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Game Of Thrones Showed The Failings of “Punching Up”

Many viewers were disappointed by the final episode of HBO’s fantasy behemoth Game of Thrones, but I was not one of them. While invested in the story to some extent, for a long time, I’ve valued the series as a pop-culture phenomenon rather than a narrative, and in that sense, it’s never disappointed me. Even when I wasn’t interested in what Daenerys, Cersei and Tyrion were doing, it was always intriguing to see other people trying to justify how these quasi-medieval characters’ actions could be consistent with 21st-centruy political ideologies. Sometimes this took the form of heartfelt, insightful critique; other times, incredibly energetic mental gymnastics. It was entertaining either way, arguably more entertaining than the show itself, and certainly more entertaining than most other television.

That all came to end with the series finale, “The Iron Throne.” With this episode, fans could no longer pretend that the series was addressing their pet political grievances, and that was a bitter pill to swallow—especially for intersectional feminists, who had long held that Queen Daenerys Targaryen’s penchant for freeing slaves would lead to the end of systems of oppression in this particular fantasy world. For Daenerys’ hard-core fans, the hope was always that the end of the series would chronicle the birth of a feminist, egalitarian utopia—or at least, something clearly on its way to that. Not only did this not come to pass, but the series had the chutzpah to present a solution that was only a slight variation on the status quo, which must have read as not just a disappointment, but a slap in the face.

To be fair, most of the disappointment with the finale was likely nonpolitical in nature. Fans complained about the shortened series (the final two seasons were both shorter than the series’ standard 10-episode season), leading to insufficient character development, and plot twists that seemed rushed even when they made sense in theory. The staff’s decision to take an extra year to create Season 8, leaving all of 2018 sadly Thrones-less, played a big role; with a whole extra year to anticipate the ending, fans had ample time to build gargantuan expectations that could never be met by any TV drama, even a stellar one.

There’s also the disappointment of book readers, something which, if not unique to this show, was nevertheless another source of friction. Readers of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels hoped that some of the elements that had been seemingly trimmed from the TV series might make a last-minute appearance in the finale. When it turned out that popular characters from the books like Lady Stoneheart and Young Griff were well and truly excluded from the TV canon, that was just another nail in the coffin.

In fact, most of the criticisms of the finale were focused on pacing and production issues, essentially apolitical factors. Still, a small, but extremely vocal minority wants us to know that Game of Thrones failed them because it failed their politics, and that reveals some interesting things: Both the extent to which politically-motivated viewers were watching the series through a distorted lens all along, and the desperation to fit the story into paradigms that it doesn’t get along with. To some extent, these people were watching a different show altogether.

One of the reasons why this phenomenon is so significant is because the show was a big enough cultural phenomenon to attract high-profile politicians, who used it unabashedly in their campaigns. Both Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren lamented Queen Daenerys’ dark turn at the end, implying that this development was anti-feminist, if not in quite so many words.

“We were getting so close to having this ending with just women running the world, and then the last two episodes, it’s like, “Oh, they are too emotional.” The end,” said Ocasio-Cortez. Not only does Ocasio-Cortez seem to treat it as a given that “just women” ruling the world would be a good thing, she also misrepresents Daenerys’ story. As fans well know, Daenerys was the product of a powerful family that practiced incest for hundreds of years, spawning many emotionally volatile people, most of whom were male. To characterize Daenerys’ turn to madness as something viewers were supposed to interpret as the fault of her gender, rather than her (incredibly loaded) family history, would require ignoring the entire backstory of Game of Thrones.

Warren, who changed her allegiance to Sansa Stark after Daenerys’ homicidal turn, expressed disappointment that her woman of choice didn’t end up on the Iron Throne.

“She walks away saying, “I’ll still be Queen in the North.” Come on Sansa! Go for the big one!” said Warren. Her enthusiasm for a Sansa-led monarchy is endearing, but seems blind to one of the main points of the series: seeking power leads to destruction, almost inevitably. In fact, everyone who set out to rule the Seven Kingdoms ends up dead; the only one who survives is Sansa, and that’s arguably because she limited her ambitions to the North instead of the entire continent. As a fan of Sansa, Warren should be pleased that the flame-haired Lady of Winterfell essentially dodged a bullet there. If Warren had any inkling that her desire to see a woman gain the power of the highest level of monarchy was inconsistent with the show’s thoroughly anti-monarchy message, she has yet to discuss it.

Haven’t had enough of female politicians being mad that HBO did not fulfill their feminist fantasies through Queen Daenerys or Queen Sansa? You’re in luck, because New York Senator (and Warren’s fellow Presidential hopeful) Kirsten Gillibrand was also on board.

“She’s (Daenerys) somebody who made sure the lowest income, the least empowered could have a voice and that was who she was. And why did the writers have to turn her into a Mad Queen? That was not part of who she was,” said Gillibrand.

While Senator Gillibrand is correct that Daenerys was concerned with the fate of the poor (at least as far as delivering them from slavery; it seems unlikely she would have given poor people a voice in her government, had her reign in Westeros lasted for more than ten minutes), saying that the Mad Queen was not “part of who she was” requires ignoring a pile of foreshadowing bigger than a sleeping dragon. As early as the first season, Daenerys spoke of making her enemies die screaming and showed no remorse when subjecting people to painful deaths. This tendency toward violence only increased as the show continued, and while some of her victims were truly evil and likely deserved their fates, others did not. In order to think that Daenerys’ turn toward madness in the penultimate episode came out of nowhere, either Gillibrand missed several key episodes, or she simply ignored anything that didn’t jibe with her personal view of Daenerys as a good-hearted champion of the downtrodden.

All three politicians appear to have viewed Daenerys primarily through the lens of modern feminism. The fact that her story was a cautionary tale about the corrupting nature of power—a problem that knows no gender—was either lost on them, or ignored by virtue of being politically useless to them. What’s concerning is not that they brought their own ideas with them to the show (we all do that); it’s that the feminist lens seems to have rendered certain parts of the story blurry, even impenetrable. None of these women are stupid, yet either all three of them missed (or forgot) crucial elements of the story, or they selectively ignored what they didn’t want to see.

Politicians were far from the only ones trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in this regard, however. Naturally, TV critics were each viewing Daenerys’ storyline through their own questionable lenses.

“Now, the worst thing for me was the subtext of this last story because Dany saw herself as this freedom fighter who was liberating the oppressed in their kingdoms,” said NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.“And in a show with almost no characters of color, her followers, some of them who were former slaves, were the closest thing to that. She was killed by a son of the people who originally ran things.”

So despite being a platinum-blonde princess, descendant of the god-like Dragon Lords of Valyria with magical powers, according to Deggans, Daenerys’ real role in the story was as a proxy for under-privileged people of color. From this perspective, Jon’s murder of Daenerys was not a reluctant hero putting down a genocidal tyrant, but the status quo triumphing over progressive change. That makes a certain amount of sense if you buy into Daenerys’ rhetoric as a liberator of slaves (though she did very little liberating in the final seasons, and a whole lot of murdering), but seeing Jon Snow as a symbol for ingrained power structures is a stretch. You mean, the guy who was denigrated for supposedly being illegitimate his whole life, ran off to the edges of civilization because that was the only place he could find acceptance, was literally murdered because he choose to give illegal immigrants a chance, functions as a stand-in for the white, male patriarchy? If Jon was supposed to represent entrenched, institutional power, he was amazingly bad at it (which, to be fair, is very in character. Jon Snow is bad at most things, which is what makes him so lovable. Or maybe it’s just that pouty face.)

So the “subtext” that Deggans objects to is apparently that an advocate for oppressed people of color (sort of) was killed by a white man with extensive privilege, which is hard to reconcile with anything we know about these two characters. Granted, subtext is subjective, but I like to think I have seen enough event television to be a proud graduate of Subtext Boot Camp, and I’m having a really hard time seeing Deggan’s political reading as anything other than a desire to twist the narrative into a privilege-themed pretzel, having little or nothing to do with what actually transpired on screen.

Speaking of privilege, Laura Hudson of Wired* was so committed to the tenets of intersectionality that she perhaps missed the point the show was making about the nature of violence as a solution. When Tyrion Lannister spells out for the audience that Dany’s repeated acts of violence only made her more confident that violence was the answer, no matter how justified she was the first few times she did it, Hudson characterizes this as Tyrion advocating a complete abnegation of moral judgement.

“…Tyrion laments enabling her and makes a very bad argument about Dany’s use of force, which essentially begins, “First she came for the slavers of Astapor and I said nothing…” Ah yes, it’s too bad she didn’t just sit back and decide to see if the slaves could free themselves by winning against their masters in the marketplace of ideas! It’s a facile analysis of force that conveniently erases all power structures from the equation, that imagines there is no moral difference between Dany rising up to kill slave masters and murdering thousands of innocent children.”

Yes, it would be foolish to suggest that Dany could have defeated slavery non-violently in the marketplace of ideas, if Tyrion had said any such thing. Of course, Tyrion’s argument is not that there’s no moral difference between killing the slavers of Astapor and killing innocent people; it’s that after killing enough slavers of Astapor, and others of their ilk, it gradually becomes easier to kill in general. When you have a big enough hammer, everything begins to look like a nail; Tyrion is smart enough to realize that Daenerys’ had come to see the whole world as a bed of nails. That’s a problem for viewers on the far left, because the distinction between Punching Up and Punching Down in social justice ideology is supposed to be a clean one; the idea that doing a lot of Punching Up might eventually make you more prone to acts of excessive Punching Down is an uncomfortable subject.

“While it’s hard to resist the pithy moral absolutism and easy applause line of “violence is always wrong,” it’s also worth noting that despite its superficial patina of fairness, this argument invariably benefits the powerful; not only do they get to pretend that there’s no difference between punching up and punching down, they get to robe themselves in self-righteousness and claim the moral high ground while they do it. Who’s the real Nazi—the Nazi or the person who punches a Nazi, hmmm?” Hudson continues.

