Interdependence Day: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2020

It feels like 100 years have passed since June and July. The world feels liable to change in the most drastic ways, but also to revert back to the same old ignorance. We’re all just individuals in the end, but I hope that we can enrich ourselves just as much as we help those around us. As COVID-19 spikes around the US, I want everyone, even those I vehemently disagree with, to have long, healthy, and fulfilling lives, and to remember that we’re in this together. It shouldn’t be “every man for himself” in this situation.

Thank you to my Patreon sponsors, who support me even as I deviate from the main topics of this blog at times.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy (NEW PATRON!)

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I like to think that everyone who follows Ogiue Maniax knows my passion for anime and manga is genuine, even if there are times when more important things are at stake.

Blog highlights from June:

Beyond “Friendship, Hard Work, and Victory”: The Promised Neverland

A full-series review of one of the best shounen manga ever.

Beastars and the Fight Against Behavioral Absolutism

My interpretation of what Beastars has to say about civilization.

Learning About the Butterflies and the Bees: Saotome-senshu, Hitakakusu

A great and silly boxing-themed romance comedy series. Highly recommend.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 29 shows a bit of tension between Akira and Jin—a first for the series.

Patreon-Sponsored

Thoughts on Open-World RPGs and the D&D Legacy

It basically turned into a post about JRPGs vs. WRPGs.

Apartment 507

The Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba manga has finished. Could this mean one of the overall best anime adaptations ever is on its way?

Closing

A new anime season is upon us, but in this current situation, that means a lot of shows that went on hiatus due to coronavirus are coming back. I’m most stoked for Healin’ Good Precure, which is finally going to be streaming on Crunchyroll in the US. It’s time for Precure to claim its rightful place!

Dissenting Voice: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 29

Akira vs. Jin?! It’s Chapter 29 of Hashikko Ensmble!

Summary

The Hashimoto Chorus Appreciation Society arrives at the site of their training camp, which is packed with seemingly all the audio equipment they’ll ever need. But as Jin is living in audiophile paradise, Akira is still thinking about seeing Jin at Himari. Jin explained that he was there to help Himari build her own speaker, but it still doesn’t sit well with Akira. 

Hasegawa (who has declared her intent to join the club proper as conductor—and drag Kanon in along as well) reveals to Akira that having Jin help Himari was all her idea. In fact, she purposely timed things so that Akira would be on the previous castle trip. Hasegawa also prods Akira about his obvious feelings towards Shion.

Jin talks about his next plans for the group, which involves having the guys all sing a capella for the school festival. His motivation seems a little off somehow, but what’s even more unusual is Akira vehemently disagreeing with the decision—a first “fight” for the two. The group later goes outside to look at the stars and to practice harmonizing, only for the debate about the school festival to continue. However, the argument is suddenly interrupted when everyone realizes that Shion is missing!

Feelings and Tensions

It feels harder and harder to write chapter summaries for Hashikko Ensemble. Whether it’s the burgeoning (?) romances or the friction that exists between the characters, everything feels important and frivolous at the same time. Jin and Himari could just be as innocent as they claim, seeing as Jin is not one for deception, but maybe there’s still something sparking there. Akira’s crush on Shion seems to only grow stronger, and it’s clear that his reluctance towards doing a capella is that Shion (who’s only just recently healed from her hand injury) wouldn’t be able to play. Meanwhile, I suspect Jin’s eerily forceful desire to do a capella comes from wanting to further defy his mysterious mother.

Orihara seems especially tense, but I can’t really tell for sure what the reason could be. He seems like he’s trying to work through something possibly related to Shion, but I feel like the series is trying to use him as a red herring romantic rival. Orihara’s a complex yet simple character, so it’s hard to peg what he’s about, even when knowing his tragic past.

Sound Training

I like seeing Jin nerd out about audio electronics, even if I don’t fully understand everything that’s going on or how it’s supposed to all fit together. To be fair, that’s something I share with most of the characters in this chapter. Still, I at the very least learned that Accuphase is a manufacturer known for its power amps, and that with sufficiently good equipment, you can even hear where the singers were positioned in a room. 

