F4 – <user input> “Would you like a bucket of pudding?”

Of note to cross-cultural students of rotten-ish western mass culture; the BBC’s Sherlock has made it over to Japan and is doing fine business as a dub, with light novel adaptations (covers by a noted rotten mangaka), plus manga treatments. Shimoku sensei could have pinched the Holmes/ Watson piss-up routine…

…but nooooooooooo….

sherlock-john-drunk

Holmes and Watson are friends.

Hato-as-kun and as-self is about to pop. He should already be in fugue state, acting out a BL script or fanning over the possibilities, with him as main character. He most likely already is: selflessly sacrificing his love for the good of his sempai, Madarame is in the curious position of being the only adult in the room not under the influence of a delusion field.

I wonder what could be (/written as) going through his head?

“Dumped again, aw shit… Sou-uke? Hmmmmmph! Harem lead? That was a lot of work. Well, the food and attention was something… Oh wait, I guess I am the “circle queen” about to destroy the Genshiken, as the members vie for my charms.”

“A scary furreign amazon wants to have a convention romance with me, then vanish. As if we could even talk to each other, my English sucks. Keiko wants to sully me, if I get laid, she’ll make sure it feels like shit. Sue is a cute – why didn’t I notice sooner? She might be a bit interested in me, but she can barely manage any Japanese and is too shy to even talk to me without a kinky setup – which could be fun later, but too weird a way to start dating and besides she wants to see a stupid BL story play out between me and Hato – why? The rest of them are all rooting for that stupid BL story to play out between me and Hato too. And then there is Hato. He’s bought into it, or he’s the one behind the whole thing; he’s kinda cute in girl-mode, but doing it??? Oh wait, yeah, I blushed. And I’m playing otokonoko games. Well fuuuuuuuck me! Am I supposed to suddenly be seized with the irresistible urge to ass-rape Hato, chan and kun? Don’t we even get to talk a bit first? Go on a date or something? Nobody tells me nuthin!”

“This sucks!”

“I should just tell Yoshitake that she is the only one I want, but she has to dress like a boy. That would screw up their stupid BL thing right to the moon. Leave the Genshiken? They came and dragged me back, dammit! A fine way to treat an ex-president and a sempai!”

Hmmmmph!

Kio Shimoku would never use this much internal blah blah. TL:DR. And he can’t fall into the trope either. I’m guessing that no first kisssus will be stolen. Likewise, I will be sorely disappointed if the moment ends with Mada jumping back as if electrified, or Hato managing some ninja wrestling escape/ attack move. I’ll forgive it if…

Nawwwww… Don’t tell me…

Becoming Sasahara V2 wont work. I’m guessing that Madarame has to become Saki.

Keiko was never up to the Saki role. Saki was always much more than the riajuu girlfriend, and Keiko can’t even manage that. As a riajuu girlfriend, she fails miserably; her floating world experience and kogal-girl teen misadventures put her squarely in another fantasy-land, a few blocks south. She gets the mechanics of 3D relationship delusions, but has only the slimmest understanding of how the beloved lore of fandom can serve as an enabling mechanism for avoiding messy 3D personal interaction. The side bits about Keiko not grasping the full BL/yaoi implications and the rotten-fantasy potential of a prettied up Hato-kun going back with Mada to a hotel room is pointed out for a reason.

More importantly, she lacks something else: Keiko cannot serve as the Genshiken’s bullshit detector. Reality check was Saki’s main role and that’s why she wasn’t just “the riajuu girlfriend”, but a mainstay of the Genshiken. Yoshitake and Yajima are too caught up in their own stuff, Ogiue has her hands full with day-to-day club ops, she has done nothing to intervene in the HatoxMadaxHato melodrama. Ohno has to be Ohno the fairy godmother.

Shimoku-sensei likes mirroring tricks and parallelisms. if you use Saki for a mostly guy Genshiken you need a guy for a mostly girl Genshiken. He has to be an outsider, at least to fujoshi lore but he has to also be sympathetic enough to the dangers of over-fanning to sound the bullshit alarm, without sounding like some guy who thinks he can tell rotten girls how to behave, who would then be a complete outsider, the enemy, a jerk.

Which, if you step back a bit is the giant yawning chasm that Kio Shimoku has been edging around since he turned the Genshiken into a rotten-girl hangout. What the heck is HE doing there anyway?

How many male mangakas are out there creating somewhat-serious social studies style slice of life manga in the Seinen genre right now? The “serious” stories are all owned by women. Seinen and Josei, especially the more female concerned (if not feminist) Josei are continents apart. What is Kio Shimoku doing with a new series in Rakuen Le Paradis ???

What can Madarame-sempai bring that is of worth to the new Genshiken? The Genshiken fails if Hato cracks up from the pressure of trying to be a male BL fan without being overtly queer (Aside: new research on male BL/yaoi consumption in Japan suggests that perhaps the yaoi ronso/ appropriation of voice concerns have died down a bit as the diversity and perhaps the quality of the genre has leveled up a notch or two. Some Japanese guys who like guys reportedly now credit it as a niche product, a related form of narrative by somewhat queer-ish allies, or at least a gateway or emergency substitute. More on this available soon.)

…And what kind of story would that be for Shimoku-sensei to spin? Yaoi and BL turns guy readers into a gay caricatures and/or makes them crazy?

Similarly the Genshiken fails if HatoxMadaxHato ever gets off the ground. Lookie at the middle-aged straight boy writing ham-fisted BL. Is he making fun of a venerable woman’s narrative form? What a jerk!

What if Madarame is left hanging as the perpetual butt of an endless elaborate rotten-girl joke? There is no room for the old-style male otaku in this brave new world. They can all go crawl back to their moe-pits and dream of incest with their busty big-eyed adopted kid sister waifu charas, perhaps with a giant robot or a magic battle tossed in every other weekend. And as for middle-aged straight boy mangakas…

Is everything you worked so long and hard for is now obsolete?

