Tag Archives: anime

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.

Being an Anime Fan is Too Easy Now; Let’s Make it Harder

At a local comics store recently, I found something totally unexpected on the shelves: a used copy of Anime: The Berkeley Journal of Japanese Animation, Issue II. It’s a magazine from 1991, published by a Berkeley-based anime fan club, with a lovely picture of Gainax’s Nadia on the cover. The book is mostly comprised of episode scripts and summaries for Nadia and other contemporary shows, so it doesn’t have a whole lot of value as a magazine (no fascinating articles on anime from an early-’90s perspective), but it was such a cool little piece of anime history that I had to pick it up.

I’m assuming the reason why the book is mostly scripts is because the fans who read this journal were watching Fushigi no Umi no Nadia on raw VHS, taped off of Japanese television, and needed the scripts and/or summaries to follow what was happening on screen. That got me thinking about how much danged work it was to be an anime fan back then; anime didn’t show up to your house, you had to go to it. You had to go to club meetings, to watch grainy copies of a show on a tiny screen in a foreign language with no subtitles, and the only way you could understand what was going on was if you followed along in your guide, which needed to be specially designed and printed by other fans.

And the fans who made these zines and attended these viewings were the lucky ones, because at least they had access to something; in most of the country (basically anywhere that wasn’t NYC or California), the only option was to buy tapes for $34.95 for anime that had come out years ago. This was one instance where geographic privilege was very powerful, because only people on the coasts were likely to even see a show like Nadia anywhere near the time it aired on Japanese TV.

Compared to now, obviously it’s like night and day. I can load up Crunchyroll or Netflix and gain access to more anime than I could possibly watch; not just the old classics that have gained popularity in the West, but most of the same shows that are airing in Japan now. If for some reason you don’t like streaming media, you can buy anime box sets on DVD and Blu-Ray for a fraction of what anime used to cost decades ago, and the visual and audio quality is vastly superior. We are living in an Otaku Paradise…okay, the fact that CR now has something close to a monopoly on anime streaming is not good for consumers, but nevertheless, compared to 1991 we are living like royalty.

And yet, I can’t help feeling we’re missing out on something. When you have to work that hard to do something, you invest in it more, and therefore get more out of it. The Berkeley journal era was before my time as an otaku– I was still into original My Little Pony and She-Ra: Princess of Power back then– but later on, during my teen years, there was still a much higher level of risk involved in being a fan. Anime tapes cost $29.99 or $34.99; when I went to the store, I could only afford to buy maybe one, and it was a serious decision. And if I bought an anime I didn’t like, well, by the time I’d finished watching the tape to death, I would have found something I liked about it. I’d invested way too much in anime to just watch the tape once and throw it in a drawer somewhere.

Still, when I did buy a tape and bring it home from the mall, there was that bubbling excitement; I got a new anime! A whole new anime, maybe even with multiple episodes on it! My anime collection was increasing! There’s nothing like that excitement today; partially because I’m old and jaded, but even young fans don’t feel that same sense of excitement that I once did if they have access to nigh-unlimited streaming anime, I don’t think. I don’t see how they could.

I need to be careful here…it’s true that when you have less, you appreciate it more, and that’s the phenomenon I’m talking about. Yet that comes dangerously close to saying “things were better back when they SUCKED,” which is just stupid. I wouldn’t want to go back to the time when I spent $30 for one episode of the Oh! My Goddess OVA, no matter how excited I was to bring that tape home. No, things are better now, but I don’t think any of us are quite as invested and passionate in anime as fans were circa ’91, or even 2000; it’s just not possible. It’s become too easy, too automatic to watch new brand-new anime.

What I’m wondering now is if there’s any way we can somehow nurture the same passion fans had back when anime was a scarce, precious resource, but without making people jump through ridiculous hoops to cut off access. I mean, I suppose you could make some kind of “Old School Anime Challenge,” where people could opt-in to try to live like an old-school fan for a while and only watch one (raw) show per season or something*, but that seems more like a silly exercise in masochism than anything else. Unless some cataclysm destroys the internet and sends us back to the VHS-and-Betamax days, we can’t return to that time.

