Article: the Death of Celebrity & the Questions of Our Own Mortality

Many of us have heard that today (12/8/2014) that comedian & actor Robin Williams was found dead in his home of an apparent suicide.

Naturally, this has caused a massive outpouring of grief from the famous, the infamous & the mundane yet to put things into perspective, also in the world today famous Irish actor J.J. Murphy died after filming part of his role on the next season of The Game of Thrones, riots broke out in Ferguson Missouri caused by the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by members of the local police force, an apparent coup has happened in Iraq as the Islamic States continues to slaughter its way through that nation.

Yet this day shall be marked by the passing of one man.

I am not diminishing a family’s loss or grief but rather seek to highlight why the death of a single celebrity can impact us, as relatively secure members of the First World, more than the force of global events that occur every day in our most harsh world.

That is because we as consumers of media have a more immediately feeling of presence of a celebrity in relation to out lives. They aren’t some distance abstract that that many of us cannot fathom or relate to because it (hopefully) goes beyond our own experiences. Yet a celebrity is in our lives almost every day, whether you are a devoted fan or casually note random appearances of them. We find them more relatable because the cult of celebrity permeates our lives, we project out own hopes & desires upon them, using them for a touch of vicarious living.

There are also some celebrities who do genuinely affect our lives, open our eyes & actually help us through some very dark times that we may face.

Robin Williams was such a celebrity because he was very open about his own faults & addictions -having battled drugs & alcohol his entire adult life. Like many other comedians, such as the legendary Richard Pryor (1940-2005) or Billy Connelly, he shared his pain with his audience in order to both make them laugh & to exorcise them from himself. He also showed an exceptional ability for acting, both comedic & serious, which can be hypothesised as being part his natural ability to hide his pain -which has also been mentioned by some of his friends & contemparies as why he often acted so manic & did impersonations. His roles touched many & also helped inspire many, such as his famous turn in Dead Poet Society, as seen here:

That is one reason why his death has been so felt by so many yet it is not the entirity of the matter.

When anyone dies it causes us, as human beings, to reflect upon our own mortality. When someone whom is famous dies, the news is flashed through the media to both provide information but also for the ghoulish reason of making people watch that news service, which gets people watching sponsored messages & helps push brand awareness & revenue for the media provider up. It is difficult to escape the news of any celebrity death, which pushes up our own self-reflection of the Mortal coil up to levels they would otherwise not be.

In losing them, we lose part of ourselves.

In that we are once again granted awareness of our own deaths, causing the death of our ignorance and innocence within the same moment. It is this which causes us the most pain.

That is not to say that we do not have some genuine grief over the passing over another human being but it is a communal grief -a collective acceptance of our mortality & limitations. All the dreams & desires that died with the person yet it is also because we have some shared memory or experience of that person. Some part of our collective lives that was so deftly yet unknowningly touched by they who are now gone. Many were so marked by William’s turn at playing the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, which is highlighted in this performance:

He was also a performer who crossed generation, with many first seeing him on screen in the odd sitcom Mork & Mindy. He then accompanied many of us through our media infused lives, in many guises. Some more memorable & touching then others yet it cannot be denied that no genuine, interpersonal connection existed between audience (with some natural exceptions), so our grief returns to the aforementioned point of us not grieving for the loss of an individual but rather for the passing of an icon, a memory & ourselves.

Whenever someone famous dies, we see the usual media scrum & wrenching of shirts because it is culturally acceptable. Again, it is the communal grief & the lifting the collective fear of individual mortality that permeates cultures so abstract from the truth of everyday loss & violence. It does not deny that people feel that loss acutely yet we still must acknowledge that we do not mourn for whom we don’t know, only for ourselves.

Even with that being said, any loss, known or unknown, weighs upon our collective humanity. With grief being a myriad beast that lies hidden deep within so many, merely waiting for release.

