[Anime News Network] “A History of Takarazuka Revue Influences in Anime”

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Non-management: I’ve always been fascinated by the intersectional synthesis of cultures, which partly explains why I find the Taisho period such an aesthetic delight. Western culture meets Japanese , and the result is a delightful mixture of melting pot and patchwork. The Takarazuka Revue is one example of this, a Japanese interpretation of largely Western theater that started during Taisho. The Revue is thus a fairly unique form of theater that, to this day, draws in large audiences as mainstream form of theater and entertainment. Also fairly unique about the Revue is its all-female acting cast, which partly explains why those large audiences are mainly female. All the acting roles are filled by women, and most peculiarly, even though many of those roles are gendered male and female, the actresses fill in for both the women and men parts. Part of the women dress and act girly for the female musumeyaku roles; the other part crossdress and act masculine for the male otokoyaku ones. The Revue gives a special touch to the the otokoyaku’s performance of masculinity, illustrating an idealized form of their male models that their female audiences prefer over more naturalistic portrayals — cruder, ruder, lewder, more insensitive, aggressive, and domineering. The otokoyaku are the most recognizable faces of the Revue today.

The alternative portrayals of masculinity in the Takarazuka Revue that are put on by women are ironic, considering the origins of the Revue are from a founder and man who very much wanted the women in his theater and larger society to act their more traditional place: as good wives and wise mothers for the Japanese nation. His actresses were supposed to learn their social duties while making him money on the stage, then leave the stage for a man and children and never come back. Even the otokoyaku were expected to conform, their performance of masculinity originally intended as a means for them to understand their male models before joining them in the household as proper spouses. The actresses and the audience have long struggled with the Revue’s patriarchially conservative legacy, with many eventually imagining a theater space separate from the founder’s original vision, one where they can find personal enrichment in — men and society be damned. This particular reinterpretation leaves little theater space for reform though, as the Revue is periodically critcized for being escapist about men and society rather than progressive and revolutionary about pushing both into treating women more equitably.

In both its outer aesthetics and internal conflicts, the Takarazuka Revue has influenced the narratives of many anime, among them Revue Starlight, Kageki Shoujo!!, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. To different degrees, anime has incorporated and celebrated the Revue’s pageantry and female-transgressive opportunity, and also commented on and criticized the Revue’s masculine-coded competitiveness and heteronormativity. From real history to recent anime, the article linked below is an abridged history of Takrazuka Revue Influences in anime.

But anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

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Shall I tell a modern tale of girls and a stage? Curtains unraveled to their far reaches, a grand staircase positioned in the back, the spotlight basks on two figures: a sweeping-dress maiden played by a woman, and an epaulettes-coat hero played by another woman. Both are from the Takarazuka Revue. The Takarazuka Revue is a popular Japanese all-female theater group founded in the early 20th century. Its theatrical adaptation of Rose of Versailles and other plays have been profoundly influential on the aesthetics and narratives of Japanese shoujo stories, those iconic settings of dress-wearing feminine women and crossdressing-masculine women cavorting gaily, gloriously, tenderly, and tragically on a Western-themed setting. Look no further than Revolutionary Girl UtenaRevue Starlight, and the recent Kageki Shoujo!! as proof of the Revue’s impact on anime and manga.

But alongside the melodramatic fantasies offered by the all-female Revue to their mainly female fanbase exists drama in the backstage and the audience. The hyper-competitive environment the Revue fosters and the specific physiological qualities the Revue demands take unhealthy tolls upon its actresses. The seemingly progressive image of an all-women stage and women playing both male and female roles in romantic plots hits the brick wall of tradition and institution, of men who once and still run the show and society… READ MORE

[Anime News Network] “Vivy: a Robot Ode to Life Vividly Lived”

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Non-management: I love me a good story about existentialism, and Vivy is one of the better written ones in anime. Most people don’t usually think about why they exist now and why things somehow are amidst the business and busyness of everyday life, but every now and then (maybe at least occasionally), most of us hit a roadside pothole, a rough emotional spell. Something horrible or disappointing happened. It throws us off our tracks, out of our normal routines. Depressed and dazed, we ask ourselves “why it had to come to this? Why did these bad things happen?” And in general, “Why do bad things happen? Why do they continue to happen?” If the answer turns out to be no good reason, then is existence worth continuing to living out, enduring, and appreciating? As an AI intelligent sci-fi robot, Vivy is naturally predisposed to inquiring about her existence directly and sooner.

