Archive for April 19th, 2008

Soul Eater: Maka, Black Star, and Gender Representation in Shounen Manga

This scene, I think, sums up Black Star better than anything else. Best (?) assassin ever.

I did actually like this episode much more than the first one, for whatever strange reason. I think it sank in over the week as I thought about it and started to really like it. I should probably stop panicking when there’s this super awesome gotta see it series premeire and I’m not as blown away by the first episode as everyone else is because, well, this always happens. Every time. I should just give up and watch whatever.

At any rate, from this episode and the snippet of Death the Kid at the end of the episode, Soul Eater is proving to have an extremely likable cast. Black Star and Tsubaki are quite the dynamic duo, with the former being comically incompetent and the latter being mildly tolerant of the former’s comic incompetence. Tsubaki probably knows she could do better than pair with Black Star, as Maka pointed out–she’s evidently a very good Weapon–but she sticks by him out of affection. I have seen it hypothesized that Tsubaki actually wants Black Star to peep in on her bathing, due to the fact that she’s not embarassed at all but is merely concerned that he isn’t hiding his presence. The cliff bath scene, though, was brilliant in every way: the long zoom in on Black Star screaming at the top of his lungs followed by cut to commerical was genius. For the most part, Black Star is incompetent, although he does have a few tricks up his sleeve.

And that’s part of why I’m liking Soul Eater more, actually: it’s breaking gender stereotypes in shounen manga/anime. As pointed out last time, the major protagonist for this series is Maka, who is a girl. This is a shounen series. It’s almost like it’s some bizarre twisted offspring of the moe phenonmenon, as if the logic went thusly: “Boys like cute girls, and boys like beating things up, so let’s have a cute girl who beats things up! Surefire hit!”

But that’s not quite all. What interests me is how the male and female characters are portrayed. In the Maka/Soul Eater pair, Maka is the Technician and Soul Eater is the Weapon. The obvious implicaton there is that Maka, the girl, is in charge, and Soul Eater, the guy, is the second fiddle. I’m not really well-read on shounen series, but it strikes me as unusual that, for the main characters, they’d choose such a relationship dynamic. What’s being done here isn’t just a simply ploy to get boys to read both for cute girls and punching things, as they could have stuck to the simple, commonplace shounen formula of male protagonist and female support, wherein the former gets all the glory and the latter is shafted throughout the entire run and serves mostly as eye candy.

Seemingly in rebuttal to this is the fact that the other two sets of main characters, Black Star/Tsubaki and Death the Kid/Patty/Liz, are in the more standard male-dominant relationship, with the females reduced to supporting roles. Or are they? It’s clear from episode 2 that Black Star is totally incompetent, and Tsubaki, if not in charge, has more than a mere supporting role. We don’t know much about Death the Kid yet, except for that small (and hilarious) snippet at the end, where he’s overly picky about how far to the right Patty is standing. As in Black Star’s case, it’s not exactly overly casting him as a badass who’s going to kick ass and take names. We haven’t seen his prologue yet, though, so we don’t really know what he’s all about, so I’ll address that next week.

Granted, in the case of Black Star, this subversion of shounen standards is clearly done to generate laughs, which it certainly does, but even a subversion done for humorous purposes can have lasting impact. If a humorous subversion goes over well, as Soul Eater’s certainly is, what’s to stop a more serious subversion from going over well? If my theory above is corrent and the decision to make Maka the main character and portray her as strong and not weak was consciously done as a result of the moe phenomenon, then it’s further proof that, like it or not, moe is changing anime, and, in many cases, for the better. It’s nice to see a once-lambassted (still is, but it’s getting less common, I think) concept start to bear positive fruit.

In conclusion, I guess I should say that now I’m a fan of Soul Eater. I’m glad it’s a year-long series, as I’m eager to find out what’s going to happen, and it will be a grand year indeed.

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Toshokan Sensou [RAW]: I Wish to Wear Military Uniforms in the Library

Yes, it’s another raw review. This is how desperate I am.

The first episode of Toshokan Sensou/Library War was, in a word, amazing. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, given my background (I work at a library doing basic but vital gruntwork and love every second of it and plan on being an actual, bona-fide librarian when I Grow Up, a time which is terrifyingly closer every day) but it was everything I hoped it to be. I knew going into it that the tone would be light, given the fact that Arikawa Hiro’s original light novel was a satire, but I didn’t know whether it’d be a satire that took itself seriously, yet was ludicrous, or a satire that took itself lightly, yet was serious. From the first episode, it’s clearly the latter, and it was so well done on the first part that I really no longer care if it does a good job on the second front, although, given the popularity, it probably does.

