More Like “We-katsu!”: Aikatsu Friends!

Aikatsu Friends! is the second reboot in the popular Aikatsu! franchise, and based on early impressions, it’s trying to change the formula in a number of ways. While the basic premise is largely the same as in previous iterations—girl goes to a special idol school and aims to become a great idol through the power of friendship, effort, and merchandisable cards—I feel a strong desire from Aikatsu Friends! to differentiate itself from its predecessors.

Aikatsu Friends stars Yuuki Aine—though, perhaps more accurately, it could be said to star “Yuuki Aine’s friendship.” That’s because, as one might expect, the new series is all about bonds on a much greater level than Aikatsu! and Aikatsu Stars! Where those anime would display friendship, ultimately the idols have very strong auras of individuality even as they form idol units. With Aikatsu Friends!, the very premise of being an idol is tied to duos because the default groups are performer pairings called “Friends.” Moreover, even the Aikatsu! tradition of the main heroine standing in front of a show title card and introducing the series has changed slightly, as seen above. Now, both Aine and her idol partner Minato Mio are shown speaking together.

Aine herself reflects the “us” mentality of Aikatsu Friends! in interesting ways. What stands out to me most about her is that her goal isn’t directly idol-related. Every previous protagonist has had “being an idol” as their driving force, whether it’s just wanting to try it out or looking up to another and aspiring to be like them. Aine’s dream, however, is to make a million friends, and becoming an idol is presented as a means to that end. Provided we view fans in a non-cynical light, being an idol can be a rather efficient way to reach that high a number. And while there’s always a chance that Aine’s goal will shift as she learns to love being an idol more and more, the fact that she’s presented this way initially again puts emphasis on idols in pairs over idols as individuals.

Is it friendship, teamwork, or that much more? Ultimately, Aikatsu! is a children’s franchise, but I suspect this series is going to be very popular with yuri fans even compared to older Aikatsu! anime. It’s potentially a little too on the nose, but the explicit focus on pairings—especially girl-girl pairings—seems like it’d be catnip to that fanbase. When Kamishiro Karen and Mirai Asuka, the top “Friends” group known as “Love Me Tear,” are shown being 100% in sync with each other in terms of movement and even seemingly finishing each other’s sentences, I have to give a second look.

One last thing I noticed is that Aikatsu Friends! has done a really good job of showing the difference between a fledgling pair like Aine and Mio and Love Me Tear. From their idol fashion to just the behavior described in the previous paragraph, there’s just a stark contrast between beginners and veterans. It presents a clear point for Aine and Mio to aim for, and it has me interested in where they and their friendship will go.

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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Girls Going Somewhere: A Place Further Than the Universe

2018 isn’t even half over, but I think A Place Further Than the Universe might just be the best anime of the year.

The series centers on Japanese high school girl Kobuchizawa Shirase and her quest to travel to Antarctica to fulfill a life-long wish. Mocked at school for her absurd dream, she’s more than willing to say, “screw the haters,” but a few other girls are drawn to Shirase’s ambitious spirit, and join her to see if they can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

One of the more enduring anime and manga recipes is “girls doing X.” Girls in a band. Girls going camping. Girls in art school. Girls driving tanks for sport in an alternate-history Earth. The activities can be mundane or out-of-this-world, but the combination of cute female characters and some kind of fun or quirky activity is a reliable formula. Where the genre (if you can call it that) begins to differ is the degree to which there is any forward momentum. Those that are more slice-of-life tend to revel in a kind of cathartic stasis of the everyday, such as Aria. In contrast, many sports or competition series, such as Sound! Euphonium make forward progression toward a goal. A Place Further Than the Universe takes the best of both worlds, while grounding itself in a refreshingly realistic depiction of friendship, human interaction, and emotional complexity.

The fact that the goal is Antarctica makes it seem as if the series might just remain about wistfully hoping that they can get there “someday.” But thenm Shirase and the other girls are shown working towards it, step by step, enjoying themselves along the way. As they accomplish each task ahead of them, no matter how big or small, the impossible gradually feels more and more within arm’s reach. Yet A Place Further than the Universe isn’t just about heading towards a goal, and it’s not even just about “the journey being more important than the destination,” as the cliche goes. The genuine sense of friendship and camaraderie that’s built up between them feels like it could sustain an entire series by itself. It’s as if zooming in on an individual episode feels like a small, self-sustaining universe of daily life. But when you zoom out, the full picture comes into focus and it’s just so immensely satisfying.

