Thinking About “New Romantic Sailors”

Of the many Love Live! Sunshine!! songs, “New Romantic Sailors” is a favorite of mine. Not only is it just a catchy tune, but the fact that I got to see Guilty Kiss perform it at Anime NYC over two years ago makes it a special memory. But what really makes it stick out in my mind is the choreography for live performances, specifically the poses in the above image that they take. 

On the left is Kobayashi Aika, the voice of Tsushima “Yohane” Yoshiko, a character who calls herself a “fallen angel” and her fans “little demons.” Aika just screams chuunibyou, like she’s trying hard to convey how dark and mysterious she is, or as if she’s about to break into villainous laughter any second.

In the middle is Aida Rikako, the voice of Sakurauchi Riko. Her arms, crossed at the wrists, are reminiscent of the “Specium Beam” seen in Ultraman. Riko is a bit of a closet otaku herself, but it also sets up one of the signature moments of “New Romantic Sailors,” when Riko shouts, “Riko-chan Laser Beeeeeeaaaam!”

And on the right is Suzuki Aina, the voice of Ohara Mari. In other songs, Aina also does a finger-gun, and it speaks to Mari’s background as an Italian-American who also sometimes dresses like a cowgirl. Associating Americans with guns feels a little on-the-nose, but it’s also kind of fair.

“New Romantic Sailors” full song

I think this stuff is probably obvious for more hardcore Love Live! fans, but I just wanted to write about it to show my appreciation for its cleverness. What I really love about these poses is the fact that they’re all similar yet unique—each one’s a cross-arm pose, but the differences between them exemplify each character’s persona perfectly. Often, it feels like the dance moves for Love Live! songs don’t necessarily speak to each individual character’s traits, yet “New Romantic Sailors” has it in spades.

Reflecting on Character Complexity in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Things have come a long way with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, especially with the plethora of DLC characters providing some very unique play styles. However, this also makes me think back to the first couple years of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where I used to see the game get criticized for lacking depth pretty regularly. The argument commonly went (and to some extent still goes) that the characters are too simplistically designed, thus making many of them too similar in feel and results in less interesting gameplay. While I never shared this opinion and feel that it doesn’t track with my experience, I think it gets at one of the core challenges facing any fighting game: how do you get a diverse range of players to feel like their character choice is special enough for them to keep playing? Personally, I think Ultimate succeeds in this regard, but I think those who feel otherwise are used to games that more heavily reward them and their attitudes towards improvement.

One of my favorite characters to use is Mewtwo, and it’s because I have a fondness for the character, as opposed to viewing it from a purely competitive perspective. Even so, I’ve been trying to get better at the technical aspects of Mewtwo, and I have been overwhelmed not only by how much there is to learn, but how to incorporate them all naturally into my gameplay. Whenever I’ve seen criticisms like the ones above, I’ve thought to myself, how could anyone pick up Mewtwo and claim that you can learn everything about them in a relatively short time? How could anyone claim that Mewtwo’s play style is somehow too reminiscent of other characters?

The answer is that they’re not talking about Mewtwo at all, because Mewtwo isn’t considered a great character, generally speaking. On tier lists even after all the buffs they’ve received, you’ll often see Mewtwo placed somewhere from low to mid tier, with the occasional high-tier spot with the caveat that it would only apply if Mewtwo is mastered to the fullest extent. When choosing Mewtwo from an “I want to win” perspective, the question is simply: Is it worthwhile to learn an extremely complex and difficult character if all that effort fails to net you a top-tier character? 

Adam “Keits” Heart, who worked on Killer Instinct (2013), doesn’t think so—or rather, he doesn’t believe most players who gravitate towards complex characters would be satisfied with such a deal. In the interview above, he talks about how Iron Galaxy Studios purposely strengthened or weakened characters for the overall health of the game. A character with a much higher learning curve (Aria) was made to be relatively strong to reward the players who put in the time and effort.  Another character designed to frustrate (Aganos) was made weaker in order to avoid having players quit the game after going up against him, but with the knowledge that the character would appeal to someone. According to Keits, what’s important is not balance in the traditional sense of having an equal likelihood of winning, but rather the degree to which different characters allow different personalities to shine through. In other words, diversity in competitive play happens when characters are special enough for people to want to devote themselves.

