Finally, after the summer that hype died, I finally know what it feels like once to be pandered to. My patience has paid off. Now I get to have my time in the sun. Today I want to talk about how I have been vindicated and all by a special anime announcement.
I’ve gone on record saying that Kou Yoneda’s Twittering Birds Never Fly is on my recommended reading list to better understand me as a complex human person. And it’s one of my favorite boy’s love mangas of all time. And after the summer where hype had left me, I found that I quickly retreated to things that made me feel alive. Twittering Birds Never Fly was one of those series I took refuge in and I continued to fawn over the brilliant artwork, complex storytelling and excellent pacing. Here’s a brief synopsis: Yashiro is the boss of a rather lucrative yakuza group and he is…complex. He has pent up feelings from a crush he’s had since high school on top of a sex drive that would make most hosts blush. Emotionally, he’s pretty calm, you never really know what he’s feeling as he often will say rather cruel things with a smile. Yashiro finds himself smitten over his new bodyguard, Doumeki, who is pretty aloof and pretty cold but rather quickly expresses feelings for the handsome Yashiro. Yashiro wants nothing more than to sleep with his bodyguard but Doumeki confesses that he is in fact impotent. The series covers plenty of twists and turns, emotional highs and lows and lots of yakuza action as well as a love story that makes sure you feel every ounce of tension between the characters. The cast is actually fairly large, you meet plenty of other yakuza bosses and plenty of underlings but no one is a waste of space or is just a filler character. I could honestly write an entire blog post on just how much I love this series but I want to highlight a particular point: the series is problematic but there’s a few things that save it; what saves it is context and reward.
Yashiro is a garbage person and I’m not going to fight anyone who dislikes this series’ strange obsession with sexual violence and the cesspool that is literally every character. Really, there’s only a couple of characters that you can “look to” for relief one of them being Yashiro’s childhood crush, Kageyama and Yashiro’s underling, Nanahara, and really that’s it? Everyone else is pretty terrible but it is a series about gangsters so abandon all hope ye who enter here. But for every act of violence, every cruel sexual act, every crass line is framed in a way that does not reward terrible characters and without giving too much away, no one really gets off easy when they do something terrible. I can respect that this is a bitter pill to swallow narratively but no one gets rewarded for being a monster and that’s what makes it so much easier to digest this series for me. It was, in fact, the darker storyline that really related to me. Longtime blog readers will know that my childhood and teen years were a little less than sugarplums and rainbows so I don’t always relate well to candy-coated stories: I can relate to Yashiro’s background of abuse, pain and wanting to run away from feeling anything negative and thus sinking into hedonism.
But considering that I was one of five people in the U.S. to read this series, I never held out much hope that it would get an anime. In fact, I had done a few fan casting moments with friends. I had picked Daisuke Namikawa for Yashiro and Kazuhiko Inoue for Doumeki because of course I did. But oh I was wrong that no one would be willing to animate this wonderful manga. Blue Lynx decided to take a chance and have animated this series and I was over the damn moon. When I saw the mangaka tweet about the pilot, I nearly cried. The animated teaser was so fluid and so beautiful and seeing the lines from the first volume of the manga come to life with brilliant color just made my heart sing. So that’s what color Yashiro’s suit is. That’s what Doumeki sounds like. That’s what the city looks like and Yoneda-sensei’s art style lends so well to being animated. She has a mastery of lines, proportions and design and it looks almost like someone just filled in the manga pages with color.
And that’s not all. An anime means merch and after the pandering that came with the summer that hype died, now I get to feel what it’s like to be pandered to. Yashiro and Doumeki dressed as 1920s American Gangsters? Sold. Want to see Yashiro and Doumeki dressed like they’re going to the beach? Done. Want to see side stories, omake, hear Drama CDs and see promotional art? You are in luck. It’s wonderful to see one of my favorite series of all time all over my social media feed. It’s wonderful to hear people talk about a manga that when I mentioned it, no one else seemed to know about. It’s wonderful to feel hype for once. I want to see how they’ll adapt certain parts of the manga, how they’ll tackle certain issues. Will things change? Will they stay the same? Oh the suspense is killing me, I hope it never stops.
I was worried that the hype center of my brain had died, that I had lost something, that I would never be excited for something again. But no, dear reader, I’m not broken: just bored. And now, I have something to look forward to, something to set my sights on, something to look forward to and talk about, study, and discuss.
I can’t wait for this anime to really get started. And it feels so good to be excited about anime once more.
It started in a fairly innocuous manner. It started with a friend of mine (who is younger than me [yes, that matters]) and I started an anime together after I had spent our time together recommending shows that I watch and it ended with a show that neither of us had watched but both have heard of: Food Wars. Now, this anime started out with plenty of promise, the animation was really pretty and the opening reminded me of many of the other shonen series that got me to sell my soul to anime to begin with and before we go to deep in this, this is because the last of the nice things I have to say about this anime. If this is your show: I’m not here to bash you but I know that I can and am probably going to for the remainder of this post sound like an old man yelling at a cloud. Just because I don’t have nice things to say about a show doesn’t mean that I don’t have nice things to say about you.
So back to Food Wars. I’ve run out of nice things to say about this series as far as episode one goes. The plot seems to be yet another “hard/challenging school” plot and the main character seems as bland as wallpaper. Now, I’m an old smut peddler, but typically one doesn’t go full tentacle until episode five and the idea that food can remove clothing, induce orgasm and make boobs grow is just…well, I’m tired, okay? I sat mostly quiet and tried to write while my friend sat and processed the nonsense on the screen and when she looked at me to ask if it was okay to change it I said “No, you’ll never learn unless you really sit and realize your mistake.” I was kidding, of course, but when it comes to anime, you have to sift through plenty of nonsense to find a gem but what matters more is what we watched after we had finished with Food Wars. We watched InuYasha, one of the first anime that really had turned me into someone willing to go to bat for glorious Nihon. And as we watched the opening my friend said something that made me really give thought to a feeling I’ve had for a few years now. She said “There’s been more story in this opening sequence than the entire first episode of Food Wars.” and she wasn’t wrong. We weren’t even very far into InuYasha. I chose episode six: because of course I did. And she was not wrong, in the minute and a half or so of opening, you get so much more of a feel for the anime that is to come rather than just mindless technicolor fanservice. And we had even watched an anime before Food Wars that had plenty of technicolor fanservice in the form of Space Dandy.
