More quotes!

I missed a page of my notes when I posted yesterday, so here are the last two:

In response to a question about a generational disconnect between anti-military 60 year-olds, pro-military 40 year-olds and twenty-somethings,
“Well, I am 64 years old now. I took part in the Vietnam demonstrations in my youth. Um, everybody has their youth.” -Yukio Okamoto, saying more by silence

And finally, on the effects of rude comments about the president,
“Regarding what someone would call the U.S. president, I think they’re used to being called pretty much anything.” -Richard Armitage

The more I work in DC, the more I’m impressed by the quality of our statesmen and our allies’ statesmen. (I don’t work too much with our, um, non-allies.) I can’t recall ever meeting a senior member of the Foreign Service who I wouldn’t be proud to have represent myself and my nation. They all seem able to effortlessly make critical points – but in a way that doesn’t feel as though you’re being criticized. It’s a skill I wish I had. Whenever I deal with them, making progress just seems easier, natural. I’m glad we’ve got them working for us.

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Quotes!

Quotes from the 16th annual Japan-U.S. Security Seminar, which I attended awhile back.

“How long [do we have to speak]?” -Shinichi Kitaoka
“About seven minutes. After seven minutes, there’s a trap door that drops you into the bowels of the Willard Hotel.” -Ralph Cossa

“A woman went in to see her doctor. He said ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry, but you’ve only got a week to live.’ She said ‘Oh no, is there anything I can do?’ He said ‘Well, you can go and marry a U.S.-Japan security specialist.’ She said ‘Will that help?’ He said ‘No, but a week will feel like forever!'” -Richard Armitage

“I tend to be an optimist also, but that may be more a commentary on my mind than the facts.” -William Perry, with one of my new favorite quotes

After a questioner was referred to CNA for the answer to their question:
“Hi, I’m Mike McDevitt, and I am employed at CNA.” -Mike McDevitt
“Yeah, you can turn your resumes in to Mike on the way out.” -Ralph Cossa

Note: Tim Keating recently retired. Prior to his retirement, he was a four-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, i.e. in charge of a lot of important stuff.
“Thank you. I’m Tim Keating, and I’m unemployed.” -Tim Keating

And in that vein,
“You know, I’m also unemployed, so I have no way of knowing what the DPJ is thinking.” -Yukio Okamoto, former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan

More history lessons, wrapped in a spoilerific discussion of Gilgamesh

Don’t read this if you don’t want to know how the anime Gilgamesh ends.

There is a relatively unknown anime called Gilgamesh that I like. I bought it way back when (okay, only a few years ago), but I just wasn’t getting around to the end of it. Over the mass of holiday days (off work, that is) around Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s I finally got up the necessary impetus to finish it off in an orgy of about twelve episodes over a long weekend. I know that that doesn’t sound that hard – I mean, I’ve seen twelve episodes of different things in single days, and then gone back for more – but this series has a few things working against marathon viewing. For one thing, it’s bleak. The ending of the series is “gather the main dozen-or-so characters in one place, kill them off one by one except for the last two, then bring on the apocalypse”. Seriously, that is an exact description of it. The rest of the series, well, is in line with the ending.

The other factor against watching this one in marathons is the animation. They either put a lot of money into it, or not much at all, and I honestly can’t tell. At first I thought it was rather well funded, but when I started marathoning the end, I was struck by what looked like cheap animation. Did they run out after spending most of their budget on the earlier episodes? Was mediocre animation covered by cool character/world designs from the start? Was I just rushing to the point where everything became a blur in my eyes? All are equally possible.

I finished the series a few weeks ago now, but it still haunts my mind. I had trouble figuring out why, until I finally made the connection with history/the past. One of the things that attracts me most about anime is the way it serves as a sort of gateway drug for students. You like the cartoons? You would understand them better if you spoke Japanese. You adore Rurouni Kenshin but have no idea who these ishin shishi and shinsengumi are? Why not try a little history? That’s how I got into it all, and even the most casual fans are often interested in hearing someone explain juuuust a bit of Japanese language/culture/history/et cetera if it makes them understand their favorite series more.

So, what’s the connection with Gilgamesh? Gilgamesh takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. (I know – I said that the show ends with an apocalypse. It does; there are TWO apocalypses. As I said, it’s dark.) We find out the reason for the apocalypse in the last episode, and it is…

A woman’s jealousy.

