When I was younger, I was always bothered how heroes would always win by the skin of their neck and against some unfathomably large odds. I wouldn’t believe that in a hundred books where the hero has a one in a hundred chance of survival, they would always live.
But that isn’t the point of storytelling. Just because something is unlikely, it is still possible. The reason the hero never gets hit by gunfire or never roles below a perfect 20 is because that is the story we are telling. Sure, we could tell the story where the hero dies at a certain point, but we can also tell the story where that doesn’t happen. So long as something is within the realm of possibility, it makes sense to tell the story of the person who breaks through those possibilities rather than the one who doesn’t. If we’re telling a story about a person who won the lottery, it’s okay if they only bought one ticket. Even though it’s incredibly unlikely, we as people are interested in the stories about people winning the lottery rather than the people who didn’t. So it makes sense that we would tell the story about the man or woman who won the lottery, or beat a dragon where they had a one in a million chance of survival or was able to destroy every asteroid against all odds or whatever. It as an individual event is unlikely, but because it is in the contextual realm of possibility and gives the most narrative interest, it is okay to tell the story.


Fuuin Jubaku

Duel 06; Utena vs Touga; “Conviction”

Masks. That’s this one. Are there any masks in this episode? I certainly think so. Touga wears the mask of a prince to allure Utena. In terms of social classes, Touga and Nanami are the only two duelists at this point who we’ve been shown specifically they are wealthy. Yet wealth — being a baron, or duke — is not royalty. Furthermore, doesn’t this go along with the whole theater motif?

Well hey, mask is only used twice. This song, as you may expect, is about Touga. It feels very Touga by the lyrics. Repeatedly, it discusses “Man is __” in the abstract, which in generally linguistically is interchangeable with “Humans,” but I think in this context it by using “man” instead of “human,” it’s more to speak to Touga’s character. He’s arguably, at this point, the most ‘manly’ and arguably the most demeaning character toward women that we’ve seen. Sure, Saionji is abusive and shitty, but it’s never presented that he believes all women are that way. He’s more just an example of domestic abuse rather than outright misogyny. Touga, on the other hand, is shown to have a very clear-cut ideal of what gender roles are. So, doesn’t it make sense for him to say or think, “Man is __” rather than “Humans are __?”

I’m not saying it’s an awful thing to say “Man is __” and you should be stoned to death or whatever, mind you. It’s part of someone’s diction and not really harmful. But it’s more traditional to say “Man is __” and because it doesn’t include women, it kind is indicative of a more gendered world view.

Anyway, the comparing of make-believe and teachings makes for an interesting idea. If Touga, as a man, can only become what he was taught to be, then who was his teacher? And, by this comparison, would his teacher not be the one who taught him the art of make-believe?

Now, in all fairness I’m cheating since I’ve already seen the whole show as I pose these questions, but before we even see Touga’s teacher we’re already given hints as to that one being a façade.

Gougai Gougai! Well, extra information, anyway. I didn’t know about the Man in the Iron Mask before recently, but when I heard about that I was like “Oooo shit I missed something.” For your information, The Man in the Iron Mask was a prisoner in France rumored to have been put there before Louis XIV became king, and that the man was Louis XIV’s older brother. So Touga (Louis XIV) is the fake prince— the poser, to lure Utena, and Utena most overcome him to find her true prince, still trapped behind that mask. Later we’ll make this comparison again using a character we have yet to discover, but for now… Touga is #1 Husbando.

Last Evolution (Shinka Kakumei Zenya)

Duel 05; Utena vs Nanami; “adoration”

“Beginning of the earth / Stage props /” If the beginning of the earth is when stage props are set up, would that not mean that from the start, fiction and reality have always had a blurry border? The following stanza, beginning with, “Unchanging illusion,” certainly makes me think so.

Anyway, the most consistent motif of this song is astronomy, as is evident with “Laplace nebula,” “Human constellation,” and “theatre cosmic.” What do you think when you look into the stars? Stars are distant, unreachable, and yet we give them names, constellations, categories. Seeing someone looking at the stars makes you think of loneliness and longing. The parallel to Nanami is evident already — despite her cohorts, she feels lonely because her brother doesn’t attend to her as much she would like him to. She longs to be with him more.

