Shigeru Miyamoto: A Sketch

miyamoto-guitarMost Americans don’t consider Mario to be Japanese. His plumber’s (construction worker) overalls look all American. Yet, behind the famous mustache is a Japanese man. Shigeru Miyamoto created three of the most well known video game franchises: Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. You’d think he would be a video game player, but surprisingly he isn’t. In fact, he disliked video games before he started designing them.  He prefers to spend his time dog breeding, playing his guitar, and guessing the size of things. He is even said to carry a tape measure to check his guesses. Seems like an odd hobby, and it doesn’t help the stereotype that Japanese are quirky!

Miyamoto grew up wandering through woods around Kyoto; he used his childhood as an inspiration for his game design. All of the series he designed is essentially a scavenger hunt. In Super Mario, you are looking for the princess by following the hints she left or the stars left behind.

arcade-sheriff

Sheriff. One of Nintendo’s Early arcade games.

In Zelda, you search for items you need to battle Ganon and other villains. Zelda draws the most heavily on the idea of wandering; it often doesn’t even give you a hint as to where to go. Metroid is also a hunt for various items with as few hints as Zelda. The environments are more exotic and alien. Miyamoto originally wanted to be a mangaka, a manga author and artist. The Japanese comic book style heavily influences the look of many of his characters, particularly Link and Samus. He decided to try to design a video game after seeing Space Invaders. He did the artwork for Nintendo’s first arcade game: Sheriff.

Miyamoto enjoys bluegrass and smoked until he was 40. Now, he exercises, avoids smoking and pachinko, and enjoys interior decorating.

shigeru-miyamoto-charactersMiyamoto has a vivid imagination and willingness to play with weird ideas. A mustached man who jumps on his enemies while eating magic shrooms sounds like a bad trip. Yet, the humble Jumpman is now an icon sometimes more recognized than Mickey Mouse. What is most interesting about Miyamoto is how he isn’t a gamer. Most developers and designers are avid gamers. He almost operates in a vacuum. While he is likely up to date with the latest game releases, he doesn’t name off the ones he plays.  The video game industry is often an isolated tower. A place where ideas are copied off of each other. The industry is conservative and risk adverse. That is why there are so many spin offs of the same ideas – mostly first person shooters.

Miyamoto may keep the same template for his games, but they are also tweaked in often daring ways. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has players sailing across vast oceans, for example. Miyamoto ‘s team has a hand in these changes, but the man’s original creativity shines through. Miyamoto is to video gaming as Miyazaki is to anime.  Both are influential and also thought of as a little overrated. Video gaming is one of the most influential cultural exports from modern Japan. Although we often don’t think of video games as being a cultural product. Video gaming is an internal commodity. Miyamoto designed games with Americans in mind. However, there are elements of Japanese culture found within them. The manga art style is just one of the more visible. Video games often feature samurai, katana, Shinto, and other Japanese elements.

Miyamoto was one of the most influential people behind this export. He has entertained and inspired people across the world with is plucky plumber, courageous hero, and steel-willed bounty hunter. It all started in the woods around Kyoto, the ancient cultural center of Japan.

References

Paumgarten, N (2010). Master of Play. The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/20/master-of-play

Sheff, D. (1993). Game Over: Nintendo’s Battle to Dominate on Industry. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Weyer, M. (n d.) Shigeru Miyamoto’s Secret Identity: Industrial Designer as Game Creator. https://www.academia.edu/7521650/Shigeru_Miyamoto_s_Secret_Identity_Industrial_Designer_as_Game_Creator

Kidnapping, Extortion, and Cyanide-laced Candy: The Strange Case of the Monster With 21 Faces

Glico's Osaka Office.  By MASA (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Glico’s Osaka Office.
By MASA (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The anime and manga Ghost in the Shell is highly regarded as one of the finest ever produced. The show (I will focus on the anime because it is what I am personally familiar with) focuses on the exploits of Section 9, an elite cyber crime unit that is part of Japan’s public security apparatus. GitS is set in the near future, where humans and machines have become one and the Net infiltrates all aspects of life, even more than it does now.

