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Otakon, the east coast’s largest anime convention, has been a mainstay of Baltimore summers since 1999. With the 2017 move to Washington DC, however, 2016 may very well be the last Otakon Baltimore ever sees. The awareness of this turning point among attendees felt almost palpable, and not just because the blazing heat and heavy humidity made everything feel ten pounds heavier. Watching con-goers on Sunday discuss the end of Otakon in Baltimore with an air of finality made it feel like it really was the end, even if it’s more of a new beginning.
Music and the Matsuri
Every year, I try to attend at least one Otakon concert, usually that of an artist I’m interested in from hearing their music in anime. This time, it was MICHI, who sang the opening to one of my favorite shows of the year, Dagashi Kashi. Unfortunately, both of the panels I was involved with ran during her concert time, so I unfortunately could not go. What’s more, her concert was the half-time show at the Masquerade, which is an event I generally avoid. The upside of all this is that I got to meet her in person at the autograph session.
I did check out the Otakon Matsuri, a first for me. Taking place every year on the Thursdays before Otakon weekend, in the past I simply had neither the time nor the energy to go. This time, however, they had as music guests Lotus Juice and Hirata Shihoko from the Persona game series. Because a friend of mine loves Persona and made it a mission to attend their performance, I tagged along and was treated to a lively concert. Despite a number of technical difficulties likely owing to the severe heat not playing nice with Lotus Juice’s Macbook, they really made it a memorable experience. Lotus Juice, who was born in Japan but actually grew up in New Jersey, actually performed not only Persona and anime-related music, but even threw in a Japanese version of a Tupac song. Unfortunately, I don’t know Tupac well enough to recognize it, so if anyone in the comments knows, feel free to chime in!
Guests and Industry Panels
This year’s guest list was sparser compared to previous Otakons, possibly because of next year’s move to DC. Notably, Otakon mainstay Maruyama Masao (founder of anime studios MADHouse and MAPPA) was not able to appear, and it felt like Otakon was missing his insight. The guests that did come, however, were able to provide a great deal of insight into the anime industry and their creative processes.
Akane Kazuki and Escaflowne
Akane Kazuki, director of Escaflowne, Heat Guy J, and Code Geass: Akito the Exiled, was in attendance because of the new Blu-ray release of Escaflowne and the English premiere of Akito the Exiled. Akane is a Studio Sunrise man, so just like Takamatsu Shinji and Park Romi last year, so at a press conference I had to ask him what this experience was like working with Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki. Akane mentioned that he actually went to Sunrise straight out of college because it was where Tomino was working. However, the very first time he arrived at Sunrise for work, he found Tomino was scolding his staff. Akane also described Tomino as someone who thought about anime from morning to night, and that he gave the impression that such a devotion was necessary to succeed in the world of Japanese animation.
He also talked about his work on Escaflowne, how it was his first work where he had full directorial control, and about the changes he made to the heroine, Kanzaki Hitomi. When Akane first came onto the project, Hitomi was going to be a quiet, long-haired girl, but he and character designer Teru Nobuyuki pushed to have her become the strong-willed, short-haired girl we know her as now. Later on in the conference, he described that period as one where a lot of female characters were the same, and he worked on Hitomi with the idea of, is this the kind of character that actual girls themselves can get behind?
The Japanese industry panels I attended included P.A. Works of Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha fame’s, as well as Under the Dog producer Morimoto Koji’s. At the P.A. Works panel, they didn’t really take questions from the audience, but they went through why they decided to make their new series, a robot anime called Kuromukuro, because it was uncharted territory for their studio. They also asked the audience themselves about the idea that Americans prefer action-oriented anime with strong heroes, but I found that an audience predisposed to coming to a P.A. Works industry panel likely wouldn’t have the same tastes.
As for Morimoto, I asked him questions related to his involvement with giant robot anime. First, I asked him about whether or not he has any input on how series are represented story-wise in the Super Robot Wars video games, to which he responded that they mostly leave it up to the game studio Banpresto. Second, I asked him about what goes into adapting or reviving old mecha franchises. Here, the answer was that it really depends on the series, and how much they’re trying to draw in the old, nostalgic audience, or create a new one.
As for the American side of things, I attended the Discotek panel and the tail end of the Vertical Inc panel. The main takeaways (at least for me) is that the glorious anime Charge Man Ken is now licensed by Discotek, and that two of Vertical’s best-selling titles are two of my favorites, Nichijou and Mysterious Girlfriend X. As someone who kept putting Mysterious Girlfriend X on their surveys every year, this fills me with pride and joy.
One of Otakon’s claims to fame is its strong collection of fan panels. Presenting a diverse range of topics, it’s one of my personal highlights every year. This time around, however, I felt that a lot of the panels I attended weren’t quite as strong, though I don’t think this is really the fault of the con itself or even the presenters. There will be some panelists who are stronger than others, and I, as someone who did a couple of panels, have plenty of areas where I need to improve.
It’s also good that Otakon occasionally goes for untested presenters, because if they stick with only the ones they know, it gives less of a chance for newer panelists to show what they’re capable of. In many cases, there appeared to be a lack of preparation and oversight on actually planning and researching the presentations. That doesn’t mean that any presenter who didn’t bring their A-game doesn’t deserve to come back, but I hope that we all look to the next time with the hopes of being even better.
Anime of Green Gables
Featured Panelist Viga’s panel all about the popularity of Anne of Green Gables in Japan was quite informative. As someone who’s watched both the 1970s Anne of Green Gables anime and the 2000s Before Green Gables prequel, I learned a lot, especially in regards to how it got to Japan. I didn’t know, for example, that Japanese fans take pilgrimages to Prince Edward Island fairly regularly. I thought the panel had a generally good structure, but felt a bit disorganized in places. While I at first wondered who the panel was for, I think it turned out to be existing fans of Anne of Green Gables who might not be as familiar with the anime.
