Tag Archives: analysis

Winter 2018 Anime Impressions, Part 1

It still kind of takes me by surprise just how much new anime there is each quarter. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but when I look at Crunchyroll’s list of updated titles at the beginning of the season, I find myself saying “Wait, that’s out? And that’s out? And that too? These are all airing this season? They’re using up all the anime, there won’t be any left for next season!” Apparently it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve watched a bunch, and still only sampled maybe half of what I’m interested in trying from this Winter Smörgåsbord; here’s what I’ve caught so far. If you’re going to use this post to help evaluate what you plan on watching, keep in mind that my biases include cute things, food porn, and uh…actually, I’m sure I must have more biases, but those are the only two that come immediately to mind.

Laid-Back Camp— My overriding thought concerning this show is “Hey, I’ll bet I can get my Dad to watch this with me!” which makes it hard to focus on much else. Still, I think there’s a little bit of a conflict here between the comfy, relaxing mood the show has going on and the inevitable cute girl antics.

Whenever main gal Rin is out camping, looking at the beautiful scenery, you feel like you can smell the smoke from the campfire, feel the warmth of being all bundled up in long underwear and sleeping bags, and the bracing, invigorating chill of cold, clean mountain air on your face, and it’s just lovely. It’s experiencing the best parts of camping without having to deal with bugs and dirt. Then the other girls come on and act quirky or whatever and you kind of want them to just shut the hell up and let Rin camp in peace. However, this is clearly a deliberate choice (especially because even Rin herself acknowledges it), so I have hope that the show is going to get better at marrying it’s soothing elements with it’s genki-girl shtick.

A Place Further Than the Universe—  As much as I dislike icy roads, single-digit temperatures and having to deal with piles of snow, cold-weather tourism has a huge romantic appeal to me. I’ve read all about the Ice Hotel in Sweden, and the idea of going to Lapland, Iceland, or even Greenland, is something I think about often. Unless I get over my huge fear of flying, I’m never going to get anywhere near that whole region, but hey…there’s nothing wrong with imagining it.

I’ve never really felt a pull to go to Antarctica though. Penguins are awesome and all, but I think the fact that it’s just so remote is what renders it unappealing to me. If you go north, even pretty far to the north you’ll still find cities and towns where people live, albeit sparsely. There are no towns in Antarctica; I mean, maybe I’m mistaken, but unless I’ve missed something in the past ten years, no one goes to Antarctica and comes back raving about what great restaurants they have there. It’s something apart from human culture, like the surface of the moon.

This show is almost in my wheelhouse, since I relate to the wanting- to-go to-a-mysterious-far-away-cold-place aspect, but I’m having trouble getting psyched about the girls going to Antarctica in particular. So far it’s well-written and well-produced, with the chase scene in episode 2 a particular stand out, but I’m not completely sold yet. I think the test of whether this show succeeds will be if I start to find the idea of going to Antarctica exciting myself, instead of just wishing the show was about a group of girls going to northern Finland.

Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles  This sounds like a bad idea on paper: a Food Wars!-like show that features people having foodgasms, except they can only eat one type of food. Why would you do that? Why would you make a food porn show based on only one food, and make it a full-length, 12-episode series no less? This seems like the kind of thing that might work as a 3-minute short, if that.

The first episode was pretty dull, but after the second, I think I might be on board Ms. Koizumi’s little train here, perhaps against my better judgment. The characters are better defined than they usually are in this type of show, and there’s more nuance to the world of ramen than noodle-neophytes might think. At first I couldn’t imagine how they were going to get 12 whole episodes out of this concept, but now? I think I get it. The show is trying to do something pretty simple (decent character interaction +constant ramen facts!), but what it sets out to do, it succeeds at…I think? Maybe I’m just giving it a pass because I’m hungry.

Who am I kidding? I’m a vegan now and the only way I get to enjoy meat is when I watch anime characters eat it, so I’m going to watch all 12 episodes of Koizumi stuffing her face with pork-and-chorizo ramen, then I’m going to watch it all again. If you can actually eat ramen in real life, you probably have little use for this show (and I’m trying very hard not to hate you right now), so keep that in mind.

Dagashi Kashi 2— Speaking of food shows that shouldn’t work, here we have a second season of Dagashi Kashi, the show about cheap candy and snacks that usually don’t look very appetizing. At least the Japanese audience has nostalgia for these products, but for foreigners, we lack that powerful childhood connection. In theory, the show doesn’t have much to offer the international audience.

And yet, I found the first season of this show absolutely delightful two years ago. Maybe it’s the characters; maybe it’s the fact that I want to live in a world where penny candy could possibly make anyone this happy. For whatever reason, they could probably make  12 seasons of Dagashi Kashi and I’d be cool with it. I was a little concerned with the change to half-length episode format, but if anything, cutting down the running time seems to have improved matters; they have just enough time to freak out over the latest fried octopus flavored gobstopper or whatever, then it’s on to the next thing.

I feel like I should have some sort of comment on the change to Hotaru’s design, but honestly? Unless I’m looking at screenshots side-by-side, I can’t tell the difference. So sue me.

The Ryou’s Work is Never Done!It has to take a certain amount of chutzpah to put out another show about shogi during the same season as March Comes In Like A Lion, right? I mean, let’s face it, even if Ryou does really well for itself, it’s always going to be “that other anime about shogi with cute girls in it.”

Right now though, anything else the show might have to offer is overshadowed by the 4497th incidence of the Loli Controversy: the show has a young girl in it who is sometimes depicted with non-detailed nudity, and even though no real children are involved isn’t this just edging dangerous close to child porn, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s something worth discussing in there somewhere, but this happens so often that the fact that it’s even a controversy anymore is kind of strange to me.

Hey, speaking of lolis, who else remembers the original Lolita, a.k.a. Dolores Haze, lust object of one Humbert Humbert? And how the genius of Lolita is, even though a child is raped every day from the age of 10 onwards, the reader is seduced by Humbert to some degree, and thus is made to feel somewhat complicit in Lo’s situation? So that, at the end of the book, while you’d like to just write off HH as a total monster that you have zero sympathy for, you just can’t, and that opens up a Pandora’s box of uncomfortable questions?

