Men Can Be Flowers Too: Asian Masculinities in Popular Culture

NIcholas Tse as Hua Wuque, The Proud Twins
Nicholas Tse as Hua Wuque, The Proud Twins

Every time I see articles about young Asian actors leaving behind their “flower boy” roles for more “manly” characters, I feel some kind of way. Such articles act like attractiveness and masculinity cannot go hand it hand. They might if their authors were watching what I watch.

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What I’m Listening To: Seventeen, “Love & Letter” (Repackage)


I’ve slipped into the shining diamond life with Seventeen and their repackaged album, Love & Letter! The group’s strategy is to not only use the power of the numbers, but also their unique sub-units, divided into the vocal team, the hip-hop team and the performance team.  The repackage provides some delightful versions of Seventeen’s songs.

Upbeat title tracks, “아주 Nice” and “Shining Diamond” make for good material for the performance team. I really like the use of the horns on “Nice” and the pop sound of “Shining Diamond.” On the repackage album, though, other tracks showcase the vocal and hip-hop teams, including rearranged versions of previous songs so cleverly done, I didn’t even recognize the originals. The hip-hop team version of  “만.세[Mansae]” has a completely different beat than the original. The vocal team’s version slow jam-y of “아낀다[Adore U]” sounds nothing like the original, and that’s not a bad thing.


Daebak. . . Is On My Mind!

I put this K-drama down for a minute, but I had to pick it back up once I realized that it had the Triple Threat!!!! First, Choi Min Soo as King Sukjong! He is one of my favorite actors, and he apparently is the founder of the School of Chill Acting. No matter the role, he’s in permanent chill mode. In Daebak, he’s mostly just chillin’ on the throne, drinking tea, incense swirling around him, peering over his glasses (is that historically accurate?) condescendingly at his lackeys. Or chillin’ in a pavilion. Or chillin’ in his inner chamber. But don’t let his laid-back demeanor fool you…he knows EVERYTHING going down in the kingdom and he is not to be trifled with! Second is another alumni from Warrior Baek Dong Soo, Yeo Jin Goo, who plays Prince Yeoning,  who gets treated badly by the royal ministers because he’s the son of a water maid.  Baby Baek Dong Soo is all grown up. He’s just trying to get justice for the people and perfecting his placid  “I’m going to stand here and let you yell at me/I did exactly what you told me not to do” look in front of the King. I’m loving those closeups too! Third is the Prince of Asia, Jang Geun Suk as our hero, Baek Dae Gil! Goofy as ever, he’s doing a good job of playing the tragic gambler. I really need him and Yeoning to be friends.

But there’s a bonus!!!  Ahn Kil Kang as old school swordsmaster Kim Chae Gun who takes on the task of whipping our titular hero into shape. Together, they are the best reasons for watching this K-drama!

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Awkward Girls Making Friends in Kimi ni Todoke and RELife

In anime, school comes off as an emotional battleground that is especially perilous for socially awkward girls trying to make friends. Kimi ni Todoke and RELife both show the courage of the introvert.

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My Favorite…Solo Male K-pop Artists!

I’m back with another installment of My Favorites! This time, it’s solo male K-pop artists, the Kangta and Wheesung Edition. Wait! Before you even ask, “Where is [insert Rain, Park Hyo Shin, your favorite male solo singer, your cousin], these are male artists that I like. They are also primarily solo artists, not current members of groups with solo projects (that’s another post–I see you, Taeyang and Heo Young Saeng!). #sorrynotsorry

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Manchild in Animeland: Barakamon

Seishuu and the kids, Barakamon
Seishuu and the kids, Barakamon

A few weeks ago, I extolled the virtues of adults in anime. While adults (when they live) contribute to the wellbeing of children, sometimes you have adults who ACT like children. Such is the case with Handa Seishuu (aka “Sensei), who is grown man with a child’s disposition, who is forced to spend extended time with actual children in Barakamon.

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EXO’s Lucky One. . . . Is On My Mind!


“Lucky One” is one of two comeback tracks for EXO’s EX’ACT album. You know I am down for this disco-infused extravaganza! I also like the video (which opens with a shot that takes advantage of D.O.’s natural lack-of-expression) and gestures back to previous EXO concepts, including the superpowers, the EXO-planet and the team jerseys, which lends a sense of continuity. I’m not sure if the video matches the song, but I like the song and I like the video so I’m calling it a WIN!

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How to Diversify Your K-pop Roster

If you’ve been a K-pop fan for a while, you might run into this problem. Sure, you have mad love for your favorite K-pop groups, but we all know that K-pop promotions run in a cycle. What do you do when your favorite groups are MIA? FIND MOAR!

