If you were alive and conscious in the 60’s you may remember one particularly irksome example of public stupidity that surrounded a children’s song. Today, EVERYONE is allowed to be publicly stupid so such egregious displays of blowhard foolishness and simpering followership are less rare or notable. They are almost expected.
Instead of sugar-coated laments regarding the inexorable passage of time, this song, through the pronouncement of fools somehow became something about a secret, coded reference to mary-joo-wanna. Oh frick! Seemingly adult human, please go to your room and reflect upon your public stupidity. Your younger relatives are embarrassed for you and are contemplating institutional care.
No, wait… Puff. Magic! Get it? PUFF?
Back then, idiot blowhards whispering this “secret message” interpretations held privileged public positions with functional monopolies of discourse. Today you can’t swing a cat gif without hitting someone trying to monetize their opinion-leader-ing wannabe-ness. If you have enough weasels in a sack they take care of each other. Thus I refute the Frankfurt School.
I had been following the manga since I stumbled upon it years ago. I was delighted to learn of and then to watch it as it became an anime. Good judgement that the anime stopped short before it got to the chapters where one of the more anti-social dragons played a gender-fuck experiment on Miss K. (she pretty well just ignored it until it went away, though she gained a new understanding and appreciation for hormonal effects on the brain and oversized cartoon boobies). That caused a noticeable amount of fan butt-hurt and would have been a distraction. Meanwhile the number of dragons that continued to clump around manga Miss K grew ever larger.
I acknowledge that one can love Dragon Maid as an Odd Couple exercise or as a fable of loneliness and found queer family – it does these quite well. I will cling to my initial reading of it as a subverted harem tale. Take Nyaruko: Crawling with Love or even the earlier genre-creator; Urusei Yatsura (200+ episodes plus ova’s!!!) and lose the boy.
I had long suspected that many of the male leads in conventional harem grinders would have absolutely no friends or social interaction whatsoever if not for the girls/ ladies/ women who miraculously get interested in them. Sure, it’s good to be king and lets preserve the balance and the friendship but really… Ain’t that poor schlub so damn happy that anyone, let alone a number of interesting, quirky members of the opposite sex want to talk and interact with him, that to consider risking the loss of their company is enough to keep him from pushing for any resolution?
Poor fool! If he wasn’t a he, they could have had an all wimmins revolutionary lesbian dragon family collective!
Don’t even try to figure out what they see in her.
Perhaps she was a monster all along too, just like them.
One particular viciously effective criticism of the tale likened Miss Kobayashi to “Derwood” of Bewitched fame (and inadvertently echoed the complaints of the show’s formidable mother-in-law). The accusation hits home: the dragons are wonderous powerful beings – why put themselves in thrall to the whims of human society, especially such a pinched and neutered human as our grim salaryman woman programmer?
As Amicus Dragonii, I wish to advance a modified Puff defence. (No, the show is NOT a secret allegory about dope smoking: Give it a break! ) Miss K might be a PITA but she is no Derwood. Derwood was a parodic exaggeration of what a 1960’s successful male was supposed to be and the grating “comedy” of the show came from his privileged little ass waddling around and trying to jam a powerful jet-setting magical woman into a suburban wifey role. Ok, we have SOME congruity here, but also a marked difference: Miss K should not be a salaryman. And make no mistake, she is a salaryman. A later dragon interloper might end up mooching around her workplace as an Office Lady but she is there for contrast. The interloper can’t debug, program or even pull her weight doing clerical work. Her colleagues have to take on the load she is expected to do, but cannot manage.
Note how each of them dress. Note the sumptuary code and who has the privilege of casual dress afforded to a L337 code wrangler.. Now look again at the nice OL uniform on the useless one…
THAT was what Japan had in store for Miss K.
Salaried Japanese work is supposed to be a grinding dehumanizing hellscape. That’s why they call it work and pay yen for doing it. If it was in any way, even microscopically enjoyable Japanese people would take it up as an expensive sport and pay to do it. That Miss K can defy Japanese gender role expectations to become an asexual office work drone is heroic in its own right. She is, in the words of her own self-doubt, a functioning, contributing member of society. Unfortunately her self doubts also whisper of the memories of how she repeatedly longed and failed to become her idea of what a woman should have been. Samantha’s Derwood has no self doubts and barely any self-awareness. That is why he is a shit and Miss K is a flawed hero – even when she acts like a jerk.
Tohru is still the magic girlfriend with a crush, willing to put up with a metric shit-ton of stupid and indulge her love, for a tiny while longer until enlightenment hits. Living alone forever is boring and living in alone-forever-land is also full of powerful magical psychopaths with big sharp pointy magic weapons. Have a relax, indulge the cute foolish one. She has no idea how lucky she is. Follow the silly human rules, at least for the small stuff. That way the puny humans will be completely off guard when you get the urge to pull a Gojira. Giant flying lizard? Where?
No one here but us Maidos…
What is this thing called love?
The Anime wisely shot past the dragon harem and went straight for the gay moms family vibe. Because it still wanted some Japanese guys to watch it, there are a few too many jiggley anime boobies and underage yuri crush gags but it remains an ingenious, funny, sentimental, even mawkish-ly good-hearted reply to the harem problem.
I love it bunches and feel pained when it is dissed
We never got to see or feel that with Nyaruko-chan or Lum and their feckless intendeds.
The only thing that is really wrong with Dragon Maid is that Miss K needs to smarten up and pledge her troth to Tohru. Face it girl, you like her. Not to impose a sexuality or any sexuality upon a chara but you could at least give cuddling a try. Puzzle it out. You could be Ace or you could have been so far into the closet that you were already half-way to dragon-land.
Tohru has her traumas too. Sometimes she cries in her sleep. Go to her. Give her a hug.
The harsh criticism got one thing right: Cool Kyoushinja! Don’t let Miss Kobayashi become a Derwood!
“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.
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.
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)
…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.”
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.”
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“.
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.
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)
“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.”
This one is under the protection of the gods of small things:
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.”
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 sensationalismand 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”
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.
I’ll still watch it, I have no critical faculties left and it is hot outside.