Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World- ~ A Rant About Why The Ending Was Problematic

Management: Unlike more formal entries, this post is just me kind of freewheeling some hate I’ve worked up on something or other. I intend they be civil, but they are rants. They are demonstrably more passionately accusatory towards something or someone, but the points I’ll make will at least be coherent. I won’t do these on a regular basis. They’ll just spontaneously spring to mind one day in a conversation, and I’d rather at least the reasonableness, if not the rhetoric, of my sentiments remain etched somewhere for other people to read and reference.

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Let me at least partially clear the potentially poisonous air that might settle around this post when I say that I’m a fan of Re: Zero. I’m not opposed to watching otaku-targeted shows heavy with otaku commentary. In fact, I quite enjoy them. I enjoy otaku characters engage in contemplation. I enjoy otaku creators creating critical discussions about themselves and their subculture. Commentary from shows have motivated me to do a decent amount of independent research on these matters. The conclusions that I’ve arrived at this research are as follows:

I see a subculture of otaku that are simultaneously problematic in some of the things they like and pitiable in some of the reasons why they like them. Subaru Natsuki is a fictional example of one of those otaku sights: toxic in certain respects, kind in others, with deep insecurity towards himself connecting these two aspects of his character. His behavior can dip into sometimes questionable, sometimes deplorable, and many times frustrating depths. And yet, I find him relatable enough that I can’t help rooting for his self-improvement and happiness.

In that specific order of self-improvement and happiness. While I personally think the act of humanizing otaku is a worthy goal to pursue, I also personally think that some of the values otaku profess holding are dehumanizing. They are values that I believe we should avoid and protest. We should avoid and protest them even when those values seem to be presented to us unintentionally, if not deliberately. After all, media shapes the thoughts of those consumers unaware or ill-informed of certain values. Media also reinforces and hardens the held-values of people whenever they consume like-valued media. We shouldn’t praise Subaru or any other character whenever they believe something problematic, because there are some people may begin internalizing or further internalizing those problematic values as something they should mentally fetter and fasten themselves to as well. We also shouldn’t praise an anime when it frames elements of its narrative problematically. It’s a shame because of how otherwise self-aware Re: Zero happens to be when it comes to the benign and malignant aspects of the male otaku.

So it goes that, without a certain spoiler-ridden cliffhanger that would have occurred probably minutes after the end of Re: Zero’s Episode 25, “That’s All This Story Is About” is problematic on two fronts and are demonstrated via the show’s treatment of Rem. These two fronts are ones that delve into the harem set-ups and fridge stuffing that feminists have been critical of in fiction. Together, they undermine the thematic unity of the anime adaptation, a thematic unity of self-improvement alongside self-awareness that remains intact in the original source material.

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ReLIFE: Graduation and its Distinctions

Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This post mainly references ReLIFE Episode 11: “A Trip to the Past.”

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Anime is already inundated by show after show of high school settings. It can get tiring after a while. I therefore couldn’t help but be intrigued by a 27 year old male protagonist looking for full-time work.  Expectations were betrayed somewhat when, one contract and one pill later, he got enrolled for high school looking ten years younger. I enjoyed it though. The show has its combination of high school shenanigans and old man jokes. I graduated from university recently and my back sometimes hurts. Needless to say, I found humor in both.

As a fellow recent graduate, I found the male protagonist’s career troubles in ReLIFE relatable. I’ve felt the pressure of finding and working a job that’s financially sustainable and spiritually rewarding. The job I had until recently neither of those qualities. It was long hours of grunt labor from a demanding boss for menial pay and the expectation that I’ll eventually work my way up. And in the brief time that I’ve been employed line of work, politics specifically, there’s no shortage of people from the other camps undermining each other, suspecting each other, gossiping about each other, saying mean things towards each other.

It’s the kind of pettiness and nastiness that you expect of people, having graduated from school and/or aged enough, would have grown up and out from. Depressingly, exhaustingly, and perhaps even maddeningly, that’s not necessarily the case in either political America and corporate Japan. Kaizaki learns that lesson very harshly. To shake him out of his funk and find steady employment, he re-lives his high school life one more time for some healing… except that as it turns out, high school life can also get pretty petty and nasty. And so, from a less than original premise, we get a somewhat novel perspective: high school life from a struggling salaryman.

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Samurai Flamenco: Cynicism, Society, and Stolen Umbrellas

Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This post mainly references Samurai Flamenco Episode 2: “My Umbrella Is Missing.”

