Worthy of Grace

“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…”

HOFF:

B+S: “What now?”

HOFF:

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:

B+S: “Uurrrrrrr…”

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! “

HOFF:

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.”

HOFF: “whyyyyyyyy?

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: “Whyyyyyyyyyyy?”

B+S: (mumble)

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 
https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2019-06-27/japanese-fans-official-translator-weigh-in-on-netflix-evangelion-english-subtitle-debate/.148305

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! 

HOFF: “whuttt?”

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…”

B+S

HOFF: “Whaaaaaaaat?”

B+S

 

ENDNOTES:

(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: 
https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2018/01/24/komi-san-and-everybodys-crossdressing-best-friend/

(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…

 

Attack of the Love Dalek schmex fail

Incredibly drawn out ruminations and highly subjective digressions over manga naughty bits below the cut. How can it be boring if it is about sex and pr0n?

.

“I’ll save you the trouble of reading the full list but it generally boiled down to “rub her clitoris while kissing her and touching her breasts,” to the point where I was saying this phrase like a robot, but whenever I try to channel a robot, I sound like a Dalek. I encourage you to imagine this.”

–Pumpkin Spice Sex Tips from Hell, by LM, The Lobster Dance 2015/10/23 (blog)
http://odorunara.com/2015/10/23/feminist-halloween-day-23-sexy-pumpkin-spice/

THANK YOU! I did, I feel vaguely uneasy, but curiously interested. It opened a whole new world for me. Whenever I feel stick-in-the-mud I go read some of the posts at The Lobster Dance.

Un refresco san egal!

“Exterminnnnnn.. No! Wai-ait!”

Continue reading

Porn, linux distros and cat pictures

I may have made a small mistake.

something is wrong here

A while back, I regged up an account for myself on Academia.edu. It is a good place to find academic papers, excerpts and pdf reprints of some of the theoretical writings surrounding Japanese popular culture. You need to be registered to download these as pdfs.

Perhaps I spent too much of my life in University. I have two master’s degrees, a whatever BA, plus an honors undergraduate degree in Fine Arts; the infamous BFA. As there used to be no PhD in the Fine Arts, this counted for something. Also, I have very little artistic talent in the conventional sense, so I often feel that the BFA is my “best” degree. And yes, the few solo shows that I have had have been well received. I cheat; I think things out then work hard at it.

As an academic, I am probably a wash-out. I am sloppy, hate academic rigor and find too much of what goes on within the walls of academe boring and pointless. Big fan of University clubs though; they were fun.

So occasionally I will review and/or incorporate a sloppy review of an academic paper that I find important when I “go on about something“. When I feel really bored, I might indulge in sophomoric exercises, such as seeing how the second part of the Genshiken rates on the Bechdel Test. One evening, I decided to post a list of all the search terms that wordpress.com captured, from search engines queries used to find my blog. The I uploaded a pdf of the post to Academia.edu

Porn, linux distros and cat pictures; not even.

This blog gets a modest 30-50 visits a day. I am guessing that perhaps %5 – %20 of theses visitors are here to read odd little essays that go on and on about manga, anime and the like. The rest must be disappointed, or at least puzzled:

Where iz de hawt steamy pr0ns?

I should just delete that post and the pdf version of it on Academia.edu. All the traffic just goes to show that the long-in-the-tooth, circa 1996 page view boosting trick of hiding search words in a transparent frame behind your page’s main text still can work, especially if you are running a p0rn site. But I won’t delete them. Not yet. I want to see what happens next. Welcome to my latest conceptual art piece, and yes, since I have the ticket, it is as “real” as any other work of conceptual art.

Note my finely honed hipster irony.

As well, the fandom that Kio Shimoku tells stories about is marked by the curious fact that their weird little stories are chock full o’ schmex. The adult content is part and parcel of how the stories pose questions of identity and behaviour. They map the shape of their readers’ hearts.

No schmex, no force that through the green fuse drives the flower.

