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Last month, the publisher Kadokawa Ascii Media Works announced a new manga magazine. Comic it advertises itself as a publication for “adult otaku girls” who “want more than just romance in their stories.” As if to emphasize its defiance of the common trope that manga for women revolve around love stories, its first issue came out on Valentine’s Day.
I find a few things fascinating about the premise behind Comic it. I’ve often seen readers, male and female, criticize shoujo and josei manga for being so focused on romance, that it seems to come at the exclusion of other possible and interesting narratives. However, it is quite intriguing that the demographic that is assumed to be most dissatisfied with the state of manga for female readers would be otaku, hardcore fans of manga. This also assumes that for many non-otaku readers, the state of manga, and romance in manga, is fine. Of course, the idea that there should be “more than just romance” also implies that the manga in this magazine will still feature love and relationships.
There’s another aspect of their advertising, however, that is less apparent. The term “adult otaku girls,” or onna otaku joshi, essentially indicates grown women who are otaku, but are still girls at heart. Though they continue to age, they’ve never let go of the thrill of being otaku. In a way, this seemingly feeds into the celebration of you that is common to Japanese culture and its portrayal in anime and manga, but I wonder if it’s also a jab at it, that youth is a product of the mind, rather than the body.
Below I’ve translated a chart included with the article on Natalie Comic linked above, which is designed to help readers figure out which stories in Comic it they’d enjoy. Note that all of the possible results emphasize the word “girl” instead of “woman” in the same manner as described above, and that there are some… interesting… yes/no questions on this chart.
According to the article, these categories indicate the following.
Kizuna Girl: You’re into families and brothers, and are moved by connections and bonds.
Mama Girl: You’re into helpless guys and the dramatic joy of seeing them change, as if you were a mother or older sister.
Fujoshi: You’re into buddy stories and past connections, and special relationships between guys
Subculture Girl: Though you appear to be just like everyone else, you’re actually a little peculiar, and you’re interested in philosophies of love that are a bit different.
I’ve yet to read Comic it, but I’m highly interested in doing so. I’ve already ordered a volume, and plan to review it for Ogiue Maniax in the future.
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I’m someone who’s interested in anime and manga about “nerds,” be they otaku, fujoshi, geeks, or any number of labels. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this stuff, and I’ve noticed that often when a character speaks using internet lingo in real life, the translation to English, whether it is official or fan-derived, often utilize some fairly offensive terms. A riajuu (someone who is content with their real life situation) becomes a “normalfag.” An otoko no ko (a boy who dresses rather convincingly as a girl) becomes a “trap.” On the one hand, it would be simply a matter of just not using those terms. On the other hand, I could see the argument that if a character is, say, someone who spends most of their time on internet messageboards, that the Japanese equivalent terms should be met with equally ubiquitous terms among English speakers. If term A comes from 2channel, why not look to 4chan for the English equivalent? However, the very fact that the vocabulary has this negative quality makes me feel that there is something buried deep within how internet anime fandom has structured itself that tends towards insults.
Obviously not all anime fans use these terms, but they pop up in a number of places that are not directly connected to the fandom that populates 4chan and similar sites. In this respect, one thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to how these phrases are used, it’s not simply a matter of trying to offend or upset others. For example, just as often as someone will call another person a “normalfag” or something similar, internet posters will use these terms to refer to themselves. At the same time that such phrases are clearly derived from words being used as insults, they’re also embraced on some level, becoming what I see as self-deprecating badges of honor, somewhat like willingly calling oneself an otaku or a geek. That said, the -fag suffix is clearly meant to maintain its offensive qualities, and as much as attempts are made consciously or unconsciously to separate the purely insulting quality of the phrase from its origins deriding homosexuals, it is nevertheless still present.
