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Aku no Hana Episode 6: Let Nakamura Be Your Ultimate Life Coach

15 May

By: Stephanie Weirich

God, aren't we all?

God, aren’t we all?

Another week, another Aku no Hana review!  Tuesday seems to be the day these are coming out now guys, though at times they may hit on a Monday.  Part of the issue (in case you were wondering) is that the air time moved to Saturday evening in Japan from Friday which pushes my ability to watch and review back by a day or so. 

But that’s not why y’all are here is it?  No, you’re here for some fiery hot review action!  Review action that’s hotter than a parka clad man in a sauna in the middle of an Arizona summer.  And you’re in luck, because that’s what I have to give you!

Quick recap then: Saeki did not find out about Kasuga’s wearing of her gym clothes whilst on their date, so way to go Kasuga.  So far, your bout with consequences beyond Nakamura has been about nil.  Also, his entire class knows that himself and Saeki are platonically dating and they all, at least all of the boys, give him massive amounts of shit about it mostly due to utter disbelief about this gloomy dude’s ability to charm the not gloomy lady that is Saeki.  

The disbelief is palpable

The disbelief is palpable

Kasuga thinks this is the greatest day of his life until he notices Saeki and Nakamura talking and he immediately remembers that no, my life is never great because of the angriest girl in the world. 

So... What are you guys up to?

So… What are you guys up to?

He later finds out from Saeki that Nakamura has befriended her and said she would cheer on their relationship from the sidelines (she also gives Kasuga the requisite “I want to know more about you, please, let’s slowly build a relationship together speech).  They all eat lunch together at school the next day, and Nakamura acts like Nakamura and people are far more surprised than they ever should be.  The episode peaks with Nakamura telling Kasuga that she became friends with Saeki so that she could know how dirty Saeki is in order to tell Kasuga, including the fact that Saeki wants to fuck Kasuga (her words, not mine).  Saeki sees the tail end of this conversation and is absent from school the next day, because you know that she totally thought Nakamura was confessing her own sexual desire to Kasuga.  The end finds Kasuga nervous and trembling in front of Saeki’s house, her homework for the day in hand.  There he is accosted by Nakamura who is so pleased at the idea that he ran right over to Saeki’s house for a little afternoon delight so soon after she revealed Saeki’s desire to Kasuga.  Priceless.

A majority of this episode is treading much of the same ground as the previous one.  It also feels like a set-up episode meant to bridge the gap between last week’s excellent episode and next week’s.  Overall, not much happens beyond putting people in their right places for what is surely an inevitable conflict between all three of our main characters. 

There are some things worth mentioning though.  For one, I’d like to just take a moment to talk about how much I love Nakamura.  With the exception of her physical assaults on Kasuga, she is like the most absurdly ballsy life coach money can buy.  This part of the story reminds me a bit of the film Hesher, which also features a terrible, violent, assholish fairy godparent type character who manages to bring catharsis and meaning to the life of an emotionally stunted boy.  And like Nakamura, Hesher brings that meaning through tough love.  The toughest love.  He does truly awful things to this boy and his family, and yet, in the end, it’s all worth it.  Whether that part will come to pass in Aku no Hana remains to be seen; however, it has become one of the reasons I keep tuning in.

Tell me more...

Tell me more…

NEVERMIND

NEVER MIND

I would also like to touch on the notion of Platonic love that I talked about in the last review, as it comes up again in this episode.  The concept of Platonic love is ancient—like Roman Empire ancient.  It was then co-opted by Renaissance poets and upheld as the ideal form of romantic love for years.  Any time you read a Shakespearian sonnet you’re basking in Platonic love.  The entire point is that it’s a chaste love, one that is never consummated and that is often unrequited.  It typically transpires between a member of the nobility or upper class and himself, because a lot of the times, the Platonic love was happening from afar.  Because what’s the fun of actually telling the object of your affection about how much you love them when you can hide in a bush, watch them take a walk every day and then write about how ethereal and perfect they were when they took said walk? 

But that’s really the function of Platonic love—it’s a romantic ideal because it is intensely one-sided, wholly built on anticipation and devoid of actual rejection.  It’s also a fairly sexist form of love because it removes all agency from the woman being worshipped.  She has no desires of her own—and in fact, Platonic love hinges on a lack of desire because the woman in the equation is a paragon of perfection and purity.  If she were to ever have sexual desire, she would no longer be worthy of Platonic love and Shakespeare would cease to write his lovely sonnets. 

I HATE SEXUAL AGENCY IN MY WOMEN!

I HATE SEXUAL AGENCY IN MY WOMEN!

This is why Kasuga loses his shit when Nakamura tells him Saeki is down for a little of the old slap and tickle.  For Kasuga’s ideal of Saeki to thrive, and for him in turn to find salvation in her, she has to remain perfect and perfectly sexless.  She has to continue to be less than an actual person, and therefore sexual desire, even if that desire is directed towards him, is not allowed.  How awful will it be for Kasuga when he discovers teenage girls are victims of hormones and sexual desires just as much as boys are?  Pretty fucking awful, I would imagine.

