Pastel Memories’ commercial apocalypse or, who is this for?

Is this for children?

I’ve written extensively about why I hate Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One for it’s lazy racism, it’s lazy post-apocalypse, and the lazy thinking it induced in me. It’s just about the worst book I’ve ever read. However, through all my ranting, I never included one of the most common criticisms of the novel: that it had contradictory target audiences.

Many online reviewers like to joke that Cline managed to write a solid young adult novel, just one so overstuffed with nostalgic references to 1980s pop-culture that only middle-aged men could appreciate it. The argument goes that modern teenagers who might enjoy YA-style fiction wouldn’t understand Cline’s endless nostalgic navel-gazing for a time before they were even born. Meanwhile, their middle-aged parents who still reminisce about the Atari 2600 (or whatever) wouldn’t enjoy the weak prose and generic structure of a YA novel. In more general terms, the criticism observes a dissonance between Ready Player One’s style and subject matter: the novel’s immature form would only seem to appeal to children but the relentless focus on nostalgia would only seem to appeal to adults.

Or at least that’s the theory. I don’t really agree because those “woulds” often become “shoulds” that hide a bit of an elitist value judgement suggesting that old people shouldn’t read children’s literature and that young people shouldn’t limit their cultural consumption to another generation’s nostalgia. That seems a bit unfair for the simple reason that to a large extent, pop-culture icons from the 1980s remain pop-culture icons that young people still recognize today, and in reverse, adults can enjoy whatever children’s media they want regardless of age. For heavily commercialized mediums like genre fiction, it’s interesting to consider how target audiences might have shaped the final product, but in Ready Player One’s case, the book probably has broader appeal than some reviewers gave it credit for.

With that said though, Pastel Memories from this winter 2019 anime season strikes me as a genuine example of that sort of target audience contradiction. Like Ready Player One, it seems to have a bizarre dissonance between a childish style and a nostalgic subject matter. Taken from one angle, it’s art, humor, and character designs resemble something like Hugtto! PreCure, with a generic magical girl template not far off from the coloring book art plastered all around the walls of my kindergarten. But then again, the actual premise of the show leans heavily on nostalgic homage that addresses older otaku’s anxieties about the decline of their culture via a light apocalypse story (emphasis on light!). It’s so weird!

After watching the first two episodes, I can’t figure out Pastel Memories’ target audience. Nostalgic, middle-aged otaku? Or like… actual kindergarteners? That maybe sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it maliciously. With no disrespect to either group, I can’t stop asking “Who is this for?”

To push towards an answer, I suppose I’ll mirror the bait-and-switch structure of the first two episodes themselves: I’ll start with the nostalgia angle before jumping into the surprise magical girl twist. I have a clear conclusion – Pastel Memories isn’t a children’s show – but that thought leads to a whole new set of questions about commercialism and popularity in the anime industry, questions that again all boil back down into my first: Who is this for?

Continue reading “Pastel Memories’ commercial apocalypse or, who is this for?”

What’s the deal with anime villains and tongues?

I can’t even touch my chin with my tongue, but he practically wears his like a tie…
(Danny from Angels of Death)

[Sick today so short and sarcastic. Shinitai! Ugh.]

I’m watching Angels of Death this week and let’s just say… heh heh heh it’s pretty funny, at least as much as an adolescent horror show about a girl that wants to die and a serial killer that refuses to kill her can be. But I’m also the weirdo that enjoys shinjuu stories so uh… maybe that’s just me.

I’m not looking to write about the show itself this week though. Nah, instead I’ve got the flu so I’m up licking my dehydrated lips all sleepless night. But mixing that cold hell with Angels of Death got me wondering, what’s the deal with anime villains and tongues?

I’m not the only one to notice it, right?

Some antagonist, usually shounen, usually insane, will whip back their head and do a mad cackle with eyeballs bulging like golf balls and tongue extending out into the freaking sky. That or the tongue spools and drools while the antagonist looms over their victim in a scene doing it’s best to retain a plausible deniability defense against accusations of sexual violence. Or if the show wants to be subtle, it’ll satisfy itself with just a good quick lick, but it’s not like the shounen anime using tongues as a basis of characterization have much subtlety going on anyway.

Keep it in your pants, creep
(Sword Art Online: Alicization)

Like… what? Why? Tasting the air or the victim or..? I don’t get it. I mean sure, it’s creepy I guess, but it mostly just makes the villain look stupid. Look at Danny from Angels of Death, he’s practically drooling like a dog or something! Isn’t he concerned about his precious bodily fluids? Wouldn’t an intense stare do just as well? The next shot reveals that he has a glass eye with two irises… isn’t that a thousand times more frightening than a lizard tongue?

