Rendou World: The Official Term for the Houkago Play Universe

One of my favorite manga artists today is Kurosaki Rendou, who’s known for lanky characters and a bizarrely sensual drawing style. Unlike a lot of manga, Kurosaki’s work actually cross over each other. For example, the main character of Receptacle is the big sister of his arguably most famous work, Houkago Play. In the past, I referred to it as the “Kurosaki Rendouverse,” but I recently found out (according to Amazon!) that there’s actually an official name: “Rendou World.”

There really isn’t much else for me to say. Kurosaki Rendou still has more new manga coming out, so I’m looking forward to seeing more characters from different stories intersect. Will we get cameos from the cast of Chou Nettaiya Orgy?

 

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Should We Think of Light Novels as Genre Fiction?

Light novels, especially those adapted into anime, are infamous for their tropes. Their stories often involve characters trapped in games or sent to fantasy worlds. The cast frequently includes a large number of female characters, many of whom are in love with the protagonist. The main character himself ranges from aggressively passive to do-it-all wish fulfillment. Little sisters who see their big brothers as more than just siblings are a dime a dozen. 
Given how frequently these elements are used, one common criticism is that light novel stories would be so much better if they would just not include them, but I wonder if that thinking is putting the cart before the horse. The way the light novel industry works, it might be better to approach it almost as genre fiction: the tropes are the starting point, and it’s what you do with them that counts.

Many series do not try to directly defy the tropes, but will twist and bend them. My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected (aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU) has a wimpy protagonist in a prominent love triangle, but he is forced to reevaluate his way of thinking thanks to the genuine friendship that forms between the three. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is actively modeled after a game-like world (with levels and experience and monster spawn points) and includes a hero practically every female character is in love with. Yet the personality of this main character, Bell Cranell, sets him up as someone whose childhood dream of having his own harem is offset by his gentle nature and kind heart. In a sense, these titles play by the rules first, as if part of the challenge is trying to work the same old materials into something new. The Monogatari series constantly changes up what we thought we knew about its female characters, rendering that harem into an ever-shifting enigma.

Not every work becomes a winner, of course. Some try in vain to differentiate themselves, only to be unrecognizable from the rest of the pack. Even so, within a given formula, there are subtle permutations that might not register with an outsider, but could be just the thing that causes the avid fan to choose title A over Title B. Perhaps this is part of why light novel titles get so excessively long at times. Not only is it a stylistic trend, but it might just be the most efficient way tell potential readers what this title has to offer. I Don’t Like You at All, Big Brother might not seem all that different from My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute, but the former title implies a couple of things. First, it takes the younger sibling’s perspective into account more. Second, given that both titles are patently untrue, it hints at the little sister character as being more honest with herself.

Light novels (and works based on them) also should not be immune to outside criticism. Just because certain qualities and ideas are accepted by the fans doesn’t mean that nothing is ever structurally wrong. It’s the difference between evaluating a shooter-style video game from within the context of its own genre versus looking at the ways in which the genre as a whole depicts and glorifies violence. Both conversations can happen, and it’s possible to meet somewhere in the middle, as with Splatoon, which keeps shooter mechanics but de-emphasizes grit and death.

Light novels are not inherently the tropes described above, and many go well beyond the limitations associated with the format. But for those that choose to stay within those bounds, either due to personal desire, economic pragmatism, or market forces, those tropes might be better viewed as the cornerstones from which their stories are spun. Just as shooters necessarily must include guns, and vampire stories need vampires, genre light novels cannot simply be stripped of their well-worn tropes. They can be stretched and molded into new shapes, but getting rid of that core transforms them into something they aren’t and likely never try to be.

“Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne” and the Transformation of Lies into Truth

One of my favorite moments in the anime Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne is when we find out the truth about the Jersey Club, the seemingly do-anything, help-anyone group that the main character Kyouno Madoka leads. What we find out is that, whether or not Madoka realizes it, the club was created from a lie. In a time when a young Madoka was suffering from a traumatic event in her life, a local high schooler who happened to be jogging at the time created the idea of the Jersey Club on the spot, facetiously claiming that her exercise sweats were some kind of uniform in order to cheer Madoka up. The story of the Jersey Club, then, is one about how lies became truth, as Madoka took the kindness and altruism shown to her, and actually transformed it into a life philosophy. By the end of the series, it’s become almost literally a universal philosophy.

