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

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

Spoiler lamp is ON

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

Allegorical…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No get your sorry ass off to cram school either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, chapters 67-68 are suck.

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

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

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D’Awwwwwwwwwww!

Normally I loathe student-teacher pairing plots…

jitsu-horse-web

I will make an exception because of the absurd level of WTF(!!!) cheesiness that Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa continues to pile on, chapter after chapter…

The small horned creature center background is her grandmother, the demon high school principal, who does not want her grand-daughter, the 29yr old spinster ex-girl-gang leader teacher to …

Awwwwwwww Fuggggetttit… 

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!

Hello Kitty guitar ftw!

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man still only has one eye. He does not necessarily get to be King.”

It is disconcerting to run up against one’s own blind spots. The natural reaction is to dismiss what one cannot fathom: just because other folks can see something in the mist doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be interesting or useful for me. Here in meatspace, I just spent a few evenings watching world-class experimental films and for the most part, even though I have a strong background in the fine arts and a wide range of interests I must confess to Idongettitt for the overwhelming majority of the offerings I watched. It’s just me. Fortunately I know enough about the condition of being bemused to realize that there is usually a huge, lurking body of knowledge, of prior work and “lore” that I have no idea about and which forms the context in which the works I sat through, some boring, some fiercely opaque, that if I knew might redeem the evenings’ experience for me. Or not…

If I knew more, I would probably be in a rapturous state for having discovered one of two amazing new things. I suspect I would still be cranky and dismissive about a few others; I have used the “repeats over and over and over for far too long to prove that it is serious art” trick a few times myself. Sorry, not buying it. On the other hand, I know that I am biased towards words and narrative; some of the works that I found, subjectively the most annoying must be pure eye candy to folks with a strong visual bias; which is something to remember if I am going to spout off about Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture.

I should pay more attention to the pictures, and to the stuff that is going on offstage in the dressing room.

With this is mind, here is a round-up of neat miscellaneous stuff that I have run into lately, that ended up in the “never looked at it like that before” pile.

Alice +rabbit

I have previously noted Masafumi Monden’s short essay: “Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach”  [https://www.academia.edu/11361844/Sh%C5%8Djo_Manga_Research_The_Legacy_of_Women_Critics_and_Their_Gender-Based_Approach]
Reading more of his work on the Alice and Lolita fashion in CJVC reminded me that I had been doing a lot of looking,but not enough observing. Monden’s work comes from a background of design and fashion studies; which sounds pretty “out there” if your hobby is throwing light critical theory at manga to see what sticks. The above essay went on to make a case for shojo ballet manga as far more common and as deserving of attention in the study of shojo manga as gender non-conforming girl princes. Then you stumble on to something like his “Being Alice in Japan: performing a cute, ‘girlish’ revolt
[https://www.academia.edu/7036962/Being_Alice_in_Japan_performing_a_cute_girlish_revolt] (You really need to reg up an Academia.edu account, it’s a free and easy way to sneak around a few academic pay-walls) and the executive summaries “A Gentle Kind of Revolt: Cute (Kawaii) Fashion and Japanese Music-video Appropriations of ‘Alice” 
[https://www.academia.edu/1684744/A_Gentle_Kind_of_Revolt_Cute_Kawaii_Fashion_and_Japanese_Music-video_Appropriations_of_Alice_ ] and “Lace Dress of Liberty: (Re)appraising Decorative Femininity through Kamikaze Girls [https://www.academia.edu/1678109/Lace_Dress_of_Liberty_Re_appraising_Decorative_Femininity_through_Kamikaze_Girls ]  that help to fill in some of the meaning that is invoked when a certain character type is presented in CJVC. Who’d have thought that Alice in Wonderland was such a big thing in Japan, or that its legacy is one of appropriation and localization:

“Lewis Carroll’s two books featuring Alice have had a strong presence in Japan since the first Japanese translation of Through the Looking-Glass in the late nineteenth century. It started with Hasegawa Ten’kei’s Mirror World (Kagami sekai), a sequential novel in eight episodes published in Youth’s World (Shonen sekai), a magazine for boys, throughout 1899. In Hasegawa’s version, the name of the heroine was changed from Alice to the more Japanese Mie, and the story was more an adaptation than a direct translation (Kawato 2000). Under the pseudonym of Sumako, Nagayo Shizuo published possibly the first translation of Alice’s adventures in wonderland in the newly created girl’s magazine Girls’ Friend (Shojo no tomo) in 1908. While using the name of Alice, the story was again more like Nagayo’s adapted story rather than a direct translation of Carroll’s book (Kawato 2000). Maruyama Eikan’s Fantastic Tales of Ai (Ai-chan no yume monogatari), published in 1910 by Naigai shuppan kyokai, is said to have been the first complete translation of Alice. This 209-page book with Tenniel’s illustrations, where the heroine is called Ai instead of Alice, indicates the difficulty of fully translating Carroll’s word play and puns into Japanese. This might have been one reason why Hasegawa and Nagayo focused on harmless, fantastic aspects of Carroll’s novels (Kawato 2000) rather than their darker nuances. Nonetheless, the Japanese literary world’s fascination with Alice has continued, and nearly 200 editions of Japanese Alice and Looking-glass (including reissues) have been published between 1908 and 2004 (Sakakibara n.d). The current popularity of Alice is largely thanks to Sir John Tenniel’s celebrated illustrations (1865 and 1872) and Walt Disney’s now classic film Alice in wonderland (1951), which was first released in Japan in 1952.”
– Monden, Being Alice in Japan, etc., Ibid.

Also of note is his short examination of what happens when it spreads, as fashion without the context to the rest of the world: “Transcultural Flow of Demure Aesthetics: Examining Cultural Globalisation through Gothic & Lolita Fashion” [ https://www.academia.edu/407714/Transcultural_Flow_of_Demure_Aesthetics_Examining_Cultural_Globalisation_Through_Gothic_and_Lolita_Fashion]

Monden is interested in some of the shojo heroine types that don’t usually get coverage in crit-space. The thing about Alice is that Wonderland does not faze her. A normal person would freak out. The place is weird and dangerous but Alice spends most of her time either distanced or annoyed. The Alice figure becomes a liminal almost-super-girl, who is a spectator but not a participant in the “economics” of conventional female roles. She doesn’t have to be a child or a potential sex-prize, or responsible good-wife/ wise mother in training. She stands outside of these roles and their functional imperatives and therefore outside of mortal time. And she is ever ready to throw all the cards up into the air.