In contrast, “trap” is a term where the connections to homophobia cannot be denied. This is not to say that everyone who uses the word is trying to be insulting, and even I’ve thrown the term out in the past before later reconsidering my own vocabulary, but the origins of the term and the implicit meaning behind it is obvious. The basic etymology is that an extremely feminine male character excites a presumably straight guy, and when he finds out it’s really a boy it makes him feel “tricked.” The important thing to consider here is that this is not merely some imaignary scenario but that people have genuinely felt this way, and the term is on some level a way of maintaining a sense of heteronormativity. Just the same, however, is the fact that some of those guys who have been “fooled” into arousal eventually realize that they are especially sexually attracted to the concept of the crossdressing boy. Whether or not that makes them actually gay or not (Is attraction towards men somehow solely about the “penis” or is it something more holistic? For that matter, what about the Kinsey scale?), often I see the term “trap” then used willingly, from people asking for more. Again, as with “-fag,” there’s this sense of mild self-hatred with use of the term trap, because just as people announce their love for them there’s also the implicit idea that they are not normal because of their interest and do not consider themselves normal. In some cases, they might not even be realizing what they’re saying.
What I find is that these terms are turned against others, as if to maintain divisions (we’re this way, you’re that way), or they might turned inwards to be used as a defense mechanism to keep outsiders away. Can a person survive the barrage of insults they receive and still be there? Are they “one of us?” To share a common vocabulary, after all, is one of the easier ways to become “accepted” in a community. At the same time, the fact that these phrases are often used in a self-deprecating manner communicates the idea that they don’t necessarily feel as if they belong to the majority, be that the majority of society or the majority of an immediate online community. The easy thing to say would be that this all derives from “hate,” but the fact that it appears to be “hate” not only for others but also for oneself leads me to believe that the use of these terms is an attempt to carve out an identity while feeling somehow “abnormal.”
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The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.
As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.
Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradictions. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.
I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.
Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.
However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.
Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.
While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.
In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.
NOTE: This is a translation of a post by noted Japanese blogger Tamagomago, concerning the subject of “otaku” in current society and its portrayal in Genshiken. You can follow him on Twitter @tamagomago and check out his, Tamagomago Gohan.
All of the image links use Tamagomago’s original Amazon referrals.
As a final note, Tamagomago has a particular writing style that involves separating sentences by line, and separating general ideas by larger spaces. In the past I’ve consolidated these things into paragraphs both for readability and because WordPress used to have a hard time with multiple line breaks. This time around, I’ve tried to leave his general style intact.
Genshiken is a manga that I love.
I love it, and that’s precisely why it’s…
The current Madarame Harem arc is really quite interesting.
Personally speaking, I read Volume 17 and I’m on the side that thinks, “It has to be Sasahara’s sister, right?”
That’s the sort of fun I’m having with it.
It isn’t about “otaku” anymore.
It’s interesting as a “romantic story about a pathetic guy.”
This isn’t a problem with the storytelling in Genshiken.
It’s because times have changed.
The existence we call “otaku” has ceased to be.
That’s all there is to it.
Genshiken Volume 1 came out in 2002.
That’s the same year as King Gainer, Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan!, Sister Princess RePure, Haibane Renmei, She, the Ultimate Weapon, Mahoromatic, Tokyo Mew Mew, Asagiri no Miko, Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, Azumanga Daioh, and RahXephon.
I think that it’s easy to understand the atmosphere at this time.
It was the dawning of a new Internet era. It was a time when 2chan had barely come into prominence.
There was no Nico Nico Douga.
We were just beginning to find freedom from the Eva Shock. We were already free from Miyazaki Tsutomu.
We felt guilty using the word otaku, and it was kind of embarrassing to like anime.
Anime such as Haruhi were yet to debut, and while we could make friends with people who also like anime and manga, we weren’t that open about it.
Those were the times.
Sasahara found in the Society for Modern Visual Culture a place where he could lay bare his otaku self. That was the first step.
Ogiue’s story was about fighting the trauma towards manga she harbored within her heart. That was the second step.
