Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights June 2022

In June, Kio Shimoku saw a bunch of movies and it was rad. He also responded to a question I asked him!

Following up on some tweets from last time, Kio managed to finally pick up some steam and finish some work. I believe he was talking about the latest chapter of Spotted Flower. He mentions having some movies he’s been waiting to watch.

Isekai Quartet—He loved seeing all the characters in this crossover get their time in the sun, but is especially found of chuunibyou Ainz from Overlord.

Inu-Oh—Kio found this to be a really moving and emotional film. The characters, the music, the animation, everything is great.

Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island—Yasuhiko Yoshikazu at full throttle. To Kio, it’s like seeing a manga that’s not supposed to exist bubbling up from deep within the brain (whose brain is unclear). Much praise for the staff for a satisfying film.

Top Gun: Maverick—A highly entertaining film that did everything it was supposed to, then provided second and third helpings of the awesome on top of that. Kio recalls watching the original Top Gun in elementary school and really enjoying it back then. He also had the Top Gun video game for Famicom. It was tough and he never managed to land the plane. 

(His description of the confusing controls reminds me of the class Angry Video Game Nerd review.)

I asked Kio about something he wrote in a Star Wars artbook! You can read more about it here.

Kio drew a promotional poster for a stage musical of Night on the Galactic Railroad!

Kio can’t stop drinking wine.

Enjoying watching more of his physical copy of the variety show How Do You Like Wednesdays? This time, it’s a program called “Jungle Revenge.”

I Asked Kio Shimoku About Star Wars

The cover to Star Wars: Tribute to Star Wars. A blank border surrounds a drawing of Darth Vader with stormtroopers behind him. The title logo is in front as a gold plate with the corners beveled and the Star Wars logo cut out. The art is by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu.
(Cover by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu)

I purchased the artbook Star Wars: Tribute to Star Wars for one reason: Among the many manga artists who contributed their talents to this collection is Kio Shimoku, author of Genshiken. I expected some nice art (of course), but the real shocker comes from his comments.

Some years ago, I suddenly thought I'd like to retell Star Wars, and I created 350 pages of thumbnails of Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace just for me. So, I'm pretty attached to those characters. (I especially like the duo of Nute Gunray and Rune Haako.) I've wanted to do Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones and beyond for a long time, but...I'm busy, so I keep having to put it off. Someday I'll do it, though (just for me, of course)!

As seen above, Kio states that he once drew 350 pages of thumbnails for a Star Wars doujinshi…and that he’s a fan of Nute Gunray and Rune Haako. If you’re not that into Star Wars, you might be asking, “WHO???” And if you are a fan, you might be asking, “WHY???”

Nute Gunray is the viceroy of the Trade Federation, and Rune Haako is his right-hand man. In other words, they’re the bad guys at the beginning of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. So that answers the “who,” but as for the “why,” I actually had to ask the man himself on Twitter. Here’s his response: 

He even followed up by finding his original thumbnail with the characters and confirming something I suspected: The doujinshi he’s referring to is a genderswap doujinshi, titled Sister Wars. Kio had previously talked about it in his interview with VTuber Luis Cammy.

I don’t own the doujinshi—though I wish I did. That being said, there may be a few copies floating around on auction sites and such. I haven’t yet tried to get my hands on it, but maybe I should make the attempt…

A Deluge of Riches: Super Robot Wars 30

When I first began playing Super Robot Wars 30, I wanted to write a review immediately, but I decided against it because I wanted to complete one run of the game to get a fuller impression. Now, nearly 200 hours of playtime later, I have the opposite problem. There’s so much in here that I feel like I have more I’ve forgotten than I’ve remembered. I’ve already given my thoughts on certain specific elements of the series, including DLC packs 1 and 2, the way the game handles the Gaogaigar storyline, and the attack aesthetics of the Ultimate Dancouga unit, but here, I just want to lay out my broader impressions.