After twelve episodes and a hundred years of searching and struggle, Vivy’s personal answer to her life is an affirmative “Yes.”  And she gives it through song.

But man was it a pain to figure out exactly what kind of conclusion Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song ultimately wanted to go for, story and thematics-wise. That’s not a slight to the show. It’s very well written. It balances its contemplative moments with its thrilling ones super well, but the plot-centric nature of the story necessary to facilitate those thrills also strung me along with what exact point Vivy wanted to make with its existentialism. That’s not an uncommon feature of many existentialist stories though. They’re full of characters meandering and bumbling around on their journeys towards self-discovery. I tried to capture that feeling of initial uncertainty and well-worn soles in my article, taking my readers on a journey of Vivy’s journey towards self-truth. I unfortunately had to omit mentioning some parts of it because the article was getting too long (it’s still my longest ANN article yet), but I hope people still enjoy and get something out of it.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

Vivy: a Robot Ode to Life Vividly Lived

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Science fiction boasts a rich history of making audiences ponder how different people’s lives would be in a future of new technologies. The more profound sci-fi stories don’t only imagine how cool or even convenient it would be if certain technologies existed; they also speculate on how these technologies could shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Take robot artificial intelligence (AI), which, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll be referring to as just robots. Wouldn’t it be super convenient if robots did more of our work for us? Couldn’t it be dangerous to rely too heavily on robots? Questions such as these, which concern the role of robots in humanity’s future, are a staple of the sci-fi genre. The answers arrived at vary: some stories paint post-labor and post-scarcity worlds built around robots; others warn about robots not only replacing our work, but humans altogether.

However, Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- is a prime example of how not all robot sci-fi is about the horror-tinged extent to which robots would and should replace us. Sure, the show does touch on those Terminator concerns, but in lieu of how alienatingly mismatched robots are to humans, Vivy is, through a life and a song, a different tale of a journey of robots becoming more human, and what these journeys of robots communicate about humanity… READ MORE

[Anime News Network] “The Enemy Within in the War of 86”

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Non-management: Japan is fairly experienced with writing anti-war stories, given the devastation it suffered in the Pacific War and the pacifism it adopted afterwards. It isn’t so experienced with writing about ethnic and race relations, which is a larger reflection of the Japanese considering their nation a mostly homogenous community. The truth of the country’s “homogenity” is, like with a lot of things, more complicated than that, but that characterization does spare Japan from the public agitation that seems to always rage in more multicultural and multiracial societies like the US. At the same time though, that homogenous identity has tended to make Japan more silent and tonedeaf towards peoples who don’t quite look and act like the average Japanese.

The country has been infamous for its reluctance to publicly admit (and even refusal to acknowledge) the discriminatory attitudes and policies it adopted during this same Pacific War. Whereever Imperial Japan conquered back then, the Japanese saw its subjugated peoples as unenlightened and inferior. This imagined substandardness justified to the Japanese them treating these peoples as exploitable and disposable. Even within modern Japan today, the Japanese don’t have a stellar reputation for treating its Chinese, Korean, Ainu, Ryukyuan and overseas worker minorities very well. However, their issues aren’t nearly as publicly advocated for in Japan when compared to minorities in America, partly due to how dwarfed they are population-wise compared to the mainstream Japanese.

So it is interesting to me whenever a Japanese author tries its hand at discussing this kind of minority discrimination critically, amazing when a Japanese author manages to it with so much finesse and nuance like in 86 – Eighty Six –86 not only shows how mean, awful, and unreasonable discrimination is on an individual level. The show also illustrates how discrimination magnified on a larger level creeps and bleeds into so many facets of society. When discrimination by one group against another becomes a pillar of public policy and a casual norm of culture — when discrimination becomes institutionalized — it affects the very language and thoughts by which people process and even criticize it. Lena is deeply critical of Alba society’s discriminatory treatment of the 86, but as an Alba herself born and raised in this society, she makes faux pas towards the 86ers that she’s not even aware of until she gets called out.

