Anime fandom parallel to hip hop: my “normie” perspective

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As indicative of my recent posts pertaining to anime in general rather than individual anime series, my intention is to build a solid knowledge base in anime. Although in part motivated by my novelty to the medium, I’m also genuinely interested in learning about it; I don’t want to just enjoy consuming anime, I want to be able to understand and celebrate the thing I love. And in seeking this holistic understanding of anime, I want to be able to explain and share this passion with others.

Myself prior to getting into anime can be described as a twentysomething student living in the Canadian West Coast who would use the word ‘fam’. I never went as far as using vernacular such as ‘mad ting’, but it wouldn’t have been so out of place among my friends, many of whom are rappers. Speaking of which, I would like to call attention to how prevalent the African American Vernacular English (AAVE)–and the currently emerging Eastern-Canadian/London patois popularized by Drake and BBK–has become in the North American popular culture; hip hop has undeniably been integrated with the American society, growing alongside America since its come up.

While this is sort of obvious, at least when you think about it, what fascinates me is how anime seems to be becoming mainstream as well, in the West. Although my personal subscription of media content is biased, I think noticing anime’s popularity is a reasonable observance, which has been especially noticeable in meme culture. And in my frame of reference, Porter Robinson’s Shelter signaled a groundbreaking assimilation of anime into the popular culture, which cemented my anime fandom that only really started (a month prior) in September of 2016.

A semester (4 months) later, I would be experiencing my first time following an anime season (Winter 2017), which–by the end of this week–I will be finishing 9 of the season’s titles. This number isn’t even including many older series I’ve also been watching and… I found myself asking why, as this is objectively a lot of anime. Well, you could say that I’m obsessed (aka otaku), but probably, this is just a phase. I’m not implying that I’ll stop watching anime–it’s too culturally and nostalgically significant for me–but the time allocated to anime will naturally decrease.

There used to be a time when I would listen to at least one hip hop album a day as I felt inspired by rap and I wanted to learn everything I could about hip hop. I actively researched for ‘classic’ albums that I should listen to if I wanted to understand the culture. And I seriously dove right in: I’ve rapped, produced, DJed, and right now I’m even running a hip hop club at my university. What’s crazy is that this only started (almost exactly) 3 years ago when my friend invited me out to Rappers Without Borders, the aforementioned student club. But even though hip hop has solidified itself as a major element of my life, it doesn’t replace people, relationships, and community–and it’s going to be the same for anime.

In saturating myself with anime for the past 8 months (and I’ve actually yet to be satiated), I feel a satisfying sense of understanding for the current landscape of anime. And in feeling this way, I also realize my separation and differences in perspectives compared to the people who have watching anime for years: my appreciation of the ‘moe’ sub-culture. Before some of you dismiss me–although, really, who cares–what I understand of moe is that it’s very difficult to define it due to how diversely it is being understood and used today. And so, in clarification, when I say moe culture, while still acknowledging moe blob, loli, and CGDCT, I personally enjoy its focus on relational aspects of story telling (although this is slice of life), and the clean, cute, and colourful aesthetics they usually entail. In music genres, moe is the bigroom of EDM (generic), trap of hip hop (over-saturated), pop music in general (good production)–and all of these things are easy to consume.

Now, even if I recognize this, someone like me who actively enjoys moe may be frustrating to many. Although I can try to explain my pickiness within the moe genres, I can certainly sympathize with this frustration: hip hop has ‘youngins’ who only listens to Lil Yachty, Kodak Black, or 21 Savage. No shade against them, it’s just that they represent the currently over-saturated and derivative (mumble rap) trap sub-culture of hip hop. But let me offer this perspective, in prioritizing togetherness, understanding, and celebration of the positives: not that we can even stop art from evolving, new fans of the medium are nonetheless new fans. There’s no reason to discredit them or worry about the medium’s demise, because true fans will always seek out for more, as I am doing.