Her comment really struck me because recently I’ve had a bit of a crisis of faith. I can say I’m an anime fan but really, there hasn’t been an anime in a few years that has done much for me if we ignore the fact that DevilMan: Crybaby turned me into a puddle of goo and misery and I still watch Free! because of course I do. I haven’t really had any positive things to say about newer anime, especially newer shonen, which is my bread and butter. It was shonen anime that got me through some of the darkest parts of my life and now when I watch what the youths are: I’m just disappointed. I gave My Hero Academia about five episodes before I bailed because it was boring. Sword Art Online is just a rehash of plenty of other isekai anime that have never done much for me. Attack on Titan takes itself too seriously for being as trash as it is and Yuri On Ice is just Gravitation with less plot and more skating. And before you all get your indignant pencils out and say:
Well, you’re watching anime meant for children.
Hello, and welcome to my blog, Strawman #5. There are episode of Fullmetal Alchemist that can still make me feel all the power I need and desire to follow Roy Mustang into my eventual death and Avengers: Endgame made me cry for about two hours in a theater. I may be an old soul but my heart knows no bounds for what I love.
But these series feel hollow to me. They feel cheap to me. If I wanted to watch a cheap knock-off of an anime I love, I’d just watch the series they’re clearly ripping off. Why watchdiscount Naruto when I can just watch Naruto?
And this feeling has been with me for a while now as I continue to panel. Before panel season really starts, I go on a little binge because the anime the children are watching are the anime I get asked on and increasingly as I try and watch newer shows, I’m forced to come up against this wall of miserable mediocracy.
They’re all so painfully average and none of them have been able to get me really as thrilled about anime, animation or the characters as the shows I grew up were able to do in an episode of less. I remember watching Space Dandy and within moments being absolutely sold on the premise, characters and all and I was well into my twenties when that show was given a dubbed release. It can’t just be my age because as I mentioned with Devilman: Crybaby I was exactly as many years old I was last year and I was pretty sold from jump. So it isn’t just an issue of “I want the backwards comic books to make me feel like I did when I was a kid.” I find a lot of newer shows devoid of passion, devoid of grit, devoid of stakes or consequences and honestly, I have an even bigger issue with newer anime.
I have seen an anime before.
One of the most tragic but also freeing things I can think of when it comes to how I feel about modern anime is this:
This isn’t for me.
If this was my first (insert genre here), then I’d love it.
And this is very true. If MHA hit me at the same time Naruto had then dammit I’d be all over class 2-A and yelling “Plus Ultra!” from the rooftops. But it didn’t.
That feeling came up when watching Food Wars. I’m old now. I’ve heard boob sound effects for twenty years. Fanservice doesn’t do much for me unless it’s pretty meta (like Space Dandy) and none of the gimmicks are new to me. It’s another challenging school anime like the fifteen or so I’ve grown up with.
Ennui is described as a feeling of listlessness or boredom that comes from a lack of stimulation and truly, it’s the best way to describe how I feel with modern anime.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means I’m old now. And here is a point I cannot stress enough. Without giving away my age, you need to understand what I was watching when I came into anime.
My love of anime began when I was six years old with Dragonball. I didn’t know what it was but on the screen in front of me I saw a kid with a monkey tail punch a pterosaur out of the sky while riding a cloud and then cook and eat the dinosaur. I was hooked and from there moved on to Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors, Pokemon and the like.
I fell out of anime a bit as a kid but rejoined in full force with YuYu Hakusho and One Piece.
As twelve I was willing to give up all of myself to Splendid Nihon and grew up with InuYasha, Cyborg 009, Big O, Case Closed, Lupin III, Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. I got these anime during formative years of my life.
At fourteen I got to watch Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf’s Rain, Death Note and by sixteen I had Bleach, Naruto and Ouran High School Host Club. By the time I left high school I had Antique Bakery, Gravitation andtoo many other series I cannot list here because I would simply run out of time.
I cannot impress to you enough that I was formed in the heart of the best of the best when it came to anime and at the height of power for dubbing in America. I was forged by fire when it came to fangating, gatekeeping and the height of fanfiction and the rise of online communities.
I am a fan forged in darkness, smut and shipping. I grew into anime with the best of the best.
So please forgive me when I sound a little callous. A little jaded. A little cynical. A little elitist.
I have been at this for a long time and it takes a little more than just large boobs and a shiny paint coat to really make me go wild. I grew up in the shadow of giants, so you’re going to really have to show me what you’ve got when it comes to modern anime.
I have not felt hype for a movie, anime, comic or video game the same way for a while. I have not since 2016. And after three years of trying to sort out my bitter disappointment and blind hatred I wanted to sit down and talk about hype culture, social media, and why I have not been able to be properly excited for a while now.
Before we dive in head first, let me say one thing. Mentally, I’m okay. It isn’t that I can’t get excited about things in media anymore. There’s still small things that have gotten me excited: new movie trailers, new comic book runs, new video games; there have been things that have managed to get me on the edge of my seat but that feeling is now almost immediately tempered due to either a strange sense of ennui or a fear that the hype will die like it did in 2016.
Before we talk about the summer that killed my hype, we need to discuss what was going on in 2016.
In 2016, I found myself unemployed for an extended period of time. Politically, the world was a mess. I was deeply involved with an emotionally abusive partner and had been coping with a very toxic friendship that had gone on for years. I had a paramor that I adored but would have to deal with pining over from a great distance and I had very little going for me in other regards. I was depressed, I was down on myself and I was probably at one of my lowest points emotionally, physically and spiritually.
It was a mess politically, too, considering the rise of a certain Mango Mussolini and damn Nazis returning like that isn’t a big deal.
2016 was a mess and then a little anime popped up and ruined damn near everything. That’s right kids, we’re going to talk about ice-skating, the death of criticism and the hype train.
No, I am not yet tired of my tsundere relationship with Yuri on Ice.
This anime. Gosh darnit this anime. The long of short of the plot is that Yuri is an anxiety-ridden ice skater who falls in love with the incredibly Russian ice skater, Victor; has a rival who is Russian and also way too damn good also named Yuri but different because Russia and thus conflict and love and romance and an utter lack of tension.
The anime is fine. And my feelings on it have cooled but no, we’re back in 2016. Let’s talk indignation.
This show was recommended to me by a close friend and they were PUMPED about this. Hooked from the opening before anyone spoke a line. I remember getting told to watch the series in a few frantic messages. And I had strong feelings for this friend so I was happy to oblige. They assumed it would make me feel better considering that I had melted into my sofa since I was unemployed and had nothing else going for me. I was told how amazing this show was and how much I’d love it even though there was only one episode out so far. So I watched the show after listening to it be praised for several minutes by someone I trusted dearly. We sat on a call together so my reactions could be recorded and occasionally, I was asked if I was enjoying the show or if I liked a scene or character.
On a first initial viewing: it was fine. Immediately, it gave me serious Gravitation vibes, a series that I love and adore but have seen before. It was fine. There were absolutely things I liked: Victor seemed to be pulled from all of my pretty boy dreams, Russian Yuri is amazing and is everything I want out of a rival and Yuri is…well, he’s doing his best. At first glance, I liked the show but it was nothing to write home about. And when I expressed a cooler response that wasn’t emphatic love or intense hatred, I was greeted by something rather cold. I was not willing to join the hype train. It would be one thing if the show gained no greater impact but no, no, I was wrong.
