Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)
For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.
Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)
In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs.
But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.
There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place.
I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.
Every month, I collect highlights from Genshiken author, Kio Shimoku’s, tweets. This month’s provide some interesting insight into Kio’s work history beyond the manga he’s known for!
Kio started filling this bookshelf back when Rakuen: Le Paradis (home of Spotted Flower) began, and now it’ll be full in two years.
Later, he remarks (while promoting a half-off sale) that he only does three chapters a year, but somehow it’s reached the point of having so many.
Kio doesn’t know how to use the Stream Lines tool [for making Speed Lines] in the art program Clip Studio Paint.
Color proofs of all the covers from the Genshiken Shinsouban Edition!
The announcement that next month’s Hashikko Ensemble is the final chapter. “I hope you’ll all stick around to the end.”
Kio quotes a tweet about a special one-shot manga in Monthly Afternoon by Samura Hiroaki (Blade of the Immortal, Wave, Listen to Me!) about the life of the renowned second chief editor of Afternoon, Yuri Kouichi—a man who, prior to Afternoon, was responsible for bringing hits like Akira and Ghost in the Shell to publication. In the manga, Samura mentions his interactions with the famous manga artist Takano Fumiko, and Kio says in his quote tweet that he once worked as an assistant for Takano. He only did screentones for her, but she smiled and said to him, “I don’t care whether you’re a rookie who’s yet to debut—you did a good job.” The moment stuck with Kio.
3 out of 4 of the CDs for his 2010 doujinshi work seems to not be working. While he has the original 350-page paper manuscript somewhere (for a Star Wars parody called Sister Wars Episode I), he doesn’t know where it is. A fan mentions wanting to buy it, but Kio’s not sure what format he should sell it in. He also feels a desire to make Episode II. He’s had plenty of ideas for it, but he feels like he’s been forgetting them lately, so he probably needs to get it done sooner than later.
(Kio mentioned Sister Wars in his interview with the Vtuber Luis Cammy. You can read my summary of that interview here.)
Oguro Yuuichirou, the chief editor at Anime Style, gives high praise to Hashikko Ensemble and its characters, story, and visual presentation of music. Kio tweets being happy about it, to which Oguro re-expresses how genuinely good he thinks the manga is. Kio gives a thank you.
December featured an online extra for Spotted Flower that focuses on the editor character Endou. Kio responds to fan feedback, including from a fellow Ogiue lover and Twitter mutual of mine!
Kio is done with the last rough drawing, whose expression he changed around four times. A fan (who’s a huge Jin from Hashikko Ensemble fan) asks which character it is, to which Kio responds “the ostensible protagonist, Fujiyoshi,” and then reacts to the fan’s Jin profile picture.
Kio gets excited over fellow artist Ikuhana Niro making good on his word and getting a new car.
Kio bought another Motorhead figure from Five Star Stories.
Ikuhana Niro mentions that a new doujinshi of theirs is out, and Kio comments that he remembers how “that doujinshi” is under a different pen name.
Kio makes a cryptic tweet about not being able to ride the turbulent waves, and says, “See you tomorrow.”
We’ll come to know what “fogged glasses” looks like in the winter. I think this refers to Spotted Flower, but I’m not certain.
He took some kind of online quiz, I think, and the result it gave him was that he lives life on “hard mode.” Kio responds with “What the?” The test also apparently says that someone like him wants a life where they love and are loved. He thinks this might be fitting for a manga artist.
Kio got a back-support corset for when he has to do heavy lifting, like taking out tons of garbage.
Kio retweets Kotobuki Tsukasa (character designer for Saber Marionette J, Gundam: The Origin) talking about turning 50, and realizes he himself turns 50 next year.
Next month is going to be the end of Hashikko Ensemble, so I suspect there is going to be lots of reminiscing on Kio’s timeline. Here’s hoping!
Jin has a breakthrough and Kozue reveals another side of herself in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 47.
Kozue catches up to Jin, who has left the clubroom because he’s lost the music inside of him. As the two walk and talk, Kozue helps Jin put words to what’s been bothering him: He’s frustrated over what he hasn’t been able to do, and it’s eating him up inside. In particular, Jin is frustrated over Akira being putting on such powerful performances despite being so inexperienced, and over Akira being recognized by Jin’s mom before Jin himself.
