A recent anime title that everyone should check out is Golden Kamuy
Based on the Manga series by Satoru Noda, Golden Kamuy is set in cold Hokkaido just after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, and is about a young but veteran soldier, Sugimoto. In Hokkaido he encounters a tangled web of conspiracies and plots involving a large heap of gold hidden by the Ainu, the serial killer who killed the Ainu and hid it, a faction in the local detachment of the army hoping to get hold of the gold to fund a coup, the prisoners on whose bodies the serial killer tattooed the map leading to the gold (among them the now elderly but no less deadly leaders of the legendary Shinsengumi), and a young Ainu girl, Ashirpa, whose father was among the Ainu murdered because of the gold.
As is evident, it is a series with a delightfully convoluted plot (and all that at just 13 episodes so far). It is something fans of macho silliness and gutsy action would enjoy. If you liked the Briggs Arc in Fullmetal Alchemist, you will love this series (the two series share many animation staff).
But the strength of Golden Kamuy for culture-nerds like me is the rich anthropology in it.
The series celebrates Ainu culture in detail: Ashirpa introduces Sugimoto (and the viewer) to lots of Ainu cuisine, customs, and beliefs, and there are lots and lots of Ainu dialogue. I relish at the trivia on how to make squirrel meatball soup, but even better is the sight of battle-worn Sugimoto so delighted at every new thing Ashirpa introduces to him. Frankly it’s adorable.
Anime has always been used for tourism and cultural appreciation (more than half of Detective Conan’s episodes have the characters solve a crime in some tourist destination), but this is the first time I’ve seen a deliberate effort to use it and promote awareness about a cultural community, one of the most marginalized in Japan.
Golden Kamuy’s first season just ended, catch it before the second season (which airs in October) comes out!
(Work and the lack of inspiration conspired to prevent me from posting here for some time. I hope to break that inactivity in the coming weeks starting with this post)
Anyone who says that anime is only for immature people does not know anime well enough. I’ve said that already here before. The long history of Japanese animation has produced a diverse range of titles, in genres often unique to it. From cooking battle shows to tentacle porn, anime is a testament to the wild imagination of the most creative culture on the planet.
And because this is Japan we are talking about – the culture that produced Zen and Superflat – it should come as little surprise that many anime titles already reach the level of literature in terms of style and substance, dealing with heavy philosophical and/or aesthetic themes with often complex story telling techniques.
This is a list of my favourites among them, works that have had a profound influence on both my philosophical and stylistic growth. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I am sure there are many great titles out there I have yet to discover which would easily fit into this list.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
I start this list with a bang. Shoujo Kakumei Utena (literally ‘Girl Revolution Utena’) has been described as one of the most complicated anime titles ever made. The first major work by the anime auteur Kunihiko Ikuhara (with the exception of the Sailor Moon series he only directed, every one of his works is here), the series revolves (pun intended) around the eponymous character Utena, who, and my struggle to make sense should reveal how strange this series is, enrolls in a school where she must engage in duels to defend a classmate, Himemiya Anthy, from being abused by Duelers as the Rose Bride. Initially proceeding with narrative coherence, the series descends into near-incomprehensible symbolism, involving a Student Council which receives instructions from someone named End of the World, heavy hints of abusive brother-sister incest, and a character turning into a cow. There is a movie adaptation, which is almost a completely different work altogether, and it ends with Utena becoming (literally) a sports car.
Utena is a monstrosity of a work, forcing you to retain your disbelief and instead analyze the symbolism the series is literally filled with. In that sense Ikuhara has succeeded in achieving Brechtian verfremdung where Brecht himself had failed spectacularly with Mother Courage. In typical Brechtian style Utena consists of repetitions of tropes (the damsel in distress, the duel of honour, the prince on a white horse) to reveal the metafictive character of the series, but where it diverges (and arguably why it succeeds) is in how it repeats those tropes so often and puts so many of them together to the point of absurdity, such that there isn’t even any room for the lazy bourgeoisie imagination to revel in formulaic familiarity. To that end, then, Utena shows that the future of Brechtian narrative is in Theatre of the Absurd.
But to say Utena is merely a Brechtian title would be too simplistic, because it also heavily demonstrates that Russian Formalist tenet of polyphony: it is so full of symbolism that there are multiple possible interpretations of the series. I am deliberately avoiding a reading of the series here, there is a website, Empty Movement, which compiles critical essays attempting to interpret the title. Essays (properly cited and intellectually elucidated) range from the interpretation of many that it is a critique of the Shoujo genre and of societal standards of femininity in general (this is why it is considered a classic feminist work), to the eye-opening theory that it may be an allegory of Buddhist cosmology and ethics. The constant quoting the famous ‘the egg is the world’ line from Hermann Hesse’s Demian certainly lends to the series a metaphysical bend, but the series is coherent stylistically, not didactically, demonstrating best Barthes’ description of the literary work as a ‘crossroads of meaning.’
Utena, as mentioned, is coherent stylistically, not meaning-wise: while I said it shows that the best way to accomplish Brechtian verfremdung is Theatre of the Absurd, it also shows that Theatre of the Absurd can also be Symbolic and Baroque. Even if it is hard to understand, Utena is a pleasure to watch because of its stylistic repetitions. The ‘revolution’ in the English translation of title plays on the word’s dual meaning of both ‘radical change and upheaval’ (the literal translation of its original Japanese title, ‘kakumei’) and ‘spinning’ (reinforced by the opening song’s title ‘Rondo Revolution,’ and the constant image of things spinning). The image of roses is a dominant motif throughout the series, and by spinning roses around and translating the series title to French (‘la fillete revolutionnaire’) in the commercial credit, Ikuhara neatly reinforces the heavy allusion to the Shoujo anime classic Rose of Versailles, itself a critique of female gender roles.
I have written about the Bakemonogatari series here before.
Bakemonogatari follows Araragi Koyomi, an ordinary young man (in the beginning of the franchise he is in middle school) who has frequent encounters with the paranormal.
But to simply say Bakemonogatari is magical realist would be too lazy. It has the typical irony and whimsicality typical of that literary genre, but it does not dispel any emotive attempts, and instead proceeds to explore how the sense of the fantastic can still be evoked even after the genre has been exposed to the point of metafiction. In a way the metafictive element of the series disarms the viewer into a false sense of security, then proceeds to playing with silence, extreme close-up shots that obscure the whole scene, and eerie use of shadows to suddenly bring out the paranormal again.
The anime adaptation of Nishio Ishin’s light novel series (this series is anything but light!) is dark minimalist, a title so heavy in dialogue it can only be deliberate. The Bakemonogatari series compels the viewer to piece the story together as it unfolds before you – the narrative is almost non-linear, and is deliberately obscured by the verbal jousting of the characters.
As I’ve said before, Bakemonogatari deals heavily with Nietzchean principles, from the moral ambiguity of the supernatural ‘aberrations’ to Nisemonogatari’s deconstruction of authenticity (and the implications of that in Barthes’ theory of the erotic and jouissance).
Another work by Nishio Ishin, I have also written here before about Katanagatari. The title is a sword-hunting series involving Yasuri Shichika, heir to the Kyotouryu style of martial arts, and Togame, a strategist working for the Owari Shogunate who hires him to seek out twelve legendary swords.
Katanagatari, as I’ve written before, deals with jouissance (a consistent fascination, it seems, of Nishio Ishin), but unlike in Bakemonogatari the jouissance is treated not in terms of erotica but the way the classic Greek tragedians used it: by obscuring the action, the reader’s fascination for it is heightened. As I’ve also said before, it also uses this denial (the name of a character in the series!) to take the discussion to the existentialist level, ending not with fulfillment but with frustration, thus becoming an allegory of life.
As a Nishio Ishin work, the series is heavy in dialogue, although unlike Bakemonogatari it does have some action. Dialogue-heavy stories is not new to the Japanese, just watch any classic Kabuki play (Kanjincho, Kanpei Harakiri, Benten Kozo, just to name a few) and you will find entire stories led by people sitting down talking. In a recent anime (I would have included here if not for there being other titles I could talk about more), Seirei no Moribito, the eighth episode is a masterpiece of narrative that demonstrates how this works in the classic sense.
In Katanagatari however Ishin treats dialogue differently: rather than being the sole driving vehicle of the story, the dialogue in the series revels at the small talk and banter, almost as if Ishin wrote the story to have an excuse to write fanservice and gags. To that end the series is metafictive like Bakemonogatari. But where Katanagatari is stronger is in its gorgeous and deliberately Rinpa-style design, further putting style over realism as its main aim. Katanagatari is much less story as it is spectacle and verbal banter.
