Archive for the 'musings' Category



How To Grow Up With Anime Despite Not Living In Japan: Reflections on Viewer Perspectives


Join Wang Liu Ming and I upon a fantastic safari into the deepest darkest jungles of complicated theoretical ideas! There might be lions! And tigers! And bears! Oh my!

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, as it always seems to me I approach anime from a fundamentally different positon than other people. I think, by far, the vast majority of anime fans, especially in the Western or non-Japanese world, grew up devoid of anime, and became interested in it peripherally to other interests, to varying degrees. There’s nothing wrong with this, as there’s something to be said for having broad interests, just like there’s something to be said for specialization.

The product of this “peripheral” interest, however, is that there is a difference in taste between any two given people. This is true of everything, so this isn’t news, or shouldn’t be. What happens, however, is that people form sophisticated taste before becoming exposed to anime. Technically, you start developing taste from the moment your parents start reading you bedtime stories and you start picking favorite stories for them to read, but sophisticated taste isn’t developed until much later in life, and–depending on whether or not the person is interested in fictional storytelling mediums–may not develop at all. This “sophisticated taste” would be, say, the realization that you do not merely like a piece of fiction, but you love it. You’re deeply moved by it in some way, whether emotionally or intellectually, or some other way. You progress beyond merely liking something, but not being too terribly impressed by it, as it was something to pass the time with, to loving something for being a great story.


I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley. (Wait a second…)

With me, this experience of discovering something that I really, truly loved was around 16 or 17, when I read Philip Pullman’s  His Dark Materials trilogy. What I found I loved about it was that it had something I had never really experienced before–a bittersweet ending. I do believe I cried when I read the last few chapters of  The Amber Spyglass, and nothing had exerted that power over my emotions before.

I really can’t remember much else that really impressed me in that manner until I turned 18 and started watching anime. Cowboy Bebop was my first (and, yes, I did cry to that too), but I don’t think it really clicked with me until I watched other things, such as Figure 17. Figure 17, of course, has one of the most heartbreaking endings ever, and I also remember being moved by it, even given how slow I watched it.

For other people, however, especially in the West, this “sophisticated taste” is created through exploration of Western works, with Western ideas of what is “good” and “bad” (which of course vary from person to person, since you’re not going to get too many people who like Lethal Weapon but also like The Time-Traveler’s Wife,  but there is clearly a defined set of cultural “good” and “bad” values that Westerners look for). It’s created through watching, say, a Stanley Kubrick movie, or reading a book by Arthur C. Clarke, or anything else under the sun, and, after that, exploring the wide world of fictional storytelling and cementing what you consider “good” and “bad” in fiction.

When someone who has generated this kind of Western-spurred taste prior to discovering that they’re interested in anime, they bring these preconceptions to the table when they sit down to watch a series. For good or for bad, their “sophisticated taste” becomes the benchmark by which they judge a series. The series is viewed through the lens of the West as represented in their own personal taste, and the end result is somewhat distorted from the context the anime was meant to be taken in. Not this this is a bad thing, or that your taste is somehow “wrong” or “incorrect”. It’s simply how humans operate.


If this post is starting to feel like the Apocalypse arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena, here is my admission of this fact.

With me, then, my taste explorations didn’t really start until after I found anime. The more I watched it, the more I found I really liked the kinds of things they did in it, and the more my own, personal lens became distorted from the Western standard and started becoming an anime lens. At this point in my life, I’d say that it might be practically impossible for me to completely remove this distortion, even if I simply stopped watching anime this very second. Since I’ve effectively “grown up” on anime, or at least come into maturity with it, it’s become part of who I am, and how I define myself. And, just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a set of clearly Western sensibilities in watching anime, there’s nothing inherently good about having an anime-shaped lens. It’s just how things worked out for me, and I can no more change that than you can change your lens. In some ways it limits me, and in others it frees me. And the Western lens, in some ways, is limiting and freeing as well.