Additionally, the story illustrates the deletrious effect institutional discrimination can have on society as a whole. The Republic of San Magnolia is fighting a war with the Empire of Giad that its racist Alba majority government assumes it can win given enough time and minimal effort. Under that assumption, the supremacist Alba majority government is forcing its 86er minorities to defend against the enemy, recklessly and underequipped. The Alba government hopes to kill two birds with one stone, holding its Empire enemy at bay until its drone armies inevitably lose steam, and having all its 86er minorities killed off by these Empire drones in the meantime. One 86er fighting unit, Spearhead, knows a big secret that upends that assumption that, if not properly addressed, will result in the Republic’s loss and destruction. Most Alba don’t take 86ers seriously though, but that’s where Lena comes in as Spearhead’s new Handler.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

The Enemy Within in the War of 86

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I got into 86 some weeks after its first episode, about when both anime-only viewers and light novel readers were on the same page of this war story: it’s great. Interested, I asked around Twitter about how 86 handled its war subject. I can like shows about war, but I’m not a fan of super edgy ones. One of my good Twitter buddies replied that 86 treats its war subject quite sensitively, and that its author is fairly knowledgeable about history and anti-war literature, even including a reference to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front in the original work. Intrigued, I typed back to my buddy that “he” seemed interesting, only to be corrected that Asato Asato is actually a “she.” It was an honest mistake, and I’ve since taken care not to make those assumptions lightly. While I don’t consciously think women can’t write good stories about war, society also has this larger stereotype of war stories being a male pursuit. 86 is a great story about war, one that was written by a woman. This experience, though, reminded me that as a member of society, I’m not immune to making bad prejudgments.

And neither are the characters of 86. They make prejudgments, carry prejudices, and discriminate. Much as it would be a gross disservice to war literature to dismiss contributions from female writers like 86‘s Asato Asato, the discrimination rife in the Republic of Magnolia does a gross disservice to the country’s war against the Empire of Giad. This internal discrimination is losing the Republic the war, and the protagonists of 86 have to find a way to address it before it’s too late. But first, one of 86‘s protagonists, named Lena, is confronted about a bad prejudgement… READ MORE

[Anime News Network] “Urobuchi, History, and the Wuxia Hero of Thunderbolt Fantasy”

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Non-management: “Urobutcher” is a name that’s stuck onto Gen Urobuchi, for better or worse. One of his earliest camps of detractors accuse Urobuchi of torturing idealistic hero characters for the shock of it. One of the latest camps accuse Urobuchi of not torturing idealistic hero characters enough and becoming soft. Urobuchi’s gratuitous use of death and gore isn’t beyond criticism, and he has mentioned more recently that he’s getting used to writing less darkly. The breaking and butchering in Urobuchi works does have context though. The death and darkness serves a larger point in Urobuchi stories. Much as it might otherwise appear on the surface because of how willing he is to push characters into the meat grinder, these violent and macabre elements never exist for their own sake. They exist in his stories as an extension of Urobuchi’s own personal ideals for goodness dashed against the hard rocks of reality — of heroic individuals trying to live and lead in a world that that he sees as objectively indifferent and cruel. And for certain, if you too read up on the daily news, you’ll realize that lot of —-ed up stuff happens daily.

Urobuchi admires heroes who strive to make this cruel and indifferent world a better place, or at least he wants to believe in them. However, Urobuchi has also spent a lot of thought about how the world’s cruelty and indifference would affect heroes in turn. It’s not a one-way street for Urobuchi. The world is hard to bend. In Fate/Zero, Psycho-Pass, and Madoka Magica, heroes are broken and misguided by the world, become corrupted and warped by reality, are traumatized, have to compromise, and prevail against the universe only by the grace of a God damn miracle (but not before having to witness multiple other heroes getting —-ed up). So many of Urobuchi’s hero protagonists start idealistic before bashing them against the world, and as they endure their brutal trials, there’s a sense that Urobuchi himself really admires their idealistic battles, whether they totally succeed or ultimately fail. He admires their struggles so much that he’s written about them repeatedly, in many versions and different genres up to wuxia. The struggle for kindness and compassion is just as universal to Urobuchi as the indifferent and cruel nature of the cosmos.

