In My View: The Weaboo Menace?

Okay, so I feel like I need to explain my last post a bit. My intention was not to defend Weaboo actions (although arguably I did.) My intention was to point out the inherit flaw in elitist arguments and specifically pick apart an argument which seemed to say the only people who can create a product is the culture that developed it. And people who attempted to do otherwise were exploiting the culture and therefore bad people.

However, I do think the responses are interesting and I find myself torn on the issue of Weaboos.


The issue of race

The fact that Weaboo came from the word Wapanese is not lost on me. With any discussion of culture clashes like this, race is going to come up.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable talking about race. Not because I don’t have opinions about race in America, but because I’m still bitter about being a white male going to a four-year university and being told I was a closet racist. So any opinion I have is tainted by my dislike of my liberal arts education. Also my inherent dislike of the idea of there being a singular white culture devoid of regionalism and class.

That said, there are some important issues revolving around race in this country. They’re issues which need to be discussed on a country-wide scale.

However, bringing race into a discussion about Weaboo bothers me for a couple reasons. First, it muddies the waters of what we’re talking about. What we seem to be talking about has less to do with race and more to do with people behaving badly.

While I can understand why someone self-identifying outside of their culture does seem disingenuous, I have a hard time thinking it’s racist. It’s like the white suburban kids who pretended to be black in the 90s, before rap became acceptable to the mainstream. Sure they were posers, but are they any different than the hipsters who pretend to be nerds because intellectualism is cool? I dismiss them, but I’m not offended by them.

Obsessive fanboyism and social ineptness

What I find interesting is the discussion of Weaboo could really only come out of geek culture. We wouldn’t blink twice if some tweenie thought Fall Out Boy was the BESTEST THING EVAR. We might scoff a bit at the emo eyeliner, but in general, we’d accept it. We don’t balk at someone who is obsessive about their football team to the exclusion of all other football teams. We might even chuckle if they get half-naked and put paint on themselves. The thing is obsessive fanboys (or girls) don’t bother most people.

But when we start talking about obsessive fans in geek culture, well there’s something different. Now in all fairness, I haven’t dealt with too many Weaboos. I’ve dealt with a few here and there, but judging by what people have said the ones I’ve dealt with seem to be pretty mild.

I have dealt with a lot of D&D geeks though.

When I started playing D&D, I was desperate for something to take me out of the hell that was middle school. (I used to do some pretty bad things to myself in hopes of getting sick so I wouldn’t have to go.) I needed the escapism D&D offered and I became obsessive about it and by extension the fantasy genre. And in a lot of ways, I became the stereotypical D&D geek.

I breathed, ate and slept D&D for about two years. It was the only thing I could talk about. I was socially inept on a monumental scale. I’d say I was self-absorbed, but I think that would understate the problem. Even when my utter obsession faded, I was still horribly socially inept.

Now like most geeks, I grew out of it (at about 21 or 22.) I developed some level of social skills so I could pass in the normal world. My geeky hobbies because, well, geeky hobbies. I still have a certain level of embarrassment about being that kid, but I understand it too.

This leads me to my thoughts about Weaboos.

The Weaboo Menace?

When I see people who are as socially inept as I was at 13 trying to operate in polite society, I’m torn.

On the one hand, I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to be associated with some guy who can’t talk to a girl without staring at her breasts and talking about how amazing his Great sword +5 is. Much like the embarrassment I felt watching the Sakuracon commercial, I didn’t want to be associated with those people either. (Although I think for a 30-second ad, it didn’t deserve the sheer amount of analysis it got.)

I want my geeky hobbies out of the eyes of people who are going to judge me for them, or at the very least I don’t want to wave my freak flag in everyone’s faces.

On the other hand, I understand the obsessive behavior. I understand wanting to identify with something when you’ve essentially been outcast from everything else. I understand taking a romanticized version of reality and believing it’s true. And not only believing it’s true, but not accepting any other fact to dispute it. I understand not being considerate of other people’s opinions and feelings and just being a jerk.

I can understand why a certain subset of people acts obnoxious because I’ve done it too.

