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Just in time for the release of Captain America: Civil War, I decided to write a short article about the similarities between My Hero Academia and Captain America.

I think there might be some additional parallels with the new movie as well, but I’m going to have to wait until I actually see the thing before I make that decision.

Comic artist Rob Liefeld has carried two reputations throughout his career, both of which can be considered two sides of the same coin. To many, Liefeld is the 90s comics artist, with his creation of various “extreme” characters, a move away from simple, minimalist superhero designs to ones loaded with details and accoutrements. At the same time, he has also become the poster child for “bad comic art,” mostly because those same qualities that exemplify both 90s comics and Liefeld himself are viewed as a move away from technical skill, visual clarity, and overall good character design. In looking at Liefeld’s work, though, I recently began to ask myself if he might be considered what is known in Japanese as heta-uma, literally “bad-good.”

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Last year at Otakon, I debuted a new panel called “Great Ugly Manga.” The purpose of the panel was to show how bad artwork in manga wasn’t necessarily a demerit against that manga, but that “ugliness” could be utilized in interesting ways. Ugly manga can play with expectations, carry a kind of strong emotional energy, and even change the meaning of moments compared to if they were rendered beautifully. This idea is not new, and in fact at the panel we mentioned the essential philosophy behind heta-uma. The idea, originating from Japanese artist King Terry, is that art has a technical aspect and a kind of “soulful” aspect, and that while being good in both categories is the ideal, it’s better to be bad at the technique and good at the soul, rather than good at technique at the expense of expressiveness. In fact, it was while we were gathering images for Great Ugly Manga that my co-panelist I briefly discussed the idea that Rob Liefeld might be heta-uma.

Both the notion of bad-good and good art in general are highly subjective, and the line between technical expertise and expert expressiveness is actually pretty nebulous. When I talk about Liefeld’s art being “bad,” I’m more using the idea of bad that has been presented online across various forums and articles, that his tendency to use the same poses, to ignore feet, and that his overall frenetic line work is less impressive than artists with similar yet more highly refined artists such as Jim Lee.

What I find is that Rob Liefeld’s work can’t be called bad-good in the common sense of the term, nor can it be called any of the others: it’s not good-bad, good-good, or even bad-bad. I would argue that bad-good is perhaps the closest category to fit Liefeld, but doesn’t quite fully describe his art.

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There are two characteristics of heta-uma that I think is vitally important under normal circumstances. First is the idea that the ugliness of the art has to be eminently obvious. When looking at an image from an ugly manga, there is an immediate realization that something is “wrong.” Second is the idea that this ugliness in term gives power to the page, that it creates a strong sense of energy or awkwardness that draws the reader in. Take the page above from the manga 81 Diver, which is one of the series we mentioned in “Great Ugly Manga,” where the mishmash of large word balloons, bizarrely drawn characters, and unusual situation make the scene stand out. What’s also notable about its artists, Shibata Yokusaru, is that he falls outside of the category of artists who can draw beautifully but choose not to. He has a lack of technique, but more importantly he doesn’t let that flaw get in the way of his attempts to draw complex scenes. By challenging himself, the ugliness of his art stands out even more, which is his charm.

I think that Rob Liefeld’s artwork is definitely expressive, and that its energy comes out of the particular manner in which Liefeld draws. What keeps me from calling it clearly heta-uma, however, is that often times his art seemingly masks its own ugliness. At first glance, there’s often nothing especially strange about Liefeld’s drawings, and it’s only after you start to examine them in detail that they tend to “fall apart.” While a more discerning eye can catch these aspects from the beginning, I believe that for the average reader it is not so obvious. Liefeld’s artwork is not “clearly ugly.”