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One of the moments I found most memorable in Samurai Flamenco didn’t involve any of the steadily spectacle-creep superhero battles. My evaluations of these battles ranged from tediously cliche (The Flamengers versus From Beyond) to absolutely ridiculous (Samurai Flamenco versus The Prime Minister). I would suspect a lot of people who watched the show from start to finish had similar reactions. But from moment-to-moment, the parts of the story I found the most emotionally resonant was the parts that were relatively mundane. They were slow moments, characters talking with each other, arguing with each other, sharing their ambitions and motivations, dreams and goals.

Getting back to the point, a moment that struck me was one about umbrellas. Hazama Masayoshi and Goto Hidenori are in a restaurant, eating, drinking, and talking about Hazama’s latest antics as Samurai Flamenco. That discussion leads back into a discussion of Hazama’s motivations for being a hero. Up to that point, Samurai Flamenco’s illustrious career thus far consisted of scolding people for not following the small laws: salarymen smoking in non-smoking zones, housewives putting out their trash too early, kids littering and staying out past curfew, and people swiping each other’s umbrellas from the public stands. These violations are misdemeanors at worst, and nuisances at best.

Most of the people who will read this post will be Westerners, and I’m an American. I can’t really argue with certainty how much of an issue government overreach happens to be outside of the US, but inside the US, there’s a deep distrust by many Americans of anything associated with the “nanny-state.”  I can’t help but be skeptical of it myself. They’re little, albeit formal, violations that the system lets slip under the cracks, because they’re not worth enforcing compared to other priorities. And indeed, the inevitability of them happening, the frequency by which they occur, and costs  of enforcement are deemed by policeman Goto as not worth the trouble for him to actively seek out. Hero Hazama disagrees. He disagrees, and he explains why by discussing the meaning behind his small-time crime fighting. Far from trying to invade people’s privacy and controlling their lives, what he wants to fight is cynicism.

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The Hero and the Spider Girl | A Dark Souls Fanfic

Management: A little 6,000+ word fanfic something that I was inspired to write playing Dark Souls and watching Re: Zero on the same day. I remembered getting angry at something the game made me do. I also remembered thinking about how high fantasy escapist narratives usually treat the concept of heroism. And then the story idea about a romance between a hero and a spider girl hit me.

A big thanks to @frog_kun and @captain_taira for being my editors, effectively.

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Artwork by @Mantisarts from ingrum.

The air felt heavy to the Hero as he made his way down this slightly descending tunnel. The swamps of Blighttown were their own kind of heaviness. They were a dampness and muckiness that was nauseating to the Hero when he first ventured into them, the decomposing sludge of civilization’s discardings and unravelings, human excrement and hollow remains. Yet even as he left those swamps behind him, the new sights that he encountered made his stomach churn. Rather than dead and decomposed, his environs were alive with precious life. Precious and pulsating.

The walls were webbed in a white and thick cake. Only once did the Hero brush past them. They were soft to touch, and they beat back. Like the chambers of a heart, the tunnel walls pulsed to a regular rhythm. Adjoining these walls were mutants of men, barely distinguishable people crawling on the ground like lame arachnids sucking spilt meal. They treasured on their backs sacs, equally precious and pulsating. Whatever these men were preoccupied with, whether it be their sacs or their feed, they paid no attention to the Hero as he ran walked past them, his arms raised in anxiety as his mind imagined him in them.

The Hero thought of killing them. They might attack him once he got distracted. But then again, the walls could very well burst open, enveloping him in a skin-crawling embrace of whatever made their surfaces and crevices their abodes. They may as well lean over and swallow him whole before breaking him down into food. Or maybe the ceiling would spew digestive fluids, dissolving his being for the men with sacs to lick clean. It made no difference. The Hero looked up. Sure enough, there was cake above…

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Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World-: The Star of Kararagi, and the Race for Capital

Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes.

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Of the numerous tangential things an anime could inspire me to write something extensive, Re: Zero’s possible showcase of environmental storytelling is one thing that has. I don’t know whether or not the creator of Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World- actually intended to comment on this obscure point of political economy theory in his narrative, but hell. As much as it may irk the political leftists I know online, I’m not going to pass up the excuse for talking about a positive about capitalism and meritocracies, by extension.