While GitS is, of course, fiction, one story arc eerily echoes a strange case from real life. One of Section 9’s long running cases involved a character known simply as “The Laughing Man.” The case, which is far too complex to go into in depth here, involved a hacker who conducted a spree of cyber terror against high tech medical companies dealing in things called micro-machines. The terrorist’s symbol was that of a laughing face with a cap, with text scrolling around it that read: “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes.” The quote was lifted from J.D Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” while the hacker’s pseudonym was taken from the title of another Salinger story.

The real life occurrence that, likely as not, at least partially inspired the story in GitS, occurred between 1984 and 1985. During this time, a shadowy figure (or figures) calling themselves “The Monster with 21 Faces”–a reference to a villain in a series of detective novels by Rampo Edogawa–terrorized Japanese food companies and the public at large. Police were helpless to stop the extortionists, whose identities remain unknown to this day.

 

The crime spree begins

The criminal’s first target was the president of Ezaki Glico, an Osaka-based candy company established in 1922. Named Katsuhisa Ezaki, on the night of May 18, 1984 two gunmen burst into his home and abducted him after terrorizing his family. The extortionists contacted Glico’s director the next day, demanding 1 billion yen (approximately $9.3 million dollars) and 220 pounds of gold bullion in exchange for Ezaki.  However, after three days of captivity, the executive managed to escape the warehouse in Ibaraki before the deal could be made.

Their plans frustrated, the extortionists switched tactics. On April 10, three cars in the parking lot of Ezaki Glico’s trial production facility burst into flame. Six days later, police in Ibaraki prefecture discovered a threatening note taped to a jug of hydrochloric acid.

The next month, on May 10, the criminals contacted police directly with a letter signed “the Monster with 21 Faces.” It claimed that Glico candies laced with cyanide had been distributed to stores, prompting the company to  enact a massive product recall. The company’s stocks took a beating on the stock exchange, and panic among the public began to mount.

For their part, the police had little to go on. The initial letter was written using hiragana, a writing style unique to Osaka. The criminals seemed to enjoy their growing notoriety, sending the police taunting letters. One such letter read: “You seem to be at a loss. So why not let us help you? We’ll give you a clue. We entered the factory by the front gate. The typewriter we used is Panwriter. The plastic container used was a piece of street garbage. Monster with 21 Faces.”

Even with this unwanted bit of help, the police were no closer to nabbing a suspect. While the police muddled on, the criminals shifted their sights to a new target.

 

The Monster strikes again

On June 26, police received a note proclaiming “We forgive Glico!” The extortionists began harassing Morinaga & Company, the House Food Coporation, and Marudai Ham with threatening letters. Marudai agreed to pay a ransom of 50 million yen. A policeman disguised as a Marudai employee would make the exchange, and hopefully catch one of the perpetrators in the process.

The extortionists ordered the money be tossed out of a train bound for Kyoto, where a white flag was stuck in the ground by the tracks.  The drop was scheduled for June 28.

When the officer boarded his train at the appointed time, he spotted a suspicious man shadowing him. The stranger was a large man with short, permed hair and glasses. His eyes, according to the officer, were like a fox’s.

The white flag never materialized, and the officer and his shadow disembarked in Kyoto, only to board the next train to Osaka. Another officer was waiting back at the station in Osaka, but both managed to somehow lose the suspect when he boarded a train to Kyoto.

 

“Moms of the Nation”

The extortionists entered a new and even more despicable phase of their crimes in October of 1984. The Monster with 21 Faces sent letters to Osaka news agencies addressed to “Moms of the Nation,” claiming that Morinaga candy had been spiked with cyanide and placed in random stores all over Japan. Amid growing fear, searches lasting until February the following year turned up 21 packages of tainted candy. The criminals had helpfully labeled the suspect packages with warning labels that read: “Danger: Contains Toxins.”

While the search for tainted candy was ongoing, executives with House Food planned a ransom exchange. This time, the Monster asked for 100 million yen. The drop would occur at a rest stop on the Meishin Expressway in Shiga Prefecture.  Officers with the local prefectural police spotted a man who they thought was the fox-eyed fellow from the previous drop. Officers attempted to apprehend the suspect, but he managed to elude them yet again. They found his vehicle, which was stolen, dumped at the Kusatsu railroad station. Inside, they found a police radio scanner which the suspect had used to monitor police activity and thus escape his would-be captors.

 

A break in the case?

