Captain Earth centers around an alien force attacking humanity known as the Planetary Gears, who see humans and their “libidos” as a food source. The main character is Manatsu Daichi, who, as a child, befriends a boy and a girl and is thus set on a strange path that ends with him becoming the pilot of a giant space defense robot known as the “Earth Engine.” At the same time that he defends the Earth with his friends, he must deal with the fact that there is another faction on Earth that believes that the only way to save humanity is to create an Ark to save the best of the best, and who are willing to get in “Captain Earth’s” way to do so.

When I watched the first episode of Captain Earth, I felt that the show had to be somehow related to the anime Star Driver, a previous work from the same studio, BONES. Like Star Driver, “libido” is presented as some kind of important power or energy source. The enemy mecha, known as Kiltgangs, bring to mind many  of the “Cybodies” from Star Driver as well, not only in terms of design but also in their pilots’ very “spirited” (read: erotic) reactions. Mysterious songs herald the arrival of an enemy. In the end, it turns out that these allusions remain only as such and that there were no direct narrative connections between these two works, but I do still find it valuable to compare them because Captain Earth more or less feels like a more conventional, less wild re-telling of Star Driver.

Above: Enemy mecha from Captain Earth, Below: Enemy mecha from Star Driver

Whereas Star Driver has a main character whose sense of justice has him appear out of a rift in space like some kind of giant interdimensional Zorro, Daichi in Captain Earth is mainly inspired to do good by the example of his deceased father, and undergoes an elaborate combination sequence that has him launching into multiple space stations. While quiet scenes in Star Driver are set on a mysterious island and battles take place in an enigmatic pocket outside of time and space, fights in Captain Earth uses Tanegashima (home of JAXA in reality), and its most signature fights take place in orbit around the Earth. One thrives on symbols and mystery and is akin to being a giant metal Utena, while the other plays out more closely to a typical super robot anime, yet they share many of the same strengths and flaws as shows. Both shows have vibrant and expressive characters, a consistent sense of mystery about the enemy that gradually reveals itself, and beautiful animation especially focused around dynamic action sequences. However, they also share unusual plot reveals that are strangely abrupt, as well as changes of heart in characters that basically make sense but could be better if they were focused on more. Both stories feel liable to fall apart in a structural sense, but are held together by the dynamism and energy of their characters, for better or for worse.

How does this manifest in Captain Earth in particular? There are two points that stick out to me. The first is the fact that the Planetary Gears have an intriguing inverse relationship with their robots, in the sense that they are basically giant robots who take on the guise of their “human” pilots rather than the other way around. This is quite a unique idea, but it never gets explored as much as I would have preferred. The second point comes in the last episode, when Daichi is back to basics, fighting the enemy with just the Earth Engine and no additional weapons or frills. It’s something that happens at the end in a lot of giant robot anime such as Gurren-Lagann or Gaogaigar, but when Daichi calls out the Earth Engine’s attacks, I realized I didn’t actually remember any of them, because the story couldn’t quite ever focus on the main robot as this symbol of good and make its attacks memorable. What makes the scene a partial success instead is the fact that we are there with Daichi as he grows into the role of “Captain Earth,” and his romantic relationship with the character Hana.

Actually, when I think about it further, Captain Earth doesn’t feel like simply a different, less surreal version of Star Driver, but more the lovechild of Star Driver and another BONES work, Heroman. The Earth Engine basically looks like an upgraded version of Heroman with its red, white, and blue color scheme and its overall “physique,” while Daichi’s personality is right in between Takuto from Star Driver and Joey Jones from Heroman. What’s even more notable, however, is the fact that many of the other high and low points of Captain Earth that it does not share with Star Driver can be found in Heroman. In particular, when Captain Earth is focused on its main story, it has a sense of urgency and excitement, but often it ends up meandering in a way that is less irritating and more puzzling: “Why put this diversion here of all places? It’s not even humor to break up a serious moment?” With Heroman it’s the long number of episodes they spend dealing with that mad scientist villain, and with Captain Earth it’s the time they spend on Earth chasing down unawakened Planetary Gears. While the latter makes more sense, it just feels as if it comes at an unusual point in the overall story.