Super Robot Wars 30 is named as such not because it’s the 30th game but because it’s to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise. To that end, there are a number of callbacks to its roots, from the fact that you can use the original RX-78-2 Gundam to specific guest characters making appearances. The roster is no mere nostalgia dive, though, as it consists of plenty of series old and new—both in terms of the release date of the source material from which these mecha come from and when they first appeared in SRW in general. L-Gaim and Victory Gundam are two franchise veterans making long awaited reappearances, while J-Decker, SSSS.Gridman, and Knights & Magic make their mainline debuts here.

Having lots of series is always an overall good thing for SRW, but I got decision paralysis when thinking about which units to deploy on multiple occasions. I’d want to bring out anyone who might be plot-relevant for a stage or at least have interesting dialogue with boss characters, but that didn’t always narrow it down. I’d waffle between doing what’s beneficial strategically and what’s cool thematically, and this might have made an already long game take even longer. It’s to some degree a curse that I accept with the blessing of a robust roster.

There is so much content in SRW30 that it can be overwhelming. While many missions are optional and a lot can be played out of order, I was struck by a sense of FOMO many times. What funny stories are on this stage? How did these characters get together? As someone who wants to revel in that fanfiction-esque lore, skipping felt wrong. 

One problem with that, however, is that every so often, I’d trigger a compulsory mission, whereby the intermission screen flashed red and locked me into a specific next plot-relevant stage. I don’t mind their presence so much as that the game itself never really explains what trips them off. I specifically remember playing some EXP-farming missions (called “Fronts” in the menu), not realizing that doing so meant I didn’t get to see how the sixth member of Team Rabbits from Majestic Prince joins. 

The game feels like it was designed to be fairly lenient, as if it was assuming that SRW30 would be a lot of people’s first Super Robot Wars. This wouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s the first officially translated SRW game to show up internationally on Steam. Even at the hardest difficulty (at least originally), it was possible to upgrade and improve your units to brute force your way through. They would later add a “super expert” mode that put it closer in line to a classic SRW experience, but having a really tough game isn’t necessarily what I want or expect, and the initial absence of a hardcore mode isn’t really an issue to me. 

Rather, if there’s any major criticism I have of the gameplay, it’s the lack of stage variety. There are a number of levels that have specific win conditions, but they felt too few and far between, and even they felt like they came from a general template. On top of that, for whatever reason, SRW30 refuses to take advantage of a classic system that is literally built into the game: terrain differences. In many SRW entries, there are stages with bases or areas where units can recover HP while on top of them (usually 30%). They usually exist in missions where you have to defend an area, or perhaps they’re being used by a stubborn boss that you have to dislodge. However, not a single stage I played had any such spots, even when it would make sense both gameplay- and story-wise.

A Final Dynamic Special—usually a combination attack with Mazinger and Getter robots, would have been nice too. Given the anniversary theme of the game, I’m surprised it didn’t include one.

I think this review may come across as more negative than I actually feel about the game. I think that’s simply because the game is so long that it took me months and months to complete, and my view is tinged by a patina of fatigue. SRW30 has a lot to offer, especially from a mecha fanservice perspective, and it feels satisfying to successfully utilize your units’ strengths and mitigate their weaknesses through smart play. I just wish there were more opportunities to do that.

Hololive Alternative, TakaMori, and the Speed of Memes

Hololive Alternative is a 2d animation project depicting the Virtual Youtubers of Hololive as active characters within a world. Two “teasers” are out currently, and they’re a treat for fans and newcomers alike. But while watching the second, the depicted interaction between Takanashi Kiara and Mori Calliope made me hyper-aware of how internet culture and its memes evolve at lightning speeds.

Kiara the Phoenix and Calliope the grim reaper are both part of HoloMyth, the Hololive brand’s first foray into the English-speaking market. Early on in their careers, they were known for having a rather flirtatious and tsundere-esque relationship, which in turn spawned the ship known as TakaMori. It was a prominent part of both character identities—even making it into Can You Do the Hololive?, a song based on all the members’ signature greetings. In it, Kiara states, “Of course the two of us come together,” and Calli responds, “Shut your mouth, Kusotori [Stupid Chicken].” 

Similarly, the second Hololive Alternative teaser shows the two eating together. Kiara eagerly takes photos of everything (Calli included), and the reaper responds by grabbing her scythe and taking swipes at Kiara. The whole interaction describes the original basis for TakaMori to a tee. 

