Our Rap Battle Goes On: “Change!” Final Review

I find that my favorite manga tend to finish in groups, and now following Teasobi is the news that the rap battle-themed series Change! is done. This was clearly not the intended way to go out, as it basically leaves off with an “our fight goes on!”-style non-ending. Despite that disappointment, I think it’s a really worthwhile manga that does its subject justice.

Change! revolves around Kozono Shiori, a meek girl at an elite high school who also has a love of the art of the Japanese language. She discovers that a classmate of hers, Miki, has been sneaking out to a club (how scandalous!), only to find that it’s a hip hop club where rap battles are the main event. While she initially writes it off, Shiori (now MC Shiorin) realizes that rap resonates with her deep fondness for Japanese poetry, and enters a new world.

One of the main themes of Change! is that while Japanese rap could be seen as just an importing of American culture, it is just as much a part of Japanese (and international) culture as classical poetry. There are elements of the Japanese language, such as the combination of onyomi and kunyomi ways of pronouncing kanji, that make rapping in Japanese a unique experience. Shiori also draws comparison between rap battles and an old Japanese type of poetry competition called uta-awase. While this can come across as an attempt to justify rap’s existence, Shiori’s role in the story emphasizes the idea that the lyricism of rap can be enjoyed by those with an open mind and an appreciation for good wordplay. In this respect, she’s somewhat similar to Tupac, who could be inspired by things like Shakespeare and the music of Kate Bush.

The manga puts more emphasis on the artistry of rap and hip hop than how it grew from specific cultural circumstances, and there’s relatively little notion of its origins in African-American neighborhoods or its ability to give a voice to those who might not have one otherwise. Despite that, there’s a clear and genuine love for rap that permeates the series, and I can understand why a series that’s probably introducing a lot of people to the world of hip hop in the first place might not delve into deeper topics—especially because it ended before its time.

Speaking of, another sign that the manga was in trouble was that the digital versions of Change! started to get a new title: Waka no Ojou-sama Rap Hajimemashita, or A Japanese Poetry Princess Gets into Rap. Titles usually only get this when it seems like not enough people are even giving it a chance. See Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat) and Gundam Sousei (aka The Men Who Created Gundam) for examples.

There’s an episode preview in the first Genshiken anime where one of the characters talks about how all the best series get canceled early. Sometimes, I really believe it—because while manga can be an avenue for very unique and off-kilter comics, many ambitious series never get the chance to keep flourishing. Chances are slim, but I hope Change! can come back in some form (it would make for a great anime!). I wish the best of luck to Soda Masahito, Tomiyama Hiromiya, and lyrics supervisor Shinpeita on their future projects, and thank them for a fine piece of art.

“Genshiken Nidaime” Ogiue Chika Voice, Yamamoto Nozomi, Gets Married

We don’t get much Genshiken news these days, but the Hashikko Ensemble official Twitter account recently tweeted about Yamamoto Nozomi, the voice actor for Ogiue Chika in Genshiken Nidaime, congratulating her on getting married. Accompanying the tweet is the drawing by Kio Shimoku of Ogiue in a wedding dress seen above.

Yamamoto is the second actor to play Ogiue, after Mizuhashi Kaori. Yamamoto’s other notable roles include Jogasaki Rika in The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls and Bouhatei Tetora in Joshiraku.

There’s also an interaction in the replies where Yamamoto thanks Kio, only for the account to mention that it’s not Kio but rather his manager (who she’s met before) handling social media. However, the Twitter account did have a message for Yamamoto from Kio:

“You did so, so much for the anime. When I found out you got married, I had to draw something. May you have many years of happiness!” (Kio)

Mashin Hero Wataru Is Available Free and Legally on YouTube

Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru (Mashin Hero Wataru) is a 1989 children’s giant robot anime that still has ardent fans to this day. After appearing in the video game Super Robot Wars X, it’s now getting a new sequel to celebrate its 30th anniversary—along with a new set of toys to collect. In order to promote this new series, the Bandai Spirits YouTube channel has actually been putting up the entire Wataru series with multilanguage subtitles!

The channel uploads one episode a week, and the English translation is very solid. The only hiccups come from the fact that Wataru likes to make Japanese language puns—the bane of all translators.

My early impression is that it’s a fun and entertaining series about an energetic boy who gets transported to a fantasy world and who can summon a giant robot. Wataru is humorous and light-hearted, but actually has a few elements of intrigue that build on one another. In our current age of “good boys” in anime, Ikusabe Wataru doesn’t feel out of place at all.

It’s also worth noting that Wataru and his ninja ally Himiko are both voiced by seiyuu giants: Tanaka Mayumi (Krillin, Luffy) and Hayashibara Megumi (Ayanami Rei, Lina Inverse) respectively. If you want some top-class acting chops, this series of full of them. The main robot, Ryujinmaru is actually played by the Kaiji narrator, Genda Tesshou, and another major character has Yamadera Kouichi (Spike Spiegel) behind him.

