I didn’t know who Kobayashi Shichiro was until he had already passed away. But when Anime NYC helped sponsor an exhibit dedicated to his work both in and outside Japanese animation, I decided I should visit this gallery. I then read that he had been a part of the industry since its early days, but what I hadn’t realized is that his art extended all the way into the eras that helped foster my own love of anime.
Unfortunately, I only managed to get there on the last day the exhibit was open. I wish I could have written about it sooner.
Right after the entrance was a video message from Kobayashi, where he expressed his love of animation and its potential to connect humans with one another. He seemed to lament recent problems in the world and hoped animation could help overcome them.
From there, the pieces on display were both work from anime productions as well as from his own personal art. Some (but not all) of the anime ones were not allowed to be photographed, like the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, Nobody’s Boy Remi, and The Adventures of Gamba, but there were many that could be, as shown below.
Urusei Yatsura the Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamers
Kobayashi, in his role as art director, collaborated with many great anime creators, especially Dezaki Osamu and Sugino Akio. Looking at Kobayashi’s entry on Anime News Network, it’s clear that this was only scratching the surface. What really struck me was his ability to create backgrounds and environments for a whole range of settings, from small towns to science fiction landscapes.
His personal art also showcased Kobayashi’s versatility and powerful expressiveness, featuring pieces dating all the way back to the 1960s and going into the 2010s. They ranged from portraits to abstract art to images of nature, with horses being a lifelong subject due to having grown up with them.
Seeing these interspersed along with the anime work, it gave the sense that Kobayashi was truly a complete artist.
In the corner of the gallery was a video playing a “storybook” animation by Kobayashi about one of his favorite children’s stories: The Red Candles and the Mermaid. He had apparently always wanted to make an animated work out of it, and this combination of stills and voiced narration was the fulfillment of that, to an extent. The tale is a tragic one, a lesson about greed and not appreciating others, brought to life here through Kobayashi’s paintings. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of it.
It was brief, but I’m glad to have experienced the work of Kobayashi Shichiro this way, where his backgrounds command attention instead of receding in the face of the stories. It makes me feel that I should appreciate background artists more.
I’ve watched the recent anniversary streams of holoX, and in light of the announcement of the Hololive 4th Fes, I’ve been thinking about how holding 3D concerts can carry different types of significance depending on the individual member and what their fans are looking for. Hololive seems to celebrate their stars in a manner inclusive to every Hololive member’s diverse fanbase, and I’m all for it.
It’s no secret that Hololive members can vary tremendously in terms of where their talents lie. Some clearly establish themselves as great performers as soon as they have the chance, like Hoshimachi Suisei. Others don’t necessarily have the background but have worked hard and come into their own, such as Oozora Subaru. And then there are those who don’t reach the level of their fellow VTubers in terms of singing and dancing, but they might have engaging personalities that just make for a special experience.
However, when there are 3D concerts or other major events that bring Hololive members together, they potentially become places where all respective fans can come together and appreciate their favorites for their own particular reasons. Take the Hololive 3rd Fes concert, which was the 3D debut of Hololive English’s first generation. Gawr Gura showcased the singing talent that brought so many fans to her, along with a cute dance. Takanashi Kiara brought a more polished idol flair. Ina came with a soothing voice in a subdued performance. Amelia Watson is definitely not a strong singer, but her choice of music (a weird fictitious anime opening from the show Welcome to the NHK!) put her personality on full display. And, of course, Calliope Mori put her well-established rap skills (that have since led to a contract with Universal Music Group) to good use. Hololive Indonesia’s first generation also made their 3D concert appearances, with Moona’s diva-like poise, Iofi’s adorableness, and Risu’s ridiculous vocal range all on full display.
With holoX, there is a similar range of strengths and quirks on display in their anniversary concerts. La+ Darknesss (see above) is a ridiculous total package whose impressive vocals and unmatched dance skills both support and defy her “bratty alien demon lord” concept. Takane Lui doesn’t fit the typical image of an idol, but she’s very good at singing while also staying “in-character,” and her choice of songs conveys a sense of maturity. Hakui Koyori is a jack of all trades who also leans into her character the most by adding in puzzles and brain teasers to her concert. Sakamata Chloe is arguably the best singer in the group, with a voice that can seem unreal; she was also the only one to do exclusively solo performances, as if to prove a point. Kazama Iroha’s cuteness shines through in her energetic performances, and it’s clear that she put in a lot of effort to improve her dancing.