While its aesthetics don’t have quite the flash and razzmatazz of anime like Utena or Kill la Kill or indeed Star Driver, the show’s more by-the-books approach to looking good enhances the series and its viewability by giving care to both its characters and its mechanical designs. At the same time, I can easily see why someone looking for a cohesive narrative above all else would find Captain Earth infuriating, even if I did consistently enjoy and look forward to the series. I wouldn’t say it’s a show that you shouldn’t think about too much, but that you should think about it while well aware of where the characters and their emotions fill in the gaps that might not otherwise make much sense.

As Madarame licks his proverbial wounds after his “close encounter” with Keiko, Hato reveals to the Genshiken club members that he’s decided to finally try and draw manga, and non-BL stuff to boot. Frustrated over her own lack of talent compared to Hato, Yajima decides in a moment of frustration to draw her own manga as well. The next day, both of them give their comics over to Yoshitake and Ogiue to read, at which point the unexpected occurs: they love Yajima’s manga much more. While Hato’s artwork is superior as expected, his story is inscrutable. Yajima, on the other hand, although lacking talent in terms of pure draftsmanship, is actually Hato’s better when it comes to the comics format.

For this chapter, I feel that there are two major points of discussion.

The first is that Chapter 104 is all about revealing new facets of characters we should have been more than familiar with at this point, and how this potentially changes their interpersonal dynamics in the process. Yajima up to this point has felt consistently “defeated” by everything around her, from her looks compared to the other members of the current Genshiken, to her poor drawing skills, to even having the little attempts she makes to try and “catch up” backfire. Hato has served to further magnify this inferiority complex, an issue further complicated by her feelings for him. Yajima is a character who survives off of stubbornness and perseverance, but now for the first time, possibly in her entire life, she has “won.” She has displayed a skill that is not easy for most people, outdoing Hato in the process, and perhaps even Ogiue the manga professional. Yajima might finally get the confidence she’s been missing all these years, and it potentially changes her relationship with Hato as well.

There’s also an important lesson for readers in that creating comics is not simply about being able to draw well. As is mentioned in this chapter, having your ideas come across effectively is often considered to be just as if not more important, and there are plenty of manga which succeed not because they look the best, but that their style is conducive to storytelling, or is just plain entertaining even if they might look ugly as sin.

As for Hato, it’s actually quite interesting to see the degree to which Hato is fazed by his lack of success in creating his first manga compared to Yajima. Since the start of the second series, Hato has consistently been shown to be unusually talented in pretty much anything he puts his mind to, be it judo, crossdressing, or even mimicking the drawing style of the girl he looked up to. While he isn’t a perfect being, seeing as Hato has hit obstacles in the past such as his eccentric drawing style when out of girls’ clothing, it’s clear that Hato is in a way unaccustomed to failing when there are no mental blocks in his way. For the first time, he may have to realize his limits, but in the process might become more thankful of the myriad talents he does possess.

There’s a strong likelihood that this new angle leads to collaboration between Hato and Yajima. The last campus festival was all about team efforts to create manga, and seeing as the two potentially complement each other better than the Hato/Ogiue or Yajima/Yoshitake duos, it could lead to great things. Of course, the burning question in all of this is, could this collaboration be the catalyst for something more romantic? Given Madarame and his woes, it’s impossible to predict Genshiken anymore, but there is a precedent of sorts with Sasahara and Ogiue.

Speaking of Ogiue, even she shows another side of herself in this chapter as we get to see her ultimate goal for Genshiken. Having inherited the club from Ohno, she’s been not-so-secretly desiring the end of the club’s reputation as a “Cosplay Research Society,” but only now are the pieces in place to mold Genshiken in her image as a manga-creation club. Though I don’t think Ogiue is any sort of devious mastermind, I do have to wonder if the executive decisions we’ve seen out of her so far—the return of the Genshiken club magazine Mebaetame, encouraging the creation of manga for the campus festival—were all building blocks for this. Overall, I’m honestly surprised at how much this chapter feels like it changes everything, and yet is such a sensible progression of the story as the characters’ emotions are on full display.

That leads me to the second major pojnt of discussion for this chapter: THE FACES.

I’ve talked about the amazing expressions in Genshiken II before, but this chapter blows every previous one out of the water. Just look at these images of Yoshitake with a grin that would make the Joker jealous, and how Hato’s intensity is radiating off the page.

