Amuro and Aina’s Excellent Adventures: Otakon 2019

Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

With that said, on to the rest of the con report!

Interviews

I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.

As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.

Panels

Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.

Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.

Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.

Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.

In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.

My Panels

Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.

Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.

I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.

For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!

Bradio Concert

Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.

I would see Bradio again, no doubt.

As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.

Other Notes

I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.

Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!

And lastly, some cosplay.

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The Hero in Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Skill Found in Randomness

When the Hero from Dragon Quest was first revealed as a playable character in Smash Bros. Ultimate, there were hints as to how the character would function, but few were able to predict that the character would be so volatile. Because the Hero has not one but multiple random mechanics that can make him both inconsistent and unpredictable, part of the conversation surrounding the character has revolved around whether the character’s “luck” elements hurt competitive Smash Bros. There’s even talk, however small, about the possibility of banning the character outright.

The Hero has smash attacks that can randomly trigger critical hits (effectively double damage). He has a spell menu the contents of which are random every time you open it. He even has a spell inside the spell menu that gives random results. So the fear is somewhat understandable—especially given the scene’s general dislike toward and removal of spawning items (i.e. a major random element) from tournament play.

While there are many arguments to make for why banning the Hero is a bad idea—the character is simply too new to understand his impact on high-level play, for one—I want to make a different case about his merits. Specifically, I believe that the Hero and his special mechanics provide new and interesting tests of skill that revolve around managing randomness without the major downsides and stigma of items-on play.

Skill and Luck Are Not Opposites

Before this argument can move forward, it is necessary to try and dispel an idea that has plagued competitive Smash since the earliest days: the false dichotomy between skill and luck. On a surface level, randomness interfering with skill makes sense because a coin flip, for example, can’t be modified through talent and effort.

But competitive scenes exist for games with heavy elements of chance, and in these environments, the question of how to navigate, take advantage of, and cope with random chance is ongoing.

Magic: The Gathering

People complain that their opponent topdecked their only out the turn they needed it, but do not realise that often their own poor play either gave their opponent more turns to draw the out or overcommitted turning the eventual out into one in the first place. —“There’s No Such Thing as Luck.”

Japanese mahjong (plus poker)

Poker players think a lot about how to maintain a strong table image…. [I]t’s going to be a lot easier to get lucky if the other players aren’t gunning for you because they’re afraid you’re too strong for them. When I’ve played Mahjong with him, Sarukawa maintains a fierce table image and it definitely makes me think twice about declaring reach even with a strong hand, thus increasing his chances of getting lucky and decreasing mine. —Nagare, Luck, or whatever you want to call that crap

There’s even a very good video from Game Developer’s Conference 2017 by designer Skaff Elias all about the false dichotomy between skill and luck.

Those who think that they have unfairly lost a Smash Bros. match due to a Mr. Game & Watch Judge 9 would likely fall into a coma if confronted by some of the agonizing probability-based losses that Texas Hold ’em players have to go through. But whereas Smash players have historically shunned randomness, other games use randomness as an opportunity to test two things: how well you can take advantage of good luck and how well you can mitigate bad luck. While complete randomness with no opportunity to interact doesn’t provide much room for interaction, good games of chance give players plenty of opportunities to show how they can roll with the punches.

Although it’s early on, I feel that the Hero provides enough avenues for both the user and the opponent to manage the character’s random elements. This, in turn, is what makes him different from turning on items—which, for the record, I am also not against, but I’ve learned long ago that trying to convince Smashers to play with items is a losing battle. Still, I think there’s hope for the Hero.

Random Factor 1: Critical Hits

Let’s first look at the Hero’s smash attacks. They are quite strong in terms of sheer power; forward smash can kill a Pichu at the ledge at around 50%. But there’s also a 1 in 8 chance to land a critical hit, which turns a roughly 20% damage attack into a 40%+ monster capable of KOing opponents close to 0%. There is no way to prevent or induce a critical hit artificially once an attack lands, so neither the Hero or the opponent can control when they happen.

