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October 16, 2014

The Importance of Being Twintailed


Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.

I’ve always lamented that, in spite of being an anime fan, I’m more of one in theory than anything.  I mean, the last series I watched from start to finish was Attack on Titan, and that’s only because my brother spotted it on Netflix and wanted to check it out.  Before that?  It was the miserable Devil Survivor 2 anime.  And that’s it.  Season after season has come and gone, and dozens of shows have completed their runs without so much as an episode seen by me.  I’m no true fan, it seems.  (In my defense, I have plans to watch the recent Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure adaptations, and Samurai Flamenco on recommendation.)

But recently, I heard about a show that piqued my interest.  I heard comparisons to Kamen Rider and sentai/tokusatsu fare, so I was willing to buy in.  And the central premise seemed at once like a joke and the most potentially-amazing thing ever created.  So one night, I decided to give it a look.  Care to know what I saw? 

I watched a show called Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu!  (Gonna Be the Twintail!)  And I liked it.

Shit.


Pretty much everything you need to know can be summed up in three sentences.  One: evil alien invaders have come to Earth to steal the essence of girls who wear their hair in twintails.  Two: a guy obsessed with twintails gets a bracelet that lets him henshin into a super fighting little girl.  Three: with his twintailed comrades, they fight against the forces of…uh, sexual harassment, I guess…to protect the sanctity of one of anime’s most iconic hairstyles.

I suspect I wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did if not for my weak point for toku shows, but for all my talk of standards and quality and possibilities, I can’t say it’s a show without merit.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect by any means; premise aside, the first episode has characters as stock as it gets, the humor needs work (i.e. not eat up a swath of an episode with boob jokes) and I expected it to go much farther than it actually did in terms of absolute insanity.  On the other hand, said first episode made a strong enough showing to justify giving the second and maybe even a third look.

So to reiterate?  Shit.  I need some Kamen Rider Drive to regain my honor.


Twintail could go either way, but no matter its quality at its run’s end, there’s one thing in particular that sticks out to me.  The question the show needs to answer immediately is “Okay, so why twintails?”  And believe it or not, there are a lot of ways that the show could handle it -- farcical or otherwise.  One of the characters mentions that the aliens steal the twintail “attribute” from their victims, removing the drive and will for said victims to even care about twintails, much less wear them.  So on that note, you’d think that the aliens are the least dangerous invaders fiction has ever known.  “Oh, they just want to go gaga over a hairstyle.  Big deal.  Let ‘em have it, then.”

Here’s the thing, though.  The show’s lead notes that each girl who wears their hair in that style has different properties; they have a different affect, for one thing, but it goes beyond that.  A certain level of care has gone into plenty of twintail sets, meaning that their wielders have some element to them to show to the world.  A certain level of pride, if you will; they have a characteristic they want and need to put on display, as a statement of who they are. 

And really, you could say that about a lot of attributes.  Appearances matter, much as we hate to admit it.  How they’re treated and cultivated say plenty about their owners -- not to mention their very presence.  In the case of Twintail, I can’t help but feel like it’s limiting itself.  Okay, sure, what I’ve said just now can be something the show can explore in greater detail.  But they’re missing a huge opportunity here.


It’s sometimes unavoidable, but in an audiovisual medium, characters can come down to a collective mass of attributes.   Granted the ideal state is for said characters to have those attributes and branch off from them via things like character arcs and conflicts, but when that’s not possible -- even though it should be more regularly -- it’s necessary to lean on those attributes.  They could even turn into a jumping-off point for those arcs, and conflicts, and even personalities at large.  Those can be the possibilities any story needs.

So what does that mean for Twintail?  Well, imagine this: what if the aliens weren’t just out to nab one single anime hairstyle, but the exemplars of any given anime attribute?  Think of all the design aspects out there ripe for the picking: huge eyes, sharp eyes, big breasts, small breasts, long hair, short hair, eye colors, hair colors, shortness, tallness, youth, adulthood, thickness, thinness, and more. 

And then you get into traits and archetypes that are even juicier: clumsiness, aloofness, shyness, boldness, sportiness, haughtiness, aggressiveness, and many more.  What happens when you take that attribute away from a character?  Who are they without the things they’re built on, in-universe or out of it?  There’s INSANE potential in that, if you ask me.  It’d be something like removing the Hulk of his will -- and maybe his very ability -- to smash.


