Seven things that remind me of my childhood

What is it about nostalgia that’s so popular? It seems like it’s always been a thing to look back fondly on certain aspects of the past. You can probably go back to ancient Sumeria, assuming you have the means, and find people talking about how great the 2230s BC were and how kids these days just can’t appreciate the songs from back then. Nostalgia is also part of why I write on this site — not the entire reason or even close to it, but sometimes I do dig back into my own past to get some ideas about what next to watch/read/play/listen to, though, and on occasion a new game or anime series will even make me remember some long-forgotten piece of that past.

Just as a break from the usual, and because I don’t have my next posts prepared anyway, I’ll write about some things that give me those nostalgic feelings. Starting with…

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

That’s how old I am now, yeah. I don’t hate the 3D games or newer games in general like some people do, but to me the Genesis/Megadrive Sonic titles will always be the best (and Sonic Mania is up there as well, though a lot of that might have to do with how much of the spirit of those games it captures.) In particular, Sonic 2 brings me back to my days as a babby gamer — one of my first game-related memories is playing as the invincible 2-player mode Tails running behind my older cousin, who always insisted on playing as Sonic, and helping him beat Dr. Robotnik.

I guess that’s not the Floating Island in the background, is it? Just some other island. This used to confuse me as a kid, since Sonic 3 & Knuckles also had an island setting.

The music also has a lot to do with those feelings. I think this is really the first game BGM that was burned into my brain. I’ve written about a bit of musician and composer Masato Nakamura’s work on the first two Sonic games here before, but it’s worth revisiting for how damn catchy and good it all is. I also love the soundtracks to the following Sonic CD, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, but I think Sonic 2 will always be the standout for me in terms of music, even if I have to give the best game award to the combined S3&K (my favorite platformer period, even more of a favorite than any of the Mario games from the same period, though I love those as well.)

OutRun

This wasn’t by design, but it seems now like a lot of the games I write about fall under the Sega umbrella. That became especially true after Index Corporation dissolved, causing a bit of a freakout among fans until Sega bought Atlus, creating a new subsidiary also called Index Corporation that also became the parent corporation of Atlus and then was renamed Atlus itself and merged into that company (or something like that.) So now all my MegaTen stuff on the site is technically Sega-related as well.

OutRun is another Sega game I remember playing in my faraway distant childhood. This racing game originally came to arcades in 1986, but it had a very long life and was still popular by the time I came around and got coordinated enough to understand and play a game like this. I was lousy at it and I still am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have nice memories of it that take me back to the early/mid-90s. Once again, the music is a big part of this nostalgia trip — the original BGM is very short, consisting of just three main racing themes and a short high score screen theme that you can’t hear all the way through during normal play because of the 30-second “insert your initials” timer. But I’m not alone apparently, because for a while there’s been a whole subgenre of music called “Outrun” that seems to take a lot from 80s electronic, creating a kind of retro-futuristic sound. A bit like future funk, which I really like.

Playing OutRun in Yakuza 0 has only reminded me how fucking bad I am at it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

It’s been a long time since I actually watched Evangelion, but I still have fond memories of it as the first anime series I ever watched in a serious way. This might be hard to believe, but before this show, I really wasn’t into anime at all. Admittedly, I was way too young back in 1998, when I watched Eva through 100% totally perfectly legal means and not in Winamp in 360p, to get all the themes Hideaki Anno probably meant me to get. Back then I really just liked the style, the massive robot fights, and the weird religious symbolism. Eva also introduced me to my first fictional sort-of crush in Captain Misato Katsuragi, years before “waifu” became an English-to-Japanese-back-to-English loanword.

Classic waifu. I miss that 90s anime look sometimes too.

Winamp

Yeah, speaking of Winamp, that reminds me of my childhood too. It’s still the best Windows media player program in my opinion, even if it has been dead for several years now. Remember all those skins?

The Beatles Past Masters Vol. 1

Now all right, I’m not so old that the Beatles are from my childhood. But I did grow up hearing a lot of them as a kid in the 90s, because they did come from my mother’s childhood, and she played the hell out of the above compilation. Later on I got into the Beatles’ more artsy out there stuff starting from the 1965 album Rubber Soul on, but as a kid I knew them from their early poppy stuff, which is exactly what Past Masters Vol. 1 contained. And the songs are still really good, even if they don’t have that weird edge. Nothing wrong with some good pop music like A Hard Day’s Night, even if I’ve heard it so many times I never need to hear it again in my life.

Unfortunately, it didn’t contain any of that later stuff, not even the 1965 ones before they really went artsy like Paperback Writer (a great song with a very dumb nonsensical story in the lyrics, but still fun) or Drive My Car (also the theme to the local news morning traffic report, specifically the “beep beep, beep beep, yeah” part. I don’t even know why I remember that. More nostalgia at work I guess.) Still really good, though.

Churros

Moving into the realm of food now, something I almost never write about here, but taste after all figures a lot into nostalgia and childhood memories, at least from what I understand. Churros originated in Spain and from there went off to Latin America and then up here to the States. As a kid, though, I didn’t know this history — I only knew them as those fried dough sticks with sugar on them that we got at the state fair I went to every year. Along with corn dogs, churros are one of my old, very unhealthy childhood favorites for just that reason. They are excellent, and I regret that I haven’t had one in years now.

Source: Licensed under CC BY 2.0, by Jude Adamson, a guy who took a photo of this churro in something called Catalan cream alongside a dessert wine. Not how I consumed it as a kid, but it does look good.

Open fields/plains

Here’s a strange one. I grew up in the suburbs, but on the very edge of them — outside the development I lived in, there was a whole lot of nothing stretching for miles, so far you could see mountains on the horizon. Since leaving that place as a kid, I’ve almost always lived in large cities, so maybe seeing an open plain like that just reminds me of the stark difference between that part of my childhood and becoming a teenager and ultimately an adult. But it might also have to do with this liminal space concept I found out about a while back, in which depictions of places you’ve never even been are supposed to remind you of distant memories or something. Obviously I don’t understand it very well, but it seems interesting. This YouTube guy made a comprehensive video about the concept. (His video on the bizarre complications of creating a real-life anime girl is also quite something, though I do disagree with him about what he sees as the more negative aspects of escapism through future technology. Still interesting, though!)

I don’t look back too often to my childhood in general — it was fine, I can’t complain about any of it; it’s just something that happened, and while being an adult has its own challenges, I can’t say I’d want to go back and relive the 90s or anything. But it’s still nice to reminisce sometimes. Now that I have it out of my system, though, I’ll go back to trying to make high-effort posts instead that take actual planning and work. Unless you want a line-by-line breakdown about why the story to “Paperback Writer” makes no sense at all, and nobody wants that. So what are you nostalgic for? Please leave a comment and join in if you feel like it.

Listening/reading log #15 (December 2020)

We’re at the end of the year, finally — now for 2021. Not that changing the year by one number makes that much of a difference in reality, since it’s just another bit of distance of the Earth revolving around the Sun, but maybe there’s a real psychological effect in changing years. We humans made up the calendar, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. So let’s hope for better things this year as we collectively give a middle finger to the last one.

And let’s also do the usual end-of-month thing: talk about some good music and good writing. This month, I’m returning to two bands that I’ve already covered twice before. But these are both really good albums, so it’s excusable I think. The holidays are all about being comfortable anyway, and I’m totally in my comfort zone today. On to the business:

Discipline (King Crimson, 1981)

Highlights: Discipline, Matte Kudasai, Thela Hun Ginjeet

When I wrote about King Crimson’s album Red a while back, I mentioned that the band broke up shortly after it was released and wouldn’t reform for seven years. Discipline is what they came back with, “they” being constant Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, returning jazz/prog drummer Bill Bruford, and two new guys in bassist Tony Levin and guitarist/singer Adrian Belew.

80s Crimson is completely different from 70s Crimson in sound. Instead of the heavy rock, Discipline and the following two studio albums are done in a New Wave style that gets compared to Talking Heads a lot but is more technical and weird in a different way. Adrian Belew is a bit of a neurotic goofball like David Byrne, but I like his brand of strangeness too, and he’s also an excellent guitarist with an interesting experimental edge just like Fripp. Discipline mixes things up with the fierce fast-paced “Thela Hun Ginjeet” and a nice love song in “Matte Kudasai” (aside from love songs never being much of a King Crimson thing in the 60s and 70s, check out the title — “please wait” in Japanese. Were these guys also weebs before it was cool?) “Discipline” is also an insanely precise instrumental that shows off all their talents, with Fripp and Belew’s guitars going off into different key signatures and meeting up again.

I still think Red is the best album Crimson put out, but I also like that the band has changed things up so much throughout their run (well, they’ve changed their lineup a lot too, aside from the mainstay Fripp) and the 80s version of the band made a lot of good music. I also recommend the excellent live album Absent Lovers, which includes some great songs from Discipline and the following albums Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair along with a few old 70s standards like “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II” and “Red”.

Fragile (Yes, 1972)

Highlights: Roundabout, South Side of the Sky, Heart of the Sunrise

When I said I was in my comfort zone this post I wasn’t kidding. I’ve already written about The Yes Album immediately preceding this and Close to the Edge immediately following it, so I had to write about Fragile too; I couldn’t leave that gap in there. Also, like those albums and Discipline above, Fragile features Bill Bruford on drums, making this his sixth appearance in these short reviews up until now. He really is a great drummer, so he’s deserving of that great honor.

Fragile is also just a really entertaining album. Everyone reading this probably already knows the opener “Roundabout”, either because it’s an old rock radio standard in its shorter edited form or because it was the ending theme to the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and was featured in seventy million of those “to be continued” meme videos. But there are other great epic-length songs on Fragile, including the multi-part ultra-complicated super-proggy piece “Heart of the Sunrise” and my personal favorite “South Side of the Sky”, a driving heavy song about people desperately trying to cross a snowy mountain range with a really nice piano solo in the middle from Rick Wakeman. Unique among these albums, Fragile also features shorter solo-focused pieces for each band member to show off in, which are pretty fun as well.

I recommend Fragile highly together with The Yes Album and Close to the Edge, especially if you have any interest at all in that classic early 70s progressive rock period. Yes made a lot of other good music, especially in the 70s and on the 80s pop standard album 90125, but to me this run of albums contains their best work.

Now that I’m done with my fanboy nonsense, reviewing albums I’ve listened to since I was in high school like a lazy asshole instead of expanding my horizons, let’s move on to the featured articles from around WordPress:

In Memoriam: Adobe Flash (Nepiki Gaming) — Flash has been a big part of many of our lives, especially for anyone who grew up on the internet in the late 90s and through the 2000s and even the 2010s, which I have to imagine covers almost everyone reading this. Nepiki gives a eulogy for the now discontinued program.

The Romance of Space as an Ocean (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott examines how certain science fiction works treat space like a massive ocean and the romantic aspects of that theme. I love space operas as well (watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes, it’s great!) and I can relate to the feelings he expresses here.

Beginner’s guide to indie (2020): part one (Later Levels) — Kim at Later Levels has posted a series on indie games, which as you know I’m all about. There are some interesting-looking titles she brings up I haven’t played either. In the same vein, her review of the indie sort of-visual novel VA-11 Hall-A is worth reading. I loved that game. Still waiting for that “coming soon” semi-sequel though. Maybe we’ll get it this year.

The Traditional Catholic Weeb Speaks: Nichijou Revisited (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — A review of Nichijou, a weird comedy anime series that I vaguely remember from years ago. Traditional Catholic Weeb’s detailed and comprehensive post got me interested in it again, and I might finally get around to watching it now.

