Pokémon Journeys, the Original Mewtwo, and Playing with Canon

In a surprising move, the current Pokémon TV anime (called Pokémon Journeys in English and simply Pocket Monsters in Japanese) recently brought back the original super legendary, Mewtwo. And not just any Mewtwo, but the one who debuted over 20 years ago as the Viridian City Gym’s trump card. Mewtwo is my favorite character in all the anime, so there’s a personal thrill to seeing its return, but there’s added significance as well: the continued acknowledgement of the canonicity of events in and connected to the first film, Mewtwo Strikes Back, and an emphasis that what has happened over the anime’s long history still matters.

The Pokémon anime tends to play a little fast and loose with its canon, resulting in strange discrepancies, especially when it comes to the divide between the films and the weekly series. Aside from Mewtwo Strikes Back, whose plot ties directly into the TV anime, it’s always unclear—likely intentionally so—whether the events of the other movies actually “happened.” This isn’t unusual when it comes to films based on popular anime—nearly all the Dragon Ball Z movies are non-canon, and the popular movie-only character Broly had to be reintroduced into that universe in a canonical entry, Dragon Ball Super: Broly

In the world of Pokémon, this has meant that, despite the fact that certain legendary Pokémon are meant to be the only one of their kind, Satoshi (Ash Ketchum) has encountered multiple versions. After he helped a telepathic Lugia save the world in Revelation-Lugia, he would later encounter a different one that could not communicate psychically and, in fact, was trying to raise a child (Lugia is not supposed to be able to breed). Even Mewtwo, whose whole story is that it is a one-of-a-kind artificial creation made to be unmatched in combat, would see a second distinct version show up in the 16th movie.

In the recent episode, there is no mistaking that the Mewtwo seen is the original. When it first appears, Mewtwo slowly descends as ominous background music from Mewtwo Strikes Back and the Mewtwo Lives TV special can be heard. When Mewtwo speaks, its gruff yet soulful masculine voice is that of the original actor, Ichimura Masachika, as opposed to the feminine voice of the 16th movie Mewtwo’s Takashima Reiko. And when Satoshi and Goh lay eyes on Mewtwo, their reactions couldn’t be more different: whereas Goh is shocked by seeing something unfamiliar, Satoshi and Pikachu immediately recognize the Genetic Pokémon and even say its name. 

However, it’s not as if Mewtwo and Satoshi start to recall their two encounters. Mewtwo doesn’t even say anything about already knowing Satoshi, and Satoshi doesn’t bring anything up beyond that initial recognition. While this might be frustrating to fans who’d like to see a more concrete nod to Mewtwo and Satoshi’s connection, I think the current anime is trying hard to balance a lot of different paradoxical elements that exist within Pokémon and Satoshi himself. He’s somehow both the veteran with years of experience under his belt and the plucky young amateur who has much to learn—perpetually 10 years old for over 20 years. Satoshi’s many adventures have happened (including at least one film), but he’s also still meant to be an audience-representative character for young viewers tuning into the anime for the first time, even as Goh fulfills a similar role (though his character is closer to a scholar or researcher). Furthermore, by having Satoshi not say much, it reinforces the idea that he hasn’t let his previous experiences get to his head. A similar moment happens in the second episode of the current series, where Lugia speaks to Satoshi (and only Satoshi) telepathically, hinting that this one might just very well be the one we see in the second movie.

Trying to fully reconcile the Pokémon anime canon would be a foolish endeavor because it’s only as consistent as it needs to be in any one moment. Satoshi is forever a challenger, even as he wins championships. But given what the anime is trying to be, a long-running series that wants to feel both familiar and new at the same time, it’s not a bad place to be. And seeing the original Ichimura-voiced Mewtwo n the year 2020 is a nostalgic and thrilling experience. Mewtwo’s appearance speaks to the idea that the past of Pokémon still matters even as we continue to move into the future. 

