Otakon 2022 Interview: Mikami Masafumi and Kiral Poon (Gugenka, Inc.)

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington DC. Gugenka, Inc. is a company that describes itself as “Sales of digital goods and technical research on Japanese animation using advanced contents such as VR/AR/MR.” Mikami Masafumi is the CEO, and Kiral Poon is the CTO. 

How did you get into the business of 3D, VR, AR—these sorts of subjects?

Poon: Do you mean academic side, or…?

Anything, really. If there’s an academic element, then definitely talk about it. If it’s sort of an amateur hobby, or…just what inspired you to take this up…

Mikami: We were originally making AR stuff for movie promotions, and we slowly moved that content into VR. That became for VR anime promotion, where we promote anime with our VR abilities.

Poon: One of the examples would be the Sailor Moon VR that we built. That is also, like, a movie for Sailor Moon Crystal promotion, and then we did the VR game for the event. And in the end now it’s on VIVEPORT for free, but it was originally promotional content.

I first became familiar with Gugenka through the HoloModels app.

Poon: Really?!

Yeah. I found out about it from a reader, actually.

Poon: When did you hear about it?

A couple of years ago, I think?

So what was the origin of the decision to make virtual AR models? Was the plan from the start to work with established properties?

Mikami: The way it started off was, you know how we have anime figures in real life, right? What if we could make digital versions of anime figures?

In physical figures, it’s probably not a real surprise to see on your figure rack a Dragon Ball character and a Re:ZERO characters side by side. But then in VR contents, it was an uphill battle to get the understanding to have two characters of different IPs sitting on the same app.

Poon: I’d like to actually convey my two cents on that. Japanese companies are really, really, really restrictive on the IP stuff. The more I work with them, the more I think that’s so crazy about it. Masafumi back in the day, he tried very hard. One problem is, how can you line up two different IPs together without any problem with the IP company. Cause they usually want to have their own world, right? When it’s in the real world, it’s just figures, so they don’t care about it. But in digital, they usually have control with their applications. So Masafumi was actually the producer. He is the one who actually produced it and persuaded those companies to do it together. The reason he can do that is because this company has a long history with these companies and these movies. He already knew these people, and that’s why he did it. It is not easy at all, in my opinion.

I’ve heard similar things about the game Super Smash Bros. When it comes to the director, Sakurai, it’s only because he has such a strong reputation in his industry that he’s able to convince all these different…

Poon: Yeah, exactly. In Japan, when you work, it’s not only about ability, but also about how people trust you. So that’s the case.

I also want to point out why this app exists, which is that there’s limited space around the world. We usually line up a lot of figures—I buy my own figures too—they take up a lot of space. In AR applications, you stick them into the space, and you can display them anytime. It’s just like an RPG item box, where you just bring it up anytime—exactly like that. That’s really convenient, and you can do more than with actual figures. You can move the pose and change the face. With real figures, you have to change the parts, and there’ll be lines on the face you don’t want. But with digital figures, you don’t have that problem. So that’s one of the main reason I can tell you why we created them.

You actually anticipated my next question!

[laughter]

So moving on, Gugenka has collaborated with virtual stars of all kinds. You have Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. You have Virtual Youtubers like Kizuna A.I., Tokino Sora—and I remember that when I got the Gugenka HoloModels app, there was Shinonome Megu

Poon: You did a good job. People don’t even know that one.

So what do you think about the fact that people are embracing virtual characters, and have you noticed any changes in the degree to which people are embracing them?

Mikami: Right now, everyone has their own different characteristics, and everyone would probably be able to express themselves differently in different bodies. I believe that our app would enable everyone to express themselves in their own body of their choice.

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the concept of virtual spaces to the forefront, as friends, families, and businesses try to gather online through various chat programs but also in creating virtual space. How has the pandemic affected your approach to virtual spaces? Has it cast a new light on them?

Poon: So with virtual space, during the pandemic, we have actually been trying to increase our opportunities with all these restrictive companies. In my point of view, usually Japanese companies tend not to do remote work and exhibitions lots online. But because of the pandemic, they start thinking about it, and they approach us. Of course, sometimes we approach those companies—“Hey, do you want to do it?” Usually, it’s the case that they will ask us about doing online exhibitions. Before, there were, like, no exhibitions, but because of the pandemic, we have those events hosted by Gugenka.

