TWELVE DAYS: FLIP FLAPPERS AND FUNERAL

Triumph is not a word many people will ever associate with 2016. Last year was a pretty rough year for everybody, but nobody wants read about how much 2016 thoroughly sucked. I’m going to focus on perhaps the only redeeming aspect of 2016, which was, of course, Flip Flappers. Given that a majority of humanity’s suffering in 2016 was self-inflicted, I’m still not sure that we deserved such a fantastic work of art as Flip Flappers, but I’m not going to complain. Of course, in typical 2016 fashion, this masterpiece went largely unnoticed even in the anime community and continues to be criminally underappreciated. It is worse than bad things happening to good people; it is as if nobody realized these good people even existed. Of course, being a ridiculously well versed connoisseur of music (something with zero real world applicability), I am quite used to works of art that change how I see myself or how I see the world or how I perceive the human experience going unacknowledged and unappreciated by any humans with whom I actually speak. Whenever I think about that, it upsets me that so many people are missing out on such great, beautiful moving music. Funeral by Arcade Fire triumphed by winning the attention span of music fans across the country in the mid 2000s. Arcade Fire was able to rise above the ocean of competing indie rock bands because Funeral, the band’s debut album released in 2004, is itself the essence of triumph. Funeral is triumph over relatable obstacles that we all face: depression, the struggle with identity and the many other mundane toils of the human experience, and it does so by dreaming. Funeral exhorts us to adopt the disposition of a child. Dreams can come true, even once we’ve grown up, and we need to remember that in order to hold onto hope for the future.

And this brings us back to 2016, the year in which it seemed hope had finally been extinguished for humanity. But we had Flip Flappers (and when I say “we,” I mean the infinitely small fraction of humanity that spent each week this fall excitedly anticipating what adventures Papika and Cocona would embark on next). Flip Flappers, like Funeral, is triumph incarnate. These two works of art deal with all the same themes and struggles and both deliver a resounding message of hope for the world. Funeral and Flip Flappers aren’t concerned with what’s going on with the rest of the world. They are focused on the generation of hope through perseverance as an individual through all their personal struggles. These two works hinge on triumph. Flip Flappers is the most flamboyantly triumphant anime in recent memory, and Funeral might very well be the most triumphant album of all time. In dealing with their shared themes and conflicts, Funeral and Flip Flappers frequently mirror each other’s uses of imagery and tone. The expansive orchestral nature of Funeral’s instrumentation is the perfect match for the vast visual vocabulary of Flip Flappers. Funeral and Flip Flappers are exuberant celebrations of Life, specifically youth, of the beauty and struggles of growing up, and of the fantastical journey of self-discovery.

In order to make its message hit hard, the world shown from Cocona’s perspective in the beginning of Flip Flappers is dark and claustrophobic. Nick Creamer wrote about this in his crunchyroll column early on in the Fall season, and it provides a perfect articulation of the implications of the barren and oppressing world in which Cocona finds herself wiling away the days of her adolescence. Whether the viewer realizes it or not, they have been given a glimpse into Cocona’s mind, and this characterization is much more efficient, subtle and compelling than any rambling Oregairu-style monologue. Cocona is depressed.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.34.40 PMOne of the most original aspects of Flip Flappers is the probable source of Cocona’s depression. Natasha from Isn’t it Electrifying argued in an article for crunchyroll that it would only be reasonable for Cocona, who is clearly grappling with her sexuality, to suffer from depression. It’s a consequence of the alienation that she experiences from realizing that she is different from the rest of society, which assumes that all people are heterosexual until they say otherwise, and the difficulty of being different, especially when your differences may cause others to resent you. They may even cause you to resent yourself. The struggle to escape depression is equal parts self-discovery and regaining control of the direction of one’s life. Flip Flappers is one of the best depiction of struggling with depression anime has ever given.