I was kidding in the title of the post about how we should make it harder to be an anime fan; obviously, we don’t really want to do that. But I think we should maybe be less forgiving of those who take anime for granted; those “fans” who talk about how every show sucks, how in general anime sucks, how people who are really into anime suck. Obviously, these people have the right to watch anime if they want (although why they even want to, when they apparently have such a low opinion of it, is an open question). But we don’t have to take their opinions seriously either, which is what we’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so.

I don’t really have a plan here. I’m going to be thinking about ways to be more passionate and appreciative as a fan, the kind the Berkeley Anime Club would have recognized, without going to another extreme and becoming a completely non-critical anime zombie. If opening your browser to watch all the latest anime from this season has started to feel more like a chore than a privilege, maybe you should give it some thought too. It could be that you’d be better off watching less anime, only spending time with the stuff you really love, or maybe you could try to have a different perspective on what you’re already watching.

All I know is, this feeling where anime is cheap and disposable is icky and I don’t like it. I’m not going back to hoarding VHS tapes, but I’m going to try to act a little bit more like the person who thought that spending all of her babysitting money on anime tapes was a good idea.

*Only if you live in NYC or California though: if you live anywhere else in the world, you will watch reruns of Golden Girls and you will like it.

Jews, Otaku, and People of the Book

I’m Jewish. You could probably tell due to my penchant for using words like “shtick.” Even if I hadn’t mentioned it before on this blog, which I’m pretty sure I have, this would be one of those reveals that surprises no one.

What’s odd is, I don’t really believe in the Old Testament. I believe that parts of it are historical (or at least based on real historical events, the facts of which have become distorted through time); I believe that some Biblical stories have good morals, and I believe the entire thing has value as a piece of literature. But if you were to ask me, point-blank, “Do you believe in the Torah?” the answer would have to be no.

And yet, if I don’t believe the Torah, doesn’t that mean I’m not a Jew, pretty much by definition? If you want to be pedantic about it, I’m a Jewish-born person with non-Jewish beliefs, I think. However, many Jews, if not most, are like me: people who self-identify as Jews, but don’t take the Torah literally, or even think about the Torah much in particular. How does that work? How do you have a group of increasingly secular people who still cling to a religious label, and cling to it with no small amount of pride?

I think the answer lies in the fact that the base concept of Judaism is the idea of a People of the Book, and what that means when you really break it down. If you really love one Book, chances are you’re going to want more than one. You’re going to write books about the one Book, then commentaries on the books about the Book, then eventually other books entirely. And the more you get into all these different books, the less importance the original Book has to you.

Really, a religion of People of the Book is self-annihilating, because once they become People of BOOKS, PLURAL, they’re not the same people anymore. The irony of Jewish history is that people were trying so hard to kill a religion with built-in obsolescence. It’s like, guys, stop trying so hard to kill the Jews. You’re just expediting the production of stuff like Maus, where People of the Book become People of the Comic Book, and then the whole thing goes topsy-turvy and we don’t know who’s who anymore.

Wow, I may have reached a new level of twisted logic; asking the people of Earth stop killing Jews not because it’s wrong, but because it creates literary confusion.

Anyway, this has relevance to the sciences, where a lot of the people who came up with all the great stuff about physics that tells us about how the universe actually works were Jews. It’s primarily the people who are supposed to value the Book of Genesis most who have told us all the reasons why the Book of Genesis is a fairy tale that makes no sense.

Where am I going with this, other than Judaism is weird and I too am weird? Well, I think that the core idea of being a People of the Book is something that may have started with Judaism, but now extends far beyond. To me, the enthusiasm for the likes of Star Trek, X-Men, anime, etc. is the new version of being a Person of the Book; having tremendous enthusiasm for one text, a text that is parts fictive and parts real. Nerd arguments are the new Talmudic Commentary. They say that the great Rabbis go to the Academy on High after they die, where they can argue about Torah for all eternity in heaven; I wonder if the same thing is true of TV Tropes. Anyway, Jews could cease to exist tomorrow (don’t get too excited, alt-righters), and our culture would still be deeply embedded with the legacy of Judaism.

Now, I have a certain amount of respect for Orthodox Jews; I mean, if you’re going to live by the Bible, do it, don’t half-ass it because you want to go to the movies on Saturday and shrimp happen to be delicious. Commit to it, own it, the way the Orthodox have. However, I don’t feel much kinship with Orthodox Jews; we may have common ancestors, but that’s about the extent of the connection. I feel more of a connection with the people arguing about whether or not Avatar: The Last Airbender counts as an anime than I do with “my people.” In fact, anywhere people are arguing about the minutia of a book, or any piece of art really, that’s where I feel like I’ve found “my people.”

