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Archive for January, 2013

images-62For many of us, our daily lives are brimming with technology that would have filled the pages of science fiction novels a century ago. I step outside to do a couple of errands and find myself surrounded by people with their faces stuck to the screens of their smart phones, texting fifteen friends from across the country at once, checking up on the latest news, getting directions, or maybe even jotting something down for their next blog post. As for me, I’ll let you in on a little secret; I’m technologically slow and hardly touch those sleek smart phones. However, even I rarely go a day without booting up ye olde laptop. With our world so intricately connected to technology that seems to advance overnight, it’s easy to wonder what the future holds in regards to technology. What would you think, though, if computers suddenly were made to look and act human?

In Chobits, a manga created by the famous all female team of manga artists called CLAMP, the streets are full not of people walking with smart phones in hand but instead stroll together with computers barely distinguishable from humans. They smile, talk, and interact like normal people yet can do everything a high-powered computer can do. Everyone has one–except the protagonist of the series, 19-year-old Hideki, who can only dream of these so-called “persocoms” as he works and studies to get into college. That is, until one day when he just happens across one that’s been wiped of all its memory and thrown in the trash. While Hideki celebrates his amazing fortune, he begins to realize that his persocom, Chi, may not be an ordinary persocom. So, why would someone throw away something this incredible? And how is Hideki going to keep in mind that Chi is only a machine when she seems so human?

Four volumes in on my rereading of Chobits,  I find myself confronted with a mix of shallow fan service and deep discussion, a feminist’s nightmare and smorgasbord of cuteness. I have yet to pick up an uncomplicated work by CLAMP, but this has my head spinning a bit so, let me break down what I like and what I don’t thus far: chobits-1964669

To begin with, the premise of Chobits is somewhat troublesome for me. CLAMP is not the first to tackle human-like computers, but this story in particular is giving me flashbacks to Stepford Wives, a sci-fi/horror movie from the 70’s in which real women are slowly replaced by robots who are “perfect;” they’re obedient, beautiful, loyal, and don’t have those pesky things called real emotion and the ability to think for themselves. While there are male persocoms in Chobits, so far I have only seen glimpses of them and most of the depictions focus on female persocoms like Chi. At the beginning of the series, Hideki even describes how persocoms are “beautiful, obedient…perfection” and “softer, prettier” than real women, mirroring the disturbing concept of Stepford Wives. Yet unlike Stepford Wives, this isn’t explored as an embodying of extremely old-fashioned gender norms and, to top it off, the female persocoms are often portrayed in a sexual way: dressed in sexy outfits like kinky maid costumes, “on” switches conveniently placed in what would be a woman’s private parts, etc. Chi’s ignorant, baby-like manner is exploited constantly in the first few volumes in which she copies what she sees in Hideki’s porn magazines and more. Oh, did I mention Chi is supposed to resemble a 15 or 16-year-old girl? In short, there’s a lot of cringe-worthy content half way through the series.

There has been some discussion about the moral dilemma of persocoms. Hideki begins to wonder why people made computers that seemed so human and how they should be treated. Do they feel emotions and thoughts like people or does it only seem that way because they were programmed to be human-like? How should they be treated? Some people actually fall in love with their persocoms and even marry them, leaving other people to feel as if they’re being replaced by perfect beings they could never truly compete with. It’s moments in which more psychological aspects are explored when Chobits manages to stand above the usual manga filled with fan service. It makes you stop and think. Even Chi, although far from being a three-dimensional character since she’s little more than a cute, innocent female character touched with a hint of sadness, has moments of depth as she wonders if anyone will love her for real, as more than a fancy machine.

Unfortunately, so far the deeper aspects of Chobits aren’t dominate enough to outweigh my complaints at this point in the series. It’s too bad since the artwork is gorgeous! Anyway, I’m sure my problems with Chobits won’t bother some people nearly as much as me, but if the hair on the back of your neck is standing on end just reading about the, shall we say, questionable points of this story, you may want to stick around to read my review on the last half of Chobits and find out if it gets any better from a feminist stand point.

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51FP8E5K98L._SL500_AA300_I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t loved stories. I don’t care what kind of story or what media it’s in, I’ll try anything that catches my imagination and as a child, I sometimes even daydreamed myself into stories. But what if the world you lived in and all the actions that took place there really were part of a story, the creation of a single person’s mind? That’s the case in the whimsical anime tale, Princess Tutu.

Ahiru is the unusual heroine of this equally unusual story, a school girl in a town truly fit for a storybook: a cat teaches ballet classes, anteaters, ostriches, and other animals are classmates, and not one of the human inhabitants of this tiny town bats an eye at this. Also in the town is a prince from a story who has lost his heart and lives an emotionless life as a student in this town. This is all the work of a mysterious storyteller believed to be long since dead. As for Ahiru, well, she may seem like a normal girl hanging out with her friends and trying to make it to school on time, but she’s anything but normal; she is actually a duck who has fallen in love with the lost prince and, by the workings of the storyteller, is turned into a girl with the use of a magic pendant (f.y.i. Ahiru means duck in Japanese). Now add the factor that Ahiru can also turn into “Princess Tutu,” a mysterious princess who can find the pieces of the prince’s lost heart, and the tale begins.princesstutu1

I’ve had this anime on my must-watch list for a while now after I heard it praised, but when I first started watching it, I have to say, I wasn’t sure exactly what to think of it. Some of it seemed typical, like a clutzy heroine in love with a popular boy, a jerky yet handsome guy, and a rival in love. It also seemed a little young to me in the first episode or so, what with the whole magical princess ballerina routine and all, yet after the first disc I was intrigued. There is a certain charm about it, like dusting off those old fairy tales that were read to you as a kid (in fact, some of the episodes are roughly based on classic fairy tales). In addition, Princess Tutu may not bend stereotypes quite like Utena, but it seems to go further than the average anime with more than one delightful twist and moments of emotional depth that will keep watchers interested.