In both cases, the on-looker, the non-otaku, was symbolized by Saki.
Now, things have changed completely.
In fact, Genshiken Nidaime has been different from the very beginning.
In the first part of Nidaime, the series depicts the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture as a space for a group of BL-loving girls to work together.
Also, it’s the story of Hato, a crossdressing boy troubled by his worries.
Characters like Ogiue and Hato already have their pasts resolved by this part of the story.
In this first part of Nidaime, the state of “otaku” reaches a turning point just as the first chapter in Madarame’s story concludes.
In this volume, we see the demise of the image of the ’00s “otaku.”
“Otaku” as a status, “otaku” as a community we depend on, the fun of trying to co-exist as both a member of society and as an “otaku.”
This is where it all ends.
When I say it’s over, I don’t mean, “there are no longer any otaku.”
Rather, the very word “otaku” has become hybridized.
That’s why Madarame, as an old-type otaku, has lost his place.
Madarame is actually a ’90s-type otaku.
Sasahara is a ’00s-type.
What’s different, you ask? It’s that the period between ’95 and ’96 is the dividing line before more and more people could be considered anime viewers and not otaku.
Sasahara gives the impression that “Otaku are out there, huh…”
Madarame is among the group of otaku who had to seek out others like themselves.
In an era without online networks, fans used analog means to get together and have fun.
It wasn’t a match over a network, but rather two people getting together to play.
For Madarame, he no longer needs to identify himself as “otaku.”
He certainly doesn’t look quite so sour anymore.
To put it boldly, everyone has become Kousaka.
Kousaka, unlike the other members of Genshiken, does not look like an otaku at first glance.
This is not something to be depressed or troubled over. Quite the opposite, it’s become totally okay to express your otaku hobbies.
I think this is a good thing.
There’s no longer that feeling of suffering and turmoil, like what Ogiue experienced.
There’s no longer that feeling that you can only ever belong to this specific group of people, like Kuga-pii.
Actually, Kugapii is in a nice place, working as a company employee.
There also isn’t anyone in Saki’s position.
In fact, I think that, even if Saki were perhaps in the club now, she wouldn’t have to pull everyone along like she used to.
After all, there’s no one left like Madarame, who would hem and haw. Everyone would just say, “Okay, okay,” in response to Saki and that would be the end of it.
You can think of that final kick Saki-chan gives Madarame as the demise of the “’90s otaku.”
Let’s talk about Sasahara’s little sister, who has dived straight into the thick of things.
The cabaret club story was interesting, wasn’t it?
That’s the feeling I’m talking about.
This book also came out recently. It’s really interesting so you should check it out.
I think the combination of otaku and subculture is easy to understand.
But they’ve also put yankii in there.
These yankii treat being a yankii nonchalantly, and even if they come into contact with otaku or subculture, it doesn’t bother them.
Here, I think you have the basis for the back and forth between the younger Sasahara and Madarame.
At this point, it’s unnecessary to identity oneself as “otaku,” nor is there a need to move and hide in secrecy. The fence between men and women has come loose.
Is it still necessary to depict “otaku?”
Works about otaku have been increasing.
However, everyone essentially looks cheerful, don’t they? They certainly don’t appear to be all that gloomy.
I think that Kirino in Oreimo has times when she looks gloomy, downright sour even (“Erotic games aren’t just popular shlock anymore, they’re deep!!)
Comparing her appearance and actions, however, she possesses the spirit of a retro otaku.
How is the “maid café” genre doing in manga? They don’t really touch Akihabara culture anymore, so there’s no way to tell.
Characters who go to Comic Market have become a part of normal manga.
I totally love this manga.
There’s a lack of refinement in all directions. That said, there’s a cute underclassman (I won’t allow this! Take a good look!!).
There’s a lack of refinement, but take a look at their fashion. They’re plenty cheerful.
This comes across more as fantasy, but Denki-Gai no Honya-san also has pure, proper otaku.
