Wishing for Hope, Reaching to Help

I’m grateful to be in a position where I am mentally and emotionally well, even in this pandemic. It’s easy for me to assume that fear and concern over COVID-19 is what’s on people’s minds, but the recent deaths of so many people and figures in my social and fandom spheres just has me hyper-aware of the challenges many face that are likely exacerbated by current circumstances. 

In the world of anime, Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network died in his apartment on May 21, 2020. In wrestling, Shad Gaspard died at age 39 after helping save his son from a rip current on May 17. Another wrestler, Hana Kimura was 22 when she died by suicide on May 23 after online harassment due to her appearance on the reality show Terrace House. And while this isn’t recent, it’s been almost a year since the suicide of gaming youtuber Etika, who was 29. Death may be unpredictable and inevitable, but the fact that they all left so young makes me shake my head in disbelief.

I wasn’t close to any of the people I mentioned, so my perspective is not as a friend or peer, or even necessarily as a fan or follower. Yet, I feel something: sadness, anger, frustration, or maybe something else I can’t describe. In the case of Hana Kimura, I kept saying to myself, “I really need to check out Stardom because she seems like a star,” and now all I’ll have is past videos to reference. It makes me want to reach out to my friends, and those I’ve lost contact with over the years. It’s easy to just assume that the last image you had of them is roughly how they are today, but time passes and people face challenges both internal and external. I always worry about overstepping my boundaries or thinking I’m closer to someone than I actually am, and maybe I just need to find the tiny ounce of courage to get over that and maybe, just maybe, help someone turn away from a bad decision. 

I used to frequent a chat room that was named after the anime Maria-sama ga Miteru (aka Maria Watches Over Us). A few years since I last visited, I decided to stop by, and the chat topic included a person’s name: “So-and-so ga Miteru.” It turns out they had passed away. A couple more years passed, and I visited again. This time, more names had been added to the topic. It feels like I blinked, and more of the people I knew had vanished. As far as I know, none of those deaths were due to suicide, but they stung nevertheless. And while I never really interacted with them on any deeply personal level, it made my infrequent visits feel like “too little, too late.” When it’s related to physical health, there’s only so much any of us can do. When it’s not, it hits differently. 

I hope we can connect to our fellow human beings, those we love and even those with whom we have the barest connection, so that we can help lift up one another. If you’re feeling like life isn’t worth living, reach out to suicide prevention for professional help. If you’re hurting and just need someone to listen, feel free to even leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter

Remember: you’re worth something.

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

There has been a long history of English-language localizations doing their best to hide the fact that Japanese media is from, well, Japan. Old dubs of Gigantor and Astro Boy would have characters reading the “international newspaper.” Satoshi in Pokemon became Ash Ketchum, and onigiri became donuts, popcorn balls, and even photoshopped sandwiches. Phoenix Wright is suddenly practicing law in California, and a car with the steering wheel on the right side was “imported.” There’s enough that’s gone on over the years that fan skepticism towards translation can be justified, but more recently, there’s been a growing trend of negative criticism about the work of translators, accusing them of overly politicizing a work or introducing “Western” ideas that interfere with the “purity” of the original Japanese work. There are a lot of factors that go into this debate, and not always with the sincerest of intentions, but I’m going to elaborate on how (as the cliché goes) translation is more art than science, and why there’s an inherent limit to such purity arguments.

First things first: I do want to lay down that bad translations can exist. It’s subjective on some level, but I do believe that there is such a thing as a localization taken too far. One example I often think about is the English dub of Ojamajo Doremi, known as Magical Do-Re-Mi. Changing the names is one thing, but that version of the beloved magical girl series would inject extra dialogue and voice-overs to such an extent, often without any basis in the original, that it changed how the anime felt as a whole. At the time, it was an outdated philosophy on children’s cartoons transplanted onto a children’s anime. Another example is in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where Ike’s line, “I fight for my friends,” sounds hilarious in English, especially with the monotone delivery, but that cheesiness is not in the Japanese. The original s closer to “I merely fight for those I must protect,” which changes the contours of what’s being conveyed.

