12 days 2018 #2: mirrors of desire

For my second post for 12days(of)Anime (etc), I should take a moment and go on a bit about the “why?” of this strange blog, for those of you who are dropping by for the first few times. Yup, I do the usual anime and manga reviews of stories that catch my eye and I have even been known to do “season line-up” coverage but that isn’t my main interest.

Kind of hard to explain…

Herr Doctor Professor Saitō Tamaki summed it up in his brilliant post-lacanian examination of otaku desire; Beautiful Fighting Girl. Libidinised desire, even displaced and sublimated through fantasy narratives can re-cathect and/or re-enchant an otherwise dead reality. Think of it as an updating of what Freud swiped from Mary Shelly.

Go back 8-10 years. I was reading scanlated manga and watching a few fansubbed anime and was beside myself. I blame  Kōji Kumeta and his insanely long-running and arch manga Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayonara,_Zetsubou-Sensei] The anime versions, staying quite close to the source material but cranking the problematic aspects to 11 only made matters worse.

I was soooooo embarrassed that I was reading and watching that sick shit.

Did I worry too much? Would you, even today post a series of opening (or closing) credit sequences from a Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei anime on your normie Faceebook page? No, really... Aside: search Vimeo and Dailymotion, the OP’s and EPs routinely get scrubbed from Youtube.

Even the mild Rolly- composed and sung Teacher’s Pet ED slips in a whackload of cringy and strange bits. It wasnt good enough to dismiss the entire mess as edgy satire. (BTW: that’s his sister who is wiggling her ass at sensei)  Sure; makes fun of… Ha Ha Ha, It’s a Japanese thing, they just do that kind of in-your-face pornish, death-obsessed, pedo-bear, lolicon weirdness. Then add the Showa bits to lampoon the “exoticization” of a past Japan; a trick Mamori Oshii cranked to 11 in his forgotten 2006 Tachiguishi-Retsuden [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachiguishi-Retsuden] (1)

Kumeta is making fun of all it, including all the Showa-era graphic conceits, nasty shout-outs, the insane labyrinth of footnote-able pop sociology (the manga scanlating crew was heroic, with end-pages full of references and decoded snark) and the ironic-but-still-get-to-gawk fanservice overload…

Yeah, that’s it.

Time to re-watch Full Metal Panic. Pacifist Japan dreams of warring secret societies with robots and futuristic weapons built with super tech from girls who dream of the future, playing global games of apocalyptic geopolitics. Complete with a chaste love story. You have to get through ALL the light novels before they even get to kiss. Jeesh! What’s left of the Arbalest’s AI wants a Camaro.

Suicide, bondage, stalking, madness, murderous jealousy. A high school class full of under-age nubile girls chasing a drama queen rich-boy teacher. A Japanese take on Harold and Maude, without the sex granny?

Why does this THING exist?

Uh, lookie: a few blogs I follow have gone ecstatic about the revival of some old manga. Is Genshiken even a Japanese word?

Pause and rewind. Dr Tamaki wrote Psychology of the Armored Cutie in the year 2000. He didn’t care to delve into the women’s flip side of the effect; he even dismissed the possibility that there were any significant number of Japanese manga fans who might not be quite “straight”. Write what you know. Tamaki, a Japanese Lacan-influenced psychologist [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamaki_Sait%C5%8D] dabbled in otakology only as a sideline to his work with social isolates. He had no interest in developing a unified otaku schmex-und-desire field theory. Besides, bricolage-ing Lacanian and Freudian pop cultural analysis at a very Japanese phenom was a wry joke in itself. Had not Lacan declared that the Japanese were fundamentally un-anylyze-able?

Want to know what was weirder? His simple monograph on otaku stirred up a half decade debate-feud among Japanese guy otaku “experts”. Watch a whole bunch of  Japanese pop-cult theory guys manspalain that while –urrrr some otaku might, urrrrr, hmmmm, dojinshi, kleenex boxes, figurines, whatever– that was all beside the point, or the result of wimmins shoujo-ish poison infecting heroic manly sci-fi anime and manga, or just more of the same militaristic nationalism mind control, or something about databases…

They should have asked the women, since Japanese women had been quietly playing with this stuff since the 1970’s. Or, the boys had to go the long way around because the girls were being very very secret secret society about it all. I did mention the “second generation’ of the Genshiken, right?

So: stare into the pit too long and the pit does not stare back. Once in a while however, it glances provocatively over it’s shoulder and winks.