Lightning Warrior Raidy (PC/FMTowns/PC-98): A Surprisingly Solid Dungeon Crawler (Detailed Review) (NSFW) (Guardian Acorn) — Annie Gallagher takes on Lightning Warrior Raidy, an old and famous (or maybe infamous?) h-game. Not safe for work as the title suggests, but if you’re not at work and otherwise okay with it, I suggest checking this review out.

My 5 favourite games I watched other people play in 2020 (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Ever since the invention of the Let’s Play way back in 2007 or around then, people have been watching other people play video games online. This might seem strange, but some games can be interesting to watch in the context of someone else’s playthrough if their commentary and personality add to the experience (and given how many VTuber game streams I’ve watched in parts lately I certainly can’t say otherwise without being a huge hypocrite.) Wooderon here addresses some of his favorite games to watch others play paired with a few particular streamers.

Looking Back: 2020 Post Mortem (Frostilyte Writes) — This was a shitass year all things considered. I don’t even really have to say that. But thankfully, some of us have been able to do something productive with the crap 2020 gave us. Frostilyte here looks back on his own year and what he got done blogging and gaming-wise. I should also thank him for being one of the people who finally convinced me to start on the Yakuza series, which I recently started at 0, so I’ll do that here. Thanks!

Early Impressions on Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Yakuza, here are Aether’s first impressions of the recently released Yakuza: Like a Dragon, a game that takes the Yakuza setting and feel and combines it with a turn-based RPG mechanic. An interesting combination, but does it work? Aether takes that question on in the above-linked post.

Evangelion Sword Exhibition at Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Resurface to Reality) — I love the idea of an Evangelion-themed exhibit like the one described here at Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. As usual, I regret not being able to visit it myself, but reading about it is interesting.

Who I Want for Roommates or Neighbours in Quarantine (Anime Edition) (A Geeky Gal) — Meg at A Geeky Gal considers the following: which anime characters would you have as roommates during quarantine? A question to be carefully considered since you’ll have been stuck with them for nine months as of this writing.

December 2020 in Summary: Hindsight Is 2020 (Extra Life) — Red Metal’s overview of his last month of blogging. I don’t usually feature end-of-month recaps on other sites like the one I’m writing here right now because that feels a bit weird to me, featuring that kind of post in a similar one like this. But this one contains Red Metal’s takes on some excellent movies like Ben-Hur, The Twilight Samurai, All The President’s Men and others that should be read.

Some of my favourite openings! (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — And Yomu takes the time to write about some openings he likes. I’m a fan of #6 on the list myself.

And that’s it for the year. I’ll get more into my own plans for this year in an upcoming post, but the extra-short version is that I have a ton of games I’m either working through or have lined up in the backlog, so there should be no lack of game-related material in 2021. The same is true for anime, which I’ll keep writing about as well, along with music and the occasional pissed off set of complaints that you’ve come to expect from me. The same goes for my deep reads posts, though the latest one I’ve been working on has been giving me hell. I hope to have it out sometime this month, though.

Until next time, I wish you extreme prosperity, maximum happiness, and whatever else your heart desires this year.

The shark says a: Exploring the appeal of VTubers

VTubers. These 2D streamers have been all over the place the last few months. If you don’t know what any of this is about that you’ve been seeing on Twitter and in your recommended YouTube videos, you were exactly where I was in the middle of this year. Back then, I wondered a bit about the whole VTuber thing — I was familiar with the original self-proclaimed “virtual YouTuber” Kizuna Ai, a peppy sort of virtual idol who started making short scripted comedy videos a few years back using what looked like a MikuMikuDance model. But 2017 may as well be ancient history as far as the internet is concerned, and I didn’t know a thing about this new VTuber movement that seemed to have exploded from 2019 on.

And look at me now: still falling down that infamous rabbit hole. People joke about it, but it’s a real thing: I peered into this hole out of curiosity back around July, thinking I’d just make a study of it. And it fucking pulled me in.

And it was the rabbit herself who was most responsible.

But what is the appeal of VTubers, exactly? I get why someone wouldn’t understand it. When popular Japanese VTuber agency Hololive’s English-language branch debuted on YouTube back in September, I saw some very confused people on Twitter asking why these streams and video clips featuring anime girl puppets were suddenly being recommended to them, and wondering who this shark girl was people wouldn’t shut up about.

Firstly, what is a VTuber? To put it very briefly, it’s a person controlling and speaking through an animated model. These models take all sorts of forms — they’re usually cute anime girls of some variety, though there are male VTubers out there as well. It’s apparently not really that difficult to become a VTuber yourself; just rig up a model however that works (I admit I have no idea about the technical side of this, except that Live2D seems to be a popular program to use) and stream with it, and hot damn now you’re a VTuber, congratulations.

However, there does seem to be more to it than that. I was never very big on following streamers myself aside from a few people I know personally, but VTubers seem to have a particular appeal. But what could that appeal be? Instead of trying to describe it first in a general sense, I want to take a look at a few of my favorite VTubers and see what sets them apart. Starting with the primary culprit:

Usada Pekora

Pekora goes first because she was the one who got me into this whole mess. A 111 year-old rabbit from a country called Pekoland, Pekora decided to emigrate to Japan to become a streamer. At first, she presented the figure of a cute, demure girl, but that soon gave way to the Pekora people know today:

Pekora says she’s an idol, but most of her fans insist she’s a “comedian” to her great distress. It’s not hard to see why they think of her that way, though. Pekora is fast-talking and very smug but a bit of a buffoon; she’ll often be bragging about how great she is just before getting killed in a game or defeated by one of her VTuber friends. This leads to a weird sort of streamer-chat relationship in which chat members laugh at her many misfortunes. This clip from one of Pekora’s talk streams shows some of that relationship, in which Pekora tries to act like a proper cutesy idol much to the dismay of her fans.

But it’s all in good fun, and Pekora is a highly entertaining streamer. Even though I can’t understand most of what she says since it’s almost all in Japanese. Bless those clippers and translators. (I do love when she speaks English, though.)

Kiryu Coco

If any VTuber was responsible for getting a ton of English-speaking viewers into the whole VTuber thing before Hololive EN came about, it was Kiryu Coco. This Yakuza-loving dragon girl (apparently she took part of her name from Kiryu Kazuma) is fluent in both Japanese and English and for a long time acted as a sort of bridge between Japanese and overseas fans because of it. She also has an understanding of American culture in particular that a lot of her colleagues don’t, making for some interesting videos like her “Reddit meme reviews” where she reviews overseas fans’ many shitposts with her friends.

Coco, more than most of her Hololive colleagues, just doesn’t seem to give a damn and will push the boundaries sometimes, which in itself has become a bit of a joke. But that’s part of why fans love her as well. I suspect that’s also part of her appeal to western fans, since many of us don’t get a lot of idol culture standards that somewhat restrict what idols (and even these streamers) can talk about. Here, for example, is Coco delivering some wisdom to a fan who wrote in. Or maybe this is Coco corrupting the youth. Maybe it’s both?

I find Coco’s approach refreshing and a lot of fun to watch. And she speaks English sometimes in her streams as well, so if you don’t know any Japanese you might still be able to follow occasionally.

Amano Pikamee

Hololive contains many of the best-known and most popular VTubers, but they’re not the only game in town. There are other agencies like Nijisanji and the newly created US-based VShojo. There are also plenty of independent VTubers out there doing their thing, and Pikamee is one of them. A VTuber connected to the independent project VOMS, Pikamee describes herself as a five trillion and one year-old electric-type monster. This might make her sound like a terrifying entity, but she’s really just a nice girl who likes playing games on stream and talking to fans. Her streams are also supposedly “family-friendly”, though that standard doesn’t always get maintained:

Like Coco, Pikamee is fluent in both Japanese and English, but she uses both languages almost equally in her streams, switching between them fluidly and basically translating herself for her audience most of the time. This also makes for some interesting situations with her colleagues Hikasa and Monoe, who aren’t quite as fluent in English:

Pikamee is pretty much a ray of sunshine, that’s all. And her tea kettle laugh is infectious.

Gawr Gura

Well shit, yeah of course Gura. This shark girl is currently the most subscribed among the VTubers, at least as far as I understand. But that’s not why I’m talking about her — it’s because her streams are pretty damn entertaining.

Even before her debut back in September as part of the Hololive EN English-language crew, Gura was attracting attention. During her first livestream (which yes I was watching, I was there live I admit) viewers were piling in, and when she announced that she was going to close out with a song, a lot of people were expecting her to sing that irritating “Baby Shark” meme song, Gura herself being a small shark and all. But instead she busted out with this Tatsuro Yamashita surprising everyone with both that pick and with her voice. I’ll also submit her jazz lounge take on Renai Circulation, along with this performance of “Plastic Love”:

Good stuff. Gura is also just pretty fun in general; she has an easygoing and comfortable style in her streams that I like. She seems to have a special understanding of internet culture as well. I don’t know if Gura’s first tweet, simply the letter “a”, was an accident or intentional, but she instantly turned it into one of her signatures. I don’t know how the hell something like that catches on, but it worked for her.

I could go on talking about the tomboy duck Subaru, best dog Korone, rapping grim reaper and fellow Persona fan Calliope, dirty-minded pirate captain and fellow Touhou fan Marine, or the complete mystery that is Haachama. But I think I might be able to make a case based on what we have here, at least from an American perspective. More than anything, I think this VTuber movement resembles a massive, constantly ongoing variety show. These used to be very popular in the US, with series like The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Muppet Show running comedy skits and musical acts. Today, the only TV shows I know of here that do anything like that are Saturday Night Live and the various late night shows, which don’t hold much appeal for younger audiences (or they downright suck for the most part, as with SNL from what I’ve seen of it the last several years.)

I think Hololive and other networks, along with independent VTubers, offer something like that, only far fresher than today’s stale TV fare. One reason for this might be the sheer variety of streams on offer: there are the expected game streams, but also art streams, singing and music streams, talk streams, ASMR streams (which I still don’t really get, but a lot of people seem to like them) and even a morning show (Coco’s “Asacoco”, which includes comedy skits and parody advertisements.) The variety of character types available is also an important aspect; there are all kinds of VTubers out there to suit just about anyone’s tastes.

However, I think the biggest draw to the whole VTuber phenomenon, what really sets it apart, is the interaction with the audience. Chat moves at light speed in the more popular streams, but even there a weird sort of culture seems to develop in each VTuber channel, and there’s quite a lot of streamer-chat interaction that sometimes makes for comedy in itself. And maybe even for more than that. It’s understood that most VTubers play a character. We obviously know Gura isn’t really an ancient shark girl from Atlantis, and we never actually see the real-life three-dimensional streamer behind that character, but that’s all an accepted part of the act. Even so, sometimes the VTuber breaks character and talks pretty openly about themselves. Some VTubers even start out with a character that seems to slowly turn into something more natural, probably much more closely resembling their real selves, leading to some interesting and surprisingly intimate moments.

After all that, though, maybe you still don’t see the appeal of VTubers. Or maybe you have a more cynical take on the whole setup than I do: that these are just some cute anime girl models with cute personalities and voices designed to eat up superchat money, and that I’ve become a brainwashed shill. I understand why someone would feel that way. I also acknowledge that this business isn’t all fun and games — the agency-based VTubers’ connection with idol culture in Japan seems to have brought along some of the strange hang-ups some idol fans carry around with them (though again, I can’t talk too much about the idol thing. I haven’t even played an Idolmaster game so what do I know.)

