[APT507] Mama Got Back: Ookumo-Chan Flashback Chapter 1 Review

I’ve written a review at Apartment 507 about the new manga by Mysterious Girlfriend X author Ueshiba Riichi. It’s kind of unexpected, to say the least.

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The Fun of Farming Games (Except Farmville)

Until recently, I never played farming-themed video games. The closest I ever came to it was basically growing berries in Pokemon. Ever since I began to play the 2014 Story of Seasons for the 3DS (previously known as Harvest Moon), however, I think I’ve come to understand the appeal of farming simulators, and to whom they hold the greatest attraction.

The first thing I noticed is how much there is to keep track of. You’re quickly told about different plants, traders arriving on certain dates, certain items being more valuable in different seasons, birthdays, all while trying to make sure you’re watering your crops and feeding your livestock. Thankfully, the game is not based on a real clock and therefore does not require you to perform chores based on time in the real world—something that was a pain in some Pokemon entries. What’s more, balancing the crops you eat to survive vs. the crops you sell seems tricky, and makes me wonder how actual farmers find that sweet spot.

Being as successful as possible requires not only intimate knowledge of the game’s farming mechanics, but also diligence and the ability to plan far in advance. In other words, farming as a game is ideal for people who thrive on creating and maintaining a schedule, and excel in efficiency. While the farming setting is fairly laid back and I’m not sure it’s possible to squeeze every last second for all it’s worth, proper planning is the domain of virtual agriculture.

The topic of farming games brings to mind the deadly specter that is the dubious “king” of the genre, Farmville. As once the most notorious of the Facebook social games out there, Farmville has been criticized harshly for basically exploiting its player base by both getting them addicted to the constant need to pay attention to the game, and for bilking them of their money by making the experience one that relies on negative reinforcement. However, I think that this does not necessarily apply to all farming-themed games, and a comparison to Story of Seasons shows the difference between a game where managing the ins and outs of a farm can be a positive and enriching experience, and one that leads down a long, dark path.

In Story of Seasons, as you get better at the game, you are not only able to do more, but there’s a greater sense of efficiency. By playing as best as you can, you spend the least amount of time necessary on a given task. Alternatively, you spend as much time as is enjoyable for you. In Farmville, however, the main function of the gameplay is to be a “time waster,” not just in the sense that it’s something you do in your free time, but that the game keeps its players glued to the screen for as many hours as possible. One rewards you for playing more by allowing you to do more, the other punishes you for not putting in as many hours as everyone else.

The Farmvilles of the world can go to hell, for they show how the fun of a genre can be corrupted, but perhaps they can lead people back to less exploitative examples. I get the charm of farming games as a kind of stress relief by way of meticulous micromanagement. I feel a simple joy in seeing my turnips fully grown and ready to be picked, and thinking about how to best use them is its own interesting strategy. There are elements that I wish were more automated, but even that brings its own strange catharsis. It’s as if stress and relaxation are balanced on a knife’s edge, a feeling I imagine might also come from a real farm.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Does the Japanese “Vegeta” Voice Not Translate to English?

Amidst the announcement of Dragon Ball FighterZ, a Guilty Gear-esque 3-on-3 fighting game based on the popular Dragon Ball franchise, one of the old debates between fans has cropped up: do you play with the Japanese voices or the English ones? Frequently, choices have to do with familiarity (what did you grow up on?), as well as the divisiveness of Nozawa Masako’s performance, which some fans see as not fitting for Son Goku’s masculine appearance.

Because of this, I began diving into old sub vs. dub threads, and to my surprise I found that quite a few people were also not big fans of Horikawa Ryo as Vegeta. On the occasions that commenters preferred Christopher Sabat’s Vegeta, it frequently had to do with Sabat making Vegeta sound more gruff and “badass.”

English and Japanese Vegeta have a lot in common. They’re both extremely arrogant and prideful, and even their caring sides will be expressed through anger. However, I find that each of them brings a different feel as well. If both of their performances could be likened to boulders (big and powerful), then Sabat’s Vegeta would be rough and jagged, while Horikawa’s would be smoothed and polished.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Horikawa-style Vegeta is somehow “lost in translation,” as if the effect doesn’t come across properly. The reason I’m considering this at all is that I also see other cases of similar characters coming across differently in English performances.