For example, the closest one would be the MF Bunko J one that we just did with Kadokawa—the light novel one. It’s a really popular real-world event in Japan. And there’s live concerts, like the Sanrio Virtual Fes. We tried to make it realistic, and we have a very good reputation on that event with VRChat. And of course, we also connect with all these partners from Japan—VRCast and other platforms. And I connect with all others across the world and have partnerships with them, like VRChat. After that, people started realizing what we’re trying to do to make people closer in distance, and display things in HoloModels, and also create your character through MakeAvatar.

You’ve worked on many events, and I know it’s hard to pick a favorite, I guess, but I’ll ask anyway: Do have any events you’re surprised that you managed to work on?

Poon: I guess I’ll let Masafumi answer first, and then I’ll answer.

Makami: I would say Kitty-chan’s Sanrio Virtual Fes is probably my favorite. I can take pride that I participated in it. The reason is that the people who are enjoying the real stuff Sanrio produces, as well as the artists and VTubers—they all come together in one event, so I thought it was a good event.

Poon: I’ll add two cents about the Sanrio virtual event because there’s not many people who know about the event in the US. After I did the panel, people were all surprised. This is a real diverse event that includes actual artists like AKB48—famous, real artists like HoneyWorks. There were also virtual artists like Kizuna A.I. and other VTuber characters. And then there’s also the system that we created so that we can bring this all in, and with synchronization with the timing we can make it feel like a live event. 

What that means is, what if you join late but your friends have been in for five minutes? In a usual game, well, you start from zero, and you play it, right? But in real life, you’ll be seeing things five minutes late. What you’re seeing with friends is the same thing, and when you wave, and when you sing, you’re doing the same thing. This is what makes a huge difference with the Sanrio Virtual Fes event. We created a synchronization system to make sure everyone had the same experience, same timing to all these artists. And it’s a huge event because there’s more than a hundred songs. I didn’t sleep for two to three days just to check the songs, and it was crazy. I wish one day we could join us for the second one. So that’s the Sanrio Virtual Fes.

That actually makes me think: Sometimes, due to the pandemic and the increasing use of online spaces, people want to get together for a karaoke session, right? But due to the differences in synchronization, it can cause problems for people who want to sing together. Is there a possibility of creating a space like that for regular users?

Poon: So there’s a lot of problems in terms of people’s preferences. During the event, there’s a separate instance we created to adapt for each person. For example, if your computer is weak, but you still want to enjoy the event, there’s something called shitei [appointed] instance, which means you are pointed to that instance, and we make sure you can have the best experience in that instance. But because it’s a social VR, if you want to see the group, there’s something called jiyuu [free] instance. But if it crashes, or you just want to enjoy the experience with your weak computer, you can still go to the appointed instance. 

But also, furthermore, for the paid content, there’s outfits using the MakeAvatar app. It’s like when you dress up as Mickey—or Marvel characters because Disney owns Marvel—and you go to Disneyland. So it’s the same thing as when you go to Sanrio Puroland; you dress as Mochipoly, as they call it. It’s really cute, and you can buy the hat from Kitty, or Keroppi. 

There are two reasons for that. First, is because of the story. It’s best delivered that way. It feels like part of them, and it’s real good. When you look at pictures, it’s really nice. Second, is the performance. We want weak computers to also get in easily. So we think about all that and plan the event that way.

I know a lot of people around my age became anime fans in part or in whole due to Slayers

Poon: Ooh!

So I was pleasantly surprised to see both a HoloModel of Lina Inverse—I saw the author, Kanzaki, constantly promoting it—

Poon: Man, I’m surprised you know Slayers, and that we did that?

And you created the Slayers 3D Live event. Were there any fun, creative challenges involved with working with this property?

Poon: Actually, Masafumi was talking about Sanrio, but my favorite event was Slayers. The reason for that is the equal system that I was trying to build. I’m actually the director of the concert for the live event in Tokorozawa Sakura Town. 