Let’s Make an Entire Show Out of Dance CG: D4DJ First Mix

It might be serendipity that the same season a rapping anime comes out (Hypnosis Mic), we also see an anime about DJing: D4DJ First Mix. My early impression is that it’s pretty run-of-the-mill series rife with standard tropes of anime: cute girls doing an Activity, a Yu-Gi-Oh!-esque setting where DJing is the be-all and end-all, a plucky newbie with lots of potential, and a path that’s probably gonna lead to some tournament or competition to be the best. That being said, I am highly receptive to those tropes, and the fact that I know next to nothing about the world of DJs and have been trying to improve my understanding of music makes me an ideal audience for D4DJ First Mix’s beginner-level expositions.

There’s a lot that’s head-scratchingly awkward about D4DJ First Mix—little oddities that collectively make the show at times feel like an alien wearing a human skin. The title of the show is actually short for Dig Delight Direct Drive DJ. The show is done entirely in CG, bringing to mind Love Live! and Aikatsu! performance sections. The main heroine, Aimoto Rinku, is a Japanese girl who recently came back from Africa, and at least from early episodes it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean for her character. At one point, she panics that the lunch she left out might get stolen by monkeys as a nod to her time abroad, but is her ability to intuitively sense the beat through her body supposed to be a result of her experience in Africa, or is it something more innate? The facial expressions remind me more of Virtual Youtubers or Comipo software models, like they’re aiming for a very conventional idea of anime aesthetic. This is doubly noticeable because of the sharp contrast between important and unimportant characters, the latter of which look like different versions of the “default” setting of a create-a-character mode.

When D4DJ First Mix does manage to overcome the quirks of its presentation, it actually does exude a real charm and charisma. The chemistry between the characters feels nice, and it feels earnest in actually teaching its audience about the world of DJing, and to grow a sense of appreciation for their hobby and passion. I can feel myself being pulled in, and I do wonder if some of what makes D4DJ First Mix feel strange is that it’s one of those multimedia projects (like Hypnosis Mic or Trinity Tempo) built around different character groups who are all supposed to garner their own loyal fanbases. If I stick with the show long enough, maybe I can find the team that’s right for me.

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

Blog Sounders XIII: Ogiue Maniax 13th Anniversary

Here we are, at lucky number 13. Toward the end of last year, I wrote a few posts about my feelings going into the new decade, unaware that the span from 2019 to 2020 would feel less like a year and more like a decade. As much as I would simply want this anniversary post to be about Ogiue Maniax proper, I can’t ignore that the world is in a strange and unusual place due to the effects of COVID-19 and the extremely uneven response to it around the world. The fact that we managed to deliver a defeat to the would-be dictator that we call the 45th President of the United States is at least some comfort, and I’m genuinely happy that I’m on the other side of the US election in a position of relative hope instead of soul-draining despair.

The pandemic has actually affected Ogiue Maniax in certain ways, and not just because I’m more readily willing to write about topics like it. For instance, in recent years, I’d been doing my writing during long train commutes to and from my day job. While not an ideal situation, I’d begun blogging on my smartphone as an efficient use of my time and as a way to decompress from the work day while also fulfilling my personal standard of at least two posts per week. If I didn’t feel like writing, I might read manga (whether paper or digital), listen to podcasts, play games, or any number of activities that could become the fodder for future blogging. But now, I have no commute to “fill up,” so I’ve had to adjust my habits again, accounting for this shift in routine as well as my personal mental and emotional status. Which is to say, I’m not traumatized to the point of inactivity (as any regular readers would notice), but I definitely can’t say I’m unaffected.

Even the travel I would have done—a combination of personal, professional, and blog-oriented excursions—have been kiboshed. Gone are the conventions like Otakon, Anime Expo, New York Comic Con, and Anime NYC. What would have been a trip to Japan next year is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future. I’m one of the many who picked up Animal Crossing as a way to connect to friends, and I’m sure that has influenced my media consumption in some ways as well. Ironically, I’ve worried in the past that I haven’t done enough individual reviews of anime and manga, and now I’m worried I might be doing too many. I used to think nothing could keep me from Otakon, but I did not expect a deadly virus to upend the world. Silly me.

One bright spot among all this is that Ogiue Maniax’s site views are actually trending upwards for the first time in about eight years. In recent times, I’ve been lamenting the declining popularity of anime blogging at the same time I have been reluctant to move from the format, out of some combination of stubbornness and comfort. However, when I looked at my site stats recently, I noticed that almost every month in 2020 has been better than the last in terms of exposure; curiously, it seems to have begun in March and April. So while I have no concrete evidence at hand, I have begun to wonder if the pandemic has been a significant influence on my readership. Could it be that with so many people at home now, they’re willing to read my blogging? I appreciate the increased hits, but I would trade them for a world not in the grip of a plague.

