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The SNAFUS of Youth

 

What uniform can I wear to hide my heavy heart? It is too heavy. It will always show.

Jacques felt himself growing gloomy again. He was well aware that to live on earth a man must follow its fashions, and hearts were no longer worn.

Jean Cocteau

We have been subjected in the past few years to a spate of misleading, light novel adapted, anime titles. This is a happy thing, because the titles rarely promise anything other than the cheesiest, fan-serviceyist sort of outing: The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat. Each one of these shows has proven to be better written and characterized than their titles suggest, and perhaps can be chalked up to the collision of marketing necessity and rigid anime convention with an author’s desire to tell a different sort of story altogether. Sometimes you have to play the game in order to break the rules.

Such is the case with perhaps the greatest example of them all, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (lit: Just as I Thought, My Youth Romantic Comedy Was a Mistake)—though on further thought, the title may be more appropriate than it appears. It is, after all, quite a failure as a romantic comedy—its best moments are wistful and serious, not comedic. It begins with a standard quasi-harem set up but moves far beyond it, to tell the story of how teenage misfits try to navigate the emotional turmoil and confusion of adolescence in all too real ways. Real in how flawed, idealistic, and self-delusional they are; real in that they make mistakes when they think they are doing their best. The audience expects a cheesy harem comedy, but gets something much closer to Catcher in the Rye instead, a perhaps painful reminder of how one fumbles toward maturity with one’s friends in tow.

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The Holden Caulfield at the center of it is Hachiman—Hikki to his friends. He is a recognizable figure to any smartass, self-exiled teenage male who fancied himself less “phony,” less conforming, and more intelligent than his peers. If the mark of childhood is to take everything at face value, the mark of adolescence is to see past the surface and to realize there is more to life than just appearances—and to congratulate oneself for the insight, as if it were the greatest revelation in the world. This is why he cannot, in the first season, accept Yui’s kindness as genuine. She must be nice like this to everyone, he reasons, or is just pretending, either out of politeness or a desire to be thought well of. She must, in short, be a phony. As Holden put it:

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t even find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. —JD Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

This is the thought that runs through every adolescent’s head when he or she discovers how unfair and cruel the world can be. Even in minor ways, consequential only when you’re an adolescent: we discover later that Hachiman was brutally rejected by certain middle school girls who return in the second season, there to taunt him all over again and remind him of his past, embarrassing sincerity. The lesson he learned was that it would not do to wear his heart on his sleeve any more. He would protect himself with a shield of cynicism, even as he continues to flatter himself by “helping” others in his own way through the Service Club.

The Service Club is a concoction of his teacher, who, like Mr Antonini in Catcher, is trying to widen Holden/Hachiman’s perspective by forcing him to interact with others. At first there is only Yukino, the kindred-yet-different spirit who shares Hachiman’s reticence masking even less concealed vulnerability. In a lazier show they would be an easy pairing, but SNAFU novelist Wataru Watari does not make it nearly as easy. Their attitudes militate against connection, because it would require them to discard their constructed identities as smart, superior loners who see through the shallow social high school scene. This is why Yui at first seems an interloper, a “popular” person trying to penetrate the outcast group, but—as Hachiman, in a searing moment late in the 2nd season, acknowledges, they are longing for nothing less than “the real thing.” Yui brings that in her heart-wearing, kind, and purposeful effort to be friends with these stuck up loners.

That’s the rub, isn’t it—“the real thing.” One could call it authenticity, or emotional honesty, or speaking plainly, something the characters don’t seem quite to manage even at the very end of the second season: they avoid the subject of who-loves-whom to continue their balanced friendship, even as they know very well it cannot last forever. SNAFU is smart enough to realize that dramatic transformations do not happen instantly, not even when there are epiphanies and eloquent speeches—which the show is full of, especially in the second season where Hachiman’s self-protective worldview gets taken apart brick by brick as he realizes his “help” simply preserves a sick status quo at best, that his desire to not hurt others is hurting others more, that his unwillingness to be open is driving even his closest friends away. Realizing these things, which were some of the most emotionally satisfying parts of the series, was not enough to change everything overnight. They still can’t quite be entirely honest with themselves at the end—and we understand that, well, they are still kids. The show may be over (for now), but they still have time to figure it out. After all, it took some of us even longer to do that than many people who do as they finish up adolescence.

****

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Once, not long after graduating from college, I found myself a counselor at a urban summer camp for a bunch of Chinese kids in Brooklyn. The kids were the children of garment factory workers, whose mothers (many of them were in single-parent homes) toiled in the Garment District for most of the day and had little time to care for them. Many of them were rambunctious and unused to following instructions. Being an only child, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at children as much as I have as I did during that week.