TV Tropes calls it “Maniac Tongue” but it doesn’t seem a very popular page with much content. The Anime & Manga section lists the titans Dragon Ball, One Piece, Bleach, and Naruto and not much else. It’s about as shounen as I expected, but not the robust list I had hoped for.

On my own, I can add Sword Art Online and my new adolescent darling Angels of Death before my memory runs out. I’m pretty confident tongues played an important role in Tokyo Ghoul, and probably Happy Sugar Life too, but I don’t exactly remember the episode numbers. I have a vaguer sense of them in Hunter x Hunter, Fullmetal Alchemist, and A Certain Scientific Railgun, and I dunno, Mirai Nikki maybe? I’m too light headed right now to go back and check.

Anyway, I know I only average about five readers per post (hi mom), but does anyone else know of any more concrete examples? I’m sure there’s a pattern beyond whatever flu-fever dream this is. And yes, I’m drinking enough water. That won’t stop me licking my lips, even if it might make me a villain.

Finally some subtlety? Oh, it’s Angels of Death again? Never mind.

A tourist’s brief impressions of Japan’s three largest anime hubs: Akihabara, Dendenmachi, and Nakano Broadway

Akihabara, before the crowds

Something very, very short again this week because I am exhausted after my vacation and gave up trying to write with a smartphone keyboard on the long, standing-room-only train rides home. I’m also a bit sore from so much touristic walking and don’t feel like writing a proper introduction so here’s a topic sentence: I’ll briefly compare my shopping experiences in Japan’s three main anime merchandise hubs: Akihabara, Dendenmachi, and Nakano Broadway.

Continue reading “A tourist’s brief impressions of Japan’s three largest anime hubs: Akihabara, Dendenmachi, and Nakano Broadway”

Rem is objectively superior to Ram: evidence from some Akihabara window shopping

Serious question: is it permissible to post photographs of products on display?

[objectively superior, but for what objective?]

It is (was) Christmas, so what better (worse?) time to celebrate some excessive commercialism!

I’m on vacation in Tokyo this week and decided to stop by Akihabara to see capitalism in action… just a weird capitalism catering to a niche set of hobbies all assembled together into a giant tourist trap. It’s a lovely place, but given the tight spaces and crowds, it’s perhaps more interesting to explore as living museum to gonzo commercialism than as a place to actually shop.

With the eye of a tourist rather than a shopper then (half the people there must have been tourists), it was fascinating to take Akihabara as a vast sample of what’s new and popular in the anime-mangasphere. On that, one thing stuck out to me after cycling through a few shops: the uncontested ubiquity of Re:Zero’s Rem and Ram.

Oh, but it’s mostly just Rem. And boy is she expensive.

Continue reading “Rem is objectively superior to Ram: evidence from some Akihabara window shopping”

Neo Yokio isn’t nonsense: Pink Christmas presents a defense of season one’s sardonic style

Neo Yokio Story Time with Kaz and Charles

[Maybe this is a rant, I dunno? I’m less angry than confused though. I don’t particularly like Neo Yokio, but I feel like many reviewers have been excessively harsh on the series]

Segments of the anime fandom just baffle me sometimes. If some archetypical forum trawler doesn’t understand something, it’s bad, unless it’s funny-bad. Then it becomes a whole new level of empty stupidity: a meme that pollutes discussion with non-sequitur, conversation-ending image macros. I’m swatting at an imaginary composite of anonymous annoyances, but if you frequent online fan sites, I think you know the type.

To my caricatured online commentator, if something’s bad, it’s for inspecific* reasons like “art” or “sound” or “writing,” which so-called “objective” reviewers like to pretend to assess for “quality.” However, that segmented approach often seems to forget the context of the piece. For example, taking flat voice acting as a universal criterion for low quality will often miss the purpose of specific lines, like deadpan jokes. Contextless assessments then risk descending into simple solipsism, with “good” equating to “things I like” and “bad” equating to “things I don’t like.” It’s perfectly fine to prefer dynamic, lively performances, but it’s important to also recognize that flat acting has valid uses in certain contexts as well.

*inspecific: not a word, but I like the sound more than “nonspecific”

That’s all a roundabout way to my reaction to Neo Yokio, or rather my reaction to the reactions. They seem fall into three broad categories: 1) those that recognized it as a deliberate satire, 2) those that did not, 3) and those that did not care because they just wanted Toblerone memes. I suppose the title makes it obvious that I belong to the first group and, given Neo Yokio’s absurdist humor, I can understand the third group.

