All posts by Karen

Otakusphere Weekly: The Lost Episodes

Back in the summer, when we put the podcast on hiatus, we had two episodes recorded that never got edited and posted. Now, stopping the podcast with no warning and leaving finished episodes in limbo is obviously not a good way to do things and not how I like to operate, but to paraphrase the wise Kero-chan:kerochan

“A lot of stuff happens in life!”

Yeah, so that happened, but here’s episode #16: Tales of Lemon Zest:

Download this episode (right click and save)

Obviously this is from a while ago so we’re still discussing summer shows like Sweetness and Lightning and Amanchu! and stuff, but probably worth a listen if you’ve enjoyed the show thus far. Episode 17 is still being edited, but I’ll update this post with it as soon as it’s done.

Finishing Up Food Wars!: The Second Plate

screenshot-2016-10-01-12-58-13I was a bad girl and didn’t keep up with blogging Food Wars! episodically for most of the season. Part of this was because I discovered Chef’s Table on Netflix, and I was so enraptured by the most pretentious cooking documentary I had ever seen that my quota of food television was temporarily filled. I mean, how can poor Soma hope to compete with chefs who say things like “I won’t let my plating canvas be limited by the profit motive of plate manufacturers?” How can he compete with people who think that they are CHANGING THE WORLD with their approach to root vegetables? It’s just not fair.

However, since I did finish watching the cour, I felt I may as well do a bit of wrapping up here. On the whole, I enjoyed The Second Plate, but it had a few problems:

  1. The Stagiaire arc was much more interesting than the Autumn Elections, so it was a shame that it took up only a third of the screen time. It featured the show starting to veer away from the shonen battle format, and as someone who hasn’t read the manga, that was a pleasant surprise to me.
  2. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with how Soma finally experiencing a decisive loss played out. Sure, just about every protagonist in a shonen story loses eventually (so they can reassess their strategy and come back even stronger, then win a million more times), but something about it just felt…off. They made such a big deal about Soma promising his Dad that he would never lose to anyone else before he could beat him, I felt like he should have apologized to his Dad or something after he lost to Hayama. Not because any sane person should feel the need to do that, but because it would have felt thematically appropriate for the show. I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something was missing there.

Of course, there were good things too. Erina has gone from a stone-cold bitch to a stone-cold bitch who likes shoujo manga; Megumi is gaining more and more confidence, even without Soma there to back her up; Soma has learned some humility, and even more importantly, realized that his family’s diner was never just a diner; The judges occasionally refrained from using the word “umami” 47 times when critiquing any one dish.

I don’t have much else to comment on though. I think Food Wars! is going to take its place next to UtaPri as one of those shows I always watch and enjoy, but don’t expect anything new and different from. That’s probably a weird thing to say, since I just pointed out that the Stagiaire arc was an example of the show branching out, but my gut tells me that was an anomaly; manga readers, feel free to butt in and tell me I’m wrong. I just feel like, for whatever reason, at one point I was really invested in the whole idea of shonen battles being fought with cooking instead of violence (not that that in and of itself is an new concept, but it is still somewhat unusual), and now I’m just kind of over it. I still like the show, but if they never made a new season ever again, I’d be okay with it.

Now I feel like I’m ending my coverage of the show with a downer, which is a shame because it really was an enjoyable season that I don’t regret watching in the slightest. I think I’m realizing I can be surprisingly fickle in terms of what concepts I’m into, though.

July: “OMG they’re fighting with burgers instead of their fists, that is so fun and neat and novel and I get to use lots of food porn vocabulary if I write about it!”

October: “Meh.”

What is First Love Monster?

screenshot-2016-09-30-14-20-54Normally, when I want to write about a show, I have something in mind that I’d like to say about it. This is the exception: I am writing about First Love Monster in the hopes that by writing about it, I will figure out what I just watched. Considering the fact that I’m admitting up front that I have no plan, and this is more a form of attempted therapy than analysis of said show, I will not blame anyone for bailing out at the end of this paragraph.

Preamble covered, just what the hell is First Love Monster?  When I watched the first episode three months ago, I was confused about who the show was targeted at. Now, after catching up on the 11 remaining episodes, I’m still asking the same question. This is somewhat unique in my anime-viewing history.

It’s ostensibly shoujo, right? It’s a rom-com, and the guys are pretty much all tall and all handsome (with a few token moe boys who’re more cute than hot), and one of the really tall handsome guys has a thing for pushing the heroine up against the wall, and there’s even an episode where the dudes get shirtless. But most of the guys are also elementary schoolers who happen to be in fully adult male bodies for no reason that is ever explained, meaning they constantly talk about poop and wieners– especially poop. And even though Kanade and his friends are said to be in fifth-grade, to me they act more like second-graders, making the whole thing even more ridiculous.

So the premise of the show is that a high school girl, Kaho, ends up dating a fifth-grader, Kanade, because he looks so mature that she assumes he must be her age, if not older. However, since the constant potty-mouth antics make Kanade seem even younger than a fifth-grader, it feels like a high school girl is dating a developmentally delayed fifth-grader.

If you want to just write the whole thing off as ridiculously offensive and not spare it a moment’s more thought, I’m certainly not going to blame you. The whole show should really be five minutes long: Kanade saves Kaho, Kaho develops a crush on him and asks him out, he says “actually, I’m still in fifth grade,” and Kaho responds “Oh wow, I had no idea, why don’t you go back to the playground with your friends.” Of course, since Kaho’s social cluelessness is almost as overpowering as Kanade’s immaturity, she agrees to date him, and we have a situation.