Back to our steamy hotel room scene:

Hato’s “look at myself objectively” thing has always been a bit vague. Now it is in tatters. What he really meant was “remove part of myself from the role to a safe position“. Hato has never really talked much to Mada because he doesn’t know how to, so he takes refuge in the character he has created – who must always be flustered. And now comes the dramatic moment, with no Hato-as-omniscient-author-director to watch over it. But he is still playing a role. It is perhaps his biggest performance yet to date.

“Watch as I make the ultimate sacrifice for my sempai’s happiness!”

BULLSHIT!

Hato’s entire confused liminality, his neither fish nor fowl, gay or straight, trans or cis, crossdress or cross-play, yaoi consuming, harem joining, nadeshiko levelling up and Sou-uke yelling presentation over the past Genshiken year has been pure and utter shambulatory late onset chunny, lashed together creaking and about to fall apart… bullshit.

There may be real feelings hiding behind the mess, but who can tell. Even Hato can’t tell, which is probably why he built the mess in first place.

Keiko may instinctively feel this and the fallout she thinks is hitting Madarame is annoying as all heck, with or without shadings of homophobia/transphobe-ishness. And it is blocking the little drama that she wants to stage. But what Keiko and the rest of the girls will probably never wrap their heads around is how much Hato’s over-the-top, self-deluded bullshit looks more and more like a ritual gift being offered to the closest person he has to a male friend, in the subconscious hope that Mada will call him on it.

BULLSHIT!

“Hato-kun, no, Kenjiro, really…”

“…you have to wear pantsu to be able to draw yaoi?”

“Pantsu!”

“Ufu Fu Ufu…”

“You read waaaaaaaaay too much BL!

Don’t I get to prepare my heart?

Were he so inclined, or given enough dialogue pages by the mangaka, Madarame could easily tick off the absurdities. He is long overdue for a Picard-style “Enough of this farce!” exposition. Start with the violin solo accompanying the “I am not the otokonoko you think I am, forget me” song. Madarame plays otokonoko games and can be safely assumed to have read some of the other materials in the genre. Madarame knows otokonoko. The most Hato has let on knowing about otokonoko is lurking 3D cross-play hobbyist sites for makeup tips. Mada should gently break it to Hato that he makes a lousy 2D style otokonoko. Hato don’t know shit about (2D) otokonoko. And don’t the 3D ones do it as a cross-play-ish hobby? Perhaps he has seen a fujoshi version or two in dojins but the fujoshi variant would leave out all the girl+/plus stuff the guy versions play with: better than ‘real’ girls, the magical man-preg nonsense, the flirtatious challenge and promise of a transgressive, but still easily manageable fantasy kink. Aren’t they also supposed to come with an appropriated manga/anime chara costume variant, cat ears, school-ish uniform, magical girl costume or something?

Sorry Hato, you are not the otokonokos we are looking for.

Hato cross-dresses as a shoujo heroine from 20 years ago, before they got spunky. One of the sad ones. And she can cook! Wow! A shoujo otokonoko? So cross-playing-as-fujoshi Hato creates then offers cross-dressing Hato to Mada for him to fall for in a harem story. Oh goodie! Is that for Mada? For the rotten girls in the peanut gallery? For the secret heart of Hato Kenjiro?

Cue background music: Un Bell di Vedremo or The Flower Duet?

Mada most likely continues to see Hato for what he can be “objectively” described as in Mada-ish terms: an otaku guy. Otaku, otaku otakuuuuuu, from planet otaku. Hato likes reading BL. Excellent! It’s a hobby. No biggie. It’s not like Hato is into scat robo-shota guro twincest. Hato wanted to fan over his fave genre with the girls, so he started crossdressing. He got good at it and found he likes cross-playing a fujoshi. Again, no biggie, the Genshiken fujoshi accept it. Hato reads too much BL and overdoes it… Over-fanning happens. But it looks like all of this is at least enabling Hato to draw, and creative output is sacred, so what to do?

But now Mada has to ask: “What’s all this about stealing (or declining to steal) my first kisssu Kenjiro Hato? This is the first time we’ve talked mano a mano since Comiket.” What of Hato-chan the cross-play fujoshi Genshiken member? “Haven’t seen her since the school festival”. “Is it Nadeshiko Genshiken Hato-chan, the demure domestic angel routine that you have been practicing while cooking for me, that you are speaking for?” If Hato is dumping Mada, which Hato is doing the dumping?

One blush means hard gay? A girl’s heart in a boy’s body? What’s next? An evil twin? Amnesia? A Takarazuka dance number?

How about a good mano a mano fight over “goggles”?

The rotten girls see the belligerence as sublimation, but they discount the foreplay.

Hato is either completely caught up in the hall of mirrors of his enthusiasms, which is an otaku complaint, or he has fused his runaway otaku enthusiasms with an underlying sexuality and/or gender dysphoria issue, in which case he needs to untangle the fandom from the personal issues and get some support from folks who can offer knowledgeable advice. The Genshiken is a supportive community for otaku, but it would be foolish for any of them to be written as primary advice providers to a young gay person or trans person trying to grapple with their emerging identity. Especially when labels like gay or trans don’t seem to fit very well in any case.

The situation was funny; now it is getting heavy.

Mada has asked Hato before: “Are you sure you are not gay?” Does he have enough pieces of the puzzle to now ask: “Hato, where are those feelings coming from?” and “Who says 3D has to go like a BL story?

Faced with a person whom he knows in such distress, could Harunobu Madarame start spewing homophobia and/or transphobia at Hato? Could he recoil in horror and refuse to help? Most people would just throw up their hands and tell the Hato continuum to deal with their own shit. But Madarame has been honored in a curious way: Hato trusts him enough to have a meltdown on his doorstep. Not in the clubroom, not in a heart to heart with Ogiue, or Yajima or Yoshitake or Sue.

How is Kio Shimoku going to play this?

As a mirror reflection of the last great circle-trip romantic crisis, this situation is far more littered with real-life landmines. The mangaka doesn’t have to be politically correct, but if he writes it mean or stupid, his magnum opus will take a hit.