The only problem: the nature of the pairing has changed over time. It still has fans, of course, and the two even recently had an in-person stream together that was made all the more impressive by the fact that one had to travel from Japan to Austria. However, both Kiara and Calli have talked about the fact that they decided to emphasize their solo identities more. The fans in the Youtube comments for that collaboration have remarked even on how the duo’s dynamic has changed (and arguably for the better).

Granted, this isn’t quite the same as a meme naturally morphing into something unrecognizable. The fact is, one can point to a conscious decision as the reason TakaMori isn’t quite the same as it used to be: a purposeful shift in direction. Nevertheless, it feel indicative of the rapid pace at which VTuber in-jokes are formed feels indicative of the general speed of the current internet. In contrast, elaborate animations—even short ones like the teasers for Hololive Alternative—take time to be made. In that gap, the ground shifted underneath TakaMori, and its depiction in animated form can feel like a relic of the past. In reality, it’s only been a little over a year, but the fact that a year sounds like forever in VTuber time makes that difference all the more stark. Online empires rise and fall in less time, and I have to wonder what else might end up coming across as a “yesteryear meme” by the time the next teaser is done.

In Fandom, Is Age Just a Number?

As I scroll down Twitter these days, I’ll occasionally happen upon what seems to be an insightful article or piece. I know it’s probably worth reading, and that I’d get something out of it, but something prevents me from clicking and actually looking. I’m not exactly sure why that’s the case, but the fact that the people who wrote these pieces (or decided to link to them) often feel like they have something to prove about themselves exhausts me. At the same time, I’m well aware that a younger me from 10 years ago would likely have thought differently, and would be more eager to engage.

I think this is what it feels like to mature/grow older. Not enough for an actual IRL mid-life crisis, mind you—more like the fandom version. I think it’s clear from my posting history on this blog that I still engage with my passions pretty regularly, but something else that probably comes across is that I sort of exist in my own world. Sure, I read and view what catches my attention, I think about where the industries and fandoms are going, and I keep writing as an exercise in contemplation. And I talk to other fans every so often. However, what I don’t really do is actively engage with the fandom at large or try to explore the absolute depths of a given topic. More and more, I feel in my body that time is finite, and I’m not sure I have what it takes to go full-steam ahead on any fandom, general or specific. Heck, I don’t even listen to podcasts as much as I used to, and that was an easy way to check out the opinions of others.

Doing my own thing isn’t actually all that terrible. Perhaps one of the reasons I interact less is because the discourse is poisoned by how social media currently works. Still, it comes with a drawback of me feeling disconnected from other fans, especially younger ones who grew up from grade school with manga in their local libraries and such. I’m happy we’ve gotten to that point of easy access, but it fundamentally changes the presence of manga in one’s life. Similarly, the fact that The Simpsons has become the mark of a Millennial/Gen Z divide based on whether people engage with the original jokes or the memes that sprung out of them is fascinating, yet revealing of the passage of time.

I also know that to many older individuals, I still probably come across as a young and spritely sort, and that there are plenty of people with decades on me who still have passion and energy. Taking that into account, maybe the sensation I’m experiencing is that I’m aiming to walk a few blocks to get to my destination, and I’m seeing others sprint or run marathons. My journey is worthwhile, but it’s short and more leisurely, and even though it’s not a competition (and I don’t view it as such), I nevertheless can’t help but notice the people who pass me by.* It’s less about comparing accomplishments and more about being on different wavelengths, and I’m getting used to shifting between them.

*For the record, I used to be part of a casual running group, and I was anything but swift, so I also know this feeling from actual experience.

The Moving Goalposts of Integration: Messy Roots

Messy Roots: A Memoir of a Wuhanese American is an autobiographical comic by Laura Gao. It tells the story of her coming to the United States at a young age and growing up with the competing influences of Chinese and (predominantly white) American culture. It’s another story about the Asian diaspora, with the author’s Wuhanese roots making it all the more striking in this current health and political environment. Although the story isn’t specifically about COVID-19-derived discrimination, it shows how the seeds of that racism were already planted amidst a more personal story of joy, sorrow, identity crisis, and self-acceptance.