Gen Urobuchi: Magical Girls, Riders, and Puppets, Oh My!
Because the title of this panel mentioned puppets, I was hoping to see some Thunderbolt Fantasy action. Unfortunately, it got cut out of the presentation, which I find a bit strange because plenty of episodes had been out by then. On top of that, there was an entire special about the making of the show, which would have given them plenty of material to work with.
The Bravest Robots: Sunrise’s Brave Series
An overview of the Yuusha giant robot franchise of the 1990s, this panel was run by Patz Prime from Space Opera Satellite, with whom I’d previously done a podcast review of Brave Police J-Decker. As someone who’s more familiar with Brave Robots than most, even I learned quite a bit from it. I was particularly fascinated by the transition by the sponsoring company Takara from Transformers to Brave Exkaiser, the first series, and how the panel wove a narrative of the continuous fight between the animators, Sunrise, and Takara. Maybe next time the panel might have time to mention Baan Gaan.
1999: The Otaku Time Machine
George from Land of Obscusion ran this panel, which went over some of the major and minor anime and video games to come out in the year 1999. For me, it was in many ways a review of my adolescence, but I’m also well aware that many anime fans in attendance likely would have been born before 1999. It’s still kind of crazy for me to think about. All I’ll say to this is thumbs up for showing the Japanese Medabots opening, thumbs down for not showing the Japanese Digimon opening.
This year, I presented at two panels: “Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow” with Kate from Reverse Thieves, and “Greater Uglier Manga.” The former was a panel about dogs across anime, including popular series such as Naruto, genre legends such as Ginga Nagareboshi Gin, and old historical works such as Norakuro. If you came to the panel, I’d like to thank you for being such a great audience, and I hope to get better at communicating for next year.
Greater Uglier Manga was the sequel to last year’s Great Ugly Manga, with the twist that it was now 18+. The point wasn’t to fill the panel with pornography, but to extend the range of images that could be shown. Unfortunately, the panel began with a serious hiccup due to technical difficulties, and we spent the first 15 minutes troubleshooting. Ultimately, thanks to Daryl Surat from Anime World Order, we figured out that it had to do with the switchers they were using for the panel room and were able to start. Unfortunately, I ended up speeding through the presentation and finishing early, which means I have to work on my pacing better. My co-panelist had a better handle on time, I think. Lesson learned!
By the way, I really do like Kurosaki Rendou‘s work, and I hope that, if you attended the panel, that you might find them fascinating too.
Shopping and Sites
This will be the last time we see this incarnation of the Otakon Dealer’s Room for a long time. That being said, I do want to point out that they once again allowed attendees to travel between the buildings of the Baltimore Convention Center by cutting across Liberty Street. In recent years, this was restricted, and in my opinion it really hurt the accessibility of the Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley.
My two biggest purchases of the convention at the Dealer’s Room were finding all of Brigadoon: Marin & Melan (a great series that deserves more love) and getting the Nozomi from Rolling Girls Nendoroid. As shown in the photo below, I posed her the best way I know how: drinking [soda] and driving.
(Don’t try this at home, kids).
If you were wondering, the sidecar can hold another Nendoroid, and I have just the right riding partner in mind.
The real highlight of the Dealer’s Room for me this year, however, had to bee the Good Smile Booth. While I did not obtain the aforementioned Nendoroid there, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were selling blank Nendoroid faces for $1 each, along with tables where you could sit down to decorate them. Apparently those faces are a convention exclusive, so I bought a bunch and turned one into a potential Ogiue for the future.
Some day…some day….
One of the strongest titles at Otakon 2016’s Artist’s Alley had to be Pokemon Go and Overwatch. While Pokemon in general tends to be pretty beloved among Otakon artists and attendees, the three factions of Pokemon Go, Team Valor, Team Mystic, and Team Instinct, made for easy ammo for creators. As for Overwatch, I believe its popularity among artists to be a testament to its highly appealing and charismatic character designs. However, overall the artwork was quite diverse, and hardly anything was truly dominant.
Relevant to me personally, I bought an amazing image of Rice Goddess Hanayo from Love Live! wearing glasses. The Demeter outfit or the specs alone would have been enough, but together the combination was unbeatable.
The real highlight of the Artist’s Alley, however, had to be the P.A. Works 15th Anniversary exhibit. Showing detailed character design sheets, background art, and more from P.A. Works shows, it made me even more conscious of the two arms of P.A. Works: the attractive girls who engage in adolescent drama and discovery, and the exploration of beautiful scenery and environments.
Food & Drink
Seeing as this was likely our last time in Baltimore for years to come, my friends and I decided to hit up many of our favorite places and turn Otakon weekend into a feeding frenzy. We went back to Abbey Burger Bistro, where I tried their Australian Red Deer burger. We stopped by Piedigrotta Bakery, the original home of tiramisu. We had to sample the luscious crab cakes from Flash Crab Cake Co. For the return trip home, fried chicken from Royal Farms was a must.
Two places I had never tried were Portuguese chicken chain Nando’s and a local Afghan restaurant Maiwand Grill. Though not exclusive to Baltimore, Nando’s was truly a highlight. Having sample a whole variety of their dishes, including their default chicken, chicken liver, macho peas, Portuguese rice, and natas (egg custards that were the predecessor to Hong Kong’s famous dan tahts), everything was a home run. Maiwand Grill had great portions at really affordable prices, and both their yogurt drink and Afghan ice cream were amazing. The yogurt drink was no-nonsense pure yogurt flavor, and the ice cream had both dates and figs in it (two of my favorite fruits).
Otakon 2016 was fairly low-key by the standards set by previous conventions, and for that reason it really did feel like a transition into something new and exciting. A part of me wants to come back to Baltimore someday, but another part of me looks forward to seeing what Washington DC has to offer.
