X days #10: Too many Bodhisattvas

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

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

If anything it intensifies.

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

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

Desire leads only to suffering.

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

The Buddha averts his gaze, turns his head away.

The Buddha has left the stadium.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phos always returns to it.

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

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

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

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12days #9: Kamakura location porn forever!

Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu, Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club by Noriyuki Matsumoto, Monthly Comic Blade,  August 2011-
9 Volumes + 13 ep Anime, Jan-May 2017
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minami_Kamakura_High_School_Girls_Cycling_Club]

I have mentioned this before, but I have a soft spot in my heart for anime and manga situated around the historic temple town of Kamakura, in the back yard of Yokohama and along  the coast of Sagami bay, including Enoshima and neighboring towns. When I visit Japan, that’s where I end up and of course it is wonderful seeing places that you have visited show up in the anime you are watching (or the manga you are reading). Add that the area is postcard picturesque and that I have been able to explore the back lanes of a lot of it on a one-speed utility bicycle and I admit it; I’m weak for Kamakura-Enoshima location porn. Show me a few main charas riding the Enoden narrow gauge railway (jammed right before and after school hours) and I get all soft-headed and nostalgic.

Or a few anime girls cycling around Kamakura…

This got my nose whacked earlier this year when I wandered into the supposedly open request for comments on the spring anime season at a certain new, high-profile blog and announced that I liked Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club and had problems with Scum’s Wish… At a blog that featured at least one moderator/ organizer who absolutely loved Scum’s Wish and detested the Bicycle Club anime.

Oh fuck, back away slowly from the righteously enraged moderator. Not my blog…

This my blog…

I wonder what it would have cost not to lay down artillery fire at Cycling Club plus anyone wrong-headed enough to appreciate any aspects of it, even the lovingly rendered back lanes of Kamakura and the later scenery during the Shonen coast bike trips.

There was an in-story alibi as to why the lead chara was such a class enemy of all women’s competence and agency on her first day of school with a borrowed mama-chari. We later learn she had never ridden a bike. She was fibbing a bit, carried away by her enthusiasm and the dim memory of having once sat on a tiny bike with training wheels when she was a child. How hard could it be?

The plot required that she start at less than zero bike skills, so that she serves as an exemplary model of how fun and accessible riding a bike for recreation can be. Lookie how she improves enough to be in her first race some 5 episodes later. While the character showed some excessive ep 1 cluelessness and the “lets learn bicycling” end segments come off as cloying, they were far less simpering than most live action Japanese daytime tv “lets look at new things to buy” shows where women and the occasional man get lectured by “experts” and then get to say ‘Sugoi!” and “Syko!” while nodding their heads and smiling politely. The latter segments actually conveyed important beginner information.

A few episodes in, she and the club are already doing a races and demonstrating plenty of skill and agency (and classic bike race teamwork). Later touring eps are serious enough without going full metal competitive racing (or get off the fucking road you dilettante…) Almost every episode is a solid Bechdel test pass for all scenes and the cycling club is a women’s homosocial with inter-generational support and passing down of lore.

Guess it is still fucked if it isn’t Red Detachment of (Young) Women (on Bicycles) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Detachment_of_Women_(ballet)]

There is also the danger of demanding the best be the enemy of the good as well as coming off as an ableist jerk toward folks – including adults who might wobble a bit when they get on a bike after a while… It Happens. Crap! I ride all the time and I still managed to ass over teakettle onto the tracks a few blocks from my friend’s apartment in Japan. Hip hits rail, leg numb with pain, crawl off tracks fast. Two weeks of acupuncture and hot EMS pads at the local bone-setter’s clinic. A friend with mild anemia found it difficult as an adult to balance on her bike until that was treated. Some folks never lose their facility on two wheels – it’s like riding a bicycle but everyone’s mileage varies.

Woe be unto the one whose wobble-shaming kept ONE person off a bike; they have earned an eon in bicycling purgatory or reincarnation as a Vespa scooter engine mechanic.(1)

Furthermore… (Grrrrrrrrrr!)

That other bad faith anime does not have Kamakura and/or Enoshima locations, so it is forever banished to the lesser tier of Japanese anime and manga – those that do not take place in and around Kamakura and Enoshima (Or other amazingly picturesque locations around Japan. For the Kamakura area, Fujisawa also gets a pass. Double bonus points for Kita-Kamakura and triple points for Ofuna – but only if the story features the market street or historical references to its movie studio lots)

Being curious as to how many other stories have been set in the Kamakura area I did some quick searching and found that the Japanese Anime Pilgrimage marketing gimmick was already all over the case. Fr’instance:

Kamakura: The Secret City of Anime In Real Life
https://www.odigo.jp/articles/7017-kamakura-the-secret-city-of-anime-in-real-life%20…

KAMAKURA Sacred Site of “Ika-musume”, Yuigahama Beach de geso!
https://matcha-jp.com/en/268

and the charming, if not too well translated “Real places where appeared on Anime, Movie and Drama” on the Travel Enoshima information site (Hey; still pretty good for a volunteer effort!) [http://travelenoshima.jp/anime.html ]

…Which featured this nifty list:

Major anime, movie and TV drama works that used Enoshima or Kamakura as location.

