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As an anime and manga blog largely focused largely on commercial output, it is rare that I will report on and review an Art Show in all of its capitalized glory. However, I feel it important to discuss the “Empty God Core” show at the B²OA Gallery, featuring the works of Japanese artist Umezawa Kazuki.
I am well aware of the fact that anime and manga have been subjects of exploration, self-discovery, and exploitation since at least Murakami Takashi and his “superflat” movement. Often times challenging and presenting the exoticism of Japan’s visual culture, artists like Murakami tend to feel as if they come not from the otaku subculture itself, but are reacting to it as it has grown over times. While I would not go so far as to say that this is some unforgivable flaw in his work, that he may not be a “true” otaku, it does make me notice when a piece of art conveys the perspective of someone who has embraced the lights and sounds of anime and manga as almost existential hazes.
That is the impression I received from Umezawa’s work, though even before I saw the actual show itself I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time thanks to our mutual friend, Ko Ransom. If there is anything that stood out to me most about him at first glance, it would have been his A Certain Scientific Railgun pins adorning his clothing. The one most prominent could be seen on his chest, a chibi version of Nunotaba Shinobu, my favorite character in the Index universe. A teenage scientist with a propensity for interlacing her speech with English, Nunotaba comes nowhere near the default choices for popular characters in her series, so I knew that Umezawa was serious business.
That being said, while I was aware that Umezawa was an otaku before I saw “Empty God Core,” I would have jumped to that conclusion almost immediately if I had come in without knowing a thing. Umezawa’s works consist largely of collages of anime characters, scrambled to the point of almost losing all recognizable qualities, and then rearranged to create futuristic, apocalyptic landscapes and large, god-like figures. I say “almost,” because the first thing I spotted in one of his digital paintings was the characteristic blonde poof of Cure Peace from Smile Precure! Soon after, I spotted bits of other characters as well, but it made me realize how distinct Precure hair is designed to be, so that, even divorced from the very bodies on which they sit, one can see that, yes that over there is a piece of Cure Blossom, and down by the side is Cure Beauty. The iconic nature of anime and manga characters jumps to the forefront, and their fragments are used to construct worlds.
There is a general idea when it comes to anime fandom that a lot of its qualities arose from the perception of 1980s Japan as a kind science fictional space. Like Blade Runner, which envisioned a future city amalgamated from Tokyo and various Chinatowns, the common discourse positions otaku as products of their time, and their subculture a result of changes to the world, the economy, and the degree to which societal values crumble or ossify in response. In this environment, otaku have historically been viewed in a negative light, people who cannot confront reality, loners who can only consume their media in ways which reinforce their divorce from society, while anime and manga become increasingly shallow and lacking in any real substance. What Umezawa’s work does is flip that script on its head, and show how this otaku subculture and its inhabitants can utilize the “vapid” qualities of anime and manga and its devotion to signs and icons of cuteness, beauty, and sexuality as building blocks, as atoms to form universes. Rather than a dystopian cityscape creating the otaku, the otaku creates the dystopian cityscape. He turns lemonade into lemons.
This post is regrettably a little late, but if you’re in or around New York City, the show is running until November 15th. The B²OA Gallery is at 515 west 26th street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm.
It’s been a while since I really went in-depth about the topic of moe, but here’s me and the Veef discussing the topic. If there’s anything I’d like people to get out of it, it’s to not take such polarizing stances about the topic.
In the second episode of the Video Game Championship Wrestling series spinoff, “Extreme Dudebro Wrestling,” Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening made her way to the ring. Just as VGCW makes the chat itself part of the viewing experience, so too does EDBW, and Lucina’s arrival brought with it some powerful (text) chants.
“LET’S GO CINA!”
Anyone who’s familiar with the WWE over the past decade is likely familiar with the origin of these dueling chants. Loved by kids, reviled by adult fans who grew up with The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, John Cena’s popularity splits the audience in two whenever he wrestles. Naturally, VGCW fans did not pass up an opportunity for some wordplay.