The potential problem with Ultimate, then, was that its top echelon of characters somehow wasn’t giving certain types of players the characters or gameplay they want, and this is why certain characters have sometimes been perceived as being “shallow” in design. Lucina, for example, is a fairly straightforward character, and the absolute standard for the swordsman archetype. She can do a lot, but none of it is especially fancy. She rewards good fundamentals, but players don’t necessarily want to just hone the basics; they want to win in an exciting fashion. It’s also why defensive characters like Sonic and Pac-Man who have verifiable tournament success don’t exactly attract swathes of players eager to use them. They’re complex, but not in the “proper,” i.e. “exciting” way—unless wielded by specific players (see KEN and Tea). That excitement factor is also what creates an exception of sorts to the “complex characters are only good if they’re top-tiers” rule because whether or not the complexities or quirks result in highly transformative gameplay alters how one perceives a character.

Ultimate is often compared to its prequels, and while players of Melee and Brawl consider the differences between the two to be night and day, one thing they have in common is how often veterans of both will praise the “advanced techniques” of each game. In Melee, these are mainly in the form of universal gameplay quirks like wavedashing, dash dancing, and wavelanding, which help make the gameplay fast, frenetic, and smooth. In Brawl, it’s the character-specific advanced techniques that players love. Lucas is considered to be competitively compromised because Marth can kill him from 0% off of a single chain grab due to a strange exploit. Having a weakness this severe should theoretically scare off everyone from using him, but Lucas has extremely loyal players because the character is jam-packed with unique things only he can do, like “Zap Jump.”

That still doesn’t make Lucas a top-tier. At best, he’s considered a mid-tier. In principle, this shouldn’t be all that far from Mewtwo’s situation in Ultimate, but there’s one major difference: it gives something more concrete for players to feel like they’re taking the character so far beyond the perceptions of a Day 1 Lucas that it almost feels like a different character. In a similar vein, Luigi in Melee is not considered a top-tier, but any Luigi player will tell you that one of the reasons they use him is because he has the longest wavedash in the game. He goes from having some of the worst mobility in the game to some of the best, and it fundamentally changes how the character functions.

Mewtwo can do a lot of interesting advanced things, like abruptly change directions in the middle of charging Shadow Ball (“wavebouncing”), or cancel Shadow Ball upon landing and immediately transition into other actions, but they’re still basically the same character, with the same essential stats, strengths, and weaknesses as a Day 1 Mewtwo. The advanced techniques in Ultimate, whether they’re character-specific or universal, still stay within the boundaries of the game’s perceivable possibilities. The amount of reward I get for mastering Mewtwo’s wavebounce would be maybe a 5-10% improvement to the character overall. A Luigi wavedash, in turn, is like a 50-75% boost. It’s not even close.

Ultimate is successful at capturing a huge variety of players, and what we’ve seen are mainly specific types of players who aren’t being catered to. I think what frustrates those players of Ultimate who wish they could do more is that, in contrast to Melee with its game-altering discoveries or Brawl with its character-specific techniques, playing Ultimate is at its core about working within limitations that have very clear strengths and weaknesses. Incineroar cannot magically improve his poor ground speed the way a Melee Luigi can. You can do any move out of an initial dash, but moving in that fashion leaves you vulnerable, and the only way to mitigate it is to choose not to dash. You can have a character with millions of little intricacies and lots of undiscovered potential, but it’s likely not going to instantly turn any matchups around. Players are working within the intended system as opposed to circumventing it, and Smash as a franchise is full of veteran players who came from games that allowed them to be transformative on some level, or at least rewarded them mightily should they put effort into improving. Ultimate in competitive play is still a contest of skill, cleverness, and physical dexterity, but perhaps more satisfying for those who don’t mind moving feet instead of miles.

Monsters Growing: Rokudo no Onna-tachi Final Review

WARNING: ENDING SPOILERS

Rokudou no Onna-tachi by Nakamura Yuji is an unusual delinquent harem manga whose ability to embrace and rise above its basic premise has made me a fan through and through. The series concluded this year, and though it’s the kind of story where I could see the ending from a mile away, that doesn’t really impact how enjoyable it is to read. It’s a rare case of a manga that rarely falters and keeps getting better right to the finish.

