Hamatora Review: Some Thriller, A Whole Lot of Filler

As a visual medium, anime (and really any TV show or movie, animated or live-action) should be appealing to the eye. Our first impression is what we see. What I saw in Hamatora was really bright colors. Really bright colors. Unfortunately, when a show is all style and no substance, the pretty colors and cool-looking characters aren't enough to make the viewing experience a pleasurable one.

Hamatora is a 12-episode anime series adapted from an ongoing manga of the same name. In Yokohama 2014, some people have a special ability called a Minimum. This minimum differs from person to person, as some can become super strong, move super fast, or use a program to look into the future. Two of these people, named Nice and Murasaki, form a small detective agency called Hamatora, picking up odd jobs. There are many other characters -- there are actually too many characters to be shown in the 12 episodes -- who make appearances and solve cases.

The greatest thing about Hamatora is its character design. Every character has their own silhouette and style. No two characters look alike. Some of the designs are questionable (why does Nice have bandages on his face? Why does Koneko have catlike attributes [beyond "cat" being in her name]?), but when it comes down to it, they look both cool and kind of dorky. Bright colors are all the rage in Hamatora. Nice wears flashy, bright clothing. The minimum abilities are shown while the animation turns neon. Backgrounds are bright, and colors are saturated. Occasionally the show's colors turn darker, but by default, they're punching you in the face.

Unfortunately, the rest of the show falls flat. With only 12 episodes, you'd think directors and writers would want to put as much as the story from the source material as they can. Unfortunately, Hamatora suffers from filler. Characters go to the beach. They go to hotsprings. They spend extra time on very minor characters but not enough time on the main character. By episode 12 comes around, the climax has to be sped up, and it all ends on a cliffhanger. The villain is introduced rather early as a flamboyant man who is obsessed with Nice, and yet he remains just as predictable by the end. Motivations are rarely discussed or shown, and Nice's character arc is sidelined for other characters, minor characters like Birthday, Ratio, Three, and Honey, though to a lesser extent. Characters tell the viewer that Nice is the best Minimum Holder and scored amazingly well on tests from Facultas Academy, a school that all Minimum Holders must attend. But there's nothing about Nice that makes him stand out especially from the crowd because we know next to nothing about him over 12 episodes.

Despite the audience knowing nothing of Nice's background or motivations, the show desperately wants people to care about Nice. He's presented as an unconventional guy more concerned with helping people than large sums of cash. Despite being the supposed best Minimum Holder, he's done next to nothing with it upon graduating. He's the everyguy/good guy you're supposed to root for, but Nice doesn't want to be the hero Hamatora wants him to be. By the end, he refuses to help another Minimum Holder who just wants to look normal again. He acts on his own. He refuses to partake in the strength from friendship trope. But Nice doesn't find his stride because the show can't find its groove.

Hamatora is trying to be too many things at once. It's a mystery story wrapped up in magic, action, comedy, and drama. It tries to subvert tropes, but by doing so it creates mood whiplash both within a single episode and from episode to episode. For example, the episode following a character's death was the "mandatory beach episode" common in most anime. Each episode has a self-contained mystery that wraps up neatly and conveniently while the main plot is pushed forward in the last minute.

Even more unsettling is Hamatora's treatment of its female characters and a gay character. Hajime is a girl who loves to eat and has a good relationship with Nice (though how they know each other and why they're important to each other is up in the air because it's never shown or explained). She's a Minimum Holder as well, but her power isn't shown until the very end of episode 11 and is triggered by despair. She then proceeds to pass out and do nothing for the finale. Koneko is an easily forgotten character who finds jobs for Hamatora. Despite essentially being their employer, Koneko essentially does nothing but stay in the headquarters and clean cups with the store owner. Honey has more action and is more aggressive than Hajime and Koneko combined. Nice and the others value her ability to see into the future, and she's an essential part of the team in the end. Other female characters include a client, an angry mother, background characters, and a hacker who works with the villain for no discernible reason.