Stuff like this is what one finds in josei and adult shinso yuri. I have no idea if some BL tales take on this level of emotional complexity, or if any of these genres can at the same time play a similar situation for laughs.
:
Here is a weird thought: If the subtext in this story was yuri rather than BL, and the characters were all girls, then Hato would be doing a classic type-S sempai crush. Mada could get to be Bakemonogatari‘s Hitagi Senjōgahara to Hato’s Suruga Kanbaru. It ain’t going anywhere, but be gentle with the kouhai’s heart.

The kid only falls for sempais?

So… kick the can down the road a bit longer?

Mada jumps off, cringing while doing a mortified jaw-drop Gehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! An equally mortified Hato bolts out the door into the cold night…

Cue a repeat of the “go after Ogiue” scene: “He hasn’t made it back?” “What did you do?” “Go after him!” etc. Which postpones any reckoning while ramping up the confusion. More confession-ing to ensue in a park or at the train station as dawn breaks. Does Hato have to sit down with Mada and show him all his clench drawings once they get back?

How Marxian of the mangaka.

How to keep it light and funny but respectful of any underlying issues of sexuality or identity?

Complete Aside: Anyone notice that the weird manga/ anime franchise Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai! takes place at the “same” university as the Genshiken? Lookie at all the monorail sequences!

Destroy everything you touch

On Moe and too much fan-service

After an epic post on smut, as manifested in old-school-male-gaze V 1.0 “Yuri” it seems productive to continue on to the roots of the “condition” or problem or “peculiar institution” characteristic of so much of Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture: excessive fanservice.

Otaku-gaze titilation, burlesque, sleaze, creepy creepy creepy, lewd, ecchi hentai stuff as far as the eye can see. So much in fact that it is too damn easy to get used to it and begin to edit it out while reading. Which is a shame, for reasons beyond the annoying objectification of characters (outside of BL/yaoi land overwhelmingly female and written as young, possibly much too young).

It is getting in the way.

Why bother? Respect and maturity is one reason. A better product is another. World domination makes convincing third

Much must be untangled first, starting with moe.

“Particularly if you like series with gentlemen in them. Day two seemed to be dominated by gigantic doujin communities for a smaller number of popular propeties, and despite a spirited showing by Touhou and KanColle, BL had the weight of numbers thanks to Attack on Titan (my word Levi, you have a lot of boyfriends), Yowamushi Pedal and the series with an oni-looking main character whose name I’m struggling to find.

It’s difficult to understand the sheer scale of BL and how thoroughly a female space it is until you see it. It’s certainly illuminating from a male perspective, particularly if you want to see what men being objectified by women *really* looks like. And you can understand how a male-dominated approach to lesbians in fiction could be alienating to women. But it’s not the other side of the coin to Yuri – it’s the other side of the coin to moe. (Erica again: Yes, absolutely)

– Jye N’s 2014 Winter Comiket Report!, January 2nd, 2015 http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/01/02/event-jye-ns-2014-winter-comiket-report/

Aside from the “Wow, would have liked to see that” description of Yaoi day at Comiket (upon which I have hung a few previous posts – Sirens, etc., on), there was the interesting aside in the direction of the “asymmetry’ effect in the way male and female fandoms imagine the other sex and queer variants thereof for fun and curiosity. I mean it is slippery, right? Yaoi and BL are supposed to be the female flip-side to Yuri; imagined m-m pairings and imagined f-f pairings for the respective other sides of the boulevard. But both Erica-sensei and her correspondent Jye, as well as Kio Shimoku situate Yaoi and BL as the flip-side of (lolicon) moe (Hi Mada!). That would leave Yuri as either the flip-side of Bara or the flip-side of nothing dammit, get your flip-siding outta here!

This works and does not work, much like one of those Escher staircase prints, as a trick of perspective. Since this trick pops up in a lot of the theoretical literature, it might be worth another look.

Tamaki’s Beautiful Fighting Girl (BFG) and the Hiroki Azuma’s response both addressed a kind of moe aimed at the gaze of the male otaku. We can posit the BFG as an extreme variant of the moe girl, with seifuku’d high school girls, lolis, old-school shoujo-ai, siscon, maids, cat girls etc ad nauseum as variants of the same impulse. Basically the (male) otaku impulse to erase adult female agency, (ability, position, education, desire, everything) in favour of pre-agency, pre- any- worldly- experience “pure” female-oid characters.

There will be fan-service.

Recall as well that Dr Saito Tamaki is adamant that a libidinous charge must run through the narrative, lest it fail to enchant/ cathect/ re-cathect the mundane real world of the consumer of these tales.

But wait: the fujoshi tribes were fast to adopt and re-purpose the idea of moe too – they too have their own versions of it, which includes bishie, hunk, shota, even oyagi weirdness, plus elaborate pairing typologies (evolved perhaps from the dating classified ad descriptions in 1970’s – 1980 gay magazines?). Moe is no absolute guidepost, unless we audience-segregate and/or gaze-segregate our definitions of moe.

In an earlier post I reviewed Galbraith’s essay on moe, noting the deft update of Bronisław Malinowski’s concept of the phatic object as a focal point for fan enthusiasm, practice and identity. All very good for sociology papers – In practice Moe moe moe(!) now runs as shorthand for a form of abstracted desire manifested as interest for a character that is somehow conceptually removed from normal categories of desire allowed/ prescribed to the moe-fying subject. Moe somehow serves as a point of stopping short before an acknowledgement of full desire

So a rotten girl can see/ have moe for a pairing of hunky guys, a shota character and…, or even imagine that one inanimate object would have the hots for another in a manner that “is so moe” or that sparks a feeling of moe in the observer. Similarly the general issue guy otaku can get all moe for maids, robot girls, lolis, other underage female-ish characters, otokonoko, improbable “lesbians”, tsunderes, yanderes, miko, teenage female pilots of giant robots in too-tight-fitting costumes, high school girls, (and high school girls piloting giant robots in sailor suits), mini skirted magical girls, improbable young “nuns” and even girl-gang members.

But they do not get all moe for adult female characters or BL-ish guys.

Hmmmm The BL-guys thing is easy to understand, but why no adult females?

