Shining in the Sea of Stars: “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 3” Novel Review

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST AND SECOND GAOGAIGAR VS. BETTERMAN NOVELS

Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 3 brings the story of the Gaogaigar universe to a close, and what a journey it’s been. 24 years after the original TV series, we finally know the fates of all our brave heroes, and the tension and excitement never let up through this massive third volume. It truly does feel like the end of a long journey.

(Seriously, this thing is a monster compared to the first two.)

King of Kings

To start, since the release of Part 2, something major has happened to Gaogaigar vs. Betterman: It’s gotten an official name! The novels didn’t get licensed; rather, it became one of the titles in Super Robot Wars 30, where it was announced in English as King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman. The term “Hakai-oh” is quite tricky to translate without sounding awkward and retaining enough of the meaning of the Japanese, and I find this to be an incredibly good compromise that also makes sure to pair well with the classic King of Braves Gaogaigar English title. It also gets translated as Conqueror-King in dialogue. Note that I call it Hakai-oh in the title mainly for consistency with my previous reviews, but I like these translations enough to use them for this review.

Gaogaigar vs. Betterman being in SRW30 also means that’s how most English speakers are likely experiencing the story, but there are a number of notable differences. So this review (as well as the previous two) might be worth checking out just to see how this plotline was originally handled.

The Story

Part 3 starts off with some of the Gutsy Galaxy Guard restored to their normal selves, with many dangerous and notable exceptions remaining. These “Conqueror’s Thralls” (previously translated as Hakai Servants) are still under the powerful influence of Triple Zero, which Mamoru, Guy, and the rest now understand to be not only the source of The Power, but the energy produced from a dying universe during a Big Crunch. The Thralls seek to bring everything to “provenance”—a reset to oblivion—leading to some fierce and emotionally difficult battles. Meanwhile, the Somniums still act according to their own beliefs, but their mysterious ties to humanity are tested, and their true motives are revealed. Mamoru and Ikumi’s Gaogaigo, Guy’s Gaofighgar, and more must be braver than ever before if they want to free their friends and ultimately fight against the Conqueror-King Genesisc Gaogaigar. But as they discover in their struggle, courage might just be the antidote to Triple Zero.

A Universe Unto Itself

I’m being something of a broken record at this point, but more than ever, the way in which the novel draws upon the entirety of Gaogaigar lore is still one of my favorite aspects. There’s enough explanation so that those who don’t have a degree in Braveology can still follow along, and it never feels overly reliant on nostalgia or old ideas. 

How does Mikoto being part-Zonuda affect her as a Thrall? What does Guy’s evoluder biology say about his potential future? How does the time dilation that impacted the old GGG affect their relationships with their friends and family back on Earth? The Somniums can fuse with each other to form Betterman Cataphract, but how far can they take it? All those questions are asked and answered while never losing sight of the main story, the fight against the King of Kings.

Even the climax towards the end of the novel is a huge nod to the final episode of the original TV series, one that feels like a progression rather than a retread, and builds upon an overall satisfying experience. 

The Best Battles Ever?

If there’s one thing that Gaogaigar is known for, it’s amazing fights. Even in pure prose without the benefit of animation, this still applies. I’m even tempted to call these particular fights the best the franchise has ever seen, and it’s largely because of how each one feels unique from the others, the way the stakes keep building up, and the desperate solutions that they need to find. How can they compete with Commander Taiga, whose stalwart leadership provided the backbone of GGG? The Goldion Crusher was their ace in the hole in the conflict with the 11 Planetary Masters of Sol in Gaogaigar FINAL, so what hope do they have when faced with a Silverion Crusher wielded by a terrifyingly powered-up Conqueror King J-Der? 

In each case, there’s the exciting push and pull so characteristic of Gaogaigar battles, but there’s also the sense that the characters are doing all they can to strategize, persevere, and fight. There’s a moment in one of the later battles where they creatively utilize the technology that allowed Gaogaigar to upgrade its Protect Shade and Broken Magnum into the Protect Wall and Broken Phantom, and Guy’s uncle Liger contemplates how, unlike most everything else they use, this was a purely human invention by Guy’s father, Leo. In Liger’s view, the Wall Ring and Phantom Ring are representative of humanity building upon and contributing to the boon of alien technology they received from Galeon so long ago—a fusion of Earth and Green-Planet science, not unlike Gaogaigo. It’s a beautiful moment.

