A Soft Defense of Axis Powers: Hetalia from an Old Hetalia Fan

When the news broke that we’d be getting a new Hetalia animated series in 2021, I wanted to be happy. I wanted to celebrate and relive my glory days in a fandom that came to define so much of my life but I didn’t feel like I could. Over the years, the anime and the fandom that surrounds it has been a, to be honest, mostly deserved problematic mess due to the series’ subject matter and what some in the fandom do. But, some bad apples were never meant to spoil the bunch and thus, I write to you all, a small defense of Hetalia from one old fan who wants to taste glory again. 

It was college, my first year and my first time really being away from friends and family for an extended period of time. I was alone, struggling and felt overwhelmed and afraid. My mental health was in the trash bin and I mostly suffered quietly reassuring my aunts and mom that I was fine and making friends when in all honesty I mostly ate lunch alone in my dorm and had to wait for my two roommates to be out of the room to do anything that I actually liked doing. This was before the Glorianna of my junior and senior years running the anime club and was me at my worst: isolated, insecure and overwhelmed. I had given up a lot of my anime and manga in the transition to college, desperately hoping that the intense fandoms I held in my “youth” would be the phase my aunt asserted it would be. I went to college trying to pretend like that part of me didn’t exist and failed in the second part of the semester. I was back into anime due mostly to a slate of series that would end up becoming formative to me thanks to RP and my then best friend, Nicole. It was thanks to her that I was brought into a little series called Axis Powers: Hetalia. Hetalia is a play on words for the Japanese words for useless and Italia for Italy. The series features around personified countries during mostly World War II but also has some other periods of time mentioned throughout history and modernity. The series mostly centers around the Axis Powers: Northern Italy, Germany and Japan and their struggle against the Allied Powers: England, France, America, China, Russia and whoever else decides to join them for the sake of narrative. 

You can see the inherent issue, right? Japan has a long history with not seeing WWII so much as a bad thing but a strangely fun part of history. To this day you can see people in Waffen SS uniforms for the sake of style and clout just walking around. Japan’s problematic love-love relationship with Germany and Nazi paraphernalia is not something I have time to go into in full here, but needless to say; Hetalia suffers majorly from the bias of a Japanese man who wrote a comic as a racist joke while he was living in New York and continued on to impress upon the world his biased history of the world. Taken as writ, Hetalia is kawaii propaganda and I loved every second of it. 

The countries have dynamic character designs and personalities: the history is loose but hey, that’s not why I was there. I was sold from day one. I had characters I fell in love with, ships I wanted to sail and navigate and more importantly, it gave me something to do with my time. See, Hetalia, for having such a weak plot has a ton of trivia attached to it. Each country has a human name, a birthday, things they like and don’t like and complex relationships not just tied to history. There are character songs, drama CDs, each country has their own version of the ending theme song not to mention at least 2 character songs that can tell you so much about them and their history that you’ll never learn in the main series of manga. There were interactive flash games, the original webcomic and oh the fandom flourished.

Hetalia is the best kind of series for fangirls active in the shipping arts; it’s sort of a boy’s love by omission. Most of the female characters are so weakly written that they don’t matter and most of the countries are male and often enter marriages or alliances with each other or have very close bonds with each other due to shared history. You could, in theory, make an argument for any ship and likely there was historical, social or political context for it beyond just the show putting them in a scene together. Immediately, I was enraptured. I spent time learning human names and birthdays (many of which I still know to this day), learning and translating character songs and writing; oh the writing. I carved up the map with my friends, laying claim to countries and taking a masturbatory pride in whose flag we claimed. The flags I flew and still do fly to this day are: France and Austria but I laid claim to many other countries. The series was exactly what I needed to help me connect to others.

But immediately, upon entering the wider fandom outside of my friend group; I was met with a group of mostly young girls that…well, let’s just say weren’t always on their best behavior. Now, I’m not here to shame DFW Hetalia: but their tactics to abuse badges is why so many panelists have to go through hell now to get badges for their volunteers; not to mention their clichy nature and less than high regard for public spaces: they were sharks in bad wigs. The rest of the fandom…well, let’s just say that the stories, no matter how horrible, are often true. Many have kept the Nazi parts of their uniforms on screeching that it’s costume accurate. Some have posed in front of concentration camps…some have done other Nazi stuff. I can’t believe I’m writing this. Honestly, I was never shocked by this behavior mostly because most anime fans are already so culturally abandoned as Americans that we’d willingly side with literally any other country and the narrative as writ in Hetalia that Japan only joined the Axis Powers to make new friends. Hetalia also does a very smart narrative trick where it asserts that the countries as we see them are more representatives and they have “bosses” (the leader du jour) that really control their movements. So Germany didn’t do a Holocaust, Germany’s boss (Hitler) did. It’s a great narrative tool: it keeps the characters sympathetic: like a good German soldier, Germany was just following orders. 

