Infinite Potential: Aikatsu Friends! Kagayaki no Jewel

I’m unsure of what kids’ marketing research took place, but I doubt it’s a coincidence that both Precure and Aikatsu!—two major girls’ anime franchises—somehow both ended up on a space theme this year. But while Star Twinkle Precure is kind of expected given how every season has a gimmick or three, it’s much more surprising that Aikatsu Friends! Kagayaki no Jewel would establish the concept of “Space Idol Activities” in its own universe. Fitting, perhaps, but surprising nevertheless.

There’s a certain level of absurdity that permeates Aikatsu! as a whole—more than enough to make “Aikatsu in space” not seem like such a bizarre direction. In fact, I think it’s what has allowed the franchise to stand the test of time as a work of art and media, independent of the arcade game it’s based on. Aikatsu Friends! Kagayaki no Jewel leans into that, whether it’s maintaining old traditions (e.g. scaling cliffs) or trying something new. So when the first episode begins with an astronaut entering the stratosphere, the main reaction from me is “sure.” In a way, it feels more fitting than something like, Yu-Gi-Oh!, which now has a history of highlighting card games in different settings—in ancient Egypt, in school, on motorcycles, in space, and so on.

The new season also takes place in a new semester where the Aine and friends are now in the high school division, and I always enjoy seeing the signs of progress that come with such transitions. In this case, it’s seeing the underclassmen pale in terms of aerobic an anaerobic training alike, as well as…idols in spaaaaace.

My only wish is that they push this concept as far as it can go. Why limit it to space-esque idol performances? Why not have an idol school aboard a shuttle? Why not have zero-g dancing? Please take this to the absolute limit, Aikatsu!

P.S. Did you know the best Aikatsu! characters introduce themselves by parachute? It’s true.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic for Ogiue Maniax (or support it in general), check out the Patreon.

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Why Emma in “The Promised Neverland” is a Fantastic Character

With the first season of The Promised Neverland anime over, and having personally caught up to the manga as it’s throwing around major revelations, I thought it would be a good time to write about why I think Emma is one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory. I’m going to keep details vague to avoid spoilers for both anime viewers and manga readers, so hopefully everyone can enjoy.

By virtue of being a female protagonist in a Weekly Shounen Jump manga, Emma is an exception in a magazine that is, at least on the page, overwhelmingly male-dominated. In this position, it would be all too easy to make her a passive character who supports others, but what she contributes to The Promised Neverland makes her the heart and soul of the series.

Emma’s character is cut from a more traditional shounen hero cloth: she’s idealistic, compassionate, prefers actions over words, and is unusually good at making friends. But while this attitude is often a surface point for a lot of characters, Emma’s attitude runs directly into the central conceits and challenges of her own series. To believe in “helping everyone” in a harsh world can seem hopelessly naive, yet that conviction is what gives her strength.

The important thing, however, is that as much as she seems to possess a “have your cake and eat it too” puppies and rainbows mentality, she’s not unrealistic or devoid of pragmatism. She understands that her path isn’t the easy one, but at the same time believes that being all too ready to sacrifice others “for the greater good” leads down a much darker path. In maintaining this view, she brings those who would otherwise dwell in the murkier areas of humanity into the light.

Because of her outlook, she somewhat reminds me of Eren from Attack on Titan, albeit with a relatively cooler head on her shoulders and less proclivity for violence. Emma, like Eren, prompts and motivates others to go beyond their comfort zones through her actions. Unlike Eren, however, Emma is motivated less by anger and more by love.

Emma doesn’t do the impossible. Rather, by pushing her own limits and maintaining her compassion, she makes clear to herself and everyone around her that their perceived boundaries (whether internal or external) can be challenged. In a world seemingly made up of constant dichotomies, she strives to find a third, fourth, or even fifth path.

Hip Hop Manga: “Change!” and “Wondance”

Whether by chance or perhaps some broad editorial intent, it’s a curious thing that hip hop culture would be a prominent theme in two currently serialized Kodansha manga in Japan. Change!, running in Monthly Shounen Magazine, is the story of a Japanese poetry-loving girl named Shiori who ends up being drawn into the world of rap battling. Wondance, from Monthly Afternoon, focuses on an athletic boy with a stutter who discovers hip hop dance as a way to express himself. Each series, almost by necessity, takes a very different approach to their respective subjects, and juxtaposing the two highlights the power each work possesses.

Change! naturally places great emphasis on verbal dexterity, and as a series about Japanese rapping, there are also certain aspects to the language that make it differ from English. Japanese has fewer vowel sounds, which means that many more things in the language can technically rhyme, which in turn means that the rhymes that do occur can be even more varied yet precise aurally. The heavy emphasis on syllables also gives Japanese a certain sense of rhythm, especially because extending those sounds can change the meaning of a word entirely.