KNOCK THAT OFF

KNOCK THAT OFF

So that’s about it for this episode review.  In other news, I’m completely caught up with the Aku no Hana manga and I am truly impressed.  For the time being, I’m going to keep reviewing just the show, but I’m weighing the possibility of writing about the manga as well because it’s so damn compelling.  Also, if you ever wondered how this series resonates with Japanese teenagers, this happened recently.  Fun fact: reading about that incident actually made one of my Japanese friends want to start reading/watching Aku no Hana. 

And have no fear guys, I’m still hard at work on some longer stuff and will hopefully have at least one of those done by this weekend.

Sound off in the comments and tell me what you thought about this week’s episode or about the series in general!

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Aku no Hana Episode 5: Well do you, do ya do ya wanna? Be my platonic girlfriend?

8 May

By: Stephanie Weirich

So, episode 5 guys?

I love this picture so much, I wish I could base my entire life around it.

I love this picture so much, I wish I could base my entire life around it.

Let’s just get down to it since I’ve been away for a spell. Quick recap of what went down: Kasuga and Saeki had their date while Nakamura ran behind them making delightfully childish noises. Kasuga was still wearing Saeki’s gym clothes and feeling rather awkward and sweaty the entire time. He takes Saeki to his favorite bookstore, talks her ear off about books she’s never heard of and then buys Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil for her as a present. Nakamura then corners him, and tells him that his first wall will be torn down today, and that wall is in the form of him kissing Saeki before his date is over (obviously while still wearing her gym clothes). He doesn’t do this and instead confesses to Saeki and they enter into a “purely platonic” dating relationship (more on that later). This leads an agitated Nakamura to run up behind him and dump a bucket of water all over him, in the hopes of revealing to Saeki what he’s wearing underneath his clothes. When Kasuga confronts Nakamura about it, she tells him rather menacingly that she’ll take extra care to make sure that his relationship with Saeki works. End scene, cue (still) horrifying ending theme.

I really enjoyed this episode to be perfectly honest. There were so many things it did immensely well and I think that this episode is the one where the rotoscoping showed its worth, i.e. it’s much more serviceable for the story than traditional animation would have been.

The sweaty realism.  I LOVE IT.

The sweaty realism. I LOVE IT.

Namely, this episode highlighted the extreme awkwardness of Japanese teenagers and the strangeness of the dating scene in Japan. I’m sure if you’ve watched enough anime, you’ve seen the “shy, awkward boy goes on date with shy awkward girl and they talk about nothing because instead they’re too busy blushing themselves into a near coma and being terrified of making any physical contact with each other” trope. It’s ubiquitous. Sometimes you get the cool playboy or fearless girl thrown in there, but that’s usually limited to reverse harem and plain old harem, and they do not occur as often as the awkwardness. I’m also sure that if you’ve watched enough anime to notice it, you have also seen it enough times to be driven crazy by it. There have probably been many shouted “Come the fuck on and act like a normal person!” diatribes that you have hurled at the screen out of frustration. This is completely understandable, as it is a frustrating thing to behold and as awkward as most of us are in our adolescence, it doesn’t seem as completely clueless and puritanical as it does in anime or even J-Dramas.

So, if that’s been your reaction to love, anime style, then you are in luck with Aku no Hana, because it looked all of that business in the eye and said “fuck right off with that noise, imma tell it like it is.” And then it does. And it makes me so happy.

Nakamura is happy too.

Nakamura is happy too.

See, dating in Japan is a very strange thing. There is very little socialization that occurs in that respect and much of that lack of socialization comes back to how the school system is set up. I know, that sounds strange, but bear with me here. Once students enter Junior High their homeroom teachers do home visits, meaning they go to the homes of each of their students, introduce themselves, bring gifts and ask the parents to entrust their child to them. The parents, for their part, accept the presents, serve tea and snacks and say “yoroshiku” for the year which roughly translates to in this context to: “Please, take care of my child as though you are their parent”. Because in all actuality, that teacher will spend more time with their kid then they will as that kid’s parent. Teachers are expected to teach their students things that we would typically think parents should teach them, including morality (those classes are a doozy, let me tell you). However, while they have sexual education classes in high schools, that does not necessarily cover dating advice and the popular magazines that do give dating advice are not to be trusted (much like how you shouldn’t trust Cosmo when they tell you to give a blowjob with your teeth). What I’m trying to say here is that teachers are ill equipped to teach their students about dating protocol and thus students are relying upon friends, books, manga, anime, J-Dramas, etc and those have very little idea of what to teach about dating either or they are limited in what they can show (for instance, you never see “real” kisses in J-Drama because it’s considered too risqué).

