“What’s up on earth?”: casual reflections of a first-time MCU marathoner

“What’s up on earth” is a favorite narmy subtitle in the bootleg copy of Inuyasha I watched during my newbie anime viewing years. The sub was for the phrase “いったい何があった!” and variations thereof. They are exclamations approximating “What the hell happened here?” or “What’s going on?”, often indicating the shit’s hit the fan and no one’s getting out clean. It came to mind last month when I was catching up (finally) with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and being struck by the stark contrast between earth-bound and other-planetary beings particularly when it came to the matter of feelings. Because, well, what’s up on earth that we’re doing them so wrong?

I’d already seen and loved Guardians of the Galaxy prior to this latecomer marathon, though it felt so different from my impression of western superhero comics I didn’t even associate it with Marvel. What completely caught me off-guard was how much I’d love Thor. In retrospect, my fondness for the former should have prepared me for it. Both films play on otherworldly sensibilities, tapping into its potential for situational humor (Thor‘s fish-out-of-water setup and Guardian‘s displaced earthling scenario) and theatrical outlandishness (read: perfection). More impressively, both portray characters who are fully present with their emotions, even when they can be deceptive or distrustful in other ways (*cough* Loki).

Compare this to the angsty brooding hero complexes of the emotionally unstable Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America and I think we get a glimpse of some of that good ole modernity thing that happened on earth. These are grown men suffering from PTSD and anxiety, not managing their pain or their needs, and continually making really bad decisions, individually and collectively. Instead of turning to trusted resources (as Thor does in Avengers: Age of Ultron) or to one another (as the Guardians of the Galaxy learn to do time and again), they stall, allowing themselves to be blind-sighted by the emotions they deny or repress while innocents, including their colleagues and those who they purport to protect, bear the consequences of their subsequent poor judgment. These heroes inconsistently lean on institutions (in the name of “law and order”) no matter how many times institutions fail to be the answer to anything (see: S.H.I.E.L.D.).

I love it when one of Rocket’s outbursts disrupts the plot or flow of a scene and the film just let’s him have it, leaves it be. He gets to be angry when he’s triggered. He gets to mourn when he’s sad. It warms my heart that Groot’s existence is inexplicable and yet so many viewers’ understanding of his warmth and kindness feels self-evident. It moves me that Thor’s intelligence is emotional, reflects an ability to openly love. It makes his instincts honest. There is no drama of ego when his loss of power prevents him from fighting the Destroyer. He prioritizes evacuating civilians and entrusts the containment of the enemy to his friends. It’s both telling and also hopeful that these non-human beings are somehow more in touch with their humanity than we earthlings often prove to be.


english rendition ofトモダチメートル by The Super Ball

Deadlines loom, but I apparently needed to get this out of my system. This is the OP from my favorite show this season, The Morose Mononokean (不機嫌なモノノケ庵), and it has been stuck in my head all week, so I just gave in and got to lyric-ing and English-ing.

As far as shower jams go, it fits right into my playlist of songs of unrequited or one-sided yearning. It also resonates with the series’ theme of teetering in that mystifying space of uncertainty between two worlds: one familiar and one unknown. The distance between the two may feel frightening–it is, in fact, more ambiguous and promising than one might imagine.

Anyway, you can follow along with this video, if that’s your thing. I referenced lyrics from this site in my translation.

Tomodachi Meetoru (Friend Meter)

OP to Fukigen na Mononokean
song and lyrics by The Super Ball

Sometimes I find myself wondering
How you see me in your heart.
Even though I know full well
The two-word answer is “a friend.”

Whenever it’s just the two of us
I’m all smiles before I realize.
But a sharp pain in my chest tells me
My heart strains to keep up the act.

No, I don’t want us to stay as we are
But it’s better than not being with you at all.
Somehow I can’t seem to smile today.
My cheeks, they feel a bit funny.

With just one step forward,
The distance we keep between us would shrink,
But it’s maddening that I can’t see
What lies beyond that closeness.

