Kakushigoto: Refined Absurdity

The style of manga artist Kumeta Kouji is unmistakable. His brand of comedy focuses heavily on humorous misunderstandings combined with rantings by off-kilter characters eager to point out the absurdities of the world while blissfully unaware of their own eccentricities. Previous anime adaptations of his work have totally embraced and even enhanced this manic energy (Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Joshiraku), but the anime version of Kumeta’s Kakushigoto takes a relatively more mellow approach. It makes sense, given that Kakushigoto is a more subdued and down-to-Earth story by the artist’s standards. The key difference between Kakushigoto and his past works is an emphasis on the tenderness of a father’s love for his daughter.

Kakushigoto is the story of Gotou Kakushi, a manga artist and single dad who will go to any length necessary to hide his profession from his young daughter, Hime. Specializing in ribald humor, Kakushi’s greatest fear is that he will permanently embarrass her, make her a laughingstock among her peers, and ruin her life. Luckily for Kakushi, Hime is extremely naive, though that doesn’t stop them (and everyone they know) from getting caught up in humorous misunderstandings. As fitting the manga author, the title of the series is a pun on the fact that it can mean “something you hide” (kakushi goto) and “a job where you draw” (kakushi goto). 

Many of the jokes revolve around Kakushi’s job, and like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, there’s a lot of inside baseball about things like deadlines, color pages, industry trends, useless editors, and decency standards. These are often the source of many of the aforementioned Kumeta-style rants (and Kakushi himself shares Zetsubou-sensei’s voice actor), but because the general subject of these ravings are smaller in scope than the societal condemnations of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, it actually gives Kakushigoto a noticeably more intimate feel. Because of this, as well as the focus on Kakushi and Hime’s relationship (and some extra familial drama with his in-laws), I find this anime to be more accessible and enjoyable to a wider range of potential fans who might get exhausted by Kumeta’s other works.

If Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is a spicy ketchup, Kakushigoto is a high-quality tomato sauce. 

What I mean is that Kakushigoto has a certain kind of maturity, and a willingness to try to find a middle ground between the unadulterated creative style of Kumeta and something that can speak to others beyond those already familiar with his work. It’s a tricky balance to strike, reminiscent of Shinkai Makoto’s your name. and its greater mainstream appeal compared to his older films. Importantly, Kakushigoto does not abandon Kumeta’s signature style, but rather refines it into a more well-rounded experience. 

MinMAY: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for May 2021

There’s a lot going on in the world that seems out of strangest dreams and nightmares, but within the specific realm of anime fandom, the big news has been that licensing rights for the Macross franchise have, at long last, been resolved. It’s like seeing pigs fly, then transform into Gerwalk mode. For all fans who have wanted to support Macross more directly but haven’t had the means to do so, this is our chance to let the creators and everyone else know what an impact Macross has had on our lives. I haven’t written any blog posts about the topic, but I don’t have that much to say except “Listen to my song!”

There’s not much out of it yet, but in the meantime, the official YouTube channel has uploaded the full Macross Flash Back 2012 (a sort of music video compilation) for a limited time. “Tenshi no Enogu” best song, by the way.

Oh, and despite the title of this month’s update, I’m Team Misa all the way.

Moving on to May’s Patreon sponsors, I’d like to say thank everyone, especially everyone here:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from April:

Courage and Experience: “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 2” Novel Review

Part 2 of 3 of my Gaogaiger sequel novel reviews!

Minmaxer Fiction: The Intersection Between Dungeons & Dragons and Isekai

Thoughts on how one of the most typical modern light novel setups appeals to one of the classic Dungeons & Dragons player types

Violence Miu: 22/7 Anime Review

How a unique(ly violent) protagonist makes this idol anime memorable.

Apartment 507

Early reviews of Tropical Rouge! Precure and Burning Kabaddi.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 39 continues to have Jin’s mom, Reika, steal the show.

Also, I have two posts highlighting the best of Kio Shimoku’s Twitter account!

Post 1

Post 2

Closing

My second COVID-19 vaccination is this month. If you have the opportunity to get one, I highly encourage you to do so!

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights April 2021

Another month of Kio Shimoku tweets is here! The guy has finally learned how to thread tweets, which makes things easier for me. A lot of the month was promoting his books, as well as other titles in Rakuen: Le Paradis, where Spotted Flower runs.

Crossover Images Featuring Genshiken, Hashikko Ensemble, and Spotted Flower

A crossover between Jin and Madarame.

Image 1:

“Stand like you’re being held by a string from the sky!” [a way to teach proper posture for singing]

“It’s normal for me to be hunched over, you know. *mutter*”

A duo who will never see eye to eye.

