My Tsundere Life

Growing up, I wasn’t an angry adolescent so much as a frustrated one. I always had a temper, compounded by the social immaturity and drop in grades that came with undiagnosed ADHD. I felt betrayed by the way my body was changing. Nothing in my life felt quite right. The media I consumed growing up – Clarissa Explains It All, Animorphs, horse novels, a huge variety of Disney movies, and so on – showed me how to be a kind girl, a smart girl, an empathetic girl, even a tough girl – but there seemed to be nothing out there for a weird, awkward, temperamental girl. I felt like I was wandering through life without a guidebook, until one day I discovered Ranma ½.

I stumbled on an ad for it in the back of a Pokemon manga when I was twelve years old. An acquaintance at school lent me a VHS of the second movie and I was hooked. I had no allowance, so each $30 VHS or $15 manga volume was hard-earned, but I devoured as much information as I could about it via pre-Wikipedia fanpages on the internet. Here was a series where girls were strong and tough and fought, even if they were never on a level with the guys. The female cast was huge, a far cry from the token female friends that dominated American animation. Though she wasn’t my favorite (that honor goes to okonomiyaki chef Ukyo Kuonji), I developed a particular affection for Akane Tendo, whose hot temper and disgust with men closely matched my own.

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Spirited Away by Princess Mononoke

One of the interesting things about getting older is remembering a time before something. Not just before it entered your personal radar, or before even “I liked it before it was popular” – before it existed. There’s a lot of “befores” in anime that I don’t remember: before Akira, before My Neighbor Totoro, before Dragonball. One that I do recall is before Spirited Away.

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I was fifteen years old when Spirited Away came out in the US, already an anime and Ghibli fan for years by then. I wish I could say it deeply affected me, that every moment remained burned upon my brain, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but my most vivid memory of it at the time is cheering for it as I watched the Oscars in my little brother’s hospital room. I do remember the anticipation, though. At the time, Miyazaki was a name known mostly to animation and film buffs stateside. Spirited Away initially came out in a limited release on only 151 screens, but Oscar buzz and international acclaim brought it out to the mainstream, and winning the second-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival cemented its place in film history. Many of the people who grew up watching it are adults now – myself included. Some of them are working in animation, leading to visual references in shows like Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, The Simpsons, and many others. It regularly ranks highly on lists of anime, of animated films, even of films in general. It’s a huge, influential movie, and much of its imagery has come to be instantly recognizable.

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The Women of Yuri on Ice

When Yuri!! on Ice was announced, fans took notice. Director Sayo Yamamoto has amassed something of a cult following among feminist anime fans in the US for her full-length series Michiko and Hatchin and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which explicitly challenged the roles of women in popular fiction. She’d also directed the beautiful figure skating short “Endless Night” for Animator Expo, so it wasn’t exactly a shock when it was announced she’d direct a TV series with a similar concept. The big question was, when she’s primarily told stories about women and for women, what would a series featuring men be like coming from her?

The answer, it turns out, is something just as beautiful and subversive as her previous works. Much digital ink has been spilled about the beauty of the relationship between Yuri and Victor and about how revolutionary it is for both Yuris to make feminine expression integral parts of their routines. This is absolutely true, and I don’t have much to add to that conversation. I was, however, struck by how the secondary cast came across as well-rounded humans with lives of their own, even with limited screen time. In shows focused around male characters, the female cast tends to suffer, reduced to satellite characters with little purpose in life except their relationship to the male protagonists. Yamamoto and co-creator Mitsurou Kubo, however, fill Yuri’s universe with intelligent, capable women instrumental in shaping his life and his story, and the show is much stronger for it.

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Sexual Assault and Subversiveness in Kiss Him, Not Me

Summary: Obese otaku Kae Serinuma loves one thing above all else: witnessing intense bonds between men. Whether it’s fictional boys of anime or her handsome male classmates, she lives for the moment where they share a significant glance or touch. When her favorite anime character dies, Kae locks herself in her room for two weeks without food. When she emerges and returns to school, she’s lost all the extra weight. Suddenly, the boys that wouldn’t give her the time of day want nothing more than her attention, but she’d rather they pay more attention to each other!

Content warnings: weight loss/gain, strong trigger warning for sexual assault

 

My expectations going into Kiss Him, Not Me were low, to say the least. Despite my own fondness for seeing boys kiss, I view fujoshi culture with an extremely critical eye. That is, after all, the reason garbage like Super Lovers and Junjou Romantica keeps getting made. I’m also not a fan of shipping real people or the idea that a girl only needs to lose weight to be lovable. When I actually gave the series a try, I was surprised to find it actually has something of a subversive bent, taking shots at romantic shoujo tropes without turning into outright parody. It’s a romantic comedy with very little romance; it’s a harem show where the heroine has more interest in the unattainability of fictional characters. However, that subversiveness is inconsistent and regularly mixed in with the typical shoujo cliches, making it hard to take the message seriously.

The premise of the show alone raises eyebrows. Manga about some kind of personal transformation are fairly common, such as Blue Spring Ride and High School Debut, and almost always revolve around the idea that daintiness and prettiness are more feminine and thus desirable. Kae, however, has absolutely zero interest in changing. The weight loss was purely accidental and she was plenty happy how she was. Her love of anime and BL still dictates most of her actions, and she doesn’t much care whether or not her harem decides to join her at things like Comiket or picking up the latest character goods at Animate. Kae’s ability to stay true to herself is remarkable, as is the boys’ willingness to accept her for who she is. It’s easy for a manga to convey the message to be yourself, but Kiss Him, Not Me dares readers to embrace their socially unacceptable qualities.

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

Whew. This year was one hell of a ride, wasn’t it?

