Graveyard Smash: Kemono Jihen

Kemono Jihen is an anime that succeeds in just about everything it aims to do. As a shounen action series with a bit more of an otaku bent than the big traditional Jump titles, it manages to straddle the line between “energetic young kids fighting” and “entertaining character-interaction comedy/drama.” 

When a private investigator named Inugami comes to a rural inn to investigate some mysterious animal mutilations, he discovers a boy named Kabane who seems to be hated by his adopted family. Inugami soon discovers that Kabane is actually a half-human kemono (monster) capable of immense strength and with an indestructible body. After faking Kabane’s death, Inugami takes him to Tokyo, where he becomes one of a trio of young teens who work for Inugami’s detective agency. Together, they help to solve supernatural crimes, which sometimes involves having to get their hands a little dirty.

Kabane is in many ways a typical shounen hero: unusually strong and enormously naive. However, he’s not quite a Goku or a Luffy. While I might be dating myself a bit, if you’ve ever watched the old “Coneheads” Saturday Night Live skits (or even the 1990s film), Kabane has a similar kind of tendency to talk as if he’s not entirely sure how words and emotions work, while being both blunt and kind at heart at the same time. The other characters—like the brash yet slightly tsundere spider boy Shiki and the effeminate and social media–obsessed snow boy Akira—provide Kabane with personalities to bounce off of, as well as allies to bond with. A later side character, a kitsune girl named Kon, is my favorite character in terms of her interactions with Kabane, as they’re equally charmingly dim. Kabane and Kon give me a vibe very akin to Denji and Power in Chainsaw Man

As for the series being more otaku than the norm, I think this comes across mainly in the character designs. They’re not egregiously pandering by any means, but they possess a general cute yet cool aesthetic that seems to be leaving the door open for all manner of fanart and fan interpretations to happen. Which is to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fan base was mostly a combination of those who love fights and those who love young and charismatic characters.

Action-wise, Kemono Jihen stands quite well on its own, and the superpowered fights that do occur are refreshingly straightforward and easy to follow without too many special attacks gumming up the clarity of a battle. The contrast of those cute characters fighting somewhat brutally might not appeal to everyone, but it’s never excessively grotesque.

Will Kemono Jihen stay a relatively down-to-Earth story about investigating mysteries, or will it lean towards escalating power levels and big fights? I actually don’t mind either direction because the characters are so endearing. In a way, that’s some of the best praise I can give.

Minmaxer Fiction: The Intersection Between Dungeons & Dragons and Isekai

I saw a tweet recently from someone complaining about isekai series that introduce and highlight stats and numbers the way an RPG would despite ostensibly being set in non-game fantasy worlds. 

In response, I  wrote the above tweet to give my two cents on the appeal of such an approach. However, it also got me thinking in another direction that takes this RPG fantasy game genre all the way back to one of its roots—good ol’ Dungeons & Dragons—and I realized something: these game-esque light novels feel like they’re written by what tabletop RPG players call “minmaxers.”

I was introduced to playing D&D thanks to Alain from Reverse Thieves, and after years of playing with him, I’ve come to learn firsthand that roleplaying is a very different experience compared to prose fiction or a television show. Essentially, it’s more like collaborative interactive storytelling compared to other mediums, and one aspect of this nature is that many different people with different goals come to the same table. You might have someone who’s more into exploring the world. You might have someone who wants the glory of slaying the monster and saving the day. You might have someone who wants a dramatic narrative. Because this dynamic is so important, many people have devoted many hours to categorizing the various D&D player types and thinking about how to best cater to them or even deal with their worst excesses.

Among these player archetypes, a common one is the minmaxer: the person who’s all about designing strong characters from a statistical perspective by minimizing certain scores and maximizing others, often prioritizing power over all else. There are also less extreme versions of this, such as someone simply interested in game systems and how different stats interact with one another, but it falls in the same general space. However, whereas a Dungeon Master running a game might have to take into account all the potentially different priorities of their players, a web novelist or light novelist can write the stories they want without necessarily taking into account an audience composed of varying tastes, and instead tell a story where the “game mechanics” are front and center. Adding to this intentional rigidity is the fact that many of the light novels that fall into these minmaxer worlds are clearly more inspired by video games such as Japanese RPGs and MMORPGs, where mechanics mastery is often highly valued and encouraged by the games themselves—sometimes even over storytelling.

When you look at the typical trends of protagonists within these game-style fantasy worlds, this angle becomes all the clearer. Many isekai heroes are able to peer deeper into the inner workings of the world (So I’m a Spider, So What?), have some kind of special ability that lets them defy stat restrictions (Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?), or just know that there are game-like qualities to their world (My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!). What these features have in common is that they “break” the rules, and it’s even easier when the rules are just numbers and calculations. If you’ve ever been or seen someone who wants to be praised for an interesting build or stat investment in a game (“Check out how I combine Helmet A with Sword B to deal with Situation C!” “I gave my monster 248 speed instead of 252 so I could add 4 to defense!”), it’s that same energy. When you combine it with the glory-seeking player type, you get the overpowered perfect light novel protagonist who masterfully exploits the mechanics, defeats the villains with ease, and gets the harem.

