Taste, Disability, and Metaphor: De/humanization in Kamen Rider OOO

Taste, Disability, and Metaphor: De/humanization in Kamen Rider OOO

Today is Anosmia Awareness Day and I am anosmic, meaning I was born without a sense of smell. It hasn’t come up on this blog until now because anosmia is so underrepresented in fiction. There are minor characters here and there–Latula Pyrope in Homestuck, Aunt Selma in The Simpsons, etc.–and even then their anosmia is only briefly mentioned for humor or scent-related plot points. The penultimate episode of Futurama has close to a character arc about anosmia, in a parody of the 1931 film City Lights. In the episode, Zoidberg falls in love with an anosmic woman named Marianne who doesn’t realize he reeks. The episode doesn’t name Marianne’s condition as anosmia and she’s ultimately cured, but it does challenge the social construction of “bad” and “good” smells as she prefers Zoidberg’s odor to flowers. Even then, Marianne only gets one episode to herself. She’s only a parody of a blind character, not one envisioned as anosmic to begin with.

The story that’s spoken to me the most as an anosmiac is much longer, but more metaphorical. Kamen Rider OOO isn’t about anosmia per se, but does question what physical sensations have to do with making someone “complete.” In the 21st incarnation of the Kamen Rider tokusatsu television series, a young man named Eiji Hino transforms into the superhero Kamen Rider OOO with the ability to activate animal-themed medals. He was granted this power by Ankh, one of five ancient monsters known as the Greeed created by alchemists from experimentation with animal souls. The Greeed were designed as “incomplete” beings, made up of ten animal medals but “born” into consciousness through removal of the tenth. Four of them seek to recollect their core medals by creating monsters of the week, spurring battles with Kamen Rider OOO and Ankh.

This rest of this post contains spoilers for all of Kamen Rider OOO and related crossover films.

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Malia’s Top 11 Movies of 2018

Malia’s Top 11 Movies of 2018

To me, good art transcends what it is literally. I can point out a superb sentence, share the behind-the-scenes production details, break the plot down like a Wikipedia article, discuss the layers of authorial intent, but in the end, it’s always an attempt at articulating the ineffable qualities. Good art touches something inside us and rouses up emotion that feels bigger than ourselves. It’s an all-consuming, personal, and holistic experience that’s beyond simple explanation or lesson.

Maybe that’s why praising things I like in an isolated, non-fandom context can feel so flat. I always feel a combination of incoherent in trying to match the artistry of what I’m describing and embarrassingly simple of pointing out what seems obvious to me. Does this plate of food taste good? If it is, then why, how? It just is. There’s useful words like flaky, tender, sweet, etc. but it won’t be the experiences themselves, and that irks me, even when I’ve read critics I like, even when I know better.

But I want to practice. I want to tell others about the things I like just as well as I can tell other about the things I dislike. I want to share what art has made me feel greater than myself. I want to talk about good art that’s looked out for me, looked through me, and looked at me. That’s why I make these lists, when when they’re fairly late.

So let’s dive right in.

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Windows into Webcomics: Never Satisfied

Windows into Webcomics: Never Satisfied

Never Satisfied by Taylor Robin is a fantasy story set in a coastal town of magic, though not everyone has it. Our dear teen protagonist is Lucy (short for Lucien) Marlowe, a magician’s apprentice competing with other fellow apprentices for the government position of representative, a role of protection and power. However, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Lucy and this idyllic town.

Mild spoiler warning for chapter 5 of Never Satisfied. (Though I keep some things pretty vague.)

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What the Future Holds for Spider-Verse in the Hands of Voltron Showrunners

What the Future Holds for Spider-Verse in the Hands of Voltron Showrunners

December 14th of 2018 saw the release of not one, but two monuments in popular culture. One was the highly anticipated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the animated film starring Shameik Moore as Miles Morales. Before the film’s premiere, Sony announced a sequel and a spin-off film in the works. Joaquim Dos Santos has been confirmed director for the sequel. At the moment, Lauren Montgomery is in talks for directing the spin-off. Dos Santos and Montgomery are fresh off their work as executive producers of Dreamworks’ Voltron: Legendary Defender, which had its eighth and final season on Netflix the same day Spider-Verse hit theaters. Spider-Verse was met with critical acclaim, while Voltron season eight was not. Response ranged from lukewarm to furious. After some fans of Voltron were frustrated with the death of a gay man of color character and other developments in season seven, many were left disappointed with the series ending (including the deaths of more characters of color).

A release date wasn’t all Voltron and Spider-Verse had in common, however. Without getting into spoilers, the plot of season eight and themes of grief bare a striking resemblance to those of Spider-Verse. It’s not that one is a rip-off of the other, but that they both aimed to tell stories about loss and family. What made audiences more receptive to Spider-Verse was its delicate consideration and authenticity of characters of marginalized groups. If the Voltron showrunners couldn’t carry out something so similar to Spider-Verse with the same praise, how are they supposed to follow it up well?

This post contains spoilers for Voltron: Legendary Defender and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Also, a disclaimer: this is not meant as an attack on the showrunners (or any crew member) of Voltron as people. This is a critique of the TV show they produced and their role as storytellers.

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Favorites of 2018

Favorites of 2018

It’s that time of year again. Karleen and Malia have rounded up their favorite (not necessarily the best) media of the year enough times now it officially has its own tag: Favorites of the Year.