So we come to Urobuchi’s most recent Thunderbolt Fantasy and Shāng Bù Huàn, who I think is Urobuchi’s best example of a well-rounded heroic idealist. The universe of Thunderbolt Fantasy is dark and can be brutal, but it does seems to treat Shāng less brutally despite totally being a protagonist with heroic ideals. If Urobuchi’s not butchering heroes for its own sake, then why does he spare Shāng from the usual gauntlet of brutal trials? I’d argue that it’s not oversight or contrivance, but reflection of Shāng’s maturity relative to his idealistic peers. Shāng is a kind, compassionate adult who’s well-aware of how the terrible the world and people can be. He doesn’t compromise with committing evil and accepts he may have to face tremendous personal sacrifice and loss one day. He stays the course of his idealism despite being challenged on it by his enemies and allies, because he’s thought long and hard about it already. Taking it from that perspective, even if not as brutal in content as his other works, Thunderbolt Fantasy is not so different from the stories Urobuchi has written before about heroes.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

Urobuchi, History, and the Wuxia Hero of Thunderbolt Fantasy

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Across genres, properties, and mediums, intersecting so many of Urobuchi stories is an oppressive and penetrating darkness. Gen Urobuchi often includes themes of dystopia, indifference, and cruelty into his stories, setting them against his characters’ innocence, hopefulness, and righteousness. He was notorious for breaking or corrupting his creations in his initial works, though he’s more recently allowed his creatures some compromise and even triumph — albeit, mind you, still requiring the requisite pounds of flesh. In the genres he’s molded animate clay, Urobuchi tends to pick character-types to cast life into as his protagonists, archetypal characters that have two things in common: they are (1) idealists and (2) outsiders. He has a potential recruit in magical girl Madoka Magica; a lonely king in Fate/Zero; a newbie detective in hard-boiled Psycho-Pass; and Shāng Bù Huàn, the wuxia hero of Thunderbolt Fantasy. So how does Urobuchi apply his signature darkness on Thunderbolt Fantasy and the wuxia genre?

But first… what’s wuxia? Wuxia is a genre of Chinese storytelling centered around individuals wandering about, aiding the weak using their martial arts. These “wuxia heroes” bear similarities to the knights-errant of chivalric European tales, the golden-hearted cowboys of American Westerns, and the principled samurai-ronin of Japanese chanbara. The wuxia hero dates back to figures in history who lived long before the wuxia genre was formalized… READ MORE

 

 

[Anime News Network] “Through One Piece, the Golden Age of Piracy Lives On”

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Non-management: So I really did, at first, wonder why pirates were such a beloved icon in American culture. Small kids have traditionally dressed up as pirates for Halloween without issue, and a lot of mainstream media present pirates as heroes to root for — children’s media included. It sort of felt like a white-washing of heinous pirate behavior to make them out as romantically heroic figures, and to an extent I still think that’s true. Not unlike other brigand groups and criminal syndicates, many pirates undoubtedly ruined many innocent lives raping, plundering, sacking, and burning, all for their own profit and often no one else’s. With just this shitty context, one can draw comparisons between pirates and how American culture has problematically romanticized the Italian mafia. Albeit, upon further reflection, the best mob media doesn’t really excuse all the murder and cruelty so much as they glamorize the pagentry and tragedy.

The Italian mafia was, at least initially, a place that attracted young ambitious Italian American men. With no easy way to climb up the socioeconomic ladder in Italian and Catholic-unfriendly American society, unemployed Italian men-turned-mobsters could earn their sought after wealth and status. They could finally live out that American Dream, a warped and twisted version of it, but one that earned some respect and was flush with cash.

