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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.
Alias: Silkwood Editor (くぬぎの編集者)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Humanity Has Declined
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.
Nothing is known, other than that she heads a very successful douruishi group.
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.
Alias: Silkwood Editor (合歓の木の編集者)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Humanity Has Declined
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.
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.
Aliases: Silver-chan (銀髪ちゃん), Camphorwood Editor (楠の編集者)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Humanity Has Declined
Y is responsible for helping to put together a monument to mankind, a task which never seems to move forward. While working, Y discovers the ancient technology of a printer+copier, working computers, and hard data of old manga and revives the notion of self-publishing among mankind when the original material runs out. Referring to these works as “douruishi,” Y becomes the leading producer of douruishi, particularly BL-themed material, through her circle “Camphorwood.”
Y is friends with the mediator between the human race and the current dominant species on Earth, the advanced-yet-naive fairies. Having met back in high school, Y correctly assessed the mediator as the only other sane person around, and even harbors some romantic feelings for her. It was also during that time that Y discovered her interest in BL, amassing a hidden collection of BL prose novels pilfered from the school library.
In addition to designing a complex method for hiding her collection back in high school and jump-starting the yaoi craze for a new generation, Y’s fujocity can also be seen in the way she tries to pair a chess pawn with a knight.
It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.
Mysterious Girlfriend X
Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.
Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.
81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.
In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.
Crunchyroll recently announced a slew of new manga for its site, and given my interest in stories themed around fujoshi characters, Watashi ga Motete Dousunda by Junko stands out to me the most. Below is the official description:
Kae Serinuma is what you’d call a “fujoshi.” When she sees boys getting along with each other, she loves to indulge in wild fantasies! One day her favorite anime character dies and the shock causes her to lose a ton of weight. Then four hot guys at school ask her out, but that isn’t exciting to her at all — she’d rather see them date each other!
Also of note is the fact that there’s a naming competition for the official English title. The title literally means “What Am I Going to Do About Being Popular?” but the series also already has an alternate English title: Boys, Kiss Him Instead of Me.
I recall that this manga had some controversy surrounding it due to its basic premise and the message it might be sending to those with eating disorders. However, I hadn’t followed up on either that discussion or the actual manga itself so I can’t recommend it offhand, but I’ll definitely be checking it out.
Its characters will also eventually appear in the Fujoshi Files, my catalog for fujoshi characters in anime and manga (the list recently passed 100!).
As far as I know, Watashi ga Motete Dousunda would be the fifth fujoshi-themed manga to be licensed in English, following Mousou Shoujo Otakukei (aka Fujoshi Rumi), Fujoshi Kanojo (aka My Girlfriend is a Geek), Moehime (about a Heian period fujoshi, formerly on JManga), and of course, Genshiken Nidaime (or Genshiken Second Season).
Name: Fukuda (福田)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture II
A friend and fellow history club member with Genshiken member Yoshitake Rika back in high school, Fukuda is a person of few words. She acts as a tsukkomi of sorts to Yoshitake and her other friend Sawatari antics, often responding to them in deadpan.
Unknown at this time, other than that she had otaku conversations in addition to history-related ones in high school.
Genshiken has portrayed elaborate fantasies, some nudity, and implied sex, but Chapter 103 may be the most erotic chapter the manga has ever seen.
At the end of the last chapter, Madarame was headed with Keiko to her apartment. While it was a little unclear (though heavily implied) that Keiko was using this situation to her advantage, all doubts are erased in Chapter 103 as Keiko does everything in her power to seduce Madarame. On the verge of success as she bids Madarame to feel some real skin, they are interrupted by a phone call from Keiko’s boyfriend, who plans to come over. After Keiko casually admits to having affairs pretty regularly, Madarame escapes, though Keiko expects for him to return.
When I say that this month’s chapter is especially erotic, it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first chapter ever in Genshiken that has been primarily devoted to one person’s efforts to seduce another. Not only that, but this chapter creates an atmosphere of anticipation and sexual excitement through Keiko’s actions and gestures, going one step even further than the last chapter. Everything Keiko does, from her decision to shower to her choice of clothes, from her subtle choice of words that boost Madarame’s confidence to her serious bedroom eyes, implies advancement towards sex… not to mention that they’re in such a confined space. While I’m not typically one to analyze erotic manga (and this doesn’t quite count as eromanga in the typical sense), I would like to discuss the first panel in the image below, where Madarame’s hand is above Keiko’s open sweatshirt after she’s invited him to touch her breasts.
