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and now I'm ranting abt Attack on Titan
"Burning Man" by Car Seat Headrest [a song that, as far as I can glean, is about wrestling with internalized homophobia among other things—more broadly, self-hatred and identity, oscillating between being defined and seeking definition. Self-acceptance as accepting self-hatred, which is honestly some good advice. My favorite part is the little tune in the background, and also that one verse where he shouts, "If ugly is a word!"]
Don’t go to San Francisco
You won’t find yourself there
Cause you’re already everywhere
In every bathroom you wake up in
Wash the glitter off your face
Hands in the sink, pray for God’s grace
Irony is all that I have
(I had to fear, I had to hate
There was nothing else to it)
Sincerity is all that I have
(Being ok with it
Would kill me)
December 26, 2020 Saturday 11:45 PM
Christmas was great, yadda yadda, fuck that—I've got anime on the mind.
God damn it. First of all, I convinced my dad to watch some Attack on Titan (hereafter AoT) with me on the first night I arrived home. I honestly didn't think he would be as interested as he would, so I was pleasantly surprised. It's probably only been a month since I first watched AoT, but I still enjoyed re-watching because, since Nadiya and I caught up on the available episodes, I've had a lot of ~questions.~ It's nice to have a review. And it gives me a new respect for the series. I suppose it was based on a manga—but even then, I mean, defer my admiration to the writer(s) then (idk how manga creation works lol) because I am impressed by the coherence of the story.
But I think it's gotten to the point where, like with Voltron or other stuff that I am inexplicably obsessed with, I am blind to the flaws that once prevented my immersion.
Like, here's the thing. The biggest barrier is Anime As an Art Form. I almost said "genre" but that's not really true, since anime can cover just about any subject; the only in-common aspect being the animation and writing style (putting it broadly; not covering more ~intercultural~ animes like The Great Pretender, in which some of the dramatics inherent to anime are not as visible despite being classified as an anime; or like Voltron, where the art style is clearly derived from anime, but by and large, the dialogue and characterization is a lot more western—i.e. not a bunch of long conversations over still frames, not flashbacks culminating in a SHOUTING PROTAGONIST, etc.).
Going into Attack on Titan with no familiarity with anime as an art style must be sort of absurd. I mean, my dad took it in stride (yay!). But I was still vaguely apprehensive, because I want people to like the things that I like, and then I get concerned because I know I can't pass off to them my own perspective on how to be a "reader" of this type of writing. (I think I'm just going to replace the word "viewer" with reader from now on, since it for me feels like a similar amount of effort and an effort of a certain type).
I am trying to remember how I felt. I mean. Just over a year ago, I was not.. into anime. Or even 6 months ago (ugh. How times have changed.. I blame coronavirus, 100%). But last year in the fall, I did watch Neon Genesis for the first time. I had tried before to watch anime, but it always struck me as "a bit much"?
There's a lot of bright colors, over-saturated pans over some kind of shimmering still-scenes. Close-ups of characters' eyes. Some cartoony motion of their body in some break of humor or an emoji-like expression on their face. Inexplicable whorls of flowers and sunlight around love interests. Intense subtitles (I do feel that the phrase "That's indecent!" just... does not have as common a place in english as it does in japanese). Dramatic and everpresent music (In the case of AoT, a very cringy combination of drama and what appears to be pop-punk background music. It really takes the wind out of my sails, ngl). I was also incredibly freaked out by the big eyes/tiny mouth combo. I couldn't understand how anyone could find that ?? interesting let alone attractive? I didn't really watch cartoons when I was little, though, so I just didn't really understand the concept of having a crush on a cartoon character in general.
Over the top. Is how I'd describe anime. Still. My mom said "extreme," (she was watching some AoT with us, asking a lot of questions—because she'd missed the first 20 episodes, no joke—but I was happy that she was interested).