There was one girl whose name I have forgotten. I remember her well because she, after seeing ungainly me, unused to being around children and the kind that likes to stand around aloof and awkward, had the gall to call me “creepy” to my face. I was more hurt than offended—I knew very well that I was not the most friendly or welcoming person, because I had barely even figured out who I was in my early 20s: I’d been too busy to think about it much in my intense high school and intense college majors. I wasn’t good at hiding my awkwardness from others, and children being as forthright as they are, she called it out.

It has been over ten years since then and I really only remember two things: one was yelling at a particular boy who kept running around and disrupting the play time. The other was occasionally asking the girl how she was doing, and eventually discovering that she was interested in writing stories. She tended to play alone, the way I usually did when I was her age. When it was time to do some writing exercises, I asked her how she came up with ideas and gave her a few tips from my own efforts to write stories: I had just graduated from the creative writing program, and while I was burned out at the time from putting anything out, I still remembered all the advice I had gotten over the years from workshops, books, and brutal peer feedback.

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I did not spend that much more time with her than I did with the other kids. I only remember her so well because, for a brief moment, there was a kindred spirit, a small reminder of where I once was, but in a less privileged place; a chance to share, albeit briefly, a bit of what I had learned up to that point about writing. I was lost and confused then, much more than I actually realized at the time, and all I could do was offer a few shards of the life I had pieced together then.

I’m not sure anything is that different now, really, as I write this and I look back at this real life incident and the fictional echo that I saw in certain scenes of SNAFU, especially the ones with Rumi in S1. We don’t ever stop being broken in one aspect or another; is anyone’s life ever really whole and seamless, ready to offer as God’s gift to humanity as some paragon of righteousness? Maybe the only gift we can really give as human beings is the gift of honesty: to offer our own selves, take it or leave it, and hope that when it is offered, it will be appreciated as “the real thing.” It’s a dangerous thing, though.

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. —JD Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Hi again, everyone. It’s good to be back. I missed you all.

In Defense of Sword Art Online

Really, Martin posed the question first:

Sword Art Online is not a terrible anime.

Sometimes, especially in the first thirteen episodes, it is actually quite good: there are stretches of sincere, even romantic dialogue, a basic grasp of suspense and pacing, all set to a soaring soundtrack that, admittedly, may be better than it deserves. Initially the stakes are high, death feels final, and there is a sense of urgency to the story. Kirito and Asuna are a likable couple much of the time, because their feelings are actually mutual and not bathed in the slapstick denial of most budding anime pairings. Even the siscon pandering later could have been not only far worse but just as popular anyway. (See: Mahouka and Oreimo, especially its ending.)

Thematically, while lacking the depth of worldbuilding of a Log Horizon, SAO actually tries to examine the relationship between the virtual and real worlds and deal with the consequences of people being trapped in the game. It does so in a heavy-handed manner, to be sure, but it tries: Kirito and others require months of physical therapy after they recover and have lost years of their lives. Many are lost forever. Plotwise, while the quest structure gives it a shape and direction, there are obvious holes and the endings of arcs tend toward handwaving and cheating in order to achieve the happy ending.

SAO, in other words, is a fairly average anime series. Argubly, it may be slightly above average. (Yuki Kajiura music can cover some, though not all, narrative sins.) Yet it has inspired gales of mockery and even hate through many quarters. Having not watched the original series when it aired and thus missing the hatewatching, I admitted recently to being puzzled as to why:

and now after watching all of the first season, the extra movie, and half of the current season, I’m still puzzled. SAO is far from great, and is only sometimes good. But it hardly seemed like an abomination. So this article is actually a genuine question to the show’s detractors: why is SAO such a bad anime? Aside from its narrative flaws, which I’ve already somewhat covered above, I have my own theories:

WHY YOU NO LIKE ME
WHY YOU NO LIKE ME

Is it its overwhelming popularity?

There is no doubt that SAO is a commercial success. I have seen legions of fans at conventions excited about the series, chanting its name during the second season premiere at Anime Expo, cosplaying as Kirito and Asuna, and naming characters in various Japanese character polls. The hatred seems to be confined to the aniblogosphere and review circles. Is it a sense that the show does not deserve its popularity, which is to the point where it almost becomes an ambassador for the anime medium the way DBZ, Attack on Titan, and other titles have sometimes served? Is hating it, in turn, almost seen as a marker of more refined taste? As Alan Zabaro said in our conversation about it:

Is it the portrayal of female characters?

