A good man is hard to find, finding one to write about is even harder. Every culture has it's paragons of manhood. The times of the Christian old testament had their Samsons, Solomons and King Davids, England had its King Arthurs and Robin Hoods, the 40's and 50's had Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Toshirō Mifune and others. As we come to current, the flavors of manliness are many.
Focusing in on the Japanese flavor of manliness (I'm told it tastes like curry), It varies even more. It's tempting to say "Kamina, period." and end this blog early, but ten thousand yaoi and their pretty, besparkled, loverboys can't be wrong either. There's also the advent of the loveable screw-ups like Keitaro Urashima, the cool, calculating geniuses like Light Yagami, the father figures like Koiwai-san, the list goes on. So many archetypes, so many characters, so many flavors of man. How can you choose just one? Cue the dashing entrance of Lupin the third.
(Blogger's note: this article is best read while playing this in the background, possibly while cracking a safe.)
Arsène Lupin III is one of the few characters that can fill all the facets of manliness in the Otaku lexicon. Sure, Kamina is a badass beyond compare, but you can't say he's very smart. Light can think three moves ahead of everyone in the world, but you steal his notebook and he's just a bored high schooler. Koiwai tō-chan is raising a precocious little girl on his own while still putting in his time at the job, but try doing that when you're dodging an obsessed policeman while riding giraffes across the African flatlands. Other legends you say? Robin Hood can steal from the rich for those more needy, but try stealing without the moral justification and off-color pantyhose. If you're going to steal, steal in style.
Speaking of style, there are bits of being manly that never go out of it. Lupin shows many of these manly parts (could I throw any more innuendo into this blog?) regularly. He is loyal to his partners, through Fujiko's betrayals, Goemon's reminders of impending murder and even Zenigawa's incessant hounding. He is more than just an instrument of brute force, he can use intelligence, subtlety, imagination. He can see impossible ideas like floating an artifact out of its surroundings via remote or hiding a workshop of gadgets under a fat suit right under a security guard's nose.
A common thread between many manly men in anime is how they allow us to live vicariously through our common fantasies. Kamina allows us to do what what we want without letting anyone get in our way, Light gives us absolute power over the fate of others, Keitaro lets us believe that any loser can traipse their way into a gaggle of girls doting over him. Lupin lets us live out almost all of the things we wanted to be when we were seven ("I'm gonna be the best thief ever and a race car driver and climb a pyramid and I'm gonna marry Wendy Peffercorn from down the street!") and we can still relate to his faults and flubs at twenty-seven and beyond. Been betrayed by a girl, but you can't get her out of your mind? Lupin deals with that every single day.
Still, Is Lupin the most manly of the men? The Gentleman of GAR? Probably not. The days of the super spies and debonair thieves being at the fore of men's men has passed us by. Men like Kamina start and end the swordfights (ugh, almost finished without that innuendo popping up!) about what "manly" means. But perhaps that's how Lupin would like it. It's easier to steal your core drill that way.
Stop me when this sounds familiar; It's a day or two after Thanksgiving and in your part of the world, it's dreary. Work kicked your butt, you missed lunch, the iPod played nothing but Aphex Twin on the drive home and topping it all off, it's cold and rainy. if you're like me, it's safe to say this has got you a little down.
On days like this, I turn to Japan to keep me warm and snuggly (your jokes about the rising sun and/or tentacles go here, reader). Read a few chapters of Yotsuba here, listen to some Polysics and Hikki there and wrap it up with a favorite anime. Maybe you've done the same on your own gray and yucky days. But what shows make up make up a decent way to wait out the rain? I don't have all the answers, but I'm offering these suggestions for your consideration.
Ah! My Goddess
If you've been around for a bit, I don't need to say much about Keiichi and Belldandy's exploits. If you haven't, one of the reasons this property stays evergreen is the heartwarming relationship between the two. They do damn near everything together and stick together through thick and thin, cheering each other on.