Everyone was talking about this anime.
Now, you’ve heard me mention before how much I despise the death of discourse. I think anime, comic books, television shows and more get better by being able to have conversations about them. And when I expressed my opinions about the show, I was met with mostly vitriol. That turned mild ambivalence into full on hatred.
But it did something else important: it made me feel broken.
Mind you, dear reader, I have been on the edge of my seat watching movie trailers. I have left films trembling with excitement. I am not one that usually has level-headed responses to things. Now, that does not mean that I cannot analyze things critically, it just means that I am one who gets excited by things I like.
But Yuri on Ice didn’t do anything for me that other anime hadn’t done better. I was much happier watching Free! or Gravitation or reading a Fumi Yoshinaga novel. The anime was fine and that answer to the internet and to those close to me who knew of the show was not an acceptable answer.
People wanted to claim this was the first, the best, the only and for me, an old anime fan, it just wasn’t. If I wanted to watch a show about a plain-looking kid with anxiety try and court an attractive Russian lamp, I’d write fanfiction. And while I’m happy to embrace the argument of old boy’s love being especially problematic, that does not erase its existence. Sure, Gravitation in hindsight is very problematic but if you want to talk about setting the tone for most idol animes to begin with, you have to look at Shuichi Shindou.
I felt like something bad had happened to me. Like something in my brain broke. And as I rewatched the show over and over again to try and find what in Kami-sama’s name I was missing, it only plunged me further into depression. This show was supposed to clear my acne, cure my depression, give me life and all it did was make me hate ice skating, anime and myself.
What followed was a summer that made me feel like I was defective in some way even though there was one anime that managed to make me feel everything I was apparently supposed to feel watching YoI. It was Hitorijime My Hero. But folks didn’t seem to want to talk about that one so I was left to deal with my love of the series in relative silence. And that was just fine by me.
In the fall of that year, a game I wanted to play more than anything came out: Pokemon Moon. Longtime readers will remember my very strong feelings about that game and the franchise but it was something that me and the squad were all looking forward to. And considering that some of us were down and out, the prospect of going on an adventure together was very alluring. But the game was a huge disappointment. It was too easy, the new mechanics made me angry, the story entirely lacked bite and while I adored Rowlet the rest of the game just left me wanting.
At least that time I felt a little less broken because others had expressed similar feelings to mine. But by the end of the fall, I felt hollow. I felt like something terrible had happened. That being down on my luck ruined something in me, had taken something from me, had broken me.
Fortunately, my tormented ended towards the end of the year but the lasting effects of The Summer of 2016 still linger. Now when asked about what I’m watching, what I’m reading or what I’m into I tend to give very stunted answers. I’m not willing to be vulnerable with those in that way that I don’t trust or know. Close friends get to hear me gush about movies I like or characters I’m fond of but in more normal conversation, you’re likely to hear a very blunt “It’s fine.” from me.
That summer was a pain, and thinking about it and reliving for the sake of this blog post exhausted me. But I wanted to talk about the summer that broke my mind, my heart and my expectations. Remember, you can love something and not think it’s perfect and there’s no reason to be cruel to someone who does not see things your way. At the end of the day, human connection is why I fell into fandom: not arguing falsely over an anime that had a more disappointing season two than Wolf’s Rain.
If you catch me on a day when I am blessed enough to have pockets on my pants (damn you, patriarchy, for refusing me the dignity of pockets) you may see a silver chain that hangs from my belt loop to my pocket. It’s a watch. A pocket watch. And while I would love to tell you it’s a family heirloom, it simply is not. It’s from a television show and longtime readers may know exactly what I mean. Let me tell you all a little story. Pull up a chair. Sit down. Let me tell you about the time I became a State Alchemist.
When I was in high school, I started an anime club. I argued for the club for days and finally when we were approved, I became my alma mater’s nerd prince. I had many nicknames then, mostly characters that I particularly related to. Kakashi-sensei was a common one because I was often caught walking through the halls reading light novels. Yuki-san was another because of my love of a certain blonde Cool Beauty and the one that really stuck was Colonel Roy Mustang.
I took over my college anime club in a glorious coup d’etat. The club began years before I started school by two of my senpais and fell into the hands of a girl that I did not like and who pointedly did not like me. When I started college, I wanted to have scholarly discussions about anime: it was what I was passionate about. There’s two camps when it comes to what an anime club does. Many see it as merely a social club: sit around, talk smack, watch cartoons. Others tend to treat it more like a culture club: talk about Japanese culture, discuss themes and do actual things with actual people. I was an English major then and made some of the best friends I could possibly have by having loud and vocal serious talks about anime. So it didn’t sit well with me that the club my senpais founded were now doing nothing but sitting around and watching cartoons. I spoke with the club’s advisor and he agreed: the club should not be just a bunch of young adults watching cartoons. By my side I had my at the time best friend, Travis. Travis was a giant of a man. We were quite the pair. I was small and somewhat commanding and beside me was my most loyal enforcer. He was with me during every step of the way. From taking over the club by filing a complaint with the Student Union, to re-writing the club’s constitution, we even changed the club’s name. We worked hard to make the club we wanted to be part of. And it took time, effort, money and many late nights. Travis was my rock during that time and thus, I earned a nickname that had seemed to reemerge from my earlier days in costume.
You all have heard me gush about Fullmetal Alchemist. You all have heard me talk about how important the series was to me formatively as a fan and as a person. But while you’ve heard me gush about the main protagonist, Edward Elric, there’s one character who has always echoed as a close second to favorite for the entire series: Colonel Roy Mustang. Mustang is a complicated man. He comes off as a typical narcissistic military man with a flare for the dramatic, a cool temper despite being the Flame Alchemist and a penchant for miniskirts, stealing Jean Havoc’s girlfriends and seeming to be an omnipresent nearly antagonistic force in Edward’s life. But Mustang’s goal was simple: he wanted to take over the entire State Military. He wanted to be Furher. And yes, problematic term but the series is set in No-Germany-Germany. And his ambition was well-known, during his famous Mini Skirt Declaration he so proudly and openly said he’d run the whole damn place. But Mustang was not alone in his ambition. He was surrounded by people who helped him support his dream. He had Havoc and Hawkeye and Hughes (ah, alliteration) and so many other subordinates that I don’t have time or patience to list. They all supported his dream and they all wanted to support him as he rose to the top. I always related so powerfully to Mustang’s charisma and ability to lead. I always wanted to be like Roy and seeing him grapple with the horrors of PTSD and likely some untreated mental illness (feel free to press me on my Roy Mustang has bipolar theory), he was supported by his friends. I remember spending most of high school answering so readily to “Colonel Mustang” and doing so with a smile and a salute as my anime clubbers greeted me.