As Kozue leaves, however, she nonchalantly gives Jin a romantic (as opposed to platonic) Valentine’s chocolate before walking off with a flushed face and singing “Haru yo, Koi.” The lyrics seem to trigger something in Jin, but rather than it being a realization about his potential romantic feelings, it helps him clarify why exactly he’s so frustrated when it comes to Akira. He both wants to acknowledge and deny Akira’s accomplishments—a contradiction has stopped his heart from moving and by extension, stopped the music within Jin.
Jin rushes past Kozue while loudly declaring that he needs to “tell everyone,” which Kozue assumes is about her confession. Beet-red, she chases after Jin to stop him, only for the thing he wants to tell everyone about is his desire to put on that Whie Day concert in response to the girls’ Valentine’s Day performance. In addition, Jin has a special request for Akira.
The story skips ahead to White Day, where all the guys put on a show while dressed in bright and shiny tuxedos. However, the real event is a special “exhibition match” between Akira and Jin—the request Jin wanted. As Jin prepares to unleash his full singing might for the first time, the chapter ends…and reveals that the next chapter will be the end of Hashikko Ensemble!
So here we are at what turns out to be the penultimate chapter. I knew that the story was getting to a major point, but I didn’t expect it to be leading to the finale! Thematically, the story has come full circle with Jin going from recruiting Akira to competing against him, but I thought they’d overcome this and then move on to the next challenge. If this is really it, though (and there’s no sequel being announced), I think the manga is ending with at least some closure.
Got a Feeling So Complicated
Jin’s mix of pride in Akira and jealousy towards him is profound. They’re both such powerful feelings, and the dimensions they add to Jin turn him from a fascinatingly eccentric character to a truly human one. This is all the more the case because it’s kind of unsurprising given where the story has been going over the past six months or so. Jin wants to both love and hate Akira, but he can’t bring himself to do either.
It makes sense that Jin has never gone all-out when singing. He chafes at the idea of competition and comparison that his mother, Reika, values so much, and he has rebelled in his own way by eschewing such notions. But perhaps this is also why Jin has never been verbally acknowledged by her, even though we know she thinks he has talent. To be able to not just cooperate but also fight could be the difference. The capacity to do both (and to know which is the right choice) might be even more valuable.
I don’t think this friendship will end on bad terms, but I think there are a few more twists and turns left.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
One thing I’ve enjoyed in this series is that characters are attracted to multiple people. It’s often the case in manga that only major characters (or harem leads) have feelings towards more than one character at a time. Here, though, you can see all these potential connections abound. Kozue previously showed at least a small interest in that judo club boy, but she also expresses a crush on Jin here. At the same time, Kozue is not the only one who likes Jin, seeing as Yumerun just confessed in the last chapter—and Kozue also feels at odds with herself knowing that. I just keep thinking about how affection can be a spectrum.
They’re the kind of romances that one is more likely to see in an actual high school (and probably beyond), and the fact that it’s a significant but not major part of the story also lends itself to this sense of authenticity. Multiply this across the whole cast, and you get Hashikko Ensemble. I love seeing the dramady of these singing fools, and even if none of these relationships actually resolve.
Hashikko Ensemble always looks good, but there’s just something about this chapter’s artwork and paneling that’s downright amazing. Kio’s just an ace at portraying cascades of emotions, and the simultaneous sense of heaviness and humorous frivolity that comes from his artwork and composition really puts his talents on display. In the pages above, Kozue’s rollercoaster of emotions jumps right off the page, and the way Jin takes her for a ride with this earnest denseness makes me feel a kind yet pained smile form on my face.
And when Jin shows that he’s going to get serious for his “exhibition match” with Akira, the way the panels build up to such sheer intensity actually startled me a bit. Kio has never really done a competitive manga—in fact, Hashikko Ensemble is the closest he’s ever gotten—but it makes me genuinely wonder what he could pull off if he decided to do a sports or fighting manga.
If this is what Kio has pulled off before the conclusion, I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve for the final chapter.
“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi. This is one of the songs the girls sang in the last chapter.
“Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER. This was one of the songs performed by the otaku group during the big competition.
“Kanade” by Sukima Switch. This song is what brought Akira and Jin together all the way back in Chapter 1!