Also, I hope no one pulls an Eden of the East near the White House.
As with every year, I leave off with a selection of cosplay photos.
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Commencing the 14,567th “This Month’s Genshiken Was Great” Discussion.
It’s time for Kuchiki’s graduation, and the members of Genshiken have gathered to celebrate . They haven’t really put much effort into wishing Kuchiki well, but their half-hearted gifts (flowers and a signboard with messages from everyone) move him to tears. Kuchiki, meanwhile, reminisces about his time in Genshiken, and how one of his greatest memories is seeing the Madarame Harem crumble in person, only to find out the news that Madarame and Sue are dating, which ruins his schadenfreude.
With graduation comes time for a new president, and Ogiue chooses Yajima. In spite of her misgivings, Yajima is eventually convinced to do it, especially thanks to support from Hato. The chapter transitions to a new spring, and Hato visits the club room, eager to spend time with his friends.
And So It Goes…
If anything stands out in this chapter, it’s the artwork. While I’ve felt the quality of Kio’s drawings have been fantastic these past few chapters, I can really feel that this finale wasn’t rushed at least in terms of the TLC put into it. Ogiue is beautiful. Hato is beautiful. Everyone is beautiful
The conclusion to Nidaime pretty much came about Chapter 126, so this one feels much more like an epilogue. In many ways, it mirrors the original ending of Genshiken: a graduation, a transition in power in the club, some delightful nerd moments, and then a positive look into the future for the club. In fact, both series all but conclude after the establishment of a romantic relationship, with a lot of “falling action” following.
The big difference in feeling is that one involves the graduation of Sasahara and Kasukabe, two very vital characters central to the Genshiken narrative, while the other involves… Kuchiki. While he’s been with the club for a very long time, even the characters themselves treat him as an afterthought. They’ll treat him with just as much respect as they think he deserves. As Kuchiki points out, they didn’t even bother dressing up for his graduation (and if you recall, their graduation trip was more of a “Kuchiki is going away” celebration excursion).
Kuchiki is Human Too
The big exception here is Hato, who in general tries to look good when he crossdresses, but I wonder if he has a soft spot for Kuchiki. It wouldn’t be anything remotely resembling romance, and might lean more towards pity than anything else, but he seems to treat Kuchiki with noticeably more restraint and tact than the others. This might just be in virtue of the fact that he’s also a guy, so even if Kuchiki pictures Hato as part of his potential “harem,” it doesn’t faze him as much. Kuchiki also inadvertently instigated a number of Madarame/Hato moments.
It might also be that Hato can kick his ass.
In a way, it feels weird that the series would end on Kuchiki’s big day. I think that many readers of the series wouldn’t even mind if he fell off a cliff. At the same time, he hardly ever got any real attention, and had nary a sense of character growth. Now, at the finish line, we see a rare moment of Kuchiki being genuinely happy. I’d like to think that, somewhere deep down, he realizes what a terrible person he can be, and the fact that the other members put up with him is something he can appreciate. Granted, that’s only one heartfelt moment in an otherwise incredibly awkward display of how not to behave as a human being. It doesn’t help him that he loudly declares in the middle of campus that he spent the prior day masturbating furiously to his favorite doujinshi.
I do find it kind of interesting that, when Kuchiki mentions that his desire is to create his own harem, he doesn’t exactly include Yajima and Yoshitake in it. It makes me wonder if there’s something to the two of them that puts him off.
Passing of the Torch
With graduation comes a new president, and this transition always provides plenty of delightful reflection and insight in terms of the characters. Seeing prior presidents fidget and their newly chosen successors doubt themselves is the kind of tradition I can support. After all, it once provided one of the best moments in Genshiken: Sasahara and Ogiue’s racy near-kiss. No such thing happens this time, but there’s still plenty to chew on.
In the past, new presidents were chosen because they either seemed likely to carry on the spirit of the club or because the alternative (Kuchiki) would have been far worse. Ogiue picking Yajima makes sense in this regard, because she always appears to be the most stable and grounded member out of all the new generation. What’s more, Yajima’s careful personality and the way she doubts herself often is indeed quite Genshiken-like, and the way that she feels caught in the transition between generations of otaku makes her able to understand a range of potential newbies. I also do love the fact that Yoshitake agrees that she would probably abuse any power given to her, and the role of advisor/confidant is about as perfect as it gets for a lover of history.
I also only just realized after reading this final chapter that Ogiue likely abolished the doujinshi honeypot trap tradition, where current members spy on new recruits from outside and then bust in on them while they’re in the middle of revealing their tastes. Being a victim of it herself and also not being a fan of embarrassment, I could see why the secrets behind this would not be passed on to the next generation, especially one with Yoshitake in it.
Speaking of movements between generations, it’s notable that Madarame does not show up in spite of his prominence in Nidaime. Granted, none of the former members show up at all, so I imagine that the goal was to focus on the current iteration of Genshiken for the final chapter.
Thanks from other Manga Artists
Accompanying this final chapter in Monthly Afternoon are a series of congratulatory images from 30 other Afternoon manga artists, including Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Gundam: The Origin), Samura Hiroaki (Blade of the Immortal), and Suenobu Keiko (Limit). Fun for all, and I really hope it’s included with the packaged volume release. Samura clearly drew Madarame with the wife from Spotted Flower, so I think we know where his ship sails.
Final Thoughts (This is actually as long as a regular Chapter Review!)
I discovered Genshiken many years ago, back in my college days. I can’t quite remember if I discovered the manga or the anime first anymore, but I remembered how real it all felt: these characters reflected to a scary degree the thoughts, behaviors, and mannerisms of me and my fellow nerds. It was an enjoyable series to be sure, but then a study abroad semester to Japan would elevate the series to the apex of my love for anime and manga, for it was there that I discovered Ogiue. With her came a number of realizations, such as my extreme(ly strange) fondness for “dead eyes” characters, but also an overwhelmingly powerful emotional connection with her fear that her passion would hurt others. By the time I came back to the United States, Genshiken was actually gearing up for its first ending, but it and Ogiue would remain with me.
