bITS 'N CHUNKS
Content warning: this post will include description/discussion of topics surrounding mental health such as anxiety, triggers, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide. There will also be a few depictions of gory/horror material although not excessively graphic in my opinion. Pictures will be limited and purely for demonstration.
Let me be clear and say I've been a fan of eroguro for a long time (make of that what you will) so it's probably no shock that I like gurokawa, or "grotesque cute" (guro + kawaii).
In my youth, I was a gore-lover by nature and a horror movie fan. Eroguro art and the history behind it was really interesting to me from an aesthetic point of view. As I got older, my need for shocking gore to scare adults with lessened with maturity (I assume) and I prefer simple horror and unease. But like many things, gurokawa makes me nostalgic for those old times. And, I still like eroguro art and general kawaii fashion even if I don't really relate to it (I'm about as un-kawaii as it gets).
Now, gurokawa has a few mutations. One of them was something I was introduced to a few years ago which involves ahegao or exaggerated sexual facial expressions (think of the corniest hentai that you can). I liked the colors and thought the concept was a little goofy but harmless, but I don't think it ever took off. About that same time was when I was introduced to uchuu (a branch of fairy kei with outer space motifs) and menhera. Menhera is a little complicated: on one hand, you can put it under the gurokawa umbrella, ironically as a more toned down branch. But at the same time, it is a very dark branch off of fairy kei, still involving the pastel colors (yume or "dream") but also allowing for dark, almost goth colors (yami or "dark") with the same motifs of self-loathing. For even more context, it also seems to be related to the Japanese equivalent of emo/scene fashion due to its "heart on your sleeve" and DIY mentality.
Menhera art didn't really bother me as it reminded me a lot of eroguro, with medical motifs and more pastel. But when I first encountered menhera fashion, I thought it was extremely distasteful. It looked like a bunch of young kids brandishing self-harm scars and essentially mocking disability for attention, two things that get me quite angry. However, as the movement grew and more information and context was put out in English, I became curious. I started reading the Menhera-chan comic and at first I cringed but then it became very morbidly funny and satirical for me, and I found myself enjoying it.
For a little background on myself, I deal with issues stemming from depression & anxiety and have done so for quite some time. I've been "provocative" i.e cutting in public, having outbursts, things like that and of course it's called attention seeking behavior. And it's attention-seeking because, well, it seemed like no one believed me about my problems for various reasons. At the time, it wasn't very popular to seek out help for mental issues and it was more en vogue to hide them. Admitting you need help definitely made you "crazy" and thus bad, and that attitude creates a vicious cycle where it is impossible for the victim to ever seek help. For cultural context, this is a similar attitude found in Japan, where the disabled and/or mentally ill are seen as a burden, suicides due to bullying are at high rates, and youth culture is continuously evolving in reactionary ways to old guard.
So there's a lot I relate to in menhera. The embracing of something so socially stigmatized. Wearing necklaces with syringes full of magical girl serum. Hoodies with noose ties. Taking a cuteness pill in the morning. Dream drugs to fix all your problems in life. Not being ashamed of scars on your wrists. Yes it's edgy and provocative, and certainly attention grabbing, but it's provocative because you're supposed to look and see. I was happy to see a movement for and by people dealing with illness.
Of course, menhera can still be seen as disrespectful for pretty much all the same reasons listed. With no context, it looks to be glamorizing mental illness, and certainly there are people who are involved because wearing glittery Bandaids is cute. In this case, I think context is everything but I highly doubt everyone you ask with a Cherry Cheezy shirt is going to run down their life's history so their shirt makes sense. Are you supposed to ask? Sure, but not everyone's going to answer. It's kind of toeing that line of "I need to tell you" and "It's none of your business" which, in fact, it is but it isn't. In fact, I find myself ruminating and talking about it a lot because I don't want to look offensive myself, which would be somewhat ironic but of course we can hurt each other even unintentionally. One person's freedom of expression is another one's possible trigger.
I think for further context it's important to note that menhera itself is not something new, just the term. It has a lot in common with the works of Junko Mizuno, author of Pure Trance. Mizuno's works often involve cute chibi characters in very adult or horrific situations. There is a lot of hyperfeminine shoujo lace and drip detail, which equates to "sick". I have notebooks full of anime characters bleeding or drooling from the mouth with weird expressions, details of cuttings, depression diary entries, stuffed animals with syringes, and so on. So again, there's a lot to relate to on a personal and aesthetic level.
And again, a lot to apologize for. Back to the issue of triggers, at least in the Western hemisphere (no doubt Japan as well), it's becoming clear that a lot of the edgier aspects of the fashion like bloody bandages on the wrists are triggering to others who do NOT want to display their suffering. There are plenty of people who don’t want to advertise and people who don't want to censor themselves. Blog entries can be marked with a content warning, but what about street fashion snaps and real life? When you choose to dress in a way that attempts to address a serious social issue, are you responsible for people's feelings on the subject and how you convey yourself?
I think after a while, menhera is going to tone itself down. Weirdly enough, the bondage elements seem to be doing just that as well as incorporating more traditional mahou shoujo motifs. Gore is already looked down upon unless it's cosplay and even then kind of sniffed at. That makes me glad, because it shows the movement wants to be taken seriously. A simple t-shirt and some cutesy accessories should get it.
Later, I'll talk about my relationship to menhera more specifically as a black person and aimlessly speculate on why POC outside of Japan might be more keen on the movement, and a little DIY interlude. If you'd like a handy guide on menhera and more information, please check out the FYeah Menhera tumblr which has articles in English, Japanese, and a few in Spanish.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...