Simon’s Rival?: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2020

At the end of last year, I hoped that 2020 would turn out better. I’m starting to doubt whether that’ll happen. But before I get too somber, I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

The big news of the day is COVID-19, the new and highly contagious coronavirus. Even within the specific realm of Japanese culture (let alone the rest of the world), it’s causing schools to be closed, anime and music events to be canceled, and even the Tokyo Olympics might not be safe. Asia is in a panic, cases of the infection are cropping up all over the world, and here in the US, an utterly incompetent executive branch is more concerned with the stock market than people’s well-being.

I don’t intend to panic nor cause others to panic, but I hope that everyone, no matter who they are, take care of themselves. Don’t try to power through sick days. Get the help you need. Get a flu shot to reduce the chances of your flu-like symptoms actually being the flu.

Now, back to your regular scheduled Ogiue Maniax update.

Blog highlights from February:

Mewtwo vs. Mewtwo: Notable Voices in “The Wonderland”

Two of the voice actors who have played Mewtwo show up in the same movie! Also, The Wonderland is great, and you should check it out.

Talkin’ About Shaft: Oogami-san, Dada More Desu

The end of a cute and racy manga about a girl with an incredibly dirty imagination.

The Source of Life: “Ride Your Wave” Film Review

Yuasa Masaaki’s new film is great, and its message powerful.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 25 reveals more about Jin’s family, and the fears and doubts he has about himself.

Patreon-Sponsored

Play the Anime in Your Living Room: Discovering Anime Board Games and Card Games

A request to write about anime-themed games turned into a discovery of some quite creative traditional games.

Apartment 507

I wrote a little bit about Jimbocho, the book town of Tokyo.

Closing

Economic impact is inevitable, but I’m curious as to whether COVID-19 will have any creative impact in terms of the anime and manga that will be made. How appropriate it is that the current season of Precure, Healin’ Good Precure, has a medicine and environmental theme.

What a Dream Boat: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 25

Another new character brings further insight into Jin’s history in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 25.

Summary

The Hashimoto Tech Chorus Appreciation Society has arrived at M-Con, nervous about competing. Day One is just for observation, though, and they see Nishigafuchi (the school they visited previously) succeed. They’re also worried about Shuusuke not showing up after he tore down Jin so thoroughly, but luckily, he arrives. However, another figure appears as well: a girl named Shouji Yumerun, a classmate of Jin’s when they were kids, and when she looked very different.

Yumerun mentions becoming a pupil of Jin’s mom, and that this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—words meant to comfort, it seems, but which have the opposite effect. Jin begins to think about why it is he’s so unable to be naturally expressive, and how he gathers people who make up for this weakness. The chapter ends with him getting ready to ask Akira a question.

Jin’s Intuition

I’m actually surprised to discover that Jin sees himself as talentless, and that all of his singing ability comes from hard work and study, if only because he has come across as such a natural in previous chapters. In Naruto terms, he’s the Rock Lee everyone thinks is a Sasuke, and it makes him more relatable in some ways.

Another character Jin reminds me of is Mike from Monsters, Inc. Like Mike, Jin has the theory down but can only take it so far due to a lack of natural ability. The fact that Jin has such an eye for talent further reinforces this image while also adding an extra wrinkle to his character. He finds people with the raw potential he himself lacks, almost to an intuitive degree.

Yumerun

We get another new character in Yumerun, who drops some hints about Jin’s past and his relationship with his mom. Apparently, Jin and Yumerun were classmates, and he helped bring her into music. Now, she’s studying under Jin’s mom, and she thinks this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—implying perhaps that Jin felt pressure to succeed his mom, and that maybe Yumerun has a thing for him?

I’m struck by Yumerun’s words, particularly when she says to Jin, “You won’t be told anymore to stop escaping into the chorus just because you lack talent.” What I interpret this to mean is that Jin likes singing in a group because it better hides his deficiencies. Rather than just being a passion, it’s also a defense mechanism.

In the Mind But Not in the Heart

Every chapter review, I record all the music terms that crop up, partially because they’re in Japanese and not necessarily common knowledge even for fluent speakers. But it’s also because I have little to no musical knowledge or ability, so I feel the need to try and understand. The fact that Jin has a somewhat similar struggle makes these sections take on a new meaning of sorts. As someone not musically inclined, it’s hard for me to tell if these flaws of his are really that basic or if it’s the difference between being decent and being elite, though the fact that no one at Nishigafuchi said anything makes me think the latter.