However, there is a large spectrum when it comes to translation and localization. Translation cannot and will not ever be a 1:1 transfer, not even for two very closely related languages such as English and Dutch, let alone English and Japanese. There are cultural differences, disparities in lived experiences, and gaps in what might be considered “common knowledge, before you even get to the mechanics of languages themselves differing greatly.

One of the ground zero examples at the moment is a game called The House in Fata Morgana, and the epicenter of that debate is the translation of the word tsundere. In Japanese, it’s a slang word that’s been borne out of anime and manga fandom to describe characters who go from essentially hating someone to falling in love with them, or someone who acts like they hate someone but is secretly in love. Meanness and maybe even a bit of slapstick violence often come part in parcel. More importantly to this particular example, however, it’s become a celebrated trope. Tsundere girls are popular both because the inherent emotional conflict is powerful, but it can also have a fetishistic element. In Fata Morgana, the choice was to translate tsundere as “fragile male ego” because, as the translator explains at length, the use of the word tsundere is sarcastic here, referring more to the other character’s abusiveness. It’s not the only answer she could have arrived at, but it ultimately results in a translation that gets across not so much the nitty gritty of what’s being said in Japanese, but rather the essence and the intent behind those words. Yet, because the word tsundere has solidified in fandom, it’s seen by critics as a kind of “pure” concept that needs to be preserved.

One option was to just keep the word tsundere, but to do so would be to assume that every person playing the game would already be familiar with the word. Moreover, no amount of more direct translations could succinctly convey the fact that it is indeed a stock phrase. This, I think, is where a lot of the criticism falls short, because it presumes that one’s own experience with a work trumps everyone else’s. I think back to the Anime World Order review of Dog Soldier, where the translator, Neil Nadelman, explains that he translated instant ramen as “instant noodle soup” because ramen was not ubiquitous enough at the time to just make sense off the cuff. Times have changed, but they haven’t changed enough for tsundere to be common parlance.

One thing that might help people championing the “purity” of translation is to think about the process in the opposite direction, from English to Japanese. Plenty of English-language films and TV shows get imported and adapted, and there are challenges on the other end to localizing those works. I once wrote about how Gone with the Wind has had multiple interpretations of the iconic “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” which don’t break it down word by word but rather try to communicate the curtness and rudeness of Rhett Butler’s dismissive attitude at the end. To translate that more literally would make it lose some of the impact of Rhett’s brevity.

In that post, I also discussed the challenge of giving particular personal pronouns and honorifics usage to characters from English to Japanese. If it were a so-called “pure” translation, there wouldn’t be any such distinctions, but this would be jarring to a Japanese audience, where those elements are woven into the fabric of both language and society. Since then, I’ve come across some interesting examples. First, is the Deadpool movies. Second, is the old sitcom Full House.

In Japanese, Deadpool refers to himself with the unique personal pronounce ore-chan, where ore is a very masculine and impolite way to say “I,” and chan is an honorific that usually is reserved for young children, girls, small animals, and the like. A rough equivalent in English would be “little ol’ me,” but it’s not used in the same way. The Japanese subtitles for Deadpool try to capture his character through his pronoun usage, interpreting and localizing his speech for the audience. 

Similarly, while in the original English-language Full House, many characters refer to Jesse Katsopolis as “Uncle Jesse,” they give the youngest daughter, Michelle Tanner, a unique way of referring to her uncle in Japanese: oi-tan, or a babyish pronunciation of oji-chan (uncle). Neither Deadpool nor Michelle’s phrasings are  “literally translated” into Japanese, but are rather localized based on the characters themselves—who they are, how they act, etc. In this sense, it’s not so different from The House in Fata Morgana and the use of “fragile male ego” because it’s trying to communicate more about who is speaking to whom.

