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


19 June 2014


Hi, all! AJ here with some great news.

You are now able to pre-order Charles' upcoming e-books! Titles at this time include:

Beyond Miyazaki: Politics and Philosophy in the Films of Studio Ghibli 

Scheduled Release Date: By October 1, 2014.

Price: $10.00 USD

Bonus Content: Exclusive "Presenter's Notebook", featuring scans and rumination from Charles' personal journal used during the creation of the 2010 panel "Castles, Forests, and Bath Houses".

Shuten Doji vs. State Shinto: Kill la Kill and the Transformation of Japan

Scheduled Release Date: By December 1, 2014.
Price: $10.00 USD

Bonus Content: A collection of essays and unpublished articles from Study of Anime and new material written specifically for this release.


These links will also be available on the front page of Study of Anime. Thanks in advance!

17 June 2014

trauma and hope: edge of tomorrow

Kit here.

This is more of a personal essay than a review, to be honest, because as much as I'd like to do a more objective review of the film Edge of Tomorrow - I grew up as a military dependent. Or, in more casual terms, a military brat (a neutral term, not negative, and possibly derived from "British Regiment Attached Traveler") in the United States Air Force.

Because of that, I want to talk about damage, and hope.

Now, as a military brat, I was not "in the military", in the traditional use of the term. I didn't volunteer to be a soldier. I never went through training. And until the last couple of years, I did not receive educational benefits like the GI Bill (now, the GI Bill can be transferred to spouses and dependents if eligible). So there are simply some things that soldiers experience, that I won't.

But that all being said, military dependents like spouses and children do get to see other things, good and bad. Alcoholism is rampant. Classism. Silence. Relatively easy access to world cuisine, thanks to commissaries stocking favorites from Germany, Korea, and so on. Rigorous expectations. Lack of privacy, even if you live off-base. Class divisions by rank extend even to spouses and children - who should rightly have no rank, but are called "Lieutenant X's wife" or "Lieutenant X's son" and accorded privilege (or not) based on the rank and status of the military family member. Skin color becomes less important - not to say that racism doesn't exist in the military (it does), but that within a military structure, rank and status dictates so much of expectations and behavior. Moving boxes get left in the basement or in storage, only opened when needed, just in case a call to relocate and uproot comes again. But for dependents? We didn't sign up for this. We lose a lot of these benefits at 18, or 23 depending if we go to university. We are never considered "in the military", yet have to deal with pressure cooker environments, absences, lack of support networks, and losing friends constantly.

For some of us, we turn inward. We lose hope.

What use is there in making friends, if we're just going to move in 18 months? Or two years? Or three? Or - on a more common note: what use is there in trying to answer the "where are you from" question, when there's a list? When civilians don't realize that they're really asking a number of questions, and those questions can have completely different answers?

Even the best of us get tired. We want the familiar. Or at least, we want our lives to make sense. We want to hold onto something; faith, maybe. Family loyalty. Our spouse, or our own family or friends. Something. Anything.

In the film Edge of Tomorrow, much is made about Major Cage's unsuitability to front line combat. This character is a PR / Media Relations officer; his job is to promote his branch, promote the resistance against the alien enemy, get people to join up. Give people hope, in other words, that fighting is not useless.

Throughout the film, there are times he loses hope. He watches a penal squad that he was assigned to (under... less than honorable conditions) get slaughtered in a rush on a French beach, calling up memories of World War 2's Normandy to the viewers. He watches drop ships explode, over and over. The enemy is incomprehensible; nobody knows what the enemy even might be after, just that humanity is doomed if they win. There's no reason to fight, except that humans must: and as much as Major Cage tries, he keeps seeing others die - from squad mates to commanding sergeants to the "Angel of Verdun" to himself to even an entire city falling.

Yes, he quickly becomes combat-ready. He quickly figures out how to fight, how to roll under cars, and so on - but only because of repeated cycles of screwing up. But in the film, there is a scene with Major Cage and Sgt Vrataski at a farmhouse. They find a helicopter nearby, and Vrataski wants to get it ready to fly; Cage tries to persuade her to stay a bit and tend to her injuries, or siphon the gas, or have some coffee. Anything except starting the engine and flying it out.

She presses the issue. Insists. Forcefully. She realizes Cage knows something she doesn't.

"You die." He ends up explaining. "This is as far as you go."

He wants to remain in a place where she, at least, does not die. Not this time. He has hope, but he's damaged. He wants a small bit of happiness, even if he knows he'll just be repeating the same day over again, and she'll likely die somehow anyway. But if all he sees is death, he has to make himself believe there's something besides death and destruction. Somehow.