There’s also an interesting little training regimen shown in this chapter, meant to strengthen your voice and your muscles at the same time. In fact, the manga itself points to the original source, “Muscle Voice Training,” which can be found on Yamaha’s official Youtube channel!

As for its portrayal in this manga, one thing I find curious is that Shinji is able to generate more force in his “He!”s than the bigger and stronger Orihara. I think either Orihara is just not trying very hard (possibly out of embarrassment), or there’s something about Shinji’s castle-exploring cardio that gives him a slight edge.

Songs

You know the drill by now. It’s“Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto. Most likely, things will change now that we’re seemingly moving into a new arc.

Final Thoughts

Kanon joining the club seems inevitable, but I have to wonder what role she’ll end up in.

Also, this series being a manga and all, I often picture Akira’s voice in my head as something soft and light, only to remember that he’s supposed to have a  serious bass to his voice. It’s so unlike what’s typical that I want even more to see it in anime form.

Thoughts on Open-World RPGs and the D&D Lineage

Open-world RPGs have never really been my thing, though it’s less about genre preference and more about circumstances. I was never much of a PC gamer when RPGs like Baldur’s Gate were around, and by the time similar games (such as The Elder Scrolls series) emerged on more powerful console hardware, I didn’t have any of those systems. But from a distance, I find the branching paths of Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs to be such a wonderful story of diverging Dungeons & Dragons lineages—namely how the former has taken more from the customization and self-insertion aspects of tabletop roleplaying in contrast to the latter and how the latter has went on to emphasize the narrative and storytelling components by way of old Western computer RPGs such as Wizardry.

It might be my ignorance and unfamiliarity at work, but I see expansive open-world RPGs as putting less emphasis on defining strong characters through which a story unfolds. More often than not, my impression is that they are about putting the player in the driver’s seat and trying to convey a virtual environment where they can do “whatever they want” within the boundaries of a game’s programming. Even if they have set things to do and accomplish, these games are meant to feel like your story.

That being said, plenty of JRPGs have user insert characters, including Dragon Quest and Pokemon have audience insert protagonists, and the latter even allows for heavier aesthetic customization now. However, I do feel that there is a more defined sense of a default look and feel to these generic JRPG player characters, and the result is that they also end up feeling like someone you’re observing from a distance—like you’re in a dream seeing yourself from a third-person perspective.  For me, personally, I’ve traditionally preferred that direction.

Of course, I’m making certain assumptions and generalizations when I define Western RPGs as more expansive and open-world, as even those words can change meaning and significance depending on what players are used to and how they perceive the importance of those qualities. For example, it’s interesting to me that the prevailing online opinion on Pokemon Black & White has changed so drastically in the ten years since its debut. 

Back when it first launched, the games were criticized as being too easy and hand-holdy—you always knew exactly where to go next. This was a far cry from the original Pokemon Red & Blue generation-1 games, which gave far fewer explanations and kind of left a lot of things ambiguous. But now, Black & White are touted as being one of the gold standards of Pokemon, and its descendants inferior for their perceived lack of strong and focused storytelling. Red & Blue, in turn, are seen as cumbersome relics that don’t do enough to guide players. It comes down to a generational divide, but even within the specific realm of Pokemon—hardly what you’d call a premiere example of open-world gameplay—this debate about the two Dungeons & Dragons lineages takes place.

I feel that the success of expansive open-world RPGs on an individual level comes down to whether or not the inevitably less defined bits of narrative that are a consequence of heavy personal customization and gameplay systems that encourage defining “your” story as opposed to following someone else’s. Both it and the JRPG style are capable of capturing people’s imaginations, but it’s what we want to do with our captive imaginations that highlights our differences.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Beyond “Friendship, Hard Work, and Victory”: The Promised Neverland

The Promised Neverland recently concluded in Weekly Shounen Jump, and it caps off a four-year run as perhaps my favorite dedicated shounen manga of the last twenty years. It both elevates and challenges the foundational Jump motto of “Friendship, Hard Work, and Victory” by pushing far past simple power fantasies and the thrill of adventure. It dives deep into the territory of political thought as it tells an intriguing story about kids trying to both survive and make a difference in their world.

