Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #12: Yo (K)anno

Whoops, almost forgot to put up my last 12 days of anime post. I wasn’t planning on doing this series this year, so forgive the rushed nature of these posts. I enjoyed writing about my experiences with anime this year, and if I’m still blogging about anime next year, I’ll definitely do this again, hopefully with more focus and preparation.

Shirobako, like many other shows this fall season, was a pleasant surprise. PA Works has a reputation as being another Kyoto Animation in my eyes: they typically make good-looking stuff but it’s all moe fluff with nothing else to hold my interest. Shirobako is still pretty moe, starting off with a high school girl club with aspirations of creating their own anime movie, but does a good job of transitioning into a more realistic adult world of office work and stress. I’ve heard some fans of the show claim the workplace drama is “too real” for them. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s too real, as the show cushions job stress with good humor and some fluffy optimism, but it’s certainly more honest about the real world than most moe anime I’ve seen.

The last two episodes of Shirobako’s first cour, centered around Christmas time, were standout episodes highlighting the growth of main character Miyamori and the tensions between the young and old generations of animators. One of Shirobako’s major themes is the uncertainty about the future. The young generation worries about whether or not they can make a stable career out of their new jobs in animation, and the old generation worries about the direction of where anime is going. The show strikes a nice balance between the young generation learning from their elders while still figuring out who they are for themselves, and that is exemplified when Miyamori tries to get acclaimed director “Mitsuaki Kanno” to draw some key animation for the final episode of the show Exodus.

Boy, he sure looks familiar.

Boy, he sure looks familiar.

Turns out “Kanno” is actually an homage to Hideaki Anno, director of Neon Genesis Evangelion. He only gets one scene in this episode, but it one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen this year and a definite treat for anime fans. Normally I don’t like to praise reference humor since it’s usually really cheap, but here it’s in service of furthering the plot and ideas of Shirobako, plus it’s funny more because of how into anime “Kanno” is than the fact that we know he’s referencing Nausicaa. Miyamori admits her knowledge of older anime isn’t that great, having only seen the Rebuilds of “Ava” and never seeing the original series, but her passion for anime is definitely real when “Kanno” brings up Andes Chucky, a kid’s anime she’d seen in reruns.

Since I’m a young adult still figuring out what he wants to do with the rest of his life and an anime fan interested in the industry and culture, Shirobako strikes a good chord with me. As much as I think the earlier episodes leaned too heavily in the optimistic direction, I would think about my future after watching a few episodes. Shirobako balances nerdy passion and dreadful realism. Though it does favor optimism, it never lets itself stray too far into it. Since the show is willing to address actual problems with starting a career, I think it’s allowed to be optimistic. I think Shirobako‘s ultimate goal is encouraging young people to not give up on their dreams, but trying to be a little more realistic about it than other inspirational dramas. 2014 was a depressing year, so Shirobako was a good pick-me-up.

Here’s to hoping that 2015 is another good year for anime. With more JoJo’s and Ikuhara’s lesbian bears, there’s no way it can be bad, right?

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Twelve Days of Anime #12: When Leomon’s Death Actually Mattered

Here it is, my very belated final Twelve Days of Anime post for 2014. I meant to post this three days ago, but got swept up in the madness of Christmas with my family. Happy Holidays! Also, full-series spoilers for Digimon Tamers here if the title didn’t tip you off.

DigimonTamers

I’ve been a Digimon fan since I was a little kid, but this year was the first time I sat through all of Digimon Tamers, easily the franchise’s best entry. I considered myself “too old” for it by the time Tamers aired on TV in 2001, but I wanted to see it when I got back into anime and heard how good the third installment is from my friend JesuOtaku’s videos about it. I watched it with her and another friend who had previously seen it, and learned how right I was. Tamers had Chiaki Konaka as its head writer, and he brought to it his signature head-trip sensibility and high-concept sci-fi that made Serial Experiments Lain such a classic.