In a similarly curious way, both dumps of “raw data” listing the search terms, plus the way these terms attract further searches, prove the point, while begging further questions. Neverending earthly desires. The page-view stats are flattering. Maybe some of them really are here for the posts? Nice to be fancied. Top %1.

Team Muda blasts off at the speed of light!

I would like to thank the Academy.

 

PS: For those of you who feel that I have wasted your time with this post, here is something -neat!- found in a pile noted by Dr. Ogiue Maniax.

 

 

A bit later: Since I am dropping videos into my posts for no reason, here’s a magnificent ear-worm that just drifted into view:

(And for those of you unfamiliar with the original, you will not find anything close to this tune or song or even the complete linear dialogue that makes up the song within the Monogatari animes. The entire arrangement of the music, clipping the dialogue to build the vocals, autotuning and beat matching, cutting the video clips, all of it, is a magnificently hacked fan production!)

Enjoy!

Teenage wasteland

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

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

I stutterd Genshiken_v10_035wb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets take a closer look:

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

deco bunk bed NiseMon e4web

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

isanely large bath web

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

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

uH7EeqI

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

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

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

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

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

monogatari-8-17 (1)

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

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Be careful what you wish for!

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

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

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

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

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

dont wake me like that web

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

monogatari-8-19-koyomi-mayoi

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

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 Just ignore all the loli pantsu stuff…

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

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

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

Cold Equations:

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

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

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

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

You also get donuts!

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

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

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

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

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

Female trouble:

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

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

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

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

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

Humph!

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

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

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

spooky hei close

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

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

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

Hanamonogatari-Screenshot-246

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

So Monogatari(s) for the win…

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

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

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

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

University empty

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

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

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

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

Nawwwww, that probably wouldn’t work.

Random Endnotes:

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

One fan’s listing of the anime so far:

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

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

For Science! Genshiken II Bechdel Test

New Years Day: it is cold and snowing outside. A ton of stuff to do to get my life in order and lots of stuff from work piled up. I have also temporarily run out of any use-able insights about the Genshiken to grind away at. Haven’t found any interesting new theory bits lately either – it’s all pretty much same old same old. There was some interesting stuff that I ran into six months ago and never worked on, but lately I have no attention span whatsoever. Fortunately, my long and varied academic career provides a solution for a total lack of inspiration or insight: quantitative research!

Let’s count things and get surprised at what we find!

Counting things feels very scientific; it is chock-full of truthiness, even if you can fudge the criteria of your count clear through to next Tuesday. The myth of objectivity and all that: see – we burn some ritual incense in front of our biases and then wade in! That feels scientific too! But counting things is boring unless you find something interesting to count…

This actually turned out pretty well.

Quant Suff !!!

In earlier posts, I have nattered on about the seemingly contradictory nature of the current Genshiken: A libidinised female-majority space, created by a male mangaka who is striving to avoid overt harem and yuri tropes, while not losing the male audience he built up during the initial run of the series. To that was added too much “why Hato”, and the uses of his character in camoflaging the weird female social that had been created. But a problem persists:

Without Hato (and to a lesser extent, cosplay and the seniors), the Genshiken would be a bunch of rotten girls fanning out over BL. Not very interesting to the original mostly male readership and full of danger that any new female fujoshi readership would dismiss the effort as clumsy and inauthentic. I have hunted the opinions of real-life trans-folk and fudanshis about Genshiken, even going as far as to solicit guest columns. (Hellllooooo! Guess real life intervenes.. Presumptuous of me, neh?) What I am missing is the testimony of real-life in-japan fujoshis as to whether the Genshiken has any ring of truthiness to it, and if it makes glaring errors: where?