And perhaps most importantly, the final volume answers whether “vs.” means “team up” in the Dynamic Pro tradition, or “confrontation” in the more conventional sense. The answer is a creative one.

Romance

While there are many couples and would-be couples in the Gaogaigar universe, it’s never been the focus in any real way. Here, though, the topic takes center stage in what feels like a pay-off. Whether it’s Mamoru and Hana as childhood sweethearts, the forged-in-combat bond of Soldat J and Renais, the central romance of Guy and Mikoto, or the more down-to-Earth and relationship of Keita and Hinoki, everything pretty much comes to a head here. All of them are entertaining to read, and I’m especially fond of how J’s versions of care and compassion tie into his warrior ethos—nothing like handing your girl your finishing move so she can wield it herself.

Issues

One criticism I have is that the series is 100% heteronormative in its romances. I’m not saying that they needed to reveal that Ikumi or some other character was gay or anything, and I understand that all of the above relationships are basically tying up loose ends from Gaogaigar and Betterman, but it’s still nevertheless something missing that could show that time has truly moved forward. I don’t think this omission makes Gaogaigar vs. Betterman bad or unenjoyable, but I find it’s worth pointing out.

I also think that the Betterman parts are significantly more confusing than the Gaogaigar sections. This might be because that series is less fresh in my mind, but one big difference is that most of the Gaogaigar-side characters come from the TV series and OVA. In contrast, while the human side of Betterman sees a large number of returning faces, the Somniums (the titular Bettermen) are for the most part new characters, and so it feels like there’s less to latch onto.

The last thing I’ll mention here is that the series has kind of a complex relationship with its portrayal of characters with disabilities. There’s great emphasis on how the scientific and technological efforts made have given those with disabilities the opportunity to lead lives they might not have been able to otherwise, and that what fuels this is largely love and compassion. At the same time, you have characters like Guy who, even in his previous cyborg form, comes across more as a “supercrip.” I’m not an expert in this subject, so I’d be interested in hearing others’ takes on this matter.

Favorite Touches

This is where the SPOILERS abound, so I’m putting a WARNING right here.

I’ve already touched on a number of things that stick out in my mind, but I want to elaborate a bit more on them here. It’s mostly the battles.

The aesthetic of the Silverion Crusher is nothing short of magnificent, with the Crusher resembling a giant flaming King J-Der head like it’s the most terrifying dullahan ever. The battle against it also has many moving parts that feel necessary because of what an overwhelming adversary it is. Gaogaigar fans know the sheer destructive force that is the Goldion Crusher, and the way they have to basically attack the units that spread out to create the hammerhead in order to prevent it from fully deploying, or else it’s game over. The way the fight comes down to Guy and Ikumi battling J and Renais in order to purify them also has a feeling somewhat akin to the final battle in Gurren-Lagann

The struggle against Conqueror-King Genesic is chock full of astounding elements, such as the fact that the fight is led by Gaogaigar (Guy), Gaogaigo (Mamoru and Ikumi), and Gaofighgar (now controlled by Renais) working together to take it on, with King J-Der and Kakuseijin V2 for support. In other words, it’s triple Gaogaigar vs. Genesic. As they fight, they manage to break apart Genesic’s Final Fusion, but then have to fight the separated but individually sentient Genesic Gao MAchines all at once, resulting in an additional challenge.

You may be wondering how it’s possible that vanilla Gaogaigar is part of this fight, but its core is actually the original Galeon pulled from the past by the Somniums. What’s more this Gaogaigar ends up combining with Betterman Cataphract to form Musou Gaogaigar, or Dream Armor Gaogaigar. The narration mentions that you could alternately call this Gaogaigar’s “Great Gattai,” making a reference to other Brave series combinations like Great Exkaiser and Great Might Gaine. 

