14-sai no Koi: Yuri, Iyashi and the lives of others (part 2)

14sai-nurse-and-shiki-web

14-sai no Koi (Love at Fourteen) by Mizutani Fuka
Comedy, Josei, Romance, School Life
6 Volumes (Ongoing from 2010)

Continuing from part 1, when I started to examine some of the not-so-obvious reasons for the popularity of light romance genres that feature minority sexualities among their characters, this installment will focus on a case of yuri pining in an otherwise heteronormative setting. The question for this segment is: “why stub the young girl’s heart?”

Warning: Spoilers Ensue.

“The second year of junior high, when most students are in the throes of puberty and feeling the pangs of first love. It’s no different for Kanata Tanaka and Kazuki Yoshikawa, a girl and a boy who have been friends since elementary school. But even though Kanata and Kazuki are at the same point in life as their classmates, an air of adulthood sets the two apart. Kanata is taller and more attractive than the other girls, but the boys stay away because she seems too mature for them. Kazuki too stands out from the other boys, but the girls are wary of him because he seems like a player. And so, Kanata and Kazuki are thrown together in a charming, bittersweet tale of two very adult students falling in love like the teenagers they are.”
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=66093

14-sai is cute, almost to the point of cloying. The lead couple are so earnestly smitten that they need little in the way of analysis. The heart-bruising stories of the secondary characters that swirl around the school are what makes this sentimental romp tolerable, even exemplary.

One of the girls in Kanata’s class is shocked to her core to find herself dealing with her first crush, on Kanata. How did this happen? Whats wrong with me? Why do my dreams of her look like Takarazuka stagings with Kanata as a otokoyaku prince? Exhausted and feverish from a cold, she seeks refuge in the school infirmary and the Wise School Nurse ™ suspects, then confirms the issue. Distraught Shiki has to face her feelings and who she is.

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The writer is playing coy but also dropping hints that the Wise School Nurse ™ is also a lesbian, though this is never directly stated. Some of the banter between her and the young music teacher, Hinohara-sensei have them scolding each other over student-teacher boundaries that must not be crossed. Hinohara-san is a bit of a hypocrite (or a fool); she is showing far too much interest in a sullen young delinquent with a beautiful singing voice and has already flirted with him. Things may be more diffuse in Japan. In the United States or Canada she has already committed a firing offense. Romantic fantasies aside, she is one grope away from a felony. Even the scanlator crew was compelled to post a warning.

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And then a second one

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Hinohara-sensei is also being stalked by another student, who sits up on the roof watching her in the music room with binoculars while his childhood girl(-) friend tries to get his attention. Who knows, perhaps even Wise School Nurse ™ is intrigued by Hinohara-sensei. And there’s another young man who is suddenly fixated on a Random Office Lady who he sees every day on the bus to school (a cross-over to another of the author’s works). We get the point. The kids are all going a bit crazy as THAT TIME hits.

I can hardly wait for the Anime. They will use Bolero as a leitmotif. A few in Japan will get the ancient Trekkie joke.

Later Shiki-chan peeks in the door of an empty classroom to see Kanata kissing that Kazuki boy. Of course she knew they were sweet on each other, she had even clumsily tried to mess up the relationship, then had backed off. Still, seeing them like that hurt. Retreating to the Nurse’s office, mumbling that she is not sick or injured but not saying much else, she sits, downcast and heartbroken.

Wise School Nurse ™ first pulls out a band-aid, then remarks that this will need more. Then Nurse pulls out a bandage roll and wraps Shiki’s arm.

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That’s all. That was enough.

It was breathtakingly good.

So what if it is sentimental mush. It worked.

Dropping Shiki-chan into the story was a calculated move on the part of the writer; it makes sense. All the other kids are running around bubbling about love and crushes and first dates, to often idiotic excess. The feels! At this point Shiki has only the vaguest idea about how this will affect her; so far it is hurting at least as much as an unrequited straight crush. Her ham-fisted attempt to unmask Kazuki-kun as a math-dunce was odd but she did not fill his school shoes with mayonnaise (which for some reason comes in squeeze bottles in Japan, making it a classic school-shoe vandalising choice). Kuzuki does not shame her for her feelings, even as he warns her not to stoop to dirty tricks again. He then steps out-of-the-way as she finishes her shopping outing with Kanata. Or is he dense as a board and reads nothing beyond Shiki’s disapproval for him into her actions?

Usotsuki Lily was at least more direct when someone got pushed into a fountain.

Is it unfair to use a young gay woman character as a plot condiment, along with an inappropriate teacher-student flirtation, a binocular-wielding stalker, the ignored childhood friend of the latter and who knows what other peripheral young romantic misadventures? It counts at least as a nominally sympathetic representation. I am somewhat happy that the mangaka did not try a male:male unrequited pining side-story. Takamyia Jin can pull off such as background in a yuri tale but I doubt if Mizutani-sensei could, at least in this setting. The writer is at best tip-toeing through Maramite territory. Trope-bleed-over is expected but manageable. A serious male-male crush in Hormone-bashi Junior High would Tweek x Craig out so fast as to induce nausea and break whatever pretense of realism the manga has managed to maintain. Japanese schools bully and are homophobic, enough times violently so. Avoid! Avoid! Avoid!

Shiki’s crush that dare not speak its name is also a convincing way for the exemplary mature-for-their-age duo to be threatened by a love triangle. The rest of their year considers our heroes to be stodgy, calm, earnest, serious, responsible and what fun is that? Blink and you will miss the author’s sleight of hand. Somehow other folks are not crushing on Kanata or Kazuki. Kanata is reserved and tall; even a smidgen taller than Kazuki-kun so we can roll our eyes and give the “boys are afraid of tall, serious girls” trope a conditional pass. But what of Kazuki? Somewhere in the manga descriptions it is mentioned that his maturity is scary because it might mark him as a “player”?

Huh? Not buying it.

Take the case of Kanata worrying about the class rep’s mystery crush. Nominally a stickler type, she gets over-enthusiastic about class activities. It also turns out that she secretly admires someone (assumed to be male) and for a moment Kanata worried it was Kazuki. It turns out that Etou looks up to one of the male teachers but does not want to cause any trouble. The chapter served to highlight the cute delusion field that our happy pair are co-generating. They actually believe that no one in their school has figured out that they are an item.

