Violet Evergarden: Beautiful Fighting Girl or headless robot maido?

Who is Violet? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she;
The heaven’s grace did lend her,
That she admired be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being help’d, inhabits there.

Then to Violet let us sing,
That Violet is excelling;
She excels in each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us our troubles bring.

Apres W. Shakespeare,Two Gentlemen of Verona

Recently a certain lazy trick of dramatic license is beginning to wear on my nerves. It is something like the Old Yeller effect, aka the Bambi’s Mom effect. Want to add some dramatic tension to your tale? Toss in some senseless violent tragedy as prologue and / or ending. Tadah! Must be serious literature-like because it is sad.

If I want grief I will turn on the news.

Because of this kind of crap, Chise in Ancient Magus Bride has to go through a creepy slave auction. Strange; you have all manner of over-powered magical creatures inhabiting that world, all with their own sense of what is right and fair and good. It would take one of them to wipe any such an abomination from existence. Even Black Butler, a series that is nothing but violent creepy-tastic shotacon-BL-bait starts by obliterating a similar perv-pit. I didn’t like it when Chip Delany did it for one of his gay sci-fi morality tales 30 years ago and I still don’t like it. Just me.

Why not give one or more of the young women in Aria a senselessly violent and creepy back story, just for Otaku juice?

With Youjo Senki (young girl’s war diary/ The saga of Tanya the Evil), the whole of the story is drenched in war. The extra twist, that she is a reincarnated asshole salaryman caught in a Job-like wager with a deity just winds the karmic clock springs:

Get a safe behind-the-lines sinecure but let’s do just one more teeny weenie over-the-top-murderous-stunt to prove to my superiors how effing qualified and worthy of promotion I am, even if it will get me near-killed. Do not succumb to any weak spiritual mumbo-jumbo and let being X win. Oh frick! Looks like I really like killing! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

“Ps, God personally hates me and the feeling is mutual.”

So what happens when your perfect child soldier/ girl golem/ vague unexplained war-“doll” is smashed up in battle, decommissioned and then told to find a life among civilians? Pretty much the same as what happens between battles for any of the other examples of Dr. Saito Tamaki‘s Beautiful Fighting Girl; she starts to wonder what all those complicated and confusing feelings are and then shoujo manifests. Or the shonen-ish shadow thereof, as the magic, miracle girlfriend slowly goes all dere-dere.

Fortunately, an obscure manga had the final last word on this kind of nonsense years ago

I always liked the tomboyish shojou-ai young women’s homosocial of Transistor Teaset (2009). On my first visit to Japan, I toured Akihabra and even chanced upon the night swap market in the parking garage featured in Akihabara@DEEP. Russian amp tubes, American and JSDF army surplus radio parts. Sadly it was gone to redevelopment a few years later and fewer of the original small “radio town” shops remained.

Perhaps by now they are all gone, replaced by otaku-ish cafes and giant camera-and-consumer-gadget stores for the tourist trade. I found the older electronic parts stores more to my taste: even before I messed around with early PC’s I soldered together transistorised kits, designed primitive vacuum tube amplifiers and fixed up clunky tube tv sets. One day someone will write of the connection between ham radio swap meets, sci-fi conventions and Comiket style zine events; a secret history of the 20th century. In Japanese vernacular culture, the associations between radio waves and eccentricity lingers, viz the young detective in Paranoia Agents, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko (Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl) and the Akiba’s Trip franchise. Think “tinfoil hat” if you need a localized equivalent.

The young protagonists of Transistor Teaset, eccentric as they might be, are formidably deadpan in their knowledge and consideration of the current, limited definition of Otaku.

Otaku once meant any type of well-versed hobbyist and the electronic hobbyist always considered themselves among the most hardcore elite of old-school otaku. (Computer nerds? Hah! I will see you one clone AppleII and raise you my JLS OBM-l00 XT motherboard in the attic). Therefore by divine right they are entitled to take a dismissive stance towards the most sacred tropes of lesser aotakudoms.

The Auto Memory Doll of the Violet Evergarden anime is just a clunky, fanciful way of saying public secretary for hire. Before the term typist was used, people reportedly used the word type-writer to refer to the woman behind the machine rather than the machine itself.

In the light novels it is suggested that the Auto Memory Doll was the unspecified creation of a scientist made for his novelist wife and later mass-produced.
For our purposes it appears to be the clunky English translation of an imagined profession for human women.

Violet herself does not seem to be some mysterious robot magic golem; she bleeds when caught in explosions. More likely she is a traumatized hyper-trained child soldier. Bodyguard and factotum to an officer? Secret weapon? Assassin? Newly cashiered and fitted out with prosthetic arms and hands. Why no military pension for her? Why the hush-hush socialization into civilian life if not to play out an over-used trope?

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What is missing, through the convenience of her vague raised-and-trained-as-a-war-machine back story are the normal human weaknesses that come with an emotional sense of self. Violet suffers no PTSD, no “millions of her mouthless dead across her dreams in pale battalions go“. Violet does not wake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, lash out at her friends and family, self-medicate herself into substance abuse and contemplate suicide. Her convenient back story pre-dopes her to the gills with the plot-line equivalent of SSRIs, leaving her with only the robot maido’s trite question with which to tether her humanity to.

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Violet Evergarden the PTSD-proof Maido-Secretary

Only the epistolary conceit of her (re-) socialization into civilian life redeems her.