It all reminds me of an essay I once read about the differences in presentation between Japanese idols and Korean pop stars: part of the appeal of J-idols is seeing them grow into the role, whereas K-pop stars appear before fans already fully formed. In the context of Hololive, it’s like there’s a purposeful and perhaps even inevitable contrast. While you might have your “J-idol fan” types who want to see their favorites grow and your “K-pop fan” types who love to see perfection in action, a single banner like Hololive allows these groups (and many more) to all thrive in the same general space.
The power that comes from the variety Hololive has to offer is the way it encourages respect for diversity of talent. People can be fans of different members for different reasons. There are certainly talents whose appeal lies in their sheer skill, and the fans want to see their favorites put their abilities and/or progress on full display. However, there are also Hololive members who aren’t necessarily the greatest performers in one way or another, but their presence on stage makes for a kind of “we made it” moment for their fans. No matter the reason, it emphasizes the idea that there’s no one “right” way for a performance to be, and it encourages the different fanbases to coexist.
I’m riding high off of three things: recent elections defied expectations, the VTubers of holoX have just been celebrating their one-year anniversaries, and it’s been 15 years of Ogiue Maniax! It’s hard to believe each one for somewhat different reasons, but I’m hoping I can carry this joyous monentum through this month and into the eventual new year.
Here are my Patreon subscribers for December 2022! Thank you to everyone.
As with every year, I’m going to be rating the anime characters I think are the best of 2022. It is unbelievable how tough this year’s field is. I feel like the top candidates would have won in virtual every other year had they been eligible.
In contrast to last month, Kio Shimoku tweeted up a storm in November. The big topics: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, drawing characters playing baseball, and…sketching out manuscripts for pornographic manga?!
Kio announcing that Chapter 41 of Spotted Flower is out. He mentions that the way the image is cropped unintentionally makes it look more improper than it actually is.
Kio finally got the chance to see the theatrical version of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (which had recently been playing again on the big screen). He didn’t even know about it back when it first released, though he’s seen the TV-broadcast version tens of times. In fact, he’s seen it on TV so much that seeing the scenes cut from that version added back in felt kind of weird. The full theatrical version adds a lot of nuance to places missing from the TV version, but Kio still has an affinity for that one, and he thinks they did a good job with the edits. He talks about how nowadays, it’s unusual for people to want to watch cut versions, but he still loves it nevertheless. He doesn’t have the TV version, and Wikipedia doesn’t even mention it at all. Kio wonders if anyone actually remembers it.
A follower also talks about the cut TV version of Castle of Cagliostro, which Kio also has a recollection of. Others chime in that they have seen Royal Space Force on TV, including one person who remembers Anno Hideaki providing commentary on it for an airing on the program Friday Roadshow (which airs movies on TV). Someone else chimes in that they can remember Anno explaining a few things. Namely, how good the scene is where Marty says 「誰かが必要としているからここにいられると思っている」[If anyone can provide a translation with proper context, that’d be a big help], and how the TV version uses monoaural sound, so it couldn’t replicate everything, like the way the sound changes as they go up into space.
“I think I’m here only because somebody needs me.”
The saga continues: Watanabe Shigeru, the editor of the TV version of Royal Space Force actually replied to Kio! In a rare instance, we get to see Kio fanboying over someone. Watanabe mentions that while he’s an anime producer now, back then he was a mere tradesman. Kio asks if there’s a betamax version, but Watanabe says there isn’t, and the TV version was basically a “necessary evi.”
Watanabe also recalls that they had Okada Toshio and Yamaga Hiroyuki (also of Gainax fame) for the TV broadcast as well.
