Six Iconic Anime Main Themes

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!


Cause-Play

(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.)

Cause-Play

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 cosfailerblogger 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.
‘Tapos?’
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.


What have I been reading?

‘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.

First, anime.

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 Live

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!


Utattemita!

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.

Utattemita no Hon, dedicated to the utaite

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.

Or a phone

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)
chirinuru o
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?’

and

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!


Spring 2014 Anime Titles

I always try to be updated with anime,  so every season (though it does seem pretentious for a Tropical resident to follow temperate seasons) I follow the latest anime titles to come out from Japan. I’ve considered myself ‘updated’ since I was fifteen (that’s seven years of being an otaku now!).

How do I do it? Well,  I’m a loyal online streamer, and I never really got accustomed to torrenting stuff. I survive on the few online streaming sites left on the interne these days –  I suspect streaming is going to be an act of nostalgia for anime fans in the near future. My views on copyrights, you ask? Oh I’m rather non-materialistic about art – sure piracy steals from the artist a few million here and there, but it doesn’t leave him starving. Heck, I could even say that piracy expands an anime creator’s market as more viewers means more buyers of related merchandise. But I digress.

The streaming sites I subscribe to  feature series for the latest anime season, Spring 2014, and for what will be my eighth year in anime fandom I weeded through the new titles.

Now it is impossible to watch everything new, so I’ve developed a selection process of sorts over the years to know which titles to watch. I know the method is not perfect – I’m bound to miss some good titles. But I’m always trying to improve.

The most rudimentary step is to look at the title. Does this series’ title sound stupid? Something like ‘I, My,Me Strawberry Eggs’ will have very little chance of being watched. I’ve noticed that my literary side plays a role here – I go for ‘iconic’ titles (i.e. titles that feel as if they’re going to be remembered for years to come)  –  like ‘Shingeki no Kyojin’ or ‘Skip Beat,’ or titles with violent language – something like ‘Mawaru Penguindrum’ or ‘Uragiri wa Boku no Namae o Shitteiru.’ As that last example shows, this discrimination is very unreliable: I end up wasting my time on bad series with good titles and ignoring good series with bad titles. I rely on word of mouth to watch a series I ignored because of title and watch it retrospectively. Such cases include Lucky Star and Bleach.

Some titles automatically get watched because I’m a fan of their creators. Angel Beats was immediately on my list when it came out because it was by Key. The same goes with Arata Kangatari because it was by Yuu Watase. Of course, the same applies to ongoing series (Natsume Yuujinchou” and the Monogatari series being examples).

Another idiosyncrasy that affects my choice is if the new title appeals to my other interests: literature, politics, and history – here my interests overlap! It was not easy for me to like the Kingdom series because of its Chinese Warring States setting, and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood‘s political dimension was a delight. I actually waited for Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu Uta Koi to come out because it had the novelty of being an anime about Japanese poetry.

If I am ambiguous about a potential title, I refer to my oldest anime idiosyncrasy of all: I look at the cast! If I have any specialization as an otaku, it’s with seiyuu. If the title I am not sure with has seiyuu I know there’s a greater chance I will watch it. I was not a fan of demon-turned-human stories, so Aoi no Exorcist didn’t sound very exciting to me. But Nobuhiko Okamoto and Jun Fukuyama on the cast – and to my delight later Megumi Hayashibara – was enough to catch my attention. In fact, before I even read the synopses of the series, I look at the cast! In the Philippines, voice actors – dubbers – are grossly under-appreciated in spite of their talent (let me put it on record: I’ve always been a Jefferson Utanes fanboy).  Being a seiyuu fan is one small way I can show appreciation for voice acting in general.

Okay so now I have the titles I want to check out, what next? Well, I watch the first episode, and if it does not repulse me, I watch three more episodes to see if I’ll continue to follow it – my variant on the three episode test. Of course I rarely reach 3 episodes. It’s either I hate the series on the first episode, or I decide to continue following it by the second episode.

This season, I tried many titles but, owing to this picky process, I ended up following only two. They are:

Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii: The title alone got my attention. I watched it without reading a synopsis of it, and to my delight there’s inter-kingdom politics in a fantastic world! The cast is also up and coming: Nobunaga Shimazaki, who recently starred as Haruka in Free Iwatobi Swim Club, moves closer to Jun Fukuyama level by playing the political prodigy Livius I, while Rena Maeda makes her first big break since voicing Machi in the 2011 adaptation of Hunter X Hunter with Nike-hime. In the supporting cast is also Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, and Daisuke Namikawa among others.

