Kimono aren’t cosplay

Don’t do it y’all, just don’t do it.

In about two weeks it’s Anime Boston, one of my favorite things ever in the city. Anime fans from all over are spotted across the city in different styles of cosplay, earning weird (almost scared) looks from normal people everywhere. I love cosplay, both wearing it and photographing it. But there’s one trend, specifically in the anime community, that needs to stop: wearing a kimono as a costume. AKA: cultural appropriation. Continue reading

Overlooking Japanese anime film “Your Name” discredits an animated hit

Leaving the movie of the 2016 Academy Awards shows its inherent bias.

Out of the 89 years of the Academy Awards, only one Japanese anime film won Best Animated Feature Film: Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Spirited Away in 2003. In the almost fifteen years since then, very few anime films and shorts show up in the list. The snobbery for anime showed up again last year when the Academy did not nominate the internationally successful film Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa) from director Makoto Shinkai. After its release, multiple awards worldwide, and critical acclaim, the Academy missed recognizing Your Name as an example of a work that goes beyond the standard anime genre to tell the story of fate, missed connections, and first love.

Set in contemporary Japan, Your Name revolves around two students who intermittently switch bodies for no apparent reason or cause. Taki Tachibana lives the modern dream, attending a good school and living in a nice Tokyo apartment. He feels discontent though, an unknown missing piece weighing down his life. Across Japan, in a (fictional) mountain village of Itomori, Mitsuha Miyamizu lives a quaint rural life that she can’t stand. As a keeper of her ancestral home shrine, Mitsuha longs to leave her town, explore the larger world, and become a handsome Tokyo boy in her next life.

Her wish comes somewhat true when she and Taki realize that their “dreams” of switching places with each other actually take place in reality, and the two form a bond over their fated connection. Their story, however, doesn’t remain a cheery romantic comedy and innocent slice of life for long — an impending comet flying over Japan breaks off, the chunks landing in Mitsuha’s town, and destroying all of Itomori. When Taki realizes he actually lives three years ahead of Mitsuha, he must figure out how to use their connection to save her and her town.

Your Name became an early contender for Oscar fodder at its release in the summer of 2016. It premiered at the massively popular anime convention Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California, and became a crowd favorite following its debuts around the world. When it made its theatrical launch in the United States the following April in 2017, it grossed over $5 million dollars on opening weekend. Over a year later, Your Name earned over $355 million worldwide, and its deluxe DVD pre-orders already sold out in the United States. For the first major work and feature-length film from up-and-coming director Makoto Shinkai, Your Name had no reason to get overlooked by the Academy.

Shinkai’s trademark on the industry remains his hyper-real animation of his settings, characters, and an almost otherworldly Japan. From glistening Tokyo, to Mitsuha’s small mountainside village, all of the backgrounds and settings look like real places in Japan. Other anime styles look realistic when they take place in Japan, but Your Name works on a higher level for the photographic clarity of every scene. On top of that, the comet acts as a driving force in the movie, but he animated it so well it looks almost innocent. The celestial look to the way Shinkai drew the sky, the town of Itomori, and the comet created a more magical feel to an otherwise everyday life movie.

Take the moment when Mitsuha watches the comment fly over Itomori, on the same day as the town’s spring festival. Lanterns illuminate the traditional vendor stands in a soft orange hue, students walk around in traditional kimonos, and the early evening sun turns the whole sky pink. Mitsuha goes for a walk with her friends to the fields for the best view of the comet, and inbrilliant arc it sparks across the sky, like pastel fireworks. The audience feels the same awe as Mitsuha staring up at the dusky blue sky. As the stars fall, it dawns on you at about the same time it this Mitsuha the imminent danger Itomoria faces. The artistry of the scene going beyond any form of animation, because once immersed in Shinkai’s Japan, it doesn’t feel like watching an anime, it feels like enjoying a film.

Aside from its identity as modern Japanese pop art, anime as a medium affords certain factors that only work through its own definitions, tropes, and artistic styles — and even then some more specific references to Japanese culture. I think that this level of foreign media puts off a majority of Western viewers. When seeing anime imports like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z, the genre earns a reputation that only masterful works — but still heavily “other-ized” sensibilities — like Miyazaki can afford to pull off. But Your Name manages to keep Japan at its core as the characters move around it and tell an otherwise not too unbelievable human story. In the same vein as Disney’s trademark look, or the beauty of Pixar animation, the style of anime in Your Name uses its medium to tell a meaningful story.

The anime industry in Japan amasses about $18 million dollars, according to the Association of Japanese Animations in an NPR story, and yet preconceived definitions and misconceptions of anime discount its films for consideration from the legacy Western awards such as the Oscars. I believe that the Academy acted with a bias against anime when they didn’t consider Your Name for Best Animated Feature Film in 2016. Your Name compares easily to heavy hitters like Zootopia, and Moana, sharing the same core themes of good animated movies: family, friendship, saving the day, and doing good. Your Name marks Shinkai’s first major stake in the game of animation, and the Academy should not — and cannot — continue to ignore his work.