One example is Meta Knight in Smash Bros., who sounds more like a noble knight in Japanese but has a deep baritone in English. (In the dub of Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, they went for an odd Spanish accent, but that’s more a directing choice than anything else.) Would the effect Horikawa has as Vegeta work better if a voice akin to English Smash Meta Knight’s was used?

Another example is Kaiba Seto in Yu-Gi-Oh! In Japanese, Kaiba’s performance is more curt than anything else, like he has no time to waste on being nice or courteous. In English, Kaiba sounds more actively mocking and malicious. Would the former have not been as memorable? All of these different performances (as well as different scripts) can change people’s impressions to the point that they can almost be viewed as different characters.

I’d like to believe that it’s possible to successfully translate the feel and intent of a character at least for the most part when dubbing a series, but I have to consider whether or not cultural context actually changes how a given voice “sounds” to a person. It’s not uncommon to see dub anime fans complain about all the “high-pitched voices” in Japanese, but fans of Japanese voices might lobby the opposite criticism towards dub actors making high schoolers sound like 40-year-olds. It’s almost impossible to get an “objective” opinion on how a character sounds across different languages, especially because the actors themselves will slowly evolve their performances over time.

If dub Dragon Ball Z was ever able to perfectly adapt Horikawa’s Vegeta to English, would it actually have garnered him a somewhat different fanbase than he possesses now among English-speaking fans? Does the core character of Vegeta transcend voice, or is it a major factor in defining how the character lives?

Too Good or Too Bad?: Game Balance and the “Ryanpeikou Dilemma”

When playing multiplayer games, we all at some point come across options or paths for victory that are less than ideal. If it’s possible to adjust the rules or patch a game such that the option in question is better or more rewarding, then it might be better for the game. However, sometimes it’s not, and if one has to choose between making a move “too good” or “too bad,” the latter can be the better option for the sake of the overall health of competition. This is what I call the “ryanpeikou dilemma,” after a particular hand in Japanese mahjong.

Ryanpeikou is the older brother of the “iipeikou,” a hand that consists of two identical straights. For example, 123 and 123 both in the same suit would qualify as iipeikou. It’s a fairly common hand in Japanese mahjong, and while it isn’t worth a lot of points the setup for iipeikou is often quite flexible, and so even if you don’t get it you can still be rewarded with something nice.

Ryanpeikou, then, is essentially two “iipeikou”: 123 123 of the same suit with 456 456 of another suit is one example of a ryanpeikou. However, while the two hands are related, ryanpeikou is significantly more difficult to obtain, and in fact in my experience I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve achieved ryanpeikou. Given the rarity of this hand, it’s understandably worth more (3 han instead of iipeikou’s 1 han), but for the trouble that it’s worth it really is relatively weak. Why go for a ryanpeikou when it’s possible to aim for hands that are easier to achieve and score more in the process?

The issue is that ryanpeikou is a little too weak as a 3 han hand, but would be a little too strong for a 4 han hand. If it’s made too good, and it also has the similar late-game flexibility of iipeikou, then it overshadows many of the other hands around it. Because of the rules of Japanese mahjong, ryanpeikou cannot achieve a satisfying equilibrium of risk vs. reward. At the same time, it would be wrong to get rid of it entirely, because then you wouldn’t be rewarding the player at all.

Buffing in and of itself is seemingly simple enough: all you have to do is make a character or a weapon or spell more powerful. However, the wrong buffs could have unforeseen repercussions, such as over-centralizing the game, and in some cases it might not be possible to deliver the proper buff due to the mechanics or rules of the game itself. So before you ask why a game can’t just make everything powerful, or that it is “always better to buff than to nerf,” keep in mind the ryanpeikou dilemma.

 

Less Slots, More Anime Plots: AnimeNEXT 2017

In 2016, New Jersey’s largest anime con left its long-time home of Somerset. Having already struggled with limited space for an ever-growing population of attendees, AnimeNEXT moved to Atlantic City and a nice, spacious convention center. I personally did not attend AnimeNEXT 2016, which is why my con experience this time around was as much a learning experience about Atlantic City itself as it was another opportunity to see what the con itself had to offer.

