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Over the past few months, Anita Sarkeesian has released the first two videos on her series concerning tropes regarding women in video games. Back when it was first announced, I had my concerns that she would so emphasize what has gone wrong that she wouldn’t leave sufficient space for what has gone right, or even what was meant to be female empowerment but fails for whatever reason. Later, after having done some further reading, I amended my thoughts on the matter when I realized that, even if it wasn’t my intent, the idea that women (as well as people in general) should settle for “good enough” as if that’s the best they could hope for in regards to portrayals of women in media is a problem.
I watched the first two episodes, which concern the “damsel in distress” trope. The third one, which is supposed to address some of the inversions or subversions of the damsel device, is not yet out, so I can’t at this point speak about that element, but I’d still like to state my thoughts on what I’ve seen so far. I find Anita’s strongest overall argument to be the idea that video games have tended to assume violence as a primary course of action so often that as games have tried to become more sophisticated this mechanic limits the potential avenues for solutions beyond “punching them until they die.” As Anita notes, the inertia created by the games of old, both in terms of having damsels and having violence as a means to save them (or not), is perpetuated, though not out of malice but from not thinking about other alternatives.
Multiple times during the videos, Sarkeesian talks about how the hero having to rescue (or even mercy kill) the damsel turns the woman into an object or goal for a male power fantasy, and one of the concerns I have with this is that, even if she might not mean it, it can be interpeted as casting male power fantasies in a negative light. Certainly I understand some of the problems of the male power fantasy and how its ubiquity can create a narrow scope of examples of acceptable behavior for men in lieu of male characters capable of functioning in different capacities , but I don’t think male power fantasies are wholly the product of perceived gender role imbalances where a man must protect the woman, nor are they mainly about the trivialization of women, even if it on some level contributes to the perpetuation of such stereotypes.
Rather, rescuing the girl speaks more to the fantasy that a man can be relied on no matter what, and is capable of accomplishing anything and everything. Thus, when the damsel is fridged (killed or injured for the sake of advancing the male character’s story), it is about playing with these assumptions and desires, an attempted move towards more diversity and creativity in storylines even if the products end up not being very well thought out, containing many of the problems which Anita points out. The power to do something in every possible circumstance can also be found in the idea of the self-made man or the rugged outdoorsman, who can be thrown in the middle of a jungle and come out of it with muscles flexing. I think it’s a valid desire for men to want to be able to be relied on, though once again I understand that wanting to be relied on and being relied on as a requirement for masculinity are two different things.
You might be asking, “But if there are all of these problems with the male power fantasy, why even defend it?” In that case, compare the male power fantasy to another type of “power” fantasy, the rags-to-riches story, where a person uses their wits, hard work, and/or luck to go from a life of poverty to one of profit and wealth. There are many valid criticisms for such stories, such as the idea that it reinforces an unforgiving capitalist mindset where money is the most important thing in life, or that if rags-to-riches stories present the idea that anyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps then it implies that people who haven’t done so simply haven’t tried hard enough. In other words, there’s a clear downside to this type of narrative. However, there are people who enjoy these stories and fantasize about doing the same thing, even if they are conforming to a flawed concept that is a product of assumed societal values it still speaks to their desires. This ability to respond to people’s desires is one of the things I think art and creative media can and should have, as is the ability to criticize that very same thing.
To restate, it’s not entirely clear if Sarkeesian is saying that male power fantasies are tainted from the roots, but I could see this being an issue that skeptical viewers might jump on to show that she is “man-hating” even though she isn’t. At the very least, Sarkeesian points to the ability for male characters to get captured and then break out of captivity through their own strength and wits as a way in which male characters are not truly in distress, and this scenario has a clear power fantasy component which can function without the victimization of women as a plot device.
Of course, this leaves the question of where the “female power fantasies” are, and in this regard Sarkeesian is right that the repeated use of women as damsels in video games feeds into the perpetuation of these scenarios. However, my opinion is that this does not make the male power fantasy in video game form itself the main problem and that the character in need of rescue needs to be removed from media, but the lack of alternatives for characters of all genders and sexualities to do more and be more. That said, I think Anita’s goal in making these videos is on some level to create awareness so that people will think to produce these alternatives, and in that regard she is getting people to talk.
