Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

Introduction

Geek culture has a conflicted relationship with making references. It can be the lingua franca of geeks—reciting lines wholesale from Star Trek, Monty Python, The Simpsons, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and other nerd favorites has long been a way to identify like-minded individuals, especially when those interests might not have been considered popular in a schoolyard or office. But that same geek culture, once characterized by references to living in family basements, is now integrated into mainstream culture. It’s to the point that the distinction between hardcore and casual is blurred, inviting never-ending debates about whether that line truly exists, let alone where it might fall. The most successful sitcom ever is The Big Bang Theory, a show about a bunch of brainy dorks who hit every stereotype this side of Steve Urkel.

In this environment, reference humor in geek culture is now being criticized in popular culture as overly insular, perhaps even symptomatic of gate-keeping out women and certain ethnic groups. References are seen as a crutch, a way to siphon off the value and humor of others in absence of one’s own. Unfavorable reviews of the book Ready Player One may be justified in pointing out its misogynistic themes and awkward prose, but it’s also viewed as a prime example of reference subculture gone too far in its arrogance and alienation.

Yet, there’s another example of a once relatively small cultural movement that has established itself in mainstream culture, one that also thrives on references to itself in ways that can seem inaccessible to outsiders: rap and hip hop. In that respect, I find it fascinating that both geek and rap cultures share a lot of similarities. In addition to the heavy focus on references, they’re also grappling with the fact that while they have helped to provide voices to the voiceless, they’re also avenues for misogyny and racism to rear their ugly heads. Despite their stereotypes being virtual opposites of each other—the 98 lb. pasty white nerd living in soul-crushing suburbia vs. the hard-edged gangsta in the life-threatening inner city—there’s a good deal of resonance between the two, and that’s before taking into account the fact that nerd references actually do show up in rap on a regular basis. However, while the use of references in hip hop seems to elevate it in the eyes of the general public, it’s considered something of a strike against geek culture. The question is then, what causes this difference in perception?

Hip Hop’s Reference Culture

The spark for this essay came to me thanks to a book I recently read: Original Gangstas: Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Among other informative things for someone unknowledgeable about the subject like myself, one aspect it points out about west coast rap and hip hop is that it grew partly out of the rappers’ desire to make songs that spoke to their lived experiences, as opposed to what they were getting from New York City, where rap originated.

The key example the book gives of this desire to express west coast authenticity comes from a line in Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood”: Cruisin’ down the street in my ’64. Westhoff himself describes his youth, listening to this song and dreaming of riding a “Six-four” without knowing what that actually was. But to a certain audience, especially those who grew up in areas like Compton, Eazy-E was quite obviously talking about a 1964 Chevy Impala. Though more a way to speak to those on the streets, there was perhaps another inadvertent takeaway for those who weren’t familiar with this experience: “This is a west coast thing. You probably wouldn’t understand.”

Information like what “six-four” means might be taken for granted by those intimately familiar with rap and hip hop. But speaking personally, my relationship with these genres was, for the longest time, largely limited to memories of what my siblings would listen to. It’s why I found Original Gangstas so potent, as it helped give me perspective on things I only tangentially understood: the significance of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” in popularizing the style known as G-Funk, the old differences between east coast and west coast styles, etc. As a relative outsider, I’ve long found that the propensity for rap to throw out references to culture without explanation, couch them in rhythm and lyrics, and use callbacks to other songs (whether in praise or as an insult) made it difficult for me (who grew up not terribly music-inclined in general) to make heads or tails of. I didn’t reject it as music I was supposed to “hate,” nor did I believe that “rap isn’t real music.” Rather, I felt that it was the popular kids’ music, and that it spoke of things I, as an out-of-shape Asian kid who couldn’t win a fight against a hamster, perhaps wasn’t “supposed” to be able to connect to.

That was the past, and I now feel more open and receptive to hip hop, thanks in part to David Brothers, who writes about the connection between geek culture and rap on a regular basis. Yet, I still feel that time away has affected me by stunting not just the potential knowledge of hip hop that’s in my head, but also the potential feeling of it in my heart and soul. With respect to this complicated sensation, one song I keep coming back to is Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind.” It’s about as famous and popular a rap song as it gets, but as someone who was born and raised in New York City, there are references in it I intrinsically understand and some that I had to look up. I know that going from Harlem to Tribeca is essentially traveling from the top to the bottom of Manhattan. I know that being so “Spike’d out I can trip a referee” is referring to Spike Lee’s propensity for getting front-row tickets to Knicks games while simultaneously talking up Jay-Z’s swagger. I had no clue what “paying Lebron” and “paying Dwyane Wade” meant, having next to no knowledge of drug culture, nor did I know that “BK” being from Texas is about Beyoncé, Jay-Z’s wife. Listening to the song feels somehow both deeply familiar and unusually foreign.