But I still see much more of a positive than a negative effect here. It goes without saying that this year has been rough for just about everyone on Earth and that a distraction was sorely needed, and it’s possible that the rise in VTuber popularity this year had something to do with that (and also the whole being stuck at home thing.) But after seeing both the size and sheer dedication of these fanbases and the actual quality of the talents and their programs, I don’t believe this is just a passing fad. I would put money on it: the craze will probably die down a bit, especially after life gets back to something like normal, but VTubers are here to stay. And there’s always room in the rabbit hole for one more. 𒀭

A review of Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro (Vol. 1-4)

I’ve never written a plain old review of a manga series on the site until now, so this will be a first. Maybe not a last, either. And I figured that since I’ve already written about it as a jumping-off point for a more broadly themed post, I owe Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro1 an actual review. The series is currently up to 70 chapters as of this writing, but this review is only of the first four volumes that have been officially translated and published in English. Because I’m a fucking weirdo who still likes to own print media, and I actually own these four volumes in physical form, volumes that I think are worth a closer look.

Yeah I’m reusing old images, what’s it to you

I covered the basic premise of Nagatoro in that first post, but basically it’s about a nerdy artistic loner student who has a run-in with one Nagatoro2, a sporty, popular girl one year his junior. At first, Nagatoro mercilessly mocks this guy (known only as “Senpai”; aside from this generic title he’s never assigned any other name) for his loner ways and his hobby of drawing self-insert power fantasy comics. And it’s damn rough going the first several chapters. Even the sometimes irritating Uzaki has nothing on Nagatoro, who comes off as a sadistic bully in her first interactions with Senpai.

Senpai’s reactions to Nagatoro’s teasing only strength her resolve to mock him, because at first he just can’t take it, openly breaking out into tears the first two times and then cursing himself for it. And the third time they meet, Nagatoro makes him a very obviously fake offer of a date that he completely falls for, after which she mocks him again.

At this point, one might just encourage our poor Senpai to tell Nagatoro to fuck off. However, around the middle of the first volume, it starts to become clear that both Senpai and Nagatoro are enjoying this game they’re playing with each other in a strange way. Senpai soon notices to his surprise that Nagatoro doesn’t mess with any of the other guys at their school the way she does with him, which suggests that she’s giving him special attention, something even Nagatoro doesn’t seem to consciously realize. And that’s why despite initial appearances, Nagatoro is really a romantic comedy. Yeah, our two main characters like each other, but they’re both too awkward and unsure to express it or even to realize it quite yet.

Of course, this “two very different characters fall in love” sort of story is nothing new. Uzaki-chan has a similar premise, and so did the much older Toradora, and outside the realm of anime and manga it’s also a common setup. And I’ve said before that I’m not really that big on romantic comedies like this. So why the hell do I like Nagatoro?

In that post back in August, I talked about how the relatability of Senpai helped me to form a connection with and empathize with him, and also to better enjoy the work as a whole. I still think that’s true, but I also think the manga’s laser focus on its two main characters and their development is more important. Nagatoro tells a pretty simple story in that sense — it does have other characters who play their parts in Senpai and Nagatoro’s story, namely Nagatoro’s small group of female friends who join in on messing with him.

However, these and the few other characters who show up seem to be there just to contribute to the development of this central relationship between Nagatoro and her senior. At one point in Vol. 4 for example, Senpai spots the girls at a park bench getting approached by a couple of jocky male classmates, one of whom clearly has his sights set directly on Nagatoro. This steams the hell out of Senpai, and to his great credit, rather than passively watch Nagatoro get asked out on a date and NTR’d away from him by this guy, he marches up to the bench almost without thinking and says “let’s go home” to her, all the while nervously wondering what the hell he’s doing. But his plan works, because Nagatoro is only too happy to leave with him, and all her friends take the cue and go along with our nerdy protagonist as well, leaving the two jocks sitting on the park bench embarrassed and probably wondering what the hell just happened.

By this point, the pair have more or less become friends, and we already have plenty of hints piled up that they have mutual feelings for each other, so there doesn’t seem to be any danger of a love triangle popping up (though I could certainly be wrong about that.) But of course, Senpai doesn’t know that. And Nagatoro is equally jealous of her exclusive right to mock Senpai as much as she wants, getting into little fights with her own friends when they start to get too familiar with him.

But it’s not just a budding awkward romance — these two characters through their interactions start to change each other for the better. The effect on Senpai is dramatic; by the end of the last officially translated and published volume he’s already noticeably more confident and outgoing thanks to Nagatoro dragging him out of his comfort zone time and again. Though he’s still an introvert, he’s not using his time in the school’s art room just to escape from reality anymore.

One of the most telling (and entertaining to me) signs of this change appears in Senpai’s series of self-insert fantasy comics he draws during downtime at school. At first, we see that he draws himself as a sword-wielding hero who travels with a beautiful swordswoman, with whom he seems to have some sort of thing going. Even after Nagatoro discovers this comic and thoroughly mocks him for this in the manga’s very first chapter, he keeps drawing it. But it changes, with Nagatoro herself becoming a character in the comic and mocking and prodding him in exactly the same way she does in real life, wedging herself even into Senpai’s escapist fantasy world.

When your secret crush sees your fantasy catgirl fanart of her… but in this case it actually turns out fine, because Nagatoro is excited to have something else to make fun of Senpai for.

There’s also a pretty clear effect on Nagatoro. Throughout the manga, we’re mostly in Senpai’s head hearing his thoughts, so Nagatoro’s own thoughts and feelings sometimes have to be guessed at. But it does seem like initially she just wanted to make fun of Senpai in a mean-spirited way, only discovering later on that she actually likes him. But does she stop mocking him? Absolutely not — she now instead uses her mockery to whip him into shape, to push him into situations where he’ll develop self-confidence since he can’t just run away as he did before. So although she might not realize it herself, Nagatoro’s strange friendship with Senpai seems to have made her a better person as well, with their relationship making them into something like equals. This is especially evident when Senpai finally gets a hit in on Nagatoro every so often and we see her get flustered and somewhat humbled.

It’s for just this reason that the bullying aspect of Nagatoro doesn’t bother me so much. It does start out pretty damn rough, and as I said in my first post dealing with the manga I can’t blame some readers for dropping this one early on because of it. However, the bullying pretty quickly turns into something very different, and it’s pretty easy to see the path these two characters are taking towards both a solid friendship and a romance (way down the road, though, because naturally it’s going to take a long time — that’s just how these series go.) So I’d urge readers to try to stick with Nagatoro if they can. It pays off, at least up to the point I’ve read.

So yeah, I like this manga a lot so far. Senpai and even the sadistic Nagatoro ended up becoming pretty endearing, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here. Both the art and story are done by one person, named only Nanashi (nanashi as in anonymous?) and the art style is nice as well — Nagatoro is especially expressive, which adds a lot to her back-and-forths with Senpai.

As far as the physical volumes themselves go, they’re fine. Though I can’t speak to how good the official translation is since I still barely know Japanese. I assume it’s good, but I’ll leave that for others to judge until I can actually read this language at a competent level. I do have one complaint related to that, though: I wish there were at least a few translation notes, because I think they would have been helpful. For example, a few chapters in, Nagatoro finally bothers to tell Senpai her name (and also refuses to learn his because she says she doesn’t need to know — rough.) Before this, Senpai refers to her as “you” because he doesn’t know her name yet, and Nagatoro replies with “The way you say ‘you’ is creepy.”

This is a weird comment to make, since referring to just about anyone with “you” is completely normal and expected in English. It’s only when you look at the original Japanese and find that Senpai is using the pronoun kimi, which means “you” but seems to be a bit of an either rude or intimate way to refer to someone depending on the context, that Nagatoro’s comment makes sense. I don’t know if it’s possible to directly translate this sort of thing in the conversation itself, since it really doesn’t make sense in English, but I think that’s what translation notes are for.3 This goes especially for a manga like Nagatoro that deals with awkward social situations, where context is important.

There’s more effective tension in this one panel than in the whole of the last season of Game of Thrones, and I am serious about that

Finally, there is some somewhat suggestive material in the manga so far, but it serves to advance the relationship between our two main characters. A lot of it also comes about thanks to Senpai’s overactive imagination, though Nagatoro does encourage him in that with her bullying and teasing. I just don’t get the feeling that it’s gratuitous. There’s actually a very wholesome sort of budding romance under all that when you get into the story. Though there might still be enough such material for another dumb Uzaki-esque moral outrage to flare up when the Nagatoro anime starts airing, but I hope we can avoid that nonsense.

I’m going to keep following these characters — as I said, they’re currently a lot further along in their story than the couple dozen officially translated chapters out now, though you have to look up the original manga if you can read it for that, or else other alternatives that exist around that I probably don’t even have to tell you about. The anime adaptation has also just been announced for the spring season next year, so barring any virus-related delays we’ll be getting that in just a few months. I look forward to seeing how it measures up. 𒀭

 

1 Since I’m already nitpicking in this review, I may as well bring up the fact that some fans don’t seem to like this translation of the manga’s original title, which is Ijiranaide Nagatoro-san. I’ve heard some say “Don’t Bully Me” would be better, but then from what I can tell, the verb ijiru, 弄る, that’s used here does translate as “to toy with” or “to play with” with the implication of messing around with something, so the English title seems fine to me. But again, I’m no expert. Maybe the people complaining are all bullshitting and it’s just another meme or something, I have no idea.

2 She’s referred to by her family name Nagatoro throughout the manga (and by “Hayacchi” by her other friends, which is a clue to her given name.) Referring to people by their family instead of their given name is apparently still another big cultural difference between Japan and the US. I wouldn’t mind being called by my last name, though. I like that idea for some reason.

3 Or maybe I think this because I’m a bad writer who feels the need to shove way too much extraneous information into footnotes.

A review of Youjo Senki: The Saga of Tanya the Evil

In the hierarchy of many anime and anime-styled game series, the young girl somehow outranks almost every other sort of being in terms of power. A ton of magical girl shows have been created on that basis, and game series like Touhou Project almost exclusively feature girls firing lasers and magical bullets at each other. So maybe it’s no big surprise that we have Youjo Senki: The Saga of Tanya the Evil, a 12-episode run from 2017 based on a long-running light novel series. Youjo Senki, which roughly translates as “Young Girl’s War Chronicle”, is the story of Tanya Degurechaff, an orphan brought up in a powerful country preparing to go to war against its neighbors.

Except she’s not just some kid. Tanya’s body houses the soul of a nameless modern-day Tokyo salaryman whose cold business sense and ruthless firing of underlings gets him pushed in front of a speeding train. Just before his death, however, time freezes, and God himself descends from Heaven to talk to him a bit. Mr. Salaryman doesn’t believe in God and refuses even to acknowledge him despite the fact that there’s an apparent miracle going on, referring to this entity as “Being X” and even criticizing it for doing a lousy job as a deity. God/Being X then decides to give this guy one last chance at reincarnation before sending him to Hell, and so Tanya is born.

History fans will recognize the situation Tanya finds herself in right away: the Empire she’s a citizen of is the old imperial Germany of 1871-1918, and the tensions it’s experiencing with its neighbors the Republic (France) and the Allied Kingdom (Britain) are leading it straight into World War I. Since this is an alternate Earth, the rules are a bit different, however. In this world, magic is real, and magic-users called mages are employed by militaries as mobile airborne units to for scouting and rescue missions and precision strikes. Tanya turns out to be one of the lucky few with magical ability, so she’s educated and trained for an eventual military career to aid the Empire in its fight against the Republic and her allies.

youjo-senki-2

Sure, you look about ready for military service.

This young girl still has all the memories of her former salaryman life, and with that experience she plans to enter the military early, get on an officer track, and maneuver into a cushy job in the capital, far away from the front lines. God isn’t having it, however. His aim seems to be to get Tanya to acknowledge and bow down to him. To that end, he somehow sets events in motion that get Tanya sent back to the front lines following her attendance at a military academy, but with the benefit of some divine intervention whenever she needs it: when she prays to God, Tanya gets superpowered and can fly far higher and faster and shoot more powerful lasers than other mages, making her into a legend on the front lines and even among the high command.

