[I’ve finished this week with a bad cold… so just an aborted introduction and scattered thoughts while I try to fall asleep and wake up again.]
Why do people take, and mean, “so boring I fell asleep” as an insult? It’s among the highest praise!
Consider Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The show seems to have won a new life as an old-timey nostalgia trip for adults. Somehow, it has remained relevant over a decade after Roger’s death, with a surprisingly strong media presence via the Twitch stream marathon, the new documentary, and frequent mentions in recent editorials following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in Roger’s real-life neighborhood last month. In my own adulthood, I’ve found it tremendously useful in my tutoring classes for teaching American culture at its least sensational. Roger’s slow, family-appropriate speech makes for great English listening practice and I’ve even gotten good discussions out of his simple moral dilemmas. What to do on a hot day is a perfect question for an oppressively humid Japanese summer.
But I’m getting off topic. Back to boredom.
Mister Roger’s Neighborhood is fantastically boring. So, so boring that I sometimes forget the current editorial zeitgeist exalting “Mr. Rogers for adults” and think it’s for children until I remember that “Oh, it is for children” halfway through a literal explanation of the “round peg, square hole” phenomenon. If that doesn’t bore you, how about the episode when Rogers puts a timer on camera, sets it to a minute, and lets it count down in silence? To no one’s surprise, nothing happens. And well… nothing is more boring than nothing, right?
So why am I watching it, beyond the classroom utility? I want to take a nap, and no television show puts me to sleep faster than Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (unless you count golf tournaments or the entire CSPAN network as a “show”). As Roger’s himself clearly understood, adults can learn a lot from children… and sometimes, the most useful hobby is some quiet, restful naptime.
But I’m getting off topic again. I wanted to write about As Miss Beelzebub Likes (Beelzebub-jou no Okinimesu mama) today.
Like Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Miss Beelzebub works wonders by putting me into a pseudo-sleep state. Funnily enough, I don’t even have much commentary on the show itself because I’m barely watching. Instead, I sort of follow the rhythms of the dialogue, drifting away during it’s slow, sometimes silent conversation (one character speaks with only the soft rustle of cue cards) and snapping back awake for the rare-few frantic comedy bits. However, by the end of each episode, it always settles back down to explore some fluffy, hearty triviality like love or softness. Miss Beelzebub is funny, but never in that wacky, outrageous way common to so many other comedy anime. Instead, it’s just quiet “better than nothing” bemusement.
Well, maybe I take that back. It does slip into an outrageous mode, especially during the bits that include a typical “S/M — sadomasochistc” comedy pair that isn’t very funny (why is this trope so common in anime? I think of disappointments like Inu x Boku SS…). For some viewers, I suppose the outrage will even become real when the show introduces a reverse lolicon woman who dotes on young boys (is the term shota? I’m too scared to google that word…). I’m sure a more discerning person would also find a problem with the gratuitous nudity in the first episode and the excessive lingering on Beelzebub’s ballooning cleavage. But oh… I’m too tired to criticize any of it. I’m just trying to sleep here and it’s already one o’clock.
And hello, it’s a new day and I slept well, thanks to Miss Beelzebub’s charms! On the problem points, maybe I can step down from my usual critical mode and try to defend the series a bit.
The show certainly has fanservice, but by the standards of the broader anime industry, not much and not terribly sexualized given the lethargic tone. Azazel is also quite the boy toy, and Mullin has his own charms, if we can call that gender balance (can we? I dunno). For what it’s worth, the reverse lolicon woman even declares that she wants to protect the boys’ innocence and appeals to the dubious defense that it’s all a fantasy (I don’t think that makes stalking school children from bushes okay though…). At the very least, the object of her true love is a thousands year old rabbit-loli-(shota?)-demon that merely looks bookish and boyish while exuding a resigned world-weariness worthy of an old librarian. It’s one of the stupidest tropes in all animedom and a terrible argument, but I just got home from work and I’m sleepy again. I’ll take a nap and let it slide.
And on Beelzebub’s lightly-covered nudity… well, I’m maybe kind of doing the same thing tonight, enjoying the cool air of my poorly-insulated rural Japanese home on my skin, under a pile of soft, soft blankets. I wish I could feel as comfortable as she looks, floating fluffy in a bed of living clouds. I don’t even take the lingering shots of her cleavage as a strong example of “sex sells” fanservice. Instead, I see it more as a visual metaphor for Beelzebub’s friendly tolerance and angelic innocence. The heart shape cut into her dress becomes a symbol of the openness of the literal heart in her breast, just flipped upside down as an ironic companion to her status as the queen of hell. But people can justify any nonsense and my eyes are barely open right now, so maybe I’m just being a willful apologist. I’ll probably change my mind in the morning.
Awake again, I’m thinking about Miss Beelzebub’s compassionate tone. The show often uses the character’s various neuroses as jokes but in a wonderfully tolerant way. For example, the character Belphegor has such severe social anxiety that she often just lets out a soft whine and rushes to the bathroom when she has to interact with a new person. A strange gag, but a relatable pathology. Critically though, the other characters extend a simple, quiet acceptance. Beelzebub explains that it’s just her personality and gives her the space to improve at her own pace. In a later episode, Beelzebub helps Belphegor bake a batch of present cookies for her crush, the silent gentle-giant Azazel. Maybe it’s trivial. But it’s cute, and it’s kind. I like that.
Now I’m at work, trying to keep myself awake by pretending to write during some downtime. Thinking back to the boyish librarian Dantalion, I wish I could have his job. He works when he needs to, and sleeps for leisure when he does not. Why strive for more, if comfort is good enough? I think I most enjoy Miss Beelzebub for its unstriving, after I’ve exhausted myself putting on a cheery (genki!) show for the students. Pushing goals seems like a core theme of many anime, but I get tired of shounen “whatevers” with loud protagonists shouting their way through battles. Look at the most recent episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization, which reveals that powerful expression literally makes powerful action, as if mere will could solve any problem. But I can’t fall asleep if everyone is yelling!
No, a lack of will is better: Beelzebub’s soft lethargy and Azazel’s quiet consideration, Belphegor’s slow-step pursuit of love and Dantalion’s honest rest. Even Mullin’s neurotic nature is arcing towards Beelzebub’s laziness and at least the S/M pair has affectionate edges. No one is in a rush and they seem better for it. Dreamy cute, yume kawaii slowness. Pastels. Nice.
Tonight, I’m sick with a contracted cold from one of my students. Falling asleep is an agony worse than usual. With that then, anything that can help someone along to the temporary oblivion of sleep is a wonderful gift. Since I’m too cowardly to addict myself to some pill, a lethargic anime like Miss Beelzebub should suffice. I’m sure a doctor (*scoff*, mom) would tell me the blue light from late night TV will only make sleep more difficult and then tell me to stop watching in bed. But those doctors haven’t felt the soporific spell of Miss Beelzebub. See her cuddle up with those puffballs, and dream of eating them? That’s nice. I wonder if an alpaca sweater really feels so good.
Every minute falling asleep is consumed by that horrible curse of consciousness. Thinking! Thinking that every hour awake is an hour worse for tomorrow’s work. And feeling! Feeling all the dread that flows with those thoughts, and all those other mundane things like that awful bar down the bed and my sore throat. The cold air isn’t comfortable tonight. I’m shivering. I’ll get another blanket and turn the second heater on, but I’ll need to lay down again. That’s true boredom: whatever’s in my mind. Nothing at all isn’t boredom, it’s freedom. I like Miss Beelzebub to distract me until I can stop falling and just sleep. To achieve a real nothing.
So, thank you, Miss Beelzebub, for being softer than nothing.