This is not the first time I’ve praised The Promised Neverland. I’ve previously written about the significance of its main heroine, Emma, and the fact that the series criticizes the entrenched systems of injustice that stay in power by pitting people against one another. Now that the series has crossed the finish line, I feel that my positive opinions of the manga have been more than justified. The Promised Neverland is a series that dares to say something about the world, utilizing its world and its characters to challenge readers to imagine a better world.

The Promised Neverland places a female protagonist front and center, gives her the agency to make changes, and emphasizes the idea that we don’t have to perceive the world as some zero-sum game of absolute winners and losers—a world where the first thing we ask is how we can save as many people as we can, and not how many people we need to sacrifice to achieve a goal. Here and now in the year 2020—between COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, democratic protests in Hong Kong, and countless other human rights and safety issues—these are messages we need. 

An opinion I keep seeing online is that The Promised Neverland was at its best in the first arc, when it was about orphans trying to outsmart their sinister and powerful mother figure in order to escape. And certainly, there was a kind of thrill to the “high stakes battle of wits” that defines the  early manga. However, I am so glad that The Promised Neverland evolved past that point. It would have been all too easy for this manga to simply be about the nerve-racking excitement, but it became a genuine piece of thought-provoking science fiction—the kind that encourages readers to imagine a different world, one that looks at concepts of utopia and dystopia, and asks how one could turn into the other and vice versa. 

There is another Shounen Jump series that I feel hits with a similar weight, though it’s a far different series in a lot of ways: Barefoot Gen, the story of two siblings who live through the bombing of Hiroshima and the pain of post–World War II Japan. No, The Promised Neverland is not couched in the trauma of directly experiencing a nuclear explosion, and its pain is abstracted through its fantastical setting, but it still looks deep into who we are as a collective people called humanity, and challenges us all to be better. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons as Rorschach Test

Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived just in time to explode in popularity. With so many people staying home due to COVID-19 and in need of some respite, the series’s laid-back atmosphere might just be what the doctor ordered. I know because more than a few of my friends and loved ones have been playing it, some long-time veterans of the franchise and others absolute newbies. After a while, seeing the people I know derive such enjoyment out of it, I had to see firsthand what the fuss was all about.

I wouldn’t quite call Animal Crossing: New Horizons a personality test, but I find that it does reflect something of what’s going on in each of us. There are goals you can progress towards, and there are achievements that can net you bonuses, but the game is largely without any demands. You could do everything or you could just do the bare minimum. You gradually shape your space according to however you feel, with some harmless elements of luck and the mellow atmosphere preventing it from being something like a SimCity. Seeing my island slowly come together and comparing it with others’, I can see how we express ourselves through the game’s quirks.

Animal Crossing is clearly not for everyone, and I can think of two categories of players who might regret getting the game. The first is anyone who needs there to be a distinction between winners and losers. While there are areas in which you can potentially compete—fishing events, the size of your collection, how much money you have, etc;—they’re largely arbitrary and there’s no judge keeping score. You really have to go out of your way to make it about competition, because there’s nothing that inherently says one person’s stuff is better than another’s.

The second category is anyone who would feel anxiety over accomplishing all the million little tasks and activities the game offers. It’s possible that, rather than being a calming, almost meditative experience, Animal Crossing: New Horizons becomes a source of stress. If you feel bad about ignoring things you could be doing, and you feel like you avoided guilt rather than achieved satisfaction by accomplishing them, then playing this might be a bad idea.

As for me, I’m trying to make my island into an incongruous mix of relaxing good times and abstract horrors. Either way, my villagers look like they’re having a good time.