If you get geeked on this kind of theory-behind-the-genres thing, you can go all Da Vinci Code fast. Or you end up with the beginnings of a post-graduate research project. If young, with a passing grasp of Japanese, you may want to seek an advanced degree in some cultural studies-ish field related to Japan. Fair warning: most of the Japanese faculty positions open to outlander experts to reflect Japanese cultural ephemera back to Japanese undergraduates are already filled on a long-term, renewable every five years contract basis.

Yet theory holds its own form of moe. I remain a sucker for it. And because I try not to essentialise too much, I fixate on those odd bits of Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture that travel well into outlander (that’s you and moi) regions. Grey channel patterns of distribution help a lot. If a whole bunch of folks go through the trouble to translate, etc., etc., etc… there must be something there. Oh! Moar pr0n

Now that Genshiken Nidaime has concluded I have less concentrated raw material to play with. I have to wander further afield, even if Kio-sensei continues to have fun with the old gang in the quarterly Spotted Flower. If you have not yet, you really should. That means the full manga run, not just the anime(s). As for Spotted Flower; the story takes place on a probability line where the original crew have all grown up as bored and horny 30-somethings. Either this is the Kio’s Gate result from playing with obscure IBM computers or the author is taking every single lewd doujinshi pairing and mulling over whether he could do better. Kio Shimoku is proprietary about his creations; competitive too.

Which invariably leads to, ahem, minority sexuality and gender expression in Japanese stuff.  Set aside the made-by-and-for properties. They face sterner scrutiny than I, an outsider could ever offer. What gets fascinating is when “queer” characters get dropped into stories for nominally straight audiences. On one hand, real-life folks in somewhat similar circumstances gush to see representation that looks even a tiny bit like their realities. For the rest of us, reactions vary from hard-reactionary “get that xyz stuff out of my zyx” to -hmmmmmmm- and even “yes please, can I have another?”

It’s that old “the other” thing again, with a fresh coat of paint. Different classes, ethnicities, nationalities, cultures and (dare I use an imprecise term) “races” have all suffered this kind of interest before. Why not throw some queer into the pot as well? And am I not redoubling the offence by projecting my interests on the Japanese expression of this effect? Yes and no; Japan and co. are all grown up high modernists too; they are doing it back to us, we see them doing it at us as we are doing it at them and both of our gazes lock in mutual fascination. Could this be love? (2)

Search this blog for Adrian Piper

Meanwhile, queer characters are no longer used (as much) as scary villain sauce or even tragic object lessons (you can have your “pure, not-approved by society” love but the fates will be cruel in the end). What the sociology types call “established models of gender roles, desire, romance, family formation and child-rearing” are under heavy structural and economic pressure. They are falling apart all over the world and a few teens (or others) who really really don’t fit some highly idealised models are not the ones causing the collapse. Repeat: Gay marriage does not “threaten” marriage. Gay folks holding hands and sneaking a smooch in public does not destroy hand-holding, smooching or the public. No money, no steady jobs and /or benefits/ health care and crazed authoritarian politics are probably closer to what has gone sour, causing the Japanese high-end beach-front Pizza restaurant to close its tacky wedding chapel and reno it into a bus tour friendly mega-dining hall.

We all knew that reactionary religio-politico types; Japanese or North American or other were all just spewing bullshit to line their pockets by leading group-hate cheers. Shame on those who go along with it.

Curiously, after decades, even centuries of being nasty toward the gay, what do we now suddenly want from it? We imagine “they” must be experts at getting around all that rigid asshat proscriptive stuff and figuring the important stuff out for themselves, right?. So they must have secret insights! Also, they do the “to yourself be true” thing, which I sometimes call “the doctrine of authenticity” (and which gets all of us one way or another) and that is heroic in a way that removes no skin from my nose and is heartwarming to cheer on. Gawd, this is transactional and selfish as all get-out, just as it always has been. We are like that, even if we’re working on it. And if “they” are less than interested in sharing tips, we’ll just go and invent crude shadows of “the gay” to try out our nifty ideas in a story or two..

The last violence we impose upon the queer of our straight imaginations
is the burden of our hopes
.”

Sorry, but long, long ago too many of us (guys) were scared spit-less by Alice Sheldon’s (writing as James Tiptree Jr) “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston,_Houston,_Do_You_Read%3F]  This, incidentally also explains gamer-gait and similar spasms. So, harm reduction…

Whether it is teen (and on) young women reading about two young good-looking guys trying to figure out their first make-out session, because guy characters can do things that might be too smutty or objectified for the readership if one (or both) of them were girls, or otokonoko otaku guys reading about stand-in straight boy getting hot and bothered over the crossdresser or trans continuum character (who incidentally does “girl” better that the run-of the mill cis version, in numerous subtle but important ways – (jeesh dude, what happens if you fall IRL for a cis girl who doesn’t look/present like a BFG in bikini armor, OL/ hawt teacher or moe blob?) whatever “model breaking” ends up relentlessly circling back to our majority cis heteronormative concerns – if only because they are so many of us. That, bucks and printing presses.

