Can Nanako speak? It shouldn’t matter. A quiet victory for mutism representation in Senryu Shoujo

Senryu Shoujo’s mute protagonist Nanako on the cover of the volume one manga

[I had selective mutism growing up, but that anecdotal experience should not determine the strength of my argument. So, I’ll also give an academic-adjacent reading recommendation as my main source, Selective Mutism in Our Own Words: Experiences in Childhood and Adulthood by Carl Sutton and Cheryl Forrester. It’s an excellent book both for its readable first-person accounts of the condition and for its rigorous literature review and references to guide further research. I have also consulted with a professional speech-language pathologist friend to assist me with a mock “diagnosis” of Nanako’s silence and increase the clarity of my writing about communication disorders. A thousand thanks for her expertise!]

I don’t read much manga because I can’t stand the dominant publishing model: chapters trickled out in pulp-periodical magazines, collected and resold into volumes when they reach some arbitrary mass that continues to expand anyway because the incentive to sell another volume discourages writers from hitting real resolutions or, often, even moving the plot forward (I hear a whisper on the breeze, ~Nisekoi~). So, despite the common refrain that “the manga was better,” I like to stick to anime if only because seeing “(ongoing)” attached to a double-digit volume list makes me doze off before even starting. I’ve picked up a few manga for series that have impressed me beyond expectation, but only if they’re short, they’re serious, and they’re over.

I broke my usual habits then when I bought the manga for Senryu Shoujo, a spring 2019 anime series that, despite some initial enjoyment, impressed me so little that I haven’t bothered to finish it. With a bland high-school-slice-of-life 4-panel format, it’s got nothing serious to consider, at nine volumes, it’s too long to finish (especially without an official translation… I’ve limped along in Japanese*), and, ugh, it’s (ongoing). But even if I didn’t much enjoy either the anime or the manga (I only read the first four volumes as a compromise with my sanity), I do think that Senryu Shoujo did something well worth praising: its depiction of communication difficulties, specifically, the mutism of its lead protagonist, Nanako Yukishiro.

* [Note: in the absence of an official English edition, I have provided my own amateurish translations]

But despite the centrality of mutism to Senryu Shoujo‘s entire premise, the relative silence on the issue online has surprised me — maybe just a footnote here, a brief mention in regards to social anxiety here, and an abundance of misguided terms like “shy,” “introverted,” or “non-verbal” scattered around various reviews, impressions, and discussion threads. Otherwise, most viewers just seem to treat it like a cute gimmick. But in an odd way, I take that lack of focus on Nanako’s mutism as a quiet victory for disability representation in anime; Senryu Shoujo has managed to tell a story about living with a rare condition that impedes communication without, it seems, most viewers even noticing the difference.

In this post, I will try to define the disorder that prevents Nanako from speaking, because her almost total reticence goes beyond a mere personality trait like shyness or introversion. Then, I’ll return to the question of disability representation in fiction by discussing how I think Senryu Shoujo excels compared to other media depicting similar communication challenges.

So, first…

Can Nanako Speak?

Continue reading “Can Nanako speak? It shouldn’t matter. A quiet victory for mutism representation in Senryu Shoujo”

Into an anime chumbucket: succumbing to clickbait and breaking my heart

Your ads dare obscure even a part of my silver queen, *the* Masuzu Natsukawa?

[Chum is one of the sexier words in the English language… dead fish eyes glaring out of blood and guts. Oi, a weird start to one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written…]

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… uhhh why am I covered in blood and fish guts? Where am I?

I stumbled into an internet chumbox the other day. You know, those 6-square ad spaces hosted by Taboola or Outbrain with clickbait titles like:

  • <popular television show> stars [sic] net worth? #<prime number> will shock you!
  • Doctors hate him! <target demographic> discovers one neat trick to <desirable health outcome>!
  • You won’t guess what <celebrity fleeing paparazzi> got caught on camera doing Again [sic]!
  • Grandma from <your IP-determined area> discovers disastrous flaw in Social Security!

Number 1 might have a photoshopped thumbnail of the sexiest cast member in a revealing pose, Number 2 some gross trypophobia-inducing body horror garbage, Number 3 an unrelated mugshot that looks nothing like the target celebrity, and Number 4 a stock photo of an old woman in front of a clip-art financial chart with some gold coins or something. Who knows, who cares.

Or at least, I didn’t care. Before last week, chum-ads had almost never captured my interest except to sneer at their exploitative badness. Ah, but this time I took in a mighty breath through my nostrils to hock up great snob and instead caught an irresistible scent in those blood-clouded waters: anime, “Neo Yokio Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot” from an entertainment news website called The Cinemaholic

Oh, I like Neo Yokio… did Netflix announce a second season to continue the Pink Christmas special? And next to it “Gakkou Gurashi Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot.” Oooh, yes yes yes, I love Gakkou Gurashi! After the live-action movie, will they adapt the rest of the series? But wait, huh? From Cinemaholic again? What’s going on here? Oh my god, oh my god, hold that thought: “Oreshura Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot” aaannnddd oohoo a picture of the Masuzu Natsukawa, my devilish queen. click click click.

