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October 12, 2015

Shower Thoughts with Monster Girls (Part 1)

Real talk?  I don’t know if there’s a heaven or a hell, but if there was ever a surefire way to get sent to the latter, it’d be with a post like this.

Not to shatter the illusion (or the prospect of my eternal damnation), but it’s not as if I’ve seen Everyday Life with Monster Girls -- or Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou, if you prefer -- in its entirety.  Or even a full episode, really.  I don’t actually watch a lot of anime these days, save for the odd clip here and there; still, as a fan of the medium -- even if I’m a fan of its potential instead of its execution, especially in the present-day -- I try to at least know what’s going on season by season.  I read season previews and go through review posts, so if I do jump back in, I’ll be well-informed.

As a result, I know about that show with all the monster girls, which I’ll go ahead and call MonMusu from here on out because reasons.  I’ve known about it for a while, since A) it takes time for an anime to go from an announcement to an episode one broadcast, and B) since it’s based on a manga, that means it already has plenty of material to go by.  For those unaware, the gist of it is pretty simple: there’s a guy who ends up more or less playing the role of nanny in a program that takes in an increasing number of monster girls…particularly since the world he lives in has no shortage of extraspecies persons.

Like I said, it’s simple.  And that really is the problem.

In theory, MonMusu is an examination of the monster girls and their circumstances -- the traits of their species, the cultures they hail from, and the like.  It’s all about exploring those “everyday lives” in a modern world, which in all honesty is a pretty cool idea.  What’s the world like when you’re a centaur, or a harpy, or a sentient slime?  Those are valid points worth exploring -- but I have a strong suspicion that those points get buried under the standard anime fare.  And by “strong suspicion” I mean “the girls bust out their sweet baps every chance they get”.

Based on what I know -- and I know a lot more than I should -- MonMusu fails right out of the gate with its title: it’s about monster girls, not monsters in general.  Given that the real world is more or less divided fifty-fifty between the two genders, one would think that the male presence in that fictional world would be a reflection of it, right?  Hell, if anything having men around is even more important in MonMusu, because their cultures and processes could be so alien that we need to see the two sexes interact.  Or failing that, it’d mix things up a little.  As it stands, the main cast includes “hot girl with big boobs but a monstrous bottom half”,  “hot girl with big boobs but a monstrous bottom half”, “hot girl with big boobs but a monstrous bottom half”, and -- hope you’re sitting down for this -- “hot girl with big boobs but a monstrous bottom half”.  That’s cheating of the highest caliber.

To the show’s credit, it skews toward comedy more than anything else -- and viewed in that light, maybe it’s not such a death knell to be light on the content.  I’m not ready to pardon it for wasted potential, though; the reason for that is because there’s just no removing the stink that surrounds the show and its underlying plan -- that is, to toss out as many cute/hot girls as possible and hope that something sticks.  Not to create some unfortunate imagery, but it’s a safe bet that the guys behind MonMusu want fans to stick to it -- and to do that, it’s got some of the standard tactics.
A bland protagonist, and the only man that really matters in his universe; droves of beautiful girls (yes, in spite of their monster/animal parts) who are in love with him, are falling in love with him, have feelings for him, and the like; a plot that exists only to push these relationships, but never to a point where they advance.  I wouldn’t fault anyone for assuming that the monster girl gimmick is only there to make audiences go “All right, so who are they gonna bring in next?”  And they do bring in more monster girls because that’s the only card in their hand they’re willing to play.  It might even be the only card in their deck.  Because as you know, schlocky anime is convinced that girls are idiots and/or babies.

Anime takes a lot of heat these days -- and while I’m still of the opinion that there’s good stuff out there besides JoJo (no one’s allowed to complain when there are two seasons of Gundam Build Fighters out there right now), I wouldn’t blame anyone for looking at MonMusu and empathically shouting “Anime was a mistake!” from the top of a skyscraper.  Whether it’s thanks to squandered potential or conscious, pandering design choices, it’s less of a story and more of a waifu showcase.  Watch and pick your favorite girl!  Look at her do stuff!  Now clap like a seal!  Such is the dance of those enslaved by the waifus.