Dealing with depression is, for too many people, an essential part of growing up, and the greatest challenge is always grasping the reins and seizing control of your own life. This is a theme that serves as a foundation for the entirety of the album Funeral. Flip Flappers and Funeral are triumphant because they tell of overcoming immense difficulty and taking action and seizing control of your life. They also are fantastic artistic documents of the power of love and self-discovery. The coordination between the anime and the album is not a direct song-to-episode one correlation, so I’ll just organize this essay using Funeral’s track list.Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.28.11 PM.pngDespite what I just said, Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels) is almost a line by line parallel of Pure Input. The crunchyroll synopsis of this episode was “girl meets girl; girls go on an adventure.” That’s exactly what happens. Neighborhood 1 tells of two young neighbors who, at the height of a blizzard so strong that the snow has completely buried their homes, run away together. The meet by digging a tunnel to connect their windows, and then they run away, leaving behind their sobbing parents. Flip Flappers’ shifting settings of Pure Illusion provide mystical worlds that are spawned by characters’ thoughts and perceptions. The snow covered world Arcade Fire creates in Neighborhood 1 is very similar to the first Pure Illusion that Cocona and Papika visit together. Papika takes Cocona by the hand in Pure Input and brings her on an adventure to a winter wonderland within pure illusion. In both the show and the song, the snow can represent both the crushing weight of depression and all the other petty burdens that weigh us down as humans. In Pure Input, Papika and Cocona appropriate the snow for recreational use, throwing snowballs and building snowmen.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.33.14 PMSnow also represents the impermanence of youth and the magic of love (2018 note: no clue where I pulled that from but okay). Change is inevitable, it’s merely a matter of how we change and whether or not we embrace it. In the chorus of Neighborhood 1, the speaker reflects on how his/her partner helped them to change for the better during their experiences together after they ran away from home, from their parents, and never looked back. As the series goes on, Papika changes all the lead in Cocona’s head with her Golden Hymn, “Dai-dai-dai suki!” By going on adventures with Papika, Cocona comes to recognize what has been missing from her life.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.30.04 PMWe see the first sign of evidence that Cocona may be changing for the better after her half-transformation, which was triggered by her desire to save Papika. Cocona makes a decision, a decision to step out of her comfort zone to do something. She rejects her anxiety and indecisiveness to take action, and when she does so, she transforms and gains the power to save Papika. This is Cocona’s first step toward seizing control of her life.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.33.40 PM.pngThe theme of escaping to fall in love is also especially relevant to the fifth episode, in which Cocona, Papika, Yayaka and the twins have all been trapped in yuri hell, a version of their school that crosses the Class-S genre with horror. The Class-S genre revolves around very deep “friendships” between young women. The horror that Flip Flappers pulls from the genre is its expectation that these relationships inevitably end before adulthood. Bloom into You’s seventh episode also dealt with this notion, which Sayaka’s former girlfriend had left with her when she said she’d grown “too old” for their relationship. That notion is dispelled when Sayaka learns of the relationship between her teacher and the owner of a local coffee shop. Flip Flappers depicts an epic escape from the restrictions of the Class-S genre, one that I think is reflected by the escape Neighborhood 1’s young couple into the snow.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.21.16 PMNeighborhood 2 opens with driving drums. The drums carry on the momentum and the potential for growth, change and love that lies before Cocona now she has proven to herself that she is capable of taking action. Cocona must continue to push and play an active role in her own life, but she’s afraid, and understandably so, since Papika had nearly died in their first journey to pure illusion. In Neighborhood 2, the chorus reads like a cheerleading squad, singing, “come on Alex, you can do it, come on Alex, there’s nothing to it!” Cocona wants connection with Papika because she isn’t totally rejecting her. However, Cocona’s anxiety hinders her ability to express herself, as the chorus demands, “if you want something, don’t ask for nothing.” Within Cocona’s heart, her desire for connection with Papika doesn’t override her fear of losing Papika. However, as they plunge into pure illusion once again, the decision is no longer for Cocona to make. This song’s exhortations are relevant throughout the entirety of Cocona’s coming of age story.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.36.44 PM“Une Anne Sans Lumieree” is the intermission in the four Neighborhood songs that make up the first half of the album, and the mood becomes much less urgent. This reflective song, with its nostalgic guitar motif reminiscent of the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” allows us to open our ears and listen to sound of blossoming love. Cocona is inherently self-conscious and must be noticing bits of evidence that she may be falling in love with Papika, especially in school from the Yuri Hell, which is loaded with Yuri imagery. What makes this experience so blissful for Cocona is the fact that Papika both prompts and embraces Cocona’s feelings. Beforehand, nobody seemed to be able to relate to Cocona’s experience of being different, but Papika lives and breathes being different and, as shown in episode two, is embraced for it. The song repeats that “if you see a shadow, there’s something there.” Cocona is bright enough to realize what’s going on. Just as the show relies heavily on visuals to accomplish most of the storytelling, the music of “Une Anne Sans Lumieree” itself perfectly captures the feeling of falling in love. The coda of the song, especially, perfectly captures the acceleration of romance. The tempo picks up at the end of the song and it becomes much heavier. Once you realize that you are falling in love, you can’t step on the breaks.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.42.53 PMNeighborhood 3 (Power Out) is the first of three fist-pumping anthems on this album and is the thematic centerpiece of the album. It perfectly boils down what Cocona must do in her coming of age story in order to liberate herself from loneliness and depression. It is a call to arms to fight for what you want and for what you love. It also grounds itself in a very real stage of development for children in the suburbs of the first world. Arcade Fire’s third neighborhood is one populated by adolescents who no longer feel any responsibility to obey their parents, or whose parents have grown apathetic. Essentially, the third neighborhood is one without any parents, so basically any anime neighborhood ever. All jokes aside, the absence of parents makes this setting the stage in life in which you are forced to become independent. The energy and urgency of the song are perfectly suited to the challenges of self-discovery and agency, challenges that Cocona knows very well. The song is predicated on a problematic turn of events, but the decision of those in the song to go out into the town are framed as having ends other than ameliorating the situation. They go out to find a light, to chase dreams. At the beginning of the series, Cocona is faced with the dreaded career survey, a staple anime representation of uncertainty about the future, the most universal kind of anxiety. Part of Cocona’s problem is that she doesn’t have a light to go out and find.Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.55.33 PMThe kids in the song also go out to pick a fight, meaning they feel strongly enough about something to take a risk and go fight. Cocona first acts confrontational when Yayaka reveals to her and Papika that the end game for collecting the amorphous is world domination. These things that are important to us are fundamentally linked to who we are. Cocona expresses distress and reluctance to return to Pure Illusion after she realizes how their Inception inspired meddling changed Iroha-senpai. At the end, Cocona turns against her mother to fight for her independence and agency, which she built over the course of the show, and her relationship with Papika. She knows she loves Papika. Loving Papika is central to who Cocona is, who she has become. At the end of the series, it would be true to say that Cocona is Cocona because Papika is Papika. The power was out in Cocona’s heart before she met Papika, but as a result of their adventures, Cocona learned to take it from her heart and put it in her hand.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.22.01 PM.pngNeighborhood #3 is also very reflective of Yayaka”s personality. Yayaka is impulsive, and if you were to ask yourself which characters from Flip Flappers would ever pick a fight, the first name that would come to mind would be Yayaka. Of course, Yayaka despises this aspect of her personality and wishes somebody else could make all her decisions for her. Cocona, on the other hand, is struggling to learn to make decisions for herself, and must reject Mimi, her mother, when she says that Cocona can’t be trusted to make decisions for herself. One line in particular in this song captures Cocona’s mindset at the beginning of the story. Arcade Fire uses a storm as metaphor for growing up, singing “growing up in some strange storm, nobody’s cold, nobody’s warm.” Cocona rediscovers warmth when she meets Papika and Yayaka must ignore her orders and protect Cocona, who is a source of warmth for her. Musically, the melodic cacophony of Neighborhood 3 is a great reflection of the messiness of youth.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.08.18 PM.pngNeighborhood 4 expresses frustration at how slowly things change, if they change at all. Cocona’s passiveness, her inability to make things happen on her own is captured in the song’s chorus, which says “a watched pot never boils, well I closed my eyes and nothing changed.” Flip Flappers contradicts this song by introducing Papika to Cocona, a wildcard who forces Cocona to start to change.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.39.13 PMUltimately, Papika and Cocona aren’t too concerned with preventing the bumbling Asclepius’s plan for a New World Order. They are concerned with each other and themselves. The song notes that all the neighbors are burning. Everybody else falls in love, and Cocona is having a difficult time navigating her first experience with romance. The Crown of Love, which comes next, reverts the focus to a key scene earlier in the series, the Mad Max pure illusion and the mask. Tension boils between Cocona and Papika in the first three episodes, exploding in a fight and a reconciliation. The Crown of Love is a plea for forgiveness, and is an important reminder that real love, a real healthy relationship needs both partners to be comfortable enough with each other to fight. Cocona is forced to that point by the mask, but it is not the last time they will fight.