Frustrated by their lack of progress, in January 1985 police published a composite sketch of the suspect who had twice eluded them. After a few days of circulating the sketch, Tokyo turned up the first tangible suspect so far in the case. Named Miyazaki Manubu, he was a whistle-blower who, in 1975-6, exposed Glico’s dumping of industrial water into rivers in Osaka. Police claimed that an audiotape dating from 1976 echoed wording of letters written by the Monster with 21 Faces. However, after investigating Manubu, police found his alibis checked out for the various crimes and were forced to exonerate him.

Frustration grew among police investigating the case, reaching tragic proportions. On August 7, 1985, Superintendent Yamamoto of the Shiga Prefecture police doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire. Five days later, the Monster sent his last letter:

“Yamamoto of Shiga Prefecture Police Died. How stupid of him! We’ve got no friends or secret hiding place in Shiga. It’s Yoshino or Shikata who should have died. What have they been doing for as long as one year and five months? Don’t let bad guys like us get away with it. There are many more fools who want to copy us. No-career Yamamoto died like a man. So we decide to give our condolence. We decided to forget about torturing food-making companies. If anyone blackmails any of the food-making companies, it’s not us but someone copying us. We are bad guys. that means we’ve got more to do than bullying companies. it’s fun to lead a bad man’s life. Monster with 21 Faces.”

 

The current state of the case

In the nearly thirty years since the Monster with 21 Faces perpetrated his crimes, no new leads have come to light. As the taunting letter foretold, there have been many imitators in the years since. Altogether, there have been a total of 525 cases of extortion attempts against food producers, of which 322 have been solved. The most recent was a case from just last year, when a man identifying himself as Kaijin 28-go (Phantom #28) attempted to extort 50 million yen from Ezaki Glico Co. among other manufacturers. The suspect was captured, and is regarded as a copycat of the original Monster with 21 Faces.

As for the original Monster, he or they are free and clear. The statute of limitations on Ezaki’s kidnapping case ran out in 1995, and the last deadline for the poisonings and other crimes attributed to the Monster ran out in 2000. This despite massive efforts at the time, involving over a million officers who interviewed over 12,000 suspects. The case remains a massive black eye to Japan’s National Police Agency, and an enduring mystery that is subject to as much obsessive study as the fictional Laughing Man was among amateur sleuths in Ghost in the Shell.

Any attempt to establish the true motives and identity of the Monster is pure speculation. Some pin the crimes on the Yakuza crime syndicate, while others suspect North Korean agents attempted to disrupt the Japanese economy. The former theory is more plausible, given the sophistication of the Yakuza’s criminal network. Then again, such a secretive organization is not likely to want to draw attention to itself on a national level.

Another theory is that the whole scheme was an attempt to secure a stock windfall. No doubt, the negative press garnered from the whole affair would make the stocks of the various companies drop. Who is to say that shady investors did not form a cabal and pay off lackeys to commit the crimes, only to buy up stocks when their value sank and then make a healthy profit when they bounced back? Such a scheme would be difficult to track, as it could conceivably be perceived as simply a good investment strategy on the part of savvy business people.

But, again, this is nothing more than speculation. Until the perpetrators behind the crimes come forward, only they will know the true identity of the Monster with 21 Faces.

 

Sources:

“Arrest made in poisoning threat of Glico products, possible copycat from 30 years ago.” ajw.asahi.com. December 01, 2014. The Asahi Shimbum. February 15, 2015. http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201412010052

“Clock ticking on Glico-Morinaga cases.” Japantimes.co.jp. February 24, 1999. The Japan Times. February 15, 2015. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/1999/02/24/national/clock-ticking-on-glico-morinaga-cases/#.VOn3ri4Qk8I

Newton, Michael. “The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes.” Infobase Publishing, 2009. pgs 136-137.

“NPA admits defeat in Glico-Morinaga case.” Japantimes.co.jp. February 10, 2000. The Japan Times. February 15, 2015. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2000/02/10/national/npa-admits-defeat-in-glico-morinaga-case/#.VOn3pi4Qk8I

 

 

Nurikabe–The Ghostly Wall Yokai

Torin_NukaribeJapan is a land haunted by many strange monsters and ghosts. Known collectively as Yokai (and Yurei. The two words are often used interchangeably, but for our purposes we will say that Yurei refer to human ghosts and Yokai to magical creatures of all sorts), these beings can range from the mischievous to the malevolent to the helpful. One notable type of Yokai is the Gashodokuro, giant skeletons who suck the blood from their victims. On the less deadly end of the spectrum are the Nuppeppo, flabby beings of dead flesh that do little more than stink up local cemeteries.

