Lots of Brain with a Bit of Heart: Combat in Girls und Panzer das Finale

After years of waiting, I finally got the chance to watch Girls und Panzer das Finale: Part 2 thanks to a sweet sale from Sentai Filmworks. The second in a planned six-part film series to wrap up the “girls in tanks for sport” franchise, Part 2 is definitely not a standalone movie. It introduces no new characters, doesn’t have any real major revelations, and is probably better thought of as an extra-long TV episode. Even so, I don’t mind one bit. What I’ve come to remember just from sitting down with this second movie is that there is something inherently joyful to Girls und Panzer, and I think it comes down to how it handles the portrayal of combat.

Whether by fists or by vehicles, I find that fights in action-oriented anime largely fall under two categories: brain-oriented and heart-oriented. “Brain-oriented” means ones where characters win or lose because of strategic or tactical circumstances. They don’t necessarily have to be “realistic;” there just has to be an internal logic. Stand battles in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which focus on overcoming an enemy’s specific strengths and weaknesses, are a prime example. “Heart-oriented,” on the other hand,” comes down to essentially “they won because they wanted it more.” Most battles in Fist of the North Star are this way, even though the series ostensibly is a clash of different martial arts—ultimately, it’s about Kenshiro’s righteous anger. It’s also not uncommon to see hybrids that aim to achieve satisfaction in both. Gaogaigar is a notable example of a hybrid, especially because it involves taking a heart-based skill (“bravery”) as a power source for brain-based decisions while fighting (“the G-Stone is powered by bravery.”)

Girls und Panzer revels in its battle scenes. But while Girls und Panzer has a good deal of heart to it, that’s really not what side its bread is buttered on. Its tank battles are brain-oriented through and through, and what I find interesting is just how much the series avoids expository dialogue to convey that focus. Whether it’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or Legend of the Galactic Heroes, brain-oriented fare often revels in that verbosity, and while I don’t worship at the altar of “show, don’t tell,” Girls und Panzer does make for a very compelling experience. In das Finale: Part 2, concepts like positioning are conveyed mostly visually without the need for diagrammatic maps. While I most definitely don’t have any sort of practical combat experience (in tanks or otherwise), the film makes you feel like you’re both an outside observer and in the thick of it. 

Of course, brain-oriented battles assume brains, and that it’s not just a bunch of empty tanks on autopilot. In this respect, characters in Girls und Panzer serve an important function. Aside from being cute girls whose personalities satirize cultures around the world (including Japan), their behaviors provide windows into how they think and approach both competition and life in general. For example, the first fight in das Finale: Part 2 comes down to exploiting underlying intrateam rifts by utilizing commonalities in certain tank designs, and it is incredibly silly while also making total sense.

A part of me can’t believe that Girls und Panzer is coming up on its 10-year anniversary. But every time it shows back up, I know that it’s going to deliver. The love and effort poured into the franchise is hard to deny, and the sheer amount of earnest fun is virtually palpable. Its breed of brain-oriented combat is still rare in this day, and as it gradually rolls to the finish line, I hope others take up the mantle.

Ultimate Dancouga in Super Robot Wars 30 is Quintessential Obari Masami

One of the highlights of any Super Robot Wars game is seeing how awesome mecha look in their attack animations. So when Ultimate Dancouga first performed its ultimate attack in Super Robot Wars 30, I expected the kind of spectacle associated with its designer, Obari Masami. After all, he personally designed this exclusive version of Dancouga for the game, and his penchant for flashy action poses is unmistakable. When I first saw Ultimate Dancouga strike the characteristic warped-perspective sword pose seen above during its Dancou Shinken technique, I could only think “Yep, there it is!”

But then a few other thoughts immediately followed. “Why didn’t I associate this Obari Pose with Dancouga’s finishing moves in SRW?” “Did it even strike the Obari Pose in older titles?” “Did it ever Obari Pose in the original anime?!”

That’s when I remembered: The 1980s anime Super Beast Machine God Dancouga predates the Obari Pose, which emerged in the 1990s with the Brave franchise! In fact it’s sometimes more commonly known as the Brave Perspective and Sunrise Stance, among other things.

