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. 

Thoughts from A-Kon 30

Normally, when I write these posts, I do them in a bulleted list. But this time, I’d like to try something different. I want to try and structure these thoughts a little more. I hope that you enjoy this small descent into madness.


“I don’t want to be the Akira.” I whined from behind Carlos in the hotel hallway. I had made yet another reference to Devilman Crybaby, a series that had broken me two years ago and had become a vital part of our friendship. Much like how boy’s love characters fight over who is the seme or the uke, we argue over who is the Ryo (literally Satan) and who is the Akira (a dumb but good guy doing his best). We had checked into a hotel that was perfect in every way. It was close to the con site, close to the places we liked to hang out and we each got our own bedrooms and bathrooms. The kitchen had a stove and oven and the living room had a fire place we were not allowed to use but did look good in photos. I had driven to Dallas from San Antonio earlier that morning and this convention had been stressful to deal with. Before traveling, I had managed to get myself into a minor car accident and then prepping for the convention itself was exhausting. I didn’t get my panel time until less than a week before the convention. The con had moved from Fort Worth to Fair Park and many people complained and thus Carlos and I complained. We lovingly referred to it as TrashCon as we prepared for the convention. The move was an unpopular choice in the convention’s part. Moving it to Fair Park meant that it was in a less than safe at times part of Dallas and it was hectic and mostly outdoors. But a lot of the gripes people had with the move seemed to be unneeded. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Carlos and I dropped off our bags and went to lunch at a Long John Silvers/ A & W combo where I ordered too much damn food and felt like I was going to die.

We went back to the hotel and I had time to change before having two panels on Thursday. I cosplayed as Mello because I love being a chocolate-loving sociopath. We parked fairly easily at Fair Park and though the walk from the parking lot to the main registration building felt like a death march, it wasn’t so bad. But the heat already began to feel oppressive under my makeup, wig and compression shirt. I got to my first panel room about an hour early and it was empty so Carlos and I got to set up and entertain the few guests that had already settled in because it was hot and the panel rooms were inside and had air conditioning. The panel which covered the Mary Sue trope was only about half an hour as it was mostly me just preaching to the choir but it was time in the air conditioning so I could not complain. I had time in between my next panel and we mostly wandered around the Dealer’s Room where Carlos immediately found a very on brand button for me and we decided to simply go back to the hotel for a little while to rest. We returned to convention to finish up with another panel this one on Fandoms where I faced my greatest enemy: noise.

The new set up in Fair Park’s Grand Place felt a little like a flea market. Lots of structures made with pipes and fabric coverings and that would have been fine but every panel heard everyone else’s noise. I was the loud one during my first panel but my second one I was in between an idol performance and some sort of horrible karaoke event and so much of the video footage likely will just be me rolling my eyes and trying to fight against such awful audio.

We returned to the hotel, ordered pizza and spent the evening watching Into the Spiderverse and living our best Peter B. Parker lives.

Oh, and returning back to our car the second time, we heard a gunshot from one of the neighboring apartment complexes and our first time returning to the parking lot, we hired a man in a bike taxi and paid him double for the ride as I shouted whilst in a blonde wig “Ja ne, weebs.” as Carlos and I cackled as we zoomed past normies using their human legs.


Day Two started with breakfast and deciding to go to convention a little later hoping that the sun would be less of a miserable force. We decided to use some of our free time to go to Daiso and I shopped a lot and then oh lunch. Lunch was at Kura Revolving Sushi. Kura has a promotion going with Naruto and I was determined to eat the 15 plates needed for a prize with a lot of help from Carlos. I ate so many pieces of snow crab nigiri and I felt like I was climbing a mountain to keep eating despite my fickle appetite and I did win a Sasuke Uchiha eraser that I will never use but will treasure until I die.

We did not plan though for the sun to pull to giant “to hell with you, nerd” and it was actually cooler as we faffed around shopping rather than when we did finally arrive closer to evening at convention and it was hot as Ryo in that one strange technicolor nightmare club.

Day Two ended with some shopping and mostly hunting for a poster that will later become very important to the plot, I mean the story.

Dinner for Day Two was spent at Olive Garden, a place I have not been to in years and had strangely missed.