In truth, I’m not sure if the setting of Game of Thrones really gels with this modern conception of Punching Up versus Punching Down, regardless of the evergreen punching-Nazis hypothetical. It works in the most general sense (doing something bad to evil people is more justifiable than doing something bad to good people) but once you get any more specific than that, it’s hard to reconcile. Most of the people in the fictional world of Westeros are peasants who have no role in the decision-making process, and they’re the ones who suffer no matter which direction the people in power like to think they’re punching. That’s a problem to a certain extent even in the modern era (which is frankly why I’m personally skeptical of this whole Punching Up vs. Punching Down concept in general), but especially true when the society you’re dealing with still practices feudalism.

More importantly, advocates of Punching Up like to seem to ignore the “if you have a big enough hammer” problem entirely; to them, presumably, when you partake of political violence (but only against despicable targets who totally deserve it), your hammer always remains just the right size; big enough to hurt your enemy, not big enough that the strain of carrying it takes a toll on you. Sadly, Tyrion Lannister is not real, so I will never have the joy of explaining this Magic Hammer idea to him and seeing what kind of incredulous expression he would make.

In Game of Thrones, using violence as a solution is a problem not because there are no deserving targets of violence, but because of what it does to the mind of the user. In Game of Thrones, a woman can be a power-mad tyrant, and a world ruled by women is not necessarily a peaceful one. Good motives can decay, and the most righteous causes (like eradicating slavery) can provide the best cover for tyranny. For people who are heavily invested in the idea that political violence can be used surgically against the right targets, or invested in the idea that loudly advocating for egalitarian policies surely inoculates one from corruption, Daenerys and her messy, punching-mostly-sideways world are more than just a little disappointing; they’re threatening. It’s a lot easier to accuse the show of delivering a bad ending than to grapple with the possibility that it reveals bad ideology.

*I have disagreed with Hudson before. I’m not a fan of her work, but I do appreciate that she points out arguments that I disagree with more clearly than other people I disagree with, if that makes any sense.

Welcome To Starbucks Westeros

In the latest episode of HBO’s popular medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones, a disposable coffee cup was visible on screen during a feast at Winterfell. Most viewers thought this was simply a production goof, however, those of us who have read the books and all of the other relevant literature and apocrypha know better. Fans have theorized for decades that Starbucks locations exist within Westeros, and with Season 8, Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” it’s safe to say that these rumors have been proven true.

Of course, a Starbucks in Westeros would not be the same as a Starbucks in say, Albany; there’s the local culture to consider. For that reason, as an enlightened scholar who has read all the books and other materials, including a discarded notebook that George R. R. Martin left on a bus one time, I’m going to share with you what Starbucks is like within A World of Ice and Fire. Before you leave a comment in disagreement, please keep in mind that this is now strictly canonical and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Beverage Rules:

–You must give your full name, including the name of your House, to the barista when you order. This is a nuisance, but on the plus side, if anyone misspells your name, you can have them drawn and quartered before dawn.

–If you give a Bastard surname like Sand, Snow, or Waters, in theory the whole menu is available, but you can only order decaf. Regular is not for the likes of you.

–The lowborn can only order plain drip coffee, no lattes or other specialty drinks; plus, the coffee tastes about 5x as burnt as Starbucks coffee normally does. Not recommended.

–If you answer the request for your name with “A man has no name,” your latte will be at least 90% cyanide.

–If you claim ancestry from the First Men, you may have dairy milk. If you claim ancestry from the Andals or the Rhoynar, you may have soy milk. Those who ask for almond milk are weak and will not survive the winter.

–If your noble birth qualifies you for milk in your coffee, but you don’t want it, you have several options: you can order your coffee black “as a Trueborn Baratheon’s locks,” black “as a Dragonglass Dagger,” or black as “The Dread.” You can also request coffee that is “dark and full of terrors,” but there’s an excellent chance that you will end up with a cup full of scorpions.

–Giant’s Milk Frappucinos only available at locations North of the Wall.

–Anyone who demands that their espresso shots be poured over the foam in their drink, specifically, will be ritually burnt at the stake. Not as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, but just because they obviously deserve it.

–If you say “Dracarys!” while your drink is being prepared, that’s a cue to the barista that you want it Extra Hot. They won’t actually make it Extra Hot, because scorched dairy is gross and everyone should know that by now, but they’ll imitate dragon screeches out off the side of their mouth and pretend they’re doing it.

–You can try asking for your drink “Kissed by Fire” if you want it with cinnamon. However, that’s a stupid idea since this is a Starbucks, and everyone knows that the cinnamon is located at the Condiment Bar: put it in yourself.

Food Rules:

–All pastries and breakfast sandwiches are made with 100% Free-Range dragon eggs.

–Bagels are only served with cream cheese, not with butter. In addition, anyone who asks for jelly on a bagel will be flayed alive until they are the color of said jelly.

–If you order anything gluten-free, you must swear on the Light of the Seven that you actually have Celiac Disease and aren’t just a trendy-ass motherfucker.

–Anyone who orders quiche will be disembowled out back. No one knows why, this is simply how it’s always been done, and what’s good enough for our ancestors is good enough for us.

–Lemon cakes are available, but only for young girls who have been forced into political marriages with dwarves or sociopaths.

General-Purpose Rules:

–Eunuchs receive a 50% discount because really, they deserve something.

–Anyone who leaves garbage or crumbs at their table, regardless of birthright, will be castrated. On the plus side, see above.

–Once you claim a table in the cafe area, only you and your trueborn offspring may use that table. Illegitimate children can sit at your table, but they have to sit in that awkward, half-the-butt-hanging-off-the-chair position.

–Lighting other tables on fire to increase legroom is not just allowed, but encouraged.

–Starbucks Westoros is not legally responsible for what will happen if you attempt to ally with guests from other tables for any reason.

–You may get up and go to the bathroom at any time, however, once you return, the political situation will have changed so much that you won’t know where you’re sitting.

–If you sit down at your table with a laptop and begin working on a novel, you must finish the goddamned novel. If you open a browser or a video game instead, you will be forced to run naked behind a stallion until you die.

–Sex in the cafe area is allowed, but only as long as you narrate your entire life story during the act. Anyone making love silently will be asked to offer the appropriate amount of exposition or leave immediately.

–Gender-neutral bathrooms are available, but only in Dornish locations. On that note, popular “Orgy Thursdays” are only available in Dorne (and occasionally Highgarden, but only if you know who to ask.)

–Fire exits are only guaranteed to work for regular fire, not Dragon fire. Once the dragon shows up, it’s safe to say that no one’s getting out.

–Other than the aforementioned penalties and legalized executions,  violence, war and genocide are not permitted at Starbucks Westoros locations. Starbucks Essos, on the other hand….

Status Update Part 2

I’ve been doing some thinking over the past few weeks. I haven’t been in the mood to blog anime; in fact, I have even been watching any, even the shows I really like, because the idea just doesn’t seem appealing. This will pass…it always does, eventually. But in all this time spent not watching anime, I’ve been trying to sort out how I want to spend my free time going forward.

I don’t think I’ll ever give up blogging entirely. Sometimes, I just get the urge to rant about a show or a game or whatever, and I need a place to do that. But I think I’m done trying to turn Otakusphere into any sort of larger anime site. As much as I enjoy episodic blogging, I don’t enjoy doing it all the time, and I have a lot of other interests that I’ve been neglecting. I think it would be better if I just went back to blogging when I felt like it, and leave things like seasonal coverage to the other sites.

So episodic blogging on SAO, That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime and any other shows is done for the season. Maybe I’ll do episodic blogging again at some point, if something really special comes along or if Food Wars! comes back, but I just can’t devote the time to it right now. Thanks go out to all of you who read my episode posts (and commented!), it was great to be able to make watching anime a kind of communal experience with you guys. But I’ve got to take care of myself, and my life’s ambition isn’t to be an aniblogger; it’s just something I kind of stumbled into. I have no plans of stumbling back out, but I’ve discovered that it’s probably not what I want to devote my entire life to either.

Thanks again, and I hope you’ll stick around for some sporadic (but maybe good?) otaku-centric posts.

 

Status Update

Hey guys. I know I kind of disappeared during Anime NYC, so I thought I’d take a few minutes just to let you know what’s up.

I knew the con was going to be difficult for me, since I haven’t been to such a big convention in quite a few years, and I struggle with crowds (among other things). Not only did I underestimate just how difficult it was going to be, but I also caught a cold, which made everything worse. I ended up leaving early, and haven’t really felt up to posting since then.

I’m disappointed I couldn’t do more at the con, but in some respects this isn’t such a terrible thing. I’ve always been torn in several directions terms of what I should try to cover on Otakusphere, and I think it’s safe to say I have now ruled out large cons as something I do. I may return to some of my smaller, comfortably-sized local cons, but in general I’m going to avoid con coverage; it’s just not my thing anymore.

Needless to say, getting sick +other problems knocked me off schedule with episodic blogging/podcasting etc., which I’d like to get back to ASAP. I’d still like to post my photos from the con, but for the most part I’m going to be focused on catching up on That Time I Was Reincarnated As A Slime and Sword Art Online. I will also catch up on My Sister My Writer, not because I’m covering it in any capacity, but because I hate myself and I deserve to suffer.

Thanks for your patience 🙂

 

Catching up on Steins;Gate 0

I haven’t been too enamored of any of the Summer anime I’ve seen so far, so this seems like a good time to dip into some things I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. Steins;Gate 0 started airing in the spring, and even though I’m a huge fan of the original series, I didn’t watch it. I didn’t watch it for a kind of stupid reason, now that I think about it.

See this show is an alternate timeline from the original, and I didn’t feel as tempted to watch the show as I would have if it were “canon,” so to speak. But now that I’m watching Steins;Gate again, I realize that making these kind of distinctions between alternate timelines and canon timelines is kind of against the entire spirit of the show. On this show, alternate timelines happen; even when the world line switches, you know the alternate reality is playing out in it’s entirety. In the primary timeline, Makise Kurisu is dead, but Okarin gets to visit a timeline where she’s still alive; the Kurisu in that timeline is very, very important, even if she doesn’t exist in the main reality.

At the end of Steins;Gate, Okabe Rintarou goes back and time and manages to just barely save Kurisu from being murdered. Steins;Gate 0 is the story of what would have happened if he’d failed. I didn’t think I wanted to see a world where Okarin was mourning the woman he loved, but it’s really interesting how well this works as a point of divergence.