Tamers established a lot of traditions for the franchise, but ironically, it did so in a way that deviated from the usual pattern. One of the main examples of this was killing off Leomon. A Leomon or some evolution of him dies in every single Digimon series (Adventure 02 was technically the exception since that story’s Leomon had already kicked it in the previous installment, but the one that proved the rule), and it’s become an inside joke in the fandom as a result. Yet, while Tamers was the one that made it a tradition, it also made it impossible to laugh at how it killed its Leomon.

Yeah, he's really popular with the furries. Why do you ask?

Yeah, he’s really popular with the furries. Why do you ask?

In Tamers, Leomon becomes the partner of Jeri Kato (Juri Katou if you’re watching the sub), a lonely, weird little girl who protagonist Takato crushes on, and who acts like a sort of third (fourth?) wheel to his Digimon card games with his friends Kazu and Kenta. She desperately wants to be a Tamer, collecting all the Digimon cards she can find to fit in with them. Jeri finally gets her wish by essentially the same method she used to win her friends: desperately following Leomon around and begging him to be her Digimon. Eventually, a Digivice falls from the sky allowing her to tame Leomon. She even shows some real potential for it, knowing when to activate powerful cards to enhance Leomon’s powers.

It doesn’t last very long, though, when series anti-hero Impmon—now in his Mega form as Beelzemon—decides to prove how evil he’s become by killing Leomon. In the world of Tamers, unlike Adventure, Digimon deaths are permanent. Jeri’s reaction to this is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the series:

I didn’t cry when I watched this, because I don’t usually cry when I watch anime. But I got pretty damn close this time.

Jeri was a character I related to quite a bit, more than any other Digimon character in the three series I’ve watched from the franchise. Jeri is a lot like I was as a little girl, from her weird social tics to her lonely desperation for friends. And she responded to Leomon’s death the way I usually respond to traumatic things in my life: by withdrawing. Her friends are too busy saving the Digital World to notice her pain, so she’s taken advantage of by one of its most destructive forces, the D-Reaper. Konaka was influenced by Evangelion for many of his series’ more psychological moments, and there’s a lot of Shinji Ikari in Jeri’s depressed mumbling to herself, especially once she’s taken into the D-Reaper’s void. Fans like to talk about “Scary Jeri,” the creepy computer puppet who replaces her, and Jeri’s horrifying nightmares, but I saw her struggle here as more sad than scary. It resonated too much with my own experiences with depression.

jeri kato depressed

Digimon Tamers is not only my favorite Digimon series and one of my favorite kids’ anime (second only to Princess Tutu, where Konaka also scripted a few episodes), but among my favorite anime series of all time. A big part of my favoritism is its portrayal of Jeri and, by extension, young people struggling with depression and loneliness. All of that hinges on when it made one of the Digimon fandom’s favorite memes into a moment that actually mattered, the emotional climax of the series. Thanks, Konaka! Or, maybe…no thanks. I didn’t ask for this much emotional trauma from a monster-battling show designed to sell toys!

Anyway, thanks everyone for a really great 12 Days of Anime! It was fun to explore my engagement with the medium over the past year this way. I’ll probably have a few end-of-the-year retrospective posts, but other than that, see you in 2015!

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #11: Snow is a Heavy Blanket

I liken Mushi-shi to a warm blanket. It’s the kind of show I turn on when I want to be in a meditative mood. In this age of digital streaming and Twitter, it’s easy to fall into the trap of live-tweeting while watching a show. It’s fun to do, but can distract from the mood of a show, and Mushi-shi is at its most effective in a dimly-lit room with all distractions removed. You need to let the emotion of the show take you in completely to get the most out of it. Mushi-shi is not bombastic, action-packed, or comedic like a lot of other anime from this year that I love, but it serves as a nice counterpoint to shows like that. The second season of Mushi-shi has many stellar episodes that put me in a good mood, but one of my favorite episodes is a little chillier, yet all the more warm for it.

This blanket is anything but warm.

This blanket is anything but warm.