Ogiue Maniax originally began well after the Genshiken manga had ended. At the time, I felt I had so much more to say about Genshiken and Ogiue, so I kept writing about it. I followed the second TV series. I gave testimony as to how I became such a fan of the series. I started the Fujoshi Files. Gradually, this site became much more than a Genshiken blog, though it wasn’t quite ever entirely one in the first place. I was content with the overall direction of Ogiue Maniax, and my own fandom.
Then Chapter 56 happened.
One of my long held desires was to see how Genshiken would be like under the leadership of President Ogiue, and this one-shot (at the time, no one knew it would become the precursor to a new series) provided just that. Two things stick out in my memory about Chapter 56. First would be the art style. Back then, Kio had been coming off of doing Jigopuri: The Princess of the Hell, and it showed in how much softer and cuter the character designs were. Second would be the mostly female cast. If you look at the original end of the first Genshiken, it clearly shows a very different kind of club with male members, a natural extension of what Genshiken was like back then. This was a retcon of sorts, but it set the stage for a more thorough exploration of the changing landscape of otakudom. Where once the female fan was seen as this rare gem in terms of characters, Chapter 56 went above and beyond to show that things were different, and the presence of female characters as otaku and fujoshi would not only be normalized but dominant.
When the announcement that Genshiken would be getting a full-on sequel hit, I was ecstatic. It provided me with a feeling of renewal, but also an opportunity. Chapter reviewing Genshiken on Ogiue Maniax hadn’t been possible, and I thought it wouldn’t ever be. But now, if ever there was a series for me to analyze every month, it had to be this one.
At the time, I could look back and go, “Wow, it’s been seven years since I discovered Genshiken, isn’t that wild?” Seven has now become 12. I began as a college student who saw himself in Genshiken, and now I’m in a dramatically different place, with a well-respected (if obscure) anime blog, a degree from studying manga that required me to move to another continent, and many good friends whom I met not only through my love of anime and manga, but also because the fact that Ogiue confronted and conquered her own fears encouraged me to do the same. Both I and the world around me have changed, and the fact that Genshiken has also shifted to reflect this made it a constant source of fascination for me.
It was truly unusual for this series to spend so much time exploring the Madarame harem, but I think that it became the focus inadvertently because it overlapped so much with Hato’s own development. You had these two tracks of characterization, one from the old guard and one from the new, and the result was that it pushed the classic otaku question of 2-D vs. 3-D into new and unfamiliar territory. In the end, any of the pairings would have worked for me, and while relationship drama was probably the last thing people expected out Genshiken, the series defied even those newly created expectations at every turn.
While it would have been all right for Genshiken Nidaime to have been more of the same as its predecessor, I’m happy to see how different it became. It confronted a new world of and around otaku, it tied up one of the vital loose ends with Madarame’s unrequited love, and explored topics concerning gender, sexuality, and self-image that went even beyond Ogiue’s plight in the first series.
Now that Genshiken is over, that means the end of Ogiue Maniax’s monthly chapter reviews. That doesn’t mean it’s quite the end, though, as the supplements included in the collected volumes usually provide more insight and a true epilogue. And who knows? Maybe there’ll be more someday. I wonder where I’ll be in life at that point.
I’ve also been considering going back and reviewing the first series.
And please create that series I want where Angela is the main character.
So with that, I bid you adieu. OG(iue) 4 life.
Kio saying thanks and lamenting that he never got to do another beach chapter.
This interview is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage of Otakon 2016. While the interview was with multiple staff members at P.A. Works, only the producer, Horikawa Kenji, gave responses. I’ve reflected this in the answers.
It’s a pleasure to have this interview with you. My first question has to do with True Tears. It was your first work as a studio, and from what I’ve heard the anime is quite different from the visual novel. What led to you choosing to adapt this series for your first project, and what led to it changing from the source material?
Horikawa: So the producer at that time, Mr. Nagatani, had said, “Let’s work on a few projects together!” And out of those choices was True Tears. We thought that it was perfect for what we could do at that time. We also thought it granted us lots of freedom, too, because as long as the theme was “tears,” we could do what we wanted.
Hanasaku Iroha is a series that shows the charm of the countryside and Japanese tradition. It seems that more and more anime are focused on the promotion of tourism to regions of Japan. You created the Bonbori Festival in Hanasaku Iroha, but was the promotion of a region of Japan a part of production from the very beginning?
Horikawa: When we made Hanasaku Iroha at first, we didn’t intend for it to empower tourism, quite the opposite, actually. Recently, there are many cases where anime fans go to the locations where their favorite anime take place. Some people call it going to “holy sites” or “investigating the show.” But while it can be a good thing, the act of fans going to these sites might not always be positive. When the fans gather, they might take pictures of, say, average houses and it might be very troublesome and disruptive. When I make select a location for a work, I think about how to have it so that even if fans visit it’ll be okay.
So when we were making Hanasaku Iroha, it was part of our thoughts that we would base it in a hot spring city that would be okay with having some volumes of fans coming. We also took care that the residents of that city would be notified when a large number of fans would come.
In regards to the Bonbori Festival, it originally wasn’t there, but it came up during the making of Hanasaku Iroha. We thought that, if it was a festival that the people could continue—not in the anime sense but that of a legitimate festival—that would have a much bigger, long-lasting, and positive impact. While an anime might be forgotten in a few years, a festival is part of Japanese culture and won’t be forgotten.