Her country is full of illiterates who nevertheless need to send letters to the ones they are separated from. As creatures of language as well as speech, it is presupposed that an inability to write one’s feelings must indicate a difficulty speaking, even thinking them. A new appreciation for some of Lacan‘s work emerges, if one considers it grounded in the peasant illiteracy of immediately post WWII France. Once abandoned to a rural high school I raised weekend drinking money by writing essays for inarticulate farmboy university students – I can appreciate this story trick. In writing for others, Violet will write herself and her self. Very post-war European critical theory-esque.

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This is a tall order.
We shall see how well the anime’s remaining episodes can pull it off.

I am indebted to Kastel’s consideration of the Violet Evergarden Light Novels
[Let’s Talk About Japanese Books: Violet Evergarden]

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X days #10: Too many Bodhisattvas

Warning: Spoilers for Kingdom of the Gems/ Land of the Lustrous (1)

Land of the Lustrous has concluded with 12 episodes with Phos, staring grimly at the horizon wanting answers. The manga from which it is drawn, Houseki no Kuni/ Kingdom of the Gems continues, further apace and as with the 4chan Eastern European starving farmer joke, Suffering Continues.

If anything it intensifies.

I really, really wanted to do a short essay on Land of the Lustrous for my 12 Days of Anime marathon. Unfortunately IRL stuff crashed my run and anxiety of influence has derailed any re-engagement with the subject until now. Lustrous made a BIG impression on the segment of anime fandom I follow and there are more than a number of great essays on it already. Why add one more to the pile? I could get picky about some aspects of it – that’s an easy way to start an essay but I’m getting tired of doing that. I don’t review properties I dislike here, unless they are such exemplary stinkers as to serve as straw high-school students doing self-harming relationship melodrama asshats and even then, I usually scrap those posts because of “why bother?

Lustrous is in no danger of having even a fragment, or a shard of it being slagged here. It is beautiful and painfully tragic: perhaps it is a Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture adoption of the newest mundane Japanese literary trope; “detective stories written by women that leave you feeling bad”: Iyamisu.  Blame NieR Automata and/or the current lousy world situation. Then add a metric tonne of Buddhist Imagery.

Desire leads only to suffering.

The other concern that inhibits analysis is the risk of spoilers. The manga from which the anime is drawn is much further along its story line and a few questions concerning the natures of the gems, Kongo-sensei and the lunarians have been answered. As for Buddhism and bodhisattvas, there at first appear to be too many while upon further examination, there are none.

The Buddha averts his gaze, turns his head away.

The Buddha has left the stadium.

I see only a vague echo of Terry Pratchett’s All Things Strive confronted by implacable nemesis.

The lunarians bring only destruction, perhaps even death to the Kingdom of the Gems. The gems resist and so it continues throughout eternity.

“”The most numerous of the Lunarians are based off the appearance of apsaras. Apsaras are cloud and water spirits that are prominent in Buddhist as well as Hindu artwork. They are typically depicted with lithe-looking and lightly-clothed bodies that sway in rhythm to dance and music.””

“Then there are the Lunarians who look like bodhisattva, themselves the rough Japanese Buddhist equivalent in service and function to Christian saints. Depicted in the center of a Lunarian grouping, they tend to be more heavily embellished with raiment and jewelry. Whereas buddhas have already transcended the cycle of reincarnation (buddhas in general as opposed to the Buddha specifically), bodhisattva (of the Mahayana branch that is popular in Japan) postpone their transcendence from the cycle so that they can intercede as guides to enlightenment for those who still struggle with attachments, loss, and suffering.”
— ‘Buddhist Iconography in Land of the Lustrous‘ by ZEROREQ011 (see footnote below)

Time, on a geological scale has buffeted, eroded life. The lore of the sea-slug/ jellyfish on the tripartite residue of absent humanity becomes a murky allegory. In the furthest reaches of Kongo-sensei’s memory are fragments about one human being, his creator. As for the Lunarians, though they appear as Buddhist or Vedic deities and demi-urges, they are most certainly not some veiled allusion to any positive mystical force. They are pure selfish evil and probably best destroyed – although it is most likely impossible for them to be destroyed in any conventional manner. Very good-looking preta, hungry ghosts, malign and damned.

If we are seeking a bodhisattva we must try to identify them by their works:

“If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? … if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi.”
— see : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kshitigarbha
https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/tstang-txt.htm

No one in Lustrous functions as a bodhisattva, although the male-appearing Kongo-sensei is dressed as a Buddhist priest ready to read funeral sutras in memory of the dead. His name is somewhat close to the Japanese esoteric names of the six Jizo that assist in the six realms of existence but no clue is given as to what realm the Kingdom of the jewels is analogous to. Nor can he be considered analogous to the Jizo who rescues the souls of dead children from torment on the shores of the river Sanzu by hiding them in his cloak – the jewels have no parents but sea-eroded rock.

The androgynous, girlish presenting gems themselves wear outfits somewhere between school uniforms and mourning clothes, though short-shorts and lithe bare legs ending in flats or heels are nowhere near funeral attire. The gems do not eat or age, though they sleep and seem to require light to sustain their life energies. They can and do go into coma-like states for decades, even centuries to recuperate from injuries. Their sense of selves and their memories are diffuse throughout their bodies. Losing a portion of their bodies means losing a portion of their memories but like holograms, the entire remains with details lost and resolution blurred. The manga hints that within the minerals themselves are life-causing somethings that are the true source of the gems sentience and mobility.