Of course, this is to be expected, right? It’s a constructed wrestling universe based on popular video game and occasional anime characters, so this type of crossover should lead to cross-demographic jokes. And yet, when I watch and participate in any of the VGCW chats, I feel like I’m being exposed to a group which I normally don’t interact with otherwise. Somehow, even though I’m friends with anime fans, gamers, and smarks, I’ve never found myself in the middle of their convergence as much as I do in VGCW. That’s what makes all the Table-san jokes work, where the announcer’s table is jokingly viewed as a shy and meek anime girl whose day always get ruined when Wrestler A decides to powerbomb/suplex/elbow drop Wrestler B on top of her.
The connection between anime fandom and wrestling is a lot stronger in Japan, where you had series like Kinnikuman which continue to get referenced even today, as well as real life wrestlers based on anime like Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask. It’s sort of like if Zeus from No Holds Barred turned out to be one of the best, most beloved wrestlers ever when he made his WWF appearance.
As for Lucina, she fell behind the entire match, barely missing out on being pinned for the 3-count over and over. Then, as if the entire match was simply an opportunity for her to mount a comeback, she landed a DDT and a devastating finisher and won the match. The chat exploded, realizing that Lucina was even closer to John Cena than expected.
As they say, Hustle, Royalty, Respect.
Given the success of its Kickstarter, it’s highly likely that you’re already aware of Mighty No. 9. The brainchild of Inafune Keiji, co-designer of Mega Man, it’s very much a successor to Mega Man, starring a robot with variable powers named Beck. While there are plenty of things to discuss when it comes to Mighty No. 9, one of the more fascinating topics is the “Roll” of the game, a female character named Call. Garnering enough fan support for a “Call gameplay stage” stretch goal to be reached, what is curious about Call is that her popularity was achieved well before we knew really anything about her.
From the very beginning of the Mighty No. 9 project, it was announced that there would be this female supporting character. However, she had no definitive design (though a few possibilities were shown), no determined color scheme, and very little information about her background or personality. Even her actual name was a later addition to the campaign, while these were the only notes eventually provided about her:
Call is a female robot originally created by Dr. White’s friend, Dr. Sanda, to help assist him with his research; she somehow avoided being infected by the virus causing all the other robots to go berserk and has pledged to help Beck.
Call was not imbued with the human characteristics that make Beck unique, so she’s more of a pure robot — as you might imagine, this contrast can lead to some interesting differences and misunderstandings whenever they interact!
And yet, even with this utter lack of information about Call, she developed a fanbase, such that the vote to decide what will become her finalized look has become a big deal among Mighty No. 9 fans.
A common answer these days for this sort of thing involves referencing the Hiroki Azuma’s database narrative concept in a reductive fashion by pointing to how disparate features such as blue hair or a tsundere personality act as patchwork parts to create characters appealing to otaku, but I don’t think you can even refer to Call’s initial concept as a “database character.” It was less of a database and more of a less-than-1kb .txt file, and I think Call’s popularity actually comes from something else entirely.
My own guess is that the reason Call gained fans before we really knew anything about her is that her basic position, as a female character in a new video game which has as one of its guiding principles heavy interaction with the community during development, made her an open canvas for fans’ perspectives. Whether fans see Call as someone to potentially relate to, or an opportunity to establish a strong female character who can go a step beyond Roll in Mega Man, or even just as “the cute girl,” Call’s initial lack of features combined with faith in Inafune and the staff of Mighty No. 9 allowed people to project onto Call their various ideals. In this prototype state Call fans see in her the very best.
WARNING: HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD
In an essay by Evangelion creator Anno Hideaki found in Gundam: The Origin Volume 1 (Aizouban Edition) titled “Celebrating the Revival of Gundam as Tale,” Anno argues that anime narratives in recent years have moved away from being “Tales” like the original Gundam. “Audiences have come to need work only as an escape from reality, as a comfortable dream, judging everything on the criterion of moe, while creators’ intellectual paucity and the jumble of trivial touches have encouraged that structure.” Referring to current anime and manga as “stagnant,” Anno laments the loss of the Tale in anime and manga, hoping that it can make a return, and even blames himself for contributing to this current state of anime. Thus, when considering the new Evangelion movies as “rebuilds,” I began to suspect that the films might be an attempt to bring the “Tale” back into Evangelion after its influence had broken down the concept in the first place. Although I was not aware of this perspective of Anno’s when I saw the original two movies, after viewing Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo I find that the Rebuild of Evangelion films, while not attempting something so simple and shortsighted as turning back the hands of time in order prove the superiority of Tales, are still revisiting Evangelion in such as a way as to try and address the differences between older and newer anime narratives, create a Tale appropriate for contempory culture, and respond to current criticisms of youth culture.
