Kiryuin Satsuki and the Curse of Power Girl

I view the DC superhero Power Girl as being almost doomed by her appearance. If you ask anyone with even a passing familiarity with Power Girl about what defines her character, you’re very likely to get the response “boob window.” This is despite numerous attempts to revamp her character, emphasize her personality, and make her more than just eye candy first, superhero second.

This is not to say that Power Girl is an inherently bad or sexist character, whether she’s supposed to be an adult Supergirl (her original origin) or something else entirely. I don’t even think the boob window necessarily has to go. But what fascinates me about Power Girl’s situation is that, for whatever reason, it seems especially difficult for her to escape being seen almost as a character attached to a pair of breasts.

In contrast, when it comes to characters who have overcome a highly sexualized appearance, one need look no further than Kiryuin Satsuki from the anime Kill la Kill. In spite of the fact that her battle uniform looks like a sling bikini on steroids, her personality overwhelms even the sheer and unbridled sexuality of her clothing. Despite her breasts and buttocks often being in full display in numerous scenes what first comes to mind are her other attributes: scowl (with enormously imposing eyebrows), her ambition, and the fact that she literally radiates an aura of light that symbolizes her power.

I find myself wondering, what is the difference between Satsuki and Power Girl, or indeed Power Girl and other female superheroes who have been successfully redefined as more than just their eroticism (note that I did not say more than just their looks—appearance is just an essential part of superheroes, male and female)?

There are two major context points that separate Satsuki and Power Girl. First, unlike Power Girl, Satsuki is introduced in Kill la Kill in her full-body school uniform rather than in her skimpier attire. Second, whereas Satsuki’s existence is defined solely by one television series, Power Girl has been a part of comics for decades. While the circumstances of 2010s Japan and 1970s United States are substantially different, I suspect that Power Girl would be remembered very differently if she arrived on the scene the way Satsuki does in Kill la Kill: as someone grandiose and powerful. Perhaps it would even be possible for her to keep the boob window and still be thought of primarily for her superheroics and feats of strength.

Or perhaps my view of Satsuki is too charitable. Maybe the imprint she’s left on anime and its fandom, especially those who know Kill la Kill only from images, is just her near-naked body in a battle bikini.

Power Girl appears to be a victim of historical inertia. No matter what is done with her character to turn her away from a primary emphasis on her breasts, focus always returns to her iconic cleavage cut. Whether it’s possible to overturn this might require not just an amazing creative team where artist and writer are working towards this goal, but a comics fandom willing to accept this change.

 

[APT507] The Canon of Kanan: Love Live! Sunshine!! Character Controversy

I wrote a followup to my previous Apartment 507 post on Love Live! Sunshine!! character Matsuura Kanan. It goes into the character’s differences across various formats, and my own disconnect from other aspects of Love Live! fandom.

Half-Truths as Roadblocks in Language Improvement

On occasion, I’ve noticed fans of Japanese pop culture to take statements at face value when they shouldn’t. This is not to single out anime fans over any other groups, but in threads online discussing the ambiguous gender of Monogatari character Oshino Ougi, it’s often pointed out that Ougi has said, “I’ve always been a boy,” even though Ougi is portrayed as highly deceptive and loves to twist words. While there might be a number of reasons that mistakes like this happen, from simple misreadings to not understanding characters to even possibly mental conditions such as autism, what I think is a significant factor is also how experiencing something in another language can make it difficult to assess lies.

When learning a language, or taking in information in a way that requires extra attention, I’m considering the idea that the more advanced you are, the more you are able to correctly understand nuances in context and presentation. Take for instance the idea that sarcasm in English is something conveyed through voice. However, if one does not understand the cues by which sarcasm is supposed to be voiced, or it’s a statement that’s written rather than spoken, the desire to convey sarcasm can get lost. Thus, it’s not surprising that Oshino Ougi’s manipulative language and behavior might not come through either, especially because people were already discussing the character prior to Ougi’s appearance in the anime, and had only either Japanese light novels or unreliable fan translations of said novels to work from.

Perhaps it can be said that learning a language requires a level of truth to be established. When learning basic vocabulary and rules of a language from square one, it probably wouldn’t help to pack your statements full of lies. While simplification can be important (you don’t want to inundate someone with all the exceptions first), setting in stone a stable foundation comes hand in hand with making sure that what someone learns is how to express things. Only once at least a rudimentary base is established should playing around with the language happen, and eventually from there the possibility of creating statements that essentially mean the opposite of what they are, which can only be gleaned from context and prior knowledge. At least, that’s one idea. I do not profess to being an expert at this topic.