It’s a theoretical positive, mind you. I’m fully cognizant of the blurring that tends to occur between free markets and free-for-all markets in the absence of government regulation. To quote Alexander Hamilton, men are not angels. To quote myself, men  don’t always act as rational actors. The people who’ve first acquire a disproportionate amount of power to distort the market and media to suit their own profit and prejudice. They can engage in monopolistic practices to crowd out competition from small business outsiders in the workforce by threatening price wars, and set up normative barriers to crowd out competition from minority outsiders in the workplace by enabling the continued propagation of toxic stereotypes. I’ve already spent some time and type making the case for Railgun’s critical attitude towards meritocracies in practice. So in using a narrative element of Re: Zero as a springboard, I want to talk about how capitalism (via the precursor merchant form of it in this medieval fantasy) was theorized to function in the ideal. And it starts with the Fang of Steel, Anastasia Hoshin’s merry band of demihuman mercenaries.

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Girls und Panzer and Stella Women’s Academy: High School Division Class C3: The Moe-Military Anti-War Complex and The Death of the Engineer

Management:  While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes.

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So I was having a chat with Frog-kun one day about politics in anime. The conversation ended up veering away from Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There and towards the question of military moe, how both this kind of show and that kind of moe is the cultural product of, maybe, a growing sense of nationalism in Japan. For the longest time since the end of WWII, there was this disconnect between many Japanese leaders and much of the Japanese public over the question of revising/repealing Article 9. Imposed on Japan by the US during the American Occupation, Article 9 is a provision in the Japanese Constitution that effectively prevented Japan from waging wars of aggression ever again. For the most part, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the party dominating politics for the better part of the post-WWII era,  favored Article 9’s revision or repeal. The public,  in keeping with memories of the horrors of war on their homeland, for the most part favored keeping Article 9 as is. The leadership featured a continuity of wartime leaders who wanted to normalize the country (starting with its military).

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It’s been many decades since the end of WWII, and emerging from the intervening period of a belligerent past and the peaceful present is a budding subculture of military history and military hardware enthusiasts. They love guns and fawn over tanks. Is this enthusiasm by these Japanese enthusiasts for things military evidence that the Japanese public is becoming cooler to their previous pacifism? Is military moe evidence of this trend? I can’t answer the first question, but I can provide a response to the second. I will do that by analyzing the following moe military shows, Girls und Panzer and Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3 (henceforth, C3-bu).

Military Moe

Are Girls und Panzer and C3-bu examples of moe military promoting military revival? Just the opposite.

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Male Otaku Paraphilia

Management: Another anthropological research paper I’m working on investigating male otaku paraphiliacs, the otaku subculture, and the larger Japanese society. I managed another pretty decent grade on this paper, but my anthropology professor is, again, ultimately just one (albeit highly knowledgeable) person who’s critiqued my work. I’d welcome more if you guys are willing to provide feedback.

Introduction

The label otaku did not always refer to men who like anime. Otaku once referred more broadly to enthusiasts of any particular interest. Now, however, the otaku label increasingly describes those intensely enthused by anime-stylized interests. More specifically, otaku refers to those enthralled by manga and Japanese video games, in addition to anime (Kotani, 2004, p. 23). Coming out of the otaku community is the assertion by some male otaku that there is this kind of love. There is this kind of love – romantic, emotional, and sexual – that some male otaku preferred over all others and transcended the bounds of convention. That love is 2D love, or love for the anime-stylized character. It was exemplified in real life through the marriage of “Nintendo DS user Sal9000 and a game character Nene Anegasaki from Love Plus (Stasieńko, 2015, p. 80).” The preferential eroticization of the 2D over the 3D constitutes a paraphilia, defined by King and Regan (2014) as a sexual disorder “in which repeatedly engaging in or fantasizing about unusual behaviors is the preferred way of obtaining sexual arousal and gratification (p. 370).” This eroticization, however, does not preclude the development of romantically and emotionally intimate dimensions in a 2D relationship as felt by paraphilic otaku.

I will use socio-cultural and socio-biological explanations to explain why male paraphilic otaku behave the way they do. I will then use these explanations to make comparisons between male paraphilic otaku and objectophiles. Whereas the latter’s objects of obsession tend to consist of non-human looking objects, the former’s objects of fixation are distinctly human-like characters. Among the human-like characters available for male paraphilic otaku to fixate over are prepubescent female children. The anthro-centric, or human-like, appearance of 2D girls raises questions concerning the potential criminality of male paraphilic otaku toward committing sex crimes, especially on young girls. It also raises questions regarding the contested legality of creative works, especially lolicon, produced and consumed by both a dedicated otaku industry and the otaku community itself.

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