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And yet, once one gets past that point, and after getting over just how awkward his drawings can be, I find that Liefeld is not so different from Shibata, in the sense that he does a lot of things around his particular style that lend it a significant impact. While in some cases Liefeld is known for “playing it safe,” using the same poses repeatedly for example, he also pushes himself to draw elaborate situations designed for readers to in fact examine and re-examine them, such as large fight scenes. It’s in drawings such as those that the heta-uma of his work really shows itself, as while one can criticize the lack of realism in his characters’ musculature, or the fact that perspective doesn’t work that way, ultimately the intensity of the fight shines through. While a more skilled artist could perhaps do a better job and even keep a similar level of intensity, what I find interesting about Liefeld is that the very flaws in his work contribute to the image’s impression of strength and fury.

Overall, I think Rob Liefeld is loosely in the category of bad-good, but that he doesn’t quite fit the mold created by other heta-uma artists. However, because the term doesn’t have a rigid definition of qualifying characteristics, and because the idea of good and bad art are so personal, calling him bad-good less a solid criticism or praise of his works and more trying to get into the realm of what Liefeld art is. What I find in the end is that his style creates flimsy yet powerful illusions, and that this is definitely a place where heta-uma can thrive.

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Genshiken 123 marks a new era in the manga, away from the trials and tribulations of Madarame and his sudden popularity with girls and back to the club room and otaku life. However, far from a reset, things are looking to change more than ever.

Chapter Summary

A summary of this chapter’s events won’t quite do it justice, but I still want to lay out the basic framework for this month before delving into the little details:

As the members gather in the club room, Hato decides to show everyone the manuscript for his new manga, which is BL. Uncharacteristically, Yoshitake seems to be especially flustered by how “vulgar” it is, when Kuchiki makes an unwelcome appearance. Supposedly showing up just to pick up some belongings, Ogiue realizes that Kuchiki is actually just pilfering erotic doujinshi from the club room and even gets him to admit that he’d been stealing them for a while. Accusing Kuchiki of stealing the very doujinshi that Sasahara was looking for at his own graduation, it turns out that Madarame had just forgotten to return it. Kuchiki, upon seeing the doujinshi, begs to have it for a quick “bathroom break,” which causes Ogiue to call him vulgar. Sasahara (who is texting with Ogiue) allows Kuchiki to borrow it before graduating, much to Ogiue’s consternation.

Doujinshi, an Essential

While I most certainly enjoyed and was intrigued by the Madarame Harem arc of Genshiken, this chapter made me aware of a significant shift that happened during the past couple of years. The manga has spent so much time on real relationships that it’s almost easy to forget that this is a story not just about otaku but about many of the awkward aspects of life that are embraced by otaku as well. One of these is a very close connection with doujinshi, particularly of the pornographic kind, and this chapter is a reminder that the characters of Genshiken past and present have such a personal connection to doujinshi that they will think about it even as they graduate. We saw the otaku mind when confronted with romance and sexual identity, and now we’re once again privy to the otaku in their “natural habitat.”

But what a natural habitat it is! The otaku clubroom possesses a kind of public/private duality because the bond is founded in mutual interests, and one of those shared passions is for sexy 2D characters. At times, we like to talk about otaku as possessing a kind of strange nobility, whether that’s through fanciful Densha Otoko-esque stories or through the advent of stylish otaku and fujoshi, but still that 2D complex remains. It’s not something to be ashamed about, but it’s there, and it’s only appropriate that it have an incredibly baudy yet stylish cover.

It’s also amusing that it’s basically going to be Ogiue’s job to return a doujinshi about a large-breasted heroine (from Kujibiki Unbalance, of course) to her boyfriend. Sasahara and Ogiue’s relationship is built on a foundation of full otaku romance, and part of that is both a general awareness and acceptance of each others’ preferences.