One thing I do hope that has occurred with Robin Williams’ passing is that is highlights issues that people do have with depression & addiction. I hope it does make people genuinely reflect upon themselves & their own lives; to seek out help where it can be found & to realise that they don’t have to suffer alone (as so many out there do because they do not know where or to whom to turn). Find the people & services that can provide the most help & if they are unfunded & overwhelmed, bring attention to the situation. In this: one life, voice can begin to help many -your own voice, your own life.

If you do feel as though you are falling into a dark unfathomable place, reach out your hands to see who grasps it. Many of us suffer through such things but does not mean we have to suffer alone.

Yet to bring it back to a singular point: the world is diminished by the loss of a brilliant, truthful jester in Robin Williams yet we must use such passings as a means to uplift ourselves, our friends & families if they need to be uplifted.

All grief shall end, all memories fade yet to be touched by a single spark in a dark cold world can speak of the brilliance of existence that few truly acknowledge.

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The Kick That Never Came – Anime Critique: Isshuukan Friends

mpage001Title: Isshuukan Friends (One Week Friends)
Format: TV anime
Genre: slice of life, romance, drama, tragedy
Series Creator: Matcha Hazuki
Series Director: Tarou Iwasaki
Studio: Brain’s Base
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates:
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


 

Synopsis:

High schooler Yuki Hase notices that his classmate Kaori Fujimiya is always alone and seemingly has no friends. After approaching her and becoming acquainted, Kaori reveals that she loses every memory of her friends each Monday. Despite learning this, Yuki endeavors to become her new friend every week.


 

Review:

There is an old saying that goes “the worst kick is the one that never comes”.

The basic meaning of it is the more you dread something bad coming, a kick or other such physical assault if you will, the worse it will be in your mind than the actually reality of it because the fear & expectation has made you build up something far more torturous (more torturous than my allegories to be sure).

This is the pall that hangs over Isshuukan Friends.

The constant dread that you are going to be hit by something monumental emotionally painful yet, it never comes, making that dread all the more worse.

Although that might be my expectations from watching anime that delights in really kicking you in the guts once you think you’re going to be blessed with Sweetness & Light.

The reason you are waiting for this phantom kick is from the central conceit of the series, that being amnesia. A very old chestnut indeed in terms of media tropes -especially in Japan- yet within Isshuukan Friends it stems more from plot driven psychological & physical trauma then some mere need for a character to begin as a Blank Slate.

The major praise that one can give this series is that it attempts to handle such a fanciful contrivance as emotionally realistic as they can -without the central idea feeling too contrite or merely there to heighten the drama or emotional reactions from the audience.

Yet you do not come here to see praise painted upon the page, so I shall return to the (fairly bitchy) critiquing.

The plot of the series revolves around Hase Yuki’s relationship with Fujimiya Kaori, who is the quiet withdrawn girl in his class. He initially approaches her so to get to know her but she coldly rejects his offer for friendship. He is persistent in trying to get her to open up to him so it is soon revealed that Kaori loses her memories of people whom she considers friends every Monday when she wakes up -the exceptions being her family & people she is merely acquainted with. Despite this handicap, Hase persists in trying to become friends with Fujimiya, starting each week with the question “Will you be my friend?”

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When I 1st heard Hase vow that, I was worried it the story would turn fairly stalkery & possessive but it only turned mildly stalkery. Narratively, it is understandable that Hase gets jealous when the formerly cold & quiet Fujimiya starts to open up to others in their class -mainly through the intervention of ditzy pixie Saki, who wants the responsible Fujimiya to baby & look after her because she (Saki) has issues with her own memory (in that she is forgetful).

After watching the 1st couple of episodes, part of me wanted to hate this series -mainly because it kept refusing to go dark like I thought it would- but also because it is so awkwardly cutesy.

All the characters -but especially Fujimiya & Hase- looks as though they are sponsored by a rouge producing company (the makeup, not the D&D class, you bloody dyslexics). Always with red blush patches under their eyes.

