Love Live ~ A Rant About Criticizing Idols and Arguments

Non-management: So my article on Love Lives, male audiences, and idol culture is out on the Anime Feminist blog (AniFem for short). It’s been likely read by over a hundred folks, and it’s received both praise and criticism. A lot of the more vehement criticism seems to have been routed directly at AniFem’s editors, or been subtweeted about by folks to folks that don’t know me. The drama that was generated from the article’s publication has been especially frustrating for me because barely anyone who has been especially and vocally furious about the article’s existence on AniFem has bothered to actually reach out to me at all. I didn’t know that I was that unapproachable a person. I do have a Twitter account, and it’s definitely not locked.

I have sought out criticism that isn’t accessible for me to read, diving into article quote threads and various subtweet threads, to get a better idea of how people were reacting to it and how I could better improve as a writer. Some criticism pointed out how I over-generalized the idol industry. I could definitely have made it more clear that I wasn’t trying characterize how all idol groups function, just as thoroughly as I attempted to clarify that I liked the Love Live anime overall and am intrigued by some aspects of idol culture. I definitely don’t think that I am the end-all be-all voice on Love Live or idol culture. The specific criticism that I mentioned engaged with the actual argument of the article, and was framed in such a manner as to be conducive to inviting discussion instead of provoking callouts. It’s the kind of criticism that I welcome and find constructive.

Unfortunately, I have found other criticisms to be less constructive. Some don’t actually engage with the article’s argument itself, or some only reference the argument vaguely. Some complaints seem more determined with demonizing the author’s disposition instead of criticizing the author’s words.

To address some of the criticism that the article has been receiving, here are a few things that people can consider before (and for some folks, can  consider after) typing out a complaint:

— Consider whether or not there are any structural limits holding an article back from covering multiple perspectives on an issue (i.e. soft/hard word limits, a narrow thematic scope, etc).

A common demand of teachers when they assign pupils essays asking them to analyse something is a word or page limit. Educators have only so much time to review and grade papers for a class before needing to carry on with the next lesson and assignment, but a word or page limit does not excuse students from making shallow arguments about the topic that they are asked to write about. The demand is to argue sound analyses and not to touch on all viable perspectives. An oft acceptable compromise in school for essays that balances making solid analyses with exploring important perspectives is “narrowing the scope of your thesis.” Students pick one to a few themes for their paper — and often the ones that they want to discuss and/or the most comfortably familiar with — and stick to only developing the arguments for that or those themes. That mentality of saving reading time carries over to many widely read blogs, where editors exhort writers to balance their desires to develop a topic with the consideration to not exhaust the audience. You want people to read through the article quickly while leaving them with the feeling of coming back to the blog.

I can’t cover every perspective on an issue like idol culture and Love Live while respecting a 2000ish word soft limit. I would have also loved to cover the yuri dimensions of Love Live and its connections to idol culture in the same breath, but, in addition to other reasons, that additional coverage would have exceeded the limit.

— Understand that my perspective or interpretation of an issue is just that: one of many.

In the social sciences, there is only one way to prove that a claim about some trend about group behavior is fact: statistics. You have to conduct a statistical study with an appropriate methodology to establish whether or not this claim is definitive and that claim is bunk. When studying idol culture insiders and Love Live fans, few statistical studies exist that track and conclude anything about what these people think or do as a group. In the absence of the quantitative analysis of statistics, social researchers on idol culture have had to rely on the qualitative analysis of interpretations. Researchers mainly have interviews and anecdotes of folks to get them started, and mostly reasoning to go on when making an argument about a group dynamic. The best and only thing the analytical writer can do, in the absence of being able to establish a claim as fact, is to make that claim as trustworthy an interpretation as can be. Trustworthiness in an article analyzing anything is dependent on the working viability and soundness of the argument and evidence in the form of multiple and appropriate anecdotes that support the analysis. There can be multiple viable arguments that can be backed different pieces of evidence.

Therefore, there can be multiple interpretations on idol culture and Love Live that are trustworthy. My one article does not hold the monopoly on truth, nor do I intend to argue otherwise. Please pitch your own article if you feel like a crucial perspective was neglected and that you feel like you have good sources to elaborate on it.

— Question whether criticizing the lack of the inclusion of newer examples of idol industry abuses in the article actually undermines the article’s argument.

