Ahh Real Babies: Hosoda Mamoru’s Mirai

Director Hosoda Mamoru is nearly synonymous with family themes in anime films, but his newest work, Mirai (in Japanese: Mirai no Mirai) takes it to a whole new level. Whereas his past films such as Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast explore the value and meaning of family, Mirai is more focused on the authentic feel of raising (and being) real flesh and blood children, and the challenges that come with having a family.

The story of Mirai centers around Kun, a bullet train-loving toddler who’s meeting his newborn little sister, Mirai, for the first time. As is typical of only children who suddenly have a sibling in their lives, he quickly grows jealous over all the attention given to the new baby. However, his tantrums lead him to discover that his backyard is the gateway to something magical, and that it lets Kun discover places and times he never could have otherwise. Through these voyages, which bring him to see his family members past and present in a new light, Kun is witness to the many small steps that lead him to being who he is.

At least, that’s the way the film presents Kun’s adventures. Mirai has almost a Calvin and Hobbes feel in that they never explain outright whether it’s all his imagination or if there really is time travel, and I think that ambiguity is a strength. While Mirai leans more toward the notion that Kun is actually accessing his family’s history given the amount of details he picks up, it doesn’t discount the possibility that Kun, like so many young children, is paying more attention than anyone realizes.

What makes the film truly memorable is the way it so realistically portrays the behavior and learning process of small children in Kun and Mirai. Speaking from my own experiences, I have plenty of friends and family at this point who have raised kids of their own, and many of the obstacles the parents face in dealing with Kun and Mirai actually perfectly mirror the experiences I’ve seen in those close to me. In particular, there’s a scene where Kun refuses to change out of his favorite pants—a stubbornness I’ve seen firsthand. It can feel almost too real, as if Mirai is trying to tell parents that it understands what they’re going through. Moreover, Kun’s mother and father also have to deal with delegating responsibility in their “working mother + work-from-home father” situation that’s quite unusual in Japanese society, which leads to even more examination of the “roles” of family in the modern age. To little surprise, in an interview shown at the screening, Director Hosoda discusses how having children of his own influenced the making of this film.

But it’s not just the parents that the film successfully empathizes with; the portrayal of the experience of being a young child is just as vivid and authentic. There’s one scene in particular toward the end of the film that successfully captures a child’s fear of being in a strange and unfamiliar place. While I’ve not been a baby in a long, long time, Kun’s reaction to his surroundings reminds me of the nightmares I had as a kid, as well as the times where I got lost in a mall or similarly large and eerie spaces.

Mirai feels more like a series of small episodes tied together into a single movie, but perhaps that’s the way childhood is. There’s no grand scheme or single obstacle to be overcome. It’s a learning process for the entire family.

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SSSS.Gridman and the Question of Genre

At a Studio Trigger panel at Anime NYC 2018, an interesting exchange occurred. During the Q&A session, the topic of Trigger’s preferred genres came up, and producer Wakabayashi Hiromi asked the audience what genre they thought the studio’s latest anime, SSSS.Gridman was about. They received various answers, but a common one was “action,” to which they responded, “Action? Really?” What this says is that, on some level, many viewers see SSSS.Gridman very differently compared to its creators.

The point here isn’t to figure out what genre SSSS.Gridman (Twin Peaks-esque paranormal mystery?). Rather, it’s to dwell on that incongruity between so many of those con attendees and Trigger itself. There are certain caveats to account for—like how this was only a handful of fans in the grand scheme of things or the way the series holds its cards close to its chest—but something has to be creating that difference in judgement.

Perhaps those viewers simply have a broader, more lenient idea of what denotes an “action series,” especially compared to creators who inevitably go in with their own values beforehand. If you asked Tomino Yoshiyuki what genre Mobile Suit Gundam is, he might not necessarily say “mecha” or “science fiction” or, indeed, “action.” Moreover, while fans might take the tokusatsu feel of the show (which it captures down to the rubber suit-like movements of the monsters) as more evidence of its “action” qualities, Studio Trigger could be seeing it as an aesthetic quality in service to a greater structure.

Adding thrilling violence to a story could just inevitably change how fans perceive it. The spectacle, on some level, can be overpowering. While I can’t say with full confidence that SSSS.Gridman is a Twin Peaks, there is an anime that takes a lot of inspiration from David Lynch and Mark Frost’s influential TV series: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable. While that series revolves around its small-town mysteries as well, the legacy of JoJo as a shounen fight series is still present in its DNA. For some fans, that battle tendency might dominate their view of Part 4.

Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that in the eyes of the creators, there’s more to SSSS.Gridman than just action. At this point, as the show moves towards its conclusion, that might very well be “obvious,” but I do wonder how many fans it pulled in under the vague pretense of strong fight scenes.

Smashing-Good Holidays: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2018

Ogiue Maniax just celebrated its 11th anniversary, and it feels like quite the milestone. However, as much as that has been on my mind, my head space is currently occupied 80% by Smash Bros. Ultimate. 4 days to go!!!

I’m always grateful for my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi. Many thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Here are also my favorite posts from November:

Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

An exploration of how heavy reference usage differs between geek entertainment and rap.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

The current Precure series likes to go places.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

My overview of Anime NYC 2018.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 10 feels like the end of one story and the beginning of another.

Patreon-Sponsored

An Amateur Look at the Atelier Games

How mellow can an RPG series get?

Closing

I promise that not every post I make for the next 6 months will just be about Smash Bros. That said, I get the feeling there will be plenty to go around.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

I had nothing but praise for last year’s inaugural Anime NYC, which I felt was the right size, scope, and level of focus for a New York City anime convention. But it can be difficult for a sequel to live up to a hit original, so I was curious to see how the second time around would fair.

Spoilers: It was pretty fantastic.

Exhibitor’s Hall, Artist Alley, and Moving Around

Once again, Anime NYC hit it out of the park in terms of having the right amount of space. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, as too little space means crowding and delays for all attendees but too much space can make a convention feel empty and isolating. Aside from absolute peak hours in the Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley, I never had any trouble moving from place to place. There might come a point where Anime NYC starts to outgrow its space, but the con this year only took up a portion of the Javits—it actually shared convention space with a pet-oriented event called Petcon. In other words, there’s plenty of room to expand.

I also want to re-affirm something I mentioned last year, which is how much I like the Artist Alley space for Anime NYC. Located on the top floor of the Javits, the area is surrounded by glass, which allows plenty of light to come in. At the best times of the day, it makes you feel like you’re walking through a gallery boutique, albeit filled with fandom ships of Voltron: Legendary Defender. As an aside, I was happy to see so much Cardcaptor Sakura stuff this year; perhaps a sign that the recent Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card made an impression.

The Star of the Con: Furuya Toru

Without a doubt, the biggest guest for me was Furuya Toru, the veteran voice actor behind roles such as Amuro Ray (Mobile Suit Gundam‘s protagonist), Pegasus Seiya (Saint Seiya), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and more. He is, without exaggeration, a legend of the industry, and this was my first opportunity ever to see him. I wanted his autograph and to get some insight from his decades of voice work in anime.

The autograph aspect hit a snag from the get-go, though not entirely through Anime NYC’s fault. For signings, the convention went with a mix of paid sessions and free ticketed ones, and Furuya’s was the latter. This required lining up outside the Jacob Javits convention center Friday morning, which also just happened to be the morning after one of the biggest snowstorms in New York City history. People were made to stand in the cold, despite the fact that there was plenty of room indoors. To Anime NYC’s credit, the con issued an apology the next day and allowed people to line up inside the convention center for Saturday and Sunday. That didn’t solve all the issues with autographs—I’ll get to that later—but it at least showed that they were willing to respond to complaints.

Fortunately, I was able to get an autograph ticket, and I was able to thank Furuya for putting so much passion into his many roles over the years as he signed my Gundam movie DVD box set. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

As for Furuya’s panel, it was a mix of both moderated discussion and audience Q&A. Sadly, I was unable to stay for the second part, but the first half provided plenty of highlights. One of my favorite exchanges was when the moderator, Kyle Cardine, asked Furuya about playing the character Ribbons in Gundam 00, who’s thematically an evil version of Amuro. Furuya responded that while he was the narrator in Gundam 00, it was “his kouhai” who played Ribbons. For those unaware of the joke, Ribbons is clearly Furuya (his voice is unique and unmistakable), but the role is credited to “Sougetsu Noboru”—a pseudonym that cheekily means “Moonrise,” a wink to the studio that makes Gundam, Sunrise.

I actually had the chance to provide Kyle a question to ask Furuya as well (thank you Kyle!). Specifically, it was asking about his experience working with director Nagahama Tadao on Furuya’s first big series, the seminal baseball anime Star of the Giants. Furuya gave a look of surprise, and then responded that he didn’t really interact with Nagahama, as the man didn’t attend the recording sessions much. However, he also mentioned that he was only fifteen years old when he played Hoshi Hyuuma, the protagonist of Star of the Giants, and that if the show hadn’t been so wildly successful, he probably wouldn’t have ever become a professional voice actor.