There’s a funny thing in FMA. A pocket watch. One is given to each issued State Alchemist. Each one is unique, special and important: they’re expensive and amplify the alchemical abilities of those who have the distinct honor and privilege of wearing one. Which is why for Christmas after Travis and I founded our club, the gift he gave me made me smile and merely say “Thank you, Hughes.”
Maes Hughes is a character in FMA that if you are familiar with the series, you are likely already crying. He’s easily one of Mustang’s closest friends and one of his most loyal subordinates and one of the most fervent supporter of Mustang’s insane dream.
For years, Travis had been my Hughes. I stood there in meetings, filed paperwork, argued cases and fought for the club I wanted but I never did so alone. And thus Travis was rewarded. When we overtook the club, I was Madame President and he was my Vice President. Roy Mustang had finally reached his goal. He was king and his right hand was by his side.
In that box that Travis gave me was a pocket watch, was the pocket watch. It was Edward’s pocket watch because that was the only sort commercially available. Inside was the famous engraving Edward did on the night he burned down his family home with his little brother after committing the ultimate taboo and even though the watch was not Roy’s, it was the watch of a State Alchemist. It was a gift from a dedicated Hughes to his dedicated Mustang. And I wore that watch with pride.
What is even more powerful is that in this act, it’s much more meaningful than in the show’s canon. In the series, the watch is given by the State. This watch, this honor, this trust was given to me by my friend, my Hughes, my right hand.
Travis and I fell out around the second year of running the club and honestly, when I think about it: the role may have gone to different people but that role is always filled. There has always been someone beside me willing to support my wild dreams. Whether it’s taking the risk of paneling at larger and larger conventions, taking on more and more ambitious costumes or even the radical dreams of moving, changing jobs and doing more; striving for me. There has always been someone there helping me work towards me goal.
I am a proud State Alchemist and would not be so if I did not have the ability to do so.
And that’s why I am so damn proud of my watch. It’s a constant reminder that no matter what, there’s someone who believes in me, believes in my radical dreams and that I will always have their support, their strength, their power to bolster my own.
I am Proudly Colonel Roy Mustang and one day I will be King.
I have the fury, the ambition, the drive and the fire to be more.
We’ve done a few lists now, haven’t we? I think they’re a fun exploration of a genre or form. And in the spirit of Lists: let’s try one that’s a little bit different: we’re going to be discussing in no particular order, the music of various different anime! This includes opening themes, background songs, ending themes and more. I’ll give you the series and a brief reason why that song means the world to me.
Oh, and you’ll likely see plenty of overlap between the music I like and the anime I like: reading over that list may give you a vision of the future. You’ll likely also see some repeats from a few core series: that’s likely for a reason.
Funny Bunny, The Pillows
FLCL is one of my favorite series of all time and it has one of the best soundtracks I can think of. Don’t be surprised to see this series on the list more than once. Funny Bunny is sweet, sentimental and emotional: The Pillows as a band are good about using puns, wordplay and most importantly: heart. This song has made me cry too many times and one of my favorite moments of all is driving down the highway with Carlos singing this little song during A-Kon. It’s a love song for the ages.
Hybrid Rainbow, The Pillows
I told you FLCL would appear on this list more than once. Even though this was just a background song, this was my anthem in college. A song about disillusionment, overcoming the sameness over the world and how what appears is not always as it is was the perfect song for the angsty college kid that I was.
Anti-Nostalgic, Kotani Kinya
Who knew an anime about music would have great music? This song still makes me super emotional and as a ballad to a lover, it doesn’t get much better. I always really related to how Yuki Eiri felt about love, time and relationships and how trauma colors your perception of all of those things: because of that, this was one of the first songs I remember committing to memory as a young fan.
Shining Collection, Iceman
Now, this is the real song from Gravitation that sold me. In the OVA, this song is the last thing Shuichi has to sing and he has the privilege to sing it with his idol, Ryuichi. Now, traditionally, the OVA says that this is a song that Yuki wrote for Shuichi. But that’s when my fangirl senses began to tingle. Yuki wrote a song with Ryuichi Sakuma and it made Shining Collection: one of the least romantic love songs possible. Here’s my theory, and this for all of us who still know this old anime: this song is about Yuki’s former lover and tormentor: Kitazawa. The tone, the feverish pace and all seems to add up more to this being a song about Kitazawa rather than the somewhat useless Shuichi: but that’s just an Amanda Theory. I love this song and it’s frantic pace keeps me typing away: you’ll often hear it while I work on my blog posts, my fiction projects or my panels.
Sleepless Beauty, The Seeker
Last one from this series, I promise. The confidence that Ryuichi Sakuma has when performing this song is a strong motivator for me. I’ve used this song to get me through some of the toughest patches in my life and the fact that it has an almost lullabye-like acoustic version that ramps up into an electrifying dance track only ensured that this song stayed in my heart for over a decade.
Fukai Mori, Do As Infinity
I’ve gone on record saying that this anime is the one that made me sell my soul to fandom and this beautiful ending theme is part of the reason I was ready to make that leap. I listened to this song on repeat before going to bed as a teen and I was so happy when I learned even a part of it in Japanese. I picked up a CD copy of InuYasha’s OST and Amber and I sang along the entire time. This song is a part of my childhood and a part of who I am as a fan.
My Will, Dream
Not to be outdone by Fukai Mori, My Will is beautiful, amazing, haunting and more. It had a stunning key visual, too that cemented to many Americans into anime. What more can be said about one of the most iconic songs in all of fandom?
This song makes me cry. This song comforts me when I am sad. This song helps lift me up. Naruto’s themes of not always fitting in, finding your family and your worth and being more than a painful past always hit home with me and a song as reassuring as Wind was vital to helping me cope as an angsty teen and even now as a sometimes melancholic adult.
Blue, Mai Yamane
Now is where things get serious. Bebop is probably a close attempt at number one for me as far as anime go. And this song, wow. It is in my actual will that this will be played during my funeral service. It is that serious to me. This song is haunting, emotional, raw and just…so powerful. I had a moment while driving to visit my mother’s grave and this song came on thanks to my phone’s cursed shuffle. I sobbed. I cried just over and over again repeating: “I’m so free.”
I cried, I put the flowers I got for my mom on her headstone, I spoke to her and visited my grandparents. And all the while I just kept repeating: “I’m so free.”
Space Lion, The Seatbelts
Didn’t think a song with almost no lyrics could bring me to tears but it did. Space Lion is a beautiful song that so perfectly bookends season 1 of one of the most perfect anime to ever exist. The song pulls elements from another part of the OST, Goodnight Julia, a song attached to Gren (who we meet during the last two episodes of season 1). Space Lion is the song we see Gren die to. It’s the song that closes this part of a chapter and it’s just stunning.