There’s no telling how long the episodes will be up, but watching them is a great way to support and enjoy a beloved old anime, even if it’s perhaps your (and my) first time watching it. There’s also no guarantee that they’ll have the entire first Wataru series available either. However, based on the fact that they put up all of Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (aka Vehicle Voltron) up to promote the Soul of Chogokin future, signs are positive. At the very least, I hope to be ready when the 30th anniversary sequel, Mashin Hero Wataru: Ryujinmaru of the Seven Souls hits later this year.

Now, where’s that Keith Courage revival?

Creme de la Creme: Why Alcremie Should Be a Smash Bros. Character

With more Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters on the way (including but not limited to the last Fighters Pass entrant), I’m throwing my hat in the ring as to who I think would be the right Generation 8 Pokemon representative. While it’s a longshot for sure, I’m throwing my hat in the ring in favor of the Cream Pokemon, Alcremie.

There are three reasons I think Alcremie would be the ideal Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield character. First is Alcremie’s Gigantamax form. Second is that she already comes with a huge variety of colors to base costumes on. Third is the unique gameplay she would provide.

Gigantamax

The signature feature of the Galar region in Pokemon Sword and Shield is Dynamaxing, where Pokemon grow to massive size and gain all sorts of new abilities. A select few Pokemon have the ability to do a more advanced form of Dynamaxing called Gigantamaxing, and Alcremie is among those capable of the feat. Moreover, her Gigantamax form is visually striking, as she turns into a giant multi-tiered cake. It’s perfect for a Final Smash, especially with Gigantamax Alcremie’s signature move, G-Max Finale. It attacks and heals at the same time, and would likely be somewhat similar to Princess Peach’s Final Smash.

Color Palettes Galore

As of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, each Smash character has eight costumes. For other Pokemon, there haven’t been many canon options for colors, resulting in things like purple Charizard and yellow Mewtwo. For Alcremie, however, this is anything but a problem. In Sword and Shield, Alcremie actually has dozens of possible physical variations based on the specific way it evolves from its previous form, Milcery. Rather than the developers having to work towards picking colors and trying to get approval, they can just say “let’s pick Matcha Cream and Rainbow Swirl” and call it a day, confident that the Pokemon Company won’t take issue.

Gameplay

For the most part, the Pokemon that appear in Smash Bros. are kind of similar. They have very animal-like appearances and their animations translate that aesthetic to their moves. But Alcremie is living whip cream who’s slow but with high special stats, and who specializes in support moves and fairy-type attacks. The closest we get to that is Jigglypuff, who only became a Fairy type in Pokemon X and Y. Alcremie could be a low mobility but high range character, hitting opponents with Dazzling Gleam while also using Decorate to provide support. If they wanted to take this further, developers could even make it a team specialist.

An Alternative 

In all likelihood, Alcremie could be too left-field even for Smash Bros. In that case, I think an almost equally good choice would be Grimmsnarl, who also has a cool Gigantamax form but unlike Alcremie has a more conventional body type. On top of that, Grimmsnarl is used by the ever-popular Sword/Shield character Marnie, giving it potentially a built-in fanbase.

The Cream of the Crop Always Rises to the Top

The DLC character of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate have mostly been third-party guests, but Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are absolutely big deals in the video game landscape. Alcremie would be a quirky but appropriate mascot for the Galar region, and I think it would have both general appeal and the opportunity for some creative game design.

Now, if only they’d go back and give Generation 3 a proper representative as well…

 

20/20 Vision of Escaflowne: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2020

Here we are, at the dawn of a new decade. It means a new anime season, naturally, but there’s this combined sense of wonder and dread at what might be a new era.

As we begin 2020, I would like to give the biggest of shout-outs to my Patreon supporters:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I actually was considering giving credit to all of my Patreon supporters this time around and not just the $3.00 and above tier, but I had to take into account that some might purposely choose to remain anonymous. Just know that if you’ve helped out Ogiue Maniax in the past or in the present, no matter how much it’s been, I want you to know that I’m grateful.

Highlights from December:

The big thing on Ogiue Maniax last month was my decade in review series. You can check out all the parts below.

2010–2019 Part 1: Prediction Results

2010–2019 Part 2: Looking Back

2010–2019 Part 3: Looking Forward

2010–2019 Part 4: Best Anime Characters of the Decade

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 23 is full of excellent humor and even better art.

Patreon-Sponsored

The One and Only: Aikatsu on Parade! and Hoshimiya Ichigo

The queen is here! See how the current season of Aikatsu! handles the return of its original heroine.

Closing

2020 will be a tumultuous year, from American elections to the Tokyo Olympics. I wish everyone safety and happiness, and hope that we can all find both comfort and inspiration in anime and other creative experiences.