But I’ll admit: I have not seen all the ‘classics’, and at this point in time, it’s not my priority to watch all of them anytime soon (my MAL has over 100 PTW titles). I’m talking abut Ghost in the Shell (I couldn’t finish it), Your Lie in April, Clannad, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and the list goes so on. While it could be argued that the classics must be watched in order to truly understand the medium, I think having this reference (at this point in time) is relevant in reflection of how newcomers come into the anime fandom.

My perspective, then, is when I came to the fandom that was post-Eva, post-Haruhi, post-NHK, post-K-On!, and post-Shirobako. I came in and enjoyed the likes of New Game! and Gabriel Dropout while also enjoying NGE and NHK. I didn’t hate One Room, I didn’t think the Monogatari series were confusing, I agree with the popular opinion that FMA:B is great, I’m slowly watching Cowboy Bebop… and K-On! is my favourite. Compared to modern anime, I don’t particularly like the character designs of early 2000s like in Clannad. These are just some of the ways to describe my viewing experiences.

In hip hop, there is a fairly vague divide in what we call old school and new school, in which old school is now synonymous with boom-bap (Just Blaze) and G-Funk (Dre). The original 80s sound of hip hop is probably called ‘super old school’ or ’80s hip hop. New school is whatever is new, which is trap right now so I guess the stuff in the middle like early Drake and MBDTF Kanye are… throwbacks? I guess it really depends on who you ask. And if Kanye’s 808 is said to have influenced all following 808 focused productions, K-On! is analogous in having created the CGDCT boom that is still popular today. Or was that Lucky Star (and Man on the Moon: The End of Day)?

In closing, I find it incredibly interesting that hip hop and anime actually amalgamates in some crossroads. Lupe and Logic watches anime (regularly?) and Kanye, at the very least, appreciates anime. And in both cultures, music is a huge part of the medium, which is a big reason for me being involved in the first place–I’ve seen entire anime series just because I liked the OP. I also can’t help but love the intonation of ‘seiyu’ (voice actors) and their dramatic, syllabic delivery of lines reminiscent of rapping.

There’s also vapourwave, which stands at an interesting junction between the two, a genre which is the soundtrack to the meme culture, that has the sampling aspect of hip hop and in which many of these samples are from ’80s Japanese funk records. How did this come to be? I don’t know, but it feels somehow catered to me.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found my frame of references as interesting as I did thinking about it. To read up on other personal perspectives, check out Diary of an Anime Lived.


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Image is from K-On!

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Winter 2017: mid-season update

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It’s already been a month since my what I’m watching in Winter 2017 post and many of this season’s anime are at their 9th episode by the end of this week. It’s crazy to think that I’ve only started to watch anime regularly since last September, and this season is the first time I’m taking part to watch anime as they air and talk about it with the community.

Much of my views and perspectives have shifted since the beginning of the season. Although this was probably expected, I think I now have a better understanding of the culture around anime and what I can expect to enjoy in the future. Moreover, I think I have a better sense of what’s normal and what’s exceptional.

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I had mentioned that Urara was my favourite at the time. While it’s definitely what I look forward to on Friday mornings, its quirky blend of cute, spiritual, dark, and sexual themes are not exactly what I had expected. While there are still heartfelt moments and is enjoyable to watch, the driving narrative can be rather stagnant at times. A casual 7/10 (previously a strong 7/10).

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Konosuba is going so strong. The humor has become more character based and it works so well. It never takes itself seriously and is often outrageously funny. Not much more needs to be said. A very strong 7/10 (a solid 7/10).

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For a while, my favourite from this season has been Dropout. The character combinations of lazy deadpan, troll, nice and dependable, and hopelessly inept has been one of the best things I’ve ever seen. And its portrayal of Christianity as a religion from a non-Western perspective has been surprisingly thought provoking. A solid 8/10 (a solid 7/10).

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What kept surprising me in terms of enjoyment was Maid Dragon. I guess it’s the KyoAni slice of life magic. It always manages to highlight the struggles and the joys of life in a way you don’t expect. And it’s heartwarming. The characters feel very real after establishing who they are as characters. A solid 7/10 (no change).

