Fearsome Asymmetry

“This Story Is Just 2,000 Words Of A Baby Boomer Mansplaining Hentai”
— A Twitter Bot post

“Conclusion: I love cake”
— A not-bot twitter post.

Nise x Koi Boyfriend/ Nise x Koi Boyfriend Lovely
Ataru Yamamoto  (2014)
Serialized In Be x Boy Magazine
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=113661 
SPOILERS ENSUE.


Instead of adding to the essay series “The Naming of Parts” I have been diverted; first by the recent plot twists in Spotted Flower and now, by stumbling across an exemplary bit of Shoujo-fied BL. Normally, the latter is not my favorite thing but Nise X Koi does a superb job of showcasing one aspect of BL that is usually hard to wrap one’s head around. You could call it a mode of melodrama or the fetishization of male same-sex romantic confusion; you could call it hot dogs but you would be just as close to understanding the true (insidious) nature of the trick. Theorists dryly describe it as “asymmetry”: an emphasis on the emotional dynamics between characters rather than on a character (a Beautiful Fighting Girl, or a Loli Moe-blob) alone; sometimes to the point where the atmosphere itself is almost a secondary character.

It is worth examining it in action, at least once.

As a bonus, if you were already uncomfortable with stories about male same-sex intimacy, this stylistic trick is going to boost your hate levels into low orbit. Take a deep breath. Not a bug; it’s a feature.[1]

“”Soutarou Inugami is a shy and reserved high schooler interested in anime and manga. Although content with his lot in life, Soutarou also wouldn’t mind having a fateful encounter with a cute girl someday. Lucky for him, he comes home from school one day to find a girl sitting at his doorstep who he’s never seen before, but who happens to have the same red earrings as Meguru Satoi, a cool and good-looking guy at his school.””

Vol. 2 Nise x Koi Boyfriend Lovely: A sequel to Nise x Koi Boyfriend as a continuation of Soutarou’s and Meguru’s relationship.””
Mangaupdates summary

As one can tell from the description, here there be otokonoko (just one). The English fan translation is being done by a group who go out of their way to scanlate gender-bent fluff manga. They seem to favor shoujo-ish stories, hewing close to the root genre of many contemporary works that play with gender and sexuality. You can get away with almost anything in shoujo manga — as long as you shoujo-fy it. Also, I am using the clunkier otokonoko/ josou/ crossdresser terminology because the conventional western-anglo term has been condemned as hateful out in the real world. Real folks suffer harm because of the original reading of the term. A small measure of polite discretion costs nothing.

A socially clumsy otaku guy and a crossdresser who gets a crush on him. Sounds familiar. Is this a version of the same BL cliché that Genshiken Nidaime‘s Madarame and Hato riffed on? Not quite. If anything I have renewed respect for how the Genshiken‘s author avoided convention. Some of it does however look like something that Hato would draw. It gets lewd.

When a Japanese female-gaze story uses an otokonoko they invoke tropes from past works as well as scavenged real world lore from Japanese (and other) gay communities. Very little about these characters is “trans”; they remain essentially male and inclined toward subjective same-sex intimacy, even if not avowedly “gei“. It is worth emphasizing that the rotten tribes consider male-ness as an irreducible characteristic. Straight, gay, crossdressing, gender-fluid, gender-queer, Japanese, outlander, rich, poor, whatever are all just minor variations in specs of guy-ness. All are fresh meat; therefore male-ness in the gender-fluid character must be preserved.

If human societies are rigged to favor male agency and privilege, shouldn’t all guys then be fictionally frogmarched into taking advantage of all manner of opportunities, so that they can really get “interesting” in stories? Too late for “just because you could don’t mean you should” or “real guys don’t do that!

I have a notion that some fujoshi stories are as, or even more disquieting to real-life gay guys than they are for straight guys. Straight guys will just “oh heck, two guys screwing” and tune out. The chance for a gay male reader to get drawn into the story while feelings of “wrong wrong wrong!” creep up their spine could be a serious factor. The “wrong wrong wrong” effect isn’t necessarily all about the bonking either. Anyone who has researched the genre has run into mentions of the 30-year-old “yaoi controversy” (Yaoi Ronso) in Japan. The substance of the complaints against BL-ifying gay guys is reported as “objectification” and in more recent reoccurrences, ‘fetishization” and mis-representation. The only problem is that such complaints dwell on unintended ends. The mechanics of the “wrong, wrong wrong” (beyond airbrushed violent non-consensual sex and “I’m not gay it’s only you“) remain largely opaque.

Extreme and variable emotional dynamics between the characters is generally not mentioned. Or perhaps a finer distinction is needed. “A Night at the Opera” is Ok every so often, when done by pros. When clueless Chads are nudged into doing a cover version for fujoshi because the audience is geeked on the raw charm of the fail…

If you were an ambitious mangaka and you really wanted to turbocharge this (jarring) effect, you could drape its presentation in the visual stylings of adolescent girls’ romance manga. Wispy hair, expressive big eyed longing glances, floral/iconic backgrounds, flare effects. Since we have a crossdressing character, add cute frilly girl clothes as well. Then pile on all of the usual miscommunication, “notice me sempai”, “who is going to make the first move”, “failing self-confidence”, “I need to prepare my heart”, “no, not yet, not like this” mush from the shoujo genre, only with two male leads who can take turns grinding through the clichéd sequences. This is funny in itself. As well, at any moment either or both characters can snap back into shonen-esque selfishness, resentment, indifference, arrogance, weakness and violence. Drama ensues!

Feeling woozy yet?

Boyfriend lovely ???

Nise X Koi “feels” at first as if it escaped form the pages of Margaret or LaLa magazine and ran gibbering off into the night. Later it gets nasty. Isn’t it in “bad faith” right from the title? Nise as in “fake” or “trick”? Again from the sypopsis, with an upgrade:

“Soutarou Inugami is a shy and reserved high schooler interested in otokonoko genre anime and manga”.

Not only is our diminutive doormat lad an otaku, he’s an otokonoko otaku; the bully-ish group of popular guys at school spot his fave manga and shame him for it. By spitting out his angry “cuteness is justice” defense; “so what, as long as they are cute!’ he lights a flame of hope in the heart of an onlooker. One of those handsome, popular guys has a secret and a fierce need to share it with someone who might accept them for all that they can be.

“…he comes home from school that day to find a girl sitting at his doorstep who he’s never seen before, but who happens to have the same red earrings as Meguru Satoi, a cool and good-looking guy at his school.”

She ain’t just sitting there smoking a ciggy. The crouched down, dejected look on the mystery girl speaks volumes to the longing she initially feels. The mangaka is going to dance along the edge of seduction by deception for a full chapter and a half, as the crossdresser is so wrapped up in their own excitement and insecurities that they forget to check if shy nerd guy has clued in to who the mysterious cutie barging into the apartment is. She and later he just assumes it is obvious and that nerd boy recognises them. This takes a bit of work to clear up but along the way nerd boy gets to show how heroically smitten he has become when the crossdresser gets in trouble and then by dismissing minor details and declaring that he’s enraptured with the complete Meguru-chan experience. Hooray, they now have a happy secret romance. Even some physical intimacy. Roll credits on a two chapter one-shot.

When the story resumes nerd boy starts by backtracking on his commitment to fully appreciate his lover and then develops a severe case of fleeting self-confidence. Then a rival appears. Nerd boy wavers. Otokonoko guy (in guy mode) gets wound-up angry and decides that if boyfriend is going to act like a cowardly doormat, then boyfriend should be spitefully treated in a –ahem– more traditionally yaoi-ish manner. The resulting near sexual assault is mean-spirited and pure raw meat thrown to the intended readership. Satoi-san stomps out of their lover’s apartment in a snit after no finally means no, angry that the one who understood him won’t show any backbone or prove his resolve.

A mite over-wrought, perhaps? [2]

At this point, a gender-studies sociologist might cut in and point out that because they are both well-socialised Japanese males, even if one dresses up like a cute girl, neither of the two are particularly inclined to carry the empathy bucket of sorting out the other’s feelings or do the work of negotiating understandings within the relationship. That’s a plausible excuse for later and perhaps one of the “features” that fujoshi enjoy. For now, it is expected, in-genre behaviour. They are both horny-excited and each wants their shiny new adventure to go their way. Also, those feelings: so intense, so conflicted! Why not let them slip? Fireworks time with light guy-sex.

In female-gaze yuri, everyone would run off for a while and eventually have a frank, serious, somewhat tearful discussion and work things out like adults. Someone would not end up paired off but would wish the happy couple well.

In male-gaze yuri, all would end up in the sack.

In bad faith whoever-gaze yuri one or more involved would be suffering from a serious personality disorder, so that the behavior that causes the suffering can be endlessly repeated over and over; with ever-increasing levels of emotionally wounding sex.

In a bad faith nominally heterosexual melodrama, at least one character might have a severe personality disorder, another a masochistic need for an older woman, another a narcissistic fixation on an self-centered useless old guy and there might be a pining lesbian thrown into the mix. Then the characters can variously paw at each other, because they have agency and therefore they can (neener neener neener) but they will not enjoy any of it because the story is dramatic and shall not feature any happy. Momentary physical pleasure during sullen making out only – this telegraphs literary pretension and allows for a few more turns of characters bouncing between each other for bonus spite-groping. Then all will abruptly stop, grow up and decide to get real lives or wake up and remark that it was all a dream.

The framing of any idea of “bad faith” is, in itself a highly subjective exercise. If you view any particular hetero (or homo-) normality as stifling and oppressive, anything that subverts its expectations is just peachy; even if to the riajuu, it looks like getting stuck in a temporal loop on emo night in a small-town bar.

Forever.

Bad faith is avoided in any of these genres by advancing the plot towards some resolution. Otherwise the game is just endless grinding while wandering the labyrinth. Even someone’s head ending up in a school bag is preferable to endless grinding. When a genre has a whole warehouse-load of plot tropes available for ready use, these can be strung out in service of some eventual resolution. Perhaps even a “good ending”. You lose the “serious literature” vibe with a good ending but more people buy manga than serious literature. Vox Populi, vox profitable publishing company.

If one is more inclined toward linear storylines, characterization and action, having a clump of characters run around going bat-shit random over their horny might not be your idea of a fun read, no matter what manner of bodies are involved. You want the Supply Module to meet up with the International Space Station. You expect a bit of excitement over the launch and docking maneuvers but you will have your mission accomplished!. Having everyone on the station, in the module and in mission control self-sabotage because their heads are all jammed up their particular cray-cray thing de moment (subject to abrupt change in the next 10 minutes) so that the docking almost-but-repeatedly fails, or goes horribly wrong and still repeats, will strain your patience.

No matter how many times Riley sings Kathleen.

For another group of readers, bonking pretty boys may be fun and interesting but it is much, much better when both parties are working through their stereotypical male inability to deal with new emotional situations and overcompensating dramatically while they go at each other’s bods. They can then not only switch positions but cycle through new and unexpected emotional states. Amateurs may deploy some manner of fetish-ry, but this is less effective because it is always marked as play-acting (and is a cheat to avoid actual sex and thereby edge around certain regulations enacted by a past Tokyo Governor). Far more satisfying if the two creatures are pity, hate, fear, love and disgust fucking each other all at the same time!

And they cannot stop!

“Therefore, we can conclusively state that BL holds the potential to be far more obscene than either het, yuri, fetish or gay romantic pr0n. (And that I like cake.) Q.E.D. Certain classes of Bara to remain outside of the comparison range because those are allegorical and if you don’t consider them as such, you will lose your lunch.”

Perhaps my thesis is not completely convincing?

Shoujo-fied BL often feels like a pretty-fied train wreck with light man-secks. (Or it’s just me?) What’s with this story? What’s with the characterisation? What’s all this overdone emo crap? No way that they’d do that! Now they are going at it; at least getting past necking to pawing, nibbling and pulling. Now the other one has gone all sullen and pissy. Sheeet! We get it already! BL guys not fast on the uptake. Please, can they sit down and talk it out? Please? Maybe they should watch some gay pr0n? No luck, urusai continues. Wonder what they are going on about now? Somebody must liek this. STFU!

Other views in the theory-verse suggest that while the characters are male, their emotional responses have been “upgraded” to reflect an improved male subjectivity that can do emotionally complex interaction, while enjoying the agency and freedom to act on their desires. That may be the case for stories like the Uso Lily spin-off previously considered, but it is not the only way to rebuild a guy character. What if you freed them from the need to act “supportive” or “understanding” and gave them male agency enough to go after what they wanted? Then make it so they also get wound up over their feelings, because — Hey! they are new at these and they also have the privilege and agency not to be shy about taking them out for a test drive.

That might get messy. What? Messy good you say?

There is one further “technical” aspect to the genre that arises from the canon, from fan practice and from tradition and that has evolved either into a happy accident or a sneaky author’s trick. Recalling one of the roots of the term “yaoi” – no climax, no resolution, no plot – a term of art in Japanese literary criticism long before being adopted by fujoshi, points towards a tradition within the genre for disconnected, stand-alone scenes or tableau. Porn movie directors would call these the “money shot”.

cue the wikipedia entry:

“The term yaoi is an acronym created in the late 1970s[1] by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu[8] from the words Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (山[場]なし、落ちなし、意味なし) “No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning”. This phrase was first used as a “euphemism for the content”[9] and refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the “difficult to understand” shōnen-ai being produced by the Year 24 Group female manga authors,[10] focused on “the yummy parts”.[6] The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure.[11] Kubota Mitsuyoshi says that Osamu Tezuka used yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi to dismiss poor quality manga, and this was appropriated by the early yaoi authors.[9] As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered “common knowledge to manga fans”.[12] A joking alternative yaoi acronym among fujoshi (female yaoi fans) is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い, “Stop, my ass hurts!”).”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

Once again, Genshiken Nidaime‘s Kio Shimoku left clues about larger rotten practice in his trans-fujoshi character Hato’s inability to draw anything but one-page sex scenes. Fanzines/doujins must accommodate page restrictions and low-output amateur artists. There is a strong bias towards jumping right to the lewd. When creating a parody work that brings together two wildly improbable giant robot piloting guys, the scant dialogue can stick with luvvy dovey fluff or they can expressively work out their conflicted feelings while they go at it. Same printing bill.

The space station metaphor once again becomes instructive. A mangaka might already have a number of schmexy hawt mis-en-scenes in mind, complete with a who-is-wound-up-which-way script for the drama component. Wouldn’t it be cool if this one surprised that one, but is still angry about such and such, while the other has lost confidence? And they still go at it while sniping at each other! “Talk dirty to me” taken to a new level.

What if the next big scene has the two emoting in completely different ways? Do they both have multiple personality disorders? Did some magical girl gimmick their headspaces? Nothing so fancy. They are just completely overwhelmed with a whole new range of feelings and are cycling through all of them. If we can acknowledge that smut with emotional fireworks delivers more than just smut with the dialogue turned off, story mechanics becomes an exercise in logistics.

When a mangaka becomes responsible for a monthly serialised work, instead of 12 pages of doujin smut they have to maneuver the characters from one “yummy parts” scene to the next. Using the “new at this, making a hot mess out of it” excuse, a mangaka gains extra maneuvering thrusters and fuel. She can even make one of them do an end over end tumble before docking.

It is almost impossible to pull anywhere near this level of variable characterization and emotional range with boy-girl romantic shoujo. Even if the boy is Doctor Jekell and the girl is Harley Quinn. Uso Lily tried with a crossdressing boy and a girl and had to concuss the guy for multiple cases of soap opera amnesia. At no time did the heroine take her turn getting banged on the head so they she could become the male lead. Lady Chatterley may switch between haughty and horny while groom Mellors gets to be servile and then forceful but he never gets to be her ladyship. Neither does she have to muck out the stables.

Only the “carnivalesque” excesses of drag and camp offer more potential. Perhaps the entire genre needs to be theoretically re-positioned when subjected to critical analysis. Normalities must be (over-) performed so they can be subverted.

I remain uneasy with the entire genre but at least now I have some idea (beyond gehhh! dudes making out!) why something as simple as Nise x Koi set off my wrong, wrong, wrong alarms. Nothing like a bit of attitudinal gymnastics to negotiate a new understanding with one’s prejudices. [3]

Anyway, I Shouldn’t Take It Personally, It Just Ain’t My Story

Against the tautological structures of excessive emotional drama and characterisation within the genre, complaints by nosy outsiders are easily brushed aside.

Guys don’t act like that! Hmmmmmm, you sure? They might if they were sufficiently smitten and unhinged by their conflicted desires…
Your plotting and characterisation is bat-shit random! Hmmmmmm? Repeat.
Gay guys don’t act like that! Hmmmmmm? Repeat.
Transfolk don’t act like that, and you are being insulting! Hmmmmmm?

Back to weaponised queer shoujo. This type of story seems to be popular and commercially viable. Outsider opprobrium is not going to put the idea back in a box. Can’t un-see once seen. An entire “lore” surrounding the genre makes it easy for rotten newbies to crank out more. It’s not just ‘seme” and “uke“; a range of off-the-shelf roles come with modular, emotional scripted subtypes such as “wimpy seme” and “trickster, inviting uke” (which is the second link of the chain back-tracking the origins of the “emotional range character trope” effect that I will resume grinding on about in future “Naming of Parts” essay instalments.)

Recall the brief summary of Nise x Koi above. Classic BL clichés favor the smaller guy “taking” the taller, initially dominant-appearing partner. In this story, the latter is already inscribed as female-role, even if he has previously initiated, even attacked. A challenge has been issued to wimpy nerd boy. Anyone care to guess how this one ends? [4]

If heteronormative narrative tried this kind of dynamic “making progress in a relationship” story, one would end up with a Taming of the Shrew retread.

Disapproval by phobic old-school guy otaku of BL will continue but as this mirrors the emotional dynamics of the conflicted characters, the hate-on becomes an unexpected bonus for fujoshi onlookers. When reading distressed fan reactions to the alt-Mada x alt-Hato fling in Spotted Flower I began to wonder if one of the thread originators might have even been a stealthed slash-fan trolling for a taste of honey. (“the misery of others is like…” ) Yesteryear’s girly-boy threads on 4chan’s /a board were a lot more inventive and far funnier. They usually started with “If it wears a skirt, it’s a girl” and went sideways fast.

Then a further notion struck: what is all that rage really about? To properly appreciate what is so disquieting (for straight guys) about BL, one needs to untangle the fujoshi “gei” or gender-queer character from the (straight) male subjectivity gay or gender-bent character.

Here’s a fun insight into contemporary fan practice and its intersection with activist gender politics — although I might be grabbing at fog. (requires more research, subjective evaluation, database coding, yadda yadda yadda). More and more anon on /a seem to be sort of, kind of Ok with “the gay”, as long as a gay male (secondary) character gets treated “seriously” within the story and isn’t trotted out as a cardboard joke or creep or abruptly vanished – in other words; afforded male respect and privilege. No depictions of male same-sex intimacy either, please! What sets off rage is when a gay male and/ or their same-sex desire is portrayed and/or deployed in a way that appears to pander to fujoshi tastes. “Real” gay; it’s 2017 – just don’t scare the horses. “Fujoshi-fied” gay; bad thing!

As for the otokonoko as male-gaze fantasy eye-candy creature, far fewer instances of vocal hate rear up in social media venues than one might first imagine. Pro-forma surprise is usually followed with a “that’s coolio too” rejoinder. Edgy quips that “the extra” makes her even better are not uncommon. The slightly sheepish reaction (cute cartoon girl character plus slightly pervy bonus) has become a safe consensus position. Public over-reaction would telegraph any manner of weak unresolved personal issues. All good, no biggie. Similarly, creating her is remarkably easy. Design a cutie, go easy on the boobs and impute a “little bit extra”. You can even make her act with less reserve than a usual female character has to maintain. Drop one as needed into each new franchise.

However, when the rotten tribes get their mitts on an Otokonoko character, Astolfo the hottie will be mangled into something else; something complicated and insidious. Far worse than Kio Shimoku’s Hato Kenjiro. Designed to highlight male wonkiness. Does things not-for the male reader/viewer’s enjoyment. Problematic. This will not end well.

Aside: Astolfo was originally a (male) magic-using sidekick character from 1500’s European-knights-do-heroic-things tales; most notably from the poem-story Orlando Furioso (the Rage of Orlando). The hero’s “wits” get stolen, so he rages. Only Astolfo has enough magic to go to the moon and retrieve said wits in a bottle. Astolfo MkI does not crossdress. In medieval Europe, guys got all the fun clothing anyway. Magic users are expected to be a bit eccentric.

What remains are complaints against the problematics of fantasy cross-dressing characters in light of real-world fall-out; including any deceit implied in that term. Anglosphere fandom needs a new short, snappy and less loaded descriptor. It should be noted that current best practice in manga and anime invariably has the character matter-of-factly announce that they are male or have a body that others would “deem male at birth” to any who have a need to know, well before sparks fly (as well as to any number of obnoxious types who should have minded their own business before they get their comeuppance). Seduction by deception is rarely any issue, though fetishization remains one. If the otokonoko and another (usually male) character hook up it is not because the latter wanted a “girl” but because they wanted “more than a girl”.

Fetishization in general is why a majority of cartoon characters are dropped onto the page and screen; male-subjectivity otokonoko remain “flattened” to their eye-candy outward appearance, as much as any other female-ish fanservice character. Their gender-queerness is their “hook” in the same way the glasses-girl and the athletic tomboy have theirs. When deployed in slice of life comedies, she is often used as a variant and/or extra moe-blob. In adventure scenarios, a variant Beautiful Fighting Girl.

“For duty, a woman. For understanding, an otokonoko. For ecstasy, a melon.”
— Slavoj Zizek

Only when one wanders into the recycled BL thickets of josou narratives, where some emotional complexity is necessary to move the plot along, does the revealing of the “feels” component of the “better than” come into play. Her gender-fluidity and essential male “core” posits her as more sympathetic to a class of male lead. The author must then tread lightly and leave much unsaid. The two are in sync; they understand each other perfectly and therefore dialogue can be kept to a minimum. A few reassuring quips, an exchange of knowing glances because they have (re-)invented sex, a few tender words and finally the frenzied mutual tearing off of clothes that leaves at least one female-marked accessory or piece of clothing still clinging to the otokonoko‘s body, can progress through to mutual exhaustion. Both will be blissfully happy because the genre posits, then leaves to the reader’s imagination a vague intimation of mutual physical and emotional satisfaction that is for the two of them “better than” heterosexual or conventional same-sex intimacy. The novelty and transgression masks a “just so” story. One may speculate that the difficulties of fine-tuning the move from pure transactional exchange towards affective interest is why the genre remains a niche market and why the one magazine devoted to such stories went under. Lewd twincest tales play a similar trick. You need some token emotional charge but not too much, or too fast. The overload/ overwhelmed effect is what remains disquieting.