2010–2019 Part 4: Best Anime Characters of the Decade

At the end of every year here at Ogiue Maniax, I pick my favorite characters of the year. Usually, it’s one male character and one female character, but exceptions have been made for, say, nonbinary characters or, well, personified abs. So now that I’ve picked characters from 2010 all the way through 2019, it’s time to decide the best characters of the decade!

Note that I’ve taken three important characters out of the runningOgiue Chika from Genshiken Nidaime, Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and Yang Wen-Li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: De Neue These). The reason is simple: They are three of my absolute favorite characters of all time, and I would easily pick them if they were available as options. Ogiue, Tomoyo, and Yang deserve their own hall of fame. so to keep this competition fair, they’ve been excluded.

THE FINALISTS

2010

Koibuchi Kuranosuke (Princess Jellyfish)

Kurumi Erika, aka Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)

2011

Kaburagi T. Kotetsu, aka Wild Tiger (Tiger & Bunny)

Tsurugi Minko (Hanasaku Iroha)

2012

Nishimi Kaoru (Sakamichi no Apollon: Kids on the Slope)

Yanagin (Daily Lives of High School Boys)

2013

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Ichinose Hajime (Gatchaman Crowds)

2014

Sei Iori (Gundam Build Fighters)

Kiryuuin Satsuki (Kill la Kill)

Andy and Frank (Yowamushi Pedal)

2015

Sunakawa Makoto (My Love Story!!)

Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live! The School Idol Movie)

2016

Yurakutei Yakumo (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju)

Shidare Hotaru (Dagashi Kashi)

2017

Kevin Anderson (right) (Tiger Mask W)

Mauve (ACCA 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)

2018

White Blood Cell 1146 (Cells at Work!)

Aisaki Emiru (Hugtto! Precure)

2019

Wataya Arata (Chihayafuru Season 3)

Emma (The Promised Neverland)

And the winners are…

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Kurumi Erika, aka Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)

Of these two decisions, one was incredibly easy to make and one I mulled over for many hours leading up to this. Kurumi Erika was a no-brainer—her energy, ability to inspire action and positive change, her all-too-human behavior, and her legendary facial expressions all make her an unforgettable character in my eyes. She’s simply amazing in a way few characters are, and it’s clear that many anime fans agree with me, given her ranking as the third most popular Precure in the recent massive NHK poll.

As for Armin, it was a closer call, but what ultimately made me land on him is what he represents in Attack on Titan. The series’s world is one where fear reigns and unthinking violence is often born out of the frustration of not knowing if you’ll survive to the next day. But Armin Arlert shows the value of having a more considerate and broad-minded view of the world, and the way he complements Eren and Mikasa further highlights how important and necessary it is to have individuals like Armin in the world to subtly challenge assumptions. He’s brave without being brash and thoughtful without being hopelessly indecisive.

Erika and Armin are characters who I wish could inspire many more both in media and in people themselves, and I declare them my favorite anime characters of the 2010s.

Hammerman, Hammer: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 23

 Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society has emerged triumphant over Tsuyama’s group, and now the M-Con competition is only one week away. But while that ought to be everyone’s highest priority, Shion is still trying to complete a hammer-and-chisel woodworking assignment she just can’t seem to figure out. Meanwhile, everyone else is wary that the group’s only pianist is potentially putting her own fingers in harm’s way.

Thanks to a handy demonstration by a surly Orihara and an idea from Jin and Akira to treat the process like playing piano, Shion manages to get it done. However, Shion accidentally bumps into a storage locker and sends a bunch of chisels crashing down towards her hands, only to be saved by Orihara, who accidentally grabs her chest. After a bit of awkwardness, things seem resolved…only for Shion to later fall while changing out of her workshop clothes and appear to sprain her wrist anyway.

Working to Music

Hashikko Ensemble is all about the contrast between the characters’’ vocational classes and the songs they’re singing, but most of the time, it’s the science and engineering side facilitating learning about music. This time, it’s more the other way around. The chisel work that Orihara demonstrates shows a kind of softer and more meticulous side to him as well, especially in how shaving off the wood in layers is this gradual process.

It’s also interesting to see where the different characters in this series can and can’t relate to one another. It’s Jin who suggests likening different degrees of taps of the chisel to piano terms–forte, mezzopiano, etc.–but it’s Akira who brings it all together by wondering if Shion could literally do it to a specific song. It’s like it took all three guys here to eventually connect to her way of thinking.

When Anime Haircuts Die

After Tsuyama’s group loses, they all shave their hair in preparation for finding internships, all while taunting Orihara that this is likely his head’s fate as well. Could that actually happen in this manga? Could the main characters end up losing all their nice-looking anime hair if Hashikko Ensemble goes on long enough? It would certainly be something different.

