Back from the Future: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for June 2018

I’m back after an exciting honeymoon in Tokyo. It was a grand ol’ time full of food and nerdery, and also spending way too much money on otaku goods. For example, I actually bought all of Heartcatch Precure! on DVD—albeit at a huge discount. (I promise I didn’t just do Precure-related things, honest.)

I’m happy to answer (most) questions about staying in Japan to the best of my ability, so send ’em in!

But before that, I’d like to thank my sponsors on Patreon and Ko-fi.

A big thank you too…

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I still had some posts go up even while I was away, so here are my favorite posts from May:

Darling in the Franxx and Choice in a Sexual Dystopia

Some people think the show is greatness itself, while others think it’s hyper trash. Here are some of my thoughts.

Project Z Revived! “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 1” Novel Review

My review of the latest Gaogaigar light novel, which is actually the long-awaited sequel to Gaogaigar Final!

“Flukes”: Competitive Rigor vs. Sustainability in Esports

How important is grabbing an audience vs. absolute competitive integrity in esports?

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 4 continues the kooky sense of almost-camaraderie.

Patreon-Sponsored

Gamblers’ Paradise: “Uma Musume: Pretty Derby”

My feelings on the new horse girl-themed anime and the expected franchise surrounding it.

Closing

As you might expect, I plan to have a ton of blog posts concerning my trip to Japan. It won’t be a full on travelogue, but I plan to have reviews of doujin events, reviews of series I picked up, and more. Who knows? Maybe it’ll even bleed into July!

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Darling in the Franxx and Choice in a Sexual Dystopia

Amidst shipping wars and attention given to its fanservice, hearing about the anime Darling in the Franxx secondhand gives the impression that it’s light on substance at best and alarmingly conservative in its sexual values at worst. Yet the more I watch it, the more I’m convinced that these descriptions do not accurately convey what the show has to offer. Instead, what I see is an anime that explores political discourse on what it means to be in a relationship, focusing on questions of equality, agency, and defiance.

WARNING: Spoilers for Darling in the Franx

Darling in the Franxx takes place in a science fictional world where kids are artificially created and trained to use giant robots called “Franxx” in order to fight massive monsters known as Klaxosaurs. They live in a world that separates adults from children, has those same adults revered like virtual gods, and sexual energy is directed towards combat. Those teens are put into not-so-subtle male-female pairings called “stamens and pistils,” who then enter a cockpit that has them basically pantomiming doggy-style sex without even knowing what it means to kiss. While these arrangements can seem like an excuse for some highly suggestive imagery, it’s implied throughout the series (if not stated outright) that this is an intentionally explosive design within the context of their world.

The fact that their society is partly based on adults exploiting children, stunting and controlling their hormones, and making it seem like a favor is already a kind of political message. However, plenty of anime both deep and shallow have done the same. “Kids vs. adults” is a classic trope, and even the biggest names in mecha (e.g. Evangelion and Gundam) feature them to some extent.

This might appear to be an admonishment of “frivolous” romance. However, it’s quite the opposite. I find that the romances are of central importance to the complexity of Darling in the Franxx. The relationships, how they’re presented and what they represent, are a direct window into the shows’ political themes and messages. Those themes and messages, in turn, are actually supportive of more liberal views on gender and sexuality than assumed at first glance.

Futoshi and Kokoro: Relationship Betrayal or Relationship Freedom?

One of the more controversial episodes sees the character Futoshi pledge his devotion to Kokoro. After weakly promising to go along with Futoshi’s pledge to be his “partner [i.e. co-pilot] forever,” Kokoro later decides to try and switch partners to Mitsuru when the option becomes available—an implicit rejection Futoshi. This was the cause of a great deal of consternation, with speculation that the show was trying to cheaply indulge in the NTR [cuckolding] fetish found in Japanese otaku culture.

However, what I think frames the importance of Kokoro’s actions is the fact that the stamen-pistil pairings are assigned. Yes, Futoshi was absolutely infatuated and Kokoro agreed to his pledge, but it was also established that Kokoro’s natural tendency is to oblige others and not speak her mind. This is what attracts her to the surly Mitsuru in the first place. He’s got a huge chip on his shoulder and isn’t afraid to let it be known—something Kokoro finds incredibly difficult. Rather than this being some “betrayal” of Futoshi, I find it better viewed as Kokoro finally taking initiative in her life and finding someone in Mitsuru who complements her flaws and benefits from her strengths. Kokoro breaks down the walls Mitsuru has established to hide his vulnerability, while Mitsuru’s attitude inspires Kokoro to prioritize her own feelings.