I think the point that needs to be absolutely understood is that there is always, always some compromise when it comes to translating from one language to another. The question, then, is what are acceptable sacrifices in order to get something across most faithfully, given cultures, circumstances, and even mediums. For example, a novel (or indeed visual novel) has more space to give an explanation about some cultural aspect that would fly by in anime subtitles or a manga word balloon, but does the act of throwing in a long explanation shift the work or interrupt the flow of dialogue? Different readers have different priorities, and different translators have to interpret the original works through their own lenses. It’s why multiple translations of the same works exist. 

What I see in the purity arguments of Japanese media fandom is a desire to be rewarded for one’s specialized knowledge, and it’s the perspective of those who revel in being as hardcore as possible. As someone who has devoted decades of energy to anime and manga fandom, as well as thinking about how translations function, I can relate. The unfortunate thing is that it turns experiencing these works into a kind of measuring contest to see who knows more and who has the “real” access to Japanese culture, which is in a certain sense the opposite of what translation is there to do: make something accessible.

Kunio-kun and Double Dragon for Super Smash Bros.

As Smash Bros. Ultimate increasingly becomes a celebration of gaming history on a wider scale, I want more and more to see every video game genre represented in its character roster. Just like how Cloud and Hero represent RPGs, or how Ryu, Ken, and Terry are the poster boys for fighting games, I’d like to see someone represent the beat ’em up genre. In that respect, there are only two possible franchises that I think deserve this honor: Kunio-kun and Double Dragon.

Kunio-kun is the granddaddy of beat ’em ups, starting with the very first game in the genre’s history: Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun. Featuring the brash yet noble delinquent Kunio-kun, it would set the template for the entire genre—full range of movement, enemies on all sides, clever attacks, weapons, etc. It would later influence gaming further though sequels and spin-offs such as River City Ransom

The original Double Dragon arcade game was basically designed on the Kunio-kun engine except with more international appeal. Instead of the specifically Japanese context of gakuran-wearing yankii, it’s about two Chinese-American kung fu brothers named Billy and Jimmy Lee. Which one would be better for Smash comes down to that difference—do you want the very Japanese and explosive Kunio, or do you want the Lee brothers and their global recognition?

Either way, the movesets practically write themselves. In fact, one could say that they have too many moves to choose from. 

Kunio not only has his first game, but he’s also one of the stars of River City Ransom (where he was renamed “Alex” for the US) and is Mario-level in terms of dabbling in other genres. He could squat like a delinquent, Acro Circus though the air, punch people on the ground, and throw a ball straight out of Super Dodge Ball.

For Billy and Jimmy, you also have endless options. Do you base them more on their arcade moves or their console appearances? The Cyclone Spin Kick is obvious, but do you go with the arcade animation or the NES one? What about nunchaku from Double Dragon III or the Double Dragon for NES back elbow? What if they based the gameplay on Double Dragon II, where the B button always means “attack left” and the A button always means “attack right?” In terms of Smash, both the Double Dragons and Kunio can be as orthodox or as unusual as possible.

Given that the beat ’em up genre is long past its heyday, and Nintendo’s apparent desire to use Smash Bros. Ultimate as a promotional platform, it might not seem all that likely to see either Kunio or the Lees. However, Arc System Works (creators of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear) have the current rights, and there was a Kunio-kun Spirit Event in Ultimate. So here’s hoping that any of these brawling heroes have a chance to be newcomers.

The Moral Trolling of Prison School

What if I told you that there’s a manga that points out the vanity of its male heroes, and ends by emphasizing the degree to which their shallow treatment of women is their undoing? Now, what if I told you that this series is actually, of all things, Prison School—a series generally known more for its gratuitous T&A and absurd toilet humor? By the time Prison School reached its conclusion, that’s exactly what we got. 

Prison School is about a group of teenage guys who are the only male students at Hachimitsu Academy. When they get caught peeping, they discover that the school actually has a complex prison system underneath run by the “Shadow Student Council,” three powerful girls who are all extremely attractive and who all hate men with a passion. Over the course of 277 chapters, the manga gets increasingly ridiculous in just about every way possible, from fanservice to schemes to the fact that the series will set up exceedingly complex plots just for the sake of delivering a stupid pun.