I still feel that there’s so much more story that could be told. They haven’t even entered another M-Con yet! I don’t know if the story was made to end early or if Kio thinks this is the right time, but I could keep reading about these characters living their lives for a long time. To Kio’s credit, that’s part of his magic as a manga creator.
As for predictions, the safe bet is that they’ll finally become an official club. I’m also still rooting for an Akira x Mai ending.
And who knows? Maybe we’ll see their doppelgangers show up in Spotted Flower…
Recently, someone close to me revisited one of their favorite TV series of all time: Burn Notice. They can talk forever about how they love Michael, Fiona, and the rest of the cast, as well all the things that make the show stand out from its peers. However, something occurred to me in discussion, which is that as much as they’re fond of Burn Notice, they never felt the need to actively engage with other fans of the show. In other words, they’re a fan but not part of the fandom. Increasingly, I find myself in a similar boat about the things I love.
I still try to emotionally and critically engage with the media I enjoy (or don’t, as the case may be). I might even strike up a conversation with people through social media, including (but not limited to) those I would genuinely call friends. But if there’s one major difference between me today and the young me from decades past, it’s that I’ve since mostly stepped away from being a part of communities. I sometimes get a glimpse of a certain discussion or trend from within those communities, and if it’s interesting, I’ll check out what exactly is going on. Yet, I often don’t feel that strong pull to search for camaraderie through shared hobbies whereby I end up keyed into all the in-jokes and prominent discourses.
What I’m doing isn’t inherently better. I cherish my past experiences with chat rooms, forums, and messageboards—I even still participate in a few. What pushes me to engage less with fandom is that whenever I get into a new show, comic, anime, etc., a part of me worries about my initial perception being overly shaped by the particular beliefs and biases of whatever the most vocal hardcore parts of fandoms obsess over.
There are plenty of fandoms that grow “beyond” their targets of obsession, e.g. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Voltron: Legendary Defender, pro wrestling. While it’s a mistake to assume that these groups have been monolithic in their thinking, certain assumptions of what’s good or bad about a given aspect—characters, stories, staff—tend to ossify in at least parts of the community and end up getting taken as gospel. Often, I find that they overshadow other potentially interesting discussions or explorations, and I seek to avoid getting sucked in.
Disengaging with fandoms at large comes with a potential drawback: ignorance. For example, I could watch something with certain assumptions and not realize I’m dead-wrong about a vital piece of info—perhaps a show’s audience is expected to know about it because it’s considered common knowledge in another culture—but I’d rather be mistaken at first and adjust my views afterwards than to just be given the “proper fan” way of seeing something right off the bat. I will not accept fan consensus as gospel, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll ignore it entirely.
I sometimes see certain anti-fandom sentiments expressed: “the fandom makes me hate the show” or “I love the series but hate the fandom.” Often the counterargument is that these things shouldn’t impact your enjoyment of a work—what does it matter who else is a fan or what they do within the fandom? However, like so many instances of trying to go against the tide, it can be draining. You might want to engage with the things you love without having an interpretation already in the back of your mind, acting like experiential spoilers. You might want to talk about why you think a show or movie is your favorite without people automatically assuming you think or feel a certain way. And if part of the fun of being a fan is the communal aspect, what happens when you can’t find a community that suits you?
It’s why I think the geek social fallacies still apply to this day: geeks understand what it’s like to feel like they don’t belong, and they overcompensate by trying to connect everyone through a fandom even if there are people within who are fundamentally incompatible. But because of that desire for community, it can also lead to attempts to control fandoms whereby it becomes a requirement to justify one’s fandom tastes or accept certain established fanon in order to remain a part.
It’s okay to be a fan without a fandom. It’s okay to be a fan with many fandoms. It’s even okay to be a mix of both. What it comes down to isn’t simply about likes and dislikes. Rather, when you peel back all the layers, I think fan vs. fandom reflects how we choose (or not choose) to engage with communities, but are nevertheless still indicative of the same human social dynamics that dictate everything else, even if the exact contours and who’s in power are different. The important thing is to not forget yourself.