If you ever needed proof that I read way too damn far into things, you’ve got it.  I’m likely asking too much out of Twintail, but what’s important is that it’s accomplished something any good story should, regardless of the medium: it makes you consider new possibilities.  I can’t say I’m a twintail-convert, but it’s confirmed the importance of the basest factor of a character.  No matter how much character development you give a lead, they’re still going to be a mass of attributes -- aspects that’ll either let someone buy in wholesale, or shrug off entirely.  Example: I’m in the camp that thinks Street Fighter’s Ryu is a pretty cool guy, but I can see why there are those who would assume he’s just Boring Karate Man.

And that’s why attributes are so important.  Street Fighter doesn’t exactly have the luxury of a continuous, developing storyline -- well, at least not one it pays constant attention to.  It sells itself on its gameplay, sure, but when it comes to people choosing their trusted fighters for the first time?  It’s a matter of deciding whose attributes are best.  And because of that, the player gets introduced to concepts -- possibilities -- that wouldn’t be considered in other circumstances, or with other characters, even in the bounds of the game.  So I take in concepts on a subconscious level by playing as T. Hawk (power of conviction!) and Dee Jay (get lost in the beat!), but the tradeoff is that I can’t imagine speedsters like Guy giving me anything I could want.  Basic stuff, once you think about it.


To Street Fighter’s credit, though, no player is ever left wanting for a certain suite of attributes.  With Ultra well in our midst, there’s no shortage of characters, and because of that there’s no shortage of possible concepts one can take in.  That really is an ideal state, in the absence of things like a dedicated story and the depth that can follow. 

Playing through Arcade Mode can give you insights into a character (and let’s be fair, we have to appreciate that Capcom at least offered prologues/endings for everyone), but the hidden benefit of video games -- fighting or otherwise -- is that they let you be the character.  You take in those attributes, and can appreciate them all the more as you go on adventures and triumph over foes.  Well, assuming that those attributes are worthwhile, and not overblown or overused.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it’s so important to have diversity in games.


I would think that by now, I’m just stating the obvious here -- saying what everybody knows, and knows by heart.  But it can never be understated how crucial it is to offer more than just the norm or the expected, especially when the norm is NOT what we expected, or even want.  In a world where developers have to fight not just to get women in games, but on the covers of games, and even real women in focus testing, that’s not normalThat’s just wrong.  Limiting creative aspects limits potential concepts, which limits possibilities, which limits the potential effect on an audience’s hearts and minds.  Arbitrary restrictions beget small-minded thinking.  Or to put it mildly, ignorance.

This would be the point where I bring in even more obvious examples that there might be -- maybe, just maybe -- an overarching problem with the gaming zeitgeist on all levels that should be discussed sooner rather than later, because what the fuck is going on, seriously.  But I’ll just assume you’re keeping up with the news, so let’s keep our focus on twintails.


Okay, so what’s the solution, then?  What can we do as gamers -- as the lowly, unheeded masses?  And really, there’s a good chance that there’s not much that can be done.  I’d think that the collective shouts of the people have forced others to take heed (however begrudgingly), which is good.  But until the day comes when a rightfully-indignant gamer can reach into the dev room and slap everyone silly until they mix things up, we’re not exactly in a seat of power.  Change takes time and effort, so it’s a little hasty to expect sweeping reform just because of one post or one article or one video.

That in mind, there is action that you, I, or anyone can take.  Individually we don’t always have the power to change others, but we do have the power to change ourselves.  So I’m going to make a proposition.  If you’re still reading this (for whatever reason, which I’d guess is boredom), then I’ll ask that you think of ONE character that, to you, has one particular attribute to him or her: “striking”.

                     
What does that entail?  That’s up to you.  It could be any number of things -- physical things, sure.  It could be some factor of their character, or personality, or mentality.  It could be something they do, or something they’ve been through.  I’m not going to be picky.  I just want to see what you come up with.  Why?  Curiosity, partly.  But I’m hoping if I can bring forward memories of striking characters in others -- the way characters should be, by default -- then it’ll serve as a point of comparison from here on.  When you know how good games can be, it’s hard to give a pass to those that seem almost eager to avoid putting up a good effort.

For the sake of keeping this post going longer than it needs to go -- and to repent for watching an anime arguably about twintail fetishism -- I’ll go ahead and give an example of my own.  Granted there are many different examples I could use (fun fact: this post was damn close to being focused on Rosalina), but there’s one experience that I had semi-recently that I can’t help but share.  Basically, this striking character not only let me see her in a new light, but opened my mind to plenty of new possibilities -- ideas that I might not have gotten anywhere else.  Who is it?  Here you go.

