20th Century Boys: Pandemics, Conspiracies, and Cults of Personality

I never read 20th Century Boys until this year, but in some ways, I’m glad I waited this long.

Warning: SPOILERS

20th Century Boys in 2021

A manga by the award-winning author Urasawa Naoki, 20th Century Boys (published from 1999 to 2006) is a decades-spanning mystery about a man named Endo Kenji and his childhood friends, whose innocent elementary school antics are resurfacing in bizarre and dangerous ways. A Book of Prophecy they wrote around 1970 with far-fetched doomsday predictions about plagues that seem to be coming true, and at the heart of this conspiracy is an enigmatic and politically powerful cult leader known as the Friend. But while the Friend’s identity is unknown to all, there’s a hint that Kenji should know who he is: the Friend’s symbol is exactly the same as one Kenji and his friends came up with when they were kids.

Although conspiracies, cults of personality, and apocalyptic disease are not that unusual in fiction, these elements resonate particularly strongly in 2021. Between QAnon, authoritarians such as Bolsonaro and Trump, and then COVID-19, there are a lot of parallels between what happens in 20th Century Boys and what has transpired in reality. There’s a certain poetic element to a series revolving around The Book of Prophecy seeming to tell the future in itself, but whatever farseeing power it might have possessed are less interesting to reflect on than its portrayals of human behavior. What struck at my core from reading 20th Century Boys was not merely the presence of all these current dangers, but the all-too-real psychological reactions we’ve seen actually take place in the world.

QAnon vs. the Friendship and Democracy Party

One vital difference between QAnon and The Book of Prophecy is that the former has not been substantiated in any way, whereas the latter’s predictions are actively made true through the machinations of the Friendship and Democracy Party led by the Friend. Regardless of actual success rate, however, the two bear some fundamental similarities. In one scene in 20th Century Boys, the character Manjome Inshu recalls how he came to know and support the Friend. Manjome, who has a history of being a snake-oil salesman, is one of the people responsible for giving the Friend his messiah-like aura to his followers. At one point, they use a rope and pulley to make the Friend seem like he’s levitating—a flimsy trick that could have been undone by a bit of swaying. However, not only does the audience buy it hook, line, and sinker; even one of the assistants who literally helped hoist the Friend up by rope starts to believe the man can fly. Manjome, thinking to himself, comes to a realization: the people are just looking for something to believe in. Like QAnon, the Friend’s following is not about logic, rationality, or even trying to understand the world through one’s emotions. It’s working backwards from a conclusion because of a particular desire to see the world a certain way, and to feel like one has a part in its transformation. 

Donald Trump vs. the Friend

When it comes to the Friend’s authoritarian nature and god complex, the commonalities between him and Trump stood out to me from the very beginning. However, when the Friend’s identity is finally revealed, their resemblance only gets stronger. The Friend, as suspected, was part of Kenji’s childhood circle, but one who viewed Kenji with utter disdain. The Friend—a boy obsessed with anime, manga, and other children’s entertainment of the time—accrued knowledge, things, and experiences as a way to impress his classmates. Yet, it was Kenji who seemed to capture the attention of the other kids. The Friend was so hellbent on one-upping Kenji that, when a planned trip to the 1970 World Expo in Osaka fell through, he decided to just lie and fabricate journal entries for school as if he had actually attended the event. The wounds of failure remain so open and painful to the Friend that even in the mythos provided to his followers, it’s canon that the Friend Definitely 100% Attended the Osaka Expo and It Was Amazing.

Other clues point to a man with the mind and maturity of a little boy as the mastermind. Many of the hints about who he really is require knowledge of his childhood hobbies because they inevitably reflect what the Friend values. In this sense, 20th Century Boys is somewhat like Ready Player One, which also plays on the idea of pop culture trivia being key to everything, though in the case of 20th Century Boys there’s no Gary Stu power-fantasy protagonist. Also, prior to the big identity reveal, one character manages to get a close look at the Friend and is able to sketch his appearance from memory. When drawing the Friend, the character remarks that even though the Friend is clearly not a child, his face looks as if the man has never aged emotionally—a description that also seems to get ascribed to Trump.

In Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Dangerous Man, the author Mary L. Trump (a psychologist who’s also the niece of the former US president) explains that Trump is unable to let go of grievances. Every slight he’s ever felt sticks with him forever—as shown by an anecdote of how Donald’s older sister recalling a story of him getting a bowl of mashed potatoes dumped onto his head for being a bully still seems to hurt the man well into adulthood. He has spent a lifetime constantly trying to get others to believe that he’s the richest, the smartest, the handsomest, and the best person in the world, and even becoming the leader of the strongest nation on Earth wasn’t enough to placate that selfish desire. With the Friend, his being overshadowed by Kenji became a deep psychological scar, and he uses that motivation to reach a similar place. If you erased my memory of the publication history of 20th Century Boys and told me that the Friend is a reference to Trump, I would believe you. But that’s not the case, and what we’re left with, in retrospect, is a very accurate portrayal of how someone with the most vile qualities could win the hearts and minds of others and remain just as terrible. 

COVID-19 vs. Bloody New Year’s Eve and Beyond

The spread of deadly disease is a recurring horror in 20th Century Boys, though in the manga’s case, it is a biological weapon utilized by the Friend to achieve his goals. I’m not going to get into much detail here, but I think the example I give is going to make it clear why 20th Century Boys ends up being a curiously ominous work when it comes to human psychology. In one scene, a scientist character is trying to make a colleague of hers—one who is responsible for developing new viruses for the Friend—understand at heart just how many people died from the virus they spread on “Bloody New Year’s Eve,” the name for the traumatic events of December 31, 2000. So what are these overwhelming casualties brought on by the virus? What is this horrifying statistic that defies human understanding? 

150,000. 

That number was meant to shock and horrify when it was written. But COVID-19 has killed nearly 600,000 people in the United States, and it has taken the lives of nearly 4 million people worldwide. “150,000 deaths” was a pie-in-the-sky notion dreamed up by a manga author, and we in the real world now see that as the “early days,” when the infection rate hadn’t gotten so out of hand. 

The trauma of the coronavirus is going to stick with us for a long time. 

A Compelling Warning

There’s much more to 20th Century Boys than simply being prophetic, and it’s a superb manga in terms of art and storytelling. Nevertheless, the way its narrative relates to these difficult times makes it all the more powerful. What should have been a suspenseful piece of fiction with an examination of humanity now feels closer to a documentary with a foreboding warning of how easily the human mind can be warped by a diet of bad information. I hope we’re able to heed its messages.

Nightmare (Soulcalibur) for Super Smash Bros.

A Truly Flagship Video Game Villain

Villain characters have been a great addition to the Super Smash Bros. franchise, starting with Bowser in Melee and more recently with the inclusion of Ridley, King K. Rool, and Sephiroth in Ultimate. In anticipation of E3 and the official Nintendo Direct scheduled for June 15, I’ve been making blog posts about possible antagonist characters I think would fit well. But as cool as Goro and Kerrigan would be, what occurred to me is that neither is necessarily the unquestioned face of the video games they represent. Mortal Kombat is Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Kerrigan can make a better case, but she’s not necessarily the first character people think of.

However, there is a particular case I think could fit my self-imposed criteria of being a bad guy while also being a game franchise’s most iconic mascot character: Nightmare from Soulcalibur. Not only does he wield Soul Edge, the demonic weapon that is the primary catalyst for the game’s story, he’s also literally in the logo of the Soulcalibur development team, Project Soul.

Another Swordsman, But…

One potential strike against Nightmare is Ultimate is a game that sometimes gets criticized for featuring too many swords. But Nightmare has so much going for him aesthetically, as well as in terms of possible gameplay mechanics and features that he could successfully fill a space that’s only partially covered by the likes of Ike and maybe Ganondorf: a true superheavy swordsman.

Nightmare’s Soul Edge is like a combination of Ike’s Ragnell and Cloud’s Buster Sword, only bigger. It’s this massive hunk of evil energy in the form of a two-handed blade, and it looks menacing in a way that even Sephiroth’s Masamune can’t quite compare. The menacing march of a character clad in armor who’s not as slow as one might expect could also add a quality of intimidation ideal for heavies. You know his dash attack would be that hilarious dropkick.