Wake Up is the thematic successor of Neighborhood 3 (Power Out). Wake Up is about braving your way through life. For Cocona especially, this is a much more difficult struggle. The song exhorts children to wake up and seize the opportunities to make mistakes now. Cocona’s fear of making mistakes prevents her from taking an active role in her own life. Not only does Cocona need to “hold her mistakes up,” she needs to realize that mistakes are a fundamental part of growing up. Cocona has to wake up and start playing an active role in her life. In doing so, she has to accept who she is, regardless of how much her identity deviates from society’s norms, and then actively embrace Papika and her feelings for her. At the beginning of the story, Cocona is faced with the career survey, but she can’t see where she’s going. By the end of the story, Cocona has accepted who she is and has the confidence in herself to believe that wherever it is she’s going, she’ll be comfortable with herself.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.03.25 PMWake Up also repeats Neighborhood 3’s emphasis on agency with the lines, “with my lightning bolts a glowing, I can see where I am going.” Once Cocona learns to become independent and take control of her life, she’ll have less anxiety about the future. Yeah, Haiti’s lyrics are way too specific and violent for any reflection on Flip Flappers. Musically though, its lush and playful, which is an excellent description of Flip Flappers.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.32.30 PMRebellion (lies) is the final of the three anthems that dominate Funeral and it returns to the theme of embracing the naiveté and idealism of childhood. These are assets in the journey to knowing yourself and understanding life. The defiant message of this song is that happiness is possible, contrary to what the world tells us, and that’s not a lie.  Honestly, anything else I have to say about this song in relation to Flip Flappers would simply be retreading points I have already made. For example, the line “sleeping is giving in” is another exhortation to take control of your life and not running away from your problems. To be honest, the reason I originally scrapped this was that I figured it was all so obvious that it doesn’t warrant me going in depth.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.05.04 PM.pngIn the Backseat just perfectly captures Flip Flappers’ understanding of dependency. The lines, “I like the peace in the backseat, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak” are a perfect portrait of Cocona at the beginning of the series and in episodes 11 and 12. In those two episodes Mimi returns and assumes the responsibility of making all of Cocona’s decisions for her. This is also exactly what Yayaka wanted, to have other people make tough decisions for her. The line, “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life” is a great expression of how growing up is entirely oriented towards eventually becoming independent.

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Okay this was really messy, but I’m glad I’m getting it out there in some form, since so many people have expressed their desire to see it. Honestly, I didn’t even really touch on everything. Most of this was written in January of 2016, I can’t believe how much my writing has changed since then.

The Treatment of Queer Sexuality in Clannad

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It’s no secret that Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of the Clannad visual novel is generally considered one of the most heartwarming anime ever made. It tugs at heartstrings in a variety of ways, like through its portrayals of the beauty of a family persevering through turmoil, of childhood trauma and the struggle to process it and of the miracle of life. The romance at its heart is often praised as being one of the best in anime, with Tomoya and Nagisa appearing in countless lists of top ten anime couples. The core theme of Clannad is that family is paramount. Clannad believes that families must always stick together no matter what. Clannad has a lot to say about what it means to become an adult, the value of blue-collar work, the difficulties of parenthood and many other things. Clannad also has a bit to say about queer sexuality.

The issue of LGBTQ+ rights in Japan has become more prominent in recent years. Fear of queer sexuality is common in Japan, as it is in the United States. Naturally, this increased presence in political discourse has caused the most reactionary voices in Japanese politics to cry out in outrage. Mio Sugita, a parliament member belonging to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, wields one of these voices. She recently appeared on television and recounted being asked whether LGBTQ+ problems have a place in Japanese education, saying that she thought it was “definitely unnecessary.” When told that the suicide rate among homosexual children is six times higher than among children in general, she laughed and articulated her belief that teachers in Japanese schools have more pressing concerns. Despite knowing that she is on the far right, has fringe views and has been condemned by politicians on both sides, watching this clip still sent a chill down my spine.

