Bootleg Products and the Defiance of Value

Growing up in New York City, bootleg products have always been a common sight. Whether it’s Louis Vitton bags, cashmere scarves, DVDs, or even plastic anime models, one could easily find a lower-cost (and lower-quality) version of whatever “big thing” was out there. Given that these products are often shoddily made, violate intellectual property rights, and in some cases actually fund organized crime, it’s very understandable why the official companies whose products are being bootlegged would take umbrage with the existence of knock-offs. However, putting aside the questions of both legality and quality, I’ve begun to wonder if bootleg products serve a certain function in a consumerist, capitalist, and image-driven society.

I recently read the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a memoir about growing up as a hillbilly in Appalachia. At one point, Vance mentions how many hillbillies are very bad at properly budgeting their money, and they will use their welfare checks to buy expensive products like smartphones and cars instead of for necessities. This is also a common story among people in the inner city, and in Korea they have a term: doenjang girl, or someone who cuts out essentials so they can buy luxury items. In all of these cases, there’s more to this behavior than simply trying to cheat the government, or starve oneself. In actuality, it has a lot to do with trying to chase the image of prosperity, to live as a “have” even if one is a “have-not.”

To state a truism, expensive things are expensive. They add up. The role of bootleg products, then, is that they allow people who cannot afford (or do not want to buy) the products the full price to at least obtain a facsimile. Sales, discounts, and even big box stores all fall along this general trend, but rarely can they compete with the rock-bottom prices of bootlegs because they’re beholden to things like laws and standards. If expensive, name-brand goods carry with them the image of success and fine living, then bootlegs are the shortcut that allows someone with less to access that fantasy without having to sacrifice everything else. Of course, many of these products are luxuries and therefore unnecessary. However, because of how much people value image and social capital, they can become more important than even food and shelter in a certain sense.

There are two different types of consumers of bootleg products: those who know they’re buying bootlegs and those who don’t. The latter are more uninformed victims. I know I’m not the only one who bought those “Son May” anime CDs back in the day, and the counterfeit Nendoroids keep improving their box designs to fool people. For the former, the surface image presented by someone who can show to the world (and to themselves) a version of oneself as living a “properly prosperous lifestyle” is enough.

Things are a little different when it comes to digital products, such as streaming anime or movie torrents. Strictly speaking, one does not wear or display their illegal streaming site episodes like one would a bootleg necklace, but there is a certain gain in “knowledge” and “status” as a result of consuming these products. Watching Game of Thrones through “alternative means” allows someone who wouldn’t be able to keep up with the buzz surrounding that series and thus keep up with conversations concerning GoT. On the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, that, the hosts discuss the concept that scans of comics allow a greater number of people to become experts on comics because it reduces the economic barrier to that amount of knowledge. [Unfortunately I can’t remember the episode, if anyone knows, please tell me!]

Regardless of the ethics of buying counterfeit products, bootlegs (even ones that are not physical), carry consequences beyond simply the damage they cause to creators and owners. They act as shortcuts to public image, emotional satisfaction (in terms of living the “proper” lifestyle), and even expertise. As a result, for better or worse they defy the prices for products set by companies and proprietors, while also reinforcing the images of those products as premium items.

[APT507] The Legacy of All Might: Pieces of the Symbol of Peace

My Hero Academia continues to impress, and I thought I’d write an article over at Apartment 507 concerning how different characters interpret and emulate All Might. If you have any thoughts on All Might as a character, let me know!

Mori Summer: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2017

AnimeExpo is over, and the all-new Otakon in DC is on the horizon. Meanwhile, EVO 2017 is less than two weeks away. With a new season of anime upon us again, it’s time to get back into the swing of seeing how the new crop holds up.

I’m happy to see that my Patreon supporters are still with me. A special thank you to…

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish the latest Gattai Girls in June, but I’m getting close! I’m going to make myself get this danged thing out even if it drives me mad. It’s about time I got back around to talking more about giant robots anyway.

Even though a strong season just ended and there are plenty of shows in it that I enjoyed, I’m not sure how many of them I want to write full reviews for. So why not have a poll?

I might end up doing the other ones anyway, but I’d like to see what people would be most keen on.

Here are the monthly blog highlights:

Nerds in the Mist: Katou Megumi and the Role of the Non-Otaku

The “Boring Girlfriend” is anything but. Find out why Megumi is one of the most interesting characters around.

Does the Japanese “Vegeta” Voice Not Translate to English?

This post of mine was the biggest success of the month in terms of views! Read my thoughts on voice acting in Dragon Ball Z!

Magic School Bus Meets Terminator: Cells at Work

I love this manga so much. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. The human body is a wondrous thing.ß

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The Fun of Farming Games (Except Farmville)
I never really played farming simulators before. Then I tried Story of Seasons. See my thoughts on the genre and where I think the appeal and satisfaction lies.

Closing

I feel strangely inspired to write some new posts after being in a small rut. I hope that what I bring to the table continues to be enjoyable and thought-provoking!

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Nerds in the Mist: Katou Megumi and the Role of the Non-Otaku

With a series title like How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, a certain image comes to mind. Given the existence of Japanese dating sims, the success of “raising sims” such as Gainax’s famous Princess Maker series, as well as the tendency towards popular otaku tropes such as nerd protagonists in harem situations, it’s easy to assume that the series is about creating a bland, milquetoast love interest. Is this an attempt to revive the old-style dating sim heroines such as Kamigishi Akari from To Heart, that childhood friend who once stood at the top of the harem totem pole? Is Katou Megumi, the titular “boring girlfriend”—more accurately “boring heroine” in Japanese—one man’s “ideal waifu” the way Asuna from Sword Art Online is, or something else entirely?