This answer is interesting to me, partly because I asked a similar question back in 2010 to another star actor from a later Nagahama anime: Mitsuya Yuji, the voice behind Aoi Hyouma from Combattler V. In contrast to Furuya’s response, Mitsuya actually said that Nagahama pushed him to improve his performance. This says to me that Nagahama must have changed in the years between Star of the Giants and Combattler V. Or maybe the director felt Furuya needed less guidance, even at a young age? It’s startling how talented Furuya can be, given how well he can modulate his voice between younger and older characters.

One minor mishap from this panel was that the moderator Kyle tried to ask him about Director Tomino Yoshiyuki, but something got lost in translation and Furuya didn’t give a real answer. Here’s hoping he comes to New York again, so we can get a second chance at this.

Shintani Mayumi and Studio Trigger

Another big Japanese guest at the convention was voice actor Shintani Mayumi (Haruka from FLCL, Nonon from Kill la Kill, Rikka’s mom from SSSS.Gridman). She was a speaker at the Studio Trigger Live Drawing/Q&A panel, and it gave me the opportunity to ask her about her experience on the 2000 anime Brigadoon: Marin & Melan. At first replying that the topic was unexpected  Shintani went into details about a memory from that time. Her character in Brigadoon, Lolo, resembles a cat, and so she played the role in a feline manner. However, it’s eventually revealed in the show that the cat-like appearance is a disguise to hide its true form, and seeing a closet full of “cat skins” was a shock to her. She then talked about how Brigadoon still has passionate fans.

Afterward, I received a nifty Gridman standee as a prize.

I’m truly glad to have asked Shintani about Brigadoon, but I was also a bit torn at first as to who to direct my question at. I really wanted to pick Koyama Shigeto’s brain about his Darling in the Franxx mecha designs or ask producer Wakabayashi Hiromi about whether they watched Superhuman Samurai  Syber-Squad as research for SSSS.Gridman. However, I’ve had the fortune of interviewing Trigger in the past, so I decided to focus my attention on Shintani, who’s a rare guest at US anime cons.

Shintani also got asked about playing Miss Shamour in Go! Princess Precure, and she basically replied that Miss Shamour shouldn’t be a Precure because then she would be too powerful. What’s more, at the start of the panel, Shintani recited Nonon’s signature “Nani sore?!” to audience applause. Totally worth it.

Other highlights of the panel include Wakabayashi’s desire to put Inferno Cop into Smash Bros., the ridiculous video from Anime Expo they showed of them clowning around and expressing how behind they are on their new show Promare. They also had an extended discussion on who to blame for the cockpits in Darling in the Franxx. Koyama and Tattsun (the translator) claimed that it was because doggy-style is Wakabayashi’s favorite position, while Wakabayashi said it was the result of seriously considering what would make sense for the show. The producer also said that there were six members of the design staff, and any one of them could have spoke up.

DENPA and Asada Hiroyuki

Coincidentally, the Studio Trigger panel was followed immediately by a live drawing/Q&A panel for Asada Hiroyuki, author of Tegami Bachi (aka Letter Bee). He was there to promote the manga Pez, which is being translated and sold by the new manga publisher DENPA. The company’s focus seems to be on eclectic prestige titles, as they also brought artist Murata Range over, and are publishing the eerily beautiful An Invitation from a Crab by panpanya (which I highly recommend).

As for the panel itself, it actually had a soothing music track playing the entire time—what I was told was Asada’s drawing music. Unlike with Trigger, which was more of a Q&A with a live art session as a backdrop, this felt like the live drawing was the main star of the show.

Autographs: Ups and Downs

I understand that autographs are never an easy situation for any convention to handle. No matter how an event tries to plan for them, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t. In that respect, I don’t especially mind the ticket system for signings, which involves lining up to get a voucher to attend an autograph session later, but there are a couple of criticisms I have for Anime NYC’s approach.

First, on Saturday and Sunday, it required lining up at 8am, and given that people will line up early for autographs, it usually means getting there by 7am or earlier. For anyone not staying close to the Javits, it means perhaps having to wake up as early as 5am. Another drawback is that everyone is in the same line for autographs, which is a problem I also have with Anime Expo in Los Angeles. The fact that all of the autographs are funneled into one line means that even if your desired guest isn’t one of the super-popular ones, you still have to deal with all the people who are waiting for the mega-stars.