The first half of the song — prior to Nanami’s flower being broken — is discussing Nanami and her brother. “My eternal self,” would refer to Nanami, and “The eternal stranger” is her brother. Think about it, even though that Touga spends time with Nanami, she feels so distant from him. Especially since he’s such a playboy. “Two relationships” is referring to how Nanami sees Touga differently from how Touga sees Nanami. Their relationship is uneven. Nanami loves Touga (or obsesses over him) far more than Touga loves her.

After the flower is knocked off, Nanami continues to duel Utena, breaking the tradition of duels up till that point. Nanami states, “You and I are the Milky Way.” The milky way is a spiral, you know, and implies that repetition of time is something that exists between Nanami and the person she is addressing. I thought at first she might be referring to Utena or Anthy because of the also general femininity of the spiral as mentioned earlier, but when I reconsidered it, it definitely seems more applicable to Touga. “Time is hypothetical, an illusional prop,” is referencing how, to Nanami, it doesn’t matter how old she or Touga are, because she will always love him the same. To her, time is meaningless. Nanami wants the repetition of time with the Milky Way part for two reasons: A. Touga has grown distant from her, so she wants him to go back to being that, and B. She wants time to repeat when Touga isn’t distant from her. She wants him all to herself forever.

And yet, no matter how much she wants it, there is, “Just one person in the theatre cosmic.” And that’s her. She’s alone.

Tenshi Souzou Sunawachi Hikari

Duel 04; Utena vs Juri; “Amour”

In English, the title of this song is Angelic Creation, Namely, Light. And yes, the song is largely referencing light. The first most evident contrast is Child of the Morning, Lucifer, and Child of the Darkness, androgynous. What could be androgynous? Let’s go to the third stanza to find out: “Shining with light, the spherical body of Gynous. / Born from all miracles, Gynous” Gynous is a kind of esoteric way of saying women (-gynous is an ending to words used to indicate the presence of female organs). Therefore, replace ‘gynous’ with ‘woman’ or ‘women.’ Shining with light, the spherical body of woman. A spherical body implies pregnancy, and the following line’s reference to birth supports this. And here’s where it gets good: shining with light is pregnancy, to give birth to miracles. If Lucifer, light, ‘bringer of miracles,’ is the opposite to androgynous, what could androgynous be?

Skipping to the forth stanza, various forms of duality are presented: both sexes, both poles, two of me…. The word ‘androgynous’ itself implies a duality: one’s appearance or actions are both masculine and feminine. Juri is clearly the one opposed to miracles, but how is she androgynous? Of anyone, Miki is far more androgynous in appearance. I’d suspect this is because Juri is a lesbian, so while her physical appearance is clearly feminine, her gender role is a lot more muddled. She is a woman meaning — by the logic of Akio and folks — she had ought to be the object of desire. However, by being a lesbian and therefore seeing other women as objects of desire, she shifts from an ‘object’ to a ‘subject.’ From one side, Juri is exactly as a man would be: desiring the Rose Bride for her selfishness, and seeing women as objects of her attraction. From the other side, Juri herself is a woman who, while not in this episode, may be the object of others’ desires. This duality — man and woman, north and south, left and right, up and down, angel and devil — is androgynous.

Cross-Appeal: Genshiken

So those of you who chat with me / have chatted with me in the past know that my mother watches anime with me sometimes, particularly when I’m re-watching a show I really like. At the moment, we’re watching Genshiken, and she enjoys it a surprising amount. This made me realize that Genshiken actually has a very broad appeal.

It’s enjoyable for someone who knows nothing about anime or manga culture because they can relate to Kasukabe so much and laugh at the nerds being nerdy, appreciating the show as a Big Bang Theory type of show. That’s the category my mom falls into for sure. She has no interest in being an otaku, but indirectly is learning a lot about otaku culture (just as Kasukabe does) through saturation.

It’s enjoyable for a new anime fan who wants to get more into anime. I can confidently say that what inspired me to get into yaoi so much was Genshiken Nidaime. Heck, Digibro himself said that Genshiken inspired him to learn more about anime when he was younger. That’s what Genshiken does to you! There are so many anime references and otaku culture things that you become saturated in it while watching and want to be that saturated in it all the time. You enjoy it because you want to become Madarame or another member (Hato, for me).

