Nobody's Fantasy V

I recently started playing the Game Boy Advance version of Final Fantasy V. Since I’m not in the mood for writing long pieces about the game’s creatively structured ending or its backhandedly sexist treatment of pirate leader Faris, I’ll just put up some Final Fantasy V postcards I stumbled across a while ago.

I’ve never been a fan of that extremely big-eyed look found in some anime and manga. Even before it became a tool of the unwholesome creepy-cute "moe" revolution, I preferred slightly more realistic characters in any cartoon that wasn’t a comedy. Yet I’m not about to shun Final Fantasy artwork, not when Square Enix had some artists from their Gangan comic collections draw the Final Fantasy V cast dressed in the game’s various job-related outfits.

The first postcard comes from Eita Mizuno, artist for the moderately successful Spiral manga series, and I think it shows all of the characters in their default “freelancer” outfits. It’s a bit of a cop-out for a game that revolves around turning the party members into knights and summoners and mimes. Still, Mizuno clearly played the game enough to known that Bartz, the brown-haired hero, is afraid of flying. He’s clinging to Galuf while Lenna happily sits atop her dragon, Krile looks on cheerfully, and Faris stares with mild disdain at Bartz’s aviatophobic tantrum.

Takeshi Fujishiro writes and draws Nagasarete Airantou, a dreadful manga series about a boy marooned on an island where clingy, fetish-coded girls fight over him. Yet his take on the Final Fantasy V cast is the least saccharine of these three postcards. Galuf’s a monk, Krile’s a black mage, Lenna’s a white mage, and Faris is clearly wondering why her knight regalia doesn’t include quite as much armor as Bartz’s does.

And now we come to Karin Suzuragi’s postcard. Suzuragi is best known for drawing manga in the Higurashi series, which mix squeaky-cute characters with blood-soaked murder. Unsurprisingly, Suzuragi's version of Final Fantasy V is also disturbing. Lenna and Faris are the very picture of modern moe: huge eyes, rampant blushing, and jarringly sexualized imagery, as we see in Lenna’s skin-tight dragoon bustier and otherwise childish appearance. The reddest cheeks are given to Faris, who’s clearly not pleased with her skimpy dancer’s outfit. Yes, Faris, you’re a pirate captain who spent decades posing as a man, and now you have to make up for it by being thoroughly shamed.

It brings to mind a telling quote from Akari Uchida, director of Rumble Roses: “You Westerners, listen. Eroticism is not only about nudity. That is part of it. You know, there's this character Anesthesia. She's like this Latina nurse character. Imagine that she's forced to wear a schoolgirl uniform and has to do the limbo dance. And she's so embarrassed that she's blushing. That is Japanese eroticism.”

Yes, women are sexy when they’re humiliated. You disappoint me, Suzuragi, and that disappointment is not mitigated by passable drawings of Krile as a monk, Galuf as a summoner, and Bartz as a red mage. I’ll see you and Uchida in detention.

This Is Not My Beautiful Wife

We cannot help but notice that many older anime fans have grown cynical about the industry that once so enchanted them. “Anime sucks now,” they will say, apparently speaking with the wisdom that comes from forging one’s anime geekery in an age of plenty and profit. These people are charlatans to a one, and they can be unmasked by a simple question: was anime any better ten years ago?

Answer: No.

That said, perhaps we simply aren’t going back far enough. Let’s ask another question. Was anime better twenty years ago?

Answer: Still no. And don’t try to argue that Dog Soldier is an unfairly terrible representative of 1989. We know better. Back then, money was spewing from the perpetually engorged Japanese housing bubble, and all the anime industry made with that money was a bunch of Dog Soldiers.

But maybe we’re still short-sighted. Let’s head back to 1979, when, as we hear from people who were alive and functionally self-aware then, anime was a wondrous cavalcade that didn’t make its fans embarrassed to be seen watching it. Was anime better thirty years ago?

Answer: Oh God, we’re just making it worse. Ever wonder how something like Mobile Suit Gundam became popular? It was by competing with stuff like this.

Then again, that dance number is awesome, especially when that guy sticks his head into the frame.

So there’s the real answer. We have only to wait another three decades, and then all of today’s shitty anime will seem kitschy and charming through the fog of ironic nostalgia. So long, anime industry. We’ll see you in 2039.