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I’m a fan of characters who support. Whether it’s Dominic Sorel in Eureka Seven, who stands by the long-suffering Anemone or Aida Riko in Kuroko’s Basketball, who coaches and manages the Seirin High School Basketball Team, often times my favorite characters are those who care less for being the “hero,” and who try to make a difference in their own way. Generally speaking, I’m of the belief that there are many ways to make a difference, and that you don’t need to be the one chopping the monster’s head off, nor should we fault others for not aspiring to be that mighty warrior. Indeed, even more recent main characters like Kuroko Tetsuya in Kuroko’s Basketball and Onoda Sakamichi in Yowamushi Pedal are protagonists whose powers are primarily based on “support.”
However, I find that, as much as I enjoy that character type, they potentially are a source of complacency, and one might even argue that they teach people to settle for less. Case in point, while I think Riko does a lot for her team and is just a great character in general, she derives from an archetype that is basically a sideline cheerleader. They’ll either be the newbie who needs things to be explained, or the informative expert who does the explaining, but when the chips are down their purpose in the story is to stare longingly as the hero goes into action. There’s some sexism historically at work here, with female characters being created to serve the male leads, but I don’t want to make the issue purely about sex and gender, especially given all of the work that’s been done to play with and expose those tropes, like how Witch Craft Works essentially genderswaps the typical shoujo heroine and shoujo ideal love interest. I also don’t want to deny the ability for a “sideline cheerleader” to be an interesting character in their own right. Rather, it’s more about the idea that “everyone is the hero of their own story,” and how there are positives and negatives to it.
On the one hand, the notion that everyone is the main character in their own lives, be it reality or fiction, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy of confidence, where one imbues oneself with agency and ambition, and accomplishes their goals. At the same time, it might cause people to seek out “glory” without necessarily finding their own definition for the word, instead conforming to what their society (or what readers supposedly think) are parameters for success.
On the other hand, if one believes in supporting others, this might afford them a point of view that could go unnoticed otherwise. Glory for oneself is unimportant, because what really matters is doing what one can. However, this same mindset carries the risk of encouraging passivity to the point that people might inadvertently lose opportunities to better themselves. Perhaps it even becomes an excuse for why they remain in their rut.
Obviously these are in a way two extremes, and that there is a full spectrum between light and shadow, to borrow a phrase from Kuroko’s Basketball. Characters like Riko and Dominic essentially work in opposite directions towards a center, with Riko coming from the manager character and Dominic defying what it means to “rescue the girl.” There’s a lot of interplay and room for interpretation, and it opens up paths for artists, be they professional, amateur, and/or fan, to explore and defy what they’re told is “normal.” I just find myself thinking about how simply saying that I prefer support characters can carry a lot of implicit meaning.
The last thing I want to leave off with is a scene from Game of Thrones, when Tywin Lannister, the patriarch of the powerful House Lannister, asks his grandson what makes a good king. When the grandson replies correctly with “wisdom,” Tywin is ecstatic and explains that wisdom comes in part from knowing what you don’t know, and heeding your advisers who are experts in their fields. In this case, though the king is supposed to be the one with all of the glory, is it the case that being a king is perhaps the biggest support position of all?
Upon hearing Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U for the first time, I was convinced that they had brought back the original actor, Ichimura Masachika, from the film Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, it actually turns out to be someone doing an excellent imitation (with the help of a voice filter), and whose acting chops are impressive in their own right. While the new actor Fujiwara Keiji might not have the cred of being an established theater actor like Ichimura is (he’s most famous for playing the titular character in the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera), you might know him for some of the following roles:
Ladd Russo in Baccano!
Nohara Hiroshi in Crayon Shin-chan
Kuzuhara Kinnosuke (Biker Cop) in Durarara!!
Holland Novak in Eureka Seven
Maes Hughes in Full Metal Alchemist (both original and Brotherhood)
Ali-al Saachez in Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Hannes in Attack on Titan
Jake Martinez in Tiger & Bunny
I actually had my suspicions because Mewtwo makes certain sounds in the new Smash Bros. that I don’t recall from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I chalked it up to my own faulty memory. It’s also a lot more difficult to hear because only the Japanese version has voiced victory quotes. It was the same in Melee, except you could change the language settings there to Japanese, which is how I and a lot of other people learned that Mewtwo had victory quotes in the first place.
Here are videos of the old and new voices for you to compare:
Old (ignore the skins; they’re from a mod)
And for fun, here’s a video of Ichimura Masachika as the Phantom of the Opera:
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It’s fairly common knowledge that sequels aren’t the easiest thing to successfully pull off in entertainment. Even if the sequel ends up being okay, it may not live up to its predecessor because of how iconic moments and innovations can start to become formula (having to fit “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” into every Die Hard for example), or plot points from the first in the series have to be modified in order to cater to the new version. Whenever I watch a sequel, I’m aware of how daunting this mountain can be, and try to take into account those problems even if they ultimate are my criticisms. This is the approach I took when I heard that Eureka Seven, one of my favorite anime ever, was getting a sequel, but even with an open mind I felt that Eureka Seven AO not only paled in comparison to the original but was in certain ways a regression of what Eureka Seven had done.