Friday night we went swimming and I got to wax philosophic about Free! one more time. I sat in the pool on my back looking up at the ceiling telling Carlos that very few people saw me like this, laid back, enjoying the water. I said that many people saw me as the more high strung Makoto, which is not false, but Carlos gets to see me as Haru: mostly wanting to be near the water and honestly a little listless.

I also made Carlos an entire peach cobbler because I am a good person.


Day Three I decided to not be lazy and get into costume. We had breakfast again and decided to go early and hope that the sun would not be cruel. I had made a Drifloon maid outfit for the convention because of course I did and I put on my makeup after breakfast and we set out to convention. The mask was a huge pain as I could still smell the paint I used and the heat of my breath and the stuffiness of the room drained me nearly immediately. I got a few photos taken of me which meant posing with a tea set I spent days on and doing the typical peace-sign anime idol pose. But a mask also meant not speaking as it was mostly muffled and resulted in me mostly making annoyed little whines and tired little moans to express my feelings to Carlos who was irked by my transformation fully into an anime idol.

We did more shopping and then decided to break away and go back to the hotel to cool down. We chose a local Tex-Mex place and I got queso and tequila drunk before attempting a small raid on a local Whole Foods Market.

Saturday night was spent ordering more food and we made two entertainment choices that evening. We watched YugiOh: Dark Side of Dimensions in which Seto Kaiba builds a literal space ship to be with his boyfriend, Atem, after the end of the main series and the rest of the plot mostly flopped around and it honestly made me hate the series a little with its camp and lack of logic. It was a lovely garbage fire and then we watched a series that I asked you to put a pin in based on a poster.

Before my accident I was asked to by a close friend to watch the anime Sarazanmai, a show about three boys that are turned into Kappas and must do things. I got two episodes in before I decided the show was too weird for me and honestly, it made me hate anime a little. But this person who means the world to me asked for me to be on the lookout for merch from the series and I picked up a print of two of their favorite characters. I was annoyed by having to do something that was for a series I didn’t care about but Carlos was sick of my complaining and encouraged me to try the show again. We ended up watching 5 episodes in one night before I managed to in my best idol voice mimic a line from the show and nearly tripped and fell over one of Carlos’ shoes: Kami-sama was finished with my nonsense.

I realized in that moment that I didn’t hate the show, I just needed a better reason to watch it. This is the same person who had so lovingly coaxed me into watching Yuri on Ice and thus I did hate that series because I don’t like being told what to do. This person isn’t a bad person, just wanted me to try something new and I am a stubborn trash goblin. The series is fine and the more I thought about it, the more curious I am and will likely finish it.

Back to talking about convention: the new set up was actually really good. There were lots of water and hydration stations. Lots of ice cream (I got an alcoholic wine pop day one but I didn’t finish it because it’s malt liquor and I can’t handle malt liquor especially before I’m meant to go on stage and talk about feminism). The walking wasn’t so bad but the Dealer’s Room, I have issues. The aisles were really narrow and that made traffic insane. If one person stalled or stopped for a photo, it backed up traffic and made a hot room full of people even more hot. That is my major gripe aside from the bad rooms in the Grand Place. Also, dollar water was a wonderful idea as well as the giant cooling misting fans.


Sunday was the last day of con and I had one more panel to go, Research Tips for Writers. Sunday featured a lot of packing and getting ready to go back on the road. The panel went wonderfully well and I got to be in a cool room that was literally called The Library. I got to have a more relaxed panel this time which was more fun if I could ignore the people that wandered into the cool room just to take pictures. I had a wonderful time and even though I was tired, it was worth it to do. We did a final lap around the Dealer’s Room, more things were bought and we decided to get lunch. We were originally going to go to Gen Korean BBQ but that place was packed and before I arrived, Carlos had been gushing about this shabu shabu place nearby. We had already planned on getting my post panel cake from Mozart (also nearby) so we decided to try something new: shabu shabu. We entered the restaurant that looked like the bar from Kill Bill Vol. 1 and we ate so much shabu shabu, a hot pot of broth that is then filled with things like rice cakes and veggies and noodles to make a rich soup later after one is finished dipping meat and softer veggies in for a wonderful dining experience. I ate with gusto, something that my friends have been concerned about recently, and the protein did help me feel a little less drained. Also, when you place potatoes into your caldron of hot broth, it becomes like a little hot bomb that will burn you out of spite. I added so much sriracha to my hot pot that my broth turned red with spice.

