Love and Lust. Return to Genshiken: Volume 7

Volume 7 is the point where Genshiken starts focusing much more heavily on Ogiue’s story, for better or worse (guess which side I’m on!). As the only character at this point who has a powerfully emotional backstory (though I wouldn’t have minded learning about the others in their younger days), it makes sense, even if it pulls the manga away from its more laid-back origins.

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 7 Summary

It’s the dawn of a new age for Genshiken, as Ohno now leads the club. However, an awkward scene with Kuchiki drives away all prospective members, aside from Sasahara’s sister Keiko (who doesn’t even attend the school). This means the balance of the club has shifted to actually have more women than men.

Ogiue’s troubles are only beginning, as she finds out she’s been accepted for Comic Festival. Given her outward hatred of fujoshi, the idea that she’ll be putting out a BL doujinshi frightens her. However, thanks to a pep talk by Ohno, she begins to move forward, though Ohno also uses this as an opportunity to get Ogiue into some mildly skimpy cosplay. Sasahara sees this, and later begins to fantasize about Ogiue, and the other girls in the club (including Keiko!) pick up on the small, yet smoldering sparks between the two.

Ohno and Kasukabe begin plotting to get the two closer, which ends up with her bringing her American friends, Angela Burton and Susanna “Sue” Hopkins, to ComiFes as a way to get Sasahara and Ogiue to be at the event together alone. The two actually begin to hit it off (to the point that it overwhelms Ogiue a little), but a chance encounter with two hometown women from Ogiue’s past—people she hesitantly calls “friends”—clearly induce emotional anguish in her. A confusing moment with Sue at first helps Ogiue calm down, only for her to flash the most hardcore page from Ogiue’s own doujinshi in front of Sasahara—the last person she wanted to show it to.

Sasahara, meanwhile, has his own non-romantic troubles, namely being unable to find work. He’s decided to pursue a career in manga editorial, but keeps getting rejected. Finally, he lands at a dedicated freelance editorial company and uses his experience with Kugayama and Ogiue to finally land a job.

The volume ends with Ohno and Kasukabe setting up a club trip to the resort town of Karuizawa, where they intend to finally get Sasahara and Ogiue together.

Is Kuchiki “Okay?”

Kuchiki’s character is being “that guy”: the one whom the other members barely tolerate because they don’t want to drive out because they either 1) don’t want to get too aggressive 2) have empathy for someone so socially awkward. It’s an understandable situation for anyone who’s had experience with a social circle full of dorks.

Given what’s happened with women and the rising tide against sexual harassment, however, Kuchiki’s character becomes increasingly hard to swallow. It’s not just that he’s got lascivious behavior, and it’s not just that he fails to respect personal space, but that he actively tries to creep on the girls, including attempting to peep on them bathing. Even Nidaime, with its female-centric cast, shows the ladies of Genshiken pretty much enduring Kuchiki’s existence and waiting for him to graduate.

I don’t fault Genshiken for this, simply because it does a good job of reflecting the reality of anime clubs in the 2000s and before. Not only is Kuchiki portrayed as being too spineless to actually threaten them, but it’s not like Genshiken rewards or praises the character. And yet, I have to wonder if a socially conscious series made in 2018 would even let him through the front door, so to speak.

Kuchiki’s not all bad, as he does try to defend Ohno’s cosplay from that one thief, but it’s arguably just an example of having a worse villain make a milder one look better. Sasahara sticking up for him and treating him like a human being does help Kuchiki grow a little bit, but is Sasahara’s kindness accidentally a form of complicity? It’s made more complex by the fact that it’s also one of Sasahara’s best qualities, and what helps him get his editor job. A later chapter in Nidaime has an in-love Ogiue praising this very quality of Sasahara, and even here in Volume 7 you can see her being somewhat smitten by that accepting demeanor. It’s perhaps the fate of the moderate force to sometimes not do enough.

Ogiue’s Right to Love

Volume 7 is where the layers of Ogiue begin to peel away, revealing not just a self-hating fujoshi, but one marred by trauma. The first time I read this volume, it wasn’t entirely clear where it would go, but re-reading while fully aware of Ogiue’s past actually makes it kind of heartbreaking. Her anxieties creep to the surface in many of her interactions, and as her feelings for Sasahara get stronger, it’s clear how much her experiences weigh on her mind.