Likewise, upon further inspection, piracy as a whole is a lot more complicated than its infamy as brutal sea banditry would suggest. Becoming a pirate may might have been a choice for many, but that choice was made easier by the harsh world that these had to pirates live in, one of unjust governments and unfair systems that made more honest options of making a living difficult if not impossible. So their freedom-singing reputation stems, not just as an extension of pure self-absorption (since the most successful pirates regarded their colleagues quite well and equitably for the times), but also as a transgressive call-out of defiance against the higher powers that helped make them that way. Modern Internet piracy is regarded in much the same way by its sympathetics and partisans, a transgressive defiance against unfair copyright regimes.

The pirate protagonists of One Piece too make a transgressive stand against the unjust World Government when it attempts to strip their friends’ freedom. Rather meekly submit and get beaten down by the system, Luffy and his crew picks fights with and declares war on it. For folks who love freedom and hate injustice, those acts of defiance are what make pirates relatable and admirable enough to rationalize good pirate media and pirate cosplay. 

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

Through One Piece, the Golden Age of Piracy Lives On

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Even to the present day, views on piracy have tended towards two sides. On one side, pirates are, by virtue of their criminal maritime activities, regarded as bandits, brutes, and thugs of the seas, raiding civilians on the ocean and shore, robbing innocents of their lots and lives. On the other, pirates are almost endlessly romanticized: literary classics like Treasure Island feature pirate protagonists, kids dress up in crossbones-skull eye-patches and tricorn caps for Halloween, numerous sports teams lift their namesakes from “pirate” or related terms, a couple of Disney’s most iconic media franchises and amusement attractions are pirate-themed, and a certain VTuber from Hololive with more than a million subscribers uses a pirate avatar. Finally, the bestselling manga series of all time is about a young man who wants to become the Pirate King; more so than ninja or reapers from millennia past, it is One Piece and its tale of pirate romanticism that stands tall atop the shounen manga summit.

While the creative artistry and storytelling chops of Eiichiro Oda is one reason that made One Piece such a beloved series, another significant factor is the modern appetite and affection for pirates. What’s with this fascination with and even adoration for pirates, and what does it have to do with the acclaim and popularity of One Piece? To answer that, we first need to look at the oftentimes incongruous historical portrayal of pirates, who are simultaneously splotches of scum threatening the maritime order and members of a resistance rebelling against an unjust system. It is this history One Piece reflects, and one that we shall investigate… READ MORE

[Anime News Network] “Log Horizon, Undertale, and the Tales Game Mechanics Can Tell

Non-management: I really don’t have that much time for the older hobbies I enjoyed back in college, what with  newer priorities like Japanese and a full-time job. I simply can’t risk myself gaming too much nowadays: it’s too much of a time commitment for someone who’s fairly susceptible to media binge addictions; I still sometimes lose sleep over it. A while ago, it was Gwent. A little bit after that, it was Rimworld. More recently, it was Sopranos clips. Right now, it’s Hololive. But I never stopped thinking about stories in games, and I’ll throw on videos every now and then while eating meals at home about this YouTuber or that analyzing interesting games they played. I’ve always been fascinated by how game stories can really make you appreciate, personally, whatever messages they want to send to players by tying reading and seeing with doing. The mechanics of games compliment the message being told, or they’re grounds from which the message is built out from. It’s easier to feel the thrill or chills of a kill by a character when you’re the one willing them into it, no? Pressing a button on your mouse or controller to make the character move, swing, and shoot is the closest thing we have now to our minds telling the muscles in our bodies to move, swing, and pull. Some games lean into making the POV character a blanker slate for the player to insert themselves in, while others allow the player to control the POV character to different degrees while also attempting a distance.

You are the character, or you sort of aren’t. You’re closer to the action: the rages thrown, the tears shed, the stares stared. And yet, you’re not quite there either, and that has permitted some players to try things they wouldn’t do in real life: dangerous things, amoral things, horrible things.

