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In my continuing quest to write small articles on all of the μ’s girls of Love Live!, I’ve written something on Nishikino Maki. I know she’s a popular one, so I hope I do you Maki fans justice.

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In related news, the English version of Love Live! School Idol Festival just added songs from both Aqours (the stars of Love Live! Sunshine!!) and A-RISE. I’ve been eagerly anticipating A-RISE’s arrival (Kira Tsubasa is a favorite character of mine), so I’m hoping to get her for my account.

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I stopped by the Veef Show to discuss the latest Mobile Suit Gundam series, Iron-Blooded Orphans. Have a listen, as we have fairly different perspectives on the show, and I’d love to know what you think of the series as well.

For reference, the post I mentioned about McGillis can be found here, and the series I mention at the end of the podcast that I have begun chapter reviewing is here.

So in conclusion, Fumitan Admoss is the best.

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What was originally supposed to be a review of the second Digimon Adventure tri. movie has now taken on a different context with the passing of Digimon singer Wada Kouji at the age of 42 after a long battle with cancer. While his voice was absent in the English dub of Digimon, many fans around the world came to know his distinct, powerful voice across multiple works, and in many ways his songs have defined and encapsulated the swirl of emotions and memories that Digimon brings. In listening to Wada’s tri. renditions of “Butter-fly” and now “Seven,” the softness in his voice comes across not simply as the melancholy of growing up, but also Wada’s last push to make his voice heard, similar to Freddie Mercury in “These Are the Days of Our Lives” before succumbing to AIDS.

Although Wada’s unfortunate passing does not any direct impact on the story of Digimon Adventure tri. 2: Determination, it does cast an interesting light given the primary focus of the second film. What do we as people do with our lives? What does it mean to be an adult? How do we handle the challenges that life throws at us? How can we continue to be the Biggest Dreamer?

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Determination, like Reunion, places great emphasis on character exploration, with greater attention on how difficult it can be to both aim for and avoid conformity as we get older. In particular, the film puts the spotlight on worrywart Kido Joe and Tachikawa Mimi. Just like in the last film, Joe has been actively ignoring the call of the Digimon because he’s more concerned with trying to get into a good college. Mimi has to deal with the fact that her aggressive attitude and individuality (implied to be a product of both her personality and her time spent in the US) rubs her classmates the wrong way.

Though overall decent, I find this second film to be weaker than the first one, mostly because the pacing feels stiff and that not quite enough was done to explore Joe and Mimi’s conflicts. The comedy, including seeing Gomamon cook instant ramen for Joe, and even the bath house hijinks (including a brief steamy moment between Takeru and Hikari) are all wecome and keep the film just light-hearted enough, but the story’s progression still feels quite uneven. However, one potential point against the film, namely that it focuses on boring ol’ Joe, is something I see as a point of contention. I think that Joe’s story is something that can be hard for some to relate to while others will connect more immediately to his plight, and that the extent to which Determination resonates with viewers can therefore vary tremendously.

Given that Joe’s choices are between studying for college entrance exams or helping to save the world the choice should be “obvious,” but it’s clear that Joe is trying his hardest to become a responsible adult. After all, he’s supposed to be the responsible one, and the fact that this pressure seems to come not so much from his parents but from society as a whole and his own expectations for doing what’s best makes his inability to improve his test scores despite all of the work he’s put into it feel that much more devastating. Joe is essentially struggling between doing the right thing and doing the right thing, and the fact that he cares so much about both is what makes it a conflict in the first place.

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By comparison, I think Mimi’s troubles are easier to understand, but both her and Joe have to confront what it means to live and exist among others, when one is increasingly expected to fall into line. Mimi also pushes through her problems with greater determination than Joe, but that also comes down to their differences in personality. That’s not to say Mimi doesn’t struggle in this film herself, or that her concerns are any less important or difficult to deal with, but if there’s one thing Mimi doesn’t lack, it’s confidence.

I think what made Digimon and Wada Kouji such powerful presences in many children’s lives is the sense of discovery and (of course) adventure that they conveyed. Determination plays with these feelings, asking whether or not they should be left in the past or should be carried into the future even as we become adults. It’s a simple yet profound fight that many must go through, and I’m confident that the next film will deliver hope to all those who believe their childhoods have long since disappeared beyond memory.

You can watch Digimon Adventure tri. on Crunchyroll.

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Why are plushies popular with anime fans?

When I got into anime, the internet was a very different place. While I was never part of the old Usenet groups (and in fact I never learned how to use them), I would talk with my fellow fans about whatever was hot at the time. Part of the fan experience was a kind of lighthearted role playing (no, not that kind, and no, not that kind), and one thing I notice was the virtual exchange of “plushies.” These dolls didn’t actually exist, but they were playful gestures to show friendship and support, or to present oneself as cute and fun and lovable. When I think of “anime fans and plushies,” I think of an era of the Anime Web Turnpike and Kisekae (KiSS) dolls, both relics of late 90s, early 2000s internet fandom.