There is one type of adult female that can be moe-ed a tiny bit: The perpetually 29-year-old sexy high-school teacher lady who is in a desperate funk and/or crazed mood because she cannot find a husband.

Meanwhile across the boulevard, the fujoshi is not going to consider a shoujo D’awwwww girl & boy couple as “moe”, unless perhaps the girl likes to dress like a guy (Hey, its a hobby). Rotten girls are at least a bit more varied in their tastes; some reportedly find old guys interesting, though I must wonder if they are considered so alone or only in the context of half a potential pairing.

Similarly, a female BL/yaoi enthusiast, even one who may desire women in real life would most likely not find female characters worthy of moe. Hence the reported “Die in a ditch” effect that banishes the presence of almost all females from fujoshi fantasies.

There is desire in the moe gaze.

It is just abruptly pulled over to the side of the road before it can crash into its target.

“Humor is characteristic of an interrupted defense mechanism.
No sane being interrupts a defense mechanism.”

– Nessus the puppeteer from Ringworld by Larry Niven.

Moe is interrupted desire. Moe is the kitsch shadow of desire.

“Moe causes two feelings to develop in otaku hearts in quick succession. The first feeling says: ‘How nice to see the big-eyed girl character leaning toward me, the reader!’
The second feeling says: ‘How nice to be moved, together with all my otaku brethren, by the big-eyed girl character leaning toward us, the readers!!’ ”
― The Unbearable Moe-ness of Moe

Pity Genshiken’s Madarame; real women are scary. Or not scary enough in the right way.

Moe is also problematic, as it is the main alibi and excuse for shoddy product design and the omnipresent, wearying overload of same old, same old fanservice in CJVC. It wasn’t just the death of sci-fi heroic adventure themes that changed manga and anime in the mid aughts. The moe-blob and her attendant over-the-top creepy presentation is probably one of the main impediments to successfully exporting more Cool Japan cultural product.

Consider the licensing of manga and anime to the rest of the world. Ghibli exports well because it doesn’t fanservice out. Otaku might go Moe, moe moe at strong Ghibli girl characters but the characters are written to serve the story and themselves – not to pander. Ghibli properties quickly become world renown classics.

This part of the equation struck me upon stumbling across the manga Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (The City still turns) and then watching the anime. I am annoyed. The genki main character is a teenage girl who aspires to be a mystery writer. Aside from this ambition she is happy go lucky, forgetful, lazy and often a catalyst for minor disasters. She has a circle of friends and works at a laughable excuse for a maid cafe; a run-down diner owned by a grumpy granny who dreamed up the maid angle on a whim, sewed the uniforms, but can’t even be bothered to do more then tape a piece of paper with the word “maid” on the cafe sign. So: an anti-maid cafe and curry lunch joint. All the other teen characters are conscientious though quirky and the adults of the business district are all set in their ways and ready to act as the chorus as either odd things happen or are instigated by our plucky heroine.

Now watch the anime: right off the opening sequence has our young heroine flashing thigh, butt and garter while donning her maid outfit. Facepalm. I like a bit of garter as much as the next guy, even 2D garter-flash, but the effect in this case is wrong and jarring. She is by no means written as being “sexy”. She has zero interest in relationships and none of the story-lines touch in any way on any awakening desire in her. Although her best friend is her rival for the attentions of a boy, she is oblivious to his shy interest in her. Nothing here, move along. There is a ghost story, a ridiculous UFO tale, a high school band with her friends, nice pleasant stuff. No onsen episodes, shower scenes, boob compare grabs, nadda. She walks the pet tanuki that her family has adopted as a dog.

Most of Soredemo is about the teens beginning to enter into the adult work-world social that is the little business district: are their future lives set out for them, or can they find their own way? The perpetually annoyed beat cop comments on our heroine that “she won’t stop being a nuisance until she gets married and settles down.” The boy will invariably follow his father as a fishmonger. The rebel girl wants to be a guitar hero rock star. Only the perpetually 29 year-old proprietor of the antique store offers a compromise escape route: she is secretly a published mystery author, her pen-name’s books are the main inspiration to our heroine, who has yet to stumble upon the secret identity. Meanwhile, our heroine’s own writing efforts are beyond dismal, but of course she is too clueless to realize it.

It could have made a fine export property.

So why the damn garter thigh/ flank shot every intro segment? Followed by a goofy maid cafe dance guaranteed to establish the main character as a “clumsy maid” character – which is never worked up in the episodes?

There goes the series as potential gift to the nieces, unless I want to get out Adobe Premiere and fix it myself.

The animation studio did not trust the property, so they “salted” the intro to try to draw otaku. Next we’ll put a “yuri”-esque shower scene into the opening credits of Aria the Natural and fuck that up too.

Facepalm.

Anything that has terra-forming and Cordwainer Smith sci-fi references in it will get me to watch 3 episodes. Add Cait Sith and a fox wedding and I am easily charmed. No service is needed.

“Currently, however, the most conspicuous Japanese culture of otaku and yankii represents value sets with little connection to affluent consumers elsewhere. Most men around the world are not wracked by such deep status insecurity that they want to live in a world where chesty two-dimensional 12 year-old girls grovel at their feet and call them big brother. The average university student in Paris is likely to read Murakami Haruki and may listen to a Japanese DJ but not wear silky long cocktail dresses or fake eyelashes from a brand created by a 23 year-old former divorcee hostess with two kids. Overseas consumers remain affluent, educated, and open to Japanese culture, but Japan’s pop culture complex — by increasingly catering to marginal groups (or ignoring global tastes, which is another problem altogether) — is less likely to create products relevant for them.
[…]
Japanese companies now face a true crisis: Appealing to the most powerful consumers in Japan will lead them away from tastes and values that can be easily exported overseas. AKB48 may be opening vanity branches in Taiwan and Jakarta, but will the world inherently be interested in an idol group meant to please a small group of men’s reactionary attitudes towards women and desire for songs that ignore the last twenty years of musical change? And as we’ve seen with the success of K-Pop in Japan, companies cannot automatically protect the domestic market against invasion. When the mainstream consumers do see something they like, that reflects their values in a way that otaku and gyaru content does not, they pounce. But until they reawaken as a consistent consumer force or rebuild cultural online to be less centered around product purchase, we are likely to stay within the current situation — where marginal subcultures rule the school.

