Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Blog Essay: Moana & the Celebration of Knowing *spoilers*

When you have a deep understanding of yourself & are at peace with what you want to do in this world you have found your sense of knowing.

Finding your sense of knowing creates confidence in yourself because you make all your life's decisions in accordance with your plan.  There is no fear or uncertainty when making choices from a place of knowing because even if you fail, you failed at only one method to get you where you want to go.  You are not lost, or powerless, you will just find a different way.

All of us should strive to achieve a sense of knowing, but developing it is quite a journey.

Where I live, on the East Coast of the USA, in the year 2017, at the age of 26, we are often told as children that we can be anything and do anything--now we have the ironic burden of too many choices.

There is also a tendency for children to grow up making a life that is totally new and different from the life their parents had before them.  In this way, many lose ties to their cultural and ancestral heritage and identity.

To develop a strong sense of knowing we must find out who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go.

When we make decisions, are we making them because of the call within us?  Or do we succumb to external opinions to guide us?  Who or what do we rely upon to find strength and courage during the times that we do not yet believe we can rely upon ourselves? 

Moana tells the tale of a girl who is chosen by the Ocean to restore the Heart of Te Fiti, but in truth, anyone could have been Moana.

Anyone could have been the chosen one.  We know for sure that her own father heard the Ocean's call in his youth, but he stopped listening after his friend was killed on the ocean.

At first Moana hears the call of the ocean and thinks of it as external to herself.  The Ocean wants her to sail, and her family wants her to stay put on the island. 

She is caught in the middle between these two external forces which are pulling her in opposite directions.  She does not know what to choose, so she remains stagnate.  This is a helpless position to be in, an insecure position.  At this point, Moana has not developed her sense of knowing.

Moana sings of this feeling of powerlessness in "How Far I'll Go"

"I've been staring at the edge of the water
'Long as I can remember, never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try"

"Long as I can remember, never really knowing why."

When Moana learns that her people were once voyagers, she finds the strength and courage to make the choice to go out onto the ocean.  If her ancestors could do it, so can she.

The simple act of making a choice sets the rest of her path in motion.  But at this point, she still has not achieved a sense of knowing.  She finds her courage in things outside of herself, which is a perfect way to get yourself to take action when you are still uncertain.

She thinks of herself as the chosen one and sets out on this journey because nobody else would do it.  She is still giving her power away, but at least she is moving forward.

Like magic, she believes in the signs and gives meaning to them.  She takes to heart the stories her grandmother and mother have told her.  And she always has her ancestors.

"The ocean doesn't help you, you help yourself."

Moana wants to rely upon the demigod Maui and on the Ocean to help her find her way.

But she cannot do that forever.  She must learn to sail, she must remember the ancestors she comes from, she must think about why she is really on the ocean right now in this moment. 

Especially when Maui gives up on her and all hope seems lost.

And then it finally clicks.

She hears her true call-- the one coming from inside her that seems to say: You are here because you want to be here.  You want to succeed on this mission.  Take responsibility, take ownership, & feel powerful in this sense of knowing that you have finally found.  You must, you can, and you will do this.

At that point her song changes.

"I am Moana" is a declaration of the celebration of finally coming into your sense of knowing.

She sings:
"And the call isn't out there at all, it's inside me"
"It's like the tide; always falling and rising."
"I will carry you here in my heart you'll remind me."
"That come what may.  I know the way."
"I am Moana."

"And the call isn't out there at all, 
it's inside me."

The story of Moana is a celebration of coming into the sense of knowing.  The telltale sign being when she yells "I am Moana" from a place of sudden empowerment.

If you, like Moana, have not yet found your sense of knowing, let her be your guide.  Rely on others, on magic and destinies, until you learn that you truly can rely on yourself.

Look into your past to help you find your story, your identity, have it guide you to your person-hood so you can take charge of your present and find your future.

Listen for your purpose to call to you, and follow your call when you hear it.  Don't ignore it.

And always, carry that which will remind you of who you are, and what your purpose is, within your heart, because you will forget it, and you will need things that can guide you back to your path.

