It’s poetic coincidence that the man who sang the Mazinger Z theme would die the same year as the man who composed it. Mizuki Ichiro, aka Aniki, the Emperor of Anime Songs, died at age 74 after a bout with numerous health issues. It’s especially sad that what took him ended up affecting his greatest gift: his voice. But rather than dwell on sorrow, I think it’s important to celebrate what made Mizuki one of the all-time elder statesmen of anime music: the undeniable passion that he imbued in everything he sang.
I’m not going to cover his life and history because that’s already been done elsewhere. Rather, like with Watanabe Chuumei, I want to explore my own history with the songs of Mizuki Ichiro.
I can remember exactly how I first heard Mizuki’s 70s singing: On a VHS fansub there was extra space at the end, and the fansubber had placed some old anime openings. And among them were Mazinger Z, Combattler V, and Steel Jeeg. At the time, my appreciation for retro stuff was a bit mixed, as I found all those songs to be varying degrees of hoaky—though the intensity of Mazinger Z in particular stood out. If anything, I at least preferred the music from the then-modern sequels such as Shin Getter Robo Armageddon and Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo. Of course, Mizuki was also a singer for those OVAs as well, and I think something clicked in me as a result. He was one of my gateways into classic anime.
I gradually transitioned into having a greater love of old school anime songs, and I remember watching videos of live concerts that featured Mizuki alongside greats such as Sasaki Isao, Kageyama Hironobu, Taira Isao, Kushida Akira, Horie Mitsuko, and MIQ. And while Mizuki wasn’t as prolific as in his heyday, he could still deliver. When paired with Horie in particular, the two could make some real magic, such as in Dangaioh and Godannar.
It was also around this time that I learned about one of Mizuki’s greatest creations: JAM Project.
There are two basic strains of anime music: Songs made for anime and songs placed into anime. Neither means a tune is automatically good or bad, but in 2000, the art of making theme songs dedicated to the anime had long been an increasing rarity. After all, using a 90-second opening as a commercial for a new single has its practical uses. But Mizuki is one of the greatest examples of the first style—the kind where you shout the robot’s name and all the attacks and talk about how they defend justice—and he formed JAM Project, a band that still celebrates anime songs meant for anime. Though members have come and gone, including Mizuki himself, the roster over the years is a veritable Justice League of anison: Kageyama “Dragon Ball Z” Hironobu, Matsumoto “Pokemon” Rica, Kitadani “One Piece” Hiroshi, Endoh “Gaogaigar” Masaaki, Yoffy from the band Psychic Lover, Fukuyama “Nekki Basara” Yoshiki, Okui “Utena” Masami, Brazilian singer Ricardo Cruz.
And even among these younger singers whose styles were more modern, Mizuki could hold his own. In fact, whenever I listen to the JAM Project songs featuring him, I’m struck by how his old-fashioned sound added an extra layer of depth. Whether it’s “Soul Taker,” “Hagane no Messiah,” or “Koutetsushin Jeeg,” Mizuki’s voice provided a sense of history like only a handful of people ever could. Additionally, although he wasn’t part of JAM Project by the time Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 came out, the game made him the voice of the ultimate enemy, Keisar Ephes. I think that says so much about the respect given to him for his contribution to anime, tokusatsu, mecha, and so many parts of Japanese pop culture. I eventually got to see JAM Project at Otakon 2008, but by that time, Mizuki had long been out of the group. I regret not being able to see him in concert, but am grateful that I could experience his music at all. Playing Super Robot Wars 30 this past year, I found myself continuing to listen to his iconic themes.
Among my manga tweets and retweets about Mizuki is an abbreviated translation I did for Nagai Go’s message to Aniki. I think I’ll leave off with it, as it sums up everyone’s feelings well.
“We owe Mizuki for guiding the Mazinger Z theme song to becoming such a big hit.
Through 50 longer years of Mazinger Z, its continued popularity was ensured thanks to Mizuki. Every time, he would never let up, singing the theme with love and soul—that was his power.
He was someone who always went all-out, bringing out high spirits. This was the case for his stage performances, of course, but even when we got together normally, he was cheerful and humorous.