If I take just one step forward, surely,
There’ll be no turning back to now
So, for today, I’ll keep my feelings to myself.
Ah, I’m such a pathetic wimp.

Whenever we’re walking together
I’m a few steps behind before I realize.
It’s hard to face your profile straight on,
Try as I might.

You ask me what is wrong,
I say that everything is fine.
I’m sorry. Words are failing me
And my tear ducts, they feel kinda funny.

It’s better if we stay this way forever,
Maintain this distance; that’d be nice.
But how can I believe that’s true
When you’re the only one I see?

In order to take that one step forward,
I’ll have to be a much stronger person
Or else I’ll likely fall apart–
Ah, I’m such a pathetic liar.

Like the twilight visible through the clouds
You’re a brilliant orange that lights the hollows of my heart.
Even if there’s no way out, my feelings remain true.

With just one step forward,
The distance we keep between us would shrink,
But it’s maddening that I can’t see
What lies beyond that closeness.

If I take just one step forward, surely,
There’ll be no turning back to now
So, for today, I’ll keep my feelings to myself.
Ah, I’m such a pathetic wimp.

we are family: anime sons and character fandom

Like many things in my life, it started as a joke.

I was in Asia for research, hanging out with cousins about 10 years my junior. They shared their room with me, lending me their youngest sister’s bed, and busted out their stash of BL from the bottom of a box of manga (an almost secret they kept from their mom). I called them my research assistants, still do. They accompanied me to comics libraries and fan conventions, invited their friends over to show me their manga and dojinshi collections. Over tea and cake, shopping and snacking, we rode the energy of our collective reading histories, chatting through habits we’d developed in naming, loving, and longing.

“She’s a fan of Prussia,* too,” my cousin gestured towards me while addressing a friend she’d invited over. I supposed this was how we were meant to start building a conversation. Instead, her friend put one hand over her heart and dramatically pointed a finger from the other at me.

“Love rival!” she accused.


It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but I guess it was not really a way I tended to relate to characters, at least not then or now. In high school, I once harbored a long drawn out crush on Marlon Brando after watching him play Mark Antony in Julius Caesar (I was terribly fascinated with Plutarch’s Lives and Shakespeare’s Roman plays for whatever reason). I read his autobiography and celebrated his birthday. Friends gifted me with old posters of him they found sitting in frames for sale at flea markets. There was one of him on a bike wearing a peaked hat (from The Wild One) I remember especially fondly. I’m sure I tried at least on one occasion to buy a hat that resembled it. I wish I could say it feels like worlds ago, but it’s more like it was the 90s and no one else cared so I never got to test how I would feel if another zealous fan showed up.

The moment passed, we exchanged books and sweets, they told me about their favorite artists and what events they planned to attend over the summer. Afterwards, I admitted to my cousins that I’d never thought about the appropriate way to follow up on being accused of liking the same character in love triangle fashion. How did I relate to characters, then, they wondered? I quipped, “Well, I don’t know about Prussia, but…there are a bunch of characters I refer to as ‘my son.'”


After having a good laugh about that, we predictably started going through the names of faves and sports brats to determine if they were sons (mostly Aomine and Haru, in my case) or not (for me, Levi).  Then, in familiar fan friend fashion, they introduced me to a work where they suspected I’d find yet another (see Araba Seri below).

This idea of 2D sons–while something I hear often enough in the western anime fan circles to whose edges I’ve somewhat attached myself (and that, I suspect, consist largely of women in their late twenties or older)–was in turn refreshing and bizarre enough to my cousins as well as other fangirls I met and talked to in Asia that, through our conversations, I started making up rules and criteria in my mind for who was and was not a son. For instance, I set a personal limit of one son per series, just to have some vague parameter (Shusei Kagari became an honorary son when I was testing this as a search function). Sometimes, I’d claim a character who shared resonances with others I call son (Mikoshiba Mikoto and Tanakakun can stay for dinner any time they like). Sometimes, it’s about the particular affect associated with my feelings for the character, whether it’s “protect this child at all costs,” “can I adopt you?” or “there’s just no way I didn’t birth this fool.” All my sons help me externalize hatred I was taught to have for certain aspects of myself because they are, as we all are, perfect.

