Purity in Anime Isn’t So Simple

clannadafterstory

When the words “purity in anime” come up, I think the typical association is with sexual purity. Between past stories of fans being angry at individuals both fictional (Nagi from Kannagi) and real (Suzumiya Haruhi seiyuu Hirano Aya) for not being virgins, to the idol industry’s forbidding of relationships for its stars, there is a valuing of chastity that is often tinged with the desire for someone’s virginity to be in a state of limbo: always on the cusp of losing it, but never going to do so. At the same time, however, while sexual innocence is one form of purity, it’s not the only kind, and often it takes the form of a “naive perspective,” a “pure heart,” or a “child-like desire.”

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To shift the discussion away from female characters, I’d like to talk about perhaps the most famous character in all of anime: Son Goku. Suffice it to say, he needs no introduction, but one recurring trait of the character is that he is pure-hearted. It’s what allows him to ride Kintoun (Flying Nimbus). When confronted with the Devilmite Beam, an attack that turns one’s negative thoughts into damage, Goku is completely unaffected. Even as he fights planet-crushing adversaries, has two kids, and generally grows into an adult, Goku is still portrayed as innocent of mind. His love of fighting is genuine, and even sex doesn’t really change him.

Looking at more recent titles (unless you count Dragon Ball Super), a character like Nagisa in Clannad is supposed to be an epitome of innocence and purity, but by the time of After Story she’s married and is no longer a virgin. Even though her tragedy quotient shoots way up (as tends to happen in Key works), Nagisa is much like Goku in that sex doesn’t actually impact the sense of purity her character exudes. In terms of child-like desire, Haruka in Free! views the act of swimming similar to to how Goku approaches fighting. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the simple joy of the activity itself, whether that’s swimming to feel the thrill of the water regardless of competition, or wanting to test one’s strength against strong opponents. It’s as if the ultimate purity is one that maintains itself no matter the circumstances.

I can’t forget that there is a double standard when it comes to sex. Girls, be they fictional or real, are subjected to the issue of being “ruined” or considered “sluts” in a way that goes well beyond the limited world of idols where both sexes are subject to scrutiny. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if it’s possible for a character to be viewed as pure yet also sexually promiscuous? I don’t think it’s impossible. Perhaps even the enjoyment of sex can be portrayed innocently, even if that might not necessarily be realistic. That said, the degree to which people would be able to accept something like this is probably small in the grand scheme of industry and audience reactions, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing either. One question I wonder is how fans can reconcile a desire for purity in some cases with a strongly sexual presentation at the same time, but it might just have to do with having the option to shift responsibility, especially in the 2D realm of anime and the 2.5D realm of idols.

Parasyte_Migi_2

In the first paragraph I mentioned Hirano Aya and her fall from grace due to the idea that she had sex with her band mates. The backlash essentially sent her from being the top otaku idol to only working in anime sparingly, but ultimately it’s my opinion that this has made her voice acting career better than ever. No longer is she pushed into roles that are tailored towards keeping her as that “goddess of anime.” She can be Migi, the alien symbiote in Parasyte. She can be Paiman, the weird panda-like hero in Gatchaman Crowds. She can be Dende, guardian of the Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball Super. It’s possible to look at her full CV and see that her acting is not limited to that which is most sexually thrilling or geared towards otaku appeal qualities. By de-coupling her from the very idea of virgin purity, her acting is arguably purer than ever before.

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.

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Otakon 2012 Interview with Nonaka Ai

Introduction: This is my interview with Japanese voice actor Nonaka Ai, who was a guest at Otakon 2012. Nonaka is known for roles such as Kafuka in Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei and Fuuko in Clannad.

Nonaka: [in English] Pleased to meet you. My name is Ai Nonaka.

OM: You played a character in Saki: Episode of Side A. What did you think of the role, and have you played any mahjong yourself?

Nonaka: [in English] I never played mahjong.

OM: Personally speaking, I know you best as Fuura Kafuka from Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei, but you also play Ichijou in Pani Poni Dash, and those are both interesting, quirky, and even bizarre characters. How is it playing those roles, and how is it working with SHAFT in general?

Nonaka: So, I may act very strange roles, and though they are all quirky and weird, they all have a policy in the way that they act so I want to respect the policy that the character has and do the character to the best of my extent.

OM: Another quirky character is Ibuki Fuuko from Clannad, who you first played in a game and returned to a few years later. Returning to that role, what lessons had you learned in those years between playing the same role again?

Nonaka: I didn’t feel that much of a time lag when the game came out and when I started recording for the anime, so there wasn’t really that time in between.

