Lots of Brain with a Bit of Heart: Combat in Girls und Panzer das Finale

After years of waiting, I finally got the chance to watch Girls und Panzer das Finale: Part 2 thanks to a sweet sale from Sentai Filmworks. The second in a planned six-part film series to wrap up the “girls in tanks for sport” franchise, Part 2 is definitely not a standalone movie. It introduces no new characters, doesn’t have any real major revelations, and is probably better thought of as an extra-long TV episode. Even so, I don’t mind one bit. What I’ve come to remember just from sitting down with this second movie is that there is something inherently joyful to Girls und Panzer, and I think it comes down to how it handles the portrayal of combat.

Whether by fists or by vehicles, I find that fights in action-oriented anime largely fall under two categories: brain-oriented and heart-oriented. “Brain-oriented” means ones where characters win or lose because of strategic or tactical circumstances. They don’t necessarily have to be “realistic;” there just has to be an internal logic. Stand battles in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which focus on overcoming an enemy’s specific strengths and weaknesses, are a prime example. “Heart-oriented,” on the other hand,” comes down to essentially “they won because they wanted it more.” Most battles in Fist of the North Star are this way, even though the series ostensibly is a clash of different martial arts—ultimately, it’s about Kenshiro’s righteous anger. It’s also not uncommon to see hybrids that aim to achieve satisfaction in both. Gaogaigar is a notable example of a hybrid, especially because it involves taking a heart-based skill (“bravery”) as a power source for brain-based decisions while fighting (“the G-Stone is powered by bravery.”)

Girls und Panzer revels in its battle scenes. But while Girls und Panzer has a good deal of heart to it, that’s really not what side its bread is buttered on. Its tank battles are brain-oriented through and through, and what I find interesting is just how much the series avoids expository dialogue to convey that focus. Whether it’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or Legend of the Galactic Heroes, brain-oriented fare often revels in that verbosity, and while I don’t worship at the altar of “show, don’t tell,” Girls und Panzer does make for a very compelling experience. In das Finale: Part 2, concepts like positioning are conveyed mostly visually without the need for diagrammatic maps. While I most definitely don’t have any sort of practical combat experience (in tanks or otherwise), the film makes you feel like you’re both an outside observer and in the thick of it. 

Of course, brain-oriented battles assume brains, and that it’s not just a bunch of empty tanks on autopilot. In this respect, characters in Girls und Panzer serve an important function. Aside from being cute girls whose personalities satirize cultures around the world (including Japan), their behaviors provide windows into how they think and approach both competition and life in general. For example, the first fight in das Finale: Part 2 comes down to exploiting underlying intrateam rifts by utilizing commonalities in certain tank designs, and it is incredibly silly while also making total sense.

A part of me can’t believe that Girls und Panzer is coming up on its 10-year anniversary. But every time it shows back up, I know that it’s going to deliver. The love and effort poured into the franchise is hard to deny, and the sheer amount of earnest fun is virtually palpable. Its breed of brain-oriented combat is still rare in this day, and as it gradually rolls to the finish line, I hope others take up the mantle.

Semi-Brief Thoughts on the Slingshot in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The last time I wrote about Smash Bros., it was to give my thoughts on the concept of character complexity. Since then, the developers have declared Smash Bros. Ultimate balance changes are more or less done, so outside of discoveries from the community itself, there likely wouldn’t be anything new to discuss. But that’s exactly where new tech has arisen, namely in the form of what has been coined the “slingshot.” 

Building off of a few seemingly disparate techniques found earlier in the game’s competitive life, the slingshot was introduced to players at large thanks to Smash Bros. tournament organizer GIMR, who also runs the biggest Smash stream around, VGBootcamp. I’ve put his video above, as he explains it better than I can, but to sum it up: The slingshot is a technique that purposely uses the cumbersome buffer system in Ultimate to allow characters to juke while facing the opponent.

Even in this early stage, there are many reasons I feel that the slingshot is a net positive for me personally and Smashers in general. I’ll admit that prior to this announcement, I hadn’t really touched the game in months. But now, I find myself grinding the inputs trying to see what I can learn, and it’s exciting. Also, as GIMR begins to show in the video, it has immediate benefits for both of my mains, Mewtwo and Mega Man. 