SLAM DUNK (Anime, 1993 – 1996)
A Song to the Sun [タイヨウの歌 (Taiyo no Uta)] (Movie, 2006)
Taiyo to Umi no Kyoshitsu [太陽と海の教室] (TV drama, 2008)
Sweet Blue Flowers [青い花 (Aoi-hana)] (Anime, 2009)
Tsuritama [つり球] (Anime, 2012)
TARI TARI (Anime, 2012)
Girl in the Sunny Place [陽だまりの彼女 (Hidamari no Kanojyo)] (Movie, 2013)
Ping Pong [ピンポン] (Anime, 2014)
Hanayamata [ハナヤマタ] (Anime, 2014)
Saigo kara Nibanme no Koi [最後から二番目の恋] (TV drama, 2012 – 2014)
Umimachi Diary [海街diary] (Movie, 2015)
Myriad Colors Phantom World [無彩限のファントムワールド] (Anime, 2016)
Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club (Anime, 2017)
Fukumenkei Noise [覆面系ノイズ] (Anime/Movie, 2017)
Kimi no Koe wo todoketai [きみの声をとどけたい] (Anime, 2017)
Just Because! (Anime, 2017)
and more…

What did I miss? Random/ (Anonymous ) Noise,  Elfen Lied, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, Kamakura Dekofuraifu, Kotonoba Drive, Kamakura Monogatari, Hitorigurashi no Shougakusei.

Need Moar titles. Gotta watch/ read ’em all. Then bike there next time.

 

Endnotes

(1) My real complaint with Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club is when the rich girl is bumbling around with her camera at the Kamakura beach-front on a windy day. I’ve been there; that windblown sand and salt can etch the lenses on your glasses in less than an hour. The stuff is microscopically fine, corrosive and abrasive. I have at least 2 cameras that have been well and truly fucked by that grit,and its eldrich powers to find its way into expensive precision equipment The salt air/ wind near the shore is pretty hard on bikes too. Cheap chrome and bike chains will get chewed up in less than a year if not cleaned and greased regularly.

12days #8: On Magic Dragons

If you were alive and conscious in the 60’s you may remember one particularly irksome example of public stupidity that surrounded a children’s song. Today, EVERYONE is allowed to be publicly stupid so such egregious displays of blowhard foolishness and simpering followership are less rare or notable. They are almost expected.

Instead of sugar-coated laments regarding the inexorable passage of time, this song, through the pronouncement of fools somehow became something about a secret, coded reference to mary-joo-wanna. Oh frick! Seemingly adult human, please go to your room and reflect upon your public stupidity. Your younger relatives are embarrassed for you and are contemplating institutional care.

No, wait… Puff. Magic! Get it? PUFF?

Back then, idiot blowhards whispering this “secret message” interpretations held privileged public positions with functional monopolies of discourse. Today you can’t swing a cat gif without hitting someone trying to monetize their opinion-leader-ing wannabe-ness. If you have enough weasels in a sack they take care of each other. Thus I refute the Frankfurt School.

Besides, we all know that if the Puff the Magic Dragon song premiered today would obviously, really be about Miss Kobyashi’s Dragon Maid. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Kobayashi%27s_Dragon_Maid]

I had been following the manga since I stumbled upon it years ago. I was delighted to learn of and then to watch it as it became an anime. Good judgement that the anime stopped short before it got to the chapters where one of the more anti-social dragons played a gender-fuck experiment on Miss K. (she pretty well just ignored it until it went away, though she gained a new understanding and appreciation for hormonal effects on the brain and oversized cartoon boobies). That  caused a noticeable amount of fan butt-hurt and would have been a distraction. Meanwhile the number of dragons that continued to clump around manga Miss K grew ever larger.

I acknowledge that one can love Dragon Maid as an Odd Couple exercise or as a fable of loneliness and found queer family – it does these quite well. I will cling to my initial reading of it as a subverted harem tale. Take Nyaruko: Crawling with Love or even the earlier genre-creator; Urusei Yatsura (200+ episodes plus ova’s!!!) and lose the boy.

I had long suspected that many of the male leads in conventional harem grinders would have absolutely no friends or social interaction whatsoever if not for the girls/ ladies/ women who miraculously get interested in them. Sure, it’s good to be king and lets preserve the balance and the friendship but really… Ain’t that poor schlub so damn happy that anyone, let alone a number of interesting, quirky members of the opposite sex want to talk and interact with him, that to consider risking the loss of their company is enough to keep him from pushing for any resolution?

Poor fool! If he wasn’t a he, they could have had an all wimmins revolutionary lesbian dragon family collective!

Don’t even try to figure out what they see in her.

Perhaps she was a monster all along too, just like them.

One particular viciously effective criticism of the tale likened Miss Kobayashi to “Derwood” of Bewitched fame (and inadvertently echoed the complaints of the show’s formidable mother-in-law). The accusation hits home: the dragons are wonderous powerful beings – why put themselves in thrall to the whims of human society, especially such a pinched and neutered human as our grim salaryman woman programmer?

As Amicus Dragonii, I wish to advance a modified Puff defence. (No, the show is NOT a secret allegory about dope smoking: Give it a break! ) Miss K might be a PITA but she is no Derwood. Derwood was a parodic exaggeration of what a 1960’s successful male was supposed to be and the grating “comedy” of the show came from his privileged little ass waddling around and trying to jam a powerful jet-setting magical woman into a suburban wifey role. Ok, we have SOME congruity here, but also a marked difference: Miss K should not be a salaryman. And make no mistake, she is a salaryman. A later dragon interloper might end up mooching around her workplace as an Office Lady but she is there for contrast. The interloper can’t debug, program or even pull her weight doing clerical work. Her colleagues have to take on the load she is expected to do, but cannot manage.