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?: Kangin and Super Junior

The minute somebody says something about getting Kangin to leave, the mud-slinging starts (i.e. “you’re not a true fan,” “you’re an ANTIFAN!”). This is not confined to K-pop fandoms, but still. Why can’t we disagree and refrain from calling each other names? We all know this is not Kangin’s first trip to the trouble rodeo. Fans aren’t wrong when they say that his behavior has a negative effect on the team. At the same time, K-pop fans are very forgiving, and want to give him a second chance. See what I did there? That’s looking at the issue from both sides. No fans were hurt in the making of this post.

Power in Unity!: Ideal Masculinity in Descendants of the Sun

Song Joong Ki as Captain "Big Boss" Yoo Shi Jin, Descendants of the Sun
Song Joong Ki as Captain “Big Boss” Yoo Si Jin, Descendants of the Sun

We all know the primary reason we are all over Descendants of the Sun is Captain “Big Boss” Yoo Si Jin (Song Joong Ki). He’s become one of my favorite male protagonists in a K-drama, so central to the story that he takes attention away from the female lead. At the same time, he reinforces male friendships.

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Parental Units in Erased and Usagi Drop

Satoru and Satoru's Mom, Erased
Satoru and Satoru’s Mom, Erased

Anime is usually the playground of superpowered kids, angsty teenagers and dysfunctional young adults, but the parental figures in Erased and Usagi Drop show intergenerational relationships rarely seen.

Let’s face it. Parents and guardians are an endangered species in anime. They are often absent for a variety of reasons, the most popular being some kind of tragedy. Children are either left in the care of grandparents or aunts and uncles or, most likely, they are living on their own! When anime characters do have parents, they are often off-screen and not part of the shenanigans. These kids roll as if they don’t have parents.

So it’s kinda surprising when Satoru’s mom shows up in the first episode of Erased, an anime series about a guy who inexplicably can travel back in time 3 minutes to prevent tragedies, and continues to be a pivotal figure.  Satoru is a 29-year-old wannabe manga artist who ekes out a living writing and working at the local pizza shop. He’s a man of modest means, living in a small apartment by himself.  He’s learned to work with his power, which he calls Revival.

When Satoru’s mom crashes his crib after hearing about his recent accident and hospital stay, Satoru’s response is basically an eye-roll. You don’t get the sense that they have a close relationship. She seems concerned about his well-being, but totally disregards his space. She takes his futon and relegates him to the sleeping bag. He seems to be used to it. At first, their relationship seems to be background for the anime’s main plot, but no! Something bad happens that sends Satoru back to his 11-year-old body and a childhood tragedy involving murdered classmates that he had mostly forgotten about.

Once he realizes what has happened, his first thought is to rush home, looking for his mother, and there she is. However, Saturo has a different reaction observing the situation with his 29-year-old mind. While he was totally annoyed by his mother showing up in his present, he cries out of relief and appreciation in his past. He realizes that he had forgotten that they were close, that she knows him much more than he realizes and that she has always looked out for him. Satoru gains a greater appreciation for his mom, which is no small feat in an anime that has one of the worst mother figures ever.  Satoru’s mom is the exact opposite of Hinazaki’s mom. An alcoholic woman who is obviously with the wrong man, Hinazaki’s mom is physically abusive and a horrible person and mother. Give Satoru’s mom a trophy!

While Erased features the relationship between a fairly capable mother and son, Usagi Drop features a parental figure who has no idea what he’s doing. When 30-year-old Daikichi goes home to pay his respects in the wake of his grandfather’s death, he has no idea of the drama that waits for him. Apparently, the little six-year-old girl that seems out of place at the home is his grandfather’s daughter, making her simultaneously Daikichi’s aunt and potential charge. When the rest of the family discusses putting her up for adoption or sending her to an orphanage, Daikichi steps up to the plate and says he will take care of Rin.

Like Satoru, Daikichi is living alone in modest means. He has no responsibilities beyond himself until Rin shows up and he has little idea how to take care of a six-year-old girl. Not only does Daikichi have to figure out his parental duties, he has to also deal with a grieving Rin.  Daikichi does his absolute best, makes mistakes and asks for help. He asks his sister about school and after-school care. He works out their schedule so that he can take Rin to school before work and pick her up afterwards. When his job begins to get in the way to providing quality time for Rin, he asks to be reassigned to a less prestigious position, going from salaryman to warehouse worker.