Shion Is Great

I don’t know if this is what Kio always intended, but Shion is really stealing the show at this point. From the beginning of the chapter and Shion’s Ito Junji-esque expression as she declares Akira to be a traitor to just the overall antics that follow, she’s becoming one of the most memorable parts of this series. There’s a point in the chapter

The wrist sprain is very akin to Madarame’s from Genshiken’s (he fell while at a doujin event), and it makes me wonder if Shion is actually supposed to be the Madarame of this series, only less self-aware. She has a sort of ponkotsu quality, but it’s not like she’s untalented or constantly failing. You could call her moe, but she’s less endearing and more exasperating. There’s a point in the chapter when Shion is describing how she doesn’t understand how anyone could do keep track of all the different subtleties in how hard to tap, nor how anyone could do two completely different things with their left and right hands, only for the rest of the characters to yell at her about how that’s a perfect description of playing piano.

It’s like Shion does what she wants and pushes the story along as a result, but perhaps hat describes most of the characters in Hashikko Ensemble.

Songs

The song Akira suggests Shion tap along to is the one they plan to perform for M-Con: “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto.

Final Thoughts

Orihara plays a major role in this chapter, and in it, he keeps expressing that he really hates girls. The way he says it, however, seems to speak to something deeper. Could it be that he’s expressing his anger towards the mother that let him and his deceased little brother be abused for so long? It can be hard to tell, given how Hashikko Ensemble can move between the serious and the comedic in such striking ways.

 

Best Anime Characters of 2019

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Wataya Arata (Chihayafuru Season 3)

I’ve always liked Arata since the original Chihayafuru, but it’s in Season 3 that he’s really won me over. As the grandson of a former karuta master, Arata has lofty expectations that both positively motivate and burden him. He’s a super-rare talent who combines hard work, natural game sense, and unmatched memorization skills. In a way, this makes him almost too good a character, but it’s this recent season in particular that really builds on his story and shows the challenges that face even someone like him. Before, his setbacks had more to do with trauma and guilt, but here, we can see that even this genius still has struggles in his chosen passion. One of the key points is Arata trying to figure out where his responsibility ends and his dream begins, and that conflict is wonderful. Everyone has their own mountain to climb.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Emma (The Promised Neverland)

In detailing what makes Emma an amazing character, I once wrote that “In a world seemingly made up of constant dichotomies, she strives to find a third, fourth, or even fifth path.” What I mean is, as the heroine in a dark world where pain and trauma are commonplace, Emma stands as a shining example of the strength of compassion. Where others, even her closest friends, see happiness as a zero-sum game, Emma shows empathy and an unwillingness to accept sacrifice as the only way. Rather than holding her back, these qualities allow her to surpass her own limitations and encourage others to do the same. Emma is idealistic but not blinded by it, toeing a line that is supremely difficult.

MOST HONORABLE MENTION

Yang Wen-Li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These)

Given that much of my impression of Yang’s character comes from the previous anime adaptation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I didn’t want to include him in the running. However, I wanted to make sure that Yang gets his much-deserved due as one of the greatest anime characters ever, and a figure almost unparalleled in being both a fascinating individual and a role model par excellence. As the series itself describes Yang, he is the master strategist who hates war—an oxymoron of sorts, but an essential description of a man who sees war as a blight but understands the need to operate within the system to ensure the best outcome. He’s also a staunch defender of the principles of democracy, and will defend it even to the detriment of himself. In a time when democracy around the world is under attack, he is a uniquely aspirational figure.

Final Thoughts

I think this year has been full of characters who are able to rattle the chains of history and who understand the need to think beyond themselves, but also don’t forget themselves in the process—and that includes ones not mentioned here. Whether it’s karuta, fighting a dystopian society built on greed and capitalism, or striving to find a balance between lofty ideals and the reality of a corrupt government, these characters are an inspiration.

Normally, this would be how I end the year, but there’s a bit of a twist this time: a final post deciding the best characters of the decade! Keep an eye out.

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2010–2019 Part 3: Looking Forward

Having reviewed my predictions for the 2010s and looked back on the decade as a whole, it’s time to try and peer into the future of anime and manga in the 2020s!

Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has already affected Japan in different ways, from the moving of the historic Tsukiji Market to the heavier policing of manga content. Like with any Olympics, there’s a desire to put forward the best possible appearance to the world. In the short term, there is most definitely going to be an effect on anime and manga production, as studios and artists are either hired to hype up the Olympics or do it of their own volition. It’s sad that Kyoto Animation, originally poised to contribute with a new Free! movie to highlight competitive swimming, won’t be making it short of a miracle. I predict there’s going to be some Olympics-mania fatigue, but not enough to make a big dent in the overall attitude at first.

I do have a long-shot prediction, though: Japan is going to do surprisingly well in some unexpected event, and it’s going to kick off a mini-boom in anime and manga. Whenever Japan achieves in a sport, there’s a strong chance that manga and anime are either pushing for the sport or are a response to succeed—volleyball in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Japan’s recent success in rugby are two examples. I’m not going to try to guess what event will trigger this trend, but I’m cheering for Greco-Roman wrestling.