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The general art syle & design is light & cutesy too. Skipping a lot of the more moé & sexualisation tropes. More focussing on a sweet kind of soft cute in the characters. In fact, unlike other series this season, there isn’t anything remotely close to a tit or panty shot. Some of the usual awkwardness after falling leaves characters in compromising positions but this is quickly glossed over with humour rather than used to demonstrate masculine dominance, reward the male gaze or a let a protagonist get a quick grope in.

Yet, despite the cutesy looks & lack of narrative darkness, the story is actually pretty good & emotionally mature. In that it’s people reacting to a difficult situation as well as failing to voice their concerns or wishes out of fear of misunderstanding or hurting those around them. So, it follows the standard forms of Japanese dramas, with the inability to communicate less it destroy consensus society as a whole.

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Nevertheless, Isshuukan Friends does handle a lot of the drama in a respectful & grownup fashion, even though it shows some weird relationship tropes. Such as Fujimiya making lunch for Hase everyday & only allowing him to talk to her outside of the class (such as on the roof at lunch) because she doesn’t want bad rumours to spread about him. That bullshit is stopped with Saki’s spoiltness meaning she just speaks to Fujimiya whenever she wants to & isn’t perturbed by her memory loss -Saki thinks its similar to her absent mindedness. Fujimiya & Hase also develop ways for Fujimiya to deal with her memory loss, such as getting her to keep a dairy so she can keep track of events & drama comes along in one episode when she accidentally loses her dairy as well as the poster on her reminding her to read it every Monday yet she lost it on a Friday, so found it odd she didn’t realise it was gone over the weekend when her memories were still intact.

Each episode follows a basic formula of a week in the life of our protagonists as they struggle to deal with Fujimiya’s ongoing condition, Hase’s feelings of helplessness & selfishness at the situation as well as interactions with other characters & Fujimiya slowly opening up to those around her & not being afraid to make friends. Some edges appear, when classmates believe that Fujimiya is dating Hase’s best friend, the cranky & taciturn Shogo, & say nasty things behind her back (yet within earshot); Hase has to also overcome his feelings of jealousy towards Shojo for becoming friends with Fujimiya & the chance of losing her.

True drama comes late in the series with the appearance of Fujimiya’s former childhood friend, Hajime, who moved to Hokkaido with his family at the same time as Fujimiya began to lose her memories. When her remembrance of him causes her memories to completely reset, so she forgets everything that she had build up until that point & Hase to almost abandon the friendship out of frustration. When that moment comes along, there is no longer an expectation of a kick or anything else apart from a quiet resolution. Tensions remain between the two protagonists for the last few episodes after Fujimiya starts to build herself back up to how she was before Hajime arrived but that’s mainly from everyone learning the cause of Fujimiya’s amnesia (stems from a form of bullying from her supposed friends at a young age) & Hase’s fear that he might cause it to happen again. But mostly the tension in the last few episodes comes from the fact that the protagonists -& anime characters in general- can never express their love without being pathetically awkward or borderline retarded.

In the end, this is a light teen drama that deals with a difficult issue in a mature & responsible way. It has some humour & cuteness but doesn’t kick you when you are down. Your response to it depends on how much you personally engage with the genre &/or subject. For my part, I found it enjoyable & a pleasant balm to the hypersexualisation of other series that I shall be writing about over the week (or just copy pasting random complaints about hypersexualisation in other series) but each to their own. I do hope that you, the reader, take the time to watch the series & take from it what you will.

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A weird way to advertise your TCG – Anime Critique: Selector Infected WIXOSS

indexTitle: Selector Infected WIXOSS (AKA selector infected WIXOSS)
Format: TV series
Genre: shojo, magic girl, fantasy, drama, trading card game adaptation, psychological, horror
Series Director: Takuya Sato
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 epsides
Original Airing dates: April 3, 2014 – June 19, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download


Synopsis:

WIXOSS (short for “Wish Across”) is a popular trading card game in which players battle against each other with fighters known as LRIGs (??? Rurigu?) (girl spelled backwards), using cards to support them. Ruko Kominato, who receives a WIXOSS deck from her brother, discovers that her LRIG, which she names Tama, can speak. She soon learns that she has been chosen as a ‘Selector’, girls who must battle against other Selectors. Should they be victorious in battle, they will be able to have any wish granted, but should they lose three times to other Selectors, they will lose that chance and lose all memory of the game. As she and various other Selectors battle it out for the sake of their wish, Ruko finds herself drawn into the dark sinister world of WIXOSS, discovering that win or lose, there is always a cost.