The Lunarians relentlessly seek to harvest them, preferably in pieces. The Lunarians also harvest sentient sea creatures. The implacable hostility of the Lunarians is, of course one of the big mysteries of the story. Phos will later confront them and their dispassionate evil. A resolution is obvious, so obvious that there must be a reason why it had not been previously attempted. From the perspective of plot mechanics, it is as if the Lunarians exist solely to impel the long-limbed gems to run through the veldt with katanas and give the viewers moments of fighting action and class-S yuri affection between each other (even if they are nominally asexual), followed by the ache of loss.

Phos curses themself to a starring role in a body-horror bildungsroman when they make a promise to Cinnabar that they will find something “better” for them to do than their current perpetual exile. As Phos loses and gains new legs, arms and more, along with the details of memory and self encoded in their original body mass, the one thing that remains as a token of their self-identity is the promise.

Phos always returns to it.

Perhaps, eventually that will lead to the resolution of the tale.

The sole Buddhist-related plot resonance I can make out from Land of the Lustrous is the suggestion that the task of the Jizu grows exponentially more difficult as the hells are emptied. The last of the damned are very very damned indeed, even if they have made it to some manner of ‘pure land” purgatory. The closest thing to a bodhisattva in the Kingdom of the Gems is a broken prayer wheel creaking in the wind, self-jammed on its spindle.

(1) I am indebted to the examination of Buddhist themes and iconography in the essay: ‘Buddhist Iconography in Land of the Lustrous‘ posted in their blog THEREFORE IT IS by ZEROREQ011 (December 16, 2017)
https://thereforeitis.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/buddhist-iconography-in-land-of-the-lustrous/

I am brave and I am pious

Izetta: The Last Witch/  Shumatsu no Izetta / Izetta, Die Letzte Hexe
Now streaming on Crunchyroll Premium
http://www.crunchyroll.com/izetta-the-last-witch/
(as well as all the usual dodgy anime sites)

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The drawbacks to spending too much time hanging out on social media are well known, but the occasional benefits should also be noted. Like running into a fan-storm of anticipation when a kewl new thing is set to break — especially when the property lives up to the hype.

Izetta is way kewl. Astro Nerd Boy has an excellent summary of Ep1 (some spoilers) and appreciation up on his site [http://anime.astronerdboy.com/2016/10/izetta-the-last-witch-01.html ] and notes how, unlike many current properties in contemporary Japanese animation, Izetta is not a derivative product adapted from a manga, a light novel or a game; part of a media mix strategy to sell a crap-load of otaku crap to otaku. Just wait a few weeks. I have a feeling that it will become one of those rare efforts, where an original story anime serves as the anchor to a product flood. It is that good.

a tomboy princess steals a lesbian magical girl from the nazis #izetta
–Twitter: “muro ‏@kisomuro Oct 1

Well, not-quite nazis…

Princess Fine (Fi-ne) of the Principality of Elystadt is in a desperate situation. It is 1940  in alternate-universe Europe and even though Germania missed its Trump moment, it still has an Emperor (maybe they didn’t miss it and the deranged art school dropout crowned himself?), a very large mechanized military and a really vicious case of lebensraum. So much for IATT bulletin 1147.

The story team’s decision to scrap some of the usual nazi drag, while retaining all the 1940’s military tech and germanic ambience recalls Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and it’s “Teutonic Knights”
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Note the gold-plated Lugers the alt-gestapo operatives carry.
Very Teutonic Knight.
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The inscription, favoured by the British SAS is an odd choice. The German motto on the flag of Elystadt is a better touch:
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“ich bin tapfer und bin fromm”

Elystadt is also ethnic-Germanian-ic (it seems to be coincident with western Austria, through to Liechtenstein, the latter of which also has a two-color horizontal barred flag) and is full of deep-wooded magical germanian-ic forests. His Germanian Emperor-ness wants their occult mana as well as Elystat’s precision machinists. His agents have already captured and sealed up a young red-haired witch in a very steam-punk-ish containment pod (reminiscent of Branagh’s Frankenstein). Princess Fine, while on the run from Germanian agents had previously bumped into it. Her second encounter, captured, on a cargo plane and menaced by rape-y alt-nazis is enough to wake Izetta, unseal the pod and blast the back end off the plane. In a Ghibli-esque moment, the princess and the woken young witch plummet through the debris-filled air.

…Along with a handy-dandy honkin big anti-material rifle. Hmmmmmm… A distinct lack of broomsticks, Hmmmmm… Damn! This thingy has cold metal in uncomfortable spots. Oh shit right:

Princess Get!
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It seems the princess, or perhaps some long past ancestor who looked just like her, once saved the young witch (or some long past ancestor who looked just like her) from the usual angry peasant mob.

Twitter explains this trope quite succinctly:
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“You swerve to avoid a squirrel. Unknown to you, the squirrel pledges a life debt to you. In your darkest hour, the squirrel arrives.” –Twitter (var.)

Just in case it hasn’t snuck up and beaned you on the head yet, Izetta is built with a good helping light yuri subtext. The character notes, per ANN, give us:

“If I am promised to the princess, then I will fight for her sake.”

Once again the Twitter commentary is pithy:
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Sometimes, I think people float in the air with sparkles secretly hoping they’ll eventually be seen. #izetta” –Elel ‏@HolyAjora

Other Twitter-ratti have noted Izetta’s Raiders of the Lost Ark vibe. As well, the fan-service, though light so far, is just enough for class-s soulful girl-friendship yuri; too much grope-y skinship would necessitate a boy hero main character’s embarrassed gaze. As well as a mob of beer-serving, dirndl-clad, cleavage-displaying moe-blobs. What we might fail to notice in all this is how our Princess has just acquired her own cute and very devoted kinetic energy weapon. Izetta can control and direct anything she touches; she is a magical-girl railgun. It might take her a while to level up from sending swarms of jousting lances into Stukas and Messerschmitts to something more logistically practical:

Wonder if she can do one-meter iron rods at mach 6? † 

Some limits are going to have to be imposed on Izetta’s powers lest the war conclude in Episode 2 with a rain of hypersonic gothic cathedrals dropped from low orbit on alt-Berlin.