The comic goes through Laura’s life from early childhood all the way through college. Along the way, she runs into the conflict of wanting to hold onto certain aspects of her Wuhanese roots that are discouraged by her parents while also looking to reject or minimize those which her parents want her to maintain. Traveling back to Wuhan at different stages of her life and feeling the increasing disconnect with her original home contributes to the fear of being neither Chinese enough or American enough to satisfy either side, while also feeling that leaning too far in one direction is also considered a mistake.

These feelings hit me right in the chest. There’s a moment early on in Messy Roots, where Laura brings lunch from home. When her classmates blanch at her dumplings and call them “stinky,” I could feel myself yelling in my head, “HOW DARE YOU? Your sandwiches or whatever are clearly nothing compared to what she gets to bring.” I love all foods, including White American food of the typical variety, but that stigmatizing of delicious homemade dumplings actually made me mad for Laura. The notion of people finding certain foods’ cultures inherently smelly is a recurring issue, I find.

Conversely, Laura joins the basketball team as a way to fit in with her American peers, but when she ends up wanting to quit due to unpleasant events at school and informs her parents about it, they fail to provide the support she’s looking for. Rather than asking if she’s okay, her dad talks about the money they’ve sunk into her basketball hobby that has now been wasted. That sense of your family’s culture prioritizing the value of the activity over the feelings of the individual is simply too real. 

One aspect of the Asian-American experience that’s expressed well is the fear of being a “FOB,” the fear of being a naive bumpkin. When I was young, it wasn’t all that uncommon to hear Asian kids making the distinction between FOBs and non-FOBS, and at the time, I didn’t realize how deeply toxic that mindset is. I never had to learn English as a second language, so I don’t relate directly to my peers treating me like a complete outsider due to an accent, but damn if some of them didn’t try anyway. I should have known better, and I really didn’t care about what those kinds of kids thought about me, yet something about that mindset must have gotten internalized in me. Seeing Laura depict it getting called out was a welcome jolt.

Messy Roots makes me realize that certain feelings I find bubbling inside of me are not all that unusual. The feeling of wanting to escape or move past cultures because you’re being suffocated on all sides by them, only to circle back around to later in life and try to build back the bridges that were left neglected? It’s something I can definitely relate to. 

Messy Roots ends up having a lot in common with other stories about the Asian diaspora in North America, such as Himawari House, Turning Red, and American Born Chinese—but I find that rather than feeling “samey,” it’s a reminder to me that these shared experiences can help us Asians be conscious of a mutual understanding and empathy when it comes to navigating our circumstances. We’re even seeing these points of connection transcend generations, as Laura makes specific mention of reading Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, and it having an influence on her. I hope Messy Roots and the others help to carry this legacy forward, and influence the next generations for the better.

Miscellaneous Notes

Wuhanese very much feels like a middle point between Northern and Southern Chinese languages. It seems to carry aspects of both, which isn’t surprising. However, I never knew much about Whan before, and so it makes me want to learn more. Incidentally, a martial arts instructor/scholar I watch on YouTube is also from Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located.

I appreciate all the off-brands used throughout Messy Roots. My favorite is “Royal Danks” [sic]. That sense of disappointment when trying to find cookies (only to see sewing supplies inside that familiar blue tin) is a part of my soul. My earliest memories of butter cookie containers is that they never had cookies.

Love Live! and Playing with Canon through Songs

In Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club Season 2, the character Takasaki Yu struggles to write a song for her friends in the club to perform. When she finally finishes it, the song is revealed to be “TOKIMEKI Runners,” a piece that celebrates the individuality of each member. In the context of this anime, it’s a new creation, but in terms of the actual real-world release schedule, it was actually their first. It makes me think about how Love Live! has these funny divergences between versions of the same groups, and the pliability of its story as a result.

Similar situations occur in the first Love Live! anime. For instance, the very first song they perform is “START:DASH!!,” but the actual first single was “Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE.” In the former case, the school idol club was a mere three members at the start. In the latter case, the group already has all nine members. In fact, in the anime, “Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE” is performed only when the full team has assembled. Rather than it being the introduction to Love Live! that it was conceived as, it serves as a culmination and turning point. 