With an anime-shaped lens, however, this means I look at anime through the context of anime, and not through an external context such as “animation” or “film” or “theater” or “storytelling”. And I often find myself mystified at other people, who seem so eager to denouce I series I like for this, that, or the other reason, none of which make any kind of sense ot me, or, if it does, doesn’t really detract from the series as a whole. I shouldn’t really find myself mystified at this kind of thing, but I always wonder about the seemingly insurmountable differences between even two discrete individuals, even and especially ones that get along admirably.

The end result of all this is, of course, a large and varied fanbase, all of whom look at anime differently from one another. Lenses crisscross and overlap, but two never really match each other exactly. This, ladies and gentlemen, is The Human Experience, and, no, you cannot escape The Human Experience by watching anime. Unless you become a hikikomori, or a NEET, or some combination thereof. And even then, you’re still probably talking to people on the Internet, unless you truly are some kind of modern-day urban hermit.

I think this post had a point somewhere but it got lost in the process of actually writing it. Oh well.

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Moenetics: The Rise of the Sophisticated Moe Series

Post to be broken up with ridiculously huge images, as is my tradition for longer essays, because otherwise there’s a huge wall of text and no one likes walls of text, least of all me, so you can either stay for the text or just stare at pretty pictures for a few minutes. Either way, you’ll hopefully have fun!

It’s occurred to me in the past couple of days, basking in the warm afterglow of finishing true tears (which, by the way, I think blogging it really helped me appreciate it much more than I would have without such, as doing the entries gave me the opportunity to properly think about each character’s motivations and emotions, even if most of those posts revolved around Noe), that anime in general and moe in particular is kind of undergoing a sort of sea change. We’ve seen, in the past six months, the airing of four very, from a historical perspective, odd galge/eroge conversion series: Kimikiss, ef – a tale of memories, Clannad, and true tears. They’re odd not in the sense that they’re quirky, but odd in the sense that they break from tradition

Three of them were handed to major creative directors–Kimikiss to Kasai Ken’ichi of Honey & Clover and Nodame Cantabile fame; ef to Shinbo Akiyuki’s very capable supervision hands, with Oonuma Shin providing a very strong initial showing; and true tears to Nishimura Junji, who directed Simoun, as well as a portion of that little-known series Ranma 1/2; Clannad to Kyoto Animation’s extremely competent Ishihara Tatsuya, responsible for Haruhi and Kanon. In addition to these four series, I’d like to throw in, partially because I’m very fond of it, and partially because it works very well with the concept, Nishimori Akira’s Hitohira (Nishimori also directed the extremely pleasant Petopeto-san, which I was probably one of the few people who genuinely liked it). I’ll probably talk more about true tears, ef, Clannad, and Hitohira, as I’ve seen them, and I haven’t had the chance to see Kimikiss yet, but all signs point to that series being excellent as well, so I look forward to it.

Whew.

What that all builds up to, then, is a discovery of what moe actually is. As a term. it has a flexible definition, and one way I’ve always looked at it is as a sort of bridging the gap between the male audience and the female audience, at least when accomplished properly. The concept of “cute girls” preys upon the male’s need for eye candy, and the frequently deep emotions and development of the “cute girl” into a more complex character is strongly reminiscent of shoujo characterization. Put another way, moe offers character-driven (or primarily character-driven) series featuring cute female characters and officially targeted at a male audience. It’s a kind of transference of shoujo sensibilities into seinen anime and manga–again, when accomplished properly.

The deep character focus of the five mentioned series (in Kimikiss’s case, it is assumed, but I don’t think I’m wrong) demonstrate moe in this sense effectively. Consider Hitohira, for starters: it’s an entirely character-driven series, as the plot exists only to further Mugi’s development as a character. She is a quite cute character, with somewhat exaggerated traits, but it’s clear to anyone who’s seen the series that she changes over the course of the series. In true shoujo form, we get a glimpse inside the person of Mugi, and then we get the joy of cheering her on as she slowly comes out of her shell. It’s the total opposite of what you’d think a guy would enjoy, but there’s certainly a small (yet devoted) male fanbase for the series.