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The Duality of Miki

The Duality of Miki

It’s been one year since Devilman Crybaby, Masaaki Yuasa’s anime adaptation of Go Nagai’s classic manga, took the world by storm. Devilman Crybaby increased the presence of women in the main cast from a single girl named Miki to two both named, well, Miki. Although they share a name, they have distinct personalities and roles in the story. Miki can no longer be reduced to “the girl,” nor does one character have to represent all of womanhood. Between the Miki Makimura admired by her peers and the Miki Kuroda left behind, Crybaby paints a picture of how misogyny affects women deemed good or bad when they’re truly not so different.

This post contains discussion of rape, as well as spoilers for the original Devilman manga and Devilman Crybaby.

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Ash Get iPad: The Perils of Banana Fish’s Modernization

Ash Get iPad: The Perils of Banana Fish’s Modernization

Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida, at the time of serialization, was once a contemporary story. It began in 1985 and ended in 1994, while the timeline of the main plot spanned from 1985 to 1987. So in a way, modernizing the anime adaptation of Banana Fish to be set in 2018 is appropriate. Rather than a near complete replication of a story set in the 1980s, there can be a parallel story that integrates the ideas and themes to be timely like the original was.

However, updating Banana Fish raises some clear issues. The original manga is deeply 1980s, from its aesthetics to its politics, and if handled without care, you wind up with a story that’s already dated from the very start. It’s one thing for a story to be old; we still have centuries old classics. Plus, our suspension of disbelief can be higher when we know a story was from a different time. However, with an adaptation you’re already setting up a compare and contrast situation, to mix in modernization too, it’s key to think through what needs to be changed, why it needs to be changed, and how that affects the original story. This is different for all kinds of adaptations and renditions, but ultimately it can be done in a lot of fun, unique, creative ways. In the case of Banana Fish though, it’s all about the lack of change. Though the style and technology is there, the story ultimately feels like a rerun in different clothes. This especially feels like a missed opportunity with the legacy that Banana Fish has as a classic manga that tackles heavy social issues.

This isn’t to disparage the work put into the anime or to imply it’s a complete waste. Translating a story to a new medium is difficult work and there are plenty of parts I enjoyed. It’s at least introduced the story to new audiences, including me, and opened up new avenues to discuss it. In this spirit, I want to talk about some of the missed opportunities that the anime passed over when modernizing the manga in the context of the social themes Yoshida touches on. There are some issues that are thoughtfully examined in the manga but would be reflected differently in a modern setting, and other issues that weren’t examined as deeply as they could have been in an adaptation.

Spoiler warning for the end of Banana Fish, including the side story Garden of Light.

Content warning for discussions of police brutality and sexual trauma (including child sex abuse).

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12 Days of Anime: The Power of a Photograph

12 Days of Anime: The Power of a Photograph

Before the manga Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida, there was her short story “Fly Boy in the Sky.” It marked the first appearance of Banana Fish characters, published a year before Banana Fish entered serialization. In the one shot, 25 year old Ibe comes across a televised high school pole vault competition and decides to track down and photograph teenage Eiji. Ibe’s photography captures Eiji in a moment of grace he doesn’t know he’s capable of. “Garden of Light,” the final Banana Fish short story by Yoshida, shows how Eiji captured Ash with his own camera in turn.

This post contains spoilers for Banana Fish and discussion of child pornography.

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12 Days of Anime: Different Interpretations as Solidarity, not Opposition

12 Days of Anime: Different Interpretations as Solidarity, not Opposition

As part of my research for Asexuality in Manga and More, a lecture panel on asexuality in Japanese media, I looked into asexual and aromantic spectrum interpretations of anime and manga characters. Such interpretations are usually referred to as headcanon, “a fan’s personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of canon.” Occasionally I would find overlap in popular asexual headcanons and gay headcanons for the same character, such as Makoto Sunakawa in My Love Story. Sometimes this overlap means a character simultaneously interpreted as asexual and gay, or a character widely interpreted as aroace (both aromantic and asexual) or as gay. I wasn’t a stranger to these fandom activities before my research, as I have my own aro/ace/gay headcanons and enjoy reading those of others.

However, the conversations around asexual and aromantic spectrum headcanons, especially asexual ones, has changed in recent years. More and more, reading a gay or widely considered gay character as asexual (aroace or not) has been looked down on. The yuri manga Bloom Into You by Nio Nakatani has long been discussed in terms of asexual and aromantic identity, and the anime adaptation this year has brought new attention to it. While others may argue over the “correct” interpretation, I find differences in headcanons say more about what experiences have in common than which one is right.

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12 Days of Anime: Amnesia and Grief in Science Fiction Done Right and Wrong

12 Days of Anime: Amnesia and Grief in Science Fiction Done Right and Wrong

Digimon has approached grief throughout its life as a franchise, despite how the eponymous digital monsters are inorganic and may be revived when they die. Digimon Adventure Tri, the second sequel series to the original Digimon Adventure, tried its hand at grief over lost memories.

In Confession, the only chance to save the world from destruction is to perform a “reboot” of the Digital World. It will leave the digimon uninfected by darkness, but without memories from before the reboot.  In a series where digimon exist to unconditionally love and support their partners for a lifetime, the loss is immeasurable.

This post contains spoilers for Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02Digimon Adventure Tri and A, A’ by Moto Hagio.

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