Duh!

Everyone who would care must have already guessed; they all simply assume that the two will be intensely level-headed, responsible and boring about the whole thing. What fun is that? This must be the case, otherwise Kanata or Kazuki should be besieged by all manner of struck-by-lightning admiration crushes. Somehow they are left in peace to sneak off to their daily after school rendezvous in the science room. How romantic.

The Fall Girl

Shiki’s sudden crush is not merely the first manifestation of same-sex desire. It is also a blatant case of “They are alien, they do alien things, that’s why they are called aliens.” As well, we can catch a glimpse of a light yuri restatement of BL- lore’s “Thunderbolts And Lightning, Very Very Frightening, why is this happening, I’m not gay it’s only you” onset of mad same-sex desire. All romantic infatuation is seen as disruptive, but gay infatuation, especially directed at a straight person must be far more dangerous and completely unpredictable. Gay people should only crush on other gay people, lest they disturb the order of forms. OMG! Shock and outrage, Shiki-chan’s desires could convert, corrupt, turn Kanata! This is the pinnacle of homophobic bullshit but it is also the hidden trick behind a morsel of very attractive plot-candy. Because of the unpredictable, transgressive, disruptive nature of the infatuation, an author can deploy it in places where a straight crush wouldn’t be as easy to work in.

Moreover, who among the readers could be repulsed by Shiki’s unrequited crush? As she is more interesting than a heterosexual rival she is also far less likely to disrupt the Vanilla One True Boring Pairing. A queer mature reader might find the way Shiki is used annoying, but I’m guessing that they would grumble and give it a pass for the sermon. Only a raging homophobe would object, so the plot device, like the threat that Shiki-chan offers is ultimately safe while offering some novel excitement. Shiki as a young lesbian is simply out of serious consideration – but only in this particular case. The VOTBP is out-of-bounds to everyone. The author is free at any time to introduce a tall, first-year tomboy sports girl with an attitude to tease Shiki and then meet cute. Start by making appreciative noises about Kanata within earshot and then turn the inevitable Shiki-rage-fest into an introduction. Ooops, how did the playset field get turned on? Better stop now. Shiki-chan could also go off and crush on another straight girl; perhaps she will have better luck next time. Tomboy X, however would restore the order of forms, stabilise the instability and create “profit” within the tale with the addition of one more happy (bonus diversity points!) couple.

Straight girls aren’t worth the trouble

Another random guy showing up and pestering Kanata, another girl getting suddenly all flutter-y around Kazuki would drop the tone of the story into the shoujo cliché sub-basement and easily become annoying. A recent essay on Anime Feminist hinted at this effect, even as it tried to highlight issues of personal space and consent in the hit franchise “Kiss Him Not Me” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss_Him,_Not_Me]. [http://www.animefeminist.com/discourse-force-him-not-me/]

Face it: if not for the fujoshi spice, all of the suitors save the rich Taka girl are useless and the heroine doesn’t need to cuddle with Taka girl either. Serinuma’s fujoshi-dom seems to overlay her discomfort with real-world intimacy and even Taka girl should clue in and shape up. And Serinuma is an annoying doormat.

Some fujoshis undoubtedly do use their hobby as a substitute and a sublimation for real-world intimacy, even as most do not. If she does not want to date, if she is uncomfortable with the idea, leave her the fuck alone. All of you! Only the “sin” of her fujoshi imagination keeps her in thrall to the group and its competition for her. Stuck with new-found attractiveness, she must now choose from a gaggle of pesky suitors. The AF essay also hints that she feels somehow complicit in a larger culture of sexual assault because some of her enjoyed fantasy pairings go berserk and attack each other. Read rapey yaoi comics, you deserve to be mashed on? This misses the point of the fujoshi exercise and the implicit (still extremely problematic) critique within it – by a country mile. Even so, some western slash fen have bumbled together a temporary solution to this quandary: “Only if I am a perpetually in heat male-ish third sex super-powered alien werewolf, and only with other super-powered alien werewolves.” Ta-Dah! No real-world blow-back!

I would argue that 14-sai is a ‘better” narrative than Dōsunda precisely because of how its characters worry and care. The latter of course is a burlesque reverse-harem so expectations are dialed back. Even within Dōsunda, the surprise yuri interest had to be powered up to insane levels. Nishina is rich, attractive, confident, a fujoshi herself, a doujin-circle artist, a high-level school athlete and an admirer of Serinuma’s fujoshi-fu from before Serinuma shed her flab. At night, she fights crime. And she still won’t get the girl.

Once again, I am reminded of the solution to an “out” high school lesbian (light comedy variant) character offered by Whispered Words/ Sasameki Koto: Make her incredibly rich and powerful and pair her up with a “spouse”, so the two can be an invulnerable inspirational supporting couple.

If we are to delve even further into why Shiki-san is here to get her heart bruised, we have as well to deal with a curious haze that not only envelops her nascent sexuality, but the life-path her desire offers her. Put another way, what the heck do we know of how adult lesbian women live in Japan? Aside from imagined sexy bits and in the absence of the legalization of gay marriage and the reform of civil and family registry legislation, what comes after the Rose of Versailles Takarazuka dream sequence? Happily ever after how? Move in together, start a bookstore in Kamakura and keep cats? Use god-like probability shifting powers to do your life over and over again until you can take over the world science cult and drive your second-choice hate-fuck frienemy crazy time and time again? Do the Stretch manga but with intimacy, forever?

If the heterosexual ideal of stable employment, marriage, child rearing and a slow shuffle into grandparent-hood and the grave is becoming harder and harder to pull off for the girl:boy couple, where does that leave the girl:girl couple, let alone the girl by herself who has some notion of finding another girl?

This foggy, uncertain future, its very unreality, is quoted every time Shiki looks longingly at Kanata. It telegraphs wet kittenish harmless and cute because it appears far less possible and far less real. While it does not hint at some soul-crushing ‘well of loneliness‘ life as previous generations’ sensational fiction did, neither does it offer the vista of two happy lesbian women raising a family while running a soba noodle restaurant. The fundamental importance of the social and legal acknowledgement of the rights of gay people carries over even into shoujo manga. The lack kills dreams themselves and because it does, this crime cries out to the heavens because dreams are sacred. Without dreams, the young lesbian character floats as an ethereal, somewhat interesting secondary character who is dropped into the pot for flavouring. And like a Bay Leaf, she is ultimately left in the bottom of the pot.