To be clear, the bulk of the fandom isn’t running around as a bunch of cosplay fascists but the stories of bad behavior are hard to wipe away from the collective memory of the fandom and con world. Not to mention the real life consequences behind acting poorly. Think about the current angst that comes with being a fan of Harry Potter right now. It’s hard to distance yourself from the author’s objectively bad words and keep yourself steadily in the lane of fandom that doesn’t deny basic human rights to trans people. But now it feels almost dirty to be a Hetalia fan. The series has its own problematic elements if you ignore the less than perfect fandom and the less than perfect fandom is fed because the series is built on a problematic base. The rest of Hetalia centers around other world events and the movie doesn’t even talk about WWII. There is more to the series than its problematic base, but that will always be its foundation. It will always be a webcomic created by a man who clearly loves WWII and not so subtle casual racism and xenophobia.

But I’m still excited. I have made so many friends and made so many memories and got so much joy from this series. I was, and am, still a very proud Francis Bonnefoy and proud of the ships I sail. I’m proud of the headcanons and spirited conversations I’ve had. I’m proud of the nights I’ve spent up translating drama CDs and the pieces of trivia that are still in my mind a decade later. I’m still proud to be a fan of Hetalia but I am also so very aware of how very damaged this beautiful world I call home is. 

Am I the Wolf or the Deer? Coding in Beastars

I finally gave into Carlos’ request and to my desire to actually start a newer anime. He recommended Beastars and I suppose in my madness or in my lucidity, I listened to him. In all fairness, the last anime Carlos got me to watch left me a babbling mess over Satan and his demonic boyfriend but we’re not here to talk about that. So let’s talk about Beastars, racism, coding and the merits of trying to figure out where you fit in an animal allegorical society.

Let’s start with a summary. 

Beastars centers around a wolf, Legosi, and an entire school full of anthropomorphized animals; some predators and some prey. If this sounds like Zootopia, you are right. But Legosi is different. He is a predator who is trying to be chill. That is until he meets an incredibly horny rabbit named Haru and continues to entangle himself with a weird sexually coded deer named Louis. It’s all a mess as the school is reeling after the vicious murder of a prey student and everyone is pointing the finger (paw, claw, apendage?) at each other and tensions run high. At its core, this is a furry coming of age story but there was something striking about Legosi that I found as I dove into the series. I could weirdly relate to him. But we have to talk about Legosi a little more which I know would make him uncomfortable. Legosi is fascinating because even though he is a wolf and is physically imposing in nearly every way, he’s mostly gentle and quiet and introverted. He’s very aware that he’s scary and thus does his best to show off that he isn’t scary at all. He’s sensitive and doesn’t like a lot of attention. He’s loyal despite being a loner. He’s confusing in a lot of ways but he’s very aware of something that I have become increasingly aware of: optics. He’s aware of how situations must look. Surely if he as a predator were to be seen engaging in risky behaviors, it would be, regardless of his intention would have been read terribly.  

Legosi seems obsessed with showing how he isn’t like other predators and he’s perpetually trying to be the bigger person even if it is inadvertently sometimes. Honestly, it was curious to watch and only became more obvious with his interactions with Louis, a deer who I still don’t know how to feel about. Louis is perpetually overcompensating because he is a prey animal. He’s in theory weak and thus is overly capable, charming and puts himself in the spotlight. He is performing strength.  

Louis is perpetually trying to force Legosi to show his strength and Legosi mostly wants nothing to do with it and then stating a line that’s rattled around in my brain for a while: “There is nothing special about a wolf being strong.” and…well, he’s not wrong. There is absolutely nothing special or unexpected about a wolf being a wolf. What is unexpected is watching a wolf constantly lower himself so that he seems non-threatening. That makes it even more curious when Legosi has his, let’s be frank, sexual awakening when he attacks Haru.That primal, carnal, lustful energy that comes with domination and the metaphor is lost on no one that Haru is a lily white rabbit in comparison to this stark, dark colored wolf. 

When Carlos and I talked about the series after I got a few episodes in, I mostly found myself sort of joking about the show. I mostly fixated on the small things that usually make such series hard for me to watch. How does a society like this work? Would they really basically build a human society but with animals? How do toilets work? How do clothes work with tails? Buttons? Why are the school uniforms such a fashion disaster? But within the talk of buttons and clothes I mentioned almost flippantly that Legosi was aggressively black coded. Carlos pressed my opinion but I started talking and was able to tell him something that I hadn’t really given much thought to. I related to Legosi in a weird way. I also know what it’s like to have to “check my power” and I also know what it’s like to be concerned about how others look at me. Which brings us to coding. 

Coding is a tricky thing in media that uses short hand and cultural stereotyping to broadcast abstract concepts in race, orientation and gender without using them bluntly. Think about Star Trek where even if a character was an alien you could attribute Jewish, black, female or queer “traits” in them. That’s coding.

