18 July 2014

companion tales and fox tails

In panels like the Kill la Kill panel, we mention "otogizoshi" - fairy tales and fantastical stories of the Muromachi period of Japanese history and onward. Stories of the mysterious, just as often as they are stories of glory or of the ridiculous. These stories may have originated in the Muromachi period (roughly, 1337-1573 CE) but inspire more modern stories also.

Caster, from Fate/Extra.

My favorite story involves Tamamo-no-mae, the dangerous fox. Of course, there are differences in versions, but I will tell you some of her story.

13 July 2014

guest post - back and forth media

As we at Study of Anime are either 1) getting back from ConnectiCon or 2) finally fixing their computer (and resetting files, programs, and all that tediousness), here's a guest post by Sid Motaghi, a recent graduate of The New School, where he studied Media Studies. You can find him on Twitter at @betatapeofpast also.

In Bolter and Grusin’s book, Remediation: Understanding New Media, they discuss the elements of immediacy through hypermediacy, transparency in digital media, and a double logic of remediation. Remediation as defined by the contemporary entertainment industry is a type of borrowing called “repurposing.” Such examples include: television can and does refashion itself to resemble the World Wide Web, and film can and does incorporate computer graphics into its form.

I say all this because the concept of repurposing can be applied to Japanese animation works, which seem to be in constant dialogue with works from other cultures (music, art, film, etc) - notably Western film. That is to say, Japanese animation (known as anime) and film, and Western animation and film, are influenced from each other.

07 July 2014

wishing upon a star - tanabata

Wishing on a star is ancient. Certainly more ancient than Disney could ever hope for.

And of course wishing on a star happens in Japan also.

From Sakura Hostel Asakusa, in 2012.

Tanabata ( JP: 七夕 ) , also known as the Star Festival or the Festival of Sevens, was a festival borrowed from Chinese culture around the 8th century CE, and dedicated to two stars: the Weaver Star and the Cowherd Star. The Weaver was a princess of the heavenly king, who wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Milky Way. However, she despaired at meeting anyone, because she was so lonely. The heavenly king realized her loneliness, and arranged her to meet the Cowherd, whose job it was to keep the celestial animals from wreaking havoc. The story goes, these two truly fell in love in the celestial court; the heavenly king, who had set it up in the first place, was pleased and agreed to the marriage, as long as the two did their work keeping everything in order. But so lost in love were they, that soon their duties were neglected.

As punishment, the king decreed that the two should separate, and placed the Milky Way between them: however, even he could not quench love completely, and so allowed them a chance. If their work was done, and the sky was clear, the Weaver and the Cowherd could see each other once a year around midsummer, crossing the Milky Way to spend time with each other once more. Tanabata is supposed to be that day: the seventh day of the seventh month.

The first time the couple met each other like this, though, they found the Milky Way still separated them and there was no way to cross. Despairing, the Weaver collapsed into tears; moved by her tears, a flock of magpies came and offered to create a bridge, using themselves and their wings to do so. The Weaver thanked them and the lovers could meet again.

However, it's said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies will not notice the Weaver's need, and not come to create the bridge. In that case, the lovers have to wait another year before they can meet.

It's a time of wishes and of love; the wishes made do not necessarily have to be romantic in nature. After all, this festival also celebrates determination and steadfast loyalty. So, any wish is okay. People sometimes write their wishes on paper streamers and hang them up, or display them, or (at the least) go to a shrine to write their wish. If the streamers are being hung up at a home or a school, the streamers are usually hung on branches of bamboo. Sometimes, instead of bamboo, it's sakaki (a sort of evergreen, often used in Shinto ceremonies), but of course, different places sometimes have their own variations! For example, because this festival originally used the lunar calendar (seventh month of the lunar calendar, that is), some places in Japan still celebrate Tanabata using the lunar calendar, even though Japan has switched to the Gregorian lunisolar calendar reckoning. For example, Sendai area holds the Tanabata festival this year from August 6-8.

7 kinds of paper decorations are made, ranging from paper cranes wishing for long life, to streamers for financial success, luck on exams, or even ornate decorations meant to emulate fishing nets.  Some cities decorate their shopping districts and shrines will be busy also.

