The Friendly Ones — Hatsukoi Zombie

HATSUKOI ZOMBIE/ First Love Zombie
Comedy, Ecchi, Gender Bender, Romance, School Life, Shounen
Minenami Ryou (2015 – )

Warning: Spoilers ensue. Also blog stuff and why? why? why?

For those of you who have dropped by looking for a simple review of Hatsukoi/ First Love Zombie, I should attend to the preliminaries and warn you about what goes on here. It is good, go read it. Need a summary? The TV tropes page is useful:[http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/HatsukoiZombie]. I like the clean drawing style and that the storyline pacing keeps up with the ridiculous premise. It is also a fan-service mess penned for young guys who like exaggerated drawings of healthy, curvy and busty high school girls and a brilliantly contrived piece of foolishness designed to provide endless opportunities for somewhat plot-justified ecchi cheese dropped on top of a Shakespearian gender-bendery love comedy. Good wholesome fun and a competent teen-age love triangle all in one. It is drawn by Minenami Ryou — his newest series after the rather dire seinen Himegoto-Juukyuusai no Seifuku — and has been running in the weekly Shonen Sunday magazine since November 2015. There are somewhere around 90 chapters of it out so far; it appears to be durable enough of a concept.

Now for what this blog essay is going to grind on (and on) about: longtime readers will note that I stray into the sexuality and gender stuff, as portrayed in manga and anime. I blame Kio Shimoku and the Genshiken, but until I see if Kio-sensei is planning to level up on Spotted Flower (the somewhat less than a decade later, somewhat followup with characters that sure look like Genshiken alumni), I continue to cast about for odd things to snag and do kitchen sink something-that-might-look-like-sexuality-and-gender-studies on manga and anime, to; from the point of view of a middle-aged, het euroethnic guy.

Why?

Why indeed? Why did Kio Shimoku, whose nom-de-plume supposedly conceals a married Japanese guy, re-start his tale of a university otaku club only to stuff it with fujoshi and one crossdressing boy who wanted to be a fujoshi? And why did he crib and simplify all manner of academic theorising about the wayward hearts of otaku, fujoshi and minority gender and sexuality expressions, in Japan circa 2002-2006 to do so?

I stole the tagline conceit of this blog from Jean Baudrillard’s The Mirror of Production (which you don’t have to read to get any of this). The title conceit is somewhat more complicated. The method is akin to literary reviews, bad sociology, some of the useful bits of “critical theory” and a touch of post-lacanian conceptual jiu-jitsu that Zizek sometimes does well and that he swiped from Jimbo when the latter was in full Nihilist Spasm poetic mode. While I try not to be ignorant about real-life gay guys and lesbian women, as well as queer, non-binary, trans and gender-fluid folks, beyond a few posts noting resources and perennial cautions that there are real folks out there that are concerned, I stick to the way manga, anime and game production — aimed as it is at a “majority audience”, can’t stop making up distorted reflections of LGBTQIA, ect., people.

I wonder why “we” need to do this?

For one thing “we” are incorrigible kleptomaniacs. High modernist cultures are like graduate thesis advisors; they grab any shiny new thing they come across. Good ones give credit. Bad ones steal and try to cover their tracks, often by pissing on who and what they swiped from. For how to do this in a self-aware manner, search this blog for Adrian Piper and read those posts later. I have a background in sociology and then bureaucracies and cities and policy stuff about them. Then I went to art school because I could and it was a blast – due to having the good fortune of being in the right country, during the right recession. The whole postmodern thing was just hitting the fan back then but the neat thing about the way a somewhat competent, if theoretically inclined art programme handles that stuff is that it doesn’t really take any of it seriously. It only grabs what it can use to make something, presumably “art”, with. “Uhuh, Foucault, yadda yadda yadda, every time I try to make something using his shit I get another useless Panopticon ref“. Your mileage of course, may vary. Misunderstanding on purpose is how sausage gets made. Details available at your discretion.

I immediately get some of why the straight boys and girls are dreaming in queer, beyond any interest we might have in satisfying our immediate curiosities (they’re looking in the wrong place, Indy…) Now that a few of the better neighborhoods in the global village are getting somewhat less barbaric, we might soon see less fantastic shadows and more interesting, new and authentic points of view that ‘we’ can misunderstand and try to squeeze some value-added out of. Better than spending all night on nasty little misogynist and racist patches of the web until you go paranoid and convince yourself to hysterically lose your job at Google by penning a manifesto that “proves” that “those people”, shit, “all people not exactly like meeeeeeee can’t do Google stuff. It’s a Conspiracy! Lizard Men! High paying job bye-bye. “I would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling Social Justice Warriors!” This is not a new affliction: one of the dudes who helped invent the transistor went all squirrelly that way 70 years ago. As they used to say in the ‘hood; ‘watch your head’.

Or was it ‘always do the right thing’?

Meanwhile, it is glaringly obvious that when the shadow of queer falls on a character in a “mainstream” narrative, it is there for a reason; for a use. And we are well beyond needing to dig out such for dumb scary villain roles. Nope, we need someone to “highlight the contradictions” and/or do something that we can’t or wouldn’t — beyond any bodies getting tangled up in new and interesting ways. Finally “we” will keep using these shadows because perhaps, maybe, somehow, we can find stories that offer new ideas as to how two people can put up with each other beyond being forced to do so by custom and law.

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

We have these needs. We wont stop.

It’s been six years since I started this blog. It has been a lot of fun and I have at the very least learned enough to venture a few opinions, or maybe mansplain to myself and whoever cares to read this stuff, why I like some things and really loathe others. Some academic types call this deep reading. I think of it as paying attention or even being a fan. And it remains far more fun than detective novels or politics. No one gets killed, most of the time. The worst that happens is that I stumble upon some interesting research being done by gay, lesbian, queer researchers and geek out on it and go all off-topic on their interests with my het-ish concerns. So far the overwhelming majority of these researchers have been patient and gracious when I kibbitz, even as they try to figure out what possible interest I would have in, for example 1970-1980’s patterns of ‘types’ among patrons of Tokyo gay bars (short answer: I’m guessing early fujoshi went on a verisimilitude hunt for their stories and organising schemas are useful when you need to be able to locate your doujin in big thicky Comiket catalogs).

If Kio Shimoku can grab such research to whomp up a university fujoshi social, why can’t I do so to understand his, and similar works?

Odd hobbies are a thing in manga and anime… neh?

Enough of this; time to tear into First Love Zombies or “Psychic manifestations of high school guys’ first loves and how they can really cause grief for anyone who can see them.”

1) They are distracting
2) They are embarrassing
3) You now half-remember her
4) Everyone at school thinks you are gay
5) Your manifestation is now self-aware, sentient and will watch you fap, so you can’t.
6) You have to learn how to understand complex interpersonal human dynamics surrounding teen crushes and you are a 15 year old guy. Guys are not supposed to have to do that kind of bucket work!
7) Your one childhood friend who you remember as a girl is a guy. He hates your guts.
8) Your other childhood friend, (you just noticed) is HAWT and she might like you but with these damn things floating around, you be SOL.
9) The wound on your forehead keeps re-opening and bleeding down your face.

10) Ha Ha Ha. Sucks to be you.

A few questions: why rig the story so that the main character Tarou Kurume gets to be misunderstood as the school’s gay guy? Why are there absolutely no floaty beefcake guy ghosts among all the cheesecake girl ghosts? This is statistically impossible. At least the school is an idealised high school romcom bastion of open-minded good behavior. Perhaps it is because Tarou got beaned on the forehead and has been acting not-quite-himself in other ways; it might too nasty to drop a full load of ijime on him. As for the ‘Ewwwwww, don’t come onto me’ thing; he does it so poorly that he isn’t considered a threat. Besides, Ibusuki Ririto is kind of bishie and one could understand why one would, if one was going to go that way…

Next question: Isn’t it a bit unfair, or at least sloppy to do gay — or some manner of ‘queer’ — in such a slipshod fashion? This is not a simple transposition of the BL “I’m not gay, it’s only you“. This is a confused, naive male audience view of “the gay”: attracted to a bishie guy, so one wishes he was a girl. Perhaps dressing as one would be sufficient? This sounds like a josou game but seems to be a “thing”; a popular subset of the imagining and negotiation with same-sex attraction in Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture narratives. One would need a lot more sociology to see if and how it maps to current and historical IRL practice. [1]  Of course the story also gets around this, because…

Time for the standard caveats. This will probably be annoying to some real-world gay readers but at least it is only on the level of an old-school crossdressing romantic farce. Besides, it is needed as a setup for the next plot trick.

Why does the “amazing new power with a serious drawback” almost immediately trigger the “mistaken for gay” and…

Why does the character need conditions one and two to get dragged into becoming the school’s love advice expert?

Well, Duh!

The mangaka could instead have done something equally foolish with an isekai setup, wherein the hapless protrag fell into a video game that then transported him to a fantasy world full of scantily clad girls where he has to defeat the demon king…

…By solving teenage love problems at a magic high school/ academy for young heroes…

Urrrrrr, maybe that wouldn’t work. And this stinker’s author would probably end up make the hypothetical groaner character mistaken-for-gay again anyhoo.

See what I mean about the very heterosexual story finding a cut-n-paste use for the shadow of gay? So what if two levels of fakee instead of one are applied to the character design? Maybe three… who’s counting? Must get the main character to solve relationship problems in the process of trying to unravel his own.

It gets more convoluted: the guy who Tarou-kun thought was his kindergarten first love girl, really is a girl who is crossdressing as a guy because she has the same damn curse/ super-power, has had to live through the hell of it for ten years and blames him for it big time. The last thing she is going to do is reveal to him that he (she) is really a girl. Ibusuki-now-kun does boy to avoid having to see cheesy cringe-inducing fantasy versions of her girl-self that would be created if she went around in her girl state. No wait; the-fiend-responsible-for-this-curse has one floating above him; it clearly is modelled on “her”, she talks and is self-aware and she even has a bigger bust than the original. Goddammitalltohell! The idiot even copped a feel in the dark and still thinks that Ibusuki just has chubby man-boob baby fat. Thefoolmustdiepainfully!

Also: boobage as plot device.

This convoluted setup was needed so that slacker everydude high school guy can be forced into playing boy relationship detective. Normally one would need an eroge or dating sim to get a shonen manga (/anime) guy to give a flying squirrel about all that complex can’t/ don’t even wanna try feelings stuff — at least in a game it is systematized and rule-bound. You can grind at it and there are save-points. We need this bullshit setup to solve the shonen/ shoujo problem. Wonder what manner of contrivance would be needed to get a more adult male character story to play with the kind of emotional complexity and painful relationship angst that is routinely rolled out in josei mags?

I recently read a josei manga by the mangaka who does a lot of the covers for Rakuen Le Paradis. Said covers by the way are uniformly hawt as hell. It might have had a guy main character but the ‘Femme Fatale‘ he was fixated on drove him so far around the bend to next Sunday that it was hard to follow. Induced headache. Dude, you have a crush. Don’t over think too much. Just tell her and be there. She’ll do the deciding. You keep third and fourth guessing her while she of course is doing the same. And don’t tell me that the primary audience for this thing are dating-confused twenty-something guys.

Of course Tarou-kun normally wouldn’t bother with anything so confusing — in fact he protests and drags his heels at every opportunity — but those psychic apparitions can go bad and cause real-world harm, so he keeps finding himself having to help, otherwise someone is going to mysteriously trip out of a third-floor window.

And now a complete side excursion that is only slightly related to Tarou-kun’s concussion, confusion, troublesome psychic power and turning him mistaken-for-gay so that he can become the school’s lurv expert.

