“HEY YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!”
Two recent Twitter commotions serve as a worthwhile point of departure for digging deeper into themes of queer representation and subtext within heterosexual gaze/ normed narratives. To sneak up on it sideways, I’m going to bring out my old purposefully-dense-straight-guy head-space. Bear with me, I had it out in the shed.
Put some fresh gas in, check the crankcase oil, spray the air filter with starter fluid and… PULL!
Cough Vroom, chug, chug, cough vroom, brrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Whew! Lotta smoke.
Here we go!
Re-issues of parts of the Sailor Moon franchise’s official English dubs recently went on sale and while advance PR had made a big point of promoting that the new release would stop subtexting a famous girl-couple in the series, a lyrics brochure once again referred to Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune as cousins. Not a couple, not as lovers, but with the decades-ago North American market “cover story” as to why those two were so close.
Meanwhile, over in legal anime streaming land, a character who makes a one episode appearance as an eccentric 14 year old child soldier (as are all the kid characters) and/ or an alien and/or a clone and/ or an angel, has a soulful moment with our hero Shinji and tells Shinji that he is “worthy of my grace“.
Time to ask Briggs N. Stratton what he makes of all this.
B+S: “Huh? Why ask me? I’m here to chew bubblegum and mow the lawn — and I am clean out of bubblegum!”
HOFF: “C’mon Briggsey, you owe me for the spark plug.”
B+S: “Fine, fine, sure thing. I don’t know what the big deal is. So they were cousins and now an itsy bitsy brochure says they are cousins again. There wasn’t gay marriage when the show first ran, children’s show, not like anyone who cared wouldn’t see through the excuse, whatever… No one said they couldn’t be cousins and still be girlfriends as long as no one frightened the horses. Kind of hawt-er that way too.
…As for that Kaworu guy, weren’t the translators just being too cute by half, trying to sneak in a hint that Kaworu is not just a gay boy crushing on a teammate but, I dunno… an angel? You know, the eccentric gaijin whose behavior transcends the usual rules for plebes with added mad science Kabbalah conspiracy sparklies.”
HOFF: “Yup, that’s pretty much what I expected you’d say.”
B+S: “Waugh waugh waugh! I don’t see what the fuss is all about. I’m not going to do a right-wing bad-faith whine-fest about “keeping ess-jay-dubb-you pol-ee-tiks out of anime” because that’s a low grade cheat but c’mon. These are ANCIENT franchises. 4:3 aspect ratio video. Everyone had fleas back then, no air conditioning, barely any soap or food refrigeration. Ain’t gonna get the Sermon on the Mount from throw-away cartoon series. Whatcha want? Edward Said deconstructs Johnny Quest in a TED talk?”
HOFF: Save the TED talk; there are a few folks I follow on Twitter who just might be able to pull something like that off.
B+S: I’d rather have Fanon. Better kick-ass. Hey, just because I do landscaping doesn’t mean that I don’t read.
HOFF:”Look, there is stuff surrounding representation that we will hear about, process and think we “get” but will never “feel it in my bones.” Same for you. Shouldn’t we at least make the effort to acknowledge that it is a thing?
B+S: “Just strikes me as random, or a gratuitous versimultitude attempt. Here’s another example: Lily in Zombie Land Saga.
HOFF: “Hey! Be nice, that ep made me tear up.”
B+S “I developed a case of sniffles too but c’mon; the show was spinning its wheels because they never did anything with the shit-toxic work culture in Japan’s talento industry, except let manager-san act like a complete PIG — and show BARS all over the inside of the mansion. Why drop the sold-into-sex-slavery-as-a-girl-child Edo-era courtesan in the ensemble if you weren’t gonna use her? Lily’s story was as close as we got to karoshi but then; “second tear”. Gang-girl’s ep was OK too; otherwise wheels spinning, very little traction. As if because the production house couldn’t do fanservice with corpse-girls, or any significant yuri teasing they just started throwing random attempts at anything into…”
B+S: “What now?”