I’m not trying to argue that this show, or any of its contemporaries are on an artistic par with Lolita; that’s ridiculous, and also not the point. The point is, we have all these shows with “lolis” in them, named after a character in the most deliberately, brilliantly offensive and disturbing book of all time, and people are still complaining that these “loli”-themed shows make them uncomfortable. Shall we also complain that swimming pools are too wet, deserts too dry, Godiva truffles too chocolatey?

I don’t plan to continue watching this show, since Lion provides all the hot shogi-explaining action a girl could possibly need. But I find the dialogue surrounding it kind of sad, and it’s only going to get worse once they do a beach episode or something. Get ready for “But real 9-year-old-girls wear bathing suits just like one Ai was wearing all the time!” “Yeah but that DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT!” and so on and so forth. Ack.

Slow Start— This is an interesting experiment in just how minimal an anime premise can be before it ceases to have any premise at all beyond “cute girls are friends.” The hook here is that the main character missed her high school entrance exam and had to take it the next year, so she’s secretly one year older than everyone else in her grade. She’s trying to hide it, but considering that this is perhaps the least juicy dark secret anyone could possibly have, it’s hard to feel invested in what’s going to happen if anyone finds out.

It’s not bad; if you find it soothing to watch cute girls eat boxed lunches and do sports and stuff, this show has that. There’s some humor, and some maybe-they’re-really-lesbians teasing. The animation is above-average, at least so far. It’s just that there’s really no reason to recommend this show over pretty much any other show that features girls in a school setting. Three Leaves, Three Colors didn’t really have much of a premise beyond “girls are friends,” but made up for it with characters who were really fun to watch. I don’t think Slow Start has that, which is a bit of a shame.

How to Keep A Mummy I had no idea this show existed until I saw it on Crunchyroll, and I’m glad I fell over it. It’s about a tiny little mummy creature who’s incredibly cute, and you just want to go “awwww!” and hug him about 100 times in the first episode. It’s possible this trick will get old, but I’m a sucker for tiny little cute things and will probably keep saying “awww!” throughout the entire season.

However, based on the OP, there will be more monster characters, so the show should have a lot more going on than just cuteness appeal. I would say moe appeal, except Mii-kun barely even has eyes, and I’m not sure if it counts as moe without big eyes. I need the International Moe Council to revise their guidelines on this.


So, what do you guys think of these seasonal posts that cover a whole bunch of anime at once? I know that for SEO purposes, I’d be much better off doing a separate post for each show, but never in my life have I done anything that’s good for SEO; why start now?

Okay, I shouldn’t joke about that, MAYBE doing things to improve the visibility of my blog would be good, but for now, I like my stupidly impractical 2000-word posts. Life is hard, let me please have this one thing?

What’s the Point of Aniblogging, Anyway?

I realize the question I’ve posed above has a very simple answer: there is no point to anime blogging; there is no point to anime, for that matter. In fact, we are only primitive water-based lifeforms clinging desperately to a piece of spinning rock in space, and ultimately, nothing matters. Now that we’ve covered the ultimate answer, which I see as a matter of doing my due diligence, let’s move on to something worth talking about, because the ultimate/existential answer happens to be really boring.

Seriously, why do we blog about anime? To entertain? To some extent that’s true, but then you run into the problem that certain kind of shows lend themselves to that much better than others. I had a lot of fun blogging Wizard Barristers, which was a pretty bad show, primarily because it was a mess and it gave me tons of material to make fun of. I also had fun with Madhouse’s X-Men anime.* However, doing episodic blogging of a show that’s actually good is of questionable value. For a lot of shows, all you’re left doing is speculating about what’s going to happen, which is kind of pointless; it’s not like you’re going to win a prize if you’re right. And for some shows, like Girls Last Tour or even March Comes in Like a Lion, providing the kind of flippant commentary that blogging seems to lend itself to would feel downright disrespectful.

So episodic aniblogging can be entertaining, providing you’re covering a bad show that wouldn’t be worth watching on it’s own merits…meaning, it’s a format best used for shows that really shouldn’t be worth the effort in the first place. For better shows, especially shows of a more serious nature, it’s better to watch the whole show (or at least a significant chunk, like a season), and then blog about it. This produces better writing, at least in my experience, but it does feel rather limiting. So you watch a 12-episode show, about 4 hours worth of anime, and then produce maybe a 1,000 word essay. That’s it? Seems a little anti-climactic.

There’s another problem with episodic blogging, regardless of show quality, and that’s the tendency for the blogger to become a wanna-be writer; we start predicting where the story’s going to go, then get upset when it doesn’t necessarily go there. With a lot of shows I’ve written about, I’m not sure if they were disappointing because the writing wasn’t that good, or because I was irritated that the show didn’t do what I felt it was supposed to based on the hints that I thought I’d picked up on. So in this case, reading an episodic blog of a show is watching the blogger finish the story in their head, then have a gradual angry breakdown when the story reveals itself to be something entirely different. Maybe that’s fun if you have a sadistic streak, but it doesn’t seem like something we should be aiming for here.

I guess what I’m really wondering is, what are people really looking for from anime blogging, assuming they want it at all? I like it when a show first airs and people are posting all kinds of screenshots, jokes and speculation; I like the community that forms around that process. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s something tailor-made for social media and chat services; Twitter, Discord, etc. It’s a collaborative play on the show that needs multiple people to work, and not something a single blogger can do.

Well, I suppose you could do a blog about an anime and just post screenshots and jokes and silly captions, but then you’re just doing what social media does, only worse. I’d like to think that there’s still some use for the blogging format without watering it down.

I like writing about anime, and I’d like to continue doing it. I don’t think it’s pointless, even though some of the more popular models of anime blogging seem increasingly pointless to me; I think there’s a better way of doing it, and I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. I feel like there’s an obvious answer right in front of my nose, and one day I’m going to smack my forehead and yell “Aha! This is how anime blogging should work in 2018! This is what this format really has to offer!”, but that day is not today.

