Hanamonogatari: Yuri, Iyashi and the lives of others (part 3)

Wherein the why of the tomboy lesbian exorcist is considered.hanamono-title-pg-web

Anime: Hanamonogatari – SURUGA DEVIL
Orig LN vol 9 of the series
Nisio Isin/ Studio SHAFT
(Warning: Monogatari series spoilers ensue.)

“Then say, as his divine embrace
Destroys the mortal parts of you:
I too am of that royal race
Who do what we are born to do.”
— Tiger, A.D.Hope

Nisio Ishin’s (and Studio SHAFT’s) Hanamonogatari does a better job of dropping a somewhat lesbian protagonist into a story beyond a simple “redo story with a female character” approach. In retrospect, it is one of the better segments in the entire Monogatari project. The title conceit is of course the height of cheek: the entire Class-S genre was invented by an author with a similarly titled series of stories back in the 1920’s [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobuko_Yoshiya]. You might as well pop a 50 foot high flashing neon sign above the anime with the word YURI on it. Certainly the opening credits do not lack for lilies. I have touched on it previously but a re-watch and a noteworthy essay on the franchise [https://wavemotioncannon.com/2016/02/25/monogatari-the-sexuality-is-the-narative/] prompts a revisit and a more considered appreciation.

I like it a lot, It is very good. It could almost stand alone without the help of the background of the Bake/ Monogatari story-verse, although knowing some of the franchise lore ads layers to the tale. It retains many of the quirky visual conceits of the Studio Shaft Monogatari exercise, as well as their penchant for sexulaizing the narrative but for Hanamonogatari these impulses are toned down and/ or far better harnessed to the over-all coherence of the story.

Chronologically, it is one of the later, if not the last of the stories that affect the town and the friends and family clustered around Koyomi Araragi and his brush with his town’s supernatural imbalance. Araragi-sempai makes a cameo appearance but is most important to the tale as an absence. The story belongs to the athletic, somewhat supernaturally cursed, somewhat lesbian identified, somewhat fujoshi Suruga Kanbaru. In many ways, she is a far better protagonist than Araragi.

Nishio Ishin is still cranking out light novels for this series. I hope to see more of her.

Cue the (slightly reworked) stock teaser:

“One morning, Suruga Kanbaru meets the troublesome Ougi Oshino, who calls himself a nephew of the exorcist Meme Oshino. He tells Suruga about a rumor of “the Lord Devil” that grants any wish. Suruga is worried that she might be the Lord Devil in a fugue state because she made a wish on a cursed monkey paw. The item was left behind by her mother and turned Suruga into a Simian-ish monster that acted on her jealousy and tried to kill Koyomi Araragi. To make sure her dormant curse has not re-awoken Suruga arranges to meet the Lord Devil but the one who greets her is unexpected – Rouka Numachi, her old basketball arch-rival.”

hana-rouka-profile-web

Within the larger Monogatari-verse, a recap of sorts will help to better position Suruga Kanbaru. A large part of the Monogatari-verse hinges on the suppressed love triangle (original application) between Koyomi Araragi, Hitagi Senjougahara and Tsubasa Hanekawa. Despite Hanekawa-san’s earlier help when he was turned into a vampire, Araragi-kun helps Senjougahara-san and she claims him as hers. Hanekawa-san may or may not remember all the details of her initial brush with the supernatural. We will get a better appreciation of the fine details after the last two instalments of Kizumonogatari hit the screens. No matter. Hanekawa’s stress over losing Araragi plus her miserable family/ not-family situation were enough to set lose at least two violent supernatural manifestations.

Araragi-kun just seems to attract supernaturally troubled young women after all, or perhaps trouble is drawn to his shadow-inhabiting ruined vampire, Kaii (oddity, abnormality, aberration), Kaii-devouring, adopted contractee Shinobu Oshino (AkA: the iron-blooded, hot-blooded, cold-blooded 598 year and some 10 month old Kiss-Shot-Acerola-Orion-Heart-Under-Blade) who now appears as a sometimes sullen, always haughty 8-year-old girl who needs an occasional drink of blood and donut offerings from her “master”). If one really cares to delve deep into Monogatari-verse lore, the problem lies with the deity-bereft Kitashirahebi (Northern White Snake) Shrine. It is a supernatural gravity well and all manner of weirdness is going to pop up around town until it is properly dealt with – but that’s another story.

Senjougahara is in the center of her own secondary love triangle: she was a highly regarded junior high school athlete before she lost her mass to a crab-god. Her only peer was Suruga Kanbaru, the one-year-younger girls’ basketball ace who also had a strong but never acted upon crush on her. Suruga had even gone as far as begging for cram-school lessons so that she could follow Senjougahara to a prestigious private high school, (per LN) only to lose her to an idiot boy with a dodgy reputation. Once again Suruga wished on the cursed monkey paw but this time she learned how it worked.

