Tag Archives: social commentary

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.

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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Let’s Bible One-Shot: The Moe of Christ

Suffering is moe.

Crucified on the cross, Jesus Christ knew profound suffering.

Therefore, Jesus Christ is profoundly moe.

This, along with a few other propositions of dubious logical merit, forms the basis of Let’s Bible, a tale of Biblical proportions that toes the line between being bizarrely funny and simply wrong. Perhaps, as James Wood said, the Creator cannot be reified, but in Let’s Bible, Jesus is certainly moefied.

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The Future of Love

How will they remember love?
How will they remember love?

Many people look upon those who express love for characters as having “given up” or “retreated from reality.” While it’s true that they have turned their backs on their fellow flesh-and-blood humans, it is woefully inaccurate to suggest they have “given up” on romance and love.

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Shitsurakuen: A Tired Argument

Shitsurakuen-cover

Shitsurakuen is metafiction. However, rather than metafiction that cleverly employs existing genre tropes to make an argument, it is metafiction that simply arrives back at the starting point. Both visually and narratively, it borrows heavily from classics such as Revolutionary Girl Utena and Sailor Moon, yet fails to do anything new with the material.

shitsuraken_guys

The protagonist Sora is an innocent, strong-willed girl who believes in truth and justice. This essentially makes her a female iteration of the typical good-hearted male lead in shounen shows – not very smart, but with a good heart and a strong sense of right and wrong. From the get-go, she is contrasted with her more mature friend Tsuki. Tsuki has learned to accept the wickedness of the world and not fight back against it, thereby becoming a collaborator in her own oppression.

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Otaku no Ken II: The Dark Side

Its cold blade, collecting on its surface the moment it is drawn the vapour of the atmosphere; its immaculate texture, flashing light of bluish hue; its matchless edge, upon which histories and possibilities hang; the curve of its back, uniting exquisite grace with utmost strength–all these thrill us with mixed feelings of power and beauty, of awe and terror. Harmless were its mission, if it only remained a thing of beauty and joy! But, ever within reach of the hand, it presented no small temptation for abuse. Too often did the blade flash forth from its peaceful sheath. The abuse sometimes went so far as to try the acquired steel on some harmless creature’s neck.

Bushido, The Soul of Japan, Inazo Nitobe, p. 135

In January of this year, a 20-year-old man in Sulphur, Louisiana used a katana to kill a dog.  The Humane Society paid $2500 for his capture.

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AKB48 in NYC: Idolmaster Cosplay

Steam rose off the city streets as we partook of a Takoyaki stand a few blocks away from Webster Hall.

“It was a lot like Idolmaster,” fellow anime journalist Omo noted, drawing a parallel to the infamous Japanese game.

“Idolmaster cosplay,” I shot back.

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AKB48, an Akihabara-based idol group, had their US debut at Webster Hall following the New York Anime Festival. While initial enthusiasm for their preview performance was great, the Sunday evening show time coupled with the location – across the city from the convention – thinned the crowd of con attendees considerably. Not to be deterred, AKB48 had cleverly rallied a separate fan base of non-conventiongoers, and a large throng of overwhelmingly middle-aged men clutched email printouts rather than tickets in line.

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New York Anime Festival 2009, Day 0: Cake

The Dave and Buster’s was crowded. Black-attired waitstaff in crisp uniforms nodded professionally at me as I entered, pointing me up to the third floor when I inquired about the event hosted there.

The cake-cutting katana. Photography by Linda Yau.

It was hard to miss – a frothing mass of humanity bumped and jostled at the far end of the room, packed in tight. I could not see the object of their focus, but this had to be it. As I made my way across the room, I gradually discerned that there were at least three different types of people here – businessmen in suits with refined drinks, a casually dressed faction, and a surprisingly large number of fashionably-attired teens.

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Meidonomics

Pat Galbraith has an interesting article about how maid cafes are a bulwark of stability in these troubled economic times.

He dryly notes, “Maids in the original sense are not sex workers, though this is perhaps not always the case at the 200-plus cafes around the country.”

This I find interesting. Though it may be a one-sided perception, there has long been a sense of exotic sexuality tentatively attached to cosplay in the West. It’s not new; as far back as Richard Feynman’s 1985 autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! one finds a well-educated Westerner at a nice Japanese inn uncertain as to whether or not the kimono-clad attendant is going to provide sexual favors. How much more confusing, then, would one find it at what is often translated into English as a “fetish cafe”?

It’s not hard to think of the supply of willing maids in familiar terms: just as waitresses in Los Angeles are often aspiring actresses, Galbraith writes of the maids, “most do it because they enjoy it, but a lucky few can become cosplay idols.”  Given that this fits the mindset so well, is it any surprise that Los Angeles has its own maid cafe?

For the Japanese otaku, perhaps personal interaction is at the heart of it. In an increasingly isolated society, people are starved for personal interaction. Japan, with its workaholic culture leading to deaths of karoshi, can only feel this problem more acutely.  Twitter, Facebook, and all social media – including, yes, blogs – aim to provide people with regular interaction. This would seem to be confimed: Galbraith reports that many customers are regulars.

Is it really very different from going to Starbucks because you chat with the barista, or going to the local pub where the bartender knows what you like? The more people hold up these behaviors as examples of how otaku differ from normal society, the more apparent it is that they see differences primarily because they want to see them.

Otaku no ken

Link obtains a sword

When you take up a sword, you must feel intent on cutting the enemy.

– Miyamoto Musashi, Go Rin No Sho

The Associated Press have reported a dramatic tale of self-defense with a katana:

A Johns Hopkins University student armed with a samurai sword killed a suspected burglar in a garage behind his off-campus home early Tuesday, hours after someone broke in and stole electronics.

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