Image 2:

“So what was like in high school?”

“Well, it was pretty ordinary. I was in an otaku club…and I had long hair…”

“Ahh, Hashi Tech has one of those too. It’s called the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.”

“……Huh?”

I find this amusing because I sort of think of Jin and Madarame as similar characters, but they’re actually quite different. Jin is almost like if you mixed Madarame and Kohsaka.

Also, it turns out that teenage Madarame, Tanaka, and Kugayama doppelgangers (in an actual Genshiken club) actually did make a cameo in Hashikko Ensemble!

Old drawings from the @hashikko_music Twitter. In the first, Hasegawa is commenting that Sue has a nasty expression. In the second, Himari is about to make the same comment about Ogino-sensei, but is struck by their similarities.

More old drawings from the other account. This time, it’s Not-Sue holding Himari, only to realize it’s not Ogino-sensei.

Ohno and Mimi-sensei…and also Shion, who wants a grab.

More Tortoise!

Sleeping Tortoise Pose Series. Pose: Manji

Kio recalls a moment from 10 years ago, where a stray cat was curiously poking at the tortoise as the latter slowly tried to scuttle away. He remarks that, amazingly, this is the same tortoise who now actively rams the window asking to be let in.

Here’s how the turtle crawls in.

Miscellaneous

Thanking Taniguchi Jun’ichirou for his animation work on Genshiken. This includes Nidaime and the original series, where Taniguchi and Mizushima Tsutomu (who would later go on to direct Nidaime) worked on the infamous “nose hair” episode.

And another old drawing about washing your hands. I believe this was from early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kio bought an L-Gaim model kit!

Kurotaki Mai from Hashikko Ensemble with extremely realistic bunny ears.

That’s all for this month!

Violence Miu: 22/7 Anime Review

Warning: Full Spoilers

When I first started watching the 22/7 anime TV series, what stood out to me was how generally serious it was—not only compared to other idol anime, but also what I knew of it from one of its official Youtube channels. Instead of the off-kilter hijinks of a bunch of virtual youtubers, the anime follows a formula of introducing the backstories for each character in order to show how they became who they were. While all of them have some element of drama or tragedy, with the recurring theme being that they weren’t all born with the personality and attitude they have now (especially when onstage), all of them are well within the boundaries of what one would expect out of idols, especially fictional ones.

By the finale, however, the one big exception to those confines is the main heroine, Takigawa Miu. I don’t know if I’d call her my favorite character of the series, but she ends up being the most memorable part of the 22/7 anime.

The first couple of episodes revolve heavily around Miu, who’s shy and unconfident to the point that it loses her a much-needed part-time job, and who has some sort of trauma when it comes to playing piano. At first, she’s extremely reluctant to join 22/7 and become an idol, but over the course of the series, she opens up and becomes more comfortable with her fellow members. We learn about the other girls as well, and then we reach episode 11, which focuses on the childhood of Nicole, the one among them who gave Miu the hardest time early on. What we see in that flashback is that the two knew each other in elementary school, and that a single event would tie the two together.

Unlike her current self, Nicole was very shy and quiet, often being bullied by other students. When it came time to put on a school play, Nicole’s name was volunteered by her tormentors to play the evil queen, and they play a prank on her in an attempt to embarrass her during the performance. Miu, who’s also in the play, runs onstage and tackles one of Nicole’s bullies. 

At this point, I think most idol anime, which tend to be kinder and gentler, would make that tackle one of the big moments. It would cut away and all the characters would gasp. 22/7 takes it a step further, and shows Miu actually wailing on the girl with closed hands—albeit, not as punches or anything, but more like the flailing hammer blows you’d expect from a little kid. Not only does this differentiate 22/7 from so many of its peers, but highlights a certain depth of character to Miu. She’s not just the girl who lost confidence and found it—she’s someone who has a strong sense of fairness, and is willing to throw hands to make her feelings known about that.

That was the past, and it doesn’t entirely gel with the image we have of her in the present. However, as the series nears its climax, the mysterious “wall” that was giving them instructions all along reveals that it is actually an AI that had been manipulating the girls for its own purposes and no longer needs them. As the 22/7 girls strongly plead to let them join back together instead of disbanding, the AI refuses to budge. When hope is all but lost, Miu steps up to make her intentions known…by hitting the wall with an armchair.

What really impresses upon me in this scene and the one Snow White performance in the flashback is that Miu’s actions aren’t portrayed as “wacky” or “cool.” They’re expressions of frustration and indignation over perceived malicious acts, and they come from someone who lashes out despite her lack of confidence because of what she believes in. It’s a far cry from a pillow fight or some slapstick antics, and it’s what establishes the 22/7 anime as a little more than just some forgettable idol fair. 

