Tag Archives: Winter 2018

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 11-15

Now that we’re getting into some story reveals, my enthusiasm for this show has dampened somewhat. I’m still enjoying it a lot, but it’s not going quite where I hoped it would go.

The childhood flashback episode was almost very poignant, but was spoiled by being just a little too perfect. I can just about buy that Hiro and 02 met as children and then were forced to forget, since they were both different from the other “specimens” and thus would have been drawn to each other, but the framing device of the storybook was just a little bit much. I guess 02’s nameless caretaker cared about her enough to try to teach her something about her place in the world, but the whole story is just a little too on the nose for my liking.

I think I would have preferred it if Hiro wasn’t her original “Darling”; if Darling was a random parasite hopeful who wasn’t promising enough and was culled from the herd. Then it would be really bittersweet that 02 keeps trying to recreate Darling, because she’s latched onto him as an idea rather than a person. That said, if they’d gone that route, they wouldn’t have had a good explanation for why Hiro is so well-matched to 02 as a pilot; having ingested her blood at a young age, it seems like it acted as a vaccine, so the later trauma of bonding with her was less damaging to him than it was to the other pilots, allowing him to survive it. Still, the whole thing is just wrapped in a neat little bow, which takes away from it. I don’t want this story to be neat: I want it to be messy and visceral.

The most interesting thing to me about the childhood flashback (other than Chibi-02 being painfully adorable of course), was the fact that Hiro’s outgoing personality and inquisitive nature were seen as curious and worrisome to his handlers. Being in that kind of love-free environment wouldn’t be good for any child’s natural development, so it makes sense that the other kids weren’t exactly cheerful and curious. However, the fact that Hiro seems to be the only curious child ANYONE had encountered makes me wonder if they’ve actually been breeding these kids to be compliant. Maybe the whole reason Hiro was a “special” specimen wasn’t anything related to his parasite ability, but the fact that he’s a throwback to a time before children were emotionally stunted.

Speaking of human development, we get something that looks like a fetus inside one of the defeated Klaxosaur cores, so it looks like the Klaxosaurs are a product of human meddling with nature. I kind of hope the story is more complicated than “Man tried to make himself more powerful, only the child of his creation turned on him!” but it looks like that’s where this is going. To be fair, the idea of Klaxosaurs as the nightmare children of humans would fit in well with this whole series theme of sex/conception.

After episode 15, I’m a little confused about what’s going on with Hiro and 02, physically. Let me try to lay this out: Hiro met 02 as a child and ingested her blood, effectively vaccinating himself against her influence, then was brainwashed into forgetting her. 02 was also brainwashed, but less completely, so she still remembered the existence of her “Darling,” but probably not precisely what he looked like. So she keeps hoping every new partner will turn out to be the real Darling, only to be disappointed again and again.

So she acts like Hiro is her real Darling, but deep down, she doubts it, which comes to light when she says that he’s just fodder for her. Then after Strelizia enables the shared flashback, she realizes he is THE Darling and she’s been using him like any other partner. The thing is, even if she knew he was the real Darling, wouldn’t she use him the exact same way?

Then again, when Strelizia fully activates after the two remember their shared past, she looks different; she’s all red, like 02 is no longer fighting her monster nature. So maybe knowing who the pilot is, 02 functions differently, and as a result, is no longer draining the life out of Hiro? Part of me wishes that this had been explained and part of me is just as happy that it’s left vague, since any explanation probably would have been tedious. I think the bottom line is supposed to be, “They love each other, therefore the robot magic works SUPER GOOD now!” and trying to think about it any harder than that is probably a mistake.

The big fight against the gargantuan Klaxosaur was very effective, with the OP song doing a lot of heavy lifting. I know that playing the first OP during a climactic fight scene is an old trick, but it works particularly well here, because Kiss of Death is so well-suited to this show. I think it communicates the feeling of frenzied desperation you would feel if you were fighting for your life; Kiss me now, because we’ll probably be dead tomorrow.