So while I can’t completely condemn them because they’re ignorant of what they’re doing. I can’t really condone their ignorance.

While I agree it’s bad behavior, I have a problem saying they’re bad people for it, just misguided and misinformed.

In My View: Why elitist arguments suck

(Please note: I use the editorial “he” in this post.)

So I recently came across this post complaining about anime fans and it reminded me of this exchange between a commenter named meiko and the folks at the Anime Roundtable podcast.

All of this reminded me of something which has been bugging me for a long time.

Elitist arguments.

Now I think there are some “good” elitist arguments. By good, I mean there’s a nugget of truth which can be taken out of the argument. Say, if someone complained about reviewers and how they all suck and an elitist came along and said, “Well they’re professionals, so they’re opinion is better than yours.” There’s a nugget of truth in there: “Complaining about other people’s opinions is useless unless you’re going to present an opinion of your own.” That’s a good piece of wisdom to take away from the argument.

However, with any elitist arguments (even the good ones) they all fall prey to the same two word counter-argument: So what? So what if someone gets paid to have an opinion? It doesn’t make it any better. So what if 12- to 15-year-old boys act like 12- to 15-year-old boys? Expecting teenagers to not act like teenagers is like expecting the sun not to shine. So what if fansubbers screw up a translation? They’re doing it for free and people aren’t getting charged for it.

But for fun, I want to pick apart probably the most egregious elitist comment I’ve heard to date. This is from the life in motion post I linked in the beginning.

5. They EXPLOIT Japanese culture for money and/or fame
Hell, remember MegaTokyo? I fucking hate MegaTokyo. It’s a bunch of Japanophiles writing about being Japanophiles that just gets scarfed up by other Japanophiles – and they MAKE MONEY OFF OF IT. If you aren’t of Japanese descent, you have no idea how ridiculously offensive that concept is. Though maybe I can put it into a more familiar parallel – if I were a young black man growing up in the ghetto, and some suburban rich white boy started making rap albums about growing up in the ghetto when he’s never even set foot in one, and he subsequently sold millions of albums to other suburban rich white boys who wished THEY were rappers… yeah, that’s about the same level of pissed that I am about things like MegaTokyo.

 

Ok, there are so many things wrong with this “argument,” I’m not sure where to start. But for fun, let’s start with the beginning. Before I wrote this post, I read all of MegaTokyo (just going to prove there’s no such thing as bad publicity.) In all honesty, it has the formula every successful Web comic has, one part comedy to one-and-a-half parts melodrama, make it appeal to a certain type (or all of) nerd culture, throw in a lot of quirky characters and stir evenly. I enjoyed reading it and even found some parts really good.

But it doesn’t make it any less fiction. In fact, anyone who couldn’t tell MegaTokyo isn’t fiction really has some more severe problems than just being a “Japanophile.”

For a moment, I’ll pretend the argument is, “This comic presents a slanted view of Japan, which is untrue, and they make a profit off of selling the stereotype to other people who want to believe it’s true.” (By the way, this would be a better argument.) There are two problems with this. The first is selling a stereotype is bad when it’s a bad stereotype (this is even questionable.) Essentially, if MegaTokyo presented a version of Japan worse than reality I could buy the argument.

The fact is it doesn’t.

In fact, I would love to live in MegaTokyo. It has romance and adventure and the ability to be amazing if you want to be. Hell, you can even date cute Japanese girls, and if you didn’t want to do that there is a PS2 attachment you can buy. It is exactly like the anime it’s trying to emulate. When I compare this to stories I hear about Americans living in Japan, it makes me sad Japan is such a lousy place for foreigners. In MegaTokyo, there is no rampant xenophobia, no foreigner profiling, no social frigidness. In fact, if Japan was more like MegaTokyo, it would be a better place.

The second problem with this argument is where we get to the “So what?” This is fiction. Fiction does not present a realistic view of anything. Setting is used as a tool for the story. Is there someone who thinks New Jersey is as wonderful as Elizabethtown makes it seem? Is there some confusion the Boston in Dennis Lehane novels is the Boston of reality? I mean do you really think it’s realistic five white people live in an apartment in New York, but almost never see a black person? So what if MegaTokyo presents a skewed version of Japan? Every other piece of fiction does it, so why would MegaTokyo be different?