I perfectly understand the criticism of not including newer examples of idol industry abuses under the argument that idol industry practices have improved in recent days. I also understand that the inclusion  of newer instances helps impress on readers new to idol industry controversies that these abuses are not only terrible, but on-going. Many of the critics of the article, however, are already aware of the examples of abuses that I’ve mentioned. I do not see many of those same critics putting forward examples of the idol industry getting better, only that there have been future abuses that I have shamefully neglected in the article to catalog. I don’t see how that point (and the vehemence by which it is sometimes made) undermines the argument put forward by the article about the extant issues in the idol industry. It seems only to attack how the article itself was written. The article isn’t supposed to be a news report though. It’s supposed to be an analytical piece, and a bit of an introductory one at that. I am not rhetorically obligated in the essay to provide more novel news of shocking idol abuses when the older examples (which honestly aren’t that old) are still consistent with newer ones.

Demanding more novel news when it serves no relevant point for the already informed critic feels either like a demand to include more sensationalism in the article or, again, a veiled attempt to undermine the credibility of the article for reasons outside of the argument that it’s making.

— Reflect on how the assumption that straight men can’t do authentic feminist analysis can end up being problematic itself.

There are those criticisms that challenge my qualifications for writing about Love Live and female idols because I am not the right gender or sexual orientation. These positions are based on a faith about the general unsuitability of straight men engaging in feminist analysis of media culture. From a macro level, the implications of these criticisms, if applied broadly to the social sciences for any out-group trying to study an in-group, suggest the uselessness of disciplines like anthropology. That is not to say that the anthropology discipline hasn’t struggled with issues of prejudice clouding the judgments of non-native scholars in the past. However, these kinds of criticisms, when levied broadly by insiders against outsiders, nonetheless negates the value of any participant-observer attempt by non-native-outsider-researchers to understand cultures that they weren’t born or raised in. From a micro level, any rebuttal to this conviction that I could offer in my capacity as someone mostly straight and male would automatically be considered twisted and invalid, regardless of the help I received from feminist-aligned women while preparing the draft for this article.

For instance, Lauren Orsini of AniFem drew her own concerns from Love Live when she watched it and wrote about it on her blog.  They were concerns that were similar to the ones that I developed when I watched Love Live myself. She graciously shared her notes on the show with me to refer to as I wrote my article under her supervision.

— Ponder the very likely and understandable reasons why I chose to write about Love Live, as opposed any other anime idol show or fan-service heavy anime.

I’ve seen this complaint levied against me (and not the article) by Love Live fans that think that I have some vendetta against the show or otherwise believe me opportunistic for picking on  the franchise. I may not be as huge a fan of Love Live as some other people, but I definitely and unambiguously enjoyed Love Live in a non-trashy way. I may have criticized aspects of how Nozomi’s character was handled, but she’s also my favorite OG Love Live. After Nozomi, my next favorites are Nico and Maki.

Love Live is one of the few idol anime that I’ve watched to completion. I am open to being criticized about trying to speak authoritatively on the subject despite only completing a few idol anime. In my defense though, I tried to watch Idolm@aster too. I subsequently dropped Idolm@aster early because I found it even more reprehensible with how it treated its idols than Love Live. It inclined me to write about my entire Love Live experience than a partial Idolm@aster one. However, that still doesn’t fully explain why Love Live.

Why would I write about Love Live when it isn’t nearly as problematic and is far more wholesome compared to other idol anime? It’s controversial aspects aren’t as overt or as noticeable as the issues present in other idol anime like Idolm@aster, so what’s the value in picking on poor Love Live? I would argue that Love Live’s relative dearth of controversial apparency is what makes a critical analysis of it valuable. One viable interpretation that you can argue is that that dearth makes Love Live even more problematic. Love Live obfuscates, but does not erase. It scrubs, but does not sanitize.

It plays both sides, both all-age audiences and male idol otaku. The latter party, adolescent and grown up men, are satisfied with the occasional serving of red meat. The former party, kids and especially girls, grow up absorbing unhealthy expectations of what it means to perform their ascribed gender. To leave un-examined these purposely hidden and potentially insidious messages inside of otherwise innocuous or innocent-seeming idol anime like Love Live — leaving generations of young girls to idolize wedding dresses and what they stand for as the ultimate marker of femininity  — can be considered a disservice to the spirit of feminist media analysis. Feminist analysis is a challenge to gender incredulities not only on the surface level. It is also a challenge to gender assumptions in the subterranean depths. Understand that the idols of Love Live are ultimately fictional characters. They were created by folks who were raised in the values of their deeply patriarchal culture.