At the beginning Evangelion 3.33, we see protagonist Ikari Shinji waking up 14 years in the future, in a time when much has changed. Shortly after Shinji’s revival, a fight breaks out and it turns out Shinji is aboard a ship called the Wunder, an airship with a powerful laser cannon powered by Shinji’s iconic robot, the EVA-01. As the battle ensues, a combination of characters we’re familiar with and characters entirely new shout about the status of the enemy, which weapons to use, and what strategic options are available, all while Katsuragi Misato stands at the bridge as a stoic and hardboiled captain ready to give orders at just the right time. Although this somewhat resembles depictions from previous films and the television series with the organization NERV and Shinji’s father Gendou at the helm, what this resembles even more is the most classic Tale in all of anime, Space Battleship Yamato. Substitute the EVA-01-powered laser for the Wave Motion Cannon and Misato for Captain Okita, and you more or less have a fight that wouldn’t look out of place in Yamato. Shinji is thrust not just into the future, but into what appears to be a completely different anime story structure.
Rather than simply making it the Tale of Shinji experiencing the simpler world of a Yamato-esque goal and the pieces surrounding it, however—Yamato was about traveling to a distant planet to retrieve an item which would help remove the radiation that had turned the Earth into an inhospitable husk—Evangelion 3.33 complicates the issue. While both Yamato and Evangelion 3.33 take place on a devastated Earth, for the latter it turns out that Shinji’s actions in the previous movie, when he finally stood up for himself and gained the self-activation he never had before, were the very cause of the planet’s current dire situation, the Third Impact. Shikinami Asuka Langley, who was injured in the last film when Shinji had control of his own EVA forcibly taken away from him, is alive and piloting, but shows absolute disdain for Shinji. Even the one goal he had set out to accomplish, rescuing Ayanami Rei from being absorbed by the enemy Angel, turns out to be a failure, as Rei’s body was never found, most likely absorbed by EVA-01’s cockpit after the two had fully synchronized with the EVA. Instead, what Shinji gets is a clone of Rei devoid of memories, an almost-unthinking soldier who can only follow orders.
This clone Rei in the third film (although technically all of the Rei are clones) is a strikingly powerful presence, acting as a strong argument against the classic criticisms of Ayanami Rei and the characters she has inspired. Typically, Rei is seen as an almost doll-like fetish object, an attractive girl with pale features and no personality whom men can sexualize as the “perfect” passive woman entirely subject to their desires. Here, in Evangelion 3.33, we get the truly subservient version of Rei, a character who is so passive she cannot even read a book without being ordered to do so, and the disturbing nature of this iteration of the character actually highlights just how much characterization and personal will is present in the base character of Ayanami Rei. “You don’t know what’s missing until it’s gone,” as the cliché goes, and the fact that a truly doll-like Rei is so bizarre and alien underlines the fact that Rei is defined not by her loss of humanity but by her pursuit of it. Rei ends the film seeing a gigantic grotesque version of herself and asking, “Is that me?” The titanic Rei acts as an uncanny juxtaposition and jars Rei into becoming self-aware, becoming the potential seed through which she can gain independent thought and conscience. Rei, who is arguaby seen as the classic example of a character whose various visual and narrative components appeal to the “database” mindset which Azuma Hiroki argued back in 1999 was increasingly common in a postmodern Japanese society, re-gains the ability to become part of a Tale which isn’t, a cohesive work which is at the same time complex and contradictory.