If you look at the fan reaction to the end of Prison School, a great deal of comments express utter disappointment. There were shipping wars over who the hero Kiyoshi would end up with. There’s frustration that the story went far off the rails from where it started. Somehow, people read this series as if it was some kind of romantic comedy, as opposed to an exercise in the absurd. What’s more, I truly believe this this bitter response towards Prison School by its former fans is actually what the author, Hiramoto Akira, was actually going for. Prison School was a long, elaborate troll to point out the inanity of anyone who cheered for the heroes.

The Case of Kiyoshi

Kiyoshi is the hero of Prison School, and throughout the series he’s motivated by a few key factors. Early on, he develops a crush on one of his classmates, Kurihara Chiyo. She’s the first girl to really talk to him in class, and one of the reasons he strives to escape the school’s prison is so they can go on a date together. However, while he’s unusually smart in certain respects, he’s also an incredible dumbass who’s 1) ruled by his hormones and 2) often jumps to the wrong conclusion about things.

Kiyoshi does good deeds, but he’s not necessarily a good person, and his antics lead him to having oddly close love-hate relationships with two of the Shadow Student Council members. Early on, he accidentally sees Midorikawa Hana (the Shadow Student Council secretary) peeing in the woods, which starts this bizarre bond based in trying to see the other pee and involves angry kisses, swapping underwear, and other “unorthodox” forms of affection/revenge. And while Shadow Student Council president Kurihara Mari starts off as Kiyoshi’s greatest nemesis, the two eventually end up as erstwhile allies who begrudgingly respect each other. Also, one time Kiyoshi had to suck snake venom out of her butt.

By the end of the series, Kiyoshi is ready to confess to Chiyo (to Hana’s frustration). He’s been thinking about Chiyo all this time and sees her as his ideal girl, despite the fact that many of his “firsts” are with Hana. Chiyo, for her part, sees Kiyoshi as a brave and noble soul. However, Kiyoshi has tried to get by entirely on his ability to bullshit others, and it all comes home to roost at the end. Chiyo is an avid fan of sumo, and Kiyoshi pretends to like the sport too to get closer to her. Kiyoshi and Hana at one point accidentally switch underwear, and both realize that they’re more comfortable wearing the other’s. When Chiyo asks what happened to Hana’s panties, Kiyoshi tries to tell a half-truth by saying that he keeps them in a drawer and is ashamed about it—except that’s a lie, and he’s wearing them during his confession. Early on, in regards to Kiyoshi, Chiyo prophetically says, “There’s no such thing as a bad person who likes sumo.”

When Hana suplexes Kiyoshi and flashes Chiyo with the truth, Kiyoshi accidentally pees on both of them. All of his graceful ploys and last-minute reversals of fortune are for naught because, in Kiyoshi’s own words, “I never learned anything.”

The Case of Gackt

Gackt is one of Kiyoshi’s fellow inmates, and is known for his absolute love of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He even speaks Japanese in an old-timey way (never mind that it was originally Chinese) as if to emphasize his love of the literary classic. Part way through the series, he begins developing feelings for a girl named Yokoyama Mitsuko, a hyper-klutz who also happens to be obsessed with Romance of the Threee Kingdoms.

(Fun trivia: Mitsuko’s name is a reference to Yokoyama Mitsuteru, legendary creator of Tetsujin 28 and author of one of the most beloved Three Kingdoms manga adaptations ever!)

Despite all the trials and tribulations, Gackt and Mitsuko seem destined for each other. However, one major curve ball shows up in the form of a character nicknamed “Slut-senpai” (real name unknown). Slut-senpai starts to fall for Gackt, and it motivates her to start learning about Romance of the Three Kingdoms to the point that she develops a genuine interest as well.

Eventually, the girls confront Gackt and ask for him to decide. However, he ultimately is unable to make a choice, and the two basically leave him and become friends with each other instead. In other words, Gackt based his entire criteria for his ideal girl on a good but ultimately limited trait—sharing a common hobby—and he couldn’t handle the possibility that there might be more to consider. Even his supposed preference for a chaste and innocent girl fell by the wayside at the prospect of a girlfriend who was willing to get down and dirty.

