Chi’s sweet adventures Vol 1

[originally posted on UK-anime network]
Kanata Konami’s Chi’s Sweet Home first premiered in manga form in 2004. This is the story of a small kitten and her adventures and interactions with both her adopted human family, the Yamada’s, and the other felines that inhabit her neighbourhood. Who could have imagined the original story would result in 3 animated adaptations and this sequel manga, published once more in English by Vertical.

Ever inquisitive (and forever getting in trouble for it) Chi’s adventures are split into separate standalone chapters, with each formatted into a 4 panel style called “4 Koma” (a surprisingly old format that this reviewer sees being used far less these days), we follow Chi and the Yamada’s through their everyday lives, all the while seeing things from Chi’s unique cat perspective. This ranges from visiting a forest park, to Chi learning how to act like a cat from fellow felines – the older Blackie and a stray black and white cat that tries to act tough – but secretly enjoys Chi’s company.

The artwork, while basic, benefits from being excessively cluttered – a benefit considering that this series is intended ideally for a younger audience. Also, the writing is of a level ideal for a younger reader to follow along with little help – great for those wanting to introduce manga to younger relatives.

If I had any complaint about the series it’s that, as a continuation of Konami ‘s previous series, the reader is expected to know both the situation and the backgrounds of the characters, with no introductory text to introduce them. That results in the first-time reader largely left wondering who each of the side characters are and how they know Chi.

As a result, Chi’s sweet adventure is a mixed bag – on one hand its innocent family friendly escapades will be ideal for young readers or those less enamoured with more violent works. However, with its simplistic art style and self-contained, drama-free plotlines, it may deter those people looking for more substantial work.


kikis delivery service [novel]

kikis cover

When Walt Disney in the US [and Studiocanal in the UK] released Studio Ghibis 1989 classic “Majo no Takkyūbin” [literally “Witches delivery service”] to a western audience the response was overwhelmingly positive , with  even oft-time critical review site Rotten tomatoes declaring it “a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.

However, while some may have known that this film was based on a series of children’s novels by Eiko Kadono – not many would have known that it had had a brief, English language release!

This single volume release, published in 2003 by Canadian publisher Annick Press under the westernised name of Kikis delivery service, starts off as per the movie – Kiki, a newly fledged witch, leaves her family and home to find herself a new place in the bigger world, eventually arriving in the small town of Koriko where, in-between developing her magical arts further, makes a living as a titular Delivery service.

However thats where the similarities between the book and the film pretty much end.
In the original book Kiki never loses her powers, nor does she have to rescue a runaway Dirigible [both of which were the creation Of Hayo Miyazaki for the film version, which Kadano was massively unhappy about, at one point threatening to have the entire project scrapped because of it, with only hurried negotiations by Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki saving the film].

Instead what we get is more a series of standalone stories, from a visit to the beach, to an accidental discovery of a new form of music – even a novel use for a woolen tummy warmer – however we never really get more than a brief glimpse of the world of kikis – why is magic hereditary? Where is the town of Kokori?

The artstyle [drawn by Akiko Hayashi] may put off some more used to Ghiblis version of kiki and yet i would say that they, rather than subtract from it its adds all the more to the book as we get to see a more truer idea of Kadano’s vision for her characters – it also make a relieving change for anyone tired of yet another moe looking magical girl image.

The writing also betrays the intended target audience, with its truncated plot, limited world building and simpler writing prose showing it to intended for a younger reading age [about 8-10]. Likewise the side characters themselves seem limited in their details, mostly being there to advance the plot or to weave said plot around – even Tombo, who played such a major role in the movie, only appears in three of the ten chapters of this novel, and often only briefly to aid Kiki, with a brief hint of a crush on her on the final chapter – presumably to be continued in later volumes.

And that brings us to a major problem – in Japan there are a total of 6 volumes in the series, yet as of this post only one was ever published by Annick press during the tenure of the publishing licence they held from 2003 to 2008 . I contacted Annick press to find out why, but their Representative was unable to give me an answer.

Yet there is still hope for this series – unlike back in the early 2000’s the rise of crowdfunded projects, and the increasing interest in licencing novels by Western manga companies has given otherwise obscure series the chance to be seen by a western audience – so who knows? maybe, with enough fan interest or the right company,  one day a certain little witch and her cat from Kokori town will fly their way back to our shores yet again.

Kikis delivery service was released in Hardback by Annick press however,as previously stated, the series has since been out of print for about 10  years, so this will require some legwork to conjure up a copy  of your own.

however, if your willing to splah the dosh for a copy of your, then i would appreciate if you were to use my new Amazon affiliate page below –
Kiki’s Delivery Service

Flying witch vol 1

flying witch vol 1

If I ever had to imagine a modern day telling of Ghibli’s Kikis delivery service I reckon flying Witch might fit the bill.

