Amuro and Aina’s Excellent Adventures: Otakon 2019

Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

With that said, on to the rest of the con report!

Interviews

I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.

As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.

Panels

Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.

Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.

Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.

Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.

In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.

My Panels

Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.

Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.

I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.

For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!

Bradio Concert

Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.

I would see Bradio again, no doubt.

As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.

Other Notes

I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.

Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!

And lastly, some cosplay.

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We Never Learn: What’s Best vs. What Results in the Greatest Happiness

The two main heroines of the manga We Never Learn have a dilemma. Each is a natural genius in a specific field, but both of them want to specialize in a subject that is their Achilles’ heel. If they play to their strengths, they will have easier lives, and they might even change the world. But their hearts lie in their weak areas, leading to a conflict potentially familiar to many: what’s “best” for them isn’t necessarily what will make them “happiest.”

I think elements like this are why the series has succeeded in maintaining my interest. It’s an understandable struggle that goes beyond the basic harem fanservice qualities of the manga and anime, and while exaggerated for comedic purposes, is something that plenty of people both inside and outside of Japan have to deal with. Do you pursue the impossible dream, do you aim for stability, or do you try to find a middle point? If you achieve less but enjoy the struggle more, is it worthwhile?

It’s clear that We Never Learn supports is characters long-odds pursuits, even as the culture around the manga often says otherwise. I’m not entirely sure if there’s a deeper message overall, but it’s at least one that resonates with anyone who’s had to deal with the conflict between inner hopes and outer expectations.

 

Idols in Flux: Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow

After months and months of waiting, the film Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow finally hit US theaters for a special two-day event. Although cut from the same cloth as the first Love Live! film, it manages to go in interesting directions while also working extra hard to wrap up the loose threads of the Love Live! Sunshine!! TV series, all while putting an emphasis on fun, friendship, and family.

TV SERIES SPOILERS BELOW

After the third-years Kanan, Dia, and Mari graduate, Chika and the rest of the remaining Aqours members decide to continue as Aqours. When they find out that their new school doesn’t have a high opinion of them and the other former students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School, they resolve to use their school idols skills to win over the skeptics, but they seem to be in a funk. Thanks to some advice from their former rivals, Saint Snow, they seek out the third-years to figure out what they’re missing—a journey that takes them to Italy and back.

Much like the first Love Live! The School Idol Movie, Over the Rainbow is a direct sequel to the end of a TV show where the main characters travel to a foreign country to figure out what they want to do with their immediate futures. Where the new film differs is that by having Aqours continue on—unlike the group μ’s from the previous series—it feels less like one last hurrah and more a move into the future yet unseen. If μ’s comes across as mythical because of how they came and went, Aqours is more historical in that their story keeps going.

The film can feel disconnected at times due to the way it often emphasizes the simple idea of seeing the girls of Love Live! Sunshine!! enjoying themselves and having a good time at the expense of greater coherency, but it makes for an entertaining piece that never feels boring or tedious. Central to this positive atmosphere are the multiple song and dance numbers that push the film squarely into “musical” territory, though the best song of the entire film comes from a somewhat unexpected source.

Also of note is the movie’s side story about the Saint Snow sisters, Sarah and Leah. The latter’s guilt over botching a crucial performance in the TV series is the central pillar of their narrative here, and the way it’s both explored and resolved a alongside Aqours’s troubles is possibly my favorite part of the whole thing. I actually considered titling this review “Saint Snow: The School Idol Movie.” Seeing them also made me realize that Sarah and Leah are basically if Ruby were the older sister and Dia were the younger.

Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow is undoubtedly meant for existing fans first and foremost, but the overall positive vibes and the emotional journeys the characters take feel relatable and resonant for even those unfamiliar or skeptical of Love Live! as a franchise. It encourages viewers to accept change as an opportunity and to believe again when hope seems lost.