If you’d like to help me out, you could let me know in the comments what you enjoy about anime blogging and why. Then, if I ever discover the secret to Aniblogging 2.0, I’ll be sure to credit you in my upcoming book, “How to Justify Spending Huge Amounts of Effort on Wastes of Everyone’s Time.” It’s a working title.

*Blogging about X-Men was a little different from blogging about another bad anime because the X-Men were pretty much my first love when I was first getting into the whole geek lifestyle. I wanted that show to be good, and when it wasn’t, I enjoyed making fun of it, but it was still kind of bittersweet overall.

The Comforting Bleakness of Girls’ Last Tour

[Spoiler Warning for all of Girls Last Tour. Normally I don’t bother with spoiler warnings, but in this case, I wanted to play it safe; because if you haven’t seen the show yet, you really should watch it in its entirety before you read anything about it.]

It’s funny. Until recently I would have thought the words “bleak” and “depressing” were synonyms, but after finishing Girls’ Last Tour, I have my doubts about that. Because while the show was incredibly, unrelentingly bleak, I never really found it depressing.

I guess the difference lies in whether or not there’s a sense of wrongness, a sense of “should”– when things should be different than they are, should be better than they are, that’s depressing. In GLT however, there’s a sense that everything that’s happening is inevitable, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s purely neutral. It’s the end of all life on Earth, God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, and so on and so forth.

Usually with this kind of post-apocalypse story, it’s meant to serve as a cautionary tale. “Don’t make these mistakes; don’t let humanity end like this.” And you can make the argument that GLT is the same way; the video montage in the last episode, which makes it clear that the kick-off for the apocalypse was a war initiated by Japan, implies that. However– and I freely admit this could just be me– I didn’t get the pleading “don’t let this happen to your world!” feeling from that sequence. I get the impression that, if Japan hadn’t started the war that led to the end of humanity in this continuity, it would have been somebody else. Maybe it would have been 100 years later, even 1,000 years later, but still, it was going to happen.

To be honest, I’m having a hard time processing a show about the end of humanity that doesn’t seem to be warning against it like it’s a bad thing. There’s a kind of comfort there; maybe, some things are just out of our control. Maybe getting all caught up caring about geopolitics is a fool’s game, and eventually, it’s going to be Chito and Yuuri, or some people very much like them, scavenging the ruins of old munitions factories for abandoned rations, no matter what we do. Then you can just stop worrying about nuclear holocausts, or international pandemics, and all that terrifying horrible shit, because it doesn’t really matter which one ends up being the culprit; the end result will be the same.

I hadn’t given this any thought until recently, but when it comes to “the future of humanity,” most people seem to be kind of stuck between considering two possibilities. One is the “we’re all going to die, because we suck and we deserve it,” Planet of the Apes scenario; our greed and stupidity gets the better of us, and we take ourselves out before our time. The other possibility is the Star Trek-style post-scarcity world, where scientific advancement has solved a lot of our practical problems, and the whole nature of life in the universe (human and otherwise) takes on a very different character. The world of GLT is certainly a lot closer to the first scenario than the second, but I think it does raise the question that it could be neither.

After all, the civilization in the show has progressed further than ours, at least technologically. Maybe humanity in this show didn’t end before it’s time, but right about when it had exhausted its potential; they’d already built massive structures that reached to the sky. Maybe there was nowhere else left to build, because there was no oxygen left. Maybe the apocalypse was downright overdue.

I think that’s a really scary idea, personally; a future that just kind of meanders while we wait for something to happen. I mean, of course a nuclear holocaust is scary, but you kind of know what you’re getting with that. I wouldn’t want to live through one (or er, be murdered during one) but conceptually, you know what’s going on there. What about a world where we neither self-destruct prematurely, nor do we develop sufficient technology to solve our most pressing problems? We just keep existing, keep having the same basic problems, over and over, in gradually more sophisticated housing units, waiting for a dramatic change that’s never going to occur?

Can you imagine if, 5,000 years from now, we’re all hanging out in these super-futuristic houses that look like they came out of The Jetsons, only we’re still having the same exact conversations about health care and income inequality? Will there be enough good stuff left to watch on Netflix for life to still be worth living at that point?

I’m getting kind of far afield of the show, which is the danger when you talk about any show that’s really worth talking about, I guess. But to return to GLT more specifically, what makes the show especially bleak is the fact that no one on the show believes that any kind of civilization is desirable, or possible. When Chi and Yuu run into other people, as they sometimes do, you’d expect them all to get together and pool their resources; maybe work together to try to build a new life for themselves in this mostly-empty world. But they don’t stay together, because they don’t see any point to it. You get the impression that maybe 100 or so years ago, the survivors of war tried to get together and start a new, peaceful civilization, only for that to end in a bloody conflict that killed 90% of the remaining human population, and now no one has any faith in human cooperation whatsoever. Chi and Yuu are perhaps the great-great-granddaughters of the last person who actually believed that there was merit in humans working together. Even the partnership between the two girls is tenuous, at times; the girls depend on each other, and obviously love one another, but it’s made clear in the first episode that complete trust is off the table.

Girls Last Tour isn’t a perfect show; sometimes, I think it’s too on the nose for it’s own good. After watching an entire episode of the girls scouring old military bases for food, I really didn’t need Yuu to say “If only people back then had made fewer weapons and more food, we’d be in better shape right now.” The staff of this show seems to have decided from the beginning that subtlety just wasn’t something they were interested in, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, in a story where 99.99999999999999999% of humanity is already dead, what is there to be subtle about? On the other hand, some things are more powerful if left unstated, and the sometimes the girls drain the power out of a scene by spelling out what it’s about in so many words.

Even so, I can forgive all that for that one scene where the girls fall over some beer, get tipsy and start dancing. That moment, and other moments when the girls discover simple pleasures– the music of rain, the taste of a freshly-grilled fish– are what give the show it’s odd mix of unrelenting bleakness and life-affirming joy. That shouldn’t be possible, right? If we’re sharing the girls’ joy as they dance, then that’s a happy moment, and thus a break from the bleakness, in theory. But I don’t think you can ever really separate the girls’ pleasure from their dire circumstances. In the dance scene, for example, I was worried that a drunken Chi was going to accidentally push Yuu over the edge of the platform to her death, only to realize that even if she did, would it matter? She would be saving her from a death of slow starvation, the most likely end for both of them.

