All posts by moritheil

One might be forgiven for thinking that Moritheil is a postmodern literary critic who started reviewing video games in 2001, and spent the early 2000s learning at the right hand of con staff and fansubbers. However, those rumors are spurious: Moritheil is actually a distant relative of Genghis Khan who stands poised to conquer the world via the Internet. Follow along at http://twitter.com/moritheil.
12579059994_1ee2d98640_b

Katsucon 2014 – Lolita Dark Concert

12579059994_1ee2d98640_b

4P6C13294P6C13334P6C13344P6C13374P6C13384P6C1339
4P6C13544P6C13554P6C1359IMG_7598IMG_7600IMG_7601
IMG_7602IMG_7632IMG_7653IMG_7660IMG_7677IMG_7685
IMG_76874P6C12444P6C1318

Lolita Dark gave a tight performance to an unimpressed audience Saturday night at Katsucon.

Guitar work was solid and unremarkable. Vocals were indistinct, taking on an almost shoegazer-like quality. The bass and drums worked together well on some of their older songs, interweaving their notes to create a driving beat. The meter of songs was instantly recognizable, even classic, though the chord progressions were anything but. In many ways, that exemplified Lolita Dark – a technologically and culturally hip reworking of a rock formula as old as the Rolling Stones.

Media-savvy and brisk-paced, the band paused for the briefest of explanations of their songs and reminders to like their Facebook page or visit their website before launching into more. Lead singer Ray’s harmonies were operatic, even shrill at times. Where her gestures were sharp, imperative, forceful, keyboardist May’s movements were bubbly and effusive. Bassist Rain played his part to the hilt, contributing no vocals but strutting along the stage. Drummer Joey and rhythm guitarist Patrick, while technically flawless, were also flavorless.

In many bands, the effect would seem overly prissy, even sophomoric, but Lolita Dark delivered the occasional apology without giving away their hard-edged passion. Alas, the audience’s lack of familiarity worked against the band. Though visually flawless, bearing costumes inspired by cyberpunk and – what else – gothic Lolita, Lolita Dark struggled to engage the con-weary audience. Cosplayers leaned on props, texting, and only seemed to muster up the energy to engage in fist-pumping or baton-waving when prodded by the band, or for the final song, a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name.’ When the set was over, over 80% of the fans filed out, not even waiting for an encore.

Lolita Dark has the potential, and they are developing the connections. They lack only the audience. Time will tell if there is truly support for US-based J-rock.

Attack of Common Sense

Philosophically, there’s really not a lot going on with Shingeki no Kyojin. Power corrupts; power is inhuman; the strong eat the weak. Anyone who has taken more than a few minutes to observe how society works has probably come to these conclusions.

Rather than make SnK boring, though, in some sense this clears the field for the story to proceed unhindered. It establishes a clear philosophy, so that even though there are narrative and plot surprises each week – often leading to people getting eaten in new and exciting ways – the fundamental “type” of story does not surprise us.

Mikasa by tsuchinoetatsuya
Mikasa fanart by Tsuchinoe Tatsuya

In terms of personality, characters are relatively uncomplicated: you have your good old boys, your grizzled veterans, your crazy ass scientist, your zealots and politicians. Each one has a backstory and a reason for thinking the way that they do. If anyone can be said to be one-dimensional, it’s Mikasa, the talented, traumatized, yet endearing girl whose main goal in life is to be with her adoptive brother Eren. And yet her one-dimensionality is not necessarily the result of sloppy writing or an unwillingness to flesh out the author’s world; it is, rather, the only way she understands how to deal with the pressures of the insane world she lives in.

The titans themselves, though they start out as little more than fleshy murder-bots, are soon differentiated; some are mindless killing machines and some have very complex motivations. The female titan’s story in particular is fascinating, especially regarding the tradeoffs of what power does for you and what it requires you to do for it. But for a few strange decisions, it might even be argued that hers is the most human story of all.

Ultimately Shingeki no Kyojin is a very Greek drama: mortal man is beset by all kinds of forces completely beyond his control, and can only make the best choices he can. Even then, his nature obligates him to make certain choices, so it’s dubious whether he can control his life or not. Calamity and salvation ride on a toss of the dice, and heroic sacrifices are demanded not at rare occasions, but almost daily. It is an excellent reminder of what the world is like for the majority of humanity, even though the plush chairs and Lay-Z-boys the viewers sit in may not invoke that.