-The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture, Part Five: The Difficulty of Exporting Marginal Subcultures. http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/02/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-five/

The kicker is set out in Part Four: The Rise of Marginal Subcultures

” Marginal groups’ up their voting power in the consumer vacuum

The end result is that the otaku and yankii have an almost inelastic demand for their favorite goods. They must consume, no matter the economic or personal financial situation. They may move to cheaper goods, but they will always be buying something. Otherwise they lose their identity. While normal consumers curb consumption in the light of falling wages, the marginal otaku and yankii keep buying. And that means the markets built around these subcultures are relatively stable in size.

So as the total market shrinks, the marginal groups — in their stability — are no longer minor segments but now form a respectable plurality in the market. In other words, if otaku or yankii all throw their support through a specific cultural item, that item will end up being the most supported within the wider market.

The clearest example of this is AKB48. With the letters AKB in their name, this group of girls was unequivocally marketed towards older males based in the Akihabara otaku culture. Compared to past mass market groups such as Speed, the girls are intentionally chosen and styled to look like elementary schoolgirls and lyrically address older men with direct sexual references. (See the “cat-eared brothel” video for “Heavy Rotation” and the unambiguous “love knows no age” lyrics for “Seifuku ga jama wo suru.”)

The mass idol group regularly has an “election” (sousenkyo) where fans try to vote their favorite girl to Number One. Buying certain AKB48 CD singles gives the fan a vote in the AKB48 election, which thus incentivizes otaku to buy multiple copies of the CD to increase their “political” power. The CD is thus no longer a means of listening to music but a way to influence the future of AKB48. This has created a legion of fans who buy dozens and hundreds of the same AKB48 CD or even 5500 copies. There are now doubts about that story’s authenticity but it basically was an exaggeration of an existing principle. Regardless, the marketing strategy of AKB48 does encourage the purchase of multiple goods, thus amplifying the buying power of nerds beyond their small numbers. This means as a consumer bloc, the AKB48 otaku fans can rival the non-otaku consumer base.

This otaku bloc strength, as well as other niche’s dedicated buying, can be seen through the music charts. In 2010 only three artists made the Oricon best-selling singles market — AKB48 and a Johnny’s Jimusho group Arashi. (At this stage, you can almost argue that music fans of Johnny’s groups are themselves a conspicuous cult rather than a mass market phenomenon.) Only two artists taking the entire singles market is unprecedented in Japanese musical history. In the previous decade, the average number of artists in the top ten was 8.2. The best explanation is that mainstream consumers stopped buying music, even single song downloads, so the favorite acts of marginal subcultures now appear to be the most popular.

Otaku and gyaru: winners by default”

The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture, Part Four: The Rise of Marginal Subcultures. http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/01/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-four/

Note that Japanese animation and manga were not the only vernacular genres ever to suffer a distortion due to a sales and distribution slump. The histories of North American vernacular media in the 20th century are full of these effects. Yet the latest shift for Japanese visual culture was extreme and remarkable. Some commentators saw it but read it wrong; as in the “Lament of the Ota-king” for an earlier age of grand sci-fi and giant robot adventures, almost anticipating a “gamer-gate”reaction.

What is all this unmanly moe-blob stuff? It must be linked to:

  • the decline of grand narratives.
  • the rise of the libidinized BFG and or the database of modular moe-blobs.
  • the magical girl as feminist trojan horse.
  • a descent into ecchi smut.
  • the rise of dojinshi culture as a cheap farm team for publishers, and the corresponding influence of…
  • the rise in Shoujo-ish libidnized offshoots (female participation and production still makes up the bulk of Comiket and dojin culture)
  • The normalization of otaku/ geek culture, failure to launch adults, economic stagnation, the end of adolescence/ adolescence without end in Japanese society, decline of marriage, infantilization, herbivore men…
  • Add a few of your own…
  • And so it goes…

More to the point, there is plenty of diaspora research on how fanservice, especially the loli stuff can really sink the export prospects for a Japanese franchise, especially if it looks like it strays into the sights of other countries’ anti-child exploitation legislation. Fantasy is fantasy will not save your bookstore proprietor from a bust and experienced outlanders make it a point to box up their Comiket haul and send the packet back by sea mail lest they have to explain their hobbies to airport customs officers. Queer folk long had to adopt such strategies, now it is everyone’s turn. You never know what can set off a nasty incident.

This does not make for a viable export market.

It does explain the continued appeal of grey-sourced versions, even in the face of legitimate sources. Do you really want your credit card number on that purchase?

Even when licensed, a censorship/ scrubbing protocol starts up in tandem with the localization efforts and we are back to the problem of bad dubbing, excessive re-cutting and story-line redaction that has plagued Japanese visual culture exports for the last 50 years. The interesting, the socialy progressive, the quirky and the unique are excised along with the more obnoxious stuff. Only mild service is left as a bit of an “Oh those wacky Japanese” tease for the outlander fans.

Perhaps Shintaro Ishihara was onto something, even as he was going about it WRONG!

A current example:

Ken Akamatsu’s UQ Holder is (later: WAS – he be back to his old tricks of magically blowing the clothing off too-young nubile heroines) a far more export-savvy product than Negima. The teen girl posse after a 10 to 11 year old magic boy harem is gone, as is the excessive penchant for making the girls’clothing vanish, disintegrate, fall off or suffer artful disarrangement every third page. Both female characters who will be enlisted to provide service shots are powerful adult authority figures with agency; the service is still there but at least it is on the level of western female superheroes who get their uniforms shredded and still fight on. Even the onsen scenes are restrained to a Genshiken level. Any service-grade yuri-esque longings are presented more as hero worship and the one character who could have been an otokonoko/ trans* stereotype is upgraded to indeterminate and asexual, thereby bypassing the usual comedies of identity for a more poignant “what will I be?” characterization. The main character is going to be an impulsive teen battle training good natured fool for a while, so desire need not poke its nose into the tent. Evangeline AK McDowell, Negima’s fearsome anti-social loli mage, the Dark Gospel has been turned into step-mom.

