Gattai Girls 9: Darling in the Franxx and Zero Two

Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.

— 

Darling in the Franxx is a mysteriously divisive anime, ripe for viewers of all stripes to interpret according to their personal values. Given a series whose messages appear to change depending on who you ask, it’s perhaps not so surprising that the main heroine of Darling in the Franxx, Zero Two, is just as much a whirlwind of contradictions.

Darling in the Franxx is a high-key sexually charged anime. If the doggy-style male-female combination cockpits weren’t enough, the series actively draws attention to the fact that the anime’s teen heroes live in a bizarre dystopia where their sexual energies are channeled into piloting giant mecha called Franxx. Covering subjects like love, sex, and marriage through both overt and relatively subtle metaphors, the anime is loved and hated in seemingly equal amounts on ways that contradict one another.

In Darling in the Franxx, Zero Two is the pilot of the robot Strelitzia. Far and away the most powerful weapon in humanity’s fight against the monstrous Klaxosaurs, Strelitzia would be their most reliable advantage if it didn’t come at a price: Any man who pilots with Zero Two inevitably ends up critically injured or dead. The protagonist, Hiro, ends up being the only guy who can survive Zero Two, and their combination becomes the key to turning the tide of battle. However, their connection ends up going back much further than either realize.

Is Zero Two an inspiring firebrand who lives by her own rules, or is she a fetishized sex object whose mere presence fulfills men’s fantasies? Is she an ideal girlfriend or a femme fatale? The answer is “yes.” She’s all these things and more, despite Zero Two being a difficult character to project one’s assumptions onto. She doesn’t have the appearance of an emotionless doll like an Ayanami Rei (Evangelion) or the “dishonest,” tsundere-esque feelings of a Souryuu/Shikinami Asuka Langley (Evangelion). She’s not an Asuna (Sword Art Online) either, who’s kindness and strength make her practically “good wife, wise mother” personified.

Zero Two is rebellious towards rules and authority, loyal to those she loves, and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. She can’t be pegged down or held back, and the only times she’s willing to show weakness are around people whom she truly trusts. She’s more than willing to take matters into her own hands, and has even rescued Hiro from being taken over by the enemy. Zero Two herself has never been damseled herself, and the only time Hiro had to reach out to bring her back was more in the metaphorical sense—diving deep into her mind and their shared past to keep Zero Two from going berserk.

Strelitzia itself is a fascinating piece of the puzzle that is Zero Two. The main mecha of Darling in the Franxx are feminine-looking, which goes against the tradition of primarily masculine designs. Those with a more feminine appearance tend to have attacks that draw attention to their “womanly” aesthetic as well, like how Aphrodite A in Mazinger Z shoots “Breast Missiles.” The Franxx are, aside from cute faces and a general feminine silhouette, not as overtly sexual on the outside. That being said, the workings of the cockpit mentioned above make it impossible to ignore sexual connotations, especially because the female pilots “become” their Franxx. Like the others, Zero Two’s facial expressions become Strelitzia’s, and when she talks to Hiro in fights, her display shows that robotic appearance instead of her own. Eventually, this integration of girl and machine gets taken further, driving home the theme of love in a way that both reinforces and defies the conventional cockpit setup.

Zero Two is strong and weak, cruel and compassionate, loving and spiteful. She’s a complete character in a certain sense, and a caricature in another. She is as much of what you want of her as you want, which means that on some level, she reflects the desires and/or anxieties of the viewer and their relationship with the world.

Advertisements

Real vs. Perfect: The Two Opposing Idol Values

1983’s Creamy Mami was the first idol anime, and it made an idol out of Mami’s voice actor as well. Watching her videos from back then, a 15-year-old Ohta Takako comes across as awkward and unaccustomed to the spotlight, even in “Love Sarigenaku” above, her most “grown-up” song. Compared to many of the slickly produced pop hits of later years, Ohta can come across as almost unprofessional, but that’s exactly where her appeal lies. When it comes to Japanese idols, there are two general directions: “unrefined and real” or “polished and perfect.”