‘Dickwolves’ cheered at Penny Arcade Expo

Life, it may be said, is lived in fiction. If you got up and went to a job today, odds are that you did it for the money – itself a fiction, but backed by the government, which is another fiction. Your house and car physically exist, but your loans on them constitute promissory notes – financial fiction – owed to a corporation – a legal fiction. Somewhere in all this fiction we write narratives that explain what kinds of people we are, who we talk to, what we find good and evil, and how we live our lives.

The Penny Arcade controversy may be said to be the clash of competing fictions. What is Penny Arcade’s identity in the yet-ongoing ‘Dickwolves’ fight? Are they rabble-rousing hatemongers hell-bent on pushing a pro-rape agenda? Are they freedom fighters, trying to cling to their own ways of thought in an increasingly pressurized society? Or are they merely two guys who made a dumb joke? Twitter was ablaze yet again as this clip from PAX 2013 circulated (click to open video):

tycho-gabe-bling-490

“I think that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.” – Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, artist of Penny Arcade

“One of these days he’s going to say something wrong to the wrong person and then suddenly, PAX won’t be a thing anymore.” – @DanielBriscoe, Fandom Press, a sentiment echoed by many online.

Perhaps it’s impossible to be for free speech – whether caricatures of George Bush, graphic violence and gore in anime and manga, girls with improbably large breasts, or Serrano’s Piss Christ – and to turn around and be for the censoring of speech and thought because one particular group of people you like is sacrosanct. The basic concept of free speech in art is: whether an artist’s speech is distasteful or tasteful should not control whether we as a society permit it to exist.

dickwolvespt1

“If jokes about violence, rape, aids, pedophilia, bestiality, drugs, cancer, homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic.” – Gabe

To Penny Arcade, it appears this is more or less a straightforward free speech issue. From their point of view, they say stupid stuff but they don’t mean harm by it; some of it is hilarious and some is offensive, and some might even be both. They’re crass and careless, but they are equally crass and careless with each other. In the above PAX 2013 panel video, they publicly joke about how if one of them dies, the other already has plans to spend the life insurance money! Sensitivity is clearly not something they are any good at.

Penny Arcade’s fans cheer them because they are cheering the idea that in a complex world of disproportionate reactions – a scary world where kids get in trouble for chewing pastries into the shape of guns – it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to break the rules of politeness, it’s okay to say socially unacceptable things, and it’s okay to make a comic about utterly juvenile humor juxtaposed with gaming references. They don’t understand what all the fuss is, and they don’t accept that a joke about the absurdity of RPG questing that uses rape as its “BAD END” has anything to do with real life rape. They want to live without having to worry about consequences for every dumb thing that comes out when they open their mouths.

Set against this are those who believe that culture is deliberate. To them, every word and thought must be carefully measured for fear of contributing to one repressive culture or another. In this particular case, that’s “rape culture,” and all of Penny Arcade’s bluster is nothing less than horrifying. This is the other story; the other version of events; the competing fiction. Those who believe in rape culture believe in a sort of semiotic butterfly effect, whereby constant mention of rape as a laudable act (“we raped the other team in LoL last night”) or as an item of humour desensitizes people and eventually contributes to the incidence of actual rapes.

It would be easy to call this difference one of liberalism vs. conservatism, but that would be false: the Dickwolves argument is a clash between one liberal paradigm (third-wave feminism) and another liberal paradigm (free speech)! To third-wave feminists, it is utterly shocking that someone would willingly choose to wear a Dickwolves shirt after the backlash. After all, even if others don’t agree with their way of looking at culture, it’s obvious they are horrified by it. Why would anyone willingly offend them?

“A moral panic is a public panic over an issue deemed to be a threat to, or shocking to, the sensibilities of ‘proper’ society… Where the moral panic involves a group whose members are conscious of their subordination, the denounced behavior may become a symbol of opposition and rebellion.” – RationalWiki

It has to be noted that third-wave feminists do not form a majority consensus in society at large; only in educational institutions and on the Internet – where liberalism holds sway – are they taste-makers. “Rebellion” against any standards they impose may therefore also be understood as a clash between online and offline standards.