All of this needs to be effectively conveyed in the manga, and the approach Change! takes is to place more emphasis on word balloons than most manga. Words and syllables can appear larger or more erratic in order to highlight what key words in one line are being correlated with in the next line. The classic staple of many manga, furigana to aid in the reading of difficult kanji, take on added importance due to both the sheer number of homonyms that exist in Japanese and to make sure the reader keeps track of what’s being said syllable by syllable.In the images above, the male rapper connects the word “underground” with “Alice in Wonderland,” working off the fact that andaaguraundo and Arisu in Wandaaraando both start with an “a” and have the similar raundo vs. rando. He then follows up on the next page with Atama no naka made pinku iroka? / Orera no otogibanashi wa Kingu Gidora!, or, “Is even the inside of your head the color pink? / Our fairytale is King Ghidorah!” Pinku iroka lines up perfectly vowel-wise with Kingu Gidora, and the talk of fairy tales follows up to his comparison of Shiori as being as out of her depth as Alice is in her story. While the passionate expressions and the metaphorical imagery shown contribute to the atmosphere and to hammer home the meanings behind the words, the actual word balloons do a great deal of heavy lifting.

In contrast, although Wondance can be fairly wordy at times, when it comes to dancing, the manga is very much in the “show, don’t tell” category. Characters move with grace and intensity, and panels highlighting their steps litter the pages, turning them into virtual collages that practically crackle with energy. Text is sparse, and primarily brief glimpses into how the characters are thinking in the heat of the moment.In the pages above, the main character and Hikaru—the girl who brings him into the world of dancing—are dancing together in a class. The paneling supports the character artwork, emphasizing a sense of the two as a duo in sync with each other on some deeper level. This visual approach calls to mind the elaborate paneling of 1970s shoujo manga such as Swan, where panels cascade and climax in beautiful ways. The drawings capture not just the dance but the emotions of the dancers as well, making their moves the central vehicle for storytelling. In a sense, one doesn’t even need to know Japanese (or have a translation handy) to get the essence of Wondance.

Thus, on the one hand, you have a series where the words are of the utmost importance and another where images hold the power. However, they both draw upon the visual language of comics and especially manga in fundamental ways through their particular emphases. Change! and Wondance capture some of the magic of hip hop culture itself as a multi-medium, multi-angle fusion of various ingredients.

How “Over-Animating” Manga Can Change an Anime

Adapting comics into animation involves taking images which, at most, hint at or represent motion, and filling in more of the gaps that or imagination would have otherwise. While how faithfully an animated work tries to adhere to its comic can vary, I’ve noticed that even those that try to follow the source material can at times “over-animate,” providing what is perhaps too much flair and thus changing the overall fee of a given title.

Over-animating isn’t an established terms by any means, but they’re convenient for my purpose. The way I’m defining it is the degree to which added material not found in the original can make a given scene feel noticeably different. This is often done by taking the source material and then exaggerating what’s there, either through the sense of motion or by adding additional elements. Think of it as the opposite of those times when a show fails to capture the splendor of a good fight scene from a manga—when it comes to over-animating, the spectacle can potentially wind up either being a distraction or changing how we even think of particular characters or moments.

Three examples come to mind in this respect: Mysterious GIrlfriend X, Dagashi Kashi, and Laid-Back Camp.

Mysterious Girlfriend X, about a boyfriend and girlfriend who literally swap spit. Whereas the manga portrays saliva as a simple white, the anime drool glistens and drips like honey, giving it an extra dimension that makes it feel less ethereal compared to the original. When I read the manga, the saliva seems like a means to an end. In contrast, the anime seems hyper-focused on that particular fetish.Dagashi Kashi is similar. While both comic and cartoon feature attractive female characters and a degree of titillation, the first season takes it one step further every time. Suggestive moments like eating tube-shaped snacks called fugashi while blindfolded are exaggerated by the addition of a massive, super-sized version. A flashback featuring kids playing doctor as a way for the character Saya to get closer to the boy she likes has an accidental chest-touching scene thrown in. The manga is fairly racy, but the anime is hyper-horny.

Unlike the other two, my use of Laid-Back Camp (aka Yurucamp) has nothing to do with perversion. Instead, it has to do with how the character Nadeshiko is made to be extra ditzy compared to the manga. At one point, Nadeshiko notices her new friend Rin, only to run into a window like a bird not knowing how glass works. This isn’t especially different from how Nadeshiko is portrayed in the manga, but it’s almost not quite the same either. She’s not especially bright and she’s ruled to a large degree by her instincts, but Nadeshiko is never quite so dumb as to literally run into glass.

