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Love in the time of anime harems

I’m going to be 30 years old in a few years. I can no longer call myself young, except with the words ‘at heart.’

I still like anime.

Back when I was half my age, anime was the way I coped with the stresses of high school. I made a few friends by shamelessly bringing series to class, and sharing it with friends. Outside of my studies and anime, however, I was a horrible person. I thought I was really intelligent, and thus had the right to be an asshole to everyone else.

As I grew older, however, my tastes changed, but it was in college when I finally discovered the type of series that I really liked. I enjoyed mecha series, and I occasionally enjoyed shounens, but what I really liked were josei romances.

GAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!

megumi

When I was seventeen, I didn’t really care about women. Coming from a family that’s situated in the lower-middle class, I had to work to maintain my scholarship. Then I discovered Honey and Clover. Even though I watched it ten years ago, I’ll still gush about the series as fervently because it taught me the complexities of being in relationships with people without actually being in one.

I admired Takemoto, who was upright despite all the pitfalls life had in store for him, and tried to be as much as a gentleman as he was (although I failed, because Takemoto is that awesome). But Honey and Clover was the gateway series for me because it paved the way to building up my empathy towards others.

I still have a small amount when compared to most people, but having that seed was a start in order to become a better person. I thought that my fondness for mature romance would end with H&C.

I was wrong. In 2010, Tatami Galaxy was shown, and it remains to be the best series that I have ever seen. Why? Because Watashi was me. I was an asshole to men and an asshole to women, but I never accepted that I was the root cause of the bullshit that happened to my life. I never had the passion for medicine because I didn’t really want to be a medical doctor. Having seen that series, however, made me realize that I have to own up to my past and live in the present in order for me to progress in my life. I’m still far from what I want to be, but at least nowadays I’m earning and helping in the family finances.

I stayed away from anime in the years immediately succeeding that because I had to be licensed as a medical doctor. Two series that I watched this year has inspired me to write a reflection of my life and anime, however. The first was Oregairu, which had reminded me again to be true to myself. (There was also a lot of self-insertion in Hachiman: I was aloof, I didn’t care about society, but I wanted and want sincerity in the few people I consider as friends.)

I think Yukino will probably end up with Hachiman. Because I realized that it’s not just about the female protagonist. There must be cohesion between the two.

It actually surprised me how far in terms of maturity romance/harem anime have arrived. Back when I was younger, there was Love Hina, Chobits, and DearS. They were great anime series for wish-fulfillment. Outside of Chobits, however, they merely pandered to their viewers (who were usually social outcasts and reveled in the idea of being surrounded by attractive women).

Anime has clearly evolved, because even the oft-maligned harem genre has manifested impressive signs of maturity. I’ve already mentioned Oregairu, but I wrote this post because of Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata.

This series actually features a hardcore otaku as the protagonist. He is unabashed and unashamed of his hobbies, leading people to recognize him as the three pillars of their school. (He reminded me of my high school self.)

In subversion to the common tropes in harem series where the girl he ends up with is the girl who has been his enduring childhood friend or the girl with the BIG everything, his heart is with a quiet and unassuming lady who is always there for him.

I admire this direction of harem series, because I believe love is not a competition between the biggest chests. It does not award the sluttiest woman, and clearly some friendships just stay as friendships. Love is cohesion. It is being attuned to the other person’s needs and wants, and them responding to your needs and wants as well, persistently, consistently, and for the rest of both of your lives as well. Both people have to work hard for it to work. Being physically attractive definitely helps, but it is not the be-all or end-all of love. So when I see Utaha or Eriri being shot down occasionally (more of this happens in the LNs), I feel contented because even a harem series has more accurately approximated love in the anime medium. Love is not a one-night stand. It is a constant grind, and from what I can see, only Megumi really put in the work. I’m happy that Tomoya’s slowly seeing that.

And I’m happy that,just like harem anime, I’ve also grown a little bit more mature to see what these protagonists see, too.

Looking from the bottom of a shot glass: reflections

Yesterday, I went out for a night of coarse drinking. Ever since I totally wasted myself five years ago, I vowed never to relive the stupidity and the need for reliance on other people: I realized that I should be responsible for myself and for the others who may need my help during these sessions. I wasn’t going to reconsider it for yesterday, although because of traumatic circumstances from my recent past I may have developed more of a tolerance for alcohol. I’m still not very fond of alcohol; frankly, I drank only because people become more conversant as well as patient listeners when they have taken in a bit of alcohol, and I needed that.

