A discussion on Harem, Tsundere, and Romance genres through Masamune-kun no Revenge (2017)

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(Note: This post was written after intentionally only watching 4/12 episodes)

I was feeling conflicted after watching the first few episodes of Masamune-kun no Revenge because, even though I didn’t think that the show was very good, I’ve been enjoying it nonetheless. And as someone who judges anime based on their first episodes, I had to question the reliability of my first impressions. Even as I watched each consequent episodes, I was struggling to determine whether my frustrations about the anime were warranted if I was enjoying it. I’ll be exploring the answers to these questions by discussing Masamune-kun’s harem, tsundere, and romance narratives.

Masamune-kun no Revenge, from Silver Link., is a currently airing Winter 2017 anime. MAL lists it as Harem, Comedy, Romance, School, and Shounen, and there are certain expectations to be had with this set of genres. Without a doubt, we can expect to encounter a story about a boy and his struggle to navigate through the drama and misunderstandings that come with having multiple girls like him at once. I understand that this premise is quite prevalent in anime, but for the purpose of this discussion, I won’t be drawing comparisons to its contemporaries (but Nisekoi is probably the most apparent).

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The intentional reason why I had decided to write this review after watching only the first 4 episodes is because the harem plot had just started at the very end of episode 4, when a rival/competing girl arrives and halts what seemed like a guaranteed relationship development between the two main characters. Frankly, I would have been perfectly happy to have the show ended right there before this had happened because the promise of their relationship had been establish enough. But the fact that a new girl character was introduced exactly at this point is a clear indication of its frustrating purpose. The problem with harem genres, other than it being a fanservice device pandering to the male audience (watching girls fight over a guy), is that it usually takes precedent over the show’s romantic narrative. The harem plot decides the length of the show by introducing new girls after each arc and have the main couple go through yet another drama and misunderstandings. And you can see how this quickly becomes uninteresting and rather annoying.

But I think the reason why many people, including myself, stick through this drama is because we’ve become invested in the characters. And to be fair, the establishment of connection with the characters was executed well in Masamune-kun, and this should be praised. And the essential component to this success, I think, is by having the main girl character be a tsundere character. Nearly all the harem series has a ‘tsun’ to ‘dere’ plot, which is when a girl with trust issues eventually falls in love with the guy because of his willingness and kindness. I think it’s unfortunate that tsundere characters are mostly exclusive to the harem genre because I find it easy to engage myself with tsundere characters. I find myself naturally empathizing with these characters because their brokenness and inability to trust feel incredibly human. But let me make it clear that there is a distinction between realistic tsundere characters and tsundere characters that were written just for the plot.

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Unfortunately for Masamune-kun, it’s more of the latter. The main girl, Adagaki Aki, is incomprehensibly and inconsistently warm and cold towards the MC, Makabe Masamune. And as a result, Adagaki’s character loses authenticity and becomes annoying, to the point where the show became frustrating to watch. But — just when I thought I was done with the show — they introduced the tsundere hook, which is the “sad” backstory of why she is the way she is: she had her heart broken by a boy when she was a kid. And even though I realized the emotionally manipulative nature of this device, it was effective because the flawed actions of someone with a trust issue is just as understandable as it is frustrating. The fact is, a lot of us live our lives by doing what we think is the best for our happiness. And this is Adagaki’s inner monologue:

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“I’m such a terrible person. I’ve always hurt other people so I wouldn’t get hurt. [But] if it means never having to go through that again, I’d rather be hated and have people keep their distance from me.”

Although my explanation of the show’s conventions have been pretty standard up to this point, there was something that made Masamune-kun different. Normally, the MC of a harem series is heart-warmingly (and impossibly) nice. They are altruistic, kind, and would easily sacrifice themselves to help another person. The twist in Masamune-kun’s story is that Makabe draws his intentions from wanting revenge (hence the title). It’s revealed to us that he had been planning this revenge, for the past 8 years of his life, because a girl had rejected him when he was a kid. This single event motivates him to change his name, move, and to “get hot”, in hopes that one day, he finds her and makes her fall in love with him, only to dump her afterwards. The show makes it clear that Makabe is a petty character.

