To be perfectly honest, about the last think thing one would expect of Upotte!! is for it to make you think. And yet, just as it managed to be more enjoyable than it deserved to be at first glance, it managed to spur a bit of contemplation on relevant topics by its end.
What topics, you ask? Namely the one you assume would be Upotte!!'s sole topic way back in episode one: fan service. By accident or design, this show about "Moe Moe Guns", threatens to stretch the definition of what, exactly, constitutes fan service.
By "fanservice" in this case we're going by the literal, deliberately broad interpretation of the term's two components, i.e. "fan service" = "service for fans". That might seem unhelpfully vague - is not all entertainment designed to service some kind of taste? - but in Upotte!!'s case the distinction feels somewhat apt, because for the life of me I can't imagine this sort of thing being birthed on its own, devoid of a specific need to appeal to a particular segment of the populace.
Ironically, it's also difficult to conceive of just who this show, specifically, targets, at least in any sense narrower than the general "otaku" scope. Its focus seems somewhat disjointed, moving only half the way towards pleasing its most obvious target audiences. I'm sure gun nuts are delighted by the detailed hardware, but would they really want these tiny schoolgirls holding them all the time, or were the scant lectures peppering the series really enough to satisfy on that front?
What about fans of moe moe character design? They'd get a dose, certainly, but the designs themselves are awfully generic, stuck yet again in the rote school setting. Fans of tropes, historical references, and nationalist stereotyping don't get much out of it either, certainly not at the same level as, say, a Hetalia or a Strike Witches. Upotte's caricatures are paradoxically both overly general and overly specific - owing to the fact that it's hard to broad-stroke a whole nation by the mechanisms of its firearms - and at times just plain arbitrary, as in the case of which country/gun speaks which Japanese dialect.
The dilemma continued, until I read this otherwise unrelated story, which involves a young Nippon youth creating his own ghetto gats by stuffing model guns full of disassembled fireworks. That's when it hit me, when I realized that Upotte!! is a unique bit of art (!) among the teeming multitudes of "fan service" production. Upotte!!, on most every creative level, feels less like service for fans, and more like service from fans. It's a big difference, and let's get into how.
Mind, this is all speculation, that may or may not be tilted in favor of me convincing myself that I didn't just waste five hours of my life watching bad fanservice. I didn't do the research and can't claim to know any motivation beyond Upotte!!'s creative decisions (only Kitsune Tennouji can know for sure).
Anyway, to my point. Upotte!! seems less like the product of a mind with intent to sell something than a brain fart acted upon. It's like the whole enterprise was conceived during the kind of idle conversation a nerd might have with another nerd. "What if guns had to go to school?" And the rest was history. The twist here is that the mindset that spawned Upotte!! feels more like one steeped not in gun culture...but Airsoft culture.
Yes, Airsoft, the paintball-without-the-paint gun game that prides itself on simulation more than sport. For many countries outside the world's premier arms workshops (that is to say, most of Asia), Airsoft is the closest most people get to having the kind of military-grade weaponry that they imagine Americans get to fondle on a daily basis. It's gun culture for cultures without guns, and the result is, as happens in Upotte!!, fetishization of the guns themselves, rather than the guns uses or the actions of people wielding guns.
Start looking at Upotte!! through an Airsoft otaku's filter, and temper it through the fires of moe, and that color tints every facet of the show. Like an Airsoft match, where the air is filled with plastic pellets rather than hot lead, Upotte's gun battles are hilariously non-lethal. Guns wielding themselves can't kill people, only people wielding guns can kill. A gun's development and manufacturing history is more important to the show's gags than its current performance, much to the misfortune of the poor L85A2. It's only through the Airsoft filter that it seems "fair" to equate the M-16 to a lower-caliber AK-derivation, because they're in the same "grade" as 5.56-chambered guns.
The characters themselves are more a collection of traits - a bullet-point list, if you will - rather than actual characters. They're stand-ins for the series of arbitrary
Even the show itself seems to be aware of this contradiction, where gunplay is "play", and the only useful application of increased weapon handling is the ability to draw on walls more accurately. Instead of, y'know, killing people. The final conflict of the show gives that dissonance a last nod, as guns with aspirations towards a world where guns are useful (i.e. one full of war) run up against the stars, whose only ambition is to be handled by a kindly Japanese Teacher shooter.
Of course, to acknowledge something is not necessarily to do anything about it, and Upotte!! stops short of having a message, cementing the show's final status as a realized thought exercise. Such is the service a fan provides, I suppose.
In the end, Upotte!!'s greatest achievement is in simply existing, because the fact that it lends some insight into what may (or may not) pass for gun appreciation in a culture that mostly lacks the most obviously appropriate military context. It leads one to wonder what a western-made guns-fetish animated show would be like. How would American or European creators handle the anthropomorphization of their war tools? Would they even bother, what with Call of Duty and ArmA and Battlefield taking care of the weapon/war fetish?
Well, if they did bother, they could call it Snug!!, for starters.
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