The extreme example of this shift in narrative focus from “plot” to “character”, from characters existing solely as flat personalities (such as you’d see in a Da Capo series) with a quirky trait to characters existing as a complex whole, is of course true tears. As I’ve mentioned in my posts about the series, the six main characters are incredibly complex, and developed so well that I find it difficult to grasp how so many people have enjoyed the series seemingly without getting underneath the characters’ skin and trying to decipher how they work. (Then again, maybe all these sorts of people just read my blog, where I attempted to do that for them, to varying degrees of success depending on the person) This kind of depth of character is something you only see in shoujo and josei in anime, and is even what you get in women’s fiction here in America, such as The Time-Traveler’s Wife. It’s what females seem to thrive on, this depth of character, and true tears gives it in a package that both males and females can share, if they try hard enough.

On the Clannad front, you’ve got, at its heart, not a complex “love heptagon” plot, but rather the simple story of two people, Tomoya and Nagisa, who gradually fall in love as they help those around them. I haven’t quite seen the second half of this series yet, unfortunately, but I’m led to understand that the conclusion is decidedly Tomoya x Nagisa. The important thing about Clannad is that, while it may lack some of the character depth found in true tears, it makes up for it by telling a simple, honest story of a romance between two people. It’s almost like girl fanservice to see the little tantalizing bits of relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa, such as hands brushing against one another while walking. Again, here the package of sweet, almost girly romance is tied up with a wrapping of a number of cute girls designed to appeal to the male aesthetic.

ef is somewhat more complicated, but, like Clannad, it’s at its heart a tale of pure romance. Fans of love triangles got their fill with the Kei/Miyako arc, and fans of a tale of true love crossing all boundaries and impediments got their fill with Chihro and Renji. Again, the characters are drawn to the bishoujo style, but also, there’s depth of emotion here. The characters may be somewhat on the flat side, but ef truly shines at bringing out their raw emotions and showing to the viewer exactly what it is they’re feeling, which is a difficult act to accomplish. Part of that is due to the clever direction, of course, but there’s enough of it in the writing that it’s not wholly directorial.

On the whole, I think that this trend towards a more characterized moe (rather than an arbitrary character trait moe) is fast becoming the new wave of the future. We saw its beginnings back in 2006 with Toki o Kakeru Shoujo, I think, and there’s certainly proto-series of this type floating around that I’ve forgotten about from even earlier time periods. I’ve also noticed that as we’ve been getting more and more of these sorts of series, we get far less in the way of series along the lines of Rosario + Vampire, which offer little character depth but plenty of superficial and visceral enjoyment for males (and, it should be noted, females of a rather odd persuasion). I think that the enduring popularity of these series with the American and Japanese audience will only go to encourage the producers of anime to create more in the vein of the five series mentioned here.

Maybe someday I can write a post titled “Moe: The Rise from the Ashes” and everyone who hated moe will suddenly comprehend the concept and appreciate it for what it is supposed to be. Or maybe I’m just delusional, or overly hopeful, or both. Surely there’s some middle ground, right?

Thoughts On Being an Anime Fan

While bored at work (pulling paging duty at a library is a marvelous way to ponder the great questions of life, the universe, and everything, as well as trying to decide why the Mc’s come before the Mad’s*) I have been spending some time thinking about the peculiar qualities of my anime fandom. This is a topic I explore again and again (again, bored at work), but it interests me.

As an anime fan, over the years, I’ve slowly developed into a rare sort of breed: what I will term a “holistic” fan of anime. That doesn’t mean I like everything–my “dropped” list on MAL says otherwise–but, rather, it means I am capable of liking anything. It’s somewhat hard for me to express in words sometimes, but it works something like this: I like most anything, provided it’s good. It’s a tautology, of course, so I have to expand it: if something can be objectively determined to be good at some element of storytelling, there’s a good chance I’ll like it.

I think the reason I can do this is because I approach anime not as 24 minute fun entertainment, but as a kind of hobby, an object to study and experience. There’s nothing wrong with watching anime purely for entertainment face value, but I can’t watch it that way anymore. It certainly entertains me to a great extent, but I think I connect with it on a different level than others do. This doesn’t necessarily make me a “better” fan than you, but it does make me different.

