Memory and Oblivion in Sora no Woto

The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.
― Pittacus Lore, I Am Number Four

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.
— Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933)

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.
― Marcel Proust

The scars that are left in a person’s soul after surviving a war, the ways a society tries to console and redeem itself, how the historical truth gets twisted, suited and tailored to different people’s needs: these are topics that Sora no Woto, beyond its flaws, managed to sing about elegantly. The sound of the sky carried and awakened memories…


War trauma: the ghosts of the past

In episode 7, we get a glimpse at Felicia’s past and her recollections of war. It’s the first thing we see when the episode starts. The memories are as clear as if they happened yesterday [1]. The cinematography is excellent and when Felicia’s gaze stumbles across her fellow soldiers’ dead bodies, the ‘camera’ trembles. She starts feeling dizzy, the terror obvious in her eyes; her world is falling apart, both metaphorically and literally, drastically changing from one minute to another.

Later in the episode, the flashbacks continue: she walks aimlessly, her mind blank, when the debris and the road cave in and she ends up underground with a skeleton as a company. The situation starts sinking in; Felicia questions her reason for living, and wonders why she was the only one who survived. These dark thoughts pull her deeper in despair to the point that her guilt of being still alive morphs into an apparition and an imaginary dialogue with the skeleton. It’s her survival instinct and loneliness that make her respond to the calls of the princess who came to her rescue.

In the present, Felicia’s memories keep coming back against her will, whenever she falls asleep or spaces out. We see her having hallucinations, like when the image of a soldier appears in the fortress’ yard; she smiles bitterly, because she’s aware that her eyes and spirit play pranks on herself.

This is a pretty accurate reflection of reality. Trauma is an event that pushes the individual to its limits, destabilizes its life, and in its first phase the individual feels unable to handle and process it. Denying what happened results in ‘eternal mourning’: the trauma resurfaces in miscellaneous forms at the slightest trigger. In Felicia’s case it was the public commemoration, a day which wields enormous emotional power (I’ll touch the topic of the ceremony later). However, Felicia seems to have worked through her past, since her reactions aren’t panic-stricken. She also appears to have found a meaning for her life. Mourning in such conditions is a long-winding process, after all. And we aren’t given enough of their time to know what progress the characters have made through the years.

On the other hand, Nöel freezes, starts shaking, and goes berserk once she encounters the Roman soldier and hears her old title and commander mentioned. The cinematography is once again masterfully executed: a deranged Nöel is shown behind some sort of metal railings—she is held captive by her fear and memories.

Nöel’s case (episodes 11-12) isn’t only there to reconfirm how vile war is. Her angle is different: while Felicia is portrayed as a victim, the sole survivor of her troop and at least an adolescent, Nöel is shown as an exploited child genius who witnesses the death of people by the war machines she helped rebuild. Thus we are shown both the suffering of the perpetrator and the exploitation of children in the war.

Her trauma is deep not only due to the tender age at which she was exposed to war’s cruelties, but also from the sudden change between the protected world of the laboratory where she got praised and the raw reality. The military’s image as a highly organized and efficient unit juxtaposes with the reality of war as chaotic, terrifying, and anything but meticulously executed [2]. It’s a shame that we weren’t presented with the experience of other soldiers who dealt with hand-in-hand combat; then we could understand better how complex the human soul is and the devastation war wreaks upon on it.


Public commemoration: appeasing the living and the dead

‘Festa du Lumieres’ in Helvetia is in fact Tōrō nagashi. Tōrō nagashi is a Japanese ceremony in which participants float paper lanterns. This is primarily done on the last evening of the Bon Festival, based on the belief that this guides the spirits of the departed back to the other world. It is also believed that humans come from water, so the lanterns represent their bodies returning to water. [3]

The deep emotional and physical wounding caused by acts of violence is devastating to the individual identity and,by extension, to group identity.  Prayers, rituals and symbols can be used to heal or transform the trauma. People want to be bonded in emotional and spiritual ways—to give and receive love.  ‘Festa du Lumieres’ is an opportunity to express grief. It helps survivors to see the traumatic events in a new perspective, to build hope and a healthy self-identity, and to be able to effectively cope in their communities. It also makes people feel calmer and relieved because they are still connected and can do something good for people who have died and were special for them. [4]


The Flame Maidens Legend: memory and anti-memory

The Helvetian version is narrated by Rio, who impersonates a Flame Maiden in the Water-Dousing Festival, while the Roman version is told by the nun who heard it from the Roman soldier. In both cases we can talk about remembrance through communicative memories that passed from generation to generation, and about anonymization of the trauma.

