Locking Horns: Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day Review

The anime TV series Sound! Euphonium is a satisfying work that deftly balances the human drama of relationships with the emotional charge of music, competition, and the different degrees to which its characters embrace those elements. After two seasons, the story ended in a fairly satisfying if open-ended place, and it’s interesting that the sequel film, Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day, would focus the entirety of the main character’s second year into a roughly two-hour movie. The result is that the film is primarily about how Kumiko and the other remaining members of the Ensemble Club have changed, but also where they still need to go.

WARNING: SOUND! EUPHONIUM TV SPOILERS AHEAD

Having reached third place at Nationals, the Ensemble Club of Kitauji High School—filled with players of tubas and contrabasses and (of course) euphoniums among other instruments—got a peek at the top and are eager to go higher. But with all the third-years graduating, the complexion of the club is blind to undergo a dramatic change. Kumiko, now a year older, is tasked with guiding the incoming first-years. While she’s come to understand what it means to be passionate about her own music-playing, being a mentor is an unfamiliar challenge for her, especially with some of the eclectic new students who have signed up. Perhaps the most significant of these is Kanade, whose social interactions seems Machiavellian at times.

By virtue of medium, the A Brand New Day  covers a lot of time in less than two hours, so it can often feel more like a series of vignettes. It eschews the slow burn and gradual character development of the TV series in favor of highlighting the most dramatic moments, and also using the crop of new first-years to show how much the core cast has changed, and also where they have room for growth. For example, both Kumiko and Kanade are euphonium players who try to go along with the flow, and who are afraid to step on others’ toes, but their similar behavior comes from different places, and Kumiko has learned to mitigate this side of her to some degree. Hazuki, who only started playing the tuba in her first year, is constantly with two new tuba players with a lot more experience. Midori finds herself mentoring a younger fellow contrabass who, like her, is sensitive about his name. Reina mentions that the first-years all think they’re ready for competition but aren’t—somewhat ironic given that she was the freshman prodigy just a year ago. One of the messages of the film, and part of what makes it feel so transitional, is that experience, both in music and in life, are factors that can’t always be replaced by talent and genius alone.

There’s also a bit of romance sprinkled throughout the film, but the boy-girl situation Kumiko finds herself only serves to emphasize the heavy yuri vibes between her and Reina. The former is full of nerves and panic, while the latter is like watching someone put on a comfortable shirt. It makes me wonder what the source novels are like in regards to this subject.

Not all the characters are given much screen time, but that’s also because this film’s story runs concurrent with Liz and the Blue Bird. Another Sound! Euphonium film, it centers around Mizore and Nozomi, who were major parts of the second TV series. One more interesting thing is that the Japanese name of the film, Sound! Euphonium the Movie: Oath’s Finale, is very different from the official English title. I wonder if the word “finale” was thought to be too confusing, especially because the film is anything but a conclusion.

Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day is a welcome reunion with the musicians of Kitauji High School, but it comes across more like set-up for what’s to come. I’m looking forward to the next film to see how Kumiko and the others continue to grow.

 

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NHK’s Precure Mega Poll: Vote for Your Favorites!

The Japanese television station NHK is doing a Precure Poll that asks about your all-time favorite shows, Precures, minor characters, and songs. While there have been polls in the past from other places, none of them quite have the reach of NHK, so this promises to be a massive one. They expect people outside of Japan to vote as well!

This poll includes all TV series and all movies, and the four categories are as follows: favorite work (pick 1), favorite Precure (pick 3), favorite other characters (pick 3), favorite songs (pick 3).

After each pick, you’re asked to fill out your reasons for choosing, your nickname, age, gender (only choices are male and female), and where you’re from. The last choice in the location drop-down is “outside Japan.”

I’ve already made my choices, as shown below:

Favorite work: Heartcatch Precure!