However, rather than being about otaku, I think that this work is actually more a story of “positive self-affirmation.”
It’s okay to read erotic manga! It’s okay to enjoy BL!
Along those lines, it even says, “It’s okay for you to fall in love!”
Genshiken is also similar to these manga. It’s a 2010s otaku… wait, the word otaku no longer exists. It’s changed direction to become a communication manga about a group of people who share a hobby.
The girls who appear in the story are, to put it differently, “reality.”
In terms of their fantastic elements, they would probably be ranked as:
Hato > Sue > Angela > Sasahara’s sister
The more to the right you go, the closer you get to reality.
In a way, Hato is a boy who acts out the role of the “ideal girl” (it’s not a gender identity disorder), so naturally I’m comfortable including him in this.
Angela is a little more likely to exist in Japan, even though she can be described as the girl who wants to date “OTAKU.” [Translator’s note: “OTAKU” here was originally written in English]
This Genshiken is a romance manga that’s cheerful and filled with happiness.
It’s fun, but reading it is painful.
My own sense is that of Madarame’s generation, the ‘90s otaku.
It’s come to the point that I’ve said my farewells to that era, and I’m giving my regards to the younger generations.
I no longer build myself up into a kind of character.
I have more empathy for this work.
It’s because he’s an adult otaku. More than that, I have a lot of friends who are just like this.
I understand this type, someone who’s no longer doing the otaku thing at full force, but still trudges along that path.
Perhaps Genshiken has at least made me into an “old boy,” who goes about saying, “Ah, youth!”
But that’s not quite right, is it?
There’s no gloom. There’s no anguish.
If it had become a completely different, unrelated world, I could say, “Wow! Look how this manga shines! How wonderful!” but that would only be a halfhearted, depressed reaction.
To grow up along with Genshiken wouldn’t in itself make me feel so awful.
“All of you, please move on.”
“You don’t belong here anymore.”
If you look at it that way, it’s painful.
However… it’s interesting so I keep reading.
It doesn’t matter that this is Genshiken. Manga is manga.
Yajima, Sue, Hato, all of them are cute. In particular, Yajima has gotten increasingly cute.
Actually, on a personal level I find this girl to be the most amazing one of all.
“This alone makes Genshiken Volume 17 worth it.”
-Gogo Tamagomago of the Dead
Yoshitake is the character I like best in all of Nidaime.
It’s just, here’s a character that really positive, acting as the axis that influences both the suffering Hato and Yajima, all while Yoshitake herself doesn’t move one bit.
This face is the first time we get to see what’s underneath.
She’s always cheerful, but doesn’t it seem like there’s something underneath the surface?
No matter what, I can’t take my eyes off of Yoshitake.
Speaking of which, someone (a woman) once said, “Yoshitake’s fashion is really female otaku-esque.”
Somehow, I can understand that at least a little.
Though, it’s more like, Yoshitake is the very image of the female otaku during the time when Nidaime first began.
I took a long time to write this.
Right now, I’m not an “otaku” nor am I part of a “subculture.”
I realize I’m now an adult who doesn’t “belong” to anything like that.
I think it’s a joyful thing. I can like what I like and then write about it.
And yet, why is it so painful?
Why do I feel such sadness when I read Genshiken?
It’s probably because the first part of Genshiken is a story of youth coming from the idea of “deviation,” but between Hato’s change of heart and Madarame’s situation being reset, there’s no need to be deviant.
It’s a sentiment I don’t understand, and it’s just not something I have in common with them.
Even re-reading the above articles, I really don’t understand after all.
Even though I understand that I’ve become an adult and moved on.
The depression that comes from Genshiken continues to grow.
It’s simply that I’ve reached a bothersome age.
Is it just that I’m still trying to find myself?
Actually, I feel like this title can give me a hint.
It’s a manga I absolutely cannot ignore.