Then, in that same struggle, we see the aforementioned use of Phantom Ring technology. More specifically, it’s actually about turning the “Global Wall” that helped restore electronic communications back to the Earth and switching it to a “Phantom Mode.” The very fact that the Global Wall was sitting there as a pseudo-Chekhov’s gun filled me with a kind of fiery joy—it had already played a role, but here was a second and even bigger one that feels both out of nowhere and logically consistent. That’s actually kind of this whole novel series in a nutshell. 


In a similar vein, King J-Der ends up combining with Earth’s technology to form the amazing-sounding Dimension Ten-TImes Pliers, which is King J-Der with Dimension Pliers for fingers. I want to see this in an actual animation so badly.

And during the climax, when it’s time to form Final Gaogaigar for the last battle, it’s not just Guy fusing with Genesic Galeon, but all the Genesic Gao Machines having fusions with other characters. It’s a lot like the finale of the TV series, where the Brave Robots have their AIs installed into the regular Gao Machines because they’ve been disabled by Mikoto-as-Zonuda. Goldion Armor and the Goldion Finger attack (essentially a giant hand consisting of Goldion Hammers for fingers) is amazing, but the thematic full-circle from the fully fused Final Gaogaigar stands out even more.

After all the fighting, we’re treated to an epilogue and an extra story. In them, we see how Mamoru and Hana have a child named Tsubasa (gender unknown), but also that Guy and Mikoto will accompany Galeon and the J-Ark crew to explore the universe. In other words, Guy is going back to his original dream of being an astronaut, and I think it’s such a beautiful way to end his story.

The “FINAL” Word

I love that these novels exist. While I wish this could have been animated from the start and given the treatment it truly deserves, the story told in these pages soars in ways that make me smile and have pride in being a Gaogaigar fan. If Gaogaigar vs. Betterman is a love letter, then it’s one that turns a romance into a marriage, and embodies everything great about the universe of its characters and heroes. In the afterword, both the original director who supervised these novels, Yonetani Yoshitomo, and the series author (who actually wrote for the TV anime way back), Takeda Yuichiro, approached these novels with the sense that they would cap off the story of Gaogaigar as a whole. I would never be against a sequel, but the fact that we the fans even got a conclusion is more than I could have hoped for, let alone having it end so well.

 

The Ongoing Dream of a Truly International Super Robot Wars

In recent years, the Super Robot Wars franchise has been looking hard at international fans, and that has been reflected in part by the mecha that show up in it. In interviews for Super Robot Wars T and Super Robot Wars 30, the game’s director mentions that titles like Gun x Sword and J-Decker were, in part, nods to fans outside Japan. It reminds me of how different Japanese giant robot series became the spark of inspiration in different parts of the world, as well as how I once had my own half-formed idea for an American-fandom-centric SRW. Together, all of this makes me want to entertain the notion of a truly international SRW that puts the entire spotlight on those anime and manga that introduced countries to mecha and maintain that enthusiasm.

Shows like Golion, Grendizer, Transformers, Groizer X, etc. Furthermore, I’d like to see the roster be even broader than that. In that respect, limiting it to things that can connect to anime might even be too narrow. Ideally, a game like this would include Robot Taekwon V and The Iron Giant.

One question that arose as I engaged in this thought exercise is whether series that were heavily localized should come in their original Japanese forms or their adaptations. Should Golion and Dairugger be two separate titles, or should they be joined under the Voltron banner? Then it hit me that Super Robot Wars is all about modifying plot details to make crossovers work. Thus, you could split the difference between the Japanese and the American versions, and just find a way to make Golion and Dairugger connected within the new storyline.

There are giant robot fandoms around the world with their own idiosyncrasies, and I’m actually a bit sad that I don’t know them all. I wish I was an experienced polyglot so I could explore these communities and memories in greater depth. I think the real reason I’d love to see an international SRW is because I want something that celebrates these histories.

Thinking About “New Romantic Sailors”

Of the many Love Live! Sunshine!! songs, “New Romantic Sailors” is a favorite of mine. Not only is it just a catchy tune, but the fact that I got to see Guilty Kiss perform it at Anime NYC over two years ago makes it a special memory. But what really makes it stick out in my mind is the choreography for live performances, specifically the poses in the above image that they take. 

