Where in the World is the Next Smash Bros. Character?

I woke up one morning with an amazing idea: What if Carmen Sandiego became a Smash Bros. character?

Sure, there are a lot of things working against her. The Carmen Sandiego franchise is traditionally more about teaching kids geography than anything else, and there’s not much “gameplay” to speak of. There’s already a thief as a guest character in the form of Joker from Persona 5. She’s not even all that recognizable in this day and age, though people who grew up in the 1990s might know her through the various shows based on her that populated public and network television in the US. 

However, she would directly represent a genre of gaming that is only barely touched upon by other characters: edutainment. Sure, it’s not as exciting as RPG, FPS, or fighting games, but Carmen herself has enough style to give her a striking impression.

Also, I think I have a great moveset for her, and I really want to share it. 

As a virtually unparalleled thief and criminal mastermind, Carmen Sandiego would be a nimble and slippery character, light yet speedy in most respects. She would probably be similar to Joker in that respect, but unlike her fellow sticky-fingered compatriot, she would place less emphasis on building towards a powerful, combo-oriented office.

Carmen Sandiego is not just good at stealing—she makes off with the most absurd and improbable items possible. Among them are “the Trans-Siberian Railroad,” and “all the goulash,” and “the steps to the tango.” In other words, she can steal things of enormous scale, infinite quantity, and even concepts! That’s why her neutral-special move would be a command grab called Master Theft, and it would allow her to rob an opponent of their own neutral-special. 

Essentially, it would be akin to Kirby’s Inhale mixed with a bit of Villager Pocket, except it would actually deny the target the use of their move! However, she wouldn’t be able to use the attack herself. Instead, she would store it in a briefcase that she uses for some of her attacks, and having a stolen special move would increase the damage and knockback, turning it into a potent KO move.

This special move would clearly be more potent against some characters. While Ganondorf losing Warlock Punch wouldn’t be the biggest deal, Shulk should be scared to not have Monado Arts.

From there, Carmen’s special moves would be as follows.

Jetpack would be her up-special, and would make for nimble recoveries, but limited offensive potential. 

Side-special would be Phantom Step, and would have her create an illusory clone that can stay still or move forward. The closest thing in Smash would be Greninja’s Shadow Sneak, but this is closer to the Adept’s Shade technique in Starcraft II.

And down-special would be V.I.L.E. Henchman, which would summon a random subordinate of Carmen’s, each with different properties. It would resemble Duck Hunt’s Wild Gunmen attack to a certain extent, but the effects would be much more varied than “different guys shooting.” 

Her Final Smash would be V.I.L.E. Assault, and would entail a full-on attack by all the Henchmen and Carmen at the same time As for which henchmen would be picked, I really am not sure. The game-show ones like Robocrook would be most recognizable, but that might stray too far off from Smash Bros. as a celebration of games.

That being said, it would still have to include the Rockapella theme. 

There are other edutainment games that could serve the role of representative, such as Oregon Trail or Math Blaster. But I think Carmen Sandiego has the cultural penetration and character charisma to make her a great addition to Smash Bros. I know the chances are slim, but it would be such a fantastic surprise for a future Nintendo Direct.

PS: I never get tired of this:

Hololive EN and Multilingual Fluency Among Virtual Youtubers

Virtual Youtubers continue to be a tour de force, reaching beyond Japan to worldwide recognition. Given this success, as well as the crossover appeal of certain English-fluent VTubers (such as Fujima Sakura, Pikamee, and Kiryu Coco), it was only a matter of time before one of the big VTubers agencies would try to make an active effort to court an English-speaking audience. Thus is born Hololive EN, and with it five new streamers.

The tricky thing with something like Hololive English is striking the right balance in terms of audience desire and accessibility. Speaking in the target demographic’s native tongue does wonders for directly engaging with viewers, and offers an experience closer to what the Japanese viewers typically enjoy. Rather than Inugami Korone’s amusing struggles with English, little gets lost in translation. However, it’s also possible that part of the appeal is the existence of a culture gap—that there’s an element of exoticism found in both the language barrier and the moe idol aesthetic. Veering too far in one direction might alienate certain fans.

