Colloquium: No Game No Life

Hey guys so Josh and I just finished watching No Game No Life (NGNL) a few weeks back. Not gonna lie it’s my fault for taking forever to finish it haha. It also took me forever to actually start this post, but we’re not going to talk about it.

Anyway, Josh and I decided that since we both watched the show we’d do something a little bit different than us just giving our individual impressions in cordoned off little sections. Instead, we thought that having a dialogue about some of the points we wanted to cover would work better. Josh’s is very academic and mine is snarky–you know the drill. :)

Also, Josh is the one putting in the pictures, so if they end up being ironic or stupid or attempt to be SYMBOLIC, DEEP, AND MEANINGFUL (his words!) responses to our conversation that’s not my fault.

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R: So I know I’m super picky about anime, but I surprisingly didn’t hate this show (that much). How about you?

J: Well, you know that I tend to like these things, so it should be no surprise I really enjoyed the show. Personally, I’m surprised you actually liked it enough to actually finish it.

R: Hah – barely. It was surprisingly benign for a harem show.

J: So what makes it different from other harems that you’ve seen? I mean Sora was doing things like taking nudes in the bath and having people climb all over him.

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R: I mean I think the difference was the lack of romance and lack of romantic competition. Basically no squealing girls all fighting for one guy’s attention kind of thing. The nude pics were still stupid though.

J: Is it really just the idea that all these women are sort of fighting over this guy for no reason that bugs you? It doesn’t have to do with objectification of women or their reduction to purely “love interests”?

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R: My problem isn’t really with the objectification. I just hate annoying fawning girls.

J: So you’re fine with the love interests.

R: I used to watch a hell of a lot of shoujo. What do you think?

J: Shoujo usually portrays the guy as the love interest though. Are you saying you’re fine with love interests in general?

R: Meh. As long as they aren’t obnoxious or too dumb then it doesn’t generally bother me.

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J: Ok. So for you it isn’t necessarily that the characters need to be fully fleshed out entities, more that they don’t annoy you too much lol.

R: Sounds about right.

J: So I guess that sorta explains how you managed to make it through, but why did you actually want to watch it all the way to the end?

R: I guess I liked the creativity and ingenuity in regards to how Sora and Shiro managed to win all their games. It was interesting to see what they’d come up with next, although I have to admit that by the end it was getting sort of lackluster.

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J: Why lackluster? A lot of people criticized the show for being a power fantasy and how Sora and Shiro seemed invincible. Did you feel like that took the excitement out of things?

R: Yea. I mean I know the show tried to make it seem like things were at stake, but I found it hard to feel that way since you pretty much know that they’re going to win anyway.

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J: But isn’t there a different type of pleasure in seeing how they pull things off? I mean it’s just like in the old Sherlock Holmes novels (or the new show)–you know he’s going to solve the mystery, but the joy in it comes from how he does it.

R: Eh I guess I felt by the end their solutions were getting a bit contrived.

J: How so? I felt like they were pretty contrived from the beginning lol.

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R: Yea I guess they kind of were haha, but it seemed like by the end they were somehow controlling for a lot more factors in the last game and just assuming that they would all magically fall into place (which they did) as opposed to some of the less complicated strategies in earlier games.

J: Essentially they crossed some line where they were no longer sort of believable superhumans and became game gods?

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R: Pretty much. Not sure if I’m going to end up watching the next season or not. I also thought the mythology was really stupid, which was a big turn off.

J: Really? I thought it wasn’t too bad, but then you’re like a mythology snob.

R: You got it. I mean there wasn’t that much of it, but what I saw I didn’t like. So what did you think? Any gripes on your end?

J: Not really – I enjoyed it pretty solidly all the way through. I actually have more gripes with how some other people have tended to view and interpret the show rather than the show itself.

R: Is that supposed to be a jab at me haha?

J: No. More just us aniblogging snobs.

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R: Ok. So what did you think then? Why do you have gripes with them?

J: It’s mostly with trying to extrapolate the underlying philosophy of the show. A lot of commentary seems to be centered around its toxic nature and sort of the ideas  it subtly perpetuates.

R: Elaborate.

J: Well it’s just mainly that a lot of the show can be seen as sort of subscribing to a lot of the views of the otaku community. You know there is female objectification, and in one episode there’s even one prominent subplot where Sora forces Steph to fall in love with him like she’s some sort of object. I mean, there are tons of other examples in the same vein, but it all can be seen as adding up to a show that tends to perpetuate some of the more negative aspects of the fandom (even if in a self-aware way) rather than confront them.

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R: What a glowing review. Why did you like the show so much then?