This series has (had) export potential.

In contrast, the Negima properties – especially the two anime seasons/series betray their roots as ecchi riffs on a Harry Potter impulse, loaded to the boards with harem fanservice. Even the manga takes forever to get off the ground – until Evangeline is socialized and recruited into the magical world campaign the thing just flails around looking for another excuse for a pantsu shot and a big magical battle.

Exportable for sure, but only to a niche market.

Contrast these to Blue Exorcist. The writer is a woman, the service is negligible. The female characters while secondary have power, ability, back-stories and agency – even the weakest of them can be formidable when roused to battle. The plotting is a more durable template of finding each team member’s strengths, becoming friends and learning to cooperate in the face of ever-more monstrous threats. Blue exorcist does not traffic in fanservice or even much teen romance. It does not suffer from the lack.

This series has export potential.

Mouretsu Space Pirates manages to keep school uniform skirt lengths to a modest range. Adult women wear pants and carry impressive arsenals in their car’s trunks. The girls can pilot an interplanetary sail-ship and apply the Kzinti lesson when threatened. Even the hacker scenes have a tiny nod towards tech realism in them, though what mercenary hacker would fall that easily for a honey-pot?

This series has export potential.

Longer skirts for high school uniforms in general, Please, if only out of economic concerns! Besides, otaku boys can learn to fetishize anything. Long school uniform skirts? Hawt!

At this point however, service in the genres seems to be a structural problem. The male fans expect it, as does the spin-off merchandise market. And then there is the alibi problem alluded to in my previous post. Fanservice and smut situate any narrative comfortably within a safe male space. We seem to need this.

Drop some ecchi bits into the package and we guys can read shoujo-ish story lines in comfort.

We may be sneered at as otaku pervs, but boys will be boys, men will be perpetually boys and as long as there are a few pantsu shots or relatively restrained clench scenes, entry level salaryman cadres can even read josei-level complicated emotionally driven stories. If the reading material is called out, they can brush the magazine aside and complain that they thought there would be more “Hawt whatever” in the work. Or giant robots, or both.

We would even settle for a level-up battle grinder, or ronin swordmen. Just give us some cover.

Because we men-folk are traditionally supposed to be a bit slow on the emotional and social interaction stuff and because interest in such is even more suspect than interest in other guys, this camouflage netting is ubiquitous. It will be hard to give up.

“…Therefore, the condition of the moe-blob female-oid exists, but as a symptom of male readership, created to ensure our ontological consistency.”

Thanks mister Žižek.

I can read all the Takemiya Jin stuff I want and fall back to the easily defensible position of an old school guy looking for yuri fanservice. I can enjoy story lines that would normally be unavailable to me. I am a fan, even as I note that the aspirational nature of her story A plots have recently made her characters far too wise and level-headed for their situations. Recover from your trauma with the support of your friends, face your fears, deploy some empathy towards the other, see past injuries in a new light, talk it over with the other parties and reach a mutually satisfactory point from which all can move on from. Please pull the other one, it has bells on it. Or worse, the power level of working this complicated interpersonal stuff out is so far beyond my understanding that it reads as “alien”. (that why they do alien things,, because…) This lacks a certain dramatic flair, but these are short aspirational learn-to-solve-problems pieces, not (Bitter-) Sweet Blue Flowers.

The best us guys can manage in an emotionally fraught situation is either a bender, a fistfight or a cold refusal to ever talk or even look at the offending party again. Or all three. That’s what we do. Anything else is Richard III, Cardinal Richelieu or Mephistopheles.

Great Ghu! No wonder we are trampling around in the Lily garden.

Worse, if a shounen action adventure grinder ever began to show emotional complexity and sensitivity beyond say, the catatonic trauma and hysteria of Evangelion, the rotten girls would ship it clear through to next month. Above all the devil and the salaryman cannot abide to be mocked – especially by the women-folk who are far more worldly on such matters. Te-heee: basketball star A and basketball star B are having long talks on the high school roof again, squeeeeee! Sez B to A: “They are laughing at us again, I knew we should have just duked it out behind the gym.” “Nawwww, they like that too… “. Jeeeesh!”

And yet we guys hunger for a glimpse of the insights offered by complex emotionally driven stories. Stumbling across a josei genre character story collection titled “HER”, (which I am at a loss to find again, drat!) because it was cross-listed in the yuri section gave me the pleasure of reading a short chapter where a slightly angsty teen girl starts to pester a wise old (old as in wrinkled 60-ish) woman photographer who still enjoys the affection of younger (30-ish?) adult women. When asked the inevitable “how, why” question by the teen, the wise woman simply tells her that intimacy with men would feel not just out of her sexuality, but out of her species. (Woof!) I immediately harkened back to the testimony of one of Dr. Mizoguchi’s correspondents who declared that sex with guys feels like having a cardboard lover.

Cardboard.

Un-desire explained as easily as desire.

Otherwise the tale presents a number of “time will change your perspective, to yourself be true, those aren’t very good friends then, are they?” nostrums for mildly angsty teens.

Nothing too shocking here. All nicely reassuring and good hearted. A good read.

Wait a second! There wasn’t any fanservice. Maybe I didn’t need it after all?

Which brings us to the issue of quality. If you can pad a weak or poorly written story with plenty of moe and ecchi fanservice, then filling running time and chapter pages gets way too easy while the writing gets lazy. Both Negima! and Negima? anime were pretty damn pointless without the service and soon even the service grew to uncomfortable creepy levels. This stuff is not healthy. The Shaft take on “Holy Mary Watches Over Us“, Maria?Holic was a toxic brew of creep-ery and cookie cutter fetishes done small and squeaky. Plus it decided to expand its paraphilia range and threw an obnoxious trap character in as antagonist, just for added spite. Admittedly it was built to only do this, but the mind can only take so much lame bullying, smirking lite smut before it rebels.