Fighting Climate Change as a Core Theme

The Earth is not in a great place. Scientists are warning that if nothing is done in the next few years, climate change will send us toward long-term and lasting changes that will affect everything. While not perfect, Japan is very environmentally conscious in many respects, and is a major player in the Paris Climate Accord. There are even little things like “Cool Biz,” a public awareness campaign for companies to encourage better energy efficiency by reducing air conditioner usage and having its employees dress in more heat-friendly suits.

To that end, I think there are going to be more and more anime and manga centered around environmentalism. Also, they will primarily exist in two areas: super mainstream-popular anime films and kids’ shows. So someone like Shinkai Makoto is going to hit the subject of saving the environment full steam, and I feel pretty confident that there’s going to be an environmentalist Precure at some point in the next ten years. I don’t know what effect this will have, but if anime tourism can merge with saving our planet in some way, then maybe there’s hope.

Hardening of Shounen Protagonists

There’s a certain kind of shounen protagonist that’s been popular lately: the “good boy.” These heroes are gentle and kind-hearted, though never lacking in bravery or perseverance—think Sei from Gundam Build Fighters, Tanjiro from Demon Slayer, or Sakamichi from Yowamushi Pedal. But as positive an effect as I think this is having, I feel like there’s going to be a backlash at some point. At some point, hard and angry heroes will come into the limelight (albeit temporarily) as a kind of reaction to the softer heroes we’ve been seeing in the 2010s.

It’s not just that angry rival characters have their own dedicated fanbases (and thus would probably enjoy a story centered around them), or that Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan is a walking rage factory, but that their attitudes and focus on power have a primal appeal that’s hard to deny. While I don’t think we’ll ever quite get back to the ultimate convergence point between compassion and violence—Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star—I predict we’re going to see the soft hero and the hard hero archetypes flip back and forth from one series to the next. In other words, in the future, there will be a time when the “Bakugos” of the world take center stage and the “Dekus” will be the rivals.

More Diverse Body Expression

In the past ten years, I think we’ve seen a greater range of body types, especially with female characters. It’s true that a good deal of it veers hard into fetish territory, but even so, there have been many moves towards broadening notions of beauty. Attack on Titan both showed the world an anime heroine with a six pack in Mikasa Ackerman and pushed a gender nonbinary character in Hange Zoe. Pochamani centered on a bigger girl as a shoujo heroine. Even something as simple as big butts being attractive in Japan is a relatively recent phenomenon.

I think this diversity will only continue to increase because more and more, people will start to assert that their standards for attractiveness and self-identity don’t have to be beholden to what society traditionally says is okay. More and more artists and creators will be inspired to make works of their own, and enough of them will achieve success that it’ll encourage the producers and publishers themselves to go even further. The only caveat is that I think both the normalizing and the fetishizing will ramp up, and this may cause some conflict as a result.

The New Power Fantasy

Power fantasies are practically part and parcel with media as a whole, and anime and manga are most certainly included. However, I think we may be seeing a trend towards power fantasies that are less about escapism and more about fighting the feeling of powerlessness. The new power fantasy won’t just be about getting the girl and living in another world where your knack for video games gives you the edge, but rather about being able to exert lasting change on a world that seems immovable. To this end, I think we’re going to be seeing a heavier mingling of the power fantasy genres that permeate anime and manga today: harem, isekai, American-style superheroes, Japanese-style superheroes, and more. People will want to be inspired and not just placated—especially when it comes to the younger generations.

Greater Acknowledgement of Production Conditions and Gender Inequality

Through projects like the Animator Dormitories and news articles on animator wages, the 2010s end with at least some awareness that the people who make our beloved anime often don’t even have enough to put food on the table. It’s a decades-long problem—Miyazaki blames Tezuka for the current status quo—but I think the next decade might just be a turning point. I don’t know if it’ll ever reach mainstream awareness given that lots of people prefer not to know how their hot dogs are made, but I think that new sources of funding may create greater vocal desire to see wages change, especially if all that profit isn’t going to the workers themselves.

Similarly, we’ve seen more and more women this decade in prominent positions—writer Okada Mari and director Yamamoto Sayo are a couple of prominent examples. There’s still a ways to go before women directors and such will be commonplace, but I think that the women of today will be role models for the next generation. The Kyoto Animation tragedy is an unfortunate setback given their dedication to paying workers fairer wages, but I am somewhat optimistic that things will get better regardless overall.

Let’s See What the Future Holds

In some ways, I feel these predictions (and how they differ from the predictions of ten years ago) reflect not just where the anime and manga industries are in 2019 but also where I personally am at this point in life. If somehow Ogiue Maniax reaches 2029, I’ll be glad to reflect on where everything will be. Hopefully we’ll all be in a better place.

There’s actually one more 2010–2019 post left, so I hope you’re looking forward to Part 4!