So we actually have the live event, and then the sequences. We have HoloModels of Slayers, and usually it would be a waste that you can’t use them on other games. It’s really expensive to build a really high-quality CG model. We have the models, we have the live event in Sakura Town in real life, so it feels like Lina Inverse is there, and she does the song. Then, we host this event online in NeoChat so everyone can join. And then in the end, it’s sold on blu-ray. So this whole flow is the equal system that we try to tell those IP companies that we can balance promotion and also maybe earning a little money for the company. That’s why it was my favorite event, because all the systems of the Sanrio event are based on the Slayers event. 

I’m surprised. Even though I didn’t do a lot of promotion for it, I’m surprised that you and—actually, one more person at the panel, he said he knew it, and he actually joined the event. I’m actually touched because I want North America—like myself from Canada, and there’s also the US—I want them to join us. But there’s limited resources, and there’s a problem that we didn’t have enough English translation at the time. So in the future, I’m trying to push everyone to do more English support. Good question. I want to talk more about Slayers!

Kiral, one of your interests, as written in the Otakon guidebook, is creating technology to help make life easier for animators. There’s an ongoing issue about animators being overworked and underpaid?  Do you think your work can help deal with this issue?

Poon: Do you know Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero? That is one of the good examples of using good 3DCG in movies that doesn’t feel weird. Because sometimes it feels weird in 3DCG. There’s one good example, that you can have an efficient way of moving, and then you can have more stories to deliver to people. 

So that is great, and it’s efficient, but to your question, can it solve the overtime and overwork problem? In some ways, but it comes down to the culture in Japan. Let’s say you need less people for the same project, right? Well, you just hire less people for the same work—there’s a chance like that. But it depends on the company. They could be, like, “Oh, there’s less work now, so now everyone doesn’t have to be doing overtime, and they can go home, right? So there’s two approaches, and it comes down to culture, I think, partially. But the reason I want to focus on technology and I keep improving that, like with Slayers, is to try io make it more toon-like with cel shaders—to make it more efficient. But can that solve the core problem is the question.

Are there any Gugenka products or services that get less attention that you think people should know more about?

Mikami: In regards to what I want people to know more about, it’s basically everything: HoloModels, MakeAvatar, virtual events. But I kind of believe there are two major points that I think we need to focus on to have a wider number of people know about us and these events. 

One is that there is a time difference between Japan and the US. While we were able to get past the problem of distance because we could bring people together from vastly different parts of the world, we can’t really get past the problem of time at the moment. So, I believe what we want to do in the future is maybe have different events for different time zones to address the time issue.

The other thing I want to focus on is basically localization of the English versions for these apps that we have. We need to be able to disseminate this information about the apps and events, and it’s not as easy as Google or word-for-word translation because sometimes they miss the mark or have different words we would like to use. Also, the thing about media is basically that over here in the US, it’s not like we have a strong understanding of where the media pipelines are. So I believe what would be best is if we could get to know the media people here, and how to best communicate with our fans so that we could disseminate the information to everyone interested in an effective manner.

Poon: I actually have the same feeling. When we do the panels, people actually come to me and say, “I didn’t know Gugenka before—MakeAvatar, HoloModels—but now I’m going be a core fan and support it.” So I’m touched, and also really happy that people enjoy our service. 

Like, with MakeAvatar—I don’t think you even know this much yet—but this allows us to use different parameters. The tech part is really hard—I tried so hard on this tech from January—and finally, you can use different kinds of morphs to different kinds of faces. The idea is, usually anime characters are a little bit more the shounen young type, but I want elderly people to also be cool. Even if you’re old, you should be really handsome because you do your own thing. You could be chubby, you could be muscular—allowing the diversity is human, and it should be possible in your own character. That’s why we have all these features.

Of course, we have the SD character, that is, the small one. The main reason we built this one is because we support Quest, cell phone, and browser, so we want the workload to be lower. But we have new, high-quality MakeAvatar that allows you to change clothing and stuff. And the business model would be to buy the cosplay—the costume—and the IP company gets paid, and the user is happy. So you can export to VRChat, VirtualCast, to see online on Vroid Hub, or browser games. 

We think in the future maybe we can do more promotion in the US and more people could take advantage of this. You could become a VTuber easily. I could host a panel and just teach you to use the app, and you could be a VTuber for free. And we have the face-tracking support in this, which means it can detect your muscles and move. In normal characters, it only supports simple expressions like A-I-U-E-O and smlle, angry, crying—that’s it. But we support really detailed motions on this.