I really, really, really hope next year’s blog anniversary sees us all in a better place.

Gold Lightan Is Bananas

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard of the 1981 anime Golden Warrior Gold Lightan. I think it might have been one of those English-language anime magazines, like Animerica or Newtype USA, where a writer imagined the bizarre board meeting that would allow a sentient Zippo lighter to be the star of a children’s TV show like some tobacco ad gone horribly wrong. But it was during my study abroad in Japan that I had the opportunity to check out the series firsthand, thanks to my college’s extensive anime DVD library. Unwilling to devote my entire time in another country to just watching Gold Lightan of all things, I watched a smattering of episodes just to get an idea of the series a whole: the first few episodes, some from the middle point, and the very end.

Gold Lightan turned out to be far wilder than I had imagined, as it could easily swing from boring “monster of the week” fare to intense melodrama at the drop of a hat. Its backstory alone is ridiculous but played straight: the narrator explains how villains from the “mecha dimension” aim to conquer our third dimension, as if they go in order from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, to “mecha” in the most natural way. The titular robot transforms itself from palm-sized lighter to metallic titan by shouting “RAINBOW ROOOOAAAD!” and emerging from a massive wormhole after being sent through a prism. Despite being just a chunky yellow block with arms and legs, Gold Lightan animates surprisingly well in combat. Intense fight scenes end with a brutal finisher that would make Kano from Mortal Kombat proud—the “Gold Finger Crash” involves thrusting a hand into the enemy robot’s chest to pull its mechanical heart out. The anime concludes with a finale that looks closer to the trauma of a Tomino-directed Gundam.

Against all odds, Gold Lightan is currently licensed and streaming legally in the US thanks to HiDive under the name Golden Lightan. It’s already been almost a year since the announcement, and in this time, I’ve taken to re-visiting the series every so often with the hopes of doing what I hadn’t in Japan: watching the entire series. Now, fifteen years after I first laid eyes on this bizarre anime, I’ve come to the conclusion that Gold Lightan just has an absurd amount of effort put into it by everyone involved. It’s as if the studio behind the series, Tatsunoko Pro, saw the inherently weak premise as an opportunity to just flex on everyone with their animation chops.

But that’s what Tatsunoko has always been known for: a high level of detail when it comes to animating action. Its animators pioneered elaborate explosion effects and particle animations, and the studio as a whole as a history of sleek and stylized works ranging from Speed Racer to Gatchaman to KARAS and on. What’s bizarre to me is how moments of intensely beautiful animation can show up in Gold Lightan at seemingly innocuous moments. In one episode, one of the kid characters powers up his little go-kart for a ride, and just watching the engine roar to life and the exhaust pipes bellow and shift tells me that someone had to have dedicated themselves fully to getting this throwaway go-kart scene juuuust right. 

I think the modern equivalent of Gold Lightan’s attention to quality is when an anime about some free-to-play, wallet-draining mobile game turns out to be one of the big hits of the season. The difference is simply that times have changed, trends have shifted, and these mobile game anime are a mere 13 episodes instead of a whopping 52. I’d recommend Golden Warrior Gold Lightan to those who want to check out the more obscure side of giant robot anime, to those who want a show where effort overcomes a paper-thin concept, and (I’m not kidding) to sakuga fans who just revel in seeing things lovingly animated with skill and grace. It’s a ridiculous and wonderful time.

500 “Easy” Steps: Rivals of Aether

Rivals of Aether is a success story. Its creator, Dan Fornace, made a Gameboy-style Smash Bros. game called Super Smash Land back in 2011, before eventually turning his attention toward designing his own original platform fighter in 2014. Since then, Rivals of Aether has grown a loyal fanbase and an enduring competitive scene, and now has ended up on the Nintendo Switch—the current flagship console of the very game that inspired Fornace in the first place. This port has also been my opportunity to finally try Rivals firsthand.