I felt gutted after watching episode 12 of Girls Last Tour. I know the manga is still ongoing, and with the revelation that the contents of the highest level of the city are still unknown, anything could happen. Conceivably, there could be a group of survivors on the highest level who’ve hoarded enough food to last for decades, and the girls could be welcomed into a whole new life. But I don’t believe that’s what will happen; that would feel like a cop-out to me, even though there’s no logical reason why it should be. I feel like I just witnessed the final activities of the last two humans on Earth, and having the story reveal itself to be anything less extreme than that, any less brutal than that, would feel wrong on a level I can’t really articulate.

And yet, once again, I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed because even though the characters on the show have given up hope for civilization, I haven’t yet. Maybe I will someday, but as of now, it’s still up in the air. Just because I’m afraid of what might happen in the future doesn’t stop me from being able to imagine the good things that could happen, or the neutral things that could become good if we have the right attitude. And if the future really does end up resembling the one in Girl’s Last Tour, well…at least there’s dancing. We could do a lot worse, and I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty comforting right now.

 

The Frustration of Urahara

I don’t know if calling Urahara a disappointment is really fair. I could pretty much tell everything I didn’t like about it from the very beginning, and though I kept watching in the hopes that the show would get better, I never honestly believed it was going to. So I never really held it in high enough esteem for it to disappoint me. Still, watching it was a frustrating experience, because it could have been so much more.

Considering how little discussion there was online about the show as it was airing (at least in among the English-speaking anime fandom), you would think it was just a bland, boring show that didn’t have much to offer. However, there were some pretty cool ideas in Urahara; the premise of these super cute, super-competent girls protecting their Tokyo neighborhood from creepy supernatural threats, all while learning important lessons about the power of friendship, sounded like some kind of strange union of Card Captor Sakura and Durarara!!, and what’s not to like about that? That sounds like it has the potential to be one of those high-value combinations, like peanut butter and chocolate. Plus, some of the plot twists late in the show were, if not necessarily shocking, quite ballsy for their willingness to mess around with the show’s world.

In addition, this show was singled out as one to watch because of it’s largely female creative staff; it was the show that was supposed to impress on us the “importance” of women working in anime, at least according to the now-defunct Teen Vogue. And this is where things start to get a little weird and uncomfortable, because it was the whole feminine approach to things that seems to have really sunk the show.

Now, how do I explain this without sounding like an awful, self-hating woman? I mean, it’s not like having a feminine perspective, or a feminine style, is bad in any way; that should go without saying. It’s just that in Urahara‘s case, they took that whole angle so far, it started to feel like an outright parody of a feminine anime. Like, if you got a bunch of really obnoxious misogynists together, got them all hopped up on beer, and asked them “So, what would happen if we let a bunch of chicks make an anime?”, they would very quickly start describing something that sounds a lot like Urahara.

“LOL okay so like, girls can’t do math and they hate using rulers and T-squares and shit, so the backgrounds in the anime would be all scribbling and wonky, with bad perspective. And they’re lazy too, so they wouldn’t bother to draw any PEOPLE in those backgrounds., so the world would feel all dead and empty. And the character design would suck, because chicks wouldn’t be willing to make the girl chars look sexy, but they wouldn’t know any other way to make the designs pop, so every design would just be like, whatever, like why did you even bother?

“And chicks are obsessed with sweets, like cakes and stuff, so the villains would probably turn into cupcakes or some shit at the end of every episode. Oh, and like half the chicks making the anime would probably be pregnant too, so instead of having normal flavors like ‘vanilla’ and ‘chocolate’ they’d always be going on about ‘coriander sweet potato’ or ‘spicy peppermint horseradish’ or some other weird thing. Oh, and chicks can’t make decisions for shit, so instead of having a dedicated color palette, they would just use EVERY. SINGLE. COLOR. all the time, until your eyes wanted to explode–”

Ahem. Now, it should also go without saying that Urahara is not actually indicative of women’s contributions to anime; plenty of talented women professionals have been working in the field for years, blah blah blah obviouscakes. But I guess it’s kind of like a monkeys-on-typewriters situation; if you have enough anime coming out each year, and a certain percentage of them are poor quality, you will eventually get an anime that is poor quality in exactly the way a basement full of inebriated misogynists might predict, right? I guess it was bound to happen at least once.*

Moving aside from the weird gender angle, there were other problems. Considering the fact that the character relationships were about as deep as a puddle, the show was clearly going for style over substance, and there’s nothing wrong with that– certainly not in animation, where the style can become the substance if done right. However, for the style-over-substance approach to work, the show would actually need to have good style, which is where the show repeatedly failed. The pastel colors were nice, but most of the character designs just weren’t very good; the outfits looked goofy instead of fashionable, which is inexcusable in a show that was supposed to be at least partially about fashion.

Somewhere out there, I know there are people who think that these designs are good and go well together. I wish I could see what these people are seeing.

This is of course highly subjective, but to me, the only really good character design on the show was Misa; everyone else, particularly the girls in their magical-girl attire, ranged from dull to embarrassing. Plus, as mentioned above, the fact that there didn’t seem to be any guidelines in regard to color (beyond “Anything Pastel is Automatically Fine”) often led to a cacophonous viewing experience.

The emptiness of the show’s backgrounds not only made the show’s world feel hollow, but actually undermined one of the story’s greatest moments. Late in the game, the Urahara girls find out that everyone they’ve been interacting with in Harajuku since episode one has been a product of their imaginations; they’ve been alone in the city this whole time. This should have been a pretty stunning revelation, but it was hard to feel anything about it at all, since it had always felt like the girls were completely alone in the city. Other characters were shown, but so few and far between that it felt like the population of Harajuku was about 6 people, so the revelation that the city was actually empty fell completely flat.

