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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.

Free! and Free! Eternal Summer spoilers below.

Whenever Free! ends, it really knows how to communicate its core values, whether it’s the original series or Eternal Summer. Ostensibly about competitive swimming, these finales basically say that, unlike so many other sports anime and manga, that winning not only isn’t everything, but it isn’t even that important in the first place.

At the end of season 1, the character Rin joins his old friends for a relay at a high school competition, revitalizing the lifelong bond he’s had with them. They swim better than they ever have before and even win the race, but run into the issue that Rin is from a different school that’s also competing at the event. The team is disqualified, but what’s emphasized here is that getting first was not the point. Rather, what they have truly achieved is strengthening their relationships with each other.

In the final episode of season 2, the main cast reaches the nationals for relay, and during the race each character has a vision of the joy of swimming. The main character, Haruka, is the last member to race, and upon entering the water sees his teammates swimming alongside him. When he reaches the finish line, everyone cheers, and we’re greeted with images of the team smiling and hugging. By all narrative and film convention, it looks as if they had won the whole thing, but later we see that they only got 6th place. They weren’t celebrating their championsip, but their accomplishments as a group. Moreover, Haruka, who throughout Eternal Summer has felt pressure over the fact that becoming a professional swimmer means having to care about trophies and times, ultimately finds that, for him, winning is merely a way to swim more, a means to an end.

Free! is geared towards a female audience. Whether it’s the well-animated flexible and muscular swimmers’ bodies on the cast, gentle yet strong personalities, or their close and sometimes tumultuous bonds, this is an anime that provides visual fanservice in a way that not even series like The Prince of Tennis or Kuroko’s Basketball could offer. Those other series, still grounded in their shounen sports manga formulas, end up emphasizing winners and losers first and foremost, but Free! is all about the relationship known as friendship, reflecting a desire to get away from the stereotypically male desire of victory through competition.

This is not to say that manga for male audiences based in competition necessarily always emphasize winning (see the manga Touch!), nor that there is no such thing as a manga for a female audience that stresses the competitive environment (Chihayafuru). However, when looking more broadly, what I find is that series that try to draw in men and boys primarily will often use friendship and teamwork as a means to victory, while series that target women and girls will do the opposite and use competition as a means to friendship and teamwork.

Sometimes targeting a demographic isn’t wholly intentional, but this is how a fanbase is formed anyway, and other times it can be hard to tell which is which. It might even flip back and forth throughout a given series. Free! doesn’t have any of that ambiguity. It knows exactly what it wants, and in the end we have to wonder for ourselves if winning is that big of a deal.

receptacle-05

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

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

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

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

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

It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.

Fujoshissu!

Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.

81 Diver

81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.

In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.

 

 

Sign wa V! (The V Sign!, by Mochizuki Akira, is among the most popular volleyball manga ever. Debuting the same year as Attack No.1 (the volleyball manga in terms of notoriety) in 1968, both of these titles capitalized on the success of the volleyball boom that had began in 1964 when the Japanese national women’s team won the gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Sign wa V! even received over the years not one but two live-action television dramas. Like Attack No.1, Sign wa V! is a “sports guts” story, where intense training and passion are the keys to victory. At one point, the main character tries to smash her hand with a rock because playing volleyball might mean ruining her mom’s life but she just can’t because she loves volleyball that much.

The main reason I’m writing this post, however, is not to review or promote Sign wa V! (but you can read it online here), but to talk about a particular character and her possible influence on anime and manga. A few volumes into the series, Sign wa V! introduces a new character, Jun Sanders (pictured above). Half-black, half-Japanese, she’s characterized by an intense desire to compete in volleyball, and sensitivity over her skin color. Her name is a mix of Japanese and English, though Jun sounds similar to “June,” and Sanders is not her real last name but taken from the orphanage where she was raised. When Jun first appears, she has an intense rivalry with the main character. Curiously, in the 1969 drama she was played by an actress of Taiwanese descent.

The first sign that Jun Sanders may have had some impact on Japanese media, at least as far as I can find, is the 1974 anime and manga Great Mazinger. A sequel to the seminal giant robot series Mazinger Z, this follow-up focuses on a new hero, a new demonic threat, and a more powerful robot to fight them. In this series, the protagonist has a female assistant (pictured above) who aids him in battle using her own giant robot, Venus A. Her name is Honoo Jun (written surname first), and she’s half-black, half-Japanese, with a strong and fiery personality. Though perhaps merely a coincidence, her default outfit looks similar to one worn by Jun Sanders.