 

Black Bullet: I wasn’t too intrigued with the title, but the apocalyptic series’ complexity is captivating. Though I do feel it borrows too heavily from Shingeki no Kyojin – the bombastic OP with the choral interludes, the “constant threat to human existence prevented by not altogether perfect barriers,”  discrimination the oppressiveness of mankind with some of its own in spite of the threat. It doesn’t help that, like SnK, Yuki Kaiji also plays the lead role. But it remains original enough to keep me interested – in fact, what is here that isn’t in SnK (or in any other title I know for that matter) is what I’d like to coin as aware-moe, the moe based fundamentally on pity. The Cursed Children are kawaii not only because they are inherently so, but because they are pitiable. They are kawaii because they are kawai-sou.  Moe has been defined as the urge to protect the character (I cannot recall where I read that), and Black Bullet returns moe to that definition at its rawest by reminding us how fragile these fragile looking characters really are. Another thing that also keeps me hooked is Rikiya Koyama. Since playing Ouki in Kingdom, Koyama has taken on more fabulous roles over the years, and it seems like V for Vendetta-esque Kagetane Hiruko will be his most fascinating character yet. Also in the supporting cast are Yui Horie, Aki Toyosaki, and Ami Koshimizu among others.

Two titles are still being tried, Ryugajou Nanana no Maizokin and Mekaku City Actors. Nanana is strange enough that I might actually continue watching it, but Mekaku feels too much Bakemonogatari-ish without the cleverness.

I watch Soredemo and Black Bullet this summer (in the Philippines at least) with my two perennial series: Naruto (which I had started following in Tagalog on ABS-CBN since I was twelve, Shippuuden online consistently since I was fifteen) and Hunter x Hunter 2011 (I followed the original series in Tagalog on GMA-7 when I was ten, and I initially disliked the 2011 series, but that it has gone beyond the Greed Island Arc caught my attention). I am also rewatching Bleach and Fushigi Yuugi, while discovering more and more about utaite singers and vocaloid song writers (the Kradness-Niki colabs are working for me).


Hybrid no Anime o misete!

 


Pinoy Otaku Literature

 

 

aoi_bungaku

Anime can be very reaffirming

 

The Filipino youth of this past two decades has an imagination highly influenced, if not dominated, by Japanese animation. Fanfiction, Wattpad stories illustrated anime-style, even the music and fashion sense – the symptoms are everywhere. This younger generation is an otaku generation.

I have been particularly exposed to this fact. During my time in the Ateneo de Davao, many members of the literary org, SALEM, were practically more into anime than literature, and were in the club with writing fanfiction as their main writing background. Many of my friends there were consequently anime fans. In Dumaguete I might very well be the first and so far only graduate student of Silliman University to have been made a member of its humble otaku club, SU MAGE, and several of my students in NORSU are no strangers to anime either. Indeed, I think I can say with some authority that anime has, after decades of mass exposure to it,  thoroughly become an element of contemporary Filipino culture.

And, as the case of members of SALEM reflect, anime’s influence to our imagination has had profound influences in our creative output, particularly in our literature. Far more than published text, our youth’s exposure to narrative has been through anime, either on TV dubbed by our local stations, or streamed or downloaded online fansubbed, and this consequently influences their narrative: beginning Filipino writers inevitably write about Japanese scenarios, and in the rare event that they do write in Filipino contexts, Japanese cultural nuances will be found entering both the situation and the storytelling.

And I feel that to the beginning writers trying to enter the literary craft with only a background of writing fanfic or anime-inspired stories, the Filipino literary establishment has not always been kind.

 

Filipino Literary Objections to Anime

I have seen enough beginners’ writers workshops to hear of the many objections more established writers have on the way anime has influenced beginning writers’ imaginations.

Perhaps the most common objection I hear is that anime-inspired writing by Filipinos is being contextually inauthentic, pretentious even. What, writers ask, is a writer from Bangkal, Davao City, doing writing about Heian-era playboys or Tokugawa-era profligates? Filipinos should write about Filipinos, and true to that Deriada maxim, “you should write what you know,” and writing about Bangkal, Davao City is far more practical than imagining the interior of Himeji castle. More profoundly, writers opposed to this way of imagining (and yes, the objection really is in the way the youth imagine) will argue that the young people into anime are becoming removed from the Filipino consciousness, imagining that they are Japanese and consequently writing as if they were Japanese to a Japanese audience. Otaku imagination is a threat to Filipino identity.

"Anime is muck!"