Time to run this essay off the road:

Over at the (famous and respected) long-running blog on all things Yuri, Okazu’s [okazu.yuricon.com] Erica Friedman recently published a very fine survey of the cliché/ trope of the “mentally ill” lesbian character. “A Survey of Lesbianism and Mental Instability in Yuri” (August 28th, 2017) [http://okazu.yuricon.com/2017/08/28/a-survey-of-lesbianism-and-mental-instability-in-yuri/] Not real-life lesbians as (or as represented as) pathology/ pathologized. Not about similar pathologizing traditions in lurid North American pulp magazines, not about lesbian activism in Japan and not about how to brew your own farm sake:

Characters
in
Yuri
Manga
(and anime)

It is a finely crafted presentation that flows naturally using notable manga (and anime) examples from the early 70’s on up to current practice. Of note is how Friedman advances the argument that the early juxtaposition of mental instability with same-sex desire in characters has slowly given way to the depiction of lesbianism as identity, with its recognition and acceptance a balm to the souls of characters who had previously suffered trauma — often at the hands of patriarchal authority figures. [2]

Friedman has previously written other examinations, notably on the trope of two young women first experiencing attraction for each other — what she has christened Story A — in her 40 Years of the Same Damn Story essays [Pt.1: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/04/overthinking-things-04032011/  Pt. 2: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/05/21840/]. I may be mistaken, but I also recall the subject of why lesbian couples kept meeting unfortunate ends (at least until 2007?) had also been examined by her, even as I believe V. Maser went into greater detail on this, as well. Since Erica Friedman knows yuri and knows how it intersects with, but is not anywhere close to a direct mapping of any IRL “lesbianism”; she sticks to THE STORIES. As cliché. As trope. As an exercise in literary/ manga/ moving pictures/ anime criticism while briefly noting historical trends for clues as to why anyone would do such a thing. Note the small changes in the iterations of the form, suggesting evolution in the trope. End of presentation. Any questions?

Cue confusion from the peanut gallery.

Before we consider trying to expand the frame of discussion, asking for footnotes, further examples, prequel studies and a multi-part series considering all the possible tangents from the subject at hand, including real-life spill-over, ethnology and full societal social anthropology, a simple guy like me must stop and ask myself:

Did Jim Morrison really have a massive Daddy-Mommy complex?

Twitter poll:

() Oh Yes, just like Mamet
() No, he got high and went all hacky-copy-pasta.
() Huh? Was he in Nickelback? Song sucks.

Add one more sin to the pile to be layed at the altar of the demon bones of Dr. Freud.[3] Save a bit for Krafft-Ebing too.

Modern medical research is done with record-keeping, coding, statistics and clinical trials. Shoddy pop psychology however remains a treasure trove for writers who need a quick and dirty “just-so” hook to hang a character design on. Shoddy pop psychologizing is also dangerous, as are most mythologies and just-so stories. Governments have routinely grabbed such and used them to push any number of nasty agendas. Then they sit back and do nothing to correct past vicious impositions of such because persistent low levels of discrimination and infighting among the plebs keep the bolshies from getting too many seats in the Diet and demanding crazy things like sensible work hours, living wages and affordable daycare spaces, rather than continuing old-boy cronyism.

I immediately geeked out on Friedman’s essay and dashed off a late-night email, offering excerpt quotes and a link to a neato essay from the early 90’s that I found while researching Edogawa Ranpo lore  [https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/your-own-private-game-of-laplace/]. Friedman was gracious in her reply, encouraging me to pursue some of these lines of enquiry myself.

Time to put effort rather than foot where mouth is:

The effect I found fascinating was the possibility of further examination of what happened with the official Japanese adoption of certain late 19th century “western” ideas about sexuality that I am sure must have affected the Japanese stereotyping of lesbian desire, along with gay male desire from the 1920’s on through the early 1960’s.

A recap on the earlier Laplace piece: something always felt a bit ‘queer’ about Japan’s Sherlock Holmes, for good reason. Edogawa Ranpo learned that his detective mysteries sold really well when they were situated in a pervy, pathologized fantasy re-imagining of the ‘floating world”. He didn’t invent it; it already existed in lurid, sensational pulp magazines that hid their fetishization of porny deviance behind quasi-pop-scientific examination (much like the western practice of hiding nekkid lady pictures in Nudist Life magazines) but he sure glommed onto it. There were all kinds of these Ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) mags and Rampo earned his living writing true crime detective stories for them, even as when these were later republished he would be acknowledged as Japan’s answer to Conan Doyle. He also had a friend, an amateur ethnologist and historian who was really annoyed at the way furreign 19th century quack-medical ideas of mostly male same-sex desire were over-writing Japan’s history and traditions surrounding that part of the human experience. Whether Jun-ichi Iwata himself was gay and/or whether Rampo was is besides the point. Iwata’s life research project was pure cultural nationalist reclaiming of the gay as Nihon Jinron Bunka and so he set out to make the ultimate bibliography of all historical literary mentions of Japanese same-sex desire. The big complaint against same-sex desire among Japanese reactionaries is that it was and remains “un-natural”. Iwata sought to show that it is as natural as any other human behavior and that it was always part of Japanese life.

Here’s where it gets interesting: He couldn’t get it published in a scientific journal! There was the militarist police state thing in the 1930’s and then the war started… So buddy Rampo got the first bits of it published in some of those psychologized pulp fiction mags! And after Iwata died his friend Rampo continued to get the rest published as he could, as tribute to his friend’s life work. It was as if Masters and Johnson failed to find any place to publish but Playboy Magazine and then Playboy backed out and it all ended up in something like True Manly Man’s Adventure Man’s Magazine.

Better researchers had already pointed this effect out. See the quotes and citations in the Laplace post. I just thought this quirk of the Japanese 20th century approach to the study of human sexuality needed a quick ‘n dirty, perhaps a tad too snarky Cliff Notes tour, as well as bringing some disparate sources together for the laity. The Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace anime needed context. Laplace is still massively weird; especially how it works overtime to erase the well-known homoerotic subtext in Ranpo lore, turning all the pervert criminals into very, very heterosexual (over-) enthusiastic perverts but then jamming a BL reading onto the friendship between two members of the Baker Street Irregulars ooops: Boys’ Detective Club.

Needless to say this entire shambles is about guys.

What about women who happened to like other women? If there was an urge to lump lesbians together/ explain lesbian desire with (as they used to say in neolithic sociology classes) “deviance” in the imagination of the Japanese public, the Ero-guro and those weird little pulp hentai (literally; strange) magazines would be where this trope would hide for all those years between the 1920’s Flower Stories and the re-emergence of the “lesbian” character in early 1970’s shoujo manga.

One more time: Hentai does not literally mean smutty or dirty or lewd in Japanese. It means strange. Abnormal. Its milder cousin Ecchi literally means “Somewhat “H”(for Hentai)-ish” or “(mildly) strange-like/ish“. The legacy of pathologization of minority sexuality and gender expression is pernicious.

My chance of doing any significant primary research on any of this is on par with my chances for scoring a free Vip tour of the International Space Station but I’ll bet a small box of donuts that something must be hiding there. I can smell it!

Crap! I’m mansplaining (again). Anyone who has researched the field knows this stuff; especially if they have skin in the game. I bet some mighty powerful researchers in Japan are already on the case.

I have a whole boat-load of other interesting notions for trope research. I will stay away from BL; I’d be out of my depth — besides Nagaike did excellent groundwork on this with her “Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others:
Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga” essay [http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue20/nagaike.htm] — the structure is easily adaptable. In Yuri however, I wish I knew more of the classics. The rich older role model who may (or may not) be one member of a beta couple needs a survey. It would be interesting to watch as she/they evolved. Perhaps she has to be teased apart from the beta couple trope itself into two separate character trope categories? Her opposite/ opposites; the wild child/ war child/ child of the streets. Being poor is almost as unfortunate (and useful) for character design as  mental instability, or unbelievably wealth.

All are marked, even multiply marked as living outside of mandated social roles and behaviors — which is why we keep making up slipshod tales with them. And since they are also outside of social mores and modes of behavior, they can do things. What else? Most 20th century pop psychology maps reality about as well as political commentary on Fox News. It might be better to now go easy on all the sexuality and gender stuff when designing outsider charas but bitten by a radioactive spider is already taken.[4]

Back to the “I’m not gay, it’s only my childhood girlfriend who turned out to be a guy (only he hates me now and I don’t know that he is really a she)” hero of First Love Fanservice Apparitions, Tarou Kurume. His whole class thinks he is gay. It is too complicated to explain otherwise and he wonders if perhaps he might be; at least for Ririto Ibusuki. And if everyone thinks he is gay, it will take a lot of pressure off him because this is an ideal manga high school and no one bullies gay people and besides he can’t deal with love and attraction right now because he is too distracted by all the cringe-inducing cheesecake love-ghosts floating above the heads of all the guys in class – including his own ghost, Eve. The only person who is really left out by all this is his other childhood friend Mei Ebino; an incredibly beautiful, tall and buxom sports girl who is slowly developing feelings for him and wishes he would notice her. (He has, but he also knows that his other friend has a severe crush on her – It’s complicated!)

Being “the gay guy” has its advantages. None of the girls consider him a perv like the other guys — at least in their direction. The guys have settled on the idea that he is only interested in one particular guy (who despises him) and he gets to avoid all manner of messy jealousies and puppy-love triangles. Also, to his classmates he seems uncharacteristically (for a guy) insightful about everyone else’s crushes (he can’t help it – they float over the guys’ heads) and has therefore become the class “love expert” who can solve everyone’s teen-age heart breaks and longings. Solve is a bit of a misunderstanding, he exorcises; the ghosts can go bad and cause real-world harm and Tarou can’t sit back and let it happen. Eve won’t let him.

Clearly the whole puberty thing is just a trail of thorns and tears. Tarou can’t even take solitary enjoyment in porn mags because Eve is always there to make cutesy comments, she talks to him, incessantly! Porn mags? What kind of porn mags? He already gets to see what all the other guys’ fantasies looks like. All the guys in his class. Floating above their heads. Every day.

Cringe!

This has got to be one of the most ingenious ways of mixing an excuse for ZOMG overload with embarrassing laughs over adolescent male discomfort with desire ever devised. Kudos to the mangaka!

Then add a not-so much love triangle between him, Ibusuki and Ebino-chan. Then add Ibusuki’s crossdressed-as-a-girl-child-for-family circumstances cover story and why she hates him: he ‘contaminated’ her with the curse, unconsciously made up cheesecake Eve and the cursed ability was instrumental in breaking up her family — her father is a flake and ran off after his first love (quel disaster!). Therefore everything is all Tarou’s fault.

Ha Ha Ha.

Of note is the plot conflation of being able to read subtle interpersonal clues and notice other people’s desires as a “super power” and/or “curse” for a “normal” heterosexual young male chara. Cartoon guys are not supposed to have or want to have a clue — let alone publicly admit to having a clue about such things. Emotional bucket work is women’s work. Emotional complexity the fabric of their recreational fictions. Exceptions to this rule are a marker of “the other”; often the minority sexuality and/or gender-expressing male, who by nature of their position outside of the social norm is attuned to such patterns, even beyond the normal abilities of conforming women members. At least, like the two-souled indigenous-culture shaman or Thai transperson they are worth consulting for a second opinion.

I will not go all J.G. Frazer here. On Shinto, nope…

Yet desire and identity are irresistible subjects to question and play with. And nothing highlights the contradictions like a character that doesn’t fit the authorised specs. Take these away and there is nothing left but fighting, money, machines and freezing to death on the top of a mountain. Unfortunately, being creative is hard, low paying work and we are, all of us rather lazy when it comes to constructing and/or accepting characters and fleshing out (/buying into) their motivations.

One axis of this mess is how an author needs a convincing excuse for a character that is “the other” in order to give the character a measure of freedom and agency, as well as an outsider vantage point towards social structures.

Another axis runs the length of the question as to why all manner of people who are not attracted to the folks that their fave characters are attracted to will continue to need to make up far-fetched shadows of real minority sexualities and gender expressions. Even if we do get a tale spun by an authentic LGBTQ author, it will still have to pander to majority clichés or, at least until recently settle for very limited publication runs. There are too many of us riajuu underfoot; companies want our patronage.