He wants to cling to hope. The very person whose role it had been to give hope to others, now realizes how important hope is.

He has trauma, certainly. He's tired. He has to repeat a lot of events over and over, and when he can't, he's thrown off - he doesn't know how things will go, he doesn't know if he'll be able to defeat the enemy that he does not know, cannot explain. But despite all this, despite all of what he's seen and done, he still manages to internalize hope and move forward.

Even when he doesn't expect to move forward, he does: and then seems to take a small amount of comfort/happiness in what he can.

He smiles. Finally.

And we can try to smile at the small moments, too.

13 June 2014

storytelling and magic - when they cry

As I was not able to present my The Heart of When They Cry panel at Anime NEXT, I have wanted to talk about stories. I touch on this a bit during the panel. 

Ever since we can remember, humans have told stories.

We tell stories about the night sky, about the stars and the moon. We tell stories about fierce warriors, saving their villages or destroying monsters or demonstrating some virtue that we want to emulate. We tell stories about wisdom and cunning, of survival and pride and falls.

We enshrine stories - either as a canon of "must read" literature, telling us something about ourselves, or as religious belief, or as entertainment. People who knew certain stories were historians, lorekeepers, bards, priests.

Stories are magic.

But stories can also be used to hurt: to demean, to ruin, to curse. "Telling stories" became a way to say "saying something that isn't true" - and lying, or speech that is not careful, has been reprimanded in many societies in many time periods.

 But sometimes, a factually incorrect story may be useful. And sometimes, a factually correct story may not give you enough truth of the experience.

For example: is it useful to programmers to refer to computers as people? ("Jill's acting up today" - "the modem doesn't want to work") Yes. Is it factually true? Perhaps not.

But does referring to blogging, or video, or writing as "typing on the computer" really bring the emotional state of things either? That blogging may be personal essays or Twitter a way to get in touch with loved ones fast? Speaking of love, why do we talk of love as both harmful, and the best thing in the world? And if we revere facts as so important, than why do many religious traditions - and poetry - speak in parables, in comparisons, in seemingly incoherent riddles?

Our stories aren't always neat, our stories seem contradictory. We speak of humans being akin to angels, and yet have stories about sin and disgrace. We have stories about cunning folk, about peasants becoming princes; yet in the same breath, we have stories about spies, soldiers, clergy, priests, wise folk; demons and monsters and the dangers in the forest or in ourselves. And yet sometimes, our stories are neat and clean. The hero gets the monster. The village is saved. The throne is secure. We want simplicity. We want things to be easy.

Humans are complicated.

And we have complicated feelings about ourselves. So our fears, our worst desires, destruction and death and corruption - we see these in stories. Our dreams and hopes? The same. We want to learn, to experience, to get away, depending on what we need at the time.

Stories are magic.

And with this magic, hopefully we can remember the best about ourselves. Life may be harsh, but perhaps we can find moments of connection and of beauty in it.

03 June 2014

anime next 2014: schedules and some reading material in the meantime

This weekend is Anime NEXT over in Somerset. Both Kit and myself are scheduled to do about 4 panels apiece, not counting anything else we might choose to crash.

Spirits, Wheels and Borrowed Gods, 1:45 Bridgewater 1 (Charles)
Troubles with Trnaslations, 3:15 Panel 2 (Kit)
We Con, Therefore We Are, 4:15, Bridgewater 1 (both…and whoever else we can bring up)

Gentle Strength: Utena/Madoka, 10 Panel 3 (Kit)
Real Ninjas, 2:30 Panel 1 (Charles)
Kill la Kill and the Transformation of Japan, 7 Bridgewater 1 (both)
The Heart of When They Cry, 9:45, Bridgewater 1 (Kit)

In lieu of any new rumination this week, why not take a look at some of the stuff we've been writing for other sites.

http://www.themarysue.com/yaoi-slash-mens-love-difference/ - from the Mary Sue, from May 9th

http://otakujournalist.com/speaking-up-how-and-why-to-present-panels-at-conventions/ - Otaku Journalist, May 26

http://www.mangatherapy.com/post/87415597288/escaflowne-vision-of-hitomi - Manga Therapy, May 31st


Media Commons: A Network of Networks My contribution to last month's Media Commons survey question

Media Commons: Precious Binary Spaces Kit's contribution to Media Commons

My Review of the Battle Royale Slam Book on AniGamers

A specific scene about the anime piracy discussion