The “deception” that the straight male subjectivity fears is not present upon the body of the otokonoko but within the emotional complexity of any interaction. [5]

Snowflakes!

Understandable then that male subjectivity fan discourse has kind of, sort of, begun to make peace with matter-of-fact, just-a-guy gay male characters and even simplistic eye-candy otokonoko characters. As long as neither of them bear any marks of “rotten” purpose or complexity. A diffuse, consensus notion of essential male identity is thus preserved. There are far scarier things in the world than a touch of queer in a lad. As for secondary appropriation, the fujoshi will always come out at night to cut up what remains. Look what they did to poor Holmes and Watson!

Good luck to us all.

Have some cake.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] This entire essay may be complete and utter bunk; the result of my residual homo-panic freak-out when a quick read of a harmless looking shoujo-ish one-shot (that looked interesting because “that scangroup” distrod it), turned into confusing guy-smut. WTF? Run Away, run away! You’ve heard of the ‘unreliable narrator” trick? This is the unreliable critical essayist version.

[2] Someone reading this might actually be here for a “review” rather than a subjective over-reaction, followed by a mess of speculation about plot mechanics and conventions. If one is really into BL-ish things, I’m betting that NiseXKoi is probably a quite good an example of its kind. The art-work is pro level. The emotions are not completely random (if you pay real close attention), the two characters are noobz enough to justify their mildly selfish fuckups, the “rival” is not a jerk; the thing is well constructed and the author has her own active doujin circle. Since I have few comparison points, I can’t say whether she is genius rank but I suspect that experienced readers would find her work solid, and “yummy”. She knows how to tell a story and play within the bounds of a style.

[3] Keep reading. It’s really easy: all you have to do is displace one bias with a different one. It just becomes a matter of fully understanding what one’s original bias was trying to protect. We guys should all thank the fujoshi tribes for “highlighting the contradictions”.

[4] MUCH LATER: In fairness to those wanting some manner of “review” and to the mangaka, I should add that the story ended on a surprisingly happy, vanilla, aspirational, linear and not too crumpled out of shape by semexuke conventions, way. The young crossdresser was snagged by the school drama club as “the princess‘ in a play and used the opportunity to solve the issue of his childhood friend blindly crushing on his girl presentation. Meanwhile doormat boy showed some spine at school and began to socialise, then used his new found confidence to declare his resolve to the crossdresser. Both vowed to have a happy high school romance with lots of sex, with the crossdresser both as a boy and as a girl. (I am almost tempted to D’awww here…)

A few points of note: once the mangaka decided to wrap it up, the characterisation and story lines became more linear, with the motivations easier to follow. Resolve. Follow through. Also of note, both characters try to abstractly empathise with the other’s situation; not at shoujo girl levels but at least they make a token effort. Even the childhood friend, while at first embarrassed, is supporttive. He also now understands why the two were hanging around with each other at school. Duh! moment. The otaku is not an intrusion, he has been vouched for within the male social/ circle of friends.

Finally, the happy ending recalls why all the straight girls are reading smutty romantic guy:guy highschool love stories. The two get to (at least promise to) sex themselves down to exhaustion because they are in a relationship. Because they are horny teenaged guys, even gay, they should really want to do so even more than playing video games. And they can, because no one is going to be labelled a slut or have to deal with a teen pregnancy and/or D&C if something goes awry.

(At some point will future general-interst high school romcoms feature stock zoned-out falling asleep at their desks with stupid grin on their faces male beta couples?)

To this end, the “formalism” of older rotten rigid BL pairing conventions are jettisoned for a more up-to-date “versatility”. It might even pass muster as aspirational ending for a young gay male reader, although the gay crossdresser type is apparently considered one of the least desireable “types” in IRL Japanese gay communities. At least Meguru doesn’t “femme out” while crossdressing, so he’s not completely outre.

[5] Ha! I have made it through this thing and not mentioned a certain game.
Slick, or whot? Oh yeah, almost forgot: Praxis! Now is must be legitimate academic-ish essay! What else? No mention of Dr. Tamaki or Lacan, although if you scratch the cheap paint you can see that old “ontological consistancy” chestnut; it’s harder to paint over than magic marker. And then there’s the “shota” component in nerd boy. Crap: even wearing shorts on the frontspiece! Pure Dr. Nagaike bait, though Tamaki called it first. Mangaka sure covers all the bases. 

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Small gods

On “then he woke up a girl” genderbending stories..

Why oh why? (mild spoilers ensue)

Of all the varieties of bent gender and desire manga tales out there, the magic vanishing wee-wee is generally considered the lamest. Yet they remain popular. A wizard did it (It’s effing magic!) The guy MC reacts in shock, runs around and has to learn how to be that most curious type of being; a female or rather a shoujo.

Merlin web600

Put aside cross dressing stories and clumsy depictions of might-be m2f transfolk. The god/magic/aliens/drugs/radiation/triffids instant sex change cuts to the chase. Buddy boy is now a %100 cis girl and it looks like he will stay that way for a while. A new life waits for you in the outer colonies. No more wake every morning and give praise to your sky-daddy that you were not born a woman. Suddenly half the world’s population is a threat and huge swaths of organised belief systems’ followers consider you as merchandise. It is a wonder that most of these magic m2f tales don’t end in serial carnage. Step one: make friends with Koko Hekmatyar and Murcielago. Step two: PREEMPT!

Hold on a sec! We read silly comics like this so that we can avoid all the really horrible, heartbreaking, depressing, anger-stoking, soul-sucking REAL crap that is going on in the world. Don’t bring grim reality into the discussion, please!

Your average he woke up and now he’s a girl gag manga will not have the main chara on vacation in Turkey (c.f. Orlando – see below) waking up in a seaside resort room to find that he is now a girl and then taking a stroll on the beach where she will find the washed up dead bodies of children who died when a refugee smuggling ship capsized.

Or…

The plucky journalist intern now-heroine will not wake up in a hotel in Iowa for some American political primary thing (on a cold winter morning when the nearby river has frozen over c.f. Orlando – again see below) to face the horrible realization that every single candidate running for that party’s nomination in next year’s presidential election is deeply wounded, flawed, dangerously incompetent or wildly out of their sphere of competence, mendacious to the point of schizophrenic delusion and beholden to Bond-villain billionaires (except the Bond-villain billionaire who has cut out the middleman and is running himself – “Expect Mr. Bond? I expect you to MAAAAAKE AMURRIKA GREAT and VOTE for ME!”) and that all are out to win the votes of angry violent scared mostly guys who look at the franchise as an excuse for some nihilistic therapy theatre that, incidentally involves kicking down on women… Except for the one woman candidate who royally screwed up a major corporation, left with a golden parachute and ran a very stupid and amateur tv campaign last time she tried for public office, involving an actor with glowing red eyes crawling around while cosplaying a sheep. And… that one of these crazies might actually win and screw with the life support systems next year!!! Of course there is the other party. The socialist might win. If the ex-Secretary of State Secrecy wins, it will be five years of unrelenting trench warfare backlash from the party of “Everyone we hate and fear must be our slaves! Only then can we feel safe and happy!“, as it was when a black man got elected.

Crawl back into bed, draw covers over head. Stay there.

Or you could be in Japan. Maybe magically gender switched main character wanders into a 200,000 person strong demonstration that no politician will ever listen to, no right-wing newspaper will ever report, and the few centrist news sources left are too scared of a tax audit or pressure on their advertisers to make much of and that half of what they report can be retroactively classified as “secret” to land any reporter or blogger who mentions it in jail and despite that, the next thing you know she is on a viral nico-nico clip and she will be kicked out of University and never get more than a temp job for the rest of her life.(1)

Or maybe she will get lucky and just die in a shootout between yakuza as a bunch of 70-year-old guys fight it out to see who can control all the prostitution, woman-trafficking and loan-sharking in Japan.

Maybe everybody will get lucky, the global economy will melt down and some Chinese generals will go nuts and try to start a war with Japan to distract their citizenry and seize power as everybody’s life savings, food supplies and job prospects turn into dog shit.

Or they’ll just be another earthquake, tsunami, floods, mudslides and a nuclear meltdown.

Oh Fuck!

Escapism, you say? What’s wrong with a little escapism?

So, there is this nice idyllic high-school or university situation, and this guy with friends and someone he is nerving up to start chatting with…

Ahhhhhhhh! Bliss… What could go wrong?

If the work is a webcomic called The Amazing Girl-Boy’s Adventures in Femininity, expect the First Law to be enforced.
-TV TROPES – The First Law Of Gender Bending http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FirstLawOfGenderBending

It is always good to process the received wisdom from TV Tropes early on in an analysis. It gets the generally agreed upon stuff out onto the table. Along with the first law (Buddy Girl is not going to get to change back soon or easily) the second and third laws are worth considering as well: eventually new-she will grow to think “this isn’t too bad” and manifest some degree of acceptance. As well (3rd law) circumstance will manifest so that full gender-appropriate behaviour will be nudged at the MC – otherwise we won’t get any cognitive dissonance, bathing suit pages or even much of a story

I must exclude wish-fulfillment tales of magical medical M2F procedures; making sport of them would trespass on the dreams of people who wish it all could be that easy. Everybody is entitled to their aspirational fiction and dreams are sacred, so I’m declaring a no-go zone and sticking with the rude comedy versions where the MC gets blindsided by the change. Conversely, I will also exclude magical take-backs that involve water splashing, etc., as not fully committed to the cause. Similar problems plague the body-swapping genre; the new body is not really “theirs”. The double-double universe Japan with lawd-knows what pheromone cues (?) that cause some folks to fall into a torpor and emerge from cocoons a year later as an X (usually a girl) gets a conditional pass, even though the “natural-ness” of the occurence takes away almost all of the comedy potential. It misses most of the evil gags. Being girl-ified has to be a cosmic mishap or it ain’t scary-funny.

[Hachimitsu Hana_wa_Nisemono_c04_15 Web600

It should be noted that the magic change saves the author the trouble of making up new and odd ideas sexuality and gender, so the potential for some really clumsy and insulting depictions are reduced. A full gender-swap avoids issues of gender dysphoria. Overtly nasty institutional and individual oppressive male behaviour will similarly be avoided, because males – we guy readers are good people; there is no profit in making the male readership feel like we are all one step away from being evil scum. And it makes writing in a villain easy. As well, any and all guy author misapprehensions of women can be saved for Buddy-Girl to act out, because she used to be a gormless guy and there’s plenty of uncomfortable joke material to be cycled through playing with this. The usual problems of a guy trying to write female heroes and about female socials are turned from a bug into a feature.

God/magic/aliens/drugs/radiation/triffids turning the girl permanently into a boy stories are much rarer. Often the girl is swapped as part of pair and she turns into a jerk.

LATER: Although the “mistaken for a boy” stories generally are more sympathetic: Boku wa Ohime-sama ni Narenai and Ouran Host Club spring to mind.

Why no boy who turns into girl becomes a real be-aytch and causes gossip, drama and comeuppance among the mean girls who deserved it? An ex-guy could never pull it off. Why no stereotype raging drag queen gets turned? Too weird, too insulting, not funny. There is one weird variant where a town full of high school girls are turned into mid-40’s salarymen but I have never been able to wrap my mind around it. A+ for imagination though, even if later I found that there is a small niche of fujoshi who really, really like stories involving steamy romance between mid-40’s rumpled males – but why start with high school girl raw materials? Instead of first menstruation horrors, will the fujoshi readership get to laugh at the terror of prostate biopsies? (Don’t ask.. ) Come to think of it, none of the Buddy Girl manga I have run into have our hero facing the stirrups and the lady-parts exam. That might be just too much for the male readership, though I dimly recall a Girl Saurus arc that had a young scared protagonist getting drafted into accompanying his mom to a ladies health clinic. The woman mangaka who penned Girl Saurus was ruthless when it came to scaring boys.

As for rotten girls: why no enthusiastic Rika-kun boy-for-a-day/ week/ month?

Turning a fujoshi into a guy would be a natural, one would think, right? Many laffs ensue, much bumbling around, importuning males, trying to find a suitable straight guy to put though heck (we assume she is hardcore and pestering a gay male just wouldn’t be enough fun). I suppose that rotten girl dojinkas wont do it and mangakas that want to lob a few stink bombs at fujoshi have easier targets.

Insensitivities aside, the reason we keep getting these stock weenie-vanish tales is because they ARE funny. Easy funny. Plenty of laff material. Lots of uncomfortable-enough that can be mined for whew!

There is even one scan group that seems to specialize only in m2f gender benders. What oh what do their loyal readers get from the stuff? I wonder what the demographic is? They practically have a lock on the back catalogue of m2f mischief stories, which make up a subset of the gender bender opus. How long does the genre goes back?

Mishima tried it in his Sea of Fertility with re-incarnation. Heinlein did a medico-supernatural m2f tale how many decades ago(?) complete with a spanking fetish (one of RAH’s minor embarrassing faves, whatever…) John Varley went overboard with his exiled-from-earth by alien dolphins humans getting sex changes whenever they felt like it in a number of his short stories and in his Popular Mechanics Guide to Suicidal Depression; Steel Beach. His characters remain essentially male, even when they suffer miscarriages. Virginia Wolf’s Orlando [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando:_A_Biography] seems to find few modern analogues in CJVC, or they aren’t filtering down through the grey reaches of the world-wide intertubes;

Aren’t we inventive? We guys have been making up our own ideas of the feminine for eons.I have always considered Wolf’s detached treatment far superior to the way us guys go about it. No spanking kinks needed.

Why oh Why?

Magical castration is funny.

Mild ecchi/ service/ auto-sekuhara. Wow, I finally get to fondle boobs and what’s-all-this-now down here? Wheeeeeeeeeee! As the goddess said to Tireseus: STFU!

Curiosity/ tourism/ girl’s locker room. Ex-guy finally learns how to make friends.

Rom-com to 11 ending in reassurance.

A few pokes at what constitutes identity formation in the modernist subject.

“It immediately raises the question of what is expected, or anticipated, of a man.
It immediately raises the question of what is expected, or anticipated, of a woman.”
https://1000paperwishes.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/miscellaneous-musings-on-gender-bender-and-transgender-manga/

Well, duh… Cut to the manga.

Hana Wa Nisemono by Hiroko Sengoku (love that pen-name)

At first glance, this little manga looks a bit too thin to build an essay on. Its quirks redeem it. God-swapping the sex of one of the guys in a tentative young gay male couple at first seems cruel, but it is all handled tastefully enough. The young University-going couple is just getting over their shyness enough to think about… Then Blam! Kami is an iron (Doddering Kami-sama is just trying to help) This one is a pure shoujo variant, which makes it very big on thinking about the relationship that just got messed with. And it doesn’t shy away from physical considerations. New girl gets cramps, her period and blood leakage on her new white skirt. Oh Heck! More to the shoujo is the obsessive over thinking about relationship etiquette; what would the beloved want/ need as best for him, blah blah blah. Finally they nerve up enough to “try it” just as kami- sama intervenes again and switches both of their sexes. BLAM! Virtual Yaoi-us interruptus. Boyfriend is even more shocked than MC was, even though he gets a ZOMG girl body. Next day kami-sama throws up its (his) hands and restores all. Do the lads finally make the rotten girl readership happy with tubs of lotion (if you try to find sex-lube for sale in Japan you will come up rather dry until you look for “lotion”) and pages of weird positions? Not that kind of manga! The now-restored to guy-ness couple spends a few more days talking it out. They consider things a lot, they are very consider-ate. (The Jane Austin effect) One would think they will eventually retire to a hotel to discuss environmental policy ethics and play euchre. S-class BL.

A look at the discussion forums for the scans shows a lot of folks wondering why the MC doesn’t go with Y or dump X or whether the relationship can continue because of the self, vs the societally dictated and hormone driven preference: in short, relationshippy discussion ensues, as it should for a relationshippy story. I will not try to guess the genders and sexualities of the correspondents, but the whole discussion gives off a very shojo-ish vibe. It is interesting how the tiny questions that pop up with the vanilla grade transformation story get a more considered airing when the couple are young gay males rather than the shocked straight boy and his crush. We really need rule 3 above, plus eventually rule 2 to keep a straight boy transformation on track, otherwise kami-sama is just creating a whole bunch of bifauxnen lesbians and/or soon to be trans-men (no, I really am a guy trapped …)

At this point, one can also point out that rule 3 needs to be expanded or even given a subsection. Rule 3.1 should mention that god/magic/aliens/drugs/radiation/triffids do not create ugly or even plain girls. The unfortunate MC may be a bit androgynous, may not get a D-cup, but she won’t be fugly, overweight, gonk-ish or deformed in any manner. She will not be a female body builder or even a plain girl who has to load on the make-up, like Genshiken’s Keiko, in order to properly present as a good-looking female. A rule 4 would be useful too, as previous, that nasty realistic catastrophes do not intrude into the story.

What one could miss if one zipped through the manga is how our hero misses his male homosocial. Sure he’s gay but his male social isn’t sexualized, his buds just want to hang out and do guy things. The girls hang out and do girl things, but that’s part of the usual welcome to the world of girls thing. The focus on the guy’s social is good storytelling. Losing that hurts the MC almost as much as the cramps. Also, given the oddity of the gender swap, the attraction between the two young guys calls out for a sympathetic and respectful treatment (even if a bit of Jane Austin effect creeps in). As the baseline that needs to be returned to, it is what is normal and what needs to be put right. Well and tastefully played by the mangaka!

So yeah; not getting this kind of odd in western comics, or maybe you do now, at least in webcomics.. Ok, yup, some activist comics by folks who are making some point or doing the make visible thing might be doing something like it, but vanilla grade straight boy and girl mangakas doing a well-worn trope up for gags and a reassuring happy ending???

I don’t see it and have not heard of it.

Maybe they stuck it in GLEE. I have been scolded into thinking that they put everything queer-lite in GLEE and that I should be off to the re-education camps, yet I have somehow refrained from downloading and marathoning GLEE from grey sites. I avoided it too while it was on tv, not out of phobosity, but out of Fox-loathing. The last thing I tolerated on the local Fox affiliate was the Stargate franchise and even then I felt dirty. Even if our local Fox station is considered the one damn commie outpost of the Fox Empire and they keep it local and only sneak a teeny bit of wingnut bullshit into the feed… Fox has much to answer for.

But I digress. Back to OMG where’s my phallic signifier.

Compare Nisemomo to Boku Girl, by Akiro Sugito, https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=105986 see also http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/BokuGirl

…where our hero wakes up to find that his guyhood has literally fallen off (or did it bounce out of the bed sheets and across the room?). No menses gags yet. A brief, early bit of idiocy on how to piss like a girl using a western style toilet. A maliciously juvenile rather than a stodgy confused deity. The new transfer student is named Loki Asgard, really? Well I hope she behaves better than last years The Joker Murderous Psychopath-chan. Having to deal with the family and then friends rather than a magic “nobody remembers me as a boy except my crush” situation presents its own plot mojo.

Where Nisemomo trades on pseudo BL for a shoujo vibe, Boku Girl presents the dilemma as a shonen-ish challenge to be overcome, like a video game. Both are somewhat oblivious to any notions of inadvertent hurt/ annoy they might cause to folks who are out collecting micro-grudges and position themselves as light comedy; Boku Girl goes for a bigger side helping of titillation. Readers get to see the better-than-an-otokonoko character in gravure magazine poses and watch everyone squirm as best bud becomes more and more “aware” of the sweet young thing that used to be his ‘bro. Meanwhile our hero sees his crush slip from his-now-her sights to become their new BFF, while they wonder what the proper frame of mind is for navigating the girl’s side of the onsen.

Nisemomo at least has “love”. The characters did long for each other a bit, or were cautiously, tentatively trying to work through the beginnings of love.

A digression on romance:

Boku, like the majority of younger character stories has everyone ticking off the gotta do this to grow up list while dealing with hormones. Desire is a biological effect/ curse that suddenly makes one notice someone like that when they had never before. The crush on the girl is because she is superficially pretty and personable, she might as well be a car. The girl’s crush on the cool boy is similarly superficial.

Like Genshiken with Mada getting bent out of shape because he worked up enough booze fueled courage to try a man-smooch after falling on Hato, he jumps around a lot but he doesn’t get sick to his heart over wanting his one true love. It’s all about me self-consciousness rather than “fuck! why does this hurt so much? This is making me sick in the head and the guts and I can’t stop because I really, really want (her, him, ze)!”

Nobody stops coming to school because they are lovesick. Sometimes shoujo girls stop when embarrassment as a side effect of a crush kicks in but otherwise it is all zoo animal maintenance and husbandry. You need to get into Shinso old-school Yuri to get pining. Or BL. Heart of Thomas starts with a school-boy suicide born out of unrequited pining. Come to think of it, the only time really heavy melodramatic romance-hurt manifested in Genshiken was in the anime’s BL parody sequence. Ogiue and Sas come close, with Ogiue tearfully running off into the woods, but no collapsed on the street in the rain sobbing “I’ve lost you, I’m tainted” shows up in the “real” Genshiken-verse. Window jumping does not count, that was also self-conscious shame, like the run in the woods, rather than pining.

Rom-com teens are considered too shallow to really get severely bent out of shape by love. That makes the mangaka’s job easier too.

Again, I want to emphasise that I am not working through the permutations to amass a collection of meaningless complaints either. I am just winnowing out the obvious non-essentials. The thing about the genre is that it remains dependably funny and new variations still seem to find un-mined veins of hah-hah while reprocessing the tailings for even more yuks. The formula works and it works well. Even if we groan when we see the same gag one more time, we will still let slip a smile. Reassurance is reassuring.

Jeebus and his saggy eared flatmate! Buddy Girl can’t figure out how to sit on a pot and piss? Duh!

At this point, I want to add Tomo-chan wa OnnanoKo! by Yanagida Fumita,
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=120945 into the mix, for purposes of triangulation. It is very simple and funny and no has need to tipy-toe around potentially insulting misrepresentations of anyone. No one has to have their gender changed for laughs. Tomo-chan is just a run-of-the-mill strong tomboy girl who gives a rats ass about girly stuff, relationship stuff and couldn’t read a tense high-school girl’s clique-battle-vibe to save her life. Why bother. “Buddy boy is my childhood friend, who else can I scrap with if he ain’t around?