In my opinion, whenever a big fuss is made over one reactionary openly expressing their hate, the number of people that share that view is always more than the media backlash would suggest. What I’m saying is that Japan, like the United States, has a great deal of progress to make in LGBTQ+ civil rights and acceptance of queer sexuality. My impression of the clip of Mio Sugita on television is that her attitude towards LGBTQ+ people is one of dismissal. Dismissive attitudes are focal point in the system by which hatred is reinforced and passed between generations in Japan.

And now, a little bit about me.

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Once upon a time, a kid called me gay and I curbstomped him. I curbstomped the shit out of him. I stained that rocky gravel path red with his blood. I had just gotten off the bus coming back from church. As I stood above his body, smeared with blood and curled up in order to protect himself from any further curbstomping, I said, “that’s what you get when you mess with John Clark, boy… *loud manly aggressive grunt. *” I had been watching a lot of Looney Toons that summer before going off to camp, so I suppose I had been a little inspired by Foghorn Leghorn. It was so damn satisfying to watch him cry. I later learned that he had to get 12 stitches above his right eye. I had never been so proud of myself. I was sending a message to my peers that shared my cabin at that sleep-away camp: Don’t call John Clark gay unless you want your brains bashed in.

Outside of fighting a few times with my little sister, who I thought was out to get me, I had never demonstrated any violent behavior. This incident, during the summer before I started middle school, was only the second. In both cases, I became violent in response to gay-related name calling and got away with it because I lied and said the other kid had hit me first. The adults in charge never believed the other kids’ stories. They couldn’t fathom the thought of me violently attacking one of my peers. None of my behavior up until that point had suggested that such a thing would even be possible.

In my first year of middle school, a classmate tormented me with gay-related name calling, and one afternoon in late May, I punched him in the face on the bus home. It was so satisfying to watch him cry, though that was cut a bit short, because I had to get off the bus at the next stop. To be fair, I told him, “hey Kevin, I’m gonna punch you in the face if you call me gay one more time.” I was already set on punching him in the face, so when my stop was coming up and he hadn’t called me gay again, I just punched him in the face anyway. Right in the eye. It was the kind of punch that makes your fist hurt. I thought it was worth it though. It was particularly fascinating to watch the bruise swell up in real time. I remember laughing in amusement. I felt like I was on top of the world.

When his parents called the school, I pulled the same bullshit but ended up having to serve a detention anyway. With those incidents, I learned that I’m the kind of person that bottles shit in and then snaps, seemingly without warning. These memories were my first experiences with the concept of queer sexuality. The idea had filled me with so much fear and anxiety that I felt I had to fight for my life. I don’t look back fondly on these memories. It was petty and pathetic. It was also traumatic for me to witness myself cause such violence. Though I suppressed these feelings at the time, I became constantly aware and afraid of the potential I had for hurting other people. That stuck with me through high school. I ended up placing into the highest track for seventh grade, and there was a lot less name-calling from there on out.

As an adolescent male, there was no graver punishment than being branded as gay. That’s what it feels like when name-calling comes from bullies, or people you perceive to be superior to you, it feels like a punishment. The only thing that could bring me to challenge that authority was my intense fear that people would think I really was gay. Due to traumatic experiences I had when I was in second grade, experiences I’ll perhaps dive into another time, I came to associate bullies with authority. It wasn’t a healthy perception to have, but it’s pretty insightful when used as a lens to explore gay-related name-calling and bullying of LGBT+ students in Japan, where teachers sometimes join in on the bullying.

Why did I snap in each of those incidents? What was so gravely offensive about being called gay that would lead me to become so violent? Why is gay such a potent slur? It often has little to nothing to do with sexuality, but at the same time, it has everything to do with sexuality. In 2007, when I was in sixth grade, I was playing with Bionicles while all the other kids were out playing sports or playing video games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. The only video games I played were Pokémon, Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones. Naturally, I never had anything to contribute when guys would stroll into class in the morning, raving about their heroism and exploits on the battlefield. I was too busy thinking about Bionicle’s expansive and complex lore. In addition, I have ADHD, so I’ve always been very impulsive. That combined with anxiety, tied to those traumatic experiences I mentioned, made me socially incompetent compared to most of my classmates. If life was a masculinity competition, I was losing, and that’s why I was labeled as gay. It had nothing to do with my sexuality. Well, maybe I was also particularly sensitive to it because there was a period of a couple weeks that year when I seriously questioned my sexuality. Anyways, being branded as gay has more to do with failing to conform to gender roles than it does with actually being gay. They called me gay because I wasn’t manly enough.

Thoughts along the lines of, “there’s nothing wrong with being gay” never occurred to me, and if somebody said such a thing to me, I don’t think it would have made me feel any better. John Clark knew that being gay was a bad thing. That misinformation didn’t come from my home; it came from my peers. I entered middle school and the regime of masculinity sorted all males my age between ‘gay’ and ‘not gay.’ The kids that conformed to gender roles naturally were on top. The kids that were designated gay could only remove that label by conforming to the behavior of the kids designated as ‘not gay.’

