Tag Archives: anime

ALTIMA Press Conference Transcript: Otakon 2014

ALTIMA are a digital J-pop group widely known for making the Shakugan no Shana ED. They are:

Altima

  • Maon Kurosaki – vocals – a self-described anime otaku
  • Mototaka “Motsu” Segawa – rapper – loves US dance/house music
  • Satoshi “Sat” Yaginuma – sound production; instrumentals

Motsu, you put the band together. Could you tell us why you felt compelled to work with these artists?

Motsu – At first . . . ? I love J-pop – and my old band, m.o.v.e., starting doing less digital J-pop. I found on YouTube that I could do digital J-pop with Sat, and we just needed a vocalist who was into it. We found her, and we were set!

Any funny or inspiring stories from the road?

Maon – In Thailand and in HK, the crowd had memorized the songs and sang with us! I felt that music connects us, even across distance, borders, and cultures.

Motsu – I love how loud the fans get in the US! It’s the best feeling, being cheered on like that.

Sat – We visited many places for the music videos and had a lot of experiences. It’s a real honor to be in the US.

You are each from different musical traditions. What is the concept of ALTIMA?

Sat – What we aim at is digital J-pop. I don’t know if you’d say digital pop exists elsewhere in the world, but digital J-pop is exactly what we want to do.

What artists inspired you?

Sat – Motsu~! (Grins across.)

Motsu – (Laughs.) (Pauses.) For me, as a rapper . . . Beastie Boys, 2Unlimited, house music . . .

Sat – Run DMC, Walk this Way!

Maon – For me, actually, a lot of anime artists! Minami Kuribayashi, Mizuki Nana, JAM Project – I found this style of music most interesting and I want to tell the world how wonderful it is!

Sat – I also manage FripSide . . . we were successful and I had the chance to work with Omura Tetsuya. I said, “I did it!” It really felt like a milestone in my life.

Maon – I also really respect Hamasaki Ayumi.

Sat – Hey Motsu – you’re in the same company as her, aren’t you? (laughter)

How do you deal with creative differences?

Motsu – Janken! (laughter)

Maon – Jan! Ken! Pon! (makes hand motions)

[Editor’s note: This is Rock, Paper, Scissors, which is ubiquitous in Japan.]

Sat – Seriously, though, we’re all in different age groups – 20s, 30s, 40s. We don’t really argue and we have no problem talking things over.

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your music careers?

Motsu – Starting up this group, actually. Three years ago, not everyone was sold on this idea. We faced a lot of opposition. It was worth it though – we’re here now!

Sat – I likewise feel the greatest challenge was putting this group together. But I was a huge fan of Motsu already, so I knew I wanted to work with him!

Motsu – (Embarrassed) Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Maon – My own greatest challenge? Actually, it was stepping up and singing! I am really the introverted type; I love being inside playing dating simulation games, but when I discovered the world of anime music, I became passionate about sharing it with everyone. So stepping into the light was my biggest challenge.

You mentioned that Run DMC influenced you. Is there any chance we’ll see a Run DMC cover some time?

Motsu – Yes. Come to our concert tonight!

What’s your favorite swear word?

Maon – English or Japanese?

Motsu – Jikusho!

Bonus question: Where’d you get your shades? They’re very distinctive.

Motsu – It’s my own brand! Ghetto Blaster. So we could say I made them myself.

You move so fluidly! Did you have dance training, Motsu?

Motsu – I started out as a dancer.

Do you have a message for your US fans?

Motsu – You guys give us huge greetings when we come to the US. It’s great to have you cheering us on!

Sat – As the producer, let me say – we try for an unconventional style. I really want to see how fans react to it!

Maon – Even in Japan, it’s a rare opportunity to do everything raw. Here in the US, it’s an especially rare opportunity to bring you our raw sound, our raw voices . . . I’m looking forward to it!

Sat – I really hope we can spread exposure across the country to those who are looking for our sound. So I hope you guys can write good articles and convey our spirit to the world!

“Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge” Film Scheduled to Air In Several Asian Countries

Fans of Hunter x Hunter, or specifically the Yorknew City arc in which Kurapika is essentially the main character for nearly 20 episodes straight, will be excited to hear that Animax Asia has released an English-subtitled trailer of the 2013 film Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge. Continue reading “Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge” Film Scheduled to Air In Several Asian Countries

Should Anime Characters Get Transformed Into Lego Figures?

Lego customizer @LEGOdouMoko is mostly known for “Legoing” well known anime series, such as Dragon Ball Z, Kill la Kill, and even Sailor Moon. Moko’s unique twist of creation has amazed thousands of anime fans, to which it’s been shared on many social networking sites. Continue reading Should Anime Characters Get Transformed Into Lego Figures?