The Case of Andre

Unlike the two examples above, this one results in a happy ending—arguably against all odds.

Another one of the boys allied with Kiyoshi, Andre is a gentle soul and also a raging masochist. When he finds himself in his school’s prison, nothing excites him more than being under the eye of Meiko, the Shadow Student Council Vice President and the very epitome of a dominatrix.

But one day, another girl named Risa enters the picture, and around the same time, Meiko has a traumatic experience that turns her mentally into a meek 10 year old. For Andre, this means losing the very person he worshipped, and he spends most of the series trying to bring her back. At the same time, however, Risa sees a kind of inner strength in Andre and has fallen in love with him. Yet, because she cannot match the lofty ideals of sadomasochism Andre possesses, he has trouble seeing her in the same light.

Eventually, Meiko does recover, and all seems right in the world for Andre. However, what he realizes in the end is that Meiko might be the pinnacle of his carnal desire, but his heart and his feelings belong to Risa. Andre may have one hell of a kink, but in the end, it’s not enough to be the basis for an entire loving relationship. Andre chooses a person over a fetish.

Lessons Learned

Prison School is a series where one character, despite having multiple potential love interests, ends up with nobody because he’s ultimately an immature idiot who can’t truly take others into consideration. A different character has two romantic prospects but ends up with neither because his entire criteria for “ideal girlfriend” is “likes the same book.” Not only that, one of the few guys who does end up in a relationship chooses the girl who truly cared for him (and he, in turn, her) over the girl he’s worshipped and fetishized for ages. “Did you really cheer for this jackass of a protagonist?” Prison School asks, as it ends, perhaps against all odds, on a moral note. Goodness and genuine human connection win out. Shallow reasoning and deception are the realm of losers.

I Found Out the Dagashi Kashi Author [Might Be] a Woman Thanks to My Favorite Virtual Youtuber

CORRECTIONS: Thanks to a comment, I learned that “mom” and “dad” is a term describing the character designer of a Virtual Youtuber, which made me realize that the designation in the description isn’t necessarily the other person who shows up in the video. A further look at the video descriptions shows that the woman teaching Sugomori to draw comes from the manga school Manga Kyoushitsu Minato Mirai. I’ve edited the post because the possibility is still there, but have removed the incorrect information.

I’m not terribly into the whole virtual youtuber thing, but I do have my favorites. Recently, my #1 is Sugomori, a manga reviewer who covers everything from popular titles to more obscure ones.

She’s not one of the major ones right now, but I appreciate her focus on manga over games. Some of her videos (like the one above) have been subtitled into English, so you can enjoy them even if you don’t know Japanese.

However, I’m not just here to recommend a Youtube channel. I also want to point out the connection between Sugomori and Kotoyama, author of Dagashi Kashi and Yofukashi no Uta.

Sugomori’s character design is actually by Kotoyama, as she explains in her introductory video. That’s a pretty huge get for a Virtual Youtuber, I’d think. But also, Sugomori calls Kotoyama “mom” (okaa-sama) in her descriptions.

I don’t know if Sugomori is actually Kotoyama’s daughter, or if it’s just a joke or something [Turns out it’s a joke]. Whatever the case, I was surprised at the possibility that Kotoyama might be a woman! It would be cool if that turns out to be the case.

In conclusion, watch Sugomori, read Kotoyama. Enrich yourself.

The White Fear of Mediocrity

For the past couple of years, I’ve been listening over and over to the song  “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan. Despite being from the 70s, it was only a recent discovery for me, and the only prior exposure I had to Steely Dan was though the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure character of the same name. 