A picture of the four personalities of Kumoko from So I'm a Spider, So What? All of them are excited in different ways.
So I’m a Spider, So What?

Which isn’t to say that the minmaxer approach to writing stories is inherently bad or incapable of making for good stories. Rather, where I think the disconnect between those who want more classical fantasy stories and what light novels are offering today is that the minmaxer is traditionally very much not the kind of person who gets into writing or reading fantasy novels. To be that way, you have to come from an environment where numbered stats are even a thing in the first place, and that can only be the result of a world where Dungeons & Dragons popularized the notion of codifying fantasy-genre elements into stats with pros and cons for the purpose of gaming—a quality that then became the basis for many of the JRPGs that have influenced a generation of Japanese people, among them the writers of web novels and light novels. It’s a far cry from Lord of the Rings.

This contrast actually reminds me of an episode of the sitcom Home Improvement, of all things. In it, the mother character, Jill Taylor, is asked by her father (a retired colonel) to review his autobiography manuscript. But try as she might, Jill finds it incredibly boring and sleep-inducing because her father mostly writes about battle strategy and military formations, as opposed to dramatic exploits or anything emotionally resonant. Her father clearly values the mechanics of war, but what he wants his book to convey is not appealing to those with little interest in such things. Given this example, it’s also worth noting that D&D itself is descended from a miniature wargame called Chainmail, and one of the ways that D&D would eventually expand its audience was by adding elements that would appeal to those who care about things other than combat.

So while fantasy traditionally caters to those who want to witness a world of swords and sorcery where the sense of the mysterious and unknown is paramount, the minmaxer fiction that is so ubiquitous in fantasy light novels over the past decade or two is almost the opposite. In these worlds, all surprises can be overcome with deeper or prior knowledge. It’s no wonder why the latter approach can be so bothersome to those who seek the former, and there’s no Dungeon Master who can try to cater to both in real time.

How Incineroar in Smash Bros. Embodies Japanese Pro Wrestling

Incineroar is one of my favorite characters to play in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s the first truly traditional grappler character in the franchise, and his entire moveset directly reflects the Pokémon’s pro wrestling background. However, what I think is really fascinating about Incineroar’s implementation in Smash is that the character draws most directly from an old-school Japanese professional wrestling aesthetic and history.

To start off, a major part of Incineroar’s Japan-inspired wrestling design is a part of its identity as a Pokémon. It clearly takes a lot of influence from the beloved fictional wrestling character turned actual flesh-and-blood wrestler Tiger Mask—both are cat-themed athletes who are ostensibly heels but have a soft spot for children. But if you take a look at the relative strength of Incineroar’s attacks, you’ll find that it’s based on Japan’s cultural understanding of pro wrestling.

Incineroar’s forward smash is an Enzuigiri, and it has immense damage and KO potential. To a viewer mainly familiar with American promotions, the Enzuigiri is mostly used as a transitional move to something stronger or a counter to an opponent’s offense. However, the technique has a greater legacy in Japan, where it is the finisher of Antonio Inoki, one of the three most famous Japanese wrestlers of all time. Inoki is a legend as both a champion and the founder of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and was even used as the model for the character Fighter Hayabusa in the NES game Pro Wrestling, where the Enzuigiri is known as the “Back Brain Kick.”

If you look at what Incineroar can do off a grab, you’ll find a similar phenomenon. Of the character’s four basic throws, the deadliest one is the German Suplex. Again, you have a move that, outside of Japan, is seen as kind of generic; maybe at most, people might associate it with Kurt Angle or Brock Lesnar. But the German Suplex is also the defining hold of Karl Gotch, the man known as the “god of wrestling” in Japan. Gotch had an enormous influence on the Japanese pro wrestling style, and even today whenever a wrestler pulls off a German Suplex in Japan, it’s seen as a big deal that can potentially end a match right then and there.

Another powerful throw Incineroar uses is the Argentine Backbreaker. While this move is seen in the US as more impactful than the Enzuigiri or German Suplex thanks to wrestlers like Lex Luger and the man who originally popularized it, Antonino Rocca, its footprint is even more prevalent in Japan. Not only did Rocca wrestle in Japan later in his career and is possibly the namesake of Antonio Inoki, but the Argentine Backbreaker also gained notoriety in the pages of the manga Kinnikuman. There, the character Robin Mask (a wrestler dressed like an English knight) uses it as a finishing move, calling it the Tower Bridge. Moreover, it’s clear that at least Sakurai Masahiro (the director of the Smash Bros. franchise) knows Kinnikuman: he posted to Twitter an image of Smash characters mimicking the Muscle Docking technique from the series:

Moving on, Incineroar’s best attack is arguably its side special, the Alolan Whip. While the name itself is a parody of the Irish Whip, the more important part is the follow-up: a vicious Lariat. 