This idea of lies transforming into the truth through honesty and determination feels to me like a recurring theme in Japanese visual media. Fate/Stay Night‘s “Unlimited Blade Works” arc famously makes the claim that there’s no reason a copy has to be inferior to the original. Even knowing the origins of something, even when aware that something is a sham, it’s as if sincerity is the key ingredient to bend reality and perception.

It reminds me also of something I heard recently, which is that a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published, which reveals Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer who defends a black man in a racist town, is actually revealed to be quite racist himself. The main character of the original book, Scout, turns out to have been looking at her father from the perspective of a child, only to realize his limitation as she grows into adulthood. It’s a controversial sequel, which was actually the prototype for To Kill a Mockingbird, but here we see too a “lie” becoming beneficial. Scout takes the ideals she sees from Atticus’s message and way of life, and transforms it into something even greater than the person himself.

Granted, this “bending” of reality is not necessarily without its problems. This is evidenced by the manipulation created by “fake news,” and the skewing of television news audiences, where viewers will gravitate towards the channels that cater to their beliefs almost regardless of the veracity of their reporting. The vital factor in determining whether an action is “good” or “bad” comes from what we’re seeing as “reality.” Is reality a construction of assumed cultural standards that resist change because of inertia? Or is it the foundation of truth that risks being chipped away by inaccuracies meant to exploit biases? The transformation of lies into truth can be heartfelt or diabolical, a risky double-edged sword that needs conscious tempering by both audiences and creators alike.

Ten! Ten! Ten!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2017

This month is the tenth anniversary of Ogiue Maniax. I’ll have a special post for that occasion. In the meantime, I’d like to thank my Patreon sponsors, especially the following:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

My favorite posts from last month:

The Precarious Balance of Tradition and Progress: Sakura Quest

A review of the unique P.A. Works anime

Love Live! Sunshine!! and the Complexities of Anime Tourism

A follow-up post of sorts to the Sakura Quest review, this one looks at the relationship between anime and influencing the movement of populations

Gattai Girls 7: Shinkon Gattai Godannar and Aoi Anna

The latest Gattai Girls is actually one of my favorite anime ever. (It was also a somewhat subtle hint towards me getting married.)

Patreon-Sponsored

 

Halloween Means Precure!

I was asked to write about my favorite Halloween anime, only to realize that most of them are Precure episodes. Go figure.

Closing

I’d like to end this month on a more serious note.

This past Halloween, there was a terrorist attack in lower Manhattan. While I did not know any of the people who were hurt or injured, my condolences go out to their friends and families. I went to school in the same area back in 2001, when 9/11 occurred, and hearing about the attack brought me back to what I felt then: the confusion, the need to evacuate, the unsettling feeling that the world will never be the same. Circumstances were different this time around, but I know the fear and unease that can linger over New York City in the face of such a crime. At the same time, just as then, I’m always surprised by the resilience of New Yorkers to just get back up and go about their day. On some level, it’s a product of being accustomed to the hustle and bustle of such a crazy metropolis, but I also think that it’s a semi-conscious effort to not let fear cower us into submission, or make us doubt each other as human beings.

Hate does not defeat hate. Trust, education, and openness to new ideas are the key ingredients to a better tomorrow.

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Halloween Means Precure!

I’ve come to realize that my favorite Halloween-themed episodes in anime come from the Precure franchise. This might be because it runs all year long (thus making holiday celebrations a common part of the shows), but I also think the mix of magic (in the form of magical girls) on a night associated with the occult works in its favor. Out of the many Halloween-themed instances of Precure, three stand out in particular: an episode of Suite Precure, another from Maho Girls Precure, and the movie Go! Princesss Precure: Go! Go!! Gorgeous Triple Feature

Before I proceed, here’s the requisite SPOILER WARNING.