Photos from Anime NYC 2017

I tried to be a cosplay photographer for a weekend.

Last weekend my friends and I went to New York City for the first ever Anime NYC convention. It was one of (maybe the first?) anime-focused cons in New York, and held in the Jarvits Center — the same place as New York Comic Con and the building where our hopes and dreams died on November 8. This wasn’t our first weeb con — Anime Boston is the OG — and seeing Anime NYC’s first year got us excited to see how it’ll expand in the future.

I have a passing interest in photography, a simple Canon DSLR suffices for most of my needs. And cosplay is my favorite part of any convention, I can sit in one place forever and just people watch. So for this con I decided to try my hand at something a little more in-depth than quick portraits with my phone.

(PS: Sorry I didn’t get any names of the cosplayers. If you find yourself in any of the photos and want your own copies, let me know!)

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And finally, my favorite photo from the weekend:

No Face from Spirited Away moments before it scared the life out of my friend

Thank you to everyone who let me take photos of them this weekend, and thank you to the team who made Anime NYC happen. See you next season!

Strong female leads: an adventure in anime

All I want in life is a kickass heroine.

Recently one of my friends and I were discusisng some of her favorite badass women in anime. Being lifelong weebs (or is otaku the cutesy “reclaimed” Western nickname major anime fans like to use?) this was an hours long discussion about different types of strength, the eras each anime came out, and character development. It also got me thinking about how people not familiar with anime view it as stereotypically sexist, when if done right it has some of the strongest, smartest, and most capable female representation.

One of the strongest instances of Chinese representation I remember as a kid isn’t Mulan. No, her name was Meiling, a sassy, fiery, martial arts expert from Hong Kong. She wasn’t from an American cartoon — she appeared in the classic magical girl anime Cardcaptor Sakura.

Seeing Meiling, a Chinese girl with long black hair and big brown eyes, influenced my aesthetic for years. She was Asian, loud, emotional, over confident, and kicked ass. Sailor Mars and Jupiter, Misty, and Jessie too. All of my love to Mulan and the other great Disney heroines, but when I think of empowering female leads from my childhood, the majority are all anime characters.

Like most anime fans my age, I fell down the hole watching the original Pokemon (Indigo League), some Yu-Gi-Oh, and the infamous dubs of Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors. After a brief time period when I was Too Cool For Everything, it was through watching the pop-up-fun-fact marathon of Avatar the Last Airbender when I remembered how awesome anime is. And how in a lot of ways it helped define the media I enjoy and character role models I love.

Now, I also get that anime has its fair share of very terrible role models, both male or female, but I’m focusing on the females ones. From over the top fan service to terrible writing and development, a truly strong female lead can be hard to come by sometimes. But that’s what makes really good ones so great. So if you’re at all curious about anime and not sure where to start, here’s my list of a few shows I’ve seen that all involve at least one awesome female lead.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

This is a classic series, great place to start, you can’t go wrong. And the strong women in this show are the best.

Kill La Kill

Not gonna lie, I almost didn’t finish this series because of the fan service. But I stayed with it, and am so glad I did.

Ouran High School Host Club

Another classic, you can’t go wrong. Like I said, there’s different types of strength and badasses, and I certainly think Haruhi is a badass.

Attack on Titan

This show is a ride, let me tell you. But it’s fun (sometimes) and it’s got some great women in it. Though I do wish one of them (Mikasa) would get a bit more depth other than “I fight good because I’m in love with a useless dumbass.”

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

If you liked Ouran, you’ll love Nozaki-kun. The same satirical take on shojo romance with a charming disregard for traditional character roles.

Soul Eater

Another classic, it’s a fun adventure story if you’re in for a longer plot and story.
Spoiler Alert: At the time, I was kinda bummed Maka x Soul weren’t OTP, but now I really appreicate their friendship.

Code Geass

Come for the angsty boys, stay for the girl piloting a giant robot like a boss. And because you get emotionally wrecked along the way.

Cowboy Bebop

Truly a classic, Bebop set the precedent for many of the anime that followed it. So I’m glad Faye and Ed were some of the first examples of fully formed and thought-out space cowgirls.

Akame ga Kill

Most of the main squad are women with huge-ass weapons they are highly trained to use, it’s great. I’m also always here for a powerful lady villain too.

Yona of the Dawn

A slow arc with true character development, it’s a really good series and the cast is a lot of fun. But a warning: this anime is technically “unfinished” in that the end of season 1 doesn’t answer any questions, but there’s also no signs of a season 2 — you have to read the manga if you want any closure.

And of course if you really want to go old school: Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon

Honorable Mention: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Madoka)

A lot of people love this anime, but I’m not one of them. Check it out for yourself and let me know where I went wrong.

There’s a lot of jokes, stereotypes, and misconceptions about anime, especially the women in it. But I think anime is just like any genre of media: there’s nuances, great examples, and problems that need greater discussion. Along with these shows I recommend, if you’re curious about the greater dialoge about female rep in anime check out the blog AnimeFeminist. And if you’re worried about being judged for anime, take heart in Sailor Mars’s words of wisdom: