Monday, July 4, 2022

First Two Dads on Television!

 Yup, it was on Andy Griffith

Okay, I don't know that for sure. My knowledge of classic sitcoms, begins with Andy Giffith and ends with WKRP in Cincinnati before moving on to Tim Allen.

But Season 2 of Andy Griffith presents a delightful episode in which Barney and Andy deal with Opie being bullied. It is resolved with a trope that has since fallen somewhat out of style: Opie learns to stand up for himself when his father doesn't intervene to stop a fight. Rather, Andy encourages Opie to defend himself physically (even Num3rs presented this trope in a positive light; Ryan from Last Man Standing, of course, would totally object).

The problem is handled by Andy and discussed with Barney. They function as dual parents throughout the episode, even to the point where Andy questions his own advice in front of Barney. Barney is concerned, supportive, and less bombastic than usual. At one point, Andy warns him not to go off and interfere (attempt to helicopter parent).

The entire episode is helped by the (seemingly platonic) vibe between Griffith and Notts. Chemistry helps, whatever the message.   

In a later episode, Andy and Barney join Opie's club, just as good dads would! 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Twelve Kingdoms: Interview with the Translator, Children & Teenagers

Kate: Shadow of the Moon ruthlessly dismantles the worldview of a rather ordinary teenager who wafts through life expecting to be catered to and understood.

Do the Japanese have any patience with "snowflakes"? Or is the whole American obsession with teenagers kind of a bemusing oddity? Does Japanese Twitter ever reach the heights of American Twitter in terms of pure angry self-absorption?

Eugene: Of course, manga and anime focus a lot of attention on the teenage experience, but not typically the kind of attention that sets them at odds with the greater society. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions sets up the classic conflict between conformity and being "true to yourself," but makes compelling arguments on both sides and doesn't attempt to universalize the conclusions.

A comparison of old adages makes for an interesting exercise in sociolinguistics. In Japan, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, while in the west, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. They sound similar but are opposite concepts. As illustrated in Rascal does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, the online culture in Japan wields that hammer just as ruthlessly as elsewhere.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down and the snowflake gets the blowtorch. For good or ill, this is very much a product of gaman culture. You're supposed to get with the program, try hard, persevere, and fit in. A funny example of this is One Punch Man. The most powerful superhero in the universe gets no respect until he gets with the program (including the paperwork) and fits in.

To be sure, trendy activism is alive and well in Japan, ready to be discovered by western journalists, but is not nearly as influential (if at all) beyond the fringes. NHK World, for example, which caters to western audiences, tends to give the latest and greatest woke issues a degree of attention that suggests a prominence inside Japan that simply does not exist outside of select enclaves.

At the end of his "Why You Should Move to Japan" video, Nobita from Japan cites Japan's reluctance to adopt the woke politics of the west as a reason.

Clownfish TV explores the subject in depth here

Kate: I'm sure that someone somewhere has written a massive intellectual treatise on the plethora of children in Japanese manga/anime. From a popular culture perspective, what accounts for it? Why do children show up so much in anime/manga/light novels in adult situations? Or as long-lived children? Like in C.S. Lewis, very little hand holding is expended on these kids. Their youth is part of their attraction, not an excuse for their behavior.

Any thoughts? Are wise-beyond-their-years children a trope in Japanese literature, specific to certain authors, part of the cultural mindset?

Are Westerners the outliers, being squeamish (and more committed to the Victorian ideal of innocent childhood)?

Eugene: The most obvious answer is marketing. The editorial content of the numerous manga periodicals and imprints are designed by publishers to target specific demographics. Because consumers of manga and anime outside Japan tend to be older, they often overlook material aimed at younger audiences.

Several of the most popular and long-running anime on Japanese television are practically unknown in North America. Chibi Maruko-chan (over 1200 episodes to date) is a lighthearted melodrama about a traditional Japanese family in the 1970s. The POV character is a nine-year-old girl, so we see that world through her eyes.

There are a lot of authorized videos on YouTube. They're not localized, but it's worth watching an episode or two just to hear Tarako Isono as Maruko.

Delving more deeply into the social psychology of the matter, helicopter parenting simply hasn't become a thing in Japan. Basically, the kind of hands-off approach that kids enjoyed growing up in the American suburbs fifty years ago remains alive and well.

Elementary school students walk to school. By themselves. This expectation that young children can handle such responsibilities is taken as a given. The video at this link above is from a reality show in which little kids are given fairly complex tasks to accomplish by themselves.

In Non Non Biyori, once school is out, there is barely an adult in sight, also true of the elementary school kids in the more urban Den-noh Coil. At the end of Super Cub, three high school girls ride their scooters all the way to the southern tip of Kyushu. By themselves. And then there is the whole school government thing.