 

2010–2019 Part 2: Looking Back

Another decade of anime and manga has passed, which means it’s time to reflect on all the things that have happened in and around our favorite Japanese art and entertainment forms. With more anime than any time previous, there’s an overwhelming amount of history to look at, so I’m going to be focusing on what I consider interesting and/or important trends.

I also covered some of 2010–2019 through my review of my old predictions, so for the sake of keeping a long post from getting further out of hand, I’ve kept further discussion of topics there to a relative minimum.

Bookended by Tragedy

This decade more or less began and ended with painful events that have shaped and will continue to shape Japan and its anime and manga industries for years to come. March 11, 2011 was the day that a combined earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing nuclear meltdowns. July 18, 2019 was the date of the arson attack on Kyoto Animation, killing over 30 people, injuring even more, and leaving the famed studio’s main building in flames.

The Fukushima triple disaster was brought in part by nature but also human negligence at the highest levels of authority, and it destroyed villages, displaced people from their homes, took lives, and contaminated land and water. The area, one known for its rice crop in a nation where rice is a staple food, had to deal with the all-too-familiar fear that nuclear power conjures up in Japan via Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Fukushima’s consequences are far, far bigger than any one industry, but that’s precisely why they have had an indelible effect on anime and manga. Suddenly, there was the realization that whatever anti-nuclear messages existed in pop culture weren’t enough. It was almost too poetic a timing that Coppelion, a manga about genetically engineered girls having to rescue human survivors in a post-meltdown Tokyo, began only months prior to Fukushima. Anime such as Madoka Magica that were aired during that period suddenly had their surrounding contexts changed.

But the disaster also brought support from across the anime and manga industries to Fukushima and the surrounding Tohoku region. Creators left messages encouraging and praying for a revival, and as the land has started to improve (though to what extent is up for debate), there’s an active push by the government to encourage tourism and purchase of local goods. Anime and manga also play a role here too as part of the campaign to bring people back.

In contrast, the Kyoto Animation attack was like a direct strike to the heart and soul of the anime industry. Not only was it the worst domestic attack since World War II—even worse than the Tokyo sarin gas attack—but KyoAni has been a pioneer of better wages and better gender equality in anime in addition to their creating popular and critically acclaimed works. It’s unclear how the anime and manga industries will react to this over time (aside from better security), but the biggest question mark will be about what could have been.

There was a lot of talent lost, notably The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi and Kobayashi-san’s Dragon Maid director Takemoto Yasuhiro, and it’s sad that they will have the chance to keep working and creating. There is one bright side, however: KyoAni has started up their animation school again, and their mission to prepare the next generation is more vital than ever.

An aside: One odd bit of humor to come out all this was that the days after the disasters, the only commercial on Japanese TV was apparently ads telling people to greet each other more. These drove Japanese viewers nuts, so some of the more artistic ones started turning the animal mascots in these commercials into transforming robots.

Fujoshi Integration and the Permanence of the Otaku Hero

Back when I originally started Ogiue Maniax in 2007, one thing I was interested in was the portrayal of otaku characters, and by extension the fujoshi characters that began appearing more and more at the time. Going into 2010, this feeling was still quite strong, but as I continued to keep an eye on series with otaku in them, it became harder and harder to keep up. The Fujoshi Files, my on-going archiving of fujoshi characters, is on semi-hiatus right now because I’ve simply been overwhelmed by the fact that you just never know when a fujoshi character will show up for two episodes in an obscure TV series. In other words, otaku characters aren’t just commonplace now—they’re arguably an over-saturated archetype.

This is especially the case with the isekai genre and fantasy light novel series, where having an otaku of some kind (it doesn’t necessarily have to be an anime otaku) is de rigueur for the kinds of power fantasies that are ubiquitous in that realm. But the prevalence of the Otaku hero isn’t even limited to that particular world. Onoda from Yowamushi Pedal and Deku from the wildly popular My Hero Academia, both straightforward shounen leads, have otaku minds. At this point, sometimes it’s easier to ask whether a protagonist isn’t an otaku.

Moe in Moderation

Throughout the 2000s, it was “moe” this, “moe” that. There were haters, there were supporters (me included), and those caught in the middle. In 2019, however, it’s past its prime (at least in the old familiar form) to the extent that the term itself has faded immensely in the otaku lexicon.

In hindsight, I think of moe as like a food with a very intense and peculiar flavor that is probably good in reasonable doses. The problem is that people gorged on it until they got sick, and had to eventually learn when less is more. The occasional smorgasbord happens, not now you see hints or accents of moe in more things—music, horror, and even the most serious and mature titles. It’s part of why I think sports series have started to gain traction in the United States when there was like success in the past: people realized that the core appeal of sports anime and manga was less the athletics themselves and more the human drama that comes with exploring characters’ weaknesses and struggles. Even a softer shounen hero like Tanjiro in Demon Slayer has moe qualities that quite possibly outstrip even his sister’s tremendous qualities.