B+S: “Well exxxxxxxx-cuuuuse ME! Jeesh! You implying that transfolk and them who care about them get SO worked up about representation that they will take any kind of overt manipulative-y… “
HOFF: “Come closer, I’ll whisper it to you”
B+S: “Huhhhhh? Whaddaya mean I don’t get to make that call? I wasn’t saying I don’t like Lily! “
B+S: “I LIKE Lily! Lily saved the entire effing show! Shit! I am feeling VERY made out of dried cut grass right now.”
HOFF: “No shade at Lily?”
B+S: “No shade at Lily!”
HOFF: “Who gets to make the call if Lily is important?”
B+S: “Not me… or you… Fine, fine, got it. GOT IT.”
B+S: “(grudging tone) Because neither of us have skin in that game. Still don’t understand the anime history kerfuffle though… Guess I can’t have opinions on anything… but optimal cutting height for lawns in spring.”
HOFF: Wittgenstein time. Observe and zip it. Better, Observe, try to process and hold off for a bit before hitting enter.”
B+S: “Feels uncomfortable.”
HOFF: “Can’t hear you.”
B+S: “Fuck right off, same reasons why you won’t be anyone’s ally.”
HOFF: “Fuck You!”
B+S: “No; Fuck YOU!”
HOFF: “Well then, I guess all the fascist bas-turds win. Only one any of us disconnected monads can trust is Exalted Leader and his designated talking heads on Faux Nooz.
B+S: “I hate this shit… I’m stuck more or less trusting you”
HOFF: “D’Awwwww. Just to be clear for the folks at home, you’re not an actual 3.5HP four-stroke engine Briggs and Stratton lawn Mower, right?”
B+S: “Say for their sake that I am an aspect of you; some kind of alternate probability disassociative manga/anime fictional discursive device. Linear as fuck though. I Like to keep things simple. Gotta deal with my own shit first. A real man speaks with his well groomed lawn.”
HOFF: “I hope we don’t lose too many readers over this trick.”
B+S: Shoganai! Shit is complex. Needs must, the devil mows… “
HOFF: “It gets even more complex; for instance, WE might see Lily dying young under the pressures of being a child star; karoshi due to exploitative quasi-slavery work culture. A trans person would read the shock-fear of having puberty kick in with no HRT or blockers to stop their body steering them onto a highway that they desperately never never wanted to go anywhere near. Trans-kids have killed themselves when this, plus boneheaded parent units not supporting them came together — which thank effing gawds, Lily’s Dad didn’t overtly screw up. Sins of omission vs. sins of commission. The storytelling drops hurried hints at both readings because that’s what you do with storytelling: try to grab as much real-y-ness as you can, process it into fast takes and plaster it all over your chara’s motivations with the hope that something sticks.
…So yeah, we can go all Bernie Sanders and yell Class War but we be damned if we dismiss other folks having their own deeply personal feelings on their reads.”
B+S: “We’ll never yell Class War like Bernie, He’s been yelling since before we were born… Ok, got it already.
What happened with the Sailor Girls? “
HOFF: “The publisher clued in they goofed, issued a speedy full apology and is promising replacement corrected brochures. The actual video and audio tracks are so far reported as ok.”
B+S: “Good crisis management. That all there is to it? “
HOFF: “For slow on the uptake folks like us, the incident hammers home is how life-changing-ly important that girl couple was to a segment of the fandom that grew up with the anime and identified with those two characters. Subtext in USA & Canada might have been enough way back then – any representation was a balm – but over time the creatives responsible for the franchise had made it clear, or canon as they say in fan-speak, that them two are a couple. Plus, the rest of the show was major empowerment important for girls in general — it made a big impression; so those two having pride of place in it…”
B+S: “…And they didn’t have to fight each other to the death near a Shinto temple on the moon, which I suppose was also a big deal back then…”
HOFF: “You think “Kill off your gays” is gone?”
B+S: ” Point.”
HOFF: “So they are important and sticking them back into the closet via sloppy post-production was a BIG NO-NO.