The next Ikuhara masterpiece came out quite some time after Utena ended. Like Utena before it, Mawaru Penguindrum is difficult to give a synopsis to: brothers Kanba and Shoma Takakura live with their sickly sister Himari after they were orphaned under mysterious circumstances. Himari dies at the beginning of the series but is brought back to life with the powers of an alien penguin hat which possesses her and, using her body, tells the brother to look for the ‘penguindrum.’ Like Utena, the story gains some plot complexity before it descends into the absurd.
While Utena was set in a faux-European Roccoco world, Mawaru is very modern Japanese, and likewise deals with issues closer to the postmodern Japanese condition: there are heavy references to the 1995 Sarin Gas Attack in Tokyo, there are demonstrations of parental abuse, and consistent images of dehumanization and alienation in the post-industrial age (there’s a machine called ‘child broiler,’ where ‘unwanted children’ are ‘disposed’). Like Utena there are also multiple allusions that lead to a polyphony of allegory, heaviest of which are references to Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Intergalactic Railroad and Haruki Murakami’s ‘Superfrog Saves Tokyo.’ Like Utena, it too has spawned a myriad critical essays (here is an excellent one for example) Mawaru is rich with symbolic possibilities in its absurdity, probably more so than Utena.
The character I love best in this series was Oginome Ringo, who seeks to fulfill her ‘destiny’ by following the diary her dead sister Momoka left behind. The diary is written in future tense, laying out Momoka’s dreams (along with seemingly random acts apparently linked to a mysterious conspiracy to which Momoka is at least privy). Ringo and her concept are the inspirations for the eponymous character in my short story ‘Arabella Raut the Eighth’, which came out in Kritika Kultura in 2017.
Anime has many Künstlerroman titles – whether it be something as action-packed as Yukihira Soma’s growth as a cook to something as subtle as Yuurakutei Yakumo’s coming-of-age as a rakugoka (more on the latter later). But I only know one work of fiction that serves as a bildungsroman for the connoisseur: Hyougemono.
A fictional account of the rise of Sengoku-era warrior and chado master Furuta Oribe, Hyougemono chronicles Furuta’s struggle to balance his obsession with fine things and his life as a warrior, first under Oda Nobunaga and later under Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His growth as a man of the arts – with the guidance of the rising star Sen no Rikyu – is told against the backdrop of court intrigue within Nobunaga’s ranks, and at the end of the series Furuta is made to choose between being a disciple of Rikyu or being a retainer of Hideyoshi.
Furuta, in history the originator of Oribe-yaki, is a very endearing character in Hyougemono, because one actually relates to his artistic growth: the viewer cannot help but joining him in his naivety, and later enlightenment. The series can be seen as a study of the class dynamics of Sengoku Japan, but more interestingly it charts the growth of the individual into the highly developed world of Japanese high culture.
What makes this series most striking is in how it demonstrates that in traditional Japanese culture, the artist and the connoisseur are one and the same thing (such arts as Chado and Kodo, which are more performative than they are productive, give heavy emphasis on the cultivation of the individual practitioner’s taste).
Hyougemono also serves to demonstrate how much the ideal of wabi-sabi is an expression of the Buddhist dogma of the Middle Way, and how in Furuta’s initial obsession with finery he has, in typical Buddhist paradox, lost sight of himself is in his self consciousness (wabi sabi, in that sense, is also very Zen). Particularly poignant is the scene where Furuta realizes his folly when he hosts a tea ceremony with a primitive theme.
Perhaps most intriguingly, Hyougemono looks at the role cultural capital played in the treacherous politics of the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods (Rikyu’s subtle goading of Hideyoshi with the single flower on the Tokonoma was brilliant), and how politics influenced the development of Chado aesthetics.
In this list, Ikuhara’s latest work (his shortest to date) is the work I had the hardest time penetrating (this time, any possible puns unintended). Yurikuma Arashi is, if anything, even denser than Utena and Mawaru, because where those two begin with some semblance of plot comprehensibility, it descends into the absurd early on. Yurikuma Arashi follows Kureha, a student in Arashigaoka Academy, living in a world dominated by a large wall called the Wall of Severance. The wall was set up to separate humans from alien bears, who eat humans. The series also follows two of these bears, Ginko and Lulu, who infiltrate the human world and enroll in Arashigaoka. As Ginko befriends Kureha, a mysterious force looms over the characters, the Invisible Storm, and tensions of identity and sexual determination emerge.
Where the lesbian undertones are only implied in Utena and Mawaru, female homoeroticism takes center-stage in Yurikuma (Yuri, literally ‘lily,’ is of course the genre name of lesbian anime). There are almost no male characters, and the main characters frequently engage in sexual behaviour with one another, often to the point of glorious camp (Ikuhara is a master of camp): in one transformation scene, Ginko and Lulu are depicted licking nectar oozing from the petals of a glowing lily emerging from a naked Kureha’s groin.
Consequently, unlike Utena and Mawaru Yurikuma’s allegory, while denser to penetrate than those two, is nevertheless almost singularly directed at the critique of female gender roles. It is a testament to its intellectual complexity that Anime News Network’s episode reviews of the series (competently written by Gabriella Ekens) serve more to discuss it rather than give feedback to it (it is a must-read when watching the anime).
Show Genroku Rakugo Shinju
One of the best anime titles released in the past decade, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is a romance Künstlerroman based on the manga by Haruko Kumota, dealing with the traditional Japanese performing art of Rakugo.
Showa Genroku follows Yuurakutei Yakumo, the holder of a prestigious name in Rakugo, as he takes on a young ex convict named Kyoji as his apprentice at a time when the art is struggling. Yakumo’s past as Kikuhiko (his first stage name), his initial reluctance to do Rakugo, and the tragic past that led to his assuming the name, are revealed throughout the two-part series.
The title is as much about Yakumo’s sexuality as it is about Rakugo and its aesthetics (those two are intimately linked). His early repressed sexual attraction to fellow Rakugo disciple Sukeroku, his inability to respond to the erotic advances of the geisha Miyokichi, and the bitterness born of Miyokichi’s affair with Sukeroku all make this at once a cerebral and carnal series.
But where Kikuhiko dies inside because of his frustrated sexuality, he blossoms artistically as he finds his voice as a rakugoka in depicting the sensual. It is a stroke of artistic genius for Kumota to set Kikuhiko’s artistic (and sexual) awakening at a farcical performance of the Kabuki play Benten Kozo, in which he plays the eponymous character, a famous icon of sexual ambiguity. As a fan more of Kabuki than Rakugo, the series definitely taught me a deeper appreciation of that art form, which I had initially taught was just a form of standup comedy. Rakugo, it turns out, is just as subtle and complex in its standards as Kabuki is, and the case of Kunihiko demonstrates how, just like in Kabuki, individuality plays a key role in the artist’s inheritance of a repertoire of performances performed for centuries.
I consider myself a benign snob, and these titles, remarkably cerebral for a medium often dismissed as ‘children’s entertainment,’ were practically made for me. It would be an understatement to say I recommend these titles to anyone.
Anime music dominated my childhood. I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s watching anime on television, dubbed in Tagalog on ABS-CBN or GMA-7. In the Kidapawan of my youth there was no Hero TV or Animax, and one’s only chance at getting to watch anime – the dominant form of entertainment of my generation – was to hope class or cleaners’ duties would end early enough so one can make it home by the time the 4pm to 6pm anime time-slots started. For the neighbourhood children who didn’t have TVs, they had to look for a neighbour who would open a window to let them watch along.
Today my memories of Kidapawan are coloured with the soundtrack of these afternoon shows, and they’re always on mp3 in my phone if I’m feeling nostalgic.
But of the near hundreds of OPs and EDs and BGMs that will evoke memories of youth from any child of Kidapawan of my age, six iconic tracks stand out, main themes from some of the most successful anime titles, now occupying timeless places in the anime canon. Even in Japan these tracks are now classics, and with the global popularity of anime they may as well be regarded international music. As a child of the early days of Globalization, I certainly let them be classics in my playlist.
These are the six iconic anime main themes from my childhood.
1. Negishi Takayuki, ‘Sakura no Theme 2’ Cardcaptor Sakura
Cardcaptor Sakura has a gorgeous soundtrack, each track full of emotion and blending beautifully with the anime’s colour shades to evoke the somewhat classy impressionability of the 90s. Of all the tracks of this CLAMP masterpiece, this one stands out most, playing on key climactic moments (when Sakura is about to capture a card) and on the next episode preview. I was Grade 4 when I first heard it, as CCS aired on ABS-CBN every 5pm.