While Tanya desperately wants to get out of harm’s way and live the easy life, though, she’s not a coward by any means. Using the extra abilities granted to her by this supernatural power, she leads her company and later her battalion of mages into battle when ordered. At first, some of the enlisted soldiers under her command during training laugh at her for her age and tiny stature, but she quickly beats that smugness out of them, literally in a few cases. Tanya is completely ruthless: she demands that everyone under her carry their weight, and if they can’t, she’s only too happy to kick them out of her unit or recommend them for a posting elsewhere.

And if their incompetence happens to get them killed, then too bad — they weren’t fit for this kind of work anyway. In the very first episode, Tanya shows how few fucks she gives by shipping off two of her recklessly insubordinate men to a posting in the rear lines, one that’s seemingly safe but that she knows is going to get shelled by enemy artillery at some point. When she gets word of their deaths in an enemy shelling a while later, she simply remarks that it was a fitting place for men who wanted to die.

Tanya is a bit crazy.

It’s not a big surprise that Tanya is so damn cold. The series is subtitled The Saga of Tanya the Evil after all, so you’d expect her to be at least this cold. However, after seeing the 12 episodes in this series, I’d find it hard to call her completely evil. She’s certainly coldhearted and commits a few acts that you could argue are morally objectionable, even in the context of a war. But her ruthlessness seems to come not from cruelty but rather from a pure sense of pragmatism. When Tanya is sent to an Imperial border city filled with citizens who declare allegiance to the Republic and fight as partisans, she justifies killing them and later having retreating civilians shelled because not doing so would weaken the Empire and allow chaos to continue. Some of her soldiers object, but they fall into line anyway, not able to really argue with her. Partly because she’ll have them court-martialed if they disobey, but her logic does make sense in that extremely cold way even if her actions feel wrong. I wouldn’t agree with her myself, but she can’t be accused of hypocrisy, at least, since she seems to expect the same treatment from the enemy if their positions were reversed.

Tanya also constantly does her best to cover her ass, both in combat and in legal terms. One of the most interesting aspects of Tanya’s character for the lawyer side of me is how closely she sticks to the letter of both military and treaty law while on missions, but how she bends them at the same time. Tanya is insistent on following the law when necessary — she can even rattle off code sections and provisions without consulting a book. She also insists that everyone does the same, even her enemies. At one point during a battle, she’s genuinely shocked to see an enemy using a banned form of ammunition.

However, if the law prevents Tanya from doing something she wants to do, she will do her best to find a way around it while still technically complying with it. My favorite instance of this occurs when Tanya, now promoted to Major Degurechaff, heads a strike into Dakia (Romania) and is about to hit a munitions factory in the capital with magic attacks. She knows that according to treaty law, she can’t make a sneak attack on this occasion — she has send a warning first. When she picks up the radio to transmit this warning into the factory’s speakers, though, Tanya puts on her best “little girl” voice and gives that announcement sounding much more like a typical anime character her age. The enemy personnel on the ground laugh it out as a joke played by some kid and keep their guard down, but Tanya doesn’t care — she’s followed the letter of the law, so now it’s time to attack, and her unit gains a huge advantage as a result.

Despite all this, Tanya does seem to have some of the nicer human feelings in her, at least sometimes. Though she can be harsh with her soldiers, she does care for them, making sure that they’re up to the tasks they’re given as long as they’re putting the work in. One of the most prominent secondary characters in the show, Tanya’s lieutenant Viktoriya Serebryakov, is initially shocked by her harshness, particularly when an avalanche during a brutal crosscountry training session buries a few of her men under snow. Tanya complains about their incompetence, pulls the men out of the snow and starts beating one who stopped breathing to the shock of her troops, only to have him cough up snow and regain consciousness. She also pretty clearly cares about her subordinates during battle, doing her best to use them without putting them in unnecessary danger.

So Tanya’s characterization is done pretty well in this short series. It would be easy to write a pure sadist for a story like this, and from the title Tanya the Evil that’s who I was expecting to get going in. Tanya is brutal and ruthless, but she’s not about unnecessary cruelty; she’s really just all business. At least, that’s how she would see it.

She looks mean, and she is, but Tanya is really all about getting things done efficiently. Even so, people will still end up getting killed.

My only real complaint with Youjo Senki, aside from the OP and ED themes that I didn’t care for, is the isekai aspect of it, with Tanya’s soul being transported into an alternate universe/timeline. Not that I’m totally against isekai or anything, even if it is a pretty played out genre by now — any kind of story can be good if it’s interesting and told well. I just feel the isekai aspect didn’t pay off. Maybe it pays off in the movie or in the light novels, but all that really happens in this 12-episode series with regard to that is Tanya getting pissed off at and cursing God/Being X a lot, even when she’s invoking his name to gain power.

The fact that she was a ruthless businessman in her past life does kind of explain why she’s so ruthless as Tanya and why she rises through the ranks of the military at an unbelievably young age, but then I don’t think you really need the isekai part for that. I think the story would have had just as much or even more impact if Tanya had simply been an orphan girl with amazing magic ability and strategic genius who decides to use that to make a name for herself. We could have gotten a few more scenes early on of her hard life, establishing the basis for her cold, ruthless view of society and the world. I think that’s really all we’d need to get why she’s who she is, and more than that, to believe it.

By contrast, none of the Being X stuff does anything for me. Part of this might be the show’s different understanding of what God or a god-like being would be. During the time-freeze scene in front of the train, for example, God responds to the salaryman/soon-to-be Tanya that he can’t be expected to keep watch over seven billion people all the time, flying in the face of the whole “omniscient” and “omnipotent” parts of what God’s supposed to be. Or maybe this is a different sort of God than the one from Abrahamic tradition I grew up with. Since Youjo Senki is a Japanese series, though, there might just be some cultural differences here that I don’t know enough about to comment on. I haven’t checked out the film yet that follows this 12-episode run, but judging from the final episode, it looks like the whole God/Being X thing might pay off in it.

That said, I don’t have a problem with God talking through a nutcracker. I liked that part.

Even with these minor negatives, I think Youjo Senki is very worth watching. If you’re looking for an alternate timeline World War I story where the main character is a girl who shoots divinely-powered lasers, this is the only series I know of that offers that. And it does quite a good job telling that story.

A review of Nekomonogatari Black

Finally we come to the end of this “first season” of Monogatari. This series is certainly broken up in a weird way, and it progresses in a weird way too, because Nekomonogatari Black is another prequel. This one tells the story of what happened during the short holiday of Golden Week: the “Black Hanekawa” incident that kept getting brought up through the first and second series of the show. It’s only four episodes long, but there’s plenty here to examine as usual.

Before I move on, here’s the usual spoiler warning: there are spoilers in this review. Again, they probably won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen any of the series, but even so, fair warning and all. This one is especially violent in parts too, though not on the same level as Kizumonogatari. I guess that’s true of the other sets of episodes I’ve reviewed, actually. Lots of blood and limbs being removed and that sort of thing, but those parts are all concentrated in a few very intense action scenes.

Don’t let the screenshot fool you: this catgirl will fuck you up.

The broad outlines of what happened during the Golden Week break from school are already known by the time the series starts, shortly after the events of Kizumonogatari: we know star student and high achiever Tsubasa Hanekawa was possessed by a violent supernatural cat spirit, causing her to go on a rampage until she was stopped and turned more or less back to normal by her new friend/series protagonist Koyomi Araragi, mainly thanks to Shinobu’s intervention. Nekomonogatari Black gives us the whole story, albeit only from Koyomi’s perspective. There’s still a lot going on in Tsubasa’s life that only she can tell us.

At the start of the series, our semi-vampire slacker protagonist Koyomi is trying to work out his feelings. He can’t get his mind off of Tsubasa and is wondering whether he’s in love with her. So he asks his younger sister Tsukihi for her advice, because by his own admission, he’s never been in love before. After a lot of the usual dialogue and wordplay joke stuff, Tsukihi tells Koyomi he’s not in love but just sexually frustrated, so he decides to head off to the local bookstore to get a dirty magazine (just like in Kizumonogatari; maybe he doesn’t have his own computer, or maybe he’s old-fashioned and prefers print media.) And of course, leaving the bookstore at the same time is Tsubasa herself.

We don’t get much of the lighthearted banter from now on, though. Koyomi notices that Tsubasa has gauze taped to her cheek. After dragging a promise out of him that he won’t tell anyone, Tsubasa tells him that her stepfather hit her that morning.

This naturally pisses Koyomi off, but Tsubasa reminds him of his promise. She also tells him that it was only natural this happened. If you had a daughter who talked back to you early in the morning, and wasn’t even related to you by blood, and you were under stress at work, wouldn’t you feel like slapping her too?

Of course, the answer is “no, that’s completely fucked,” and so Koyomi says. But he agrees to keep silent about it.

At this point, Tsubasa finds the body of a cat lying in the middle of the road. She’s not the type to just ignore that and asks Koyomi to help her bury it, which they do together. Of course, we already know this isn’t an ordinary cat. As we learned all the way back in the last arc of Bakemonogatari, Tsubasa Cat, this was a “meddlecat” (translated from sawarineko, which looks like it has some relation or connection to the supernatural cat spirit bakeneko, or maybe to the nekomata.) This spirit has the ability to possess humans and causes them to act out violently, requiring an exorcism.

We’ve also seen the effect this possession has on Tsubasa. Later that day Koyomi visits his benefactor the spirit/demon expert Oshino, who senses that something’s off and asks what’s going on with “Miss Class President” as he calls her. From the hints Koyomi is able to drop without breaking his promise to her, Oshino figures the situation out, warning him that Tsubasa is in danger of possession by a violent spirit and that he should go to her house to check up on her.

But it’s too late. On his way to Tsubasa’s house, Koyomi spots a white-haired girl stalking around the streets in her underwear, with a pair of cat ears sticking out the top of her head, and he realizes that Oshino’s worst fears were realized. This catgirl has the form of Tsubasa but seems completely different in personality, almost like a wild animal. Speaking with a different voice and referring to Tsubasa as her “master”, the girl dumps two unconscious bodies in front of Koyomi — the bodies of Tsubasa’s parents. And when Koyomi tries to stop her from leaving, this possessed Tsubasa attacks Koyomi, ripping his arm off.

His regenerative ability lets him reattach the arm and heal with Shinobu’s help, but after retreating back to the cram school, Koyomi is faced with a dilemma. Oshino tells him based on his own research and experience that this meddlecat has not only possessed Tsubasa but is merging with her somehow, allowing it to combine its own physical skills with Tsubasa’s considerable intelligence to essentially create a broken, unfairly powerful character that Oshino refers to as “Black Hanekawa.” So broken that even Oshino, the guy who seasoned vampire hunters run away from, hasn’t yet been able to defeat her in the many fights he’s had with her during Koyomi’s recuperation.

I like this traditional-looking art over Oshino’s explanation.

Thankfully, Oshino confirms that Tsubasa’s parents aren’t dead; they’ve only been made victims of Black Hanekawa’s energy drain ability, which she’s since been using to attack and drain people all over town. But he warns Koyomi that if they don’t manage to exorcise the meddlecat, it will merge with Tsubasa completely, making it impossible to save her.

That’s the setup of Nekomonogatari Black, though it takes us through the first two episodes out of four. The last two deal with how Koyomi actually goes about both rescuing Tsubasa and defeating the cat possessing her. To do this, however, he also has to defeat Tsubasa herself — because by the last episode, Koyomi discovers that Tsubasa is actually conscious and is in control of her actions at least to some extent. As usual in this series, nothing is how it seems at first.