It’s a shame, really.  I can imagine how it could have been a stronger series, even with a host of improbably buxom beastkin: take the leading man and send him on an expedition to interact with the monster species of the world.  Just imagine if he was trying to film a documentary or a nature special (with a crew for bonus team synergy); the show could have its hot girls, but it’d be balanced out by something more substantive -- something like that in-depth look at culture and biology. 

And it could be done on a regular basis, instead of glimpsed every once in a while between girls blushing and moaning.  (I told you I know more about MonMusu than I should.)  I know the guy behind the actual series is also behind something called 12 Beast, which is closer to something worthwhile, but A) that’s long since made a slide toward the harem hijinks in a different package, and B) MonMusu made it to the air first, so you know where the priorities are. 

That begs the question, then: why do I think MonMusu is not only secretly brilliant, but also has some important lessons packed in tight?

Pared down to basics, MonMusu is out to make fans out of people by sparking wars over who’s “best girl” and who’s “waifu material”.  There are flourishes to the franchise, but when the first monster girl starts off by coiling her snake body around a guy she’s just met -- and doesn’t try to hide the fact that she’s in love with him, even if she kinda-sorta has cultural obligations for it -- then you know you’re not in for a deep experience.  It’s just a chance to go gaga over a bunch of girls, and the most that’s asked out of viewers is for them to pick and choose which girl suits their tastes best.  That’s the stereotype, but there’s truth behind it.

Here’s the thing, though.  If we’re going to play the stereotype game (or go with a strawman argument, if you prefer), then we have to think about the end goal.  Theoretically, said end goal of MonMusu is to curry favor by peddling its waifu wares -- which means that they have to create as many characters as they can to pander.  And taken to the stereotypical extreme, it’s worth asking: what is it that a waifu symbolizes?  There are plenty of answers, but I can think of three.  One: a character that someone really admires.  Two: a character that someone is eager to bond with, and intimately (which would explain why a 23-foot-long pillow that cost about $800 ended up selling out).  Three: a character that someone really wants to have sex with.

It’s worth mentioning that one of the monster girls is half-spider.

Okay.  So, like, I’m not going to blast anyone for having the tastes and preferences they do.  As they say, different strokes for different folks.  But speaking personally?  I wouldn’t want to have sex with anything that’s even one percent spider, let alone something that’s got a lower body the size of a smart car and the dimensions of the average Lovecraftian menace.  I mean, I once found a tarantula in my room that was smaller than a lemon, and I was fucked up for half a day.  So I hope you’ll forgive me for giving a hearty NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to the concept.  For the record, though: I’m not arguing about how you’d have sex with a monster girl; I’m sure there are fans out there that have the logistics down to individual nuclei.  I’m arguing about why you’d have sex with a monster girl.   

I mean, yeah, there are probably guys out there who wouldn’t mind plowing a horse.  More power to them.  But in terms of monster girls -- and fictional ones at that, so now the eager beavers have to cross dimensions to do the deed -- it seems like there are a lot of hurdles that need crossing.  It doesn’t really seem like it’s worth the effort.  So it got me thinking: why even try?  Why even care?  Isn’t it enough to be with the monster girls without trying to bed them, since it seems like in virtually every case it would lead to shame, injury, and possibly even death?

And then it hit me.  That’s entirely the point.

My theory is that on some level, MonMusu isn’t about making the viewer want to have sex with these pretty girls.  It’s trying to get the viewer to enjoy the characters -- to have fun with them, and go along for the ride, and embrace their wacky adventures.  The girls are campaigning with varying levels of severity for the love of some guy, and it’s hard to act like they aren’t vying for the viewer’s love by proxy, but you know what?  The minds behind the show aren’t entirely off the mark…because it’s the mission of every character in every story ever to be liked.  (That includes the guys people “love to hate” and assorted miscellaneous bastards, because their depravity when done right is its own form of appeal.) 