That’s because, when I read it I feel relieved.
I feel like there’s a hint here.
Ah, could it be? Is it because they don’t really talk about their favorite things in Genshiken Volume 17?
They do for a little bit, but their words feel somehow unnatural.
However, I understand that these are “otaku.” They’re otaku who don’t depend on being anything.
And yet, I love Genshiken.
I had a realization that this is like what happened to rock music.
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As an anime and manga blog largely focused largely on commercial output, it is rare that I will report on and review an Art Show in all of its capitalized glory. However, I feel it important to discuss the “Empty God Core” show at the B²OA Gallery, featuring the works of Japanese artist Umezawa Kazuki.
I am well aware of the fact that anime and manga have been subjects of exploration, self-discovery, and exploitation since at least Murakami Takashi and his “superflat” movement. Often times challenging and presenting the exoticism of Japan’s visual culture, artists like Murakami tend to feel as if they come not from the otaku subculture itself, but are reacting to it as it has grown over times. While I would not go so far as to say that this is some unforgivable flaw in his work, that he may not be a “true” otaku, it does make me notice when a piece of art conveys the perspective of someone who has embraced the lights and sounds of anime and manga as almost existential hazes.
That is the impression I received from Umezawa’s work, though even before I saw the actual show itself I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time thanks to our mutual friend, Ko Ransom. If there is anything that stood out to me most about him at first glance, it would have been his A Certain Scientific Railgun pins adorning his clothing. The one most prominent could be seen on his chest, a chibi version of Nunotaba Shinobu, my favorite character in the Index universe. A teenage scientist with a propensity for interlacing her speech with English, Nunotaba comes nowhere near the default choices for popular characters in her series, so I knew that Umezawa was serious business.
That being said, while I was aware that Umezawa was an otaku before I saw “Empty God Core,” I would have jumped to that conclusion almost immediately if I had come in without knowing a thing. Umezawa’s works consist largely of collages of anime characters, scrambled to the point of almost losing all recognizable qualities, and then rearranged to create futuristic, apocalyptic landscapes and large, god-like figures. I say “almost,” because the first thing I spotted in one of his digital paintings was the characteristic blonde poof of Cure Peace from Smile Precure! Soon after, I spotted bits of other characters as well, but it made me realize how distinct Precure hair is designed to be, so that, even divorced from the very bodies on which they sit, one can see that, yes that over there is a piece of Cure Blossom, and down by the side is Cure Beauty. The iconic nature of anime and manga characters jumps to the forefront, and their fragments are used to construct worlds.
There is a general idea when it comes to anime fandom that a lot of its qualities arose from the perception of 1980s Japan as a kind science fictional space. Like Blade Runner, which envisioned a future city amalgamated from Tokyo and various Chinatowns, the common discourse positions otaku as products of their time, and their subculture a result of changes to the world, the economy, and the degree to which societal values crumble or ossify in response. In this environment, otaku have historically been viewed in a negative light, people who cannot confront reality, loners who can only consume their media in ways which reinforce their divorce from society, while anime and manga become increasingly shallow and lacking in any real substance. What Umezawa’s work does is flip that script on its head, and show how this otaku subculture and its inhabitants can utilize the “vapid” qualities of anime and manga and its devotion to signs and icons of cuteness, beauty, and sexuality as building blocks, as atoms to form universes. Rather than a dystopian cityscape creating the otaku, the otaku creates the dystopian cityscape. He turns lemonade into lemons.
This post is regrettably a little late, but if you’re in or around New York City, the show is running until November 15th. The B²OA Gallery is at 515 west 26th street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm.
It’s been a while since I really went in-depth about the topic of moe, but here’s me and the Veef discussing the topic. If there’s anything I’d like people to get out of it, it’s to not take such polarizing stances about the topic.
It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.
Mysterious Girlfriend X
Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.
Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.
81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.
In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.
