The real trouble with comix

Supporting small business is important, but Amazon won’t ask you if you’re buying X-Men for your boyfriend every week. I’ve lost count of the women I know who stopped going to comic shops after being hit on or patronized too many times.

That small aside from a story about online harassment in video gaming perfectly illustrates the challenge the socalled mainstream comics industry has created for itself. Like videogaming, comics culture is steeped in rightwing victim culture, where you convince yourself both that you and your hobby are horribly oppressed and bullied by the jocks, the popular clique, riajuu and that your particular brand of pop culture is superior to what the brainless masses consume because they don’t spent their Wednesday evenings waiting for the new issue of whatever The Avengers is called this week. So you get a culture and industry that bemoans the fact that nobody loves comics anymore, but resents any step made to make people feel welcome. In fact, people seem to feel personally insulted if others enjoy the wrong sort of comics, as this fortuitous tweet demonstrates.

Buying comics online, either digital or in trades, is so much nicer than having to make that weekly trek to some dingy hole to spent anywhere from three to five bucks (usually converted 1 on 1 or even worse into euros) for something that won’t even take you a decent bout on the crapper to read.

If you love in the game, you love for real!

Rebecca Silverman’s review of Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? seems to confuse comedic exaggeration for mental illness:

The problem really comes from Ako, the supposed heroine/love interest of the story. Simply put, she’s very annoying, but more at issue are the reasons why she’s annoying – Ako’s character is built on the idea that she cannot tell the difference between real life and the game. She insists on calling Hideki and the others by their game handles in school, persistently believes that she and Hideki are in an exclusive romantic relationship because they are “married” in “Legendary Age,” and she even occasionally attempts to access her game menu in real life. She’s clearly intended to come off as socially awkward and isolated, someone who can only find solace in the fictional world of the game where she doesn’t have to interact with people face-to-face, which is supported by her closed-off body language and persistent misinterpretation of her classmates’ efforts to befriend her. However, she presents more like someone who has a serious mental health problem, parasitically attaching herself to Hideki and ignoring his discomfort while occasionally exhibiting potentially dangerous behavior.

It’s something I saw a lot of when I went cruising for Love Hina fanfic having just completed the anime, where writer after writer took the slapstick violence poor Keitaro was subjected to and treated it literal. Now sometimes this was done deliberately, as in one story, where the writer looked at the Keitaro/Naru relationship as an essentially abusive one, but most often this seemed to be done unconsciously, as if the writers weren’t aware of the conventions of slapstick comedy. (Or choose to ignore them, to spice up a revengefic). Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? is a typical anime romcom, where each character’s flaws exaggerated for effect and just like how you shouldn’t apply romcom behaviour in real life, neither should you apply real life logic to a romcom.

Netoge: falling in love online means being in love in real life

Furthermore, this criticism misses the point completely about Ako. It’s not that she doesn’t understand the difference between online and “real life”; it’s that she explicitly refuses to. She fell in love with Hideki online and saw no reason to behave differently offline. Which is, as somebody who did the same, is perfectly understandable. I met and fell in love with my wife online and in my group of friends this is not a rare occurrence. The conflict that drives the series is Hideki has to adjust to the idea that the half serious, half jokey “marriage” he went into with Ako — when he still thought she was a dude roleplaying a girl — is actually serious to her. She loves him and the has to decide whether or not he can reciprocate that love.

Netoge: falling in love online means being in love in real life

All of which is brought as Ako needing to distinguish between on- and offline life better, but as noted the series starts to abandon that premisse in the second half. It’s more that she’s the classic type of antisocial nerd, not all that good at talking to people or making friends, coaxed out of her shell by the club members in general and Hideki’s growing love for her especially. Yet while Hideki keeps insisting that “the game and reality are separate”, this is constantly undermined by Ako equally persistent assertion that friendship and love in game do apply to the real world as well. If you love in the game, you love for real

Which is not to say that you can’t have issues with the way all this is portrayed, or worry that it could perhaps trivialise real world mental problems. But you do have to understand the genre conventions under which this series was working to understand its message.

Idiots in love

He’s not wrong…

Aho Girl‘s first episode was as annoying as the character herself but the episodes since have improved dramatically, simply by expanding the cast. Yoshiko being an idiot & Akuru punishing her harshly while she professes her love for him was getting old fast by the second sketch; having more people to bounce her off works better and makes Akuru less obnoxious too. When everybody is an idiot, Yoshiko’s own idiocy doesn’t feel like some sort of mental disability anymore. And the new characters are great: there’s her mum, desparate to marry her off to Akuru so her old age will be secure, her teacher trying to teach her something, anything, only to be roped in by her stupidity, the yankee who only wants to be friends with Akuru, the morals officer in love with Akuru who always falls for Yoshiko’s plans to get closer to him, all idiots. With just Yoshiko as an idiot, the series would’ve been cruel: if everybody is an idiot, even our straight man Akuru, it becomes funny.