Managing to achieve the ability to get their first work not only become massively well received in manga form but to also get an anime adaptation in 2016 Chihiro Ishizuka’s ongoing series finally makes its way to the west via Vertical comic and introduces us to the trainee witch Makoto Kowata, a rather polite well mannered young girl from Yokohama who, to complete her witches training [note the Kikis reference], travels to the town of Hirosaki, in the Aomori Prefecture, on the northern most tip of the main Island of Japan honshu, to live with her relatives the Kuramoto’s – comprising her aunt, illustrator Nana, her uncle Keiji [he of the very VERY strong regional accent] and Makotos two cousins – Laid back male cousin Kei and his little sister Chinastu.

We’re later on introduced to female friend of Kei [and initially reluctant friend of Makoto] Nao Ishiwatari, who acts as the “straight man” in the series – not an easy job when her introduction to Makoto is to see her fly through the air on a broom with Chinatsu!

Coming along with Makoto [and surprisingly entertaining in his own right] is her Cat and familiar Chito, whose personality reveals all too familiar [sic] traits all cat owners will recognise – in including general lazing about, antagonising dogs and [in one episode] chasing a pheasant.

Okey not the pheasant.

As for the artwork? – beautiful– that’s the best word I can come up with to describe both the character and background art [even thought the creation said background is similar in style to to Yotsuba&, in that it is copied from photos from real life locations in Aomori].

If I had to lodge a complaint about this volume though its that, for all its talk of witches and magic throughout, there’s hardly any magic that takes place at all, instead opting to concentrate on developing both Makoto and the Kuramoto family [a problem that the later anime adaptation remedied by changing around the chapter orders] – its only until the last two episodes where the series to me gets back on track, with one involving a visit from a physical manifestation of the herald of spring for Makoto [and who unintentionally scares Chinastu whilst at it] and at the end of the volume with the arrival of Makoto’s laid back big sister [and polar opposite to Makoto] Akane.

On its own I found this first volume, whilst great at establishing its general universe [whilst leaving enough mystery for later on] did seem to flounder halfway through with its mundane/magical plot balance.

[spoilers] I did learn that this was remedied from the second volume onwards so I would ideally recommend buying this along with the second at the same time.

Flying witch is available in physical format from most physical stores[as well as via my amazon affliate page], And also as a digital release available via Amazons Comixcology site,  and via Kodanshas Bookwalker app.

Ghost diary vol 1


[note: the following review was completed using a review copy supplied by seven seas]

First published in 2014 in Dengeki Daioh, and written and drawn by newcomer Seiju Natsumegu, this, the first of a three volume series, introduces us to Sukami Kyouichi, a high school student and trained exorcist who, after a fateful encounter six years prior with a shrine deity leads to his Elder sister and fellow exorcist Sukami Hanaichi being kidnapped by the same deity in exchange for sparing his life, leads him to aspire to both find her and to complete her titular ghost diary – a guide book for the identifying and defeating of supernatural creatures.

We are also introduced to Mangekyou Academy’s Occult club, which comprises our secondary cast for this series – detective wannabe Saeki Yuushirou, resident ventriloquist [via teddy bear] Suzukago Kukuri, Gangsters son and [later on revealed to be computer expert] Onigashima Tatsumi and Kaguyadou Mayumi, who will be our Tusndere/unconfessed love interest for this series.

However Kyouichi’ s life takes a sudden turn when a reaper, Chloe Kowloon, approaches him with an offer – Complete the Ghost diary, and in so doing restore Chloe’s memories, and she will help him find Sukami. Sounds simple on paper – Except from the get go we get the sense that, despite appearances, Chloe has her own agenda for completing the Diary – an agenda that does not bode well for the fate of Kyouichi or his friends in the occult club – and especially Mayumi.

cast 2

The first thing that struck me immediately about Ghost diary was the art-style – from its backgrounds to character designs I initially thought was that this was something from the pen of the famous manga group CLAMP yet I could find no direct link between them or Natsumegu – whether its one of the group [or a former member] under a pseudonym or just someone who’s style is a near copy of their style we may never know.

Secondly the concept for the series itself does show potential – each episode covers either Kyouichi or one of the club members discovering a legend and, after investigating, either Kyouichi or Chloe dispatch said supernatural antagonist. However we also have that standard trope of many a manga series with more than one female cast member – the love triangle, with Mayumi forever pining [but not admitting to it] for Kyouichi, despite him seeming to have all the perception of mitochondria, whilst shes forever jealous that Chloe, with her impressive built figure, will seduce Kyouichi away – and with a promise of restoring his sister to him who can blame him.

