A Villain’s Redemption: Pokemon Masters Finally Hits an Interesting Story

Pokémon Masters continues to be a curious mobile game. It never had the ultra-mainstream appeal of its cousin Pokémon Go, and its focus on established human characters over the marketable critters themselves basically implies that the game’s target audience are already loyal Pokémon fans. Up until recently, that fanservice didn’t go much beyond seeing your favorite gym leaders and heroes interact with one another more extensively, but the Ho-oh event from last month takes it a step further by redeeming one of Pokémon’s antagonists.

The story involves Ethan and Silver, protagonist and rival of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal, looking for the legendary Pokemon Ho-oh. At this point, Ethan and Silver are no longer enemies but loosely working together. Ho-oh is said to appear to humans who are pure of heart, which Silver believes disqualifies him from becoming its partner. After all, his history is one of doing terrible things to his Pokemon, being cruel and nasty to other people, and being the son of Team Rocket boss Giovanni. However, Lance appears and explains that he has seen genuine change in Silver—a transformation clearly reflected in SIlver’s bond with his Sneasel. Ultimately, Silver proves himself worthy by choosing to save his allies instead of trying to catch Ho-oh, and the legendary Pokemon rewards him by joining his side.

There’s something about mobile games in general where I can’t really get into their narratives because of how they’re locked behind tedious gameplay requirements. Pokémon Masters is no exception in terms of feeling a bit like a chore, but I think the payoff was rewarding because of how nice Silver’s story ends up being. The original Gold, Silver, and Crystal games (as well as the Heart Gold and Soul Silver remakes) do show that Silver has started to turn a new leaf, but the result was left somewhat ambiguous. What Pokemon Masters does, though its canonicity is unclear, is to give Silver a satisfying conclusion to his journey from villain to well-meaning rival. It’s the first time that Pokémon Masters has presented a story with actual stakes, and it works to really humanize Silver. This has resulted in what I consider the peak of the mobile game currently, and one of the highlights of Pokémon as a whole.

Learning About the Butterflies and the Bees: Saotome-senshu, Hikatakusu

The first thing one notices when looking at the cover of a volume of Saotome-senshu, Hitakakusu (Saotome Covers Up) is the main heroine and her abs. Who is this muscular girl? How did she get that impressive six-pack? What’s her deal? The answer: she’s the heroine of a beautiful manga that’s a little romance, a little sports, and a whole lot of stupid in the best possible way. More than that, its central boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is portrayed so wonderfully and positively that I would present it as a shining example of a love that feels healthy and genuine.

Saotome Yae is her high school boxing club’s ace, blessed with strength, agility, and a preternaturally good knack for fighting. But the first chapter opens up with a low point, as the boy she likes, Tsukishima Satoru, rejects her confession. The reason: he’s also in the boxing club, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize her next crucial match. However, the romantic feelings are clearly mutual, and by the end of the chapter, Tsukishima has become Saotome’s coach—a setup that not only hides their going out against school rules, but also allows Tsukishima’s endless passion for boxing to benefit Saotome as well.

Saotome and Tsukishima are the definition of adorkable. They will try to hold hands, but their unfamiliarity with doing boyfriend-girlfriend things makes it look closer to a test of strength. At another point, Tsukishima declares that they’ll succeed through the power of love, only to realize that he’s talking to Saotome’s little brother, who proceeds to forever call him “Power-of-Love Man.” This is one of those series where everyone is kind of an idiot on some level, and it results in a wonderfully silly and sweet series that isn’t afraid to go for a heartfelt scene one moment and immediately transition to a gut-busting gag the next. The humor is somehow both subdued and absurd, and I can’t really think of many similar works. It somewhat approaches the stylings of Shibata Yokusaru’s 81 Diver, but isn’t quite as extreme and over-the-top.

Virtually every character, from the main couple to the wide array of side characters, are hilarious and memorable—even Saotome’s random clubmates. Above is a scene where one of their clubmates tries to get some alone time with Wakano, a college-aged boxer and childhood friend of Tsukishima’s, by incapacitating his own friend with a punch to the stomach. …Except, they’re all boxers and can take a hit, so his friend just gets up anyway. This whole thing ends with Wakano showing how to really deliver a body blow, leaving the clubmate doubled over but also a little happy.