Forget Me Not

One Week Friends and How To Remember Love

Is it possible to forget how to be a friend? Spend enough time in isolation, and it almost seems like it is. Even for those who aren’t hikkikomori, for some who have had lengthy bouts of loneliness—through a break-up, work circumstances, travel, depression, or just a desire to be alone—the art of being with others is something that has to be relearned. To remember that others see you when you go out with bed head and the stained hoodie. To not mumble to yourself out loud when you have a thought. To show up on time when you agree with your coworkers to go somewhere, and to tell them if you are going to be early, or late. To look people in the eye when you are speaking to them.

Perhaps more importantly, to have an open heart and not assume the natural, suspicious huddle of someone who always thinks that the world is out to hurt you. To not push people away, rejecting in anticipation of rejection.

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I honestly don’t care that much about the male protagonists in One Week Friends. Yuuki is the standard male naif, perhaps even more innocent than usual (this is almost Kimi ni Todoke levels of guilelessness here), and while he’s the one seemingly learning the lessons, he’s not the one who faces the greatest struggle. His friend Kiryu briefly introduces some tension but is ultimately the faithful wingman, the best bro who will help him get the girl.

No, Kaori, the girl with memories of close friends only a week long, is the one I feel for. It’s a shame that the source material mainly uses her selective short term amnesia as a moe charm vehicle, bolstered by her perpetual blush and her soft features. So far in the anime the poignancy of her situation is not allowed to go too far down the subtext that it suggests, which is: for some people, friendship is hard, so hard that it takes a deliberate effort to not forget how it’s done.

The cruel irony is that sometimes it’s the ones we yearn to be closest to–not just potential romantic partners (as is the case here), but anyone who offers genuine vulnerability and emotional intimacy–that we treat with the most fear and confusion and hesitancy. It’s why, not very long ago, I had no trouble giving gifts to my friends–except for the one I had a crush on; why I have such a hard time opening up to my family whenever I am in trouble, and turn to isolation instead; why some phone conversations with certain people are the ones I most want to avoid.

Kaori’s plight reminds me of the desire to make life easier, just by convenient forgetting, or perhaps resetting is a better word: a constant wiping of the slate clean and reliving of the most fun part of friendship—its beginning. She has to write everything down in order to do otherwise, and when I wondered why she hadn’t thought to keep a diary and a reminder until Hase suggests it, it dawned on me: because, in a way, it is easier for her not to. She can sidestep the inevitable pain and confusion of young friendship and love. It is as close as life allows her to have a do-over. We have all wished to undo a mistake in our lives sometimes, to start a relationship over or to unsay those words.

And yet, as time passes, and she starts to record her fleeting memories, connections begin to form in her mind. That something is important about this chain of thoughts and time, reaching past the limits of her immediate memory. When she loses the diary, she feels the growing absence in her heart, even though she cannot name it until the end. To get those memories back—rain-stained and perhaps blurred over—is, by then, a gift. Because friendship, as hard as it is, is a gift, and it is sustained by the good and bad memories created by that relationship.

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And so we were made. Isolation is a kind of forgetting, a kind of amnesia. Isolation does offer a kind of predictable safety, but the kind of person it creates is, as CS Lewis wrote,

If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. 

Some of us have been there, in that airless room. But eventually, if we are not to shrivel inside, we have to remember, by writing on the tablets of our hearts, that the reward for loving others is to love itself.

Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. —1 John 2:9-11

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12 Days of Christmas: Passion Supports Yowapeda

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Yowamushi Pedal has been my top anime for the fall. This is a sports anime on bicycling, so there are the typical themes of competition, the underdog and of course a fiery passion. The protagonist, Ononda, happens to be an otaku who pedals on a utility bicycle weekly or daily from his school to Akihabara. He unsuccessfully tries to re-form an anime club, but fails; so he ends up joining the bicycle club where he becomes the unexpected hidden talent among the other more serious bicyclists.

The screen cap is from a moment at Ononda’s welcoming race, as he races to be the first on the top of the hill. In a race, there are critical moments when the body is exhausted, and to beat the other competitors is vital. The need to find motivation is clear, so this was his way of finding that last bit of energy.

What makes this heartwarming for me is the fact that Ononda finds solace in his niche hobby, and this can translate in reality as a passion or support for enriching life. I remember reading an entry MangaTherapy wrote on his blog that speaks about challenges. It is like choosing a career. Typically a person chooses what they find the most happiness in completing. But the harsh reality is how many would succeed in a field of their passion? Having multiple hobbies and passions makes life easier.