Earlier this year, two things happened.

First, I met Killua Zoldyck who filled my heart with so much light the joke finally collapsed on itself and I was left with nothing but fond feelings for the miracle of life (lol). Then, as is wont to happen with fannish topics, the idea of 2D sons got unnecessarily concrete during an excited transnational Skype conversation with a fangirl friend and I felt compelled to make a definitive list for her.

When I sat down to compile the list, it was actually much easier than I’d thought it would be. I allowed myself twelve names, a nice round number, that I knew would begin with Tamaki and end with Killua. Then, I let my heart sort out the rest. To describe the process: I imagined my heart as a house and tried to picture the characters who inhabit it, the family I’d been building in my mind somewhere, the futures I want to cherish and watch over.

So that’s that. I present to you the semi-guided list of anime sons, a shorter version of which can be found on tumblr.

*a character from Axis Powers Hetalia (2006- , Himaruya Hidekaz)

Suoh Tamaki 須王 環 (Ouran High School Host Club桜蘭高校ホスト部)

I met Tamaki during my first year as a PhD student when I realized–not in class, but by watching anime–that gag comedy expresses so much that is true and wrong and poignant about the world. Tamaki is such a special, lonely flower. I’m just happy he’s so well-loved.

Yamana Shunpei 山名 春平 (Elektel Delusion,  妄想エレクテル)

This clueless bb is not the first nor will he be the last misguided youth to suffer from “no one to talk to about gay.” It’s far from a graceful process, but I’m glad he leads with his heart (because the BL is certainly not helping lol).

Mihashi Ren 三橋 廉 (Big Windup!, おおふり)

Do you know what it’s like to love something with so much of yourself that you can’t help moving towards it even under incredibly uncomfortable and adverse circumstances? Mihashi does. He the softest, most solid rock. I carry him in my pocket always.

Aomine Daiki 青峰 大輝 (Kuroko’s Basketball, 黒子のバスゲー**)

He’s the guy I wanna punch whenever I look in the mirror. I’m like stop being so handsome and silly. Except don’t.

Araba Seri 新葉 芹 (Shonen yo! Tanbi wo egake!, 少年よ! 耽美を描け!)

Araba is fandom meta fail. He’s going through all the right motions, but getting nothing right. It’s okay, Xin Ye. We all have those days when we take a look around and think, “what in the world am I doing with my life?” only to plow on, instead, with the force of “sorry. not sorry.” Fake it til you make it, son. I’m here with you all the way.

Nanase Haruka 七瀬 遥 (Free!, 腐リー**)

From the animeland of characters with the beautiful names hails Haru who loves water and wants nothing but to swim free(style). He’s too precious for this world, but he braves it anyway to be with his friends. *throws all the joyful feely emojis at him and watches him blink back…slowly*

Miyuki Kazuya  御幸 和也 (Ace of Diamond, ダイヤのA)

All my sons fill me with pride and wonderment, but the way this one carries himself is downright ridiculous. Watching him, I find myself overcome with awe (b/c whaaaa) and disbelief (b/c what). Basically, I’m his biggest, most embarrassing fan…the one crying and laughing in the stands.

Hinata Shoyo 日向 翔陽 (Haikyu!!, ハイキュー!!)

Uwuoooooohhhh! My sunshine from another planet. May he always be such a beautiful and joyful unknown.

Shin-ah シンア (Yona of the Dawn, 暁のヨナ)

It is his instinct to minimize harm and hold what warmth he is given. He possesses the most patient and steadfast kindness. I know he doesn’t need much, but I can’t help but want everything for him.

Hikigaya Hachiman 比企谷八幡 (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU!, 俺ガイル)

He understands how deeply other people can cut into the way we feel about ourselves. I ❤ his self-love. Keep doing your thing, bb. Togetherness is hard, but you got this. I got you.

