SO. I’ve joined the intellectual and charming aniblog “The Untold Story of Altair and Vega”. They were mostly interested in my work here on waifuz (which flatters me more than I little), so I am going to start writing longer things for them.
What does that mean for this little slice the internet? Not much at the moment. I will still probably post shorter things and interact with the tumblr SJ and anime communities.
In the mean time, check out the rest of Altair and Vega. It’s full of interesting perspectives.
Mostly because it’s true. I don’t understand how these men can just give up liking a voice actress just because she has a boyfriend and start calling her a slut basically. “my Azu-kyun isn’t pure!” fucking hell, are you pure? The idol culture within Japan really sickens me. I know I should chill because Bakuman is fictional but I know this happens and it’s awful.
[A short, brown haired girl stands in a pink kimono with purple obi, her eyes closed with blooming white flowers against a blue background. Picture from http://randomc.net/]
So, Chihayafuru is on it’s way to being in my Top 5 anime. It’s gonna push out K-On!! and cause me to re-think how I order the list. It’s just that good. Chihaya forms much of the core of the series’ appeal, but my preference for secondary characters has me fascinated by Kana Oe and her charming mother.
Kana joined the Misusawa Karuta Club to indulge in her love of classical poetry (Karuta is a game that centers on 100 famous poems from Japanese history) and classical apparel. Her mother owns a kimono shop and the Oe ladies have conspired to make the formal dress into the uniform of the Karuta club.
The message really hits home in episode 18 when the show takes time to focus on Kana’s bearing and performance on the Tatami when in traditional garb. The sequence is fascinating. The normally reserved and defensive girl is aggressive, precise, and flawlessly graceful. And her mother opines:
Chihaya-chan is very beautiful, but she’s beautiful no matter what she wears. Kanade isn’t necessarily beautiful, but she knows how to use a kimono.
The change that comes over Kanade is immense. Her meek manor evaporates and she replaces it with a fire that makes her a formidable opponent on the tatami. This transformation struck a deep chord in me. One of the accusations levied against feminism from time to time (usually by people who’ve not taken time to understand it) is that they’re against the feminine. That we don’t want girls and women to wear pretty clothes and act demure. That’s patently false. I’d never take that from Kana, who shows her true self most in traditional clothing and sporting traditional mannerisms—all of which are heavily gendered. When she says “my obi supports me”, there’s a vein of defiance and pride that raises a shout from me instead of coos of appreciation.
For this young girl, the grace, poise, and poetry of these classical women forms a central inspiration. She wants to live a life full of passion and fire while exuding proud elegance. It doesn’t matter what her dream is, seeing Kanade pursue it should make us all happy.
I really got into manga in high school. I spent my days sitting in the back of Spanish class reading Nausicaa, Dominion Tank Police, and Ranma 1/2 and using my quick wit to pass the conversational activities without any prep. It’s in this time period that I came in contact with Battle Angel Alita (known as Gunnm in Japan) and have been fascinated with it ever since.
Alita (who goes by Gally in the Japanese version) belongs to a list of complicated and capable heroines that dominate the manga I love and a more interesting subset of cyborgs for whom gender is wholly divorced from biology. Alita has even more bodies than Matoko Kusanagi*, some little more than vehicles with humanoid form (her Motorball body, for example), so the question bears asking what makes her female?
[A girl with shoulder-length black hair and silver highlights under her eyes looks at the reader. She is saying “I believe that I am human. That is all the proof you need”, Battle Angel Alita: The Last Order Volume 1]
Kishiro’s gender politics are pretty straightforward on some fronts. Alita’s combat-focused jobs (hunter warrior, motorballer, and time as a “Tuned”) put her in spaces dominated by men with a thirst for violence and excess of pride. In all these cases, the intrepid Alita defeats bigger, more powerful opponents mainly with the help of a martial art designed to fight bigger, more powerful opponents**. But beyond that, Kishiro doesn’t really play favorites. Alita’s vulnerability and sensitivity make for a good hero as much as an accurate portrayal of a woman. Moreover, she gravitates towards employment that involves the use of her combat skills and is not really, by nature the nurturing type (arguments could be made that she’s that way towards Koyomi, but it’s a stretch). So where does her sense of gender come from if it’s not signified in a “traditional” manner through characterization that would be incompatible with everything else Alita is?
Her subconscious. As we learn in Last Order, she believes herself to be female. When her body is given shape by the workings of her brain (the Imaginos body), she chooses to be female. For Alita, knowing who and what she is serves.
Others’ perceptions of her. Figure finds her attractive, most of the motorballers underestimate her, the regulars at Bar Kansas are smitten with her. In many ways, it matters more to her observers that she is a woman than to her. For Alita the path she walks through life is vastly more important than her gender.
I think this is one of the reasons why I find her a delight to read. No matter how picked on or dismissed, she’ll fight for what she believes in. It was refreshing to me that while being a tiny, adorable octo-lips, Alita spent most of her time focused on the bloody and violent path ahead.
* Okay, okay. Makoto ARAMAKI has like a billion bodies, but she’s a distributed machine intelligence merged with a human consciousness, so I think she’s a special case and not the original Major.
** I refuse to call Panzer Kunst deus ex machina when talking about a series that has at least two machine gods.