The route that Hololive English appears to have taken is to feature VTubers with decent degrees of spoken Japanese fluency—enough to interact with the Japanese fans as well. Their true identities remain unknown (as is standard), so it’s unclear if they’re natively multilingual or if they achieved it through study, but the result either way is that there isn’t a complete disconnect with the Japanese origins of Hololive. The style of English seems to differ from one to the next, whether it’s the cutesy affectations of Gawr Gura or the more natural-sounding speech of Mori Calliope. I think this probably a good way to hedge their bets in terms of figuring out what will garner the most fans, though I don’t know how intentional that is.

While all of them are able to speak Japanese fairly well, written fluency varies significantly between the Hololive English members (unless it’s somehow all an act). Case in point, Takanashi Kiara’s language skills are very strong to the extent that she self-translates, Ninomae Ina’nis appears to have a solid handle, and Amelia Watson can struggle with the basics. Kiara’s advantage is obvious, but I think the ones who are less fluent actually have a certain appeal themselves. Not only do they resonate with those of us who grew up speaking our parents’ languages but never became properly literate, but they’re also relatable to those currently learning Japanese or who want to learn Japanese—no doubt a common occurrence among Virtual Youtuber fans. 

For now, I don’t really have a favorite, but I wish all of them the best of luck. If they find success, I wonder if other Vtuber groups will push harder to have an active international presence.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

I Love Villains with Secret Weaknesses

One of the big mysteries of One Piece is just how Blackbeard is able to use multiple Devil Fruit powers when that should theoretically kill any being. I don’t have any strong theories as to what the truth is, but I do know one thing: when we do discover the secret, I think it’ll be one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series.

I love that trope, I really do. Whether it’s Sauron realizing that the One Ring is steps away from Mount Doom, and is filled with terror, or Voldemort coming to the horrifying realization that his Hocruxes are being eliminated, one of my favorite moments in fiction is when a villain realizes that their special hidden achilles heel, and thus they themselves  have been exposed.

If I were to say why I’m so fond of this idea, I’d say that it comes partially from how it resembles “boss fight” sensibility. Of course, this sort of storytelling element predates video games by a significant margin, but it is arguably most straightforward in the context of games. Only the worst weapon can harm Dr. Wily. Lavos Core attempts to fool enemies by hiding its true self in a seemingly unimportant floating “pod.” This idea can even extend to something like Gradius, where the final boss is a weaponless and disembodied brain. Here, the idea is that your final adversary is defenseless precisely to imply that you were never “supposed” to reach it—the soft, squishy point behind layers and layers of minions and firepower was meant to be unassailable.

But that puzzle aspect is only one component, and what really makes it satisfying is that the moment of unwanted revelation about their weakness being exposed is predicated on a contradiction. Villains like Voldemort and Sauron want to be invincible, but by pursuing that goal, they inadvertently create the cracks in their own armor. Voldemort fears death above all else, so he tries to achieve immortality by placing pieces of his soul into other objects and hiding them away, which in turn makes those very items a source of obsession for Voldemort. Sauron is already immortal, but his desire to control and dominate everything results in his transferring most of his power into the One Ring. Even when he first loses the One Ring in combat, the fact that it’s near-impervious gives Sauron a certain reassurance. He will eventually reunite with the ring because nothing is strong enough to get into Mordor if it’s not on Sauron’s terms. They use both smoke and mirrors and sheer martial strength to try and hide these flaws, so to see their best-laid plans begin to crumble gives me joy.

It’s precisely because Blackbeard goes to such great lengths to hide the workings of his multiple-Devil-Fruit usage that makes me confident that the reveal (and the ultimate use of it against Blackbeard) will be one of the best plot threads to come out of One Piece. His obsession with power, and the weak-minded truth of his being provide a perfect formula for this trope to play out in the best way possible.