He cherished his fans, and he’d always bow his head from how he felt.
Thank you, Mizuki Ichiro. I pray for your passage into the next world.”
I didn’t know who Kobayashi Shichiro was until he had already passed away. But when Anime NYC helped sponsor an exhibit dedicated to his work both in and outside Japanese animation, I decided I should visit this gallery. I then read that he had been a part of the industry since its early days, but what I hadn’t realized is that his art extended all the way into the eras that helped foster my own love of anime.
Unfortunately, I only managed to get there on the last day the exhibit was open. I wish I could have written about it sooner.
Right after the entrance was a video message from Kobayashi, where he expressed his love of animation and its potential to connect humans with one another. He seemed to lament recent problems in the world and hoped animation could help overcome them.
From there, the pieces on display were both work from anime productions as well as from his own personal art. Some (but not all) of the anime ones were not allowed to be photographed, like the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, Nobody’s Boy Remi, and The Adventures of Gamba, but there were many that could be, as shown below.
Urusei Yatsura the Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamers
Kobayashi, in his role as art director, collaborated with many great anime creators, especially Dezaki Osamu and Sugino Akio. Looking at Kobayashi’s entry on Anime News Network, it’s clear that this was only scratching the surface. What really struck me was his ability to create backgrounds and environments for a whole range of settings, from small towns to science fiction landscapes.
His personal art also showcased Kobayashi’s versatility and powerful expressiveness, featuring pieces dating all the way back to the 1960s and going into the 2010s. They ranged from portraits to abstract art to images of nature, with horses being a lifelong subject due to having grown up with them.
Seeing these interspersed along with the anime work, it gave the sense that Kobayashi was truly a complete artist.
In the corner of the gallery was a video playing a “storybook” animation by Kobayashi about one of his favorite children’s stories: The Red Candles and the Mermaid. He had apparently always wanted to make an animated work out of it, and this combination of stills and voiced narration was the fulfillment of that, to an extent. The tale is a tragic one, a lesson about greed and not appreciating others, brought to life here through Kobayashi’s paintings. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of it.
It was brief, but I’m glad to have experienced the work of Kobayashi Shichiro this way, where his backgrounds command attention instead of receding in the face of the stories. It makes me feel that I should appreciate background artists more.
I’ve watched the recent anniversary streams of holoX, and in light of the announcement of the Hololive 4th Fes, I’ve been thinking about how holding 3D concerts can carry different types of significance depending on the individual member and what their fans are looking for. Hololive seems to celebrate their stars in a manner inclusive to every Hololive member’s diverse fanbase, and I’m all for it.
It’s no secret that Hololive members can vary tremendously in terms of where their talents lie. Some clearly establish themselves as great performers as soon as they have the chance, like Hoshimachi Suisei. Others don’t necessarily have the background but have worked hard and come into their own, such as Oozora Subaru. And then there are those who don’t reach the level of their fellow VTubers in terms of singing and dancing, but they might have engaging personalities that just make for a special experience.
However, when there are 3D concerts or other major events that bring Hololive members together, they potentially become places where all respective fans can come together and appreciate their favorites for their own particular reasons. Take the Hololive 3rd Fes concert, which was the 3D debut of Hololive English’s first generation. Gawr Gura showcased the singing talent that brought so many fans to her, along with a cute dance. Takanashi Kiara brought a more polished idol flair. Ina came with a soothing voice in a subdued performance. Amelia Watson is definitely not a strong singer, but her choice of music (a weird fictitious anime opening from the show Welcome to the NHK!) put her personality on full display. And, of course, Calliope Mori put her well-established rap skills (that have since led to a contract with Universal Music Group) to good use. Hololive Indonesia’s first generation also made their 3D concert appearances, with Moona’s diva-like poise, Iofi’s adorableness, and Risu’s ridiculous vocal range all on full display.