Thank you!

Otakon 2022 Interview: Voice Actor Ise Mariya

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington, DC.

My first question is about a role you had in the Precure series, Cure Lemonade. Precure is a very big and popular franchise in Japan, but at the time you played the character, it was still a young series. Was it like to play the character back then, and how does it feel to return to the character for crossover movies and other material?

Ise: I was in the third generation from the start of the series, and right around the time I was voicing the character, it was starting to pick up popularity in Japan.

So as you know, it’s about to approach its 20th anniversary, and I had no idea back when I first started that it would be this popular. Part of that is due to the fact that, yes, this is a children’s anime, but it also gives dreams and hopes to adults as well, and that’s probably what has led to it being so popular.

My next question has to do with the series Panty & Stocking. It’s quite popular with American fans—even more than I’d expected—and a lot of people are happy to see the series come back after 10 years. What was it like voicing Stocking, such an unusual and foulmouthed character?

Ise: I still don’t know if I’m in it, but if they reach out to me to play the character of Stocking again, I’d look forward to it.

I thought it was an interesting series. Panty and Stocking are angels in training, and they take off their panties and stocking and turn them into weapons to defeat demons.The vocabulary they use is rather…tricky?

Ise’s Manager (via webcam): Crazy!

Another character you’ve returned to in recent times is Dragon Kid in Tiger & Bunny, after a decade. Has your approach to playing her changed from how you first played her?

Ise: Tiger & Bunny 2 is 10 years after the original, but it actually hasn’t been 10 years since I’ve played Dragon Kid. Within that period, I’ve done drama CDs and movies, so it doesn’t feel like there was a 10-year gap. But even though Dragon Kid hasn’t aged after a decade, I have, and my voice has deepened and become more adult, so it adds another dimension to the role.

Watching Tiger & Bunny 2, she comes across as more of a senpai—which she is. I think the deeper voice lends itself to that role.

What was it like to play such a bizarrely inhuman character as Foo Fighters in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? How do you perform when the character is in no way, shape, or form a human?

Ise: Let’s see. When Jolyne and the others first meet her, Foo Fighters is a plankton-like lifeform. At the time, she’s like “Uju! Uju, uju!” in a low voice when she’s just a stand. She isn’t quite human, but she’s intelligent and clever, so I didn’t feel that much difficulty playing the character. After she borrows Atroe’s body, Foo Fighters has a childishness about her and a sense of growth she shows alongside Jolyne and Hermes, so I was conscious of conveying that innocence. 

I really enjoy your role as Ray in The Promised Neverland. It’s maybe a somewhat different character from what you normally play, as well as a heavy work. What was it like to voice Ray, especially because he does age over the course of the series?

Ise: In the first season, Ray is willing to sacrifice everything in order to save Emma and Norman—to help them escape. He lives for that, but there’s a darkness about him, and he hides his true thoughts and feelings. He planned things with all this in mind, but when he’s able to confide his secret to the other two and speak those true feelings, it lifts a weight off his shoulders. In the first season, he’s full of heavy and dark feelings. But his position changes in the second season, and he becomes more cheerful.

A less prominent character you’ve played is Akagi Sena the fujoshi from OreImo. Were you familiar with fujoshi and BL culture before the role?

Ise: In Japan, when girls who love anime and manga reach middle school, they’ll—well, I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed—they’ll start to develop some interest in BL. So I can really understand the feelings of those we call fujoshi, and I myself read BL in middle school. It didn’t feel difficult to relate to Sena.

From what I’ve heard, you put a lot of thought into your roles—it’s very clear from your answers. My last question is, what are some lessons you’ve learned that you think would help new or aspiring voice actors?

Ise: In America or in Japan?

It’s a pretty open question.

Ise: Tough question. Being a voice actor involves using your unique voice, but it’s actually not a job that’s only about your voice. Just like a live-action actor, one of the best ways to inform your acting is to gain a lot of lived experience as the foundation for your performance, and it’s good to want as many experiences as possible. When you’re in your teens, you should do the things you can only do at that age—school, friends, falling in love, doing everything someone in their teens does. This will help to inform whatever it is you’re performing as a voice actor.