Wyld Stallyns’ Greatest Triumph: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel BIll & Ted’s Bogus Journey are two of my favorite films ever due to their absurd premises to their even more ridiculous climaxes. Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan epitomize what people today call “himbos”—dim yet sincere dudes, and the two are great watches even today. Now, 30 years later we have a new movie in Bill & Ted Face the Music, and it’s a great sequel that captures the spirit of its predecessors. But as much as I enjoyed the film, I’ve also come to realize that it has an underlying story about how great Bill and Ted are as parents.

Because this is going to be discussing the ending to Bill & Ted Face the Music, be warned that there will be HEAVY SPOILERS involved.

The basic plot of the film is that metalheads Bill and Ted, aka Wyld Stallyns, have not been able to live up to their potential. They’re supposedly destined to write the song that ushers in a centuries-long age of peace and harmony, but they’ve spent the last 25 years failing to accomplish what should be their moment of greatness. Bill and Ted aro longer young, perhaps best shown by the fact that their daughters, Billie Logan and Thea “Theadora” Preston, have gone from babies at the end of Bogus Journey to 24-year-olds in Face the Music. After many time travel shenanigans (par for the course with Bill and Ted), Bill and Ted realize that they’re not the ones who are meant to write the ultimate song, but their daughters. What results is a song that is not only heard across time and space but also literally played by every person ever simultaneously.

There is a clear passing of the torch aspect to Billie and Thea being the true “destined ones,” in case any future films are to happen. However, I  see Billie and Thea as more than just replacements, and that’s because of something heavily implied throughout Face the Music: the daughters are able to succeed in creating the ultimate song because they were raised by Bill and Ted to love and appreciate music. It’s thanks to their dads’ support that they’re able to build on and surpass what the original duo achieved.

At the beginning of the movie, Bill and Ted perform their latest attempt at the song that will unite all, and it’s an extremely bizarre and experimental piece. Their audience, Ted’s brother’s wedding party, is not having it. But when the two talk to their daughters, they express how impressed they were by Wyld Stallyns’ use of the theremin and Tuvan throat singing—far, far cries from their rock and metal origins. What’s not said outright in these scenes is that Bill and Ted, in their attempt to write the ultimate song, have greatly expanded their musical horizons over the year. This pursuit of all forms of music, in turn, has rubbed off on Billie and Thea. The daughters are also portrayed as much more intelligent than their fathers, and might very well be musical geniuses.

Thus, when Billie and Thea go on their own time travel adventure to recruit the greatest band in history, they pick famous figures from across many musical genres: Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Ling Lun, Mozart, and a cavewoman named Grom. And while a young Bill and Ted wondered who “Beeth Oven” was, Billie and Thea know exactly who Mozart (and everyone else) is. Another notable difference is that, whereas rock and metal have traditionally been dominated by white performers, most of these artists are non-white, showing greater respect for music from other cultures. When Face the Music gets to its climax and Wyld Stallyns make way for Billie and Thea’s production and DJing skills to thrive (and save the space-time continuum), Bill and Ted are doing more than just stepping aside for their daughters—they’re allowing their greatest triumphs to fulfill their own destiny.

The support shown by Bill and Ted towards their kids stands out all the more when remembering the upbringing they themselves had, especially Ted. Rather than fostering Ted’s dreams of becoming a rock star, Mr. Logan is a police captain who cares more about instilling discipline and making his son “do something” with his life. The threat of a future at the military academy hangs over Ted in both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey. It’s not until Face the Music that Mr. Logan finally accepts all that Ted has gone through (time travel, going to heaven and hell). In contrast, Ted has likely been behind Billie from Day 1. 

Although Isaac Newton has never appeared in the Bill & Ted films, his famous quote about standing on the shoulders of giants is highly relevant here. Bill and Ted are the unlikeliest of heroes, but the ground they cover thanks to their adventures allow their daughters to take things to the next level. Sure, BIllie and Thea are much more astute and sharp by comparison, but father and daughter alike appreciate the other on a deep and fundamentally important level. It’s that love and respect, the fact that their relationships embody the dual mottos of “be excellent to each other” and “party on, dudes” that ultimately allows them to save the universe. 

