An Introduction to Shintaro Kago

Warning: this video/essay contains imagery that may be disturbing to some viewers.

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“Shit and sex are merely the starting points, and unless you can tick those off you can’t even begin thinking about a narrative.” – Shintaro Kago

Since the material written on Shintaro Kago is extremely sparse, I feel that he deserves to be presented beyond that which is covered in this piece; therefore, I will most likely be writing an analysis of one of his individual works in the future, in order to give more context into my feelings on his output.

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Shintaro Kago is a self identified kisou mangaka, a title which roughly translates to “bizarre manga artist.” He was born in Tokyo in 1969 and made his debut in manga around 1988, working for Comic Box magazine. Many of his works are experimental in effect and frequently break the fourth wall, as well as explore various extreme takes on page layout. He is most known as an author of the Ero Guro genre, which frequently blends eroticism and the grotesque. Many have referred to his works as “Fashionable Paranoia.” To quote Deculture: “According to the author, the stories and themes dealt with in his works are extreme because he pursues the development of a voice of his own within the limits of the rules and principles in which he himself has to move.” As well as occasional horrific sculptures of scat and corpses, Kago is also known for manufacturing various grotesque toys. Despite his constant output of Ero Guro material, he was most notably featured in Weekly Young Jump (a weekly seinen manga publication) with his sci-fi work Super-Conductive Brains Parataxis. Recently, he was notably featured as a guest artist in the preview for the Flying Lotus album “You’re Dead.”

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His manga frequently explore the theme of scatology, in an interview with Vice magazine from 2008, he was quoted saying that Scat is just something that I use as a riff for my stories. I chose the theme because at the time that I started doing it, nobody else was famous for it in the manga world. Also, I usually try to adhere to the format of the magazine I’m drawing for and back then most of the magazines that featured my work were quite peculiar. The shit-themed stuff came about when I started drawing a serial for this manga magazine that specializes in scat.” When asked in said interview if he found his own material sexually satisfying he responded with: “No, I don’t engage in those sorts of activities. It’s not even a fantasy of mine. It just happens to be one of the themes that I use… I’m not really into drawing sex scenes, and if I had a choice I’d prefer not to. But when you’re drawing for an erotic magazine, you sort of can’t avoid it.” Some examples of his titles include: Six Consciousnesses Thought Changing Ataraxia (六識転想アタラクシア), Dance! Kremlin Palace (踊る!クレムリン御殿), Ruggedness Nymphomania (凸凹ニンフォマニア), and  An Inquiry Concerning A Mechanistic Worldview of the Pituitary Gland. I am going to end this introduction with a quote from when Kago was asked by Vice to clarify his statements on not self-identifying as an artist: I believe that it’s the viewer who decides whether your work is art or if you’re an artist, not the creator.”

 

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If this piqued your interest into the works of Shintaro Kago, keep an eye out for my in depth analysis of one of his works in the future and consider subscribing to my youtube channel.

Recommended Reading: 

Abstraction

Citations:

Deculture: http://www.deculture.es/2013/01/shintaro-kago-xix-salon-manga-barcelona/

Vice: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/shintaro-kago-shit-gold-v15n2

K-On! and Tamako Market: Expressions of Mutual Aid and Kinship

This analysis will carry more weight if you have experienced the shows beforehand.

Concepts of community and friendship are often discussed in the discourse surrounding  the works of Yamado Naoko, director of the K-On! and Tamako Market franchises. However, something that I have noticed in Naoko’s works is that these series tend to go much  deeper with these themes. The series’ are loaded with expressions of Mutual Aid and Kinship. Mutual Aid is best defined by the late 19th century philosopher Peter Kropotkin. In an essay by Moya K. Mason, she wrote: that he (Kroptkin) “maintains that cooperation within a species has been an historical factor in the development of social institutions, and in fact, that the avoidance of competition greatly increases the chances of survival and raises the quality of life. He contended that mutual aid is a factor that is both biological and voluntary in nature, and is an enabler of progressive evolution. Kropotkin also believed that we have a predisposition to help one another, and we do so without governmental coercion.” Kin can simply be defined by its dictionary definition: of the same kind or nature; having affinity. However, going even deeper into the topic, the political philosophers bergman and Montgomery write that “(w)ithin the Spinozan current, friendship is being revalued: not as a bond between individuals, but as an ethical relation that remakes us, together, in an ongoing process of becoming-otherwise.” These concepts of a stronger form of connection between individuals and communities is something that I see expressed beautifully throughout both the K-On! and Tamako Market franchises. Therefore I will proceed to unpack specific scenes from both series in order to present how mutual aid and kin become applicable.