Adolescent males also throw around ‘gay’ while messing around with their friends. The difference is in the delivery. When it’s from a friend and in a lighthearted manner, it doesn’t feel like bullying. It’s not being used to dismiss that person’s very existence. That doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. Even I engaged in playful gay-related name calling with my friends, though I quit relatively early. One day, in February of my first year of middle school, my friend and I were messing around in the auditorium before play practice and calling each other gay. The only other people there were the director and the set manager, an incredibly muscular high school sophomore named Steve. To me, he was the pinnacle of masculinity. He was a very easily irritated person, and I was always afraid that he would bully me. He also wore pajamas almost exclusively, which I thought was awesome. The director, Andy, excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he left, Steve walked over, grabbed my friend and I each by the collar, and told us that he never wanted to hear us call each other or anybody else gay in a demeaning way ever again. He told us that Andy was openly gay and asked us how we thought it must feel for him to hear us throwing around homosexuality as an insult. He said it was like we were stepping all over Andy. My friend was scared shitless in the moment, but he didn’t really adjust his behavior after that, except for when he was around Steve. I never called anybody gay again… I think. That moment stuck with me, and I often thought about it even after the name-calling had ended in seventh grade.

I had never questioned the idea that homosexuality is wrong and weird back then. It wouldn’t have mattered to me, what mattered to me then was the fact that those that branded me as gay thought it was wrong and weird. The possibility that there could be people that thought otherwise never occurred to me. All of my negative feelings toward homosexuality were rooted in my resentment for being labeled gay and being dismissed and put down for it. The wakeup from Steve call is something that I’ll always be grateful for because it laid the foundation for me to eventually realize that there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about being gay. I’d never thought about how there were real people who were really gay and it was the first time that somebody other than my parents said that it was wrong to call to weaponize homosexuality as a tool for putting other people down. It was my first experience that challenged all the misinformation regarding homosexuality that was washing over me each and every day in class. On top of that, it came from the guy that I thought was the pinnacle of masculinity. I think it helped prevent me from getting totally lost in the hatred and fear that my experiences with gay related name-calling carried with them.

In the summer before I went into seventh grade, I really got into Avatar. There’s an episode of Avatar in which Katara describes Aang as being, “more in touch with his feminine side than most guys.” I was immediately able to identify with that sentiment, and even through college, I often used it to describe myself when it would be relevant to conversation. Even more influential than that was watching Zuko grow and change over the course of the series. Zuko started out as the villain, chasing his father’s approval. As the series progressed, Zuko grew softer and warmer as he struggled with which side he was going to take. Zuko, at the end of the series, was much less concerned with masculinity than he was at the beginning. That growth stuck with me so much that the one thing I most associate with growing up is growing out of the obsession with masculinity that grips most adolescent boys. Breaking that obsession with masculinity is, in my opinion, the key to combatting homophobia.

The strongest fuel for homophobia is lack of information. That’s the key to how homophobia gets passed between generations, and the only way to ameliorate that is through education. Most people don’t understand queer sexuality. I think this is far more common than people not wanting to understand queer sexuality, though there are many people that feel that way. To them, queer sexuality is a source of fear, something to be driven away. However, it is precisely because people don’t understand queer sexuality that they fear it. Those folks that fear queer sexuality don’t want others to understand it either and spread misinformation, even through education. The lack of any positive or accurate information means that the misinformation is likely to spread, take root and remain unchallenged. The kids grow up knowing only that misinformation, and, unless they research on their own, they never will understand queer sexuality, so it will remain for them something to be feared. And why would kids research queer sexuality if they believe they’ve learned, formally or informally, everything they need to know about it?

Not all folks that don’t understand queer sexuality are overwhelmed by fear and the hatred that it sows but that doesn’t mean those people will see the value of understanding queer sexuality. Activism and visibility for LGBTQ+ folks are the only cures to this system. The truth needs to overwrite the misinformation. The lesson, which I think can be drawn from the anecdotes I’ve shared, is that a few positive experiences with something could potentially drown out the darkness cast by countless past negative experiences with that thing. Those experiences changed me for the better. They saved me from potentially living the rest of my life in fear of queer sexuality. The best way to prompt people to question the misinformation they were fed and seek the truth, is advocacy for understanding. As time progresses, it will hopefully become impossible for the LGBTQ+ community to be ignored. I would say the United States has seen this come to fruition to an extent over the past 15 years, at least in urban areas. The internet is a vital source of information and means for maximizing visibility as well. This is precisely why LGBTQ+ issues have been discussed more openly in recent years.

Everything I’ve written so far has come research and reflections prompted by my most recent watch of Clannad. Clannad indulges itself in four ‘jokes’ that treat queer sexuality as a punchline in its first season. The first time I watched Clannad, when I wasn’t thinking critically, just mindlessly consuming, I laughed out loud to all four of these jokes. With each rewatch of Clannad, I’ve become more and more perturbed by these ‘jokes.’ I’m going to use the research and anecdotes I’ve provided to contextualize Clannad’s jokes that target queer sexuality and explore the implications of each of them.

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Clannad’s first major gay joke is in the second episode. Tomoya is speaking with Ryou Fujibayashi, the class representative, who has a crush on him. Her sister Kyou, who also has a crush on Tomoya, mowed him down with her bike on her way to school that day. Tomoya starts to complain to Ryou, but Kyou, who’s in another class, comes in, cuts Tomoya off as he’s saying “bike” and pulls him out into the hallway. She tells him that it’s forbidden to ride a bike to school and she doesn’t want anybody to know because she doesn’t want to get in trouble. Tomoya walks back to his seat and, as if to continue what he had been saying before getting hauled off, he stands up and announces, “Kyou Fujibayashi is bi.” That’s the joke. Confusion and shock follows, and Kyou drags Tomoya back into the hallway.