And that’s what made the show so frustrating; every good idea seemed to be canceled out by a bad one. Another plot twist, the fact that the sweets the girls had been eating were slowly turning them into the evil Scooper aliens, is pretty nifty if you think about it. Think about the Scoopers’ plan here: They planned to let the girls defeat their soldiers, knowing that the girls wouldn’t be able to resist eating the corpses of their enemies, at which point they would be reprogrammed into Scoopers themselves, giving the Scoopers unlimited access to the girl’s creativity. That’s a pretty creepy, evil plan, and it served as a nice “gotcha!” for everyone who wrote off the enemies-turning-into-sweets thing as a harmless joke.

But by the time we’d gotten to that point of the story, the characters still had yet to come alive beyond very basic character outlines, so the fact that the evil corpse-eating plan was succeeding didn’t even seem to matter. What would have happened if the girls really had turned into Scoopers, anyway? Presumably, they would have flown off with Misa and her peons, to go inhabit another pastel world that would be strangely devoid of life. There’s no feeling of urgency, even when the story is giving us reasons why there arguably should be.

All this aside, I did like the show’s message about creativity. The general “Being creative is fun and good!” vibe is hardly original, but the way this works in regard to the Scoopers is interesting. It becomes clear over the course of the show that the Scoopers (whose primary activity is stealing culture from other planets because they can’t make their own) actually do have the capacity to be creative, they just don’t realize it. I wonder, how many people have that problem in real life? How many people go around thinking “I wish I could make something cool, but I’m not a creative type of person,” and never realize that there’s nothing stopping them from taking out a pencil and paper and changing that?

The idea that creativity is as much about choice as it is an innate quality is a more unusual message, and to its credit, the show even acknowledges the important role that copying other art plays in the process of learning to create your own stuff (and does so a lot more explicitly than it deals with any other theme, curiously). But in the end, it’s still a show populated by boring characters that we don’t care about; I should be psyched wondering what kind of creative stuff Misa and her clan will come up with when they go off to explore the universe with new vigor, but I just don’t care. It feels like Misa will provide the solar system with some shiny beaded necklaces, or maybe a knitted tea cozy, and that’s nice for her and all, but it’s nothing to get excited about.

That’s the tiny tragedy of Urahara; A show about creative artists fighting aliens, who worship creativity but are unable to recognize it in themselves, filled with over-the-top action and whimsy, should have been a delight to watch, and it just wasn’t. Every season there are anime that fall short of their potential, but I feel like it’s rare to see one that had so much going for it on paper fail on so many different levels. The sad thing isn’t even that Urahara could have been good; the sad thing is that if it had been good, it would have been something really unusual and charming. It’s still unusual, and not entirely devoid of its own peculiar charm, but only a shadow of what it could have been.

*I almost wrote about this show on Anime Misogynist, but that would have required some Galaxy Brain-level, crossing-the-line-three-times shit. I couldn’t figure out how to criticize Urahara, with complaints that sounded like they came from an actual misogynist, on a site that was all about the inherent ridiculousness of using misogyny as a critical perspective. If I’d managed to pull that off, I might have ascended to a higher plane of existence and be writing to you from Ironic Blogger Heaven right now, but I am just not that awesome, and so here we are.

 

 

Gender in Recovery of an MMO Junkie

No, you did not accidentally click on a link to a different blog. I really did title this post “Gender in {Show}.” I think I’m okay, but I’m due for a physical soon anyway, so I’ll let you know if this turns out to be the result of a brain tumor.

Seriously, there’s nothing inherently wrong with examining the way any given show portrays gender; it’s just that the resulting analysis is something I usually find counterproductive. With most shows, you can usually find examples of gender tropes being reinforced, but also examples of these tropes being subverted. People will use either a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full perspective (“Why this Popular Show Secretly Hates Woman,” versus “Why this Popular Show is Surprisingly Feminist,”) to push whatever view they feel like on that particular day. On the rare occasion that someone is honest about what’s really going on with the show in question, then we get an essay that basically says that the show is gender-conforming sometimes, but not all the time. Which, despite the virtue of at least being honest, is a really boring read.

Therefore, most “Gender in {Show}” articles are either:

A) a lie

or

B) insipid.

Rarely do we get a show where enough of the meat on its bones is really about gender, meaning that writing about this topic is actually relevant. Recovery of an MMO-Junkie, (“Net-juu” if you’re saucy) is one show where a lot of the story actually relates to gender; how people think of themselves as female vs. male, how they present themselves, and what happens when they playact as the other gender.

The focus on gender isn’t that noteworthy in and of itself, because other anime have tread similar ground; what surprises me about Net-juu is just how nuanced the portrayal of gender is. When Morioka plays a male character in the MMO Fruits de Mer, she experiments with acting how she imagines a young man would act. However, what this show does that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere in anime, is acknowledge the fact that even her appearances as a woman involve a kind of role-playing.

Private Morioka: tousled hair, boring clothes, bags under her eyes and a furrowed brow. Poor gal could probably use a shower something fierce.

Left to her own devices, Morioka is unkempt: loose clothes, messy hair, heavy bags under her eyes from staying up too late in front of the PC. However, when she’s asked out on a date, she won’t go as her sweatpants-wearing, MMO-addict self. Her checklist for the things she needs to do to make herself attractive are very much like putting together a fairly elaborate costume. Does she need new stockings? Does she have stylish clothes that fit? How many different kinds of make-up does she need to buy? How is she supposed to know what hairstyle is considered optimal?

The post-makeover Morioka looks very different; classy, bright-eyed and healthy. Her skin seems to glow, likely because she’s wearing make-up on her face for the first time in months. She walks daintily in heels, as opposed to rough the way she throws herself around her room when she’s alone. She is essentially a different person.

However, is this pretty Morioka a fake? Not at all; dressing like this, being this person, was her life for a decade when she worked an office job. She’s a bit uncomfortable changing back to her old self after spending a long time shut up in her apartment, but once she’s there, she slips back into her old persona fairly well. Simultaneously, Morioka is putting on a performance (being the pretty, polite, well-coiffed woman that’s very different from who she is in the privacy of her bedroom), but she’s also being genuine; this is a different side of her than the one that plays a male warrior in Fruits de Mer, but it’s still her. But if her identity as a woman is at least part performance, doesn’t that make Hayate, her character in-game, a legitimate manifestation of herself? After all, whether she’s presenting herself as her actual gender or not, in both cases, there’s a large element of play-acting going on. What’s the difference?

