In Code Geass, the foremost enemy for the heroic Japanese freedom fighters is the Holy Britannian Empire. The series could hardly be called a developed political tract, but it holds strong in its anti-imperial principles to the end, even as it takes its wildest turns. But one question is never actually raised: what, exactly, is an empire?
Hayao Miyazaki began his career at Studio Toei, and quickly found himself involved in the union struggles occurring at the time, efforts which eventually saw he, Isao Takahata, and others virtually forced out of the studio. Rising to prominence in this milieu, Miyazaki spent his early life as a self-proclaimed Marxist, and the artistic priorities set by those politics survive even into his present work. In the 80s he declared that he wanted to, “always be aware of the dangers of being too wishy-washy, to be aware of the relationships between media creators and consumers, capital and labor.” Yet, within a decade, this belief in Marxism totally crumbled. With the fall of the USSR and the writing of Nausicaa, Miyazaki’s faith in historical materialism—which centers class struggle and the relations of economic production in its analysis—collapsed, and he declared that the kind of thinking where, “if things like the distribution of wealth and the means of production were properly taken care of, everything would get better”, was something he could no longer accept. Indeed, in 1994 he claimed that, “Leaving decisions up to the collective wisdom of the masses just results in collective foolishness”, as well as saying, outright, that “Marxism was a mistake,” and from here, the ecological tones already present in his work became even more central.
Studio 3Hz’s Blackfox, which released on Crunchyroll at the start of October, is an entirely unfinished product. Initially developed as a normal, single cour TV anime, production difficulties eventually saw its first arc reshaped into a film, with the narrative’s conclusion still up in the air; though it must be said that those who believe the movie is a poorly condensed version of the entire show poorly condensed the SakugaBlog article they learned this from, and there’s no particular reason to believe that more movies won’t come out if this one is a success, seeing as some amount of pre-production is doubtlessly already finished.
Cyberpunk, the anxieties of the nineties traced in neon and thrown across billboards. It appeared as it was all too late to believe the lies of high modernist science worship and all too early to know just what the rising society of control would look like. Fear that the human subject would soon become a useless category, hesitation over the seeming impossibility of meaningful revolutionary change in the face of an increasingly wedded state and capital possessing nigh-omniscient insight, and worry about globalization and the coming domination of Japan and the Orient all made up cyberpunk, which more than any other genre from its time, was, as Jameson might describe it, a “demonstrat[ion] and … dramatiz[ation] [of] our incapacity to imagine the future,” an attempt to work through the ongoing problems of the day by extrapolating them to a fitting conclusion, one which we have, in some perverse sense, stumbled into face-first. The fears of cyberpunk hold little sway as the technological innovations which have occupied our daily lives continue to offer a paradoxical combination of eternal freedom and limitless control. Our organically 21st century concerns have turned to climate change above all else. Yet can the story of cyberpunk be told so simply? From Blade Runner forward, the mere sight of kanji on the walls of an American building aroused fear in some deep corner of the viewer’s heart, one which knew the nation’s hegemony was not long for this world, and that end of unipolarity on the global stage is finally come to pass. Yet, if we are content to see that techno-orientalism as an in-built aspect of the genre, utterly inextricable, how do we explain the nation which, arguably, embraced cyberpunk the most: Japan?
1945-1970, the two-and-a-half decades immediately following the deadliest war in human history, a war which reduced much of Japan to rubble. The first period of Japanese industrialization and capital accumulation was long since over, and with it, the social environment had changed. While young women in all-girls’ schools continued to fall for one another while facing the idea that their feelings were mere practice for heterosexual marriage, the Class S movement, and the pessimistic hope for escape which accompanied it, were long-since dead, giving way to the growth of a broader queer subculture. But the path to yuri was not untread during this period. The rebuilding of Japan really did change everything, all aspects of the culture, and for our purposes, one of the most notable such changes was the blossoming of manga.
Flip Flappers was developed as a project drawing from topics which interested director Kiyotaka Oshiyama, and among those topics were the various branches of psychoanalysis, especially those of both Freud and Jung. As a work very directly about the psychosexual realm and its impact on development, specifically through the lens of queer awakening and the role of relationships in subject formation, the influence of these thinkers, as well as other works which drew upon them, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, is startlingly clear. Yet simply analyzing the series along psychoanalytic lines misses something; the show’s powerful pushback against many aspects of psychoanalysis. Cocona’s story, while certainly one of sexual awakening, is not a cut-and-dried Freudian or Jungian process of therapy and actualization. Mimi, despite clearly resembling an image of the Oedipal Mother, is not so simple. Rather, through both narrative and animation, Flip Flappers elaborates a view of the world and the mind which is much less singularly-focused than the thought of either Freud or Jung, telling a story which encourages us to forge connections and improve ourselves through an understanding of our fluidity and status as assemblages of disparate elements.
I sure haven’t made one of these in a while, have I? Well, it’s 2019, and you know there’s a lot of yuri manga right now, some of them mediocre but many of them great, so let’s get right to this, and try not to skip around or leave the video, because many of the best are on the backend. I’ll only be listing series with an English translation, will put details on-screen if they’re licensed, and have timestamps in the description, so let’s go.
Crossdressing theater is a centuries-old practice in Japan, as it is in Western Europe. Traditional and aristocratic noh plays always boasted male actors and Kabuki, a genre more popular among the lower classes, first emerged as an all-female mode of theater before it was banned due to an association with sex work, leading young boys to take the role of women. They, too, were banned with time due to the link with prostitution, leaving adult men the sole actors in the genre. With the Meiji Restoration, Kabuki became a symbol of Japanese pride, and though debates around it raged, it was accepted as an important cultural tradition. At the same time, with the bourgeoisification of the nation and the initial sightings of spectacle-culture, young girls and women were making attempts to break into the historically segregated theater industry. Afraid of the “degenerate schoolgirl” and desperate to maintain the “good wife, wise mother” dynamic, railroad baron Ichizo Kobayashi devised an all-female, modern mirror of kabuki: the Takarazuka Revue.
If Natsume Yuujincho is about anything in particular, it’s an all-encompassing kindness towards other people as well as the world at large, in a very ecological sense. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Iyashikei as a whole is almost defined by its relative lack of antagonistic forces, a decentering of conflict, something which would seem antithetical to the very structure of narrative. Yet oddly it works for this oh-so-particular genre. Natsume, in focusing on youkai, accomplishes what other iyashikei achieve through other means: an elaboration of the world as living, equally important to human life itself and necessarily tied up with that human life. It presents harmony as the utmost ideal, something which takes work but is more than worth the payoff. In a sense, it’s a near-perfect series in the way it engages with this. But that brings us to an important question. Why is it that only series widely recognized as “good” count as iyashikei?
In 1853, Commodore Perry’s fleet of “black ships” reached Japan, demanding the end of the country’s Sakoku policy and the opening of ports. 15 years later, recognizing the need to shore up the state’s power lest the archipelago fall like to Western forces like the rest of Asia, the shogunate fell, and the Emperor’s power was restored after nearly a millennium. In this restoration, the capitalist class established itself its reign as the nation’s vanguard, subjugating the old nobility. It was the dawn of a new nation. On January 12, 1896, the 29th year of the Meiji era, Yoshiya Nobuko, godmother of yuri, was born to a petit-bourgeois family of samurai-descended bureaucrats. She would become one of the most well-known Japanese authors of the 20th century. It was the dawn of a new genre.