Thank you! This was a great interview.

Ise: Thank you very much!

S-M-R-T! I mean, S-M-A-R-T: “Fist of the North Star Side Story: The Genius Amiba’s Otherworld Conqueror Legend”

Isekai are so ubiquitous these days that there exist genre parodies of famous properties. Whether it’s being reborn as Yamcha from Dragon Ball Z or Kycilia Zabi from Gundam, we have yet another twist to a familiar gimmick. I generally don’t pay attention to such works, but I made an exception for a recent manga that asks, “What if Ameba (aka Fake Toki) from Fist of the North Star got sent to another world?”

That’s Fist of the North Star Side Story: The Genius Amiba’s Otherworld Conqueror Legend. And upon hearing this premise, it felt so perfect. After all, one common trope is that the characters who get reborn and transported tend to be pitiful “losers” given a second chance, and Amiba is among the most pathetic of Kenshiro’s opponents. He’s also a terrible person, so the story feels ripe for both comedy and the possibility of greater development. For the most part, Amiba’s Otherworld Conqueror Legend does not disappoint.

At the start, the manga reveals that the way Amiba gets isekai’d ties directly into the events of Fist of the North Star: Kenshiro makes Amiba’s hands explode, then uses his pressure-points to force the delusional villain to walk backwards off a precipice. What’s worse, he never even hits the ground before exploding into a puddle of goo. Amiba probably wishes he got killed by a truck.

He then awakens in a new world that looks oddly similar to the post-apocalypse he once called home, but there are some notable differences. Namely, fantasy elements like magic and dragons are fairly common, no one has any clue about “Hokuto Shinken” or other martial arts, and a number of characters resemble established FotNS faces. Unlike Kenshiro’s young companion Lin, the girl Amiba first runs into is Lilin, a foul-tempered mage who reluctantly teaches him magic—which he turns out to be awful at. But Amiba insists that can’t be the case because he’s a genius. He does manage to make effective use of his piddling magic by the end of Volume 1, so maybe there is something to his claims, but the manga makes it clear that Amiba is perennially just as much a dumbass as he is intelligent.

The series is quite good at playing on expectations from both isekai and FotNS. Amiba isn’t a terrible fighter—he’s just hopelessly outclassed in his original world. However, in his new world his combination of fairly extensive knowledge of Hokuto Shinken and its counterpart, Nanto Seiken, makes him a unique presence as per the standard isekai protagonist trope. The manga also shows that he got a power-up after reincarnating in true isekai fashion, though the gag here is that the boost is very minimal. 

As mentioned, many of the characters are intentional knock-offs of minor FotNS characters: Lilin, Pat, Devil Reversible, and so on. While their appearances are close, their personalities can differ tremendously, and often the “bad guys” aren’t so bad. A fairly major character’s counterpart even shows up at one point. I appreciate the joke, but wonder if it’s being overused, and if the series could benefit from having more characters who are original.

The idea that this is Amiba’s chance to find glory, and the way his arrogant personality both helps and hinders him, is what makes The Genius Amiba’s Otherworld Conqueror Legend work. Is he going to find an odd sort of redemption? Or is he going to repeat the same mistakes? The fact that he likely will end up doing both makes me want to see where the story goes from here.

Mother of Mercilessness: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film that defies tidy categorization. It’s both ostensibly and fundamentally the story of a Chinese family struggling to keep things together, and it adds a hearty helping of what feels like every genre under the sun and moon that nevertheless achieves a bizarre harmonious blend of flavors. There’s a lot worth discussing about EEAO, but where I want to focus is its exploration of a familiar topic: intergenerational trauma. Particularly, I find that centering the story on the mother, Evelyn Wang (played by Michell Yeoh), brings a powerful and challenging perspective to the subject.

When it comes to stories about the Asian diaspora, intergenerational trauma seems to be big on Asian creators’ minds. Turning Red is an animated feature about the pressure a Chinese-Canadian girl feels towards her mother’s expectations. Himawari House is a comic about different Asian women moving to Japan to find themselves. Crazy Rich Asians shows how the decisions of one’s ancestors can ripple forward in time, affecting individual descendants in disparate ways. Messy Roots is about growing up Wuhanese in a predominantly white American environment. These works tend to describe families that come into conflict over the frustrating combination of expressing familial love through familial structure and obligation, but in every case, it’s the sons and daughters who are the main characters. 