I one commented to anime podcaster and ex-Crunchyroll guy Evan Minto that Eureka Seven was a moe show. He found it absurd, but I was serious, because moe came from empathizing with its characters vulnerabilities. Just because a character can be moe doesn’t mean they’re useless, and I think that’s a big lesson that has been taken to heart by anime and manga as a whole.

Plus, you can still totally find all-you-can-moe buffets whenever you feel the need to go nuts.

American-Style Superheroes

Perhaps due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the American conception of the superhero (in contrast to the Kamen Rider, for example) is now a regular part of anime and manga. Putting aside the Marvel and DC co-productions, this decade has seen Tiger & Bunny, One Punch Man, and My Hero Academia all reach enormous success (albeit not always for the same reasons). You also have series like Heroman, and the fact that Disney’s Big Hero 6 film has a Japanese protagonist perhaps says something about the desire for international appeal.

It’s interesting that so many specifically embrace an American aesthetic, whether it’s red, white, and blue motifs in its characters or American-style cities as settings, and it really speaks to the fact that they’re aiming for that “capes” aesthetic. However, what’s even more noteworthy is the way these manga and anime have been embraced by superhero comics fans as being better at telling superhero stories than many current American comics.

Superheroes also create an amazing bridge for being American comics fans to come to manga and for manga fans to check out American comics. It’s perhaps easier than ever to transition between the two.

Steps Towards Mainstreaming LGBT

Queer romances have long been a part of manga and anime—Hagio Moto’s Heart of Thomas from the 1970s is generally considered the first one shounen ai manga. The portrayal of BL and yuri can differ significantly from real relationships, with the former often being for the pleasure of non-queer audiences, but this openness has attracted many fans, and there are more and more works that try to support a queer audience as well. But Japan is still in many ways a conservative culture, and positive mainstream depictions of non-heteronormative characters can come with a lot of baggage.

While there is still a ways to go, there is a general trend towards more consideration for LGBT characters these past ten years. Gatchaman Crowds, for example, features three characters each with different types of non-cishet expression, going beyond the original Gatchaman and Berg Katze’s dual genders while keeping them respectful. Genshiken Nidaime (aka Second Season aka Second Generation) has a crossdressing fudanshi with complicated feelings at the center of it’s story who tries to navigate the difference between BL fandom and homosexuality. Yuri!!! On Ice features the gradual development of a clearly gay relationship as its core, but its lack of standard BL flourishes engendered a debate about whether it should be called BL at all. Tagame Gengoroh’s My Brother’s Husband won both Japanese and international acclaim.

One stand-out example of LGBT becoming a little more mainstream in anime and manga, to me, is how it’s been handled in the Precure franchise. While it’s always had its yuri fans, and Kira Kira Precure A La Mode even strongly hinted at something between two of its characters, it’s 2018’s Hugtto! Precure that made an entire subplot out of the burgeoning gay relationship between two minor characters—one of whom is implied to struggle with his self-directed homophobia. While the franchise still doesn’t have the courage to say the word “gay,” it at least has these characters holding hands, giving hearts to each other, and telling presumably very young viewers to not let anyone else define who they are. Sailor Moon had Neptune and Uranus, but this is another layer.

From Sekai-kei to Game-like Isekai, Ironic Isekai, and Beyond

In the previous decade, one of the popular genres of Japanese fiction, especially in the realm of anime and manga but also light novels and games, was sekai-kei. Literally meaning “world-style,” it’s actually almost the opposite of what you probably think. Instead of being focused on world-building, it’s about stories where the outcome of the world rests upon the relationship between two characters. I would call Haruhi an example of sekai-kei because their fate rests upon Haruhi and how Kyon interacts with her.

I feel that, since 2010 or maybe even a little sooner, we’ve been seeing fewer and fewer sekai-kei stories. In their place has been a surge in isekai (transported to another world stories) that’s impossible to ignore.

Isekai is nothing new, and there are examples in modern Japanese fiction dating back to the 1970s. Even Gundam director Tomino’s Byston Well series is an isekai. The big difference now, however, has been the game-like approach to isekai. Whether the hero is literally trapped in a video game (Sword Art Online, Log Horizon) or where it’s simply an extremely game-like universe (KonoSuba, Re:ZERO, Overlord), there’s a presumption about RPGs as a common-knowledge experience. Here, the fate of the world usually rests on the hero who’s simultaneously underpowered and overpowered. Rather than necessarily being about exploring the new world, these stories have been mostly either power fantasies or responses to power fantasies.

Japanese scholar Azuma Hiroki wrote about “game-like realism” in the sense of a reality with no beginning, middle, and end, and plenty of alternate realities. While it doesn’t map perfectly, current isekai can be seen as a kind of attempt to wrangle these notions back into a straightforward, albeit open-ended and often meandering format.