When comparing the Japanese idol juggernaut AKB48 to the K-Pop sensation Girls’ Generation (who have been enormously popular in Japan), the latter visually comes across as a much more “professional-looking” group. While calling them idolsTheir dance and choreography are on point, and their music videos make them look like a million bucks. But while the girls of AKB48 have a kind of awkwardness about them, and many aren’t the greatest singers, there’s a sense of them “trying their best,” and this is exactly what the fans want. In other words, perfection isn’t necessarily desired. It can be, but that strain of inexperience and perseverance is just as strong.

These dual forces can be seen in idol anime in spades. In Love Live! School Idol Project, the main characters are the ragtag group μ’s (pronounced “Muse”), and the defending champions are the practically-professional A-RISE, who come from the richest high school in Akihabara. In Aikatsu!, Hoshimiya Ichigo is shown as having some kind of natural spark of genuineness that contrasts her from the seemingly unassailable Kanzaki Mizuki. And in Macross Frontier, the main love triangle features, as seen above, the humble waitress Ranka Lee (right) vs. the sultry Sheryl Nome (left). In every case, what causes the “small fry” to ascend isn’t that they transform into polished and perfect idols, but that even as they improve, that unrefined and authentic quality shines through. Perhaps it says something that the main heroines of these shows tend to lean that way as well.

And yet, as touched on briefly in the beginning, voice actors who play idols in anime actually end up being idols themselves. When the girls of Love Live! hold live concerts their flaws come out, but that’s part of the appeal of seeing them in person. When watching the characters in the anime or in music videos, that imperfection doesn’t come across in the performances so much as in the dialogue and supporting materials. A similar phenomenon exists all the way back with Creamy Mami. She comes across as much more “polished” than Ohta Takako does, yet they share the same voice.

An interesting case of the strange interaction with the 2D vs. 3D and real vs. perfect contrasts are those that toe the line, like Hatsune Miku or virtual youtubers. With Miku, her limitations—the fact that her voice sounds robotic—is considered part of her appeal. With virtual youtubers, the fact that there’s a person performing behind the character is much more obvious, and the idea that they start to break down or break character is what lends a sense of “realness.”

In this regard, California-born Japanese idol Sally Amaki is especially interesting. A member of 22/7, an “anime-style characters” idol group in the vein of Love Live!, she plays the bilingual character Fujima Sakura while bringing along her own fans as Sally. Not only does she perform the virtual youtuber role as Sakura, but her native English fluency brings an interesting dynamic that highlights a sense of “realness,” especially for English-speaking fans. Not only is there often a contrast between Sally’s “cute, practiced idol” voice and her Californian mannerisms when switching between Japanese and English, but she’ll mention something that only someone growing up in the US would know off the cuff. This lets American fans connect with her sense of authenticity in ways that they might not have been able to in the past.

In the end, “real vs. perfect” is not a true dichotomy by any means, and every idol/idol group approaches that divide in different ways. Whether you’re an idol fan or not, which do you prefer?

Kon Kon Otakon Iroha: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for August 2018

It’s August, and another opportunity to express appreciation for my supporters on Patreon and Ko-fi. I try to live up to your contributions!

Thank you to…

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

August means one of my favorite times of the year: Otakon season! Hopefully my wait-listed panel will magically get in, but in the meantime I’ll be on Patz’s Mecha Fight Club panel on Saturday at 9am in Panel room 7. Come by to hear me and others nerd it up about giant robots.

There is a more serious matter when it comes to Otakon, however, and that’s the fact that a white nationalist rally is going to be held the same weekend in Washington, DC. My fellow con attendees, please remain safe, and pity these idiots for putting so much energy into anger and hate.

Speaking of dealing with racists, I’ve recently begun revising my informal policy when it comes to blog comments. It’s not like I receive tons of comments these days, but I’ve come to realize that the concept of “let the ideas do the talking” only really works if the goal of everyone talking is to actually learn something. The alt-right/white nationalist agenda tries to feign actual debate but just wants a podium to posture and look strong. So if I see anyone arguing in bad faith, I’m basically deleting their comments. Simple as that.

But if you want to argue in good faith, here are my favorite posts from July.

Darling in the Franxx: Thoughts on a Divisive Anime

A show that people seemed to either love or hate, I give my own thoughts on a show where viewers can’t even agree what it’s about.

The Important Lesson Nadesico Teaches Us About Entertainment

One of my old favorites has an important message in these current times, about the strengths and pitfalls of pop culture entertainment.