Legosi read as black to me almost immediately because I was raised by a gentle giant of a black man who was constantly having to be aware of himself and how he looked around others: my dad. My father was 6’3’’ and over 300 lbs. He was a gentle giant but if I was someone who did not know him, I probably would assume the worst. But dad was constantly trying to portray to others using humor, kindness and wit that he was not a threat and it worked for the most part. I’ve also had to be aware of that in my life. As a black biological female, there are plenty of social stereotypes that are not in my favor; mostly that of the angry black woman. Luckily, I’m petite and most don’t see me as a threat until I open my mouth as I have been a mouthy little thing since I was a child. But in professional settings, I’m very aware of my tone, my facial features and my actions because I don’t ever want to come off as too aggressive; that can be career suicide for black women and for some, has been. 

There was comfort in that coding with Legosi of being aware that he had some strange prejudices around him and he was doing his best to fight those with kindness and stand up to others who perpetuate harmful stereotypes about their kind. But that coding is also a little dangerous with the whole…feral lust for a white rabbit thing. 

Remember Zootopia and how many people of color were able to relate to that world so easily? Remember how it made race simple and made it a predator vs. prey thing? Well, I feel Beastars did that too. And I feel Legosi’s coding is very fluid: I think if you’re of color, you’ll probably read him similarly to yourself. I read him as black because I am black. 

Beastars is an interesting anime. I would never have started it without Carlos’ encouragement and I’m for sure interested. I plan to continue the series as I got about half way through season one before taking a break after dealing with some personal stuff. But it’s shockingly smart and definitely an interesting look at race, prejudice and the masks we all wear to hide or reveal who we really are inside.

What Sarazanmai Did Wrong…And Then Oh So Right

If you pitched me a show about three middle school boys being turned into kappas and having to do a lot of what is essentially weird butt stuff to make the plot advance and also there are two vouging murder cops and a ton of puns I would tell you to get out of my apartment and to leave me alone. I was encouraged to watch this show by a close friend (the same person who lovingly encouraged me to watch Yuri on Ice) and when I started the series, I admit, my mind and heart weren’t in it. I had gotten into a minor car accident, I had convention stress on my mind, my job was wearing on me and when I started up the anime I mostly felt full of salt, bitterness and anger at the absurdity of the first episode. I got two episodes in and gave up, mostly tired of puns, kappas and weird butt stuff. 

It was Carlos that got me to watch the series again at A-Kon because as I told him about the show, he noticed the same thing the person that recommended the show to me noticed, this checks off a ton of boxes for me in theory. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is Sarazanmai about? Well, let’s go over the plot briefly. 3 boys: Katsuki, Toi, and Enta are cursed by a kappa named Keppi to become kappas and correct the world of evil zombies that have something to do with desire and exorcising those demons correctly (think about Bleach where only Soul Reapers can send spirits off to the Seireitei correctly and if something happens to that spirit or someone else tries to send them off they can become Hollows, monsters or something worse). It starts as a monster of the day sort of thing with some overarcing plot points (like the vouging murder cops) but the first half othe series is just monster of the week. 

I’ll probably spoil things because that’s who I am but this series takes a dive that I’ll talk about more soon but back to the timeline. Carlos and I ended up watching about three or four episodes in our hotel room with way less pressure on me and while I still thought the series was mostly dumb and absurd, I was able to have more fun and just sort of enjoy the ride. We stopped right as a major plot point began and Carlos chided me and said I’d probably finish the show on my own. 

Fast forward to con being over and me crying hysterically on my sofa lamenting over my series son (look at the poster and guess which one is my son, you get a cookie if you’re right) and spirling into emotions I haven’t felt since Hitorijime My Hero as far as oh no, a Japanese cartoon has hit too close to home or honestly, like Avengers: Endgame in the scope of feeling that everything I love is wrong and dead and how do I cope? My children, oh no, how do I save them?

So after a few days, I’ve decided to write about this series. I have finally left Kappa Hell. So let’s talk about it.

Let’s go over what this show did wrong first and honestly, it was the absurdity. Now, I’m an anime fan. Hetalia is one of my favorite series, I can handle absurd. I can handle vocal tics, kero. I can handle puns even the otterly devastating ones and I can handle plot points that make zero sense like desire being held in the butt and having to carry around a box of something sacred to you. What I can’t handle is not feeling like any of that matters. Remember my issue with Food Wars? It’s similar. I had lots of questions after I entered Kappa Hell but upon first watch, I wanted none of them answered. I had no curiosity. I just wanted it to stop. Now, I’ll give a lot of weight to my mental state here. I was not in a good mood, frantic and emotional and I don’t like being pressured even lightly into anything. Spite is a powerful motivator and at that point I probably would have turned my nose up to ice cream or buttered sourdough rolls or even to a series I know I like. 

When I removed the pressure to like the series so I didn’t disappoint someone I care for deeply, I found that surface level it was still sort of absurd but in a way I was curious about.  I think having Carlos with me absolutely helped that because when we got to the two cops who were dancing and muttering quite a bit in the back of a police station, we rightfully had questions about that and came to the conclusion that the other cops just let these two have their little dancing moment and interrupt what was official police business. 

Next up is a small voice acting nitpick because each episode features a song about removing evil from zombies and usually it’s sung by Katsuki (who is pretty decent in the sub) but later on the series, Toi takes over and Enta does too and Carlos and I both joked that we found the one (the voice actor) who has the album coming out later. It’s adorably distracting but dissonant. 

I’ve always been up front in admitting that the series is beautiful and a lot of the designs benefited from looking a lot like things I already like, including tan blonde cop Rin Matsuoka (his name is Reo) and Kuji who looks like an adorable little school boy version of Jason Todd. The colors are bright, the sets are good, the music grew on me as I continued and the plot…well, this is Kappa Hell. Let’s talk about the plot. 

Remember how I said that the first part of the series feels like monster of the week sort of thing? Well, threads are still forming and they start to get pulled on around episode five and boy when those threads are tugged. Little things you’ve noticed start to make sense and honestly, the story became more than just a bunch of boys exorcising demons through weird puns and butt stuff but became about desire, want, needs, selfishness and bonds. 

Katsuki does some pretty strained and strange things to ease his guilt about what happened to his little brother. Enta full on sabotages things so he can have a reason to stay close to his crush, Katsuki. Toi has an unhealthy relationship with his mob boss older brother and is willing to do literal crimes to cover for his aniki. Blonde Matsuoka-kun cop, Reo, is actually deeply flawed and deeply in love with his partner, Mabu and Mabu is literally some kind of golem who was willing to give up his love for Reo so that he could stay alive in an attempt to stay by Reo’s side despite death having taken him prior. It all spirals quickly, sadness after sadness and it left me screaming and worried and unsure how to process emotions about these characters. I felt for Reo as he mourned the death of his beloved once more and related to his willingness to lash out in anger only to die and be reunited with Mabu at last. I felt for Toi who so badly wanted to be with his family after loss left him with few he could rely on and even if that meant doing things that were morally compromising to him. I related to Katsuki who ended up being quite selfish in trying to be selfless. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt series for a show about kappas, puns and butt stuff. 

When the tone of the show started to change and focus more on bonds and what we do to keep them is when it did something magical: it reminded me of a long-time lover. It reminded me of Gravitation. One of Yuki Eiri’s main themes in Gravitation is his connection to his sensei and his desire to remain connected to that horrible man and how that often butts up against what he wanted later on in the series which was a relationship with Shuichi. Gravitation is all about bonds and what we’re willing to do to keep them. Tohma is willing to lie and gaslight to keep Eiri. Shuichi is willing to be a victim to keep Yuki. Yuki is willing to be abused by Tohma so that he can keep one thing sacred and in turn he abuses Shuichi because that’s all he knows. Love sometimes is a selfish feeling and drives us to do not so romantic things. 

Towards the end of Sarazanmai, the plot centers more and more on the theme of connections and bonds and the fact that sometimes we do terrible things to keep those that we want close. Reo and Mabu’s arc together is such a great example of the horrible things we can do to each other just to feign what was once a great and healthy bond and just how toxic and corrupting grief can become. And that’s surprisingly thoughtful from a show that has a main plot point being a young boy who crossdresses as an idol girl to keep his little brother happy and seems to enjoy being in a dress a little too much. 

There’s one more point I’ll bring up and I think it encapsulates why the show made me so emotional but also managed to bring me back around and that’s consequences. For a dumb show about kids turning into kappas there’s a lot of violence, particularly gun violence (which is rare in Japan because, hey, effective gun laws work). The two cops use their guns to remove desire from deviants and thus turn them into monsters and Toi uses a gun because his aniki is yakuza and of course he does. Towards the end, Enta is shot and honestly, he gets very close to death and it’s not sugar-coated and I felt horrible for this kid who was just doing his best.  Toi is forced to kill his beloved aniki because he realizes that his brother is just not good for him and Reo is killed because he lashes out in anger after losing his beloved Mabu once more. Sure, this is still a show clearly aimed at younger audiences and most of it is sort of waved away by kappa magic but in the moment it felt so real and so grounded and so emotional that I cried more than I like admitting. 