Somewhere between overtly deadly and mildly irritating is the Nurikabe, a being originally said to haunt the coastal regions of Fukuoka Prefecture. The Nurikabe has allegedly tormented Japanese travelers for centuries by quite literally acting as a ghostly wall–the monster is said to block roads, continually extending as the hapless wayfarer attempts to circumvent the invisible obstacle. The yokai forces travelers far out of their way, and was often blamed when people arrived late or became lost on the road. The Nurikabe could be defeated by taking a stick and striking at the bottom of the wall.

What makes Nurikabe interesting as far as Yokai go is that the ghostly apparition is a case study in how depictions of folklore change over time. The being was originally said to be completely invisible, or in some cases it was attributed to the mischievous tanuki.

Over time, however, Nurikabe took on a more corporeal form. a painting from 1802 (seen above) depicts the monster as looking a bit like a three eyed elephantine creature. Perhaps there were intermediate forms of Nurikabe depictions yet to be discovered, since going from invisible to an elephant monster is quite a leap, but it does demonstrate how over time ideas about folkloric stories change immensely.

But perhaps the most famous depiction of Nurikabe comes from a man who allegedly encountered one himself. The beast is a character in Mizuki Shigeru’s Gegege no Kitaro series, a long running manga about the adventures of various folkloric creatures. The character in the manga is depicted as a wall with eyes, arms, and legs.

Mizuki was partially inspired in his depiction by an encounter he claims to have had during World War 2 while stationed in New Guinea. Walking alone though the jungle at night, he suddenly was unable to move forward or backward. Walled in, Mizuki sat on the ground and rested, and was able to continue his progress after only a few minutes.

Mizuki’s depiction of the once invisible phenomenon has now become the standard way the Japanese visualize the Nurikabe. While Americans are less aware of this fairly obscure yokai, it appears to have had some influence on the iconic Mario Bros game series. The Whomps, tall blocks of stone with arms, legs, and faces, appeared in Mario 64 and have since been featured in many Mario games, at least superficially resembles Mizuki’s nurikabe. While it is difficult to tell if the Whomps were directly inspired by nurikabe, the appearance of the two beings are at least similar enough to infer that the folklore had some influence, even if it was strictly unconscious.

Nurikabe might not be quite as colorful and interesting as some of the wackier Japanese monsters, but they do shed light on how folklore evolves over time. Folklore is constantly being re-imagined as new generations with access to new technologies come into contact with old stories. From the intricate paintings of the Edo period to the pages of a manga to the world of video games, the Nurikabe is an ancient ghost who has evolved substantially over time as people have come reinvented the story to fit their own vision.

 

Sources:

Foster, Michael Dylan. “The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore.”  University of California Press. January 14, 2015. pgs 140-141.

 

Yoda, Hiroko and Alt, Matt. “Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.” Tuttle Publishing. July 30, 2013. pg. 31.

 

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

Dusk Maiden of AmnesiaDo you believe in ghosts?

Seikyou Private Academy is odd for a school. It’s winding halls end in abrupt dead ends. There are stairs that go no where. One wing of the school, the oldest, is used for storage and is seldom visited. Ghost stories abound about that wing. The stories all share a name: Yuuko-san.

Teiichi Niiya likes those ghost stories. He found himself in one of the furthest rooms of the ramshackle school wing. An old mirror stands. Of course, there was a ghost story about that old mirror. It was said whomever gazed into the mirror should not turn around. Yuuko-san waits behind to steal souls. Teiichi hears a sound behind him and turns. It is just a story, after all. A girl dressed in an old school uniform regards him. Her hair, long and dark, floats in a wind that doesn’t blow. Yuuko-san.

dusk-maiden-of-amnesiaIt turns out Yuuko-san isn’t such a bad ghost. She only has a few problems. She’s dead. She’s lonely. She can’t remember her past. Teiichi and YuukoKanoe, as her name was when she was alive, found the Paranormal Investigations Club to look into Yuuko’s forgotten past and all the ghost stories surrounding the school.

amnesiaYuuko can only been seen by people who become aware of her. As a ghost, she is solid and enjoys eating. She is alive in most every way, but things are never quite what they seem. She appears to people as they expect to see her. Expect a demon, and she appears as one.