All this means that kids in Japan are not only allowed to do more interesting things, but it is easy to push the boundaries a bit and have them do really interesting things. Frankly, the spelunking expedition at the end of The Phantom Doctor strikes even me as crazy dangerous, but it would have been hugely appealing to Edogawa's readers.

In other words, Japanese not only expect more of (and grant greater latitude to) real children, but fictional children as well. It is the freest time of their lives, after all, and should not be wasted. (The girls in Super Cub go on their adventure during the spring break before their senior year, because that's when the fun pretty much ends.)

Kate: I previously taught a course about working women in America. The impact of biology—the reality of bearing children, giving birth and raising children—greatly influenced women’s work (when, how, what) historically and now.

Ono seems far more aware of the connection between work and childbearing than many Westerners. Many laws in the United States directly address many of these issues, but the reality of childbirth—perhaps as it loses its inherent risks—seems to be admitted with a shrug rather than an appraisal of its impact.

Does that awareness stem from Japanese culture? From its inherent conservatism?

Eugene: There are several long-standing aspects of Japanese culture that do address the inherent problems here in unique ways. First of all, especially among the aristocracy, well into the 20th century, legitimacy was readily conferred upon the offspring of mistresses. The current imperial line descends from one of Emperor Meiji's concubines, not his legal wife (Meiji was the last emperor to have concubines). 

The second is muko-iri marriage, according to which the husband is adopted into the wife's family. This is still relatively common today. "You can't choose your sons but you can choose your sons-in-law." In some cases, sans any children, a family business will adopt a loyal employee to keep the family name alive. The connection between work and childbearing thus becomes a negotiable arrangement.

Japan's current low birth rate and high female employment rate (above the OECD average) suggests that working and childbearing continue to be seen in mutually exclusive terms.Though it should also be pointed out that helicopter parenting is not a thing in Japan, which shifts the burdens of childrearing around. Nobody freaks out about unattended kids out and about in public.

So while contemporary Japanese society has evolved more slowly away from "traditional marriage" as the ideal model for organizing society, the real world is a lot more complicated, and the fictional world has taken full advantage. The working mother and the single mother in melodrama and comedy are ubiquitous at this point, and the single dad has become of late a favored protagonist.

After the Rain features the teenage daughter of a single mom and a divorced dad. The Way of the Househusband is about a stay-at-home dad (who happens to be a former yakuza). No children yet. Speaking of which, Ryuji in Toradora often gets mistaken for a yakuza (like his father), but he's a good kid who looks after his single mom (who works in a nightclub) more than she looks after him.

The responsible kid with the irresponsible single mom (who nonetheless has a heart of gold) is an established trope. Hanasaku Iroha begins with Ohana's mom sending her to her grandmother's country inn while she runs off with her latest boyfriend. In Beyond the Boundary, Akihito would prefer that his mom stay out of his life as she's a demon (not a terrifying demon, a total goofball of a demon).

Of course, you can count on manga and anime to push a concept to its logical extreme, so the preternaturally competent Kotaru in Kotaru Lives Alone is all of five years old.

At least in the fictional realm, raising independent children who can raise themselves is one sort-of solution.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Horrorific Trope of Unrequited Love

I confess--I always assumed that other people disliked the unrequited love trope as much as me, until I was watching Les Miserables with a friend (the anniversary special). I made a caustic remark about Eponine and my friend disagreed.

I still don't get it. Setting aside the stalker theme (when does Eponine becomes Kathy Bates?), it seems like such a blasted waste of time. 

Why not get on with life? Even if no one else will ever mean the same, why not, just for instance, go rock climbing, get a career, take over government, adopt a cat, plant trees, learn a language, visit archaeological sites, plan a trip to Mars, write a screenplay, get a degree or another degree, become a priest or nun, join a church and then become a priest or nun, learn to bake, learn to paint, paint houses, drive across country, find someone else to love, become a firefighter, repair cars, join the circus, join a club, start a club, watch all the black & white classics in the world, start a theme park, visit a theme park, hike, go to the beach, join a gym, patent an invention, become a private eye, learn to square dance, learn to kayak, visit another country, visit another state, volunteer for the Red Cross, train service animals, go to a ball game, memorize bones of the body...

The confession in Japanese literature has the merit of putting an end to the unrequited part--at least, the part that annoys people. Okay, you've suffered. Time to do something else. Granted, it often occurs far too late in the story not to cause annoyance in the first place. At least it is there. 

The problem isn't that the character suffering unrequited love appears weak and pitiful--the problem is the character suffering unrequited love appears to lack resources. And characters without resources are a tad...dull.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hollywood in Yaoi

In an earlier post, I reference the problem of the Hollywood romance. It is difficult to care about characters' angst when the problem is "Do I leave my big mansion and my important movie role for you?!" rather than "Do I stop defending the country for you?!" 