And then there’s the giant baby hand and uh…I’m not sure. Maybe there’s a giant baby Klaxosaur incubating in the ground, and all the little Klaxosaurs are just there to protect it. Maybe the Klaxosaurs started having babies because humans stopped, and if the humans want to beat the Klaxosaurs for good, the answer is not fighting them, but Kokoro’s “Your First Childbirth” book. I think that’s ultimately where this is going, I’m just not sure exactly how.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 6-10

Five more episodes of FRANXX, and I’m becoming increasingly confident in my initial appraisal of the show; These themes are the real deal, and Trigger isn’t just throwing around all this sexual symbolism just to be salacious. It’s also opening up to be less about sex specifically (although that’s still very important to the show), but more about any kind of sensual, animalistic behaviors that mark humans as part of nature, and what it means when we start getting away from that.

The one thing I’m not sure I like is all the emphasis on Ichigo’s unrequited love for Hiro. There’s nothing wrong with it in general, but I feel like we’re kind of being knocked over the head with it, when it’s been pretty obvious what the dynamic is between these two from the very beginning. That said, there’s probably a reason why heartsick Ichigo is getting so much attention, so I’m going to suspend judgment until I know what that is.

Episode 6: This was actually the most typical episode, in the sense that it felt like watching Evangelion, or Gurren Lagann, or insert-popular-mecha-show here. Hiro’s miraculous recovery, spurred on by his desire to protect 02,  was predictable, but I don’t think I would’ve wanted them to do it any other way; sometimes, we use tropes because they work. This probably would have been a more powerful episode if I hadn’t already seen these things done in other mecha shows, but it was still effective.

Now I’m wondering what Hiro’s status is; having survived the three-times curse with 02, is he part-Klaxosaur now like she is? Or is there something else going on entirely? Meanwhile, the characters response to Hiro’s survival– “Oh, looks like that thing about stamens dying when they ride with 02 was just a rumor–” is a little strange. Has it occurred to any of the kids that 02 actually has killed multiple partners, and Hiro was just the first one who survived? Maybe it’s just denial; now that she’s on their team, they don’t want to believe that she is a partner-killer, even if all evidence points to it being true.

I am not gay for 02; I am a straight woman. I just want to collect screenshots of her and draw fanart and think about her all day long, okay? Please respect this distinction. Seriously, major credit to Haruka Tomatsu for doing such a great job with her lines; I didn’t even realize that she also played Asuna from SAO until I looked it up. That’s some impressive separation.

Episode 7— You know it’s a good show when even the beach episode is about 50% devoted to world-building. I was expecting to turn my brain off for this episode and wait for normal plot-services to resume next episode, but there was a lot going on here; not only in terms of what the kids discovered, but why they discovered it. I’ve been wondering what kind of an authority figure Papa is, and the first couple of episodes painted an ominous picture. However, the fact that it was Papa who sent the kids to the beach, knowing they would fall over the ruins of a town and learn something about their world, is intriguing.

It seems like he does want the kids to learn and grow beyond their role as human weapons, but is he alone in that? Maybe he had to sneak in the beach vacation because the people in charge won’t let him educate the children directly; or, maybe he has some sinister purpose in mind, and he’s picking a really round-a-bout way to go about it.

One moment that kind of kicked me in the teeth was when Kokoro finds the FRANXX version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting in the ruined town. The kids in FRANXX have no concept of sex and childbirth; what would it feel like to find out about that all at once? It’s hard enough to process even when you have years to absorb that information.

Which reminds me; of the critics who have had strongly negative things to say about this show, how many of them are parents? I’m guessing not many. Lord knows, I don’t want to make this some kind of perverse gatekeeping thing (“you can only understand this show if you TOO have borne a child!”), but I think it probably makes a difference in how certain writing choices affect you. If you saw Kokoro pick up that book and you didn’t feel anything, then it’s almost like we’re watching two different shows.

OH NO SHIT JUST GOT REAL, FUUUUUUUU~~~~~~

Episode 8— This is the kind of episode that typically annoys me, but FRANXX threaded the needle here somehow and kept it from being too obnoxious. I tend to get annoyed when kids in these life-or-death situations start acting like spoiled suburban children, but the fact that the kids actually realized how immature they were being by the end of the story made it work. Plus, it’s been made pretty clear at this point that these kinds of childish antics are what set Squad 13 apart from all the other squads, and possibly, everyone else in the known world. They’re being allowed to be childish and emotional, and I wonder how this ties back to Papa’s master plan.