Kimi no Todoke
At this point, does anyone really reading Japanator need an intro to this series? All you need to know is:
Hidamari Sketch (and x365)
Getting away from the cute couple shows, Shaft shows us that it's not just staplers and ZETSUBOUSHITA!!! with the cute bonanza of the ladies of Sunshine Apartments. Even when it's raining for them, it's never too late to call friends over and dish the dirt. Laughter, and sunshine, is never too far behind.
Even though it's a great show, when I thought of Eureka for the list I'm imagining what it would be like to surf the sky. Almost every day in the show's world has a bright blue sky, full of birds and those weird green skyfish. Much like a surfer in a monsoon, I keep dreaming of that perfect lift. It's better than looking at all the bleh outside.
Sometimes you want to d'aww and daydream the blues away and sometimes you just want a good laugh. The Slayers movies and TV series have always delivered the funny for me. It jumps pretty well from the slapstick to the tsundere based shtick and back again. Plus, there are explosions. Explosions always make people happy.
HEYHEYHEYHEYHEYHEY! I don't want to hear any of this heartwarming crap! If you want warmth, find in the heart of battle! Find it in the heat of two men combining! Find it in kicking the ass of the impossible! Sad, gloomy man, GRIT YOUR TEETH!
So those are my suggestions, what about yours? Maybe you're more into the confectionary wonders of Yumeiro Patissiere? Maybe Higurashi, because it shouldn't just rain, but rain blood? I'm open to suggestions, the forecast isn't making things any brighter over here...
Clicking through the world today, I came across these colorful pictures from a live painting event that took place at a Tokyo gallery last week. The artist, Que Houxo, created the flowers while under a self imposed 20 minute time limit using what looks like only fluorescent paints, two brushes and his hands with blacklights to make them stand out. Wow. If velvet kaiju are pimp, then this is gangsta.
The performance was part of a showing at Gallery Conceal in Shibuya named "No Tomorrow Tokyo". The theme, at least the theme can grasp I can grasp through Moonspeak-to-Googlese translation, is a reflection on how Tokyo is a city of constant repetitive cycle of construction and demolition at the expense of the natural landscape. I'm not an art connoisseur by any stretch, but seeing the pictures in the gallery and the time lapsed video of his performances included below, I cant help but wonder if this is what Van Gogh would be like if he was a Japanese artist that grew up in the modern era of graffiti.
Maybe I'm a bad person for this, but I like to see good people go through hell.
Well, good characters anyway. The more noble and upright the character, the more exciting it is to put them through the wringer and the more thrills, laughs and heartbreak I get out of it. It's not much a surprise, then, that I'm a fan of Monster.
You may already know the story: a wunderkind Japanese surgeon practicing in Germany embroiled in hospital politics commits career suicide to save a boy that will become a charismatic sociopath who aspires to be the monster who will end the world. For his troubles the doctor, Tenma, loses everything. Years later he learns of what the boy, Johan, has become and sets out to fix his mistake by killing the monster he created. Tenma is framed for murder in the process and is hunted by the authorities throughout most of Europe for many years as he searches for Johan, who is always two steps ahead of him.
A brilliant man sworn to an oath of "Do No Harm" listens to his conscience and is rewarded with marginalization, criminalization and a guilt so powerful that he is driven to commit murder. Yep, I'm smiling already.
While the story of a talented wanderer righting wrongs while chasing a shadowy villain is a fertile and often used bed for all types of media, what makes Monster stand out to me is the delivery of Urasawa's story. Whereas many stories let the character feel a bit of relief when they save the day, that lightheartedness never comes to Monster. Tenma can, and does, save a child, uncover government atrocities, mend family rifts, performs difficult surgeries in the backwoods of Europe with little more than kitchen tools and a chorus of other good deeds. He knows what he's done for people and he may smile his sad smile, but it's all minor compared to the guilt Tenma shoulders and the hunt for his monster.
As Tenma gives chase, it becomes clear that Johan is a monster of the worst kind. Much like the Antichrist and Devil that he is paralleled with, he is happy to let you think he doesn't exist, that he's another face in the crowd while he works his cruel influence on you through those that follow his orders or sometimes, if they're unlucky, face-to-face. Just as Johan caused Tenma's change from promising doctor to scruffy, murder-seeking fugitive, those that cross the monster's path learn a lesson that is a central theme to the story: that anyone can become a monster.