Personally, I feel that while a measured response against a mechanised alt-nazi empire’s war machine might be heroically romantic, it is a poor strategy. Kill it with fire! Similarly, if magic sparkly forest sprites stall out the baddies’ plane and drop a gold luger into your hands, best to start shooting alt-nazis while you can. Without hesitation. Most European royalty were trained from childhood how to so react. It was a tough neighbourhood.

Sadly, turning Izetta into a psycho lesbian magical-girl WMD would lose the chance to recycle a shit-tonne of WWII movie and anime battle-girl tropes. That also means that Princess Fine cannot be too bloodthirsty. Resolute, heroic but not cold-blooded. The challenge to the story team is one of restraint; You could really stuff this thing to the rafters with every last toy in the prop room. They must also take care to avoid the shonen-ish ever-escalating destroy-everything magical battles of doom treadmill: that gets stale fast.

I give you this on my word of honour. You are now free of the need to watch D-Gray-man: Hallow. K-rist! What a stinkerI think the idea was to turn the boy lead into some kind of fujoshi pain-fetish-toy; he keeps getting battered about and losing limbs. Otherwise it is endless new characters with ever-levelled up powers, poignantly tragic flashie-backs, angry brooding glances from dude #2 and random magical battle destruction. It also suffers from story discontinuity, cardboard characters, secret occult factional intrigue and a bad case of woobie. I had no idea they still made anime this bad.

Did I mention Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards?

Ok, it was kind of interesting way back in 1977, but the filler footage… Gehhhhhh! Could have been cut to 19 minutes. Oh what the heck, roll it:

Anyway; don’t do magic vs quasi-nazi war machine that way.

Meanwhile Izetta has fine animation, good pacing and at least two, probably more heroic female characters. Heroic guy characters too, although Hime’s guys (so far) keep getting shot. Joker-Game style inscrutable spies and sneering villains. An extra helping 1930’s decor and oak panelling. Frilly costume drama princess gowns for those who might want some. The writers and producers might even be angling for women viewers. The fanservice x ballroom gown ratio in the next couple of episodes should tell how serious they are about this. Did I see a Taka-ish woman Elystadt palace guard officer in the preview clip?

This will make for a fun 12 weeks if they can keep up the pace.

 

† Assuming a 5cm thick 1 meter iron rod accelerated constantly to a terminal velocity of mach 6, impact energies in the range of 40 – 60 MegaJoules can be anticipated. “For comparison, 50MJ is equivalent to the kinetic energy of a school bus weighing 5 metric tons, travelling at 509 km/h (316 mph).” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railgun]
Magical Girls are not to be trifled with.

Chapters 125 & 126: Ghost Pain

“The author should not pull a Rame when writing about Rame pulling a Rame.”
– Forum comment, ch 125

HNK that right web

Warning! Spoiler lamp for chapters 125 & 126 is on.


One chapter left before the curtain comes down on the second generation of the Genshiken. I suspect that at this point, Kio Shimoku is writing with an eye to a smooth adaption for any potential second cours of an anime. Those of us who were used to more robust plotting and longer setups must look at the rushed, even forced concluding chapters with mixed feelings, once we get over the initial shock that our beloved franchise may be, if not terminated, at least on extended sabbatical.

Continue reading

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.

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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… ?

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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” ???

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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(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.

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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).

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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

Fairest of the fair

On Makoto Shinkai’s Hoshi No Koe, and Saito Tamaki’s Beautiful Fighting Girl

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Few anime have seized my imagination and remained as resonant in memory as the short 2002 OVA Hoshi no Koe, known in english as Voices of a Distant Star. A decade after I first got my hands on a lovingly transcoded and fansubbed grey version of it, I remain a gushing a fanboy whenever I remember its charms and search it out on the web to watch it one more time. For those of you who missed it, I will steal liberally from the wiki entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voices_of_a_Distant_Star), editing and re-arranging the page synopsis for emphasis and clarity:

“Voices of a Distant Star (ほしのこえ Hoshi no Koe?, lit. “Voices of a Star”) is a Japanese anime OVA by Makoto Shinkai. It chronicles a long-distance relationship between two close junior high-school friends who communicate by sending emails via their mobile phones across interstellar space. It was originally released to DVD on 2 February 2002

The narrative begins in 2047. A middle-school girl named Mikako Nagamine is apparently alone in a hauntingly empty city, trying to contact people through her cell phone. She finally says, in an empty classroom with stacked chairs, “Noboru? I’m going home, okay?”, a rhetorical question which is answered with a busy line on her cell phone. She then wakes up to discover that she is in her “Tracer”; a heavily armed “mecha” orbiting Agartha, the (fictional) fourth planet of the Sirius System and begins her descent to the planet Agartha.

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A flashback gives us the beginning of her travels. Mikako was recruited to the UN Space Army in a war against a group of aliens called the Tarsians, named after the Martian region (Tharsis) where they were first encountered.
The narrative hints that the aliens were friendly at first and then suddenly slaughtered the earth colonists on Mars and left the planet. Humans have salvaged their technology and are determined to track them down.
Mikako, selected as an exemplary student has been drafted or has volunteered for the Space Army and must break the news to her childhood friend Noboru Terao, then undergo mecha pilot training on Mars. Mikako pilots a Tracer, a giant , heavily armed robotic “mecha” as part of a fighting squadron attached to the spacecraft carrier Lysithea.