Beastars and the Fight Against Behavioral Absolutism

Exploring the tension of anthropomorphic animal society from the perspective of high school students, Itagaki Paru’s Beastars can at times feel like it’s encouraging a very dangerous view of the world. In a world where carnivores and herbivores co-exist peacefully and eating your fellow animal is illegal, the constant pressure faced by the timid wolf protagonist, Legoshi, for not embracing his violent, meat-eating ancestral nature seems to bleed into sexist alpha/beta nonsense territory. Yet, by the end of a first anime season filled with tumultuous and shocking developments, the message I took away was something far different and more nuanced than a simple animalistic nature vs. civilization dichotomy.

Warning: Beastars spoilers ahead

Legoshi is portrayed as shunning the spotlight. Although he’s in the drama club, Legoshi works as a meek behind-the-scenes stagehand, leaving the attention to others such as the club’s star actor, Louis the red deer. But what Louis notices is that Legoshi is clearly stronger and potentially more intimidating than he lets on. As a gray wolf, he possesses might that no herbivore can hope to match, and it incenses Louis that Legoshi can be such a pushover. When Louis gets hurt and a shuffling of roles causes Legoshi to appear in a play, a tiger clubmate named Bill tries to bring out Legoshi’s dormant ferocity.

However, Legoshi is afraid of his own carnivorous side. Not only was his good friend, Tem the alpaca, eaten by a carnivore, but Legoshi himself comes dangerously close to succumbing to his lupine instincts and devouring a female dwarf bunny named Haru—a girl he later develops strong feelings for. Legoshi does not want to be that kind of animal, which is why he looks up to Louis, who accomplishes things through grace and diplomacy. Even so, there’s no denying that Legoshi would be incredibly powerful if only he let himself be. 

Part of what holds Legoshi back is a society that discourages carnivores from exerting dominance through force. Meals for them are made with high protein content, e.g. eggs, as a way to sate hunger, but the appeal of real flesh can be overwhelmingly difficult to endure. Throughout the series, Legoshi struggles to fight that desire for meat, which then blends in odd ways with his love/lust for Haru, further complicating things in his heart.

Towards the end of the series, Haru gets kidnapped by an organized crime group—a cadre of lions called the Shishigumi—with the intent to eat her. Having discovered previously that Louis is seeing Haru (though what Legoshi doesn’t know is that Haru is extremely promiscuous as a way for her to have some control over her life), Legoshi tries to bring Louis along. However, Louis declines, having already learned about the kidnapping and being told that he must stay quiet if he is to accomplish his goal of rising to the top of society and being able to effect widespread change. Legoshi storms the Shishigumi base without the red deer, and by fully tapping into his violent side, is able to rescue Haru. 

At first, the lesson seems to be that Legoshi finally set aside his false persona of timidity for what was truly inside, but what happens afterwards communicates what I found to be the most important takeaway from Beastars: when it comes to instinct vs. reason, there is no universal answer.

Having saved Haru, Legoshi and her end up at a love hotel prepared to take their relationship to a physical level. Legoshi confesses that he was the one who tried to eat her, and Haru says she always suspected it was him but was still drawn towards Legoshi. However, just as they are on the verge of consummating their relationship, Legoshi’s mouth moves uncontrollably as if he’s going to eat her, and Haru’s body moves, as if on its own, to be eaten by him. Built into their genetics is a relationship of predator and prey, and sex between them isn’t “supposed” to happen. Even so, they’re genuinely in love with each other and they want to make it work, which means denying what their DNA is screaming at them to do. If Legoshi wants his heart’s desire, reason must prevail over instinct.

The underlying message I take away from Beastars is that the question of whether to follow or rebel against one’s animalistic nature is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are times when it can be of great benefit, but other times when it can be a mistake or lead to disastrous outcomes. Moreover, whether or not doing so is a right choice will vary from individual to individual. Legoshi is not Louis. Legoshi is not Haru. They can naturally accomplish things he cannot and vice versa, but they’re also all capable of going out of their inherent comfort zones to do even more. It is the moderation of both reason and instinct relative to each other that allows us to flourish.