Two years ago, I found out about Akagi author Fukumoto Nobuyuki’s newest mahjong manga: Yamima no Mamiya, also known as Yami-Mahjong Fighter: Mamiya. Set 20 years after Akagi Shigeru’s death in the series Ten: Tenhoudoori no Kaidanji, the latest series aims to change things up in the well-worn mahjong manga genre by introducing in its title both a new way to play (“yamima” or “darkness mahjong”) and an uncommon protagonist for Fukumoto: a 17-year-old girl named Mamiya.
Due to the initial lack of digital releases of Yamima no Mamiya, I put off checking it out, but since early 2021, the series has started to appear in Japanese ebook shops. Now having read Volumes 1 and 2, my main takeaways from the manga are 1) It has that reliably strange Fukumoto style, and 2) Fukumoto doesn’t exactly know how to write female characters.
The Latest Gimmick: Darkness Mahjong
Yamima no Mamiya’s titular “darkness mahjong” is sort of the polar opposite of the Washizu mahjong first featured in the pages of Akagi. But whereas the latter involves playing with clear tiles that can reveal parts of your hand that would normally be concealed from view, darkness mahjong allows players to hide discarded tiles from view. However, should a player who hid tiles still manage to lose, they’ll lose much more than if they had played normally—and getting your “dark tile” claimed for a win results in an even steeper penalty. Mamiya is an expert in this style of play, and she shows sharp gambling instincts.
Mamiya and the Male Gaze
Character-wise, Mamiya’s androgynous appearance and youthful attitude give me the impression that she’s designed to come across as a product of a new era unlike what we’ve seen in the Akagi universe. However, she doesn’t feel like a character to whom the presumed Kindai Mahjong-reading audience of older men are meant to relate. Whereas Akagi Shigeru appeals by a badass power fantasy and Itou Kaiji has the charm of being a perpetual underdog, Mamiya is treated with a certain kind of distance that I presume is by virtue of her gender, like she’s a female side character in a salaryman manga who abruptly got the starring role.
Because of this, Mamiya’s presentation feels like a very conscious and intentional use of male gaze, though any sort of gratuitous sexual objectification is heavily limited by Fukumoto’s artwork. While Mamiya offers her body in a gamble with her first major opponent, a 70-year-old entertainment mogul named Onigashira Kanji, he bawks at the age gap—which then results in a running joke where Mamiya accuses Onigashira of being a perverted old man despite him trying his best not to make it happen. It’s humor by an old dude, for old dudes.
Another Genius who Descended from the Darkness?
Given that Mamiya is presented in the manga as “Akagi’s legacy,” the big question that has yet to be revealed is if that’s simply due to her mahjong skills or if there’s some familial connection. Could she be his daughter? She does occasionally have a very Akagi-esque smirk. Perhaps she learned the game from her uncle Shigeru, and now she’s heir to his name. At the very least, she pals around with a now-gray-haired ramen shop-owning Osamu, who remains delightfully mediocre in every way possible—and like the past, he’s mainly there to be a Krillin to Mamiya’s Goku.
I’ll Keep Reading for Now
I don’t think it’s impossible for Mamiya to grow more interesting and robust over time, but Fukumoto’s heroes aren’t exactly about character development, so I’m not holding my breath. The series has also yet to finish its first big match, and without that final masterstroke moment where Mamiya’s presumed genius is on full display, it’s hard to make a solid judgment about the series. I’m going to keep following Yamima no Mamiya, hopeful that it’ll deliver.
Some time ago, I wrote a kind of light and frivolous observation: What if the home renovation shows were given a kind of isekai twist? Because both genres are built on reliable tropes and wish fulfillment, it could work. What I later came to realize is that there are already anime out there that capture some of that same spirit as a Fixer Upper or Home Town, and they’re “most P.A. Works shows.”
While P.A. Works anime like Sakura Quest and the recent The Aquatope on White Sand aren’t focused on sprucing up individual houses, they do often tackle or at least address an increasingly prevalent problem that home renovation shows are also built around: decreasing populations in small towns as people move to bigger cities to find opportunities and birth rates decline. This is a recurring issue in both Japan and the United States in particular, and has led to the decline of rural areas as they can’t hope to compete with more urban ones. Much like how Home Town remodels homes to try to breathe life into Laurel, Mississippi, so too does P.A. Works create events from scratch like Hanasaku Iroha’s once-fictional Bonbori Festival as a way to try to start traditions—because they have to begin somewhere, right? Sakura Quest meanwhile is explicitly about this topic, and the characters actively strategize on how to bring people back to a half-way abandoned town.