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  1.  Tamako Market/Love Story

The most straightforward example of mutual aid in Tamako Market, would be the community’s generosity towards Tamako and her friends. The free food they constantly give her, and the general support for everything the characters are going through, are tied deeply to the concepts of mutual aid. When someone is having a struggle with folks around them, or even internally, the community continually comes together to support them. This attention and care happens without causing anyone to feel shame. Sure, the characters in all of the shows discussed here are less than perfect, but I feel that this is what gives both shows their fiery sense of realism and affect, not unlike real life. These aren’t simple ‘kids’ shows, wherein the characters are perfect human beings and every problem is instantly resolved by the end of the episode —  as a way to model a good life for the viewers. Midori’s problems with Mochizo are never resolved, even by the end of Tamako Love Story, to the point where the viewer can barely define what it is that is bothering her. Is she in love with Tamako? Maybe. Or maybe Mochizo? Or Neither? It’s impossible to tell. This is achieved by using subtly — a method that I feel is not used enough in storytelling as a whole. The subtly in the interactions throughout Tamako Market greatly resemble the ways real life interactions play out, you can’t always know what your close friend is truly thinking, and you may never find out. But what makes this show so powerful is the fact that despite all these problems, no one is ever shamed for them, and they continue to be treated with the same level of care and love that can only truly play out between kin.

The friendship/relationship between Mochizo and Tamako connects deeply to these ideas of kin, just look at his name and their professions (they’re mochi makers’– kids, in case you haven’t seen the show). The two of them ultimately find out that they share a deep love at the end of Tamako Love Story and this love sprouts from something pure and simple, a common ground. To a lesser extent, this common ground is presented throughout the whole community and is even offered to outsiders. The instant Choi arrives, a south islander, she is treated with wonder and care, so much so that she becomes concerned that there are ulterior motives involved. Ultimately she accepts the community as an extension of her community from the south (kin). Since the market’s level of mutual aid is something that is pure and organic, not a set of rigid rules, which they don’t truly embody, it becomes impossible to distrust them even when they present their personal issues and inconsistencies.

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  1. K-On!

Now here comes the big one. K-On! is so connected to these concepts that it would be impossible to cover them all in this analysis, so I’m only going to cover the moments that stand out the most to me. Probably the biggest example of mutual aid and kin in the series is the way Ui and Yui’s relationship is played out. Ui takes care of Yui with no thought given to reciprocation. Most would pass this off as Yui’s laziness and Ui just being a stickler for duty, yet when one pays attention it becomes obvious how much Ui truly loves caring for her. This love is beyond the realm of familial duty and is shown beautifully whenever Yui is away. Sure, Yui doesn’t do much in way of physical care for the house (or herself for that matter), but through these scenes it becomes plainly obvious that Yui offers a sense of stability to Ui, and a deep sisterly love that goes beyond shallow interaction. What makes this so poignant for me is that Ui never thinks once that it’s weird that she is younger than Yui, this relationship isn’t tied to the hierarchies of age, but instead is connected to the individual abilities that they possess. In short, what each of them is best equipped to give. What the sisters offer each other and the house is mutual aid in the truest sense.

Mutual aid is presented in many small ways throughout, from the moments Mugi shares her financial privilege with the group, to the way that the girls all decide to save money to buy Yui a guitar in the second episode without even batting an eye. The way Sawako works for the girls’ sake beyond her duties as an adviser and teacher, to the point of being regarded more as a friend than any real position of power over them. She also takes them to their first music festival. What teacher in that position of power would do that? When the girls lay on the field at the festival and claim to each other that they are better than any of the bands performing because of their chemistry, it showcases wonderfully that these girls care for each other beyond the realm of friendship, thus moving towards a level of connection that would be impossible to sever. These girls are family, they are everything to each other, they are kin.

The final performance in episode 20 of Season 2 is a perfect example of how much their presence at the school affects the whole community, the way the audience gives complete space for Yui (and the whole band) to give their thanks in the most unhinged way. Any other situation and this scene would have been awkward, but in this context the whole community is aware that the girls of Houkago Tea Time need and deserve this space. The band has given the school something special in the form of their music and energy, and finally the whole school is truly giving back. With the whole student body doning the HTT shirts that Sawako made the night before (she made all those goddam shirts, she is so much more than just a nice teacher), the students completely give the girls the space to open up, cry, joke, give long winded thanks, go way over time, and just express all the raw emotions that are flowing through them. This scene is the most perfect example of community and mutual aid that I have ever seen in any story, period.

