Demi-chan wa Kataritai 11

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Episode 11 of Demi-chan wa Kataritai begins with an ideological challenge to the way Takahashi-sensei supports demi-humans, or colloquially, demis.

It’s a familiar concern, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. “Helping people makes them dependent.” Perhaps it’s even more familiar as rhetoric used to criticize anything from welfare to “safe spaces” in America. But without getting into the individualistic and meritocratic version we hear in America, the vice-principal is moreso concerned that it would be better for the demis to form more relationships they can depend upon other than Takahashi-sensei.

However, the vice-principal’s suggestion is for Takahashi-sensei to stop supporting demis as much as he does, which depends a great deal on non-demis knowing how or wanting to interact with demis to begin with. By shifting the narrative’s perspective to that of the secondary characters, episode 11 is able to put the lens on the rest of society to naturally explore that assumption, and what we find is about as much as we might expect.

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The side characters reflect on their lack of knowledge about their demi classmates, cleverly paired with this shot of the demis’ usual hangout spot without anyone present, and perhaps even more cleverly, reframing the other episodes’ focus on the main characters as a lack of interaction on the part of the side characters, stemming from the apprehension that comes with that lack of knowledge.

Non-demis, as the majority, can make it through life without ever needing to confront that apprehension or even be aware of it, but demis will have to do so throughout their entire lives apart from those rare occasions where they can build rapport with other demis. And even then, the demis are so different from each other that all they really have in common is that shared experience of being categorized as demi-human.

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In the end, the vice-principal concedes that having Takahashi-sensei support demis allows him to be an important role model, inspiring the other students to get along better with their demi classmates. His position as a teacher, as the face of a social institution, allows him to set a standard for others to meet, and asking him to stop would be lowering that standard.

After nearly half a cour of manga-adapted content that was practically filler, albeit rather relaxing filler, Demi-chan wa Kataritai concludes on a more serious and emotional note (not including the incoming beach episode) in what appears to even be an anime-original episode.

If a beach episode is any indication, this series isn’t without its flaws. For example, after I praised this episode for putting the lens on the rest of society, it might seem a bit strange that the episode is framed primarily around the criticism and personal redemption of Takahashi-sensei (maybe you even felt a bit strange about Takahashi-sensei being the only person named throughout this entire post). But it is still worthy of every bit of praise it receives for the empathy and thoughtfulness it, at times, demonstrates.

(And the beach episode turned out to not be a beach episode after all.)

First episode impressions of 3 magical girl shows from a complete newcomer

Even though I wrote about Madoka last week (which now that I look back on it was basically just an overview of Madoka’s interest curve), I haven’t actually watched a lot of more traditional magical girl shows. And while Madoka is very moving, sometimes I’m just too tired for more despair, so here’s a short post about my wanderings into more light-hearted and episodic territory.

Mahoutsukai PreCure: To be honest, it was kind of hard to get emotionally invested in this. The main character, Mirai, sees the other main character, Riko, fall out of the sky. Because that’s sort of just the way things go, they meet up and then beat a bad guy. Apart from really liking her stuffed animal, I didn’t feel there was very much in the way of emotional characterization, though there was a decent amount of foreshadowing future development.

KiraKira PreCure: The first episode begins by introducing the main character’s, Ichika’s relationship with her mother through baking shortcake. Even though we don’t see much of her mom, you can really feel how much Ichika loves and misses her through the effort she puts into baking, and I almost wanted to cry when she’s about to give up on those feelings, believing that her feelings don’t matter since her mom can’t come home to eat the shortcake she made for her. I’m caught up to Episode 6 now, and every episode is very heartwarming.

PriPara: I decided to watch this after reading about how the characters in it struggle with and overcome social expectations, and it certainly succeeded in setting that up in the first episode. PriPara is quickly introduced as an idol paradise, the object of admiration and dreams for the main character, Lala, though she is quickly characterized as too nervous to perform rather than just watch. Furthermore, both the mean elementary school headmistress and Lala’s mother expect her to help out at home, which really help to further instill a sense of worried nervousness when Lala gets dragged into an idol performance while out on an errand, breaking the expectations others have of her. I’ve watched two full cours in the past few days, and I have yet to watch an episode where I haven’t thought, “I can’t believe this is happening,” with an enormous smile on my face.