Even for Kanata-chan and Kazuki-kun, the future is cloudy. Kanata has the right idea. Get English – real fluent English by doing home-stay study in Australia (somehow get the boy into one too) and then get them both into flight attendant jobs. See the world, have a late dinner date on the Left Bank in Paris and get the fuck out of Japan. Get as far away as possible, as well paid as possible and as fast as possible. Return only to work at a powerful outlander corporation, as no Japanese company will ever hire anyone “tainted” in their formative years by foreign experience and habits.

This is the gift-feast laid at the feet of the old men who run today’s Japan. May they choke on the bitter taste.

Shift the POV on this tidy analysis: what of the Japanese readership? They are paying for light fluffy romance stories and they are damn well going to get them. Random cute characters will be slammed together. If the readers want asexual friendships, especially sex-segregated “homosocial” ones, they have plenty of those in real life. Nobody in Japan seems to be dating any more. Alarming numbers of guys and girls of prime pairing age are throwing up their hands and giving up. No time, no money, too much hassle. He can’t fulfill her expectations, she can’t fulfill his. Neither understand the need to floss regularly. Omaii suck and once you pair off societal roles lock in like inexorable doom. Everybody is living in cramped apartments and/or with their parents or grandparents. Intimacy is performed in 4-hour time blocks at tacky sex hotels. Everybody is pissed off, worn down and disillusioned.

It is as if we have again re-doubled the field strength of the “why would anyone give a flying fuck” generator. That’s why the charas have to be 14, beautifully drawn and full of hormones and innocent self-doubt. Phantom limb syndrome.

We remember love.

Given such a desert of the real, it can be entertaining to vicariously sympathize with Shiki as you watch her face her disappointment, pull herself up off the floor and soldier on. You can process her situation but unless you remember being a young gay Japanese school-girl faced with the realisation of where your desires lie, as well as the realisation that for this first devastating crush you are shit out of luck, the experience of your sympathy must remain abstract. You can step back and notice how well the situation is deployed, how it unfolds and how Shiki’s wounds are bound up by someone who may, fictional as she and Shiki are, be in a better position to understand the hurt and confusion Shiki is (written as) going through. These feeling are borrowed and will be put aside when we are done tasting them. They may recall to mind one’s own slightly analogous feelings but from a safe perspective, distanced, denatured and rendered remote as a gay sexuality is added to the mists of fiction and time.

Isn’t that soothing, even healing?

Next up: What’s with all the arm bandage thing for young lesbians???

Asterism; Yuri, Iyashi and the lives of others- (part 1)

Manga: NANASHI NO ASTERISM (ななしのアステリズム; 无名的星群)
Kobayashi Kina, Gangan/ Square Enix 2 volumes, ongoing
Comedy, Drama, School Life, Shoujo Ai, Shounen, Slice of Life.

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This is the first part of a multi-essay examination of a wider role of “Iyashi” in the attraction of stories, characters and genres that are not strictly supposed to be Iyashiki-kei.

Spoilers and long-winded digressions ensue. This started as ONE BIG ESSAY and went out of control, so I am breaking it up. I am going to try to stick to using Class-S yuri examples (what aggregators sites call shoujo-ai) but might sneak some not-yuri-at-all works in as examples. This is like grasping at fog. Lets see what shakes out of the mist.

Sports girl Tsukasa Shiratori secretly likes Washio Nadeshiko but doesn’t want to creep her out. Then she accidentally finds out that Washio has been pining for Kotooka Mikage, the airhead-about-dating girl, who dates guys and drops them every 2 days. All three are in junior high-school; we can assume these dates are trivial. Kotooka in any case is too busy working at the family cake and coffee shop to have much free time. The three hang out together and develop strong bonds of friendship but the unspoken pining beneath the surface is adding tension to their carefree days together. Shiratori is too scared to tell Washio that she likes her, even as she knows that Washio longs for Kotooka, so she adopts an “I’ll support you” attitude to hide her feelings. By the end of chapter 7 we learn that Kotooka has figured out that Shiratori has a crush on Washio and that Washio is silently pining for her but she “can’t return those feelings”, whether because they are same-sex or because she really doesn’t feel any spark for anyone. All three just want their friendship to stay the way it is because the alternative is too complicated. Or perhaps the triangle must be completed and Kotooka has a crush on Tsukasa Shiratori?aseterism-web-4

I am using Nanashi no Asterism as an example because it is relatively unknown, undistinguished, and of-its-type. It is a master-piece in the original sense of the word; what an apprentice makes and shows to graduate. The author, Kobayashi Kina is making her debut serialisation with Asterism. Her day job is (3rd senior-most) assistant to Fairy Tail‘s sensei Hiro Mashima. Asterism is pleasantly drawn, not extremely shoujo-styled, comfortably rendered with token girly accessory design conceits relegated to chapter front and back-pages. The plotting, dialogue and characterisations are smooth and well-executed. It is published on a general, shonen-ish web magazine. There is no fanservice and the characters’ desires are respectfully handled. The “I will support you” trope has been done before, with more acknowledged lesbian self-identified characters, by writers such as Takemiya Jin. It undoubtedly dates back at least to Maramite.asterism-web1-c2-p3

A whiff of Komura Ayumi’s Usotsuki Lily even pops up when it is revealed that Shiratori has a twin “younger” brother Subaru who cross-dresses (mostly at home) “as a hobby”. So far he’s there for novelty and to dig up info on “the prince” from the other school who is interested in Shiratori. Subaru is also the reason that we thieving outlander leeches can read this piece of fluff. Manga featuring otokonoko are pure honey to a certain scanlation group.

Thanks also to Subaru, Mikage’s family bakery and coffee shop gets a small dose of crossdressing cafe. Perhaps Kina-sensei will push her luck and try for some light BL teasing with the prince” and the kouhai who just so happens to look exactly like his sister when crossdressing. Who knows?

It occurs to me that one further reason can be explored as to the “why are all the straight boys and girls reading stories about fantasy minority sexualities and gender expressions that represent queer folk according to our peculiar needs?” question.