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Conclusion

These shows aren’t spewing with rhetoric when it comes to these themes (I doubt the creators even thought about it in this way), but instead present honest embodied community and all the experiences and joys that come from entrenching oneself in a circle of mutual aid and love with those that you feel proud to call kin. The series’ presentation of these ideals should be taken as an ultimate example for people of all ages on how to live life to the fullest and to truly care for those around you. The stories here aren’t even making it look like a struggle, you don’t have to be happy all the time, or be struggling constantly, just accept and promote joy and community in whatever way works for you. In episode 24 of K-On’s second season, the girls write and perform a song (Tenshi Ni Fureta Yo) for Azusa, that was written with the intention of giving her something beautiful before the four of them leave Azusa behind as they head off to college. After they finish performing, Azusa says (through her tears) something that I feel captures my relationship to the ideals I’ve covered and everything that comes with it (as well as the whole theme of the show): “In the end you’re not very good. But I want to hear more.” Community and kin is a struggle, it’s not always clean cut and easy, what Azusa says not only covers my feelings on these ideals, but also beautifully presents the fact that she wants to keep “hearing” and living it passionately no matter what.

        

Trash Music: A Thesis

-this essay is intended to be inflammatory

There has been a growing trend among electronic musicians and companies that is limiting some of the potentials for new ways of making sound, and ultimately for growth. This in part has consisted of a desperate need to create a visual sense that what many artists are doing still relates to analogue musical aesthetics — either through the layout of DAWs (“Reason” emulating a synth rack, etc.), or the obsessive need to create midi controllers — which either give the audience a visual rhythmic cue or actually emulate “real instruments” (keyboards, wind instruments, drums, etc). All of these techniques (and more) appear to be only there to give the audience, and in some cases, the musicians a comfort in knowing that what they are creating is still tied to archaic concepts in music, such as: skill and human interaction. What makes this a concern as a limiting factor in progress is that people are not  accepting the possibility that what they are actually doing is curating sounds and “music” from a nonorganic, digital, alienating, and/or “post-human” space of interaction.

If we continue to move away from this concept we will be denying the beauty of this post-organic music; or to say it another way, we have to be open to our complex relationships with machines. This is not to say that the individual (or collective) human isn’t crucial to the making of the music and art, but rather, that it’s a composition of assemblages. As Donna Haraway’s idea of the Chthulucene suggests we can be kin to all; that the “…entities in-assemblages—including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus.” are included. The gist, is that we are often limiting our human imaginations by folding back in time to recreate our works today.

There have been many attempts at moving towards this way of thinking, mainly through environments such as Max/MSP, but even these programs have become influenced by this limiting midi controller culture. For instance, instead of people writing patches that algorithmically create the music or improvising the codes live, we are instead left with people fooling around with smartphones and “leap motion.” Once again denying the potentially terrifying notion that people do not have to be the centre of attention in a presentation.

A point that seems very interesting when it comes to subverting these notions is the concept of Live Coding, and in particular Algorave. Artists such as, Kindohm and Yaxu create algorithmic music and dance music using stripped down text based languages that connect to the sound engine Super Collider. In performances, these artists isolate themselves behind their laptops and write and evaluate the code that will be curating and composing the sound that the audience hears. In this presentation the main point of interest is the projection of the code on the wall behind them, rather than visuals or other typical visual cues. This happening thus exposes the very nonorganic and digital structure behind the music that is presented. 

Another angle that can come across as disturbing is people’s obsession with “original” synth patches and samples. Instead, we ought to call for a complete trashing of the imposed hierarchy of sonic techniques in electronic music and support the  creation of more “trash music.” ‘Trash music’ in this sense would be a plunderphonic electronic style that would attempt to include the blending of overplayed, or trashy sounds and samples, into an assemblage of work. This would be an attempt to subvert our societies obsession with our outdated and overly held values in regards to originality in music. We instead ought to try and represent the horrific and embarrassing qualities in the 20th and 21st centuries sonic body. For example, we could blend smooth jazz with anime music, 808s, auto tune, the amen break, vibraphones, and Stockhausen.

There are many projects and scenes that come close to this concept such as, Oneohtrix Point Never (particularly the album,”Garden Of Delete”) and of course, the Vapour (vaporwave, hardvapour, future funk, etc.) movement, that has plagued the internet over the past few years. We ought to look to these albums and scenes as not so much a “meme” or a joke, but instead a call to arms against archaic concepts and categories like ‘quality’ or ‘creative purity’. These modes of thinking and presenting combined with a live coding practice/sensibility ought to help move us towards a “great unveiling” of deeper understandings and possibilities in both culture and electronics, particularly in regards to art and music.