If you wade into ethnicities, race and colonialism, we also all go wild making up (or supporting) exotic “others” as charas to fetishize too. Let’s not go there right now, except to mention that part of why the weeb legions of the west are so geeked on Japan is that we watch the Japanese reader/ viewer doing it back to us. And they do it in all kinds of interesting yet somewhat disturbing ways, which is an entire new experience! (again: Adrian Piper). Such illusions remain surprisingly resistant to disruption. At their simplest, they reinforce the useful delusion that the greatest threat to our well-being lies outside, rather than within our own socials.

Thank Ghu these aren’t floating around above our heads. Wouldn’t that would make for one nasty manga…

How about a preliminary, if transactional schema:

Complete alien/ THREAT => opponent/ threat => comic relief/ not a threat => faces challenges poorly because of X/ not a direct threat but disconcerting => faces challenges and surmounts them once realises that X is their strength/ not a threat, abstract moral example => different point of view/ not a threat, might be useful => interesting friend/ valuable as an ally.

I wish they would go more into Aeschylus’s The Friendly Ones when they teach the Merchant of Venice in high school. Shakey dumbed Shylock down wayyyyy too much for the cheap seats. Of course the well-educated caught the reference to the earlier classical play. Even rich bigots need good accountants.

Ceremonial robes of citizenship for the useful ones.

Being able to process and cope with complex interpersonal emotional situations is not a shonen lead chara thing. Have I mentioned that I cannot get into Evangelion because having a teen boy shit-fit-freak-out in order to power up a giant robot is just too far around the bend for me to care about — even as it is posited as the “correct” shonen response to emotional turmoil. Part of the charm of Koyomi Araragi’s harem in the Monogatari franchise is that all the emotional problems that beset its good-looking young women turn into physical supernatural manifestations that, while dangerous can be “purged” by contest (mostly finished by the ruined mini-vampire) or trickery. Or you can just let the girls bat you around until they get bored and work it out themselves.

If you have an insightful, resourceful teenage guy character who can understand and resolve complex interpersonal conflicts and who does not have a hidden super-power or is not marked as having queer desires and/or gender expressions, then he has to be a depressed, self loathing hater of all humanity; as in “My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected“. The outsider vantage point necessary for insight and agency. Come to think of it, Araragi-kun had a touch of this too before he met his vampire. His “bad uncle” Kaiki is even worse.

One other hole in the plot structure: why does a girl need the ability to see such apparitions, when she would “normally” absorb the gender-marked ability to read all manner of complex emotional interpersonal dynamics in the process of socializing into her role as a woman in society? Ibusuki was “contaminated” by an ‘abnormal’ male power, is wealthy and therefore somewhat isolated from mainstream socialization pressures and adopted male presentation as an interim solution to her affliction, thus probably dooming herself to her continued condition. Yikes! Another heavy-handed just-so story sneaks into the tale to do some gender-role policing!

Beyond all these fantasies lies the last boss of reality; the insurmountable fact that messy teen longings cannot be solved by anyone, let alone by a boy relationship detective, no matter what manner of fantastic status is given to the main chara as/ along with small super-powers.

You do not understand the heart of a man.

First Love Cheesecake Apparitions remains fun and far less dire than the mangaka’s previous effort. Floating pantsu overload aside, it is chaste and well-behaved. No playing with fire, everyone has their whole lives ahead of them — as long as they can get through adolescence without getting maimed by a jealous first love ghost. The other interesting bit about the story setup is how it foregrounds the emotional turmoil of the high school guys. It becomes, in effect a mechanistic boys-do-simplified-shoujo-manga analogue. Note who gets to work through, or fail to work through their romantic problems. Of the two women main characters only the one who presents as a boy gets significant wrestle-with-their-feelings time. It takes the other one, Ebino-chan some 80 chapters and a school play before she realises that she might actually like her childhood friend, that way.

It’s all about the lads after all.

A final complication lies dormant in the story set-up; how young guys’ fantasies of their crushes over-write the reality of the actual person they are supposed to be interested in (the grandpa arc touched on some of this). If the mangaka wants to spin the tale out for another hundred chapters, they can have most of the happy couples that boy relationship detective brought together split up, with a chorus of angry young women complaining that the guys immediately grew bored with (real girls) them. This effect also jumps over to reader expectations; forum discussions about a current “gummint-pairs-up-teens” anime has (at least on one forum) derailed into a nostalgic revisitation of why Mysterious Girlfriend X was much, much better.

Destroy everything we touch

Tarou is the quintessential low-energy male romcom lead. The only remedy for such lethargy is edgy romantic confusion (spoon-fed to him in a linear, easy to digest manner). Guys are suckers for this kind of nonsense, as it is far easier and much more fun than paying attention to the person in front of you. Better than naughty knickers too!

If Hatsukoi Zombie lurches to a standard, predictable conclusion Ibusuki will decide that she-as-she still has feelings for Tarou and then stop “presenting” as a guy. Then the “super power” can get toned down or controlled for both her and Tarou, so that only Eve remains with autonomy enough to wander off and/or disappear as she choses. And Ebino-chan will find someone who makes her heart go doki-doki more than Tarou does.

BORING!

Ibusuku should be maneuvered by the mangaka into dropping their masquerade, trying girl mode for a week, surprising the entire school, claiming Tarou as her own and then reverting to a bifauxnen guy school uniform presentation because “I feel more comfortable this way’. She is rich and can do anything she wants. Drop in some mumbo jumbo about it minimizing Ibusuki-chan apparitions and this otherwise vanilla cheesecake manga can go out (or drag on) in ways that Uso Lily dipped its toe into but never developed.

I’m not gay, my girlfriend just likes the boi look“. Eve to have fun with Utena cosplay and otokoyaku Takarazuka outfits.

Straight folks won’t stop making up our ideas of the gay (etc.). We won’t stop. Ever. We have needs. The best that everyone can hope for is that some of the worst squick and dirty versions that get whomped up are retired as massively uncool and finally so hateful that to drag one out would indicate that something is not entirely ok with anyone who did so’s head space. Maybe real gay folks can even add some new, better stuff to the trope stockpile, so that the rest of us can pillage them.

Oh Lookie! A shiny, shiny new thing called queer! I got this great shonen manga idea…

Facepalm.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] See “Japanese gay men’s attitudes towards ‘gay manga’ and the problem of genre” by Thomas Baudinette for a contemporary view of how Japanese gay men view these narratives and associated character types.
https://www.academia.edu/25044799/Japanese_gay_mens_attitudes_towards_gay_manga_and_the_problem_of_genre
Of note by the same researcher, on modern Japanese gay male identification by self-identity/preference-type; “Constructing identities on a Japanese gay dating site: Hunkiness, cuteness and the desire for heteronormative masculinity” and how this maps out in urban space in Tokyo’s gay bar district; “The spatialisation of desire in a Japanese gay district through signage“, available at his Academia.edu page:
https://mq.academia.edu/ThomasBaudinette

[2] I nominate Princess Principal to any appendix list, with “spy des” as stand-in for clearly imputed women’s affective bonds. All the father figures in that anime so far are sexist, often dangerously harmful shits. They get killed a lot too. Oh heck, there should be room for Haibane Remnai too; that face in the train apparition

[3]  I better watch my own soul here. Herr Doktor and an ancestor were academic rivals and the latter’s complaints with Freud were undoubtedly tainted by bad faith.

[4] There is even a curious rejoinder to this Fox News psychologizing effect; if the battleground shifts from science to fabulation then the fables themselves must become contested ground. Iwata was not the only example of this impulse. What the devil was I doing reading Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick? One of the founders of queer theory‘s main works was in effect historical literary analysis and critique: lookie at all those 19th century high literature tales of male friendship. Lookie what must be hiding between the lines. Ok sure, but I reserve the right to voice a “Helmut” rejoinder now and again. It is as easy to fetishize (male) friendship as it is to fetishize gay and lesbian desire. I would never consider imputing “slashy” praxis to Sedgwick. Nope, not me…

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To denounce the error of truth and love

Some AU Chapter 122 fan-fiction; because Kio Shimoku can be a real demon of mis-direction when he wants to be. The only thing worse than being a stick-in-the mud, old-school cis het fanboy is being one with a plausible scenario that screws up everybody’s ships.

c 122 If you insist web

The Second President.

“Time to choose. This has gone too far”

Madarame turned to face them all.

I choose Yoshitake Rika-san – but only if she dresses like a boy.
That got your attention, didn’t it?”

“Ok; Not!

“I apologise to everyone. My deepest apologies to Kuchiki-san, whose celebration this trip is supposed to be for. Hold tight, I’m going to fix things for you.”

“My thanks to Yoshitake-san for trying to clear up the Harem, You were right, This could tear the club apart. Seeing what is happening tonight, I fear that it has already started. I must stop that even if it means ‘decide or leave‘.”

“I am the second President of the Genshiken, a club that I loved and am still very proud of. The new membership is different from my time, but in many ways just as exciting and even more productive. I will not be the reason that it breaks into pieces. I resign as harem-lead and circle-king.”

“Thank you Keiko Sasahara-san for your interest in me. You are right; like Saki-san, you stand in the riajuu world and can point out the obvious things that we miss. You are strong and beautiful… but I must consider the future. If we went out and it did not work, how could I ever face Sasahara-san or even Ogiue-san, your brother and your soon-to-be sister-in-law? Even while it worked it would be very uncomfortable. It is way too close; too much like a small village drama.”

Miss Susanna Hopkins. I am comfortable around you and I am very happy that you are now comfortable enough around me to look my way. What would happen if we ruined that?

You are a vital member of the club. I hope to watch you as your skills catch fire and you become a force at Comiket. And yet, neither of us know the slightest thing about real-world romance. The chance of it working is slim and the chance of bitter misunderstanding is high. And then I would never again be able to trade obscure otaku jokes with you.

That I could not bear.

Hato Kenjiro-san. How did we end up here? I tripped over you when we were both drunk and tired. You cooked for me and cleaned up after me when I broke my wrist. We both have a head full of fantasies swirling around us and most of the club looks at us as a pairing. I always said I didn’t mind… but I do mind! I don’t like being thought of as a sou-uke. And I don’t know if I can be a forceful seme either. These fantasies leave no room for me to just be me, a guy.

You gave me Valentines day chocolate and I felt something. Earlier I told you that I was not afraid of trying it, even as you tried to persuade me to give up. Thank you for your objections; If anything they re-doubled my interest. I don’t think I have turned gay and I don’t see you only as a guy or only as a girl. I wanted all of you. I have become greedy.

But you made your point. And we missed two bigger issues. Neither of us have the slightest idea of how to do 3D romance, let alone that we are two guys. I don’t think that is so much of a big deal; unless we try to behave like something in your dojins or in my trap games. That will not work, I guarantee that. And then we will grow to hate each other.

Right now, you are drawing, you can become a dojinshi artist, you might even follow Ogiue as semi-pro or pro. And you are an important member of the club. You said it yourself: If something was to go wrong, we would never speak again. And I fear that even if nothing went wrong, how you fit in with the rest of the club would be forever changed. You say that if I can understand that you have thought of both MadaHato and HatoMada that you will stop running. You have made me think of both of these and all the junk in my head from my trap games too.

And I am not afraid.

But I have also thought of how much effort you have put into becoming a fujoshi. I said I understood that you were a fudanshi. And you said you were a fudanshi. I was wrong and you are wrong. You are not a fudanshi, you have never wanted to be a fudanshi. You are a fujoshi. You are as real a fujoshi as the rest of the women in the Genshiken.

As a fujoshi you fit into the club. As a crossdressing fudanshi with a boyfriend, you de-stabilize the club, you break the magic circle, you destroy all the work you have done, you risk your friendships, you threaten the club. You can call me a coward but I have seen you with your first love. I have heard your true heart beat doki-doki.

I will not stand between it and you.

Had the stars been different, something different might have happened. Even now I hope that I can be your friend. But I am not your sou-uke. I am not your seme. I cannot even be your love. I must be your sempai, the second president of the Genshiken, who served this club and passed it on to Sasahara-san who passed it on to Ohno-san, as she passed it on to Ogiue-san. One day, it might be passed to you.

I will protect what was entrusted to me.