Ogiue the Sexual Veteran

Speaking of Ogiue and Sasahara, the main gag of this chapter hinges on the use of the term “vulgar,” or more specifically in Japanese, namanamashii (生々しい), which means “raw.” Yoshitake, who is normally all about encouraging perversion, is suddenly taken aback by Hato’s BL manga. Ogiue, in contrast, seems unfazed. I believe that contrast is a reference to the difference in Ogiue and Yoshitake’s sexual experience. Ogiue is in a physical relationship, and as Ohno once put it, her having sex with Sasahara has made her own BL doujinshi that much more realistic. Yoshitake experiences sex only through media, and the fact that she points out being the same age as Ogiue implies a kind of jealousy.

While we don’t see the contents of Hato’s manga, I think that its “rawness” is basically a product of Hato reconciling his feelings, learning not to fight who he is, and actually being a man. Even if Hato hasn’t had a homosexual relationship, he can perhaps get closer to reality by being a guy.

New School Year!

As much as the manga seems to be returning to club antics, however, there is the definite sense that time continues to move forward, and the events of the past are still creating ripples. Hato and Yajima now have a kind of cute awkwardness towards each other, remembering their conversation at Nikkou where Yajima basically admitted her feelings and Hato mentioned having thought of being with her. Hato’s face lights up when he sees Madarame, but it’s turned into a kind of very close friendship.

And then there’s the moment I’ve been anticipating for a long time: Ogiue is finally in her senior year of college! She wants to get serialized in a manga magazine, which Yoshitake remarks is Ogiue’s version of “finding employment.” Ohno makes a joke that she’s in her “fourth year” as well, but Ogiue calls her out on it. I think this is actually Ohno’s sixth or seventh year, but I’ve lost track at this point. What would a Genshiken without even Ogiue or Ohno in its core cast be like?! For that matter, a new school year means the potential for new members!

That’s what Kio is enticing the readers with for the next chapter preview, which says, “That girl is showing up!” The most likely candidate (and I’m 99% confident about it) is Risa, Yoshitake’s younger sister. As a reminder, Risa is tall, likes to dress like a guy, and is a complete shotacon who also has a mix of respect and potential attraction towards Hato. Risa is welcome, but I’d really like to see some fresh blood as well. I understand that the cast of Genshiken is so large at this point, however, that it might not be practical.

Ogiue Expression Extravaganza

One of my traditions with these Genshiken chapter reviews is to end off with a picture of Ogiue. However, with Chapter 123, there’s probably more choice Ogiue content here than in the last 50 or so chapters combined. There are silly faces, awkward moments with Sue, and even some choice expressions of anger and disdain, which is how we Ogiue fans got to originally know her all those years ago. I’m not afraid to admit that seeing her scowl again invigorates me, and in a way I have to wonder if Kuchiki’s presence in Genshiken serves a useful purpose in this respect.

Seriously, I can’t choose just one!

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I’ve been on an “90s anime theme” kick recently, watching various live concert performances and animated intros/outros on YouTube. When you look through them, there’s a recurring tendency in shows of the time to have ending animations highlight the token female character as she existed in the 90s. What stands out to me in particular is that a lot of these girls are designed to be fairly pretty but not excessively beautiful, talented but not too talented.

Frequently, the 90s girl is the protagonist’s love interest, especially in series with heavily male-dominated casts, and in shounen works also works as either an everyman or expositional character to get the reader up to speed on the rules of the story. She’s the ideal support for him and his passionate pursuit of whatever goal or motivation he possesses, and it’s this sideline cheerleader that has more recently fallen by the wayside in favor of a new breed of heroine, who still might not be in the spotlight but possesses some sort of “other” talent. The example that immediately comes to mind is Akagi Haruko from Slam Dunk, who knows a bit about basketball and is the target of affection for the hero, in contrast to Aida Riko and Momoi Satsuki from Kuroko’s Basketball, who have support “powers” for their teams and whose roles as possible love interests are not as prominent (perhaps influenced by the greater fujoshi influence of Kuroko). None of them are stars of their stories, but I think there’s a clear difference between then and now.