Certain elements of the series, such as the male-dominant sexual imagery of the cockpits, and the fact that other Franxx pilots outside of the core group tend to be emotionless, imply a world that thrives on power imbalances and sex without joy. While this could be considered the message of the show, romantic developments based on the need to find a true equal says otherwise.

Hiro and Zero Two: Equal Partners Against the World

Nowhere is the emphasis on equality more evident than in the main love triangle between protagonist Hiro, his childhood friend Ichigo, and the part-Klaxosaur pilot Zero Two. At first, it comes across as harem-esque wish fulfillment starring a guy who seems like he stepped out of every generic light novel ever. There’s a vague sense that the girls are in love with him because he’s ambiguously “nice,” in the most boring way possible. So why is Hiro so much more attracted to Zero Two?

It can seem like mere exoticism, or the series deciding that one girl has to win, but there are moments throughout the series that suggest a vital difference between how the two girls relate to Hiro. Ichigo worships Hiro, and places him on a pedestal. Zero Two, however, inspires Hiro to push forward and to try and overcome his limits. When we find out their lost history in Episode 14—that the two actually met when they were children and had their memories altered by the adults as a result—it’s not just about Zero Two being “another childhood friend.” Instead, Hiro’s attempt to rescue her and escape together is the ultimate act of a child who constantly questions the status quo of a rigid society. Similarly, Hiro is the catalyst that allows Zero Two to experience the outside world, and to see herself as more than a monster. There is a sense of equality and a constant desire to push one another forward that is present when Hiro and Zero Two are together—one that doesn’t exist with Hiro and Ichigo.

Surprisingly, Hiro himself becomes an increasingly fascinating character as the series continues, being revealed as not really the goody two-shoes his initial impression conveys. That childhood flashback to meeting Zero Two highlights the fact that he was actually a problem child for a society that encourages kids to stay ignorant and obedient. A young Hiro refuses to take “you’re not supposed to know” as an answer, and is punished for it by having his memories erased and being forced into a more complacent personality. When he meets Zero Two again for the first time years later (in Episode 1), that puts him on the path towards his naturally inquisitive self that dares to challenge society’s assumptions.

Gender Conformity or Gender Rebellion?

Accepting that the romances are more than skin-deep, the question then becomes: what exactly is the message conveyed through these relationships? A recent episode has garnered some backlash because it’s being seen as reinforcing gender conformity and a heteronormative worldview. However, based on other information about the world in Darling in the Franxx, I feel that it’s not so simple.

In Episode 17, Papa’s personal elite squadron, the Nines, move in with the main characters. Once there, they discover that Kokoro has discovered information on pregnancy and childbirth, which is forbidden in their world. The leader of the Nines, named Nine Alpha, talks about how traditional pregnancy and childbirth are unnecessary because humans have evolved past it, and that to go back to the old ways would be to restore rigid gender roles and identities.

An antagonistic character is making that point, which potentially makes it look like it’s being presented as the “wrong choice.” But if anything, Darling in the Franxx features a world where all sexuality regardless of gender, sex, or sexual orientation is taboo, so it’s not simply a matter of “proper gender roles” being enforced in the narrative.

Consider the fact that only one of the characters, Kokoro, is expressing any desire for a traditional pregnancy. Consider also that the characters literally have no idea how they came into the world, believing that the “Big Brother”-esque Papa “made them” in some mysterious fashion. It’s one thing if they knew how they were birthed, but they’re not even allowed to know in the first place. Moreover, a previous episode features one of the other pilots, Zorome, meeting an adult who is heavily implied to be his biological mother—which means the talk about having evolved past the need for traditional childbirth might very well be a lie. To me, it looks like the issue isn’t that Papa is cruel for preventing humans from being able to have sex and reproduce and fulfill established gender roles, but that he’s suppressed all education about the topic.

Adults have their organs removed and their puberty somehow controlled or skipped over. Franxx pilots are allowed to keep their reproductive organs solely because they’re the key to piloting their robots, and they die early as a result. Sex and sexual desire are made a tool of the government regardless of the people and who they’re attracted to.