It is refreshing. Tomo, the ultimate tomboy friend (that name) is too dense to notice the mean girls who want to snag her ‘bud, (and strong enough to scare them off any ideas of bullying her) or the sweet dumb blonde who isn’t really all that sweet or dumb and wants to snag… Or that her one female frienemy confidant has mixed feelings about giving her advice but thinks that watching Tomo-chan try to figure out her teeny tiny developing feelings for her friend (as well as his growing, hard-to-suppress feelings for her) is great entertainment…

I really want to see her work up her concern and resolve and declare to her buddy that “when the time comes, and he starts to get uncomfortable feelings for girls, that she will volunteer to be his girlfriend to protect him, because he is too pure and as a girl, she understands these things and she could not stand to see him getting his heart-broken.” Meanwhile, much blood will slowly drip out of his mouth from his bitten tongue. Aesop for guys: More dudes have found happiness by keeping quiet at the right moment than by opening their yaps. I’m just playset-ing, but if I nail it, I expect to win an internets for my Cpt Obvious insights.

Back to curiosity/ gender tourism/ girl’s locker room/ make friends the hard way

“In all three stories, the only way that the male protagonist is able to get near the girl he likes is to become a girl himself. All three boys have difficulty with dealing with the opposite sex. They, like most men, simply fear rejection. Hazumo confessed his feelings to his love, and was crushed when she couldn’t love him back. Akira and Rando are too timid to even try, so they just sit on the sidelines and dream about the relationship they can be having. This is a fear that many teenage otaku know all too well.
[later…]
This feminine kinship gives the hero, as well as the reader, a voyeuristic opportunity to catch girls off guard doing things they wouldn’t do with men around. Most of the time, this just involves nudity. As the girls change their clothes in the locker room, or bath[e] together, the men get a front row view without ever getting in trouble or punish[ed] for it.
Sophomoric? Maybe. Pathetic? Highly likely. However, it does provide some nice fan service. When you’re going for a romantic story aimed at young men, sex is a necessity because it is a very dominate [oh fer spellcheck puh-lease!] urge for the audience. And by making the other girls completely comfortable with (though still ignorant of) being naked around the male protagonist, this somewhat lessens the shame of voyeurism.”
http://animealmanac.com/2008/02/20/androgyny-and-gender-bending-part-iii-boys-become-girls/

As well the new-girl cheesecake gives the readers an extra perv-lite thrill. Somewhat like cross-dressing or gender-dysphoria stories, the readership gets the “but she’s really a boy” frisson from otherwise gratuitous service scenes. Suddenly they are not just plotless displays of female flesh. Admittedly, the readership we are talking about here is presumed male, which is why the POV catered to in Nisemomo is interesting – theorists have long gone on that BL males, nominally gay or not, very easily slip into being “upgraded males” in the sense that while they lust like guys, they consider and do romance in a way more enjoyable for the female fans. If this gets confusing, just think of it as if one kami already got to Nisemomo’s couple before the kami in the story messed about.

Oh heck, brain beginning to hurt!

In some ways the (male-gaze) readership also gets a funny-light version of all the horrible fear-mongering levelled at transfolk and to a lesser degree at those who have same-sex desire; bathrooms, change rooms, peeking, voyeurism, improper glances, the potential for assault and the disturbance of the division and enforcement of gender and desire norms within the social order. Recall that some variants of world religions consider male locker rooms full of nominally straight males immodest.

Wanna really stretch out this line of inquiry? Perhaps the comedy of such situations lies even deeper than gender separation in Japan’s sacred nekkid spaces and derives from the breaking of unspoken norms of societal cohesiveness, japanese-ness and same-ness. A skinny middle-aged gaijin guy with a stooped back and no tattoos is tolerated in the men’s side at a resort onsen, but shunned at the neighborhood sento. He gets into the pool, all else leave. He goes into the steam room, all else leave. Didn’t he make a show of scrubbing himself 3 times clean all over? It is not like he is hung like a horse or anything. How uncomfortable. I wonder if he should complain bitterly about the experience over on some outlander blog? Better to warn those who would follow that Japanese sentos do not believe in chlorine. Keep your head above water unless you want a nasty ear infection. I am sure that the neighbourhood old dudes would get used to him eventually. The MC’s new body sets up a same-ok/ not-same uncomfortable oscillation in the readership that could go deeper than gender or sexuality. We outlanders might be missing something during the Genshiken sento scenes; a correspondent who taught in Korea notes that her breasts were often a subject of curiosity in the women’s bath, which now must be looked at not as envy or curiosity but a ritual excuse to welcome her into the social.

Too much speculative pop sociology!

Note as well that all of these gender-swap stories also assume that women are for all practical purposes, by guy standards, mostly asexual. Even freaky pushy harem girls who want to catch a boy are not really sexual per se, as their desires are really for societal scripts of marriage, fulfilment, love capitalism or at best romantic love as a precondition to bedroom antics. The idea that a female character would want to just DO the guy because say, his fingers are sexy and he elicits physical desire in her makes Genshiken’s Angela a bit rarer than first glance suggests. Usually such forward sexuality is the realm of the scary older woman or plain plotless smut. Fortunately the busty blonde outlander girls are incomprehensible trick can cover the lapse in Genshiken. The guys, even the guy who got zapped is assumed to still harbor a jack-rabbit libido, held only in check by crushing shyness.

Worse, if the shoujo ever evinces desire, it is towards the aloof or asshole alpha and not the loser guy (now girl) pining in the background. More disappointment. No wonder guys like Yuri; the girls at least show desire that we can somewhat understand, while we cheer on any directness – although the better variants handle it in a far more classy way than we would try. In the case of the gender-swapped MC he-now-she ends up dealing not only with his leftover male want-now sexuality, but with the new normal of how girls are supposed to desire, plus the it feels gay effect if his new body’s hormones find his attention wandering towards his best buddy. It would all be easier if he-now-she just became a lesbian, but that never works either and the girl of his ex-dreams is not about to encourage it. She will never suddenly up and declare that the change is wonderful, because she always thought he was girly-cute, but never cute enough for her to bother with, due to her own quietly bubbling away preferences, but now…

In a cheesy and ridiculous way, the nominally straight, nominally male readership gets a chance to vicariously explore gender confusion from a subjective, but safe point of view and perhaps even empathize with real folks caught up in their own non-conforming desires and identities. Because “god”/ unforeseen external random circumstance imposed the change, arguments about tribal ideas of morality fall aside. Buddy Girl didn’t just decide to go queer to act depraved against all scriptural laws. But Buddy Girl is definitely queer in a working sense. She has girl-parts and girl hormones rushing through her brain and body, so it is natural that she would start thinking about that guy. But the “I” is male and to the guy mind that feels “gay”. The “I” also remembers desire for that special girl, and in the locker room it is still embarrassing because It is checking out the other girl’s bodies. Damn, It checks out its new body all the time too. Or the more ambitious obverse is going on, as in Hana Wa Nisemono.
Then there is ex-special girl/ new BFF. The new female-ish special friendship is so intense, almost intimate – is this normal? Does Buddy-Girl’s residual guy mind betray it? and where is all this wimpy proper consideration mull it over, try to figure out all the options stuff coming from? Hormones? A newfound sense of morality? Chickenshit narcissism? A realistic fear of physical and social sanction if she acts too direct and aggressive?

Confusion is accentuated to make a point, but confusion, even if it is the natural state of human existence is BAD. Recall the Book of Leviticus. Don’t mix stuff! This is good, that is bad! Don’t mix them! This behaves this way, that behaves that way or the tribe should kill you! Even wonderfully polytheistic Japan has its elaborate rules of Shinto purity and defilement to keep dangerous categories apart.

A final digression: 25 years ago Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist Hothead Paisan [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hothead_Paisan] was walking down a grotty sidewalk with her new girlfriend when a big drunk guy starts hassling them. Before Hothead can shoot him and cut his nuts off, lanky-thin girlfriend straight-arm punches the fool and leaves him in a pile of bleedy-crushed face. Girlfriend then reveals that she is a post-op transwoman (who has a mean snapping jab of a punch) and apologizes for not yet having the time to mention it. Hothead looks her up and down, shrugs and then takes her hand and they walk off into the sunset (and later to a truly horrific meet her family scene, which would probably be impolitic today, but hey, you got problems, take it up with the author). Proof that you can find some real classy treatments of the same old same old when the author isn’t completely pulling minority sexualities out of their ass and writes from the heart.

hothead paisan collection cover web600

Aside cont: The collected HP works are not really for squeamish guys; the plucky heroine does not like any males at all. It seems we are all prone to unforgivable lapses of rudeness. She doesn’t even tolerate gay males but usually refrains from maiming them. Daphne however is the girl who Hothead likes and everything else is just bullshit. Hooray for romance! It was an interesting read for me, way back when. Straight women friends of university going age seemed to find her adventures hilarious and somewhat cathartic. See also: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/bring_back_hothead_paisan_homicidal_lesbian_terrorist

A romantic comedy with extra low comedy on top.

You can’t avoid the appeal of the comedy bits. The Shazzaam you’re a girl is a step up from plain vanilla rom-coms or teen sex comedies. It is hard enough to figure out who the hell you are during those years. Hard to figure out attraction, dating and romance. Add gender identity confusion (no, not the serious kind) and by inference sexuality and you get a slow motion train wreck. Boku Girl at least has the sense to drop a malicious godling into the stew so as to lampshade the elaborate slapstick setups. Her job is to keep you from groaning over the mangaka’s sleight of hand. Given that the MC will now be a girl-ex-man of constant sorrow, it’s a miracle that any of these magical gender-swap victims ever venture out of their rooms once the whoops takes place. If these stories were more ambitious, each would start with someone being sent to deliver notes to the class hikikomori. All manga and anime hikis should be magical gender-swap victims. (or they think they are.. hmmmm.. story potential! The everyone remembers variant vs the no one remembers variant…)

“I’m now a girl! You always were, No I wasn’t! Well you’re one now. But I still like girls!  Everyone in class knew that you were THAT WAY Keiko, please come to class, no one will bully you… My name is Takeshi! Sure, Takeshi. Keiko, whatever…

Adding gender-role norm screw-ups to a teen romcom is like stuffing extra scoops of ice cream into a too-small cone. If there was a way to then cram all of this fun into a harem grinder as well the otaku population of Japan and then that of the rest of the world would go into a state of catatonic bliss, except for the folks at studio SHAFT who would have to pull all-nighters to make an even weirder and more annoying version than the manga. (Hmmmm.. there was a new Nyarko OVA out recently, missed opportunity, diff studio, dratt!)

How about a further variant on the appeal of the new-girl character as lazy otokonoko/josou genre story:

“So setting aside preoccupation with gender, josou shounen anime characters are typically even more feminine and approachable than actual girl characters are. The argument may be made, in this case, that cute is cute, regardless of gender. But if that’s the case, why would heterosexual otaku supplement or even supplant attraction to female characters with josou shounen characters? Some otaku may be partially shifting their interest in cute anime girls onto cute anime boys that look like girls because the later provide the same opportunity for moé obsession without the need to respect conventional masculine and feminine gender roles.”
http://www.animenation.net/blog/2010/07/23/john-asks-why-is-josou-shounen-becoming-a-mainstream-trend/

Well, that might play a bit to the popularity of the genre, even if all the surface action is the MC’s “new confusing plight”. It also serves as a good intro to one final take on the popularity of the genre: it is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but whothteheck!

For Science!

The pop-lacanian trauma re-visited. Note the assumed gender of the readership:

“Even though these characters are still male inside, their outward female appearance allows the reader to fully accept them as girls at times. This presents a very unique experience for the reader that is very rarely felt with other types of comics. When the reader focuses on the hero’s motives and personality, he identifies the character as purely male. The reader relates with the hero’s desire for love and sex when being around so many beautiful women, and this creates an empathic admiration from the reader to the hero. But when the reader focuses on the character’s physical appearance, he can’t help but to identify the character as female. Not only female, but a very cute and attractive female. When this happens, the male reader actually becomes sexually attracted to the protagonist.

This switch between platonic admiration towards the boy-side and sexual attraction towards the girl-side happens very quickly when reading these stories. It could even take place while the reader’s eye goes from reading dialog in word bubble to looking at the drawing inside of that panel. This constant toggle between the two feelings eventually merges together until the reader no longer distinguishes the gender of the hero. The reader loses himself into the fantasy of manga and forms a unique feeling towards the hero for being both male and female.

Is this the same kind of unique feeling that girl get when reading yaoi? I’m not sure. But as we can see, androgyny and gender bending in anime and manga is a pretty interesting experience for both male and female otaku.

Just another example of why I love this medium so much.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2008 at 8:04 pm by Scott .”
http://animealmanac.com/2008/02/20/androgyny-and-gender-bending-part-iii-boys-become-girls/

Which, despite the naive presentation is a damn fine bit of testimony that tries to tease out a very subjective take on reading the stuff. It is also a good approach, with suitable tweaking, to toss on the “why do the rotten girls?” pile as well.

Of course it leaves out the next step, the Dr. Tamaki post-lacanian ‘wound”; the “Holy shit! What did I just do to my desiring wiring?” feeling as well as the “Why do I feel like this about a cartoon character?” hysterical (hah! nice word choice) trauma that must then be mastered, reproduced and shared.

It might well be that a taste for this kind of jolt is what fuels the essential pervy-ness of Japanese visual culture fandom. The flip side of “iki” is the wide range of virtual walk(s) on the wild side(s) available to the readership. Even without the cult of Lacan messing things up, one can at least say that the gender-swap genre is a fine trick for feeding boy readers some warmed over shoujo leftovers.

Of course the things can be read as modern fables and just for laughs as well. Ambitious storytellers will spin out profitable tales.

As alluded to above, the main engine of continuing fun is our newly minted heroine’s quest to get back his manhood. Of course he also wants the girl he was crushing on before the change, and then there is the problem of his friend looking at him that way, but if he were to give up and accept shoujo-dom the game ends (rule 2 is kept around if you need a quick wrap-up). The story needs the treadmill to keep buddy-girl running. Unlike stock rom-coms that trade on insecurity and shared recognition of the absurdity of desire/ dating fail, but then give us a happy ending to confirm that it is all worth it, the gender swap tale can go on for an absurdly long run. Few rom-coms alone can work on such a stoic note.. All fail, all the time but the journey is worth it for the absurd yuks. The MC will end up ronery no matter what, so forward, make like an idiot and enjoy! MC must somehow not give up and throw self off the school roof.

Quit not thine day job!

What else can be said about the fantasy nature of the genre? All of the charas are destined for penury if they don’t get their priorities straight. Capital knows very little compassion. Any lifestyle is a commodity you will pay for it, one way or another. If however, they get their priorities in line with contemporary economic trends, the story ends. I would venture that even the most conservative Japanese parents would put aside concerns over their child’s sexuality and gender expression if the child was a super swot and looked like they could snag a full scholarship at Tokai.

“Heh Keiko, you back at school?”
“Yeah, and cram school after until 10pm, every night and all day Saturday. English lessons Sunday all day. Fine! I’m a girl, whatever… Boy or girl, what I am not going to be is dirt poor. What about you Takeshi, how’s the top surgery?”
“Doesn’t hurt so much now. Shit, I wish I could have gotten some of your magical swap stuff, but I still will be a man, even if I have to do it the hard way. See you at cram school.”
“Yeah, getting settled with your gender and sexuality is great, but unless you learn how to be a software engineer with a side interest in start-up financing or a math wizard into international currency markets and A.I. modelling how’s a girl or boy to eat? Japan economy ichiban clusterfuck! I figure whatever I want will be a lot easier after I make my first billion.”
“Yup! Money first! Money is sexuality! Money is gender! Money is freedom!”

LATER: Random intrusions from nasty reality

(1) Blacklisted for life? It’s happened before in Japan, Some SEALDs consider the possibilities today:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/08/30/issues/sealds-student-activists-worry-not-getting-hired/#.VgxonuxVikr

SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy): Research Note on Contemporary Youth Politics in Japan by David H. Slater, Robin O’Day, Satsuki Uno, Love Kindstrand, Chiharu Takano, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue. 37, No. 1, September 14, 2015
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Chiharu-Takano/4375/article.html

How pop music sneaks into Japanese activism: Music in Japanese Antinuclear Demonstrations: The Evolution of a Contentious Performance Model by Noriko Manabe, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 42, No. 3, October 21, 2013.
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Noriko-MANABE/4015/article.html

Differentiating SEALDs from Freeters, and Precariats: the politics of youth movements in contemporary Japan by Robin O’Day, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue. 37, No. 2, September 14, 2015
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Robin-O_Day/4376/article.html

The paper tigers roar at noon

“The number of persons or institutions by whom the existence of gay people–never mind the existence of more gay people–is treated as a precious desideratum [something wanted], a needed condition of life, is small, even compared to those who may wish for the dignified treatment of any gay people who happen already to exist. Advice on how to make sure your kids turn out gay, not to mention your students, your parishioners, your therapy clients, or your military subordinates is less ubiquitous than you might think. By contrast, the scope of institutions whose programmatic undertaking is to prevent the development of gay people is unimaginably large…”
— Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet (1990)

“Anthropologist David Graeber argues that we must move beyond the definition of value in terms of the economistic individual evaluating objects’ exchange value or use value and beyond the overly holistic and static structure of a society’s ‘values’, because neither is much help in developing social theory that accommodate people’s efforts to [change society purposefully] [ital mine]. Instead, Graeber encourages us ‘to look at social systems as structures of 
creative action, and value, as how people measure the importance of their own actions within such structures’ (Graeber, 2001: 230). I am interested in seeing what thinking in terms of characters and premises might do as a kind of ‘operating system’ on which dispersed participants work in their particular areas of expertise. Few people within the process feel that they have a tremendous amount of ‘power’, but they would likely concede that as a group they work towards common, or at least somewhat shared, notions 
of value. As one anime producer said to me in an August 2006 interview in which he discussed his enjoyment of script meetings, ‘You get hooked (hamacchau). You like the characters. They become like friends, and you want to spend time with them.”
Anime Creativity Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan by Ian Condry

The attraction of the manga narrative lies precisely in that it is not great literature. It a simple, small machine that sets out to do one thing.

MIZUTAMA HONEY BOY/ 水玉ハニーボーイ; 水珠HoneyBoy
Released: 2015 Author/Artist: Ike Junko.
Genres: Comedy, Romance, School Life, Shoujo, Sports

Honey boy frontspiece C0p4

(Mild spoilers ensue)

They riddle and corrupt the heart

Aside from a few publicly funded art galleries who go hunting for “inclusive content” to assure their next year’s grants, some of the oddest examples of “want more hoyay” can be currently found in Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture and the vernacular narratives that it spins out. Paradoxically, these are overwhelmingly straight-created fantasies of gay, lesbian, queer, trans*, inter-sex, asexual or just plain “non-conforming” identities and desires. Even if some of the creators are from minority identities, the overwhelming majority of their readers remain vanilla, boring “straight”. These go to their manga to dream in queer. That they so dare, in their society which is so fixated on outward shows of conformity and homogeneity, makes these dreams transgressive and that much more appealing. Those “in the (real) life” get to shrug their shoulders (or roll their eyes and grit their teeth) and wonder if the column inches are worth the confusion. The stuff is annoying, it seems to get in the way of realistic depictions of sexual and gender minorities but on the other hand, it does some small work pointing out a degree of dissatisfaction the mechanistic societal ideas about who should do what, why and to whom. Meanwhile a lot of weird manga characters get whomped up and turned loose to run about finding the true love that threatens to elude their readership.

Shoujo manga, seems to lead the way as the go-to genre for characters and stories that push at and play with the normative assumptions surrounding identity, sexuality, desire and gender conformity, all while at the same time-serving as a reservoir of stories that exalt frighteningly conformist ideals of the status quo. The real estate covered is sprawling, the inhabitants unruly and the readership more varied than one would first imagine. Shy girls find strong, good-looking boyfriends just as often as girl princes ride off into the sunset with rose maidens, cheered on by happy seme x uke BL couples. Many theorists from Matt Thorn on have pointed out that the shoujo genre has a habit of pushing boundaries and nibbling away at convention. Yup, it’s just romance tales for young women, pay not attention to the weird stuff behind the curtains but if you are wont to pay attention, why waste any effort on a piece of fluff like Honey Boy? This one is not only odd, but “wonky” in the sense that its pieces don’t quite fit together properly, or rather they hold together just well enough for fluff.

The harmless paper tiger bears strong fascination for the young

The first problem is the mangaka, Ike Junko. Honey Boy is penned by a very shoujo mangaka, an up-and-coming talent whose one-shots have been popping up in Lala Magazine since 2011. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaLa]

Lala’s readership is, per 2009 figures;

“97% female while the other 3% are male readers. Its age demographic consists of 4% percent for under-13 readers, 23.4% for readers aged 13–17, 20% for readers aged 18–20, 13% for readers aged 21–23 while the remaining 29.7% of the readers are aged 24 years old and up.[3] Readers aged 24 and up are the demographic of the highest percentage.[3]”
– ibid Wikipedia Lala

Previous/ other works by the mangaka include: See You Again (2011), Sabaku no Requiem (2011), Bear Bear (2012), Tsubakizaka Tricolor (2012), Sora no Yousei (2013) and The Thief and the Jewel Girl (2013), all are standard shoujo fare, some set in high schools and others in fantasy settings. The characterization, dialogue, action and emotional display center around the young heroine and sometimes include her female friends. The guys are all pretty standard bishie teen guys who the heroine can get interested in and happily-ever-after on.

Honey Boy drops a young gay-boy stereotype into the mix and then makes him straight.

Superficially, it looks like Ike Junko is a fan of Ayumi Komura’s Usotsuki Lily. Mizutama Honey Boy reads like an homage to it, or at least some of its female characters. Bits of Morinaga Miruku also seem to pop up out of the whirlpool and I’m sure I am missing the footnotes for an entire stadium full of venerable shoujo manga tropes and quirks.

What is a level-headed, competent and strong young woman to do, besides transferring to an all-girl’s school?

All the boys in high school are scared of Mei Sengoku (that family name!) or consider her a weird “warrior girl” or a “Samurai” and too many girls are writing her confession letters. Does she have to start deferring to any and all loudmouth young guys and/or walking pigeon-toed in order to have a normal high school life? Should she cut her hair short and go for the bifauxnen vibe? It would make for less time in the shower after a good sweaty Kendo workout. At least she isn’t being bullied (the women’s Kendo team captain? bullied? By definition she is un-bully-able), but still she feels something is missing.