A Villain’s Redemption: Pokemon Masters Finally Hits an Interesting Story

Pokémon Masters continues to be a curious mobile game. It never had the ultra-mainstream appeal of its cousin Pokémon Go, and its focus on established human characters over the marketable critters themselves basically implies that the game’s target audience are already loyal Pokémon fans. Up until recently, that fanservice didn’t go much beyond seeing your favorite gym leaders and heroes interact with one another more extensively, but the Ho-oh event from last month takes it a step further by redeeming one of Pokémon’s antagonists.

The story involves Ethan and Silver, protagonist and rival of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal, looking for the legendary Pokemon Ho-oh. At this point, Ethan and Silver are no longer enemies but loosely working together. Ho-oh is said to appear to humans who are pure of heart, which Silver believes disqualifies him from becoming its partner. After all, his history is one of doing terrible things to his Pokemon, being cruel and nasty to other people, and being the son of Team Rocket boss Giovanni. However, Lance appears and explains that he has seen genuine change in Silver—a transformation clearly reflected in SIlver’s bond with his Sneasel. Ultimately, Silver proves himself worthy by choosing to save his allies instead of trying to catch Ho-oh, and the legendary Pokemon rewards him by joining his side.

There’s something about mobile games in general where I can’t really get into their narratives because of how they’re locked behind tedious gameplay requirements. Pokémon Masters is no exception in terms of feeling a bit like a chore, but I think the payoff was rewarding because of how nice Silver’s story ends up being. The original Gold, Silver, and Crystal games (as well as the Heart Gold and Soul Silver remakes) do show that Silver has started to turn a new leaf, but the result was left somewhat ambiguous. What Pokemon Masters does, though its canonicity is unclear, is to give Silver a satisfying conclusion to his journey from villain to well-meaning rival. It’s the first time that Pokémon Masters has presented a story with actual stakes, and it works to really humanize Silver. This has resulted in what I consider the peak of the mobile game currently, and one of the highlights of Pokémon as a whole.

Learning About the Butterflies and the Bees: Saotome-senshu, Hikatakusu

The first thing one notices when looking at the cover of a volume of Saotome-senshu, Hitakakusu (Saotome Covers Up) is the main heroine and her abs. Who is this muscular girl? How did she get that impressive six-pack? What’s her deal? The answer: she’s the heroine of a beautiful manga that’s a little romance, a little sports, and a whole lot of stupid in the best possible way. More than that, its central boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is portrayed so wonderfully and positively that I would present it as a shining example of a love that feels healthy and genuine.

Saotome Yae is her high school boxing club’s ace, blessed with strength, agility, and a preternaturally good knack for fighting. But the first chapter opens up with a low point, as the boy she likes, Tsukishima Satoru, rejects her confession. The reason: he’s also in the boxing club, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize her next crucial match. However, the romantic feelings are clearly mutual, and by the end of the chapter, Tsukishima has become Saotome’s coach—a setup that not only hides their going out against school rules, but also allows Tsukishima’s endless passion for boxing to benefit Saotome as well.

Saotome and Tsukishima are the definition of adorkable. They will try to hold hands, but their unfamiliarity with doing boyfriend-girlfriend things makes it look closer to a test of strength. At another point, Tsukishima declares that they’ll succeed through the power of love, only to realize that he’s talking to Saotome’s little brother, who proceeds to forever call him “Power-of-Love Man.” This is one of those series where everyone is kind of an idiot on some level, and it results in a wonderfully silly and sweet series that isn’t afraid to go for a heartfelt scene one moment and immediately transition to a gut-busting gag the next. The humor is somehow both subdued and absurd, and I can’t really think of many similar works. It somewhat approaches the stylings of Shibata Yokusaru’s 81 Diver, but isn’t quite as extreme and over-the-top.

Virtually every character, from the main couple to the wide array of side characters, are hilarious and memorable—even Saotome’s random clubmates. Above is a scene where one of their clubmates tries to get some alone time with Wakano, a college-aged boxer and childhood friend of Tsukishima’s, by incapacitating his own friend with a punch to the stomach. …Except, they’re all boxers and can take a hit, so his friend just gets up anyway. This whole thing ends with Wakano showing how to really deliver a body blow, leaving the clubmate doubled over but also a little happy.

