Is it possible to blame Loot Crate for making me a terrible person?
Probably not, but I thought I’d ask since they’re indirectly responsible for my current predicament. In their last box of charmingly disposable twaddle, I came across a card offering a 30 free premium membership for Crunchyroll. My anime days have been in my rear view mirror for quite some time now but, being the type of guy who can’t pass up a cheap buffet (even with people being carried out on stretchers), I figured I’d give it a shot.
Now the selection doesn’t go on for days and days, but there is a little bit of something for everyone. Attack on Titan? People sure do like their Attack on Titan. Investor Z, a school drama manga about stock investments? Yeah, I threw that in the Favorites list. Space Brothers, Fort of Apocalypse, Girl May Kill, and about a half-dozen other manga that seem like something the characters in Bakuman might have cranked out in order to become the most popular manga-ka ever to walk the earth? Sure, okay.
I’ll be honest: what really made my heart go pitter-patter was the triumvirate of Barom One, The Shadowman, and Doll: The Hotel Detective by Golgo 13 creator/franchise king Takao Saito.
But I’ll be even more honest: since Doll only has 17 chapters on Crunchyroll (I was a third of the way through in the space of half an afternoon), the title I found myself chain-devouring was…Love Theory by Masaski Satou and Keiya Mizuno.
If you know what Love Theory is already…please don’t judge me. And if you don’t know, keep reading…but I’m sure you’ll want to judge me by the end of this.
Love Theory is a manga about Yarahata Kanji, an inept college freshman who gets “a romance coach,” who’s actually a horny ghost Pick Up Artist.
See? I can feel you judging me already and frankly you should. Because not only is Love Theory the kind of panty-shot-riddled comedy the creators of Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga skewered so mercilessly, not only can you see the desperate “how are we in the reader votes” pandering that results in bringing in Kanji’s horny ghost grandpa to also give advice, but the book openly courts the toxic “poor me” mentality so prevalent in a certain unhinged percentage of internet dudes these days (psst, Amer-gay Ate-gay, if you know what I mean). It’s one thing when one of Yaki’s equally woman-free buddies says something like “What it boils down to is even the most popular and innocent girl’s still just a bitch who wants a pretty boy to dangle off her arm;” it’s another when Aiya, the ghost PUA, in imparting his big secret for talking to women (saying “Must be tough” to anything the woman says), says, “All women want to complain to someone as the day’s stresses pile up. The key to opening that floodgate is the phrase, ‘Must be tough.’ […] Women don’t give a rat’s ass what you think. And when she’s finally done yammering, you simply follow up with: ‘You put up with a lot, huh?'”
In the book’s defense (and, more importantly, in my defense), most chapters aren’t quite so callously dismissive about the women the manga is relentlessly objectifying: there are more than a few hints that Kanji is more sensitive than his horny ghost tutors, and as his slow-boil romance with his co-worker Saki heats up (in that patented serialized “who knows how long this series will run” kind of way), Aiya’s advice is about actually listening to what Saki has to say, what her tastes and preferences are, about the importance of doing things for another person without expecting things in return.
I’m always delighted by the way so much manga out there tries to instruct and educate in a way that a lot of American comics absolutely do not. And a manga that teaches teenage nerd boys how to date? There’s a little bit of genius to the idea. Maybe it’s just because I’m a dumb old person, but I feel like maybe this generation of teenage boys might need something like this even more than preceding generations.
All that said, it’s still an upskirt manga, and I don’t think any of the above makes up for the the sequence where Aiya tells Kanji to try and pick up 100 girls in an afternoon which simultaneously turns Kanji into a misogynist turd and also into one of these guys:
“Calling out to them becomes fun, even when they don’t even bother to respond,” Aiya says as we see Kanji hit the losing euphoria known as “Playboy’s High.” After a particularly sure-fire technique backfires on Kanji, the next chapter finds him cuddling a body pillow and yelling, “Real girls are monsters! I’ll never try to pick up chicks so long as I live, there’s no way to know if they’re going to be mean!”
So, yeah. I’ve got another twenty-three chapters of indefensibility to go, and I find myself thinking, not infrequently, “why the fuck am I reading this?”
It’d be great if I could claim I was reading it ironically, or hate-reading it, or even because I find myself aroused by cartoon portrayals of women’s skirts flipping up. (Honestly, I don’t.) None of those things are true. So then: why?
That may not be the interesting question, by the way. Just a few days ago, two people I follow on Twitter spent a lot of time discussing whether a work was sexist or merely “portrayed” sexism. The former was okay; the latter was not. I’m not paying that close attention but I think I also saw someone say that there were no such things as guilty pleasures, and then later condemn Fuckitor as racist, rape-fixated trash. So, you know, doesn’t that mean that the people who enjoy Fuckitor should maybe feel a little guilty for taking pleasure in it?
I’d like to think I’m a good person, responsible and kind and caring. I’m also a not-young white guy who has for the majority of his life benefited from a racist, sexist patriarchal society. I don’t want to be racist or sexist but I obviously am: those defaults were baked into me, and unless I spend some serious time trying to examine them and defuse them, they’re still going to be there. And the problem with a racist, sexist culture is that when you sit down to relax and you fire up the TV or the e-reader screen, there’s a very good chance you’re going to be exposed to a steady stream of racist, sexist horseshit ready to give you the disease all over again.
And yet: I don’t think art works as simply as ‘this shit is terrible for people so it should go away.’ There are studies that suggest that porn reduces the likelihood of rape and sexual assault. There’s the concept of catharsis (not always in vogue). If the miserable awful stuff that turns your crank isn’t available for your personal and consensual consumption, does that mean your desire for it goes away? Or does the art keep that stuff all tamped down in your personal stashbox of creepiness, and what we really need to address are the mechanisms in the real world that foster and engender the actual creepy shit happening? Maybe, like it or not, all art exists at that uncomfortable intersection of of aspiration and deviation, of what we need and what we want. And while art cannot overpower us, take us completely under its spell (as much as it might want to; as much as we might want to say it did), it still isn’t harmless. It can still be far from harmless. I don’t know.
All I know is, lately, when I’m tired of contemplating and worrying about such issues, I sit down and read a chapter or two of Love Theory to relax. I’m trying not to blame Loot Crate.