Of the supporting cast, my favorites are Satsukawa Mizuki, a rival of Saotome’s who transitioned from karate to boxing with the most terrible sense of direction, and Konno Mito, the boxing manager who basically teases anyone and everyone. In those rare instances where the two are together, it’s even better.

But what I think really anchors this series and will make it endure is the depiction of Saotome and Tsukishima’s excellent relationship. On the surface, the two look like a somewhat mismatched couple that seems to thrive on reversing gender roles. Saotome is big and tough, and knows how to achieve victory after victory. Tsukishima is small and weaker, and has yet to win a single match in his boxing career. However, you can see that the two think the world of each other, and both inspire each other to greater heights. Saotome does not see Tsukishima as a “loser” who’s capable of less, but rather as a guy full of love for boxing, and who is making progress on his own terms through his own power. Tsukishima, for his part, is 100% supportive—not jealous—of Saotome’s greater success. He’s a challenge to toxic masculinity and the fear of emasculation: he’s shorter and less skilled in his own chosen sport than his own girlfriend, but absolutely no one thinks less of him, especially himself.

One unfortunate thing about Saotome-senshu, Hitakakusu is its timing. Saotome’s boxing path is about aiming for the  2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the series even ends with a flashforward to them. Before, it would have been possible to imagine the characters actually being there for the real deal, but COVID-19 has turned the 2020 Olympics into the 2021 Olympics, forever dating the series as a pre-coronavirus title. However, while that dates the manga, this doesn’t really detract from its overall excellence, and I hope as many people as possible end up reading it.

The Panda from Beastars Is Basically Black Jack

The manga and anime Beastars by Itagaki Paru features an eclectic menagerie of personalities, but one that caught my attention is the panda character Gohin. The reason: the character is likely an elaborate reference to the classic Tezuka Osamu manga character Black Jack.

Gohin, like Black Jack, works as an unlicensed doctor, being called upon by those who cannot (for whatever reason) request more legitimate professional help. Both have a moral code, but it lies outside the normal boundaries of society. Even Gohin being a panda has hints of the Tezuka character: Black Jack’s skin on his face has two shades—the darker skin comes from a skin graft he received from his half-African best friend. 

What seals the deal on Gohin being the Beastars Black Jack is that he’s voiced by Ohtsuka Akio, who has been the voice of Black Jack in numerous anime adaptations since the 1990s.

Basically, I can’t wait to see Gohin operate on himself while fighting off some dingos—albeit ones who walk on two legs and talk.

Break the Unbreakable, Fight the Power: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for June 2020

This blog is a reflection of myself, and my thoughts and feelings on anime and manga both for their own sakes and within the greater context of the world we share. So much has happened within this past week, let alone this past month, that I’m feeling overwhelmed. Between COVID-19 and the protests that have emerged in the United States, Japan, and Hong Kong in response to institutional injustice, I hope that everyone can stay safe as we fight for fundamental changes to transform the world into a place where power and authority are not used as tools of oppression.

Thank you to my Patreon sponsors this month. I appreciate your support, not just those listed below, but everyone who thinks Ogiue Maniax is worth something even in these times.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from May:

The House in Fata Morgana and Full House: The Inherent Limits of “Pure” Translations

Translation accuracy and localization have been recurring fandom topics lately. I thought I’d give my perspective on it.

The White Fear of Mediocrity

A thought about Steely Dan in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure turns into an exploration of whiteness in America and its ties to the suburbs that dot the country.

Wishing for Hope, Reaching to Help

The recent deaths and suicides of so many have me wishing that everyone stays safe mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 28 puts some focus on the castle-loving Shinji.

Patreon-Sponsored

My Favorite (?) Anime Computer Games

It is what it says, sort of?

Apartment 507

Thinking about nostalgic sequels and their use of time.