J: It’s mainly because I don’t think that this viewpoint can be taken at face value. These types of shows are deliberately given extremely skewed narratives told through the eyes of their protagonist. Separating out the true underlying philosophy of the show vs. that of the main protagonist is difficult. Sora is sort of a psychopath and also an intense otaku, so it shouldn’t be surprising lots of things in the show fall in line with how he would see them.

R: So he’s like you? Haha.

J: Somewhat. I think I’m a little bit more of a douchebag and a little bit less of a sociopath though. :p

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R: So you still didn’t tell me specifically what you liked about the show or why you thought it was worthwhile.

J: Whoops – guess I’m just rambling again.

R: It’s okay – I’m used to it now.

J: Lol thanks. So, anyways…what I think it comes down to is that there is–and this is a point that people have brought up–is whether the show is self-deprecating, in which case you just sort of joke about things without changing them, or self-critical of otaku culture, where these issues are actually brought up and addressed in some sort. And if you take the narrative at face value it seems to be the former.

R: But I’m guessing that’s not your viewpoint.

J: Yes, since I think there’s lots of evidence that you shouldn’t be taking the narrative at face value.

R: Okay…like?

J: Well, mostly in sort of the fundamental hypocrisy that is preached by the protagonists, most notably Sora.

R: Hypocrisy in what? Their worldview? Their beliefs?

J: The worldview, yea. Most prominently, in the first episode they go through a long monologue to set the tone of the show and the fact that it’s narrated by Sora. You know, right away they talk about life as being a shitty game where you don’t know the rules and there’s no endpoint, but somehow you’re expected to play. And then they go to a world where literally all the games function exactly like this and they’re totally fine.

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R: I remember them saying something in the last episode as well about the world being a game and whatnot.

J: I mean, after Sora and Shiro (plus Jibril and Steph) defeat the warbeasts, Sora is pretty much like “jeez people stop whining IT’S JUST A GAME”. But for Imanity and others it isn’t “just a game”–their lives depended on the outcome and Sora and Shiro had just bet them!

R: Yea, that bothered me a bit too.

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J: Right? This indicates a fundamental disconnect between the duo and what’s going on, and is sort of at the heart of the hypocrisy of their characters and more or less the show in general.

R: Well I mean Tet sort of sets the tone for this even before Sora and Shiro come around.

J: Exactly. He pretty much becomes God by being a hikikomori. If that’s not a cue that this is a very self-aware show that should not be taken at face value I don’t know what is.

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R: I mean he basically constructed a world where it’s hard to tell where life ends and the game begins.

J: Well, maybe one of the points is that they should be seen as one in the same, in a very similar vein to something like SAO (Sword Art Online) but told from a different point of view–less focused on the immersion and more on the fundamental interaction that takes place when we play games. You know, on the back and forth.

R: Hmm. I mean I definitely see the connection between at least the settings of NGNL and SAO. I think the shows also both received a fair amount of criticism.

J: I mean, whether you decide to look past the atmosphere of NGNL or, like me, think it might be quite a bit self-critical, there’s a lot of positive aspects to the show (this goes for SAO too) I think have generally gotten overlooked. Like the main underlying themes, for instance.

R: You mean the whole “strength in weakness” type of thing?

J: Along with humanity’s (or Imanity, whatever) potential, yea. Those two, along with the emphasis on friendship in gaming and learning to understand each other. Strength in coming together, like with Blank. I mean, the show devoted a significant amount of time (like, an entire episode) those ideas, so it seems unfair to overlook them.

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R: Eh I’m not sure how much I agree with the coming together thing–it seemed like the only people who legitimately banded together were Sora and Shiro. Ironically enough I find myself disliking the main protags more and more as we talk about the show haha. I think the strength in weakness thing was a legitimate theme though.

J: What about them did you dislike?

R: I mean if you think about it, Sora and Shiro were REALLY unlikeable characters. If I were in the same room as them I’d probably want to sock Sora in the face for being such a jerk. I’m usually down with the whole underdog thing and I’m pretty sure I’m dating a hikikomori, but damn was he an asshole.

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J: Thanks the those kind words of praise :p. With Sora though, I can definitely understand why a character like him would be popular though, or at least what he represents.

R: You mean the nerd power fantasy wet dream?

J: Pretty much. The whole “the weak are really the strong guys!” type of themes are appealing to, well, most anime fans, who I’d say tend to fall into the “weak and ostracized” category which pretty much pervades geeky subcultures. Which leads me to think that you could easily see them in a much less positive light.

R: Eh I guess. I can’t really speak from experience.

J: I mean, although you might not have similar types of feelings, I can definitely say this type of “persecution/inferiority complex” isn’t all that uncommon among fans. And, going from this point of view, NGNL just ends up as a thematic extension – which makes it all the more toxic – of the power fantasy.