“Beneath the Snow” is the third episode of Mushi-shi‘s second season. Each episode of Mushi-shi acts as its own complete story, centering around someone inflicted by a mushi, a supernatural creature with many forms and abilities. Beyond the mushi and Ginko, a mushi-shi or “mushi doctor”, each episode is standalone with a different cast of characters and different conflict. The victim of “Beneath the Snow” is Toki, who has been possessed by a Tokoyukimushi, a type of mushi that consumes the warmth of its host and causes permanent snowfall. Ginko warns Toki that if he is unable to get warm, he’ll lose his limbs to frostbite, but Toki ignores his advice because the cold doesn’t bother him.

What makes for a great episode of Mushi-shi is not the fantastical nature of the mushi, but the human emotion in the metaphor the mushi represent. Often, the real problems characters face are not caused by mushi, merely exagerrated by them. What Toki suffers from most of all is the grief of losing his sister and being unable to move past it. It’s startlingly real in the face of the supernatural elements, but this is one of Mushi-shi‘s greatest strengths. His inability to feel anything and his avoidance of warmth, even the warmth of human touch, reflects his emotional state of being. He’s locked in a state of self-destruction. The story is about exorcising personal demons and coming back to the world of living. The beautiful and deadly stillness of snow is a perfect setting for such a story. Snow is harsh and cold, but it makes the emotional journey all the more heartwarming when Toki regains his ability to feel in the end.

This is an episode for those who love stories of overcoming despair. Stories like Madoka Magica and Wolf’s Rain are near-and-dear to my heart for similar reasons. “Beneath the Snow’s” setting even makes it a great companion piece to Wolf’s Rain if you’re in the mood for great anime in wintery locations. Not many episodes of Mushi-shi‘s second season actually take place in winter and it aired in spring and fall of this year, but I can’t help but associate it with winter because of the show’s opening theme, “Shiver” by Lucy Rose. With its quiet folk tune and icy imagery, it just screams winter. While I may not live in a snowy climate, to me Mushi-shi seems like the perfect show to watch when its cold outside and you want to feel warm. Wrap yourself in a hot blanket, drink hot chocolate, turn off all distractions, watch some Mushi-shi and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a different realm. After the episode is over, the feelings still linger, as if you too have been possessed by a mushi.

Bonus cute Ginko in a scarf.

Bonus cute Ginko in a scarf.

 

 

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #10: The Gift of Midosuji

There were a lot of sports anime this year with strong fanbases. Haikyuu was fun and I can’t wait for a second season, Free came back for some more manservice camp with a good dose of angst, and Ping Pong brought us the deliciously weird Yuasa flavor that we love. It was such a good year for sports anime that it’s easy to forget that Yowapeda also aired. I’m still watching the show in its second season, but it suffers from Dragonball Z pacing. It’s less of a show about cycling and more of a homoerotic melodrama on wheels, but hey, no one actually watches sports anime for the sports!

I could talk more about Haikyuu, Free, or Ping Pong, but today I want to talk about Yowapeda for one reason: Akira Midosuji, one of my new favorite villains in anime. Why do I like him so much?

midosuji HOLY FUCK

JUST

midosuji SHOCK

LOOK

midosuji WATERMELON

AT

Midosuji pelvic thrust

HIM!

midosuji XENOMORPH

Yowapeda won’t be winning any awards for storytelling, but it’s easy to see the appeal of the show: all the characters are just so weird, and Midosuji with his alien-like behavior and movement is easily king of the weirdos. The sounds he makes as he moves are like a bunch of parasite aliens about to burst through his skin. At a certain point, I realized I was watching the show just to see what weird thing Midosuji was going to do next. Rarely do I watch a show as long as Yowapeda for so simple a reason, yet Midosuji was too enticing to ignore. God bless you Midosuji for giving me a folder of great weird images.

Twelve Days of Anime #11: Vash vs. Legato, and Trigun’s Peculiar Approach to Pacifism

I’m finally writing this post, after I’ve promised it over and over. I’m finally writing this post, on one of the most emotionally-devastating parts of one of my favorite anime, at 5 am on Christmas morning because I can’t sleep. Season’s Greetings!

Once again, full-series spoilers for the Trigun anime ahead.