On the left is Kobayashi Aika, the voice of Tsushima “Yohane” Yoshiko, a character who calls herself a “fallen angel” and her fans “little demons.” Aika just screams chuunibyou, like she’s trying hard to convey how dark and mysterious she is, or as if she’s about to break into villainous laughter any second.

In the middle is Aida Rikako, the voice of Sakurauchi Riko. Her arms, crossed at the wrists, are reminiscent of the “Specium Beam” seen in Ultraman. Riko is a bit of a closet otaku herself, but it also sets up one of the signature moments of “New Romantic Sailors,” when Riko shouts, “Riko-chan Laser Beeeeeeaaaam!”

And on the right is Suzuki Aina, the voice of Ohara Mari. In other songs, Aina also does a finger-gun, and it speaks to Mari’s background as an Italian-American who also sometimes dresses like a cowgirl. Associating Americans with guns feels a little on-the-nose, but it’s also kind of fair.

“New Romantic Sailors” full song

I think this stuff is probably obvious for more hardcore Love Live! fans, but I just wanted to write about it to show my appreciation for its cleverness. What I really love about these poses is the fact that they’re all similar yet unique—each one’s a cross-arm pose, but the differences between them exemplify each character’s persona perfectly. Often, it feels like the dance moves for Love Live! songs don’t necessarily speak to each individual character’s traits, yet “New Romantic Sailors” has it in spades.

Reflecting on Character Complexity in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Things have come a long way with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, especially with the plethora of DLC characters providing some very unique play styles. However, this also makes me think back to the first couple years of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where I used to see the game get criticized for lacking depth pretty regularly. The argument commonly went (and to some extent still goes) that the characters are too simplistically designed, thus making many of them too similar in feel and results in less interesting gameplay. While I never shared this opinion and feel that it doesn’t track with my experience, I think it gets at one of the core challenges facing any fighting game: how do you get a diverse range of players to feel like their character choice is special enough for them to keep playing? Personally, I think Ultimate succeeds in this regard, but I think those who feel otherwise are used to games that more heavily reward them and their attitudes towards improvement.

One of my favorite characters to use is Mewtwo, and it’s because I have a fondness for the character, as opposed to viewing it from a purely competitive perspective. Even so, I’ve been trying to get better at the technical aspects of Mewtwo, and I have been overwhelmed not only by how much there is to learn, but how to incorporate them all naturally into my gameplay. Whenever I’ve seen criticisms like the ones above, I’ve thought to myself, how could anyone pick up Mewtwo and claim that you can learn everything about them in a relatively short time? How could anyone claim that Mewtwo’s play style is somehow too reminiscent of other characters?

The answer is that they’re not talking about Mewtwo at all, because Mewtwo isn’t considered a great character, generally speaking. On tier lists even after all the buffs they’ve received, you’ll often see Mewtwo placed somewhere from low to mid tier, with the occasional high-tier spot with the caveat that it would only apply if Mewtwo is mastered to the fullest extent. When choosing Mewtwo from an “I want to win” perspective, the question is simply: Is it worthwhile to learn an extremely complex and difficult character if all that effort fails to net you a top-tier character? 

Adam “Keits” Heart, who worked on Killer Instinct (2013), doesn’t think so—or rather, he doesn’t believe most players who gravitate towards complex characters would be satisfied with such a deal. In the interview above, he talks about how Iron Galaxy Studios purposely strengthened or weakened characters for the overall health of the game. A character with a much higher learning curve (Aria) was made to be relatively strong to reward the players who put in the time and effort.  Another character designed to frustrate (Aganos) was made weaker in order to avoid having players quit the game after going up against him, but with the knowledge that the character would appeal to someone. According to Keits, what’s important is not balance in the traditional sense of having an equal likelihood of winning, but rather the degree to which different characters allow different personalities to shine through. In other words, diversity in competitive play happens when characters are special enough for people to want to devote themselves.