Sengoku-san is a strong female lead, beautiful, intelligent and heroic in her day-to-day life. She doesn’t act deferential and soft-spoken and neither does she act genki or delinquent in order to pull it off. When she walks, she walks like a person who is going some place rather than a knock-kneed baby woodlands creature. She cuts a striking figure in her hakama and is seldom seen, even in civies without her shinai case. What she wants is to get on with her Kendo practice, keep her grades up, help people who need her help and make a few friends.

They drink no blood, they taste no meat

Perhaps in a more typical setting the boys would be all over ms. warrior. She is constructed as one of, if not the most beautiful woman in her school. There should be the athletic good guy and the slightly dangerous delinquent-ish guy competing for her attention, but they are nowhere in sight. Instead…

Shirou Fuji has family circumstances; a mom who wanted another daughter and a classically away-on-business father. A bishonen who runs more than a bit over the herbivore line to the point of effeminacy, his gender performance is nuanced towards what he likes (mostly domestic home-ec-ish stuff) rather than a full-on roll-out of cartoon dysphoria. That is if you look close enough. At first glance he is what can be un-charitably described as a flaming pooftah. His worst fault is that he is over-supportive to the point of being a parody of a classic helpful female chara. He is a boy Morinaga Miruku home-ec club heroine who won’t stop baking cookies and cakes for the one he admires. And yup, he makes a tasty bento too.

Make no mistake though, he is straight enough (or functionally straight enough) to thoroughly desire Warrior girl. He may like frilly things, might even crossdress every so often for situational reasons (Make mom happy, school festival, etc. this variant of shoujo is too chaste to suggest any kink) and may view intimacy only as a subset of overblown romance, but he is after her bod as well as her heart. He wants to marry her. He isn’t too particular about who will wear the bride’s outfit as long as Sengoku-san ends up standing next to him. More than a gender inversion of teen dating tropes, it is as if he has decided to do a full-on faux-yuri girl-crush on Warrior Girl, piled on top of every cliche of demonstrating domestic skill as courting that can be dredged from the pages of the shoujo genre…

With one glaring exception; he will be there to protect her.

Honey Boy has twigged to the fact that warrior girl can’t be in %100 full fighting trim all the time. Every hero needs backup and Honey Boy will be there to take the hit whenever she needs a moment to get her twisted ankle taped up. A guy will put himself on the line to protect the girl he has feelings for – them’s the rules. Once upon a time she carried him to the school infirmary and he will carry her as many times as needed to prove how moved he was by the experience. Whether or not he can pull off his odd courtship is where the fun comes in. Being strong is important to Warrior Girl, and she wants to be powerful enough to protect herself and those she cares for, so she is extremely conflicted about his efforts or even how she fits into his romantic notions.

yes you can Honeyboy C0p42

Both Warrior Girl and Honey Boy are straight yet superficially inverted variations on their proper assigned gender roles, though he is clearly a more fantastic construction, whomped up to serve as a foil for the “problems” that her independence creates. Guy’s manga have plenty of initially scary high achieving high school heroines, all with secret weaknesses and flaws ready to be exploited by a harem lead; in that respect Sengoku-san is drawn and superficially resembles any number of tall, dark-haired formidable and supposedly unapproachable high school beauties. On the shoujo side of the street, she most closely resembles Uso Lily‘s (and Sword Fighter Komachi‘s) Ashiya Komachi.

The small romantic bits are secondary to the what-if speculation about what kind of guy can be a comfortable and fun match for a high-achieving heroine, even as it carries the question off into a series of comedy skits. Honey Boy may be fey, but the cookies are good (not -too- sweet), he is solicitous to a fault, supportive, there for her in a pinch, doesn’t over-talk her, has empathy power to 9000 and shows enough attraction – including physical attraction – to flatter but never crosses the line. In short he is posited as an unlikely but almost perfect fantasy boyfriend for the young female readership; if they ever decided that they wanted to act in a self-confident, strong and forthright manner. And he is gently, persistently and actively courting her. He has promised that he won’t give up and he doesn’t, but neither does he overwhelm her (At first it looked like he was, but the over-gifting turned out to be the work of an otaku stalker)

The first problem with Honey Boy develops from the narrative structure borne out of the inversion. More and more screen time is spent on Honey Boy, until we almost have two girl leads, with both of them occasionally popping back into hetero-normative behaviour during romantic situations, then reverting to inverted roles to defuse the tension. Usotsuki Lily used to do this to great effect; the cross-dressing male lead “glowed” even more than the girl the day after they finally consummated their long romance. Somehow what worked with an average girl and a straight boy into crossdressing is unstable when it is done with a tsundere and effeminate quasi-gay guy.

In both instances:

“”The underlying perception of (girlish) femininity as unfavorable, is exemplified in the monographs by Fujimoto Yukari and Oshiyama Michiko. Fujimoto’s Where is my place in the world? (1998), one of the most frequently cited works in shōjo manga studies. Based on her extensive experience as a magazine editor, Fujimoto offers close readings of shōjo manga through the concept of gender.
[…]
Fujimoto argues that shōjo manga represents girl readers’ fear of sexuality, and hence their perception of “femininity,” a word which she uses almost synonymously with “female sexuality” in a derogatory tone (50). For Fujimoto, shōjo manga is a medium for women, a text that reflects the values of women most accurately, including the ideology of romance, which teaches female readers to dedicate themselves to love, whether mutual or unrequited (14). Men, she writes, do not fall into that “trap” because they know romance is another name for lust (25). Her negative casting of “femininity” is also evident in her interpretation of Boys’ Love, where she endorses the view that “beautiful boys” in shōjo manga (and yaoi) are nothing more than girls without the female body, and are hence liberated from (unfavorable) feminine sexuality, which for her is synonymous with passivity and objectification in the beginning (142-3).

Manga Studies #7: Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach by Masafumi Monden
http://comicsforum.org/2015/03/10/shojo-manga-research-the-legacy-of-women-critics-and-their-gender-based-approach-by-masafumi-monden/

Honey Boy also seems to play out a rather simple form of a longstanding tradition of proto-feminist complaint; Welker noted it in a study of 40-year-old Japanese gay magazines. (Flower Tribes and Female Desire: Complicating Early Female Consumption of Male Homosexuality in Shōjo Manga by James Welker)  It periodically resurfaces; this 2012 viral YouTube short re-purposes it to a contemporary cause

Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-YCdcnf_P8]

Honey Boy also harkens back to the early 20th century Koha and Nampa typologies of Japanese male behaviour. Recall that the “soft” Nampa tribe was far more appealing to and by most accounts also more interested in women. The “hard” Koha were male isolationists, valuing a male homosocial, if not exclusive desire for males.

A further echo of this pops up in late 1970’s and early 1980’s western queer theory.
Per Sedgewick:

“According to that framework, there were essentially no valid grounds of commonality between gay male and lesbian experience and identity; to the contrary, women-loving women and men-loving men must be at precisely opposite ends of the gender spectrum. The assumptions at work here were indeed radical ones: most important, as we’ll be discussing further in the next chapter, the stunningly efficacious re-visioning, in female terms, of same-sex desire as being at the very definitional center of each gender, rather than as occupying a cross-gender or liminal position between them. Thus, women who loved women were seen as more female, men who loved men as quite possibly more male, than those whose desire crossed boundaries of gender. The axis of sexuality, in this view, was not only exactly coextensive with the axis of gender but expressive of its most heightened essence: “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” By analogy, male homosexuality could be, and often was, seen as the practice for which male supremacy was the theory. A particular reading of modern gender history was, of course, implicit in and in turn propelled by this gender-separatist framework.
– Ibid Sedwick Ch1 p36

So, gender non-conforming Honey Boy is less suitable for same-sex desire as he presents as less manly? This is complicated! Brain hurts!

For the young women readers, Honey Boy posits an extreme makeover of the qualities of an ideal boyfriend while it highlights, again in extremis, the dog-work behind the ideal of a proper supportive (usually female) role held up to them in their fave reading materials. All of the cookies, bento, cheering for their crush at sports events, walking home, waiting with the umbrella on rainy afternoons, shopping dates, skiving off from your school festival duties to fill in for a last-minute drop on your crush’s team, taking their place piloting the giant robot…

Having a Japanese high school crush is a heck of a lot of hard work!

This however leads to a further problem: as an effeminate male who is considered as verging toward gay by his classmates, he wields the threat of same-sex desire as a weaponised cliché against male aggression. Usotsuki Lily had a bit of this too, but when the trick is transposed from crossdresser-lite to okama-lite the undertones are meaner.

Fuit weaponized Honey Boy C1p32

There is however a floral background character portrait (Yo! Kio Shimoku! Still waiting…)

It could be worse; at least Honey Boy is not nominally attracted to other guys and Warrior Girl is a case of “only you”, although the possibility of such a dynamic lies lurking as an extra frisson for the readers. Honey boy feels good old-fashioned heterosexual male lust, but he doesn’t need to fake any romantic slip-covers for it; like the pseudo-gay males of BL, romance and lust are inseparable aspects of his unified desire. This is something that conventional straight males are supposedly incapable of. They are too self-absorbed and too busy over-reacting to hide their discomfort with the idea of subsuming any part of their nascent identity to another’s happiness.

Will Honey Boy “man up” for true love? What does that mean? Are the parts where Honey Boy earnestly declares he desire for Sengoku more “heterosexual” and “true” to his male nature than baking cookies?

The primacy of America’s most popular threesome, two dudes and an Xbox, is safe.” – The Lobster Dance, a blog.

When Honey Boy tries to use his gay threat nonsense to dissuade the not-really-a-suitor Kendo Boy from pestering Warrior Girl, he ends up making a rash wager and gets clueless Kendo Boy as a third wheel. After all, Kendo Boy promised he’d “go out with him” if the wager was lost. Kendo Boy may be an idiot but he doesn’t care one way or another about the norms surrounding sexuality, he probably doesn’t even care about intimacy or desire either. He just wants to perfect his kendo on everyone (and any critters) who stands in his way. At least he has one redeeming quality though; he loves his five unruly siblings and they love him.

A happy family is after all the good ending for a shoujo story. It helps to validate it within the narrative. Happy offspring will be raised and a living for them and two adults will earned, even if someone has to run the family dojo and someone else has to work at a pastry shop part-time and take care of the kids. Salaryman and shufu-hood as a future looks pretty remote for non-conformist couples of all kinds, but the dream of a cottage business is still dear enough in the hearts of the Japanese readership to paper over that problem.

They roar in chorus, not in tune

The expression of sexuality and gender and its place in our modern societies is a work in progress and the big stumble seems to be finding a nice simple rubric that can explain and organize everything and facilitate a societal consensus. The current liberal compromise in the West, especially the United States is that “presentation of self” eventually manifests innate characteristics and since these are innate it is profoundly immoral to social engineer against them. (as long as these stick to consenting adults, etc., etc..) Besides, creation arranged it that way for a reason, therefore there must be a benefit to its expression; natural is good, authentic is good. For want of a better term, I call this “the doctrine of authenticity“.

The drawbacks to taking this too far are obvious.

On the other end of the nightmare wasteland of easy answers lies the great promise of the social order as a construct and of its malleability. Secular prescriptive systems, the sociological and radical programs that supplant earlier religious attempts to mold societies all posit absolute faith that if social arrangements and structures are tweaked to reward and punish behaviors and expressions, then paradise is at hand; except for the sad need to break a few eggs for the perfect omelet to come. Since societies are a billion times harder to turn than ocean going oil tankers, the lag effects always call for more egg breaking.

Of course there are ways of negotiating between these extremes, but they are a bit hard to explain in a soundbite, and therefore far less satisfying or useful. When you try to yoke these onto a simple story line you sometimes get a brilliant synthesis, other times you get a hot mess, or worse, a warm one.

Innate is Honey Boy’s posited full fledged desire for Warrior Girl and her fluttering heart when his true feelings reach her. Learned is her masculine-ish warrior devotion to “getting stronger so I can protect” and his over-supportive interests in the domestic arts. It helps that both of them are idealized physical types; this story would be far more odd (and ambitious) if he looked like Genshiken’s Madarame and she looked like Yajimachi.

A bride img000022

All the above might drag a bit too much baggage into a simple romantic comedy manga aimed (primarily) at young women. Shoujo manga story lines and characters offer subtle variations to well-loved, well established standards; they are designed to be comforting familiar and reassuring. What remains, after all the tricks and inversions can be seen as the distillation of what is supposed to be safe and appreciated.

The one thing that seems to remain constant in shoujo manga is the romance. So far Honey Boy has used the residual tropes of physical attraction in a way that breaks the inversion spell and drops the characters back into their proper gender roles, if only for instants of hearts skipping a beat and forceful “I will have youtete-a- tete declarations of love. The guy is still proposing, the woman disposing. This is the catechism of shoujo manga, which is also one of its blind spots considering how often girls and women have to take the lead in real-life romance and even, yes, lust. So one would hope that the mangaka kicks it up a notch and finds some reason for Sengoku-san to pin Honey Boy against a wall and make his heart do a few doki dokis too.

Alas the current chances for Honey Boy’s fluttering heart are slim. Sengoku-san may occasionally have a glimmer of feelings for him, but she will continue to brush these away, because she has effectively friend-zoned him – or he had friend-zoned himself. The message is clear; not masculine enough is not good enough for a shoujo heroine.

So much for transgression.

Legends of the fall, conditions of the fall

The fall Genshiken web

Spoiler lamp ON for Genshiken Ch 110.

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

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

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

Qualia clench web

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

tomodochi get goggles real bad web

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

typical otokonoko fall web

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

thomas_fall web

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

Thomas web

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

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

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

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

HSDXD clench fall web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then…

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

3 pages later…

Trip and fall accomplished!

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

Resume game.

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

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

…but nooooooooooo….

sherlock-john-drunk

Holmes and Watson are friends.

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

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

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

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

“This sucks!”

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

Hmmmmph!

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

Nawwwww… Don’t tell me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to our steamy hotel room scene:

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

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

BULLSHIT!

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

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

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

BULLSHIT!

“Hato-kun, no, Kenjiro, really…”

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

“Pantsu!”

“Ufu Fu Ufu…”

“You read waaaaaaaaay too much BL!

Don’t I get to prepare my heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The situation was funny; now it is getting heavy.

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

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

How is Kio Shimoku going to play this?

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

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

The kid only falls for sempais?

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

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

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

How Marxian of the mangaka.

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

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

Destroy everything you touch

On Moe and too much fan-service

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

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

It is getting in the way.

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

Much must be untangled first, starting with moe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There will be fan-service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is desire in the moe gaze.

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

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

– Nessus the puppeteer from Ringworld by Larry Niven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It could have made a fine export property.

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

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

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

Facepalm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otaku and gyaru: winners by default”

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

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

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

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

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

This does not make for a viable export market.

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

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

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

A current example:

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

This series has (had) export potential.

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

Exportable for sure, but only to a niche market.

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

This series has export potential.

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

This series has export potential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks mister Žižek.

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

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

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

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

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

Cardboard.

Un-desire explained as easily as desire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa has export potential.

A Crusade for Modesty!

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

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

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

You still here?

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

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

Cardboard.

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

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

Moe is a Disease That Gives Us Meaning?

But even these pale soon enough as well.

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

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

Everyone has already moved on.

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

But I’m not holding my breath.

Dreams are sacred

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

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

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

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

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

The brother's secret imagined

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

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

Hello? Work?

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

So, Kuragehime for the win.

Dreams are sacred.

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

Thus love betrays us

Warning: plenty of gender role issues and stereotypes are going to be tossed around herein, and some may be handled clumsily in the course of inquiry and exposition. I’m reaching here – cut me a bit of slack…

In chapter 102 of Genshiken Madarame has finally ended up at Keiko’s hostess club and is drowning his confusion in expensive drinks, courtesy of salaryman Kugayama’s (AKA Kugapii) who thinks that what Mada needs is some conventional gender-role’d interaction with women.


Should have tried it this way

While the earlier idea of visiting a soap-land and “losing it” was discarded for something a bit less frightening, there is a strong undercurrent in the previous chapter of Kugapii seeking to fix Madarame’s distress by expanding his horizons in societally approved directions (Kugapii is also looking for a wing-man in his own forays into barely know territories). Madarame’s confusion and discomfort at finding himself happy with Hato-as-chan’s attentions; receiving Hato-chan’s valentines day chocolate; his revisiting of his josou game collection and his attendant male hysteria is all but announced as being the exclusive result of him being only exposed to the feminine through his interactions with the atypical Genshiken females. After Saki, it is all just much-younger rotten girls and one closeted cross dressing boy. Time for some “real” female interaction.

Keiko does not disappoint: Starting off as a proper hostess, she quickly drops her act and becomes the Keiko we all know and lurv, fully entitled to her personal judgements (honne entitled?) about Madarame and exasperated at him. Mada gets an earful and is relegated back to her fave “watermelon-boy “Wantanabe” status. (cue the beach scene – what happens to watermelons at the beach?) But the best part of Keiko’s rant is a full-page (plus a half-page wind-down) blast at Hato:

Bad Karma, a sensual obsession

So… Keiko is a transphobe? Or is this personal?

Before that, consider Keiko the hostess: At one extreme, solicitous and friendly. At another extreme, into direct personal scolding mode – so much so that her co-worker calls her on it. And then a few minutes later, subservient in her job-role; she cannot leave since she was specifically requested, nor politely (pull the other one – this must be a point-of-work-pride thing: the mark buys the drink without being asked) ask Mada to buy a round. Figure that the night’s festivities can easily run well over $500. Dude, you OWE Kugapii big time!

Why she invites Madarame back to her place after all this is a whole ‘nuther thing to be left for Chapter 103…

Aside from the fun possibility that Keiko is being re-written in as the villainous woman trope from a yaoi grinder, why would she “Irae Babylon! Mighty is thy Judgement!”? It makes her look like a bully, or at least someone loading up the howitzer to deal with a fly. As well she tries to make it clear; she cannot condemn Mada if he wishes to go off and find some man-love, but Hato (chan or kun?) is personally suspect and nothing but trouble – he has already done inconsiderate things to Madarame and can be expected to do more and worse.

What things? Where has she gleaned her information from?

Kio Shimoku has just expanded the field strength of his reality-is-reality Vs fantasy-is-fantasy motif, and he is edging into the territory of IRL controversies. After all, Hato-as-chan manifests only in the safe space of the Genshiken social, where Hato has gradually been elevated to VIP member and object of interest by the real (gotta use the polite academic term) cis-females therein. Whenever her fugue states and over-rotten episodes have caused fallout, Hato has been supported by the rotten girls, even as they occasionally essentialise him as a perverted freak behind his back (no, it is not Hato’s buttplug, it is part of Ohno’s costume). But now Hato has cranked Hato-chan up to 11, she is courting Madarame, visiting him, cooking for him and going full metal nadeshiko in his direction. Something about all this has set Keiko off, even to the extent of considering Madarame’s behaviour with Hato as being an injury to Saki.

How could that be?

Gen ch102 p19web

A polite and nuanced explanation that gives Keiko the benefit of the doubt would be that the fallout from Hato’s frustrating can’t decide liminality dance makes him a danger to himself/herself and others, but she doesn’t really have enough knowledge of the fine details of the Hato saga to pull that off. She is going by gut impression and what she knows and has previously frowned at: (in her view) a self-serving ego gratifying indecisiveness, a glimpse of Hato-chan getting much to close to Madarame during the neck-fugue state episode and her sudden enlistment into the harem competition. The combination carries a strong whiff of jealousy and bigotry.

competitionp21web

Getting bested by Angela or even Sue would be bad enough.

Is that the only reason why Keiko considers Hato not just “fake”, but dangerously- defective- as- a- human- being fake?

This sure looks like old-school canon transphobia, springing from the same sources as the derogatory term “trap”, and still a rather heavy bone of contention even within the gender-politics community, even if internal politics has shifted the goalposts a bit over the last 40 years. We humans like our “others” in neatly defined categories and boxes, and sometimes the violation of these categories can provoke a visceral, irrational disgust and over-the-top hate-on, especially when the category violation threatens the boundaries of our own chosen categories. Check your privilege time perhaps… or something closer to the sleep of reason and the monsters that wait beyond it. Checking privilege does little to de-fuse pure post-Lacanian psychobabble horror and that horror is regrettably very real. We need better tools to deal with it.

Amazingly, IRL culture wars surrounding this effect are spilling over into the popular media and even into the manga/anime blog- verse. And there are a lot of raw, exposed nerves on all sides of the arguments. If a few select articles in Slate and other publications are to be relied on, it seems that a small subset of trans-folk, who have worked hard to become the sex that they feel that they are, despite the body dealt to them at birth are viscerally cheesed off with the vulgar, lower-class, commercial behaviour of the drag demi- monde. Bricks are flying back and forth. Meanwhile some folks take the Judith Butler “presentation” paradigm as a gospel of liberation, while others feel that it is a deep insult; “I am not presenting as, I am!

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/05/30/is_tranny_a_slur_or_an_identity_who_decides.html

Bleh(!) say others, transgression as an art form is a good way to shake up fascist hegemonies (you fascist…).

http://www.vox.com/2014/4/22/5639386/why-trans-people-arent-big-fans-of-rupaul-right-now

Well, at least some of them…

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/07/24/is_drag_a_trans_identity_or_just_a_job_a_queen_explores_her_art.html

A few years ago I would have been scared spit-less to read about any of this stuff, and I am probably pissing off some folks by this clumsy vicarious little excursion into an area of personal politics that all sides hold very close to their core sense of being.

Why can’t everyone just get along?

Because why everyone can’t get along is the core of the problem.

Fictional representations in JVC tropes (and global pop cultures in general) only serve to further muddy the waters; the transgendered vs the trap vs the otokonoko vs the drag queen vs the might be gay – might not, might be trans, might not female impersonator vs the josou game’s better than female charas all serve as imperfect fun-house mirrors to bitterly contested spaces in the 3D ‘verse. And then they upend the problem by encouraging folks to go on little what-if excursions. They are only cartoon characters, right?