Inugami Saburo 犬神 三郎 (Wagatsun,  わが家の長男ツンデレ社長、通称わがツン)

No one has to be useful. No one’s existence has to make sense. Saburo is perfect. He’s also part human, part squid alien (no apparent zoological relation to squid). If you know anything about me and squid, then you understand why we were meant to be, really.

Killua Zoldyck キルア・ゾルディック (Hunter x Hunter, ハンターxハンター)

I know everyone thinks their youngest is an angel; Killua is terrifyingly human. He’s a child fighting to remake the world against trauma, against fear, and with a modest wish for connection. For every tear he sheds, an angel stops making clouds or music or dreams or whatever it is they do and appears to smack some sense into the world. He my wishful beating heart, the “here goes…” of carrying on.
 **not the actual Japanese titles

look, Rin! it’s the food shipping post!

This post is dedicated to my friend, Rin, who has always shared an appreciation for the ways food, as an every day occurrence, can be imbued with storytelling magic.

Years back, when we were both living in a dreary New England college town jumping through PhD qualification requirement hoops at our dreary New England school, she would show up at my door through metaphorical and real snow with cute ass “coals” such as these to warm my soul:

米:ね、ね、ラブレターだと思っていいよね?  英:う-‐うるさいな

This non-smartphone quality image captured circa 2012, aside from telling on my resistance to new technology, does not quite do justice to the earl grey lemon curd muffin she lovingly explained represented a certain Hetalia ship we both–as American educated persons born in British crown colonies–found resonated as a metaphor for certain cultural experiences. One of these was partaking in fish n’chips, shepherds pie, and beef stew at the local pubs run by immigrants and expats from the UK.

Aside from this, Hetalia-jokes also often provided happy premises for gathering. There was a period of time when Rin would carry over elaborately crafted Austrian-style cakes made by a friend who frequently borrowed her kitchen to practice his training in Southeast Asian pastry schools (there is no end of conversations that can be had about the culinary results of foreign and imperial presence in the Asian countries familiar to us by home and by research association). Tea time became a spontaneous tradition of which Roderich would approve. Once, I confessed to a senpai my fondness for Roderich’s nemesis Gilbert, the cartoon personification of Prussia in the series. She immediately offered to come over and teach us how to make Prussian meatballs, a recipe passed down to her through in-laws, and my apartment became a place for hosting dinners for a small group of women scholars in the program.

We embraced the feeds-my-belly-feeds-my-soul worldview of Yoshinaga Fumi’s works. While braving general exams, first teaching jobs, heartache, and living in an environment of anxiety and elitism, we shared meals rounded with miso soup inspired by Kakei Shiro’s cookery in Kino nani tabeta? (What did you eat yesterday?). Shitamachi, the old downtown area of Tokyo featured in Giant Killing, inspired the addition of oden and other shibui elements (such as shochu) to dinner party menus. Its mom-and-pop shops, small-town amusements, and yatai (food stalls) would become the subsequent site of many a pilgrimage during visits to Japan.

When I took my first steps towards field research in Japan, we laughed and ate our ways through conference woes and awkward Japanese conversations with scholars. We had soba in Kyoto in honor of Katsura and countless parfaits in family restaurants as tribute to his less uptight friend-in-arms Gintoki. It was in Ikebukuro, the furusato (hometown) of anime/comics/games fangirls, that she introduced me to two lovely and shibui women who are now close mutual friends. Their first social gathering had taken place in the dim-sum restaurant featured in Ai ga nakute mo kutte yukemasu! (More than love, food has made me so happy!) and we have revisited the site many times since in various permutations of togetherness.


I honestly don’t remember much of my years spent in that dreary New England town, but I do always recall sitting down with you and talking and laughing (sometimes to keep from crying) and eating and celebrating everything and god knows what with immeasurable fondness. I revisit the light of those moments every now and then in order to remember the joy and connection with which I embarked on this lonely enterprise. I know not where this enterprise will lead me in short-term or long-term futures, but remain happy that it brought us together and that it continues to link our journeys, how ever geographically far apart we may be.