The impression I generally have of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is that it possesses attractive qualities similar to anime, especially when it comes to the more episodic types of magical girl anime. The way MLP respects its assumed younger audience while presenting a variety of characters with fleshed-out and admirable personalities who show many valid ways for girls to be girls and more generally for people to be people reminds me most strongly of Ojamajo Doremi. However, it is the case that not every MLP fan is an anime fan nor vice versa, and it is even the case that some anime fans found themselves more attracted to My Little Pony, undergoing a transformation from otaku to brony. While this could be argued as a failure of anime to retain its audience, and sometimes fingers are pointed at whatever current trend there is, I think it is important to not just look at what anime “had then” and what it “lacks now,” but to also consider the possibility that different anime fans came to anime in the past with varying expectations and areas of adaptation.
Picture two anime fans of the same show who love the story and the characters equally much. The first fan loves the fact that anime is from Japan. It’s different, perhaps even exotic, and to view animation from another country with its own tropes and cultural assumptions and elements is part of the fun. He’s not necessarily a Japanophile, nor does he think that things are better if they’re from Japan, but the fact that it isn’t his own culture adds to the appeal.
For the second fan, however, that cultural difference feels more like a barrier. Rather than it possessing an inviting quality, the culture gap is something which the second fan feels he must work through in order to get to the story underneath. Certainly this fan genuinely enjoys this anime, but if he could get the same show only with the cultural elements naturally familiar to him, then he would much prefer that.
There’s plenty of middle-ground between these two types, but I think this hypothetical scenario is one example of what has happened with people who might have been anime fans but aren’t, or at least anime fans who have found greater resonance with cartoons which are not anime. My Little Pony is similar to Ojamajo Doremi in a number of respects, but MLP assumes an American audience first where Doremi assumes a Japanese one, and having the characters behave in ways more culturally familiar can have a significant impact on the connections people make with a show, even if it were basically the same work as the one that is less culturally close. This can even be as simple as information and access just being easier in your own language.
I can’t find the source, but I recall at an interview or a pnael for Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel The Legend of Korra, the creators stated that when making the series, they specifically had their Korean animators look at American body language and mannerisms. Like MLP, Avatar is a show which bears similarities to anime in a number of ways, but this cultural consideration was seen as a way to convey some of those “anime-like” qualities to people who are not necessarily receptive to anime, and perhaps by extension, those who are tolerant of anime’s differences but could do without them either way.
This is not an indictment of the first fan for prioritizing Japan too much, or the second one for not being open to other cultures, nor do I think that this explains everything about the landscape of fandom between anime and other cartoons. There is plenty more to discuss, including fans of both anime and American cartoons in other countries (including Japan!). Instead, I wanted to just bring up the idea that fandom can be quite a malleable thing, and that we may assume there are more connections within a fandom than there might actually be.
First thing first, Genshiken anime info dump! it’s been confirmed that the Genshiken II (or Nidaime) anime will be starting this summer, with a different studio but with a lot of old staff. I do find it kind of funny that Genshiken can’t seem to get a consistent animation studio or anime character designer, and given the sheer variation of work that the character designer Taniguchi Junichirou has worked on, it’s hard to predict how they’ll look exactly. Also, Uesaka Sumire will be singing the opening. Next month is the voice cast reveal, so let the speculation begin!
In Chapter 87, Hato continues to try to be one of the boys, but the fact that he is unable to draw properly for the sake of Ogiue’s ComiFes doujinshi when not in drag causes him to go back to it, at least in private. At the same time, Ogiue has decided to charge into the 21st century by buying a pen tablet monitor in order to save time and manpower, but the transition isn’t as simple as she hoped for. As ComiFes is drawing near, familiar faces appear as Angela makes her return to Japan and Keiko is looking to take another stab at the event.
I literally laughed out loud when I saw the pen tablet monitor. It was clearly introduced by Kio Shimoku as a metaphor for not only Hato’s current situation, but also the Genshiken club itself and even the manga as a whole. In this regard, I think it does an excellent job of representing the dimensions of a generational divide.
