[Anime News Network Article] Homelessness in Japan and Hinamatsuri

Non-management: Hinamatsuri caught me by surprise. It was a show that was marketed ostensibly as a comedy that managed to deliver some excellent character drama alongside its laughs. The intersection between these two elements is, admittedly, not unheard of in anime. Hinamatsuri shares similarities with Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, in that respect. What actually caught me off guard about Hinamatsuri and prompted me to write about the show was its commentary on homelessness in Japan. It was a commentary that that at once sympathetic to the homeless and damning against the privileged in the other, both compassionate in its approach to the subject material and outraged over its existence as a real-world issue. Not since Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers have I seen an anime address Japanese homelessness. Using its examples of aged homeless men, I sought to use Hinamatsuri as a springboard into a larger discussion of homelessness in Japanese society. I pitched what I wanted to write to Anime News Network, and it got accepted as a Feature Article.

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:

Homelessness in Japan and Hinamatsuri

Hinamatsuri is supposed to be a comedy, and it’s true that the show delivers its hilarity in spades. However, for an anime that primarily markets itself as the whacky adventures of two girls with psychic abilities (and one girl that’s an underaged bartender), Hinamatsuri also delivers some excellent character drama. This series can dip into some heavy territory before resurfacing back to making us laugh without missing a beat, and one example of this is its unexpected focus on the issue of homelessness in Japan. Not since Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers has anime dared broach the topic of Japanese homelessness in recent memory, let alone approach the subject of homeless Japanese in a pertinent and sympathetic manner.

Like with homeless populations in other parts of the world, Japanese homeless have a troubled history and relationship with their Japanese society, but every culture has unique aspects that distinguish the struggle of their homeless populations from others. What Hinamatsuri does well is capture the face of that homelessness in Japan in ways that help illustrate the issue to audiences around the world… READ MORE HERE


A Reflection on Weird Things Eaten in Golden Kamuy and Real Life

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 Golden Kamuy anime.

My undisputed favorite comfort meal to eat is Dinuguan. I remember falling in love with it back when I was little. It’s a Filipino delicacy, a savory stew made of garlic, vinegar, peppers, spices, pork bits, and… pig’s blood. I wasn’t aware that it was made with pig’s blood until my parents told me when I was much older. My reaction?  The news of it unfazed me. All that mattered was that it tasted good. I realize that that kind of reaction isn’t the norm for my friends and acquaintances. Many of them aren’t Asian or or particularly adventurous with what they eat. I’ve seen several of them balk at me while while I’m selling Dinuguan to them. Pig’s blood isn’t something that’s normally stocked in Western retail markets. It’s more commonly encountered in Asian grocery stores. Pig’s blood turns black when you cook it, and it coagulates into jelly when you leave it be. You typically find the stuff sold in portioned up cubes, in plastic tubs or shrink-wrapped packs . It’s kind of an inside joke among Filipinos to tease and trick the unbeknownst into trying it by calling it “chocolate soup.” Filipinos do have a recipe for something soupy with chocolate, but Dinuguan is most assuredly not soup with chocolate. It’s, again, pork stew made with pig’s blood.

Why does Filipino cooking incorporate pig’s blood in the first place? I don’t think that I’m knowledgeable enough to answer this question for certain, so a better follow-up inquiry might be: What makes the cuisines of some cultures more likely to use more parts of the pig than other cultures? My impression of American cooking is that it tends to dismiss pig’s blood as waste to be discarded. In contrast, my impression of Filipino cooking is that pig’s blood is valuable enough to be turned into a meal. That goes for the other peripheral parts of the pig like the ears, the neckbone, and the head. Filipinos subscribe “nose to tail” philosophy when it comes to turning livestock into a meal, and it seems like the Ainu have a similar “all parts of the animal” mindset when turning their game into something edible. To me, the reason for these similarities in cooking philosophy is connected to shared experiences of food scarcity.

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[Crunchyroll Article] “Love is the Greatest Mystery of All in Hyouka”

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

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:

Love is the Greatest Mystery of All in Hyouka

The amateur investigators final case is to crack their own feelings

Hyouka is about solving mysteries, and mainly mundane mysteries at that. No murderer needs to be found. No crime needs to be immediately uncovered. But in its mystery-solving, Hyouka just as interested in uncovering the “why” of its mysteries as the “how”. The show isn’t merely content with the clever puzzles or sensationalist circumstance more conventional mystery series trade in. Why, after all, do people set up these elaborate puzzles in the first place? In exploring the “why” of its mundane mysteries, Hyouka gives its story an excuse to explore its characters, one particular aspect at a time. We have Oreki’s growing interest and empathy in others like his teacher. We have Satoshi Fukube’s chronic jealousy of Oreki’s critical reasoning prowess. And then we have the budding romance between Oreki and Chitanda… READ MORE HERE

[Crunchyroll Article] “The Mad Scientist and the Will of Steins Gate”

Non-management: My latest article for Crunchyroll is on Steins;Gate 0.

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:

The Mad Scientist and the Will of Steins Gate

Okabe must rediscover his inner mad scientist to save everyone and achieve the will of Steins;Gate.