2. Ono Katsuo, Detective Conan Main Theme, Detective Conan
This jazzy riff from one of the longest running series in anime has always given the Japan-set detective series a Chicago feel, a subtle but family-friendly nod to hard boiled fiction. It is a Japanese classic, with established orchestras and military bands regularly performing it. On TV my viewing of Conan was sporadic because GMA-7 kept on taking it down and back up again, usually in the 3:30 time slot (GMA-7’s commercial of it, and that of Dragon Ball Z, were nevertheless memorable, as they featured my first encounter with Linkin’ Park). But I started watching it again some years ago, and today I still watch Conan every week. The track now feels beautifully anachronistic, a throwback to the 90s.
3. Masuda Toshio, Naruto Main Theme, Naruto
Ah Naruto. The title of this blog post just begs for this track to be included in the list. Naruto’s main theme has one of the most recognizable melodies in all of anime fandom – to some extent it has become the anime theme song. With its shakuhachi and taiko drums it is also a stereotypical track to play for anything Japanese. I first watched this series when I was in grade 6 (it was on ABS, 5pm, filling in the old time slot of InuYasha), but it did not catch on among my classmates until we were in 2nd year high school. I had watched the Naruto franchise until it ended a few months ago (that’s half my lifetime!). Since Naruto Shippuuden started the theme has not been played in the series, and the series easily moved on from it. Then in 2016 – almost ten years since it was last heard – the melody makes a comeback in the last moments of episode 469, when Kakashi’s face is finally revealed. And I felt a surge of nostalgia. It was an emotional watershed moment, signalling the end of the Naruto era, and as I watched that episode for a few seconds I was forced back in Kidapawan.
4. Tanaka Kouhei, ‘Overtaken’, One Piece
One Piece is another long running series with a magnificent soundtrack, appropriately breath taking for its grand world building. The global hit has many tracks that would fit well into this list – ‘Luffy Moukou‘ being on top – but I think ‘Overtaken’ is the most memorable, utterly epic with just a few notes. One Piece was shown at 4:30pm on GMA-7, thankfully when ABS-CBN had nothing else of interest to compete with it. I remember whistling this track as I walked around Kidapawan during lunch breaks from NDKC.
5. Sahashi Toshihiko, ‘Hunter X Hunter no Theme ~ Densetsu’, Hunter x Hunter
The original Hunter X Hunter anime series was a more artistically accomplished adaptation than the 2011 series – it was darker, grittier, more emotionally charged. Much of that was thanks to the soundtrack, which was still better than the 2011 series’ even if music was that adaptation’s greatest strength. ‘Hunter no theme ~ densetsu’ was the starring piece in the soundtrack, a melody with electronic organ and guitars that evoke both the unknown and the hard, rugged but still somehow classy grownup-ness needed to explore than unknown. It is a haunting track. The series’ equally haunting first ED, ‘Kaze no Uta‘ by the late Honda Minako, has a bridge featuring a short and fast riff of the melody.
This piece – and the series itself – captured the sense of uncertainty I often faced as a student, not least because it aired on GMA-7 at 7:30, right before sleeping time (it was often the last thing I heard before an exam or deadline I dreaded).
6. Wada Kaoru, InuYasha Main Theme, InuYasha
This isn’t really the title of the piece, but the same melody is featured in at least four tracks on the soundtrack of InuYasha, ranging from a slow, mournful track for a sad scene to a loud, fast-paced piece for a battle. The version above, entitled ‘Elegy,’ is I think the most beautiful version, with the few notes of the biwa and the ryuteki evoking the Sengoku Era in which this Rumiko Takahashi masterpiece is set. InuYasha was a huge hit in my generation, as much a craze when I was in Grade 6 as Meteor Garden was. It played on the prime 5 pm time slot of ABS (taking over from CCS), but the song somehow reminds me today of Kidapawan mornings.
If you’re wondering why there are no theme songs here (Cha La Head Cha La?), that deserves another post!
(This short story has had a varied history. First written in English on the shores of Boracay, I translated it to this current Otaku Davao Filipino version for my MA thesis – I like this version better. It was among the most well received of the works in my thesis defence, and it is my adviser Prof. Philip Van Peel’s personal favourite. It was solicited by Ateneo de Davao’s Atenews for the 2015 issue of Banaag Diwa. The Banaag Diwa version has useful footnotes, which I cannot copy in this blog. This story is partly based on true events, and is a caricature of the Davao cosplay culture with some degree of accuracy.)
Kaingay na ng ugong ng mga sasakyan sa may kalsada sa kanto Mintal, nagatawag na harapin na niya ang nagaantay na umaga. Ginaantay na siya ng Davao.
Yosh , it’s another day for Mayumi-sama. Nakatawa siya sa kahilas niya.
Keitai, keitai . May tatlong text. Pagtayo niya. Gihalikan niya ang poster ni Shiro Kamui sa taas ng kanyang night lamp, at nagpunta siya sa kanyang aparador.
‘Mayumi-chan, will b there n a fw hrs. Jonce will follow lng daw. Curious what ur costume will b this tym!’ Isa sa mga text, galing kay Paolo. Dedicated fan lang naman niya ang top cosplay photographer sa Davao, willing man gani na hindi makapunta sa ToyCon sa NCCC ngayon para lang bigyan siya ng private photoshoot.
Gitype niya: ‘Hinto : ‘he is someone close to you.’ teehee :3 chikaku na mono. Don’t be chikoku ha! ’ Kataw-anan, kahilig niya mag-pun.
Nakaharap siya sa full body mirror ng aparador. Nagdalayday ang mahabang chairo niyang buhok paalon sa kanyang balikat. Pang lalaki ang suwang niya, pero parang porcelain siya kaputi, at kaganda ng kanyang mga labi, mga mata at mga feather-like na pilok. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu? Nana Mizuki? O Hitomi Shimatani? Mas maganda pa.
Kasya masyado ang panty niya sa kanyang puku to boin body .
Ito ang katawan na gina-worship ng Davao, binuang niya sa sarili niya. Malaman na dibdib na hindi din sobra. Klaro pero hindi din OA na curves na may kawaii na pusod sa gitna ng four packs. Legs na kasing kinis at kasing mahal ng ivory (chos!). Balakang kagaya ng kay Nico Robin na nagaakit hawakan. Gihikap niya ang dibdib niya, pang-unat, at gipadulas ang mga kamay pababa sa kanyang mga binti pinaigat. Kochi o muite Mayumi !
Naglapit siya sa coffee table at gikabit ang kanyang iPad sa kanyang speakers. Pisil-pisil, at nagsimula tugtog ang ‘Lonely in Gorgeous’ ni TommyFebruary6 . Lol, kakaraan. Gidali-dali niya kuha ang kataw-anan na sunglasses at ang faux fur scarf sa taas ng aparador at gisuot. Tapos nag-posing siya glamorously sa harap ng mirror at nag-selfie gamit ang phone niya.
Mayumi Bondad: Mayumi-sama, Yumi-chan, Mayumin. 20 years old, Queen of Davao Cosplay.
Five years na din bitaw mula noong una siya manalo doon sa best walk-in costume sa Gaisano. Fifteen pa lang siya noon, estudyante pa sa Ateneo, sa kanyang homemade na Ume Kurumizawa sefuku . Kabaga niya magsalisali ng AniCon. Pero kay parepareha lang man sila ng buhok ni Kurumi, tapos kagaling pa niya mag-arte (at kaarte din talaga niya sa personal, lol). Yun ang una niyang award, at halos mabuang na sa kanya ang Davao Cosplay community since.
Alam man din gud niya ang ginagawa niya. Mas hubag pa daw lagi siya kay Alodia Gosiengfiao , pero hindi gaya ni Alodia, siya talagang otaku. Wala pa makatalo sa kanya sa Yugi Oh! sa ilang taon na nagalaro siya. Memorize niya din (at maintindihan niya kay marunong man siya mag-Japanese) ang lyrics ng halos lahat ng vocaloid na kanta (magkanta yan siya noon palagi ng ‘Wave’ sa mga con), at makakanta siya ng iba-ibang boses, kawaii ba o pina-Valshe na bishie . Kadali lang din magpalit from ‘One ~ Kono yo ga hatete mo hanarenai ’ pinalalaki to ‘Motekke! Sailor Fuku.’ (effortless man gani masyado pagkanta niya ng ‘Lonely in Gorgeous’).