 

Of course, seeing Yoshitake practically melt into a pile of goo seen above is one thing. After all, Yoshitake has always been a powerful source of hilarious faces. So is seeing Hato’s expression of jealousy over Yajima’s heretofore unknown talent for manga, as it’s not that different from how he usually looks, even if it is kind of unexpected. What’s really remarkable though, at least from my very biased perspective, is the veritable treasure trove of Ogiue faces that this chapter has graced us with. In the past, Ogiue was mainly known for a perpetual expression of deep anger, and even in moments of joy (like the intimate moment she and Sasahara have in the final chapter of the original series) she still tended to stare daggers at people, if unintentionally. One of the big shifts in Nidaime is the fact that her expressions have softened up considerably over time, and in a way it feels as if this chapter is the culmination of that development.

I don’t have any exact statistics on this, but I do trust my memory as an Ogiue fan on the following: do you know when’s the last time we got to see Ogiue literally laugh out loud so hard she couldn’t control herself? The answer is never. I believe it is a first for the character, and it helps to hammer home the point that Yajima’s manga is legitimately funny, and legitimately interesting.

Next chapter looks to be focused on Madarame and Sue. Given the insanity of last month’s chapter I think this “break” from Madarame’s girl troubles is great, but seeing as this chapter was so downright enjoyable, a part of me hopes that it shifts back to the threads that have laid down here as soon as possible, even though I expect great things out of whatever antics Sue has in store.

Name: Konno (今野)
Alias: Kon (コン)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture II

Information:
A former classmate of Hato Kenjirou, Konno is a fujoshi who discovered that Hato likes yaoi and is inadvertently responsible for spreading the rumor that Hato was gay. A resident of Niigata Prefecture, Konno was a member of the high school art club along with Hato, Kaminaga, and her friend Fuji. Somewhat high-strung, Konno has feelings for Hato but has difficulty making them known, and feels a good amount of guilt over the incident with him in high school.

Fujoshi Level:
Unknown, other than that she always looked forward to Kaminaga’s BL work back in their art club days.

I recently finished Initial D: Final Stage, which brings the story of teenager Fujiwara Takumi and his inhuman drifting skills to a satisfying conclusion. I had been keeping up with Initial D on and off for almost 15 years now, which is kind of crazy to think about, but what was even bigger shock for me was realizing (thanks to the show’s ever-present exposition) that all of Initial D, whether that’s over 700 manga chapters or its anime equivalent, takes place in the narrative over a span of two years.

It’s nothing to get worked up over, and there are series with even more drastic disparities between publication and in-story time frames (see Akagi and Megatokyo), but there’s something about Initial D which feels different. It’s almost as if there were indeed 15 years’ worth of racing action crammed into two.

Other facts I wasn’t even aware of are that the manga itself ran for about 18 years, and that the author Shigeno Shuuichi was born in 1958. Somehow he was able to maintain the racing manga for almost two decades, rendering his work about as timeless as the very Eight-Six Trueno that’s at the center of Initial D.

I sometimes see people ask why so often characters in a comedy anime will explain a joke after it’s happened, as the idea of doing so is, at least in English, considered a sure-fire way to kill any and all humor (I call it the Jay Leno Effect). I’ve been doing a bit of reading about Japanese humor recently though, and based on it I think I have a better understanding of why this happens.

Japanese social interactions are loosely governed by two concepts: “honne,” or one’s true feelings, and “tatemae,” what one displays outwards to the public. While I think it’s a mistake to put too much stock into this distinction (believing Japanese people cannot express themselves is sort of ridiculous), the explanation I’ve read is that honne and tatemae are central to certain types of Japanese humor, particularly manzai comedy. In manzai, the idea of having the boke (fool) and the tsukkomi (straight-man) is that the boke does something or says something ridiculous, and the tsukkomi responds with a sharp retort and/or a wack in order to correct the boke.

When it comes to anime, I think that actually when another character “explains the joke,” it’s not to tell the audience in case they didn’t understand. The idea is that something so unbelievable just happened that, rather than letting it slide and preserving the situation (tatemae), the person feels compelled to express his or her true feelings about it (honne). Essentially, the act of explaining the joke is part of the humor itself, as it essentially shows how the event was so jarring or absurd that the character had no choice but to tell it like it is. Sometimes you see characters in anime do this silently, taking advantage of the fact that the format allows us to be privy to their inner thoughts.