There’s a real sense of tension in the panel, created by its size, the lack of word balloons, and especially Keiko’s expression, which conveys excitement, anticipation, and even arousal. What’s also notable is that this eroticism is different from the fanservice scenes in the anime Genshiken 2 (not to be confused with Genshiken Second Season), which at times were virtually pornographic (the studio that made Genshiken 2 is best known for its work on Ikkitousen and Mezzo Forte, among other things). Instead, in terms of portraying sexual acts, this veers closer to what can typically be found in more adult josei manga in terms of buildup.
When looking at this chapter, I get the strong feeling that Kio Shimoku’s work on Spotted Flower is bleeding into his work on Genshiken. After all, he has a history of sorts with this, as the very first chapter of Genshiken II was made at a time when his latest work was Jigopuri, and characters looked much rounder and more in line with a moe aesthetic. One can think of Spotted Flower as essentially an alternate universe Genshiken where a man very much like Madarame is married to a woman very much like Kasukabe, and it has been an opportunity for Kio to portray adult sexual desire with far more detail than Genshiken is known for. Whether that’s through depictions of nudity, scenes about the wife trying to get the husband erect, or just the general expression of romantic lust, Spotted Flower has distinguished itself from Genshiken by being a more mature and sexually explicit series. Keiko’s interactions with Madarame venture deep into that territory, and I wonder if this will have a long-term effect on Genshiken going forward.
I think it’s useful to compare Keiko to Angela, not only because Angela once attempted to seduce Madarame herself, but that they have much in common when it comes to men. In my review of Chapter 93, I mentioned that Angela and Keiko look like they could be friends, and I think it’s no accident that Kio has portrayed them as both aiming for the boob grab as the lynchpin of their pursuits of Madarame. Both of them are quite experienced with sex, and both are aware that, for guys in general but especially a virgin like Madarame, breasts are placed on this grand pedestal. Keiko is even shown planning to moan erotically as soon as Madarame makes his move as a way to draw him in further, a bit of characterization in a sexually charged scene that indicates Keiko’s understanding of Madarame and further shows that she and Angela are of similar minds.
Now, I think a fair number of people, upon reading my description and analysis of Chapter 103, might feel that Genshiken has hit the point of no return. “Seriously? A scene where Madarame is basically about to have sex with Sasahara’s sister? What is this harem stuff? What happened to this manga?” Interestingly, the chapter features an explanation as to how Madarame finally started being viewed as attractive. At one point, Keiko says that seeing an otaku like Madarame in love with a person like Kasukabe who is (from Keiko’s perspective) completely out of his league actually makes him pretty cute in her eyes. In other words, as Keiko puts it, it’s thanks to Kasukabe that Madarame was able to exude his awkward charms. Not only that, but Keiko is sort of fond of no-good, pathetic types as well.
When thinking about the other characters, Sue, Hato, and Angela, they’ve all been shown to have also come from similar angles, either implicitly or explicitly. Sue’s wild denial that she has feelings for Madarame is the direct result of Saki seeing her kiss him. Angela already had a thing for sou-uke characters in anime and manga, and she began making her move upon learning that Madarame was feeling heart-broken. Hato, why, much of the series at this point is about his growing affections for Madarame’s character flaws, and it was even prompted by him learning about his unrequited love for Kasukabe. Of course, with Keiko it’s not as if she only has eyes for Madarame; he’s but one of many that she wouldn’t mind sleeping with. The fact that not everyone interested in Madarame has the same view of sex and relationships (which is often the case with actual harem anime and manga) is part of what makes this story arc intriguing. I do have to wonder if Keiko’s boyfriend is of a similar personality in spite of his greater financial success (he’s a subordinate of the president of an IT company).
Next chapter will be about Hato, but the question on my mind is, how will Sasahara react when he finds out about this?! I’ve read comments where people think it’s all over for Keiko x Mada, but I get the feeling that she’s not quite yet done.