For me, Yowapeda brings inspiration and fun as I think about the various slashable couples and anime moments that make me a fan.

12 Days of Christmas: Love Lab and Soul Sistaas

Not sure if many people actually watched Love Lab, which I feel is one of the funniest anime comedies this season, if only for the timing, the silliness, and the batsu (punishment) game like effect where one is placed in an environment and is on the verge of falling off the edge of laughter–when something outrageous happens right at you, and you’re “punished” for laughing.

In this fine episode, protagonist Kurahashi Riko comes to the student council’s office with the usual stuff on her mind. This is after the Love Lab group read about how having a darker skin complexion gave someone relationship trouble. Now, silly jokes that take race light-heartedly and being totally silly but not mean is fine with me.

In any event, I didn’t expect what happens next. The show seems all normal at first. Then Riko opens the door, and finds a verydifferent Maki outside. I’ll let the picture do the talking.

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This screen shot doesn’t do justice to the whole scene. There’s no way to convey the random, batsu game like funniness without actually watching this episode yourself, or watching the entire show up to this point.

So there you go. I recommend a slightly patient watch, but once the single gals get together and daydream about love, there’s not stopping the laughter!

WataMote 7: Voices

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Summary

Summer vacation has started, and isolated Tomoko–true to herself–does not bother going out of her room, choosing to while away the hours in front of a computer, a book, listening to more fantasy boys on MP3, playing games…and kvetching late at night, to the continued annoyance of her brother. Eventually even she realizes that she’s wasting her time, so she orders a webcam and attempts to start a streaming live show, only to discover that she has little to say that’s funny or entertaining to an outside audience. Her experiment with webcam stardom ends in failure.

By chance, however, she discovers that she has a ticket to a handsome voice actor’s meet-and-greet, where fans have an opportunity to have him record a line for them. Smitten by the possibilities, Tomoko freakishly prepares for the event, only to discover that she is utterly unprepared when it’s her turn to give him her desired lines. He handles it like the pro that he is, however, and soon Tomoko has an entire collection of his lines to tickle her ears, which she then proceeds to edit together with some of her “responses” into a suggestive audio play. Which, of course, her mother overhears because Tomoko plugged her headphones into the wrong jack.

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Thoughts

This was the most hilarious episode of WataMote to hit in a while, and it’s all thanks to the way Oonuma builds up the episode. One might argue that the first third or half was slow-paced and boring–we essentially watch the passage of time as Tomoko spends most of her day inside her room consuming media (an experience many of us, myself included, are all too familiar with on vacation days). It’s only mildly punctuated with her night-time noises. But what is happening is a slow windup, which builds throughout the webcam story and which culminates with the voice actor recording. By the last third I was in a constant state of hilarity. The ridiculousness of the situation only becomes apparent over time and makes the payoff of the final scene that much sweeter.

One might also judge this episode as a win for Tomoko, given the parameters of the story. She essentially has her fantasies and desires fulfilled: in this case, getting to do what she wants in her room, meeting one of her idols and getting him to do what she wanted, and even using a bit of creativity to take that product and make it her own. Sure, the live stream was a failure, though the camera’s microphone was put to use; sure, her mother found out, but, much like her father did when she was discovered with an eroge and a vibrator, her mother just backs away and lets her be. One can debate whether a good parent should do such a thing, of course, and it was certainly embarrassing, but given all her past humiliations she got let off mighty easy in this episode.

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There is one scene that was woven into the narrative that was a short, separate chapter in the manga: the one where Tomoki (the brother) sees his mother watching tapes of him and Tomoko as small children, when they loved each other and were affectionate to one another. He even declared he wanted to marry her then! His reaction, of course, is one of mortal embarrassment, but I found the scene to also contain an undercurrent of sadness too, given the contrast to their much more antagonistic current relationship. Oonuma, however, never gives in to playing up the sentimental parts too hard in WataMote, so the most we are given as a sign of reconciliation is him watching Tomoko from his window as she lights fireworks by herself.  This realistic emotional understatement is a refreshing contrast to the likes of, oh, another just-concluded show about brothers and sisters that ran in the opposite direction. Both, oddly enough, have insufferable sisters who are at times barely tolerated by their brothers: but in this one, the sister is the subject rater than the object, and the difference could not be more stark in execution.

There’s also something in this episode about the obsessive nature of fandom and producing vs consuming media, but I’ll leave that discussion to my upcoming article/review of that other brother/sister show.

What a difference context makes.
What a difference context makes.

Attack on Titan: “Why We Fight” For the Otaku Age?