Favorite Precures: Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!), Cure Sword (Dokidoki! Precure), Cure Macherie (Hugtto! Precure)

Favorite other characters: Masuko Mika (Yes! Pretty Cure 5), Dark Precure (Heartcatch Precure!), Tachi Kyouko (Kirara’s manager, Go! Princess Precure)

Favorite songs: “Kono Sora no Mukou” (Dokidoki! Precure ending 1), “Kirakira Kawaii! Precure Dai Shuugou” (Pretty Cure All Stars DX opening), Pretty Cure 5 Full Throttle Go Go! (Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go)

So happy voting, and remember: Heartcatch Precure! is the best, and so is Cure Marine.

World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

The “Akagi” Author’s New Mahjong Manga Features an Interesting Lead

Fukumoto Nobuyuki, best known for gambling manga such as Akagi and Kaiji, has started a new mahjong series one year after the end of Akagi, which ran for nearly 27 years in Kindai Mahjong magazine. There’s a twist at the end of the first chapter, however, so read on if you want to know.

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Thoughts on Left-Wing YouTube

Recently, I was surprised to discover that an “edgy gamer” streamer I was familiar with from a decade ago had transformed into a notable left-wing figure on YouTube. Steven Bonnell II, known to the internet as “Destiny,” got his start with StarCraft II and gradually becoming a prominent personality with a loyal following and detractors alike. He would argue against policing language, and that the common slurs gamers use were no big deal. And yet, here he is now, not only arguing against using such language, but also being noticeably effective at debating alt-right YouTubers who have risen to prominence on the wings of racism and intolerance.

It’s not just that he makes good points or that he knows how to dissect arguments, but that he hits right-wing figures where it hurts most: in their desire to appear strong to their followers. Regularly, he reveals that the emperor has no clothes, and I think it in part comes from him being so familiar with gamer culture and the things that leave it so vulnerable to alt-right personalities. When others on the left retreat, he’s willing to confront while also not falling prey to their debate traps. It’s something the left needs to learn.

This is also why I was not caught off guard by seeing his name listed in a New York Times article discussing the growing strength of left-wing YouTube as an answer to the hatred spewed by alt-right and manosphere personalities. Like ContraPoints, another major left-wing YouTuber, Destiny addresses the other side’s use of memes, pop culture, and opportunistic arguments head on, exposing their tools and often disarming their tactics without resorting to them. The key is that Destiny, ContraPoints, and the main subject of the article, Faraday, know how the alt-right thinks, and they aren’t afraid to use that knowledge to their advantage.

If I have any criticism for progressives online, it’s that people’s radars are often overtuned. Any slight whiff of conservative political views seemingly sets off alarm sirens in their heads, and there’s an annoying tendency to cannibalize potential allies because they’re not right at the vanguard of progress. Of course, it’s impossible to have a perfect radar, and people I thought to be more moderate in their views have turned out to be disturbingly right-wing. But I truly believe that residing in a left bubble, while good in some ways, can often fail to inoculate people against the disingenuous tactics of the alt-right. It’s important that Destiny and ContraPoints don’t have beliefs that overlap 100% yet are still able to see accomplish similar things.

De-platforming harmful individuals—taking away their ability to communicate en masse—is often a good thing because such people usually hide behind free speech without acknowledging that they’re doing the political equivalent of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. At the same time, I increasingly wonder if “avoid the other side entirely” is creating a kind of frailty in the left that plays right into the goals of the alt-right. Destiny, Natalie, and others like them provide examples of what can be done to avoid that fate: to engage and to understand the other’s goals, and to win the debate in a way that makes the other side look bad to their followers both real and potential.

Adhering to Conventions: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2019

It doesn’t happen every year, but this July is going to see Anime Expo and Otakon. If you’re into anime cons, this is a double-edged sword. As I get older, I’m worried I might not have the energy for both.

Many thanks to my sponsors on Patreon and ko-fi.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Highlights from June:

I’m Bad at Understanding Rhythm, but the Manga “Wondance” is Changing That

More love for an interesting manga, especially what it taught me personally.