Fortunately Erica-sensei’s Okazu blog comes to the rescue again:  I am a fan, and not just for the review content, but for the method. The method is awe-inspiring, passionate and relentless. Erica Friedman has been nudging the yuri canon as received in the west for a decade now, and some of the hard work of this nudging appears to have paid off. Perhaps the changes would have come about in any case, and some grumblers are jealous that she occasionally sticks her brand on a few bits and pieces of the project. Hah! Let them pick up a shovel and shift coal for a few years…

All of which is slowly circling around her occasional mention(s) of the Bechdel Test [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test] and her own Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test [http://okazu.yuricon.com/glossary/ ]

Never underestimate heuristics.

The Bechdel Test is simply:

(that a narrative fiction, film, etc)
has to have at least two women in it,
who talk to each other,
about something besides a man.

See also http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheBechdelTest?from=Main.TheBechdelTest

Also:

The Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test:

Does the female character have agency?
Does she have society?
Does she have personality?
Is she merely a female-shaped male hero doing male hero things while being female?

Well, that sounds pretty simple doesn’t it. Hah! Once you start looking at your fave manga, comics, movies and novels through these corrective lenses, you get a big surprise – especially if you are a guy. Could it be that I am being pandered to? It’s always about me guys! This is either reassuring or very creepy. After all we guys aren’t being fed a %99.99 guy oriented point-of-view because the patriarchy “leiks” us. It wants our money and much, much more, thank you. None dare call it conspiracy(!) mind control(!) the Military-Industrial Complex (!)  the MIB(!)  Just that nasty ole debbil society again – but it can change!

In Sweden, some folks have taken to adding the Bechdel test to riajuu movie rating systems.

For women, the test immediately quantifies a long-standing really, really, really annoying bit of society. Us guys should pay better attention. We might learn something.

Even She-Who-Up-With-Me-Puts will occasionally lay it on the table for me, as when I insisted on screening Ice Station Zebra for her, as ironic cultural artifact:

A MANLY adventure!

“This is BORING! There are no women in this movie at all!
Oh wait, there was the bar-girl at the club.
Hmmph!!!”

Until she mentioned it, someone dense hadn’t really noticed… Duh!

Ok.. who reading this just remembered a bit of the overdone musical theme?
Are you male? Female? Just wunnering…

So when Erica-sensei mentioned these tests when recommending Bodacious Space Pirates, small wooden gears again started trying to turn. (see also: http://www.tanianavarroswain.com.br/labrys/labrys23/culturepop/erica.htm ) Then in her year-end open form Q/A post, where a few folks tried to steer the discussion into yaoi territory (compare/ contrast with yuri) – a place that Erica Friedman takes great pains neither to dismiss or to visit – the gears finally started moving.

Ker-Thunk!

I’d do the “Audry Lemon” quote here again, about a genre of women’s erotic narrative that contains no women, but it is getting stale. Okazu’s proprietor knows the question well: her reply is in many ways the most ambitious of all.

Make no small plans for they will not stir…

Back to Genshiken II as women’s space, How’s that working out?

n=41 chapters, (54 through 94).

ch54 almost; but then shifts to attracting guy members. Perhaps Yabu/ Ogiue on the phone?

ch55 fail
ch56 fail: all Hato, changing etc..
ch57 fail: That’s a crime Hato meeting
ch58 almost: The leaflet discussion.. Hato-as-male not an issue, but then Hato’s smooth legs…  Phht!

ch59 almost:  Keiko, then Ogiue and Ohno on Ogiue’s debut (but then she gets a call from her editor and calls Sas)

ch60 fail
ch61 almost: Yabu is not yet in on Hato-ness, but nope for the rest of the chapter..

ch62 almost: Angela and Ohno, the rest fails due to Hato stubble, then perhaps when they all cosplay and Yabu shows up.

ch63 PASS, Multiple groups
ch64 almost: Nakajima’s boy trouble “and tried to kill herself like last time…”
ch65 fail
ch66 fail: Nuthin but sou-uke!
ch67 almost: Hato is in chan mode, but shipping Mada takes over
ch68 fail
ch69 fail: Could have during the first bits, but then her Coach and then its all Hato and smooth!

