The World Wide Web of Human Pain: SSSS.Gridman

If you were to ask me what my favorite Power Rangers-type show was as a child, it would undoubtedly be Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad. I distinctly recall running around the house yelling “SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI!!!!” mimicking both the theme song and the TV commercial jingle. So while I’ve never seen the original Gridman the Hyper Agent in Japanese that provided the source material, SSSS.Gridman was an instant must-watch—especially because it was being made by Studio Trigger (Little Witch AcademiaKill la Kill).

SSSS.Gridman is ostensibly about a boy named Yuuta who can merge with a computer entity called Gridman the Hyper Agent and use his abilities to fight off giant monsters attacking their city. However, it quickly feels more like a bizarre paranormal mystery that seems eager to deal out the truth piecemeal. Often times the show is seemingly less concerned with personal character development and more about pulling back the curtain. One of the biggest questions is how the monsters and even Gridman himself, who were previously confined to the computer realm, are manifesting in the real world.

The result of SSSS.Gridman‘s peculiar mixture of ingredients is that it can feel like a never-ending ocean of information to explore in both profound and frivolous ways. Somehow, it simultaneously presents itself as both a shallow case of “geek-info/reference overcharge” and an introspective look at the pain and suffering of human interaction.

The series is full of odd details that aren’t exactly vital but add to a certain meta-ness that can enhance enjoyment of SSSS.Gridman. Two side characters in the series actually come from a yuri short story by the series director. Most if not all of the characters in the anime are based on a Botcon convention-exclusive mirror-universe series called Transformers: Shattered Glass. it’s a strangely elaborate reference to make, almost purely for enjoyment’s sake (and to get the Transformers fans jumping out of their seats), or perhaps as a wink and nod to the fact that the company Takara had a hand in both Transformers and Dengeki Choujin Gridman. Even the title, SSSS.Gridman seems to be willing to play into its own American adaptation. After all, how else would a fan of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad interpret the series?

But then the anime also makes references so as to hint at the true natures of its characters, or to foreshadow what’s to come. It’s really deep-cut stuff that generally involves using monsters and motifs of past tokusatsu works (especially from Tsubaraya Productions, the studio behind Ultraman and Gridman), and far beyond my knowledge or experience to have picked up without outside reference (thanks to Mike Dent!) However, it’s not as if one needs to get every in-joke or obscure callback to understand SSSS.Gridman and where it’s going. The series is another showcase of one of Studio Trigger’s great strengths: the ability to put in all of that under-the-surface content for hardcore fans without alienating newcomers. The references aren’t a barrier to entry so much as a reward for the faithful, and it’s as much a sign of love as the very movements of the monsters themselves, who despite being animated in 3DCG are made to behave like people in rubber suits as a way of replicating the live-action feel of the original Gridman.

Right to the end, SSSS.Gridman seems to change and shift, and it can be difficult (though not impossible) to predict where it’s truly headed. Watching the series unfold is a quiet yet boisterous joy that captures simultaneously the anxieties and wonders of both childhood and adulthood.

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What Does Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” REALLY Mean?

Japanese tidying and organizing guru Marie Kondo (aka Konmari) has a new Netflix show out where she helps people around the United States unclutter their spaces and, potentially, their lives. Predictably, the series has generated mixed opinions, as those who love having “stuff” are resistant to the notion that throwing things out could lead to happiness. One particular point of contention comes from Konmari’s core idea that we should only keep things that “spark joy.” This has been especially controversial among book lovers, as the notion that one should only keep books that “spark joy” is viewed as antithetical to the purpose of books.

This actually isn’t the first time this backlash has occurred. Back when Kondo’s book first came out in English, it was received with similar skepticism.

However, is sparking joy—that is to say, “create a feeling of comfort and placidity—really what Konmari is trying to say? What I’ve found is that the phrase “spark joy” is a somewhat narrow translation of the original Japanese. Instead, in the original language, Konmari uses the terms tokimeki and tokimeku (the meanings of which I’ll explain below), and knowing this can potentially change how one views her Konmari Method.

(Note that this is not meant to be a scathing criticism of the book’s English translation so much as it is a lesson in the difficulties of translation and localization that are inherent to the whole process).

