Some people have dismissed Colony Drop as an act. Just look at the title of this post, they might say. Nobody could believe such ridiculous hyperbole! But I’m not telling you that you need to believe it. I’m telling you that the shit is already upon us.
It is well documented that Japan’s birth rate is in freefall. It is also well documented that a growing niche of Japanese are electing to lock themselves up and spend their lives in fantasy. Grown men are singing songs of their doomed love for two-dimensional girls, and even the New York Times has run a chilling near-future science fiction piece on an alternate Japan in which the entire male population is in love with pillows.
This can only go one way: soon, Japan’s last man will die alone. Only his Love Plus virtual widow(s) and a bookshelf harem of PVC girls will remain. When this day comes to pass, I will blame the dashing Jun Maeda, and Key, the company he co-founded.
(Spoilers for Key’s works follow. You do already know they’re all about weeping over dead or dying girls, yes?)
Key makes visual novels: if you’ve seen anime adaptations of Kanon, Clannad, or Air, you’re already familiar with their work. Not interactive enough to be videogames, but too visually oriented to strictly be called literature (the games often read like scripts for anime), VNs are their own form in otaku culture. Think of the PC adventure games of days gone by– but with less game and more girls– and you’re starting to get the idea. Key’s works were so successful that they were able to move up from the adult-game ghetto into the relative mainstream: as it turned out, otaku were actually even more interested in tragedy porn than the regular kind.
See, Key gave birth to a genre, one more charitably called a “crying game” (but not like that) by its fans. The player pays for some cheap emotional manipulation, and like a vending machine stocked high with cans of freshly spent tears, the game delivers.
The Key setup is always the same: an antisocial young man not unlike the player meets and forms relationships with a number of sad, mystically doomed girls, all of whom who are somehow deeply connected to, and hopelessly dependent upon, him in ways which become clearer as the story goes on. What is left unclear is how these girls, particularly the main heroines, managed to stay alive up until high school on their own: these moé dream girls seem about as mentally and emotionally developed as a four year old. You’d think they’d have been hit by a bus, stuck their finger into an outlet, or set themselves on fire by now. The girls often have speech impediments to match their infantile personalities, constantly descending into babyspeak with all-purpose nonsense syllables like “gao” and “uguu” in conversation. Between this and the ultra-twee character design– faces consist of the tiniest possible nose and mouth nestled between a pair of eyes that take up about two thirds of the face– these heroines neither look nor act like anything resembling a human being. They haven’t a shred of humanity to them: they are entities consisting only of moé.
And then, as it must, tragedy strikes. In Air, heroine Misuzu– the one that says “gao”– is doomed by various supernatural factors to a terminal condition I and many Internet commentators have dubbed “Space AIDS.” There’s nothing anybody can do about it but watch her die slowly and painfully, which works out because it’s what the viewer came to see anyway. In Key anime, the contortions of a weeping girl’s face and the flow of her tears are animated with the kind of loving detail that Gainax, in better days, used to lavish on the movement of breasts. When Misuzu finally keels over (in slow motion!) it may as well be the show’s despair-fetish money shot. The Key heroines are all in varying states of suffering, illness or death: indeed, this is the crucial moé point. It’s not enough that the girl is mentally unsound, physically weak, dependent, and perpetually shivering in pain: it turns out that for otaku, the most desirable woman is actually dying.
So what we can take away from Air, Kanon, Clannad and their ilk is that the ideal woman is one of those talking dolls with the pullstring in the back. Fine, fine. Fantasy is fantasy. The world doesn’t run on courage, either. What’s sad is that there are guys out there taking this to heart, praising the Key games and cartoons for the humanity of their characters, perhaps thinking of the bobble-headed dying infant Key girl as their romantic ideal. In the most terrible and nearly hopeless case, they’ve allowed her to define their sexuality.
Of course these guys give up on humanity! They probably never gave people a chance in the first place. What they want, what they’d expect from another human being, is inhuman. If the Key girl existed in real life, she’d be a terrifying little thing that any responsible adult would check into the nearest mental health institution immediately. That she is an ideal to some men is a tiny tragedy in itself, one sadder, as far as I’m concerned, than any number of thousand-year curses, Sixth Sense comatose ghosts, or terminally ill moms giving birth to terminally ill children.
We at Colony Drop can save Japanimation, dear reader, but we can’t save you. You’re going to have to do that yourself. We can only urge those of you in the audience who are so afflicted by love in 2D to give human beings another try. “Why should I,” you ask? Because human beings are wonderful. They don’t act out a fully predictable and perfectly codified set of actions designed to keep you in your lazy comfort zone. They don’t suffer for your personal gratification, and they don’t leave the empty feeling of a freshly soiled hugpillow or Megami magazine poster. More importantly, people can return love.
That said, most people are about as mean as we are, so you’re just going to have to man the fuck up, go outside and deal with it. This is for your own good. Yours especially, Japan. I’ve got money in your collective death pool, and I’d like you guys to prove me wrong.