ch70 PASS: for the Ronin discussing comiket. Yajima + Rika have a panel. Ogiue discussing comiket in the club room always refers to Hato as kun, but he is not the subject of the discussion.

ch71 almost:  Hato-chan’s drawing skills for the pamphlet.
ch72 fail
ch73 fail: past romance not
ch74 almost: if you pass Hato present, but not the subject, but then the stuco romeo boys intrude.

ch75 fail
ch76 fail
ch77 fail: all about Hato crossdressing
ch78 fail
ch79 fail
ch80 fail
ch81 fail
ch82 fail: Kind of sad as Hato-chan desperately wanted an “us girl’s” moment.
ch83 almost: A few moments when Ohno is not discussing Tanaka as her future.

ch84 fail
ch85 fail
ch86 fail: Even if we take Hato-chan as female persona the subject is Mada.
ch87 almost; Hato is there as -kun, but the female majority discuss drawing, but then whether he can…

sirens 88 15
ch88 PASS! Ogiue and crew busy at the comiket booth..
ch89 fail
ch90 fail
ch91 fail
ch92 fail: Lots of girl talk, but it is mock competition over Madarame
ch93 fail
ch94 fail

PASS chapters= 3/41 (%7.3)

Almost” chapters  = 11/41 (%26.8). Almost not because of Hato being present as -chan or -kun, or BL being the subject, but because the conversation drags out long enough for male-as-subject to sneak in. If one weighs the “almost” chapters at 1/3 pass, add another %8.9 to the total, for a grand total of %16.2

Well that was a fun excuse to re-read the last 41 chapters!

If the scoring sounds a bit persnicketty, remember that the Bechdel test sets the bar insanely low, even if many mainstream pop narratives still fail it. Genshiken as a manga about a fujoshi social still only has female-centric dialog approximately 1/6th of the time, if one passes “pure” BL subject matter as female-centric conversation; Tiger x Bunny is a pass, Hato x Madarame is a fail.

Hold the presses! Per correspondence with the proprietor of the Ogiue Maniax site (see comments) the conversation between Rika and Risa that mentions Risa’s coach at the beginning of chapter 69 is a PASS, as the original Japanese does not specify the gender of her coach. That makes it a full Bechdel conversation, so the revised stats are: PASS 4/41 = %9.76, “almost chapters remain at 11/41 (%26.8), weighted at 1/3 = %8.93 for a combined score of %18.69 or almost 1/5th solid female-centric dialogue.

Notable too is that in clear PASS chapters, the females of the Genshiken are busy doing productive fan-work within their interests. The most clear-cut times being when they are selling dojins at Comiket. One would think the level would be higher. From the point of simple plot mechanics, it is hard for a male mangaka to screw up the authenticity of female conversation at a busy comiket sales table.

Bechdel_test_origin

A character in Dykes to Watch Out For explains the rules that later came to be known as the Bechdel test (1985, per wikipedia)

When you think really, really hard about it, lots of V1/ exploitative hawt secks style yuri – which should avoid dropping males into any discussion lest the PWP spell be broken – has the females dropping “boyfriend/ guy” stuff into the conversation as a tease and a sop to the male reader. We won’t even go into the strongly implied male gaze of the overdone tangled secks scenes. From the point of view of getting a different point of view, does one have to go to v2 story A- or- beyond yuri, to “listen in” on a purported female-centric conversation in a manga narrative? Or is it time for a re-appraisal of K-on or Josiraku?  (…even as these and their like are heavily contrived artifacts, and pure loli-bait).

There is a shortage of girl talk in the girl talk.

The Bechdel test and variants serve as effective, albeit blunt instruments to highlight this. I really should check out Bodacious Space Pirates. I need a faster internet connection for Crunchyroll!

