Ahh Real Babies: Hosoda Mamoru’s Mirai

Director Hosoda Mamoru is nearly synonymous with family themes in anime films, but his newest work, Mirai (in Japanese: Mirai no Mirai) takes it to a whole new level. Whereas his past films such as Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast explore the value and meaning of family, Mirai is more focused on the authentic feel of raising (and being) real flesh and blood children, and the challenges that come with having a family.

The story of Mirai centers around Kun, a bullet train-loving toddler who’s meeting his newborn little sister, Mirai, for the first time. As is typical of only children who suddenly have a sibling in their lives, he quickly grows jealous over all the attention given to the new baby. However, his tantrums lead him to discover that his backyard is the gateway to something magical, and that it lets Kun discover places and times he never could have otherwise. Through these voyages, which bring him to see his family members past and present in a new light, Kun is witness to the many small steps that lead him to being who he is.

At least, that’s the way the film presents Kun’s adventures. Mirai has almost a Calvin and Hobbes feel in that they never explain outright whether it’s all his imagination or if there really is time travel, and I think that ambiguity is a strength. While Mirai leans more toward the notion that Kun is actually accessing his family’s history given the amount of details he picks up, it doesn’t discount the possibility that Kun, like so many young children, is paying more attention than anyone realizes.

What makes the film truly memorable is the way it so realistically portrays the behavior and learning process of small children in Kun and Mirai. Speaking from my own experiences, I have plenty of friends and family at this point who have raised kids of their own, and many of the obstacles the parents face in dealing with Kun and Mirai actually perfectly mirror the experiences I’ve seen in those close to me. In particular, there’s a scene where Kun refuses to change out of his favorite pants—a stubbornness I’ve seen firsthand. It can feel almost too real, as if Mirai is trying to tell parents that it understands what they’re going through. Moreover, Kun’s mother and father also have to deal with delegating responsibility in their “working mother + work-from-home father” situation that’s quite unusual in Japanese society, which leads to even more examination of the “roles” of family in the modern age. To little surprise, in an interview shown at the screening, Director Hosoda discusses how having children of his own influenced the making of this film.

But it’s not just the parents that the film successfully empathizes with; the portrayal of the experience of being a young child is just as vivid and authentic. There’s one scene in particular toward the end of the film that successfully captures a child’s fear of being in a strange and unfamiliar place. While I’ve not been a baby in a long, long time, Kun’s reaction to his surroundings reminds me of the nightmares I had as a kid, as well as the times where I got lost in a mall or similarly large and eerie spaces.

Mirai feels more like a series of small episodes tied together into a single movie, but perhaps that’s the way childhood is. There’s no grand scheme or single obstacle to be overcome. It’s a learning process for the entire family.

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SSSS.Gridman and the Question of Genre

At a Studio Trigger panel at Anime NYC 2018, an interesting exchange occurred. During the Q&A session, the topic of Trigger’s preferred genres came up, and producer Wakabayashi Hiromi asked the audience what genre they thought the studio’s latest anime, SSSS.Gridman was about. They received various answers, but a common one was “action,” to which they responded, “Action? Really?” What this says is that, on some level, many viewers see SSSS.Gridman very differently compared to its creators.

The point here isn’t to figure out what genre SSSS.Gridman (Twin Peaks-esque paranormal mystery?). Rather, it’s to dwell on that incongruity between so many of those con attendees and Trigger itself. There are certain caveats to account for—like how this was only a handful of fans in the grand scheme of things or the way the series holds its cards close to its chest—but something has to be creating that difference in judgement.

Perhaps those viewers simply have a broader, more lenient idea of what denotes an “action series,” especially compared to creators who inevitably go in with their own values beforehand. If you asked Tomino Yoshiyuki what genre Mobile Suit Gundam is, he might not necessarily say “mecha” or “science fiction” or, indeed, “action.” Moreover, while fans might take the tokusatsu feel of the show (which it captures down to the rubber suit-like movements of the monsters) as more evidence of its “action” qualities, Studio Trigger could be seeing it as an aesthetic quality in service to a greater structure.

Adding thrilling violence to a story could just inevitably change how fans perceive it. The spectacle, on some level, can be overpowering. While I can’t say with full confidence that SSSS.Gridman is a Twin Peaks, there is an anime that takes a lot of inspiration from David Lynch and Mark Frost’s influential TV series: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable. While that series revolves around its small-town mysteries as well, the legacy of JoJo as a shounen fight series is still present in its DNA. For some fans, that battle tendency might dominate their view of Part 4.

Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that in the eyes of the creators, there’s more to SSSS.Gridman than just action. At this point, as the show moves towards its conclusion, that might very well be “obvious,” but I do wonder how many fans it pulled in under the vague pretense of strong fight scenes.

