“Even if you were a woman, you’d still be an idiot.”
Tamaki, Saito (Translated by J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson)
University of Minnesota Press, 2011 (English Translated edition)
ISBN: 978 0 8166 5451 2
You know how sometimes, you can like a thing without really knowing why you like it? And then once you find out some of the theory of why people like these things, it sort of spoils it for you? Well, all of that didn’t happen with this book.
Ha, had you going for a second there, didn’t I? But I guess that that’s because I’m not a massive anime and manga fan. Oh, sure, I like some of it; Princess Mononoke is probably my favourite, but I really haven’t watched enough of it to feel that I should really have a favourite, you know? I love the style of it, and the freaky culture clash things that crop up – like in Pom Poko, with its masses of references to the shape-shifting abilities ensconced in a racoon’s balls. Have to confess to loving it from a Western point of view, and also… not keen on Big Robot anime. But all that didn’t stop me reading this book.
A lot of this book was way out of my depth – there is a lot of discussion, especially in the introduction to the book, about Lacanian psychotherapy techniques (gah?), the intersection between the Real, the Fictionalised Real, and Fiction (double gah?). Lucky for me, I recently read Violence: six sideways reflections by Slavoj Zizek (yeah, that’s what I do in my spare time… what a nerd), so some of the terms were kind of familiar. I’d imagine if you were a critical studies major or a media studies guru you’d probably get way more out of this book than I did.
I mostly picked up Beautiful Fighting Girl because of the title, and with the expectation that it was going to be more a feminist studies thing. But it had some really really interesting stuff in there, despite the fact that I had to look up every fifth word or so; discussions of the otaku phenomena, which I remember reading about in the mid-nineties, first of all in an article on Japanese youth subculture in The Face. The article (from what I remember of it – you’ll have to trust me on this one, since The Face has been defunct since 2004) briefly discussed some of the subculture groups that were active in Japan during the time – the bosozuku, the yanki, the chinpara (who as far as I can remember were a sort of Yakuza-in-waiting), and others, which is where I first read about the otaku. Incidentally, there is an excellent book by Karl Taro Greenfeld called Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan’s Next Generation that I can highly recommend if you’re interested in Japanese youth culture during the late nineties. Of course, then there was the so-called ‘otaku murderer’, which lent this kind of seedy undercurrent to otaku culture in general. I mean, it was never exactly a compliment in the eyes of the general public before, but these creepy dudes gave it a whole new patina.
Beautiful Fighting Girl talks about the very particular obsession that otaku, who Tamaki describes as “a strange and unique community that has come into existence as a result of the interations between the modern media environment and the adolescent psyche in Japan” (page 9), have with girls who fight. I mean, I’m a child of the Eighties – I watched my fair share of the English overdubbed versions of Sailor Moon. But it wasn’t until I read this book that I understood the place that these beautiful girls who wage war in massive robots or fight demons or turn into wolves or whatever have in the world of anime and manga. I know for a fact that I’d rather see a girl (beautiful or otherwise) fight than be some sort of simpering eye candy. One of my favourite depictions in Western comic art of the beautiful fighting girl type is Tulip O’Hare from the Preacher series by Garth Ennis – clearly, not a woman to be trifled with. There’s quite a few examples, mostly from recent times (though, I suppose if you want to get traditional, Wonder Woman would be one of the first) of this kind of phenomena in the Western comic world. But where Tulip and the others differ from Sailor Moon and her ilk is that they are never girls – always women. Tamaki notes two important exceptions to this case – the comic Tank Girl, and the movie Leon (also known as The Professional).
Overall, would I say, “By Jove, cublings, go read this book!”? It’s a little book, so it’s got that going for it, but I’d say unless you were a critical studies type person, or even a sociology or psychology type person, or a major anime fan, I’d give it a miss. It’s clearly a book for practitioners and people with a lot of background knowledge in the social sciences. That being said, I really enjoyed it, but then again, I admitted to reading Zizek for fun, so maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment.
P.S: The title for this blog is taken from Princess Mononoke. It’s not me, I swear it, boy-readers-of-this-blog! None of you are idiots, obviously!