However at the same time there were some flaws that for me at least stuck out notably – for example except for Kyouichi all we really know about the club members is a brief piece of text under their names [for example “Kaguyadou Mayumi Daughter of a makeup mogul”] and that’s it – unless we see more development in the later volumes their sole purpose [going by this volume] seem to be to either offer leads to the main character, get into danger that requires Kyouichi to come and rescue them or just stay in the background.

As I mentioned earlier from the get go it seems that Kyouichi, Mayumi and Chloe will be the main focus, with the rest of the Occult club cast staying in the background as the aforementioned damsels in distress/plot providers – I hope that I am mistaken about this as there is definite potential to develop these characters further [for example its implied early on that Yuushirou, on top of having the hots for Hanaichi, may also have feelings for Mayumi, but has chosen to step aside in favour of Kyouichi].

The volume wraps up with a backstory showing the founding of the Occult club which was largely by the numbers in its execution – it mostly comes down to:

Hey, what to join our club?”


And yet, with all this in mind…..I want to wait and see. This first volume, despite all the faults I found with it, nonetheless sets up an interesting story and cast that could in the right hands develop into an engaging and intense series – whether Seiju Natsumegu has those hands….time will tell.

This first volume [of a planned three volume series] is available from Seven seas  in physical format from all regular stockists.

The last American fanzine PATLABOR

patlabor_fanzine_cover-380x615Love them or loath them – the Anime blog Colony drop has, for the last 8 years, made a name for itself as a dedicated source for articles and reviews of anime and mange either released in the 80’s and early 90’s, or modern series that were inspired by that period.

This issue, in fact the third of the series that comprise of variously contributed articles concerning classic anime series and culture is the first to cover a specific franchise – in this case Mobile police Patlabor.

The first thing that comes to note is the size of the magazine – coming in at 5.25″ x 8.25″ , compared to 8.25″ x 10.75″ it comes in much smaller than the previous two issues. There’s also the fact that, unlike the previous two that covered a wide number of series and topics, this issue is exclusively focused on the 90s mech series Patlabor and yet only comes in at 54 pages [including 17 pieces of artwork and photography, of which 9 fill out the magazines page count] – that’s not to say that the contributions don’t make up for the shortfall in pages-far from it-as we’ll see shortly.

We open with Anime world order co-host and Otaku USA magazine writer Daryl Surats PATLABORS CONTEMPORARIES, which covers the year of Patlabor’s first appearance into the world [1988] and talks both about the shows that aired [this being the year that Chars counter attack premiered] and the shows that played a seminal role in the genesis of Mobile police Patlabor.

At a time when the anime industry was still reducing female characters to the role of the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by the heroic male character GENDER ROLES IN PATLABOR, by Dave Merril and Shaindle Minuk, covers the complete role reversal that the series undertook – with Noa Iszumi always in the thick of action as a Labor pilot while Asuma Shinohara took the decidedly unmale role as van driver and backup of always stood back. For many fans the most memorable characters of the series were invariably taken by the female characters such as Noah as mentioned, the American-japanese US cop Kanuka Clancy [ played by the late Yō Inoue] supplying more than enough action and general bad-assery than most of the male characters offer – even the hotheaded Ota [he of the “shoot first, shoot again, shoot it some more and THEN ask questions] had to bow down to her.

From gender politics to politics of another kind as the author of “Stray dogs of anime: the films of Mamoru Oshii” Brian Ruh gives us PATLABOR AND THE 226 INCIDENT a piece that covers the attempted armed uprising by members of the Japanese army in 1936, an incident that would not only lead to the military increasing its control over the civilian government, but would become an inspiration for Oshii when creating the second Patlabor movie.

But did you know that the basic plot for that film very nearly became about not labors…But Lupin the 3rd?

In Renato Riviera Rusca’s PATLABOR AND THE LUPIN 3RD MOVIE THAT NEVER WAS we discover that, after Hayo Miyazaki turned down the chance to Direct another Lupin film Mamoru Oshii was tapped to take over the project, even bringing in A-list talent such as Yoshitaka Amano [Gatchaman, Vampire hunter D, god knows how many final fantasy art pieces] as character designer, Studio Gainaxs’ Hideaki Anno as a key animator and Kazuyoshi Katayama [Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the big O and many others] as assistant director.

So why did this project get pulled, and how did it end up as the film we all know and… well mostly love?

From one project that never came to be to one that many wished had never happened as Matt Schley Gives us the rather spoilery THE NEXT GENERATION – PATLABOR: A THING THAT EXISTS [WE DONT GET IT EITHER] which covers the afore mentioned 2013 live action series that tried to reinvigorate the franchise – and instead ending up crashing and burning.