This is the narrative space in which Evangelion 3.33 takes place, and the result is that even though this film may appear to be another case of how nothing Shinji does ever goes right, it is not the same sort of internal trauma and pessimism which classically characterizes Evangelion. The depression Shinji suffers and shows in this film does get the closest to the type of introspection that Evangelion is famous for, but given not only the context of the previous films which feature a cast of characters more willing and able to communicate their pain to each other but also the difference in setting the 14-year shift provides in this film even those signature abstract angst moments take on a different set of meanings. Most notably, Shinji’s psychological paralysis is not the result of some indescribable fear or internal agony, but because of his own guilt. This can be seen in the bonding scenes with Nagisa Kaworu, the tragic character whose role in all previous version of Evangelion has been to connect with Shinji on a level no other character had previously been able to before dying at Shinji’s own hands. Kaworu and Shinji’s relationship takes on a somewhat different dynamic, as Kaworu helps to bring Shinji to a place of conviction already familiar to him from the previous film.
Instead, a different tragedy occurs, as Kaworu’s plan to co-pilot the new EVA-13 with Shinji in order to fix the world ravaged by the Third Impact is undermined by the fact that NERV and Gendou have replaced one of the key items capable of restoring the world, instead leading it to a further apocalypse. Kaworu realizes the difference and tries to stop Shinji, but Shinji is so intent on correcting everything that he fails to register Kaworu’s hesitation and he ends up falling for Gendou’s plot. The scene again looks to be another case of Shinji failing, but given everything else shown up to this point, I find that it draws attention not so much to Shinji’s individual suffering, but to the world around Shinji. Whether Shinji follows his own will or whether he listens to others, he still creates disaster, but this Shinji is again a more active Shinji whose problem is not that he’s “unwilling” to help, but that his surrounding environment has forced him into unwinnable situations. Appropriately, this time around Kaworu dies, but not directly because of Shinji.
Shinji’s plight in Evangelion 3.33 mirrors the recent criticisms used against youth culture by media appealing to older generations. Whether inside or outside of Japan, the current generation is seen as a group of selfish good-for-nothings who want and expect everything handed to them, instead of knowing the value of sacrifice and hard work. Whether they’re referred to as “NEETs” or “Generation Me,” Shinji and Evangelion 3.33 bring to attention the idea that, while we can place blame on them, the previous generations are not absolved of blame; the world the children inherit is the world given to them.
Ultimately, I find that the Rebuild of Evangelion films are trying to create a Tale similar to Yamato and Gundam, but in a way which is consciously trying to take into account the era in which we live. At the end of Evangelion 3.33, Shinji is once again emotionally distraught and paralyzed over the horrible consequences of his actions, when Asuka literally drags him out of his cockpit and tells him that he can’t simply sit still. Rei joins them. The previous two films had already established that the characters were able to bridge the emotional gaps they were unable to overcome in the original television series, and though the space of 14 years after the Third Impact had bred in Asuka a deep resentment and anger towards Shinji, that one scene shows how the connection is still there. My prediction for the “Tale of Evangelion” as expressed by the four films is thus: A 14-year-old boy is stranged from his father and suffering deep personal agony is thrust into a situation far greater than him, and though he is told to sacrifice himself for the greater cause, through the connections he makes with his peers he finds that he would lose too much in the process, including his own identity. This prioritization of the self and what he finds valuable in life does not come without its own consequences, but it becomes the potential ground for him, and those like him, to find their own solutions to the problems of the world. Of course, the fourth film has yet to debut, so we’ll see if I’m right.
Not too long ago I half-jokingly suggested that the first moe character was Hilda (pictured above), the heroine from the 1968 animated film Hols: Prince of the Sun. The basis of this was that Hilda was the creation of a young Takahata and Miyazaki, who would later go on to form Studio Ghibli, and if you’ve ever read Miyazaki’s recollection of his first time watching Legend of the White Serpent, you’ll not only see similarities between Hilda and Pai-Nan, the heroine of Legend of the White Serpent, but also between his reaction and the way fans of Key games talk about their beloved works: Miyazaki actually cried the whole night, and fell in love with Pai-Nan. Of course, if Pai-Nan had such an impression, then it’s possible to argue that she’s the first moe character, but regardless of what character has the distinction, I suspect that the tragic element which defines both of these characters also has an influence on the development of female characters in anime and manga, and by extension the idea of moe.