One of the most famous American wrestlers to ever entertain fans in Japan is Stan Hansen, whose Western Lariat became downright iconic everywhere he fought. On the Japanese Wikipedia page for “Lariat,” the history section literally begins with a mention of Hansen, and in current times, the Japanese wrestler Okada Kazuchika is famed for his “Rainmaker” Lariat. Incidentally, Incineroar also has another related move taken from the Pokémon games—Darkest Lariat—but that’s closer to Zangief from Street Fighter II’s Double Lariat.

Generally speaking, I find that pro wrestling has a lot more of a longstanding influence on Japanese pop culture than it does American pop culture, despite the fact that pro wrestling as we know it has its origins in the United States. Even today, manga and anime wholly unrelated to wrestling or hand-to-hand combat (like Laid-Back Camp) will throw in a few references, as if to assume a common understanding among readers. So while having a wrestling cat for a Pokémon is not altogether that unusual regardless of culture, I find the execution of such a concept in Smash Bros. Ultimate to be very reflective of that enduring legacy. The fact that Incineroar so embodies the values of Japanese pro wrestling makes it all the more fun to play, win or lose.

Courage and Experience: “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 2” Novel Review

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST GAOGAIGAR VS. BETTERMAN NOVEL

The Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman web novel series has been a blessing for giant robot fans. Taking place in the Gaogaigar universe ten years after the cliffhanger ending of the Gaogaigar FINAL OVAs, it tells the story of how the world has changed since the Gutsy Galaxy Guard got trapped in another universe, and the new challenges those on Earth must face. A now twenty-year-old Amami Mamoru has gone from plucky kid companion to a seasoned robot pilot in his own right, working alongside his fellow alien adoptee Kaidou Ikumi to control Gaogaigo, a successor to the King of Braves in the fight against the forces that threaten the world. The series is being collected into print novels, and that’s the way in which I’ve been reading it.

The end of Part 1 saw the triumphant return of Shishioh Guy, the original pilot of Gaogaigar. However, his comeback was not without cos,t as the robot lion Galeon nobly sacrificed itself to free Guy from the clutches of their mysterious god-like adversary, Hakai-oh (“World-Conquering King.”) The second novel, Part 2, picks up directly from that point with a new challenge: a reunion with some old and familiar faces, not as allies but as enemies. Guy and Mamoru must fight across the world, respectively as the Mobile Corps Commanders of the Gutsy Galaxy Guard (GGG Green) and the Gutsy Global Guard (GGG Blue).

Genuine Care for Lore and Characterization Alike

When I read Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, I’m always struck by how much attention is paid to its own history and lore. While it can sometimes get a little too into the weeds, the general feeling that comes across is real affection and respect on the part of the creators for the universe they’ve created, as well as the fans who have embraced these stories. From the way fights play out to moments of character introspection, everything and everyone is portrayed with a robust three-dimensionality that rewards readers who remember both Gaogaigar and Betterman

For example, we’re reminded that Neuronoids (the robots of Betterman) are powered by artificial brains based on neurological patterns of actual species. This novel answers the question of what brain is in Gaogaigo: a dolphin from the Gaogaigar video game who was turned into a G-Stone cyborg like Guy, and who ultimately had to pass when the “Invisible Burst” that compromised electronics before the successful establishment of the Global Wall made it impossible to maintain the dolphin’s cybernetics. During a fight, it’s revealed that Gai-go is actually extremely strong in underwater combat—a product of being based on a marine creature.

There’s also a side story at the end of the novel that takes in the space between Part 1 and Part 2, where Guy and Mamoru visit a transit museum to see the original Liner Gao, the bullet train that becomes the shoulders of the original Gaogaigar. As they converse, the topic of the Replicant Mamoru from Gaogaigar FINAL comes up. While Repli-Mamoru ended up being merely a clone of the real Mamoru, Guy still carries a lot of guilt over killing him—especially because Guy hasn’t aged and still remembers that trauma as if it were mere weeks ago. It would have been all too easy to forget that part of the OVAs, especially because of the grandiosity of its later battles, but both the author (former Gaogaigar staff Takeda Yuuicihirou) and supervisor (the original director, Yonetani Yoshitomo) put in that extra mile. 

As a funny little moment during this side story, Guy is less astounded by the giant “Global Wall” defense system that allows wireless communications to work after a previous disaster than he is by Mamoru’s smartphone. When he last left, beepers (like Mamoru’s special GGG version) were still the norm, and to see the progression of human technology (as opposed to G-Stone technology derived from Galeon) puts a smile on Guy’s face.