Closing

Whether you choose to stay indoors or go out there to fight for justice, please stay safe. I will try to provide things worth reading, whether you want to engage more with the world around us or to stay within the realm of art. Just remember that the border between the two sides are porous and prone to mingling.

Boy, Become Mythology: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 28

It’s Shinji’s turn to live his passion in Chapter 28 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Now that M-Con is over and the rest of summer break is left, Shinji decides to do what he’s been wanting to this whole time: visit a castle! After all, his original plan in high school was to make a Mountain Castle Club, before he got roped into singing. He wanted to bring the other members along, but only Akira and Hasegawa ended up joining him. Also, it’s technically a valley castle and not a mountain one, but that’s better for amateurs like the latter two anyway, according to Shinji.

As the three take a break, Akira expresses his desire to sing more, while Shinji admits that even he got into it more than expected. Hasegawa surprises the both of them when she suddenly starts conducting, and the two guys start singing. She reveals that she’s been practicing in secret while watching Mimi-sensei, and the two immediately realize that she’s actually better at it than their club adviser.

The singing draws the attention of an old man walking around, who explains that he’s a member of the Suns—the chorus they had visited when they were trying to figure out Orihara’s “hearing issues.” The old man, whose name is Yoshinaga, is himself a castle enthusiast, which thrills Shinji. During their conversation, he mentions having a vacation home in a nice outdoor area they could use for a training camp. After some calls, most of the club is into the idea, including Jin, who responds to Akira last. However, just as Akira is leaving his place, he sees Jin exiting Himari’s apartment while greeting Akira with a smile!

Oh Castle, My Castle

I had been wondering if Shinji’s love of castles would forever remain on the back burner in Hashikko Ensemble, so I’m happy that he finally gets to enjoy his true passion. Unfortunately, we don’t actually get to see the castle they visited, which is a reminder that this is indeed a manga primarily about music. I hope he eventually gets a true mountain castle.

I wonder if we’ll end up seeing more of Yoshinaga, if only because this would give a real mentor to Shinji—someone who can foster his love of castles and his burgeoning interest in singing. It could be something unique to Shinji among all the characters, and it might be the key to leveling him up really quickly for the next time the Chorus Appreciation Society performs.

Jin x Himari…?

In all likelihood, Jin stepping out of Himari’s family apartment (along with Himari’s angry grunt at being discovered) is going to just be some innocent misunderstanding on Akira’s part. Still, if i were to entertain the notion that something happened between the two during summer vacation, I have to admit that I think they’d be a cute couple. There’s something about the contrast between Jin’s overwhelming cheer and Himari’s curmudgeonly attitude that would appeal to me if they were an item, and one can only imagine how awkward everything about their relationship would be.

But putting that aside, the real purpose of that last-second shock is to highlight that Akira has romance on the brain to a certain extent. He’s been thinking about Shion a whole lot, even feeling continued jealousy toward Shunsuke after finding out that Shion’s been visiting Shunsuke’s home to practice piano now that her hand has healed. Now that Hasegawa is aware of the truth, her teasing is getting stronger, though it’s interesting that Hasegawa isn’t being protective of Shion. Instead, she seems to be encouraging it.

The innocence of the romances in Hashikko Ensemble is such a contrast to Spotted Flower, I must say.

Conductor Hasegawa

I figured at least a few of the characters not directly involved in the music would eventually join the club in a more involved capacity, but certainly didn’t expect Hasegawa to start working towards a role as conductor. I have to wonder how the others might eventually reach this point, and if this is the real reason behind Jin being at Himari’s home.

Then there’s Kurotaki Mai, the girl with the deep voice. I still think she’ll come in for a more prominent role eventually.

Songs

As Hasegawa conducts, Akira and Shinji sing “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto—the same featured song as the last handful of chapters.

Final Thoughts

Given that M-Con is in the past now, I can only assume they’ll be practicing some new songs to add to their repertoire. I wonder where they’ll go next. I personally don’t have any must-see songs, but something far off from “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” could be a nice change of pace.

