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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dongs of History: Golden Kamuy

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

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

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

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

Jyushin Thunder Liger: The Impossible Gimmick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nijisanji, Hololive, and the Virtual Youtuber Kayfabe

Since I last wrote about Virtual Youtubers close to two years ago, the scene has grown far beyond any one individual’s ability to keep track. One consequence of this, as I’ve come to learn, is that individual acts have started to form collectives that increase visibility for all. Two of the big ones are Nijisanji and Hololive, both of which utilize a less expensive approach called Live2D that is clearly less robust than whatever it is Kizuna A.I. has. I find the presence of groups like Nijisanji and Hololive to be curious intersections of how people interact with the internet in current times. 

Virtual Youtubers (VTubers) are essentially one part Hatsune Miku, one part livestreamer, and one part idol–the result is a kind of weird unspoken contract between viewers and creators where the notion of “authenticity” is relative rather than being some kind of absolute. One of the complaints that streamers often receive, especially if they’re extremely over the top, is that it’s all an act, and that they’re just playing to the audience in order to get more eyeballs on them. People like streamers with whom they can feel some kind of genuine connection, and a layer of “fakeness” can be a turn-off in that respect. But with characters like Tsukino Mito (Nijisanji) or Haato Akai (Hololive), there’s an obvious understanding that what you’re seeing and getting just isn’t a “real person.” At the same time, there’s still a desire that these characters aren’t fully constructed, and that some of the actual individual behind the anime mask will peek through just a bit sometimes. Fujima Sakura (who isn’t in Nijisanji or Hololive) is a prime example of this, though in that case, the person behind the character (Sally Amaki) is already well known, as is the fact that Sakura as a VTuber is part of a greater project: 22/7.

I mentioned Hatsune Miku here (and in the previous post about VTubers) not just because she’s a cute anime girl mascot who people collectively imbue with a personality and history, but because part of her charm is that her voice doesn’t sound entirely realistic. There’s an artificial quality to her that adds to her appeal, and to some extent, I can see this being the case with Nijisanji and Hololive’s VTubers because Live2D isn’t super-smooth. There’s a kind of choppiness that can drag you out of the illusion pretty easily, so you have to kind of let it work its magic on you. Perhaps it’s closer to pro wrestling in that respect. In a way, the flaws even lend themselves to a greater sense of authenticity, in that these VTubers are not presenting a supremely polished (and arguably overproduced) product. 

However, just the fact that Nijisanji and Hololive are these collectives adds another wrinkle. There’s this kind of understanding that cooperation is of mutual benefit to all those involved, but the fact that prospective VTubers basically earn the opportunity to enter these groups calls to mind the very nature of Youtube as a platform dependent on click-throughs and crossovers as a means to garner more attention. It’s not that different from something like Game Grumps, but the veneer of anime avatars makes VTubers a little more mysterious but also makes me wonder just where they’re all coming from. To what extent are they professionally honed products and to what extent are they amateur endeavors–and for that matter, does Youtube explode that difference?

It might not be such a bad thing that people can so easily become Virtual Youtubers these days. I myself have considered doing more Youtube in the past, but I’m just not a fan of putting my face out there for all to see. The way the members of Nijisanji and Hololive do it, on the other hand, provides an alternative for those who want to be out there without exposing too much of their identities. In a time when the difference between the online self and the offline self is all but disintegrated, doing this Virtual Youtuber thing can be an oasis of anonymity, albeit within a profit and attention-seeking environment.

This post was written based on a request by Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic, check out the Ogiue Maniax Patreon.

Transition and Transience: Weathering with You

WARNING: THIS REVIEW DISCUSSES SPOILERS FOR WEATHERING WITH YOU AND MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH.

Ever since Your Name, the fourth-highest grossing Japanese domestic film of all time, director Shinkai Makoto has gone from critical darling to household name. His latest movie, Weathering with You (aka Tenki no Ko), is a visually brilliant animated work that ends up feeling more like a transitional work—a stepping stone to this next project. As Weathering with You grapples with being the mainstream successor to Your Name, it also presents a vortex of ideas and themes that aren’t necessarily always cohesive but do leave a lasting impression of emotions and frustrations over how society treats its youth.

The story of Weathering with You focuses on Morishima Hodaka, a high schooler who runs away from home to Tokyo but ends up living on the streets, unable to find work, as the weather gets worse and worse by the day. A couple of chance encounters unites him with a girl named Hina, who he later discovers is a “sunny girl” whose prayers can call forth good weather. Hodaka gets the idea to turn Hina’s ability into a profitable venture, unaware that it could come at a price.

The pressure of being the follow-up to one of the biggest Japanese films of all time is all too real, and I could practically feel it in every name-brand sponsor that dots the Tokyo landscape in Weathering with You. Whether it’s Hodaka sitting at a McDonald’s only for Hina to give him the most lovingly animated Big Mac ever, or the many real shopping malls such as Mylord and Parco, this is a movie with real big sponsors who clearly had high expectations. It’s not a surprise, then, that Weathering with You is also a boy meets girl story with supernatural themes connected to the religion and culture of Japan. One big difference, however, is that the teens in Weathering with You feel much more “lost,” like they’re in a foreboding environment that they’re trying to scratch and claw against. There’s a certain sense of powerlessness that feels very sloppy and therefore very real in the process.