Rather than just conjuring up horribly bad resolutions to one’s wishes, the damn thing takes over one’s body and beats the living shit out of anyone in the way. Use it two too many times and you are stuck with a homicidal super-powered simian appendage that can sleep-walk you into murderous rampages. Araragi-kun was set to handle the situation by getting swatted around by an enraged super-powered young woman, until Senjougahara intervened and defused Suruga’s jealousy by denying Suruga’s love and then trivialising it by offering her a Class-S “petit-soeur” relationship. Kill my boyfriend and I will hate you and do everything I can to kill you… Or you can take the consolation prize and I will dote over you a bit. bakemonogatari-08-suruga-stop-web

That was rough on Suruga’s feelings and desires but it was enough to use her heartstrings to bind up the jealous demon. Senjougahara is a lot more confident and adventurous now that she has been cured of her affliction.suruga-stopped-2web

Suruga ends up as a third wheel to the couple. Unlike Shiki from 14-sai, no nurse bandaged up her arm, she did it for herself. What’s all the arm-bandaging for young lesbians who are thwarted in their first loves? We might have the beginnings of a trope here!

Suruga eventually takes on the role of a quasi-male-friend/ ex-rival and sometimes kouhai to Araragi-kun (who doesn’t seem to have any male friends), though she is not above flirting with and harassing him (fall for it and you lose big time buddy-boy!) or threatening to seduce one or both of his sisters. On the other hand, Senjougahara has warned Araragi that while he may spend too much time helping out young women while neglecting his girlfriend, if he ever, ever falls in love with one of them and out of love with her, she will be forced to kill the interloper, herself and probably take Suruga with her as an honor-guard into the next life. I will use my kouhai as I please.

I mention this only in contrast to more conventional approaches to the problems of love triangles. Add Suruga’s addiction to BL novels to her tomboy presentation and she fills the role of page-boy to her supernatural warrior upper-classmates.

Suruga has experienced the occult weirdness afflicting the town and knows of Shinobu. Senjougahara’s appreciation of her boyfriend’s “shadow” is sketchy. Suruga might even know of and have met Hachikuji Mayoi the wandering ghost. Suruga’s deceased mother was Tooe Gaen, sister of the fearsome Izuko Gaen and was esteemed to be an even more formidable exorcist; the memories of her mother’s harsh attitude towards her haunt her to this day. The cursed monkey paw was a dangerous gift/ legacy from her mother. Her paternal grandparents who took her in are extremely wealthy, retired and somewhat distant form her – or her from them, even as she lives in their luxurious old-style Japanese estate.hanamonogatari-suruga-room-mess-web

As Hanamonogatari begins, she is still afflicted by the monkey-devil possessed hairy arm which she keeps bandaged up. At night she packing-tapes it to a post hoping that this will be enough to keep her from going on any sleepwalking rampages (or at least indicate if she has – per LN). She has quit high-school sports for fear that using her supernatural strength and the chance that a competitive wish might trigger the monkey arm demon once more. The exorcist Meme Oshino has assured her that if she does not wish on it for the next few years, it should leave her by the time she reaches adulthood. She works off her troubles by running each day, sometimes to exhaustion.

On the first day of her third year of high school Suruga is worried that her arm has gotten up to mischief again, possibly because she is feeling despondent, missing Senjougahara and even Araragi who have both gone off to University. What she does not expect or need is to be dogged on her way to school by Ougi Oshino, who for some reason now appears before her as a boy.hana-boy-ougi-bike-web

Ougi is a recurring focus of trouble throughout the entire monogatari-verse. She, now he is somehow associated with the exorcists, though his/her kinship to Meme Oshino is suspect. Ougi is bad news; a stand-in for notions of justice, propriety and a curious idea of order which those with a psychological-literary bent would call out as a stand-in for a fear of death. Certainly Ougi looks the part. His/her face looks like the mask of Darker than Black‘s Hei, minus the lightening bolt mark. Ougi, male or female always appears as Nemesis.

hei-dtb-masked-1-web

 

ougi-girl-webHanamonogatari could have taken many different approaches to the problem posed by Suruga’s old junior high school basketball rival. Its genius lies in how it goes out of its way to discourage Suruga from intervening and to continue to do so after her initial concerns are put to rest. She is not sleep-rampaging as “the Rainy Devil”. The Lord Devil is an unemployed NEET with a sports injury that acts as a free trouble hot-line for silly teens with minor problems. Anything serious is referred to appropriate adult authorities and the trifling matters “accepted” are merely dealt with by a cryptic assurance that “Your problem will be taken care of“. Then the “Lord Devil” makes a point of doing nothing! It all seems to be some form of self-pitying wallowing by a washed up athlete who turned her anger and self-hatred into an unhealthy hobby. Suruga never even had a fleeting crush on the girl, nor did Rouka Numachi have a crush on her. If there was anything more than a rivalry on the courts, Suruga has long since forgotten about it. Moreover, Rouka does not want Suruga’s help, her interest or her pity.

Everything and everybody repeatedly screams: “don’t pick up the kitten”.

And then Rouka Numachi steals the curse from Suruga Kanbaru’s arm.

Bereft of the power and curse of her arm and burdened with a terrible realisation, Suruga Kanbaru, daughter of Gean-Sensei, kouhai to Araragi Koyomi, beloved petit-soeur of Hitagi Senjougahara and apprentice exorcist sets aside her self-doubt and rouses herself to action.

