Denpa-teki na Kanojo, episode 1 – tropes

Before we start let me say that this is not a review of Denpa-teki na Kanojo. If you want a review – we already have one written by Shaurya, you are welcome to read it. Here I want to discuss this OVA rather than to review it, so I’ll assume you’ve seen it. It is a good show by the way, and it is fairly short too, so if you haven’t seen it you can start watching it now and come back in 40 minutes =)

Ame Ochibana

I decided to write about Denpa-teki na Kanojo because it gives me a great opportunity to talk about certain recurring setups in anime. Before we start though I would ask you to try not to let any negative preconceptions about these tropes to guide you as you are reading.

The first trope I want to mention is “harem”, basically it is a setup where you have a guy and a group of girls who are showering him with their attention. It is a weird definition, but I find that it works pretty well. I’d personally consider it to be a harem setup if there are at least three girls who show interest in the protagonist. If there are just two of them you can use more specific terms like love triangle or something; these are just words anyways. First episode of Denpa-teki fits this pattern nicely, as Fujishima Kanako (the class rep girl), Satsuki Miya (the girl who turned out to be a psycho) and Ochibana Ame (the Juu’s knight with weird haircut) are all talking with Juu (the protagonist boy) almost exclusively, and each of them shows a distinct interest in him, though their feelings may be different in nature and depth.

Juu Juuzawa and Miya Satsuki

What do you think, does it make sense to call it a “trope”? If you have a character-driven show it is only natural that there would be people of both genders, and since all of them are teenagers it is also natural that there would be a bit of a romantic tension there. And since Denpa-teki is a short anime you can argue that there wasn’t enough room for more than one male lead, so it just happens that Juu has lots of girls interacting with him. Right?

Juu with Ame

While this is a reasonable thing to say, I don’t think it is quite right. Regardless of the writer’s intentions, making your protagonist seem popular with the opposite gender affects the way the show works. Supposedly, it makes the guys who watch the anime associate themselves with the protagonist, and it makes the girls pay more attention towards him because he is popular. These ideas sort of popular are psychology-based speculations, and it is a broad-brush picture. It doesn’t have to work this way, if at all, for you in particular, my dear reader, so don’t complain :P So anyway, making your protagonist popular will likely change the way your audience views him, in particular it would likely make people to wish him well. And this can be exploited.

Kanako Fujishima

Let me give you an example of another show that falls under the harem definition I gave. In Neon Genesis Evangelion its protagonist Shinji Ikari is living together with Misato Katsuragi and Asuka Langley. He is also the only friend of Rei Ayanami, thus making it thee girls none of whom likes him very much, but they do hang out together almost constantly. This anime definitely does exploit the extra attention that Shinji’s popularity draws to him. It does so by making him fail miserably at everything he tries and by making him give up without trying half the time. So, because you wanted him to succeed you feel disappointment, frustration and even anger. Read what people say about Shinji, you’ll see just how well this worked out, he is a legitimate contender to be the #1 in the “most hated characters” list. All because the show is very effective at making you wish for Shinji to succeed. Of course, it is not just about him being popular with the girls, there are like half a dozen different ways the anime establishes him as a character you root for. Check it out, it is a pretty great anime series.

Shinji Ikari, Misato Katsuragi, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley. The white haired boy is also a friend of Shinji’s

So with Evangelion I’d say using the harem trope was an effective choice that helped the show in achieving its goals. What about Denpa-teki na Kanojo? It is similar, in a way. Imagine you don’t care about Juu at all. Then the events of the OVA become bland, like a not-so-scary horror film. But then imagine that you do root for Juu very much. Or, better still, imagine that you are Juu. Then how do you feel about Fujishima’s death? She is a person who was always running around you, she was a classmate, she was generally friendly and so on. Feels pretty horrible, right? And what about Satsuki’s betrayal? Forget the emotional side of the situation, just being beaten up with a bat and then stabbed is awful enough already. This is how the first episode of Denpa-teki na Kanojo is supposed to work, I think. It tries its hardest to make you root for Juu, and then it uses this connection between the viewer and the character to deliver the impact.

Juu with Satsuki

If you doubt that the OVA was set up to exploit this trick, remember when Juu was attacked by Satsuki. It was a second after she finished a sentence that was worded as if she was going to admit her love for him. If you were gonna root for Juu this was the time. And a second later he is beaten with a bat but that same girl.

 

So, I think this trope can be used as a writing tool, rather than just being a fanservice device. Of course, there are dozens of anime where harem is the genre, and that is a different story altogether. Also there are anime like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where the harem setup seems to be used only to make the show more appealing, so in a way it is just a fanservice.