That powerlessness and frustration ties into what I believe will be of the most enduring debates about Weathering with You: whether its characters ultimately made the right decision, and how it ties into our current global crisis with respect to climate change.

Hina has the ability to bring about pleasant weather, but every time she prays, it takes a toll on her body. This is part of the “natural order” of sorts, that there will be people who can fix the weather at the expense of their lives. However, at the turning point of the film, Hodaka manages to rescue Hina and prevent her sacrifice, all while exclaiming that he wouldn’t be able to stand a world without her. In many films, this would be considered the heroic move, except we find out in an end-of-movie timeskip that Tokyo is half-submerged in water three years later. In a sense, Hodaka sacrificed an entire city for one girl, instead of the other way around.

There’s a part of me that wants to criticize Hodaka as being selfish. Right now, we live in a world where the actions of one person cannot truly change the losing fight we’re having with saving the Earth’s environment, and it’s tempting to wish we could magic it all away. However, the more I think about it, the more I find myself realizing that Hodaka and Hina aren’t supposed to be heroes. Sure, they’re the main characters of Weathering with You, but they’re just kids who are trying to do what’s right for them, who are struggling against the expectations their world places on them for being young. And while Hina could have solved the issue, is it right for adults to foist all that responsibility onto kids, and to have a system where one gets sacrificed to keep the weather at bay?

There’s a subplot involving a handgun in Weathering with You, and it can feel incongruous with the rest of the movie. Perhaps it ties into the above theme, placing this enormous amount of power into a kid’s hands, and the danger to himself and others that comes with it. At the same time, if that is what the film is saying, it’s not conveyed very cleanly, leading to some of the lack of cohesion. While Your Name is the obvious comparison, this sort of loose meandering reminds me at times of another Shinkai film: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below.

After I saw Weathering with You, I made the joke that Zagato from the anime and manga Magic Knight Rayearth would love the film. He’s also a character willing to sacrifice the world for the one he loves—a world that puts all the burden of maintaining peace and order on the prayers of a single unfortunate soul. Hodaka and Zagato essentially make the same decision, but with the differences in setting (Tokyo vs. a faraway fantasy land) and role (protagonist vs. antagonist), I wonder if it changes how we perceive their decisions and their integrity.

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

We don’t get much Genshiken news these days, but the Hashikko Ensemble official Twitter account recently tweeted about Yamamoto Nozomi, the voice actor for Ogiue Chika in Genshiken Nidaime, congratulating her on getting married. Accompanying the tweet is the drawing by Kio Shimoku of Ogiue in a wedding dress seen above.

Yamamoto is the second actor to play Ogiue, after Mizuhashi Kaori. Yamamoto’s other notable roles include Jogasaki Rika in The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls and Bouhatei Tetora in Joshiraku.

There’s also an interaction in the replies where Yamamoto thanks Kio, only for the account to mention that it’s not Kio but rather his manager (who she’s met before) handling social media. However, the Twitter account did have a message for Yamamoto from Kio:

“You did so, so much for the anime. When I found out you got married, I had to draw something. May you have many years of happiness!” (Kio)

Mashin Hero Wataru Is Available Free and Legally on YouTube

Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru (Mashin Hero Wataru) is a 1989 children’s giant robot anime that still has ardent fans to this day. After appearing in the video game Super Robot Wars X, it’s now getting a new sequel to celebrate its 30th anniversary—along with a new set of toys to collect. In order to promote this new series, the Bandai Spirits YouTube channel has actually been putting up the entire Wataru series with multilanguage subtitles!

The channel uploads one episode a week, and the English translation is very solid. The only hiccups come from the fact that Wataru likes to make Japanese language puns—the bane of all translators.

My early impression is that it’s a fun and entertaining series about an energetic boy who gets transported to a fantasy world and who can summon a giant robot. Wataru is humorous and light-hearted, but actually has a few elements of intrigue that build on one another. In our current age of “good boys” in anime, Ikusabe Wataru doesn’t feel out of place at all.

It’s also worth noting that Wataru and his ninja ally Himiko are both voiced by seiyuu giants: Tanaka Mayumi (Krillin, Luffy) and Hayashibara Megumi (Ayanami Rei, Lina Inverse) respectively. If you want some top-class acting chops, this series of full of them. The main robot, Ryujinmaru is actually played by the Kaiji narrator, Genda Tesshou, and another major character has Yamadera Kouichi (Spike Spiegel) behind him.

There’s no telling how long the episodes will be up, but watching them is a great way to support and enjoy a beloved old anime, even if it’s perhaps your (and my) first time watching it. There’s also no guarantee that they’ll have the entire first Wataru series available either. However, based on the fact that they put up all of Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (aka Vehicle Voltron) up to promote the Soul of Chogokin future, signs are positive. At the very least, I hope to be ready when the 30th anniversary sequel, Mashin Hero Wataru: Ryujinmaru of the Seven Souls hits later this year.

Now, where’s that Keith Courage revival?