If the main character’s love interest is supposed to be an ideal, I have to wonder why they’re so frequently designed to not be quite so ideal in the first place. This could be chalked up to “good characterization” in some cases, and a “boring” or “plain” female character to a potential viewer outside of Japan might be seen as a “yamato nadeshiko” type perfect woman in Japanese culture (e.g. Shinguji Sakura from Sakura Wars). However, I can’t help thinking that there’s something else, like a desire to promote the plain girl as the one young readers of shounen should be aiming for. Pining for the hottest girl around might somehow have been viewed as impractical or even wrongheaded, and that the childhood friend, the girl next door, would be the far better choice. Was anime and manga trying to teach its audience what kind of love would be the more realistic choice, or is it just that having these girls be fairly plain is simply about pushing the heroes further to the forefront?

 

In the past, I’ve written about “OEL manga,” English-language comics inspired by the manga style, in an attempt to find out why OEL manga often end up looking not quite like what typically comes out of Japan. I’ve brought up ideas such as screentone usage and how it often looks like artists try to draw “anime” comics instead of “manga” comics. It’s not a bad feature, and there are plenty of good comics that are inspired by manga without looking like it, but it’s just fun to try and figure out why things don’t look “right,” so to speak.

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Recently, however, I’ve come across a manga called Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko, and even though it’s drawn by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience, to me it looks very similar to OEL manga. It’s to the extent that, if you had given me a page from Shoujo Fight translated and told me someone from Kansas drew it, I might very well have believed you.

Shoujo Fight is a volleyball manga published in the magazine Evening (sister to Genshiken‘s Monthly Afternoon and the popular Weekly Morning). Its story follows a girl named Ooishi Neri, who holds back a fiery passion for volleyball due to a traumatic event in her past. Beginning from 2012 it ran for 12 volumes, and it’s overall just a solid sports manga with a large variety of interesting female characters with equally diverse body types.

Now, I want to emphasize that, when I compare it to OEL manga that I do not mean that as an insult, and in fact I really enjoy Shoujo Fight‘s art style. Nevertheless, it does leave me wondering… why does Shoujo Fight look to me like OEL manga? I think there are a number of interrelated reasons.

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First, the creator, Nihonbashi Yoko, has a very design-oriented and graphic style that’s conducive to posters, symbols, and logos. When looking at her official blog, there’s a lot of work along those lines, and I think she’s very good at it.

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Second, Shoujo Fight is clearly drawn digitally, and I think (whether it’s accurate or not) that I associate “western” renditions of anime and manga with the rise of tablets and digital comics in general. The line work is very smooth and sleek, completely devoid of pen or pencil textures, and I find that a lot of Deviantart artists tend to work similarly.

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Third, the way Nihonbashi draws eyes often times feels closer to what I’d find in a North American or European comic. In fact, to me the way that the heroine Neri’s eyes are drawn reminds me strongly of the girls from the Italian comic (turned French animation) W.I.T.C.H. or even those of a Disney heroine. I think this becomes especially noticeable when a character has her eyes closed part-way, because the particular shape of the eyes and eyelids are not so common in manga.

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With Shoujo Fight and its art style is compared to the typical manga, it’s fascinating to me how the idea of “manga” continues to be challenged from both within its primary industry and from the outside. And if you want to see more of her work, follow the creator of Shoujo Fight on Twitter.

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Parasyte, the story of a boy whose right hand is taken over by an alien parasite, was a popular 90s manga in Japan. Recently it’s gotten an anime adaptation with an updated look, so naturally Parasyte has been receiving more attention. What I hadn’t expected to see, however, was a Parasyte one-shot spinoff by shoujo manga legend Hagio Moto.

Hagio Moto is famous for being the mother of BL manga as the creator of Heart of Thomas. She’s continued to create manga since her debut in the 1970s, including science fiction, such as Star Red and A, A’, and even comics that act as allegories to the dangers of nuclear power. She generally stays within the realms of shoujo and josei, so the fact that she’s brought her talents to Monthly Afternoon (where Parasyte was originally published) is something special.