Artistry in Manga and Anime, and What’s Lost in “Translation”

Every so often, I come across someone on Twitter who talks about how they love anime but don’t really mess with manga. To them, manga is inherently inferior to anime, or at the very east, doesn’t give them the full multimedia package that anime offers—animation, music, voices, etc. Of course, people are free to enjoy what they want however they want it, but a part of me can’t help but feel a little frustrated that manga, as a mode of creative expression, is not reaching them. They can appreciate the artistry of anime but not the artistry of manga. 

“Artistry” is a very loose term and it can mean a million different things. Moreover, you’ll likely find people arguing that certain styles are better than others, and that certain creators are more imaginative and skilled than others. When I use the word “artistry” here, I’m thinking from a very broad sense, where it means how something is portrayed as opposed to what is being portrayed. Two titles could wind up portraying the same thing—a blond guy throwing a punch, for example—but the execution could create two very different experiences. 

Years ago, I wrote a couple of blog articles: one on decompression in comics, and another on its opposite, compression. One of the big takeaways is how the page as a whole is typically used in manga, where the panels and visual elements are geared towards a very smooth and continuous experience that allows the eyes to quickly move from one panel to the next. There are many different avenues of manga artistry, but this is the one that sticks out to me most because it’s a form of creative direction where time and space seem to transition seamlessly. But even given the history of comics in Japan, this is something that had to develop over time, and there’s no one right way to make the pages “flow.” It’s not as fundamentally intuitive as treating a comic like a picture book playing out one panel at a time, and I have to wonder if maybe that extra step needed to engage with manga is a step too far. Without it, perhaps manga really does seem like a lesser version of anime. That engagement has to be learned on some level.

In a sense, the difference between anime and manga is a less pronounced version of the separation between film and books. Anime and film engage more senses, and they progress without the viewer needing to actively move them along. Manga and books are focused mostly on the visual (on a basic level), and the story does not continue unless the reader actively chooses to move it forward. While anime and manga are closely tied in the sense that they often draw from the same stylistic trends and adaptations from one to the other are incredibly common, this difference in how one engages the medium seems to be too large a disparity for some. If I could help it, I would want to take someone who only reads manga and help them appreciate anime, as well as vice versa. If that were possible, then I would do what I could to help people appreciate the artistry of these creative endeavors.

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

Wishing for Hope, Reaching to Help

I’m grateful to be in a position where I am mentally and emotionally well, even in this pandemic. It’s easy for me to assume that fear and concern over COVID-19 is what’s on people’s minds, but the recent deaths of so many people and figures in my social and fandom spheres just has me hyper-aware of the challenges many face that are likely exacerbated by current circumstances. 

In the world of anime, Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network died in his apartment on May 21, 2020. In wrestling, Shad Gaspard died at age 39 after helping save his son from a rip current on May 17. Another wrestler, Hana Kimura was 22 when she died by suicide on May 23 after online harassment due to her appearance on the reality show Terrace House. And while this isn’t recent, it’s been almost a year since the suicide of gaming youtuber Etika, who was 29. Death may be unpredictable and inevitable, but the fact that they all left so young makes me shake my head in disbelief.

I wasn’t close to any of the people I mentioned, so my perspective is not as a friend or peer, or even necessarily as a fan or follower. Yet, I feel something: sadness, anger, frustration, or maybe something else I can’t describe. In the case of Hana Kimura, I kept saying to myself, “I really need to check out Stardom because she seems like a star,” and now all I’ll have is past videos to reference. It makes me want to reach out to my friends, and those I’ve lost contact with over the years. It’s easy to just assume that the last image you had of them is roughly how they are today, but time passes and people face challenges both internal and external. I always worry about overstepping my boundaries or thinking I’m closer to someone than I actually am, and maybe I just need to find the tiny ounce of courage to get over that and maybe, just maybe, help someone turn away from a bad decision. 