The thing I can’t get past is just who the audience is supposed to be. Usually, when a show is pretty dumb in concept and just exists on pandering to its audience, at the very least, you know who’s being pandered to. But how does that work with this show? Sure, the guys are hunky-looking, but the constant potty humor is bound to be a turn-off for a lot of girls. It’s hard to think of a guy as hot when he’s talking about how he hurt his pee-pee when he sat down on a swing. I mean, I reckon there’s some girls somewhere who have that fetish, but there can’t be that many of them, right?

And since the boys are wearing elementary-school clothes that are way too small for them, I guess you could argue that the guys are showing lots of skin, hence pandering-to-the-ladies. However, tall anime guys squashed into tiny short sets and knee socks don’t look sexy; I’m hardly the arbiter of female sexuality, but I have to assume this is closer to fan disservice for many girls than fanservice. It just looks ridiculous, which is the point of course, since the show’s a comedy. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy where the style of the humor has the side effect of rendering the fanservice unpalatable.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, and it’s actually very simple: First Love Monster is a comedy, and the fact that it’s also shoujo is more or less incidental. Maybe the entire appeal of the show is supposed to be the contrast between these guys who look like typical anime dreamboats acting like little children, and the target audience is “anyone who finds that funny.” Of course, it’s basically the same joke over and over again, but whatever.

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Taga thinks he’s a character on Diabolik Lovers and treating his love interest like garbage will result in her falling in love with him. However, because this is not Diabolik Lovers, he’s going to lose to a guy who still believes in Santa Claus. So that’s something.

Still, it’s clear that Kanade is actually supposed to be taken seriously as a romantic lead. He sometimes sounds wise beyond his years (which is why Kaho has a thing for him in the first place) when he parrots things his mother once said to him– something that, if you ignore what it’s surrounded by, is kind of touching. And the last episode has a pretty amazing sequence where the premise is basically “What if this were a normal shoujo, and Kanade was a proper romantic hero because he wasn’t 10 fucking years old?” Said episode also contains Kaho having an epic meltdown about how her show makes no sense, which is probably worth watching in and of itself (I could say “it makes the show worth watching,” but let’s not get carried away.)

So it’s just a silly comedy that’s not meant to be taken seriously as a romance…except for those times when it’s explicitly presented as a romance. Throughout the show, I kept expecting a twist that would give the show some further identity beyond “hot guys say the word poo.” For a while, since they say that Kanade is in fifth-grade but never give his actual age, I was sure that Kanade and his buds were actually in a coma for a few years after a bus accident or something, making the boys older chronologically than they are behaviorally. Whether that would make Kanade’s relationship with Kaho much less inappropriate is debatable, but at least there would be something for the writers to explore there. Alternately, I thought that maybe Kanade had regressed to a childlike state after the death of his mother, but was actually the same age as Kaho.

If there had been some twist like the ones I was speculating about, then the show could explore the idea of a high school student dating someone with childlike tendencies without literally being a child. Then maybe something would happen to help Kanade start acting more like his chronological age, and Kaho and Kanade would become viable as a proper couple. But no: that is not this show. This show really is about a high-schooler dating a fifth-grader, with no mitigating circumstances.

The show isn’t entirely without, err, charm; it’s at it’s best when it becomes a total screwball comedy and ignores the romance angle entirely, like when Kanade befriends a crab that the crew is supposed to eat for lunch, names it “Crabita,” and starts using it like a Pokemon. And the aforementioned sequence in the last episode works pretty well as a parody of standard shoujo cliches.

One other thing that’s kind of interesting is the character of Taga, who tells Kaho that she is “lower than dogshit” and treats her in the same fashion, despite the fact that he clearly likes her. He acts like the romantic leads in shows like Diabolik Lovers, only instead of being seen as desirable, he’s pretty much cast aside as irrelevant. If you want to be generous– and I do mean incredibly, almost unreasonably generous– you can interpret the show as a critique of a certain kind of masochistic shoujo. The tall, hot guy who treats the heroine like dirt ends up alone and lonely, because he’s a massive asshole and the fact that he’s really hot doesn’t mitigate the fact that he’s a massive asshole, while the heroine falls for the genuinely nice guy. Of course, in this case, the nice guy happens to be 10, but let’s not quibble on details here.

So, yeah…First Love Monster is a show that doesn’t work as a romance, features leads that are largely unappealing to women, and only occasionally works as a comedy. Who bought enough copies of the manga for this to get made into an anime? What was Studio DEEN thinking when they adapted this? DEEN makes Super Lovers, so they’re clearly not afraid of salacious material, but what’s the point of a show being salacious if it’s so thoroughly un-sexy?

I just…I just don’t get it, guys. I’m not even saying the show is bad, because I don’t think of it a TV show so much as some strange science experiment, imposed by some mysterious alien intellect with motives I cannot begin to comprehend. I just wrote (checks) 1400 words and no, I still don’t know what I just watched. You win this round, Japan.

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The Greater Evil Problem

I’ve been pondering the same political question for about a decade now, and since I can’t avoid political talk whatever I do these days, I may as well get it out of my system. Short version: How do we make third parties viable (and thus make candidates actually compete for votes from moderates like me) without electing a string of “Greater Evil” candidates?

Now perhaps I’m wrong about this, but taking a long-term view, I believe the best way to reform the American political system should be to make third-parties more powerful. At least in theory, if people had a choice beyond Democrat or Republican in major elections that was even semi-viable, the major parties would have to compete for these votes; they wouldn’t be able to get away with simply pandering to a slowly dwindling base of true believers, year-in and year-out, while everyone else stays home in apathy tinged with disgust. More parties, more choices, more competition, yaaaaaay USA.