Susana-san, do you recognise the line: “No one will be happy. Everyone will be equally unhappy together”? That is the Japanese way. I will get my bags, catch the late train, get home, start looking for a job and think of moving close to it when I get one. I will see you all at Comiket, and maybe at the University culture fair. Do not disappoint me, become great.

Kuchiki, I return to you your harem fantasy. Don’t break it.

(Much angry grumbling from the group)

I am so full of shit right now that I am going to explode.
That cannot be helped. And I leave the story without a good ending.

I will try one last small hope. I will “look with unclouded eyes” at the one who has been right in front of me all this time.

Angela-san. (Ohno please translate – I must get a smart phone to help translate) I thank you for your earlier suggestion, but I would not care to be shared with you… or to share you. (pause) I think I would want you all for myself. (pause)

I hope that does not disappoint you. (pause) I know you have a wicked sense of humor. I thought that you were just playing with me when you went on about my fingers and stuff, but then you keep travelling all this way to come here. Thousands of miles, so many times! (pause) I know it is fun to visit with Ohno and Sue and the club, but I have been a fool not see anything else. I could be wrong. (pause) …But you were ‘first girl‘. First Girl always wins – if you still want to. (pause)

You are beautiful and scary and powerful and funny and I apologise for all the times that I have run away. I never meant to hurt your feelings. Please forgive me. I must learn from my friend Hato-san. (pause)

It is my turn not to run away any more. (pause)

And long distance does not look so far away any more. (pause)

Also; forgive me for being calculating, but if I am a complete loser and you dump me, It won’t hurt the club. I am new at this, please treat me well. Tell me soon how you feel.

I love you all. Speaking from my true heart and as your sempai and as the Second President of the Genshiken, this is my final decision.

And now I need another drink.”

-30-

 

 

C’mon! You have to admit it WORKS. Uses all extant parameters, dissolves the harem in such a way that everyone saves face, appeals to hierarchy and responsibility getting in the way of true whatever, leaves lots of room for happy fantasies, makes our loser hero so damn noble – he can snap to when put in an executive role – and lets him jump on the grenade heroically.. Only Angela can save his sorry ass if she wants to.

The fear of a runaway-harem-train-crash might be enough to overcome the fear of a sexy blonde gaijin bombshell who thinks he is cute. Pretty easy heroic sacrifice. Twist the other arm. Ooooh you forced me!

Booo Hisss Cheat! Yell the pro-Hato faction. Of course. I admit it.
Just sayin’. That’s why the patriarchy is a rat-bastard. It is always too easy. It owns all the default settings. The game is called Monopoly for a reason.

Doesn’t mean that I don’t think the pro-Hato forces of truth and justice aren’t up for the good fight:

Madarame: Hato, you’re the only one I can be forward with.
Madarame: Whatever’s stopping you from accepting that we could be serious with each other, I’ll help ease your worries.
Madarame: Seriously, don’t think the fact that we’re both guys means that we can’t work out together.
Madarame: Dang yeah, I’ve definitely thought about topping you.
Madarame: Sure man, I get that choosing you means I’ll have to consider role-reversal when it comes to sexy times.
Madarame: (literally in front of every one else, including the girls who are openly vying for his attention) Okay let’s continue our date in private, Hato.

Fuckboys: UHM YEAH, MADAHATO? IT’S JUST NOT REALISTIC. WHEN IS HE GETTING TOGETHER WITH SUE.
– muravie’s Tumblr

And:

“I’ve given up on trying to convince those types. Even if Kio dedicated an entire chapter to Hato and Mada getting it on in graphic detail, they’d still find a way to NO HOMO out of it like “Naw man he tripped and accidentally slipped his penis into Hato and because it was dark he couldn’t tell it was a man he was fucking so totes no homo Sue end when lmao”.”

#their tears are delicious though #they sustain me
-andialex’s tumblr

Even without the deep draughts from the tear bucket, they do make a persuasive set of arguments:

“Without a DOUBT Madarame is way more interested in Hato than any of the others he went on dates with, that’s just utterly blatant. And they’re able to discuss all this so candidly! They’re both trying their best to be totally honest with each other and say how they really feel and what they need and what they want, and it’s all looking just really good and really healthy, you know?

I feel like if they got together, they could have really good communication and that goes such a LONG way in a relationship. They could work out for sure, they really could.

This chapter IS beautiful, oh man. ;_; I love them both.””

-Hatomada’s Tumblr

Point taken. Well pitched. The “Fuckboy” contingent has been letting our end of the argument slip a bit. I fix.

I, or anyone else can write fanfic sequels where Angela told Madarame to go fuck himself, she is nobody’s last choice. Mada leaves, moves away and occasionally pops up again at conventions. (Which begs another question; where are the older Genshiken alumni?)

Or Angela and Madarame walk off into the sunset. Or Hato lends Rika boy clothes and they walk off into the sunset. Or Hato grabs Mada after the speech and sweeps him off his feet in a tango smooch. Or zombies attack just as Madarame is about to reveal who he has chosen.

For a manga about fans who take the stuff they love and make their own stuff to add to the love, there is a serious need for more Genshiken fanficton. Not to be a pest, but Hatozine Vol2 please! I’ll read it. I’ll help. Sorry, I have not enough cred to org it.

Now what do I do with this? I put it up here on this blog of course. Feel free to toss noodles at my ears via the comment section.

What next? I don’t think Kio Shimoku or any of his crew troll obscure English language blogs or English Tumbler space looking for ideas, or to frustrate obvious plot-line speculation by fans. Some time around March 25 we’ll get an idea of how Kio Shimoku wants to play this. If I come close I’ll buy myself a chocolate donut. If he does something else, I’ll look to see if he does it better and try to figure out why he did, what he did.

It’s a hobby.

No, wait. Put on your tin-foil hats and adjust them tight. Get your red and blue pills ready. The big secret that you are not yet ready to understand is that Kio Shimoku sends his minions to read this blog. He’s gonna be sooooooo pissed off that I guessed his solution for chapter 122 that he CHANGES IT. Yuppers! So if you get a nice juicy MadaHatoMada canon ship in chapter 122, it is so because of moi, this post and all my friends at the IATPT. You owe us all big-time. Don’t believe me? You aren’t ready for the TRUTH, Sheeple! Or you suspected it all along, forcing me into revealing it in a purposefully clumsy way as a false flag operation to cover the tracks of the great conspiracy. At least you have no idea yet about the Duck.

And there is no duck.  (1)

Yup, Uhuh!

Or I could just be desperately clinging to old stories. please see:

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2015/12/what-do-when-youre-not-hero-any-more

(You may have to reload a few times or turn off javascript to get around the effing sign-up pop-over.)

Thing is, I’m trying to get around all this. Maybe I just want ALL the alternatives. Mada walks away in disgust with everyone. And Mada walks off into the sunset with Angela or with Keiko or with Sue or with all of the girls or with all the girls plus Hato, as boy, as girl, as boy-girl. And Mada walks off with Hato and then…

No one said the modernist subject has to be a hysterically unified ego-structure. Duh; Joyce, Elliot, blah blah blah. We were fucked the minute they invented the movie camera. Read The Wasteland as screenplay, yadda yadda yadda. How sophomoric of me to mention this.

Does the way the walking off is done have to salve something in the way I want the forms of the symbolic order to play out?

Do the characters have to start acting brutally honest with each other and themselves? Is that just a fallback? Will I put up with some gay-lite if they act honorably and honest? What if Hato is being devious and Madarame is a poor little deluded lamb? What if Madarame is going to turn evil and exploit poor lovestruck Hato? Can they be equally deluded and make funny mistakes over and over and over again? An idiot guys’ guide to fakee gay relationship fun via BL tropes. Try this and fail! Hijinks Ensue. Ok Lets try the idiot guys’ guide to a fakee pervy-queer relationship fun via Josou game tropes. Even funnier fail. Haw haw Haw. Serves you all right.. Should have stuck to cis / het behaviour.

Don’t laugh too hard. In my youth I watched a horribly stupid and somewhat emotionally damaged young couple try to learn how to do “normal” romance by watching 1970’s soap operas. The results were ridiculous but probably better than their earlier attempt to figure out true love using massive amounts of recreational hallucinogens.

Or Mada and Hato walk off into the sunset and slowly figure it all out, with kittens and long walks in the park and finally after many many a chapter, in a special comiket-only 18+ dojin by “some other mangaka“, (special low comiket-only price Y1,000) the happy couple engage in a marathon of yaoi schmex acrobatics to consummate their union then hold each other tightly, talk of their futures together and profess true, unending love, forever, yawn and yawn ever, as Mary Jeanne Johnson once suggested; like happy, married, middle-aged lesbians. Of course she then added: “real gay guys don’t do that”. But what does she know? MJJ blogged before cialis, perhaps even before poppers. Heck, even before Shoujo Sect.

But hey… They could also turn into 70 meter tall kaiju and wreck Tokyo. (Bad fanboy in denial, Bad!)

HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! Chapter 122 will be an extended plug-piece for the new Genshiken Eroge Visual Novel! Yes, you can get all the endings! If you clear all the routes, you get naughty bonus stuff too!

(I just collapsed in a pile of fannish steam out of my ears or something!)

Probably not. Dream on. Some folks will be disappointed.

I could, at this point bring in a few poignant essays from writers, with female and/ or non euro-ethnic and/ or not-straight and/ or not-cis identities about the shit of trying to get through the academic maze and/ or the publishing industry with that old white guy at the gates (gates also staffed by unpaid rich white girl interns) and in their heads, but shit…

The idea that anyone is going to give anyone else a juicy $150K tenured job for life at a university teaching other rich folk’s kids the magic of writing is soon going to vanish down the toilet of the “sharing economy” aka the new serfdom. And fanfiction will displace official fiction as they merge into each other on Amazon. Then Bots will get better at writing and all of us can go home. Gresham’s Law. Freedom of the press means freedom to own one and crank it yourself, and you are reading this hideous mess on yours. Ps: it is also your own personal music and movie studio. Enjoy, please don’t overload the interwebs.

Meanwhile, I get more new content then I can possibly even read at the cost of all my time and a $30/month DSL charge. Let’s so not go into the failing economics of creative production and distribution. It will all soon go belly up and if we want more Genshiken, we will have to make the trip to see Kio Shimoku perform the latest chapter of Genshiken as Rakugo; live with subtitles up on a screen. But we have to all strip and change into yukata first, so we don’t cam the show and bootleg it up onto the web.

Guess I should start running ads on this blog.
Nawwwwwww. Not yet, Feels like work.

Serves Kio Shimoku right for opening the Pandora’s Götterdämmerung of fan-fiction and secondary production in an age when the traditional male gaze diffuses under the pressures of new economic realities, distribution methods and electronically aided production. He will weave tales that take us through the long night ahead. When he falls silent, others will take up the storytelling.

At least none of his characters pirate their manga and anime. No one in Japanese manga or anime ever pirates their fave stuff. They never even go to Book Off for used copies in great shape, for Y100.

Dog most assuredly is not barking.

Let ten thousand flowers bloom.

25 more days.

Ps: the Ogiue Maniax write-up for chapter 121 is up:
http://ogiuemaniax.com/2016/02/26/nayami-heat-genshiken-ii-chapter-121/

 

 

(1)  Later: I just want to make it perfectly clear that the “red-pill” section above is a pure “down-the-rabbit-hole” bat-shit whooohaah attempt at conspiracy humor. You know like that meta-joke Stargate episode… or sumthin’..  What with current US politix, I thought it timely. I haven’t quite lost it… yet. Occasionally over-enthusiastic, guilty as charged. Also, I have nothing against HataMadaHato ships. I think they are cute. I’m not picking on Hato. Just wanted to point out the obvious biases in the structure.  However, I have been reminded that some folks don’t share my sense of the absurd and others find me a bit hard to follow, so I just thought I better… Oh heck, screw it… 

A month later, after the mess that is chapter 122: 
Well this reads like suck in the light of chapter 122. That was not a resolution. That was not a serious response, to anyone and from anyone. I am ashamed of this post but I will leave it up. There is still a lot of Hato, especially in female presenting, full-metal-fujoshier-than-thou mode that is deeply troublesome but during the trip, Hato was locked in her like a straightjacket. She could not break character, lest she lose everything. Besides, the Genshiken is about fans and geek and Hato’s fanning is as legitimate as anyone elses. But that also means Hato should have the right to dial it back if needed.