However, the vitriol expressed by some members of the second group surprised me when Neo Yokio first landed on Netflix last year. Among the anonymous online public, my imaginary forum-going rivals absolutely trashed the show for “objective” reasons like ugly animation and bad voice acting. Browsing through its 31% Rotten Tomatoes score for season one, even many professional critics ignored or dismissed the satire angle.

Having rewatched the first season, I’m mostly just confused. How could anyone watch a show full of oxymoronic one-liners like “two is the loneliest number” and take it at face value as bad writing? It’s like criticizing a horror movie for being scary… when that’s the point. Or how could anyone watch a show with a pink-haired, demon-exorcising “magistocrat” and complain about poor world building? It’s like attacking an action movie for lacking a well-developed romance… when that isn’t the point.

Did the harshest critics miss the joke? Neo Yokio isn’t a bad (or even funny-bad) failure cobbled together by a cheap, rushed production. It’s a reasonable success that uses ugly animation and voice acting to parody old anime series and sarcastic, deadpan writing to satirize upper-middle to upper class consumer culture. Neo Yokio is lucidly self-aware of its own absurdity, and that contextual distinction makes all the difference in an assessment of its quality.

Now that the meme-fueled hype has passed, maybe it’s worth approaching Neo Yokio again, especially with release of its surprise, hour-long special Pink Christmas. Even more so than the first season, Pink Christmas presents a serious satire of conspicuous consumerism with one notable addition: a subtle mockery of the first season’s critics that refused to recognize the parody that kept slapping them in the face. It’s worth watching just for that.

But nah, discussion’ll just get buried under Toblerone memes, jokes about Jaden Smith’s Twitter account, and pointless bashing of the art, voices and… eh, maybe I’m ranting again.

Let’s start by stopping the vague rant and consider a fairly typical example of the negative reaction to Neo Yokio: this Anime News Network review of season one. Afterwards, I’ll attempt a close reading of Pink Christmas’s satire against the critics that well… maybe missed the joke. Continue reading “Neo Yokio isn’t nonsense: Pink Christmas presents a defense of season one’s sardonic style”

Weird Japan: Lonely English authenticity in Fukushima’s “British Hills”

British Hills Manor House

The manor house at British Hills. Can you spy Shakespeare?

I can’t stand the “weird Japan” genre of journalism. It has an annoying habit of unfairly conflating “weird things in Japan” with “weird things about Japan.” However, on a school trip with a class of second-year middle school students from a small Japanese village, I found something really, truly bizarre, the strangest place I’ve ever been. I wanted to call it the physical manifestation on Earth of the uncanny valley …except I can’t use that metaphor because it’s on top of a mountain. It’s surreal.

Have you heard of British Hills?

Continue reading “Weird Japan: Lonely English authenticity in Fukushima’s “British Hills””

Michel de Montaigne is serious litera– Ha! Farts!

Fart War
Out of place and out of time, but I imagine farting is about as universal to human experience as anything can be. (Waseda University Library)

I’ve been busy with work travel this week and I haven’t had much time to write. However, I want to keep up the habit of this weekly media diary, so I thought I’d share a funny quote from the Screech translation of The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne (a work of serious literature and philosophy):

“To show the limitless authority of our wills, Saint Augustine cites the example of a man who could make his behind produce farts whenever he would: Vives in his glosses goes one better with a contemporary example of a man who could arrange to fart in tune with verses recited to him; but that does not prove the pure obedience of that member, since it is normally most indiscreet and disorderly. In addition I know one Behind so stormy and churlish that it has obliged its master to fart forth wind constantly and unremittingly for forty years and is thus bringing him to his death.”

Yay! Serious literature and philosophy! He cites Augustine, after all!

For context, in this chapter Montaigne presents his understanding of the placebo effect. He describes how the “will” can overpower the body and make it act against its nature. He spends most of the chapter exploring erectile dysfunction (seriously serious literature!) with stories about how most men suffer from it as a simple problem of self-confidence. He even recounts how he once helped a friend who struggled to consummate his marriage by giving him a magical medallion that worked like medieval Viagra. Of course, Montaigne confides in the reader that it was all a ruse: the medallion was a “piece of lunacy” with no real power beyond ~imagination~. Montaigne makes a show of regretting the deceit, but hey, results is results.

In the fart passage, Montaigne is defending “disobedient” body parts (Screech gives a helpful euphemism “that sphincter” for butts) that act against the will, with a sort of humanistic “don’t judge, bro” message. He is also describing how some rare few people can control their farts ~with their minds~.

… yeah, that’s it. Lovely book by the way. Churlish is a fun word.


RErideD is a terrible failure and I love it

Derrida, Absurd

Yes, to the man holding a coffee cup from the top.