Out-on-the-town Morioka: Stylish hair, Pretty outfit with jewelry, no lines on face (make-up, or just proper sleep?), etc. That little heart necklace calling attention to her clavicle is an especially feminine touch.

Sakurai presents another interesting case. A sensitive, soft-spoken man, he plays a pink-haired female healer in-game, where his kind nature is seen as an asset instead of a sign of weakness. We don’t see that much of his struggles with traditional ideas of masculinity (primarily because he’s not the main character), but it certainly seems like playing his female avatar is refreshing for him, something which probably wouldn’t be true if his role as a male didn’t grate on him sometimes.

Later in the show we find out that his elderly adoptive parents died when he was young, and that playing MMOs is the way he recreates the feeling of having family. Curiously though, as a nurturing-type character– not only a healer, but the kind of person who helps newbies by giving them great equipment– Sakurai is taking on the role of the kind of mother-figure that he clearly wishes he had. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to get on the receiving end of that kind of relationship? Maybe, on some level, he doesn’t believe he deserves it. You could even say that playing the unfailingly generous Lily is a way of running away from his own neediness.

Then we have Koiwai, who makes the whole thing into a farce. He creates a female character, but purposefully makes her as large and muscular as possible. He has no real interest in role-playing as a woman, so it doesn’t make any sense for his avatar to look particularly feminine. If anything he’s just trying to be quirky, to stand out, but like a lot of fun-loving people, he may not fully realize the implications of what he’s doing. The whole point of Koiwai’s beefy Homare avatar seems to be that she looks out of place in the game; without necessarily meaning to, he’s reinforcing the idea that there’s something inherently ridiculous about masculine women.

So the show is about pretending to be the opposite gender online, but also pretending to be your real gender in real life, because you try to present a more idealized version of what your real gender is. It’s also about people who see the whole thing for the sham it is and treat it as a farce, which is admirable in some respects, but can also accidentally cause harm to those for whom the nature of their gender identity is a very serious affair. And all of this is complicated by the fact that the majority of these interactions occur online, where obfuscation of your real identity is not only allowed, but encouraged…until you reach a certain point of intimacy, at which point lying about who you are starts to feel dishonest, even if it’s “only” a game.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not aware of how much analysis of MMO culture is out there; I’m a single-player gamer, and I generally have no reason to even think about MMOs. So it’s possible that there’s a whole body of literature that discusses this sort of thing, and Net-juu isn’t breaking any new ground at all. But from my (admittedly uninformed) perspective, it seems like the show is not only tackling the thorny issues of gender identity, but it’s doing so with the added complexity of gender in the age of limitless, anonymous online experiences, where gender is a reflection of something the player wants to express with their avatar. Furthermore, online, gender is something that’s optional to buy into; people can try to make their characters seem particularly masculine or feminine (however they define those two terms) all of the time, some of the time, or not at all, entirely on a whim.

As I write this, the show still has two episodes left to air, so I’m probably jumping the gun here. However, the show’s interesting portrayal of gender dovetails with what I believe to be the show’s main theme, which is that the online world only seems like an escape. It may be liberating to play as someone who looks completely different than you, is a different gender than you, and does things that you would never do. But we’re all roleplaying to some extent most of the time anyway; the online variety is just more explicit about it. So no matter how much you’d like to use a game to substitute for real life, it’s not going to work, because wherever you go, there you are. You can try to play a man when you’re really a woman, or play a woman when you’re really a man; that will never change the fact that the only person you can ever really play is yourself.

X-Men and The Fake Comics Diversity War

Some people think a female Wolverine is a cheap gimmick; this would be a more important concern if original-recipe Wolverine didn’t start out as a cheap gimmick too.

If you’re not a regular reader of American comics, you may not know that die-hards on all sides have been waging a ferocious culture war over them for the past several years. One side says that old, crusty comic book fans just can’t handle women and minorities taking over the roles of beloved superheroes, and these regressive, bigoted people need to either (preferably) die out, or get with the times; the other side says that a lot of the so-called “diversity” in modern comics is a cynical sales ploy used to deflect criticism from lazy, uninspired writing. They’re both right to a certain extent (in the same way that a stopped clock is still going to be right some of the time), but more importantly, they’re both kind of delusional.

But that’s not special; nonsensical arguments over pop culture that take place primarily on the internet are a dime a dozen. No, what makes this particular kerfuffle interesting to me is that it seems to take place in some kind of alternate universe where X-Men comics never existed. Now, considering the fact that Marvel has done basically everything to kill that franchise outside of taking it back behind the barn and shooting it, you may not believe this, but at one time, the X-Men were the most popular superheroes in the entire world; yet if you acknowledge that, the argument for not one but BOTH SIDES of this argument falls apart in pretty spectacular fashion. As tiresome as I find the “You’re a bigot!” “No, you’re the REAL bigot!” arguments, I have to admit to some fascination with this opportunistic, selective memory regarding comic book history…or, more bluntly, how can you ignore the evidence that’s right in your face?

Let’s examine the “Diversity is used as a cynical marketing ploy, and that just sucks,” side first.

Diversity for Diversity’s Sake…is Good?

The pushback against more diverse character types in comics is not about hatred of women and minorities…in most cases. (I mean sure, you can find a small group of legitimate bigots for whom that is the issue, but that’s a subject for another day.) No, the pushback is how diversity is shamelessly used as both carrot and stick for readers. Example: GenericHero, who has been portrayed as male for 40 years, suddenly passes the torch to a female successor. Marketing goes crazy: “It’s GenericHero, like you’ve never seen HER before! Forget everything you ever knew about GenericHero, it’s a new era of Ass-Kicking!” Every ad for this “event” features heroic pin-ups of GenericHero looking hella awesome, complete with her sexy (but not TOO sexy) redesigned-yet-classic costume, and from all the hype, you’d think this was the biggest thing to ever happen to comic books since Batman decided to put on a cape.