One of the big moments comes when Ogiue is talking to Ohno about having to make a doujinshi for ComiFes. In it, she directly mentions that she’s drawn doujinshi before, and that she hates herself for being a fujoshi. Looking back, the idea that Ogiue has experience drawing more extreme material only makes sense, but I recall it being a bit of a revelation back when I first read it. This conversation is also the first true indication of Ogiue and Ohno having become friends. Before that, there was still a noticeable amount of animosity between them, and I believe here is where it begins to die down a bit.

Ogiue’s blushing profusely as Sasahara smiles at her is incredibly adorable but also complicated. You can feel the inner turmoil raging inside of her as she questions whether she should be happy. Also, I think her switch from a Haregan [i.e., not-Full Metal Alchemist] doujinshi to a Mugio x Chihiro Kujibiki Unbalance one is an early sign of her secret Sasahara x Madarame drawings.

The Society for the Study of Getting Turned On

There’s something very real and refreshing about the way Genshiken portrays sexual desire. The fact that it’s not limited to the male characters also means Genshiken goes a long way in showing women as beings with sexual desire. The approach isn’t like the hyper-eroticism of a fanservice series or a pornographic title and it doesn’t revel in the lasciviousness of its characters carnal wants, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing their libidos at work in public and private contexts.

Nothing shows this better than when Kasukabe drags Kohsaka off so that they can “do it ten times.” Immediately after, Keiko informs her brother that she’s not staying over that night, and Madarame decides it’s his cue to leave too. Keiko and Madarame, having the hots for Kohsaka and Kasukabe respectively, are clearly thinking similarly about how to “remedy” the situation in private. You can practically feel their hormones being barely contained.

Then the manga cuts to Sasahara playing an erogame while thinking about Ogiue in cosplay. It implies that he’s going the same route as his little sister and Madarame, but the fact that he’s thinking about Ogiue (and not Kasukabe) is significant. The Ogiue cosplay moment happens in the previous chapter, which means Sasahara had Ogiue on his mind the entire time. Let’s also not forget that the guys in the club were willing to use the other girls as masturbatory material, so this shows how much Ogiue’s been encroaching on Sasahara’s psyche. This obviously isn’t the first sign that Sasahara’s into Ogiue, but it certainly is one of the most vivid. Later, when they have a ComiFes planning meeting with Ohno, Sasahara’s brief glances at Ogiue show much his mind’s image of Ogiue still persists.

Angela and Sue

As we know from the end of Nidaime, Madarame eventually ends up with Sue. It’s kind of funny that he’s the first guy she meets in Genshiken, as if it was all a long play into the most classic of romance tropes.

I always found Angela and Sue to be fairly realistic, if exaggerated portrayals of American fangirls, but I think that it’s become even more the case as time has passed. Maybe it’s my greater exposure due to social media like Twitter, but Angela’s willingness to just announce her fetishes without hesitation seems not that unusual. Then again, Yoshitake from Nidaime is built from a similar cloth; the only difference is maybe level of sexual experience (Angela is clearly sexually active, while Yoshitake is very much not).

In Volume 7, Sue has a certain grumpiness about her, even as she becomes attached to Ogiue. However, Ogiue is pretty surly herself. I wonder if the softening up of Ogiue leads to Sue becoming less harsh as well.

It’s also funny to think about the fact that, at the time of Genshiken, Sue’s combination of Asuka reference (“Anta baka?”) and Ruri reference (“Baka bakka”) was like, anime nerd knowledge 101. Now, I think it wouldn’t be unusual for the typical fan, Japanese or otherwise, to not have it click immediately.

Final Random Thoughts

The between-chapter specials this volume include Sasahara and Madarame discussing preliminary Kujibiki Unbalance designs. Those drawings are clearly from a younger Kio Shimoku, as it’s the same style as the first chapter of Genshiken! Kio’s aesthetic changes are amusingly visible as a result.

As Sasahara is thinking dirty things about Ogiue, there’s a Gundam model kit box in the background. I think it’s a Sazabi.