The show also includes an incredibly stereotypical gay character in the hot springs episode and openly laughs at him. I wanted to laugh at the people responsible for creating such an awful character, but I was too busy being openly disgusted. This character's power is being able to attract men with his sweat, playing on the All Gay Men Are Promiscuous trope. He makes all of the other characters uncomfortable, and his power is completely for laughs. He also does sit-ups for a straight 30 seconds, as if it were on a loop, so it was obvious this episode was never meant to be a serious one. Hamatora tries to convince the audience that it's a serious show, but it slips up constantly with things that don't even end up being funny; they're just lazy.

With plot holes, a forced storyline, and contrived character interaction, Hamatora is fun to look at, but it's not fun to actively watch. Despite being such a generic show, it's getting a second season this July, so I guess it at least made a decent amount of money in Japan. For a somewhat similar show that succeeds in drama, action, and distinct mini-arcs, check out Darker Than Black.

Kill la Kill: Empowerment vs. Exploitation

(This post discusses sensitive material, such as sexual violence.)

Since Kill la Kill began airing, people have been asking the question, "Is this anime feminist, or is it sexist?" And most of all, "Is it good for women?" Being able to succinctly answer a question like this in regard to media is always convenient, but things can't be tied up neatly with a bow like that. Short answer: As a whole, no, Kill la Kill isn't feminist. Long answer: Kill la Kill has some great female characters who lead the story, but elements of the show objectify these characters and should be examined critically. In this post, I will break down my thoughts on Kill la Kill in a way I hope better educates people about concepts necessary for examining media from a critically feminist lens. There will be spoilers concerning the plot, but I will do my best to keep them to a minimum, and will flag each explicit spoiler. This will be a lengthy post, beginning with many of the aspects I find problematic and exploitative before I move onto its more empowering aspects.

For context, Kill la Kill is an anime series from Japanese animation studio Trigger, best known pre-Kill la Kill as the producers behind Little Witch Academia, an animated short about a group of girls studying magic. Kill la Kill begins with the story of Ryuko Matoi and her quest to find her father's killer. Believing Honnouji Academy's student council president, Satsuki Kiryuin, to be the person behind it, Ryuko swears to fight her way through the school to get to Satsuki. Little Witch Academia and Kill la Kill both have women at the forefront of the series, but the two are very different in tone. Before leaving animation studio Gainax, the co-founders of Trigger worked on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt. Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill appear to have more in common; both are high energy and have over-the-top animation sequences. They're both full of headstrong characters, some sense of teamwork (though the dynamics are very different in Kill la Kill, which also has an emphasis on family), and fanservice. After all, the trope "Gainaxing" gets its name from studio Gainax and its animation of bouncing breasts.

The word "fanservice" generally elicits binary reactions. People love it or hate its existence. As a woman, it's disappointing seeing your gender repeatedly objectified over and over for an assumed male audience. The term for this circumstance is "the male gaze," a concept Laura Mulvey introduced in her 1975 essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." The concept addresses imbalances in gender power and gender politics, specifically that women are objectified in film because heterosexual men are the ones producing, writing, directing, and filming the material. If at any point the camera is put into the perspective of a man, the male gaze has occurred. Usually when this happens, the viewer (also often assumed to be a heterosexual man) sees women in a passive role while the man is considered dominant and active. This creates imbalances in power, tipping control into the patriarchal male role (a system in which men hold political/social/familial power, actively excluding women from authority), thus subjugating women. To be objectified is to be treated passively, like an object. An objectified character is one who only has things happen to them. For example, in Gurren Lagann, Yoko Littner is often objectified for brief moments due to the animation directing attention to her breasts whether it be another character staring at them or the audience watching her lose her clothing (immediately followed by a shot of the two male characters gawking).