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R: I guess…?

J: I mean, just take SAO, for instance. One of the main messages of that show (which they also spent a whole episode plus lots extra to hammer home) was that time spent in-game is equivalent to time spent in RL. Now, who’s the target audience for this type of show? The exact type of people who that message would tend to appeal to. So SAO kind of becomes a power fantasy in not just story but also implication: an escapist story that also justifies real-life habits.

R: I guess I can relate to the escapism. I see that as more of a reason to possibly like this show–in a way it lets otaku or hikikomori (are they really separate?) escape to a world where their actions (or lack thereof)  are validated. You know like “it’s ok to stay inside and play video games all day because in this world that sort of behavior is rewarded.”

J: Pretty much. You could easily take the themes to mean something like, “Don’t worry guys – games are important and meaningful, and your weakness is actually a strength! YAY!”. On the other hand though, it could also easily be read as a message to hikikomori–and otaku at large–to take a chance, reach out, and step into the world, using their online presence as a springboard to make friends and forge connections. So it could go both ways. Also, this is totally unrelated to what we were just discussing, but I just wanted to again point out the hypocrisy that Sora/Shiro can’t function in the final arc when they think it’s Tokyo, and then miraculously recover when they find out it’s just an illusion. That’s some deep shit right there, and shows NGNL isn’t trivializing hikikomori but actually taking them seriously.

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R: Woohoo encouraging gamers to seek sunlight and real (not 2D) romantic partners!

J: Yea yea lol. Anyways, the point of my whole spiel (even with your attempts to derail me :p), I guess, is that the show is inherently difficult to read straight-up. It’s important to ask questions like, you know, where does Sora’s POV end and the author’s begin? How much does that influence what exactly we take out of the show? Is the obvious message more important than the possibly more nuanced one, because it’s more likely to be the one people take from the show? And–most interesting for me personally–is NGNL more similar to other LN adaptations like OreShura, OreImo, or Oregairu–which generally fell somewhere along the self-deprecating to self-critical spectrum–or somewhere in-between/outside of this dichotomy? Because what I get out of NGNL is something that’s much more complicated–and much more ambivalent–than a simple power fantasy.

R: That your rant for the day?

J: Yea…

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R: Haha. You love to go on and on, don’t worry I agree with you anyway ;). I still think I want to break Sora’s nose though XD.

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18 responses to “Colloquium: No Game No Life

  1. Since you guys did your post as a dialogue, allow me to respond with a dialogue of my own. This is a conversation that took place between my friends on Facebook:

    Me: oh, No Game No Life ended. I still can’t quite decide my feelings on that show………..

    Friend A: How can you not like it? Art style is colourful, characters are in general pretty likeable.

    Me: How do I say it…?

    Friend A: Tries too hard?

    Me: I liked it when I was watching it but as soon as I stopped to think about it afterwards, I got mad at various things. It was very skeevish and smug and… yeah… it tried too hard at times. Also, I don’t relate to hardcore gaming culture. That might have a lot to do with it.

    Friend B: Maybe

    Me: I don’t think being good at games makes you special which is clearly what stories like No Game No Life and Sword Art Online make out.

    Frend B: …depends

    Me: Sure, games train your hand-eye coordination and your problem solving skills but it doesn’t make you somehow more intelligent or more capable than regular people.

    Friend B: If you are clearly “better” than anyone else at doing a certain thing, it makes you feel superior

    Me: And that’s fine!

    Friend A: Having a pottery god doesn’t make for a good story. Games however don’t have boundaries. Games are something that everyone enjoys and so it’s easy to build on that. Ultimately games have determined many things in the past, war games or otherwise. And to win a game every skill a person has comes into play if the rules allow it That’s why it’s such a popular plot and when you think about it, it isn’t just fan serving. I mean the difference is this way. They don’t have bloody war games and it is much more tame

    Me: I understand that, but I think the distinction I’m trying to make here is that glorifying hardcore gaming *culture* isn’t good. Games in themselves are neutral and a part of everyday life.

    Friend B: Some would disagree, Froggy.

    Friend A: I think it in many ways stems from the awe of some people
    you play a game, you enjoy it and then you notice that player that was so highly skilled above the rest and they are a bit of a mystery. These kind of shows kind of head out to meet that curiosity. So it’s not so much hardcore gamers they appeal to as general gamers

    Me: Yeah, I get that appeal, since not being hardcore I still enjoy the show

    Friend A: The problem is a general one across the board though. The protagonist must be “the best” or become “the best”. Tatsuya, prime example. In gaming, that’s a hardcore gamer.