Seriously.

We can call down apocalypses now.

(You know, for all that I’m outraged as a feminist, I’m rather attracted by the thought of having that power. Perhaps it’s for the best that this is a load of hogwash.)

Anyway, when I first heard this, I was appalled. I mean, seriously!?! In this day and age, we’re supposed to believe that a brilliant, beautiful young scientist can be so consumed with suppressed jealousy that it takes on a life of its own and destroys most of the world? And then goes on, some years later, to destroy the rest of it? Naaah, I don’t think so.

But then I got to thinking. That’s what we scholars are supposed to do, and it shouldn’t have taken me so long, but there you go. Woman+jealousy=death. Where have I heard that before? Lady Rokujou, perhaps? Tale of Genji, anyone?

In the Tale of Genji, Lady Rokujou becomes so jealous of Genji’s other women that her spirit leaves her body – without Lady Rokujou’s knowing – and kills one of them. The other woman in question is below Genji, class-wise. This parallels Gilgamesh fairly closely. The Countess (Lady R-) becomes jealous of the brilliant Terumichi Madoka’s wife. In this case, class isn’t the issue so much as intelligence. Both the Countess and Madoka are brilliant scientists, the wife is simply a sweet girl – a photographer. In addition, though I said earlier that the Countess’ spirit causes the apocalypses, it’s more complicated. The Countess’ jealous spirit enters into and then is embodied by an ancient power called Tear. The Countess knows nothing of this for years afterward. So you could say that the Countess’ spirit went wandering just like Lady Rokujou’s.

I’m not really sure what to do with this, though. So the story riffs on the preeminent work of classical Japanese fiction, so what? It’s still horribly sexist. But this one bit of history gives us a handle on the rest of the series.

Leave out the ending; simply consider the rest of the series. Do bad things happen to women? Yes. Do bad things happen to men? Yes. Are they comparable? Often, or at least that appears to be the intention. (I’m thinking here of some characters’ issues with finding out that they are clones. Wouldn’t bother me, but it was presented as horribly scarring to those characters.) And there appears to have been some editing. From the copious material that came with my DVD’s, I learned that one scene was originally intended to be a rape scene. I also learned that that episode was given to a female director and suddenly it was consensual sex. That’s not definitive proof of anything, but I’ll still cheer a little for involving women in the industry at decision-making levels.

There’s also the issue of history/legends in the story overall. As you might guess from the title, Gilgamesh is a new take on the legend of Gilgamesh. The legend of Gilgamesh doesn’t have female characters that I know of, but Gilgamesh has them in spades, and in important positions too. The anime isn’t a direct take on the legend, but builds off of it. So I can see tying the question of arrogance in Gilgamesh to the issue of jealousy in Gilgamesh. After all, what is jealousy if not the arrogance to argue that you are better for your beloved than anyone else? The past runs through Gilgamesh like water in Kyoto. Understand that past and new meanings open up for you. But I don’t think that that denies the previous meanings; jealous-women-end-the-world just doesn’t sound right to me.

The Princess and the Frog, for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

On Monday I saw The Princess and the Frog. I saw it because I, like many others, followed the debates and controversies about Disney’s first black princess, Tiana, and I wanted to see the outcome of those debates for myself.

I was fascinated. I’m not sure how it stacks up lyrically against such classics as The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, but there was some serious, intense animation going on there. Before I get into that, I should explain a bit about the story. The movie, as you may have heard, was set in New Orleans, in the mid-World Wars period. The movie is closely involved with Creole/mish-mash culture and style. In fact, the vibrancy of the melting pot is a strong message underlying the entire movie. The entire movie, from start to finish, is moving. Here, there, everywhere. The little mermaid went from her hideout in the sea to the palace, the surface, the beach, et cetera, but that movie was really divided between under the sea and land. In contrast, we see a variety of different cultures/ways of life in The Princess and the Frog, from our heroine’s home in a semi-poor black section of town to her rich friend’s mansion lifestyle to bayou life. Each culture is presented as a valid way of life, with none demonized.

The lack of demonization showed up most clearly for me in the character of Charlotte, one of Tiana’s friends. Rich and spoiled, Charlotte was perfectly situated to be a new kind of evil stepsister – this time with shades of racism, as Charlotte was white. Instead, Charlotte was depicted as kind but thoughtless, a girl who was willing to give up her chance to become a princess – once someone pointed out that doing so would bring her friend true love.