In Sasahara’s job interview, he talks about how Kujibiki Unbalance has changed so much since the original cast graduated, to the point that it doesn’t even feel it’s the same series anymore. At the time, it feels like it might have been referencing the graduation of Madarame, Kugayama, and Tanaka, but now it seems to reflect Genshiken Nidaime even more—almost as if Kio doubled down on this idea for the sequel. We know he’s a guy who likes to get referential with his series, but I wonder if Nidaime is even more meta than any of us realized.

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Cardcaptor Sakura and the Alternative Canon: What is the “Clear Card Saga” Anime Following?

When the Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Saga anime announced, one of the questions asked was, would it be following the canon of the manga or the anime? Although the two versions share many similarities, there are also some notable differences between them. Now that the new TV series has been out for little while, it’s evident that they’re acknowledging the old anime…but I have my suspicions that this wasn’t always the case.

One of the tell-tale differences between the two iterations of the original Cardcaptor Sakura is how they end. While both involve an exchanging of teddy bears as an expression of mutual love and a temporary separation as Syaoran returns to Hong Kong, the anime has this happen at the airport, while the manga’s version takes place as Syaoran is riding the bus to the airport. Also, while the anime has them reunite in the second film, the manga immediately follows this with a timeskip where Syaoran shows up to greet a now-middle school-aged Sakura. This is roughly the point where Clear Card Saga starts.

Prior to the premiere of the Clear Card Saga TV series, there was a special OVA released as a way to bridge the old and new anime. As seen above, this OVA takes its cues from the manga by having the bear exchange take place at the bus, and then transitioning to the middle school timeskip. With this, I assumed the matter was settled. The Clear Card Saga anime would definitely be sticking closer to the manga.

Then episode 1 hit, and things didn’t quite line up.

When Syaoran shows up again in the manga and OVA, he’s wearing a Tomoeda Middle School uniform. In the new anime, he’s wearing street clothes. Maybe this is just a timing or aesthetic issue. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for Syaoran to have a uniform after just moving back. Maybe the fact that they show Sakura at school before meeting Syaoran means he couldn’t be there (because she or one of her friends would’ve inevitably noticed him walking around in uniform). Either way, here is a discrepancy from the manga.

But they also flashback to the teddy bear exchange, and it’s at the airport! That’s a scene that explicitly calls back to the anime and not the manga. Maybe they just did that for the convenience of the people who watched the old anime.

The smoking gun comes in episode 2, when the characters are having lunch together at school. During their conversation, Tomoyo asks Syaoran how Meiling is doing. The reason this is a big deal is that Meiling never shows up in the manga. She’s an anime-original character, and one of the many elements used to turn a 12-volume manga into a 70-episode anime. Whatever the case may be, we have clear unequivocal acknowledgement that the old anime’s events are either partially or wholly canon in the Clear Card Saga anime.

So why make that OVA? I suspect that it served multiple functions. First, it might’ve bridge the gap between series, as mentioned above. After all, it’s been about 15 years. Second, it could’ve been used to get the staff and actors used to working on Cardcaptor Sakura again. Third, I really do think the anime was going to follow the manga more strictly, as a way to keep things simpler, but that they changed their minds at some point. If this were the case, maybe it was because they realized many had only ever seen the anime, and thus would be confused by the differences.

While the old anime appears to be canon for the new show, the question remains as to how much will actually be different from the Clear Card Saga manga. Referencing Meiling is one thing, but what about having her show up? Will the new anime have more clear cards than the manga, just like it’s predecessor? And what of the fact that Sakura’s dad is a partial reincarnation of Clow Reed—a fact revealed in the manga but never in the anime?

Personally speaking, I wouldn’t mind seeing Yukana reprise her role as Meiling and treating us to some Kung Fu fighting.

A Strong Foundation: How the Japanese Smash 4 Tournament Format Helps the Community

Introduction: Japan, Land of Hidden Bosses

If there’s anything that the Japanese Smash 4 competitive scene is known for, it’s a high average skill level across its player base, as well as a great amount of character diversity. Many of the world’s greatest character specialists come from Japan—Ranai and his Villager, Kameme and his Megaman, Shuton and his Olimar, and a whole slew of powerful Duck Hunts. A lack of monetary prizes is frequently cited in online discussions as a reason why so many Japanese character specialists exist, but I think that’s just a starting point and not a sufficient explanation by itself.