Someone else mentions that there’s a scene with the characters drinking milk that was included in the laserdisc release but according to Kio, it wasn’t in the theatrical re-release. Watanabe chimes in again and explains that this extra scene wasn’t shot on 35 millimeter so it didn’t look good when upscaled. However, it’s included with the blu-ray as an extra.
As a follow-up to last month’s trip to the batting center, Kio has been drawing Hashikko Ensemble characters playing baseball. There’s also some discussion about the characters and how
As an aside, my friend Diogo Prado (and a Patreon member of Ogiue Maniax) got retweeted by Kio!
A fan apologizes for discovering Hashikko Ensemble too late, and asks if there’ll be a sequel (like Genshiken Nidaime). Kio says not to sweat it, and that everyone discovers works at their own timing.
Kio also went to see a new theatrical run of GOTHICMADE. Much of the story has also been told through the manga, but the last part of the film has still yet to be adapted.
Someone replies to Kio’s preview of Spotted Flower Chapter 41 by saying the meme line, “But he’s a guy” from Stein’s;Gate. Kio replies “They’re both,” to which the replier apologizes. However, while the replier assumed he meant that Not-Kohsaka (depicted there dressed like Not-Hato) was nonbinary, what Kio meant was that both characters are guys.
(I guess this answers the gender identity of Not-Hato).
Kio reacts to the official Twitter account of Kumamoto Castle tweeting a saying popular among idol fans and the like: You’ll stan the ones you stan when you stan (the actual word being oshi). It’s basically saying you’ll know who’s your favorite because it’ll come out from you.
The batting center is a 30-minute walk for Kio, but that walk is a good way to sober up, apparently.
Kio went to see Royal Space Force in theatersagain! This time, he noticed a sound similar to a baby crying that had never registered to him before while watching.
Kio and another talking about how they can’t stop humming the music from Royal Air Force
Kio’s reaction to a mecha from The Five Star Stories: “Oh? Whoaaa! Magnapalace!”
Kio mentions Ueda Masashi as one of the all-time greats of 4-panel manga, and writes about how even these simple characters could be portrayed as having unseen “adult” sides to them. He even used Ueda’s work as a basis for a scene between Not-Ohno and Not-Tanaka in Spotted Flower Volume 5.
Kio saw Shinkai Makoto’s new film, Suzume no Tojimari.
Sometimes, Kio sketches out ero manga manuscripts, but finds striking the right balance between elements difficult. Moreover, he feels that the order of priority is different for ero manga: Instead of paneling -> text -> images, it’s the other way around. After all, you can’t tell if something is gonna be hot just from a barebones layout. (Note that Kio had previously praised ero manga artists for their talents—this seems to be a follow-up to the idea that it’s not that easy.)
When asked what he’s drawing, Kio says it’s new and original characters. He’s also entertaining the notion of quietly putting something on the adult website Fanza.
Related to the above tweets, Kio struggled with the most recent manuscript for Spotted Flower.
Kio went on vacation for a few days, taking a break from Twitter.
Kio watched the first half of the Japan vs. Germany World Cup 2022 match and went to sleep early assuming it was all over for Japan, only to wake up to headlines about the upset.
He planned to watch the second half once he got home, wondering if player Ito Junya went wild (which Kio later confirmed).
After retweeting a bunch of plastic-model-related tweets, Kio says he really wants to build plastic models, and remarks about the “big wave” of model-building hitting after all this time. Author Ikuhana Niiro encourages him to do so, to which Kio responds by wondering whether he should finally open all the cardboard boxes that hold his model kits.
Anime NYC 2022 is the second year in the pandemic era for New York’s biggest anime convention. Last year, the event broke its own attendance records, likely owing to people eager to do something in-person after months and months of restrictions. In contrast, this year felt more like a return to something vaguely normal.
Badges and Registration
Although I had the benefit of obtaining a press pass, I do know there were issues with supply of general admission this year: both three-day badges and Saturday ones were in short supply. It’s difficult to tell if they’re following in New York Comic Con’s footsteps towards eliminating three-day tickets in general (a move that makes attending the con all weekend significantly more expensive at $65 per day) or if it has to do with COVID-19 precautions.