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I’m going to go talk about the episodes for a bit. The show starts from Makabe’s first day in his newly transferred school. Just as Makabe walks in to the school, he sees Adagaki, who is the very girl that he had been plotting revenge against. She makes this big scene in front of the whole school as she publicly humiliates a guy for asking her out. The first half of episode 1 establishes the fact that Makabe is narcissistically proud of how all the girls (except for Adagaki) think that he is hot while Adagaki is described to “[have] the best grade in [their] year and is really beautiful [but acts stuck up]”.

There is an interesting dynamic at play as I realized that the show benefits — to a certain extent — from being intentionally frustrating. The cycle of frustration and relief, if done well, reels in the audience. And at the same time, when there is a payoff, it just becomes that much bigger. This is probably romantic drama 101 though.

For me, the main appeal of the show was watching Makabe and Adagaki interact. The tension between the two characters hating on each other, in a fun mix of explicit and implicit actions kept the show engaging. I appreciated how Makabe’s efforts to win Adagaki over often highlighted both of their inabilities and flaws. And this is where the heart of the show is revealed: as Makabe invests a lot of time and energy on Adagaki in trying to make the revenge happen, and as Adagaki is thereby shown persistent affection from Makabe, the two start to inadvertently fall for each other. And I think that this progression of closeness when they actively want to be mean to each other creates a certain sense of authenticity in their romance. As well, as the viewers find out more about their flaws, the more it appears that they’re actually perfect for each other. These underlying implications keep the overarching story engaging.

From here, I’m going to switch the tone to a negative one, because, even though the show has been enjoyable, it is hard for me to fully reconcile with the fact the show used cliche romantic plot devices along with a rather flat tsundere character. As the episodes progressed, the show’s push for the romance agenda between Makabe and Adagaki became painfully obvious and at times felt forced. What I mean is that in bringing the two characters to bond, Adagaki was put in vulnerable situations that caused her to need to rely on Makabe, and Makabe, in turn, was given some decent and reasonable characteristics that seems to contradict the pettiness of someone how would harbour hate for 8 years (spoilers):

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Episode 1:

  • Makabe finds out about Adagaki’s secret related to food. Adagaki is deeply embarrassed and tells Makabe not to tell anyone.
  • Makabe gets cut while protecting Adagaki from a guy that Adagaki had rejected earlier.

Episode 2:

  • Makabe is very aware of his good looks and popularity, but he still feels very shy when it comes to him meaningfully interacting with girls.
  • Makabe goes out of his way to help bring food to Adagaki.
  • Adagaki rejects Makabe, but does so without the usual the public humiliation. Soon after this she’s completely mean to Makabe again. (+1 for tsundere)

Episode 3:

  • Adagaki finds out that Makabe actually gets good grades and she sees him helping his friend study in a genuinely kind way.
  • Adagaki makes a fool out of herself by wearing cosplay to her date because she didn’t know any better. This implies that Adagaki is actually (in anime terms) an “airhead”. (+1 tsundere)
  • Makabe conveniently remembers in a flashback that Adagaki was actually quite nice to him 8 years ago, and that she is not all meanness. But only after all these years.

Episode 4:

  • Adagaki reflects on her past and how she had her trust broken as a child. (+1 tsundere)
  • Makabe literally saves Adagaki’s life from an oncoming traffic.

These events weave the characters together and puts them under a sympathetic light, but I feel that there is some artificiality in it. The strange eating disorder, cutting incident, and the car incident especially are clear plot devices — basically the deus ex machina of romance. And I also didn’t like how all of this seemed to be at the expense of Adagaki.

Although Masamune-kun is entertaining and engaging enough as a romanctic comedy anime, it wasn’t much more than what you would have expected from the start. Although this doesn’t mean that the show isn’t worth watching, there were definitely some scenes that made me go, “not this again”. But, of course, the show hasn’t ended yet. Somewhere along the plot, because of his original intentions of wanting a revenge, Makabe is going to have to prove to Adagaki that he really likes her. But in the end, the thing that makes me want to keep watching is because the show has its own emotional plot and integrity.