“”The culture surrounding “passing” is problematic as it classifies people who don’t or don’t want to fit into two narrow, relatively stagnant categories of male or female as problems themselves while simultaneously discrediting the “authenticity” of people who do have passing privilege. There is no way to win. A person who is not deemed masculine or feminine “enough” is ridiculed and reviled for not having correct body language; for lacking or for possessing body hair in “right” or “wrong” places; for not having hips or chests that are the “correct” shape; for being too tall or short, too broad or too slight; for not having one’s makeup or wig look “right” and so on.

Yet the corollary is that a person who does pass, who looks close enough to “socially acceptable” standards for femininity or masculinity is considered a “trap” or dishonest, which can also lead to that person being outed and attempts to harm or humiliate upon “discovery.” Some times even safe spaces are not entirely safe, as gender policing can also be a problem within the queer community.””
http://odorunara.com/2014/06/19/revealing-and-concealing-identities-cross-dressing-in-anime-and-manga-part-5/

Gender policing eh? Sounds nasty:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-long-history-of-transgender-exclusion-from-feminism

Yikes!

Perhaps it is time to pull a Schultz…

“I know nothing, I see nothing…”

Later: Ok, It’s not that big of a deal;  the minor fights at the edges of the great project of asserting the rights of all people have been going on for ages. See:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/08/06/the_new_york_post_says_feminism_is_imploding_is_wrong.html

See also for this really neato pre-internet archeology article on AOL and FIDONET and early gay BBS forum activities (wow! Fidonet! that takes me back, never knew…) Looks like folks have been arguing this one for decades

” That policy prompted the Great Trans Debates and the Great Bi Debates every six months or so,” Goodloe recalls, “as everyone weighed in with their opinions of who counted as a ‘woman’ and whether bisexuals should be allowed in ‘lesbian only’ space.” –http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2014/08/lgbtq_nerds_and_the_evolution_of_life_online.single.html

Lookie at the new neighbourhood Kio Shimoku has written himself into.
Nawww, that is all just gaijin weirdness, they make a lot of noise, don’t they?

Come the revolution everyone will walk around wearing a biographical sandwich board stating their personal preferences and outlooks, as well as their personal histories and how they legitimately and authentically arrived at them, at least until we all wear Google Glass. Or perhaps as one really odd sci-fi writer has suggested we will all wear elaborate facial makeup markings to indicate what we feel like being TODAY.

Anything else is the salt-monster from Star Trek or its direct ancestor; CL Moore’s Shambleau 

Read it yourself and tell me it ain’t ‘nuthin more than medusa repackaged… https://archive.org/details/Shambleau19331948

A more reasonable alternative is the path of inclusivety, and a sensitive politically correct essayist should keep an eye on the best practices in the field to add letters as needed.

Extend Shields!

“LGBT: Abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. An umbrella term that is used to refer to the community as a whole. Our center uses LGBTQIA to intentionally include and visibilize the Queer, Intersex and Asexual communities under our umbrella.” — http://lgbcenter.ucdavis.edu/lgbt-education/words-that-are-transphobic-and-why

Well, that sounds like a more reasonable approach, I hope it works out…

So… Hato is not indecisive or liminal or even suffering from gender-panic induced dissociative personality disorder: the Hatos are genderqueer (stuff your categories, we know what we like!) and since the Hato continuum is still a virgin in 2,5D land, despite having consumed two metric shit-tonnes of distaff pr0n, they are somewhat in the same space as Watamote’s anti-heroine Kuroki Tomoko.

Perhaps Keiko is simply pissed off at Tomoko-ish behaviour in Hato.

Living up to societal sex/ gender role ideals is hard for everyone. Hence the appeal of virtual/ fictional vacation tour packages at greatly reduced rates.. One essayist suggests another take on rotten-girl desire:

“For many girls, the pretty, but unmade-up boys of manga and anime are in fact far more like themselves than the huge busted, bombshell women that are both likely to inhabit anime [and] manga designed for men and boys, and that are a regular part of our western media viewing experience.

Blogger Kerryg (2009), writes about the mere possibility of the female gaze in her Hub entry, ―The Female Gaze. She argues that of course a female gaze exists, but is only beginning to appear in explicit ways (in the work of women filmmakers, such as Sophia Coppola). ―However, she suggests, ―it is much more common for women and girls to subvert the intended gaze of media than to create their own Gaze. For many, this is an unconscious process; for others, it is knowingly revolutionary‖ (2009). She cites the work of fangirls as evidence of this move, offering that they are “Re-cutting the world to match their eyes”.
– Bringing Smexy Back: Fangirl Production, AMVs, and Transgressive Sexuality, Elizabeth Birmingham – http://fansconf.a-kon.com/dRuZ33A/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Bringing-Smexy-Back-by-Elizabeth-Birmingham.pdf

(The referenced Kerryg essay can be found here:  http://kerryg.hubpages.com/hub/The-Female-Gaze)

Which leads to a further weird digression:

I must take back any dismissive asides previously made in the direction of Ouran Host Club, thanks to the elegant exposition at: http://gaggingonsexism.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/what-i-love-about-haruhi-fujioka/
(the earlier cited paper on it  didn’t work for me – too much blah blah, the 3rd party Mizoguchi mis-attribution made the BZZZZZT – Wrong alarm go off and the conflation of Japanese dojinshi parody with western gay male camp is strained. The author would have gained more traction by using a compare and contrast parallel evolution approach. Finally the analysis ignores the centrality of the Haruhi character.)

What an interesting thing; even if it does go on, and on, and on…

The manga is clearly aimed at giving its (presumed) young female readership a lot of eye-candy and some rotten-girl-lite titillation, but it also solves the problem of the female gaze by inserting into the story an androgynous heroine who is unconcerned with her or anyone else’s outward gender presentation. As the series goes on, stereotypes of gender presentation and playful transgression are heaped willy-nilly one on top of another and all Haruhi can do is sigh with mild annoyance and occasionally puncture ego balloons with deadpan snark. And while the boys get weirder and weirder in search of the ultimate host club experience for their “typical” female clientage, they also begin to fixate on her – especially by trying to get her to act as a properly feminine girl during her off-hours.

Meanwhile she gets to (at first reluctantly) enjoy being part of an over-the-top band of guys – what academia charmingly refers to as a “homosocial”. The only whiff of nastiness comes during reoccurring episodes of class-war snobbery and when a central casting nasty lesbian separatist club (who watches over us again???) from a nearby girl’s school decides she could be a perfect Bifauxnen and tries to steal her away from her oddball social club. Tsk tsk! Thou shalt not use “lesbian” as a pejorative, to do so is insensitive and low-class! Sensible, polite and serious Haruhi gets 2 points on the set-up.

Not quite an obverse of Hato, but close enough for 3-chord rock and roll.

Except that even such a manga-verse comparison can be fraught with complications. The word-of-the-day is transmisogyny, and is best illustrated by the following exposition on Wandering Son: (note that pronoun usage follows presentation and Deemed X At Birth acronymage is used)

“In junior high school, Takatsuki and Nitori meet Sarashina Chizuru, a cis-identified girl who just enjoys wearing a boy’s uniform because she feels like it fits with her cool persona. She turns up to school a few times in it and also tends to wear non-regulation ties with her girls’ uniform. Sarashina’s blatant disregard for the rules gives Takatsuki courage to wear the boys’ uniform that was given to him by Yuki, a transwoman who acts as mentor and confidant to Takatsuki and Sarashina. (In the manga, the uniforms belonged to Takatsuki’s older brother and sister.)

When Takatsuki wears a boys’ uniform to school, everyone thinks that he is cool and edgy like Sarashina. Part of this fairly positive reaction stems from his peers are viewing Takatsuki as a tomboy engaging in temporary cross-dressing instead of a transgender boy trying to dress toward how he wants to be perceived. Although the administration is annoyed with Takatsuki for breaking the dress code, the other students’ misreading of Takatsuki’s actions as fun and temporary largely protect him from transphobic reactions, although their reaction causes a sense of discomfort for him, as it plays upon the disconnect between how one sees their own gender presentation and how others see them. This discomfort also occurs earlier in the manga when Takatsuki gets his first period and is teased by the other boys because it “proves” that he’s “really a girl.”

Like Takatsuki with his androgynous clothes and binder, Nitori also wears clothes that make her comfortable in her gender expression in her free time. Outside of school, she wears a long wig and skirts at home with friends in public in disguise, often with Takatsuki, and is delighted when she “passes” (more on this later). Her success in passing in public, her friends’ admiration of how good she looks in girls’ clothes, and Takatsuki’s wearing of a boy’s uniform at school leads Nitori to follow Takatsuki’s example and to come to school in her girl’s uniform. However, Nitori is immediately recognized by the teachers and then mocked mercilessly by her peers. She is sent to the school nurse and then sent home from school. In the anime version, the characters sometimes talk to the camera, and after this incident, they discuss how differently everyone reacted to Nitori’s and Takatsuki’s perceived cross-dressing, noting that girls’ fashion offers more options for gender expression in clothing, and that Takatsuki’s interest in androgynous and masculine clothes is treated as more normal than Nitori’s interest in feminine wear. Few anime are this deliberate about how the masculine is prioritized and deemed culturally cool but the feminine is reviled, and how DMAB people who embrace culturally feminine clothing and pursuits often face greater social consequences, from ridicule to violence.”
http://odorunara.com/2014/06/19/revealing-and-concealing-identities-cross-dressing-in-anime-and-manga-part-5/

Back to why exactly is Keiko so pissed off at Hato? Are we back in the old days of a trans-gendered individual who seeks to realize their subjective gender racking up more authenticity points than a cross-dresser, who is a “mere tourist or hobbyist”?  Is it the old cant that passing imposes a certain burden upon forthright behaviour for individuals during transition (which is even more insulting than the “trap” acusation). Or is it a Japanese don’t rock the boat thing? Is Hato’s gender-switching suspect only because it disturbed the wa and breaches honne? Can a Westerner ever even begin to understand all of the baggage contained in her outburst?

To paraphrase Master Sorceror Sean O’Lochlainn
“Magic is a matter of symbolism and intent.”

We can only guess at either. Confused yet?

It’s complicated…

Or… I am just using this Genshiken mise-en-scene as an excuse for a quick n nasty survey of the common arguments surrounding the gender politics of trans* characters.  Pay no attention to the blogger behind the curtain.

Other stuff of note happened upon of late…

How the Philippines does rotten girl:

Appropriating Yaoi and Boys Love in the Philippines, Conflict, Resistance and Imaginations Through and Beyond Japan – Tricia Abigail Santos Fermin, Osaka University, Volume 13, Issue 3 (Article 13 in 2013). First published in ejcjs on 6 October 2013.  http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol13/iss3/fermin.html

“My research largely confirms the point McLelland made in his comparison of Japanese and English-language yaoi and BL websites: we will witness many groups of women around the world sharing similar sexual fantasies, yet the rhetorical space they occupy in their transgressions could never be more different.”

Has a very big section on Genshiken, Ogiue and Hato and yup, I like the mirror conceit too:

The Great Mirror of Fandom: Reflections of (and on) Otaku and Fujoshi in Anime and Manga by Clarissa Graffeo, MA English Thesis, 2014
http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0005172/Graffeo_-_Thesis_-_Great_Mirror_of_Fandom.pdf

Incidentally a fine usage guide for tyro translators: 

Hey, you’re a girl?: Gendered expressions in the popular anime, Cowboy Bebop – Mie Hiramoto http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/ellmh/Hiramoto_2013_Hey%20youre%20a%20girl.pdf

The Genshiken girls (and Hato) are written as reading this stuff? Warning – NSFW images, purple prose and rape fiction apologia/ triggers:

https://www.academia.edu/3993649/Forbidden_Love_and_Forbidden_Desire_Themes_in_the_WWII_Yaoi_Manga_of_Fusanosuke_Inariya

Yaoi is destroying Japanese families. Warning – cum hoc ergo propter hoc  fallacies, errant bullshit and possible trolling:

https://www.academia.edu/2368322/Explanations_for_Japanese_Population_Decline

Get rich at Comiket?

http://fanhackers.transformativeworks.org/2012/06/how-much-money-do-doujinshi-creators-actually-make-some-statistics-from-comiket/

“”Lost 50000 yen or more (lost $638-more): male 14%, female 16%
Lost between 0 and 50000 yen (lost $0-$638): male 53%, female 50%
Earned between 0 and 50000 yen (earned $0-$638): male 15%, female 17%
Earned between 50000 and 200000 yen (earned $638-$2553): male 8%, female 10%
Earned more than 200000 yen (earned $2553-more): male 10%, female 6%

the circles who lose money are clearly in the majority, with 67% (male) and 66% (female) in the red. Earnings of less than 50000 yen are probably negligible in a lot of cases: this would barely cover transportation and hotel costs for a circle that has to come from outside of Tokyo.”

Stop writing to Margaret mangakas before release date, or send a pic of you holding the mag, bought in NY:

http://moromi.tumblr.com/post/87934810142/important-for-the-hnr-fandom-please-read

Heavy Fujoshi studies of the year bibliography:

Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies, 2013 Ed.
http://animemangastudies.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/342/#more-342

Another fan studies resource:

The Phoenix Papers, Vol. 1, No. 1
http://fansconf.a-kon.com/dRuZ33A/?p=269
and
The Phoenix Papers, Vol. 1, No. 2
http://fansconf.a-kon.com/dRuZ33A/?p=333

Good news on the guy front; The kids are all right. All that pre-judging is just us old baby boomers’ violent expectations.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/07/18/its-time-to-stop-defaming-our-boys/

And finally:

I was beginning to fear that the rather expensive Routledge anthology PERVERSION AND MODERN JAPAN addressed neither when at last I hit upon “Packaging desires: The unmentionables of Japanese film” by Jonathan Abel. Yup, it’s all about PANTSU in soft-core Japanese porno films, and its a rollicking great hoot of a theory-moe ride – which is to be expected of a paper that grew out of a joke presentation titled “Die Zizek, Die!

Sooner or later I must review the whole thing here. Abel is the translator of Azuma’s Database etc., while Nina Cornyetz and J. Keith Vincent (translator of Tamaki’s BFG) as editors are both very agreeable reads in their own rights. It is just that collection is a bit of a slog unless you are really, really into post-Lacanian detritus and its use in critical writings on Japanese cultural stuff.

…And you manage (as I do) to find some of it amusing.

Unbiased God: Genshiken ch 93 + 94

“Slash is usually written by straight women, yes, and I think it appeals to straight women in the same way lesbian sequences in commercial pornography appeal to straight men. I always say that if gay men and women didn’t exist, straight men and women would have had to invent us.”
– Samuel R Delany

The tone of the Genshiken has shifted a bit since the Nidiame anime ended. Once again, it has gone into full Hato-focused-mode, with the fallout from his (less occasionally now her) yaoi-inspired man-crush on Madarame dragging the plot along. Those who were getting annoyed at all the “gay stuff” slowly wrecking their beloved Genshiken are going to be even more annoyed. Oh ye of little faith!

If Genshiken was that easy Mada would already be hitched up with Keiko, Yajima would be jumping Hato to try to stop him to stop hanging out in Ni-chōme and Sue would be trying to jump Ogiue every chance she got.

Something else is going on.

but first, a small aside about scripts and scanlations…

Even though the wait for Chapters 93 and 94 had me sweating, I swear I will wait through 4 months of drought should the successor to the bringer of light ever vanish into the ether before I start google-xlating and posting scripts from Bulgarian scanlations. We poor mortals just don’t know. We have no idea if the big K dropped more napalm, or someone got real-life busy, or just bored with the whole thing. I do not regret the scripts – at least I now know that a backup can be cobbled together. I found two other independent attempts, so I know that I wasn’t the only one who got withdrawal symptoms. But the current stuff is damn finely-crafted and well-done; it would take a year or more to ramp up a group effort to replace it.

We love and respect your work, please don’t leave us without our fix, waughhh!

One thing that I came away with from the script exercise: a foreign language reader dropped a comment thanking me for providing a summary in an easy-to-google-xlate text format. I think it should be best practice for all scanlation groups to release text format scripts along with their scans, so as to share the goodness across the gulfs of language, across the entire globe, a federation of leeching fans, going forward, into a brighter future…

Ok, back to some serious mulling-over the last two chapters. Spoiler lamp is ON

At first glimpse, the two chapters are simple and flow in a straightforward manner: only closer examination shows the staging genius of Kio Shimoku. It all comes together so naturally! In chapter 93, Madarame is stuck over the holidays in his messy apartment, alone and bereft of any harem. The absence of any follow-up by any of the four is disheartening. And his broken wrist hurts. When he finally gets a visit, it is from Rika and Yajima, or Rika with Yajima present to ensure that Rika doesn’t go off the rails. He soon learns that a truce agreement is in place and that there will be no visits from any of the interested parties. 3D lurv: Don’t buy the hype! The flashback to the old boys hanging out with him immediately after comiket also had a great feeling of authenticity to it, loaded with sympathetic guy-ish grumbling and rude allusions.

pig disgusting c93 p004Rika makes a few rude allusions too; both the boys and girls of Genshiken expect that their pr0n habit will be messy, but she quickly gets down to delivering her report and her ideas about the situation. In doing so, she assumes the voice of a great number of Genshiken fans (I posit that Japanese fans somewhat mirror diaspora opinions) and advances the suggestion that Keiko is the best choice for Madarame. Keiko is somewhat Saki-ish, riajuu, and available. She also is not Sue (our idol) or Hato-chan (our friend). Madarame can take that however he cares to – he is being gently put in his place, and that place is on the periphery of the current Genshiken.

No mention or thought of how uncomfortable it would be for Madarame to date Sas’s kid sister.

Madarame then wonders why she wasn’t pushing for Hato and gets a flood of goggle-inspired too-much-information before being told that it is really not the gang’s decision to make. Whatever Hato (as chan or kun) decides, they will support. Serves you right Mada for playing the “I’m passive I can’t decide” card.

Meanwhile in the snowy regions of Western Japan, Hato gets to face Kaminaga as his soon to be sister-in-law, in full sister-in-law-to-be mode. She is really getting into her new role. She has dyed her hair back to black, makes polite noises to the household, and gets the sudden urge to be all sisterly-supportive toward Hato even while scouting out his BL stash. Yup, here is an arch-fujoshi asshole completely reformed… Now pull the other one, it has bells on it.

think with what c94 p012Hato does manage to voice a bit of resentment towards her past behaviour, but for the most part is too troubled over what to do with his developing feelings for Madarame to really care about what Kaminaga is up to in her new oddly concerned guise. Kaminaga tries a gambit; get Kono and the other friend, Fuji(?) to meet up with Hato at a local restaurant. The results are uncomfortable. Kono doesn’t know what to do with her old feelings, and gets a bit creeped out when Hato starts going on about skin moisturization. Nor can she make the jump and discuss BL with a guy, which is the god/author setup moment Hato was waiting for: “See! I had to crossdress to be accepted!”

stop itoldyasoing c94 p018He also calls them his friends who he can talk with – which is so odd that I wonder if heavy irony was intended. These are the small-town fujoshi who turned his high school years into a lonely hell. And the meet-up is obviously some kind of poorly lashed together “How far gone is he? Is he still interested in girls?” exploration session. Friends like these, yup…

For all of it though, He does get some salvageable advice. Part of the Genshiken slice of life charm is the sheer amount of well-meaning, but not too useful “help” offered from all and sundry, from their own vested interest positions. Occasionally even a blind pig gets to find a truffle. Kono blurts out that if his hobby is causing him so much distress, then ditch it – it’s just a hobby. Of course her advice is tainted by self-interest, the Hato she still harbours a crush for is riajuu – but it gets him thinking.

Of course he will go back to Tokyo. Small town life is small and there isn’t a lot left for him there, though it felt good to clear the snow from the roof.

If Kono has any sense of occasion she had best run her ass over to the train station before he leaves and at least plead a copy of his next dojin from him. She can even say that the culture festival work was BETTER than Kaminaga’s stuff. C’mon, Kono, lets see some wiles!

As to why what he is returning to in Tokyo, that too deserves a bit more consideration.

A few choice bits:

All you fault c94 p010Oh yes, he does blame Kaminaga for his current dilemma, but is it the original one or the original, plus the stands that have been tormenting him? Or both, plus the Kaminaga he fixated on back in high school? Was it a crush or just severely overblown admiration? When Hato calls someone sempai, what demons lurk within his private meaning of the term? Really she’s not that responsible, unless a younger evil-genius Kaminaga had ran around their junior high school leaving yaoi dojins in the boys locker rooms in the hope of livening up her small town life.

To a certain segment of Genshiken fans, and a larger number of casual readers, Hato was always latent, and now has gone gay. But what an odd and tentative homosexuality it is. Were he a real-life individual, he would be free to explore his desire as he saw fit, and would end up somewhere within the fine gradations of however wherever’s gay culture so gradates. He would have a bit of a hard time at first, but any group eventually socialises newbies. Perhaps real Japanese gay communities have their own internal arguments about what to do with “another kid from the sticks who thinks he wants to do yaoi, as a seme”. There is way too much BL and Yaoi floating around Japan.

Hato however is a character, so what exactly is he being constructed as – what is the odd version of “gay” desire being created, and why?

Hato was never a “simple” male fudanshi leaning towards 3D man-love; he always compartmentalized his yaoi fantasies within the persona of a heterosexual, celibate, female fujoshi. Hato-chan was supposed to be safely “in charge” of that stuff, viacariously shipping Hato-kun as a forceful seme, but that reality never threatened the “real” male Hato, because fujoshis just do fantasies. But now “someone” wants to set 3D fujoshi Hato-chan up with a 3D Madarame as a nice, deferring, lovestruck, passive shoujo heroine, or at least as otomeyaku. Who is processing that fantasy? Which Hato is it coming from?

“Enomoto explains that “male fans cannot experience moe until they have fixed their own position”— an observation that may well have validity beyond otaku and yaoi fans. In general a man fears the undermining of his own subject position, and he must establish that position firmly before he can desire an object. This is probably the fate of all who possess a phallus (as distinct from a penis): if the position and orientation of the phallus is not defined, the male cannot face even the object of his own desire.”

– Otaku Sexuality by Saitō Tamaki (Translated by Christopher Bolton, Introduction by Kotani Mari) In “Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams : Japanese science fiction from origins to anime” – Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., and Takayuki Tatsumi, editors. pps 222-249.