And Mada… Mada was pursuing, Mada almost went through with it. Only the thought of having to be the lead in a Genshiken no-privacy-ever dojinshi collapsed his resolve. His responses to the others were perfunctory. The response to Hato-as-chan was an invite to pretend it was all a rotten fantasy and damn everything. And so they did. In too many ways, far more insulting than “and then they woke up and it was all a dream”. An honest confession demand an honest response. None was given.

The club did not help, it hindered. Yoshitake was allowed to run her setup. I wonder if she now smiles her work to see. She always assumed that Hato was gay and Madarame would run. I don’t think Madarame suddenly has eyes for guys in general but he felt something real for Hato. He should have been allowed to. Was he “fooled”? Perhaps some of the melodramatics from Hato pushed buttons, but who the fuck was there for Mada when he was stuck at home with a dead wrist? Was that all delusion? Even Hato’s fannish enthusiasms are shat upon. At least I tried in my stupid thing above to value them. How can they even ever face each other again?

We didn’t hear enough from Hato in male mode.We never found out what the two talked about when they continued their “date”. Ogiue was ineffective. Ohno was out of range – no fairy godmother help this time. Sue folded like a house of cards. The entire club was drunked up and then scared shitless of what they had done. This fails the Genshiken, fails the general readers, fails the readers who cheered for a gender-diffuse, non-binary, trying to figure it our Hato (Kio, that is really is low), Fails the stick in the mud middle-aged guy readers who were trying to get their thinking past the angry ghosts of earlier times and even fails the rabid fuckboys who could have lost a bit of the fear that hides behind their snark. It fails as comedy, it fails as tragedy, it fails as slice of life. Fail fail fail.

Damn you Kio, you shat in our cornflakes. Repent!

 

Teenage wasteland

Don’t cry, Don’t raise your eye, It’s only teenage wasteland – Slavoj Žižek

Funny how references from the Monogatari franchise (1) sneak into Genshiken. Sue’s initial Shinobu act (btw: my previous Hato- build up logically references Shinobu Handa of Shoujo Sect infamy, not Mono’s fallen demiurge.), the “hardware store, pot lid and awl” quote are just for starters.

I stutterd Genshiken_v10_035wb

We know that Kio Shimoku and Kōji Kumeta are friends, and that SHAFT creative light Akiyuki Shinbo [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akiyuki_Shinbo] worked on the SZS animes – anyone care to do a full 6 degrees of… ?

vlcsnap-2014-10-15-16h55m05s107

Wasn’t that supposed to be “My abusive language is alchemized through 40 kg copper, 25 kg of zinc, 15 kg of nickel, 5 kg of ice and 97 kg of spite” ???

Ice pick Genshiken_v10_121crop

What if Genshiken was written as Bake(etc.)monogatari?

A great deal of the story in Genshiken moves along because the characters cannot bring themselves to say what they need to say to their friends, and that they stubbornly refuse to deal with their own internal contradictions. In the Monogatari franchise, everybody gets to talk at length and then some about teen neuroses; as these become the cause of their monstrous “aberrations” /possessions. Everyone eventually gets extremely personal. Sure they take the roundabout route first and look at every freaking angle in nearly endless bouts of dialogue, but they inevitably get painfully intimate as they examine each other’s internal “truths” and “lies”. It is always the lies told to one’s self that power the possession de jour.

capture_10092014_224548

Hato’s stands never grow cat ears or snake hair and set off on murderous late-night sprees.

The Genshiken’s members are isolated monads. The closest Mono-like comments in Genshiken are made by Kousaka on Madarame’s Saki crush. Keiko gets to prod Mada too, but it never goes too deep. It is that honne and tatemae thang again, yawn… but this goofy what-if contrast highlights the seductive appeal of the Monogatari franchise.

vlcsnap-2014-10-15-00h18m35s202

At first it the Monogatari franchise looks like a quirky supernatural high-school harem grinder, with plenty of outre fanservice, weird SHAFT design conceits and annoying pacing. TL:WO&O:DW

Lets take a closer look:

vlcsnap-2014-10-15-16h40m32s43

Welcome to the nightmare that is Chiba/ Kawasaki/ Yokohama Monogatari-Alphaville. Definitely a “new” town with too many wide- open streetscapes, big parks, empty pedestrian malls, industry on the edges, a beach/ waterfront and woodlands in the hills surrounding it.

deco bunk bed NiseMon e4web

An affluent burg; a three child family with both parents working in the police force can afford an amazingly spacious modernist/ art-nouveau deco house. Check out the bath room (Japanese homes traditionally put the john in a seperate water closet room) that looks like it is a cross between a spa and a church loft:

isanely large bath web

(Aside: A nice consideration of Degas and bath scenes and loli fanservice in the show can be read here:  http://karice.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/p239/ 
And while I’m at it, a tips of the hat to “Entravity” http://www.entravity.com/monogatari-series-second-season/  for its episodic reviews, and to “Wrong Every Time” http://wrongeverytime.com/?s=monogatari&submit=Search for the considered essays on the series !!!)

The young rich monkey-armed fujoshi lives in a huge old-money walled and gated Japanese style mansion: it comes complete with the requisite tippy bamboo water gong. Her bedroom is the size of a banquet hall and is filled to her height with BL books.

uH7EeqI

Another of the female characters has a spacious bedroom with a balcony and a huge closet for hiding her deepest secrets within.

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Still another heroine has a terrible family situation and sleeps in the hall of her un-parent’s house, but it is a big hall. She will eventually get a good-sized bedroom of her own.

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Even the tsundere heroine’s cartoon poverty digs are not too bad for an incomplete  construction site turned into a home.

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The school grounds are massive and fitted out with finishing design touches that would make a freshly built regional university drool. Sometimes the classrooms look like they could seat 200 students. Other times they are a bit more reasonably sized.

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And then there is that donut shop on the edge of “town”: did SHAFT get a product placement deal? Western franchise style donut shops are rather scarce in the parts of Japan that I have visited. Equally scarce are highways out of town leading to Nevada-esque plains.

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These visual quirks and contradictions are there for a reason. Unlike the close, confined, safe and often claustrophobic social of a “real” Japan, Monogatari-Alphaville is a late-bubble economy, somewhat west-coast USA -like nowhere-ville. There is no “here” here. And it offers a cautionary frisson of danger to the Japanese reader: you want more space, more privacy, more autonomy?

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Be careful what you wish for!

The distance between buildings and structures is mirrored by the distance between people.

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One interesting way around this is the notion of “the character lens” brought out in this blog; http://surprisinglycomplex.blogspot.ca/2013/05/bakemonogatari-behind-summer-triangle.html . Definitely one of the go-to resources for the series, the reviews and essays on the franchise are excellent fun reading! You should visit! The idea behind the lens is that the exaggerations we see are the point of view of the main character.

To restate for clarity: most of the first Mono (Bakemonogatari) is from the POV of the recovering teen vampire Koyomi Araragi. Buddy-boy’s brush with the supernatural has brought on a bit of maturity and he is now a bit less of a rebellious slacker and a bit more thoughtful, introspective and tyro- superhero- “responsible” – especially if the problem involves a girl in distress. He is good-hearted, tries to control his impulsiveness and ecchi urges and is in the process of learning how to negotiate his first serious romance with a formidable girlfriend.

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Because he IS THE POV, we get to see his world in a slightly distorted way; sometimes through his eyes, mostly from tracking perspectives but always exaggerated by his perceptual leanings and state of mind at the time. The gory fight scenes were used as the primary example in the Surprisingly Complex essay. He might have extra ex-vampire strength and healing powers, but the violent stuff still hurts like heck; hence the over the top blood and gore.

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His two younger sisters have become strong skilled brawlers and his chances for brotherly skinship and good-natured harassment – which often descend into borderline lolicon excess are limited…

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…so they are for the most part transferred to lost snail-cow ghost girl. The rest of the over the top fanservice can be similarly situated. Along with a trademark SHAFT ironic presentation, we get our pantsu shots and bath scenes but we can say that we are just laughing at the excess.

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As well they can be read as subjective exaggerations to highlight the residual character flaws of our slowly maturing male hero. He may have Ecchi urges, but he is controlling himself. He and his lady-love are even saving their virtue for after high school graduation. Even if they are almost “engaged” complete with meet the parents, they dont do the teenage lust make-out thing. It is a wonder that they had one good romantic kiss on the night of Tanabata. (D’awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!)

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 Just ignore all the loli pantsu stuff…

Yup, tell that to the customs officers. Oh well, that’s what streaming sites are for.

Let us return to those wide open spaces. The character lens effect from buddy-boy’s POV can only explain so much of the expo/ world’s fair post-modern design nature of Mono-Alphaville. Time to drop a note over to the folks at Neojaponism – they understand commercial design trends, typography and layout a whole lot better than moi. They would have a lot better idea of what “era” is being referenced: I will stick with “bubble economy” because it is easy and vague.

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Aside from freeing the SHAFT animators from the expense of detailed backgrounds by allowing for a clever reworking of CGI savings (dial DOWN the rendering quality from 2.9D to “superflat” then overdo perspective and colour shift for mood. Sell your production economies as style!) the design-conceit heavy spatialized mood of the setting emphasises the social ISOLATION of the characters and strengthens the bonds that form between them. The crowded, visually cluttered, complex and sometimes suffocating modern Japan that gives rise to rigid codes of honne and tatemae, honne and giri, uchi and soto, etc., are blown away like dust in the sterile, wide empty streets.

Cold Equations:

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Aside from the superflat treatment, another inescapable characteristic of the background treatments are their linearity, their hard angles and the use of only the simplest geometric operations for curves. The streetscapes and the city may be jumbled, but it is a jumble born out a dropped geometry set, perhaps an echo of one of the heroine’s school supply weaponry. There are not a lot of complex, natural curves in Monogatari-Alphaville: everything looks like it came out of a 40-year-old street furniture supply company catalogue.

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Even ruins are linear, hard horizontal and vertical strokes, as in the derelict cram school, set off by the one organic oddity that marks it as a magical space – a giant tree that has grown up through its roof.

Life goes on despite, rather than with the help of such a setting.

“To yourself be true. Don’t stress out. Don’t lie to yourself. If the truth of your life is unacceptable you can change that truth but you must change it through deeds not words. Skill suffers if practiced from a personal agenda. The kids are all right. Travel broadens one’s horizons. You can’t choose your family, but they are still your family. There’s no place like home”. These are the commonplaces of coming-of-age tales, and can be expected in a young adult story. Mono has got all these o’ plenty, but the supernatural focus on lies, especially lies told to one’s self verges into almost un-Japanese extremes and in doing so offers a Japanese audience the chance to vicariously experience the shedding of a claustrophobic tatemae in parallel to the experience of the anomic wide-open spaces of Monogatari-Alphaville.

You also get donuts!

And you get frenetic production-fourth-wall black, white, red, whatever transition frames, graphic conceits, text cards, stock illustration fast-cuts and other almost subliminal visual clutter to keep the eyes busy while the platitudes are being endlessly mulled over by the characters.

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Jeesh! All they do is talk talk talk, but seldom has talk been so visually dynamic; except for the Zetsubo Sensei animes which shared the same frantic visual overload to compensate for inane dialogue. The Monogataries seems to have a more consistent style book governing the application of these distractions – as if the producers are trying to stay on a linear storyline, while keeping up the supply of eye-candy. Sometimes it just becomes a bit too much.

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I would guess they are hoping the fans buy the blue ray and endlessly rewind pause-play for hidden extra bits.

This visual clutter adds a certain mood to the story; Shifting POVs, the consideration of multiple subjectivities and multiple, diffuse interpretations of barely understood events. While the roots of this kind of video trickery run deep in Western crime/forensic series, the effect here is to expand “width” of the storytelling and slow it down rather than chivvy the action along.