Take Ahiru for example. Granted, her story revolves around her love for a guy and, as usual, our spunky heroine has a heart of gold, but I ended up appreciating her inner strength. Some of my favorite moments concerning Ahiru occur toward the later half of the series when she has a male ally (I’m trying to keep this spoiler free). A this point, she’s feeling rather useless in her quest to help the prince (called Mytho) and begins to rely heavily on this ally. However, instead of being reduced to a helpless damsel, Ahiru reevaluates herself and strengthens her resolve, deciding she also has a job equally important to accomplish. Thus, unlike some other magical girl stories I could mention (Tokyo Mew Mew), Ahiru’s role as the hero is not really reversed into damsel in distress. She represents the hope of a group of characters that come to fight against paths assigned to them and find their own way.

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Perhaps most interesting from a sociological point of view is the prince. In some ways, Mytho plays a role traditionally given to female characters. For a good portion of the series, he’s a pretty face with a beautiful heart yet little personality to speak of who people can’t help but gather around. Not only that, but he’s completely dependent on the help of others and can do little to nothing to help himself. Unlike female characters that have played this role, Mytho does have the background of being a brave and noble prince who fought evil and lost his heart in the process, but I still thought this was a noteworthy change of roles. He ends up playing more of a traditional role at the end, but remains an interesting character to examine nonetheless.

It may not break stereotypes like Revolutionary Girl Utena, but characters are often more complicated than they initially seem, in a truly surreal and fantastical story that fans can enjoy. Princess Tutu won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for a slightly whacky plot that doesn’t go as one might have expected, it’s worth giving a try. You just might love it!

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519IfIf-3xL._SL500_AA300_A master of manga, Fumi Yoshinaga, has created several titles worth raving about for their riveting and thoughtful/thought-provoking exploration of various characters and their lives. Antique Bakery, the story of four very different men starting a bakery, and, more recently, Ooku: The Inner Chambers, a retelling of Japanese history in which the women are the rulers and heirs, are two of her most famous works to be translated into English. Having read Antique Bakery and fallen in love with Yoshinaga’s excellent character and story craftsmanship, I quickly turned my attention to more of her work. This past holiday season, I was lucky enough to get my hands on many manga that could be considered “feminist,” including a book of short, ever-so-slightly connected stories entitled, All My Darling Daughters. 

The book starts with a tale of a daughter, Yukiko, who, at nearly thirty, still lives with her mother. From the quick flashback at the beginning and interactions seen within the first few pages, mother and daughter seem not to have a warm, fuzzy relationship nor bad relationship, but one where they appear to be somewhat at odds with each other. Yukiko’s routine with her mother is changed suddenly when her mother announces that she decided to get married. That’s right, not decides, but decided; the deed is over and done with and, to the daughter’s horror, her mother has married a man even slightly younger than Yukiko.

However, this isn’t just a silly story about an awkward situation (although Yoshinaga does a good job with sprinkling in some natural humor). While many of the interactions are of Yukiko and her mother’s young husband, the core of the story is about Yukiko and her mother, Mari. Yukiko struggles with the changes taking place between her mother and her, a relationship that is revealed to be stronger than it appeared at first. Yukiko’s father died when she was fairly young so, her mother raised her as a single woman. In a moment that especially touched me, Yukiko discusses how her mother never saw herself as pretty. “She really doesn’t like her own face. When she was young, her parents told her she was bucktoothed, so she worries about it.” Then, in a quick scene with a closeup on her face, Yukiko admits simply, “But I always thought she was beautiful.” It’s quiet, rather subtle moments like these that Yoshinaga excels at and made me a huge fan of hers.

From the end of that chapter, the stories rotate between several other women who are in some way connected to Yukiko from a friend who seems to have it all–brains, beauty, and kindness–yet can’t seem to find a guy she wants to marry, a college student with low self-esteem who gets into unhealthy relationships, and a school friend from long ago who reflects on the courses she and her friends took in life. Finally, the book wraps up with another story about Yukiko and her family. Along the way, it touches on issues such as abuse, self-esteem issues, and how women’s lives are affected by living in a patriarchical society (for example, the phenomenon of women having to do the majority of household work even if both she and her boyfriend/husband are working outside the home).

All in all, I really enjoyed this one-volume manga of short stories. As always, Yoshinaga has created a beautiful tale filled with the wide range of human emotions and experiences–happiness, angry, sadness, love, friendship, family, and more. She does this in a simple yet impacting manner, exploring something as potentially mundane as various women’s lives. This creates a very relatable cast of characters both male and female in realistic situations. All My Darling Daughters is not just a story about mothers and daughters, but about women of various backgrounds trying to make their way through life. So, if you haven’t already, I definitely recommend you try Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters.

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