And here’s where we get the classic elitist defense.

“You don’t get it because you’re not me.”

This is not even a bad argument. This is not an argument at all. It’s a deflection. A way of saying someone is too stupid to understand. I’ll even admit, I’ve used it once or twice out of frustration, and it wasn’t good then. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to even admit I’ve used it. If people can’t understand how “ridiculously offensive” it is without being of “Japanese descent” then it must not be that offensive.

What really amazes me though is he tries to back peddle it into an analogy. For a second, I’m going ignore the racist undertones in there (because it would be impossible for people to be WHITE, HISPANIC or, even, ASIAN in the ghetto.) I’m also going to ignore the fact every culture in the world has adapted rap music for their culture (including the Japanese) and I’m going to stick to what I think he’s arguing here.

First every type of music has a particular stereotype and, even though I’m loathe to do it, I’ll even kowtow to his “I’m too stupid to get it” argument. For most of my life I’ve lived in suburban or rural areas. Essentially country music is my cultural heritage. It is primarily white and sells itself on being patriotic, God-fearing, gun-toting music from the Heartland. So if anyone was going to be upset if a black liberal, gun-fearing, atheist from the coast decided he wanted to play cowboy, it should be me, right?

Personally, I say more power to him and if he can make a profit off of it that’s great. According to this analogy, the only people who should play punk are white Englishmen (and men specifically) and the only people who should play rock should be American (or English,) and the only people who should play rap music should be black and American. The idea any type of cultural product is specifically reserved for the race or country that created it is, at best, ridiculous and, at worst, dangerous.

But maybe I just think that because I’m a white guy who likes watching Japanese cartoons.

In My View: What the heck is a “trainwreck?”

Okay, I’m confused.

I’ll freely admit I don’t have taste and there’s a lot of people in the Otakusphere who are smarter than me, so maybe I’m just not bright enough to get it.

But what the heck is a “trainwreck” and how do people figure out what constitutes one?

First, let me give you some background. I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels, but there are a few novels which have defined my reading experiences. One of those was a book I read back when I was in high school called “The Little Country” by Charles DeLint. It was set somewhere in England. (I think it was either northern England or maybe Wales, but I know it was England.) It contained two plots revolving around a magic book. Both stories were drastically different in tone, setting, structure and plot, but they each shared a common element.

They were set in a “real” world and contained magic.

It was my first encounter with genre blending and I loved it. The setting didn’t hurt the story. It enhanced it. It was a fantasy less about elves, knights, kings and the sinister evil living in Mount Doom, and more of a fantasy about love, laundry, dinner and sinister cats. I was so enraptured with this idea about fantasy happening in the real world; I started hunting all over for books like it.

As it turns out, I was about 10 years ahead of my time.

Now genre blended fantasy is the norm and I still feel the same about it. I like the idea of a wizard in Chicago who solves crimes, while dealing with wizardly politics. I like the idea of a vampire hunter in St. Louis (even if the execution of that idea isn’t really all that good.) It’s interesting to see these genres juxtaposed and see what comes out.

It’s not horribly surprising I like the same thing when anime does it. To be honest, I like “Full Metal Panic” because of the combination of Mecha with wacky high school hijinks. It makes the hijinks more meaningful when you know a secret agent might be right around the corner and it makes the battles more meaningful when there’s something to return to.

I like the first season of Code Geass because of the interplay between what was happening in the war and what was happening at the high school. It brings in dramatic irony, which raises the tension. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Code Geass wouldn’t have been nearly as good without it.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, so maybe that’s why I don’t understand it. Is it a difference in tone? Is it a difference in style? What is it about these genre-blended shows makes them so offensive?

And even more importantly, how is a genre supposed to grow if it doesn’t experiment? I’ll admit I’m all for a well-told genre story even if it’s essentially the same as other genre stories, but I also think this experimentation is good for any type of fiction.

But maybe I’m just crazy.