Let’s try a better example for contrast: Midnight Occult Civil Servants /Mayonaka no Okaruto Kōmuin, a 12 ep anime that recently finished up.
Comes with two genderfluid characters; one a Central American god of chaos and the other, a coworker at the Shinjuku ward office Youkai relations office.
First time we and our newbie recruit/ main chara meet “Theo” (Seo Himetsuka) ya think: “Lab Coat Girl Chara”. Yup but nope. (Does their name mean anything in Japanese?) Gender-fluid/ X-gender science wizard of the office and before our MC discovered his gift for understanding youkai speech (ears of sand), the most adept of the crew at detecting youkai. Does not act femme. Returnee, obvious nod to Shinjuku ward “diversity”. Character visual relief, as the rest of the department are (mostly guy) Kado; The Wrong Answer clones — at times it gets hard to tell them apart. Soon to be followed by Huehuecóyotl / Old old Coyote/ Kohaku/ (Amber eyes), a casually dangerous Central American trickster god. who somehow wandered all the way to Japan and became attached to the MC’s powerful exorcist/ spirit medium ancestor, Abe no Seimei. Like many of the longer-lived youkai, the godling occasionally mistakes Arata for his ancestor.”
B+S: “I remember that one, nice light watch, not much in the way of heavy plotting. Lotsa “Let’s all get along”, punctuated by a nasty turn from a bad-guy ghostbuster from a neighboring ward office.”
HOFF: ” Kohaku is really heavily into the “Favor the newbie with grace” department, especially since the idea that humans age, die and break easily is not very high on their concern list — they often forget/ ignore the Arata/ Seimei distinction. Otherwise Coyote strikes me as a supernaturally levelled-up version of Komi-san wa, Komyushou desu‘s genderfluid hyper-sociable Najimi Osana.
B+S: ” Hmmmm… Najimi did occasionally overboard on the practical jokes… yup, Houston, we have an x-gender chara type trope.”
HOFF: “Thing I missed when the credits rolled on the last ep and I was left thinking; “Ok, Ho… HUM…”
…While those two had been thrown in for ‘Shinjuku variety” variety, so could any chara with a hook. What slipped by was how they played important parts in the story while neither of them were cranked up to burlesque levels. Theo didn’t drag out — in a pinch Theo held their own; especially since they had built all the “proton pack” mad-science-y youkai-effective stuff and had to be on point to pull pins and lob them. Meanwhile, Coyote was often popping in and about, checking up on old haunts and looking for the next matsuri — pretty much what trickster-Coyote lore usually is big on.
They just were part of the ensemble cast without being weirdly fetishized.(1)
B+S:” Good ‘un. Kohaku/ Coyote was so bishie-femme that I expected mashing followed by theatrical levels of petulance after a rejection. Didn’t happen. Clearly that kami had a soft spot for the MC and their memories of his ancestor but the ways of Gods and Shinto Onmyoji are best not turned into idle gossip.
Wow, get this; Abe no Seimei was/ is a real historical figure, as well as a popular as heck folklore legend chara [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abe_no_Seimei ] That puts our MC as the heir to 1000-plus years of exorcists, even if only hs grandfather is mentioned.
“Since 1989, Abe no Seimei has been depicted as a bishōnen.”
— Ibid., wiki/Abe_no_Seimei
HOFF: “Gets more complicated with Neon Genesis Super Giant Robot Depression Psychotic Breakdown though. Apparently, a new boy soldier pilot pops up in one of the later episodes — though he gets more face time in the manga and spin-offs — and makes a big impression on the troubled main character, Shinji. Kaworu is an eccentric outlander, so the “doesn’t care about rules” rule is in force when he puts his hand on Shinji’s hand while they are both sitting nekkid in a sento bath and tells Shinji that: “You are worthy of my grace.”
…Followed by “That means I like you”.”