Of the supporting cast, my favorites are Satsukawa Mizuki, a rival of Saotome’s who transitioned from karate to boxing with the most terrible sense of direction, and Konno Mito, the boxing manager who basically teases anyone and everyone. In those rare instances where the two are together, it’s even better.

But what I think really anchors this series and will make it endure is the depiction of Saotome and Tsukishima’s excellent relationship. On the surface, the two look like a somewhat mismatched couple that seems to thrive on reversing gender roles. Saotome is big and tough, and knows how to achieve victory after victory. Tsukishima is small and weaker, and has yet to win a single match in his boxing career. However, you can see that the two think the world of each other, and both inspire each other to greater heights. Saotome does not see Tsukishima as a “loser” who’s capable of less, but rather as a guy full of love for boxing, and who is making progress on his own terms through his own power. Tsukishima, for his part, is 100% supportive—not jealous—of Saotome’s greater success. He’s a challenge to toxic masculinity and the fear of emasculation: he’s shorter and less skilled in his own chosen sport than his own girlfriend, but absolutely no one thinks less of him, especially himself.

One unfortunate thing about Saotome-senshu, Hitakakusu is its timing. Saotome’s boxing path is about aiming for the  2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the series even ends with a flashforward to them. Before, it would have been possible to imagine the characters actually being there for the real deal, but COVID-19 has turned the 2020 Olympics into the 2021 Olympics, forever dating the series as a pre-coronavirus title. However, while that dates the manga, this doesn’t really detract from its overall excellence, and I hope as many people as possible end up reading it.

The Panda from Beastars Is Basically Black Jack

The manga and anime Beastars by Itagaki Paru features an eclectic menagerie of personalities, but one that caught my attention is the panda character Gohin. The reason: the character is likely an elaborate reference to the classic Tezuka Osamu manga character Black Jack.

Gohin, like Black Jack, works as an unlicensed doctor, being called upon by those who cannot (for whatever reason) request more legitimate professional help. Both have a moral code, but it lies outside the normal boundaries of society. Even Gohin being a panda has hints of the Tezuka character: Black Jack’s skin on his face has two shades—the darker skin comes from a skin graft he received from his half-African best friend. 

What seals the deal on Gohin being the Beastars Black Jack is that he’s voiced by Ohtsuka Akio, who has been the voice of Black Jack in numerous anime adaptations since the 1990s.

Basically, I can’t wait to see Gohin operate on himself while fighting off some dingos—albeit ones who walk on two legs and talk.

Break the Unbreakable, Fight the Power: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for June 2020

This blog is a reflection of myself, and my thoughts and feelings on anime and manga both for their own sakes and within the greater context of the world we share. So much has happened within this past week, let alone this past month, that I’m feeling overwhelmed. Between COVID-19 and the protests that have emerged in the United States, Japan, and Hong Kong in response to institutional injustice, I hope that everyone can stay safe as we fight for fundamental changes to transform the world into a place where power and authority are not used as tools of oppression.

Thank you to my Patreon sponsors this month. I appreciate your support, not just those listed below, but everyone who thinks Ogiue Maniax is worth something even in these times.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from May:

The House in Fata Morgana and Full House: The Inherent Limits of “Pure” Translations

Translation accuracy and localization have been recurring fandom topics lately. I thought I’d give my perspective on it.

The White Fear of Mediocrity

A thought about Steely Dan in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure turns into an exploration of whiteness in America and its ties to the suburbs that dot the country.

Wishing for Hope, Reaching to Help

The recent deaths and suicides of so many have me wishing that everyone stays safe mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 28 puts some focus on the castle-loving Shinji.

Patreon-Sponsored

My Favorite (?) Anime Computer Games

It is what it says, sort of?

Apartment 507

Thinking about nostalgic sequels and their use of time.

Closing

Whether you choose to stay indoors or go out there to fight for justice, please stay safe. I will try to provide things worth reading, whether you want to engage more with the world around us or to stay within the realm of art. Just remember that the border between the two sides are porous and prone to mingling.