Review:

Mahou Shojo Madoka Magika truly has a lot to answer for, in now making every once light fluffy female demographic target anime into something dark & painful. Now, I don’t mind dark, twisted, violent &/or brutal anime series but it seem a bit of an extreme way to promote a Trading Card Game.

This season just finished had at least 5 anime series (don’t know, didn’t watch them) based around the promotion of new TCG franchises in what is essentially a very crowded marketplace within Japan. Selector Infected WIXOSS was designed as a way to promote awareness of the new Otome (Maiden) Card Game yet this series is so far removed from the practicality, cards & promotion of the series than something like Yu-Gi-Oh is.

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During the course of the 12 episode 1st series (something that I didn’t find out about until the last coda of the last episode, wondering how they were going to wrap it all up), you learn basically nothing about the real card game, how it’s played, the colour/element relationships or even what most of the cards look like. As a way of promoting a TCG series, it’s most odd but the plot of the series pretty much kills any chance to promote the game as something fun to play with friends.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Selector Infected WIXOSS is pretty dark -both visually & in terms of the general narrative. The basic plot resolves around girls who are chosen to be Selectors by being partnered up with LRIG (girl backwards or the mirror of a girl), who are trapped within special WIXOSS cards. The Selectors then use the LRIGs to battle other Selectors (with the LRIGs as their proxies) so that they can have a wish granted. Unfortunately, in order to achieve their wishes, they must first suffer the pain of knowing that they have destroyed the wish of other girls (if you lose 3 times, you lose your memory of the game & your wish) as well as having to suffer the possibility of having the same done to you, losing your bonded LRIG partner in the process. & boy! Do these girls suffer! & suffer! & suffer some more!

This unfortunately is a common trope in Japanese media. The worse things get in society &/or with the economy, the more the figure of the girl (especially in the shojo genre) is subjected to some brutal psychological treatment. It’s a topic that Dr Susan J. Napier has written a lot about in her career, saying at one point that the shojo genre has become geared toward “dark and damaging introspectives” (Napier 2006 p 296), with the female characters “becoming victims as they abandon their personal agency to ‘fate’” (Napier 2006 p 296). Basically, Napier is saying that the worse Japan feels as a nation, the more the media creators feminine objects that people (regardless of gender) feel the need to protect & hide away from harm. Because the feminine objects represent Japan as a whole & promoting the idea that populace needs to protect the nation from the harm caused by outside influence. This is a subject I’m becoming exceptionally well versed in & will write more about it at a later date but for now I will explain how it related to this anime series in particular.

The opening credit animation as well as the general set up makes series seem like will be something like a lighthearted shonen style cross promotional anime; where the girls form bonds of friendship as they struggle to help each other’s wishes come true. Instead what we get is an emotional & socially damaged & isolated girl learning the pain & hardships that come from lacking in personal desire/goals & watching her friends suffer as they come to terms with what it means to have their dangerous desires fulfilled. & it touches on some pretty dark subjects to bring that point across.