B+S: “Worthy? Grace? Like? Sounds like something out of a fantasy isekai. Or a 1970’s Pretty Boy shoujo story. “
HOFF: ” The earlier subs had Kaworu saying that “You have my regard for it” A flustered Shinji goes “Regard?” and then Kaworu tells him “It means I love you”. The new “worthy of my grace” version improves on the clumsiness of the “regard” bit but then downgrades the confession to a “like”. Context is ultra-ambiguous due to plot pasta. The entire Evangelion franchise piled on shitloads of fringe christian and Kabbalah mysti-mush-mush and later retreads/ additions to the story add more heavy-handed hints that Kaworu could variously be an alien, an angel, a clone, or even a clone of an angel made by a global conspiracy of Dr Frankenstein world domination mad scientist cultists. If Kaworu is “angelic” — which is also one big gay guy/ BL cliche – Hi Patti, play Horses for us – then odd goth poetic BL mashies are the best a mere mortal boy is gonna get.”
B+S: “Or so thought the latest translator, sticking their head into the woodchipper… You ever watched it?”
HOFF: “Christ in a Gernsbeck M9E knows I’ve tried! I wasn’t able to get past ep6 in full. Skimmed through a couple more eps to 8, maybe 9 and gave up. For this, I watched the “old” version of ep24. FF through 25. There is still something about the “feel” of of entire effort that leaves me cold. Contrast to how Cowboy Bebop immediately grabs you with its story and characters. Evangelion’s emotional overload held no catharsis for me. It felt slipshod, manipulative, cynically dark and potentially harmful,
…Oh fuck, this is the wrong time and place but I need to tear that thing a new one!”
B+S: “Tear away…”
HOFF: “I don’t give a rat’s ass’s flying fuck that it forms some Omega of the Gainax giant robo-verse. Most Gainax shit turns out to be sloppy kludged-out hackery anyway. The entire Shinji’s dad, evil conspiracy Kabbalah mysticism thing can go stuff jade rocks. It was canciferous plot pasta back then and it is still cancer whenever it is trotted out as a “tribute”, as in Franxx‘s Ape council. Everything could happen because… Its a culty conspiracy! Because… the power of scienced-up mumbo jumbo mysticism! Wow! Gravity stopped and we all now shit through our ears! Mama I want to fuck you, Daddy I want to kill you! The world is completely DESTROYED!
And then fanboys screamed that anime was DEAD, because…. Girls. Yup, Shoujo. Yo! You next to that horse you rode into town on? Good!”
B+S: ” Yup, pretty obvious all around, just not really worth the powder to blow it to ifny. Kewl robot fights though… Hey, Didn’t Shinji have to kill his gay admirer at a temple on the moon, too? Needs restorative justice. Evangelion X Clean up your fucking mess; You can(yes can, no slacking) mow lawns.”
HOFF: “But because of its place in the experiences of lotsa folks, the Netflix revival thing and the associated Twitter convos are more a chance for watching real-time fan effects; maybe learn something.
…Here is part of @Frog-Kun/ Kim Morrissy’s take on the problems of localizing/ translating them lines: “
“Some English-speaking fans have criticized the Netflix translation of “downplaying” or “erasing” the homoerotic overtones in Shinji and Kaworu’s relationship, pointing to a history of queer erasure in anime localizations, such as the Cloverway dub of Sailor Moon, which infamously changed Haruka and Michiru’s relationship from lovers to cousins. They argue that by translating Kaworu and Shinji’s lines literally, the translation gives fuel for deniers to argue that no romantic attraction exists between the two characters at all. This perpetuates a culture where gay relationships are seen as “just shipping” or “fan delusions” in media barring works explicitly labelled as “queer” or “LGBT.”
Such arguments bring to mind something that the famous Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki is said to have taught his students: the ideal Japanese translation for “I love you” is “Tsuki ga tottemo aoi naa” (The moon is so blue tonight). “I love you” may be too direct for a Japanese person to say aloud, even if the intent is implicit, an idea corroborated by some of the Nijimen commentors quoted above. This suggests that perhaps English translations of Japanese texts should be more explicit in regards to statements of romantic affection, depending on context.””