The only way to guarantee not getting blasted by a critical hit is to avoid getting hit at all. But while that sounds ridiculous at first, there are a couple of limiting factors: the Hero has to actively choose to use a smash attack, and the actual moves have numerous flaws that make landing hits easier said than done.

The Hero’s up smash is similar to Marth and Lucina’s—a vertical stab straight up into the air—but unlike theirs, the Hero cannot hit anyone standing next to him. In fact, the horizontal range of the smash attack is so narrow that the opponent has to be virtually right on top for it to connect. Down smash is fairly quick and hits both sides, but is the weakest and unlikely to KO without the power of a critical hit. Forward smash is the best one, but it’s relatively slow and doesn’t reach quite as far as one might expect. Outside of the critical hit factor, all three are lacking.

And much like Mr. Game & Watch’s Judge hammer or Luigi’s Green Missile, the Hero’s smash attacks have to be deliberately chosen. They do not just happen randomly without anyone’s control, as if they were Bob-ombs spawning into a player’s attack. So the critical hits are random and they are extremely powerful, but they’re locked behind slow, somewhat unreliable moves that leave the Hero vulnerable.

Every smash attack is a roll of the dice, except those dice are cumbersome gigantic novelty ones and the table you’re rolling on is a toddler’s high chair. While they don’t have any random negative side effects like Judge, they’re inherently risky. Most importantly, the Hero player has to actively make the decision when and where to take those swings—they don’t just happen automatically.

Random Factor 2: Command Selection

Hero’s down B special is Command Selection, in which the Hero pulls up a menu of spells and special strikes, and it’s the other area of contention in regards to fairness because of how multiple layers of randomness are built into the move. First, only four spells can be displayed at a time, and it will change every time the menu is re-opened. Second, the order in which the spells show up is also inconsistent. Third, two of the spells—Whack and Thwack—have a probability of instantly KOing an opponent; the higher their damage, the more likely they’re toast. Fourth, the spell Hocus Pocus is literally a spell that randomly triggers either a move from the existing list of commands or additional modifiers both beneficial and detrimental. Although highly unlikely, it is actually possible for the Hero to hit down b, blindly pick Hocus Pocus, have Hocus Pocus trigger Thwack, and kill an opponent at 0%.

While there’s no doubt that getting destroyed by such an unusual chain of events could tilt just about anyone, I think focusing on those edge cases would be more a symptom of focusing too much on isolated results in the short term rather than consistency in the long term. Moreover, while the spell list is random, it doesn’t remove skill. Rather, it tests the players’ ability to assess what is worth using every time it opens, and to act accordingly.

Above, I mentioned games like Yu-Gi-Oh! as examples where players must randomness into account when strategizing. When it comes to Command Selection, this comparison is especially apt, because opening up the menu is not unlike drawing cards in a TCG. While there is an element of luck, it’s the responsibility of the player to be able to adjust their approach–to sometimes turn lemons into lemonade. There’s also a common mechanic in trading card games called a “mulligan,” where a hand that’s sufficiently terrible can be discarded and replaced in its entirety. The Hero essentially has the ability to mulligan his hand at any moment, but with the caveat that the opponent can see what the Hero’s options are, and that he can’t keep any of the “cards” he doesn’t use. A good Hero has to be able to build upon the tools available to him in a given moment, and just because it’s uncommon in competitive Smash doesn’t mean it’s not a skill worth testing and valuing. The ability to improvise on the fly and be effective at crisis management in the face of external forces somewhat beyond the players themselves is good.

Conclusion

Luck can bless the Hero, or it can curse him, but there are multiple caveats that make him a worthy character who should be welcomed in tournaments. First, he has to be in a position to test that luck in the first place, and most if not all of his random-outcome moves are telegraphed or announced in some way. Second, just because he gets a lucky or unlucky move doesn’t mean the match ends there—both Hero and opponent have to be able to make the best of a situation. The result is a character who works to find chances and has to adjust on the fly to external forces, and those who master this are the likeliest to find success built not on favorable fortune but the ability to seize opportunity.