Tokimeki in Japanese means “throbbing” or “palpitation,” but is probably better translated as “heart-pounding excitement.” If you follow Japanese anime, manga, and video games, you might see the term pop up quite often: Tokimeki Memorial, Tokimeki Tonight, etc. Tokimeku is a verb form of this—”to induce heart-pounding excitement.” While that overlaps somewhat with “sparking joy,” the two can carry very different meanings, and tokimeki doesn’t necessarily hinge on a sense of bliss or unabashed happiness that the word “joy” can imply. Things, including books, can disturb and perturb and still create excitement.

In fact, the Japanese title of her first book (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in English) translates literally to Life’s Heart-Pounding Cleaning Magic. In other words, tokimeki is a part of the title itself.

Personally speaking, I can’t go all in on the Konmari Method, as I love collecting things, on top of also believing in having a strong library for both reference purposes and personal satisfaction. However, when it comes to books in particular, I’ve recently thought over how I view books and their importance. The purpose of a book is to be read, and whenever I finish a book, I find myself wondering, “Is this book better off on my shelf within arm’s reach, or being out there in the world for someone else to find?” There’s never a consistent answer, but I find it’s an important question to ask myself. Those who think letting go of their books is an inherent problem might consider how books that don’t excite them might find a home with someone else.

Dreams Before Harems: Why I Like “We Never Learn”

We Never Learn is a popular harem manga currently running in Weekly Shonen Jump, and one I actually like a good deal. With the anime debuting next season, I’ve been thinking about why I’m fond of this particular series over other similar works, and I realized something. While We Never Learn is indeed a harem series, and thus shipping is ostensibly an important factor for enjoying the series, I find that I don’t actually care about pairings at all, and this makes the series better for me.

Because the anime is coming out this season, I’m going to make this post as spoiler-free as possible. Actually, I don’t even think I need spoilers to explain my point, so it works out.

The basic plot of We Never Learn has high school boy Yuiga Nariyuki tasked with tutoring two of the smartest girls in school. However, while Furuhashi Fumino is a genius of literature and the arts, and Ogata Rizu is a math and science wizard, their respective dreams are to go to college in their worst subjects instead. Along the way, other girls join the cast, and the close calls with Nariyuki never stop, in typical harem fashion.

One thing clear from the start is that each character has their own goals they want to reach. Sparks fly and fanservice abounds, but their attractiveness doesn’t define who they are as people. Moreover, they’re all supportive of one another, and this makes it a refreshing experience.

Nariyuki could end up with anyone, or no one. Any of the girls could end up with each other. Perhaps they might all marry random, unrelated characters. To me, none of it truly matters, because I want all of them to succeed in ways beyond relationship success. While the girls and their cuteness is a major part of We Never Learn, you want to see these girls achieve their dreams as they try to overcome genius with hard work in a Rock Lee-esque way. The fact that the geniuses they’re to beat are themselves makes it all the greater.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Potential Positives of Project Wendy

One of the strangest trends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit YouTube recently, as countless creators began putting out videos centered around Wendy O. Koopa—a character who, in a sense, isn’t one. She’s an alternate costume for the playable Bowser Jr., so the fact that this one skin was singled out above all others reeked of conspiracy. Indeed, it looks like this was all a combined effort by all of these YouTubers to highlight one of the least popular characters in Smash Bros.

In a sense, this is the very definition of a forced meme, though fans seem to be rolling with it. However, there’s another potential consequence outside of fun, stupid jokes involving a fast food restaurant or a Samoan pro wrestler (see above): giving a spotlight to an otherwise neglected character. Bowser Jr. (and his seven Koopaling skins) is one of the least talked-up and least talked-about characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate. In tier list after tier list, Bowser Jr. is placed firmly in low tier. It’s certainly possible that he’s one of the worse characters in the game, but the Ultimate meta is still young (barely a month old), and opinions can changes. What can turn opinions around, then, is research and exposure.

There’s a “million monkeys on a million typewriters” effect to a certain extent. If Project Wendy inspires scores of players, even mostly lower-level ones, to pick up Wendy, Bowser Jr., or any of their alts, then the sheer increase in quantity can push that character further along than any sort of on-paper theory-crafting. That’s the funny thing about competitive gaming: often times, how deep and complex your game is ends up being less important to competition than the player population and their eagerness to push ahead. Regardless of motivation, whether someone truly adores Wendy, or whether they’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon, this is a chance for Wendy and her fellow Koopa Clown Car warriors to get some attention. Characters die when their communities get stagnant, and pushing a meme is one…unique…way to try and avoid that.