Spotlight on Betterman 

Because Gaogaigar is the bigger franchise between the two marquee titles, it gets the (robot) lion’s share of the attention overall. However, Part 2 does devote more pages to the Betterman side of things than previously—while the first novel’s Betterman-focused pages are mainly about the Somniums (the titular “Bettermen”) and the question of whether they would help defend the Earth, this novel explores the original main characters, Aono Keita and Sai Hinoki, in greater detail. In particular, Keita was a relatively minimal factor in Part 1, but here, his romantic relationship with Hinoki is front and center for a significant portion of the book. Keita’s portrayal is interesting because of how humble his situation is. Rather than staying in space with Hinoki (who has since become highly educated and is a science officer for GGG Blue), Keita is without a college degree and works at an electronics store, where his otaku knowledge makes him an ideal employee. But Keita also works hard with the dream of providing a home that Hinoki can come back to, especially because Hinoki tragically lost her family as a young child.

The color insert at the beginning of the novel also has colored design images of Keita and Hinoki courtesy of the original character designer, Kimura Takahiro. As a huge fan of Kimura’s art (and his work creating Hinoki), it’s a welcome addition.

Intense(ly Clever) Battles and the Value of Experience

The real meat and potatoes of Part 2 are the many fights that take place throughout. Because they’re a pretty major surprise and make up such a huge portion of the story, I’m going to put an extra SPOILER WARNING here.


While there’s a bit of fighting between Guy and Betterman Lamia that makes the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman title technically true, the main thrust of conflict in Part 2 comes in the form of the old Gutsy Galaxy Guard members who have now been taken over by the “Triple Zero” energy that comes from Hakai-oh. Now greatly powered up and known as the “Hakai Nobility,” Brave Robots and human GGG agents alike now fight against the Earth with the goal of bringing “divine providence” to the universe. 

The first character who shows up to oppose the heroes is actually Hakai Mic Sounders, and I will say that “Evil Mic Sounders” is indeed quite a trip. Still using his characteristic mix of English and Japanese, it’s easy to not take a line like “SORRY, but I have to destroy you” seriously—that is, until you’re reminded of how powerful Mic truly is. With the ability to produce sound waves that can break down anything (if given the right information), Mic Sounders is capable of rendering even the toughest armors useless. The only reason they win is because a Betterman who can control sound herself is able to provide a counterbalance.

That battle introduces the recurring idea in the fights against the infected Brave Robots: GGG is a great asset when on the side of humanity, but beyond dangerous when its powers are turned against Earth. Goldymarg’s signature toughness (enough to withstand the power of the Goldion Hammer when in Marg Hand form) makes him able to withstand just about anything, and it takes a “Goldion Double Hammer” weapon wielded by Guy in Gaofighgar to even begin to even the odds. Tenryujin and Big Volfogg make for similarly intimidating opponents with their own unique strengths, Volfogg’s role as guardian of a young Mamoru in the past providing an extra layer of stakes in that particular fight. But it’s also not just the robots who are a threat—the human members have also become Hakai Nobility, and the tactical prowess of Commander Taiga and the genius hacking skills of Entouji provide extra hurdles for GGG Green and GGG Blue. 

Another recurring theme throughout these fights, however, is that the time dilation difference between the old GGG members and the current ones means that Mamoru and the others have ten years of their own experience under their belts. There’s a moment at the beginning of the novel where Mamoru says that he’s willing to relinquish the role of GGG Mobile Corps Commander to Guy, only for Guy to reject his offer and to praise Mamoru for having clearly been through many tough trials of his own, and at this point actually has fought with GGG for longer than he has. He further explains that he was originally just the right man for the moment, having been an astronaut transformed into a G-Stone cyborg to save his life, and wasn’t a born fighter himself.

And so we see that sentiment play out. In the fight against Tenryujin, her younger “sister” Seiryujin, the latter targets Tenryujin’s knees—a seemingly odd move, until one remembers that the individual robots that compromise the “Ryu” series all turn upside down to combine, meaning their chests (and thus their Hakai-infected AI boxes) are located in the legs. When dealing with Entouji’s computer virus, GGG Blue member Inubouzaki Minoru takes center stage. Originally a jealous rival of Entouji’s who became a Zonder in the TV series, and later returned as an ally when the Gutsy Geoid Guard became the Gutsy Galaxy Guard, Inubouzaki shows the progress he’s made the past decade not only in terms of improved skills but also being more at peace with himself and his past.

Just as everything seems to be going Earth’s way, however, the next Hakai Nobility appear: Goryujin and Genryujin (who both have access to THE POWER), as well as Soldat J and King J-Der. The preview of the next (and last!) volume hints at what’s to come with the key to victory: something called “Goldion Armor.”

To the End

The web novel version of Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman has concluded, and the concluding print release is supposed to be out this summer. While I could jump in and start reading it online now, I think I’m going to wait once more. If I could wait close to 15 years before, I can withstand a few months. 