Franxx piloting becomes the closest thing people have to being able to have physical relationships, and even that is not so cut and dry. One of the other pilots, Ikuno, is clearly a lesbian or at the very least bisexual, but the world doesn’t even acknowledge her state as a possibility. When she suggests an attempt at a pistil-pistil combination for piloting, it doesn’t work—as if the state-ordained sex substitute known as the Franxx cannot allow it. Even then, she comes to Kokoro’s aid, slapping Nine Alpha for verbally attacking Kokoro’s newfound values. Prior to this, Ikuno can be seen bristling at the idea that gender distinctions could become more dominant if society reverted back to ancient times, but she still comes to Kokoro’s defense. I believe this is derived from the commonality between Kokoro’s wish for heterosexual procreation and Ikuno’s own emotional defiance of heteronormativity, which is that both wish to be free of a world that denies their feelings.

Even the main couple itself, Hiro and Zero Two, is a subtle rebellion against rigid gender roles. If the ability to have children is what defines women according to the story, then that would invalidate Zero Two, who mentions in Episode 17 that it is physically impossible for her. Yet her romance is the paramount love story of Darling in the Franxx. While she expresses envy at the fact that the humans can potentially have children, it’s more to do with them having a choice in the first place.

More Questions

One curiosity the series has yet to address is why the Nines seem to be capable of piloting in formations counter to the stamen-pistil pairing. Nine Alpha, for example, reads as male, but takes the bent-over position in the cockpit normally reserved for girls. Are the Nines, in part or in whole, actually outside of the male-female dichotomy in terms of sex and/or gender? Are their Franxx units somehow different from the rest? These unanswered questions further deepen the story and its potential avenues.

Conclusion: Emotional Depth and Political Rebellion

Darling in the Franxx starts off with many signs that it’s a shallow endeavor centered around boring wish fulfillment, shock value, and an excuse for sex and violence. But the show carries a lot of themes I would dare say are important to where we currently are in society. Its characters are extremely emotional teenagers, the classic archetype of anime, but their actions within the context of their world and the restrictions that world places on their bodies and minds gives renewed importance to everything they do. The romance of Darling in the Franxx is both a window into the politics of society and the importance of equality in emotional and loving relationships that transcend the strict hierarchies and roles given to them by a world of adults that seeks to mercilessly exploit its children. Rather than fighting for sexual conformity, the characters in Darling in the Franxx fight for sexual freedom and the freedom to choose their bodies’ futures, whether they know it or not.

Given that the series is yet to conclude, there’s a definite chance my interpretation is off the mark. If that time comes, I will be happy to reassess my analysis, and to see what I got right and what I got wrong.

“Flukes”: Competitive Rigor vs. Sustainability in Esports

The question of whether or not to stratify different groups of competitors occurs in any competitive setting, but it tends to be ground zero for debate in gaming even more than in traditional sports or fields such as Chess. For this reason, a recent tweet by veteran League of Legends and Overwatch commentator MonteCristo lamenting the lack of “pros-only” tournaments for fighting games garnered a significant backlash.

There’s one core reason for the negative response to MonteCristo: those who consider themselves part of the fighting game community tend to consider the ability for “gods” and “mortals” to meet in open competition—and for god slayers to emerge at any moment—as one of the strengths of fighting games. In particular, people latched onto the use of the word “flukes” as evidence of the esports works being afraid of “true competition.” If esports could be compared to tennis, then to the FGC a world of invitationals (and nothing else) would be akin to the pre-open era of tennis—when pros and amateurs were not allowed to compete against each other at major tournaments.

However, having followed esports for over ten years now, I’ve noticed that this seeming incongruity in values stems from a difference in what aspects of competitive gaming are prioritized. Is it about competition and camaraderie, or competition and sustainability? While the two are not wholly incompatible, the esports side has long expressed a desire for recognition, expansion into the mainstream, and eventually a reverence similar (but not necessarily identical) to traditional sports. With respect to this, figures in esports have emphasized the importance of “narratives,” and seeing how big a deal they are is very telling as to how esports tends to try and achieve sustainability.

In 2010, StarCraft II ushered in a new era in esports, and tournament circuits such as GOM Starcraft League in Korea and the US-based Major League Gaming were established to give players a chance at competition. While there were many differences in their formats—GSL participants played only a handful of matches per day over the course of weeks and months, while MLG pitted hundreds of players against each over a single weekend—both came to the table early on with a certain goal in mind: to create stars.

GSL created a distinction between the cream of the crop (Code S) and the almost-greats (Code A), where players from the latter could earn the right to be promoted to the former. However, in the first few incarnations of the GSL, it was purposely made difficult for players to fall out of Code S. Essentially, the players who performed the worst in Code S had to compete against the best of Code A in a potential changing of the guard. The number of players who dropped down to these “Up and Down Matches” was restricted, and the Code S players could still end up defeating the hopefuls from Code A and send them back down. The reason? To make sure that recognizable faces remained on camera so they could establish fanbases, and by extension garner a sense of celebrity—to be people that fans and players could remember and look up to.