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I recall that many of the respondents in the Verena Maser surveys [https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/the-way-she-acts-and-the-color-of-her-hair/] listed iyashi; soothing, healing as one of the attractions of their yuri (and yaoi) consumption. Obviously this goes beyond looking for fap-fodder erotic or even romantic narratives. There is more than one way to “fetishize” gay characters. Exoticism hints at the effect but misses the point.

To explore further, I will need to mention nightmares. This will get a bit personal, hopefully I can write with enough sensitivity so that I am not inadvertently insulting as well. And with enough skill, so that it is not a big boring mess. Remember, it’s not about insulting “the other” It is all about meeeeeeeeee ooops I mean “us” – whoever the heck that is.

A further digression:

Let’s say that you were caught up in a yuri or BL or even a heterosexual romcom tale that featured your favourite One True Pairing. Say as well, for the sake or argument that the author was a real jerk with pretensions towards plot-wizard-om and was about to jam your two fave charas together in that special moment where they would realise yadda yadda yadda… Except that asshole-sensei has thrown in a subplot that threatens to pull one of the charas away from their one big chance to confess their feelings towards each other, in order to save…

A starving wet kitten!

Or a puppy if cats aren’t your thing.

Save the cute animal or get the charas together?

Jeesh, there’s a point to this.

Real life is full of those hideous moments who you realise that you cannot save every starving wet kitten from inexorable pitiless shitty mortality and that you also realise that any efforts you make towards the same are just projections of your own feelings of mortality and helplessness. Moments like this are why we have elaborate delusion narratives involving faith and spirituality.

Cue the speech by DEATH from the end of HOGFATHER.
(Oh heck, why hold back? It’s the season…)

However…

No one likes to have their noses rubbed in this while consuming a nice diverting, escapist tale. If the one character does not save the effing furball, the inevitable one true thang will be forever tainted by the shade of the dead creature. This can be useful in a story too, as foreshadowing of a hidden fatal character trait that will later pop out to blah blah blah… but again, this is all plot mechanics.

Ya save the kitty. Or the puppy. Screw the OTP. OTPs are made to be put off endlessly; it keeps the reader hooked. Even if the missed moment ends up as regret for what might have been and never came to pass. Then you end up with the will-not-be-named ero-mangaka-sensei ‘new-half’ endlessly chiding the salaryman for being “spineless”. FUCK YOU Kio-sensei. Even if you are tying to be cute about how both charas are lying to each other and themselves out of polite convention and self-delusion (this of course is an aside for folks who are up on Genshiken, Nidaime and Spotted Flower, especially SF ch12). How poignant! Perhaps Kiss-Shot-Acerola-Orion-Heart-Under-Blade can show up and try out some of her dodgy time-travel magic so that our hero can save the furball and still meet cute. We all know how that ends up.dawn

Zombie Apocalypse!

Now if you are thinking that the next step in my argument might be that it is easier to frustrate the OTP if the charas are fakee-queer because us double scare quotes straight-riajuu consider them somehow “less”, please put that one aside too. The effect could be just as strong for vanilla het rom-com characters. The point that would slip, by this urge to segregate imaginary others into privileged and less privileged classes would be that we must not miss the root of the problem; that they are all imaginary others. The minority sexuality and gender expressions, the novelty of the pined-for loves are, as I mentioned in previous essays, treated like small quirky super powers.

Superman is most assuredly not allowed to have a morning coffee and a cigarette at an outdoor cafe and enjoy the New York Times Book Review section while random citizens fall from adjacent tall buildings and go splat on the pavement around him.

Superman has to save them all because we can’t and because the author is a jerk. Or because we are are bunch of greedy escapist readers who are avoiding our work, our troubles and our responsibilities. So why does a certain readership favor characters with synthetic minority sexualities and/ or gender expressions as their fave “others”, rather than say, superheroes?

This one is going to take some time. Too many variables; writing is hard work. Most creative whomping-up-of-shit is grinding, painstaking, coal-shovelling tedium. Add to this that the overwhelming majority of us are woefully unsuited to pure genius-level inspired creativity. And yet, I have no shortage of cheesy rom-com manga to read.

I started pawing at the fog-thin edges of something important about this when I woke up a few mornings ago from another nightmare. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic; I don’t get nightmares, I get lame-mares. My sleeping imagination that jams occurrences and worries and physical discomfort from my crappy mattress together into nifty little scenarios is just at bad at spinning stories or any other kind of creative output as my wakened imagination. No: on second thought, even worse. Not at all scary. Just annoyingly disappointing, pointless and somewhat disillusioned. Banal. Repetitive. No win. Really Fucking Stupid and Pointless ™.

In a dream you saw a way to survive and you were filled with joy.

This, even more than my banal little dreams is the penultimate shock. Why can’t I at least have brilliantly creative dreams? Why aren’t my nightmares truly frightening or at least uncanny? This is unfair! A Twitter-bot could come up with better scenarios. Replace dream-making imagination with a machine. Step 2: Break the machine.

Across your dreams in pale battalions go…

Perhaps I sleep though all the good, original and satisfying ones. Who knows? Who cares? The only take-away from this insight is a renewed respect for those who earn their living by toiling to produce my fave fictions, as well as for the legion of fanfiction writers out there who refuse to let the best or even the good be the enemy of their dreams being vomited forth all wonky and half-formed across the page or screen and then dragged kicking and screaming onto AO3. My kindred: Idiot lecteurs, mes semblables, mes frères et soeurs; I love and salute you all!

The other take-away from my annoying way to wake up was a renewed appreciation of techne, in a wide sense: craft, lore, technology. Genius is 1% inspiration and %99 perspiration. The perspiration is earned struggling with the great messy toolbox of all that has come before trying to see if something in there can be grabbed and MacGyvered in such a way as to finish the damn job. Or make the mess look finished. Close enough for rock and roll. Nobody in the audience knows that you forgot half a page of your lines. Photoshop a real picture with a cheesy woodblock filter in as a background because the deadline looms. What does TV tropes have that I can steal? Can I take that small gag from episode #68 of Those Obnoxious Aliens (Rumiko Takahashi is a living, breathing bodhisattva of manga and anime who brings understanding and compassion to the world. RESPECT !!!) and turn it into an entire serialization if I use three characters instead of two and make them all girls?