Of course, not all jokes can be explained by this, and in fact I’ve also read that some Japanese humor is about being able to create laughter on the inside without it spilling outside, which might explain certain slice of life humor like Hidamari Sketch and Yotsuba&! and the like. That said, I find myself laughing out loud at both of those titles pretty often, so who knows.

Name: N/A
Alias: Silkwood Editor (くぬぎの編集者)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Humanity Has Declined

Information:
The Oakwood Editor leads one of the most popular amateur groups to be part of the BL “douruishi” craze. Living in a time when fairies have supplanted humans as the dominant species, her circle sells 5000 books at the world’s first douruishi event.

Fujoshi Level:
Nothing is known, other than that she heads a very successful douruishi group.

receptacle-05

Kurosaki Rendou is a manga creator with certain recurring themes, notably an obsession with both food and bizarre, highly sexually charged relationships, but in terms of where those general tendencies go, the sky’s the limit. Kurosaki’s most well-known work, Houkago Play, is about a gamer guy and his leggy, sadistic girlfriend arguing with each other. On depicts a very sexually graphic homosexual relationship. Receptacle is a manga about women candidly discussing their active sex lives, who find themselves in a bizarre love triangle and mutually attracted to each other.

The last title I’ll mention, Chou Nettaiya Orgy, features prostitutes arguing with each other about mundane things, made all the more bizarre by the fact that it runs in an actual porn magazine which mostly features the kind of work you’d expect from an 18+ magazine. Imagine if there was an adult video compiling various pornographic scenes, and in the middle is an episode of Seinfeld.

Kurosaki’s gender is unknown. though I suspect Kurosaki is a woman, I have no proof, and instead merely have an inclination because of how Kurosaki’s manga runs the gamut when it comes to sex.

One interesting wrinkle in Kurosaki’s work is the fact that a lot of these manga take place in a shared universe. While Kurosaki isn’t the only artist to do this (not to mention the fact that American superhero comics tend to thrive on this concept), normally these worlds are kept separate. Yuri manga will take place in an environment where yuri is ideal; yaoi manga is a similar deal. With Kurosaki’s comics, characters from one will cross over into another, making all of these different fetishes and types of sexual attraction exist in the same space. To give kind of an extreme example, it’s as if finding out Busty Blondes 5 and Macho Firemen 3 (I made these titles up) are set in the same neighborhood.

Personally speaking, I really like Kurosaki Rendou’s artwork. Characters in Kurosaki’s manga share the common traits of heavy use of black in their designs, deep empty voids for eyes, and constantly uncomfortable (or discomforting) expressions, like a more extreme version of Ueshiba Riichi (Mysterious Girlfriend X). Kurosaki’s distinct style exudes a strange kind of sensuality that transcends typical depictions of sexuality and attractiveness in manga for either men or women. Rather than having a “male-oriented” approach or a “female-oriented” one, there is only Kurosaki Rendou style. Perhaps this is why Kurosaki is able to draw all sorts of manga, and to bring them all together into one cohesive setting.

viga-ogiue-small

Viga is a long-time Genshiken ally; we even did a panel about Ogiue together at Otakon! Naturally, when requesting a drawing to commission, there was only one real choice.

If you’re interested in her work, check out her Tumblr and Twitter.

Name: N/A
Alias: Silkwood Editor (合歓の木の編集者)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Humanity Has Declined

Information:
The Silkwood Editor is one of the women who took to the BL “douruishi” craze started by Y the Camphorwood Editor in the era when humans have been replaced by fairies as the Earth’s dominant species. Her circle manages to sell 4500 copies at the world’s first douruishi event.

Fujoshi Level:
Nothing is known, other than that she commands one of the more successful BL douruishi groups.

If you search online for Witch Craft Works, one of the first things you’re likely to see is the promotional art for the anime, pictured above. It’s an attention grabber for sure, as the image of a tall, voluptuous woman cradling a smaller, frailer man in her arms sends a whole array of messages that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but one of the questions that arises asks, is Witch Craft Works feminist? I would argue that it is in certain respects, but not necessarily in the way that one might expect. While one might approach the gendered role reversal in terms of whether or not it’s a form of empowerment, I find that it’s better to consider it in terms of how it highlights how we view those roles in the first place.