The Monogatari franchise has been dismissed by some as the Monologue-atari series. Nisio Ishin’s nearly endless dialogue relentlessly questions and draws out the motivations, the curious mixtures of selfishness and impulsive selfless behaviour towards others as his characters work through their supernatural predicaments. No urge towards action goes unexamined and complex motivations are considered to be the most potent for the truths they contain. Desire and regret are charged with power, more so if they are acknowledged. Friendship as a ward against loneliness and isolation is valued, even as its demands are seen as fraught with danger. Everything is out of balance and balance itself might be a deadly delusion. The universe is a cold and dangerous place; shit happens relentlessly.

Amidst the larger conventions of the franchise, Suruga could have easily been written as compelled to intervene. Rouka Numachi could have been an old flame, her power might be threatening someone, “The Lord Devil” could be a developing small time swindle that will get out of control as Kaiki’s swindle on junior high school students did. Suruga could get dragged into the mess because the Araragi siblings played Fire Sisters and got in over their heads. If one closely watches Hanamonogatari, much of the incidental interaction with other characters exists almost entirely to rule out such reasons. Kanbaru Suruga has as much reason to care about her old basketball rival as we have to care about her — or the conflicted desires of cartoon junior high school girls caught in a love triangle that dares not speak its name.hana-numachirouka2-web

Nisio Ishin goes even farther than eliminating the usual plot devices that would compel Suruga to action. As Rouka tells her bitter tale of how she was visited by pitying acquaintances from her school and how her abject state moved some of them to open up and tell her their problems – because they could look down on her, he further blocks the audience and shames Suruga. If she is to act, she must not act out of pity. Did her meeting with the con artist Deishuu Kaiki give any hints towards a righteous reason to continue? All he did is advise her against getting involved and buy her a lavish meal at a Korean-style barbecue restaurant.hana-kaiki-meat-web

Meat is good, eat up. Eat more meat! I am enjoined from entering the town and the mummified devil bits are valuable, the more valuable and the more dangerous as they are brought back together. If someone wants them, let them have them and steer clear. Otherwise, Kaiki seems to have once nurtured a severe respect-crush on Suruga’s mom (or he is lying?). Ever since he got chewed out by Senjougahara he lets slip occasional flashes of sentimental bloody-mindedness.

hana-kaiki-meat2-web
He knows of magic but having no powers of his own he is not bound by the limits or responsibilities of any. He has made it clear to Senjougahara that the religious cultists, including one that abused a young girl have all mysteriously suffered very very bad, occasionally terminal luck (or he is lying again).

Watch the scene as he offers Suruga his card for a second time, holding his arm immobile over the table’s cook-pit. Brilliant!

Suruga is torn between walking away from Rouka Numachi and intervening; so torn that she runs herself to exhaustion one night. Ridiculously, she is found at a crossroad by none other than Araragi-sempai. He informs her that he and Senjougahara are busy but homesick and that they both miss her. He offers vague reassurances but she declines to ask him for any help beyond a promise that he will drop by in a few days to help her clean up her room. The joke that her room, the size of a dining hall is buried in 3 metric tons of BL light novels is an amusing, recurring distraction.suruga-araragi-bl-books

Araragi-kun’s reappearance will later be an excuse for some mild fanservice. In a series noted for gratuitous skin and sexual harassment, Hanamonogatari is remarkably restrained and well-behaved. We get an early peek at Suruga’s athletic bod, a lot of her in running gear and a brief glimpse of her sleeping in the nude but Araragi goes out of his way to downplay his interest… by going off on a creep-out tangent about his younger sisters. Suruga’s sexuality puts her in a special position in Araragi’s gaze; quasi-male (while surrounded by BL books!). While confronting Rouka Numachi over the theft of her demon arm we are treated to a moment of clichéd yuri mashing only to see Suruga paralysed by the forceful propositioning and quickly decide that she is being played.hana-mash2

Once again, Nisio Ishin closes off another reason why Suruga should care enough to intervene. Earlier in Hitagi End, Kaiki likewise went through the possible reasons for helping out with Senjougahara and Araragi’s snake god problem. Why bother? Atonement? Restitution? Money? Lingering feelings for a young girl? Only the most tenuous of excuses decided the issue for him: Suruga Kanbaru, Tooe Gaen’s daughter would be saddened by their deaths.

In both cases, since the franchise deals in supernatural action adventure and reluctant heroics, we know that both Kaiki and Suruga will talk themselves into sticking their necks out. Likewise Araragi can never resist helping out a supernaturally distressed young woman – perhaps because he must atone for the trauma of the events recalled in Ougi Formula and Sodachi Riddle/ Sodachi Lost. Or perhaps simply because he is the hero of the franchise. An entire anime cours, Tsukimonogatari is built around the notion that buddy boy should give up on playing action hero. Best to let monsters kill monsters.hana-ararag-ammends-web

When Suruga finally resolves to try to save (or exorcise) Rouka Numachi, her reasons are uniquely hers. First, the monkey-devil-arm curse was hers and she was dealing with it. What was hers was taken from her. Secondly; bereft of the strength and agility the paw had granted her, she may well wonder if she could push herself to face a supernaturally powered opponent. A threat is a challenge. Finally, she recognises in Rouka Numachi a fellow sportswoman and athlete, one who faced giving up something that she loved and derived identity from and who, by nature of the banality of the loss, did not fare as well as one who was cursed with a super-powered homicidal devil-arm.