A Place Further than the Universe charges ahead but also takes time to enjoy the view. A simple and direct story full of complex characters and other moving parts, the detours and the “main quest” are all filled with life. It’s fun, moving, inspiring, and relaxing all at the same time—as complete an experience as one can hope.

Interested in supporting Ogiue Maniax? Check out my Patreon and Ko-fi!

Sakuga is to Anime as Workrate is to Pro Wrestling

Listen to anime fans discuss the quality of a given title, and there’s a chance the term “sakuga” will pop up. Used to roughly describe the quality and difficulty of artistically creating the illusion of motion in animation, sakuga has gradually gained prominence among hardcore anime fans around the world, in no small part due to resources like Sakugabooru and just increasingly convenient access to anime. It can also be a contentious subject among anime fans, namely because its idolization can come sometimes across as either excessively niche or obnoxiously elitist. As many elements of art tend to be, sakuga is prone to passionate discussions about a very subjective thing.

I find it useful to frame surrounding fan discourses by comparing them to other areas of art and entertainment. With sakuga, the question of its “true” value is actually quite reminiscent of an ongoing debate in another area of entertainment: pro wrestling. There, the buzzword is “workrate”–defined roughly as “the quality and difficulty of creating the illusion of a wrestling match.” Sound familiar?

While there are many styles and schools of wrestling, the origin of the workrate debate stems from the difference in style between the larger and historically more widely viewed promotions, most notably WWE, and the smaller indie promotions. Because many of the indies are filled younger wrestlers inspired by veterans touted for their often spectacle-heavy styles, indie wrestling has a reputation for being filled with athletes who want to showcase their skill as many difficult-to-execute or dangerous/dangerous-looking actions as possible, e.g. a Shooting Star Press off of a ladder, to entertain a hardcore wrestling audience. In contrast, the more traditional wrestling organizations tend to value storytelling over technical execution, in part due to the desire to avoid or mitigate injuries, but also because simpler moves surrounded by a narrative can be understood by a wider audience.

Whether in anime or in pro wrestling, an attack can have more significance when it carries meaning through context. The anime Digimon Tamers features a scene where a demonic Digimon named Beelzemon performs a move called “Fist of the Beast King.” On its own, it just looks like a cool but generic technique. However, it’s also a move used by a Digimon named Leomon Beelzemon had previously cruelly slain, and Beelzemon’s own usage of it is a product of his remorse over the pain he created in Leomon’s partner.

Similarly, when wrestler Kenny Omega performed a Golden Star Powerbomb, a Bloody Sunday, a Styles Clash, and a One-Winged Angel on his opponent to win the G-1 Climax tournament, he’s recalling his history as a wrestler the history of the Bullet Club faction he led at the time. Both it and the Beelzemon scene are examples of visual storytelling. However, when the topic becomes “what’s more important, the technical performance or the story being told,” and one ends up choosing a side, the tension between the two becomes more evident.

The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is somewhat infamous for using severe animation shortcuts in certain scenes, notably long elevator sequences that involve a single frame of animation left onscreen with some ambient noise. In a way, it almost can’t be called animation, but it’s surprisingly effective for conveying a sense of interpersonal tension or awkwardness among the characters involved. For storytelling purposes it works, but to a sakuga fan, this is simply what they’re not looking for. They take pleasure in the difficulty involved in visual storytelling. They’ll often watch an anime they weren’t invested in, simply because of the quality of the animation.

In wrestling, Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest names in history. For most of his career, he’s utilized a very simple style consisting of basic striking moves and holds, but his ability to capture the audience through those simple gestures is arguably second to none. To workrate fans, however, they’d choose a technical masterpiece with little buildup or context over a Hogan match, because wrestling to them is about seeing what is possible.

There’s a certain purity to wanting to see art or performance for the sake of it, without needing an underlying narrative, and often involves a much deeper dive into a subject—the domain of the dedicated fan. There’s also a sort of “insider” appeal derived from using industry terms like sakuga and workrate. The ability to appreciate these technical and creative aspects of their respective fields is something to be valued. And yet, the fact that this appreciation is ultimately about valuing the human skill involved is precisely what makes prioritizing such things over storytelling a potential issue. The people working meticulously animating and doing the craziest wrestling moves are often doing so at the risk of their health, and finding an ideal balance between the two is better for longevity. That balance is not necessarily the fault of the people involved, as workplace conditions and salary go a long way, but the question of whether it’s better to be a sprinter or marathon runner in life arises nevertheless.