Heel Behavior: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 39

Reika, Jin's Mom, telling the Basso Masters to sing from the heels

Jin’s mom continues to be a tour de force in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 39.

Summary

It’s now the finals of the Culture Festival’s music competition, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is up against the mysterious masked Basso Masters. However, not everything is as it seems. The leader of the Basso Masters isn’t anyone special or known—just a friendly third-year named Satou who was inspired by Jin to follow his interest in music. And even though Jin’s mom, Reika, gave Jin a deal to let him go to music college if they win, Jin himself doesn’t really care about that. In fact, he likes applying his match and science skills in electrical engineering, and simply wants to show Reika the merits of singing as a group.

The Basso Masters go first, but just as they begin their performance, Reika interrupts them to rearrange the singers’ positions to group them according to roles (Bass I, Bass II, Tenor I, Tenor II). She also provides some advice on how to sing from the entire body instead of just from the throat. The difference is so immediately noticeable and significant that even the members of the Chorus Appreciation Society can’t help but applaud by the end.

The Basso Masters singing intensely after taking Reika's advice

As Jin, Akira, and the others get ready for their turn, a student from electrical engineering brings to Jin an LED display meant to show the lyrics to their next song, “Kokoro no Tsubasa.” Here, we learn that Himari has been hard at work getting this done, going so far as to learn how to program. Akira, seeing how many people Jin has touched and changed with his passion for music (Akira himself included), encourages Jin to consider music college after all.

The Power of Reika

Once again, Reika steals the show, as she presents an interesting obstacle for Jin. I think the really challenging thing about her from Jin’s perspective is that her talent, as well as her ability to recognize talent, are undeniable. While Reika believes group singing is less important than solo performances, it’s not as if she dismisses it outright. In fact, it’s thanks to her immense understanding of chorus dynamics that the Basso Masters are able to put on an amazing performance. She also specifically tells Satou, the Basso Leader, that he’s actually pretty good at conducting, so it’s not as if she has an ego about it. Reika is simply incredibly unfiltered—another similarity she has with her son, even if they manifest differently. At one point, Reika puts on a spare pair of glasses, and the students at school instantly recognize her as Jin’s mom. The way the Kimura family carry themselves is unmistakable.

Reika’s advice for how to sing better explains a lot as well. Essentially, she says that the common folk breathe from the throat, the experienced breathe from the spine, and the true masters breathe from the heels. So, when you sing, your feelings should erupt forth like magma—through the butt, then the spine, then the throat, then the forehead, then the top of your head. Not only is it a vivid visual metaphor (especially for a song called “Hymn of the Earth”) but it explains why Reika believes that an exposed forehead makes for better singing.

Himari Working Behind the Scenes

I had been wondering about Himari’s lack of presence in recent chapters, and I’m glad that it wasn’t just her being outshone by other characters. The fact that she hasn’t been in the spotlight is also quite fitting for her personality, and in hindsight I think it was the smart move overall. She’s trying to help in her own way, and she doesn’t make a big fuss out of it because she doesn’t want the attention. This likely goes all the way back to Jin leaving Himari’s apartment (and the inevitable misinterpretation of events that occurred): she was probably helping Jin with this LED display. Moreover, Akira points out that Himari has always been fond of picture books and poetry and such, so the lyrics of “Kokoro no Tsubasa” must have resonated with her. 

Himari isn’t a writer, as far as we know, but could her appreciation of the written world lead to her eventually joining the Chorus Appreciation Society? Either direction would work, and would indicate where her character has headed.

Songs

Basso Masters: “Daichi Kinshou” (Hymn of the Earth) from the cantata “Tsuchi no Uta” (Song of the Land)

“Kokoro no Tsubasa” (“The Wings of Mind”) composed by Kitagawa Noboru

Final Thoughts

I’m worried that something disastrous is going to happen to Akira and Jin! Something tells me the conflict with Reika isn’t over by a mile.

The “Essence vs. Fill” Priorities Tier List in Smash Bros. Ultimate and Beyond

Tier lists are a staple part of discussions in any competitive gaming community. No matter the approach or philosophy, they’re an attempt to make sense of a game’s elements, and a well thought out tier list can be an opportunity for fruitful discussion. A few months back, I watched a video by Super Smash Bros. Melee player/commentator Toph, in which he goes over a Melee “tier” list by another player named Ginger. Much like how it blew Toph’s mind, I found it really fascinating myself. 