Michelle Yeoh also plays a mom of one of the main characters in the Crazy Rich Asians movie. There, she’s a Singaporean mom trying to prevent her son from marrying a Chinese-American girl who comes from outside the vast-yet-insulated world of the ultra wealthy. Like so many of these stories, she as a parent is not necessarily a “villain,” but she and those of her generation are at least a source of stress for their kids as they try to carve out their identities.

EEAO flips the script, with Evelyn being both the figurative and literal hero. On the one hand, she’s a mother struggling with her non-serious husband, her teenage lesbian daughter, her judgmental elderly father, and a tax audit on the family’s laundry business. On the other hand, her endless string of failures apparently have made her the perfect candidate to stop the destruction of the multiverse. To say that it’s rare for a character like Evelyn to be this kind of protagonist is to make the queen of understatements. 

Through the metaphor of the multiverse, I find that EEAO explores so many facets of that Asian intergenerational experience. It’s stated that Evelyn made sacrifices to move to the US from China, and that she has a tendency to leave a lot of goals unfinished, giving a sense that she’s, well, trying to be everything everywhere all at once. Similarly, the pressure she puts on her daughter to be better than her through a combination of shame and criticism—well-intended but nevertheless painful—is one of the major sources of conflict in the film. 

By having all of this told primarily from the perspective of Evelyn, however, the Asian mom ceases to be a close-yet-distant figure in the story to eventually understand, and becomes the primary conduit through which these conflicting emotions are experienced. And it all comes down to trying to figure out how to deal with the expectations of others while trying to raise a child to exceed all expectations.

There’s actually a lot more I’d like to discuss about Everything Everywhere All at Once, especially the daughter and the husband Waymond, and how they each add to the wonderfully complex milieu that the film provides. But Evelyn is the main character and star, and the stalwart yet wobbly pillar around which the story is built. It’s an uncommon but welcome sight, and it has me wondering if I need to view my own mother a little differently—even if that doesn’t come easily.

White House ga Abunai: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for August 2022

I’m back from Otakon in DC, and hopefully without catching COVID or the five million other diseases currently making life miserable for everyone. Did I make the right choice going to an anime convention? I guess my body will tell me soon. I’ll have a review of the event coming up this month, including my logic as to why I decided to attend despite the obvious risks involved (hint: taking steps to be cautious can go a long way).

By the way, the title of this month’s update is a reference to Jack King from Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo.

Thank you to my August 2022 Patreon subscribers, notably the following:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from July:

Dance Dance Danseur, Ted Lasso, and Healing Masculinity

A look at two series that challenge toxic masculinity.

We’re All Stars: Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club Season 2

A post about how Love Live! Nijigasaki puts the spotlight on unexpected characters.

La+ Darknesss, Dance, and True Power Levels

This Hololive VTuber has an unexpected side to her that makes things all the better.

Kio Shimoku

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter this past month was pretty light, but I definitely enjoyed finding out his thoughts on various movies, both anime and non-anime.

Apartment 507

Some thoughts on the soccer anime Ao Ashi.

Closing

The summer heat has been harsh here and around the world. I hope everyone is doing what they can to stay cool, and that the people with the power to actually change things don’t just sit on their hands while they watch the world burn.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights July 2022

The summer brings new anime, and new thoughts from Kio.

New chapter of Spotted Flower came out at the end of June! The digital version just came out, a month later.

Kio drew a flyer for a Night on the Galactic Railroad musical. He did some art for it last month as well.

Kio’s tablet has been acting up, leaving trails when he picks up the pen. The two images say “New book” and “Greeting cosplay wife by kissing.”

When Hashikko Ensemble first began, Kio actually drew rough sketches for all the classmates as background characters. This is actually how Shinji, Kozue, and Kanon started before being promoted to being a part of the main cast. He doesn’t really remember any traits he might have thought up for the classmates, though.

Kio at a Tower Records exhibit for BASTARD! That first image apparently was a defining part of his youth, as he wondered how the heck the artist managed to do what he did.