I found AnimeNEXT 2017 to be a success in spite of some pitfalls. Contributing to this overall positive yet mixed reaction is how Atlantic City both contributed to and hindered how welcoming the con felt.

Getting to AnimeNEXT

It all starts with the trip to Atlantic City itself. Having come from New York City (and having spoken to other attendees from New Jersey and elsewhere), the transportation options are rather limited. No trains go there—only buses. The ride itself is only two and a half hours on a good day, but buses in general can be unreliable compared to trains or planes. The closest airport is Philadelphia.

There’s a NJ PATH stop right at the Atlantic City Convention Center where AnimeNEXT is held, but few lines actually go to it. For many residents of New Jersey, their only choice is ground transportation, and even in that scenario the road leading into and out of Atlantic City encourages traffic congestion. In other words, be prepared.

Convention Center and Surrounding Area

In contrast to all that inconvenience, the Atlantic City Convention Center is great. Located within walking distance of multiple hotels, I never had any significant trouble getting where I needed to both heading towards the con and at the con itself. The convention space is a great size for the amount of attendees, and there are few bottlenecks to slow people down.

There were some logistics issues I noticed throughout the convention, like the different parts of the con crew’s chain of command didn’t quite communicate as it should. Because a lot of the staff is likely volunteers this is understandable, though I’d still like to see it improved upon in the years to come. It was also a step down from previous years in this regard, but this can always be corrected.

Food can be hit-or-miss. One issue is a lack of convenience stores, so getting quick snacks requires going well beyond the safety of the touristy areas. However, there are a number of restaurant establishments that provide a decent bang for your buck. Wingcraft has excellent burgers, Cavo Crepe Cafe features a variety of crepes, and White House Subs with its two-foot long sandwiches (pictured above) is an American institution that quickly became my favorite place to eat.

Atlantic City can feel like a sad place, as if joy has been gradually drained from it over the course of years. The hotel I stayed at, Bally’s Hotel/Casino, would emit this odd smell whenever I entered it. Aside from gambling, there isn’t all that much to do outside of the con, which can be both a blessing and a curse. While it limits the number of people who will go to AnimeNEXT as part of an overall sightseeing trip, it means the people there are much more active at the con itself. Fortunately, there’s plenty to do within that context.

I did play the slots a bit. I won four whole dollars, and made sure to shout, “HELLOOOOOO” every time.

Fan Panels

AnimeNEXT has always had a decent focus on panels, especially fan panels. Because it’s not as difficult to get a chance at AnimeNEXT compared to larger cons such as Otakon (while also being located on the panel-friendly east coast), aspiring newbies and veterans alike can try their hand at presenting in front of audiences. That was still the case this year, but there seemed to be an even greater desire to pack the panel schedule to the brim.

The result was plenty of interesting content, but with some hiccups along the way. The actual events schedule came incredibly late, making it difficult to plan in advance. Panel slots were shuffled almost to the last second. Some panelists actually had panels scheduled against themselves. The organization of previous years seemed to falter in 2017.

Nevertheless, the fan panels themselves generally overshadowed those issues. Not only that, but most audiences were decently sized from what I saw, which isn’t always the case with AnimeNEXT.

Gattai! Giant Robots of Yesteryear was a giant robot anime recommendation panel. Run by the crew over at the Cockpit, it was helpful even for a big mecha fan like myself with many shows under his belt. I’m intrigued by F.L.A.G., for one thing.

Let’s Dive! The History of Cyberpunk Anime was quite informative, including giving a good understanding of what “cyberpunk” means. There was an issue with his laptop partway through the presenter’s panel, but it was clear he knew the material well, as he kept rolling without any visual aids. My only complaints were that I didn’t recall a definition for “biopunk” (which the guy categorized as different from cyberpunk), and a lack of the anime Real Drive—a cyberpunk anime with an actual diving theme.

Anime Burger Time, from the mind of former Crunchycast host Evan Minto, is a celebration of all things burger in Japanese cartoons. As someone who loves food and also once ran an equally ridiculous panel about dogs in anime, I hold my respect and admiration for Evan’s endeavors. The most fun part of this was that attendees were encouraged to bring and eat burgers during the panel.