The brilliance of the original series is that Okarin goes from being a fake mad scientist (pretend name Houoin Kyouma) who says things like “the organization is out to get me!” and pretends to have vast science-based power over reality, to being the real thing, without ever really meaning to. By the end of the show, Okabe Rintarou is actually more powerful, due to his ability to influence time, than Houoin Kyouma, the character he invented, ever was. He successfully becomes what he always pretended to be, almost by accident. However, in this timeline, once he fails to save Kurisu, he throws Houoin Kyouma and any pretensions of being a powerful figure away; how can he possibly be powerful, if he can’t even save Kurisu from dying at the age of 17?

What we get with Steins;Gate 0 is a version of Okarin who’s not only discarded his alter-ego, but is embarrassed by the very idea of Houoin Kyouma. Having real experience with tinkering with time and causality, he knows too much to boast about what it might be like to have that kind of power. He’s also suffering from PTSD due to everything he went through in the original series, on top of losing Kurisu, so he’s in a very rough place overall.

I can’t see Okabe and Moeka together without thinking of that one brutal scene in the original where he nearly beat her senseless; fortunately, Okabe seems to have the same problem, so it’s not like that aspect of the series has been forgotten. Okabe knows he’s gone to some very dark places, even if none of it technically happened from anyone else’s perspective.

What’s great about it is that I think the viewer really wants Okarin to don his trademark lab coat, make a cool pose and do his patented mad scientist laugh; maybe even say his catchphrase “El. Psy. Congroo.” very seriously, despite the fact that it’s gibberish. And I think he will again, someday. But for now, he can’t do it; the part of him that was fanciful and goofy died with Kurisu. I think the series is ultimately going to be about getting that part of himself back, even though that’s not his goal.

Kurisu does have a presence in the show, both in alternate timelines, and in the form of an AI named Amadeus, based on her memories. Amadeus is important, because I think a version of Steins;Gate with no Kurisu at all would just be too depressing, but therein lies the rub; she’s a crutch for the audience, just as she is for Okabe himself. As much as Maho, a likable new character introduced this season, warns Okabe otherwise, we want to believe that Amadeus is somehow the real thing; that she has real feelings, and she’ll fall in love with Okabe all over again. Introducing a Kurisu AI is experimenting with time travel in a different way: if you really could save someone’s memories in a computer, wouldn’t talking to them be like going back in time to when they were alive?

I didn’t realize until I started watching again how much I’d missed the intelligence of Steins;Gate. There are other anime with intelligent scripts, but there’s something special about the way the show toys with our fears and hopes for the future. In fact, Steins;Gate may be a little too intelligent for me, because I have a helluva time figuring out what’s going on. I didn’t really thoroughly understand what happened in the first season until I rewatched, and the same thing will probably happen here. After catching up on the first cour, I said to my husband. “I’m so happy. I’m so confused, but I’m so happy.”

My face whenever I’m trying to figure out what just happened in Steins;Gate, only with more drooling.

Now that DARLING in the FRANXX is over, I’d like to pick up S:G 0 as the new show to write too-long blog posts about. This is a dangerous proposition, since I never know what the hell is going on in S;G, and writing about it at length is going to reveal the extent of my ignorance. After all, I was the person who, during the first series, predicted that Mayuri was an evil mastermind. Granted, I was half-kidding, but still; I was a little off the mark there.

Speaking of Mayuri, she’s busy rolling with the punches, throwing parties and making costumes for everybody like none of the World War III stuff going on is a big deal. It’s implied that Mayuri knows basically what happened in the previous series, but not the details, and this would not work with many characters. With Mayuri though, Okabe could have said “Once I made a time machine that involved sending text messages to the past, except I changed time so that you died, so I had to undo all the messages I ever sent and go back in time to before I invented the time machine,” and Mayuri would just nod and say “Okay!”and not require further explanation. I’m still not convinced if Mayuri is kind of stupid or really, really, really smart, and I think that’s the point.

Suzuha and Kagari, wondering how it is that there’s enough demand for CRT TVs (even in 2010) that they can both have jobs in a CRT TV shop. I’m not sure how I feel about Kagari yet, but I don’t think you can watch this show without loving Suzuha.

So yeah, I feel a little dumb for not picking up this show in the spring like I should have, but what can I say: mistakes were made. I watched Uma Musume for some reason, so my judgment regarding what shows to start at the beginning of any given season is a little suspect. (Not to suggest that Uma Musume was horrible, because it wasn’t, but it’s still no Steins;Gate.) Now I just need to catch up on Full Metal Panic and I can count myself among the people who actually watch good anime again…at least, until next season.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 23

This is the first time I’m sitting down to write about this show without feeling good about it. I didn’t hate this episode, but it didn’t quite come together for me, and that leaves me with a weird feeling, because this show has been pretty thoroughly in my wheelhouse so far.

I agree with where the show is going on general terms: Zero Two and Hiro heading into another dimension to put the hurt on VIRM where they live, Kokoro and Mitsuru coming together over the upcoming birth of their child, Nana and Hatchi developing stronger parental feelings toward their charges, etc. But everything in this episode just seemed a little bit too quick, neat and convenient for me. It seemed like getting into space was entirely too easy, the fight against VIRM was too easy, and everything happened just a bit too fast to resonate. I don’t want any of the Squad 13 kids to die, but it seemed convenient that one of the Nines was the only one to die in that conflict.

NOOOOO, DON’T DIE!!!!…Oh wait, it was the blond kid? That’s cool, no one liked him.

Some people have been complaining about the pacing of this show for a while now, but I haven’t been one of them. I liked the deliberate slow pacing of the slice-of-life pacing portion of the show (episodes 16-18), and how that contrasted with all hell breaking loose in episode 20. A ton of things happened at a breakneck pace in 20 and 21, but I still felt it worked somehow. This episode was the first time I felt like stuff was happening so fast that nothing had time to properly land.

I also really disliked Nana and Hachi being in space with Squad 13, as much as I like them as characters otherwise. They really should have stayed on Earth, supervising the other parasites, rather than going off planet on a dangerous mission that could have easily gotten them both killed. Werner Franxx said that Nana and Hachi had to be the “new adults,” and considering what a warped view of adulthood those two have seen, I guess I can’t blame them for not really knowing what that means. Still, it seemed like the only reason Nana and Hachi were there was to deliver exposition, and the transparency of that took me out of the story.

I’m not sure how to feel about Zero Two and Hiro reuniting once again. I understand why Zero Two pulled away from him after merging with Strelizia, because she realized that he wouldn’t have anything resembling a human life if he stayed with her. And showing that selfishness is important; the fact that Zero Two is putting what she wants for Hiro ahead of Hiro’s own wishes mirrors Hiro’s selfishness in putting his reunion with Zero Two ahead of everything else in the previous episodes. This show is doing a good job of showing that love isn’t all sunshine and roses. But the reunion happens so quickly after the parting, from the viewer’s perspective that it deprives their reunion of the gravity it really should have.

This episode is markedly better if you turn off the sound and play Billy Idol’s White Wedding for the last few minutes. Go on, try it.

I do like Giant Zero Two Strelizia and her wedding-dress mech, with her bridal bouquet of explosives. That’s the sort of thing that this show does well, taking really broad metaphors and creating powerful imagery with them. But everything around it undermines the power of that moment.

That said, I’m still looking forward to the final episode; I think there’s a possibility episode 24 could redeem everything I didn’t like about this one. I also wonder if these problems could have been easily solved if the show was slated for 26 episodes instead of 24; maybe just one or two more episodes of build up could have made a huge difference to the pacing. Still, we’re here now, and I’m curious what Hiro and Zero Two are going to discover Beyond the Infinite, or wherever they’re headed.

 

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 21

A lot of stories don’t commit to their themes, in my opinion. They’ll mention them from time to time, do some tapdancing around them, but then hold them at arm’s length when it’s convenient; when the theme calls for a gesture too big, too bold, for them to convincingly sell to the audience. DARLING in the FRANXX committed, has always been committed really, and I love it for that.

Let’s go through this in some detail, since that seemed to work pretty well last time. VIRM assimilates the last of the human APE members, and an indeterminate number of other humans, into their collective. The way they define their way of life is intriguing: “There is a form of pleasure that is gentle and perpetual.” Gentle and perpetual…so pretty much the opposite of an orgasm, then? As the ultimate enemy on a show all about sex, VIRM is thoroughly anti-conception; it even pulls life in, instead of pushing it out.

Left with no other options, Hiro uses Strelizia to bond with the Klaxosaur Princess and sees inside her mind; in theory, this should probably drive him insane, but I like this episode so much I’m not going to make an issue out of it. Somehow, he processes the eons of time that the princess spent alone, before humans were there. It’s pretty similar to what his own life was like before he met Zero Two, only much, much longer.

Our kiddos in Squad 13 are smart enough to realize that the battle between the Klaxosaurs and VIRM is no longer about them, and there’s no point in wasting their energy fighting either of them. This is why Werner Franxx raised them this way, allowed them to value their own lives; so when this day came, when it was no longer clear why they were fighting, they’d ask the right questions. Okay, it’s mainly Ichigo who catches on fast here, but the other kids don’t take much convincing to see things her way. I bet all those people who said mean things about Ichigo and her voice actress earlier in the series feel really stupid now, as they should.

It’s kind of funny how the Klaxosaurs basically ignore the Franxx at this point. Everybody’s got better things to do.

Kokoro says that no matter who the enemy is, all she can do is fight. Amidst all the craziness of this episode, there’s a great little moment where Mitsuru seems to know what she’s saying is ironic somehow, but doesn’t know why. He doesn’t remember, but he viscerally knows that there’s something else that she can do.

Dr. Franxx helpfully informs us why the world hasn’t already ended: the self-destruct program was meant to work on Strelizia in Stampede Mode (what happens when a pistil, usually Zero Two in the past, operates a Franxx by themselves), but now that Hiro’s there, Strelizia is still in “normal” mode, whatever that is. Union is currently saving the world; if the princess hadn’t taken Hiro with her more or less on a whim, the planet would be gone already.