“Huh? Could it be that drawing manga is actually a huge pain in the ass?”

Kio is relieved that the anime adaptation of Uncle from Another World is good. He’s a huge fan (oshi) of elementary-school-era Fujimiya. (Note: Before you think that’s a lolicon thing, you have to actually see what the character was like as a kid.)

Kio struggling with a manuscript. He can’t seem to summon the physical will to work on it further.

Kio realizes that the original Genshiken was serialized for only four years. Reminiscing on that time, he remarks on how everyone who supported him helped him to develop his skills in real time. He remarks on how young he was then, looking back.

Another manuscript finished, with a little preview to boot.

This is the earlier “kiss the cosplay wife” brought to fruition. Read the latest extra chapter of Spotted Flower.

Kio would like to see an anime adaptation of the gag manga Overlord: The Undead King Oh!

Keep Chugging Along: Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z

I never got the chance to watch all of the first Shinkalion anime. I discovered it a little late, and the way episodes would be up on Youtube for only a week meant that a busy schedule could derail my hopes of keeping up with it. And let’s face it: The series is pretty generic in a lot of ways. Still, I wished I could have kept pace with it better.

In 2021, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z debuted, and I saw this as my opportunity to do what I couldn’t before. I decided to keep up with the series week to week, not expecting my world to be rocked or anything. 

The basic story is that years after the events of the original Shinkalion, a new boy named Arata Shin becomes the driver of the new Shinkalion Z E5 Hayabusa. Unlike the original main character, Hayasugi Hayato, Shin is not a train otaku but rather a cryptid enthusiast. Alongside him is a new friend, Usui Abuto (named after the Apt trains), who is the train fan but can’t drive Shinkalions for some reason. Together, along with other allies, they have to fight against the forces of the extraterrestrial Teoti.

Shinkalion Z doesn’t dazzle, but it’s fun and it has a few twists and turns that add some welcome tension and drama. Also, it has a grade schooler version of Maetel from Galaxy Express 999. In a way, part of watching Shinkalion is seeing their argument for being the most ambitious crossover, as the meme goes.

One of the issues with Shinkalion in general is that the characters and the mecha themselves both feel kind of bland. I know I’m not the target audience, and I’m not saying they need to look amazing, but there’s something decidedly milquetoast about the aesthetic. In particular, the fact that all the Shinkalions have basically the same design with minor differences and even transform virtually the same way makes it less exciting than it could be—imagine if they had unique transformation sequences a la Precure or Sailor Moon. I’m sure it makes for convenient toys, though.

Shinkalion Z makes some improvements in both regards, though nothing mind-blowing. Abuto has some depth to him, while a Shinkalion driver named Taiji is hard to forget because he’s this weirdly muscular little boy from a family of lumberjacks or something. The inclusion of a big-bodied lady as a side character that doesn’t fall into fatphobia is also worth noting. As for the robots, there’s one that can turn into a centaur, which is the most eye-catching thing to come out of this franchise so far.

The show winds up being 41 episodes long, a bit unusual of a number, and it makes me wonder if the show got cut short. Of course, that means it’s in the company of many classic robot anime—First Gundam, most famously. Between this and its toyetic, “for kids” feel, perhaps Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion is the purest mecha series of all.

Ogiue Maniax Panels at Otakon 2022

Otakon 2022 is this weekend, July 29–31, and I’ll be heading back to my favorite anime convention of all. This year, I’m running two panels: one by myself, and one with an old partner in crime.

Hong Kong in Anime and Manga 

Friday 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM / Panel 2

I was motivated to do this panel because I wanted to celebrate the culture of Hong Kong but also critically investigate how it is used in anime and manga. Those who’ve been to my panels will know that I tend to take a more scholarly (yet still fun) approach, and this is no exception, I hope

Mahjong Club 
(aka Riichi! Ten Years Later)

Friday 5:45 PM – 6:45 PM / Panel 5

It’s been ten years, the Japanese mahjong panel is back! Once again, it’ll feature myself along with Kawaiikochans creator Dave. There are more riichi mahjong players outside of Japan than ever before, and more easy ways to play too! Whether you’re an experienced hand or someone who only knows mahjong by name, this panel has something for you.

See you in DC!