Smashing-Good Holidays: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2018

Ogiue Maniax just celebrated its 11th anniversary, and it feels like quite the milestone. However, as much as that has been on my mind, my head space is currently occupied 80% by Smash Bros. Ultimate. 4 days to go!!!

I’m always grateful for my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi. Many thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Here are also my favorite posts from November:

Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

An exploration of how heavy reference usage differs between geek entertainment and rap.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

The current Precure series likes to go places.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

My overview of Anime NYC 2018.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 10 feels like the end of one story and the beginning of another.

Patreon-Sponsored

An Amateur Look at the Atelier Games

How mellow can an RPG series get?

Closing

I promise that not every post I make for the next 6 months will just be about Smash Bros. That said, I get the feeling there will be plenty to go around.

The Pressure to Morally Justify One’s Fandom Tastes

When I first began to formulate this blog post in my head, the core of what I wanted to write about was something I observed in online fandom: the policing of preference and desire, and the seeming need to couch fandom debates in moral rhetoric. My desire was to focus on the absurd degree by which fans try to justify their tastes by presenting some greater benefit or boon to humankind.

However, I’m not the only one who’s been ruminating on the subject. A recent article about essentially weaponized anti-fandom had explored the subject in depth, the author tracing their observation of this disturbing trend through the pains of trying to transplant the islands of LiveJournal to the complex web of Tumblr. Anti-fandom goes from being passion with a negative bent to a cold and calculated scalpel designed to influence and threaten fans, critics, and creators alike. The article has forced me to approach this post a little differently than I had intended. To that end, I still want to think out loud about that concept of forced justification, but more as the other side of the coin compared to what is described by that author.

Critical analysis of preferences in storytelling and art, be they one’s own or the preferences of others, is an important part of the relationship between creative endeavors and their effects on people and society. It’s not wrong that a series like Tintin, which early on featured racist caricatures, would fall under rightful scrutiny, and that those decisions open up important conversations, or that superhero comics are having to confront the sexism and racism that has been entrenched in its veins on both content and creator levels. However, there has been a trend of fans who try very hard to prove that their particular fandoms are fundamentally superior (or indeed that others are inferior), as if fandom reflects wholly one’s dedication to the moral fiber of society. Perhaps it’s all an act, as the article implies, a feigning of outrage to achieve a selfish goal, but I believe there are also fans who feel that they cannot like something unless it gels 100% with how they view themselves on that moral level.

This is a potentially harmful philosophy to abide by, not just for those who are potentially attacked by this sort of fan, but directly dangerous to the fan themselves. When a  “problematic fave” enters the conversation, the situation descends to  whether or not liking something in fantasy reflects some moral or personal shortcoming. From there, it’s a short step to accusing each other of not believing in the greater good strongly enough.

When we still don’t have real answers as to how people’s relationship with fiction affects everyone (whether broadly or on an individual basis), it comes across as a desperate desire to not be on the wrong side of the barrel. Either that, or they risk ending up like the character Nishikinomiya Anna from the anime/light novel Shimoneta. Anna, who was raised from childhood to be the perfect representative of moral fastidiousness, turns out to be dangerous and depraved in certain ways. However, because she was brought up to believe that she is pure and just, she rationalizes her behavior as being inherently moral because she is inherently moral herself.

My concern is that in an environment where there is (rightful) social pressure to be more open and to not hold beliefs that demean other people, it can become all too easy to believe that every word you say carries deep significance to such an extent that people feel they cannot be frivolous. If one feels that their words must reflect their fundamental being, then it also becomes dangerous to think that every piece of entertainment you consume has to be morally justified, as if it fits into a greater picture of a consistent and righteous self. It makes me think that these fans feel disdain for the fact that humans are often contradictory, and rather than understand and accept that, they see admonishing their peers for their inconsistency as the better choice.

For Hymn: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 10

In this chapter, the secrets of Orihara—his hearing and his traumatic past—are revealed in full.

Summary

Waking up inside the nurse’s office, Orihara explains that he suffers from a chronic high-pitched ringing in his ears. Jin figures out that Orihara suffers from a slight degree of hearing loss due to overexposure, specifically in the 3khz range—the same frequency as a baby crying or a woman screaming. Jin, however, believes Orihara’s brain is likely still picking up sounds at 3khz even if his ears aren’t, which is why Orihara can somehow “hear” things that he “can’t hear.”