Partially, I think the reason I ended up becoming so interested in anime (to the near-exclusion of my previous hobby of sorts, reading) is because I “grew up” with it in a way. When I first got into anime (the story is chronicled here for the eternally curious) it was, of course, just another entertainment medium. However, at the same time, I was starting to really search out and expand my horizons, try new things and all that jazz. I think what happened was that, as my taste in stories matured, I gravitated more and more towards anime, as it always had the stories I wanted to see. I really can’t tell you why this is so, just that it is.

The whole flipping out about directors and direction and things, that’s more of a recent addition, a new level of depth to the activity I’ve enjoyed for five and a half years. It seems somewhat anomalous for me to be as into peripheral parts of the whole anime subculture: if one of you walked into my room, you’d think I was Moe Freak #135324, given my rather tasteless (or is it?) room decor of Megami posters, but somehow I manage to straddle the line between being someone who’s into anime for the cute girls, and someone who’s into anime for anything but the cute girls. I think what’s happened is that I’ve morphed into that most elusive of beasts: a true otaku (or wotaku, or however the kids are spelling it these days) who watches anime for a multitude of reasons, both legitimate and less so. The experience of being an anime fan is what drives me currently, it’s strangely addicting and time-consuming and all those other words. It’s gotten to the point where it’s impossible to conceive that I might one day not like anime–it defines my life, so why stop it?

This is somewhat of me rambling at the mouth again, but if I don’t put my thoughts into words they disappear into thin air, never to be seen again.

~owari~

* answer: Mc and Mac are treated as Mac, hence Mc before Mad

Hitohira, Mugi-Choco, and the Mystical Power of Anime to Change One’s Life (or, at least, draw parallels to)

So it’s been well over six months since I finished Hitohira, the best little show that no one watched, and while toiling away at the library today I started thinking about how much I’ve changed in the intervening time. I won’t bore you with the dull, in-depth personal details (this is, after all, an anime blog) but I’ll probably refer to things in passing. Rest assured, this is simply an example of the Mystical Power of Anime to Change People’s Lives and not me pre-empting your normal daily anime-based content to whine about things.

At one point, I distinctly remember drawing comparisons between Hitohira and the dorama of my life at the time, and now, months and months later, I come to the realization that maybe that was a very apt way of putting it. Asai Mugi resonated with me at the time I watched the series, for the simple reason that she was very, very shy, and very, very prone to involved emotional responses. As a result of being shy, she had very few friends–only one at the start of the series, in fact: Kayo. It was kind of similar to my situation at the time–recovering from an extended bout of reduced serotonin levels in my neurochemistry with hardly any friends to help me along. Needless to say, as is usually the case when you’re recovering from serious things, the rug gets jerked out from under you and you’re forced to scramble to keep from returning back to the corner to cower and hide.

It was right about then I was in the process of watching Hitohira (the Event either happened shortly before I started watching, or mid-series) and I was soundly impressed by it, and though that the bit about Kayo towards the end really resonated with my situation in particular. And then, as the Situation played itself out, I found myself getting stronger and stronger as a person. Not necessarily in one smooth process, but I’m pretty confident that I’m a totally different person than I was a year ago at this time, with a different outlook on life and everything.

In more ways than one, then, I’m like my dearly beloved Mugi-Choco. She’s a totally different person by the end of Hitohira anime–much more confident and self-assured. And it only just recently dawned on me that that’s exactly what’s happened to me in roughly the same amount of time as covered by the series–a complete 180 on my personality. I’m still not a social butterfly, of course–that’s never going to happen, ever–but neither do I rely on external sources for confidence.

I’d like to say that this was all a conscious effort on my part to emulate Mugi-Choco, but I think it’s regulated more firmly to an unconscious factor. One of my favorite quotes from Hitohira was in the summer rehearsal beach episode, where an angry Nono throws a fit at a recalcitrant Mugi, throwing her script on the ground and stating “Fine, then, just quit acting, and continue to be the Asai Mugi who can’t do anything forever!” This is, of course, one of the major turning points for Mugi in the series, the other major one being the actual performance itself. And, now that I think about it, I do remember sitting there, thinking about that quote, and thinking to myself “do I really want to remain the way I am now forever?” And I think I took that quote, subconsciously and deeply internalized it, and acted upon it to alter my life in what I consider to be a major way.

