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Women and Anime: Mawaru Penguindrum

Quickly! Late, I know. Part of this is going to require knowledge of kawaisa, and I have a post on that already, just skip two thirds down. For those uninitiated with the series, I’ve limited the spoilers to about the first half of the series. Also, what the hell are you doing reading this? Watch it. Now.

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Mawaru Penguindrum, a 26 episode series, created by Kunihito Ikuhara is anime trying to make a modern myth about fate. There’s avoiding fate, finding fate, creating fate, losing to fate, and most of all, changing fate. A by-product of this fate fixation is that Penguindrum comments on the most common type of social determinism, gender roles.  Ikuhara, however, does so in a very Japanese way, reflecting the ways men and women are expected to act in his society and the overriding aesthetic. While the series is not mainly concerned with gender roles, Ikuhara remains a man who is definitely concerned about it. As a result, a lot the metaphors and a analogies for fate, work similarly for convention. Mawaru Penguindrum really argues for a more family centric society, where the roles are determined by necessity, not birth. So we see a flexible family structure, opposed by obsession and, as is often the case in anime, the bad guy is overcome by love.

For those who have yet to watch the show, Mawaru Penguindrum stars an idealised orphan family of the two brothers and their younger sister. In the midst of their happiness (which is so cute and sugary that witnessing it could incite diabetes), Himari gets some horrific disease which cannot be cured. Her brothers, Kanba and Shoma, attempt to live out her last days as best as they can manage. After a penguin-themed adventure, she dies, then comes back to life, possessed by a spirit demanding that the brothers acquire the penguindrum to save her.

This summary is nonsensical in the way that someone not familiar with anime would still say, “that sounds like Japan,” and that is very much the point. Cuteness and absurdity are a key part of Japanese pop culture, and Ikuhara uses that to inform the viewer of his perception of Japan. Kawaisa masks the severity of rape, cults, and mass murder, all of which are discussed in Penguindrum. Ikuhara doesn’t mean to say that cuteness is bad. He’s regularly embraced it in past work. Not to mention that the series is better for its high fructose-based reality distortion, as the story feels more like a fable, where the moral stakes are higher than physical ones. In Penguindrum, kawaisa is simply the lens through which fate and –for better or for worse– women are seen.

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China Heavyweight: A Boxing Movie About China (And No Heavyweights)

In the county of Huili, Mohammad Ali and Confucius appear to walk hand in hand. New trainees, straight from the China’s provincial farmland, get the opportunity to become like the boxing legends of yore. It’s a typical sports story, which would be entirely unremarkable, except for its cultural fusion and the exquisite cinematography.

China Heavyweight, a new documentary from Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang, showcases China’s return to boxing, viewed from the eyes of young hopefuls in the earthy Sichuan province. The return comes after a thirty year ban, which disappeared with much of the old communist doctrine. As the economy flourished, suddenly a violent, highly competitive sport just seemed to fit with the new ideology. Time to refine the population from raw material down to valued product. Only now does that shift trickle down to students Miao Yunfei, He Zhongli and their coach, Qi Moxiang. Read the rest of this entry

Serious Analysis: Portal 2

Hello the five people who read this blog, I am going to be doing a weekly blog post called ‘Serious Analysis’ on series or parts of series that I enjoyed.  These could be video games, anime, books, comics, animation, live action, TV or movies that I think are significant in some way and will attempt to inspire readers to look at these works in a new light or look at them in general.

This week, I am analyzing a game that neither needs added compliment nor attention, but I will give it that anyway. Portal 2 was released last week to much fanfare by the game press and fans, and is by Valve’s founder’s view, the best game they’ve ever published. And I agree. Now I could discuss this game to an endless degree, in terms of game design, dialogue and atmosphere, but I want to eschew that for one particular thing. I want to talk about how it rewards you. Specifically I want to talk about the ending, because I think it is an important hallmark of video game creation. And if that hasn’t scared you off already, you should know that this post will be intensively spoiler ridden. You will ruin the ending of Portal 2 if you read any further. This is not a drill. Read the rest of this entry