Suite Pretty Cure

One of my main criticisms of Suite Precure is that, once a major character development moment passes, the show acts as if the new status quo is the way it’s always been. The key example of this is when the character Siren goes from antagonistic cat character to fellow human Precure. All of her history as a villain is seemingly forgotten after a couple episodes. The one major exception comes in the Halloween episode, where the now-Kurokawa Ellen dresses up as a cat girl. When a classmate asks about her costume, Ellen (without missing a beat) casually begins to mention that she used to be a cat, which prompts the other Precures to jump in and brush it off as a joke. It’s a clever bit of continuity in a show which often put it on the back burner.

The character Atarashi Ako is herself dressed as a princess, which is also a joke based on her true identity. Amusement all around!

Maho Girls Precure

The Harry Potter-esque world of Maho Girls Precure lends itself perfectly to a Halloween episode. One of the running jokes of the series is the way that visitors from the Magical World will sometimes forget that they’re supposed to be hiding their identity and will just casually mention things that the Muggles (so to speak) shouldn’t know. Halloween is presented as a major exception, because in the festive, costumed environment, magicians can come as they are because people will think they’re dressed for the occasion. Even then, the Maho Girls find a way to push the limits. The star of the show in this instance is probably Haa-chan, the third Precure and by far the most powerful of the trio in terms of magic. She appears throughout the episode in bizarre costumes, like a mummy complete with sarcophagus, and an alien being taken away by Men in Black.

It’s just a fine episode of nudges and winks and fulfilling the expectations one might have for a Halloween episode in a show about wizarding magical girls.

Go! Princess Precure

Go! Princess Precure: Go! Go!! Gorgeous Triple Feature is actually an entire Halloween-themed movie, consisting of two shorts and one longer standard Precure movie. It was (appropriately) released on October 31, 2015. Go! Princess is already one of the strongest entries in the franchise, and many of its strengths—animation, charismatic characters, strong and positive themes—can be seen in the movie. Interestingly, the main thing the film seems to take from Halloween is the prominence of pumpkins. Whether they’re jack o’ lanterns or pumpkin desserts, the iconic Halloween vegetable seems to overshadow the costume and trick or treat aspects of the holiday. In a way, it’s probably the best of the three story-wise, but the weakest in terms of Halloween hijinks.

I do need to make a special mention in regards to the movie-exclusive transformation, though. The Cures here have a special Halloween-themed power-up that is appropriately flashy.

So those are some of my favorite Halloween anime. In the 90s, the holiday wasn’t a big deal in Japan, but has grown in prominence over the past couple of decades. If we were to move away from Halloween the holiday and more towards “monster”-themed anime, then Kore wa Zombie Desuka? would rank much higher. If you have your own special Halloween shows, feel free to leave a comment.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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Love Live! Sunshine!! and the Complexities of Anime Tourism

Love Live! Sunshine!! Real Escape Game in Numazu

Love Live! Sunshine!! is a media-mix property whose purpose, apart from pushing its stars and profiting from a match of anime fandom and idol fandom, is to promote tourism to the region around the city of Numazu in Japan. What I find fascinating about its approach, however, is that it not only encourages people to visit Numazu, but also reflects and tries to address many of the problems facing Japan in terms of the link between sustaining population, community, and business.

There are three main issues brought up in terms of population in Japan in recent years. First, and the one that gets the most attention, is declining birth rates. Whether it’s “herbivore males” or the difficult choice many women have to make between starting a family and having a career, theories abound as to why fewer Japanese people are having children. Second is the post-3.11 decline in tourism; a nuclear meltdown scares off not just international visitors, but those from within Japan as well. Third, and perhaps the most familiar to people around the world, is people moving out of rural areas into urban ones, leaving the old towns a shadow of their former selves with little new blood coming in.

Flying Witch

The ways in which anime have been used in response to these problems are myriad. Famously, the popularity of the anime Lucky Star led to people visiting the very shrine featured in the show, Washinomiya Shrine. The first Love Live! School Idol Project anime had a similar effect on Kanda Myoujin Shrine in Akihabara, where the character Nozomi works. But there are also anime which try to show the splendor of Japan whether directly or not. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Flying Witch was made into an anime a few years after 3.11 when Japan was trying to revive tourism to the affected Tohoku region. Taking place in Aomori (a prefecture in Tokyo), Flying Witch features lovingly crafted shots of picturesque landscapes as if to say, “This area is lush with life.” The studio P.A. Works used the series Hanasaku Iroha to create the fictional “Bonbori Festival” and then bring it into the real world. Their more recent work, Sakura Quest, is an anime explicitly about trying to deal with a declining population in a small town through tourism and promotion.