We know that Squad 13 is a test case for something. Is Papa using Squad 13 to model the way humans used to interact, in the hopes that the rest of society could go back to the way it used to be in pre-Klaxosaur times? More on this later.

I remember some outrage online around the time this episode aired because of Hiro’s comments that the boys control the robots, but it’s the girls with their “frail bodies,” who take the brunt of the punishment. I can obviously see why this seems sexist, but if you’re like me and see the piloting of FRANXX not just as a metaphor for sex, but for conception (and possibly the entire heterosexual cycle), it makes a lot of sense. Stating that women’s bodies bear the brunt of the punishment during pregnancy is hardly controversial, and I think Hiro’s comment was meant to parallel how men and women function in reproduction, not just sexual intercourse.

I wonder about the conclusion the kids draw that the previous Squad 13 died in battle; that may not be correct. This show has been hinting pretty strongly that parasites don’t live to become adults, so maybe the previous squad kids aged out of peak piloting age and were unceremoniously murdered.  If that’s the kind of world these kids are living in, the threat from the Klaxosaurs seems rather unimportant in comparison.

I’m writing too much about this episode, but I also have to acknowledge the scene where 02 taunts Hiro with the kids’ underwear and runs away; her joy is infectious, and it’s scenes like that which elevate this show from episode premises like “Monster goop makes the girls’ clothes evaporate.” Even though she’s not really human, so far only 02 seems to understand what the people of this world have lost by putting aside their humanity.

Episode 9— I was distracted during this episode by the fact that I couldn’t get the part of Eva where Shinji is trapped inside Unit 01 out of my mind, and I was wondering how much of that is my fault. FRANXX obviously takes inspiration from Eva, and from Gurren Lagann (especially considering that some of the same people worked on those shows), but that’s normal; earlier shows inspire later shows, and certain things become codified as tropes of the genre. Yet, even though I know that the tropes that FRANXX is using have become general mecha tropes, not tied to any one series, I can’t stop comparing it to Evangelion specifically. I wonder if the creators of this show would be annoyed by that, or if that’s what they’re going for?

I like Goro as a character, and I appreciate his (doomed) love for Ichigo, but I’m not quite sure what to make of this episode. If the big takeaway was that the kids learned that their leadership was willing to sacrifice one of them very easily, then err…they really should have known that already. Otherwise, they haven’t been paying attention at all.

Episode 10— Oh boy. We see the society that the kids have been protecting, and you have to wonder: Why bother? Let the Klaxosaurs have it, everybody can just lay down and die.

This episode made me more confident in the idea that Papa is trying to use Squad 13 not just to protect humanity, but to change it, however I’m a little confused about Zorome’s role in this episode. There are hints that the older woman he meets is actually his birth mother, but how contrived would that be, even by anime standards? Besides, I kind of figured that with the technology they have in FRANXX, they’ve been growing the parasites in artificial wombs anyway. Maybe they do need women to give birth to children, and then in return the mothers get a free pleasure-center-stimulating machine?

This episode made it clear that the children are believed to be infected with something; whether this is some bacteria that allows them to interact with the FRANXX, or it’s a mislead for something more basic (like the fact that they haven’t been sterilized) remains to be seen. I think I’d prefer it better if the “infected” children were seen as dirty simply because their biological functions haven’t been replaced by technology yet.

So now we’re in Brave New World territory, which comes as something of a surprise to me even though it really shouldn’t. I’m torn between wanting to find out more about how dystopian adult society works in this world, and never wanting to see it again because it’s too goddamn depressing. I think 02 has the right idea; stay as far away from the adults as possible.

Hopefully I’ll be able to watch 11-15 and get my thoughts on them down pretty soon, and then I’ll almost be caught up to the outrage du jour! Exciting!

DARLING in the FRANXX Episodes 1-5

SPOILER WARNING: Not only are there spoilers for FRANXX, but also Neon Genesis Evangelion. You can talk about FRANXX without talking about Eva, but I didn’t want to.