Zero Two reaches the area where Franxx and Hachi are monitoring the situation, and promptly faints. Well, it looked like she lost about 50 gallons of blood on the way there, so I guess it’s be expected. When she regains consciousness, she asks Dr. Franxx why the princess called her a “fake,” and here’s where I start to get a little confused. Because I was 99% sure, based on what we’ve seen so far, that Franxx made Zero Two by combining the princess’ DNA with his own, making her their daughter. However, here Franxx says that Zero Two is just “a clone” of the princess, with no mention of his own genes playing any role. He could just be being vague, but considering that Franxx has pretty much been telling the truth about everything lately, it seems odd that he would lie to her now.

I like the idea of Zero Two being a child of Franxx and the Princess a lot more than her being a clone; it works better with the themes of the series, and it also helps explain why Zero Two doesn’t look all that much like the princess. However, I suppose the specific way Franxx created her is really a minor detail at this point.

The Princess gives us a little more background on how the Klaxo Sapiens evolved to fight VIRM, with one curious detail. Last time, she said that the male Klaxo Sapiens evolved into magma, and the females evolved into weapons. This time, she says that the “weak” evolved into magma and the strong became weapons. An inconsistency, or insight into the Klaxo Sapien worldview? If they were a matriarchal society, they might consider men to be “the weak.”

The Nines turn out to be clones of 02, which is maybe another clue that when the doctor says “clone,” he doesn’t mean creating a literal copy. The Nines all have different appearances and don’t look like Zero Two much, so I think his version of cloning may involve mixing in whatever DNA he has on hand just for the hell of it. Speaking of the Nines, they’re busy fighting the last war; they were raised to fight the Klaxosaurs, and that’s what they’re going to do, even if it no longer makes any sense, because they weren’t raised to think.

There’s a gruesome moment where one of the Nines’ mechs is brutally ripped about by VIRM drones, killing her. This is one of those times that the show is again referencing something from the past, because the scene is very reminiscent of what happens to Asuka and her mech (also called Zero Two, come to think of it) in The End of Evangelion. What’s interesting is, making that connection to Evangelion kind of put up a barrier between me and what was being shown. When it started happening, I thought “Oh, this is an obvious homage to that one scene in EOE,” so I wasn’t thinking about the person being ripped to shreds inside the mech.

Hmm…where have I seen this before…it’ll come to me, I’m sure. Something about people turning into Tang?

I wonder; people have been talking about this show’s frequent homages to Eva and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and some have concluded that Darling is a ripoff because of that. I wonder if the purpose of these homages the whole time was to create the kind of distance I experienced above. Not to save my delicate sensibilities from violence and gore (although I appreciate it), but to call our attention to the fact that we’re actually watching a play.

This may seem like a strange connection to make, but please stay with me here for a moment: it’s like watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2010 film version of Hamlet, with David Tennant as the lead. You’re not really paying that much attention to the story, because it’s freakin’ Hamlet; if you care enough to watch an RSC production in the first place, you likely know the story backwards and forwards already. What you really pay attention to is what’s been changed; the modern clothes, the way technology is utilized, the way Tennant is playing the most batshit insane Hamlet you’ve ever seen, and it might be over the top, but it might also be closer to Shakespeare’s actual intent with the character.

We know the beats in these mecha stories: Eva and it’s legion of copies taught us, Gurren Lagann further refined the formula. This is the latest iteration of that same kind of story and we’re not supposed to be watching expecting a brand new play. We’re supposed to be paying attention to what’s changed; What’s different now from 20 years ago in Eva? What’s different now from 10 years ago in Gurren Lagann?

Anyway, Zero Two could give a rat’s ass about the finer points of the situation, because she’s loaded up on fluids now and ready to go rescue her Darling. Since cementing her bond with Hiro, she seems to have reached this evolved state where she knows exactly what’s worth caring about and what isn’t; perhaps it’s the clarity one can achieve before death. She’s so fearless and beautiful here, and you kind of wish everyone in the world had their own Zero Two to come rescue them when things got bad; then again, if everyone had their own Zero Two, things wouldn’t get bad in the first place.

Surprisingly, Dr. Franxx decides to go with 02 to save Hiro, and Ichigo’s team shows up just in time to get them where they need to be. I’d say that was awfully convenient timing, but let’s face it; it’s not like Squad 13 had anywhere else to go at this point, so it’s pretty plausible that they’d show up around now. Dr. Franxx jostles, but does not break, the fourth wall, in an attempt to make us all like him at the last minute. It’s pretty damn effective.

Squad 13 has to deal with some VIRM vermin and physical obstacles on their way to Star Entity; it didn’t feel tedious at all while I was watching it, but going over it in detail feels unnecessary. Basically, Ikuno seemingly uses up her life force in one desperate move to clear Zero Two’s path, and Ichigo and Goro appear to die in the process of taking out the last invader. I wouldn’t count those two out just yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they actually were dead; I think this show has been signalling for a long time that the only two lives that really NEED to continue in this story are Mitsuru and Kokoro (and I’m not even sure about Mitsuru.)

Then we get a scene which seems ridiculous on the face of it, which is Hiro explaining to the Klaxosaur Princess the concepts of love and friendship. Yes Hiro, I’m sure this 60-million-plus year old being really needs to know what your 15-year-old self just learned in the past two months. I think it makes sense if you keep in mind that the Princess probably knew this, but between the Klaxo Sapiens warlike evolution and millennia of solitude, she’s forgotten. So Hiro’s not really telling her anything she doesn’t know; she’s being reminded of things she’s been afraid to remember.

Hringhorni, the giant spear made of Klaxosaurs by APE, is being stolen by VIRM; I know it’s a Checkov’s Gun situation and that thing is probably going to be very important in the last three episodes, but I kind of wish it would just fly off into space and we never see it again. Go to the moon, keep the Lance of Longinus company.

Franxx has some of the princess’ cells on his person, so he’s able to bypass the “Only Klaxosuar Princess Can Use This Door” rule at Star Entity. Those crazy scientists; give one of them a sexy look, next thing you know they’re running around with your DNA for decades and copying it all over the place. Franxx then all but confirms that he took Zero Two to Plantation 13 deliberately to reunite her with Hiro, which does a lot to redeem Zero Two and Hiro’s all-too-convenient backstory for me. It’s one thing if Zero Two and Hiro met as children and were lucky enough to stumble into each other again years later, quite different if the person in charge was deliberately manipulating events.

Franxx apologizes to Zero Two, expecting her to hate him. Instead she thanks him for creating her, and allowing her to meet her Darling. Franxx then muses that she’s become very human, which rings a bit ironic to me; how often does a human child say to their parent “Thank you for making me?” No kid does that. The giant Klaxosaur the princess was using as a ride takes Zero Two to the center of Star Entity, sacrificing itself in the process.

You have to wonder what this lady’s story is; just another tiny piece of the puzzle that we’ll never know.

Zero Two reaches the cockpit of Strelizia to find an either already dead, or nearly-dead Hiro, and reverts to her full-on Klaxosaur form. Having seen Zero Two in Hiro’s mind, the princess is now ready to accept her as a successor. Their horns join, another form of union, and whatever’s left of the princess merges with Zero Two; she kisses her Darling.

How does a kiss stop the self-destruct sequence? Because love changes you. When Zero Two and Hiro kissed, Strelizia shed it’s skin like a caterpillar and became something new. The self-destruct sequence no longer applied, because that was a condition placed on the old version of Strelizia, who’s been obliterated. I know this idea that love can change you may seem hard to believe if you haven’t experienced it, but it’s true; I can hardly recognize myself from ten years ago. Maybe it’s an awfully convenient way to stop a cataclysmic explosion, but if you don’t buy that a kiss can save the world, I don’t think you’ve been on board with the story Trigger’s been trying to tell all along. From the first moment, it’s all been about the two birds that can only fly together.

Hiro and Zero Two have a meeting of the minds, returning to the snowy glen where they bonded as children. Hiro says he missed her, and it’s like dude, you just saw her like three hours ago. But what can you do? That’s how young lovers are. Plus, Hiro has just experienced eternity via the Princess’ mind, so for him, I guess it really has been a long time.

I’m glad the two of them get this moment together, this moment of happiness and perfect understanding. It makes what’s about to happen more tolerable, though still painful.

Strelizia takes over Star Entity and becomes a super-mech, easily devastating the VIRM forces; VIRM manages to get away with Hringhorni, but give up on assimilating the rest of Earth’s technology after losing so many of their forces. I wonder though; haven’t they already been successful? It seems like they absorbed an awful lot of humans early in the episode. Are the only remaining humans the parasites? It’s not clear if the human population even exists anymore. In any case, VIRM has been defeated for the day, but they’re coming back. With their entire army.

And now humanity is screwed, because only Strelizia Apus can fight VIRM, and only Zero Two can operate Strelizia Apus, and Zero Two appears to be dead from the strain of everything that’s just happened. I’m torn here; part of me wants Zero Two to be alive, because I like the character a lot. But I also feel like her dying here is something that needs to happen; I’m going to feel kind of cheated if next episode reveals that she’s only in a coma or something. Remember, in the second OP, Zero Two disappears a few seconds before Hiro does; the writing’s been on the wall.

So…now what? Whoever’s left from Squad 13 is going to have to try to save the world from the return of VIRM, but what’s even left of the world at this point? Does Hiro even think a world without Zero Two is worth saving?

VIRM said they’re coming back, but they seem to think in terms of geological time, so they may not actually return for eons. Therefore we could get a timeskip, just like Gurren Lagann, and as illustrated above, I think it’s more likely to happen because it was already done in Gurren Lagann. Maybe in episode 22, it will be thousands of years later, and we’ll be seeing the world created by Kokoro and Mitsuru’s children; there are worse things. It’s hard to imagine staying in the present, because there’s nothing left here; only Hiro and his grief.

I think I’ll still be thinking about this episode for a long time. It feels like Studio Trigger finally did what they’ve been trying to do for years; they got close with Space Patrol Luluco, but there was a limit to what that show could do as a comedic short. This is the emotional resonance that mostly eluded Kiznaiver, that only worked intermittently in Kill La Kill. I feel almost proud of Trigger for pulling this off, but it’s not a uniformly positive feeling; part of me wants them to go back to making shows about school uniforms from space shredding each other, because this was exhausting. Just as VIRM was completely out of their depth with Zero Two, I don’t know if I can handle a fully-awakened Studio Trigger.