Fast forward to 1999 and the release of the video game Gate Keepers, which also received an anime and a manga. I have no experience with Gate Keepers myself, but according to plot summaries it’s about an alternate-universe post-WWII Japan with alien invaders.This series features an American character named Jun Thunders (pictured below) who, just like Jun Sanders and Honoo Jun, has relatively dark skin and long, dark hair. What makes Jun Thunders even more clearly a reference to Sign wa V! is that “Thunders” and “Sanders” are written the same way in Japanese (サンダーズ). Moreover, Gate Keepers takes place in 1969, the same time in which Sign wa V! is set (which was the “present” at the time). Also, the Gate Keepers Jun might also be a reference to the Great Mazinger Jun because honoo means “flame,” so there’s a thunder-flame elemental connection.

There might be more characters in the Jun Sanders lineage, but these are the only ones I can find at this point. If anyone has any more information or knows other characters influenced by Jun, feel free to leave a comment.

 

While at this point we have an understanding of the concept of a “weak” protagonists in giant robot anime thanks to characters like Ikari Shinji from Evangelion, rarely are main robots allowed to exude an image of weakness and vulnerability as well. If we even look at Shinji himself, while he’s known for being passive and lacking in will, the actual EVA-01 looks monstrous and acts even more terrifyingly.

In most cases when there is a “weak mecha,” it ends up being a joke character’s ride, whether that’s Boss Borot from Mazinger Z or Kerot from Combattler V. In terms of actual main-focus giant robots, the closest this concept gets its maybe Dai-Guard the almost-literal “budget robot,” or perhaps the perpetually incomplete Guntsuku-1 from Robotics;Notes. Maybe the Scope Dog from VOTOMS counts because it’s so disposable, but like Dai-Guard it still at least looks strong.

Of course it only makes sense that mecha tend to be on the powerful side; they’re giant mechanical humanoids after all. It’s just something I’m starting to consider a potential limitation of the genre and an interesting space to explore.

The Japanese manga site devoted to free and legal distribution of out-of-print manga, J-Comi, has relaunched as “Zeppan Manga Library.” This change has been effect since at least July 10th of 2014, when the tablet app was updated to reflect this new name.

J-Comi was originally created by Akamatsu Ken, author of Love HinaNegima!, and currently UQ Holder. As a show of his dedication to the project, he began by putting the entirety of Love Hina on the site.

Prior to the re-branding I had not visited the site in quite a while, so I don’t know for sure what changes have occurred as a result of this transformation. One interesting note, however, is that light novels are on the site now. While people might know about modern light novels-turned-anime such as Sword Art Online, Toradora, and My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute, most of the light novels on the site are older, less commonly known titles, such as Hayami Shinji’s Summer Road,which was first published in 1988, and Arisato Akara’s Under Heavens Family from 2001. I haven’t read any of the light novels yet myself, but the idea of approaching different sets of tropes compared to contemporary light novels sounds pretty exciting.

There’s also a manga in the “sexy” category that ran in CoroCoro Comic called Famicom Rocky (pictured above), and I can’t wait to find out what the heck that’s all about.

The sexy category is not to be confused with the site’s adult section.

Just as Marilyn Monroe graced the first issue of Playboy, it’s often somewhat telling who a magazine gets to be their first cover girl. For the anime magazine Newtype which debuted in 1985, it turns out to be Cham, the fairy girl from Aura Battle Dunbine, and I have to wonder what message that sent at the time.

Honestly when I found this out I was pretty surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been given the Newtype -> Gundam -> Sunrise -> Dunbine connection. And yet, of all of the female characters to be the visual centerpiece for a debut, Newtype went for the cute fairy girl as opposed to even, for example, other girls from Dunbine like Marvel Frozen (a prediction of Disney’s eventual purchase of Marvel nearly 30 years later?!). What could it mean, especially because she would be back only a few issues later?

I may not be the best person to speak on this. I never finished Dunbine, and I don’t have any real idea as to how popular Cham was at the time among anime fans. However, whether they were trying to appeal to a fanbase of Cham lovers or trying to push her as the next big thing (though at this point Dunbine had been over for a while), I feel as if Cham’s status as the inaugural spokesmodel of Newtype says something about where anime fandom was in Japan at the time and where it’s gone since.