Yura no Mon o follows Yura, the young daughter of Tamura Reiko, who is the parasite disguised as the original hero Izumi Shin’ichi’s school teacher. Reiko decides to have a human baby with a fellow parasite, and her relationship with her daughter throughout the original series is portrayed as disturbing yet potentially redemptive. Yura is adopted by another family by the time of Hagio’s one-shot, but she every so often here’s a voice that tells her one thing: kill. Thinking it’s the voice of her mother, she goes through life with that whisper in the back of her head.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of Parasyte, but that’s because it succumbs to many 90s manga tropes (particularly its portrayal of women). With Yura no Mon o, Hagio Moto brings the sensibility and soft style that made her one of shoujo manga’s most famous artists. If you have the chance, and you have even a passing familiarity with Parasyte, it’s worth checking out.

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Of all the fujoshi-themed manga I’ve encountered (and I’ve read a lot), Okachimachi Hato’s Fujoshissu! is one of my absolute favorites. So, having recently found out that Okachimachi is starting up a new manga, I was immediately thrilled. While my search for fujoshi protagonists is why I first discovered her work, it’s Okachimachi’s expressive art style and subtle, considerate explorations of her characters that turned me into a fan.

Her new work, Kimi xxxru Koto Nakare (“You Shall Not xxx”) shows signs of being just as strong from the very first chapter, which is why I’ve decided to start writing monthly chapter reviews for it. This is only the third time I’ve ever done the “episodic review” thing (both previous instances were Genshiken anime and manga), so I hope you enjoy it.

Kimi xxxru Koto Nakare is the story of a budding teenage romance between Shuuto, a male idol, and Nobuko, a female celebrity comedian. When the manga begins, we see that Shuuto first discovers Nobuko at a very young age while watching television. Nobuko is the daughter of a famous comedian as well, and to Shuuto, it’s love at first sight. He thinks she’s the cutest girl ever, and it inspires him to get into the entertainment industry as a child model.

Years later, the two are now classmates, and while Shuuto is adored by legions of female fans for his handsome appearance and cool demeanor, his real aspiration is comedy. Shuuto asks Nobuko for help, and after some important lessons (namely that Shuuto can’t be serious about comedy if he’s afraid of being laughed at), Shuuto finally succeeds in getting some laughs. Grateful to Nobuko, Shuuto finally confesses his feelings to her and even gives her a kiss, but while Nobuko is shown to secretly feel the same way as Shuuto, she backs away and tells him that he can’t do that.

There is so much to talk about in this first chapter, but I think what stands out most is Nobuko’s appearance. While Tonari no Young Jump, the website on which Kimi Nakare is published, can ostensibly be called “shounen” or “seinen,” it’s clear that Okachimachi comes from a very different background in terms of art style and approach to manga. Kimi Nakare is very much in a shoujo vein, but very rarely do shoujo manga feature a main female character as plain-looking as Nobuko. Generally speaking, they tend to be not the most beautiful but still thin and pretty in a conventional sense. In contrast, Nobuko is larger, has a rather masculine face with big bushy eyebrows, and is just noticeably less attractive than Shuuto.

Even the story draws attention to the fact that Nobuko is not supposed to be good-looking. When a young Shuuto is telling his parents that Nobuko is the cutest girl he’s ever seen, they react with puzzlement. “Cute? I would call her interesting…but cute?” Shuuto “shouldn’t” be attracted to her to such an extent, but he is.

What’s amazing about this contrast is that it doesn’t feel simply like wish fulfillment that a handsome idol like Shuuto would fall in love with Nobuko. Putting aside his love of comedy and the fact that she’s mentioned as being incredibly talented at getting laughs, Nobuko is strong, supportive, cheerful, and isn’t afraid to take someone down a peg. As the chapter progresses, it becomes evident that these qualities are what continuously draws Shuuto to her. Okachimachi never draws Nobuko in a way implied to be Shuuto’s “perspective” with the requisite that she then appears to be more beautiful than she is, but by just seeing them together, I could understand just how attractive Nobuko’s personality could be.