The cause is just, and it would be great if these approaches could make a difference, but there are underlying issues that TV shows, fictional or otherwise, can only do so much to fully fix. For the US, one major problem is the poor health infrastructure (and infrastructure in general) that forces even those who might not want to leave non-urban areas to try to chase employment down in the hopes of, if not getting health insurance through work, at least making enough money to afford it. In Japan, a lack of economic opportunities and a sexist society that still looks at career-oriented women with suspicion means that the rural regions of Japan are filled with empty and abandoned houses as a brain drain occurs.
I wonder if the two sides could learn from each other. Perhaps P.A. Works can do an anime all about renovating homes in a town, while maybe HGTV or whatever can try to make a program that pulls the camera back a bit and looks at infrastructure issues beyond single homes per episode. If there’s some way to make both work, I’d love to see the result.
I love pretty much everything about Kageki Shojo!! It’s not the first anime about aspiring actors, and it’s certainly not the first to be inspired by the Takarazuka Revue, but it combines elements of both in a way that makes every episode an emotional journey.
Watanabe Sarasa is a teenage girl who has just been accepted into the Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts, which trains students to become future members of the all-female troupe known as the Kouka Revue. It’s no easy feat getting in, let alone making it through the program, but Sarasa has a couple of unique traits that cause her to stand out: her towering height compared to the other students, and her background connected to the traditionally all-male kabuki theater, which brings a different flair to her performances.
Kageki Shojo!! Inevitably reminds me a lot of the classic Glass Mask, especially with how much Sarara’s ability to embrace her roles and mimic others is reminiscent of Kitajima Maya. However, while I hardly remember any of the characters in Glass Mask outside of the major ones, virtually every side character in Kageki Shojo!! makes a powerful impression. Each girl brings their own perspective and baggage to the Kouka School, such that even the notion of “pursuing success” can differ immensely in terms of how each character defines it, and what they perceive their own strengths to be.
The students’ backstories (and current stories for that matter) can also get quite dark at times, with topics like sexism, neglect, predation, and bulimia being explored. Impressively, the series balances both its heavier and lighter elements without trivializing the former or making the latter feel inappropriate.
The anime ends at 13 episodes, but there’s clearly more manga that can be adapted. I can’t wait for a second season, should it ever come o
ANIME NYC HAS REPORTED A CONFIRMED CASE OF THE COVID-19 OMICRON VARIANT. IF YOU ATTENDED ANIME NYC, GO GET A COVID-19 TEST.
One year ago, New York City was still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines had not yet begun to roll out, and many of the annual traditions we expected had to be put on hold—possibly even indefinitely. Though not seen in the same rarefied light as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s, Anime NYC had become an annual outing for my friends and me. I was sad, though understanding, that 2020 had to be canceled.
Anime NYC is right in my backyard, tends to have some interesting Japanese industry guests, and the fact that it has thrived in one of the toughest convention cities (see the defunct Big Apple Anime Fest and New York Anime Festival, among others) meant I’ve felt a strong desire to support the event—lest it go away and be substituted by unscrupulous scams and the like. When Left Field Media announced that Anime NYC 2021 was on, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation.
Lines, Crowds, and COVID Mitigation
Vaccination rates are generally high in NYC, and we have a general mandate for indoor venues. However, the situation was different even compared to Otakon three months ago, thanks to the rise of the Delta variant, the colder weather, and concern over waning efficacy of vaccines. In the end, I decided to attend, thinking that there might be a drop in attendance that would give plenty of breathing room. After all, New York Comic Con 2021 in October saw lower numbers, right?
Not so. Anime NYC 2021 was packed with fans extremely ready to revel in the convention experience. In fact, attendance was up compared to 2019—from 46,000 to 53,000. By comparison, New York Comic Con saw a drop from 260,000 to 150,000.
I find that this contrast highlights the difference between having a larger but relative more casual and mainstream audience versus a hardcore base ready to go wild. The former will see better results in the good times, but the latter will ride with you even when it gets bad. I suspect this has less to do with loyalty towards Anime NYC itself and more to do with passion for anime and manga in general, but the results are the same.