In this instance, Yumerun brings up all the things Jin has trouble with: enunciating s, k, and z sounds; the nuances of syncopation;  and techniques for emotional expression. Apparently, he can understand it on paper, but has trouble doing it himself. Syncopation is “a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats.”

Songs

No songs this month, but the fact that the previous storyline is officially known as the “Spitz arc” amuses me.

Final Thoughts

The Chorus as a place where people who lack in certain areas can support one another feels like the story of a team sports manga, as opposed to ones about individual competitors. Hashikko Ensemble might not have the attractive characters or the pizzazz to attract regular sports manga readers, but I wonder if this possible theme of “the sum being greater than the parts” might resonate still.

The Source of Life: “Ride Your Wave” Film Review

While I never pretend to be some kind of distanced critic of anime, I find it virtually impossible to approach director Yuasa Masaaki and producer Eunyoung Choi’s latest film, Ride Your Wave, with any kind of staunch objectivity. It’s a heartfelt story of love, loss, and learning to see yourself in a new light, and having watched it right at a point in life where its messages and emotions resonate with me deeply and cause my eyes to well up, I have basically nothing but praise for this movie.

Ride Your Wave (aka Kimi to, Nami o Noretara in Japanese) follows Hinako, a bright and energetic surfer girl who wants to live on her own by the ocean. After her apartment accidentally catches fire, she’s rescued by a handsome fireman named Minato, and the two start a loving relationship. However, after Minato loses his life rescuing people from some dangerous waters, Hinako becomes unable to even think about the ocean, let alone surf. But then she discovers that she can “see” Minato in any water source by singing their favorite song, and it drives her to re-discover her happiness and her inspiration to keep on living.

Love is about as common a topic in fiction as you can possibly get, but I feel it’s actually rare to see characters who come across as genuinely in love with each other. There’s a kind of “dramatic love” you often see, and there’s narratives revolving around characters finding their love, but you don’t often see the kind of love borne out of small, everyday gestures that you find in real life. Ride Your Wave’s depiction of Hinako and Minato is extremely powerful in this regard, and the tragedy hits ten times harder as a result.

But much like Pixar’s Up (a favorite of mine), that’s only the beginning of the story, and where Ride Your Wave takes its characters is uplifting while acknowledging the pain and tears. It all feels so raw and beautiful—the joy and the sorrow alike. In recent days, I’ve found myself dwelling on the fear that comes with the possibility of suddenly losing someone you hold dear, without any warning, and Ride Your Wave prompted me to confront how I might feel if thrown in that situation. I don’t think I’ve quite felt this way since I watched Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises, which also struck me at just the right time to basically electrify me to my core.

I will make one note about the aesthetic aspect of the film. Ever since founding his studio Science Saru, Yuasa Masaaki’s works have hit a kind of accessibility not as present in his older works, and Ride Your Wave furthers this trend. But rather than being a concession to mainstream sensibilities, it’s more a compromise that uses the loose and expressive aesthetics characteristic of Yuasa to tell an emotional story about love, loss, and finding yourself again. It’s identifiably Yuasa, but this is not just a film for animation buffs, or those who like a more daring artistic style.

Ride Your Wave had a one-day-only theater release through Fathom Events, and I hope it gets a wider release. It really deserves every accolade it can get. Now, if only I could get that song out of my head…

Play the Anime in Your Living Room: Discovering Anime Board Games and Card Games

When I think of anime and traditional games, e.g. card games and board games, the things that come to mind are Yu-Gi-Oh! or maybe something Pokemon-related. On the more hardcore end are games such as Weiss Schwarz, which allows you to build and cross over multiple series in a competitive TCG, or the digital card game Shadowverse, which carries an anime aesthetic.

What I never knew until very recently is the amount of anime and manga-themed games out there, as well as the degree to which they try to either faithfully capture the spirit of their source material or whatever idea it is they’re trying to convey.

The resource I found that gave me a bit of insight into how deep this rabbit hole goes is Hoobby.net’s Boardgamer section, which you can filter by “anime” or “manga.” Due to issues of accessibility and time, I haven’t had the chance to play any of them (and thus cannot actually give a real assessment), but I can appreciate their existence.