Whot De…??? They made the boy figure skater a full precure ??? This is a show for Japanese girl children! It was inevitable after they made the android girl from the future one earlier. Check out the heavy-duty sakuga in the battle scenes with the guest precures…

All this means something.

Scribble, scribble…

 

(1) 10 years ago I got half-way through puzzling out English subs from machine translated Chinese subtitles for Tachiguishi Retsuden (Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters) before I gave up. Only the folks at Sumimassen Scans could even hope to do this one justice. Brain Hurts! And yet I am convinced it was a big influence on Kumeta’s decision to Showa-out Zetsubo Sensei. Someone, please…

(2) “Since the 1950s area studies programs throughout the United States have produced knowledge in multiple disciplines about strategically identified geographical “areas.” But this knowledge tends to remain ghettoized in area studies departments and only rarely feeds back into the mainline disciplines. This is a result not only of continuing Eurocentrism in academia, but also of the isolating effects of the organization of area studies departments according to nation state, as well as, in the case of Japan studies, an insistence on Japanese cultural uniqueness that is underwritten not only by many Japanese scholars themselves but also by the funding priorities of Japanese government entities that are charged with propagating Japanese culture abroad. The vast amount of knowledge produced outside Japan about Japan thus remains suspended in a curious limbo, jealously guarded by its producers, like a fetish that compensates for their lack of access to the “larger” scholarly community. As Harry Harootunian and Masao Miyoshi put it, employing a striking metaphor that Freud would have had a field day with, “More than fifty years after the war’s end American scholars are still organizing knowledge as if confronted by an implacable enemy and thus driven by the desire either to destroy it or marry it.” 

— Intro, Perversion and Modern Japan: Psychoanalysis, Literature, Culture. Edited by Nina Cornyetz and J. Keith Vincent. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. 

(Don’t get too excited; the tome is all about turn-of-the-century Japanese literature, except for the last entry on the rise of the pantsu fetish in 70’s Japanese “pinku” soft-core porn films. The research therein must also be taken with a grain of salt as it started out as a conference joke research paper, originally titled “Die Zizek Die!” )

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Violet Evergarden: Beautiful Fighting Girl or headless robot maido?

Who is Violet? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she;
The heaven’s grace did lend her,
That she admired be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being help’d, inhabits there.

Then to Violet let us sing,
That Violet is excelling;
She excels in each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us our troubles bring.

Apres W. Shakespeare,Two Gentlemen of Verona

Recently a certain lazy trick of dramatic license is beginning to wear on my nerves. It is something like the Old Yeller effect, aka the Bambi’s Mom effect. Want to add some dramatic tension to your tale? Toss in some senseless violent tragedy as prologue and / or ending. Tadah! Must be serious literature-like because it is sad.

If I want grief I will turn on the news.

Because of this kind of crap, Chise in Ancient Magus Bride has to go through a creepy slave auction. Strange; you have all manner of over-powered magical creatures inhabiting that world, all with their own sense of what is right and fair and good. It would take one of them to wipe any such an abomination from existence. Even Black Butler, a series that is nothing but violent creepy-tastic shotacon-BL-bait starts by obliterating a similar perv-pit. I didn’t like it when Chip Delany did it for one of his gay sci-fi morality tales 30 years ago and I still don’t like it. Just me.

Why not give one or more of the young women in Aria a senselessly violent and creepy back story, just for Otaku juice?

With Youjo Senki (young girl’s war diary/ The saga of Tanya the Evil), the whole of the story is drenched in war. The extra twist, that she is a reincarnated asshole salaryman caught in a Job-like wager with a deity just winds the karmic clock springs:

Get a safe behind-the-lines sinecure but let’s do just one more teeny weenie over-the-top-murderous-stunt to prove to my superiors how effing qualified and worthy of promotion I am, even if it will get me near-killed. Do not succumb to any weak spiritual mumbo-jumbo and let being X win. Oh frick! Looks like I really like killing! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

“Ps, God personally hates me and the feeling is mutual.”

So what happens when your perfect child soldier/ girl golem/ vague unexplained war-“doll” is smashed up in battle, decommissioned and then told to find a life among civilians? Pretty much the same as what happens between battles for any of the other examples of Dr. Saito Tamaki‘s Beautiful Fighting Girl; she starts to wonder what all those complicated and confusing feelings are and then shoujo manifests. Or the shonen-ish shadow thereof, as the magic, miracle girlfriend slowly goes all dere-dere.