I'm glad I didn't vomit, but I drank the most shots yesterday.

There’s a different side to drinking that I have subtly enjoyed, however: once people have taken in enough alcohol, the inhibitions begin to pale away and their true nature is often seen. From that singular experience of being totally drunk I find myself a quiet man with an imposing superego, something that has been quite consistent with my quotidian existence these past few years. In short, I’m no fun when I’m drunk. I may burst into song, but for the most part I’ll stay quiet and wait until the heaviness and the languor get washed away by my body or by water.

I enjoy drinking as a spectator sport, however, because the mask of propriety falls off from people and their true colors come to the surface. People with hidden ‘wild sides’ allow these to come alive when they have taken in enough drink; people who are silent become uncharacteristically vociferous; and the men with rather untamed libidos have these rise to the fore. I’m just glad that my parents have raised me quite well to be scrupulous even in times of mental laxity (and chemical inebriation), and I am glad that they teach by example (although I make a few mistakes time and time again).

I wasn’t shortchanging myself yesterday, too. I think I probably had two bottles of beer, four shots of tequila, and the world spinning around me. Yet I could never find myself to be improper to ladies or to even be an ass to some of my friends (some even deserved it!). I could be an ass and am a big one at times, but these are often precipitated by my scruples and not by drink. While I was in my drunken stupor I was just wondering how painful it must have been for Yamada to never have gotten out that she liked Mayama after all that time: I knew that despite the watercolor backgrounds, Honey and Clover‘s relationships and characterizations were seated in real life, and that truly, especially after yesterday’s party, it really does break down some internal barriers and inspires a chemically-induced blase attitude as regards societal standards, even if only for hours. I didn’t really appreciate it back when I was still a true teetotaler, but I do now.

I admire her, however, for saying it even though she knew it would lead nowhere. I probably couldn’t do what she did even if was dead-drunk and vomiting like there was no tomorrow. She’s a bit pathetic: despite knowing she’s chasing air, she nevertheless admits to herself that it’s what she wanted, even if she hurts herself time and time again. But she’s also quite courageous for finally admitting to herself that she liked him despite everything. I have seen people tear their shirts off in public: I have even stuck my head in a freezer because I felt so hot after one time, because there was no water around, and I think I’m a bit allergic to alcohol. Only few people could compare with her feat of honesty and daring, however: to be courageous when defeat is imminent is a trait found mostly only on heroes, whether fictional or historical.

Antipodes: Ano Hana and Honey and Clover’s first episodes

This post is dedicated to Jack, the kind poster who pointed out to me that a certain anime with an original story started airing. That anime was Ano Hana, or Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. Since the complete title is unwieldy, I will use the shortcut from this point on.

... and then I thought ... holy shit, this may just be a different H&C

The first episode of Ano Hana reminded me a lot of Honey and Clover. I realized that the reason was that it had similar directors. Tatsuyuki Nagai also directed Toradora, and while sadly failing to maintain its beautiful beginning was also a decent watch. The theme of the series is more similar to Honey and Clover’s, however, than Toradora’s: both essentially deal with friendships, although romance remains to be a strong factor in the progression of the plot.

I recall that when I first watched the first episode of H&C, I wasn’t too impressed by the plot or the characters, but it left enough of a mark in me that made me stick with it. I had no regrets by the third episode, and was definitively sure that it was going to be one of the greatest series I would ever have seen by the sixth. That hasn’t changed, even after six years: Honey and Clover remains to be brilliant.

While H&C’s first episode was more jocose, however, Ano Hana starts with a beautiful elegiac tone. Instead of starting with introductions, the series started with goodbyes. It is not only in this sense, however, that Ano Hana serves as an antipode to Honey and Clover: whereas H&C was all about developing weakly-founded friendships into becoming lifetime covenants, Ano Hana started with strong friendships undermined by an incident and dissolved altogether by the passage of time. One started from creation; this series started with destruction: Jinta is a quasi-hikkikomori, and the friends that he had known in the past have transmogrified into spectres of their former selves. It is only the haunting of Menma, the friend lost in a certain fateful incident, that started to turn the wheels once again. Time moved once more.

