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.

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.

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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:

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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.

Stephanie Sheh on the anime industry


Stephanie Sheh is a voice actress whose works include the English versions of Lucky Star, Gundam Unicorn, Naruto, Bleach, Gurren Lagann, and Eureka Seven. She describes herself as an “actress, director, photographer, shortie.”

Following a dispute Sheh had with fansubber deviryuu over the motives, means, and impact of fansubbing, I contacted her to discuss the state of the American animation industry. The conversation was eye-opening, both in terms of what industry insiders think and in terms of the sociological factors that predispose them to think in certain ways.

For example, a commonly-touted argument now is that the industry depends on purchases, so by purchasing, a consumer is contributing to future anime, and by not purchasing, a consumer makes it less likely that anime will be produced in years to come. Implicit in that argument is the idea that a downloader cares about anime production in the future. While the idea that one cares enough to spend money holds true for serious anime fans, it is an assumption that probably should not be made when it comes to the broader audience of downloaders. It is, in short, the sort of argument an emotionally invested fan would think up, and Sheh’s assertion that American industry insiders were fans first serves to drive that home. (Being emotionally invested in what you produce is good – but inability to see past that one perspective when formulating policy could be disastrous.)
Continue reading Stephanie Sheh on the anime industry

USA commissions manga

It is, if anything, the reverse of “Cool Japan.” Rather than spread Japanese culture and influence to the world, a new manga titled Our Alliance – A Lasting Partnership has been published by the US Military in a bid to win the hearts of local Japanese citizens.

The manga presents America as a blond, rabbit-eared boy named Usa-kun, who enthusiastically explains the facts of geopolitical necessity to a Japanese girl named Arai Anzu – which sounds like a Wasai-Eigo pronunciation of “alliance.” (In Japanese, the prefix “Usa-” (兎) indicates things which are rabbitlike; thus Usa-kun has “usamimi,” 兎耳 or rabbit ears.)

“I am on your side,” Usa-kun tells Arai. “We are important friends.”

Continue reading USA commissions manga

Another Stab in the Dark

The San Diego Comic Con has been around for years, but nothing draws in the media like scandal. So it is unsurprising that the media flocked to rumors on Twitter of a stabbing, complete with (entirely fabricated) gory details like blood-drenched shirts and gaping wounds. The reality of it was more schoolyard fight than slasher, more petulant than perverse. This was no Akihabara knifing or even “Apple store incident.” What happened?

Around 4:00 p.m., two adult males attending the convention got into a scuffle shortly after a panel in Hall H of the convention center. – LA Times

That’s right – a man got scratched in the face with a pen, and the police took his assailant away. There’s even video, courtesy of elguapo1:

To be sure, the attempt at violence was there. And to be sure, the police were right to identify this as a case of assault and haul the perpetrator away. All the lurid fictions, however – the tales of betrayal, of passion, of dark secrets – now appear entirely unjustified. Instead it appears that anime otaku, like all other people, are capable of losing their temper and lashing out. When this happened, the police were there and the situation was under control.

Is that truly so surprising?

Officer Stafford describes most of the attendees of this years Comic-Con as peaceful, saying “They don’t drink, so that cuts down on the fights.”
LA Times

If you’re dead set on selling an image of otaku as dangerous, antisocial, and violently out of control, perhaps it is unsurprising when rumors of a stabbing start, or surprising when they turn out to be vastly exaggerated. Viewed with some perspective, though, this minor altercation is just business as usual for a large convention. The real surprise is that people keep playing to stereotypical expectations instead of heeding the true story.

A Stab in the Dark

A wild stabbing spree took place outside of the Apple Store downtown, police sources said.

The violence took place at around 6 p.m., at the corner of 14th Street and 9th Avenue. Four people were stabbed, although none of the injuries were life threatening, the sources said.

That’s it.  At its initial posting, that is the entirety of the NBC New York article on the stabbing outside an Apple Store.

Contrast that with the punditry that arose immediately after the Akihabara stabbing.