The problem is, I see no way of getting there that doesn’t make everything much worse before it gets better– and “getting worse” includes the very real possibility of “ending the world as we know it.” Basically, the more moderates who choose to vote for the Naders, the Johnsons, etc. the more people like Dubya and Trump get elected; the millions of moderates who used to vote for the “lesser evil” candidates out of a sense of grim duty start directing their votes elsewhere, and Greater Evil wins the day. Arguably, this already happened in the 2000 election. Where America, and the world in general, finds itself now– with ISIS and all the other brands of apocalyptic, atavistic bullshit– is at least partially a consequence of American moderates neglecting their duty to vote for the “lesser evil.”*

Trying to think realistically, even if people start making the effort now to bolster third parties, it could take multiple elections– even decades– before we really started to make a change. There’s no guarantee that the devastating nuclear war that we’ve been doing our damndest to avoid for 70 years won’t happen while we’re trying to ride out the “bottoming out” phase of this reform process. There’s also no guarantee that when that process ends, if it ever does, that the country we have left will even be anything we want to save.

So what else can we do? Campaign finance reform is sometimes touted as a potential silver bullet, which it could be in theory, but it has it’s own Catch-22 problem: if we were in any danger of electing politicians who were legitimately interested in passing effective, powerful, paradigm-shifting reform measures, and at liberty to do so, we wouldn’t need those reforms in the first place. My personal experience is that the only politicians who talk about campaign finance reforms in good faith are local politicians who couldn’t attract big corporate donations if they wanted them; once you get above, say, the county level, any reference to campaign finance reform is a cynical rhetorical ploy and nothing more.

To speak more personally for a moment, I still don’t know what I’m going to do in November. I think Hillary is a terrible candidate, but she’s terrible in most of the same ways candidates for President are usually terrible, so she definitely counts as “lesser Evil” in my book. She will probably be bad, but I doubt she’ll be sufficiently bad that she could end Western Civilization, unless she decided to try to do that really hard. Trump to me sounds like a delusional orange man with less than a third-grade education, and I simply cannot understand how anyone can listen to him and think he’s qualified to be captain of an elementary school kickball team, let alone President. He also seems like the kind of person who would order a nuke because some world leader criticized his footwear, which makes him more likely to be a candidate who could end this whole American experiment we have going on.

But how can I vote for the Democratic Party, the party so inept that they are somehow managing to lose an election to a less articulate Oompa Loompa with delusions of grandeur? Do I vote for Gary Johnson in the interest of at least trying to bolster third parties; should I do that even if I don’t agree with a lot of his proposed policies? Do I step into the voting booth, close the curtain, and vote for no one, solely because for the sake of my conscience, that’s one minuscule step above not even dragging myself to vote at all?

Maybe I’m wrong for even thinking that third parties could be a way out; maybe the fundamental problem is that the people who are best suited to wielding political power on that scale, are the least likely to be attracted to the process of acquiring it. Maybe there really is no getting past that, and we get the leaders we deserve; they’re just getting worse because we’re getting worse, and everything else is irrelevant.

So yeah, this is what I’m thinking while pundits talk about poisoned Skittles or Pepe the frog being a secret Mossad Agent, or whatever the latest peak in stupid is. I could try to be cute and wrap up with how I’m voting for SMOD (Sweet Meteor O’ Death), but A)the idea of Earth being destroyed by a meteor absolutely scares the shit out of me and B) I’d rather just be honest and say I’m in despair right now, without any misplaced attempts at humor. When I try to think about politics, I’m in a place of complete despair.

*I’m certainly not saying that ISIS or something like it would never have existed were it not for the actions of the Bush administration; we’ll never know. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the actions of the American government in the early 2000s were a significant contributing factor to the current situation in the Middle East.

 

Just Starting A Discussion

This is just a quick response to something that happens all the time, so the next time it happens, I can just link to this rather than feeling the need to point it out every single time. Once a month, on average, this happens:

  1. Someone writes something about how a given piece of pop culture is hurtful, bad for society, and needs to be changed in some way.
  2. Fans of said thing react negatively.
  3.  Third party says, “What’s with all the anger? They were just STARTING A DISCUSSION!”

Let’s go over what starting a discussion is and is not.

Starting a discussion is “How do we all feel about this? Are there reasons why we feel this way that may be informed by other things? Why do we interpret certain things about this show/book/etc. so differently, and to what extent can that be chalked up to different life experiences? If different life experiences lead to us interpreting a piece of fiction wildly differently, to what extent is that a problem, and to what extent is that fiction working exactly as advertised? For those that may desire changes in the material, how would those changes affect other aspects of the experience that may be taken for granted? Furthermore, how do we reconcile our desire for certain changes with the creators’ own right to free expression?”

When you say “This is bad and needs to change,” you have effectively skipped the discussion; skipped the diagnosis, and gone straight to the prescription, as it were. People tend to bristle when you tell them that you were just “starting a discussion,” because what you were really doing was ending one before it started.

And no, this does not justify people personally attacking the authors of said articles. There’s no excuse for getting on Twitter and hurling personal insults at someone because they wrote an article that you disagreed with; this should go without saying.

But, setting aside the depressing fact that some people will always passionately overreact, the fact remains that the “starting a discussion” defense never seems to be used in good faith. When you tell people you’re starting a discussion, only you’re really coming in at the end of a phantom discussion that they were never invited to participate in before it was too late, you’re going to make people more upset than they already were. And while I cannot condone some of things they may do as a result of being upset, I can’t blame them for being mad when someone tries to pee on them and tell them it’s raining.

Moé, And How To Fix Feminist Thinkpieces

Every time one of these feminist thinkpieces comes out on the subject of something I care about, I’m tempted to write a response. I usually don’t, since writing a response is elevating the article to the level of something that deserves a response, which may be doing more to legitimize it than if I had just ignored it altogether.

However, this piece on the problem with moé anime from The Mary Sue seems to be a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back situation not just for me, but for a lot of people. To be fair, the piece itself isn’t nearly as obnoxious as a lot of others of this ilk; it feels like the writer is sharing her opinion out of genuine interest rather than the desire to spit on anime fans and everything they love from a high perch of assumed academic superiority, which is how these things often read.