Then the new comic with GenericHero debuts, and the character does exactly the same boring shit he/she has been doing for the last 30 years; the only difference is that she often makes snide comments about how the bad guys underestimate her now because she’s a woman (or if the writers want to be REALLY edgy, they might insert a comment that vaguely alludes to the fact that she has a menstrual cycle.) When readers complain, “This is not the revolution of GenericHero that we were promised,” the answer from the creative team is invariably “Shut up, you just can’t handle the fact that there are women in comics now, you pathetic, basement-dwelling misogynists!” Then comic fans go “Umm, excuse me?”, and sales plummet. Then industry pundits say “Sales of GenericHero plummet since the mantle was taken up by a woman; indisputable proof that comic book readers CANNOT HANDLE CHANGE!” Rinse and repeat with the next costumed hero.

God, it’s tiresome.

Anyway, so we can all agree that Diversity for the sake of Diversity, or Diversity used as a mercenary selling point, doesn’t work, right? It’s always forced, and boring, and never as good as if the writers had just focused on the traditional char…..

…Oh, right. Uncanny X-Men happened. Diversity For the Sake of Diversity can actually be awesome when done right.

Make no mistake, the 1975 relaunch of the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men started out as tokenism at its finest. “Look, there’s a Native American! And a Black Woman! And a Russian, and a German, and a Japanese Guy! There’s even a Canadian named ‘Wolverine,’ because wolverines are from Canada!” Seriously, the entire concept behind Wolverine’s initial character was “let’s have a Canadian superhero, because we don’t have one yet;” then when the character failed to become popular immediately, the only thing that kept him from being written out of the book was the fact that the one Canadian who worked for Marvel lobbied for him. The only thing missing from Giant-Sized X-Men #1 was a giant sticker that said “Look How Progressive This Comic Book Is! Do We Get A Gold Star????”

If things had continued in this vein, it would probably have been a pretty cringeworthy comic, and sometimes it was (See: Banshee the Irishman and his literal castle full of leprechauns.) But writer Chris Claremont took these created-via-checklist characters and did something interesting with just about all of them. Instead of being a stereotypical Earth Mother type, it turned out that Storm’s “all-loving African Goddess” shtick was a lie she told herself to escape from the horrors of her past, and when she let go of that role, she wasn’t sure she liked the person she was underneath. Nightcrawler explored religious guilt while still being charming and swashbuckling, and never committing the cardinal sin of becoming humorless. Soviet-born Colossus struggled with life in America for reasons having little to do with his superhero identity, especially when he started to have feelings for a young Jewish girl with a vastly different upbringing. And of course, Wolverine’s character went on to explore all these huge themes that have made the character one of the pillars of the genre: the nature of violence, which victimizes even its perpetrators; the role that memory, which is fallible, plays in identity; the concept of Logan as a sort of quintessential war veteran, suffering a kind of ongoing PTSD that never gets better, because there’s always another war.

This was stuff that really hadn’t been explored in comics, and rocketed the comic to a completely unexpected level of popularity; instead of being an oddity, UXM became the standard against which other comics were judged, rightly or wrongly. And it all happened because Claremont made good use of the “Diversity First” concept he was given; taking the opportunity to tell stories that hadn’t been told, couldn’t be told, with someone like Spider-Man. The promise of all-new, all-different stories wasn’t a marketing ploy, because the stories actually were new…and that’s something that’s much easier to do when you’re starting from a different place than you were before. Diversity, whether you want to tag it with the label “forced” or otherwise, can be a great jumping off point for creativity.

So the argument “Forced Diversity Never Works,” is somewhat undermined by the fact that, historically, it can work. And as to whether or not it’s cynical…how do you even judge that? “Let’s call the Canadian character Wolverine because wolverines are from Canada and it’s a new gimmick,” sounds pretty cynical, not to mention simplistic, but look at what writers have done with that character; look what James Mangold did with the film Logan, earlier this year. Just because someone has the gall to be cynical enough to hope that something catches eyes and makes money, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be thematically cynical. It doesn’t mean anything, really. If a great story comes from a cynical place, it’s still a great story; if a bad story comes from an idealistic place, the best you can say is “Well, at least your heart was in the right place, dear.”

Old Comic Fans Can’t Handle Diversity, Except When They Do

Okay, so we’re all on board that diversity in comics is awesome, right? No, we still have to worry about those old, regressive comics fans, who think a character named “Iron Man” should probably be a man and not a fifteen-year-old girl. These old fossils just can’t handle women, particularly minority women, in positions of power, and all of their arguments about so-called “forced writing” and “cynical marketing” are just a smoke screen for their hate! They just want to go back to the bad old times when superhero comics were predominantly WHITE and MALE and–

In this issue: Strong black woman beats up white men because they are dumb and totally deserve it.

In this issue: Strong black woman demands the return of her superpowers from brilliant Native American engineer/shaman, because that’s just how the ’80s rolled in superhero comics.

…Oh, right, the time when Uncanny X-Men was the best-selling comic in the world was during the time when it was led by Storm, who happened to have no superpowers at the time; having lost her powers, she was leading the team with a combination of street smarts and pure chutzpah. I’m confused: are these crusty old comics fans who can’t handle minority women in the spotlight, the same comics fans who were buying Uncanny X-Men in droves during the ’80s? Or were these different fans? Considering the fact that UXM was the best-selling comic, if readers had a huge aversion to minority women in positions of power, they had a really funny way of showing it.

it’s almost like readers accept diversity without comment when diversity leads to characters they love and stories they feel invested in, and only have a problem with it when the diversity itself is used as a stand-in for telling a decent story. So the argument was never really about diversity in the first place, but about the fact that many, if not most, American Superhero comics have been fundamentally directionless for decades and need a new raison d’être if they’re ever going to be worthwhile again. What we hear over and over again, bleated as though from a group of sheep, is “Diversity this, Diversity that, grrrr!”, when what we could be talking about is “What role does the superhero comic serve now in the age of immersive videogames, where you can really feel like you have superpowers? What can a superhero comic do to remain vibrant beyond serving as mere fodder for the summer movie franchises that have all but replaced it in popular culture?” These, to me, at least, are interesting questions. “How many of the people who loved Storm in the ’80s have become misogynist bigots since then?” is not an interesting question.