Rokudou follows Rokudou Tousuke, a wimpy high school boy who uses a family spell to become more popular with girls but gets an unexpected consequence: The spell only works on “bad girls,” and number 1 among them is a human wrecking crew named Himawari Ranna, who’s practically an avatar of violence and destruction. While the series starts off as mostly gags, it quickly grows into a story about forging lasting bonds and finding the best version of yourself. Rokudou, like so many shounen protagonists, is all about the power of friendship, but even though the art is often unserious, the heart is definitely there. Rokudou genuinely cares for others, and he’s a surprisingly well-developed protagonist for a series that didn’t necessarily need it.

In my previous review, I likened Rokudou to Krillin, with Ranna like a cross between Android 18 and Goku due to the relative chasm in power levels. But if Rokudou is the Krillin, then his success comes from the idea that just because you’re not the strongest doesn’t mean you’re not strong—especially because there’s more than one way to be strong. Even if he’ll never have what it takes to win the biggest battles, Rokudou wants to make a difference where he can, while also having the desire to improve where can. And so when he does learn to throw hands, it’s like he’s both protagonist and side character simultaneously, and it doesn’t feel like a weak compromise. As the opponents get stronger—the final arc has Rokudou and pals up against full-in organized crime—so too must the good guys step up.

At the climax of the story, the question that has driven the series presents itself one last time: Could Ranna possibly care for, or even about, Rokudou if the charm spell were to lose its effectiveness? Was the unlikely bond they formed nothing more than an illusion? The answer is much like what happened with Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: It may have started as an artificial love, but it became real over time. To the credit of Rokudou no Onna-tachi author, Nakamura Yuuji, this development feels more than earned by both Ranna and Rokudou. 

Whether it’s being serious or silly or even both at the same time, this manga feels right. I’m glad to have stuck with it, and I hope that it’s remembered fondly as a series that combined its hodgepodge of tropes into something beautiful and hilarious.

What Do Toxic Gamers and Fascists Have in Common?

“Fascism is not a specific ideological system with particular content. It’s just a strategy for taking power and maintaining power against the rule of law, and against the majority in a democracy.” –Jamie Raskin

Years ago, I wrote my thoughts on the use of slurs online by gamers to insult others (language warning). I expressed the idea that many of the people who use these words aren’t aiming to be racist or sexist, and that part of the problem is that we live in a society where describing someone as gay, black, or whatever else can be viewed as demeaning in the first place. But the above quote from United States Congressman Jamie Raskin stuck with me because of the way it describes fascism as a strategy rather than a belief system, and it had me reflecting on the strategic use of words to harm others.

What I’ve come to realize is that I had approached the topic of online toxicity from a limited angle. Freedom of expression and the full repertoire of a language are important things that I still support, but there’s another dimension to consider.

One problem with how easily slurs get thrown around online isn’t as simple as whether or not the words are deeply offensive to different peoples and cultures. It doesn’t matter how silly it is that some gamers will throw these words out even if they don’t actually apply to the person on the other side of the screen. The individuals who behave this way, whether they’re conscious of it or not, are basically trying to hurt the person they’re talking to by any means necessary. They’re using slurs as buckshot and hoping the spray will do damage. Similar to fascism, this is less an indicator of beliefs and more of a method to exert power over others—however limited in this specific context—even if they might also actually be racist or whatever. But what happens when the context gets larger?

It’s no secret that Gamergate was basically a precursor to the fecal stain that is Trumpism and the alt-right in the United States, which bring with them the very real threat of actual fascism. And while I truly do not believe that all gamers who ever used slurs to insult others are inherent fascists or will inevitably turn into them, that desire to use words not for the ideas they represent but as tools to probe cracks and fissures in order to do harm feels all too similar to what I see from the fascists who try to undermine American society day in and day out. Donald Trump, right-wing media, the Republican Party, and others in power lie endlessly because “meaning” is meaningless to them—they’re just trying to find the thing that sets people off and helps them maintain power.

Beyond the scope of words alone, this mindset bears scary resemblance to the kinds of strategies we’re finding out were deployed in an attempt to stop the transfer of power in the US on January 6, 2021. Whether through enraging a mob and turning them violent, or trying to exploit gaps in the Constitution and other legal documents, what we saw a year ago was an attempt to twist words and their meaning into crowbars to try to pry open and undo American democracy. Though cliche, I can’t help but think of a famous line from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.”