If you’ve talked to me about it at all, you probably know that Trigun is one of my favorite appraisals of pacifism as a philosophy in fiction, and especially in anime. On my Tumblr, I’ve posted before about how I think other series (namely Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) get pacifism wrong in comparison to Trigun by making it too easy for their heroes, always giving them a convenient out when they have to struggle to uphold their philosophies. Vash the Stampede gets no such outs. He repeatedly makes sacrifices for his “no-killing” credo, and it’s up to the audience to decide whether he’s making the right decisions or not. Other, sympathetic characters also repeatedly challenge him on this philosophy (namely Wolfwood), and make Vash wonder if it’s actually as sound as he thinks. This comes to a head in Vash’s final confrontation with Legato Bluesummers.

When I first watched through this anime, it was confusing to me how this scene fit in with Trigun’s pacifist themes. Vash really has no choice but to kill Legato here. Legato stacks the deck against him, by making it so Meryl and Milly will almost certainly die horrifically if Vash doesn’t obliterate him. I couldn’t understand why a series devoted to pacifism would put its hero in a situation where it couldn’t possibly work. And yet, Vash’s confrontation with and killing of Legato actually furthers Trigun’s more nuanced approach to the idea, an approach that makes it more salient than other shows’ takes on it.

Vash the Stampede has lived nearly 150 years without killing anyone, and it utterly destroys him when he does in this scene. It was a promise he made to Rem when she was alive, and so he feels like he’s failed her and that her spirit has finally left him for good. Yet, in the remaining episodes, Meryl’s appraisal of Vash’s values and the importance of letting people live to give them a chance at redemption—and that killing them passes judgment on their lives that no one deserved to—recommits Vash to his beliefs. It makes him realize he hasn’t failed, just because once he was backed into a corner. After this, he can go on to confront Knives without killing him, giving his brother a chance to rebuild his life. We’re left not knowing whether Knives actually does this, but true to its Christian values to the end, Trigun asks us to have faith in him. Even someone as awful as Knives has been up to this point, deserves that chance.

Vash does spend a lot of bullets wounding people, though.

Vash does spend a lot of bullets wounding people, though.

The take-away here is that Trigun approaches pacifism as a project, rather than a strict set of rules one must always adhere to or they fail. It recognizes—unlike other series like Fullmetal Alchemist—that there will be times we can’t commit to our values, that we’ll have no choice but to do something else, even something contrary to them. Yet, that doesn’t mean they’re no longer worth it. We should still try, if we can still explain why they are worth it. And Trigun certainly explains why pacifism is a worthy value system.

It gives people like Legato too much power if we let them back us into a corner and make us doubt ourselves. (And Legato certainly intended to break Vash with his dying breaths—a mind-gaming devil to the end.)

Look at this smarmy shithead.

Look at this smarmy shithead.

I specifically contrasted this with Fullmetal Alchemist, so let me explain this. In the manga and the Brotherhood anime, Edward Elric is frequently verbally challenged on his “no killing” policy, including by sympathetic characters. Yet, it’s always in practical rather than moral terms, unlike how Vash is challenged in Trigun. What’s more, Ed never actually has to make a tough choice between killing someone and saving others. Even when it appears that he will need to do so, a third option always presents himself, allowing him to keep his moral purity intact. In the first anime, Ed does actually have to make the difficult choice to kill a few times—and it results in him examining the faults of and eventually discarding his previous value system. He finds it gradually easier to kill bad people.

I’ve seen fans commend Brotherhood for its commitment to “killing is bad,” but I always thought that the convenient third options undermined it. Like a lot of Brotherhood’s thematic stuff, it’s shallow shonen morality that doesn’t hold much resonance in the complicated real world, where if you live in the violent kind of life Ed does, you will inevitably have to choose between your ideals and the best end result. I think Trigun is stronger for putting Vash in the impossible position that Legato does—and still finding a way to uphold his values after that.

Still, poor Vash. :(

Still, poor Vash. 😦

A strong philosophy such as pacifism is a life-long project. We’ll inevitably make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we’ve strayed off the path. As long as we recommit ourselves, that commitment is still there and it still matters. We are all worthy and capable of redemption.

