Pimple Popping Manga: Chiyo’s Lips

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Though certainly not to everyone’s liking, hands-on acne removal is a very popular subject on YouTube (click if you dare, but it’s potentially NSFW). Often referred to in comments as one example of the “the weird part of YouTube,” it’s somewhat curious that it hasn’t emerged as some kind of sub-genre of manga or anime. In fact, the only title I can think of where pimple popping is a primary focus or narrative device is the manga I’m going to be reviewing today: Chiyo no Kuchibiru (or Chiyo’s Lips) by Iwami Kiyoko.

As this subject can be disgusting to a lot of people, I’m going to put this behind a cut-off just for the sake of your lunches. For those who don’t mind (or even enjoy this sort of thing), read on:

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Ishida Akira’s Amazing Voice Work in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

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One of the best anime of 2016, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, has returned for the Winter 2017, and with it some of the finest voice acting in recent anime history. Given that rakugo performers are themselves supposed to be able to take on many roles while telling a story, it requires the seiyuu playing these characters to have a great deal of convincing range. Nowhere is this more evident than in the voice of Ishida Akira, who plays Yuurakutei Yakumo the Eighth.

Ishida Akira has been a major player in anime since the 1990s, with roles such as Xelloss from Slayers and Athrun Zala from Gundam SEED to his name. However, what made me realize the sheer skill Ishida possesses is an audio clip of him performing seven different people, male and female, of all ages. From a young girl to an elderly grandpa, he can do it all. So, when he first appeared in Rakugo Shinjuu as Yakumo, I expected great things—an expectation that was fulfilled in spades. There’s a clear distinction in season 1 between Yakumo’s younger self in the past, and his elderly demeanor in the present.

To my surprise, season 2 turns out to show off Ishida’s chops even better. In this sequel, Yakumo is even older, and Ishida actually goes as far as to modify his performance to further show the passing of time. Often, I find that voice actors will have an “elderly voice,” but will not necessarily make the distinction between someone in his 60s versus someone in his 70s, for example. Ishida, however, does just that. His voice in season 1 had the weight of many years in it, but by season 2 it’s slower, deeper, and just a bit less coherent, as if that weight has finally started dragging his body down.

What’s even more impressive is when he performs privately for Yotarou (a.k.a. the new Sukeroku). Here, despite the strain it puts on him, Yakumo gives an extremely lively rakugo show. Pay attention to Ishida’s acting here, as he’s not just changing his voice to play younger characters as you would expect from any other professional voice actor. Instead, Ishida purposely plays a man in the twilight of his life imitating younger people as he performs. His enunciation is much clearer when he’s “on-stage,” but nevertheless has that characteristic elderly drawl. When he finishes and appears completely exhausted, and his voice reverts to “normal.”

Ishida’s performance is just one aspect of why Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is amazing, but it gives the series as a whole such a powerful presence. It’s great to see the guy in a role where he can really show the full extent of his talent.

The Fujoshi Files 166: Ayame

Name: Ayame (アヤメ)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Hacka Doll The Animation

Information:
Ayame is a fujoshi who’s considering applying for Comic Market when she’s visited by the Hacka Dolls, semi-incompetent AIs who attempt to help people with mixed results. Though Ayame’s experience with them is mostly stressful, they help to inspire her to stick with her fandom on more than one occasion.

Fujoshi Level:
Ayame enjoys more typical bishounen-style BL, as well as beefier guys closer to the “bara” style of homosexual manga.

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Valentine’s Day “Dead Eyes Extravaganza”

In honor of Valentine’s Day, that romantic holiday transformed in Japan into a way for girls to express their feelings for guys, I present an image mosaic of one of my favorite character traits: dead or empty eyes.

deadeyes-mosaicCreated using Mosaic Maker

Dead eyes, that is to say empty eyes without luster, are usually associated with characters who have been mind-controlled. However, I’m more fascinated by them when the characters who have them are in full control of themselves. Rather than being a sign of a loss of will, they’re often symbolic of something else. They can be intensity, trauma, otherworldly perspective/experience, or even a swirling madness. Just think about how all many of the characters in the image above have notably different personalities!

Do you have a favorite character in the image above? Is there a dead eyes character you’re a fan of? Let me know!

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Opposites Connect: 3D Kanojo – “Real Girl”

3dkanojo-couple-small In 2013, I came across a shoujo manga called 3D Kanojo by Nanami Mao, Although I had some initial misgivings based on the title alone (it means “3D girlfriend”), the series ended up becoming one of my favorite manga. It recently finished just last year, so I’d like to give my overall thoughts about this excellent work.

The idea of a socially awkward young man winning the affections of the beautiful girl has long been a popular trope. America has seen Revenge of the Nerds, Beauty and the Geek, and the hyper-popular The Big Bang Theory. Japan has been home to Densha Otoko, and numerous manga and anime premised around this idea such as The World God Only Knows and Love Hina. Within these works are three recurring ideas: the nerd as underdog, the nerd as the nice guy vs. the jerks, and the notion that nerds carry hidden charms buried deep inside shells of social awkwardness.

One difference between the stereotypical image of the American “geek” and the Japanese “otaku” is that while the geek guy worships at the altar of characters who are live actors (e.g. Princess Leia), otaku go for the “2D girls” of anime, manga, and games. Reality, where actual “3D girls” reside, is thought to be a frightening realm that can eat otaku alive. So, with a title like 3D Kanojo, I had wondered if this might be one of those wish fulfillment fantasies where an otaku boy gets the girl just by being nice without any real substance, while the girl ends up as some kind of virginal ideal, a typical “2D girl come to life” scenario. Fortunately, within one chapter 3D Kanojo defies those assumptions, and shows itself to be a robust, considerate, and even progressive approach to this idea.