Criticism of Popular Anime was my least favorite panel I attended. The presenter’s intent seemed to be to take down those who flaunt their tastes as superior by saying everyone’s favorite anime are bad, but it mostly came across as a lesson in negativity. If anything, I’d like to see the opposite panel, one that can argue in favor of any show, no matter how dire.

I happened to run two fan panels myself, The Art of Stock Footage with Patz from the Cockpit, and Sports, Robots, and Romance: The Works of Tadao Nagahama. If you came to either of them, thank you very much. I’d like to give a shout-out to the two folks who came to the Nagahama panel half an hour early.

 

Industry Panels

If the fan panels are good at AnimeNEXT, then the industry panels are fantastic. The con brings some stellar guests and seems to encourage panels that go beyond the typical Q&A or simplistic presentation one might find at other conventions.

Studio Trigger, creators of Little Witch Academia, are no stranger to New Jersey. Returning for their fourth year, the sense of fun they bring to their panels, Trigger is arguably the staple highlight of AnimeNEXT. One of my favorite aspects of Trigger’s interactions with their American fans is their continued surprise over Inferno Cop‘s popularity, They even brought another exclusive episode of Inferno Cop to their panel, featuring a certain wall-loving president opposing our flaming-skull hero. The fact that they don’t show these outside of AnimeNEXT makes them feel that much more special, and it was of course the perfect place to announce a second season.

Due to scheduling conflicts of my own I was unable to attend their dedicated panel on Little Witch Academia. From what I was told, however, it was extremely informative and painted a surprisingly dark image of LWA lurking underneath its surface. Apparently, many of the girls in that series have tragic pasts that simply aren’t highlighted in the show itself.

As an aside, it’s funny how people think of Trigger as one of the premiere studios for animation quality (a reputation they well deserve), but that they’re also known for a work that is blatantly anti-animation in Inferno Cop.

Studio MAPPA, creators of Yuri!!! on ICE, gave a close look at what went into one of the biggest anime hits of 2017. The biggest takeaway from the panels was that the attention to detail among the staff bordered on the absurd. Whether it was hiring a professional figure skater clothing company to design the characters’ outfits, specifying which screws on their skates are present (real figure skaters adjust this based on personal preference), or animator Tatenaka Junpei showing a rough animation of the episode 1 performance from a different angle, it’s clear that no one slacked. While director Yamamoto Sayo was not present, it was clear from the staff that she was obsessed with figure skating.

They also showed a blu-ray bonus feature: an exhibition by character Yuri “Yurio” Plisetsky. Thanks to a scintillating appearance by Otabek during the special, the fangirls roared to life on a level almost akin to a Beatles live performance.

I’d also like to point out that their panels actually got substantial attendance, something that usually does not happen for Japanese guests who aren’t voice actors. I have hope that the fans’ love for the characters of Yuri!!! on ICE is so strong that they can branch into appreciating other aspects of anime and anime production.

TMS, the studio behind ReLIFE, held a panel similar to MAPPA’s focused on the animation process. One thing that was different from MAPPA was that they did have a voice actor: Ueda Reina. One thing I had not known prior to AnimeNEXT was that she’s also something of a popular idol. At the front of the panel room was a group of dedicated idol fans, adorned in merchandise from various idol franchises, hanging on to Ueda’s every word. While I thought it took a bit too much attention away from the TMS animators (who talked extensively on framing a certain scene in ReLIFE to emphasize its scandalous qualities), it did ultimately get more people to attend the panel.

I also had the opportunity to interview TMS, Trigger, and Mappa. Those transcripts will be showing up on the blog over the next few weeks.

Autograph Adventures

I actually did not learn of Ueda Reina’s popularity with idol fans at one of the TMS panels but rather while waiting in line for her autograph. I knew her as the voice of Mobuko, the Nurse Joy-esque background characters from the anime Tesagure! Bukatsumono. However, when I looked at my fellow attendees waiting for the TMS signing, I saw that most of them were obviously into idols. In fact, the three guys in front of me were cosplaying as Aikatsu! characters. Idol enthusiast supreme Omo informed me that Ueda has actually made appearances in The iDOLM@STER, Aikatsu Stars!, and is an idol in her own right. One fan even brought a life-sized cutout of Ueda’s iDOLM@STER character.