Trauma creates a huge void in the way a society perceives itself. Besides ceremonies, history or, in this case, legend contributes to the (re)creation of identity, but not without distortions of the truth.  Be it the collective memory that got warped or the state that manipulated the narrative, the Flame Maiden legend and its two versions reflect the wishes and self-image of each country.

If we want to find out what really happened, we should take both versions into account, like Herodotus’ first attempts at writing history. For some reason, in this dystopian future the science of history seems to have been lost, and remembrance of the past reverted to oral traditions. So, we’ll work with many assumptions and our logic as guidance.

Assuming that the Romans saw themselves as punishers led by God, we can believe they were the ones who initiated a war or avenging a past lost war and its victims. The Helvetian version about the demon inside the city might be interpreted as the Helvetians co-existing initially with Romans and treating the latter with racism or as the fear of the enemy who was of different skin color.

The angel and the demon were both based on a dinosaur fossil, which each side assigned different values. In both versions the giant spider alludes to the tanks and the golden horn signifies a peace treaty. This much is clear. But what about the rest of the story? If we consider the Roman version closer to the truth, then we can claim that the Helvetians wanted to cover up what they considered treason from the women in their town (the fact they helped the enemy by providing medical help). They take metaphorical revenge by turning them into victims, but since they also need a reconfirmation of the community’s worth, they make the girls in their version suffer willingly while the villagers helped extinguish the fire by dousing them every day (this could hint at torture procedures, too).

What is not so certain is the duration of the hostilities. The Helvetian version gives the impression that it was a hard fought war and that it lasted a long time. The Roman version presents the events happening over a shorter time span. It’d be only natural for the Helvetians to emphasize the hardships and duration, while the Romans, who considered themselves god-sent, would only embarrass themselves if they admitted they weren’t victorious after a long war. It’s not coincidental that it’s the angel who gave the maidens the golden horn in the Roman version: the enemy declared peace only because their side provided the solution.

Memory is a tricky thing. We get scared in life, so we wish to forget. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we cover the bad memories with gold leaves and paint a new picture for us…


Notes:

[1] In order to create a memory, the brain releases chemicals “that etch these events into its memory bank with special codes”. However, when one experiences a traumatic event, the memory becomes vivid because the context surrounding the event is so significantly different from anything the victim has ever experienced before. It seems, then, that during a traumatic event, our senses are heightened – this may be due to the fight-or-flight response that readies us for action. Since we sense (or know) that something is amiss, our brain releases more chemicals that allow us to be more alert; this in turn may be the mechanism that helps us to remember traumatic events so well.

[2] as well as the above come from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro03/web2/shabelow.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dr%C5%8D_nagashi

[4] http://www.mcc.org/system/files/MCC-PON_09-3.pdf

Through Older Lenses: Urban Square – Kohaku no Tsuigeki (1986)

 

“For years, I didn’t understand the concept of writer’s block. I was like, “what’s that?”, you know? And then I realized a few weeks ago, it was like, “Oh! That’s every day!”

-Jonathan Nolan
(Co-writer of The Dark Knight Trilogy & Creator Of Memento)

Pretty amusing to ever think that scribe, Kazunori Ito has ever experienced that oft-blamed phenomenon, but apparently it (along with a great love of 1980s Hollywood) was enough fuel for this rare, and infectious one-shot OVA from the very early days of EMOTION – IE,  Bandai Visual that places the writer amidst a whole mess of trouble. Ryo Matsumoto is a hapless screenwriter, who has been unable to get traction for his latest action opus, when he is witness to a murder on the street, and somehow finds himself in possession of some sensitive documents. And just like that, it’s a writer’s 1980s action fantasy wet dream as Ryo finds himself not only pursued by dangerous thugs who look bizarrely like a more Bruce Lee-like Kenshiro, but befriends a classic “cop-on-the edge”, and possibly finds enough time for love? Urban Square – Kohaku No Tsuigeki (AKA – In Pursuit Of Amber)is the kind of OVA that in its day would have made a fun addition to my localized collection in the day, but was likely considered not “anime” enough to sell here.

 
But personally speaking, there are enough things happening here that only anime could deliver.