By showing Ogiue struggling with her tablet despite purchasing it to alleviate her work schedule, Genshiken touches upon the idea that transition can be a difficult thing because of how much we must acknowledge and rework our assumptions. The strengths and limitations of the zoom function, referenced during Ogiue’s little rant, is the perfect example. On the one hand, it lets you get up close and put detail into even the smallest part of a drawing, but on the other hand it can be stifling if one is obsessed with detail. Ogiue’s plight somewhat mirrors the difficulty by which the manga itself has transitioned into its new cast and their very different values, not only in terms of the content of the manga, but also for a good portion of the manga’s readerbase which seems to see the new Genshiken as “not Genshiken.”
However, I think it would be a mistake to say that the ideas implied by the tablet transition are narrowly limited to Genshiken as a topic, as I really think it goes beyond this one manga. What really adds to the tablet metaphor is the conversation between Hato, Yajima, and Yoshitake where they mention the simple fact that, for some artists, digital drawing is all they’ve ever known.
Drafting, cleaning, paneling, for them, everything is done on the monitor, and it highlights this idea that, rather than this newer generation of artists being untrained in the old ways, that their “environment” is simply different and they have adapted to it in kind. Instead of the tablet being a facsimile of “real” drawing by mimicking pen on paper, for them the tablet is real drawing. That difference in mindset is so central to the changes between generations, whether it be music and art, dance, technology, or any other topic, and it shows how neither the old or new generation are “bad,” but that people are the product of their experiences.
I get the sense that, as the manga continues, Ogiue will continue to use the tablet, but that it will require her to adjust her current work habits to better fit it, or to make it more of a supplementary tool. In either case, if she does incorporate it, it means that her work may never be the same again. The impossibility of returning to the “old way” is also shown in the beginning of this chapter, when we see Madarame, Hato, and Kuchiki discussing anime much in the same way the club used to, with mentions of sakuga, seasons (cour), and the economic side. While definitely similar to the old Genshiken, something’s not quite right, especially in terms of how Yoshitake and Yajima appear a bit alienated by it because it’s not the atmosphere they’ve participated in and even helped to create. It feels a bit artifical and out of step with time, which also has implications in regards to Hato, who is trying to act like a “proper” male otaku.
If we look at the notion of the “proper” otaku (and perhaps even the whole debate over fake geeks), it’s kind of funny that people prescribe a certain set of behavior as “proper” for a group that has been traditionally stereotyped as behaving improperly by virtue of being otaku. I think Hato’s vain attempt to quit crossdressing and yaoi may be a sign of how ridiculous this can be, as if the manga is saying that it’s not as simple as getting rid of the girly stuff to bring back the “true” Genshiken, and that there has been a change in environment that the manga has been trying to address.
I may have gone a little too crazy with that analysis, but I honestly think that I haven’t completely or properly explained the intricacies of the tablet metaphor, though I’ll leave it as is for now. It’s been a while since we’ve had this much Ogiue in a chapter, so I’m pleased in that regard, and I’d been wondering when Angela would show up again a she’s a significant factor in the whole Madarame-Hato story. The fact that Keiko is planning to go to ComiFes out of her own free will may actually say everything about how much the world in and around Genshiken has changed.
(A bit of Ogiue Tohoku-ben inner dialogue teaching us that Ogiue is still not used to Kanto winters.)
I once had a conversation with friends where they expressed bewilderment that people could enjoy casual games. To them, games are about challenges, puzzles, something to figure out in order to overcome or outwit an opponent be they computer-generated or another human being. As a gamer myself it’s something I understand, but I also know how daunting or even draining the “gamer” mindset can be, and I feel the ups and downs of “true gaming” in my experience with online mahjong.
I’ve been playing Japanese-style mahjong for a few years now, and it’s a game I find fascinating for a variety of reasons. In mahjong you have this mixture of skill and luck which creates a dynamic interaction between its players. The game is such that it’s possible to create complex plans and intricate webs of deception to upset your opponents, but the random component means the best-laid plans can go to waste, and adapting to the “unfairness” of the luck elements by knowing when to call it quits becomes part of the strategy. In other words, when playing mahjong your mind has to be sharp and focused, but what happens when you’re not at your best?