One thing Anime NYC definitely did seem to take a page from New York Comic Con is a lottery system for seats for major panels in addition to a similar lottery already in place for guest autographs. Attendees could enter online for a chance at these con activities without needing to devote themselves to waiting in lines, and the idea is that it’s also fairer for people coming in from farther away. I understand the overall benefits of this method, though the fact that you have to cancel your reservations in advance should you win (or else risk being ineligible for future lotteries) means that it’s harder to be flexible the day of. I believe being able to make impromptu decisions is part of the fun of conventions, and potentially losing that flexibility can feel like a bit of a burden. Again, though, it might be a net good, and what probably needs to be tweaked is that way fewer panels probably need this system in place.
Speaking of health, Anime NYC did require proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID test, and they enforced that aspect pretty stringently. The same could not be said of masks, however. In panels, staff did a good job of making sure everyone had masks, but everywhere else it was pretty much a coin toss. The city itself has relaxed rules around masking even on the subway, so it’s hard to fight against that kind of momentum, but I wish there was a way to re-emphasize the importance of masks especially in an environment like a convention center filled with tens of thousands of people.
Last year’s con turned out not to be an Omicron super spreader event, despite early reports. I really hope that remained the case for this year, but the relative lack of masking concerns me.
A Note on Attack on Titan
The biggest guest of 2022 had to be Isayama Hajime, author of Attack on Titan. I’m bringing him up first because I actually did not attend any of his events. I follow Attack on Titan through the anime, and I didn’t want to be spoiled. I don’t know if it would have been possible to wait for the anime to conclude before inviting Isayama, but I have to wonder if there were others like me, or perhaps even much bigger fans who were forced to hold back.
Hololive Meet NY
My personal must-see guests were technically not even there: the Virtual Youtubers of Hololive. I prioritized the VTuber stuff because this was my first time at a convention where they had a more significant presence; Anime NYC 2021 had a panel featuring Hololive Council’s five members, and it was a decent enough event that unfortunately had little to no interaction with the fans. For 2022, a more direct VTuber experience was provided through a dedicated booth in the Exhibit Hall in conjunction with VRChat, all as a part of the Hololive Meet series of international con appearances.
Throughout the weekend, different Hololive members (primarily the English ones) held hour-long live shows while streaming remotely. Due to what I assume are various limitations, they didn’t use any of their standard 3D models, instead opting for less complicated ones already familiar to fans: Smol models, BEEGSmol models, and also the VRDance ones.
For personal reasons (and because I didn’t want to make it an all-Hololive weekend), I was only able to see two shows in full. The first I saw was an enthusiastic morning exercise routine (though not in the radio taisou sense) by Mori Calliope that led to all sorts of 3D wackiness. The second, and one of the highlights of the entire event, was a special Anime NYC edition of the Chadcast that became something even more special due to technical mishaps.
The BaeRys Show
Normally, the Chadcast is a three-person monthly show on Youtube by Calliope along with Hakos Baelz and IRyS. None of them are among my absolute favorites as individuals, but as a trio, they’re practically a must-watch. I was looking forward to a convention-exclusive Chadcast, but as the crowd gathered for it, only Baelz and IRyS appeared. Jokingly announcing that this was actually the first episode of the “BaeRys” podcast, the two informed the crowd that Callie’s internet wasn’t working and so she likely couldn’t join in.
While unfortunate, this also meant getting a full 60 minutes of pure BaeRys, the official name for the pair. I’m not a dedicated shipper, but their interactions are among my favorites because they have such excellent chemistry together. The running joke in the fandom (that is also embraced by the VTubers themselves) is that they‘re constantly getting married and divorced, and so the two played various games meant to reveal “interesting” sides of each other. Questions included “Would you rather vomit on your idol or get vomited on by them?,” “Truth or Dare: Have you ever peed in a pool?,” and (with the help of a fan) “What are three things you like about each other?”