An entire slew of ageless hidden high school principals, bratty loli vampires and death god’s apostles, as well as the laconic female lead of the Ouran Host Club all trace their descent from Alice. I should have paid more attention to the ruffles. There was a hint of this in “Girliness Next to Godliness: Lolita Fandom as Sacred Criminality in the Novels of Takemoto Novala” by Brian Bergstrom, in  Mechademia 6: User Enhanced (2011)
[https://www.academia.edu/4453047/_Girliness_Next_to_Godliness_Lolita_Fandom_as_Sacred_Criminality_in_the_Novels_of_Takemoto_Novala_Mechademia_6_User_Enhanced_2011]

…but it gets lost in the fireworks:

“As the story ends, the protagonist imagines fulfilling Mishin’s request that she use her Hello Kitty guitar to bludgeon him to death on stage during Ryūnosuke’s memorial concert the next day:

I’ll do it. Even if your survival instinct kicks in as I start to hit you and you try to run away, even if you tell me you didn’t mean it, tell me to stop, tell me not to kill you, I’ll keep my word. I will beat you to death with my Hello Kitty guitar. I’ll keep hitting you in front of all those people without a second thought, until your skull is in pieces, until I’m bathed in your blood. With these hands, I’ll make you eternal.”
-Ibid Bergstrom

Another of my blind spots centers around the problematics of performance and performative analysis. I’m not a theater person, performance art is mostly a “meh!” to me (I have done the usual readings because of the Fine Arts thing, but still… whatever!”). Cosplay is fun enough, but let’s not get too obsessed over it – I am old enough to remember it as little more than the prelude to all-night scifi convention piss-ups. Maybe the new iteration radically changes something.

Oh, lookie, an essay on Western M2F crossplayers:

“Good crossplay reveals the pure love for an anime character […] that is at the heart of all cosplay, regardless of the gender of [the] cosplayer or the character being cosplayed. In my perspective, it takes a real man to dress like a 10-year-old girl.”

“Traditional societal perceptions of gender are no fun anyway. I can’t fire, earth, water or air bend so I Gender Bend.”
– Gender, Sexuality, and Cosplay: A Case Study of Male-to-Female Crossplay by Rachel Leng [http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:13481274]

What? no coverage of F2M crossplayers? [ Later: the Fandom Unbound anthology mentioned below has a section on cosplay that ventues some interesting ideas about crossovers between female cosplayers, sepc. those into F2M crossplay and rotten girls – must review soon ] The more important theme that emerges from the essay is the notion that the internal codes of cosplaying provide a space wherein a certain degree of gender-play can occur for straight guys without getting into any of the more problematic issues of sexuality or their fundamental gender expression. The author references the Japanese kabuki tradition and offers a few tentative speculations about “carnival”-esque spaces;

“In many ways, cosplay performances demonstrate a form of 2.5 dimensional space where the boundary between reality and fiction is transgressed (Saito, 2007). Within this space of potentiality, crossplay epitomizes how cosplayers find pleasure in straddling layers between the fictive and real worlds to explore the virtual potential of sexuality. M2F crossplay thus problematizes how people see themselves as female or male, or how maleness and femaleness are attributed to others, but at the same time, presents itself as a high art form that distills the essence of cosplay fandom. Ultimately, what this paper suggests is that we should think of crossplay as more than an entertainment medium, as more than a mere act of parody. M2F crossplay deserves critical attention as an individual‟s artistic expression of performative fan identity with broader meanings for human action in relation to gender and sexuality.”
– Leng, ibid

The Kabuki reference deserved more consideration, but of course, these are western cos/cross players being considered. A wider “theatricality” POV might lead to an expanded mode of analysis. One of the classic dismissals of Japanese fen yaoi/BL practice, including its prodigious secondary production output, is that it is “just girls playing with dolls“.

“…as Francesca Coppa (2006) pointed out, even engaging in a textual practice like fan fiction is more like directing a theatrical production than authoring a text, as these stories “direct bodies in space” using fans’ shared knowledge of a canon text’s “sets and wardrobes, of the actors’ bodies, smiles, and movements.”
– Bound princes and monogamy warnings: Harry Potter, slash, and queer performance in LiveJournal communities” by Darlene Hampton [ http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/609/500 ]

The interests of the article’s author are clear and nailed to the mast, so a slight overload of queer theory rah-rah-rah is inevitable, (along with the usual later hedging of all bets by expanding the definition of “queer” so wide as to include everyone and everything but married Mormon missionaries) but the overall approach is interesting and could carry over to fannish secondary production (or transformative works, as the journal prefers) in general, including Japanese manifestations.

Right from the start, such an approach can pull a Captain Obvious and note that when a fan fic or dojin swipes a work’s characters, it almost always also swipes the scenery, location, background, setting and so forth. This matters, because it also can be messed with or left intact to heighten the feeling of appropriated authenticity. Another interesting tack comes from the performative nature of the anonymous creative interaction that develops as the work is group edited and discussed (perhaps less so in dojin production and more so in online fic editing) as well as in the presentation of individuals as actors within the online fan community.

4.44] Anonymous: Uh, there IS supposed to be a plot in here somewhere, right? Or is this just chapter after chapter of fucking? I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong about chapter after chapter of fucking. It’s just that I thought somewhere in here there would be a plot, much like what would happen if J.K. wrote HBP differently…as, I may mention, it is advertized [sic] as such in the header text… This DID get an award of some kind. Makes me wonder if it wasn’t just a popularity contest instead. Think I might stop reading here, giving this a definite thumbs-down. (LJ, October 13, 2007)

[4.45] SP responds in kind:

[4.46] It is not usually my policy to reply to rudely-worded anonymous comments. Yet, I have decided to reply here to save the annoyance of other such folks in the future. First, the story is clearly labeled as “smut” and contains quite a lot of graphic sex scenes. I think, overall, that is about half the story. If these offend or bore you, please go elsewhere. No sense wasting your time or bothering us with complaints about the amount of sex in the story. (LJ, October 13, 2007)

Someone is going to get a PhD if they can drag Japanese theater practice into an analysis of dojinshi plotting and/or “stage-ing” (those Hato-ish mise-en-clench scenes) and production rituals. Given the strong feedback loops between producer and fan/consumer in CJVC and the everything-refers-to-everything-else trope call-out overloads (crit speak: intertextuality) swiping a few tools from theater theory might also provide new insights and help illuminate some aspects of the ecology of manga, anime and game etc production going on in Japan today. Or we can go back a bit in time. See further on in this post for the Sabu & Ichi anime revival, watch a few and enjoy the faux sume-e ink-work conceit.

