TWELVE DAYS: WATCH LADIES VERSUS BUTLERS

Ladies versus Butlers is good, easily one of the best fanservice shows. If you know me, you know that my view is that the strength of a story is entirely dependent on the strength of its characters and the dynamics between them. This wasn’t something I expected from this show, but Ladies versus Butlers has what is easily one of the most entertaining and compelling rivalries in anime. I often say that fanservice and otherwise perverse fetish-fueled harem shows are often responsible for producing bombastic and charismatic female characters. Everybody loves Lala and Momo from To Love-Ru and Aqua and Megumin from Konosuba. Monster Musume has a more well-rounded ensemble cast, but all of the women have that fire in them that make them so fun to watch. Ladies versus Butlers has Selnia Iori Flameheart and Tomomi Saikyo.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 6.37.49 PMSelnia and Tomomi, I think, are much more multi-faceted than the examples I gave above. They’re not like Lala, who has no problems and makes a habit of causing extremely amusing problems for Rito. Selnia and Tomomi’s bombastic personalities are both fueled by their own insecurities, which are exacerbated when they are in each other’s presence. Selnia and Tomomi were deeply jealous of each other from the moment they first met and throughout the show, both are driven almost entirely by their desire to confirm their superiority over each other. Every scene that Selnia and Tomomi share is extremely interesting, and as the series goes on, they progressively become more entertaining and intense, especially in the scenes the two share alone. These are the scenes in which one of Ladies versus Butlers’ greatest strengths shines the most. The direction of Ladies versus Butlers is way better than a fanservice show has any right to be. As Selnia and Tomomi’s rivalry begins to substantiate as a competition for Akiharu, the main character, the staging of the scenes they share becomes increasingly theatrical.

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One of my favorite scenes in the series is in the fifth episode, when Selnia and Tomomi get locked in the bathhouse together… don’t you roll your eyes at me like that. No of course they don’t have towels. Y’know, actually I think I’m just gonna end it here.

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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.

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.

A Case for Scum’s Wish

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably notice that the majority of my tweets regarding this season’s anime are about either Maid Dragon or Demi-chan. Those two shows are absolutely delightful, and both have brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions, which is no easy feat. However, the shining star of this anime season, for me, is easily Scum’s Wish. Of course, if you know anything about the plot of Scum’s Wish, you surely know that the characters do just about everything except shine.

There are a lot of ways to describe exactly what Scum’s Wish is, from ‘Toradora, but problematic,’ to ‘a harem deconstruction, minus the harem, minus the deconstruction.’ I think the latter description, which was the one I’ve used myself, offers some interesting insight. I always look at music, anime, political events, art, etcetera in the greater context of the history surrounding them. When I first read the Scum’s Wish manga, which was the first manga I’d ever read, the first and most distinct connection I made was, of course, to School Days. This is one reason I believe that School Day’s is a must watch for all anime fans. Like Evangelion, FLCL, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Angel Beats, Monogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Sword Art Online, School Days, whether you like it or not, is a title that is frequently mentioned in reviews of many anime that have been released since.

Scum’s Wish reminded me of School Days, but as I thought more about what School Days was, a harem deconstruction, I quickly realized that Scum’s Wish was not a harem, and since it was not a harem, it could not possibly be a harem deconstruction. Scum’s Wish is the anime equivalent to the first member of a new species. It has inherited quite a bit from its predecessors, but it is too different from them to be considered the same species. This is a good thing for anime. This genre was born among the early visual novels, most prominently, White Album, which eventually received a fantastic anime adaptation in 2009. There were many other visual novels from that time that revolved around infidelity, and the first of these to receive a widely viewed anime adaptation was School Days. This tradition of infidelity-centric visual novels is most interesting because these stories typically end in a huge clusterfuck. I can’t really give any examples without giving spoilers, but if you’ve seen any of these shows, you’ve got a pretty good idea what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, Visual Novel adaptations, especially eroge adaptations, are, for the most part, not very good. Part of this comes from the problems that come with adapting multiple routes, but for the most part its because of their questionable final causes.

We’re only five episodes into Scum’s Wish, and it is already a huge clusterfuck. Scum’s Wish is a deeply psychological show as well. The characters are constantly striving to understand the reasons why they interact with each other the way they do, and we know that because we’ve spent some time in each of the protagonists’ minds. They’ve all gotten, or will get, some time serving as the narrator. This show feels very real. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that Scum’s Wish is a special show, and if you aren’t watching it already, you should consider picking it up.