I used to frequent a chat room that was named after the anime Maria-sama ga Miteru (aka Maria Watches Over Us). A few years since I last visited, I decided to stop by, and the chat topic included a person’s name: “So-and-so ga Miteru.” It turns out they had passed away. A couple more years passed, and I visited again. This time, more names had been added to the topic. It feels like I blinked, and more of the people I knew had vanished. As far as I know, none of those deaths were due to suicide, but they stung nevertheless. And while I never really interacted with them on any deeply personal level, it made my infrequent visits feel like “too little, too late.” When it’s related to physical health, there’s only so much any of us can do. When it’s not, it hits differently. 

I hope we can connect to our fellow human beings, those we love and even those with whom we have the barest connection, so that we can help lift up one another. If you’re feeling like life isn’t worth living, reach out to suicide prevention for professional help. If you’re hurting and just need someone to listen, feel free to even leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter

Remember: you’re worth something.

The House in Fata Morgana and Full House: The Inherent Limits of “Pure” Translations

There has been a long history of English-language localizations doing their best to hide the fact that Japanese media is from, well, Japan. Old dubs of Gigantor and Astro Boy would have characters reading the “international newspaper.” Satoshi in Pokemon became Ash Ketchum, and onigiri became donuts, popcorn balls, and even photoshopped sandwiches. Phoenix Wright is suddenly practicing law in California, and a car with the steering wheel on the right side was “imported.” There’s enough that’s gone on over the years that fan skepticism towards translation can be justified, but more recently, there’s been a growing trend of negative criticism about the work of translators, accusing them of overly politicizing a work or introducing “Western” ideas that interfere with the “purity” of the original Japanese work. There are a lot of factors that go into this debate, and not always with the sincerest of intentions, but I’m going to elaborate on how (as the cliché goes) translation is more art than science, and why there’s an inherent limit to such purity arguments.

First things first: I do want to lay down that bad translations can exist. It’s subjective on some level, but I do believe that there is such a thing as a localization taken too far. One example I often think about is the English dub of Ojamajo Doremi, known as Magical Do-Re-Mi. Changing the names is one thing, but that version of the beloved magical girl series would inject extra dialogue and voice-overs to such an extent, often without any basis in the original, that it changed how the anime felt as a whole. At the time, it was an outdated philosophy on children’s cartoons transplanted onto a children’s anime. Another example is in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where Ike’s line, “I fight for my friends,” sounds hilarious in English, especially with the monotone delivery, but that cheesiness is not in the Japanese. The original s closer to “I merely fight for those I must protect,” which changes the contours of what’s being conveyed.

However, there is a large spectrum when it comes to translation and localization. Translation cannot and will not ever be a 1:1 transfer, not even for two very closely related languages such as English and Dutch, let alone English and Japanese. There are cultural differences, disparities in lived experiences, and gaps in what might be considered “common knowledge, before you even get to the mechanics of languages themselves differing greatly.

One of the ground zero examples at the moment is a game called The House in Fata Morgana, and the epicenter of that debate is the translation of the word tsundere. In Japanese, it’s a slang word that’s been borne out of anime and manga fandom to describe characters who go from essentially hating someone to falling in love with them, or someone who acts like they hate someone but is secretly in love. Meanness and maybe even a bit of slapstick violence often come part in parcel. More importantly to this particular example, however, it’s become a celebrated trope. Tsundere girls are popular both because the inherent emotional conflict is powerful, but it can also have a fetishistic element. In Fata Morgana, the choice was to translate tsundere as “fragile male ego” because, as the translator explains at length, the use of the word tsundere is sarcastic here, referring more to the other character’s abusiveness. It’s not the only answer she could have arrived at, but it ultimately results in a translation that gets across not so much the nitty gritty of what’s being said in Japanese, but rather the essence and the intent behind those words. Yet, because the word tsundere has solidified in fandom, it’s seen by critics as a kind of “pure” concept that needs to be preserved.

One option was to just keep the word tsundere, but to do so would be to assume that every person playing the game would already be familiar with the word. Moreover, no amount of more direct translations could succinctly convey the fact that it is indeed a stock phrase. This, I think, is where a lot of the criticism falls short, because it presumes that one’s own experience with a work trumps everyone else’s. I think back to the Anime World Order review of Dog Soldier, where the translator, Neil Nadelman, explains that he translated instant ramen as “instant noodle soup” because ramen was not ubiquitous enough at the time to just make sense off the cuff. Times have changed, but they haven’t changed enough for tsundere to be common parlance.