The second trope I wanted to talk about is quite similar to the first one, but it is slightly less obvious. I would call it designing a character to be likable. In Denpa-teki it is Juu, of course. Lets describe him. He is a strong and brave guy with a clear sense of justice. He is slightly wild, but not dangerous. In fact, even when attacked he might not fight back, if there is a reason not to. He would rather get hurt than let another person be hurt. He wouldn’t take advantage of a girl, even if there are no consequences and more over he wouldn’t even want to be in such a position. He is sensitive, being able to understand how a person feels, even if that person offended him or physically hurt him. This particular trait has an absurd magnitude, as Juu is able to be worried about a person who just broke his arm and leg. Even when stabbed in the gut, he thinks of the mental torment his attacker is in. He is also a nice guy to hang out with. When he decided to spend time with Ame he asks her where they should go to, even though she was willing to tail him wherever he himself would want to go. He treats Ame as a person and as an equal even though she constantly suggests that she is his servant.

So, what do you think? Half of those traits are just a normal behavior of a good person. Being strong, brave, just, chivalrous, selfless, nice, that is a reasonable package for a protagonist, there are tons of characters like this. But that is not all there is to it. While the traits themselves are fine, the show obviously puts a lot of effort into showing that Juu has ’em, to the point that half the anime’s run time is spent on establishing his character. As a consequence it feels like half the show was written in such a way as to allow for Juu to display various aspects of his personality.

The disproportional amount of time the show spends on Juu, the more than impressive set of great qualities he has, the fact that the show is willing to throw some of its realism out of the window to make Juu look cooler (as with the scenes where he displays kindness towards Satsuki who tries to kill him), the fact that the show is interested in minute details of his personality while the rest of the cast gets a bare minimum of development, all this makes Juu a “designed to be likable” character, at least in my opinion. In particular, it seems he is sort of designed to feel dateable, as a good portion of of his qualities relate to the way he treats girls. Also his character does not display any human faults that would allow him to grow later, which shows that the writers weren’t interested in his dynamics, rather they wanted to see him in his perfect form from the get-go. And, as I mentioned, some of his actions seem unrealistic and even clash with his personality, which indicates that giving him those characteristics was more important than keeping him “real”. These choices are also a part of the reason I call him a “designed” character.

Just to make it clear, I wouldn’t call most of the characters designed to be anything because they aren’t. Satsuki and Fujishima are both just functional characters, they serve their purpose and that is pretty much all there is to them. Ame has a bunch of different and interesting characteristics, but they don’t have a purpose; she isn’t meant to fit in any kind of mold, like Juu is. Most anime characters aren’t designed to be anything, they are just written to the best of writer’s abilities to fit into the story, serve their role and hopefully be interesting. Sometimes a character would fall into an archetype or something like that, but as often as not it wasn’t because the writers wanted it to happen, but rather because they couldn’t do any better or didn’t care at all.

At any rate, the designed to be likable Juu serves the same purpose as the first trope, making you more invested in the guy and in all the stuff that happens to him. I think all together it does a reasonable job, and the episode leaves a good aftertaste too. Tropes often feel like a lazy writing, but in the case of Denpa-teki na Kanojo they seem to work fine. The show’s impressive visual language holds your attention, and the writing is fairly clever too. Just as an example, remember the scene where Juu asks Ame to hit him because he was doubting her, thinking she was the murderer? She hits him making him bleed. This establishes yet another great quality of Juu’s, him being proactive in setting things right, apologizing the way that would not take advantage of the meek disposition of the person he apologizes to. But it also shows that Ame is not a doll and has feelings as well. If she wasn’t at least slightly annoyed with Juu’s lack of trust she wouldn’t have hit him hard enough to make him bleed. This is a clever way of achieving two goals with a single brief scene.

What do you think about it? Do you think the use those setups I talked about takes away from the anime? Do you think it is meaningful to talk about designed characters the way I did? See you in the comments ^^/

Otaku no Video

There are plenty of anime about specific groups of people. We have anime about school students, people who do competitive sports, detectives and policemen. Recently we started to get more anime about young adults who start their careers, working in all sorts of industries: game development, restaurants, anime production, manga magazines, to name a few. And this makes perfect sense, hobbies and occupation are a large part of one’s life, and people seem to like to see the stuff they care about.

Right, then what about the hobby most anime viewers share. I mean, watching anime, it is sort of a hobby, and anime fans are a target audience for anime, obviously. So why not make anime about them, the anime fans, or even better, about the passionate okatu who are at the core of this social group?

Otaku no Video - photo

Well, it is not as easy as it may sound. Think of any school anime. What does this anime spends its time on? Is it the particular classes the students take? Do you learn a lot about their curriculum? Do you see what kinds of problems they get for their homework, and how they solve them? How much time does the anime spend on listening to the teacher? My guess is, the anime you thought of would be more about school club activities, maybe sports, also very likely it would be about interactions between students, friendship, love, rivalry and what not. A lot of school anime I watched would have a plot that doesn’t even require the characters to be in a school, it is just a convenient setting.

So why is that? Well, cause listening to the teacher going through a class intended for middle school kids would be super boring, not to mention a single class should be longer than an entire episode. Same with the other real aspects of the school life. The anime needs to be exciting, so it only picks the cool parts of its setting. It is easy with schools and sports, there are plenty of exciting activities to show. Not so easy with quiet hobbies or professions that do not require interactions with other people or doing something physical. Notice how anime portray engineers or scientists. Engineers would always be drawing diagrams or assembling stuff, and scientists would always looks at fancy displays with flashing lights and play with equipment. Cause this is physical, that is easy to show and it is at least remotely exciting. The real science and engineering are much more than that through.