No. A mistake. ‘twas but a mirage borne of the blood-haze! The Cinemaholic had a harpoon waiting, ready to break my heart: “It is highly unlikely that Netflix will renew the show,” “We can’t guarantee anything,” “At this point, ‘Oreshura’ season 2 … seems like a distant dream”

Dearest Masuzu, I’m sorry — thrice pierced!

Continue reading “Into an anime chumbucket: succumbing to clickbait and breaking my heart”

Achievement Get: a modest first year of anime blogging, in review

Hahahahaha … … …

[Ugh, sour self-indulgence… proof-reading this makes me nauseous. As a disclaimer, some of the links here duplicate because I’ve taken this as a conversation with myself through my older writings]

So a couple days ago, WordPress told me that I had earned an “achievement”: “Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com one year ago. Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.”

Heh.

I always laugh when WordPress gives me an achievement. Why gamify blogging, an activity which already offers so many extrinsic motivators like views, likes, and follows to push users to remain engaged, viewing ads and producing free content and — oh, that’s why. I guess I just never thought about blogging that way until I started using WordPress.com[mercial], though I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I do sometimes feel that pull for validation to produce a “successful” post, whatever penny-trifle that might mean for my impersonal patron’s ad revenue. The gamification works… even if I hate to admit it.

But, as much as I can, I try to suppress that game-induced anxiety. The achievement only reminds me that I really should get around to moving to a self-hosted site via the open-source WordPress.org software to free myself from a commercial system that can sometimes feel a little manipulative with its tiered service plans hawked on never-ending “flash sales.” However, whenever I look at hosting options, I overwhelm myself with that “paradox of choice” (how can they all have a special offer? Oxymorons.) and begin to feel lethargic and lazy and think eh, ‘might as well settle for the .com for another week. After all, I only started this site so that I could tell my friends to “just check my blog” instead of fiddling through the sharing settings on Google Docs every time we hit some conversational tangent about anime or literature. I don’t need anything fancy.

Thinking about the achievement again though, “anniversary” isn’t quite right… a couple weeks before I made this current site, I made a “testing 1 2 3”-type throw-away account that I deleted a few days later. And months before even that, I had already written several private “posts” (a few republished here) circulated around with just my friends. Then in the other direction, I didn’t use this site for several more days until I uploaded my first post on Friday, June 15 — for some inexcusable reason at 3:29pm (work hours!). Though I often write during downtime between class, I never manage the site from the office (because my computer has no internet access… Japan, techno-wonderland!). Did I use compensated leave that day or, god-forbid, upload from my phone? I can’t remember. Time cares for nothing regarding human periodization, so I suppose I’ll compromise and call it one year, plus or minus a fat, flexible <?>.

Anyway, I’m not a big fan of periodization either (without clocks and calendars, would we worry so much about time?), but I thought I could turn that silly “achievement” into a fun opportunity to reflect on what I’ve done here for the past year.

Aaannnddd… meh? Nothing much, really?

Continue reading “Achievement Get: a modest first year of anime blogging, in review”

A quick note on Montaigne on nostalgia

Alas, Janus, you creepy double-dude
Source: Wikimedia Commons

[not a scholar, just a casual reader who read that, and wrote this, still half-asleep]

After my post last week about time and nostalgia in the anime short Daicon IV, I was glad to come across this passage about the topic while trying to put myself to sleep with Montaigne’s Essays. Via the Screech translation of Book 3, Essay 5, “On some lines of Virgil”:

I turn very gently aside and make my eyes steal away from such stormy, cloud-wracked skies as lie before me: which, thanks be to God, I can contemplate without terror but not without strain and effort; and I find myself spending my time recalling periods of my past youth:

[Quoted from Petronius’s Satyricon:] “My mind prefers what it has lost and gives itself entirely over to by-gone memories”

Let babes look ahead, old age behind: is that not what was meant by the double face of Janus? The years can drag me along if they will, but they will have to drag me along facing backwards. While my eyes can still make reconnaissance into that beautiful season now expired, I will occasionally look back upon it. Although it has gone from my blood and veins at least I have no wish to tear the thought of it from my memory by the roots.

[Quoted from Martial’s Epigrams:] “To be able to enjoy your former life again is to live twice”

I understand the sentiment, but I do not feel it myself. Like I said in the previous post, I don’t enjoy nostalgia. Maybe I’m still just too young to relate to an “old” like Montaigne. But I think it goes a little beyond that. Plenty of young people feel the creeping appeal of nostalgia and crave some idealized past (hello, HD remastered re-releases of every classic video game ever). Instead, the difference might not be one of age, but rather wealth.