A very Happy Birthday to you, friend. As we face our demanding presents, I hope that sharing food and stories continues to be a powerful form of comfort, self-care, and healing. Holding on to that rain check on fish n’ chips and stew–or whatever strikes our fan(tas/)cies–for whenever we next reunite.



old meta: pacific rim (2013)

backposting a bit today to clear out the cobwebs that have been sitting in my file folders. i just started a post on an older but more recently watched scifi/fantasy film that moved me, which reminded me that i’ve been meaning to post this somewhere in life. might as well be here. this was written in spring of 2014, when i first watched the film, with revisions along the way.

The dynamic of the white hero and his loved ones in the typical Hollywood disaster film usually follows the following trajectory: regular joe rises to the occasion by combining an ability to think outside the box (read: break rules and protocol designed for collective safety) and claim the authority to risk or at least learn from the sacrifices of others’ lives (presented as less significant to narrative, but, also, overwhelmingly, coded as some combination of unattractive, old, poor, criminal, black, disabled, queer, femme, POC) to the benefit of his particular in-group. The pacing and plotting accommodates their at times perilous progress towards salvation, dramatized by sacrifice/loss of aforementioned others and technically embellished acts of what amounts to good fortune and amazing breaks. Without much regard to contextual specificity for anyone (including the white characters), it ultimately affirms the value of white life and the struggles of a good, white family as a stand-in for the universal struggles of humanity. tl;dr: no thanks.

There are doubtless tons of things that can and have been said about Pacific Rim (2013, dir. Guillermo del Totoro Toro) in terms of the way it draws on histories of non-western genres (mecha, kaiju) and plays with them through an international, mostly non-western storytelling sensibility. These are all things I appreciate and that no doubt play a role in why I liked the following three narrative moments and choices:

“that’s my son you got there”

Let’s just start with the gut-wrencher, shall we? Can I just say that I love that parent-child relationships in this movie are not normative, homogeneous nuclear family units nor are they coded as performances of stereotypical third world “authenticity” (i.e. emotionally constipated working class/Asian/trauma-ridden family). Communication is difficult because it requires work and conditions of forced intimacy–whether via state sanctioned normativity, tribal dynamics, cohabitation, or being uncomfortably in each other’s heads in order to pilot mecha robots–do not necessarily make that work easier.

The Hansens are a white family with specificity built into their characterizations and relationship. I like how their story, especially in the scene of this line’s utterance, dispenses with the whole “older generation must sacrifice for the younger generation” thing. Who ends up in that Jaegar in the end is treated as a matter of circumstance; it is not over-romanticized or dramatized. Neither are we encouraged to read it as this redemptive act for the younger Hansen, aka the jerk character (as if the only ways jerk characters can redeem themselves and become likable are through life-sacrificing heroic acts…I mean, no one is obligated to give a toxic personality the time of day, but it would see to me more appropriate–not to mention humane and effective–for one’s redemption be “and then he stopped being a jerk”–as is in this case–instead of “and then he died.” no?). His behavior is never affirmed or actively enabled by the people around him; it’s mostly tolerated, as if they know that there’s a backstory and try to treat him with compassion. His father mediates his relationships with others around him because he must understand this and feels responsible for it. I can only imagine how strange it must be to share what he does with his parent. The way he’s seen right through by Stacker at the end feels like a merciful diffusion of the tension surrounding that relationship.

And that is why this moment damn near killed me. At this point, I’d pretty much forgotten that they were father and son. The daily strain of their relationship did not remind me of a typical way that dynamic plays out: that is, estrangement, abandonment, or abuse fueled by cisheteropatriarchal values. Their dog–a mutual companion to whom they can manifest care in general and for one another–and Stacker are there to help them mediate the things that are still too true for either of them to say or hear, because neither impending death nor apocalyptic warfare can quite undo the fact of how shared head-space has made their relationship unnaturally “equal.” When the older Hansen says, “that’s my son you got there” to Stacker, it’s also for his son’s ears. It’s the only chance he has to re-claim a bit of their relationship as father and son, which has been hijacked by the needs of the resistance. To me, this is, in many ways, a more subtle and poignant acknowledgment of sacrifice.