“Japanese Fans, Official Translator Weigh in on Netflix Evangelion English Subtitle Debate” by Kim Morrissy. Anime News Network, posted on 2019-06-27 13:45 EDT
Also; here’s a very readable essay-length take on the bigger subject, that (wow!) includes Sailor Moon and Eva Shinji-Kaworu:
“Queer Representation in Anime” by Nicholas Bennett. The Artifice (com), July 17, 2018. https://the-artifice.com/anime-queer-representation/
B+S: “By your schema, It doesn’t matter if the author and production crew tossed in a gay boy confession for shock value, as resonance towards some personal life experience, as fujoshi bait or even as a nod towards the legitimacy of same-sex affection. Or all of the above. Or how much they wanted to tart it up and/or subtext it.
It only matters that them viewers who felt moved by Kaworu’s act and Shinji’s shock — and it was a positive shock that someone else might actually think human of him, because Shinji is such a mess by this point that it is a wonder he can crawl to the shitter, let alone climb into his nightmare fucking robot. Also, looks like you have to update that mega four parter post of yours about NO HUGGIES FOR STRAIGHT JAPANESE COUPLES so as to lay the blame at the feet of Great Japanese Author Soseki.
…And yeah, Genshiken Nidaime near the end with Sue on the phone. Big literary reference, even if a mouldy chestnut.”
HOFF: “Ok, we are getting closer to framing things. It is something like one of those Twitter pop ethics things where you have some “activist” being goaded to debate a net-nazi about completely someone else’s right to exist. Only “ethical” move is to lay shit on for the trolling, call out the debate as a vicious ploy and lob a few well-documented milkshakes…
B+S: Bhut fiction! What use is all my privilege if I can’t whomp up a storybook Abraham Lincoln or two, sprinkle in some charas who were minding their own business, shake well and make notes as everyone gets bruised?
KIRK: What did you offer the others if they won?
ROCK: What they wanted most. Power.
KIRK: You offered me the lives of my crew.
ROCK: I perceive you have won their lives.
KIRK: How many others have you done this to? What gives you the right to hand out life and death?
ROCK: The same right that brought you here. The need to know new things.
KIRK: We came in peace.
ROCK: And you may go in peace.
HOFF: “Mr. Spock, add to the report a rec that the Federation use this planet as a high level toxic waste dump. Helm, get us the fuck outta here“
B+S: “Rock creature screaming “Debate Me!” into the void. Best stick with milkshakes as a gift from the angels. Warm, white, sticky vanilla milkshakes.”
HOFF: “It doesn’t matter what the original motives of the writers way back then were. Part of me wonders if the creatives weren’t cynically tossing some old fashioned 1990’s homo panic into the psychological breakdown stew pot. You have access to my core memories; remember that time a thousand years ago when sports dude from University called up drunk, six months after we graduated, in utter shock because… “
B+S: “Do we REALLY want to share dusty personal anecdotes here? Why not just say that long-ago times’ homo panic was really serious. The gay person, usually a guy, could easily end up severely beaten on, even dead, the straight guy acted like they had been de-manned and were immediately imperilled by a range of violent phobic fantasies. Shit was really vicious and stupid back then. Unlike, urrr, whatever…
… Anyway, How defuk did we ever get the rep for running an advice column? We was the Uni newspaper darkroom monk. Talked him down well enough. All over some bullshit “do I come across as gay?” Come across as? Does free-climbing make you look gay? Could have handed that idiot a big rusty sword and enlisted him in Commander Vimes’ Night Watch — he’d have had a hawt werewolf girlfriend in two hours. Or a boyfriend if he wanted. He could have had a pan-amorous harem if he wanted…”
HOFF: “Yeah.. the next uni posting was even weirder. Show ANY emotional clue-full-ness, even a 3.5HP variant and half the idiots, including the wimmin-folk at the midwest Amurrican grad seminar thought I was hanging out with communist hippies and screwing everyone from underage girls through old men to farm animals. I thought they were all mad as hatters, including… Her.
B+S: “TMI. Keep this up and we’re going to have to start drinking heavily.”