Tie this all into the very archaic gender roles that Japan is still mired in—it’s very much like Mad Men over there in terms of how women are treated—and you get a hot mess of awkwardness. You can see this in how Kasuga treats Saeki, versus how he treats Nakamura. Saeki as a girl is, for Kasuga, not a real person. She has no personality, no desires of her own, and no free will. She is an idealized angel meant only for him for whatever desires and purposes he may have. One gets the impression that should Saeki reveal herself to be just as perverted as he is, he would cease to have any interest in her because then she would actually be a real person. Nakamura is completely outside of this paradigm. She doesn’t care one way or the other about what’s expected of her as a girl, and because Kasuga has no romantic interest in her, he doesn’t treat her like one. She’s exempt. This is also why it’s so fascinating to see her as the person in power as she consistently emasculates Kasuga in every way possible. Whether or not this is, in and of itself, a derogatory statement on women of a certain kind and their ability to essentially castrate men remains to be seen (I’m reserving my judgment until the series is over).

Now, back to the awkwardness. Just look at this:

You skinny little puppy you.

You skinny little puppy you.

That’s beautiful. That’s so realistic, it breaks my heart. That’s the true face of adolescent Japanese boys when faced with uncomfortable interactions, specifically when faced with romantic interactions. Kasuga, and most boys in general, have no idea how to approach the girls that they like, they have no idea what to do with them on dates, they don’t know what to talk about (it should go without saying that this is a natural byproduct of any society that imparts upon its youth that the two genders are fundamentally different and therefore have no common ground. It tends to lead to a lack of understanding about each other). Dating in Japan is not a fun thing. It’s a high stress dance of confusion and embarrassment. It’s walking silently next to one another, it’s girls saying “Please, let me learn more about you so that we can have common ground” without the boys ever wanting to do the same, it’s a comedy of errors. It’s why Kasuga asks Saeki to be his platonic girlfriend.

What every girl is longing to hear.

What every girl is longing to hear.

They can date, and it can be completely chaste, and that way, he can still be in love with her, and yet not spoil her by being intimate, and thus, she can remain less than a person to him. The reality of the situation, of Saeki and what she might want out of any relationship, never has to occur to Kasuga, as it doesn’t have to occur to any adolescent boy in Japan (and possibly the world at large). I would argue that this one episode reflects the strange reality of dating in Japan better than any other anime series or J-Drama I have ever seen.

While the date between Kasuga and Saeki reflects dating amongst the youth of Japan in general, Nakamura once again brings some perspective to how ridiculous all of the stress is by saying “Save your confessions for when you’re older”. This should be a time when Kasuga and Saeki are enjoying themselves, when they’re two people who like each other enjoying each other’s company, when they’re two sexually curious kids who aren’t freaking out about a kiss (seriously Kasuga, calm down. It’s just a kiss, she’s not asking you to rape Saeki). Instead, Kasuga is confessing his platonic love and Saeki is crying from how touched she is all the while, neither one of them is actually getting to know the other or truly enjoying the situation they’ve found themselves in. And Nakamura has no time for that shit, and she doesn’t think Kasuga should either. God bless her.

No. Fucks. Are. Given.

No. Fucks. Are. Given.

I could easily write at least 10 pages about everything that’s going on in this episode, but I’ll leave it here for now (also, there are some ideas here that I want to expand into standalone pieces for you guys, so I wouldn’t want to spoil that all here in this one). Also, I apologize if this is scattered, the cold medicine is inside of my head, bringing the cloudiness.

Anywho, let me know your take on this episode in the comments!

Evangelion and the Power of Fandom

29 Apr

By: Stephanie Weirich

Evangelion.3.0.Theatrical.Booklet.600.1344630

Right about……now the Otaku internet is being flooded with thoughts on and opinions about Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Some will be little more than breathless praise while others will surely be vitriolic rants about plot holes and ruined endings and some will even manage to be objective and thoughtful. In light of the zeitgeist, there’s something else I’d like to talk about, something a tad more personal, more feeling based. A feeling I got as soon as the familiar and colorful flash of Asuka’s fighting in outer space overwhelmed my screen. A feeling of intense and wistful pleasure otherwise known as nostalgia and regardless of how good or bad the film was (which it was an uneven mixture of both in my mind) that feeling was not displaced or even dampened. And that’s something worth talking about.

First, allow me to clarify a thing or two. I fully believe the Evangelion series—including the Rebuild series of films—to be a masterpiece of the anime medium. Are there better shows out there, both from the same time period and from our present time? Most assuredly. However, do those shows provide the same experience that Evangelion does? I would argue not, because Evangelion is a singular series that offers to people a singular and powerful experience. This is made even more remarkable by the fact that it has this enduring power for both the Japanese and the Westerners that have been exposed to it.