The potential problem with Ultimate, then, was that its top echelon of characters somehow wasn’t giving certain types of players the characters or gameplay they want, and this is why certain characters have sometimes been perceived as being “shallow” in design. Lucina, for example, is a fairly straightforward character, and the absolute standard for the swordsman archetype. She can do a lot, but none of it is especially fancy. She rewards good fundamentals, but players don’t necessarily want to just hone the basics; they want to win in an exciting fashion. It’s also why defensive characters like Sonic and Pac-Man who have verifiable tournament success don’t exactly attract swathes of players eager to use them. They’re complex, but not in the “proper,” i.e. “exciting” way—unless wielded by specific players (see KEN and Tea). That excitement factor is also what creates an exception of sorts to the “complex characters are only good if they’re top-tiers” rule because whether or not the complexities or quirks result in highly transformative gameplay alters how one perceives a character.

Ultimate is often compared to its prequels, and while players of Melee and Brawl consider the differences between the two to be night and day, one thing they have in common is how often veterans of both will praise the “advanced techniques” of each game. In Melee, these are mainly in the form of universal gameplay quirks like wavedashing, dash dancing, and wavelanding, which help make the gameplay fast, frenetic, and smooth. In Brawl, it’s the character-specific advanced techniques that players love. Lucas is considered to be competitively compromised because Marth can kill him from 0% off of a single chain grab due to a strange exploit. Having a weakness this severe should theoretically scare off everyone from using him, but Lucas has extremely loyal players because the character is jam-packed with unique things only he can do, like “Zap Jump.”

That still doesn’t make Lucas a top-tier. At best, he’s considered a mid-tier. In principle, this shouldn’t be all that far from Mewtwo’s situation in Ultimate, but there’s one major difference: it gives something more concrete for players to feel like they’re taking the character so far beyond the perceptions of a Day 1 Lucas that it almost feels like a different character. In a similar vein, Luigi in Melee is not considered a top-tier, but any Luigi player will tell you that one of the reasons they use him is because he has the longest wavedash in the game. He goes from having some of the worst mobility in the game to some of the best, and it fundamentally changes how the character functions.

Mewtwo can do a lot of interesting advanced things, like abruptly change directions in the middle of charging Shadow Ball (“wavebouncing”), or cancel Shadow Ball upon landing and immediately transition into other actions, but they’re still basically the same character, with the same essential stats, strengths, and weaknesses as a Day 1 Mewtwo. The advanced techniques in Ultimate, whether they’re character-specific or universal, still stay within the boundaries of the game’s perceivable possibilities. The amount of reward I get for mastering Mewtwo’s wavebounce would be maybe a 5-10% improvement to the character overall. A Luigi wavedash, in turn, is like a 50-75% boost. It’s not even close.

Ultimate is successful at capturing a huge variety of players, and what we’ve seen are mainly specific types of players who aren’t being catered to. I think what frustrates those players of Ultimate who wish they could do more is that, in contrast to Melee with its game-altering discoveries or Brawl with its character-specific techniques, playing Ultimate is at its core about working within limitations that have very clear strengths and weaknesses. Incineroar cannot magically improve his poor ground speed the way a Melee Luigi can. You can do any move out of an initial dash, but moving in that fashion leaves you vulnerable, and the only way to mitigate it is to choose not to dash. You can have a character with millions of little intricacies and lots of undiscovered potential, but it’s likely not going to instantly turn any matchups around. Players are working within the intended system as opposed to circumventing it, and Smash as a franchise is full of veteran players who came from games that allowed them to be transformative on some level, or at least rewarded them mightily should they put effort into improving. Ultimate in competitive play is still a contest of skill, cleverness, and physical dexterity, but perhaps more satisfying for those who don’t mind moving feet instead of miles.

Monsters Growing: Rokudo no Onna-tachi Final Review

WARNING: ENDING SPOILERS

Rokudou no Onna-tachi by Nakamura Yuji is an unusual delinquent harem manga whose ability to embrace and rise above its basic premise has made me a fan through and through. The series concluded this year, and though it’s the kind of story where I could see the ending from a mile away, that doesn’t really impact how enjoyable it is to read. It’s a rare case of a manga that rarely falters and keeps getting better right to the finish.