One Monogatari side-story had Araragi-sempai resolve to teach his kouhai some humility by challenging her to some one-on-one basketball. He powered up by having Shinobu drink more than her usual maintenance dose of his blood to boost his vampire powers. Suruga brought her “Rainy Devil” power to the court. She whooped his ass over a 2 hour marathon match 99 to 0 but thanked him enthusiastically. Since getting the monkey-paw powers she had not been able to go full-out on the court with anyone.hanaball-float-web

If Suruga is to exorcise her old rival, she will do it one on one, on the basketball court. The elegance of the resolution to the problem of Rouka’s demonic possession was of course “built” to be solved only by Suruga Kanbaru, by who she is uniquely written as being. There is affection, and respect, not pity in her actions. Suruga is not a boy-character in a girl body or even a straight tomboy athlete turned into a Studio SHAFT fanservice “lesbian” fujoshi athlete who is petit-seour to her junior high school crush and sidekick to her ex-rival in love. Suruga might be struggling with all manner of doubts regarding her self-identity and future but she is already ironically detached and mildly disenchanted from their hold on her. When they reach out to paralyse her, even though she thought she had long ago killed their power over her, her character shines.hana-water-court-web

Had Kaiki not sent his final gift, she would have found something else to bait Rouka with. She doesn’t need supernatural powers any more. Because she knows herself, she knows how to win against Rouka and she knows why she will do it.

“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

Once again: why are the three friends in Asterism all girls? If one was a boy, we could have a standard love triangle. Why is Suruga Kanbaru a self-proclaimed, if chaste “lesbian”? Why did Shiki-chan have to hurt? Is it that sticking well-behaved, sympathetic minority sexuality characters into a story can solve a few plotting problems and create a modicum of novelty, allowing for a “territorial expansion” in storytelling, wherein old tropes can be recycled into new tales? An author could have used sci-fi aliens or you-fell-into-a-game trickery to do similar, though at the loss of immediacy.

I have been suggesting that in each case, the authors are pursuing an unexpected expansion of the field strength of the concept of iyashi.

Iyashi-kei, the “healing” genre is one of those uniquely Japanese things, like the taste “Umami”. A lot of fans as well as civilians might find formal Iyashi-kei works too boring, too cloying to deal with. It’s all warm fuzzies all the time. Interesting, safe locale, nothing much happens. Days go by. Grass grows, paint slowly dries. Aaaaarrrrghhhhh!

Here’s a few takes on the effect:

“Nothing really happens, but in a really good way.”
— Iyashikei on TV Tropes http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Iyashikei

 

” The term “iyashi” can be translated as “healing”, so that makes iyashikei [a] healing series. Iyashikei is most often considered a sub-genre of slice of life series, because all iyashikei series feature the same character-centered nature of slice of life: There is no real continuing plot and in most cases no conclusion, but the mostly episodic stories are depicting people’s lives without any drama or suspense. However, what differs iyashikei from slice of life is the healing effects: In short, iyashikei calms the reader and leaves them with light-hearted, maybe with a hint of melancholy. The typical of characteristics of iyashikei are a few characters who all feel sympathetic towards each other; close, slowly developing relationships without conflicts as we might know them; an appreciation for nature and the small, beautiful things in life – and most importantly, iyashikei series are mostly located in another time and another world as we live in. Despite the similarities to our lives, iyashikei series are supposed to set us in another world where our sorrows actually are practically non-existent.
— A PRESENTATION OF “IYASHIKEI” SERIES AND THEIR EFFECTS by Sasa, July 20th, 2007 https://web.archive.org/web/20100923131442/http://chrome.dasaku.net/?p=501
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” Most people use pop culture as a diversion from their mundane reality, and I’m not going to get excited about a music video that shows some lanky guy sitting at his laptop, writing a blog essay about Japanese marketing.”
— The Soft Appeal by W. David MARX (Marxy) Neojanism, August 16, 2005  http://neojaponisme.com/2005/08/16/the-soft-appeal/

Compared to some recent trends in Japanese popular fiction, say “detective stories written by women that leave you feeling bad”, (yup, it’s now officially a thing, called Iyamisu. Wait until the expat press blerghs on it) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natsuo_Kirino], Iyashi-kei tales are slow, safe, happy and free of anything that would disturb the reader.