Wrapping up the fanzine is GHOSTS OF FUKUSHIMA, by Ian Martin, a contemporary story which moves quickly from the streets of Tokyo to the abandoned towns and countryside of Fukushima’s irradiated dead zone, an area of about five mile around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor cordoned off after the Tsunami of 2011, as police detective and Series regular Takahiro Matsui investigates a spate of Construction labor thefts, and uncovers much more…

So, after looking into this release how does it measure up? Welll……

The first key problem is one I’ve covered earlier is that with only 37 of the 54 pages of this issue not comprised of artwork it leaves very little page-count for these articles – the longest is that of the short story with 12 pages, with the 226 article [the one that should have had more pages to fully cover the events of that time period that lead to the incident and its after effects] only getting 4 pages, which in my opinion results in them suffering for it.

The other is the method of publication itself – in a time where many publications are now beginning [or have already made] the move to a digital format – Colony drop insisting that this [and all of the last fanzines future issues] would be only available as physical publications I feel is a move that, while I’m sure is intended to invoke “the good old days” of the fanzine, seems to only come across as more of a deliberate intent to refuse to move on from the 80’s.

Finally here is the entry level of the readership for this issue – with no “idiots guide” – like introduction to the franchise it’s expected that the reader has at least a working knowledge of Patlabor, if not at least access to the series.

And so I find myself at an impasse – on the one hand there’s the side of me that’s been the fan of Patlabor for the longest time [even thought my introduction was via Manga UK’S release of the two Patlabor movies] and so as a fan I found this to be an enlightening and [albeit abridged] read. However its my side as a reviewer that make me hesitant about recommending this release – maybe its the fact that this release is clearly intended if not for the hard core Patlabor fan, than for someone who is new to the franchise. It could be that the articles, as interesting as they are, fail to deliver any more than a mere surface level coverage of the series, leaving me at times flipping through the pages of each entry asking “what, is that it?”.

So what do I say? Go into this if your a fan, but don’t go into this expecting anything but the most bare bones of articles.

Both this and all issues of The last American fanzine are available as print on demand from Mag Cloud.

Amaama to Inazuma [Sweetness and Lightning]

sweetness cover

To call Amaama to Inazuma a copycat Yotsuba& would be an injustice to both series.

This 2013 series from Kodansha Comic’s “Good! Afternoon” which is both written and drawn by Gido Amagakure [And which is know in the west as “Sweetness and Lightning”] follows Inuzuka Kouhei, a high school teacher who has tragically recently been widowed. This results in him having to juggle his career and struggle to raise his 5 year old daughter Tsumugi, often leaving him little time to cook meals and having to resort to buying instant meals and take out.

Fate however introduces the pair to Kotori Iida, one of Inuzuka‘s students whose mother runs a small family restaurant. Its here that Kotori [whose parents we discover later on have divorced and, with her mother regularly away at work, results with her winding up her home alone] suggests an idea – in return for visiting the restaurant Kotori will help Inuzuka with practising recipes that can change up the home meals that he and Tsumugi are currently eating.

The art style itself is both detailed enough to make backgrounds and even small props recognisable, whilst being incongruous enough to not be overbearing when focusing on characters and props is necessary.

The series also marks Amagakure’s first attempt at writing for the seinen genre [with the majority of her works being mainly of the shonen ai or outright Yaoi genre] however to be honest reading this I really couldn’t tell – the writing and characters never showed any trace of her previous yaoi influences – indeed if I hadn’t researched her work I wouldn’t have even know!

Coming back to the food – think the food looks enticing? Fancy trying to make it yourself? No problem! – The recipes for all the meals, which are described in detail throughout each of the chapters, also come with a detailed summary for easy reference at the end of each chapter.

Obviously there are those for whom the prospect of a series based around food and child raising will sound less than appealing and to be honest this series will never be for you. Also don’t expect shouseki no souma levels of food orgams – all the meals are realistic in preperation, appearance and in taste.

For everyone else I definitely recommend this series – grubs up!

Sweetness and Lightning is currently available to read digital via Cunchyroll’s manga streaming section, with the option to buy to own [again digitally] via Amazon kindle, Ibooks, Nook, Kobo and Amazons comixology site.

For those of you pining for a more traditional paper copy though fear not as kodansha USA will be issuing a physical release, With Volume 1 being released in July to tie in with the upcoming Anime adaptation.

[Guest article] On Otaku, Kantai Collection and the Gaze of the Hermetic Consumer

kancoll 3

On Otaku, Kantai Collection and the Gaze of the Hermetic Consumer

By Devon Fisher

[note: The following is an edited version of the original article, with the images and edits done by myself. Also please be aware that this article was originally written in April 2014, prior to the release of the Kancoll anime series]

Japan’s so-called “lost decades” have continued unabated since the collapse of the 1980s bubble economy left the nation in a state of recession; the post-war dream of guaranteed lifetime employment has not been a feasible reality for the majority of Japanese men for multiple generations now. No longer able to believe that making their way through the notoriously harsh system of exams one has to take to get into a Japanese college or university will guarantee a comfortable future as it once did, the young men of Japan in the post-bubble years have opted to withdraw from the system in alarming numbers.