Anyway, all of this makes me think about some things my dad said. First, he said that he thought Japan was quite sexist. Or he didn't say he "thinks" that, he said that it is. I am, as always, hesitant to agree. Mostly because my instinct *is* to agree. And, as a note, neither of us would be making these statements based on anime, lol. It's more the general impression of Japan that I've somehow picked up by osmosis in my daily life. You hear people say it's sexist and racist and insular and that it's really efficient, clean, technologically advanced, but that they're not having enough children and all their sons are weird little hermits. I don't know that any of these things is a lie, necessarily, but the problem with the vagaries of this sort of knowledge, is that it is easy to disrupt to balance between them all; I mean, it's easy to caricaturize Japan. As being Traditional but Techy. I wouldn't know. Anime has shed little on the subject for me, lololol.
I don't remember why my dad said that, by the way. I think we'd been talking about Putin's Russia before that, so I'm not sure how we managed that international slippage. Anyway, one of his anecdotal points was that, for example, in Attack on Titan, there were no aggressive female characters. It being my instinct to argue with him, I said, "Mikasa," and he said, "She's strong, but she's not aggressive." He said a lot of the guys in AoT will have these scenes where they're yelling and screaming or otherwise involved in a fight. Mikasa doesn't really do that.
Which, I suppose might be true. Something about Mikasa has been irking me. I was so happy that she existed as a character, because I am always desperate for well-developed strong female characters. But I guess part of what bothers me about Mikasa is the wholeness of her devotion to Eren. I like that Mikasa is so, so capable. But I super wish she had motivations beyond Eren and Survival. Or, I guess I wish I could see her growth as a character apart from Eren. Because those two pillars of her motivations are well-justified in the canon, given her backstory—it's weird, because I felt most attached to her character early in the first season when
Eren dies and Mikasa is forced to sort of come to terms with that, and she ends up realizing that she can continue living without him. But then he comes back and I'm happy about that because I *really* like the character of Eren and I actually do think his relationship with Mikasa is interesting (but super weird and kind of really unhealthy lol)—I just. Want more for her.
And I do think that's a problem with sexism. Because it isn't very often you find a main male character defined by another. And Mikasa! IS a main character!!! Yet, somehow, I think I find Annie more nuanced than Mikasa at times. And Historia as well. And Ymir. All of them have pretty interesting and complicated motivations, but Mikasa's disappoints me, because it feels like we never really get inside her head except for that one time.
(In another vein, I often feel the same silence from the direction of Levi, and yet they manage to fill that silence in careful moments; Levi walking beside Petra's father as he talks about how he think's she's too young for marriage, readers knowing Petra has just died under Levi's watch; Levi and Erwin stood a little past each other, Erwin saying something like, "I know you hate watching pointless death," and Levi replying with, "I hate observing or being the cause of it." Which is a super weird thing to say and gives you plenty of material to read into; in other words, Levi is a bitch and it's awesome).
Mikasa's quietude does not offer enough individuality. She's a bodyguard more than a person. And I think she can be both. I like her character so much just for the sheer potential of it, but looking at it from my dad's perspective, I wonder how much of her character I've edited in my head into a smoother shape.
(And getting back briefly to the sexism; I've already talked plenty about how annoying it is when a lead female character is made to be "strong" in a way that contradicts a certain idea of femininity; in turn, reinforcing the idea that, in order to be a Strong Woman, you've gotta be a guy with boobs. I don't think this is that, exactly—it's never really felt like AoT is trying to make the characters more/less feminine to correspond with strength/bravery, etc. In fact—and maybe this is more a consequence of the medium—lots of the characters kind of come off more androgynous than they might in a Western animated series.
So, like, Sexism in Japan. I'm sure it's there; I've grasped bits and pieces of it from the animes I've seen, the fanservice and the comments that—in America—now seem weird, like "You'll make a great housewife some day," as if that's a compliment. But in my opinion, Mikasa does not really appear to be a consequence of sexism... or at least, the thread tying those two things is thin enough that I can't separate it out).
And it's not just Mikasa I've edited. It's basically the entire show. Wait, no. It's anime as an art form.
