Weekly Digest 10/29/16 – Drifters, 12-sai, Watashi ga Motete Dousunda

Drifters – 04 

I normally don’t take longer than four episodes to make up my mind about a series, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet with Drifters.  The things I like about it are so evenly balanced with those I don’t that right now there’s just not much between them.

There’s a definite appeal in effectively taking Tolkien’s mythology (in broad terms) and using it as a canvas for military fantasy, and Drifters does a good job of it – it’s not surprising it’s on-track to be one of the season’s commercial successes.  The best thing about the show for me is Oda Nobunaga – in fact, while we’ve seen seemingly countless iterations of this character in recent anime, Drifters‘ might just be my favorite.  I’m skeptical that the real Oda would ever do what this one did – cede the face of power to Toyohisa in order to meddle from the shadows – and the explanation of using Toyohisa as a proxy for his dead son doesn’t really hold up.  But it makes for an interesting character dynamic anyway.

My issues with Drifters are threefold, the first and simplest being that the humor rarely works and consistently breaks the mood.  There’s also the fact that despite being a manga, there is that feeling of a fantasy world, otaku wish-fulfilment light novel here.  And lastly, there’s an unsettling nationalist streak to the writing that I see in a lot of LN adaptations.  From deifying WW II pilots to the paternalistic scenario of Japanese military lions taking command of very European-looking cowed peasants who can’t think or fight for themselves to the romanticisation of Bushido, Drifters has that telltale smell to it.  I get the appeal of Bushido and why it’s so elemental to the Japanese national identity, but there’s a reason it’s a relic of another time in history. Glorifying Bushido as a modern model leads to the rise of men like Tojo and Mishima Yukio – and Abe Shinzo…

 

12-sai.: Chicchana Mune no Tokimeki 2nd Season – 01 

A first impressions post and we’re almost in November?  12-sai started on-time, but we just got our first sub this week from the venerable Doremi (which is one of the oldest and best fansub groups in existence, responsible for bringing a ton of otherwise-ignored gems to Western audiences in the days before streaming).  As with the first cour I likely won’t blog it regularly, but I thought 12-sai deserved a check-in.

The equation with this show is pretty simple – when it focuses on the B couple of Hiayama and Aoi, it’s almost immeasurably better than when it focuses on the theoretical (and boring) main pair.  In fact if Takao and Ayase didn’t exist, I suspect 12-sai would be one of the better pre-teen romcoms out there – that’s how much better Hiyama and Aoi are as characters.  So in that light a first episode focused almost entirely on them is an encouraging sign, and it was probably the best episode of either season.

The topics here were many – principally bras, zits and kisses.  The latter two were intertwined, as Aoi develops her first pimple and because of reasons, this leads to her involuntarily “kissing” Hiyama. Their interaction is pleasingly realistic – painful in a good way – and their agonizing progress very authentic for a couple of 12 year-olds.  The random factor this season seems to be Inaba (played by the perpetually oily-voiced Tachibana Shinnosuke), a cram school classmate of Aoi.  he’s a playboy who takes a special interest in her, to the point where he decides he’s going to take her away from Hinata.  Don’t stand for that, Kazuma-kun – fight-O!

 

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 04

As with Drifters I’m still sort of on the fence with Watamodou (I seem to have failed spectacularly in popularizing that abbreviation, but I refuse to call this series Watamote), but I think I’m more likely to stick with it at this point.  One can grind on the messages the show might be sending and such, but in the end it’s just fun.  And funny.  And in terms of otaku comedies, it’s one of the more true-to-life in its satire.

A rite of passage for any otaku-themed series is of course Comiket – so much so that it’s because a cliche in its own right – but again, Watamodou does a nice job of capturing what the experience actually feels like.  I’ve never seen it fall on Christmas Eve (I don’t even think it happens – I’ve seen Comiket moved to midweek to avoid New Year’s, and it generally falls after Christmas) but apart from that this is all spot-on.  The packed stations, platforms and trains, the ridiculous 7 AM lines at Big Sight, the obsessive maps marking the location of every targeted circle – it’s all there.  Since I never had a shopping list I was able to avoid the worst of the crowds and never worried about waiting in line (if you arrive at Noon you can waltz right in) but I can attest that Watamodou got this right too – I always left the experience utterly exhausted.