With holoX, there is a similar range of strengths and quirks on display in their anniversary concerts. La+ Darknesss (see above) is a ridiculous total package whose impressive vocals and unmatched dance skills both support and defy her “bratty alien demon lord” concept. Takane Lui doesn’t fit the typical image of an idol, but she’s very good at singing while also staying “in-character,” and her choice of songs conveys a sense of maturity. Hakui Koyori is a jack of all trades who also leans into her character the most by adding in puzzles and brain teasers to her concert. Sakamata Chloe is arguably the best singer in the group, with a voice that can seem unreal; she was also the only one to do exclusively solo performances, as if to prove a point. Kazama Iroha’s cuteness shines through in her energetic performances, and it’s clear that she put in a lot of effort to improve her dancing.
It all reminds me of an essay I once read about the differences in presentation between Japanese idols and Korean pop stars: part of the appeal of J-idols is seeing them grow into the role, whereas K-pop stars appear before fans already fully formed. In the context of Hololive, it’s like there’s a purposeful and perhaps even inevitable contrast. While you might have your “J-idol fan” types who want to see their favorites grow and your “K-pop fan” types who love to see perfection in action, a single banner like Hololive allows these groups (and many more) to all thrive in the same general space.
The power that comes from the variety Hololive has to offer is the way it encourages respect for diversity of talent. People can be fans of different members for different reasons. There are certainly talents whose appeal lies in their sheer skill, and the fans want to see their favorites put their abilities and/or progress on full display. However, there are also Hololive members who aren’t necessarily the greatest performers in one way or another, but their presence on stage makes for a kind of “we made it” moment for their fans. No matter the reason, it emphasizes the idea that there’s no one “right” way for a performance to be, and it encourages the different fanbases to coexist.
I’m riding high off of three things: recent elections defied expectations, the VTubers of holoX have just been celebrating their one-year anniversaries, and it’s been 15 years of Ogiue Maniax! It’s hard to believe each one for somewhat different reasons, but I’m hoping I can carry this joyous monentum through this month and into the eventual new year.
Here are my Patreon subscribers for December 2022! Thank you to everyone.
As with every year, I’m going to be rating the anime characters I think are the best of 2022. It is unbelievable how tough this year’s field is. I feel like the top candidates would have won in virtual every other year had they been eligible.
Anime NYC 2022 is the second year in the pandemic era for New York’s biggest anime convention. Last year, the event broke its own attendance records, likely owing to people eager to do something in-person after months and months of restrictions. In contrast, this year felt more like a return to something vaguely normal.
Badges and Registration
Although I had the benefit of obtaining a press pass, I do know there were issues with supply of general admission this year: both three-day badges and Saturday ones were in short supply. It’s difficult to tell if they’re following in New York Comic Con’s footsteps towards eliminating three-day tickets in general (a move that makes attending the con all weekend significantly more expensive at $65 per day) or if it has to do with COVID-19 precautions.
One thing Anime NYC definitely did seem to take a page from New York Comic Con is a lottery system for seats for major panels in addition to a similar lottery already in place for guest autographs. Attendees could enter online for a chance at these con activities without needing to devote themselves to waiting in lines, and the idea is that it’s also fairer for people coming in from farther away. I understand the overall benefits of this method, though the fact that you have to cancel your reservations in advance should you win (or else risk being ineligible for future lotteries) means that it’s harder to be flexible the day of. I believe being able to make impromptu decisions is part of the fun of conventions, and potentially losing that flexibility can feel like a bit of a burden. Again, though, it might be a net good, and what probably needs to be tweaked is that way fewer panels probably need this system in place.
Speaking of health, Anime NYC did require proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID test, and they enforced that aspect pretty stringently. The same could not be said of masks, however. In panels, staff did a good job of making sure everyone had masks, but everywhere else it was pretty much a coin toss. The city itself has relaxed rules around masking even on the subway, so it’s hard to fight against that kind of momentum, but I wish there was a way to re-emphasize the importance of masks especially in an environment like a convention center filled with tens of thousands of people.
Last year’s con turned out not to be an Omicron super spreader event, despite early reports. I really hope that remained the case for this year, but the relative lack of masking concerns me.