Precure: The Crossroads of Voice Acting

A look at how a 15-year-old franchise brings veteran and newbie seiyuu alike.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 6 sheds new light on Akira, and is in certain respects the most interesting chapter yet. If you didn’t know Kio Shimoku has a new manga, now’s the time to read up on it!

Patreon-Sponsored

The Newest Nekomusume is the Obvious Character Evolution

What began in 2007 continues in 2018.

Closing

Otakon! Whoooooo!

The Fujoshi Files 179: Rulutieh

Name: Rulutieh (ルルティエ)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Utawaterumono: The False Faces

Information:
Rulutieh is the youngest princess of the vassal state of Kujuuri. Accompanied by her trusty companion, an adorable yet powerful giant bird named Kokopo, she winds up traveling with the amnesiac Haku and his guardian Kuon to the capital of Yamato. Though typically shy and softspoken, her passion can be roused by the thoughts of two men showing passion for each other. Rulutieh’s father is Oozen, one of the Eight Pillar Generals.

Fujoshi Level:
In the capital of Yamato, Rulutieh comes across a shop selling original editions of male-male romance art books. The uncharacteristic aggression she expresses at finding such rare treasures is enough to scare her friend and fellow princess Atui.

Lolita vs. Gothic Lolita Characters

Lolita fashion (and in fact fashion in general) is one aspect of Japanese pop culture that I never really looked into. However, I’ve come to learn a lot about the culture, its fans, its philosophy, and the sheer range of styles available that fall under the umbrella of “Lolita fashion.” What once looked to be “large bows and frilly dresses” turns out to have a good deal of subtlety and expression.

One of my discoveries in this period has been about how there are many different types of Lolita fashion. Prince Lolita involves a more masculine appearance. Sweet Lolita aims for a more child-like look. There are other variations as well, but what I’ve come to wonder is why Gothic Lolita in particular captures the imagination of anime and other related industries. If there’s a Lolita character in anime, more often than not she’s Gothic.

Some readers might be asking, “What’s the difference?” In fact, before I started reading up on the subject I didn’t know that there was a distinction myself. “Aren’t all Lolitas also Gothic Lolitas as well?” If others fell under similar misconceptions, then it’s perhaps no wonder that the Gothic variety would be so much more prominent.

However, I think there’s another component to consider, which is the popularization of the chuunibyou personality trait. Consider many of the Gothic Lolita characters that appear in anime and manga, such as Kuroneko in My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute, Kanzaki Ranko in The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, or Yohane in Love Live! Sunshine!! More often than not, their dark, Victorian clothing is supposed to be an expression of the desire to come from some kind of otherworldly, magical place. Lolita fashion enthusiasts often love it as a way of presenting themselves to the world in a way that goes against expected norms, but this resistance can be easily understood. When paired with the idea of the chuunibyou character and their wish to be the reincarnation of Demon Lord Wingding III, it enters more the realm of comprehensible fantasy and not so much feminist criticism, which is a factor in Lolita fashion in part or in whole.

When people see Lolita, they’re often probably not viewing it from the same perspective as the wearers of Lolita Fashion themselves, bringing their own values (for better or for worse) to the meaning of Lolita fashion. Perhaps in a world full of chuunibyou stories, the Gothic Lolita, more than any other Lolita type, is the visual and personality type that can resonate with the greatest number of people unfamiliar with Lolita fashion, and the result is that Gothic Lolita reigns as an archetype over others.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

The Newest Nekomusume is the Obvious Character Evolution

The 2018 anime Gegege no Kitaro, the latest in a long line of adaptations of the classic occult manga by the same name, features a certain character who stands out from the rest. Tall, leggy, and full of attitude, Nekomusume (“Catchick” in the Crunchyroll translation) is the biggest departure from Mizuki Shigeru’s original designs out of everyone in this new series. While this might have once been considered uncharacteristic of Gegege no Kitaro, it’s an unsurprising development based on what started 11 years ago.

In 2007, the image of Gegege no Kitaro was changed forever—by moe. Nekomusume, once as strange and bizarre as every other creature in the series, was suddenly…cute. And not just prettied up a little, either. Nekomusume went from being ostensibly a catgirl (the literal meaning of her name) to being practically exemplar for the character archetype.