In the meantime, I’ve also been reading the manga adaptation of this series, which provides some of the visual flair that’s inevitably missing from the prose version. I can only hope that we might see an actual anime come out of this someday.

Business as Usual: The Unchallengeable Trider G7

1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam is a milestone in anime history, a show whose evergreen influence as the ancestor of the “real robot” genre has continued across four decades. But like so many innovative and revolutionary works, it’s not as if Gundam changed everything overnight. Nowhere is this clearer than with Gundam’s immediate Sunrise robot anime successor—1980’s The Unchallengeable Trider G7, a series so straightforwardly kid-oriented that it feels like the anime’s goal was to try to turn back the hands of time.

Trider G7 (sometimes written as Tryder G7) is the story of Takeo Watta, an elementary school boy who also happens to be the president of his own business, Takeo General Company. Having inherited it and a powerful giant robot called Trider G7 from his deceased father, Watta has to juggle being a kid who attends school just like everyone else, keeping his company in the green, and defending the Earth from the Robot Empire of Planet Gabarl.

Titled in Japanese as Muteki Robo Trider G7, the anime is considered a part of the Muteki trilogy along with Muteki Choujin Zambot 3 and Muteki Koujin Daitarn 3. But while Daitarn 3 could get extremely serious at times, and Zambot 3 was consistently brutal, Trider G7 steers clear of that mood, instead presenting itself as a lighthearted fantasy for a young boy audience. Nothing sums this up better than Trider G7’s launch sequence, which involves having the robot emerge from the local playground (of which its head is a centerpiece) while a loudspeaker announcement kindly requests everyone clear the area. Unlike its fellow Muteki anime, Trider G7 is not directed by Tomino Yoshiyuki, instead being under Sasaki Katsutoshi. This likely helps the “not-traumatizing” aspect.

Unlike many series I write final reviews for, I did not watch all 50 episodes of Trider G7. Instead, I used the 10 episodes temporarily uploaded by the Bandai Spirits channel on Youtube as a kind of “essential episodes” list, supplementing it with some reading. (Side note: that project in the link provided never got off the ground). While this does compromise my ability to gauge the complete series from beginning to end, I still think it gave me a good idea overall. My verdict: Trider G7 is a pretty mediocre anime, and it feels intentionally so.

I’m not someone who disparages children’s shows or episodic ones, as I believe both have important places in anime. Some of my favorite works are “incident-of-the-week” and aimed primarily at kids, but what I love to see is when they try to really bring something to challenge their audience while still being fairly conventional. Trider G7 only ever seems to hint at greater potential without ever reaching it. 

The series acknowledges that Watta is still a kid, and that the burden of being a company president is not easy for someone so young, but it’s mostly played for laughs. The Gabarl Empire is run by a super-AI called Mother Computer Sigma, and one of the recurring flaws of the enemy Mega-Robots is their reliance on pre-programmed data in battle, unlike Watta’s human intuition and experience. This is touched upon somewhat often, notably in an episode where we learn that Trider G7 itself was built by the Robot Empire’s top scientist who had defected due to the soulless nature of his designs, but it doesn’t go beyond “rah, rah, human spirit.” It also doesn’t have a whole lot of style points, given that the robot itself is nowhere near as cool as Zambot, Daitarn, or the Gundam; the animation isn’t even off-the-wall enough to make up for a bland design like with Gold Lightan. Trider G7 does have a female character whose popularity is fairly enduring, an attractive OL named Sunabara Ikue (who also provides the aforementioned loudspeaker warning), but that seems to speak more to her status as an early crush for young boys rather than anything related to the anime’s quality. 

I do want to give some praise to the opening and ending themes because of how silly and creative they are. The opening has the amazing line, “Do we fight to protect our company funds? NO! We fight to protect peace on Earth!” The ending, in turn, has lyrics that basically sound like a speech delivered to all employees working at a company, with lines like “The future fate of our company is about 1) guts and 2) effort.” Amazing.
The legacy of The Unchallengeable Trider G7 is mainly in nostalgia through things like Soul of Chogokin toys and appearance in Super Robot Wars, where the aesthetic can be updated just enough that it can give adults some sense of what it’d be like to enjoy the series as a child. This is probably for the best, as it’s where Trider G7 shows its strongest self: as a kind of cool, kind of cheesy return to a more innocent era of kids’ giant robot anime.

Genshiken’s Kio Shimoku Is Now on Twitter!

In one of the biggest pieces of Genshiken-related news to come out in a long time, author Kio Shimoku finally has a Twitter account, @kioshimoku1!

He’s genuinely new to the platform, as he seems to not even understand how to thread tweets. He also doesn’t really respond to fan tweets. Even so, it’s become a great place to learn things about the man that were previously unknown. But in recent years, he’s been willing to open up more (and has even done a couple interviews), and now he’s providing valuable creator insight and even a bit of personal history.