In Hanasaku Iroha, the grandmother is a very important character. In Shirobako, most of the characters are career women or out of high school. Tari Tari has one of my favorite characters, which is Takakura Naoko. Do you feel that there is a better market for series starring older characters, perhaps similar to the series you make now, but with people in their 20s and 30s?
Horikawa: As much as I would like to make something centered around older characters, there is such a thing as monetary value associated with characters. In Hanasaku Iroha, the characters were supposed to be out of school already and working, but due to those complications they became high school girls.
Since Shirobako, however, we took that step towards making the characters people who are actually out of school and working. That was a great adventure for us. Since we found out that Shirobako was indeed a success, we have shown that the girls don’t have to be in high school for fans to be interested. So, it was great to find out that fans like mature women as much as high school.
There are a number of characters in Shirobako based on real creators, for example Maruayma Masao and Anno Hideaki. Did you consult them in your portrayals, and did they have anything to say afterwards?
In terms of the people connected with those characters, we did ask them for their acknowledgement. The director knew Maruyama-san, so he probably asked Maruyama-san, while I asked people I know. But some seem to say that they never received the requests for acknowledgement.
Horikawa: Thank you very much.
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This was originally supposed to be a post about my time with Yukitheater, a program that allows people to watch anime together in a virtual movie theater using their own in-game avatars. Unfortunately, Yukitheater doesn’t work terribly well with Macs, so I often found myself staring at blank screens. The result is that, as I write about Yukitheater, I can only largely talk about it in a conceptual sense, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
One of the classic dilemmas of the internet (or communication in general, one might say), is that the more convenient it becomes, the easier it also becomes to avoid actually interacting with others. Where once anime clubs and gatherings at friens’ houses became the default way to watch something, streams and downloads are right at out fingertips. Of course, I’m hardly the first person to write about this, nor do I think this is the fall of civilization. If that were the case, we’ve been falling since the dawn.
Fans of anime and other media do not necessarily just take this lying down, and so the idea of the “simulwatch” was born, where people will each individually load up a movie or an episode, synchronize their watches Parker Lewis style (am I dating myself?), and then use voice chat, Twitter, or some other social platform to talk. Twitch thrives on this model as a streaming platform, and Nico Nico Douga with its scrolling comments is exactly in this spirit as well, except that it plays with the idea of “real-time.” Yukitheater, as well as its predecessor, Garry’s Mod’s “Cinema” mod, are examples of trying to transform the simulwatch into a more immersive experience by creating a visual setting (the theater), and allowing for virtual avatars to run about and hurl popcorn (or whatever) at each other.
As someone who was an avid internet user in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the days of web rings and fifty billion search engines, Yukitheater seems like something of that era. More specifically, it feels like the kind of program people would have dreamed of back then amidst aspirations of “virtual reality” and the simple wonder that was talking to people on the other side of the world. If this were 14-year-old me, I would have been downright addicted to something like this, and indeed I spent many hours talking with people I never knew in real life about video games, anime, or whatever topic interested me.
While this might seem like an argument against Yukitheater as a kind of resuscitated relic, the relative anonymity it provides is something that I believe is sorely missing from today’s internet. When I grew up with the web, I saw it as a place where I didn’t necessarily pretend I was someone else, but I could step away from my life in school and with family. I could explore, and I could get away. Currently, however, the internet is more often than not an extension of one’s own existing reality. Facebook just gets you talking to people you already know. Rather than escape bullying by going online, the bullies can now follow you there. Although I have not used Yukitheater extensively, it appears to me to be an environment from an older time when one could indeed use the internet as an escape.
Yukitheater isn’t exactly a new idea. In many ways, it feels very much like Second Life or other similar online environments. I’m also likely projecting a lot of my own values onto Yukitheater, and so I’m aware that much of what I say is both subjective and subject to personal experience. A lot of things can go wrong with something like it, and I’m not even talking about the semi-frequent crashes (perhaps a symptom of Mac incompatibility). Still, I do find it fascinating that, in an age where the anime club no longer provides a “necessary” service (showing anime that is hard to find) with the communal aspect attached to it, now fans are actively seeking ways to connect with each other. Maybe this, more than anything else, is what defines one of the great generation gaps in anime fandom.
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I had the pleasure of interviewing LeSean Thomas at Otakon 2016, where he was debuting his new animated short, Cannon Busters. Though we didn’t talk much about Cannon Busters itself, I was pleased to find out about his life as an artist, his philosophy on art and anime, and even his family.
Ogiue Maniax: So you grew up in the Bronx, and I assume that you had some sort of arts education. Could you describe what it was like to grow up as an artist?
LeSean Thomas: It was fairly okay. I stayed indoors quite a lot. I used to sketch a lot, sketch in school. You know, I grew up when hip-hop was growing up, and so a lot of stuff happened in the 80s in New York City. I thought it was cool. I had a lot of colleagues, a lot of friends in my apartment building, who I’d sketch with from time to time. I had a lot of friends in class who I could sketch with. I was into video games and sketching.
I think I decided to make it a career when I became a teenager. I moved to upstate NY for a period of time, to Middletown, and when I came back to the Bronx I decided to become an illustrator. I enrolled in a school that focused on the arts.
OM: Which high school?
LT: Julia Richmond High School. It was in Midtown Manhattan.
That was sort of my circle, and by the time I got back after I graduated high school I decided I wanted to become a comic book artist. But it was tough because there was a lot of competition in New York City—Marvel and DC. But I was also really influenced by animation, Japanese animation.
I landed a couple of opportunities that led me to work in animation production, and one thing led to another. I got onto a couple of big shows, and I was able to use that to build up momentum to work on more shows and create opportunities for myself.
OM: More and more young kids, teenagers, college students, are embracing anime and manga as part of how they get into art. I also know there’s concern that anime and manga are teaching the wrong lessons.
LT: What kind of wrong lessons?