I know it’s been a rough, heartbreaking year for almost all of you – we lost some true visionaries who dared to live differently and never apologized for being themselves. My country, the US, took a lot of steps backward that will doubtless affect the entire world, and a lot of other countries are headed in similar directions. I’m afraid we have all been cursed to live in interesting times.

 

Heroine Problem in 2016

It’s been an extremely busy year here at Heroine Problem headquarters. In terms of my personal life, the school where I was working at closed down suddenly, forcing me to find a new job. I was lucky enough to get hired for my first-ever lead teacher job in a toddler class at a fairly prestigious preschool. It has good benefits, low ratios, and the best wage I’ve ever made, but the learning curve has been extremely steep for me as I work on my CDA and learn to take charge and run the classroom as my own. It’s been a difficult few months learning to re-balance my life, and I’m not quite there yet.

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Missing Miss Hokusai

Most people are familiar with the works of Katsushika Hokusai, particularly the iconic “Great Wave off Kanagawa” ukiyo-e print, but few know that his daughter, Katsushika O-Ei, was a talented artist in her own right. She spent most of her life assisting and working with her father and was best known for her prints of beautiful women. Miss Hokusai, based on the manga Sarusuberi by Hinako Sugiura, tells a fictionalized version of her life, one characterized by her devotion to her blind younger sister as well as to her art.

Miss Hokusai eschews a traditional narrative structure, instead opting for an episodic approach. It’s an unusual approach to a film, one that has been widely criticized, but I thought it worked beautifully for the subject matter. The vignettes provide a more complete picture of O-Ei as a person; without having to unite them through a story, it gives snapshots of her personal and professional life and relationships. We see how she relates to her father, to her colleagues, to her sister, and to her art, without her being defined by any one aspect. O-Ei is certainly a woman who defies simple definition. From the very outset, she makes it clear that she is a woman with little interest in traditional femininity. She strides across a bridge over the Sumida River with her arms at her side, rather than the delicate, pigeon-toed gait with hands folded in front favored for women at the time. Instead of maintaining the home, as would be her expected role, she works side by side with Hokusai, explaining that neither of them cooks or cleans; rather, they just move when things get unlivable.

Historical fiction rarely focuses on women, so I especially applaud the decision to tell O-Ei’s story rather than that of her legendary father. That’s part of why I was so baffled by the number of reviewers who came away with the impression that the movie was about Hokusai himself, rather than the title character. This review by Brian Tallerico on rogerebert.com exemplifies that mistake. Tallerico seems unable to conceive that the movie is not Hokusai’s story told through the eyes of his daughter, but her own story. He claims the film “allows us to see him through his daughter’s eyes.” Hokusai is a prominent character and influence in her story, but make no mistake – O-Ei is the one driving the action in every scene. The dissonance between expectation and reality makes it difficult for Tallerico to fully immerse himself in the world of the movie and enjoy it for its own qualities.

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Baku-“Man have drive, woman give in easy”

Summary: Mashiro and Takagi have decided to devote their energies toward a mainstream battle manga, despite their editor advising them against it. Miyoshi continues to insinuate herself between the two as her relationship with Takagi deepens. Meanwhile, Miho starts to see some modest success, but at what cost?

Content Warnings: Lots of jokes about Miyoshi’s big boobs, but not much otherwise.

Part 3: Baku-“Man Dream Big, Need Supportive Woman”

Remember when I said I liked Miyoshi a lot? And that I was gearing up for her downfall? Well, turns out it took a lot less time than I thought!

The third volume of Bakuman opens with Mashiro and Takagi brainstorming a new concept for their mainstream battle manga they’ve decided to make. Miyoshi remarks on their work ethic, “You guys really are something… How can you be so positive about your chasing your dream?” She tells them about how despite her success at competitive martial arts, she quit in middle school when she discovered how many people were better than her.  It’s a relatable enough concept, feeling discouraged and quitting because you feel like you’ll never be the best.

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Fall 2016 First Look

Sigh.

It seems like every other season, I tell myself that I’m going to find a new way to keep current on the blog, to find a way to discuss my thoughts and impressions of the shows I’m watching that week, and it somehow always falls through. It may be because life happens or I get busy, or because I decide that I don’t have something new to say about each show each week, or I decide I’m going to work on my backlog that season, or I just don’t have it in me to write 1000 words each about every show I’m watching. No matter what, I end up struggling to keep up with the shows that season.

So, of course that means it’s time to try again with a new format!

So here’s the new format: every week, I’ll post my thoughts, impressions, and predictions of each new episode that I’ve watched. If something relevant happens in the anime news, I may post my take on that as well. I’m not wasting my time sampling every new show; last time I tried that, it was exhausting and a lot of time and effort for not much reward. Instead, I’m only going to watch the ones that pique my interest and I think the readers of this blog will be interested in. Let’s see how this goes. So without further ado…

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No Middle Sliders: Body Diversity in Anime

When I lived in Japan, I rarely bought clothing. At 5’4” and 140 pounds, I was on the smaller side of average for an American woman, but finding clothes that fit, let alone flattered, my hips or shoulders was a chore to find at best and a self-esteem-destroying battle at worst. The only jacket I bought there is size XL and is loose everywhere but the shoulders. The story was the same for most of my foreign female coworkers, and we generally did all our clothes shopping on visits to our home countries. It was frustrating, but it was just one of those things you have to learn to deal with when living in a foreign country.

As an American feminist, body positivity and the struggle for diverse bodies to be respected and represented in the media is a huge issue. However, when I’m watching anime, it’s probably one of the things I pay the least attention to when considering the show’s representation of women. I prioritize the themes and roles they play within the story, and whether they reinforce gender stereotypes or break away from them. Physical appearance is rarely something I concern myself with except for how it relates to those things.

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