Note how each of them dress. Note the sumptuary code and who has the privilege of casual dress afforded to a L337 code wrangler.. Now look again at the nice OL uniform on the useless one…

THAT was what Japan had in store for Miss K.

Salaried Japanese work is supposed to be a grinding dehumanizing hellscape. That’s why they call it work and pay yen for doing it. If it was in any way, even microscopically enjoyable Japanese people would take it up as an expensive sport and pay to do it. That Miss K can defy Japanese gender role expectations to become an asexual office work drone is heroic in its own right. She is, in the words of her own self-doubt, a functioning, contributing member of society. Unfortunately her self doubts also whisper of the memories of how she repeatedly longed and failed to become her idea of what a woman should have been. Samantha’s Derwood has no self doubts and barely any self-awareness. That is why he is a shit and Miss K is a flawed hero – even when she acts like a jerk.

Tohru is still the magic girlfriend with a crush, willing to put up with a metric shit-ton of stupid and indulge her love, for a tiny while longer until enlightenment hits. Living alone forever is boring and living in alone-forever-land is also full of powerful magical psychopaths with big sharp pointy magic weapons. Have a relax, indulge the cute foolish one. She has no idea how lucky she is. Follow the silly human rules, at least for the small stuff. That way the puny humans will be completely off guard when you get the urge to pull a Gojira. Giant flying lizard? Where?

No one here but us Maidos

What is this thing called love?

The Anime wisely shot past the dragon harem and went straight for the gay moms family vibe. Because it still wanted some Japanese guys to watch it, there are a few too many jiggley anime boobies and underage yuri crush gags but it remains an ingenious, funny, sentimental, even mawkish-ly good-hearted reply to the harem problem.

I love it bunches and feel pained when it is dissed

We never got to see or feel that with Nyaruko-chan or Lum and their feckless intendeds.

The only thing that is really wrong with Dragon Maid is that Miss K needs to smarten up and pledge her troth to Tohru. Face it girl, you like her. Not to impose a sexuality or any sexuality upon a chara but you could at least give cuddling a try. Puzzle it out. You could be Ace or you could have been so far into the closet that you were already half-way to dragon-land.

Tohru has her traumas too. Sometimes she cries in her sleep. Go to her. Give her a hug.

The harsh criticism got one thing right: Cool Kyoushinja! Don’t let Miss Kobayashi become a Derwood!

12days #7: The girl who folded herself

Murasaki-iro no Qualia, Qualia the Purple (紫色のクオリア)
Ueo, Hisamitsu (Story), Tsunashima, Shirou (Art)
21 Chapters / 3 Volumes, Dengeki Daioh, Jan 2011 to Aug 2013
Mystery, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Shounen

I was reading Noah Smiths ruminations on Twitter as WMD: ‘Is Twitter a dystopian technology?‘  [http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.ca/2016/12/is-twitter-dystopian-technology.html]  and what hits me in the first few paragraphs is that an essay on mass society and information technology is alluding to PyrE. (1)

HuH? Ok, you have to be of a certain age… I am. There is a reason that this blog is named the way it is and it ain’t because I have a thing for anonymous 17thC poetry (2)

Which leads me all over the place but since this is a 12 Days (of) Anime post, I must keep the obscure references within manageable limits. Time to use the Alfie Bester reference to commend the reader’s attention to a manga that was a big deal for me a couple of years ago but may have fallen off the cart and deserves to be considered and praised once more:

Murasaki-iro no Qualia is amazing grim fun and heroic – if not romantic in an obsessive way, yuri – especially if you are weak for driven heroines; though I would add that once again the girl-love struck young high school girl is at her core saddled with a ‘a guy wrote me” vibe. “Guy wrote me and turned me into a superhero” vibe in fact. If you want to feel what I am trying to get at, contrast Gaku with the hero (and story treatment) in the American web comic ‘Relativity‘ by Beck Kramer [http://relativitycomic.com/part-1-reentry/page.php?page=1]

Or not… It might be a bit unfair; they are two different kinds of stories, neh?

Qualia, which started as a single 3-section light novel (3) is amazingly fun and dire and also a series of hat tips to classic yankee scifi – with some pretty heavy-handed winks and nods in the memory of Isaac Asimov and Alfie Bester.

The Jaunt thing is obvious. So is Alice Foyle. (Terra is My Nation, Deep Space is my Dwelling Place…)

Less obvious is Marii Yukari’s characterization as “the purple qualia”; eye color and family name notwithstanding. One cannot forget that she can breathe life and super powers into her plasmo robots (as well as doing all manner of other causality and reality-bending tricks). Murasaki is not exactly what we know as the color purple; it is more AS A SHADE OF PURPLE – a horrible pun first used in a convention groaner novelette eventually published as The Flying Sorcerers.[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flying_Sorcerers]

After Marii saves Gaku from the psycho killer, Gaku will do ANYTHING to save Marii. Unfortunately, because of some flaw in the structure of the multiverse, Gaku will need to do everything to save her, as Marii has extremely bad luck, even for a godling. Fortunately Marii inadvertently gave Gaku the power to seriously fuck with probability, and so she does, repeatedly – even if it means that a lot of p-versions of herself end up in horrible shit. Or doing horrible shit. They are also all telepathically linked because they all are her (n’est pas?) and the Gaku hive-mind can pillage the fabric of all existence when she puts her nearly infinite capacities to work on a problem. Of course, there will be a price to pay for doing so.