I got my post panel cake and it felt like all was going to be okay. We discussed the timing issues I had earlier in the week and we’re still learning how to overcome that.

The drive back to the hotel was…different. I won’t go into details here but I left Dallas feeling an odd mix of feelings that only got to simmer and brew as I sat in traffic.

I got home late last night and did my best to unpack my clothes and my feelings.

Overall, I never regret convention and A-Kon despite its rocky start was worth it. The new owner and shift to a new place did make for a very hectic con and it was hard to plan for and build hype for: but going in with no expectations or honestly, expectations of it being bad, made for a very good convention.

We watched Bar Rescue and anime and Live PD and cooked and ate and enjoyed ourselves. I had fun with my best friend and saw places I miss when I return home. I’m happy to be in my own bed, but I’m still so glad I went.

Sure, A-Kon was in places a brilliant TrashCon. But it was my TrashCon and the memories I made during it will stay with me for the remainder of my days.

With a Flair for the Dramatic

I have loved villains in media since I was a very small hellspawn. Whether it was my attraction to Lord Sesshomaru in InuYasha or my undying allegiance to Prince Vegeta in DragonBall Z, villains have always done it for me. Narratively, they usually get the coolest powers, best lines, and most interesting motives even if they make zero sense. Like really, what was Master Naraku’s problem? He didn’t get to sleep with one priestess and that was enough to want to mess with literally everyone else he came in contact with? But why? Doesn’t matter, he was hot and had a cool design.  

But in the spirit of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, I want to talk about something that others have covered but I wanted to put my own spin on as well. I want to talk about queer coding and villains. In fact, there’s a great Princess and the Scrivener video that I’ll link here that talks about this mostly with Disney villains and I’ll use a lot of similar points but really, there’s only so much queer theory to go around.

Here’s the basics: villains in Western media (I exclude Eastern for now but put a pin in this) are often times coded (portrayed using mostly visual and linguistic shorthand) as queer or effeminate to prove a point, that point being mostly how virile and masculine the protagonist is. Think about Scar in The Lion King or Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas. They’re both pretty aggressively queer-coded with all the glitter and flamboyance to highlight how masculine and strong the protagonists are. Ursula looks and sounds like an angry drag queen because she’s based off an angry drag queen and Frollo, despite very clearly lusting after a woman, is given very showy clothes and his attraction to Esmerelda can even be read as somewhat closeted.

And though the video I linked talks about this mostly in the negative…I know I’m just one queer out in the world but I’ve never had an issue with that. I love Disney villains as you can tell by my very enthusiastic Dr. Facilier cosplay. This is one of those places I don’t think queer coding is terrible as if the internet is to gauge, a lot of queer people found themselves in Disney villains.

Now, my realization that I maybe wasn’t quite cis or het may have come from anime but I can also super see the appeal and reason why someone who may be a little different, a little sparkly, a little more fashionable and way more sassy may attach more readily to villains and thus celebrate that.

So that pin I asked you to put in about Eastern media, let’s come back to that because here’s where we tie in East and West. The question is why code a villain or antagonist as queer. Is it just to show off how masc and strong your hero is? Well, yes and no. The root of the reason is the same as the root of many evils: misogyny. It’s easy to take down a villain that is by most writer’s standards a perversion of masculinity which is femininity. Think of Szayel Aporro Granz in Bleach. What is the point of making him such a queen? What does that do for us? Well, when we see him in comparison to the mostly morally strict and pure Uryu, he comes an easy villain to wish ill upon. Except for me, I love him and can’t wait to cosplay him. Many cultures view masculinity as the most strong and most capable, so making your villain queer, feminine or even downright trans in the case of some anime (looking at you again, Bleach) is a great way to create parallel and difference between the force you’re meant to be rooting for. So when Szayel has a sword thrust deep into him, a strange phallic sort of metaphor at the hands of another queer-coded character, you’re meant to be reminded of his perversion, deviance and girly nature and think that those things are bad.