OM: Like it’s teaching people to draw the wrong way or look at art the wrong way. And I’m sure already from your question to me you probably don’t agree with me.
LT: Yeah, I don’t.
OM: So I’m wondering, what would you think is the best way to use anime and manga in an arts education?
LT: I think you should do whatever you want. I haven’t ever heard anyone say to me that copying Picasso or Michelangelo, or Italian or French artists perfectly, is wrong. We get into this really weird, shaky territory where we start becoming ethnocentric towards specific countries and their art history. I think a lot of that is based off the fact that the US was a European colony, and our history is based off of European history, and our art history is European. What’s wrong with India? What’s wrong with Mumbai? What’s wrong with China. I think that, respectfully, it’s just the way it is, but I don’t think that a lot of thought is given into how we judge children who copy the styles of other countries, as opposed to what our curriculum forces us to teach, which is European art history.
I know a lot of graphic designers who are brilliant who don’t study European stuff, they study Japanese art. When you’re in a school, you’re programmed and taught to be an employee and not an auteur, and I think that plays a big role in how teachers choose to enforce their ideals onto students, who are very impressionable at a young age. I’ve also noticed, in my experience, that a lot of teachers are graduates who couldn’t find jobs themselves. You have this cyclical dynamic happening where teachers who don’t have a lot of experience are telling kids what they should and shouldn’t draw.
How did Murakami learn how to draw? When you’re telling kids how to draw, you’re telling them how to interpret art. It’s not right. When you’re telling them how to respond to art, you’re robbing them of the privilege of interpreting art themselves, and interpreting how they learn. So I respectfully disagree with the logic that a child shouldn’t learn how to draw anime because of the historic implications behind that.
OM: You worked on The Boondocks, and it’s clear from the comic strip that Aaron McGruder is also very influenced by anime and manga. Is your mutual interest in how you came onto the show?
LT: Certainly my drawing style played a big role in choosing me to help him develop the early designs with the crew.
OM: The Boondocks as a comic strip was pretty forward thinking, advanced, and progressive, but the comic strip medium is a pretty conservative place. So when moving the series over to Adult Swim and an animated setting, was it a very conscious decision on your part and the staff’s part to push the envelope much further?
LT: No, that was actually Aaron’s mandate. I may be wrong, but I remember a rumor from around 2004, 2005—from someone in our circle—that Mike Lazzo, the head of Adult Swim, played a role in having Aaron push the envelope. So when I came on board, that was already a demand that came from on high. I was pretty detached from that. I was more focused on the visuals. A lot of that envelope pushing was in the writing. That was the stat quo on the production; we knew what we were getting into.
But as far as the decision from Aaron going from the conservative comic strip to the extreme in the animated form, I’m not privy to that. But there is a rumor that Adult Swim was encouraging that as well.
OM: You worked on Cannon Busters, and you mentioned previously about your friendship with Thomas Romain. You come from different cultural backgrounds, but you seem to have a lot in common. So what’s it like working with him?
LT: Well, Thomas is a westerner, whether we want to admit it or not. He speaks English, and while there are some things he doesn’t get about American culture, he’s still a westerner. That’s part of our common bond, as is our need to collaborate internationally. I think we’re kindred spirits. I told him that that, because of him leaving France to go to Japan and me leaving America to go to Korea for pretty much the same reason.
I like to use Thomas’s phrase, “world animation.” It’s not anime, and it’s not American animation. It’s world animation because of the nature of how it’s put together. I really respect Thomas. I like him a lot. I think he’s one of the most talented guys. He’s an incredible draftsman, and one of the most incredible thinkers. I’m going to see him next month when I go to Tokyo. He’s one of my favorite people.
OM: You worked in Korea, you’ve worked with the Japanese studio Satelight [on Cannon Busters], and you’ve worked with American companies. What’s it like working with different studios in different countries?
LT: In America, it’s pre-production and post-production, and that’s it for most shows. There are a lot of shows that are being animated in Flash in America, but most daytime animated shows are done in Korea.
Korea doesn’t do pre-production or post-production, so they’re just main production, largely. And Japan does all of it. And that’s the difference, at least in my personal experience. I could be wrong, but that’s the gist of what I got.
OM: You spent time in South Korea in the animation business. I know that Korea doesn’t create a lot of animation in pre-production or post-production, but I know there is a desire by South Korea, by the government and the animation business, to be known as an animation powerhouse.
LT: It’s mostly service work.
OM: Do you think there is a strong potential for them to break out and become their own thing?
LT: I think so. I don’t know if the problems that were there when I was in Korea are the same as the ones now, but I know the trick is to find venture capitalists who are interested in and see value in animation production beyond government funding and subsidization. I’m not sure if that’s something they’re risk-averse towards. When I was there back in 2009, 2010, there was a massive aversion towards taking a risk on animation over video games. And I’m not sure if that’s still an issue, but I definitely think they have the potential to stand out. I mean, why not? They animate most of our shows, and I think a lot of it has to do with just finding alternative revenue streams to finance original properties and projects.
It seems like there’s a slow coming back at the feature level, but it seems like everything sort of fizzled out once Wonderful Days aka Sky Blue died. I think that scared the industry in general, made everyone say, “Well, we’re not going to take this risk anymore.” I’m just waiting for a resurgence.
There are a few animated feature films that have come out in the past one or two years, like King of Pigs. It’s like, wow, they’re doing features now. They’re in film festivals.
Overall, do I think they have the potential? Of course. If they can do Sky Blue, they can do anything. I just think they have to figure out internally within the industry, within their government and culture, how to create a platform for creating original content. And they also need to motivate young kids. A lot of kids are going into game design instead of animation because of work labor and pay and all that.
OM: My last question is this: Your little brother is Sanford Kelly, the fighting game pro. Growing up, did you notice that he had a talent for fighting games?