This is the problem I run into with mahjong sometimes, and why I feel able to understand the casual game mindset. I love mahjong at this point, but there are times when the day was long and I’m all worn out mentally, and I’m looking for just a way to relieve stress. At times like this, I’ve made the mistake of trying to use online mahjong as a way to relax and I’ve been punished nearly every time. In those instances, I want to treat mahjong like a punching bag, except that in this case the bag punches back. Mahjong is the type of game where trying to win a hand at all costs just makes you vulnerable. In these situations when one’s mental condition isn’t the best, decent opponents can exploit it without even trying because it’s basically the equivalent of running straight at them in the hopes they won’t fire first. Naturally, watching my rank drop as I make this simple mistake over and over again causes more stress instead of less.
It’s not mahjong’s fault, though, that it fails to do what I want it to in those instances, and that’s where casual games come in. They can be your reward for a hard-fought day, as just a way to escape from pressure. The games might be even more random than mahjong, but clicking a lot can basically be the mental equivalent of punching a pillow over and over. This is not to say that casual games can’t have any skill or challenge component (Angry Birds being perhaps the most prominent example, and you can pretty much auto-pilot Tetris), but that it can be tough to feel like life is beating you down and then a video game is too. Sometimes, people might just want to have the comfort of knowing they’ll always win (or at least win eventually), and they might even be willing to put down $5 just for that luxury.
In the past I’ve written in an attempt to pinpoint what I find so troubling about some portrayals of “strong” female characters, especially in American superhero and fantasy comics, but despite having expressed various reasons for these impressions as such I still have never felt that the answers I’ve given were entirely adequate. It’s been an on-going process of self-questioning and observation, and the reason I’m making this post is that I’ve come to realize another issue when it comes to the representation of female strength.
It came to me while I was reading the comic Flipside, which features as its main character a sexy and strong female jester named Maytag. Throughout the first volume, Maytag is repeatedly confronted with a similar sequence of events. Some bad men confront her, threaten her with rape or call her a bitch, and then Maytag turns their expectations upside down and defeats them (for the most part), while still emphasizing her sexuality or making some sexual innuendos.
Keep in mind that Flipside isn’t a particularly egregious example, as it suffers more (at least early on, I haven’t read further) from a lack of experience and characters overly designed as wish fulfillment, nor are anime and manga completely innocent of this. Also, the act of knocking out your would-be rapists can be empowering imagery. Instead, what I realized by seeing this two-step process over and over in such a short span of pages is that the the seeming need for sexual threats to happen in order to establish a female character as strong diminishes a story because strength winds up being defined as the ability to not get sexually assaulted. In these scenarios, the girl can’t be strong in a world which accepts the possibility of strength in a woman as a believable occurrence, only in a world which has to constantly remind her what a girl she is and how as a girl she’s liable to be attacked.
Another problem is what I would label the “straw misogynist,” or characters who are purposely set up to be extremely sexist so that they can be put in their place when the girl fights back. The way straw misogynists are used in situations like the ones I’ve been describing is that by threatening rape or sexual abuse they immediately bring attention to the sexuality of the girl target, creating this mixed message where the thrill is both in that danger but also in the sexual way the girl fights back. As a result, it ends up conveying something along the lines of, “You might not be able to overpower me sexually, but if you could oh boy would you be having fun!” And even a sexual fantasy such as that is not a problem because it’s just fantasy, but if it’s being touted as an example of how female characters can be strong, then there should be no surprise if some readers reject that notion.
This is not to deny the use of dangerous situations for women in stories, nor do I think that stories need to “ignore” gender. Instead, what I want to emphasize is how showing someone is strong is a different experience from showing someone is strong with constant and persistent caveats to that notion.
On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?
From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited. Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?
The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.
I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.
Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.
Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.
Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.
The “Fake Geek Girl” is a topic that has been discussed extensively, mostly in terms of the sexism that arises from the designation and how it’s used. Certainly this criticism and discussion is warranted, but I think that understanding its connotative usages requires to some degree a removal of the “Girl” and a look at just the concept of the “Fake Geek” independent of gender. With that in mind, I’m going to lay out why I think the Fake Geek, or rather the concept of such, seems to engender bitter, defensive stances from those who would label themselves True, Legitimate, No Artificial Flavors Geeks (100% Authentic).