During this talk, Orihara reveals two things about his past to the others. First, his little brother died. Second, the one time he was able to get rid of the ringing in his ears was in third grade, at a recital by a choir of old men, and a specific religious foreign song—hence, why he keeps listening to similar music. For this reason, Jin uses his connections to bring Orihara back to that choir from his childhood and have him repeat the same song. Hearing it again, Orihara is moved, but while Jin’s scientific explanation seems right, Akira has a simpler one: Orihara was healed by this music. Envisioning (?) a young voice from heaven speaking directly to him, Orihara smiles.

Later, at school, Jin comes barging in to get Shinji and Orihara (given name Kousei) for chorus club practice. Orihara is now an official member of the Chorus Club. The days pass, and coming up now is the MHK Concours—aka M-Con—an amateur chorus competition!

Music: When Science and Magic Collide

Orihara’s story, in my eyes, adds an interesting wrinkle to the ongoing theme of music as something that straddles the line between the known and the mysterious. Jin’s explanations make sense, yet I can’t help but wonder if Orihara’s deceased little brother might actually be trying to communicate with him. The manga itself never really says one way or the other, but regardless of the actual (meta-) physics, it’s notable that Orihara feels the song in his head and in his heart. There’s an important lesson here about how even as we might “understand” music on a theoretical level, there’s still an almost magical or spiritual quality to song that captivates the soul. As dominant as Jin is in this manga, his perspective isn’t the only one.

That being said, I doubt the manga is trying to push any sort of religious angle. It seems more an acknowledgement of the significance of the church in Western music.

Bouncing Back from Tragedy

Orihara’s story is the heaviest I’ve seen a Kio manga get, and that’s including Ogiue trying to commit suicide as a kid. There’s something really tragic about child abuse, and the degree to which Orihara’s anger is a product of his trauma. Although not said outright, it’s extremely likely that the guy suffers from PTSD. The story basically implies that Orihara can’t hear the 30khz frequency because he was constantly being subjected to the anguished screams of his mom and his brother. And somehow, the series manages to swing around into silliness not long after.

It’s really not easy for a narrative to get so serious and then switch back into lighthearted humor, but I think Hashikko Ensemble does it well by actually making the awkwardness in that transition more prominent. In particular, when Orihara mentions his deceased brother, Jin seems to obliviously bring the topic back to music and science. But is Jin as ditzy as he acts? His ambiguously strained relationship with his dad, or indeed something else, might hint at this being a willful act of feigned ignorance.

Songs

The featured song this chapter is “Viderunt Omnes,” a Gregorian chant composed in the 11th century by Protein. Gregorian chants were traditionally used in Roman-Catholic churches.

Final Thoughts

Next chapter promises to focus on Kurata, whose intensity and dislike of the frivolous has me intrigued about her. However, given how quickly the manga jumped from “Orihara’s on board” to “Competition!”, I’m worried that Hashikko Ensemble is suffering from a lack of popularity and his rushing things forward. I genuinely think this is a very strong manga from Kio Shimoku, so I hope it has a long life ahead of it.

Amateur Thoughts on the Atelier Games

I’m not terribly familiar with the Atelier RPG series. I’ve never played any of the games, and I didn’t even realize that Sue was cosplaying the main heroine from Atelier Meruru in a chapter of Genshiken (see above). But I was asked by one of my Patreon sponsors to write something about the games, so I decided to do some research. While I can’t even pretend to call myself an expert, what I’ve found out about the Atelier games has intrigued me, particularly the way they eschew Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest-style “save the world” scenarios.

Before I go further, I’d like to thank two YouTube channels: ValkyrieAurora, whose overview of the entire Atelier franchise allowed me to better understand the overarching themes of the games, and WeLoveGUST, whose Atelier Meruru play-through introduced me to the feel of an Atelier game. Watching them is no substitute for actually playing, of course, but they were quite helpful nevertheless.

Video games have classically had a violence issue. I don’t mean that violent video games are bad, or that they inherently corrupt people, but that fighting is a convention that’s so easily relied upon in games that it can be a kind of crutch. Fight to save your kingdom. Fight to get revenge. Fight to prove your worth. This doesn’t define all games, but those that step away from violence, also tend to go so far left-field from that world as to be considered a practically different universe. I’m talking about puzzle games like Tetris or gentler games like Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons or Animal Crossing. There’s a wide space in between those approaches (“violence solves everything” vs. “what’s violence?”), and the way the Atelier games strike a middle ground is rather fascinating.

Rather than having a looming evil that must be defeated, the narratives of Atelier games are more often based on personal growth. The key gameplay involves the player as the main character learning to make potions and other concoctions in a quest to master the discipline of alchemy. Experimentation is encouraged, and while the games can vary in terms of how demanding the clock is, they more often than not lean towards the leisurely. It’s still clearly a non-mundane environment, and there is combat involved when it comes to gathering ingredients, but violence clearly takes a backseat.