HOFF: “There goes the alternate probability line where I was a tall, slim, deadly eurotrash-villain crossdressing assassin for hire.(2) Mirablue! Maybe I was seen at one of them Friday midnight Rocky Horror Show screenings with my lady friend. She wore the evening gown though, I was in a surplus tux. Sheeeeeeet! Misspent youth in the American midwest… We didn’t even throw rice…”
B+S: “BZZZZZTTTT! That’s what you get for going to a Rocky Horror Show in prehistoric mid-America.”
HOFF: “Was either that or another dose of Harold and Maude.”
B+S: “DRINK TIME!”
HOFF: “Fuck, right! Neon Genesis Psychosis Field. Just moi, btw… No shade on those who for their own deeply personal reasons, find NGE poignant and deeply moving.”
B+S: “Lawns! Must cut lawns, lawns, lawns…“
HOFF: “To bring things back to a useful level of discussion, a majority/ cisgendered-heterosexual gaze can ignore characters and situations that show or suggest minority desire and/ or gender expressions. We can fetishize them or take them for versimultitude and scenery boosts. Our sense of self doesn’t get denied by their absence or assaulted by ridiculous, insulting misrepresentations. Neither are such moments of recognition for us so scarce, so rare that any reflection, no matter how distorted or fleeting means something to our feelings of who we are and how we fit in the world. I can write these words but I won’t ever feel the feels. When I look at my patch of the world my frame of reference looks back at me. I could use the term “privilege” and it is — but this again centers the subjectivity/ viewpoint on me and mine. The complexity of what “the other” feels remains in shadows.
Likewise, a much later Haruka and Michiru as a happily married couple (and I have no idea of how Sailor Moon verse lore treats them) would ultimately be a convenience to me, as it requires only a minor adjustment to my existing lazy cis-het-normed mental categories. Edit Married_Couple.def. Save.
B+S: “That’s some final argument against haters: “looks like work to me.” Sure a bit of “girl weddings are way kewl” didn’t slip in there too?
HOFF: “Could be… Rabbit… While we are at it, GOOD TWITTER THING: Some of the more inventive Twitteratti saw the “You are worthy of my grace, That means I liek you” screen caps decided to go all meme generator on them and drop chunky black bordered yellow subtitles to that effect into every ancient subtexty same-sex clench/ soulful gaze/ grope scene they could pull out of their save folders. It was glorious. (Unfortunately the thread originator got a hater-pile-on ban again, so couldn’t snag a selection for this post.. -sniff- )
So now ist fanon: “worthy of my grace” soon to be up there with the “I love you body and soul for the rest of my life, even after the fire takes my body, my soul will yadda yadda yadda” 1970’s Bishie love vow. Very queer-inscribed. though Hella No Way would I object if my sweetie…
B+S: ” T! M! I!
B+S: “Jeesh… My turn:”
Might not my love — although the curving blade
From whose wide mowing none may hope to hide,
Me long ago below the frosts had laid —
Restore you somewhat to your former pride?
Indeed I think this memory, even then,
Must raise you high among the run of men.
HOFF: “D’Awwwww! Mowing! And so the range of available-to-all romantic cheese expands by a few more words. Profit!
…Hey Lookie what I made for Spotted Flower’s HatoMada. I think it is cute:”
B+S: “Fringe appeal, for Genshiken-verse nerds only.”
HOFF: “We should do a podcast next…”
(1) I had high hopes for Komi-san wa, Komyushou desu because x-gender Najimi Osana wasn’t cranked to weird levels but then the author took a school-girl same-sex crush and cranked Ren Yamai up to psycho lesbian stalker kidnapper levels. She also saves Komi-san’s hair and licks it. See my earlier post on the series:
(2) Crossdresser, as one correspondent reported their initial impression of me, to me, after skimming my blog. Also non-binary. So much for disclaimers. I think their take was all kinds of sweet and a compliment, considering that in earlier years best I could manage was a passable Riff Raff for Halloween parties… Dat Tux…