When the Lysithea leaves Earth to search for the Tarsians, Noboru is left behind. The two continue to communicate across interplanetary, and eventually interstellar space via the email facilities on their mobile phones. On the edge of the Solar System, the fleet meets a swarm of Tarsian vessels and Mikako’s Tracer must confront a curious alien pod-ship that attempts to examine her Tracer, capture her and/ or kill her. As Mikako destroys the alien pod, the fleet scrambles to evacuate to the Sirius planetary system via a space-warp. As the Lysithea travels deeper into space, the emails take increasingly longer to reach Noboru on Earth, and the time-lag of their correspondence eventually spans years.

In the middle of the anime proper, she sends an email to Noboru (which shows the date 2047-09-16), with the subject “I am here”, saying “to the 24-year old Noboru, from the 15-year old Mikako” which will reach him 8 years, 224 days and 18 hours later.

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On a seemingly empty, earth-like Agartha, Mikako must once again confront a lone alien; apparently telepathic, it presents itself to her in a hallucination as a lookalike younger version of herself. While “speaking” the alien “her” morphs into a Tarsian and then into an older version of herself. The same room where she woke up in the beginning of the animation is presented again, with the same ambience, but this time she is squatting in the corner, sobbing and pleading with her doppelgänger to let her see Noboru just one more time to be able to say “I love you” to him. The other being says “It will be all right. You will see him again”. The alien also makes vague promises of humanity’s growth in understanding.

The ship’s alarm interrupts the exchange, warning her in its characteristic overdone female british accent that “Tarsians are existing everywhere on Agartha!”. Mikako cries even more, yelling “I don’t understand!”, but her training kicks in and she avoids a ground blast and has to engage the Tarsian pod-ships in close combat. A climactic space battle ensues.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Noboru receives the message, albeit almost 9 years in the future. A voice-over dialogue commences between the two of them which functions as a synchronous soliloquy on the same subject.

Back in orbit around Agartha, three of the four carriers have been destroyed by suicide attacks by Tarsian motherships. The Lysithea remains intact and Mikako, once roused to battle is a formidable fighter. She leads a breakthrough past the defending Tarsian pod-ships and destroys the last remaining Tarsian mother ship. After winning the battle, Mikako in her damaged Tracer drifts in space.

The manga version has a 16 years old Mikako send a message to 25 years old Noboru, telling him that she loves him. By this time Noboru has joined the UN, who have launched a rescue mission for the Lysithea. When Mikako hears the news from her crew mate that UN is sending help for their rescue, she consults a list of people on the mission, Noboru being one of them. She ends by saying that they will definitely meet again.

Voices of a Distant Star was written, directed, animated and produced entirely by Makoto Shinkai on his Power Mac G4. Makoto and his wife, Miko provided the voice acting for the working dub (A second Japanese dub was later created for the DVD release with professional voice actors). Makoto’s musician friend Tenmon, who had worked with Makoto at his video game company, provided the soundtrack. Shinkai cited Dracula and Laputa as inspirations to make Voices.

A manga serialization based on the series in Afternoon magazine from Kodansha in Japan. It was run monthly from February 2004 to December 2004. The story of the manga begins at the same point as the start of the anime and carries the story a little bit beyond the anime itself. Makoto Shinkai wrote the manga, with illustration work done by Mizu Sahara.””

(per http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voices_of_a_Distant_Star, with edits)

(Damnation! I am back to my bad block-quoting habits again!)

Voices of a distant star is exceedingly fast-paced and dense  narrative for its 26 minutes; a casual viewer might have trouble following the action, let alone making sense of the plot. As a long-time reader of American science-fiction, I immediately “read” it as playing with some of the same themes used by Joe Halderman’s landmark Forever War (1974) series and his later Mindbridge (1976).

Elite youth conscription, interspecies war against incomprehensible aliens, lovers separated by time dilation effects and aliens who are telepathic clones who either cannot understand individualism, or believe that the fears expressed in human subconscious thoughts are actually conscious desires (We thought you wanted to fight for fun!) helped me impose a coherent “understanding” on a fragmented narrative that was frightening in its beauty and over-wrought in its emotionalism.

Just say that I am a sucker for long distance romance stories.

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A few jarring idiosyncrasies in the story help fix it in my memory, and give it an unmistakable “Japanese Anime” feel. Mikako pilots her Tracer from a ovaloid pod-seat with a 360 degree holographic display, so she seems to float in space or above landscapes, while ticker-tape displays on the edges of her field of vision keep her and the viewers updated. Fortunately for me, the UNEF uses english for display text. Now if they could only buy her a proper uniform. Yes, the fleet’s deadliest Tracer pilot wears a middle-school uniform throughout her battles. She is truly a “schoolgirl in a mobilesuit”.

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Another oddity: the years 2046-2056 are a nostalgic time for the Japanese cell-phone market, as they have re-issued the iconic Sharp J-phone, suitably updated to relay sms messages through UN Fleet channels. Anyone out there who needs to cosplay Mikako (or Noboru) can have mine (no I didn’t fanboy out, I got it in a pile of phones from my sweetie’s relatives) for a suitable bribe plus shipping. As a final insult, the J-phone is obsolete and its 2G wcdma protocol is no longer supported by Japanese cell phone companies. Cosplay use only, sorry.