Creator Chemistry in A Whisker Away

The Japanese anime film A Whisker Away caught my attention early on due to its writer-director combination of Okada Mari and Sato Jun’ichi. Okada has worked on some of my favorite anime, including A Woman Called Mine Fujiko and Aquarion EVOL. Sato has helmed numerous masterpieces, especially in the magical girl realm—Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu, Kaleidostar, Ojamajo Doremi, Hugtto! Precure, among others However, this is not the first time they’ve worked together, and their last collaboration, M3: The Dark Metal, was mixed at best. Their strengths as creators are total opposites in a certain sense, which can make for a brilliant chemical reaction or an explosive mess. In the case of A Whisker Away, the combination succeeds.

A Whisker Away follows a girl named Sasaki Miyo, whose crush on her boy classmate Hinode Kento only seems to irritate him. What Kento doesn’t know, however, is that the stray cat he loves so much, Tarou, is actually Miyo in disguise through the power of feline magic. Key to the film are the desire to understand and to be understood.

When I say that Okada and Sato have opposite strengths, what I mean is that the two specialize in very different expressions of emotion. The writer’s works are all characterized by melodramatic floods of powerful emotions (especially at the climax), while the director’s greatest strength is conveying small and intimate emotions whether the setting is humble or grandiose. It is a challenge for both types of emotional expression to exist in the same space without smothering each other, and as I discussed years ago on the Veef Show podcast, this is one of the problems with M3: The Dark Metal

I think what makes the newer work click in contrast to their previous title is that both Okada-style and Sato-style emotional expression are able to coexist. The film has moments for both styles to shine, especially given the numerous scenes of quiet introspection and frustration juxtaposed with loud and bombastic outbursts from the heart. It also doesn’t hurt that cute but trying teenage romance is the wheelhouse of both creators.

Given this long trend of two whole films, I am eager to see what comes from the next Okada-Sato joint effort. Now that I know this team can pull it off, I have high hopes that the third time around will be spectacular. In the meantime, A Whisker Away is worth a watch.

Gattai Girls 11: “Granbelm” and Kohinata Mangetsu

Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.

— 

Granbelm is a series that feels both modern and retro at the same time. The cute all-female cast is standard for current anime. Its premise, which pits these girls against each other in a Highlander-esque scenario to inherit the Earth’s magic, screams “early 2010s anime.” The story is straight-up early 2000s sekai-kei, a genre where the relationship between two characters determines the fate of the world. The mecha designs come straight out of a tradition of cutely proportioned robots from the late 1980s to early 1990s. Yet, while Granbelm isn’t shy about making its influences known, it’s also not ruled by them.

Female mecha protagonists are uncommon, which is why the lack of men in the series stands out all the more. That being said, this is not all that unusual, as there was an industry realization at some point in the industry that the total or near-total absence of male figures in anime could be a selling point to male and female audiences alike. In this sense, Granbelm follows in the footsteps of franchises like Love Live! and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, with the general mood of the show being more towards the darkness of the latter.

While having a predominantly female cast and thus passing the Bechdel test practically by default is by no means a mark of inherent feminism, these characters are varied in their personalities, motivations, strengths, and flaws in ways that emphasize their sheer presence on the screen. Whether it’s Anna (above) and her obsession with living up to her family reputation or Shingetsu and her guilt over her own power, the characters are convincing in their convictions. All the more impressive is the portrayal of the heroine, Kohinata Mangetsu (below). Although she comes across initially as a very generic protagonist, the series takes her naivete and exuberance and juxtaposes them against the others so as to highlight essential truths about her character in a manner most reminiscent of Selector Infected Wixoss

Moreover, it’s Mangetsu’s relationship with Shingetsu—their names meaning “full moon” and “new moon,” respectively—that is central to Granbelm. The way it plays out, similar yet profoundly different to Madoka and Homura’s in Madoka Magica, could only work with such strongly defined characters.