Ginger ranks the characters not by how strong they are, how likely they are to win a tournament, overall matchup spread, or any of the standard conceptions of tier lists. Instead, it’s about where characters fall on a spectrum between what he calls “essence” and “fill.” The video mostly explains what those terms mean, but they’re not obvious upfront. Actually, they’re pretty obtuse, but I’m sticking with them so as not to further introduce new vocabulary. 

Basically, “essence” means characters who mainly play by aiming towards certain central win conditions or moves, whereas “fill” means sort of “throw the kitchen sink at ’em” characters who try to use smoke and mirrors to win the day. In the context of Melee, Ice Climbers are considered a “pure essence” character because chain grabs (be they infinite or otherwise) are so fundamental to their play. Falco is considered “all fill” at the highest levels of play because he really has to rely on his entire kit to win, but at lower level is considered an “essence” character because his fundamental tools (his power short hop laser and his down b being a combo starter) are so difficult for less skilled and experienced players to deal with. Other terms used to describe this difference used in this video (as well as a follow-up) are essence = meat and potatoes, and filler = smoke and mirrors.

It’s also worth noting that just because a character is more “essence” or more “fill” doesn’t mean they’re only good at one or the other. Fox can do well in both (which is probably why he’s arguably the best character there), but he’s simply even better at “fill” stuff. It also doesn’t say which characters are stronger overall, with top and bottom tiers being strewn throughout each category.

With that in mind, I made a quick chart for how I think characters fall in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, roughly in order within tiers. Due to fundamental differences in the games, I think there’s a higher percentage of “essence” characters in Ultimate than Melee, but I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the experience to speak for most characters. These are built on my perceptions playing against them here and there, as well as watching many tournaments.

Framing characters along this spectrum has helped me think about why certain characters might appeal to certain types of players regardless of competitive viability. A player who finds more satisfaction out of forcing their opponents to play around a specifically potent and efficient attacks of an essence-based character may not enjoy the constant mix-ups and obfuscations that fill-based characters thrive on. Different match-ups might become more frustrating for some people than others because it might require switching from fill to essence-based play or vice versa. In a way, it could potentially be less of a tier list and more of a psychology test.

The spectrum vs. fill contrast can also help explain how characters may have changed in the transition between games. For example, I consider Mewtwo to be a “mostly fill” character in Ultimate because while it has certain kill confirms and reliable go-to attacks (Shadow Ball), Mewtwo generally has to focus on trying to slowly build up its wins using the full range of its tools. However, I think Smash 4 Mewtwo is more of a “mostly essence” character because its down tilt could combo more easily (thus making it the de facto tool in neutral), the nair into footstool into disable could net KOs so easily, and its powerful air dodge made reversing situations fairly simple.

This way of thinking about characters and players can extend beyond Smash into other competitive games, and even beyond gaming into other areas. For example, I find it to be a great way to categorize different professional wrestlers in terms of their in-ring styles. Who is more “essence” than Hulk Hogan, who famously won most of his matches with a combo of Hulk Up into Big Boot into Leg Drop? On the flipside, AJ Styles is the definition of “fill” because while he has no one devastating move that all but guarantees victory, his character is portrayed as someone who has developed a variety of finishers that can be adapted to virtually any situation.

You can also apply it to the differences between visual artists. A “pure essence” artist would be one who can fully imagine the finished product and then work towards that image, while an “all fill” artist would be one who doesn’t have it fully formed in their mind’s eye but slowly builds up towards something. It doesn’t say anything about skill, talent, or hard work—it’s a difference in how one perceives and interacts with the world on a creative level.

So whether it’s Smash or something else entirely, I think the essence vs. fill spectrum is a useful thought exercise. It’s something I might come back to in the future.

Graveyard Smash: Kemono Jihen

Kemono Jihen is an anime that succeeds in just about everything it aims to do. As a shounen action series with a bit more of an otaku bent than the big traditional Jump titles, it manages to straddle the line between “energetic young kids fighting” and “entertaining character-interaction comedy/drama.” 

When a private investigator named Inugami comes to a rural inn to investigate some mysterious animal mutilations, he discovers a boy named Kabane who seems to be hated by his adopted family. Inugami soon discovers that Kabane is actually a half-human kemono (monster) capable of immense strength and with an indestructible body. After faking Kabane’s death, Inugami takes him to Tokyo, where he becomes one of a trio of young teens who work for Inugami’s detective agency. Together, they help to solve supernatural crimes, which sometimes involves having to get their hands a little dirty.