Kio Shimoku’s supportive cast of Genshiken characters bypass any simple questions of persecution (that’s left to small town high schools out in the snowy boonies) but if this was an attempt at a gay male coming of age story, then where are the beta couples, supportive (or predatory) older experienced gay guy(s), and a host of other tropes that I will transpose from non-exploitative “feels” yuri, having no idea how the bara genre handles this stuff when it is not getting down to raw nasty smut. Then there is his crossdressing…

Hato’s emergent pseudo-gayness is a thought experiment as to what might happen if an isolated small-town male used yaoi and BL tropes as a guide to “becoming” gay and/or trans, taken to extremes to be-labor a point and spin a fine tale. I have gone on previously that Shimoku might be pulling fast one on Saito Tamaki’s idea of hysterical trauma, with yaoi instead of the Beautiful Fighting Girl. And of course there is Dr. Mizoguchi… The results are going to odd. This stuff was generated by mostly straight females for their own amusement, and the studies surrounding it and it’s western counterparts are full of warnings from real guys who like guys that the wimmins are off on their own tangent. Plus the chief puppet-master of this tale is a guy, riffing on these contradictions.

As slash-kami MJJ reported a decade ago, her gay male correspondants would tell her: “real guys don’t fuck like that!”

Sorry Chip, you think we didn’t anyway?

“I know where I came from – but where did all you zombies come from? “I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once–and you all went away. So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light. You aren’t really there at all. There isn’t anybody but me –Jane– here alone in the dark. I miss you dreadfully!”
-Oscar Wilde

“…to posit a gender, a God is necessary: guaranteeing the infinite.”
– Luce Irigaray

Who “owns” the popular construction of the ideas behind romance, love, sexuality and desire in modern societies? How is the territory staked out? What are the effects of the ways in which these are advanced? What happens when consensus is replaced by contested spaces? Is it all too complex for mere mortals to handle? Will society fall apart as a result?

No wonder the gender theory brigade are thick as thieves all over modern Japanese fujoshi cultural practices. I know something of the allure of this kind of raw sociology. I am lucky I have no vested interest in it or I would soon go all mad-boy about the whole thing and start Mwwwahhahhaahaa-ing all over this blog. Sociology taken too far has much of the same mirage-like appeal found in conspiracy theories. Hermetic knowledge! Power! Influence! The possibility of messing around with entire cultures! Wheeeeeee! Instead I watch from the sidelines, bemused…

Back to the Genshiken…

Note how Mada is left in a typically Madarame-esque situation due to his profession of passivity. He doesn’t even get to state any preference. His little harem fantasies are written to indicate that Hato-chan would be an acceptable member of a group attention-lavishing scene – whether he wants to bundle the whole gang off to the yurt is another matter. It is not that he can’t process all the attention, it is just that the processing has stopped at “Good to be King“. Sue as exotic temple dancer is a master-stroke.

Dare he try ANY kind of 3D and risk the destruction of this fantasy? But whose fantasy is it?

Something about butterflies… Who is dreaming and who is the dream?

Historically, Japan was at least two up on the prehistoric Western world’s guy-lock on romance tales thanks to Murasaki and Shonagon, but their works were not exactly in wide circulation until the twentieth century. And the narratives they advanced were hardly society-shaking. In the rest of the world, narratives of romantic love appear to be mostly male creations until late in the game. Sapho exists only in fragments, and they were enough to scare the bejesus out of the guys. I missed any University level courses on 17th to 19th century english lit, and so the exact timeline for earlier efforts but I vaguely recall that some “virtue tales” of female submission to rich suitors (Pamela, etc http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela,_or_Virtue_Rewarded) were written by guys in the 1700’s. Even then controversy ensued, with a few satires and perhaps even Sade’s infamous Justine written in response.

England in the 1800’s got Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein (surely, a love story), so at least there was some female input, though Brontë first published under a male-sounding non de-plume. Skip forward into the twentieth century, and we see that popular romances, though penned by women were being converted into movies by large, very patriarchial movie studios. Who was more the author for Gone with the Wind; Margaret Mitchell or David O. Selznick & Co.?

Now everyone gets to toss their ideas into the ring. Straight girls and guys as well as gays and lesbians and the whole LGBTQ spectrum get to write their stories and argue about their individual ideas about the proper ways of finding happiness, true D’awwwwww and snuggles (or whatever else turns individual cranks). And, as always, one can write the odd bits that don’t fit well onto the mysterious, imagined “other”. Nothing new there either, but no more witch burning allowed.

humanityIt is one thing to attempt to imposes one’s whims onto mainstream notions of male: female love, desire and courtship. It is another thing entirely to “colonize” a minority sexuality of a different gender and/or society for your own amusement and pleasure, even if you get side benefits from allegorically addressing certain issues of roles and power within your society. And the rotten girls are not going to stop, no matter how many yaoi ronso episodes pop up. You might as well argue with the hardcore fans of other paraphilias that their fantasies are hurtful, mean and dangerous to real humans. The responses will be the same, and familiar to even Genshiken readers.

And now I feel a bit guilty for all the exploitative v1 yuri smut I have consumed over the years. Just a bit, It’s complicated…

Perhaps Madarame and Hato should hole up in Mada’s apartment and devour a stack of contemporary non-exploitative, woman-authored, lesbian approved “feels” yuri to get some insight into handling confusing feelings. Hato should bring his chan persona just in case. Since the quality of the advice currently offered to them is so ill-suited to their predicament in any case, a little from the other side of the trenches couldn’t do much more damage. Shimoku Sensei could have a field day dragging another empire of delusions into the fray.

Personally I would recommend, as I am currently enjoying, the works of Takemiya Jin.

Stop! It is dangerous to base one’s ideas of romance on popular fictional narratives. No good can come of it!

From my misppent youth, I remember the teenage sister of a friend who fell heavily for the high school freak, who was prone to acting out the worst excesses of “hippie” behaviour a decade and a half too late. She had her own problems; a taste for massive amounts of recreational hallucigens and other self-destructive behaviour. Their search for a model of a “normal” romance led them to lock themselves in the basement TV viewing room at her parents house and snuggle while watching soap operas in order to learn how to construct a conventional romance. I shit yee not! The resulting relationship was odd, full of imagined infidelities and one case of amnesia. 3D far weirder than 2D!

But reality is reality and…

On second thought, Mada and Hato better also grab a stack of Gintama tankubons. Ten years of it! Shout Out Time! Wow!

As for the works of Takemiya Jin, I had run into them before and a few glowing recs from Erica-sensei caused me to seek them out again. I now see that the collected volume she recommends was spread out across a slew of one-shots and various titles (as available to us cheapskate leeches), but take place around the same group of young women. There are hardly any herp derp hawt secks scenes, which used to be the whole point of yuri – but their absence is not missed.

What Takemiya-sensei’s stories do have plenty of is brooding, emotional relationshippy stuff, but measured out in believable doses. I find myself making D’awwwwww noises. And I really, really, really like the character artwork. Takemiya-sensei uses a fine strong line and is one of the few artists who can do the pointy-chin face and get away with it (for moi, your mileage, etc…). Most of the time I find the pointy face shojo heroine a a warning signal for a vapid helpless thing (or the occasional sword weilding heroine – who I have no problems in principle with – its just that they are far too patient with nasty fools to appeal to me [1]). These women are far from either extreme. They are practical romantics and that sets them up for no end of relationship troubles – somewhat like real life. Their expressive manga eyes brood over their predicaments while their mouths are set with a grim determination to figure the whole messy thing out somehow; to keep going, to take their desires seriously, even as these desires threaten to shatter them or turn them into lovestruck idiots.

Perhaps it is because I grew up aquainted with a few women friends who liked other women, lusted after one or another of them and once the adolescent hormone surge receeded, found them good occasional company. What stuck was an admiration for how their heartfelt longing for idealized romantic love was perpetually at odds with their cold, hard, pregmatic outlook on relationships and life. I always suspected that they secretly looked at themselves in the mirror and hoped to see a hero staring back. What the heck, who hasn’t?  There are worse things in the world than making a fool of oneself for love. I got lucky I guess: assholes come in all models but I pretty well missed the wimmen’s versions, so I can foolishly generalise in a sympathetic manner. Takemiya-sensei’s stories remind me of them somehow.

We get more than “story A” in Takemiya Jin’s works. Characters only pair up after a lot of consideration and worry that they will mess up existing friendships, or feel like crap if they are rejected and/or break up. There is also a small degree of powder ritually burnt about whether the intended one will think that yuri v2 romance (aka real gosh honest to goodness lesbian romance, as written by an “out” Japanese lesbian!) is weird. Some of the characters are deeply into the idea of romantic love, while others abjure it as too fraught with emotional danger – even though they secretly wish it could one day be theirs. Confessions don’t always bring instant happiness, though reconsideration pops up as a reoccurring motif. There is even a token gay guy friend of one of the more active lesbian characters; she gets stuck with him shadowing her at school, gets used as a beard by him, gets a lot of unanswerable “what should I do?” questions and then has to counsel his younger sister to stop manisfesting her misplaced jealousy as childish homophobia. The scene when sis is sure that older brother is doing gay as yaoi and needs to be calmed down is a hoot!

Pubic service yuri fragments_of_love_v001_ch004_029My only minor complaint is that Takemiya-sensei has the dark-haired brooding type and the active blonde type, and the blond older woman type and as the characters overlap between stories it is sometimes dfficult to remember who is who (and pining for who, while pined for by who) – especially when a story has two nearly identical dark-haired characters in a love triangle (one wears glasses). It gets a bit confusing.

So two reticent male Genshiken characters, one with a head full of loli crap and josou games, and another with a head full of yaoi dojins, wondering what to make of their feelings could do worse than take a few tips from the cautious life lessons offered by Takemiya Jin. Both Madarame and Hato are tentative about 3D anything, including friendship. Some of the wimmins in Takemiya Jin’s ‘verse do just end up as friends. Perhaps Shimoku sensei has been holding the (v2, non exploitative) yuri in reserve all this time?

If Kio Shimoku decides to push the Hato-crush plot even further he is going to get to have a whole lot of fun with the other big weak spot in yaoi-land; the idiotic, formulaic insistance on the seme/uke typology. And we have been getting some previous plot telegraphing about this: Hato always imagined his “objectivised male self” as a seme. Except that when he is in Hato-chan mode and trancing over Madarame – then he begins to think uke-Hato-chan-otome-yaku-whatever. Pity that Madarame is so damn passive, that he couldn’t even be a sou-uke, let alone any kind of seme. Sou-uke requires something beyond catatonic withdrawal.

Then toss in the “Am I turning gay, or can I get away with the [only for you] excuse?” from yaoi lore. While Hato can put off a few worries with this, Madarame would have to do a whole lot of sweating, even if he occomodates the experiment as a josou game fantasy that has come to life. Madarame is now too far gone to consider any 3D attention, from anyone. Expect vicious “How to cure a lolicon” and “josou sanmyaku” (Crossdressing Mountain Range – game) jokes ‘o plenty as he tries to find an emotionally safe place to curl up into and weather the storm.(2)

Meanwhile to Hato: Even if originally written as nominally straight in 3D matters, he must have found the idea of manly as-warped-by-pervy-women romance strangely appealing. So he somehow got stuck on the idea that yaoish romance was a good model for romance in general. Questions of bodies and genders could even have been put aside for a bit if the first BL-ish magazines he stumbled across featured androgynous bishies – he was, after all not developing secondary sexual characteristics as much or as fast as his junior high classmates. Hence the latest little ret-shade offered up to us by Shimoku-sensei. This offers a convenient plot excuse for leaving the judo club as well. Androgynous lovers who did rough, rapey man(ly) secks in tandem with over -the-top you-and-only-you-forever-even-if-the-earth-takes-my-dead-body romaticism did something for him. The female self he constructed was a way of denying the logical implications of his fantasies, as well as being the vehicle with which he could finally find a social wherin he could fan over them.

gasp c94p027The Genshiken finally empowers him to constuct his own fantasies; to engage in secondary, fannish production, to take charge of the mechanisms of his own desires and draw his story. But of course he can’t. He can only draw clench scenes. His imagination is primarily visual. From his stand(s), we can see that he has been written as having extensive trope genre knowledge, but canot turn it into a full “na-me” storyboard. In this matter having Ogiue help him is only a half-measure, because she is as visually based as he is. Rika is the only text-narrative-biased fujoshi in the Genshiken, and she has no off switch. No help there.

Could it be a suppressed narrator-Hato that is pulling all the strings?

“If I can’t get you to write it, I’ll make you live it! Dance my little puppet! Dance!”

What a fine detective story! Better than a murder mystery in a society of telepaths!

Hato should have imprinted on the v.1 yuri of Ken Kurogane. The polygamous “lets fuck like crazy right now” of gay and straight male pr0n, the over the top romanticism of yaoi but with female bodies and no damn seme /uke stuff to get in the way of a good sweaty tangle. Male mangaka, hmmmmmmm… Is Shojo Sect full of reworked yaoi and bara puppets presented as “girls”? The mirrors of desire in the manga-land funhouse are distorted as all heck! But at least then Hato-chan could have gone looking for a nice spunky girl who could best him (her) in a judo match…

Duh!

How far does Kio Shimoku care to push the Hato-crush motif? It looks like it can get cruel really fast, even if it is well in keeping with his habit of using the Genshiken to skewer otaku (and now fujoshi) foibles.

Personaly I still don’t buy any bit of Hato x Mada x Hato. Perhaps I am in denial, but I cannot believe either of them in any kind of physical relationship with anyone, given their current states. Both are now emotional wrecks. Of course Kio Shimoko can write Hato and Mada into a well-lubed orgy along with the rest of the crew, the brave little toaster, chibi-godzilla and a tentacled monster from the planet transexual in any upcoming chapter he cares to, but that would be the last chapter of the Genshiken. Done, Forever.

Also, while I used to be an enthusiastic Sue x Mada shipper, I now believe that Shimoku-sensei has dropped in too many scenes where it looks like Sue is embarrassed in Mada’s direction, but Hato is always there too in clear line of sight. If we need Sue yuri-ish hijinx in the Genshiken, then there is even a use for Hato-chan in the 3D secton of the Genshiken ‘verse. Sue might be able to salvage the wreck that is Hato, even if it might take months of chaste dating to calm him down,

Also, I am still waiting for the moteki field effect to hit Hato. Madarame had his four “suitors”, By my intuited rule of parallel haplessness, Hato should get some attention soon, from other girls besides Yajima and Kono. Phhhttttt! Kono doesn’t even count if she doesn’t get her game on soon.

Similarly, I can’t see Keiko doing anything but looking at Madarame and deciding that he is just too much work even for a love-struck young hostess. Let the big boobed gaijin girl have some fun next comiket; the moteki field has collapsed and unemployed, relationship-clueless, creepy manga consuming, sulking, passive Mada is once again hopeless. And all that 2D FOREVER stuff tastes like ashes in his mouth. Time for Mada to change his life.

Gambatte! Madarame-san! I know you can become #1 host!

If this keeps up, Ogiue will have to impose a NO DATING IN THE GENSHIKEN, DAMMIT! rule, just to calm things down a bit.

Snap out of it and go make some dojins!

Random Endnotes:

[1] You can’t fool me! I know that a proper lesbian vanquisher of evil looks like Hothead Paisan [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hothead_Paisan]. I rue the day I picked that thing up – a joke gift given to a straight female friend who was being teased +/or supported by her frends after one more disappointing relationship had just ended. Yikes! Cannot un-see, but it made a lot of sense within its context. You think Hothead Paisan would do any stupid rose duelling? She’d shoot the fucking goomba in the face, twice, cut off his junk, lay into anyone, male or female who stood in her way and burn the evil twit rose-dueling school to the ground. Problem solved! Run off into the sunset with the rose-maiden, and shoot a few rednecks on the way! …As long as the coffee didn’t run out. One wouldn’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity, but I understand where her creator was coming from.

I understand rage.

Recall:

“Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist.
Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”

Closer to current manga practice, consider Gaku of Murasaki-iro no Qualia. She’ll off one of herselves, if herself gets in the way of saving her friend. That’s how to do hero!

[2] I have a suspicion that the josou one-off tale and the game noted by the Girl Cartoons josou genre essay series (pt3)

” Maintaining this line of reasoning—foremost, the assumption that many Josou works can be read as allegorical of the development of the fandom as a whole—we turn to the erotic visual novel 女装山脈 (josou sanmyaku) or “Crossdressing Mountain Range”, by Nounai Kanojo. Josou Sanmyaku draws a number of parallels to “How to Cure a Lolicon”, and while it is less explicitly allegorical, it nonetheless represents a typical conception of the development of Josou fandom, and development of attraction to the “otokonoko”—which, compared to “Lolicon”, is made very explicit here—and makes a few interestingly novel claims about the fandom which might almost be considered moral prescriptions.

To begin with, Josou Sanmyaku is aggressive in its invocation of the “otokonoko”. The three heroines², all crossdressing males, insist on referring to themselves not as 男の子 (with the kanji for “child”), but as 男の娘 (with the kanji for “young girl”). The “otokonoko” is established in the game’s mythos as something of a third gender, revealed eventually to even be able to bear children via supernatural means. Particularly in the first act of the game, which includes one erotic scene featuring each heroine, there is a strong undercurrent in the dialogue of the otokonoko being capable of providing pleasure far beyond that which a normal woman possibly could, and of the heroines’ goal being to “ruin” the protagonist such that he could not be satisfied by normal women again”.  – –  http://8c.dasaku.net/?p=72

were notorious enough, to serve as the model for Kousaka’s company’s crossdressing game in Genshiken.

In thy orisons be all my sins remembered

On Mary Sue, her origins, popularity and the ubiquity of simple wish-fulfillment narratives in melodramatic manga..

Walker, Cynthia W. 2011. “A Conversation with Paula Smith.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0243.
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/243/205

“It isn’t every fan who rates a Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_sue) and a mention on Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/04/21/mary_sue) for a term she invented, but Paula Smith will be forever known as the person who coined the phrase “Mary Sue.”

EnsignSue_869

In case you have never run into Ms. Sue before, here is her home page: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

To stumble upon the Paula Smith interview left me momentarily stunned and then struck by a violent bout of nostalgia; not for the invention of the Mary Sue trope, but for the odd coincidence that I was at some of the very same early conventions she mentions, at the times mentioned, and probably ran into many of the same folks mentioned in her interview. I may have met her in passing but I can’t remember doing so. I did some table manning volunteering at Tri-con. How’s this for a secret handshake to prove I was there: I was privy to the not-so secret insider gossip that one of the celebs needed a quick prescription due to… la la la

Hold on tight, this one is going to be messy!

past kill me wannamotei

Oh misspent youth! I was playing hooky from high school and sneaking off to sci-fi conventions (…and Patti Smith concerts, which together warped both my sense of the future, and my ideas of female sexual agency).

Why would you want to read a blog post where I get all nostalgic about my misspent youth? I promise useful theory-ish insights! I swear! Something has been banging around in the idea bucket since my last post on prof. Saito Tamaki, and it involves Mary Sue, Shojo (or Shoujo) manga, professor Tamaki, Adrian Piper and why the new and improved yuri V2 is a lot closer to yaoi than everyone first thought.

On the construction of an imaginary other / an imagined other sex:

First Dr Saito Tamaki and his friend again…

“”Enomoto explains that “male fans cannot experience moe until they have fixed their own position”— an observation that may well have validity beyond otaku and yaoi fans. In general a man fears the undermining of his own subject position, and he must establish that position firmly before he can desire an object. This is probably the fate of all who possess a phallus (as distinct from a penis): if the position and orientation of the phallus is not defined, the male cannot face even the object of his own desire.””
(Otaku Sexuality, see prev post for the full citation)

The wimmens are supposed to lack the constraining need for the phallic signifier and therefore can better play with yaoi puppets and enjoy seme, uke and god-narrator-author points of view all at the same time. Taken to insulting extremes, this kind of psycho-babble suggests that women don’t even possess a conventional “identity” as unified subject, except as a reflection of a lack, so they can identify with and partake in desire with rocks, rivers, Hello Kitty, jet airplane turbines, living room furniture and days of the week.

The assumption here again is of a certain vulgar essentialist view of gendered behaviour that fits with the Freudian “original sin” mythology of the development of the modernist “subject”. Blah blah blah. This is as close to the core of the whole mess as one can get, and it presents a weak spot for critics to sink their hooks into it. Suffice it to say that once the wimmins theorists got hold of this little gem, they found a big internal contradiction in it: what is usually now refered to as “male hysteria”.

This is a theory in-joke, because the word hysteria derives from old greek or old latin or old middle earth dwarvish and means something like “womb madness” and therefore should be a relative of PMS – a girl thing. But instead of some 1950’s Betty screaming madly until Cary Grant slaps her upside, “male hysteria” is now far more common in pop culture overacting.

Some guy “breaks” under pressure and goes all violent/ fearful/ batshit psycho/ suicidal because he cannot live up to his internal standards of guy-ness. So Ms. Enomoto’s quip and Dr. Tamaki’s elaboration of it above is just orthodox Western psych canon, used in an interesting way. On the surface male-hysteria boy is just snapping under the pressure of defending his subject position. But If the subject position is so easily broken, was it, and all the high theatre of male-ness all there, and so fixed in the first place?

Whoooooohooooo Scary! Careful you don’t lose it buddy, or you will turn into a woman – which is even worse than being a gay man!

The best short-form version of this kind of thing that I have found so far is Rio Otomo’s work on how Mishima overdoes this kind of pop Freudian view of female-ness (http://rio-otomo.net/academic-papers/mishima-yukios-sex-which-is-not-one)

“Following the first coup attempt, Isao is arrested. During one of his long nights in prison, Isao dreams of turning into a woman. Although this episode functions as a prophecy of the next reincarnation, a young Thai princess, the description of Isao’s becoming a woman conveys more messages than is necessary for a lead into the following volume.