Dark-skinned Precure: The Importance of Cure Soleil

The significance of Star Twinkle Precure‘s Mexican heroine.

Banjo-Kazooie, Dragon Quest, and the Precariousness of Nostalgia

Looking at how Smash Bros. as a “history of video games” can run up against its role as a vehicle for personal nostalgia.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 17 puts the S in Soprano.

Patreon-Sponsored

The Pros and Cons of $20 Anime Figures

What do you think of these symbols of budget anime merchandise?

Closing

I have two panels at Otakon this year, and I hope you’ll be able to make them. I’ll make another post closer to Otakon so that it’s fresher in people’s memories, but make sure to mark “Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots” and “Genshiken and Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku” on your Otakon schedules!

His Master’s Voice: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 17

We learn a lot—maybe too much—about Nishigafuchi’s students in Chapter 17 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Nishigafuchi lead tenor Saiga (first name Shinnosuke) is in a funk, and the reason is that Shindou Yui, the lead soprano. Shindou mentioned that she sometimes doesn’t want to thing about how they’re breathing in the same space, and that with the way he keeps panting, he should just run around outside like a dog. To prove himself, he plans on challenging Jin to a competition, but gets punched in the mouth by Orihara instead. Shinji wonders if Orihara did it to defend Jin, but Orihara claims it was because he wanted to sing more Brahms. The punch actually makes Saiga want more because it reminds him of Shindou’s sadistic behavior.

Instead of competing, Jin actually helps Saiga with his singing and breathing (so he didn’t have to breathe the same air as her!), and the results are noticeable. Even Shindou is impressed, though she’s no slouch herself. Afterwards, Saiga goes up to Shindou and asks her…if she can be his master. Shindou happily gives him commands like a dog, everyone is confused (especially Kurata), and the Nishigafuchi adviser awkwardly comments that there are all kinds of relationships these days.

As they’re singing, however, Akira doesn’t, and his old middle school classmate Sadamoto notices again. But before he could say anything, Jin asks if the Hashimoto Chorus Club could perform for everyone on their own. Will Shinji finally sing here?

All Kinds

In the last chapter, Nishigafuchi student Andou described Shindou as appearing gentle but actually having a nasty tongue, and she certainly lives up to reputation. I figured that would be the case, but she far exceeds my expectations. I have to wonder if it’s like an entire club of masochists who enjoy the verbal lashing.

Meanwhile, Orihara’s punching Saiga (potentially) in defense of Jin is kind of a serious tsundere move by way of delinquent behavior. Maybe Orihara really does see him as a friend.

Great Teacher Kimura

According to Jin, Saiga tries too hard to keep his head from lifting up and tries to create too much space in his mouth—things that are generally considered good form in singing, but an area where Saiga overcompensates. The consequence is that the surrounding throat muscles to be overly tense and rigid, and this results in him breathing oddly while performing. To Jin, this might be why Shindou made her dog comment.

To help all of the tenors with this, Jin has everyone do an exercise where they “play catch” with their voices. The idea is that they breathe out like you’re trying to form a parabola, and like it’s coming out the top of your head—like they’re “throwing” their voice to the other team.

Jin is thus portrayed as someone who can teach even an elite singer from an elite school, and it furthers the idea that he’s on another level when it comes to understanding sound and music. It’s not clear what his power level is, but when Saiga challenges him, I was expecting a shounen manga moment where Jin can show his stuff and make clear the size of the disparity between them, but it didn’t happen. Yet.

 

Songs

Referenced last chapter too, they sing Johannes Brahms’s “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op. 74, No. 2.”

Final Thoughts

Is Jin purposely requesting a Hashimoto-only performance so that Akira will feel more comfortable singing, or does he have a different motivation?

Also, Kurata’s utter bewilderment over the Saiga-Shindou thing is the cutest thing.