We Never Learn: What’s Best vs. What Results in the Greatest Happiness

The two main heroines of the manga We Never Learn have a dilemma. Each is a natural genius in a specific field, but both of them want to specialize in a subject that is their Achilles’ heel. If they play to their strengths, they will have easier lives, and they might even change the world. But their hearts lie in their weak areas, leading to a conflict potentially familiar to many: what’s “best” for them isn’t necessarily what will make them “happiest.”

I think elements like this are why the series has succeeded in maintaining my interest. It’s an understandable struggle that goes beyond the basic harem fanservice qualities of the manga and anime, and while exaggerated for comedic purposes, is something that plenty of people both inside and outside of Japan have to deal with. Do you pursue the impossible dream, do you aim for stability, or do you try to find a middle point? If you achieve less but enjoy the struggle more, is it worthwhile?

It’s clear that We Never Learn supports is characters long-odds pursuits, even as the culture around the manga often says otherwise. I’m not entirely sure if there’s a deeper message overall, but it’s at least one that resonates with anyone who’s had to deal with the conflict between inner hopes and outer expectations.

 

Idols in Flux: Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow

After months and months of waiting, the film Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow finally hit US theaters for a special two-day event. Although cut from the same cloth as the first Love Live! film, it manages to go in interesting directions while also working extra hard to wrap up the loose threads of the Love Live! Sunshine!! TV series, all while putting an emphasis on fun, friendship, and family.

TV SERIES SPOILERS BELOW

After the third-years Kanan, Dia, and Mari graduate, Chika and the rest of the remaining Aqours members decide to continue as Aqours. When they find out that their new school doesn’t have a high opinion of them and the other former students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School, they resolve to use their school idols skills to win over the skeptics, but they seem to be in a funk. Thanks to some advice from their former rivals, Saint Snow, they seek out the third-years to figure out what they’re missing—a journey that takes them to Italy and back.

Much like the first Love Live! The School Idol Movie, Over the Rainbow is a direct sequel to the end of a TV show where the main characters travel to a foreign country to figure out what they want to do with their immediate futures. Where the new film differs is that by having Aqours continue on—unlike the group μ’s from the previous series—it feels less like one last hurrah and more a move into the future yet unseen. If μ’s comes across as mythical because of how they came and went, Aqours is more historical in that their story keeps going.

The film can feel disconnected at times due to the way it often emphasizes the simple idea of seeing the girls of Love Live! Sunshine!! enjoying themselves and having a good time at the expense of greater coherency, but it makes for an entertaining piece that never feels boring or tedious. Central to this positive atmosphere are the multiple song and dance numbers that push the film squarely into “musical” territory, though the best song of the entire film comes from a somewhat unexpected source.

Also of note is the movie’s side story about the Saint Snow sisters, Sarah and Leah. The latter’s guilt over botching a crucial performance in the TV series is the central pillar of their narrative here, and the way it’s both explored and resolved a alongside Aqours’s troubles is possibly my favorite part of the whole thing. I actually considered titling this review “Saint Snow: The School Idol Movie.” Seeing them also made me realize that Sarah and Leah are basically if Ruby were the older sister and Dia were the younger.

Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow is undoubtedly meant for existing fans first and foremost, but the overall positive vibes and the emotional journeys the characters take feel relatable and resonant for even those unfamiliar or skeptical of Love Live! as a franchise. It encourages viewers to accept change as an opportunity and to believe again when hope seems lost.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Inoue Kikuko

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019. I had the opportunity to sit down with voice actor Inoue Kikuko for an extended period, so this is a longer interview than usual. Inoue is known for many roles, such as Belldandy in Oh My Goddess! and Aina Sahalin in Gundam: 08th MS Team.

Ogiue Maniax: Hello, Inoue-san, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have many questions, as you have an illustrious career, and I’m looking forward to this interview.

Inoue: I’m pleased to hear that! Thank you!

