Machikado Mazoku has at least one good joke.

秒 means second if you don’t understand the joke.

[Lazy content — really just me practicing making gifs. And no, I’m kidding, the show has plenty of good jokes. This just might be my favorite one.]

How about Machikado Mazoku (English: The Demon Girl Next Door), the latest inoffensive cute-girls-doing-cute-things comedy to put me to sleep in the same style as Gabriel DropOut, Tonari no Kyuuketsuki-san, or As Miss Beelzebub Likes? Though of a much lower quality than Beelzebub and maybe even Gabriel DropOut, it’s a solid example of the “demon girl” comedy which has somehow cohered into a recognizable subgenre in the past couple years.

This time, it crosses the demon premise with a parody of magical girls by introducing the “retired” high school heroine Momo, whose deadpan anti-humor manages to drain all of the magic from her magical girl archetype. In the above scene, Momo saves the hapless demon girl “Shamiko” from a oncoming truck before trapping the demon girl in an irrepayable* debt of 500 yen in a devious plot to restrain the would-be mistress of darkness from doing any real harm. Though… not that Shamiko could anyway; she’s so incompetent that she can’t even say her own evil name without tripping on the English syllables.

The pair become arch-nemeses (but really, best friends) and I just realized — why am I summarizing this show? If you want another generic cute-girl comedy anime, go for it. I won’t bother recommending or disrecommending** it. It’s alright.

*not a word, but why not?

**not a word, but why not?

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Alita: Battle Angel (2019): Good enough for a 12 hour flight, but what else?

Source: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Blue and Orange, even the poster feels uninspired… Gotta love Christoph Waltz in that silly hat and Mahershala Ali in those kickin’ glasses though!

[Ohhh… slow on publishing this… jet-lagged and not really coping. I don’t have anything to say in this post that professional writers haven’t already argued months ago but again, I want to remain in the practice of saying anything at all. So, some edited notes I took on the plane.]

I want to start with a question: to anyone who has watched the live-action adaptation of Alita: Battle Angel, did it have a plot? Reviewing these notes now, I’m trying to remember what happened in the movie and can only come up with a few establishing vignettes strung along by a character thread — the amnesiac cyborg heroine Alita — instead of a narrative one.

Of course, I’m already being too harsh; a plot can be as simple as what a character does. Going to the corner store to buy a soda like I just did tonight could count as a plot and Alita certainly does… things. She falls in love and fights a bunch of underworld thugs and uncovers a conspiracy and discovers her true self and becomes roller-derby champion and whatever else.

But what I more mean is that the movie lacks the sort of recognizable narrative you might expect from a blockbuster cinematic experience — rising and falling action moving towards a climactic goal. Because — to spoil something that doesn’t happen  — Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t end. Or rather, like with the distinction between plot and narrative, it doesn’t conclude. When the movie finally seems ready to move into its climax — Alita will confront the true puppet-master antagonist lurking in the floating city above! — it abruptly stops. Having spent two hours establishing the universe and character motivations, a hype song plays, Alita looks up to the sky determined to face the ‘final boss,’ and the credits roll.

I blinked in disbelief. Ending? Now? Um, alright, 8 hours left in the flight, let’s try The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then Bigfoot. Ugh, well that was terrible. Let’s take a nap instead.

Continue reading “Alita: Battle Angel (2019): Good enough for a 12 hour flight, but what else?”

Weird Japan: the tomb of Jesus Christ and Isukiri’s Creed

The apparent final resting place of Jesus Christ in Shingo Village, Aomori Prefecture, Japan

[Like before, the usual disclaimer: I describe weird things in Japan, not weird things about Japan. This week, I’m traveling so I don’t have time for any rigor-ish research, but just google “tomb of jesus christ shingo.” It’s the bizarre intersection between the occult fascination of a Japanese “new religion,” the credulous hucksterism of a small-time mayor looking to boost his isolated village’s image, and the indifferent villagers (only one of whom is Christian) who put up with the odd tourist in exchange for a little spare commerce. And if it isn’t obvious, Isukiri’s creed is my fictional creation]