It is early morning, it must be a Sunday because there is no traffic. It is cold, overcast and I am pushing a rusty 20 year old full-sized cargo van down the suburban streets of my town. Why? No idea. I guess it must be out of gas. Why not push it to the side of the road and leave it there? There’s no place to legally park it. The van will get ticketed and towed. How can I push this van, it should be too heavy? It rolls really well. Is it my van? I can’t remember, I might have borrowed it, I’m a bit hungover from last night. Besides, there is this stupid starving, freezing wet kitten in the van. How the effing hell it got there I can’t remember. Maybe I rescued it and then kept partying. If I leave it, it will die. What if the van gets towed and then they find a dead kitten in it? I’ll be in more shit. Keep pushing the van, think about alternatives when the van gets too hard to push.

Ditch the van, fuck the ticket and the tow, put the kitten under your jacket and find food and water for it. Uh, sounds like a good backup plan but maybe there’s a gas station around here somewhere. Plaintive mewling from inside the van and the sound of tires on damp asphalt…

This sucks, I think as I wake up.

A truly creative person would surely have better dreams than this but a pro would store even such as this away for the day they needed to apply “the craft” to it and whomp up something useful that will put food on the table. Shit, If I was a fan of Marina Abramovic I could get a PhD in performance art for something like this – if I was also willing to spend 3+ years and rack up a lifetime of student debt AND push stupid rusty vans around suburban streets for a lousy doctorate that would leave me as unemployable as I already am PLUS force me to write and spew bullshit about why the pointlessness of the situation is important in the context of whatever gets me the most cash and recognition in my patch of academia this month, etc…

Don’t laugh. Don’t get me started on how touchy and %120 shit-headed performance art prima donnas (I use this in an ungendered way) can get when they are in hot pursuit of a doctoral thesis piece at your gallery.

On the other hand, there is something very meta, almost performance art in getting a PhD in performance art… 

Maybe someone with talent could turn this into an interesting one-shot. Or a few pages of funny fanfiction. Or a 3 chord screamo noise band tune.

“The kind man was never possessed by a cat in the first place”

There never was any cat.

Nothing wrong with using the craft to built up an entertaining mountain out of a molehill. Bonus points if you can do it without acting like a shit to all around you. Perhaps the latter reveals the true nature of fiction. In the real world, other folks are always in the way with their concerns and fuck yours. Only in fiction do others sometimes care enough.

And that, along with the legendary rodent’s fundament is the nub of the problem.

With Nanashi no Asterism and its hints of lesbian sexuality in a supposedly class-S yuri story, the entire “she would think it is gross” routine is, for the purposes of the story little more than another layer on the “I don’t want to ruin our friendship, I can’t move forward” dynamic. Putting a boy directly into the original triangle would lose some of the focus on an exclusive female elaboration of the problem. Japan is notorious for sex-segregated socials almost as much as for its hierarchically ordered social roles. In this setting, you fit in here, dress this way and act this way and everyone is either a girl or a guy. Salute and get back to your studies/ work. In high school, including the junior variant, you make fast friends and beautiful memories. Be sure to log each friend achieved and beautiful memory in your student handbook and be ready to show and explain your progress to your supervisor at the weekly progress report meeting. Gambatte!

Let’s conjugate irregular verbs. No need to have “the prince” as one of the three. Even so, “the prince” had already made an appearance before some guy waited at the school gates for Tsukasa Shiratori. (I’m not going to spoil EVERY last detail in Asterism) A further note: Nanashi means “No Name” or nameless. An asterism is a minor grouping of stars but also in typography, a triangle grouping of asterixes (or is that asterii?)

Apparently a significant number of the Japanese readers of a good little almost-yuri, almost-romance like this would, as some of the respondents in the Maser surveys, find this manga “soothing”, even “healing”. At least diverting. No one is going to lose an arm over it and it doesn’t look like one, two or even all three of them will get so bent out of shape if and when their desires are thwarted as to leap off any high buildings. Likewise there isn’t any bullying, so again, mercifully, no high buildings. (…Are there any creative activist types in Japan that could shame the Ministry of Education bureaucrats sufficiently that they fix their heads and policies and stop the slaughter ??? What does it take? Advertised tour packages for foreigners ending at the Ministry of Education building?)

1am tip for writing a character of an identity you don’t share: imagine a teen of that identity picking up your book at their worst moment” — ‏@mara_fitzgerald via Twitter

So far, the three main characters in Asterism are being written sympathetically enough; even as Subaru is being used as a cliche. He also is written as stuck with a massive sister complex, which is one of the stock cross-dressing explainers out there in lazy writer trope-land. Wind him up and send him marching for BL-ish squeee as he dons his twin sister’s clothes and sets out to divert “the prince” from his sis. Whatever… 

This little manga probably won’t offend and severely annoy any in-real-life young lesbians, even as they may roll their eyes and mutter “If only, so easy, so tidy” And the straight boys and girls get a slightly exoticized restatement of a common complaint; a bit of distance from their condition is added to make the read engaging enough to follow but not resonant enough to disturb. Again, contrast Asterism to the treatment of similar situations offered by Takemiya Jin. They hurt. They can be survived but they sting and threaten with the potential to wound deeply. Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers (青い花 Aoi Hana) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Blue_Flowers turns such into a demolition derby of classic Class-S wounds. Fumi Manjōme should be crushed. Instead she perseveres and emerges.

And yet, even Aoi Hana does not deploy a catastrophe of such sudden and violent doom as to provoke a catharsis; an orchestration of pity, sorrow, rage and tragedy that leaves the audience shaken, purged and appreciative of their mundane, happy existences. Iyashi is not supposed to do catharsis, it merely offers a “safe space”. You don’t have to paddle a gondola, watch grass grow and paint dry on a wall for a respite. You can watch the cute youth bumble about, besotten with their first crushes instead.

Next up: More soothing, slightly melancholic class-S yuri crushing and more examination of Iyashi.

Izetta Eps 6,7,8,9 etc… Dropped

I give up!kancole-shyte-web

Shuumatsu no Izetta is a tolerable action-adventure yuri-exploitation alt-history WWII exercise, but I might as well throw all pretensions to the wind and instead follow Brave Witches, the latest loli-fanservice installment of the Strike Witches franchise. Or go whole hog on that thing with girls as battleships (or is it battleships as girls?)