In closing, here are some of my romance anime recommendations:

Toradora!: romance drama (w/ tsundere)

Bakemonogatari: romance mystery (w/ tsundere)

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun: romance comedy (romance not actually developed)


[Source]

Image is from Masamune-kun no Revenge

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Origin story: TV and I (B-side)

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[Soundtrack: one x2, two, threefourfive]

So at the end of the A-side, I had mentioned that I rewatched Neon Genesis Evangelion after my first year of university where I was dealing with depression and paranoia. It spoke to me, and it forever established a special place in my heart. I felt deeply understood, perhaps even for the first time in my life. Going on a bit of a tangent here, I think that Hideaki Anno (director or NGE) uses his art to try and connect with other human beings because he can’t do it by any other means. That’s just what I see. And although this is socially maladaptive in a very real sense, I see him as a genius and an artist (I want to add here that in my current perspective, the greatest artists are not tortured geniuses). And this is exactly how I feel about Kanye West, but that’ll be a story for another time.

Just as a quick disclaimer, I want to mention that this next part was rough to write. It’s not that I felt hesitant about sharing it, but that that it was genuinely difficult to navigate through the details of events when I was experiencing some degrees of psychosis and my marijuana use was high no pun intended.

I think it was around the same time when I — almost obsessively — started seeking out anime titles that I saw as a kid in Korea. I would become increasingly distraught by artifacts of memories (be it a 5 note motif or a certain sequence of plot) that I would happen to remember randomly. This wasn’t triggered by weed, as I’ve been wondering what the sources of those artifacts were for serveral years, but weed definitely acted as a gateway that connected me back to my childhood memories (google “weed childhood memories”, it’s a real thing). Especially during stressful times, I found myself strongly yearning for a childlike simplicity and innocence.

I was able to find one of my favourite childhood anime fairly quickly, called Cooking Master Boy. It’s a classic 90s shonen anime where you have a skill (cooking, in this case) and you as a kid would go on grand adventures while honing your skills, making friends, and saving the world. This anime couldn’t have come at a better time because for the majority of my first year, I was eating about one meal a day. I wasn’t anorexic — although I definitely had some pervasive self-image issues — I just didn’t have the appetite. For most of my life, I remember not liking the food that my mom cooked me (ungrateful, I know), but this led to many fights between us that led to me forming a bitter attitude towards food. Mao (MC from CMB) on the other hand, learned to cook from his mom, and he always cooked to make other people happy. This, along with weed, revitalized my appetite and made me appreciate the love that my mom had for me.

For a bit, I’m going to change the narrative from chronological to ideological.

One of my biggest fears in life have to do with forgetting. It’s no accident that I started keeping a journal, though this wasn’t my primary motivation. My grandmother had alzheimer’s and it can be incredibly sad and difficult to deal with. It also seems that memory loss is inescapable with old age. That’s scary. As I had mentioned earlier, I had these pieces of my past (sorry for dramatizing childhood memories) coming to me every so often. I’ve always wanted to figure out from which anime the memories came from, in part to remember my Korean culture and heritage. Ironically enough, one of the most resonating and haunting plot/theme that I could remember was about this girl who was pulled into a magical world and made friends there, only at end she had to go back to her own world knowing that all her memories in that world would be erased. Incredibly heartbreaking, for me anyways. I even remembered this 5 note motif that played during when she was saying her farewell to her friends. Well, I was eventually able to find it, and if you want to check it out it’s called Petite Princess Yucie. It made my eyes roll when I had realized that Gainax (anime studio of NGE) produced it.