Potential Gameplay

Moveset-wise, it’s harder to establish what’s a “special move” vs. a “normal move” compared to 2D fighting game characters, but I think Nightmare could bring a lot of Soulcalibur mechanics to Smash. While the Soul Charge boost could be nice, Nightmare in Soulcalibur VI has a unique mechanic called “Terror Charge.” A mode that enhances his attacks in different ways, Terror Change can be activated either independently like a powerup on command, or it can be triggered by having the opponent hit Nightmare during specific armored moves. 

The two things Terror Charge might most closely resemble are 1) Incineroar’s Revenge (a counter that absorbs a plow to power up the next attack) and 2) Lucario in Project M, who could power up its aura during combos. Rather than being a comeback mechanic or even a snowball mechanic, Terror Charge would be a strategic tool that is fully controlled by the player and can apply to a variety of situations. Other folks more intimately familiar with how Nightmare plays can give a more in-depth moveset idea:

Who Else?

Nightmare isn’t the only villain who’s also the key figure in a game series—fellow Namco character Heihachi Mishima from Tekken could also make the case. Are there any other truly flagship villains out there?

Sarah Kerrigan (Starcraft) for Super Smash Bros.

As E3 and the next Nintendo Direct get closer, I find that I want to see two things in Super Smash Bros.: even more villainous characters like Sephiroth and a representative of the influential real-time strategy genre. I’m attracted to the idea that Smash Bros. is a celebration of video game history, albeit one intentionally skewed towards Nintendo. The inclusion of Starcraft would not only bring in another country/demographic (older South Koreans who grew up with the game), but would implicitly call upon the game franchise as one of the biggest esports phenomenons of all time. League of Legends might have been the current big thing in Korea over the past ten years, but Starcraft is a foundational Korean esport.

Symbolizing All Three Starcraft Races

Much like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, there are three in-game playable factions in Starcraft, and it can be difficult to think of a character in Smash who can represent them all, and there really isn’t a primary “player character” like Three Houses’ Byleth. Jim Raynor is basically the protagonist of the Terran campaigns, and there are numerous Protoss characters who make significant impacts—Tassadar, Zeratul, Artanis—but I think it’s Sarah Kerrigan who would be best for Smash because she possesses elements of all three races.

Kerrigan begins Starcraft as a Terran before being captured by the Zerg and transformed with both Zerg attributes and Protoss-esque psychic abilities. It would be most plausible for her to incorporate attributes from each race into her attacks, such as non-permanent Cloaking from the Terrans, Psionic Storm from the Protoss, and Burrowing from the Zerg.

RTS Gameplay Mechanics

But if you’re going to have a Starcraft representative, it would be great if the character could incorporate aspects of the real-time strategy genre, and I could see Smash doing something really creative. Perhaps you could have the ability to summon different types of Zerg units to accompany you Luma-style depending on certain conditions met. Perhaps it could be like how Villager plants trees, except Kerrigan could spawn a single Hatchery which produces Zerglings. Maybe she could also induce it to upgrade into a Lair and then a Hive, allowing for stronger and stronger units, e.g. Mutalisks and Ultralisks. It might be overly complicated this way, but that also feels in line with the Starcraft spirit. Like Villager’s Tree, Hatcheries would be vulnerable to damage and could be eliminated. Essentially, think Jack-O’ from Guilty Gear Xrd, but with the amount of room to maneuver that a platform fighter provides.

If there was a way to give an advantage to players with high APM, that would also be true to the RTS genre, but that might be a little excessive.

While the intense demand of the original Starcraft games on players to excel can be somewhat incongruous with Smash, I think there could be a happy middle ground. Kerrigan (or any Starcraft character) would have both the gameplay potential and the notoriety to make Smash Bros. proud. 

Nazuna Insomniax: Call of the Night

Kotoyama’s Dagashi Kashi is one of my favorite manga of the past ten years. So, when I saw a couple years ago that they started another manga, I jumped at the chance to give my early impressions of their new title: Yofukashi no Uta. Since then, I kept reading in Japanese while doubtful that it would get licensed in English, but that’s exactly what happened! 