A Note on Attack on Titan
The biggest guest of 2022 had to be Isayama Hajime, author of Attack on Titan. I’m bringing him up first because I actually did not attend any of his events. I follow Attack on Titan through the anime, and I didn’t want to be spoiled. I don’t know if it would have been possible to wait for the anime to conclude before inviting Isayama, but I have to wonder if there were others like me, or perhaps even much bigger fans who were forced to hold back.
Hololive Meet NY
My personal must-see guests were technically not even there: the Virtual Youtubers of Hololive. I prioritized the VTuber stuff because this was my first time at a convention where they had a more significant presence; Anime NYC 2021 had a panel featuring Hololive Council’s five members, and it was a decent enough event that unfortunately had little to no interaction with the fans. For 2022, a more direct VTuber experience was provided through a dedicated booth in the Exhibit Hall in conjunction with VRChat, all as a part of the Hololive Meet series of international con appearances.
Throughout the weekend, different Hololive members (primarily the English ones) held hour-long live shows while streaming remotely. Due to what I assume are various limitations, they didn’t use any of their standard 3D models, instead opting for less complicated ones already familiar to fans: Smol models, BEEGSmol models, and also the VRDance ones.
For personal reasons (and because I didn’t want to make it an all-Hololive weekend), I was only able to see two shows in full. The first I saw was an enthusiastic morning exercise routine (though not in the radio taisou sense) by Mori Calliope that led to all sorts of 3D wackiness. The second, and one of the highlights of the entire event, was a special Anime NYC edition of the Chadcast that became something even more special due to technical mishaps.
The BaeRys Show
Normally, the Chadcast is a three-person monthly show on Youtube by Calliope along with Hakos Baelz and IRyS. None of them are among my absolute favorites as individuals, but as a trio, they’re practically a must-watch. I was looking forward to a convention-exclusive Chadcast, but as the crowd gathered for it, only Baelz and IRyS appeared. Jokingly announcing that this was actually the first episode of the “BaeRys” podcast, the two informed the crowd that Callie’s internet wasn’t working and so she likely couldn’t join in.
While unfortunate, this also meant getting a full 60 minutes of pure BaeRys, the official name for the pair. I’m not a dedicated shipper, but their interactions are among my favorites because they have such excellent chemistry together. The running joke in the fandom (that is also embraced by the VTubers themselves) is that they‘re constantly getting married and divorced, and so the two played various games meant to reveal “interesting” sides of each other. Questions included “Would you rather vomit on your idol or get vomited on by them?,” “Truth or Dare: Have you ever peed in a pool?,” and (with the help of a fan) “What are three things you like about each other?”
Watching their antics made me aware of what Callie adds to the Chadcast. Baelz and IRyS’s favorite drinks are coffee and soda, respectively, and BaeRys is very much like drinking coffee soda: a surprisingly refreshing combination, but one that can be overwhelming. Callie, then, is a savory (American) biscuit you eat in order to temper the intensity of coffee cola, and so one’s preference at any given time for Chadcast or BaeRys has to do with whether you want a balanced taste or to experience the extremes.
Along with the streams, there were three other booths offering official Hololive merchandise: Bushiroad (for items related to the Weiss Schwarz card game), Omocat (for exclusive crossover art), and Animate USA (for Hololive Meet–themed items). Buying $40 worth would get you a ticket you could exchange for a Hololive fortune, but attendees could also get a fortune for free if they have a VRChat account. I just so happened to create one because of the recent Code Geass x FLOW VR concert, so I managed to snag two fortunes, one for flagship Hololive Tokino Sora and one for Indonesian member Kaela Kovalskia.
I do have a couple complaints about how things were handled with Hololive Meet. First, the space provided meant everyone had to stand because sitting would create a fire hazard, and my feet still haven’t fully forgiven me. Second, you had to buy $40 of Hololive merch at one store in order to get the fortune ticket, so you couldn’t spread it across all three. Other than those issues, I’m glad I finally got to see what a “live” Hololive event is like. Next on the bucket list is getting to see my favorites, Haachama and holoX.
Among the anime premieres at Anime NYC was the first episode of a series called High Card, written by Kawamoto Homura (writer of Kakegurui) and his younger brother, Munoh Hikaru. It was actually the first screening anywhere, including Japan.