Of course, moral panic in the abstract is regularly derided in the gaming community, because of its associations with video game censors like Jack Thompson. Penny Arcade itself publicly feuded with the now-disbarred lawyer in 2005. Perhaps this illustrates a valuable lesson about how people apply ideals. People get that moral panic is absurd when applied to something they instinctively find harmless or positive like gaming, but change the bugbear to something like hurtful speech, and suddenly they’re all in. After all, stereotypical video game nerds and anime otaku have a long and storied history of being verbally abused.

Will Penny Arcade spawn more controversies in the future?

“With me not being able to keep my mouth shut – I’m trying very hard to be better about that . . . When and where it’s OK to say the things that I think. When I do things or say things that hurt not just me but fourteen other people who rely on Penny Arcade for their livelihood, when I say something dumb to make somebody mad . . . that I can see happening again. I hope it doesn’t, but I know who I am.” – Gabe

There you have it. It looks like it will happen again, and they are aware of it to the point of being fatalistic. While Gabe and Tycho are incredibly crass and offensive, perhaps we can at least say that they are also incredibly honest about who they really are. Time will tell whether they are remembered as hatemongers, advocates of free speech, or guys making dumb jokes.

Upotte: Put ya Guns On

It will come as no surprise to the reader that Upotte objectifies girls.  That is, after all, literally the premise of the show: that girls can actually be guns.  But perhaps the truly artistic element of its premise is that statement in reverse: that guns – inanimate objects – can be girly.

Perhaps the teacher’s dilemma is that these guns cannot be treated as such – they have feelings of shyness and inadequacy, and are embarrassed easily, just like ordinary girls.  Rather than showing the girls responding well to being treated like guns, the lesson of Upotte seems to be the backwards implication that guns ought to be treated more like girls: given leeway for their unique personality quirks, handled with care and delicacy, and generally treated with respect.

Continue reading

The Feminism of Prince Zuko

Zuko is the most feminist character in Avatar.

Sure, there are a lot of other contenders – a fact which reflects well on the show. Katara’s competence at waterbending, her slight motherly bent, and her suffer-no-fools attitude combine to make her the most obvious choice. But while Katara has power, it also comes with a distinct “horror show” streak, as shown in the episode about bloodbending. Ultimately, the implication that fully exploring her power is morally dangerous undercuts her purity as a vehicle for a feminist message – if her power is tainted, is female power itself then tainted by association? If Katara must limit herself to be decent, does that mean women should limit themselves?  Is there something sinister about a woman behaving at her full potential?

Suki, the Kiyoshi Island warrior, must be rejected for different reasons. Despite a promising start proving herself the equal of any other warrior, she manages to get knocked out and captured – off screen, no less – and then plays only a small part in the episode dedicated to her escape from prison. In between telling the compelling story of Sokka and his father, and introducing the plight of the other prisoners in the Fire Nation maximum-security prison, the writers sideline and diminish her to the point where she is less a character than a plot device.

Suki’s most heroic moment comes when she states that she is willing to return to captivity to help Sokka get another shot at freeing his father; aside from this one difficult decision, she is reduced to being another damsel in distress until near the very end of the escape. Even Suki’s decision is not given the weight it deserves; her suffering and emotions after being a female, mistreated prisoner of war for months are not really explored. No doubt much of this is to spare kids watching it the horrors of war, but the result is an unfortunate glossing over of Suki’s feelings and burden, as if they don’t really matter next to the great and glorious task the males are fixated on.  She doesn’t even get screen time to agonize over the decision, which would at least make the audience stop and think about just how much Sokka asks of her.