“do not touch me” and “it’s not obedience; it’s respect”

In other words, shut up, white boy.

So, can we talk about how POC are portrayed in this film? We have a black man in charge, a woman of color as the lead, neither of which allow the main character to patronize them, AND they are in a multi-racial family relationship together.

Aside from rocking the commander look, Stacker proves to be a resourceful and effective leader without being either inhumane or inhuman. When the higher ups try to bullshit him with capitalist demands (we threw money at problem; why problem not solved?), he reminds them that it’s his men who are paying the price of their misapprehensions of the situation. When they withdraw his funding anyway, he brokers with underground organizations to keep the project going. As in the last scene discussed, he evaluates and engages his soldiers as human beings, not pawns. He is not above partnering with one of them if it is what he has to do and can do so without airs, staring death in the eye, and STILL say exactly what everyone needs to hear–which, not surprisingly, is also exactly what is true. Remember “we are cancelling the apocalypse”? Pithy, precise call to concrete action.

As a black character miraculously not stripped of his humanity, he is not impartial or unfeeling, a point that becomes obvious in his relationship with Maki. This, however, is also not treated demonstratively or in a showy way and, as part of his private life, is not something he feels he needs to make public or explain. The scene where he tells Becket to back the hell off when Becket tries to get into his head and run his show is one of the most powerfully staged confrontations between a black man and a white man I have seen on screen. He says in no uncertain terms that Becket does not get to know him, that he should stop stepping on his boundaries, and that he should watch his own shit instead of walking around telling a superior officer, the head of this whole damn operation, how to do his job.

Later, when Becket and Maki are given a second chance, it isn’t set up to happen after everyone’s been wiped out (an “i told you so” trope often used to legitimize the “rule-breaking” tendencies of the main-characters) and they’re our last hope are whatever (although the Russians and Chinese are conveniently made long & terrible example of–go democracy!); it is because the energy their older model suit uses is best matched to hold up against the enemy’s destructive capacities (the whole nuclear power thing and how it is situated in this mess is a whole other aspect of this movie I am not expert enough to comment on).

Boundary-drawing and non-complicity with white nonsense is also emphasized in Becket’s interactions with Maki. Although Becket does make some moves that create opportunities for her to be selected as his co-pilot, she never jumps on his boat of enthusiasm or overstates her thanks. She doesn’t give him any more access to Stacker’s secrets than what drifting with him reveals of it in her own past, nor does she betray her relationship with Stacker on his behalf. There is one moment, one of the first times he tries to confront her about what’s up with Stacker, that he kind of gets into her space and oversteps with his words. This makes me kind of uncomfortable because it clearly makes her uncomfortable. The next time he tries to corner her this way, she looks him dead in the eye and says, “it’s not obedience; it’s respect.” In other words: don’t shoot your mouth off about shit you don’t understand, especially by assuming that I follow the orders of my commanding officer and father-figure because I’m timid and am trapped by a system of order you assume does not apply to you.

The amazing thing is, in this movie, Becket learns. For me, this is probably the most moving part of his journey and transformation, the most convincing basis of his developing relationship with Maki. At the end of the movie, he no longer reacts to Stacker’s orders with bravado. This time, instead, he pulls Maki back when she loses sight of the mission and reminds her that they need to respect Stacker’s decisions. When he gives her his oxygen, it is also not portrayed as a dramatic gesture. He downplays the act, assuring the unconscious heroine, “all i have to do is fall…anyone can fall.”

And their relationship brings me to the wonderful fact of…

NO UST!!!!! NO PDA!!!!!

Oh my god, thank you, thank you, an action movie that resists every opportunity to sex things up for the male gaze. This is something that so many mecha series can’t even resist, especially with all the pitfalls of “syncing” or “joining parts” or, in this case, “drifting” that comes with the territory. (I mean, come on. Post-apocalyptic worlds don’t exactly strike me as offering a buffet of opportunities for sexy, sexy fun times, right?)