I predict that slingshot will benefit Mewtwo immensely. While it’ll make the character more vulnerable to shield pressure, Mewtwo never dealt with it well anyway, so nothing much will change on that end. On the flip side, being able to mitigate that pernicious tail hurtbox that has plagued Mewtwo throughout Ultimate through quick turnarounds is itself a major boon. But Mewtwo also sports specific physics that seems ideal for slingshots and the way it instantly boosts characters to max air speed: a combination of low initial air speed but also the third highest max air speed in the game. It doesn’t help when Mewtwo is being juggled, but on the ground, I think it’ll be a fundamental change to the character.

Mega Man is different in that he has extremely high air acceleration and a strong (though not Mewtwo-level) max air speed. Although I think he potentially won’t benefit quite as much, the slingshot looks like it’ll still be a great asset. The tech will add an extra trick to his already strong and wiggly neutral, and I can see every move of his being useful with this new trick.

My only worry is that in a game where out-of-shield options are already bad, things might get a whole lot worse. But with the added layers I predict the slingshot will open, it’s going to make for a more dynamic experience.

Ultimate Dancouga in Super Robot Wars 30 is Quintessential Obari Masami

One of the highlights of any Super Robot Wars game is seeing how awesome mecha look in their attack animations. So when Ultimate Dancouga first performed its ultimate attack in Super Robot Wars 30, I expected the kind of spectacle associated with its designer, Obari Masami. After all, he personally designed this exclusive version of Dancouga for the game, and his penchant for flashy action poses is unmistakable. When I first saw Ultimate Dancouga strike the characteristic warped-perspective sword pose seen above during its Dancou Shinken technique, I could only think “Yep, there it is!”

But then a few other thoughts immediately followed. “Why didn’t I associate this Obari Pose with Dancouga’s finishing moves in SRW?” “Did it even strike the Obari Pose in older titles?” “Did it ever Obari Pose in the original anime?!”

That’s when I remembered: The 1980s anime Super Beast Machine God Dancouga predates the Obari Pose, which emerged in the 1990s with the Brave franchise! In fact it’s sometimes more commonly known as the Brave Perspective and Sunrise Stance, among other things.

Sure, recent toy releases make reference to the Pose, but it’s not the same as having it in the show itself. And while there’s been plenty of creative license with attacks throughout SRW, their desire to capture the flavor of the source material is likely why the Pose never made it in. On top of that, the Dancouga TV anime was Obari’s first credit as mecha designer, so the series holds a special place in his massive body of work.

So Ultimate Dancouga ends up being a kind of “combination” of two aspects of Obari’s legacy: It’s his first professional mecha design striking his signature pose. It’s not technically going full circle, but there’s a wholeness to Dancou Shinken that makes it satisfying.

I Wish Virtual Youtubers Became a Thing Much Sooner

One of the biggest transformations that occurred from the internet of my younger days to that we have now is the integration of the web into our flesh-and-blood lives. Whereas once you could reasonably maintain some kind of distinction between “online” and “IRL,” the latter term isn’t even really used anymore because it’s kind of pointless. Every major platform wants you to integrate because it helps them make money.

I’m under no false assumptions that Virtual Youtubers are some defiant rebellion against the greed that makes companies share information, but what they do represent is a purposeful separation of selves between who you are among close friends and who you are to an audience—while also making it obvious that there is a distinction in the first place. Of course, there are plenty of famous cases of performers being very different in public and private (see Freddie Mercury for one famous example), but the use of stylized moving avatars reduces the chances of the two sides being conflated.

The way VTubers have reintroduced and even kind of re-normalized an element of pseudonymous presentation makes me wish that they arrived sooner. Perhaps the internet would look different if VTubers were more quickly embraced before Facebook, et al could make everyone think that putting photos of yourself everywhere for all to see should be the default.

Very broadly speaking, that’s what online icons and avatars were for. And when it comes to hiding your face but wanting to communicate, things like chat rooms and voice chat have and still fulfill that function. But where VTubing is able to go a step further is in its ability to convey facial expressions that add an additional layer of interpersonal connection while also keeping that active and outright facade in place. How much more comfortable might people be talking “face to face” if the faces are virtual? 

In the video above, Apex Legends player discusses his favorite Virtual Youtubers, but also brings up all the points I’ve made above. Namely, he likes the fact that it gives viewers something to look at while still maintaining some semblance of privacy for the streamer, even if it’s for someone who shows their face normally.