On occasion, fans will point to the extremely volatile rankings at Japanese tournaments as proof of Japan being a haven for character specialists, while others will counter that the average format of Japanese tournaments (Best of 1 round robin pools, followed by Best of 3 double elimination often even into grand finals) is inherently inconsistent. However, while this inconsistency might be a strike against the tournaments themselves providing reliable results, I think the format Japan uses is actually a key factor in helping its player base grow and improve compared to the common formats elsewhere (double elimination throughout, starting Best of 5s much earlier in the bracket), especially when it comes to creating those intimidatingly strong character loyalists.

The Mother of Invention

One of the reasons Japanese tournament matches tend to be so much shorter than their North American and European counterparts is time constraints. Often times, these events last only one day at venues that cannot allow them to stay later. They’re working with what they have. Yet if you look at how they use that limited time, it’s clear that the format is designed to give all players the most amount of playtime possible. Best of 1 round robin means that, even if you don’t make it out of pools, you potentially get to face a far greater number of opponents than the two you would encounter in a double elimination bracket. Everyone, even the worst players, get to gain real experience against more characters and more play styles.

Fostering Young Lions

Top players in Japan seem to prefer the “Western” style more because it favors them—as the best, their skill gets better rewarded the longer the sets are. While not going in that direction works against the best of the best, it’s also clear that the Japanese tournaments are meant to be as hospitable to newbies as possible. In addition to the round robin format initially, there’s also something called the “B-class tournament,” which is a separate bracket for all of the players who didn’t make it out of pools. In other tournament formats, less skilled players are usually given a chance to improve by dedicating a section for non-tournament “friendlies.” The B-class bracket is an opportunity to continue to play in a tournament-style setting.

When Japanese Smash 4 tournaments first began, there was even a question of whether or not to restrict the stage selection to Omega stages—flat levels without any platforms—only because it was the only stage type available on Nintendo’s default online competitive format, For Glory. While the Japanese scene ultimately went away from this idea, it shows a desire to cater to newcomers. Combined with extremely reliable high-speed internet that makes Japanese online play better than other parts of the world, this means Japanese tournaments are a good environment for those who are considering transitioning from online play to offline events.

Best of 1: “Random?”

Another aspect to consider is that the Best of 1 format itself might help advance player improvement. Although Best of 1 matches are not preferred for showing who can win consistently, it does foster certain skills that longer formats do not, as once pointed out by fighting game commentators UltraChen. A player can’t wait until the second set to try and figure out their opponent; they need to do it now. Super Battle Opera, once Japan’s most prestigious fighting game tournament, used a Best of 1 format, and its players adapted to it. While a Best of 5 match shows who can adapt the best over a longer period, Best of 1 forces players to learn how to adapt extremely quickly, which in turn teaches them how to “gamble” better when the chips are down. This might be why Japan is somehow known for both more reserved play and riskier (but not necessarily aggressive) styles as well.

What’s more, the inconsistency of Best of 1 pools might actually help in giving more players experience as well. If the very best players advance every single time, this means that the lesser players do not get to feel what it’s like to move up the bracket and face increasingly tougher opponents. With the “randomness” of Japanese tournaments, many more players get to feel what it’s like to be in a Top 16 or Top 8 against the country’s best.

Conclusion

The Japanese format is geared towards expanding the Smash 4 tournament scene by being an inviting space for players of all stripes. Best of 1 pools and B-class side tournaments not only allow all competitors both strong and weak to experience a variety of players and characters, it allows character loyalists and champions (two groups which do have crossover!) to level up at a higher rate. Shorter matches also foster a certain type of adaptation, and the inherent volatility potentially gives many more players to get accustomed to playing at later stages of a tournament. Whatever the ultimate goal of a given player, the Japanese tournament format provides the foundation for a strong player base.