Watching their antics made me aware of what Callie adds to the Chadcast. Baelz and IRyS’s favorite drinks are coffee and soda, respectively, and BaeRys is very much like drinking coffee soda: a surprisingly refreshing combination, but one that can be overwhelming. Callie, then, is a savory (American) biscuit you eat in order to temper the intensity of coffee cola, and so one’s preference at any given time for Chadcast or BaeRys has to do with whether you want a balanced taste or to experience the extremes.
Along with the streams, there were three other booths offering official Hololive merchandise: Bushiroad (for items related to the Weiss Schwarz card game), Omocat (for exclusive crossover art), and Animate USA (for Hololive Meet–themed items). Buying $40 worth would get you a ticket you could exchange for a Hololive fortune, but attendees could also get a fortune for free if they have a VRChat account. I just so happened to create one because of the recent Code Geass x FLOW VR concert, so I managed to snag two fortunes, one for flagship Hololive Tokino Sora and one for Indonesian member Kaela Kovalskia.
I do have a couple complaints about how things were handled with Hololive Meet. First, the space provided meant everyone had to stand because sitting would create a fire hazard, and my feet still haven’t fully forgiven me. Second, you had to buy $40 of Hololive merch at one store in order to get the fortune ticket, so you couldn’t spread it across all three. Other than those issues, I’m glad I finally got to see what a “live” Hololive event is like. Next on the bucket list is getting to see my favorites, Haachama and holoX.
Among the anime premieres at Anime NYC was the first episode of a series called High Card, written by Kawamoto Homura (writer of Kakegurui) and his younger brother, Munoh Hikaru. It was actually the first screening anywhere, including Japan.
While there is a playing card motif to High Card, it’s not really a gambling anime so much as it is an action-oriented work that revels in absurdity and spectacle, exemplified by its tag line: “Are you ready? It’s showdown!” A special deck of cards has been scattered to the four corners of the Earth, and they have found owners of various types. The cards confer special powers that range from the powerful to the ridiculous (and sometimes both), and at the center of the story is a young thief trying to get money to save his orphanage. Like Kakegurui, the cast of characters is off-the-wall and full of dangerous and sensual individuals, though this time it’s mostly guys instead of girls. The creators said they were inspired by Kingsman, and it shows.
During the Q&A section, Munoh talked about how coming to New York City was amazing because he’d only ever seen it in images and on the screen. He then joked that he’d yet to see Spider-Man or the Ninja Turtles (the latter mention was omitted by the translator for some reason).
It’s rare to see a current anime studio with a pedigree as strong as Wit Studio: Attack on Titan, Great Pretender, Ranking of Kings, and most recently Spy x Family are among the works they’ve produced. At Anime NYC, multiple staff members for Spy x Family were invited as guests: President and CEO George Wada, as well as artist Syo5 (pronounced “Shogo.”) They held a panel that was a combination of Q&A, insight into the creative process, live-drawing session, and early preview of Spy x Family episode 8.
The live drawing was more a showcase of how Syo5 works on color palettes, taking an adorable line drawing of Anya Forger as the Statue of Liberty (with her dog, Bond) and adding a sunset to it. During the panel, Syo5 discussed how the color palettes in Great Pretender weren’t realistic, but were meant to have a different feel for each part of the world the characters travel to, and coloring the Anya of Liberty was a showcase of a process similar to what went into Great Pretender.
Ranking of Kings also got plenty of love from the Wit staff and audience alike. They mentioned that they’re trying to get the next season done in 2023, and Syo5 showed some of his conceptual drawings that established the general look of the anime.
Eating at the Javits
There were no onsite food trucks this year, so all nearby food options were basically in the Jacob Javits Center itself. Fortunately, between the stalls in the exhibit hall and the Javits dining area, there was actually a decent number of food options. Granted, they were all overpriced to hell and back, but that’s inevitable with con food.
For those eager to relish in Japanese culture, the exhibit hall had Go Go Curry (a perennial favorite of mine), ramen, bento from BentOn, okonomiyaki from Okonomi, and a few others. I’ve tried pretty much all of them before (though not necessarily in the context of Anime NYC), and the quality is quite good, even if it costs too much. For those who didn’t want to pay the “weeb tax” (or wait in line for a long time), options included burgers and chicken, dumplings, empanadas (Nuchas) Korean food (Korilla), and even Indian food (Curry Kitchen). Overall, the variety was welcome, given the circumstances. I remember a time when you could barely get anything resembling good at the Javits, and I’m glad to see that has continued to change.