Ogiue Maniax: First, I’d like to ask you about one of your most recent roles, as Tachibana Mayumi, the mother character in Mix. What is it like working on the series and how familiar were you with Adachi Mitsuru’s manga prior to working on the show?

Inoue: With regards to the manga artist Adachi Mitsuru, you could almost make his work a genre—the Adachi Mitsuru genre of manga. They’re very close to my heart, and I don’t think it’s just me who thinks so. Most of the Japanese people I know who read manga might feel the same as me. I believe that in a way, you can say it’s almost nationwide, his manga. So when I got the role for Tachibana Mayumi in Mix, I was very happy that I was able to become the mother of the main characters.

This is because I believe that Adachi Mitsuru manga are very unique—very docile, very gentle. This is something we are seeing less and less of these days, with the very fast-paced and exciting styles of anime these days, but Adachi Mitsuru has a style that’s more slow-paced and gentle, but very deep in thought. So I believe these are distinct and very unique values too that are very important in this day and age, and I am very happy to take part in such a great work.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is about the character Aina Sahalin in Gundam 08th MS Team. It was a series that ended up with two directors due to the unfortunate passing of Director Kanda. How would you compare working with Director Iida to working with Director Kanda on 08th MS Team?


Inoue: With regards to Aina, back when I got the role for her, I was a relatively new voice actor, and I believed that Gundam was far beyond what I was able to do back then. I was auditioning for many things but not all auditions would go great, and Gundam was a very big franchise even back then, so being able to get the role of Aina was a special moment for me.

The director Kanda-san wasn’t someone I was able to talk to often, as I was a very new voice actor at the time, and I couldn’t really muster up the courage to go and talk to him as much as I would have liked to. In that sense, I regret not being able to get the courage back then because when Kanda-san passed away, I had very sad thoughts because I wasn’t able to talk to him anymore.

When Iida-san took over the project, I believe that the 08th MS Team story had been passed on in terms of the theme still being there, and I do believe we—Kanda-san, Iida-san, and I—were all on the same page in terms of saying that in war, you have these things happen. There’s an anti-war message in there, and in that sense, I believe we were all on the same page, and Iida-san took on the torch after Kanda-san very nicely.

Ogiue Maniax: You’re generally known for playing very gentle and kind characters, but one character you’re also known for is I-No in the Guilty Gear series is famously extremely rude and aggressive. What do you focus on differently when playing a character like I-No, as opposed to your other more famous roles?

Inoue: In terms of characters I’ve played, I-No is a very unique character because she’s very foul-mouthed, one might say. So when I got the lines for I-No in the studio, I was actually going, “I can’t say this out loud! But I’m a voice actor, so I have to overcome this, right?” So I went in there and shouted horrible things, and I didn’t know how to feel. But now, when I look back, I really feel that I grew as a voice actor then, and now I love the character very much.

At first, I felt kind of bad for saying her lines, and I didn’t really comfortable saying them, but after a while it actually became pleasurable.

Ogiue Maniax: More recently, you’ve been playing characters who are not just motherly and kind but literally mothers. I noticed that, often-times, even though they’re small parts, they are quite memorable, and people remember your characters even though they appear for only one or two characters. Two examples I can think of are Ban Kenji’s mom in Heartcatch Precure and Nishikino Maki’s mom in Love Live! How do you enjoy these roles, and do you bring your own ever bring your own experiences as a mother to your performance?

Inoue: When I was still a new voice actor, the very first role I ever got as a regular role was as a mother character. That was when I was in my 20s, when I wasn’t a mother, but I still got a mother character. And after that, another mother character. And after that, another mother character. All of these characters I had were mothers, so I actually thought, “What is it like to be a mother?” I referred to my mother, as she’s the kindest person I know of, and I actually think she’s the kindest mother in this world, so I would channel her into myself and make myself act like her. But after becoming a mother, I noticed that I was taking these roles very naturally, and I didn’t have to refer back to my mother on all these literal mother roles. It might have become second nature

Ogiue Maniax: Your daughter, Inoue Honoka, is also in voice acting. Has there been any advice you gave her about working in the industry?