Shiki no Uta, Minmi
Champloo has an energetic opening that deserves an honorable mention but as soon as I heard the first bars of the jazzy closing, Shiki no Uta I was in love. The vocals are top notch and the whole vibe is calmer, more collected and more mellow than the high energy of the anime.
Who’s Theme, Minmi
Watanabe-sensei can do no wrong when it comes to picking music and this mid-season finale song for Samurai Champloo is a stunning piece of music that I simply cannot skip if it starts playing.
Viva Namida, Okamura Yasuyuki
Okay, Dandy is another Watanabe-sensei special and honestly, this song sold me on this weird anime about a dandy guy in space. The lyrics are deeper than you’d think, so be sure to pull up the English lyrics and simply enjoy.
Life Goes On ~Side K~, Chemistry
Have I told you lately how much I love this anime. Within moments of this opening song I was sold. It’s an anime about cake, pretty boys, emotional drama and had an amazing art style and the music, god this song did it for me immediately. It’s upbeat and fun and matches the energy of the series just right in places.
Life Goes On ~Side D~, Chemistry
If I ever get married, I want this to be my first dance with my new life partner. This is true and has been true about me for years now. ~Side D~ is the slower ending to Antique Bakery and while the lyrics are the same, the beat is way slowed down and turns an upbeat J-Pop song into a loving ballad. It stole my heart immediately.
Ranbu no Melody, SID
I don’t think I can impress upon you all how much I love Bleach as a concept and show but am disappointed by its narrative choices. I fell in love with the characters almost immediately (Famously, I watched a fair amount when the show was first released and then fell out of it when the show started to bloat in the middle. I fell back in love during the Espada Arc because it’s some of the best writing the series has ever done and some of the best character design and arcs given in shonen anime.) and the music has always been top-notch. Even when the music isn’t firing all on cylinders, it’s some of the best in the shonen genre. So when I had to pick just a handful to represent this series on this list, it was difficult but only so. Ranbu no Melody is a stunningly beautiful song, it’s easy to see this as maybe a movie theme or something rather than just one of maybe 30 openings for the series. And it happens to be one of my favorites because of its unique feel: I’m also a little biased by the fact that the animation that goes with it may be some of the most stunning in the series’ history.
Life is Like a Boat, Rie Fu
Of course I like this song. Of course I like this melancholic song with a little twinge at the end that even the heaviest of burdens can be shared with the right people. The vocals on this one alone are some of the best in anime and even though, yes, this song does feel melodramatic and sappy for those who haven’t felt the cold embrace of a tough life, for someone like me, it was and still is exactly what I need to hear after a difficult day.
The World, Nightmare
In the theme of melodramatic, I happen to love Death Note and in this week’s entry in the category of: Someone really should have listened to young Amanda when she said she related to Light Yagami. The whole season one soundtrack is powerful and brooding and made my young vampire heart sing.
Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.
Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.
Honestly, I could dedicated an entire blog to writing about anime music and its influence on me as a writer, human person and I found that this list changed depending on what day I wrote it. This list as it is now is far from the one it started as. But here’s where I want to give a shout out to the albums that you have probably heard me talk about but did not end up on this list. Namely the soundtrack for Axis Powers: Hetalia should have and needs to be mentioned. You learn so much about the characters in these songs and I am still shameless in my ability to sing The Delicious Tomato Song or Paris is Indeed Splendid.
I’d also like to talk about the rest of the soundtracks to a lot of the animes I mention. Just because I picked one or two songs from each series does not mean the rest of the soundtrack is garbage. Bleach has amazing music, Naruto has amazing music: these series have fantastic soundtracks and you’re welcome to ask me more about it in the comments below. Additionally, there are songs particularly that are special to me despite not fitting neatly on this list that I’ll speed round here a little.
Haru no Katami – Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales
Genesis of Next – Cyborg 009
Most of the soundtrack to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the original Fullmetal Alchemist
A good portion of the soundtrack of Naruto: Shippuden
Cruel Angel’s Thesis and Fly Me to the Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion
The entire OST to Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt
The rest of the FLCL soundtrack
Most of the Code Geass soundtrack
The OST to Air Gear
Is it cheating to mention how much I love the music of nearly every Miyazaki movie?
Now, onto the main event.
Ready, Steady, Go!, L’Arc-En-Ciel
You know this was going to be the official, unofficial number one, right? You knew I had to do this. You knew that there was no way I could get through this list without mentioning the anime theme song to end all anime theme songs. This song gets me so hype and it ignites something in me that I’ve felt for damn near twenty years now. The opening animation only continues to sell the song as uplifting, emotional and powerful. There are so many memories of me and my friends singing this song on road trips, during conventions, on stage and more. It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. The vocals sell the song and lifts me to greater heights. I could dedicate more to this song but I’m sure it doesn’t do this song justice. If you’ve somehow never heard it before, just give it a listen.
Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I like doing these Top 10s! What’s the next thing I should rank?
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.
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.
After our last post about webcomics, a very common thread appeared as I ranted about why I fell out of touch with some formerly beloved comics: many of them just need to end. And this doesn’t just apply to webcomics, we realistically could have an entire other blog just on anime series and television shows that need to end for a myriad of reasons.But embracing the end of a series is hard; it’s something that I as a creator have really only dealt with once. I finally finished a long fiction project that I started when I was a teenager (no, you can’t read it). I’m by nature a creator and ending a work is hard. If left to my own devices I would never finish a story, hell the long fiction piece I was working on I continue to dip into that well with short stories and side narratives. I’m afraid to let this piece of fiction go. But we’ve established that I’m a bit of a self-indulgent writer. This fiction piece will never be seen by mortal eyes so it’s okay for me to relish in trudging up old plot points. But for creators who create to be seen, embracing the end is vital.
Before we dip too far into series that refuse to end, I want to talk about a few that ended perfectly. Cowboy Bebop obviously is a perfectly ambiguous ending that if you don’t question when the movie is supposed to be happening ends a serious and dramatic series on a serious and beautiful note. Adventure Time just gave us an ending full of heart and power thus proving that Pendleton Ward is now even better than his master, Butch Hartman (a man who is physically incapable of ending anything[ unless a network demands him to do so]).
Comic books are always in a strange limbo as far as endings go because death means nothing and a character will continue on despite different continuities and canons but that doesn’t mean that comic books don’t ever end. Watchmen as a graphic novel had a fantastically powerful ending. The Death of Superman was such an intense cultural touchstone that folks actually assumed the comic book industry is would collapse upon itself after the death of a beloved icon.