Contemplating “Empire State of Mind” relative to other rap songs, it makes me wonder if this is how many people feel similarly about nerd reference culture. If there’s enough to chew on, it becomes a relatable experience. If there isn’t, it might be downright alienating. “It’s a geek thing. You probably wouldn’t understand.” Whether by accident or by intent, this can transform into “You’re not supposed to understand.” But unlike west coast rap, which was originally tied to a certain region and its surrounding cultural and economic situation, the fuel for geek culture was all over the place. I was surprised to find out (thanks again to Original Gangstas) that a young Snoop Dogg and Warren G were in a group called Voltron Crew. (There’s also a video of Snoop Dogg reminiscing about playing with Voltron toys and pretending they could move.) Moreover, at a panel at New York Comic Con 2018, DMC (of Run-DMC) talked about how he was inspired to express through his rap the entertainment culture he saw: Godzilla, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff movies, etc. One gets the impression that geek culture was never truly rooted in those pasty white suburbs, and with each passing generation that image gets reclaimed and transformed.

Rap’s references don’t just end with talking about the streets or various aspects of pop culture, either. There’s also a tradition of calling back to previous rap songs, which rewards those fans and listeners who avidly follow the genre. Original Gangstas describes how “Hit ’em Up,” the infamous diss track that is just five minutes of venom directed at the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac makes numerous references to the enemy camp’s music, twisting them into dark parodies such that anyone who recognizes the originals can feel the vitriol hitting even harder. Notably, the line “Grab your dick if you love hip hop” from “Player’s Anthem” by Notorious B.I.G. and Junior Mafia becomes “Grab your glocks when you see Tupac.” You don’t need to know the specific references to pick up on the sheer anger Tupac has for Biggie, but it helps.

The Desire to Affirm Geek Identity, and the Hurdles Created in Consequence

Geek reference culture still carries a legacy of wanting to legitimize one’s own experiences, and in that respect it mirrors a lot of what rap and hip hop have done. However, where I find the key dissimilarities begin to manifest is in how attached the purveyors and fans of geekdom and rap get to their source materials. While plenty of creators allow their influences to show through in subtle ways—Steven Universe clearly has the DNA of Sailor Moon in it—the most visible parts of geekdom are those whose umbilical cords have never fully detached from the things they reference. Many of these works, while excellent in their own right, fall apart almost completely when divorced from their immediate contexts. The ones most absolutely dependent on showing off their callbacks, i.e. the Ready Player One‘s of the world, are too busy showing themselves as “nerdy” to build towards anything more. There’s a kind of clumsiness that makes people bristle.

In contrast, rap, even when one doesn’t get all of the in-jokes and shout-outs, still tend to convey enough meaning in other ways that those songs don’t live or die by the number of references contained within. But that might just be because referencing and remixing have been a part of hip hop since day one, before rappers even rose to prominence. In the earliest days, it was the DJs who commanded all the attention, and their craft is based in mixing together bits and pieces of various existing soundtracks. When Grandmaster Flash talks about getting rid of the “wack parts” to make a more enjoyable experience, he’s recalling making those old vinyls into his own. Incidentally, in this same video, he talks about the science of DJing being this incredibly geeky thing, but that he couldn’t express it as such back then because it wasn’t cool to be a geek. Hip hop has a legacy of creators not being afraid to take what’s out there and put it directly into a song, but also trying to transform them for their own unique purposes.

One point of convergence and then divergence is how nerd references get into rap and hip hop. Along this vein are two general categories: nerdy rapping and nerdcore rapping, i.e. songs with nerdy callbacks in them vs. songs where geek culture is the primary subject matter. Before I proceed, however, I want to make one thing clear: What I’m discussing is not a matter of talent of performer or quality of song; I have neither the musical expertise nor the familiarity with hip hop to cast that kind of high-and-mighty judgment. It would also be quite unfair to pit a small-time YouTuber against Snoop Dogg literally doing a song for Tekken and expect the former to live up to the latter in terms of raw ability and experience.