In this respect, I find myself drawn to Atelier Meruru‘s soundtrack, which is very heavy on recorder and flute usage. There’s a certain sense of innocent fun that permeates the game as a result, and it communicates a certain message, that there’s room to breathe, explore, and maybe even relax. It really sells the games well and really entices me to try out one of the games myself.

The franchise is hardly devoid of a more fantastical setting, as all of the Atelier games take place in classic fantasy settings full of magic and kings and queens, but the balance it strikes is very alluring. It’s not so far into “farm plants and drive trucks” territory as to feel like a simulation of the mundane—the games give the impression of adventure, just not in the “defeat evil” sense. At the same time, I do wonder if it can be hard to balance the niche appeal of that classic Atelier pacing with the desire to draw in a more mainstream audience. In her video, ValkyrieAurora talks about how some of the games put more emphasis on going out on a quest. It makes me wonder if GUST (the company behind Atelier) thought that they needed to draw in more general RPG players, perhaps at the expense of the more core fans.

Atelier is hardly the only RPG series to try and minimize the impact and importance of violence, but its approach is a refreshing one, at least to someone like myself who didn’t really know about these games. It’s a celebration of a certain mellow pace that the world could use more of.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. To find out how to request topics, visit the Ogiue Maniax Patreon.

One-One Chuushingura: Ogiue Maniax 11th Anniversary

11 years of Ogiue Maniax feels…strange. Because it comes right after the 10th anniversary milestone, it feels a bit like a new beginning. I’m honestly not entirely sure how to approach celebrating 11 years, so I’m going to be pretty off-the-cuff with this post.

Sometimes it hits me just how much time has passed. Titles that I remember being the hot new thing back in 2007 are now seen as retro classics by a huge portion of anime and manga fandom. What’s more, the way we approach fandom has changed entirely—case in point, YouTube has gone from being the strange new thing to being the place fans go to for anime reviews. As someone who stuck with writing for the most part, it’s been interesting to see the rise and fall of anime blogging. The fact that my blog views are roughly around where they were in 2008 feels like I’ve made a return back to the early days, but everything’s different. The world, the internet, even I’m not what I was 10 or 11 years ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind.

As much as I’d like to be able to reach more people, I’ve come to realize that trying to follow the trends of what you should talk about can be like a shackle on your creativity and autonomy as a creator of content. It’s not necessarily easy to talk only about the latest and hottest thing, but on a personal level, I would find it to be stifling. If I’m interested enough in a current show to say a couple of things, then that’s great. But I’d rather not feel forced or compelled to hit on a specific subject just because it would get more eyeballs on me in the short term. Besides, you never know when the thing you did in the past will come sliding back into the spotlight. Just this past month, I suddenly saw a huge uptick in visitors to Ogiue Maniax. The reason: LeSean Thomas linked to my interview with him from Otakon 2016.

This might all seem unusual to say when I’ve had my own Patreon for the past few years, but there’s a reason I’ve set up my highest-tier reward in a particular way. It’s $30 because I don’t want it to be absolutely impossible for the typical anime fan to afford, but I don’t want it to necessarily take over the blog either. I also give myself the freedom to approach any and all topic requests on my own terms, so I can take these requests as both a way to give back to any patrons who decide to take me up on that offer and as a personal learning experience. It’s very easy to get trapped in a particular mindset or view, and having someone literally say, “Well, why not check this out?” can be very helpful.

That all said, I have had to make adjustments to Ogiue Maniax, especially in being careful with my language and approach to writing. This blog, at its core, is a way for me to explore ideas, and it’s part of the process to throw out half-formed ideas to see whether or not they stick. However, as I get older, and as the world around me changes, I feel a greater responsibility in terms of how my words (or lack thereof) might encourage harmful behavior from others. I still feel it important to ask questions about how we as people interact with anime, manga, and all threads related to those topics, but there’s a certain benefit of the doubt I can no longer give to geek culture as a whole. I saw the early seeds planted in fandom that have driven campaigns of racism, misogyny, and downright misanthropy in this world, and I considered myself separate. I keep thinking about all the times I failed to speak up, or all the times I may have inadvertently defended dangerous mindsets, and I feel almost compelled to make up for my errors.

Man, that got heavy.

I guess I’ll end off by saying this: Ogiue Maniax has been an 11-year reflection of myself as a work in progress. It’s an experiment full of successes and failures (and increasingly fewer Fujoshi Files…) where a conclusion still cannot be seen. But I’m also encouraged by this, and I feel that it’s taught me some important life lessons. No matter where we are, we always have the chance to change and to better ourselves. Don’t base your own worth or the worth of your achievements on comparing yourself to others. See only who you were yesterday, and try to move forward from there.