“How can you make Art out of the internet?” – R.A.Stone
“SLOW… IT… DOWN!!!” – overenthusiastic art student in the audience

Female trouble:

Many late-modern Japanese harem grinders lean toward odd female-centric exercises. The absence of males in the Mono franchise is glaring: the male lead’s dad remains offstage – we see mom do a cameo warning cat-girl not camp over too much, but no dad. The female lead’s dad silently chauffeurs them on a date.

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Guys with agency occasionally make an appearance as part of the ghostbuster irregulars: Hawaii shirt and the con man form a good uncle/ bad uncle tag team that in the end perform similar functions. Of the two, the con-man Kaiki is far more nuanced. Supernaturally limited, he first appears as a Ray Bradbury Carnival devil and finally evolves into a flawed tough-love destroyer of delusions and a hopelessly romantic old dude who still cannot resist playing puppeteer.

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It is fitting that he gets his head severely whacked after saving the day at the end of one arc, reassuring that he pops up again sadder and perhaps a bit more of a shady uncle in a later storyline.

Otherwise it is the girls that get themselves possessed by gods, demons and other aberrations and the girls that eventually solve their own problems. Unfortunately they only seem to be able to solve their problems after being provoked, prodded, questioned, challenged and talked at by buddy boy and his uncle substitutes. At least they usually get to use buddy boy as a punching bag during the exercise, so fair is fair. When buddy boy has to go up against the women members of the ghostbusters, he again gets to both lecture them and get the stuffing beaten out of him.

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The loli vampire Shinobu ex- ridiculously long fake English name heart-under-blade occasionally helps out a bit, but usually buddy boy has to take a beating in order to underline the seriousness of his statements. And of course he then finally gets listened to, the woman/ girl in question goes Eureka, Duh! The problem is solved.

Humph!

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At least in one of the last story arcs (considered chronologically) Hanamonagatori‘s tomboy gets to take on a problem herself. Free-er of outre fanservice than the rest of stories, it resolves as an odd tale of suspicion, respect, affection and regret between two young women who had once been rivals on the basketball court.

Suruga Kanbaru self-identifies matter-of-fact-ly as a lesbian, has a ridiculously excessive taste for BL books, (Note to Ogiuemaniax: Found another one for you!) and is getting used to not being able to hang around with Hitagi Senjōgahara (her first idealized “sempai” crush) and the once-rival for the affections thereof and now only male friend buddy-boy. Her demon monkey arm is still with her and slated to keep her away from sports (and soul-selling wishes) for another two years.

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Up until this tale, she had been the quirky athletic fanservice lesbian almost-member of the Araragi harem, but Hanamonagatori is her tale and she takes what she has learned from her sempais and her own possession experiences and acquits herself and her once rival with honor and dignity. Kaiki buys her Korean barbecue and drop vague hints (see bad uncle above) but leaves her to figure things out. We know he will treat her half fair-and-square because he owes a debt of respect and unrequited love to her deceased mom – who also just happened to be one of the most powerful ghostbusters ever. Another quasi-relative, a sex-shifting cypher with a face that recalls the mask of Darker than Black’s Hei pops up to prod things along, but his (currently) advice is always fraught with danger.

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When earlier story arcs needed a menacing bit of set-the-disaster-in-motion, mask face always appeared as a girl. It was a spooky touch to genderswap her for Kambaru.

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Araragi pops up too, but declines to meddle or ask too much until all is well and done. Friends, not so much sempai and kouhai (or dearest sempai’s tolerable boyfriend) any more; a distance has also grown between them.

Maybe we are getting fed a yurified retread of an old shonen-ai story. Jeesh, the name (!) (a famous early 20th C Japanese f/f romance tale), the lily motifs in the credits, trolling, trolling, trolling… but still remarkably restrained. The previous arcs were not exactly a shining model of empowerment for young women. This time a reluctant girl apprentice takes on the task and does it in a way that only she could manage.

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Of course there will be a duel on the basketball court – which goes down a lot faster than the talk, talk, talk on the court that proceeds it. The basketballs were a nice touch.

So Monogatari(s) for the win…

But just think how much fun could be had if Genshiken had a Monogatari-ish cameo episode:

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Rika chiding Yajima over the Hato-crush, their voices echoing through a deserted Tokyo Big Sight as the winter afternoon sun sets…(cue shining music)

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Ogiue haunting a strangely derelict club-block (cue shining music) as a cat-eared monster that jumps out of windows, kicking Sasahara around until Ohno and Saki prevail upon her to heal herself.

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Hato turning into gawd knows what with the stands, Kicking around Mada along campus plazas that seem to stretch on for miles (cue shining music).

University empty

Sue as Shinobu getting to beat the Hato continuum up, while telling them to heal themselves in fractured anime quotes.

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Saki turning into a busty moe-blob fire starter Maid, kicking Madarame and Kuchiki around a a strangely deserted mall-scapes (cue shining music) until Kousaka gets her to calm down and heal herself.

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Ohno turning into something Bayonetta-esque, or better; a demonized Murcielago knock-off and ripping apart the entire damn Genshiken membership male and female in a deserted onsen (that seems to stretch out for miles – cue shining music) until the batteries give out on Tanaka’s camera. She then reasons with her many alter-egos and heals herself. Some magical bullshit treats everyone’s injuries and they complain about too much cosplay in the Genshiken during a mixed bath scene.

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Rika turning into a mean cartoon drunk (cue Tom Waits music) kicking nobody, nobody really caring enough to tell her to snap out of it and heal herself.

Nawwwww, that probably wouldn’t work.

Random Endnotes:

1) Yes, the word monogatari is just the bad romanization of the Japanese term for “tale” or “story”, so of course this refers to the SHAFT produced anime franchise and the light novels by that they are based on. See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monogatari_(series). Excerpt: “.. A series of Japanese light novels written by Japanese novelist Nisio Isin and illustrated by Taiwanese illustrator Vofan. Kodansha has published 18 novels since November 2006 under their Kodansha Box imprint, with at least one more novel planned.

One fan’s listing of the anime so far:

Story’s Chronological Order
1. Kizumonogatari -Movie Prequel (in perpetual post-production)
2. Nekomonogatari: Kuro
3. Bakemonogatari
4. Nisemonogatari
5. Monogatari Series Second Season
-Nekomonogatari: Shiro
-Kabukimonogatari
-Otorimonogatari
-Onimonogatari
-Koimonogatari
6. Hanamonogatari should be between Kabuki and Otori  (no, it happens after, Duh!)

And unreleased parts are:  
7.Tsukimonogatari
8. Koyomimonogatari
9. Owarimonogatari
10.Zokuowarimonogatari

Warning! Warning! Category field breach!

As I read way too much manga online, I try to adopt M.J.Johnson’s earlier quoted dictum…

“You can say ‘Male pregnancy stories don’t do it for me’ if you like, but to say ‘Male pregnancy stories are stupid and childish and people should stop writing them’ is not only arrogant, it’s dangerous. All fantasies are legitimate or none are, and to discredit the male pregnancy fantasy is automatically to discredit your own fantasy of mutual empowerment and non-penetrative sex.”

…In a wider context, that is to say that if […] doesn’t work for me; Ok, but to condemn […] out of hand is to condemn all desires, including my own. The trick is to do so while still drawing a line, because some desires are just plain nasty, harmful, and criminally irresponsible, even within the realms of “fantasy is fantasy”.

As well, there is the ‘my boat” effect: This is the stuff I read and think about for enjoyment during my free time, and I know what I like. I think I know what I do not like. Of course I don’t know all of what I like, so I shouldn’t dismiss entire genres completely out of hand, on the other hand

Whatever!

That said, IMHO, pour moi, [add a few more caveats here] …

…historical themes, fantasy realms, anything involving “virtual reality” or “I fell into a game”, including virtual girlfriends, %99.98 of all sports manga, tales of horror, guro/grotesque, cat girls, alien girl dropped on surprised boy, teacher crush and incest angst potboilers, delinquent high school/ or yakuza grinders, death- fights- on- islands, lets start a band/ be an idol/ become the world’s greatest chef epics and anything with small magic ponies are about as avoidsome for me as yaoi/bl (except that the rotten girls who produce the last are my fave pure radioactive sociology candy).

And then there is the little matter of vampires…

Short form of hate-on: “Protector” by Larry Niven.

I encourage those of you who have met Niven’s creation to now pause and think of them as a thought experiment: something that works like a vampire but is diametrically opposite to the vampire character. Those who haven’t yet, go get some.

They would be as gods except for their innate compulsion to always think things through to logical extremes and immediately carry out a scorched earth conclusion – and that they must protect their blood-kin at all costs.

Nowhere does Niven claim to have created “protectors” as an antidote to the maddening mush that is high church canon for vampiric tales, especially post-Rice bodice (and suit-coat) ripper, slash- influenced teen fan-fic derived potboilers. (whew!)

So, you live forever, heal fast, have amazing strength, and that allows you to act like a spoiled rich spiteful teenager forever, Uhuh? I await the giant meteor impact on the next page. Most vampiric characters are small malicious boring fools. I am not the first to note this; there are 20+ sub-variants of this effect on the TV tropes site, but again, I judge it hardly worth the powder to blow the genre to ifny. Does not work for me. You may find small malicious boring fool characters quite amusing and endearing.

A few writers have worked this problem to comedic effect. Jody Scott’s Sterling O’Blivion is a wonderful, funny creation. Who can forget their first guilt- laden- catholic- time- travelling- lesbian- dance- instructor vampire novel? Especially if she falls head over heels for an alien manatee who insists on shapeshifting into the semblance of Virginia Wolf to attract our plucky heroine’s attentions? It was gushed over by old-school euroethnic middle-aged male sci-fi writers when it first appeared (which was so odd that stick-in-the-mud boy decided that he had to read it, oh so, so long ago – maybe it is her fault that I developed a taste for yuri?), and has gone on to become a minor cult classic. Sadness: footnoting this just led me to news of Ms. Scott’s passing in 2006. In lieu of an elegy, see her web page archived here:
http://web.archive.org/web/20071020180558/http://jodyscott.org/

Vampires are of course as popular as french pastry in manga-land. Most are as stupid and obnoxious as the western product. The “Blood, the last Vampire” anime short was a groundbreaker, (the vampire as ur-BFG) but sequels degenerated into post-Rice mush. The live-action movie sucked. There is a bishie BL prequel to v2 out in manga format. Blergghh! OOOps Doesn’t work for me…

Negima‘s goth-loli vampire was a slightly better creation, at least by the time she popped up to time-travel-ex-machina at the end of the epic. Her initial character grew considerably, aided by her reclusive, anti-social outlook played against the sad, defiant crush that drove her to support the boy magician – the son of her barely requited love. Still, she could have used her considerable knowledge, power, longevity and cynicism to become a capitalist dynast or even make some school friends years earlier, rather than hide in a bottle. How can one live so long without picking up even a shred of (dare I say it ) humanity?

Which leads to the very popular, initially engaging, extremely densely written and ultimately unsatisfying world of “Dance in the Vampire Bund“.

I should have known better. This is one of the drawbacks of hunting for something new. You think you have found an interesting exception to the category and then lots of somethings go wrong. Most of the time it is “workmanship”: the story falls apart, goes nowhere, reverts to all those tropes of the genre that I already know do not work for me.

And then you get the really ambitious ones that turn into a monumental train wreck, or worse a monumental train wreck made up of all the annoying bits of multiple avoided genres…

All while you realise that your train wreck is a tasty smorgasborg for the series’ fans.

from the wiki:

“The story revolves around Mina Tepeş, princess-ruler of all vampires, and her protector — Akira. Like other vampires, Mina has been in hiding with her people for many years. Seeking to end centuries of isolation, Mina gains permission to create a special district for vampires, “The Bund,” off the coast of Japan by paying off the entire national debt of the Japanese government. Mina then reveals to the world the existence of vampires and her desire for both races to live together. Tensions, however, run high as fearful humans and extremist vampire factions begin to interfere with Mina’s wish for peace with the human world.”