Let’s talk about my son, Kuji Toi. If you guessed correctly, you can claim your cookie now. Toi has the best arc in the series because he has to come to terms with the fact that his relationship with his aniki is flawed and dangerous and what is beautiful is that he faces consequences. The last sequences of the series are Toi being sent off to prison for his crimes. He spends years there and we resume with him returning home older, more jaded and more alone as he had spent years away from his friends and family and likely had little to return to as now he was a criminal, or at least society hopes, a reformed one. He also has the most realistic feelings about connections in that he feels his life is at times just not worth the risk to his friends and his dive into melancholy and depression in the last episode just made me want to hug him if I wasn’t so concerned about the fact that he’d stab me over it. 

The series does end on a happy note with the friends all coming together once more and that optimism but that’s again a surprising amount of weight and thought for a show that was meant to be a bit of a throwaway as far as I was concerned. I felt for Toi and was glad he faced consequences for his actions because that’s one thing about anime, especially boy’s love, that I struggle with: a lack of consequences for bad things. Sure, Toi did kill his aniki over something valid and but he still did kill someone and seeing him face a consequence made it oh so worth it. 

Sarazanmai didn’t do much for me at first but as I continued on, I got emotionally invested in these characters and their lives and I ended up a babbling mess of emotions and worry about these boys who were just doing their best. I wanted to protect all of them. I wanted them to be okay. I wanted things to be okay. There’s a melancholic optimism to the show that I can relate to. We hope things are going to be okay but the series cops to the fact that we just don’t know. We can hope that the boys are going to be okay, but there’s no promise that things are going to be okay. The future is uncertain and that’s just fine. So long as we’re connected, even if we drift apart, the bonds that we formed never truly leave us. 

Don’t Cry For Me, Akira

I didn’t want to do this.

I didn’t want to watch this series. This is entirely Carlos’ fault and please address any further complaints with him.

But I did the thing. I died on the hill. I watched all of Devilman Crybaby and now we’re going to talk about it. Why? Because I refuse to die on this hill by myself.

This post is gonna cover all of it. Everything that comes to mind will be discussed so that means I’m gonna be talking about blood, neon sex, technicolor nightmare demons and more. It’s gonna get weird, y’all, and it’s gonna get dark. I’m also spoiling the whole damn thing so if you aren’t into that, here’s your chance to back out. If all of this is going to be too much for you…please enjoy this video of a sloth and we’ll see you in the next post.


Now, welcome to the inner darkness created after binging an anime in the dark by myself late at night about devils, demons and one boy in all white you shouldn’t trust under any circumstances.

Immediately, this show did a lot for me in the beginning. Useless boy, Akira, does his best to defend those around him but is weak and is useless. He is assisted by incredibly competent but also probably should in no way trust, Ryo and a sexy running lamp as a love interest, Miki.

The premise is quite simple: Akira becomes Devilman because he gets infected (taken over, possessed: somethin’ like that) by a demon (due to Ryo making an incredibly bad call) but retains his human heart. So a demon…with emotions…it gets pretty standard shonen for a little while with that premise. And that makes sense, the creator of the series also did one of my all-time loves Cyborg 009. But Crybaby is different in so many ways and the way it so expertly subverts expectation…well, it left me with a lot of feelings.

The first few episode are mostly Akira figuring out his powers, we meet more demons and see more technicolor neon boobs because Netflix gave them an MA rating, might as well use it. And all the while you think things will go like a normal shonen. Akira will save the girl, Ryo’s not great but he has good intentions and Miki’s still a lamp and will fall for Akira and all will be well.

I’m here to go ahead and end that delusion for you. Nothing ends well. If you picked this up thinking: I know exactly where this is going. you are probably wrong.

I’m gonna praise this series for having a somewhat large cast that feels entirely important. No one is wasted and that’s hard to do with a cast of this size in an anime. I also love that there’s a ton of internal logic (most of the time) like Akira’s transformation after becoming mostly demon is STRIKING. He literally is basically a different person physically and personality wise and everyone in the show comments on it. They don’t care but they do admit that the pale, small and put upon kid is now taller, tanner, buffer and is watching porn in the A.V. room. 

But I’ve praised it too much for now, let’s go over a few places this show didn’t work for me.

The way the demons run is stupid to me. I’m sorry, there’s no greater way to say that, it’s just dumb to me. Like those McDonald’s toys that you wind up and all the legs move independently to skitter across the kitchen table only to flail miserably until the thing is kicked under the fridge. The animation also gets very sketchy in places. There are parts where perspective is off and character designs lose detail and with characters that are as basic in design as Ryo and Akira and Miki if you lose a single detail in their design, you lose them a little.

There’s a dumb girl fight between Miki and her rival track runner also named Miki (folks call her “Miko” because you can’t have two “Miki”s in Japan where it isn’t uncommon to go by your last name at all) and it’s just there…it’s dumb girl drama to give Miki more legs as a character rather than Akira’s Love Interest.

And while we’re on the topic of Akira…let’s talk about Akira and Ryo.