Again, it’s about optics. I love his character and him being aggressively queer-coded doesn’t bother me as much as other characters in the same show do. Even one of my favorite series of all time does this with a villain most ignore and that’s Barry the Chopper in Fullmetal Alchemist, really, what’s the point of making him a crossdresser? Does it add anything? No. But I can tell you that I can still recite his lines in the same lyrical sing-song fashion that Jerry Jewell brought the character in the dub and it scared one of my friends very much to know I can do so.

I’ve spent a lot of words talking about the fact that I don’t think queer coding in villains is that bad but if you follow me over on Twitter then you must know what is to come.

Y’all, I don’t like BBC’s Sherlock. I don’t like Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock, Martin Freeman is fine but the plot, the lack of plot and the aggressive queer coding of most of the characters rubbed me the wrong way to start. Episode one features many jabs at how gay Watson and Sherlock must be for each other and that was a bitter enough pill to swallow but then we meet Jim Moriarty. Oh Moriarty. What even is he? Why is he? What is he doing? Andrew, no. Please. Don’t do this. Not like this. Moriarty isn’t even queer coded because coding is meant to be at least a little subtle. He’s just the most. There’s an amazing Hbomberguy video that makes all of these points much better than I ever could but here is my problem with Moriarty’s queer coding while I’m willing to give it a soft pass in other places. What is gained by Moriarty being queer coded? Why do we need to know that he’s apparently slept with one of his bodyguards? Why does it matter that he’s dressed up in the crown jewels? Why do we care that he apparently has the biggest of possible hard-ons for Sherlock? Why? What does this add to the story? You can just have him be a villain. It feels like it’s pandering and that’s why Moriarty doesn’t get a pass from me. Nearly every other queer coded villain has a reason for it. Even if the reason is a crappy one like internalized misogyny but really if you made Moriarty less queer coded, does anything change? Does this make him interesting? Steve Moffat, do you think this is helping? I tend not to throw around the word queerbaiting a lot because I think it’s overused by fans who are just unhappy their ship didn’t sail but in this case queerbaiting Moriarty and coding so aggressively as a flashy queer man doesn’t do a damn thing for the narrative. It’s good for slash fic and even then to what end? Does Sherlock show any interest in Moriarty? No. He shows no interest in anyone, that’s the damn problem. What’s the point? Why are we doing anything? Is bear still driving?

Queer coded villains are frustrating. So much of it is rooted in old and toxic aspects of culture that prize traditional masculinity over flamboyance, style, fashion, good puns and excellent villain songs. And there are other examples where this fails. Think about all the fuss with LeFou being the first out gay for Disney in Beauty and the Beast(2017). What does making Gaston’s literal idiot sidekick gay do for the plot? A whole lotta nothing.  

I can see why some in the LGBTQIA+ family are more up in arms about queer coding and villains because at the end of the day, a lot of these characters die or face some horrible evil and that just isn’t fun. It isn’t fun watching a character you relate to face a horrible death and it does continue to perpetuate a lot of things about being queer that many do not like. Not all of us are sassy, mean, flashy and out to steal your girl/boy.

But for those of us who are all of those things and oh so much more…well, let’s just say that I do love my queer coded villains… most of the time.

Return of the Hype

Man, it feels good to be the king.

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.

My Top 20 Songs from Anime

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.

Let’s jam.

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

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

FLCL

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

Gravitation

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

Gravitation

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

Gravitation

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

InuYasha

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

InuYasha

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?

Wind, Akeboshi

Naruto

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

Cowboy Bebop

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

Cowboy Bebop

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

Samurai Champloo

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

Samurai Champloo

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

Space Dandy

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

Antique Bakery

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

Antique Bakery

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

Bleach

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

Bleach

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

Death Note

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.

Alumnina, Nightmare

Death Note

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.

Honorable Mentions:

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 KatamiAyakashi Samurai Horror Tales
  • Genesis of NextCyborg 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

FullMetal Alchemist

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?

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.

 

Embracing The End

_There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story._ Frank Herbert.png

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.

One day, this blog will come to an end.

But not any time soon.

See you next time.

 

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.

 

The Woman, Framed

“I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.png

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.

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.