Impressions: Toradora!, Index, Druaga, Tytania and Glass Fleet

While I think of something more interesting to say, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I’ve been watching. Really I’m sad Fall and Winter seasons are over. Now I’ve got to find more new stuff to watch.

It’s depressing. Anyways…

Toradora!: Okay everyone else is on this bandwagon, so I ought to hook my leg over and get on in. I like this show. Really, I didn’t even have to warm up to it. It had me at its slightly vague and still somewhat confusing opening dialogue (I’m still not entirely sure what they were getting to with that, unless they were trying to say “LOVE.” Perhaps, I’m just over thinking it.) But really, I liked the characters. I liked the back stories. I wish they didn’t make Ami so cryptic and I wish the same thing about Minorin, but I’ll take what I can get.

Even the somewhat abrupt shift in Ryuugi’s character didn’t bug me. The harem bit did kind of bother me. I mean, really? Does he really need all THREE girls to be in love with him? Can’t he just fall for Taiga and be done with it? But beyond the minor gripe, I thought it was a good show.

Toaru Majistu no Index: Occasionally, I stumble across a show that really surprises me. Index is that kind of show.

Now, I’m not going to kid anyone. This is a shounen fighting show. There are fights in it. A lot of fights in it. In fact, there’s a major battle about every second or third episode. All of that said, the main character doesn’t really have super powers. Well okay, he has one superpower (his right hand can negate other superpowers, if he touches the effect.) This is not much of a superpower though and it doesn’t get any better. He doesn’t suddenly start shooting beams out of his hands or go into POWER LEVEL 9000 mode. No, he has to touch whatever it is and sometimes this proves a lot harder than what you might think. (Strangely enough there seems to be this theme of “luck” running through the show which I haven’t quite pinned down.)

The other thing I like about it is a pretty major twist about halfway through the series and it doesn’t try to sugar coat it. Arguably it does soft peddle it a bit, but not to the point where I got angry at it for getting my hopes up.

(And it even has lesbians.)

Tower of Druaga – Sword of URUK – : Yes, I like this show. Yes, I know it’s a David Eddings-style, brain-candy fantasy. Yes, I know every self-respecting anime fan dropped this show a long time ago. To be honest though, I still think it’s a decent show. It is the grilled cheese and tomato soup of anime. It doesn’t shoot for the moon in this second season, and I don’t really miss the self-referential humor too much. (Although I did miss it a little bit.) That’s all I have to say about that.

Tytania : This show needs a second season. I still haven’t watched the last four episodes and I know it needs a second season. Now I’m a fan of this show because I like court politics and I like Fan’s “the devil may care” attitude. Yeah, this is another one I don’t have much more to say about.

Glass Fleet: I really want to like this show. It has court politics, it has space battles, it has people trying to pretend they’re something that they aren’t. Really, it has some brilliant scenes and some remarkable episodes.

It’s just that it feels like it was put together by people who didn’t know what they were doing. The series will build a whole lot of tension up and then kill it with a flashback episode, or it will completely change it’s course, or it will have its main character be completely unwilling to participate in the action. It couldn’t decide whether it was going to be a character study or if it was going to be an epic. And while it’s possible for a series to be both, Glass Fleet doesn’t completely succeed at being either.

War is life? Full Metal Panic’s view of war

Daniel’s right. War does suck, especially in Gundam shows.

Now, I’ll admit, I have a bit of an aversion to the Gundam franchise. It’s not that I dislike it. It’s just a lot of the shows I’ve watched (Gundam Zeta and Gundam 0083) didn’t really excite me. At least not in the same way Macross, Argentosoma, RahXephon or a lot of other big robot shows excite me.

That said, I think there’s something to be said for the franchise because it does excite a lot of people.

While I think Daniel’s right, I do have something to add to what he said (otherwise why would I bother writing this post?) I think war represents more than just war in Gundam shows and other war epic/coming of age Mecha shows.

It represents life.

At their heart, each of these shows is the story of a teenager, who generally gets thrust into the middle of the action. Then the main character has his (or her) values, opinions or life view challenged, generally on an everyday (or at least every episode) basis. To top it off, they have to do deal with these challenges. They have to learn to adapt and change, adopt new world views, learn how to love, learn about people all in the course of fighting a war.

