Self-Image and the Teenage (Anime) Girl

iwai

I know it’s a character design quirk, but I really want to give Iwai (and Mikasa, for that matter) a barrette so that they could pin their hair back. How could they stand to have their hair right between their eyes all the damn time? I only speak from personal experience — it happened to me all the time in sixth grade (when I decided to give myself bangs ’cause I thought it made me look cuter) and I swear I got cross-eyed staring at the stray strands of hair that always fell in my line of vision. Since then, I swore off bangs and have pretty much lived in a ponytail ever since.

Anyhow, there was a small moment in Red Data Girl this week that prompted this post: when Izumiko and Miyuki were studying in the library, Takayanagi strolls by and makes a little comment about Izumiko and her long her, and she reacts to this by self-consciously running her hands down her braids and looking down and away from him. It’s no secret that Izumiko has confidence issues, but even in this short meeting, with no words being exchanged between her and Takayanagi, she was able to communicate clearly her self-perception of her body.

I’ve written about adolescent issues in RDG previously, so the show’s treatment of Izumiko and her “normal” development in her not-normal situation has already primed my interest. Despite the supernatural phenomena occurring around her, Izumiko continues to live and act as a normal teenage girl. When she tells Manatsu that she’s not good at anything, she’s downplaying herself. She’s good at coping with stressful situations, bouncing back from events that would traumatize anybody else, and staying as resilient as ever. Of course, given that she’s focusing all of her energies in dealing with stress, she obviously doesn’t have the time to work on other hobbies and interests, so yes, she’s not good at a lot of things simply because she can’t. It’s also not just her — if you think about all the teenage anime characters, male and female, who’ve had to deal with their own brand of crazy situations, it’s a wonder any of them even leave their houses in the morning.

Yet, as a teenager, Izumiko isn’t proud of her amazing coping skills; she’s more worried about looking cute and blending in her new school. When Mayura changes her hairstyle for the first day of school, Izumiko follows suit, going without her trademark red eyeglasses even though she was warned by her mother never to go without them. Again, the rebellious streak returns and while it may not have been to smartest decision to go without them, at the time, Izumiko didn’t think it was going to be that bad. It’s dramatic irony that we know the significance of the glasses and that Izumiko doesn’t. In changing her outward appearance — with the glasses and the haircut — Izumiko is consciously altering her external image to match her changing self-image. Slowly but surely, she is growing up. And just as surely, she is making these small physical changes to indicate to the world (and perhaps herself) that she is no longer that little girl.

Which leads back to Iwai…prior to meeting Kiri, she had stopped going to school after being constantly bullied by her classmates for her appearance. In her case, her self-image was distorted by the idea that she was a freak because of her hair. So until the daily haircuts with Crime Edge, Iwai must have felt that there was no way to deflect or respond to the taunts and teasing. There’s no way hair could be that long! Something must be weird about her! In Iwai’s situation, the supernatural aspect is much more evident; she knew that she was cursed with this appearance and that there was no solution to fix it until Kiri came along.

With Iwai, the sense of hopelessness was more pervasive. The curse trapped her by removing her (sense of) agency. I was critical of her earlier — thinking that she was not confident enough to solve her own problems — but now I admit that I was wrong. The drawer full of scissors proves that Iwai’s problem isn’t for lack of trying. She didn’t stay in that situation because she wanted to, she stayed there because she didn’t know what else to do.

This is a topic that I think could write about forever. Shoujo series, understandably, cover this territory more frequently, but when series that aren’t primarily meant for girls also tackle this issue, it just goes to prove that it’s an situation worthy of notice. How anime presents a girl’s perception of herself is, in itself, something worth at least a passing interest.

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Curse of the Queen of Hair

It was a funny little throwaway detail: Iwai’s ancestor, Zablefahr, was the first Queen of Hair and essentially the origin of all of their current problems. Zablefahr left behind two curses: the first one explains the origin of the Killing Goods, which are the possessions of the killers endowed with special properties, whereas the second explain Iwai’s own curse, the Queen of Hair passing on to her own descendants the legacy of having hair that cannot be cut, thus continuing the awful fate of the Queen of the Hair and the Killing Game.

Thanks Professor, I mean, that totally explains everything.

