Hollow Boys

There’s this anime, Love After World Domination that, once again, was an anime from the 2022 season of absolute banger anime, and it was funny and it looked nice and it delved into a familiar trope space and it had a good comic timing and its protagonist, Desumi Loveafterworlddomination was extremely cute and gifed up well and also dressed like what I can only describe as a horny skeleton bunny girl dominatrix, so in the context of is it a good show to watch it pretty easily sat above things that looked bad and weren’t funny. It was described as a romantic comedy, and occasionally, you’d see people talk about it in the context of having a good pair of romantic leads and how it had two protagonists and how they had good chemistry and this is a lie. There are no leads, there are no protagonists, plural. There’s Desumi, and it is a show about Desumi, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because Desumi is extremely cute and sweet and funny and hot and I bet you could catch genders off her.

The beef I have with this series, and why I never bothered to do anything Story Pile about it, is because half of the core of the show isn’t there.

Here’s the high concept for Love After World Domination: It’s a sentai series, like you know, a Power Rangers style story, where the villain’s strong lieutenant type and the red ranger of the sentai group are secretly in love and dating, and trying to hide their wholesome relationship is the situation of the comedy that follows. Setting aside that this seems like a really obvious plot point that I kind of suspect a bunch of sentai series have already done, though, in Love After World Domination, the point is to focus on Fudo, the red ranger, and Desumi, and how they relate to one another.

And Fudo is the problem.

The problem with Fudo is not that he is bad. In fact, he is unfailingly nice and kind and he has a very prudent, respectful attitude towards Desumi that means he does not react badly to her outbursts (which in the case of the story can look like violent attacks, but y’know, heightened reality and all that), nor does he try to make her problems about himself. When she is anxious about something the story is expecting of her, he does not attempt to counsel her to make a decision that he would, or to follow his ethical code, but instead recommends that she do what is best for her, based on her own experience and perspective. It’s a really good, respectful mindset.

That is also almost everything we know about Fudo.

There’s a little bit more. Fuudo has written a book. It’s about bugs. The fact he has written anything at all is a punchline. He also works out a lot, and knows a lot about his exercising. Because he exercises a lot, he can be a good student, because all of his classwork can be, in his mind, related back to muscles and working out, which is a way for a mind to work.

That’s it. That’s how Fudo works. He is a good student, uncritically positive towards Desumi, in love with her, and supportive of what she wants to do without ever trying to address the complex issue of her organisation being villainous (at least in the anime I’m sure things change over time). That’s all there is to him, and the result leaves me feeling disappointed with an anime that spends so much time making its woman protagonist so good that her love interest is so lacking.

Fudo is hollow.

I can’t help but think about this in the context of The Locked Tomb books, because I have brain worms. In The Locked Tomb books, particularly Harrow The Ninth there is an exquisite, indulgent love of words and their interfaces in the ways people talk. Characters talk in such a way that you can tell who they interact with commonly and how, the experiences they’ve had and how they shaped them. It isn’t just that someone gives good advice or bad advice, showing their place in the story, it’s that they express ideas in that story that also express who they are as characters.

When Gideon knows something complex it is a surprise, when Harrow is reduced to a simple explanation, it is also a surprise because you know that those characters are not typically like that.

Fudo is consistently good and nice and unselfish, and those are moral and ethical things; those are, themselves, communication frameworks, as almost all moral arguments are. It’s the way you tell people what you do and don’t think is reasonable and how you want to be treated, how you want to develop and express a framework for your approach of the world. The problem with Fudo, and many characters like him, is that that’s it.

I do not know why Fudo is this thoughtful or respectful. I do not know if his context or his upbringing or his family helped guide him to think of things this way. I do not know if his mother’s attitude helped inform him how to think of other people, or how his sexual harrasser teammate’s behaviour is somehow acceptable in the context of being heroes. In fact, those things, coupled with his all-purpose ‘best answer’ mindset is kind of weirder, when you think about how they don’t seem to have had any impact on what he does or thinks.

By comparison, even when a character in The Locked Tomb is saying the worst possible thing they can, you can tell who they are, and why they use those words to describe what they’re doing. Their words are not just the best thing to drop into a sentence at that point, they’re not just the words a character needs to hear, but they are words being expressed by a character.

This is really a problem that persists more in romantic fiction that centres women characters than men, by the way; we have a lot of girls in media who exist to reassure a mid boy that in fact, he is good, really, and they like the way he strings along a harem of whatevers, really, ha ha and they’re not poly but I mean, unless, you know? This is because women are often commodified in fiction in general.

But I want to talk about it as it pertains to boys, because I am a boy, and I think that telling girls to be better at being girls is not really my lane, while when it comes to talking about boys and what boys should be doing and the lessons we should be taking from romantic media is that yes, we can do better, but also, being better doesn’t mean being perfect and nothing at the same time. You can have your own personality and damage and interests and reasons for expressing empathy and respect, without it being stuff that makes you come across as a Persona protagonist trying to get perfect social links on the golden play through.

Fudo is a nice boy. That is all there is to him, because Fudo, as presented in the anime, is pretty much hollow. I really like that the sweet romance he has with Desumi! I’d like it more if it was played out with a character who was actually something, a person with traits she could like, and not just the first and only convenient option that happens to say perfect things for no good reasons.