Media and Social Commentary – The Shows and the Fans

The following two answers had been given on ask.fm. I sometimes answer questions off of the blog and I think they’d make for good pieces. Specifically here, as following my almost infamous piece on how Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei is an “Ode to Meritocracy” I was asked or accused of condemning fans of the show for liking it. So I think this answer will be useful. The second question looks at a specific example of a show and whether it has subtext, and what it means if it does.

Do you think that, when making an evaluation of a piece of media, you are also (at least in part) making some statement about those people who enjoy that piece of media? e.g. thinking that Mahouka promotes a toxic message – does that mean you made a negative evaluation of it’s fans, on some level? Maybe sometimes somewhat?

Look. We are what we consume. Sometimes we realize what it is and ignore it. Sometimes we realize what it is and embrace it. Sometimes we don’t realize what it is and we’re affected to varying degrees.

Akame ga Kill! anime teaches bad morals

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Mahouka Koukou / Irregular at Magic High School: An Ode to Meritocracy!

I’ve warned people. I told them it’d be bad. I told them there’s a reason the messages in this show trouble me so. They thought I was just being overly sensitive. Well, episode 4 happened, so let’s talk about it.

Introducion: Weaponized Light Novels, Handle With Extreme Caution:

Plenty of media pieces convey opinions I don’t share. It’s not bad, it’s an opinion. An unexplored political opinion, a “normative message” (“this is how things should be”) is harmful. You can pick it up, but you should be aware of what its ramifications are, you should look clearly at what it’s actually saying.

Light Novels often contain an underlying subtext that is at best naïve and divorced from reality, and at worst poisonous. A lot of it can be chalked up to “wishful thinking” or “fantasies”, whether they are power fantasies where we get to do as we wish with our power, or ones where we’re smarter than everyone else and they despise us for it, or even where our moral superiority over others should give us more rights, affirming our deeply-felt belief that we are somehow better than those around us, who do not acknowledge us.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei anime / The Irregular at Magic High School anime - Shiba Tatsuya is Dark Flame Master!

Many light novels and anime works, heck, many films, video games, etc. are appreciated not in spite of the subtext, but because of it. We all watch and play stuff for the fantasies they empower and engender within us; that’s fine. If anything, it’s the opposite of escapism, tackling things we cannot handle in life on our terms.

And then we have messages such as the ones in Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, that seem benign, but are deeply insidious and had even caused much harm in the real world, and which make me shake my head mightily and cry out, “No. This is not fine.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei begins with the usual stuff: Presenting a picture of a world where we are glorious, but others just fail to see it, and when they do they flock to us, without us needing to actually do anything about it ourselves.

But then the show takes it further, and argues that people who seek more equality, or dare to oppose the benevolent rule of Capitalism are defeatists who blame others, those who argue for “false equality”, and even terrorists, while trying to present its “Rule of the Inherited Might” as not just benevolent, but “fair”, while it is anything but.

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Discussing Hot-Button Topics.

We all have issues that make us see red, things that have us flying to our keyboards to pen strongly-worded rants at whoever had offended our sensibilities. An interesting thing is that these topics are almost always charged in both directions – you think X appearing in Y manner is something to get worked up over, and someone else might think that you getting worked up over it is something to fly off the handle over! I’m going to share several such issues that bother me within anime (and elsewhere?), and then move on to how you might wish to discuss these issues yourself.

Galilei Donna Grande Rosso

Our knee-jerk reaction to perceived opposition and hot-buttons.

Part 1 – An Example Hot-Button Issue:

Valvrave the Liberator Rape Apologism:

Note, this section will contain some Valvrave the Liberator spoilers, mainly that a certain scene exists in a certain episode.

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Handling Flashback Scenes and Respecting Your Audience

Total Recall - It totally fits! :3Some recent anime episodes led me to discuss flashbacks in a bit more length; I think this topic is interesting enough to devote more time to. The discussion and examples used will follow anime, western television, films and books. It is not an anime-only topic, but anime might get a bit more space and examples because I have examples on hand and it’s what made me revisit the topic conceptually.

Flashbacks obviously can come in the form of showing us content from earlier episodes, say, so we’ll remember what happened. An anime infamous for flashbacks in this way, which had episodes where up to a third of the content was recycled was Naruto – this was done because the anime was catching up to the source material and they wanted to use as little content per episode as they could. We’ve even had some examples of a flashback within an episode to something that happened the very same episode.

Note, however, that sometimes such “remembrance” sequences aren’t only required, but drive a point home – you can see it where someone is surprised by a new development and the flashback serves to have them narrate to us what actually happened, or show it again now that we’re armed with new knowledge and can put in the proper context – it’s very common in thrillers – think of the resolution of The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, or recently in anime the case of Akatsuki in Log Horizon thinking of how Shiro and Nyanta had defeated Demiklas – we’ve seen the content we’ve just seen, in slow motion, accompanied with her trying to work out what happened which we’ve missed.