Gaku is closer to Niven’s Jack Brennan than any “conventional” Japanese high school tomboy heroine with a nifty scifi power and a tragic girl-crush. There is more than a whiff of the guy-written BFG about her, especially her bull-headed determination to do everything by herselves. And she can, as she is legion.

I move, once more in imitation of light

The do-over-and-over-again-with-save-points tale is a uniquely modern conceit. Its attraction is immediately recognisable to anyone who has experienced an if-only personal tragedy; one that in the glare of hindsight appears as preventable, if only… Given that shitty things have been happening to people since people existed, you would think our mythologies and ancient lore would be jammed with such fables but strangely not.

Fate was, until recently like the passage of time and death, considered inexorable. After death, the hero might journey to the land of the dead to try to bring back their best bud or heart’s desire (or both) but the idea of a do-over must have seemed too wacky to a bard’s audience. We started to get them in vernacular fiction before vidja games, so we can’t exactly blame one on the other but since the latter are devilishly well-suited to such story mechanics we now are up to our ears in them. Isekai grinders like Re-zero prove that you don’t have to blah blah about Schrödinger’s Cat and quantum mechanics to pull one-off – you can also posit a wicked witch of the north and roll with it. Nothing prevented Odysseus from getting stuck in a temporal loop but he didn’t. Something about our modern frame of mind makes these stories not only acceptable but attractive.

Marii Yukari is for all purposes a godling, even if she is a cursed one. It is important that she grant her friend one small silly and inadvertent power and that is enough to re-write everything, save her ass and win a happy high school romance. Gaku will never let her go after all that. She did once and lookie what happened. Talk about clingy. Uhauls in every possible driveway, ever. Happily ever after everywhen, dammit. David Gerrold of Star Trek TOS scriptwriting fame once played around with something like this but not with a desperate, bloody minded high school heroine.

And that is why Relativity is so damn good and so useful, in obvious and not so obvious ways and for the purpose of this essay, in contrast. Gaku could have been a guy and/ or didn’t have to have a yuri crush but making her as she was gave her just enough exotic juice to let her fall down a very guy-written rabbit hole.

Fictional realistically butch lesbian astronauts stuck in probability paradoxes have adult worries. Steins Gatery won’t help with those. There’s this problem with other human beings and their feelings, you see.

Nawww, unfair comp. 2 diff stories.

 

(1) Interesting argument, Mr Smith but the reaver’s core and allied major GOP support block are not massive Twitter users. Much online sound and fury, signifying hmmmph? Now if you care to point phaser banks at Fox News and the way they bubble the olds? What else? Oh right: PyrE is a fictional near-nuclear level explosive that can be detonated by thought. 

(2) Much later I read the whole poem and good grief! To top it off it reads like 17thC poverty fetish slash.. Gehhhh!

(3) I even bought the Light Novel, along with the original Japanese 3rd and last volume of the manga because I wanted to take up an offer to review it while honoring the in-house conventions of a senior blogger who frowns on -ahem- grey translations. In the end I could never get it together and perhaps I should just send the LN to that blog’s proprietor because I’ll never learn enuff japanese to read it. Then again everything yuri I rec in that direction is found problematic – I seem to have unerring LFB tastes, dare I  risk jinxing it?

12days #6: Oooops…

For day #6 of 12 Days of Anime (and Manga and other stuff) I was going to…

And I still may but I’m feeling really tired today, so here is a placeholder. Gomenesai.

ONE REALLY NEAT THING happened today. Someone on twitter posted my favourite  Gary Larson THE FAR SIDE cartoon of all time; the one that I thought had been lost to time. I had this, blown up in my cubicle when I did tech support and some days I would confide that there weren’t crazy, angry people on the phones but extremely rich psych students and that the entire gig was…

The look of disquiet on my colleagues faces when they gave it a second’s consideration…

I rejoice, I have found it. Must sleep.

12days #5: fail forward?

Work with me on this one:

I was thinking and looking back on some of the anime I have been interested in over the last year or so – less so with manga because manga has less of the release schedule ephemerality of anime – and thinking about the ones that failed. Titles that started off strong and then did a what the ???? because product had to be jammed into the pipeline and the visuals were still there even if the story went south.

Two titles come to mind immediately: Kado, The Right Answer and Izetta, the Last Witch. This post is not the place to go into why these failed but rather to argue that perhaps, they at least did a small good thing by starting out strong, creating a buzz and encouraging a bandwagon effect for somewhat similar properties that eventually did better but on their own were just too freaking weird to consider before an earlier work broached the subject, broke the ice and/or “gave permission”.

Whew!

Exhibit A: I don’t think a studio would have had the balls to try Youjo Senki [Young Girl’s War Diary aka Tanya The Evil: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saga_of_Tanya_the_Evil ], which was already a known, if perhaps bizarre light novel property until someone broke the ice with Izettahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izetta:_The_Last_Witch ]. Tanya is a university debating society rebuttal to Izetta, right down to the skewering of the idea of turning a WMD into a PR opportunity. Izetta was a fairytale war romance complete with a Red-Haired Anne back story and girl-wedding set-scene. Tanya is a disenchanted, murderous little shit trapped in a ‘comedy of justice’. As one Twitter so succinctly put it, she is Wile E Coyote driven to endlessly set herself up for the next anvil. And war is hell…

Exhibit B: Kado, the wrong story turned into an epic trainwreck with a poorly implemented BL/ anime pirate fable tacked onto a first contact story This probably happened because most of the work was going into putting the 3dCGI wizardry through it’s paces but it also tacked on the groaner ending because idiot cultural nationalist allegories are a thing that studios think you can slip a Japanese audience if you run out of something better. Oh lookie, the black ships, urrr cube. The outlander is here to take our anime or sumthin. Tadah it is the long-ago-alien but now our goddess Amaterasu (or is it her daughter?) to the rescue. The end. Fuck you.