Continue reading “A quick note on Montaigne on nostalgia”

Some translations of a Kobayashi Issa haiku on a child and the harvest moon

Source: Pexels public domain images

[Since I don’t have access to an English-language library out in rural Japan, I found all of the translations online so it’s a mix of serious academic efforts and maybe some more casual ones. I’ve included links, though a couple of the websites are absolute fossils that are difficult to search, so sorry about that. I didn’t realize how much I would miss Inter-Library Loan when I left university…]

Last week at my adult English conversation class (“eikaiwa”), I thought I would shock and sensationalize by presenting a bunch of middle-to-old-aged Japanese ladies with haiku in English via some of Jack Kerouac’s American “pops.” They found the idea of haiku outside of the Japanese language hilarious (seriously, they laughed at me!) and accused Kerouac of writing senryu (“no season word!”), but their surprise at the topic triggered some of the best discussion I’ve had since I started the class almost two years ago.

But better yet, after class one of my students emailed me an early 19th century poem from the haiku master Kobayashi Issa with the message “Tonight’s moon is good. Do you think so? This haiku is famous” (too bad I had already gone to sleep!). She sent me the text in Japanese, which I have transliterated and lazily translated below:

名月をとってくれろと泣く子かな

Meigetsu o (5) / totte kurero to (7) / naku ko kana (5)

harvest moon / get (bring) it! / child that cries…

You can break down the literal sentence like this: “harvest moon” is the grammatical object (を particle) of “get / bring,” an imperative verb (ろ ending) in indirect statement (と particle) to “cries,” which then modifies “child.” The last two beats with “kana” modify the whole sentence to mark uncertain thinking like an ellipsis… I suppose here you could take it as something like a gentle, thinking-out-loud observation along the lines of “Hmm…” or “Oh” or, if you want to sound fancy, a sighing lamentation like “How!” or “Alas!” As I first read it, I came up with this unpoetic line translation:

Oh child that cries… bring (me) the harvest moon!

In terms of the rules of haiku, harvest moon (meigetsu) is the season word (kigo), recalling the autumn, while that “kana” I discussed before is the formal cutting word (kireji). As I imagine it though, I like to think of “to” as an informal cutting word as well, splitting the poem into two voices: a young child making an impossible, maybe humorous demand (“gimme the moon!”) and an adult then quoting the child to make a melancholy or frustrated reply (“oh kiddo…”). But before revising my line translation to account for the haiku features, let’s see how a few other translators have rendered the poem in English:

Continue reading “Some translations of a Kobayashi Issa haiku on a child and the harvest moon”

Cold in March, graduation in Japan, and the problem with time consciousness

Not much snow, but even seeing it crushed me

[It’s school graduation season in Japan, so I’ve been busy with stupid, ceaseless ceremony. I’m so tired and so cold, and so tired of being cold, and so tired of being cold in rural Japan. Something low effort this week then… time is criminal. As an additional note, I’ve drawn heavily from Dienstag’s neat book Pessimism: Philosophy, Spirit, Ethic]

It snowed yesterday, on March 14, a week away from the official start of spring. It all melted by the end of the work day, but when I saw about four inches (10cm) of the real heavy, wet stuff on my car in the morning, I just about cried. I’m so tired of winter in rural Japan. I want to feel warm again; spring is so close! But now, it’s still so cold.

The feeling of futile anticipation reminded me of a passage from Izumi Kyoka’s short story “One Day in Spring.” As spoken by the despairing lover Mio:

Those people you see out there working in their fields — when fall comes they brace themselves, each doing his best to not be overwhelmed by melancholy. There’s still strength in those dispirited legs. But in spring the strength is stolen away. They float up, as if they’ve been turned into butterflies or birds. They seem anxious, don’t they?

Invited by a warm, gentle wind, the soul becomes a dandelion blossom that suddenly turns into cotton and blows away. It’s the feeling of fading into death after seeing paradise with your own eyes. Knowing its pleasure, you also understand that heaven is heartless, vulnerable, unreliable, and sad.

[trans. Charles Inouye]

Let’s take the point about the seasons literally for a moment: I could bear winter without complaint as long as it seemed inescapable… clearing the thick mountain snow off my car every morning, shivering in my full winter coat during class in uninsulated rural schools, fumbling with clumsy jerry cans to refill portable heaters, de-icing the shower (…and the toothpaste…) in my unheated bathroom. It was so cold. And that was fine.