Similar to this story, I spent a lot of time tracking down anime that aired in Korea based on bits of my childhood memory. This became quite easy at some point, with the emergence of 나무위키 (a Korean wiki that’s a degree closer to Encyclopedia Dramatica but still mostly legit) and many YouTube videos of old Korean anime. None of these resources were present prior to ’10s. I can honestly say that these OP and ED brought an incredible amount of joy to me as I re-listened to them a decade later. I was surprised at how much memory came back as soon as I heard the very first sounds — I felt like a child again. Also, I couldn’t believe how much TV I had watched as a kid (I knew at least a 100 anime titles). It was a flood of memories and feelings.

This also led to my fascination of the linguistic differences between Korean and English, as the themes and sounds of the music present in OP were so incredibly different from the sounds and philosophy I had acquired here. For me, the OP felt familiar, yet completely unfamiliar at the same time. It was so interesting how expressions were translationed, how one culture was more partial to certain ideas, and how certain words just could not be translated. I then realized just how much language plays a role in shaping and even directly processing one’s thoughts. With two cultures and two languages inside of me, I started to appreciate the duality of my perspectives. And although I watched anime in Japanese, in my head — as I read the English subtitles — I would try to figure out what the Korean dub would be saying. This allowed me to affectionately revisit the cultural attitudes and feelings of my upbringing.

I want to briefly mention Fullmetal Alchemist. When I tried to watch it as a kid (maybe around the same time as when I watched Naruto), one of the very first scenes traumatized me. I became afraid of the dark all over again. I was able to finish it, but it was years later. Let me finish my opinion on the franchise by saying that to this day, every time I watch FM: Brotherhood, no matter which episode I start watching it from, I will stay on the ride until the end. It’s that engaging of a story.

Now let’s go back to the somewhat chronological order. In my second year, I didn’t really watch anime. I was back to watching American TV shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. I also took a break from smoking weed for the whole 8 months. A weird thing happened near the end of my second year: a friend from my jazz combo put me onto hip hop. I remember not liking hip hop in high school (to be fair, it would be like someone saying that they hate metal because they don’t see the appeal of Metallica) but that attitude slowly changed. Starting from good kid, m.A.A.d city (because I wanted to understand why this Macklemore person made so many people angry about this album), I was listening solely to hip hop by the beginning of 3rd year (I went all out too, like I joined a hip hop club which I am currently the president).

In the spring of 2015, during the end of my 3rd year, I came upon something that truly touched me. It was the Korean OP of Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. I don’t know why, but as soon as the OP started, I froze, and I had a feels trip. I vaguely recognized it as something that I had caught a 10-minute glimpse of when I was like 7. But I was immediate thrown back into that space. It was something that I didn’t know I had been longing for until the moment came. I think I cried. It was so nostalgic and it seemed to define the happy and adventurous spirit I was as a child — a part of myself I had completely forgotten about. So of course I watched it. And I think for the first time in a while, I was constantly having a good high with no anxiety.

That month (I think March?), I was intensely engrossed in the world of Hideaki Anno (also directed Nadia) as I also fell in love with Kare Kano. Surely enough, I remember seeing the title as a kid, but I mean, as an elementary kid, I had no interest in something titled “That man that women” (translated Korean title). It was a magical month, and to this day that month feels like a very special time in my life. This event ultimately led to the start of me producing music. At the time, I just wanted to share the joy I found through music with other people. This sometimes became delusions of grandeur (people need to hear this, I am what the world needs) while I experimented with psychedelics.

As for my 4th year, I have three words: The Boondocks, DJing, and dark-Atlanta-trap. The bad news, however, was that I failed a lot of courses that year. And the depression that I thought I had finally gotten a handle on, was once again depriving me of life. It guilted me out of happiness, it petrified me in times of stress, and it made me blind to the love around me. And the scary thing was, it consistently seemed to come by around 8pm everyday.

While I had a few strong moments of determination to change my life over the years — to stop eating unhealthy, to exercise, to stop watching porn, to stop skipping classes, to stop feeling like shit basically — it was all unfortunately temporarily. After years of depression, perhaps the worst voice to come about was maybe this is just my life. I felt like I was drowning, and I felt so confused all the time.