I’ve heard this criticism before, that both Asuna and Suguha are poorly developed cheerleaders for Gary Stu Kirito and his awesomeness. The Suguha plot in particular is yet another example of a not-blood-related-sister falling in love with her onii-chan. The thing is: all this is true, and yet is more tempered in SAO than in other parallel anime. Both Haruka Tomatsu (Asuna) and Ayana Taketatsu (Suguha) both have well-acted emotional passages that reveal flashes of genuine character development, and the love Asuna has for Kirito actually feels genuine sometimes. There isn’t enough of it, to be sure, but both characters do actually change over time somewhat, which is more than can be said of many anime series. (Compare this to Miyuki in Mahouka, or even Kirino in Oreimo, who are one trait and nothing more.) These are fairly stock anime heroines, and one can certainly say that those stock conventions are problematic. But more problematic than lots of other shows and extra worthy of condemnation?

Ok, there was no real defense for the movie. And this is the tame part...
Ok, there was no real defense for the movie. And this is the tame part…

Note: I did cringe heavily at the villain and his dastardly schemes in the second half of the first season. Besides his overwrought scenery chewing, I agree with the critics who say that the threat of sexual violence against the main heroine is a cheap plot turn and should be used sparingly if at all. Nonetheless, this is hardly new, and not just in anime.

Is it the mismatch between how it’s sold and its actual quality?

From its inception, SAO was accompanied by a large level of hype. The full might of the Aniplex marketing machine went behind it.  I was present at the Lisa concert where the trailer was played and she sang the first OP. From hiring Kajiura to do the soundtrack, to getting top flight seiyuu, and animation from the well-regarded A-1 Pictures studio, this was meant to be a Quality Anime. Perhaps not the sort of title that would play in the Noitamina block, but a prestige title nevertheless. SAO is not that series, sadly, but it sometimes presents itself otherwise. (Mahouka, by contrast, has no such pretensions.) The music does not help in this regard: perhaps it is the disappointment of hearing epic battle choirs paired with minor battles and gorgeous, delicate melodies paired with a sister declaring her love for her brother. The chasm between what it could have been and what it is is sometimes wide. A soundtrack better than the show is an observation I’ve had about Kanno and Kajiura-scored shows for a long time though. How is this one worse?

When you think about it, it's all one big chuunibyou fantasy
When you think about it, it’s all one big chuunibyou fantasy

Or, simply, is it really just the story?

As mentioned above, plot holes abound. Characters do not grow enough and sometimes act in contrived ways in order to fit the plot. There is brocon. The fantasy worlds/games in question are not very original or deep. All this is true. But so are the majority of anime released every season.

So is it any of those, a combination, or some other factors? For all its clumsiness, I found SAO surprisingly engrossing. I wanted to know what happened next enough that I am only a few episodes from being completely current, and that can’t just be because of sheer boredom with everything else in my life. Yes, the revision of Psycho Pass is smarter, Terror in Resonance is much better directed, and Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun is cleverer. But SAO is fun too. Or maybe I’ve just succumbed. I think that knocking on the door is from the taste police. Excuse me while I turn in my critic badge…

WataMote 7: Voices

watamote7-1

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.

watamote7-2

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.

watamote7-3

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.

WataMote 4: You Can (Not) Be Touched

watamote4-1

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.) 

watamote4-3

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

 

SHOKKU
SHOKKU

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.

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.

Psycho Pass – an emotional and joyful moment for Cyberpunk fans…Eh?

I wrote about my thoughts on Cyberpunk in a paper back in 2007! http://animediet.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/cyberpunk-anime.doc , and I must say, I’ve become much dumber and can’t carry on an intelligent conversation like that. In addition, the entire article or parts of it = tl;dr. But after years of yearning, I can’t believe (Hallelujah), they finally made another hard core Cyberpunk anime…

Continue reading Psycho Pass – an emotional and joyful moment for Cyberpunk fans…Eh?

Psycho-Pass: Where Does Criminality Come From?

Why do people commit crimes? What makes people “good” to begin with, and are some people just born to be “bad”? The debate is as old as philosophy, religion, and ethics, and Gen Urobuchi—one of the most thoughtful screenwriters in anime today, and who has broached such subjects before in previous series—once again tackles the question in his new anime, Psycho Pass.

Continue reading Psycho-Pass: Where Does Criminality Come From?

Fall 2012 Anime Audio Preview

Ray and gendomike do their now traditional audio season preview of the just-launched Fall 2012 anime season! (Chart downloadable here.) We seemed to talk a lot about the concept of chuunibyou—something which is prevalent in more than just the show that has that word in the title. There’s some fascinating sci-fi shows coming in the mix like Robotics;NotesPsychopass, and the now airing Shin Seikai Yori. There’s the upcoming Key/Jun Maeda + JC Staff possible trainwreck Little Busters, romance shows like Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (which we thought had a hilarious trailer). The obligatory little sister show.