It's worth noting that where some anime lose something in the adaptation from their original Manga, Monster only seems to have gained. It's no surprise that the studio that brought us Ninja Scroll and other page-to-animation projects like Black Lagoon and Death Note can pull off the amazing, but this is the first time that I've enjoyed the the animated version as much as I have when reading the original. Madhouse threw in a pound of noir style to the dramatic world Urasawa created, making the characters feel all the more doomed to their fates at Johan's hands.
Does salvation come for Tenma at the end of his journey or to soothe his guilt, does he become just as monstrous as Johan? I haven't finished the final volumes of the manga, so I'm in the dark just as you might be. However it ends up, it won't be pretty. Someone will suffer greatly and it will make me smile. Does that make me a monster, too?
When given the chance, people of similar tastes and mindsets will generally gather together. Unless you just don't want to go outside and share in the desu, that is.
I've, until recently, always been very private about my J-culture pursuits. Not out of shame, but out of a blend of enjoying TV shows alone, the rest of my family and friends generally being uninterested and a lack of skill and experience in explaining the nuances of Japanese pop culture to others so they could enjoy it as well. Even around my superhero comic reading, cult Sci-Fi show watching, D&D playing, geek-friendly acquaintances, even with the glut of internet communities covering J-anything becoming densely populated and lively places, I've generally stayed to myself for one reason or another.
Earlier this year, I spent time with a few friends after a day at New York Comic Con and I've come to appreciate how awesome being part of the Otaku community can be.
I'm sure many of you can testify that a con can be great, but the after parties have the potential to be better. This particular party starts somewhere in Hell's Kitchen in a one bedroom apartment that wasn't meant to hold the 20 or 30-odd people it contained. Beers were drunk, conversation was had and Transformers episodes were playing on the big screen TV. A running commentary from the crowd was taking shots at everything they could. For example:
This scene happened. The party roars at it like any group of geeks would and someone in my little corner of the room asks in what place does that not look dirty. We strike up a conversation over TF trivia and we get to the Japan-only seasons. I guess my love of giant robots got the best of me, because I get a look of surprise and a "Dude, so you like anime?"
"Uh... yeah." I've danced this dance before, prepare to disengage from the conversation and jump into anything else.
"You ever watch Gantz?"
Boom. I could feel my eyes widen a little. The smile on my face started to show some teeth as I answered. "Yeah! Gantz is some wild stuff, man. I hear the manga is twice as nuts though. Supposedly there's vampires and katanas that grow to a mile long."
A new morning has come, a morning of hope...
We go on to talk about fan translations and each others' favorite shows before everyone piles out to the bar. Later on, as everyone gets more socially lubricated, Everyone's throwing around their favorite deals on the floor. It comes around to me and I tell them how hard it was to not drop my eighty bucks or so at the Funimation booth just as I walked in for the first time, but was happy I did since I grabbed the entire Patlabor TV series for about the same price a few rows back. I get some nods and a few "oh, cool" responses. As I break away a few go with me. One of the girls asks me "So, Noa or Kanuka?"
I give the only answer I could after watching Gurren Lagann while waiting in line all day: "Yoko, but usually Noa." Turns out the girl cosplays Noa every so often. Just like that, I've met my first real cosplayer. Another one of the girls jumps in and says she was in the Shin Chan outfit at the Funimation Booth earlier on. This sparks up more conversation. When do you think Eva 1:0 is coming out, what do you think of Vic Mignogna, how great is Gurren Lagann, it went on and on and I was loving it.
The night in question. Crowd pictured: 50% Otaku, 100% Drunk
I left that night with a few facebook friends and a few new numbers in my phone. The next day on the con floor I caught a few people from the bar and we were all smiles and recommendations. I was part of their good time, and they were part of mine. The act of sharing my enthusiasm for anime and manga made the watching and reading of it better. Even thinking about it now makes me wonder what's going to happen when my otaku and comic loving communities combine at the merged NYCC/NYAF next year. I could not, can not wait to be with my community again.