 

So when we begin the film, Ryo is quickly established as a very young writer who seems to be hurting for a script sale. It’s apparently not going very well, which leads to him out in the rainy streets, where fate intervenes, forcing Ryo, and everyone else around him to live out a reality that is far more exciting than fiction. This is made even more complicated by the two-time chance meeting between Ryo and Yuki, a local art student with indirect connections to the envelope that has come into their possession. With both their lives instantly in danger, a burgeoning relationship might have to wait, as noone can be trusted. Thankfully, they find an unlikely ally in tough cop, Mochizuki. A grizzled detective with a seeming obsession with bringing down Goda Geese, a long untouchable criminal figure with an eye for art fraud. Classic “noir” tropes abound, Urban Square is less a parody of the more hard-boiled action genre of film that was before matters went full Schwarzenegger in the ensuing years.

 
Looking back at it now, 1986 seems like a banner year for anime in regards to their reverence for all things “American Action”. Where California Crisis established a grand love of all things Spielberg, Urban Square seems happy with being a fun little ode to the ever-reliable 80s cop thriller. From the cold blues of the city at night, to Akemi Takada’s classy character designs, the 55-minute OVA screams pre-Lethal Weapon police pot-boiler, complete with often weird jazz score. Most egregiously, the aforementioned grizzled detective, Mochizuki, is a dead ringer for a Sharkey’s Machine-era Burt Reynolds! Heck, while were on that, tow headed assassin, Henmi is a bit of a Moke clone himself. Hair breadth escapes, coincidences, and just plain heaven’s luck play a major part of the film’s disarming aura.

And his hair is perfect..

But a lot of it wouldn’t be as much fun, if it didn’t have itself a likeable guide through this odyssey of familiar. This is where Ryo fits in more than fine enough as a guy who has seen all of this done on screen, and can’t believe that the real deal is in no way any more imaginative. The closest things to ability he has on his side are his movie cliche knowledge, and pure dopey spunk, which becomes a fuel for many surprises throughout. Like many writers, he’d sooner not write about his own life. But when the reality is this good, and with friends caught up in everything, perhaps life can surpass art just this once. It doesn’t hurt that the new lady in his life is ideal in more ways than one. Yuki becomes that additional spark that makes this non-action hero into something so many outside of the original John McClane fail to be, tangible and likeable.

 
A few years later, John McTiernan’s The Last Action Hero attempted to subvert what the action genre had become over the years, to often middling to lesser results. Urban Square excels by strictly avoiding such cynicism, and playing matters as light and reverent. What could so easily be a simple parody, becomes an appropriately charming little piece of bubblegum noir. Director Akira Nishimori and Animation Head, Hideyuki Motohashi are clearly having a ball taking on the kinetics of western action, creating a surprisingly flowing visual narrative of hand-to-hand, gunfights, and vehicle chases one must see to appreciate. The tired, almost disdain-coated feel of Last Action Hero, is  a vibe that is completely absent in Urban Square, where all we have, is a big, charming ode to the salad years of an american cinematic pastime.

 
Inspiration does indeed sprout from the strangest places..

 


This is a title that has never experienced an American release, and has remained long out of print in Japan. But can be found by way of many of the old channels. Happy seeking!

Anime USA 2012: September Can’t Come Fast Enough

Anime USA may have achieved the unthinkable in edging out Otakon as my favorite con. I enjoyed myself immensely even if I didn’t have any guest interviews and missed cosplay burlesque TWICE. The depth of programming provided ample entertainment of which I recollect some below. And I learned something. The con’s smaller scale affords an intimate touch that I failed to take advantage of but will certainly exploit next year.

I had expected a few words regarding the change of venue at Opening Ceremonies but there were none. Instead, we got Arashi the Astounding who graced us with some of his magic or really the lack of. The highlight of the ceremony would have been Michelle Knotz who recruited several other guests to dance Gangnam Style with her on stage. Alas, David Lister got down on his knees before the audience and proposed on stage. She said yes.

The various cosplay panels were excellent. Re-Creating the Look: Bringing Art to Life moderated by Lizzy Schram, Lauren D. and Marty Gear was very informative. They touched upon tips and told stories as well as provide further information via suggested textbooks.

A Guide to Fashion Sewing by Connie Amaden – Crawford
Draping Basics by Sally Di Marco
Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong

Solid advice was also given at the Crossplay For Girls panel. Never use duct tape or saran wrap. And you know you’re at the right place sitting in on Victorian Inspired Fashion, where one of the panelists, Jen, wore a steel boned corset for two years.