Continue reading “Weird Japan: the tomb of Jesus Christ and Isukiri’s Creed”

Some contextless quotes from the first episode of Lord El-Melloi II World Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note; or, in which I abuse an anime premiere for the crime of making me laugh

[I’m preparing for an international move so real-life concerns have me down to something low effort this week, but the premiere episode of Lord El-Melloi II World Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note made me laugh hard enough that I thought I would puke up blood, like that one character from Lord El-Melloi II World Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note that pukes up blood because uh, a character in Lord El-Melloi II World Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note pukes up blood (the theme today is *dan-da-da-dannn* senseless repetition!). And yes, I know that I am being unfair, but I had fun just like… hmmm… trying and failing to comprehend the apparent vastness of the Fate franchise despite knowing nothing about it. I wouldn’t have written this post if I didn’t enjoy the episode]

Have you ever jumped into a long, ongoing fictional franchise with which you have had no previous engagement, like starting with the Marvel movies by watching Endgame (does the title spoil a key plot point, that the movie will indeed end? How dare they.) or catching the last half hour of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and asking about that jumpy little green fella that talks funny? Where’d he come from? Dunno …I do not.

Maybe I have a point here about franchises that become so bloated that they fail to make themselves accessible to newcomers or about the contexless, fanservice-y namedrops that those franchises use to refer to previous installments despite adding no value to the present installment. Or, I dunno, maybe I’m just repeating a generic complaint about the avalanche of meaningless jargon that spills out of so many fantasy and science fiction anime. Or meh, maybe I don’t have a point at all except to offer some loving mockery of stupid, stilted dialogue in translation (…or just stupid, stilted dialogue in any language…).

Buuut nahhh, no lazy, passive-aggressive media criticism tonight, the title says “contextless quotes,” including the most contextless of them all: the title: Lord El-Melloi II World Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note: an excuse to use another colon. Ohhh so many words, so little understanding. So, I slapped that crap in a search engine and found some more nonsense words like Fate / stay night / TYPE-MOON / hollow ataraxia / Zero Unlimited Blade Works / Apocrypha / kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA / The Absolute Demon Battlefront Babylonia / a bunch more forward slashes, yawned who cares (it’s well past midnight), and brought up the first episode. Holy hats, it made me laugh.

So, some contextless quotes:

Continue reading “Some contextless quotes from the first episode of Lord El-Melloi II World Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note; or, in which I abuse an anime premiere for the crime of making me laugh”

Can Nanako speak? It shouldn’t matter. A quiet victory for mutism representation in Senryu Shoujo

Senryu Shoujo’s mute protagonist Nanako on the cover of the volume one manga

[I had selective mutism growing up, but that anecdotal experience should not determine the strength of my argument. So, I’ll also give an academic-adjacent reading recommendation as my main source, Selective Mutism in Our Own Words: Experiences in Childhood and Adulthood by Carl Sutton and Cheryl Forrester. It’s an excellent book both for its readable first-person accounts of the condition and for its rigorous literature review and references to guide further research. I have also consulted with a professional speech-language pathologist friend to assist me with a mock “diagnosis” of Nanako’s silence and increase the clarity of my writing about communication disorders. A thousand thanks for her expertise!]

I don’t read much manga because I can’t stand the dominant publishing model: chapters trickled out in pulp-periodical magazines, collected and resold into volumes when they reach some arbitrary mass that continues to expand anyway because the incentive to sell another volume discourages writers from hitting real resolutions or, often, even moving the plot forward (I hear a whisper on the breeze, ~Nisekoi~). So, despite the common refrain that “the manga was better,” I like to stick to anime if only because seeing “(ongoing)” attached to a double-digit volume list makes me doze off before even starting. I’ve picked up a few manga for series that have impressed me beyond expectation, but only if they’re short, they’re serious, and they’re over.

