Potato Complex

It’s been about two months since I started my life in the Netherlands, and in that time I’ve been exploring the country as best as I know how: through its cuisine. Since arriving I’ve had numerous opportunities to try out various foods, in restaurants, at home, and out on the street. It’s a delightful mix of the new and familiar, where even the more mundane things take on an element of excitement. Did you know that chocolate sprinkles are a common bread topping here?

Having once been a colonial power, Dutch food consists both of dishes native to Dutch culture and those incorporated from other parts of the world, especially Asia. I noticed, however, that when I asked the people living here about Dutch food, they pointed me more towards the latter than the former. Some even went as far as telling me that “there’s no such thing as Dutch cuisine.”

Huh?

The dish above is called “Hutspot,” a mix of mashed potatoes, carrots and onions, often served with a piece of meat such as a chuck roast or shoulder. It is widely associated with a holiday called “Leidens Onzet,” which celebrates the end of the siege on the city of Leiden back in the late 1500s. Like many foods, it is a product of circumstance where the ingredients consist of whatever was available. Hutspot itself is a variation on “Stamppot,” which I believe is a more general term for mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables. Of course, when I asked people about Stamppot and Hutspot, they talked about how it isn’t very exciting and how it doesn’t really compare with Indonesian or Thai or French or Italian. A similar response is given for the enormous Dutch pancake, as well as the Croquette, a deep-fried stick usually with some kind of ragout or potato inside.

Allow me to put on my AMERICAN hat for just a second to say that, where I come from (America in case you forgot), mashed potatoes and fried finger foods are widely considered to be “awesome.” They are the things kids and adults alike look forward to eating. When I go to a restaurant and order steak, the side I get most often is potatoes, mashed. What is there to be ashamed about? I know that France and Italy and Germany are right there, and that their cuisines have found popularity all over the world, including in the Netherlands itself, but it just gives me the impression that Dutch food is something that produces shame, and I don’t think that should be the case. I’d love to have a Dutch restaurant in New York City. Why isn’t there one?

When I think about it, the embarrassment I see over “Dutch” food is not that different from the kind I see from anime fans. There’s a complex that surrounds the anime fandom, one that manifests itself in various ways, whether it’s otaku being embarrassed about the anime they like, fearing being associated with “those” anime fans, or speaking of some great divide, be it genre-based, gender-based, or generational. I want Dutch people to be proud of Dutch food. I want anime fans to be proud of anime (and anime fans). It got us this far, didn’t it?

Of course, on the other side, there’s the anime fan who goes so far as to boast anime or their favorite types of shows are the best things out there and that everything else pales in comparison. At this point, they become like the guy who boasts about his trip to France and how ever since then all over foods have tasted like dish soap.

Or perhaps a more apt example would have been the guy who goes to Japan.

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“Hey, Your Sister’s Pretty Cute,” He Said

Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, literally “My Little Sister Can’t Possibly Be This Cute,” is a Fall 2010 anime based on a light novel by the same name. Known as Oreimo for short, the series follows an “average” high schooler, Kyousuke, and his hardcore otaku of a younger sister, Kirino. Though only two episodes are out as of this writing, the show quickly explains the unwieldy title of the show by pointing out that “This Cute” basically means “like the loyal and affectionate little sister character you’d find in a moe anime or a visual novel.”

However, while the series emphasizes how Kirino is not “This Cute,” Kirino is shown to be so objectively good-looking that she works as a clothing model. Kyousuke expressing how he cannot see Kirino and her disrespectful, overachieving attitude as anything resembling adorability is akin to a man going into a crowd and loudly proclaiming his absolute hatred for chocolate. Even if he were telling the truth, an outburst like that would still make everyone think of chocolate.

The degree to which Kyousuke and the show itself remind the viewer that he is as far from a sister complex as possible reminds me of a certain situation in fanfiction, where an author notorious for creating Mary Sues, impossibly perfect characters often used as wish-fulfillment for the writer, tries to prove that they are capable of doing otherwise by creating extremely flawed characters. Ultimately though, these “Reverse Mary Sues” are just that: the tails to the Mary Sue’s heads, equally as “special” in terms of how much attention is given to them, even if it’s just about how imperfect they are.

Does that describe Kirino? Well, the easy assumption would be that Kirino exists on one side of the coin while the standard “moe little sister” resides on the other, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. Kirino is not simply the opposite extreme, but more of a moe little sister character who also incorporates elements from the more established little sister archetype of smart-alec brat seen in American shows such as Boy Meets World and Full House and perhaps best exemplified in anime by Pop, the younger sister of the titular Ojamajo Doremi. Kirino, who nonchalantly disrespects her older brother, complains about a lack of privacy, and also expresses vocal disgust at the idea of a sibling romance, has those bratty qualities juxtaposed with the amount of time and effort the show devotes to putting Kirino’s cuteness on display.

By establishing Kirino as being not-cute-but-actually-really-cute, as well as giving her qualities closer to a more antagonistic and thus arguably more “realistic” younger sister, it begs the question of whether or not Oreimo is trying to diversify the concept of the moe “little sister” by incorporating those bratty elements, perhaps in response to any possible growing weariness with established and rigid moe tropes. In other words, could Oreimo be an attempt at reconfiguring moe from within, and if so, is that a sign of the times? Assuming these to be true, it would not be Kirino herself who equates to the Anti-Sue, but rather the genesis of Kirino as a new type of little sister bearing similarities to the initial motivation by which the Anti-Sue is formed, though handled with more skill and professionalism than your stereotypical fanfiction.