Other anachronisms are the Japanese urban scenes which update the utility poles to make them wireless, but preserve freight rail transport so as to give the viewer plenty of transition scenes that pay homage to Yasujirō Ozu. This is an oddity compared to contemporary Japan: I have never seen a freight train in Japan, only passenger trains. I know they must exist, but they hide them well. Nothing like a war with aliens to shift rail use back to material transport.

Also in terms of visual tropes and homages paid, I commend the obsessive viewer to compare the scene where Mikako’s Tracer chases a Tarsian pod ship across a lake surface on Agartha with a later similar scene in Howl’s Moving Castle. Such imitation homage is a standard part of the “society” of producers in modern Japanese visual culture. Even barbarian furreigners have caught on; one could run a dangerous drinking game prying apart the giant robot fight scenes in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, but that is for another day, or a more experienced anime blogger. Oh heck… Pay close attention to the “slice the Kaiju in half from head to toe” during the “breach” battle scene. And the Jaeger is missing an arm!

A la recherche du temps perdue

Voices of a Distant Star spurred more than a few love-it-to-death acts of appreciation from anime fans in the rest of the world. Though an official dub would soon appear, the initial grey zone fan-subbed release was one of the first using the .mkv video encoding package and a then-obscure high-resolution video codec. An advance subtitle protocol was also used so that fonts, placement and timings could be better controlled, all while the enthusiast group made strident declarations that it would not release a smaller, more download friendly and low-powered computer watchable version of the video. It was just too beautiful to ruin with fuzzy video encoding and ugly subtitles.

Back in 2003, high-speed internet was less common than it is today and hobby machines were far less powerful. High definition videos could take a week of all-night dial-up downloading, as modern conveniences like bittorrent and file-drop sites were rare or nonexistent. A determined Japanese anime leech would get a “news-reader” program and possibly some text attachment plug-ins and then would see if their internet provider carried the alt.binaries newsgroup hierarchies and did not impose message length limits. In the latter cases they were left to find an open news group server, wait 30 minutes to load the hierarchy and finally the newsgroup “articles” availability and set their “reader” programs to download huge text messages overnight, which could then be reassembled, decoded, repaired with extra error-correction data sent in further huge messages, unpacked and joined up into their prize.

Back then you really worked for your anime fix. Figure from three evenings to a week per short anime. More if the postings evaporated and you were left pleading for a re-post of a section. Finally when your latest catch sat on the desktop of your home pc, you would have to chase codec packs and find a highly efficient media player so that the .mkv could play without stuttering or causing your machine to crash. If you had a mac, you crossed your fingers and hoped that VLC could handle the load. Quicktime would only play what Apple allowed you to play, with some few exceptions provided by dodgy utilities.

Still the payoff was worth the prolonged effort. You got the newest “good stuff” – the better it was, the more the legions of anonymous fans worked in loose cooperation to disseminate it to the faithful. Also the subtitles often came with footnote subtitles, explaining difficult cultural and translation points, and striving for authenticity. Commercial releases had stupid cutesy hillbilly voiced dubbing and “localized”, poorly translated subbing. The fansubs for one release of Ghibli’s Spirited Away had more footnotes than an average undergraduate sociology paper. These ran above the frame, while the dialogue ran below it. The fansubbers and distributors all knew they were possibly committing a civil-law tort, (as opposed to a crime – it wasn’t back then and still isn’t in many jurisdictions) against the rights-holders but always justified their actions in terms of love for the product and revulsion over the lack of properly venerated western releases. They saw themselves as elite missionaries. From 1999 to 2005, this was pretty much the way lots of anime made it into cheapskate gaijin hands. (Aside: this has absolutely nothing to do with the “download by usenet” come-ons you see on certain sites. Avoid unless you want to hand your machine over to netcriminals.)

No one really has the time for this sort of thing any more.

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Voices of a Distant Star was created and released after the year 2000 publication of Saito Tamaki’s Psychoanalysis of Beautiful Fighting Girl. The book was and remains a landmark, if only because so many responses to it were offered in the wake of the controversy it stirred up. A full treatment of Tamaki’s opus is beyond this post, but a preliminary contrast between Mikako and his ideal fighting heroine is a useful exercise. Tamaki’s beautiful fighting girl is an emotional cypher at her core. In contrast to the American (super) heroine who is often older and carries a traumatic back story that is overcome through heroic activities, the BFG fights because she was born/ created to fight. Fighting is what she does, and she derives that curious sex-deprived joy of French critical theory – jouissance – from her battles. Male characters, especially sports-consumed young male characters are often written with similar thin motivation, but even they eventually get some back story. The BFG gets a revealing outfit an a mofo big weapon, often long, very rigid and dangerous. The symbolism is obvious, forced, and after the publication of Tamaki’s study, self-consciously ironic. (The doc sez it is supposed to be a phallic symbol, so make it BIGGER!)

The pit does not stare back, but sometimes it glances provocatively over its shoulder and winks:

Another aspect of Tamaki’s BFG, which he initially glosses over or misses is how unlike most female characters, the BFG is emotionally stunted and unconcerned/ unskilled in social interaction and empathy. For the male otaku consumer, she is a fantasy character that could not only whomp his ass without breaking a sweat – or the asses of anyone who ever tormented him in real life, but one that he, a ‘ronery basement dwelling neckbeard could give tips to on social interaction (!) Perhaps he could even help her with those mysterious, troubling feelings she is beginning to experience when she is with him…

Bwah Hah Hah! No really…

What nailed this point home to me was an obscure shojo-ai manga, Transistor Teaset that featured a plucky girl electronics geek trying to keep the family electronics parts store in Akihabra alive, and her friends who both had mostly-innocent designs on her affections. At some point they all end up building a “robot maid”, and the gamine- like otaku- ish younger friend then insists that it must speak only one line, in our heroine’s recorded voice:

“What – is – this – thing – called – love ???”.

