Love Live + Yellow Magic Orchestra?!

One of my favorite Love Live! songs is “Suki desu ga Suki desu ka?.” It’s a tune by Hanayo and Kotori with a kind of funk/disco flair. What I might have discovered recently, however, is a more specific reference to 70s music. Namely, the song might be taking cues or paying homage to the electronic music and techno pioneers known as Yellow Magic Orchestra.

At about 1 minute 13 seconds into “Suki desu ga Suki desu ka,” there’s a particular melody during the following lyrics:

Soshite watashi dake o (Oh yeah, oh yeah!)
Mitsumete hoshii no (watashi dake mitsumete)

If you listen to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s hit song Technopolis, there’s a similar combination of notes early on in the song, at about 42 seconds in. Have a listen below:

What do you think? Mere coincidence or an intentional nod to the masters of electronic music?

EUREKA IS BACK: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution Preview

When news came out that a new Eureka Seven movie trilogy was coming out, I reacted with a mix of excitement and trepidation. After all, the TV series is one of my favorite anime ever, but things haven’t exactly been pretty for E7 fans the last few times around. The first film to come out, Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep TIght, Young Lovers, was more an interesting experiment in how different a story you could tell with existing footage than anything else. Eureka Seven AO squandered so much of its potential and was so convoluted that it ended up a major disappointment. However, there’s a big X-Factor that gives me some initial confidence in these new Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution Films—the return of writer Sato Dai to the team.

Sato was not on staff for Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers, and he left Eureka Seven AO early on, and it’s suspected to be for creative differences (AO was basically funded by a pachinko company). While an anime is more than just one person, the lack of Sato and what it meant for those productions stood out in those two works like a sore thumb. If you’ve seen what Sato is capable of in anime outside of Eureka Seven, such as the excellent Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, narrative cohesiveness resulting from excellent emotional character development is a hallmark of his writing style. Having Sato at the helm is the best sign that Hi-Evolution will live up to the Eureka Seven name.

The first new film, out in 2017, is going to be a prequel that covers the First Summer of Love, the pivotal event that defines the world of Eureka Seven. The other two films, in 2018 and 2019, promise to bring a new ending… perhaps even going beyond the events of the TV series? I can only hope.

One thing that piques my curiosity about this new project is the preview image showing Eureka, Anemone, and Renton. In it, Eureka and Renton have more concerned expressions, while Anemone’s is soft and loving. While Anemone ends up in a happy place by the end of the Eureka Seven TV series, I would have assumed that their faces would almost be the opposite. The fact that it’s showing Anemone with such a look implies to me that something will be different about her; not necessarily a different personality or anything, but maybe a new perspective on her life. I’ve known plenty of fans who considered Eureka Seven to be the “Anemone Show,” so maybe their day has come.

In any case, I’m willing to put my trust on the line for Eureka Seven: Hi-Evolution. I won’t let cynicism beat me just yet!

Tiger Mask W and the Significance of Global Wrestling Monopoly

In Tiger Mask W, a young wrestler dons the mask of the legendary Tiger Mask in order to fight against the villainous wrestlers of the Tiger’s Den. Most frequently, this involves taking on a wrestling company that exists as the outward-facing image of the Tiger’s Den, a thinly veiled World Wrestling Entertainment parody called “Global Wrestling Monopoly,” or GWM for short. The GWM is actually a brand-new creation for Tiger Mask W, something I personally found curious given how much having the most evil force in wrestling also be the largest and most popular. Why didn’t something like the GWM exist in the original Tiger Mask?

Upon reading the original Tiger Mask manga, I realized something: it would have been impossible to reference anything like the WWE. Tiger Mask first began in 1969 and ended in 1971, a time when there was no such thing as an international wrestling organization on the scale of what would become World Wrestling Entertainment.

In 1969, the promotion that would eventually become the World Wrestling Federation and later World Wrestling Entertainment was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. At the head was Vincent James McMahon, father of current owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who ran the WWWF as just one of many territorial wrestling promotions in the US; in the WWWF’s case, it covered the Northeast, especially the New York area. During this time, Bruno Sammartino, one of the greatest WWE champions of all time (if not the greatest), was in the middle of his historic nine-year reign as WWWF champion.

Tiger Mask vs. “Classy” Freddie Blassie

Tiger Mask came from a time long before what many people today think of as wrestling. This was the era before Wrestlemania took the WWF national with Hulkamania, before Ric Flair’s battles with Ricky Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes. Naturally, it’s long before the eras of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and John Cena. In addition to the Tiger’s Den wrestlers, Tiger Mask encounters real-world wrestlers of the time like all-time Japanese greats Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba. He wrestles against big names such as “Classy” Freddie Blassie (who would go on to train Triple H) and Angelo Poffo (father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage).

This is why the strategy used by the Tiger’s Den makes more sense for the period Tiger Mask came from. Unlike in Tiger Mask W, where they’re presented as employees of Global Wrestling Monopoly, the villainous secret organization would train heel wrestlers and send them around the world to various countries and territories in order to traumatize local wrestlers and take their money. Of course, in the world of Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W, wrestling is 100% legitimate, so there’s no such thing as pre-planned matches or notions like kayfabe.