But it’s a timeless song that has me revisit it on a regular basis and to think about its messages. Its first-person narrative about a guy in the suburbs who dreams of a nightlife of playing saxophone, getting drunk on Scotch whiskey, and dying in a car accident indicates an unease I find reflective of the song’s very specific context: a distinctly white, male, and suburban fear of mediocrity. What strikes me most is that this fear still clearly exists today, and it bleeds heavily into American culture. Whether it’s drug abuse in suburban communities to escape the everyday drudgery or people turning to games to exercise their power fantasies, the general mood of “Deacon Blues” persists.

I’m not white and I’ve never lived in the suburbs, so I can’t directly relate to the malaise and yearning described in “Deacon Blues.” From my perspective growing up in the US, the suburbs were more of a distant dream for hard-working parents to strive for—even if I myself was never a fan of that vision. So as an outsider with respect to white suburban culture (or lack thereof), what I see is a community where people can be in so privileged a position that it creates certain unique challenges which strike at the core of how people define themselves and their success. Fear of mediocrity assumes there’s a safety net that keeps one from falling through the cracks, which is not a luxury everyone has. 

Just consider that the white suburban fear of a boring, mind-numbing existence resulting from limited success would be a mere pipe dream for many people of lesser means and fewer opportunities. There’s a saying about how black people don’t go camping because it’s just white people spending lots of money to pretend they’re poor–it’s not that different from what’s being said in “Deacon Blues.” The narrator there is glamorizing a life of pain and struggle because it’s something he can’t have while in his comfortable, repetitive life. 

This is not to minimize the effect of suburbs on the psyche–there’s evidence that their strangely sterile construction and layout does affect people negatively. Nor am I trying to trivialize the cultural circumstances that make being a minority in the US a challenge. But I think people in the suburbs (or indeed similar situations) often want something to fight against as a way to stave off a rutterless sense of direction. It leaves many vulnerable to manipulation, as they’re convinced that their “purpose” is to loyally fight for some terrible and often xenophobic cause.

I actually think the general dimensions of these feelings of inadequacy are not exclusive to white American culture. In Japan, for example, the presence of hikikomori (chronic shut-ins) and the recent popularity of isekai (parallel world) fiction both seem to suggest a society where people often feel powerless and directionless. Hikikomori generally have the luxury of being cared for by relatives in a way that makes them seem coddled, but a fear of what lies outside is all too real. Isekai fiction tends to be very heavy on male power fantasy, but it’s a particular kind of fantasy tied to one’s gaming and nerd knowledge. It speaks to a desire to have one’s time and effort validated. There’s even a similarity when it comes to each country’s fight with recession, and the way that both the “lost generation” of Japan and the millennials of the US were forced to notice that the seemingly endless prosperity of their parents’ generation was abused to the point of near-failure.

However, one difference is that the American suburban mood is ultimately tied to a failure to reconcile the American dream’s inherent contradictions within a capitalist society where success and failure are supposed to say something about one’s character. The fear of mediocrity creeps in, taunting minds with notions of “What if I could’ve been more?” And it’ll continue to haunt the suburbs for as long as they remain dull and discouraging towards expression.

Between Mister Rogers and Transformers is Precure

I had the opportunity to watch the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and one of the topics it discusses is the origins of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kind of counter-programming to the fast-paced “bombardment” that was (and continues to be) a staple of children’s television. Mister Rogers was meant to slow things down, and give kids a quieter and more contemplative half hour for them to learn and grow. Fred Rogers’ decades-long show took on an important challenge, but there’s the seed of doubt about its efficacy on people like myself, who remember their young childhood TV experience more along the lines of action-packed cartoons like Transformers or GI Joe. How do you reconcile the allure of such shows with the noble cause of trying to help kids learn to be better people? 

Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a trend of including public service messages in those merchandise-shilling action shows—”Knowing is half the battle!” as GI Joe would say—but they would often come across as unbelievably hokey or even disingenuous. Going from watching GI Joe’s forces blow up an enemy Cobra base, to seeing kids learn how to install a smoke detector—it never felt right.