So the first season of the anime had the same story as the game, but then the second season of the anime was illustrating a world where Fuuko was already gone and the child was already born. So, it was a very strange sort of experience for me, especially in the anime.

OM: I think that when it comes to voice acting, it seems that there are two traits that are sought after. One is having a unique, distinguishable voice, a voice that people can recognize, and the other is having versatility, the ability to play many different roles and change your voice. Which one do you think you’re stronger at, and how important do you think each individual one is in terms of being a voice actor?

Nonaka: I personally think I’m one with a unique voice, and the real strength of having a unique is having people remember you by that really unique voice, so I think I’m really benefitting from that unique voice. Although I have a unique voice, because I can’t change my voice too much I can’t do things like two roles in one anime.

OM: Do you have any favorite actors to work with, or actors you’d like to work with?

Nonaka: Although she’s not a voice actor, Kuze Seika. She used to be part of the Takaraza Kagekidan [Revue].

[in English] Do you know?

OM: I know.

Nonaka: Aahh!!

OM: Putting aside voice questions, what are your hobbies and what do you do when you’re not working?

Nonaka: [in English] I like… run!

So, I’m going to run at the Kobe Marathon after i get back.

OM: How long is it?

Nonaka: Since it’s a full marathon, it will be the full 42.195 kilometers.

OM: Is this your first marathon?

Nonaka: It’s my first full marathon. I’ve done other marathons in the past.

OM: Are you doing any sort of training or diet preparation for the marathon?

Nonaka: [in English] I run three a week.

OM: Three times a week?

Nonaka: [in English] Three TIMES! a week.

OM: Do you change your food? Because I know for instance that a lot of marathon runners will eat a lot of pasta or grains.

Nonaka: Keeping slim is my diet. Lighter is better.

OM: Do you have any favorite foods?

Nonaka: [in English] My favorite food is osushi!

OM: What’s your favorite sushi?

Nonaka: Egg, fatty tuna, and nattou-maki.

OM: Wow!

Nonaka: Have you eaten nattou before?

OM: I actually like nattou a lot.

Nonaka: [in Japanese] REALLY?!

OM: I lived in Japan briefly. Nattou-maki is something I can’t get anywhere else so I miss it a lot.

Nonaka: Ehh?! Wasn’t it a bit odorous?

OM: I realized that I like fermented foods, like nattou and stinky tofu.

Nonaka: [laughs]

OM: One last question. Going back to the role of Kafuka in Zetsubou Sensei, is there anything you really keep in mind while playing the role?

Nonaka: I try to make it positive. A bit off, and maybe crazy-sounding, but positive to that extent.

OM: Thank you very much!

Nonaka: [in English] You’re welcome!

Gotta Defeat M. Bison By Christmas

Ever since the Clannad side stories, there has been a small trend in dating sim and visual novel anime where, rather than trying to incorporate all of the vital elements from all of the characters into a single on-going story, adaptations would instead create smaller, alternate-path arcs. In this new model, as shown by last season’s Amagami SS and Yosuga no Sora, every few episodes would be devoted to one girl, and once her story was over, the next episode would act as if that story never existed, instead focusing on the idea of “what if the hero ended up with this girl instead?”

I’m not entirely supportive of this style of storytelling and I worry about its misuse to some extent and the way it can potentially trivialize not just the girls but the male protagonist himself, but the format has merit. In fact, I think it could be of great benefit to a genre of anime that had its heyday in the 90s but is almost non-existent today. I speak of the fighting game adaptation.

Now if you haven’t much experience with fighting game anime, it’s safe to summarize the genre by saying that most of it is very bad, to be somewhat kind. As to why the general quality of fighting game anime is so poor, the reasons are many, including budget, but much of it stems from the sheer numbers of characters that populated the source video games even as far back as Street Fighter II and its 12 warriors. Consider that fighting games have a large number of selectable characters, and that the player picks one and plays through the entire game with them. In time, every character gets their own fanbase. So if you’re making a fighting game anime you most likely want to appeal to the fans, and thus your adaptation has to include all of the characters. 12 is a lot, let alone the 16 when the actual Street Fighter II animated movie came out or the 30+ of the newest games, and inevitably what happens is that the characters don’t all get the same amount of love. Zangief fights Blanka in a ring just because. Lawrence Blood is made into a servant of Wolfgang Krauser just to fit him in.