It’s easy to see why Tsubasa would fall under the influence of this kind of wild spirit. Being the top student in her class, famous for her high achiever status among the other students, would normally be stressful enough with the support of a caring family, but she doesn’t even have that. Neither of her parents are related to her by blood; a series of deaths, divorces, and remarriages placed her with two relative strangers at a young age.

You’d hope that her stepparents would care for her as though she were their own, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Tsubasa says to Koyomi that blood relation is important in a family, but the fact that there are plenty of loving non-blood-related families around suggest there’s more going on. No, she gives the impression that her parents, who we never see except as unconscious figures in episode 2, act as though they were stuck with her, like the secondary consequence of getting remarried. “Oh, you have a kid too; I guess that’s fine” — that sort of thing. Considering that, it makes sense that Tsubasa felt free to go out and wander the streets on nights and holidays as we see her doing when she runs into Koyomi in Kizumonogatari and Bakemonogatari. She lives at the same address as her adoptive parents, but those parents don’t seem to care about what she does.

Tsubasa’s situation can be contrasted with Koyomi’s. He doesn’t have an ideal home life; he’s emotionally broken off from his parents, as far as we know because of his failures as a student. He’s still part of his own family, though, and he does have close relationships with his younger sisters Karen and Tsukihi, relationships we saw develop in Nisemonogatari. When they face a threat, we see the siblings close ranks and support each other no matter what other disagreements they have.

This might be a little too close actually.

Then again, Koyomi himself might also be a source of stress for Tsubasa. We already know that she has feelings for him that she hasn’t expressed, feelings that started back during the events of Kizumonogatari when Koyomi went through his vampiric ordeal. That’s not actually revealed until later on, well after Koyomi gets together with Hitagi during the events of Bakemonogatari, but even at this point there’s plenty left unsaid between the two. Throughout this first season of Monogatari, including the prequel movies when they first meet, the nature of their relationship is sort of unclear — they’re certainly friends, but beyond that they’re both carrying around more intense feelings that may or may not count as love.

Again, there’s a strong contrast to be made here with the relationship between Koyomi and Hitagi. Hitagi even says she hates “unclear relationships” or something similar when they officially become a couple, asking Koyomi to express his feelings for her unambiguously. Maybe some of Tsubasa’s stress comes from an inability to act in such a straightforward way. That’s certainly the case later on, in the last part of Bakemonogatari.

All that makes it all the more depressing that Tsubasa is never actually freed from her demon. Before they have their final fight, Koyomi and “Black Hanekawa” have a perfectly civil talk during which she tells him that she plans to relieve Tsubasa’s stress by attacking and energy-draining as many people as possible. Koyomi argues that even if that were justified, it wouldn’t relieve Tsubasa’s stress but simply put it off for a while, but the cat refuses to listen. When Koyomi finally draws her out to the cram school for their final fight, it takes Shinobu’s help to resolve the matter by using her own energy drain technique on Tsubasa, leaving her exhausted and powerless but physically unharmed. It also seems like getting possessed with a cat demon causes memory loss. In the end, at least, it’s for the better that Tsubasa ended up not remembering any of the ordeal she went through here, considering the burden of guilt that would cause her.

However, although Shinobu’s energy drain subdued that cat spirit, it’s still in there. Tsubasa’s stress still isn’t relieved, and when it builds back up near the end of Bakemonogatari, the wild cat reemerges to possess her again. I don’t know if Nisio Isin meant that to be a comment on the difficulty of truly relieving stress, but it read that way to me. Much of Monogatari throughout this “first season” deals with demonic and spiritual possession, but those possessions are always caused by or related to the affected character’s internal struggles, the kinds of anxieties and insecurities that a lot of us deal with. And those issues aren’t so easily dealt with. As Oshino says so often, though the victim can be helped, in the end they have to save themselves. Despite how perfect she might seem on the outside, Tsubasa can’t manage that. Not yet, anyway.

Things are going to keep being tense for a while, aren’t they?

So I guess this isn’t quite a satisfying end to the first season of Monogatari, at least not for our characters. But all these series have left problems and ambiguities lying around, seemingly all on purpose. This ending feels pretty fitting for that reason. The next series up, in fact, is Nekomonogatari White, which starts off the “second season” of Monogatari. As the title suggests, this story also centers on Tsubasa, but this time it’s told from her perspective. I like Koyomi a lot as a protagonist, but it will be nice to get out of his head for a while. Especially to get into Tsubasa’s, because she’s my favorite character in the series at this point. I was never the top student in my class (I was really more of a Koyomi in high school if I had to compare myself to one of them) but a lot of Tsubasa’s anxieties make her pretty sympathetic to me, even if I can’t say I relate to them.

But that’s it for this first season of Monogatari. This closing mini-series maintains all the technical and style standards set by the earlier series, with excellent art, voice acting, and backing music (and another nice set of themes in Perfect Slumbers and Kieru Daydream. I always appreciate those great OP and ED themes.) I’ve liked the series as a whole a lot so far, enough that I feel bad for mostly writing reviews of these series full of spoilers. For that reason, I was thinking of writing a general first season review without spoilers, if I can even manage that. If so, after that’s done I’ll probably be moving over to other anime series for a while. But I know for a fact I’ll be back for more Monogatari at some point.

A review of Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! (Season 1)

Here AK goes again, reviewing all the hot new popular shows right after they air, just as usual. Yeah, this is a bit different for me. Not because I don’t like any popular, topical shows and games, but just because I usually want to write about something that isn’t either of those things. For example, I could have gone outside the usual scope of the site and given you my whole rundown last year of why the final season of Game of Thrones was a big pile of shit, but after the 895,694th review about it being shit that already covered all those points, I didn’t feel like piling on.

All this is completely unrelated to the actual substance of the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, an adaptation of a manga series of the same name. As a few other people have already said, this show probably would have passed by pretty quietly in the summer 2020 anime lineup if it weren’t for the completely stupid, ridiculous controversies that were somehow attached to it. At least partly as a result of those controversies, it instead ended up one of the most talked-about series of the year so far, and it’s already been confirmed for a second season.

This is one of those anime series that says its main idea in its title. Not in the kind of detail a typical light novel title would, but still, the title Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! describes a lot of what the show is about. It opens on a college campus at the beginning of the year following Shinichi Sakurai, a second-year student. This Sakurai is a bit of a loner; while we learn later that he does have friends, he prefers to keep to himself most of the time.

Unfortunately for Sakurai and his beloved alone time, one of his former classmates from high school has caught up with him. Hana Uzaki, a new first-year, recognizes Sakurai from their school days and reconnects with him. However, she never really knew him that well back in high school and after talking to and observing him, Uzaki notices how much of a lone wolf the guy is. She then decides to basically intrude on his entire life. Starting in the first episode, Uzaki insists on hanging out with Sakurai constantly, ignoring his objections and wearing him down until he just gives up and lets her tag along. At first, Uzaki only seems like she’s taking this opportunity to make fun of Sakurai’s loner tendencies — for example, mocking him for going to a movie alone and for spending his weekends playing video games instead of going outside. However, it soon becomes obvious that she actually wants to spend time with him, and Sakurai likewise soon ends up getting used to Uzaki and enjoying his time with her (more or less, anyway.)

Sakurai and Uzaki become friends pretty early on in the season, with the story following these two around as they hang out and trade jabs with each other over their personalities and lifestyle choices. The two couldn’t be more different: both physically, Sakurai being very tall and Uzaki very short, but more importantly in personality. Sakurai is a quiet, reserved guy, while Uzaki is talkative and outgoing, sometimes to the extreme. A lot of the comedy in Uzaki-chan plays off of this Odd Couple sort of “look how different these two characters are” dynamic.

But Uzaki-chan isn’t just a regular comedy, it’s a romantic comedy. So of course this is one of those shows where it’s implied that Sakurai and Uzaki have stronger feelings for each other than just the friendly type, but naturally neither of them can come out and say it, partly because they’re both kind of dense and partly out of embarrassment. And there are exactly the scenes you’d expect, like Sakurai unthinkingly eating a pastry after Uzaki already bit it and them both realizing they just shared that dreaded indirect kiss (a concept I had no idea about until I started watching anime.) But the two insist throughout when people ask that they’re only friends, which happens quite a lot — based mainly on their bickering, they come off like a couple to almost everyone they meet, and about halfway through the series they’re pretty damn close to actually being a couple without the romantic aspect, Uzaki visiting Sakurai’s apartment almost every day and even cooking for him.

Their situation is also complicated by two other characters: Ami, another student who helps her father run the coffeehouse Sakurai works at, and Sakaki, one of Sakurai’s college friends. Thankfully, these two aren’t thrown in to create a love triangle, square, pentagon or any other polygon that drags the show out with irritating drama: they’re actually rooting for Sakurai and Uzaki to get together and try throughout the season to make that happen, though their philosophies are a bit different with Ami being more of a hands-off observer.

These two are always around waiting for something to happen, just like us.

I don’t normally watch shows like this, and Uzaki-chan reminded me of why that is. Not that it’s a bad series at all. I actually did enjoy about the first half of the season — it was some light comedy that made for a nice escape from work and various bullshit in real life. After a while, though, the show started to wear me down. This may have been partly because the comedy bits started feeling like the same thing rewritten in slightly different contexts. You can’t keep writing the same “two characters who actually like each other in that way but don’t realize it have awkward moments” jokes forever without repeating yourself. And while a few of them feel like they’re meant to be callbacks to earlier episodes, I don’t know how much of it is just the show trying to drag things out between the two to keep itself going.

That raises the question of just how far a series like this can drag things out before people start to give up on it. Romantic comedies like Uzaki-chan are based on the premise that these two opposite types of characters who make an unlikely pair will end up together, so they have to deliver on that at some point. But when they do get together, the story is pretty much done, or at least it’s done telling that part of the story — I guess there’s no reason such a story couldn’t continue showing their relationship’s evolution, maybe even all the way to the two getting married and having a kid or something. But the “will they, won’t they” part of it is finished at that point.

And here’s the problem for me: the “will they, won’t they” aspect doesn’t appeal to me that much. If the answer is “yes, they will”, then I’m not that interested in watching the pair go through the same bullshit rigamarole for 24 or 36 episodes before that happens. And if the answer is “no, they won’t”, then by the end I’ll feel as though I’ve been strung along. This is one of those cases in which subverting expectations wouldn’t work, since the expectations are established by scenes that clearly imply Sakurai and Uzaki do have romantic feelings for each other that they can’t express or perhaps even understand yet. And in any case, that slow realization of romantic feelings seems to be the whole point.

No, we’re just two friends. You know, doing normal, friendly, not romantic at all things like feeding each other chocolate.

At this point, I’d just say these kinds of romantic comedies simply aren’t for me, but that’s not quite true. I wrote a bit about the manga Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro a while back, a series that like Uzaki-chan is a slow-burn romantic comedy between two very different characters, and I really like it. I think the difference is that I can see the characters developing in Nagatoro in ways that I can’t see in Uzaki. That character development makes that initially rocky relationship between Nagatoro and her nameless senpai interesting to watch — we can see both characters changing for the better and realizing things about themselves and each other that they wouldn’t have realized otherwise.

In the Uzaki anime, by contrast, I don’t see that Sakurai or Uzaki have really changed by the end of the first season. Sakurai still loves the alone time he manages to get, and Uzaki is still poking and prodding him in the same way she was in episode 1. Their relationship definitely develops, but the characters don’t so much, at least not that I can tell. Which makes sense: Sakurai and Uzaki are young but basically adults at this point and are pretty self-assured in their personalities, whereas the characters in Nagatoro are still in high school and figuring out who they are. I just think the latter makes for a more interesting story.