Teiichi and Yuukoare joined by Momoe Okonogi. Momoe is a high strung girl who cannot see Yuuko or any ghost. She enjoys the fear and digging up old ghost stories. Kirie Kanoe joins the group. She is able to see Yuuko but refuses to touch her. Yep. As you can tell from the same family name, they are related somehow.

dusk-maidenDusk Maiden of Amnesia focuses on the relationship between Teiichi and Yuuko. A human and a ghost should never interact, let alone develop a relationship. Yuuko’s mysterious past and death draws the pair together even as it threatens to tear them apart. This anime hints at harem relationships. Momoe and Kirie have some feeling for Teiichi. Yuuko has a jealous streak.

This series is creepy at times. Comedic hijinks, including the usual nudity jokes and boob jokes serve as a sharp contrast to the heavier, darker elements of the story. Teiichi and Yuuko are both likeable. Although in typical shonen stereotype Teiichi can be thick headed at times. At least he is a little more perceptive than the typical shonen hero. Yuuko is complex and tragic despite her lighthearted antics.

Dusk-Maiden-of-Amnesia-yukoDusk Maiden of Amnesia is a good story. Momoe gets annoying at times, but that is to be expected of Japanese comedic relief characters. The use of shadows and scenes is well done. The scenes are shot in ways that emphasizes the darkness that pervades the story. There are hints of this undercurrent even in the comedic scenes. Expect some fan service. Yuuko is a ghost, after all, who isn’t used to people being able to see her. Many of the scenes use cut out effects (small frames set against black) masterfully to convey the crushing loneliness Yuuko feels.

I am mixed about the ending. Without spoiling it, I will say that the ending could have been bold and memorable. It is still satisfying, but it dilutes the impact the series establishes.

I enjoyed this series more than I expected. It is an interesting love story laced with sorrow and despair. It has some rough spots, particularly with some of the comedy, but it is worth a watch if you enjoy mysteries and a love that cannot be.

Kill la Kill: A Feminist Anime or a Fanservice Feast?

Kill la Kill - 06 -1Kill la Kill, at first glance, looks like one of those shows designed for horny teen boys by a horny teen boy. Nearly naked women battle each other for the pleasure of male onlookers.

Only Kill la Kill has far more to it than that.

I will be honest. At first watch, this anime made me uncomfortable. I dislike fanservice.  It is immature and detracts from the story. Fanservice can be defined as sexually suggestive scenes or character designs that do not contribute to the plot and exist only to sexually excite the audience.

Kill la Kill takes fanservice head on and shows how ridiculous it is.

I already wrote and article about how Kill la Kill satirizes our relationship with clothing and fashion.  Like my previous article, this one will have spoilers.

kill-la-kill-ryukoKill la Kill opens with Ryuko Matoi looking for her father’s killer. Unlike many “magical-girl” anime, Ryuko is out for herself. She has a goal. She has the will. Her sailor uniform, Senketsu, is the means, but as the story progresses, you learn Senketsu believes Ryuko didn’t need him either. Ryuko is a strong female lead from her first scene. She has steel determination and doesn’t need a man to help her, unlike other strong female characters. Bleach’s Rukia, for example, is a strong character, but she ultimately becomes a damsel for Ichigo to save. Many stories take strong female characters and make them palatable by turning them into the “princess in the castle.” Ryuko tears that castle down.

Kill la Kill Clothing Equals CasteSo what of her battle-attire? Fanservice is another method to allow males to visually “own” strong female characters. Ryuko’s nearly nude armor certainly seems this way.  When she first fights wearing Senketsu, she enters the scene wearing a cloak to hide her nudity and, by extension, her fear of public ridicule.  When people see her tiny outfit, she is quite naturally embarrassed. The first several episodes are spent “slut shaming” her.  This is actually a plot point for Ryuko’s character. She spends her attention trying to cover her femininity. This can be considered a metaphor for how women are taught to be sexy, but not too much so. As if the female body is only something that can be possessed and otherwise something to feel ashamed of having. Ryuko only becomes a better fighter when she learns not to care about the misguided opinions of others. She embraces her femininity as a weapon and as a part of herself.