However, if we look beyond talent or quality and just at subject matter, nerdcore’s reputation (for better or worse) is that it’s hyper-focused on celebrating nerdiness. In contrast, nerdy rapping is about incorporating those geek references to make a point. MC Frontalot is not considered to be unskilled as a rapper, but “I’ll Form the Head” mainly requires the listener to be in on the joke—that it’s a parody of Voltron. On the other hand, when Soulja Boy raps, “Bitch I look like Goku,” he’s likening himself to the Dragon Ball protagonist to instantly communicate his power and confidence. Even if you don’t know who Goku is, the delivery tells you that it’s someone who’s a big deal. The same song (titled “Goku” of course) also references the 1964 Chevy Impala, as if to equate their cultural symbolism. It’s not a matter of “reality” vs. “fiction,” either. A lot of non-nerdy hip hop is about presenting fictionalized versions of oneself, such as Eminem’s Slim Shady.

A Crucial Difference?

One major disparity might be that while references in hip hop convey a sense of mutual understanding and experience to often self-aggrandize, traditional geek culture places much of its subcultural cache in the accumulation of nerdy knowledge—i.e. nerd cred. It’s one thing for Jay-Z to talk about how he “made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” or for Snoop Dogg to explain, “I got the Rolly [Rolex] on my arm and I’m pouring Chandon [an expensive sparkling wine].” It’s another to operate as Ready Player One does, and tie the hero’s success to his mastery of 80s pop culture. This even extends to how hip hop and geek cultures try to suss out “fake” fans. In hip hop, like with other forms of music, a lot of it has to do with taste. If you like Macklemore or Vanilla Ice, you’re supposedly not a “real” fan because you can’t handle the hard stuff. However, it’s not like hip hop fans expect everyone to have encyclopedic knowledge of rap. In contrast, when someone is accused of being a “fake geek” or a “fake geek girl,” it’s more to do with the idea that their kung-fu isn’t strong enough—that they lack the extensive study of trivia and information that’s long been expected of nerds. For hip hop and rap, references are the doorway. For geek culture, it can often feel like the destination, and as long as that reputation persists, there will always be a sense of impermeability between geek and non-geek cultures.

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The Final Smash Ultimate Direct and the Cost of Following Leaks

For the past month or so, much of the online Smash Community was consumed by the so-called “Grinch Leak,” whose promises of revealing new characters dominated conversation. Then the November 1 Smash Bros Nintendo Direct revealed the last tidbits of information before launch (new playable characters, DLC on the way, a story mode, etc.), dashing the hopes of many of the leak’s believers. Given the sadness and rage expressed by those who trusted the leak, it makes me wonder about why people continue to set themselves up for disappointment through following Smash leaks, and the only answer I can think of is that they consider it worthwhile. In a way, researching leaks and getting invested in them is almost a form of emotional gambling.

I understand that people are different when it comes to spoilers—some even readily welcome them. But the Grinch Leak interacted with the Smash community in an odd way that goes beyond just knowing something in advance. First, it came at a time when some fans felt starved for information, despite Isabelle from Animal Crossing being announced less than two months ago. It was as if people were so desperate for news that they’d glom onto anything convincing, and to spice it up, the Grinch Leak dropped a bunch of “reveals” for characters with very vocal and loyal fanbases. It’s not just that people thought the leak to be believable—many clearly wanted to believe.

And then the Direct hit, and the characters shown were not what Grinch supporters were expecting. In came the comments. “How could the final Smash Direct be this anticlimactic? Ken? Incineroar?! PIRANHA PLANT??!!” The Smash community has always had problems with getting excessively overhyped, and this was no exception. But I also wonder about the way fans seem to actively trying to to hit these dramatic emotional highs at the possible risk of plummeting into equally drastic lows. After all, one doesn’t necessarily need to pay attention to these leaks, and one can simply hope for their favorite character to be added to the roster without the additional backup of some “inside scoop.” That’s what makes it feel akin to gambling, albeit a much safer, cost-free form. There’s a risk and a payoff for wanting to believe.

It also reminds me of how popular conspiracy theories can be. “Some employee leaked information about a game that’s not out yet” is nowhere close to “the United States government faked the moon landing,” but there is a similar idea at play here: there’s inside information they don’t want you to know about, and by having the real info, you have the edge over the others. And much like conspiracy theories, the fact that some leaks actually turn out to be true only adds fuel to the fire.

In a certain sense, following leaks and getting into arguments over them is another form of community interaction, and it’s largely harmless fun. Even so, because of how they monopolized the Smash community’s general consciousness, I do have to wonder if there might be a better use of people’s time and emotional energy.