I mean, it’s fine for two characters on screen to have sexual attraction for one another, but it’s not overdetermined here. The Maki-Becket fight is about compatibility of something else…brainwaves. or something…ok, so I don’t know really about the science of drifting, but it seems to be about some kind of instinctive connection and trust, not necessarily about attraction or one-upmanship (which is often the basis of UST). It’s about letting the other face your entire exposed self and to trust they will not judge, not fixate, but just let it pass over them and be (this is also why Becket using what he sees in the drift to confront Stacker is kind of a dick move). It becomes something that sits in the space between you. It’s intimate, but it does not necessarily mean understanding and it most definitely does not mean ownership.

And then there is the whole survival aftermath, when Maki busts Becket out of the pod and, for a moment, thinks he’s dead. When he comes back, when they realize neither of them have been lost, they don’t engage in some long, tongue-y make-out session (which #a. the film doesn’t set up and #b. ugh–boring). They rest their foreheads against the other’s. They hold each other.

scene: You’re here. I’m here. I’m so glad.

me: How. Incredibly. Refreshing.

Maybe they’re bracing each other. I mean, mentally, they’re probably as shocked as they are relieved and the losses that got them to this place are about to hit them like a ton of bricks. Physically, they’ve just gone to hell and back and lost tons of oxygen in the process. The adrenalin’s gotta wear off soon and I’m sure that there will be intense fatigue, if not pain, involved.

Also, maybe they are not romantically involved–certainly not at this point, but maybe not ever. Maybe they’ll learn to be friends that support one another in the aftermath of survival, as former partners who shared a whole lot in ways that they may never be able to share with anyone else. Maybe they’ll drift apart and have their own lives and sometimes meet up with their old resistance friends. Maybe they’ll both help lead relief and recovery efforts and fall in love and raise a bunch of multi-racial babies, some with blue-streaked hair. Or, they’ll adopt kids and old people who were left alone in the crisis and care for them, platonically and/or with other life partners (and/or their gay neighbors Newton and Gottlieb). Who knows?

The point is, outside of Hollywood, there is more than one possibility and it’s in a future that this movie’s proceedings has not only ensured, but also left open.

english rendition of ツキアカリ (tsukiakari) by Rie Fu

Eh, let’s do some song lyrics today. I started translating this a million years ago while watching Darker than Black. Especially given the largely angst-filled interpersonal space of the show, I found the private hope and quiet wistfulness of the theme to be comforting. It’s no secret I’m weak to contemplative and meditative voices in wordy, difficult love. To this end, I think the variation and repetition of moon imagery in the lyrics also have a lovely effect. In short, it’s still a go-to shower jam. lol.

The track can be found here and a video of a live performance here. Rie Fu has apparently spent parts of her childhood in English-speaking contexts so, while it’s not uncommon at all for English to appear in j-pop, her use of it often fits into the song with bilingual fluidity (see also “Life is Like a Boat” of Bleach ED fame). I like multilingualism and, even without near or native fluency, the idea of different languages as extensions–rather than translations–of sensibilities, so I don’t indicate lines sung in English in any special way. There’s only one such line here anyway and you can listen along (or ask) if you’d like to know which.

Tsukiakari (Moonlight)

ED1 to Darker than Black (黒の契約者)
Song and lyrics by Rie Fu

In the blue, in the blue, blue sky
I turn on the light of the moon.
It’s sweet, it’s effervescent, and it’s deep–
I suppose I am taken with such things.

And underneath this moonlight, unknown to any soul,
I call out your name and your name alone.
Always I’ve been searching for the future
Within this light.

For as long as I’ve been beside you
I have always had the feeling
The strength we believed in was creating movement
In things even far, distant, and frail.

So underneath this moonlight, unknown to any soul,
I call out your name and your name alone,
Trusting these understated feelings of love
Bathed in this light.

On nights like these when everything feels just beyond my grasp,
There isn’t a moment when you’re not in my thoughts.
There isn’t a day I don’t think about it…
How I hope the feelings in my wandering heart can someday reach you.

Underneath this moonlit sky, you called out my name.
Of course I come to see you, no matter where you are,
To be by your side.