Given the general angle of Granbelm, the mecha might initially seem like an afterthought, but the series’s staff have worked hard to make them a vital part of the show in ways I appreciate a lot. Not only does the series wear its influences on its sleeve, with visual references to Gundam and even Space Runaway Ideon, but the way that characters argue with each other over heated personal and philosophical issues is right out of the playbook of Tomino Yoshiyuki, director of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and Ideon. Each robot—or “ARMANOX” in the anime’s parlance—reflects in form and function the personalities and fighting styles of each contestant. Whether it’s stealth, agility, or even emotional manipulation, you can sense through how they fight just what kinds of individuals they are. Mangetsu’s unit, White Lily, is fueled by her enthusiasm at the notion that she can be special in ways that elude her self-perception of mediocrity, and it comes across in the limit-shattering power and energy White Lily can generate.

Aesthetically, the ARMANOX draw from a very specific genre of giant robots: the chibi-fied robot tradition that began with SD Gundam and came into prominence in the 1980s to early 1990s anime thanks to titles like Mashin Hero Wataru, Mado King Granzort, and NG Knight & Lamune 40. Currently, the only modern anime that shares this look is the current 20th anniversary sequel to Wataru, which actively draws upon that visual nostalgia and carries a more straightforward good vs. evil story common to its original’s peers. The use of these mecha, with their squat and rounded appearances not only makes the visuals of Granbelm memorable against the backdrop of current anime, but also helps contribute to the cute yet foreboding feel of the anime as a whole. 

Granbelm takes cues from many anime trends over many decades, but it ends up synthesizing them all in an emotionally satisfying and thought-provoking manner. Vital to this success is the series’s portrayal of both its female characters and the giant robots they use to fight as reflections of each other and of the world they occupy. 

One-Track Minds: O Maidens in Your Savage Season

I recently finished the anime O Maidens in Your Savage Season, a charming but emotionally raw look at the girls of a high school literature club struggling with discovering their own romantic and sexual desires. It’s based on a manga by the same name, but the adaptation process has a bit of an unusual wrinkle to it. The manga is written by Okada Mari—an anime scriptwriter (The Woman Called Mine Fujiko, AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day)—and the anime’s scriptwriter is, well, Okada Mari. 

Rarely does something like this happen, and the closest example I can think of is Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, who went from being the character designer on Mobile Suit Gundam to adapting the anime to the Gundam: The Origin manga to seeing the The Origin adapted into an anime. What this means is that O Maidens in Your Savage Season is built from the ground up by Okada, and that it is essentially a distillation of the very narrative structure she’s built her career on.

Without going into any major spoilers, nowhere is this more evident than the final episode, when after grappling with their messy emotions episode after episode, all of the major characters gather in one place and let all their true thoughts out loudly and passionately. This sort of climax is the very essence of Okada’s work in anime across genres and themes. AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day (heart-wrenching teen drama), The Woman Called Mine Fujiko (surreal feminist character re-imaginging) M3: The Dark Metal (brooding psychological mecha), Anthem of the Heart (a story of processing childhood trauma), Aquarion EVOL (over-the-top mecha series as sex allegory), and Mayoiga: The Lost Village (uhhh…still not sure?) can be very different from one another, but they all head in a similar direction by the end.

There’s a certain beat-you-over-the-head obviousness with this approach, but at the very least, Okada’s stronger works incorporate that blunt firehose spray of pent-up feelings in more creative and satisfying ways. O Maidens in Your Savage Season builds up to that point successfully, and reminds me a bit of Anthem of the Heart, which I love and hold up as peak Okada.

Because so many of these works wind up with all the central players in one place shouting how they feel at one another, it can sometimes come across as contrived, unrealistic, or perhaps even condescending. However, like in O Maidens in Your Savage Season, these series often feature characters who spend the vast majority of their stories avoiding uncomfortable confrontation, whether to spare their own feelings or the feelings of others. Having these forces all clash together can be very cathartic beyond simply that emotional release, as you get to see a bunch of anime teenagers be direct for once. 