From episode one, anyone who looks at Ryo should see he is not a good person. Immediately, I messaged Carlos and said “I don’t think I should trust the blonde kid with the boxcutter.” and I was right. Even though Ryo and Akira grew up together for everything bad that Ryo does it makes zero sense that Akira ignores it for as long as he does.

I can analogize it to a series that handled this (in my opinion) a little better: Death Note with the relationship between Matt and Mello. Mello is in many ways a much worse version of L. Not that he isn’t intelligent or deductive, he’s just willing to make an omelette by holding a chicken hostage and shooting the farmer for the eggs. He is raised with Near and Matt but bonds with Matt and sticks up for Matt over and over again. So when Mello returns home covered in blood and bad decisions, you understand why Matt doesn’t question it and cleans him up. You understand that Matt is willfully ignoring that Mello probably did something illegal and is just happy Mello is home.

You see moments where Akira tries to question Ryo but it all feels like a soft lob at someone who fundamentally (even before the big reveal) you should not trust. Even if we take out the huge reveal about Ryo if you take him at face value as a blonde murder boy running around with too many guns, it’s hard to rationalize how he is trying to achieve his goal of outing all the demons on earth.  Which means as a character Akira is either an idiot or a doormat and both of those are somewhat unsatisfying for me. 

This anime also gets weirdly topical with an entire theme of judging people by their hearts and not what they are. Akira’s whole thing is that he still has a human heart and even though he makes play as a demon, he shouldn’t be killed like a demon because he’s the one saving humans from the bad demons (yes, it’s shonen, relax). And that gets preachy really quick. Towards the end, the anime goes full Beauty and the Beast with war and mobs and military violence all to rid the world of demons and continue to perpetuate mistrust between humans.

It feels all too real in an anime about angels, devils and blonde murder children.

It’s also towards the end where things get dark. And it’s a dark anime, from episode one there had been copious amounts of blood and death and destruction but around the later half of the series, the deaths begin to mount and become important to the cast.

Let’s talk about Miki’s death.

I dedicated a lot of words to how angry I was with Miki’s character being literal shonen lamp number 24601 but she was kind and pure and what we needed in an anime about devils and demons. She dies…horribly. And I so badly didn’t want that to happen. And it isn’t just that she dies; she is dismembered, turned into a trophy by a band of marauders who sought to end her for defending Akira. And that image of Miki’s head on a pike as folks dance with it around the burning remains of her family home broke something in me.

I told Carlos about it later saying it was like those moments when anime characters lose the color in their eyes after witnessing something horrible. Just something sort of broke inside of me. I had already felt it some when Miki lost her family in one of the most tragic sequences in anime ever and for her, for myself I so badly wanted her to find some redemption in this narrative.

She didn’t. She found death.

And just when you think things cannot get worse and Akira loses literally everything and everyone that he has ever loved, we’re faced with a reveal that in hindsight is incredibly obvious but is still in the moment shocking.

Ryo is literally Satan and this whole ordeal is orchestrated just so he can do what Satan does best: get his way.

I wish it had ended there…but no, I don’t deserve that. We don’t deserve that. We’re treated to a very shonen final boss battle where Akira summons more of the creatures like him, more demons with human hearts, and you think that it’s going to be like Naruto where good fights evil and good wins and there will be no pain and only joy because you can totally punch evil out of someone.

No.

That’s not how it ends.


Ryo is wonderfully written, it may be why I defended him for so long even up until the final moments that I was referring to Satan as “my son”. But that last scene of him talking to Akira only to realize that Akira is well…only a torso now, really and then weeping bitterly over his own victory and the subsequent death of the only person he bonded with broke me entirely. I so badly wanted this to be Naruto. I wanted Akira to face Ryo and there be some sort of conclusion that would satisfy me. But that simply didn’t happen.

There was only bitterness, death, loneliness and divine retribution.


I watch media (especially anime) to escape. I bonded with Fullmetal Alchemist so much because watching Ed wander through his grief and struggle with God and do what he could to overcome his demons and his past helped me overcome mine. I needed to see Edward get back up each and every single time he stumbled because it encouraged me to do the same.

At my core, I like to think of myself as a jaded cynic. I like to think that endings like this are really what I want. But when I am confronted with them, I become tragically aware that I am desperate to see the good in people. I am naive and I do what I can to believe that people can be more than devils and I am bitterly disappointed each time I am proved wrong. Cynicism is the act of ruining something for the self so no one else can ruin it for you. I wanted redemption, closure, bonding…and I got blood, death and salt.

The ending left me sort of just shaking and incoherently babbling between English and Japanese (a side effect of watching the anime subbed, I’m sure). If you were to look at the messages I was frantically sending Carlos as I watched the last episodes, it’s like watching a horror movie from a webcam just helplessly trying to process it all. It was just me desperately venting my emotions that all managed to collapse in on itself with me repeating:

This is your fault.
I hate you.