Kabane is in many ways a typical shounen hero: unusually strong and enormously naive. However, he’s not quite a Goku or a Luffy. While I might be dating myself a bit, if you’ve ever watched the old “Coneheads” Saturday Night Live skits (or even the 1990s film), Kabane has a similar kind of tendency to talk as if he’s not entirely sure how words and emotions work, while being both blunt and kind at heart at the same time. The other characters—like the brash yet slightly tsundere spider boy Shiki and the effeminate and social media–obsessed snow boy Akira—provide Kabane with personalities to bounce off of, as well as allies to bond with. A later side character, a kitsune girl named Kon, is my favorite character in terms of her interactions with Kabane, as they’re equally charmingly dim. Kabane and Kon give me a vibe very akin to Denji and Power in Chainsaw Man

As for the series being more otaku than the norm, I think this comes across mainly in the character designs. They’re not egregiously pandering by any means, but they possess a general cute yet cool aesthetic that seems to be leaving the door open for all manner of fanart and fan interpretations to happen. Which is to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fan base was mostly a combination of those who love fights and those who love young and charismatic characters.

Action-wise, Kemono Jihen stands quite well on its own, and the superpowered fights that do occur are refreshingly straightforward and easy to follow without too many special attacks gumming up the clarity of a battle. The contrast of those cute characters fighting somewhat brutally might not appeal to everyone, but it’s never excessively grotesque.

Will Kemono Jihen stay a relatively down-to-Earth story about investigating mysteries, or will it lean towards escalating power levels and big fights? I actually don’t mind either direction because the characters are so endearing. In a way, that’s some of the best praise I can give.

Minmaxer Fiction: The Intersection Between Dungeons & Dragons and Isekai

I saw a tweet recently from someone complaining about isekai series that introduce and highlight stats and numbers the way an RPG would despite ostensibly being set in non-game fantasy worlds. 

In response, I  wrote the above tweet to give my two cents on the appeal of such an approach. However, it also got me thinking in another direction that takes this RPG fantasy game genre all the way back to one of its roots—good ol’ Dungeons & Dragons—and I realized something: these game-esque light novels feel like they’re written by what tabletop RPG players call “minmaxers.”

I was introduced to playing D&D thanks to Alain from Reverse Thieves, and after years of playing with him, I’ve come to learn firsthand that roleplaying is a very different experience compared to prose fiction or a television show. Essentially, it’s more like collaborative interactive storytelling compared to other mediums, and one aspect of this nature is that many different people with different goals come to the same table. You might have someone who’s more into exploring the world. You might have someone who wants the glory of slaying the monster and saving the day. You might have someone who wants a dramatic narrative. Because this dynamic is so important, many people have devoted many hours to categorizing the various D&D player types and thinking about how to best cater to them or even deal with their worst excesses.

Among these player archetypes, a common one is the minmaxer: the person who’s all about designing strong characters from a statistical perspective by minimizing certain scores and maximizing others, often prioritizing power over all else. There are also less extreme versions of this, such as someone simply interested in game systems and how different stats interact with one another, but it falls in the same general space. However, whereas a Dungeon Master running a game might have to take into account all the potentially different priorities of their players, a web novelist or light novelist can write the stories they want without necessarily taking into account an audience composed of varying tastes, and instead tell a story where the “game mechanics” are front and center. Adding to this intentional rigidity is the fact that many of the light novels that fall into these minmaxer worlds are clearly more inspired by video games such as Japanese RPGs and MMORPGs, where mechanics mastery is often highly valued and encouraged by the games themselves—sometimes even over storytelling.

When you look at the typical trends of protagonists within these game-style fantasy worlds, this angle becomes all the clearer. Many isekai heroes are able to peer deeper into the inner workings of the world (So I’m a Spider, So What?), have some kind of special ability that lets them defy stat restrictions (Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?), or just know that there are game-like qualities to their world (My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!). What these features have in common is that they “break” the rules, and it’s even easier when the rules are just numbers and calculations. If you’ve ever been or seen someone who wants to be praised for an interesting build or stat investment in a game (“Check out how I combine Helmet A with Sword B to deal with Situation C!” “I gave my monster 248 speed instead of 252 so I could add 4 to defense!”), it’s that same energy. When you combine it with the glory-seeking player type, you get the overpowered perfect light novel protagonist who masterfully exploits the mechanics, defeats the villains with ease, and gets the harem.

A picture of the four personalities of Kumoko from So I'm a Spider, So What? All of them are excited in different ways.
So I’m a Spider, So What?

Which isn’t to say that the minmaxer approach to writing stories is inherently bad or incapable of making for good stories. Rather, where I think the disconnect between those who want more classical fantasy stories and what light novels are offering today is that the minmaxer is traditionally very much not the kind of person who gets into writing or reading fantasy novels. To be that way, you have to come from an environment where numbered stats are even a thing in the first place, and that can only be the result of a world where Dungeons & Dragons popularized the notion of codifying fantasy-genre elements into stats with pros and cons for the purpose of gaming—a quality that then became the basis for many of the JRPGs that have influenced a generation of Japanese people, among them the writers of web novels and light novels. It’s a far cry from Lord of the Rings.