The Russo test

Lest someone complain that Hato as trans- and fudanshi character skews the sample (which is my main argument – he is there to serve as a way to avoid female in-group conversation that can be written wrong), there is also the Russo test:

“In 2013, the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media organization GLAAD introduced the “Vito Russo Test”, intended to analyze the representation of LGBT characters in films. Inspired by the Bechdel test and named after film historian Vito Russo, it encompasses three criteria:

The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
The character must [not] be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test‎

The Genshiken pretty well fails that one too. More work on Hato’s passion for drawing would fix that, but for now his otome-yaku schtick and his wandering desires are serving as the numero uno source of plot fuel. He is in effect two liminal (or poorly constructed – you chose) LGBTQ characters in one, both uncomfortable with their leanings. He needs to be more something. Contrast to Sue’s “hidden powers”. If Hato wasn’t so “liminal” the Bechdel test scores would be higher as well – he keeps dropping in and out of male subject-hood.

At least Genshiken II has a pass rate. It is not Ice Station Zebra, or even Fujimura-kun Meitsu or Boku Wa Tomodachi (et al.)

The Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test and The Lucy Test:

“What’s the point of passing the Bechdel Test if you fail the Lucy Test?* (*Your female characters have the acumen of Lucy Ricardo.)
-anon

The Friedman Addendum is less of a blunt instrument than the Lucy test:

Does the female character have agency?

No guy is telling them what to do, and they are making a better go of club activities than the boys did. When Mada starts hanging out again, he gets warned that the fujoshi talk will not stop. Kuchiki is kept in line. Spying sessions from the window across the courtyard are initiated in continuation of a longstanding tradition. They are a bit weak-kneed before the stuco boys – but that’s more of a Hato issue and they are doing their part to protect his privacy. I would be hard-pressed to find a current Genshiken female character, even a peripheral one, that does not have agency. The whole plot of the new Genshiken insists that they must.

Does she have society?

This is a manga about a University club: but now that the women have taken it over their social is far more productive and at least as supportive as the previous male version and is written so as to make a point of being far superior to a number of non-supportive and non-productive socials that various members had previously experienced. (Ogiue and Hato’s high school social circles, the University Manken) It is worth noting that some of these earlier non-supportive and non-producing socials were female-centered as well, so an essentialized generalization is not being advanced. The Genshiken members hang out, fan out, do social things and get things done. The alumni -both male and female also drop by and occasionally participate, which gives the club substance and a strong sense of continuity.

Does she have personality?

The Genshiken women are not cookie-cutter rotten girls; each has their own approach to their enthusiasms, as well as their own personalities and these have been given a chance to unfold in the course of the narrative.

circle of weird v10_032web

…But no weirder than anyone in the previous male version.

If anything they are almost all obsessively level-headed about the concerns surrounding their enthusiasms. Ohno occasionally comes off a tad ditzy, but her heart- of- gold- people- skills more than make up for her moments of self-doubt and cosplay fangirling. When it comes to cosplay, she is an undisputed enthusiast, logistics expert and organizer par excellence, as well as the past president of the club. Ogiue gets downright grim when one mentions “responsibilities” and will work herself close to karoshi to fulfill them, but she went through all manner of personal turmoil before she came to terms with herself, her talent and her enthusiasms. This is the most likely reason why Sue has such a severe case of hero-worship for her – Ogiue as written as an exemplary fujoshi and aspiring mangaka character. Yajima tries to maintain a dour level-headedness – she has known too much disappointment and her fan interests are her safe space. Her apparent initial trans-phobia is a setup for her awakening feelings towards Hato-kun; her shock comes from the uncomfortable realization that she is experiencing something she long thought out of her league – 3D desire. She also went all red-faced over Risa as-kun for a few moments as well. The levels go deeper than just “want boy”. Rika sometimes appears irresponsible; she is not uncomfortable around males, but prefers the fujoshi social, and enjoys prodding it for entertainment and to move things along.