While there is a playing card motif to High Card, it’s not really a gambling anime so much as it is an action-oriented work that revels in absurdity and spectacle, exemplified by its tag line: “Are you ready? It’s showdown!” A special deck of cards has been scattered to the four corners of the Earth, and they have found owners of various types. The cards confer special powers that range from the powerful to the ridiculous (and sometimes both), and at the center of the story is a young thief trying to get money to save his orphanage. Like Kakegurui, the cast of characters is off-the-wall and full of dangerous and sensual individuals, though this time it’s mostly guys instead of girls. The creators said they were inspired by Kingsman, and it shows.
During the Q&A section, Munoh talked about how coming to New York City was amazing because he’d only ever seen it in images and on the screen. He then joked that he’d yet to see Spider-Man or the Ninja Turtles (the latter mention was omitted by the translator for some reason).
It’s rare to see a current anime studio with a pedigree as strong as Wit Studio: Attack on Titan, Great Pretender, Ranking of Kings, and most recently Spy x Family are among the works they’ve produced. At Anime NYC, multiple staff members for Spy x Family were invited as guests: President and CEO George Wada, as well as artist Syo5 (pronounced “Shogo.”) They held a panel that was a combination of Q&A, insight into the creative process, live-drawing session, and early preview of Spy x Family episode 8.
The live drawing was more a showcase of how Syo5 works on color palettes, taking an adorable line drawing of Anya Forger as the Statue of Liberty (with her dog, Bond) and adding a sunset to it. During the panel, Syo5 discussed how the color palettes in Great Pretender weren’t realistic, but were meant to have a different feel for each part of the world the characters travel to, and coloring the Anya of Liberty was a showcase of a process similar to what went into Great Pretender.
Ranking of Kings also got plenty of love from the Wit staff and audience alike. They mentioned that they’re trying to get the next season done in 2023, and Syo5 showed some of his conceptual drawings that established the general look of the anime.
Eating at the Javits
There were no onsite food trucks this year, so all nearby food options were basically in the Jacob Javits Center itself. Fortunately, between the stalls in the exhibit hall and the Javits dining area, there was actually a decent number of food options. Granted, they were all overpriced to hell and back, but that’s inevitable with con food.
For those eager to relish in Japanese culture, the exhibit hall had Go Go Curry (a perennial favorite of mine), ramen, bento from BentOn, okonomiyaki from Okonomi, and a few others. I’ve tried pretty much all of them before (though not necessarily in the context of Anime NYC), and the quality is quite good, even if it costs too much. For those who didn’t want to pay the “weeb tax” (or wait in line for a long time), options included burgers and chicken, dumplings, empanadas (Nuchas) Korean food (Korilla), and even Indian food (Curry Kitchen). Overall, the variety was welcome, given the circumstances. I remember a time when you could barely get anything resembling good at the Javits, and I’m glad to see that has continued to change.
Anime NYC 2022 had a few firsts for me, notably when it came to seeing Hololive Virtual Youtubers in a more direct fashion. In that respect, it was an unforgettable experience. While I prefer cons with a greater amount of fan panel programming, I also understand that this is not what Anime NYC is about. Attendees seemed generally to be in high spirits, but I do have concerns about it getting more expensive to attend, as a lot of anime fans are not rolling in dough. If they can keep bringing the guests people want to see while finding ways to make it affordable, I think things will be looking up for next year.
I first encountered Astroganger while watching a collection of robot anime throughout the decades. There it was, right after the black-and-white 1960s Tetsujin 28 and right before Mazinger Z. But there’s a reason Japan puts those other two on massive pedestals and considers Astroganger a weird relic that’s more meme fodder than anything else: the show comes across as dated even within the context of its time period, especially because it debuted just two months before Mazinger Z. Even watching the openings (both of which are sung by the legendary Mizuki Ichiro), you can see how much more impactful and eye-catching one is over the other.
Is Astroganger really that bad, though? The answer I’ve come to is “no.” While it’s not stellar, the show holds up fairly okay watching it in 2022.