Twelve Days of Anime #10: Much Ado About Kill la Kill

One of the weirder aspects of my engagement with anime fandom this year was the Twitter/Tumblr firestorm over Kill la Kill. The show began last year, but I didn’t really start watching it until the end of the fall season. I’d seen people go nuts over it on Tumblr, as well as get furiously angry at its fanservice and other perceived offenses. I figured there had to be something to this show to attract so much controversy, so I checked it out.

kill la kill ryumako

Kill la Kill is many things, among those being bombastic, weird, and certainly like nothing else out there. I mean, it’s a story about sentient pieces of clothing that threaten humanity, and the scissor-blade-wielding quasi-magical-girl who stands up against them. It’s been compared to everything from Gurren Lagann to Evangelion (but what anime isn’t compared to the latter in some way), but none of this really explains Kill la Kill. There are some things Kill la Kill decidedly isn’t, though. One of those is “deep”—despite any indications it may have been leaning there during its run, it didn’t make anything of them. All that was sacrificed in service of its fun-loving heart.

Another of those things is “feminist” or “anti-feminist.” Kill la Kill indulges in a lot of over-the-top fanservice, that made me feel a bit icky whenever I had to look at Ryuko’s cameltoe in her transformation sequences. It also has some moments of questionable use of sexual assault imagery, as with Satsuki being fondled by her mother—though, I never felt that they were outright tasteless, and they served a narrative purpose in showing how imprisoned and helpless Ragyo made her. Yet, the series still seems to fundamentally respect its female characters, and gives them equal development and prominence to the male ones. In fact, most of its important characters are female. This is certainly not a rule against an anime being sexist (as the “battle vixens” genre proves) and Kill la Kill plays a lot to the male gaze, but it rarely felt truly exploitative (or at least, no more than every other aspect of the show). I found a lot to enjoy from its portrayal of women as a feminist anime fan.

This girl was my favorite.

This girl was my favorite.

This series became a lightning rod for feminist debate on the Internet, and it was incredibly polarized. Either you thought Kill la Kill was the next Utena or a “female Evangelion,” or some sort of deep metaphor for female puberty (here’s where I have to stifle a laugh)… or you thought it was misogynistic, rape-apologist trash. It got pretty ugly and personal on both sides, with those who disliked it being accused of “looking for things to dislike,” and those who liked it in turn hearing that they were “just making excuses” and being unable to admit they “liked problematic things.” I thought there was a lot of confirmation bias on both ends—I know I was a little too quick to believe some of the pro-KLK theories I heard, and I’ll never for the life of me understand what some people’s big issue with episode 3 is—but also some intelligent arguments that it was frustrating to see so easily dismissed. The whole time, I couldn’t help but think it was odd to see so many people taking an anime incredibly seriously that doesn’t take itself remotely seriously.

kill la kill this is crazy

It was also a strange place for me to be since, then and now, I never really had a strong feeling either way about Kill la Kill . That goes for the series’ overall quality, not just in terms of its “feminism” and whatnot. It’s a very visually-inventive and entertaining anime, with a really fun cast of characters. Yet, it never really captured my heart the way it did others. I found the first half hard to get through (and I marathoned most of it), and even the more engaging latter half never made me feel as emotionally-invested as my friends were. However, I seem to be pretty much the only person (apart from Bobduh) with such a middling reaction to this show. For whatever reason, it draws strong opinions.

Which I find very interesting, as Kill la Kill certainly doesn’t seem to be made with that in mind. It’s like a non-stop party, meant to be a rollicking good battling time and little else. Yet, if you were following anime in the winter of 2014, you couldn’t escape hearing people discuss everything I’ve mentioned and more: Is Kill la Kill good or bad? Does it treat its female characters well or not? Does Mako belong with Ryuko or Gamagoori? And above all: what does it mean? The series appeared to answer the last one for us: it didn’t mean much of anything, and it didn’t have to. It’s not meant to inspire so much thought and reflection. It only wants to entertain you.

The finale also answered another of those questions, too.

The finale answered another of those questions, too.