Some choose to become “freeters”, working part-time jobs to sustain themselves as they pursue their passions free of the responsibilities and attachments that a career brings with it. Others, particularly the so-called “NEETs” (persons Not in Employment, Education or Training), withdraw from society entirely, opting instead to lead hermetic existences with far less engagement with society than even the most detached freeter. The term for these predominantly urban, male hermits is “Hikikomori”, and in the past decade Hikikomori have provided a very lucrative market for entertainment in Japan; by catering to the desires of these disenfranchised consumers, feeling robbed of the lifestyle their ancestors were promised, new genres of consumer media have arose out of Japan.

Coinciding with the rise of the Hikikomori has been the similar increase in numbers of Otaku, once a barely-noticeable niche group that has become a serious force amongst Japanese consumers, as their often-fetishistic tastes and obsessive approach to media consumption guarantee that, once an Otaku is hooked, usually by strict adherence to the fetish culture that particular Otaku subscribes to, they will continue to make the company money long into the future.

While the contemporary Otaku is not necessarily a Hikikomori, nor is the Hikikomori guaranteed to be an Otaku, the intersection of these two groups’ interests has been a very lucrative sector for profit-minded publishers such as Kadokawa Shoten. While Kadokawa had long been a company that had dealt more generally with properties that had “across the board” appeal, even attempting (without any success) to break into the North American film industry during the early 1990s, in recent years their approach has been strongly focused on this Otaku/Hikikomori overlap -The Hikikomori desires the life they were not given by the society they reject, whilst the Otaku desires the perfection that only works of fantasy can provide – and the patterns of consumption favoured by this joint audience can be referred to as a kind of “hermetic consumerism”.

Kadokawa’s most successful attempt at cashing in on this lucrative audience to date has been the browser-based trading card battle game “Kantai Collection”, referred to with the short-form “KanColle” in casual use, wherein the user plays as admiral of a fantasy fleet of “Kanmusu”, idealized anime-style representations of Japanese battleships from the World War II era. The concept is nothing new to Otaku media, with artist Fumikane Shimada’s “mecha musume” having laid the groundwork for a previous anime property by the name of “Strike Witches” – wherein attractive young girls were outfitted with mechanical parts and weapons inspired by World War II fighter planes – half a decade prior to the launch of KanColle. Where KanColle differs from its predecessors, however, is in its hyperactive pandering to Otaku sensibilities in all their permutations; while a point can be made for many forms of Otaku-focused media having some (albeit quite limited) mainstream appeal outside of their subcultural audience, the same can most definitely not be said for KanColle – It is, as they say, something of a “fans-only” affair, and unashamedly so.

In his landmark study on Otaku, released in English as “Japan’s Database Animals”, postmodern sociologist Hiroki Azuma defines Otaku as not “narrative consumers”, as fans of a long-running anime or manga series may be, but rather “database consumers.” He writes: “there is no longer a narrative in the deep inner layer, beneath the works and products such as comics, anime, games, novels, illustrations, trading cards, figurines, and so on. In the multimedia environment of the 1990s, it is only characters that unite various works and products”, With the characters he speaks of comprising a “database” that the Otaku consumes. Although he was writing in a past decade, Otaku tastes have only conformed more and more to Azuma’s model in the years since his work was first published, and KanColle is a testament to this very fact. Of the “works and products” described in the Azuma quote, it is only anime that has yet to see a KanColle-themed permutation, but as of the writing of this paper a KanColle anime has been confirmed to be in the works for broadcast later this year.

Kadokawa’s approach to marketing KanColle can be seen as perhaps the purest example of a company catering to hermetic consumers and their patterns of database consumption one is likely to find, and the game that started it has become so popular that new accounts have to be assigned via a lottery system to ease the server load on the game’s website. This is all, as Azuma’s model would predict, possible in a property almost completely void of narrative; the browser game’s mission progression roughly follows the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Pacific campaign of 1941-45, with the Allied forces represented by the monstrous Abyss Fleet (“dark Kanmusu” that appear far more science-fiction than their Axis counterparts, likely more to avoid angering Japanese/American military relations than to actually make any kind of statement about the Allies in World War II), but one could hardly be faulted for not realizing that one was supposed to be witnessing even an abstract representation of military history when reading any of the series’ numerous spinoff manga. A typical story in one such manga shows a Kanmusu shying away from her admiral’s attempts at patting her on the head (a very common action in KanColle media, meant to serve as a visual representation of the player clicking the Kanmusu in the browser game), then cozying up to him after she sees how much the other girls enjoy it – a Japanese answer to They Were Expendable, this is most definitely not.