A new wrinkle in the fabric of the story is Nishina Shima (Sawashiro Miyuki) who turns up at Comiket in Sebastian cosplay (unlike Kae, I immediately knew she was a girl) to rescue Kae from an unscrupulous photographer (they take that shit very seriously at Comiket).  Nishina is loaded, physically gifted and good at seemingly everything.  She’s a fujoshi like Kae, but also apparently into girls – at least if her not-at-all sisterly kiss is evidence.  The scene where she invites Kae and the boys over to use them as models is very funny in a quite creepy way (the poor lambs are clueless, especially Mutsumi) but her main role in the story seems to be as a major love rival for Kae’s affections.  That’s certainly an interesting twist in a BL satire, taking us somewhere out where the buses don’t run, and Sawashiro and Kobayashi are clearly having great fun riffing off each other, so I see a lot of comic potential down this track.

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9 comments

  1. “Glorifying Bushido as a modern model leads to the rise of men like Tojo and Mishima Yukio – and Abe Shinzo…”

    Well, for that matter, the same could be said for traditional European chivalry and any work of high fantasy that plays it straight, Tolkien first. It’s a genre that after all was born from the great epic poems of the past – no wonder it glorifies and romanticises war. If anything, it’s telling that by the XX century war had gotten so ugly and the people so jaded about it the fantasy of honourable conflicts had to be moved from a vague legendary past to an outright fabricated fantasy world. And then got deconstructed anyway by authors like our dear GRRM who brought the ugliness of the real world to those fantastic shores as well.

  2. I’m not sure if you’re disagreeing with me or not, to be honest, but I don’t see a lot of disagreement here. I certainly wouldn’t argue that these outdated chivalric totems are appropriate guidelines for the modern world – and I don’t think writers like Martin would either.

    The other thing I would point out is that there’s an essential difference in the role Bushido plays in modern Japan to the role medieval customs play in modern Europe or America. There’s a dark undercurrent of it in the Japanese political establishment, and there always has been.

  3. Well, it’s not like the European far right does not find inspiration in the past – Fascism has in Ancient Rome a huge foundation myth.

    Anyway it’s not that I disagree in the sense that I do agree that romanticisation of warlike medieval ideals is certainly something that culturally belongs to the right-wing sphere, but I don’t think it’s very relevant to what we’re seeing here. This ain’t outright propaganda like GATE was. The example of LotR is imho even more appropriate because that book was considered a right-wing reading in the 70s (in Italy at least) even though Tolkien was in fact mostly a moderate centrist with conservative tendencies. My point is that this tends to extend a bit beyond the simple one-dimensionality that the right-left political spectrum warrants. If Hellsing is anything to go by, Hirano enjoys his ‘heroes’ to be simply entirely amoral; everyone is simply a tool to create a beautiful and gruesome chaos. There’s no specific political project behind this. Of course it CAN be read from a right wing perspective as celebration of war for its own sake, but imho that tells more about the viewer than the writer. I tend to dislike works of outright propaganda where the political message is spelled out for us (and that goes for any side, because I don’t like having what I watch disrespect my intelligence and spoonfeed me its ideas); but when there’s no clear message in a lot of cases media turn into a mirror of sorts where everyone can see what they already believe. On AnimeSuki there’s one guy who’s made a convincing case for a Marxist interpretation of that LN show about magical girls killing each other that’s airing this season (btw, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds!). I’m very unconvinced the original author had anything like that in mind, but it fits so beautifully it’d be a pity to reject it outright for such a trivial reason XD.

  4. Interesting you should say that, since Tolkien was beloved by the left in the States in the 60’s. I would also quibble a bit in the characterization of his “conservative tendencies” (apart from religion) but that’s another debate.

    Without assigning a “wing” to it, I think it’s fair to say there’s a problem with glorifying the amoral in historical fantasy, in that you’re assigning equivalency to the likes of, say, Pol Pot and Gandhi. I get the appeal, but if some of us are irked by it, well – that’s allowed.