[Isao] felt as if the world had been turned inside out … his flesh had lost definite form, turned into flesh that was soft and swaying. He was filled with a mist of soft, languid flesh. Everything became vague. Wherever he searched, he could find no order or structure. There was no supporting pillar… Comfort and discomfort, joy and sorrow – all alike slid over his skin like soap. Entranced, he soaked in a warm bath of flesh. The bath by no means imprisoned him. He could step out whenever he liked, but the languid pleasure kept him from abandoning it, so that staying there forever, not choosing to go, had become his ‘freedom.’ Thus there was nothing to define him, to keep him under strict control. What had once wound itself tightly round and round him like a rope of platinum had slipped loose. (Mishima, 1985: 449-50)[9]

While Isao is determined to banish the memory of the dream, he cannot deny the fact that the sensation he felt was not thoroughly disagreeable. The feminine is defined here as freedom from the restrictions not only of body but also of mind:

Everything he had so firmly believed in was meaningless. Justice was like a fly that had tumbled into a box of face powder and smothered; beliefs for which he had meant to offer up his life were sprayed with perfume and melted. All glory dissolved in the mild warmth of mud… Sparkling snow had melted away entirely. He felt the uncertain warmth of spring mud within him. Slowly something took form from that spring mud, a womb. Isao shuddered as the thought came to him that he would soon give birth. His strength had always spurred him with violent impatience towards action, had always responded to a distant voice that conjured up the image of a vast wilderness. But now, that strength had left him. The voice was silent. The outer world, which no longer called to him, now, rather, was drawing closer to him, was touching him. (Mishima, 1985: 450)

A womb-like zone – comfort and pleasure ‘inside’ the skin – is within him. The body has now lost its contour, and a smell of ‘decaying seaweed,’ ‘an entirely organic odour’ has permeated this body. But whose voice are we hearing in this passage? Is there a speaking agent in this formless body? Judith Butler contends that there is no pre-existing agent behind performance, and that rather, the agent is an effect of performance (Butler 1993:30). [10] The voice of Mishima’s text speaks from the no-man’s land that lies between man and woman, and the owner of that voice is what Butler calls a ‘linguistic effect’, the image projected on the surface of the body in the bath. Through this transgender narrative Mishima destabilises the authority of a speaking subject, first and foremost that of male sex.

Let us read further the carnivalesque space which Mishima produces in this passage, in which the realm of the feminine undermines the said order. The woman-like being in the bath is overwhelmed by the sense of eternal pleasure, jouissance, and a division between subject and object disappears in her. There seems no scope of binaries conceived in her realm.

Justice, zeal, patriotism, aspirations for which to hazard one’s life – all had vanished. In their place came an indescribable intimacy with the things around him… Things clung to [Isao] like paste, and, at the same time, lost all their transcendental significance. Trying to arrive at some goal was no longer a problem. Everything was arriving here from elsewhere. Thus there was no longer a horizon, no longer any islands. And with no perspective at all evident, voyages were out of the question. There was only the endless sea. (Mishima, 1985: 450)

This new imagery of woman as a formless, all-inclusive existence like the endless sea is a considerable shift from the way in which Mishima depicts women in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The central character of that text, Mizoguchi, finds women’s corporeality incongruous to the spiritual value embodied in the beauty of the Golden Temple, which was handed down to him by his late father. All women – his mother; the woman who rejects him; the prostitute who accepts him; the pan-pan girl who accuses him – stir anger and hostility in him. The world of the Mother and that of the Father are clearly marked in black and white; there is no room for negotiation or switching positions between the two. Mizoguchi’s narrative indeed takes place within a strictly Oedipalised and regulated space. In contrast Isao’s dream scene presents a different narrativisation of the feminine, the one that posits a powerful antithesis to the ruling regime of the Symbolic order. The she-man, Isao, is without skin or body contour, and thus no longer demarcating himself as an autonomous and unified subject. He instead feels being part of the endless sea. This passage is one of the rare occasions in which Mishima makes a reference to the title of the tetralogy. He sexes the sea, as it were, and makes it fertile.”

Overwrought Mishima is overwrought!

What a classic Freud/ Lacan male mash-up fantasy of female-ness. Here is male hysteria creating an imagined (and rather silly) feminine other, just like the hegemonic “ruling regime of the Symbolic order” theory-verse does. If the female narrator is such an amorphous blob-monster, why are so many of her daughters creating Mary Sue avatars – which are pure naked agency, devoid of any polite restraint?

Sarcasm aside, Mishima is one of the big high lit novelists of 20th century Japan: If he wants to construct a pop-psychology cliche of “the female” built in the solitary mind of a male protaganist who is “breaking up” and bang it violently against his other fave cliche of masculinity the Shonen Jump-ish  Koha, then he is playing with extremes for novelistic effect. Fair ball – you can’t do that kind of thing in an essay. Just don’t get carried away and try to stage a real-life coup, then disembowel yourself.

“What is kōha? … youth, violence, naivety, straightforwardness, anti-social behaviour, small-group hierarchy, or ethnocentrism. If one looks closely, one will find that emotions in kōha mentality are represented by politics rather than romantic love. Politics in the Orient is the ideal of machismo and the relationship amongst men. Although both politics and romantic love are naturally saturated in emotionalism …what makes the former distinct from the latter is that while the latter strives for individualism, the former is the urge to mould oneself into an ideal shape [as part of the whole]. Therefore, [kōha affiliates] have no danger of self-mortification…their desperate attempt to preserve their power begins in conservatism and racial fundamentalism. Since action is considered to be the embodiment of their power that blindly aims at justice, kōha will never suffer from a guilty conscience for their own action. (Mishima, 1989: 1015)

Despite its often violent and anti-social behaviour, the men who were called kōha [the school of the solid] occupied the place of legitimate masculinity, while nanpa [the school of the soft] was not necessarily excluded from the patriarchal order, receiving a certain respect from kōha affiliates. As Japan rapidly evolved into the post-industrial society, in which kōha values were regarded as excessive and therefore redundant, nanpa became the norm. The hidden agenda of the article above are: Mishima’s denunciation of the modern novel, which he now calls ‘nanpa-style literature’ which has dominated the Japanese literary scene since the post-Meiji era; and his call for ‘kōha-style writing’ that represents Japan in its pristine state. The article also expresses Mishima’s yearning for a life that is steadfast, fleeting, emotional and devoid of psychological complexity, in other words, his longing for a story-telling that predates the modern novel. Kōha, according to Mishima, defies things logical and intellectual, demonstrating a Japanese native characteristic – distrust in logocentricism. Mishima is here re-defining the concept of masculinity (and the kōha-style that represents it) to be emotional and non-verbal, taking over the properties of the feminine. It is an ironical twist given by Mishima who started his writing career as an emblematic nanpa writer and is now steadfastly transforming himself into a boxer, a sport-reporter, a swordsman and an army officer. The politics that Mishima takes up is a natio nalism without logic and words; for him kōha literature – the story of Japanese masculinity – is a counter-discourse to the masculinity foregrounded by Western imagination.”

Yikes!

The project of imagining the other gender seems to be fraught with what i can only call “category slip”. Are we speaking of real-world behaviour here? Is it public or private behaviour? Or is it confined to the real of “play” or imagination? Does it stay in the safe space of “the simulated”, in recreational fiction, or in the imaginary that is built when the subject takes parts of the the imaginary world, performs a personal bricolage on the components and creates a personal “fantasy”. Are these fantasies best left private, or are they the stuff of the gift, of symbolic exchange? Should the exchange be limited to experts, or can anyone play?

We are already three or four layers deep in category slip here: public identity, to private life, to gendered categories of desire in recreational narratives. Things get messy really fast. One could easily start off trying to figure out why poorly socialized males obsess over certain types of stories and fall into speculation on the “desires of the beautiful fighting girl”? (yup, prof. Saito does it on occasion) Excuse me – she’s a one-dimensional category of fictional character, she can have any “desires” any particular writer cares to give her, or none at all. Myself, I think she wants to hijack a time machine and become Mishima’s mom. She should ask Dr. Doom; I hear he lets Squirrel Girl use it.

I bet Rio Otomo thinks she wants an account at fanfiction.net and a laptop.

Professor Saito Tamaki has a bigger problem than the limits of Freud-zoku concepts of gendered subjectivity. Either he has to go full blown Mishima and acknowledge that the subject is not only formed in relation to the other, but that the subject expends a ridiculous amount of energy first constructing the imaginary other out of all kinds of bat-shit crazy cultural detritus that is found lying around, or he can just  stick to the useful stuff, like the quasi-libinous kick that comes from being a second-order or third order producer of ephemera that surrounds the consumption of a cultural artifact. That has traction. Whooooeee! Its time for a big potlatch party! Make friends, hang out, play with your fave fan-stuff, do some mash-ups, put out a dojin – hey wait: sounds a bit like the idealized space of the Genshiken. Myself, I would drop the Freud-speak, or at least view it as one among many convenient “scripts” that can be rummaged out of the dumpster.

Bad method acting school time: “What’s my character’s motivation?”

I won’t hold my breath.

OR: Prof Saito Tamaki knows all this, but Japan has lousy disability pension laws and regulations and he is trying to symptom-ize the condition so that Hikis and really withdrawn otaku – types get coverage and do not starve to death ????

Query: Is hikikomori in the DSMV ? prof Saito pioneered the study of the condition! That’s a pretty high honour  Remember, no DSM listing, no insurance coverage, at least in the USA, Canada, etc.. I can find no mention that it is in the DSMV yet. Perhaps one has to dress the condition up in Freud drag to make it “real” within the clerisy. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/12/169

On presenting the public self:

Shift POV back to memory lane:

Way back then I swear I bought some of those early Mary Sue Star Trek fanzines! No one warned me they were gendered artifacts. I was soooooooo crushed when I was told by someone who I lent them to that they were nothing but horribly written girly wish-fulfillment fantasies. Sure they were, but they had steamy hawt (and rather odd) secks scenes in them! No slash thankfully. Whew! Only original heterosexual characters bonking, so it wasn’t too weird; no Kirk/ Spock/ Mary Sue threesomes.

Let me say that again. They were written by female fans and they had hawt secks scenes in them, and I was rather young at the time, and by the way this was in the early Pleistocene era and they used mimeograph machines to print the things! (Damn, I am still putting off that honking big theory post I promised 2 months ago!). Those fan-women/ fen were -gasp- sexual creatures, as much as Patti Smith was, and incidentally equally unconcerned with being embarrassed about  publicly taking their desires for reality.

Oh brave new world that hath such creatures in it!

Did I mention my high school was very catholic? And that all this took place in the early Pleistocene era? Dinosaurs and Playboy bunnies walked the earth. Skinny, nearsighted geek boys who couldn’t do sports were supposed to have absolutely no chance for romance and misbehaviour – at least until we finished University. And yet I already knew a terrible secret…

Hijinx ensued.

This January I saw a 68-year-old Patti Smith perform at a concert hall in Shibuya. She still can’t play guitar to save her life, and routinely makes an ass of herself on stage and gets Japanese culture and mythos dead stupid wrong, and has a Mishima fixation, and none of it matters, because she is a rock and roll goddess and at 68 years of age she can wank out on stage all she wants. She is still hawt! She doesn’t look a day over 50…

And her soul sisters in the Mary Sue brigades have taken over the world.

What I am trying to say is that a certain moment in time, with just the right mix of technology, and weirdness, mass culture suddenly allowed a lot of folks who previously had stuff to say, but couldn’t bear the hassle and expense, who were shut out of the commercial channels, to get up on stage and “act out”. Fanwriters didn’t have word processors yet, let alone the interwebs (no gopher, pine, email and usenet groups, not even fidonet!  – that would all have to wait until the 1990’s) but they did have slightly more available IBM Selectric typewriters and Gestetner (screen cut mimeograph machines go back to the 1920’s or earlier) machines that were fairly easy to borrow or appropriate. And they had an expanding fan convention culture, no longer centered on traditional “hard” sci-fi.

Meanwhile over in rock and roll land, “at the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating…”

Perhaps it would be best to ask Lenny Kaye, garage band historian, pop music anthropologist, producer, meddler and lead guitar to the Patti Smith Group (still after all those years and yup, he was holding it together in Tokyo that night..) what changed. Or go read the liner notes to Nuggets. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_Kaye

Whatever the reason, something had slipped in the control rooms of the big record companies some 30 years before mp3’s would destroy them and plenty of people like Patti Smith got up on stage to bring their own messy, raw and painfully, embarrassingly naive idea of how rock’n’roll should be done to anyone who would listen.

And yeah we look the same
Both pumpin steel, both sweatin
But you know she got nothin to hide
And I got something to hide here called desire
I got something to hide here called desire
And I will get out of here–
You know the fiery potion is just about to come
In my nose is the taste of sugar
And I got nothin to hide here save desire
And I’m gonna go, I’m gonna get out of here
I’m gonna get out of here, I’m gonna get on that train,
I’m gonna go on that train and go to New York City
I’m gonna be somebody, I’m gonna get on that train, go to New York City,
I’m gonna be so big, I’m gonna be a big star and I will never return,
Never return, no, never return, to burn at this Piss Factory
And I will travel light.
Oh, watch me now.

Patti Smith, Piss Factory (1974)

Bloody amateurs! Mary Sues all of them!

The sins of Mary Sue are all sins of degree. Recall slash-kami “Mary Jean Johnson’s” admonition about yaoi fan-writing:

“Yaoi isn’t like other fictional writing. It’s a private vision written for personal satisfaction, and to apply the standards by which we judge ordinary literature to yaoi is to willfully ignore this private element. 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. As for trashing a fanwriter’s style, it’s like shooting the piano player. Chances are she’s doing the best she can. The only way you get to play the piano better is by playing the piano more. And quite possibly she writes that way because she likes writing that way, typos and all, and belongs to that huge group of people (of whom Word’s Spell-check is one) who really believe that its should be written it’s on all occasions.””

It could also be that plotting standards have slipped precipitously, or that naive story telling is comfortably non-threatening to a modern mass audience (as is tone-deaf pop singing), but ms. Sue has found a permanent place as one of the zashi-warashi of contemporary Japanese Visual Culture. Blame Comike(t)  It doesn’t matter. She is wabi-sabi as all heck; a flawed guardian spirit/ meta-heroine. (we will leave aside Western women’s genre fiction, either young adult or the slightly older age bracket’s “spunky girl in the big city finds interesting well-paying job, brand name goodies and two competing good boy/ bad boy lovers”) At least ms. Sue gets written, a lot! You can’t keep a gal like her in the kitchen, or off the page.

Did I mention she is Legion?

Mary_Sue_Comprasion

Trick question: both are Mary Sue; one is just a bit more polite sneaky about it.

Ogiue is not a Mary Sue. Neither is Watamote (she might be the anti-sue), but Mary and her cousin Marty (sometimes Gary) Stu (AKA Die Wesley Crusher Die!) are damn hard to escape in manga land. Genshiken may be free of the both of them, but adolescent themed fiction is up to its ears in them and their ilk, so much so that their “meta”, Chuunibyou has been also rising in the popularity stats. Note how Chuuni is a “bit” different Western models of high-school “acting out”

chuuhibyou chart

No matter, we will still read the stuff, unbelievable main character with special powers and all – if the rest of the story does something for us.  Mary Sue and over-the-top wish-fulfillment charas have colonized throwaway shojo Manga, while her cousin Marty has made a home for himself in any number of harem high-school grinders. One day he will grow up and become Walter Mitty, or Hunter Thompson, or some rap star or even Oscar Wilde.

I have NO IDEA what this means!” – Oscar Wilde

Back to misspent youth stories:

Somewhere in the attic is a box full of treasure crap from those days. After the labour day weekend worldcon in Toronto, our paths diverged. Star Trek fandom was getting too commercial and uncomfortably a-social (at least for me). Paula Smith’s sisterhood found the guy-verse of mainstream sci-fi fandom suffocating and used the lameness in early trekkie fandom to carve out a female fen-space. They went on to do “vidding” which I believe is a slash variant done with VCRs. For me, mainstream sci-fi had more wild, wonderful and risqué stuff to rot my impressionable male teen-age mind.

The costume balls at sci-fi conventions had semi-professional girl (yes, as in teen, yikes!) models in extremely skimpy outfits (who swooped in to bag the cash prizes), all-night movies (to nap through), real computer games (a terminal to U of Toronto mainframe playing something called “sumer“) and late night drinking parties that did not ask if you were of age. Of course I had to keep my enthusiasms to myself; bad trekkie behaviour had tarred the lot of us as the lowest form of annoying noob.

I might have been the over-enthusiastic motor-mouthed young fan who so pestered the venerable Isaac Asimov that he proposed to another senior writer that I should be strangled lest I grow up to become another ??? (was it Harlan Ellison?) (Then again, this might have been a running joke between senior writers at that convention, as there were at least a hundred overenthusiastic male youth running amok that weekend.)

You would think that I would have stayed with this life throughout my teen years – alas ugly mundane reality intervened and violently pulled me out of geek paradise soon thereafter.

Of course I still watched Star Trek reruns whenever I could, and read Analog, and all the used sci-fi paperbacks I could get at 3 for $1, but the worldcons were too far away, and there were no Genshikens at the universities I managed to later squeak into. (There were however university newspapers and someone left Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail 72 lying around.. Hijinx ensued… )

On the precarious nature of the subject:

Yipes! too much geek reminiscing. According to professor Saito and his posse, I and all my male brethren at the time were supposed to be fixing our own positions and our identities, developing our subjecthood vis-a-vis “the other” and male-hysterically defending it and phallic agency/ privilege etc., etc., etc. Or in the language of the day “To yourself be(ing) true”.

Right!

Good effing luck locating this “yourself” thing buddy…

Or we were supposed to be trying to score with Mrs Robinson…

Perhaps 40 years of economic decline and the interwebs changed all this. Liminality is now the buzzword for everyone under 40. As for over 40, again – good luck!

And we all are what we do. We have to change what we do a lot, and in life we all get to do what we are second best at…

I feel your pain..

I feel your pain..

The whole modernist subject/ other myth was never really even modernist – it was a romantic narrative born out the rupture of euroethnic peasant life caused by industrial urbanization. It was cobbled together by swiping ideals of semi-autonomous behaviour from tales of imaginary privileged nobility and shoe-horning them into a guild model of profession-derived identity so that the new city dwelling underclass didnt go stark raving mad once they left their villages. Dick Whittington meet Horatio Algier, and both of you make sure to stop demanding to be fed before your women-folk! (Strange how rates of tuberculosis tumbled once economics and social practice allowed that European females should get to eat meat protein too – note the the “subject” was a gendered concept even back then. women didn’t count.)

One doesn’t have to go all postmodern to realise how shaky the modern subject always was – modernism always knew this too: go read some T.S.Elliot or at least some Auden. Later you can have a bit of Ginsberg if you promise not to freak out at the gay bits. There is also a nasty analysis of WWI mass hysteria by Modris Eckstein called Rites of Spring The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age that riffs on what happened when it all went balls up.

Postmodern, database, grand narrative fail, total new thing, yup, right,

Meanwhile, I like to think that all the low-budget sci-fi I ingested, including many poorly written wish fulfilment fantasies (both fanzine and commercial pulp varieties) gave me something akin to the only true modern capital that does not depreciate: a taste for different points of view (and a self-reflective sense of humor).

You’ve probably got it too (or why are you here reading this?), but only a certain vintage of graybeard nerd will grasp all the shades of truly embarrassing horror in Futurama’s Zap Brannigan. Want more? Try Spinrad’s vicious parody “The Iron Dream”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Spinrad#The_Iron_Dream) You have been warned. Adolf as Marty Stu done viciously!

In my first year of university, I struggled with my paper on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, frustrated beyond reason at my inability to wrap my head around a 400 year old fable, while the tiny, tinny TV speaker interrupted me with Shatner’s Kirk over-acting out his passion for Flint’s daughter Miranda.

(Miranda! Huh! Ker-Ching! Enlightenment! Good marks!) Who said all that sci-fi crap was useless? Oh Gawd! Forbidden Planet too! WTF is it with all the Tempest rip-offs in sci-fi? On is not The Tempest the penultimate Marty Stu vehicle for an ageing male playwright? That’s why I like Greenway’s Prospero’s Books so much; it is the Arials that take over the writing of his tale of vengeance in his magic book and stir him to mercy and humanity.

Cue Adrian Piper:

“Here the aim of appropriation would not be to exploit deliberately the Other’s aesthetic language, but to confound oneself by incorporating into works of art an aesthetic language one recognizes as largely opaque; as having a significance one recognizes as beyond one’s comprehension. Viewed in this way, exploitation is an unintended side-effect – the consequence of ignorance and insensitivity – of a project whose main intention is to escape those very cognitive limitations.
[. . .]
The appropriative character and formalism of Euroethnic art is, then,intrinsically connected with its self-awareness (or self-consciousness). To recognize an alien cultural practice as different from one’s own, and as inaccessible to understanding with respect to content, is implicitly to recognize one’s own cultural practice as a cultural practice, with its own rules and constraints. This just is the awareness that one’s own cultural practice is merely one among many. And the recognition that alternative cultural practices are cognitively inaccessible just is the awareness that one’s own furnish the only available conduit for interpretation of formal anomaly. So the cross-cultural appropriation of alien formal devices is a reminder of one’s own subjectivity. Self-consciousness of this kind is a necessary condition of innovation. “

Adrian Piper is not the only modernist theory wizard to riff on this. Charles Taylor does a very good job at explaining how what we think of as “identity” differs radically from what our self-reproducing farm equipment forebears thought about the matter. We would struggle to get their idea of it, and ours might drive them mad. Baudrillard’s gem “The Mirror of Production“, which alienated him from French Marxian orthodoxy gleefully takes a similar insight and lays into the historical myth of dialectical materialism with it. (but succumbs to the old trap of an edenic “legend of the fall”)

I even recall an anthropological sci-fi story that riffed on the “bicameral mind” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Jaynes) theory and located its “subject” (or ur-subject) in a hero that didn’t hear the voices of his tribe as group proto-unconscious, and as such was able to lie about what “god” told him to do to save his tribe. Even as it gave our hero powerful headaches.

Think outside the box! One could argue that the truly modernist subject is the one that can “load” alternative, multiple, contradictory modes of processing reality. Whoops! we just fell into Deleuze and Guattari land! Or Elliot’s Wasteland. (hint: try reading it as a screenplay)

How to fool yourself for fun:

Back to clumsy wish fulfillment stories and “bent” libidinous manga:

Just because we guys are supposed to “fear the undermining of (our) own subject position” in public, (“A real man speaks only with his fists!” declares the shonen manga hero.) doesn’t mean that we cannot be tempted by the illusion of forbidden knowledge in private. Especially if we can rationalise the excursion as an intelligence gathering mission with bonus naughty bits. What we (and the gals too) read in the easy chair, or watch on the monitor, or load on the console is a private matter carried out under the sign of “play”. It is the epitome of personal space. That the reading material would drift into pr0n land is not surprising. What surprises me is how fast it has drifted out again.

Plenty of correspondents have followed up on Matt Thorn’s early observation that yoai and BL are offshoots of shojo manga. What is even more surprising is how yuri – traditional home of fake lesbo orgy smut has of late been re-situating itself within shojo manga conventions.