To bring this back to Otaku, I’m not saying that Otaku are Jews, really; more that they are a step on the same continuum. The Japanese are a different kind of People of the Book, starting with The Tale of Genji, the world’s first proper novel. After World War II, Japan reinvented itself partially based on manga, on a book of a different nature. For the Japanese, the key foundational document isn’t the Torah, but Tezuka’s Astro Boy. Oversimplification? Of course, but talking about any topic this huge is going to require that.

But think of Comic Market. Hundreds of thousands of people, sweltering in the summer and shivering in the winter, standing in line for hours because they want to get a book (doujin) that’s based on another book (manga) that’s all ultimately based on something Osamu Tezuka and his friends drew in the 1950s, after a cataclysm. If you don’t see a parallel with religion here, well, I don’t know quite how else to put it to you.

I guess all this is a roundabout way of saying that I feel close to Otaku because I recognize fellow People of the Book, which has long ceased being defined by religion; Most of the passionate People of the Book are not Jews, do not need to be Jews for any reason. That’s why I didn’t feel like I had to marry a Jew; I married someone who loved the same things I loved. I’m not religious, but I am in the sense that I am the natural evolution of a people who believed the things they believed very passionately, and maybe that makes the question of whether or not I’m religious a non-issue; I’m not religious, but religion created me. Maybe God did too, but I’m not talking about God right now.

This is why whenever your typical smug internet atheist talks about religion being stupid, or how it makes no sense that the Red Sea would actually split in two, blah blah blah, I have to file that under the category of “not even wrong.” Like sure, that whole part about stoning people to death for not following the Sabbath is pretty dumb and self-defeating and I think even the most Orthodox Jews can admit that now, but that’s not why religion is important in this day and age.  There’s a reason why, even though I believe in the Big Bang Theory (the actual theory, not the sitcom, although the sitcom is okay) and not the Garden of Eden that I still call myself a Jew instead of, say, a science-believing person. I don’t see a conflict there, because being a Person of the Book was always going to include science eventually.

I don’t know, maybe this post is just hilariously offensive not only to Jews, but to everyone who likes Star Trek and Yowamusha Pedal alike. I’m not a good judge of what’s offensive anymore, if I ever was. It’s just me trying to explain my world view, which is that while I feel my Otaku and more general geek interests are entirely consistent with my Jewish background, I don’t feel like these interests are in any way limited to people of Jewish lineage. The idea of a People of the Book may have started with Judaism…or maybe with some other people that history has forgotten, who knows (and I’ve heard some provocative things about the Zoroastrians.) But the concept has spread far beyond a small and insulated group of people, far beyond DNA, and now exists out in the wild.

Synagogues are nice, and the art is beautiful, but wherever people are arguing about anime or Battlestar Galactica on the internet, that’s where I feel “my people” truly are. Someday, I may succeed in getting this to make sense to someone other than myself; I sense that day is not today.

Winter 2018 Anime Impressions, Part II

This season, I find myself gravitating towards slice-of-life shows and comedies more than anything else. I know there are action shows this season that are getting people excited, but I just don’t feel the urge to watch that kind of thing right now. Maybe it’s because there’s some challenging stuff going on in my life that makes me long for the anime equivalent of comfort food, or maybe I’m just not in the mood for giant robots doing fisticuffs.

Perhaps I’ll check in with some of the flashier, high-profile shows sometime midseason, but for now, here’s the rest of the warm-and-fuzzy stuff I’ve been cozying up to.

Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card Arc– It’s impressive how good the art and animation was in the original series back in the late ’90s, because this show simultaneously looks state-of-the-art and just like the CCS you remember. Yes, there’s a bit more detail and the CGI effects for the magic are more sophisticated, but it just feels like proper CCS on some level I can’t explain– as opposed to say, Sailor Moon Crystal, which always seemed a bit off to me.

I read a little bit of the manga for this arc while it was running in Nakayoshi, and it kind of seemed like same-old, same old. Oh noes, the cards have changed again and Sakura has to hunt them all down, how can this beeeeeee? Still, it’s interesting to see the cards becoming more aggressive, like Windy becoming “Gale.” If there’s some larger theme about the stakes escalating as you get older, I’ll be impressed.