While there are versions that have come first, like the singles for OG Love Live! and a mobile game for Nijigasaki, they hold no special authority over the fandom. Materials are there to be used in whatever way fits. Old songs become new. New songs become old. Character qualities that are developed over time by the voice actors/singers in one iteration might be presented as long-established in another. In essence, I’m a fan of the fact that there’s not really a specific “canon” other than the broad strokes.

If You Love Literature and Violence, Gimme a Hell Yeah—Hibiki: How to Become a Novelist

Hibiki: How to Become a Novelist is one of my favorite manga of the past few years. Sure, it doesn’t have the mind-blowing thrills or soul-reverberating energy of other works. The art is also decidedly mediocre. But what Hibiki does have is ridiculous humor, unpredictability, and a protagonist I would describe as “spiritually akin to Stone Cold Steve Austin.”

The series follows a teenage girl named Akui Hibiki, who one day submits a novel manuscript on a whim. As a result, she winds up on a journey that brings Hibiki in contact with titans of the field, struggling aspiring authors, an eccentric but enthusiastic school literary club, and a whole host of other unique personalities. But while Hibiki’s quiet and thoughtful personality evoke images of a bookworm archetype or perhaps a demure “literature girl,” she also refuses to take shit from anyone. Whether it’s high school bullies, dismissive fellow writers, nosy paparazzi, or even a kid getting in the way of customers at the bookstore, they’re all met immediately with unexpected violence from this skinny girl. Hibiki isn’t particularly strong or fast, and she isn’t trained to fight in any way, but she will not let anyone try to use the trappings of civility and etiquette to take advantage of her.

Hibiki is not a malicious person. She respects creative passion in all its forms, and will go out of her way to encourage everyone to try their hand at writing so that they might express what’s inside of them, be they friends or enemies. Her fellow members of the literature club run the gamut—from the granddaughter of a famous author, to a childhood friend she knows is stalker-level obsessed with her, to a girl who likes cheesy light novels—but Hibiki supports them all. She cares little about celebrity and glamor, or the aesthetics of fame, as it’s the love of craft that motivates her. What she hates possibly more than anything else is people who shower her with praise but who clearly haven’t actually read her work. Hibiki honestly engages with the creations and feelings of others, and she expects the same in return.

That unabashed authenticity is why I liken Hibiki to one of the most popular wrestlers ever. While pro wrestling is a staged performance and everyone pretty much knows this to be the case, Steve Austin is famous for feeling incredibly genuine every time he walks into the arena as the sound of shattering glass marks his arrival. Austin’s appeal was that he 1) felt convincingly real, and 2) he would constantly kick the ass of his nasty boss, Mr. McMahon, who kept trying to humiliate him. That’s Hibiki to a tee—minus the Stone Cold Stunners, but still keeping the kicks to the gut and the chair shots (really). Though, if I were to describe her exclusively with anime characters, she’s like a cross between the eerily capable mind of mahjong prodigy Akagi Shigeru and the also-aggressive Taniguchi Mio from 22/7.

As I think about the appeal of Hibiki, I’m reminded of a series of tweets I saw by translator Dan Kanemitsu. In them, he expresses the idea that the reason Japanese culture places so much value on stories about middle and high school years is because they’re assumed to be filled with potential and agency. After you grow up, things change, and it just doesn’t come across the same way when a story is about a defiant adult. I feel that the character of Hibiki speaks to this sentiment on a very visceral level, and much of the satisfaction she provides is that she won’t let anything get in the way of that agency. In fact, the last couple of volumes of Hibiki even bring up this idea that the passion of youth can’t be maintained relative to her career. Without going into spoilers, the resulting answer is worth seeing.

Simplicity that Works: Multiversus Alpha Review

Thanks to an old friend, I managed to get into the Multiversus alpha. As a long-time fan of Smash Bros. and someone with a general interest in platform fighters, this new Warner Bros. crossover had me reasonably intrigued by its level of polish and its emphasis on 2v2 battle. While a lack of free time meant that I could only play briefly, I came away from the game with a positive impression, albeit somewhat tempered by its free-to-play (i.e. inevitably loot-based) model.