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There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. —Genesis 6:4-5

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyoujin) is the most popular new manga and anime in the world right now. Or so it seems, based on more than 20 million manga copies sold, high anime ratings, and at Anime Expo, as many cosplayers dressed in the uniforms of the Survey Corps as there once were Naruto headbands. Even within the usually snobbish English aniblogosphere, it’s the most talked-about series for the past two seasons. It’s also one of my favorite series airing right now, one I eagerly look forward to every week.

What’s going on? What’s led this story about the war between humans and giants to sweep through the anime scene faster than the Colossal Titan can knock down walls?

During the Second World War, the American government produced a series of propaganda films called “Why We Fight.” Produced and largely directed by Frank Capra of It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the series was initially aimed at soldiers, and only later shown to civilians. The films sought to convince the troops that, should the Axis Powers prevail in Europe and Asia, they would be an overwhelming, implacable foe that would easily overwhelm an isolated America with their sheer numbers. The enemy’s own propaganda, such as The Triumph of the Will, was spliced in to reinforce the fearsomeness and ugly racist ideology they faced. The films also sought to explain why the US was teaming up with the Soviet Union, who would not normally be an ally of a Western capitalist democracy. Sometimes you have to join forces with people who may not necessarily be to your liking in order to defeat an even greater enemy.

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One can see that the general narrative of Attack on Titan hits a lot of the same points as this classic piece of wartime persuasion. From the start, the viewer is convinced that the fight Eren and his family and friends face is one of sheer survival against a terrifying, superior foe. They need no films to convince them of that fact: the people they care about are eaten right before their very eyes. Eren’s goal from the day his mother perished is to avenge her death and to kill all the Titans, and in order to do so, he wishes to not only join the military, but to join its most dangerous and elite branch, the Survey Corps. He and his friends all enlist together, train together (mostly), and fight together…and by the most recent episode, all the main characters are all within the same Survey Corps that Eren sought to join from the start. Along the way, Eren himself comes under fire for his Titan-generating powers, but the authorities are eventually convinced that his dangerous powers are worth harnessing for the greater good of humanity, even though they know he is still not in full control of them.

Or perhaps “propaganda” is the wrong term. First off–just because something is “propaganda” (we just call it “advertising” today) doesn’t make it untrue, at least not entirely: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan really did stand for odious racial ideologies and did commit many atrocities. Moreover the goal of Attack on Titan in our world is not to necessarily convince us to join some real military and go fight literal giants or other oppressive enemies–except perhaps one’s own internal demons, as producer George Wada suggested in discussing his motivations for making the anime. It’s a ripping good yarn, full of intense emotions, action, and an uncanny ability to keep the audience guessing what comes next. (Few shows have been as difficult to discuss without the threat of spoilers than this one in recent memory.) This is a war story told from the perspective of soldiers, and it’s natural that themes common to war movies are featured heavily: camaraderie, corrupt senior officers/leaders in conflict with sharp, practical ones, grief at the heavy human toll of fighting, but always with the determination to fight another day. Some of the most thrilling scenes aren’t just the parts where the soldiers swing, Spider Man-like, from rooftop to Titan with their 3D Maneuver Gear–just in episode 17, there was a masterfully directed visual explanation of the Advance Scout Formation. The story is so gung-ho, even military strategy is exciting!

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But all stories are not going to just resonate within themselves, but in the outer world too. And societies often look for enemies to unite against as an easy way to unify the people and get them to adopt a desired attitude or take a certain action. Within the world of Attack on Titan, there is no ambiguity about the enemy: they are monsters (though we are getting more and more hints about what they really are), and must be stopped if the human race is to survive. Past fascist regimes also sought to dehumanize their enemies, often as a prelude toward genocide: the Jews are like rats, the Chinese are like dogs. (In turn, the Japanese were depicted as monkey-like in American propaganda, which made it easier to violate the rights of Japanese Americans by sending them to camps). In order to activate the primal human sense that you must fight, your foes must die or you die, you have to convince people that the enemy is both inhuman and incomprehensible on some level. By contrast, the heroes are soldiers: valiant men and women who risk their lives, whose best leaders are wise and who follow a well-designed plan, and even when they face obstacles and danger, they will ultimately prevail.

This is not what I am saying: that this is necessarily a bad thing or a bad or dangerous story that should be shunned. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge that the structure and the appeal of Attack on Titan is not an accident, because it plays on time-honored storytelling techniques that have been used to get people to get up and fight. And there are many things in this world that actually are worth fighting for in a metaphorical way. Wada’s comparison of the Titans to every human’s fear of change and the outside world is actually very compelling. We all have “Titans” in our lives that we have to battle daily, and Walls that hold us back. That’s a worthwhile thing to fight for: and that’s not mentioning fighting against social injustice, tyranny, or other worthy causes.