Calling someone a slur whether in frustration or contempt is not an automatic pipeline to undermining the foundations of a government; I’d even hazard a guess that most people who engaged in the former never got anywhere close to the latter. But the ease by which words are weaponized in smaller contexts feel like they should be scrutinized more carefully. After all, the alt-right specifically targets gamers, seeing gaming as a resource for young and disaffected men. The racism and sexism expressed in them are a major part of the problem of how words are abused, yet they’re also reduced down to cudgels meant to inflame and diminish. While we should avoid censorship as a blunt form of enforcement, the less weight we feel the weight of the words we use, the more easily they become the tools of fascism.

What a Trip: Sonny Boy

To call Sonny Boy an unusual anime is to make one hell of an understatement. When you start off with a setting of high school kids stranded in some isolated world while possessing superpowers, it seems like it’s gonna be some variation on Lord of the Flies. But Sonny Boy goes beyond even the expectations it sets for itself narratively while aesthetically occupying a realm that feels both hyperreal and surreal.

It’s incredibly hard to describe Sonny Boy, as it’s rarely ever clear what’s an important plot detail, what’s more for flavor, and where the latter might transform into the former. The series seems to focus on the notion of “possibilities,” but even that term seems to brush up against the contradictions within itself. It’s a combination of vast and unpredictable dimensions, along with the expansive yet narrow minds of lost teenagers. It’s like Twin Peaks with a heavy focus on high school drama.

I hesitate to make any concrete statements about takeaways, but one thing I felt by the end is the contrast between infinite potential unrealized as a kind of metaphor for youth, and the need to go beyond that world to actually get something done. That potential is valuable, but fear of losing it hurts people more than one might expect.

Sonny Boy is probably worth a watch again. Maybe it’ll help me process the series better. It feels like there’s so much underneath that surface.

The Winter of Our (Dis)Content: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2022

Happy New Year! As I say that, 2022 is off to an unusual start.

On the blog side, there’s been an issue with many of my older posts because the web hosting I used for many of the images has been down for the past month (and possibly more). I hope I can get it fixed sooner rather than later, but the hosting has been unresponsive. Fortunately, most of the content is primarily text, so even as many of the illustrative pictures are not displaying, there’s still plenty to read, if you want to check out the archives.

But of course, any and all web space woes pale in comparison to the unprecedented level of infection that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has brought. Last month, I wondered if I might have to temper my expectations about seeing loved ones in this environment, and that has turned out to be a pretty big understatement. For those living in places with record spikes in infection, I hope you can stay safe and well. Please, please get vaccinated (and boosted if you can), wear a good mask (N95, KN95, KF94, FFP2), and exercise discretion (especially indoors). We can still live our lives, but we should cherish the health of the people around us. While Omicron seems to have a greater ability to infect vaccinated people, it can still be the difference between an unpleasant day and your final one.

I order my masks from Bonafide Masks, but you can get KN95s at a Staples or equivalent shop.

Thanks to my patrons here in 2022, especially the following.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from December:

Going Beyond Limits, for Better or for Worse: Anime NYC 2021

My review of Anime NYC 2021 and all its ups and downs. Also check out my convention review of Pompo the Cinephile!

Daitetsujin 17 and the Wonderful Clunkiness of Tokusatsu Soul of Chogokin

A preview of the next Soul of Chogokin figure turns into an analysis of how the toy line handles live-action series.

Fan vs. Fandom

Thoughts on the difference between being a fan of something and participating in a fandom, inspired by someone close to me.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 47 turns out to be the second-to-last! Can’t wait for next month.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter in December saw him reminiscing about older times.

Closing

In much lighter news, the winter anime season is starting up! I’m still trying to finish stuff from the fall, but in the meantime, I’ve decided on my favorite characters of 2021. Who do you think reigned supreme?

Best Anime Characters of 2021

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)

For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.


Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)

In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs. 

But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.

Final Thoughts

There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place. 

I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights December 2021

Every month, I collect highlights from Genshiken author, Kio Shimoku’s, tweets. This month’s provide some interesting insight into Kio’s work history beyond the manga he’s known for!