The story of Astroganger is that the Earth is being invaded by aliens called Blasters, who want to take all the oxygen for themselves. The only force powerful enough to stop them turns out to be Ganger, a sentient robot made of “living metal,” who can become even stronger when merged with a young boy named Hoshi Kantaro. Both Ganger and Kantaro have ties back to the far-off planet of Kantaros, which was devastated by the Blasters, and together, the combination fights robot monsters using kicks, punches, slams, and other physical moves.
Astroganger pushes few envelopes and its writing often glosses over things in ways that assume kids won’t notice or care, but it also does present its story with tension and drama in ways that I can imagine young viewers at the time would love. The series has that basic superhero appeal of a secret identity, but on a child rather than an adult. The show is extremely episodic overall, but it generally feels like a gradual escalation of challenges for Kantaro and Gangar, so that threats in later episodes are presented as bigger deals than in earlier ones. That said, the final episode’s adversary feels weirdly anticlimactic, which is then made all the stranger by the fact that the conclusion is extremely climactic.
The fights are where the series feels like it came so close to being something more, but ultimately falls into an “Eh, decent” range. Many of the battles revolve around either Ganger overcoming the opponent through sheer strength and willpower or figuring out some weakness. However, many times, the “trick” is essentially told to Kantaro by his scientist dad, or it seems to come out of nowhere. For example, while fighting a robot in one episode, Ganger goes, “I’ve figure it out. Your weakness is your hands!” He then proceeds to rip them off and the robot explodes—except nothing about the information presented either by words or action indicates that the hands were the Achilles’s heel. Both the willpower fights and the “strategic” fights remind me of mediocre pro wrestling matches: they can be fun but they’re also lacking in some ways, and you’re not supposed to think too hard about it.
Knack, the studio behind Astroganger, is also infamous for Chargeman Ken: an anime with five-minute-long episodes that are so bad and bizarre that they’ve become the butt of many jokes online. Astroganger often looks cheap at times, but it’s nowhere near as dire as Chargeman Ken, which it actually predates. In fact, some stories in Chargeman Ken now come across to me as taking episode plots from Astroganger and shoving their contents into a questionably digestible bite-size experience in a manner reminiscent of Homer Simpson.
This includes the notorious episode “Dynamite in the Brain.” The Astroganger version is less pathologically amoral, but it’s still kind of weird, which tracks.
Another aspect Astroganger shares with Chargeman Ken is its decidedly unimpressive antagonists. The Blasters are pretty generic alien beings who are all interchangeable, and the only way you can tell who’s in charge is because their leaders are named and visibly numbered “Blaster 1” and “Blaster 2,” like it’s Bananas in Pajamas. Dr. Hell and Baron Ashura they are decidedly not.
I give all these criticisms, but I do want to note that in terms of excitement and entertainment, Astroganger would probably give most American cartoons throughout the 70s and 80s a run for their money. The fact that it has a fairly decisive finale (albeit odd in many ways) is something I can appreciate. In many respects, the show holds up okay. Not great, but okay.
PS: I’ve recently learned that Astroganger was quite popular in the Middle East, to the extent that an interview with a famous Arabic voice actor lists Astroganger as the main title he’s known for. It’s also a beloved work in Syria, and the final episodes actually moved people to tears. The official upload has all sorts of comments by people from that region talking about how much they loved the show. If we ever get an international Super Robot Wars, I would like to see Astroganger alongside Grendizer, so that such a game could show its appreciation to the Middle Eastern fans who love these anime.
I’m not big into VR. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done anything virtual reality–related. But this past summer, I interviewed the heads of Gugenka, a company dedicated to various forms of entertainment that blur the line between analog and digital. Thanks to that interaction, I recently received an invitation to participate in a Code Geass x FLOW virtual concert. It’s not a bad combo: I have generally fond memories of the Code Geass anime, and FLOW has done some of my favorite anime songs ever. So, even if my VR experience is limited to a demo booth in the 1990s and a Hololive Myth anniversary event, I decided to give it a shot.
