Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Euphonium is Always a Penis

Over the last few years or so news websites seem to be scrambling to fill their sites with content. Apparently any loon who can slam their head down repeatedly on the keyboard in order to come up with the required one thousand words is fine to publish. Occasionally someone will publish something so daft it’s hard really hard not to mock the hell out of it. And so we come to Animation World Network's latest effort. I don’t usually visit their site as it mostly covers general western animation and special effects films. However they have recently run an article with the utterly click-bait title of “Who Are We Kidding: Subliminal Child-Porn Images in Japanese Manga and Anime”. Those looking for a nuanced, balanced, critical look at sexuality in Japanese animation and comics need not click through. We are told that the author, Kumi Kaoru, is an anime historian, but other than her translation work and a couple of essays on Hayao Miyazaki, there is no real evidence to show she really knows much about the history of Japanese animation.

While the title of her piece may seem unambiguous, it’s just baffling trying to figure out what she is attempting to say. The article’s title clearly suggests anime and manga are full of child porn images, but she then says “I am not implying that the anime Sound! Euphonium is child-porn. Quite the contrary, I appreciate it as a heart-warming story of teenage girls' love for music as well as their high ambition aimed at winning the national competition”. Seriously? In the preceding paragraphs she implies that the promotional images for “Sound! Euphonium” are full of subliminal sexual imagery;

“Let's take a closer look at the image on the right. We see a Japanese high school girl, barefoot, long slender bare legs and a seductive pose (in a classroom!) , giving up an up from under look, in the style of Marlene Dietrich from the 1930 film The Blue Angel. The brass horn euphonium appears cold and metallic against her warm-colored flesh, as if a phallic object is just being inserted between her young thighs. Yes, it’s quite easy to see that the girl's image has been decorated with many sexual and seductive hints within the anime adaptation, though in the original novel, she is a simple country girl in a suburb around Kyoto”.

No, apparently not child porn, but Kaoru can see sex everywhere in this show. But hey, not child porn. Putting aside the contradictions, it’s all a bit weird as “Sound! Euphonium” is a pretty chaste show. There’s barely a hint of romance and not a hint of nudity or anything resembling overt sexual imagery. Well, at least when viewed through the eyes of a normal human being. Kaoru on the other hand;

“In one particular example, I saw many bits and pieces of seductive elements in Sound! Euphonium illustrations produced by Kyoto Animation Studios (also called Kyo-Ani among anime fans), designed deliberately so that they would inspire subtle sexual fantasies in viewers. Look at the cover illustration of the original novel’s first volume (left) and that of the anime magazine “Animestyle” featuring the Sound! Euphonium anime (right).

The foreground figure in the illustration on the right has a baby-face with disproportionately seductive legs under the windswept short skirt. She is holding a large instrument in her hands as if to show the contrast between her flesh and the symbolic metallic "penis." The figure on the right holds an obedient kneeling pose, as if she is about to pet the tuba with her hands and mouth.

The girl on the left is put behind the foreground girl presumably because the contrabass cannot make an impression of the contrast between the metal and the flesh. The background girl's trumpet is half-hidden behind the kneeling girl’s head, apparently because it is a little too small to make contrast with her flesh.
Yes, this is the actual image from the article...
In other illustrations from the anime, artists have subtly inserted girls holding seductive poses, also showing short skirts flapping in the wind while keeping their undergarments unexposed, because they know veiling something invokes greater sexual thoughts than overtly exposing it. The girl’s forefinger points to her exposed lower region like a road marker leading to a tunnel, a baton also pointed between the legs. The girls’ breasts are also portrayed much larger than the usual Japanese high school girl, underscored with unnatural shadows to accentuate their size

These well planned and deliberate poses invoke thoughts of highly sexual images instantaneously in the viewers’ minds – within a second, the viewers find themselves watching ordinary poses with common objects, including musical instruments such as a tuba or a euphonium, while the sexual fantasies continue to settle into their subconscious minds”.

Because pleats in skirts are always vaginas and brass instruments are always penises. It’s all a conspiracy by Kyoto Animation to reel viewers with using this ingenious method of subliminal sexuality. Or maybe Kaoru is a bit of a fucking nut who likes to draw circles around the crotches of girls in promotional shots of anime series. You decide. But Kaoru won’t be having any criticism of her obsession with phallic brass instruments. She has irrefutable proof to back up her theory;

“If you would like to claim I should refrain from this analysis as it only shows my own personal fantasy, I recommend you do a Google search with a few keywords, such as ‘ユーフォニアム′(Euphonium), ‘エロ’(ero), and ‘同人’ (fanzine) in Japanese. That will produce for you an enormous pile of very stimulating imagery, further illustrating just how much of this content exists”.

