Many of my favourite manga have quirks that distinguish them from other graphic narratives. In Oyasumi Pun-pun, the protagonist and a few other characters are depicted in an abstract style that sets them apart from the world around them. However, the world makes no note of this difference: the dissonance we see in Pun-pun’s design comes to parallel the dissonance he feels from the world as we follow his troubled life. His crude form suggests a kind of innocence inherent in him; as his depiction transforms as the story goes on, the cruel nature of society becomes more and more reflected within him.
This technique is called ‘de-familiarization’: we see it often in surreal and abstract art, but it can find its way into all sorts of fictional media. Through patterns of genres and themes, stories tend towards a sense of habitualization when it comes to processing characters, settings and situations. But artistic choices can be made to isolate and distort particular aspects of a work, negating our expectations and placing us in a liminal position between understanding and uncertainty, disrupting the automatic consumption of a story and encouraging us to see beyond the surface of what we’re experiencing.
De-familiarization is a tricky task: make things too bizarre and you risk alienating an audience rather than bringing them closer into what they traditionally enjoy. When the entire premise of a work rests on the disruption of a particular reading habit, everything can fall flat if the abnormalities are poorly introduced or managed throughout the work. We could point to Handshakers as an example of a failed attempt of this: most of the attention the show received was made up of its followers pointing and laughing at everything they saw. There was little discussion of the potential artistic merits of the bizarre animation, because barely any potential was seen. Regardless of intent, the strange stylistic choices came across as little more than, well, strange.
You don’t need to be flashy to de-familiarize something in your story, though. Simple touches can be all you need to draw your audience in and make them feel like they’re experiencing something ‘new’. Some creators do this by not adding anything at all: rather, they take something away. In minimalist works, like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, this can be taken to the extreme: whole dimensions of setting and plot progression can be brought close to nothing. But again, one simple subtraction can be enough.
What if the most interesting character almost never spoke?
Continue reading Komi-san wa Komyushou Desu: Saying More Through Silence
Many shows have their blissful moments, but some anime dedicate themselves entirely to bringing the viewer to a state of peace. Iyashikei, or ‘healing’ anime, build themselves upon a foundation of wanting the viewer to feel stress-free, and better in touch with themselves and the world around them. It was no surprise that Yuru Camp, one such show about a group of young girls finding fulfillment by camping in the great outdoors, proved to be hugely popular when it aired. But Yuru Camp goes beyond mere bliss in what it can inspire in its audience, and in how it encourages us to break down the limits we can set around finding peace in our own lives.
Continue reading Yuru Camp: Out of the Clubroom, Into the Campfire
More than a year ago I wrote a long piece on moe, an otaku’s response to cuteness which has been frequently discussed but rarely defined. While that article served as a place to unpack many of my thoughts, it was also a reactionary piece to an article from The Mary Sue, and became mired as a result in a kind of ‘anti-feminist’ discourse that got me a few too many rabid ‘these women want to kill all men grrr’ followers as a result. A lot of them have since lost interest in this blog given that I’m not actually interested in their ‘feminism is cancer’ perspective.
Granted, I was bitter towards how such an interesting affective response was being portrayed by The Mary Sue, and how Galbraith’s work had been glossed over as ‘misogynistic’. I was especially jaded by how the female voices in his studies – which while being fewer had brought some brilliant observations to the table – had been sidelined rather than drawn out. There’s still a pervasive myth that otaku spaces are a men’s world, and that moe is a man’s code for a misogynistic, infantilizing view of women, which ignores how moe is used by fujoshi and the strict division of most otaku between the virtual and the real. But one quote from Galbraith’s The Moe Manifesto, from voice actress Momoi Halko, has stuck with me throughout my musings on what moe means to many different people:
“More than a desire to date a cute girl or anime character, it is a desire to become her.”
Continue reading Earth-chan, VRChat and Becoming the Bishoujo: More Reflections on Moe
There are few things the Western anime fandom can agree on, altogether. It’s hard to argue that Neon Genesis Evangelion wasn’t an monument of the medium, or that Berserk 2016 looked okay. But even when we unite on one opinion, we can still end up deeply divided.