Sure, recent toy releases make reference to the Pose, but it’s not the same as having it in the show itself. And while there’s been plenty of creative license with attacks throughout SRW, their desire to capture the flavor of the source material is likely why the Pose never made it in. On top of that, the Dancouga TV anime was Obari’s first credit as mecha designer, so the series holds a special place in his massive body of work.

So Ultimate Dancouga ends up being a kind of “combination” of two aspects of Obari’s legacy: It’s his first professional mecha design striking his signature pose. It’s not technically going full circle, but there’s a wholeness to Dancou Shinken that makes it satisfying.

Making and Sharing Lemonade: Princess Connect! Re:Dive Season 2

The first season of Princess Connect! Re:Dive was a surprise hit for me. In a seemingly endless field of mobile game adaptations, this one manages to achieve a nice balance between plenty of irreverent hijinks among its core characters with a bit of intrigue surrounding its greater plot and world. Season 2 flips the ratio, leaning more heavily into the overarching narrative, but I find it still enjoyable in its own right. In a certain sense, having the former take a more episodic approach gives more dramatic weight to the latter.

One thing I find particularly fascinating about Re:Dive is the way it connects to the original Princess Connect (sans Re:Dive) by giving the “player character,” Yuuki, more dimensions through turning his story into a redemption arc. It’s established throughout the anime that the world portrayed in the anime is something of a “redo” after a final battle against a great villain went horribly wrong, which renders Yuuki initially amnesiac. “Having things happen to you” is not the same thing as having a personality, but in giving this origin story to Yuuki, it lets him feel like a character all his own instead of an automatic audience stand-in. Takasaki Yu from Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club shares a similar circumstance, and like Yuuki, is there in part to show how great everyone else is.

Making the vanilla Princess Connect the backstory for a bigger and better sequel turns out to be a solid idea, and it actually reminds me of another game franchise: Street Fighter. The very first game is widely regarded as the worst one just by virtue of awkwardly imprecise controls and the lack of a large playable character roster, but the roots were there. And like Princess Connect, it’s the sequel that would become more of a gold standard—and the sprinkling of story from Street Fighter would become the exciting backdrop for Street Fighter II. After all, how much more awesome is the rivalry between Ryu and Sagat when the canon says Ryu scarred Sagat with a Shoryuken and drove the former champion to develop his own leaping uppercut? 

For that matter, the way that various characters in Season 2 of the Re:Dive anime show up to reward their fans without overshadowing the Big Plot feels like how a fighting game anime would ideally work if adapted into a TV series. I never finished Street Fighter II V, so I can’t say how that one goes.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive Season 2 gets around to more or less wrapping up the big threads established from Season 1, but given that it’s a mobile game, there’s inevitably going to be some more story. I hope it can keep up the general joy and excitement that made me a fan in the first place. 

Shinkalion Z, Ooishi Misaki, and Fat Positivity

Attractive portrayals of fat girls are a real rarity in anime and manga, and when they do exist, they tend to have something of a fetish quality (see: Real Drive or Pochamani). It’s less common to see a character with a less conventional appearance featured in a romantic way that doesn’t draw specific attention to her size. But we have one in, of all series, Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z.

Ooishi Misaki is an operator for the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute Yokokawa Branch, and is one of a handful of characters who fulfill the role of moving levers and hitting triggers to provide upgrades to the Shinkalion robots. In other words, she fulfills a role akin to Mikoto in Gaogaigar, and receives similar cool moments while working in the command center.

Partway into the series, a female character reveals that she’s actually a member of the enemy forces, and a guy in love with her named Hosokawa Atsuto feels betrayed and upset. Just as he tosses a souvenir he received from the spy into the water, Misaki happens to show up, and the Atsuto sees her in a dazzling new light, and finds himself smitten by her beauty in that moment.

Misaki does not exhibit negative fat stereotypes. She’s not comically eating all the time. She’s not constantly trying to diet. No one draws attention to her size versus other characters in the series. She’s different without any particular focus on that difference, and even Atsuto’s attraction looks like any other in anime and manga. That unremarkable quality is itself noteworthy, and I feel like it goes a step in the right direction.