I might be a bit idealistic in terms of the long-term effects of Project Wendy, but who knows? The next great Wendy/Bowser Jr. player might emerge out of this crazy effort. Imagine…

Help Me! Why is “S&M” Lingo So Common in Anime and Manga?

Out of the many tropes and trends to come out of anime and manga, there’s one I find especially curious: the casual use of “sadist” and “masochist” to describe characters. It’d be more understandable if it was limited to more sexually charged series, or to describe villains as “sadistic bastards,” but it occurs in just about everything—romances, kids’ shows, sports/competition series, and so-on. You see the letters “S” and “M” thrown around by characters as if it’s the most normal thing to say in a conversation.

In series like Prison School, “S&M” is used conventionally to refer to kinks and fetishes. In other cases, like Chihayafuru, the phrase is more removed from an explicitly sexual context, and could potentially be seen as simply referring to a non-sexual pleasure derived from inflicting or receiving pain. Or perhaps that layer of sexual tension and mild eroticism that permeates many anime and manga also trickle down into the ones that aren’t like that. The same could perhaps be extended to phrases like “siscon,” though many recent anime have gone out of their way to make that particular phrase anything but innocent.

I’m not against this trend of using “S&M” terminology, or at least find no need to take umbrage with it, but it really makes me wonder where the heck it all comes from. Is it a few famous titles? Could it be from some visual novels that got big among otaku? Or maybe it’s from something more mainstream, like classic Japanese literature. Yet, try as I might, any attempts at cursory research turn up fruitless. I get the feeling that there’s no straightforward answer, and that it might be bits and pieces of both Japanese domestic and foreign imported culture mixed together into a complex stew.

If anyone has any expertise on this matter, or knows any potential resources that could point me in the right direction, I’d love to know. This is one mystery that I really want to solve.

 

Early Thoughts on Competitive Changes for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing a ton of Smash Bros. Ultimate, and throughout this time I’ve been mulling the multiplayer changes they’ve made. I have not played the game online, which I know has been a source of frustration and controversy for many, so I’m not going to go into that aspect of the game.

The game feels very well balanced, though that is naturally subject to change as patches come out and players get better. It’s not perfect, and I wouldn’t expect a game with 70+ characters to ever be 100% balanced, but Ultimate is in a good place for the time being. There are a number of factors that contribute to this feeling, but the overarching philosophy I sense from the game is based on three factors: 1) rounding out characters’ tool kits so no one option is too weak and no one option is too strong 2) providing universal mechanics that benefit all 3) making characters’ strengths on paper actual strengths.

Rounding Out Movesets

In Smash Bros. for Wii U (aka Smash 4), many characters ended up having a few extremely effective attacks that would render entire other parts of their movesets nearly obsolete. Think about Donkey Kong’s cargo up throw into up air (aka the Ding Dong) or Meta Knight’s dash attack/dash grab into up air strings. The game often focused on each character’s few powerful options, and it made you wonder why certain attacks even existed. In Ultimate, however, it feels like the craziest and most overwhelming attacks have been shaved down a bit while the neglected moves were given some love.

Take Mewtwo, for instance. In Smash 4, Mewtwo’s down tilt was one of the best moves in the game, period. It had long range, it was very fast for how much ground it covered, and it started combos and juggles with the greatest of ease. In contrast, Mewtwo’s forward tilt didn’t see much use. Almost anything forward tilt did, down tilt did better, except for maybe hitting opponents who are jumping.

In Ultimate, down tilt is still fast and with excellent range, but you can only reliably combo off of it if you hit with the base of Mewtwo’s tail, which means having to be closer to the opponent and thus being in a riskier position. The move is good, but it’s no longer a cure-all. Forward tilt, in turn, now has utility that down tilt doesn’t—namely better knockback, more kill power, and slightly more range. So players have reasons to use both. You might want to down tilt, but if the opponent’s at max range, forward tilt could be better for knocking them farther off the stage.

You’ll see this across multiple characters’ movesets. Players will need to master their characters’ entire set of moves to do well.

Equalizing Key Universal Mechanics

One of the biggest jokes of Smash 4 was that Jigglypuff, a character who specializes in aerial combat, took a much longer time to actually get off the ground than most other characters. Actually, the biggest joke was that Jigglypuff never got a single buff across the game’s many patches, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole.