Slut shaming is when a girl is shamed for not meeting certain cultural female norms, such wearing certain clothing or behaving in ways that do not meet societal expectations. “Sluts” are often girls who go their own way. Ryuko falls into this category. She is a “slut” because she is strong willed and wears the skimpy Senketsu. Never mind the person she actually is: caring for her friends, strong willed, determined, and driven.  By embracing and ultimately disregarding the “slut” label the early fanservice imposes on her can she become fully herself.

The first fan service scene in Kill la Kill

The first fan service scene in Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill also treats guys in the same way as girls. Although there are more female characters. The first instance of fanservice is a fat guy.  As the story progresses, male nudity becomes increasingly common. In the late half of the series, clothing becomes an object of fanservice. Everyone except for Ryuko and her nemesis Satsuki Kiryuin are naked. Nudity loses its value as a titillating factor. Kill la Kill gradually desensitizes the audience to nudity. Eventually, Ryuko’s skimpy outfit simply becomes an outfit.  I stopped seeing the outfit and saw Ryuko’s character as the story progressed.

Is Kill la Kill feminist?

kill_la_kill_feministI often feel hesitant when it comes to feminism. It is not because I am against the ideas of feminism. I am not. Rather, it is because I am a guy who is looking in. I cannot understand the struggles women feel about their sexuality, and how that sexuality is exploited. I cannot understand what it is like to be objectified because of certain body parts. Although I can understand some of the resentment. I dislike being lumped in with the idea of sex-driven masculinity.  Guys are more than their sex drive, just as women are more than their boobs.

Anyway, I will give a clear answer: Yes. Kill la Kill is a feminist anime.

First, Ryuko and Satsuki are not fighting over a guy. Fighting over a male is a tired storyline and a male fantasy. Rather, their disagreement is over withheld information and a clash of personalities.

Second, you don’t see any of the main female characters being held as a reward for a male hero.

Third. Ryuko is a strong female lead that does not need a male to rescue or otherwise help her. Although you can argue Senketsu is a male help-mate, he is still clothing. He augments the strength Ryuko already posses.

Fourth. The entire point of the skimpy outfits is to force Ryuko to embrace herself completely.  Satsuki Kiryuin sums this idea:

This is the form in which a Kamui is able to unleash the most power! The fact that you are embarrassed by the value of the masses only prove how small you are! If it means fulfilling her ambitions, Satsuki Kiryūin will show neither shame nor hesitation, even if she bares her breasts for all the world to see! My action are utterly pure!

Only by embracing her body and disregarding what others think of it can Ryuko unlock her full power.  Holding onto societal views toward the female body holds Ryuko back. She is ashamed of herself. This same keeps her from reaching her full potential.

kill-la-kill-get-nakedNudity does not always mean titillation. Kill la Kill satirizes fanservice and sexuality in media. Magazine covers often feature women dressed in less than Ryuko. Kill la Kill is telling us that clothing or lack thereof has little bearing on who a person is. Ryuko is who she is regardless of the clothing she wears or doesn’t wear. The series points to how ridiculous it is to base assumptions on dress. So what if a woman wears little? A guy can run around without wearing a shirt and no one says anything. He is not judged as a man that sleeps around or as less of a person. If a women would do such, police would descend on her. Nudity is nudity regardless of gender. Either both should be shrugged off, or the same standards be enforced. Clothing is used as a barometer about a person’s character. I am guilty of this. Kill la Kill decided to shrug nudity off.  The end of the series points to how clothing cannot be used as a character barometer, especially when the birthday suit is the suit of choice!

People who consider Kill la Kill anti-women because of all the nudity are actually slut shaming. Could Kill la Kill work without the skimpy outfits. No. Not really. It would lose most of its message and encourage the continuation of female sexual exploitation rather than satirize it and demand the audience to move beyond societal labels. Demanding strong female characters, or women in general for that matter, to always cover up is a form of slut shaming. It sends a message that the female body is something shameful that needs to be covered. It points to how strong females cannot be strong females if she bares skin. She becomes a slut.

kill-la-kill-eating-cookiesIt takes a heck of a lot of self confidence to wear revealing clothing. It takes a heck of a lot more for a girl to wear revealing clothing and risk being slut-shamed. The problem isn’t with the girl. The problem is with the mentality of the onlookers. A guy should never look at a girl, no matter what she is wearing, and think about how he would like to “do” her. The fault is not with the girl. The fault is with the guy.  So too with the people who view Ryuko as a sex object because of her clothing instead of a strong female protagonist. Kill la Kill does everything it can to point at how it is the viewer who has the problem and not the person wearing the clothing.