Witch Craft Works is an anime and manga about a meek-looking teenage boy named Takemiya Honoka and his love interest/protector, the practically-perfect-in-every-way Kagari Ayaka, who is also a witch able to command flames. Weak protagonists are nothing new for anime at this point, but whereas a typical story would have the guy “man up” and defend the woman (see Fate/Stay Night, for example), Ayaka is clearly stronger than he is at all times. This is what creates the spark of potential for Ayaka to be a symbol of female empowerment, though people who read into her this way may potentially be disappointed, especially because her clear male-oriented attractiveness (wide hips, very large breasts, long raven-black hair) and moments of obvious fanservice can detract from such a portrayal.

While those unfamiliar with shoujo manga might see the series as more of a role reversal in general, in fact Witch Craft Works is more specifically a genderswap of a stereotypical shoujo manga. Instead of the girl being perpetually late for school and bumping into Mr. Tall, Dark, and Mysterious, it’s Honoka playing the part instead. All of the lines that the male love interest would make about protecting the female protagonist while holding her gently have instead gone to Ayaka. What makes it clearly shoujo as well is the trope of having Ayaka followed by a squad of fangirls who keep all potential partners at bay through bullying and trickery. The main difference, aside from the change in genders, is that the art style is more geared towards a male audience, which opens it up for the criticisms seen in the previous paragraph.

When I say that Witch Craft Works can be interpreted as a feminist work, however, my intent is not to argue that people should just get over the clear idealized appeal of Ayaka for heterosexual male viewers. Instead, the point I want to make is that this role reversal brings to the surface many assumptions we make about how characters behave. Imagine that, instead of Witch Craft Works acting as a reverse shoujo series, we instead made a genderswap version of James Bond, or better yet Golgo 13? In this version, a stoic woman would sleep with guys left and right, who would be so amazed at her instinctual command of the carnal arts that they would beg at her feet for more as she leaves without saying a word. Sometimes, they might get caught in the middle of a gunfight or perhaps themselves be assassins, which would result in them being violently murdered by “Golga 13.” As she goes about putting bullets in the heads of her targets, men and women would sing her praises and talk about how amazingly powerful she is.

Would this be empowering? Perhaps. Would this emphasize equality between male and female characters? Not really, as it’s more just flipping the issue. However, by turning the tables in that way, it would increase awareness of how these tropes are affected by how we perceive characters’ behaviors according to their genders. Witch Craft Works does something similar, only instead of using the typical narrative aspects of a guy-oriented series like Golgo 13, it uses the cultural markers of girl-oriented anime and manga to start with, and then pushes things a few steps further.

One of the arguments by fans of yaoi and yuri as to why they prefer those stories over ones about heterosexual relationships is that there’s less of a power imbalance between male and female. At the same time, categories like “seme” (top) and “uke” (bottom) complicate this issue because they can often be used to express a relationship of domination and submission. Witch Craft Works, through the interactions of its weak male and strong female leads and its mix of guy-oriented and girl-oriented aesthetics, calls to mind all of these different portrayals of romances. Kagari and Ayaka simultaneously behave like a shoujo romance, but also a bit of a shounen one as well, and even embody aspects of yaoi and yuri. Apparently the manga was originally supposed to be yuri itself but was changed to its current form.

For guys, this is a rare opportunity to see what it feels like for a male character to be made a damsel-in-distress, though the conclusion for them won’t necessarily be that this is a problem, and that the role is diminishing men as a whole. It’s possible that this can even be viewed as something desirable, that men rarely get the chance to feel the desire to be rescued, to have their troubles eliminated by someone more powerful than themselves, even less so when the rescuer is a woman (usually it’s a father or something along those lines). Instead of manifesting an empathy for weakness through moe girl character, it can be achieved through a boy, and there isn’t even a need to berate him for not being “man enough.” At the same time, male viewers can see the boy damsel, take comfort, and then return to endless images of macho heroes. Women, on the other hand, leave Witch Craft Works and go back to a sea of women being captured and waiting for their saviors. As a result, Witch Craft Works ends up emphasizing the fact that the “damsel-in-distress” issue is not that the trope is inherently dangerous or detrimental, but that it has been historically reinforced repeatedly as something “for women.”

By playing with the standard rules of its storytelling style but flipping the script, Witch Craft Works serves to make us aware of those storytelling tendencies, especially those found in anime and manga. and to look at them more critically. In that respect, Witch Craft Works is capable of contributing to feminist criticism.

 

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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