Professional Work

Kio started filling this bookshelf back when Rakuen: Le Paradis (home of Spotted Flower) began, and now it’ll be full in two years.

Later, he remarks (while promoting a half-off sale) that he only does three chapters a year, but somehow it’s reached the point of having so many.

Kio doesn’t know how to use the Stream Lines tool [for making Speed Lines] in the art program Clip Studio Paint.

Color proofs of all the covers from the Genshiken Shinsouban Edition!

The announcement that next month’s Hashikko Ensemble is the final chapter. “I hope you’ll all stick around to the end.”

Other Work

Kio quotes a tweet about a special one-shot manga in Monthly Afternoon by Samura Hiroaki (Blade of the Immortal, Wave, Listen to Me!) about the life of the renowned second chief editor of Afternoon, Yuri Kouichi—a man who, prior to Afternoon, was responsible for bringing hits like Akira and Ghost in the Shell to publication. In the manga, Samura mentions his interactions with the famous manga artist Takano Fumiko, and Kio says in his quote tweet that he once worked as an assistant for Takano. He only did screentones for her, but she smiled and said to him, “I don’t care whether you’re a rookie who’s yet to debut—you did a good job.” The moment stuck with Kio.

3 out of 4 of the CDs for his 2010 doujinshi work seems to not be working. While he has the original 350-page paper manuscript somewhere (for a Star Wars parody called Sister Wars Episode I), he doesn’t know where it is. A fan mentions wanting to buy it, but Kio’s not sure what format he should sell it in. He also feels a desire to make Episode II. He’s had plenty of ideas for it, but he feels like he’s been forgetting them lately, so he probably needs to get it done sooner than later.

(Kio mentioned Sister Wars in his interview with the Vtuber Luis Cammy. You can read my summary of that interview here.) 

Interactions

Oguro Yuuichirou, the chief editor at Anime Style, gives high praise to Hashikko Ensemble and its characters, story, and visual presentation of music. Kio tweets being happy about it, to which Oguro re-expresses how genuinely good he thinks the manga is. Kio gives a thank you.

December featured an online extra for Spotted Flower that focuses on the editor character Endou. Kio responds to fan feedback, including from a fellow Ogiue lover and Twitter mutual of mine!

Kio is done with the last rough drawing, whose expression he changed around four times. A fan (who’s a huge Jin from Hashikko Ensemble fan) asks which character it is, to which Kio responds “the ostensible protagonist, Fujiyoshi,” and then reacts to the fan’s Jin profile picture.

Kio gets excited over fellow artist Ikuhana Niro making good on his word and getting a new car.

Other Media

Kio got his copy of Pompo the Cinephile (you can read my review of the movie).

Kio bought another Motorhead figure from Five Star Stories.

Ikuhana Niro mentions that a new doujinshi of theirs is out, and Kio comments that he remembers how “that doujinshi” is under a different pen name.

Miscellaneous

Kio makes a cryptic tweet about not being able to ride the turbulent waves, and says, “See you tomorrow.”

We’ll come to know what “fogged glasses” looks like in the winter. I think this refers to Spotted Flower, but I’m not certain.

He took some kind of online quiz, I think, and the result it gave him was that he lives life on “hard mode.” Kio responds with “What the?” The test also apparently says that someone like him wants a life where they love and are loved. He thinks this might be fitting for a manga artist.

Kio got a back-support corset for when he has to do heavy lifting, like taking out tons of garbage.

Kio retweets Kotobuki Tsukasa (character designer for Saber Marionette J, Gundam: The Origin) talking about turning 50, and realizes he himself turns 50 next year.

Next month is going to be the end of Hashikko Ensemble, so I suspect there is going to be lots of reminiscing on Kio’s timeline. Here’s hoping!

Prelude to the End: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 47

Jin has a breakthrough and Kozue reveals another side of herself in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 47. 

Summary

Kozue catches up to Jin, who has left the clubroom because he’s lost the music inside of him. As the two walk and talk, Kozue helps Jin put words to what’s been bothering him: He’s frustrated over what he hasn’t been able to do, and it’s eating him up inside. In particular, Jin is frustrated over Akira being putting on such powerful performances despite being so inexperienced, and over Akira being recognized by Jin’s mom before Jin himself. 