Further complicating the whole matter is the fact that Kirino herself is an otaku fanatically devoted to the “little sister” type who, instead of envisioning herself as the little sister yearning for the affections of her older brother, sees herself in the role of that fictional older brother. Moreover, Kirino is actually embarrassed about her hobby and is a closet otaku. When these aspects of Kirino are taken into account alongside Kyousuke and the degree to which he expresses his disinterest in little sisters both “real” and “fictional,” Kirino’s existence as an “attractive girl” actually takes priority over her existence as a “little sister” in certain respects. In particular, by making her the “otaku” and making Kyousuke the “normal one,” the (male) otaku watching may find themselves relating more closely to Kirino than her older brother, despite gender differences. That’s not to say that she is the viewer surrogate, of course, as Kirino is still very much designed to be the object of desire for the audience.

Essentially, Kirino’s charm starts to become that of a cute girl who is also someone’s younger sister, something is much more applicable to the real world than the typical visual novel archetype, seeing as how many females out there are younger sisters to someone. At the same time however, the trappings of Oreimo, namely the frequent and prominent use of the term “little sister,” also bring that fandom/fetish to the forefront of the viewer’s consciousness. Oreimo thus occupies a sort of contradictory space, where it appears to both reinforce and subvert little sister moe by being a variation on the established formula which also goes about reminding the viewer of that original formula. In doing so, the series then casts into question, perhaps unintentionally, the nature of the “little sister” character itself, as well as whether or not someone can enjoy a character who falls into a moe archetype without being specifically catered to by that archetype’s inherent qualities. Given such a contradiction, I have to wonder, is the overt “little sister” aspect of Oreimo a boon or a detriment? Or to put it another way, would Oreimo be better off if it weren’t about a little sister at all?

That all said, it’s only been two episodes. I’ll have to ask again at a later date.

Anime Staff and Cast: Shame is Not in Their Vocabulary

It was at New York Anime Festival 2009 where someone asked why the creator of Gundam Tomino Yoshiyuki would keep going back to the franchise after swearing it off every single time. Tomino’s response was simple.

“I had to pay the rent.”

And with that, Tomino exposed us to the REAL Anime Reality, as opposed to the one that exists on the fan level.

I’ve occasionally seen people ask about whether or not voice actors get embarrassed playing some raunchy roles or ones they might find objectionable. Similarly, people have wondered whether or not animators ever take issue with, say, making porn about middle schoolers. I bet you though that 9 times out of 10 the answer is “Sometimes, but money is money.” Sure, Inoue Kikuko forbids anyone from mentioning her “early” work, and many voice actors change their names when performing for erotic games (and then oddly enough decide to use their real names for when that erotic game gets a non-erotic anime adaptation), but I’m sure that if they had to go back they’d do it all over again.

Let’s look at one of the hit shows of this past year: Queen’s Blade. Now who in the world would agree to work on a show like this? Well you might be surprised. I’ll give you that quite a few of the staff worked on racy material before. Director Yoshimoto Kinji was the character designer on La Blue Girl and directed Legend of Lemnear. Key animator Umetsu Yasuomi is probably known best for his role as director and character designer in both Kite and Mezzo Forte. Fellow key animator Urushihara Satoshi is known for his erotic illustrations, as well as works such as Another Lady Innocent and Plastic Little. To no one’s surprise I’m sure, the character designer Rin Shin also has plenty of experience with 18+ works (Words Worth, La Blue Girl, Classmates).

But then you get to someone like the art director, Higashi Jun’ichi, and you see what he’s done.

“Art director on Cowboy Bebop?”

“Art director on THEY WERE 11?!

That’s a whole lot of classiness to be injecting into this Boobs and Blades fanservice vehicle. Then you look back at the other staff. Yoshimoto Kinji may have quite a few “unsafe” titles under his belt, but he’s also worked on Riding Bean and Roujin Z (and also Genshiken 2 of all things). Umetsu is a legendary animator, key animating both openings and the ending to Zeta Gundam and lending his hand even today. Urushihara had his hand in Five Star Stories and Akira.

The voice cast is the same way. Queen’s Blade has one of the finest modern female voice casts ever assembled, with names such as Kawasumi Ayako (Lafiel in Crest of the Stars), Mizuhashi Kaori (Ogiue in Genshiken), Tanaka Rie (Lacus Clyne in Gundam SEED), Hirano Aya (Haruhi in Suzumiya Haruhi), and Kugimiya Rie (Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist) all playing their own respective cleavage-shot-prone characters.

Keep in mind that I’m not saying that the people working on a show like Queen’s Blade don’t have integrity. They have plenty of it, seeing as how when you get past the, shall we say “awkward” premise, you have a show that’s well-animated and well-acted. After all, not just anybody could properly animate a slime girl’s acid-filled breasts bursting violently. But shame? Shame is a luxury.

In conclusion, I leave you with the words of one of the finest philosophers of the modern age.

“Get Money, Get Paid.”