Thinking About Hong Kong Through the Lens of G Gundam

Hong Kong has been on my mind a lot as of late. Earlier in the year, I began re-watching Mobile Fighter G Gundam, an anime in which the latter half of the series takes place primarily in the futuristic “Neo-Hong Kong.” A few months earlier, I actually visited Hong Kong for the second time ever—the first time was three decades ago when I could barely remember a thing. Then, in recent weeks, news of Hong Kong has been dominated by the ongoing protests there in response to the Mainland Chinese government. This confluence of events has me wondering about how Hong Kong was traditionally portrayed in media, and imagining the possible Hong Kongs that could have been.

Giant robot fighting tournament aside, the Hong Kong of G Gundam is close to the classic portrayal of the territory in the 1980s and 1990s: tall buildings and a mix of glitz and grime, much like in Bloodsport or the countless works to come out of the famed Hong Kong film industry. One major difference between fiction and reality is that in G Gundam, the Neo-Hong Kong government is the sovereign ruler of all nations—a consequence of winning the previous “Gundam Fight” tournament. It’s extra ironic because G Gundam was made in 1994; that’s a mere three years before Hong Kong was to be returned to China after two hundred years as a British colony. According to a talk by director Imagawa Yasuhiro, the producers of G Gundam were aware of this and didn’t care.

While Neo-Hong Kong being the world’s foremost power is portrayed as a double-edged sword, especially in how the appearance of prosperity hides the damage and decay of the Earth itself, seeing a Hong Kong so powerful contrasts with its relatively declining influence in the real world since 1997. Hong Kong had been a major player on the world stage due to the economic freedoms allowed by its British colony status, and the relationship between China and Hong Kong is meant to be “one country, two systems” in order to maintain the make-up of both, but there has long been a growing fear by residents of Hong Kong that this was never meant to last.

Two areas that point to Hong Kong receding from center stage are the film industry and the pop music industry. Hong Kong’s notoriety in movies is a shadow of its former self, while China increasingly funds and influences major Hollywood productions. Cantonese pop from Hong Kong, which swept Asia in previous decades, had a long lull that it seems to only be recovering from now. This stands out all the more because the prime minister of Neo Hong-Kong in G Gundam is named Wong Yun-Fat (a reference to famed director Chow Yun-Fat), and the fact that G Gundam itself has a full-on Cantopop soundtrack for the second half of the anime.

Visiting Hong Kong, I noticed how different each area of the territory is. Hong Kong island feels like it’s somewhere between London and New York’s Chinatown. Kowloon reminds me more of the Asian cities I’ve been to, and is also the namesake of Neo-Hong Kong’s Kowloon Gundam. I didn’t go to the New Territories, but I hear it’s where you live if you want to get away from everything else. Lantau Island, in the New Territories, is actually the site of the final battle in G Gundam. On Sundays, you’ll see countless girls, many in hijabs, occupying the street. That’s because it’s the only day out of the week that the domestic workers of Hong Kong—from Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian countries—have off. Hong Kong is a place of amalgams and contrasts that reflect an economy of haves and have-nots, not unlike the world of G Gundam.

Hong Kong is still significant in the world, but China’s economic rise is one of the biggest stories of the last two decades. Because of the mainland’s increasing global influence, it makes me doubtful that we’ll ever see more Neo-Hong Kongs in media, Hong Kongs that dominate the Earth. “Hong Kong as powerhouse” is an interesting narrative, but because it’s competing with the tale that the influential are seeking to weave, it might very well remain in the imagination.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Furuya Toru

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019 in Washington, DC. Furuya Toru is the voice behind famous anime characters such as Amuro Ray (Gundam), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and Seiya (Saint Seiya).

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Furuya. I have a few questions I’d like to get the answers to. First, you’re known for many famous roles, but one of your early major ones was Hoshi Hyuuma in Star of the Giants. What was it like working on the show with director Nagahama?