This is the most simple of Tomoya’s gay jokes. Unlike the others, it’s not meticulously crafted, because it happened in the moment. In reaction to Okazaki’s announcement, many students wonder aloud what “bi” means. The confusion here is actually reflective of the lack of specific information about queer sexuality in Japanese schools. One of the students in the class reacts by saying, “you mean like male and female,” to which another student responds, “she does seem very masculine.” This absurd piece of misinformation, which might sound right to somebody that doesn’t understand queer sexuality, is never refuted by the show. It’s left uncorrected. Clannad actively participates in spreading misinformation about queer sexuality.

Clannad is also making light of the very serious issue of LGBTQ+ students being outed against their will. In Japan, in recent years, increased prominence of LGBTQ+ issues and representation on the internet and in media has caused more Japanese youth to begin to question their identity. Kids explore the more remote corners of the internet or stumble upon manga like Girlfriends, or anime like Flip Flappers, Love Live and Gatchaman Crowds. They meet other folks or see characters with whom they identify, characters that are endearing yet don’t fit into the artificial boxes of male and female, into which society tries to stuff anyone and everyone. In the stories they read, they find shared experiences, similar in nature to the way I found reflections of myself in Aang and Zuko. With this trend, more and more LGBTQ+ Japanese students are approaching teachers and coming out to them for various reasons. Examples of these sorts of exchanges include a young transgender woman requesting to wear the uniform assigned to girls, or to change in the girls’ locker room, or to sleep with the girls on the class trip.

Unfortunately, most teachers in Japan have no training in helping LGBTQ+ students and have only cursory knowledge regarding LGBTQ+ issues and experiences. Much of this knowledge is likely informed by harmful stereotypes. Even formal education in LGBTQ+ related issues is problematic, because in Japan, being transgender is still considered a mental illness. As a result, most Japanese teachers are unequipped to assist their LGBTQ+ students. This lack LGBTQ+-related training for educators causes a variety of problems, the most prominent of which are the cases in which a teacher outs an LGBTQ+ student to their classmates and/or their parents against their wishes. This isn’t always malicious. It is the natural result of a lack of education and a proliferation of misinformation. What is malicious is Mio Sugita’s assertion that educating students in LGBTQ+ matters is a waste of time. Luckily, the system is changing. More people in the Japanese government are pushing for LGBTQ+ rights and the education ministry sent a notice last year to all teachers that outing their students can cause depression and suicide.

In the United States there is an infamous example of a student being outed by his peers. Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his own life after his roommate secretly livestreamed an intimate evening between Clementi and another male student via iChat. Dealing with the suicide of a classmate or somebody else at your school can be a traumatic experience. It happened a few times when I was in high school and at Notre Dame. The entire campus is shaken, even those that don’t know the deceased student. Though it doesn’t seem as though Kyou is actually bisexual, Tomoya’s cruel joke makes light of the act of outing somebody against their will, and all the baggage attached to the subject.

The second gay joke is much more calculated by Tomoya and is only possible because the writers crafted it. It wouldn’t have gone nearly as far if it only depended upon the natural outcome of Tomoya’s setup. Tomoya and Sunohara are helping Nagisa recruit members for the drama club, so Tomoya directs Sunohara to tell Ryou to come to the roof of the school because there is somebody waiting there that wants to confess their love. This is particularly cruel on Tomoya’s part because Ryou has a crush on Tomoya. Since Ryou knows that Sunohara is Tomoya’s “best friend,” she was likely led to believe that the one waiting on the roof to confess their feelings was Tomoya. If nothing else, she at least got her hopes up.

When Ryou reaches the roof, she’s shocked to learn that the one who wants to talk to her is a girl, Nagisa. Naturally, the charade would end shortly after Nagisa began speaking to Ryou, but the writers overreach and deliberately make Nagisa’s lines vague and misleading. The joke becomes artificial. After a lot of misleading build up, Nagisa asks Ryou to join the drama club, at which point Kyou comes out onto the roof, having been eavesdropping.

This scene mocks a very delicate type of situation, one in which somebody comes out of the closet to the person they are confessing without knowing how that person will react. The writers even have Nagisa say, “I’ve been troubled by it, but I decided to be brave,” mocking the immense courage required for LGBTQ+ students to come out and confess to somebody who likely won’t even be attracted to them.

When Ryou says that she didn’t expect it to be a girl, Sunohara chimes in saying, “Sex doesn’t matter, the important thing is the heart.” This is a good sentiment, but coming from Sunohara and in the context of the joke, it comes across as mocking homosexuality. Sunohara’s characterization, especially at this point in the story, is such that nothing he says is meant to be taken seriously. He exists to suck so that Tomoya can look good in comparison. He is presented as a character that ought to be dismissed and this extends everything he does and says. Clannad’s attitude toward Sunohara’s declaration is just as dismissive as Mio Sugita was in her interview.

The third joke, which seems to target transgender and genderqueer people, is probably the most intricate and calculated of Tomoya’s LGBTQ+ focused jokes. For this joke, Tomoya once again takes advantage of Ryou’s submissiveness and her feelings for him to craft his hateful prank. When Fuuko zones out in the hallway, Tomoya tells Ryou say to Fuuko, “I’m Okazaki, I’ve become a girl,” when she comes to. Tomoya further instructs to her say, “it comes off sometimes” if Fuuko asks what happened and, “for the time being” in response to any other inquiry from Fuuko.