Sa tabi ng Kamui poster may corkboard, puno ng fan letters. ‘Ka-cute mo talaga Mayumi-chan!’ galing kay Jonce, president kunyari ng grupo-grupo ng mga photographers na nagatawag sa sarili nila na Fans Club, Davao Chapter niya.
‘Yumin-sama, ur my inspiraxon!’ galing sa isang fan girl taga-Koronadal (lol ka taga-bukid ng spelling). ‘Mayumin, chou kawaii!’ sa hiragana, galing sa fans club niya sa Chiba, Japan (nagsimula yan sila dahil sa photo-blog niya). Fans club sa Japan, bongga. Giisip niya kung meron din kayang fans club si Alodia sa Japan.
‘Hoshikuzu wo kaki atsume, anata ni butsuketai…’ Gusto niya masyado yang part na yan sa kanta. Tapos mas maka-GV pa talaga ang kanyang mga fan letters. Sus kung hindi lang umaga makatigom talaga siya ng stars! Halos mahilo siya sa kasaya.
Hindi man din siya hilas, hindi uy. Kahumble na niya kumpara sa ibang cosplayers ‘no. Alam niya lang talaga what she’s worth, at alam niya she’s worth a lot (chos) Hot, creative, BM graduate cum laude sa Ateneo de Davao. Gitignan niya ang mga certificates sa ilalim ng glass sa kanyang coffee table: nasa pinakagitna yung best crossplayer award niya sa recent na Comic World Hong Kong.
Hala, may dalawa pa palang text na hindi niya nabasa! Naalala niya pagtingin niya sa pictures niya sa phone (kaganda na sana profile pic sa FB kung hindi lang siya naka-panty).
‘Yumi-chan, c u l8trz! Cnt w8t 2 maKING a seen wid U @ ToyCon! M xur hot ka maxdo na Shaoran!’
Ugh, grammar ‘te. And ka-weird how he texted. Jejeboy. Gi-roll niya ang eyes niya bago niya gi-delete ang message.
Galing kay Seiji. And to think ginasabi nila na nasapawan na daw siya nitong tanga.
Simula noong una siya manalo sa competitions sa Manila, hindi na siya nagasali sa cons sa Davao. Kapangit lang tignan ng mga cosfailers kung patulan pa niya uy. Hindi din fair. Instead, naga-private photo shoot na lang siya kada may con (pangsapaw ba). Kataas pa rin ng stats ng photo blog niya sa mga pictures nitong mga photo shoots. Hindi na siya nagasali ng con, pero sa ganito siya pa rin ang Jouou ng Davao Cosplay.
Nabuwisit siya nung gisabi nung cosfailer–blogger na si Jonnabelle Samonte na may nakatapat na daw sa kanya: isang upstart na taga City High na ginatawag ang sarili niyang Seiji Gumi. Has-been na daw si Mayumi-chan, ‘bringer of a new dawn’ daw sa Davao Cosplay yung Seiji (kay Itachi man na naka-Akatsuki ang unang sikat na kyara ).
Okay, so cute siya, and ka-hot din niya. But namae pa lang kabaho na uy. Carl John Gumapac, yung angga niyang ‘CJ’ gi-Binisaya lang niya para maging ‘Seiji’ (tapos kagaling lang din niya na gawing ‘Gumi’ ang ‘Gumapac’). Ahou mitai . And his English is miserable. Fine, nung nag-Lelouch siya noong una sila nagkita (Sa SM Lanang man yun, nagabigay si Mayumi ng workshops on weapon making ), chou ikemen -ish bitaw siya. Pero hindi lang daw itsura ang cosplay, you have to live up to the ‘play’. Cosfailer na gani ang City High boy sa grammar, anohin nalang niya pagdala sa katalino na kyara ni Lelouch. Nadala sa itsura ang judges, pero alam ni Mayumi na poser lang siya. Hindi yan magtagal.
Biga-biga lang yan ni Jonnabelle para mabirahan ni Seiji, isip niya (also, bitter gihapon ang gaga na natalo siya sa ToyCon noon sa CDO). Pero nagulat na lang si Mayumi na nagsimula na compete si Seiji sa Manila.
Maygash the cosfailer is rising, naisip niya. What is the world coming to. Pinakagrabe pa, nakasama pa yan siya sa Hong Kong nung si Mayumi mismo papunta doon..!
Ngayon? Ay, wala na. On the contrary, nalingaw na lang siya. Para nang tanga ang buang, FC masyado sa kanya simula nung nangyari sa Hong Kong (gi-roll niya ang eyes niya na kaisip sa mendou , ugh). Nagtawa siya habang nagposing ulit sa harap ng mirror. Lol, kasalanan man din niya konti.
Gibasa niya ang ikatatlong message. ‘Yumin, what time gani ang photoshoot? I’ll help you put your costume on.’ Galing kay Maylyn.
‘Uber sorrymuch Meilin-chan! Slr’ type niya, ‘just woke up. You can come now. Toscana’s far baya from jan sa Nova Tierra.’ Sent.
Ugh, isip niya, ka-creepy na minsan ni Maylyn.
Nagacosplay yan si Maylyn noon, pero nagtigil siya nung ginatulungan niya na si Mayumi para sa custome niya sa Singapore. Ginatulungan na siya palagi ni Maylyn sa costumes niya since. Kanyang idea pero si Maylyn naga-tahi. Nagasisi na si Mayumi konti na gi-friend niya yan siya. Parang naga-lesbo na man gud siya uy. Kaluod. May dahilan baya bakit ‘yuri’ pa rin ang tawag sa yuri pero naging ‘BL’ na ang ‘shounen-ai, ’ walang nagapatol sa ganyang homo. Mayumi-sama ga Miteru!? Kaluod!
Pero makadagdag din sa confidence ni Mayumi. Creepy man siya isipin, pero si Maylyn ang biggest Mayumi Bondad fan sa Davao.
Gibalik niya ang scarf at shades sa kalagyan nila at naghiga siya ulit. One and a half hour galing Nova Tierra sa Lanang papunta sa bahay ng mga Bondad sa Toscana, Puan.
Nursery Rhyme’s ‘Tsuru My Heart’ na ringtone: nagatawag si Seiji.
Ugh, mas malala pa sa boyfriend. Buti na lang walang tao sa bahay (out of town ang dad niya on a business trip, nasa office ang mommy niya, ang ading niya nasa school). Nagpunta siya sa banyo para mag-ihi, tapos, naka-panty lang, nagbaba siya sa kusina para magkuha ng makain. Giiwan niya lang naga-ring ang phone.
Pagbalik niya sa kwarto niya gidala niya ang ichigo tarts na gibake niya kagabi. Habang ginapapak niya ang mga tarts, giisip niya ang ginaplano niyang café.
Maid café. Yun ang big idea niya for Davao. Hindi lang sandali-sandali sa mall pag may con, yan talagang permanent ba, coffee shop na maid themed lang gud. Naisip niya nung naga-bake siya ng tarts minsan. Kadami niyang alam ‘no: politics sa Twelve Kingdoms , memorize niya ang mga Pokemon hanggang Gold generation, tapos baking pa talaga (nagsimula siya nung nacurious siya sa Yumeiro ). Kaganda gud na idea! Perfect business para sa kanya, kung isipin. Magamit din si Maylyn.
Gitignan niya ang phone niya. Text galing kay Seiji: ‘U’re Sakura wig luks super-caway on me, Yumi-chan!’ God, he called just to say that!? Wrong spelling pa talaga ang ‘kawaii.’ Who misspells ‘kawaii’ anyway!? Visual Kei-ish sana, pero ‘Gumi’ man gud ang pangalan niya. Tanga lang talaga masyado pakinggan. Kami-sama , dasal ni Mayumi, wag sana siya magsimula roleplay sa text!
Kay DoTA boy lang intawon, walang kaalam-alam si Gumapac sa anime, much less manga. Noong nasa HK sila, hindi man gani niya kilala si Hayao Miyazaki, tapos ang ‘RPG’ daw kay ‘Rated Parental Guidance. ‘ Akala talaga ng tanga half-Japanese siya kay first name niya Mayumi (kay Bisdak man, hindi niya alam na Tagalog word pala yun). Makainis na makaluod isipin yung mga gaga (including that slut Jonnabelle) naga-bilangkad para dito sa City High boy na ito. Mataku .