One Step Off: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for April 2018

It’s time once again to look back on a month of blogging, and to give my gratitude to my supporters on Patreon and from Ko-fi. Thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I have to apologize this month, as I was supposed to have written and posted my re-read review of Genshiken volume 8 in March. Unfortunately, I came down with a bad cold towards the second half of the month, and rather than try to force it out I decided to delay it to this month. It’s actually mostly finished and requires largely final touches. Because of this, the final re-read for Volume 9 will be delayed to June.

You might have noticed that I avoided posting this past Sunday. As some might surmise, it was to avoid the chaos that is April Fool’s. I didn’t have any sort of chicanery at the ready, so I didn’t want anything I published to seem disingenuous. I do kind of miss making April Fool’s gags, though, so maybe next year.

On another related note, I’m currently trying to figure out if I should switch to a lighter posting schedule, given my real-life work schedule and my relative dissatisfaction with the quality of my writing as of late. I’ve always valued my consistency and my willingness to (more often than not) just let pieces go rather than sit on them forever. However, recently, I’ve felt that many of my blog posts don’t have the amount of spark, inspiration, and insight that I prefer. Fewer posts per week (i.e. one or two instead of two or three) makes sense on the surface, but I’m worried that having so much wiggle room could make me slack off.

The other concern is my Patreon. I want to make sure there’s enough content to keep justifying it, and I have to wonder if one to two weekly posts is actually enough. If you have any thoughts on either of these matters, feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear it.

It’s not really doom or gloom; it’s a desire to not stagnate. In any case, here are my favorite posts from March:

 

Kio Shimoku and Genshiken Trivia Courtesy of “Mou, Shimasen Kara”

Following Chapter 1 of Hashikko Ensemble was a special interview with the man Kio himself. There’s a lot to learn from it!

A Look at Precure Popularity

Thoughts and musings on the varying popularity of Precure and its characters throughout the years. Spoilers: Cure Marine is amazing, Heartcatch Precure! is the best. No, really.

Defying Assumptions. Fujoshi-style: Kiss Him, Not Me

My final review of a really good fujoshi-themed manga.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 2 of Kio Shimoku’s new music manga. It’s filled with potential.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu! and Idol Franchise “Experiences”

Aikatsu! feels rather unique to me, and I try to explore why.

Also, while I didn’t quite consider them my favorite posts for the month, I did review quite a bit from the New York International Children’s Film Festival. Check the NYICFF tag out! I might get around to more of them this month!

Closing

Can Ogiue Maniax make the impact I desire? What shows of the Spring 2018 anime season will get reviewed on the blog? Find out…some time!

Love Live! and the Four Tendencies

I recently read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, a self-help book about how to better understand certain facets of oneself and others. While it’s been helpful in my personal life, I also noticed that it can be an informative way to understand characters and character interactions in fiction. Often, characters are designed relative or in contrast to those around them, and seeing how they respond to each others’ expectations can shed a lot of light on those dynamics. For this blog post, I decided to take a look at how the four tendencies can apply to to the cast of the original Love Live! School Idol Project.

An explanation of the four tendencies can be found on Rubin’s blog:

In a nutshell, it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution)…

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)

  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations

  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

So let’s take a look at the girls of μ’s!

First-Years

Hanayo is a questioner. At first, she seems like an obliger because she’d been unable to fulfill her childhood wish to become a school idol, but that’s more because she was convinced she couldn’t. Once persuaded, she fully embraces the idea. Same goes for taking over as president of the school idol club. When she does have a strong stance, such as rice being the best food in the universe, Hanayo is stalwart.

Rin is an obliger. Her main reason for becoming a school idol is to help Hanayo; otherwise, she’s relatively undisciplined if left to her own devices. She believed for most of her life that she couldn’t/shouldn’t wear skirts and dresses, but that’s more because she projected the standards of others onto herself. Only when the other μ’s girls give her new expectations to fulfill—that she can wear them and that she is beautiful—does she change her mind.

Maki is a questioner, and not just because her signature catch phrase is “What the heck?! You’re not making sense.” Left alone, Maki is extremely self-motivated and fulfills inner expectations easily—as seen in her goal of studying medicine, and when she writes a song for μ’s prior to joining. However, she won’t do anything she doesn’t think is off-base. Of course, sometimes that logic is “this would benefit Santa Claus”…

Second-Years

Honoka is a rebel. While it might seem unusual for the team leader to be the rebellious type, it’s clear that Honoka’s inner fire only blazes when something truly interests her, especially if others think she can’t do it. Her starting a school idol group is in itself the product of defying outer expectations. At the same time, she completely shirks both inward rigor if left to her own devices unless, again, it’s something she cares about from deep within.