Official Love Live! Wish Board from Kanda Myoujin Shrine

Love Live! Sunshine!! takes place in the small town of Uchiura, near Numazu. Much like the first franchise, the main characters’ school is threatened with closure due to declining attendance rates. The girls, inspired by the group known as μ’s (from the original Love Live!) attempt to replicate the latter group’s success in saving their own school, and form their own idol group called “Aqours.” Already, it’s clear how Love Live! Sunshine!! touches upon issues of population movement and tourism, but it’s especially notable when comparing the series to its predecessor.

Consider where the two properties take place. The μ’s girls of the original Love Live! are centered around Akihabara, which is both the spiritual center of otaku in Japan and, as a result, already a popular tourist destination. The Aqours girls of Love Live! Sunshine!!, on the other hand, are situated near Numazu, which has a population of under 200,000 as well as a recent history of absorbing nearby towns—a major plot point in Sakura Quest and a potential future for Uchiura. Unlike Akihabara, Numazu is hardly world-famous. And yet, if Love Live! had started differently—if it had decided to go with Numazu from the start—then I don’t think it would’ve reached its original success. Much like AKB48, it relied on the notoriety of Akihabara to build itself up, and is now paying it forward, in a certain sense. Love Live! used tourism, and now tourism is using Love Live!

Love Live! Sunshine!! can be seen as another arm of the “Cool Japan” concept, which uses Japan’s fame as a symbol of cultures both traditional and popular to promote itself at home and abroad. It appears to be succeeding, at least in the short term. In fact, over at Apartment 507 where I also write, one of the most popular posts is a guide to visiting Numazu. But as Gundam director and Anime Tourism Association chairperson Tomino Yoshiyuki has warned, short term success is not enough; permanent change is necessary, even if it’s to come from anime. The fact that Love Live! went from being supported by pop culture to being a pop cultural influence that can potentially make a change is a big deal, and I’m curious to see if this experiment has any long-term impact that goes beyond the cute idols of Aqours.

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[New York Comic Con 2017] Mashima Hiro Panel Thoughts

New York Comic Con 2017’s biggest manga and anime guest was, without a doubt, Mashima Hiro. Mashima came to NYCC after concluding his most famous series, the hit shounen manga Fairy Tail, and he sat down for a couple of panels. While I only have a passing knowledge of Fairy Tail, I attended his Saturday retrospective panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom. An hour later, I came away with the sense that Mashima Hiro might be closest to the mindset of anime and manga fandom than other creators.

Because NYCC had another major shounen manga guest last year in Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi, and because Mashima himself mentioned during the panel that he considered Kishimoto his “rival,” I can’t help but compare the two. Listening to both of them explain their motivations painted two very different pictures. Kishimoto talked about how, at some point, Naruto became a story of redemption, while his becoming a father during the course of his manga’s serialization also influenced the messages he wanted to leave behind. Mashima, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the simple yet effective premise of “what would be cool?” Fairy Tail was apparently powered by questions such as “Who would win in a fight?” and “What kind of magic would be awesome to see?”

Combined with the greater amounts of fanservice in Fairy Tail—it seems as if, after a certain point, every panel in the series of a girl is pinup quality—it just seems like a series that didn’t have especially lofty goals, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a certain kind of purity, and has in its basis much of what makes shounen manga so popular in the first place. It’s part power fantasy, part adventure. The kinds of ideas floating around in Mashima’s head seem to be cut from the same cloth as much of the fandom, especially when taking into account Western fans. Fairy Tail in Japan is no match for One Piece, but I always get the impression that they’re much closer in popularity at least in the US. I feel like this fan space, where crossover dream battles are practically the potatoes of online discussion (the meat is “who do you ship?”), is one where Mashima’s mindset can thrive.