 

 

The Glory of NEETS, and the Creation of an Archetype

How did being a NEET become an endearing quality in fictional characters?

NEET is a term first created in the UK and imported to Japan. Standing for “Not in Employment, Education, or Training,” it’s another way of saying you’re unemployed and probably mooching off of your parents, and most likely somewhere in your 20s to 30s (or beyond). The United States has a similar stereotype in the basement dweller, but whatever the phrasing, it would normally be rather unusual to have such characters be figures of admiration, desire, and more. And yet, this is exactly what we’ve seen out of Japanese media. The geek girls of Princess Jellyfish admit to not having jobs and relying on their folks, but readers connect with them rather than shunning them. Futaba Anzu, one of the characters in THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, is not technically a NEET (she has the job of being an idol), but embodies the spirit, being a lazy lay-about whose shirt features the classic slogan of the NEET: “If I work, I lose.”

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People don’t necessarily cheer for the forthright and responsible (some would say boring) characters in fiction, but there’s something in particular about embracing the NEET that seems strange on the surface to me, as it’s not exactly an admirable quality in normal contexts. At the same time, there’s a rebellious element, and many have argued that Japan’s economy, rather than the NEETS themselves, are to blame. But the rebellion feels a bit…pathetic, even if possibly admirable.That’s not so much in the sense that NEETS are losers, but it calls to mind the image of an inept geek try their hardest to go camping, only to get lost and fall in a hole. In the end, they’re safe because they can just go back to their home, but within their specific circumstances they’ve tried, even if they end up looking like fools in the process. There’s a tinge of failure, or perhaps fear of failure, and maybe that’s why people connect to them.

One possibility is that a lot of people are or have experienced being NEETS, and it’s probably no coincidence that a character like Anzu would be popular from a mobile game revolving around management of idols. After all, idols are a kind of illusion that fans willingly fall into, and I wouldn’t be surprised if being a NEET inspires the desire to break away from the real world, justified or not. However, one thing that is made clear from Princess Jellyfish and Futaba Anzu is that, at least when it comes to fictional portrayals of NEETS, what defines them first and foremost is passion for something, but most especially passion for the impractical.

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Anyone who’s watched anime or read manga for a long time has noticed a kind of reverence for the teenage years, and one factor behind that is the idea that it’s the time in your life when you can truly devote yourself to a task regardless of its practicality. As mentioned by Bamboo on The Anime Now Podcast’s review of Love Live! The School Idol Movie, the difference between an “idol” and a “school idol” in the world of Love Live is that even if you can’t succeed as the former, you can become a beloved school idol through hard work and passion for your beliefs. It’s a safe space away from the realities of a harsh industry. NEET characters, whether they’re older (Princess Jellyfish) or not (Futaba Anzu), appear as if they want to extend this mindset into their later years, fighting against a society that tells them to grow up.

Given the ways in which middle school and high school are framed within Japanese media, it’s maybe no wonder that this happened. It’s supposed to be the prime of your life, the time when your soul burns brightest, and then you’re supposed to quietly file it away or adjust it to how the real world works. Even if it’s arguably socially irresponsible to do that, I think it’s understandable, and maybe this is where NEET characters really draw their power from. They’re characters who hold onto their dreams, but tinged with the colors of reality that contextualize them in ways that don’t turn their impractical aspirations into a pure fantasy.

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Sound! Euphonium and Friendship Across Differing Skill Levels

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Whenever a group of people share a common interest, it’s easy to think of them as a cohesive unit of similar minds and opinions. Then reality sets in, and it becomes clear that they’re often from different homes, have different personalities, and even perceive their hobby or passion differently. For the music-themed anime Sound! Euphonium, I find that its character portrayals go a long way in emphasizing the subtle peculiarities of the members of the music club. Friendship and other complicated relations arise from these differences and help to further emphasize the fact that music is what unifies them.

There are large gaps in talent and experience between the core group of four in Sound! Euphonium, and each of their stories are made further complex with their reasons for playing. Reina is by far the most dedicated to the art of music, but it’s not from a pure love of song, as evidenced by her crush on her teacher. Sapphire (“Midori”) is not quite as skilled as Reina but still very strong, and her fondness for instrument mascot characters makes music a lifestyle of sorts. Kumiko has a love-hate relationship with her euphonium, which is gradually revealed to come from a love-hate relationship with her older sister. Hazuki starts off as a complete newbie in all respects who learns the tuba as a social experience.