LT: Yeah, he learned all his gaming from me [laughs].
Me, him, my older brother Kelby, and my two sisters Valtvaia and Shavon, we all lived in the same apartment with my mom and my grandmother. So we all came up, and video gaming was one of our major bonding aspects. We gamed hard. We played everything, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Turbo Grafx-16, Super Nintendo. That’s all we did. So by the time Sanford turned 18, we were so hardcore into it, we would go to the local arcade shops—back before there was only Chinatown Fair, in the mid-90s—and hit the sticks.
He just got really good, and he built up a circle in Chinatown Fair, in that area. I kind of moved on to animation and left the city to move to LA. I used to get on him about it. “You need to focus on other stuff.” But then when I started seeing him winning money and awards and stuff like that…
Gaming culture’s still relatively brand new. Talking about the early 2000s, where there were legit funded tournaments, he came up in that circuit where the Justin Wong and Daigo era was pretty much coming up. Now it’s a big thing. It’s on ESPN.
When he was coming up, I was a bit nervous about it, but then when I saw how well he was doing, and how he was creating a name for himself, I embraced it.
I get that quite often. “Oh my god, you’re brothers with Sanford Kelly, that’s so cool.”
OM: It’s kind of unlikely—well maybe not unlikely, but it’s interesting to have two different, talented brothers in two very different fields.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been forced over the years respect the game circuit. Because, like many people, if it’s not sponsored or it’s not on TV, then it’s still a subculture. And now it’s a major thing, so now it’s common for kids that I run into to say that they love Street Fighter and that they know who Sanford Kelly is. It’s still kind of weird, but it’s still really cool.
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Though I was originally asked to write about Aikatsu! through my Patreon, I quickly found myself hooked on the show. Despite the sheer length of the series, I finished the first 50-episode season in less time than I usually take to watch shows half that size. Thus, I want to give an update to my previous post to talk about some of the later developments that I enjoyed.
Aikatsu! follows Hoshimiya Ichigo on her quest to become an idol. She enrolls in Starlight Academy (a school specializing in idols) with her best friend and idol fan, Kiriya Aoi, and over the course of the series they climb the ranks and make many friends. While girls’ shows such as these tend to not work in dramatic narratives, the lack of a very concrete goal leaves the series without any continuing driving force other than the sheer personalities of its characters.
However, with respect to those characters Aikatsu! is immensely entertaining. Though none of them are particularly complex, the way they bounce off of each other and the way that even the most gimmicky characters exhibit a great deal of heart and vibrancy in their personalities helps the show along immensely. When the show is being episodic, it’s still entertaining. When it allows its characters to grow, Aikatsu! is home to a number of memorable moments.
Great New Characters
There are three major changes since my previous post that make the show better overall. The first is the growing of the cast into something rather enormous, and yet Aikatsu! is able to keep it from being unwieldy. Of the later additions, I think Ichinose Kaede and Kitaouji Sakura are fantastic. Kaede is a scene stealer with her constant Engrish (she comes from America after all), ability to make sushi appear out of thin air, and just the way she represents the idea that, at least in the Aikatsu! universe, being an idol in the US is rough business that requires you to be on your A game at all times. For Sakura, I love how her running gag, the fact that she will just break into Kabuki-style talk when discussing important topics, is weaved into moments and then quickly transitioned out of back into normal conversation.
If there’s one thing that I think was a lost opportunity with Sakura, it has to do with the fact that she originally appears as Ichigo’s fresh-faced freshman (whereby Ichigo is supposed to guide her), but Sakura is already way more talented than Ichigo in a variety of ways. What Ichigo is meant to teach Sakura is the sense of exuberance that Ichigo is known for, and I think they could have directly developed that more.
The second upgrade is the improved 3DCG dance sequences. CG at the start of Aikatsu! was pretty bland, something it shares with rival series such as Pretty Rhythm. But it gets better as the show progresses, and with both more natural-looking movements and better camera work the dance numbers go from tedious to pretty entertaining. The only strike I hold against them is the fact that they’re often meant to be competitions but no differences are really shown in regards to how each character is dancing (they do the same moves at the same time all the time), with the exception of the “Special Appeals,” which are essentially fanciful cut scenes that act as special moves (this is based on a game, after all).
As someone who is neither a dancer nor rhythmically inclined in general maybe I’m not getting it, and I also don’t expect a show for little girls to cater to my adult sense of continuity, but I think this is exactly the sort of thing anime and manga tend to be good at. It’s hard for an ignoramus like me to enjoy ballet, but when it’s ballet + shocked expressions + exposition, even I can enjoy Swan Lake.
Hoshimiya Ringo, an Awesome Mom
The third improvement is the way that they build up Ichigo’s mom. When the series begins, Ringo is shown owning a simple bento shop and having no connections to the idol world. Over the course of the series, it blatantly hints that she’s not what she seems, and while it’s quickly made obvious to the audience that Ringo was a member of the most famous idol group in history, Masquerade (along with Starlight’s headmaster Orihime), seeing Ringo hint at her past in conversations with Ichigo by dispensing advice only when necessary, or exchanging knowing glances with Orihime kept me wanting more. In the end, the payoff for this little plot thread is well worth it.
The show actually hints at this right from the opening, as Ringo is shown pretending that her rice scoop is a microphone and posing for her son Raichi’s camera. What is supposed to be a mom playing at being an idol is actually Ringo very briefly delving back into her past.
It’ll probably be a while before I watch the second season, but I can easily see now why Aikatsu! garners such a loyal fanbase. It’s a genuinely entertaining series that never really has any low points, and stays consistent throughout even if it doesn’t have any kind of massive involving story arc. Let’s look back in a year or two and see if I’ve come back to the world of Idol Activities. Alhough, I feel like I’ll miss the first opening and ending themes; they really were the best.