The idea of the Fake Geek (tied to the hipster) is someone who uses their feigned or marginal interest in a topic to gain some sort of advantage. That advantage may be an enhanced reputation or some form of cred, but generally the benefit is characterized as being able to increase one’s social circle, be it in the form of friends or otherwise. While I think that 1) any geek who has ever made good friends through their hobbies cherishes those friendships, and 2) we all to some extent have decided to check something out or keep up with something to a degree for social reasons, and thus I imagine the idea of friendships forged through nerd fires is not unappealing to people who are against “Fake Geeks,” what I believe to be the significant component in the creation of the “Fake Geek” as a symbol of disingenuous behavior has to do with the notion of “sacrifice.”
While geek friendship is more than possible, historically the label of geek came at a price, which is to say that it made friendship less possible with large groups of people instead of more. By being so engrossed in chosen, socially unapproved interests, geeks sacrificed their opportunities for social interactions and the friendships which would have been more likely to occur. When friendships were made through fandom or hobbies, it presumably required people who both (perhaps unconsciously) were aware of what they have given up. When you contrast this with the very idea that I talked about earlier, that the identify of the geek might be considered a clear and obvious way to make friends with others, that it no longer requires a “sacrifice” but may in fact be the opposite—something with socially inherent benefits—it comes across as a contradiction.
Imagine a guy who loves to eat eggs, but was told from the very beginning that eggs are high in cholesterol, bad for his health, and that anyone who ate them often would suffer. Wanting to remain healthy but also wishing to maintain his egg consumption, he adjusted every aspect of his diet, exercise, and daily habits to accommodate. Then, one day a report comes out that says the cholesterol in eggs are perfectly fine, and that everyone can benefit from eating eggs more often. Of course, the guy benefits from this information too, but he looks back and sees everything he gave up for the sake of his love of eggs, and then sees everyone around him now scrambling and poaching without a care in the world. The guy, understandably if also sadly, ends up accusing these newcomers of not being true egg connoisseurs.
Now, if you layer on the strange relationship geek culture has traditionally had with women, one which mixes reverence, jealousy, and desire, I think you might start to see why the “Fake Geek Girl” is considered especially objectionable by those who decry their presence. A girl, with her “feminine charms,” is supposedly able to bridge the social gaps the old geek cannot, and on top of that is this notion that being a geek is a boon to social interaction instead of a disease, creating what is perceived as an “unfair advantage.” The Fake Geek Girl becomes a reminder of all the geek is not or could not have, and thus a bitter reaction is born from its conceptual existence.
Manhwa, or Korean comics, are something I am relatively unfamiliar with. I can spot the similarities and obvious influences from manga in modern manhwa, and I’ve looked at a few titles here and there, but I have neither the knowledge of history nor the personal experience to say I have a firm sense of how manhwa “is.” Given that my expertise (if you can call it that) is primarily in manga, however, I found it quite interesting when a manhwa title I’ve read recently, Dragon Who, takes elements clearly inspired by manga but cross-pollinates them in a way which normally never happens among Japanese comics.
A title from 2009, Dragon Who is about a dragon boy named Roa Coatl who travels to South Korea to find the descendant of Quetzacoatl to make her his bride so that they can prevent an impending global disaster. In other words, it’s a shounen-esque school comedy/romance/action title that probably wouldn’t feel too alien to manga readers aside from the decidedly Korean names for most of the characters. Given that comfortable familiarity I think one would expect certain stylistic approaches, and indeed Dragon Who looks the part of a shounen manga to a good degree, but take a look at this image:
(By the way, for those unfamiliar, manhwa reads left to right.)
The character designs look quite shounen, perhaps even closer to late 90s shounen titles, but the use of blooming flowers in the foreground to introduce a character (and this is the main heroine Go So-Ahn’s first appearance) is an element straight out of shoujo. When combined with the fact that So-Ahn herself is designed to be fairly normal as opposed to strikingly beautiful, looking closer to a best friend character than a main character herself, it makes for an almost defiant combination of visual elements: a shounen title with a shoujo-esque heroine with shounen heroine looks.