One thing that might help people championing the “purity” of translation is to think about the process in the opposite direction, from English to Japanese. Plenty of English-language films and TV shows get imported and adapted, and there are challenges on the other end to localizing those works. I once wrote about how Gone with the Wind has had multiple interpretations of the iconic “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” which don’t break it down word by word but rather try to communicate the curtness and rudeness of Rhett Butler’s dismissive attitude at the end. To translate that more literally would make it lose some of the impact of Rhett’s brevity.

In that post, I also discussed the challenge of giving particular personal pronouns and honorifics usage to characters from English to Japanese. If it were a so-called “pure” translation, there wouldn’t be any such distinctions, but this would be jarring to a Japanese audience, where those elements are woven into the fabric of both language and society. Since then, I’ve come across some interesting examples. First, is the Deadpool movies. Second, is the old sitcom Full House.

In Japanese, Deadpool refers to himself with the unique personal pronounce ore-chan, where ore is a very masculine and impolite way to say “I,” and chan is an honorific that usually is reserved for young children, girls, small animals, and the like. A rough equivalent in English would be “little ol’ me,” but it’s not used in the same way. The Japanese subtitles for Deadpool try to capture his character through his pronoun usage, interpreting and localizing his speech for the audience. 

Similarly, while in the original English-language Full House, many characters refer to Jesse Katsopolis as “Uncle Jesse,” they give the youngest daughter, Michelle Tanner, a unique way of referring to her uncle in Japanese: oi-tan, or a babyish pronunciation of oji-chan (uncle). Neither Deadpool nor Michelle’s phrasings are  “literally translated” into Japanese, but are rather localized based on the characters themselves—who they are, how they act, etc. In this sense, it’s not so different from The House in Fata Morgana and the use of “fragile male ego” because it’s trying to communicate more about who is speaking to whom.

I think the point that needs to be absolutely understood is that there is always, always some compromise when it comes to translating from one language to another. The question, then, is what are acceptable sacrifices in order to get something across most faithfully, given cultures, circumstances, and even mediums. For example, a novel (or indeed visual novel) has more space to give an explanation about some cultural aspect that would fly by in anime subtitles or a manga word balloon, but does the act of throwing in a long explanation shift the work or interrupt the flow of dialogue? Different readers have different priorities, and different translators have to interpret the original works through their own lenses. It’s why multiple translations of the same works exist. 

What I see in the purity arguments of Japanese media fandom is a desire to be rewarded for one’s specialized knowledge, and it’s the perspective of those who revel in being as hardcore as possible. As someone who has devoted decades of energy to anime and manga fandom, as well as thinking about how translations function, I can relate. The unfortunate thing is that it turns experiencing these works into a kind of measuring contest to see who knows more and who has the “real” access to Japanese culture, which is in a certain sense the opposite of what translation is there to do: make something accessible.

Kunio-kun and Double Dragon for Super Smash Bros.

As Smash Bros. Ultimate increasingly becomes a celebration of gaming history on a wider scale, I want more and more to see every video game genre represented in its character roster. Just like how Cloud and Hero represent RPGs, or how Ryu, Ken, and Terry are the poster boys for fighting games, I’d like to see someone represent the beat ’em up genre. In that respect, there are only two possible franchises that I think deserve this honor: Kunio-kun and Double Dragon.

Kunio-kun is the granddaddy of beat ’em ups, starting with the very first game in the genre’s history: Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun. Featuring the brash yet noble delinquent Kunio-kun, it would set the template for the entire genre—full range of movement, enemies on all sides, clever attacks, weapons, etc. It would later influence gaming further though sequels and spin-offs such as River City Ransom

The original Double Dragon arcade game was basically designed on the Kunio-kun engine except with more international appeal. Instead of the specifically Japanese context of gakuran-wearing yankii, it’s about two Chinese-American kung fu brothers named Billy and Jimmy Lee. Which one would be better for Smash comes down to that difference—do you want the very Japanese and explosive Kunio, or do you want the Lee brothers and their global recognition?