Not only was it my first virtual concert, it was also my first time using VRChat—a program I only knew of through watching Virtual Youtubers. Getting things to work took a lot of coordinating, requiring me to link a variety of apps and accounts across various sites together. It might get easier with experience, but I was definitely confused, and I still doubt I fully grasped it all.
Because I don’t own a VR headset, I used VRChat on my desktop PC, and the experience was more like a first-person shooter (or like Incidentally, that’s also a form of entertainment that’s not really my cup of tea, but once I got the hang of it, I started to see the appeal of being able to navigate virtual spaces in a more naturalistic way. (It also let me understand how Gawr Gura navigated the aforementioned HoloMyth event.)
The actual concert consisted of five parts, each time starting with a speech from Lelouch (voiced by Fukuyama Jun), which was then followed by a song performance from FLOW. There were actually two ways to view the concert: VRChat and a Japanese streaming service called Showroom. Because of my own confusion, I actually watched the first song in Showroom, which acts more like Youtube or Twitch, but is aesthetically set up to resemble a simplistic movie theater. At first, I figured this was just the way the concert was, until I saw a bunch of 3D models run right in front of FLOW, clearly showing that Showroom wasn’t the only way to experience the event. That’s when I decided to switch and try VRChat after all, despite some earlier troubles.
One thing that complicated this process was that joining each part of the concert meant having to leave VRChat and click a link that would then send a message to VRChat with a special invite to the next “world.” The need to jump back and forth was a bit unintuitive, and I actually missed the 2nd part of the concert as a result before I figured out how the whole thing works. Once I got back on track, things finally fell into place.
This is when I finally understood exactly what Gugenka meant by having “instances” that allow their virtual events to have some flexibility for viewers. In the case of this Code Geass x FLOW concert, one could join in real time to mimic being part of a public concert, or one could join at a specific moment so that you can either coordinate with a smaller group or to make sure you didn’t miss anything. This isn’t permanent, however, as there were still specific overall time frames where the concert parts were available, and then they would go away. The difference is that if you missed something by, say, 10 minutes, you still had 45 minutes to watch from the beginning.
I don’t know if it’s because I started with Showroom and ended with VRChat, but in Part 1 of the concert, FLOW was being shown as video footage of the actual members, whereas after that, they were 3D models. In the VRChat experience, it was amusing to see people running up to the stage to get as close as they can to FLOW, while others would use the squat command to make viewing easier. The music was great (of course), but in some ways, the people-watching was better. I remember seeing one attendee in particular swaying and moving with a clear joy over getting to be there.
Tickets were 6,600 yen minimum, with a deluxe package that costs a great deal more. I don’t regularly attend concerts, virtual or otherwise, so I thought it was kind of steep. That said, understanding the kind of experience it’s supposed to be, and knowing that other virtual events cost similarly, I think I would pay for the right event. It also costs a lot less than actually flying to Japan to see a band in the flesh.
While the virtual experience can’t be a full replacement for a live performance, there’s a bit of joy in knowing you’re experiencing the same thing as people living in Japan. It also creates a great opportunity for those who don’t have the means to travel for concerts to do something more interactive. Especially in a time when COVID-19 is still affecting people around the world, it’s also a solid choice for those who are too afraid to travel to another country.
I want to end by talking about a funny incident that occurred. For one song, I hopped into the VRChat world, only to find myself somehow transported a great distance away from the waiting room. Confused, I tried getting closer and closer to the space, only to start hearing chatter from Japanese attendees who were discussing someone who looked to be stuck. Soon, I realized that the person they were talking about was me, and they were trying to help me get out of whatever weird glitch I was in. After resolving the issue, they asked if I was okay—to which I jumped up and down to show everything was fine. The way these random people looked out for me put a smile on my face, and it actually made the concert more enjoyable overall.
I’m not going to say that this is a universal experience for virtual spaces, but it reinforced the interpersonal connections these sorts of events can provide.
The new anime season is in full swing, but while I’m enjoying the hell out of so many things (like Gundam: The Witch from Mercury!), my mind is on the upcoming US midterm election. I plan on (sort of) following up with my thoughts on this subject in a few days but for now, I’m using this time to encourage citizens to vote however they can: in person on Election Day, by mail, by early voting, anything.