The lack of anything approaching a definitive storyline canon means that KanColle functions as a naked database, characters and scenarios designed with the explicit purpose of application to any given fantasy the Otaku may possess. Now, if the franchise functions as a naked database largely devoid of structure or pre-established story, solely made up of the characters that populate it, what is it that makes the characters of KanColle so appealing to otaku, then? Azuma’s database model, in its unrefined form as quoted above, explains Otaku as voracious devourers of information, with the large cast of Kanmusu providing a great deal of information for the Otaku to consume, but a deeper analysis is needed to explore both the franchise’s popularity and the Otaku psyche.

Azuma’s contemporary and fellow scholar Saitō Tamaki sought to explain the appeal of female soldiers and warriors in “Beautiful Fighting Girl”, released in English as a companion piece to “Japan’s Database Animals”, where he takes a deep and nuanced look at the myriad ways in which Otaku culture idealizes and fetishizes the female combatant. As with “Database Animals”, Tamaki’s work predates KanColle by a good margin, but seems almost precognitive in its analysis of contemporary Otaku sexuality and objectification. While it is true that there are female consumers of Otaku media, as well as products undeniably identifiable as Otaku-focused and aimed at female audiences, both of these represent minorities amongst the much-larger male-focused Otaku culture that KanColle is a part of. Media such as KanColle is explicitly gendered, with the product identifiably female – the Kanmusu and their countless representations on anything from T-shirts to posters in any of the Kadokawa publishing group’s numerous magazines – and the player/consumer’s avatar a male admiral in control of this all-female fleet. Manga representations hide the Admiral’s face entirely, a move held over from eroge meant to ease the reader into assuming his role in the story.

Even when moving outside the realm of the game itself, KanColle has no room for competing visions of masculinity; there is only the reader’s substitute in the Admiral, and the rest are all female. This puts full focus on the beautiful fighting girls (to use Tamaki’s term), the lovely armada of idealized femininity at the consumer’s disposal. Tamaki describes the fundamental appeal of the beautiful fighting girl in the most basic of terms in Beautiful Fighting Girl when he says “Let us . . . remember that popular fiction, be it film, television, or manga and anime, is sustained by relatively simple principles of desire. Namely, sex and violence,” identifying fighting girls such as the Kanmusu of Kadokawa’s franchise as the most basic representations of what makes for popular entertainment.

The violence in KanColle may be rendered somewhat trivial and ridiculous by virtue of its patently absurd setting, but it remains at the heart of the scenario regardless. The life of the hermetic consumer is one almost completely devoid of both sexuality and direct violence (disregarding self-inflicted manifestations of both), and so these idealized versions of beautiful fighters provide him with these two missing ingredients in spades. With fighting as a given, the girls of KanColle serve to cater to every possible fetish and taste preference the consumer may have, with Kadokawa’s marketing teams more than happy to do the heavy lifting in that respect.

Of course, this is a hermetic work first and foremost, so the obvious catch is that it caters to every possible fetish and taste within the framework of the Otaku’s hermetic consumerist mindset. This is a vital consideration when evaluating works such as Kantai Collection, as, while the essential truths of Tamaki’s beautiful fighting girls are transferable to works completely outside of Japanese pop culture (see the protagonist of the “Tomb Raider” video games, for example), the more nuanced sexuality of the hermetic Otaku is decidedly not.To understand the sexuality of the hermetic consumer, one has to first make peace with the seemingly-paradoxical nature of said sexuality; in its portrayal, the sexuality of the Otaku’s beautiful fighting girls is at once both overt and covert, shoved in one’s face just as it is left unacknowledged.

kancoll 1An illustrated extra packed in with the February 2014 issue of Kadokawa-published pinup magazine “Nyantype” exemplifies this dynamic; depicting the ostensible KanColle mascot Shimakaze,[see image above] an incredibly young-looking Kanmusu with platinum blonde hair and dark grey eyes (typical of anime art styles, no discernible ethnic traits are to be found amongst the Kanmusu), in a state of undress depicted as entirely accidental – an implausible scenario involving her robotic companions the Rensōhō attempting to climb up her for whatever reason, colliding and in the process snapping the side off her scandalously low-cut thong underwear as well as lifting up her shirt to expose the majority of her pert breasts. While Shimakaze’s costume bears all the earmarks of blatant sexuality, with its thigh-high stockings, ludicrously short micro-skirt and excessively impractical high heels, official art never depicts her intentionally showing off her figure in any deliberately provocative manner; rather, the viewer is supposed to believe that she is unaware of her own sex appeal. The depictions of the Rensōhō robots inadvertently exposing her body are likewise cases of plausible deniability; their innocence provides a part of Shimakaze’s appeal as they allow her to be shown in blatantly sexualized situations without the presence of any hostile male sexuality that might interfere with the Otaku’s identification of himself as her admiral and only true lover. In comparison though the Western counterparts to these idealized anime lovers and wives of the hermetic Otaku consumer are often depicted with much morevoracious sexual appetites and a keen awareness of their own sexuality and appeal – Spider-Man’s supermodel girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson famously introduces herself to her future boyfriend (and later husband) by saying “face it, tiger, you just hit the jackpot”, as one of the tamer examples from Western pop culture – the Japanese equivalents are sexually naive to an extreme.