Eureka Seven AO is billed as a direct sequel, as opposed to an alternate universe/retelling like the movie or the manga. The story centers around a young boy named Fukai Ao, who lives in the independent nation of Okinawa, and for whom life is difficult because of the way the community tries to ostracize him. In this world, the skub (or scab however they want to spell it this time), are considered a problematic natural disaster, especially because they bring with them mysterious monsters known as “Secrets,” which Ao ends up having to fight. For anyone who’s seen the original, the fact that the world of AO consists of real-world countries and continents is meant to imply that something is very strange or different about its setting, and trying to figure out just what in the world happened becomes part of the initial intrigue of the series.
When I say “regression,” I’m not referring to retcons or weird developments in AO‘s plot which cast a different light on the original’s events, but a regression of what mecha anime is capable of. Eureka Seven took an approach which let viewers explore its world through a cast of engaging, fleshed-out characters and a central love story developed gradually over the course of many episodes, and which anchored the narrative in such a way that the emotional excitement of the series builds up continuously throughout. It’s not altogether unique to Eureka Seven, and you can probably trace this style of show all the way back to Macross. Eureka Seven AO, on the other hand, feels more like a mediocre 80s mecha anime, more keen to develop its story as a set of vague mysteries and tensions but never entirely delivering on any of them. It’s not just that the plot is worse, but that it ends up resembling the way a staunch non-fan might look at and describe their idea of a Gundam anime.
What Eureka Seven AO does have, at least initially, is a strong cast of characters with plenty of potential as to how they’ll develop, but much of it never comes to fruition (though the brief glimpses at Ivica’s character and past were things I enjoyed in particular), or if there is a development the lack of impact from the rest of the series lessens the overall effect. In particular, AO never manages to have its story properly focused by something like Eureka and Renton’s romance, and though it didn’t have to necessarily be “another romance” (which might have well turned it into just a rehash of the original), there was nothing that could properly fill that void. It seems like the closest thing was just the mystery of what happened to Eureka and Renton, the intrigue of which the show feeds into fairly well, but the explanation we’re left with at the end is less than satisfying. And there is the potential for romance at the beginning, as the dynamic between Ao and his friend Haru is cute and gives a good sense of their relationship, but it ends up getting pushed aside. In the end, probably the most interesting point brought up in the show has to do with how the Secrets are treated by humanity, and how it reflects in some ways the way the Skub were regarded in the original Eureka Seven.
If the movie Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers suffered from having a weak and confusing beginning but then a fairly strong finish as all of its disparate ideas came together, then Eureka Seven AO is the opposite: It starts off strong and with many of the pieces in place to tell something both grand and personal, but its plot and character development are so discombobulated that when the ending finally comes it hits like a drizzle instead of the torrent of emotions that the original provided.
Eureka Seven is one of my favorite anime ever, Eureka is one of my favorite characters ever in a show full of incredible characters, and I consider the pacing of the show to be among the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a tough act to live up to, and so with the new Eureka Seven AO currently running in Japan, I wanted to at least give it more than one episode before I started talking about it. Not that I thought that the first episode was bad and needed a second one to “give it a chance,” but my experience with the original told me that this may very well be a show which continually ramps up and whose threads (plot, thematic, or otherwise) are only barely visible in the beginning.
To cut straight to the chase, the main character Ao is clearly implied to be Eureka and Renton’s son. As a result, I feel like Ao inevitably draws comparisons to Renton, but also that the show obviously wants you to do so. The first episode of the original Eureka Seven was all about how Renton wanted to escape his boring, do-nothing town and join the fabulous rebels of Gekkostate, whereas Ao has to deal with the constant materialization of skub coral and the destruction it causes. On top of that, both have parents whose legacies at first seem larger than them, with Renton’s father Adrock being regarded as the greatest hero who ever lived and Ao having to cope with the fact that even mentioning his mother and her turquoise hair on the island garners animosity. The difference between the overbearingly positive reputation that Renton had to deal with and the overwhelmingly negative one that Ao must live with draws an additional interesting parallel, but I feel like it does so while making Ao seem like his own character.
It also doesn’t hurt that Ao’s relationship with his friend Naru is distinctly different from Eureka and Renton’s. It seems to be built on this strong friendship which goes beyond the immediate conventions of the island where they live, and I actually have it in my mind to judge anything related to Eureka Seven based primarily on how it handles its main romance. The reason is that when Eureka Seven was originally airing, during the breaks there would be commercials for the Eureka Seven: New Wave PS2 game where the slogan for the game was “Another Boy Meets Girl.” This of course implies that Renton and Eureka were themselves a “boy meets girl” story, and the fact that their romance was so unbelievably strong supporter that concept. In that respect, and many others, I continue to look forward to Eureka Seven AO. No guarantees it won’t wipe out (see what I did there), but I feel like it’s definitely off to a strong start.