Inoue: At first, when Honoka said she wanted to become a voice actor, I actually felt a bit uneasy because in this day and age, when the market has very talented people at such young ages, and it’s a very difficult place to succeed in. But I found out that she’s very studious and really wanted to become a voice actor, so I looked at her scripts, and at home, we would practice together. I’m not sure if this would count as advice, but what I said to her was, “When you speak, you’re not speaking with your mouth—you’re speaking with your heart. All these lines that you say, they’re from your heart, and your mouth is only where they come out. It’s really from the heart, so don’t let the mouth get to you.”

Ogiue Maniax: There’s a character you play in Fate/Grand Order named Scheherazade who has a growing friendship with a character named Nitocris. What do you think of that relationship, especially through the summer event?

Inoue: At first, I thought Scheherazade was very docile and didn’t have her emotions show on the surface, so I was very happy when these lines hinting at their friendship came up. Scheherazade felt lonely at first, so having a friend who comes up in her lines makes me feel happy for her now.

Ogiue Maniax: Another role that I think a lot of people remember you for is Kazami Mizuho in Please Teacher! How did you feel playing the role, and somewhat related, what was it like in your brief appearance in the anime Waiting in the Summer?

Inoue: As I referred to earlier, at the time of Please Teacher!, many of my roles were mother or big sister-type roles, and I still kept getting those roles. But Mizuho was a character who was a proper heroine in the sense of being a main female character. At the time, I was much older than when I first started out, so I thought I might not get the role, that it might be impossible for me. But when I auditioned, I got the role, so as a voice actor, getting the role of Mizuho was very significant. I actually thought that, after I had played Mizuho, I felt I had lived a good life, and that I didn’t have any regrets from then on.

In regards to my appearance in Waiting in the Summer, let’s just say that I can’t comment too much about the voice due to difficult reasons, so let’s just keep that a secret.

Ogiue Maniax: I’ve actually read that you voiced the character Princess Vespa in the Japanese dub of the American movie Spaceballs. It’s kind of a cult favorite in the US—did you know what it was before you played the part, and do you know how the movie was received in Japan?

Inoue: I actually had no idea that it had such a cult following in the US! It was such a long time ago, so I can’t remember what it felt back then, but I’m sure that one of the things I was thinking was, “Wow, what a movie! Are you even allowed to do this?” That’s one thing I’m certain I felt.

Ogiue Maniax: Going back to the fighting game genre, you played a character named Lily McGuire in the Fatal Fury OVAs and movie. What was it like working on that series, and what was it like acting opposite Terry Bogard’s voice actor, Nishikiori Kazukiyo, especially because he appears to have more experience in live-action than voice acting?

Inoue: Fatal Fury was a very memorable franchise because the director was Obari [Masami]-san, who was relatively young back then. When I think about directors, I always imagine someone relatively older than me, but he was very young, and it was a very fun project too. So I kind of thought that it was interesting how someone this young could have such an interesting project going.

As for Kazukiyo-san, is he from Johnny’s?

Ogiue Maniax: Yes.

Inoue: Oh, right! I couldn’t really talk to Kazukiyo-san much, so I can’t comment too much on him. Sorry about that!

Ogiue Maniax: This is my last question, to follow up on the previous one. Do you have any interesting stories about working with Obari-san on Fatal Fury?

Inoue: As I said earlier, for the question about 08th MS Team, back then, voice actors didn’t really talk too much with the directors directly. There was a big wall of people between the director and voice actors. We couldn’t talk too much to many of the directors, but Obari-san was actually a bit different. He was very friendly, and we were able to talk to him very openly. In that sense, he was a very kind character.

These days, I don’t work as often as I did back then, but being in the industry, being around a similar age when we were doing Fatal Fury, and having matured in the same time in the same industry, I feel proud every time I see his name in the credits of an anime. I am very pleased to have worked with him back then.