Livan and Chris of the Video Game Orchestra lent their talent near the beginning of the formal ball. I found it an exquisite touch to dance to live music. Duties eventually switched to a DJ however. The demographic of dancers was as eclectic as the music chosen. Genders and number of dancers mingled in every combination.

There was a pair of girls that really caught everyone’s eye. That’s to say, they could dance. There were many who obviously lacked the most basic steps as they spent the entire time looking at their feet. That didn’t seem to deter anyone from having a great time. I recall only one instance in which someone declined a dance. There were certainly lovers in attendance but the majority arrived with the hope of romance in their steps.

The charity auction benefiting the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative proved to be the highlight for my Sunday. There was a wide array of items to satisfy anyone’s taste. I believe the best money spent was a tie between $5 cereal and $5 cup of noodles. I ran into the winner of the cereal and took a photo of his prized conquest. He said it was money well spent given it went to charity ^_^

I would like to make a request. I’ve been spoiled by Otakon with a twenty four hour press lounge. It would be awesome to have the same convenience at AUSA. Finally, I am sad and anxious to see Lauren go. I felt press operations ran very smoothly and hope a management change won’t cause adverse effects.

Anime USA 2013 is September 13 to 15th. The theme is the Edo period. I can’t wait!

Please find all photos on flickr.

Anime USA 2012: Host Club Interview

Celestin and JY

I knew my last chance at Cosplay Burlesque for the weekend would be doomed by the interview but Celestin and Joo Young made it very worthwhile. The two dapper hosts were engaging and charming. They spoke with immense energy and excitement, eager to offer details and extending their private refuge when it got too loud. Thank you to both of them and the Host Club for taking such precious time to sit down with me.

I know it was precious because Makoto sat down with us but before I could ask my first question, he got pulled away and unfortunately, never to return. I had prepared the same questions I asked of the Maid Cafe hoping for a comparison.

The Paper: What led you to apply?

Celestin: I started in 2009 at a friend’s recommendation. He thought I would fit. I play in a band. I enjoy social interactions. The girls are pretty.

The Paper: What do you play?

Celestin: Acoustic guitar.

Joo Young: I heard about it from a high school friend. Actually met the manager of the club at Tysons Corner. Thought it would be fun. Besides, I got nothing to do on weekends.

TP: How many applicants are accepted vs those that applied?

Celestin: Hmm, I am not sure how many applicants there are.

JY: The managers pick them and they’re good at it.

TP: What advice do you have for applicants?

Celestin: Have fandom in Japanese culture. It’s amazing I got accepted since I am just normal guy you know…. know how to make apologies. It’s funny because you have so many tables at once and when you’re late, it’s a lot like apologizing to a girlfriend.

JY: I am going to give uncensored advice. You need to be good at talking to people, to girls. You need to sell alcohol. Be really confident.

TP: What’s the best part about being a host? Worst?

JY: I am still shy…

TP: You don’t seem shy at all!

JY: I am very shy. I wanted to change that. I wanted to make friends… change my mindset. So the best part is making new friends. We stay in touch after Host Club. The worst is that it’s physically impossible to give attention to everyone.

Celestin: I totally agree with JY on the best part. The worst is when customers get angry. There’s too much demand and not enough of us. They will stare at you when you’re at another table with another girl. There’s also a tendency to drink a lot.

TP: Are there any differences in how male and female patrons react?

Celestin: Male clients will come with girlfriend or they’re gay. But no difference really.

JY: Couples just want to have fun. Some boyfriends would get jealous. It’s part of our job to flirt but we must control it because of that.

Celestin: I did experience anger tonight from a boyfriend. It wasn’t even much, I just complimented her hair.

JY: Girls would come onto us but we can’t give out info. They would offer their phone numbers or room numbers.

Celestin: [Shows me his wrist.] I have had girls write their room number on my wrist tonight.

TP: Last question. Is there any rivalry with the Maid Cafe?

Celestin: Nah, no rivalry.

JY: We make a lot of friends with the maids. We hold group meetings together.

They were happy to field more questions and I wanted to accept and stay longer but I clung to my hopeless dream of burlesque instead.

Anime USA 2012: Maid Cafe Interview

I like to thank My Cup of Tea and specifically, Melody and Toya, for granting me an interview before the never ending line on Saturday. The two lovely maids were irresistibly delightful as they chatted with me and between themselves. It felt more like a conversation than interview where answers often ran off in tangents and each would finish the other’s sentences or thoughts. They exuded immense joy in their work during our conversation where they revealed everything about the Maid Cafe. Well, almost everything.