It’s The Scandalous Superstar Idol, RISE KUJIKAWA!!  And -- wait a second.  She’s got twintails, too.

…SHIT.


It’s been a while since I’ve played through Persona 4, and while I hold the game in high esteem, I’ll be the first to admit that Rise wasn’t my favorite character back then.  I didn’t hate her or anything; I just liked some of the other characters more (I suppose you could put me in the “Yukiko is best girl” camp).  I’d bet that it has something to do with Rise not being playable in P4, and an out-of-the-way supporter until the additions made in The Golden.  Or more than likely, it has something to do with her being a full-fledged fighter in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax -- because cripes a la mode, it feels like I’ve missed a LOT in terms of this character.

Her animations, her move list, her play style -- it all comes together to exude a level of charm and energy that not a lot of characters can match.  It was strange at first (in my first run with her, I was ready to call her “more Faust than Faust”), but as time passed I gained a genuine appreciation for the character.  In a medium designed to be fun, she’s a pixilated embodiment of it -- sure to put a smile on the face of anyone who uses her.  Maybe not those who play against her, because she strikes me as a pain-in-the-ass opponent, but you get the idea.


In an audiovisual sense, Rise kills it.  (You could say the same about everyone else in the game, because -- as you know -- sprites are so godlike.)  But things get even crazier just minutes into the story mode.  You get to see Rise taking on some idol training and business matters with her agent.  But shortly thereafter, you get real insight into her character; she spent vanilla Arena as a captive, and she’s aware of how useless she was -- to the point where she’s going to make damn sure she’s on the frontlines this time around.  That’s cool, man.

I can’t help but think back to Ocelot saying “I’ve never felt a tension like this before” in Metal Gear Solid 3.  Using that to describe Rise?  Admittedly, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, because it’s not like she’s suddenly become my favorite character in anything ever.  But the important thing is that she’s striking on her own terms.  Exciting.  She uses her attributes -- idol, twintails, what have you -- to leave a strong impression, as a character should.  And it’s because she’s such an impressive collection of attributes that she becomes more than just a character, or an archetype.  She’s an idea that promotes more ideas, and emotions, and an understanding that there’s more than one way to do things than what you’d expect.

And really, that’s what it’s all about.


We’ve reached a point where “the same old, same old” is losing its viability -- as if it hasn’t been lost already.  What’s the simplest solution?  There isn’t one.  But there doesn’t have to be, because there are infinity possible solutions.  Creators and content-providers have a power like no other mother, and even the most groan-worthy of them has to realize that on some level.  They can offer up their answers, and whether it’s today, tomorrow, or even years on, they can evolve to give us something we never even knew we wanted.  That’s just one road to the diversity we’ve all been hankering for -- because we have the ability to appreciate more than just the same standard attributes.

I’d bet that some of the people reading this have no drive to become creators in their own right, and that’s fine.  Doing a good job likely takes dedication that borders on madness, lest you get nitpicked into oblivion.  But just because you play or watch or read something doesn’t mean you’re an entirely inactive participant.  You can still engage with a product, and gauge every last one of its attributes for yourself -- as one should.  And when that’s done -- when you get sucked into the rhythm of a yet-unconsidered factor -- then you’ll walk away with something more.  Much more.

And that’ll do it for now.  I’m out.  I think I need to play some BlazBlue; I’ve been slacking on it for months, and I need to make sure my Platinum’s ready to go online.  And -- wait, hold on.  Doesn’t Platinum have twintails, too?



SHIT!     

4 comments:

  1. Japan loves their twintails. XD


    In any case, this is definitely one of my favourite shows for the series. Not my overall favourite, though, since a certain other show's running this season.

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  2. It really is amazing how many twintails there are in Japanese media. Who would have guessed that one hairstyle would gain so much traction?


    Though I suppose if you think of it like that, it's a wonder that Ore Twintail has only JUST gotten an anime. Or have twintails only now reached the epitome of sanctity, and transcended the world of fashion into a higher power of unquestionable caliber?


    Someone should run a survey on that or something.

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  3. Japan has some odd fixations. Striped panties, for example. >___>;

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  4. I don't think there's ever been a more appropriate time to use this.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLa5c7swv7g

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