And even an unsatisfying ending is better than nothing. I’ll go on record saying that the end of Trigun is hot garbage but hey, at least it ended. Wolf’s Rain had a terrible ending that I am still angry about but more episodes wouldn’t have fixed the show’s serious structural problems. InuYasha and really most of the big shonen series have had lackluster endings but them ending has been so powerful and cathartic.
Enjoy positivity, we’re here to talk about the times where a show refused to end and thus have all dragged us down with its pathetic death rolls. I mentioned Sister Claire in my webcomics post and that’s very high on the list for me as far as webcomics that just need to end: we are so far from the original plot that it’s embarrassing. Case Closed is an anime that started many years before me and is now approaching the 1000th chapter of the manga and the point of the main series is so far buried that it is up to be the next mystery for Conan to solve. One Piece should have ended literally years ago and I am refraining myself from talking about it further because it will make me the angry.
But wait, my usual strawman screeches from the rafters:
But series have to keep going because of money!
Thank you, strawman. Where would I be without you?
Okay, so in anime especially there’s plenty of reasons why a company would keep a series going. Free! Is a series with zero plot that did not need a season three and the third season has taken a series I love and has made me hate it. Boruto is a sequel no one asked for because hey, you kids loved the Naruto. Bleach is going to get a stupid sequel because hey, you love that show, too, right? And many of these series just ended. Bleach’s ending was awful and weak and had easily 4-5 ending points that you can see where painfully drawn out because money. While I could have any entire post about the cash-grab sequel and the horrible thing that is a filler arc, this is more about a lack of an ending due to being a poor writer.
And I don’t say that to insult any writer who is objectively better than I am. But not being able to end a body of work does show some weakness as a writer: one very common to many writers including me, a well-intending idiot.
InuYasha comes to mind. Rumiko Takahashi is a brilliant storyteller and its because of her characters that I am the fan I am today. But she started with a series that could have easily been a few volumes and stretched it out into a series that finished when I was in college. For the record, I started this anime and manga at the same time when I was 12. And it finished when I was an adult: that’s weak storytelling. You can even see the series start and stop and drag on and not know what to do with its at times bloated cast and meandering point. And you can see her be more concise with her more traditional romances, no other series of hers has such a problem ending: she simply struggled with InuYasha. She likely built a world too big for herself and then spent a great deal of time trying to fill that world. Eventually the ending to InuYasha Final Act which was already beginning to meander on after the first anime was cancelled due to her not being able to end she had to rush an ending that left longtime fans like me deeply unsatisfied: but hey, it did eventually end.
Webcomics are an entirely different format that are suited for being longform. And for a slice of life, that’s okay. It’s okay to have a webcomic that doesn’t have a foreseeable end as long as it stays consistent. Girls With Slingshots ran for a small eternity but stayed consistent for its 10 year run and when it did it, it was satisfying and perfectly appropriate for that series. But comics like Sister Claire are now so far removed from its plot that I long for its final end. I’m happy to know that Menage a Three is hopefully wrapping up soon and the other affiliate comics should wrap up.
To rag on a franchise I love, Harry Potter as a world has refused to die because Jo Rowling apparently has too much time on her hands and truthfully her intrusions into the lore and canon of Hogwarts have only soured my desires to continue my studies with the esteemed school: I’m happy to go rogue and create my own stories based on scaffolding that Rowling built for us.
As I mentioned at the top of the post, I divulged that I just finished up one of my long-running fiction pieces. It’s based on a series I love and I started it when I was in high school. I finished a few years ago because I was determined to finish it. During my time after high school, the muse I had to write the series was my then partner, but when my partner left me, I stopped writing. I did my best to will myself to finish the work and I did. It likely will never be published because it’s about as self-indulgent as self-indulgent can be and likely no one would want to read such a thing. But I struggled to end that work and I still dabble in its lore and with its characters because I’m afraid of what will happen if I let this rest. I’m scared I’ll lose that world, those characters, their personalities.
When I say that refusing to end a work is a weakness it’s one I’m fully aware of.
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.
When I was growing up and watching the shows that went on to influence me, the villains were mostly cartoony. And not just by the fact that they were animated but also that their plans were quite out there. Think of The Joker in Batman The Animated Series, his plans were almost always just to ruin Batman’s day and maybe hurt a few people and rob a bank or two. Even Dr. Doom’s plans for Marvel weren’t huge, he just wanted to be left alone and rule his made up world. The villains all had tangible goals and their plots were usually just an inconvenience to the hero. It’s one of the reasons the egotistical Loki of the first Avengers movie was such a trip for me: I’m used to comic book Loki who rather just steal Thor’s underwear or something.
But as you’ve seen during this magical adventure we’ve had this year discussing framing, villains and villainy: you’ve likely noticed a theme. That theme is that the current bad thing of the era is genocide. And I don’t mean that hyperbolically. It’s literally the aim of most evil dudes in movies recently.
A Buzzfeed article recently discussed that the theme of the last 10 years of movies has been animals overtaking humans as dominant species as a social commentary for our misuse of the planet. But I think the real theme of current movie bad is the systematic or sudden removal of a large amount of people. You’ve seen me mention it over and over again as I rant about framing.
And it continues to bother me each time because I get more and more angry that the prospect of hundreds, thousands, millions of people can die in a narrative and we still side with the villain. So in today’s post I want to talk about when that shift seemed to occur in comics and movies and why it’s so terrible.
Earlier I mentioned the motives of comic book villains during the Gold and Silver age. Most of them had pretty small goals or mostly non-lethal lofty ones. There was a lot of desire to enslave a population or take over a planet or rob a bank. Many of the Gold and Silver age villains barely even had a body count back in the day. It wasn’t until the 70s or so that comic villains got more intense about wanting death as part of their domination. This actually starts to appear around the first introduction of Thanos in the comics during the 1970s. Thanos’ goal in the comics was to woo Lady Death and the only way to do that is to send her souls. She’s impressed by numbers (the O.G. size queen) and so Thanos does all he can to add to his body count to please his mistress. We didn’t get a shift in his goals being objectively genocidal until much later in the comics. Then his motivation becomes the weird meditation on resources we get in the Infinity War movie. We’ve seen comic book characters go down this route before. Parallax wants to eat the Galaxy in Green Lantern, Galactus wants to do…whatever his motivations are and that usually involves a ton of people dying.
The first mark in the shift of genocide as plot point can be seen in a comic that means a lot to me but I don’t get to discuss enough: Watchmen. Moore’s brilliant graphic novel tackles this issue incredibly directly with Ozymandias’ terrible plan being spelled out quite clearly: killing millions, to save billions. There, there’s the shift. Suddenly, the madman isn’t mad, he’s just an extremist looking for the most rational solution to a major problem. And I adore Adrian’s plan. His motivations to stop the war by zapping in a psychedelic interdimensional space squid to wipe out most of New York is flawed but that’s the beauty of Moore’s prose: you can sort of see where he’s coming from. But even though the framing tells us Ozymandias’ plan is rational for that universe, the way everyone else treats him after the reveal of his plan reminds us that this is terrible. The movie is a hot mess but the film also does a great job of demonizing Ozymandias’ dumb plan even though he uses Dr. Manhattan nonsense to vaporize a bunch of folks rather than the space cephalopod.