Not only that, but Dragon Who has its own fair share of attractive guys, and while the title is neither harem nor reverse harem, the following image can give a certain impression as to how the title skews.
At this point, I think it would be easy to chalk it up to the popularity of shounen titles among female reader inside and outside of Japan (and I would have to assume Korea as well), and the titles which are designed to appeal to girls in Japanese comics to varying degrees such as Black Butler and Kuroko’s Basketball, but I’m not so sure that explains it. For one thing, Dragon Who is still keen to include elements like beefy muscular guys who aren’t all lithe bishounen, as well as fanservice for male readers.
Just to be clear, this is not a matter of manhwa looking “enough” like manga or not, but rather seeing how the manhwa inspired by manga doesn’t have to play by the rules (or at least plays with chunks of rules from four different places). To me, it feels more like Dragon Who is the product of authors taking aspects and visual language from manga regardless of genre or intended audience and putting them all in one place, or like if a shoujo writer were paired with a shounen artist. It’s a crossing of assumed boundaries which can show how thin and permeable those walls can be if only we’d allow them to be.
Whenever we talk about the japanophile (or the wapanese or weeaboo or other terms), the rhetoric is that this person discovers anime (or something), starts to believe Japan is a superior country and culture to the one they currently live in, and if they stop believing, it’s because they realize that the ideal Japan of their imaginations does not match up with the truth. The assumption here is that because Japan is not simply the land of anime and Pocky, or ukiyo-e and sushi, that it trivializes the japanophile’s beliefs because there is this contradiction with reality. But what if we removed “Japan” from this process?
It makes logical sense for the japanophile to discover Japan, create a modified image of it in their head, and then desire it as a “superior” culture, but what of that potential for desire in the first place? Does Japan trigger this desire to be a part of a different culture, or is that sentiment already there to some degree, and that it takes Japan (or anywhere) to allow a person to focus those desires on a concrete example with a relationship to reality? As intelligent and visionary as human beings can be, there tend to be limitations as to how far we think or consider imaginary or hypothetical situations, and maybe this is just one version of that
If we remove “Japan,” then what we’re left with is a person who desires for a better culture and environment than the one they currently live in, where better means one more understanding, one which reinforces their beliefs and their wants. Whether that is out of some progressive vision or simply a venue to live out fantasies without consequence, I’m not stating any moral or intellectual prerogative to such feelings, but I almost find it to be a sort of utopian mindset.
I’ve often been told that I cherish variety in my entertainment (particularly my anime) to an unusual degree, and if there’s one anime I find myself getting into disagreements over more than anything else, it’s The Sky Crawlers (second might be Xam’d: Lost Memories).
Directed by Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell fame, I reviewed The Sky Crawlers favorably, noting that the way it’s able to effectively instill in the audience the same sense of mind-numbing monotony that the characters themselves experience is something quite impressive. Of course, that also makes it difficult to watch, something that can bore you beyond the point of no return, so the debates over the quality of The Sky Crawlers tends to come down to the following question: how entertaining should entertainment be?
The argument against The Sky Crawlers is that you can make a film which conveys that sense of monotony in its characters without having to drag the audience down with it, but my feeling has always been that this is just not the same effect. However, what I realize as well is that, as a person who highly values variety of content and concepts in my anime, it’s not so much that I think the approach taken by Oshii’s film is superior, that there is indeed something inherently more artistic about making the audience live that boredom, but rather that it is a valid approach to take in making a work of art (or entertainment). In other words, I would not want all of my anime to be like The Sky Crawlers, and I do not put it above other anime as I do not prize experimentation above all else: I simply like the fact that something like The Sky Crawlers exists.
Broadening the point of view to not just focus on something as esoteric as The Sky Crawlers, I have to wonder how much people are willing to welcome greater variety in anime provided they get enough of the types of anime they enjoy. We can talk about how there’s too much of X or Y genre of anime and how it might be stifling the kinds we enjoy, but what if that wasn’t the case, and the popular thing was the niche and vice versa? Is any imbalance problematic, or are “problematic” anime okay if they’re in small doses?