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you!

 

 

Thinking About Hong Kong Through the Lens of G Gundam

Hong Kong has been on my mind a lot as of late. Earlier in the year, I began re-watching Mobile Fighter G Gundam, an anime in which the latter half of the series takes place primarily in the futuristic “Neo-Hong Kong.” A few months earlier, I actually visited Hong Kong for the second time ever—the first time was three decades ago when I could barely remember a thing. Then, in recent weeks, news of Hong Kong has been dominated by the ongoing protests there in response to the Mainland Chinese government. This confluence of events has me wondering about how Hong Kong was traditionally portrayed in media, and imagining the possible Hong Kongs that could have been.

Giant robot fighting tournament aside, the Hong Kong of G Gundam is close to the classic portrayal of the territory in the 1980s and 1990s: tall buildings and a mix of glitz and grime, much like in Bloodsport or the countless works to come out of the famed Hong Kong film industry. One major difference between fiction and reality is that in G Gundam, the Neo-Hong Kong government is the sovereign ruler of all nations—a consequence of winning the previous “Gundam Fight” tournament. It’s extra ironic because G Gundam was made in 1994; that’s a mere three years before Hong Kong was to be returned to China after two hundred years as a British colony. According to a talk by director Imagawa Yasuhiro, the producers of G Gundam were aware of this and didn’t care.

While Neo-Hong Kong being the world’s foremost power is portrayed as a double-edged sword, especially in how the appearance of prosperity hides the damage and decay of the Earth itself, seeing a Hong Kong so powerful contrasts with its relatively declining influence in the real world since 1997. Hong Kong had been a major player on the world stage due to the economic freedoms allowed by its British colony status, and the relationship between China and Hong Kong is meant to be “one country, two systems” in order to maintain the make-up of both, but there has long been a growing fear by residents of Hong Kong that this was never meant to last.

Two areas that point to Hong Kong receding from center stage are the film industry and the pop music industry. Hong Kong’s notoriety in movies is a shadow of its former self, while China increasingly funds and influences major Hollywood productions. Cantonese pop from Hong Kong, which swept Asia in previous decades, had a long lull that it seems to only be recovering from now. This stands out all the more because the prime minister of Neo Hong-Kong in G Gundam is named Wong Yun-Fat (a reference to famed director Chow Yun-Fat), and the fact that G Gundam itself has a full-on Cantopop soundtrack for the second half of the anime.

Visiting Hong Kong, I noticed how different each area of the territory is. Hong Kong island feels like it’s somewhere between London and New York’s Chinatown. Kowloon reminds me more of the Asian cities I’ve been to, and is also the namesake of Neo-Hong Kong’s Kowloon Gundam. I didn’t go to the New Territories, but I hear it’s where you live if you want to get away from everything else. Lantau Island, in the New Territories, is actually the site of the final battle in G Gundam. On Sundays, you’ll see countless girls, many in hijabs, occupying the street. That’s because it’s the only day out of the week that the domestic workers of Hong Kong—from Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian countries—have off. Hong Kong is a place of amalgams and contrasts that reflect an economy of haves and have-nots, not unlike the world of G Gundam.

Hong Kong is still significant in the world, but China’s economic rise is one of the biggest stories of the last two decades. Because of the mainland’s increasing global influence, it makes me doubtful that we’ll ever see more Neo-Hong Kongs in media, Hong Kongs that dominate the Earth. “Hong Kong as powerhouse” is an interesting narrative, but because it’s competing with the tale that the influential are seeking to weave, it might very well remain in the imagination.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Furuya Toru

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019 in Washington, DC. Furuya Toru is the voice behind famous anime characters such as Amuro Ray (Gundam), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and Seiya (Saint Seiya).

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Furuya. I have a few questions I’d like to get the answers to. First, you’re known for many famous roles, but one of your early major ones was Hoshi Hyuuma in Star of the Giants. What was it like working on the show with director Nagahama?