Dang, Spring Anime Is Really Good: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for May 2022

I know I’m probably not the first person to say this, but the Spring 2022 anime season has been rock-solid. I can’t watch every show, but the sheer amount of quality made for quite an enjoyable April, even as the world continues to teeter between hope and despair. Spy x Family, Ya Boy Kongming, Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Birdie Wing, and a whole host of other series are just knocking it out of the park.

Thanks again to all my followers on Patreon!

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from April:

Navigating Your Cultures: Himawari House

My review of a comic about living in Japan as an Asian expat and searching for identity.

Super Robot Wars 30, Gaogaigar, and J-Decker: The Compromises of a Composite Narrative

Thoughts on the combining of two different Brave anime in SRW30.

The Art of Love: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

A great little movie that went under the radar.

Kio Shimoku

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter was full of design drawings for Hashkko Ensemble. There’s a lot of insight into his early decisions for the manga!

Closing

One other piece of big news from April was the announcement and release of the final DLC for Super Robot Wars 30. I still can’t believe Shinkalion made it in! It makes me want to draw giant robot fanart…

Not a Circle, but a Sphere of ’Em: The Orbital Children

I’m not the kind of anime fan who thinks having specific names on a project is the be-all, end-all. That said, as soon as I saw that there was a new anime by the director of Dennou Coil, Iso Mitsuo—with character designs by Yoshida Ken’ichi (Eureka Seven, Gundam Reconguista in G), no less—I knew I had to watch it. The Orbital Children (also known as Extraterrestrial Boys & Girls) is in many ways a spiritual successor to Dennou Coil, but rather than elementary school kids’ experiences in a world where augmented reality is commonplace, it’s about young teens in a world where humanity has to grapple with the consequences of “rogue” artificial intelligence and failed space colonization.

Orbital Children is set in 2045 aboard a space station and follows five kids ages 12–14. Three of them are from Earth, having won a promotional trip to the station, while the other two are the last surviving members of an attempt to bear and raise children on the moon. When an asteroid hits, the emergency forces them into a fight for their lives, but also into a confrontation with how they view the world, humanity, and themselves. Underlying all of this is the fact that the failure to create and sustain life in space is the result of a defunct artificial intelligence known as “Seven,” which was the most powerful ever before being shut down for going out of control.

Advertisements for The Orbital Children do not shy away from making associations with Dennou Coil. In comparing the two, I prefer Dennou Coil, but this has largely to do with format differences. Whereas the latter is a 26-episode TV series given time to both meander and slow-build its narrative, The Orbital Children is only six episodes and originally released in Japanese theaters as two 3-episode “movies” before becoming available on Netflix. I also am a bigger fan of the character conflicts and the eerie quality of AR as experienced by kids, but I also really appreciate the earnest confrontation with science and technology through the lens that The Orbital Children provides. In many ways, it feels like a spiritual successor to Dennou Coil precisely because it better conveys the concerns of children who are older but while still grounding it in this science fictional setting. 

Ultimately, the series asks the audience whether we’re too afraid of how things might turn out to be that we shield the young and try to keep them from learning more about the world in the ways that make sense to them. Rather than forcing them to go one direction while trying to hide all the bad stuff out there, isn’t readier access to more information and faith in their intelligence and reasoning the better way to go? When I think about this, I can feel my own fear influencing my beliefs, but there’s an element of realization that has hit every generation: Try as you might, you can’t truly control how kids think, so it’s better to foster learning.

Super Robot Wars 30, Shinkalion, and Pioneering DLC

The developers of Super Robot Wars 30 have announced a final expansion pack that brings many surprises, the biggest of which are new DLC units.