Some of the games focus on a broader theme from anime and manga. “Book Makers,” for instance, puts you in the role of readers of a shounen manga’s tournament arc, and you’re basically sending in reader surveys to determine which characters progress in the competition. Sadly, it seems like the game is out of print, or at least no longer has a functioning website. Perhaps the idea was too niche. Another game, “Light Novel Label,” has the player as a light novel editor fostering your authors.

Others are based on established properties, and it’s in that realm that the sheer variety of the games I found genuinely surprises me.

It’s one thing to have a simulated tactical board game based on Girls und Panzer. It’s a popular title and the competitive tank-battle motif plays perfectly into the format. Even the Love Live! board game isn’t terribly surprising, even if its concept of “make a sub-unit and gather more fans” is more of a stretch than GuP. Where it gets really wild is in examples like the Pop Team Epic card game and the Mayoiga: The Lost Village card game.

The Pop Team Epic card game, or more specifically the “Pop Team Epic KUSO [SHITTY] Card Game,” is actively designed to be hilarious but also kind of anti-fun–appropriate for such a trollish manga and anime series. In the instructions, it says, “Whoever remains is the winner. If all players are out, then Bandai Corporation is declared the winner.” The Lost Village’s card game seems to be a mystery/horror game where you play as five of the characters from the anime and try to survive your trauma, but anyone who’s seen that TV series knows that it does not lend itself well to a board game, and perhaps not even to an anime. The most important thing is that you can indeed play as the breakout “star” of the series, Hyouketsu no Judgeness.

Perhaps the most shocking game I found in terms of just existing is the board game for Genma Taisen, aka Harmageddon, from 1983. It’s not entirely out of left field, but I just never expected that anyone would have tried to distill that series into some kind of playable format, though the fact that it predates the Famicom might be a contributing factor.

A lot of the games don’t seem to have much longevity, which is tragic in its own way. Maybe someone will see one of the less beloved games and give it a second chance, and sparking some kind of second wind. Until then, they seem more like curios and conversation pieces.

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

Insane in the Menbre: 22/7 Anime vs. Youtube Thoughts

When the anime for fictional idol group 22/7 was first announced, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My only exposure to them was through the Youtube channel of Fujima Sakura, one of the characters in the franchise. Played by Sally Amaki, a Japanese-American who moved to Japan to become an idol, the resulting videos were surprisingly off the wall. Videos like the one about using “menbre” as cutesy shorthand for “mental breakdown” set the tone for 22/7 in my mind as this quirky idol group that wasn’t afraid of gallows humor. Contributing to this was the fact that Sally Amaki herself would express on Twitter some of the challenges of being an idol and talk about her love of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to the extent that fans threw bags of them onto the stage at Anime Expo. It was like 22/7 and Fujima Sakura peeled back just a layer or two of the idol illusion—enough to entice but not to ruin.

So I jumped into the first few episodes of the 22/7 anime wondering if any of the above would be reflected. To my surprise, the series has taken a completely different approach: a mostly serious show about conflict and self-doubt. Fujima Sakura is a prominent part of the series, but she’s not the main character. Instead, it’s primarily about Takigawa Miu, who’s portrayed as having a crippling lack of confidence stemming from childhood difficulties. There’s tension from the very beginning in ways that I don’t see from many other idol anime. To some extent, the dramatic nature of the 22/7 anime in contrast to the silliness of the Youtube channel feels like when you go between the Love Live! anime vs. the mobile game or the Drama CDs—only that difference is dialed to 11. 

I appreciate the anime’s take on things, partly because Miu is such a different heroine compared to those found in other idol series. Whether it’s Amami Haruka (The iDOLM@STER) or Kosaka Honoka (Love Live!), they tend to fall under this umbrella of “generally optimistic and cheerful girls who are pretty normal but try their best.” Starting with someone who’s struggling internally from the very beginning (and not just in an “I’m too plain” sort of way) is pretty refreshing. The anime also has other eccentricities that at the very least pique my curiosity, such as the mysterious “wall” that gives the members of 22/7 their orders. It reminds me of a similar entity in AKB0048, only it actually seems even more bizarre in the 22/7 anime because of the relatively mundane setting.