The endless Kill la Kill debates were an interesting time in anime fandom for me, as they made me realize a lot of why I disliked the discussions around feminism in media online. Fandom is all about personal investment in media, and too often, that gets mixed in when those same people try to critique it. That goes both ways, too—plenty of the people I saw reading offensiveness into Kill la Kill in places where it wasn’t, seemed to be justifying other issues they had with the show (perfectly legitimate ones, I might add). Let those conversations be a lesson for 2015, to be more honest about what we’re trying to say when we talk about feminism and other fraught issues in media. And maybe consider whether the work we’re looking at is really engaging with these issues (or any) in the first place.

Twelve Days of Anime #9: Watching Anime With My Sister…And My Cat?

kyo kara maoh

My younger sister and I have always fought with each other…over everything. When we were little kids, while we watched a lot of the same TV shows and got obsessed with the same trends, we invariably had different opinions about them. For example: Even though she played drums and I play bass, we could never start a band, because our musical tastes were too divergent. She liked pop (especially J-pop); I liked classic rock. We were like oil and water on every topic, except for anime and video games (usually of the Japanese variety). Those were the places we could bond: Fullmetal Alchemist, Pokemon, and Animal Crossing.

So when I got back into anime two years ago, this was a huge relief for us. Finally, we had something we both liked we could talk about again! The problem is, the more I get into anime, the more my sister and I find reason to fight over it, because our tastes are so different.

My sister’s opinions on anime are a lot more… “fangirl?” than mine are. Her favorites are popular anime-fan favorites, at least for anime fans who started watching in the mid-00s. She keeps up on long-running shonen anime like Naruto, while I don’t (although I do mean to check out Hunter x Hunter like everyone keeps telling me). She prefers FMA Brotherhood to the 2003 anime, and you all know how I feel about that. She falls firmly on the “subs” line of that classic fan debate while I’m more ambivalent, which resulted in a big argument between us last time we both stayed with our parents. (It was over Digimon, of all things.) I’m sure she’d probably have some choice words for me and my snooty, artsy-fartsy tastes and opinions, too.

We do have some common ground, though. One of the main things is that we’re both diehard fujoshi, so something BL-flavored is a good bet for us both to enjoy. So when she got the old out-of-print DVDs of Kyo Kara Maoh for Christmas last year, we marathoned it every night after our parents went to sleep. We still ended up disagreeing—on which dude the protagonist should be with from his shonen-ai harem—but it was in good fun, and we bonded a lot while watching the show.

Yuuri belongs with CONRAD. Isn't it obvious?

Yuuri belongs with CONRAD. Isn’t it obvious?

Kyo Kara Maoh is the story of Yuuri Shibuya, a baseball-obsessed Japanese teenager who falls through a toilet (yes, really!) and finds himself in a medieval European fantasy kingdom. He learns it’s called the Demon Kingdom and he’s its new king, and now he’s suddenly surrounded with pretty boys accompanying him on adventures and diplomatic challenges. It’s a weird, bloated light-novel adaptation, full of filler arcs combined with more substantial plot and character development. Running 78 episodes in total, it’s probably best experienced in marathon-form, skimming through the filler at breakneck speed with another fujoshi seated next to you. I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t a fan of BL or of reverse harems (Kyo Kara Maoh feels like a parody of certain notable examples of the latter, like Fushigi Yuugi), but if you are, it’s great slumber-party fare.

And we weren’t even the only ones who liked it. My cat Casey spent 10 straight minutes during one episode staring at the TV. He never does this! But Kyo Kara Maoh drew him in, I guess. I think his favorite character was Gwendal.

He also has a crush on our Christmas tree skirt, though, so I'm not sure what Casey's opinion is worth.

He also has a crush on our Christmas tree skirt, though, so I’m not sure what Casey’s opinion is worth.

My sister’s engagement with anime is a big part of my own. It was the degree of her obsession as a teenager that turned me off it for a while. Now it’s become a way for us to connect as adults, even if we often disagree. I value her opinion enough to ask her what she thinks whenever I finish an older series. Having friends with wildly different tastes who still understand yours is a valuable experience when you spend your life thinking about and discussing media. For me, that friend is my sister.