The Past and Future of Anime Blogging

In many ways, anime blogging is a living relic. Born in the age when “Web 2.0” was a newly coined term and blogging in general was a young and exciting differentiation from the era of fan shrines and webrings, the anime blog was a way for writer-fans to establish an identity outside of enclaves such as forums and livejournal groups. Like the anime websites of old (and even the IRL anime clubs before that time), they filled a desire for information, appreciation, and criticism of anime and manga.

I think there’s a charm to the written word that allows it to endure and keeps it falling out of true relevance, and this applies to anime blogging. Certain ideas are better conveyed through writing (especially extremely complex ones that require a lot of small detail to fully explain), and certain people (myself included) are more comfortable with text than speech or visual performance. Writing will never truly go away because it’s just capable of so much with so little. Nevertheless, it is true that the amount of anime blogs have declined over the years.

I don’t have a falsely inflated idea as to the supposed “importance” of anime blogs in year past—it’s always been a niche. But where once an “Aniblog Tourney” existed not just as a popularity contest but as a sign of a loose “aniblogosphere,” the increasing prominence of social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and even something like Anime Amino have moved discussion back into more isolated communities. I think, on some level, “aniblogging” feels less like a distinct position than it used to. Perhaps it’s because so many anime fans these days are omnivorous consumers of pop culture that the “fan” is more important than the “anime,” but I think the rise and dominance of social media networks and alternative formats like YouTube also makes it less enticing for younger, enterprising fans to enter the field. In a “field” with a high turnover rate due to burnout and just the passage of time, not having new warriors to pick up the mantle means a gradual decline.

The anime blogs of today, whether they’re young and fresh or old and crusty, are contending with new ways to get one’s thoughts and opinions out to the world—alternatives that can be more attractive to would-be bloggers. In particular, the minor stardom that can come with YouTube can also mean potential income, perhaps even enough to earn a living. Anime fandom isn’t the only realm affected by this, but because anime is more niche than, say, gaming, it also means a smaller pie to share overall. Only a select few vloggers can get six-digit views, but it’s a lot likelier than accruing those numbers through blogging. For even the best and most charismatic writers, blogs are at best a partial or supplementary income. In other words, it’s never been easy to sustain a living just from anime blogging, for better or worse. At the same time, it’s also never been easier to actually make money from blogging thanks to platforms like Patreon. While I’m not exactly filling my coffers to the brim, my own Patreon has been a great boon.

All it really takes to write an anime blog is a genuine passion for anime and manga, as well as a desire to write one’s thoughts. It’s profoundly simple, which is why, even as anime blogging as a “thing” has waned, I think you still see the occasional challenger take on the endeavor. Writing is timeless. I don’t carry any illusions that it’s the path to fame and fortune, but it’s a space that remains open and welcome. If we want to rebuild the aniblogosphere, however, it’ll take a restored sense of “community,” no matter how nebulous and disparate it might be.

Once upon a time, anime bloggers debated the merits of “episode blogging” vs. “editorial blogging.” In hindsight, it seems so quaint.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Down-Home Food Therapy: Atari no Kitchen

I enjoy food manga in all its forms. I was even quoted on the back of the English release of Sweetness & Lightning Volume 1! But within the Afternoon manga family is another food series I’m enjoying. Called Atari no Kitchen!, it follows a college-aged woman who starts working at a small, family-owned restaurant and helps to inspire dishes that are just right for each customer.

Atari no Kitchen! is very similar to manga such as Bartender and La Sommelière, where the food experts act almost like doctors prescribing particular spirits for each individual’s problems. Where I enjoy Atari no Kitchen! more is in its focus on food instead of alcohol. I have nothing against spirits, but their differences are much more subtle and alien to me, making their assumed effects much less relatable on a personal level. To put it succinctly, I’ve consumed far more food than alcohol in my life, and it makes this series easier to understand.

Because the setting for Atari no Kitchen! is a small restaurant (think of where Soma from Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma comes from), the dishes are not fancy foie gras or blowfish, but foods meant for working-class families to enjoy. For example, one chapter involves trying to find a better menu for the son of the restaurant owner, who’s set to participate in a sports event. Usually, he eats katsu, as a classic pun on the Japanese word for “win,” katsu (勝つ), but Kiyomi reads that katsu is pretty heavy and oily, and so doesn’t digest as efficiently as one might want for physical activity. So, she sets out to make a more balanced menu that still carries the flavor and spirit of pork cutlets. I think this is easy to understand and envision, even if someone’s never eaten a katsu in their life.