Either way, the movesets practically write themselves. In fact, one could say that they have too many moves to choose from. 

Kunio not only has his first game, but he’s also one of the stars of River City Ransom (where he was renamed “Alex” for the US) and is Mario-level in terms of dabbling in other genres. He could squat like a delinquent, Acro Circus though the air, punch people on the ground, and throw a ball straight out of Super Dodge Ball.

For Billy and Jimmy, you also have endless options. Do you base them more on their arcade moves or their console appearances? The Cyclone Spin Kick is obvious, but do you go with the arcade animation or the NES one? What about nunchaku from Double Dragon III or the Double Dragon for NES back elbow? What if they based the gameplay on Double Dragon II, where the B button always means “attack left” and the A button always means “attack right?” In terms of Smash, both the Double Dragons and Kunio can be as orthodox or as unusual as possible.

Given that the beat ’em up genre is long past its heyday, and Nintendo’s apparent desire to use Smash Bros. Ultimate as a promotional platform, it might not seem all that likely to see either Kunio or the Lees. However, Arc System Works (creators of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear) have the current rights, and there was a Kunio-kun Spirit Event in Ultimate. So here’s hoping that any of these brawling heroes have a chance to be newcomers.

The Moral Trolling of Prison School

What if I told you that there’s a manga that points out the vanity of its male heroes, and ends by emphasizing the degree to which their shallow treatment of women is their undoing? Now, what if I told you that this series is actually, of all things, Prison School—a series generally known more for its gratuitous T&A and absurd toilet humor? By the time Prison School reached its conclusion, that’s exactly what we got. 

Prison School is about a group of teenage guys who are the only male students at Hachimitsu Academy. When they get caught peeping, they discover that the school actually has a complex prison system underneath run by the “Shadow Student Council,” three powerful girls who are all extremely attractive and who all hate men with a passion. Over the course of 277 chapters, the manga gets increasingly ridiculous in just about every way possible, from fanservice to schemes to the fact that the series will set up exceedingly complex plots just for the sake of delivering a stupid pun.

If you look at the fan reaction to the end of Prison School, a great deal of comments express utter disappointment. There were shipping wars over who the hero Kiyoshi would end up with. There’s frustration that the story went far off the rails from where it started. Somehow, people read this series as if it was some kind of romantic comedy, as opposed to an exercise in the absurd. What’s more, I truly believe this this bitter response towards Prison School by its former fans is actually what the author, Hiramoto Akira, was actually going for. Prison School was a long, elaborate troll to point out the inanity of anyone who cheered for the heroes.

The Case of Kiyoshi

Kiyoshi is the hero of Prison School, and throughout the series he’s motivated by a few key factors. Early on, he develops a crush on one of his classmates, Kurihara Chiyo. She’s the first girl to really talk to him in class, and one of the reasons he strives to escape the school’s prison is so they can go on a date together. However, while he’s unusually smart in certain respects, he’s also an incredible dumbass who’s 1) ruled by his hormones and 2) often jumps to the wrong conclusion about things.

Kiyoshi does good deeds, but he’s not necessarily a good person, and his antics lead him to having oddly close love-hate relationships with two of the Shadow Student Council members. Early on, he accidentally sees Midorikawa Hana (the Shadow Student Council secretary) peeing in the woods, which starts this bizarre bond based in trying to see the other pee and involves angry kisses, swapping underwear, and other “unorthodox” forms of affection/revenge. And while Shadow Student Council president Kurihara Mari starts off as Kiyoshi’s greatest nemesis, the two eventually end up as erstwhile allies who begrudgingly respect each other. Also, one time Kiyoshi had to suck snake venom out of her butt.

