Faithfulness Without Adherence: White Fang (2018)

This review is part of coverage for the 2018 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

The winding story of a wild wolf-dog that endures multiple hardships and discovers civilization, Jack London’s White Fang is a vivid and compelling adventure practically made for film. But adapting London is a challenge in this age, given his starkly racist views—they may not have been prevalent in this particular novel, but they still permeate his legacy. Director Alexandre Espigare’s 2018 White Fang is a visually rich 3DCG-animated feature-length interpretation aims for a spiritually faithful yet more sensitive version of London’s narrative to notable effect.

I want to be clear that I did not go into the film with a clear memory of the novel or any previous adaptations, and at first sought to enjoy it strictly as a children’s animated movie. In that respect, it succeeds. The animation, resembling somewhere between an oil painting and wood carvings, is consistently beautiful. Any visual hiccups are fairly minor and do not detract from the overall presentation. The subject matter is prone to violence, but the violence is given context and is presented respectfully without glorifying carnage.

But when looking back at the original novel and comparing, it’s clear that this film takes great pains to update the narrative to emphasize the positive aspects of cultural exchange without making it a one-way street. White Fang’s time in the wild with its mother shows a strong familial bond that does not fade away as it does in London’s book. Human characters are shown in all lights, but it is largely kindness and good will that stay with White Fang. At the same time, White Fang does not “progress” from “savage” to “civilized,” but harnesses aspects of both his origins in the wild and his experience with other species in order to survive.

Overall, the 2018 White Fang is a smart and respectful update to the original that adapts to the times. It’s more culturally considerate, with a message that soundly goes against the modernist/enlightenment push that can be interpreted from the novel. Yet it’s still a thrilling and moving narrative that embraces the awe and terror of nature and humankind alike, never faltering as a classic story.


Black Panther and Anti-Colonialism

In my view, Black Panther might very well be the best Marvel film ever—a stance the majority of moviegoers seem to agree with, given its astounding critical and commercial success. The movie’s strengths are many. It’s a compelling story about two black men on opposite sides who both want what’s best for their people. Its diverse range of characters and its lush environments work to portray its setting as a living, breathing, and evolving entity. Black Panther celebrates black identity while pointing to the injustices of history and the daunting challenge of fighting to change things. But one point that sticks out to me in particular is the way it holds a mirror up to reflect our ugly assumptions on the effects of colonialism in the world.

These days, I think the majority of people have been taught that colonialism was responsible for a lot of harm in the world. Whether it was the slave trade, the subjugation of subordination of entire peoples, or just the exploitation of resources, European nations forcing other cultures to conform to their “superior” standards left scars around the world. At the same time, the general narrative states that, while these were certainly problems, there were ultimately many positives to the whole endeavor. Technology progressed, especially with the industrial revolution. Cultural exchange became commonplace (albeit in a lopsided manner). Europe, i.e. white people, gave the world much, and we’re supposed to believe that it was for the best.

Black Panther calls out that notion of Europe being the birthplace of modern technology somehow justifying its conquering ways. The film is set primarily in Wakanda, an old African nation founded on a near-endless supplies of the miracle metal known as “vibranium.” Because of this advantage, Wakanda developed isolated from the rest of the world while also advancing science and technology to the point of surpassing every other country on Earth. In other words, Wakanda is an African nation entirely without white influence. The image of the “native” or the poor African villager who wears donated t-shirts and jeans does not exist here, as that is founded on the persistent idea that European influence removed the “savagery” of Africa, that African cultural markers are backwards and embraced merely out of inertia or personal history.

Instead, Wakanda is a place where technology and tradition walk hand in hand. So when characters are dressed in non-Western clothing surrounded by soaring skyscrapers unlike any other, it is not presented as some kind of incongruous image. When T’Challa the Black Panther engages in ritual combat for the throne the day after he got off his cloaked airship, it feels completely natural. Moreover, because Wakanda has never tried to conquer or control other nations, this means its growth and development did not come from pillaging other cultures. Black Panther and its portrayal of Wakanda run counter to the narrative that what colonialism did was perhaps necessary for us to get to a better world. While not without its own problems (and in fact its isolationist policies are a major plot point in the film), it gives people of all races and histories the opportunity to look an alternative world and to imagine a better tomorrow.

Wakanda, vibranium, and the Black Panther might all be fictional, but they have the power to inspire thought and action. Could we ever reach a place where the world progresses without the seeming need to exploit others? The only way to find out is to try and make it happen.