Rokudou follows Rokudou Tousuke, a wimpy high school boy who uses a family spell to become more popular with girls but gets an unexpected consequence: The spell only works on “bad girls,” and number 1 among them is a human wrecking crew named Himawari Ranna, who’s practically an avatar of violence and destruction. While the series starts off as mostly gags, it quickly grows into a story about forging lasting bonds and finding the best version of yourself. Rokudou, like so many shounen protagonists, is all about the power of friendship, but even though the art is often unserious, the heart is definitely there. Rokudou genuinely cares for others, and he’s a surprisingly well-developed protagonist for a series that didn’t necessarily need it.

In my previous review, I likened Rokudou to Krillin, with Ranna like a cross between Android 18 and Goku due to the relative chasm in power levels. But if Rokudou is the Krillin, then his success comes from the idea that just because you’re not the strongest doesn’t mean you’re not strong—especially because there’s more than one way to be strong. Even if he’ll never have what it takes to win the biggest battles, Rokudou wants to make a difference where he can, while also having the desire to improve where can. And so when he does learn to throw hands, it’s like he’s both protagonist and side character simultaneously, and it doesn’t feel like a weak compromise. As the opponents get stronger—the final arc has Rokudou and pals up against full-in organized crime—so too must the good guys step up.

At the climax of the story, the question that has driven the series presents itself one last time: Could Ranna possibly care for, or even about, Rokudou if the charm spell were to lose its effectiveness? Was the unlikely bond they formed nothing more than an illusion? The answer is much like what happened with Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: It may have started as an artificial love, but it became real over time. To the credit of Rokudou no Onna-tachi author, Nakamura Yuuji, this development feels more than earned by both Ranna and Rokudou. 

Whether it’s being serious or silly or even both at the same time, this manga feels right. I’m glad to have stuck with it, and I hope that it’s remembered fondly as a series that combined its hodgepodge of tropes into something beautiful and hilarious.

What Do Toxic Gamers and Fascists Have in Common?

“Fascism is not a specific ideological system with particular content. It’s just a strategy for taking power and maintaining power against the rule of law, and against the majority in a democracy.” –Jamie Raskin

Years ago, I wrote my thoughts on the use of slurs online by gamers to insult others (language warning). I expressed the idea that many of the people who use these words aren’t aiming to be racist or sexist, and that part of the problem is that we live in a society where describing someone as gay, black, or whatever else can be viewed as demeaning in the first place. But the above quote from United States Congressman Jamie Raskin stuck with me because of the way it describes fascism as a strategy rather than a belief system, and it had me reflecting on the strategic use of words to harm others.

What I’ve come to realize is that I had approached the topic of online toxicity from a limited angle. Freedom of expression and the full repertoire of a language are important things that I still support, but there’s another dimension to consider.

One problem with how easily slurs get thrown around online isn’t as simple as whether or not the words are deeply offensive to different peoples and cultures. It doesn’t matter how silly it is that some gamers will throw these words out even if they don’t actually apply to the person on the other side of the screen. The individuals who behave this way, whether they’re conscious of it or not, are basically trying to hurt the person they’re talking to by any means necessary. They’re using slurs as buckshot and hoping the spray will do damage. Similar to fascism, this is less an indicator of beliefs and more of a method to exert power over others—however limited in this specific context—even if they might also actually be racist or whatever. But what happens when the context gets larger?

It’s no secret that Gamergate was basically a precursor to the fecal stain that is Trumpism and the alt-right in the United States, which bring with them the very real threat of actual fascism. And while I truly do not believe that all gamers who ever used slurs to insult others are inherent fascists or will inevitably turn into them, that desire to use words not for the ideas they represent but as tools to probe cracks and fissures in order to do harm feels all too similar to what I see from the fascists who try to undermine American society day in and day out. Donald Trump, right-wing media, the Republican Party, and others in power lie endlessly because “meaning” is meaningless to them—they’re just trying to find the thing that sets people off and helps them maintain power.