Anime NYC 2022 had a few firsts for me, notably when it came to seeing Hololive Virtual Youtubers in a more direct fashion. In that respect, it was an unforgettable experience. While I prefer cons with a greater amount of fan panel programming, I also understand that this is not what Anime NYC is about. Attendees seemed generally to be in high spirits, but I do have concerns about it getting more expensive to attend, as a lot of anime fans are not rolling in dough. If they can keep bringing the guests people want to see while finding ways to make it affordable, I think things will be looking up for next year.
I first encountered Astroganger while watching a collection of robot anime throughout the decades. There it was, right after the black-and-white 1960s Tetsujin 28 and right before Mazinger Z. But there’s a reason Japan puts those other two on massive pedestals and considers Astroganger a weird relic that’s more meme fodder than anything else: the show comes across as dated even within the context of its time period, especially because it debuted just two months before Mazinger Z. Even watching the openings (both of which are sung by the legendary Mizuki Ichiro), you can see how much more impactful and eye-catching one is over the other.
Is Astroganger really that bad, though? The answer I’ve come to is “no.” While it’s not stellar, the show holds up fairly okay watching it in 2022.
The story of Astroganger is that the Earth is being invaded by aliens called Blasters, who want to take all the oxygen for themselves. The only force powerful enough to stop them turns out to be Ganger, a sentient robot made of “living metal,” who can become even stronger when merged with a young boy named Hoshi Kantaro. Both Ganger and Kantaro have ties back to the far-off planet of Kantaros, which was devastated by the Blasters, and together, the combination fights robot monsters using kicks, punches, slams, and other physical moves.
Astroganger pushes few envelopes and its writing often glosses over things in ways that assume kids won’t notice or care, but it also does present its story with tension and drama in ways that I can imagine young viewers at the time would love. The series has that basic superhero appeal of a secret identity, but on a child rather than an adult. The show is extremely episodic overall, but it generally feels like a gradual escalation of challenges for Kantaro and Gangar, so that threats in later episodes are presented as bigger deals than in earlier ones. That said, the final episode’s adversary feels weirdly anticlimactic, which is then made all the stranger by the fact that the conclusion is extremely climactic.
The fights are where the series feels like it came so close to being something more, but ultimately falls into an “Eh, decent” range. Many of the battles revolve around either Ganger overcoming the opponent through sheer strength and willpower or figuring out some weakness. However, many times, the “trick” is essentially told to Kantaro by his scientist dad, or it seems to come out of nowhere. For example, while fighting a robot in one episode, Ganger goes, “I’ve figure it out. Your weakness is your hands!” He then proceeds to rip them off and the robot explodes—except nothing about the information presented either by words or action indicates that the hands were the Achilles’s heel. Both the willpower fights and the “strategic” fights remind me of mediocre pro wrestling matches: they can be fun but they’re also lacking in some ways, and you’re not supposed to think too hard about it.
Knack, the studio behind Astroganger, is also infamous for Chargeman Ken: an anime with five-minute-long episodes that are so bad and bizarre that they’ve become the butt of many jokes online. Astroganger often looks cheap at times, but it’s nowhere near as dire as Chargeman Ken, which it actually predates. In fact, some stories in Chargeman Ken now come across to me as taking episode plots from Astroganger and shoving their contents into a questionably digestible bite-size experience in a manner reminiscent of Homer Simpson.
This includes the notorious episode “Dynamite in the Brain.” The Astroganger version is less pathologically amoral, but it’s still kind of weird, which tracks.
Another aspect Astroganger shares with Chargeman Ken is its decidedly unimpressive antagonists. The Blasters are pretty generic alien beings who are all interchangeable, and the only way you can tell who’s in charge is because their leaders are named and visibly numbered “Blaster 1” and “Blaster 2,” like it’s Bananas in Pajamas. Dr. Hell and Baron Ashura they are decidedly not.