And in these cases, war is life played on a grand scale.

The characters may dream about returning to their pastoral innocence or they may fight to restore it, but either way they aren’t entering adulthood unchanged.

This is what makes Full Metal Panic so interesting.

Now when I started thinking about this post, I imagined FMP was simply the Gundam tale told in reverse. You have a teenager, whose life is war and then has to learn how to deal with peace. In this argument, war becomes the pastoral innocence Sousuke is clinging onto, while the battles he’s fighting are really in the classroom.

To a degree, I still think that, but (yes I am going to say this) I think FMP is more complex then that.

Full Metal Panic seems to play out on two fronts. On the one hand, there’s Sousuke’s relationship with Kaname and on the other there’s Sousuke’s relationship with Gauron.

When the series starts (and through the course of most of the first season and all of the second season) Sousuke is a solider. Not only is he a solider, he’s arguably the perfect solider. Gauron even makes reference to that in one of the episodes. He essentially lives to serve. Like I said before, war is Sousuke’s life. It’s what he understands. It’s his farm or space colony or whatever analogous metaphor you want to put into there.

Then he get’s thrust into a “normal” Japanese high school during peacetime. He tries to cope by applying wartime tactics to real life. And much like Roy Fokker to Rick Hunter, Kaname is Sousuke’s mentor. Now you could say it stops here. If you did you could say the show is pointing out war is actually an artifice. The lessons you may learn there don’t apply to real life.

But you’d still be left with Sousuke’s relationship with Gauron.

This is where it gets tricky because Sousuke and Gauron are like Amaro Ray and Char Aznable or, perhaps, even more like Lelouch and Suzaku. They are two people who are joined by a single common element.

War.

Except Sousuke’s war and Gauron’s war are two different things. Sousuke’s war is clean, noble and necessary. His life is regimented around the idea that he is a solider, good soldiers follow orders and those orders may lead to death, but it’s in service to the higher cause.

Gauron’s war is dirty, underhanded and self-serving. His life is regimented around the idea that war is about who walks away with the most profit. People might die, but as long as he lives, who cares?

For the majority of the series, these two viewpoints are put at odds. It’s pretty clear Sousuke is right and Gauron is wrong.

Until Second Raid (and arguably the latter parts of the first series.)

In Second Raid, we find out both versions of war are wrong in some way.

Gauron’s war is born out of cynicism and disappointment. When Sousuke is confronted with his own disappointments, he starts to slip. Now, I would really like to stop there and say the series says, “Gauron’s view of war is the correct view of war,” but I don’t think it does.

Sousuke doesn’t completely give into Gauron’s worldview. Yes, he does ponder it, but in the end, he finds out another truth (perhaps not so strangely from his real life mentor, Kaname.)

War is meaningless unless there’s something to protect. While this isn’t a necessarily earth shaking concept for anime, it’s interesting how the series got there.

So in the end, we learn Sousuke’s view of war is just as empty and meaningless as Gauron’s war.

Why not Berserk?

I’ve been inspired by Martin’s post on Berserk to offer my own thoughts.

I’ve always jokingly called Berserk, “The story of the Anti-Christ and his best friend.”

That said, Berserk is the perfect show. Really, I mean it. The characters are well-crafted and not only that, they actually move the story forward. Every one of their actions leads to a reaction. The relationship between Guts and Griffith reminds me of the relationship between Brandon Heat and Harry MacDougall. They are a pair who are necessary for each other. Guts derives his self-worth from Griffith and Griffith derives his self-worth from controlling Guts.

The plot is one of the most tight I’ve seen. Even when there is a plot hammer, it’s so well-hidden and natural it just flows in like it was meant to be there. The setting is internally consistent and fitting for the tone and mood of the show. (Even if it’s a little bit bland.) The themes are well-presented.

Even the oft-complained about ending of the show neatly ties up the show if you consider the show to be about their friendship and not to be about fighting monsters. In fact, I would have problems reading the manga after watching the show because the only way the story could go from here is downhill.

In fact, I would recommend any anime viewer watch Berserk once (because I’m going to have some spoilers after this.)