In Kill la Kill, main characters Ryuko and Satsuki wear uniforms that transform into skimpier versions that make them much stronger. They are literally weaponized femininity, something that is often seen in magical girl shows where the female characters use items/clothing gendered as female in fighting. Ryuko and Satsuki are at their strongest when they wear these kamui (often translated as "god robes").  Ryuko's kamui, named Senketsu (named for "blood"), forces itself on her in a scene that's made some rape survivors uncomfortable. Furthermore, when Ryuko wears Senketsu in the first few episodes, she is visibly embarrassed by the attention she receives. In the first several episodes, Ryuko is treated like an object. Even when the camera is not literally from the perspective of a man, viewers see an all-male audience getting worked up over Ryuko wearing Senketsu. This is played off as a comedic scene and normalizes the behavior of objectifying women.

By episode 3, Satsuki proclaims that she doesn't care what the masses think of her displaying her body, a message that many have taken to be body-positive and anti-slut shaming. That message is an important one. Media often tells women to be ashamed of their bodies and "preserve" their sexual behavior for "the right guy." Media and society also frequently blame women for instances of rape and sexual harrassment/abuse with questions like, "Well, what was she wearing?" Satsuki's acceptance of her body as her own is important, but it's equally important not to force sexuality onto others. Media plays into a double standard of telling women not to be sexual while all the while sexualizing women in society and in fiction. There's nothing wrong with Ryuko objecting to others undermining her for what she's wearing (against her will at first, which also brings up discussion of consent). Furthermore, Ryuko's weakness in strength due to her embarrassment tells women that they can only be strong if they sacrifice their rights to privacy and consent.

While I am of the belief that there is nothing inherently sexual about a person's body and that everyone should feel powerful about their bodies, society has repeatedly shamed women for their sexuality. Unsurprisingly, as a result many women are uncomfortable with showing their bodies. A better takeaway for people would be that we are powerful for our thoughts and actions rather than for how we look (clothes or no clothes).

Additionally, Ryuko is sexualized outside of wearing Senketsu. Ryuko befriends a girl and fellow classmate named Mako, and she begins living with Mako and her family, depicted as a dumb but lovable group. Mako's father, brother, and even sometimes their dog try to catch glimpses of Ryuko while she's changing or taking a bath. During one episode, Ryuko desperately needs their help to deliver her uniform to her, and each time the male members of the Mankanshoku are too distracted by Ryuko's body to help. They also try to peek on her in the bath, and in one scene Ryuko wakes up to find Mako's father breathing heavily on top of her after she was beaten up and left unconscious, alone. This may be a comedic gag meant to poke fun at the Mankanshokus' uselessness, but it also normalizes sexist behavior.

So, it's obvious that Ryuko and Satsuki are sexualized in Kill la Kill. With a show about clothing and (spoiler) specifically an alien force that can control clothing and enslave the human race (spoiler over), a lot of the characters are naked at some point. One group, named Nudist Beach opposes Satsuki and her army of powerful Goku uniforms. Nudist Beach's leader, (spoiler) Aikuro Mikisugi (spoiler over), receives the most teasing, as he frequently sheds his clothes and tries to act sexy for the camera. To make it even more over the top, his nipples and the region of his penis and testicles glow pink. They radiate pink. When he gets into a robot to fight, his butt hangs in the air. This goes for every other Nudist Beach member as well. The difference is that this is all done in a way to make the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of his fanservice. He also chooses to be naked. His agency is not taken away; therefore, he is not objectified in his fanservice. I think that no matter how Trigger tried to poke fun at the anime industry's fanservice, it just isn't going to break down rigid gender politics by doing more of the same -- but OVER THE TOP. Cultural history has placed women as the passive, weaker sex -- more akin to property than human beings, especially for working mothers in Japan (this is also a huge problem for American working mothers).

