[Anime News Network Article] “The True History Behind Golden Kamuy”

Non-management: The history buff/nut that I am, I was excited about the Golden Kamuy anime adaptation. The story of Golden Kamuy takes place during a time period that I studied about fairly intensively in my history classes. It’s a period of time that’s quite important in Japanese history. At the same time though, it’s a period that’s rarely referenced in anime that use Japanese history in their narratives. Anime in the Meiji Era might not be entirely unprecedented, but when was the last time an anime talked about the Russo-Japanese War? About the colonization of Hokkaido? About the Ainu? I thought that it would be an interesting project of mine to write about the era while Golden Kamuy was airing. It might enhance the reader’s appreciation for the anime, and it would teach the reader about a more obscure part of Japanese history. To that end, I pitched the article idea on a widely-read platform in the anime community, and it fortunately got accepted as a Featured Article on Anime News Network.

I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Zac Bertschy for commissioning my article, and Jacob Chapman for editing it. 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 article sample:

Golden Kamuy is a story more heavily informed by its historical context than most. Sure, it has its gratuitous violence and gore, peculiarly dumb reaction faces, lengthy hunting and cooking sequences, and body shapes inspired by JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. However, the glue that binds everything together into a compelling tale is Golden Kamuy‘s well-written characters, whose drama is informed by their pasts. These characters are products of the eras that they lived in and fought through.

While the audience isn’t required to have an advanced knowledge of modern history to appreciate Golden Kamuy, acquiring some understanding of Japan just around the turn of the 20th century may illuminates these characters’ motivations further. Here’s my breakdown of some relevant aspects of Japanese history that may help you understand Sugimoto and Asirpa’s world… READ MORE HERE

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Violet Evergarden: The Beautiful Fighting Girl and the Romanticization of War

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 Violet Evergarden anime.

So there’s this one movie quote from this one movie critic about how there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie. However critical a war film’s themes happen to be about conflict of war, if the anti-war movie in question features some violent spectacle, the anti-war messaging is undermined out-of-hand. If only for those moments of cinematic violence, there will those audience members that will instinctually enjoy them because the violence itself is enthralling to watch. The anti-war film that includes warfare becomes a thematic paradox at best and cinema-narrative dissonance at worst. I would like to believe that I’m self-aware enough to appreciate the messages in an anti-war media while taking in exciting moments of warfare. However, I also think it’s a legitimate complaint to accuse certain shows that highlight the tragedy of war that they are betraying their own themes of how awful war is by including scenes that celebrate fighting of any kind and for any side. In Code Geass, for example, massacring unarmed civilians is bad, and yet fighting in giant robots is awesome. In Hellsing: Ultimate, on the other hand, the show makes no bones about its characters loving war holistically, characters basking in both the spectacle of civilians dying in droves and their own men being torn to shreds.

While there are few, if any, anti-war media that would get around the near-impossible encirclement set by this quote, Violet Evergarden is a decent attempt at breaking out.  The show mainly focuses on the lives of characters affected by the war, after the war. The few times that the show illustrates past war moments are mostly spent on soldiers being contemplative, frightened, or desperate… hardly empowering stuff. The notable and understandable exception to this trend of omitting violent spectacle is Violet herself, the blood-streaked, barely-teen soldier maiden of the battlefield. Similarly,  while Violet Evergarden doesn’t fully overcome the well-worn and somewhat exploitative anime trope of the beautiful fighting girl, the Kyoto Animation adaptation does make a decision in regards to its female heroine that admirably tries to circumvent the worst of that stereotype. In their original conceptions, the beautiful fighting girls (also known as the bishoujo fighting girls) were those female characters who were both badasses in combat and unambiguously feminine. Violet, our female character here, is depicted during her tour of “duty” less as a cutesy warrior and as more a feral animal.

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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.

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[Anime Feminist Article] “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 article sample:

[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