Anime NYC 2021 was from Friday, November 19 to Sunday, November 21. It was clear that the showrunners knew how big the lines were going to get, as they began sending out alerts encouraging as many people to grab their vaccination wristband and badge on Thursday before the con. However many heeded their advice, by the time Friday rolled around, it was clearly not enough. The con opened at 1pm, but people were lining up since 9am, packed together outside in fairly cold weather, all while being unsure of whether they were on the right line. In previous years, this would have been a nuisance. With COVID-19 around, I could only hope that people kept their masks on and were smart about it.
As a press attendee, I had the benefit of being able to avoid the brunt of these problems. However, what should have been a five-minute process of “getting in” turned into almost half an hour as I was told three different things by three different people as to how to get my wristband and get into the Jacob Javits to get my press badge. So while I was fortunate to not have gotten the worst of the lines, the small taste I had made me aware of how much worse it probably was for the attendees on Friday. Saturday and Sunday seemed more organized, but I don’t know how much it alleviated any issues.
In addition to better communication and maybe even the ability to line up indoors, I have to wonder how much of the problem is that the Thursday badge pick-up hours only go to 6pm. Anime NYC is very much a commuter con, and I imagine many people are working or going to school from 10am to 6pm. Even in pandemic times, New York is still often the city that never sleeps.
Of course, the elephant in the room in hindsight is the news that one attendee had a case of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Any sort of precautions were inevitably taken without knowledge of its existence, but excuses also don’t treat infections. Thankfully, none of the people I know personally who attended Anime NYC (including myself) have tested positive, but between reports that the Omicron variant spreads more easily and that the person who was found to have it may have spread it to half of a group of 35 friends, it’s clear that there needs to be an extra layer of vigilance.
Take mask compliance, for example. I found it to be mostly there, but it felt like people got more and more lax. All the classic errors of masking were there (not covering the nose, taking it down to talk, not wearing it all). While this is partly on those attendees who flouted proper mask usage, I would like to have seen better enforcement by the con itself. Even the simple act of providing free masks at the con could go a long way.
The Dealer’s Hall felt like any other at a professionally run big con, but I did notice one thing in particular: People seemed very, very eager to buy stuff. It was as if two years’ worth of pent-up desires to purchase came crashing to the surface. So not only was it packed each day, but attendees were behaving like the money they had was burning holes in their wallets. Because of my wariness over COVID-19, I went in and out, trying to avoid staying in there for too long.
That said, I did purchase a few things with the intent of making them part of my convention memories, so I understand that sentiment. I got an official May hoodie from Guilty Gear Strive, nabbed some new manga, and found a booth that actually sold old Japanese movie brochures. I picked up one for God Mars and a couple for Goshogun.
Other highlights of the Hall included the HololiveEN booth where you could take photos with cut-outs of all the EN girls (including from the inaugural generation), a tribute wall to the late Miura Kentaro, author of Berserk, along with a New Japan Pro-Wrestling booth where you could hit the actual NJPW ring bell.
One of my favorite things about anime cons are the panels. While Anime NYC isn’t anywhere close to the amount of content you’d get from something like Otakon (and it’s clearly not the con’s priority), there was at least a panel track when you wanted to sit and listen.
Due to other engagements, I was unable to attend the Aramaki Shinji panel. I was told it was informative and even went over some of his work on American cartoons (M.A.S.K., Pole Position), though it seemed like Aramaki had less time than he thought.
I’ve been getting more and more into Virtual Youtubers over the past couple years, and so I was looking forward to HololiveEN Council’s con debut at Anime NYC.
One of the running jokes among the fandom is that Hololive English group streams tend to be pretty “scuffed,” and this was certainly no exception. The panel started roughly half an hour late, and there were technical issues throughout, such as audio delays. Still, it was good to see the Council get their moment in the sun at a convention, and they were entertaining nevertheless. While the panel was focused on HoloCouncil, HoloMyth (the first generation of HololiveEN) made a cameo with some messages for their kouhai.