Four years ago I arrived in the Netherlands. In a few days, I return to the United States. I don’t know exactly where this post will go, but I feel it is important to say something about my time in Europe, both as a person and as a fan of anime and manga. I apologize for the rambling that’s about to ensue.
I’ve lived outside of the United States before, having spent a few months studying abroad in Japan (almost 10 years ago at this point!), but never had I been in a foreign country for so long. I can’t say I ever truly acclimated myself to this environment (I never even got fluent in the language, after all), but I managed a comfortable existence. Even putting aside amazing culinary cultures such as France and Germany, food has been an (often deep-fried) adventure. I’ll miss the Indonesian cuisine and the herring especially.
I could go on forever about food, though, so I’ll speak mainly about things that are more directly pertinent about being an otaku. One aspect that I had been somewhat aware of in the past but that had rarely entered my mind was that different countries have unique relationships with Japan, and this is certainly the case with the Netherlands. Famously the Dutch were the only foreigners allowed in Japan for a long time, and they stayed exclusively on the island of Deshima (or Dejima). So what does a Dutch group dedicated to bringing Japanese music to anime conventions in the Netherlands call itself? Deshima Sounds. It makes sense.
It was fascinating to see a different anime con culture compared to the US. The conventions certainly never even approach the massive attendances of an Otakon or an Anime Expo, but they have their own charm. From my first convention experience here, one aspect that really stood out to me was how the Artists’ Alleys greatly emphasized the production of full-on comics (one might even call them doujinshi) over individual images. While I don’t know if this is truly relevant, I do know that the Netherlands historically has been considered a strong country for book-publishing, allowing things that could get one in trouble in other countries (and I don’t mean pornography). It’s actually something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in the US.
Speaking of fans, I must apologize to the folks over at Manga Kissa in Utrecht for never really going, but I am fully behind their endeavor to provide an actual manga cafe with a wide selection. If you’re ever in Utrecht, I recommend you check it out, as it’s a nice place to relax.
While my focus has been on anime and manga for a long time, I was also presently surprised to find out that the Netherlands has its own comics culture. Whenever I went to a new city, I often looked around for a comic store, and while many of the comics were simply French or Belgian comics translated into Dutch, even that was interesting because of how the Dutch preferred less expensive paperbacks over the elaborate hardcovers one would find elsewhere. It was actually amazing to be able to attend an event and just walk straight up to some of the biggest names in the industry and get a sketch at no cost and without a significant wait in line.
Around 2009 or so, I began to get into Japanese mahjong after having watched shows such as Akagi and Saki. Having originally played online, I eventually found a group to play with in real life, but it wasn’t until I lived in the Netherlands that I had the opportunity to actually attend tournaments and to compete for pride and glory (there were never any cash prizes but that’s okay). This country is small enough that even a tournament at a fairly obscure location was never too difficult to get to, and to find a fairly thriving riichi mahjong scene makes me incredibly grateful. I’ve met people from all over the world at these tournaments, gained some nice friends, and it’s even legitimately improved my mahjong to boot. Many of the Dutch players had originally come from a different style of mahjong, and so when playing them I had to learn that my style, which was built from playing the Tenhou online ladder, simply did not work. I had to re-evaluate how I looked at the game, and this experience is something I’ll never forget. I leave being fairly satisfied with my own performance, having attended three European tournaments and having placed 10th, 20th, and 6th.
Then there’s the rest of Europe to talk about! I wasn’t able to go to every country I had set my eyes on (Sweden, Luxembourg, and Switzerland I’ll perhaps regret not seeing most of all), but of the places I did have the pleasure of visiting I actually discovered quite a bit about geek fandom in general. I visit New York’s “Forbidden Planet” regularly, but it pales in comparison to the one in London. The comics museum in Belgium was a blast and made me want to read European comics more than ever.