Anime stories has been into game and game-y settings for several years now, which you’d think ups the possibility of anime discussing how game mechanics can be better used to draw people into and tell certain kinds of stories. Unfortunately, a lot of these anime (including some more popular series like Sword Art Online) are very surface level in their treatment of game mechanics. The game aesthetic is cool to wander through and is nostalgic for gaming fans who are also anime ones. Game systems look impressive with its stat displays and particle effects and are pretty convenient for explaining how things work in these settings with less writing. But these anime don’t really illustrate how uniquely game mechanics can interact with stories, how that much more sharply game mechanics can impress and influence player behavior. In more traditional-style RPG games, players are encouraged by game systems to kill apparent hostiles first and ask deeper questions later. Players are also discouraged from valuing NPC lives too highly due to their obvious artificialities and power inferiorities. Undertale the game challenges conventions in the former situation, and Log Horizon challenges expectations in the latter. Both pieces of media pose these challenges in ways that’s only possible with game stories. Log Horizon is a special anime in that respect, one of the few exceptions right now to the rule in game setting anime.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

Many anime have incorporated video game elements, most commonly Role Playing Game (RPG) ones, in their stories to different degrees. The plots of Sword Art Online and .hack//SIGN occur primarily within the bounds of an explicit video game setting that their protagonists are stuck in. Even shows like DanMachi and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime that aren’t explicitly connected to an established video game world leverage game-like systems to explain away how power progression works for their protagonists. Compared to these examples, Log Horizon is a little unique in that it looks at familiar RPG mechanics, ponders their narrative implications from a more realistic framework, and then has its characters interact seriously with them. The same familiar gameplay elements that characters may take for granted in some self-aware RPGs and RPG-influenced anime are meaningfully engaged with by Undertale and Log Horizon for their narrative possibilities, such as exploring how sentient NPCs would react to player characters who exploit their immortality to get ahead.

Another question that is underexplored by RPG-based narratives is how players regard NPCs who aren’t immortal and weren’t previously “alive…” READ MORE

[Podcasts] One Piece and A Silent Voice… with The One Piece Podcast and Manga Mavericks

Non-management: Towards the end of last year and the beginning of this one, I had the privilege of being invited to two separate podcasts, one on A Silent Voice by Manga Mavericks and one on One Piece by the One Piece Podcast. Sometimes on days where I feel especially down for whatever reason, I wonder whether or not anyone actually reads any of my work. While I do enjoy practicing my writing craft with these articles, I spend hours and hours and a lot of energy writing them. Well, I was invited to these podcasts because their hosts did stumble upon and read my writings. I probably don’t express it as well or often as I should, but I’m really thankful for the periodic reminders of others caring.

Thanks again to the podcast hosts for inviting me. They were both a lot of fun to participate in. Portals to the podcasts are hyperlinked below.

For A Silent Voice, something I grew to appreciate while teaching elementary school kids in Japan is how much influence homeroom teachers have on their kids’ behavior. What behaviors they permit and restrict, discourage and encourage in one grade has an enormous effect on their behaviors, personalities, and worldviews in subsequent grades and presumably into adulthood. Bullies then remained bullies later, and kids hated by others became kids that hate themselves. Manga Mavericks’ A Silent Voice podcast discusses how adults, including the homeroom teacher, for better and worse, shaped how the kids of the series suffer and mature.’

For One Piece, something that struck me about the Wano Arc is its juxtaposition of a fantasy Japan suffering from foreigners and the on-the-nose references to a Japanese folk tale called Momotaro. Momotaro was originally and now currently simple tale of a young man and his compatriots defeating some tyrannical demons. The Momotaro tale though was propagandized by the Japanese government during its Imperial Japan days to demonize other peoples so as to rationalize Japan’s own tyranny over them. The Momotaro tale and the Wano Arc are parts of a larger discussion of tyranny in One Piece on the Fight Together edition of One Piece Podcast.