Released by VIZ, Call of the Night (as it’s now called) is a laid-back yet moody story that’s subtly charming while defying expectations.  The story revolves around Japanese boy named Yamori Kou, who wanders his town at night due to a general feeling of dissatisfaction, and Nanakusa Nazuna, an immortal vampire girl who’s not big on creating undead progeny and would rather have fun her own way. Kou decides that he wants to become a vampire, but it’s not just a matter of having his blood sucked—he also has to fall in love with Nazuna for it to work. Thus, in order to fulfill his goal, Kou must learn to understand his own feelings and to find what it would take for love to enter his heart.  

Not Just a Vampire Story

I think it’d be all too easy, and even unfair, to write off Call of the Night as just another vampire story. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the genre, but I think the way Kotoyama approaches the concept and builds his story to include it gives more than enough for those who just want an interesting manga regardless of its supernatural trappings. In addition to the basic vampire-oriented jokes (Kou’s blood is apparently super delicious), it’s just a really clever and poignant character study that touches on the balance of joy and malaise, as well as the burden of social expectations. One defining contrast between Kou and Nazuna is that the former is comfortable talking about romance but blushes at anything remotely dirty, while the latter is the exact opposite. Anytime a conversation veers towards sex, Kou quickly tries to change the subject, while Nazuna can’t stand thinking about love. 

That’s the foundation for a lot of the humor in the story, but there are other amusing moments as well. For example, the topic of cell phones comes up, and Nazuna replies that she has one already. However, Nazuna’s phone turns out to be one of those gigantic Zack Morris-style portable bricks, hinting that she’s at least a couple decades older than Kou despite her appearance. The presence of “outdated” items like the cell phone and even wristwatch walkie-talkies lend a certain nostalgic atmosphere to the series in general, somewhat like how dagashi plays a role as old-fashioned candy in Dagashi Kashi.

Future Volumes

I’ve read past the first volume that’s currently out in English, but without spoiling too much, there are later developments that add some interesting wrinkles. The addition of new characters familiar with Nazuna expands her world and her identity more, such that her story gets fleshed out to a greater degree. She already isn’t quite your typical vampire, but the story goes on to further emphasize that. 

While I have some of the books in Japanese, I plan on getting all of them in English going forward. Kotoyama makes some fine manga, and I hope that they find success outside of Japan as well.

Goro (Mortal Kombat) for Super Smash Bros.

In discussions of Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters, the question is often “what character do you want?” rather than “what kind of character do you want?” But pro Ultimate player Tweek has professed on his podcast his desire to see a genuine heavy-style character to be one of the last two DLC characters—someone who embodies, in his words,  the “heavy lifestyle.”

It is true that we haven’t seen any Bowser-esque characters among any Smash DLC since even Smash 4, and so I started to think about who would fit well while still bringing something to the table in terms of significance and/or interesting gameplay. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that Goro from Mortal Kombat would be a great idea for a heavy DLC character. While 2D fighting games have their fair share of representatives now (between Ryu, Ken, and Terry Bogard), I think Goro gives us a new villain character (though arguably more of a tweener like Mewtwo) who represents another long-standing series with cultural influence.

I haven’t played any Mortal Kombat games for the past…twenty years…so I’m not terribly familiar with how Goro’s play style has changed or evolved as the games themselves have gone through multiple directions. But the image of Goro is ever-present as a big, nasty, four-armed bruiser who can grab you with two hands and pummel you with the other two. He can shoot fireballs, leap high into the air and land with a stomp (perfect for a Smash-style recovery move), and just has an imposing aura that would bring a lot of personality. I feel like I can easily picture Goro’s gameplay in my mind, and it looks cool: you think you can escape him, but his surprising speed and even his powerful projectile would make it feel like you only run for so long.

In terms of appearance, I think it’d be awesome if Goro’s original stop-motion, clay-model aesthetic could be maintained for his entry into Smash. It would make him visually pop in a way no other character does. That said, I’d understand if they went for something more current-looking, as that’s the direction Mortal Kombat has gone in general. With eight costumes per character, both could be possible, but I still wonder which would be the default. My preference would be old-school.