Another way of looking at Our Fave Stuff is to look at what falls just a bit beyond the pale. I know that there are serious otaku and fujoshi who also obsess over live-action daytime J-dramas (or K-dramas) but some things like Idols or Visual Kei  are thought of as too low to warrant serious consideration. The otaku-y stuff is where you run to, to escape the idols, the Visual Kei, the Oricon J-Pop machine fodder and the rest of the sad, mechanistic sold-out, commodified, exploitative pap that the corporate media cloud in Japan pushes on a numbed populace.

Interesting then how one of the big names in otaku-ology has co-authored a study on Idols.

Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture”, has its intro chapter available for perusal, see: “Introduction: The Mirror of Idols and Celebrity” by Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin
[https://www.academia.edu/4075854/Introduction_The_Mirror_of_Idols_and_Celebrity]

Echoes of the debased miserable industry practices surrounding fully commodified mass culture artifacts popped up before, for instance in the masterful “Interview with an ex-Visual Kei record executive” at the Tokyo Damage Report blog  [http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2010/03/01/interview-with-an-ex-visual-kei-record-executive/]  and the follow up: “visual kei fallout” post. [ http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2010/03/07/visual-kei-fallout/]

Otaku as well as Fujoshi are considered social pariahs? More likely they are considered troublesome because they resist obeying and spending like proper regimented Japanese “fans”. Sure they blow their money on weird fetishistic junk, but they are nowhere near as sheep-like as “proper” fans. They are experts, connoisseurs, fickle as heck and prone to ripping the shit off and making their own fun light pr0n out of it too. More study of the Galbraith/ Karlin book is indicated (must find copy cheap) but I suspect that the amount of secondary production/ transformative (and appropriative “parody” work) that goes on over AKB48 pales in comparison to what rotten girls do to basketball manga.

After reading the above introductory chapter and the TDR post on Visual Kei the antics of the Genshiken gang seem mild-mannered.

And while I am dredging up theory-ish readings, I must note that the 2012
Fandom Unbound, Otaku Culture in a Connected World“, edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe and Izumi Tsuji, Yale University Press, 2012 [ http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npk9q ] finally found its way into my hot little mittens. This will probably need a post of two of its own, but looks fascinating, if only because English-language otaku-ology gets bubbled in by the un-availability of original Japanese research. I went hunting after it after reading a considered review by Dr. Nele Noppe in a recent TWC volume [http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/627/505] (see also her blog)

Read the intro here: [ http://web.mit.edu/condry/Public/jing-articles/Ito12FandomUnboundOtaku-Intro.pdf ]

That’s enough theory-ness, time for some fun!

“Kobayashi lives alone in an apartment, until one day, Tooru appeared and they ended up living together. Tooru looks down on humans as inferior and foolish. But having been saved by Kobayashi-san, she does everything she can to repay the debt and help her with various things, although not everything goes according to plan. A mythical everyday life comedy about a hard-working office lady living with a dragon girl.”

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon by Cool-Kyou-Sinnjya
https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=98577
The mangaka, : https://www.mangaupdates.com/authors.html?id=17274

This one is under the protection of the gods of small things:
maid dragon

Take your usual quirky freeloader harem set-up, remove the average guy and sub in a harried woman engineer/ tech worker.  Like the guy lead she replaces she is a closet otaku; her only fun is talking about maids and loli charas with a buddy from work and getting pissed out of her gourd after work on weekends.  If she ever had a sexuality it is dormant. Her coworkers consider her an honorary male. She dresses like any other techie in the IT department.  Then a dragon gets a crush on her and moves in. The dragon can shape shift to almost-human female form so the freeloader ends up dressing as a maid, with an occasional alligator-ish tail hanging out behind her. Cooking and cleaning gags ensue. Not a lot of service; even after a few more shape-shifting female supernatural critters begin to sniff around at Kobayashi-san. The “now I’ll wash your back” joke is about as steamy as it gets and is really sweet. This isn’t after-thought yuri; it is more like after-thought josei-dragon-ai, but goes on to prove that you can just do a teeny bit of genderswap and make a tired old cliché fresh again.

LATER: I have run into a description of a much earlier dragon-girl x human girl yuri-ish tale, (haven’t found it yet) that was more “traditional” in the sense that it ended unhappily for the pairing. In that too much pre-2005, even pre-2010 yuri ended with an almost comic-code ‘lesbiancy=unhappy ending’ this could be considered not just an update but a long-overdue update & correction, almost a ret-con. I am a fan of happy endings. Dreams are sacred. Good Job! 

Mono no aware:

“The series follows the adventures of Sabu, a young Edo bakufu investigator traveling with the blind master swordsman Ichi. In their travels, they assist the common people in solving mysteries and righting wrongs (usually committed by bandits or corrupt officials). Sabu is engaged to Midori, the daughter of his boss, who works as a police officer for the Tokugawa shogunate.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabu_to_Ichi_Torimono_Hikae

Forty five years later, it still holds up. Someone grabbed the DVD re-issue of the episodes and now it is being fan-subbed and made available “by fans and for fans” . Sabu to Ichi Torimono Hikae / Sabu & Ichi’s Arrest Warrant / 佐武と市捕物控 originally aired from Oct 3, 1968 to Sep 24, 1969. As with the famous manga that it was based upon, the attraction lies in the way the mangaka and the anime studio adapted edo era graphic conceits to 1960’s printing and animation constraints. The manga was always known for its intricate scenery panels. The anime uses a lot of ink-wash tricks and still-action staging, which was a real neat way of keeping production costs in check while pumping the “edo” atmosphere to 11. Even though the anime is in 4:3 and black and white, the grim life is hard and fleeting mood of the manga, as well as some of the bloody and violent true crime sensationalism and Gekiga  social commentary impulses come through.