Umi is a textbook upholder through and through. If her unmatched self-discipline and desire to ensure everything goes right wasn’t enough evidence, her love of schedules, regimens, and pie charts guarantee that she can’t be any other tendency. Her fear of having carefully laid plans go awry also points in this direction.

Kotori is an obliger. Considerate and prone to indecision, she’s at her best when supporting Honoka and Umi’s decisions. Even her costume-making seems motivated more by the positive expectations of others. Her alter ego, the legendary Akiba maid Minalinsky, is the result of her trying to work on her confidence—by being in a customer service job where she has to project strength and ease.

Third-Years

Nico is a rebel. She does what she wants, when she wants, unless she decides for herself that something is the right choice. She might seem like a questioner based on how much she researches proper idol etiquette, but it’s clear that she lives and dies even more by her passion. Before μ’s, she was always fully convinced she could be a school idol; it’s just that her drive and desire to actually keep it up was sapped by the resignation of her old partners. When μ’s calls her in to join them, she quickly falls back into her self-proclaimed role of “super idol.”

Eli is an upholder. Whether in μ’s or the student council, she still shows a strong sense of responsibility to both herself and those who need her. Mature and strong-willed, Eli will get everything done that she can, but on her terms. Eli also definitely isn’t a people pleaser, and believes in tough love as only a former Russian ballerina can—as seen when she first confronts the rest of the girls with what it means to truly be able to dance.

Nozomi is an obliger. On the surface, she looks like more like a rebel, but her backstory reveals that she values friendship above all else. Nozomi can be aloof because she’s suppporting Eli, and to a lesser extent the rest of the girls. In fact, Nozomi explains that seeing Eli essentially refuse to show any weakness is what drew her to befriending and helping Eli.

Overall

Doing this exercise made me realize are some of the vital distinctions between characters and how they behave. For example, while RIn might be seen as generally stronger than Hanayo due to her energy and fun-loving personality, you can see how their different responses to both outer and inner expectations shows that they complement each other in important ways. Of course, fiction doesn’t wholly map onto reality, and the four tendencies framework isn’t exactly a rigorous scientific study, so it’s not like these interpretations are set in stone. If you think certain characters better fit different tendencies than I’ve categorized, I’d love to see you responses!

The Fujoshi Files 177: Arai Tamako

Name: Arai, Tamako (新井珠子)
Alias: Tama-chan (珠ちゃん)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Barakamon

Information:
A middle school student and resident of Gotou Island near Kyuushuu, Arai Tamako is an aspiring manga artist who wishes to be published in a shounen magazine. However, unlike the typical manga for a shounen publication, Tamako combines an eccentric art style and bizarrely violent content that one might see in a more avant-garde magazine. She is best friends with Yamamura Miwa, with whom she occasionally bickers but also teams up with to tease the weak, be they younger or older. Tamako also has a younger brother, Aki, who is more level-headed.

Tamako discovered BL by accident at a younger age, and though she claims that side to be a small part of her general interest in manga, she is afraid of the other residents of Gotou Island finding out the truth. On top of that, the arrival of master calligrapher Handa Seishuu to the island has sparked her fujoshi imagination, especially when it comes to the (imaginary) relationship between him and high schooler Kido Hiroshi.

Fujoshi Level:
Though Tamako originally struggled to suppress her fujocity, over time she has increasingly let it slip through. She reaches the point where she is on some level trying to assert her fantasy in reality by suggesting somewhat openly to Seishuu and Hiroshi that something should happen.

A Look at Precure Popularity

I’ve been looking at various Precure polls lately, in part due to a desire to see how a franchise that’s 15 years old is remembered. The polls I consulted were Japanese character rankings from 2015, 2016, and 2017 as compiled by user insight_led, as well as a more recent one from the Japanese-language anime news site Anime! Anime! Being a decade and a half old means opinions can change over time (or according to the age of the voters), which is what I normally would expect, but there are some surprises.

Character Popularity

Looking at the Naver rankings, here are the top 10 characters from each year, along with the tallies each one accrued, based on comments on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Also, kids were not included in the votes; if that core audience was allowed to vote, there’d likely be a significant difference.