Pero tapos niya ubusin ang huling ichigo tart, gidilaan niya ang mga daliri niya. At habang ginaalala yung gigawa nila sa HK, hindi niya mapigilan ipasok ang mga daliri sa kanyang panty. Kanjiteru!
The Jouou of Davao Cosplay decided na i-Jou-own si Gumapac, na paglaruan siya, na angkinin siya. Sa second night nila sa HK, gipasok niya ang loko sa hotel room niya sa Kowloon ng naka-Yuna outfit (all-time crush niya).
Tanga yun, pero sus alam niya masyado pano hawakan ang hips ni Mayumi. Nagyaka siya parang pusa sa kama niya ngayon, ang mga daliri niya nasa loob ng kanyang panty, habang ginaisip ang katigas ni Seiji sa loob niya noong gabing yun.
Aminin niya na nanginig siya sa sarap, pero parang mabuang si Seiji sa kadulas at kabasa niya. Literally at figuratively, she was on top of him.
Ayun, clingy na sa kanya since. Masarap gud ang quickie minsan-minsan, pero kahassle na imaintain ang gago. Simula nung nagbalik sila galing Hong Kong four weeks ago, sige na tanong ano suotin niya kahit sa pinaka-maliit na event. Tapos status sa FB o tweet na gisabihan daw siya suotin ng ‘wuv-wuv’ niya. Ugh. Kapoy na makipaglaro sa kanya.
Nagtayo siya at naisip na suotin na ang costume bago magdating si Maylyn. Natapos ang ‘Lonely in Gorgeous’ para sundan ng ‘Ninja Re Bang Bang’ ni Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Naglakad siya papunta sa aparador ng malandi, typical Mayumi.
Gipa-dye niya ang tela ng exactly the right hue: silvery pero hindi glossy white na may konting pagka-powdery blue. Gisuot niya muna ang bluish white na contact lenses. Tapos gi-bandage niya ang dibdib niya bago niya gisuot ang silver na slacks, kasama ang nakakabit na blue sandals. Gisuot niya sunod ang shirt sa loob na may turtle neck at nakakabit na gloved cuffs bago isuot yung may nakatahing jewel na outer robe.
Gikuha niya ang wig sa taas ng aparador at gisuot. Sikat si Mayumi sa karealistic ng mga wig niya. Siya mismo nagagawa, at totoong buhok ang ginagamit niya (galing dun sa amiga niyang bayot sa isang salon sa Damosa). Ito kay hanggang hawak at bluish silver na may Rumiko Takahashi –esque bangs, tapos ponytail na maluwag sa dulo, nakatali ng chinese cord.
Panghuli gisakbit niya ang silk cloth sa right shoulder niya pina buntot ni Sesshoumaru . Si Maylyn na ang maglagay ng wings, isip niya. Gitingnan niya ang sarili niya sa mirror.
Shinpansha Yue . Nung giaya siya ni Gumapac mag couple-crossplay ng Shaoran at Sakura ng Tsubasa para sa Toycon, naisip niya una mag-Yukito para sa private photo shoot niya ngayon, pang insulto lang ba. Pero mas bongga si Yue, so yun na lang. As if maintindihan din ni Gumapac ang Clamp-verse , lol.
Katanga niya siguro naga-crossplay ng Sakura sa ToyCon siya lang isa! Kataw-an na lang siya ng Cosplay community niyan. Gaba niya.
Makaihi na naman siya, kaya nagtakbo siya papunta sa kanyang banyo. Swear, grabe siya makaihi these days. Sa beer siguro. Mabuti na lang madali lang hubarin ang slacks.
Paglabas niya ng banyo nag-ring ang doorbell. Si Maylyn na siguro.
Madali lang sa kanya gayahin ang lalaking boses ni Megumi Ogata . Pagbukas niya ng pinto, nasa labas si Maylyn, at gi-welcome niya ng ‘youkoso. ’
Natameme sandali si Maylyn, hindi makagalaw. Saka pa niya narealize na si Mayumi pala yun naga-cosplay ng Yue. Ito ang Mayumi Bondad magic.
‘Pasok ka, wings na lang kulang.’
Sa kwarto ni Mayumi, gikuha ni Maylyn ang wings, nakabalot sa cellophane, sa taas ng aparador. Kaganda pagkagawa: paper maché, maayos masyado pagkahilera ng duck feathers. Bihira na lang maggawa ng sariling costume si Mayumi these days, but when she did siya pa rin ang pinakamagaling sa Davao.
‘Paolo and Jonce will be here maya-maya.’ Sabi niya kay Maylyn. ‘May bagong camera daw si Paolo!’
‘Oh,’ sabi ni Maylyn, halatang nag-blush. ‘Magpunta din pala si Jonce…’
Napanganga si Maylyn sa kagaling ng pagkabit ng wings sa likod: may sliding hitch na may lever na macontrol with strings na nakakabit sa gloves. Pwede i-flap ng cosplayer ang mga pakpak. Advantage din na may kilalang metal craftsman ang dad ni Mayumi.
Nag-ring ang phone niya. Gi-roll niya ang eyes niya, ugh si Seiji na naman siguro. Pero pagkakita niya na si Kenneth pala, nag nico-nico sa kilig ang mukha niya. ‘Hello love,’ sagot niya. ‘Yes, I’m feeling better na, ka-sweet mo gud to ask…! Ugh no way, kaluod. Pang-cosfailers lang yang ToyCon uy… mag-photo shoot kami dito sa bahay though… sila Pao and Jonce, oh and Meilin-chan is here din pala… just here sa Toscana lang… You’ll come? Yey! See you later..! Love you!’
Gikabit na ni Maylyn ang wings pagkatapos ng phone call habang nakatingin sa salamin si Mayumi. Kasarap ng ngiti niya, halos hindi na mamalayan si Maylyn. Kahit habang ginasuklay na ni Maylyn ang wig kebs pa rin siya, naga-daydream. Natapos na ang ‘Ninja Re Bang Bang’ at sinundan ng ‘Sweet Devil’ na utaite cover ni Kradness at Reol .
Three years na sila ni Kenneth, pero kiligin pa rin talaga siya. Naangkin niya din yan siya, itong brooding na anak ng may ari ng NCCC. Pero ngayon alam na niya na siya ang naangkin. Clingy siya at malambing, pero kahit protective man din sa kanya si Ken, brooding pa rin masyado. Kakilig! He’s such a bishie!
‘Papunta si Jonce..?’ tanong ni Maylyn.
‘Yeah, tsaka si Pao din’ sagot ni Mayumi, abala.
‘Uhm, Yumin…’ Maya-maya gisubukan ulit ni Maylyn. Kalikot ng mata niya sa kaba.
‘Yes Meilin-chan?’ Nasa Kenneth-land pa rin si Mayumi.
‘Sa… sabihan lang sana kita. Yang, ano gud… yang… J-Jonce… Jonce confessed to me.’
At nawala siya sa kanyang daydreaming. Nagtaas ang kilay niya.
‘And I said yes…’ Kahit sa kahiya niya may konting pride sa tono ni Maylyn.
Naghinga ng malalim, ng dahan dahan, ng mapanghusga, ng hindi makapaniwala pero hindi naman OA sa gulat, si Shinpansha Mayumi.
‘Sa…sabihan ka lang sana namin. Dahil baya sa iyo kami nagkakilala.’ Kasaya pakinggan ni Maylyn kahit grabe siya kakaba.
Nagbukad ang liver ni Mayumi pagkarinig nito. Hindi, hindi lang bukad, ang atay niya nag-Mankai .
Dahil sa kanya lahat.
Siya, si Mayumi, ang buwan around which nagagalaw silang mga bituin. Siya ang buwan na nagagalaw sa kanilang tides.
Pero gitingnan niya si Maylyn mula ulo hanggang paa.
Si Maylyn na siguro ang epitome ng isang fragile nerd. Pig-tailed na itim na buhok na may panot Korean bangs (no, hindi Rumiko Takahashi-esque). Makakapal na glasses. Ngayon naka red long sleeves siya at olive-green na leggings. Pero ang kaluspad niya nagaliwanag sa ilaw ng kwarto ni Mayumi.
Gitaas ni Mayumi ang mga kabongga niyang kilay.
‘Careful ha, mabuntis ka.’
‘Hindi uy!’ sabi ni Maylyn, halos nagatawa, parang with relief. ‘Hindi pa siguro kami mag-ganyan-ganyan uy! Pero,’ dagdag niya pabulong, may tono ng curiosity ‘Kayo ni Ken-kun..!?’