O Maidens in Your Savage Season is far less fantastical than many of Okada’s other series, but it makes those small-stakes anxieties both entertaining and suffocatingly real. It’s both light and heavy at the same time, and this contrast makes for a memorable and creative work.

Nine Feels Like Seven: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2020

I seriously am having trouble believing that we’re almost to the Fall season. Nothing says to me the effect that COVID-19 time dilation has had on my mind that the month of August feels like it went by in a flash.

In terms of anime news, what sticks out most to me is that the last big anime con of the year, Anime NYC, has finally declared its cancellation for 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic. While New York City has managed to go from the highest infection rate in the nation to the lowest, an event with 30,000+ people is inevitably going to be the worst kind of Petri dish. They made the right choice.

However, even before anime and anime cons, the ever-approaching US election is occupying my thoughts, fears, and even hopes. If you’ve read this blog at all lately, you know where I stand politically, and I strongly feel that continuing down this same dark path created by systemic racism, income inequality, and Trump’s unbounded corruption is going to lead to a United States that is weaker, sicker, and more concerned with hierarchy than equality at the expense of its people and its economy. If you’re a US citizen and you haven’t registered to vote yet, there’s still time. And while I can’t force anyone to vote one way or another, I do hope we can all recognize the threat of authoritarianism we have seen explode in recent months.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled Ogiue Maniax update with this month’s Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy (NEW PATRON!)

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from August:

Healin’ Good Precure and the Age of Coronavirus

My thoughts on the potential impact of COVID-19 on the biggest magical girl franchise.

A Farewell to Arms, the Studio Behind Genshiken 2

Genshiken 2 came out when Ogiue Maniax first started, so with Arms declaring bankrupty, I thought it to be a good time to reminisce.

Success and Failure in the Ongoing Attempt to Bring Giant Robots Back to Kids

The site’s most popular post in a while, this is my survey of kid-oriented mecha shows of the past 10 years.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 31 is the most music-heavy chapter yet, but more importantly, it talks about Macross!

Patreon-Sponsored

Saint Snow’s Dazzling White Town Is from Another Time

My review of the debut single of Saint Snow from Love Live! Sunshine!! Spoilers: The songs are amazing.

Apartment 507

Mobile Games Are Temporary, But Their Anime Are Forever

With the announcement of the North American version of Magia Record closing, this article feels even more relevant.

Closing

The United States is not the only country facing the threat and sad reality of authoritarianism. Stopping this hateful and foul ideology is paramount for the safety of the entire world, and I hope we can make our way out of this to a better place.

More Like “Protoculture Festival”: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 31

After months of focusing on the same song, the musical possibilities explode.

Summary

Still at their summer training camp (of sorts), the Chorus Appreciation Society decides that they will do four songs for the school culture festival. The only catch is that they’re having trouble narrowing down a final list, even after listening to a wide variety of options.

Ultimately, the group decides that the songs will be chosen by three of the singers plus Hasegawa choose, with Orihara abstaining. To everyone’s surprise, despite his previous objections, Jin actually chooses a song with piano. What’s even more surprising, then, is that Akira doesn’t. While the gentle and harmonious tunes of Akira’s pick resonate with the whole group, Shion is clearly upset and calls Akira a traitor for the second time, despite having forgotten about the first incident.

Songs They Didn’t Choose

Normally, I leave the song list to the end of the review as a bit of extra fun. However, since there’s so many this time and they’re such a central part of this chapter, I thought it best to list them all from the beginning, to split the list up, and to make it the main focus of this review.

Part of the fun is also in looking up what all of these sound like to get a better understanding of why they were or weren’t picked. There’s also the inevitable hurdle of manga being a non-audio media, and I think Kio still hasn’t figured out a way to make the visualization of each song feel different, so it can make the reading experience feel a bit incomplete.