The question I have to consider now is whether I’ll watch the second season, and I’m not sure yet. If it’s just more of the same, I’d prefer to let Sakurai and Uzaki go on without me. On the other hand, I feel kind of invested now that I’ve watched a whole damn 12 episodes of them. I might check out the manga instead — it’s a lot farther along in the story as you’d expect, and I’ve heard that it might do a better job with character development than the anime does.

There are also a few “a crowd overhears and misconstrues the main characters’ conversation and shames one of them unfairly for it” scenes. Do you know the kind I mean? I hate these. People out in public need to mind their own damn business, screw these judgmental assholes.

Again, none of this is to say that Uzaki is bad or poorly done. It looks nice enough, and the characters are mostly pretty likable (even Uzaki, who sometimes walked a thin line between endearing and irritating for me, and I guess for Sakurai as well.) I can also appreciate the escape that a light comedy like this can deliver. But this show might just not be for me. Then again, maybe you’ll end up reading a second season review here at some point, in which case you’ll know that I’m full of shit.

Finally, I don’t want to pass by those controversies that I mentioned. For those who don’t frequent Twitter (and good for you if you don’t honestly; you’re better off for it) Uzaki-chan was the subject of a lot of pissy complaints from people who didn’t like the title character’s design. You can see from the screenshots that Uzaki’s bust is indeed SUGOI DEKAI (SUPER BIG) as her shirt states. She’s also short and pretty small otherwise, and apparently this just didn’t work for some artists on Twitter who generously decided to “fix” the art, redrawing Uzaki to suit their own preferences, along with some complimentary lectures on how “fiction affects reality” and so on (for greater detail/analysis of the situation and examples of the redrawn art, check out the article I linked here from a fellow blogger titled “The Uzaki-chan Drama”; it’s a very interesting read.)

Setting aside the supreme arrogance it takes to redraw someone else’s character and declare that you’ve “fixed” her (and the “fiction affects reality” argument that I’d like to address some other time) Uzaki-chan was just a weird target for this sort of attack. I’d be willing to bet that most of the complainers didn’t bother to watch a single episode of the series, because there’s nothing potentially offensive in it that I could find beyond the light ecchi elements that are present in every single series like this. Hell, if this is how these people react to something as mild and unobjectionable as Uzaki, the Nagatoro anime is probably going to give them a fucking stroke when it airs next year.

The required beach episode was about as crazy as things got, and the beach part was only half of the episode too. Nothing here to get too shocked about.

But I’m sure everyone involved with producing and airing Uzaki-chan is laughing about all this business, because there seems to have been a Streisand Effect here with the negative attention converting to more press for the show and a bigger audience. At least, that would explain why screenshots and art of Uzaki were being spammed all over the place for the last three months. Maybe it was a secret advertising strategy?

But now I’m getting into crazy conspiracy theory territory, so I’ll stop here. Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is a pretty decent romantic comedy that hasn’t really gotten to the romance just yet. If that sounds like your kind of thing, or you’re looking for a light comedy and don’t mind watching events repeat themselves a few times, it’s a nice show to check out. Once again, it’s probably not for me, but I didn’t drop it partway through, so that has to count for something.

Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020)

No, I didn’t forget — the monthly recap is here. And this marks a full year of them. It’s weird to think, I had the idea for this post series when I was at the office, which is somewhere I haven’t been now for the last half-year since the work-from-home plan was put into place. But I’m okay with that. I would honestly be fine with never leaving my apartment again. In fact, I’ll just sign up for that Singularity thing where we get to become consciousnesses in a massive universal computer network or a simulated universe or however that’s supposed to work.

As usual, I’m going to highlight some excellent posts from around the community here, but first, here are short looks at a couple of albums. This time I wanted to do something more seasonal. Everyone likes Halloween and it’s October now, so here are two real classics that I like but also find to be spooky. Well, maybe more unnerving than spooky. I’d include that Boards of Canada album I covered in the very first one of these posts, but I already wrote about it. It’s pretty chilling too; check it out if you’re into that.

Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen (The Residents, 1978)

Highlights: not even going to try

The Residents might be the most bizarre band ever created. It’s hard to call them a “band” actually; the names and even the number of Residents have always been unknown, and some of what they do involves other media like film or falls more into the realm of performance art than music alone. And even though they tour and do live shows, the performers always wear various disguises, most famously giant eyeball-helmets, sometimes with top hats and full formal suits included. Maybe that’s where Daft Punk got their own helmet disguise idea from?

However, I didn’t pick Duck Stab to highlight because of any of that. It’s rather because this album creeps me the fuck out. None of it’s “scary” exactly, but it can be kind of unnerving in parts. The Residents are known for their deconstruction of pop/rock music, and you can hear that happening right here — most of these songs should sound pretty close to normal with beats, melodies, verses, choruses and all that, but everything is just “off” enough to sound completely bizarre instead. Some of the songs sound intentionally ugly, like the opener Constantinople that seems like it was made to try to get you to turn the album off in its first ten seconds. Or Semolina, which sounds like a Beach Boys song produced in Hell. Laughing Song and Birthday Boy are genuinely creepy as well.

Listening to Duck Stab, I get the feeling that the Residents could have easily made a good album full of regular rock and pop songs if they’d wanted to. Even though a lot of it’s ugly, this music is also interesting and even catchy sometimes. It’s very obvious that these songs weren’t just some shit they threw together but were written, probably with a lot of care. The Residents just chose to make the songs fucked up on purpose, with clashing instrumental parts and vocals and lyrics that almost make sense but not quite, resulting in something that I think resembles an Uncanny Valley effect for music. Captain Beefheart did the same sort of thing in the 70s; this reminds me a lot of his album Trout Mask Replica. It’s worth looking up Duck Stab if you’re into that kind of strange music (and if you haven’t heard it, look up Trout Mask Replica too!)

Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (Magma, 1973)

Highlights: no

More weird stuff from the 70s. And yeah, the title is meant to be written that way. Both the album and song titles, and even the lyrics themselves, are written in a fantasy language that sounds a lot like German but isn’t quite. Magma was a French band, however, and the only French prog band I know anything about. Like the Residents, these guys were known for their strange compositions, but Magma’s are different. Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh has separated tracks with titles but feels like one full piece, almost like an old opera with characters singing and sometimes yelling and ranting in this fantasy language over organs, pianos, and pounding bass and drums.

There’s a story behind the whole piece that looks spiritual in nature, but I can’t tell what’s going on with it. Maybe it’s an extremely high-minded concept album like Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans about some esoteric religious ideas. But I just think the music is cool aside from whatever the lyrics might be about. The first parts sound ferocious and martial and can even get a bit frightening with the main singer’s ranting and yelping and more singers joining in, but the tone softens and gets more peaceful in the second half of the album. From the flow of it, I can believe there’s a story being told here, even if I don’t really get it.

In any case, Magma are some interesting guys, quite different from a lot of the British progressive bands I’ve covered. I like the fantasy language element of the music as well. Reminds me of the Hymmnos songs from Ar tonelico and the made-up futuristic English/French/Gaelic/Japanese lyrics in the NieR games’ tracks.

And now, the featured posts:

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off: The Results! (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 concludes the contest co-run with Winst0lf to determine the greatest JRPG character, and the result may surprise you! But I’ll say it’s a deserving win.

You are the main character of your own life. (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — An introspective post from Yomu about how we think of our own places in our lives and how anime usually puts that in a different light. I can’t really do it justice here, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Last of Us Part II (Extra Life) — A massive and truly comprehensive review of the controversial The Last of Us Part II from Red Metal, digging into both the gameplay and the story. No matter how you feel about the game, this is very worth reading.

Introducing the Frosty Canucks Podcast (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte is now co-hosting a game-related podcast! It’s good stuff, I’ll be following it from now on, and you should too.

Rozen Maiden (The View from the Junkyard) — From Roger Pocock, a review of the mid-2000s anime series Rozen Maiden, which is about a socially maladjusted kid who gets a harem of living dolls that fight each other. This is one that seems almost totally forgotten these days, but it was insanely popular back at the time it aired. Also not quite as weird as it might sound from how I described it, though it has been over a decade since I watched it so I might not be remembering something. I do remember Suigintou being a pretty good villain, though.

Divinity, demons, and decay (Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster) — Kimimi writes about her take on Shin Megami Tensei II, a game that until pretty recently was a pain in the ass to play here since it was never officially localized. Anytime anyone writes about SMT I’m interested, and especially about the older or lesser-known titles like this one.

Freaked Out Now and Dead on Arrival. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(a)- Characters (S.E.E.S. and Protag) (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Megami Tensei, Aether’s in-depth analysis series of Persona 3 continues with a look at the unusual school club SEES and the protagonist who joins it at the beginning of the game. Nothing is what it seems at first, and Aether has some great insights about the game once again in this post.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light – Review (Nepiki Gaming) — Check out Nepiki’s newly remodeled site for a great review of this Final Fantasy game. I’ve been off the FF train for a long time now, but it’s still a rich series and a good time to read about.

Why I Hate Fan Service in Anime (The Anime Basement) — Keni over at The Anime Basement puts forward some arguments about why fanservice can be a problem and how some anime series use it in a way that’s not very tasteful. I partly disagree with him, but he does bring up interesting points, and it’s always good to get a different perspective on these matters. (I do agree with him that Kill la Kill does fanservice really well and in a way that makes sense in the context of the show, but maybe that will be a subject for a separate post someday.)

Anime I like, but haven’t talked about yet: Maria the Virgin Witch (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott writes about Maria the Virgin Witch, another anime series that doesn’t seem to get a lot of talk. It’s a pretty short series, so no reason not to take the time out to watch it — I’m halfway through it now and it’s very good so far.

Hololive English: Examining a Worldwide Phenomenon (MoeGamer) — I’ve admitted that I fell into that infamous Hololive/Vtuber rabbit hole recently, just before that English-language branch that started a few weeks ago (and you’ll know that for sure if you saw me talking up Gura’s great singing or Amelia’s interesting mix of chilled-out and weird on Twitter or in comments somewhere.) Pete here gives a history of the Vtuber phenomenon and a rundown of what makes the various personalities of Hololive special.

The Soul of an Online Community (ft. Vtubers) (Anicourses) — Sadly, though, the Vtuber thing is not all sunshine and roses, as we’ve seen recently with the suspension of popular streamers Kiryu Coco and Akai Haato over extremely sensitive international political matters (really, I’m not kidding.) Over at Anicourses, Le Fenette examines empathy and connections between fans and players in online communities, including the very active and sometimes volatile world of Vtuber fandom and how it may have contributed to cutting one Vtuber’s career short.

And finally, congrats to The Traditional Catholic Weeb and Dewbond on two years of blogging!

So let’s finally close the book on last month. These posts keep getting longer, just like my reviews. And I have plenty more coming up: I’m in the middle of a few visual novels that I may or may not finish soon, I’ve just started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and I’ve finished a few anime series I may write about soon (including even more Monogatari! So I hope you’re not tired of that.) Until next time.

A review of Nisemonogatari

Yes, it’s even more Monogatari. I know, I said I’d mix things up, but I’ve been continuing this series and I keep finding there’s plenty to write about every time I finish each of its parts. So it was with Nisemonogatari, an 11-episode run from 2012 that picks up from where Bakemonogatari left off. At first I thought of it as the second season of the Monogatari series, but there’s a long run of episodes later on called Monogatari Second Season that also contains a bunch of other named series within it each with the -monogatari suffix. And it’s not even entirely agreed upon when you’re supposed to watch this: some say you have to watch the Kizumonogatari prequel movies before Nisemonogatari, and some say you can put them off to later. I already watched and reviewed those movies here, and I’m happy I did, because they provide context for an important character relationship that develops in this series.