2015 (Go! Princess Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (1,541)
  2. Cure Marine (1,224)
  3. Cure Passion (1,107)
  4. Cure Twinkle (750)
  5. Cure Pine (624)
  6. Cure Happy (580)
  7. Cure Ace (575)
  8. Cure Lovely (489)
  9. Cure Peace (440)
  10. Cure Heart (432)

2016 (Maho Girls Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (20,041)
  2. Cure Happy (15,580)
  3. Cure Marine (12,824)
  4. Cure Peace (12,682)
  5. Cure Passion (8,107)
  6. Cure Twinkle (7,750)
  7. Cure Heart (7,432)
  8. Cure Lovely (6,999)
  9. Cure Scarlet (6,890)
  10. Cure Miracle (6,619)

2017 (Kira Kira Precure a la Mode airs)

  1. Cure Happy (12,450)
  2. Cure Beauty (11,394)
  3. Cure Marine (8,924)
  4. Cure Peace (8,804)
  5. Cure Passion (6,409)
  6. Cure Flora (6,102)
  7. Cure Lovely (5,877)
  8. Cure Heart (5,322)
  9. Cure Blossom (5,285)
  10. Cure Chocolat (5,180)

Based on these three rankings, what surprises me is how little recency bias actually seems to influence results. Cure Beauty and Cure Marine are consistently top 3, even as the total counts fluctuate. There appears to be something enduring about both of those characters, which is all the more interesting because they’re 1) in unrelated series 2) almost polar opposites in personality.

For Cure Beauty, the reasons generally given for her popularity are that she’s an ideal combination of strength, intelligence, and beauty. Out of all Precures, Beauty most closely matches the yamato nadeshiko (traditional ideal Japanese woman) in both looks and demeanor, so I wonder how much that’s a factor.

When it comes to Cure Marine, however, the queen of comedic intensity defies expectations for why fans come to love Precure characters in the first place. As mentioned in those rankings, while pretty every other character generally gets comments like “I want to be her” and “I want to be with her,” Marine’s are mostly “I wish she were my best friend.” Seeing as Marine is my favorite Precure character, I’d like to think the Japanese fans also just have incredibly good taste.

Show Popularity

According to the Anime! Anime! poll, the top 3 most beloved Precure series are as follows:

  1. Go! Princess Precure
  2. Futari wa Pretty Cure
  3. Heartcatch Precure!
  4. Kira Kira Precure a la Mode
  5. Smile Precure!
  6. Maho Girls Precure!
  7. Fresh Pretty Cure!!
  8. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go!
  9. Yes! Pretty Cure 5
  10. Futari wa Precure Max Heart
  11. DokiDoki! Precure
  12. Suite Precure
  13. Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star
  14. Happiness Charge Precure!

It should be noted that given the purpose of the site, the general audience for Anime! Anime! would skew towards older and more interested in anime as an industry. One goes there to read essays about and interviews with creators, as well as following general anime news. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that the most popular iterations of Precure are 1) the original pioneer 2) the series with (in my opinion) the strongest narratives and overall messages. What I’m more surprised about is how well this top 3 aligns with my personal tastes. I consider Heartcatch and Go! Princess to be #1 and #2, respectively, and the unrefined, yet innovative quality of the first Pretty Cure to be a big part of its charm.

While the character rankings and the series rankings are from two different sources, I find it remarkable that character popularity and series popularity don’t really line up. Based on my personal experience, this isn’t a complete shock, but I think it really goes to show that memorable characters can exist almost apart from their sources. Cure Heart is a top 10 (out of 51) character, but Doki Doki! Precure is a bottom 5 (out of 14) show, according to the above sources. It’s also interestingt to me that Cure Marine comes out ahead here. She’s considered a top 3 character, and Heartcatch Precure! is seen as a top 3 show.

Go! Princess Precure is considered the best Precure anime, but interestingly enough, it also has among the worst toy sales out of the entire franchise.

Go! Princess Precure is third from bottom

One might assume that a greater focus on quality storytelling might conflict with how one of the purposes of Precure is to sell toys, but this is not necessarily the case. According to the chart above, the most successful Precure in terms of merchandise sales is actually Heartcatch Precure! There’s perhaps a challenge in being able to achieve high marks in both, but it’s not impossible. The fact that one doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the other is simultaneously reassuring and daunting.

Conclusion (or lack thereof)

I’m not a statistician and I don’t pretend to be. I’m also unsure if there are any truths deeper than what I observed, like how Cure Marine is the Nintendo Switch of Precure (doesn’t compete directly with other Precures and is the better for it), and that toy sales and show quality almost exist on separate planes.

So in closing, Heartcatch Precure! and Cure Marine are the best. Fight me.

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