Gender ideas are ingrained to the point of being subconscious. Sometimes it takes a story as crazy as Kill la Kill to rub our face into ideas we cannot otherwise see. Kill la Kill uses fanservice to satirize fanservice. The story’s strong female characters embrace their femininity and stop caring about the opinions of onlookers. Ryuko comes to understand that others’ opinions have no bearing on who she is. That, if nothing else, is an idea women and men need to learn.

The Art of Blogging – How to Blog Well

anime-writing-writingThere are countless blogs about blogging.  In fact, it seems more people blog about blogging than they blog about anything else. So what can I add to the mess? I already wrote an article about anime blogging and an article about copyright considerations. So what more is there to add?

Oh, there is much more to add, my friend. Much, much more. We all want to blog better and get the views. Views are the currency of blogging. But how do we blog better?

By the way, Yumeka has 10 excellent blogging tips you need to check out.

Understanding voice, purpose, and  good writing techniques are keys to blogging well.

Now, why should we spend so much time thinking about these types of things? After all, I just want to blog for fun! The whole point of blogging and writing in general is to speak your mind in ways other people can understand. It must be clear. It must be interesting.

typing-animationLet’s face it, the Internet is a noisy place. There are thousands of (un)dead blogs shambling around. It is easy to be lost in the ruckus. It is easy to give up when you have few readers. The Internet sucks for those of us who are lost in the shouting match.  However, we each have a unique perspective that lends value to the global conversation. You don’t have to yell it. Rather, you need to speak it in a way that is true to who you are.

One thing about blogging that takes some getting used to is criticism. Not everything you write will be awesome or liked by people. I have seen my own share of criticism since I started writing JP. After all, I am not really an otaku or anything. Anime and Japanese culture are side hobbies. I enjoy only some of the stories and animation styles. Because of this, I am not up on the latest stuff in the anime blogsphere or otaku culture. Yep, I’ve never read yaoi or shonen-ai despite my stab at writing about the genres.  Yep, I don’t follow the newest season anime releases. Does that open me up for criticism?

You betcha.

And that is okay. I try to lend my own voice to the anime and Japanese culture conversations. If I put my foot in my mouth, well at least I am that flexible!

Well, that is a long winded introduction. Let’s get to the point. Blogging is about expressing your thoughts. That involves finding your voice, finding your purpose, and using sound online writing techniques,

Voice

What is this voice thing? It’s simple: it’s you.

Minako_ShapiroVoice is how you think, talk, and write. The best writers tend to write as they speak. For those of you who are regular JP readers, you know I tend to be a little academic and dry (read: boring). If you would ask people who know me, that is how I tend to speak when covering a topic I found interesting. I throw around big words and speak fairly formally. That is my voice. Now, that is not my only voice. This article, for instance, is the way I speak at a card games with friends.

How do you find your voice?

Listen to how you speak. Do you use words like like? Like, this Tumblr blog is so copastatic! Okay, I probably dated myself with that word. The point is to write based on who you are. Just be careful not to, like, write exactly as you, like, speak. I mean, uh- you know- injections tend to make writing less clear. Sprinkling them in small amounts throughout a post lets your readers know who you are. People want to know about you. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be reading! It is a matter of moderation. Too many idiosyncrasies can be annoying.

But then, almost everyone knows this stuff already. We’ve had basic writing since grade school.

Unlike grade school, blog writing is a balance of you and your ideas. Too much you will make it hard for readers to understand your point. Too little you and your posts become boring. You need to be clear with your thinking and also let yourself speak through the text. Write for a single person. It can be your best friend or whomever, but write for just one person. It doesn’t matter if hundreds or (hopefully) thousands of people will read the article. If you write as you speak to that one person, your writing will be clearer, more engaging, and show your unique voice. This also works if you are writing essays for class. Only there you have to write formally.

But then, I was known to stuff poetry into research papers and take risks in dry computer programming documentation. Sometimes risks pay off, sometimes they hurt.