Oh, how to review RErideD: Tokigoe no Derrida (RErideD: Derrida Who Leaps Through Time)? The title alone makes no sense. What the heck does RErideD mean? Red… Ride… Ride again… D, past tense… an incomplete anagram of Derrida? The French postmodern philosopher? What?

I’m already off topic, but that’s okay because it’s a running theme in RErideD. The show is an absolute narrative disaster. But oh my god, it’s so funny, in the tradition of disasterpieces like The Room or Mirai Nikki. I don’t want that to sound cruel mocking a bad thing; I love RErideD. It’s a real diamond in the rough. Just a really, really ugly diamond. Despite the uncountable flaws though, it feels like genuine, earnest effort went into the series (and maybe even a touch of misguided inspiration). It tried. And wow, did it fail.

First, a quick plot teaser to establish the premise:

The implausibly young super-scientist Derrida Yvain discovers a bug in a new line of autonomous killing robots. Of course, his ~evil~ corporate employer wants to sell the robots (bad robber baron! bad!) and the ~evil~ conspiratorial government wants to start a war (bad shadowy cabal! bad!), so Derrida must flee from an arbitrary series of hitmen and assassins. He escapes to the future via cryofreezing, but discovers a post-apocalypse populated by the robots, now turned into rampant zombie husks that murder humans on sight. With the help of a childhood friend and a tough mercenary father-daughter pair with their loyal dog self-driving AI car in tow, Derrida sets off to find Mage, the one girl that holds the key to fixing the bug and restoring the world.

There’s also something about time travel. Remember, it’s a real mess.

Continue reading “RErideD is a terrible failure and I love it”

I like As Miss Beelzebub Likes

Beelzebub, nothing[I’ve finished this week with a bad cold… so just an aborted introduction and scattered thoughts while I try to fall asleep and wake up again.]

Why do people take, and mean, “so boring I fell asleep” as an insult? It’s among the highest praise!

Consider Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The show seems to have won a new life as an old-timey nostalgia trip for adults. Somehow, it has remained relevant over a decade after Roger’s death, with a surprisingly strong media presence via the Twitch stream marathon, the new documentary, and frequent mentions in recent editorials following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last month. In my own adulthood, I’ve found it tremendously useful in my tutoring classes for teaching American culture at its least sensational. Roger’s slow, family-appropriate speech makes for great English listening practice and I’ve even gotten good discussions out of his simple moral dilemmas. What to do on a hot day is a perfect question for an oppressively humid Japanese summer.

But I’m getting off topic. Back to boredom.

Mister Roger’s Neighborhood is fantastically boring. So, so boring that I sometimes forget the current editorial zeitgeist exalting “Mr. Rogers for adults” and think it’s for children until I remember that “Oh, it is for children” halfway through a literal explanation of the “round peg, square hole” phenomenon. If that doesn’t bore you, how about the episode when Rogers puts a timer on camera, sets it to a minute, and lets it count down in silence? To no one’s surprise, nothing happens. And well… nothing is more boring than nothing, right?

So why am I watching it, beyond the classroom utility? I want to take a nap, and no television show puts me to sleep faster than Mister Rogers Neighborhood (unless you count golf tournaments or the entire CSPAN network as a “show”). As Roger’s himself clearly understood, adults can learn a lot from children and sometimes, the most useful hobby is some quiet, restful naptime.

But I’m getting off topic again. I wanted to write about As Miss Beelzebub Likes (Beelzebub-jou no Okinimesu mama) today. Continue reading “I like As Miss Beelzebub Likes”

Is Goblin Slayer realistic? I dunno, who are you?

Goblin Slayer dice

Why do they bleed =(

First, a short story, which I promise will have relevance to my discussion of Goblin Slayer by the end of the post.

One of my friends works as a curator on a memorial submarine, a decommissioned WW2-era ship since converted into a museum. One day, he offered me a private tour. He was patient with me as I slipped a little on the deck and struggled to orient myself into the hatch and climb down the narrow ladder. But when I walked through my first round doorway, legs first and swinging my arms over and behind my head like a limbo, he laughed at me. He explained that that only happened in the movies. Normal sailors would just walk through the holes like any normal person. I’m sure I looked stupid, but how should I have known the truth before he corrected me? My only point of reference was the movies, and as such the action felt real as I swung through the door.

However, the submarine example has a well-documented historical truth behind it. How should we approach the issue of realism in fiction, which has no set truth to appeal to? I especially wonder what to do with titles that receive significant praise for their apparent “realism,” like this anime season’s standout series, Goblin Slayer. Can we call it realistic? I dunno. It depends. Who are you?

Continue reading “Is Goblin Slayer realistic? I dunno, who are you?”