And, f0r some reason, Gangnam Style. Yes, we too can be trendy and with it. And so can Master Roshi.

(HT: thegirlwhotraveledintime.)

Audio Face Off: Tari Tari

We didn’t think it would end up being as good as it was! Ray and gendomike sound off in another audio Face Off about one of summer 2012’s sleeper hits, Tari Tari. We talk about how it beat our low expectations of the genre and its initial first impressions, where it turned around, and why it succeeds as a feel good show. And Sawa. Oh, yes, Sawa.

As a gift to you, here is a GIF that you may enjoy which encapsulates the virtues of this series.

(HT: notsuki. There really is an awful lot of this…)

Hirano Aya Concert: Review

See the full set of concert pictures taken by Shizuka here.

Aya Hirano’s concert, held on the last day of Otakon 2012, was an excellent way for many to spend the last few hours of the convention. Aya Hirano is best known for her role as the singer of the opening and ending songs for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as voice acting anime characters such as Haruhi and Konata from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star, respectively.

Scheduled from 12:30pm – 1:30pm (conveniently after most area hotels’ checkout time), the line for Aya Hirano’s concert extended from the entrance of the concert hall and continued outside the east side of the Baltimore Convention Center, an effort to minimize the line’s impact to traffic inside the convention that was mostly successful. Thanks to excellent line control by Otakon’s staff, the concert hall quickly and efficiently filled with Otakon attendees, nearly hitting the three-thousand person capacity of the concert hall.

The lights dimmed, the band strolled onto the stage, and…

Aya Hirano stood before thousands of her American fans, singing “Riot Girl” from her debut album of the same name. Her second song, “Kiss Me,” was from her second album Speed☆Star. These songs were from 2008-2009, near the beginning of her career.

After singing the first two songs, Aya Hirano finally greeted her American fans to excited cheering and vigorous waving of glowsticks. The next set of songs were the only parts of the concert that press could photograph. So as Aya Hirano started performing these songs, I was madly taking pictures of Aya Hirano’s performance.

“DIFFUSION (To the Other Side)” – from Aya Hirano’s May 2012 FRAGMENTS album
Unnamed World – from Aya Hirano’s 2009 Speed☆Star album. Also the ending theme for Nijū Mensō no Musume.
BRIGHT SCORE- from FRAGMENTS as well

At this point, most fans of Aya Hirano who had only heard of her anime songs might not have recognized any of the songs just performed. Of course, she had just saved her most well known songs for last: “God Knows…,” “Lost My Music,” and “Super Driver.” These songs were used as insert songs for the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the opening to the show’s second season.

As Aya Hirano finished “Super Driver,” the stage went dark, the band departed, and the concert ended. Or did it? Aya Hirano’s fans at Otakon cheered for an encore for almost five minutes before Aya Hirano and her band obliged, singing “Bouken Desho Desho?”, the opening theme to the first season of Haruhi Suzumiya. This wasn’t just an ordinary performance of “Bouken Desho Desho?”, as Aya Hirano called out to the audience, holding out her microphone for the audience to sing along with the harmony. The last song of the concert, “MonStAR,” was a piece from her early album Riot Girl.

The concert was immediately followed by an autograph session. A line that stretched the entire way around the perimeter of the room rapidly formed. While I didn’t have time to stay for Aya Hirano’s autograph session, I heard that she stayed for more than two hours after the end of her concert to make sure that everyone who made it into the line got an autograph. Bravo, Otakon and Aya Hirano, for making many Hirano fans’ dreams come true: a live concert, an autograph, and a memory that will last a lifetime.


The full set list follows (Source: Japanator)

Intro Medley
Riot Girl
Kiss Me

MC01

Diffusion (To the Other Side)
Unnamed World
Bright Score

MC02

God Knows…
Lost My Music
Super Driver

Encore
Bouken Desho Desho?

MC03

MonStAR

MC04 and End of Concert

Audio Face Off: The Problems and Promise of Kokoro Connect

Ray and I are back in our first entry in the Face Off series in years…and this time we’re talking about one of the most talked about shows this season, the high school body swapping drama Kokoro Connect. The strengths and the weaknesses of the show are well-known by now—the great acting, the questionable resolution of girls’ problems, among other things—and Ray and I cover a lot of that ground, and more. We especially discuss the impact of the 5th episode, which contained many shocking events and threw into question some of the assumptions we’ve made about the characters—especially “selfless freak” Taichi.

For the time being it’s going to be audio-only, but I’m going to try to see if I can do an auto-transcript with the new transcription abilities on my computer and tablet sometime later. In the meantime—enjoy!