Furuya: That was an anime from almost fifty years ago, and back then I was a middle schooler, and back then, Nagahama-san wasn’t there at the recordings. So I actually don’t have too many memories with him, unfortunately.

Ogiue Maniax: I have another question about Star of the Giants. I’ve heard before that there is a famous episode where a pitch–a single pitch–takes the entire episode. I’ve had trouble finding out more about it. Do you recall this episode, and if so, do you remember what it was like to work on it?

Furuya: There wasn’t an episode where a single throw was one episode, but there was an episode where a single inning was one episode. The anime always did this thing where it would end at a really good place–the camera would stop at the ball right in the air, and many people would want to know what happened next. So I think that went on to be talked about as only one throw in that episode

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask about one of your recent roles. One of my favorite roles you’ve done is Casshern in Casshern Sins.

Furuya: With regards to Casshern, back then, I was at a point in time where I was thinking that I’ve gotten old and there’s lots of new people in the industry, and I’m not gonna have many main character roles like before. But then, Casshern from Casshern Sins was an offer I got directly from the director of Casshern Sins, director Yamauchi, who I had worked with previously on Saint Seiya. I was very honored at the fact that I was able to do the main character, and it was a while since I played a main character for a TV series. Unfortunately, maybe it was the overall theme being a bit dark and heavy, but it did not receive as good a reception as we hoped for, but I really like Casshern Sins.

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a really excellent show.

Furuya: [In English] Thank you so much!

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask you about another main character, one that’s more obscure: the main hero from the anime Groizer X. Did you know that the show is actually apparently quite beloved in Brazil?

Furuya: [In English] Really?! [in Japanese] I didn’t know at all. I’ve been to Brazil three times, and I  knew Saint Seiya was popular, but I never heard anything about Groizer X.

Ogiue Maniax: I read online that it was one of the first mecha shows to come to Brazil, so it influenced Brazil in terms of giant robot anime.

Furuya: I think the people there might not realize I did both Kaisaka Joe from Groizer X and Seiya from Saint Seiya.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is going back to your experience with directors. Director Tomino is known for being a very interesting person. As someone who has worked with him a lot, do you have any favorite stories or memorable experiences with Director Tomino?

Furuya: This is going back to Gundam, but back then, Gundam was a very new and novel concept for a show. As the person who came up with it, I thought he was a genius. I also thought he was a very scary person, but he actually came to all of the recordings we had, and he didn’t give too many directions. But back then, I remember that there were a lot of new female voice actors in the field, and lots of them were having a hard time doing their roles. So Director Tomino would actually be very caring to explain exactly how he wanted some acts to be done. So that was memorable.

Ogiue Maniax: Speaking of female voice actors in Gundam, I was recently watching an anime with Inoue You [the voice of Sayla Mass], and to me, you and Inoue both are fantastic voice actors. Sadly, she passed away, so I wanted to know if you have any lasting impressions or memories of her.

Furuya: You-san was in the business since childhood, so I really looked up to her. She was also a really good cook. Back in the Gundam days, after recording, we would go over to her place to have curry that she cooked.

Ogiue Maniax: That’s wonderful. 

When I think about your performances, you’re very good at playing characters of all ages–young, old, different personalities. Do you have any advice for, say, new voice actors who are trying to achieve that versatility?

Furuya: For new people in the voice acting field, I would actually say they should want to experience many things because my personal experience when I get new roles to play is that I go back and do some research on what kind of role this is, what kind of world this is, and what character I’m doing. I would think long and hard about what kind of voice that character would have. I would go as far as to act the same movements as the characters would be making. So I’d actually do it kind of like a play, where I would actually move the same way and give a thought as to what the character would move like, or what the world is like. In that sense, my approach towards those roles is the versatility I have, and to new voice actors, I would suggest them to get many new experiences so they can give more educated thought on how a character may sound like.

Ogiue Maniax: If there’s one message you’d want people to take away from Gundam, what would it be?

Furuya:

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you very much!