Kiyomi herself is also adorable, and I would be lying if I said she didn’t charm the socks off of me. The son, Kiyomasa, is also clearly smitten with her. It’s not exactly a romance series, but the fact that their names are so similar (they even start with the same kanji!) tells me that their feelings will grow as the series continues.

If you can read Japanese, you can find it on sale wherever Japanese books are sold. If not, it is a Kodansha title, so there’s always a chance it’ll get translated someday. Let’s hope!

Dominatrix Gameplay: The S&M Fighting Style of Smash 4 Bayonetta

Bayonetta is generally considered the best character in Smash 4. While her strengths are many, her key trait is the ability to instantly turn the tables on her opponent’s assault and transform a disadvantageous situation into a chance for victory. As with many #1 characters in games, there have even been calls to ban her from competitive play, more than any other character in the game. But I don’t believe the outcry is simply because she’s “too good.” Rather, it’s about why she’s good. Her character strategies are akin to those of a dominatrix, and her denial of pleasure in Smash 4 is what frustrates many to the point of crying foul.

Heroic stories are often built on giving antagonists their just desserts. Whenever Stone Cold Steve Austin managed to corner Vince McMahon, fans cheered as Austin drowned his evil boss in beer. When Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star confronts Jagi, the satisfaction of having Kenshiro beat Jagi to death for all his injustice is a moment meant to scratch that revenge itch. The villain, by virtue of being a villain, must pay.

Looking at fighting games, it’s possible to label the top tier characters as the villains in the story of competition. They’re the fastest, the strongest, and the most dominant. So what happens when the “hero,” i.e. whoever’s fighting the top tier, finally catches up to this scoundrel? Well, it depends.

Take Fox, from Super Smash Bros. Melee. Widely considered the strongest character in that game by a margin wider than Bayonetta’s grip over Smash 4. But while Fox is basically a master of all trades, he’s also a glass cannon who, if hit, can be combo’d hard by many of the best and worst characters in the game. Stringing a series of attacks together and watching Fox’s damage percentage rapidly rise is satisfying. So is spiking him offstage and seeing him plummet like a rock to his doom. Making Fox pay goes a long way in providing pleasure to the player or viewer opposing him.

This results in a kind of “combo catharsis.” Even if the opponent loses to Fox, seeing a Marth or a Mewtwo chain grab him for a couple of stocks can still make it seem like the dastardly space animal was on the ropes, if only for a few moments. The villain barely got away! Even in loss, it’s possible to feel powerful—a quality that I believe is important in attracting and keeping players.

Bayonetta, in contrast, is intentionally designed to deny easy combos and follow-ups on her. Multiple jumps and ways to recover mean edgeguarding her is difficult. Afterburner Kick acts as an escape button for those trying to juggle her. Witch Twist deflects and draws in the opponent into a potentially high-damage or even fatal string of attacks. Witch Time actively punishes overly aggressive and predictable players. While it’s possible to land multiple blows on her, each hit requires about as much work as the last. Bayonetta stymies combo catharsis, making the release that comes with it incredibly difficult to achieve. Even in gameplay, she’s truly a dominatrix.

A unifying point between Bayonetta and Fox is another character notorious for denying combo catharsis: Melee Jigglypuff. A proverbial flyweight who makes up for its lack of diverse tools by stonewalling opponents through strong aerial attacks and deft aerial movement, Jigglypuff is so light that the opponent can usually only land one or two hits before it goes flying out of reach. And yet, when it comes to Fox’s reputation vs. Jigglypuff’s, the latter receives more scorn from players and spectators despite the fact that the former excels at nearly everything and boasts a much larger player base at the lowest and highest levels of competition. Catch Fox, and you can pound him for an extended period. Catch Jigglypuff or Bayonetta, and you might get just a single lick before you have to start all over again.