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[NYICFF 2017] Take a Look, It’s in a Book: Rudolf the Black Cat

This film was shown as a part of the 2017 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Japanese animation isn’t typically associated with talking animal movies, but Rudolf the Black Cat (Rudolph to Ippaiattena in Japanese)is an unabashed entry into that genre. Still, it has much to offer viewers, with an endearing cast and lessons that viewers of all ages can take to heart.

Rudolf is a house cat who has never gone beyond his yard. But when he gets lost far from home, Rudolph has to learn what it’s like to live on the streets. Luckily, he meets the best possible mentor: a tough-as-nails tiger-striped stray who has the ability to read human language. Rudolf mishears and believes the stray’s name to be “Gottalot” (Ippaiattena), because Gottalot goes by many names.

One of the core themes of the film is a straight-up educational lesson: reading expands your world. Gottalot does his LeVar Burton in Reading Rainbow act, explaining to Rudolf about how books can help you imagine things yet unseen, and teach you about how places you’ve never even heard of. Gottalot’s efforts to help Rudolf become crucial to the climax of the film, and it’s all thanks to Learning and Study (thanks books!).

Rudolf the Black Cat isn’t just focused on being didactic, however. While the film carries very clear moral and life lessons about loyalty and learning, it mostly does so through the friendship that forms between Rudolf and Gottalot. As a veteran of the streets, Gottalot is savvy, but he sees a bit of himself in Rudolf. This bond forms the foundation of the movie, and it’s enjoyable from beginning to end.

It’s also worth mentioning that this film, while mainly for kids, isn’t afraid to make them cry. There are numerous sad and difficult moments throughout Rudolf the Black Cat, and although it isn’t exactly a Grave of the Fireflies, there were definitely more than a few sniffles among the young audience. For kids unused to typical Japanese-style endings (which tend to come with just a spoonful of tragedy), it might pose some difficulty.

Rudolf the Black Cat is overall a decent film that is easily accessible to any audience. While it pitches underhanded at its target audience of young children, it also tosses plenty of few curve balls that result in an enjoyable film even under adult scrutiny.

 

What’s in a List? Thoughts on the Smash 4 Backroom Tier List v3

smash-4-backroom-tier-list-v3-2

Recently, the granddaddy of all competitive Super Smash Bros. sites, Smashboards, released their third Smash 4 tier list. The significance of this version is that it’s the first tier list that did not come in the middle of patches or DLC, so it provides our first big look at the status of Smash 4 in a stable environment.

Overall, I have no major qualms with the tier list, and my go-to characters—Mewtwo and Mega Man—are right where I think they should be. Some characters might be a little too high or a little too low, but I don’t have any horses in that race. However, I’d like to talk about two topics: theory vs. results, and the most controversial characters among the tier list voters.

Theory vs. Results

One of the frequent struggles when it comes to bringing together tier lists is the balance between theory and results. A character can look great on paper, but actually using them and winning with them is another matter entirely. On the flip side, even if a character is winning consistently versus everyone else, this could be simply due to a gap in knowledge.

For likely a multitude of reasons, the Smash 4 community at large seems to have a hard time marrying theory with results to the extent of other fighting games. For example, the tier list above has Bayonetta at #1, but it wasn’t long after the list was announced that people were commenting that the results don’t support the position. This isn’t to say that they’re necessarily wrong, but always get the impression when looking at and joining in on discussions about character viability that people either overshoot or undersell the influence of a character’s theory with respect to what they’re capable of.

Some of the reasons I think it’s hard for Smashers to get the right balance of theory and results are as follows.

  • The game is full of Nintendo icons, so there’s often the desire to argue in favor of your beloved character
  • As a result of the above, players will often theorycraft from a biased perspective. This is difficult to avoid, and is not inherently bad because of how it can motivate people, but leads to a lot of broad leaps and assumptions.
  • People become distrustful of theorycrafting and instead lean towards results, which have defined parameters (wins, losses, championships).

This leads to people taking extreme stances about the importance of results vs. theory, where one is touted as significantly more important than the other. However, I believe that the ideal tier list is one that uses results to theorize further beyond what results currently show us. They should be less a snapshot of what the actual current metagame is like, and more an image of what we think the game will become given the information we have.

Disagreements on Character Viability

In the Smashboards post about the tier list, it’s possible to order the tier list in order to see which characters garnered the most disagreement in terms of placement. The top 5 (not counting Miis) are Samus, Bowser Jr., Pac-Man, Olimar, and Wario. According to the tier list, these characters are supposedly mid-tier at best, but it’s still worth noting that there were some who thought highly of them nevertheless.

One of the reasons for this might just be that the voters come from all over the world. Different regions are known for having strong players for characters that one might not find elsewhere. For example, Duck Hunt was considered a pretty bad character until three Japanese Duck Hunts made their way to the US and took some big names. In the case of the five characters above, Olimar is a major influence in California, Florida, New York, and especially Japan; the ranked fourth best Japanese player in their region is an Olimar named Shuton. Similarly, Wario is a major presence in Europe thanks to France’s Glutonny, with a lesser but still significant mark being made by Wario player TheReflexWonder.