This was also the reasoning behind MLG‘s seeding system for its multi-tournament season, which saw players who did well at earlier tournaments get byes into much, much later stages of later league tournaments. Going on a tear in your first tournament could pay off down the line. If a player earned a top-32 spot in one tournament, they could keep getting place into a high spot for the next, and then play just well enough to not tank out, it meant a stable spot for increased visibility.

Eventually, both GSL and MLG revised their formats to encourage less ossification of brackets and more chances for rising stars to make a name, but that still doesn’t erase the fact that their initial versions tried to create a delineation between the “Pros” and the “Joes.” Central to all of this was the idea that “good narratives draw viewers in.” What better way to encourage a good narrative than to have a consistent cast of “characters” for the audience to know and root for?

Examples of the benefits that heroes and heroic narratives provide to competition are numerous, but one that stands out in particular is the story of basketball legend Larry Bird. At the time, basketball was seen in the US as largely a “black sport,” and thus had a relatively small white audience. Larry Bird helped to change that, as could be seen from one nickname of his: the Great White Hope. Was this racist? Yes, to a degree. Did it also help pull basketball into the mainstream? Yes it did.

(Is there a comparison to be made between this example and the fact that esports vs. FGC exists along something of a similar divide in terms of racial demographics? Also yes, but that discussion will be for another time.)

Narratives do not have to be manufactured whole-cloth. Seeing an underdog defeat a champion, or watching a winner cement his place with an undefeated streak happens just from competition existing. However, in a world where visual presentation can often be confusing to those unfamiliar, presenting these bouts as being between humans with wants and desires and emotions (especially simple ones like anger) can bridge that gap. So it’s no wonder why esports organizations frequently try to control it through player perception, delineations between pros and amateurs, and so on. But one question that arises is, does setting things up so conveniently end up compromising the integrity of competition? The answer is that it can, but it largely depends on severity.

Take professional wrestling, which has been predetermined for many decades precisely because the promoters understood that most audience members cared more when the wrestlers had charisma. Famously, when a bland 1940s wrestler named George Wagner dyed his hair blond and became the arrogant and effete “Gorgeous George,” his antagonistic demeanor drew audiences in droves to see him in the hopes that they’d get to witness George getting destroyed. Pro wrestling isn’t a true athletic competition precisely because it becomes easier to control the narrative and get viewers invested.

But even in a legitimate sport like mixed martial arts, the desire for narrative can influence decisions. While the results of matches aren’t fixed, the media and advertising machine surrounding MMA are there to try and produce the best narratives they can, either by using what’s there or cooking up some controversy. That’s because they know that narratives make people care. Athletes will be brought out to drum up a sense of animosity between the two. Is it real? Is it fake? Does it matter if it sells tickets? A guy like Conor McGregor, who’s naturally antagonistic but also an amazing fighter, puts butts in seats. People are eager to see him be on either the giving or receiving end of an ass-kicking.

At the same time, leaving things to chance can be scary for those who have substantial amounts of money riding on the success of their investment. Conor McGregor is in some ways the ideal, but he also has a tendency to get himself in trouble and make the UFC look bad in the process. One can even compare those blunders to the number of players caught blurting out racial slurs onstream. Just because someone’s a winner doesn’t mean they’re a good spokesperson, especially if they have no media training and are just kids plucked out of online lobbies and given an environment to train in. When there are so many variables at play where something can go wrong—quality of the game itself, image of competitive gaming to the outside world, the perception of “nerds”—it’s understandable (though not immune to criticism) why teams, tournaments, and organizations would want to control what they can.

The divide between FGC and esports, or the perception of it, has largely to do with community vs. respectability. The former looks inwards, and believes that having a solid core, a group of passionate players who can weather any storm together through a love of competition, is paramount. The latter looks outwards, and aims to establish itself as a permanent fixture in the world, something that cannot die because it has the size and backing to keep it going forever. The two are not irreconcilable, but finding a balance (if a balance is desired at all) requires parties that can trust each other to not abandon the other side’s principles.

19:00 News: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for May 2018

I’ll be heading to Tokyo this month to enjoy myself, nerd it out, and eat everything in sight. My last trip was in 2016, so let’s see how things have changed!