    Me: Blank > Tatsuya

    Friend A: Here they have chosen “they are the best to begin with”
    rather than “will become the best” like in one piece or something. And the problem is people just aren’t interested in a story about a guy who isn’t the best or the worst and doesn’t aim to become better

    Me: To its credit, I think NGNL does manage its “OP character” plot device better than Mahouka does. The fun is seeing *how* he wins, not necessarily, “Will he win?” But I think my problem with NGNL isn’t really that the characters are OP necessarily. It’s that it appeals to this mindset that gamers are unique because they are good at games
    And that if they were placed into a situation where knowledge of games is actually way more useful than it is in the real world, they would thrive like Sora and Shiro do. I understand that the skills that you obtain from gaming ARE useful, but… this subtext does not jive with me

    Friend A: Hmmm, though I think something important to consider here
    is that the focus is games as a whole, not video gaming, and when you look at it from that perspective and the overarching chess game theme, that actually becomes fairly true of the real world.

    Me: I’m mainly drawing this from the depiction of the two main characters, who are hikkikomori and otaku

    Friend A: Yeah, I can see what you mean. It’s fighting a bit of a stereotype that exists there, that people like them are incapable.

    Me: Or, on the other hand, HYPER capable. That you’re special *because* you lack social skills but are somehow good at gaming

    Friend A: Aren’t they still fighting against their lack of social skills though a bit?

    Me: To an extent.

    Friend A: I mean that’s half the reason Steph exists as a character. Although she is degraded as a character, they constantly rely on her even though she is useless at what they are good at. I mean sure there is hyperbole shifted in one direction. But it’s not like it’s completely neglected and ignored

    Me: Oh, mind you, I don’t think the message in NGNL is that horrible or anything. It’s just that how the show treated Steph (and other female characters) bothered me, and while I like the message that “life is a game which we can make more fun for ourselves if we approach it like a game” there are other aspects that bother me a LOT.

    Friend A: Treatment to Steph will probably improve as the story continues is my bet. She initially represents the wall of thinking that is holding everyone back. Correction: the wall of ignorance. And so they make fun of the ignorance

    Me: One of the things I personally find most unpleasant about gaming and otaku culture is how they exclude women and build themselves up as being “special” and misunderstood by the rest of the world. Not every geek is like this, and you guys are great of course, but you come across this thinking everywhere and I saw it in No Game No Life. Just needed to get that off my chest…

    Friend B: …well… the male MC is very… well… let’s just call him a dickhead

    Me: Yes. Let’s. Actually, I don’t hate him as a person as much as I did in the beginning, if that means anything.

    Friend B: …I see…

    Me: In fact, all things considered, he’s a way more likable character than Jesus Tatsuya

    Friend B: He doesn’t lack emotion, after all

    Me: And I liked his relationship with his sister. But, yeah, it was really weird because I think I would have LOVED this show if I watched a year ago or even several months ago

    Friend B: …really?

    Me: mmm, I love Sakurasou and it’s the same director. I was actually really hyped before the show started but lately, I’ve grown very critical of certain aspects of geek culture

    Friend B: you are maturing *shock-horror*

    Me: :(
    I don’t relate to the idea that playing games or knowing a lot about one thing will make me smarter. I’ve been spending more time this year studying and getting involved in academia than geek stuff, and I feel more direction in my life because of it

    Friend A: Geek culture has a bit of a dead end feel to it, I’d agree. It’s a culture without goals – or well, major ones

    Me: That’s because its goal has already been achieved, right? It’s become practically mainstream. People accept geeks nowadays like they never did before

    Friend A: I’m not sure what to think of the overall culture really. It’s hard to split it but there’s a distinct split in the culture. If you go over to reddit you’ll find people are more likable and educated overall but trying to think of a close equivalent is hard. Most MMOs, facebook, twitter are often filled with a lot more idiots and insufferable people.

    Me: Well, I think in general, geek culture has done great things. Many geeks are intelligent and creative people and it’s encouraged people to get together and pool their creativity

    Friend B: Why thank you

    Me: The only problem is *ahem* thinking you’re TOO clever for it.
    It’s like herding cats, in a way. So there’s the mistaken thinking that you’re smart BECAUSE you’re a geek, rather than you’re a smart person who happens to be a geek, which is a much healthier distinction

    Friend A: Mmm. I think the way that works out is that smarter people have been drawn to it in past. Introverted people tend take in a lot more information and care less about making themselves stand out and introverted people getting together from their solitude entertainment is where it started out. (yes I’m calling introverted people generally more intelligent than extroverted) As it has become mainstream, more of the other type have gotten in and it’s shifted. If you look close enough at the culture there is a split now. There are people above the split, and people below it. Below the split is a fairly unified mainstream region. Above the split less so.