I understand the programs used by VTubers can be expensive and time-intensive, especially if you want something professional-looking like your favorites. Still, I imagine a world where this sort of thing becomes accessible to a great many more people, and they can maybe engage with their online communities more comfortably.

Making and Sharing Lemonade: Princess Connect! Re:Dive Season 2

The first season of Princess Connect! Re:Dive was a surprise hit for me. In a seemingly endless field of mobile game adaptations, this one manages to achieve a nice balance between plenty of irreverent hijinks among its core characters with a bit of intrigue surrounding its greater plot and world. Season 2 flips the ratio, leaning more heavily into the overarching narrative, but I find it still enjoyable in its own right. In a certain sense, having the former take a more episodic approach gives more dramatic weight to the latter.

One thing I find particularly fascinating about Re:Dive is the way it connects to the original Princess Connect (sans Re:Dive) by giving the “player character,” Yuuki, more dimensions through turning his story into a redemption arc. It’s established throughout the anime that the world portrayed in the anime is something of a “redo” after a final battle against a great villain went horribly wrong, which renders Yuuki initially amnesiac. “Having things happen to you” is not the same thing as having a personality, but in giving this origin story to Yuuki, it lets him feel like a character all his own instead of an automatic audience stand-in. Takasaki Yu from Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club shares a similar circumstance, and like Yuuki, is there in part to show how great everyone else is.

Making the vanilla Princess Connect the backstory for a bigger and better sequel turns out to be a solid idea, and it actually reminds me of another game franchise: Street Fighter. The very first game is widely regarded as the worst one just by virtue of awkwardly imprecise controls and the lack of a large playable character roster, but the roots were there. And like Princess Connect, it’s the sequel that would become more of a gold standard—and the sprinkling of story from Street Fighter would become the exciting backdrop for Street Fighter II. After all, how much more awesome is the rivalry between Ryu and Sagat when the canon says Ryu scarred Sagat with a Shoryuken and drove the former champion to develop his own leaping uppercut? 

For that matter, the way that various characters in Season 2 of the Re:Dive anime show up to reward their fans without overshadowing the Big Plot feels like how a fighting game anime would ideally work if adapted into a TV series. I never finished Street Fighter II V, so I can’t say how that one goes.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive Season 2 gets around to more or less wrapping up the big threads established from Season 1, but given that it’s a mobile game, there’s inevitably going to be some more story. I hope it can keep up the general joy and excitement that made me a fan in the first place. 

Shinkalion Z, Ooishi Misaki, and Fat Positivity

Attractive portrayals of fat girls are a real rarity in anime and manga, and when they do exist, they tend to have something of a fetish quality (see: Real Drive or Pochamani). It’s less common to see a character with a less conventional appearance featured in a romantic way that doesn’t draw specific attention to her size. But we have one in, of all series, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z.

Ooishi Misaki is an operator for the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute Yokokawa Branch, and is one of a handful of characters who fulfill the role of moving levers and hitting triggers to provide upgrades to the Shinkalion robots. In other words, she fulfills a role akin to Mikoto in Gaogaigar, and receives similar cool moments while working in the command center.

Partway into the series, a female character reveals that she’s actually a member of the enemy forces, and a guy in love with her named Hosokawa Atsuto feels betrayed and upset. Just as he tosses a souvenir he received from the spy into the water, Misaki happens to show up, and the Atsuto sees her in a dazzling new light, and finds himself smitten by her beauty in that moment.

Misaki does not exhibit negative fat stereotypes. She’s not comically eating all the time. She’s not constantly trying to diet. No one draws attention to her size versus other characters in the series. She’s different without any particular focus on that difference, and even Atsuto’s attraction looks like any other in anime and manga. That unremarkable quality is itself noteworthy, and I feel like it goes a step in the right direction.

Redefining Traditions and Expectations: Turning Red

Turning Red is Disney Pixar’s latest theatrical animation, and its focus on life as an Asian middle schooler hits close to home. Like many Asians from North America, I was a kid who took overachieving to heart due to my upbringing. I wasn’t dedicated as some of my peers, mind, but it was enough that getting a B+ used to summon deep and gut-wrenching dread. But when I looked at TV and movies, it was clear that characters who were like me were few and far between, and the ones who did appear were often relegated to support characters even when factoring out physical appearance. 