Gameplay-wise, two things stick out to me. First, is that it feels like the developers put a lot of thought as to how each character’s gameplay would reflect their identity. Second, the simplicity of the controls make Multiversus quite accessible and might even be a boon to its team focus.

The signature character flourishes are indeed all there, but it’s even baked into the mechanics. Of course Bugs Bunny would dig holes and generate objects out of thin air to complement his slapstick nature. Of course Velma from Scooby-Doo would act as range-focused support, and also gather clues like Phoenix Wright in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Arya Stark has her sword, but also a “pie-making” mechanic that occurs when she KOs someone—which implies that she turned them into pie. The game successfully celebrates its crossover nature visually and through its controls.

The only exceptions might be Shaggy and Reindog. The former leans completely into the Ultra Instinct Shaggy meme and winds up being like a mix between Goku, Captain Falcon. The latter is an original character (in the same crossover-universe vein as Ruby Heart and Cybaster), and thus has no basis.

In terms of the controls, Multiversus does not have shields or grabs. It also does not rely on analog movement. Unlike Smash Bros., there are no distinctions between walking vs. running, or tilts vs. smash attacks. Simple as controls are in Smash, I’ve seen this granularity be a sticking point for less experienced players, and I think this move helps accessibility. The leniency of aerial movement also makes me think of a more refined and varied Brawlhalla: another free-to-play platform fighter that, unlike Multviersus, suffers a bit from feeling samey across its cast.

While there’s an argument to be made that this might oversimplify things in the competitive realm, I think this won’t be the case. In fact, the pared-down controls actually feel more conducive towards the chaotic environment of a 2v2 match. They give both players and spectators potentially less to concentrate on so they can pay attention to the match as a whole.

I can easily see the competitive scenes for Smash Bros. and Multiversus coexisting, if only because they have different emphases. Smashers overwhelmingly prefer singles over doubles, while the developers of Multiversus specifically designed it for 2v2. To wit, some of the biggest proponents of the game are those who have great love for doubles Smash, and I hope they end up having a game that can reward that passion. 

Against the Barrel: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for June 2022

I have to admit that the world feels overwhelming. If it’s not COVID rates ticking up, it’s deadly shootings and war and racism and the fact that these things are all tied together. As an anime blogger, I also think about these things in relation to entertainment, and in light of recent events, we’re seeing old boogeymen like “violent video games” being brought up. I remember those conversations from two decades ago, and though my perspective has changed from childhood to adulthood, I’m not so naive as to think that the root cause is violent entertainment. Rather, it’s at best a symptom of a deeper problem—that power is conflated with self worth, and that gun lobbyists want men to feel that threat of emasculation so badly that they’re willing to go to extremes.

I’m not someone who believes that glorifying violence in entertainment is inherently a problem. I like my action series plenty, and even if something like sports can be argued to be a conduit for aggression, I don’t think that it’s automatically going to lead to the kind of mind-poisoning we’re seeing from cultures that refuse to confront their own pasts. As long as media can be media and not propaganda, even the most depraved depictions of human behavior can have a place. If fiction is the only alternative for someone to find themselves comfort, that’s not the fault of the fiction.

On a less somber note, I’d like to thank the following Patreon subscribers:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from May:

Lots of Brain with a Bit of Heart: Combat in Girls und Panzer das Finale

A review of sorts for GIrls und Panzer das Finale, especially Part 2, but more of an analysis of how combat is portrayed in the series.

Ultimate Dancouga in Super Robot Wars 30 Is Quintessential Obari Masami

How this particular SRW30 DLC captures the essence of its original creator.

The Tools to Express Yourself: Blue Period

Thoughts on the moving story of a guy who’s suddenly inspired to become an artist.

Apartment 507

Why Zhong Lanzhu makes Love Live! better by being a heel.

Looking at the way the English translation of Spy x Family adapts Anya’s kid speech.

Kio Shimoku

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter was full of design drawings for Hashkko Ensemble. There’s a lot of insight into his early decisions for the manga.

Closing

I’m going to leave off on a nicer and more personal not: I finally beat Super Robot Wars 30! It only took…200 hours. I want to write an overall review of it, but part of me wonders if all the existing posts might be enough.