There’s also the question of Mortal Kombat’s signature selling point: blood-and-guts gore. That simply would not pass muster in Smash, but I think Goro could still make it through intact. He can come across as hyper-violent and nasty, but I think that could be conveyed without needing to portray actual viscera flying and bone-breaking attacks. Fatalities would still be a must, but they’d be more exaggerated and extreme than brutal. 

I have no close attachment to Goro as a character, but I just think he would successfully capture the “heavy character” feel in a way few others could, while also fitting well into Smash Bros. gameplay. And i mean, don’t you want someone to say “EXCELLENT” every time he uppercuts his opponents?

Tan-June: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for June 2021

Last year at this time, it felt like the world might not ever be the same again. This past month, I became fully vaccinated.

While I’m still exercising caution in a lot of different ways (including wearing a mask in public), the extra safety a COVID-19 vaccine has provided has helped tremendously to alleviate some of the psychological pressure I’ve been feeling since 2020. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I can grasp some sense of the normal again. I’m still undecided if I want to attend the recently confirmed Otakon 2021, though.

I just hope that we actually learn from the mistakes we’ve made on a social and political level, and that we must create a better “normal” than the one that resulted in a global catastrophe powered by greed and willful ignorance. I’m fortunate to be in a place where I could obtain a vaccination after a year and a half of keeping safe, as not everyone has been able to do that. The real failures—whether they’ve been in the US, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, China, India, or elsewhere—are the consequences of poor leadership above all else.

I can’t make anyone get the vaccine, and availability varies from place to place, but I hope everyone does what they can to at least protect themselves and those they care for.

Thank you to June’s Patreon sponsors, with special gratitude to the following.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from May:

Miura Kentaro, Berserk, and the Pursuit of Perfection

Thoughts related to the untimely passing of the author of Berserk.

Miss Nagatoro and the Teasing Girl as Goldilocks Archetype

An exploration of the appeal of teasing girls.

Witch Hat Atelier: The Fantasy of Science, the Science of Fantasy

My review of one of the best fantasy manga around.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 40 continues to have Jin’s mom, Reika, steal the show.

And here’s more from Kio Shimoku’s Twitter account.

Closing

I just learned that Zettai Karen Children is ending soon after 17 years. It’s amazing to see a series that ran for seemingly forever actually reach the finish line. Authors and artists, take care of yourselves!

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights May 2021

Tweets of interest from Kio Shioku’s official Twitter for May 2021:

This past month saw the unfortunate passing of Miura Kentaro, author of Berserk.

“Whaaaaaa?!”

“I can’t believe it…Berserk is actually…”

 “Whether it was his art, his storytelling, or his characters, he poured his overwhelming passion into everything. I’m trying to find the right words, but I don’t have them…My deepest and heartfelt condolences for Miura-sensei in his passing.”

Shin Evangelion Reaction

“I saw Shin Eva. It wasn’t an illusion. It wasn’t, right…?”

Kio watched a recording of The Professional: Anno Hideaki where Anno says, “I’m okay with dying for my creations.” This made Kio’s head spin. (Having come so soon after Miura’s death, it seems to have hit Kio extra hard.)

Art

A rough nude sketch of Ogino-sensei from Spotted Flower and a preview of the next chapter out.

Kio’s first drawing of first-generation Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken in many years.

Kurotaki Mai from Hashikko Ensemble.

Otaku moments with Hasegawa, previously posted on the @hashikko_music account. She worries about having accidentally outed herself as an otaku, but when asked if she’s a fujoshi, Hasegawa responds, “That isn’t the setting this time.” Also, when Shion expresses interest in Miyazaki anime, Hasegawa considers going into the deep end: Horus: Prince of the Sun, Panda Go Panda, Heidi, 3,000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Anne of Green Gables.

More previous art. Orihara loves the “AMEN”s, and Hasegawa does a pose from what I believe is Hellsing?

The pet tortoise

Miscellaneous

Kio explains that the “broken Gouf leg joint” incident from Genshiken wasn’t exactly based on reality, but he had a similar experience as a kid. In a later tweet, though, he realizes that the reason it happened to him is because model kits in those days didn’t use polycaps on ball joints, which made for a less maneuverable limb.

Kio quit his habit of downing energy drinks before starting his work.

That’s all for this month!

Wild Wings: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 40

As Akira and Jin sing, they remember their first encounter in the classroom when Jin asks Akira to join his Chorus Club.