I’d also like to thank my Patreon subscribers for this month of November 2022.
Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.
Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.
For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.
At face value, Idolmaster: Xenoglossia is a perplexing title. Why in the world would the very first anime for The iDOLM@STER, a video game about managing Japanese idols, be a mecha series where the girls strive to save the Earth rather than give successful stage performances? When you get under the surface, though, it results in an even greater cognitive dissonance between the franchise’s origins as an idol sim franchise and this science fiction story ostensibly built on its foundation.
The confusion begins from the very basis of Xenoglossia. The premise is that high schooler Amami Haruka is unexpectedly recruited to potentially become one of the “Idolmasters,” pilots of world-defending robots called iDOLS. Outside of Xenoglossia, the name of the franchise refers to the player as an idol producer. That’s a simple enough change to accept given the story’s setting, but where the show throws the hardest curveballs is the portrayal of its characters.
Despite this being a franchise where fans support the actors who play their favorite idols, the entire voice cast was changed for Xenoglossia. It’s an extremely odd decision in hindsight, but what makes it all the more strange is that the changes don’t stop there: age, size, personality, and more are drastically altered to the point that many characters become almost unrecognizable. The best example is the character of Takatsuki Yayoi. In The iDOLM@STER proper, she’s a small and energetic girl in her early teens known for her high-pitched voice and signature squeal of excitement. In Xenoglossia, she’s noticeably taller and bustier, is the only actual conventional idol in the show, loves to wear mascot outfits), and is much more antagonistic towards Minase Iori.
I’m not a huge The iDOLM@STER fan, but I’ve watched the anime and have a decent idea of the core cast and their personalities. On some level, it’s impossible for me to fully divorce my preconceived notions, but this level of change is beyond rare. The closest example I can think of is the first Comic Party anime, where a high schooler got aged up and a middle schooler got aged down for seemingly no reason. It’s as if the creators of Xenoglossia just looked at some preliminary character sketches and just went their own way without regard for the source material.
Funnily enough, the only character who’s mostly like her original self is the franchise’s flagship heroine and Xenoglossia protagonist, Amami Haruka. Her personality remains optimistic and hard-working, though tinged here with a bit of self-doubt as to what she’s capable of. But when she’s surrounded by an endless parade of bizarre doppelgangers, something always feels a little off. If one can ignore that to a degree, the show gets more enjoyable.
In terms of Haruka or any other character’s portrayal as giant robot pilots, they’re never upstaged by any male characters swooping in to save the day; in fact, there aren’t any male pilots at all. Different characters struggle with different aspects of being Idolmasters, and much of the plot is built around striving to overcome those challenges. There’s also a great deal more nudity and sexual behavior (including possibly incest?!) than would be expected of something based on The iDOLM@STER—which might be a dealbreaker for those who strongly believe in the whole “idol purity” concept, but still feels kind of odd for even those of us who don’t.
The relationship between the Idolmasters and their iDOLS also arguably runs counter to “idol purity” because the way they talk about the robots makes them seem on some level like giant mechanical boyfriends—especially the main iDOL, Imber. The robots are shown to be sentient on some level, and the way some characters work to become worthy of and accepted by the mecha while others treat them like companions comes across more like romantic fiction at times. The entire setup of Xenoglossia is conducive to this, showing itself to be the kind of anime where the requisite to becoming Idolmasters has angst-filled drama baked in.
Idolmaster Xenoglossia we got could never be made today. It came out at a time when The iDOLM@STER was a much smaller deal, as evidenced by the fact that the girls are all based on their designs from the first game rather than the revised versions from The iDOLM@STER 2 that have since been codified. This early on, Xenoglossia followed in the fine (?) tradition of titles like Lunar Legend Tsukihime, where it was assumed that a fledgling idol manager franchise needed a boost in star power and storytelling from the anime industry. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot, and if they were to attempt this again, it’d be all but inevitable that the characters would adhere much more closely to their original selves. It’s a historical curiosity, indeed.