When I watch anime, and I snort at the characters that are screaming and crying and asserting something life-changing or whatever (i.e. Shinji in NGE screaming about being an Eva pilot in various forms—either him being all, "No! I hate this!" or "Wait! I'm the only one who can do this, let me do this!" or "Fuck you dad!" or some iteration of that). I do that, and the laugh is the external sign, the steam from the machine, and Neon Genesis Evangelion in my head shifts, the course of it corrected, the dynamic range limited and compressed.
Coming from an artistic corner where subtlety is valued over drama, where the plot moves without moving, where it is better to say nothing than it is to overshare—A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers movie, where somehow you end the movie in the same place you started, where the humor is black and understated, the characters distinctive and wrinkled and saying open-ended things that don't quite fit together once you've finished watching; I was taught to love the open space of ambiguity.
Anime is in a lot of ways a reversal of what I think of as higher art. Which is, I think, why Neon Genesis changed my perspective on anime so thoroughly. I thought it was an art form I would never really get, because I thought it had interests that differed from mine; I thought it wanted to be fantastical and cute and gory and sexual; and I was content in my corner with things that were Funny but Sad. But Neon Genesis was interesting to me, because it was meditating on the same problem that I meditated on—the same problem that a lot of works of art meditated on.
So even when Shinji screamed, I didn't mind, because I knew in the next moments he could be sitting on his bed rewinding his tape in semi-silence for 30 seconds before the next scene, with no dialogue and no scenery besides the silhouette of his body turned away from us—and both moments were just as drawn out and painful in their own ways. They both do work.
So a scream, to me, is no longer dissonant or weird.
Still, when Maria and I were showing Matt and Nadiya Neon Genesis Evangelion this semester, I felt hyperaware of the anime-isms that I kept seeing. Uh, namely the screaming. I can respect a lot about NGE. It is generally understated. I think part of why it was so easy for me to respect was that it still bore the hallmarks of what I seem to consider "art" (a sense of stasis; pausing on certain scenes and, of what little dialogue exists, letting it hover unanswered and unexplained, slightly abstracted from the viewer/reader).
I have by now seen a handful of other anime series that uhhh do not abide by the same rules. (Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on ~anime,~ I've literally just started watching it in the past few months). Let's see. I saw that Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun one, I watched a good amount of Haikyuu!! with Maria, we re-watched Ouran High School Host Club... I saw the first season of Death Note some time in high school (then I got bored). I watched most of Toradora! (got bored again, and also... ugh I don't feel like explaining, but it got too "anime" for me—which is a problematic way for me to phrase it, because it sort of dismantles my own arguments for anime by reducing it to its worst qualities lolol. But u know what I mean). I also saw most of Devilman Crybaby (horrifying show). The Great Pretender. I saw some of One Piece. I saw all of Saiki K (that's actually, like, my favorite show ever lol). That might be it. I haven't consumed a ton, and of what I have consumed, they've spanned a lot of genres. Action, drama, comedy... those might be the only genres it spanned lol.
Back to AoT. It's a different ballgame. It is... one of the more dramatic things I've ever seen, lol. It is, I think, more entrenched in anime than a show like Ouran High School Host Club or NGE or Death Note. I don't know. I was able to watch OHHHC pretty easily as a high schooler. I remember being frequently embarrassed by the anime traits, the loudness, the colorfulness—yelling, squealing, blushing, long voiceovers set to a shimmering slideshow of flowers wet with fresh dew. I remember thinking it was a little bit predatory and sexual in some ways, but in other ways, I found Haruhi's actual gender presentation kind of refreshingly ambiguous. Also, the homoeroticism. I don't know what gay culture in Japan is like at all—I imagine not great—but they really do be doing homoeroticism like nothing I've ever seeeeen. I was taken in by that. Plus the comedy and the general ease with which I could watch the show (sometimes I had to avert my eyes, having gotten overwhelmed).
Death Note wasn't nearly as strenuous at first; I didn't even really need an entry point (I think I watched it before I ever saw OHHHC) but it got so convoluted that I ended up dropping it. Again, though. The homoeroticism. The footwashing. *tugs at collar* Whew!
(Remember when I said "back to AoT" and then proceeded to spend several more paragraphs NOT Talking about AoT?).