The main problem with Bund is that it tries to be all vampire stories, and a whole bunch of other genres, all at once, to everyone. So at any moment we are getting “Japanese society falling apart due to panic and suspicion” (The Martians Have Landed on Maple Street), The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne of Green Gables, a high school power struggle tale, suicide bomber terrorist threats, nanotech infection epidemics, geopolitical machinations by corrupt politicians, court chivalry romance, goth loli fanservice (Mina-hime is way too young, and her outfits way too skimpy – certain parts of the localised US anime had to be censored) werewolf bonding/ betrayal grinder and rotten girl fanservice vehicle with a furry yaoi rape scene.

It also has battling maids, Rasputin, elite commando strike teams, human and vampire riots, a South American drug-cartel running spoiled aristocrat vampire lord, a stripper with the heart of gold, a runaway nuclear reactor, black helicopters, a shotacon couple turned vampires, cute kids who save the day by navigating the hidden sewer tunnels under the city, and oh gawd, I lose track.

So far no done- as- an- Andrew- Lloyd- Webber- Musical episode. No Mecha or magical little ponies…

Yet.

Who again is this thing written for?

Moar wiki:

“The manga series is serialized in Media Factory’s seinen manga magazine Comic Flapper”

Even more wiki:

“Seinen manga (青年漫画?) is a subset of manga that is generally targeted at a 18–30 year old male audience, but the audience can be older with some manga aimed at businessmen well into their 40s. In Japanese, the word Seinen means “young man” or “young men” and is not suggestive of sexual matters. (The female equivalent to seinen manga is josei manga.) It has a wide variety of art styles and more variation in subject matter, ranging from the avant- garde to the mundane and to the pornographic. Because of the emphasis on storyline and character development instead of action, some seinen series are often confused with shōjo, or girls’ manga. [citation needed]”

Is this a separate genre from moe-blob fiction? Is this what turns Madarame’s crank? Is this closer to Saito Tamaki’s beautiful fighting girl stuff? Or it is just pure lolicon?

A few points of interest:

The plotting frequently relies on the obedience that the vampiric bite-er can compel of the bite-ee, a hardwired behaviour that forms an absolute hierarchy of deference that culminates with the princess herself. I am guessing that this resonates with the sempai/kouhai and sensei/ student deference patterns in real-life Japanese society. That these patterns are breaking down only makes the mythologized version more resonant. (This is a Baudrillard conceit on my part, plz ignore if jarring, I just like doing it)

The “hidden hand” secret society behind %90 of the upheavals in the story has even used this effect to sow global confusion with a nanotech “virus” that overstimulates the obedience compulsion in vampires, causing them to commit self-destructive terrorist acts in the belief that their regional vampire leaders are ordering them to do so. (An allegory of religious extremism? How quaint!)

A Vampire “Bund” or (never mentioned) Dejima! What a way to deal with the immigrant question!

Gaijin ways and bad behaviours are contagious. A vaccine might not always be available.

The dance in the aristocratic court of the vampire princess“: These tropes begin to vex, but have enough of a resonance with the origins of the vampire mythos in euroethnic society to hold my attention. The origins of the Western vampire mythos owed a lot to taking the vestiges of a corrupt, venal, oppressive European aristocracy and essentializing them within a bogie. Nosferatu was always a post-french-revolution Sade-ian aristo, after the pure peasant girl and one step ahead of the Bastille day mob. Blood- sucking parasites all! Van Helsing was no Marx, but he might be a friend of Engels.

The court of the vampire loli princess is still an absolute monarchy, and has to be absolutely ruthless whenever the aristocratic ambience needs a boost. While necessary to the chivalry themes that are deployed surrounding the protagonist Akira, they also serve to set at least two strong friendship vs deference subplots in motion. There is also the entire succession/ marriage of the true-bloods sub-plot which sets the stage for much court intrigue and loli lust angst.

Oh, and we get to see the princess’s “true form” adult, voluptuous, armoured fighting girl (so not underage, therefore not really loli smut – she just “hides” as a half-nekkid prepubescent tyrant so she wont be married off to some regressive scumbag from the old vampire aristocracy.) Yeah, right…

With all her advanced medical resources and cynical realpolitik, the idea of keeping a dewer flask of liquid nitrogen, a turkey baster and some very sharp knives close at hand when her slimy true blooded suitors come calling somehow eludes her.

The concluding arc of the manga, with Mina and her doppelgänger plays the court chivalry and deference notes to extremes. I wonder if our heroine’s last trick will be to introduce a virus/ nanotech/ plot device that breaks the obedience compulsion in vampires and grants all of her subjects free will as she institutes a constitutional monarchy. So much for sequels.

As troubling as the too young and too skimpily clad vampire princess is the fujoshi fan-service that sneaks into the story line. I should have expected it when the schoolgirl friends, maids and the princess started to get interested in the fan-fiction written by the good-hearted (non-vampire) girl.

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Fujoshi wink-wink-nudge-nudge should have no place in a guy’s manga, but the author and the publisher know that rotten girls troll these magazines for pairing fodder. Here is iron-clad proof that at least one mangaka is ready to exploit this effect.

Not only did the ship-your-male-aquaintances trope pop up. Before you can say “childhood crush” we are introduced to a very effeminate, sometimes cross- dressing werewolf pack buddy of Akira, one who went through a traumatic rite-of-passage with him, and who has extreme ideas of how to demonstrate the strength of the bond forged during that time. Even princess Mina gets jealous until it dawns on her that wolf is a dude!

This would be no problem, even when the mangaka tossed in a gratuitous yaoi-rape scene wherein effeminate wolf sacrifices himself to calm down a berserk-mode werewolf, one of the four buddies damaged horribly during the survival test/ rite of passage.

This is what gets the rotten girls off?

It went a bit like this, only with more taut bishie thigh, ass, screaming and clawing..

furries Plushophiliac

Wasn’t it nice of me to spare you the details? Wow, I didn’t freak out in disgust. I might have a few years ago. Award myself 2 “adult maturity points” and keep reading. (lose one point for subbing in the furry pic – couldn’t resist)

But worse is to come: What really, really, really pissed me off was that a few chapters later it is revealed that gay- wolf- boy has been allied with the nameless conspiracy and is murderously sabotaging and killing off all manner of allies and friends because he is gay, and if only the princess can have Akira, then anyone else who looks up to him should die, die, die – including himself, preferably by Akira’s vengeful hand.

Uh Huh! The faggot did it, motivated by psychotic faggot-lust, with some faggotty death urge tossed in.

Ya can’t trust them… they just do that stuff.

Rotten girl tropes of motivation for extreme behaviour merge with mean-spirited old-school homophobia. Ok, the mangaka is a guy, so this is not a ‘true” fujoshi-made bl/y artifact, but it gave me the same angry sinking feeling that I got when I realised that every single goddamn P.D. James mystery could be solved early on by finding the “artsy” character. Find the hidden freak, they did it. Throw away the book, change the channel on the Beeb tellie version on PBS Mystery. They will murder again and again indiscriminately to cover their tracks, driven by artsy (often gay or lesbian) psycho-ness while the detective gets more and more depressed.

That, like Bund is just lazy writing that hides behind a nasty inflexible way of looking at people.

Even a middle age straight boy of euroethnic extraction can get riled up in a politically correct way if the alternative is stupid brain-dead fascist shyte.

Meanwhile in the real world, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has decided that all that Western gay marriage stuff is seriously undermining the country (by doing what? letting a few people snuggle their way?). The Duma has now passed strict laws against anything that can be considered “gay propaganda”. I presume that means that a lot of scanlated fujoshi manga is going to have to vanish from rusky servers and a few of New Russia’s rotten girls will end up in the slammer along with Pussy Riot’s singer. Will yuri be exempt? Does Putin, like the book of Leviticus, Queen Victoria and Saito Tamaki believe that lesbianism is inconsequential?

Don’t try to smuggle any Anne Rice books into Moscow.

Moscow does not believe in yaoi.

Both the meta-fictional world and the real world betray similar urges towards the cynical uses of bigotry.

I might drop by “the Bund” again in half a year to see if my hunches on the plot-mess plays out. Even psycho gay-wolf boy, thought dead, has re-appeared: will he sacrifice himself to atone for his past sins, or will he murder and betray again? Maybe he will just find another pretty wolf-boy, settle down and declare that evil hidden conspiracy nanotech made him do it. Perhaps a few mecha will be dropped into the mess; so we can have werewolf special forces elite commandos (they carry SG1 issue P90’s) piloting mechas against Chinese vampire bio-engineered tentacle raping 50 foot high slime monsters. (though we already have had a tentacle rape creature in one fight scene…)

Followed by a giant meteor impact, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown, with Japan sinking and everyone having to cross-dress to survive, but only through the magical power of friendship.

Contrast Bund to a the remix of tried and true sword and sorcery tropes in the Maoyuu Maou Yuusha franchise. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wikis/Maoyu) As mentioned, I avoid sword and sorcery stories, but the allegorical device of naming all the characters after their roles, plus the first battle scene in the court of the Demon Lord hooked me.

The Demon Lord is a voluptuous, bookish demon lady economist and historian. She looks great with or without reading glasses. She wants only peace and prosperity for both demons and humans. She plans to end the perpetual wars between humans and demons with applied agricultural science, potatoes, mercantilist economics, and the help of the hero (named Hero) who shows up to battle her and gets an economics lecture and a marriage proposal of sorts (Hero  is a bit dense about romance, he hasn’t quite figured out the whole deal yet – surprise: she’s sweet on him!).

It reminds me of all the 1970’s era “rise of civilization” mainframe computer games like Sumer, and of H.B.Piper’s Lord Kalvan (aka Gunpowder God). Maoyuu plays to its strengths as allegory of rationality vs the harsh realities behind the romanticism of sword and sorcery feudalism. It does one thing, and does it well.

Nozomu Tamaki I am wise to your tricks! Pull your socks up and finish off this manga off properly!

Oh wait.. non-vampirised human girl wakes up in the school infirmary! It was all a dream!

Rage.

Another category field breach:

I like the drawing style and cynical humour of the relationships in Rendou Kurosaki’s Houkago Play. I know that he (?) also writes ecchi stuff, both in yuri and yaoi -land. I generally try to avoid yaoi, –hey it’s just me- but I had to look up his oneshot “ON” because I had read everything else of his that was scanlated.

I do not know how to process it.

I had the benefit of the aggregator site’s “yaoi” warning; its original readers in a josei mag must have wondered at least for a few pages whether one of the couple was male or female. Soon enough all becomes clear, and depressed young gay kid is letting the slightly older “beatnik” character come in his face. I guess the depiction of gay secks isn’t too shocking. Then the couple cuddles while they struggle to express how they feel. Neither can express themselves well out loud.

dont kill yoself little gboy -ON Kurosaki Rendou p10 web

I was overcome with a real strong feeling of “hey young gay kid, don’t throw yourself off a bridge! It will get better, somehow…

Yeah, they are just fictions, but my sympathy buttons were pushed.

I award myself 2 more adult maturity points.

This doesn’t look like what bara is supposed to be, doesn’t have the ritualised pairing characteristics and ass-rape of canon yaoi, and lacks the happy ever after of yuri’s “story A“. And it is by a male mangaka. I am guessing it would be completely at home in some gay-positive western publication aimed at troubled teens, but Japan ain’t supposed to give a whit about real LGBTQ folks.

Whatizzit ???

Is this moe for a certain subset of the tribes of rotten girls or do most hate it?

One of my senior advisors at the editorial desk, Bill Occam is grumbling at me that if seinen magazine staff know that rotten girl readers check seinen magazines for bishie material, then josei magazine staff can expect that closeted young male Japanese gay guys probably troll through josei magazines looking for a yaoi/bl fix, and it does well for sales to toss a sympathetic affirmational cookie in their direction now and again.

At least genre innovation is alive and well in the pages of manga magazines. A correspondent reports that one of the big yuri series for LFB’s (popular with western wimmins too), one which I have avoided because the characters look too young –hey it’s just me– features clumsy sex fail comedy. I have often wondered why such an inescapable part of human intimacy is missing from manga-land.