Faces and Feet: Lu Over the Wall

Director and animator Yuasa Masaaki has gone from being the darling of animation connoisseurs to mainstream success story thanks to the success of Devilman Crybaby. In many ways, that series embodies what Yuasa is best known for—experimental animation that moves and undulates with a dream-like quality. His 2017 film (and the subject of this review), Lu Over the Wall, tackles a different yet challenging audience in its own right: children.

Kai is a middle schooler living in Hinashi, a small fishing village known for its sheer lack of sunlight. A DJing hobbyist, his online videos are discovered by two classmates—Kunio and Yuuho—who try to get him to join their band. Uninterested at first, Kai discovers that practicing with them will give him the opportunity to explore the merfolk legends surrounding the town, which results in the three meeting a real live music-loving mermaid named Lu. What ensues is a popping, lyrical exploration of the way dreams and curiosity affect generations of families, as well as the power of discovering when to uphold traditions, and when to move on from them.

There is a very human quality to the movie, especially in the way that Kai’s mood swings are never explicitly explained. When he transitions from deadpan introspection to energetically enthusiastic, is it that the legends he’s been reading about are real? Or is it that Yuuho and Kai are providing him the peer emotional support he never realized he needed? The characters shift and evolve in subtle and realistic ways. Growth doesn’t come as one continuous wave, but in ebbs and flows that only truly stand out when stepping back to view an individual (or a community) as a whole. Perhaps it might be better to compare their development with music—at times fast, at times slow, but with a sense of rhythm that says something is going to happen, and you’d better be ready for it.

As expected, the animation quality itself is big on expressiveness. Characters move and emote constantly, their motions feeling akin to a more subdued and subtle Ping Pong: The Animation. That is, until the dancing starts or the action gets moving. At that point, it veers somewhere between Yuasa as seen in Kaiba and the classic cartoons of Tex Avery. While his non-standard aesthetic might garner worry that it would not fly with kids, this wasn’t the case at all. Laughs and voiced indicators of understanding could be heard throughout the young audience viewing the film. As impressive as the visuals were, they never eclipsed the story nor the theme of small-town dreams.

While it’s easy to assume that his form of twisted and eerie animation could only work on an audience of refined animation experts, Lu Over the Wall shows how Yuasa’s style is more versatile than first impressions give. It’s uplifting, thought-provoking, and still just plain fun.

Interview: Masaki Tachibana, Director of Princess Principal

This interview was conducted at Anime NYC 2017. Masaki Tachibana is the director of works such as Princess Principal, Barakamon, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.

Princess Principal is an alternate-history London. It’s a popular theme, to tell an alternate history. What do you think differentiates Princess Principal from other shows?

With regards to how it might be different, on a technical level, how we approach it and how we make the anime is actually not all that different. Whenever we make things, we actually take into account how the characters would react and what would be realistic in that world. In that sense, it’s not that different from other what-ifs we do in anime.

You’ve directed a few shows now, but looking at your history, you’re still contributing as an animator to a number of projects. Do you prefer directing or animating?

In a sense I do enjoy directing more because the director is the one who gets to make the world that the story happens in, as well as think about things like, “How would this character react?” and “What would this character do in these situations? I could also do choreography and other related things, so in that sense being a director is fun. However, I also have my share of fun as an animator, because when I’m an animator and someone else is the director, I can draw the things I want and let the director take care of all the nitty-gritty.

In Princess Principal, the female characters tend to look very different than the male characters, in the sense that the male characters tend to be much taller and tougher and the female characters tend to be much smaller and cuter. Is there a reason for this?

Since the idea of the story is about cute girls being spies, the girls are, in a sense, drawn intentionally cute–as opposed to the men in the show, be it an enemy or an ally. The people in the control room will be drawn to be more trustworthy figures, while the enemies will be drawn to more opposing statures. In that sense, it does have a certain meaning.

To follow up with a related question, Princess Principal works off of a combination of cute and cool. As you made reference to, it’s almost an unexpected contrast within the main cast. Do you think, when trying to combine cute and cool within characters, is it better to have a greater contrast, or is it better to have more of a balance between the two values?

If it was only cool, for example, then you wouldn’t have something all that fun. You would need something like comedy to balance it out. But you can’t put so much of one or balance it so much that it breaks the reality of the setting. So there’s a fine line between keeping the balance and making it enjoyable.

Other shows you worked on, like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Barakamon are very different shows compared to Princess Principal. Do you have a consistent approach to each work, or does it require you to bring something different to the table each time?

What I like to value most is the characters in the story. Even if they need a drastically different touch, I value the characters, how they would deal with hardships, and how they would react to things. I would like them to be as if they were actually there, and then think about what they would do. In that sense, my approach remains constant.