After Episode 9, all that remains is for clone-witch to capture and mash on Fine-hime. Then Izetta will go nuclear and decapitate clone-witch-bad-“lesbian” with a flying fire extinguisher, because we all know that’s how its done from Shojo Sect.

Feh!

I’m bored, I can’t get the Genshiken summary pieces to write themselves and the Nanashi no Asterism compare-and-contrast to Hanamonogatari essay is getting to be too long to read, its arguments too tenuous to follow. Fortunately, per recommendation of a senior blogger, I found a neato free online course on Modern Japanese Sub-Cultures, where I am making a pest out of myself (I hope not) by posting follow-up bibliography links in the class comment section. So far the instructors haven’t stomped me and I have lots of links to neato somewhat peripherally interesting academic papers from five-years of this thing.

And no, NOT spamming the course to drive readership to this site. Well behaved, I am trying to be. Learning something too. Never knew that studies of early shoujo manga had subtypes. One called “otometic” seemed to deal with ever-repeated “grow up, accept who you are and find affirmation in being your mundane self” bromides delivered to girl readers in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I suspect, given the shitty, no-happy-ending-ever nature of proto yuri tales that these old heterosexual chestnuts are being reworked in contemporary non-exploitative, sympathetic “story-A” yuri manga. Needs more research.

Meanwhile, I love how well Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is being received, Here is a short Shinkai-produced Cram-School TV commercial that I fell in love with. A mini Your Name, minus body-swapping, all in two minutes:

Wow!

Izetta Ep 5: You are not making this easy for me!

izetta-5-metal-will-rule-web

Episode 5:

When Spot (or is it Petey?) is captured by the evil dog-catcher, Spanky, Alfalfa and the gang put on a play to raise money to bail their dog out of the pound. Can they pull it off before the loveable pooch faces the doggy gas chamber?

izetta-problem-map-frog-kun-web

 

Shuumatsu no Izetta is not making it easy for me. I really wanted to like this thing but my interest is slipping. The plot is wonky; compared to a battle-fanboy exercise like Full Metal Panic or even Gate: Jieitai… we have Izetta riding her gun, explosions  and then …. Stuff. Then they do some other stuff. Or something. At least Izetta has learned to make the big sharp things go fast enough to nail panzer tanks.

izetta5-tanks-for-the-memories-ani

 

At one point over the weekend, I contemplated assembling a sequence of screencaps that would demonstrate how much Izetta‘s plotting owed to the ancient ALLYOURBASE internet video meme. The battle sequences in Ep3 also cried out for an AMV to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s Shake Senora.

(She come down in slow motion…)

The entire PR/ Ghost Army/ Joan of Arc Witch/ disinformation/ deterrence brainwave is a massive fail. A play to bail the pooch out of the pound.

Worse; If I wanted to start grinding on my particular limited patch of  “gender theory” (why the straight boys and girls cheer on the faux-gay) there ain’t a lot of that here either. Yeah sure; yuri-esque pics in the ending credits, some skinship and fanservice and an off-the-shelf “they were BFF’s when kids, then separated.” Yawn. About as interesting as scanning a Twitter search for the show and finding comments that announce “It’s got gay, I’m watching it“.

So there ain’t enough interesting stuff on the battlefield and there ain’t enough yuri. Sure, two young women can just be friends too but they ain’t very good at doing that either.

Worse; 5 episodes into a cours of 13, there is no way in heck that Elystadt can end alt-WWII in time to save the day. So it is either “Our Battle Continues” or the US of Atlanta as well as the the democratic, non-colonialist, slightly liberal-left parliamentary monarchy of Alt-Nihon are both up to their fannies in hidden strike witches who are going to ride in (like Valkyries) to save the day and impose World Peace.

New Yuri World Witch Order. (I insist on cute witch hats too)

Which wouldn’t be too bad a way to fix this slow motion mess.

Right now Izetta is slowly drowning in a vat of vanilla and treacle.

Time to GO FREAK or GO HOME.

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Izetta Map mod found on Twitter, Google image search sez Pumpkinspicedeep (@captainjuggy)

Izetta Ep4 — fanservice

Episode 4:

The King Arch-Duke is dead. Princess (Arch-Duchess even if her subjects call her “hime”) Fine is now the ruler of Elystadt. Izetta gets a bath after waking up in the palace. She also gets beaned by some falling statuary and this is used to reveal her “kryptonite”: Ley Lines. (somewhat like the Japanese Power Spot fixation, an old chestnut in magikal fictions — Charles Stross loves ’em)

izetta-ley-lines-map-web

Some places have mana, some don’t. The capital of Elystadt is a dry hole, the ancient capital is overflowing with go juice. Avoid spells that spin a copper disc to hypersonic speeds while drawing magic to both spin and hold the disk together. Fear glass daggers.

Izetta, naif that she is, immediately spills all this to Fine’s war cabinet. Acknowledging that Izetta is a powerful force for Elystadt is no problem. Trying to figure out how to use her IS. Instead of turning her into a top-secret kinetic energy weapon the majority of those present are seized by the brain wave of turning her into Joan of Arc. Bad precedents aside, this gives the suspicious spy-dude a chance to introduce a further dodgy character, one who will incidentally crank the fan-service up to 11.

izetta-elvira-who-web

Then there is Fine’s personal bifauxen bodyguard. So far her job seems to be scowling at Izetta, driving her around and wearing a Taka otokoyaku costume.

izetta-4-weigh-more-than-a-duck-web

“Do you weigh more than a duck?”
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Once she hears that Fine saved Izetta when they were young, all her suspicions vanish and she almost puts the royal limo in a ditch, so overwhelmed is she with emotion. Let’s hope that the Princess Arch-Duchess Hime has a ninja combat butler somewhere nearby; so far her bodyguard needs work. Once the secret chamber in the old capitol’s castle is found and the Ley Lines map revealed, Izetta gets dressed up in a new boobage-displaying, thigh-flashing White Witch Returns ™ costume and gets to have a sweet hand-holding moment with Fine (who sports a far more serious royal costume) Some fans have noted that it resembles a wedding scene.

izetta-ep4-wedding-ish-web

D’awwwwwww!

Meanwhile the big press conference looms.

Where to start?