The absolute worst part of it is the presumption of the title– the idea that “we” (who?) can “fix” moé, and according to Ms. Cook’s twitter account, that title was dreamed up by someone else at The Mary Sue. I don’t know how much of the things I take issue with here are the writer’s doing and how much is the TMS staff, and it doesn’t really matter; it was put out by TMS, so it’s their responsibility as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want to make this into any kind of personal thing against the author, who for all I know could be a college student. I also don’t want to infantalize her by taking her completely out of the equation, which isn’t fair, but I’d sooner do that than blame her for The Mary Sue‘s entire, err…doing their constant, self-aggrandizing, we-say-we’re-feminists-but-our-views-are-actually-insanely-sexist-when-you-really-sit-back-and-think-about-it thing.

Also, before we get into the problems with approaching moé in this manner, I need to point one thing out: one of the screenshots that TMS used to illustrate the evils of moe-branded misogyny is from Sweetness and Lightning. For those that don’t know, Sweetness and Lightning is an anime about a father who’s struggling to make a better life for his young daughter after the devastating loss of her mother. He does this by learning how to cook, even though it’s much more difficult and time consuming than just feeding the kid takeout, because he wants to show his daughter love in every way he can. The whole show is about using food to nourish people both physically and spiritually, and how this is a task everyone can and should participate in together, males and females alike. On this show, the power of nurturing knows no gender.

To try to use Sweetness and Lightning as an example of misogyny in anime is like…sigh. It’s like writing an article with the title “The Bland, Forgettable Nature of All Superhero Movie Performances,” leading with a picture of Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s like, the example pictured belies the title to such a degree that an informed reader has to wonder if it isn’t intentional self-parody.

Yes, We Can Talk About Moé

Just in case you’re getting the wrong impression, it’s not like there’s any inherent problem with criticizing moé; in fact, some fascinating things have occurred just recently that are interesting to talk about.

For example, let’s look at Kuma Miko. This show took the idea that an idealized female protagonist should be innocent and vulnerable, and took it to such an extreme that it destroyed any chance of character development for the protagonist. Supposedly, straight men like moé females in part because they’re portrayed as childlike and in need of protection, but in the case of Machi, that idea was taken so far that many viewers who typically respond to these characters found it distasteful. What line did they cross, exactly? Is it that pushing the vulnerability angle too far breaks the illusion (the character feels artificial), or fans don’t necessarily want their heroines to be THAT vulnerable? Maybe that vulnerability only appeals when it’s one aspect of a more well-rounded character, who also has strengths.

Also, feeling like you want to protect the character is an essential element of moé, but Kuma Miko may be unique in that viewers were left feeling like they needed to protect Machi from the creative staff of her own show. We passed some kind of meta Moé Event Horizon here, and we didn’t notice because we were too preoccupied watching a once-promising anime jump about 15 sharks at once.

More broadly, examining why the idea of a cute, clumsy, vulnerable (but perhaps not too vulnerable) girl is so appealing to men in the context of Japanese pop culture is not a horrible thing to do,  but immediately conceptualizing it as a problem that needs to be solved robs us of everything that’s good about the process. The logic seems to be “Men like the idea of women who fit this certain feminine ideal, therefore it’s misogyny, therefore it’s hurting real women, therefore we must stop it at any cost,” and whoah…nice job skipping steps #2-#500 on the list of reasonable analytical approaches there. Can we at least entertain the idea that maybe some of the men who find Yui from K-ON! charming do not, in fact, hate women?  And if we accept the idea that maybe some K-ON! fans don’t hate real women and don’t wish all the women they knew were actually like Yui (dear God), then what else might be going on here to explain the appeal of her and her buddies?

And yes, anime is not created in a vacuum; you can certainly examine moé in the larger context of Japan’s social problems, including the fact that young Japanese men and women seem to have a huge disconnect in terms of what they want from each other nowadays. Of course, it’s much better for an actual Japanese person to do this, or at least someone with extensive experience living in Japan, because Westerners who attempt to do this tend to come off like ignorant busybodies, but sure: you can explore that relationship. However, people who do this always seem to get the causal relationship backwards; like if we only could only get rid of moé anime, Japanese men and women will suddenly all be on the same page and the things that drew people to moé in the first place will go away.

It’s using the logic that if you get rid of mirrors, the things that used be reflected in the mirror will magically cease to exist. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work.

So yes, there is plenty of grist for the intellectual mill on the subject of moé, as there is with most things, and that’s all well and good. It’s just, so often when the writer dons their feminist hat to attempt to critique media, there are certain gaps of logic and good sense that keep cropping up. It wouldn’t be frustrating if it didn’t happen so often.

GAP #1: How Can You Examine Women’s Portrayal in Media Without Giving it Proper Context by Examining Men’s Portrayal in The Same Text or Genre?

I think it’s safe to say that many more female characters are meant to be moé than males, but plenty of male moé characters exist; in fact, it seems to be becoming more and more common over time. Something like Free! comes immediately to mind, but even characters in shows that aren’t predominantly targeted at women have male characters with moé features: Is It Okay To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon, Bungou Stray Dogs, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, etc. Personally, I found the main male character in Beyond the Boundary to be moé as all get-out, but that might have just been me.

Moé guys are pretty similar to moé girls: cute as a button, usually young-looking with big eyes and ridiculously shiny hair, often unsure of themselves and clumsy. Given that moé is something that can be applied to both genders, how much of moé is about female representation specifically, and how much of it is about representation of a character who is meant to invoke romantic fantasies for the audience? If males are also portrayed as vulnerable, there’s an element of some otaku– male and female alike– preferring a vulnerable character that makes them feel needed.