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Here’s the thing though: while this story is not trying to get people to fight a bad war, a story like it sometimes can. The South Korean nationalists who decried Attack on Titan as a piece of Japanese militaristic propaganda, where the Titans are the Koreans and it’s training Japanese boys to become soldiers, are certainly wrong: I’m sure Iseyama, Wada, and Araki did not think the Titans literally represent a particular nation or people. They just want to tell a great story that appeals to many people and perhaps give them a little more courage to live.

Attack on Titan is not going to get the current generation of Japanese youth to all join the Self Defense Forces (which, if Prime Minister Abe gets his way, will be renamed). But, in a world where North Korea rattles its nuclear saber, China grows increasingly hostile over a few islands, and there is serious talk about revising the pacifist Japanese Constitution…in the extremes, one can also imagine another well-directed film or TV series with similarly bombastic music, thrilling visuals, and daring heroes beating the odds that inspires youth all over to dress up like them, like soldiers. And in that alternate story, the enemy might not be as fantastical as monstrous giants. It might be clearer, and more immediate, and identifiable. It’s been done before, after all (start at 1:00):

So who are the Titans we need to fight against? That is the question.

It’s interesting that in a much older story, it’s only when the giants and their descendents appear that people became so evil that God sent the Flood.

WataMote 4: You Can (Not) Be Touched

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Summary

After surfing the web for too long one night, Tomoko, knowing deep down that she won’t be getting skinship with a real boy anytime soon, tries other means to get into sexual situations: first by trying to induce wet dreams–which don’t come, except at the worst possible moment; second, by wishing that someone would at least molest her–which does not have the outcome she expected or wanted; third, buying sexy panties with help from her now-fashionable friend Yuu–which are exposed in the most humiliating, and unusual, way; and finally by buying a BL game and a “massager”–which is discovered by her father. It seems that Tomoko is destined to be “pure,” and not voluntarily either.

Tomoko: stalker in training
Tomoko: stalker in training

Thoughts

The episode opens with a scene that I can relate to wholeheartedly: spending hours into the night surfing the web, reading one random article after another long past your bedtime. Tomoko is a hikki in training! But the bulk of the episode is about sex, sex, sex, and unlike Nakamura’s railing about it in Aku no Hana, it’s not boring.

Let’s be honest: for a lot of nerds/geeks in high school, one of the most frustrating things is feeling like there’s no outlet for all those hormones rushing through your body. You’re not handsome/pretty enough, you’re not popular enough, no one will go on a date with you, and so while all those other people are making out and learning all about their bodies, you’re just left standing there with only sad fantasies to keep you going. And I can tell you that this is even true, perhaps doubly true, if you have a religious upbringing.

There’s both a refreshing and a troubling level to the things that happen to Tomoko in this episode: it’s refreshing in the sense that Tomoko is not the “virginal pure” type of high school girl that we often see in otaku-oriented anime. Her lustfulness, which gets taken to deliberately absurd heights, is much more believable on a human level, and all the more sad in that we know her efforts are going to be thwarted. (It doesn’t help that she comes off as creepy, even to Yuu.) Her unhappiness over being undateable and untouchable is easy to relate to for some of us.

Does anyone really think this way?
Does anyone really think this way?

That feeling is tied to the troubling aspect, particularly in the molestation storyline, where the story seems to make light of harassment and even rape by the end. Yes, we get that Tomoko is desperate, though part of her does seem to get that this is no picnic; and yes, perhaps the point is that she so starved of validation that her lonely mind can think that this is fine. But it’s not fine, and the show’s ambiguity on the point breaks the tension between comedy and tragedy that the show had negotiated so well. It wants us to laugh at her mindset, but I found it more depressing than funny, and so I couldn’t laugh at that segment at all. Can someone be so starved for touch that she’d think being molested is preferable to nothing?

(Note: I’d be interested to hear whether there are people who can answer that question, or if this episode is a fanciful projection, which is what I suspect it is. And if it is, that’s not a good reflection on the mind of the creators.) 

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We are still treated to the same incredible facial expressions as before, fortunately, and the same genius comic timing/cringe humor, particularly by the third part when she discovers the BL game and the vibrator. (Come now, that’s what we are supposed to think it is and is the basis of the scene’s humor.) Those parts did make me laugh, though the pain vs humor ratio is a lot higher overall. You begin to think, “so this is why Japan’s birthrate is so low…” and why surveys show that the Japanese are the least sexually satisfied out of major developed nations. Combined with the hikikomori phenomenon–and Tomoko is well on her way toward being one–the humor of WataMote might be a reflection of the sad state of affairs that many of the “less desirable” people, men and women, face for relationships. It’s not pretty.