This has changed over time, with the mainstream rise of the “nerd” and protagonists like Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic carrying a similar energy, but that particular cocktail of emotions shared by so many of Asian descent remained a rarity. That’s why I was so taken by the heroine of Turning Red, Meilin Lee. A 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian from Toronto, her story is the latest in a line of works addressing generational trauma—and one of those symptoms is the way that Asian kids are expected to get those straight A’s, learn piano and violin, get into a good college, have a successful career, have a family and kids, and on and on. 

Yet, the key is that the pressure placed upon us does not come from malice, neglect, or simple fear of ruining family reputation, but rather from what is practically the opposite. For our elders who had to endure unbelievable hardship, they do not want us to suffer as they did, yet the context in which many of us are raised is so fundamentally different that it creates inherent tensions.

The way Turning Red pursues this complex relationship through Meilin is nothing short of brilliant and powerfully relatable. Within her is a turbulent embrace of both 2002 North American pop culture (boy bands!) and the traditional culture of her parents, and the way they merge and split and get thrown into the blender feels so much like what I experienced as a kid and still do today. It’s a film where I instantly saw myself—not simply because it’s about Asians but because it tells a personally familiar story in a way that assumes that such experiences are natural and common.  

Dang, Spring Anime Is Really Good: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for May 2022

I know I’m probably not the first person to say this, but the Spring 2022 anime season has been rock-solid. I can’t watch every show, but the sheer amount of quality made for quite an enjoyable April, even as the world continues to teeter between hope and despair. Spy x Family, Ya Boy Kongming, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Birdie Wing, and a whole host of other series are just knocking it out of the park.

Thanks again to all my followers on Patreon!

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from April:

Navigating Your Cultures: Himawari House

My review of a comic about living in Japan as an Asian expat and searching for identity.

Super Robot Wars 30, Gaogaigar, and J-Decker: The Compromises of a Composite Narrative

Thoughts on the combining of two different Brave anime in SRW30.

The Art of Love: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

A great little movie that went under the radar.

Kio Shimoku

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter was full of design drawings for Hashkko Ensemble. There’s a lot of insight into his early decisions for the manga!

Closing

One other piece of big news from April was the announcement and release of the final DLC for Super Robot Wars 30. I still can’t believe Shinkalion made it in! It makes me want to draw giant robot fanart…

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights April 2022

Kio’s tweets this month feature lots of his preliminary sketches for Hashikko Ensemble! It’s worth a look if you want to see how the characters began.

All the drawings used for the cover of Hashikko Ensemble, Volume 8!

Kio comments on the passing of Fujiko Fujio (A), remembering a Ninja Hattori-kun story he loved where Hattori moved next door and turned the house into a ninja mansion.

The pet tortoise at an active time.

Kio recommends that B the Jin fan go see Oedo Coraliers, a chorus/gee club Kio previously worked with.

The artist Shigisawa Kaya is feeling conflicted about waiting for things to calm down but that never being the case. Kio comments that he’s finally gotten around to checking things off his bucket list, but it’s after 28 years as a manga artist.

Kio has always felt that preparing salads is a pain even though it’s good to eat more vegetables, but then realizes that he basically makes salads for his tortoise every day.

Kio went to the library for the first time in a long while. The drawing of Kozue talks about the feeling of getting an author’s new work, only to realize that it’s already five volumes long and also finished. He then recalls borrowing tons of books from the library as a kid and reading through all of them before going back for more, but looking back wonders how in the world he managed to make the time to do that.

Kio comments that it’s the season for haramaki (stomach bands), and jokingly states that this year’s Fanta vintage is good.

A drawing for Afternoon that didn’t end up in any of the collected volumes of Hashikko Ensemble.

Kio began sharing some preliminary character design drawings for Hashikko Ensemble. Akira is described as having a contrast between his timid personality and his newly acquired bass voice. 

Jin’s initial background had him singing since he was five years old, and that he can even sing soprano. 

Kousei the baritone was always intended to have a heavy backstory. 

Shion was a more serious character, though had the quality of being made to learn piano by her mother, as well as having poor grades.

It’s interesting that some of the character designs changed significantly. Also, a few of these drawings were actually used in the teaser for Kio’s “new manga” back before the series began.