I love the moment in Moana right after she sings "I am Moana."  She dives into the ocean, retrieves the Heart of Te Fiti from the bottom, and resurfaces into utter silence.  Her whole life has changed because of the empowerment she has gained from coming into her sense of knowing -- and yet, the world around her, external to her, has not.  She is still alone at sea.

Nothing external has changed, and yet, everything within Moana has.  And that is what matters.  She has achieved her sense of knowing.

And then, as you might have noticed, everything which happens in the movie after that point seems to happen quite fast.

Because the real triumph was actually not Moana struggling against evil to restore the Heart of Te Fiti, but Moana finding her sense of knowing & using that power to effortlessly follow her path to restoring the Heart of Te Fiti.

Thanks for reading!
Until next time!


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Manga Review: The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa | Complete Series Review

Title: The Wallflower 
Other Titles: Perfect Girl Evolution & Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge
Mangaka: Tomoko Hayakawa
Volumes: 36 | Complete
Years: 2000 - 2015 

I don't know about you, but for me, the years 2002-2005 were all about punk rock.  Even though I grew up in New Jersey, USA, and this manga was written in Japan, The Wallflower, a punky-gothic-shoujo manga, really captures that time period.  Oh nostalgia...

This manga series is a difficult one for me to review.  Mostly because, while I enjoy it immensely, it is hard to recommend it to others.  

The uniqueness of this series does not appear to be unanimously appreciated, so I plan to do my best here to explain what this series is, and what it is not, in the hopes that the people who would enjoy it will be able to find it.   

The Plot

At its core, this is an Ugly Duckling story, but it's definitely a different take on it.  Sunako Nakahara, 15 years old, is the niece of a very wealthy widow and moving into her mansion to attend the high school nearby.  The preexisting tenants, four 15 year old bishounen, are tasked by Sunako's Aunt with turning her into a lady.  

If they succeed, their rent will be free.  If they fail, they will owe 3x the amount of the rent.  The Aunt is never home, instead she extravagantly travels the world and will check in on their progress randomly throughout the series.

Kyouhei, the most beautiful and most desired of the four boys, feels the pressure of this deal the most because he is poor, unable to work, and essentially homeless.
The catch? Sunako is the furthest thing from the ideal proper lady.  She's a recluse who loves slasher horror movies, talks to her anatomical figure named Hiroshi-kun, has a phobia of attractive people, and is not interested in changing. 

The Misconception


Hm.  Why this manga loses readership...

I think many readers go into this series with expectations which will not be fulfilled.  The story being told, and the method of storytelling used, in The Wallflower is atypical for a shoujo manga.

It seems the most common complaint about this series, by those who have dropped it, is it's lack of progression.  This is a valid critique in the sense that, yes, there is a lack of linear progression in character development, romantic relationships, and plot development.  

However, the reason for that is because this manga is not telling a linear story.  Instead, it is playing on reader expectations by subverting all the tropes.  And how punk rock is that?

This series is not a romance, its a comedy.  A crude, over the top, sometimes slapstick, comedy told in an episodic style for 36 volumes.  Character and plot progression is often reset when a chapter concludes in a comedic fashion.  Its like a punky Saturday morning cartoon where the monster of the week is nearly always Sunako. 

There are romantic tensions and subplots within this series, but they are not the focus.  The focus is the comedy that ensues when these strong personalities clash while trying to live together in the mansion.

I completely understand why some readers found its lack of progression and character development frustrating, but if you can come to see this story in the light of what it actually is, rather than what you might have expected it to be, its really quite charming.  

I was sad to see it end even after 36 volumes, because I missed being with the characters.  And I can assure you that the instances of character growth and romantic tension, while small, are there.

 Why I think it's Actually Quite Refreshing

From the synopsis you would assume that the four boys turn Sunako into a lady, that all of them fall in love with her, and by the end of the series she must choose only one.  But that is not what happens at all.