The central protagonist is Ruuko, a high school girl who lives with her grandmother in a small apartment after her mother abandoned her as a child because she (the mother) felt terrified by Ruuko’s strangeness. As such, Ruuko doesn’t feel the need to have friends or form relationships outside of her grandma or older brother, Ayumi. In order to cure this, Ayumi gives Ruuko a deck of WIXOSS cards, saying that to play she’ll have to make some friends. As fate would have it, inside Ruuko’s deck is the LRIG Tama, who is -let us say- remarkably simple (pretty much borderline retarded), who can only communicate in simple words at first (begging to battle mainly). Because of the mindlessness of her company, Ruuko (& thus the audience of whom she is the proxy) have no idea about the fantastical nature behind the WIXOSS game, which is why we are introduced quickly to Yuzuki, her fraternal twin brother Kazuki & Yuzuki’s (red) LRIG, Hanayo. Kazuki & Hanayo introduce Ruuko to the Selector Battles, which are in a pocket universe where the LRIGs are given a physical (if diminutive) forms so they can draw upon the power of their respective decks in order to become an Eternal Girl, so their wishes can be granted. With the aforementioned rule of 3 loses means losing all rights to becoming an Eternal Girl as well as all memories related to the Selector Battles.

These wishes are not some random fancy, like wanting to be a princess or other such drivel. They reach to the core of desire & the person darkness/grief that heavy & hidden desires can bring. In Yuzuki’s case it’s her desire to have an incestuous relationship with her twin, Kazuki.

This was something that came out of nowhere early on but also wasn’t taken lightly. Yuzuki is shown as knowing how socially & morally wrong her wish is but it’s that knowledge as well as the possibility of having that wish answered without true consequence or punishment that causes Yuzuki’s personal schism. Struggling for what she wants with all her heart yet knowing how vile such a love & desire is as well as how society will react to learning the truth of her desire. A theme that is played out with other characters yet without much actually development of them or the background to their desires. More so when you are introduced to the other 3 characters & their individual desires.

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The opening credits makes it seems as though these other 3 will somehow be friends with Ruuko, & 2 of them are constantly dropped through the series because they are famous models, but all pretense of them being sweet, kind & normal is swiftly fucking curbed stomped by the big gritty boots of the Dark Narrative Fairy.

You see early mention of Iona & Akira in the first few episodes because they appear on advertisements & in magazines that background characters read but the 1st character you get introduced to is the shy & panicky Hitoe -whose wish is to be able to make true friends. Hiteo is a sweet girl whom Ruuko & Yuzuki quickly take to after battling her but not so much their reactions to meeting Akira & Iona.

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Iona is cold, dispassionate & bored with everything, carrying around an air of superiority & longing whilst her LRIG, Ulith, is a psycho who takes pleasure in the weakness of others. In this, Ulith is a mirror for Akira, who appears cute & sweet on the surface -speaking in a trendy-talk mixing in English words (Aki-lucky being her catchphrase)- but, in truth, she’s an opportunistic sadist who takes pleasure in discovering her opponents’ wishes & turning it against them by mocking them over it. She targets girls who have just lost, promising them easy victories so she can destroy them, all for her own wish of knocking Iona off her perch of Top Model, yet is terrified to face her in open battle because of Iona’s superior skill. So she uses tricks & bullying to become an Eternal Girl instead.

    Talking Akira & her sadistic habits brings up the other dark social issue that is the form of bullying known as Ijime -which I’ve previously spoken about in my Witch Craft Works review. Ijime is where groups pick on an individual using both physical & psychological attacks. Ijime is seen in various forms throughout the series but rears its disgusting visage when Akira tricks some of Ruuko’s classmates into bring her along so Akira can battle her. Naturally, Akira promised these girls a tour of the modelling studio, filling their heads with dreams of being discovered as models but as soon as they bring Ruuko to her, after chasing her & Yuzuki all over the school, she abandons them having got what she wanted. Yuzuki is also subjected to a more subtle form of this bullying, when she refuses to set her brother up with one of the girls in her class. This girl later threatens Kozuki by saying she’ll spread rumours of incest if she doesn’t kiss him, causing him to storm off in disgust. Yet these rumours are spread anyway by someone else, causing the twins’ school life to suffer.

& the series just gets darker from there as the nature of the Selector Battles & the truth of the Eternal Girls is revealed.