Really, the only thing I don’t like is the fact that they’ve added about a foot to Sakura’s height. I know this was to be expected, but dammit, it’s Sakura! I never wanted her to grow up to be a CLAMP Noodle Person! I feel like Sakura’s original design was like the Golden Mean or something, it was the essence of perfection the way it was and messing with it is just stupid.

“But she’s in middle school now!” you say? Yeah I don’t care, too busy making Short Sakura-chan FOREVER banners to plaster all over my neighborhood.

School Babysitters– Moe shows (or shows with cute-appeal for the uninitiated) harness our natural desire to love and protect children to get the viewers to have feelings for the characters; usually moe characters aren’t young children, but they have sufficiently childlike proportions that our protective instinct is invoked. What’s special about a show like School Babysitters is that since it’s actually about really young kids, you’re kind of cutting out the middle man: straight-up cuteness without having to do the mental gymnastics to convince yourself that everyone is really in high school or whatever.

This kind of show defies analysis, at least at this point; it’s just a piece of feel-good mind candy that makes the world a slightly better place whenever you watch it. The only thing that mars the perfection is the fact that one character hits his kid brother– and I don’t mean a spanking (where at least you are bonking the kid on their natural shock-absorber), but he hits the kid in the head. Kind of disturbing, but considering the fact that the hitting clearly creates more behavior problems than it solves, it doesn’t seem like the show is condoning this behavior; more just acknowledging that it happens.

One nitpick is that several of the kids in the daycare program look like one-year-olds and speak more like three-year-olds, but that’s the kind of thing only viewers with kids will probably notice or care about. I’m still a little bitter about Hanamaru Kindergarten from years ago, so maybe this will be the show about adorable little rugrats that pulls out all the stops.

Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san– Kind of weird that there’s no official English title for this one. This has a really simple premise: a clever girl teases the boy sitting next to her. Unbeknownst to him (but totes benownst to us) Takagi actually really likes the object of her torment, Nishikata. Nevertheless, liking him doesn’t stop her from messing with his head in every conceivable way.

This show reminds me of Tonari no Seki-kun, with it’s emphasis on two kids goofing off in the back of the classroom. However, whereas the genius of Seki-kun was that it was ambiguous how much Seki-kun was actually trying to distract Rumi, and how much he was just amusing himself, the deliberate nature of Takagi’s teasing can get kind of annoying. Considering the amount of mental anguish Nishikata goes through trying to anticipate how she’ll torture him next, sometimes she just seems like a cold bully instead of a charming scamp.

Still, considering how ingenious Takagi’s schemes are, it’s probably for the best; if she weren’t so busy teasing her crush, she’d probably be hatching supervillain-level plots to take over the world. Way to take one for the team, Nishikata.

Anyway, this one is in the “maybe I’ll keep up with it if I’m in the mood” pile. Whether or not I watch it probably depends on how nostalgic for Tonari no Seki-kun I’m feeling on any particular day.

Sanrio Boys– Considering that I was expecting this show to feel like a commercial for Sanrio products, it’s doing a pretty good job telling an actual story, albeit a simple one. I mean yeah, it is a commercial for Sanrio merch, but the main character spends the first two episodes going through an actual emotional arc and everything. Add the fact that it’s exploring the feelings of teen boys who enjoy things that are considered non-masculine, and how they reconcile that with their still-emerging gender identity, and there’s some genuinely interesting stuff here. All shows that are meant to pimp tiny little erasers and keychains should only be half this interesting.

All that said, I have personal baggage here that makes it difficult to fully enjoy Sanrio Boys. As far as I’m concerned, Badtz-Maru, the grumpy penguin, is the best Sanrio character by a country mile, and all of the other ones are just taking up space that should rightfully belong to my Badtz. As I write this, there is a Badtz-Maru plushie staring at me from the exalted shelf meant for Special Toys that Little Hands Are Not To Touch.


So when the guys on this show go on about their love for Pompompurin, or Hello Kitty, it’s like, hello, aren’t you forgetting someone?!? They’ve shown Badtz-Maru briefly (in a scene using live-action footage from a Sanrio store), but he’s clearly not a favorite for any of the boys on the show, thus will likely play a diminished role, if any; we’ll be lucky to see him show up in group shots with all the Sanrio characters. He’ll probably be standing behind Keroppi and we’ll only see like, one of his hair spikes sticking out or something.