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I dropped Seiren after its 2nd arc which was episode 8. It just got worse and worse as it went on. There was absolutely no realism in the characters and there was nothing to feel or enjoy from watching them. The first arc was okay. A light 6/10 (a light 7/10).

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I’m not exactly sure what’s happening in Chaos;Child, but it works pretty well as a thriller. Even though the pacing is the same episode to episode, it never fails to get me when its tone shifts from casual to anxious. Apart from its thriller component, the characters are quite generic and boring. a strong 6/10 (a strong 6 to a light 7/10).

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From just the first few episodes, I had agreed that Little Witch Academia was superb. Right now, not so much. Perhaps it’s the expectations. While certainly not a bad anime, it doesn’t follow up to the thrill and the pacing of the first few episodes. An 8/10 (a solid 8/10).

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Although perhaps undignified, I started watching One Room. But I don’t think I can really call this action ‘watching’ (at least in the same context as the other anime) when it’s only 3 minutes per episode (w/o the ED). It’s kind of interesting that this the first POV style anime. It’s certainly pandering to a certain male audience, and it’s transparently indicative of how anime culture likes to portray girls. First arc was about your simple and airheaded girl next door who thinks you’re super nice the second arc was about your cute little sister who deeply cares for you. No rating.

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Lastly, I had also started watching Masamune-kun no Revenge. I did a fairly lengthy analysis on the first 4 episodes because I felt strongly compelled to express the dichotomy of my enjoyment and frustration with the series. The anime has since changed direction a little bit, proving to be less of a harem anime, but it still keeping trope traits such as having the main heroin be underdeveloped and have a bad personality. The Pedantic Romantic has a fantastic mid-series review (albeit having a lot of filler rant), and articulates my frustrations succinctly: lot of artificial conflict and characters are actually socially inept.

Well, that’s it for now, maybe I’ll see you at the season end review.


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Screenshot is from 3-gatsu no Lion

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)


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Image is from Masamune-kun no Revenge

First thoughts on Urara Meirochou (2017)

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(Note: This post was written after watching just the first episode)

Urara Meirochou is a 2017 Winter season anime from J.C.Staff. Quite frankly, I decided to watch this series because it looked cute asf. But what added to my anticipation waiting for the series to start was when I checked that Urara’s source was 4-koma manga. Some of my favourite anime have been adapted from 4-koma manga (like K-On! and New Game!), and so I was hoping that Urara would be another good one. Settings wise, this is a standard moe narrative involving CGDCT (cute girls doing cute things).

The strange thing is, however, for a CGDCT anime, I thought that I felt some dark implications in its tone. For one thing,  Urara had a rather muted colour palette instead the bright, poppy, and cheerful colour palettes I’ve comes to expect from modern anime like New Game! or Konosuba. Not only this, I thought that the leaf reading and kokkuri scenes were actually trippy and fairly serious in tone compared to its contemporaries dealing with magic and spirits.

I’m having a hard time putting this feeling into words at the moment but the vibe of Urara is strangely reminiscent of 2000s era anime in that it has an “earthy” feel to it. On top of the colours, the outlines are more in sketches than clean and minimal lines that are stylistic of modern anime. And just… how shall I put it, the plot feels more like a shonen anime than a moe anime — there is adventure waiting to be had.

There was some ecchi too. And I couldn’t believe that they somehow brought ecchi into an anime depicting 15 year old girls. But although it’s obviously catering to a certain audience, I kind of appreciated the playfulness of it rather than straight up ecchi fanservice. Feral is apparently the new savage.

Towards the end of the episode, it seemed like the writers needed to force the plot into the 20 minute time frame, because all of a sudden, there was this cliche ecchi scene involving skirts and a rather noticeable background music shift. But I would have to say that this was the only time the story’s immersion broke.

Overall, I think this will be one of the more popular anime of this season due to how cute it is. I’m looking forward to watching more of it.

Edit:  My roommate Edward got back to Vancouver just a few days ago, and we decided to kick this year off with Urara’s pilot. Cheers to another fun year of watching anime together!


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Image is from Urara Meirochou