How to adapt and how not to adapt:

Jitsu wa Watashi wa [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jitsu_wa_Watashi_wa]
has been turned into an anime and is up on Crunchyroll as “Actually, I Am
[http://www.crunchyroll.com/actually-i-am]

I am surprised; the animators did not butcher it. There is a bit more fan-service and rude hijinks, but it stays close to the good-heartedness of the original. The main character’s male friends get a bit more screen time then in the manga. The OP and ED music is meh, but I liek it!

What a cute couple!

Over at certain “less official” anime streaming sites, the anime adaptation of Gate – Jietai Kare no Chi nite, Kaku Tatakeri is into five episodes and it is disappointing on so many levels. The manga isn’t afraid to stick its neo-colonialist, military fan-boy snout into the gore trough, as well as raiding the otaku prop and character cabinet. The anime, by contrast is half-assed even about this.

Plus they got rid of/ completely changed and moe-fied the tough female soldier in Itami’s brigade. I don’t like what they did to Loli Mercury’s chara design either.

UPDATE: Episode 11 finally worked, a tiny bit. Loli Mercury (very funny how the usual Japanese problems with pronouncing L’s like R’s is worked into her name, neh?) gets to show 1/20th of her manga formidable-ness but that is enough to make the thing watchable. Ep12 just puts the series on hold for next year’s resumption.

Bleh! Fail!

I’ll still watch it, I have no critical faculties left and it is hot outside.

Or I’ll watch this

Super Poi Hyadain 1 HOUR VERSION

What the ????? 

Destroy everything you touch

On Moe and too much fan-service

After an epic post on smut, as manifested in old-school-male-gaze V 1.0 “Yuri” it seems productive to continue on to the roots of the “condition” or problem or “peculiar institution” characteristic of so much of Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture: excessive fanservice.

Otaku-gaze titilation, burlesque, sleaze, creepy creepy creepy, lewd, ecchi hentai stuff as far as the eye can see. So much in fact that it is too damn easy to get used to it and begin to edit it out while reading. Which is a shame, for reasons beyond the annoying objectification of characters (outside of BL/yaoi land overwhelmingly female and written as young, possibly much too young).

It is getting in the way.

Why bother? Respect and maturity is one reason. A better product is another. World domination makes convincing third

Much must be untangled first, starting with moe.

“Particularly if you like series with gentlemen in them. Day two seemed to be dominated by gigantic doujin communities for a smaller number of popular propeties, and despite a spirited showing by Touhou and KanColle, BL had the weight of numbers thanks to Attack on Titan (my word Levi, you have a lot of boyfriends), Yowamushi Pedal and the series with an oni-looking main character whose name I’m struggling to find.

It’s difficult to understand the sheer scale of BL and how thoroughly a female space it is until you see it. It’s certainly illuminating from a male perspective, particularly if you want to see what men being objectified by women *really* looks like. And you can understand how a male-dominated approach to lesbians in fiction could be alienating to women. But it’s not the other side of the coin to Yuri – it’s the other side of the coin to moe. (Erica again: Yes, absolutely)

– Jye N’s 2014 Winter Comiket Report!, January 2nd, 2015 http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/01/02/event-jye-ns-2014-winter-comiket-report/

Aside from the “Wow, would have liked to see that” description of Yaoi day at Comiket (upon which I have hung a few previous posts – Sirens, etc., on), there was the interesting aside in the direction of the “asymmetry’ effect in the way male and female fandoms imagine the other sex and queer variants thereof for fun and curiosity. I mean it is slippery, right? Yaoi and BL are supposed to be the female flip-side to Yuri; imagined m-m pairings and imagined f-f pairings for the respective other sides of the boulevard. But both Erica-sensei and her correspondent Jye, as well as Kio Shimoku situate Yaoi and BL as the flip-side of (lolicon) moe (Hi Mada!). That would leave Yuri as either the flip-side of Bara or the flip-side of nothing dammit, get your flip-siding outta here!

This works and does not work, much like one of those Escher staircase prints, as a trick of perspective. Since this trick pops up in a lot of the theoretical literature, it might be worth another look.

Tamaki’s Beautiful Fighting Girl (BFG) and the Hiroki Azuma’s response both addressed a kind of moe aimed at the gaze of the male otaku. We can posit the BFG as an extreme variant of the moe girl, with seifuku’d high school girls, lolis, old-school shoujo-ai, siscon, maids, cat girls etc ad nauseum as variants of the same impulse. Basically the (male) otaku impulse to erase adult female agency, (ability, position, education, desire, everything) in favour of pre-agency, pre- any- worldly- experience “pure” female-oid characters.

There will be fan-service.

Recall as well that Dr Saito Tamaki is adamant that a libidinous charge must run through the narrative, lest it fail to enchant/ cathect/ re-cathect the mundane real world of the consumer of these tales.

But wait: the fujoshi tribes were fast to adopt and re-purpose the idea of moe too – they too have their own versions of it, which includes bishie, hunk, shota, even oyagi weirdness, plus elaborate pairing typologies (evolved perhaps from the dating classified ad descriptions in 1970’s – 1980 gay magazines?). Moe is no absolute guidepost, unless we audience-segregate and/or gaze-segregate our definitions of moe.

In an earlier post I reviewed Galbraith’s essay on moe, noting the deft update of Bronisław Malinowski’s concept of the phatic object as a focal point for fan enthusiasm, practice and identity. All very good for sociology papers – In practice Moe moe moe(!) now runs as shorthand for a form of abstracted desire manifested as interest for a character that is somehow conceptually removed from normal categories of desire allowed/ prescribed to the moe-fying subject. Moe somehow serves as a point of stopping short before an acknowledgement of full desire

So a rotten girl can see/ have moe for a pairing of hunky guys, a shota character and…, or even imagine that one inanimate object would have the hots for another in a manner that “is so moe” or that sparks a feeling of moe in the observer. Similarly the general issue guy otaku can get all moe for maids, robot girls, lolis, other underage female-ish characters, otokonoko, improbable “lesbians”, tsunderes, yanderes, miko, teenage female pilots of giant robots in too-tight-fitting costumes, high school girls, (and high school girls piloting giant robots in sailor suits), mini skirted magical girls, improbable young “nuns” and even girl-gang members.

But they do not get all moe for adult female characters or BL-ish guys.