Now, to be fair, women aren’t the ones going out and buying body pillows in droves, err…probably. It’s not incorrect to point out that men are the consumers of moé on a grand scale. However, how can you talk about it as an issue of “female representation,” if you refuse to examine the male characters who are treated in the exact same fashion? It’s like the female fans simply don’t matter…almost like we have a problem with female representation in feminist critique.

GAP #2: Intentionally(?) Misunderstanding “Inclusiveness” As a Concept.

For entertainment to be inclusive, that means there’s basically something for everyone, right? No one gets left out. If you like action movies but don’t like Vin Diesel, there’s something for you, and if you like comics but don’t like Justice League because the characters bore you, you can read X-Men, and so on and so forth. It does not mean that every single book, game, comic, anime, or film needs to appeal to every single person on every single possible level all the time. I feel like I’m taking the time to explain 2+2=4; we all know this.

Except, when we put on our feminist caps, we’re supposed to forget that we all know this. From a feminist perspective, if a female critic sees something that does not appeal to her– whether it be one aspect of a show, or the entire thing– this is a problem. Suddenly, “inclusive” is something that applies to individual pieces instead of genres and entire mediums, even though everyone and their grandma intuitively knows that this isn’t how it usually works.

Now, that doesn’t mean that if you dislike anything about a piece of media, your only option is to say “This isn’t for me,” with no opportunity to comment. There can be value in saying “I like this, but I would like it more if it didn’t do X, Y and Z.”

However, there’s only value in that if what you want and what the media is attempting to provide are in even remotely the same ballpark. For example, I don’t like horror movies; I have low tolerance for gore and I can’t stand jump scares, among other horror staples. Considering how the things I don’t like are defining features of the genre, it would make no sense for me to watch a horror movie and then point out how it could be better suited to my tastes; my tastes and that of the target audience are completely different, and that’s fine. I have plenty of other things to watch.

It’s not a perfect analogy, mostly since moé isn’t a distinct genre like horror and it’s hard to nail down exactly what does and doesn’t count as moé, but I believe the same principle applies. If you’re watching say, Is the Order A Rabbit?, and you’re thinking “I would like this show if it wasn’t for all these super-cute girls who are unrealistic,” you’re simply watching the wrong thing. What you dislike isn’t a detail that can be swapped out– it’s a feature, not a bug, as they say.

Now, a reasonable criticism (meaning one I don’t see very often), would be that some shows have a lot to offer besides moé, and the moé elements could alienate some viewers who would otherwise enjoy the show. I believe Shirobako has this problem to some extent, because some fans like pretty much everything about it except the fact that the character designs for the ladies are so moé-tastic. The fact that the girls are idealized and the guys really aren’t can take people out of the story.

But to get back on point here, why is it okay for a feminist critic to either intentionally, or through ignorance, misconstrue how the entire process of fiction appealing to different people works? If a man writes about how he would enjoy Sex and the City so much more if the women in it didn’t do Thing X (I don’t know what they do– I don’t watch it), that guy would be told, and not without cause, to go fuck himself. Why is it okay for feminists to demand that everything appeal specifically to them, but anyone else who tries that is an asshole? I really don’t understand this.

GAP #3: Why Does Every Instance of Sexism Have to Be Misogyny?

I’ve written before about how sexism and misogyny aren’t the same thing, so I won’t hash it all out again. Still, I think it’s worth noting that treating every instance of sexism as misogyny has the effect of blowing everything out of proportion, as well as watering down the meaning of the word misogyny over time.

When you use the word misogyny a bunch of times to discuss fans of moé, you are lumping together religious extremists who want all women to live their entire lives as sex slaves with some anime fans who think K-ON! is entertaining; that’s insane. Furthermore, when you’re dealing with men who love their fantasy waifus and spend hundreds of hours curating their images and merchandise, is the real problem that they hate women? I think a lot of them probably love women, but women don’t love them. Indulging in a fantasy life where women are vulnerable and seem to need them, as manifested in many moé anime, does not mean that they hate, or even necessarily dislike, real-life women.

I mean hell, if every member of the opposite gender who doesn’t conform to our idealized fantasies is someone we therefore hate, then every man who isn’t either Gambit from X-Men or Squall from Final Fantasy VIII is straight-up fucked when they meet me.

GAP 4: Why Is It Always Okay To Erase Lesbian And Bi Women, As Long as Hetero Men Are the Primary Target?

I’m not a lesbian, but I get pissed off when feminists talk about the evils of male sexuality and the so-called “Male Gaze” being projected onto female characters without even mentioning that lesbian and bisexual women are also attracted to products that feature these things. This is a big issue when talking about fanservice in particular as opposed to moé (though obviously, there’s plenty of overlap there), and it comes up all the time.

There are women who find moé girls charming, and react to them in much the same way as male otaku do. If moé/fanservice/whatever is misogyny, does that mean that these lesbian and bi women are closet misogynists? Rather than grapple with this question, which is really thorny and bound to piss a lot of women off, feminist critics tend to sidestep the issue by simply pretending a lesbian/bi audience doesn’t exist.

Look, if you think all women who enjoy K-ON!! and have Ritsu as their waifu (good taste!) are misogynists who hate all women and therefore themselves, then say that. I’m pretty sure you’re wrong, and you’ll look like an extremist, but you can make that argument. Just pretending these women don’t exist, because they’re inconvenient, is one of the most unfeminist things I can possibly think of; it should be far beneath the dignity of any feminist critic.


I could go on (I’m sure you’re shocked), but I think I’ve hit the main points that bother me whenever TMS or another feminist outlet publishes their latest “Reasons Why This Media Is Bad And Needs To Change” screed. For the record, I’m not that into moé myself; I thought K-ON! was well-done, and I like the really breezy slice-of-life shows like Non Non Biyori, but a lot of moé shows I can take or leave. I would probably like this season’s New Game! better if it just focused on the game making and didn’t focus on moé appeal so much. I, too, have rolled my eyes when cute girl antics get in the way of shows telling a proper story.