Why the double standard? Both cases are ultimately senseless crimes, where one man – for reasons we will never fully understand – inexplicably decided that attempting to kill random bystanders with a knife was a good idea. In the Akihabara incident, much was made of factors that the victims and the perpetrator had in common.

Many young people are selfish and immature and such violence is a manifestation of this.

– Unnamed criminologist quoted by the BBC

The Sunday Times was also not above emphasizing the abnormality of the victims, calling the stabbing “the arrival of real-life violence in a part of town that specialises in fantasies.”

That phrasing could just as easily apply to Los Angeles, or to New York.  Where are the talking heads, eager to dismiss the New York stabbing as something that happens in a land of fantasy?  In a sense, perhaps a multiple stabbing in New York is relatively unremarkable, especially on the heels of shooting in Times Square.  But the contrasting reactions serve as a stark reminder that anime otaku are treated differently by news media, even in the West.

Strike Witches 2 – The Pantsless Dream

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

We live, as the Chinese would have it, in interesting times. No, let us be more frank than that. We live in absurd times. As the BP oil spill continues, as North Korea makes warlike noises despite warnings from nearly every other civilized country with an interest in the matter, as the men from Union Carbide get off with 2 years in jail for the deaths of over 10,000, it is evident that lunacy is the order of the day.

What better time than now to release an absurd show? And how much more absurd does it get than Strike Witches, a show about pantsless magical schoolgirls who put on robot parts and nekomimi to fight for their countries?

Accepting absurdity is not easy.  Some people may complain that, for instance, a blacksmith should wear some pants. But this is the old way of thinking. These standards of believability have already been dealt a mortal blow! In fact, anime has already visited the topic of magical blacksmithing in great detail, and not only is it OK to smith without pants, it is OK to do so without hammer, anvil, quenching liquid, or even fire!  Magic has supplanted all of these. The Strike Witches already engage in life-and-death combat without pants; compared to that, why should the entirely controllable rigor of blacksmithing compel them to don pants?

Do not hesitate: he who hesitates is lost. Do not fear: we have nothing to fear but fear itself, and recursion is utterly passe. Stride forth boldly, and embrace the future!  Dare to dream of a pants-free world!

Of course, it’s possible – just possible – that I’m biased in my assessment. I mean, I’m not wearing any pants.

Losing The Game

This is the most hilarious juxtaposition ever.

It’s not Kaicho wa Maid-sama and The Game that I find funny, mind you. It’s anime otaku and The Game.

In a sense, this would seem to be a perfect match: take clueless, dateless, raging nerds, and inculcate them with the techniques passed down by the dating equivalent of kung-fu masters. Surely that should bring about a change in their lives! Yes; let’s train sex-starved, antisocial men in a series of techniques that teach them to manipulate and objectify the other sex, then turn them loose on the dating scene.

What could possibly go wrong?

Continue reading Losing The Game

B Gata H Kei: the Fifteen Year Old Virgin

Is virginity a character flaw?

Traditionally in Japan young girls were assumed to be maidens, to the point where the terms were at times used interchangeably. Perhaps in today’s sex-positive, metropolitan world, it’s assumed that youngsters of both genders will fool around.

In that light, B gata H kei appears to be something of a deconstruction of high schoolers’ attitudes towards sex. The details strain credulity (aiming for 100 casual sex partners in high school? Really?) but the overall idea that impressionable and insecure teens feel obligated to put on airs is dead on. It’s interesting that so much of the main character’s insecurities rest on the gross physical details of her anatomy, but what better symbol for the teenaged preoccupation with sex?

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American politician says nuke Japan

Sometimes, people hate what they don’t understand. Sometimes, politicians go so far as to demonstrate this hatred on the public record.


State Representative Nickolas Levasseur (D-NH), pictured to the right above, posted to Facebook:

Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn’t enough.

Leaving aside whether or not the Representative personally enjoys anime, this is an elected official joking about deploying atomic weapons on a civilian population simply because he dislikes their TV shows.

Red Hampshire broke the story immediately on the 24th, which is unsurprising given that such an irresponsible statement ought to be no less than political suicide. Major news media followed suit.
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