So why not, huh? Why don’t I just make it my number nine and have done with it?

The answer is pretty simple. Berserk is not a show I enjoyed, it was a show I experienced. It didn’t make a mistake with its plotting or structure or character or theme. It didn’t make a mistake other than its final solution to its central question: Can a person challenge fate?

Berserk says no and it doesn’t say no in a fun, campy way of most American romantic comedies. It doesn’t even say no in the “this is why this has to happen” way Donnie Darko uses. It says no in a “the God hand will crush your petty existence” way.

It doesn’t let you off the hook. Martin is certainly right; you will like the Band of the Hawk. You will care about Casca. You will want Guts to figure out what motivates him to fight. Even if you don’t agree with him, you’ll even find yourself rooting for Griffith’s Machiavellian plots.

Then it will proceed to destroy those things, one by one, until they are lying bleeding and broken on the ground.

Because really, who’s rooting for the Ant-Christ?

 

Impressions: A slightly less oversimplified view of Allison and Lillia

So Author pointed out, my past impressions post contained a vague description of why I liked Allison and Lillia.

It could be I don’t have any taste, but I’m going to try to provide a better review of the series.

In brief, the show is divided roughly in half between four main characters. Allison and Wil start the series off and Lillia and Trieze have the last section of the show. Each of these pairs has three four-episode arcs which deal with a particular problem. The arcs follow a basic pattern, the characters go someplace, a problem arises, they get involved with the problem and then there’s a solution.

At its heart, Allison and Lillia is a child’s adventure story, something which is odd in anime to begin with. It shares more in common with the Hardy Boys than it does with most anime I’ve watched. This does lead to some moments where I found myself saying, “Huh, they’re having a kid?”

But that doesn’t make it inherently bad, but as Author correctly points out, it does make it inherently oversimplified. Would a crowd, which had been riled up by a politician they had come to know and trust, suddenly change their tune if they found out about a long lost line of royalty? Probably not. Would knowledge of a mural suddenly bring an end to a decades old war without any other force? I doubt it.

While it is inherently oversimplified, I expected it to be from the beginning. The show became more complex as it progressed. The saying about, “What a tangled web we weave, when we first try to deceive.” (Note: I probably screwed that up.) is proven true in Allison and Lillia. Each new arc introduces a new lie, or a new secret, which has to be kept. This added a dynamic to the show making it a lot more complex then I expected it to be. Suddenly, lines, which would have been pretty mundane if they were in a normal children’s adventure story, became ironic. Now I’ll admit, I have a fondness of dramatic irony when it’s done well and Allison and Lillia, in my opinion, did it well.

The irony becomes even more pronounced in the Lillia and Trieze arcs when some of the characters know all of the secrets and some of the characters know some of the secrets and some of the characters didn’t know any of the secrets. Now, I have to admit for being Wil’s kid, Lillia is really dense, but she does have Allison’s charm and hot-headedness, which I found somewhat fun.

The other thing I found interesting was neither Allison nor Wil had the upper hand as far as characteristics. Yes Wil might have been a good shot and he might have been really smart, but he was lousy in a fight and he couldn’t pilot a plane. Yes Allison was good in a fight and she could pilot a plane, but she wasn’t super smart. Neither character overshadowed the other character.

Does that mean it was a show without its problems? No, of course not. In fact, it had one really big problem in the Lillia and Trieze arcs. While Allison and Wil were usually at least part of the solution to their problems, Lillia and Trieze only really existed to get into trouble. They were a convenient plot device.

While I found it annoying, it didn’t put me off enough to want to stop watching the show because I wanted to see how all of the lies would resolve. Unfortunately the show didn’t give me a real resolution. It did give me a “well-we’re-going-to-let-you-make-up-your-own mind-how-it-resolves” resolution.

So yes, Allison and Lillia is an oversimplified, easily grasped view of the world. Yes, it doesn’t have amazing world building (although it’s not bad.) Yes, it isn’t an epic on the level of LoGH or even Seirei no Moribito. But for what it was, a Japanese version of the Bobsey Twins, it was enjoyable.

 

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