In the trailer to Hols: Prince of the Sun, Hilda is introduced, accompanied by on-screen text saying, “Am I a demon, or a human being?” This highlights the inner conflict of her character, as Hilda is both the sister of the main villain as well as the love interest of the hero. She plays both a romantic and an antagonistic role, and the fact that she struggles over which is her “true self” is the inherent tragedy of the character. Star-crossed lovers are nothing new to media, of course, but according to The Pretty Character Chronicles: The History of Animation Heroines, 1958-1999, the early Toei animated films, of which both Hols and Legend of the White Serpent are included (though these titles are themselves about a decade apart), often feature heroines who begin the movies as antagonists.
Pai-Nan doesn’t quite fit this concept, as she’s more of a tragically cursed character, a princess in need of rescue in the vein of a classic Disney Princess. This makes a degree of sense, given that Toei’s goal was to try to be the “Disney of the East,” but when you look at heroines in classic Disney films, none of them fulfill the role that Hilda or other similar Toei heroines play as partial antagonists. In fact, if you look at Disney animated films as a whole, there’s pretty much only one character who does fit this bill: Megara from Hercules, a film from 1997. In other words, “damsel-in-distress” is not quite the function of these Toei heroines.
What relevance does this have to current anime and the presence of moe, then? My argument is that the tragedy component of heroines such as Hilda has been reduced or compacted to varying degrees, so when you have a character who has traits commonly considered moe, such as a character who suffers from being short in a slice-of-life comedy, what you’re seeing is an on-going series of tiny tragedies, like with Yuno in Hidamari Sketch. The tsundere, especially the more contemporary tsundere type, is another example, as a character who struggles with being true to her feelings can be considered tragic in her own way. Hidamari Sketch also provides one such character in the form of Natsume, whose feelings for the character Sae remain unrequited due to Natsume’s own stubbornness.
While I think the criticism of moe characters as feeding off the desire of men to want to rescue the poor female victim is valid to a good extent, I think that the quality which has transmitted itself from those early Toei days all the way to the current age is not so much that of the “helpless girl” but that of “helplessness.” A girl tragically trapped in a situation can be moe, but what’s considered even more moe is the heroine who can’t be helped no matter what. In such a case, powerlesssness becomes not so much the half-way point in an elaborate power fantasy, but the end point in and of itself, with the potential for empathy between not just the viewer and the hero, but the viewer and the heroine. Of course, that’s somewhat of an extreme case, and the end result really depends on how individual works wish to resolve the inner conflict of the descendants of the tragic antagonistic heroines.
Over the course of Tamako Market‘s run I noticed that it had a mixed reception, especially among Kyoto Animation fans. I may be mistaken as to how many people really disliked it, but I’ve seen enough to want to say something about it. As for myself, I had considered it an interesting and welcome step forward for the popular studio, and wondered what could be the source of this difference in opinion. After some conversations with friends, I think I’ve figured it out.
To put it simply, for the most part the girls of Tamako Market do not have, in their presentations, visual designs, or their personalities, the sort of near-tangible qualities that have made people in the past fall in love with Kyoani characters. The girls are comparatively less “moe,” and they certainly aren’t tragic, which leaves the show with a different sort of appeal that may seem alien to fans of Kyoto Animation’s existing body of work. The main character Tamako herself is simply a smart and capable but naive girl who loves mochi and who, to a small degree, reminds me of Madoka from Rinne no Lagrange. Dera the talking bird is as far from “cutesy girl” as one can possibly get, and seems to have been particularly unpopular. The main exception seems to be the carpentry girl Kanna (pictured above, left) whose eccentric personality, to be fair, does kind of steal the show.
(I’m fond of Shiori, the girl on the right, myself).