When Evangelion was first aired in 1995-1996, it managed to do something that few other anime series managed to do in Japan and that was compel people who had very little interest in the medium to become obsessed with it. These characters, particularly the central figure of Shinji Ikari, connected with the Japanese and the national psyche in a way that still has resounding impact to this day. It is the sole reason the Rebuild series of films exists now. People loved these characters, they loved their struggles, they felt protective of them when things went wrong, they discussed at length what pushed them to keep fighting, the picked apart their psyches and damaged hearts. They felt empathy for these fictional characters. And ten years on, when they decided to make the Rebuild series of films, those feelings still held true for all of those people who grew up with the show, for the people who now shared it with their children, for the people who revisited it regularly, for the people who reserved a soft spot in their hearts for it permanently.

neon-genesis-evangelion

Strangely and beautifully enough the show had the same impact on Western fandom. It is a very rare thing for the anime series that we hold dear to have the same lasting power in Japan. While many older fans view titles such as Cowboy Bebop, Trigun or Outlaw Star as enduring classics, they haven’t had quite the same impact on Japanese audiences. Those titles, I believe, resonate more with Western audiences because there is something distinctly Western about them. There are very intentional foreign influences on them that make them seem much less Japanese and far more relatable and resonant with Western audiences.

This makes the enduring power of Evangelion in both Japan and the West that much more powerful and strange. It’s a distinctly Japanese show with very distinct Japanese themes and messages that managed to hit us at our cores and affect us—Japanese and Westerner—in the same way.

The question then becomes why? Why is Evangelion the show that has had that impact?

I think that for the Japanese, that’s a very simple answer that has everything to do with the central themes and the character’s reactions to them. Shinji is an avatar for the universal experience of male youth in Japan. He is a child who is no longer seen as such. He’s past the age where there’s any coddling or sympathy paid to his plight. He is expected to shoulder fully his encroaching adulthood while given very few adequate tools to do so. He is expected to deny his own will and desires for the sake of a greater good that cares absolutely nothing about him. He is the representative for all Japanese who feel—particularly while young and tentatively maturing into adult Japanese-dom—that they are expected to give up their individuality and gaman suru, or persevere. He is the wide eyed Junior High student who is expected to throw away all childish impulses and stand tall as a true member of Japanese society his very first week out of elementary school. He seeks connections he can’t have, both craving and being terrified of them. He wants to share and hide his emotions. He wants to trust others and run away. Shinji is the very essence of what it means to grow up Japanese.

Also, every parent in Japan has this sweatshirt.

Also, every parent in Japan has this sweatshirt.

Additionally, the Human Instrumentality Project that lies at the heart of NERVs plan is essentially the choice all people within Japan must make—do you retain your individuality as painful as that might be in a society that values the communal over all else, or do you throw it away to maintain the status quo? That is a theme that deeply resonates within Japanese culture regardless of how it’s dressed up in pseudo-philosophy and Judeo Christian symbolism.

For Westerners, I think we also pick up on these themes and empathize with them to a certain extent. But I do believe that there’s something even more powerful for us at play. As I said in the very beginning, that is the pure feeling of nostalgia it invokes.

This is where I’m going to get personal, so bear with me. Evangelion is the first anime series I ever saw. I had an ex-boyfriend that one day brought the boxed set over and made me watch the first 6 episodes in one go. It was a deeply perplexing situation for me. It inspired within me a mixture of emotions that weren’t altogether pleasant. I was angry with the adults in Shinji’s life who forced him to do something he clearly didn’t want to do for very little incentive. I was angry with Shinji for being such a complainer. I wanted to challenge Gendo Ikari to a fistfight. I felt deeply uncomfortable while also being intensely curious about what it would all mean in the end. And I admit, that first time I watched the series as a teenager, I didn’t understand it fully by the time I finished it. But I wanted to. I very much wanted to. More importantly though, I wanted to see more. Evangelion was really the seed that grew into the flower that is my passion for anime and by extension my passion for Japan.

Every time I see him, my hand makes a fist instinctively.

Every time I see him, my hand makes a fist instinctively.

My first year in Japan happened to coincide with the release of Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance. My otaku students were loaded up with Evangelion pencil boards, files, stationary, pen cases, stickers, etc. The Lawson’s down the street from my apartment was selling figurines like gangbusters. There was a constant stream of ads on TV and in print imploring you to see it. It was a free for all of Evangelion fandom again. As such, I decided to watch the series again for the first time since my original viewing.

I sat on my horrible and tiny white couch, chain smoking and drinking the occasional beer, riveted to the screen. It all made so much more sense now. I was much more patient with Shinji’s outbursts, with his tears, than I had been the first time. After all, I was teaching students just like him (well, just like him minus the whole piloting your mother and fighting monsters thing) every day. I was becoming increasingly familiar with their frustrations, with their fears of the future, their discontent. I even had a Rei in nearly every class—a student, male or female, who spoke to no one and had no one speak to them. I had teachers that were like Misato, just trying to understand the current emotional state of their students, caught between a desire to coddle them and slap them for their pathetic lack of personal responsibility. Some students had fathers like Gendo, difficult men who worked more than they saw their children, who didn’t show up for even important events like graduation. Again, my feelings about Evangelion were confusing, complex. I felt that bittersweet elation, the pure and unsustainable high that only a new obsession can inspire while also feeling deeply saddened for these characters—and by extension my students and co-workers. I was invested in this show and the impact it had all over again.

