The Perils of Human Interrelatedness

Go give the springboard of this post a read if you had not yet the chance. I think I may just be parroting what Owen said there, but I think the subject deserves a very good scrub on its own. It’s hard to find a good beginning to tackle this multi-threaded concept, so I’ll start with the boring stuff that comes from my personal life. Or even more boring, classic English literature? Oh, also Longcat Post warning!

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

The near-cliche “what’s in a name” comes from Shakespeare, but the last time I used the term was in a debate in regards to legalizing homosexual marriages. In the US, this is a debate that has been going on for some time. The state I live in is now the latest state to legalize it, although the local legislature decided to give gay “marriages” a different name.

But name is really at the stake here. Or rather, the representation of a social status. Quite frankly no one really care about names; but names and labels have practical significances and real-life ramifications. I am not a baptist I have been schooled in the way some American baptists [and look how I avoid that label, lolz] school their kids in regards to dating and, uh, I think the term is “courtship.” To be honest I’m not sure I get all of it, but the takeaway was some pretty practical and pragmatic things people don’t do because it can be difficult to talk about your relationship in the meta with someone you are infatuated with (puppy love). And of course, the teaching was a way to do these things.

One of the things I learned is to define the context and boundary of your relationship. Ever use the “it’s complicated” tag on Facebook? It’s good to know we can define our relationships that way in this day and, but that’s a copout. What’s nice is that the social networking smartasses at Facebook gave something that doesn’t have a label a label (and more to their credit, that they recognize the need for such a vague label; many others before it did not), so people can be comfortable about it. But what’s not nice is that this copout trivializes what’s truly important about a relationship–the relationship itself, and not the social status it gives.

The conservative Christian babble goes on to talk about how kids need this education because they just follow what they see on TV and do whatever that they like (which is true); and without properly defining and understanding the relationship, kids are vulnerable to emotional trauma as a result of poorly handled relationships they experienced from the past (which is also true). But I think the jury is still out on what the cure is for this kind of stuff, if there is one.

From way left field, when I was reading this book a year or two ago I ran across a similar thread in the context of providing a perspective for copyright industry/law reform. The point is human beings do things out of a wide variety of motivation. And it differs from person to person even if two people are doing the same thing. When two people take a vow of marriage, they may define marriage differently than the next couple who booked the same chapel the day later. And as I alluded above, homosexual marriage is not the same as heterosexual marriage by the accounts of many, as an example.

The same concept applies to labels like “boyfriend” or “friend” or “it’s complicated” or “Capulet.”

And which is why I’m 100% supporting Eriko’s experiment, although she’s doing it wrong. I’d expect a real genius to be more methodological about it. But anyways…

Right, Eriko jokes aside, back to anime romance. Honey & Clover is mind blowing in some ways. Granted, in the genre of josei romance drama, this is not at all unusual, but as anime, it’s rare. For those of us who follow TV anime closely we know shows like H&C is quite rare. Too often the breeds of josei shows take the more shoujo route and gets deep into introspection, and frankly the internal workings of a woman-to-be is like Latin to a penguin for many others–puzzling and incomprehensible. To contrast I thought Ai Yazawa’s Nana‘s main strength (if not Ai Yazawa’s primary strength as a storyteller) is a balance between the introspectives and the external perspectives, so it was not a surprise that the show itself was a fun watch with a lot of fans. It was able to engage the audience in more levels than just the inner struggles and conflicts of a couple girls tied by fate.

I suspect one reason why most shoujo/josei anime take the introspective route for the same reason why shows like Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei works so well in this medium–because labels make good caricatures. When the whole scope of your dramatic tension rests on the intersection of social norm and personal goals, it’s hard to draw it out short of going on the Nice Boat. Indeed, Nana is filled with soap opera level trash drama, and that’s really what the Nice Boat was about, sans the violence.

Unlike those shows, Honey & Clover, to be specific, is a show about a bunch of strange people. I think that’s one thing we often forget when we watch this show, as strange people are dime a dozen in anime. What makes the strange an important factor in Hachikuro is how, actually, they live in a normal world. It’s no big deal to harbor a vampire when you are made of paper, right?

To pull it together some, a big part about Nana is about the two women (and the people around them) and how they relate to the web of people around them. It’s no surprise that this modern drama deals a lot with people’s self image and how it reflect on the people they relate with. The same is also true with Hachikuro and Kimikiss anime, but unlike the typical josei/shoujo variety, we’re spared with much of that introspection from the feminine perspective. Instead, we’re just seeing what people are doing, how they may be “fighting.” And in good shounen style, even commentators who give insights on others’ relationships and struggles. When we do introspect, it’s from a guy’s point of view. And that’s just a wonderful breath of fresh air for both genders.

Fact remains, romantic relationship can be complicated; and it’s those complicated ones that draws viewers and readers to your story as they appeal to real people with real relationships. Simple labels are helpful in real life but they rarely are precise or sufficient when things get complicated. (If you can even get two people to agree on how to define a label like that with workable precision…) In fact, the biggest charm of Hachikuro, for me, is how it totally destroys the common sensibility of putting labels on your relationships. Instead, Hachikuro focuses on relationships first and foremost; on the interdependence of people and the drama that arise as these interdependence change and evolve along with the characters themselves. People’s needs are met, and it is brutally honest about it while done with respect for modesty and good character; a sense of humbleness in spirit of how we are never more than the people who got us here in the first place. It’s the anti-Nice Boat.
That contrasts well Nana, I think, which is more of a common-place, self-centered “fight” between passion and pride. It appeals to the realist but one has to question the theme behind it all. It’s got the girl talk aspect down.

So where does Kimikiss land? It’s really a shounen romance, but why does it feel so different from your harems and the typical galge adaptations? Does it show its mainstream roots?

I don’t know for sure, but I guess at least two things:

Like Hachikuro, there is some degree of introspection. It’s less, but it’s split between the main cast–especially Mao. The involvement of Mao in the double-triangle that plots out the romance polygon in Kimikiss anime seems heavy at this point. Her struggles actually gets externalized a little more than what you’d expect if she’s going to be a major impetus in the latter part of the series as she faces off with Kouichi, so it’s expected to see Yumi take up some screen time and see the focus of the show swing away from her now. Basically, Kimikiss anime has a narrative progression not unlike Hachikuro in how the different plot threads resolve in a balance manner between boys and girls.

Second, to go back to the long ass nonsense in the first half of this post, we deal with labels in a way that eludes the bulk of anime and manga out there. What kind of relationship does Yumi have with Kouichi? Kouichi with Mao? Kazuki with Eriko? Mao with Kai? We are no longer concerned if they are going to “hook up” although Kimikiss clearly acknowledges this when Yumi and Kouichi was “affirmed.” It’s a weird compromise. Feelings and relationship first, labels second.

Well, it’s hard to say for sure at this point. I need more! And not just because so I can find out what happens; Kimikiss is this gem in the rough that has been charming its way on to the top of my mind’s stack. Only if it wasn’t just half an hour per episode. This is the kind of show that I can go for in the hour-long format.


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