There’s been so much talk about this show lately that I felt like it would be criminally irresponsible for me to keep ignoring it, so I’m catching up. I just finished episode 5 and so far, I’m loving it; I regret that I didn’t pick it up when it started earlier this year. It uses sexual metaphors in a very broad, obvious way, but I like that in this case. Too much anime (or fiction in general) tends to try to be coy about sexual themes, and it can become obnoxious. I appreciate FRANXX being all up-front, like “Yup, piloting the robot is all just a big metaphor for sex and relationships, let’s move on from there ‘kay?”

I wonder though: is the piloting of the FRANXX primarily a metaphor for sex, or is it more meant to be a metaphor for conception? The most notorious example of a mecha show with sexual themes is Neon Genesis Evangelion, and in that show, the primary sexual metaphor was that of pregnancy; the pilot was like a gestating baby inside of the mother, who would protect it at all costs. In FRANXX, we’ve gone backwards to the moment of conception itself. The mechs, with their unusually childlike faces, do seem to be the offspring of both parents in the cockpit, figuratively if not literally.

Compared to a lot of other mecha shows I’ve seen, there also seems to be a surprising lack of urgency in FRANXX. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but it’s just that the way the world is set up makes things more routine than we’re used to seeing. For all I know, this situation with humanity fighting the Klaxosaurs could have been going on for thousands of years already, and the squad of pilots we’re following may only be one among dozens, if not hundreds. There isn’t that “the world is going to end RIGHT NOW if we lose this battle” theme; the lives of the individual characters, except for arguably 02, are not important. They’re important to us as viewers, but you get the impression that if the whole squad died during episode 2, the only thing Papa and his subordinates would feel would be minor irritation at having to replace them.

Speaking of Papa, at first I thought his nickname was just a show of affection for the head scientist from his staff, but it definitely seems like there’s a Big Brother theme going on. The fact that the children’s prayer at the beginning of episode 5 isn’t for safety, or even for victory against the Klaxosaurs, but for Papa’s well-being, is a little bit chilling. Is Papa even fighting against the eradication of humanity by the Klaxosaurs, or is this perhaps the world he wants?

Since the humans are relying on magma for their energy, on a dried-out looking world, the implication is that the environment has been ruined. Are the Klaxosaurs a product of that (perhaps, a failed experiment in creating an alternate energy source?), or are the Klaxosaurs invaders from somewhere else altogether? What does it mean for 02 to have “Klaxosaur blood”? Obviously, she’s stronger and more agile than other humans her size, but what unholy process did they go through to create something like her?

Or maybe, when Papa and a Mama Klaxosaur love each other very much….

Congratulations, humanity, your super-risky experiment in genetic engineering has gone horribly right! Good luck with that.

At the end of episode 5, 02 seems to be in the process of turning Hiro into some kind of human/Klaxo hybrid, like herself. For some reason, he’s compatible with this process; the most obvious possible reason for this is because he was created with Klaxosaur blood too, but I think the show is going to go a different route. Something is special about Hiro, and I think how much I ultimately end up liking this show is going to depend on what his special quality is. It needs to be something more than “he was bred to be compatible with Klaxosaurs” in order to work for me. Anyway, it seems like Hiro and 02 may be the only future for humanity, but it may be a humanity that no one else recognizes as such.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this show is that it’s most central metaphor really isn’t a metaphor at all. It’s about young people using sex to stave off extinction and well, how is that a metaphor? If young people don’t have sex, humanity will become extinct. Granted, it’s hard to imagine that now, given our world’s current problems with overpopulation, but the fact remains true. Sex is what humans do to stave off oblivion, whether shiny-cool dinosaur-like thingies are involved or not.

A lot of series deal with sexual attraction as a theme, but I feel like FRANXX is dealing with (or is at least being set up to deal with) heterosexual sex on a more primal level than we usually see; the fact that sex creates the future, but we often shred ourselves to pieces in the process, in more ways than one. There’re a lot of potential pitfalls here, but I’m cautiously optimistic that Studio Trigger will accomplish here what they couldn’t quite do with Kiznaiver; a show about human relationships, particularly sexual ones, with real teeth and bite to it.

Or horns, if you will.

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.

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.

GREATEST. BOY
BEST. BOY.

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?