Sunday, June 26, 2011

Home is (Not) Where the Heart Is

Boy oh boy, where to start. I feel like I haven't done this in a long time.

This weekend was my second annual attendance at JAFAX, a free, grassroots based anime con run on the campus of Grand Valley State University that attracts several thousand nerds alike.

I am now sad.

Don't get me wrong; JAFAX 16 was a total, absolute blast. I love anime cons; taking in the atmosphere, seeing all the cosplays, the sense of family and comraderie among everyone. Laughing at crappy anime with people. The anime dating game this year was incredibly amazingly hilarious. Anime name that tune was fun. It was all great! I even got my picture taken 5 times (I was cosplaying as Naota Nandaba from FLCL).

So, why am I sad?

Friday, I left work at 11:30 AM to go to a concert north of here. Eve 6 was there, as well as three bands I had never heard of; Coldville, Push, and Deadwood Stone. I had a blast!

Then, Saturday and Sunday, JAFAX all day.

No time to worry about work. About life. About things. Mostly.

But the drive home? A trainwreck. Or a car crash.

I think my post awesome event depression is as close as I, as a male, can get to Post-Partum Depression. Anytime I am away from everything, I get sad when I have to return. The 1 hour car ride home stretched on for what felt like days, and at the same time, flew by in seconds, as I ruminated.

You see, anime cons, as much as I love them, are difficult for me, because I don't go with anyone and never will. And I don't hang out with anyone, and never will (I have no IRL friends). I love the crap out of them, but after pretending to be on my cell phone while at JAFAX for the 6th time or so, I realized that looking like you're alone is pretty much worse than being alone! Alas.

But JAFAX, Youmacon, PAX (video game con) were/are all great. I made the mistake of making friends way back in elementary school and junior high that would have trashed me and eaten me alive if they knew the extent of my nerdiness. These friends followed me into high school before I eventually cut all ties. Even my family, as much as they love and accept me, have a hard time not considering anime fandom weird and... childish. So these cons are a chance for me to be myself. To get away from work and responsiblity and be in an arena that is condusive to acceptance and friendship. And while this is 0 for 3 for me on introducing myself and making new friends, I can't help but feel like these moments are amazing. Like everything can be beautiful, and I can't take it.

I am 22 years old. In just a few years, I will be way at the top of the age bracket for these things. It's just a fact of life. I won't be the cool college age kid anymore, I'll be the sort of weird older 20s guy who finds a seat closest to the exit where nobody else is sitting and tried to act inconspicuous.

I don't want to get old. I can't imagine it. Ten years from now, I'll be even uglier, more out of shape, and have ten more years of solitude and failure under my belt. I want to die young. I feel like I am sitting on a bubble, and I throw all of my shit in that bubble, and it works, sometimes. But one day it is going to pop and cover me in all the shit I can think up.

It is Sunday night before work. JAFAX is gone for a year. Laughter that I experienced there won't be had for a long time. The memories will eventualy fade, like tears in rain. I won't cosplay again for a long time, because Youmacon is looking less and less likely as expenses pile up. Maybe it's for the best.

I had this post all drawn up on the way back home from JAFAX, and it sounded a lot cooler and more heartfelt and poetic then. Now, it is a mere shadow of its former self, lacking both the detail and the interesting factor that it could have.

Kind of like me.

I am sad.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FLCL: The Literary and the Unliterary

This is a rehash of sorts, but I have now re-watched FLCL twice in the last couple months, and it has gone from near favorite to definite favorite. I have an actual legitimate blog entry in the works, don't worry. But for now, here's an older writeup.

What strikes me about FLCL is that it is both the farthest anime from literature possible and one of the closest.

Some of the visuals, like when Naota is shot out of Canti as a white hot bullet, and uncurls and cools off into his human form, just can't be done anywhere outside of animation. Ditto with a lot of the crazy facial expressions and the like. Same with the auditory facets.

But on the flip-side, it is rife with foreshadowing, motiff, symbolism, and satire. Enough to make you think it started as a book in some crazy corner of the galaxy.

I actually think FLCL succeeds in being one of the most thought provoking animated works of all time; a zany, postmodern, superflat work that encourages a discussion of its recurring symbolism and social criticism. It's almost too much, in some respects, with even little details like right-handed or left-handed coming into play (left-handers being controlled by the 'creative' right hemisphere on the brain, and right handers by the more analytical right hemisphere). Naota lacking a mother makes him search for a sort of hybrid mother/lover (have to slip in some song lyrics) from all the girls he meets. The "relationship" with him and his brother is excellent; not once do we ever truly see his brother, but we understand perfectly what Naota is going through in his seemingly conflicting idolization and frustration with his older sibling's successes. Because of all of this, Naota tries very hard to be an adult by the way he acts and even the food he eats, culminating symbolically in the phallus shaped bump protruding from his forehead, growing bigger as the OVA carries on. Naota's thus liminal state is abused by the sexual advances of Mamimi, who is looking for sexual output in the absence of her boyfriend, Naota's older brother. Mamimi is referred to as a "native girl" and serves as a critique of traditional Japanese sexualization and culture, in contrast to Naota's liminal state encompassing both Japan, and an increasingly American influence by way of his brother. Notice the baseball bat he always carries around that serves as both a reminder of Naota's brother and American cultural imports.

Haruko is completely alien to the the "Japanese" flavor of the other characters, not just in looks (her eyes and hair), but in the Italian Vespa scooter and the imported bass she wields. Naota is now caught between the influence of Japan; Mamimi, and foreign culture (mostly American and other western values) in Haruko. Interestingly, Haruko's randomness and seemingly overreaching assertions of control is portrayed mostly positively by way of Naota, who becomes increasingly infatuated with her (i.e., American/western culture). Haruko's supervision of Naota can be seen as a metaphor for American led reconstruction in post World War II Japan.

Ninamori provides the catalyst for Naota's ultimate choice between American and western culture in Haruko, and (arguably) traditional Japanese aristocracy and classism by way of the positive portrayal of Ninamori's upper class standing.

There's a lot of other symbolism; notice that when Naota discusses his older brother, an airplane is always shown flying overhead, symbolizing his departure from Japan, and tying into the ever-present American ethos. Obviously, the vast sexual symbolism (Naota's horn, which isn't so subtle) are going to be hit and miss for people, but I think the creators of FLCL did a good job, mostly, of making these meaningful as opposed to simply trying to sell sex. While at times it seems to be too heavy-handed or too frequent, I think it largely contributes to the show positively. Same with the self-referential nature of some of the fourth-wall breaking moments, which most works of any medium flounder badly with when attempted.

The parody elements also tend to be hit-and-miss with people. I think the bullet time effects are ok in their exaggeration, although in a world now inundated with bullet time parodies and jokes, it loses some of its appeal that it had a decade ago. The Revolutionary Girl Utena references/parodies (notice that the "weapons" in each show are pulled form someone's body) are interesting if ultimately fairly simplistic. I think the South Park moment is pretty funny, myself.

Yes, this is all wrapped around a, what I think to be, successful coming-of-age story; Naota being a mostly everyday kind of kid growing up in not so everyday circumstances, but still grappling with the same issues that many of us will grapple with. Perhaps, at times, FLCL is too crammed and kinetic to make sense of everything it's trying to say, but I still maintain that it is incredibly important and largely very successful 21st century anime work.