    Me: I hope you don’t divide the split as hardcore = smart people, casual = dumb people

    Friend A: Not really

    Me: GOOD

    Friend A: mostly introverted/extroverted. There are smart extroverted people and there are dumb introverted people. Introverted people don’t find themselves too attracted to the mainstream is something I’ve noticed. They tend to find it overwhelming, the people unlikeable and they branch out into other areas. Froggy, you’re a prime example of that really. With your blog and the way you like to go beyond just watching the series and talking about how good/bad it was but doing analysis and the like. Or Friend B going off to write his own stories, ending up in these side communities that form. People below the split never end up in these side communities really and often have very loud opinions about everything they do

    Me: (first thing that comes to mind: kotaku commenters)

    Friend A: ….yes. So to answer your question or well, statement more like: It’s not that you find it hard to get involved in geek culture, its that you find it hard to interact with the people below the split. And it that regard, Froggy, I find it hard too

    Me: Yeah, I have my niche communities where I fit in, and it’s great that geekdom has diversified enough that there’s probably a niche for everyone who looks.

    Friend A: Emergency exits are on your right and left, enjoy your stay!

    Friend C: I have finally read everything! That was a long discussion.

    Me: I’M SORRY. This all started because I whinged about No Game No Life.

    Friend C: …And yet you complained at me only Tuesday when I called the show mediocre myself. ;_;

    Me: I don’t think NGNL is mediocre – it does exactly what it was trying to do REALLY well

    Friend C: Yes, I get that what you’re complaining about is the aim of the series. But you would call that aim mediocre or debatable, yes? And isn’t succeeding at a mediocre goal somewhat the same, in terms of quality, as making a mediocre attempt at reaching a higher goal?

    Me: I don’t think the aim of NGNL was “mediocre”, it was actually quite admirable in many ways

    Friend C: Okay, perhaps ‘misguided’ may have been a better word? ‘Flawed’, perhaps?

    Me: Yeah, “misguided” is how I’d describe it. In some ways, I think it’s superior to Sakurasou.

    Friend C: What ways? I disagree completely at first glance.

    Me: It’s much more slick, much more purposeful

    Friend C: I’d disagree on it being more slick – if anything, it felt more disjointed and unpolished to me. I’d probably concede that it was more purposeful, but I think that’s more of a neutral difference rather than being inherently positive or negative. Actually, let me rephrase. Entertainment succeeds if it’s able to bring about a generally positive response in the viewer, I think – and I use the term vaguely (emotional responses, entertainment from a cheesy action flick, inciting thoughtful consideration, even sexual pleasure, and so on and so forth). Being purposeful is one way to bring about that goal, but there are plenty of others that a work can have, and I don’t think that lacking any one particular quality is a problem.

    Me: Well, NGNL brought out a strong reaction in me, even if it wasn’t always positive. Compare this to Mahouka, which ended up making me bored……..

    Friend C: Well, I’ll certainly agree that NGNL is superior to Mahouka, if nothing else.

    Me: I got the real sense that the animators were having the time of their lives with that show. I felt that it had a “soul”.

    After that, the conversation went to other places, but I think you can get a picture of my ambivalence towards the show and the fact that my personal struggles with otaku culture really coloured how I viewed the show. As someone who is both an insider and an outsider to hardcore geek culture, I felt like I could see both sides of the issue. My interpretation is pretty close to Josh’s in that I appreciated the genuinely inspiring messages, but I take a harder line on the power fantasy nature of the show. You see, even if the author was aware of the hypocrisy and was satiricising elements of the power fantasy, Poe’s Law kicks in and the toxic subtext remains.

    The anime also shows really well the distinction between humanism and feminism. No one in their right minds would call NGNL “feminist”, but the show is about empowering the human race and that physical differences don’t mean anything when it comes to the human intellect and soul. The blanket statement about the equality of humankind does not address possible unconscious bias. So the next time someone tells you, “Feminist is a sexist word! Call yourself a humanist instead!” show them an episode or two of NGNL ;)

    • Whoops – since I went backwards, I ended up responding to most of your points in the response to arbitrary_greary. I really don’t like the idea of “the toxic subtext remains” that you argue makes the show somehow “bad”, and elaborate a bit more there. Your point on humanism and feminism is spot on though lol.

  2. On another note, the interaction between Rebecca and Josh in this post reminds me somehow of Steph and Sora – if Steph remained in possession of her clothes the whole time and Sora were a tea-drinking, empty-headed academic (term courtesy of episode 6!), that is.

    • +1.