Pac-Man and Bowser Jr. have been on a progressive downward slide because their most prominent players, Abadango from Japan and Tweek from New Jersey respectively, have long since put them on the backburner. I believe that there must still be those holding out hope that Pac and BowJow have what it takes to cause the occasional upset (and they still do sometimes!).

Samus is the major enigma. She has never been considered strong in Smash 4, especially compared to her armor-less counterpart, but even after a number of significant buffs she received through patches there’s still not the sense that she’s any good. And yet, enough players voted her as being at least mid-tier that there has to be some strong belief in her potential. I think what causes such disagreement as to her character is that her toolkit is actually very diverse and her physical properties all appear to be strong but dysfunctional, and how much a player can overcome that dysfunction (as they have with Shulk) remains to be seen.

The Future!

Early Smash 4 was an interesting beast because of how, for once, swordsmen weren’t dominant. This meant characters with lesser range could thrive. This has changed dramatically with the rise of Marth and the advent of Cloud (pun intended). Will there be another major shift, even without balance patches? I look forward to seeing players push their characters to their limits.

 

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10 Robots that Deserve to Be Soul of Chogokin Figures (Part 1)

I love giant robots, and I love seeing them turned into Soul of Chogokin figures. Here’s the first five of 10 that I think should get that Chogokin Tamashii treatment!

How to Make Otaku Care for the Environment: Kemono Friends

Kemono Friends has taken the anime fandom in Japan by storm. With chart-topping sales in blu-rays, CDs, and more, Kemono Friends is an unlikely success story. How can such a simple-looking 3DCG cartoon about animal people win over the hearts of so many? The answer is by being just off-kilter enough to surprise, and then endearing enough to make a lasting impression.

Kemono Friends takes place in a nature park called Japari Park. The main characters, Serval (the serval cat) and Kaban (the human; kaban means “bag” in Japanese) journey to find out what kind of animal Kaban is. Along the way, they meet other half-beasts, collectively called “Friends,” learning about other species as well.

The initial hook of the series is how Kaban (and in fact everyone they meet) is unable to identify what Kaban herself is. Given the dilapidated state of Japari Park, it hints early on that the world of Kemono Friends is more than it seems. Is it a post-apocalypse? Is it something less sinister? The fact that the show maintains its laid-back feeling despite all of that gives the show an unusual charm that’s difficult to find elsewhere. Moreover, in every episode Kaban-chan inadvertently does something that comes easily to humans but is difficult or incomprehensible to the Friends, e.g. handling tools, analyzing situations, etc., which makes for a kind of intriguingly self-reflective position.

I find that a part of Kemono Friends‘ success is that it carries the DNA lineage of gdgd Fairies, a show that mixes cheap animation, unpredictable humor, and an improv section that lets its voice actresses go wild. The series Tesagure! Bukatsumono is of this vein, and its animation director, TATSUKI, is the director behind Kemono Friends. Although Kemono Friends has significantly less improvisational elements than gdgd Fairies or Tesagure! Bukatsumono, the use of simple CG to create a mellow yet mildly uncomfortable world remains. In fact, if there’s any other show that I think even comes close to Kemono Friends in terms of setting and feel, it’s Straight Title Robot Anime, another gdgd Fairies descendant that’s about robots trying to re-discover the concept of humor in a world where humans are extinct. In a sense, Kemono Friends is an “evolution” of this strand of anime, adapted to fit wider consumption than the niche approaches of its predecessors.

Above: Straight Title Robot Anime

It would be a mistake to wholly attribute the popularity of Kemono Friends to those bits and pieces of DNA, however. Another reason the series works is because it’s actually an incredibly effective environmental awareness cartoon, especially for otaku viewers.

I think the default image of environmental cartoons are fairly overt (and arguably preachy) works: Captain Planet, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Fern Gully. etc. Kemono Friends, in contrast, takes a less direct approach. By merely introducing “Friend” versions of a variety of animals both popular and obscure, giving them personality traits tied to their actual animal behaviors, and contrasting them with Serval and Kaban, they all become memorable characters at the same time they help commit to memory the qualities of those animals. Perhaps nothing emphasizes this more than the eyecatches, which feature actual zookeepers and other animal experts describing the actual animals in great detail. The experts’ words are accompanied by an onscreen depiction of the Friends version of that animal, and the result is something along the lines of how Hetalia or Kantai Collection fandom involves learning more about actual history. In other words, Serval isn’t just a “catgirl,” she’s truly the embodiment of the serval cat, and just might make you want to help out all serval cats.

Kemono Friends isn’t impressive in terms of animation, but it has an odd charisma that works. While the show won’t win over everyone, I believe it takes only two episodes to really determine whether or not someone will enjoy this series. Those who watch it will be rewarded by a show that deftly balances a lot of different plates.

Crested Ibis: The Voice of an Angel Mixed with a Banshee

As for my favorite Friends, they’d have to be the shrill yet friendly Crested Ibis and the detail-oriented and the neurotic Beaver. Fight me.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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