Thanks once again to my sponsors on Patreon and Ko-fi. Thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Because I’ll be spending a couple weeks in Japan, my post schedule is going to be slightly sparser than usual. Ideally, I’ll be coming back with plenty of material to write about, so hopefully it’ll all even out.

Here are my favorite posts from April:

Approaching “Isle of Dogs” as an Asian-American Anime Fan

My thoughts surrounding the controversy over Wes Anderson’s film.

Love Live! and the Four Tendencies

A fun thought exercise as to how the “four tendencies” concept by Gretchen Rubin map onto the girls of μ’s.

Sakuga is to Anime as Workrate is to Pro Wrestling

A comparison between two hardcore topics fun two hardcore fanbases.

Return to Genshiken

Volume 8, the climax! Only one volume left…

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 3 isn’t super big on the music, but it’s fun.

Patreon-Sponsored

More Like “We-Katsu!”: Aikatsu Friends!

Initial thoughts on the newest Aikatsu! anime.

Closing

I’ll be visiting Tsukiji, the famous fish market in Tokyo, which happens to be shutting down this year in October for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I’m genuinely glad I get to see it once before it’s moved to a new location.

I plan to eat all the sea urchIn…

Breakthrough: Return to Genshiken – Volume 8

We’ve reached the climax of Genshiken series 1, and the moment that all Ogiue fans cheered for. How does one of the most famous otaku confessions in manga history still hold up?

What is Return to Genshiken?

Genshiken is an influential manga about otaku, as well as my favorite manga ever and the inspiration for this blog, but it’s been many years since I’ve read the series. I intend to re-read Genshiken with the benefit of hindsight and see how much, if at all, my thoughts on the manga have changed.

Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume, using both English and Japanese versions! I’ll also be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.

Volume 8 Summary

The Genshiken members are on a trip to the resort town of Karuizawa, when a drunken girls’ night in causes Ogiue to reveal her past to the other girls. It turns out that Ogiue had a boyfriend named Makita in middle school, but after she  drew a BL doujinshi starring him and his best friend, and Makita transferred to another school presumably after seeing it. This is the source of Ogiue’s hatred of herself and her fujoshi side.

Sasahara is left to take care of Ogiue during her hangover, and ends up confessing to her, only to be rejected, because Ogiue “can’t date men.” At the prompting of Kasukabe and Ohno, Sasahara goes after her, where she reveals that she’s been drawing doujinshi of him and Madarame this whole time, and is suffering from immense guilt over being unable to stop herself. Sasahara, instead of recoiling in fear and horror, shows understanding and support, which convinces Ogiue to invite him over to her place after the vacation with the goal of putting everything on the line. After having him read the doujinshi starring himself and seeing him accept it, the two finally get together and consummate their relationship.

After a cute but awkward early stage, the two are fairly comfortable together. However, Ogiue runs into a couple of other hurdles. First, she’s rejected from Comic Festival, which tanks her confidence. Second, the Manga Society she unleashed havoc on back when she was much, much angrier. Visited by some old members, namely a Kansai girl named Yabusaki who also draws, it turns out that Yabusaki’s been garnering jealous eyes in the Manga Society herself, and that Yabusaki’s friends see a friendship with Ogiue as a way to benefit both parties. The two begin to get along…sort of?

Ogiue’s Past Revealed

As Ogiue gives her drunken rant (by way of flashback), one takeaway is just how serious her trauma is over her time with Makita—it’s enough to consistently give her nightmares. I once got the chance to submit a question to Kio Shimoku as to why her eyes changed over the course of the series, and he mentioned that her character originally necessitated those eyes. I wonder if it signifies her no longer being victim to her own bad dreams.

Nakajima is a fascinating character. It’s clear to me that she was jealous of either Ogiue or Makita, but the extent of her involvement in actually bullying Ogiue remains ambiguous. I think this shows more Ogiue’s mind in turmoil than any absolute truths, that she lost trust in Nakajima, but also faith in the assumption that Ogiue herself was a good person. Based on the character’s appearances in Nidaime, it’s obvious Nakajima wants to mend bridges with Ogiue, but her own personality gets in the way. Maybe both Ogiue and Nakajima are cursed with standoffish personalities.

As for Makita himself, I find it significant that he never really shows up, not even in Nidaime, even though Nakajima makes a couple of appearances. I think this is to show that there’s a part of Ogiue’s past she’ll never be able to directly confront, and that she’s ultimately okay with this. Then again, I figured that was the case with Madarame’s unrequited love for Saki and that eventually got resolved, so maybe if Genshiken had more volumes it would’ve happened eventually. Another point about Makita is how he contrasts with Sasahara. Makita was (assumedly) so bothered by the doujin that he transferred school. Sasahara took it head-on. Again, while he doesn’t seem like he should be a seme character, one can see how Ogiue would interpret him as such.