Hmmmm The BL-guys thing is easy to understand, but why no adult females?

There is one type of adult female that can be moe-ed a tiny bit: The perpetually 29-year-old sexy high-school teacher lady who is in a desperate funk and/or crazed mood because she cannot find a husband.

Meanwhile across the boulevard, the fujoshi is not going to consider a shoujo D’awwwww girl & boy couple as “moe”, unless perhaps the girl likes to dress like a guy (Hey, its a hobby). Rotten girls are at least a bit more varied in their tastes; some reportedly find old guys interesting, though I must wonder if they are considered so alone or only in the context of half a potential pairing.

Similarly, a female BL/yaoi enthusiast, even one who may desire women in real life would most likely not find female characters worthy of moe. Hence the reported “Die in a ditch” effect that banishes the presence of almost all females from fujoshi fantasies.

There is desire in the moe gaze.

It is just abruptly pulled over to the side of the road before it can crash into its target.

“Humor is characteristic of an interrupted defense mechanism.
No sane being interrupts a defense mechanism.”

– Nessus the puppeteer from Ringworld by Larry Niven.

Moe is interrupted desire. Moe is the kitsch shadow of desire.

“Moe causes two feelings to develop in otaku hearts in quick succession. The first feeling says: ‘How nice to see the big-eyed girl character leaning toward me, the reader!’
The second feeling says: ‘How nice to be moved, together with all my otaku brethren, by the big-eyed girl character leaning toward us, the readers!!’ ”
― The Unbearable Moe-ness of Moe

Pity Genshiken’s Madarame; real women are scary. Or not scary enough in the right way.

Moe is also problematic, as it is the main alibi and excuse for shoddy product design and the omnipresent, wearying overload of same old, same old fanservice in CJVC. It wasn’t just the death of sci-fi heroic adventure themes that changed manga and anime in the mid aughts. The moe-blob and her attendant over-the-top creepy presentation is probably one of the main impediments to successfully exporting more Cool Japan cultural product.

Consider the licensing of manga and anime to the rest of the world. Ghibli exports well because it doesn’t fanservice out. Otaku might go Moe, moe moe at strong Ghibli girl characters but the characters are written to serve the story and themselves – not to pander. Ghibli properties quickly become world renown classics.

This part of the equation struck me upon stumbling across the manga Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (The City still turns) and then watching the anime. I am annoyed. The genki main character is a teenage girl who aspires to be a mystery writer. Aside from this ambition she is happy go lucky, forgetful, lazy and often a catalyst for minor disasters. She has a circle of friends and works at a laughable excuse for a maid cafe; a run-down diner owned by a grumpy granny who dreamed up the maid angle on a whim, sewed the uniforms, but can’t even be bothered to do more then tape a piece of paper with the word “maid” on the cafe sign. So: an anti-maid cafe and curry lunch joint. All the other teen characters are conscientious though quirky and the adults of the business district are all set in their ways and ready to act as the chorus as either odd things happen or are instigated by our plucky heroine.

Now watch the anime: right off the opening sequence has our young heroine flashing thigh, butt and garter while donning her maid outfit. Facepalm. I like a bit of garter as much as the next guy, even 2D garter-flash, but the effect in this case is wrong and jarring. She is by no means written as being “sexy”. She has zero interest in relationships and none of the story-lines touch in any way on any awakening desire in her. Although her best friend is her rival for the attentions of a boy, she is oblivious to his shy interest in her. Nothing here, move along. There is a ghost story, a ridiculous UFO tale, a high school band with her friends, nice pleasant stuff. No onsen episodes, shower scenes, boob compare grabs, nadda. She walks the pet tanuki that her family has adopted as a dog.

Most of Soredemo is about the teens beginning to enter into the adult work-world social that is the little business district: are their future lives set out for them, or can they find their own way? The perpetually annoyed beat cop comments on our heroine that “she won’t stop being a nuisance until she gets married and settles down.” The boy will invariably follow his father as a fishmonger. The rebel girl wants to be a guitar hero rock star. Only the perpetually 29 year-old proprietor of the antique store offers a compromise escape route: she is secretly a published mystery author, her pen-name’s books are the main inspiration to our heroine, who has yet to stumble upon the secret identity. Meanwhile, our heroine’s own writing efforts are beyond dismal, but of course she is too clueless to realize it.

It could have made a fine export property.

So why the damn garter thigh/ flank shot every intro segment? Followed by a goofy maid cafe dance guaranteed to establish the main character as a “clumsy maid” character – which is never worked up in the episodes?

There goes the series as potential gift to the nieces, unless I want to get out Adobe Premiere and fix it myself.

The animation studio did not trust the property, so they “salted” the intro to try to draw otaku. Next we’ll put a “yuri”-esque shower scene into the opening credits of Aria the Natural and fuck that up too.

Facepalm.

Anything that has terra-forming and Cordwainer Smith sci-fi references in it will get me to watch 3 episodes. Add Cait Sith and a fox wedding and I am easily charmed. No service is needed.

“Currently, however, the most conspicuous Japanese culture of otaku and yankii represents value sets with little connection to affluent consumers elsewhere. Most men around the world are not wracked by such deep status insecurity that they want to live in a world where chesty two-dimensional 12 year-old girls grovel at their feet and call them big brother. The average university student in Paris is likely to read Murakami Haruki and may listen to a Japanese DJ but not wear silky long cocktail dresses or fake eyelashes from a brand created by a 23 year-old former divorcee hostess with two kids. Overseas consumers remain affluent, educated, and open to Japanese culture, but Japan’s pop culture complex — by increasingly catering to marginal groups (or ignoring global tastes, which is another problem altogether) — is less likely to create products relevant for them.
[…]
Japanese companies now face a true crisis: Appealing to the most powerful consumers in Japan will lead them away from tastes and values that can be easily exported overseas. AKB48 may be opening vanity branches in Taiwan and Jakarta, but will the world inherently be interested in an idol group meant to please a small group of men’s reactionary attitudes towards women and desire for songs that ignore the last twenty years of musical change? And as we’ve seen with the success of K-Pop in Japan, companies cannot automatically protect the domestic market against invasion. When the mainstream consumers do see something they like, that reflects their values in a way that otaku and gyaru content does not, they pounce. But until they reawaken as a consistent consumer force or rebuild cultural online to be less centered around product purchase, we are likely to stay within the current situation — where marginal subcultures rule the school.