One big difference compared to other Hololive conventional panels I’d seen online was that there was less interactivity with the live audience. Namely, much of the interactions were scripted and questions were taken from Twitter rather than a live audience, which was a tad disappointing but also understandable given the size of the crowd and the inevitable technical difficulties. Overall, it felt like a very managed experience, possibly because it was sponsored in part by the Consulate General of Japan in New York. Also, while the interactivity wasn’t as high, the fans in the audience tried to bridge that gap. It was easy to notice who got the most enthusiastic fans—Ouro Kronii’s “Kronies” certainly wear their preferences on their sleeves.
Afterwards, I got some Hololive merch thanks to a friend: A Ceres Fauna button!
New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Spirits
While there weren’t many guests who flew in from Japan this year, one surprising appearance came from New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s “Switchblade” Jay White, leader of Bullet Club. He was there to promote NJPW’s new mobile game: New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Spirits.
Jay mentioned that this was his first-ever convention appearance, and he was pretty much a natural at entertaining the crowd. My favorite thing was his insistence that he was the sole reason NJPW sold out Madison Square Garden a couple years ago, and every time he said it, a large and obnoxious image of this fact would flash on screen.
Although I had a good time , part of me regrets going to this panel because I should have expected an audience of wrestling fans to be loud and care little about the risks of COVID-spreading associated with yelling. One person in particular was loud, maskless, and insisted on shouting constantly. I also had the sense that the fans love bringing attention upon themselves.
As for the game itself, “bizarre” is how I would describe it. Unlike so many other wrestling games, it uses all existing video footage for moves, as well as green-screened video of the wrestlers during turn-based move selection. The developer of the game (from Bushiroad) even said they had to clear rights for the footage in 150 countries. There was also an example of training to improve your wrestler’s stats, and the key point here is that it also has live footage of your chosen NJPW wrestler, this time getting sweaty in the gym. This, I believe, is where the real appeal of the game might be. It will also predictably have a gacha component, but the developer claims it won’t be pay-to-win.
I’ve long known GKIDS for their involvement with the New York International Children’s Film Festival, but they’ve also been putting out some excellent titles on home video lately. GKIDS was there because many of their films were having American or east-coast premieres at Anime NYC. While I was unable to see most of them, I was glad to find out that they’re pretty much all getting limited theatrical releases, notably Hosoda Mamoru’s Belle in January and Pompo the Cinephile in Spring 2022. I was able to see Pompo at the con, and you can read my review here.
At the panel, I found out how successful Promare has been, which is quite a bit. It’s the reason the film keeps getting re-screenings in theaters while others do not.
I didn’t take many cosplay photos this year, but I wanted to at least share a couple.
In spite of an inevitable lack of Japanese guests and trepidation over the pandemic, Anime NYC came back at a time when people were champing at the bit to do something in person again. I had a decent time at the con, but seeing the crowds made me realize a truth about this new era: More success means more precautions are necessary if we don’t want worse-case scenarios happening. I hope that whatever fallout occurs due to the Omicron variant, it becomes an outlier rather than a standard of conventions.
The latest Soul of Chogokin figure was announced last month, and it’s Daitetsujin 17 (pronounced “One-Seven”) from the 1970s tokusatsu series by the same name. It was created by the very father of tokusatsu, Ishinomori Shotaro, and features the classic “little kid remote-controlling” giant robot motif that began with Tetsujin 28. Prior to its release, I never watched any Daitetsujin 17, but I decided to check out the first episode, and what I noticed is that the promo images for the SoC version really capture how the toy is designed with a kind of live-action clunkiness seen in the original program itself.
There’s no doubt that this is highly intentional, as the Soul of Chogokin line is famous for trying to get as close to “show-accurate” as possible. Japanese toy reviewer wotafa stated in his look at the POSE+ METAL Gaogaigar that one of the big things differentiating it from the earlier SoC release was that the latter is more faithful to the anime, while the former looks like “Gaogaigar came back from studying abroad in America.” But in contrast to the myriad anime-derived Soul of Chogokin figures, adapting tokusatsu giant robots like Daitetsujin 17 seems to present another sort of challenge.
Whereas the anime robots have to reconcile the contradictions between the (mostly) two-dimensional drawings with the three-dimensional realities of the toys themselves, a different conflict is in play. Tokusatsu shows typically have their mecha appear in two different ways: as a model for transforming and such, and as a costume for a suit actor to fight in. A figure whose goal is to bring the source material to life has to balance these two dominating visuals, and from what I can tell, Daitetsujin 17 looks like it succeeds on that front.