The raunchiness of this episode, is, admittedly, sometimes both fun and funny. But it’s a mask for Tomoko’s humiliation and loneliness. There is one ray of light: we see her dad gently, non-judgmentally carry her to bed after she’s fallen asleep in front of the game with the massager still turned on. Despite her callous treatment of her brother and his reciprocal disdain, Tomoko at least still has a family and a real home. Right now, it’s the only place she really has where she can more or less be herself. Let’s hope she’ll be able to move forward even further.

Then again, he could be thinking: she's going to be living here into her adulthood, isn't she?
Then again, he could be thinking: she’s going to be living here into her adulthood, isn’t she?

WataMote 3: Avoidance

 

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Summary

Tomoko will go to great lengths to avoid socializing with her peers, especially if they are boys. She’d rather go without a textbook she forgot to bring than share her neighbor’s, which always gets her in trouble. When her umbrella breaks during a rainstorm and she encounters some guys at the bus stop, she’s so nervous that she runs to the bathroom in great fear and nausea. And once again she attempts to use her brother, this time attempting to catch his cold so she can avoid going to school. It succeeds but too late, ruining her weekend —made all the worse by her now coupled friend Yuu’s answer to a relationship quiz.

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Thoughts

What WataMote continually does, with caustic humor, is to drive home the point that ultimately Tomoko is responsible for her predicament. There’s a moment, for instance, where she thinks that her umbrella’s been stolen and her mind immediately constructs a dark profile of who the thief might be, that he might be having a relationship, that he deserves to die—only for her rage to be punctured by spotting the umbrella on the other side of the aisle. The paranoia and judgmentalism she regularly indulges in is a product not of genuine circumstance, but of her own mind. The same goes with her inability to ask a neighbor to share a textbook—something which has apparently happened repeatedly. She seems oblivious to the fact that she suffers more, not less, by taking the long, avoiding way.

I remember being that way. I’d loop around a school corridor to avoid meeting certain people. Or look away from another person hoping he or she wouldn’t notice me. Sit by myself while eating so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, or, more recently, bow my head down toward the screen of my smartphone and endlessly check the news.

What drove me was fear: fear of being laughed at, because it always felt like other people’s eyes were on you and others were just waiting for a chance to mock you, when, in fact, most people are ignoring you. (This happens at the bus stop with the two random guys, for instance. They can’t even understand what she’s saying, let alone thinking or saying bad things about her.) The truth is that most people are far too self-absorbed themselves to care that much about what you are doing. But the fear, which for Tomoko is paralyzing, not only prevents her from saying the right things at the right time or taking an easier way out. It also prevents her from noticing when people have been kind to her, as when she wishes “a guy would be nice to me” after a guy had in fact bought her a new umbrella and left it with her while she was asleep. Fear has a way of driving out love, and, it is love that casts out fear.

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What hasn’t been explored much yet in the anime—no spoilers, manga readers—is how Tomoko became what she is now. Why is she so socially anxious? Bullying would be a plausible, albeit predictable, reason. But her behavior seems to come less from bullying-induced low self-esteem than from a generalized anxiety and self-consciousness. Is it genetic? Is it her fujoshi-esque hobbies? Her plain looks? Middle school girls can be exquisitely cruel, it is true, and perhaps they picked on her for many reasons, leaving her only with Yuu to keep her company then. Middle school in general can be a hellish time for nearly everyone, and not everyone reacts with aplomb or gets over it so easily.

What remains is this, however: her social exile is, by this point, largely self-imposed. There is a real snobbery in her attitude toward others, along with fear. Her dealings with her brother are plainly self-interested, and he sees through it easily and dismisses her accordingly, cutting herself off from a possible source of strength and comfort. (One can’t also help but think that her sisterly attempts to get him to say she is attractive is not just desperation, but also a swipe at certain types of anime fans, but I digress…) Even a stupid magazine quiz, whose methodology is highly suspect, only encourages her to think to worst about herself. How can she be so gullible?

Which is why for me, her situation is not any less sad for being partly her responsibility. This show is always teetering on the edge of no longer being funny but being genuinely tragic, and given Oonuma’s record as a superb chronicler of loneliness (much of the ef series and the serious episodes of BakaTest and Dusk Maiden), I suspect we will see Tomoko’s soul laid bare at some point. There’s real hurt somewhere in there, and she’ll have to face it and confront it if she wants to move on.

Not even funny music can hide the real sentiment behind this scene.
Not even funny music can hide the real sentiment behind this scene.

WataMote

So were many of us.
So were many of us.