While I would love to translate everything, I don’t have the time for such a time-consuming endeavor. Instead, what I’m thinking of doing is just sharing some highlights from Kio’s account once a month or so. 

Here’s one group of noteworthy tweets, as well as a summary below.

After having watched the Professional episode on Anno Hideaki, Kio reminisces about past Anno works, like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind [where he was an animator] and Nadia: Secret of Blue Water. Aim for the Top! he couldn’t watch as it was coming out because it was an OVA, and his family only had Betamax, so he couldn’t rent tapes. Years later, after winning the Afternoon Four Seasons Award for manga while in college, he used his prize money to buy a VCR.

Kio believes he first heard of Nadia from the very first info about it in Animage, and thinks (but isn’t certain) that he knew Anno’s name at that point. Kio was all about Miyazaki Hayao’s anime at that time, and believed anime should be all about big adventures, so he recorded Nadia on Betamax every week. He certainly did notice the production issues that anime faced, though.

After trying to remember if he drew any Nadia fan works at the time, he remembers that one of his drawing submissions was actually published in Animage. [Note: I wonder if we could find his drawing…] He’s also pretty sure he drew some Nadia doujinshi, but can’t remember what it was about (other than it was not pornographic).

But then…

Kio is reminded by his Twitter followers that he not only drew a Nadia fan comic in 2012 as part of an anthology, but that he made the exact same response of having drawn doujin but having no recollection of the contents.

Finally, Kio drew this picture of Nadia in a plugsuit.

Speaking of drawings, it’s one of the best reasons to follow Kio on Twitter.

Sue vs. Hasegawa

Sue vs. Hasegawa aftermath

People have been saying she reminds them of Yajima from Genshiken, so Kio provided these notes.

Hasegawa Kozue, first-year Architecture and Construction major at Hashimoto Technical High School.

  • She was introduced unceremoniously to Hashikko Ensemble, but she has such a powerful presence that she became one of the central characters. She became the group’s conductor so easily that she feels broken.
  • She’s the only one who can fight Sue toe-to-toe.
  • Despite being only a 1-dan in Judo, she can toss her 2-dan older brothers (and others of that level) around with ease.
  • She sometimes acts as the author’s avatar.

Ogiue! Kio practiced drawing Ogiue in an older style for the Twitter introduction image at the top of this post.

Kio Shimoku has a pet turtle.

Orihara and Shion

And that’s all for this time. Look forward to next month, maybe?

Whack Chin: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for April 2021

It feels like I blinked and now a new anime season is upon us. There are plenty of shows that are catching my eye, including 86: Eighty Six, SSSS.Dynazenon, NOMAD: Megalo Box 2, and of course, Thunderbolt Fantasy Season 3. I hope everyone is doing well, and in a place where they have something that can provide them joy and comfort in trying times, whether it’s anime, manga, or something else entirely.

COVID-19 vaccines are in full swing at the moment, and while I’m not sure I should be the one to say it, everyone should get vaccinated when they can, and continue to practice safety measures like wearing face masks. I look forward to the day we can comfortably see our loved ones and maybe even attend an anime convention or two without fear.

Thanks to April’s Patreon sponsors:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from March:

Wellness for the Self, Wellness for the World: Healin’ Good Precure

My review of 2020’s Precure anime.

The Perfect Storm of Virtual Youtubers

My thoughts on how Virtual Youtubers unite different groups on the internet.

Thought on Anti-Asian Racism in the US

Something more personal, and less anime-related. I hope you’ll read it.

Apartment 507

I tried out Joy Sound Karaoke on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s a decent way to get in your karaoke fix.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 38 features Jin’s mom, and she is ammmmazing.

Closing

I hope that we remember that pitting the poor and minorities against one another is exactly what powerful bigots want. It keeps us divided and unable to see the systemic problems that keep people oppressed. Do not let the racism foisted upon us control our lives. Do not misdirect your anger.

Humble Adventure: Nahuel and the Magic Book

This film is from the 2021 virtual New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Nahuel and the Magic Book is a 2020 Chilean-Brazilian co-produced animated film whose down-to-Earth yet wondrous approach to fantasy I really enjoyed. In certain ways, it reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, despite the markedly different setting of a more contemporary real-world setting. 

Nahuel is a young boy afraid of the sea, which causes problems for his fisherman father. Worried that he’ll never be of help to his dad and will always be seen as a screw-up, he desperately wants to overcome his phobia. When he discovers the Levisterio, a magic book said to be the most powerful of all, he steals it in order to use the bravery spell contained within. However, bringing the book out into the open makes it a prime target for an evil sorcerer who has been seeking the tome for a long time.