      But actually this is so spot on it’s a little bit terrifying – our relationship is pretty a bad AU SoraxSteph fanfic. XD

  3. I think I can see your point of why Sora is a hypocrite, but I still struggle with this. . I will admit to not trying very hard to deal with my discomfort with a lot of the elements, mainly his treatment of Stephanie. Maybe if I saw it over with the idea that it’s critical of Sora on some level, but I don’t know how much it would come across to me as actually clever or as smugly pardoning itself for showing longish, comically-toned scenes of Sora berating her that I just didn’t find very funny. I don’t completely know why I didn’t because I love slapstick comedy and Archer, maybe it was that I didn’t feel it was deserved and that Stephanie wasn’t entirely unjustified. I might be too demanding, since to drive the point of criticizing Sora home I would have wished that he was ever actually taken to task for anything bad he actually did. I also struggled with the uplifting of humanity – there’s a belief expressed that there are certain people who are special and can advance humanity (Planetes called them “selfish dreamers”). While it is an interesting concept that certainly seems true on some level, in both I had issues with where that left everyone else. The way Sora put it sounded like a complaint, like he was demanding that everyone else change for his and Shiro’s benefit because they’re the people who will advance humanity. Froggy may well be right that Stephanie is not just some person, but representative of an ignorant way of thinking, but she’s not hostile or harmful the way some ignorant viewpoints are, and their poor treatment of her felt disproportionate to whatever she might have done, and it’s another thing I have discomfort with to suggest that because Sora and Shiro do good and have the potential to do more good, it’s OK for them to also do bad. Although if the show is actually critical of Sora maybe that was to be taken differently.

    I’m not the best at accepting some shows on their own terms. Especially something like this where the visuals were kind of repellant to me (that’s the one thing with this show that I can’t understand why people like it), but I don’t want to be stodgy.

    • In rough order:

      The treatment of Steph throughout the show is something that I think bothers quite a bit of people, because she is pretty much made into a scapegoat. I wonder, however, if we would feel the same way if Sora/Shiro blasted a male sidekick (who frequently occupy this role in other shows, albeit not as prominently), and if her apparent objectification has something to do with it. As for Stephanie as concept rather than character, I think its a good one. That still leaves the same question of why would you so viciously lampoon the personification of the idea though.

      Sora getting “taken to task” would be a legitimate concern if you think he’s really done stuff that deserves such treatment. While Sora has generally been a jackass throughout the show, he never actually does anything so moralistically reprehensible (outside of the games he plays) that strikes me as deserving punishment or retribution (outside of the “that guy is a dick I hope a bird poops on him!” type of sentiment). So I don’t really understand how exactly the show is advocating a very Machiavellian-style philosophy. If we’re talking about the callous way he seems to be treating the people of Imanity or his supposed friends, and about him needing to learn to respect others as well as their lives, then I’m with you. And that’s a direction I’m hoping the show will explore in the future, because it would make more sense further down the road rather than this early on. Remember though that this is a LN adaptation, and in this particular case told from the leading characters perspective rather than a more objective observer, so I’m not sure how much the apparent attitude towards Sora will change.

      As far as I can tell, NGNL does not thematically advance the concept of “selfish dreamers”. Instead, it seems to push an emphasis on intelligence and (funnily enough) empathy for others. While Sora/Shiro always carrying the day might give that impression, note that in the end that they’re part of a multi-racial team. Whether the other members are meant to be token mascots is up for debate, but don’t forget all of them actually played important roles during the final battle.

      In the end, there’s no need to accept shows on their own terms if you’re just watching them or giving your own opinions. It does become more important for critical dialogue like this though, where it provides a frame-of-reference for the discussion.

      • It could certainly be that it doesn’t advance the concept of Planetes’ “selfish dreamers” and that Sora doesn’t actually do anything deserving of punishment. But if not, I think what makes me talk about both (if it’s not just trying to rationalize the show being outside the realm of my general tastes) is the scene where Sora talks about the significance of intelligence and wins Stephanie over to his side in that way. Sora may not have done anything truly reprehensible, but I would think he certainly did things that would justify Stephanie in not being very fond of him, and the whole tone of her being moved by him because of him saying what his “real” beliefs and intentions are underneath all the stuff he puts her through just put me off.

  4. Conversation-style posts are good too. Hope to see more like this!

    I think the “toxic” subtext/nature of the show rose to the forefront of the conversation among the aniblogs because of the focus on a particular subset of the audience – people in the “toxic gamer culture”. (Please excuse the blurry generalizations that follow.) “We” (the anibloggers/people who this post is written for), are increasingly sensitive and wary of “them” (toxic gamers), perhaps in part because we share the same “geek” blood and thus feel the need to separate “ourselves” from “them”. A show comes out, and *BAM* it’s a hit, including among the gamer crowd (and why not, the show is entertaining and more creative than average.) But the fact that “they” enjoyed it so much gives “us” pause. Our interpretation of the show then looks for and gives more weight to “toxic” subtexts and messages, because after all, “toxic” people enjoy the show for “toxic” reasons. And therein lies our bias, which leads us on to predetermined conclusions and possibly detracts from our critical view of the show itself.