This contrast actually reminds me of an episode of the sitcom Home Improvement, of all things. In it, the mother character, Jill Taylor, is asked by her father (a retired colonel) to review his autobiography manuscript. But try as she might, Jill finds it incredibly boring and sleep-inducing because her father mostly writes about battle strategy and military formations, as opposed to dramatic exploits or anything emotionally resonant. Her father clearly values the mechanics of war, but what he wants his book to convey is not appealing to those with little interest in such things. Given this example, it’s also worth noting that D&D itself is descended from a miniature wargame called Chainmail, and one of the ways that D&D would eventually expand its audience was by adding elements that would appeal to those who care about things other than combat.

So while fantasy traditionally caters to those who want to witness a world of swords and sorcery where the sense of the mysterious and unknown is paramount, the minmaxer fiction that is so ubiquitous in fantasy light novels over the past decade or two is almost the opposite. In these worlds, all surprises can be overcome with deeper or prior knowledge. It’s no wonder why the latter approach can be so bothersome to those who seek the former, and there’s no Dungeon Master who can try to cater to both in real time.

How Incineroar in Smash Bros. Embodies Japanese Pro Wrestling

Incineroar is one of my favorite characters to play in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s the first truly traditional grappler character in the franchise, and his entire moveset directly reflects the Pokémon’s pro wrestling background. However, what I think is really fascinating about Incineroar’s implementation in Smash is that the character draws most directly from an old-school Japanese professional wrestling aesthetic and history.

To start off, a major part of Incineroar’s Japan-inspired wrestling design is a part of its identity as a Pokémon. It clearly takes a lot of influence from the beloved fictional wrestling character turned actual flesh-and-blood wrestler Tiger Mask—both are cat-themed athletes who are ostensibly heels but have a soft spot for children. But if you take a look at the relative strength of Incineroar’s attacks, you’ll find that it’s based on Japan’s cultural understanding of pro wrestling.

Incineroar’s forward smash is an Enzuigiri, and it has immense damage and KO potential. To a viewer mainly familiar with American promotions, the Enzuigiri is mostly used as a transitional move to something stronger or a counter to an opponent’s offense. However, the technique has a greater legacy in Japan, where it is the finisher of Antonio Inoki, one of the three most famous Japanese wrestlers of all time. Inoki is a legend as both a champion and the founder of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and was even used as the model for the character Fighter Hayabusa in the NES game Pro Wrestling, where the Enzuigiri is known as the “Back Brain Kick.”

If you look at what Incineroar can do off a grab, you’ll find a similar phenomenon. Of the character’s four basic throws, the deadliest one is the German Suplex. Again, you have a move that, outside of Japan, is seen as kind of generic; maybe at most, people might associate it with Kurt Angle or Brock Lesnar. But the German Suplex is also the defining hold of Karl Gotch, the man known as the “god of wrestling” in Japan. Gotch had an enormous influence on the Japanese pro wrestling style, and even today whenever a wrestler pulls off a German Suplex in Japan, it’s seen as a big deal that can potentially end a match right then and there.

Another powerful throw Incineroar uses is the Argentine Backbreaker. While this move is seen in the US as more impactful than the Enzuigiri or German Suplex thanks to wrestlers like Lex Luger and the man who originally popularized it, Antonino Rocca, its footprint is even more prevalent in Japan. Not only did Rocca wrestle in Japan later in his career and is possibly the namesake of Antonio Inoki, but the Argentine Backbreaker also gained notoriety in the pages of the manga Kinnikuman. There, the character Robin Mask (a wrestler dressed like an English knight) uses it as a finishing move, calling it the Tower Bridge. Moreover, it’s clear that at least Sakurai Masahiro (the director of the Smash Bros. franchise) knows Kinnikuman: he posted to Twitter an image of Smash characters mimicking the Muscle Docking technique from the series:

Moving on, Incineroar’s best attack is arguably its side special, the Alolan Whip. While the name itself is a parody of the Irish Whip, the more important part is the follow-up: a vicious Lariat. 

One of the most famous American wrestlers to ever entertain fans in Japan is Stan Hansen, whose Western Lariat became downright iconic everywhere he fought. On the Japanese Wikipedia page for “Lariat,” the history section literally begins with a mention of Hansen, and in current times, the Japanese wrestler Okada Kazuchika is famed for his “Rainmaker” Lariat. Incidentally, Incineroar also has another related move taken from the Pokémon games—Darkest Lariat—but that’s closer to Zangief from Street Fighter II’s Double Lariat.