The reason for this is, of course, the fact that Kasahara Iku is a hardcore contender for Cutest Anime Librarian Ever, although I don’t quite know if she counts as a librarian. The only other major contenders I can think of are Kokoro from Kokoro Library, Yomiko Readman from Read or Die, Schieska from Fullmetal Alchemist, and Nodoka from Negima!. Needless to say, this is a terrifyingly potent list, and with Iku joining the ranks the world of anime librarians are about to be upended. Inoue Marina plays Iku perfectly, although that may be just because I like her voice in general. Iku is positively adorable and cements the pre-airing buzz I had for this series into a solid block of pure awesome.

The other reason I like it so much is the fact that it manages to pull off the tricky job of being seriocomic well. Episode 1 is highly amusing, and the parts where they weren’t being silly didn’t get in the way of the parts where they were hamming it up. It makes for an extremely leveled viewing experience, and I’m certain they’ve got the comic side of things down pat. The serio part will requuire subtitles and more episodes to properly judge, but I’ve got a lot of faith in Production I.G.’s effort despite the somewhat questionable track record of the director and the almost nonexistent track record of the writer (Hamana Takayuki and Konuta Takeshi, respectively).

Whether or not the series succeeds at the satire element or not, I’m pretty sure this will be a fun series to watch. The very concept amuses me greatly (librarians…with GUNS! and TASK FORCES!) so I don’t see how this will fail to be, at the worst, highly enjoyable light entiertainment. And, hey, if the satire element is good, that’s just better for me. I’m all about free speech and no censorship, so a success in the satire department will be extra grand. For all I know, the people at Production I.G. did demographic research and produced this series especially for me. But that’s a lie, because they probably have no idea who I am. But it feels that way.

Golgo 13: SEX! GUNS! TOTAL LACK OF EMOTION! THIS IS GEKIGA!

Ahh, Duke Togo. Not only is your name cooler than James Bond, and your codename cooler than 007, you are a true man’s man. The best way to sum up Golgo 13’s personality is to state that he has none. Literally. He has approximately 20 lines the entire episode. Women will fall over themselves to have sex with him, and while they enjoy the activity, Duke Togo just lies there, passively, his expression betraying nothing, least of all pleasure in this carnal act. I have to wonder how exactly a man can give a woman the best sex of her life by simply lying there. It’s possible that this is due to the fact that his very pores ooze manliness. So much manliness, in fact, that he can give furniture multiple orgasms simply by sitting in them. (I expect all of about three people to catch this reference)

There’s zero reason to watch Golgo 13 if you desire a thoughtful, provoking piece of work. Golgo 13 is mostly about sex, guns, sex with guns, headshots, broad shoulders, lack of emotion, etc. In short: manliness, distilled. This is not the Hokuto no Ken version of manliness, where Kenshiro sheds manly tears for the fallen and delivers justice to the wrongful and has emoitons, but deals with them like a man should. No. Golgo 13 is studly manliness, where one does not need emotions, one simply arrives on the scene, fires a single bullet, and then immediately leaves.

It’s all well and good if raw, uncut manliness is your thing. I’m not entirely sure that Golgo 13 is my thing, but given that it’s a manga that’s been running for about 20 years now, it must be doing something right. I think it would be, for me, something best enjoyed in a communal setting, where the viewers can shout things back and forth at each other while the episode is going on and essesntially provide a much more fulfilling viewing experience. There’s always something lacking when I watch an action series by myself, especially one as over-the-top as Golgo 13. The fun of watching an action show, for me,  is found not in the show itself, but in the act of watching it. It’s kind of like how watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 makes watching bad movies so much more fun–it’s not the actual content, it’s the running commentary and social experience. There’s just something missing when you’re watching Golgo 13 be Golgo 13 and you can’t share the expereince with someone. It’s like the difference between watching Rose of Versailles by yourself, and appreciating it as a classic work of shoujo, and then forcing it upon friends and the experience is distincty different. There’s very few anime I’d watch with a group of people for the finst time, as the focus there is less on the series and more on the experience.

With that, I don’t really know if I’ll be following Golgo 13 through its entire 50 episode run; I’m still waffling on whether I should make a scoring exception for it and give it a higher score on MAL or not. It’s difficult because it should be rated highly, because it’s a classic and a very well-done piece of action, but it’s not my thing, so therefore it should get a lower score to better reflect my personal opinion. This is probably why they give you the option to not rate a series. There’s too many other series to watch this season, and, while I most definitely find it awesome, my priorities for solo viewing lie elsewhere. If you’re a bigger fan of action than I am (this is not an especially hard feat to accomplish) then I heartily recommend you check this out. If you can take or leave action, as I can, you can easily give it a miss.

As for me, well, I’m just going to avoid doing anything that would attract the attention of Duke Togo. That would be bad.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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