The easy stuff first: Interesting that both Germania and Elystadt are variations on absolute monarchies. For a big-bad Hitler substitute, the Germanian Emperor is understandable. The absence of an Elystadt Prime Minister (maybe it’s that other old guy at the table?), diplomatic corps and/or sundry other government types in the war room is curious. No wonder the Elystadt troops are getting slaughtered. One doddering old dude runs the entire military, along with one spy and a few hangers-on. In contrast to all the military gear drag that the show has been flashing, the lack of Elystadt Command and Control, let alone governance is shocking. At least the Germanians had the stock “Longest Day” useless general staff milling around and making champagne bets and an absolute (-ly) despotic Imperial court.

Elystadt’s power structure would fail a family auto repair business. For a country it is laughable.

Next problem: fanservice.

Perhaps anime has already reached peak fanservice without anyone noticing it. On one hand, the fans, presumed to be fan-boys, are presumed to demand shower/ bath scenes, cleavage, butts and revealing costumes. The aftermarket for otaku trinkets howls for flashy magical-young-woman White Witch Returns ™ costume clad heroic action figures. More curious is the need to dress Izetta in a decolletage revealing short skirt with odd sandals within the castle. Her earlier hospital gown was a forgivable stretch, made up for by her later borrowed boy-shorts, army boots and uniform top. She was both fierce and fetching as she hurled tanks about. Does the animation studio not trust its material? Twitter Campaign: “Give Izetta warm clothing!”

Watching a video clip of Izetta flying formation with lances and destroying stukas (work on getting that twitter vid clip uploaded) complete with heroic chorale accompaniment brought to mind an older martial anime moment; the “Mighty X” instant in the preview teaser (episode 0) for Full Metal Panic The Second Raid. Don’t tell me that Sergeant Major/ Second Lieutenant Melissa Mao ain’t hawt as all heck because she is dressed to match her power and competence. Sure you can later slip her into a slinky evening gown, but only if you have a good reason. (Even so, one instance of evening dress was enough to forever fixate Kurtz Webber) You wouldn’t put Melissa Mao in a schoolgirl outfit when she is leading a strike team from her M9A Gernsbeck.

Or maybe you would have to, in 2016?

Final problem: yuri-ish shoujo-ai-ish forced innocence:

Magical Girl Anne of Green Gables slaughters invading Nazis to save her childhood friend” is an intriguing premise for an anime. You can do a lot with soulful friendship between two young women, even if you make both characters nearly asexual and drop in plenty of carnage. Qualia The Purple (Murasaki-iro no Qualia) comes to mind; Gaku, given one small stupid power by a clumsy keter-class godling proceeds to work it across multiverses in a heartbreaking descent into homicidal monomania; all to save her cursed friend.qualia-always-wanted-to-be-magical-14-9-web

Once you start killing enemies, future enemies and potential enemies are a small step. qualia-mada-it-hurt-14-9-web

Gaku, in Child-homicidal-vengeance-magical-girl mode

 

Izetta is still charmingly naif, even as her kill count, per some /a/nons is over 50  by the end of the third episode. War is hell. Can you drop a soulful Class-S friendship between two young women into a blitzkrieg and have it walk out all fluffy and sparkling? Izetta wants to try, as long as possible. The show goes to absurd lengths to keep the happy couple innocent and “pure”. Izetta was a persecuted nomadic outcast. Fine as an alt-european aristo was raised to consider marriage and reproduction as acts of political economy. Neither would have much time or place in their hearts for conventional romantic mush.

Keeping this in mind, we can better situate (even if we don’t completely excuse) the ridiculous fanservice outbreaks in episode 4. Enter the very grope-y and at least polymorphously perverse alt-Amurrican tutor to Arch-Duchess Fine: Elvira Friedman.

OH SNAP! Pull the other one, it has bells on it and makes a pretty sound.

Oooh, Oooh!

Notice me Sempai!

Very funny. This will go a long way towards trolling/ committing a shout-out towards a certain senior activist blogger on all things yuri in Contemporary Japanese (and some western) Visual Culture (also; occasional web-marketing consultant) who will either consign Izetta to the “won’t ever watch this annoying shyte” pile or wade in and rip it apart to find out what, if anything works. Perhaps she will merely note it with amused tolerance. Stand by for a real-world master-class lesson in how to respond to commercial trolling.

And yes, a favourable review on a certain blog wouldn’t hurt Crunchyroll subscription numbers one bit.

Sapphic subtext aside, Ms. Friedman makes her appearance not only to highlight the possibility same-sex interest among young women but to serve as an obvious, worldly and slightly louche contrast between jaded, experienced desire and Izetta and Fine’s “innocence”. Also as chief costume designer and press flack, the odd impracticalities of Izetta’s new White Witch Returns ™ costume can also be laid at her doorstep.

And yeah, it is quite obvious that her and spy-dude are in league. I will howl Fire the Writers! if he is a Germanian mole, but he, and Elvira have to be sleeper agents for SOME other major intelligence agency. 

izetta-drop-cathedral-here-web

I still think dropping cathedrals accelerated to mach8 on alt-Berlin is a sounder option than a PR blitz. And Izetta was attractive ’nuff in fatigues and shorts.

The studio needs more faith in their product.

Fanfiction survey secrets revealed !!!

“More than 7,500 fanfiction readers filled out the Fansplaining Fic Preferences Survey. What can we learn from the results?”

that-study-graph

Cheesy title aside, the folks at Fansplaining gathered a lot of interesting data from Western fanfic aficionados.

Their article on the results, on Medium:

Five Tropes Fanfic Readers Love (And One They Hate)
https://medium.com/fansplaining/five-tropes-fanfic-readers-love-and-one-they-hate-73843372408c

Discussion on Tumblr:
http://fansplaining.com/post/152424517233/five-tropes-fanfic-readers-love-and-one-they

The only cavil I had with the survey was that it had some in-fandom terms that I had Noooooooooo idea about. So, that “Gen” thing in the above graph concerns “friendship only” fic. or does it?