I’m not mad that someone criticized my precious moé, because it’s not precious to me. I’m not even that mad that people are trying to police others’ fantasy lives under a thin pretext of nebulous social improvement, just because I’m numb to that already. And I am capable of reading criticism about things I like.

What I’m not capable of, apparently, is keeping quiet when people keep publishing really, really bad criticism.

 

 

 

Otakusphere Weekly #15: Guts Sings I’m Lady!!

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This week, the podcast is rocked by the events of Re:Zero 15, which were so traumatizing we needed to watch Sweetness and Lightning over and over again to remind ourselves that there is still good in the world. Other topics, besides the End of Evangelion-esque gorefest that Subaru & co. just pulled on us, include an Amanchu! girl’s amazing Creepy Yotsuba Face, relieving oneself of gas in the face of a loli ghost,  the correct pronunciation of “ufotable,” and the theory that Bananya is not a charming story of cats who live in banana skins, but a psychological profile of a shattered mind.

Oh, and we predict the end of Berserk, just in case you were curious. Everyone can stop reading the manga now.

Show Notes:

00:00:46 General Otaku Chat: Pokémon Go takes over the world

SEMPAI LEAGUE:
00:09:41 Re:Zero 15
00:19:29 Sweetness and Lightning 2
00:23:24 ReWrite 2
00:26:33 Orange 2
00:30:47 The Morose Mononokean 2
00:31:33 New Game! 2
00:36:01 Cheer Boys! 2
00:38:02 D. Gray Man HALLOW 2
00:44:13 Berserk 2

KOHAI/ NEW STUFF LEAGUE: 
00:51:13 Alderamin On The Sky 1
00:54:35 Tales of Zesteria 0 & 1
00:58:36 Mob Psycho 100 1 
01:03:23 Amanchu 1

chibi league
01:08:22 Bananya 2
01:11:05 The High School Life of a Fudanshi 2
01:12:18 The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. 2

Notes of Note:

  1. Check out the Florida International University Pokémon Go safety video, featuring an adorable Charmander. 
  2. The creator of One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 is ONE.
  3.  Lifesong and Sal are both still watching Macross Delta, but haven’t had time for it amidst all the summer craziness; it will return to the Senpai League soon. I sure hope what’s-her-name is alive….

Food Wars! S2: Episode 3

Screenshot 2016-07-21 14.02.28

Well, I was wrong: I called the previous quarterfinal match for Megumi, only it was Ryo’s name that got written down with the Giant Brush of Gastronomic Victory. I really felt like the show was telegraphing that Ryo’s strong flavors were too palette-fatiguing and Megumi’s dish was more inviting to actually eat, but I guess his seafood ramen was just that good, overbearing or not. Besides, it was a big deal for Megumi to make it to the quarterfinals in the first place, so even though she got knocked out of the contest, the fact that she earned the respect of her peers makes it a net victory for her.

The kids watching in the peanut gallery note that Heihachi did not go shirtless for Megumi’s dish the way he did for Ryo’s, meaning they should have predicted who was going to win. However, in a scene I’m not sure I fully understand, Heihachi excuses himself to the bathroom and thinks about what an amazing cook Megumi is becoming; he took his shirt off for her deep down in his heart, or something like that.

The main event for this episode is the match between Hisako, Erina’s uptight secretary who specializes in medicinal food, and Hayama, the dude who is all about spices. They’re facing off in Battle Hamburger, which is interesting because it doesn’t seem to play to either of their particular strengths. Come to think of it though, very little would really play to Hisako’s strengths in this competition; the person who cooks with health as their primary goal is always at a disadvantage when the contest is being judged solely on taste and texture. It’s not that healthy food can’t be tasty, but when your goal is to make something as tasty as humanly possible, that doesn’t lend itself to using ingredients that also aid digestion and such.

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.47.39

Hey good luck Secretary-chan, hope you have a good recip OMG SHE CUT ITS HEAD OFF

In any case, Hisako’s first association when someone says “hamburger” must be “callously butcher a live turtle on the spot,” because that’s what she does. I thought I was totally on Hisako’s side in this bout, but I think I started rooting for her to lose once she cut the turtle’s head off. I mean…ok, I’m not a vegetarian, so I’m probably a hypocrite for expressing distaste at an animal being killed for food, but dammit, turtles are just so darned cute.

Is it so wrong that I’m okay with cows and lambs being killed for meat, but turtles are where I draw the line? Besides, not only does she kill it, she DRAINS ITS BLOOD, like some kind of sick Rachel Ray-inspired vampire, and uses the fresh blood to pump up the flavor of her hamburger patties. She also adds a bunch of medicinal herbs, so this Turtle Murder Burger probably cleans up congestion, gout and erectile dysfunction (not that I’m implying anything about Heihachi).

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.52.01

Unusually for this show, Hisako’s burger doesn’t really look all that appetizing. It’s karma for Hisako’s shameless, turtle-slaughtering ways.

She also uses Asian-style soft steamed buns, which seems really weird, if not quite offensive to my western palette. I don’t have anything against steamed buns, it just seems like the doughiness would be a really strange combination with a meat patty. The judges appreciate the fact that her turtle-and-pork concoction gives them all a healthy glow (and brings out a lot of umami, seriously enough with the umami quotient already), and it seems like Hisako has met the challenge head-on.

We learn via flashback that Hisako is obsessed with Erina…well, we knew that already, but we learn just HOW obsessed Hisako is with Erina. Her goal in her cooking is to always stay just a few steps behind Erina, always in reach of her Glorious God Tongue…it’s like they were going for some lesbian subtext, then said “you know what? Fuck it,” and went with full-on lesbian text instead. Good for them, I think.