I’ll get to that one later on, though. The more obvious focus of Nisemonogatari is the relationship protagonist Koyomi Araragi has with his little sisters Karen and Tsukihi. These two only very briefly show up in Bakemonogatari when they’re violently waking up their big brother by pummeling him while he’s in bed, but here they play central roles. The “Fire Sisters” as they’re known at their middle school dedicate themselves to fighting for justice, beating up bullies and the like. However, in the world of Monogatari even this kind of stuff can get you in serious trouble, which is exactly what Karen and Tsukihi both find themselves in. The entire season is taken up by just two parts, in fact: Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix, each focusing mostly on the title character as before.

I really like this stained glass depiction of them we get at the beginning of the series

These two character arcs are quite different from the five that came before in Bakemonogatari, however. The title of this series is another play on words: nisemono, 偽物, means a fake or counterfeit. While it does focus partly on demonic or spiritual possessions, at its core Nisemonogatari is about fakes: distinguishing between the fake and the real and asking how or whether that difference matters.

Also, just a note to avoid confusion: I’ll be referring to almost all the characters by their first names from here on because we now have multiple Araragis active in the story. I’ve just gotten used to referring to most of these characters by their last names because that’s how they read in Koyomi’s narration, but it feels wrong to mix up the use of first and last names unless it’s necessary, or if it feels off to refer to them by their first name (like for Meme Oshino or another character who’s going to show up soon.)

Also, a general spoiler warning, because I feel it’s hard to say much about this series without getting into them to some extent. If you haven’t seen Bakemonogatari at the very least, none of this will make sense anyway. We’re in neck-deep at this point.

You might imagine that the start of a new Monogatari series should be a bit weird, or at least I did after just watching the first series and the prequel movies. So the opening scene with Koyomi chained to a chair in the old cram school, falsely imprisoned by his  girlfriend Hitagi Senjougahara, isn’t such a big surprise. She hasn’t turned on him, though: she tells Koyomi that she’s chained him up to protect him, specifically from a man he briefly met named Deishuu Kaiki. This Kaiki is a conman, but from Hitagi’s description of him he seems to be more dangerous than the average grifter.

Hitagi chaining her boyfriend up makes some sense. As we know, Koyomi is the kind of guy to rush headlong into danger to save others. And since Hitagi knows this Kaiki character — he was one of several cheats who conned her family out of money when they were seeking a solution to her weightlessness problem — she knows how dangerous he is. (She also seems to enjoy having Koyomi at her mercy a bit in these scenes, but that’s to be expected from her at this point.)

A rare look of contrition from Hitagi

Nevertheless, Hitagi allows Koyomi to go free pretty soon after tying him up thanks to a threatening call she gets from their classmate, one we know very well by now: Tsubasa Hanekawa. We only hear Hitagi’s side of the conversation, but knowing Tsubasa, this threat was made in her characteristically sweet way and with serious intent behind it. Hitagi even apologizes to Koyomi, but says she’ll be taking care of Kaiki either way.

And it’s a good thing Koyomi is now free to act, because Karen has already had a dangerous run-in with the conman after she sought him out specifically to “beat him up” for his crimes. She failed in her goal and was left ill with a fever that Kaiki induced through some kind of — magic? Power of suggestion? It’s not clear at this point, but when Koyomi consults with his sisters and Tsubasa back at their house, he starts to put the pieces together.

Kaiki, who couldn’t possibly look shadier.

As in Bakemonogatari, Koyomi is surrounded by aberrations and supernatural dangers that aren’t quite what they seem at first. The story in Nisemonogatari is complicated by the fact that the aberrations this time fall into that theme of “fakes.” Kaiki himself is merely a conman; he denies the existence and power of magic, but he also knows that he can use those beliefs to his advantage by selling supernatural curses and cures to gullible middle school students.

Strangely enough, though, when he’s finally confronted by Koyomi and Hitagi, Kaiki quickly and easily caves in to all their demands, agreeing to close up shop and leave town. He also tells them that the illness he inflicted Karen with was really a sort of mind trick and will disappear soon, leaving her perfectly well. In the end, it seems Kaiki was only doing what he did for one reason: to make money. It makes more sense to him to cut his losses and leave town that to get into a fight.

Mayoi knows it too: money is the most important thing in life.

The Tsukihi Phoenix arc uses this theme of fakes in a very different way. This time, the “fake” isn’t an antagonist, but rather someone very close to Koyomi — his own younger sister Tsukihi. After another run-in with an extremely dangerous person, the aberration specialist Yozuru Kagenui, Koyomi learns that Tsukihi is actually the manifestation of an immortal phoenix that’s reborn when a human infant is stolen and replaced. This phoenix is “evil” according to Yozuru and should be destroyed, despite the fact that it’s also harmless and doesn’t even realize it isn’t a real human. But hell if Koyomi is having that — phoenix or not, Tsukihi is still his sister. Enlisting the help of his vampire companion/mistress Shinobu, he fights Yozuru and her undead familiar Yotsugi until Yozuru either decides she’s bored and gives up or sees Koyomi’s way of thinking, walking away and letting the Araragi family live in peace again.

At the end of Nisemonogatari, as a consequence, all the counterfeits that came into the story are still around. Kaiki is still out there conducting his shady business, and the “fake” Tsukihi who doesn’t realize her true nature is still living her normal life. Yet it’s all okay. At least for the time being. This seems to be a running theme so far to these series. Each one has a dramatically satisfying ending, but a lot of things are still left to be resolved — they simply can’t be resolved because of weird or difficult circumstances. But that’s life, isn’t it?*

Nisemonogatari may just be the second series of Monogatari, but it does feel very different from Bakemonogatari in some ways. I didn’t measure it or anything, but it feels like there’s even more comedic banter between Koyomi and co. than there was in the first series. He spends most of the first two episodes making the rounds, visiting and talking with each of his lady friends before the plot starts in earnest with Hitagi chaining him up, and even deep into the seven-part Karen Bee arc there’s plenty of messing around. This is combined with some of the usual fanservice stuff I now expect from this series: again, even more of it than before. And then there’s the infamous toothbrush scene in episode 8, which I can’t even do justice with words. If you haven’t seen it, you just have to watch it for yourself. It’s weird as hell to say the least.

Proper dental care is is a serious matter.

Because of all this, I can’t say I blame people for thinking this series is self-indulgent. Nisemonogatari especially indulges in a whole lot of the above stuff. However, again I think most of this messing around isn’t here just for the sake of fanservice or to show off the writer’s clever wit (though I think those are probably reasons as well.) A lot of the banter establishes characters and relationships between them, sometimes in ways that are easy to miss the first time — one of those cases of “you might not have noticed, but your brain did.”

One of my favorite scenes in the series is part of a conversation between Koyomi and Tsubasa where they’re discussing Karen’s fever, and during which Koyomi refers to his sisters as “Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan”. Apparently it’s a bit weird to refer to a younger sister using the -chan honorific, or maybe it’s weird if you’re a guy or something. Because Tsubasa instantly seizes on it and makes a bit of fun of Koyomi for it. When he self-consciously tries switching over to simply calling them “my younger sisters”, Tsubasa even stops him and reminds him that they’re “Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan” with a sweet smile.

Tsubasa looks really different without those braids and glasses, but she’s still her usual self, too happy to find a chance to make fun of Koyomi in a good-natured way.

I get the impression that Koyomi referring to his sisters in this way shows how close he feels to them and how much he cares about them in a way that some older siblings might not, but also that he feels a bit embarrassed about that. While Tsubasa makes fun of him for it, she also seems to recognize this in Koyomi, and maybe she envies those relationships being an only child herself, and one who’s living with a lousy family situation on top of that. I feel like this is no accident: these and other exchanges show how subtle the writing in Monogatari can be; through one short exchange it can convey important information about the characters and their feelings.

Speaking of feelings, there are a lot of those to be resolved between Koyomi and Shinobu, and Nisemonogatari shows us some real progress in that relationship. Shinobu, that blonde vampire girl who all the way through Bakemonogatari was silent and sullen-looking, decides early in the series to start talking to Koyomi again. And I like the way the story handles their relationship from here on: Shinobu declares that they won’t and shouldn’t forgive the other for how they’ve hurt each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together. Koyomi accepts this arrangement gladly, and from here on he has a vampire living in his shadow who he has a telepathic connection with, except when she decides to manifest in the real world to complain that she wants him to buy doughnuts for her.

After watching Kizumonogatari, it was really nice to see Shinobu being her old self again — as arrogant as you’d expect from a centuries-old vampire, but also talkative and even friendly sometimes.

This relationship progress is part of why I completely agree with those who say you should watch the Kizumonogatari prequel movies between Bake and Nise — they provide all the context for the complicated connection and history between Koyomi and Shinobu. Without that, Shinobu might just seem like some vampire girl Koyomi happens to know because he’s a weirdo who keeps attracting and getting attached to mythical beings and demigods. Which she is, but she’s also much more than that to him, as he is to her.

I look forward to their unusual relationship developing through the entire Monogatari series, but just watching their banter here is fun too. Though Shinobu refers to Koyomi as “my master” and omaesama (an archaic respectful form of “you” and a reminder that she learned Japanese back in the 17th century) she still acts pretty superior to him, albeit in a friendly way. At the very least, Koyomi has come to expect that attitude from Shinobu, and they have a nice working relationship at this point.

The technical aspects of Nisemonogatari are still excellent. It all looks just as Shaft-ish as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the studio; there are still all the weird scenery, head tilts and poses, cutaways to screens full of text, and the other usual weirdness that seems to be connected to director Akiyuki Shinbou. The music is once again great, suiting and enhancing the moods the show creates (and adding another earworm OP with Tsukihi’s theme Platinum Disco.) And the character models still look nice and very distinctive. I brought up original designer VOFAN who created the cover art for the novels, but the anime characters were designed by Akio Watanabe, and they’re both now favorites of mine after seeing so much of their work in Monogatari.

Nadeko Sengoku in her one scene in this series, acting a little scary.

I wasn’t planning to address this aspect at first, because I already did somewhat in my Bakemonogatari and Kizumonotagari posts, but Nisemonogatari turns up the sexual innuendo scenes between Koyomi and the girls around him to such an extent that I feel I need to bring it up once again. I read on another blogger’s site some time back (I can’t find the link anymore, otherwise I’d post it) that he was happy about Koyomi getting knocked down a few pegs later in the series because the character was too flawlessly noble and might give some viewers the impression that as long as they’re nice and helpful, they can be just as pervy as Koyomi gets sometimes and still have the favor of the women in their lives.

However, while I agree that getting knocked down is great and even a necessity to keep things interesting and help the protagonist of a story learn more and grow as a character, I don’t see Koyomi or his antics in the same light as this blogger did. Partly because Koyomi does come off as quite a flawed character. It’s important to remember that the novels up to this point are written from Koyomi’s perspective, and though I don’t ever get the impression that he’s trying to mislead the reader/viewer, he is a pretty unreliable narrator sometimes. He has noble intentions and wants to save people, yes. And if he seems “too flawlessly noble” sometimes, this is probably a function of his being in his own head a lot.

But he also doubts himself and his own intentions pretty often. Even in Nisemonogatari, where his relationships with Hitagi and his various friends are pretty solid and well-established, Koyomi’s views are challenged by the new antagonists Kaiki and Yozuru, who aren’t even painted as necessarily evil, but rather as people with very different approaches and philosophies that clash with his. In other words, he’s not a Mary Sue. He doesn’t do what he does to pump up his ego but rather because he just feels he must. Even then, he doesn’t get a pass when he screws up, least of all from himself. And while Koyomi does have a sort of “harem” around him, with a couple of other characters having pretty obvious feelings for him, I haven’t yet gotten the impression that Monogatari is meant to be the kind of power fantasy that some actual harem series might be.