Likening anything to The Lord of the Rings might seem trite and a little meaningless, but the reason I make the comparison is because of the humble qualities of each story’s protagonist. Frodo is characterized as being no one special, especially not compared to the figures who accompany him on his quest, but it’s that lack of remarkableness that makes him suitable to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom. Similarly, Nahuel’s ambitions are anything but grand—overcome a fear of the sea and help his father—but that’s also what makes him the right bearer of the Levisterio. Where others would abuse its near-limitless powers, his desires are from a simpler and kinder place. Anybody can imagine themselves as Nahuel, and his story and characterization are no lesser for it. 

I don’t know much about South American folklore and religion other than that magic and witchcraft are such a part of the region that they’re even incorporated into the way Christianity is practiced. From that perspective, the way the magical and fantastical are portrayed in Nahuel and the Magic Book feels very natural and almost effortless—which is usually a sign that a great deal of effort was involved. There is a sense that magic is indeed far removed from Nahuel’s normal life, but is also just there and ever-present if only one looks. 

Although I’m not a kid, I feel that Nahuel and the Magic Book has real potential to resonate with young viewers. That worry of being a disappointment to one’s parents is also a powerful and relatable fear for children as well as adults, and the world it portrays is one where love shines through even when things get dark and scary.

Breakers Revenge: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 38

A new chapter shows Jin’s mom, Reika, in all her glory. But before I dive into the review, a few important pieces of news:

First, Volume 6 of Hashikko Ensemble is currently on sale in Japan. This volume doesn’t appear to have any limited edition extras, which is good for my wallet.

Second, Kio Shimoku is finally on Twitter! Follow him @kioshimoku1. In addition to posting art on occasion, he also tweets stories about his life both past and present. For example, did you know his family only had Betamax instead of VHS growing up, and he used the money from winning the Afternoon Four Seasons Award in college to buy a VCR? I’m thinking of making occasional posts summarizing interesting tweets from Kio. 

Third, today is Ogiue’s birthday! Happy birthday to the best girl ever.

Now, on to Chapter 38!

Summary

Despite a fantastic performance by Mai and her group, Noi Majo, the Chorus Appreciation Society beats them and moves on to the finals of the School Culture Festival tournament. Stepping away from the stage to take a break, Jin’s mom (with Yumerun) finally arrives at the high school. Shuusuke immediately recognizes her as the world-famous soprano, Kimura Reika, who has sung in operas across the globe. She’s also infamous for her selfish attitude that has earned her the nickname “Breaker”—a portmanteau of burei (rude) and Reika. The members see a lot of her qualities in Jin.

Jin is bothered by his mom’s attitude, feeling that she allows her immense talent to be her excuse for poor behavior. Jin tells a story from middle school, about Reika agreeing to sing with his boys’ and girls’ choir—only to never come to practice until the very last day, put on an astounding performance at rehearsal, recognize Yumerun’s ability, and then skip out on the actual day of the recital in order to perform for an Italian conductor. 

While Reika explains that she 1) called to cancel rather than bail without warning 2) ended up making way for Yumerun’s rise 3) didn’t want to take away from a performance that was supposed to focus on the kids, Jin still can’t accept how much she inconveniences others because music is something people create together. Reika responds that music is about self-expression and the passion of the moment, and points out that there are no “chorus majors” at any music colleges, showing how important individuals are in the field. But when she questions the usefulness and motives of Jin joining a technical high school just to form this group, Akira comes to his defense to talk about how much discovering singing thanks to Jin has helped him change and grow. Reika then decides on a deal: if they can win the entire competition, then she will let Jin go to a music college. Jin seems more confused than pleased.

Giga Drill

Reika was introduced two chapters ago, but her “true” debut (i.e. meeting Akira and the others) exceeds my expectations in nearly every way. This manga has great moms, and I don’t mean it in that way. 

In my Chapter 36 review, I mentioned how I had originally imagined Reika as much more strict and demanding, but everything about her screams the opposite. She’s like pure “id,” doing whatever she wants whenever she wants. And while she seems to have this in common with her son, the finer details of their respective approaches and philosophies regarding music do reveal a profound divide between the two. 

Jin sees music as a product of effort, and cooperation; Reika sees it as spontaneous artistic expression. Whereas Jin has broken down music scientifically in order to master its ins and outs, Reika utilizes intuition and natural sense. There’s a part in the flashback where Jin thinks, after hearing his mom sing with the group during rehearsal, “Why couldn’t I have inherited that talent?” To put it in Naruto terms, it’s sort of like if Neji had a Rock Lee for a kid.

(Though, incidentally, Rock Lee’s actual situation in Boruto is the opposite of Reika’s. His son, Metal Lee, is a born genius. But I digress…)

I really love this conflict in the Kimura family because it’s simple on the surface yet has so many layers in terms of the characters’ respective personalities and views of the world. Neither of their respective views on music are necessarily wrong, but they’re clearly a product of what does and doesn’t come naturally to them. Yet, while Jin is trying to make up for what he lacks and doesn’t have that innate understanding of song, his ability to thoroughly analyze and break down music can be considered a talent in and of itself. Jin’s forcefulness doesn’t fall far from the tree, further highlighting the ways Kimura is influenced by his mom both consciously and subconsciously.