“Daitokai” by Crystal King, aka the Fist of the North Star singers. I actually wish they picked this one!

“Ame” (“Rain”) composed by Tada Takehiko

“Gekkou to Piero” (“Moonlight and Clown”) composed by Shimizu Osamu

“Composition for Men’s Chorus” composed by Mamiya Michio

“Kareki to Taiyou no Uta” (“Song of the Withered Tree and Sun” Ishii Kan

“Kotoba Asobi Uta 2″ (Song Playing with Words 2” and “Kabe Kieta” (“The Wall Disappeared”) composed by Niimi Tokuhide

“Koi no Nai Hi” (“A Day Without Love”), “Itsu kara Ya ni Tatte”, and “Hakobune” (“Ark”), composed by “Kinoshita Makiko” 

“Mizu no Inochi” composed by Takata Saburou

Gabriel Foure’s “Requiem Op. 48” (This wasn’t a choice, just a song Orihara wants to listen to on top-of-the-line audio equipment.)

The Four Culture Festival Songs

What I find interesting about these is how the reasons behind each pick clearly reflect the characters themselves.

“March 9” by Remioromen 

Shinji purposely picks a song that everyone is familiar with, given that the established goal is to attract new members and become a full-fledged club. It has a soft pop rock feel, and I think it speaks to the fact that Shinji has gotten into singing but is still all about exploring castles. Even though I personally didn’t know this song, it just comes across as the most conventional choice.

“Do You Remember Love?” by Iijima Mari (cv. Lynn Minmei)

Last chapter, I predicted that Hasegawa would go for a Ghibli song, but she hit me with the curviest of curve balls, instead opting for the main theme of the film Macross: Do You Remember Love? Incidentally, it’s the only song besides “Daitokai” that I’ve actually heard before. Hasegawa has already shown her otaku side numerous times, but this really clinches her geek status, especially with her infodump about the historical significance of Macross as the first idol anime and the importance of Iijima Mari. I would love to see this animated, just so I could hear a men’s chorus version of this iconic anime song.

“Etupirka” composed by Hirose Ryouhei

While Jin’s song is not a capella like originally intended, it’s still technically difficult and speaks to his desire to show his mom that she’s wrong about him. Even my amateurish ears can tell this song is tough, given its pace. In addition to how “Etupirka” really seems to carry Jin’s will, one of my favorite moments in this chapter is seeing Shion get serious about figuring out how to play it. 

“Kokoro no Tsubasa” (“Wings of the Heart” composed by Kitagawa Noboru

Akira explains that he picked this song because the melody, lyrics, and harmony are all soft and gentle but also supportive. It makes sense, seeing as he also picked “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” for the M-Con. It’s certainly a shock that he would not pick a song that includes a piano given how hard he fought for it and his feelings for Shion, but to me, it feels like the song itself was strong enough to him that it actually overrode his prior convictions. There’s a certain strength to Akira, even if it’s not always obvious. Either that, or he did it because he’s still feeling awkward when it comes to Shion.

Fun fact: For this chapter, the team behind Hashikko Ensemble actually got help from the composer Kitagawa Noboru!

Final Thoughts

First, I really want to see this series become an anime now.

Second, check out Shion with the Ogiue hair.

Success and Failure in the Ongoing Attempt to Bring Kids Back to Giant Robots

Giant robot anime began very squarely in the domain of children. Loud, boldly colored robots appeared on TV (at least, once color TV became common), and the toys based on them came full of fun gimmicks and gizmos. Over time, there was a maturing of the genre in many ways, both in terms of themes presented and the aging of fans, so by the time we got into the 2000s, things changed. Between Pokemon, card games, and more, giant robots have just not been the ticket to big toy sales among kids. Thus, most giant robot anime of the last fifteen years rely more on adult tastes and nostalgia, or at the very least have been aimed at young adults. However, every so often, you’ll see moves to try to reclaim giant robots for kids, and they communicate a reality that mecha alone tend not to capture kids’ hearts in this day and age.