Yuri’s new cover story is that it tells tales of girls love and therefore it is “really” for girls investigating that forbidden longing, like the melodramatic Japanese S-class lesbian-ish short stories of the 1920’s. There may be more than a few women in Japan who read and are stirred by the stuff, but what Erica-sensei calls “the creepy male gaze” present in much of it complicates the issue.

What is inescapable is that the majority of current yuri and shojo-ai is nothing more or less than shojo manga for male readers. (refered to by some as Loser Fan Boys – I use the term ironically, re-appropriating it with a certain mock-embarrased grin. “Why are men broken?” indeed…  ) There still is plenty of girl-on-girl-on-girl smut out there, but it is slowly being edged out by this new curious hybrid form that might be for women who like women, but not quite.

The consensus is that guys reading this stuff is an excusable quirk and still guy-like as long as there is still -some- smut in the story. (We can always delude ourselves into thinking we are picking up a few rezbian ruv techniques when looking for the naughty bits – the shojo-ai stuff is in many ways creepier because it is often just an excuse for lolicon. Hi Madarame!) As the flip-side of yaoi for rotten girls, the illusion that those yuri- stories- which- are- not- total- smut- fests are somehow more “authentically lesbian” plays both to an urge towards affected political correctness and the thrill of peeking into the girl’s (completely fake, staged) changing room. Wow! there are even female mangakas writing it, so the newer stuff must be “real-er”.

Saito’s asymmetry is rapidly being levelled out. Note the change from old yuri to new yuri: the newer stuff bows to romantic convention and avoids threesomes and moresomes.

On the interwebz no one knows you are a...

On the interwebz no one knows you are a…

The overwrought romantic dialogue (little more than what Erica-sensei calls “story A”) is extra spice and offers forbidden insight into the mind of that most enigmatic of all creatures; the female, portrayed in its “purest” state (no guy in the way). Wasn’t it Amis again who quipped that romantic love was a lesbian invention? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sappho) Contemporary smut-lite- might- be- lesbian- approved- yuri exudes concentrated female emotional truth-iness! (even when penned by male mangakas.. Yeah right…)

Can any guy actually think that real females emote like this? That a real-life woman will get hostile towards you because she cannot express her deepest feelings or melt when one deploys some affected “sensitivity”. Bakka! Emotional awareness is suspect in males; one is either a dangerous “player”, an emo or worse – Richard III. Snap out of it!

Perhaps the allure of the illusion of forbidden lore is too strong. The rotten girls keep insisting that their contrived boys-ruv is “purer” because the unequal power relations in a male-female relationship are snuck past in their stuff, and they don’t need lesbian love stories because they already know how this romance stuff works on females. It is us blockheads who are incomprehensible. Where is Dr. Zizek when we need him? I keep ringing his office and all I get is some Tireseus jerk!

Smut- lite- contemporary- yuri (shojo-ai V2 ???) shares many of the characteristics of yaoi for rotten girls as it provides a risk-free simulation space for playing with elaborate and overdone narratives of emotional “relationship-y” courtship behaviour and romance – much as yaoi-space gives rotten girls a chance to simulate what it would be like if fuckmad predatory male behaviour could somehow accommodate all the same relationship-y emotional stuff that the wimmens crave, but recognise as a blind spot in traditional guy behaviour and a dangerous liability to themselves in the real world.

And the girls like to see crude representations of bishie guys getting it on, while we guys are only reading yuri because we are waiting for the hawt girl-on-girl action. DURR HERP DUR DERP!

A spectre is haunting the modern subject:

And then the melodrama  starts to bleed all over the place…

You doubt me? Why then do Otaku characterise their moe blobs in terms of tropes of courtship behaviour? Tsundere might be stupidly simplistic but it is still an exponential leap from slut or frigid. Did the tendency of male otaku to characterise their fave charas in such a manner carry over form rotten girls’ elaborate typologies of semes and ukes? (recall female to male ratios at early comikets) Or was it the other way around? Or were both tribes caught in the inexorable pull of Azuma Hiroki’s database?

“What’s my motivation?” Who cares. It still is all about emotional relationship-y melodrama and fluff. Add a horrible tortured past for the main character and both tribes can get all emo and angsty while waiting for the resolving secks scene. (If it was shonen manga it would be a fight scene.. no wonder the rotten girls have such fun)

Aoi Hanna and Sasameke Koto have no hawt secks scenes, but still have plenty of LFB fans. As mentioned previously, much angsty chaste longing ensues. Maybe just a happy ending is enough. Looks like we won’t get one with Aoi Hanna: the MC will be lucky to make it out of high school sure of herself as an autonomous lesbian subject, but radically disenchanted from the magical world of young high-school love. Odysseus slumps over spent, still tied to the mast as his ships slip by the Sirens’ rocks; Kristeva’s German burgher contemplates Holbein’s “Dead Christ” and realises that he is completely and terribly alone in the world and the Enterprise warps out of the system seconds before its sun goes nova…

Disenchantment is the sacrament of modernism ™

Call it a win and cue theme music.

Hanna is of course “better literature” than Koto, precisely because of the unresolved ending. The real love story here is the love that Fumi Manjōme might be finally able to develop as a full person, for herself.

Not satisfied? Plenty of other “creepy” bits of contemporary visual culture have all the emotional angst, the over-powerful hero (/heroine) the hawt secks and the just-so story happy ending anyone could want. As for the bleed-over, what is with all the weird emotional stuff coexisting with violent rape-y behaviour in manga like Tsukehime and Melty Blood ? It does not fit! It should not be there; then we recall that both are derived from modified eroge games where the goal is to clear all the females in the harem.. And kill some vampires too..

I think you have to get all the females to feel for you, and not  piss off/ break any hearts in order to get them all to help you kill the last boss. Ok! A mechanistic reason for having to pay attention to the emotional interpersonal messy stuff, we can process that, no problememo!

“Muwwhahhaha! See how easily these fan-boys can be tricked!”

At least this approach is a bit more direct than building a complicated theory edifice of otaku and fujoshi libidinal shift to the realms of imaginary. The rotten girls and Loser Fan Boys are just processing allegorical narratives, looking for stuff they can use, trying to work out puzzling contradictions by running scenarios (wow, just like the CIA) and indulging in a bit of “wouldn’t it be nice (or really hawt) if…” all while reading trashy stories.

Have another chocolate!

I think the whole 2D-only fixation phenom is pure learned affectation and subculture trope. It is a device for mangaka to shatter characters like Mada with, and look how easy that was.  It is too close to other recent fashionable male misbehaviour, like “herbivore men”.

Here’s a further weird thought: In trying to get a handle on faux-feminine emotionalism, aren’t guys finally implicitly recognizing full autonomous subject-hood in the elusive feminine narrative? Wow, that’s one up on the Freud-zoku.

And while we are at it, when a gendered “ruling regime of the symbolic order” recognizes rotten girl practice, does it miss a very very old sci-fi trope?

Analogy time: a bunch of nekkid humans get abducted by alien zoo-keepers – how to prove sentience? The “cage” is too damp for fire and 3.1415 banged on the walls is not getting through. All seems lost until one person weaves a wicker cage for a cricket-like pet. Release and apologies from the aliens ensues.

Only intelligent beings put other critters in cages. And only fully autonomous modernist “subjects” make silly porn of “others”. Could all the Freud -zoku hyaterical theory around rotten girl practice be an elaborate denial mechanism?

Methinks you doth protest too much.

All this could well be a lot more dangerous to “hegemonic narratives of gender roles and desire” then wanting to shack up with your Nintendo DS Lite. There is no prohibition in the West against guys reading Harlequin romances, but neither does Harlequin offer faux-lesbian romance series for Loser Fan Boys to peep at. Once again Japan ichiban no cultural innovator!

Once Mary Sue gets lose in fan fiction, she so distorts the genre with her quick and dirty emotional payoff that the effect soon bleeds over into related, then all genre fiction – just as fan-fiction and/or dojin practice and tropes bleed over into commercial products. This ensures that elite “taste”, which was always a good cover story for more complicated gate-keeping is blown aside.

Whoops! I Might have gone too fast on that last one! Lets try that again in a nice orderly sequence:

1) Mary Sue gets lose.
2) Mary Sue evinces a desire for wish-fulfillment, melodrama and easy emotional payoff in fan-lit.
3) Commercial genre fiction takes the piles of it as market research and starts cranking out variations.
4) The cheap thrill spreads throughout mass culture.
5) Loser fan boys and rotten girls start peeking over the fences when looking for smutty stories.
6) Entropy sets in and all plots and tropes start to converge.

Profit!

As for  “fantasy is fantasy (or simulation space) and reality is reality”, we can assume that everyone is scared shitless of their fave hobby narratives getting lose in the real world. Fortunately keeping a public face and a private life is what adults are supposed to do in Japan, and the rest of the world too.

Here’s the Western version of the shop manual – feel free to tinker. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Presentation_of_Self_in_Everyday_Life)
Note how later sociologists expanded the concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_Trouble

Poorly written, formulaic, wish-fulfilment fiction has always been with us (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion) as has tone-deaf singing. What is so odd about Mary Sue is how she serves as a symptom of global mass culture’s ability to democratise her violence. She is the (originally) wimmens’ AK47 of narrative, if not the 3D printable gun. And the freedom is intoxicating for both girls and boys. We will not be rid of her for a while, so we might as well offer her a glass of barley tea and recognize her naive charms, and the deep longings that she embodies – desires which may be somewhat like our own as well.

scape_god_AN OATH v001_c001_036 web

Awwwwwww, (careful, don’t get carried away!)

Hold the presses! I just heard that Prof Saito has an article on fujoshi in Mechademia 6! Perhaps he has had to shave off some of the sharper corners of his theories in order to accommodate fujoshi practice. I’m sure I can pick up a copy for $12 used on eBay (plus $48 shipping, because the stupid bookstore will only send it super expensive overnight registered) Anyone care to lend me their MUSE login fo Jstor? Dammit! Mechademia used to be openly downloadable to all. -sulk-

One more time in unison please: Academic journal paywalls suck!

Next time: So many ideas about Genshiken 87 and 88, but can I trust those Bulgarian scanlation scripts and Google xlate? And what of the whole messy epic digression on technology and fan “productive consumption” and those mimeograph stencils? How about D+G’s Temporary Autonomous Zones and Fujoshi/ Otaku space? This one writes itself, wonder why we are not already up to our eyeballs in it?

Must get organized!

Random endnotes:

For more information on the rise and fall of the mimeographed (and later xeroxed fanzane, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factsheet_Five

http://www.factsheet5.org/  and http://www.alternativepressreview.org/
both seem to have stopped mid 2010

From the Wiki:

The magazine was originally published in 1982 by Mike Gunderloy on a spirit duplicator in his bedroom while he lived in an Alhambra, California slanshack. The original focus was science fiction fanzines (the title comes from a short story by science fiction author John Brunner), but it included other reviews. Bob Grumman contributed a regular column on avant-garde poetry from 1987 to 1992.

Gunderloy later moved to Rensselaer, New York, where he continued to publish. By 1987, he was running a zine BBS, one of the first associated with an underground publication.[3]In 1990, Cari Goldberg Janice and (briefly) Jacob Rabinowitz joined as co-editors.[4]Gunderloy quit publishing Factsheet Five following the completion of Issue #44 in 1991.[2]

Hudson Luce purchased the rights to Factsheet Five and published a single issue, Issue #45, with the help of BBS enthusiast Bill Paulouskas, cartoonist Ben Gordon, writer Jim Knipfel, and artist Mark Bloch, who had authored a mail art-related column called “Net Works” during the Gunderloy years.[5]

R. Seth Friedman then published the magazine for five years in San Francisco, with the help of Christopher Becker and Jerod Pore, until Issue #64 in 1998. Circulation grew to 16,000 during that time.[6]

Gunderloy currently works as a computer programmer and farmer. He co-authored the book SQL Server 7 in Record Time ISBN 0-7821-2155-1.

Mike Gunderloy’s Factsheet Five Collection of over 10,000 zines and mail art is now held at the New York State Library in Albany, New York, where it occupies 300 cubic feet (8.5 m3).[7] However, only about 4000 zines in the collection have been cataloged.[8] About 1/4 of the zines in the collection are listed on Excelsior, the New York State Library’s electronic catalog; staff of the Manuscripts & Special Collection can help locate other items.[9] Two hundred and forty zines that R. Seth Friedman donated are in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library.[10]

Genshiken 86: Hato gets lucky!

Wherein the previously promised post, “Love and only love” gets put off for an examination of the latest chapter of Genshiken, even if I have to work from Bulgarian (?) scan scripts…

scan script provided by "strong girl-boy friends" group

.If Hato should have learned one thing from Madarame, it is: don’t keep the secret envelope taped behind the bookshelf/ desk. That being said, Hato just got more intimate female attention and skinship than he has ever had in his whole life. If that don’t have some effect, at least in terms of appreciation for what a determined fujoshi girl can do to make a young trap’s body go weak and heart sing, then Hato’s next clothing spree should be for monk’s cloth. The shock of the envelope reveal is going to pass a lot sooner than the memory of what he felt on his neck.

No turning that smooch/lick on the neck into “fantasy is fantasy”.

Will Hato now go all Kuchiki whenever he sees Sue and demand a rematch?
Subdue me! Subdue me!

Will he start drawing fake yuri wrestling ecchi scenes?

How will he draw? If the volume extras are to be taken as canonical, he needs at least a bra and pantsu to be able to draw in fujoshi-mode. Perhaps a sports bra and gym shorts will now suffice.

And what of Sue? Nurturing the impression that a cross-dressing, yaoi reading, pr0n drawing Hato could possibly be drawn to a 3D Madarame, especially after seeing him fixate on Mada’s neck was a reasonable reconciliation of fantasy and reality, and one that would also brush away any nagging stirrings of interest she felt developing towards Madarame, if any was developing. What a shock to now be responsible for:

1) finding Hato’s embarrassing secret;
2) committing the politically incorrect sin of trying to impose a sexuality on a friend who had been previously bullied in such a manner (she might have been trying to signal that she was supportive of Hato “coming out” – Oooops!);
3) killing his crossdressing hobby;
4) ruining any chance for him to discover his innermost desire to jump Madarame and finally
5) causing a small fierce flame with her name on it to be lit in the heart of Hato-kun!

No wonder Sue is hiding over at Ogiue’s apartment.

The reverse pairing issue had been telegraphed by Ogiue’s previous request for a guest illustration in her next dojin, and Hato had made a point of indicating that he was not too fixated on his favourite pairing orders; something that the casual literature on fujoshi culture tends to emphasise as a trope of the tribe, along with the attendant “pairing fight”. But drawing his analogue as a trap and as uke to a sou-uke is about as transgressively abject as Genshiken-version fujoshidom could get without hauling out whips and chains.

Other correspondents have pointed out that Hato and his puppet-master both have too much invested for him to make a completely clean break with his cross-dressing and quasi-fujoshi habits. Perhaps we will finally get a whiff of Mizoguchi and have Hato blurt out “yeah, but women draw it“. Shimoku-sensei is going to have a lot of fun elaborating on how he undergoes a process of radical disenchantment. Since the Genshiken-as-social is coming up on being a ten-year project for its creator, I would expect that the failures and successes of the emergence of Hato V2 will mirror the strengths and weaknesses of the club.

One of those strengths is Madarame’s acceptance. It needs to be shown as a strength and not an opening/ holes/ vulnerability (Shimoku-sensei has telegraphed this a few times) and he needs to pass it on.

Another strength is the Genshiken’s newly revived record of cooperative productivity, at least while under female stewardship. I have gone on too much previously on how both Ogiue’s and Hato’s high school groups were bad socials (they bullied and produced nothing as a group – the University manga club is not too useful either) The Genshiken’s productivity can also be measured in terms of its members’ personal growth: Ogiue with Sass and then with Hato, Sue, Yajima, Rika and the rest of the irregulars created some respectable publication output but the process also helped “create” Ogiue and to a certain extent Sasahara. Ohno and Tanaka have gained as much from Genshiken-enabled cosplay as they have put in. Madarame’s failure to launch could be taken as a sign of the weakness of the club in helping a hardcore male otaku, or it could have saved his life. Who knows how worse he would have been without it?

Lots of us western Genshiken fans have been clamoring for more Sue back story (Moar Sue super-powers! Where is her cloaked Gernsbeck M9A ???) but Madarame is equally enigmatic. We know Ogiue’s and Hato’s past traumas, some hints about Yajima and Rika a bit about Ohno, less about Tanaka a tiny hint about Kuchiki, but nothing at all yet about Madarame (or the Prez and Kugayama for that matter, but they have left the stage).

What did Madarame do with himself before university? What is his background, and how does he (or his parents) pay for a degree at a reasonably prestigious university? How did he become an otaku? Why did he give up on 3D females? Can he socialize with guys beyond the confines of a safe, male-otaku enclave like the Genshiken? What women fluster him into his uber-geek-creep mode and to what extent is he now comfortable with the Genshiken fujoshi tribe?

The earlier incarnation of Madarame could be manic in his enthusiasms and prideful in his knowledge of his favorite bits of fannishness. His embarrassment in the face of women when the libidinous,”creepy” side of his hobbies spilled out would cause him to retreat into even more stereotypically creepy otaku behaviour: a form of pre-emptive self-sabotage that always ended with him declaring that he is only interested in his fantasy world anyway, and therefore harmless. There was a point to his geek-out routine as a reply to the gesture by Kousaka and the gang: it was consciously self-ironic. The brief return of the “old Madarame”; the first time as tragedy, the second time as playful farce.

Gailbraith interviewed fujoshi who spoke of “graduating out” to meet real world responsibilities. Is there any literature on male otaku “graduation” besides Train Man vs Radio Wave Man? So far the issue is studied only in passing: when a maladjusted loner goes berserk, or when a publicity seeking geek spokesman marries his favourite video game character.

Any talk of graduating out, and it surely exists on 2chan, puts professor Saito’s reality x fantasy pronouncements under pressure. The tug between the two extremes is not specific to otaku or Japan. Western geeks had their fiawol and fijagh as early as the 1960’s. I still need to find a digest of Prof Saito’s arguments to see if his assertions ground in present-day sociology, but clearly the ability to keep reality and fantasy separate exists along a continuum for any population.

To admit cultural difference is no error: one has only to look at the differences between American and Canadian house lots and the Japanese practice of walling off their compounds to discern a certain higher regard for privacy and the separation of public and private space. But these practices have history and reasons behind them. Japan is a crowded place, neighbours are too damn close all the time and codes of behaviour are socially enforced. Middle class patterns of land use borrow from historical upper class models. Obviously people need some place to retreat to and psychic personal space will serve when physical personal space is hard to find. There is little in the way of a societal zeitgeist regarding platonic ideals required to set up a strong :public is public” x “private is private” distinction in society. After all, this is the free societal space that otaku and fujoshi inhabit. The term otaku literally means “of the house” or something like “man [or woman] of the house”. (Squire or esquire; a property owner, is a close approximation and equally archaic/ inappropriately formal in original use). The only transgression occurs when the boundaries are breached.

Saito’s hypothesis has pop-culture followers. Recall Honda Toru’s Radio-Wave Man manifesto as a response to Train Man:

“In 2005, Honda Toru published Dempa Otoko, or “The Radiowave Man”, a manifesto condemning Densha Otoko for depicting otaku as immature individuals who must “grow up” and accept social roles and responsibilities. Honda criticized the story for failing to understand the true nature of otaku, showing little more than how to participate in commercialized “love capitalism” (ren’ai shihon-shugi) by dressing nicely, buying gifts and going on dates to trendy spots; that is, how to engage in proper acts of consumption. What the franchise misses, according to Honda, is that otaku do not need to be redeemed or rehabilitated by romance with the opposite sex — or even with living creatures. Honda advocates finding love with two-dimensional characters, which offers a chance to achieve, or resuscitate, a “pre-social” masculinity.27 This love does not end in childbirth, marriage, sex or even courtship; its distinctiveness in part lies in its unconsummated fantasy potential. In this way it offers a way out of the “real,” or the “body politic centered by the reproductions of family” (Allison 2000, p. 173). Thus, for Honda, Densha otoko not only misses, but also jeopardizes one of the few truly counter-hegemonic masculinities available to young men in Japan today.“

http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/2011/SlaterGalbraith.html

Hato’s character seems to be constructed in such a way as to push the limits of the private x public/ fantasy x reality opposition to extremes. As such, he can be seen as a continuation of themes that started with Ogiue’s high school “sin” and Madarame’s absolutist “néant” (1) position – a position that mirror’s Honda’s.

Kio Shimoku has played this chord before, it is reasonable to assume we will hear more of it.

Hato’s journey of disenchantment and then accommodation (or crisis and dialectical synthesis) is just beginning. Or Shimoku-sensei will deploy Risa in full girl-to-boy crossdresser mode and set her after Hato-kun, so no matter how hard he tries, he still ends up in gender confusion land.

As for Madarame, he needs a new lurv interest to make a tangle work. Perhaps he will surprise the heck out of Keiko next time and call her bluff by inviting her out of a not- at-your- club rai-ju Saturday afternoon date. He must have some familiarity with Train Man (or its Genshiken- verse analogue) and he has, through Saki learned the value of better grooming and dress. In his mind, while Keiko the pest would be completely off-limits for romance or club visitation action she would make a great safe practice date. And that might get her off his case too! All he has to do is behave well so that Sasahara doesn’t get annoyed. She isn’t an otaku, her job makes her a financial predator that trades on male loneliness and longing and her previous teenage Gayaru misbehaviour and lack of University socialization paint her with lower class behaviours and ambitions. Never underestimate social class subtexts in Japanese manga or larger Japanese society. No danger that she will pop up dressed as his favourite loli 2D chara and break his heart, but it would stir the pot a bit.

About time for Genshiken love triangle/ quadrangle/ tangle, along the lines of a Shakespearean love comedy. At least no one is yet smitten with a donkey.

Then again, there is always Kuchiki.

random endnotes:

1) lit. “the deny-er”. Used metaphorically against the classic catholic concept of the turning from god as absolute sin, see for example Carbonne14‘s Le Dortoir: In the full version, a man returns the the ruined orphanage dormitory of his youth, enters the classroom, sees the word “dieu” (god) on the chalkboard, angrily rubs it out and gets ready to blow his brains out.. See most of it at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yzrUH2bBNE. And yes, you should grab a beer and watch the whole effing thing, because it is damn fine!