The Confession, Part 1

I consider Sasahara’s confession to Ogiue and the subsequent fallout to be the most magical part of Genshiken, and not simply because of the fact that it’s the big romantic climax. There’s just so much in terms of the characters’ personalities, histories, and quirks intertwining over an extended period. The confession essentially comes in parts, starting with a stock “I like you, and I want to protect you” line straight out of some dating sim. Sasahara’s willingness to back off at what he takes as a rejection is a flaw of his, but also one of the qualities Ogiue admires in him. Then, when Ogiue blurts out that she been drawing a hardcore comic of him with Sasahara, she’s trying to drive him away with all her might, afraid that getting closer would hurt them both.

I remember the degree to which Ogiue took Sasa x Mada was a pretty big surprise back when I first read it. Now, it’s been so long and been such a part of Ogiue’s character as to feel natural.

To Ogiue’s surprise, Sasahara sees the good in her, and this gradually opens Ogiue’s eyes to the idea that, just maybe, she should accept and embrace herself. Ogiue’s struggle this entire time has been based on the feeling that her desires and her conscience are in direct conflict, when they need not be. She’s afraid of hurting Sasahara, but what if her actions simply don’t bother him? It’s a compatibility issue, not a fatal flaw that denies her companionship.

The Confession, Part 2

When they decide to meet at her apartment, the tension is thick with both nervousness and sexual energy. It rightly feels like they’re on the verge of something big after so long. But I think the key to it all is in Sasahara’s line: “I can feel your overwhelming love for your characters,” in reference to the BL-ized versions of himself and Madarame. Those words free Ogiue. Her drawings come from a place of passion.

Seeing Sasahara grapple with the fujoshi mindset, and Ogiue having to explain it to him, is also pretty fascinating. After reading through her doujin, he asks her if she also has feelings for Madarame, which Ogiue denies. There’s something different about the way she uses each of them for inspiration. It feels as if she takes the qualities that make her like Sasahara and exaggerates them for fiction, but for Madarame it’s that his “uke” qualities make him excellent as a character first and foremost.

That’s if we’re talking Ogiue, at least. As the sequel shows, sometimes Madarame as imagination fodder and subject of affection can come as a package. Perhaps Hato is meant to tap into that aspect of Madarame, and to show that there are simply a lot of different people in the world.

Returning to the subject of Ogiue, she tries to prompt Sasahara into being more aggressive, which Sasahara tries to live up to with awkward (yet effective?) results. It’s funny to see Sasahara from this point forward actively put on that more aggressive personality when I’m romantic situations with Ogiue, because it clearly comes from a desire to thrill and excite her. It’s very fitting for their characters.

Once their feelings are known, the two immediately go into sex, which I think is actually kind of wild. Sure, they’re horny college students who also obsess over drawn pornography, but to go from that degree of pussyfooting to just (offscreen) pants-off carnal desire makes me think of a hose previously being held back suddenly letting loose (ifykwim). From this point on, Sasahara and Ogiue are not only boyfriend and girlfriend, but this can also be seen as a major stop along the way in their respective careers as editor and artist because Sasahara essentially gave a “review meeting” about Ogiue’s Sasa x Mada doujin. It’s shown to be a pretty constant source of tension between the two, but one that’s ultimately minor in the face of their love for each other.

The Manga Society

I’m very impressed looking back at how the Manga Society girls (Yabusaki, Asada, Katou) are able to make such a strong impression after such a brief appearance. You get a sense of how they relate to each other, what the club environment was like, and the girls themselves are just plain memorable.

One thing I find funny is that, at this point, Asada Naoko didn’t have an actual name. At most she’s referred to as “Nyaako” in the Volume 9 doujinshi extra by some of the artists. Asada actually comes from the Genshiken 2 anime credits, and Naoko is from Nidaime, which retconned Nyaako into being her nickname—a play off of “Naoko.”

They also drop that tidbit about Ohno and Katou knowing each other. One thing I find interesting is this idea that true bonds can be formed through shared kinks. I don’t think that notion has gone away, but I have to wonder if making that aspect of oneself more visible to the public (“horny on main” as they say it these days) makes it so that aspect of oneself is no longer as revealing or telling of one’s true self. Basically, maybe showing one’s kinks isn’t as much of a soul-bearing activity if it’s never made private in the first place.

