[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

[Anime News Network] “How Similar is Beastars to Zootopia, Really?”

Non-management: Whether it was do to its eccentrically compelling story or the fact it was funded and distributed through Netflix, Beastars did end up punching outward and achieving some popularity inside some niche circles outside of the typical anime forums. But the discussion I ended up seeing often out there (and in the anime community to a lesser extent) was how similar or better it was to Zootopia. It doesn’t seem particularly fair to me how the lionshare of discussion around Beastars seems to be doomed to being compared to another title when you can very well describe the show without having to resort to that… but that’s kind of rich coming from someone who did just that with this article. Beastars and Zootopia in the same title is just a really effective hook to reel in readers. That said, I didn’t really want take sides over which is strictly better or maturer. I ultimately opted to evaluate their similarities and differences on their own merits, using that evaluation a springboard to touch how the worldbuilding of stories, via animal allegory in the case of these two media, can inform or undermine different interpretations on stories’ moral messaging.

The worldbuilding of Zootopia supports an interpretation about the movie wanting to make a clear stance on real-life racism, while the worldbuilding of Beastars support for a similar interpretation more perilous to make. Obviously part of that stems from them telling two radically different kinds of stories through two different digital mediums (movie format vs TV series), once you discount their similar settings, but it’s looking like they’re going to come to different conclusions of toward their primary conflicts anyway.

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:

As more and more people watch, come to like, and recommend BEASTARS, many have ended up comparing it to Disney’s Zootopia. It’s hard to blame them for this connection. BEASTARS and Zootopia are both stories about talking animals in a society, and in general, short comparisons are just simpler to put together than whole summaries or synopses. Zootopia has enjoyed popularity ever since its release in theaters, enough popularity that even if most people haven’t watched it themselves, they’ll probably know something about the movie. Like Harry Potter, critics of Zootopia have pointed at certain story elements as being shorthand for addressing real life social issues.

Arguments have sprung since BEASTARS‘ debut as to which animated tale about animals in a society is better or deeper than the other. I’m not really interested in that discussion. Instead, I’m more interested in the differences in how both these stories use their animals in a society, in how those differences ultimately end up making BEASTARS and Zootopia apples and oranges. They are stories with similar settings, but fundamentally different themes… READ MORE