Screenshot 2016-07-21 14.00.28

Thank you, Food Wars! for giving us a helpful diagram illustrating what a hamburger is. It would be terribly inconvenient if anyone was confused.

But hark, Hayama the Cold-Hearted Spice Boy has yet to present his burger! Not only does he fill the whole auditorium with yellow fumes from his abundant spices (Team Instinct shout out?) he makes a gyro-inspired burger, using seasoned Turkish lamb meat and yogurt sauce and pita and…waitaminute. That’s not even a “gyro-inspired burger,” that’s a gyro, straight up. I guess the fact that the meat is in the form of a patty instead of strips kind of pushes it slightly over to burger territory, but seriously, the flavor profile is 100% gyro.

This would put me in an ethical quandry as a judge, because while gyros are absolutely delicious and one of my favorite things to eat, they are not hamburgers; we know this because when you go to a Greek or Turkish restaurant, “gyro” and “hamburger” are always listed as separate menu items. I mean, maybe you’ve gone to some weird hellhole that has a “Gyroburger” on the menu, but it’s not my problem if your local restaurants are terrible.

Speaking of which, I would like to go out to Greek restaurants way more often than I do, but all the ones in my neighborhood have a severe parking shortage. How am I supposed to stuff myself full of delicious donor meat, grape leaves and spanakopita if I have nowhere to park? Do you expect me to pay for a taxi, like some kind of fancy lady? But just think of a delicious gyro, that delectable, mouth-wateringly salty seasoned lamb meat, balanced by the refreshing tang of fresh yogurt sauce, accompanied by crisp, fresh greens and delicately sweet tomatoes, all offset by the contrasting textures of crunchy bread, the oven-baked pita imparting a subtle, earthy aroma along with a gentle heartiness…..

Screenshot 2016-07-21 16.13.56

What is this? DELICIOUS!

But it’s not a hamburger! NOT A HAMBURGER AT ALL!!!!!

ahem. Anyway, I really like gyros, but I think Hayama should have been disqualified for making the wrong food. Unfortunately, the judges are still on their insane umami-worshipping kick, and the pickling agent that Hayama used as a topping does more to enhance the (god-forsaken) umami of his burger than the ginger Hisako used, so he wins. Hayama tells Hisako that she can’t beat him while she keeps aiming for second place, and he’s probably right, but I still think he cheated and is pretty much a bad guy.

Speaking of bad guys, this episode also introduces Subaru, whose shtick is that he looks like a big punk, but he’s actually extremely detail-oriented. Clearly he’s the villain of this arc, because he insults Aldini’s little brother Isami and, err, spits out his gum on Aldini’s special knife. Err, who does that? Even in Food Wars!, who does that?

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.43.35

This was the only screenshot featuring Subaru I could bring myself to take. Normally he has some dark stuff on his face that I think is supposed to mean he’s always in shadow, but it mostly looks like he just came out of a coal mine.

The last thing we learn is that the quarterfinal match between Aldini and Subaru has been declared a Shokugeki, or official food duel; I think we’re supposed to infer that Aldini was so pissed about the insult to his brother’s cooking skills that he upped the stakes, but personally, I think he’s more upset about Subaru messing with his prized knife.

Does the loser of a Shokugeki get expelled from the school? It’s been a while since I watched the first season and I don’t remember exactly how the rules for a Shokugeki differ from any other match, but if the loser gets kicked out of Totsuki, I have a feeling Aldini is about to be toast; they did not introduce Subaru with all this fanfare for him to lose in the quarterfinals.

Next episode: One character I really don’t like squares off against a character I don’t really care much for one way or the other. I’ll probably spend the whole recap talking about how much I like fried shrimp with tartar sauce or something.

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.54.53

I probably should have put this screenshot up higher, but let’s be honest: it’s better without context.

Otakusphere Weekly #14: Orange You Glad We Didn’t Say Bananya?

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This time around, we’re dealing with a weird kind of reverse-disappointment; we sort of wanted all the summer anime to be bad so we’d have plenty of free time to catch up on our anime backlogs, but nooooo, too much damn anime had to go out of it’s way to be funny and interesting and charming and stuff. Now we’re really into Sweetness and Lightning and Cheer Boys and Mononokean and stuff, and when are our My Anime LIst pages finally going to be up to snuff? Not this season, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, Sal is understandably concerned about Bananya’s desire to be eaten, Lifesong has had it with anime characters shouting at each other for no real reason, and we’re all pretty flummoxed by just who First Love Monster is supposed to be targeted at. Maybe the show is like the anime equivalent of the Duck-Billed Platypus; though we can’t imagine why it exists, we must humbly accept that it does. There are many things in this world that are simply beyond our ken.

SHOW NOTES:

00:00:34 General Otaku Chat: Is Crunchyroll going to eat Funimation’s lunch now that they’re in the home-release game? Can we handle a Big Order dub?

Old Stuff League

00:10:31 Shonen Maid 12 (END)
00:12:38 Flying Witch 11 and 12 (END)
00:15:18 Re:Zero 14

New Hotness League
00:22:11 Food Wars! The Second Plate
00:24:21 Berserk
00:29:42 Sweetness and Lightning
00:34:14 ReWrite
00:39:32 ReLife
00:43:27 Taboo Tattoo
00:46:16 B-Project
00:48:00 Love Live! Sunshine
00:49:11 The Morose Monomonokean
00:53:05 Orange
00:58:14 New Game!
01:02:38 Momokuri
01:04:02 Hybrid X Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia
01:07:14 First Love Monster
01:11:33 Cheer Boys
01:13:06 Servamp
01:14:46 Puzzles and Dragons X
01:15:27 Bananya
01:17:52 The High School Life of a Fudanshi
01:20:26 The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.