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Cartoon Demographics – Are We Infantiles, or are Children More Adult-like?

I’ve been thinking of the intersection of genres and demographics for a while, especially as I’ve recently discussed how some shows have demographics as meta-genres, and instead of genres. This recent blog post on The Otaku Lounge by Artemis discussing anime/manga demographics made me try to formulate my words on the topic. I sat down and thought – this genres don’t really apply to me – I watch children shows (though less as time goes by), and I watch both female and male-oriented young-adult and adult shows. I also tried to even identify shows that fall within certain categories and had a really hard time doing so.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (season 2)

That’s when I realized – the shows don’t have these demographics within them. There is no magical connection between the so-called demographic which is supposedly of the show and who really enjoys the show, or can enjoy it – especially if we’re going to resist gender and age-based essentialism, though obviously we’re talking more about life experienced and supposed socialization lines here.
That made me realize – these demographics are merely a construct, and not one truly used by the authors of shows or movies, but by the marketing teams that have to release the work into the wide world.

Well, let’s backtrack a bit and talk about some shows, movies, and other things:

Avatar the Last Airbender – This cartoon by Nickolodeon had first come out in 2005. The Story-Game RPG community I was part of had absolutely loved it. I was 20 when it’s come out, my friend Christian who was 30 years old who watched it with his 3 year old and 13 year old sons. We’ve had numerous men and women ranging from 15 to about 40 who all absolutely loved the show. So what if it’s been categorized as a “Children’s show”? It has good characters, good character and plot development, real conflicts and conflict-resolution that isn’t entirely based on violence. It’s for everyone.

Disney/Pixar movies – Children here are usually taken to watch Disney films as they grow up. I remember being taken to watch Bambi as a five year old, and when I saw my grandmother crying next to me I consoled her, “Don’t worry grandmother, it’s not real – it’s just a movie.” My best friend and I had watched plenty of animated films in the cinemas – all of the Shrek films, Toy Story 3, and recently we’ve watched Monsters University.
We definitely weren’t the only adults there, though going at later hours and watching the films in English rather than dubbed to Hebrew definitely raises the age. The point being, there is definite adult interest in these “Children-shows”.

Now, let’s look at some different examples:

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Domu – Horror is Atmosphere, not Story

I’ve had this manga book, Domu: A Child’s Dream, on my shelf for around 2-3 years, and I’ve found myself looking for something to read, my memory reminded me of Domu and where it was on my shelves (even though my shelves look like this, I know where all my books are!). So I picked it up, and a couple of hours later it was done. And I have some things to say, and this is my blog, so say them I shall!

(Guy’s Note: Well, Hobby Search not loading its pages in English means the “Figure Friday” of sorts post I was meaning to make will be postponed for sometime during the week (or next Friday).)

For those who don’t know, Domu is an anime written by Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira, and had been written (and serialized) between 1980 and 1982. I’ve read the graphic novel version translated by Dark Horse, unsurprisingly. The story follows an accursed housing block in Japan. Accursed you ask? There’s an astonishingly high number of deaths and disappearances around the block, and they send detectives to investigate the matter. And things escalate into a psychic duel.
And this covers the general plot of the story, which you could probably find out online with minor poking.
(This is a “Things I Like” post, and as such covers more my thoughts, and is less focused as an actual bona fide review. There will be a LOT of spoilers in this post.)

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Mecha Anime or Anime With Mecha? China Mieville to the Rescue!

ZGMF-X10A Freedom Gundam

This blog post will discuss, or at least raise the question, of what exactly is a Mecha Anime, and raise the argument that most anime where mecha appear are in fact not Mecha Anime.

China Miéville, for those who don’t know him is a British sci-fi/fantasy author whom I am quite fond of, and who is to put it succinctly, an “Urban Author”.  China Mieville wrote King Rat, which also deals with London, and the city’s feel, and environs. China Mieville writes in a word called Bas-Lag, the first book deals with the city of New Crobuzon, and the politics of the city, its ethnic (of races) make-up, etc.
His book from 2009 (which I am dearly waiting to acquire) is titled The City & The City, and I assume you can see how cities stand at its core.

The point I am trying to make is, that while in most stories we have cities, in most of them these cities are a backdrop to the action, and don’t figure heavily into the narrative. They are not major characters in the story, and far too often are not even truly supporting characters.
Not so in Mieville’s books, where the city is often as important a character as any of the protagonists and antagonists who make up the story, and while it often doesn’t show itself in any concentrated manner, it appears in small ways interweaved with anything that occurs.

So, this is the point from which I wish to discuss mecha in anime. Just like in many books and series, the city is just a backdrop, or even glossed over completely, in many anime series, including ones that bill themselves as “mecha anime”, the mecha are not a core part of the story, and even if they supposedly are, it’s not often in the “right” way.

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