Beyond the scope of words alone, this mindset bears scary resemblance to the kinds of strategies we’re finding out were deployed in an attempt to stop the transfer of power in the US on January 6, 2021. Whether through enraging a mob and turning them violent, or trying to exploit gaps in the Constitution and other legal documents, what we saw a year ago was an attempt to twist words and their meaning into crowbars to try to pry open and undo American democracy. Though cliche, I can’t help but think of a famous line from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.”

Calling someone a slur whether in frustration or contempt is not an automatic pipeline to undermining the foundations of a government; I’d even hazard a guess that most people who engaged in the former never got anywhere close to the latter. But the ease by which words are weaponized in smaller contexts feel like they should be scrutinized more carefully. After all, the alt-right specifically targets gamers, seeing gaming as a resource for young and disaffected men. The racism and sexism expressed in them are a major part of the problem of how words are abused, yet they’re also reduced down to cudgels meant to inflame and diminish. While we should avoid censorship as a blunt form of enforcement, the less weight we feel the weight of the words we use, the more easily they become the tools of fascism.

What a Trip: Sonny Boy

To call Sonny Boy an unusual anime is to make one hell of an understatement. When you start off with a setting of high school kids stranded in some isolated world while possessing superpowers, it seems like it’s gonna be some variation on Lord of the Flies. But Sonny Boy goes beyond even the expectations it sets for itself narratively while aesthetically occupying a realm that feels both hyperreal and surreal.

It’s incredibly hard to describe Sonny Boy, as it’s rarely ever clear what’s an important plot detail, what’s more for flavor, and where the latter might transform into the former. The series seems to focus on the notion of “possibilities,” but even that term seems to brush up against the contradictions within itself. It’s a combination of vast and unpredictable dimensions, along with the expansive yet narrow minds of lost teenagers. It’s like Twin Peaks with a heavy focus on high school drama.

I hesitate to make any concrete statements about takeaways, but one thing I felt by the end is the contrast between infinite potential unrealized as a kind of metaphor for youth, and the need to go beyond that world to actually get something done. That potential is valuable, but fear of losing it hurts people more than one might expect.

Sonny Boy is probably worth a watch again. Maybe it’ll help me process the series better. It feels like there’s so much underneath that surface.

The Winter of Our (Dis)Content: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2022

Happy New Year! As I say that, 2022 is off to an unusual start.

On the blog side, there’s been an issue with many of my older posts because the web hosting I used for many of the images has been down for the past month (and possibly more). I hope I can get it fixed sooner rather than later, but the hosting has been unresponsive. Fortunately, most of the content is primarily text, so even as many of the illustrative pictures are not displaying, there’s still plenty to read, if you want to check out the archives.

But of course, any and all web space woes pale in comparison to the unprecedented level of infection that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has brought. Last month, I wondered if I might have to temper my expectations about seeing loved ones in this environment, and that has turned out to be a pretty big understatement. For those living in places with record spikes in infection, I hope you can stay safe and well. Please, please get vaccinated (and boosted if you can), wear a good mask (N95, KN95, KF94, FFP2), and exercise discretion (especially indoors). We can still live our lives, but we should cherish the health of the people around us. While Omicron seems to have a greater ability to infect vaccinated people, it can still be the difference between an unpleasant day and your final one.

I order my masks from Bonafide Masks, but you can get KN95s at a Staples or equivalent shop.

Thanks to my patrons here in 2022, especially the following.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from December:

Going Beyond Limits, for Better or for Worse: Anime NYC 2021

My review of Anime NYC 2021 and all its ups and downs. Also check out my convention review of Pompo the Cinephile!

Daitetsujin 17 and the Wonderful Clunkiness of Tokusatsu Soul of Chogokin

A preview of the next Soul of Chogokin figure turns into an analysis of how the toy line handles live-action series.

Fan vs. Fandom

Thoughts on the difference between being a fan of something and participating in a fandom, inspired by someone close to me.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 47 turns out to be the second-to-last! Can’t wait for next month.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter in December saw him reminiscing about older times.

Closing

In much lighter news, the winter anime season is starting up! I’m still trying to finish stuff from the fall, but in the meantime, I’ve decided on my favorite characters of 2021. Who do you think reigned supreme?