Kegare!”

The other most common objection to anime-inspired writing is that it has bad effects on the craft. Dominique Cimafranca, writing about “the curse of fanfic,” listed seven reasons why fanfic makes bad literature. The first six talk about craft, and I quote:

1. Fanfic bespeaks of laziness and lack of imagination on the part of the writer. Instead of creating their own characters and settings, they merely appropriate what others have built.

2. Because they use characters and settings which are, within their sphere of readership, already well established, fanfic writers do not take care to fully flesh out these elements. Readers unfamiliar with the source material are left high and dry.

3. Moreover, characters from TV and cartoons do not translate well into the page. On the screen, the frenetic action may hide their flatness and one-dimensionality; when put into prose, which demands greater introspection on the part of the reader, these faults come to the fore.

4. Likewise, character development is almost nonexistent in fanfic stories. Because they do not own the property, because they may be careful not to offend other fans, or simply because they love the characters too much, fanfic authors do not push the boundaries of their protagonists.

5. Characters in fanfic stories do not have flaws. In the minds of their writers, the characters are perfect; in fact, too perfect to properly describe in words. In the prose medium, which relies on
words, this is a fatal flaw.

6. Worse still, some fanfic writers may actually be infatuated with the characters they write about. This is so common that it even has a name within the fanfic community: the Mary Sue syndrome. Not only does this make for unbearable reading, it is downright creepy.

Additionally, some workshop panelists argue that because the influence material is popular culture, and as many works of popular culture are often formulaic, this renders the works themselves formulaic.

 

Anime as Part of Pinoy Identity

Anime version of the Maguindanao Massacre

Maniwa Chouchou is a journalist, Nanami is Palparan

While I have no intention of contradicting sir Dom’s six points (or even the seventh, that fanfic can’t be published because of copyrights), there is something to be said about anime being cultural inauthentic to Filipinos and being formulaic.

While there is some weight to saying that exposure to anime detaches the youth from Filipino realities, it would be an exaggeration to say that it threatens to damage Filipino identity. For one thing, these young people may think Japan, but they most certainly do not live in Japan: they have to eat Filipino food, go to Filipino schools, meet Filipino friends, fall in Filipino love, perhaps even engage in Filipino sex. Inasmuch as culture is the way people live, they cannot possibly live like Japanese people in a Filipino reality, no matter how much affluence gives them the luxury of removedness from other Filipinos.

And then we have to argue that, contrary to what established writers argue, exposure to anime has instead become an indelible part of Filipino identity. Jessica Zafra once humorously wrote that the main catalyst behind EDSA 1 was the Marcos Administration’s suspension of Voltes V from TVs. By now two generations of Filipino have grown up exposed to anime, from the children of the late eighties and early nineties growing up with GMA’s dub of Dragon Ball or much later ABS-CBN’s dub of Naruto, to the children of the second millennium who grew up watching Code Geass and Gurren Laggan online. I must say here that to deny anime’s influence on Filipino culture is being removed from reality, being stuck perhaps in the nostalgic past (as many nationalists are, particularly the precolonial past) or being too highbrow as to be idiosyncratic.

Betrays his leader  –  Enrile, is that you?

And there we touch on two things: that arguments against anime-influenced imaginations on nationalistic grounds are founded on arbitrary preconceptions of a fixed Filipino identity; and that such a dismissal of anime is counterproductive.

When an established writer decries young people “not being Filipino enough” because of being too influenced by anime, there seems to be an underlying assumption that there is a definite, fixed Filipino identity, and anything from other cultures is “impurity.” But by this logic we can argue that electricity, which certainly is no Filipino invention, is an impurity in Filipino culture, and therefore we should not use electricity.  The idea of a fixed Filipino identity is a delusion: cultural identity is not and never will be fixed. There are constants of course, but a culture that does not change is a stagnant culture. And is the role of art (and in this case literature) not simply to reflect culture but to create it? We can argue that not only is Filipino otaku literature being authentic to contemporary Filipino realities, it even does something which hitherto entirely local literature has not done yet: take Japanese ideas to add to Filipino self reflection. Luis Katigbak’s “Subterrania,” a poignant story about Pinoy hikkikomori, demonstrates this best. And on that note we must also say that resistance to Japanese influence in Filipino culture is not only being hypocritical on the New Criticism-influenced (and therefore Americanized) Filipino writers’ parts, it is downright impossible: cultural influence is inevitable, any resistance to it is futile.