However, she is an example of what I’m talking about, not what I want to focus on. That is the role the animation plays in tying this movie into the rest of the Disney pantheon, and the resulting political implications. Oh yes, political implications in Disney. I was struck.

Anyway, onto the animation. In keeping with the theme of energy and production in diversity, the animation for The Princess and the Frog riffs on several previous Disney movie styles. The memorable lagoon love song scene in The Little Mermaid is mirrored in a shot of the two frogs sitting on a little boat in the bayou as singing fireflies light up lotus lamps floating in a circle around them.

Yup, you read that right. Ariel’s big scene got co-opted to argue that frogs (read: people that don’t look like you) can/should have the same love experiences and opportunities as all the previous movies’ heroines. But it doesn’t end there: several other movie’s art styles were used at different points in the movie. I won’t name them all (because I probably didn’t notice them all), but the opening shots of New Orleans and Charlotte’s mansion are reminiscent of the artwork in Cinderella, and the ending credits are images of the bayou done in the style of Sleeping Beauty. In other words, the force and power of the previous Disney movies is used to legitimize The Princess and the Frog. At the same time that this variety of animation styles is strengthening the new movie, the fact that what could have been a cacophony of dissonant art styles does strengthen the movie underscores the overall message of strength, energy and unity in diversity.

Disney is not known for putting strong political messages in their films – quite the opposite, in fact. And the value of diversity isn’t exactly a new message. But what struck me was how thoroughly Disney went after that particular point. We see it in the storyline, where a poor, hardworking girl and a profligate prince both teach each other a bit about life. We see it in the animation, where several art styles are woven seamlessly (and skillfully) together. We see it in the characters from all walks of life who help the romantic leads along. And on, and on, and on. Disney could easily have just done a black princess movie. But they chose a couple messages (the other big one being the value of hard work) and hit those suckers with a sledgehammer. I’m impressed, Disney. I hope to see more works of this quality from you in the future.

Boning up on the literature

Normally I dump most of my Christmas money in savings, but this year I decided to try a new sort of investment: books. I used a large part of my Christmas funds to buy academic books on yokai, anime and postmodern Japan, as well as the newest issue of Mechademia. I also got some books to read for fun, and the second volume in a fantasy series by a successful female Japanese author who I’m rather fond of. At the same time, I something like ten new video games. Meanwhile, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to drag through that list of anime that I really ought to have seen, but haven’t managed to get to yet, and those new series that I ought to know about. And I’m trying to clear out those books that have been haunting my shelves for years unread. (All that doesn’t even include the basic reading in Japanese that I need to do for a class I’m taking/to keep up with kanji.)

It’s a lot to do.

So I’m wondering about order, now. What should I do first? In the past, I’ve read several books at once without trouble. But many of these are academic books, which really need sustained, undivided attention. All the same, I can’t help but feel the draw of new books in the house. The anime are relatively easy – new series I watch as they come out, old series I tackle one at a time in depth. (At the moment, I’m working on Peacemaker Kurogane, at roughly two episodes per night.)

Video games are a bit different. I got a new Wii for Christmas, so many of the new games are doubling as exercise (Wii Tennis, for example). I can’t start all the games at once, though. I just can’t pick up new configurations of keyboards/controllers that quickly. At the moment, I’m doing the exercise-style games the most, to negate the extra eggnog/cookies of the past month or so.

What seems to be working is making a schedule. I made one for anime and it’s progressing relatively smoothly. I’m hoping my second book order will be in when I get home today. If it is, I’ll set down all of the books currently available and order them as well. With any luck, I should expand my knowledge of the relevant scholarship a lot over the next few months. However, I think it will go more like this: with book schedule in hand, I am inspired by New Idea for research. New Idea is related to a field which is not reflected in my new book stash, so new books get set aside for… probably more new books. And then I have even more old books that were bought but never read!

I don’t think this problem is specific to me. Have you had it? How do you deal with it?

Wow

I’ve been writing this blog for about a year now, writing more and more frequently over time. Still, I don’t write that often. (I’m working on it, really.) So I was surprised to find today that my li’l ol’ blog pops up on the first page of the Google search “avatar racefail”. Go me.

Yeah, that’s all I really had to say. I’ll follow this up with a proper post soon, promise.