-The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture, Part Five: The Difficulty of Exporting Marginal Subcultures. http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/02/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-five/

The kicker is set out in Part Four: The Rise of Marginal Subcultures

” Marginal groups’ up their voting power in the consumer vacuum

The end result is that the otaku and yankii have an almost inelastic demand for their favorite goods. They must consume, no matter the economic or personal financial situation. They may move to cheaper goods, but they will always be buying something. Otherwise they lose their identity. While normal consumers curb consumption in the light of falling wages, the marginal otaku and yankii keep buying. And that means the markets built around these subcultures are relatively stable in size.

So as the total market shrinks, the marginal groups — in their stability — are no longer minor segments but now form a respectable plurality in the market. In other words, if otaku or yankii all throw their support through a specific cultural item, that item will end up being the most supported within the wider market.

The clearest example of this is AKB48. With the letters AKB in their name, this group of girls was unequivocally marketed towards older males based in the Akihabara otaku culture. Compared to past mass market groups such as Speed, the girls are intentionally chosen and styled to look like elementary schoolgirls and lyrically address older men with direct sexual references. (See the “cat-eared brothel” video for “Heavy Rotation” and the unambiguous “love knows no age” lyrics for “Seifuku ga jama wo suru.”)

The mass idol group regularly has an “election” (sousenkyo) where fans try to vote their favorite girl to Number One. Buying certain AKB48 CD singles gives the fan a vote in the AKB48 election, which thus incentivizes otaku to buy multiple copies of the CD to increase their “political” power. The CD is thus no longer a means of listening to music but a way to influence the future of AKB48. This has created a legion of fans who buy dozens and hundreds of the same AKB48 CD or even 5500 copies. There are now doubts about that story’s authenticity but it basically was an exaggeration of an existing principle. Regardless, the marketing strategy of AKB48 does encourage the purchase of multiple goods, thus amplifying the buying power of nerds beyond their small numbers. This means as a consumer bloc, the AKB48 otaku fans can rival the non-otaku consumer base.

This otaku bloc strength, as well as other niche’s dedicated buying, can be seen through the music charts. In 2010 only three artists made the Oricon best-selling singles market — AKB48 and a Johnny’s Jimusho group Arashi. (At this stage, you can almost argue that music fans of Johnny’s groups are themselves a conspicuous cult rather than a mass market phenomenon.) Only two artists taking the entire singles market is unprecedented in Japanese musical history. In the previous decade, the average number of artists in the top ten was 8.2. The best explanation is that mainstream consumers stopped buying music, even single song downloads, so the favorite acts of marginal subcultures now appear to be the most popular.

Otaku and gyaru: winners by default”

The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture, Part Four: The Rise of Marginal Subcultures. http://neojaponisme.com/2011/12/01/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-four/

Note that Japanese animation and manga were not the only vernacular genres ever to suffer a distortion due to a sales and distribution slump. The histories of North American vernacular media in the 20th century are full of these effects. Yet the latest shift for Japanese visual culture was extreme and remarkable. Some commentators saw it but read it wrong; as in the “Lament of the Ota-king” for an earlier age of grand sci-fi and giant robot adventures, almost anticipating a “gamer-gate”reaction.

What is all this unmanly moe-blob stuff? It must be linked to:

  • the decline of grand narratives.
  • the rise of the libidinized BFG and or the database of modular moe-blobs.
  • the magical girl as feminist trojan horse.
  • a descent into ecchi smut.
  • the rise of dojinshi culture as a cheap farm team for publishers, and the corresponding influence of…
  • the rise in Shoujo-ish libidnized offshoots (female participation and production still makes up the bulk of Comiket and dojin culture)
  • The normalization of otaku/ geek culture, failure to launch adults, economic stagnation, the end of adolescence/ adolescence without end in Japanese society, decline of marriage, infantilization, herbivore men…
  • Add a few of your own…
  • And so it goes…

More to the point, there is plenty of diaspora research on how fanservice, especially the loli stuff can really sink the export prospects for a Japanese franchise, especially if it looks like it strays into the sights of other countries’ anti-child exploitation legislation. Fantasy is fantasy will not save your bookstore proprietor from a bust and experienced outlanders make it a point to box up their Comiket haul and send the packet back by sea mail lest they have to explain their hobbies to airport customs officers. Queer folk long had to adopt such strategies, now it is everyone’s turn. You never know what can set off a nasty incident.

This does not make for a viable export market.

It does explain the continued appeal of grey-sourced versions, even in the face of legitimate sources. Do you really want your credit card number on that purchase?

Even when licensed, a censorship/ scrubbing protocol starts up in tandem with the localization efforts and we are back to the problem of bad dubbing, excessive re-cutting and story-line redaction that has plagued Japanese visual culture exports for the last 50 years. The interesting, the socialy progressive, the quirky and the unique are excised along with the more obnoxious stuff. Only mild service is left as a bit of an “Oh those wacky Japanese” tease for the outlander fans.

Perhaps Shintaro Ishihara was onto something, even as he was going about it WRONG!

A current example:

Ken Akamatsu’s UQ Holder is (later: WAS – he be back to his old tricks of magically blowing the clothing off too-young nubile heroines) a far more export-savvy product than Negima. The teen girl posse after a 10 to 11 year old magic boy harem is gone, as is the excessive penchant for making the girls’clothing vanish, disintegrate, fall off or suffer artful disarrangement every third page. Both female characters who will be enlisted to provide service shots are powerful adult authority figures with agency; the service is still there but at least it is on the level of western female superheroes who get their uniforms shredded and still fight on. Even the onsen scenes are restrained to a Genshiken level. Any service-grade yuri-esque longings are presented more as hero worship and the one character who could have been an otokonoko/ trans* stereotype is upgraded to indeterminate and asexual, thereby bypassing the usual comedies of identity for a more poignant “what will I be?” characterization. The main character is going to be an impulsive teen battle training good natured fool for a while, so desire need not poke its nose into the tent. Evangeline AK McDowell, Negima’s fearsome anti-social loli mage, the Dark Gospel has been turned into step-mom.

This series has (had) export potential.