In spite of these differences, all four characters feel like equals. Their individual relationships might not be evenly developed (Reina is more connected to Kumiko than the others, for instance), but they come across as a close group of friends whose perspectives play off of each other. There’s a vast chasm in ability between Reina and Hazuki, but the paths they take when it comes to their journeys with music feel just as emotionally significant to the individual characters. Although Kumiko is clearly the main character of the story, and Midori is never shown to be in any of the same awkward situations, she still comes across as vital to the quartet.

Sound! Euphonium has a lot of strengths, and chief among them with respect to what was written above was the balance between the development of its narrative and the environment created by its character interactions. Unlike K-On! (a series to which it is often naturally compared), which had being in a band as a theme but was more dedicated to showing slice-of-life comedy hijinks, the goal of reaching Nationals centers and grounds the story in a momentum of forward progression. Having its characters at widely varying skill levels helps to give that challenge of coming together a greater importance, while the sense of equality that exists between them in spite of those gaps creates an almost palpable sense of intimacy.

 

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10 Robots that Deserve to Be Soul of Chogokin Figures (Part 2)

Here’s Part 2 of my list of cool super robots that I think should get that Chogokin Damashii treatment. Check it out, tell me which robos you’d love to see!

By the way, here’s Part 1.

Return to Genshiken: Volume 2 – Loose Threads

It’s time for the second installment of “Return to Genshiken,” where I re-read my favorite manga title with the benefit of hindsight. For those unfamiliar with Genshiken, it’s a series about a college otaku club and their daily lives. Originally concluding in 2006 before restarting in 2010 and finishing once again in 2016. A lot has changed about the world of the otaku, so I figured it’d be worth seeing how the series looks with a decade’s worth of hindsight.

Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume. I’ll be using the English release of Genshiken as well, for my own convenience. Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the old and the recent manga, so be warned.

Volume 2 Summary

This volume introduces a variety of new side characters: Kuchiki the bizarre prospective club member, Kitagawa the strict student committee vice president, and Sasahara’s “gal” sister, Keiko. During this time, Genshiken gains a new member just as it loses one: Saki finally joins (reluctantly), while the club president retires and names Madarame his successor. As for Madarame, he sprains his wrist at Comic Festival for the first time, leading to a true test of his otakudom.

Those Who Left…

It’s interesting to see which supporting characters vanish from the face of the manga after Volume 2.

The first club president plays a big role here as the driving force behind Saki joining. After this point, however, he never appears again. It really feels like something was supposed to come about from him and his legacy, especially given his mysterious senior thesis—a project implied to have something to do with Genshiken itself. There also isn’t another character even remotely like him from this point forward, and his Kuroko Tetsuya-like lack of presence provided a certain humor absent from hereon in. I’m just still surprised that he doesn’t even show up in the two finales this manga has, neither the end of the first series nor the end of Nidaime.

This volume also introduces (and promptly gets rid of) Sawazaki. If you don’t remember him, you’re probably not alone; I even have to constantly look up his name. He’s the other guy who tries to join the club with Kuchiki before Kohsaka inadvertently saps his will to live by kicking his ass in fighting games as Saki shows her affections for her man (as a way to make Sawazaki and Kuchiki feel worse). One has to wonder why Kio decided to bring back Kuchiki eventually but write off Sawazaki, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that Kuchiki is just a stranger person and a more hardcore otaku. Genshiken isn’t exactly a club for the casual fan. While Sasahara is “normal” in a certain sense, it was more like he was in a larval stage and has now metamorphosed into a dork butterfly. In other words, he had it in him all along, and all it took was exposure to actual doujinshi to turn him. In contrast, Sawazaki feels like he just has less potential.

…And Those Who Stayed

In contrast to the first president and Sawazaki, a number of characters end up sticking around for much longer.

Haraguchi is an edge case, as he more or less disappears after this volume but ends up coming back later to give Sasahara advice on making their first doujinshi. When he does show up here, it reinforces what I thought of Haraguchi relative to Kuchiki from the previous volume’s re-read: Kuchiki is a creep, but Haraguchi is a creeper.

Speaking of Kuchiki, we won’t see him again for a while, but he’ll become fairly prominent in Volume 6 and on, as well as ever-present after Volume 10 and the start of Nidaime. At this point, he doesn’t come across as exceedingly bizarre. Either this is because his personality wasn’t well-defined at the time he was created, or because he froze up in a tense moment as he has so many other times moving forward.