What is a one-dimensional character? What is a well-developed character? And how is it that two people viewing the same exact anime can reach entirely different judgments on whether or not its characters feel “real” or not? Those are the questions that have most recently been on my mind.
It makes me ponder the differences in the way people perceive the world and the people around them, as well as how those perceptions are then translated into the world of fiction. What do some people prioritize in their concept and understanding of a “three-dimensional personality” that runs so counter to the opinions and values of others?
Personally speaking, I find characters to be particularly well-developed in personality when I can sense that there is something more to them than what they are saying. It’s not like I want characters who are saying one thing and thinking another, however. It’s more about showing or at least hinting at a thought process behind those words. Genshiken, Eureka Seven, and Toradora! for example are particularly good at this, in that you can see the transmission from personal desire to choice of words getting filtered through the characters’ own personalities and values. But then I know there are plenty of people out there who dislike these series while accusing the shows of the very opposite of why I praise them. So again, what causes this conflict?
Many times when a character is seen as “artificially deep,” the accusation leveled at them is that they are simply there to fulfill a checklist. This isn’t necessarily wrong or unwarranted, and even I’ve used the “checklist” criticism before and have no real regrets doing so, but the question then becomes, how did these checklists form and who is responsible for them? To what extent are those negative checklists generated by one’s own standards of realism and authenticity?
What is more important for a well-developed character, that they start off with an almost palpable personality that reveals a heart and mind in them, or that they grow their hearts and minds over the long term?
What is more important, what you let the audience see, or what you let the audience infer for themselves? If you keep on revealing more and more angles, is the purpose to imply a sphere, or simply a many-sided polygon?
And how much of it is tapping into the familiar vs the unfamiliar?
It’s food for thought I haven’t really digested myself yet.
Otakon 2010 fires its first major volley with “Home Made Kazoku” as their Sunday musical guest.
Realistically speaking, this is pretty much the kind of musical guest I want at conventions more often. While I know that they’re not a J-ROCK BAND and thus won’t have quite as much clout among those who go to anime conventions mainly for the concerts, Home Made Kazoku’s a legitimate act that’s actually done music for popular anime. I mean, you couldn’t exactly call Naruto or Bleach small-fry cartoons (aside from literally being for children), and they also did “Shounen Heart,” the love-it-or-hate-it second opening of Eureka Seven.
I still consider it a crime that JAM Project got only a fraction of the audience of other musical guests at Otakon 2008, especially when they had Kageyama “Chala Head Chala” Hironobu, a guy whose songs almost every person at an anime con knows at least one of. While I get the appeal of the J-Rock band, I wouldn’t mind them nearly as much if more of them had actually sung something related to anime, or if they weren’t being sold mainly on image. Hell, a COVER of an anime song would be acceptable.
So, Home Made Kazoku. I can’t wait to see everyone at the concert try (and fail) to sing along to the rap portions.
That includes myself.
2009 has been a crazy year for anime, with ups and downs and all-arounds, but amidst a weakened global economy and an industry going through some serious growing (or shrinking) pains, I find there is still plenty to be thankful about.
I am thankful for…
Great shows being licensed or made available streaming so that when I say Glass Mask is a FANTASTIC SHOW, you can now go and watch it. And Monster is on TV!
Some stellar guests at anime conventions. Between Ishiguro, Tomino, and a whole bunch of others, this has been a highly informative and unforgettable year of conventions. Thanks to Ishiguro and Tomino as well, for telling me all about Nagahama Tadao.
An explosion of new blogs. As the years pass, they just keep coming and coming. Keep it up, the only way to improve your writing is to keep writing.
An industry which is still trying, despite what others might claim. There may be some “safe” shows out there, but we’re also continuing to see the mediums that are anime and manga being challenged and made better as a result.
An Eureka Seven Movie. Sure, it might not be quite what I’d like from an E7 movie, and it didn’t capture what made the TV series great, but I am still grateful that such a thing could be made 3 years after the original finished.
Genshiken 2 out on DVD! Get it as soon as possible. Ogiue is waiting.
The friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met through the fandom. Truly you have made this an unforgettable year.
Others and I will be attending the Union Square showing of the one-night-only US theatrical premiere of Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers, which is sure to be a rip-roaring good time and a great way to spend an evening. I’ve actually already seen the movie, but I wouldn’t pass the chance up to see it in a theater. The theater showing will be dub only, but it isn’t that much of a problem, and I’m interested in seeing how the dub crew tackles this movie.
If you want to read my review of the the E7 movie, it’s right here.
I also managed to win a copy of volume 1 of the Eureka Seven light novel adaptation, so there’s a good chance I’ll be reviewing that some time in the future. Who knows when though; I still have a Gundam 00 Second Season Review to write!