I’m not sure if this is the presentation of 22/7 its creators wanted all along, or if maybe it’s intentionally different in order to achieve a different kind of appeal, but it’s an attempt at doing something compelling. I don’t mind it, though one potential consequence is that Sally Amaki’s Twitter seems a lot cleaner and more professional, which might ironically take away from her and Fujima Sakura’s original appeal. Sometimes a diamond in the rough stands out precisely because of its situation.

Dongs of History: Golden Kamuy

After two seasons of Golden Kamuy, I think I finally have an understanding of how I feel about it. A combination of historical fiction, action/adventure, slapstick comedy, multicultural spotlight, and cooking show, it’s a series that messes with conventional genre boundaries. If Golden Kamuy were a chef, it would be the kind who puts in more lemon juice when you ask for more sugar. Even so, I’ve come to really appreciate that it can be so jarringly disparate, as the work comes across as genuinely passionate and uncompromising.

Golden Kamuy centers on Sugimoto Saichi, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, and his pursuit of a hidden Ainu treasure. Having earned the nickname “Immortal Sugimoto” for his military exploits—namely his seeming ability to survive any wound or calamity no matter how severe—he teams up with an Ainu girl named Asirpa. Together, they form a powerful bond that takes the two through layers of conspiracy, eccentric enemies and allies alike, and greater understanding of each others’ cultures and customs.

It can sound like a fairly straightforward and serious work, but its mood can swing wildly from one moment to the next. Golden Kamuy can go from showing Sugimoto’s PTSD, to featuring Asirpa’s hilariously wacky faces as she cooks, to displaying a bloody and merciless battle, to presenting a seemingly endless parade of dick jokes, to focusing on a genuine and heartfelt moment between Sugimoto and Asirpa. Combined with an overwhelmingly large cast of characters who are individually memorable but also hard to keep track of due to sheer size, experiencing Golden Kamuy can sometimes feel like whiplash. But when all engines are running at full steam, there are few series that can compare in terms of excitement, comedy, and emotion. You just kind of never quite know what you’re going to get, except maybe “everything.”

As of Season 2 of Golden Kamuy, the stakes are higher than ever, and the series leaves me with a lasting impression of its bizarre charisma. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.

Distillation of the Busty Failure: Ponkotsu Musume no Nichijou

A couple years ago, I noticed a trend in characters that I called “busty failures”—a translation of the Japanese terms ponkotsu plus kyonyuu. Their primary qualities are, as the term implies, big chests combined with a tendency to be unreliable wrecks. In hindsight, maybe “busty disasters” would’ve been a better choice.

Often times, characters breed unspoken archetypes, which lead to categorization. At some point, these archetypes might become explicitly acknowledged by the very medium they’ve come from. I think the busty failure has reached that point with the recent four-panel gag manga Ponkotsu Musume no Nichijou (“Failure Girl’s Everyday Life”) by Kawakami Masaki.

The series is as expected: an attractive girl (name: Ponkotsu Ato) tries to get through life but mucks things up in the process. It’s fanservicey as all heck (as implied by the cover), and lacks any sort of topical veneer like Dagashi Kashi does with the “cheap snack foods” gimmick. It’s very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get title.

In other words, Ponkotsu Musume no Nichijou is geared towards a very specific audience, i.e. the kind of person who revels in busty failures. Personally speaking, I think I’d prefer just a little more substance. A series so unabashedly horny isn’t inherently bad, and the character does feel more relatable than other instances of the archetype, but it could aspire to more. Who knows? Maybe it’ll go places over time.

 

Hellmaster Februeezo: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2020

February has been a turbulent month, as I’ve been paying close attention to the impeachment and its aftermath. But in times like these, I think the ability to find in the stories we love a joy that is both comforting and invigorating is important. Having this blog helps me in many ways, and I try to keep it positive yet critical.

In that respect, I’d like to thank my patrons, who help Ogiue Maniax keep going.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

In other news, I’ve started writing again for Apartment 507. It’s been about two years since my last article on there. I’ll include anything I write there in these monthly updates.

Highlights from January:

“Genshiken Nidaime” Ogiue Chika Voice, “Yamamoto Nozomi,” Gets Married

Call me biased, but any bit of Ogiue news is worth noting.