The only mass death in comics that could possibly rival death toll mounted by Ozymandias was House of M for Marvel. This storyline saw the end to mutants in the decades long run of Marvel comics and in a simple phrase more than half of the characters that made Marvel great simply vanished. It was a heartbreaking event in the comics and we considered Scarlet Witch to be a villain for years after her fateful choice: even if we could empathize with her grief that lead up to the choice to utter that powerful phrase, she’s still a monster for wiping people off the face of existence.
DC Comics did have Crisis on Infinite Earths and there were many many deaths as a result and Blackest Night which is a crisis entirely created by Booster Gold because he wanted to be the hero, dammit. But as we’ve discussed, no one considered Booster Gold to be a hero of anything.
Most of the genocidal villains we get in comics and movies are framed as bad guys because that’s what bad guys do: they suggest that removing an entire section of population is expendable. Think of Star Wars: Darth Vader wipes out an entire planet and we know he’s a bad guy for it and earlier when Vader is still just annoying Anakin, he slaughters a bunch of children and Tusken Raiders and it is firmly shown that he is a bad guy for that. And even though Vader is ultimately a very sympathetic character, we don’t ever forget that he’s still a mass murderer.
Speaking of the 2000s, it’s around this time that genocide seemed to be less of a taboo. By this time, I was watching a ton of anime and several series flirt with this idea: you’ve heard me discuss Death Note frequently but also Bleach flirts with a subplot of wiping out souls and Soul Reapers for the sake of a goal, Trigun hints at this with Knives’ subplot and even if it isn’t straight up death as the goal, several anime focus on purity or a unique group rising to the top. Japan is very eugenics-friendly, which should terrify everyone. Media be it Western or eastern has a ton of focus on Chosen Ones and more pure people and if any part of that sounds scary to you, good. We’re on the same page.
Here is the problem with romanticizing genocide and eugenics: we’ve had actual genocide happen in the world. Hitler wanted to remove Jews and other “undesirables” from Germany, Pol Pot wanted to forge a new future by eradicating the past, ethnic minorities all around the world face persecution and death simply for being a little bit different. This is a real thing with real consequences and our continual sugar-coating of the slippery slope nonsense logic that continues to minimize the dangers of racism, misogyny and homophobia only makes those problems worse. When Thanos’ idea in Infinity War doesn’t sound so crazy, that’s a problem. When Killmonger’s Reconquista sounds logical, that’s a problem. We live in a world that is full of natural disasters, terrorism, racism, homophobia, sexism, hatred, bigotry and population concerns: these are real problems and to far too many people the idea of simply poofing some folks out of existence sounds like a great way to solve all of these complex problems.
I think it’s a sign of the times that genocide seems to be our main macabre obsession as was slavery and colonialism were the macabre obsessions of the Gold and Silver age of comics. We have to confront that if eugenics, social Darwinism and wiping out parts of the population for a “clean slate” ticks any box for you, you are on a dangerous path. I’ve had to confront that in myself and it’s made me infinitely more critical of the media I ingest.
I hope you enjoyed this discussion on the deaths of too many fictional characters.
I still remember the first boy’s love series I picked up as a young one. It was Gravitation when I was a youngling and almost immediately I loved how radically different the series from from the shonen action fodder that dominated my anime landscape.
Ever since then, I’ve been a huge fan of shonen ai. For one reason or another, I found the aesthetic and tone much more rewarding and interesting than the typical romance anime and their shojo counterparts. But because shonen ai by default focuses on male characters, the women in them tend to be…well, they’re something. And sure, we’ll pause here for the folks saying:
Well, why are you up in arms about the women in a boy’s love comic?
Because biologically, I’m female and boy’s love is, hilariously, mostly read by women; particularly, young women and the internalized misogyny attached to the genre can be very damaging.
Today we’re going to go over the three main ways women are framed in boy’s love narratives.
For some vocabulary, framing is how we look at a person or a person’s actions. We’ve talked a lot about framing this year but I think it’s an important part of fictive language. Even though we may know a character is in the wrong or in the right, the framing around that act or character can flip those two things very easily. Again like with Killmonger in Black Panther or Thanos in Infinity War the movie frames them oftentimes in the right even though we know they are both genocidal and very very wrong. Framing is an issue because as a viewer, it isn’t always easy to point out the negative in that character. If everything else in the film or work is telling you that this thing, character or act is okay it’s difficult to buck against that even though you may know logically or in your heart that it may not be true.
And now without any further interruption: here are a few ways that women are framed in boy’s love.
The Woman, Obstacle
This is probably the most common and most hurtful. The woman in so many narratives from Gravitation to Yellow feature subplots or plots where the woman stands in the way of the love between the two male leads. Now, this isn’t entirely unheard of. Sometimes men do discover they do not care for their female partner and try either out of curiosity or genuine desire to be themselves be with a male partner. And sure, not every woman is gracious during such a time but the idea that the woman is a consistent barrier to love is frustrating and exhausting. You also see this a lot in fanfiction where authors who wish to ship two male characters will demonize the female aspect the more canonical heterosexual pairing. This is troubling for more than one reason, the first is again the often flat out demonization of the female for standing in the way. Gravitation is the example I’ll use because it is still one of my favorite animes of all time and does absolutely face is issue. Right as Yuki and Shuichi are ready to finally say they are together, a young woman appears claiming to be Yuki’s fiance. This throws a wrench into the entire plot of these two men finally accepting that they may have feelings for each other and the plot (which is peak Murakami hating women and she will continue to do this in almost all of her works for the series) is a series of sight gags trying to get this woman (whose name I refuse to Google or recall) out of the way. Her refusal to “give up” Yuki, a man she is promised because Yuki’s father is a terrible garbage fire of a person along with the rest of the Uesugi family is seen as not courageous or valid but as irksome and immature. Eventually, the plot of the anime and manga give her the sloppy seconds that are Hiro and she is forgotten as Shuichi and Yuki find better things to argue about like whether Yuki is bisexual or gay.
Another example of this is Lizzie in Black Butler. Lizzie is…well, she is a precious little thing (says this Sebastian through gritted teeth). Lizzie is Ciel’s fiance and she is entirely oblivious to the obvious relationship between Sebastian and Ciel while also managing to be the one thing that keeps Ciel from completely diving off into the abyss of the black space where Sebastian’s heart would be. Lizzie’s helplessness and stupidity (which is somewhat corrected in later parts of the manga and the movies but as far as I am concerned, the damage is already done) make her an item that often requires saving: she is in fact that only character that requires as much saving as The Little Master does. Her needing rescuing and just well, existing on screen takes moments away that are more vital to the narrative and Black Butler has a lot going on; story-wise, we simply don’t have time to humor Lizzie and thus she’s consistently one of the least popular characters in the series.