But Kado can be easily seen as giving permission for something weirder along a similar vein. I doubt they could have sold UraHara without Kado. Visual overload thing kewl! What if we do it as post-pop irony and late superflat instead of hard-edged fractal scifi? Sounds like a plan; let’s get the alien outlanders to try to steal No1 Japanese street fashion creative output from cute girls.

[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urahara }

Exhibit B.2: This one is a real stretch, but try it: Gate [: Jieitai Kanochi nite (Kaku Tatakaeri) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gate_(novel_series) ] is still doing business as a manga because it had a fair amount of militarist web-novel to draw off of but ultimately, the anime was less than satisfying, even at 24 eps. So much for one form of cultural nationalism tarted up with fantasy tropes.

Yo! We found another light novel; this one does the soft nationalism thing with fantasy charas: [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restaurant_to_Another_World ]

Japan has an Olympics hosting deadline looming and the dawning realisation that the logistics for it are heading towards massively fucked up. There is going to be a lot of improvisation needed. Chinese tourists are easy: point them at the shopping districts. Olympic tourists, wandering around from one impromptu venue location to another in the killer late summer urban heat will be a whole new level of nightmare.

If the Japanese Gummint got together with a national restaurant industry council, It could not have come up with better hospitality propaganda and soft cultural nationalist cheerleading than Otherworld Restaurant.

Lookie how the weird and dangerous outlanders behave nice when confidently served our great food. We take the best that we can find from our culture and from others and perfect it until it wins hearts and minds. (We also hire outlander “trainees”) Outlander customers behave and appreciate! They leave much bags of gold and jewels behind and do not sick up in the washroom.

Dear Customer! Please observe our dress code…

Is Second Time a Charm too odd a theory for tracking anime?  More wild speculation is needed!

Next up: No group has yet to do an English scanlation of a certain manga chapter.

12days #4: Isn’t it romantic – Minamoto-kun Monogatari

Yes… In case you have wondered, I am also a big fan of smutty heterosexual romance grinders. Of these, Minamoto-kun Monogatari [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minamoto-kun_Monogatari ] is just plain lewd hawt fun! Time to celebrate an ero-manga!

“Minamoto-kun Monogatari (源君物語) is an ongoing Japanese erotic seinen manga series written and illustrated by Minori Inaba [ https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/稲葉みのり]. It’s published by Shueisha, serialized since 2011 in Weekly Young Jump magazine, with nine volumes released so far. It is also published in French by Soleil and in German by Panini Comics.
Terumi Minamoto is a young man with features feminine enough to make people think he’s a girl. Because of this, he has never been intimate with women; instead he has been bullied since middle school by jealous girls and has developed a fear of women due to this. Just as he enters college and vows to himself to overcome his fears, his father remarries and asks him to move out of the house. Terumi is sent to live with his aunt Kaoruko Fujiwara, an extremely beautiful 29yr old non-tenured professor at his college. When he arrives at her home, she conscripts him into her project in which he must seduce fourteen different women in the manner of the protagonist of The Tale of Genji.”
— per wiki synopsis

The women of Mina-gats are all zaftig and big-time sexy. The more mature ones are as scary as they are fascinating, or at least they are presented as such from the pov of our traumatized young protrag. Their charms may be on display for the male-gaze reader but within the story they are also deployed as a show of raw power. No simpering lolis here. A better argument for dating women of a certain age if one happens to be a gormless young guy at University has yet to be turned into a manga – at least one that I know of.(1)

While the premise of recreating the Tale of Genji might at first sound specious, it is less so than one may think. Japanese universities are full of sacred Bunka Nihonjinron rabbit hunts and the Tale of Genji is, after all the first recorded novel. Complex, chock full of rich characterisation and all about the important stuff: bored courtiers screwing around. Desire. Sex, Longing. Romance.

Our hapless hero is far too horny and scared to fall in love – at least at first. The aunt does a great job of being a sexy psycho but we can at least give her her due for being single mindedly devoted to exploring the male point of view in Genji. The story structure is also a great convenience and a guarantee of some measure of job security for the mangaka. 14 affairs of the heart have to be cleared – it would be a cruel editor who would terminate the romp in mid-course.

Meanwhile, light erotica with plenty of cleavage, curvaceous hips and thighs with much in the way of  lacy slips and boudoir fumbling is a great way for guys to fool themselves into reading romance stories, or at least stories that deal with bin-loads of emotional and romantic confusion. Along with the ‘want de babe(s)‘ overload, our hero also has a whole lot of anger and fear to sort through and when he lets loose with it, he is likely to …

What?

Oh right; might as well throw in some crossdressing. Genji MK I was a looker too, neh?

Bullied by girls because of girl-face is even an excuse for a “cross-dresser-as (obnoxious stereotype) -trap” arc: yup; seduction by deception but for mixed reasons of revenge and white knightery. Later he crossdresses openly again at a university beauty contest just to prove he can, so fuck you to some other young woman who once dissed him.