Real vs. Perfect: The Two Opposing Idol Values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lolita vs. Gothic Lolita Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Relevance of Older anime to Newer Anime Fans

This month, I was asked to write about “the relevance of older anime to newer anime fans.” The short answer is that older anime is always relevant, even if newer fans don’t think it is. I’ll leave the criteria for “older” up for interpretation, but no matter whether it’s one year or 30 years, looking back on the anime that came before is a way to gain perspective on this form of art and entertainment that enthralls us so.

When a fan only watches what is newer, there’s a risk of developing a very skewed sense of what anime was, is, and can be. It’s easy to assume certain ideas are entirely new and have never been explored before, when in fact there’s a whole back catalog of shows that take on those topics. For example, the surface reputation of Gundam as vaguely “giant robots do fighty army things” can often color people’s views of what the franchise is actually like, and actually taking the time to look into those older series can broaden one’s perception.

In other cases, it’s easy to think that it’s “always been this way,” when certain stylistic or narrative tendencies are in fact the product of continued development reflecting the changing times. I recall being a young anime fan in the 90s, when most of what we got were short OVAs meant to be proof-of-concept adaptations for manga that doubled as advertisements. Often, they didn’t make any sort of effort to acclimate new viewers, so many fans were under the assumption that most anime were visually beautiful but unfollowable nonsense story-wise. We often failed to understand that it was simply what we received.

The above examples aren’t necessarily about looking backwards, but the point isn’t to position “older anime” as “better.” Not only is that highly subjective, but there are strengths and faults to anime made in any era, as well as cultural assumptions that might be controversial in hindsight. Rather, the important thing is to look beyond one’s current purview.

I understand that it’s easier said than done to get into older anime and not have it feel like a “chore.” It shouldn’t be “watch this show from 20 years ago because it’ll make you appreciate newer things—to hell with your own enjoyment!” Moreover, there are so many forces at work that directly and indirectly discourage newer anime fans from looking backwards. The newer shows take up all of the mental space through advertisements and social media discussion and who knows what else. If watching anime is a social experience for someone, it can become difficult to convince friends to abandon the opportunity to keep up with current trends. And while good aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, older shows can at first look dated and thus lack relevance to a young, modern person. But for those who can overcome those hurdles, the reward is a more expansive library to potentially love and learn from.

This is actually why I’ve begun to think that remakes aren’t such a bad thing. Notably, Devilman Crybaby has re-introduced a classic manga to the wider world, and people have embraced it. The visuals might not be standard anime by any definition, but they’re fresher and more contemporary than what came beforehand, and they help fans to understand that the stories told in the past can still be relevant and powerful even if they look like they’re from a bygone era. If done well, it can encourage fans to break out of their shells and see.

See more, see wider, see further.

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Ponkotsu Kyonyuu: The “Busty Failure” Character

Over the past few years, a new-ish character archetype seems to be emerging in manga. As far as I know, there’s no widely accepted term in Japanese or English, but the two common words used to describe them are kyonyuu, or “giant-breasts,” and ponkotsu, or “piece of junk.” The former word is pretty self-explanatory, but the latter likely requires some explanation.

A ponkotsu character is described by the Pixiv Dictionary as a type of moe female character who seems cool and capable on the surface, but is a comedic wreck on the inside. Two examples of ponkotsu characters in recent memory are Kawashima Momo from Girls und Panzer, the student council vice president who tends to panic in high-pressure situations, and Aqua, the “useless goddess” from KonoSuba! In fact, one might argue that all of the characters in KonoSuba! count.

The small trend, then, seems to be pairing the ponkotsu type with a large chest. I’ve found who qualify for that criteria are Shidare Hotaru from Dagashi Kashi (above), the titular character from Magical Sempai, and Takizawa from Bijin Onna Joushi Takizawa-san (both below).

As heroines, “busty failure” characters appear to share many of the same physical characteristics and mannerisms, even when ignoring chest size. In particular, their facial expressions seem to exist on a spectrum ranging from “incredibly smug” to “profuse blushing,” with these characters most commonly falling somewhere in the middle. Also, they’re frequently incredibly intense individuals.

Given their beauty and their curvaceous figures, there’s an obvious sex appeal component to the archetype. What’s unclear is why this exact combination has taken traction, in contrast to the standard moeblob, e.g. Asahina Mikuru from the Haruhi. For example, clumsy dojikko types are a dime a dozen, but there’s plenty of characters of all chest sizes who fall under that umbrella. Perhaps there’s something fascinating about having these girls be, in a sense, “mentally clumsy.” Maybe it’s that having these girls be “perfect” physically provides a powerfully arousing contrast with how easily flustered they are.