[SPOILER WARNING]

    What the girls painfully learn is that when one of them lose 3 battles, not only do they lose their memories of the Selector Battles but their wishes are reversed. So a girl with a serious disease wishing to live dies straight away, Hitoe -wishing for friends- lose all chance to ever made friends again, wracked with pain if Ruuko or Yuzuki touch her. Akira too loses her 3rd battle against Iona & gets a scar across her face, driving her even more insane (if that were possible). What makes it harder is that the LRIGs know about this but are forbidden to reveal this knowledge in case it stops the Selectors from battling.

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    Which leads into why the LRIGs are so eager to see the battles continue.

    It’s revealed when Yuzuki finally clears the preconditions for her wish that she is not granted her wish but rather her LRIG Hanayo is. Hanayo takes over Yuzuki’s body whilst Yuzuki is transformed into a LRIG (who, as fate would have it, is paired up with the near catatonic Hitoe) & forced to continue to battle so she’ll be released from her card but placed in the body of another girl. Thus perpetuating the cycle.

    This drives Ruuko to chose to use Tama’s unique power to free all of the Eternal Girls & LRIGs but this plan is broken by Maya -the ruler of the LRIG realm- who manipulates Tama into breaking the Eternal Girl Oath, thus causing Ruuko to lose to Iona, who then becomes Ruuko’s LRIG (her wish being to battle forever because she’s hollow inside & only feels alive during combat). Which is a bit of a downer ending for the series but turns out there is a follow up -Selector Spread WIXOSS due out later this year (Northern Hemisphere Autumn according to the coda).

[SPOILER ENDS]


In all honesty, this might be a very rough series for a lot of people to watch. It deals with some heavy issues -those mentioned above but also issues of physical & emotional abuse from parents & the inability to connect with others.

I think it might have had a touch more impact if you got more development from Ruuko & Tama, since they are the central partnership.

Tama is pretty annoying, because she talks in such a childish way with a bit of a grating voice -always demanding that Ruuko finds other Selectors to battle & repeating things said to her like a mentally damaged parrot. It is hand-waved away that Tama is both special & empty, symbolised by her white colour & ability to level up more quickly than other LRIGs. Yet Tama knows nothing about being a LRIG or the rules of the Selector Battles, so it’s left to Hanayo to explain everything for Tama, Ruuko & the audience.

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Unfortunately, like the series as a whole, Ruuko’s development is also terse.

She speaks in an immature manner (calling herself Ruu in the 3rd person, an affectation that Tama also does) & you are told that she has had past trauma with her mother abandoning her but you don’t get a full sense of why & how in this series. Ruuko is also shown to be obsessed with battle, coming alive much in a fashion like Iona does, but she’s always chastising herself for lacking a wish to have -believing that she has no right to battle since its pointless if she wins because it will achieve nothing. She also falls quickly to despair upon learning all the truths of the Selector Battles yet, like an addict, keeps coming back to them, willing to sacrifice herself to save her friends.

She isn’t a bad character over all; just too thinly render. Which is common across all of the cast, unfortunately. You get more time with Yuzuki’s backstory than any other but I really wanted to know why Akira was so insane, driven to destroy Iona, & why Iona herself is willing to destroy her own life just to be able to find the perfect Selector to use her in battle (which is Ruuko since she believes Ruuko is the perfect embodiment of battle).

Still, even with all the darkness & heaviness, this is a series that I would recommend to those looking for something that goes against many current media trends (unfortunately not the ones about abusing &/or torturing young female characters). I really want to see the 2nd series because I genuinely want to see what happens to the characters as well as the truths behind the Selectors & LRIGs.

Also, there is a lack of hypersexualisation within the series. There is still sexualisation (mainly around the designs of the LRIGs) but not to an offensive or grating level. I would still have preferred to have seen more explanation of the game itself (since it is a marketing tool after all) but the story does honestly hold up on itself own without being tied to an existing merchandising product. It might be stronger if it wasn’t a branded entity but if you can look past the product tie-ins & narrative terseness, you might be intrigued by what you see.

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