While I have my own preferences, it’s not as if I’m saying that sticking faithfully to the manga should be the way to go all the time. The drool of Mysterious Girlfriend X might resonates more with fans if it’s thick and viscuous. The girls of Dagashi Kashi might make a greater impact when the suggestiveness is turned up a couple (dozen) notches. And perhaps Nadeshiko being a little dimmer makes her a more endearing and humorous character. Even so, I want to emphasize how these changes can transform how we view a title and its characters, despite having so many similarities between versions. It’s the little things that can make all the difference.

The Confession: “The World God Only Knows” Five-Year Retrospective

April 12, 2019 marks the five-year anniversary of a momentous occasion: the day of the final and most important love confession in the manga The World God Only Knows. There’s a lot that’s special about this particular ending, not least of which was the internet’s powerful reaction to it, best encapsulated in the image below, which collects before and after reactions toward the reveal. For those who want to avoid spoilers about this series, or those who would feel offended by typical 4chan speech, it would be best to turn back now. For those who want to stay, I hope you like hearing me wax nostalgic about what makes this conclusion so great.

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Changing of the Guard in Fandom

ComicsGate, or what remains of it, has been a thinly veiled campaign to bully women out of comics, and the “movement” itself is hardly worth talking about as anything more than unjustified harassment. However, I find that it pulls its energy from a profound change occurring in readers of the superhero genre: the ever-increasing presence of women as both readers and creators, and with it, a change in how the comics-reading community determines what is worthy of praise. I’ve seen it on a personal level, as I went from understanding comics fandom as a boys’ club filled with casual sexism and jokes about Hal Jordan’s punches to one where a mutual understanding and acceptance of such things can no longer be assumed.

I previously wrote a blog post exploring the interaction between canon, fanon, and headcanon, and in it I used those terms the way one would when talking about narrative continuity. However, I think the contrast between those concepts still exists if we use the other definition of “canon”: the commonly accepted masterpieces of a given medium. The challenging of “canons” and “fanons” in that sense is what I’ve seen as a result of the changing demographics of superhero and comics fandom. Over the course of many years, women and girls have come in with their own ideas about which artists to respect and what ideas should be taken away from a given comics, and those deeply entrenched in the older ways feel the ground shifting beneath them. Guys like that can be vulnerable to a smooth-talking neckbeard snake whispering to them, “They’re changing the rules. They’re outsiders. What happened to the things that matter?” Losing the place they belong can be more important to some than trying to address political issues in communities.

Fandom is built in partly on passion, partly on accruing knowledge and experiences. This combination lets fans both embrace that which they love—be it a book, musician, film, or anything else—and perhaps even take it to places that the work by itself would never travel. Fandom creates communities and communication, and it encourages fans to pool their resources together and establish some common ground. But when that common ground is challenged, or finds its foundation shaken by newer generations eager with different preconceived notions of what’s good or acceptable in both people and works, it can create schisms between fans.

In a way, it reflects the world’s politics at large, as previously established majorities have seen their numbers slowly dwindle in ways where numbers alone will not let them hold onto power, and a loss of influence can be downright frightening for those accustomed to always being on top in their own universes. Even if there’s an intellectual understanding that the actions of today are meant to address certain past injustices, it can be a bitter pill for those who assumed a stable foundation in their comics fandom.

Sonya Blade is No Longer a Terrible Character

Several years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Sonya Blade is a Terrible Character,” specifically referring to problems in her visual design. Since then, I feel that Netherrealm Studios, the people behind Mortal Kombat, have made significant and positive changes to her look. I no longer think my previous complaints quite apply.

sonyablades2In my original post, I had two criticisms. First, her overall look wasn’t that great in the first place from an aesthetic and character design perspective. Second, her features haven’t been visually or thematically consistent enough. This wasn’t a problem with Mortal Kombat in general, as Scorpion and Liu Kang for example have iconic elements that make you instantly think of them as Scorpion and Liu Kang, and it wasn’t a problem of appealing to horny teenagers because that hasn’t prevented other games from establishing their characters’ signature looks that make them memorable and recognizable. Even Street Fighter V, which heavily revised many popular characters’ designs to no shortage of controversy, still kept the general feel of the characters intact. That wasn’t the case with Sonya Blade.

Sonya_2RENDER

In the years since, Mortal Kombat X has come out and now Mortal Kombat 11 is set for release this year, and it’s clear that they’ve worked to establish a more consistent default look for Sonya. Instead of a vague gesture of “blond, big-boobed soldier” that permeated most of her recent designs and outfits, the current Sonya sports a form-fitting yet functional jumpsuit that effectively communicates her military special forces background. What I especially like about her current look is that it doesn’t deny her sex appeal, but at the same time doesn’t let it take over her entire design.

Not only does she look cooler overall, but now, whenever I see her, I instantly think “Sonya Blade!” without necessarily needing to be told in advance who it is. That alone is a major improvement that I hope the developers of Mortal Kombat keep for a long time.