If it sounds like I'm ripping apart heterosexual men, don't get the wrong idea. If you are a heterosexual man (even moreso if you're white and cisgender), you have certain privileges in life that are not extended to people who do not fall in that category. This means that male employers may hire you over an equal female candidate based on unconscious biases (and people won't think you were hired because of your gender), much of history plays up your demographic's contributions while erasing minorities' contributions, you can walk outside without fear of someone shouting lewd comments at you, you can go to a mechanic and not have them talk down to you because of your gender, you're more likely to be taken seriously even if you're not conventionally attractive, you're more likely to see characters sharing your gender take up the majority of viewpoints in culture, and you can have sex and not be shamed for it. Before you go off and say, "Okay, I get it. I'm a straight man, so everything is obviously my fault," you should know that having privilege doesn't make you a bad person. Being unaware of your privilege is what's at fault, as is exploiting your privilege and turning a blind eye to it. This goes beyond the power dynamics of heterosexual, cisgender (people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) men vs. everybody else. Even within feminism, there are plenty of issues surrounding LGBTQA and women of color communities, as well as ideas founded on class. Back to the topic on hand, Kill la Kill treats the traditional exploitative thoughts of women as a joke, but for women who have had to put up with lifetimes of objectification and sexual harassment and abuse, the joke isn't funny because it's still objectifying women.

If you've stuck this far, I commend you. It probably sounds like I hate Kill la Kill. While the show fails to satirize fanservice in a way that subverts tradition, the plot is throttled forward by female characters. Ryuko and Mako have a wonderful friendship and are willing to put themselves in uncomfortable, dangerous situations to protect each other. Ryuko and Satsuki's dynamic also changes drastically from the beginning to the end of the series (crazy big spoiler, I'm warning you) once it's revealed they are actually sisters, and their mutual antagonist is their mother. In addition to their mom as the big baddie, Ryuko in particular has to face against Nui Harime, a fearsome and sadistic girl who works for Ragyo Kiryuin. (spoiler over) Within Satsuki's Elite Four are three men and one woman, all of whom admire and deeply respect Satsuki for various reasons. While all four are interesting characters individually, their role largely lies in supporting Satsuki. Action shows in shounen anime from Japan are generally directed at men. As such, the characters who shake up the plot in shounen series are male a significant majority of the time (think Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, Yu Yu Hakusho) while women occupy the supporting roles. This is completely flipped around in Kill la Kill. The men are now the ones with the less significant roles. They're important -- they're just not running the show.

Beyond the plot, the animation framing moves away from treating Ryuko as an object and starts portraying her and Satsuki in powerful poses. Action heroes, typically male, usually embody the "superhero pose" in which they square their shoulders, look directly at the viewer (or if not at the viewer, stare off-screen with an expression that exudes determination and activeness), and stand with their legs roughly shoulder-width apart. Female characters often do not receive the same treatment. Even when they are supposedly acting strong, they are depicted as passive or meek. (Compare that Black Widow poster to the one from The Avengers.) I was pleasantly surprised to see gripping fight sequences that showed two women fighting with their all... and they just happened to be wearing clothing that doesn't cover much of their bodies. No close-ups on breasts, no sexy panning shots, nothing that would give off a tone that undermined Ryuko and Satsuki. Even at the end of their respective transformation sequences, Ryuko and Satsuki give off an air of power and agency.