‘Well, hindi kami naga-tinanga, that’s for sure’ pabagsak na sagot ni Mayumi. Naghagikhik si Maylyn. ‘And besides,’ gitutukan niya si Maylyn, ‘Yung si Jonnabelle? Sabi nila boyfriend daw ang dahilan bakit yun nagging bangagan. Hindi nakuntento sa isa.’
‘Hala hindi uy! Hindi talaga ako maging ganyan. I’ll… I’ll be something like you!’
Hilaw na ngiti galing kay Mayumi. Kasukaon siya for some reason.
‘Spread the wings, Meilin-chan. Spread the wings. Gusto ko makita ang sarili ko.’
Kaglorious niya. Bongga man talaga na kyara si Yue, pero iba talaga pag nakita mo siya in real life. Ginadala ni Mayumi ang cosplay to the level of performance: gina-assume niya ang character fully, perfectly, at hindi mo na siya mahanap sa likod ng costume.
‘Meilin-chan,’ sabi niya bigla, nadala sa kalula. ‘Magbalik ako sa Singapore this year.’
‘Oh so naka-decide ka na!’ sagot ni Maylyn. Kasaya niya. ‘Oh! Oh! You’ll be the first Davao cosplayer to win two international cons in a year!’
‘And may costume na ako.’ sabi ni Mayumi. ‘Mag Simon from Guren Laggan ako.’ Nagkuha siya ng tankubon ng Gurren Lagann sa bookshelf at gipakita si Simon kay Maylyn.
‘Simon!?’ Hindi makapaniwala si Maylyn. ‘But the bare chest, Yumin!’
‘Yan mismo ang makapanalo sa akin.’ Sagot ni Mayumi. ‘Ibalot ko ito ng cloth’ gihawakan niya ang dibdib niya, ‘i-body paint siya in skin tone, tapos I’ll have Ken draw a chest on it.’
‘OMG’ sabi ni Maylyn pagkatapos matahimik sandali, ‘Kagaling! That will so work! Hindi maka-obvious ang body paint, tapos since kagaling ni Ken-kun sa details the chest will be uber-convincing. Tapos yung ulbo pwede gamitin to make it look buff!’
‘Katagal ko siya giisip, and I know kahirap pa rin niya. Pero kaya.’
‘Oh, manalo ka talaga!’
Nagharap si Mayumi sa mirror. Nag-ikot siya, gi-stump ang paa niya paabente ng mahina, at gi-cut niya ang Genroku mie ng pina Onna Shibaraku: nakataas ang right hand taas ng ulo na nakapiko ang siko, naka-perpendicular ang left hand sa sahig, abante ang left foot, nakatingala konti, nakalingon sa left. Alam niya na pare-pareho ang roots ng Cosplay at Kabuki. Parehong performance, parehong nagagamit ng sikat na characters, at parehong spectacle-based. At dahil siya si Mayumi Bondad, kadami niya ding alam sa Kabuki. Bagay sa kabongga ni Shinpansha Yue ang Genroku mie, pero kay uke kyara man si Yue, mas bagay kung ipina-onnagata , na may parallels with the uke, lalo na kung babae masyado ang uke. Gi-onnagata niya ang mie, pero gipalalaki niya lang konti. Parang kuroko na nakahawak sa sansho sleeves ni Kagemasa si Maylyn habang ginahawakan niya ang wings para hindi masyado magalaw.
Nagharap siya sa mirror ulit – Fabulous max!
Sus kamali nung si Jonnabelle. Hindi pa gani nakaabot sa apex ang panahon ni Mayumi Bondad. Malayo pa ang dawn ni Seiji kung meron man nun. Nakataas pa rin ang buwan niya, full, glorious, at pregnant with possibilities!
Hito o norowaba ana futatsu . Makita nila. Masira ang pogi points ni CJ Gumapac pagkakita nila sa kanya nag Sakura-Sakura sa ToyCon, at dun siya masira, hahaha. At si Jonnabelle, at lahat ng nagaisip na has-been na lang siya, ipakain niya ang mga salita nila sa kanila pag nanalo na naman siya ng international con. At ang maid café! Siya ang maggawa na institution ang cosplay sa Davao. Take my Revolution! Mahinog siya at magpatuloy pa siya ng blossom. Sus, halos malula siya sa possibilities!
At biglang naging totoo talaga ang lula. Na-alimuotan siya, nahilo, parang makuyapan, parang makasuka. Nagdali-dali siyang takbo sa banyo. Nagluhod siya, gihawi ang kagandang wig, at nagsuka sa kubeta.
Ginahawakan ni Maylyn ang wings pagtakbo niya sa banyo, at naharit ito sa kamay ng isang hitch sa robe. Paghagod niya ng likod ni Mayumi ng isang kamay habang nagasuka si Mayumi, nagadugo ang kabilang kamay, at nakita ni Mayumi ang dugo.
‘Are you okay, Yumin?’
At narealize ni Mayumi, pagkakita sa dugo, na matagal na siyang hindi nakakita ng dugo. Matagal na siyang hindi nag-bleed… dapat gidugo siya two weeks ago!
Giflush niya ang kubeta at nagtayo, hawak ang kanyang hawak. Naglakad siya papunta sa mirror, mabigat at alanganin ang hakbang. Pagtingin niya sa sarili, may ulap na nagtabon sa kaganda ng kanyang luspad na mukha.
Hindi, hindi pwede, isip niya. Hindi kay Kenneth, they hadn’t done it in months.
At bigla narating ang isip niya sa gabi na yon sa hotel room sa Kowloon. At nanglisik ang kaganda, pang-manika, at feathery-eyelashed niyang mga mata sa kakulba.
My God Hindi. Hindi ito pwede. Hindi ito pwede mangyari kay Mayumi Bondad.
‘Barely anything’ is the short answer.
I have to be honest, I’ve been reading less and less over the past few years.
For form’s sake I’ve maintained one book I’m officially reading for as long as I can remember. Right now it’s a collection of Plays Political by George Bernard Shaw (drama plus politics plus British wit – my kind of stuff).
But it’s been over two years since I actually finished a book (I’ve been officially reading this Shaw book for three months now, and I’ve only read five pages).
I even got hold of a great new book recently: ‘Davao Cuisine: Recipes of the Ten Tribes of Davao.’ It’s a brilliant compilation of traditional recipes from the ten designated indigenous tribes of Davao city, edited by Macario Tiu and published by the Philippine Women’s College of Davao, the result of two years of painstaking research. It sells at 300 and is available at PWC.
And nope, I haven’t gotten to reading it yet.
I also recently read short story entries to the 2015 Banaag Diwa Awards, sponsored by Atenews of the Ateneo de Davao University – I was asked to be among the judges for the Short Story Category. I and fellow judge and former Atenews EIC Reymond Pepito then deliberated on the entries and reached a consensus on this year’s crop of fiction from my former school.
The results? Find out on the awarding ceremony this Thursday, 26th March 6pm at AdDU’s Finster Auditorium!
But that was just a total of what, twenty pages, in three weeks? I hardly felt I was on reading-mode.
I guess three things have been preoccupying me lately, distracting me from reading.
Yes, I watch more anime than I read now. I was an anime fan first anyway before I started any literary interests, so I guess I’m just being consistent.
My current anime list includes Akatsuki no Yona, Kiseijuu – Sei no Kakuritsu, Kamisama Hajimemashita 2, Durarara x2 Shou, Yurikuma Arashi, Magic Kaito 1412, the usual Naruto Shippuuden and Detective Conan, and some old One Piece episodes while I eat (I’m trying to catch up on the latest episodes).
I’m not too worried about my lack of literary exposure then, because Yurikuma Arashi is one of the most literary anime titles I’ve ever seen. Now I can say with certainty, that the new face of Theatre of the Absurd is anime, and the next Ionesco is Kunihiko Ikuhara!
Then there’s Kabuki.
I try to watch whatever I can on the internet, and that’s surprisingly a lot. I recently got hold of ‘Hana kurabeshiki no Kotobuki – Manzai‘, featuring actors Nakamura Fukusuke IX and Nakamura Senjaku III. This auspicious dance drama celebrating the Spring has an interesting history: it’s inspired by a Bunraku puppet play of the same title. But the fact that it’s a dance drama makes it unusual for Bunraku – its writing itself was influenced by Kabuki. It’s a Kabuki dance inspired by a Bunraku dance which is inspired by Kabuki dance!
Fukusuke IX is also becoming one of my favourite Onnagata (his portrayal of Omiwa in this performance of Mikasayama Goten was heart wrenching).