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 6

This is the kind of episode that’s tough to write about. Visually, it’s really appealing, with our girls and company decked out in gorgeous costumes, but not much really happens. Basically it’s an Amanchu! Halloween special, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just not that interesting.

Oh, before I forget, TROLL FACE:

The only thing of note that happens is the meeting of Teko and Kokoro, Pikari’s younger friend. Teko’s jealous reactions to Kokoro are fun to watch, because she doesn’t go over the top; she still stays rather prim and hesitant, even while she’s stewing inside that Kokoro might have shared special experiences with Pikari that she doesn’t know about. It would have been easy to make Teko act extremely over-the-top jealous to go for the broad comedy of it, but I like the way they did it.

But then they do a scavenger hunt, and argh…I hate this kind of thing in real life, and it doesn’t seem much more fun in animated form. Going up to random people and asking them to give you stuff just seems incredibly awkward for everyone involved, and you just know people are sweating bullets in those costumes, and why would you even have a Halloween event that doesn’t feature candy at all?

The attempt at zany humor doesn’t really work for me here, and I was just hoping for it to end so we could move onto something more interesting. Katori-sensei threatened to reveal something interesting about herself, but in the end she just downed some beer and did nothing else of note. I’m really getting impatient for the show to start doing something with her, because you can just sense there’s an interesting backstory there somewhere.

Does anyone remember this guy from season one? Apparently he’s the school principal, but I have no memory of him at all. This episode did remind me of the pets’ names (Admiral Cha and Ohime(above)), so it has that going for it.

I thought the lucid dreaming business from episode 4 was a one-time thing, but it comes back in a big way in this episode, with mixed results. The imagery of Teko and Pikari’s shared dream is beautiful, actually somewhat reminiscent of the Adolescence of Utena, but we’re left at the end wondering what, if anything, in this episode really happened. I think it’s just supposed to be the last sequence that was a dream (because if the whole episode was a dream, then Teko has still never met Kokoro, and that would be damn inconvenient), but I can’t really be sure. Considering how little I care though, this is not something that’s going to keep me up at night.

Oh my, it was all a dream! Or maybe only part of it was! Who even cares, naked girls at the spa!!!!

It probably sounds like I’m really down on this episode, but honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad; it’s just not what I want from this show, and not something I have a lot to say about. I feel pretty confident that the second half of the season will contain plenty of diving and meaningful character moments, so I hardly mind that they took an episode out to just have some fun; I do hope they’re done with this lucid dreaming business though, because that’s just out of place to me. Teko is not a “Professional Dreamer,” that’s not a thing.

Spring 2018 Anime Season Preview

It’s been almost three months; time for a deluge of new shows, and to kiss your dreams of catching up on your anime backlog goodbye for at least another season.

Now, the intelligent, useful way to do one of these season previews is to peruse the source material for the upcoming shows; research what other anime members of the staff have worked on; learn the history of the studio, and cross-reference all of this disparate information to make some educated guesses about what kind of experiences the upcoming shows will offer. I’m not going to do that (mostly because it sounds like a lot of work), but also because I don’t want to have to download anything. Checking out the source material for anime usually means reading scanlations, and whenever I try anything like that, I end up with 14 new malware-infested browsers on my laptop that all look like they came from 1998.

All that is a roundabout way of saying that this preview is mostly research-free, and it’s only real value is highlighting what shows I’m excited for this season. However, I would like to do some episodic blogging this spring (something I haven’t done for quite a while), so I’m also going to be using this to try to figure out what I might want to cover. If you see a show listed here that you’d like to see covered in the coming months (or if I totally leave out a show you’re psyched for), please let me know in the comments. I’m not going to blog a show I have no interest in just because someone requests it, but I’ll certainly give something a try if it wasn’t on my radar previously and see what happens.

Oh, and by the way, this season looks absolutely insane. The number of popular series with continuations and spinoffs airing is way above normal, and a lot of fans are probably going to have trouble keeping up. In fact, this is probably a really bad time for me to dive back into anime coverage just for that reason, but oh well, here we are somehow.

Full Metal Panic: Invisible VictoryAfter hibernating (and haunting fake anime charts) for about a decade, the fact that there’s a new FMP series coming out now is a miracle only slightly less impressive than the Biblical Parting of the Red Sea, so I should probably take notice. I’ve never been able to get into Full Metal Panic!; I don’t dislike it, but the episodes I’ve seen never quite sucked me in. However, my husband is a big fan, and if I’m not watching FMP, our dinner conversation might get awkward, so I’m probably going to catch up on the earlier seasons before the premiere if I get a chance.

Chances I will blog it: High, because it might win me brownie points with my husband, which I need; I make him eat a lot of tofu.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

I like Sword Art Online. Always have. *dodges rotten tomatoes.* No seriously, I do. Sometimes it’s juvenile and silly, but then they’ll throw you a Mother’s Rosario arc and you realize you’re actually watching a warmer-and-fuzzier Ghost in the Shell with lovely colors, and it’s really cool. Gun Gale Online was not one of my favorite parts of SAO thus far, so I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get that caught up in a side story that takes place in that particular game world. Still, my general positive disposition towards the franchise means that I plan to give it at least a few episode to impress me.

Chances I will Blog It: Medium. Really depends on whether or not the characters grab me, because GGO isn’t much of a draw in and of itself.

My Hero Academia Season 3

I watched the first episode of MHA when it came out and it didn’t do much for me; like Full Metal Panic!, I thought it was perfectly competent, but it didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Fast-forward a year or two later and everyone’s ridiculously psyched about this series, so it’s possible I missed something here. I’d like to go back and catch up on it before the third season premiere, but I’m already doing that with FMP, so I might not have enough time. I’m tempted to give it a shot anyway though; despite my general contrariness, for once I feel like it might be nice to be on the same hype train as everyone else.

Besides, this is the series with the frog girl, right? She’s cute. I want to know what’s going on with frog girl.

Chances I will Blog it: If I devote the time to actually catch up on it before April, then I’ll pretty much have to blog it to justify the time investment. Yes, I know that’s an example of the sunk-cost logical fallacy, but I never let logic get in the way of my aniblogging.

Card Captor Sakura: The Clear Card Arc (continuation)

I’ve been enjoying the return of Sakura, even though the show seems to lack a sense of urgency. It’s basically a pastoral slice of life show, then something weird will happen and Sakura will say “Oh right, magic exists,” she’ll capture a card, and then go back to lazy slice-of-life fun. It’s also very consistently repeating events from the original series, in a very self-aware way, which leads me to wonder what the point is.

It could just be, “Hey, remember the aquarium episode in the original series? Remember how cute it was? Well here, have another one!” but I think the show is doing something more sophisticated than that…like some magical entity is purposely making Sakura relive her card capturing adventures in order to mold her into something. So I guess it does have a sense of urgency, after all, but in a kind of odd, roundabout way?

Chances I’ll blog it: Low. If I wanted to blog this show I should have started with the winter season anyway, and as much as I love CCSak overall, I don’t know if I’d have much to say about these episodes. They’re oddly vacant….

Food Wars: The Third Plate (continuation)

I’ve been tiding myself over with Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles, but I’m happy for the return of Food Porn: The Anime. There’s all sorts of drama now with Erina, Erina’s Evil Dad, Soma’s Absent Daddy, and so on and so forth, but I honestly don’t care as long as they keep preparing amazing food in ridiculous levels of detail. I’m sure some time this season will be dedicated to the plot, but honestly, the worst thing Food Wars! could do would be to start taking itself too seriously and forget that what it really is, at heart, is the show you watch when you’re trying to decide what you feel like having for dinner.

Chances I’ll blog it: High, because I’ve done it before and had fun, and because somewhere inside me is a frustrated food blogger. That frustrated food blogger usually wants to kill me for going vegan, by the way, so I should probably give her some kind of expressive outlet for my own safety.

Hoozuki’s Coolheadedness: Season 2 (continuation)

I feel guilty about this one. I really liked the first season, but when the first cour of S2 aired, I was preoccupied and didn’t get around to it. Then Sentai Filmworks decided that Amazon wasn’t their friend anymore and took all their shows off of Amazon video, and now I don’t have access to it. I guess I really need to sign up for HIDIVE one of these days.

Still, I’m excited that this show’s coming back, and I’m definitely going to catch up soon (possibly after giving myself a migraine from shotgunning FMP and MHA back-to-back?). There just isn’t any other show that meets the description of “Like Japanese Dilbert, only in Hell, with fairy tale characters and talking dogs and stuff.”

Chances I’ll blog it: Low, because I don’t feel qualified. This show draws pretty heavily from Japanese mythology, and I feel like you’d have to be pretty knowledgeable about all that rich lore to be able to do the show justice. I mean, I guess I could do actual research to write about it…waitaminute, I hate doing research…but it’s Hoozuki! I’ll do research if it’s for my darling Hoozuki…possibly? Kind of on the fence here.

Steins;Gate: 0

It’s weird: as much as I enjoyed Steins;Gate, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that I want any more of it. The other shows in the Science Adventure series that I’ve tried haven’t impressed me, and the fact that the original series was as good as it was may have been something of a fluke. It’s one of those situations where I feel like the original 24 episodes are in a perfect little world of their own and I don’t want anything else to besmirch it; a snobby opinion, perhaps, but sometimes that’s how I feel.

But I do like Okarin and Kurisu, and if I like the characters, then I should be interested in seeing more of them, right? I’ll give this a try, but if I’m not feeling good about it from the word go, I’m prepared to drop it and pretend it doesn’t exist. Seriously, if you try to talk to me about Steins;Gate 0 and I’ve stopped watching it, I’m going to play dumb and pretend I have no idea what you’re even talking about.

Chances I’ll blog it: Unless I fall in love with Okarin all over again, low.

High School DXD Hero

I’ve seen a few bits and pieces of this series here and there, but never sat down to watch it seriously. It’s a fanservice-heavy show, which isn’t an immediate bar to my watching it, but it just never seemed quite in my wheelhouse. That said, I do tend to like stories about demons and their ilk (I write about them after all), and since this series clearly isn’t going away anytime soon, maybe I should get on board?

This is what though, the fourth season of this we’re up to now? No way am I actually catching up on this the diligent way. I think I’ll watch the first episode, then read episode summaries on a wiki or something and pretend I watched it all. Only you need ever know the truth, dear readers.

Chances I’ll blog it: Low, but you never know.

Persona 5: The Animation

I really enjoyed Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4:The Golden (and come to think of it, I should do some blogging about them one of these days), so I’d love to play P5. I just don’t know when I’m going to get around to it; it’s hard to find a spare hundred hours for a meaty JRPG these days, you know? Especially when you’re spending all your free time shotgunning anime you should have already watched years ago.

I’m probably going to put this on hold until after I’ve played the game, because I want to experience the story through the game itself rather than letting an adaptation spoil that experience for me. That said, I don’t know if I’ll be able to work a P5 playthrough into my schedule until about 2033, so it’s within the realm of possibility that I will never watch this. Sigh.

Chances I’ll blog it: Low to the point of nonexistence.

Amanchu! Advance

The first season of Amanchu! was fun at times, but here’s the annoying thing about it: in a show ostensibly about scuba diving, they didn’t go scuba diving until the last episode. It made logical sense that the newbie diver needed to learn the ropes first, which is what most of the season focused on, and the show was just charming enough to get away with it, but still, it felt a little cheap.

Now, with Season 2, I don’t want to see any pussy-footing around. Those girls better get suited up and get their scuba on from the first episode, because the show is all out of excuses for lollygagging. I want to like this, but I swear, if they give us another one of those boring episodes where the kids play Red-Light-Green-Light in the school parking lot because they have nothing better to do, I’m dropping this hard.

Chances I’ll blog it: High, because if they do go scuba diving a lot I’ll want an excuse to talk about scuba diving, and if they don’t go scuba diving, I’ll want an excuse to complain about that some more– because apparently, this is a very big deal to me. I don’t know why either.

Binan Konkou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Happy Kiss

I watched the first season of this, which is about 11 more episodes of it than I should have watched. Once you get used to the idea that the show is a gender-swapped parody of Sailor Moon, there’s really not much else there; it’s basically just telling the same joke over and over again.

This is the third season, with new characters, so there’s potential for something different to happen, but I’m not expecting much. I’ll give the first episode a shot, but if it’s still doing more of the same, I see no reason to continue. Maybe it’s worth watching if seeing the guys prance around in tights works for you as fanservice (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I can’t think of another reason to watch this.

Chances I’ll blog it: negligible.

Comic Girls

For many years, I wanted to be a comic artist. The idea of being able to go live in an all-girls comic artists’ dormitory was pretty much my dream life as a teenager, so I’m more psyched for this show than just about anything else this season. If it’s good, there’s a chance it will dredge up long-buried memories of manga-drawing ambitions and I’ll be reduced to a sobbing mess on the floor by the time the credits roll, but maybe that will ultimately be good for me. After all, if you’re crying, that means you’re growing as a person or something, right?

Anyway, I hope they focus more on the manga aspect and less on the general “bunch of cute girls living in close proximity” humor, which I can get elsewhere. I’m going to be disappointed if a lot of the run time is taken up by the girls taking baths, borrowing towels, exchanging bath salts, or doing other bath-related activities. I’ve watched Hidamari Sketch, and I know how this kind of thing tends to go down.

Chances I’ll blog it: Oh, it is on like Donkey Kong. Expect 5000 word write-ups on the regular; am I kidding? HA HAH I don’t even know

Tachibana-kan to Lie Angle

This is another show about girls living in a dormitory, only without the manga angle. So this is ideally where all the bath-related plots should take place, instead of on Comic Girls’: if they want to spend the whole show bathing, making curry and dressing each other up, I’m alright with that. Everything in its right place.

That said, “girls live in dormitory, wacky hijinks ensue!” isn’t much to go on. At best we could get another HidaSketch or Kiniro Mosaic or something like that, or we might end up with something like this season’s Slow Start, functional light comedy without really standing out. Right now, all over the world, the 12 people who really like Slow Start are shaking their fists at me through the screen, I can feel it, but I will continue on, uncowed and unrepentant.

Chances I’ll blog this: Really low, unless Comic Girls pisses me off by being too generic, in which case I’ll switch to blogging this show entirely out of spite.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

Okay so, let me get this straight…this anime is about girls, who are horses, so they have cute horsie ears and tails. And they also race, what being horses and all, and they also sing and dance and get all dressed up in pretty dresses because why not?

That’s…that’s just My Little Pony. They just re-invented My Little Pony from this weird sideways direction, but that’s what it is. Now, you could protest by saying “but My Little Pony isn’t sexual like this!” in which case you would be demonstrating profound ignorance of today’s MLP fanbase.

Shows like this usually aren’t half as outrageous as the premise makes them sound, and they’re usually the worse for it, but I’ll give it a try anyway. Maybe I’ll spin it that because I feel alienated in modern MLP fandom, this is the level I’ve been reduced to; watching adaptations of cell phone games about two-legged horse girls.

Chances I’ll blog this: Medium. It’ll be worth doing if the show actually embraces it’s own ridiculousness and really goes for it, instead of just doing the kind of lukewarm, not-really-naughty humor that could be done anywhere.

Hisone to Masotan

I saw “Air Force” in the description and figured this was going to be another one of those military girl shows, like Kantai Collection or High School Fleet. However, this show is adding a dragon to the mix. That sounds…like a really good idea, actually. How has no one thought of this before? Game of Thrones has been on for like 8 years, and it seems like writers are still kind of waking up to the idea that viewers really, really like dragons.

This one is written by Mari Okada, which might be a useful bit of info for some people, but it tells me absolutely nothing. I’ve seen Okada stuff that I thought was great, yet some of the most painfully awful anime I’ve ever seen has been Okada-penned, so she’s a wildcard. I don’t know if it’s that her quality is wildly variable, or if it has more to do with how some of her scripts have been directed, but her presence on the staff just increases the “wtf is this even and where did it come from?” factor that this show has for me.

All that aside, the art style looks reminiscent of decades past rather than the 2010s, and that intrigues me. I think they’re trying to invoke the Ghibli-classic feel here, and I’m curious to see if they can live up to it.

Magical Girl Ore

This is the first show that Crunchyroll announced for this season, so if nothing else, it’ll be easy to find. It’s a magical girl show, with a twist that the magical girl transforms into a muscular guy when she powers up. My gut feeling is that it’ll be amusing for about one episode, then become dull in the same way Binan High did. There’s something about idols and yakuza thrown in here as well, so maybe it’ll have enough zany appeal to stay fun after the premiere episode.

I have mixed feelings about these gender-bending magical girl shows. I get how they’re a natural progression of the genre in a lot of ways, and how they can be incredibly refreshing for people who are tired of traditional gender roles, and that’s all good. I just never find these shows as interesting or funny as I feel like I’m supposed to. Maybe I’m just not the target audience, and that’s okay.

Mahou Shoujo Site

This sounds a lot like Magical Girl Raising Project from a few years back: an incredibly dark, gritty magical girl show where love and children’s dreams go to die. I don’t have a problem with the recent trend of “dark and gritty” magical girl shows on principle; diversity within the genre is good, after all. But I’d be lying if I said I found any of those post-Madoka Magika shows particularly watchable. Madoka aside, which is an exceptional case on a lot of different levels, my taste in magical girl anime tends more towards the sweet and fluffy; I want to be reminded of my childhood, not convinced that my childhood was all a lie and the only way forward is the sweet release of oblivion, you know?

Still, I’ll give it a try. Maybe this show will have some element that MGRP didn’t have that will hook me.

Chances I’ll blog it: Very low.

Devil’s Line

Vampire show. I’m tempted to say “look, it’s anime Twilight!” except that would be closed-minded, right? I mean, the concept of vampires existed long, long before the Twilight boom, and to call every new property with a romance between a vampire and a human “like Twilight” is ignorant and reductive, right? Vampire literature is a broad sub-genre with it’s own tropes, and that should be respected.

Except this vampire dude saves a girl, and forms a bond with her…only, being close to her might test his stern resolve to never, ever drink human blood…

Yeah, it’s goddamned anime Twilight. Not that that’s a bad thing; this could be a lot of fun, repurposing old gifs from the Twi movies, photoshopping Robert Pattinson’s head on top of the main dude in every screenshot, etc. This could be the most fun I’ve had blogging since taking the piss out of Wizard Barristers every week. But should such behavior really be encouraged?

Chances I will blog it: High, for the wrong reasons.

Golden Kamuy

Historical; takes place shortly after the Russo-Japanese war, in Hokkaido. I had no idea this was coming out until five seconds before writing this post, but now I’m intrigued. First, you’ve got the Hokkaido factor, and once A Place Further Than the Universe completes, I’ll want another show that takes place somewhere cold and snowy. Second, the female character is Ainu, and despite many references to the Ainu and their culture, I don’t think I’ve ever watched an anime with an explicitly Ainu character; I feel like I MUST have, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

So it’s historical, it’s winter-wonderland-zoned, it’s an opportunity to learn, what more could you want? I usually hate categorizing shows into anime for smart people and dumb people (because lord knows, I am a HUGE fan of some dumb, dumb shows), but like Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, this kind of sounds like anime aimed at a more cerebral audience.

Chances I’ll blog it: High.

Piano no Mori

There’s an old piano in the forest and a poor kid plays it, then a rich kid wants to play it but the magical forest piano doesn’t like him as much, maybe? I’m a little unclear on whether the piano is magical or not. I’ll confess, my main interest in this show is the fact that the preview describes one of the characters as “practically breast-fed by the piano as the son of a family of prestigious pianists,” and now I can’t stop wondering what it would look like for a Grand Piano to breastfeed someone. Would you put the baby on the keys, or…?

At the very least, this show will probably be really interesting for people who have experience playing piano; how much appeal it’ll have beyond that, I wonder. Supposedly the manga is highly-regarded and it’s already been adapted into a successful film version, so there’s probably something interesting going on here. I feel like this one is easy to overlook among all the flashier stuff this season, so I’m going to try to give it a proper chance to hook me.

Chances I’ll blog it: low.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzuashii

This covers a romance between two otaku, a fujoshi and a gamer. My immediate thought is that it’s in friendly competition with Recovery of an MMO Junkie for the title of sweetest romcom between two nerds, but maybe sweetness isn’t even what it’s going for; we’ll see. On the plus side, unlike MMO Junkie, chances are the director of this one isn’t an absolute raging anti-Semite, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I want to be excited for this, because it could be really entertaining if done well, but something inside me is urging caution. I mean, I’m an otaku who married another otaku, so it would be nice to see that dynamic explored, but I don’t know if this is going to be the series to properly do it.

Chances I’ll blog it: Medium-high, since I can probably use posts about this show to rant about the otaku stuff going on in my own life and make it seem like I’m staying on topic, almost.

Alice or Alice

This is the show this season for people with Lolita complexes, because there’s always one. It’s only relevance to me is that it’ll act like a black hole of negativity, drawing all the self-righteous contempt and vitriol of the entire anime blogosphere to it, like moths to a flame, then hopefully I can watch the shit I want to watch in relative peace.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair. Just because the show has lolicon doesn’t mean it has nothing else to offer; a lot of shows appeal to the loli-loving demographic while providing something else to a different audience (Non Non Biyori immediately comes to mind.) But the fact that the show also appears to be an incest fantasy makes it hard for me to imagine that it’s going to offer much outside of taboo sexual situations.

And don’t get me wrong, if that’s your thing, that’s fine; I know a lot of people enjoy depictions of taboo situations because they’re taboo, and it doesn’t mean they condone the same behavior in real life. But this show is targeted at a specific audience that I am not a part of.

Chances I’ll blog it: Low, unless a secret lolicon billionaire gets involved and pays me to document the exploits of the two Alices. C’mon, Mark Zuckerberg, you know you want it.

Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi

I feel like I’ve already seen this show about fifteen times, probably because I’ve seen so many shows that take place in and around Shinto shrines. This seems like a Shinto shrine show crossed with The Ancient Magus Bride, meaning it’s creepy, and we’re all kind of on the fence about whether or not it’s creepy in a good, self-aware “we are examining the psychological ramifications of this creepiness” way, or just plain regular creepy. I have a feeling the fact that one of the neighborhood demons wants to take the main girl as his bride isn’t going to come up much after the first episode, but that plot point is going to effect how a lot of people judge this show early on.

Forced marriage aside, I tend to like these kinds of supernatural shrine-hijinks shows, so I’m cautiously enthusiastic for this one. With any luck it’ll be a slightly more adult version of Gingitsune, because I’ll watch anything that’s similar to Gingitsune.

Amai Choubatsu: Watashi wa Kanshu Senyou Pet

Wait, I was wrong before: THIS is the show that’s going to draw all the vitriol of animebloggers. Because unlike Alice or Alice, which at least deals with a specific fetish of a relatively small group, this show looks like it actually deals with female sexuality, and nothing scares culture bloggers half as much as female sexuality.

As the “pet” of a sadistic prison guard, the protagonist of this story is being dominated by a handsome man, which is a fantasy for many, many women. However, rather than acknowledging that this fantasy exists, and has logical reasons for existing, people are going to freak out that the show is “teaching” young girls that they want to be dominated. That is bass-ackwards, but whatever, let’s just pretend this is a problem with the mass media brainwashing girls. Never mind the fact that Wuthering Heights was a pretty big thing back before there was a lot of media around, and all of this stuff is ultimately derivative of Wuthering Heights and other gothic romances from that era.

To be honest, the show itself sounds like it’ll probably be pretty boring, unless you’re really into this particular fantasy; I doubt I’ll watch past the first episode. But it bugs me a little that it’s probably going to get critically crucified for the wrong reasons.

Chances I’ll blog this: Low, unless other anibloggers absolutely lose their shit condemning this show, in which case I will begin waving a flag of support just to be a pain in the ass. Sometimes, I can be a petty person.

Butlers: Chitose Momotose Monogatari

I have mixed feelings about this. It’s a show about handsome butlers, one of whom is a specialist in cafe latte art(!), but they also travel through time and fight supernatural battles and stuff. It’s like, can’t I just have a show about handsome butlers working in a cafe, serving delicious coffee? Why do they have to have superpowers and shit? You’re trying too hard!

Hopefully the show will win me over to the point that I actually enjoy the supernatural aspect and don’t just see it as a wasted opportunity to explore the refined world of handsome men in nice suits making latte art. I want to make some sort of comment here about how a show about butlers being butlers should be enough, but then again, the last anime that focused on maids was also about giant dragons fighting each other with god-tier magic, so maybe this is something about anime that I just have to accept.

Chances I’ll blog it: High. This wasn’t something I was really anticipating until just now, but something tells me this might be a lot of fun to cover.

Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori

…Oh. Here’s another show about handsome men serving drinks, so maybe I shouldn’t be so upset that Butlers won’t spend all it’s time on coffee shop life.

It’s four hot guys working in a tea shop, so due to the Immutable Law of Karen that I will watch any anime that takes place in a coffee shop, I am contractually obligated to watch all of this (and yes, I know it’s a tea shop and not a coffee shop, but c’mon.) I’m expecting a soothing, healing anime with a healthy side of food porn, and I’ll be a little miffed if I don’t get exactly that.

Chances I’ll blog this: Low, because I’ll probably have more to say about Butlers and doing both could be redundant.

Waka Okami wa Shougakusei

A young girl loses her parents and is forced to move into her grandma’s hot spring inn, where she learns to take over the family business. This sounds a lot like the premise of Hanasaku Iroha, a very pretty and extraordinarily tedious show from a few years back that I watched all of, for some reason. The art style leads me to believe that this show is going to be a bit more energetic than Hanasaku Iroha, which can only be a good thing. It also has ghosts, which is probably a plus, assuming the ghosts bathe in the hot springs at some point.

It seems like there’s going to be a lot of overlap between this show and Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi, with this one targeted a little younger. That said, the two shows could be very different tonally, so the similarities may be superficial.

Chances I’ll blog it: Low. I’m actually looking forward to watching it, but I don’t think it’s going to lend itself to posting. We’ll see.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai

“Mitsuyoshi Tada, a boy who has never known love, is taking pictures of the cherry blossoms in full bloom when he meets Teresa Wagner, a transfer student from Luxembourg. Upon arriving in Japan, she got lost, separated from her travel companion. Mitsuyoshi helps her and brings her to his grandfather’s coffee shop.”

COFFEE SHOP!? I’m on it!

It looks like a really cute romance story. Now, the question is, will it be centered around said grandfather’s coffee shop? Or do they just go to the coffee shop once or twice? I have no way of knowing yet, but I know I need to find out.

Chances I’ll blog it: Medium. I didn’t have plans for it before checking out the PV, but it just looks really pretty and soothing.

Jikken-hin Kazoku: Creatures Family Days

Crazy-abusive scientist parents turn their kids into demi-humans, and after they get arrested, the one normal kid has to try to teach the others how to integrate into human society….

…well. That’s a premise you don’t see everyday.

I would say this is just another show in the Cute Monster Girls subgenre, except one of the kids is a monster boy, so that’s novel. I’m kind of intrigued by the parents: what was their motivation for experimenting on their own children? Why did they think they were justified in doing so? Unfortunately I think the parents are going to be shuffled off into a dark corner (which, to be fair, is where they belong) while the monster-kids take the spotlight, so I’ll probably never get answers to my questions.

Chances I’ll blog it: Low. It could be a perfectly fine comedy/slice of life with supernatural characters, but the stuff I actually find interesting about the premise is probably going to be ignored on the show. I will be happy to be proven wrong about that, however.

Caligula

A virtual idol gains sentience based on feedback from her users, decides humanity is suffering, and traps humans inside a dream world to save them from their suffering. *sigh*

No, I’m not sighing because that sounds bad. Actually, I think the premise is intriguing and has a lot of potential. It’s just that ambitious, high-concept anime always seem to disappoint me lately, and the stuff that really resonates with me has a super-dull premise like “four girls hang out in the country” or “two MMO players form a relationship.” Girls Last Tour was high-concept, but that’s the odd exception.

I’ll try it to see if it has anything to offer, but I’m expecting it to feel pretentious and kind of boring from early on.

Chances I’ll blog it: So low.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl

An otaku ends up dating a gorgeous girl, mayhem ensues. Sounds innocuous enough, except for the references to “rough waves that beat the otaku out of him.” I really hope they’re exaggerating there, because I do not want to see otaku get beat out of anyone. Also, the capsule description includes “This is sure to be THE comedy program of 2018 that you won’t want to miss!”, which makes me want to snub it on principle.

I’m hoping the show is actually good and it’s just the people responsible for marketing it that are getting over-zealous. In a way, I think I’d prefer it if the MC gave up his hobbies to please his girlfriend, because that would be wrong, and the wrongness would make the show stand out; right now I’m expecting a painfully generic romcom with copious references to “save points” and “flags.”

Chances I’ll blog it: Only if it’s so horrible that so-bad-it’s-good applies…which means there’s a decent chance, actually.

Koneko no Chii Ponpora Dairyokou

I love the anime for Chi’s Sweet Home, and I own the manga in its entirety. To be honest though, I’m a little weirded out by Chi in 3D. It’s still really cute, but for some reason I don’t find myself wanting to watch it anywhere near as much as the original. This is the second season of Chi-in-3D, and I’m still not caught up on the first season, so it’s not high on my priority list.

That said, this is one of the few anime my daughter is familiar with, and will even ask for specifically by yelling “Kitty Cat!”, and for that reason alone, it has a prominent place in my life right now. I’m probably not going to watch it as it airs, but you can be pretty darn sure it’s going to be playing in my house eventually.

Chances I’ll blog it: There’s a better chance that my 2-year-old will write about this one, but don’t count her out; she knows all her letters and everything. She’ll probably be taking over this blog by next year.


So, what do you guys think? Does it look like a good season, or just a bunch of hype that isn’t going to amount to much? Is anyone mad that I totally ignored all the sports anime? Please tell me you’re not mad, I know sports anime is important and stuff but it’s just, this post was getting SOOooo long and just looking at pictures of people kicking soccer balls and stuff was making me feel really tired.