By the way, I spent a bit of time in Japan recently and got to play the actual Aikatsu! arcade game. What stood out to me most about the game is that the awkward idol poses in the anime are just there to directly reflect the game elements. Without the visibility of success and failure in those sequences, however, some of the impact is lost on TV.
I also got a couple of sweet cards for my trouble, and I rocked Kaede as my character. While I was indeed playing a game for 5 year olds, the only other person playing was a salaryman in a suit and tie. Perhaps Idol Activities truly are for everyone.
It’s time for another year at the east coast’s largest anime convention! It’ll be Otakon’s final year in Baltimore for the foreseeable future, so I’m hoping to make it a memorable one.
I’ve also got a couple of panels this year, and I hope that you can attend.
Saturday, August 11, 8:15 – 9:15pm
Panel Room 5
“Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow.”
Saturday, August 11, 11:45pm – 12:45pm
Panel Room 1
“Greater Uglier Manga.” [18+]
The sequel to last year’s “Great Ugly Manga” panel. Once again, my co-presenter and I will be showing manga that’s great not in spite of how ugly they are, but because of how ugly they are. As a warning, this year’s iteration is 18+, but keep in mind that this is not just some pornography/hentai panel. Most of the content will still be all-ages.
See you there!
What does it mean to create a follow-up act to a multimedia franchise as successful as Love Live!? That’s the challenge facing Love Live! Sunshine!! To fans, each of the original girls is something special, something unique, and renewing that fervor can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Of course, a franchise like Love Live! is designed to do just that, across different characters and different iterations of the concept, but it’s still not necessarily an easy task. Though I might be jumping the gun with what I’m about to say, I think the people in charge of Love Live! might now have a much clearer idea of what is most effective, and this potentially manifests in the physical appearances of the characters themselves.
I decided recently to see how the physical characteristics of the μ’s girls stack up to those of Love Live Sunshine!!‘s Aqours. Thanks to Reddit, I found a convenient chart comparing all of their heights and bust sizes. What’s noticeable is that the Aqours members are all closer to each other physically. Toujou Nozomi and Yazawa Nico are at the extremes in terms of bust size (to no one’s surprise), but a character like Hanayo who is above average compared to the rest of μ’s is decidedly normal in the world of Love Live! Sunshine!! Similarly, while half-Italian American Ohara Mari is the tallest, the other girls are also relatively close to her. Keep in mind that the disparity is not especially large, especially when it comes to height. The difference between “tiny” Kunikida Hanamaru and “towering” Mari is a mere 4 inches (or 10 centimeters). Already, there’s a certain narrow range median that reminds me of something anime voice actress Nonaka Ai once mentioned when I interviewed her: she wanted to be an actress but was considered too tall. Similarly, Hanayo’s voice actress Kubo Yurika is the tallest of the μ’s cast. Like Mari, she is 5’4″ or 163 cm.
I think it’s worth entertaining the thought that the success of Love Live! School Idol Project, which grew gradually from a modest success to a cultural phenomenon, has informed the current version in terms of what is the best median to take, at least in terms of physical traits. Moreover, given the seaside venue of Love Live! Sunshine!!, I believe that there is a greater push for sex appeal, though I’m sure they’re aware that keeping the fanservice from going too overboard is important for maintaining Love Live!‘s large female fanbase.
That being said, while they’re more similar in size, I’m not sure the same applies to the characters’ personalities. In many ways, they feel more extreme and more adhered to certain archetypes, such as Yohane’s chuunibyou identity, Kurosawa Dia’s “Kanzuki Karin” levels of haughtiness, or her sister Ruby’s ultra moe shyness. The closest we have to Ruby in in the original was Hanayo, and at this point we’re aware that Hanayo is kind of a maniac. That doesn’t mean the Aqours characters are bad, however. In a way, perhaps it helps to distinguish them further from each other.
August is full of fun and surprises. For one thing, I have two panels at Otakon 2016: “Greater Uglier Manga” and “Such Dog, Much Anime, Wow.” The schedule isn’t available yet, but when it is I’ll be making a post.
Another bit of news is that Ogiue Maniax has, for the first time ever, been quoted on the back of a manga! The title in question is Sweetness & Lightning:
I consider this quite the milestone, and I’d like to thank my readers, but especially my Patreon sponsors in particular for supporting me:
Sasahara Keiko fans:
Yoshitake Rika fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
I’d also like to congratulate Johnny for winning my Love Live! contest.
Perhaps the biggest news of all for the blog is that Genshiken is ending! I’ve written my review for the penultimate chapter, and I already have emotions welling up inside of me in anticipation for the final conclusion. You’ll be certain that I’ll have a lot to say at the end.
If nothing crazy happens (like a third Genshiken being announced soon after), I’m considering doing a series of nine posts to review the original series volume by volume. What do you think?
Other notable posts this month include my Patreon-sponsored article on Purity in Anime, my reviews of the Kyoto subway tourism light novel, Kyo Girls Days, and Girls und Panzer der Film, as well as a report on my visit to the university on which Genshiken is based.
It’s kind of a hectic month looking ahead, so I haven’t had time to think of any new projects for the blog. For now, I’m still watching and reading through quite a back catalog, with the intention of clearing up some time to finally review Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross for Gattai Girls. Luckily, it’s now on Amazon, free for Prime users and 99 cents per episode for non-Primes. So, I have no excuses left!
Once again, I’ll be at Otakon, so if anyone wants to come up and say hi at a panel, feel free to do so! I’m actually a tad shy in real life, and it can come across as surliness, but don’t let that scare you.
I’ve been thinking for a long while about the ubiquity red hair as a feature of prominent female characters in fantasy anime. That’s what prompted this article. It’s a bit sparse in terms of exploring the concept further, but I think it provides a nice basis for future posts (which will most likely be on Ogiue Maniax).