Kabuki is increasingly bringing me back to my primeval theatrical urges – the reason why I started writing in the first place. More and more do I want to write not to come up with a profound articulation of some universal truth (there’s literature in a nutshell for you), but to create something fabulous, something undeniably intense and fun.
And yes, finally, I’ve been writing!
Wordsworth once said, not that I’m a fan of him, that the genuine scholar is preoccupied with reading only when there is nothing better to do. I do not presume to be a genuine scholar (I cannot find monocles in Davao for that), but I have been busy writing.
Outside of the posts to this blog (which you might have noticed is increasing), I’m also completing this collection of short stories that have formed a stylistic suite of their own. I’m calling the collection ‘Proclivities,’ and it includes two published works, ‘In the Manner Accustomed’ (the first of the suite, which won the Joaquin in 2013) and ‘Condign Restitutions’ (which was published in Graphic in 2014). I’ll see if I can get others in the collection published elsewhere.
Akiko Shikata, in a live concert performing some of her songs. Most of the pieces are soundtracks from video games.
Shikata composes her own music, arranges the instruments, and provides the vocals.
And to that end she is a genius. Her music relies on ridiculously complex but symmetrical overlaying of tones and vocals, powerfully complicated rhythms, and strikingly sharp contrasts of pace, but each piece surprisingly produces a distinct motif, often borrowed from existing musical traditions (traditional Japanese, Celtic, Arabian, Greek, etc.). The array of these traditions she borrows from is extensive, and the diversity of instruments she employs reflects that – you can hear a guzheng playing with a bagpipe in one piece, while a Japanese Sho may play with a sitar in another. She has exquisite command of the traditions she borrows from, distilling the quintessential musical motifs of each tradition and producing music that is stereotypically, and thereby distinctly, of that tradition. But the diversity of her sources, along with her electro-synth editing, serve to give her music a cosmopolitan and modern feel, highlighting the stylistic similarities across different traditions, and making them appealing to modern tastes. Her vocals, ranging from western Classical contralto to Japanese Minyo folk singing, demonstrate this best.
With a Shikata piece there is nothing but intensity. You cannot believe how she can provide all the almost 200 vocal recordings in each piece, and your emotions fluctuate rapidly from one extreme to another as you listen to her. With the experience of her music Shikata touches on the human feeling where no artist has probably ever touched before. You don’t need an eloquent explanation to get how good her music is. Bang, it hits you on the face on the first note. Every single time.
Perhaps her music’s only flaw is that you can barely sing any of her pieces in karaoke. And I’m just fine with that.
My favourite Shikata pieces are Katayoku no Tori (the first song by her I heard, from the ‘Umineko no naku koro ni’ anime), The Wind Knows the Distant Tomorrow (I mentioned this in one short story, reminds me of Mati, Davao Oriental somehow), Seiren -Íroes Argonáutes (the sudden fast movements at the beginning and the end always get me), Pantalea (my soundtrack during the Silliman Writers Workshop in 2012, and my Negros Oriental soundtrack in general), and Akakakushi (my soundtrack during my summer vacation in Hong Kong).
(Warning: when you’re going through very emotional times, DO NOT use an Akiko Shikata piece as soundtrack. It will take your longer to forget those emotions. Those last two songs took me three years.)
Shikata’s latest piece, Akatsuki (second closing theme for the anime series Akatsuki no Yona) may not be her best, but it’s definitely one of her most typical.
Want me to recommend a good composer? Akiko Shikata!
Old person that I am, I only recently discovered the world of the utaite.
One little-known genre of what we may call otaku music is the vocaloid field. Yes, Hatsune Miku recently gained international fame with Lady Gaga making her the opening act of some concerts, but that says very little about the scene itself. Because outside the fact that vocaloids are artificially created voices, the vocaloid industry is full of a diverse array of original songs composed specially for these created singers.
And here’s where the utaite come in. A phenomenon that started in the Japanese video hosting website Nico Nico but which has since spread to YouTube, the utaite is a human, often amateur, singer who covers songs. It wouldn’t be accurate to compare the utaite to other YouTube cover hits from the West (at the top of my mind are Boyce Avenue and Justin Bieber as examples): while they too are products of the online boom, you can’t really call the cover a distinct genre in the West. But since this is superflat Japan we’re talking about, a whole industry of itself has emerged from the utaite, called utattemita (literally ‘I tried to sing,’ the Nico Nico category for videos of this nature). Many singers do cross over to mainstream Japanese pop (if there is such a thing), but the vast majority of them continue to specialize in vocaloid covers, or sing original songs by composers for vocaloids. Many of them even release multiple albums of their covers. Today the genre seems to continue growing, what with even a magazine dedicated exclusively to them.
Which is not to say I’m an expert on this, good heavens I’m only just starting. For more information check this informative utaite wiki.
But what I can share is what I’ve experienced so far. And in four months, I think I’ve learned a few things.
For one thing, part of the charm of these amateurs is their mystique. Only a fraction of them ever release pictures, and even fewer actually perform live or make videos of themselves. Almost all of them appear on cover videos or albums as anime-style illustrations, and for most utaite that is all the clue the fans have as to what they might look like.
A notable exception is probably the female utaite 96neko (pronounced ‘kuroneko’). While she has appeared in person on videos and has performed live, her face has mostly been obscured by hair or a face mask.
I can’t really say I know what she looks like.
And as 96neko’s name suggests, it doesn’t mean they’re amateurs they don’t have creative talent. Many utaite actually arrange their covers to sound completely different from the original, and some even animate their own videos.
My first, and favourite, utaite is undoubtedly Kradness. I’m going to risk a guess here and say he would be categorized as a bishounen singer, evocative of a good looking young man. He has a very high vocal range, and he takes advantage of it by going over the top with his notes in his covers.
I also find his voice sophisticated, and chances are his covers are the best versions of songs out there. When he covers a song by the composer niki (who mostly makes fast paced rock songs for the sultry vocaloid Lily), you get the best demonstration of Japanese sexiness. His cover of ‘Hybrid’ is arguably the sexiest song in all of utattemita.
God I love this song
Kradness is known for his collaborations with other utaite. His most common collaborator is the female uitaite Reol, with whom he often sings songs that involve dialogue and interaction – a rare chance to hear the singers’ speaking voices.
‘Shinde shimau to wa nasakenai’ by Kradness and Reol, a parody of fantasy RPGs
One particular cover with Reol, the Hatsune Miku song ‘Sweet Devil,’ recently inspired me to tweak around with the structure of a short story. The attempt was successful, and it may see print soon. At least I know this venture in utattemita is productive for me!
It’s that part where they sing different verses together that influenced me
Kradness also mixes and arranges music, not only for himself and for others. I don’t know if he also illustrates, but he often appears as a young bishounen-type character with blonde, spiky hair. He also often has a little lion that serves as his mascot of sorts for reasons beyond me.
Being the eclectic person that I am though, I don’t love everything he covers. Sometimes he overdoes the birit, and it’s grating when he sounds like some emo singer. Also, he wasn’t able to do justice to ‘Senbonzakura.’ Then again, the original didn’t either, but more on that later.
Kradness has the best version of this classic vocaloid song, ‘Wave’
But enough of Kradness. Because the world of the utaite is full of other interesting characters and songs.
For one thing, there are what you call traps. These are singers who play with their appearance and voice: they’re one gender, but sound like another. 96neko sometimes sounds like a guy.
It becomes very amusing though when the male singer sounds like a woman. The most compelling example for me is Yoshitate Kyounosuke. He looks androgynous – either a very feminine man or a boyish woman. But he sounds like an female enka singer. To contribute to this ambiguity, he often dresses as a woman.
Yoshitate Kyounosuke singing Senbonzakura with the traditional instrument ensemble Wagaku Hanadouchu. Yes, he’s a guy.
Here you see traditional Japanese tastes alive in the modern world. The Japanese fascination for gender ambiguity and artifice, dating perhaps back to the onnagata in Kabuki, has many JPop incarnations.
Speaking of traditional tastes, the flare for the folk is also very alive in the utaite scene. A complete modern song may be given a cover with traditional Japanese as well as rock instruments. Top of my list for this is Wagakki Band, with its vocalist Suzuhana Yuuko. Yuuko’s style of singing reminds me of Okinawa folk songs. She also happens to be a teacher of Shigin, traditional poetry recital.
Wagakki Band’s cover of Rokuchou to Ichiya Monogatari
I know no other culture which makes traditional adaptations of modern music. Closest I can think of is that Bollywood version of Thriller.