After hearing from Ryou that “it comes off sometimes,” Fuuko asks whether “it” might come and attach itself to her. This is yet another artificial joke. Fuuko’s questions and responses were designed by the writers to have maximum comedic effect without any regard for how realistic it would be for anybody to say such things. I admit, the idea of a little cartoon penis running around in red sneakers and randomly attaching and detaching itself from various individuals is a bit humorous, but the fact that the writers thought it reasonable to believe that the audience would buy into this is yet another testament to the void of information and pervasive misinformation about queer sexuality in Japanese schools.

Fuuko’s immediate concern that the wild penis in red sneakers might pose a threat to her, her gender and her sexuality is a testament to the disposition uninformed Japanese students have toward queer sexuality. All of these jokes treat queer sexuality as something alien, and this joke also portrays it as a source of fear from Fuuko’s point of view.

The final joke targeting queer sexuality focuses on Sunohara. Many Clannad fans, including myself, have theorized that Sunohara might be gay and Kyo-Ani’s adaptation seems to put some effort into portraying Sunohara in a manner which does not rule out this possibility. If Sunohara is gay, then this joke would be the only one in Clannad which directly targets a queer character.

After the end of Kotomi’s arc, Tomoya and the various women he has assembled in his harem all decide to join the drama club, giving Nagisa the number of members she needs to officially reestablish the club. The last thing they need is a club advisor. In the time in which the drama club had been dissolved, the former drama club adviser became the adviser to the choir club. The choir club was formed by Rie Nishina as a means for her to continue pursuing her passion for music after sustaining permanent injuries to her hand in a tragic accident which made it impossible for her to play the violin. Sunohara devises a dumbass plan to show the members of the choir club that they shouldn’t let handicaps hold them back, hoping to somehow convince them to surrender their adviser, the one true good boy, Koumura-sensei. This was something they did not need to be shown at all and was incredibly insensitive on the part of Sunohara because it just reminded Nishina of the fact that she can never play violin the way she used to because of the injury to her hand. Sunohara’s plan was to demonstrate their ability to overcome handicaps by having the drama club play the basketball team three on three. Tomoya had been on the basketball team and was forced to quit due to permanent damage to his shoulder, a consequence of domestic violence. Tomoya wants to avoid basketball, so he turns down Sunohara. Sunohara persists, constantly chasing after Tomoya and trying to convince him to get on board with his incomprehensibly idiotic plan.

With Sunohara on his heels, Tomoya, at the end of the school day, grabs Nagisa and runs away. When Nagisa asks him what Sunohara is chasing him for, Tomoya tells her that Sunohara actually likes him. I’d like to note that, if that is true, which is a point of fervent debate, it would be another example of this show making light of the issue of LGBTQ+ students being outed against their will.

The subject of the joke is Sunohara, but the purpose of it is to freak out Nagisa. Nagisa’s reaction is the substance of the comedy this joke is creating. Nagisa’s response to this is framed for maximum comedic effect. Nagisa’s immediate reaction feels a lot more like horror than shock. She becomes frantic and restless. In his explanation, Tomoya leans fully into the show’s portrayal of Sunohara as being totally pathetic, saying, “Lately I haven’t paid much attention to him and it’s made him so lonely that he’s carrying on like that.” Nagisa tells Tomoya that he should consider Sunohara’s feelings seriously. That’s a wonderful thing for Nagisa to say, but unfortunately, the writers made that part of her reaction because it is supposed to be funny. The worst part of Tomoya’s relationship with Nagisa is the dismissive attitude he sometimes has towards her when she becomes assertive. Nagisa herself doesn’t seem too confident in what she is saying.

When Sunohara catches up and reaches for Tomoya’s sleeve, Nagisa grabs his arm and tells him to stop. She then lies and says that Tomoya is her boyfriend, hoping that she can “protect” him from Sunohara.

When Sunohara’s sister later overhears Nagisa mentioning it, Nagisa clarifies that Tomoya and Sunohara aren’t lovers and that Sunohara is just “forcing himself” on Tomoya. Nagisa adds that she thinks that “love comes in different forms for different people.” This is a wonderful sentiment. Unfortunately, it is undermined by the fact that this is all a part of one big joke. When Nagisa asks Tomoya to say something to comfort Sunohara’s sister, he directly undermines and dismisses any sincerity of Nagisa’s words by saying, “this is too much fun, I’m just gonna sit back and watch.”

For Nagisa, Tomoya’s deception recontextualizes Sunohara’s behavior as harassment, reinforcing various stereotypes in Japan regarding gay men. In my opinion, the second most prominent way in which homophobia manifests in straight cisgender men is in the fear of gay men pursuing them, and I think this “joke” plays upon the fear that many straight men have of receiving unwanted sexual advances from gay men. In addition, Sunohara’s thorough characterization as a connoisseur of sexual harassment and depravity matches harmful stereotypes associated with gay men. Ultimately, the drama club does follow through with Sunohara’s plan, and it works. Sunohara’s suggestion of this plan seems to be intended to be a redeeming moment for Sunohara, an opportunity for him to not be the literal worst. Tomoya turns Sunohara into the bad guy by telling Nagisa that he is gay.

So, what does it all mean? Well, if you are going to opt to adopt the dismissive attitude of the people that allow homophobia to fester, you’ll tell me that it means nothing because they’re just jokes. If you’re not in the mood to take the attitude of oppressors, you’ll realize that, either intentionally or unintentionally, Clannad essentially contains anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda. At first, that might seem like a radical jump, but there are four of these jokes in the first season of Clannad. Two of them span across two scenes and one even carries over from one episode to another. Three of them are very intricately crafted. All of them treat queer sexuality as a punchline and between them, they cover quite a variety of different manifestations of queer sexuality. The worst moment in all of these jokes is after Sunohara runs away during the fourth joke. Tomoya and Nagisa are both blushing and Tomoya tells Nagisa that it made him happy when she said he was her boyfriend. This moment establishes Clannad as a story where heterosexuality reigns supreme by putting down queerness. Clannad is not wholesome. The warmth and fuzziness of Clannad disguises a disturbing preoccupation with demonizing and dismissing queer sexuality.