Sue started off as a comic relief secondary character and has undergone significant “promotion” as her language skills have improved. The mangaka has also given her hidden martial arts interests, friendship with the other characters and people outside the Genshiken social, concern for them, a recent bout of shyness and the aformentioned hero worship. The habit of the mangaka of playing out that hero worship as a wink-wink-nudge-nudge unrequited girl-crush on Ogiue is a bit cheesy, but Ogiue has called her on it. No one seems to be catching her running trope reversal gag of the rather flat-chested gaijin girl squeezing well-endowed Japanese women’s breasts at hot springs, etc. That’s about as much fanservice as one can find in the Genshiken.

Sleepless... Awaiting daybreak...

The only “thin” semi-regular character is Angela, the carnivorous, athletic, busty gaijin girl set on an adventure with Madarame. At first glance she is the sexually active blond foreign woman – an annoying manga/ anime trope (especially to real-life blond western women in Japan!) But Kio Shimoko has given her character a bit of depth in that she thinks through her “campaign”, and that it appears to be part of a larger habit of her treating he pilgrimages to Japan as extended convention forays in toto. I suspect she is a lift from Dramacon, which saw a translated release as a cell-phone manga in Japan. And she really seemed to enjoy the friendly women’s competition after the shenanigans at comiket wrapped up. It wold be hard to characterize that as a “cat-fight”, even if its main purpose was to give Keiko some character development time and let Sue showcase her hidden super powers (and repeatedly disavow any interest in Mada). I don’t think for an instant that Angela was going to follow through on her threat that Madarame should surrender to a polymorphous-ly perverse tangle with Sue, Hato and herself. She has a nasty sense of humour, and knows how to play to (and scare) her audience.

In terms of simple character design alone, other bloggers have noted that the female characters have a range of body types that go beyond stock fanservice-y manga cliches. One was quite impressed by Rika’s younger sister Risa’s athletic appearance. Yajima is a sympathetically drawn heavyset young woman. Only some of the most peripheral characters are generically drawn. The fujoshi females are not drawn as repulsive stereotypes. Kio Shimoku’s chara design is well folded in with the personalities of the characters, while avoiding too many obvious tropes. At minimum the effort makes the large cast easy to tell apart, Note also that the most classic manga beauty of the bunch is a cross-dressing male (and an analogue to the fearsome Kaminaga).

Is she merely a female-shaped male hero doing male hero things while being female?

Finally, as fujoshi they are not direct transpositions from male otaku-dom. The Genshiken females  come to their rotten girl enthusiasms by way of a variety of sub-genre interests. Ok, that’s a kuragehime trick as well, but it still works. The bonus occasionally alluded to by Kio Shimoku is how these directly reference the larger influence that Japanese female fandom, especially fujoshi and proto-fujoshi fendom have had upon the whole of Japanese visual culture, its fandoms, and its numerous sub-groupings.

A small digression: 

A deep study of Japanese otaku practice since the mid-1970’s would leave any honest researcher with the strong impression that many of the “pillars” of current male otaku practice derive from, or at least have developed with the substantial help of female fan practice. Start with early dojin production and those cranky mimeograph screens (must finish that long-promised essay) add Comiket, the development of elaborate chara typologies, and finally consider the practice of “goggled/ parodic/ ironic reading” which leads to genre slip, active re-reading, secondary production and a widening of the absolute range of available genres. And while we are at it, but peripheral to the Genshiken and its characters, there is no way that the cell-phone novel can be considered a male otaku innovation.

The acumen of Lucy Ricardo

“Lucy in the chocolate factory, her cheeks stuffed wide… Shaka when the walls fell…”  -Oscar Wilde

It seems that most of the slapstick in the Genshiken is left for the males. (note the Lucy rule should not be taken as a disparagement of the woman who created her, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Ball)  Kuchiki is stuck in this role, Madarame, as goat gets buffeted about a bit, and even Hato,  -chan or otherwise lacks agency beyond his desire to be part of the fujoshi circle at any cost.  Madarame eschews agency; though he can deploy a high level of understanding and acceptance and even some degree of sempai-authority when the situation calls for it. However both Hato and Madarame will go into self-sabotaging fugue states when flustered in social situations. Only Tanaka and Kousaka are at ease with themselves and their lives and of course they are both in stable relationships with able and independent women.