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #9: Tokyo Needs More Gay

I don’t have many strong feelings regarding Tokyo Ghoul. I started watching it in October, but only recently finished it despite it being only 12 episodes. Chalk that up to there being a lot of other good shows I was watching and me not being invested in Tokyo Ghoul’s story. It’s rushed and does little to distinguish itself from other recent cannibal monster anime like Attack on Titan and Parasyte. I’ll probably check out the second season if only to see how they follow up the non-ending of season 1, but my expectations are low. So why am I talking about a show I mostly have middling feelings toward? Because of this guy.

shuu crazy

Shuu Tsukiyama is the first major villain in Tokyo Ghoul. His primary motivation is to eat Ken Kaneki, the main character, because he smells good. He’s more of a monster-of-the-week who does little to further the plot, but I couldn’t get him out of my head. Because I absolutely hate this character and everything he represents. His characterization harkens back to the gay-coding of Classic Hollywood. Characters couldn’t be explicitly homosexual under the Hays Code, so filmmakers had to be creative and find ways to imply a character was homosexual. However, this was problematic because these implied-to-be-gay characters were depicted as villainously perverse or inferior because of their homosexual and effeminate behavior. These films created and encouraged negative gay stereotypes despite never once explicitly talking about homosexuality. It may be 2014, but these stereotypes persist, even outside of the Hollywood system.

In the short amount of time he matters, Shuu exemplifies these old gay stereotypes to an uncomfortable level. He takes an uncomfortable interest with Kaneki the moment he meets him, prompting Touka to call him gross. In another scene, he snorts a handkerchief with Kaneki’s blood on it. Tokyo Ghoul goes out of its way to portray this as creepy villainous behavior, as if to say “this guy has the hots for another guy and that’s totally fucked up!” As a bisexual man, I can’t help but be appalled that this character was ever allowed to exist. Tokyo Ghoul, with its story about lost souls trying to live in a world that hates and fears them, could have been a great showcase for gay characters. The metaphor of fear and acceptance is right there, yet Tokyo Ghoul unironically and uncritically falls back on gay stereotypes to characterize a major villain. It’s a huge disappointment. Well, at least he’s the only horrible gay stereotype in this show, right?

Goddammit.

Goddammit.

Next post: something more positive.

Twelve Days of Anime #8: Ikuhara’s Kitty-Cats In Love

For one of my earlier 12 Days posts, I talked about Sailor Moon, my issues with Crystal and why I think the franchise has diminishing returns in 2014. So as a fan of the franchise who’s spent a lot of time with it this year, I wanted to dedicate another post to something I really loved about it. Namely, one of the highlights of my re-watch of the original series this year, made possible by Viz’s re-licensing of the series and streaming all the episodes on Hulu.

rhett butler cat

The “Rainbow Crystals” arc, starring Zoisite as main villain and featuring the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask squaring off with him to find the mysterious Silver Crystal, is one of the highlights of the first season of Sailor Moon. Each of the “rainbow crystals” that, when combined, makes up the Silver Crystal, is hidden in a normal person who has obtained special powers from it. Each of these people gets their own backstory that resonates with the Senshi and their story (one is a love interest for Ami, one for Makoto—but they’re not all boyfriend material, I swear!) It was entirely anime-original, and it provided ample room for the talented creators on its staff to play around and show off their original voices, so it’s one of the places I go to when extolling the virtues of the Sailor Moon anime to newbies. And one of its best episodes was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Penguindrum fame.

In this episode, “Loved and Chased: Luna’s Worst Day Ever,” the Crystal-bearer isn’t actually a person, but a huge fat cat named Rhett Butler. He’s in love with Luna, and rescues her when she’s chased by a horde of alley cats. It’s kind of fitting that this would be an Ikuhara-directed episode, since his original work likes to blur the lines between humans and animals/objects, and their roles (see: Nanami as a cow). I’m not sure if it was his creative choice to put a cat in a human role, but it definitely fits. A good chunk of the episode is the characters taking forever to realize this, as they chase after his owner, thinking she’s the Crystal bearer. When they figure out it’s her cat, she completely disappears from the story, Rhett Butler taking center stage.