If the stereotypical purpose of these girls is to become sex objects, but by design they’re completely incapable of being sex objects, then what’s left for them?  The answer is that, circumstantially, they end up becoming characters.  Dare I say it, they end up becoming people -- a host of young women with likes, dislikes, desires, hobbies, quirks, thoughts, opinions, and more.  Theoretically, the monster girls have a chance to prove themselves by virtue of the writers’ skill, and more importantly the characters’ natural charisma.  They have the potential to form a bond with a viewer for more reasons than basic lust.

I say “theoretically” and “potential” because…well, MonMusu is still kind of garbage.  The assumption is that if you take out the waifu-lust, the girls would be able to stand on the merits of their personalities.  But there’s an episode that’s just an excuse for tertiary characters to go on a date with the MC; one of the girls, despite being a grown-ass woman -- quite literally, in the sense that she’s a seven-foot-tall ogre -- acts like a five-year-old and has a voice like a helium-addled chipmunk.  The bar is just scraping against the ground here.

But the concept is there.  The idea is there.  The intent is there.  Well, it probably is; I admit that I’ve got a rosier and more optimistic view, after all.  But whether it was on purpose or by complete accident, there’s at least something there in MonMusu.  It might not have the execution needed to fully capitalize on what matters, but again, it’s got the potential.  The point of the show, on some miniscule level, is to build a bond between the viewer and the character -- and even the waifu-factor plays into that, distorted as it may be.  Either way, there’s a purpose behind it.  The point of a story that has characters -- which has to be about 99.9999% of them, just as a ballpark estimate -- is to have characters people can like.  MonMusu is just playing to that as directly as possible, while also managing a bit of subversive metacontext.

It doesn’t have to be a show that makes people eager to have sex with spider-girls.  It can be if so desired -- if preferences and interpretations interfere -- but it’s not a requirement.  The spider-girl is still a character.  In fact, she might be the show’s best character, in the sense that she actually plays to the cloud of inherent racism that hovers around her and the metacontextual investigation of what it means to be “best girl” while having the body parts of a hell-beast.  I still posit that she’s kind of cheating because she’s still got the hots for the lead, and she’s profusely sexualized (via a generous amount of underboob), but it’s something.  There’s a personality there that, at least potentially, could make her into more than an object of desire.  For example, she likes to use her webbing for bondage play.

…I didn’t say it was a good example.  Besides, the centaur girl's way cooler, because she's a knight or something. And that means she's confirmed for LOYALTY-tier, the greatest of virtues.

So what’s the takeaway from MonMusu?  First and foremost, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it good; it knows exactly what it wants to be, and you could argue pretty successfully that its moments of intelligence are pure accident.  On the other hand, even those accidental moments of thought, heft, and even brilliance mean something.  If the goal of a story is to make the audience like a character, then MonMusu is trying to do that overtly as well as covertly.  It’s better at one of those than the other, but think of it this way: how appreciable is it that the anime at least understands the importance of likable characters?

Too many stories and too many products forget that that’s a key element.  It’s as if they refuse to acknowledge -- or never understood in the first place -- that there’s no greater asset than the men and women that populate each page.  Characters create opportunities, after all.  It doesn’t matter how shocking the plot twist is, or how explosive the spectacle may be.  Step one should almost always be “make this character appeal to others”.  Or, alternatively, “make this character good”.  There are a lot of ways to go about it, so it’s a wonder why so many people have screwed it up in the past.  Maybe they need to learn a lesson or two from monster girls, despite -- or maybe because of -- the way they look.

Which reminds me -- don’t I need to learn from monster girls, too?  And more to the point, don’t I have a monster girl, too?  Well, yes to the first question and no to the second; I have a monster woman in my stable.  There’s a difference.

And I’ll get into that difference…next time.  Which means I’m going to get double-sent to hell for this.

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