  5. (actually Gandhi was a bit of a douche in terms of personal beliefs, not on the level of Pol Pot clearly, but he had a lot of pretty disturbing attitudes towards women and the untouchables, but that’s not here nor there)

    And I don’t think it’s necessarily that black and white. ‘Amoral’ for example is great for comedy, as it allows for characters who are all total douchebags and for laughing at the most outrageous and otherwise horrifying/offensive things. In a similar way, ‘amoral’ can work well for mindless action too. I find it much more hypocritical when an action/war story tries to sell us its own concept of good and bad with a straight face, even when the ‘good’ guys commit what would be considered war crimes in real life. Think of all the depictions of torture in Hollywood. At least here it’s clear that everyone’s just a bloodthirsty asshole; some of which just happen to have some interests in common with the oppressed elven folk.

  6. T

    As of Drifters, I don’t know if I’m reading your criticism over its wish fulfilment correct, and if I’m not then I’d like to apologize in advance. If I’m correct, the fact that Japanese heroes are leading the charge and emancipating the western-looking elfs from the European-looking Orte empire’s oppression can interpreted as a message of Japanese superiority which may ring a little too close to home to the idea propagated by the Japanese Military during the 1920s until World War II (The big Japanese heroe saves the weak helpless foreigners). While that may be the case, I can at least understand the fact that the Elfs do need someone to gravitate towards in order to stand up to their oppressors, The Orte empire has essentially neureted the elf population in this village (at least from a metaphorical standpoint). They’re forced into serfdom, have their women taken from them, further emasculating them, and any minor offense is met with systematic brutality and murder. History shows that if broken down enough, any group of people would lose their fire of resistance, at least as long as thy feel the odds are hopeless (this is an entire EMPIRE we’re looking at here).

    However, charismatic figures, be they Vercingetorix for the Gauls, Tecumseh for the Ohio Confederacy, or William Wallace for the Scottish, can reignite the fires of resistance, no matter how much the oppressors think the subjugated are broken. A Key Difference here is that these historical examples involve people that came from WITHIN the native population they were fighting for, not from OUTSIDE, which can be considered a real criticism of this and other narratives (Dances with Wolves, Avatar, the Wild Bunch, etc.). I guess having the strategic and tactical mind of Nobunaga doesn’t really hurt tho.

  7. T

    My last comment was far too long (sorry about that). While the glorification of Bushido can be a problem, like Hellsing, which has the same author, Drifters is essentially a glorification of violence in and of itself. So in glorifying violence, whatever our main characters stand for will inadvertently be viewed in a positive light.

    I never saw Drifters as a show between heroes and villains and much as a show of villains vs. anti-heroes. The Drifters (at least the ones shown here) are pretty much bloodthirsty maniacs, at least in the heat of combat, and relish the idea of slicing up their enemies in the goriest fashion possible. While a fun adrenaline ride, I wouldn’t expect too much introspective or self-analysis from our intrepid band of warriors, at least not regarding their violent tendencies.

  8. S

    Manga spoilers deleted.

  9. S

    Right, I don’t know what you considered a spoiler, everything I mentioned was either right there in the opening, or said or done by characters in episodes 1-4. But let’s try this again.

    There’s no glorification of Bushido in Drifters, not any more than Hellsing was a glorification of the Anglican Church. The “Japanese military lions” are hyperviolent bloodthirsty antiheroes, and at least one of them is quite openly scheming to use his charismatic but not very smart companion AND the easily impressed Elves for his own ambitions (and just burned the Elves’ crops to the ground…). One of the most beloved Japanese historical figures, Hijikata Toshizou (formerly vice-commander of a nationalist paramilitary group) is a crazed villain, and another famous and beloved historical figure, Minamoto no Yoshitsune is an amoral chaotic evil character looking to have fun in the middle of a war. Not exactly a jingoist wet dream, I would say. Especially since the only two American characters we have are on the good guys’ side or at least on the side that passes for “good” here.

    I think Enzo just had a knee-jerk reaction to the WWII pilot last episode, and he’s now looking for signs that his fears are grounded, even though they’re not.

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