Suffice it to say, I already love this manga. I believe that Nobuko’s negative reaction to Shuuto’s kiss and confession comes from the fact that he’s an idol and therefore isn’t allowed to date. Whether that means they have a clandestine romance or they have to constantly resist their own feelings, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Name: Nakano, Amane (中野あまね)
Alias: A-chan (あーちゃん)
Relationship Status: Dating
Origin: Kiss Him, Not Me

Information:
Serinuma Kae’s best friend and fujoshi comrade, Nakano Amane shares in Kae’s penchant for pairing boys in their class. They disagree as to whether their classmates Igarashi and Nanashima should be paired in that order, or the opposite (7×5, Amane’s preference).

Amane is into seiyuu talk shows and otaku events, and has a non-otaku boyfriend named Mikoshiba.

Fujoshi Level:
Little is precisely known about Amane’s fujocity, but it appears to be comparable to Kae’s.

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I wrote a post about characters who suffer from deep love over at Apartment 507. Are you dere for yandere?

Recently, it’s come to my attention that a translation of Genshiken Chapter 122, aka the “Madarame Harem Arc Conclusion” chapter, has been going around that have some serious inaccuracies as to what is being said by Madarame. This seems to have created a good deal of outrage, with people believing that Madarame and Hato are both claiming that Hato isn’t really attracted to men.

That is completely wrong, and I’m here to correct that mistake.

SPOILER WARNING, of course.

First, here’s pages 130-132 from the serialization, when Madarame is explaining his reason for not dating Hato.

Yoshitake: Rame-senpai, you didn’t deny the possibility of Hato x Mada, so what’s the problem with Hato?

Madarame: Well I wouldn’t call it a problem… Let’s see. If we were together, I get the feeling that he would think about it too much and become a wreck in the process.

Yoshitake: …Aahhh… I think I understand…

Yajima: (That’s exactly what would happen.)

Madarame: Let’s say we started dating and hit it off. Even if that happened, I feel that he would be torment himself, believing there was some other pretext for our relationship.

At some point, he would think, Madarame has to feel reluctant about dating a man, right? Hato would think too much, and suffer for it. It should be simpler than that. “Hey I’m just a fudanshi who loves to crossdress, that’s all. No more, no less.” Wouldn’t that be a much better way to live?

With the above, I think you can see that Madarame is not claiming that Hato isn’t gay or bisexual. Rather, what he’s saying is that he wants Hato to find a relationship where he can feel comfortable being himself.

Now, here’s Hato’s later reaction and conversation with Yajima, on pages 143-145.

Yajima: You look better off than I was expecting.

Hato: I’m just really feeling the fact that it’s all over and done. I said everything I wanted to say, and if that’s the case…

Besides, it was a relief to be rejected. It was just as senpai said. Between my appearance and my love of BL I’m going to run into problems eventually.

I understood that, no matter how much I might like someone, it wouldn’t work out with a guy. Even knowing that, I still fell for senpai. Even now my feelings haven’t changed. I’ll probably go on loving him forever. That’s why I think Madarame senpai will be the first and last man I ever love.

Here, Hato does not deny that he was genuinely attracted to Madarame, nor is he going for the, “I don’t love men but I love you!” What he’s saying is that he thinks his feelings for Madarame are never going away, and that no one will take his place. Is he exaggerating? Maybe? Where he is feeling conflicted is the idea that a relationship can’t work with a guy, but that seems to be for other reasons, perhaps owing to society.

I hope this cleared things up for you Genshiken fans. In the end, Hato still isn’t with Madarame, but I think it’s clear that they both think well of each other.

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