You often hear about how anime’s changed and the advent of “kawaii” and “moe,” but where did it truly begin if it began in anime at all? Then you look and see that at the very start of this magazine for anime fans from 1985 and see a cute little pixie.

The depiction of race and culture in Pokemon over its nearly 20-year history has been a work in progress. Much of this has to do with the very Japanese origins of the game and their exportation to the rest of the world. A mostly assumed Japanese cast of characters suddenly wasn’t, like when the character Sakaki was renamed Giovanni to evoke the image of an Italian mob boss. At the same time, Pokemon with seemingly innocuous elements within Japan such as Jynx became a legitimate concern against the increased awareness in the United States of the history of discriminatory visual depictions of black people. Since then, thanks in all likelihood to its international success, Pokemon has taken considerable steps to try and be more culturally sensitive and inclusive, mainly through the depiction of characters with different skin tones and features. In some cases, the characters have more definite racial features, and in others they’re left vague, and the question of whether or not an “ambiguous brown” is for the better becomes an especially difficult question which is nevertheless worth exploring.

124Jynx_OS_animeJynx

The change to include characters who are neither vaguely white or Asian in appearance began with Pokemon Black and White, a series which I would argue not-so-coincidentally takes place in Pokemon universe equivalent of New York City, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the entire world. Unlike the regions of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh (all based on areas of Japan), the Unova region (Isshu in Japan) would not reflect the NYC influence properly if everyone was of the same skin color (what sometimes gets referred to as Friends syndrome).

Black_White_IrisBlack_White_MarshalBlack_White_Lenora_2

Iris, Marshal, Lenora

Major characters of color were introduced during these games, such as the Gym Leaders Lenora (Aloe) and Iris, as well as the Elite Four’s Marshal (Renbu), all of whom are bosses one must face before eventually challenging the final opponent, the Pokemon League Champion. All three of these characters are shown to be strong trainers, and Iris even featured prominently in the Pokemon anime. At the same time, all three possess varying degrees of ethnic identifiers. Iris is difficult to pinpoint, Marshal has features which indicate black, and Lenora is undeniably black to a possibly stereotypical fault. Originally wearing an apron in her official design, the proximity of this depiction to the Aunt Jemima-esque mammy stereotypes of the United States (in a game based on a US city!) prompted a revision which portrays Lenora simply slinging the apron over her shoulder (though she still wears it in the in-game sprite). This is far from a Jynx scenario, as Lenora is both a clever gym leader and the curator of her own museum, and her design is still fairly restrained, but it is rather telling that the approach taken with the next generation of games, Pokemon XY, lean closer to Iris’s style.

XY_Grant                XY_Olympia

Grant, Olympia

Pokemon XY, which takes place in the France-inspired Kalos region, features not only Gym Leaders Grant (Zakuro) and Olympia (Gojika) but also individual trainers throughout the game such as the male Pokemon Ranger and Rising Star. As is evident from their designs, a greater amount of care is put into them as well. The location of not-France is also perhaps an influence here, as taking into account the centuries-old Arabic influence in Europe, colonialism, and even just recent immigration from other continents creates a complex milieu of cultures that differs in significant ways from that of the United States. The vagueness of these character designs may be a reflection of that aspect.

However, the biggest change is undoubtedly the fact that Pokemon XY actually allows you to choose the skin color (and eventually hair color) for your player character. Now, in addition to choosing gender (a feature available since the second-generation Pokemon Crystal), it is possible to get closer to having your avatar appear the way you do (or don’t, as the case may be). The ethnic vagueness idea comes to the forefront here, as only three skin tones are available, which leads to the question of whether or not this is the right direction to take, if it’s perhaps a washing out of cultural identity.

malecharactercustomizationchoices

femalecharactercustomizationchoices

I’m of two minds about this. With some characters such as the Gym Leader Marlon (Shizui), it’s actually difficult to tell if he’s supposed to be a darker skin color or just someone with a nice tan. The lack of concrete information, as well as the fact that many of the characters have very Japanese-sounding names in Japanese regardless of appearance, makes it easy to accuse them of just taking “white/Asian” designs and swapping the hues. On the other hand, it’s erroneous to assume that certain features are meant to be evoke one race rather than another. After all, it’s a classic mistake to assume that anime characters “look white” because of their large eyes. When the racial features are relatively nondescript, perhaps it gives them a versatility that prevents those features from being abused as stereotyped caricature. That’s not to say that future games couldn’t benefit from adding more skin tones, for example, but there’s something to be said about allowing players to make their own interpretations.