It’s time for the Chorus Appreciation Society to sing in their last song of the School Culture Festival, and Jin is nervous about being onstage in front of his mom. Fortunately, Kozue delivers a confident speech about their happiness spreading music through the school, which calms Jin down—though she then turns it into a taunting preemptive declaration of victory. 

Their performance of “The Wings of Mind” begins, and the four guys harmonize perfectly, the beauty of the song causing emotions to well up in nearly everyone listening. The LED display Himari programmed displays the lyrics, and before everyone realizes it, the entire audience is doing the same as she is: singing along and being drawn into the performance. However, the chapter ends with Reika with an ambiguous expression that seems to read as her not being terribly impressed.

Song, Singular

This month, there’s only one song, and it’s the centerpiece of the entire chapter. The power of “The Wings of Mind” seems to be its ability to resonate on a very personal level with everyone listening to it. The song brings about a range of emotions: hope and disappointment, nostalgia and discovery, past and future. The two flashbacks indicate this strongly: Akira remembers meeting Jin in the classroom and being introduced to the world of music, while the senior members of the Rugby Club recall looking at the younger teammates as they themselves have to move on to the next phase of life. 

This potentially ties into a previous conversation Akira had with Jin about individual interpretations of a song’s meaning. It’s something Jin has trouble with, and to see “The Wings of Heart” hitting people in different places highlights the notion that we bring a part of ourselves into the songs we hear. “Art is how you interpret it,” or something like that.

Thanks to the LED display of the lyrics, the audience is singing along with the Chorus Appreciation Society.

Perhaps this is why the audience gets swept on in singing. As explained in the chapter, it’s not just that the lyrics are visible, but that it’s as if everyone is being compelled to follow along by the song. Everyone, that is, except Reika. 

1v1 Me, Son

The bit of nervousness (or self-consciousness) Jin feels before the performance is not just understandable—it speaks to the core of Jin’s internal conflict. His mom thinks he’s not trying to prove that talent doesn’t matter so much as he’s hiding his own lack of, and Jin is afraid that she’s right. In this respect, I think the whole “sing-along” plan he thought up might actually backfire, as I suspect Reika sees it all as a gimmick: more camouflage for Jin’s comparatively mediocre vocals. 

Reika and Jin’s contrasting priorities reminds me of arguments made about competitive games. Players of 1v1 games will point to the fact that in a 1v1 scenario, you own all your wins and losses, whereas team games soften the blow of failure by giving players the excuse of blaming their teammates. At the same time, there are impressive things achieved through the group cooperation of team games that 1v1 games can’t touch. All of it is true at the same time, making it so that neither side is inherently correct.

The Hasegawa Kozue Show

Kozue provokes the other groups by saying they knocked everyone else the hell out the tournament, and they're here to win.

This comes as a shock to Mimi-sensei, who thought Kozue was going somewhere kinder.

Kozue carries such power in this manga, being a kind of motivational force that can redirect the inertia of the other members, not unlike Saki from Genshiken. The confidence in her speech, the way she sets Jin back on course, she’s proving more and more how invaluable her friendship can be.

Even if he never said so outright, it’s clear at this point that Kozue is one of Kio’s favorite characters. One thing I like about her character and the emphasis given to her is that she’s nowhere near a traditional “bishoujo” by manga standards, and I like that it bucks expectations and stereotypes. Even her romance (of sorts) with poor Sora from the Rugby Club feels refreshing and new. 

She gets thanked by Kousei and blushes a bit, but I don’t yet see it as anything special. It feels more like Kozue is unaccustomed to such direct gratitude, especially from a guy like Kousei.

Final Thoughts

This sort of feels like the series could end soon, but I really hope it doesn’t. I want to see the club officially form, and for some new faces to give opportunities for more interesting storytelling and drama. 

Skate or Cry: SK8 the Infinity

SK8 the Infinity is an anime with great potential for mass appeal, but rather than catering to a “general audience,” it’s more a series that crosses over so many different niches that it merely appears generic from a distance. The series combines the thrilling world of skateboarding, the involved races of Initial D, the designer+pilot friendship dynamic of Gundam Build Fighters, the over-the-top characters of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and the nudge-and-wink male “friendships” of Free! If you have a passing interest in just two or more of these elements, there’s a good chance you’ll get a kick (flip) out of the whole thing.