I hope Anime NYC does some things differently. First, having lines at the start of the day is a good idea, but try to make them at least a little later. Second, ticket lines for autographs should be split in a way that makes it faster for everyone. If those changes can happen, I think it would benefit everyone.

Screenings

Sunrise showed the first twenty minutes of Gundam Narrative at their Gundam panel, and it enticed me enough to want to finish Gundam Unicorn and to see where the film will go from there. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the way it somewhat re-frames the way society looks at Newtypes has me intrigued.

I also caught the Kase-san and Morning Glories film. It’s a gorgeous animated movie about two girls in love, and the way it explores the depths of their feelings is thrilling on a mental and emotional level.

Concert

I attended the Saturday Anisong World Matsuri concert at Hammerstein Ballroom, which featured Kitadani Hiroshi and Kageyama Hironobu of JAM Project, Nakagawa “Shokotan” Shoko, and idol titans Morning Musume. Despite being standing only for non-VIP audience members, it was one of the best anime concerts I’d ever been to. The mix of idol fans and anisong fans actually made for non-stop excitement, as each performance highlighted the best of the old and the new in a roller coaster of bright spots. Shokotan and Kitadani sang “Pegasus Fantasy” from Saint Seiya, followed later by Kageyama and Shokotan doing “Soldier Dream”!). Kageyama and Morning Musume joining forces for both “Love Machine” (a Morning Musume classic, I’m told) and “Chala Head Chala” (the first Dragon Ball Z opening). By the end, everyone came out to perform “THE HERO !!” from One Punch Man together. Hearing members of Morning Musume shout, ‘NOBODY KNOWS WHO HE IS!” will go down as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

However, my personal absolute highlight of the entire concert was Kageyama performing “Heats,” the opening to the 1999 OVA Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. It’s one of the first songs that really made me pay attention to Kageyama and one of his greatest, but the age and obscurity factors made me think I’d never hear it performed live. I am incredibly glad to be wrong.

In Closing

From top to bottom, Anime NYC 2018 was a great event. There were some hiccups, especially when it came to managing autograph lines and the cold weather, but I eagerly await 2019. My only regret is that I didn’t get any interviews for Ogiue Maniax this year. If the convention gods find it in their favor, I hope I can ask next year’s guests some solid questions.

Dearth vs. Abundance of Information and Fan Engagement

When I was young, I often wondered about the worlds of the video games I played. Given only sparse information and basic “defeat the bad guy” plots, games were semi-open canvases for me to speculate. This desire is what led me to my earliest internet communities—video game fanfiction sites. Over the years, I began to notice a general distinction for anyone looking to explore beyond what’s available in their favorite works, between those where a bit of exploration reveals mountains of supplementary canon information, and those where the details remain sparse.

I once attributed the difference in fan involvement for filling in the blanks to just a natural consequence of the works themselves. Video game plots were simpler in an age before RPGs and cut-scenes were everywhere, right? More recently, however, I’ve been considering how the two avenues—abundance vs. dearth of information—appeal to different types of fans, and how more and more creative works purposely aim for one or the other (and sometimes even both, if they can manage it).

The “abundance” examples are many, as seen in lore-dense properties such as the Type Moon universe, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tolkien fantasy. My personal favorite example from yesteryear is the Street Fighter Plot Guide on GameFAQS by Tiamat, because it’s for a universe that is otherwise pretty simple (as fighting game narrative tend to be), and it involves a healthy amount of fan extrapolation by Tiamat. On the “dearth side,” there’s Touhou and Overwatch, which invite fans in to elaborate on characters and character relationships. Broadly speaking, the former appeals to “sculptor”-type fans, while the latter appeals to “builder”-type fans. Sculptor I would define as those who like to reshape what’s already there, while builders prefer raw materials to weave their own elaborate ideas. Both types can make fan stories, but their differences lead to the two classic modes of Star Trek fanfic: the “hard SF” technical explorations, and the “softer” character-building and relationship works. Not that I think of those distinctions as rigid and wholly separate, of course.

An entire character profile and running joke was based on the Touhou character Cirno being labeled “baka” in an instruction manual.