Fortunately, an obscure manga had the final last word on this kind of nonsense years ago

I always liked the tomboyish shojou-ai young women’s homosocial of Transistor Teaset (2009). On my first visit to Japan, I toured Akihabra and even chanced upon the night swap market in the parking garage featured in Akihabara@DEEP. Russian amp tubes, American and JSDF army surplus radio parts. Sadly it was gone to redevelopment a few years later and fewer of the original small “radio town” shops remained.

Perhaps by now they are all gone, replaced by otaku-ish cafes and giant camera-and-consumer-gadget stores for the tourist trade. I found the older electronic parts stores more to my taste: even before I messed around with early PC’s I soldered together transistorised kits, designed primitive vacuum tube amplifiers and fixed up clunky tube tv sets. One day someone will write of the connection between ham radio swap meets, sci-fi conventions and Comiket style zine events; a secret history of the 20th century. In Japanese vernacular culture, the associations between radio waves and eccentricity lingers, viz the young detective in Paranoia Agents, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko (Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl) and the Akiba’s Trip franchise. Think “tinfoil hat” if you need a localized equivalent.

The young protagonists of Transistor Teaset, eccentric as they might be, are formidably deadpan in their knowledge and consideration of the current, limited definition of Otaku.

Otaku once meant any type of well-versed hobbyist and the electronic hobbyist always considered themselves among the most hardcore elite of old-school otaku. (Computer nerds? Hah! I will see you one clone AppleII and raise you my JLS OBM-l00 XT motherboard in the attic). Therefore by divine right they are entitled to take a dismissive stance towards the most sacred tropes of lesser aotakudoms.

The Auto Memory Doll of the Violet Evergarden anime is just a clunky, fanciful way of saying public secretary for hire. Before the term typist was used, people reportedly used the word type-writer to refer to the woman behind the machine rather than the machine itself.

In the light novels it is suggested that the Auto Memory Doll was the unspecified creation of a scientist made for his novelist wife and later mass-produced.
For our purposes it appears to be the clunky English translation of an imagined profession for human women.

Violet herself does not seem to be some mysterious robot magic golem; she bleeds when caught in explosions. More likely she is a traumatized hyper-trained child soldier. Bodyguard and factotum to an officer? Secret weapon? Assassin? Newly cashiered and fitted out with prosthetic arms and hands. Why no military pension for her? Why the hush-hush socialization into civilian life if not to play out an over-used trope?

violet_evergarden fire web

What is missing, through the convenience of her vague raised-and-trained-as-a-war-machine back story are the normal human weaknesses that come with an emotional sense of self. Violet suffers no PTSD, no “millions of her mouthless dead across her dreams in pale battalions go“. Violet does not wake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, lash out at her friends and family, self-medicate herself into substance abuse and contemplate suicide. Her convenient back story pre-dopes her to the gills with the plot-line equivalent of SSRIs, leaving her with only the robot maido’s trite question with which to tether her humanity to.

TTmiado p103 legend web

Violet Evergarden the PTSD-proof Maido-Secretary

Only the epistolary conceit of her (re-) socialization into civilian life redeems her.

Her country is full of illiterates who nevertheless need to send letters to the ones they are separated from. As creatures of language as well as speech, it is presupposed that an inability to write one’s feelings must indicate a difficulty speaking, even thinking them. A new appreciation for some of Lacan‘s work emerges, if one considers it grounded in the peasant illiteracy of immediately post WWII France. Once abandoned to a rural high school I raised weekend drinking money by writing essays for inarticulate farmboy university students – I can appreciate this story trick. In writing for others, Violet will write herself and her self. Very post-war European critical theory-esque.

Violet-Evergarden warchild web

This is a tall order.
We shall see how well the anime’s remaining episodes can pull it off.

I am indebted to Kastel’s consideration of the Violet Evergarden Light Novels
[Let’s Talk About Japanese Books: Violet Evergarden]

Chapters 125 & 126: Ghost Pain

“The author should not pull a Rame when writing about Rame pulling a Rame.”
– Forum comment, ch 125

HNK that right web

Warning! Spoiler lamp for chapters 125 & 126 is on.


One chapter left before the curtain comes down on the second generation of the Genshiken. I suspect that at this point, Kio Shimoku is writing with an eye to a smooth adaption for any potential second cours of an anime. Those of us who were used to more robust plotting and longer setups must look at the rushed, even forced concluding chapters with mixed feelings, once we get over the initial shock that our beloved franchise may be, if not terminated, at least on extended sabbatical.

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