To the extent that any of the Genshiken characters, male or female are inept, such faults manifest mostly in the field of real-life relationships – which is another main point of the Genshiken. All characters who are not paired up suffer from some degree of virgin-angst (there must be a good german term for this condition!). The try- to- figure- out- the- relationship-y stuff is ritually balanced with slice-of-life activities that celebrate the strength of the Genshiken social. Lately it has been getting a bit unbalanced. If the characters were all drawn prettier and with bigger eyes the Genshiken would  become an oddball form of shoujo manga. (Must drop a query over at Rachel Matt Thorn’s blog!). It hasn’t quite, yet…

Would it bust Kio Shimoku’s nuts to give us just one full-on chara page with a floral background? In full tongue-in-cheek mode? I mean, star-bursty eyes are all fine and good, but some fans are craving more!

Later: Ok, there was 1/4 page wayyyyyyy back when… The incomparable Katou in ch49… -squeeeee!!!-

Back to Erica Friedman: While she goes out of her way to avoid any fujoshi/ slash fen vs. yuri fen/ fans conflicts in her blog, she occasionally offers insights on the relative popularity of the two genres. Some of her observations are fascinating:

“Josh wants to know: Do you find Yaoi being more popular than Yuri a hindrance to creating a stable Yuri market in the states?

E: What an interesting question! On the face of it, it seems like there ought to be a correlation between these two genres, but really…there isn’t.

When manga was first brought over to the west, one of the reasons it became so almost instantly successful was that it tapped into a previously under-served market – female comic readers. And of those readers, while some of them might like romance and/or sex between women, more prefer romance/sex between straight couples or between guys. (If this seems confusing to you, ask a few of your straight male friends which they like best – straight porn, lesbian porn or gay male porn. Chances are a lot of straight guys are going to feel uncomfortable with the idea of watch[ing] gay guy porn – especially if those guys you’re asking are sexually immature. It’s the same for some women.)

Because of the double standards around porn – and the double standards around women’s interests in general – it was easier for women to talk about an interest in BL than it is for men to discuss an interest in Yuri…”  – http://okazu.yuricon.com/2013/08/25/now-this-is-only-my-opinion-2013-edition/

There is more in the rest of the thread. I am trying to avoid massive block-quoting (after I went overboard a few posts back, over-analyzing one of her reviews), so please visit and enjoy the source. Of note in later questions would be the hint of a perceived difference between (some) Western slash-fen and Japanese fujoshi assurance and agency. More field research is indicated…

The crew at the Genshiken are sexually immature, but the maturity scripts for Japanese girls (and guys) are a bit strained of late. The thing about escapism is that sometimes you really need to escape. I still think there is a vast and telling difference between the Japanese women’s BL/ yaoi communities and western slash practices but perhaps I have read too much shoddy social research (and my residual, socially learned discomfort keeps me from primary reasearch). At least current trends toward genre expansion, fusion and “slip” are positive. A bit of social responsibility is reportedly creeping in as well. After all, there is no intrinsic reason why cheesy story A yuri narratives, contemporary lesbian narratives, gay narratives, trans narratives, straight- women- imagined BL creature narratives,  even furry or alien populated narratives and narratives with cartoon magical ponies (do I venture too far?) cannot speak to all of humanity about friendship, desire, romance and the varieties of warm fuzzies available to the human condition. Any limitations lie in the past history of the conventions of these narratives, and in our societal structures, and between our ears. I am nowhere near this enlightened state, but the ideal is worth the declaration.