In contrast, the Negima properties – especially the two anime seasons/series betray their roots as ecchi riffs on a Harry Potter impulse, loaded to the boards with harem fanservice. Even the manga takes forever to get off the ground – until Evangeline is socialized and recruited into the magical world campaign the thing just flails around looking for another excuse for a pantsu shot and a big magical battle.

Exportable for sure, but only to a niche market.

Contrast these to Blue Exorcist. The writer is a woman, the service is negligible. The female characters while secondary have power, ability, back-stories and agency – even the weakest of them can be formidable when roused to battle. The plotting is a more durable template of finding each team member’s strengths, becoming friends and learning to cooperate in the face of ever-more monstrous threats. Blue exorcist does not traffic in fanservice or even much teen romance. It does not suffer from the lack.

This series has export potential.

Mouretsu Space Pirates manages to keep school uniform skirt lengths to a modest range. Adult women wear pants and carry impressive arsenals in their car’s trunks. The girls can pilot an interplanetary sail-ship and apply the Kzinti lesson when threatened. Even the hacker scenes have a tiny nod towards tech realism in them, though what mercenary hacker would fall that easily for a honey-pot?

This series has export potential.

Longer skirts for high school uniforms in general, Please, if only out of economic concerns! Besides, otaku boys can learn to fetishize anything. Long school uniform skirts? Hawt!

At this point however, service in the genres seems to be a structural problem. The male fans expect it, as does the spin-off merchandise market. And then there is the alibi problem alluded to in my previous post. Fanservice and smut situate any narrative comfortably within a safe male space. We seem to need this.

Drop some ecchi bits into the package and we guys can read shoujo-ish story lines in comfort.

We may be sneered at as otaku pervs, but boys will be boys, men will be perpetually boys and as long as there are a few pantsu shots or relatively restrained clench scenes, entry level salaryman cadres can even read josei-level complicated emotionally driven stories. If the reading material is called out, they can brush the magazine aside and complain that they thought there would be more “Hawt whatever” in the work. Or giant robots, or both.

We would even settle for a level-up battle grinder, or ronin swordmen. Just give us some cover.

Because we men-folk are traditionally supposed to be a bit slow on the emotional and social interaction stuff and because interest in such is even more suspect than interest in other guys, this camouflage netting is ubiquitous. It will be hard to give up.

“…Therefore, the condition of the moe-blob female-oid exists, but as a symptom of male readership, created to ensure our ontological consistency.”

Thanks mister Žižek.

I can read all the Takemiya Jin stuff I want and fall back to the easily defensible position of an old school guy looking for yuri fanservice. I can enjoy story lines that would normally be unavailable to me. I am a fan, even as I note that the aspirational nature of her story A plots have recently made her characters far too wise and level-headed for their situations. Recover from your trauma with the support of your friends, face your fears, deploy some empathy towards the other, see past injuries in a new light, talk it over with the other parties and reach a mutually satisfactory point from which all can move on from. Please pull the other one, it has bells on it. Or worse, the power level of working this complicated interpersonal stuff out is so far beyond my understanding that it reads as “alien”. (that why they do alien things,, because…) This lacks a certain dramatic flair, but these are short aspirational learn-to-solve-problems pieces, not (Bitter-) Sweet Blue Flowers.

The best us guys can manage in an emotionally fraught situation is either a bender, a fistfight or a cold refusal to ever talk or even look at the offending party again. Or all three. That’s what we do. Anything else is Richard III, Cardinal Richelieu or Mephistopheles.

Great Ghu! No wonder we are trampling around in the Lily garden.

Worse, if a shounen action adventure grinder ever began to show emotional complexity and sensitivity beyond say, the catatonic trauma and hysteria of Evangelion, the rotten girls would ship it clear through to next month. Above all the devil and the salaryman cannot abide to be mocked – especially by the women-folk who are far more worldly on such matters. Te-heee: basketball star A and basketball star B are having long talks on the high school roof again, squeeeeee! Sez B to A: “They are laughing at us again, I knew we should have just duked it out behind the gym.” “Nawwww, they like that too… “. Jeeeesh!”

And yet we guys hunger for a glimpse of the insights offered by complex emotionally driven stories. Stumbling across a josei genre character story collection titled “HER”, (which I am at a loss to find again, drat!) because it was cross-listed in the yuri section gave me the pleasure of reading a short chapter where a slightly angsty teen girl starts to pester a wise old (old as in wrinkled 60-ish) woman photographer who still enjoys the affection of younger (30-ish?) adult women. When asked the inevitable “how, why” question by the teen, the wise woman simply tells her that intimacy with men would feel not just out of her sexuality, but out of her species. (Woof!) I immediately harkened back to the testimony of one of Dr. Mizoguchi’s correspondents who declared that sex with guys feels like having a cardboard lover.

Cardboard.

Un-desire explained as easily as desire.

Otherwise the tale presents a number of “time will change your perspective, to yourself be true, those aren’t very good friends then, are they?” nostrums for mildly angsty teens.

Nothing too shocking here. All nicely reassuring and good hearted. A good read.

Wait a second! There wasn’t any fanservice. Maybe I didn’t need it after all?

Which brings us to the issue of quality. If you can pad a weak or poorly written story with plenty of moe and ecchi fanservice, then filling running time and chapter pages gets way too easy while the writing gets lazy. Both Negima! and Negima? anime were pretty damn pointless without the service and soon even the service grew to uncomfortable creepy levels. This stuff is not healthy. The Shaft take on “Holy Mary Watches Over Us“, Maria?Holic was a toxic brew of creep-ery and cookie cutter fetishes done small and squeaky. Plus it decided to expand its paraphilia range and threw an obnoxious trap character in as antagonist, just for added spite. Admittedly it was built to only do this, but the mind can only take so much lame bullying, smirking lite smut before it rebels.

Even with far milder examples of the harem genre, the service begins to get in the way, unless managed for exclusively for pure burlesque. Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa is a goofy, good-hearted high school o’ weirdlings comedy with a pile of secret super-powered students tropes cranked to 11 for laughs. At first it looks like a harem, but the other girls never had a chance. Normal boring guy gets a crush on the silent cool beauty girl in class only to discover that she is a bubbly good-natured half-shinso vampire who 1) would never drink anyone’s blood unless she was married to them – and then only a teeny bit, 2) keeps quiet and eats by herself because of her snaggle teeth and hick/ Kansai accent and 3) will have to leave the school if her secret gets out. Buddy boy was smitten; now he is 10x more smitten. Still he can’t get up the courage to confess and when ever he comes close, something ridiculous happens to stop it. From then on weird characters are continuously added into the mix – it seems the school is some kind of nature preserve for powerful weirdlings, most of whom are of course high-school age girls. Buddy boy has a few riajuu male friends too, but he is now leery of hanging out with them too much because he can’t keep a secret to save his life.