That’s all for the common complaints toward the article… and the writer… that I’ve seen floating around that I felt were disingenuous and needed addressing. I would like to consider myself as being open-minded enough not to claim that I know everything. I am totally open to criticism that actually challenges the argument set forth in the essay that I wrote. If you feel that the analysis over-reaches and oversimplifies (for instance), or if you felt like I messed up recounting an important detail from the show (because I did), please feel free to point it out (politely though, please). In fact, I would highly encourage people if they do have a complaint about the article to actually talk to me specifically instead of raging about me behind my back or, worse, directing their anger towards AniFem.

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[Anime Feminist] “A Wedding Gown for ‘Their’ Idol: Love Live, male audiences, and idol culture”

Non-management: This was an idea that had been tossing and turning my mind for the past few years. Eventually, I became confident enough my writing abilities to turn those ideas into an article. Thankfully, by the time that I stopped clucking, Anime Feminist had established itself as a well-read and well-moderated forum for discourse on all things anime and feminist.

I’d like to give a big thanks to Anime Feminist for commissioning my article. I’d like to also thank & for being my very patient editors. Below is the (summary) short to the article. If you’re interested in reading it, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the short:

[Discourse] A Wedding Gown for “Their” Idol: Love Live, male audiences, and idol culture

“Idols as hope” is an inspiring setup. That is, until it’s undercut by the notion of “idols as product.” 

If I were asked to describe Love Live in one word, it would be “optimistic.”

Not “catchy,” though the songs in Love Live are very catchy. Not “silly,” though the shenanigans the characters get into are funny, or “dramatic” though the conflicts they’re written into feel theatrical. That’s because my most striking memory of the show is at its very start, when Honoka and her friends truly believe they can make a difference.

The Love Live girls love their school, which they learn is going to close. School attendance isn’t what it used to be due to Japan’s low birthrate. Boards of Education throughout Japan have decided to shutter the least attended schools so they can merge ever-diminishing student bodies. This is a very real issue, as Japan’s shrinking and aging population is a concern that has plagued the nation for decades. It’s a challenge that still requires a solution.

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A Place Farther than the Universe: Journeys to Antarctica and Japan

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the A Place Farther than the Universe anime.

There’s a lot to A Place Farther than the Universe that even a cynical guy like me can relate to. It’s a story of earnestness governed by doubts that I’d imagine speak to many folks. Mari “Kimari” Tamaki’s personality might have been too earnest for me to consider her my character favorite, but as the initial main girl introduced to the audience, her central conflict was something that hit home. You may have big dreams early on. You may have achieved little since then to realize your aspirations. You get intimidated after realizing the scale of the work and luck needed to accomplish your goals. You fall into a deep melancholy over being no where close to your aims. What was the point of everything until now? That was me in my 20s, with hair on my chin and honors to my degree, working a job for a year that wasn’t worth the time and tuition I spent for schooling. I’m still in my 20s, and I can confidently say that I’m in a better place now.

But I’ll admit, the recent memory of a year of my youth wasted still bothers me. In that spirit, I understand why folks combine new resolutions with dramatic gestures. People do it often at the turn of the New Year, promising on its midnight stroke to becoming better people no matter what. If you think about it, why it has to be on New Year’s Day is a decision people make that’s ultimately arbitrary. It would be more logical for folks to devote themselves to new resolutions as soon as they form them. However, it is romantic to follow through commitments when they’re associated with some grand spectacle. People convince themselves that a dramatic gesture will make it harder to break a promise. It gives them an extra boost of courage, or it puts extra pressure on them to save face. For Kimari, Shirase Kobuchizawa, and her other friends, her life-changing adventure was a trip to Antarctica. For me, my call to adventure was going to Japan.

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[Crunchyroll Article] “Golden Kamuy is a Riveting Story of Survival, Treasure, and Warmth”

Non-management: My latest article for Crunchyroll is on Golden Kamuy.

I’d like to give a big thanks to Crunchyroll for commissioning my article. Below is the (summary) short to the article. If you’re interested in reading it, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the short:

Golden Kamuy is a Riveting Story of Survival, Treasure, and Warmth

What adventures wait in the intense, brutal wilderness?