I broke my usual habits then when I bought the manga for Senryu Shoujo, a spring 2019 anime series that, despite some initial enjoyment, impressed me so little that I haven’t bothered to finish it. With a bland high-school-slice-of-life 4-panel format, it’s got nothing serious to consider, at nine volumes, it’s too long to finish (especially without an official translation… I’ve limped along in Japanese*), and, ugh, it’s (ongoing). But even if I didn’t much enjoy either the anime or the manga (I only read the first four volumes as a compromise with my sanity), I do think that Senryu Shoujo did something well worth praising: its depiction of communication difficulties, specifically, the mutism of its lead protagonist, Nanako Yukishiro.

* [Note: in the absence of an official English edition, I have provided my own amateurish translations]

But despite the centrality of mutism to Senryu Shoujo‘s entire premise, the relative silence on the issue online has surprised me — maybe just a footnote here, a brief mention in regards to social anxiety here, and an abundance of misguided terms like “shy,” “introverted,” or “non-verbal” scattered around various reviews, impressions, and discussion threads. Otherwise, most viewers just seem to treat it like a cute gimmick. But in an odd way, I take that lack of focus on Nanako’s mutism as a quiet victory for disability representation in anime; Senryu Shoujo has managed to tell a story about living with a rare condition that impedes communication without, it seems, most viewers even noticing the difference.

In this post, I will try to define the disorder that prevents Nanako from speaking, because her almost total reticence goes beyond a mere personality trait like shyness or introversion. Then, I’ll return to the question of disability representation in fiction by discussing how I think Senryu Shoujo excels compared to other media depicting similar communication challenges.

So, first…

Can Nanako Speak?

Continue reading “Can Nanako speak? It shouldn’t matter. A quiet victory for mutism representation in Senryu Shoujo”

Into an anime chumbucket: succumbing to clickbait and breaking my heart

Your ads dare obscure even a part of my silver queen, *the* Masuzu Natsukawa?

[Chum is one of the sexier words in the English language… dead fish eyes glaring out of blood and guts. Oi, a weird start to one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written…]

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… uhhh why am I covered in blood and fish guts? Where am I?

I stumbled into an internet chumbox the other day. You know, those 6-square ad spaces hosted by Taboola or Outbrain with clickbait titles like:

  • <popular television show> stars [sic] net worth? #<prime number> will shock you!
  • Doctors hate him! <target demographic> discovers one neat trick to <desirable health outcome>!
  • You won’t guess what <celebrity fleeing paparazzi> got caught on camera doing Again [sic]!
  • Grandma from <your IP-determined area> discovers disastrous flaw in Social Security!

Number 1 might have a photoshopped thumbnail of the sexiest cast member in a revealing pose, Number 2 some gross trypophobia-inducing body horror garbage, Number 3 an unrelated mugshot that looks nothing like the target celebrity, and Number 4 a stock photo of an old woman in front of a clip-art financial chart with some gold coins or something. Who knows, who cares.

Or at least, I didn’t care. Before last week, chum-ads had almost never captured my interest except to sneer at their exploitative badness. Ah, but this time I took in a mighty breath through my nostrils to hock up great snob and instead caught an irresistible scent in those blood-clouded waters: anime, “Neo Yokio Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot” from an entertainment news website called The Cinemaholic

Oh, I like Neo Yokio… did Netflix announce a second season to continue the Pink Christmas special? And next to it “Gakkou Gurashi Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot.” Oooh, yes yes yes, I love Gakkou Gurashi! After the live-action movie, will they adapt the rest of the series? But wait, huh? From Cinemaholic again? What’s going on here? Oh my god, oh my god, hold that thought: “Oreshura Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot” aaannnddd oohoo a picture of the Masuzu Natsukawa, my devilish queen. click click click.

No. A mistake. ‘twas but a mirage borne of the blood-haze! The Cinemaholic had a harpoon waiting, ready to break my heart: “It is highly unlikely that Netflix will renew the show,” “We can’t guarantee anything,” “At this point, ‘Oreshura’ season 2 … seems like a distant dream”

Dearest Masuzu, I’m sorry — thrice pierced!

Continue reading “Into an anime chumbucket: succumbing to clickbait and breaking my heart”

Ineffective Altruism? The Japanese charity that trades bottle caps for polio vaccines

Those bottle caps aren’t even worth a penny

[I left most of the numbers in yen, but since the recent exchange rates have hovered around ¥107 to the dollar, just divide any yen value by 100 to make a rough conversion. And sorry, most of the links are in Japanese… I couldn’t source any of this in English.]