Undoubtedly some of the guys reading this are on board for the HOW TO PICK UP CHIX angle. Very simple, if disappointing: have your mean lady professor relative pimp for you. Not much help, but it does hint at the power of Japanese women’s social networks. As well it reminds me of the rueful confessions of a reformed PUA fool. What he finally realised was that all of his vaunted “seduction techniques” were him just spazzing about and telegraphing to women already out for a lark that he was up for a bit of fun and that he could be made to jump through a few hoops as foreplay. The gals still do the decidin’ but if you gotta go all bent outta shape about it, some of them are kewl with that too. They find it amusing.

Once Terumi is a tad less traumatized by women, he also finds that he is a fool for getting romantically worked up about them; so much so that he repeatedly threatens to quit the project and take up with one or another of his aunt’s “targets” for realsies. Then they all wander off for one reason or another and he is back to his job as slightly reluctant Lothario. Some of the women even know of his aunt’s project and are curious enough to indulge the lad. Getting swept up in the project and ending up with feelings for them is what nefarious auntie had planned all along.

So sit down, stare at auntie’s decolletage and debrief on your latest romp.

Mina-gats is also chock full of insinuation that psycho auntie is grooming the lad as a perfect romantic companion, a reverse take on obnoxious otaku conceits like “How to raise a boring girlfriend“. Japanese popular social commentary is still full of complaints by women that the stock version of Japanese manhood – while somewhat useful for breadwinning if you secure the correct model – are a complete wash when it comes to romance. Something must be still stoking the demand for Host Clubs. Love remains a battlefield, or at least a logistical challenge. The “correct” dating outfit for young women, promoted online and in fashion magazines remains a caricature of fresh and innocent femininity in a beribboned shift dress with a frilly hem and moderately sensible shoes. Wide brimmed white hat and book for summer occasions. It looks like an ad for a feminine hygiene product.

Some day, some wag, somewhere will sit down and do a compare and contrast to the conventions of women’s attire/ clothing/ uniforms etc in “conventional” manga and anime as opposed to the range of “expression” in smutty ero-manga. Myself, I no longer can fully decide what is worse; the overdone “sexy” stuff or the simpering conventions of “innocent and pure’ in mundane manga, which have become so exaggerated and formalised as to serve as a new form of obscenity in their own right. Genshiken Nidaime got the clothing issue spot on, no matter how you look at it.

It is telling that our hapless hero often meets his next intended in female exclusive spaces, where they can be themselves and not have to fend off advances from guys who think making such is their birthright or have to dress up in ritualised “deer in the headlights” attire. Terumi-kun is not a threat or even much of an imposition. Genji is a women’s tale and the women retain in-story agency; even more so than in the original – where Genji could occasionally get ahead of his skis and act like a cad.

As well, a number of Auntie’s women friends have their own issues, so lending out the kid can be a win-win as long as buddy boy doesn’t get ideas and mess up. Sadly, at first he does, repeatedly. Practice, practice, practice. Thank Ghu that Japanese universities are light on study loads, giving Terumi plenty of free time to be man-whored around.

What fun! A simple, smutty romance  saga with vague cultural pretensions and there is a whole lot of it with the chapter count approaching the 300’s and still four more hearts to win. Terumi by this point can be a tad annoying as he has developed a mild masochistic streak, especially when it comes to older women. Nothing serious and all in the service of reinforcing the notion that a guy might be better off by not always trying to be in absolute control of every damn thing while courting. Woman Mangaka Has Message. Maintain fine balance between sack-of-sand and pushy jerk, please.

My most serious complaint with the saga is that only the most rudimentary public health measures are alluded to. Multiple sex partners warning: HPV and worse are a real concern. Bad mangaka, bad. If you are going to do the lewds, you should show some initiative and slip in some socially responsible health information, if only for verisimilitude. That the mangaka fails to do so falls prey to the stupid and dangerous “pure” “innocent”, inexperienced and ignorant fetish that powers up much of the otaku variant of objectification, even as the greater message of the tale must be that a fumbling, inexperienced lover is no way “cute” or desirable, but simply annoying.

 

 

(1) There is however a closely compelling argument for getting recruited as manager for your sister’s women’s volleyball team, but that’s a different smut manga.

12days #3: Just Because! and the gift of indifference

Just Because! Anime October – December 2017
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_Because!]

“At the end of the second semester of third year of high school, four students are prepared for graduation and feel the ending to their high school life. But that changes a little with the arrival of a transfer student.”
— https://myanimelist.net/anime/35639/Just_Because

Walk past any high school in Japan, no matter how crammed into a maze of urban concrete and narrow streets and you will find at least a few sakura/ flowering cherry trees lined up near the entrance. These serve as warning that the entire high school rite of passage, culminating in the first steps towards the adult world is fraught with mawkish sentimentality laced with undertones of dread.

the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that to flourish is to fall.

Personally, I couldn’t wait to get out of high school. It was full of crazy people and I was sick and tired of dealing with their shit. University was cheap back then, and even offered the chance that one could actually find employment after securing a 3 year degree. My age cohort apologizes for screwing things up for those who came after us. Japan and America share a similar fascination with high school and high school graduation, I suspect because of similar class and income restrictions on opportunity.  Usually, around this time I drop a link to the Slater article [ http://www.japanfocus.org/-david_h_-slater/3279  ] to puncture any Sakura petal-strewn idealized scenes of young love, ascendance to adulthood and ascription into the adult world of work but with Just Because! I don’t need to.

What the fuck is the deal with graduating from high school anyway?