  1. I didn’t mention it on the show because it wasn’t confirmed at the time we recorded, but Otakusphere Weekly is now available on iTunes. It will be probably become available on other popular podcast-listening services as soon as I figure out what all the kids are using these days. Let us know in the comments if there’s somewhere you’d like the show to be listed, and we’ll get on it.

Food Wars S2: Episode 2

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.06.20

This episode features Battle Ramen, meaning the judges get to say “Umami!” about a million more times, just in case you didn’t get your fill of that during Battle Bento. Now I know umami is a cool flavor and all (and a point of national pride, since it was discovered by a Japanese scientist), but I almost wish the student chefs would start baking cupcakes or something just so everyone would stop going on about the damn umami quotient already.

Just my luck though, if they did hold Battle Cupcakes, someone would make Red Snapper Cupcakes and everyone would be losing their minds about the amount of ‘delicate umami flavor’ in the smoked eel frosting or something. Oh well.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.22.11

With the bandana-flourish, the flashbacks set Ryo up as a kind of Evil Soma…or at least Slightly Dickish Soma. I don’t care how good his stuffed chicken is, I would not eat at his trashy portside restaurant.

Continuing through the Autumn Elections contest, shy Megumi faces off against Ryo, a scary-looking dude who hails from some non-specified foreign country. Megumi’s storyline is fun, because unlike Soma, she could pretty much lose at any time, making her battles unpredictable. Plus, her very presence in the story is what keeps Soma from being an obnoxious-as-hell lead character; the fact that he recognizes and tries to nurture talent in people who would otherwise blend into the background makes you feel good rooting for him, instead of just shrugging through his constant victories.

In any case, we get some of Ryo’s backstory in this episode; apparently Alice Nakiri befriended him in unspecified-foreign-country during her “I will travel the world to learn the skills to defeat Erina!” phase. She thinks of Ryo as something of an underling, but now that Ryo is coming into his own– or perhaps, because Alice finally lost– he thinks he’s the better cook between the two of them. Interestingly, even after Ryo insults Alice’s cooking, she’s still talking up Ryo to the other cooks in the stands. I reckon that if she plans to get him back for his attitude at all, it will be done in private, and it will be vicious.

Ryo’s whole attitude is that Food is A Battlefield, and one must brandish strong flavors to destroy their opponents, and you know…I want to say that his philosophy is stupid, for obvious reasons, but look at the state of food television: Top Chef, Iron Chef America, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, etc. A lot of food programming is based on using cooking as a stand-in for violence in competition, and of course Food Wars! itself is in that category. Also, as food television gets more ubiquitous, the amount that most people cook is actually going down, meaning that an increasing percentage of food culture is tied up in these competitions as opposed to traditional, cooperative cooking and baking. I really doubt that Ryo’s presence is supposed to make us question the ethics of food competition television, but it’s interesting that his philosophy would’ve made no sense 20 years ago, but you can’t dismiss it so easily today. Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.25.17Ryo reminds me of one of those contestants on Top Chef who says “I like to use big, bold flavors,” like they deserves some kind of award for it. May as well say “I have no subtlety whatsoever, so I’m going to try to spin that like it’s style thing.”

Ryo’s big trick is to grind up a bunch of shrimp and lobster parts, including the shells, and use the resulting powder to load every component in his dish with seafood flavor. I suppose that’s clever, but aren’t the shells of crustaceans somewhat, err, indigestible? I think Heihachi and pals will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom after Battle Ramen. Otherwise, Ryo makes a French-inspired seafood dish that earns praise for avoiding any hint of “fishiness.” Now, I could be wrong, but isn’t that fishy smell/taste something that happens to fish when it starts to age, meaning the very freshest fish will never have a fishy aura? You just know that Totsuki only allows students to use fish that were caught within the last 20 minutes or something, so I don’t know if Ryo can really take much credit for keeping fishiness at bay. Anyway, the judges are impressed with Ryo’s rich seafood ramen, even though everyone who eats it reacts as though they were just punched in the face.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.18.44

If the broth from your ramen doesn’t look like a shiny pool of angel’s tears, throw it out; you’re doing it wrong.

Megumi, who has grown a helluva lot of backbone, fights back with a light-broth ramen that leverages the umami punch (sigh) of dried vegetables and lesser seafood instead of shrimp and lobster. It sounds like Megumi’s ramen wouldn’t be able to compete with Ryo’s rich, luxurious broth, but the more subtle flavor of her dish has it’s own appeal. Soma says that Megumi’s trademark is bringing out the “subtle sweetness of vegetables,” but I think he’s wrong here; her special talent as a chef is her ability to take humble ingredients and make them delicious enough to compete with pricier fare.

Right before the ending credits, the show decides to pay homage to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the two ramens become Stands, or Personas, or whatever the hell those monster thingies from JoJo’s are called. It would be one thing if it were a really quick lesson, but they really go all in with it and it’s pretty adorable– especially Badass Jojo-Style Megumi.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.34.59

This would probably be funnier if I’d seen more than one episode of JJBA, but it’s still pretty funny. I like the fact that their “Stands” are actually their dishes personified.

Naturally we end on a cliffhanger, but I feel pretty sure Megumi’s got this; the problem with going for “strong flavors” all the time is that they can fatigue the palette, and it looks like the judges ate more of Megumi’s ramen than Ryo’s. I think Ryo is going to learn a Very Important Lesson about how trying to blow out everyone’s palette with dynamite is a kind of cheap way out, and then Alice will give him a really, really smug look, and then they’ll probably have sex, because I can’t imagine what else they see in each other. Or, Ryo could win just to throw us a curve ball and trigger more development for Megumi, but I’m pretty sure Ryo and Alice will still have angry sex either way.

Coming up, it looks like the next one in the Thunderdome is Erina’s mild-mannered secretary; I think her specialty is food with medicinal effects, something I find very interesting, so I’m definitely looking forward to that one.