The best way I can describe Tamako Market‘s appeal is that it’s not so much about showing off an ensemble cast consisting of various characters with easily identifiable quirks like how K-On! is, but about showing the residents of the Usagiyama shopping district as a small community of people. While many of the side characters are never really developed, they don’t really need to be, as they add to the feeling of an oxymoronic slow-paced hustle. Seeing the small developments that occur in the residents’ lives feels not so much like “slice of life,” but like a low key-yet-silly comedy.
Someone asked me what anime out there was similar to Tamako Market. After some thought, I realized the answer: Sazae-san, a popular comedy anime about a Japanese housewife and her family, and which 1969 has continued to run on Japanese TV making it the longest-running anime ever. That’s probably the furthest answer from Haruhi possible, so I think that might say it all about how Tamako Market is different, and why I think it’s the sort of show that could’ve gone on forever.
Name: “Goidou, Yui” (五位堂結)
Alias: Katsuragi, Keima (桂木桂馬)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: The World God Only Knows
Goidou Yui is the daughter of a wealthy family, a talented musician, and the vessel for the goddess Mars. Having to deal with overprotective parents and possessing a timid personality, Goidou winds up switching personalities with male classmate and game addict Katsuragi Keima when the soul of a demon enters her body. The real Goidou is not actually a fujoshi in any way, nor is Keima; rather, it is the combined entity of Keima’s soul inside of Yui’s body that is something of a fujoshi.
After their minds return to their original bodies, Goidou takes on a more “masculine” personality, dressing in men’s clothes and even going so far as to try to romance Keima as if he were a dainty maiden. She also takes up the drums and joins her classmate Chisato’s band, the 2-B Pencils. Katsuragi returns to his old self, no longer interested in otome games.
Though not wholly a “fujoshi” mindset, the combined entity of Katsuragi Keima’s mind in Goidou Yui’s body brought Keima’s endless devotion to male-oriented dating sims to female-oriented ones, BL or otherwise.
In one of my earliest posts I ever wrote for Ogiue Maniax, I talked about my desire for Kyoto Animation to go beyond its own limits, to go from just adapting work to making their own original material. Though my opinion of Kyoto Animation isn’t quite as rosy as it was back in 2007, with their new original anime Tamako Market I actually feel like they’ve finally fulfilled those expectations to a fair degree.
Kyoani is known primarily for two things: really solid animation and cute girls. Together, the resulting product is a soft, delicate quality that is unmistakably Kyoto Animation (and which shows like Kokoro Connect and Sora no Woto have tried to mimic), and it affects different adaptations in different ways. For Haruhi and their Key game adaptations it lent weight and significance to characters’ movements, while in K-On! and Nichijou, two manga with sharp and abrupt humor, it caused the anime versions to slow down in terms of comic timing. In the end, it seems to all come down to the cute girls.
Tamako Market is the first Kyoto Animation show I’ve seen to really let the animators spread their wings. Tamako Market has allowed Kyoani to show personality through movement in a greater variety of character types of all shapes and sizes, from small children to geriatrics, to even a person of ambiguous gender and a silly talking bird. The show then places them in a deliberately slow-paced setting in the form of a small-town shopping area, which makes that Kyoani “slice of life” style feel appropriate. What’s more, even though there are indeed still cute girls in Tamako Market, all of the other characters are portrayed differently from them, giving the viewer not only Kyoani’s bread-and-butter but also something even more substantial.
Given the sheer amount of character variety in Tamako Market, I have to now wonder if it wasn’t just that their old shows didn’t allow them to “push their envelope,” but that having to adapt works limited them due to the contact of the original sources. Most of what Kyoto Animation has adapted has come from dating sims, light novels, which often times are all about cute girls, or manga which center around cute girls. While I think Kyoani isn’t ideal for making certain types of works, it’s clear to me from Tamako Market that their strengths, namely their ability to have characters move with almost a sense of tangible liveliness, go beyond what’s expected of them.
Name: Moe-chan (地ちゃん)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Tonari no 801-chan
Chi-chan’ is one of 801-chan’s friends. She is knowledgeable about Akihabara, and her name may reference her abilities as a tour guide. She appears fond of the maid cafe Schatzkiste.
Nothing is known, other than that she is a fujoshi.