Bathed in the moonlight, not a flicker in your eyes,
You quietly fixed your gaze upon mine.
So long I’ve been searching for a future with you
Within this very light.

“it’s been a long time…

…we shouldn’t have left you/without a dope beat to step to”

So Timbaland opens “Try Again,” Aaliyah’s lead single for the soundtrack of 2000 film Romeo Must Die, in which she stars with martial arts movie star Jet Li.

The video features copious amounts of reflective & backlit surfaces, romantic wall-walking, and Corey Yuen’s martial arts stylings weaving between and within intricate, understated dance choreography. It also includes some lovely wining by the late great diva.

I admittedly haven’t seen the film (at least not in its entirety), but I’ve always enjoyed its existence and this video as part of a long history of intersections between Black and Asian creativity, one that, while certainly riddled with racism and appropriation, has also, at times, been blessed with innovation and collaboration.

In college, I joined and helped run a dance company where I reinterpreted the video of “Try Again” for a stage number. As one of the Asian members of the group, and someone who had spent many years learning Chinese folk dance, I tried to incorporate martial arts and Chinese folk dance elements into Monternez Rezell’s choreography. It was a lot of fun.

The group was founded by black students and featured “dances of the African diaspora,” namely, African, Latin, jazz, dancehall, and hip hop. On a campus that, at the time, still had closed support groups for students of color, it was a space where issues of social justice and politics of difference found articulation and mediation through collective participation in the arts. It was no utopia of black, brown, yellow and white. As expected of any space where people get together to work on a thing, there was drama as hell…but, I’ve learned in retrospect and also through the friendships I’ve kept that there is a particular bond that gets forged when you inhabit space and rhythm together, experience one another’s bodies and beings through movement, vision, and storytelling.

Dance was something I was surprised to let go of when I started grad school. It felt like there was no time to be managed and no avenue leading to spaces I had grown to find familiar (i.e. not mostly white or straight). I was in the Midwest, where the shift in the way I was received in public space taught me, for the first time experientially, the significance of identifying as Asian American. There were so few of us, so many came from refugee rather than immigrant backgrounds, my department was mostly international Asians, and people stared and talked to me like I was alien (“you speak English real good” etc.). I joined up and even co-ran, for a semester, the Asian grad students group. The summer after my first year, some friends from there took me to–not polka, which is all I got when I chanced to ask some long-time locals about the dance scene, but–salsa night. There was salsa and bachata, merengue and reggaeton, black and brown bodies alive and on beat. It was a glorious time.

Then I went on to more school in New England, where the experience can pretty much be summed up by the following description in Kurahashi Yumiko’s “Partei” (1960), which appears in English in This Kind of Woman (1982), an anthology of works by Japanese women writers translated and edited by Yuriko Tanaka and Elizabeth Hansen:

“…for the time being I had no hope, and I was doing nothing more than scratching at a frozen sky in the midst of starless darkness, trying to leave some streaks of light there. I could not believe for a minute that these streaks would lead to the possibility of revolution. I believed only that the organization that limited my freedom also gave me freedom I could not have attained myself.” (12-13)

The first few years, I roomed with a childhood friend from the Chinese folk dance ensemble I’d been in. I went to a few of the martial arts classes she took up to stay connected to the movement vocabulary we’d both grown up with. I attended one social gathering on campus where my attempts to dance (on the dance floor) were met with wide-eyed disbelief and respectable frowns. (There might have been Zumba later, long after I’d started this blog. Lol.)

I guess this is all to say my long hiatus from this space has been filled with many processes that mostly involve recovering and retrieving myself from the fictional ruins of postwar and contemporary modernity (to be only a bit dramatic). And, well, dance is one strain of that narrative that has tended to give me life rather than destroy me.

As with many things that fell by the wayside, I feel inclined to pick up here where I left off. At the same time, there is a lot to talk about otherwise. I’ll probably be making more use of this post space and putting the essays on the backburner for as dissertating allows. To borrow from the lyrics in “Try Again,” I’ll just do my thang and see how it goes.