First off, the boys are not perfect whatsoever.  Kyouhei is a brute, Ranmaru is a womanizer, Takenaga is a stick in the mud, and Yuki is childish.  They all know each others flaws, but they act like brothers.

Each of the characters have romantic plot lines, but each relationship develops slowly, and in a manner that is very true to the characters' unique personalities and situations.

They do not all fall in love with Sunako, but they do all come to value her for exactly who she is.  Even with her stubborn, selfish, fearful, nature.  

The truth that this manga pursues for its characters is that not all of them are ready for romance.  Some have had traumatic past experiences with love and family relationships that have damaged them.  And this new found friendship among the residents of the mansion, no matter how bizarre it seems, is enough for them right now.  

I love this valuing of friendship, especially between males and females.

The boys can often get Sunako to pretend she is a Lady to achieve a certain goal, but afterwards she goes right back to being a goth with a bad attitude.  

Sunako has serious issues with body image, self worth, and human connection.  The boys seem to realize this about her, as well as, the fact that they can only do so much to help her with it.  

The bulk of the work is on Sunako's end and needs to start with her realizing she has an issue, and becoming willing to work on herself to better her life.

Sunako thinks there is something fundamentally different between her and the so called 'Radiant Ones'.  So when the boys focus on getting her to change her self image while still accepting her for who she is it hits me right in the feels.

That being said, the boys will also hit her with a reality check when necessary, which also hits me in the feels.

And yet, despite their efforts, Sunako continues to resist change.

I love this aspect of the story, because rather than seeing it as a dead-end, it feels very true to Sunako's character.

Sunako is not miserable.  In actuality, she lives an extremely comfortable, indulgent, life.  Her only misfortune is that she has to go to school and has nosebleeds when the boys are too handsome around her.  There isn't actually any catalyst for her to change her ways at 15 years old.

Sunako is not a lost cause.  She is good at plenty of things other than the one thing her Aunt wants for her.  And even the girls in the series whom she befriends adore her for her talents and friendship despite the rest of her quirks.

The Crude Humor

The comedy, and general storytelling, in this series is rather brutish and unrefined.  

Along with the fact that these princes are NOT Prince Charmings comes Kyouhei constantly calling Sunako a bitch, and Sunako repeatedly threatening to murder them.  

Sunako makes references to how much she would like to see a crime scene and a dead body.  

The boys endure an absurd amount of sexual harassment, like when their adoring female fans attack them in a mob formation.  

This manga feels like its about real (rude) teenagers.  

Even if so much of it is absurd.  These characters are very young, living unsupervised in a mansion, and combating a whole slew of unrealistic, extreme, altercations which are often as bizarre as they are entertaining.  Their selfish, stubborn, unwise, and childish behavior feels quite realistic.  

C'mon didn't you curse a lot and do stupid shit as a teenager too?

And as someone who generally prefers sweet, relaxing, nonabrasive stories, the irony of my enjoyment of this series is definitely not lost on me.  

The Art

The art style and quality is all over the place in this series.  Most of the characters spend the bulk of the time in chibi form, which to me makes sense because that is often used to demonstrate comedy and the bulk of the series is comedy.

Even when characters are out of chibi form they are often looking slightly off.  Almost like they are monsters.  Hands and feet might be HUGE and attached to stick skinny arms and legs.  Faces might be extremely pointed with eyes positioned in ways that really throw off the perspective.  

Sometimes the boys look alike, but they have such distinct personalities that I usually had not issue telling them apart. 

It is not a favorite art style of mine at all.  Even when the characters are in their bishounen glam shots, like on the covers, I'm not into it at all.  That being said, I do feel like it fits this story perfectly.

In Conclusion


This manga is not going to give you anything you would typically expect from a shoujo manga, and that is what is so fantastic about it. 

If you're a sucker for unlikely friendships, like me, then read this series.

If you like series' with crude humor, read this series.

The sky's the limit with the absurdity included in The Wallflower, so I highly recommend you read it to see for yourself.

Thanks for reading!


Images were screenshot from an online scanlation.  I personally hope this series gets a re-release in quality bindup editions!