When the series begins, Hikari Tsutsui is an otaku who is unable to handle social interaction outside of talking to his only friend, a fellow hardcore fan. His ideal girl is a magical girl from an anime. One day at school, he sees one of his classmates, the beautiful Igarashi Iroha, being accosted by a guy angry at Igarashi for cheating on him. When the guy tries to hit her, Tsutsui jumps in to defend Iagarashi.. only to get his ass kicked because he’s a wimp with no physical ability.

At first glance, this is ground already traveled by stories like Densha Otoko and Back to the Future—a chivalrous act by a geek shows the strength of his heart, and makes the girl fall in love with him. However, with 3D Kanojo, the relationship even at the early stages possesses a lot more depth. Many times, the girls in these stories only appear to be very sexually active but are actually secretly virgins, giving them a sense of idealized purity. Not so with Iroha, who freely admits that she was two-timing the guys she was with. Rather than shunning her for being a “slut,” Tsutsui accepts her for who she is, especially once the two of them spend more time together and are able to open up to each other more readily. What’s important isn’t that she’s had others in the past, but how they feel about each other now. And as the series continues, it becomes clear that their love for each other burns red-hot.

It isn’t all roses, of course. Romantic rivals show up for both character, such as an otaku girl and a handsome guy (it’s a shoujo manga, after all). Igarashi’s sexual experience isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s intimidating for a guy who, up to that point, didn’t even talk to girls other than his own mother. Tsutsui’s constantly questioning whether or not he’s good enough for her, but it’s important to note that she’s doing the same just as often. In spite of how different they are on the surface and even in many elements of their personalities, there’s a mutual longing for understanding.

While I thought highly of the series very early on, there is a particular chapter that solidified my opinion that 3D Kanojo is a great series. Most of the time, the story is told from Tsutsui’s perspective, but in one chapter it’s Igarashi’s head we’re in. Through her, we see her relationship history. As an extremely attractive girl, she’s had numerous suitors, but the apparent issue is that all of them only paid attention to her appearance. In this way, her looks became a curse. At one point, she had even tried to open up to a boyfriend, only for the guy to treat it as basically, “There, there. Okay, now that I’ve comforted you, are you gonna put out?”

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Here, it becomes plainly obvious what Igarashi saw in Tsutui. He isn’t just generally “nice” and “considerate,” he connects and empathizes with her on the level both of them desire. While occupy different strata of the high school hierarchy, both of them are familiar with being unfairly judged by their looks, and their ability to see what is truly inside each other is what draws them closer and closer.

Ultimately, even as the series goes through some fairly well-worn shoujo manga plot developments, the sheer robustness of this core relationship, as well as a solid cast of supporting characters, keeps the series from feeling old-hat. I felt a genuine desire to cheer on Tsutsui and Igarashi, not because they were “supposed” to be together as the main couple, but that everything they had been through together showed why they should be as one.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that 3D Kanojo technically isn’t the real title. That’s how it’s written out, but due to quirks in how the Japanese written language is used, it’s actually supposed to be pronounced “Real Girl.” In retrospect, the two titles fit this series perfectly. While Igarashi comes across at first as the mysterious girlfriend of the “3D realm,” her “realness,” both in the sense of her lived human experience and her candor, are what foster her romance with Tsutsui.

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How Dragon Ball Super Made Dragon Ball Better

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Surprising even to me, it turns out Dragon Ball Super is actually really good. I’ve written a small post detailing how Dragon Ball Super has improved upon its predecessors. Take a look!

Medabots vs. Medarot: A Case of Two Openings

Though I was never a big fan of the show, I’ve been impressed by the Japanese Medarot (aka Medabots) opening theme. It’s surprisingly intense, and it hits with just the right hint of melancholy as anime songs tend to do. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out that others who grew up with the show on TV in the US did not quite agree. If you take a look at the YouTube comments for the opening, there’s a pretty even divide between those who think the English opening is better vs. the Japanese one.

While nostalgia likely plays a big factor in many of these opinions, I believe that there’s something more, some essential differences between the two songs and the messages they try to convey. Essentially, while the English opening emphasizes “coolness,” the Japanese opening is all about “fiery passion.”

In the case of the English version, there’s a sense that “Robattling” is the hip thing to do. Get your gear, get your robot, and engage in this cool activity. In contrast, the Japanese song is focused towards the energy of youth, and that’s even putting aside the lyrics, which occasionally mention things being “white hot” and such. The song itself ends with the idea that the world of Medarot is one of intelligence and bravery.

The more I thought about this difference, however, the more it became clear to me that Japanese cartoons for children have historically seemed to be more willing to emphasize the value of being young. Be it Digimon or Cardcaptor Sakura or something else entirely, I get the sense that these openings want kids to feel like being a kid is fantastic. American openings for cartoons and other shows, on the other hand, tend to skew towards the desire for kids to grow up. While they’re not telling kids that it’s great to be a 20-year-old or anything, there exists a general marketing idea that kids do not connect with characters who are younger than them. Neither side exists at an absolute extreme, and you can find plenty of exceptions (Precure features characters in middle school while targeting elementary school children), but I can’t help but feel that this is what actually underlies the Medabots vs. Medarot theme song divide.