Final Random Thoughts

There’s a very memorable scene I had ironically almost forgotten about: on the train home from the zoo, Ogiue basically tells Sasahara that “their date isn’t over yet,” which makes Sasahara shift his bag to hide his erection. While Genshiken often deals in literal fans of drawn pornography, these moments of sensual realness stand out all the more because of it.

That zoo, by the way, is based on Tama Zoo, which is a short train ride away from Chuo University (the school that visually inspired Genshiken‘s Shiiou University). I actually went there when I studied abroad in Japan!

Sakuga is to Anime as Workrate is to Pro Wrestling

Listen to anime fans discuss the quality of a given title, and there’s a chance the term “sakuga” will pop up. Used to roughly describe the quality and difficulty of artistically creating the illusion of motion in animation, sakuga has gradually gained prominence among hardcore anime fans around the world, in no small part due to resources like Sakugabooru and just increasingly convenient access to anime. It can also be a contentious subject among anime fans, namely because its idolization can come sometimes across as either excessively niche or obnoxiously elitist. As many elements of art tend to be, sakuga is prone to passionate discussions about a very subjective thing.

I find it useful to frame surrounding fan discourses by comparing them to other areas of art and entertainment. With sakuga, the question of its “true” value is actually quite reminiscent of an ongoing debate in another area of entertainment: pro wrestling. There, the buzzword is “workrate”–defined roughly as “the quality and difficulty of creating the illusion of a wrestling match.” Sound familiar?

While there are many styles and schools of wrestling, the origin of the workrate debate stems from the difference in style between the larger and historically more widely viewed promotions, most notably WWE, and the smaller indie promotions. Because many of the indies are filled younger wrestlers inspired by veterans touted for their often spectacle-heavy styles, indie wrestling has a reputation for being filled with athletes who want to showcase their skill as many difficult-to-execute or dangerous/dangerous-looking actions as possible, e.g. a Shooting Star Press off of a ladder, to entertain a hardcore wrestling audience. In contrast, the more traditional wrestling organizations tend to value storytelling over technical execution, in part due to the desire to avoid or mitigate injuries, but also because simpler moves surrounded by a narrative can be understood by a wider audience.

Whether in anime or in pro wrestling, an attack can have more significance when it carries meaning through context. The anime Digimon Tamers features a scene where a demonic Digimon named Beelzemon performs a move called “Fist of the Beast King.” On its own, it just looks like a cool but generic technique. However, it’s also a move used by a Digimon named Leomon Beelzemon had previously cruelly slain, and Beelzemon’s own usage of it is a product of his remorse over the pain he created in Leomon’s partner.

Similarly, when wrestler Kenny Omega performed a Golden Star Powerbomb, a Bloody Sunday, a Styles Clash, and a One-Winged Angel on his opponent to win the G-1 Climax tournament, he’s recalling his history as a wrestler the history of the Bullet Club faction he led at the time. Both it and the Beelzemon scene are examples of visual storytelling. However, when the topic becomes “what’s more important, the technical performance or the story being told,” and one ends up choosing a side, the tension between the two becomes more evident.

The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is somewhat infamous for using severe animation shortcuts in certain scenes, notably long elevator sequences that involve a single frame of animation left onscreen with some ambient noise. In a way, it almost can’t be called animation, but it’s surprisingly effective for conveying a sense of interpersonal tension or awkwardness among the characters involved. For storytelling purposes it works, but to a sakuga fan, this is simply what they’re not looking for. They take pleasure in the difficulty involved in visual storytelling. They’ll often watch an anime they weren’t invested in, simply because of the quality of the animation.

In wrestling, Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest names in history. For most of his career, he’s utilized a very simple style consisting of basic striking moves and holds, but his ability to capture the audience through those simple gestures is arguably second to none. To workrate fans, however, they’d choose a technical masterpiece with little buildup or context over a Hogan match, because wrestling to them is about seeing what is possible.

There’s a certain purity to wanting to see art or performance for the sake of it, without needing an underlying narrative, and often involves a much deeper dive into a subject—the domain of the dedicated fan. There’s also a sort of “insider” appeal derived from using industry terms like sakuga and workrate. The ability to appreciate these technical and creative aspects of their respective fields is something to be valued. And yet, the fact that this appreciation is ultimately about valuing the human skill involved is precisely what makes prioritizing such things over storytelling a potential issue. The people working meticulously animating and doing the craziest wrestling moves are often doing so at the risk of their health, and finding an ideal balance between the two is better for longevity. That balance is not necessarily the fault of the people involved, as workplace conditions and salary go a long way, but the question of whether it’s better to be a sprinter or marathon runner in life arises nevertheless.