As Kozue leaves, however, she nonchalantly gives Jin a romantic (as opposed to platonic) Valentine’s chocolate before walking off with a flushed face and singing “Haru yo, Koi.” The lyrics seem to trigger something in Jin, but rather than it being a realization about his potential romantic feelings, it helps him clarify why exactly he’s so frustrated when it comes to Akira. He both wants to acknowledge and deny Akira’s accomplishments—a contradiction has stopped his heart from moving and by extension, stopped the music within Jin. 

Jin rushes past Kozue while loudly declaring that he needs to “tell everyone,” which Kozue assumes is about her confession. Beet-red, she chases after Jin to stop him, only for the thing he wants to tell everyone about is his desire to put on that Whie Day concert in response to the girls’ Valentine’s Day performance. In addition, Jin has a special request for Akira.

The story skips ahead to White Day, where all the guys put on a show while dressed in bright and shiny tuxedos. However, the real event is a special “exhibition match” between Akira and Jin—the request Jin wanted. As Jin prepares to unleash his full singing might for the first time, the chapter ends…and reveals that the next chapter will be the end of Hashikko Ensemble!

Wait. Really?

So here we are at what turns out to be the penultimate chapter. I knew that the story was getting to a major point, but I didn’t expect it to be leading to the finale! Thematically, the story has come full circle with Jin going from recruiting Akira to competing against him, but I thought they’d overcome this and then move on to the next challenge. If this is really it, though (and there’s no sequel being announced), I think the manga is ending with at least some closure.

Got a Feeling So Complicated

Jin’s mix of pride in Akira and jealousy towards him is profound. They’re both such powerful feelings, and the dimensions they add to Jin turn him from a fascinatingly eccentric character to a truly human one. This is all the more the case because it’s kind of unsurprising given where the story has been going over the past six months or so. Jin wants to both love and hate Akira, but he can’t bring himself to do either. 

It makes sense that Jin has never gone all-out when singing. He chafes at the idea of competition and comparison that his mother, Reika, values so much, and he has rebelled in his own way by eschewing such notions. But perhaps this is also why Jin has never been verbally acknowledged by her, even though we know she thinks he has talent. To be able to not just cooperate but also fight could be the difference. The capacity to do both (and to know which is the right choice) might be even more valuable.

I don’t think this friendship will end on bad terms, but I think there are a few more twists and turns left.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

One thing I’ve enjoyed in this series is that characters are attracted to multiple people. It’s often the case in manga that only major characters (or harem leads) have feelings towards more than one character at a time. Here, though, you can see all these potential connections abound. Kozue previously showed at least a small interest in that judo club boy, but she also expresses a crush on Jin here. At the same time, Kozue is not the only one who likes Jin, seeing as Yumerun just confessed in the last chapter—and Kozue also feels at odds with herself knowing that. I just keep thinking about how affection can be a spectrum.

They’re the kind of romances that one is more likely to see in an actual high school (and probably beyond), and the fact that it’s a significant but not major part of the story also lends itself to this sense of authenticity. Multiply this across the whole cast, and you get Hashikko Ensemble. I love seeing the dramady of these singing fools, and even if none of these relationships actually resolve.

Just Gorgeous

Hashikko Ensemble always looks good, but there’s just something about this chapter’s artwork and paneling that’s downright amazing. Kio’s just an ace at portraying cascades of emotions, and the simultaneous sense of heaviness and humorous frivolity that comes from his artwork and composition really puts his talents on display. In the pages above, Kozue’s rollercoaster of emotions jumps right off the page, and the way Jin takes her for a ride with this earnest denseness makes me feel a kind yet pained smile form on my face. 

And when Jin shows that he’s going to get serious for his “exhibition match” with Akira, the way the panels build up to such sheer intensity actually startled me a bit. Kio has never really done a competitive manga—in fact, Hashikko Ensemble is the closest he’s ever gotten—but it makes me genuinely wonder what he could pull off if he decided to do a sports or fighting manga.

If this is what Kio has pulled off before the conclusion, I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve for the final chapter.

Songs

“Haru yo, Koi” (“Come, Spring”) by Matsutouya Yumi. This is one of the songs the girls sang in the last chapter.

“Yakusoku” (Promise) from The iDOLM@STER. This was one of the songs performed by the otaku group during the big competition.

