Do you have a game, book, or TV show, anything that you revisit when you need a pick-me-up? Something that you save for those days when you need to soft reset? For me, it has actually been The Last: Naruto the Movie. I think I first watched sometime on break from college, and fell in love with Naruto and Hinata's theme from the final moments of the film. While I would rewatch clips every once in a while, it wasn't until a few years later in Tokyo that I felt like I had to see it all again. It was the night before the Japanese N1 Language Test for which I woefully unprepared, on top of which I was frustrated because work was the way it was and I'd had little luck making friends, even a year into post-college life. I scoured Book Offs and Mandarakes for the DVD, and when I finally found it, I ordered dinner home, took a warm shower, and watched the whole thing before going to bed and meeting a long test day.
Given the constant stream of new content these days, I find it difficult to rewatch or reread much of anything. I look back at my childhood, when I'd play and replay the same rotation of Gameboy Advance games until a birthday came and I could buy something new. Now, I hardly even listen to the same songs more than once, since Spotify feeds me a new playlist each week. But I guess when that's the norm, what actually sticks has to be extra special?
My Troubled Darling Gojo Needs Therapy
I've been enjoying how the animators and actors of My Dress-Up Darling have brought Gojo and Marin to life. The series has left a big impression on me, and I think a lot of that has to do with Gojo. As he helps Marin bring her cosplays to life and hones his own abilities as an artisan, Gojo is constantly doubting his abilities while harboring insecurities over being a boy who likes dolls. His lack of self-confidence is so severe that he constantly second-guesses his friendship with Marin, even as she showers him with affection.
There's one scene in particular where Gojo's anxiety is so palpable that I had to take a breath myself. Marin invites Gojo to a Halloween party with her friends, the "popular" crowd from school. Already out of his element, Gojo struggles to make conversation throughout the night, when suddenly the topic of his role in Marin's cosplays comes up. One of Marin's friends asks why he knows how to do her makeup even though he's a guy. Gojo is at a loss for words, panicking as he has flashbacks of a similar interaction from childhood that ended with a girl shouting through tears that he's "gross" and she hates him.
Before Gojo can respond, Marin's other friends dismiss the stupid question. "What are you even saying? There are plenty of male stylists out there." "Didn't I tell you my brother's training to be a makeup artist?" The tension – if there even was any – diffuses instantly as Gojo realizes that he's always assuming the worst from everyone around him. The one awful interaction he had as a kid doesn't represent how everyone else feels.
I'm lucky I never had as traumatic an experience exploring my interests growing up, but I think the anxiety of feeling watched and judged, especially when you don't fit neatly into the box built around you, is universal. And just like Gojo notices, sometimes these boxes are our own making, from blueprints we aren't sure we can throw away. I, for one, often feel like I'm containing myself, like the "real me" is stirring inside, waiting to be let out only in the "right" time and place. But maybe there isn't any better chance than here and now to let myself be free? And maybe it wouldn't even be that big a deal, just like we see at the party.
That said, I don't think so easy to break out of these binds, nor do I feel like it'll be the last time Gojo sees these flashbacks, which I think is a testament of Fukuda Shinichi's honesty as a storyteller. Gojo's constant self-doubt won't go away just because of Marin – I mean, when have any of our insecurities disappeared because of one person's kindness? I just wish Gojo could talk to Marin, or anyone, about what he's feeling, instead of keeping everything bottled up inside! But it took me until my mid-twenties to learn I could ask for help, and as I look at the other adults around me, I realize most people don't get around to it at all. It turns out some boys will literally become a girl's personal tailor instead of going to therapy!
What I'm Enjoying
It's been a while since I last wrote – it's a little embarrassing seeing the anime line-up because I'm clearly experiencing withdrawal symptoms from My Dress-Up Darling that can only be sated with more romcoms.