In spite all of the above innuendo, this is only an analogy, and I don’t think anyone actually derives sexual pleasure from playing Smash Bros.—though I could see it being just as satisfying. But at the same time, it’s clear that Bayonetta is, by design, hard to combo, and that one of the most popular and enduring elements of Smash Bros. and fighting games in general is the combos (or chains or strings). I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Bayonetta in essence works from an almost BDSM-like playbook. This doesn’t necessarily mean Smash 4 players are masochists, but those who still choose to fight Bayonetta are at least those who can manage to hold back their desire to just let loose.

“We’re Just Like You!”: The Empathy Scam of the Alt-Right

Internet memes and image macros have become increasingly associated with the alt-right and white nationalism, a connection that has been very intentionally fostered. As seen in The Huffington Post’s recent release of The Daily Stormer’s style guide, internet gags and self-deprecation are used to intentionally obfuscate the sincerity of their racism. This simultaneously camouflages their true purposes from those not in the know, communicates with those in their movement, and potentially entices edge cases to slip further and further into indoctrination. While all of this is highly alarming, that last point concerns me in particular because I believe it to be part of an very intentional and long-standing scheme to target and slowly brainwash confused, scared, and vulnerable men.

4chan has had an enduring reputation as a cesspool of human interaction, where posters under the guise of anonymity are unafraid to pull punches or go for ad hominem attacks whenever possible. At the same time, as sexist and caustic as it could and can be, it didn’t always act as a haven of extreme right-wing thought. What has persisted through this transformation is that emphasis on self-deprecating internet humor as seen in image macros, purposely stunted and incomplete English, and posts written as series of actions, e.g.:

>Went to the store
>Saw a girl
>She gave me a look

Another example is the now-antiquated internet phrase “pee in her butt.” I’ve seen articles and people unfamiliar with that 4chan culture have trouble parsing its meaning or taking it literally. However, it does not mean “urinate in her butthole,” it means “ejaculate in her vagina.” The word choice is basically implying that the user is so unfamiliar with how sex works that they’re confusing the liquids and physical parts involved; it’s a jab at one’s pathetic self. That’s the sort of obtuse humor that can block outsiders, and failure to understand that mentality means they remain defensive.

While I don’t visit the 4chan anymore, in my earlier years I did browse it fairly often and noticed that examples of this toxicity often were cries for help in disguise. These posters should not go without criticism for their language and slurs, but their choice of vocabulary also would function as a defense mechanism to keep outsiders away, allowing only those of a similar mind or spirit to commiserate with them or even give advice. This, I suspect, is the hole that the alt-right has exploited. By speaking the language of memes, they falsely present themselves as friends and kindred spirits.

As much misguided anger that exists within places like 4chan, 420chan, and the defunct reddit incels board, on some level the posters who might potentially turn to extreme sexism and racism are simply looking for people who understand them. The abrasive presentation and the willingness to “outrage” others is a way to protect the scared little boy deep inside, and to only allow in those who can empathize. The insidiousness of the alt-right’s adoption of meme culture is that they can come across as brothers in arms, but are possibly more like an abusive drug peddler eager to get their victims hooked on their own frustration and pity.

So where is the other side, those who try to pull people away from such harmful thinking and towards more benelovent and inclusive ideas? The answer is that many have run away, myself included, and this has created a void that’s increasingly filled by questionable philosophies. It used to be that 4chan had many different people with different views clashing with each other, but only those who can still maintain themselves in that space and not get subsumed by the monster can thrive. In other words, one needs to fit into the 4chan environment (or places similar to it) without succumbing to the same close-minded mentalities frequently seen there.

This isn’t blaming anyone who decided to step away from places like 4chan for their own sanity, nor those who haven’t dared try to enter in the first place. Part of those environments is indeed trying to make them as inhospitable as possible for perceived outsiders. Again, it’s a defensive measure, to attack before you’re attacked, and people just generally don’t like being on the receiving end unless they’re the rare sort that thrives on conflict and arguing. It’s also not like those who gradually turn more extreme-right-wing should be absolved of responsibility, nor that existing prejudices and misguided beliefs should be ignored. But it still means that there’s precious fewer individuals providing an alternative viewpoint to the alt-right in those spaces. Excessive compromise and concessions aren’t necessary, but patience and compassion are vital.