[Anime News Network] “The Horror and Romance of Rural Higurashi”

Non-management: Before coronavirus really took off in Japan and everyone started taking it seriously here, I was able to manage a trip with a friend to rural Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture. I’ve obviously had to put a hold on it for now, but I’m determined still while I’m still working here to travel around as much of Japan as I can. I can only travel so much though — finite time, finite money — so I have to prioritize where to go first. My interest in history plays a massive role with my traveling decisions, to Tochigi, Nara, and Himeji, for example. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa is historically interesting in some respects, though not in any momentously eventful way. Shirakawa is home to no grand religious structures or military fortifications, nor did any especially notworthy people live or battles take place there. So as you might have guessed, the tipping point toward me planning a stay was my interest in anime, and in Higurashi more specifically. The setting of Higurashi is the rural village of Hinamizawa, and it’s heavily based off the rural village of Shirakawa.

The Higurashi anme has this reputation of being gory-psycho-murder-torture-loli-horror-schlock, and I can see where this… err… colorful impression comes from. No one’s really obligated to push deeper into the show if they’re turned off by this characterization, since the beginning of the show doesn’t really do its deeper story many favors. But if you commit to trying to understand why the murders take place (and keep taking place), you might soon discover how thickly layered the narrative ends up becoming. The horror of Higurashi doesn’t only lies in the whiplash subversion of the comedy slice-of-life or the moe aesthetic. It rises from the breakdown of communal trust in rural villages, as the fatal mistrust that boils between the show’s band of friends draws comparisons and connections to the one rural village they all live in. The village of Hinamizawa had a proud history of villagers banding together to survive and flourish against adversity. That proud history now stands in contrast to the suspicious and unsympathetic atmosphere that hangs currently in the air: a fear of outsiders, a fear of change. These fears are issues that the shrinking and greying Japanese countryside grapples with today, including the Shirakawa area.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

The rural village setting is a staple of many works of horror. Many horror stories see rural settings as sites suspect, estranged from rational civilization, operating under odd reason. Outsiders passing through or settling in the countryside find themselves uncomfortably out-of-place, with everything around them discomfitingly alien. And yet, the rural village setting also happens to be a staple of literary modernism. Many modernist stories characterize city living as a melancholic livelihood, doomed to numbing transaction, and detached from human connection. Outsiders musing about or moving into the countryside desire welcoming communities and tighter relationships, but what they think of as a dream come true can just as often turn into a trap. The rural village becomes especially nightmarish when these assumptions merge together and then twist apart. Nostalgic warmth unravels into fanatic hysteria. Villagers turn on outsiders and then themselves. “Resting your bones” becomes a double entendre.

The Higurashi series explores the perpetually latent horror at this village fork of dream and nightmare, and it does so by basing its story setting of Hinamizawa on a small Japanese village I had the opportunity to stay at: Shirakawa… READ MORE

[Anime News Network] “History and Momotaro in One Piece’s Wano Country Arc”

Non-management: I think it was one of my Japanese language college courses when I first got acquainted with the actual story of Momotaro. It was told in kami shibai style, where the story was told by a gesticulating speaker and pages of unbound illustration that are swapped with new pictures as the story progressed, and I remembered asking myself: Wow, this is a boring story. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t exactly a kid anymore when I was first told it, but then again, many folk tales are replete with some fascinating (and eccentric) material that even adults can chew on for thought. By comparison, Momotaro felt so basic by comparison. It is true that Momotaro has straightforward morals that make it suitable for teaching kids and boys especially certain values: kids and boys especially should be ambitious; they should value friendships and collaboration; they should offer respect to their parents. It is interesting that these values are so thoroughly baked into the narrative arcs  of so Japanese anime aimed at kids and boys especially (shounen anime), even if you discount the outright homages like in One Piece.