“But,” the skeptical reader says, “it’s just a silly light yuri-service anime! How can you draw life lessons from it?” Ah, I reply, but remember, I’m the same person whose deep funk four years ago was shattered in part due to the supremely light and fluffy and totally without “substance” Kokoro Library. I don’t think something has to have five levels of Jungian psychology to affect someone’s life. To rephrase slightly, the author of a work doesn’t necessarily have to have set out from the beginning to create a life-affirming work. People find meaning in arbitrary works; there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I don’t know what the original mangaka of Hitohira was setting out to do with his work, aside from telling a heartwarming story with a touch of yuri. And it may have just been that. Meaning, oftentimes, is best found in works which don’t set out to have a meaning. It’s one reason I can’t abide literary fiction, but that’s beside the point. We all have to draw strength from somewhere; does it really matter where that strength comes from?

In conclusion:

iyaa~ hazukashii~

IT’S SPREADING, DOCTOR. IT’S SPREADING: Japan is slowly taking over my life. I call Shintoist conspiracy.

So, somewhat belatedly, I’ve noticed something horrific incredible about myself: slowly, through the magic of anime, my other “hobbies”, namely, reading books and listening to music, are starting to fall more and more in line with that of Japanese popular culture. The music thing’s been going on for a while, but here in the last month or so it’s started to spread into a general exploration of Japanese music in general. I mean, I started off exploring into well-tread avenues for otaku: I’ve sound, Momoi Halko, MOSIAC.WAV, various other denpa acts. Then I started following doujin and related music, such as Sound Horizon, ALSTRORMERIA RECORDS, IOSYS, and Shikata Akiko. Then I found the Polysics. Then on some random whim I started hunting down music from bands who were featured in one of the two Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan games (I maintain against the tide of the internet that the soundtrack to 2 is fantastic, although 1 is fantastic as well, but in a different way), so now my musical interest is kind of spread into this general mismash of all things both music and Japanese.

The book thing isn’t quite as bad (despite being an avid lover of books, I don’t have much time to sit down and read, unfortunately) yet, but many of the books I’ve read in recent months have been Japanese in orgin. Brave Story, the first Twelve Kingdoms novel, Socrates in Love, and I’m working on Good Witch of the West v.1 now. Plus, I have copies of Dragoin Sword and Wind Child, Kino no Tabi v.1, and Boogiepop and Others lying around unread (and come March I’ll have to add Shinigami no Ballad to the growing pile), so it’s not like I have a dearth of things from Japan to read.

It’s just an unusual trend I’ve noticed in myself, but slowly, and directed by anime, I’ve started exploring tangentially related parts of Japanese culture I hadn’t seen before. I don’t think I’d call myself a “Japanophile” in the sense than one might normally call oneself that, by which I mean you think that Japan is the best country ever and that it can do no harm. However, at the same time, “Japanophile” is probably the best term for it. I don’t know what it is about the material I’ve seen from them, but it’s all been farily interesting. I think what gets me most is that they do things with a flavor and style I rarely see outside of Japan. Sure, Americans and Westerners in general are experimenting with rock and going down one direction, but I don’t like that direction, whereas Japan’s direction is much more palatable to my ears.

And there’s just something about Japanese narratives that I really like, especially ones that pertain to anime in some shape or form. I don’t think I can actually quantify it in words, but anime has, thus far, been the only genre (or medium, however you want to term it) of film that has held emotional power over me. American cinema can’t do things to me like Toki o Kakeru Shoujo did. American TV can’t hold a mesmerizing spell of suspense and intrigue over 74 episodes like Monster did. American books just feel like they have something missing, something to pull me in (Robin Hobb is a notable exception, however, most non-Japanese literature I read comes from Canada, the UK, or elsewhere). There’s just this mystical something that makes things better for me.