Generally speaking, I find that pro wrestling has a lot more of a longstanding influence on Japanese pop culture than it does American pop culture, despite the fact that pro wrestling as we know it has its origins in the United States. Even today, manga and anime wholly unrelated to wrestling or hand-to-hand combat (like Laid-Back Camp) will throw in a few references, as if to assume a common understanding among readers. So while having a wrestling cat for a Pokémon is not altogether that unusual regardless of culture, I find the execution of such a concept in Smash Bros. Ultimate to be very reflective of that enduring legacy. The fact that Incineroar so embodies the values of Japanese pro wrestling makes it all the more fun to play, win or lose.

Courage and Experience: “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 2” Novel Review

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST GAOGAIGAR VS. BETTERMAN NOVEL

The Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman web novel series has been a blessing for giant robot fans. Taking place in the Gaogaigar universe ten years after the cliffhanger ending of the Gaogaigar FINAL OVAs, it tells the story of how the world has changed since the Gutsy Galaxy Guard got trapped in another universe, and the new challenges those on Earth must face. A now twenty-year-old Amami Mamoru has gone from plucky kid companion to a seasoned robot pilot in his own right, working alongside his fellow alien adoptee Kaidou Ikumi to control Gaogaigo, a successor to the King of Braves in the fight against the forces that threaten the world. The series is being collected into print novels, and that’s the way in which I’ve been reading it.

The end of Part 1 saw the triumphant return of Shishioh Guy, the original pilot of Gaogaigar. However, his comeback was not without cos,t as the robot lion Galeon nobly sacrificed itself to free Guy from the clutches of their mysterious god-like adversary, Hakai-oh (“World-Conquering King.”) The second novel, Part 2, picks up directly from that point with a new challenge: a reunion with some old and familiar faces, not as allies but as enemies. Guy and Mamoru must fight across the world, respectively as the Mobile Corps Commanders of the Gutsy Galaxy Guard (GGG Green) and the Gutsy Global Guard (GGG Blue).

Genuine Care for Lore and Characterization Alike

When I read Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, I’m always struck by how much attention is paid to its own history and lore. While it can sometimes get a little too into the weeds, the general feeling that comes across is real affection and respect on the part of the creators for the universe they’ve created, as well as the fans who have embraced these stories. From the way fights play out to moments of character introspection, everything and everyone is portrayed with a robust three-dimensionality that rewards readers who remember both Gaogaigar and Betterman

For example, we’re reminded that Neuronoids (the robots of Betterman) are powered by artificial brains based on neurological patterns of actual species. This novel answers the question of what brain is in Gaogaigo: a dolphin from the Gaogaigar video game who was turned into a G-Stone cyborg like Guy, and who ultimately had to pass when the “Invisible Burst” that compromised electronics before the successful establishment of the Global Wall made it impossible to maintain the dolphin’s cybernetics. During a fight, it’s revealed that Gai-go is actually extremely strong in underwater combat—a product of being based on a marine creature.

There’s also a side story at the end of the novel that takes in the space between Part 1 and Part 2, where Guy and Mamoru visit a transit museum to see the original Liner Gao, the bullet train that becomes the shoulders of the original Gaogaigar. As they converse, the topic of the Replicant Mamoru from Gaogaigar FINAL comes up. While Repli-Mamoru ended up being merely a clone of the real Mamoru, Guy still carries a lot of guilt over killing him—especially because Guy hasn’t aged and still remembers that trauma as if it were mere weeks ago. It would have been all too easy to forget that part of the OVAs, especially because of the grandiosity of its later battles, but both the author (former Gaogaigar staff Takeda Yuuicihirou) and supervisor (the original director, Yonetani Yoshitomo) put in that extra mile. 

As a funny little moment during this side story, Guy is less astounded by the giant “Global Wall” defense system that allows wireless communications to work after a previous disaster than he is by Mamoru’s smartphone. When he last left, beepers (like Mamoru’s special GGG version) were still the norm, and to see the progression of human technology (as opposed to G-Stone technology derived from Galeon) puts a smile on Guy’s face.

Spotlight on Betterman 

Because Gaogaigar is the bigger franchise between the two marquee titles, it gets the (robot) lion’s share of the attention overall. However, Part 2 does devote more pages to the Betterman side of things than previously—while the first novel’s Betterman-focused pages are mainly about the Somniums (the titular “Bettermen”) and the question of whether they would help defend the Earth, this novel explores the original main characters, Aono Keita and Sai Hinoki, in greater detail. In particular, Keita was a relatively minimal factor in Part 1, but here, his romantic relationship with Hinoki is front and center for a significant portion of the book. Keita’s portrayal is interesting because of how humble his situation is. Rather than staying in space with Hinoki (who has since become highly educated and is a science officer for GGG Blue), Keita is without a college degree and works at an electronics store, where his otaku knowledge makes him an ideal employee. But Keita also works hard with the dream of providing a home that Hinoki can come back to, especially because Hinoki tragically lost her family as a young child.