Madoka and Escalation of Tragedy

A recent post by Karandi got me thinking about Madoka. In it, they note that throughout most of the story, Madoka has the role of an observer, watching her friends dive into the world of magical girls, and that this difference in perspective doesn’t necessarily subvert the genre so much as reframe it. Rather than watching magical girls succeed with hope, we watch them fall, with greater tragedy and despair each time, until the culmination of Madoka’s wish.

And for me, it’s that escalation of tragedy that sets Madoka apart from all of the other dark magical girl shows. It isn’t simply the repetition of tragedy for the sake of being thematically dark (coughWalkingDeadSeason2cough); each tragedy directly contradicts the character it falls upon, and each tragedy is more systematically inflicted than the last.

Mami, granted the miracle of life by her wish, very much embodies the optimism and hope of traditional magical girl shows, but we can only watch as she is struck down again by the simple unpredictability of life, or so it seems.

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Sayaka and Kyoko both make wishes out of an idealism reminiscent of Sentai shows, and both are subsequently punished through direct consequences of those wishes. At first this simply seems Monkey’s Paw-esque, but while Kyoko protects herself by putting on a facade of cynicism, Sayaka falls into despair, at which point it is revealed that magical girls turn into witches when their souls are corrupted by despair. We’re faced with the fact that not only is life simply unpredictable and tragic, but that the world has been constructed explicitly to create such tragedies.

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And Homura… oh boy.

Everything that Homura does to save Madoka simply serves to make Madoka’s fate worse.

But not just by any simple coincidence. Despite Homura’s constant opposition to the Incubators, Homura perfectly emulates the Incubators’ emotionless, ends-justify-the-means approach. She is more invested in their magical girl system than anyone else, as it is her only means to save Madoka from that same system, and the realization of that contradiction, that rewinding time again and again simply makes Madoka a greater magical girl and a greater witch, that we can’t change anything, is soul-crushing.

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In comparison, Madoka seems like a fairly simple character. Her wish, her answer, is simply hope itself. And yet, in her role as a powerless observer, with all of the despair that she has witnessed, to still be able to say that despair needn’t be the fate of magical girls, that the system can be changed, and perhaps even the laws of reality itself? The light of that hope is made all the brighter in the overwhelming darkness.

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Sources for the images are Leviathyn, Leviathyn again, Wrong Every Time (according to Google Images anyways), and some MAL thread.

(rebellion tho)

Little Witch Academia (TV) Episode 6

When I first started watching Little Witch Academia’s TV adaptation, something struck me as a little strange. I kept waiting for Akko to suddenly learn magic and save the day like in the original movie, but apart from finding the Shiny Rod in the very first episode, that never really happened.

Certainly, she saves the Pappiliodya butterflies and the Jennifer Memorial Tree in the very next episode, but all of the credit ends up going to Diana. After the Sorceror’s Stone is stolen from the school in episode 5, Akko rushes out to retrieve the Stone, but she ends up getting captured until the matter is resolved peacefully by Diana. By episode 6, I was more than ready for Akko to get her mid-season powerup from the Fountain of Polaris and mark a turning point in the series, but it disappears without granting her its power or the acknowledgement and redemption that would come with it.

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See, episode 1 brings us into Akko’s perspective by giving us a glimpse of what magic makes possible and reminding us of the excitement of the Little Witch Academia movies, very much the same way Chariot brought Akko into the world of magic. Much like Akko, we’re given an expectation and a wish for her to suddenly be proficient at magic. But for the next five episodes, Akko struggles, even flounders, at casting even the most basic magic. She isn’t just playing the role of a dunce for a few quick jokes before she goes off and saves the day; she faces a real obstacle to her dream of becoming a great witch like Chariot that she struggles with emotionally. With failure being the only feedback Akko receives from school, she is lost, captivated by the starry radiance that she saw in the past, but unable to see any path to reach it.