Carlos and I talked for a while after the anime ended. I couldn’t go to bed that wired. And even after we finished, I was still left alone with my thoughts for too long. I could still hear lines of dialogue in my mind and I could still hear Ryo crying and calling out for Akira to answer him knowing fully well he never will answer again.

Those were the things I thought about before going to sleep last night.


I can’t in good faith recommend this series. It’s masterful, beautiful and every part of it is fantastic. But this did something to me that very few series get to do. Devilman Crybaby left me raw, haunted and hollowed out and reaching for closure that I will never get. If that is your persuasion, I’d love to know what you think of it.

Thank you for sticking with me in this entirely too long of a review for an anime of only ten episodes.

Next time, we’ll cover something a little lighter.

 

Falling in Love With Anime Again

_Wise men sayOnly fools rush inBut I can't help falling in love with you (1)

Ah, yes. Now is finally the time for me to do my long-awaited total autopsy on the myriad of reasons I hated Yuri on Ice!. Just kidding, we will talk about that a little but really only to highlight on a bigger point. This, much like Deadpool is a love-story. It’s the story of how this anime Stella got her groove back and how I fell for the medium that propelled me to middling convention success.

But some background. I sound so tsundere talking about YoI because honestly, it’s fine. My feelings have long since simmered away from active hatred to just more of rounded disappointment. It’s odd watching an anime that was like genetically modified for me to like it. Victor’s every 90s anime boy in one and Yuri’s literally a cinnamon roll with no personality. But to me it was so aggressively average that its stans simply exhausted me. I had no patience or desire to deal with people who said it’s the greatest show ever. It was Free! but with ice-skating instead of swimming down to the completely interchangeable doormat of a dark-haired main character to the far more charismatic side cast and a second season full of more interesting characters that we can’t focus on because we gotta focus on the breeding pair that faces zero tension or conflict.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  We’re here to talk about love.

So after my heart was ripped out of my chest by the summer, fall and winter of gay ice-skating, I was actually pretty burned on all things. It was like the world had lost its luster and while I still very much enjoyed the classics (they’re classics for a reason) I had a hard time enjoying new things. Close friends and followers will recall my immense disappointment with Pokemon: Sun/Moon and Pokemon: Ultra Sun/Moon. It was like a fog floated over me. I was afraid to like anything too much for fear that I would hear Victor’s smug cackling in the back of my mind as if to mock me and my feelings of ambivalence and continue to damn me for feeling something that wasn’t unfettered and overly enthusiastic support.

And then Hitorijime My Hero started.

This is an old boy’s love story. I vaguely remembered each character or at least the shape of them. The plot is…simple? Setagawa is a high-school student who looks up to his sensei, Kousuke and Kousuke is older and a teacher and thus conflama. In addition there are side characters who are far less important than Masahiro Setagawa and Kousuke Oshiba: they matter the most to me and the most to the show. And honestly, breaking it down, this is a re-skinned Gravitation but instead of Shuichi being an idiot, he’s a sensitive and conflicted student who falls in love with the only person who treats him as a complex human being rather than a pawn or puppy and the stand in for Yuki Eiri is actually loving, kind, supportive and protective: so the opposite of Gravitation. It’s a simple little story. It isn’t trying to be more than  what it is. It isn’t claiming to be more than what it is. It’s a basic love story with plenty of heart and even though the last couple of episodes with Kousuke’s dumb and contrived plan to “test” his relationship are stupid on Yuki Eiri levels; I can mostly forgive this show.

The show never tries to be more than it is and is really simple. And for that very reason, I fell in love. It wasn’t the greatest, no one said it was the first, the best, the anything. This goes back to my earlier thesis statement of people reading too much into “It’s okay.”

I was floored with how hyperbolic the discussion around YoI was. Yuri is not the first anime character with anxiety. Victor is not the oldest love interest in a boy’s love series. Yurio is far from the most complex rival. All the beats of the series have been done by other series (some series have done those beats better) and while sure, YoI did fine with its depictions, it was far from the best, brightest or anything: it was an animated television show about ice-skating that was very gay.

But what Hitorijime My Hero does well, it’s good at. The voice acting (at least subbed, I cannot speak for the dub) was wonderful and from the start of episode 1 with Setagawa saying that he looked up to the heroes he saw on television and how they helped him cope with his less than ideal life. I loved the opening theme, the closing theme. I loved all of it. And I was far from the only fan talking about the show. But no one had the audacity to say that the show was doing anything revolutionary. I fangirled over this series like many I’m sure did when they decided ice-skating was cool. I sketched costumes, learned theme songs, memorized dialogue and I fell deeper and deeper for the show. I finished season one satisfied and despite my love of it, it passed through me. My life moved on. It didn’t make history, I wasn’t forever changed. I was fine with it and still am. I never finished my costume but the high I felt while trying to morph my body into something that looked like Kousuke Oshiba is a joy I still feel.  The anime made me happy for one glorious and fleeting seasons and like then, it was done.