So what would you wish for, if you could wish upon a star?

28 June 2014

hell hath no fury - bodies and women

Previously, we have talked about Kill la Kill; and in the ebook, we will talk a bit more about the grotesque, the feminine, and the way bodies and nudity are portrayed. 

But for now, I (Kit) have been rewatching the films released in the franchises of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Revolutionary Girl Utena. And in Kill la Kill, in Madoka Magica, and in Utena, much is made of bodies. Of shapes. Of forms. Of women and of power.

In Kill la Kill: not only are there the Kamui (Senketsu, Junketsu, and so on) but there is Kiryuin Ragyou; we learn that she has combined with the alien Life Fibers. Her back is filled with star-shaped scars, and she accentuates the body; she speaks of shame and the human need to cover oneself, even as she delights in her ownership of other bodies (such as her daughter Satsuki's). Nui could count as a strange, absurd body; she is said to be an artificial humanlike creature, made out of Life Fibers. She can create copies of herself, she is even animated with less frames than is usual for anime.  This creates a deliberately strange and alien effect; we see her pink outfit, her smile, her apparently bubbly demeanor; and then shudder when we notice she does not move in a way we would expect her to. When we get used to her smiling face and energy... that is when she becomes more terrifying. You could even call her hysterical. 

In Madoka Magica? We are first introduced to Kaname Madoka - in the film - during a morning routine involving walking, washing up, getting dressed for school. A major turn in the plot of the franchise comes out of the reveal that the bodies of the magical girls.. are not their own, in a sense. The bodies are but spare containers, with extra strength and endurance, the ability to use magic, and it is the Soul Gems which encase the magical girls' essences. The body can be injured, tortured, or destroyed, but as long as the Soul Gem is active (and near the body), they will eventually live to fight witches again.

The witches themselves are abstract shapes and images; often, the witches are illustrated in a different style than the main animation, illustrating an image shift. They are not made the same way as our magical girls. They are Other. Distorted. Unfamiliar. Weird. The magical girls reject the idea that their bodies are now shells/containers, because their bodies are familiar to them; their faces look the same, their smiles, their hands, their legs, their feet. But in the case of the witches, who were the Other, who were the Strange Enemy that they pledged their souls to fight... their horror comes from the fact that they turn into something that is no longer recognizable. Their speech is distorted and alien. Even the witches' environments are strange, filled with symbols and shadows that usually reflect the origin of the witch... if only by association. The environment seems chaotic. Images over images masking any coherence, the witches are what magical girls become when overcome with despair: as if humanity, coherence, flesh and blood were masks. The usual methods of communication do not work. The witches are powerful - yet powerless. They try to communicate, to not be alone - with the end result (in the franchise) being listlessness, despair, disappearances, attacks, suicides. 

In Utena, gender ambiguity and boundaries get brought in as well: we are introduced to Tenjou Utena (the main character) charming the school - except for people who think that she dresses too masculine, that she looks like a boy. Arisugawa Juri, the fencing team captain with elegant orange-yellow curls, faces despair and shame due to her obsessive love for another girl and her regret and pain. She is elegant, beautiful, a classic feminine beauty, a princess; and yet her transgressions are that she is a warrior, that she is not the 'right' body for loving women. 

And then there's Anthy, who is described as both a bride, and a witch. As docile, meek, subservient: and yet mysterious and fierce - as a source of pity and a source of rage.

But above all, a source of power.

What will you do with that power? With your body?

With your own two hands?

24 June 2014

magical (writing) tour of studyofanime

I (Kit) was asked to respond to a blog tour bit by Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne, involving questions on writing. Twoflower's works will be mentioned in an upcoming panel from here, so be on the look out for that too.

For those new to this site, we here at Study of Anime write about Japanese culture. Not only Japanese animation, but also sacred traditions, horror stories, cultural events (such as Tanabata/the Star Festival), communication styles, and more. All crafted with care, with some help of coffee.

This response is actually for myself as well as Charles, so this is the Study of Anime ~ complete behind the scenes writing edition~ ... or something.

  • Response in bold: Charles
  • Response in italics: Kit