Non-idealised funny/ sad mediocre bonking is the last frontier! Considering how much of it exists in the real world, it might be a revolutionary thing to advance social scripts on how to deal with it.

It made Dennis Arcand’s Declin a hit

So category field breach can go either way I guess.

Which leads me to an AWSOME THOUGHT EXPERIMENT!

How would Genshiken read/ look like if done by Aoi Hanna/ Wandering Son’s Takako Shimura?

… Pause for dramatic effect…

Hmmmmm…. Redrawers and typesetters needed.

“You do not understand the heart of a man…”


“Goddamnit, are you fucking blind?! Do I look like a French elite soldier?! Do I carry a sword with me?! Am I blond?! No, damnit! I am NOT a GIRL!” ~ Oscar Wilde, (via uncyclopedia) once again having to explain to -certain- anime fans that he has nothing to do with Rose of Versailles

A former classmate and friend; a woman who happens to like other women was recently talking to me about some of her artwork and out of nowhere, mentioned her “virtual dick”. I think I surprised her by casually mentioning that I had heard of stuff like that before from her tribe, and wondered how common it was. Pretty standard – used at once seriously and ironically of course, she replied, thereby confirming that Akiko Mizoguchi was not trolling her readers when she was talking about one of the odder aspects of her sisterhood’s fun with BL manga.

Thanks to a strong and vibrant fan culture, we have seen that large sections of the manga-versa are oddly gendered spaces, in the sense that they reflect the desires and preferences of communities of interest that are not necessarily classify-able as “mainstream”. Am I being too diplomatic? The manga-verse is full of pervy freaks! (and I mean this in the warmest way possible…) The folks at neojaponism have ventured that because of the inelastic demand of hard core sub-communities, fringe interest can skew the market during periods of economic hardship and market contraction, precipitating a “death spiral” of outsider taste that kills mainstream engagement and suppresses export opportunities.

See:
In music: http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/22/2011-popular-music/ and http://neojaponisme.com/2010/12/09/2010-k-idols-vs-j-idols/

In general http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/01/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-four/

Not exportable http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/02/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-five/

Of course, from the enthusiasts’ point of view, they are busy saving their beloved sub-genres from utter annihilation: a sacred cause that often ends in exhortations to eschew piracy, scanlations and even used tankobons in favour of buying multiple new releases – voting with their hard earned disposable income while the riajuu purchases fall away.

Pervy manga, whether yaoi, yuri, bara, guro, loli, shota or worse (!) doesn’t export well and is pretty well a speciality product even in Japan. Scanlator interest might mirror this effect, spreading the weird stuff and skewing the sample of product available to westerners, but it contributes nadda to revenues. Now, it is true that genre manga also serves an important, sometimes lifesaving role for folks who find themselves alone, without friends and wondering if their particular “secret thing” has left them abject and isolated in the world, but dammit, you can’t monetize that kind of value. Western fanfiction has a subgenre called hurt-comfort – that I want no part of knowing too much about – but I am sure its mere existence helps those who need it a bit. Some brave souls will undoubtedly sooner or later take it in hand and try to steer it so that it doesn’t cause solid-world harm while providing a modicum of catharsis. Meanwhile, fan-fiction doesnt have to pay printing bills. And then of course, there is plain ole squick.

Perhaps the (now-ex) right-wing governor of Tokyo has a greater agenda in mind with his attempts at censorship (no… ). This does not bode well for an export driven “cool Japan” marketing strategy. Similar tendencies have been noted by neojaponism writers with regard to J-pop’s cult of cute but inept amateur (fan identification / moe/ pity) vs the more polished and entertaining K-pop competition.

“In Korea, Girls Generation were originally marketed to men. This may seem unbelievable, but Korean males have evidently have fallen prey to the weird fetish of enjoying attractive, slender, and sexy women in contemporary outfits and chic haircuts.” -neojaponism

BORING! If I want music I will turn on a radio!

How about some oyagi (middle age man) fetishism instead: (GAHHHHHHHHH!)

GAWD effing HELL!

What hath the wimmens of japan wrought this time???

Behold Oyajina!, wherein a chemical spill turns all the high school girls in Tokyo into middle aged men. Something like yaoi (well more like BL or OY/L) ensues..

About this time it becomes obvious that a society with rigidly proscribed social roles is going to get a lot of “carnival” humour. No one is, or by the laws of karmic vengeance, should be, safe.

At first glance, this is so wrong in so many ways, it is impossible to imagine.

Yet for some reason, not matter how odd some interests appear at first glance, there is usually some responsible fan (or more often a fen) to take the genre in hand, advocate for it and provide a guide for newbies who happen to share an interest (and/ or a need) for such, in a safe space.

“…And then he came up towards me, swinging in towards my left-hand wing-tip. I could make out the black hulk of him against the dim white sheet of fog below. He held station alongside me for a few seconds, down moon of me, half invisible, then banked gently to the left. I followed, keeping formation with him, for he was obviously the shepherd sent up to bring me down, and he had the compass and the radio, not I…” – Forsyth

In this instance, I commend to those who want more oyagi, the very able proprietor of shinkeikaku.wordpress.com, where one dedicated and knowledgeable fen gets interested in any manga with middle aged guys in it. She is also a treasure trove of information about obscure online jp manga and the pc (or not) tricks needed to get it to work, as well as the location, purchase and shipping of obscure middle-age-guy-fetish manga.

It is damn hard to pull an “freak of the week” “Ewwwwww! too weird!” when confronted with such care and level-headed, even-handed enthusiasm.
If you accept Ohno as a believable character, you have to…

Respect!

For me, I need to take a break from manga that has too much in the way of layered readings, and from the entire gender-theory glee squad. And I am left with my own big question: whither/ what is mainstream “guy” manga in Japan, and Korea?

Where does one go in the manga-verse for some manly (yup, hetero-normative) escapist adventure, laughs and reassuring tales of heroism and friendship? Something that while not exactly being goggle-proof (I doubt if such a beast exists), at least isn’t winking every 2nd panel at shippers.

Where indeed, especially since I am not going to stick my nose into conventional sport/ battle manga, I demand some humour, and I am a sucker for something out of the ordinary. Also the FMP franchise is pretty well wrapped up…

Behold my first recent find: Geito – Jieitai Karenochinite Kakutatakaeri AKA Gate – Thus the JSDF Fought There,, a cross between Stargate SG-1 and Dungeons and Dragons. Originally a series of web novels, it is now being redone as a manga. With a sometimes otaku hero, a recon brigade of JSDF stalwarts and 3 local females – including a 900 yr old (looks 14) goth loli death god’s priestess (yup, diminutive full goth loli outfit, oversize battle axe, taste for bloodshed, la la la..) our adventurers lay waste to tens of thousands of bloodthirsty sword-wielding medieval soldiers and the occasional fire-breathing dragon – using attack helicopters, field artillery, tanks and automatic weapons. They play Wagner too!

To be fair, the barbarous horde did emergeth out of the aforementioned gate in Tokyo’s Ginza and hath slaughtered a few hundred civilians before armed response could be brought to bear upon them, so a few chapters of modern heavy armament butchery/ revenge (can you say “highway of death”) be-eth a great way to get the story rolling…

What really makes this stuff fun is how well it can walk a tightrope between simple adventure fantasy and insane Japanese right-wing sound-truck mouth-foaming. Apparently the web novel original was rather more right-wing, and the otaku-freeter-JDSF reservist main character showed more of his earlier training as a “ranger”. Meanwhile, all the world powers, especially those evil neo-imperialist Chinese want a foothold in fantasy-land to exploit the natural resources and empty out the slums – even if everything has to be dragged through a far-gate (EET iz nawt a starrrr-gate, EEEt iz a Faaaar-Gate!) in the middle of the Ginza. Someone should warn Ampontan about this too!

So, does this little romp turn out to be a right-wing militaristic propaganda-fest that mirrors a rise in real-world in nationalistic sentiment and xenophobic fear in Japan? Or will our ex-special forces otaku hero simply fall for the 900 year old homicidal goth loli?

Is there a tv tropes entry for odd-ball Japanese engrish naming conventions?

Short answer – YES!
But I’m betting on those garters and pantsu!

Exhibit #2: more proof of the validity of Neojaponism’s otaku death spiral theory, with the polished, mainstream Korean response to the lack of manly JP manga: a gritty, realistic and wonderfully illustrated tale of 2 years of South Korean national military service, served at a mountain rescue squad, in Hong Seong-su and Im Gang-hyeok’s PEAK.

%100 pure mountain climbing manhwa. No shipping here! no goggles! no sex! just mountain climbing with your crew. You slip up, you die. You get over-confident, you die. The wind shifts during a rescue.. You get the idea.

that mountain…

So what if the main character was a ballet dancer before his draft number came up, he’s definitely a straight one (lots of girlfriend-longing dream sequences tossed in for reassurance). If anything, what is going to seduce him towards unnatural passion is going to be that mountain. It will make him strong, and then it is going to try to kill him. Repeatedly.

And the art-work is effing amazing. And I don’t generally go ooooooh over manga/manhwa art. I eat manga to escape art dammit, but this one floored me.

A few days later: Grrrrrrrrr! The manhwa-gakas couldn’t leave well enough alone; no… they had to throw some goggle-bait into the characterization of the new squad leader. Effing Hell! Squad leader likes to go for 5am runs, and then get nekkid as the sun rises – gimme a break!

Try again: there is always the last boss of chill and turn off the brain – the goofy pit of shonen-manga-ness that is Gintama.

And there is a boatload of it to marathon through – seriously addictive, even if you know it is bad for your thought processes.

Once you buy the idiotic premise of the Gintama-verse – that a universe-load of different, dangerous MIB- style space aliens, rather than yankees landed in Edo in the 1800’s – then you can get away with murder – or at least serial outrages against propriety.

Excrement jokes, vomit jokes, fart jokes, toilet battles and an arranged marriage to a gorilla. Not even Lupin can get away with the stuff that Gintama flings about. Dialogue is heavy on non-sequiturs and quips – Here the manly alternative to being politely indirect is to act oblivious to anything annoying and to reply with nonsense. I have to try this at work!

Of course there are fight scenes – tons of fight scenes! These would be boring as all ifny, but for the fact that each one subverts the fight scene genre in some extreme way.

A mexican standoff/ samurai duel in an outhouse with sandpaper instead of toilet paper. It might be a parody of this.

you wipe, you lose…

 

I want to go on, but it is all a horrible blur

I “know” that any manly-man cultural product may be a synthetic creation, prone to dripping irony and bad faith, but I still feel in need of a fix. Like the hundreds of lousy bands that cover Queen’s “I’m in love with my car”, despite it having been an anthem of a band led by a gay icon, I embrace its lame, goofy shit-headed male-ness as a pean and antidote to frustrating complexity.

A musical interlude:

 

Of course, a bit of cursory google-fu shows that the wimmins are busy shipping Gintama nine ways to next Tuesday, even though its serial crudeness masks a charming, shy, very hetero-normative chastity that is played for every last drop of tension possible.

..The scarred ninja girl warrior who “sacrifices” herself for a night at the geisha house with our hero to reward him for saving her people (some sacrifice – she has a crush on him)… gets very drunk too fast and proceeds to try to bash him about the head with the sake bottle, then drink (and eat) him and his crew under the table. (crew appears like magic once the uncomfortable- for- both- of- them sexual tension is dispelled in a brawl). In the Gintama-verse, this qualifies as heavy romance – almost as good as giving her the second button from your school jacket. Or did she just give him her second button? Too confusing!

Awwwwwwwwwww!

In any case, she wins the drinking contest, by going out on neighborhood patrol the morning after, while the gang is left sleeping off the night’s binge. Who can doubt that romance is in the air?

Sadly, past attempts to market Gintama to the west have proved unsatisfactory, as the jokes are so “in” that only hard-core japanophiles will get a quarter of them. As well, few commercial publishers care to fill up their translated manga with pages and pages and pages of footnotes, references and wiki-links.

The “death spiral” is slowed a bit, but not stopped.

Soon all that remains will be One-Piece.