Gawd, I lurv the Aria anime. Nothing bad happens (repeat somewhat hysterically in CAPS!!). Aria, if you have not previously met her, is an apprentice gondolier on a very watery terraformed Mars, who works the canals in New Venice. Slow poling of gondolas ensues. I found Aria years ago while hunting for something suitable for the nieces and immediately loved it, if only because work at that moment was being a real mind-killing sucking hole of futility, annoyance and despair. Have a relax! The genre is critiqued, obliquely in Paranoia Agents, where the pressure to crank out one more soothing hit cartoon mascot watching paint dry anime drives all involved into a catastrophic reality-warping mass delusion.pa-radio-man-web

One of the above considerations of Iyashi went on to clumsily position it near to the more dramatic concept of “catharsis”. While both are states of mind brought on by consuming fictional narratives, the gulf between the two states is far too wide to bridge by mentioning one after the other. We should strive to maintain the separations of both the mechanics and effects. Iyashi is a pleasant 4 hour drive in the country with a picnic lunch stop midway. Catharsis starts with everyone else in the car feeling less than the driver, then adds a sudden hurricane-blizzard which the driver refuses to pull over to wait out, a 137 vehicle pile-up on the highway, a few gasoline tanker explosions, death, injury, panic, selfishness, heroism, sacrifice, more death and a final numb exhaustion among the survivors. Both take place in cars.

The ancient Greek dramatists who gave us catharsis, did not do iyashi. Comedy was done by the coarsest of the poor — slaves and by non-humans — satyrs, Tragedy was the realm of heroes, the exemplary among us whose hubris led to over-reach and a curse when the gods stepped in to toy with them. The chorus was where the audience was best represented; as bystanders, sympathetic onlookers and old guys – when ineffective warnings and good-old-days admonitions were needed. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_chorus]

A cosmology that only has space for rude animal lusts, fools, the demotic chorus, exemplary heroes and gods is ultimately pitiless and therefore hopeless. It can also be further “compressed” to render it nihilistic. Suruga’s mother’s remembered voice claims that gods and devils were only flip sides of the same condition. Here the shade of Tooe Gaen is full of shit.

Consider Rouka in contrast to the Monogatari-verse’s Hachikuji Mayoi:

“Every time Hachikuji appears thereafter, two things happen: Araragi’s perverted antics, and his verbal catharsis. The relationship is inappropriate, same as any adult confiding in a child about adult issues is inappropriate. But in many ways, Mayoi is an adult, and that idea is expanded upon in Kabukimonogatari. If Araragi is unable to confide in her then the whole world is destroyed. She bares his mental burdens as a true friend would, and to be honest, that is quite beautiful. But it’s inappropriate, and represented as such.
— Wave Motion Cannon
https://wavemotioncannon.com/2016/02/25/monogatari-the-sexuality-is-the-narative/

It is a shame that she declines to appear in Hanamonogatari. Perhaps that would have been too much. For Japanese fans who have read the 19 (or more) light novels in the franchise, Hachikuji Mayoi is more than a child, or even the ghost of one. She might be the most powerful character of the entire opus. We’ve seen her put Araragi-perv in his place, seen her adult alt-probability self hold out against a zombie apocalypse, watched as Araragi broke down as the grey fog erased her (and at the risk of committing massive spoilers form the LNs), seen her pass on, return, be sent to hell, rescue Araragi from hell and in turn be rescued by him and finally ascend one last time to godhood. She originally died trying to visit her mother. She will be there to listen and put up with your nonsense and show understanding and friendship; compassion not pity or fear. She may be a wandering ghost but she retains that part of humanity which we have declared to be the best of us.

“Until all the hells are empty.”

Recognise her yet?

Oh Heck: Any excuse for my favourite fan-created earworm:

In contrast, Rouka Numachi is a demon, or at least a lost soul. Motivated by self-hatred and bitter spite, “The Lord Devil” pretends to care and pretends to act on the problems brought to her but makes a point of doing neither. Surprisingly enough, the fame of her efficacy still spreads. No wonder she ends up working the same side of the street as Kaiki. Did the depths of her despair attract the first of the devil-bits to her? She has made it her purpose to collect them all, to accelerate the process of becoming-monster, becoming-demon that awaits all angry souls who can not find peace, who cannot accept who they are or who they must become after fate deals them a lousy hand. Devils and lost souls must be exorcised.

Suruga Kanbaru and Hanamonogatari have been the subject of more than a few excellent fan essays. Hanamonogatari and the Crossroads [http://wrongeverytime.com/2014/09/29/hanamonogatari-and-the-crossroads/] takes up the theme of Suruga’s self-doubts, which is a curious approach because at least on the surface, genki Suruga seems to be the one of the less troubled characters in the franchise. She is not troubled by her self-proclaimed sexuality, even though she doesn’t go out of her way to advertise it. Nor is she troubled by her ridiculously excessive BL light-novel habit, except for the way the clutter takes over her room and buries any number of bought and borrowed pairs of nail clippers (per LN). Having to drop out of school sports was sad but all third-year students have to drop out to study for University entrance tests anyway and she can still run. If she needs to worry, nothing so concentrates one’s attention as a homicidal demon arm.

All her other worries are more in the realm of worrying that she should be worrying about what other people consider important enough to worry about. The remembered voice of her dead mother chides her to decide, or to act if she can’t decide otherwise she is “just water”. But water goes with the flow and most of the time, so does Suruga. If anything, her past experiences of being suddenly seized by overwhelming desire and resorting to the monkey paw must have left her wary of falling into such a trap again. Violent jealousy and longing should stay between the covers of her favourite reading materials, suitably abstracted to fakee-gay male bodies and easily managed — at least until they bury her in her room.

