Over at Journalista, Dirk very kindly joins the roundtable discussion. More specifically, he thunders his fist down upon our placid roundtable and accuses us all of being insufficiently mellow:
I must confess that it’s a bit weird reading multiple reviews of the series from people who don’t sound as though they’ve enjoyed many quiet moments in their lives. That sounds like a value judgment, but that’s kinda the impression I’ve gotten this week. None of these reviews found the critics connecting the work to anything in their own experiences, which tells me that the stories didn’t work for them the way Hitoshi Ashinano intended them to work.
Alternate theory: My own perspective is off-kilter by comparison, and I shouldn’t be so goddamned presumptuous. I suppose the reason that I enjoy YKK so much is that I spent a great deal of my childhood outdoors — and since I’m from Arizona, “outdoors” meant “way out in the middle of the fucking desert.” …..
The need to get out and wander has never really left me. I recall one of the ways that I pulled myself out of my post-adolescent funk was to grab a thermos, a pipe and a bag of marijuana and jump into the car around 1AM. I’d drive up to Flagstaff, stop at a convenience store and fill the thermos with coffee; then I’d get back on the highway and keep driving until I was in the middle of Monument Valley, where I’d pour a cup, light up and wait for the sun to rise. I did this three or four times in the space of six months. It was glorious.
Dirk has me dead to rights, at least; I’ve never really smoked pot. (Though Pink Floyd was my favorite band for a while back there…so maybe that counts.)
More seriously…it is true that landscape as such doesn’t play a huge, huge role in my childhood memories in quite the way Dirk describes. My most important meditative recollections involve, not looking quietly at the desert, but thrashing repetitively through the water — I was on a swim team for much of the time I was growing up, and the sense of isolation, of time as elastic, and of connection to a very physical reality which was also spiritual is probably my closest analogue to the kind of romantic sublime that Dirk (and many others) link to contemplating nature.
So is it because I lack the requisite personal experience that I’m not as into YKK as Dirk? I don’t know…I tend to mistrust the kind of aesthetic argument that says “if you’d only been there, you’d understand.” Experience does shape one’s aesthetic responses — but aesthetic responses also, and perhaps even more thoroughly, shape experience. Which memories define you and which get forgotten or seem less important — obviously that’s partly out of your hands, but I think there’s some dialogue there as well. If you’re going to admit free will at all, you’ve got to leave room for the possibility that you make your memories, not just that your memories make you.
Anyway, where I’m going with this is that, to me, it seems like the issue isn’t necessarily what experiences we have or haven’t had, but how we see YKK intersecting with those experiences, and what it seems to be saying about that. And in that context, I think the important factor may not necessarily, or only, be where we’ve lived, but what our ideology is. Which is to say, Dirk’s a good bit more conservative than the rest of us in this conversation, and I think that may matter a fair bit. Bill’s explicit about this when he says of YKK that:
I find it reactionary. Compared to other manga like Hanashippanashi (TCJ #280), which deals with the tensions between a feel for nature and actually living in Japan, YKK feels like a retreat. It’s a fantasy of a return to simpler times and does away with urban complexities with a flood.
Miriam’s less direct, but what she calls her mild “impatience” with the book seems to have at least something to do with feminism and with the portrayal of the main robot female character. Tom’s too; as he says in his post “Fulfilled fantasies tend to be banal and that goes for fantasy girls. Alpha’s a mannequin doll who’s there to make the old guys feel good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a limiting thing.” Certainly for me, at least, the way the romanticized past seems to hinge on the infantilization and (literal) objectification of the female lead is one thing that makes it hard for me to embrace the series fully. (I had similar problems with the similarly nostalgic Ugetsu; though, as I said in my own post on YKK, I also have at least some sympathy for reactionaries.)
LIke Dirk, I don’t want to be presumptuous. I don’t necessarily think that politics wholly determines aesthetic reaction any more than experience does. Moreover, I have a healthy respect for Dirk’s politics in general and for his take on gender issues in particular, not to mention for his understanding of manga. I’m much more inclined to read more of YKK knowing that it’s Dirk’s favorite series ever I was before he said that. But I do think one reason for, at least, my relative lack of enthusiasm is that, whatever my flirtations with C.S. Lewis, I find YKK’s determined idealization of a conservative traditionalism hard to swallow without at least a couple of murmurs of protest.
In comments to Miriam’s post, Derik B says that Alpha avoids the fantasy/girl trope. I think what he means by that is that she doesn’t have a relationship or isn’t explicitly sexualized. I’m not sure that that would really allay my concerns entirely, though. There are different stripes of fantasy girls; some like the subservient sexual plaything, others prefer the idealized eternal innocent. I can believe the book avoids the first, but I have trouble, giving what I’ve read and later plot summaries, that it avoids the second.
Though I should probably read more before I crawl further out on that limb…not that I usually let mere ignorance stop me, but still….
Update: Bill and Derik both have thoughtful responses in comments, so be sure to scroll down….