However, that’s not really the case, is it? Plush dolls, whether specifically anime themed or otherwise, still hold the attention of many fans at conventions, online, and (I assume) with each other in other more personal settings. Also, the dolls have become more prominent, whether in artist alleys or through official channels. They might be a chibi Sasuke from Naruto or an alpaca, but they’re out there being sold and traded and loved. There’s something kind of timeless about the idea of owning a cute doll, and it’s not like this is limited to anime fans at all, but anime fans will embrace and hold onto them even after they’re supposed to have outgrown collecting dolls.

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There can’t be only one reason that anime fans gravitate towards plushies. Even with the common interest of Japanese cartoons, people are too diverse for a singular cause. I could see some enjoying them because they just like dolls in general. Others might just want to collect their favorite characters. That being said, I do think that the trope of the chibi or super deformed character has no small influence on the popularity of dolls with anime fans. They appear in official parody spinoffs, in the middle of scenes, and in fanart since the earliest days. Anime fans embrace what is cute, Japanese culture has made an entire industry off of “kawaii,” and in certain ways it’s almost defiant of macho expectations given to both men and women. Frederik L. Schodt wrote in his seminal book on Japanese comics, Manga! Manga!, that part of the reason manga became so sophisticated is that the fans of manga in Japan grew up and refused to let go of their stories. Perhaps plushies are connected to this sentiment, maybe not directly but in terms of a similar mindset and desire to keep the joys of childhood.

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Maybe the association between SD character renditions and plushies are why I consider plushies to be very much anchored in that 90s anime fandom. After all, the 90s were the peak of chibi character content. Though I don’t really see it anymore, super deformed characters were considered such a staple of anime fandom that they were viewed as a defining characteristic that helped to differentiate anime from other forms of animation, right along with big eyes and small mouths. While we’ve since been introduced to a much wider variety of styles, and the trends have changed over time, the anime plush doll still retains the features of a chibi character.

I personally don’t engage with anime or anime fans the way I did 15 to 20 years ago, so I don’t know to what extent the old ways of interaction still remain. Do fans still give each other imaginary plushies, or do they now take the form of digital renderings, emojis, or Line stickers? Does this further emphasize the physical aspect of actually owning plush dolls? For the anime fans who carry them through conventions and meetups and such, do they also display them in their everyday lives, or is there still a fear of being judged for being into dolls? This is a line of inquiry I’d be interested in finding out more about. If you have insights of your own, feel free to share them!

I know that, by mentioning dolls, I’m also bringing up associations with the ball-jointed (and often very expensive) kind. I think that fandom might share some qualities with the enthusiasts of plushies, but they’re quite a different group overall. Perhaps I’ll discuss that one while reminiscing about Rozen Maiden and its very passionate followers another time.

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 sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

 

 

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I count myself among the many who loved Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. The retro revivals of one of my favorite video game series of all time, they had the great gameplay, catchy music, and cool boss characters that I came to cherish from Mega Man as a whole. However, something always felt a bit off about them, like a meal that’s almost perfect, and I stated as such in my review of Mega Man 10 when I said that the game is poor at giving moments of respite to the player.

I recently read an interview between the original creator of Mega Man, Kitamura Akira, and the manga artist behind Mega Man Megamix, Ariga Hitoshi. They discuss a variety of topics and I highly recommend checking out the entire interview, but one comment in particular stood out to me, given my experience with the newer Mega Man games:

Kitamura: Making the last enemy encounter in the wave easier was a key idea. It leaves the player with a softer impression of the game’s difficulty. I think the reason that people don’t replay games—even good ones—is that when they remember playing the game, their minds go back to the extremely difficult parts and enemies, and then replaying the game starts to seem like tedious work. I wanted the player to feel like he was improving at the game too, and that was another reason to make that last enemy easier, I think.

Upon reading that, it all made sense. Mega Man 9 and 10 are really fun and exciting games, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve come to believe that they catered a little too much to that hardcore retro gaming audience that cherishes older NES-era games precisely because of their notorious difficulty and seemingly unforgiving gameplay. I’m not surprised that this is the direction they went, as it is those kinds of players who are the most ready and willing to dive into something like a Mega Man revival. I don’t even think it was all a bad thing, because the tighter and more complex and difficult level designs were something I found to be exhilarating, but what Kitamura says (about how people don’t replay games when it starts to seem like tedious work) strikes a chord. I know that Mega Man 10 implemented an easy mode to cut away some of the tension and difficulty, but the levels are clearly designed without them in mind, and it’s a constant reminder that you are playing a “lesser” version.