Our Rap Battle Goes On! “Change” Final Review

One of my recent favorite manga, about Japanese rap battles, comes to an abrupt close.

Byleth and the “Fire Emblem” Tactical Spirit in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”

It’s a tiny bit outdated at this point, but I still think Byleth’s style embraces and adapts Fire Emblem gameplay into Smash.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 24 brings an interesting twist to Jin’s character.

Patreon-Sponsored

Nijisanji, Hololive, and the Virtual Youtuber Kayfabe

I was asked to write about these virtual youtubers, and so I did!

Closing

I know this isn’t anime-related, but please listen to Adam Schiff make his closing remarks at the impeachment trial. I think these words will stick in the public memory for a long, long time.

Jyushin Thunder Liger: The Impossible Gimmick

January 6, 2020 marked the end of an era as beloved Japanese wrestler Jyushin Thunder Liger retired. His achievements are many, from innovating the Shooting Star Press (now seen in wrestling matches all over the world) to being perhaps the greatest junior heavyweight ever. One thing that stands out to me in his long career is how insane it is that he managed to embrace his ridiculous gimmick, his outward identity as a wrestler, and elevate it to the point of world-wide recognition.

Jyushin Thunder Liger’s name and look is taken from a manga and anime by Nagai Go, creator of Mazinger Z, Devilman, and Cutie Honey. This by itself isn’t unusual. After all, the wrestling manga character Tiger Mask became a real-life wrestler as well. But Jyushin Liger the fictional work isn’t about wrestling or even athletics—it’s about a boy who can summon and fuse with a “bio-armor” to fight evil. The anime isn’t even considered a memorable classic, and yet, Jyushin Thunder Liger somehow made it not just work, but took it over. Now, when you say the words “Jyushin Liger,” you’re probably more likely to get someone who knows the wrestler than the source material. His entrance theme is just the theme song to the Jyushin Liger anime (and makes zero sense in the context of pro wrestling), but rather than being considered hokey, it brings out raucous cheers.

Imagine if a 90s American wrestler was saddled with a Street Sharks gimmick—not even a big property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—and still wrestled as a Street Shark thirty years later until his retirement brought literal tears to people’s faces. Picture this guy coming out to “They fight, they bite, chewin’ up evil with all their might!” to a standing ovation. That’s basically what Jyushin Thunder Liger accomplished. The closest real equivalent I can think of is the Undertaker, who has played some form of undead wrestling zombe lord (and briefly a American motorcycle rider in the early 2000s) for the majority of his career. Or maybe if RoboCop’s cameo in WCW saw him transition into a regular wrestler who consistently put on great matches.

So here’s to Jyushin Thunder Liger and his global legend. Now let’s see if any new wrestlers come out as Bang Dream! characters.

Mewtwo vs. Mewtwo: Notable Voices in “The Wonderland”

The Wonderland (Birthday Wonderland in Japanese) is a film packed with whimsy, imagination, and a tale of a young girl finding the strength to keep going. The movie is directed by Hara Keiichi (Miss Hokusai), and I really recommend it. 

But there’s also something about the film that delights me on a much more personal level: it features not one, but two different voice actors who have played the Pokemon Mewtwo.

In the role of Hippocrates the Alchemist is Ichimura Masachika, who voiced Mewtwo in the anime film Mewtwo Strikes Back, Mewtwo Lives (aka Mewtwo Returns), and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He’s known for much more than anime—being the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera—but it’s his performance as the Genetic Pokemon that is nearest and dearest to me. He brings a similar gravitas to his Hippocrates, though The Wonderland also allows a more comedic side as well. 

The antagonist of The Wonderland, Zan Gu, is played by Fujiwara Keiji—Mewtwo in Smash 4 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s known for roles such as Makes Hughes in Fullmetal Alchemist and Holland in Eureka Seven. Zan Gu is actually more similar to Mewtwo, but Fujiwara doesn’t give the two the exact same vocal quality.

As an aside, if you want to hear both of them perform dialogue as Mewtwo, switch your copy of Melee and Ultimate to Japanese.

Having two Mewtwos is a rare distinction for any work, and it’s all the better that they give such stellar performances in a strong movie like The Wonderland. I’m not saying you should go see the film just for the acting, but they definitely make it even better.