Generally speaking, that’s fine. Characters should have different levels of focus in a story, that’s the difference between a main character and a side character after all. But while fighting games have official protagonists, your Ryus and Akira Yukis and Terry Bogards, in the context of being a video game the “main character” is whoever the player chose. So with fighting game anime having trouble with allotting enough time and attention to all of the characters, characters who are each important to someone out there, it begins to resemble the dilemma that dating sims, which are themselves video games where a variety of characters are “absolutely important” in their own paths.

That brings me to the big question. What if fighting games took a note from Amagami? What if, instead of trying to cram every character into one story, each episode or OVA was just, “what if this character won the tournament?” Each individual fighter can get their moment in the spotlight that they so rightfully deserve? Most likely this wouldn’t solve the budget issue, but it would showcase the characters in their proper glory.

Once an anime is made this way, call me. I have some very good ideas for the English voice cast.

Dai Gurren Dango Dai Kazoku: Kyoto Animation’s Clannad

Oh, Furukawa

More than any other company in the world, Key associated with the concept of moe. It is responsible for revolutionizing the visual novel with its heavy emphasis on tragedy and empathy. The heroines of Key games are deeply flawed (some might say too flawed), and to care for them is to feel the pain of your own existence. Their fantasies come with a price.

Kanon and Air, two of Key’s most famous works, were adapted into animated series by Kyoto Animation with great success. They remained faithful to their original source material while adapting them to fit the needs of the television series format. In 2008 they took on the third of the “Seasons” tetralogy (each major Key game takes place in a different season of the year), Clannad.

Clannad is the story of Okazaki Tomoya, a young man in his senior year of high school, whose aspirations in life have been rapidly fading away ever since he had a falling out with his father a few years ago. A chance meeting with Furukawa Nagisa, a shy, soft-spoken high school girl with a love of anthropomorphic snacks, and her desire to re-establish the defunct Drama Club puts Tomoya on the path to rediscovering what it’s like to have hopes and dreams.

The gentle Furukawa Nagisa, the starfish-obsessed Ibuki Fuuko, the introverted genius Ichinose Kotomi, the athletic and aggressive Fujibayashi Kyou, and the dangerously powerful Sakagami Tomoyo comprise the main heroines of Clannad with significant story time devoted to all of them. Behind them is an even larger cast of secondary and minor characters, chief among them being Sunohara Youhei (Tomoya’s best friend), Fujibayashi Ryou (Kyou’s twin sister), and Nagisa’s parents. However, don’t take my brief descriptors as evidence of the characters being shallow or underdeveloped. They are all given time and room to express the many facets of their characters, even the minor ones.

Delving into the characters’ pasts can at times become overly reliant on exposition, and though I am a fan of exposition in general I’ve found the best moments in the show come from when Clannad does not present you with all of the facts. The most notable example that comes to mind is a moment where Youhei, in an angry outburst, hints at the reasons why he and Tomoya became best friends. No more explanation is necessary to understand Youhei’s character at that point in the story.

Clannad is Key improved through years of experience. It doesn’t break any genre conventions, as it is still, at its heart, an anime based on a relationship-heavy visual novel, and it has its cast of cute, moe female characters, but it and the people at Kyoto Animation did try some new things to set it apart from the other Key adaptations.

Clannad, while still very much a conventional Key-style moe drama, does do a few things different from its predecessors. Aside from a few exceptions, there is less emphasis on the supernatural. Also, Kyoto Animation structured it differently compared to Kanon and Air. While there is a strong focus on each of the main heroines and the series can be divided into chapters, the girls do not suddenly stop mattering when their story arcs finish. Nagisa’s story is the most notable, as it is developed throughout the series, from episode 1 on. It clearly puts her in the position of the Clannad heroine, though based on any remote amount of information or even the events of the first episode this should not be a surprise or a spoiler to anyone.

The character designs in Clannad are much like the ones used in Kanon and Air, and they are the most prominent aspect associated with Key, even more than their penchant for supernatural tragedy. There are no surprises in this regard, though the school uniforms are much better designed compared to the ones worn in the previous two major Key works, and the spring-time setting of Clannad results in a more subtle atmosphere for backgrounds and overall artwork. The series also has a surprising amount of animation for a show so heavily based on words, but at this point it’s par for the course with Kyoto Animation.

Clannad is not entirely based in sorrow and anguish, and in many respects it is lighter on the tragedy than the previous Key series. It has more than its fair share of comedic moments, most notably with Fuuko, and it blends the lighter and heavier sides of its story with a sort of deftness that’s not easy to achieve. More than likely, this is the result of both Key and Kyoto Animation gaining experience working with these types of narratives.

If you’re not a fan of the Key-style moe, then Clannad is probably no exception. Clannad is the flavor of Key distilled and refined, and those who treasure its taste will be pleased.