Gundam AGE

One of the more significant attempts to capture that younger audience was 2011’s Gundam AGE, because of how Gundam is what arguably kicked off the move toward mature audiences all those years ago and because it’s traditionally been such a sales juggernaut. Although keeping the traditional “robots in war” staples, Gundam AGE was a concerted effort to target kids, right down to more toyetic robot and weapon designs. Unfortunately, the series pleased pretty much no one, including me, despite my initially high hopes. The story was a mess, and the model kits failed to attract older and younger customers alike, to the extent that a kitbash of Madoka from Madoka Magica with beefy Gundam arms became more of a sales point than the actual merch. Later Gundam overtures towards kid audiences were more successful via the Gundam Build Fighters and Gundam Build Divers spin-offs, but both treat the mecha as collectible items utilized in virtual environments—closer to the popular style of Japanese kids’ shows.

Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter

Another instance is 2012’s Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter, though this one is odd in that what it ultimately tried to promote was not toys or model kits, though some did come out. Rather, like Aikatsu! and Pripara, the bread and butter of Gyrozetter was the card-based arcade game. Ultimately, it was called a major mistake on the part of Square-Enix. Personally, I think the show is very enjoyable, but it’s also arguably better known for its attractive older characters than anything else—so not exactly kid’s stuff. 

While hitting the mark seems difficult, there is one company that seems intent on making giant robot anime work for kids: toy maker Takara Tomy, the originator of Transformers. In addition to that long-standing international cultural staple (whose success has so many external factors that it’s hard to gauge in terms of success as “anime”), it’s Takara Tomy that keeps taking swings, down to even pushing the ZOIDS franchise as their “third pillar” along with Transformers and Beyblade. 

2018’s ZOIDS Wild anime is a continuation of the ZOIDS franchise, which has been receiving animated adaptations since 1999’s ZOIDS: Chaotic Century. Given its longevity, it would be easy to assume that they’re doing something right with their use and portrayal of giant robots, but I think there’s a key factor that keeps ZOIDS relatively popular: the use of animal-shaped robots as opposed to humanoid ones. The more universal appeal of dinosaurs and cool beasts does a lot of the heavy lifting. 

Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner

Along this vein, Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head (2017) and Tomica Kizuna Gattai Earth Granner (2020) both involve motor vehicles that can transform into robots—and, unlike Gyrozetter, have the many toys to show. The Tomica line is primarily more about cars than mechs, and the toys have enormous success in Asia. Again, the robots are not the main popularity factor, acting instead as an additional flourish to push it over the edge. Transformers, in a sense, combines both ZOIDS and Tomica’s appeals together, while also banking on brand recognition. Moreover, while giant robots are still a staple of tokusatsu, they’re more a secondary component to the color-coded-hero fantasy that defines these live-action series. The previous Tomica tokusatsu series use cars in a similar manner. 

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion

The strangest case might very well be 2018’s Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion THE ANIMATION is a series about bullet train (“Shinkansen”) robots sponsored by the East Japan Railway Company. Somewhat like Gyrozetter, there’s an unconventional ultimate goal—promoting Japan’s high-speed rail system—but unlike Gyrozetter, the toy and merchandise line is definitely there. In addition, while ZOIDS Wild, Drive Head, and Earth Granner all target boys ages 10-12, I can’t help but notice how aggressively kid-friendly Shinkalion’s aesthetics are, from the character designs to the story. What really makes Shinkalion an oddity, however, is that its success isn’t measured solely in toy sales, but also the degree to which it creates good PR for Japan’s public transportation.

It does sadden me that mecha don’t appear to carry an inherent appeal for kids these days, but I do think that sprinkling in robots can potentially push these franchises into becoming more memorable and enjoyable. Also, I’d like to think that Takara Tomy is laying down a foundation for it to happen in the future, and much like how adults who grew up with super robots in the 1970s grew attached to them, perhaps in a couple of decades we’ll see nostalgia for the Shinkalions and Earth Granners of the world.