Even with far milder examples of the harem genre, the service begins to get in the way, unless managed for exclusively for pure burlesque. Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa is a goofy, good-hearted high school o’ weirdlings comedy with a pile of secret super-powered students tropes cranked to 11 for laughs. At first it looks like a harem, but the other girls never had a chance. Normal boring guy gets a crush on the silent cool beauty girl in class only to discover that she is a bubbly good-natured half-shinso vampire who 1) would never drink anyone’s blood unless she was married to them – and then only a teeny bit, 2) keeps quiet and eats by herself because of her snaggle teeth and hick/ Kansai accent and 3) will have to leave the school if her secret gets out. Buddy boy was smitten; now he is 10x more smitten. Still he can’t get up the courage to confess and when ever he comes close, something ridiculous happens to stop it. From then on weird characters are continuously added into the mix – it seems the school is some kind of nature preserve for powerful weirdlings, most of whom are of course high-school age girls. Buddy boy has a few riajuu male friends too, but he is now leery of hanging out with them too much because he can’t keep a secret to save his life.

The series is silly to extremes, dropping every Aliens, Time Travelers and Espers trope it can find into its pages along with a sex-shifting werewolf, an ageless demon child principal (not loli, just a low-grade pain in the ass demon) a naive fallen angel, an 18 foot high vampire monster dad who has is the scariest “meet dad” father a young swain could ever face and a homeroom teacher of the perpetually 29 and single variety who used to be a fearsome girl gang leader. There is a small degree of fanservice: the werewolf, when not a Johnny rotten-looking punk-rocker admirer of teacher (admirer – he lets slip that she is too old for him to consider as hawt, which earns him a thrashing from hell hath no fury teach) is a cynical sexy tease girl who is mostly put in place to provide fanservice and to serve as a foil to the shy vampire girl’s modesty. She also cheerleads the couple and drives some of the more outlandish plot devices in the story forward. Happy couple have yet to smooch. Boy has yet to straight-out confess. Vampire girl is embarrassed and worried that she will be pulled out of high-school. All of their friends are rooting for them and trying to get the two to clue in; even two of the other girls who consider themselves rivals have decided to help out. The riajuu guys have settled on the idea that buddy boy’s big secret is his undeclared crush on the girl. Happy high school hijinx ensue.

My point? It could probably do with even less fanservice. What is deployed is more for low teen sex comedy, nosebleeds, mild rivalry, meddling well-wishers, the whole nine yards.

It is refreshing. I don’t have to worry about turning a page and seeing squick. I could take the tankubon through customs. (I do buy some of the stuff I like – one day I will be able to read it, one day…) It has a good heart, even if it is a pile of cliches looking for a reason to keep rolling down a well-worn path.

The mangaka gets the point about the gratuitous service; hangs a lampshade on it in fact. A recent story arc added one more character; the time-travelling grand-daughter of someone, who has to stop sex-shifting were-girl or her mom (seen only in cheesecake pose silhouette as “The Charismatic Pervert”) from taking over the world in the future and turning Japan into a totalitarian pervert empire of enforced depravity. If time-travel prude girl hits an improperly attired female with her magic sword any risque pantsu or worse are turned into cycling shorts. Shirt buttons do themselves up and stay done up. Hooray!

And sex, or any real intimacy is banished to the realm of happily married adulthood.

Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa has export potential.

A Crusade for Modesty!

Against this runs the perpetual argument that Japanese cultural producers care not a fig for foreign markets and care to learn to understand these even less. This is not surprising, as Japan prides itself on being a high late-modernist mass-culture society. It expropriates the forms of others’ cultural artifacts, but the substance is bent to internal ends – just as we do. It will not do third-world tourism pandering: Tourists who venture to its shores are visiting an advanced culture and should expect to adapt to Japanese priorities; such as carrying wads of cash, having their credit cards rendered useless, their mobile phones inert (or prohibitively expensive to use), free wifi unavailable, their driving skills made inadequate and please keep your hands off the door handles on our taxis – they open and close themselves. And don’t get your shoe caught between the train door and the platform edge, thank you!

The nuance behind the reasons for the moe outbreak go even further than the internal economies of cheap serially replaceable and disposable formulaic output for a domestic market, or the demand for sexy figurines and pencil sets, or even simple structural inertia in the production chain.

So about changing the way we do manga and anime and games so that a hypothetical future export market is happier: right, yup we’re on that, sooner or later, fuck you very much for your opinion.

You still here?

Perhaps the moe disease is insidious and what the western gamer-gate guys were secretly, if inarticulately scared spitless of. Let the moe habit in and the next thing you know Halo will be full of ship-able bishies and miniskirted lolis. There goes all the machine guns and vicarious testosterone. Considering that the plot lines of shooter game side-products make the execrable Paul Verhoeven Starship Troopers movie read like high European existential (bent to neo-fascist ends) literature, a take-over wouldn’t be that hard.

Here’s an exercise. Download a Chris Hedges “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” video jeremiad of sufficient length from youtube. Extract the sound and measure the length. Now cut the title sequence off the Halo Nightfall OAV, measure from the ending back, cut, re-splice and drop the Hedges talk over as commentary.

Cardboard.

Drop any other commentary over it, the thing is so thin that you can detourner it six ways from next Tuesday. That makes it weak and foolish… and vulnerable. One day someone is going to do a Chris Marker on it and then we will have something for the ages. In the meantime, maybe an AMV?

Moe and its attendant cheesy fanservice habits offer better fantasies of power, security and privilege than any first person shooter fests, even if the latter come with the promise of battlefield action and drama.

Moe is a Disease That Gives Us Meaning?

But even these pale soon enough as well.

At this point, perhaps only demographics and changing tastes in an aging population can turn the tide. I am feeling a bit old lately. While I could probably figure out Snapchat if so inclined, I cannot wrap my head or my attention span around such recent big things as Kill La Kill, Attack on Titan (ok idiot giant adults eat children, Lawd said Abraham, la la la) A certain Spinning Penguin Drum (yeh it repeats; seriality is the differance in repetition, la la la…) or even attack of the yuri bears. (you guys are just throwing pasta at the wall!) It just doesn’t work for moi, that’s just me. I can put up with all manner of weird crap – heck I watched all of Gasaraki, Ergo Proxy and The Big O,  but I gave up halfway through Evangelion. On Tonight: A collapsing gotterdammerung of narcissistic fantasies and American College Football! Ooops I forgot to set my PVR.