Also, remember: he’s already in a committed relationship.

Aside from that, I don’t think anyone (in their right mind, anyway) would watch Koyomi doing his thing and think “oh, I can do that in real life and it won’t be a problem!” Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel these antics of his are so over-the-top that they come off as complete jokes. These scenes are unrealistic, just like the unrealistic dialogue in the series, and that feels very intentional. I think viewers can pretty easily see the difference between actions and consequences in the narrative of Monogatari and in real life for that reason. (And anyway, if off-color material is how we’re judging that, Suruga has him beat.)

You might think that those two would clash with each other. If this story were in the hands of a less clever writer, they probably would. But Nisio Isin manages to combine unrealistic situations and character actions with very real-feeling sentiment in a way that works. Even that Nadeko section of episode 2 that’s seemingly disconnected from the rest of the story, where she’s doing her best to seduce Koyomi, feels like it’s setting up a future plotline. Although it’s played off like a joke, it’s been obvious for a while that she’s in love with him, and I get the feeling this is going to cause serious problems later on for both of them. And just what the hell is Nadeko hiding in her closet, anyway? Maybe we’ll find out in the second season, because that few seconds of dialogue about it feels extremely ominous.

Tsukihi is her friend, but she’s not the only one who realizes Nadeko’s feelings for her brother. Koyomi still doesn’t seem to get it, though.

And that’s it for this part of Monogatari. I see why people have some issues with this run of episodes considering, again, how much messing around there is even compared to the first one. I wrote in my review of Kizumonogatari that I thought that set of movies was divisive, but I think now I was wrong — this is the divisive series, at least as far as those I’ve watched, and judging from what else I’ve read about it. But I like the mix of banter and comedy with drama and action that Monogatari has been using up to this point. Nisemonogatari carries the “screwing around” aspect further than the others I’ve watched so far, but I think it still manages to keep plenty of substance mixed in with all the style.

Now it’s on to the next series and the last of this first season of Monogatari: the four-episode Nekomonogatari Black, which despite the short length will get a post all to itself. It’s another prequel, taking place before Bakemonogatari and telling the story of Tsubasa’s initial possession by a wild cat spirit, an event that until now has been referenced a lot but not actually shown. I’m betting that, as usual, the story won’t be a straightforward one.

* Edit: Looking back at it, that seems to be part of the point of Tsukihi’s story anyway: the fact that the fake tries to be genuine makes it more valuable than the real thing, so there’s really nothing to “resolve” about Tsukihi anyway. Though ask a coin dealer the same question about counterfeits and you’ll get a very different answer.

On the use of public office to suppress the display and sale of artistic works

Weeks ago, I heard about a controversy in Australia having to do with the sale of certain manga in the Sydney branch of Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore chain with locations around the world. Last July, South Australian state legislator Connie Bonaros made a complaint regarding volumes sold there, including such titles as Eromanga-sensei, No Game No Life, Sword Art Online, and Inside Mari, on the grounds that they violated Australian law regulating certain types of sexual artistic depictions. The exchange of letters between Bonaros and Kinokuniya officer Keijiro Mori can be found in the link above, but the gist seems to be that Bonaros thought some of the anime-styled girls in works that include sexual content looked like minors and came to the conclusion that their sale in Australia constituted a violation of the law.

If we talk about how horrible this is and have it banned from stores, people will definitely stop reading it! That has always, always worked.

I feel bad for Australian manga and light novel readers who were into those series, and especially for fans of No Game No Life, a few volumes of which received an outright sale/importation ban. It’s worth mentioning that we’re not even talking about some hentai doujins and manga you might find in the seedier shops in Akihabara; most of the affected series are massively popular and none are pornographic as far as I understand. It also seems weird that a South Australian state legislator can have any say at all over what books can be sold in Sydney, which is located not in South Australia but in New South Wales. That sounds to me something like a Virginia state senator getting books removed from a New York bookstore, which would be unthinkable here in the US.

But I’m not an expert in Australian law. In fact, I don’t really know anything about it except that the Australian constitution doesn’t contain an explicit protection for freedom of speech or expression. Since Bonaros is an Australian lawyer and I’m an American one, I’ll defer to her understanding of her own country’s law. I just hope fans and other artists in Australia can find a way to gain a stronger voice in politics.

All that said, I think the victory won by Bonaros has to be examined more closely. It raises a question that’s relevant to every fan of anime, manga, video games, literature, and art in general living in any country on Earth. That is: how far should a public official be able to use the power and influence afforded by their office to suppress the display and sale of an artistic work? Because that is apparently what Bonaros did. No legislation seems to have been proposed; no evidence was brought forward to show that the contents of the listed works actually violated Australian law (or if it was raised, it wasn’t mentioned in the reports I found.) And there’s certainly been no solid evidence brought forward that said works have a harmful effect on their readers or on society in general. It seems that Bonaros simply saw some manga that rubbed her the wrong way, used her platform as a legislator to complain about it, and successfully pressured Kinokuniya into removing it.

I can’t pretend that this incident in Australia doesn’t affect fans of manga, anime, or related works here in the States either. Because Bonaros also requested a list of other countries in which Kinokuniya still sells No Game No Life and the other titles she objects to, presumably including its American branches, and pressured the company to ban their sale globally.1 As a result, it’s now undoubtedly an issue for us Americans as well. And since she’s made it an issue for us, let’s have a look at US law to see whether or how such an incident might play out here.

Unlike my last couple of posts on this general subject, this time around we’re specifically concerned with the First Amendment. Here’s the original text in full:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty short considering how much has been said about it since it was ratified in 1791. And we’re only concerned here with the middle clause, and specifically with this statement: Congress shall make no lawabridging the freedom of speech.

It’s understood that artistic expression counts as “speech”, and this naturally includes manga (and visual novels, and drawings, etc.) However, that doesn’t mean these are all entirely safe from regulation. Congress has made laws abridging the freedom of speech since, but these were passed when the courts carved exceptions out of that guaranteed protection. An example of such an exception is found in the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio2 (note: citations provided in the footnotes in case you want to look them up) in which the Court determined that the government could not regulate speech on the basis of violent or incendiary content unless it was 1) “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and 2) “likely to incite or produce such action.”

So it’s unconstitutional to arrest someone for throwing out extremist political views, for example, unless they’re actually stirring up a group to do some immediate violence or lawbreaking. It’s a very limited restriction but an important one — essentially, the Court has said that the government shouldn’t have the power to restrict this kind of speech unless it’s about to cause actual harm.

Artistic expression has also been restricted in limited ways and on similar grounds. Certain kinds of expressions that involve causing harm to others, for example, are rightly recognized as falling outside of the First Amendment’s protection. When the artistic expression in question doesn’t involve such harm, however — for example, when actors are depicted being harmed through the use of effects and studio tricks, or the expression consists of drawing or sculpture or some similar form — the standard for regulating the expression is far higher. Even if an artistic expression seems revolting, as long as it’s not found to be obscene or otherwise outside the protection of the First Amendment, it can’t be banned or suppressed through government action.

And the obscenity standard set by the Supreme Court in Miller v. California is extremely difficult to meet. Attempts at getting around this test through other sorts of official action have usually failed, as in the case of Bery v. New York,3 in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a government regulation requiring artists to be officially licensed to sell their work on public streets. Even if a regulation isn’t obviously intended to restrict freedom of expression, if it has that effect, it’s subject to the First Amendment and likely to be struck down in the same way.

However, let’s say that “official” government action isn’t being taken. What if, as in South Australia, some legislator stands up and simply talks about how bad some work of fiction is, how it’s degrading the morals of the people by its very existence, and how for those reasons Amazon should stop selling it? What if people petition Amazon on that basis and the company gives into public pressure and removes said work? In other words: can a public official legally use the power and influence of their office to skirt the First Amendment and have an artistic work suppressed without “making a law”?

Again, this is no hypothetical, because we’ve already seen it happen. I brought up several examples of such attempts at content-based regulation in another previous post. The most relevant here is the string of attacks on video games made by Congress in the early 90s, most famously against the Sega CD game Night Trap. Looking back, it seems strange that this FMV game was ever at the center of a controversy. Its contents are pretty tame, but some legislators spoke against it anyway, most notably former Senator Joe Lieberman, for containing gratuitous violence and lewdness. Following a congressional hearing in 1993 on the subject of video game violence (during which Lieberman admitted to never having actually played Night Trap) the game was pulled from distribution by major distributors and later pulled from the market altogether.

If it hadn’t been for that controversy, though, this game wouldn’t have gotten a rerelease/remaster on Steam, no way in hell.

The facts that the Sega CD was a marketing failure, and that by most accounts Night Trap was a lousy game, might have something to do with its pulling from distribution, but the influence of interest groups driven at least in part by public condemnation has to be considered. In my view, the use of a congressional hearing in this way taints the market and is an example of government overreach into the regulation of art. Lieberman’s view of Night Trap doesn’t seem very different from Bonaros’ view of No Game No Life and the rest of the manga on her list: both came to conclusions about the meanings and effects of the works seemingly without supporting evidence, and both ended up having an effect on the distribution of the work (in Bonaros’ case a much more direct and obvious effect, though.)

It seems this kind of government interference in art is hard to prevent even in the US, however; it’s happened so many times already (see also the Hays Code and the Parents Music Resource Center.) And there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again. At the moment, the US is going through a shitstorm for lack of a better term, or at least I can’t think of a better one to use, so people aren’t thinking too much about how music or video games are going to turn fans into degenerates or criminals. But that won’t last forever. One day when things are less chaotic, we’ll have another moral panic in which art is attacked as a way to avoid actually addressing societal problems. And since it doesn’t seem to be considered a violation of the First Amendment for politicians to use their influence to try to have works regulated or removed from sale, maybe the better question to ask at that point is: “Should they be allowed to do so?”

Let’s just do this again, why not.

Of course, my answer is “no.” The First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression loses some of its teeth when politicians are able to use the resources and influence of office to essentially get around it. Yet I don’t see a solution to that other than maintaining a culture of open and free expression. That’s a culture that has been under attack recently, especially with regard to anime, manga, and anime/manga-influenced games. We just have to remain vigilant as usual, calling out hypocrisy and scapegoating when we see it, and always in a civil but forceful manner.

I’ve lived in a country where the government had near-complete control over art and the press and where the dominant culture supported that control, and I can tell you it’s not fun. Many of the people who think they want that kind of power to be exerted against expression they don’t like here in the US might be in for an unpleasant surprise when they find works they like on the chopping block. But by then, if we ever get to the point where the First Amendment is so eroded, it will be too late to do anything about it.

So there’s my dire warning as usual. And as usual, I’m interested in other opinions. Do you have a different angle on these issues? Do you think Bonaros was right and justified in what she did? If you do, I don’t think we’ll find much common ground, but it’s still worth talking about. Maybe there were some important facts in that case that were glossed over or that I missed. Or maybe my own views on the issue as an American are considered weird in other countries. I know for a fact that’s the case, but that’s also part of why I came back here after all. 𒀭

1 Thankfully, Kinokuniya’s response to this request was: “In terms of our action globally, wherever our stores are situated we respect local law and culture, and make ordering decisions respectively and accordingly.” Which sounds like a diplomatic way of saying “mind your own damn business.”

2 395 US 444 (1969).

3 97 F.3d 689 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct. 2408 (1997). There’s an interesting note about the case here (a note being an article written by a law student in an academic journal — I wrote a note myself, but it was a piece of shit and rightly didn’t get published.) A good read if you’re interested in the subject.