Asuka brings all the boys to the yard.

Asuka brings all the boys to the yard.

I can very clearly remember killing time between classes, desperately trying to cool off after teaching in airless classrooms with no air conditioning, combing the internet and looking for fan theories about what it all meant. I remember hours spent jumping from one Wikipedia article to the next. I can remember lunchtime conversations with my students about who their favorite character was and why (for the boys, it was always Asuka. For girls, it was usually Kaworu). I can remember sitting in my apartment, my downstairs freezing from the air conditioner being set to high, the sounds of summer cicadas humming outside my back window while I devoured episodes all over again. I can remember each nervous cigarette I smoked as the events unfolding become more intense, more disturbing. I can remember each blisteringly hot trip to the Lawson’s or Youme Town (the local mall) to buy new figurines. I can remember the heady joy of it all and how it reminded me, if even for a brief moment, what it was like to first become a fan of anime.

I remembered all of this again while watching Evangelion 3.0. While the events unfolded before me, this wave of memories and wistful, bittersweet nostalgia for those heady days—both the heady days of my initial fandom and the even more heady days of my life in Japan—washed over me. For whatever flaws the film has, the experience was not a wasteful or bad one.

Though it was disturbing.

Though it was disturbing.

To put it simply, Evangelion changed my life in irrevocable ways that I am still discovering. It was the first series to expand my world past the narrow confines of my own American adolescence. It made me deeply consider the struggles of kids who were just like me in a completely different country. It made me feel that we weren’t so different after all. And it was one of the first things that made me want to know more about the country that was raising them. It is one of the things that ultimately led me to live in Japan, to have the experiences with the people I met there in the places I saw and will never forget. And it played an integral part in that experience while I was there. This is why it hits me right in my heart now and floods my senses with memories that will never cease to be singular and special for me.

That is the true power of Evangelion and why it will always be a masterpiece regardless of how the Rebuild series turns out. It brings us all back to a singular and joyful time in our lives in a way very few things are capable of; it brings us back to our burgeoning fandom. It connects our personal adolescent and now adult struggles with those same struggles that a group of people are having on the other side of the world. It opens our eyes and makes our world a larger and better place. It connects us all—Western and Japanese—to ourselves and to each other. And for that it will forever be a worthwhile and singular experience that we should be immensely grateful to have.

So thank you Hideaki Anno. Thank you Evangelion. Thank you for changing my life for the better.

Do you have something different to say about Evangelion? Or is there another series that makes you feel the way I feel about Eva? Let me know in the comments!

Kaworu is dying to hear about what you think.

Kaworu is dying to hear about what you think.

Aku no Hana Episode 4: Nakamura will Burn the World Down.

27 Apr

By: Stephanie Weirich

It’s the end of another arduous and long week, and so it must be time for another Aku no Hana review! If you’re just now joining us for the first time, know that Aku no Hana is our favorite (or most loathed) series this season about puberty and sexual deviancy. Also, it features the angriest girl in the world, and she hates everything, including, maybe especially, you. Go here if you want to know a bit more of what I’m talking about.

For everybody else: so…… Whadda ya think of episode 4? If you’re like me, you might not have a definitive answer for that question. Much like the puberty being portrayed onscreen, it’s just all so complicated. In light of that, let’s take a moment to quickly re-cap what went down in this episode.

There was both bad and good fallout from Kasuga’s decision to stand up for Nakamura. The bad is the initial bullying that occurs from his fellow students in an especially tense morning classroom scene.

Their judgement is palpable.

Their judgement is palpable.

The good is that with that gesture of good will, Kasuga managed to endear himself to his love, Saeki (apparently she’s forgotten about that whole he had his face stuffed between her breasts thing that happened in episode 2). Saeki tells him he’s cool, breaks up the tense morning bullying with an effervescent and unconcerned aisatsu, saves Kasuga from falling down a flight of stairs and agrees to go on a date with him.

Was it Saeki?  Was it really?

Was it Saeki? Was it really?

Ah, the kindness towards an outcast only the most popular girl in school can have.

Ah, the kindness towards an outcast only the most popular girl in school can have.

This would all be a nearly perfect series of events, but let us never forget that Nakamura exists and she’s always watching. And hating. EVERYTHING.

This is all Nakamura sees when she closes her eyes.

This is all Nakamura sees when she closes her eyes.

Contrary to what Kasuga thinks will happen, Nakamura is actually ecstatic about Kasuga’s upcoming date with Saeki. I mean, maniacally so.

That face shall forever convey the true meaning of horror.

That face shall forever convey the true meaning of horror.