Perhaps only sneaking over for Josei-level V2/ True Ancestor Yuri with adult-ish characters, concerns, authentic, sympathetic and aspirational depictions of queer sexualities and mature interpersonal character dynamics will raise up the otaku soul. Perhaps it is already saved and the need for a new otaku, like Baudrillard’s messiah has been proclaimed a day late, a buck short and there no longer really is any need for him.

Everyone has already moved on.

Perhaps we outlander fans will catch on sooner or later too.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Dreams are sacred

Ok, I reconsider. I made a mistake. I went back and read more and I like it. I was wrong, it is funny and has a heart. No more snark about Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish) shall be allowed in this blog. Two things lead me to change my mind. First, I let slip a rash judgmental dismissal of it at a certain conference while in conversation with one of its (possibly strongest) fans, and I saw the hurt on her face. I shit-heel! If it can cause such a reaction, It must have something to love within it. I don’t make fun of love. It is pretty well the only thing we have going for us as a species.

Reason numero two: I last looked at it some 2 years ago, and I never clued in that the later-appearing wonderful autobiographical manga about art school and becoming a pro mangaka; Kakukaku Shikajika was drawn by the same person. Then I hit an author’s comment section and HEY WAIT A SECOND! this looks familiar! Duh! The mangaka is Akiko Higashimura… I love that manga!  I had a couple of excellent teachers at art school. I felt a twinge of nostalgia and guilt when I read Kakukaku. What have I done to justify all the extra effort they put into teaching me?

Besides, now that Jellyfish is well into 70 something chapters and 14 volumes, it must be recognised as a force majeur in the depiction of female otaku/ collector maniacs/ social isolates/ fujoshi. I note that they, like the Genshiken fujoshi, come in a variety of body types and over-subscribed enthusiasms. This series pretty well holds the patent on the trope. The crossdressing male lead initially raised suspicions with me for two reasons: The crossdressing male who would teach females how to present as females is an annoying cliché and the magic rich kid (the rich are different from us) is frequently used to excuse all manner of plot holes, while the implications of a growing class divide in Japanese society are papered over. I should have read more. Perhaps he is more of a “positive subversion of the patriarchy” as some bloggers who burn powder about such things suggested.

Like the series’ advocate at the conference, the male lead is a theatre fan, as well as a fashion fan, and the mangaka seems to have done enough research (and/or shares in his enthusiasms – wait; she reveals that she has re-married into the cloth trade!) to pull off his devotion convincingly. As well, clunky social class tropes get better use as the series progresses; the treatment of inequalities grow more important, sharper and more central to the plot and the comedy. When Kuranosuke Koibuchi explains away his family calling him “son” as a family tradition of being raised as a boy to be groomed for politics (a fast bit of bullshit to avoid being reveled as a guy to the other “amars” aka; buddhist nuns), the Rose of Versailles idiocy that follows is great low comedy.

As for the crossdressing: well, he still has “reasons” other than professed issues of sexuality. He absolutely wants to avoid the family business (national politics), he enjoys the company of women, and he really likes fashionable women’s clothes; he is an extreme fashionista. It’s his hobby – any problem with that? He still is a bit of a magic rich boy, complete with chauffeur, connections and a generous allowance and will do the stock magic- rich- boy- starts- a- business- on- the- fly- to- make- a- fortune- and- save- the- day routine, but so far the trope is being handled with enough detail and commotion as to move the story forward without jumping the shark. That plot was good enough for Sophia Loren some 50 years ago (minus any gender dysphoria) so who am I to complain? Add to this that both the boy and jellyfish girl have “lost mother” syndromes that fuel their devotions; to jellyfish, the theatre and high fashion, then add a ruthless fashion empire mogul who grew up an orphan and the characterizations grow to Dickensian proportions.

The brother's secret imagined

Jellyfish is not shy about hiding its shojo/ josei manga roots either. Because it is shojo (and/or josei) it is remarkably free of service for guys, which is curiously refreshing. Instead there are ironic floral panels and other rom-con tropes pushed to absurd lengths and service for the girls; a drunk cross-dressing boy collapses butt nekkid in our heroine’s hotel room before she is about to be whisked away to Singapore. Then there are the more josei-ish plot lines: the brother’s romantic side-story is a wonderful mess of bad-girl seduction going awry and pure innocent goodness triumphing (or tested and soon to triumph – but I didn’t like the plot turning on a slap – I will assume that it is a mouldy true- romance chestnut) It only serves to highlight the main trick most of the comedy and 3/4 of the characterization that drives the story forward: none of the characters are really up to their schemes (except perhaps the once-orphan clothing mfg tycoon – just wait, he’ll get his too!)

Then there is the fun with the amars: They and their social isolate friends seem to just be waiting until that pig Dr. Mallion gets his mitts on them and bends them to productive ends. (apologies to Dr. Ralph Von Wauwau). Well, sort of… The faults of the amars run very deep and so they will screw up even the simplest of operations. It is a miracle that they can feed themselves, except that they need some survival skills for the perpetually meat-starved ronin/ neet trope that also pops up a bit too often. Perhaps they should have tried opening a restaurant?

Hello? Work?

Finally, it is hard to avoid noticing that Jellyfish refuses to shy away from the economic and social malaise in Tokyo that has crushed down young, middle-aged and old alike, hollowing out the economy, the city and the lives of people. Nor does it hide the profound fear that is very much a part of our heroine’s shyness; the turn to stone thing is funny, but our heroine about to go on a date is whole other level of realistic, raw trauma. The comedy has an edge to it.  What saves it from being mean and depressing isn’t that the characters; the girls and the boy are so odd, but that they love their enthusiasms and have begun to dream.

So, Kuragehime for the win.

Dreams are sacred.

On that note, Genshiken 104 raws are out! Both Hato-chan and Yajima get their  newest works examined by Ogiue. Much blushing ensues.