  • Scopedog, Scopedog TC LRS (Armored Trooper Votoms)
  • Ultimate Dancouga (Super Beast Machine God Dancouga)
  • Red 5+ (Majestic Prince: Genetic Awakening)
  • Getter 1, Getter 2, Getter 3 (Getter Robo Devolution: The Last 3 Minutes of the Universe)
  • Shinkalion E5 Hayabusa Mk. II, Shinkalion E5 Mk. II Over Cross ALFA-X (Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie)
  • Dygenguar with Aussenseiter (Super Robot Wars Alpha 3)

Gan Gan Zudandan

The big news on this list in my opinion is Shinkalion, not because it’s one of my long-desired franchises for SRW or anything, but because it has ties to a major company like Japan Railway. In hindsight, however, it was ridiculous to think that could be a barrier: Shinkalion did already appear in the mobile game Super Robot Wars X-Ω, and the series itself is crossover central. Seeing the series debut is nice, and I enjoy how the originally-3DCG units in this game have a different look and feel to them (see also ULTRAMAN). I’ll also be hoping for DLC missions where train otaku Hayato gets to geek out with all other mega nerds in the cast. Too bad Evangelion isn’t in SRW30 for some truly fun references.

I’m Seeing Double: Four Ryomas!

The other new main-series debut is Getter Robo Devolution, and I’m surprised at its inclusion. While other SRW have taken references from multiple Getter Robo series at the same time (mostly in terms of how Shin Getter Robo presents itself), this is the first time we’re seeing variations of the same characters crossing over—and no, I’m not counting Sanger and evil Sanger in Alpha Garden. Interestingly, they announced voice actors for these characters (and big ones too!), which makes the decision to omit a lot of the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman mecha all the more mysterious.

Incidentally, the manga is actually out in English from Seven Seas, so I plan on picking it up to see what this one’s all about. It’s also from the creators of Linebarrels of Iron.

30th Anniversary Versions

The Scopedog TC LRS and Ultimate Dancouga stand out because the idea of making special versions of robots specifically for SRW is very rare, with Mazinkaiser being the #1 example. Sometimes there are units taken from unused production materials (like Final Dancouga), but this is a step beyond. Moreover, both anniversary robots are from their original mechanical designers—Ookawara Kunio and Obari Masami, respectively—contributing to the epic feel of this collaboration. I’ll be curious to see what animations the Scopedog has, as I do miss Chirico’s amazing final attack from the SRWZ games.

When Will I Use Them?

I’m in a strange position where I’m pretty much at the final stages of SRW30, and I’m trying to figure out if I should just get all the DLC units before proceeding or if I should focus on them in a possible New Game+. Either way, I can’t wait to try them out.

The Art of Love: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a rare sort of anime film, managing to be highly stylized while delivering a more conventional romance that nevertheless has plenty of surprises. There are no supernatural elements like in Your Name. or Ride Your Wave, and yet it feels otherworldly.

The premise: Sakura “Cherry” Yui is a young and shy haiku poet who greatly prefers writing over speaking. “Smile”—real name Yuki— is a successful streamer, but who wears a mask because she’s embarrassed about her large front teeth. When the two bump into red other and accidentally swap phones, they inadvertently jumpstart a new friendship. Learning about their respective passions, they both grow closer through their art forms. Their budding feelings for each other, in turn, help each respective individual discover more about themselves. 

One thing I love about WBULSP is the way it celebrates multiple forms of art without pretentiousness. There’s the contrast between the tradition of haiku and the cutting edge of live streaming, but there’s also the environmental flourish of graffiti and the retro timelessness of 1960s (?) Japanese music. Distinctions between high and low art fall by the wayside as each artist finds ways to express themselves through their chosen medium. Colors and sound dance playfully throughout, making scene after scene both an aesthetic joy and an emotional one. The additional side plot about an old man looking for a lost vinyl record seems to be a silly detour but then transforms into one of the most impactful moments of the film.

Cherry and Smile don’t so much break out of their comfort zones as find ways to expand them, discovering and fostering confidence through their works. The romance feels like a bit of a slow burn, but it’s the kind that steadily and reliably progresses, as opposed to being full of fits and starts. Neither of them feel as if one is a pure audience stand-in or that the other is too perfect a partner, resulting in a romance that feels very equal in the best of ways.