Here was the emotionally vacant BFG lampooned with vicious and devastating comedic economy. Robomaid subsequently runs amok and ends up haunting the back streets of Akiba town, headless yet still issuing forth her doleful plaint. (off-topic, but of note: the next story arc “Lets meet at Mansaibashi Bridge” is a beautiful retelling of a classic Japanese ghost story and is worth hunting down.) Even a “real” girl in a manga can poke fun at the emotional void in the heart of the BFG.

Back to our heroine Mikako and her problem. An elite “fighter”/ mecha/ Tracer pilot she has learned not only how to wield a complex weapon to defend herself, but to kill. Her weakness is her homesick longing for her male friend, and the regrets she harbours that she was never able to tell Noboru that she loved/ loves him. This lack of traumatic back story is enough to place her solidly within the Tamaki typology, but she is also something else, something missed in Tamaki’s elaborate typology of fighting girl types and something far more dreadful – born out of the wars and disturbances of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century: a child soldier.

Black sails returning:

Among other quips, Jean Baudrillard was known for his cryptic comment that “the messiah always arrives a day too late“. What he meant was that by the time an existing trope or social form goes “hysterical” it is already without consequence; “already out of fashion” (or out of the reality of social force and into fashion) as the case may be. So that by the time Stallone’s Rambo was re-winning on film all the disappointing stalemate battles of 40 years of American foreign adventure, the most lethal, cheap and deployable soldier available to the world’s warlords could be found not in the ranks of elite mercenary corps, or SEAL teams, or even angry Vietnam era veterans, but in the frightened survivors of slaughters in equatorial African villages. Just have your speed-addled terrorized child soldiers kill all the adults in a village, then force half the surviving children slaughter the other half, beat and starve the surviving few, then load them up with amphetamines and you have the twenty-first century’s newest, cheapest and deadliest fighters. You might lose half of them in any battle, but more can be made when needed. Welcome to the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Or you could opt for the high-tech version, popularised early on in American sci-fi by Orson Scott Card in his Ender’s Saga.

Mikako is closer to Card’s Ender. Unlike the Forever War‘s William Mandella and Marygay Potter, Mikako was nowhere near university age when conscripted/ recruited. Halderman wrote Forever War on the tail of the Vietnam conflict; in 1974 the idea that a nation’s best and brightest youth would be sacrificed to a lottery of perpetual war and death – the Minotaur’s Maze updated, was shocking enough: no need to suggest that Unka Sam would go after school children, yet…

Unlike Saito Tamaki’s BFG, both Halderman and Card spent extra time and effort around the question of how to motivate their young pawns to fight ruthlessly. In the first actual battle in Forever War, the recruits find themselves under the spell of hypnotic conditioning that turns them into berserk homicidal fighting fiends upon hearing a trigger phrase. This ensures that they don’t waste time gawking at the stringy “Tauran” enemy in inoffensive looking transparent bubble suits. Friendly fire casualties ensue, and half the surviving earth soldiers go mad from post-traumatic symptoms. Card uses the computer-game metaphor, ruthless drill/ competition and remote telemetry to achieve similar depersonalizing effects. Both sagas started as short stories that allegorised limited hypothetical arguments. Both went on to grow in the telling, but Halderman’s opus remains more humane and appealing to me.

Some day I must dig up a Japanese translation of Halderman’s Forever War and send it to Dr. Tamaki – or perhaps I am years too late.

Strange how the female child warrior gets a completely different treatment in manga and anime than her male counterparts. Jormungand‘s Jonah and Full Metal Panic‘s Sagara Sousuke are afforded far more room for emotional agency, while the restraining of their lethal reflexes becomes a recurring sub-plot. The BFG simply fights, rests, waits and fights again.

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Of note is that Tamaki’s highlighting of Princess Nausicaa as a prototypical sub-type of BFG must be taken in the context of Hayao Miyazaki’s longer effort on the Nausicaa manga. Serialized in Tokuma Shoten’s monthly Animage magazine, the first chapter was printed in February 1982 and the final chapter 59, was eventually published in the March 1994 issue of Animage. Many aspects of the manga were unconventional, its layout, pencil-only art work, the pacing of the story and the visual sense of scale, as well as the apocalyptic arc of the entire saga did much to give Tamaki notes for his prototypical “Miko” or “priestess-medium” type. She alone takes on the responsibility of deciding that the ancient technology that waits for the purification of the land must be destroyed. Some synopsis’s suggest that she perishes in the process.

“She is beyond good and evil, Western values mean nothing to her”

Tamaki cautions against simple plot-readings of the BFG trope, instead seeing her archetype as the locus of hysteria in character and reader alike. I may have read this part wrong, because the hysteria section of his work is the one point where his arguments become completely and utterly opaque. Many reviewers have warned that the work, available in English translation since 2011 is full of dense post-lacanian psycho-babble and that it meanders all over the place.  Upon finally securing a paperback version and reading the entire thing I found it logically ordered, well researched and carefully argued and a reasonably good if not too challenging a read. It is far superior to his shorter work on Otaku Sexuality examined earlier in this blog.