The game is fun and oozes personality. Its premise—various animal-based fighters living in a world of strife between neighboring nations—is sparse yet elegant. Its characters, rendered in 2D sprites instead of 3D models, are memorable both in terms of visual design and animation. In this respect, it’s a lot more impressive than its genre cousin Brawlhalla, whose animations are pretty much universally recycled from one fighter to the next. Rivals of Aether has built up a compelling world that’s as simple or complex as it needs to be, and leaves room for more story characters should a sequel ever be made (like the behind-the-scenes antagonist, Emperor Loxodont).

But gameplay is the selling point of Rivals, and from that perspective, it very clearly uses tournament-level Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube as its foundation. It’s not just that it includes more forgiving forms of dash dancing and wavedashing, two staple skills of high-level Melee. Nor is it that the lack of shield and grab mechanics is meant to encourage more aggressive play akin to Melee. Rather, it also features a number of characters whose fighting styles are largely amalgamations or remixes of Melee characters. Absa, an electric goat, is like a mix of Pikachu, Ness, and Zelda between the thunder attacks and darting recovery, peculiar double jumps, and powerful sweetspot-centric lightning kicks. The main character, a lion named Zetterburn, is clearly cut from the same cloth as Fox and Falco, between his combo-starting Reflector-esque move, his quick projectile, and his trade-off between a strong onstage presence and a relatively weak but maneuverable recovery. It’s very telling that the flagship character is based on the most popular archetype (the “space animal”) in competitive Melee.

That said, there are a lot of innovative ideas among the fighters. Wrastor is a bird who is unable to perform “strong attacks” (the Rivals term for smash attacks) on the ground, but unlike the others can use them in the air. Sylvanos grows grass wherever he walks, enhancing his moves in different ways. If you’re looking for a complex and/or unorthodox character, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.

On the flip-side, however, one issue I’ve encountered is that there’s really no such thing as a “simple” character in Rivals. Absa is not only Pikachu+Ness+Zelda, but also summons clouds that stay on screen capable of chaining lightning, and if you kick the clouds with your special lightning kick, they explode. Forsburn can generate smokescreen that obscures his movement, but he can also inhale the smokescreen to increase his damage or ignite the smokescreen, in addition to creating an illusory doppelganger. Guest character Shovel Knight gains gems from hitting opponents, which he can then use at an item shop he summons to buy armor modifications, but also he can go fishing offstage to bring up objects as well. Even Zetterburn bucks the general trend of main characters being beginner-friendly: his own tutorial says he’s good for players already familiar with other platform fighters, but he’s patterned after two of the most physically challenging characters in Smash Bros. Melee. On top of that, Zetterburn has a “burn” mechanic, where opponents he sets on fire take extra damage from his attacks. 

It’s not that complex characters are bad—quite the opposite, in fact. They add great variety to fighting games and appeal to those looking for characters that require a lot of work to master. Even the Smash Bros. franchise just recently released the extremely involved Minecraft Steve character. But most of the time, fighting games try to at least appeal to players who don’t want too many bells and whistles. For every Steve in Smash, Venom in Guilty Gear, or even Akira in Virtua Fighter, there’s a Mario, Sol Badguy, or Lau Chan. The fact that Rivals of Aether doesn’t even bother to make this concession speaks volumes to its tournament Melee influence. Having watched some tournaments, I understand that there is great reward for those who dedicate the time and effort to really mastering their characters, but it does feel like there’s an intentionally high “skill mezzanine”—i.e. the minimum skill required to start to play a game at a decent level.

Rivals of Aether is solid in presentation and gameplay with a decent singleplayer and a robust multiplayer, but it’s laser-focused on drawing in a certain kind of player. If you love the general pace and feel of Smash Bros. Melee but want something that offers a meaningful difference, it’s a fine title. If not, Rivals is still pretty good.

A Collage of Perspectives: Dragon Hoops

Dragon Hoops by Chinese-American comics creator Gene Luen Yang is a 2020 Harvey Awards nominee for “Best Children or Young Adult Book.” A sort of hybrid biography/autobiography, it covers Yang’s own experience learning about the basketball team at the high school where he taught math, and the complexities of race intertwined within sports and culture.