The series is silly to extremes, dropping every Aliens, Time Travelers and Espers trope it can find into its pages along with a sex-shifting werewolf, an ageless demon child principal (not loli, just a low-grade pain in the ass demon) a naive fallen angel, an 18 foot high vampire monster dad who has is the scariest “meet dad” father a young swain could ever face and a homeroom teacher of the perpetually 29 and single variety who used to be a fearsome girl gang leader. There is a small degree of fanservice: the werewolf, when not a Johnny rotten-looking punk-rocker admirer of teacher (admirer – he lets slip that she is too old for him to consider as hawt, which earns him a thrashing from hell hath no fury teach) is a cynical sexy tease girl who is mostly put in place to provide fanservice and to serve as a foil to the shy vampire girl’s modesty. She also cheerleads the couple and drives some of the more outlandish plot devices in the story forward. Happy couple have yet to smooch. Boy has yet to straight-out confess. Vampire girl is embarrassed and worried that she will be pulled out of high-school. All of their friends are rooting for them and trying to get the two to clue in; even two of the other girls who consider themselves rivals have decided to help out. The riajuu guys have settled on the idea that buddy boy’s big secret is his undeclared crush on the girl. Happy high school hijinx ensue.

My point? It could probably do with even less fanservice. What is deployed is more for low teen sex comedy, nosebleeds, mild rivalry, meddling well-wishers, the whole nine yards.

It is refreshing. I don’t have to worry about turning a page and seeing squick. I could take the tankubon through customs. (I do buy some of the stuff I like – one day I will be able to read it, one day…) It has a good heart, even if it is a pile of cliches looking for a reason to keep rolling down a well-worn path.

The mangaka gets the point about the gratuitous service; hangs a lampshade on it in fact. A recent story arc added one more character; the time-travelling grand-daughter of someone, who has to stop sex-shifting were-girl or her mom (seen only in cheesecake pose silhouette as “The Charismatic Pervert”) from taking over the world in the future and turning Japan into a totalitarian pervert empire of enforced depravity. If time-travel prude girl hits an improperly attired female with her magic sword any risque pantsu or worse are turned into cycling shorts. Shirt buttons do themselves up and stay done up. Hooray!

And sex, or any real intimacy is banished to the realm of happily married adulthood.

Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa has export potential.

A Crusade for Modesty!

Against this runs the perpetual argument that Japanese cultural producers care not a fig for foreign markets and care to learn to understand these even less. This is not surprising, as Japan prides itself on being a high late-modernist mass-culture society. It expropriates the forms of others’ cultural artifacts, but the substance is bent to internal ends – just as we do. It will not do third-world tourism pandering: Tourists who venture to its shores are visiting an advanced culture and should expect to adapt to Japanese priorities; such as carrying wads of cash, having their credit cards rendered useless, their mobile phones inert (or prohibitively expensive to use), free wifi unavailable, their driving skills made inadequate and please keep your hands off the door handles on our taxis – they open and close themselves. And don’t get your shoe caught between the train door and the platform edge, thank you!

The nuance behind the reasons for the moe outbreak go even further than the internal economies of cheap serially replaceable and disposable formulaic output for a domestic market, or the demand for sexy figurines and pencil sets, or even simple structural inertia in the production chain.

So about changing the way we do manga and anime and games so that a hypothetical future export market is happier: right, yup we’re on that, sooner or later, fuck you very much for your opinion.

You still here?

Perhaps the moe disease is insidious and what the western gamer-gate guys were secretly, if inarticulately scared spitless of. Let the moe habit in and the next thing you know Halo will be full of ship-able bishies and miniskirted lolis. There goes all the machine guns and vicarious testosterone. Considering that the plot lines of shooter game side-products make the execrable Paul Verhoeven Starship Troopers movie read like high European existential (bent to neo-fascist ends) literature, a take-over wouldn’t be that hard.

Here’s an exercise. Download a Chris Hedges “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” video jeremiad of sufficient length from youtube. Extract the sound and measure the length. Now cut the title sequence off the Halo Nightfall OAV, measure from the ending back, cut, re-splice and drop the Hedges talk over as commentary.

Cardboard.

Drop any other commentary over it, the thing is so thin that you can detourner it six ways from next Tuesday. That makes it weak and foolish… and vulnerable. One day someone is going to do a Chris Marker on it and then we will have something for the ages. In the meantime, maybe an AMV?

Moe and its attendant cheesy fanservice habits offer better fantasies of power, security and privilege than any first person shooter fests, even if the latter come with the promise of battlefield action and drama.

Moe is a Disease That Gives Us Meaning?

But even these pale soon enough as well.

At this point, perhaps only demographics and changing tastes in an aging population can turn the tide. I am feeling a bit old lately. While I could probably figure out Snapchat if so inclined, I cannot wrap my head or my attention span around such recent big things as Kill La Kill, Attack on Titan (ok idiot giant adults eat children, Lawd said Abraham, la la la) A certain Spinning Penguin Drum (yeh it repeats; seriality is the differance in repetition, la la la…) or even attack of the yuri bears. (you guys are just throwing pasta at the wall!) It just doesn’t work for moi, that’s just me. I can put up with all manner of weird crap – heck I watched all of Gasaraki, Ergo Proxy and The Big O,  but I gave up halfway through Evangelion. On Tonight: A collapsing gotterdammerung of narcissistic fantasies and American College Football! Ooops I forgot to set my PVR.

Perhaps only sneaking over for Josei-level V2/ True Ancestor Yuri with adult-ish characters, concerns, authentic, sympathetic and aspirational depictions of queer sexualities and mature interpersonal character dynamics will raise up the otaku soul. Perhaps it is already saved and the need for a new otaku, like Baudrillard’s messiah has been proclaimed a day late, a buck short and there no longer really is any need for him.

Everyone has already moved on.

Perhaps we outlander fans will catch on sooner or later too.

But I’m not holding my breath.