Best Anime Characters of 2021

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)

For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.


Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)

In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs. 

But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.

Final Thoughts

There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place. 

I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights December 2021

Every month, I collect highlights from Genshiken author, Kio Shimoku’s, tweets. This month’s provide some interesting insight into Kio’s work history beyond the manga he’s known for!

Professional Work

Kio started filling this bookshelf back when Rakuen: Le Paradis (home of Spotted Flower) began, and now it’ll be full in two years.

Later, he remarks (while promoting a half-off sale) that he only does three chapters a year, but somehow it’s reached the point of having so many.

Kio doesn’t know how to use the Stream Lines tool [for making Speed Lines] in the art program Clip Studio Paint.

Color proofs of all the covers from the Genshiken Shinsouban Edition!

The announcement that next month’s Hashikko Ensemble is the final chapter. “I hope you’ll all stick around to the end.”

Other Work

Kio quotes a tweet about a special one-shot manga in Monthly Afternoon by Samura Hiroaki (Blade of the Immortal, Wave, Listen to Me!) about the life of the renowned second chief editor of Afternoon, Yuri Kouichi—a man who, prior to Afternoon, was responsible for bringing hits like Akira and Ghost in the Shell to publication. In the manga, Samura mentions his interactions with the famous manga artist Takano Fumiko, and Kio says in his quote tweet that he once worked as an assistant for Takano. He only did screentones for her, but she smiled and said to him, “I don’t care whether you’re a rookie who’s yet to debut—you did a good job.” The moment stuck with Kio.

3 out of 4 of the CDs for his 2010 doujinshi work seems to not be working. While he has the original 350-page paper manuscript somewhere (for a Star Wars parody called Sister Wars Episode I), he doesn’t know where it is. A fan mentions wanting to buy it, but Kio’s not sure what format he should sell it in. He also feels a desire to make Episode II. He’s had plenty of ideas for it, but he feels like he’s been forgetting them lately, so he probably needs to get it done sooner than later.

(Kio mentioned Sister Wars in his interview with the Vtuber Luis Cammy. You can read my summary of that interview here.) 

Interactions

Oguro Yuuichirou, the chief editor at Anime Style, gives high praise to Hashikko Ensemble and its characters, story, and visual presentation of music. Kio tweets being happy about it, to which Oguro re-expresses how genuinely good he thinks the manga is. Kio gives a thank you.

December featured an online extra for Spotted Flower that focuses on the editor character Endou. Kio responds to fan feedback, including from a fellow Ogiue lover and Twitter mutual of mine!

Kio is done with the last rough drawing, whose expression he changed around four times. A fan (who’s a huge Jin from Hashikko Ensemble fan) asks which character it is, to which Kio responds “the ostensible protagonist, Fujiyoshi,” and then reacts to the fan’s Jin profile picture.

Kio gets excited over fellow artist Ikuhana Niro making good on his word and getting a new car.

Other Media

Kio got his copy of Pompo the Cinephile (you can read my review of the movie).

Kio bought another Motorhead figure from Five Star Stories.

Ikuhana Niro mentions that a new doujinshi of theirs is out, and Kio comments that he remembers how “that doujinshi” is under a different pen name.

Miscellaneous

Kio makes a cryptic tweet about not being able to ride the turbulent waves, and says, “See you tomorrow.”

We’ll come to know what “fogged glasses” looks like in the winter. I think this refers to Spotted Flower, but I’m not certain.

He took some kind of online quiz, I think, and the result it gave him was that he lives life on “hard mode.” Kio responds with “What the?” The test also apparently says that someone like him wants a life where they love and are loved. He thinks this might be fitting for a manga artist.

Kio got a back-support corset for when he has to do heavy lifting, like taking out tons of garbage.

Kio retweets Kotobuki Tsukasa (character designer for Saber Marionette J, Gundam: The Origin) talking about turning 50, and realizes he himself turns 50 next year.

Next month is going to be the end of Hashikko Ensemble, so I suspect there is going to be lots of reminiscing on Kio’s timeline. Here’s hoping!