Gen is a label for a fanwork that contains no romantic or sexual content, either het (heterosexual) or slash (homosexual). The term comes from “general audiences”, the MPAA term for a child-safe film. — Gen –  https://fanlore.org/wiki/Gen

Ok, I learned sumthin’. Then there is the sex-werewolf thang. Nawww, read above if you really need any of that. 
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GREAT JOB!
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Izetta Ep3 — rampage

IZETTA SMASH !!!izetta3-hulk-smash

Spoiler lamp is ON

TLDR summary:

Yes, the puny Elystadt army is overwhelmed, yes, they are cannon fodder before the planes, bombs and tanks of the alt-Wehrmacht. Watch them die tragically, heroically.

izeyya-ep3-grenade-death

Awwwww crap this is going on much too long.izetta-ch3-lose-lives-buy-time

Yes, 16 minutes and 16 seconds of episode time, if you want to be picky about it.
Wait, what’s that?
…Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… izetta3-up-in-sky

Finally roused to action, Izetta skewers the alt-Luftwaffe and then descends to the battlefield to throw tanks around like the Hulk. The Princess is happy Izetta didn’t bug off. The enemy is vanquished! The troops cheer! izetta3-troops-cheer

No pantsu shots. Must learn to accelerate antique swords to mach 6 lest they just bounce off tanks izetta3-tank-bounce

Pacing in episode 3 seemed off, at least in comparison to the adventurous clip of the first and first half of the second episodes. I suspect that the grinding on the battlefield situation was a nod towards the military fans.

The defending Elystadt troop seemed decked out in WWI vintage French and Belgian -ish kit.

The over-confident alt-nazi general staff were right out of central casting. It would be interesting if in later episodes princess Fine takes a more active role in the defense of the realm, rather than simply standing as as figurehead to rally the troops, who mop up after Izetta hurls tanks around and shatters enemy planes. The one Elystadt general that we have seen came across as a doddering blowhard. A Princess with the tactical imagination of a field marshal would be a great compliment to a super-powered magical girl.

The story also requires some Izetta-kryptonite and spy vs spy skullduggery, if only to put a few more characters (seen in the PV) into play. Meanwhile

izetta3-friends

Look at the powerful duo.
Lets just hope the pace picks up.

Izetta Ep2 — backstories

Spoiler lamp is ON

izetta-bye-gun-chan

TLDR summary:

Izetta and Princess Fine met and were friends for a brief time when they were young. The Princess saved her from a peasant mob and suffered a nasty wound to her side in the process. There are limits to Izetta’s powers and she was raised to hide them. The alt-nazis killed her family when they captured her; she will kill to defend herself. The alt-nazis have a foothold in Elystadt; Izetta managed to carry the wounded Princess to the relative safety of a retreating column of Elsystadt troops. Izetta pleads to stay by Fine’s side even as Fine tries to convince her to flee to safety. Meanwhile the alt-gestapo agents from the train resolve to hunt Izetta down. The story so far is a class-S young women’s fast friendship mixed in with a (quasi) WWII battlefield adventure.

Episode two of Izetta etc gives us the quick alt-nazi war footage by way of introduction and then jumps to some cheesecake in the opening credits. When the music fades we are back in mid-air with the Princess in
Izetta’s arms, just as we left them at the end of the first episode. The pacing is brisk and after a brief “whoa how do you fly this thing” near-miss with mountains, our two heroes find themselves chased by alt-luftwaffe fighter planes. Here Izetta shows that besides touching an object to control it, she can also splatter her blood on objects and exert powerful magic at a distance. Enemy planes fall to her ice shards after she lures them into chasing her close to the snowy ground. The Princess gets the last plane with a single shot from the anti-material rifle that they are riding. After they land safely Izetta caries the weakened Princess until they meet up with a column of retreating Elystadt troops. After some field first aid, the party holes up in a ruined mansion and the princess hears of how bad the war is going.

Episode 2 is relatively short on fan-service as the story begins to edge towards an adventurous tale of friendship between two young women facing an implacable foe; almost the stuff of traditional shonen fare. Only the opening credits drop in some odly out-of-place fan-service, along with plenty of tanks and guns. Izetta is a courageous red-headed young girl; the nod to “Red Haired Anne” [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-dawes/anne-of-green-gables-japan_b_4899252.html] the western tale that showed that young women could have fast friendships without suffering terrible retribution (a la Flower Tales) from the fates, is obvious. Houston, we have a Class-S [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_S_(genre)] adventure; think “bromance” with young women (which has to be one of the more convoluted ways of describing the effect, but if it works, roll with it…) See as well: http://okazu.yuricon.com/category/history-of-yuri/page/3/

red-haired-anne-detail-web800

More of Akagi no Anne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN8yqsNCG-A

izetta-02-so-anne-it-hurts-web

As the episode ends, the alt-wehrmacht is advancing through Elystadt and the Princess has ordered Izetta to flee.

Genshiken ch120 extra – the second raid

Something like the missing 18 minutes of tape.

genshiken-c120-temple-walk-omake-web

(Wow, that dates me!)

She who…graciously offered me a summary of the two 4-koma strips that were included as volume extras for V20. I had been very very very curious as to what Madarame and Hato-as-chan talked about when Mada dragged Hato off for a longer conversation at the temple.

It looks at first like more of the same. Dismissing it as such would be a mistake.

Right panel: Mada asks Hato about how a seme x uke pairing is established. Physical attributes? Hato starts to fan out as to how a seme can also be a wimp who lacks confidence, a uke can be assertive, that emotional traits add variation to pairings.

Left panel: Mada confused, blurts out a question to Hato: Why the ??? do you like BL? What most drew you to it? Hato replies that the most important aspect of BL-ish m:m romance, for him/her is “absolute trust“. This leaves Mada flustered..

Hmmm.

Hmmm again.

Normally these volume extras are supposed to be funny. Discussing the intricacies of rotten pairing conventions might carry a whiff of nervous discomfort hah hahs for the uninitiated but this hardly makes the effort worthwhile. As for the “absolute trust” thing, it sounds like some of the stock disclaimers that BDSM enthusiasts toss off when defending their hobby. While not unheard of in the literature surrounding yaoi, BL and fujoshi lore, it is not high on the list of usual talking points.

Hmmm a third time.

Have a bonus panel. The Ch 120 cliff-hanger as a caption contest!

120 clean caption contest web.jpg

I promise to work more of this in to one or more of the Genshiken Nidaime wrap-up posts that I have been alternately grinding on and avoiding for the last few months.

In the meantime, Izetta ep 2 was Way Kewl!