So, uh, on the one hand, this show is a pleasant surprise; on the other hand, they are not focusing on my favorite Sanrio character and thus should be punished severely. I haven’t yet figured out how this punishment will be meted out, but trust me, it will occur.

…crap, I’m going to end up buying Sanrio merchandise again thanks to this show, won’t I? Goddammit.


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.

Fall 2017 Anime Season Wrap-Up

After a season or two of not really feeling it, I was really into anime this season. Not only did I watch a bunch of shows to completion, there were a bunch I wanted to see that I just didn’t have time for; hopefully, I’ll catch up on them soon. I promise I’ll get to you, The Ancient Magus Bride.

I wonder: was anime really good this season, and that’s what pulled me back in? Or is it an entirely cyclical thing, and my biological clock just has an “anime addict” setting that got switched on again sometime around October 2017? I guess I’ll never really know. Isn’t it cool that even when you start to get old, you still don’t understand why you do any of the things you do? Keeps life interesting, right?

Ahem, anyway, I already put down some thoughts on Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Urahara and Girl’s Last Tour over the past few weeks. Here’s a roundup of the rest of the lot.

Animegataris— What a strange animal this show turned out to be. At first, it was a show all about the experience of being a student anime fan, kind of like a poor man’s Genshiken (or a rich man’s Genshiken, if you happened to prefer these characters.). There were teases that some strange supernatural stuff was going on in the background, but it was still pretty grounded. Then in the last third, the show went super-meta and became about anime characters becoming aware of the fact that they were really anime characters, and it was just…wow. I mean, saying that the show “broke the fourth wall,” would be a massive understatement; it’s more like, there’s only the faintest sprinkling of plaster dust left somewhere near where the fourth wall once stood. That wall got fucking vaporized.

It was a fun ride, but it wasn’t exactly coherent. While the show did drop numerous hints that something odd was up from the beginning, I’m not sure that the hints dropped actually matched up with the bizarro ending that we got. It felt more like the creative team knew they wanted to do something different with the last few episodes, but didn’t decide what they were actually doing until the very last second. I definitely got the “we’re making this up as we go along” vibe at the end, and maybe that’s okay?

Still, personally I think it would have been stronger if it had all felt planned out from the beginning. I’m a stickler for Chekhov’s gun on the fireplace; in this case, there wasn’t a gun on the fireplace, there was a banana-cream muffin, then somewhere around episode nine the show goes all like “look at this MASSIVE GUN that’s been on the fireplace the whole time!” and I’m like “Shut up, you have muffin all over your face and now you just look stupid.”

Did that make any sense? No, of course it didn’t. And that, perhaps, is the genius of Anime Gataris, and why I still kind of recommend it despite the fact that it was all over the place. We just don’t get these kinds of crazy, disjointed experiences that often, in anime or otherwise– at least, not intentionally.

A Sister is All You Need— Another strange bird that had it’s moments, but didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. It did a good job of balancing the fanservice and lewd humor with some genuinely insightful and poignant moments, but I wonder if it really went far enough in either direction. Despite the frequent fanservice, I don’t think the show wasn’t really ero enough to appeal to the audience who were watching it primarily for that reason, and the emotionally resonant moments, while powerful individually, didn’t seem to amount to much by the end of the show.

The ending did provide some closure, but not enough to make the experience feel complete at 12 episodes. It was a “here’s juuuuuust enough closure so you’re not pissed as hell at the writers, but we sure hope we get a second season!” kind of ending.

At the beginning of the season, I was hoping that this show would break down the trend of little sister fetishism and explore why some otaku develop this particular obsession, rather than just reveling in it, and to be fair, I think the show really did start to do that. It just feels like they went about halfway there and then ran out of episodes. I’m torn between wanting a second season so they can finish the job, and feeling like they actually had enough time to do it in 12 episodes and shouldn’t have wasted so much time on filler.

All that said, if you’re a writer at any level, this show is worth watching for how spot-on it is about writers and all their various insecurities. That’s one thing this show did better than perhaps any other anime I’ve seen, and that’s kind of impressive for a show that so many people wrote off completely based on its first episode.