There are a lot of weird, surreal set pieces in here, another Ikuhara staple. The original Sailor Moon anime gets trippy on the visuals a lot of the time, but there’s a noticeable uptick in episodes with Ikuhara at the helm. Here’s an example:

trippy kitties

One of my favorite sequences is this episode is when Zoisite chases Luna and Rhett Butler through the sewers under Tokyo. After complaining repeatedly about how dirty he’s getting (Zoisite, you fop, I love you), he founds out the fuzzy things he’s pressing against are (really cute) sewer rats, and he shrieks as they surround him. It’s not just because I adore Zoisite that I love that scene. It’s the sort of silly physical comedy that Utena used so well with Nanami in the curry episode, so another great shape of things to come.

sewer rats zoisite

The trouble with tribbles…

I could go on talking about how it relates to some of Ikuhara’s later work, as that’s a lot of the fun of dissecting his early Sailor Moon episodes. (Ikuhara would go on to oversee the second half of Sailor Moon’s R season and the whole of the S season, where the comparisons become more palpable.) Yet this episode is such a wild ride on its own. The episodic nature of a lot of Sailor Moon’s “filler” arcs gave the creators room to flesh out characters by focusing on one each and putting her in a new situation. And “Luna’s Worst Day Ever” tells us a lot about its title character, how as sage of a mentor to Usagi as she is, she’s kind of defenseless and fearful on her own. How she’s stoic and poised but easily-flattered. It also has a lot of fun with Rei, who gets mad at the other Senshi for attacking the transformed Rhett Butler because of how they’re interrupting his and Luna’s “moment.” As brusque as she can be, Rei has a big heart deep down, one that BELIEVES IN KITTY-CAT LOVE.

Really, that’s the Ikuhara sensibility best personified by this and other of his early Sailor Moon episodes: Over-the-top theatrics and humor combined with strong character moments and symbolism. It’s what made his future works masterpieces, and what makes Sailor Moon so much fun.

rei how could you ruin

Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #8: Terror of No Resonance

So Space Dandy was easily one of my favorite anime of the year. It had its ups and downs, but the ups were extremely high and the downs were still rather good compared to most other anime. Shinichiro Watanabe had yet to make a bad show as far as I was concerned, so when Terror in Resonance was announced for the summer, of course I was hyped. Everyone was hyped. The show had high production values, music by Yoko Kanno, and had the potential for a strong politically-charged message. So what did we get? “These are no ordinary terrorists. These terrorists have something to say!”

JemEricHeadbang

Maybe it’s because as a American who’s spent most of his life living in a post-9/11 world, but if you’re going to have a show be about terrorism, I expect it to say more than just “terrorists have something to say!” Because all terrorists have something to say. In fact, the entire point of terrorism is to use extreme measures to get a message across. 9 and 12, the boring teenage genius protagonists of Terror in Resonance, are no different from other terrorists. The show wants to be critical of Japanese society’s treatment of children, but all it gives us is a cliche child experiment plot with no actual critical analysis to speak of. 9 and 12 are not interesting or developed characters. The show goes out of its way to make them as moe as possible and refuses to give them any darkness or humanity. They blow up buildings and airplanes, but no one gets hurt or killed! 12 falls in love with a girl who’s there just to be kidnapped a lot. The show introduces American villains to give us more reason to root for 9 and 12. The show ends with 9 and 12 being gunned down by Americans just so we can feel sad. Terror in Resonance is more concerned with us liking its protagonists than it is with giving us anything to critically think about. By having the Americans act as villains, the show shoots itself in the foot. It does what many post-World War II Japanese movies and TV shows have done: shift the blame to the American government, not the nationalist Japanese government.

The growing nationalist sentiment in the Japanese government has been terrifying. This year, we got two different anime with the potential to criticize the nationalist movement, but ultimately they both backed down from saying anything truly critical. The Wind Rises originally was going to end with Jiro’s death and with more remorse for his involvement in World War II, but was changed to a happier ending with him living. Terror in Resonance might have been more effective had it cut out the Americans entirely and focused more on the Japanese government’s involvement in 9 and 12’s development, but ultimately holds off saying anything that would piss them off. As a result, Terror in Resonance is limp and ineffectual.