The fanartists noticed. Oh, did they ever. Seemingly overnight, she was one of the most popular subjects around. Some artists, previously known for their sheer variety of subject matter, suddenly had a noticeable Nekomusume bias. And as was inevitable, a good amount of it was varying degrees of lewd. This was the general direction of Nekomusume in the online fandom, right through to 2018.

While going back to the designs of iterations past would’ve been a respectable decision, the current Nekomusume takes the opposite route, pushing the sex appeal up by five notches. Whereas the 2007 version could be considered cuteness made hot by the fans, this current character is built to be hot from the ground up, and in a more contemporary way as well. She’s a combination of snobbery, ferocity, and tsundere attitude—just one of many elements in an anime that asks, “How does the Showa-era franchise stay relevant in modern times?”

Nekomusume, despite towering over Kitaro and being clearly designed to appeal to a contemporary audience, actually doesn’t feel too blatantly pandering or forced. It’s an overall strength of the series, actually, that an updated series doesn’t come across like an old man in a cane asking, “What’s the haps, fellow kids?” The show also lets her face turn grossly demonic when she fights, so she’s not perfectly beautiful all the time. And if people are gonna look at Nekomusume though perv glasses, at least this one is designed with more adult proportions.

That does make me wonder if any of the diehard fans of the 2007 Nekomusume rejected this version. Which will ultimately be the most enduring design? I look forward to seeing the results in another 11 years.

Deep in the Tiger’s Den is a Het Pairing: Sasuke × Sakura’s Doujinshi Popularity

When I traveled to Japan this past May, one of my activities was to visit various doujin shops such as Toranoana. I like to see what’s popular, to get a general image of trends among hardcore fans. Which titles are popular? Which characters? Which pairings? And unlike doujin events, where many artists release their own works more for passion than profit, Toranoana is about what sells.

In Akihabara, this means going to multiple Toranoana stores, each of which specialize in a certain demographic. One in particular is devoted to girls (though nothing prevents guys from entering and shopping there), and as expected it’s primarily filled with BL.

However, one major exception was actually Naruto. In a relatively small yet dedicated section, surrounded by guy-guy pairings in most every other title, heterosexual romance took to the majority of the Naruto shelf. Of those couples, Sakura × Sasuke was by far the most popular.

I’m not against Sasuke × Sakura by any means, but I have to wonder why does it hold such a special place among hardcore female anime and manga fans. Why is it to the point that other het pairings are outshone, and the normally dominant BL pairings fade into the distance in this one ninja-themed microcosm?

One thing I discovered while searching for reasons is that Sasuke × Sakura is perhaps the most popular straight romantic pairing in English-speaking Naruto fandom, and visibly popular among Japanese fans. Given that context, it might just be the case that its sheer prominence is able to overcome even the fujoshi hegemony of the girls’ doujin scene.

Perhaps one factor is that Sakura is an easy target for female readers to project themselves onto. She’s also closer to the two most important characters in the manga than anyone else. However, given that fujoshi popularity is usually based on the strength of the pairing itself than the individual characters, it makes me skeptical about Sasuke × Sakura being an exception, even if it is a heterosexual ship.

From what I’ve read, a common reason fans support Sakura is her sense of loyalty towards Sasuke. She’s willing to support him through thick and thin, and even oppose him when she feels he needs it. The scene where Sakura tries to stop Sasuke from leaving to join Orochimaru appears to have been a flashpoint for supporters and haters of Sasuke × Sakura, because the former saw Sasuke’s “thank you” and knocking Saa away as him reluctantly pushing away those he cares about, while the latter saw it as an example of Sasuke showing flat, platonic fondness at best. Given the actual outcome of the series—Sakura and Sasuke married and had a child—the fans clearly won out, with Sasuke’s behavior best described as “reliably angsty.” Even as husband and wife, Sasuke’s #1 gesture to show affection is to tap Sakura on the forehead, and then disappear for months or years on end, undergoing secret missions to protect his family Andy his village.

Sasuke × Sakura reigns strong as a premiere het pairing, and I’m not bothered one bit. If any fans would like to help me understand the SasuSaku mind further, feel free to comment!