And yet, the actual text of Momotaro was so tedious to listen to and read about directly that I still wondered even after considering all the fine educational points how this tale about a young man who defeats generic demon-ogres on an island with the help of his animal friends end up leaving such an indelible mark on Japanese culture. One major reason is Japan’s history with war and imperialism, and One Piece makes a nod to that controversial history in its homage to Momotaro. Well, it’s more like a retelling of Momotaro from the perspective of a creator with modern Japanese sensibilities both… looking back and moving forward.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

History and Momotaro in One Piece’s Wano Country Arc

Once upon a time, there was a young man. The young man set out on a grand adventure, expecting challenges along the way. On this same journey, the young man meets and makes friends. Those friends join him, and they share their food and the road. Eventually, the party of friends reach journey’s end and together, after a fiercely epic struggle, overcome the last difficulties standing in their way. The bruised but merry party returns, their quest completed. Basking in how much they’ve accomplished on their adventure, they also reflect on how things have changed and how they’ve changed.

This version of the hero’s journey is generic enough to apply to all sorts of stories, ranging from ancient mythological tales to adventure shōnen series; One Piece is no exception. The archetypal narrative of fights and friends rather neatly encompasses the latest arc as well as a Japanese folktale called Momotaro.

Wano Country is both a homage to and a retelling of Momotaro with a twist: a reflection of how much Japan has changed and how the Japanese have changed since their homeland’s isolation from the world ended well over a century ago. While older versions of the Momotaro story may have been floating around before the Edo period, it was during the that period that the story was finally set to paper for mass audiences. But the seemingly simple story of Momotaro didn’t end there, as the decades following the end of Edo re-imagined and re-interpreted the story again and again – through restoration, war, devastation, peace, reconstruction, and now the present, with Eiichiro Oda giving his own twist to this classically journey-weathered tale… READ MORE

[Anime News Network] “‘Gekokujo’ and Revolution in Ascendance of a Bookworm”

Non-management: I absolutely adore Ascendance of a Bookworm, to the point that it’s become the first light novel series I’ve actively following and spending money on: I bought all the available novels on Bookwalker, took out a subscription from J-Novel Club, and now I’ve written an ANN article on the anime that basically doubles as my own idiosyncratic love letter to the story. I was skeptical at first before a friend sat me down and had me take a second look at it. I really like how much promise fantasy isekai settings hold, though that might mean something different to me than others. A lot of fans like the escapist fantasy adventurism that isekai can easily accommodate for, and I can’t say I don’t find that part of the genre unappealing . But as a social scientist, I see isekai settings as a golden opportunity for creating allegories that can help educate fans understand and wish for a better world around them. Log Horizon and, to a lesser extent, That Time I Got Reincarnated into a Slime, does this.  Yet so many isekai end up being otherwise uninspired stories that use isekai settings as a lazily gimmicky way to to hook people in like some cheap spice.

A series about a girl obsessed with books, but it’s also an isekai story, screamed as gimmicky to me, and the lukewarm reception to its first episodes didn’t convince otherwise at first. I understand how exhausted some people are with the male-centeredness and exploitative violence of recent isekai (I’ve grown sick of it too), but I wasn’t convinced that Bookworm would be a good story even if it hit the opposite isekai checkboxes. But boy was I wrong. Its worldbuilding is marvelously complex; its application and handling of historical inspirations, political systems, and social issues are thought provoking; its characters are full-bodied products of their environment who change as the world and people they interacts with change. I just wanted to showcase Bookworm as a skeptic-turned-convert in the best way (and most known way) I know how: talking about its revolution and history.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

It’s a recurring trope in history and fiction: outsiders are salad tossed into a pre-established society. Due to a whole world of difference, these immigrants arrive with fresh perspectives, new ideas, wide-eyed energy, and ambitions, irrevocably shaking their new world’s status quo. Immigrants and isekai are natural marriage partners: Log HorizonThat Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and Ascendance of a Bookworm are several examples in anime where outsiders from other worlds usher systematic change in their adopted one.

The systematic change these outsiders usher in is comparable to events like the Protestant Reformation, the Japanese Warring States Period, and other periods of “gekokujo”. Gekokujo is a term in Japanese referencing periods of sociopolitical upheaval: times when those of lower position seize control from those of higher status. While Ascendance of a Bookworm (henceforth just Bookworm) is the series’s official name, Honzuki no Gekokujo, the series’ Japanese title, suggests more than just the singular rise of a girl who loves to read. It presents change worthy of the title “revolution” thanks to the power of books… READ MORE