Kinoko Loco: Sabikui Bisco

I’m a fan of the combination of serious and silly in the anime Sabikui Bisco. Its premise of a post-apocalyptic world that revolves around conflicting views on mushrooms is patently absurd, but the sincerity of its characters is endearing and gives weight to their actions and decisions.

The world of Sabikui Bisco is full of peculiar individuals. There’s Milo, a gentle doctor who experiments with black market mushrooms in the hopes of healing his sister who’s afflicted with the “rust” disease that plagues humanity. The same sister, Pawoo, leads an elite guard in their city using her depth-defying strength. There’s the corrupt leader Kurokawa, who controls the city with an iron fist and goons in mascot heads. And then you have the brash protagonist Bisco, a member of the mushroom tribe who slings mushroom arrows and knows the truth about fungus: While it’s commonly believed to be the cause of rust, the reality is quite different. This here is an eclectic bunch, to say the least—but as ridiculous as they are, they’re all deadly serious about either saving the world or controlling it.

The general energy of the series reminds me a lot of the 1990s anime I grew up with. It’s not so much that Sabikui Bisco traffics in 90s tropes, but rather that it has a particular brand of irreverence combined with a lack of archetypes common to anime made in the 21st century. Had it emerged two or three e decades earlier, I don’t think it would look out of place alongside titles like Slayers or Trigun. In fact, there’s something very Vash the Stampede–esque about Bisco.

The anime thus far only covers part of what is an ongoing light novel series, but it ends in a satisfying place and never loses sight of that balance of earnestness and absurdity. Sabikui Bisco is about heroes going out there and doing things, and that simplicity is welcome.

La+ Darknesss, Dance, and True Power Levels

Since her debut, Hololive’s La+ (pronounced Laplus) Darknesss has become one of my favorite Virtual Youtubers. Her premise states that she’s both a mighty demon whose power has been sealed off, as well as the founder of Secret Society HoloX, an organization with designs for world domination. In practice, however, La+ comes across as a cheeky and overconfident brat. It’s within this context that the biggest surprise about her characters was revealed: the fact that she’s actually a fantastic dancer. I find myself re-watching her dancing clips, even though I normally don’t do that—not with VTubers, not with flesh-and-blood performers, and not even with the many anime dances over the years.

To those who are unfamiliar with Hololive and specifically the process by which its Vtubers go from “2D” to “3D,” most start off as flatly animated characters. In this “2DLive” format (named after the program used to rig their animations), La+ and others like her are able to move and tilt their bodies and heads to some degree, but it’s generally not meant to track the entirety of the performer’s physical movements. Over time, a Hololive member receives a 3D polygonal model, and can use more robust motion capturing to match the movement of their entire bodies. In other words, you generally can’t tell how comfortable a VTuber is with physical activity like dancing before they make their so-called 3D debut.

La+ was the last of HoloX to make a 3D debut. Prior to that, she was primarily defined by two things. First, despite being the leader of her clandestine group, she’s actually the smallest; her oversized horns further emphasizing La+ being a relative pipsqueak. Second, she has an extreme degree of ego that swings wildly between being justified and unjustified. So when she started busting a move, I felt a degree of cognitive dissonance. “Wasn’t she supposed to be bad at this sort of thing?” In a later collaborative stream with the rest of HoloX, the sheer contrast in dancing ability between La+ and her subordinates (who are usually her betters in a variety of ways) hammered home that she’s a cut above the rest.

I think the reason this aspect of La+ works so well is that it ends up making her feel even more like a being of contrasts. She has that aforementioned “shortest but most important” quality, but in terms of competence, it’s like you never know if she’ll be a Hellmaster Fibrizo (Slayers) or a Katyusha (Girls und Panzer). If this really were an anime or something, La+’s dance reveal would be that moment where Yoda or Shifu from Kung Fu Panda gets serious. It’s a winning trope, generally speaking.

La+ Darknesss is neither fully an anime character or a fully flesh-and-blood performer, which is why the combination of her character background plus her strength as a dancer shine through. Like other VTubers, she lives in that transitional space between the real and fictional worlds. The fact that she’s so physically talented is inevitably to the credit of the performer, but it’s the surrounding setting that gives La+ the stark contrast to render her moves to be even more unforgettable.