When I first heard the title, I figured that the book would be something about Chinese basketball players. But while there is a Chinese exchange student on the basketball team, the main focus is on the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons basketball team as a whole, which is made up of a variety of ethnicities. The book spotlights a variety of figures: the coach who was a former player at O’Dowd, the two black star athletes who are hesitant to talk about the details of their upbringings, a Punjabi teammate who feels out of place at a Catholic high school, the aforementioned Chinese player who dreams of being able to play real American basketball, and more. Over and over again, Dragon Hoops emphasizes their uniqueness as individuals and the intricate ways that their respective experiences shape how they see both the world and the opportunities afforded by basketball. 

Dragon Hoops also provides multiple history lessons, including the invention of basketball, the rise of the sport in China, and even how black players became integrated into professional basketball. One thing I found out from this book is that there was once a false belief that black people did not have the quick wit or the athletic ability to succeed in basketball over white people. In contrast to today, where black people are sometimes likened to “gorillas” as a way to diminish their tremendous skills and talents, the ways that racism can mold and reshape itself to fit any changes highlights how insidious it really is.

An unusual aspect of this book is that part of the overall narrative is how Yang, as a person unfamiliar with basketball, learns about these students’ stories and the lessons he takes with him in his own career in comics. As a character in his own book, there’s a great deal of 4th wall breaking, and it does sometimes feel like Dragon Hoops might be getting a little too self-centered. However, I feel that it actually successfully conveys the authenticity of Yang’s position as an outside observer, and to take a more authoritative position would arguably have been more disingenuous. I connect strongly with Yang’s approach because I used to be someone who was bothered by not having deep and intimate knowledge of any subject I became interested in, but more recently realized that it’s simply okay to not be an expert in everything. In this respect, the book feels more like Yang letting the students tell their own stories through the comics pages, even as Yang himself admits to a bit of fictionalizing to get some points across.

While Dragon Hoops did not end up winning the Harvey Award, it was actually another title by Yang, Superman Smashes the Klan, that ended up winning. The two books may seem different on the surface—one is about that most iconic of superheroes, the other based about teenagers and their relationship with basketball—but both take an intimate look at American culture with respect to race and racism. But whereas Superman Smashes the Klan bases itself in the iconography of Superman, the biographical aspect of Dragon Hoops makes it feel even more relevant to the checkered past and present of the United States and its racism. Dragon Hoops provides a context of what it means to “succeed” in a world where basketball is oxymoronically both a respite and a direct engagement with American culture.

Koko Nuts: Here Is Greenwood OVAs

Here Is Greenwood is a title I’ve long heard of but pretty much knew nothing about, other than the vague sense that it was popular with girls. Based on the name and an image or two, I thought it might have been a fantasy series. 

Having finally watched the 1991 OVA, it turns out that Here Is Greenwood is actually a shoujo high school comedy about a bunch of weirdos in a dorm. My impression: there really aren’t many series like it in recent memory. The closest I can think of is Honey and Clover, but even that series doesn’t have quite the same level of quiet absurdity.

When I look at humor in anime over the past two decades, it usually goes in two directions: either mellow and low-key or balls-to-the-wall extreme. Those qualities manifest in different forms, whether it’s Hidamari Sketch or Pop Team Epic, but a work usually picks its lane and sticks to it. Here Is Greenwood, on the other hand, has a kind of slow-burn humor of a more down-to-earth anime, but its characters and situations are all over the place. Whether it’s a main character in love with his sister-in-law, the dude who looks like a lady, the Snidely Whiplash-esque plots of a rich upperclassman’s vengeful cousin, or a literal ghost that no one seems terribly shocked by, there’s a sense that both normal and abnormal blend together into a mellow taste.

The OVA is unusual in that it’s not a sneak-peek at the manga or a more liberal adaptation of the manga. Instead, it takes a nine-volume manga and condenses it into a  mere six episodes, operating more like a ” best hits” compilation. The anime makes more sense once you know that, but I also know what anime fandom was like in the 1990s, when Here Is Greenwood was on Blockbuster Video shelves. Knowledge about anything related to anime and manga was sparse, nowhere near the wealth of information we have today. Many OVAs were confusing and open-ended, and the result was tons of fandom speculation and musings. I could totally see someone trying to fill in the blanks of Here Is Greenwood armed with only their imagination (and a few 4th-wall-breaking mentions of the manga in the anime itself) to construct their own mental manga. I could also picture those six episodes defining what “anime humor” meant in fans’ minds, like extrapolating an assumed picture of a period in history based on some anthropological items. 

