Asobi ni Iku Yo! Episode 4 – Conspicuous Consumption
Okay, people making Asobi ni Iku Yo!: if you can’t make something interesting happen in 20 minutes, you don’t deserve the job. Wow, is this episode really only 20 minutes long without the opening and ending credits? That’s actually not that long at all.
Still, I know you’re competing directly with moe shows, and the bottom-feeding softcore porn shows that your show is frequently in danger of becoming, where nothing happens in 20 episodes, much less 20 minutes, but you’ve got so much to work with. I mean, your show has already blown through two national spy agencies and a group of militant scifi nerds, all in the third episode. You’ve got a race of sinister dog-girls controlling global politics from the shadows, crazy magical/psychic powers and more military hardware than a Michael Bay movie.
And that’s completely ignoring the focus of your story, which is a highly-advanced race of dilettante alien catgirls served by a limitless army of adorable organically-grown robots constructed out of nanomachines. I think you’ve got enough material for at least 13 episodes. Maybe you should settle down and start telling a story?
Asobi is, of course, not interested at all in developing a coherent plot. So it piles even more new stuff on this episode, like assistroids modeled on Asian actors (in costume) for the girls and a religion worshiping Japanese catgirls started by a spoiled 12-year old gazillionaire American girl which has somehow managed to become a worldwide phenomenon, despite the fact that whenever you say the word ‘catgirl’ outside of Japan, you get a lot of eye rolling or blank states unless the person you’re talking to is also an otaku.
I mean, half the draw of this show for me is the crazy stuff it’s constantly trying to pull, but this is a stretch even for me. It doesn’t help that said religion isn’t any more complex than “we like catgirls, therefore they are our gods”, or that the implications of such a strange belief system are completely ignored. It’s just a plot device, a hollow shell to direct what little there is of this episode’s plot, which is to kidnap Eris.
That takes all less than four minutes at the end of the episode, though, so the rest is padded out with a little more exposition and a shopping trip. Eris is revealed to be in heat, for example, which has a pretty dang funny reveal but otherwise fails to be mined like the comedy and plot goldmine it so obviously is. Seriously, in any well-written harem comedy, that would be the core of at least five jokes and three sexually suggestive situations that upset Manami and Aoi. Instead, we get one solid joke and some worried glances between the human girls.
I mean, I appreciate the fact that the show isn’t turning into Kanokon, but what’s the point of churning through ridiculous ideas at a frightening rate if you’re not going to use them to their full potential?
There’s also a trip to Tokyo, which is ostensibly for Eris to learn more about Earth culture but in reality is little more than blatant pandering to otaku. Instead of going to a store selling cultural artifacts significant to a large portion of the populace, Eris goes to otaku-haven Nakano Broadway.
There everyone geeks out and purchases some super-rare item related to their hobbies. Manami buys an airsoft pistol, Kio picks up a PC-FX and Aoi buys some old Japanese movies (and an airsoft pistol).
Look, I understand the impulse. Heck, less than a week ago, I was at a huge gaming convention, buying obscure European board games and independently published roleplaying games, and debating whether or not I should buy the heavily discounted model kits of weird variant Zakus from the original Mobile Suit Gundam (I chose no). But on the other hand, in this context it just seems like a normalization of the weird materialism at the heart of otaku culture.
I’ve explained before that the vast majority of anime is produced to sell merchandise. In order for this cycle to function, people need to buy merchandise. Otaku culture is a relatively small niche, so it requires the few otaku out there to buy a lot of stuff.
That makes buying niche consumer products a kind of cultural virtue. There’s a tradition among otaku of showing off your walls or room devoted entirely to otaku-related goods. (It’s apparently part of American otaku culture, too. Scroll down to the bottom) And there’s a ton of different stuff you can buy: everything from manga volumes to figurines to model kits to life-size body pillows modeled in the shape of the character.
There are other factors, as well. Japan in general has a much stronger consumer culture than even the United States. A friend of mine in college who grew up in Japan told stories of all the perfectly good things he found thrown away simply because they were old. It’s a social value instilled in the Japanese culture from the rapid industrialization of the post-war era: buy things, so that we can make more things to buy and people will have jobs.
But, I think that when you’re part of a tiny, marginalized subculture, those objects become more valuable to you. They’re a badge, a reminder that you are a part of this group, despite having to also function in a larger culture. Despite having no practical purpose beyond taking up money and space, they establish that you have your own identity. That in a world of people defined by what they buy, you buy things that are completely different from most people.
But seeing that glorified in anime form is weird to me. It’s not enough that the show is a commercial for the original books, the eventual DVDs, manga and whatever other products using the Asobi ni Iku Yo! license: it’s also propaganda for the whole otaku lifestyle. I’m not saying it’s forcing people to go out and buy Eris figurines, but it’s making the whole system: the glorification of anime and anime characters into fetishized psuedo-celebrities so that toy and media companies can sell more useless junk that people don’t need to people who need it to feel like they belong to a group.
At worst, it’s a cynical marketing scheme preying on the weak. At best, it gives people an outlet, an escape from the struggles and frustrations of everyday life, and keeps other people employed at the same time, letting them live their own lives full of their own struggles, frustrations and escapes. But even if it does benefit society in some way, is it ideal? By giving people so many outlets, so many ways to escape, are we distracting them from the things that make life meaningful? Trapping people in a cycle of endless amusements they can’t escape from, unless they have the will or a lack of funds? What potential genius is floundering because he’s too busy reading manga? What masterwork is laying around unfinished, unstarted even, because something good is on TV?
I don’t know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can find a Tachikoma model kit for cheap.
Watch this episode here.