Otaku no Video - Do you remember love?

Now, being an anime fan doesn’t even have that. You just watch anime, talk with your friends about it, and this is it. How’d you make an interesting show about that? And since your audience has first hand experience with it you can’t just get away with diagrams and flashing lights, you need to be real. Well, Otaku no Video tried to do that, so let’s look at it.

The first episode of Otaku no Video is, in a way, a real story of an otaku, an obsessed anime fan. It shows a lot of possible aspects of being an obsessed fan, like literally studying the shows, looking at animation frame by frame to better appreciate its beauty, collecting figures and other merchandise, etc. The anime shows how a normal guy, Kubo, gets into it, and after a while ends up being a full fledged otaku. Following Kubo gave the anime a way to show off little bits of otaku’s lives. But that is not the only thing the anime showed. While becoming an otaku Kubo lost interest in playing tennis, something he was really good at before. He also lost his girlfriend, and in a weird way, his place in life. That is an interesting thing to show in an anime about anime fans. But it is also true. As any other hobby that takes a lot of time, being an otaku would affect your life in all sorts of ways, not always positive.

Otaku no Video - Kubo

This is Kubo, by the way

But it is not all negative either, Kubo definitely was enjoying his time with other anime nerds, you can say he found good friends. Also, if you think of it, how is playing tennis better than watching anime? Both are just fun activities. Sports are better for your health, but other than that both are equivalent. The difference lies in how society treats the two. Well recognized activities, such as sports, playing chess and other popular intellectual games, tourism, photography, even just going out, all of that is recognized and accepted by people, so there are no problems if that is what you do. But smaller hobbies don’t get this treatment. Your family and friends will probably get worried about you if you start to invest too much time into something like being an otaku, which is what Otaku no Video shows in its first episode. And I think Otaku no Video contrasts Kubo’s previous hobby with his current one exactly so it could stress this point.

Otaku no Video - otaking

Alright, so this is cool, we got an anime about how otaku fall out of the society. Can we also get something positive about the anime culture? Yep we can, that is where the second episode comes in. In the second episode Kubo and his friends start a company that sells garage kits, basically plastic models of anime characters. The company becomes hugely successful, then it is being stolen from Kubo, then he founds a new company that produces animation and overtakes the old one. It is like a story of an otaku dream coming true. And I like this episode a lot, way more than the first one. Here is why.

So Kubo had set up to become an “Otaking”, the king of otaku, and he started by getting into the garage kits industry. Do you see a contradiction here? Being an anime fan is all about admiring the works the others put out, it is about expressing your feelings as a fan. The people who are not contempt with just consuming also create their own fan works, which closely related to what Kubo started, the garage kits industry. But wait, there had been people selling figures all along, and there had been people who were producing animation too. And those weren’t otaku, not in the way you would use the word normally. So what makes the Kubo’s project to be otaku-spirited? Is it his passion for the stuff he works on? Or his origin as an anime fan? This is an interesting question. In a way Otaku no Video suggest that the way to greatness for an otaku is to go into the industry that produces what you enjoy so much. But on the other hand the show also ridicules Kubo for his nonsensical perception of reality, for his belief in things like “Otaking”.

If you think that these questions are made up and aren’t related to the movie, take a look at Kubo’s employee, Fukuhara. Do you remember her? She is the one who carries Kubo towards his success. She is the one who makes him his anime that he needed to start the second company. Her role is silent, she never strikes theatrical poses and shouts about her passion. She just works, and works really well, producing exactly what an otaku such as Kubo likes. She is one of those people, people who make anime happen, who put in work without being noticed too much. She provides a huge contrast with Kubo and helps to appreciate the questions I’ve put above. Also, taking an aside, it is really fitting that Otaku no Video is made by Gainax, the studio that was founded by anime fans, and that (in my opinion) in some ways carried the spirit of anime fandom of its era. In a way Gainax is a prototype for Kubo’s GX (the name similarity is definitely accidental ^^/).

I like the ending of the second episode. At the end Kubo and his friend Tanaka, old men, search underwater for the ruins of their otakuland. They find a giant robot/spaceship, with all their old otaku pals as the ship crew. Once they remove their helmets they are their young selves once again, and they direct the ship to the stars in search of the otaku planet. It is so nice. The burning passion of those guys allowed them to overcome reality, overcome time and age, and pursue their dreams. They are passionate about pursuing things they are passionate about, that is a beautiful circular logic that allows them to enjoy the process that doesn’t lead anywhere. And the ridiculousness of this ending emphasizes the weirdness of an idea of achieving something as an otaku.

Otaku no Video - Yuri Satou

I guess you can get an impression that this OVA looks down on the anime fans, or otaku in particular. But that is not the case, I think. Otaku no Video is a faithful yet fun look at the otaku culture, or at least a few aspects of it. It is not a documentary, it is a story. I like it, hope you would find it enjoyable as well. See you next time!