I don’t recall the exact circumstance but shortly after we sat down, I was informed that maids are forever 17. They would have a birthday every year where they would magically turn 17 again. And apparently, I can be 17 as well!

The Paper: What led you to apply?

Melody: I fell in love with the maid cafe as a customer when I visited. I was inspired by the head maid.

Toya: I enjoyed maid cafe in Japan. I wanted to bring that feeling and experience to others. It’s also a good way to make friends. It becomes a sisterhood. [Melody nods in vigorous agreement.]

Melody: Yes, sisterhood is a good way to put it. In fact, it’s like a sorority…

Toya: Yes, definitely…

Melody: There’s an initiation process…

The Paper: Oh? Initiation? Tell me about that.

Melody: That’s classified. [I look at Toya but she’s not spilling it so I move on.]

TP: How many applicants are accepted vs those that applied?

Melody: We have 30 maids with one or two backups. I don’t know how many applied.

Toya: It’s not that many.

Melody: Right, it’s not 100 or anything. If an applicant is serious, she will likely make it. There are also lots of returning maids so that’s a factor.

TP: What advice do you have for applicants?

Melody: Being a maid is more than just cosplay and being cute. It’s a serious job. You need to act the role.  You need to be a maid. [I can attest to the validity of this statement.] We also volunteer to visit other cons to promote the cafe.

TP: What’s the best part about being a maid?

Melody: The job itself is the best part.

Toya: When you see them have that first smile. A lot of customers don’t know what to expect [I nod as I remember my experience from the day before.] and they’re slightly confused at first. But as they grow into it, they break into a smile. That’s the absolute best.

Somehow we got into a tangent and they expressed disappointment in my menu selection yesterday because it didn’t provide a chance for Toya to draw on my food.

Toya

TP: Worst?

Melody: Having to go home. [She sounds genuinely melancholy.]

Toya: I forget to eat and drink. You’re so busy attending to others.

TP: Did the maid cafe meet your expectations?

Both (simultaneously): Better than expected!

Toya: Definitely better. I made so many friends. It’s something that will stay with me. I want to do this forever.

Melody: I want to go to each others’ weddings…

Toya: Oh yea…

[They ramble on about weddings.]

TP: Are there any differences in how male and female patrons react?

Melody: Hmmm. It’s a personality thing I think. Guys think it’s cute. Some are nervous. Others are into it.

Toya: You notice some guys who try not to stare. Others are skeptical at first but then warm up to it.

TP: I visited the Host Club last night. Why are photos allowed there but not at the maid cafe?

Melody: We have a photo service so it will diminish the value of that. And our contract does not allow photos. It’s a privacy issue. You can take pictures of the food.

Toya: By paying for the photo, it makes it special. Otherwise it’s just like any other picture you would take at a con.

Melody: We decorate the photos…

Toya: …it’s really pretty.

Melody inquired if I took a photo with Toya yesterday. I think they were dismayed at my failure to do so. [For the record, I don’t do photos.]

TP: Last question. Is there a rivalry with the Host Club?

Toya: No rivalry…

Melody: …it’s more of a friendly competition…

Toya: Yea, we’re like brothers and sisters. Some of the maids would study the hosts. We learn from each other.

Melody: Yea, we feed off each other. We’re all BFFs. We bond outside the con.

Toya: There’s a transition when the Maid Cafe turns into the Host Club for the night where we all mingle with each other…

Melody: …some of us get weak in the knees when the hosts arrive for their shift… the way they swagger in…

I think we went off onto another tangent but I felt I was overstaying my welcome judging by the bustle of noise from the cafe. It’s a real shame because I could have chatted all day and all night with Melody and Toya.

Melody

Photos via Maid Cafe.

Anime USA 2012: “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club

Tony is the greatest host ever. He made the Host Club for me.

I declined to pick a host like I did earlier that day at the Maid Cafe. And once again, I struck gold. Shortly after we were seated, Tony confessed to me that I was his first table that night. No one had picked him. I was shocked and at a loss for words. He spoke in a cheerful voice that conveyed his carefree personality as he sat across from me.

Dispensing with the usual introductions, he seemed negligent of his duties, not keen on taking my order or ensuring that I had water even after I informed him that I was under time constraints. Instead, he launched into conversation much to my chagrin as I checked the time on my phone.