Here is a curious resonance between Suruga’s BL addiction and the respondents in the V. Maser’s study. Yes; those libidinized same-sex romances might be schmexy-hawt, but the abstraction from their reader’s condition is just enough to render them soothing, healing; iyashi.

“A further analysis of the responses to my survey indicates that iyashi was especially important for fans of specific texts. For example, 79.5% of those who gave the pornographic text Shōjo Sekuto as one of their favorite titles also gave iyashi as one of their reasons for 150 liking yuri manga (***p<.001, n = 132). In the case of those who preferred yuri anime, iyashi was especially important for the fans of the series Yuru yuri. 81.4% of those who gave Yuru yuri as one of their favorite yuri titles also gave iyashi as one of their reasons for liking yuri anime (***p<.001, n = 113)”

— Verena Maser, Beautiful and Innocent; Female Same-Sex Intimacy in the Japanese Yuri Genre, pps 149-150. 27.9.2013 Universität Trier http://ubt.opus.hbz-nrw.de/volltexte/2015/944/pdf/Maser_Beautiful_and_Innocent.pdf

And:

It appears that iyashi encompasses far more than mere relaxation and/or escapism. Respondents could choose the reasons “Reading these manga relaxes me.” and “Reading these manga helps me to flee from my day to day life.,” but only 36.5% and 23.7% did so, respectively. For those who preferred yuri anime, the respective numbers were equally low with 39.6% and 29.1%. It is possible that iyashi was seen as a more acceptable answer than “escape.” Yet iyashi as a reason for consuming yuri texts did also surface in a qualitative analysis of comments about yuri on Mixi that I conducted in 2008 and the term iyashi can also frequently be found in blog posts on various yuri texts. It is further quoted in some of the personal essays in the Eureka special issue on yuri (e.g. Takashima 2014, 118). I would therefore argue that at least some fans see iyashi as a genuine reason for liking yuri manga/anime and/or the yuri genre in general.”
Ibid Maser, p.150.

And:

“The respondents’ “sexual identity” was another important factor for quoting the reason iyashi: 82.9% of “non-heterosexual” male respondents as well as 73.4% of “heterosexual” male respondents gave iyashi as one of their reasons for liking yuri manga. The same reason was also quoted by 60.7% of “non-heterosexual” female respondents, but only by 45.2% of “heterosexual” female respondents (***p<.001).[12] In the case of yuri anime as well, iyashi was given especially by male respondents. It was quoted by 76.5% of “non-heterosexual” males and 74.0% of “heterosexual” males, compared to 55.0% of “heterosexual” females and 54.0% of “non-heterosexual” females (*p<.05).[13] These results would correspond with the suggestion that men feel emotionally healed by the cute characters of moe anime (Galbraith 2009a, under “Japanese critical discourse”).
Ibid Maser, p.150.

And:

“In Japan, the “iyashi boom” occurred together with the “boom of pure love [jun’ai]” (Hayashi 2005, 94) in fictional texts. Iyashi has been argued to be a central aspect of the stories about “pure love,” a love that is thought to have more value than any physical commodity (94–95). Purity and innocence are considered to be essential characteristics of the yuri genre, and it would seem like these are also important factors for the feeling of iyashi enjoyed by many of its fans. Still, it remains unclear what exactly the fans are “healed” of: is it frustration with the demands of contemporary Japanese society or is it more about personal problems? Does iyashi even mean the same for everyone? A deeper investigation of this issue would be needed.[18]”
Ibid, p.157.

Fan and academic lore has a habit of positing the fujoshi and her western cousin, the Slash fen as uncomfortable in the bodies. Certainly some are, as in the classic testimonial by Audrey Lemon,How Slash Saved Me
http://web.archive.org/web/20021124081322/http://www.goodgirl.ca/how%20slash%20saved%20me.html. Others are sick of the 24/7 objectification and sexualization of women in pop culture representation. But if we flip-side over to the male yuri reader, we can also ask of both sides of the avenue: “Is that all?

As a guy reader who likes yuri tales, I’m not annoyed with Kazuki and I don’t abstractly identify with Shiki-chan or Suruga Kanbaru. Nor am I threatened by the happenstance that Nisio Isin decided to use Suruga instead of Araragi as the hero-de-jour this time. I harbour no urge to virtual-lesbian or even “Les-bro” out on the story. Because the skin remains interesting, I will cop to the older Loser Fan Boy tag, but I was never Stockholm-syndromed by angry poser-extremists (wont dignify the neckbeard insult-label by mentioning it) into becoming more sympathetic. I did what little interest that may look like “sympathetic” all by my effing lonesome because it filled a personal need to understand and increased the enjoyment I derived from later recreational readings in the genre. That’s all. The process is commonly called fandom. No sins against Dr. Occam needed. It wasn’t a conspiracy or drugs in the water.