While we’re on the topic of women in the story, Azula has to be mentioned. Here is someone who ostensibly fills the role of a powerful woman, but she is repeatedly presented as so reprehensible and out of touch with humanity that she seems more like a parody of feminism set up by its critics than any kind of advertisement for it. Azula is less a human character and more a devious, malicious spirit wearing a villain suit that happens to be female. She is not shown wrestling with serious urges to be more feminine, difficulties with social pressure, or desire to find a man mingled with resentment that people would assume such. (She does attempt to become better socialized in one episode, but fails horribly and brushes the matter aside in favor of burning down the house in revenge.)  Azula’s psychosis alienates people, but while she uses social pressure as a weapon, she doesn’t really allow herself to care all that much about it, and that’s where she goes wrong as an exploration of the dialectic between women and power. Her gender, much like the spectacular self-destruction tacked on to the end of her story, is an afterthought.

Zuko? Zuko wanted something so badly that he betrayed himself to try to make it happen. He’s insecure and repeatedly undercuts his own intentions to try to please a distant and uncaring authority figure. That’s something teen and preteen girls in Western society can instantly relate to – certainly better than most guys of that age. While Ozai sacrificed his own family members for the throne, and Azula goes to great lengths to torment people because she’s a catty bitch, what Zuko seeks above all is a happy and harmonious household. He wants a nice, domestic scene.

It might seem odd to say the best story in Avatar about the female experience is that of a male, but if we accept that the world unevenly applies rules, that there is nothing inherently wrong with women wielding power, and that women often start from a position of being socially disadvantaged and must work harder to prove themselves, Zuko’s tale is the one that fits.  Zuko’s ultimate lesson is to learn to be true to himself despite what the world thinks, and as Liz Phair once said: “Be yourself, because if you can get away with it, that is the ultimate feminist act.”

An Ill-Managed War

Zach Logan and Tsukento have some interesting points to make over at the One Piece podcast.  They claim manga now exists in a state of war, and in the wake of SOPA, with ACTA on the horizon, that claim is certainly not hard to swallow. Some of their specific assertions, however, are rather eyebrow-raising.

Zach writes,

It’s law that is so sacred that it’s in the U.S. Constitution. These laws are what make the works of Oda, Kishimoto, and even Kubo a possibility.

There are two double-takes that I did as I read that. First off, intellectual property law as it now exists is an interpretation of older legal principles. It did not historically exist, though those principles did. While yes, the US Constitution does allow for Congress to secure rights for authors and inventors, copyright law in the 18th century was a very different beast from our modern concept of intellectual property.  Most of the rights that lawyers are now concerned with did not exist at the time, and especially noteworthy, it is only recently that intellectual properties are actually handled as real properties, rather than simply convenient fictions that exist to protect authors.  (Not coincidentally, the fiction of corporations as persons has also been stretched and reinterpreted in recent years.)

The modern reinterpretation is, if you will, the equivalent of a programmer kludging some code to make it do different things rather than starting cleanly from scratch. This is one reason people confuse copyright violation with theft, when the two are legally distinct: we are using old laws to handle rights and violations that did not exist when those laws were promulgated.  Zach may argue that copyright violation is morally indefensible in the same manner as theft, but then we are not entering a legal discussion: he is asking readers to share his morality, after which their agreement with his points will be obvious.

The term “sacred” – always a dubious choice in a discussion of secular law – presages this shaky claim. Pretending continuity between the copyright law of the past and the intellectual property rights of the present is roughly the same as asserting that Film studies existed before the earliest camera, that Protestantism existed before certain European monks re-interpreted the Bible, or asserting that modern Wicca should be identified with ancient paganism: it may lend legitimacy, but it is only true if one does not look too deeply. For that matter, the Constitution specifies that Congress may not prohibit, but may tax, the Importation of Persons – in historical context, the slave trade.  Ought we to treat America’s profit from the buying and selling of human beings as “sacred” as well? Even if intellectual property rights had appeared in their present form, appearing in the Constitution may not be a perfect indicator that a law ought to be treated with special reverence.

As a second major objection to this quote, US law is not what allows the works of Oda, Kishimoto, and Kubo to exist, because mangaka are producing content under Japanese law. Certainly, the US laws are very influential, and Japan has some ideas about intellectual property that are very close to US ideas (witness their agreement on ACTA) but suggesting that manga would not be made in Japan if the US had not developed this particular legal interpretation of an artist’s right to control his art is quite a stretch.  In fact, some economics experts argue that international rights themselves restrict art and lead to inefficiency.