I began to think about if there were any children’s series out there that integrates a nice balance between satisfying action and good advice to children, and one answer popped into my head immediately: Precure. More than a few magical girl shows carry a strong sense of positivity and wonder—in fact, I once referred to 2001’s Princess Comet as being distinctly Mister Rogers-esque—but they often don’t hit that pleasure zone that comes with watching heroes vanquish villains the way Precure does. After all, its origins are built on “a magical girl show from the director of Dragon Ball Z, and while its staff has changed numerous times, it still more or less maintains that legacy. But when you also look at the various heroines throughout Precure, they serve as confident and inspiring role models for young viewers in ways that almost betray the heavy consumerism that it also engenders.

Consider Cure Yell in Hugtto! Precure, who’s all about giving support to those both looking for their dreams and those pursuing them. Or how Cure Flora in Go! Princess Precure overcomes a major problem by realizing that the power to change and improve comes from within. Or how Cure Heart in Doki Doki Precure! reaches for the stars in everything she attempts. These heroines are only the tip of the iceberg, as many individual episodes also try to speak to the concerns and worries of children, and how to deal with the complicated and confusing emotions they experience growing up.

I think this is why I am, and likely always will be, a fan of Precure. Its creators know the power of being a GI Joe, but it also knows the value of being a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Striking that middle ground can come at a price—a muddled message, perhaps—but attempting that alchemy is valuable in a world where ideals and cynicism alike clash with each other on a daily basis.

Futari no Social Distance: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for May 2020

Anime Expo: Canceled. Otakon: Canceled. EVO: Canceled. But it’s all for the best as we try to keep one another safe in these strange times. I’m thankful to all the organizers for making the right choice, and I hope to see you all at conventions eventually. In the meantime, I find myself trying to make the most of my time spent at home.

Thank you to all my supporters on Patreon again this month, especially these fine folks below.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from April:

Their Problem is Our Problem: The Promised Neverland, “Coronavirus,” and the Systems that Force Inequality

The Promised Neverland brings the fury as it asks readers to think about the world around them.

When Comedy Goes Nuclear: Spy x Family

This popular new Jump+ manga is probably going to be the next big hit. I highly recommend it.

Eureka Seven, Holland, and Fujiwara Keiji

My tribute to the recently deceased voice actor who brought his A-game to every role. If you want to see my Top 10 favorite anime roles of his, I also wrote something up for Apartment 507.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 27 is, at last, the big performance…with a dash of possible romance.

Patreon-Sponsored

My Favorite (?) Anime Computer Games

It is what it says, sort of?

Closing

I’m nobody special when it comes to giving advice, but I hope everyone can enrich themselves and stay sane in these crazy times. As for me, I’m finding great joy in AI-generated memes (like the one you saw at the top of this post), and incredibly dumb and hilarious #partyparrot memes. (The joke is dicks.)

Seduction of the Innocent: Spotted Flower Babies

Spotted Flower has long been a bizarre, twisted version of Genshiken, but a couple of side chapters posted (temporarily) for free on the Rakuen: Le Paradis website reveal an extra wrinkle to its story. Portraying two groups of parents, it shows their actions inadvertently corrupting their children.

In Chapter 33.5, the wife (not-Kasukabe) is trying in vain to get her infant daughter, Saki, to raise her head. When the husband (not-Madarame) drops his phone by accident and it shows an old picture of him getting his necktie pulled (much like that famous moment in Genshiken), Saki’s eyes go wide with excitement. When the husband picks his phone back up, Saki’s head follows, and voila, she’s able to lift her head up under her own power. In that one moment, a fujoshi is born.

Then, in Chapter 34.5, not-Ohno has put her two kids, Shin (three years old) and Yuu (one year old) to bed alongside her. On her other side, however, is her husband (not-Tanaka!!), and she’s in the mood for some intimacy.. Not-Tanaka notices that she’s actually wearing pantyhose from a Kakegurui cosplay, which clearly shows that she’s been wanting this, but when she also tries to put on a Yumeko wig, he nixes that idea. The mini-chapter ends with them having sex off-panel, with Yuu being woken up and then lulled back to sleep by the sound of his parents knocking boots next to him.