Manga author and sometime cultural critic Ken Akamatsu in an interview [“Opinions on Moe: A Response to Akamatsu Ken”] relates this to a “maternal” impulse in the Otaku consumer, saying “’Moe is a ‘maternal affection’ . . . it is a pure love which does not include any sexual action and is an exceedingly peaceful desire.” – Note though that he specifies sexual “action”; this is far from an accident of word choice: as the illustration of Shimakaze shows, there is nothing that says the object of desire cannot be sexualized, only that she cannot be a willing participant in a consensual act of deliberate eroticization.

The fetishistic costumes and provocative posing that characterizes many depictions of the Kanmusu are easily explained away as either accidental or otherwise unintended, and their desires for their admirals are portrayed as childishly innocent to a ridiculous extreme; the manga versions of the Kanmusu do their very best to please their admirals in the hopes that he might let them sit on his lap, pat them on the head, or – most scandalously of all – do both at the same time.

While Akamatsu’s declaration of “pure love” may hold true for the way the Kanmusu are portrayed in official media, his assumption of “pure love which does not include any sexual action” however certainly does NOT apply to the multitude of fan works that have been spun off from KanColle. In a phenomenon unique to Japanese media, copyright holders for anime, manga and video game franchises knowingly turn a blind eye to copyright infringement on a massive scale. Tokyo’s “electric city” of Akihabara, revered as Japan’s greatest tourist attraction for traveling otaku, is home to countless stores selling “dōjin goods” that place characters from a multitude of diverse settings in any number of scenarios – many of them highly sexual – free from the ire of copyright holders who know fully well that the minimal financial gain from prosecuting such infringements would be more than counterbalanced by the hit their credibility would take with their key Otaku demographic.

kancolle-doujinIt is when one looks at the wealth of KanColle dōjin goods available that one can see just how the idea of “pure love” is, functionally, nothing more than a smokescreen: the teasing, reluctant sexuality of the official goods fuels a demand for more explicit content, the covert feeding desire for the overt. Sexually explicit dōjinshi, such as Yuki Ameto’s Kanmusu Collection, show an admiral having sex with multiple Kanmusu, willing and ready to receive far more than a pat on the head (which, as Kanmusu Kongō can attest, “feels amazing”) – a stark contrast to the chaste official manga, but one that KanColle’s publishers are more than aware of.

Part of the appeal of this model for Otaku is how it provides a sense of community for the socially isolated and fundamentally hermetic consumer – if other lovers of the same media property they obsess over are creating dōjin goods, it leads to a feeling of kinship with the authors of these works. The Otaku may be fundamentally hermetic, perhaps never leaving the comfort of his own room (it is entirely possible to order KanColle goods, official and otherwise, online – I acquired the entirety of the Japanese-language research materials for this paper from Japanese hobby website AmiAmi, myself), but Kadokawa’s allowance for the production of dōjin goods lets that Otaku feel as if their actions allow them to participate in a greater community. Just as the Kanmusu serve as surrogate lovers for the disenfranchised and socially disconnected, the producers of dōjin works afford them access to a similarly ersatz community.

kancoll cosplayAn interesting permutation of this phenomenon has been the rise in popularity of excessively risqué cosplay featuring the Kanmusu, with some cosplayers even going as far as to include full nudity in their photo shoots – flesh and blood women turning their own bodies into dōjin works. Cosplay shoots differ from other dōjin products only in the fact that the women being put on display are photographed instead of drawn; the prevailing message is still the female as packaged product, the consumer’s eye assumed to be one with a heavy male gaze. While the appeal of the beautiful fighting girl, as seen by Tamaki, was inextricable from the violence of her situation, the dōjin world of KanColle is a peaceful one. The cosplay versions of Kanmusu are ones stripped of all but their sexuality, existing only to provide answers to questions like “what would the kanmusu look like in the flesh?” – and to provide costume fetishists with a variety of interpretations on the outlandish designs from the original game.