Whether it be nature or man, she-bears or skin flayers, the world of Golden Kamuy is a harsh and dangerous one. Only the fittest survive in this place – and the fittest never strike alone. They huddle as partners to brave the stinging cold, hoping that at the end of their efforts they’ll be rewarded in gold. Allegedly hidden in the frontiers of Hokkaido, demented and weary souls search for Ainu treasure with rifles in hand… and plans they intend to fulfill whatever the cost… READ MORE HERE

[Update] The JET Program and Another Blog Recommendation

Non-management: In my quest to find fulfilling employment, I found a job, finally: an ALT position on the JET Program. To give everyone a run-down on what it is, the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program is an initiative sponsored by the Japanese government to increase the English proficiency and overall worldliness of the Japanese people. Japan is notorious for having a very insular culture, and having an even worse level of English proficiency relative to its Asian peers. As an effort to better adapt the country’s economy to the forces of globalization and otherwise connect the country’s citizens more closely to the international community, the Japanese government has been inviting English-fluent professionals to staff the country’s educational institutions and international outreach offices.

To give you my honest and academic assessment of the JET Program’s efficacy, based off the studies that I’ve dug up and read, the research results of its language education component have been mixed. Part of the explanation for those lackluster results has included the fact that many of those professionals invited lack an education degree. Despite these problems, according to those same studies, the JET Program has been successful at fostering a more nuanced and overall positive impression of foreign countries like the US among individual Japanese.

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Land of the Lustrous: Gods, Parents, Saints, and Growing Up

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Land of the Lustrous anime.

At the intersection of philosophy and theology is a word that both these disciplines have used to describe ultimate truth: God. God, in both senses of the word, is a concept that’s too abstract for newborn babes to fully appreciate as they mewl from their mothers’ wombs into a cold world. We open our eyes, our vision yet fully formed, and the very first beings to actively engage our sight (and the rest of our senses) are our parents. They take us into their care and teach us things: practical things, like how to walk, and ideological things, like how to see the world. We are taught by, ask, observe, and learn from our parents. We are made in their image and likeness, our first and most intimate mentors. For us humans learning how to be, the closest and most tangible thing to a God that we can appreciate in our early years are our parents. As we grow older and learn to respect other authorities, to realize that our parents are not always infallible and omniscient, but sometimes wrong in their judgments and even debase in their worldviews is tantamount to some betrayal. My mother and father were my Gods, my go-to sources for knowledge and wisdom. Now they are not, and I’ve had to struggle with the fallout of our strident disagreements.

In Land of the Lustrous, the effective parent of Phosphophyllite, Cinnabar, and all Lustrous beings was Kongo-sensei. He carved them from his hands, gave them names to identify with and cherish, taught them of the world, and gave them purpose through specific roles in their society.

In turn, all the Lustrous, and Phos initially, looked to Kongo for affection and guidance as their effective parent. As his effectively beloved children, they placed their complete faith in him and trusted him unconditionally. But eventually, Phos began to feel their relationship with him needed a more critical evaluation. They discover Kongo concealing something important from the rest of the Lustrous, something related to the Lunarians. The rest of the Lustrous confirm to Phos that they suspected Kongo was hiding things from them all along. They were content to leave it be. Phos wanted to prod at it further. Slowly, gradually, Phos sought answers to inquiries about the Lunarians that Kongo wouldn’t answer but Phos believed he knew the answers to. Kongo appeared to be letting the Lustrous suffer by withholding important information about the Lunarians. However Phos, in the end, couldn’t bring themselves to hate the parent who raised and nurtured them. Phos began rebelling against Kongo, though Phos’ feelings toward him remained conflicted. In being recast from the God-parent role he was always seen as by his charges into a flawed parent that he always was, Kongo is revealed to share more qualities with Christian saints than with of Buddhist boddhisattva. This Christian-informed observation is little odd, considering the show’s heavily Buddhist presentation.

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[Crunchyroll Article] “10 Magical Creatures from ‘The Ancient Magus’ Bride’ Anime”

Non-management: My latest article for Crunchyroll is on The Ancient Magus’ Bride.

I’d like to give a big thanks to Crunchyroll for commissioning my article. Below is the (summary) short to the article. If you’re interested in reading it, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the short:

10 Magical Creatures from “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” Anime

It’s a world of magical creatures inspired by English, Irish, Scottish, Celtic, Welsh, and European literature, myth, and folktale of yore.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a world of magic. It’s a world of magical creatures inspired by English, Irish, Scottish, Celtic, Welsh, and European literature, myth, and folktale of yore. The creatures come in all shapes and sizes. They may look more like animals. They may resemble human beings. They can look like a cross of both while looking quite alien. They may be absolutely adorable to see, or a little hard to stare at. Many of these creatures are quite intelligent, with the intelligent ones sporting strong personalities. They’re autonomous beings, and they often act out of their own interests — helping those that do favors for them and tricking others that intrigue or annoy them… READ MORE HERE