But Daitetsujin 17 is not the only live-action robot to get the SoC treatment, and so I started looking at past instances to see if that characteristic tokusatsu-ness is still present. What I found is that, while not as strongly flavored as Daitetsujin 17, that feel is still present to varying degrees.
The recently released Daileon from Juspion comes from a different era than Daitetsujin 17, but the premium it places on poseability goes to show just how important it is to capture that “guy-in-a-suit” element of the show. Comparing the 3DCG trailer they released to the live-action footage, you can see how much emphasis was put on making sure Daileon could strike all its signature poses, as if to say the very acting of posing defines the feel of Juspion as a whole:
A more popular SoC figure, at least among English-speaking countries, is the Megazord (or Daizyujin) from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. This one looks more like it emphasizes a cool, stocky appearance that’s a bit removed from how the Megazord usually looks in motion.
However, when compared to a similar figure released around the same time—Voltron (aka Golion)—the contrast in proportions between the two really drive home how the Megazord was made with different considerations in mind. It’s notable that the SoC Voltron has lankier proportions than its original toy from the 1980s to be more in line with its iconic pose from the anime’s opening.
This trend continues all the way back, whether it’s Leopardon from Toei’s Spider-Man, Battle Fever Robo from Battle Fever J, or King Joe from Ultra Seven.
The Daitetsujin 17 figure seems to most greatly embody the concept of tokusatsu-faithfulness, and I think that speaks to how far the Soul of Chogokin line has come. Every year, it seems to get more and more impressive, and I have to wonder what they’ll tackle next. Although the Daitetsujin 17 and many of the tokusatsu-based figures aren’t my priority, I find I can appreciate the lengths they’ll go to making the biggest nostalgia bombs possible.
When it comes to making movies, editing is often seen as one of the least glamorous elements. The image of filmmaking pop culture conveys to us often eschews that process. The anime film Pompo the Cinephile chooses instead to celebrate the nitty gritty of film editing and the painful decision of what to leave on the proverbial cutting room floor, all while being a vibrant and creative work itself.
Pompo is the nickname of Joelle D. Pomponette, a prodigy film producer in “Nyallywood” who has been responsible for one box office hit after the next. Her assistant, the perpetually haggard Gene Fini, is a lover of movies who can’t understand why Pompo seems to work only on schlocky blockbusters—or why she hired an untalented wreck of a human being like him. But Pompo sees that Gene has what it takes to work behind the camera, and when she picks him to be the newbie director and editor of her new project, Gene falls deeper into the world of filmmaking than he thought was possible.
A movie about making movies can feel like an exercise in pretentious navel-gazing, but Pompo the Cinephile manages to strike a tricky balance between “the artist and their oeuvre” and “films are for the enjoyment of others” that gives merit to the indie arthouse piece, the Academy—excuse me, Nyacademy Award winner—and the popcorn flick. Much of Pompo the Cinephile is about exploring the emotions one experiences when involved in different parts of a production, and while there is a good amount of anime-style melodrama and bombast, those feelings read as genuine. The characters feel like both people unto themselves and the conduits to deliver a simultaneous celebration and criticism of filmmaking, but without seeming overly preachy. For example, Pompo is very insistent that films should never exceed 90 minutes, but her argument is shown to come from a very personal place while also being quite reasonable. The viewers are left to decide whether to disagree, but the movie itself doesn’t shy away from making assertive statements.
Pompo the Cinephile doesn’t try to flip filmmaking inside out or challenge it to be more experimental. Rather than challenge the status quo of what works and doesn’t, from tropes like the manic pixie dream girl to the notion of killing your darlings as a tenet of artistic creation, the film doesn’t seek a revolution. It shows but doesn’t discuss the difficulties of overwork. Rather, it portrays characters finding imaginative ways to work within the system, even including a strangely engaging side story about investment banking (another conceptual quaalude) and the film industry.
Even if the kind of filmmaking Pompo the Cinephile showcases isn’t one’s cup of tea, I find it encourages active discussion of how we as people see and regard the act of creating movies. At times, it can feel both insightful and shallow—which is exactly the kind of film Pompo herself excels in. Perhaps most importantly, it’s exactly 90 minutes.