I’m not exactly sure when I realized that I had more friends than I thought. It might have been sometime during my mid 20s, when I was sitting in a Corner Bakery with other church people. I was in one of my more morose moods and had a hard time looking people in the eye, a bad habit that has plagued me since my early days. Though I was surrounded by people, Christians, who were supposed to be friendly, I ate my sandwich in a cone of silence. Which is the way I liked it much of the time, except when I didn’t and I wished someone, preferably an attractive person of the opposite sex, would talk to me first.

Finally, someone asked me how I was doing. “It could be better,” I think I said. “It’s kind of lonely.” You are not supposed to answer that question that way, of course. You are supposed to say “Good,” or “I’m fine” because otherwise the conversation comes to a screeching halt. People look at you with concern, and it starts getting Serious and voices have that hush of exaggerated Worry For Your Well Being.

It took half a moment before I recognized my faux pas and I tried to laugh it off, and apologized for being so awkward. “But I’m better than I used to be,” I added hastily. “You should have seen me when I was in my teens. Ha ha ha.” And it was true–coming to California had already begun to relieve me of the near catatonic states I sometimes got in in large group settings–but they didn’t need to know that. Man, how pathetic, I thought. You already sound so self-justifying, so self-pitying. “I’m not used to having a lot of friends,” I concluded. And there’s the troll for sympathy.

I don’t remember what the person said in response. It wasn’t anything as encouraging or straightforward as “We’re all friends here,” or “But we like you.” Maybe it was “it’s ok. You’re fine.” But not long afterwards, I thought about all the friends I still had back in Maryland, living overseas in places like Japan or Taiwan. The not unfriendly, not unkind people that surrounded me. They were laughing but they weren’t laughing at me, which is how I used to interpret all laughter that I heard outside my immediate presence. They didn’t not want me here. I realized: Maybe I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t friendless either. At some point, the old narrative I had told myself since childhood was no longer true.

It took me a long time, a lifetime really, to get to that point.

* * *

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The most relatable aspect of Tomoko Kuroki, the heroine of WataMote (the short form of a story titled No Matter How I Look At It, It’s Not My Fault I’m Not Popular!) is her self-talk. In the first episode of the anime, we are treated to her running internal dialogue, which alternates between grandiosity, judgmental contempt for her peers, self-justification, self-doubt, and even suicidal intentions: and that’s just in the first half. If it had to be boiled down to a single word, it might be “insecurity,” and that is certainly a huge aspect of it, but what WataMote gets that other fine shows such as Kimi ni Todoke don’t get is also the other side of the pendulum swing: the absurd, delusional self-confidence that happens just before a crash. “I’m not unpopular!” she proclaims. “I talked to 6 guys last year!” As someone who used to call it a good day when a pretty girl sat next to me in church or on the bus, even if we didn’t talk, and used to keep informal tallies of conversations I had…that hurt.

Tomoko is also not very likable, and this is also a truth of being an outcast. Someone like the pure-hearted Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke may be low self-esteem, but her sweetness and innocence are deeply appealing. Tomoko is neither so innocent or so pure, and I’m not talking so much in the way she gets turned on by otome games. Outcasts can be the biggest snobs and most judgmental of others, as in her dismissal of her more popular peers as “sluts” or “bitches” and the boys who like them as “idiots.” I certainly remember inveighing against popular movies like Titanic when it was released, taking pride in not listening to mainstream garbage on the radio, and refusing to use less big words in my speech for fear of accommodating to the dumb masses. “You are so hard to please,” a girl told me once. The truth was, I was insufferable sometimes. And so is Tomoko. I can imagine those who can’t relate to her disliking her in this anime, the way a lot of folks despise Shinji from Evangelion. It’s brave for WataMote to depict this aspect of unpopularity, from the self-pitying title on down.

Sometimes this is how you feel on the inside.
Sometimes this is how you feel on the inside too.

The temptation for a story like this, especially with the grotesque efforts Tomoko makes in trying to make herself “cute,” is to turn this into a standard makeover story, in which a little fashion advice turns a homely girl into a beautiful one and suddenly she gets all the guys she wants. I’m assured by others who read the manga this is not the case. The irony is that this is the story that Tomoko and those like her indulge in all day: witness her love of otome games and how she has “dated” over 200 guys and been a high school girl for 50 years. The makeover narrative is one Tomoko desperately wants to believe in: if I had high test scores, or if I only dressed differently or wore glasses or followed advice in magazines, I’d be liked….Because that’s relatively easy. The truth is that popularity is a full-time job when you are in high school and people with other interests and priorities–like most of us nerds and geeks–simply don’t, and shouldn’t, do that work if we want to remain true to ourselves.