She tells Kasuga to meet her before he meets Saeki for their date and to bring the stolen gym clothes that set off this whole sordid contract. When he refuses, she slaps him and tells him he has no choice and promises that nothing bad will happen. What this actually means is that on the day of the date, Nakamura forces Kasuga into a bathroom stall and tells him that he’s going to wear Saeki’s gym clothes underneath his own during the date. During this scene she screams with frustration at his refusal and tells him that she longs to see a real, full blown deviant and she vows to destroy all of the walls Kasuga has built around himself. Her terrifying commitment to this task apparently convinces Kasuga not to fuck with Nakamura, and so on go the gym clothes and out he goes with Saeki.

Just think about that for a moment. Here’s a teenage boy with a girl who he believes to be his personal angel, the absolver of his sins, a girl whose innocence he has fetishized to the point that he keeps her stolen gym clothes in a box with a poem he wrote about her purity, AND HE’S WEARING HER STOLEN CLOTHES UNDERNEATH HIS OWN.

She knows what you did.

She knows what you did.

The reasoning behind why he would do this comes down to two reasons. One: because a terrifying classmate has forced him to do so and Two: because he is a coward who hasn’t realized that he doesn’t truly love Saeki but has instead obsessively fetishized the purity he believes her to be imbued with. He’s placed so much emphasis in his mind on Saeki being able to alleviate him of his sins and by extension his sexual desires that he is incapable of realizing that only he can absolve himself by admitting to Saeki what he has done and thereby freeing himself from Nakamura’s contract. Kasuga, as is the case with most teenagers caught in the messy and hormonal grey area that is puberty, cannot take responsibility for his part in any of this unfolding Freudian drama. When his classmates bully him, he blames Nakamura for his part in defending her. He blames Nakamura for forcing him into their twisted contract. He is incapable of taking responsibility for the fact that he made the choice to defend Nakamura and that he’s allowing her to take advantage of him BECAUSE of what HE did and what HE refuses to remedy on his own. Nakamura may be crazy, she may be angry, she may be opportunistic, but she is not to blame for Kasuga’s inherent perversion.

Trust me, I believe you.

Trust me, I believe you.

He’s also incapable of giving her any props for the direct role she played in him getting to go on a date with Saeki. I have no proof, but part of me very much feels that she engineered that scenario in order for him to get this opportunity, all so she could bear witness to the blossoming of his true sexual deviancy.

For these reasons, I feel as though Kasuga is actually the worst person on this show. Sure, Nakamura may be aggressive and abusive, but Kasuga allows it. It’s happening because of a chain of events that he set off. He’s arrogant enough to believe that he’s superior, both intellectually and morally, to everyone else in his town. He believes himself to be right, he still believes that he didn’t actually steal Saeki’s gym clothes and that instead he’s the victim in all of this. The audacity of his belief in his own victimhood is astounding, particularly when he has very much—through the theft of the gym clothes, the refusal to own up to it and now his wearing of them while on a date with her—violated the innocence of the girl he claims to love.

Feels great, yeah?

Feels great, yeah?

It’s all inadvertent sexual harassment borne from his own cowardice. Regardless of Nakamura’s at times terrifying faults, she’s at least upfront about what she wants and what she feels. She owns her destructiveness. She owns her feelings and her pure discontent. She doesn’t blame anyone else for whom or what she is. She just is, and through Kasuga’s truly terrible nature she’s finally found an outlet to express all of that. I would like to point out that if Kasuga wasn’t complicit in Nakamura’s contract stipulations, Nakamura wouldn’t be forcing him to take ownership of and responsibility for his true nature. Essentially, she is correct that he is the true deviant, that he’s the biggest and most terrible pervert in this town. That fact is the only reason why she’s pushing him in the way she is. If she hadn’t caught him directly being a shitty human being, I doubt she would have ended up doing any of this to anyone else. So, as far as I’m concerned, Nakamura is just not as all around terrible of a person as Kasuga is.

Now for some background musings. I find it quite interesting that adults are rarely portrayed in the show, and that when they are, they provide context for how mundane these huge dramas actually are when compared to the larger world. It all seems so huge to Kasuga, but really, outside the world of his school and peers, none of it matters. His parents are wholly conventional—his mother is always either cooking or yelling at Kasuga while his father is typically sitting in front of the TV, drinking a beer and chalking all of their son’s strange behavior up to puberty.

That's quite the understatement friend.

That’s quite the understatement friend.

Outside of their shared duties as parents, it feels as though Kasuga’s mother and father have no real relationship at all. They have set roles—the mother is the domestic side, the father the breadwinner—and outside of that there is no common ground. Do these two people like each other? Does Kasuga’s father have any interest in their domestic life, or is he slightly envious of his son’s youth? It makes it feel as though regardless of how perverse his current state is, dull, conventional adulthood with a family you may or may not like or want is ultimately the endgame of Kasuga’s existence. This juxtaposition seems a direct reference to the concept of tatemae and honne that I have spoken of before. Kasuga is mired in his honne currently, as are all teenagers. The eventual maturity and stabilization of his sexual desires is the realm of his tatemae. It seems as though this is what Aku no Hana is ultimately saying about the meaning behind teenage angst and rebellion: puberty is your time to just feel as out of control and free as you can before you need to lock it down and get on with being a “normal” adult. Live your honne kids, because your ascendency to tatemae is going to be an even murkier and, at times, a more terrible journey.