Paris is, perhaps predictably, the most notable of all. While I had heard that the French were big into anime, it didn’t hit me until a simple trip from the hotel to the city center involved passing by not one, but multiple cosplay shops, in areas that didn’t even necessarily show signs of otakudom otherwise. Upon entering the toy and comic stores, I was continuously greeted by the ubiquitous presence of one UFO Robo Grendizer. I was already aware of the fact that Grendizer was a big deal for the French (and the Italian), that it was basically to them what Voltron was to the US, but in a way it was so much more. At the time, I suspected that the French benefited from the fact that Japan still continuously produced new Grendizer merchandise, and I think that theory still holds today.
I also got to attend a few Starcraft II events, which was wild.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out while I was living in a continent I had never even visited before. You’ve made my life that much richer, and I hope we can meet again someday. And yes, I am now aware of Alfred J. Kwak.
In a few days, I head to Otakon in Baltimore, which itself is undergoing a big transition with its eventual move to Washington, DC in 2016. Otakon is familiar territory at this point, yet I can’t help but feel that there will be some strange kind of culture shock for myself.
(Note: I originally posted this to reddit Smash Bros, and am putting it on the blog for posterity.)
The game has been out for over a year. During this time, it’s widely accepted by the community that Pac-Man is bottom tier. Try as people might, no one can seem to do anything with him.
EVO 2016 rolls around and it’s by far the biggest Smash tournament ever for any game in the franchise. All of the big names are there, but one by one they fall to a mysterious masked challenger who, unbelievably, is 4-stocking everyone with Pac-Man. Strangely, he appears to be much older than the average demographic for Smash.
Upon reaching the finals, the man removes his mask and reveals himself to be Billy Mitchell. Somehow, the skills that made him the first person to ever beat the Pac-Man arcade game have translated to Smash 4 almost perfectly. At this point, people are discussing if everything they knew about the game was wrong.
However, there’s another unidentified challenger in a hoodie who, while falling to the lower bracket early on, has been tearing it up. In the finals, he also reveals his true identity: Steve Wiebe.
Upon sitting down, they both set aside their mains and go straight for what counts the most for their pride: Donkey Kong mirror match. Gamers young and old start to watch. Just after the first set, people are declaring it the greatest finals ever in any competitive game, let alone Smash.
At EVO are both the crew for a new The Smash Brothers documentary, and the director of The King of Kong. The next day, they announce their collaboration for a sequel to The King of Kong in the Smash realm. The film is released internationally and is so successful, it turns the esports documentary into the most popular genre ever.
I’ve been living outside of the United States for the past few years, though funnily enough I’ve spent every 4th of July in the US. This year is an exception, but at the same time I will also be heading back home soon. So at least for the foreseeable future, this is my first and last Independence Day in Europe. What better time then to talk about America? I haven’t done that in a few years either.
Specifically, there are a bunch of thoughts related to Americans and anime fandom that have been whirling around in my head as of late, and I’m using this opportunity to try and organize them into some cohesive ideas. Not sure if I’ll succeed or not but that’s part of the entrepreneurial spirit or somesuch. AMERICA.
Two pieces of news that caught my eye over the past few weeks have been the announcement of a sequel and animated television series for Pacific Rim, and the fact that the recently revived Toonami block on Cartoon Network is doing better and better. In the case of Pacific Rim, one of the biggest talking points concerning the first movie’s release was that it didn’t do well in the United States, but in contrast found some success nternationally, especially in China. The idea permeating Pacific Rim and its “failure” was that it needed to do well domestically for it to have any real hope of continuing, but this news has shown otherwise. Scott Mendelson over at Forbes argues that this is the first movie that has received a sequel despite of its lack of success at the American box office, and may hint at the increasing importance of that overseas market. Various arguments have been made for why Pacific Rim didn’t click with American audiences, from idea that “mecha” isn’t a popular genre in either the US mainstream or among its anime fandom, to the opinion that it was just a bad movie, but there’s something intriguing about the idea the US is not the epicenter of this property’s future.