Hitorijime My Hero never tried to be more than what it is. And for that, I love it.

 

Make Anime Weird Again

_This place has only three exits, sir_ Madness, and Death._ — René Daumal (A Night of Serious Drinking) (1).png

Late last year, during one of Carlos and I’s famous hours long Skype calls, we ended up having a pretty profound discussion. You see, as two longtime anime fans, we were both a little exhausted by the recent trends in fandom. Shows like Yuri On Ice and Attack on Titan have brought muggles into our fair community. And while Carlos and I lamented the glory days of anime being strange and exclusive, a brilliant little anime strolled into my queue and actually at Carlos’ recommendation.

I want to talk about Pop Team Epic and making anime weird again.

But first, I want to talk about anime, the surreal and the strange. One of my favorite animes of all time is FLCL. It’s at its core a coming of age story but also features penis allegory robots, a giant steam-powered alien iron that wants to smooth out the wrinkles of human thought and a woman with pink hair on a Vespa who goes around hitting people with a guitar. Anime at its core has always been a little weird. And that can be said about animation in general, but anime’s weirdness is oftentimes a huge barrier to entry for many casual fans. Even excellent animes like Cowboy Bebop and FullMetal Alchemist have very strange parts to them and I’m empathetic to newcomers who are put off by some of the cultural eccentricities of Japanese popular culture.

This is probably going to sound a lot like fan-gating to those in the know and, yes, it is a form of that. When people who are not well-versed in anime critique and comment on anime, you get fresh hot takes like “Anime has a representation problem.” and “why are none of these women wearing pants?” True, holding anime and manga to a higher standard is important. I can be a feminist and struggle with poorly written female characters while also admitting that culturally Japan is very different than the U.S. in 2018.  I came into anime as a little one and struggled a great deal as a fan in the early 2000s when it wasn’t cool to be an otaku. I built anime clubs, made friends, cosplayed and went to conventions to find people who were like me. And popular animes that bring in casual fans can at times muddy the waters. There’s nothing like seeing someone who teased you in high school over a Naruto t-shirt back in the day suddenly saying that love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And while that may be somewhat immature to say, I’ve never said claimed to be a perfect human being.

Which brings us to Pop Team Epic. The show centers around two main characters: Pipimi and Popuko and they are surprisingly expressive considering their minimalist designs. The show is now an animated version of the popular 4-Koma webcomic and it follows many of the comic’s best gags and jokes. It’s a weird one and it’s hilariously referential and meta. There are gags that barely count as gags. Each episode is mirrored with male and female voice actors playing two teenage girls. There are crappy segments (intentionally bad ones) in the middle of each episode and there are jokes. So many jokes. And many of them are at the expense of other popular anime, video games and fan trends. Popuko many times calls fans “haters” and it’s actually quite interesting to see. I’m not normally one for self-aware humor and non-sequitur gags but for some reason, it all works for me in Pop Team Epic. And it probably is one of the best mines for reaction gifs that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. Did I mention that the soundtrack is surprisingly good?

I love how unapproachable this anime is. You have to really love comics, really love anime and really love video games to catch all the references and hell, I don’t get all the references. And the humor is often dry and doesn’t go anywhere. The animation is crappy at times, but it’s intentional and the voice acting is strange and strained. The comments about how awful the show can be is rarely lost on me and if you are looking for consistent payoff for jokes, look elsewhere.

And there are plenty times where I’ll end an episode of Pop Team Epic and have no idea what just happened. It’s strange that I’d be so attached to a show like this considering that other shows with humor like that (think Rick and Morty) are not usually shows I enjoy or overly meta shows (continue to think Rick and Morty).

Watching Pop Team Epic reminds me a lot of how many people felt watching Luke Cage over on Netflix. Many said that Luke Cage was unapproachable and “too black” and to anyone who said that (mostly casual white comic book fans), you are right. He is unapproachable and too black. That’s how his character is meant to be. The same can be said for Pop Team Epic. Anyone who says “This anime makes no sense, is poorly animated and is weird.”; congratulations, you are right. It is poorly animated, makes no sense and is weird and if you cannot appreciate it for what it is, then maybe you should try something a little more mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love plenty of mainstream animes. And that’s not to say that Pop Team Epic is some secret handshake between the “OG” otakus, there are plenty of long-time anime fans who are put off by the series and basically any actual criticism lobbed at the show is probably understandable.

But you know what? It is also nice to have something that makes anime feel intimate again. There’s something nice about having an anime that is too weird, too good and too strange to live. It’s nice having something that not everyone understands and feeling like some strange unicorn again.

Just for once, it’s nice to feel like anime is special, rare and unique again.