And now I fear I am getting all R.A. Heinlein -ish

Hmmmm… How much of the R.A.Heinlein catalog can pass a Bechdel test? There must be something in Podkayne…

Further query: Are there any longstanding Japanese canon-nudging review blogs for the yuri genre and/or the yaoi/BL genre in Japan? Can any shift in either genre track with their avowed direction? We have academic writing on both genres, but its effect pales before sustained fan interaction. Or do the traditional patterns of in-the-pocket-of-the-producers review coverage and strict copyright rules in Japan mitigate against such an approach? See http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2010/03/01/interview-with-an-ex-visual-kei-record-executive/ for how a fan-verse that incorporates female “slash” desire is stoked by an efficient, exploitative and corrupt system. Some of Nele Noppe‘s recent work touches on this – but that was six months ago and I got distracted…

This all sounds very social-science-y, so normally I could go for a wrap here, but I will drag it out a bit more, because teasing useful bits out of this stuff is why I even bother with this blog.

Genshiken II, for all its limitations tries to present an empowered female social, and one where the male(s) must confront and accommodate female-centric enthusiasms. Even if it is written by a guy, with plenty of plot tricks to reduce the shock for guys (and riajuu girls), sneak past authenticity traps and maintain interest from its earlier, mostly male readers, it does not hide or dismiss the social fact of real 3D fujoshi enthusiasms within contemporary Japanese culture. It treats them no better or worse than male otaku interests. Fujoshi stuff exists! Don’t freak out, its a hobby…

The popularity of the Genshiken for western fans (the Nidaime anime may have squandered a bit of this capital) also rests on a light Cook’s Tour of these slash-like enthusiasms, continuing from the previous tour of otaku enthusiasms. No male fan who has read the Genshiken will be surprised at the odd Kirk/ Spock/ Uhura moments in Star Trek – Into Darkness. We might roll their eyes, but we now know why it is there, and who is getting their fanservice. As women have been putting up with guys’ fanservice for an eternity this new thing is more than “turnabout is fair play”. The rotten girls (and all the other previously muted or silenced voices who can now write their desires and their lives) do it slightly differently and as such expand the range and sophistication of expression for all of us.

…And so advance the project of civilization.

Happy 2014 and many thanks for dropping by and reading!

This blog will soon be on hiatus until March, as Kamakura still has a few more kiridoshi that I have yet to hike with the one I love. And then there is the little coffee shop a few blocks over from the main Enoden station in Enoshima, beaches that aren’t really too cold for January walks, plenty of healthy, yummy food!, Uniqlo / Muji raids, and temple fairs/ recycle shops. I must not buy 90lbs of used kimonos, obsolete cell phones, maneki-neko figurines and antique ceramic sake jugs this time! No Genshiken plastic action figures either! (that one almost won me free accommodation in a cardboard box under an overpass – can you say “enemy of all woman-kind”?) Time to ease off on the otaku stuff: reality is reality, and with a bit of dumb luck, it is wonderful!

Playing Hookey!

…I know where Makoto Shinkai spent one golden week vacation…

 

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.

Assimilating Our Culture, That’s What They’re Doing!

I am still reading Azuma’s Otaku and I think it is time for a sharp corrective, or at least a counter-view: If we dispense with the grand narrative vs. petit recits cant, and the legends of the fall of post-war Japan and take the view that appropriation and misreading are central to the consumption and exchange of texts in modernism, then we can see otaku culture in a less damming light.

We can also make sense of the way “Japanese visual culture” romps through euroethnic cultural and religious mythologies with such spirited abandon, and steals anything not nailed down.

Shrine Maidens with witches brooms? WTF not! Why not throw in a few mini-skirted nuns locked in battle with vampires, while Jesus and Buddha try to find a decent veggie pizza in Tokyo ???? This kind of fun has been going on since Lucian and Rabelais – and the gatekeepers hated them too! (Ya didn’t think the Villon quote was all HST did you.. I’ve read Villon, and Pantagruel, and Lucian’s philosopher slave market, and…)

Adrian Piper’s
“The Logic of Modernism,” Flash Art January-February, 1993

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