I think Here Is Greenwood largely holds up, though there are a few questionable red flags in the year 2020 (notably a joke about touching a kid). In general, the series stands in contrast to the pacing of comedy today, but that also gives it some extra charm.

A Mixtape of Influences: Listeners

In a pre-recorded interview for FunimationCon, writer Sato Dai was asked how he came to work on the anime Listeners. His response: the original creator, Jin, specifically sought him out due to his work on anime like Eureka Seven. But for anyone who’s watched even a little bit of Listeners, that much is crystal clear. Everything about the series—from the heavy music references to the mecha to the boy-meets-girl-in-a-nowhere-town science fiction plot— attests to that influence. While I at first wondered why they would try to, in spirit, remake such a classic anime, it occurred to me that Eureka Seven is actually 15 years old. How time flies.

Echo, a teenage boy, lives in the town of Liverchester, where people are taught to be content with staying in town forever and leading uneventful lives. Echo believes this to be his fate as well, but he has dreams deep down, thanks to his idolization of “Players,” individuals who fight mysterious creatures known as the Earless by commanding giant robots known as “Equipment.” An encounter with an amnesiac girl he finds in a scrap heap takes him far off the predictable track and towards discovering the true secret of his town and its history.

One big difference between Listeners and Eureka Seven is that the former is only 13 episodes in contrast to the latter’s 50, and this inevitably leads to very different storytelling. Eureka Seven is a relatively slow burn that very gradually and powerfully escalates its drama. Listeners, on the other hand, has more of a travel-show vibe that’s layered with unambiguous music references. When you see characters who are literally Prince and Kurt Cobain parodies, it goes a step beyond just “subtle nods.” Because of this, Listeners often comes across like Eureka Seven by way of Xam’d: Lost Memories (for its 1:1 world-building to plot reveal ratio) and Rolling Girls (for the “town to town” episodic feel), but isn’t really greater than the sum of its parts.

I do think Listeners is a decent series with plenty going for it. The characters, particularly the main duo of Echo and Mu, give a very “authentic” impression in that they aren’t overly “perfect” in design. Similarly, the aesthetics of the series have this sort of messy and put-together feel, and I like how the main robot doesn’t look terribly “heroic.” However, I really think that 13 episodes is too short for the story it tries to tell (even Xam’d has 26), and the music references are much more tied into the appeal of the show compared to how Eureka Seven utilizes them. 

What I’m actually looking forward to most from Listeners is seeing it someday debut in Super Robot Wars. Can you imagine the interactions with the cast of Eureka Seven or Macross 7? That would, well, rock.

Love Over Hate: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2020

It’s no secret that politics and the health of the United States has been on my mind these past few months, and now we’re a mere two days away from Election Day. I hope that this is the most important election of my life, because I don’t want to imagine another presidency worse than this past four-year ordeal. For those who have already voted, either by mail or through early in-person voting, I hope you remained safe. While I am deeply horrified at the idea of Trump getting another term, I respect the exercise of democracy as long as all who are rightfully eligible are afforded the same opportunity.

Please bear with me as I express my strong beliefs about this election.

Long-time readers may know that while I could touch on a lot of related topics in years previous, my specific political beliefs were rarely ever front and center on Ogiue Maniax. However, the 2016 election changed something in me, as I came to feel that my distanced academic outlook did not do enough. While I still believe in robust dialogue aimed at finding common ground, I’m much more aware of the fact that right-wing extremism is a dangerous part of the current landscape, whether that’s attempting to recruit kids through video games, voter suppression, or outright violence. I changed my policy of allowing any and all relevant comments to a blog post because there’s a difference between disagreement and merely wearing a facade of civil discourse as a means to push ridiculous ideas. I recently deleted a comment that started with the notion that “wokeness” is ruining anime because it’s an extension of a general right-wing corrosion of Youtube as a whole.

