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I’ve been thinking a lot about female characters in anime and manga recently (not exactly a surprise, I know), and it’s something where, even if I don’t have a fully formed argument or point to make, I feel compelled to write something down. Forgive me as I meander through my own thoughts in an attempt to piece it all together.
About a month ago I was reading the comments section on polygon.com in regards to the portrayal of female characters in video games. I can’t remember which game they were talking about, but one commenter said something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t bring up Japan when trying to show strong women in video games because it’s such a sexist culture. Just look at anime and manga,” and it made me bristle. I do think Japanese culture is sexist in many ways, but the idea that this perception of Japan as sexist made it impossible for Japanese fiction to have really good female characters in this person’s eyes bothered me because I’ve seen plenty from every period of anime and manga.
I know it was just one comment on a video game article, but it got me thinking more broadly about what people see in anime and manga, and to what extent the image of anime and manga as sexist is fueled by what people want to see. I recently saw a comment that criticized Heartcatch Precure! for encouraging girls to be stereotypically feminine by having the character of Itsuki, who normally dresses like a boy, express a desire to be more girly. While I know there are plenty of examples of tomboy characters who end up feeling like they need to dress like girls to attract their male love interest, Itsuki’s story is more about how she suppressed the side of her which enjoys cute things out of a somewhat misguided sense of duty and responsibility. Yet, rather than taking this as the message, it was like as soon as the person saw the rough outlines of the stereotype, surely it would play out the same as always.
There are most certainly a good deal of works which go out of their way to objectify women for male consumption, but I just find that there are also plenty of instances of well-portrayed women and girls in anime and manga. Whether it’s Princess Jellyfish or Rideback, Kekkaishi or Gowapper 5 Godam, it seems like these female characters get ignored because they’re, somewhat ironically, not as eye-catching as a Queen’s Blade or an I Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! There seems to be this idea that anime = sexism, and while even the works I mentioned as strong examples aren’t entirely devoid of sexism themselves, I also don’t think it’s as simple as just slapping the misogynist label on Japanese media as a whole. Messages regarding women in anime and manga can be so diverse and divergent.
At this point I’ve seen a lot of 60s and 70s shoujo, and I’ve noticed a clear trend of mischievous tomboy heroines from that time period. Even putting aside an extreme example such as Oscar from Rose of Versailles who was raised as a man to uphold her family’s proud military tradition, you have Candy from Candy Candy, who’s adventurous and constantly challenging the conceitedness of the upper class, and Angie from Petite Angie, who is portrayed as an extremely clever detective. You have Ayuko from Attack No.1, whose aggressive desire to win at volleyball inspires the rest of her teammates, and Yumi from Sign wa V! who initially plots to sabotage her teammates because of how much she despises volleyball. Hiromi from Aim for the Ace, Lunlun from Hana no Ko Lunlun, Masumi from Swan, the list goes on and on. All of these characters have their fair share of personal agency (even if it’s not always an ideal amount). Given that the trend of the strong, mischievous tomboy was clearly a “thing,” and I do believe it continued in some form well beyond the 70s (Utena is an obvious one, but perhaps Lina Inverse from Slayers counts too, for example?), I just have to wonder about the disconnect between that and the perception of anime and manga as inherently misogynistic and where it may have come from.
Is it a matter of age of these older titles, that if people were able to access the works these characters are from, that they would change their minds? Is it that shoujo doesn’t act enough as the “face” of anime and manga? Could it be that, as much as we’d like to think we’ve gone beyond the stereotype, anime is still viewed as essentially “porn or Pokemon?” If the ratio were different, and there were just fewer fanservice titles or works where girls are basically a cheerleading squad for the heroes, would detractors be more charitable towards anime and manga, or is it inescapable as long as some titles are still like that? For that matter, to what extent does the western image of the submissive Asian woman affect and interact with how people see all female characters coming from Japan, and how does it differ from the similar stereotype as viewed by Japan (I can of course admit that it’s there too)?
What shapes people’s views of female characters in anime and manga? I guess that’s the question I want to explore the most.
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, and that “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 which 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, turned out to be 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 is 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.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is probably my favorite show of the spring season. It has a very strong science fictional feel without constantly, constantly delving into exposition, and it has some interesting narrative themes too, as well as ways of expressing those themes. It also has a strong cast of characters through whom the world is experienced, and the excellent design of the robot Chamber also doesn’t hurt. Episode 11 in particular caught my interest, so I’d like to discussi t.
In episode 11, Ledo’s superior officer Kugel returns. Initially disappearing in episode 1, Kugel turns out to have been on the other side of the planet, where he has basically become the god of a people over there. Using the philosophy of the Galactic Alliance, Kugel moved their way of life away from a familial/religious structure and more towards a stratified meritocracy. This is, of course, quite different from Ledo’s own experiences.
Key to this difference is the reveal that, due to an endemic disease, Kugel cannot leave the sterile environment of his own cockpit. Although this decision is clearly practical in many ways, it also sets up the idea that the cockpit of his Machine Caliber is a bubble, not only physically but also ideologically. Because Kugel is unable/unwilling to leave the safety of his environment, he never had the chance to experience firsthand the way of life of the people who now worship him, nor for their philosophy to “contaminate” him. Even though he’s basically a good person (as can be seen when he saves Ledo in episode 1), Kugel continues to follow the hard line of the Galactic Alliance without flinching.
I think it’s a really nice piece of symbolism, and what I especially like about this development is that it’s sort of the “war comes to Earth” theme which seemed very likely from the start, but in a different sense. With Kugel, Gargantia, and then Ledo in the middle, it’s more of a clash of ideas and perhaps even a postcolonial criticism of the idea of bringing “civilization” to other cultures.
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.