Did you have a different take on this episode? Let me hear about it in the comments!

It’s a Twofer! Attack on Titan and Red Data Girl!

21 Apr

By: Stephanie Weirich

That’s right guys, today I have 2 rundowns for the price of 1 (which is no price, because all of this hot knowledge is free)!  Why is that, you might ask?  Because I spent my night last night playing a bit of catch up.  I watched two wildly different shows: Shingeki no Kyojin a.k.a Attack on Titan and Red Data Girl.  If you were wondering, let me assure you, it was as weird as you might imagine.

Anywho, I’m excited so let’s just get into it shall we?  First I’d like to start with Attack on Titan because man, this show is fucking cool.  Just absolutely everything about it so far is a testament to that singular coolness that anime is capable of.  From the opening onward, it just keeps amping it up.  The animation is stunning, characters are pretty consistently on model, the backgrounds and setting are fairly unique and the Titan designs are suitably grotesque.  Also, the fighting systems that you get to see in action briefly in the opening episode are pretty jaw droppingly, pants shittingly rad.  Let’s look at some pretty pictures, shall we?

Kyojin main

Eren serious

titan1p1

Cast running

You’re welcome.

So what’s it all about?  Basically, flesh thirsty giants called Titans have laid waste to humanity because they just can’t stop eating the tiny humans.  There is no explanation of why they crave human flesh, because the humans don’t know and thus neither does the audience.  I imagine the discovery of the answer to that question will be dealt with pretty heavily as the show continues though.  Due to all of this human eating, mankind has ended up living within three gigantic, concentric walls.  The outermost wall is Wall Maria, the second innermost wall is Wall Rose and the innermost wall that houses the human capital is Wall Sina.  Between Wall Maria and Wall Rose are cities that act as bait to keep the Titans from wandering too far around and potentially getting into areas that can’t be watched.  This structure has managed to keep the remains of humankind safe for a hundred years.  Because let me tell you, the military forces that go out and do recon on the giants, hoping to find a way to kill them, are not finding the greatest success.  And by that I mean they’ve had none.

But that doesn’t stop our protagonist, Eren, from wanting to join them when he’s all grown up.  Eren feels as though humanity has become nothing but complacent cattle within the confines of these walls, and this scenario can’t hold indefinitely.  And what do you know?  He’s totally right, because in the very first episode, we spy the BIGGEST FUCKING TITAN.  And he just kicks a hole right in Wall Maria like it ain’t no thang.  He’s also missing all of his skin.  Check out his muscles.

Lookin' pretty swoll bra!

Lookin’ pretty swoll bra!

Just like that, the idyllic, middle ages pastoral setting is turned to flames and screaming, tragedy and blood, all the while huge grinning humanoid monsters stomp around, just eating the Hell out of everyone.  This is how Eren and his adopted sister Mikasa lose their mother.  Unfortunately for them, she’s eaten right in front of their very eyes, forever scarring them for sure. Also, the Titan happens to make this face after doing it:

Your mom.  She's delicious.

Your mom. She’s delicious.

Eren and Mikasa, as well as their friend Armin manage to escape and become refugees, but not before another strange Titan breeches Wall Rose.  The second episode skips forward in time a few years so that we get to see these three kids as teenagers, enlisting in the military.

Now, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in this show, but there are two things I’m going to touch on in particular.  The first is how at odds with society Eren is.  He’s a fiercely independent and spirited kid, he has drive and ambition and a will to eke out his own future regardless of what anyone else wants for him.  This makes him a bit of an outcast as no one else seems willing to take into account that while idyllic for the time being, a situation like humanity has built for itself in this world cannot hold.  His outspoken and determined attitude is in direct opposition to the society that he lives in, a society who would rather be communal and complacent.  A society where the good of all takes precedence over the well-being and willpower of one.  Is this starting to sound familiar?

One could read into this as being a veiled statement about Japanese society and the intense pressure placed on all individuals to fall in line and sacrifice their individuality for the greater good of the country and society.  One could even read into it as being an indictment of that mentality, seeing as how Eren is correct in the end.  This is no doubt a very personal struggle for the creator of the original manga, Hajime Isayama.  You should understand that every time you read manga, or watch anime, or read a light novel, you are partaking in something that requires a great deal of cognitive dissonance within Japan.  I cannot stress how important the idea of all Japanese being the same is within Japanese culture and society.  It is most represented by the saying “Deru kui wa utareru” which is translated as “The stake that stands up gets hammered down”.  If you stand out, if you’re special, if you show yourself to be somehow not typically Japanese, you open yourself up to very intense criticism from all around you.  As much as Japan prides itself on its artistic output, it most definitely subjects those who show any inclination towards it to a trial by fire.  I cannot tell you how many talented students I had, kids who drew or painted, kids who were amazing singers or musicians, who were desperately trying to keep it a secret from their classmates or who didn’t want recognition at all for what they were doing because they didn’t want to stand out and open themselves up to bullying.  It is a very real, very difficult struggle, and one that will and does most definitely appear in multiple manga and anime series.  Don’t let all of the monsters full you—Attack on Titan is saying something about Japanese society.