On the surface, it seems incredibly unlikely that Akamatsu’s “pure love” ideals could even be proposed as a possible explanation for the popularity of suggestive cosplay, particularly as the plausible deniability afforded to the purely fictional Kanmusu and their obliviousness to their own eroticism cannot possibly be applied to a living, breathing cosplay model. When Cosplayer Remika Tachibana poses dressed in the majority of Shimakaze’s uniform– minus both skirt and underwear, bare crotch only just covered by some careful use of camera angles – no argument could conceivably be made that she is somehow ignorant of the provocative nature of such a display. Yet, Otaku follow her on Twitter, read her blog, and eagerly anticipate new erotic cosplay photo sets; which would seem to serve as the final nail in the coffin for Ken Akamatsu’s idea of the maternal otaku, but things are not necessarily what they seem in this case.

In her collusion with the otaku gaze and desire to give them erotic interpretations of their beloved characters, Tachibana functions as the dōjinshi artist does; that she herself represents the product is nothing more than a side effect of the chosen media. The cosplayer is not the character, the character is one in the same with the costume she wears.


Just as the conflict between pure love and eroticism – with the final result being the woman as product either way – is one of the central tenets of Otaku identity, so is the tension between the internal world of the hermetic Otaku and the near-mythical holy land of Akihabara. Often held as the definitive Hikikomori narrative, the protagonist of Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s darkly comedic novel “Welcome to the N.H.K.” describes something of a half-truth in an imagined conspiracy involving Japanese broadcaster N.H.K.: “by broadcasting such interesting anime, N.H.K. mass-produced anime Otaku, thereby essentially creating Hikikomori on a large scale.”

However, with this idea of Otaku as Hikikomori comes the difficulty of dealing with events such as the twice-annual Comic Market (Comiket in colloquial usage) and the year-round popularity of Tokyo’s “electric city” as a tourist attraction for Otaku. Takimoto’s protagonist barely leaves the confines of his apartment complex (although the later manga and anime versions would go on to feature scenes where he and his neighbour Yamazaki visit both Akihabara and Comiket, for the purpose of this essay these episodes shall be considered apocryphal) – the Hikikomori of Welcome to the N.H.K. is, by design, a far purer representation of the hermetic consumer than one is likely to see in more popular media.

The reality of the situation is that these tourist attractions serve a dual purpose for Otaku that counterbalances any social reclusion they may otherwise prefer. First, in these places one can find a very real sense of Otaku history; for example, the so-called “electric city” was a hub for early Otaku hobbyists to pick up transistor radios and other such hard-to-find electronics in the post-war years, thus lending the area a sense of historical gravity. Second, it is only in these situations that an Otaku is likely to be able to enjoy the sight of girls in cosplay, inviting them (on at least a superficial level) to indulge in fantasy on a somewhat more personal level than that afforded by their video games and anime.

It is argued However by the writer of “Akihabara: Conditioning a Public ‘Otaku’ Image” Patrick W. Galbraith, who could be referred to as the foremost expert on Akihabara in the English language, that the Otaku appeal of Akihabara and, by extension, Comiket and its sea of cosplay idols, is actually false. “Akihabara became a place to be seen, and so the real Otaku left and were replaced by youth performing ‘Otaku-ness’ for the cameras”, he writes, making the argument that, as a part of the Japanese government’s “Japan cool” arts stimulus initiative, Akihabara was to be taken from a safe haven for the “weird”, socially withdrawn Otaku and turned into a tourist attraction where people could see something fun and different without having to deal with “unpleasant” Otaku. This transformation in image is shown by the aforementioned Welcome to the N.H.K., where the darker original novel lacks any pandering to the supposed appeal of maid cafes and crowded manga shops, but the mass-marketed anime devotes whole episodes to both Akihabara and Comiket.

While comparatively mainstream media, fuelled partially by Japan’s intentions of pushing Akihabara as an international tourist attraction, is quick to short-sell the essentially hermetic nature of the true Otaku, it is with analysis of works such as KanColle that one is easily able to see these tactics as a mere smokescreen – indeed KanColle itself is not the only Japanese media property of its kind, not by any means. Its creators built upon patterns set by Otaku-focused works decades earlier, and the open pandering to hermetic attitudes is similarly nothing new. What makes it special is just how pure of an example it is; every single Kanmusu designed for maximum appeal, the lack of any male presence save for that of the viewer’s stand-in, the girls’ all-consuming desire for their master’s attention coupled with a naïve unawareness of their own respective sexualities.

The Otaku gaze is as the male gaze, amplified to the highest power, and hermetic consumerism is here to stay so long as there are those who reject society in favor of the “2-dimensional world” of Otaku media.


Devon Fisher is a British Columbia native who, as well as working as a freelance writer for the Japan times, also writes about Japanese music and Shibuya-kei on his blog Memories of Shibuya.