Isekai has gotten so prevalent that some online novel contests have even begun to forbid isekai entries. But it also means that it’s ripe for parody. The Devil is a Part-Timer! is a reverse-isekai where a hero and a demon lord end up in modern Japan. The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious plays on an idea that many RPG players are familiar with: making absolutely sure everything is perfect to the point of virtual neurosis. They’re not all winners, but there’s a desire to explore isekai as an archetype, and it’ll be interesting to see how far this goes.

The Ascendance of Mobile Games

Part of the story of the 2010s the world over is the rise of mobile games, and in Japan this translated to character-focused gacha. These digital waifu and husbando slot machines are a powerful thing, and the devotion they engender can veer straight into “gambling addiction” territory, but it also can’t be denied how much of an influence they’ve had on anime, manga, and fandom.

Consider the Fate franchise, which went from being once defined by its original visual novel to being known primarily through the absurdly successful and profitable Fate/Grand Order mobile game. Also look at Granblue Fantasy, which helped make the company Cygames into a major player—the Granblue Fantasy anime shows a budget few can even dream of.

Even The iDOLM@STER, which began as console games, has in part taken on new life by having a virtually limitless selection of idols to obtain through its apps. Love Live! found success through various channels, but there are many people who became fans solely through the School Idol Festival game. And Kantai Collection technically started as a browser game, but it’s cut from a similar mold, and it’s notable that it’s become one of the franchises that dominates Comic Market.

There have been tons of light novel anime and manga adaptations, but the amount of works based on mobile games steadily increased over the decade as well. This doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad—Rage of Bahamut Genesis is one that sticks out to me as exceptional—but it’s certainly become a crowded field where “adaptation as advertisement” and “adaptation as mark of prestige” exist in the same space.

Anime as Faithful Reproduction Instead of Creative Interpretation

In decades past, whenever there was an anime adaptation of something with multiple paths—a dating sim, for instance—the common approach was to synthesize all of the different routes into a single story with the canon heroine being the winner. But starting in 2010 with Amagami SS (or possibly something even sooner) it started to become more common to adapt every path. Each couple of episodes was basically a different what-if where the protagonist ends up with a different girl. The most extreme version of this might be the movies fully dedicated to the alternate stories of Fate/Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel.

In a way, it’s an extension of what we saw with Kyoto Animation’s adaptations of Key games. While those shows still synthesized all the routes, there was a more active adherence to the look and feel of the source material, right down to using the original theme songs. Anime, rather than trying to do its own thing with the material given, is more likely to try and stick to the script. Filler arcs or anime-original material were out, and season delays were in, for better or worse. 2009’s Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (intentionally made to follow the manga’s story more than the first anime) also set a precedent.

Fantastic Remakes

Not everything is about adhering to a source material, however. While nostalgia is a strong force in media and entertainment, it’s still possible for a remake or re-imagining is able to go well beyond and turn into something unique and special. Every decade has its own fair share of excellent revivals, but I found the 2010s to be full of especially smart and creative takes on classic franchises. The aforementioned Gatchaman Crowds took the idea of the superhero team and pushed it into an age of social media and gamification. Devilman Crybaby is essentially the original Devilman manga retold, the signature art style of Yuasa Masaaki gave it new life and also highlighted the fact that a lot of the 1970s manga’s theme resonate just as much, if not more today. The Rebuild of Evangelion movies have all been impressive and have dared to go in strange directions, though we’re not actually seeing the conclusion until 2020 rolls around. In the most on-brand move possible, director Anno Hideaki became depressed after the third film, and it wasn’t until he directed the excellent Shin Godzilla (another update to a classic franchise) that he found the spark to go back to Shinji and friends.

Official Simultranslations

Once, getting translated anime and manga the day after release in Japan was a foolish dream. Then, with the advent of high-speed internet it became technically possible—but it was the domain of speed subbers and speed scanlators, with the requisite decline in quality. But now we’ve had a decade of not just quick releases but ones that are official, whose success can and will be noticed by Japan. Crunchyroll, HiDive, and Comixology are among the many resources available to fans, and while Netflix is often not technically a simulstream most of the time, its presence in the world of online streaming can’t be denied.

This is partially a tale of the direction of technology. More smartphones and better tablets mean streaming decent-quality images is more likely than ever before. Gone are the specific limitations of the past that made trying to view anime and manga a chore. It’s also the story of Japan being dragged into the current age, as much as its companies (especially manga) have tried to resist the digitizing of these mediums.

The amount of legal digital anime and manga options is ever increasing even in Japan. Comic Walker and Book Walker make following new releases almost trivial. Bandai Channel is more expansive than ever. Many manga publishers have series that start off as free webcomics now. Notably, the second iteration of One Punch Man started on Tonari no Young Jump. The amount of digital users keeps rising around the world, and it’ll likely not stop for a long time.

What Lies Ahead

While it’s mere coincidence, the fact that Japan is heading into the next decade of anime and manga alongside a newly coronated emperor seems poetic. For Part 3 of the 2010–2019 series, I’ll be giving my predictions as to where I think anime and manga will go in 2020 onwards.