The other issue is the invasion of Foreigners.

When foreigners invade, this is inevitably what it looks like.

When foreigners invade, this is inevitably what it looks like.

This applies to both the Titans (though it’s less obvious in that context) and when the kids become refugees whose toll on the town they’ve ended up in becomes a great and rather terrifying concern.  Japan has an intense tradition of xenophobia, which is a natural outgrowth of being such a homogenous culture.  A few events really drove it to a fever pitch though, one of those being the dropping of A bombs on their country and the continual occupation by those who did the dropping.  You can be certain anytime you watch a series that involves the invasion of Japan or a  Japan-like country by a group of strange looking foreign enemies, that it is typically coming from the long standing issues that have arisen from that situation.  It’s not obviously problematic in the context of Attack on Titan, but I will inevitably cover this topic again when I review some older series that deal with this ideology in a much more blatant fashion.

All in all, this show is, for me, a treat.  It hits all of my sweet spots which include, but are not limited to: spirited main character, pastoral settings, wanton destruction and gore, beautiful and distinct animation and character designs, ingenious fighting techniques and GIANT FUCKING MONSTERS.  Needless to say, I’m going to be sticking with this one for the foreseeable future.

RGD-Red-Data-Girl

Now onto Red Data Girl.  I don’t honestly know what to make of this series.  I understand that it’s based on a series of fantasy novels, which makes sense.  But seriously, that opening makes me feel like I’ve stumbled into some serious reverse harem territory.  This is not to say that I dislike reverse harem shows outright, it’s just that they have to set the right tone.  Meaning that they have to either be willing to take the piss out of themselves a la Ouran High School Host Club, or they have to come at me with a willfully fantastic conceit that defies all worldly logic and possibilities.  Red Data Girl is definitely going for the latter.

Essentially, you have a very sheltered girl, Izumiko Suzuhara (that’s a damn Kakkoii name if there ever was one) who has grown up at a shrine in a small village raised by her grandparents.  Her parents are always gone, her father seemingly being an IT genius, and her mother being what I can only imagine is a supernatural spy/conspiracy theorist.  Throw a mountain monk and his angst-o-matic son into it and you’ve got the beginnings of a very alternative family structure.

Can you feel the angst?

Can you feel the angst?

It turns out that Izumiko destroys all technology she comes into contact with and she’s just cut her own hair and that has freaked everybody’s shit out.  In the second episode, you find out that she’s essentially a vessel for a goddess and that angst-o-matic son of a mountain monk is meant to be her manservant.  And no, I still don’t know why her cutting her bangs was such a big deal.  But it is super seriously a HUGE DEAL.

Her bangs.  She cut them.

Her bangs. She cut them.

The tone here so far is serious, and there is some cool stuff that happens in regards to Izumiko’s relationship with and manipulation of technology.  There’s one scene in particular in the first episode with her, a computer, and her father that’s really intriguing.  I also happen to be a sucker for Japanese mythology, particularly as it pertains to Shintoism and Yokai, both of which I believe will end up being represented herein.  The show is also very Japanese.  I mean, really, really Japanese.  Much of the conceit in the beginning is focused on the tension between the burgeoning modernity of Japan’s pursuit of technology, and the past ties to nature’s inherent spirituality.  Izumiko seems to directly represent this tension and downright ambivalence towards technology in the face of the past spirituality that so heavily informed the foundation of the country.

This is fascinating stuff for me.  While living in Japan I was always shocked by how schizophrenic it could be, how you could have these huge buildings and advanced technology such as vending machines that talked to you right next to World Heritage Sites.  I think the best example of how at odds the past and present are in Japan is how every year you take your car to a Shrine to have it purified and blessed to prevent you from having any car accidents for the next year.  This, to me, seems to perfectly represent how they try very hard to reconcile their largely spiritual and naturally based past with their very spiritually devoid and modern present.  Red Data Girl could be addressing this issue in very interesting ways, but it remains to be seen.  I’m going to stick with this one for the next couple of episodes before deciding whether it’s worth watching to the end or not.

Next up I plan on watching Karneval, Suisei  no Gargantia and Valvrave the Liberator.  Is there anything I’m missing that you think I should check out/that you want to hear my take on?  Let me know in my inbox and I’ll get down to it.  Until next time folks, keep doing what you’re doing like you’re doing it for TV.