NGE was also easy because, as I said, it in a lot of ways mimicked the art standards that I was already used to.
But AoT? I wasn't even really interested in it, but I liked the steaming naked bodies running at walls thing. And also Nadiya recommended it. So I started watching it and for some reason I was instantly interested. But I am still correcting it in my head here and there. I remember, specifically, that I spent a lot of time editing Eren in my head while watching AoT. His characterization felt, at times, full of gaps (which is maybe a consequence of the transfer from manga to screen? Maybe we missed some good old character development?). I couldn't consolidate the different aspects of him. I can understand, in theory, how he can be a violent and idealistic soldier boy—raised on blood and wanting blood. I can see him being incredibly reverent of his superiors. I can see him having an unearned ... not arrogance, but confidence, in skills that he doesn't seem to possess. All of that makes sense to me.
I am beginning to understand that I *do* understand Eren's character the way they present it in the anime. I just *hate* the dialogue, lol. I hate it! I hate it. The only persons' dialogue that I have pretty consistently enjoyed is that of Levi's. Oh, and also Jean's. I love Jean as a character. So so much.
But otherwise I get so irritated with Eren and the way he speaks with sentimentality. Incredibly serious and humorless sometimes. Formal, even. It feels wrong to me, somehow. And maybe it's because, in my opinion, he is not fulfilling the Protagonist position as I would want him to. I am refusing to take the work on its own terms. I want to change it, and I believe that as a reader, I have the write to shift canon to meet my needs.
Having re-watched season 1 Eren, I am pretty satisfied with what I've seen, character-wise. He doesn't strike me at all as dissonant. He's a bit irritating, because he is really self-righteous, but it's endearing to me. Because personally, I root for him. He's an underdog and he doesn't even know it, which is why I like it so much. He thinks he's so capable, and he must later realize that he's actually kind of useless; and then he finds value instead in teamwork or whatever. That's where shit gets murky for me in terms of his character. Right around there.
Okay. I'm sorry. I feel like I should've ended this on a more concrete note. A conclusion, maybe. But this was just me thinking, really. I was typing pretty much as fast as I could gather the thoughts. I guess I was just trying to figure out why my dad commenting on AoT—the clunkiness of the dialogue, the weird use of time (mom said it reminded her of a telenovela, which I think was a positive thing)—why that... stimulated my brain? I was almost a bit offended, because he said something about how he doesn't need to see the rest of the series now that he's seen season 1, because to him, all shows keep going in the same cycle and so he can just stop and start a new one when he gets bored.
Which is, like. A whole other thing. I know exactly what he's talking about, which is why it annoys me that he'd think that way about AoT, but I am just getting defensive because I have a bias towards the show.
And I mean. AoT is not for everyone. It's not going to be as accessible to western viewers—especially older ones—because it uses a library of tropes and conventions that are specific to a different culture of media. And just because someone has the tools to access it for whatever reason, does not mean they will like AoT. Ugh, that wasn't the point of this. I just think... I think on one hand, I really like throwing myself into a story without worrying about how dramatic or how subtle it's going to be, without worrying about whether any of this could ever mimic the ~~delicate agony~~ of ~~real life~~~. I think on the other hand, I have my own built-in library, and I interpret works through that, and I "fix" them in my head. And that's not necessarily wrong—it's half the reason I enjoy stories at all, is the act of de- and re-constructing—it's just... Something I've noticed while watching AoT.
Okay. I'm obviously lost in the sauce and I've gotta pee. Thanks for listening to me rant (idk who im talking to). I hope everyone's holidays have been good :) I'm lucky to be feeling good, to be spending time with people I love, to be doing things I enjoy doing... yeah. I'm just thankful right now. And if I could give away some of my luck, I really would, to anyone who needs it. God, I'm starting to sound like my grandma. Haha. Well. I guess it makes sense for her to exist in me most obviously at this time of year. I think we spent a lot of Christmases with her. Listening to her on-the-spot sermons as we said grace before dinner.
Kind of a nice memory, if I don't think hard enough to ruin it. Yeah. Things are good. Things are good.