By the end of the series, Kiyoshi is ready to confess to Chiyo (to Hana’s frustration). He’s been thinking about Chiyo all this time and sees her as his ideal girl, despite the fact that many of his “firsts” are with Hana. Chiyo, for her part, sees Kiyoshi as a brave and noble soul. However, Kiyoshi has tried to get by entirely on his ability to bullshit others, and it all comes home to roost at the end. Chiyo is an avid fan of sumo, and Kiyoshi pretends to like the sport too to get closer to her. Kiyoshi and Hana at one point accidentally switch underwear, and both realize that they’re more comfortable wearing the other’s. When Chiyo asks what happened to Hana’s panties, Kiyoshi tries to tell a half-truth by saying that he keeps them in a drawer and is ashamed about it—except that’s a lie, and he’s wearing them during his confession. Early on, in regards to Kiyoshi, Chiyo prophetically says, “There’s no such thing as a bad person who likes sumo.”

When Hana suplexes Kiyoshi and flashes Chiyo with the truth, Kiyoshi accidentally pees on both of them. All of his graceful ploys and last-minute reversals of fortune are for naught because, in Kiyoshi’s own words, “I never learned anything.”

The Case of Gackt

Gackt is one of Kiyoshi’s fellow inmates, and is known for his absolute love of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He even speaks Japanese in an old-timey way (never mind that it was originally Chinese) as if to emphasize his love of the literary classic. Part way through the series, he begins developing feelings for a girl named Yokoyama Mitsuko, a hyper-klutz who also happens to be obsessed with Romance of the Threee Kingdoms.

(Fun trivia: Mitsuko’s name is a reference to Yokoyama Mitsuteru, legendary creator of Tetsujin 28 and author of one of the most beloved Three Kingdoms manga adaptations ever!)

Despite all the trials and tribulations, Gackt and Mitsuko seem destined for each other. However, one major curve ball shows up in the form of a character nicknamed “Slut-senpai” (real name unknown). Slut-senpai starts to fall for Gackt, and it motivates her to start learning about Romance of the Three Kingdoms to the point that she develops a genuine interest as well.

Eventually, the girls confront Gackt and ask for him to decide. However, he ultimately is unable to make a choice, and the two basically leave him and become friends with each other instead. In other words, Gackt based his entire criteria for his ideal girl on a good but ultimately limited trait—sharing a common hobby—and he couldn’t handle the possibility that there might be more to consider. Even his supposed preference for a chaste and innocent girl fell by the wayside at the prospect of a girlfriend who was willing to get down and dirty.

The Case of Andre

Unlike the two examples above, this one results in a happy ending—arguably against all odds.

Another one of the boys allied with Kiyoshi, Andre is a gentle soul and also a raging masochist. When he finds himself in his school’s prison, nothing excites him more than being under the eye of Meiko, the Shadow Student Council Vice President and the very epitome of a dominatrix.

But one day, another girl named Risa enters the picture, and around the same time, Meiko has a traumatic experience that turns her mentally into a meek 10 year old. For Andre, this means losing the very person he worshipped, and he spends most of the series trying to bring her back. At the same time, however, Risa sees a kind of inner strength in Andre and has fallen in love with him. Yet, because she cannot match the lofty ideals of sadomasochism Andre possesses, he has trouble seeing her in the same light.

Eventually, Meiko does recover, and all seems right in the world for Andre. However, what he realizes in the end is that Meiko might be the pinnacle of his carnal desire, but his heart and his feelings belong to Risa. Andre may have one hell of a kink, but in the end, it’s not enough to be the basis for an entire loving relationship. Andre chooses a person over a fetish.

Lessons Learned

Prison School is a series where one character, despite having multiple potential love interests, ends up with nobody because he’s ultimately an immature idiot who can’t truly take others into consideration. A different character has two romantic prospects but ends up with neither because his entire criteria for “ideal girlfriend” is “likes the same book.” Not only that, one of the few guys who does end up in a relationship chooses the girl who truly cared for him (and he, in turn, her) over the girl he’s worshipped and fetishized for ages. “Did you really cheer for this jackass of a protagonist?” Prison School asks, as it ends, perhaps against all odds, on a moral note. Goodness and genuine human connection win out. Shallow reasoning and deception are the realm of losers.