The Woman, Duplicitous
Ah yes, the woman who plays the field for the sake of ruining the main couple. If there is a more common trope in boy’s love, it’d likely only be rivaled with bad hand proportions and hair that covers over one of the protagonist’s eyes. I’ll pull one more Gravitation example because this is my blog and I can do what I want. Yuki’s sister, Mika (who confirms the concept of the Uesugi family being full of garbage people) spends most of the manga and a vast majority of the anime gaslighting Shuichi for the simple sake that she doesn’t like the pink-haired brat with her precious little Eiri. There’s just one problem: this is awful and manipulative and tiresome. And while, yes, Gravitation is an adventure in keeping Yuki Eiri miserable, it’s particularly harmful because Mika is one of the few female characters that: 1) is important 2) has a great deal of lines and 3) isn’t a moron. Mika’s fall from grace is tragic because of what she could be which is a supportive sister who does rightfully have some reservations about her brother’s new boyfriend. We’ll pull a recent example as well, Hitorijime My Hero is the anime that made my heart sing after the Summer of Incessant Ice Skating. Hitorijime My Hero is pretty standard as far as boy’s love plots go centering around Setagawa ( a high school student ) and his mentor and crush Kousuke. During one of the later episodes of the series, Kousuke’s somewhat overly protective friends including one of his stylish female associates decide it’s a great idea to plant seeds of doubt in Setagawa’s mind. Keep in mind, Setagawa comes from what may be one of the more tragic of backgrounds for a mainstream boy’s love character that includes him being a former member of a gang, a neglectful mother and him struggling with the fact that he is in love with a man that’s easily 10 years his senior. It’s actually such a turn from the heart of the series that it took me a while to get back to it: I felt Setagawa’s betrayal and resented the show for using such a cheap trick for the sake of plot advancement.
The Woman, Pious Saint
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the woman as victim and saint. This one is strange at first because it makes you wonder why it’s such a bad thing. Isn’t it good after all of these examples of women who are bad that a woman can be good and pure? Well, here’s why it’s a problem: it removes a woman’s agency and choice. A noted example is Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners where Dr. Haskins’ wife is absolutely oblivious and in the dark about just how much of a tool her husband is. Dr. Haskins is as garbage of a garbage person as you can get, he’s been cheating on his wife since before they were even married and in one of the best parts of the manga, Dr. Haskins is entwined with his polo partner: Danny, who mind you is also engaged to a lovely woman; all the while, Dr. Haskins refuses to acknowledge the commitments either men made to their respective future wives and during their time entangled, Danny’s fiance is looking for him, calling for him and she almost catches them in the act and while Danny struggled to stop the encounter, he didn’t want to be caught. During the whole thing Dr. Haskins continues not only egging Danny on but actively stopping any of his partner’s protests towards the act. It’s selfish and terrifying. This sets up one, Dr. Haskins as a tool (we’ll pause here for people saying he’s gay and just trying to live his life but cheating is cheating) and that his wife can do no wrong as she is during him cheating with Danny which is alluded to be one of many times, is conveniently out of the country . What’s even more tragic is that Dr. Haskins is a loving family man on the surface despite his affair with the series protagonist, Johnathan. One of the most interesting scenes in Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners involves Johnathan meeting Dr. Haskins’ wife and daughter and she is nothing but gracious and loving and treats the starving college student to a lavish ice cream sundae. She seems totally unaware that her husband is a serial cheater and she praises how loving her darling is despite her constant traveling for work.
This is tragic. We see a woman who is so in love with her husband that she cannot see what is in places a very obvious lie. There are chapters in the manga where it doesn’t even seem like Dr. Haskins cares much about hiding his torrid affairs from his doting wife and robbing women of agency is a huge issue in any narrative. At least if she knew about the affairs, it would still be tragic but it would either be her choice to stay or her choice to leave: both automatically give her more power in a narrative that is strongly run by one man. And yes, it isn’t her story Dr. Haskins being married is a huge part of the story. And his wife isn’t even given the chance to be an obstacle like Lizzie from Black Butler is; she’s just sort of there and she does her best to be supportive and kind. She does eventually become a bit of an obstacle, Johnathan does feel immense guilt after meeting his lover’s wife but not enough to stop sleeping with Dr. Haskins as a means to achieve his goals.
I’m going to take a moment here to address that pin I’m sure all of you have of:
Well, it’s boy’s love. What do you expect?
Here’s the thing. I know plenty of boy’s love stories that feature almost zero women entirely, especially if all they are going to do is be blocks of wood or literal obstacles to plot. Fumi Yoshinaga is an excellent boy’s love mangaka and many of her works either feature no women at all or they are relegated to supporting roles which means they cannot ruin the plot. Even Yoshinaga-senpai’s most noted female character in Antique Bakery appears for an episode and vanishes after dropping a bomb on the plot that is neatly wrapped up within the same episode she appears. Kyo Kara Maoh features several female characters that either push the main pairing together or are there to support the other main characters and not a single one is an obstacle to plot: some are antagonistic but none ever grind plot to a stop.
And here’s why we’re doing this: readers hold onto that misogyny and perpetuate it. I’ve been reading shonen ai for longer than I feel comfortable admitting as well as just shonen anime in general and years of women being irksome plot obstacles sticks with you. Even now, if you’ve been blessed or cursed to read any of my fiction, you can practically see me struggle with writing female characters that aren’t either aggressive Mary Sues or utterly useless pieces of furniture. It would be one thing if that internalized hatred simply stayed on the page but it leaches into other aspects of life. It forms and informs casual sexism and keeps old stereotypes afloat through confirmation bias. It fosters a complacency that means we don’t challenge the norms of female characters and thus create a feedback loop that perpetuates all the things we hate about them and quells any desire to change them for the better.
What’s even more fascinating is that many boy’s love novels are written by women who seem to hate or are irked by women; it’s typically the male shonen ai creators that either don’t worry about female characters at all or show them in a more complex light either as mostly supportive or actively antagonistic. And it is almost entirely women who read (indulge) in shonen ai so this harmful message is really hit home.
Challenging female characters regardless of genre is one of the only ways we can continue to hold creators and characters to a higher standard. Having the same message hammered into your head over and over again that just by being a woman you are lesser in a narrative is immensely hurtful and readers deserve better. They deserved to be loved, respected and appreciated. If we can do it for the boys, even in a trashy shonen ai manga, we can do it for the girls.