If I were to go back and play these two games, I would probably spend most of my time doing boss rushes because I love that sort of thing, but when I remember that obnoxious spike wall leading to the mid-boss of Jewel Man’s stage (or was it Jewel Man himself?), I sigh and lose the will to go through such ordeals. Maybe if that wasn’t such a “gotcha” moment, and maybe if there weren’t so many of those moments, then I would remember them even more fondly than I do now.

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I wrote a post looking at Voltron: Legendary Defender and its transformation sequence compared to that of King of Braves Gaogaigar. You can check it out at Apartment 507.

I’ve been on an “90s anime theme” kick recently, watching various live concert performances and animated intros/outros on YouTube. When you look through them, there’s a recurring tendency in shows of the time to have ending animations highlight the token female character as she existed in the 90s. What stands out to me in particular is that a lot of these girls are designed to be fairly pretty but not excessively beautiful, talented but not too talented.

Frequently, the 90s girl is the protagonist’s love interest, especially in series with heavily male-dominated casts, and in shounen works also works as either an everyman or expositional character to get the reader up to speed on the rules of the story. She’s the ideal support for him and his passionate pursuit of whatever goal or motivation he possesses, and it’s this sideline cheerleader that has more recently fallen by the wayside in favor of a new breed of heroine, who still might not be in the spotlight but possesses some sort of “other” talent. The example that immediately comes to mind is Akagi Haruko from Slam Dunk, who knows a bit about basketball and is the target of affection for the hero, in contrast to Aida Riko and Momoi Satsuki from Kuroko’s Basketball, who have support “powers” for their teams and whose roles as possible love interests are not as prominent (perhaps influenced by the greater fujoshi influence of Kuroko). None of them are stars of their stories, but I think there’s a clear difference between then and now.

If the main character’s love interest is supposed to be an ideal, I have to wonder why they’re so frequently designed to not be quite so ideal in the first place. This could be chalked up to “good characterization” in some cases, and a “boring” or “plain” female character to a potential viewer outside of Japan might be seen as a “yamato nadeshiko” type perfect woman in Japanese culture (e.g. Shinguji Sakura from Sakura Wars). However, I can’t help thinking that there’s something else, like a desire to promote the plain girl as the one young readers of shounen should be aiming for. Pining for the hottest girl around might somehow have been viewed as impractical or even wrongheaded, and that the childhood friend, the girl next door, would be the far better choice. Was anime and manga trying to teach its audience what kind of love would be the more realistic choice, or is it just that having these girls be fairly plain is simply about pushing the heroes further to the forefront?

 

In the past, I’ve written about “OEL manga,” English-language comics inspired by the manga style, in an attempt to find out why OEL manga often end up looking not quite like what typically comes out of Japan. I’ve brought up ideas such as screentone usage and how it often looks like artists try to draw “anime” comics instead of “manga” comics. It’s not a bad feature, and there are plenty of good comics that are inspired by manga without looking like it, but it’s just fun to try and figure out why things don’t look “right,” so to speak.

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Recently, however, I’ve come across a manga called Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko, and even though it’s drawn by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience, to me it looks very similar to OEL manga. It’s to the extent that, if you had given me a page from Shoujo Fight translated and told me someone from Kansas drew it, I might very well have believed you.

Shoujo Fight is a volleyball manga published in the magazine Evening (sister to Genshiken‘s Monthly Afternoon and the popular Weekly Morning). Its story follows a girl named Ooishi Neri, who holds back a fiery passion for volleyball due to a traumatic event in her past. Beginning from 2012 it ran for 12 volumes, and it’s overall just a solid sports manga with a large variety of interesting female characters with equally diverse body types.

Now, I want to emphasize that, when I compare it to OEL manga that I do not mean that as an insult, and in fact I really enjoy Shoujo Fight‘s art style. Nevertheless, it does leave me wondering… why does Shoujo Fight look to me like OEL manga? I think there are a number of interrelated reasons.

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First, the creator, Nihonbashi Yoko, has a very design-oriented and graphic style that’s conducive to posters, symbols, and logos. When looking at her official blog, there’s a lot of work along those lines, and I think she’s very good at it.

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Second, Shoujo Fight is clearly drawn digitally, and I think (whether it’s accurate or not) that I associate “western” renditions of anime and manga with the rise of tablets and digital comics in general. The line work is very smooth and sleek, completely devoid of pen or pencil textures, and I find that a lot of Deviantart artists tend to work similarly.

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Third, the way Nihonbashi draws eyes often times feels closer to what I’d find in a North American or European comic. In fact, to me the way that the heroine Neri’s eyes are drawn reminds me strongly of the girls from the Italian comic (turned French animation) W.I.T.C.H. or even those of a Disney heroine. I think this becomes especially noticeable when a character has her eyes closed part-way, because the particular shape of the eyes and eyelids are not so common in manga.