Interestingly enough, manga has produced several series in which actors fall in love--the series are just as angsty. In all honesty, they are not my favorites. However, in the series shown here, the focus shifts away from "will I leave my big role in the next Hollywood hit?" to something far more realistic (comparatively speaking). 

In both cases--Black and White by Sachimo and Hero Heel by Makoto Tateno--the actors play the good and bad roles in live-action series based on superhero-type comics. The issue, "I need to make a living" is not a throw-away line. Getting another gig is a real issue. 

At the same time, the problem of roles comes into play. The roles of "goodie" and "baddie" bleed over into the actors' everyday lives. Is insisting on a relationship rather than on work "good"? (The answer "Yes" is not a given as it is in Western literature.) Can fans accept a change in roles? Forget the relationship--can fans accept a change from goodie to baddie on screen? Or vice versa? 

The concept is still rather belabored. I find Tanizaki from In the Walnut far more amusing. When his art-school, film-making lover undermines Tanizaki's career as a model by releasing a scandalous film of Tanizaki, he laughs and walks away from the job. He never cared that much for it anyway. 

But if one is going to focus on actors, one might as well bring a theme along as well.    

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Golden Girls' Couples: Blanche, Season 1

The pilot episode, "The Engagement," establishes that Blanche is a romantic. 

Blanche's marriage was a love-match to a man with a marvelous voice (played by George Grizzard). In the years since he died in a car accident, she has dated man after man. Although she has a reputation for being "loose," she is far more discerning and careful than she presents herself. 

Rather like Dean, who scorns God because he feels threatened by his disillusionment, Blanche treats relationships as fleeting because at heart she wants another "one and only" relationship. 

Only, when she actually does get close to the altar, she ends up with duds. The one non-dud (see Season 2), she dumps. 

Arguably, Blanche knows she can never have what she had with her first husband. So she sabotages herself. The pursuit of romance is her coping mechanism.

And hey, that pursuit provides a continual string of plot points!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Interview with the Translator: Twelve Kingdoms, Female Protagonists

Kate:  Shushou’s experience in The Wings of Dreams reminds me of Merlin training Arthur in T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. Merlin turns Arthur into multiple animals to train him in different forms of governance. Likewise, Shushou experiences different types of leadership on the Shouzen. She comes to appreciate the efficiencies as well as flaws of different approaches.

Is the trope common in Japanese fantasy? The idea that training entails not just discipline but various types of exposure?

Eugene: The training trope arises out of religious ascetic practices. Hills of Silver Ruins describes the rigors of these training regimens in considerable depth, including their connection to pilgrimages (see chapters 25 and 26 of book 3).

Although strongly associated with Zen, these ascetic practices were formalized during the Heian period by a syncretic sect known as Shugendo. Especially in the martial arts/wuxia genre, the training trope in Japanese fantasy closely tracks Shugendo rituals.

The "waterfall exercise" (滝行) depicted in the sidebar of the Wikipedia article has become the stereotypical Shugendo ritual. (Do an image search on those kanji for many examples.)

Kate: Youko begins Shadow of the Moon desperately wanting to be a good girl who gains approval by not making waves. Rather like Buffy, she is the innocent young woman who inherits a difficult position, not entirely desired (I just want to be a normal girl!). How do the Japanese react to Buffy?

Eugene: Buffy reflects the archetype but I'd call this more an example of convergent evolution. Alas, the best I can tell, only two seasons of the DVD are available in Japan and they're out of print.

Yet there are important distinctions. In the rom-com genre, even with fantasy elements, it is common for one or both of the protagonists to have already reached the top of the high school pecking order (academically too). Yuki in Fruits Basket and Miyuki in Kaguya-sama are student council presidents.

When it comes to fighting demons (Beyond the Boundary) or solving mysteries (Hyouka), the Scooby Gang typically hangs out in their own clubroom away from everybody else. Hiyori in Noragami doesn't appear to give her social life a moment's thought. Being "popular" isn't on the agenda.

Just as common are antisocial characters like Hachiman (a young Gregory House) and Yukino in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU who only interact with their fellow students after considerably arm-twisting.

Kate: In A Thousand Leagues of Wind, Suza and Shoukei both undergo internal changes to their beliefs. In terms of the 7 deadly sins, they are skillfully drawn characters who embody (at first) pride and envy: pride in one’s misfortunes; envy of others’ good fortune. Fuyumi Ono reaches C.S. Lewis’s levels of capturing normal human motivations for bad behavior! 

Pride & envy top the list of bad behavior in both Western and Japanese culture—the Japanese version, however, seems to focus less on power (how my pride damages others) and more on the story one tells oneself (I deserve this). The greatest distaste is reserved for those who don’t act and take responsibility because they imagine they are above it all.