Super Robot Wars 30, Gaogaigar, and J-Decker: The Compromises of a Composite Narrative

Brave Police J-Decker has made its debut appearance in Super Robot Wars, joining its fellow Brave franchise series King of Braves Gaogaigar. However, J-Decker effectively replaces in Super Robot Wars 30 a huge portion of the Gaogaigar cast of characters—specifically the Brave Robots introduced in the novel sequel King of Kings: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman—and in doing so merges their two plotlines together in a way that defies SRW precedent. It’s something I can appreciate, but I also feel that it comes at the expense of the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach the game franchise is famous for.

While J-Decker precedes Gaogaigar in terms of their air dates (1994 vs. 1997), Super Robot Wars 30 flips things around. The story specifically has the events of the latter take place first, and makes the Brave Police the first Brave Robots since the events of Gaogaigar Final. I find this to be a pretty clever way to tie the two plots together, especially in order to reconcile having an adult Mamoru (the kid character in Gaogaigar) with a young Yuuta from J-Decker

However, the idea that the Brave Police are the latest generation of units doesn’t square with what takes place in the Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novels where a new Brave Robot Corps is formed with the likes of NichiRyu, GetsuRyu, ShoRyu, and Porc-Auto. Those robots aren’t even included in Super Robot Wars 30, meaning that their role in the story has been supplanted by the robots of J-Decker. This is highly unusual, if only because SRW games are often about “more is better.” While the franchise over the past decade-and-change has been trying to streamline a lot of the bloat inherent to it (so no excessively redundant attacks, for example), it’s rare to have them omit entire groups of potentially playable units that are an important factor in the source material.

I suspect that there are a number of extenuating circumstances that resulted in this compromise. It wasn’t that long after the conclusion of Gaogaigar vs. Betterman that SRW30 was announced. There are elements of the story, regardless of the mecha, that are skipped over. In addition, most of the new robots introduced in the novels don’t already have voice actors, so it’s not like calling up Hiyama Nobuyuki and telling him to reprise his role as Guy. While there have been cases of SRW assigning voices where there weren’t any before (see the Virtual On units in Alpha 3), that was also over 15 years ago. 

Incidentally, that’s also a case where only a handful of reps are included (as opposed to every Virtuaroid).

So while having Gaogaigar vs. Betterman is one of my favorite parts of SRW30, the changes made mean we still don’t have the might of the full cast of characters from it. Maybe we’ll see it happen in the future. 

And maybe what could make it easier is having an actual anime version…

Expectation vs. Reality in My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! X

After finishing Season 2 of My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, I’ve been thinking about how the “villainess as protagonist” that has reached English-speaking fans over the past couple years, but also the specific qualities that make the character of Katarina von Claes especially charming. What I realized is that it’s her contrast between her perception of herself and the reality of who she is to other people. She thinks of herself as a cunning mind, but she’s actually incredibly naive.

The premise of the series is that Katarina is a girl from Japan reincarnated into the body of a “villainous elder daughter” character from her favorite visual novel. Knowing the often unfortunate (if not deadly) fate that awaits her along every route, she tries to rewrite game history and avoid all bad endings for Katarina. In doing so, however, she ends up making all the boys (and even some girls) fall for her as she breaks down social mores of high society through being a Machiavellian spaz. Katarina can both concoct a years-long scheme to future-proof herself, but is utterly clueless to the affections of those around her (until they’re made beyond outright).

I was trying to think of a similar character, and what I came upon is a very different heroine who is actually also an isekai protagonist who reincarnated into a girl’s body: Tanya Degurechaff from The Saga of Tanya the Evil. The subject matter may differ (magical international war vs. magical romance), yet the similarities are prominent. Like Katarina, Tanya’s goal is to survive, but their mistaken ideas about how other people think constantly throws wrenches in the works and leads to more trouble. In both cases, there’s a comedy of errors.

Will we see a Season 3? I think there’s enough material from the light novels and enough love for the series that it’s bound to happen. Katarina’s too charming not to have more, and the inconsistency between her self-image and how others perceive her is too strong to deny.