Unfortunately, later in the show, Satsuki loses her agency (and fortunately reclaims it later). This is portrayed through (spoilers, content warning) her mother's sexual abuse. Ragyo molests Satsuki in a "purification ritual" in the bath, gropes her, spanks her, and it's implied this has been going on for a very long time. Just after we see Satsuki triumph over her mother after the bath scene, Ragyo puts Satsuki in her place -- in a cage where she spanks her and runs her hands over her body. Satsuki remains a determined character and puts things back in motion by calling her Elite Four to action. Regardless, Satsuki is treated as an object in a sexual manner. (spoiler over) Character development does not have to be shown through sexual abuse; in fact, it's usually done in poor taste. That was the case in Kill la Kill. Each occurrence of familial sexual abuse mixed its signals of "this is wrong" and "this is kind of hot." Themes of rape and sexual abuse can be portrayed without mixing up signals. Unfortunately, Kill la Kill's already constant presence of fanservice means it has a lot of baggage to deal with. Mixed signals can be interesting (see Mirai Nikki/Future Diary and its character Yuno), but mixed signals of sexual abuse come off so, so wrong. What should have been purely a horrific scene gets mixed up in fanservice. The audience already knew this antagonist was clearly and objectively a bad person. Trigger could have shown her character's evil aspects without sexual violence. She could have invaded characters' personal space by standing too close, leaning in/over others, and placing her hand on Satsuki's shoulder or head. She could have talked in a patronizing manner. We know the character objectifies Satsuki, and as the audience we are supposed to be upset by this. Kill la Kill already toes a fine line between fanservice and sexual objectification of its strongest characters; when it comes to sexual violence, it's hard not to think about all the times the show has tried to elicit laughs at sexualization.

Sex doesn't sell. Degradation of women sells. Ideally, if I were to see fanservice depicted, it wouldn't diminish characters. These characters would be clearly expressing content. People have said Kill la Kill satirizes the anime industry's tendency to objectify women, but it's benefitting from the fanservice as much as any other anime would. (Anita Sarkeesian examines the idea of "ironic sexism" in video games and explains how they are a cheap excuse to feel okay about oppressive ideas because they do not "fundamentally change, challenge, or subvert" problematic tropes.) While it's true Kill la Kill is over the top and presents Ryuko and Satsuki as powerful women fighting for their own goals, it'd be naive to think Trigger won't be capitalizing on merchandise that objectifies the show's female characters. I think it's amazing that we have figurines that portray Ryuko akin to a typical shounen action hero, but I fear there will also be a fair share of merchandise focusing on Ryuko's close-to-naked body. Look at all of the merchandise of Yoko Littner from Gurren Lagann.

As far as my personal opinion on the show goes, I enjoyed watching Kill la Kill. Its twists and turns made the second half of the show particularly exciting to watch each week, and I loved watching the characters grow. The soundtrack's high-energy tunes are a blast to jam out to, and the rest of the music is just as wonderful. Its got a lot of comedy as well (comedy that isn't at the expense of female characters!). Unfortunately, it has some problematic aspects that dampened my enjoyment of the show at times, as some fanservice was at the expense of characters, and it was disrespectful of topics like sexual abuse. I'm split on Kill la Kill. I love its emphasis on female characters and how they lead the story, but certain scenes kicked me out of the high-energy mood and offended me.

If you're not turned off of Kill la Kill by reading this, I highly recommend you watch it. If what I've discussed makes you uncomfortable, it is equally acceptable to pass it by. As much as I enjoyed watching it, I've given it its fair share of head shakes.

Mawaru Penguindrum Review

Wildly hilarious, mind-numbingly complex, and brutally emotional. These are the three core things that make up Mawaru Penguindrum, an animated series (based off of the light novel series) that recently finished airing. It's been a few weeks since I collected my thoughts and--more importantly--my


after finishing this anime, and before I go into any depth, I'm throwing in the conclusion: You have to watch this. I don't care who you are or what kind of shows you usually like. You need to watch it.

The show starts off by introducing us to some of the most important characters of the show. Shoma, Himari, and Kanba live together as siblings independent from the rest of their family. On the outside, they look like normal kids. Unfortunately, Himari is very sick, and this has left the boys doting on her and doing everything they can to keep her healthy in mind and body. The trio go on a trip to the aquarium where we get to see lots of penguins. Himari even gets a cute penguin hat. Penguins are goddamn important.

She collapses, and just when all hope is lost, she suddenly comes back to life thanks to the penguin hat. Through the hat, the boys meet a woman who looks like Himari but acts nothing like her. She tells them that in order to save their sister's life, they need to find the Penguindrum.