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When Akko wishes upon the Fountain of Polaris, it shows her that Chariot also wished upon the Fountain but was initially turned down. Chariot also failed constantly and was also a bit of a dunce. But through her failures, she grows into a splendid witch that is recognized by the Fountain upon her return. The Fountain of Polaris ultimately disappears without granting Akko its power, but instead it grants her something even more important than that: a path to chase after her dream.

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I have thoughts on episode 7 too, but I think they’re on themes that will be explored much more through the rest of the season, so I’ll hold off on that.

Giving Yuuki Asuna Emotional Depth

I think anybody who has played an MMORPG knows that most fiction about them are completely unrepresentative of the experience. They tend to simply be used as a fantasy setting with a bit of sci-fi spice, typically of the artificial intelligence variety. I’d even go so far as to say that not a single one actually understands how people interact with strangers online. But I have seen one give emotional depth to people playing online games, and as it would so happen, it does so by taking a new perspective on one of the most popular series to bash: Sword Art Online – Progressive.

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“Video games are a waste of time. Online games are like drugs.” I think everybody who has played an online game recognizes these ideas. And yet more of us should recognize the underlying emotions that fuel those ideas: the fear of being left behind in a highly competitive society, one that records every mistake that we make, judging our worth as human beings but leaving our execution in our own hands.

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For Asuna, and for most people living in developed countries, the cruelest punishment that we can give is not death, but shame, a shame which tells us that we should kill ourselves. This stands in direct contrast to Sword Art Online’s premise of a death game, and it makes Kirito, with his deep knowledge of the game but naivete in regards to reality, into an excellent foil to Asuna. It gives new weight to Asuna’s response to Kirito’s suggestion that they stay in the game forever: that even if they stayed, they would still be running out of time. But its most important function is not to position the game as a silly fantasy, but to connect it emotionally with the reality of how we fantasize success:

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You can’t really change the disaster that was and continues to be Sword Art Online, but Sword Art Online – Progressive salvages so much in its first two chapters just by taking and fleshing out Asuna’s perspective. (I would even suspect that a similar effect was accomplished by Mother’s Rosario for people who didn’t enjoy the rest of Sword Art Online.)

Also Himura Kiseki is such a good artist it’s frankly kind of disgusting.

Credit for all pages goes to Kiss Manga Scans.

Arrival’s Last Line

If you haven’t watched Arrival, this will contain spoilers.

Arrival is a science fiction movie based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life. I think it’s a great movie, slowly building from the mystery of alien visitors to the way learning their language changes our experience of time to circular rather than linear, to the climax of a poignant and philosophical question that it poses, a question that is asked,

“Do you wanna make a baby?”

The entire theatre must have chuckled at this incredibly awkward moment.

The ultimate philosophical question that is being posed is whether you, knowing in advance all the joy and suffering that you will experience in your life, would still live it.

And there’s the problem.

See, this question is asked not by Dr. Louise Banks, the main character who is learning the aliens’ language and experiencing the future birth and death of her child, but her romantic interest, Dr. Donnelly. The delivery of this line makes perfect sense framed as a philosophical thought experiment, where you are presented with a premise and return an answer, but it makes virtually no sense emotionally. Dr. Ian Donnelly doesn’t know they’re going to have a child. By having the man ask the question with the word choice of ‘make’ you put more emphasis on the sex than anything else.

If it was instead Dr. Banks who asked, “Ian, can we have a child?” This would put much more emphasis on her agency, and in turn, the emotions behind such a poignant decision. It humanizes the abstract philosophy behind the question, allowing the readers and audience to connect, which I think was the original goal behind making the question about whether or not they would have a child. The delivery is just a little off because they didn’t think to let their female lead ask and answer the important philosophical question.