I also am beginning to wonder if I should reevaluate my thoughts that Jin might be somewhere on the autism spectrum. It’s not been stated outright at all, but Jin’s personal admission to not being able to interpret song lyrics without outside help, his scientific breakdown of music, as well as his seeming ignorance about social mores all seemed to point in that direction. However, now that we’ve seen Reika on full display, there’s a chance that he’s comparing himself to the ridiculous standard set by his world-renowned operatic soprano mother. Of course, there’s a chance he could be neuroatypical and also have to deal with a genius mother, so the jury’s still out.

Romance Odds and Ends

While Reika dominated the chapter, Akira does get some small moments. When seeing Mai perform, he’s in awe of her ability to sing both boy’s and girl’s roles. He even blushes a little, but he seems to blush all the time. And when Akira begins to defend Jin in front of Reika, Shion can be seen enthralled by Akira’s passion, giving him more courage as well. I don’t know how that love web is going to end up, but I hope they’ll all be happy.

Songs

Noi Majo: “Zenryoku Shounen” (“All-Out Boy)” by Sukima Switch

Electrical First-Years: “Moonlight Densetsu” (aka the Sailor Moon opening)

The song Reika sang with the kids is “Origami” Suite, for Soprano Solo with Girls’ Choir and Piano by Kobayashi Hideo (not available on Youtube).

Final Thoughts

If it isn’t obvious, I think Reika is a fantastic character as both an adult figure and foil for Jin.

As for her nickname, if it were to be translated in English, I think I would go for Breaker standing for “Brazen Reika.”

Thoughts on Anti-Asian Racism in the US

The recent mass shootings at Asian-owned massage parlors in Atlanta brings to the forefront of our consciousness the increase in hate crimes and violence towards Asians in the United States since 2020. As an Asian-American myself, I have been thinking every day about both the anti-Asian racism that has always been around and the current crisis we are seeing. It forces me to realize how easily sentiments toward people who look like me can flip, as if the respect I’ve experienced has always been paper-thin.

A lot of the attacks against Asians have been against women and the elderly, and it’s clear why: they’re presumed to be easier targets. While there have been stories of Asians fighting back, including a 70-year-old woman who beat her assailant with a cane, the fact that she was assaulted in the first place is cause for concern. I am lucky to be a fairly large cisgender man, and thus not an ideal target for those looking to exact some vague sense of revenge on Asians for supposedly bringing COVID-19 to the US, but I do remember what it was like to be small and a victim of bullying. Before I hit a growth spurt in my teen years, I was perpetually one of the smallest kids in class while living in a neighborhood that was not predominantly Asian. I don’t think the kids who picked on me back then were filled with the exact same mix of emotions as what’s going on today, but it’s pretty close, and I do think that the bullying mentality is still a significant factor in what we’re seeing now. Ultimately, it’s a form of control, and rarely have we seen times where people feel less in-control than during a pandemic that has altered how we go about our lives. That’s not to excuse such behavior, of course.

The rise in anti-Asian crimes also has me thinking a lot about that veneer of respectability that Asians in America supposedly have, and how easily it seems to fall away—as if it’s something granted to us by those in power rather than something we own ourselves. I’m not so naive as to think that courtesy and genuine compassion and love can’t exist in those who are racist. To do so would be to ignore the racism that exists within Asian communities against outsiders, let alone the racism inflicted upon us. But what all this has made me realize is how quickly a little bit of fear of the unknown or an act of othering can quickly swell into a full-blown hatred. Star Wars is not exactly the go-to entity for robust philosophical discussion, but Yoda’s classic line seems to ring true here: ”Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” That small negative feeling is just looking for an excuse to burst forth, which is why all evidence to the contrary that Asians are somehow primarily or uniquely responsible for COVID-19’s spread can be ignored, and all it takes is a simple association of “China = Chinese = Asian” to trigger deadly violence.

It’s not so much that fear is inherently bad, but even the small amount of fear in one’s heart, especially towards another group, has dangerous potential if that fear is fed a steady diet of scapegoating. And lest it be assumed that I’m primarily criticizing individuals for not behaving well or daring to have negative thoughts, I place much of the blame on both the systemic racism that affects all people, Asian and non-Asian, as well as the foul rhetoric of the previous bigot of a president who sought to give his supporters a target to direct their hatred. His stubborn insistence on referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” is largely responsible for inflaming anger and resentment in people, and the result has been both tragic and clearly intentional. Hate is a potent unifier, and those in power are insulated from the price we all pay for encouraging it.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to help, go to Stop AAPI Hate.