Maybe it’s the allure of the unknown or the foreign. Or maybe I’m sick of the way I lived for 18 years on American pop culture. Whatever the reason, there’s some kind of powerful grip on me.

IINBOU DA.

Why I (probably) Like Anime

The topic kind of came up in a conversation I was having in IRC, and I’ve been meaning to write up a little spiel about why I prefer anime to other kinds of filmed entertainments.

I was introduced to anime in 2002 (just before I started college, which I still haven’t graduated from) via a friend who really liked Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion. I had always been kind of curious about anime–I had visited my high school’s anime club a couple times with my friends, who all liked anime, and I ended up attending one of the meetings in which they showed nth generation Mahoujin Guru Guru VHS fansubs. I distinctly remember being the only person who wanted to watch more of it instead of watching Escaflowne, so this should tell you something about me.

Anyway, for about 4-5 months I’d been groupthinking about anime and thinking it was all REALLY STUPID and DUMB and CUTESY and all kinds of things. I kept chatlogs of my conversations back then, they still exist, and they’re hilarious. My 17 year old self would kill me if he saw what he turned into. Anyway, somehow, through an act of God, I managed to be convinced to watch Cowboy Bebop.

I think I watched the entire show in one day. Summer break, okay?

Needless to say, for some reason (looking back at Cowboy Bebop now, I wonder what the hell I saw in it that was SO AWESOME) I really enjoyed it, and promptly logged into ADTRW over on SA (this was back when ADTRW was actually intelligent) and downloaded just about every series that was on the first page. This included Azumanga Daioh, which totally threw my I DON’T LIKE CUTESY STUFF argument completely out the window.

I honestly don’t know what kept me around during those early years. I watched anything and everything someone said was good, even in passing (except the series I never got around to) and I watched a wide variety of series really early on. I think, if I have to chalk up my lasting interest in anime to any one show, it would have to be Kokoro Library. Sure, by any objective scale, it’s not exactly a groundbreakingly original show, even for when it aired in 2001. But I watched it at a critical juncture in my life, when I was totally depressed like I’ve never been before or since, and the show, simple as it was, taught me what catharsis meant. I absolutely bawled like a baby at episodes 11 and 12, and (although I don’t have clear memories of what happened during 2003, when this was happening) I remember I felt much, much better about things after a good ol’ cry, even a cry of happiness. I had cried before while watching anime (when Ed and Ein left) but I don’t think anything before or since Kokoro Library had actually had an impact on me. And this is why Kokoro Library is my favorite anime ever.

I think, unconciously at first, that a bond was formed then and there, between me and anime–it was a medium that actually could get me worked up into tears, and grandually I found that I liked that it could do that. As I grew older and more mature (and went back to school) I found myself exploring more and more anime, and consuming more and more series. I don’t know whether it’s just that I have broad taste, or if I’m just a harsh discriminator, but I rarely watch anime I end up not liking in some form or another. So I ended up watching a lot of things I really liked. I remember watching Hajime no Ippo and Revolutionary Girl Utena in my first semester back at school in 2004, and also keeping up to date with what was coming out. I’ve kept up to date on anime pretty well since then, and the older I got, the broader range of series I ended up liking. I thought I’d hate Monster; I ended up watching and loving it. I thought I’d be too creeped out by Mushishi; I ended up watching and loving it. I thought I’d hate Bokurano; I ended up reading and loving it. I still watch a relatively large selection of genres; my motto is, if it’s good, I’ll watch it (someday)

There’s a certain kind of power I find in anime that is lacking in non-anime mediums. SDS once suggested to me that anime and manga shoot more frequently for complex emotions, and I think he’s right, that that’s why I like anime over everything else. I can state with confidence that I’m in anime for the long term, that it’s not something that will fade with time. I can say this because complex emotions has long been a hallmark of anime and manga–I’m still powerfully moved by Rose of Versailles, and that’s from the 70s. I don’t think the complexity of emotions will change in anime and manga; it might take on different forms, but I’ll probably still like them.

You could say I’m this creature they call an “otaku”. I wouldn’t argue with you.


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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