An admission: yes, I’m basing a lot of this on the one-time popularity of UXM, which was only one comic among many. That said, it was not only the best-selling comic, it was essentially the flagship title of the entire industry for many years; it was the comic people gave to their friends to get them into comics. While UXM may have only been one title, I don’t think you can brush it aside as an exception when it was seen as not just a good comic, but the standard to be emulated. How can we act like “Old” comic fans are the problem, when the most popular comic from decades ago was filled with all of the things they supposedly aren’t progressive enough to handle today? How can we act like all sales-driven diversity initiatives are bad when they gave us Wolverine, which led to Hugh Jackman as Wolverine? It boggles the mind.

TLDR: This whole fight over diversity in comics is a total sham. Yes, some bigots exist among comics fandom, and yes, some writers use gender and racial diversity as a shield to deflect criticism of otherwise poor writing; both of these facts are largely irrelevant to what the medium is and where it’s going.

On AniFem

If I have any reputation at all in the anime blogosphere (which is optimistic), it’s for being critical of feminist criticism when applied to anime. So, when a site crops up that’s all about applying feminist criticism to anime, you might think I would be against it on principle, but that’s not true; in fact, it’s the opposite.

I don’t plan to support AnimeFeminist on Patreon, but I don’t have a problem with what they’re doing. A site by feminists, for feminists? Sure; that’s not my jam, but so what?

So why talk about it at all, when it has nothing to do with me? Mostly just because I see anime fans demonizing the site right from the getgo, which– in addition to coming off as just mean-spirited–implies that they don’t understand what the most dangerous problem is with current anime criticism. The problem is not the fact that feminist criticism, as one particular lens through which to examine media, exists; it’s when it’s treated as the default for ALL criticism, and anyone who doesn’t agree with its usage is in serious danger of being branded a misogynist.

Let’s look at AniFem: it’s clearly by feminists, for feminists. It wears what it’s doing 100% on it’s sleeve. There is the whole Patreon angle, but the only people who are going to contribute are people who genuinely want to read this kind of criticism; no one else is forced to pay one red cent. If you don’t find value in feminist criticism, you can simply not visit the site and it will never effect your life.*

Now let’s look at other sites, like Anime News Network and other sites that want to be Anime News Network. These sites use terms like “toxic masculinity,” “male gaze” as though they’re completely accepted mainstream terms, with no indication that these terms are associated with a certain ideology. Typically, fans who ask inconvenient questions like “Is masculinity really toxic?” and “Why are you using the original form of gaze theory, and ignoring how the concept has evolved?” are ignored at best, branded misogynists at worst. There’s a generally unspoken rule (although some people take care to make it explicit) that if you have any issue with the terms of academic feminism being engaged in pop culture criticism, it’s because you’re an anti-feminist, a.k.a. misogynist.

Perhaps worse, in this environment, anime criticism that doesn’t use feminist theory is seen as not doing its due diligence; it’s basically taken as an article of faith that a review MUST come from a feminist perspective, or else it’s lacking in intellectual rigor.

Now let’s compare ANN and to AniFem. If ANN were say, Anime Feminist News Network, it would be one thing, but it’s not: it is THE anime news network. You can ignore it if you want, but then you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot; ANN provides a valuable service in terms of providing otaku news from Japan for English- language fans, and you’ll have a hard time keeping current on anime (and several related fandoms) if you refuse to use either ANN, or sites that source at least partially from ANN. Basically, it’s a hotbed of feminist criticism that you literally cannot avoid if you want to participate in the fandom.

Everybody is allowed to do whatever kind of criticism they want; if a bunch of Marxist fans want to set up a site to review anime from a Marxist perspective, they’re welcome to do that; wild horses couldn’t drag me over to read it, but that’s beside the point. If mecha fans want to build a site that critiques anime solely based on the inventiveness of a show’s mechanical design,** they’re welcome to do that. Many people feel burned out by feminism because of the feeling that they can’t escape from it on major outlets; that doesn’t mean that feminists don’t have the same right as absolutely everyone else to make sites, with their own labor, that cater to their own interests.

TLDR: Even if you have no interest in patronizing AniFem, and even if you blatantly disagree with the show’s approach to criticism, for me it’s still part of the solution, not the problem, because engaging with feminist theory via the site is 100% a choice.

I think the anger of the fandom should be directed at those situations where we don’t really have a choice.

 

*Of course, you might see references or links to it in your Twitter timeline, but if you’re such a special snowflake you can’t even handle THAT level of engagement with views you disagree with, then you’re just being a hypocrite. After all, one of the best arguments in favor of letting all kinds of shows exist, no matter how ‘offensive’, is that if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it; similarly, if you don’t like an anime criticism website, you don’t have to visit it.

**I’d kind of like to see more stuff like this, although I can’t guarantee it doesn’t already exist and I’m just ignorant of it– for better or for worse, I spend more time watching anime these days then keeping track of anime fan projects online. I’m sure I miss stuff.

What is First Love Monster?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

screenshot-2016-09-30-14-25-52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

screenshot-2016-09-30-14-23-11

Anime Rescue: Spring 2016

Four times a year, dozens of young, bright-eyed anime characters are set loose upon the world. As joyous as this miracle of nature is, sadly, every season many characters are deployed to the wrong shows, leading to much unnecessary stress and existential angst. For the cost of just one Cup Ramen per day, YOU can send an anime character to where they’ll truly thrive; away from the unappreciative jerks on their own shows.

Let’s learn more about this season’s crop of unfortunates, and what you–  no, what we ALL– can do to help. Continue reading Anime Rescue: Spring 2016

How Not To Investigate Gamer Identities

Back when I wrote my short Gender in Gaming series, I lamented the lack of good-quality academic papers on gaming freely available on the internet. Thanks to scholar Christina Hoff Sommers’ Twitter feed, I’ve just learned of a new journal, Press Start, that seeks to remedy that. At first I was pleased with this development, until I read the journal’s call for papers for a special issue called “Negotiating Gamer Identities.” Then I reminisced about my old, horrible college honors seminars, cried over my Milton textbook for about an hour, and decided I needed to go through this, piece-by-piece. Continue reading How Not To Investigate Gamer Identities