While I am admittedly no expert on The iDOLM@STER, I’ve noticed that both researchers and builders exist within that fandom, possibly stemming from a generation divide of sorts. The original iDOLM@STER games were very involved experiences, where players interacted heavily with their idols. Roughly equivalent to a more animated visual novel format with some RPG elements, players could learn extensively about the characters’ histories, likes and dislikes, and generally explore the idols as fleshed-out individuals. At some point, however, The iDOLM@STER also became prominent as a series of mobile games where that active RPG aspect takes a backseat to more simplified story modes. Here, the visual impact of character designs can matter much more. For fans, especially those who have limited access to all The iDOLM@STER media, “headcanon” expression is a somewhat common Twitter activity.

Take for example the character of Tokiko Zaizen. Based on her appearance alone, one gets the idea of Tokiko being a sadist/dominatrix type, but the fans take that a step further.

Not all fans fall into either the “dearth” or “abundance”-favoring categories. Some prefer to take the story as-is, and then aim for criticism over speculation. Others might dip their toes into both of those worlds. Whatever the fan approach, the ability for fans to thrive in whatever space is left for them speaks to a kind of flexibility in what it means to be enthusiastic about the creative media we consume.

SSSS.GRIDMAN and Character Design (In)consistency

Takarada Rikka and Shinjou Akane are the two female leads of SSSS.Gridman who are grabbing the attention of fans due to their extreme attractiveness. The characters were clearly designed with the other in mind, as their proportions are more or less inverse from each other. Rikka is more bottom-heavy, with bigger thighs and a slim torso. Akane’s design emphasizes her upper body by having a large chest and skinny legs. They’re made for thirsty fans to draw lines in the sand, based on which features they’re truly drawn to.

The decision to create these contrasting designs might be a bit of a double-edged sword for the staff, however. What I’ve noticed is that the anime itself, as well as its merchandise, has trouble keeping track of the visual distinctions between Rikka and Akane. In any given image, Rikka might be portrayed as extra busty, or Akane might be drawn as voluptuous from top to bottom. If this were fanart, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise—it’s not uncommon to see fanartists give characters whatever proportions they want. But these are the show’s own artists and animators flubbing.

Anime, because it involves so many hands and a whole lot of outsourcing, is prone to inconsistencies, so this is not a criticism of the skills of any of the staff. What I am saying, then, is that Rikka’s and Akane’s designs are especially troublesome for animators and artists because they’re not how anime typically creates contrasting female characters. Usually, busty girls are thicker all over, and less chesty girls are more svelte all around. If not that, then designs will feature the same basic body type overall, even as the characters change in specific areas.

Because anime TV production is notoriously crunch-heavy, I could see a lot of artists and animators having to default to their natural instincts when drawing characters. If they’re not accustomed to drawing characters with such clearly defined proportions like Rikka and Akane, then it would be all too easy to draw what “seems right.” And because Rikka and Akane are not wildly different from each other (unless we’re talking fanart), they also can’t exaggerate to the point of caricature either. It’s a tough middle ground to strike.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

Episode 35 of Hugtto! Precure was the second time the anime dedicated an episode to childbirth. It makes sense, given that much of the series is about raising a magical baby who might just be the key to saving the future. What makes this particular episode different, however, is that it actually tackles a serious topic in Japan: the stigma against “unnatural births.”

In the episode, Hana and the other Precures help out at a hospital, where they meet a mother who’s there to get a C-section, and is feeling nervous about it. She talks about how she feels like she made a lot of mistakes with her and her husband’s first daughter, and she wants to do anything right this time. Childbirth can be an especially difficult experience (to put it mildly), so it’s only natural that a mother would be anxious about it, but her expressions in the episode seem to indicate something deeper.

As it turns out, Japan has one of the lowest C-section rates in the world (about 10-20%), reflecting a culture that believes that “natural births” are inherently better. Most hospitals in Japan apparently do not even give epidurals to deal with pain, under the belief that the pain felt during labor is supposed to connect a mother to her child.

The mother in Hugtto! Precure wants to correct all the mistakes she made in raising her first child, but C-sections are viewed by many in Japan as an inherent mistake. It’s a challenging position to be in, to say the least. It’s the sort of difficult story that director Satou Junichi is famous for, as seen in his work on Ojamajo Doremi.

At the same time, the anime shows the doctor encouraging the use of C-sections, describing them as safe, and the mother does ultimately go through with it. By portraying the mother’s decision in a positive light, the episode reveals that it’s actually about trying to remove the negative association Japanese people have with C-sections. Moreover, Hugtto! Precure is a show that’s watched by young girls and most likely their parents, so it has the potential to educate two different generations to not look upon medical intervention during childbirth with disdain—a viewpoint that can potentially save lives.