Tsurezure Children: love is embarassing

Tsurezure Children also has a cast of idiots, but slightly more realistic idiots, as they’re all teenagers in the throws of their first love, unsure about how that whole love thing actually works. It’s an ensemble show, with several skits per episode, so it can be a bit hit or miss. I dislike the rapey student council president and his yankee love interest frex, but at its best this is hilarious, cringe comedy at its finest. Tsurezure Children also does a fine line in heavily blushing school girls (and boys). On the whole it’s a good example of how much you can do to tell a story in only bite sized chunks at a time, doing more than some full length romance series manage over a season.

Gamers: love makes you an idiot

With Gamers, watching the first episode felt like an exercise in predictability. There’s the antisocial loner nerd (also seen in Nana Maru San Batsu who likes video games, who draws the attention of his high school most beautiful and perfect girl, who of course turns out to be a secret gamer herself and who invites him to her newly created games club. And then it surprised me. Because he said no. Instead of getting the usual club story about a rag-tag team coming together to storm the world of competitive gaming, we got a protagonist who just want to play video games for fun and an ever spiralling out of control love pentagon between him, the game club president, the girl he plays his online games with, his normie friend and said friend’s girlfriend, where the relationships get so complicated even the characters have to draw relationship diagrams. Best thing: almost all of it is in their over active imaginations and everything could be resolved if they just sat down and talked to each other… Like Tsurezure Children there’s a lot of cringe comedy here as people behave like idiots and draw the wrong conclusions, leading to some spectacular reaction faces, but there’s also a bit of pathos as people get their hearts broken…

Trapped in trapped in fantasy anime

There are three trapped in fantasyland anime series this season: a boring one, a goofy one with mecha and an actually interesting one.

Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni: every screenshot of this is dull

The boring one is Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni, which I talked about before after having watched the first episode. Seven episodes later, it is still as bland and predictable as it started. Every episode some challenge or problem is solved almost immediately, without any tension, while every other episode or so another girl is added to the harem through some random kindness on protag-kun’s part. At one point in an early episode, he and his starter’s harem were escorting some merchant or other and ran into a bandit ambush. But it was okay, because his smart phone could detect them all through “GPS” and then he sent his sleepy time magic through the phone to knock them out. Dude’s so ridiculously overpowered his phone is just a prop, so nothing is a challenge and he keeps getting rewarded for stupid shit, to then teach his harem to ride a bicycle, as in the last episode.

It’s all pure wishfulfilment, but without any tension or danger whatsoever, yet it’s stupidly popular, if we can believe Crunchyroll. Perhaps, like me, everybody else is using it as a soporific too, moving wallpaper to be mildly diverted by while doing something more interesting? Certainly puts in context the over the top criticisms of Sword Art Online, which if bad, despite its many restaurant infodump scenes, was never anywhere near as dull as this.

Knights & Magic: mecha fan gets to design magical giant robots

The goofy one is Knight’s & Magic, dodgy spelling and all. A salaryman Gundam fan and plastic model builder is reincarnated into a fantasy world courtesy of Truck-kun, then discovers it has magical mecha. He starts training magic at five or something stupid, discovers his past life’s programming experience comes in handy, enrolls in magic school and becomes infamous as a (wannabe) Silhouette Knight designer. All his Gundam/giant robot fanboy knowledge coming in handy for inspiration for increasingly overpowered designs. The first two episodes were a bit of a mess as it skipped/abridged a lot of the source material to move quickly beyond the magic school setting into more serious stuff, but it has settled down quickly as a light hearted adventure series. The whole past life angle is more or less superfluous at this point, but the protagonist is likeable, there’s no harem, just a childhood friend who likes to use him as her hug pillow and the series doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Isekai Shokudou: dwarves like good food too

The actually good isekai series is Isekai Shokudou, in which a Tokyo restaurant has a magic door that opens on a fantasy world once every seven days, for various fantasy types to stumble across and orgasm at its food. It’s a reasonably well done fusion of the isekai and foodgasm genres, with each episode having two short stories about one of the customers coming to visit the restaurant. It’s not just cute elf girls or fairy princesses either; the latest episode has two dwarves visiting for fried fish, beer and whisky. It’s this mixture that keeps the series fresh. Apart from that, it also does what any food based series should do: make you hungry.

Trapped in fantasyland/isekai series have been coming out at a regular clip ever since Sword Art Online, but three in a season is a bit much. Especially when none of them are anywhere near as good as frex KonoSuba was. There really is no need for such low grade fodder as Smartphone.

Germany is boring in its anime tastes too

How else to explain that the most watched show on Crunchyroll there is the utterly boring Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni?

European anime tastes turn out not to be all that sophisticated

At least The Netherlands goes for the idiosyncratically spelled Knight’s & Magic, which also a trapped in fantasyland story, but has giant robots and a Gundam model building salaryman as the protagonist, rather than just a boring teenage dude with a smartphone. Still disappointing though, as while it’s an okay show, it’s not a great show. Then again, that goes for most of the popular anime across Europe, with New Game!! being the best of the lot. It might just be that all the better series are not on Crunchyroll…