You either are going to go work in a factory, drive yourself to karoshi by trying to ace an admission test for a prestigious state university, drive your parents into debt by ending up in a less prestigious and more expensive “private” university or trade school or lock yourself in your room never to emerge again except for late-night forays to the nearest kombini.

The idea that you will finally nerve up to confess to that special someone you had an unrequited crush on all through three years of school and end up in a parent-subsidized one room apartment  with both of you attending the same university (…and her not getting booted when her wings pop out or having to drop because she did the BVM one better and got with child after she affectionately sunk her cute little fangs into your neck – as with a certain previously considered manga and anime) is a good set-up for an early Kio Shimoku drama but impossible to seriously imagine.

So Just Because! doesn’t… really. And that does not make it boring or slow-paced. It makes it nuanced and complex. You were not paying attention. You want Mechagodzilla x Godzilla or sumtin?

.

So the yougun’s will nerve up to confess or not and it really won’t matter because high school is ending and everyone will be scattered to the four winds – just like those idiot sakura petals. Then everyone will meet other people from other places and perhaps if they are lucky, make a good match that can afford to raise offspring in what looks like will continue to be a stagnant economy. Sociologists call this exogamy. It is also useful for avoiding inbreeding.and fortunately we as a species have of late, come up with less barbaric ways of pulling it off.
.

Otherwise Just Because! has Kamakura and Enoshima location porn – which means that I will watch it even if the writers drop in mahjong tournaments (no; I draw the line at mahjong). However they chose to limit the usual touristy vistas and instead go out of their way to emphasise pedestrian, work-a-day locations. The monorail ends right next to the famous narrow gauge Enoden rail line. Do we see any Enoden? Perhaps just a glimpse. The monorail is a drab commuter-clogged thing that no one really pays any attention to. Just Because! gives it a starring role for a reason.

Even when the young photo club girl scooters off to collect temple good luck charms we don’t get to see the temples. Roads, crowds, kombinis and quasi suburban residential tracts. No wonder the baseball fields are a place of magic and camaraderie. Everything else is drab.

And that is why the young photo-club girl is the most important person in the entire show. She still has a year of high school ahead of her before the inevitable end and she is determined to save the one thing that she can hope to remember fondly from her days at high school. Much better than puppy love or even the button off graduating sempai’s gakuran. Save the club.

Then get as far away from your old high school as you can.

12days #2: Actually, I might be, but not really

JITSU WA WATASHI WA 実は私は; 其实我是; Actually, I Am…; My Monster Secret
by Masuda Eiji. 2013-2017
Comedy, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, School Life, Shounen, Supernatural.

Spoiler lamp is ON

I really like Jitsu Wa. It has much to commend it – a derth of fanservice (with one tame exception), a not really-a-harem harem sub-plot, loads of good-hearted goofiness, over-the-top hijinx-ensue, young romance and enough dramatic moments to seal the deal. Plus it offers an allegorical plea for diversity and inclusiveness.

Allegorical…

If us straight boys and girls dream in queer in strange ways, sometimes we can be far stranger when we dream in straight. The rules, the structures of these dreams themselves begin to fill out the ranks of characters.

We are all supposed to know how two “vanilla” (cisgendered, heterosexual, middle-class, majority ethnicity) young uns get together. If I want music I’ll turn on the radio. If we want aspirational details on how a storybook romance should go off, we can go read conventional romance story books. Everyone plays their part and knows what part they are supposed to play. The order of forms is maintained and affirmed. In an effort to spice up a simple girl meets boy and they end up together story, an author may add one ridiculous twist, as in with Usotsuki Lily‘s crossdressing-because-guys-annoy-him male lead. The couple still end up happily-ever-after but we get to watch them bumble around the edges of gender non-conformity getting there.

And then you have an author who will start by throwing the kitchen sink at you and then double down with the bathroom fixtures and then escalate to a raid on a plumbing supply warehouse until the story is a towering ludicrous mess.

Jitsu Wa starts with your average schlub highschool romcom guy and in short order has him smitten with the school’s aloof ‘cool beauty” who happens to really be a socially clumsy, shy vampire girl with giant bat wings and fangs (which she manages to keep hidden most of the time – hence shyness). Not happy to simply work this premise it keeps adding more weirdness (and weirdlings) to the pot. Almost every single addition is a burlesque of a well-worn high school fantasy adventure romantic comedy trope: time-travellers, espers, aliens, youkai, demons and fallen angels, each added with the unrestrained glee of a gaggle of hyperactive fanfiction writers. No keter-class demi-urges thankfully, although the principal at times comes close. I have no idea what to make of the gods of (mis)fortune lodged in glasses frames that hitch rides on pigeons.

Can our happy couple make it through 2.5 years of high school secrets?

A sizeable minority of the school’s students turn out to be shealthed supernatural and or fantastic creatures. The principal is an irresponsible 400+ year old demon who presents as a 13-year-old girl with ibex horns. Her great-great grand-daughter is a violent 29 year-old spinster ex-girl-gang leader teacher who barely manages to keep the demon principal under control. There’s a fallen angel, a 10cm tall alien invasion scout in a Pinky and the Brain human exo-suit, the childhood friend who is beset by the aforementioned gods of misfortune as joke glasses and the school’s sex-bomb exhibitionist girl who is also a guy were-wolf.

Later chapters add time travelling relatives from the future, multiple instances of mini-alien girl, a ninja, the 9 meter high vampire father of the girl and his habit of shapeshifting/ crossdressing into the form of a teaching assistant (female) plus a few other oddities, including a murderous ghost and probably a handful of other aberrations that slip my mind at the moment.