Lets all read some nice Class-S girl-crush stories. (Kaiki would suggest otherwise; ok — with a snack) Lots of folks who happen not to be lesbians (let alone athletic Japanese lesbian schoolgirls) seek them out because they are pleasantly diverting. They have absolutely nothing, or at least very little to do with most of us. That’s the whole idea. Could this be the simple, number one ultimate hidden reason behind all that BL for the women? Nawwww.. Must be the schmex! Or the romance, or some other secret girl-thing

It’s called fiction ™ for a reason: It really doesn’t matter what happens and a measure of distance from one’s own howling self is often a good idea. No Old Yellers will be killed off to remind anyone of the dog you loved when you were a kid. No wet stray kittens will be left in the box by the side of the road. You want resonant reminders of that ex-lover who was less than fully human? Or of how your boss is a psychotic robot pain machine from the hell dimension (Soon to be a cabinet pick for the next administration)?

Ok, we can probably find something but I advise against it.

The only glaring problem with this otherwise cozy arrangement is that we end up reading and writing about characters who somewhat resemble real folks. As well, these real folks, who previously didn’t see much in the way of characters with their concerns in popular stories — or saw gross, insulting caricatures of their concerns, read these stories too. They are, for obvious reasons, interested in them if only to see what manner of foolishness is being trotted out to poorly represent them and perhaps to pick up enough of the craft surrounding such storytelling to attempt repairs.

We formalise this process when it involves trademarks and copyrights but not when it involves others that resemble In Real Life folks. Just try to sell your dojin featuring a certain cartoon mouse doing distaff things at Comiket. I dare you. I hear you liek relentless lawyers, so we put some relentless lawyers on top of these other relentless lawyers so that they can all relentlessly lawyer every last bit of money and blood out of the marrow in your bones. That way you and anyone else will never never never do such a thing again to sully the perfect money-making machine that is everyone’s favourite rodent.

Those odd three-sexed alien superpowered werewolves are beginning to look like a good idea. Fear Copyright collectives.

Wiser minds than mine have noted that the fictional spaces that deal with the representations of others are all now contested spaces. Dr. Mizoguchi, writing about BL and yaoi declared:

“My critical examination of yaoi begins with the premise that yaoi does not represent any person’s reality, but rather is a terrain where straight, lesbian, and other women’s desires and political stakes mingle and clash, and where representations are born.”
— A. Mizoguchi, “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond”
http://imrc.jp/images/upload/lecture/data/143-168chap10Mizoguchi20101224.pdf

If we read the really heavy examinations and analyses of theorists who have a stake in such representations we will undoubtedly learn some neat new things, but our need for cheesy diverting little stories will not evaporate. Tomboy sports girl with a superpowered monkey-arm curse? Lets also make her a gay fujoshi! How Kewl Is That?

A respected senior reviewer and essayist once set down a list of test criteria for a tolerably believable female protagonist:

Does female character have agency?
Does she have society?
Does she have personality?
Is she merely a female-shaped male hero doing male hero things while being female?
— E.Friedman, The Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2013/02/27/fearless-defenders-comic-issue-1/

One can easily extrapolate these rules to wider concerns of LGBTQIA+ representation, as well as towards a host of diverse “otherings”. Certainly Suruga Kanbaru fits her story like a well-worn running shoe; Nisio Isin “uses” her well and makes sure that she is far better suited than Araragi-kun at dealing with this particular exorcism. Even studio SHAFT cooperated and dialed the cheap titillation down 6 notches. Dropping Suruga into the story forced the issue. Girl-crush has not been very good to her. It drove her to use the cursed monkey paw a second time and almost killed someone. Having a petit-soeur relationship with Senjougahara was pleasant but she could not have helped but notice that big sister’s heart was elsewhere. This desire stuff, as well as the love stuff that supposedly lies behind it is complicated.

When Rouka mashes on her she is paralysed, then gets a peck on the cheek and a laughing admonition: “Let’s keep things pure, shall we. We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, so we shouldn’t play with fire too much“. Clearly she is out of her depths when it comes to matters of the heart, let alone earthly desires. She is a genki sports girl. Back away, keep things light. There will be time enough for love.

The alternative would slide Hanamonogatari in the direction of a reszbian pinku exploitation groaner. Keep Ougi female-presenting, as Suruga would have to harass and/or be harassed by every other female in the story. Who needs Kaiki? Do we have any dangerous sexy female exorcists hanging around? Can we work an all-girl yuri high school into the story? How about Shinobu and a rezbian zombie attack? No, wait: a yuri high school that turns into a pit of sex-crazed rezbian school girl zombies? And they are also all loli idols and underwear models!

Yo! Ishin-san, SHAFT! Talk to me!

Oh well, there’s always room on AO3.

Bloody tourists are always underfoot… with ideas!

The yuri market in Japan is a telling example. There just isn’t enough of a market for %100 lesbian (or even %80 lesbian) realistic or even sympathetic tales to pay the printing bills for a major magazine. Loser Fan Boys, Yuri Danshi and even Yuri-Straight-Josei readers are required. We are not going away any time soon. Them magazines have something we too need. The only useful strategy of accommodation is to encourage customer engagement through education and up-selling based on growing market sophistication. Tojisha folk will act for their place in the production process, to hopefully better reflect their lives and tastes but the rest of us clods will have to be gently sold on the benefits of authenticity, novel point of view, product sophistication, local color and a host of other characteristics that we will simply process as “value-added product”.