Where The Wild Ladies Are, by Matsuda Aoko: I enjoy worldbuilding that takes place across separately related narratives – maybe because I feel rewarded for picking up on common touchpoints. It's an approach I once took when I made my own fantasy world as a teenager, inspired by the codices you could collect in Dragon Age featuring insights from people you might run into across Thedas. At first, this book seems like a quirky collection of supernatural episodes of women after their deaths, but then you see a familiar name, the description of a place, a reference to an incident a few stories back, that gather into a whole world you might wonder really exists.
五つ数えれば三日月が, by Li Kotomi: I recently found out I could borrow Japanese books from the Queens Public Library, so I started by looking for some authors I knew. I was hoping to find Taiwanese author Li Kotomi's Akutagawa Prize winning book, but I also enjoyed this pair of stories, both written from the perspectives of queer Taiwanese women. In the first story, the protagonist reunites with a grad school friend who had moved to and gotten married in Taiwan, and throughout their day together mulls over whether she should confess her long-held attraction. I thought her trepidation was reminiscent of adolescence, and thus a reminder that sharing one's feelings doesn't become any easier with age!
Great Pretender: Watching protagonist and con-man Makoto constantly outwitted and humiliated by literally everyone around him was a little hard to bear at first, but the show grew on me as it revealed more about him and his associates over time. I was glad to see Makoto have his moments, though it seemed to be at the expense of making everyone around him seem a little (or a lot) shittier. While the international cast and settings sometimes relied on tired stereotypes to fill out backstories (misogynist Arab princes, etc.), I loved that each "case" took place in a different city, rendered beautifully in vibrant colors – I need a poster!
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: I gave this a shot a while ago and was instantly turned off by the premise of a rich private school filled with the capitalist oligarchy's spawn, but if I'd watched a few minutes longer I'd have learned it was part of the joke. Though goofy, the short, sketch-style episodes, self-aware dialogue, and small cast help us get to know and love the members of the student council as more than their archetypes. I'm a huge fan of Chika and her chaotic warmth!
My Love Story!!: This wholesome show about an incredibly earnest young man Takeo's happy relationship with his girlfriend Rinko is tied together by bromance. Some of my favorite moments throughout the series were between Takeo and his stoic best friend Suna, whom we'd only ever see break into a smile or laughter because of Takeo. The show doesn't take us through the whole story, however, so I was glad to confirm a happy ending (for all three characters!) after impulsively buying the manga's last volume.
Don't Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro: I honestly get really upset seeing depictions of bullying, and while I know it's played for laughs and as setup for awkward touching in the show, I didn't think I'd actually watch. But I enjoyed seeing protagonist Naoto grow more confident and expressive with time as Nagatoro and her friends (fellow bullies?) included him as one of their own. It's also nice to see a brown* character take the spotlight.
Shin Megami Tensei V: I bought near launch in November, challenged myself with Hard Mode, and then spent a few months away after playing 20 hours and getting stuck in its dismal first stage – a barren desert that was once Tokyo. The next 50 hours were more fun after I decided there was nothing to prove through difficulty. But while I enjoyed building and speccing my team of demons, the gloom persisted so stubbornly that not even the big plot points could puncture it. Having played other SMT games, I was expecting melodramatic proselytizing about "order" versus "chaos", and I'm surprised I even came to miss it as the game felt more like a blasphemous Pokémon. Don't get me wrong – I liked it! But I think I was waiting for something more.
Song(s) of the Week
Masayuki Suzuki sings the intros of both seasons of Kaguya-sama, and it sounds like he'll be singing the third when the next season comes out in April! Between his and Airi Suzuki's harmony and the fact that you can never see his eyes I've found a lot to like about him.
It was embarrassingly late when I realized that Great Pretender is also the name of a Freddie Mercury song that is the outro of the series! [Edit: Wikipedia tells me that Freddie Mercury only covered the song, and that it's originally by The Platters, with Tony Williams as lead vocalist!]
This letter was a little long, and I did my best to fill it up with three months of updates. But now that certain life-obstacles are out of the way, I hope to write a little more frequently!