Tony managed to keep a veil of mystery as he talked away beneath the dimmed lights of the restaurant and I found myself leaning closer. He traveled up to DC from North Carolina. I mention that my friend, who couldn’t join us, is also from his state. We talked about how I missed Kotoko at Animazement. He frequents anime cons along the coast. Sushi looks good.

He inquired about my outfit, unsure if I am cosplaying. He’s more into music than anime. Electronica, dance, hip hop. I quized him about his current rotation of the latter. I don’t recognize any of the bands. Sushi is good.

Suddenly, another host taps him and signals that he’s needed for a champagne toast. Curiously, I watch him join a handful of others in surrounding a nearby table. With the hosts blocking my view of the table, I could only see them chant in a crescendo as they pumped fists. Then it was all over.

Apparently, every time someone orders a drink, one host would partake in the festivity while the rest gather around and cheer them on.

We continued talking and I discover that he breakdances. He’s the only one upside down on the photo board. He got started when he was fourteen. It’s been seven years since he became a B Boy.

“I thought it would help me get girls,” Tony averted my gaze for half a heartbeat before looking up again with a tender grin. He’s quick to add that he dances for fun now, not to attract girls.

We shared the same understanding at that moment so I smiled knowingly in return. It felt like I had known him since grade school. And I am out of sushi. Wait.

Tony knew he had mastered his art. He entertained me while subtly delivering the essentials. He accomplished the impossible in creating a milieu not unlike a date. As my mind rewinded, I could recall ordering the sushi and his fleeting absences from the table but our time felt uninterrupted. I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

My glass was empty however. But if you were there to witness his adorable self, you’d forgive him too. Especially after what he did for me.

After settling the check, I followed him to the space occupied by the then absent DJ. He had recruited a colleague and they queued Propellerheads on the amplifier. I watched Tony sit on the floor as he stretched, removing his various jewelry and chains as he finds them, the thumping beats of music starting to attract attention…

I will let the video demonstrate why Tony and the Host Club is the best. (He first appears at 0:31)

Anime USA 2012: My Cup of Tea Maid Cafe

Do you believe in magic?

One needs to look no further than the line of merry maids standing at attention to greet patrons minutes before doors opened Friday morning. My Cup of Tea, the maid cafe at Anime USA, features thirty maids of your choosing.

Patrons are invited to pick from the photo board at the entrance. Some maids also offer to play a certain personality beyond the default moe such as tsundere. I declined to choose, leaving the hostess to pair me with Maid Toya.

It turned out to be a fabulous decision.

The magic began when Toya addressed me as Master which I found charming. She led me to our table and surprised me when she pulled out my chair. I have never had anyone do that for me. For those in the same boat, try it some time. It’s surreal like a boss. My surprise continued when she refuted my wanting to put my bag in the other chair citing her desire to sit with me. She then proceeded to chide me when I tried to hang the bag on the back of my chair which she insisted on doing. I wasn’t accustomed to such hospitality typically reserved for a master. In fact, I have to admit I was slightly flustered at the majestic treatment.

Toya played her role with absolute aplomb. She didn’t just play the role of a maid. Her actions and words channeled her role as my maid. With her delivery, I was able to grow comfortable in taking on my role as her Master. And therein lies the magic of My Cup of Tea. I am no longer at a maid cafe. I am sitting in my castle at my magnificent dining hall overlooking my vast territory beyond my alligator guarded moat.

While the menu offered variety, it lacked depth and nothing really appealed to me. And the prices will destroy your dealer’s room budget. I was hungry and under time constraint so I opted for egg rolls. Upon its arrival, my maid blessed it with a moe chant before my consumption.

I wanted to write a review from the perspective of a con attendee so I kept my press status hidden. In the same vein, I decided to play a game. I didn’t recognize some of the games on the list including Hungry Hungry Hippos which I chose because it sounded amusing. When Toya returned with the sealed box, I felt somewhat embarrassed at my juvenile choice and remarked as much. She brushed aside my hesitation and cheerfully explained the rules to me as she made preparations.

Starting to adjust to my role as Master, I had an immediate suspicion that she would let me win and voiced my concern. My servant vehemently denied the accusation. Mere seconds later, she beat me. Instead, she fished out the winning gold ball and placed it in my pile, declaring me the winner. I could only smile as I enjoyed the silliness of it all.

Toya surprised me one final time when she moved her chair to my right. I had expected her to sit across from me but the intimate gesture was welcoming. She talked a bit about herself and I was delighted to learn that my maid is incredibly intelligent and talented. And she speaks almost fluent Japanese.