IMAAAAAGIIIIIIIIIINE--wait, what the hell--

The beginning episodes start on a much lighter note than the second half of the series. The boys find out that a girl named Ringo from their school has the penguindrum. As they start stalking her, they learn more about her.

Namely that she's also a stalker--a legit stalker.

Camping-out-under-your-house-because-I-love-you kind of stalker.

The boys have to get as close to her as possible in order to find the penguindrum, which they suspect to be her diary. She goes on and on about fate and how it's


fate to marry their homeroom teacher. Curry is also serious business.

If this all sounds ridiculous, it's because it is. Mawaru Penguindrum is hilarious in the beginning. There are some weird moments, but you can't help laughing because "What is wrong with this girl?!"

The show becomes much more serious. Each episode expertly provides more information, but not enough to answer your questions. The more you know, the more you need to know. Characters are fleshed out through flashbacks and back stories, and each character has a story to tell. Everyone has conflict; no one is puppies and rainbows.

This goes double for Himari.

The second half of Mawaru Penguindrum is literally darker than the first. The art is more defined and there are fewer ridiculous faces thrown everywhere. While I was definitely not expecting the change, it felt so effortless. 

The art is beautiful. Especially in the second half, the viewer can really tell the artists

put a lot of work into the animation

. The music sets the mood and never felt out of place. Both openings are especially good, though it took some time for me to start liking the first opening song by Etsuko Yakushimaru. The endings change a few times, often to fit with the mood of that episode. Songs are both ridiculous and sad. Like everything in Mawaru Penguindrum, it is multi-faceted.

The story is extremely complex. With metaphors, symbolism, and archetypes at play, you're going to stumble through the plot. But you'll be stumbling with all of the different characters spinning in circles. You'll enjoy the ride--believe me.

Also, this anime has an amazing antagonist. Watch it for him.

Yes, I said



Another week, another Persona: Episode 4

As much as I love this series, and as much as I love watching the new episode every week, the pacing for this show is getting too predictable. One of the many great parts of the game was the immense amount of freedom coupled with the immense number of things to do. Yeahhh, you're supposed to save Yukiko. But come on--there's a soccer club! And you have your cute baby cousin and her not exactly responsible father to deal with. Where's the parts where Dojima starts getting suspicious of the main character's involvement in the murders case?

This is obviously easier to pull off in a game where you're largely controlling the pacing. In an anime, the pacing is set--you can't change it. And so now we're four episodes in. Four of the characters have personas, the new audience doesn't really understand the larger picture of this series, and so far the pacing has been static. In each episode, they run around fighting monsters, one of them obtains a persona, and they go home.

Fortunately, that should change with next week's episode. Several weeks will pass before the next attempted murder and this should give Yu Narukami a chance to start working on those social links! However, there's the chance of it feeling like a filler episode.

As much as I'm complaining, I do really enjoy this show. I just wonder if it's really bringing in new fans. If I hadn't played Persona 4 before, I would be a little lost and not entirely motivated to continue watching the show. And I have one more gripe.

What is up with the animation sometimes? (Click on the picture to truly see the fantastic quality of the animation.)

Though, I do like the added touch of the back of the Arcana card below Chie's feet. It's a nice addition.

As I mentioned last week, Persona 4 the Animation is doing a good job of bringing fresh content to the show. It's true to the storyline, but also includes helpful backstories so that we can understand the characters better. I understood the caged bird symbolism in the game, but we never actually knew that Yukiko kept a bird in her room because she wanted something else to be unable to escape.

Yes, suffer like I always have...

This week was largely about Yukiko--and to a lesser extent, Chie. Chie is one of my favorite characters from the game (my most favorite being Naoto--who I hope many others will love in the future), so I love the attention she's getting. Chie and Yukiko have been friends since they were kids (as evident by last week's episode) and their screentime was important for episodes 3 and 4. Their problems concerned the other--and the problems exacerbated because they didn't tell each other about them.


 And, as always, hipster glasses!

And...not quite hipster glasses.