Iya da wa, hayaku tsuritsubusanai to

I must here say that this dismissal of young writers’ anime-influenced attempts at writing is becoming counterproductive. It is turning off many young people who want to try writing. In the long run, this will risk alienating a whole sector of our collective imagination from our literary output, rendering our already elitist literature even more removed from its people. Hito o norowaba ana futatsu, as the saying goes, and all this cursing is not doing anyone good.

 

Ippen, anime o miru

Futatsu no Bunka Baransu: Pinoy Otaku enters literature

And writers who dismiss anime as formulaic obviously do not know much about anime. The anime-manga industry is one of the most competitive industries in the world, one that rewards originality above all else. Just watching the anime (or reading the original manga) Bakuman. by the wonder duo of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata gives a glimpse into the importance of being able to breathe in fresh ideas into the scene.

And more informed anime fans will be quick to point out  that anime is perhaps the most intertextual and even the most literary form of pop culture. Literary-wise, I once wrote about how anime is no stranger to literary adaptation. Additionally, I’ve also written before how many anime titles were made with such deep understanding of literary principles that they could readily be considered literature themselves: the powerful subtlety of Clannad, the megalomaniacal plot intricacy of Code Geass, the compelling rootedness of Fullmetal Alchemist, just to name some popular choices. But if anyone is in doubt as to the literary nature of anime, I would like to introduce them to the works of Nishio Ishin, or perhaps of Kunihiko Ikuhara.

Sanetoshi thinks Superfrog is shibireru!

And anime, or at least Japanese pop culture, is the battleground of Takashi Murakami’s Superflat, the deliberate confluence – intersection, even – of pop and high art. Perhaps Filipino writers, who have been philistinically but dare I say accurately accused by Carlo Caparas of sitting on an ivory tower, have something to learn from anime’s at once mass and intellectual appeal.

So we have argued enough that anime, far from being detrimental to literary and artistic growth, is in fact the most conducive to it. How then does the Pinoy otaku go about starting literature?

Baby steps!

Baby steps!

For starters, the otaku must expand his fandom. More often than not the Pinoy otaku is into moe, a bit of shounen and shoujo here and there, and the odd niche fanservice (yaoi, RPG-based fantasy, or just straight plain ecchi). Anime for the Pinoy otaku is not a serious thing, it’s a source of immediate gratification. If the Pinoy otaku wants to go about writing, he must take anime more seriously. I could namedrop a lot of anime and manga titles here for your reference, but it’s best to describe it: find anime and manga that is difficult, and damn it try to understand whatever you choose to deal with. Kara no Kyoukai, Bakemonogatari, Eva, heck, even Five Cm per Second (there, namedropping).

Araragi Koyomi, protagonist of the series

Literary is sexy

And then, the established writers were somewhat right in saying that anime fandom limits the young, but only insofar as the young choose to limit themselves to their fandom. With the same willingness to try new titles, the anime fan who wants to write must begin exploring literature, particularly Filipino literature. Those six points on fanfic, after all, still stand, and while anime can offer a diverse worldview, it still does not present Filipino realities (something I have never denied – Filipino exposure to anime is the Filipino reality. Anime per se as an art form of course does not portray Filipino realities). And exposure to more literary anime will make literature easier, specially with Japanese literature (a bone I have to pick: an otaku with literary pretensions CANNOT be ignorant to Japanese literature – from the Kojiki to Murakami!)

 

"Teika, supportest thou me, for I feint at the pity of it! These youths know not even the Naniwa Bay poem! Oh there are no more blossoms on the tree!"

“The knowledge of these young people is not shallow, and of you Teika, my thoughts are not shallow either”

Additionally, the Pinoy otaku should begin exploring his or her own nature as a Filipino. Xenophilia is not the necessary antagonist of local pride. If the Japanese teach us anything, it’s the opposite: foreign influence not only gives us fresh perspectives of our own culture, it even lets us enrich what we already have. The Pinoy otaku should begin reflecting on the Filipino realities around him or her, and with his or her exposure to anime he or she will have a perspective to it that older writers don’t. Additionally, his or her general worldview can be more expanded: a Pinoy otaku can always relate with the plight of the dispossessed Manobo, but the older writer who refuses to expose himself to contemporary realities can never fully understand being a hikkikomori.