And her brother, Tomoki. I had no siblings, who might have provided at least an outlet of sorts, and I sometimes longed to have an older sister, probably because most of the girls who were kind to me tended to be older. But given the stilted way I talked to my parents at that age, I’m not sure I would have done much better than Tomoko with her brother. He, after all, is “normal” and even popular, being an accomplished athlete; I had grades and I had writing, which is something, but not things that discouraged my reclusiveness. There’s evidence that Tomoki is more than a little concerned about her, but given her mood swings and insecurity his annoyance is also understandable. I know my parents didn’t understand why failing a quiz felt so devastating to me at the time. There were few other things holding me up, and the moodiness that comes to most adolescents can seem like a distant memory once you’re an adult.

I watch this show now, with its spastic, Shin Oonuma directed visuals, its depictions of a genuinely plain and sometimes ugly female lead (itself a daring move for anime), and its emotionally accurate depiction of social isolation’s effects, and I have two simultaneous reactions: laughter, and knowing pain. Laughter, because I am old enough and past my adolescence and early 20s to realize how silly my thought process was sometimes. Pain, because I am young enough to remember how debilitating that time was: forgetting how to greet people pleasantly because you’d been isolated for so long. Not knowing how to sustain a conversation with anyone you find attractive. Fidgeting, stammering, talking to oneself a bit too much. Assuming that being liked or loved is only attainable in a fantasy game.

A lot of us started from there and have struggled, or still struggle, to get out. WataMote, hopefully, honors the rest of us non-popular people with emotional truth, laughter, and tears. Ganbatte ne, Tomoko.

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Genshiken, Then and Now: A Reflection

 

Ogiue isn't happy here. Should you at the new Genshiken?
Ohno isn’t happy. Should you be at the new season?

When I first laid eyes on the first Genshiken, I was in Japan teaching English. More precisely, I was on break and I was in a random anime shop in Hiroshima City.

The moment I saw the clips of the new show playing on a TV screen in the store, I felt that it was a show that I must watch.

Back then, I understood little to no Japanese. No joke; I couldn’t tell what the guys and gals at Genshiken were saying. However, there was a spiritual connection that I couldn’t explain and still can’t explain today. It was like destiny.

I knew, I just knew: THIS WAS ABOUT US!

The realization struck me like a tidal wave. At the time, I was an American in Japan, having freshly acquired anime culture, but still an Akiba virgin. I went on traveling to Tokyo and to the sacred place later (sadly, the place is no longer sacred – ippanjin and AKB48 losers now roam freely in my spiritual home).

There was a beautiful innocence about Genshiken season 1, and somewhat about season two (that’s when it was no longer a pat on our backs) when I first watched them. I mean, one never forget his or her first time, right? It was like the first girl you’ve ever loved –she was pure, innocent; a gal next door or next to you in class or from the next class. Then you introduced your world to her, or she introduced her world to you. You were hooked on your first time experience for a while.

Then you met someone else; you moved on; you had new experiences.

Then some time later, you wake up in the middle of the night, or from your daydream, and you realized that it is no longer that touching or exciting or awesome anymore.

So now we come to Genshiken Nidaime—the second round/course/generation.

Just like before, it tries to laugh and poke fun at otaku culture and references. However, many shows have done that since the days of the first Genshiken.

It remains a slice of otaku life show, true to its roots. And it’s still fun. I mean, I had 3 batsu game moments when it referred to one of the newer shows that has a new season out now.

But wait, the first thing that I noticed was that all the original voice actors were gone. The fun and the impressions that came from the popular seiyuu from that era disappeared, and I was listening to the new cast. It was like a painful reminder that we didn’t live in that era anymore.

That didn’t please me very much. Strike one.

 

Wait is this Genshiken or FREE?
Wait is this Genshiken or Free?

Next, because the guys from the original Genshiken graduated or weren’t around much anymore, I was feeling a little alienated. The club essentially became a fujoshi fan club. I mean, the show is still funny, but the change turns me off. Strike two.

Last, I really dislike Hideyoshi type of girlish dudes (hate me all you want), and we have one here. He/she is voiced by a seiyuu that I don’t recognize. Strike three.

I’ll be honest, as a fan of the original, I’m actually biased in favor of this series. I will continue watching it to get a sense of continuing nostalgia. However, as a critic, I’m looking at an idea that other shows have already executed countless times since the heyday of Otakudom and the old Genshiken, and that’s not good enough.

I’m in severe doubt that the new gen can carry the torch, when the torch was passed on to others long ago. It is 2013 and not 2004, 2005, or 2006.

Rest in peace, my innocent days as a fresh Otaku in the height of Otakudom. Now I live on as a hardened, cynical veteran zombie of anime fandom.

Rest in peace.