This year, Eromanga-sensei was labeled ‘trash’ by both fans and haters, and rightly so. It goes beyond the idea of simply ‘trashy’ media (trash-like, sharing-qualities-with-the-idea-of-trash) and blatantly basks in its identity as a piece of garbage. For its devotees, it was one of the highest quality pieces of animated defecation the ‘idiot otaku gets surrounded by hot chicks of questionable ages and also his sort of his sister and fucks none of them’ genre has delivered. But among its critics, there have been some remarkably unfair judgements. In framing the show as one of his most hated of the year, Super Eyepatch Wolf did more than express his dislike of it: he didn’t believe that anyone could have been passionate about it. Continue reading How Eromanga-sensei Made its Mark: Masochism and the Modern Otaku
“What is perhaps most striking about anime, compared to other imported media that have been modified for the American market, is the lack of compromise in making these narratives palatable.”
– Susan Pointon
“…what appears to be be the single most asked question about anime in America, “why is anime so full of sex and violence?” is an inquiry that, while betraying an ignorance of the complexity and variety of the art form, is still significant in that it reveals the bewilderment of Western audiences in confronting so-called adult themes within the animated medium.”
– Susan J Napier
I’m sure my country’s recent ban of various sex acts in pornography wasn’t on many people’s Christmas list. Not because of any particular fetishization of any of the practices listed; it’s alarming due to the sense of a growing trend journalistic fans of anime should be all to familiar with. The practically Victorian belief that our media must be purged of any images we (that is, the social elite that stand to represent and essentialize us) find morally unsavory, and the result being dominated by a limitation of the expressions of women in media, to serve as a condemnation of the ‘patriarchy’, the ‘male gaze’, and so on. Continue reading Misunderstanding the Mukokuseki: Why Fanservice Is Not On the Fringe
An anime about making anime and celebrating the industry wins multiple awards from the industry. Passing comments might be skeptical of how self-centered the anime business has become. But those who have watched Shirobako know well how deeply it deserves its accolades. It’s a coming-of-age story that abandons the typical high school setting, but retains the moe aesthetic for its femicentic main cast. Combining the realistic struggles of a workplace with the hyperreal glaze of cute girls and boundless enthusiasm, it’s got both reality and moe firmly in its heart, and comments often on how the two conflict and co-operate in various capacities.
The success of Shirobako has however attracted a lot of attention from critics seeking to downplay its value for women, affirm the lie of ‘anime is a boys club’ to fabricate outrage, and use the show as a platform for continuing the anti-moe sentiment permeating much of our Western community. Continue reading Moe, Maturity and Reading Like a Man: Beneath the Surface of Shirobako
Previously, The Mary Sue argued that we should be critical of ‘objectification’ by ignoring contexts of characterization and treating anime girls as no more than objects in the first place. Now they want the community to be ‘critical about cuteness’, as they vaguely denounce the ‘adult male’ viewership of moe as misogynistic, and conclude that moe is ‘alienating’ for those who want to see ‘real women’ in anime, and not the lovable and hyperreal figures modern Japanese culture is full of.
Continue reading What’s the Matter with Moe? An Inside Look
I was thinking of leaving this review empty to sum up how I felt as the story came to a close.
Continue reading Charlotte – 13 (Super-Sized Final Loss of Hope)
When a series is this good, you want it to go on forever. But if we allowed that, our girls wouldn’t be able to graduate. School must end, the wider world awaits, and so we have the ending the School Living Club deserves.
Continue reading Gakkou Gurashi! – 12 (Super-Sized Final Review)
Yuu’s hospitalization gives all the important members of our cast some final moments to catch up with him. It could probably have been meaningful if any of it mattered.
Continue reading Charlotte – 12
How do you solve a problem like Ayumi? In half an episode, apparently.
Continue reading Charlotte – 10
Even the swimsuit episode is more than meets the eye.
Continue reading Gakkou Gurashi! – 09
Did I say Yuu bounced back before? This week he bounced back in time, and I’m sure a lot of people’s interest in this show has bounced back too.
Continue reading Charlotte – 09
The Club’s dreams may be floating in the air, but the reality of their situation has only just been unearthed.
Continue reading Gakkou Gurashi! – 08
Delicious cooking, an existential crisis, and balloons. This week was as quietly chaotic as Yuki’s mind, and it resounds all the better as a warning that we’ve reached an turning point.
Continue reading Gakkou Gurashi! – 07
Miki’s back-story is wrapped up (at last) with her introduction to the school living club, and something far more unsettling that the undead she’s faced: Yuki’s traumatic disorder.
Continue reading Gakkou Gurashi! – 06
Did I say the structure of this show was disintegrating? Well, now it’s outright collapsed.
Continue reading Charlotte – 06
It was Miki’s turn to take the spotlight this week, as Gakkou Gurashi! continues to make every character’s backstory a heart-stopping and heartbreaking experience.
Continue reading Gakkou Gurashi! – 04