    Or something like that. Maybe I’m not in a position to make that proposition, seeing that I haven’t made the effort to explain my own thoughts and interpretations in a significant manner. Probably precipitated from Lifesong’s sexism postwhich was linked to in the comments on Froggykun’s more recent one. Maybe the reason I’m so hesitant to share my own interpretations is because I feel like it relies to much on headcanon i.e. what I imagine and hope to see in the future of the series rather than just what actually occurred during the duration of the show. Maybe I’m just as biased in the opposite direction and am bent on putting NGNL on a pedestal an awesome work that has its cake and eats it too with regards to all those otaku-pandering elements.

    Criticism is hard.

    • Thanks! I think this worked better in general too, so we’ll try and do more of these in the future.

      Your blurry generalizations have quite a lot of bite to them. It’s also probably in part due to the increasing attention that is being drawn to issues like sexism and misogyny in recent years (at least among internet activists), which makes them much more “hot button” issues. As a consequence, it also brings about a weird form of “guilty pleasure”/”apologism” in viewing, where people enjoy the show but then speak out against it for its “toxic” values (or have the apparent continual manifestation of those value impinge upon their enjoyment during the viewing itself). I saw a decent amount of that too when it came to NGNL.

      Only time will tell whether this interpretation (which I feel lies a bit closer to yours) pans out or whether the inherent hypocrisy showcased here is actually not criticism but a manifestation of the fundamental problem. I think the show/series has a lot of potential to explore some very interesting ground if it takes up some of the issues here, whether directly or indirectly, so we’ll just have to wait to see how things turn out!

  5. At the point at which “NGNL is hard to read,” the conveyance of authorial intent has failed, and Death of the Author reigns supreme in audience interpretation of the show.
    Death of the Author technically means that each individual interpretation is valid, but it seems that in the case of NGNL, most anibloggers weren’t looking for The One True Valid Interpretation, but examining the anime’s cultural and social impact, especially when so few of the audience were trying to parse out an authorial intent that may or may not have been delivered in a muddled way.

    When looking at social and cultural reception/consumption/influence, things like whether or not NGNL’s narrative was meant to be taken at face value becomes irrelevant, unless that interpretation was a prevalent one amongst its viewers. Hell, it could be argued that the source material itself became irrelevant, as it was the reactions being interpreted as to how they reflected back on the source material. (Of course, I posted a huge rant about how the industry’s use of this stance often missed the mark on the audience’s actual reception the other day.)
    So, then, anibloggers were looking at the reactions of people who appeared to enjoy the show. They also probably looked more at those more likely to post gut-reactions, (such as comments at Kotaku, RandomC, etc.) closer to what their true reactions were than, say, bloggers who go through steps of reflection and exploration and picking through various interpretation lenses based on their blogging style and audience. Aforementioned comment sections also probably better reflect the attitudes of the general anime-viewing populace, or at least the populace that the industry was targetting when they made the show.

    That’s when some of the things Froggy and Rikuo06 have pointed out kicked in: Poe’s Law and geek-subculture perceptions and such.
    I’m also somewhat in tf5f89’s boat, where, as I spewed about in Froggy’s feminist otaku post, I struggle with if it’s okay on a social/cultural level to “accept some shows on their own terms.” On an individual consumption level, I’m absolutely okay with it. But I am one of those that Rikuo06 talks about, where I have to pause when a group of people I’m not okay with seem to be taking away not-okay messages from a piece of media prevalently enough that the industry might follow their lead. (Which is a stance that still has its silly applications, too: Evangelion, Wagner-and-Nazis, and religious texts in general.)

    • This is a doozy of a comment, but I’ll try and split my response into two parts: your feelings on Poe’s law and the Death of the Author, and those regarding how to parse shows in general.

      I could not more vehemently disagree with the statement that at “the point at which “NGNL is hard to read,” the conveyance of authorial intent has failed”, and I feel that this reads into a broader disconnect I have with what Death of the Author and Poe’s Law imply we as people should interact with media. The common response to both of these seems to be something along the lines you give in your comment, where people just sort of throw up their hands and go “well, fuck it, I guess anything goes”. As you point out, what it means is that each individual interpretation is technically valid, but that does not mean they are all equal, which is one of the main points I’ve been arguing over the course of my time as a blogger.