I was sorely disappointed that she lied to me however. In listing her qualifications, she mentioned that she could flip. I demanded a demonstration not realizing her sarcasm. I remember looking at her shoes when she obediently stood, moved into position and conveyed readiness before she chastised me for making such a request while she is unsuitably attired.

“Go change and come back,” I retorted, really getting into my role.

“That would take too long,” she complained.

“I can wait.”

There was a lot of flirting as one might expect. In fact, she speculated that my notebook must be filled with phone numbers. I don’t think she believed me when I replied in the negative so I showed her.

“So my number would be the first?” she inquired with delight.

I nodded.

I wasn’t sure what to think at the time. Is she still in character or is she serious? Then I had my duties as press. What are the ethics surrounding such circumstances? Ultimately, I played along because flirting is a hobby for me but never did press for her number.

Of course it led her to question my notebook which I should have refrained from writing in. Thus I was able to pursue my hobby as we flirted about my keeping secrets.

It was an immense pleasure playing the role of a Master in possession of a maid. While it makes sense that maids are not allowed to eat or drink, I gave explicit permission for my maid to have water. I wish I had given more orders to add to the experience.

Toya served me perfectly. Upon noticing my interest in a passing cosplayer, she confirmed my desire for a picture and flagged down said subject on my behalf. Imagine if I had access to such a service throughout the con!

My favorite part occurred when she addressed me as something else and I had to correct her that I preferred Master. She was speechless for a moment but her expression said all that was necessary. I was having such a grand time that I thought we had achieved world peace.


Sadly, I couldn’t stay longer as my attendance was requested at a panel. I felt forlorn in having to give up my maid. The fantasy started to crumble. I divulged my secret at this point in order to set up an interview. Toya left me with a personal souvenir that she made which I am keeping all to myself by not posting its photo. I am unsure if it’s something all maids provide.

I have two minor complaints. The maid cafe should offer a goth/alternative maid. I am likely in the minority here given that moe is the main appeal. And current seating arrangements mean patrons on the other side of the divide may not be aware when a dance breaks out.

My Cup of Tea at Anime USA is magic personified. For the duration, each patron is transformed into a Master or Princess. This entails the sublime service of a maid. And when one’s maid is away retrieving food or occupied with another table, it’s not rare for another maid or three to stop by and keep one company. The magic is never disrupted and it lives on as a treasured memory.

More photos here and a video.

Unofficial Set List for Monkey Majik/Yoshida Brothers NYC concert

Okay this is a place marker, and an intention to post up somewhere my precious fan memories of this concert.. I am unsure of if there is going to be a public confirmation of the New York setlist, and I wasn’t at this venue as official press, but I am still marching on forth with recapping for people not there.

For the Yoshida Brothers, I am very very sure my ears picked up this:

Kodo
Ibuki

Though I can safely say I heard about six to seven songs were played, before Monkey Majik came on.

Now for the Monkey Majik part, my ears picked out these songs. Comments and criticism welcome for if my ears are deceiving me.

This list is seriously not in order:

Halo
Hero
魔法の言葉
虹色の魚
空はまるで
Together
Fly
Around the World
Wonderland

Encore: Change

Anime USA 2012: Sexism In Anime Fandom

I had missed the panel at Otakon earlier this year so at the urging of Shizuka, not to mention three tweets requesting my attendance, it was destiny. If only I knew it then.

The moderation and atmosphere were conducive to audience participation. It felt more like a roundtable discussion than a lecture. And a safe space as some remarked throughout.

Lauren and Patrick first took turns presenting their findings from the survey conducted specifically for this panel. They were dismayed to report that over half of female attendees experienced harassment of some kind. The same issue affects men as well but not to the same extent.

This isn’t a surprise given the prevalence of the problematic practice of portraying women more as objects than people in anime. As Lauren puts it succinctly, there are more breasts than not breasts. While boys do get objectified (Ouran High School offered as an example), overwhelmingly sexism focuses on the female body to the exclusion of everything else.

The misogyny isn’t unique to anime fandom. It exists in all of pop culture. To put a halt into the problem, people must engage in public discourse to broaden awareness of the effects such portrayals of women have on our daily behavior. More importantly, the panel beseeches that one should speak up against those that perpetuate the status quo. Silence is agreement.

Finally, taking a chart from The Cart Driver and labeling the genres from the current season, we can see that sexism also exists in the selection of anime where shounen outnumbers shoujo like stars to planets.