Aside from ms. exhibitionist Jitsu Wa is remarkably free of gratuitous fanservice and uncomfortable revealing outfits for the women characters – which is curiously refreshing. It is also chaste as all heck, so much so that … oh nevermind. Let’s just say that the mangaka pushed the no sex in our shonen magazine rule to nearly biblical extremes.

As well, it is a fairly heavy-handed morality play. Morobare high school; presided over by a demon principal and welcoming to stealthed demis and others is what a Japanese high school could be without bullying, if all the students were supportive of each other and all the teachers were not burnt-out crypto-fascist nationalists who were stuffed into the system to counter the wave of lefties who had previously jammed the schools in Japan after the 60’s. There are no Ministry of Education bureaucrats, prefectural budget restrictions, burnt out temp-agency teaching staff (with no benefits or job security), regulations forcing students to dye their hair black or broken bones during karate class jock-fascism.

No get your sorry ass off to cram school either.

You really don’t have to whomp up a load of semi-mythological figures if you want to do an aspirational tale of supportive, inclusive high school life, do you? Or perhaps a 2nd string Shonen magazine might balk at too high a level of social realism? It seems that Shoujo manga can do things that Shonen manga can’t.

I can understand why the story centers around a group of fairly conventional (cisgendered, heterosexual and mostly gender-role conforming) youth, despite their backstories and their secrets. Jitsu Wa does not aspire to be Shimanami Tasogare. Perhaps if we felt the need to do so, we could even pretend that there are gay kids and gender non-conforming kids at Morobare high school but the tale does not center around them…

If only minority sexualities and gender expressions were not repeatedly used as the butt of easy no-homo and oops-that’s-not-a-girl gags throughout the entire manga. I wouldn’t even make a big deal about this except that…

Your story was supposed to be about being supporting and inclusive.

And you just pulled a big fail on that, didn’t you? Vampires, Time Travellers, Espers, Demons, Aliens and Angry Ghosts… Cool.

Gay student? whoaaaaaaah! Let’s not go crazy here, this is a mainstream manga magazine.

Your story was supposed to be about being supporting and inclusive.

Also, chapters 67-68 are suck.

Otherwise, it was a goofy, fun romp that will wind up with some 200 chapters.
This blog has messed up my ability to let things like this slip. Allegory is all fine and wonderful until it covers erasure.

If a sequel surfaces some time in the future, perhaps it can do better.

12days #1: dying is easy, gag manga is hard

By all indications, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. should be a stinker. Or too pedestrian to bother with. Doing a blog review on a by-the-numbers gag manga – beyond a simple description/ synopsis seems besides the point. Why bother? Take a “Marty Stu” concept and frick with it for easy yuks. Sure, whatever …

For my first post for the 12 days (of) anime (and manga and…) challenge I want to raise a cheer for the under-appreciated deadpan snark of Shuuichi Aso[u]’s Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan. To be fair, the franchise needs no apologists or boosters; it has been chugging along since 2012 and has spun off some 250 chapters, 23 volumes, an anime and a live action film (I believe there is a rudimentary phone app game out there somewhere too). And I had been reading it, on and off since it became available to us thieving leeches the diaspora fan community, though not without a suspicious eyebrow raised.

Until I hit the school festival arc:

 

Something snapped. Rock Exhibit. Ok. You sold it.

To be fair, the setup was just a continuation of a relentless campaign of burlesque overload that has characterised the manga since chapter one. It is not enough that our hero has psi powers. He has to have every cliché psychic/ esper/ magic power ever whomped up for a shonen manga chara, with extra ones added every so often by lampshaded-as-random whim.

If I was to go whole-cloth on gag manga as genre, I would have to contend with the  2,000 lb gorilla in the room; Gintama. And perhaps someone, some day, somewhere will do an exhaustive survey of how Gintama tears into its source material. The ones I have stumbled upon usually conclude by declaring that it is so full of “you have to be Japanese to get all the jokes” as to be largely opaque to outlander fans. Saiki, as a high school farce, travels better. It also manages to remain within some unofficial shonen manga ‘comic code’ that is never seriously mean-spirited, exploitative, fan-service laden or nasty to any identifiable group, except high school students, adults and an amorphous “public”.

Also less poop jokes than Gintama

Everyone except Saiki is (of course) an annoying fool. And you can’t win against fools, although you can sometimes hold them off long enough to snag a few moments of peace and a small dish of coffee jelly.

As well, everyone that Saiki runs into seems hell-bent on earnestly acting out some idealised shonen manga character trope role. Few have the cpu to pull it off but that matters little. They enjoy acting up and acting out. Even when they go for a bored high school slacker vibe, they do so enthusiastically. This gives the mangaka free rein to make up one more convoluted plot mess that has to be untangled with an ever escalating combination of esper-jitsu and improbable dumb luck.

How can you screw up a rock display?

The best parts of the manga feature the hulking moron Riki Nendō[u]. Nendou is so dense that Saiki cannot read his mind or even sense when he is about to pop up out of nowhere, trailing chaos and confusion in his wake.  Otherwise, the recurring point of Saiki is watching him try to avoid every last plot device that a high school slice of life manga should have; which must have a deeper appeal than anyone would first imagine.

It turns out that what Weekly Shonen Jump readers really want (or wanted) is/was to vicariously experience a completely uneventful three years of high school.

Live in Interesting Times, NOT.

 

Next up: Another idyllic high school comedy, with earnest romance added.