In contrast, it looks like anime is in a certain sense “rediscovering” its American fandom through Toonami. For a long while anime looked like it was on its way out of the American geek culture, as the presence of Japanese cartoons on Cartoon Network faded from their heyday in the early to mid 2000s. The “Toonami” concept itself, a block dedicated to anime and anime-like cartoons, even went away in 2008. And yet, whether it was because the folks in charge smelled profit in the air from anime once more or there was just some personal desire somewhere to bring anime back to the fore of Cartoon Network, Toonami has returned and is doing quite well.
Historically, anime has not needed its American fanbase. Sure, there have been a lot of viewers, but anime’s domestic market is Japan, and it also finds success around the world, in Europe, South America, and Asia. The US certainly has an online presence when it comes to anime discussion and enthusiasm, but over the years it’s been easy to get the impression that this fandom is a paper tiger, especially when it comes to popular shows among the internet fandom not translating to home video sales. Of course, this also has something to do with how expensive anime was for a long time (and still kind of is relative to other forms of media), but overall it wouldn’t be surprising if people perceived American audiences of anime as just somehow lacking. Now, however, not only are American viewers tuning in to catch Toonami and its latest anime, but the shows people are most interested in are also the ones that have developed large fanbases online as well.
It would be remiss of me to minimize the importance of the actual shows themselves, as I think regardless of anyone’s opinions of these anime, it’s fairly easy to see why series such as Sword Art Online (MMORPG plus swords and sorcery), Attack on Titan (violent post-apocalyptic world with large cast of interesting characters), and Black Lagoon (guns and action) would do well with an American audience even if all three are significantly different from each other. One thing that I find interesting, however, is that at least for the first two their Japanese fanbases are also quite substantial. In this situation, you have the support of a hardcore Japanese fanbase, a mainstream Japanese audience (especially for Attack on Titan), a hardcore international and American fanbase, and a relatively mainstream presence in the US as well. It’s as if the division between fan and casual has been collapsed, and interests that are often viewed as mutually exclusive now overlap.
So on the one hand, you have a property in Pacific Rim where the American audience turns out to not be as important as originally thought, and on the other hand you have in Toonami the rediscovery of an American audience that is, while arguably not significant, still good to have. I feel like there’s some connection or relationship here but I’m not exactly certain of what it is. One thing that might help is that I recently read an academic article from 1998 on Sailor Moon, which was written during the time that Sailor Moon was already a runaway hit in Japan and was beginning to air in the US. Though Mary Grigsby’s “Sailormoon: Manga (Comics) and Anime (Cartoon) Superheroine Meets Barbie: Global Entertainment Commodity Comes to the United States” is more about arguing how the series is influenced by cultural hegemony (essentially the continuous and subconscious reinforcement of how things are in society) yet somehow defies it, what caught my attention is the fact that a note at the end mentions how by the time this article was published Sailor Moon had already been a commercial failure in the US.
Sailor Moon was not the profit machine that the various companies supporting its US distribution had hoped, but in light of a new Sailor Moon anime in celebration of its 20th anniversary and the clear continued significance it has to American anime fandom, it’s clear that the show has had an impact, and possibly that what was seen as a failure of the show at the time may have been more a failure of marketing. To some extent, this may have had to do with the cultural landscape of the US in the 90s. After all, in contrast to the revising of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune from lesbian lovers to cousins back then, currently more and more people in the US are accepting or at least tolerant of same-sex relationships. However, there’s another important point to consider. In the Pacific Rim article, Mendelson also writes that “The deciding factor separating Pacific Rim 2 from Robocop 2 may be the passionate fan base of the former. It’s easier to talk financial parties into a sequel to a somewhat under-performing original if paying audiences actually liked said original.” Sailor Moon grew a powerful fanbase that the models for success at the time couldn’t properly account for. As the American anime fandom grows once more, now may be the time for both old and new fans to find some common ground.