Furuya: That was an anime from almost fifty years ago, and back then I was a middle schooler, and back then, Nagahama-san wasn’t there at the recordings. So I actually don’t have too many memories with him, unfortunately.

Ogiue Maniax: I have another question about Star of the Giants. I’ve heard before that there is a famous episode where a pitch–a single pitch–takes the entire episode. I’ve had trouble finding out more about it. Do you recall this episode, and if so, do you remember what it was like to work on it?

Furuya: There wasn’t an episode where a single throw was one episode, but there was an episode where a single inning was one episode. The anime always did this thing where it would end at a really good place–the camera would stop at the ball right in the air, and many people would want to know what happened next. So I think that went on to be talked about as only one throw in that episode

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask about one of your recent roles. One of my favorite roles you’ve done is Casshern in Casshern Sins.

Furuya: With regards to Casshern, back then, I was at a point in time where I was thinking that I’ve gotten old and there’s lots of new people in the industry, and I’m not gonna have many main character roles like before. But then, Casshern from Casshern Sins was an offer I got directly from the director of Casshern Sins, director Yamauchi, who I had worked with previously on Saint Seiya. I was very honored at the fact that I was able to do the main character, and it was a while since I played a main character for a TV series. Unfortunately, maybe it was the overall theme being a bit dark and heavy, but it did not receive as good a reception as we hoped for, but I really like Casshern Sins.

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a really excellent show.

Furuya: [In English] Thank you so much!

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask you about another main character, one that’s more obscure: the main hero from the anime Groizer X. Did you know that the show is actually apparently quite beloved in Brazil?

Furuya: [In English] Really?! [in Japanese] I didn’t know at all. I’ve been to Brazil three times, and I  knew Saint Seiya was popular, but I never heard anything about Groizer X.

Ogiue Maniax: I read online that it was one of the first mecha shows to come to Brazil, so it influenced Brazil in terms of giant robot anime.

Furuya: I think the people there might not realize I did both Kaisaka Joe from Groizer X and Seiya from Saint Seiya.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is going back to your experience with directors. Director Tomino is known for being a very interesting person. As someone who has worked with him a lot, do you have any favorite stories or memorable experiences with Director Tomino?

Furuya: This is going back to Gundam, but back then, Gundam was a very new and novel concept for a show. As the person who came up with it, I thought he was a genius. I also thought he was a very scary person, but he actually came to all of the recordings we had, and he didn’t give too many directions. But back then, I remember that there were a lot of new female voice actors in the field, and lots of them were having a hard time doing their roles. So Director Tomino would actually be very caring to explain exactly how he wanted some acts to be done. So that was memorable.

Ogiue Maniax: Speaking of female voice actors in Gundam, I was recently watching an anime with Inoue You [the voice of Sayla Mass], and to me, you and Inoue both are fantastic voice actors. Sadly, she passed away, so I wanted to know if you have any lasting impressions or memories of her.

Furuya: You-san was in the business since childhood, so I really looked up to her. She was also a really good cook. Back in the Gundam days, after recording, we would go over to her place to have curry that she cooked.

Ogiue Maniax: That’s wonderful. 

When I think about your performances, you’re very good at playing characters of all ages–young, old, different personalities. Do you have any advice for, say, new voice actors who are trying to achieve that versatility?

Furuya: For new people in the voice acting field, I would actually say they should want to experience many things because my personal experience when I get new roles to play is that I go back and do some research on what kind of role this is, what kind of world this is, and what character I’m doing. I would think long and hard about what kind of voice that character would have. I would go as far as to act the same movements as the characters would be making. So I’d actually do it kind of like a play, where I would actually move the same way and give a thought as to what the character would move like, or what the world is like. In that sense, my approach towards those roles is the versatility I have, and to new voice actors, I would suggest them to get many new experiences so they can give more educated thought on how a character may sound like.

Ogiue Maniax: If there’s one message you’d want people to take away from Gundam, what would it be?