The rest of the TMS crew there, animators Kosaka Tomochi and Yamanaka Junko, were no slouch either, even if they did not have the drawing power of a voice actress/idol. Because both had a lot of experience working on Detective Conan, I brought something from the popular series for them to sign.

Overall, the TMS autograph session went off without a hitch. The same could not be said of Studio Trigger’s.

At this point, Trigger is pretty much a marquee guest for AnimeNEXT, and people will come to the con specifically to see them. As a result, while lines are not “supposed” to form until closer to the designated time, a loose mob began to form. The staff remarked that this was a fire hazard, so people were told to disperse. However, the staff continued to tell people not to line up even though it was actually getting close to the time on the schedule, and an argument ensued between the staff and some of the attendees.

In the end, due to the confusion over lining up, many people who had waited for two or more hours could not get autographs, and due to the fact that the Trigger staff likes to really take their time on sketches, only 30 people out of a significantly larger line managed to get their autographs. In comparison, twice as many got the opportunity with TMS. To me, the saddest thing was that some had clearly wasted their entire day trying to get a Trigger autograph only to fail. I managed to get some myself, but this was mostly due to good fortune and an understanding of how con lines and con staff work. This shouldn’t be necessary.

I’m considering not going to their signing at all the next time I attend AnimeNEXT, just so that others can get the opportunity. The bright side of all this is that the disappointed fans are proof that Japanese guests who aren’t voice actors can garner a sizable crowd. Often times, when it comes to Japanese staff at anime cons, their lines are short that you can practically stroll in and get one.

I should also point out that I did not even try for the Yuri!!! on ICE autographs, knowing the power and ferocity of its fanbase. I heard it ran into some problems, but I did not experience it firsthand.

Concerts, or Rather “Concert”

I attended only one musical performance this year, which was for the official Capcom Music Tour. It was decent, but also kind of underwhelming. It was clear that they only had a limited time to perform, but I was surprised that they only managed to fit in one Mega Man song, especially because that series is praised for its music. Moreover, a video preview at the beginning showed tunes from various old classics, such as BIonic Commando, which made the fact that those songs didn’t appear in the concert proper sting that much more.

In Conclusion, AnimeNEXT is Good, Atlantic City Ehhhh

The con is actually great. It’s spacious, there’s plenty to do, and they bring great guests. Atlantic City is not so exciting, and even a city like Baltimore (where Otakon used to take place) whose crime rate is kind of notorious makes the touristy area feel welcome. In Atlantic City, the tourism section is geared towards gambling, and that atmosphere definitely does not work for me. In spite of this, I think AnimeNEXT is definitely worth attending because it more than makes up for the faults of its location.

On a final aside, AnimeNEXT took place during a Hanayo event in Love Live: School Idol Festival, which meant that I could be found feverishly playing the game at random times during the convention. While there, I happened to photograph a couple of cosplayers of Hanayo and Rin, and one of them asked to exchange School Idol Festival info. It was the very first time anyone ever asked to friend me for LLSiF in real life, so to that Rin cosplayer, I’d like to say thanks.

 

 

 

 

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When Kirito Met Marcus Fenix

When looking at the generic male protagonist found in light novels, one finds that he usually has some combination of the following traits. First, he’s a guy. Second, he’s Japanese. Third, he has short hair. Fourth, he has a fairly slender figure. Fifth, he has either minor or major otaku vibes. Sixth, he has some trait that speaks towards passiveness, whether it’s an aspect of his personality or some sort of special ability that emphasizes defense or neutralization. Titles that fall along this criteria include Sword Art Online, Ore Imo, A Certain Magical Index, Baka Test, Re:Zero, Rise of the Shield HeroBakemonogatari, and so on. In effect, the Light Novel Protagonist plays a similar role to the “gruff brown-haired white guy,” an archetype that has populated mainstream video games over the past ten years.