And since we all carry around our own globally reaching publishing houses (or at least can plant one on our kitchen tables) the contestation over what hits the page and the screen is going to become rather noisy and crowded for the next little while. In the end, some practices will be generally acknowledged as probably not a healthy place to go and everybody can so program their blocklists accordingly. Unless we all keep mooching the stuff and everyone goes broke. Back to AO3 again.

Circle back to Rouka and her hobby of collecting misfortune. Nisio Ishin was not simply having her talk talk talk to fill pages and time. He was playing with the grey spaces that obscure disparate motivations, tastes and actions — for characters and readers alike. Rouka had her reasons for collecting misfortune and these had little to do with “saving” or “helping” the people she listened to. Except for that first piece of the monkey-devil, all her interactions were opaquely transactional. The folks who had their problems solved may have imputed a motive or even “goodness” or “compassion” to her but that was their own comforting misunderstanding. For Rouka, who needed relief from her own troubles, the misery of others was like the taste of honey.

…And so she was driven to gorge on it.

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.

14sai-fever-questions-web
14sai-no-cure-web
14sae-i-will-never-forget-web

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.

14san-ch25warning-1-web

And then a second one

14san-ch25-warning-2-web

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.

14sai-nurse-bandage-web

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, the crime cries to out 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.

aseterism-web-3

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.

triangle-asterism-web2-c2-p4

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.

Almost wholesome

Lest the reader think that this blog is only for going on and on and on about weird Japanese manga and anime that play around with otaku and fujoshi ideas of sexuality and gender expression, plus the academics who are geeked on the same…

I’m as much of a fan of good-hearted fluff as the next fan, I too want my “iyashi“. I’m a sucker for it, even though sometimes I find it hard to turn off the difference engine. 

Lookie what is heading down the pipe:

From the same folks that brought us AnoHana, We have “The Anthem of the Heart” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Anthem_of_the_Heart] Get your hankies ready.

For those of you who somehow missed AnoHana, Have some Crunchyroll: [http://www.crunchyroll.com/anohana-the-flower-we-saw-that-day/episode-1-super-peace-busters-607075]

Gush! Snif, snif, snif…

Meanwhile, one of my all-time faves has made it past 100 chapters, and everydude and his girlfriend are finally going out on a date. Jitsu wa Watashi wa (実は私は?, lit. “Actually, I am…”)       [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jitsu_wa_Watashi_wa] is sooooooo cute!

As an almost-harem highschool romcom manga featuring an overload of espers, aliens and time-travellers, plus one hapless guy smitten with a half-shinso vampire girl (hick accent, ever-rumbling tummy) I can forgive the author for dragging it out for a hundred plus chapters when they haven’t even nerved up for a kiss yet. I can even forgive the vampire stuff, as they are such well-behaved, serious, shy creatures.

jitsu so cute web

However, even nice shy girls get strange feelings when they fall in love…

his neck is cute too web

His neck, his neck… What are these feelings?

Sooooooo cute!

I could burn some theory powder on this one, but screw that. You go hunt down your own IRL references to “perhaps I am…” in Tokyo, if you so care.

Another update: I Don’t Like You at All, Big Brother!!お兄ちゃんのことなんかぜんぜん好きじゃないんだからねっ!! /Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne—!!?,lit: “It’s because I Don’t Like Big Brother at all, isn’t it!!”), [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Don%27t_Like_You_at_All,_Big_Brother!!]
continues to load on the pantsu-shots along with extra-large helpings of cringe-inducing comedy. It may be a collection of tired clichés, but the way it runs them has had me laughing my guts sore on more than one occasion. And it just keeps ramping up the cringe factor. In case you missed my earlier mention of the series, fret not, there ain’t no “actual” siscon or brocon in this mess – we are being trolled. A cautionary tale of teenage male fear of real women and the dangers of excessive porn consumption. Enjoying your harem yet, ‘bro?
oniichan bro is a perv web

oniichan dad is a perv too web

Buddy Boy needs to find himself a nice sensible girl to get sweet on, and stick to like glue for his safety and his sanity’s sake. Someone level-headed, like the rotten girl who needs to dress in a guy’s school uniform and put a paper bag over her head before she can talk to him.

As usual, the anime tries too hard, too fast and screws up. Fail!

On the not-iyashi front, I’m keeping an eye open for the latest iteration of the Ghost in the Shell Arise franchise, Ghost in the Shell, The New Movie [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_Shell:_The_New_Movie] which, you gotta admit, has a certain way with its branding.

As well, the Project Itoh [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Itoh] trilogy project looks fascinatingly dire. Of the three, the steampunk The Empire of Corpses [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Empire_of_Corpses] looks the most promising. The last big steampunk anime that I can remember was a bit of a meh, whatever. I guess I didn’t consider the others on this list to be steamy enough.

Empire, Watson, the Great Game, a bishie zombie Friday, Victor Frankenstein, did they leave anything out?

In other news; I just used up my last Japanese curry brick pack. The temptation to run off to Japan again is overwhelming.

Bonus: No Babbage, no steampunk!