The composer for the music in Princess Principal is Yuki Kajiura. What is it like working with her?

So what actually happens in the sound-making in Princess Principal is, once the scenario is done, the producer, as well as the various people from [Studio] 3 Hz and Actas come together with Kajiura-san to talk. They give her a rough list of what tracks they need. We talk about what we need, and then we let her loose. So in that one meeting, I pretty much convey all of the types of music I want in the various scenes, and I have her do what she likes.

Is this your approach to her, or is it how everyone works with her?

When it comes to this approach, this is mainly what the animation industry is usually like. For example, when we talked earlier about the various people representing each side, there are usually sound directors and others to flesh out the list. That list usually contains 30-40 tracks, and everything is done in that one meeting. Though, right now, there are some other types of anime that focus more heavily on music, like those that focus on vocal aspects or music in general. So those anime might take a different approach.

My final question is maybe the simplest one. What work, anime or otherwise, inspired you to get into a creative field?

When I was a child, I actually watched lots of movies. They ranged from Miyazaki animations to movies by Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, you name it. When I watched them, they ignited the fire in me that made say, “I want to make a movie. It doesn’t matter if it’s anime or live action–I want to make a movie.” This is a generalization, but in Japan, animation requires less of a, how do you call it, less of a period to become to go on to the front lines of production. That’s specifically why I went into anime.

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you. Best of luck in your future work!

Movie Madness: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2018

Is it possible to see too many movies in a single month? It looks like I’ll be testing that out. Not only is it the start of the 2018 New York International Children’s Film Festival, but we’ve got the recently released Black Panther along with Pacific Rim: Uprising, Isle of Dogs, and A Wrinkle in Time. I’m a bit concerned about the sheer quantity overwhelming my ability to engage with each movie, but we’ll see how it pans out.

As a general rule, disengage before you start to feel yourself burning out. This applies to not just anime or entertainment, but even work. Managing your health mentally, emotionally, and physically to the best of your abilities!

In other news, I’ve started a Ko-fi page for Ogiue Maniax. It’s basically an online tip jar, ideal for those who want to support Ogiue Maniax now and then, but either won’t or can’t commit to a Patreon sponsorship.

So from now on, my monthly list of supporters will include both those from Patreon and from Ko-fi.


Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom


Diogo Prado


Sue Hopkins fans:


Hato Kenjirou fans:


Yajima Mirei fans:


My favorite posts from February:

“I Go High, You Go Low”: Hashikko Ensemble

Kio Shimoku’s new manga! Expect to see this every month for the foreseeable future.

Join the Bakery: Kira Kira Precure a la Mode

Another Precure series concludes. How does this one stack up to its predecessors?

The Legacy of a Knight. Mazinger Z: Infinity

The 2018 sequel/revival of history’s most important super robot. A must-see for giant robot fans.



The Unreality of Virtual Youtubers

Thoughts on the success spawned by Kizuna A.I. and those who followed her.


Watch A Place Further than the Universe. It’s not just “girls doing something,” it’s “girls getting something done.”

Defying Assumptions, Fujoshi-style: Kiss Him, Not Me

Kiss Him, Not Me (aka Watashi ga Motete Dousunda in Japanese), a manga about an overweight fujoshi who suddenly finds herself with a harem of handsome classmates after losing weight, recently concluded in Japan. For those who might have been alarmed by the seeming shallowness of the initial premise, I believe this series to be worth a second look. Instead of a series centered on fat-shaming and mocking female anime fans, Kiss Him, Not Me is thoughtful, intelligent, and emphasizes the importance of self-image, all while remaining delightfully humorous.

I can definitely see why readers might have been worried at first, because I was as well. It’s true that most of protagonist Serinuma Kae’s suitors initially are drawn to her due to her dramatic “makeover”—the result of her favorite character’s death causing her to not eat. The apparent shallowness and lack of concern over how the series might interact with perception of eating disorders made me wary, but as the series went on, I found that it addressed my criticisms almost without fail.

While many of her suitors are taken in by her dynamite body, one in particular is an exception. Most of them initially cannot recognize Kae post-weight loss, but it’s her senior in the history club, Mutsumi, who immediately knows who she is—as if Mutsumi had been viewing her as a human being all along. Eventually, all the other guys understand that it’s her personality that makes Kae beautiful, but Mutsumi’s presence is the first sign that body positivity is an underlying message in the manga.

Throughout the series, Kae’s weight yo-yos for humorous effect, showing that it’s just as easy for her to regain all her weight as it is for her to slim down. This might make it seem like Kiss Him, Not Me is either dealing in weight gain/weight loss fetishism, or emphasizes a certain body type as being “authentic,” but there’s even a plot point dealing with that subject. When a new character claims the old, chubby version is the “real Kae,” it’s an opportunity for the manga to tell a story about the perils of tying identity to appearance.