Approaching “Isle of Dogs” as an Asian-American Anime Fan

Wes Anderson’s Japanese cinema-inspired stop-motion film Isle of Dogs has been the subject of controversy. Accused of racism (or at the very least racial insensitivity) towards Japan and Asian cultures in general, the movie comes at a time when Hollywood has made numerous missteps in their handling of Asian-themed works, such as the casting of non-Asian Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. As an Asian-American, I initially came out of the film without feeling offended or bothered by its contents and dressing. I still do not believe it to be a nasty film, but as I’ve reflected on my experience with Isle of Dogs by way of my long history as an Asian amd an anime fan, as well as the criticisms others have written, I find that the core issue isn’t so much racism in the “hatred or marginalization of a people” variety. Instead, it’s that the exoticization of Japan in the film can leave Asian viewers feeling we’re being othered, that we’re not the “intended audience.”

As an anime fan for the past two decades, I’ve seen both the anime being produced and my own experience with them change. When I first got into it, anime was something very foreign, very different, very exotic. Compared to the cartoons I was familiar with, it did seem like a new world, made all the better by the fact that I, as an American living in the US, was not its assumed audience. While the anime industry is increasingly aware of the global market (see the whole “Cool Japan” push by the country’s government), some of that “otherness” persists, reflecting the 99% ethnically Japanese population of Japan.

For example, in many anime set outside of Japan, the main character is often still Japanese, or at least half-Japanese—as if to assure the target audience that there is a relatable point. The spacefaring Macross franchise, now decades old, reflects this tendency in its many protagonists’ names—Ichijou Hikaru, Isamu Alva Dyson, Nekki Basara, Kudou Shin, Saotome Alto, and Hayate Immelman. So when the American exchange student Tracy Walker showed up, I saw her in the same light as those Macross characters, even if she isn’t the protagonist. While I don’t agree with the notion that she’s a “white savior” character, but rather an awkward yet well-meaning character with a bit of a self-righteous savior complex, I registered her in my mind as that American audience stand-in character. However, thinking about that moment was when it clicked for me: if she’s supposed to stand in for the American viewer who’s stepping into this film ostensibly about Japan, what does her presentation say to Asian-Americans watching it? One potential interpretation: Asian-Americans are second-class Americans in the theater.

That’s not the message that Isle of Dogs communicated to me, and I think that the lack of Asian actors playing the dogs themselves isn’t too big a deal, but I can definitely see why the film’s presentation can make Asians like myself feel like strangers in our own home. By extension, I can see why non-Asians could be sensitive to what they’re seeing as affronts of cultural appropriation. The film’s decision to leave the Japanese untranslated (outside of a literal interpreter character summarizing what some of the characters say on occasion) didn’t affect me too greatly; I’m fluent in Japanese. But the decision to not subtitle them means that direct engagement with those characters is lost for the assumed audience, and for non-Japanese-fluent Asian viewers, it can potentially create a greater sense of alienation. Again, for me as an anime fan, something like “Megasaki City” isn’t offensive because it doesn’t sound too far off from “Tokyo-3” (the 3’s pronounced “three” like in English) from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but the film is rife with imagery and symbols that might end up feeling less like loving homages and more like snarky plundering if the Asian-American audience already feels like they’re being told to “stand over there.”

I’m not familiar with Wes Anderson films, so I can’t speak to his auteur style. I’m also not an expert on Kurosawa Akira, so I have only a vague sense of how Anderson references him and other Japanese filmmakers. At most I’m very familiar with Miyazaki Hayao. Within this limited personal context, my feeling is that Anderson through Isle of Dogs tries to exoticize not Japan, Japanese culture, or Japanese people, but rather the feeling of wonder and difference that he got from Japanese film and filmmakers. One of his core staff members, Nomura Kunichi, was apparently brought on specifically to help with authenticity and treating Japanese culture with respect.

Because those films are so associated with foreign interpretations and expectations of Japan, however, drawing from those sources so readily while unabashedly acknowledging them through the Japanese setting of Isle of Dogs can make audiences, such as Asian-Americans who have to deal with the challenges of being Asian-American, bristle with suspicion. Bringing up the question of cultural appropriation is important, and I think the film itself has enough teeth (no pun intended) to stand up to the doubts and concerns, but those questions should not be ignored or assumed to “not really matter.”