Furuya:

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you very much!

Kyoto Animation: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for August 2019

What should have been a delightful month of convention goodness took a turn for the sorrowful due to the deaths and injuries inflicted upon Kyoto Animation. Recent news has mentioned that their server data was recovered intact and that most of their old series are archived elsewhere, granting a silver lining to an otherwise dark and cloudy July. It’s no replacement for the loss of so many lives, but it’s something.

In terms of the blog itself, I’m back from Otakon, and you can expect a couple of interviews with Japanese voice actors Furuya Toru and Inoue Kikuko, as well as an overall con report.

Thank you again to my sponsors on Patreon and ko-fi.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Highlights from July:

In honor of Kyoto Animation, I’m spotlighting the two posts I wrote this past month related to them.

Thoughts on the Kyoto Animation Tragedy

Locking Horns: Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day Review

Another sad moment also hit when Geoff “iNcontrol” Robinson of StarCraft fame died suddenly at the age of 33. I never met him personally, but I felt it harder than I expected to.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 18 is a breakthrough moment for the Chorus Appreciation Society.

Patreon-Sponsored

Takamachi Nanoha: Transcending Yet Beholden to Her Childhood

My thoughts on the heroine of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

Closing

On the upside, the new Smash Bros. character is out, and he’s a ton of fun. The randomness of some of his moves is causing a good deal of debate, and I’m considering writing something about him with respect to this minor controversy.

Also, EVO starts today, with Smash Bros. Ultimate as the Sunday main event! What a time we live in.

Takamachi Nanoha: Transcending Yet Beholden to Her Childhood

When the character of Takamachi Nanoha first appeared, few could have predicted the strange arc she has taken over the past two decades. Originally a typically cute little sister character from the visual novel Triangle Hearts, the most unusual thing about her was that her siblings were secret ninjas. Since then, she’s turned into a world-busting techno-mage in her own Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise, grown into an adult with an adopted daughter, and become a lasting symbol of otaku-oriented magical girl appeal. But because she’s also clearly a lolicon icon, her legacy is a mixed one.

It’s clear that, on some level, Nanoha’s appeal transcends the age of her character at any given moment. Between her cheerful personally, her ability to make friends out of former enemies, and her massive laser weaponry, she’s basically a cross between Cardcaptor Sakura, Son Goku, and a Gundam. Even as she ages up, eventually into her twenties, this basic core of who she is stands the test of time. She well deserves love and admiration in that respect.

However, to deny her intentional appeal to a lolicon audience is to feign ignorance. You don’t have to be a lolicon to like Nanoha, but you can’t refute that the element is part of her design and presentation.

Years ago, I watched Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s—the first two TV series, when Nanoha was still young. My memories are a bit hazy, but despite moments that made me uncomfortable, I felt I could come away with an overall enjoyable experience. Nanoha as a character shines through, as do so many others. She’s cool, she’s strong, and her magical staff Raising Heart will shoot someone into the stratosphere.

But when the remakes came out years later, I didn’t even want to touch them. It wasn’t the new character designs, which gave Nanoha and the rest the most massive eyes possible. That’s just a stylistic choice I could accept. Instead, where it soured me was in the transformation scenes. Magical girl transformations are a hallmark of the genre, and an opportunity to encapsulate the appeal of a show. The Nanoha movies used that opportunity to linger on their nude bodies for an uncomfortable amount of time, seeming at times more like a gravure video than an opportunity to see Nanoha power up. To be fair, it’s not entirely absent in the older works, but they really doubled down on it for the films for the worse.

Takamachi Nanoha has a strange legacy as a result of everything with which she’s associated. Say you’re a fan of Nanoha, and the reactions are bound to be mixed. Her character is timeless in some ways, but her image is inevitably tied to her young self and all it entails.

This post was made possible thanks to Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic or support Ogiue Maniax in general, check out the Patreon.