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Here, to cleanse your soul after having to read so much about my past and about Clannad. That was some fucked up shit.

For subtitles, I’ve seen a few different versions of fansub, but here I’m using Sentai’s subtitles for reference.

If you’re interested in all the technical stuff regarding LGBTQ+ students in Japan, or even if you aren’t, I suggest you read this report by Human Rights Watch. This is where I pulled my information from.

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/japan0516web.pdf

Anime Mixtape Series- Scum’s Wish

I’ve begun a new project, one that combines anime with my favorite artistic medium, music. I’ll be curating a playlists for anime that seem, to me, to have strong artistic ambition, thematic complexity, relatable drama or exceptional storytelling. Basically, if its an anime I love, I’ll probably put together a playlist for it. What does this mean? Basically, I watch and digest an anime and pull forth overarching themes and relatable experiences. I mentally browse through the vast collection of over 150 albums that I know by heart and put together a playlist using songs that deal with the same concepts, conflicts, emotions, experiences and themes as that anime. I love music, so I’m doing this for fun, but it would be cool if somebody actually took time to listen to some of these. Why would you take the time to listen to one of these playlists rather than, y’know, watching MORE anime? Well, music is awesome, and there are some things you can do while listening to music that you can’t do while watching anime. I think that listening to music that deals with the same things as an anime you’re watching, whose artist went through experiences similar to those that the protagonist is going through, can help you better understand, value, and relate to what you’re watching. My hope for this project is that you can listen to this playlist between episodes the corresponding shows and reflect upon the show while listening to songs that deal with the same themes. These playlists will be designed to place you in the main characters’ shoes and help you understand what they’re going through.

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First Up is Scum’s Wish. I’ll come back and edit this a bit later to explain my reasoning for adding the songs that I did. There is also an album, one of my all time favorites, that perfectly captures the spirit of Scum’s Wish, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I will also link that album here.

Okay, so the playlist opens up with Love Will Tear Us Apart, which captures the essence of Scum’s Wish in both mood and message. Beautiful, but the beauty is covering up the gritty reality that people can’t love others unless they love themselves. Love, or rather, the lack there of will strain the relationships between the members of the central cast in Scum’s Wish. These characters very much operate as an ensemble. The sources of their emotional turmoil are all intertwined and contribute to both the narrative and its exploration of the way people use, abuse and rely upon each other.

The next eight songs, from Let it Bleed to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, work together to explore Hanabi and Mugi’s relationship. Let it Bleed by the Rolling Stones demonstrates their willingness to be there to fill the emptiness in each other’s hearts with their own bodies while I Wanna Be Adored reveals their consciously sinful desires to feel wanted, to be touched and to be loved. However, this is not love, and that’s something they’re constantly reminding themselves. I followed this pair of songs with “Heroes” because that song perfectly captures the romanticized contrast between triumph and tragedy that the show uses to depict Hanabi and Mugi’s arrangement. They both know that they’re doing something stupid. This arrangement won’t make them feel whole again because there is no love, which is the core message of the next song, the apocalyptic sex anthem Only Shallow, by My Bloody Valentine. This song is simultaneously abrasive and soothing. It is both beautiful and ugly. The song contrasts sex without love and sex with love. The former, with which Hanabi and Mugi are experimenting is characterized by the titanic distorted guitar in the opening and choruses while sex with love, which is still a long way off for our protagonists, is captured in the verses.

I’ll come back to finish this up later.

And here is the link to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. It will seem abrasive and hard to listen to at first, but if you open yourself up to it, you’ll realize its some of the most beautiful music ever made.

In Response to the Recent MyAnimeList Controversy: Social Justice Weebs

This was originally a comment on myanimelist’s recent Facebook post on the issue.

The fact of the matter is that there is a large overlap between American anime fans and the Alt-Right. There also happens to be an overlap between the ideologies of the alt-right and of Nazism. President Donald Trump is a reprehensible individual, and now that he has become President, people are going to start believing that his behavior and his words are socially acceptable. We can’t have that happen. We can’t let people believe its okay to be racist again. We can’t go backwards. As a society, those with voices that are heard must seize every opportunity to condemn these words and behaviors, whether we bear direct witness to them or not. This is how we actively define Social Deviance. We need to make these people feel uncomfortable. For those whose support Donald Trump rode upon when he was elected, we are the Socially Deviant. However, they are the minority, and the majority must use this opportunity to better articulate our arguments against the sort of Bigotry that Trump promotes.

maxresdefault-24There is no such thing as cultural relativity, not if we want to be able to differentiate between right and wrong. Humans need to hold steadfast to their convictions. That’s how we make a difference. Nazism is always evil. There should be no controversy in condemning it. Even if this was a controversial article, that would have been all the more reason for MyAnimeList to leave the article unaltered. This isn’t a matter of being offended or not, its a matter of the marginalized being threatened. Those that have voices that will be heard and have half a brain must condemn President Trump’s poisonous rhetoric. Its a time for heroes in this great country. Everybody must take a stand to stop this evil from spreading. We must become that which the enemies of decency and reason label us. We must become Social Justice Warriors.

…Or, if you prefer, Social Justice Weebs.