The excellent panel is ultimately ironic. Those in attendance are most likely aware of and have fairly extensive knowledge of the issues. In short, the panel is a complete waste of time.

Not.

During the panel, Lauren cited a statement from the survey in which someone was called a creep for wanting to take a cosplayer’s photo. An audience member questioned the cosplayer for making such a comment implying that cosplay invites photography but Patrick raised Slutwalk as a retort which I wholeheartedly agree with.

As it happens, I had taken a photo of a cosplayer on Friday. We passed each other several times over the course of the weekend and I began to grow an infatuation where I wanted to take another photo in a specific pose and moreover, pursue further. I couldn’t justify my intentions.

Feminist theory makes it abundantly clear that women do not want unsolicited attention, especially those with motives such as mine. Even a sincere compliment and nothing more may prove annoying given that the woman has likely received countless encounters of a similar nature.

I ran into her again late Saturday night. We were walking towards each other in passing and impulsively I complimented on her cosplay because it is THAT awesome only to feel bad immediately and removed myself before I could catch her reply if any.

It’s unclear whether she welcomed my comment but that’s irrelevant. I needed to practice more awareness for her feelings, her consent.

This is a lot more than I wanted to share but I hope it will serve as a reminder for me that I have more to do than attend panels.

Anime USA 2012 and Why I am In Love

My decision to pop my cherry with Anime USA coincided with her decision to relocate to a new location for 2012. As one might expect, there were a few issues regarding accommodations but the friction soon gave way to a delightful and memorable experience.

I overhead previous attendees that led me to believe that prior iterations were an exercise in escalator mastery. I am happy to announce that such is not the case for this year. Upon entering the main entrance, one is greeted by a magnificent atrium (Exhibit A) that serves like a traffic circle. The view from above said atrium at the mezzanine level, as it’s called, provides unparalleled angles to snipe photos (Exhibit B). Having said that, to move between the two levels require traversing through enough landscape that allows targets to allude capture in person should one desire an intimate close up.

Exhibit A

 

Exhibit B

The half atrium leading to the Exhibition level (bottom) does not suffer from this issue with the simple placement of an escalator pair (Exhibit C). I was puzzled at first by the lack of bi directional escalators on either side of this atrium but soon realized the ingenuity of the design in directing traffic flow. (Down escalator on left side of photo and up escalator on the other side.) By pairing each escalator with a set of stairs, the option is always available for one to move in any direction but human behavior quickly revealed that rarely does one deviate from the direction of the accompanied escalator. Bonzai! Traffic rarely collides except the occasions when one is in a hurry like yours truly running to retrieve items before press room is closed for interview.

Exhibit C Looking down from top floor (mezzanine) at the Lobby (middle) and Exhibition (bottom) levels.

Of course, one can point out the obvious that in complying with the direction of traffic, one actually traverses more landscape which in turn takes more time to move from point to point. I concur. However, the bottleneck at the bottom or top of escalators is almost non existent as there is no intersecting traffic like at, ahem, Otakon. In short, I argue that it takes less time. Then again, AUSA has a fraction of attendees of Otakon so I am sure that’s a factor.

Speaking of attendance, Shizuka accurately concluded that the small size facilitates the birth of new friendships as one is more likely to encounter the same person over and over which I can attest to. I believe the layout also plays a role. It is essentially a loop with distributaries.

The hotel needs more restrooms. I have to walk downstairs to do my business? Nani? Someone at closing ceremonies said the same for trash cans which I agree with. And cups. I applaud the hotel/AUSA not only for placing an adequate number of water coolers but keeping them replenished. Only once did I encounter an empty cooler but there was another one literally five seconds away. Unfortunately, one cannot consume water by mere sight when cups are lacking. I will let the reader use her imagination to solve this problem.

Cell phone reception remained above fair most of the weekend. I have Verizon which gave me 3G on the lower level but my friend had 4G with AT&T. It does go in and out which I am ok with. On the other hand, I had zero reception on the top floor Saturday night before the concert. That was annoying.

I like to go on record and state that the staff of AUSA is amazing. Not everyone was helpful but given the new setting, it’s completely understandable. Special mention goes out to the lady that rattled off a handful of panels for my perusal after informing me that Cosplay Burlesque had reached capacity Friday night. She definitely wanted me to enjoy the con. I should’ve gotten her name but someone please give her a raise.

My first Anime USA is like a good kiss. Unforgettable and leaving one wanting for more. Luckily, AUSA 2013 moved up to September 13th so I won’t have to wait a full year!