So how did I go from there to here? I’m not sure. At the time, I found myself desperately praying that I wanted to change. I didn’t like my current self and how I was feeling all the time — I just wanted to be good and to feel good. For once, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try and actually put faith in God. I don’t know, I’ve been running with it.

Winter 2015 wasn’t without its great shows, however, Rick and Morty was simply superb. What helped generalize my anime fandom was when I saw my new roommate watching Konosuba. He doesn’t normally watch anime and he doesn’t know that I watch anime. But as soon as I caught a glimpse of it, I thought oh god what is this fanservice trash? Well it turns out that it wasn’t trash, but anyways, at this point, I’ve never ever disclosed my involvement with ecchi anime to anyone. I felt like it would be like telling people you used to watch porn but it’s not quite porn and it’s in drawings. Although… to be fair, that’s kind of what it is. But, at the time, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I felt some shame for having watched them, but also, there was undeniably something about it that I enjoyed. I couldn’t understand what it was at the time so my intentions felt misguided. Moreover, I found it hard to understand many other parts about myself in general. Who was I? Why does the me from my high school years seem like a complete stranger? How could I being to explain what had happened with my first relationship? How will I ever reconcile with my family?

These were incredibly difficult questions for me, but I knew that I had to sober up first. I’ve come a long way since my first year of depression, and I’ve certainly learned and healed a lot. Well, somehow, I found myself at a church even though I hadn’t gone for years. It was a weird service, or rather, it wasn’t a service at all. It was the resignation speech of the head pastor saying that he couldn’t afford the housing prices in Vancouver (oversimplification and a joke). What really touched me though, was how the congregation was moved into weeping. I mean even from what I could tell as a first impression, he was a man who really poured out his life to the people that he was leading.

That was it. I wanted to become a that. I wanted to become a leader. I had always wanted to help people — afterall, this was the primary reason for switching into psychology. That and the fact that I really wanted to understand this thing we communicate as depression. I loved hip hop for its ability and platform to encourage people through words. And it was music at the same time. As I took a good hard look at myself (which was long overdue), I realized that I wasn’t doing the best I could at my school, my job, or even in my music production. I was constantly in a cycle of anxiety. That needed to change. And for me to want others to change, I needed to change first.

So it’s now 8 months after that Sunday. And we’re nearing the end of 2016. I thought I was going to talk extensively about all the anime I saw this winter term as I prefaced back in the A-side, but I guess I won’t be doing that on this post. But just to mention my favourite titles, they were: the Fate/stay night visual novels, K-On!, New Game!, Bakemonogatari, and Toradora.

By the way, K-On! straight up changed my life. It accounts for why I’m in the slice-of-life anime phase now and it plays a big role in explaining my personal love for anime further. It somehow even ties together with my promise to elaborate on porn and fanservice anime. I also won’t be talking about this on today’s post but I got my inspiration from a post by Bobduh called Nisemonogatari and the Nature of Fanservice,  Ctrl+F  “Episode 8. Dental hygiene.” There is also an incredible editorial by gendomike (who has now unfortunately retired from blogging) on the broader topic called “I’m Only Interested In 2D Girls!”: On Lust, Animated Desire, and Gender Expectations.

This post turned out to be a lot longer than I had anticipated. I never meant to break it down into 2 parts. And although even I can tell that I could have written some of the parts better, I feel good about this as a starting place. I definitely learned a lot, both about myself and about writing. It has been an amazing past two days for me — writing on the ferry, at Blenz, and whenever I came home from work. It was also such a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on basically my whole life through exploring what TV series I had been drawn to over the years. It seems very fitting for an end of the year post. Thanks so much for reading!


[Source]

Image is screenshot of LCL Sea from The End of Evangelion

Soundtrack one is [When I Think About the Lord by James Huey] played on piano by Melody Henning Long

Soundtrack two is Ame iro Rondo by Hashimoto Yukari

Soundtrack three is Akogare by Mitsumune Shinkichi

Soundtrack four is Peace Reigns in the Land by Sagisu Shirou

Soundtrack five is Greendale is Where I Belong by Ludwig Göransson