“diese welt ist grausam”

When going about writing, the Pinoy otaku must consider that stigma by the literary establishment against Xenophilia and used it against them. You want to write a Welcome to the NHK-ish story but you’re from Arakan? Set that story in Arakan! Experiment. Write about a tsundere or a fujoshi in Tagum, or make a B’laan get lost in your sci-fi metropolitan Takamagahara where he meets and falls in love with Inari the goddess. Write what is true to you, and if such a reality is true to you, all you have to do is give it the trappings of reality to convince the readers that you are articulating a real experience. Just make sure your fandom doesn’t affect your craft. Yattermirou!

 

Waga My Way

Illustration by Rainiko Ho, from my NORSU students' folio. Gosh I love how I look like here.

Illustration by Roniko Ho, from my NORSU students’ folio. Gosh I love how I look here.

This matter hits close to home because, as may be evident by now, I’m an otaku  – literally, I stay at home (if you know the etymology of “otaku”) to expose myself to anime, and have suffered social repercussions for my fandom. I’ve been exposed to anime since I watched Akazukin Chacha as a five year old on Cartoon Network, and I’ve been a conscious anime fan since I was fourteen. I am listening to “Wave” by the Nico-Nico utaite Kradness as I write this, waiting for the latest episode of Nagi no Asakura to finish downloading. Heck, I have a friend, Kim Calub, who happens to be a dubber.

And anime has had a profound influence in my imagination. My earliest short stories, written in High School, had Japanese characters and had Japanese settings. I even wrote a story entitled “We Were Once Angels” (from Hironobu Kageyama’s “Bokutachi wa Tenshi Datta“). When I was in college I dabbled with anime in poetry (one poem was published in Ateneo de Davao’s folio because, I suspect, the obscure allusions were lost to the editors  – Kurapika from HxH was alluded to with “the chain tears of red moon”), and while that didn’t succeed (yet) I had great fun. The eponymous character in one of my earliest published stories, “Kei by the Stream,” was inspired by Haku from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (my vanity refuses to call that work fanfic, but I can call it an environmentalist, Freudian take on Chihiro’s relations to Haku perhaps?). In my first story to win an award, “In the Manner Accustomed,” the main character calls his weeding trowel “Kusanagi.” In a recently written story the main character is listening to Akiko Shikata and Yuki Kajiura on the van from Mati to Kidapawan – the list is endless. Perhaps my first attempt at explicit anime-related writing is the short story “Cause-Play,” about a cosplayer in Davao and her misadventures. I have yet to find a venue for that piece of scandal.

Sexual awakening?

The flowers in the background could only be Freudian symbols

Anime played a crucial role in my deep sense of romanticism, a flame that stems most likely from the fact that I’m Filipino. Because of exposure to titles by Key like Kanon and Clannad, Kidapawan mornings and afternoons seemed more emotionally intense. Love stories like Cardcaptor Sakura and Myself; Yourself made the people around me seem much more interesting (although arguably also much more daunting). To this day I still imagine my better looking characters with anime character designs.

Another illustration of me, this one dating from my college days, by Harry Dubouzet. I love how buff I am here!

Another illustration of me, this one from my college days, by Harry Dubouzet. I love how buff I am here.

If I had not been exposed to literature as well as anime (in high school I was reading Francois Copee while watching xxxHolic) I feel that I would no longer be writing today. The fact is the Philippine literary scene has become so alienating that unless you know your stuff you can’t enter it. While myself not much into fanfic, I feel I have to speak out for the fanfic writer with so much potential who gets turned off by some elitist CW majors brandishing Hemingway and Atwood. And yet I have to admonish the same fanfic writer for sticking to what he or she is comfortable with. How can you reach Bankai if you don’t go beyond relying on your Zanpakutou? You need to explore the rest of the world. Go, walk around Bangkal.

Nel, walking around Bangkal

There has come to be a distinction between art as human profundity and art as entertainment and pleasure, and I am now in that part of my creative journey where I wish to blend them, to once again stay true to the Horatian maxim of “dulce et utile.” At the opposite sides of the spectrum are the writers – highbrow “experts” who take literature too seriously, pharisaically rendering it dry and daunting – and the otaku – the socially awkward serious fans who nevertheless don’t take the art they love seriously enough, inadvertently contributing to the low opinion on it as they stick to K-ON and the .hack franchise. Perhaps my being a bit of both (I’ve had my share of people accusing me of being too highbrow huhu) will make the dulce et utile project easier.

Or perhaps – and this may also prove true for the many beginning writers with only anime as background – this was inevitable, that my anime fandom invariably made literature easier and more pleasurable, and literature has made anime something more worthwhile than just entertainment.

Yes, kono yo ni guuzen wa nai, aru wa hitsuzen dake.

 

For an otaku writer, the muse smokes from a kiseru