[Update] JET Placement and Another Blog Recommendation

Non-management: Of all the places on the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program that I could be placed at in Japan, it was Naruto-shi… Naruto city. Granted, Naruto city existed long before the Naruto manga ever came to be, and I’ve heard little tell about the manga turning the city into the kind of otaku pilgrimage mecha Oorai became shortly after Girls und Panzer. I’ve since confirmed with people from there that there’s not much of an otaku presence. It’s not as though Naruto city needed any special publicity to survive like Oorai, but I guess that it’s cool in the end that the creator of the Naruto manga took some of his inspiration for the story from the iconic uzumaki-spiral whirlpools that form off its coast. What’s more astonishing to me, of all things in the manga, is that Naruto bridge was based off of Naruto bridge. There is an actual freaking Naruto bridge.

It is literally called “The Great Naruto Bridge.”

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Log Horizon: Game Mechanics and Human Rights

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 Log Horizon anime.

Human rights, at least as they were initially conceived, trace their origins back to the Age of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophers were attempting demonstrate an objective value in humanity that, if not altogether rejecting the existence of a higher power, can stand independently from reasons of religion (i.e. Humans were God’s chosen people). Many rulers of old based their legitimacy to lead on divine law (They were God’s chosen rulers), which to some Enlightenment thinkers could be tantamount to tyranny. Europe was also recovering from the bloody religious wars that took place just before the Enlightenment, their traumatic memories spurring advocacy during the period itself for the separation of church and state.  What the Enlightenment philosophers came up with in response to the supposed irrationality of religiously-motivated oppression and violence was the concept of the law of nature, divorced from divine mandate. Core to every fiercely debated Enlightenment interpretation of the natural law was entitlement drawn from rationality. Humans are rational beings. Because humans are rational beings, they are inherently and universally entitled to certain rights. These rights were natural and inalienable.

It is by this understanding that it is unreasonable for natural rights to be violated arbitrarily by other rational beings, and provides a justification for rational beings like human ones to take up arms so as to have these rights establish respect.  John Locke believed that men were entitled to the rights to life, liberty, and property in his Second Treatise of Government. Thomas Jefferson reinterpreted these rights for men as the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the American “Declaration of Independence,” the official reason for the American colonies’ separation from the British empire. This document would become one of the inspirations for the later French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” the official manifesto of the French Revolution. Decades later, like the American one before it, the French document became one of the blueprints for the “United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights.” The reasoning behind human rights is grounded in theories concerning  natural rights that were originally formulated in the Enlightenment era. The designation of rationality and the entitlement that comes backseat with it expanded overtime, being applied first to white men, and then to all men, and then to all men and women… to all humans.

Quite apart from the more typical low-brow affairs that trapped in a fantasy world isekai shows busy themselves with, Log Horizon also concerns itself with the topic of natural rights in a video game. In typical isekai set-up, Log Horizon’s real-life human players are trapped in the MMO world of their fantasy playground, attempting to figure out how to get by in their familiar yet unknown surroundings. In not-so-typical isekai fashion, Log Horizon’s trapped player characters (the “Adventurers”) find themselves arguing around a round table of whether NPCs (the “People of the Land”) also possess natural rights. At its core, natural law dictates that the Adventurers, by their nature as humans, hail from entitle them to certain rights. These natural rights exist under the understanding, whether designated by a God or not, that human beings exist for their own sakes — as ends in themselves, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant, the late Enlightenment figure. However, the Adventurers know that the People of the Land, by their nature as human pixel fantasy facsimiles, were created by real human game developers. We, the audience, knows that NPCs in MMOs  are not exactly human. They are a digital resource for players for engage with for their entertainment. The People of the Land were not originally created for their own sakes, but for the Adventurers’.

It’s not totally unexpected then that some Adventurers have continued treat the People of the Land as mechanics to objectively exploit. As they rob their goods and even take their lives, these particular Adventurers prejudicially continue to regard the People of the Land with the chattel-like mentality that they always understood their existence by. By their original nature as NPCs in a fantasy MMORPG, the People of the Land were created to serve as the property and playthings of the Adventurer player base. In light of these cases of exploitation and the larger round table discourse on natural rights in the anime during the Akihabara round table discussions (from protecting Adventurers from being exploited by other Adventurers to protecting the People of the Land being exploited by Adventurers), what’s the rationale then to claim that the People of the Land should be accorded the same freedoms, dignities, and protections as the Adventurers? Why should the Adventurers People of the Land natural rights even when they were not exactly created as human beings in the first place?

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[Crunchyroll Article] “When War Comes Home: The Loss of Innocence in Invisible Victory”

Non-management: My latest article for Crunchyroll is on Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory.

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:

When War Comes Home: The Loss of Innocence in Invisible Victory

Full Metal Panic! returns with a new story that ventures into darker territory

The skies are clouded as Sousuke overhears form the cockpit of his camouflaged mech that his enemies are going to get serious in their fight against Mithril. The sun sets over the Student Council room as the soon to be departing Student Council President informs Sousuke that he can no longer cover for him. Innocent Japanese bystanders are seriously wounded, and Sousuke and Chidori’s mutual friend is nearly killed. Amalgam infiltrates a once peaceful Japan, threatening Sousuke’s once off-limits school and friends, and demands that Chidori surrender herself to avoid any further violence – and that Sousuke let her surrender… READ MORE HERE