It’s enjoyable for an experienced anime fan because then you get those references. You understand all of Sue’s quotes. You understand all the subtleties. And watching others do the things that you already do is even more gratifying.

I’m not saying Genshiken is for everyone. The show is ugly and parts can be unbearably slow. Often for anyone in the first category, the parts more just showing some otaku culture things (say, the episode where Tanaka instructs Ohno and Sasahara on making a plamos) can be pretty dull. Often for anyone in the third category, the kind of cliché or Big Bang Theory -style jokes may be kind of repetitive and annoying. Often for anyone at all, some characters can be a bit too expository for what feels natural and realistic, which is exacerbated by the fact that the show is typically so good about having realistic and natural scenes.

But you know what, it’s good enough for me to love it. If you can’t tell from previous posts, Genshiken is one of my favorite manga and anime.

What is Proficiency?

If art is entirely subjective, what is the definition of being a skilled artist? Does it mean one can recreate the image they are picturing in their head accurately?

I was recently at a bar my cousin plays at, and all the audience was well over the age of fifty. But they still danced along with the music at exciting points. Watching them made me think, “Who is to say they are any worse at dancing than anyone else?” The fundamental element of dancing is expressing the music and emotions of the dancer in some manner. I think that since the music was generally “dad rock” and music of past generations, the method in which the music was expressed was actually perfect. There’s something unashamedly authentic about that kind of dancing. Sure, no move that these people performed was something I myself could not do, but I was not the one performing the dance, and even if I had performed the dances they were doing myself, I would not have been authentic about it. I am not the generation which grew up listening to the originals of the songs my cousin was covering. I could not have captured the emotions that any of those dancers captured. So even though I am more technically proficient at nearly any aspect of dance — physical fitness, balance, dance experience — I would not have danced as well to that music.

What is good music? Right now as I write I’m listening to a five-dollar solo blues album by some big guy wandering around downtown with missing or yellowed teeth and a basket of his CDs. He doesn’t keep a consistent beat on the drum. The lyrics to his songs don’t have a consistent rhyme or meter. But the music is enjoyable to listen to. They capture a music I cannot. It’s the music of someone who grew up with blues and grew up in a totally different culture than I did. No matter how great I got at the drums or harmonica or singing blues, I could not replicate this music as proficiently because I have not had the emotional experiences that this musician has had.

For these people, just because their performances are not by mainstream convention technically good, I would say their music involves an extreme proficiency. They practiced for their music in their past experiences. They’re performing based off of a real and authentic kind of raw emotion that no technical proficiency can replicate. Is that not too proficient, in its own form?


Is Copywrite a Cultural Bias?

When I listen to Tango music, it doesn’t even cross my mind that the particular version of the song I’m hearing had been produced by at least a dozen other bands and that it was basically freebooting (not viewjacking, because that’s specific to only video…). This could just be sanctioned because most of the musicians and orchestras were friends with one another and had their own cool kids club, but I feel like most of them genuinely didn’t care if another orchestra played their song. Perhaps they’d feel a slight indignant if that orchestra claimed it was their original, but I think many of the tangueros at the time were just happy to be playing great music rather than claiming it as their own.

This kind of positive, collaborative community may just be a circumstantial and irreplicable example, but it makes me wonder: is copywrite just a cultural thing? Is it just Anglo and European world that cares about ownership of creative endeavors, or at least of music?

Let’s look at folk songs: people seldom know their creator. It was just something passed down through generations in a land. Nobody cared about being the owner of it.

There’s a logical answer to all this, though. To why copywrite became a thing. It’s money. The Argentinian orchestras were paid for their performances rather than for the originality of the songs they performed. Nobody cared if they produced La Cumparsita or Por Una Cabeza if they couldn’t perform it well. Conversely, nowadays people do get paid more for being the originator of their song. There are certain exceptions of course, but in the world of Dad Rock it was looked down upon to be a cover band.

While I think the extreme inflation of copywrite regulation in the US has had more to do with certain film companies rather than the music industry, it has definitely lead to an entirely different atmosphere than what we historically have had.