The story: Langa is a half-Japanese, half-Canadian teenager who has just moved to Japan with his mother. Reki is one of Langa’s new classmates, and he’s obsessed with skateboarding—a world that Reki is eager to introduce to Langa. While Langa doesn’t know the first thing about it, the way he approaches this unfamiliar sport reveals another side of him: Langa is actually an expert snowboarder who lost his spark after the death of his father who taught him. With Reki’s knowledge and passion, as well as Langa’s unique talents borne out of his history on Canada’s snowy slopes, the two are poised to take the world of underground skateboard racing by storm. Looming in the shadows, however, is the mysterious “Adam,” an antagonistic figure who is one part Dio Brando from JoJo, and one part flamboyant matador.

SK8 the Infinity fires on all cylinders, providing compelling characters and a beautiful story of friendship, but also a kind of ridiculousness that can only come from trying to portray the high-energy world of extreme sports in as loving and passionate a way as possible. The best episodes offer some of the best animation quality you’ll find in a sports series, and the relationship between Langa and Reki takes a lot of twists and turns that feel natural and personal. It’s the kind of anime capable of bringing a lot of disparate groups together, and it’s just plain fun.

Miura Kentaro, Berserk, and the Pursuit of Perfection

This past week, the world learned of the passing of Miura Kentaro, the creator of Berserk, on May 6th. Miura was 54. This leaves one of the most powerful and influential manga in history most likely unfinished, but more importantly, it’s the sudden and tragic end to a career of an artist whose ambition in storytelling always felt beyond human.

To be clear with where I stand, I’m not a Berserk mega fan. I didn’t spend my developing years in the thrall of its gorgeously detailed artwork like some manga readers, so my connection to the series isn’t especially personal. However, even without that intimate closeness to Berserk, it’s impossible to not feel the amount of dedication that Miura put into his magnum opus. He began the series in 1989 and worked on it for over 30 years. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to claim the man poured his soul into Berserk—Morikawa George, creator of Hajime no Ippo and an artist to whom Miura was an assistant early in their careers, said as much:

The months passed by, and I started serializing Hajime no Ippo, and it wasn’t long after that Berserk started. Miura shared some stories of difficulty with me, but I was confident that his manga would be a hit. Kentarou-kun had poured his strength and confidence into this long-awaited serialization, after all. The world would soon be as astonished as I was when I first saw his drawings. He had a completely refined artistic skill and drew with all his soul, and I had nothing but the deepest respect for every new chapter of Berserk

It’s one thing to have a long and sprawling story but a less detailed art style, or an intricate style but a fairly simple story. It’s another to try to go full blast in both respects. To want to tell a tale so ambitious in scope and so lovingly rendered on every page, and to make it so cohesively impactful is nothing short of astounding. Just thinking about his designs of the God Hand, malevolent deities central to the story in Berserk, leaves me amazed. In fact, it’s a wonder that Miura was able to keep it up for as long as he did, even if chapters became much more infrequent later in his life. 

There’s a question of whether stress played a role in Miura’s death, given that aortic dissections can be caused by high blood pressure, and that the manga industry is known for putting people through the ringer and encouraging workaholic habits. Tezuka Osamu himself passed away unable to finish his most ambitious work (Phoenix) after a self-imposed grueling career that became a model of sorts for other creators. However, one thing that makes it hard to tell how much responsibility the manga industry carries is that Miura was an absolute perfectionist, and not the kind of creator who would compromise quality for expediency. In an interview from 2019, he mentions switching over to working digitally, only for him to end up going through his drawings pixel by pixel—a trap common enough for it to be mentioned in a chapter of Genshiken, but also something that takes on a whole new meaning now that Miura is gone. 

If there was a way he could’ve told the story he wanted to tell, the way he wanted to tell it, all the way through while still being able to live to old age, I wish we could have found it. That said, it’s clear to me that the whatever disappointment remains over a potentially unfinished work, Miura’s artistry and vision of Guts’s journey in Berserk has left a mark on fans the world over.