In every Smash game, characters take a bit of time to leave the ground after a player hits jump: this is called a “jump squat.” In Smash 4, the fastest jump squats were 4 frames (1/15 of a second), the slowest (Bowser) was 8 frames (2/15 of a second), and Jigglypuff was in the middle at 6 frames (1/10 of a second). If you’re confused by all the numbers, just think about it like this: because characters like Jigglypuff and Bowser took longer to actually jump, it meant that they would fail to land attacks that other characters could get away with.

In Ultimate, every character has the same jump squat: 3 frames, or 1/20 of a second. This means that big, lumbering characters can’t just get trapped on the ground and be forced to eat hits because they’re busy trying to jump. This means Jigglypuff can take to the skies much more easily. Most importantly, it proportionally buffs characters who used to have bad jump squats much more than those who already had them. Going from 4 frames to 3 frames is a 25% improvement. Going from 8 frames to 4 frames is a 50% improvement.

Creating True Strengths

Big characters have for the most part been disadvantaged in the Smash games. Bad jump squats, as mentioned above, are one factor, but the supposed weight advantage that would let such characters survive longer compared to their lighter adversaries never actually panned out in practice. Instead, these super heavyweights often ended up as huge punching bags unable to properly deal with the speedy attacks of their foes.

Another supposed advantage that failed to live up to its potential is the tether grab. Instead of using hands, tether grabs utilized ranged weapons to grab from a distance—think Link’s hookshot or Samus’s grappling beam. The trade-off, on paper, is that these tether grabs are slower to make up for their longer range, but almost without fail they were simply worse than having regular, close-range grabs. Players could learn to use tether grabs effectively, but that was more about them making up for their characters’ flaws through intelligence and cunning.

Both the super heavyweight archetype and the tether grab have new purpose in Ultimate, and it has largely to do with making sure these aspects actually matter. Big characters are heavier than ever and hit harder than ever, and it makes a significant difference in terms of how long they survive. Now, a King Dedede or a Ganondorf can reliably live long enough to become scary, especially when factoring in the “rage” mechanic that allows characters to hit opponents harder when they themselves have taken more damage. Grabs are generally worse in Ultimate compared to Smash 4, as characters have shorter range and take longer to recover from missed grabs, but the big exception is that tether grabs have been improved all around. Even if they stayed the same as they were in Smash 4, the gap between non-tethers and tethers would have been closer, but a lot of those tethers have either improved startup time, improved recovery, or both.

The biggest winner here is actually Pac-Man, whose ranged grab in Smash 4 was literally the worst grab in Smash history due to its wonky collision detection and its poor overall speed.

To a Better Game!

I thought Smash 4 was a really good game, even in the last couple of years as Cloud and Bayonetta began their rise and their stuffing of the lower tiers. History could repeat itself, but based on the changes mentioned, I think there’s a strong chance they’ve learned from their mistakes. Balancing a competitive game is a tremendously difficult endeavor, but I think the Smash Bros. Ultimate development team is up to the task.

Mystic Eyes: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2019

2019! It’s time to look back briefly at all the resolutions I failed to keep (like getting literate in Dutch), and then ignore them to keep myself looking ahead. When it comes to Ogiue Maniax, I don’t recall making any blog-specific resolutions, but maybe I should…

As we go into the new year, I’d like to express my gratitude towards my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

A special shout-out to Johnny Trovato, who actually went as far as to send me a holiday card. Thank you!

My favorite posts from December:

The Dynamics of Hugtto! Precure’s Gay Couple

Hugtto! Precure has a lot of strengths, and its semi-under-the-radar same-sex couple says a lot about the show.

Gattai Girls 9: “Mobile Police Patlabor” OVA 1 and Izumi Noa [Anime Secret Santa]

For the second year in a row, it’s a dual-purpose Gattai Girls + Secret Santa review! Incidentally, my very first Anime Secret Santa was actually the first Patlabor movie.

Best Anime Characters of 2018

My picks for the best characters of the year. Who were your faves?

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 11 focuses on the girls we’ve seen, and it’s one of my favorite chapters yet.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu Friends! Knows How to Celebrate Christmas

I hope Aikatsu! never loses what makes it so fun.

Closing

So for New Years’ Resolutions, I think I’ll challenge myself. Hopefully I’ll remember to check back on this in January 2020.

1) Have more overall visitors to the blog compared to 2018.

2) Be more topical, though without trying to chase the latest popular trend. Try to maintain that balance where I’m still writing for myself, but I give my take on the things anime fans care about.

3) Increase my overall Patreon sponsors by the end of the year, even by one!

To quote a great president, “We must move forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”