Creating international trade rights creates an artificial scarcity where no real scarcity exists. That, by definition, is inefficient.

- Thomas Lenard

What Zach perhaps means to say is that the principle behind the law – the idea that authors are compensated for the work they do – is what enables mangaka to produce manga for a living.  On that we all must agree.  But this acknowledgement of necessity is a far cry from a ringing endorsement of the exact, current methods of ensuring that authors are compensated.  It is the methods that the angry fans the article quotes disagree with, and it is a distributor, not a creator, that they have vented their ire on. (Translation is an act of creation, legally speaking, but one who views a free scanlation is viewing a different creation from the officially translated product anyway.)

 

Tsukento writes, parodying an angry fan,

I also hope for the only major company that helped shaped this industry to crash and burn, preventing us from ever seeing official releases again!

But this misses the point. What industry? From an economic rationale, to someone who only wishes to view manga if it is free, there is no benefit derived from the existence of VIZ. On the other hand, if VIZ is going to DCMA takedown the sites these particular fans like, then VIZ is (from that point of view) harming them by interfering with what they want to do. Wishing for VIZ to collapse is therefore sensible for them from an economic perspective, given those starting points. Arguing with them over the finer points of VIZ policy but ignoring the basic truth that underlies their approach – that they do not accept VIZ – is not going to go anywhere.

Personally, I have paid for or been furnished with review copies of every anime I have ever watched – but I do not make the mistake of thinking that other people think as I do and are necessarily happy to support the system. Distribution in America does not directly affect production in Japan, and almost everyone in the discussion seems at least dimly aware of this. Everything I have seen leads me to conclude that people honestly believe US distribution of licensed works can collapse with no ill effects on production in Japan. (This is, I suspect, also conflated with attitudes about things being “cooler” or “purer” back when fans of an obscure medium swapped episodes or chapters physically. Fans who yearn for a return to that might not mind if the US industry downsized, mistakenly thinking that this would revert fan culture to its earlier days.)

If you wish to change fan attitudes about paying money for works, it will become necessary to explore the truth of these assumptions and demonstrate their falsehood, preferably with hard data. Only after fans concede the necessity of the existence of a US industry to handle distribution and licensing can they be convinced that this industry is worth supporting.  I don’t mean to put the burden on Zach and Tsukento – it’s VIZ, FUNimation, and other companies that have failed to recognize this crucial step in securing their future.  Their eyes were on Tokyo, not America; they took their hard-won legal ownership of distribution rights for cultural ownership without taking steps to ensure a congruence between the two.  Now, they are paying the price.

Compensated Dating in the USA

As part of a series on getting by with little money, Business Insider ran an article detailing how a Manhattan twenty-something uses dating website Match.com to get free dinners and booze. Jessica Sporty’s progression from merely being frugal to using sex appeal to obtain material goods unleashed an utterly predictable storm of reactions from all corners of the political spectrum.

Really, though, this isn’t anything new. Putting aside invocations of “the oldest profession,” the more moderate phenomenon of compensated dating has been around for quite some time. Called “enko” in Japan, or “enjo kosai,” it involves paying for a woman’s company more than her body, though depending on where the buyer and seller fall on the spectrum of sexual permissiveness, sex is not out of the question. Naturally, a “reverse” version exists as well: in The Great Happiness Space, a male host at an Osaka club describes the emotional toll of having sex with several paying women each week.

Perhaps the telling part is that unlike in Japan, most of the US seems to labor under the illusion that such practices are a thing of the past.  “What woman does this sort of thing?”  America had compensated dating in the 1920s, along with flappers and financially liberated women, but it just as surely had attempts to legislate these out of sight and out of existence.  According to an ABC News survey, 30% of single men above the age of 30 have paid for sex.

And yet this sort of thing is distasteful to us now.  Tokyopop cut the entire enjo kosai subplot, a valuable cultural nuance, from Initial D‘s American localization.

The original author at Business Insider has since complained that people were overly sensitive about Sporty callously playing with peoples’ feelings for fun and profit.  She rebuked readers for making value judgments about a woman who just wants to live the good life at the expense of others.

Sporty kept things simple—no more than five dates with the same guy.