I give all these criticisms, but I do want to note that in terms of excitement and entertainment, Astroganger would probably give most American cartoons throughout the 70s and 80s a run for their money. The fact that it has a fairly decisive finale (albeit odd in many ways) is something I can appreciate. In many respects, the show holds up okay. Not great, but okay.
PS: I’ve recently learned that Astroganger was quite popular in the Middle East, to the extent that an interview with a famous Arabic voice actor lists Astroganger as the main title he’s known for. It’s also a beloved work in Syria, and the final episodes actually moved people to tears. The official upload has all sorts of comments by people from that region talking about how much they loved the show. If we ever get an international Super Robot Wars, I would like to see Astroganger alongside Grendizer, so that such a game could show its appreciation to the Middle Eastern fans who love these anime.
I still remember writing this blog’s tenth anniversary post, and how it felt like such a milestone. Now we’re actually half a decade past that?! It makes me realize that Ogiue Maniax is theoretically supposed to be leaving its chuunibyou phase, but will that ever actually happen? I mean, it’s still a primarily text-based anime blog in the year 2022.
While I don’t want to focus on the short-term too much for a celebration of 15 years, I have to acknowledge that this comes at a time when Twitter is on fire due to the unfathomable competence of one jackass of a billionaire. The reason this resonates with me is that I actually spent the last anniversary post waxing nostalgic on the Something Awful Forums after the death of its founder! And here we are again with another major platform exploding. To go from Lowtax dying to the unfunniest man on Twitter setting $44 billion on fire feels like every year from this point will end up with some piece of the older internet being met with tragedy. What’s next, 4chan’s servers getting eaten by raccoons?
15 years also just makes me feel my age. There are anime fans establishing their tastes and their influences who are as old as Ogiue Maniax (though I get the feeling none of them are reading this blog). I’ve proven the site to possess the magical recipe of longevity known as stubbornness, as even the Patreon is less about making a profit and more about providing a way for the blog to pay for itself. If there’s a way to make big cash-money off it, I don’t have the energy or time to figure that out anymore.
I do worry that as my responsibilities grow elsewhere, I might not be able to keep writing as freely as I do. At the very least, though, there’s a good chance I can outlast the bird app. In the meantime, I’m still loving anime and manga, and I hope my passion for it never fades.
I’m not big into VR. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done anything virtual reality–related. But this past summer, I interviewed the heads of Gugenka, a company dedicated to various forms of entertainment that blur the line between analog and digital. Thanks to that interaction, I recently received an invitation to participate in a Code Geass x FLOW virtual concert. It’s not a bad combo: I have generally fond memories of the Code Geass anime, and FLOW has done some of my favorite anime songs ever. So, even if my VR experience is limited to a demo booth in the 1990s and a Hololive Myth anniversary event, I decided to give it a shot.
Not only was it my first virtual concert, it was also my first time using VRChat—a program I only knew of through watching Virtual Youtubers. Getting things to work took a lot of coordinating, requiring me to link a variety of apps and accounts across various sites together. It might get easier with experience, but I was definitely confused, and I still doubt I fully grasped it all.
Because I don’t own a VR headset, I used VRChat on my desktop PC, and the experience was more like a first-person shooter (or like Incidentally, that’s also a form of entertainment that’s not really my cup of tea, but once I got the hang of it, I started to see the appeal of being able to navigate virtual spaces in a more naturalistic way. (It also let me understand how Gawr Gura navigated the aforementioned HoloMyth event.)
The actual concert consisted of five parts, each time starting with a speech from Lelouch (voiced by Fukuyama Jun), which was then followed by a song performance from FLOW. There were actually two ways to view the concert: VRChat and a Japanese streaming service called Showroom. Because of my own confusion, I actually watched the first song in Showroom, which acts more like Youtube or Twitch, but is aesthetically set up to resemble a simplistic movie theater. At first, I figured this was just the way the concert was, until I saw a bunch of 3D models run right in front of FLOW, clearly showing that Showroom wasn’t the only way to experience the event. That’s when I decided to switch and try VRChat after all, despite some earlier troubles.