Blend S— This started out really fun, but it seemed like the creative team didn’t know how to fully take advantage of the premise. About halfway through the show the characters started taking frequent field trips to anywhere but the cafe, which felt like a waste, since all the funniest stuff always happened at the shop. In theory, they could have gotten a lot more jokes out of Maika’s “accidental sadist” character, as well as the other waitresses’ quirks, but it seemed like the writers just ran out of ideas way too early.

I know there was some talk about the age gap between the two love interests (Maika and Dino, the manager) being too big, but honestly, I was so focused on the show’s diminishing laugh value as it went on that I hardly noticed. I mean, yeah, there’s at least a 10-year age difference there and that’s generally not good, but both characters have the emotional maturity of a wet sponge, so does it really matter much in this case? I’m having trouble worrying too much about poor, innocent Maika, demon-faced scion of aristocrat millionaires, being taken advantage of by the world’s most clueless small business owner.

Some fans really liked this one and are hoping for a second season, and judging on how popular memes and fanart for this show were online, it seems like there might be enough demand for another round of Blend S. If they do make more, I hope they take copious notes from Wagnaria and make better use of the cafe setting instead of trying to run away from it. Because if we get another season that was like the second half of this one, that sounds so boring that even I might skip it…and you know how I feel about shows that take place in coffee shops.

Food Wars: The Third Plate— Perhaps the last thing I expected from this show was for it to get political, but it just goes to show that you should never underestimate everyone’s favorite show about panty shots and experimental gastronomy. Things in foodgasm-land have gotten so political, I almost wrote a post called “How Food Wars! Predicted Trump’s America,” but then decided to hold back. Because whenever I do something like that, people take it deadly seriously for about three years, and then eventually someone will drop by and leave a comment saying “Lol, nice parody,” and I’ll know that at least one person got it.

The show has gotten political in a pretty ridiculous way, considering that the main villain’s plan seems to involve turning the school into some sort of authoritarian cuisine factory, where individual goals and creativity mean nothing and all that matters is stamping out identical portions of fancy-pants gourmet food. Main villain also seems to have plans of destroying all the restaurants in the world that are not fine dining establishment, which is, err…do economics exist in Food Wars? Because I see several practical problems with that, problems which should be obvious even to an evil chef demagogue.

For some people, the show has gotten too ridiculous to be taken remotely seriously, but honestly, this show was always so inherently ridiculous to me that I don’t feel like much has changed. Now instead of the Totsuki Academy-brand of meritocracy where 90% of the student population washes out, we’re seeing the other end of the spectrum, where there can be no meritocracy because everyone is forced to be identical. I assume we’re eventually going to end somewhere comfortably in the middle, which seems like a good long-term plan for the series.

Even if the show has completely jumped off the deep end though, would it matter? This is Food Wars!, the show where a really delicious meat bun can blow your pants off. All I really ask from this show is food porn, which it delivers in spades, and just enough reason to care about the characters that I don’t feel guilty for only watching for the food porn. Right now, this show is holding up it’s end of the contract, no matter how insane Erina’s psycho Dad turns out to be.

Konohana Kitan— I got really bored with this somewhere around the middle of episode 4 and dropped it. I’m still kind of curious if it was doing the whole episodic occult show thing, or it ultimately veered closer to a slice-of-life show that just happened to contain fox-eared girls and other supernatural critters, but not curious enough to actually watch more of it. If anyone out there watched it all, feel free to let me know in the comments what was really going on here.

Love is Like a Cocktail— Thanks to Chi’s amazing bust, this was the stealth fanservice hit of the season. Yes, it was a little 3-minute short that was primarily about mixed drinks, but do you really think people were watching for the recipes?

I feel like they could have done more with this, but that seems almost unfair to demand of a 3 minute show with a simple premise. Then again, I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying is in the same category yet seemed to make better use of its limited run time. In any case, if you haven’t seen it, it will only take a half an hour or so to watch the whole thing, so if you like booze (or boobs, or some combination thereof), you might as well.

Ame-Con!— I have tried to love Rainy Color/Rainy Cocoa and its spinoffs, and I just can’t do it. I don’t know if this show just doesn’t work as a 2-minute short, or if there’s no length that would work here, but something is just missing from this show. Even for someone like me who basically has a fetish for anime about brewing coffee, this show is just boring; I have no idea how they pulled that off, but it’s kind of perversely impressive. This may be the only coffee-shop anime that does nothing for me.


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


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.