Perhaps the largest difference is that in Japan, there is necessarily a certain tension: whether drinking with a man at a host club, or going to karaoke with a high school girl, the client knows they are paying for the illusion of good times with the opposite gender.  In Jessica Sporty’s outings, only one side is aware that it’s all a show.

Yumekui Merry

A boy meets a magical girl, the lost inhabitant of another world. Despite her unrivaled prowess in fighting, this girl is confused and amnesiac, hoping only to get back home. Despite being clearly nonhuman, she has the appearance and emotions of a teenage girl. Will she find a way back home? Even if she does, will she really want to go, or will the burgeoning relationship hinted at with the male lead compel her to stay? Yumekui Merry has interesting character designs, good background music, and – refreshingly, given the stale setup – a male lead who is neither a parody of hypermasculinity (as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann‘s Kamina was) nor a spineless noodle (as Evangelion’s Shinji was.)

Sadly, that last sentence contains all there is that is good about Yumekui Merry. Production values are terrible, pacing is worse than Witch Hunter Robin, and the writing lacks direction. Entire sequences are shown with a white background and crudely sketched faces. Certainly, this show contains many dream sequences, which can’t be expected to conform to reality, but just one look at Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica shows what can be done with alternate reality settings in a contemporary show. Merry’s low-budget lapses don’t even begin to compare.

A finished product?
Ask yourself: is this a finished product?

 

Mistleteinn is a properly epic adversary, if ridiculously flat: she is given no backstory and no personality beyond whimsy and naked cruelty. The sensei that serves as her vessel is foreshadowed as being two-faced and scheming, but there is no examination of why he wound up this way. The victory of the main characters over such unmitigated evil is predictable and boring, involving no real plot twists or justification. The heroes triumph against a vastly superior adversary because they are the heroes of the show, not because they have found the villain’s weakness, undergone training, unlocked the power of their heritage, or any other such pretext.

In the end Yumekui Merry assembles a lot of effects without causes. There is a parallel to Tom Stoppard’s existentialist work Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but in Stoppard’s work, it is made clear that the backstory exists and the appearance of arbitrary phenomena is a result of the perspective of the title characters. The audience knows what is going on, and is thus able to appreciate the confusion of the characters and how it results from a combination of circumstances. In Yumekui Merry, no one really knows what is going on – not the humans, not the dream demons, not the audience, nor, one suspects, the producers themselves.

Madoka’s Magical Realism

If anything in the universe lends itself to broad, shamanic principles, it is surely entropy. Broken glass, spilled milk, and toppled stacks of books are all examples of that universal principle we are familiar with. At times, it almost seems intelligent, malicious, seeking to thwart our intentions and pervert our efforts to bring order to our lives.

The fundamental laws of thermodynamics, which govern entropy, have been stated as:

1. You can’t get ahead.
2. You can’t break even.
3. You cannot refuse to play.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica examines these laws not from a literal standpoint, but from a philosophical standpoint. It is not the first anime to do so – Full Metal Alchemist centered almost entirely on the point of “Equivalent Exchange,” a principle that comes pretty close to the first law of thermodynamics: to receive something, you must give up something of equal value.

The primary difference between Madoka and its intellectual predecessor is the degree of adherence to Law Two: in Alchemist, you can get some pretty good trades as well as some pretty bad ones. In Madoka, it’s all downhill, with magical girls ultimately sliding down a slippery slope of magic dependency into outright insanity.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

- W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

 

In this context, what exactly is Kyuubey? He is the vengeance of entropy, the denial of hope, the cold and cruel insistence that you cannot get something for nothing, and that the house always takes a cut. With Kyuubey you can never truly get what you wish for just by asking for it, for the act of obtaining your wish in such a fashion changes the situation.  Furthermore, what you get never quite equals what you give up: it always falls short, usually in some terrible way.

Uncle Kyuubey wants you!
Uncle Kyuubey wants you!