Kitagawa, I’ll always remember as being the favorite character of an online friend who passed away a few years back (rest in peace, Cortana). That somber note aside, she kind of reminds me of Ogiue, and it’s kind of a shame that the two never interacted. When she later appears at the first graduation chapter, it’s notable to me that, by not showing her for a while and then bringing her back with a subtle personality difference, it really feels like she grew and changed as a human being. This might just be one of Kio’s greatest strengths as a creator.

And then there’s the biggest one of all: Keiko. In Volume 2, we first see her as the rude younger sister who actually just refers to her brother as “monkey.” While it’s clear that she’s the same character with the same base personality traits in Volume 2 compared to Volume 21, reading her introduction again made me realize just how much she changes over the course of the manga, from an immature high schooler to a mature (enough) adult.

By the time shes in Nidaime, Keiko is a perceptive woman who, while maybe not having the best head on her shoulders, is still capable of being pragmatic and clever. When we first meet her here, however, she’s asking for money from Sasahara because her boyfriend basically abandoned her. Rather than the one in control of her relationships, she’s the one being manipulated. Instead of using her femininity to attract entice, she uses it essentially to pander (we’ll be seeing more of this in the next volume!). It makes me wonder if the reason Keiko distrusts Hato so much in Nidaime is because she sees a bit of her old self in him.

All About Saki

There are a lot of indicators as to Saki’s relationship with the rest of Genshiken at this point. When she discusses Kohsaka having sex with her doggy-style so that he can presumably watch anime at the same time, the other members decide to use that mental image as masturbation fodder. Here, when they all still only kind of know her, she’s still just as much a “hot girl” as she is an antagonistic force and an erstwhile club member. It’s like they still don’t yet consider her a friend, which only makes sense given how much she tries to mess with Genshiken.

When it comes to the actual story of how she joins Genshiken, I wonder how okay it really is from a contemporary perspective. Essentially, the first president blackmails her into joining because he (somehow) knows that she’s been using the club room as a “private space” for her and Kohsaka. While Saki’s suspicion of hidden cameras is never corroborated, it leaves the question of whether or not this development would fly in today’s more socially conscious environment. I don’t think this damages the friendship that forms, but it does put an odd perspective on her character relative to the club.

In general, the biggest impression I get from Saki in Volume 2 is how she’s still so inexperienced when it comes to handling otaku. While she’s still characteristically sharp (her ability to spot plastic surgery might just relate to her being able to recognize Hato as a man), she hasn’t yet mastered the mind of the otaku and how to work both with it and around it. Like Keiko, there’s plenty of development awaiting her in the future.

Translation Errors

As noted above, I’ve been using the English volumes because my Japanese ones have been hard to access and because it’s just quicker for me. I’m wondering if this is a mistake, because when reading this one I noticed some issues with the translation when comparing it to my memory. For example, when Ohno is explaining that Tanaka sewed so much support in her Kuradoberi Jam outfit that she didn’t need to wear a bra, the English version has the girls call him “creepy.” If I recall correctly, however, they’re actually saying that he’s terrifying(ly skilled). Keep in mind that the translation is like 90% fine, but there are just some moments that indicate a lack of close familiarity with not just otaku culture but also the otaku mindset. Granted, this was translated many years ago at this point, and there were just fewer resources back then.

Mebaetame and the Pre-Evolution of Kio Shimoku’s Ar

Volume 2 is the premiere of Mebaetame, the Genshiken circle doujinshi, which is also the debut of Kujibiki Unbalance art. The reported art evolution comparisons as the fictional manga goes on as explored by Kohsaka are interesting, if only for the fact that it’s 2003-ish Kio Shimoku trying to draw extreme stylistic changes. It’s similar to what he’d eventually go through as an artist. You can also see elements of his move between cutesier and more realistic styles.

Final Random Thoughts

Ohno’s cosplay gets me thinking. Back when this volume first came out, Guilty Gear was a big thing. Now, over a decade later, Guilty Gear is again at the forefront of video game fandom. It just makes me wonder if we went from collectively knowing Kuradoberi Jam, to forgetting who she is, to remembering her once more.

Also, in the image of Saki above, Kio uses a small amount of screentone to hint at cleavage. I’m not pointing this out to be a pervert, but to call back to a later statement of his that he had to essentially earn the ability to do nudity. This might be considered the start of it all.

Ah, time.

 

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