Last week, a student gave me an essay about the “EcoCap Movement,” a Japanese charity which collects and recycles bottle caps in order to exchange the plastic scrap for polio vaccines (among other causes). As she tells me, she has started collecting caps with her friends on the volleyball team so that she can “save the life of a child.” Because a polio vaccine costs ¥20 and 430 bottle caps scrap for ¥10, she just needs to gather 860 caps. The team goes through dozens of sports drinks at practice every week so they should reach their goal in just a couple months. A solid charitable effort by middle schoolers, right?

But woah woah woah, back up. 860 caps means 860 bottles of water, tea, soda, or other soft drinks. How much did those cost? At Japanese convenience stores, most plastic-bottled drinks retail for between ¥100 and ¥200 — enough to buy 5 to 10 vaccines for the same price as one cap. Why not just skip the sports drinks for a day and bring tap water in reusable bottles to practice? The whole team would save a couple thousand yen, which they could then donate for the purchase of over 100 vaccines, thus “saving the lives” of dozens of children without waiting months to accumulate 860 caps.

I don’t want to criticize some feel-good altruism by a bunch of children too harshly but um… this might be the most absurd charity I’ve ever heard of. Yugh… too harsh. Let me explain with some middle-school grade math and a bit of behavioral economics…

Continue reading “Ineffective Altruism? The Japanese charity that trades bottle caps for polio vaccines”

Achievement Get: a modest first year of anime blogging, in review

Hahahahaha … … …

[Ugh, sour self-indulgence… proof-reading this makes me nauseous. As a disclaimer, some of the links here duplicate because I’ve taken this as a conversation with myself through my older writings]

So a couple days ago, WordPress told me that I had earned an “achievement”: “Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com one year ago. Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.”

Heh.

I always laugh when WordPress gives me an achievement. Why gamify blogging, an activity which already offers so many extrinsic motivators like views, likes, and follows to push users to remain engaged, viewing ads and producing free content and — oh, that’s why. I guess I just never thought about blogging that way until I started using WordPress.com[mercial], though I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I do sometimes feel that pull for validation to produce a “successful” post, whatever penny-trifle that might mean for my impersonal patron’s ad revenue. The gamification works… even if I hate to admit it.

But, as much as I can, I try to suppress that game-induced anxiety. The achievement only reminds me that I really should get around to moving to a self-hosted site via the open-source WordPress.org software to free myself from a commercial system that can sometimes feel a little manipulative with its tiered service plans hawked on never-ending “flash sales.” However, whenever I look at hosting options, I overwhelm myself with that “paradox of choice” (how can they all have a special offer? Oxymorons.) and begin to feel lethargic and lazy and think eh, ‘might as well settle for the .com a little while longer. After all, I only started this site so that I could tell my friends to “just check my blog” instead of fiddling through the sharing settings on Google Docs every time we hit some conversational tangent about anime or literature. I don’t need anything fancy.

Thinking about the achievement again though, “anniversary” isn’t quite right… a couple weeks before I made this current site, I made a “testing 1 2 3”-type throw-away account that I deleted a few days later. And months before even that, I had already written several private “posts” (a few republished here) circulated around with just my friends. Then in the other direction, I didn’t use this site for several more days until I uploaded my first post on Friday, June 15 — for some inexcusable reason at 3:29pm (work hours!). Though I often write during downtime between class, I never manage the site from the office (because my computer has no internet access… Japan, techno-wonderland!). Did I use compensated leave that day or, god-forbid, upload from my phone? I can’t remember. Time cares for nothing regarding human periodization, so I suppose I’ll compromise and call it one year, plus or minus a fat, flexible <?>.

Anyway, I’m not a big fan of periodization either (without clocks and calendars, would we worry so much about time?), but I thought I could turn that silly “achievement” into a fun opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done here for the past year.

Aaannnddd… meh? Nothing much, really?

Continue reading “Achievement Get: a modest first year of anime blogging, in review”