The idea of seeing these geek parents influencing, even if accidentally, the next generation of degenerate pervy otaku is an intriguing one. What makes it all the more…special…is specifically that it’s the Spotted Flower characters doing this instead of the Genshiken ones. What will the future hold for these kids…?

M-Pros: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 27

It’s the Hashikko boys’ first real test: performing at the M-Con!

Chapter Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is up at the M-Con, and their performance impresses at least one of the judges. While they’re part of the “free” section—i.e., participation only—Akira and the rest take it very seriously. In a powerful moment, members of the audience could swear they heard an angel, thanks to the harmonizing by the four on stage. In the final moments, Jin’s thoughts are about proving how great choruses are.

Afterwards, many congratulations are had, including from Shion’s mom and the Nishigafuchi club members who attended. Nishigafuchi’s message is loud and clear: you’re good enough to compete. Elsewhere, Yumerun is observing from a distance, and seems upset about Jin to the point of tears. Hasegawa spots her and, mysteriously, offers to exchange Line account info with Yumerun.

Shuusuke, who was on piano due to Shion’s injury, offers to take a photo of the club (plus associated classmates). However, when Shion tries to assert that she’ll be the one playing for them next time, she trips and falls into Shuusuke’s arms in a repeat of a childhood moment between the two. The situation seems ripped straight out of a romance manga, which causes a great deal of shock and blushing, albeit for different reasons. While Akira very clearly has feelings for Shion, Kousei is just mad that Shion’s nickname for Shuusuke, Shuu-chan, is what he used to call his deceased little brother. In the end, they manage to take a rather awkward but hilarious group photo, while also giving (Mashino) Shuusuke a new nickname: Masshie.

The Judge’s Thoughts

I found the aforementioned judge to be an interesting part of the chapter because it showed how an expert would see a fairly amateurish club and still recognize in them some potential. In my view, the key is when he describes what proper harmonizing is: It’s not about thinking, “I will try to let my voice out in a way that matches up with the others,” but rather, “If I let my voice out, it will match up with the others.” 

He also expresses being impressed by the way they transform into tenuto in their performance, which is a musical direction meant to convey “holding a note for its full length.” (I’m not sure I’m using that term correctly, so feel free to correct me!) Jin actually reaches him for comments afterwards, and he encourages them to get more members so they can participate in different types of competitions.

I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.

Romance in the Air?

I’ve written a good deal about the potential for romance and love triangles in Hashikko Ensemble, but I’ve tried not to focus too much on it because I didn’t want these reviews to overly emphasize that side to the extent that people might assume this was a primary focus of the series. That being said, it’s now crystal clear that Akira has a thing for Shion, and that it wasn’t just him being somewhat naively overprotective. There also might be something going on with Yumerun too, but those tears are kind of ambiguous. 

I still wouldn’t quite classify Hashikko Ensemble as a romance manga, though. Rather, it’s a story about human connections through the world of music, of which love is one possibility. It’s exactly the kind of story Kio Shimoku excels at, and why I continue to be such a big fan of his.

Back to the subject of Yumerun, I would think that everything about this chapter—the encouragement Jin got to find more members, Yumerun’s reaction, Hasegawa’s gesture—would lead to her joining them. However, that would first require her to transfer to Hashimoto Technical High School, an environment likely unsuited for her implied musical talents overall. It would be a hell of a move, and if it happened, it would signal some very clear intent on Yumerun’s part.

I also got a kick on the little swerve we got in terms of Kousei. It seemed like he had some feelings for Shion, but it turned out to be something about his little brother instead. It’s a bit of dark humor that ironically lightens the moment.

Songs

Naturally, the only song this month is (once again) “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto. 

Final Thoughts

It’s clear from previous reviews that I didn’t quite understand what the “free” part of M-Con meant. I took it more as like, an “open competition,” as opposed to being the distinction between “For Fun” and “For Glory,” to use Smash Bros. terms. 

I think this is probably inevitable with my writing about Hashikko Ensemble because of how music is not my forte. It makes me want to see someone who does know a thing or two about music read and review this series!