To my surprise, Megumi’s aggressive mediocrity actually turns out to be a subversion of her seeming purpose as a no-personality love interest or another character in the yamato nadeshiko mold. While the fact that the other characters keep talking about how aggressively mediocre she is might point in those directions, her role in Boring Girlfriend is closer to that of Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken—the “normal” one who contributes by being an outsider.

In works about groups of otaku there is often a non-otaku, though their purposes can differ. In Otaku no Video, the main character Ken is the “commoner” who gradually falls in love with the otaku lifestyle, while his girlfriend, Yoshiko, becomes increasing disgusted. The dating sim Comic Party (as well as its anime adaptations) follows a similar pattern, with protagonist Kazuki becoming more involved with doujinshi as his sporty childhood friend (and canon love interest) Mizuki just can’t seem to fathom what these nerds are jabbering about.

Owing to the fact that Genshiken gradually pushes its characters from the relative safety of a college environment into the real world, Saki as the non-otaku becomes a kind of guiding force. While she begins the series antagonizing the otaku and begrudging the fact that her boyfriend is an otaku, she eventually becomes a close friend whose understanding of human social interactions (notoriously lacking in otaku) provide answers that the others could not arrive at by themselves. While she isn’t as aggressive and outspoken as Saki, Megumi in Boring Girlfriend accomplishes the same things by being more observant than the perpetually self-centered and inward-looking otaku characters she has befriended.

Because Saki begins from a place similar to Yoshiko in Otaku no Video and Mizuki in Comic Party, Megumi doesn’t quite have the same development as her. Instead of that period of conflict with the otaku, the changing dynamic comes from the gradual reveal that Megumi indeed has a mind of her own, and that her seemingly mundane nature throws a wrench in the assumptions of the others. Moreover, her “boring” status provides a sharp contrast to the other girls in the series, who fall more in line with familiar tropes: a tsundere, an adorable underclassman, a cooldere, a tomboy cousin.

While those other characters have their origins in the same era that spawned Akari from To Heart and Mizuki from Comic Party, taste in otaku consumption has changed over time such that characters with more extreme and pronounced character traits tend to be more popular. The shape of “moe” has changed, and everyone but Megumi falls into that line. However, because Megumi is present, and because the series is named after her, it’s as if Boring Girlfriend is setting up and knocking down its own pieces to say, “Subtlety has its place.”

In this sense, How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend and Megumi remind me of two other series. The first is My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It’s a series that also goes against what its title implies and plays around with its characters supposed archetypes to create a greater sense of depth. The other is The World God Only Knows, which features the character Kosaka Chihiro. Though she has a different personality compared to Megumi, and that series has only one real otaku character, Chihiro fulfills the role of being defiantly “normal.” Her behavior runs against everything that Katsuragi Keima believes in as someone who bases his life entirely on dating sims, and Megumi by virtue of her supposed blandness accomplishes much the same.

 

[APT507] Mama Got Back: Ookumo-Chan Flashback Chapter 1 Review

I’ve written a review at Apartment 507 about the new manga by Mysterious Girlfriend X author Ueshiba Riichi. It’s kind of unexpected, to say the least.

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[APT507] Rokudou no Onna-tachi: A Follow-Up Review for the Delinquents-Only Harem Manga!

Some months ago, I wrote a quick review of an interesting new manga, Rokudou no Onna-tachi. Now, I’m back with a follow-up, looking at the direction this odd series (where all the girls are angry delinquents!) has gone, and my latest impressions. Check it out on Apartment 507!

Magic School Bus Meets Terminator: Cells at Work

 When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the human immune system. Just the idea of the body’s natural defense system warding off and destroying invaders was enough to fill pages of drawing books. I even imagined a video game where the player controlled cartoon white blood cells to fight disease! This is exactly why the manga Cells at Work feels like my childhood dream come true.

Cells at Work tells the story of the human body through its cells, personified into more typical-looking humanoid manga characters. From a hardworking red blood cell delivering nutrients to a stoic but diligent white blood cell fending off harmful bacteria, each representative cell is so entertaining to see that you almost don’t realize you’re learning.

While some series based on anthropomorphic characters prefer to keep their reality-based facts as subtext for character interaction, and others are essentially illustrated textbooks, Cells at Work strikes a more even balance. Each chapter involves the body having to deal with some crisis, such as allergies, the flu, and even cancer cells. The manga goes through the varied ways by which the immune system handles these threats, giving the cells highly entertaining personalities that encapsulate well their roles in defense. Platelets are adorable little children who act as construction workers. Killer T Cell is a lymphocyte with an appetite for destruction, and many of his fights are incredibly bloody (pun intended).

As long as there’s no worry about depictions of violence, I think this would be the perfect reading for a classroom biology class. Along the way, narration boxes explain their actual function in the body, with the actions of the characters making the information easier to remember.

I love this comic. The fact that it combines two of my favorite things ever (the immune system and manga) would be enough, but it’s also just very well written and drawn. The series is currently out in English both in print and digitally from Kodansha Comics, and I highly recommend it.

Now, time to watch Osmosis Jones.

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