So, did you get that? Erotic doujin of a title exists, therefore that title has subliminal sexual images in it. Of course the reality is that practically anything can be the subject of erotic doujin; local mascots, kids shows etc. I’ve even seen one featuring pieces of sushi having sex! Just because some fans draw characters having sex with one another, it doesn’t mean the original material it was based on has sexual elements (overt or subliminal) in it. It all becomes a bit clearer when Kaoru reveals the research material she used to come up with her brass instruments = dicks theory;

“Subliminal pornographic images cloaked behind an innocent exterior are not exclusive to Japan. Many studies, such as Wilson Bryan Key’s “Media Sexploitation” (1976) show how other media creators, including advertisement artists, especially in the U.S., have developed and used those techniques for decades”.

Oh fuck a duck, Wilson Bryan Key! The man who claimed Nabisco arranged the holes in Ritz crackers to spell the word sex. The man who interpreted a picture of a plate of clams on a menu as the portrayal of a sexual orgy which included various people and a donkey. That bloke. There is no scientific peer reviewed evidence with backs up ANY of Key’s claims. None. In modern times no one takes any of his work seriously and people in the advertising industry continually poke fun at the assertion their business uses any type of subliminal imagery. It’s a crock, a myth that the advertising industry uses such tactics and even more mythical is actual evidence that subliminal techniques actually work. It’s utterly laughable to cite his work as evidence for a bonkers theory about brass instruments representing penises in an anime that’s rather coy on the issue of sex.

Sorry, didn't have time to add the red circle and arrow
For the rest of the article, Kaoru obsessively worries about what the “gaijin” think of the sexuality in manga and anime citing a small number of critical articles over the years and even goes as far back to making a reference to Commodore Perry. Overall though, it is quite difficult to tell if she is criticising anime or not. I mean why title the article so provocatively, then claim anime isn’t child porn, yet than go on to suggest “Sound! Euphonium” is full of hidden suggestive sexual imagery? And then even more baffling is her praise for “Girls & Panzer” a couple of paragraphs later, whose promotional images can be interpreted as far more overtly sexual than “Sound! Euphonium”. And what about the tanks themselves in “Girls & Panzer”? The gun barrels aren't phallic? No, Kaoru seems to have a bee in her bonnet about Kyoto Animation shows with “K-On!” being criticised for having phallic guitars and their Key game adaptations (i.e. “Air”, “Kanon” and “Clannad”) coming under fire because the original versions of the games where erotic. It’s all a bit ironic seeing as Kyoto Animation employs a lot of female staff and the director, character designer and most of the screenwriters on “K-On!” were women.

The most disappointing thing about the article (apart from the confused, baffling scattershot approach) is that it fails to understand it’s subject. While Animation World Network claims that Kaoru is anime historian, she makes observations regarding the characters in “Sound! Euphonium” as having “[baby-faces] with disproportionately seductive legs under the windswept short skirt”, all the while ignoring the history of manga and anime. That description of “Sound! Euphonium” could also equally apply to “Sailor Moon” or any number of shoujo anime and manga from the 1990’s to present.

It is truly a wasted opportunity. Kaoru is just adding to mountains of essays which imply that anime and manga are nothing more than pedo bait, even if that wasn’t her intention (and I’m still not 100% sure what the intention of the article was). Instead she could have explained why youth, in particular stories about 14 year old high schoolers, are popular in anime and manga. She could have explained that this is not a new phenomena (see 1984’s “Cream Lemon”) or that corporate Japanese culture is kind of a shitty place to work and maybe salarymen dream of returning to their favourite time in life; early high school. Kaoru could have looked at why sexuality has become an important element of anime otaku culture, as well as the rise of moe and the reasons behind it. But she doesn’t. It’s a real shame because these topics don’t receive any real genuine critical debate or analysis, especially in English.

Worse yet is that in a recent tweet Kaoru has the fucking gall to criticise someone like Dan Kanemitsu for being a “good translator, but not a good powerful debater”. Fuck me, are you serious? First of all she’s criticising him based on a few lines from a BBC article he was interviewed for a year ago. Second, Kanemitsu is far more articulate and less contradictory and confusing than Kaoru will ever be.

Unfortunately at the end of her article Animation World Network has promised that there will be more “insightful” articles from Kaoru “on the dark side of the Japanese anime industry”. Oh goodie, I just can’t wait. I really don’t think Animation World Network gives a flying fuck if the content is factual or enlightening. Just as long as it gets the clicks.

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