As for Trump himself, I’m going to say straight-up that he needs to be stopped if the United States is to survive, literally. We cannot take even more negligence and death rates when it comes to COVID-19. We cannot take a man who purposely sabotages the US Postal Service in the age of a pandemic and in an election year. We cannot take a man who will sell out the US to the highest bidder, a man who abandons allies to the slaughter and allows bounties on American soldiers. We cannot take a man who thinks climate change is fake yet also believes windmills cause cancer. The Paris Climate Accord is crucial to the well-being of not just the US but the entire planet, and if the country does not rescind our withdrawal, we are headed straight for catastrophe upon catastrophe. Most importantly, we cannot take more damage from the Republican Party, which has enabled this would-be dictator to escape responsibility just because they use him as a battering ram to get more federal judges into the system, including three Supreme Court justices.

To all readers in the US, if you see voter intimidation at your polling place, contact the Election Protection Hotline.

And now, back to Ogiue Maniax proper.

Thank you to this month’s Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from October:

Smash Bros. and the Concept of Restrictive Consequences

A thorough look at how the notion of constant freedom plays heavily into competitive Smash Bros., and how it contrasts with the ability to be “very wrong” in other fighting games.

Manga Made for Theater: Maku Musubi

A recent manga series focused on a school drama club that has a nice theme of finding a new creative direction after the loss of a dream.

Dick Dastardly’s Gun Kata: Appare-Ranman!

Last season’s transcontinental racing anime is not quite what I expected.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 33 starts a battle of the bands at the high school culture festival! Lots of great side characters return for this one.

Patreon-Sponsored

Anime Faces: VTuber vs. Horror Games

Thinking about how the limitations of virtual youtubers actually enhances the horror-game-streaming experience for viewers.

Apartment 507

Love Live! Nijigasaki’s Yu Takasaki is the Perfect Audience Character

The new anime pulls off transforming the mobile game’s player character into a fleshed out individual.

Closing

Vote if you can, stay safe no matter what, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Anime Faces: VTuber vs. Horror Games

Horror games are a staple of the Youtuber. Between the sense of anticipation and the payoff of screams of terror, it’s been a classic stepping stone for many of the most popular online celebrities such as Markiplier. So, it comes as no surprise that the horror genre would find a home among Virtual Youtubers as well. Why mess with a reliable formula? But I do notice a difference when a VTuber goes this route: their inherently limited and artificially generated facial expressions transform the experience to a subtle yet noticeable degree.

When it comes to flesh-and-blood streamers, horror games are an opportunity for wild and exaggerated reactions. In some cases, they’re authentic, in others they’re choreographed, and there are surely plenty that fall somewhere in the middle. In essence, it doesn’t really matter too much whether they’re real freak-outs or not, provided they’re convincing enough to make it difficult to distinguish. Either you’re being genuine or you’re a skilled enough performer to seem genuine—or the viewers just want to see someone bouncing off the walls regardless of intent. The line blurs further when it comes to Virtual Youtubers. Which ones use their VTuber image as a disguise to protect their identity? Who embraces their character to be someone they’re not? These mysteries are rife with potential for speculation.

But whether or not the VTubers are being “real,” there is still an additional layer between them and us in the form of their CG avatars. Even if the shouts and shudders are authentic, they’re still being filtered through and limited by software that (as of 2020) does not capture the full range of human emotions that are communicated through our faces. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The relative simplicity of these avatars begins to take on an element of iconography by acting in the abstract and symbolic, which in turn makes it easy to read into VTubers’ expressions what we desire. 

Though this doesn’t count as horror (unless you have a fear of 1990s boy bands), I’m reminded of that video featuring three different Kizuna AI models “singing” “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys. It’s based on a video of three real-life guys lip-syncing the song, but despite the obvious and intentional similarities, it still feels different. The fact that AI-chan’s “wide-eyed smirk” is more or less the same as her “angry screaming” in other videos is part of the amusement of the character. 

Other VTubers often have fewer facial expressions than AI-chan, and often barely any at all when it comes to VTubers who are just starting out. Still, that’s fine. While having a static image as an avatar is far from ideal, I would argue that the opposite might be even more off-putting. In other words, if a Virtual Youtubers’ facial expressions were too human, it would start to approach the uncanny valley, and I think the whole enterprise would lose some of its appeal.

Or maybe that would be perfect for Halloween and the horror game spirit…

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