The Light Novel Protagonist’s appearance renders him the “everyman,” but taken to a kind of extreme mediocrity. His appearance is roughly that of a teenager or early 20s adult who could probably pass for a salaryman if not for his clothing and lack of a stable job. Even though he’s often a “failure” in the eyes of society, he’s ready to show himself as capable if given the right (often nerdy) circumstances. In this way, the Light Novel Protagonist resembles the Video Game Hero in that both reinforce a rough image of masculinity. Where they differ is that the Light Novel Protagonist is often a kind of “bare minimum” of manhood, while the thick-necked rugged white guys of video games are the apex of masculinity in that arena.

This difference is evident when looking at how generic light novels and generic mainstream video games approach the topic of homosexuality. Putting aside a few exceptions from both sides, the protagonists of light novels are more willing than their angry, shooting counterparts in games to dance the line when it comes to gender. Kirito’s video game avatar gets long hair in later parts of Sword Art Online. Hachiman in My Youth Romantic Comedy and Akihisa in Baka Test find themselves attracted to extremely effeminate male characters. However, not only is the possibility of a homosexual ending unlikely, but the sheer femininity of those ambiguous characters’ appearances renders them essentially girls in all but name. As a result, masculinity and heterosexuality are preserved.

Nevertheless, that difference between portraying a masculine world versus a hyper-masculine world seems to be what allows light novels to attract a female audience a little more easily. This is actually something girls have learned to do for a long time, navigate the “boys’ world of entertainment” and carve out their own spaces, but games like Gears of War seem to actively reject any notion of appealing to people beyond their assumed young, male, heterosexual audience. In contrast, light novels pull from the many tropes of anime, manga, and Japanese games, which exist in a complex relationship of pulling aspects of girl-oriented titles toward male audiences and vice versa (e.g. shounen sports being made for girls, magical girls being made for guys).

The irony might be that, while both the Very Japanese Light Novel Protagonist and the Gruff White Video Game Hero are all about protecting their audiences’ masculinity, the two archetypes probably would not get along if they had to interact with each other. The video game hero is an embracing of old ideals of manliness, while the light novel protagonist tends to be a partial rejection of the former. The Light Novel Protagonist is often a “loser,” while the Video Game Hero is more frequently a “winner,” and the active acknowledgement of both might just be two different approaches to dealing with male insecurity.

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Why Consuming Melee is Like Eating Super Spicy Food

As a general fan of Smash Bros. I enjoy watching almost every game, but I prefer Smash 4 above all else. However, I’ve noticed that, if I watch Smash 4 after a couple hours or more of Melee, Smash 4 just seems to move muuuch mooore slooowly. If you’ve played a game with a speedy mode, like the Dodrio Tower in Pokemon Stadium, 8-star turbo in Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, or indeed even Lightning Melee in Smash Bros. Melee, this is probably a familiar feeling to you once you switch back to the default. While I know in my head that the decision-making in Smash 4 is plenty quick, I find that it takes a bit of time to re-acclimate my brain to Smash 4 from Melee.

I have no studies or evidence beyond my personal experience, so I’m not writing from a place of thorough research, but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. What’s more, I suspect that, for those who are less interested in Smash 4, the effect is likely exacerbated.

In this respect, Melee reminds me a lot of super spicy food. Like Melee, spicy food has its diehard enthusiasts. If you like chilis and scoville ratings in the hundreds of thousands, then no other kinds of foods compare. Once you try the most flaming hot dishes, there’s no turning back. And if you like it that much, you’ll want to aim for even spicier foods. After all, why settle for less? Similarly, when Melee viewers and players alike talk about why they love the game and why they see it as near-perfect, they mention the blazing fast speed, the difficulty in learning it, and the sense of freedom. They speak of Melee as a unique experience like no other, and that no other games can compare.

The side effect of this, I believe, is that it ends up essentially “dulling” the senses and making other game seem worse, that they require significantly less skill even if that’s the case. In the spicy food analogy used thus far, this would be the equivalent of just eating vindaloo non-stop for an entire day and then taking a bite of a much milder and more subtly flavored food, such as sushi. It’s not as if Indian food isn’t full of a robust variety of tastes, or that flavors matter less in Indian or Japanese food, but if your palate is inundated with spices, then it’s not the fault of the sushi if you can’t get much out of it. And if Smash 4 seems as if its players have to think “less,” it might just be a product of having your senses overloaded by Melee.