Except for the hysteria section.

Best I can make out is a feedback/ overload condition between everyone and everything surrounding the shocking realization that someone could create and present the BFG as a character. The BFG is a trauma on the (male) imagination, a shock-as-wound that male fandom keeps falling into; one so popular that fan-producers and commercial producers are driven to recreate her again and again so that the trauma can be forever experienced and re-experienced and shared with new converts.

stuff works the way it should crop

The trauma of course is the BFG’s real, physical libidinal effect on the (again male) reader. One shouldnt get horny thoughts from looking at a manga heroine. Surely this is the path of madness. (Don’t call me…) Hato’s reading of het male oriented dojins allows him to experience this thrill in a ridiculously funny context. He is surprised, yet reassured that the “normal” stuff still has some effect for him. His original trauma was something quite more surprising and “other” than a mere armored cutie. Was Shimoku-sensei having even more fun with Hato then we originally thought?

The afterword to Tamaki’s 2006 paperback re-issue of Sento bishojo no seishinbunseki (戦闘美少女の精神分析), (Psychoanalysis of Beautiful Fighting Girl) recommends the Genshiken manga series as a valid fictional treatment of a University-age otaku community. Hato was created shortly thereafter. His traumatic wound was fixating on yaoi pr0n at an early age: a type of “trauma” that may serve as the female analogue to the Beautiful Fighting Girl (the Beautiful Bonking Bishonen?), but is comically mis-applied to a young male. Tamaki’s repeated promises to examine fujoshi sexuality have all so far come up short; he lacks access to correspondents and he is too steeped in the sexism that lays deep within the very grammar of post-lacanian psychoanalysis to yet pull off a convincing theoretical framework.

easy to replicate effect final

Others have adapted the post-lacanian methodology: Kazumi Nagaike’s work can be read as a worthy and useful variation on the theme, especially when one considers her update of her 2004 thesis, published as “Fantasies of Cross-Dressing: Japanese Women Write Male-Male Erotica” rather than the original/ (previously reviewed in this blog) first efort. Unfortunately “Fantasies” has a list price of $130, so Google Books excerpts and the original freely downloadable thesis are all mere mortals like us will see of it. “Fantasies” seems to lose a lot of “the veneration of the demon bones of Freud” that plagued her earlier academic effort and delves deeper into the cathexis, the shock of a “scopophillic“/ voyeuristic libidinous charge that female readers of rough yaoi pr0n and earlier variants experience in their first encounter with the hawt stuff.

Some divergence between the male and female experience, especially among communities can be extrapolated. Per Tamaki, the males become ironic connoisseurs of the effect, internalizing the shock of desire for a fiction and turning it into knowledge and mastery of the formal elements of the narrative. Taken too far, this leads to the “database animals” scratching an itch with products from the Otaku automat. The female variant enjoys a similar social urge to share and promote the thrill/ trauma/ wound, but also values narratives that use nested levels of storytelling as a guide to the initial “enjoyment’ of the weirdness depicted in their fave tales. So at least claims Nagaike as she details the plot convolutions of early 20th century Japanese literature that takes up proto-yaoi themes. Nagaike’s “Fantasies” even features long appendices with her translations of the examined proto-yaoi tales. Some of these are not for the squeamish.

Of course later fujoshi social practice also engages in elaborate typologies of plot tropes, that crystallize around the pairing dynamics of the male characters. Given the high percentages of historic participation in Japanese fan-produced parody culture, including their participation at decades of Comikets, it is a wonder that some theorist has not declared male otaku culture as largely derivative of female fan parody culture, if not strongly influenced by it.

I just wish Nagaike had used a better title. The “cross-dressing” here is all conceptual and virtual, by the fujoshi (and proto-fujoshi) who assume a fake-male/ fake-gay-male viewer position to better enjoy the some naughty stuff. Unfortunately the title puts the work into the F-to-M trans theory pile where it languishes and disappoints those interested in the  issue.

Other attempts at playing the post-lacanian hysteria card to explain fujoshi or wider shojo desire are perhaps more ambitious, or more lazy or more poetic. Mechademia Vol.6 has Frenchy Lunning deploying Kristeva’s theory of the abject in her “Under the ruffles: Shojo and the morphology of Power“. What we get is the vertiginous flow of Kristeva-esque hyperbole a la full Powers of Horror (get your copy  here) mode, without the rigorous buildup. We all love Kristeva for her poetics, but she can get away with it because she also brings a feast to the table. Just saying… we critical-theory-moe types can be greedy and ungrateful.

Urrrrp! Needs more meat, less ruffles.

Voices of a Distant Star is chock full of moe, but Mikako the child soldier is more reluctant hero than battle zombie girl, great honking plasma sword notwithstanding. (push the SWORD button and yell “For My Family!”) One thing that Tamaki never really delves into is the difference between a hero girl, or girl hero and the Beautiful Fighting Girl. The BFG is an object of pure, shocking, disconnected libidinous desire. The American female super-heroine is an older “real woman” working off some injustice. But where is our hero of a (next) thousand (female) faces? As I ventured early on in this blog, Dorothy of OZ is not a very solid foundation for building a tradition of a female Bildungsroman upon. (for more on this and the idea of the frauenroman see this site.)

Much remains to be discovered as to the appeal of the Beautiful Fighting Girl, or heroic girl, or the shojo hero (as opposed to the shojo heroine?)

At this point all I can venture is that idealizing and/ or desiring heroic female agency is probably healthier for males and females, than idealizing and desiring female subservience and powerlessness.

Call it a win.