In other words, in Japan, the sin of omission is greater than the sin of commission. Does that distinction seem accurate? How do omission and commission relate?

Eugene: Over the past two centuries, Japan (collectively and in terms of statecraft) moved from a national state of introversion, to a spasm of destructive extraversion following the Meiji Restoration, and since 1952 has struggled to balance the two. However, unlike the United States (as a collective and speaking very generally), the default psychological state for Japan is introversion (and thus the Edo period).

The first half of the twentieth century turned out to be a brutal object lesson in this regard, proving perhaps the best-known proverb in the Japanese language outside Japan: The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. This can be seen in a well-established Japanese business practice like ringi, a consensus-seeking system, according to which everyone has to sign off on a decision before it is implemented.

The problem is that all the efforts made to avoid sins of commission result in sins of omission where decisions don't get made in an expeditious manner and nobody is really responsible for the decisions that eventually do get made. One result is that the whole concept of venture capital, investors betting big in order to win big (and losing those bets 90 percent of the time), has been slow to catch on in Japan.

That may explain why the character arc that takes the protagonist from a passive state to a proactive one carries that much more weight in the Japanese narrative tradition. Despite having every reason to "beweep their outcast states," protagonists as different as Youko in Shadow of the Moon, Natsume in Natsume's Book of Friends and Koguma in Super Cub each rise above their (passive) lots in life by choosing to act.

Therein lies the greater risk, but also the greater reward. Hunkering down and doing nothing is the worse choice.

Kate: Shoukei is interesting in this regard since she (eventually) and others hold her responsible for never trying to find out what her father was actually doing. Maybe she couldn't have stopped him but "I didn't know" is not an excuse! 

However, at the end of Thousand Leagues of Wind, I was somewhat disappointed that Shoukei didn’t retain at least some of her ego and continued on as a kind of reformed Cordelia character. Does Japanese literature have many Cordelias? Granted, there is Shushou, but she is more of a “tell it like it is” character. What about “the queen bee”? Does she have a place in manga/anime?

Eugene: Renko in Hanako and Anne is the archetypal loner Cordelia. When she shows up at Anne's school, haughty and aloof, she really is their social superior, as she is the cousin of the Taisho Emperor (albeit illegitimate). Several scandals later, she gets disowned and ends up a commoner, so she also has the most interesting character arc.

Shinka in Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions desperately wants to be a Cordelia, and carries it off some of the time. But to her great consternation, she keeps ending up with the geeky Scooby gang she swore she was going to put behind her when she graduated from junior high school.

Yukino Yukinoshita in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is mightily annoyed that she was passed over as heir to the family corporation. She is so aloof that her homeroom teacher invents a social welfare club (to assist other students with their problems) and makes her and Hachiman Hikigaya (who has the personality of Gregory House) the members.

Kaguya Shinomiya in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is the student council vice president at Tokyo's most elite high school. She's madly in love with Miyuki, the president, but simply cannot imagine herself confessing first. He's in the same position vis-a-vis her. In terms of social status, she's the Darcy and Miyuki is Elizabeth. Same for Yukino and Hachiman.

Nora in Noragami is an outcast regalia (a kind of familiar to a Shinto or Buddhist god) who goes around looking down her nose at everybody as she wreaks havoc far and wide. Very much an unreformed and unrepentant Cordelia (unless reforming and repenting serves her self-interests).

Outside of the lead role, the queen bee character shows up so often as a romantic foil, it's become a by-the-numbers trope, illustrated in the stereotypical scene where the male lead forcibly intervenes to make it clear he prefers the plain and down-to-earth female protagonist to her. She is usually found in a clique of like-minded girls and is largely relegated to comic relief.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Sexy Without Even Trying

Like Gibbs and Spock, Don Matteo never brags or preens or poses or tries to be sexy. In fact, he doesn't seem to have a clue about his impact on, well, everybody. 

When he arrives back in Italy and gets assigned to the church near his hometown, his friend, the Cardinal says in irritation, "Just try not to look like--"

He waves his hands at Matteo. Matteo looks at him blankly. 

Don Matteo is played by Terence Hill or Mario Girotti. He began playing Don Matteo in 2000 when he was 61. He has Italian and American citizenship.

He is utterly gorgeous. Like Tony Denison, another actor who has aged very well, he exudes charisma. Maybe it's that Italian heritage or the underlying sense of humor. The lack of effort only ramps it up a notch--

Which, of course, is part of the attraction. It's the opposite of the seducer, the libertine, always searching for a tryst. With the Matteo type of handsome hero, the hero's eyes don't stray since they are too busy looking squarely at the world with bewildered exactness (Spock) or irritated demand (Gibbs) or, in the case of Matteo, patient kindliness.

It no doubt helps that the show is shot in jaw-dropping lovely settings. I feel like I do with Last of the Mohicans: look at the scenery!