Yes Yuko Suzuhana is hot, and Kradness has a sexy voice (and if you don’t know he’s a guy, Kyounosuke sounds like a cute girl), but utaite are not all about bijin. Sometimes an utaite’s charm is his or her humour. This is the case with Glutamine. The male utaite is known for his high energy covers, often interjected with overzealous screaming, and his mumbling when he forgets the lyrics to a song. Which is not to say he has a bad voice: he can sound very ikemen-ish.
In this cover of MikotoP’s Yi Er Fanclub, he begins with a chant of the names of Chinese food
He is not alone in this field. Perhaps more outrageous is the male utaite Gero. His name itself, the Japanese onomatopoeia for a frog’s sound.
A cover of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s hit song ‘Ponponpon’ by Gero. Goodness this is crazy
Then the songs sung by utaite are also fascinating. As mentioned most utaite specialize in vocaloid songs, though as the ‘Ponponpon’ cover shows, they may cover more mainstream songs. They also sometimes go on singing original songs. Kradness’ covers of niki songs gained so much fandom that in his first album Krad Vortex, Kradness sings an original song by niki, ‘TRICK.’
It went on to become my Singapore soundtrack
But there are three vocaloid songs that are rather fascinating.
One of them is ‘Yi Er Fanclub’. A narrative song apparently about someone in Taiwan learning Chinese, the song has specific references to Wang Leehom and Jay Chou Most intriguingly, part of the lyrics go: ‘This is all so I can say good night to Leslie Cheung in heaven.‘ Learning to speak Chinese to bid Leslie Cheung goodbye: it’s a quiet tribute by one artist to another.
In light of recent China-Japan tensions, the Japanese song’s Sinophile tone makes it somehow relevant today.
Of course, the best version is by Kradness
Then there’s the hit ‘Senbonzakura.’ Literally ‘a thousand cherry blossoms,’ the song was written by producer KurousaP originally for Hatsune Miku. It has gone on to be one of the most covered songs in utattemita.
Senbonzakura, covered by male utaite Amatsuki
That mellow piano version up there haunted me and made me think about the lyrics. As the original song’s video indicate, the song deals heavily with the legacy of militaristic Japan (what with the mention of words ‘ICBM,’ ‘revolution,’ and the heavy nationalistic tone of it). Just before the chorus we have the words ‘shounen shoujo, sengoku musou, ukiyo no manima ni’: boys and girls in this (time) of war must be unrivaled, as they should be in this floating world.’ It’s a Buddhist castigation of militarism and its emphasis on excellence as attachment to the impermanent.
This crescendos to the evocative chorus, which goes thus:
‘Senbonzakura yoru no magire, kimi no koe mo todokanai yo
Koko wa utage, hagane no ori, sono dantoudai de miroshite
Sanzensekai tokoyo no yami, nageki no uta kikoenai yo…’
‘Thousands of cherry trees dissolve into the night. Not even your voice will reach.
This is a banquet inside a steel jail cell. Look down on us from your guillotine.
The whole world is shrouded in hellish darkness. Not even a lamenting song is audible.‘
At the end of the song the chorus ends:
‘Senbonzakura yoru ni magire, kimi ga utai boku wa odoru
koko wa utage, hagane no ori, saa kousenjuu o uchimagure’
‘Thousands of cherry trees dissolve into the night. You will sing, and I will dance.
This is a banquet inside a steel jail cell, so shoot randomly and ceaselessly with your raygun‘
What follows the ironic condemnation of war is the image of cherry blossoms scattered aimlessly in the night. Cherry blossoms, as flowers, are associated in Buddhist thought with impermanence. And of course, the night is dark – we get here beings of impermanence gloriously lost in ignorance, a recurring motif in Buddhist thought.
The Buddhist castigation of ignorance continues with the last lines of ‘so shoot randomly and aimlessly’. In the second verse we also get:
‘zenjoumon o kugurinukete anraku-joudo yakubarai
kitto saigo wa daidan’en hakushu no aima ni‘
‘To pass through the gate to dhyāna, and achieve nirvana with cleansing,
the closing act must be a happy finale, accompanied by applause from the audience.’
‘Anraku-joudo’ literally means ‘peaceful bliss of the pure land,’ and the line can have two meanings: the literal one as presented in the translation, or that crossing the gate of dhyana (Zen, that state of mind which is an aim of Buddhism but which has become a Japanese holy grail) entails rejecting the calm of peace (further adding to the sense of war in the song). Of course, any Buddhist will also know that the road to enlightenment is first and foremost a personal one, it does not entail recognition from others (in fact the popular koan ‘when you see the Buddha on the road, kill him’ may even imply ‘applause’ is bad for the aim to be detached).
I have never seen Buddhist thought expressed so ironically.
The image of a banquet in a steel cage in the chorus lends a more human touch to the war-crazed people: the Japanese have always been demonized for their role during WWII. But on reading a recent article on the BBC about a D-Day POW, I realized that war mania is a form of madness, and as all forms of madness go the madman is a victim. The Japanese too were victims during the war, trapped in their glorious cage of delusion, and their defeat was their liberation.
The image of ‘looking down from your guillotine’ is intriguing. The Japanese have always been fascinated by the decaying and those that are about to fall, an aesthetic that manifests itself in the concept of mono no aware. Here is a subtle manifestation of that: while the addressees, the militarists, are trapped in their deluded madness, the pitiful nature of the predicament itself elevates them as objects of wonder. The line of course might simply be being ironic too.
I don’t usually cry because of songs, but this song moved me. The scale of the World War was overwhelming, and this song crystallizes the emotions of one dimension of it.
Another intriguing song is ‘Iroha Uta’ by Ginsaku, originally for the vocaloid Kagamine Rin. Just some background: the Iroha is a pangramic poem of Buddhist origin, which goes:
‘iroha nihoheto (iro wa niouedo)
Waka (Waga) yo tare so (dare zo)
tsure naramu (naran)
Uwi (ui) no okuyama
kefu (kyou) koete
asaki yume mishi(yumemiji)
Wehi (ei) mo sesu (sezu)’
‘colours, though fragrant,
will scatter away
who in this world is unchanging?
The deep mountains of vanity –
we shall cross them today
and we shall not see shallow dreams
nor be deluded’
(I provide the actual Japanese in parentheticals, the text does not include voicing of kana and obsolete spelling)
The poignancy of the poem is in the first line: the words ‘flower’ or ‘petals’ are not used, but the image of falling tree blossoms is clearly evoked by colour, fragrance, and the movement of scattering. This subtlety allows the poem to develop its thought on impermanence.
‘Iroha Uta’ takes the original poem’s lyrics, but uses it to mean the exact opposite.
Piano version of ‘Iroha Uta’ by the male utaite Pokota. I think this is the best version so far.
Take a look at the chorus:
‘iroha nihoheto chirinuru o
waga yo dare zo tsune naran
shiritai no motto motto fukaku made
ui no okuyama kyou koete
asaki yume miji yoi mo sezu
somarimashou anata no
iroha nihoheto chirinuru o‘
‘colours, though fragrant,
who in this world is unchanging?
I wish to know, more and more, all the way to the core.
The deep mountains of vanity – we shall cross them today,
and we shall not see shallow dreams nor be deluded.
Let me become tinged with your color,
although colours, though fragrant, will scatter away.‘
Later there are variants to the ending
‘kawarimashou, anata no tame ni’
‘shall I change for you?’
‘ochimashou anata to
iroha nihoheto doko made mo‘
‘let us fall together,
whilst fragrant, all the way to the bottom.‘
The first two lines of the poem are subverted in the chorus’ third line: the rhetorical question of ‘who is constant’ becomes that fascination for the world Buddhist thought often discourages as it promotes attachment.
Another act of subversion happens when ‘crossing the valley of vanity’ is given a new meaning: not overcoming, but entering. The lines ‘we will not experience shallow dreams nor be deluded’ thus lose their Buddhist implications and become instead phrases of love. The chorus ends with a rejection of that Buddhist dogma of impermanence over the particular love. The later variations contribute to this: ‘shall I change for you?’ even implies that the very impermanence of man does not stop love, as the change may still be for the loved one. Most fascinatingly, we see again mono no aware in ‘let us fall together whilst fragrant,’ but while the idea was originally conceived by Buddhist thinkers to remind people of impermanence, we see here that it may have the opposite effect: awareness of impermanence makes impermanence itself an object of beauty.
Yes, I’m into utaite and vocaloid because of the Buddhist themes in the lyrics!