      The much more toxic form of this form of thinking comes in with something like Poe’s Law, because it shows the same extension of this idea applied to the material itself which we are trying to interpret. The response to “well, it’s essentially impossible to tell satire/subtle criticism apart from the real thing” is to throw up your hands and treat the two as being somewhat equivalent because of the likely possibility that each can be misinterpreted as the other, which seems to be the general consensus here with the show. I find this type of sentiment to be far more dangerous than the first because it amounts to a form of self-censorship, both in terms of what types of analyses are permissible as well as what types of shows are acceptable (or, even worse, objectively “good”).

      In my opinion, the response to both of these issues – Death of the Author and Poe’s Law – should not be this attitude where misinterpretation and interpretation are treated on equal ground because its difficult to discern true meaning. Instead, they should serve as calls to arms – the realization that interpreting things are difficult, and thus that we as readers/viewers/consumers need to think critically about the texts we consume and the ways we interpret them. And so both points to me are precisely the type of reasons that compel us to try and make a full attempt to interpret texts properly, and thus try and understand authorial intent, no matter how subtle.

      As for the broader issues of the ramifications of misinterpretation among target audiences, that I can agree with being much more ambivalent and conflicted about. Personally though, I think in almost all cases the impetus should be on changing the community who interprets shows like this rather than using this as an argument to do away with the shows themselves.

      (Sidenote: It would be particularly ironic if this entire comment was due to a misinterpretation your comment.)

      • I agree with most of what you say, although I find it hard to summarize in the way I would have preferred to open this reply with, in order to clarify how I’ve interpreted your response. (Wow, can this sentence get more recursive?) More specifically, I agree with your arguments with regards to interpreting source material. But my comment was going for a slightly different direction. (It always comes down to framework, huh.)

        The original post found blogger’s posts on NGNL problematic because parts of the source material may be advocating things opposite of what they accuse. My comment argued that even if this was true, those bloggers’ analyses aren’t invalidated, because they were interpreting audience reaction and how that reflected on the media-influence dynamic, and not interpreting the source material itself.

        As you say, it is indeed dangerous to extrapolate an evaluation of the source material itself from this. But as many of these articles were right on the heels of the conversations about media influence started by Mahouka, I’m inclined to think that those articles were in the same vein. A quality evaluation of Mahouka would be that it was a boring adaptation, and the coversation otherwise about the media influence aspects are somewhat independent of it, and as I said elsewhere, can be independent of authorial intent, as well.

        Personally though, I think in almost all cases the impetus should be on changing the community who interprets shows like this rather than using this as an argument to do away with the shows themselves.
        My take is similar: I’m fine with harem and ecchi and hentai shows existing, but it’s a problem when not enough alternatives also exist. (Like the point of Bechdel: things that fail the test aren’t bad, there just need to be more things made that pass to make up the paucity!)

      • Right. So I can definitely buy that those interpretations are valid as ways of interpreting audience reactions (and related things) to the shows, and I’m with you there. I just guess I have problems when that type of thing is used in the way it often has been – which is as a more “objective” critique that leads to dangerous trains of thought mainly because, as you point out, they tend to be subtly egocentric in ways that people either don’t realize or instead argue blindly is a good thing. So…I guess we’re actually on the same page here, just coming at it from very different angles. Heh.

  6. Unrelated to the thread above. ;)

    I read this article today, and the paragraph about “why Sora could easily communicate with others after years of seclusion” sent me right here because, well, it’s Azuma!
    An otaku character written by, presumably, an otaku author, exhibits the exact traits concerning otaku social activity: that they can because it is not longer truly social, but gameified, a mechanic to gain information, and that exchange of information being the valuable thing, rather than the social interaction itself.

    I think the study of otaku surrogate characters could reveal a lot concerning some of the applications/examples of Azuma’s model, as well as how it does and doesn’t hold up. Why are some otaku characters given certain traits from the database, why, and how does that reflect on the otaku who conceive of them? Azuma focussed on the consumption side, but in this world of Ascended Fanboys, examining the production side becomes ever more relevant.

    • You pretty much hit the nail right on the head (that article was also awesome, so thanks for that).

      As for studying otaku characters in anime, there is some academic discussion surrounding it, although not as much as might be hoped. Thomas LaMarre has gotten into some of it in his work, but it’s a big area that hasn’t really been explored that much.

  7. Pingback: 12 Days of Anime Day 7 / Back of the Envelope: Offensive vs. Defensive Meta-ness | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

  8. Pingback: Humanity is Screwed: Dystopian Visions in Psycho-Pass and Shin Sekai Yori | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

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