Purpose

Why do you write?

novel-writingDo you write to inform and educate (like I do for JP) or do you want to entertain? Anime reviews are everywhere. Why are you writing yet another Space Dandy or Bleach review?

I like it.

Okay, that’s a start. What are you adding to the conversation that hasn’t been said? You have a cool, unique voice, but what else can you offer?

These are hard questions to answer.

I offer a more researched, academic approach. Or so I hope! Sure, I will write my own anime reviews, but I tend to focus on the structure of the story and the animation. My background is animation and graphic design. My purpose in writing for JP is to inform and teach. I also seek to provide balance to sometimes overwrought (there I go again with my nerdy wordiness!) teenage views of Japan. Idealism needs balance. These are the things I lend to the online conversations. If you have an eye for art, why not break down character and scene designs on your reviews? If you are fashion minded, break down a series’s fashion sense.

blogging-defeatA blogger needs to have a sense of purpose in order to keep a blog alive.  Blogging should be fun. Blogs die because they are not fun anymore. One way to keep blogging fun is to shake up your topics while still staying in your purpose. A blog needs to be focused, but not too much. An anime episode review blog can get old fast. It is too narrow. JP is about Japanese culture: not just anime. This gives us a wide range of topics while still sticking with our purpose: to educate and engage anime fans and fans of Japan. What you write about is not as important as your purpose for writing.

There are many different ways to hit your purpose. If you write an anime episode review blog, you have to consider what your purpose is. Is it to review episodes or to share why those characters appeal to you? Editorials may better hit your purpose better if you want to focus on the characters. You might also be able to compare contrast episodes between series. If you seek to simply critique episodes, you might also want to study on cinema techniques to lend more information than “I like this” or “I dislike this”.

Writing Techniques

The Fact of the Internet: people don’t read every single word of every article.

This reality is a little discouraging. After all this post is long and took a fair bit of time to write. Did you read all of it? Every single word?

Blog posts that are long, well written, and well structured tend to attract Google (Not that I claim this post is any of these). Google loves long posts a long time! However, we are not writing for Google. Blog articles need to be scannable. People read in F shapes and look for words and images that snag the eye. Bold fonts, headings, and nice images are part of good online writing.

White space is one of the most important tools.

anime-girl-writingGood use of white space in addition to headers that logically divide a post into sections and subsections are necessary for pulling readers through a blog post. Both give the eye time to rest and tells the reader what to expect. White space is vital. We can’t read words without it. When we look at a letter, we see the shape of the white space around it. Now extend this idea to an entire article.

There are no hard or fast rules for how to use bold text, headings, and white space. Part of this reflects your individual voice. Just  avoid walls of text.  No one wants to read a wall of text.

Writing with Images

Images are one of the most important writing tools. This sounds a little weird, but images can emphasize points that can take a book to explain. Good images are relevant to the ideas you are trying to share. They speak to the reader. Many bloggers are guilty of adding random images to spruce up their writing. This does not add quality to the article. Adding captions to images helps clarify the point you are trying to make. You can also reference the image in the paragraph to further make your point.  Don’t assume the reader knows what you are talking about. I’ve confused my friends doing that. I’m sure you have too! We want our ideas to be clear.

Writing Nuts and Bolts

Grammar is important in blog writing. Be clear. Be concise. Proofread. Don’t try to dazzle with big words and long sentences. Yeah, I am guilty of doing that. What’s cool about blogging is it is informal. You can play around with sentences like you saw me do in this article. As long as it isn’t over done, it’s cool. It helps people know you – how you talk and how you think. However, a ton of misspelling and wrongly used words distracts the reader and makes you look like a dummy. People are forgiving about small mistakes. We all make ‘em. But if you drunk type or blind type your blog posts, you may want to reconsider that post.

Well, there you have it! A long winded look at how to blog a little better. I don’t make any claims to being an expert blogger. These are tips I read, used, and discovered over my stint writing JP and other web content.  I hope you find it helpful and a little different from all the other “blog gurus” that litter the net.

References

Hale, C. (2013). Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose.

Halvorsen, K. & Rach, M. (2012). Content Strategy for the Web (2ndEd). Berkeley: New Riders. ISBN-10: 0321808304 | ISBN-13: 978-0321808301 | Edition: 2.

Rowse, D. (2005). Writing Blog Content – Make it Scannable. http://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/08/19/writing-blog-content-make-it-scannable/

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