“Kanade” by Sukima Switch. This song is what brought Akira and Jin together all the way back in Chapter 1!

Final Thoughts

I still feel that there’s so much more story that could be told. They haven’t even entered another M-Con yet! I don’t know if the story was made to end early or if Kio thinks this is the right time, but I could keep reading about these characters living their lives for a long time. To Kio’s credit, that’s part of his magic as a manga creator.

As for predictions, the safe bet is that they’ll finally become an official club. I’m also still rooting for an Akira x Mai ending. 

And who knows? Maybe we’ll see their doppelgangers show up in Spotted Flower

Fan vs. Fandom

Recently, someone close to me revisited one of their favorite TV series of all time: Burn Notice. They can talk forever about how they love Michael, Fiona, and the rest of the cast, as well all the things that make the show stand out from its peers. However, something occurred to me in discussion, which is that as much as they’re fond of Burn Notice, they never felt the need to actively engage with other fans of the show. In other words, they’re a fan but not part of the fandom. Increasingly, I find myself in a similar boat about the things I love.

I still try to emotionally and critically engage with the media I enjoy (or don’t, as the case may be). I might even strike up a conversation with people through social media, including (but not limited to) those I would genuinely call friends. But if there’s one major difference between me today and the young me from decades past, it’s that I’ve since mostly stepped away from being a part of communities. I sometimes get a glimpse of a certain discussion or trend from within those communities, and if it’s interesting, I’ll check out what exactly is going on. Yet, I often don’t feel that strong pull to search for camaraderie through shared hobbies whereby I end up keyed into all the in-jokes and prominent discourses. 

What I’m doing isn’t inherently better. I cherish my past experiences with chat rooms, forums, and messageboards—I even still participate in a few. What pushes me to engage less with fandom is that whenever I get into a new show, comic, anime, etc., a part of me worries about my initial perception being overly shaped by the particular beliefs and biases of whatever the most vocal hardcore parts of fandoms obsess over. 

There are plenty of fandoms that grow “beyond” their targets of obsession, e.g. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Voltron: Legendary Defender, pro wrestling. While it’s a mistake to assume that these groups have been monolithic in their thinking, certain assumptions of what’s good or bad about a given aspect—characters, stories, staff—tend to ossify in at least parts of the community and end up getting taken as gospel. Often, I find that they overshadow other potentially interesting discussions or explorations, and I seek to avoid getting sucked in. 

Disengaging with fandoms at large comes with a potential drawback: ignorance. For example, I could watch something with certain assumptions and not realize I’m dead-wrong about a vital piece of info—perhaps a show’s audience is expected to know about it because it’s considered common knowledge in another culture—but I’d rather be mistaken at first and adjust my views afterwards than to just be given the “proper fan” way of seeing something right off the bat. I will not accept fan consensus as gospel, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll ignore it entirely.

I sometimes see certain anti-fandom sentiments expressed: “the fandom makes me hate the show” or “I love the series but hate the fandom.” Often the counterargument is that these things shouldn’t impact your enjoyment of a work—what does it matter who else is a fan or what they do within the fandom? However, like so many instances of trying to go against the tide, it can be draining. You might want to engage with the things you love without having an interpretation already in the back of your mind, acting like experiential spoilers. You might want to talk about why you think a show or movie is your favorite without people automatically assuming you think or feel a certain way. And if part of the fun of being a fan is the communal aspect, what happens when you can’t find a community that suits you? 

It’s why I think the geek social fallacies still apply to this day: geeks understand what it’s like to feel like they don’t belong, and they overcompensate by trying to connect everyone through a fandom even if there are people within who are fundamentally incompatible. But because of that desire for community, it can also lead to attempts to control fandoms whereby it becomes a requirement to justify one’s fandom tastes or accept certain established fanon in order to remain a part. 

It’s okay to be a fan without a fandom. It’s okay to be a fan with many fandoms. It’s even okay to be a mix of both. What it comes down to isn’t simply about likes and dislikes. Rather, when you peel back all the layers, I think fan vs. fandom reflects how we choose (or not choose) to engage with communities, but are nevertheless still indicative of the same human social dynamics that dictate everything else, even if the exact contours and who’s in power are different. The important thing is to not forget yourself.