The incident that occurred to Menma is actually reminiscent of Cross Game‘s trigger as well: it was with Wakaba’s accidental drowning that forged Kou to become a person that was capable of fulfilling her dreams for him. This is no Adachi series, however, and sports is as far from the people’s lives here as abundance is to the beggar.

This series honestly feels like a high school permutation of Honey and Clover. If executed as well as H&C, it will not be inferior, only as differently good. While the nucleus of friendship remains to be the similar focus in both series, I feel that whereas H&C dealt with the more mature aspects of romance and adulthood, Ano Hana will be the reverse in the sense that it will be escaping from the constraints of maturity and return to the celebration of unadulterated, childlike friendship.

I may be wrong, but I’m definitely watching this.

The value of anime to us

I have never had any problem with people and the hobbies of their choosing, from kite-flying to skydiving to model creation. I can only admire people’s dedication and passion for what they like. Besides, I personally don’t think my avocations are socially accepted compared to other methods of whiling away time: I love anime, and I love obtaining unique and antique video games. They’re not exactly basketball, women-watching, or cars (although I also love basketball). I thus wasn’t the least bit surprised when my friends (all men, of course), joked about my wastage of money: I did buy an expensive video game, and to most people it’s just considered as such, and nothing more. History, the appreciation of the past, and the role of the Super Micro in the evolution of video games to them seems like flatus vocis – empty air. They told me that I could play Othello practically anywhere, and their argument to my spending was rational and justifiable: there is no way around the fact that I saved 250 dollars and asked help for 100 more. For that amount I could have bought the newest version of the PSP, or the Nintendo DS: why would I even spend my money earned through thrift and miserliness in that manner?

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Of love and other demons

I have been able to look at anime from a somewhat distant and consequently rational manner because I have never experienced quite a number of the phenomena it evidences. I would only understand the idea of romantic love empirically, through the eyes of others: I had never fallen in love before, but I knew what love was, and I knew it was the reason why I survived until this day. I had known love, but only of the familial kind.

I’m, of course, not love’s cynic. Otherwise, Honey and Clover wouldn’t be one of my all-time favorites, and Maison Ikkoku wouldn’t even garner any mentions from me. I long realized that I was a romantic at heart, but I was simply never moved by another before. I think I’m not afraid of commitment: my entire life has been my commitment to family. I could have pursued literature, after all. I could have excelled in physics or chemistry. Instead, I chose medicine, and I chose it because I love my family. I am also not afraid of love, but I have never been moved by it in reality.

That was the case until now.

A few days ago, while conducting some preliminary scouting for our research, our group traipsed through the night in Bacolod: it was, after all, a celebratory time. It was Masskara, the festival of masks. There was a street party going on (it was my first time experiencing it), and so there were a lot of people around. During that time I saw the most beautiful woman in the world in my opinion, and it was cathartic, because I never thought I would see anyone as beautiful in reality. Her skin was exquisite china, and her eyes were as colorful as cats’. I would like to say that it was a fairy tale, but being my first time experiencing it, all I could blurt out to her was that I thought she was very beautiful.

Then I was gone. Then she too.

I realize that while I didn’t blush, the romance anime that I like, from the romantic comedies to dramatic tragedies, really reflected the feeling of falling in love. It doesn’t emulate the reality of this existence like well-made movies, perhaps, but it really does reflect it: I had a lump in my throat and I was weak at the knees. It was both an exhilarating and despairing experience: I saw the only girl who ever made me weak at the knees and yet I wasn’t equipped enough to even ask her number, or her name. God both gave me an immense hope and a broken heart, and while I’m grateful for both (it’s been time), it hurts. I want to see her again.

Maybe even if I make mistakes this time I can ask for her name … or her number … or even if I’ll never be able to, just seeing her will probably more than brighten my day.

To the Korean or Chinese mestiza … if you read this … please contact me. 🙂

Why slice-of-life anime will never fade into oblivion

I am currently celebrating the gifts of a four-day weekend: aside from the regular weekend, there are also two consecutive holidays, thus the absence of classes. It has been quite some time since I have been able to enjoy free time such as this: because of the break, I have been able to pick up on my reading and watching anime.

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