In general, Kiss Him, Not Me shows that it puts more consideration into its themes than one might expect at first glance. I don’t intend to spoil the ending, but I will say that the series stays strong even as it concludes. The finale feels a bit rushed (as if the series needed to wrap up sooner or later), but it’s not nearly enough of a blemish to ruin all of the positives and positivity this manga offers.

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Kio Shimoku and Genshiken Trivia, Courtesy of “Mou, Shimasen Kara”

Over the past year, the manga magazine Monthly Afternoon has featured interviews in comic form with its own serialized manga authors through the series Mou, Shimasen kara. Afternoon Gekiryuu-hen by Nishimoto Hideo. This past month’s issue puts the spotlight on Genshiken and now Hashikko Ensemble creator, Kio Shimoku, so I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing all of the Kio factoids in it.

-For the first time ever, Kio actually reveals his “face” (albeit in manga form). He’s known for being a private person, but he decided show himself through this manga. He reasons, “I’m over 40 now, so what does it matter if I show my face or not?”

-Kio used to work analog, but has been an all-digital artist ever since Jigopuri. He does everything, from thumbnails to color, all on his Wacom. He doesn’t customize his pen or brush settings much.

-He almost never uses assistants. Kio had one assistant on Genshiken Nidaime and none for Hashikko Ensemble, his new series. For those who don’t know, this is highly unusual.

-Kio got the inspiration for Hashikko Ensemble because his daughter joined a vocal ensemble, and he happened to listen to an all-male group.

-He was never a musician, but knew a local group, so he did do some singing for them about once a month, and even had a voice trainer. He’s a second tenor, which was the basis for Akira’s baritone in Hashikko Ensemble. Kio has a fairly deep voice himself, so he decided to exaggerate it for the manga.

-Once, in school, he saw two kids harmonizing on the way to class, providing further inspiration. “I want my manga to make readers want to sing.”

-Kio was in the softball club in elementary school, the judo club in junior high where he was the captain, and the art club in high school.

-He submitted his first manga in high school, for Shounen Sunday. It was about a high school student who works at a used bookstore and discovers an ancient text that he then tries to decipher.

He drew a lot when he was kid, and was an otaku in middle school, where he imitated Doraemon, Kinnikuman, and Captain Tsubasa.

-However, he stopped drawing between 4th grade of elementary and the start of middle school. This was because he was really into Miyazaki Hayao as a kid, and when he couldn’t copy Miyazaki successfully, he got depressed and stopped trying for those few years.

-In middle school, he helped a friend out by drawing backgrounds for his manga, only for Kio to realize he was also better at drawing the characters too. One day, when he tried to draw Miyazaki characters again, he noticed he had gotten way better.

-He wanted to be an animator, but Ghibli only wanted people 18 and up. Once, he created a manga based on the Laputa novel in a couple of notebooks.

-In college, he majored in Japanese art because he thought the pencil and brush skills would translate to manga.

-Kio’s dad worked at an insurance company, and while he wasn’t flat out against Kio’s aspirations, he would constantly ask him to consider the risk of being a manga creator. This made Kio want to quickly win a manga reward, to help his parents accept it.

-The school he went to had a club called the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, becoming the inspiration for Genshiken. Surprisingly, however, Kio was actually only a member for half a year. He didn’t quit because if anything in particular, he’s just not good with group activities.

-Despite what it might seem, the Genshiken characters are not based on any real life counterparts.

-In response to the realism of his characters, Kio says he tries to convey a sense of “presence” with them.

-Kio feels Genshiken came at the perfect time, matching the zeitgeist of the era. However, it makes him feel like a one-hit wonder. If Hashikko Ensemble fails, he’s going to feel enormous pressure.

-He didn’t attend a technical high school so he needs more research. One of he authors of Mou, Shimasen kara. did, and the other has a sister who attended one, so they try to help out.


Kio’s done a lot!! He sort of seems like a renaissance man.

That bit of surprise aside, it is fascinating finding out just how many aspects of his own personal life and career have made their way into his manga. The attending a Genshiken-like club is one thing, but it’s notable that he was in the judo club and then the art club—just like Hato. He also converted to using a tablet monitor for manga at some point—just like Ogiue. While his characters aren’t based on any real people in particular, he takes bits of himself and places them in his creations. While not stated outright, I think it’s pretty clear that Jigopuri (which is about raising a baby) is the product of firsthand experience.

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