The student work uniforms.

Mimi-sensei, mostly unchanged. A capable person despite how she might appear, though lacking in experience.

Probably the biggest departure of all: A male character named Koizumi Yuusuke who would eventually morph into Akira’s neighbor and childhood friend, Himari. Described as an idiot who thinks he’s smart.

Kio mentions that people might ask “That’s it?!” when seeing how few planning drawings he does, but that’s just how he works. He mentions that he did have to design all the students in Class 1-5 afterwards, and that’s where Kanon, Kozue, and Shinji came from.

Kio elaborates on the point above that he tries to get a solid idea of how the characters will be in the roughs, and by the time he’s inking, he more or less knows how they’ll be. Someone asks if this was the same process he used for Genshiken characters, and he says yes. Kio also says that he feels the drawings feel the best in that rough stage and he wants to keep that feel, but that the designs inevitably change over the course of serialization.

An even earlier Shion sketch. Apparently “not owning a smartphone” was in there from the start.

A Chinese-speaking individual thanks Kio for all his work, to which Kio thanks them. Also, the person is clearly an Ogiue fan, and therefore a superior human being.

The rough versions of those early Hashikko Ensemble designs. Kio is asked how he came up with the names for Akira and Jin, to which he replies, “Intuition.”

To come up with various students and teachers, Kio gathered image references online and then started doing sketches based on them.

More sketches to better solidify the designs.

Why Did I Ever Stop Reading Fanfiction?

I don’t really read fanfiction these days, but that hasn’t always been the case. My very first internet community was a video game fanfic site, and I spent quite a few years indulging in the hobby. At some point, though, I simply fell out of it—and I haven’t returned since. When I see people I know who are well into the realm of adulthood like me who still read and write fanfics, and when I see something like Archive of Our Own spring up around two decades after I quit, I can’t help but wonder where the differences lie. Why did I stop whereas others have kept going?

While reflecting on all this, I came to a conclusion: I stopped reading fanfiction because I no longer need it to fulfill the reason I began in the first place. The root desire that led me to fanfics no longer applies to me today.

What Fanfiction Gave to Me

When I first discovered fanfiction, it came at a time when many of the things I enjoyed felt confined in certain narrative ways. Video games like NiGHTS into dreams… had plots and characters, but they were very sparse and minimal—more vehicles to get people playing than elaborately unfolding stories. Many cartoons I grew up with, like King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, never reached proper conclusions. This was also the era of anime OVAs at the video store, and those were often just little samplers not meant to be complete stories. 

What fanfiction gave me was the opportunity to explore these limited settings. It often felt like the canon product only gave us a thin slice of the worlds they were presenting. I wanted to see how other people imagined what was beyond the visible parts of those universes, both external (other physical areas and aspects) and internal (the internal worlds of characters beyond what is shown to us). Of course, fan sequels were a huge part of this, continuing the stories where they might have ended (in my opinion) too soon.

Why I Stopped Reading, Maybe

However, more and more of the stories I experience now feel more complete and more satisfying. The worlds they portray are endlessly complex and intricate, sometimes even overly so. Rather than wanting more and more, I find myself often wanting less and less. And if there is some unresolved element, I’d rather use my energy to move on to another piece of entertainment. My current mindset is, why read fanfic of one manga when I can read two manga instead? Not only that, series like Naruto literally have gotten sequels, and while there’s plenty to potentially disagree with when it comes to the direction Boruto has taken, I don’t feel strongly enough about it to check out fan versions. Heck, I’m not even that interested in reading the multiple endings of We Never Learn, where the author drew out a happy ending for each girl.

This isn’t to say that everyone should do what I do or be where I’m at. Fanfiction is great, and it holds so much energy for joy and discovery. I also look at what seem to be the common directions that fanfics go these days—alternate-universe settings for characters, shipping, etc.—and those aren’t really my jam either. In my younger days, I searched for Gundam Wing fanfiction because I wanted to see people come up with their own mobile suits. What I got instead was decidedly not that. Fair game, but not what I was seeking.

Maybe I’ll Be Back Someday

It would be silly of me to say “never.” What the past couple years has taught me is that the future is indeed unpredictable, and I may find myself in a place where I need the comfort of fanfiction. See you in another decade maybe.