Friday, November 19, 2010

The Real Kuragehime Post

Dang, I didn't save the notes I had from the last post, after I started jotting down a few points I wanted to make about Kuragehime and then realized I'd yammered on too long about what my son and I have been up to, lately.  Well, no matter - I've thought enough about what I wanted to say.

Okay, here's a brief summary:  Tsukimi is an 18 year-old girl who moves from the southern part of Japan to Tokyo at the invitation of a group of women otaku to come live at their apartment building; Tsukimi's hope is to find work as an illustrator.  Her specialty is drawing jellyfish which comes out of her otaku devotion to jellyfish, a fascination that began with her (now dead) mother introducing her to jellyfish by taking her to see an exhibit at an aquarium.  Her mother points out that one of the jellyfish has a beautiful train like a wedding dress, and she will one day make Tsukuki such a dress.  The promise is never fulfilled as Tsukimi's mother dies prematurely from cancer.  Her comfortable, sheltered life as one of the Aman (nuns) in the retro apartment building they all live in is shaken up when she meets a cross-dressing young man named Kuranosuke.  HIJINX!

The thing I like about this anime is that it has a slice-of-life feel, but it's a slice-of-life about the otaku world.  I don't know much about trends in anime and manga right now, but I see that there is somewhat of a current running toward otaku-themed storylines, and this one is quite well-done.  It is sensitive and sympathetic to its subjects so that you immediately like these very strange women and the main protagonist from the get-go.

I also like it because it gives me some glimpse into the fact that otakus aren't just confined to anime and manga; in Kuragehime, the women who live together are only tangentially connected to the manga world through their assistance to Juon Mejiro, a nocturnal mangaka who lives in their building and is a popular BL (boy's love) artist; the Aman help her ink her drawings so that she makes her publication deadlines.  Otherwise, each of the Aman have a different proclivity; Mayaya is devoted to the Records of Three Kingdoms; Chieko is passionate about Japanese clothing and is a master kimono maker for dolls (her mother is also incidentally an otaku who pursues the Korean actor Bae Yong Joon; Banba knows everything about trains and the train system in Japan; Jiji is devoted to older men (i.e. actor Takeo Chii) and butler cafes.

I guess my third reason for liking this anime is that, quite possibly, I relate to these people very strongly.  I don't know if anyone has made comparisons between Japanese otaku and fanboys/girls in the US; I fall somewhat into the latter category, but I'm too lazy to be deemed a true fangirl by any stretch.  My husband is a rock nerd, and we haven't yet determined what kind of nerd our son will be, but a nerd he will most likely be with us as his parents.

The appearance of the cross-dressing Kuranosuke, while it is central to the storyline, is not as fascinating to me as the background details of the show; Kuranosuke helps Tsukimi save a jellyfish from dying because it has been put in a tank with an incompatible jellyfish, and this is how their strange friendship begins.  But Tsukimi and, by extension, the Aman's interaction with the outside world is the real interesting point; they live in a well-kept, older apartment building (Kuranosuke calls it "retro," which probably means it is post-WWII), and because they have an invitation-only policy they have kept out the majority of people who may not be sympathetic to their proclivities.  They call themselves nuns because no men are allowed into their isolated little world; men are not needed because the love of their individual passions sustains them.  Kuranosuke has figured this out, and so he is becoming a constant fixture, dressed as a woman, even though he is not careful about his immersion into being a woman, constantly using the male "ore" instead of the female "atai" (a common deception that is often the unraveling in gender-bender stories when it is not adhered to), much to Tsukimi's dismay.  She is nonplussed by his insistence on being her friend even though she (and the rest of the Aman) have consistently tried to dissuade him from this course, because he is a "fashionable" and therefore not suited to their lifestyle, which is decidedly the opposite of fashionable.

The development of this story then seems self-determined; inevitably, Kuranosuke will transform all of the Aman into "proper" women.  This is what annoys me the most about this storyline; each of the women are wonderful and fascinating in their own right, and somehow a cross-dressing college student needs to be involved in recreating them in the mold of appropriate female behavior.  This is already starting to happen by episode 5; it began with Tsukimi's final transformation in episode four, which culminates in a heart-touching scene between Tsukimi and Kuranosuke's brother, ShÅ«, at an aquarium.

However, now they've got to get serious and "dress for battle," Kuranosuke tells the Aman, because their retro apartment building is being eyed for demolition and reconstruction as a high-rise hotel.  As Kuranosuke has deemed them all to be NEETS (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), they would be in trouble if their apartment building closed down; their nunnery would be broken up and cheap apartments are hard to come by in Tokyo.  At the end of Episode 5, he is beginning to remake them into contemporary ideals of womanhood; Amaya is remade in the mode of Nicole Richie and Banba, because of her untameable afro, has it concealed under a straight, blond, page-boy wig.  Kuranosuke hopes that, by this transformation, the Aman will be taken more seriously as they protest the sale and demolition of their home; it should be noted that Chieko's mother, the owner of the building, has just decided to sell it so she can pursue her interest in Korean language studies.

This also brings up the meme I've been aware of in other manga about the reconstruction of Tokyo; like many gentrification projects in cities around the world, manga storylines have consistently portrayed this tearing down and reconstruction.  The one that immediately comes to mind is Takashi Shiina's Ghost Sweeper Mikami; Mikami is an exorcist who makes money (lots and lots of money) banishing spirits who still inhabit sites that are slated for demolition or are already in the reconstruction process.  In this sense, then, Kuragehime can be viewed within this meme of new taking over the old; if the Aman are forced to leave their home, their way of life may very well come to an end, like the spirits of old buildings.  Their proclivities represent a rather old-fashioned passion for older things and the natural world, things that modern Tokyo will not abide by in its quest to reshape itself as a modern-world metropolis.  Like the spirits that Mikami exorcises from old buildings, the Aman are also an endangered species within the modern world.  Another instance where this is apparent is in Takahashi Rumiko's Inuyasha; the intersection between ancient folklore and the modern world is a constant theme.  The main characters, Kagome and Inuyasha, travel back and forth between two worlds, the ancient past and the modern present; occasionally, this line is blurred when artifacts or spirits are loosed upon the modern; in the ancient it is a common occurrence, but in the modern this is not as often seen, and final battles in the modern world in Inuyasha usually take place at construction sites.

Edit 5.5.11:  Added photo of Kuragehime characters from anime, which I got from Amal x icchan, a really cool blog that I think I'll add to a blogroll that I haven't made yet.  The piece this is connected to has a good description of the anime, and some "fun facts" as well as the ED for the anime and a photo the building the Amars home is based on. The characters in the photo are from top left to right: Kuranosuke, Shu, Amaya, Jiji, Tsukimi, Banba, Chieko, Clara

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