Whether or not the racial ambiguity of character designs in Pokemon helps or hinders (or both), one positive that is hard to deny is the benefit of just having so many depictions of characters of color being happy and successful. They talk to dragons, climb mountains, run museums, practice martial arts, and go on adventures. They’re intelligent, dedicated, compassionate, funny, people you can look up to and want to know better. They’re role models with limitless potential. It’s especially notable that, in the follow-up games of Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, Iris would go from being a Gym Leader to being the Pokemon League Champion herself. The Pokemon games have always done a good job of portraying female characters, with three of the most recent games featuring female Champions, and to have a woman of color be the strongest and most celebrated individual in the land is nothing to scoff at.

Black_2_White_2_Iris

In the end, what I see as the greatest contributing  factor in the depiction of diversity in Pokemon is that the series has not gotten complacent. With every passing generation of games they continue to make improvements, and it’s a likely sign that this will continue as long as Pokemon stays alive.

This is a follow-up to my previous post, A Sexy Star is Born: Thoughts on the History of Romance in Shoujo Manga.

While romance has been the dominant force in shoujo manga for over 40 years, lately I’ve begun to wonder if a quiet revolution is occurring within the shoujo manga industry, or at least within the publisher Kodansha.

For example, recently there has been a comedy manga about young girls who use model guns and play in survival games. “But Stella Women’s Academy C³-Bu isn’t shoujo!” you might say. You’d be right, except that I’m actually talking about the shoujo manga Survival Game Club! by Matsumoto Hidekichi.

What’s remarkable about Survival Game Club! is not only that it’s a manga which eschews romance in favor of firearm gags, but that it runs in Nakayoshi, a magazine whose primary demographic is 5-10 year old girls and whose alumni include Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. These aren’t jaded manga experts looking for the next big thing, they’re readers who just want to enjoy their comics (and their free goodies). That said, the expectations for 10 year old readers might be surprisingly different, given that Survival Game Club! starts with one of its characters threatening a train molester.

Survival Game Club!

Other titles currently running in Nakayoshi include No Exit/Deguchi Zero by Seta Haruhi, about a school for aspiring actresses which becomes a survival horror story, and Kugiko-chan by PEACH-PIT (Rozen Maiden, Shugo Chara!), a gag spinoff of a manga about a ghost who is said to drive nails into people’s eyes. Both of these series not only revolve around a horror theme but are fairly unorthodox when it comes to art style.

No Exit

Kugiko-chan

According to Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt), the shoujo magazine Bessatsu Friend began to shift away from romance because of manga by artists such as Suenobu Keiko. Notably, her 2009’s manga Limit, a story about a group of girls in a life or death situation where the social statuses afforded to them by their school cliques no longer matter and feelings of betrayal and revenge run high, stands out as being very far from the romance-centered stories associated with shoujo. While Bessatsu Friend targets an older age group compared to Nakayoshi, I wonder if its influence slowly bled down to the younger audience.

The sense that there’s a quiet revolution isn’t just coming from shoujo manga which de-emphasize romance, however, as there’s a sense that titles about love and relationships are approaching them with greater mindfulness and breadth of topics. For instance, 3D Kanojo by Nanami Mao, about a popular girl and her otaku boyfriend, deals with the lack of respect that sexually active girls can get. One story from the girl’s past involves her trying to express her feelings of frustration and loneliness to her then-boyfriend, only to realize that he wasn’t really listening and was trying to just make out with her. Pochamani by Hirama Kaname, about a chubby girl and her handsome boyfriend, looks at body image issues and the ability to be confident in an appearance which does not fit the social standard. In both cases, these manga are about relationships already in motion as opposed to the journey towards one, and so bring to attention the challenges which can confront couples.

Of course, this is all more or less a hunch, and while I read a good deal of shoujo manga I’m not as well-read in it as other bloggers like Magical Emi or Kate from Reverse Thieves. If anyone can provide examples to further prove (or even disprove) the idea that shoujo manga has begun to move somewhat against its long-standing conventions of love and romance, I’d be more than welcome to hear it.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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