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With Shoujo Fight and its art style is compared to the typical manga, it’s fascinating to me how the idea of “manga” continues to be challenged from both within its primary industry and from the outside. And if you want to see more of her work, follow the creator of Shoujo Fight on Twitter.

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Censorship is a difficult subject to explore because the battle over it is rife with conflicting and contradictory values. On the one hand, it usually derives from good intentions, specifically the desire to avoid exposing people to that which is deemed morally inappropriate. On the other hand, it can be a tool for control, especially when the standard for what is morally right is itself flawed through biases such as racism and misogyny. To create a work of fiction around the idea of censorship is to potentially step into a minefield.

Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist is an anime adapted from a light novel. Its premise is that Japan has outlawed dirty words, dirty thoughts, and of course dirty pictures in order to improve public moral health. High schooler Okuma Tanukichi is the son of an infamous “dirty-joke terrorist” who resents his father and seeks to reunite with his childhood love, Nishikonimya Anna, a symbol of purity and righteousness. However, he ends up getting roped into joining a dirty-joke terrorist organization known as SOX (substitute the O), led by a girl clad in only a cape and a pair of underwear on her hand who goes by the name “Blue Snow.”

Though a comedy, I don’t find the series to be that funny. Then again, it would have been foolish of me to expect extremely clever jokes from a series premised around trying to restore people’s ability to shout, “PENIS!” Rather, what ended up interesting me was how it tackles censorship, and how I can’t find myself in total agreement with its ideas on the matter.

The world of Shimoneta, or more specifically the elite school in which most of its story takes place, is an environment where people are so sheltered from profanity, pornography, and obscenity that they cannot even recognize it when it is literally thrown in their face. Aside from a few eccentrics who are either extremely good at hiding their feelings or have their interests tied up in other things (one character’s interest in sex is mostly from a scientific point of view), they are mentally unable to process their own sexual desires. From here, I believe it is easy to see why a series like Shimoneta can be simultaneously uncomfortable yet thought-provoking even if one potentially disagrees with it. The idea that the removal of dirty jokes from a country has rendered its men and women psychologically immature could be utilized as both an argument against “political correctness” and an argument against oppression of people’s rights to be sexually active. After all, women are attacked both for having sex and not having sex.

Where Shimoneta stands on the subject feels somewhat unclear even after finishing the series, and this has a lot to do with the fact that the series is rife with anime and light novel tropes. Anna, for example, turns out to be a stereotypical yandere character whose burning desire for Tanukichi (she can literally smell his scent from hundreds of meters away) swings his view of her from aspiration to monster, while her large rack and hourglass figure clearly make her a sexually attractive character. At the same time, Anna is the very symbol of how a lack of sex education can negatively affect a person. Because she has been taught that righteousness is the polar opposite of profanity, she believes that anything she does in the name of righteousness is by definition pure, even if it involves pinning Tanukichi to the ground and trying to take his virginity against his will in highly sexually charged scenes.

What is Anna? Is her behavior more representative of a warning towards keeping people ignorant about sex, or is she a nymphomaniac designed to thrill the audience? For that matter, what is the ethical standing of a little girl character clearly designed for a lolicon audience, whose hair is shaped like a penis? Is it an innocent joke, or has it gone too far? And in this way, is Shimoneta directly commenting on actual society (assuming Japan but perhaps it can apply elsewhere)?

I feel that the ambiguity of that last question is what makes Shimoneta worth watching, at least for a few episodes. It opens up a potentially interesting conversation about how we view media, and even in disagreement I believe it can be a fruitful discussion.

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McGillis_Fareed-5_G-Tekketsu-5Ever since Char Aznable became one of anime’s most memorable characters, many Gundam series have included similar rivals for their heroes. In general, they’re enemy pilots of roughly equal power who wear masks or something similar to hide their faces, and who often have their own ulterior, if noble, motives. Most recently joining the likes of Zechs Merquise, Harry Ord, and more is McGillis Fareed from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and his approach to being “a Char” is probably the most well-realized out of all of them.

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans spoilers below.

Throughout the original Gundam, Char Aznable is willing to (and has!) back-stabbed even his closest friends because his true goal, to get vengeance for the death of his father, overrides any sort of sentiment he might possess. McGillis is incredibly similar. He’s willing to sacrificing childhood friends for the sake of accomplishing his motives, but in a way he might also be even more scheming and cut-throat than Char himself. While Char might sabotage some of his own side for personal reasons, he never actively leaked information to the enemy or tried to orchestrate both sides to fall in his favor.

McGillis has gone from being a fairly interesting character to being one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the next season of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Given the overall quality of the show, I really, really hope the series doesn’t suffer from Sunrise “half-way point syndrome” like so many of their mecha anime, where in an attempt to become more successful a show loses what made it special in the first place.

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