Oh, but now spring is coming! I’ve gone weeks without shoveling snow. I’ve floated through class with just a jacket! I’ve felt warm air blowing in from the sky again, instead of from a kerosene burner! I don’t even need to heat my toothpaste under the water before I can squeeze it out of the tube! I’m so close to escaping the cold!

But then winter clawed me back into its freezing hell one last time with that snow on the 14th, and then a second last time with another flurry this morning. March promises me rebirth into the paradise of spring, but that stubborn winter refuses to give up its grip and just die already. I’m impatient, anxious in anticipation, tired of winter for not going… But then I resent spring too, for not coming sooner. It’s still so cold.

Continue reading “Cold in March, graduation in Japan, and the problem with time consciousness”

Where ‘A Place Further Than the Universe’ stops: a brief character analysis of Yuzuki Shiraishi

It’s ironic: when Yuzuki is forced to move in a direction she doesn’t want to go, it’s evidence that she’s stuck

[Short on time this week, so I’m leaning on floaty quotes rather than original writing. A Place Further Than the Universe is excellent, but in the same way I’ve struggled to connect with other triumphs of animation like Spirited Away, it hasn’t clicked with me somehow. Plus, Yuzuki’s far and away my favorite character in the series, perhaps making my concerns here more a matter of disappointed expectations than a genuine story misstep. And I dunno, I’m also a big fan of failure, so maybe I should take it as just another of the series’ good points]

Man, I don’t much often watch good anime anymore. I think I subconsciously avoid it, out of an odd irrational anxiety that if I consume the best too fast, I’ll run out — for good. So, between the masterpieces, I usually content myself with rank garbage …because, yuck, I seem to like it better anyway (and you never know when you’ll find a diamond in the muck!).

Given my preference for trash then, I surprised myself when I watched A Place Further than the Universe (Japanese: Sora yori mo tooi basho, apparently it’s abbreviated Yorimoi?). A friend had recommended it to me and I’ve seen nothing but praise for it online. It even made the New York Times’ list of best television shows from 2018! An anime drawing acclaim from America’s most mainline newspaper? Probably pretty good, right?

Yes, very good. Yorimoi is excellent in just about every way. Buuut… with pessimistic me, there’s always a but. I found it a little maudlin, a bit boring. Yorimoi has a strong coming-of-age message about putting “youth in motion,” explored through an extraordinary journey to Antarctica and captured by one of the highest quality television anime productions I’ve ever seen. But! As the show’s relentless positivity ground down at my pessimism and all adversity collapsed under cathartic crying sessions in the name of f-r-i-e-n-d-s-h-i-p, I began to lose interest. Yorimoi is a startling success. But uhhh… hmm… bleh. I much prefer failure.

I hate to quote Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran again, but he’s too topical (and funny!) to ignore here: “Failure, even repeated, always seems fresh; whereas success, multiplied, loses all interest, all attraction.”

To the extent that success aspires to some fixed ideal — becoming popular or wealthy, having a respected career, achieving truth or virtue or even just simple contentment — good successes all begin to look alike. Just think about the students at Ivy League universities with their immaculate academic records, stalwart extracurricular leadership experience, and identical spiritual epiphanies earned on mission trips to Central America or wherever. Maybe good life choices, but eh… Boring! It’s youth in motion, just on a fixed path towards a stop.

By contrast, a preference for failure opens consideration to everything else life might offer. All of those students have blemishes, no matter how well they hide them in their transcripts and applications. And that makes them so much more interesting. I wrote my own not-good-enough-for-Ivy application essay on my habit of oversleeping before school while half-listening to NPR weather reports on my radio-alarm clock. It didn’t impress any admission committees, but I’m glad to have failed on my own terms rather than conceding to the proper path. Failing sidewise, where will I go? I dunno! Neat. (and… ugh. scary.)

With those thoughts in mind then, I want to focus on what I consider Yorimoi’s greatest failure: the conclusion to Yuzuki Shiraishi’s character arc. Yuzuki enters Yorimoi’s narrative as a lonely, discontent child actress trying to resist her mother’s unwelcome management of her inauthentic career …but then ends the story a passive actor, again acceding to social pressure to take a role in a drama that she doesn’t seem to want to do. Though Yuzuki finds friendship on the journey to Antarctica, in the coming-of-age story, I don’t know if she asserts her youth in the same triumphant way as Kimari, Hinata, and Shirase. Unlike the other girls, who move so fast that it becomes difficult to keep up, Yuzuki… doesn’t. Instead, by the end of the series she’s still charted on that same path towards her mother’s idea of success, into an acting career Yuzuki herself doesn’t seem to enjoy.

Ah, a failure of youth in motion, and all the more interesting in an animation that exalts movement for its own sake! Let me explain where I think Yuzuki came to a stop…

Continue reading “Where ‘A Place Further Than the Universe’ stops: a brief character analysis of Yuzuki Shiraishi”