It has been variously said that Kyuubey’s explanations of magical energy and entropy border on the laughable, and perhaps that’s right. But ultimately Kyuubey and what he represents should be considered in terms of a philosophical argument, not an accurate, one-to-one correspondence with reality and proper physics. If we ignore this level of consideration to focus on the literal, then Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is only the story of a mailed fist punching a defenseless face in the nose, ad nauseam, over the course of a dozen episodes. Including it, we see a marvelous juxtaposition: the futility perceived in adulthood when compared with the unbounded expectations of childhood, is philosophically similar to the ultimate thermodynamic futility of all chemical and physical processes, life included.  Water runs downhill, and does not flow back up.  People become corrupt, and do not regain their innocence.  Everyone dies, in the end.

But there are miracles.

Ultimately Madoka, for all of its bleak and nihilistic scenes, cannot help but be a magical girl show.  Even at its worst, it is still in many respects cheerier than the reality the human race lives in. Thermodynamics really does state that we and the world are on a one-way trip to oblivion, and anything we do only hastens the process.  While the stories of the girls in the show are sad, examples abound of people whose daily lives are more depressing than those in the show.

The truly depressing thing about Madoka isn’t that its fictional characters are subject to horror, death and worse.  It’s that every bad thing in Madoka is actually a censored version of what really happens on our planet.

Sendai Magnitude 8.9

Northern Japan was hit with an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale.

Image courtesy of US Geological Survey.

Amid the general panic, fires broke out, glass shattered, and the Fukushima nuclear power plant was damaged, causing radiation levels to rise.  This prompted civil authorities to order an emergency evacuation of the nearby area and the US to dispatch technicians and coolant from its nearby military base.  As if that were not enough, the offshore quake (near Sendai) caused a massive tsunami.  Internet-savvy Japanese immediately started using google services, websites and social networks to communicate and coordinate their activities.  Many credit stringent Japanese building standards with reducing the effects of the quake and its aftershocks.

Continue reading

Anarchy: a five minute history of punk rock

The tenth episode of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt presents the main characters as a rock band playing a TeddyLoid song.

The music video makes quite a few references to existing music videos, as well as to famous scenes in rock and punk music. For the curious, I’ve listed all those I was able to recognize below. Panty’s concert outfit references riot-grrl performers in general, whereas Stocking looks generally like a gothloli (think Kanon Wakeshima in darker colors, with a slightly different hat.) Costumes change quite a bit; Garterbelt starts out in nondescript black and is at one point dressed as Freddie Mercury (which is about as far from nondescript as one can get.) The imprint in the corner of the screen, PSG, resembles the MTV logo imprint. More specific references follow:

Continue reading

Panty and Stocking: Broken Heroes

It should be a series filled with horrible angst.

Panty and Stocking – named for the artifacts they bear – are outcast angels, unable to ascend to heaven. Denied communion with their maker, they must slaughter their way through hordes of ghosts and demons until they redeem themselves. It sounds like the recipe for a Twilight knockoff, or a Supernatural/Buffy pastiche.

But Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt avoids these predictable traps, and is far better for it. Brandishing a “hell with it, let’s roll” attitude, the title characters are seriously flawed heroes. Stocking is a gothloli addicted to sweets, and Panty is a shameless tramp with an insatiable appetite for man-flesh. Let’s face it: these are the girls your mother warned you about – and that’s before the whole “angels on stripper poles” transformation sequence. Faced with epic morale problems, Garterbelt – a Mr. T in clerical robes – has mostly settled for pointing them at the monsters and saying, “Kill.”

It’s interesting that the demons of the series – Scanty and Kneesocks – represent order. The demonic is not the order we create, the meaning we give to our lives personally, but rather the thousand petty rules and obligations that society foists upon us. The creators of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt have literally demonized social rules, and cast the angelic protagonists as struggling to overcome them.

What makes the series compelling? Is it fun? Yes. Does it have any compunction about making gross scatological jokes? No. But overall, Panty and Stocking are heroic for their willingness to endure. They have the scorn of others; they face doubt, mockery, and condemnation – and like Rhett Butler, they frankly just don’t give a damn. They’ll do the job they have to do, but they won’t bother being saints about it. Surely this resonates with an audience tired of having to put up with everyone else’s troubles and expectations.

Nihilism isn’t quite the same as grace under pressure, but in the broken world Panty and Stocking inhabit, you take what you can get, and look good doing it.