The color insert at the beginning of the novel also has colored design images of Keita and Hinoki courtesy of the original character designer, Kimura Takahiro. As a huge fan of Kimura’s art (and his work creating Hinoki), it’s a welcome addition.

Intense(ly Clever) Battles and the Value of Experience

The real meat and potatoes of Part 2 are the many fights that take place throughout. Because they’re a pretty major surprise and make up such a huge portion of the story, I’m going to put an extra SPOILER WARNING here.


While there’s a bit of fighting between Guy and Betterman Lamia that makes the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman title technically true, the main thrust of conflict in Part 2 comes in the form of the old Gutsy Galaxy Guard members who have now been taken over by the “Triple Zero” energy that comes from Hakai-oh. Now greatly powered up and known as the “Hakai Nobility,” Brave Robots and human GGG agents alike now fight against the Earth with the goal of bringing “divine providence” to the universe. 

The first character who shows up to oppose the heroes is actually Hakai Mic Sounders, and I will say that “Evil Mic Sounders” is indeed quite a trip. Still using his characteristic mix of English and Japanese, it’s easy to not take a line like “SORRY, but I have to destroy you” seriously—that is, until you’re reminded of how powerful Mic truly is. With the ability to produce sound waves that can break down anything (if given the right information), Mic Sounders is capable of rendering even the toughest armors useless. The only reason they win is because a Betterman who can control sound herself is able to provide a counterbalance.

That battle introduces the recurring idea in the fights against the infected Brave Robots: GGG is a great asset when on the side of humanity, but beyond dangerous when its powers are turned against Earth. Goldymarg’s signature toughness (enough to withstand the power of the Goldion Hammer when in Marg Hand form) makes him able to withstand just about anything, and it takes a “Goldion Double Hammer” weapon wielded by Guy in Gaofighgar to even begin to even the odds. Tenryujin and Big Volfogg make for similarly intimidating opponents with their own unique strengths, Volfogg’s role as guardian of a young Mamoru in the past providing an extra layer of stakes in that particular fight. But it’s also not just the robots who are a threat—the human members have also become Hakai Nobility, and the tactical prowess of Commander Taiga and the genius hacking skills of Entouji provide extra hurdles for GGG Green and GGG Blue. 

Another recurring theme throughout these fights, however, is that the time dilation difference between the old GGG members and the current ones means that Mamoru and the others have ten years of their own experience under their belts. There’s a moment at the beginning of the novel where Mamoru says that he’s willing to relinquish the role of GGG Mobile Corps Commander to Guy, only for Guy to reject his offer and to praise Mamoru for having clearly been through many tough trials of his own, and at this point actually has fought with GGG for longer than he has. He further explains that he was originally just the right man for the moment, having been an astronaut transformed into a G-Stone cyborg to save his life, and wasn’t a born fighter himself.

And so we see that sentiment play out. In the fight against Tenryujin, her younger “sister” Seiryujin, the latter targets Tenryujin’s knees—a seemingly odd move, until one remembers that the individual robots that compromise the “Ryu” series all turn upside down to combine, meaning their chests (and thus their Hakai-infected AI boxes) are located in the legs. When dealing with Entouji’s computer virus, GGG Blue member Inubouzaki Minoru takes center stage. Originally a jealous rival of Entouji’s who became a Zonder in the TV series, and later returned as an ally when the Gutsy Geoid Guard became the Gutsy Galaxy Guard, Inubouzaki shows the progress he’s made the past decade not only in terms of improved skills but also being more at peace with himself and his past.

Just as everything seems to be going Earth’s way, however, the next Hakai Nobility appear: Goryujin and Genryujin (who both have access to THE POWER), as well as Soldat J and King J-Der. The preview of the next (and last!) volume hints at what’s to come with the key to victory: something called “Goldion Armor.”

To the End

The web novel version of Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman has concluded, and the concluding print release is supposed to be out this summer. While I could jump in and start reading it online now, I think I’m going to wait once more. If I could wait close to 15 years before, I can withstand a few months. 

In the meantime, I’ve also been reading the manga adaptation of this series, which provides some of the visual flair that’s inevitably missing from the prose version. I can only hope that we might see an actual anime come out of this someday.