Winter 2018 Anime and Wholesome Masculinity

One thing I’ve talked about before is that while today’s critics love to talk about “toxic masculinity,” in popular media, no one ever seems to call attention to it when we get the opposite of that. Now I guess it’s nice if a show doesn’t have toxic masculinity at all (depending on what that even means.) But let’s go one step further: what if a show not only avoids toxic, evil, ugly masculinity, but instead has wholesome, healing, warm-and-fuzzy masculinity? Is that even possible?

Because, it could just be me– or more specifically, it could just be the shows I’ve chosen to watch this season. But it feels like, this anime season, there are a whole lot of male characters who are portrayed as masculine while still being allowed to be compassionate, vulnerable, nurturing people; furthermore, these traits are seen as being part of their masculine nature, not exceptions to it. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed.

Before we go any further, important disclaimer: I haven’t been watching everything this season. Maybe if I watch DARLING in the FRANXX, it’ll turn out to be a bunch of shirtless dudes beating their chests and firing machine guns or something? (I admit, I have no idea what that show’s about.) I’m just calling attention to a pattern, not claiming that it covers every anime airing.

With that out of the way, here’s a list of shows this season that feature “wholesome masculinity;” a term I coined because “wholesome” is an antonym for “toxic.” The fact that I had to invent a term for it is kind of interesting by itself.

March Comes in Like A Lion— You could probably talk about masculinity in relation to almost every arc on this show, but I’m going to focus on the recent bullying arc. When one of the Kawamoto sisters is bullied in school, main dude Rei takes it upon himself to help her, only to confront his own powerlessness. At first he thinks of ripping apart the bullies “limb from limb,” but realizes that even if he were actually to do such an absurd thing, it wouldn’t help Hina at all; just present her with a different kind of problem. He then considers using his money (since, as a pro Shogi player, Rei has a lot more cash than a boy his age typically would), only to realize his mistake; even if he were to give Hina money for a private school or private tutors, she wouldn’t accept it, and he’s not going to try to trample her pride. Basically, he soon realizes that force, in any form, won’t solve anything.

While the failure of his early attempts at helping Hina do frustrate him, instead of letting that frustration fester, he eventually comes up with another solution; to simply be there for Hina, as much as possible. He’s there for her in a very physical sense, showing up while she’s on a school trip in Kyoto just to say hi and give her some medicine. But he doesn’t shadow her, doesn’t overstep his bounds; simply lets her know that he’s there for her, and demonstrates it repeatedly. When the bullying situation is eventually resolved by the school administration, Rei is left feeling like he didn’t do enough for Hina; naturally, she knows better.

I don’t want to say that serving as a pillar of support for someone else is a uniquely masculine trait, because that’s clearly not true. However, there is something masculine to me about Rei’s way of going about it; what he primarily offers is his very presence, his physical constancy. He can’t really help Hina by talking out her problems with her (he doesn’t know what to say), but he can help by simply being there when his presence might offer some comfort. That kind of silent vigil, as though saying “I won’t interfere in your life because I know it’s not my place, but I will ALWAYS be there for you, even if being there is literally all I can do,” is a way of using your power to help protect someone while making sure that they won’t ever feel like they need protection from you. It’s the “toxic” idea of the controlling/dominating male turned inside out.

It’s driving me crazy that I can’t find a reference to the quote anywhere now, but I could swear I remember reading that Kentarou Miura, creator of Berserk, once said that March Comes in Like a Lion was one of the “manliest” manga around. It seemed like an odd take at the time, especially considering the source, but I think I’m beginning to see what Miura meant.

Sanrio Boys–As an advertisement for Sanrio products, I’m not sure if this show is working out so hot; we don’t learn a whole lot about the different brand characters, and the episodes tend to fall on the dull side. The show’s overall quality aside though, it makes a few important points about masculinity, and does so repeatedly.

There’s the most basic message, which is that males who like cute or “girly” things don’t have to be any less masculine than males who don’t; an appreciation of something traditionally feminine does not cancel out masculinity, and boys should not carry around any fear that it somehow might. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that all of the Sanrio characters represent points of vulnerability for the main characters. For Kouta, Pompompurin represents his bond with his grandmother, and his fear that he let her down before she died; for Seiichirou, a driven overachiever who is pushed hard by his father, Cinamoroll represents the care-free childhood he was forced to abandon too fast. Each boy has a similar story.

The Sanrio charms the boys carry around aren’t just cute tchotchkes they collect as a hobby, but constant reminders of their vulnerabilities. Once you get past the “it’s okay for a dude to have a Hello Kitty keychain” level, the show really seems to be about how becoming stronger is about accepting and embracing your vulnerabilities, not running from them; that you don’t truly become strong until you stop being afraid of weakness.

Appropriately Ryou, the least traditionally masculine looking of all the boys, has the most problems with accepting this, because he has the most to lose. As a beautiful boy who gets babied by his older sisters, he feels like he has to fight for every shred of perceived masculinity he can get; he doesn’t think he can afford to admit to liking cute mascot characters the way the muscular guys can. When Ryou finally admits to and accepts his love of Sanrio, it seems like he’s become more mature and more manly in the process, because he’s exploring his vulnerability instead of running away from it.

As I said above, it’s probably not a great show. But as a delivery vehicle for the message “Masculinity doesn’t have to be what you always thought it was,” it might just be peerless.

How to Keep a Mummy–This show is mostly just an adorable little ray of sunshine, to be enjoyed and not really thought about much; really, I think trying to analyze this show too much would be doing it a disservice. However, that said, I don’t think I’m being too analytical by pointing out that the male characters on this show are portrayed in caretaker roles; they’re not changing diapers, exactly, but taking care of the little monsters that fall into their lives requires a fair amount of nurturing. Some are more nurturing than others, but there’s no question that they’ve been assigned caretaker roles.

Now that I think about it, it’s actually kind of surprising that this wasn’t a “cute girls doing cute things” series; seeing cute girls take care of cute little monsters sounds like it would be very marketable. In any case, I’m glad the series turned out this way instead. Mummy isn’t didactic about breaking apart old-fashioned ideas about masculinity the way Sanrio Boys is, but just by putting the boys in caretaker roles– in a rather casual way– it challenges negative masculine stereotypes. There is one female main character, but considering the fact that she isn’t treated differently at all, I don’t feel like there’s anything to add about her.

School Babysitters–Now in this anime, boys are changing diapers. Again, we have boys in nurturing caretaker roles. However, one interesting wrinkle that Mummy doesn’t cover is we get to see how the boys are perceived by their classmates as caretakers. Despite the fact that he chases after toddlers and sings lullabies all day long, Ryuuichi is considered one of the hottest guys in school by his female classmates– and the other boy in the babysitting club is a close second (although Hayato isn’t such a great babysitter, but that’s a topic for another time.)

So, not only does taking care of babies fail to hurt Ryuuichi’s chances with the opposite sex, it seems to be helping; the implication is that the girls like him in no small part because he’s so demonstrably nurturing. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the girls consider him more masculine, but they certainly consider him a nicer and more interesting person than a lot of his classmates. I don’t think the show is really trying to say “take care of babies and chicks will totally dig you, because kindness trumps toughness in manly appeal,” but hey, there are worse takeaways.

Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family– This show is an odd-duck, the oddly bucolic food-porn spin off of the Fate/Stay Night franchise. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than the fact that main guy Shirou is constantly cooking for the other people in his life; primarily women, like Rin, Saber, and Illya. Sometimes the girls cook as well, but Shirou is clearly the main chef.

Being a chef certainly isn’t anti-masculine (as watching any amount of celebrity chef television will show), but it is notable that Shirou’s whole role in this show is to provide food for the ladies in his life. Rin could be all like “Bitch, get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!” and he would just shrug, because he’s already in the kitchen making her ten sandwiches.

Laid-Back Camp– Now we’re getting into shows that don’t even have much of a male presence, but what presence there is has some significance. There are barely any male characters in Laid-Back Camp; the only one who makes much of an impression is Rin’s grandfather, the man who gave her her first set of camping equipment. So Grandpa decides to inspire his granddaughter not by getting her some cutesy little present, but a tent. So she can go out and camp, alone, independent, in the wild.

Apparently the concept of trying to limit his granddaughter’s autonomy for her own protection has never occurred to Laid-Back Grandpa. He must have missed that day in Toxic Masculinity class.

A Place Further Than The Universe– Another show with a minimal male presence, but that absence is interesting in and of itself. The Antarctic expedition is led by women, but while the civilian expedition is considered controversial in the world of the show, the gender of the leadership seems to have nothing to do with it. People take issue with the fact that it’s a civilian expedition, or that the finances are too tight, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to be worried that the leadership is all-female; it’s just a non-issue. You would think there would at least be that one token dude who’d say something like “In a tough place like Antarctica, you need a MAN’s strength!”, but the show doesn’t even bother with that.

I like this show, in part because it’s one of the relatively few shows where having the leads be four teen girls actually accomplishes something other than ticking a demographic box. It doesn’t have much to say about masculinity, but I think it’s worth noting that it doesn’t feel a need to, even in passing.

Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles– Okay, including this here is really a stretch, since it’s only tangentially related to the theme of this post; maybe I’m trying to justify to myself the fact that I’m still watching it. However, I do think it’s interesting that the kind of stereotypical “dim guy who just doesn’t get that the pretty girl isn’t interested in him,” character is another girl. All of the creepy behavior targeted towards Koizumi is from Yuu, her female classmate; even when it seems like a guy is after Koizumi, it’s a false alarm and they’re more interested in the ramen she’s eating.

There is some creepy, arguably even toxic behavior on this show, but pretty much all of it comes from Yuu; the guys are pretty blameless. I think guys are sometimes surprised by how much ramen Koizumi can put away, but that has more to do with respect for the laws of physics than gender stereotypes, probably. Anyway, it’s not that this show has anything particularly meaningful to say about toxic masculinity, wholesome masculinity, or otherwise, but it’s kind of cool (in a weird way) that Yuu is providing us with some rare toxic-femininity. How’s that for representation?


So yeah. The next time I hear about how anime is just chock-full of toxic masculinity, I want to hear an explanation of this season. Like, did a whole bunch of anime writers just wake up and forget to be toxic one day? Something in the water? I need to know.