Rin and Daikichi, Usagi Drop

Daikichi is asked to do more adulting than anyone because he also has to deal with Rin’s narcissistic mom, some young girl who aspires to be what?  A manga artist. She shows very little interest in Rin’s welfare. Daikichi has to track her down like she’s America’s Most Wanted. He also has to manage Rin’s feelings about her mother. He’s careful not to talk about Rin’s mom in front of her. Moreover, he has to deal with his disapproving family. They don’t particularly dislike Rin, but seem to be more worried about Daikichi’s prospects and future. When they see Daikichi’s efforts, they relent. Daikichi’s mom comes to grow close to Rin, treating her like the grandchild she seems to be.

It’s not that Daikichi is particularly uncaring before taking Rin on as a charge, but that role certainly brings out his nurturing side. Nothing shows this more than when Rin gets sick with a fever. The worry and concern that Daikichi shows is overwhelming. Nevertheless, he proves to be a good parental figure for Rin, giving her the stability that no other adult has in her life. (S/N: Beware the live-action movie. It’s bad, or rather, lacks the charm of the anime).

When parents do show up in anime, it can be fun to watch!

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Hyuga and Kiyoshi. . . Are On My Mind!

Hyuga, Kiyoshi, Aida

So I’m watching Kuroko’s Basketball again (don’t judge me!). The first time around I was all about my favorite blue-haired boy, Kuroko, but this time I can spend more time on other characters, including the dynamic duo of Hyuga Junpei and Kiyoshi Teppei. While their relationship is not exactly Tom and Jerry, it is definitely based on a strange dynamic. Hyuga loves remind Kiyoshi that he hates him, but he usually has to put that to the side to win a basketball game. It tickles me how long it takes Hyuga to high-five Kiyoshi after a successful play. I forgot how much I enjoyed watching their friendship develop, almost as much as I enjoyed Hyuga getting rid of his blond hair.

A Brief Message From Our Sponsor….


This brief lapse of posts has been brought to you by HARD DRIVE FAILURE. HARD DRIVE FAILURE has a long and distinguished tradition of bringing creative expression to a complete halt and is proud of that. It has cornered the market. However, I no longer find my partnership with HARD DRIVE FAILURE to be beneficial, so I will have to terminate this relationship. Let the posts resume!

They Are Not Cheerleaders: Female Characters in Haikyuu!! and Kuroko’s Basketball

While you might assume that sports anime series like Haikyuu!! and Kuroko’s Basketball might relegate its female characters to the sidelines, they do a remarkable job of making them smart, relevant to the story and characters in their own right.

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Amoeba Culture. . . Is On My Mind!

amoebaculturetourOnce I processed (ok, I’m still processing) the news of Zion T.’s departure from Amoeba Culture to a sub-label at YG headed by Teddy, I’m also thinking about Amoeba Culture. This doesn’t seem to be an acrimonious split, and I was happy to see Amoeba Culture’s official statement, which acknowledges their previous relationship:  “During that time Amoeba Culture and Zion. T had a relationship beyond simply being just an agency and an agency artist. We relied on each other, made good music, and spent happy moments together. Thus we feel sorry and regret” (soompi). At the same time, the label wishes him well: “Although we cannot be in the same place together, Amoeba Culture will always support Zion. T’s new challenge as he enters a new environment and unfamiliar field in order to fulfill his dreams” (soompi). I”m concerned about Amoeba Culture and their roster. I have loved Amoeba Culture artists, but with Zion T. leaving, I feel like Amoeba Culture needs more talent, which isn’t easy because talent doesn’t work on trees. I hope that it can continue to operate as an artist-led label.

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kokoberry, “Zion. T Parts Ways With Amoeba Culture, Reportedly Signs With YG Sub-Label.” soompi. 16 Mar 2016.


Chief Master Sergeant Seo Dae Young. . . Is On My Mind!

Jin Goo, Descendants of the Sun
Jin Goo, Descendants of the Sun

Don’t get me wrong, I see you, “Big Boss” Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong Ki) right there, but his sidekick Chief Master Sergeant Seo Dae Young (Jin Goo) is no slouch in Descendants of the Sun! Even though those brooding good looks may suggest that he’s an aloof loner, he’s actually great friends with Shi Jin. They seem to be good colleagues: going on special ops missions, hanging out with their respective stuffed animal dates at the coffee shop (for the record, I think Dae Young’s is cuter!), saving the youth from a life of crime. But it’s Dae Young’s constant deadpan expression that cracks me up (and Shi Jin always goes along with it!). He is also a loyal friend, always having Shi Jin’s back.