One thing that complicated this process was that joining each part of the concert meant having to leave VRChat and click a link that would then send a message to VRChat with a special invite to the next “world.” The need to jump back and forth was a bit unintuitive, and I actually missed the 2nd part of the concert as a result before I figured out how the whole thing works. Once I got back on track, things finally fell into place.
This is when I finally understood exactly what Gugenka meant by having “instances” that allow their virtual events to have some flexibility for viewers. In the case of this Code Geass x FLOW concert, one could join in real time to mimic being part of a public concert, or one could join at a specific moment so that you can either coordinate with a smaller group or to make sure you didn’t miss anything. This isn’t permanent, however, as there were still specific overall time frames where the concert parts were available, and then they would go away. The difference is that if you missed something by, say, 10 minutes, you still had 45 minutes to watch from the beginning.
I don’t know if it’s because I started with Showroom and ended with VRChat, but in Part 1 of the concert, FLOW was being shown as video footage of the actual members, whereas after that, they were 3D models. In the VRChat experience, it was amusing to see people running up to the stage to get as close as they can to FLOW, while others would use the squat command to make viewing easier. The music was great (of course), but in some ways, the people-watching was better. I remember seeing one attendee in particular swaying and moving with a clear joy over getting to be there.
Tickets were 6,600 yen minimum, with a deluxe package that costs a great deal more. I don’t regularly attend concerts, virtual or otherwise, so I thought it was kind of steep. That said, understanding the kind of experience it’s supposed to be, and knowing that other virtual events cost similarly, I think I would pay for the right event. It also costs a lot less than actually flying to Japan to see a band in the flesh.
While the virtual experience can’t be a full replacement for a live performance, there’s a bit of joy in knowing you’re experiencing the same thing as people living in Japan. It also creates a great opportunity for those who don’t have the means to travel for concerts to do something more interactive. Especially in a time when COVID-19 is still affecting people around the world, it’s also a solid choice for those who are too afraid to travel to another country.
I want to end by talking about a funny incident that occurred. For one song, I hopped into the VRChat world, only to find myself somehow transported a great distance away from the waiting room. Confused, I tried getting closer and closer to the space, only to start hearing chatter from Japanese attendees who were discussing someone who looked to be stuck. Soon, I realized that the person they were talking about was me, and they were trying to help me get out of whatever weird glitch I was in. After resolving the issue, they asked if I was okay—to which I jumped up and down to show everything was fine. The way these random people looked out for me put a smile on my face, and it actually made the concert more enjoyable overall.
I’m not going to say that this is a universal experience for virtual spaces, but it reinforced the interpersonal connections these sorts of events can provide.
Many viewers have remarked on the similarities between The Witch from Mercury and another anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both feature heroines having to protect a prized bride in ritualized duels that involve cutting off a symbol to win (an antenna and a rose, respectively). It’s hard not to make the comparison. But I think the fact that we are seeing “Utena Gundam” so readily embraced is a sign that the Gundam fandom has progressed in ways I couldn’t have seen years ago. This is especially the case when looking at a different spiritual predecessor to The Witch from Mercury, 1995’s Mobile Fighter G Gundam.
There was a time when G Gundam was the black sheep of the family. Eschewing the backdrop of war for a gigantic mechanized fighting tournament, many fans regarded it as antithetical to what Gundam was supposed to be. But as the decades have passed and new fans have come to the franchise and brought new perspectives, the notion of Gundams in formal duels isn’t viewed in such a negative light anymore. We even got a tournament anime about fighting with Gundam model kits! There might be an inherently ridiculous quality that seems to (double) harken back to 70s super robot shows like UFO Robo Grendizer, but that doesn’t mean such a series can’t be serious and insightful in its own way.
The larger setting of The Witch from Mercury, beyond the school, clearly sets up a world where the shady politics of militarism and capitalism shape events in ways worth analyzing that feels very current but connected to the past. When the duels are viewed in this context, they feel not so much separated from the outside as connected to the larger problems that exist. In this sense, it truly does feel like the child of G Gundam and Utena, but also the grandchild of Gundam itself.