Iwai’s shocked reaction during this scene was really interesting to me. This infodump about the curse must not be new to her — was she just afraid for Kiri to hear the truth out loud? Kiri, at this point, is pretty much taking all of this in stride. Things have been weird ever since he decided to talk to Iwai, so what’s another strange story.  Iwai, on the other hand, acts as if she is only finding out about everything just now. She knows about the Killing Goods, she knows about the secret organization, and I’m sure she knows (prior to Crazy Megane announcing it during the fight with Kiri) that the endgame is her death. Are her reactions merely a result of her own denial?

(This may sound insensitive, but I’m honestly surprised that Iwai hasn’t taken her own life yet. If there are crazy killers out there fighting over the chance to get a wish granted through her death, wouldn’t it be easier to screw them over and end the game on her own terms? Whatever, I know I’m morbid.)

Like Izumiko, Iwai also belongs to the “I Want to be a Normal Girl” club. Again, it may just be me, but with a cloud of death constantly hanging over her, it seems that being teased by her classmates as a result of her long hair should be the least of Iwai’s problems.  Iwai’s curse doesn’t seem to be a result of her ancestor’s impetuous nature, but rather, her own insecurity. Until Kiri showed up, Iwai choose of her own will to give in and stay at home, protected by the two crazy sisters and the lolicon professor.  If she wants to be normal, she has to take her fate into her own two hands and claim it through her own strength. Otherwise, she can dream about it all she wants, she will never have it.

Picking Your Spring Anime, aka Anime Blogger Groupthink

image credit: zerochan

I enjoy the beginning of each new anime season (or cour, if you wish). Every aniblogger gets that new shiny anime love glow, leading us to post more often, even getting the old and crotchety of us to dust off the cobwebs off our WordPress accounts to write again. I confess to refreshing Crunchyroll’s website a couple of times an hour, sending them psychic messages from my brain and willing them to release a new episode of anything quicker.

I’ve watched several of the new series over the weekend: Devil Survivor 2, The Severing Crime Edge, Zettai Bouei Leviathan, Hataraku Maou-sama, Suisei no Gargantia, Muromisan. From that selection, it’s a mixed bag; I enjoyed a couple, still on the fence on one, and dropping the rest with no hesitation. There’s a couple of series that haven’t been released on CR or other legal streaming sites so I’ll hold off on my opinion till they’re available.

One of the more interesting quirks of anime bloggers (and this is a very sweeping generalization) is the race to be the first one to write about a show. The advent of simulcasts has changed the landscape a bit, but I still recall downloading the raw files, despite my elementary knowledge of the Japanese language, just so I wouldn’t be spoiled by bloggers who’ve written about that episode hours ago. I’m not sure — and I’m certainly not picking out bloggers who still do this — but I had a feeling most of the people who downloaded the raws didn’t know any more Japanese than I did. It was just that important to be the first person to make the screencaps and to summarize the episode based on what they think happened. If they made a mistake in the summary, it was easy enough to back and revise the post. There you go, no problemo!

The anime adaptation of Flowers of Evil, in my opinion, has certainly suffered from this initial bad PR. When screencaps featuring the character designs started showing up, I had a feeling that it turned off a lot of people who were initially excited about the series. It had seemed that some weren’t even going to give the anime a fair viewing; they knew that the anime wasn’t going to match their expectations from the manga so why waste their time? I’ve read a couple of volumes of Flowers of Evil last year, it didn’t appeal to me so this show was a definite pass anyway — nonetheless, I still find it interesting to look at aniblogger group behavior and influence and to watch how quickly an opinion or idea spreads and how the group interprets and filters it.

How much does the opinion of the anime blogging community affect your own choices?

I’ll only speak for myself since I’m the only person for whom I can speak with the most certainty, but I do think I mostly follow the crowd when judging on what series are worth watching. I would scan Animenano, pick out a few random posts about the series in question, maybe go to MyAnimeList and see what the mean rating score is. I sometimes also go on twitter and scroll through people’s first impressions/liveblogs of certain shows — that’s definitely trickier but I can get a lot more opinions faster that way, so… Most importantly (maybe), I have a handful of blogs whose tastes and opinions I value — I visit their sites and see if they’re recommending it or not.

For these “node” blogs, I selected them based on the quality of the author’s writing, their similarity with my own personal tastes, heck even the background and personality of the author. (That’s why those ‘About’ pages are so important!) There are no hard and fast rules, and the node blogs could change at any time.

I’ve flitted in and out of the anime blogger community over the years, and while the individual players may have changed, the game is still the same. We are all here and we all do this because we are opinionated individuals who care about anime enough that we’re willing to spend our time watching anime and then writing about it for other opinionated individuals who think and act the same way. I’ve always thought that was cool.