Darling in the Franxx: Thoughts on a Divisive Anime

WARNING: Spoilers for Darling in the Franxx, Gurren-Lagann, Evangelion, and Daitarn 3 (yes, you read that right)

When I first wrote about Darling in the Franxx and its sexual dystopia, the series had just presented some major revelations, among them how Hiro and Zero Two first met, and the true identity of the Klaxosaurs. Seven concluding episodes later, it turns out those “bombshells” were only the tip of the iceberg.

But this show has been full of surprises, and fan reactions to all of these twists and turns has been just as fascinating to follow as the show itself. Darling in the Franxx is, in a word, divisive—perhaps more than any other anime I’ve seen in a long time. I believe the reason for this boils down to one thing: the show attracted a wider range of fan types than most anything else, and the conflicting takes are a product of these differences. My own take is tha the series only got better as it went along, but I’m well aware that many do not share my view to the extent that it seems as if we were all watching different anime. When I give my opinion and analysis of Darling in the Franxx, it’s with this caveat in mind.

Eye of the Beholder

Let’s get into some of the major reveals in the last quarter of the series.

  • Magma energy is revealed to be the energy source that has allowed humanity to achieve immortality.
  • The Klaxosaurs don’t consider humans their true enemy, because the actual problem is a non-corporeal alien race of conquerors called the VIRM, who all but destroyed Klaxosaur civilization both directly and indirectly thousands of years ago.
  • “Papa” is actually one of the VIRM. They infiltrated the human race and purposely pointed them towards magma energy as a way to weaken the Klaxosaurs. This is because the planet’s magma is actually made up of Klaxosaurs who purposely sacrificed themselves to become an energy source for the monster-form Klaxosaurs to fight off the VIRM.
  • The VIRM basically takes the minds of all of the adults because their goal is to integrate all species in the universe within themselves. This leaves only the non-adults (namely the Franxx pilots!) left to fight. The remaining humans join forces with the Klaxosaurs and go into space to fight the VIRM.
  • Ultimately, through the power of love and friendship, Hiro and Zero Two manage to truly become one (more on that later) and defeat the VIRM. Humanity has to rebuild without the use of magma energy, fully aware of the price they paid for draining the planet of such an important resource, and out of respect for the Klaxosaurs.

That’s quite a lot for a series where the initial main debate was “which girl is better, Zero Two or Ichigo?”, and for every fan who fell in love with the show from episode 1 only to be disappointed by where it went by episode 24, there seems to be another fan who thinks the opposite. Moreover, unlike series such as Dragon Ball Z, where the things that fans love about it are the very same things the haters scoff at, no one can actually seem to agree what Darling in the Franxx is about or what it’s saying, let alone which parts are good or bad.

The anime appears to have drawn in a larger variety of anime fans to it than is typical, combining a multitude of genre signals (mecha, science fiction, romance, love triangle) with provocative, often sexual imagery. As a result, the disparate values (both in terms of personal values and ideas as to what makes a show good) of the viewers meant that people came to the show with wildly different expectations from one another. In this environment, I’m not certain I can change anyone’s minds, but I can at least put my thoughts out there.

Defying and Affirming Conventional Humanity Through Romance

Take the subject of my previous post: whether or not the anime reinforced heteronormative values, extending to the rule of man and woman as father and mother. While Darling in the Franxx indeed ends with multiple characters having children in heterosexual relationships, it’s still notable that the main couple of the story cannot have children together. The ultimate expression of their union and happiness instead involves Zero Two becoming a literal giant robot version of herself, in a cross between a wedding dress and Mechagodzilla, while Hiro pilots her from within, carrying connotations of both penis and womb but also referencing the series’s own world. Hiro, in a way, acts like the magma energy that powers the Klaxosaurs, moving away from “conventional humanity” in order to be with the one he loves.

On a less dramatic scale, Ikuno (the only lesbian in the series) ultimately does not have children, but instead devotes her life to science and medicine. Without having any offspring of her own, she makes for herself a position that can help ensure humanity’s future. Hiro, Zero Two, and Ikuno all found ways to help humanity without having to be directly involved in pregnancy. And while not entirely clear, it might just be the case that Ikuno found someone who reciprocated her feelings as well. So I can’t see Darling in the Franxx as being all gung-ho about baby-making at the expense of other people’s life choices, though those more sensitive to the topic might see the degree to which the core cast decides to have children to be the stronger message.

Through the Lens of a Long-Time Mecha Fan

Another criticism of this series is that it’s shallow, schlock entertainment more interested in M. Night Shyamalan-esque swerves than any actual substance. What exactly this has meant in the context of Darling in the Franxx has changed over the course of the series, but one of the big sticking points is the VIRM reveal. Online discussion revolved around whether this was an unnecessary twist that betrayed the feel and purpose of the series, or if the show had cleverly set it up all along, and that it made perfect sense for Darling in the Franxx. I personally lean towards the latter, but I think this comes partly from being a long-time fan of the mecha.

Long before Gurren-Lagann took “go big or go home” to the most lovingly ridiculous degrees, sudden shifts to space or to larger-scale stakes were part and parcel of an anime genre founded in kids’ entertainment. The series Daitarn 3 (1978) literally goes immediately from Earth to space for the first time (barring flashbacks) in the final episode. In time, more creative and ambitious shows tried to incorporate that dramatic build-up more effectively, and I see the heavy emphasis on personal relationships and sexual tension of early Darling in the Franxx as an effective low-key cornerstone that sets up the eventual ramp-up in the long-term. Even the rapid pace of the last few episodes bothered me little for similar reasons, but fans who did not come into anime on shows that preferred such abrupt shifts could very well see it as clunky, headless-chicken writing. I understand, yet I still feel the progression to be appropriate and maybe even nostalgic.

Final Thoughts on the VIRM, and the Ending

It’s not uncommon to see Darling in the Franxx compared to either Evangelion or Gurren-Lagann for aesthetic and thematic reasons, but there’s another factor all three shows share: the idea that they in some way or form betrayed their audiences. Evangelion is probably the most famous example of an unexpected ending, with its compete stylistic departure and its abstract, introspection-heavy final episodes. Famously, the staff of Evangelion actually received death threats for it. Gurren-Lagann pulled the brakes on its do-anything, push-the-envelope mentality for its conclusion, which stung fans who watched it precisely to revel in that feeling of “doing the impossible.” Darling in the Franxx is capable of “betraying” large swathes of its diverse viewership, but I do not think the series actually crumbles when looked at with greater scrutiny.

While the opinion that the VIRM twist comes “out of nowhere” isn’t shared by all—some even accurately predicted the show’s move into space—I think an essential difference between detractors and supporters of the final episodes is that the finale comes with a tonal shift from being an anime that was focused heavily, at least on the surface, on the personal, intimate, and erotic. If that’s what you came to the show for, then it might feel like the two pieces don’t connect.

As mentioned previously, however, I don’t mind this change one bit. The reason? Because Darling in the Franxx has emphasized that something is terribly wrong with its world all along, and not just in terms of the Klaxosaur attacks. Whether it’s meeting other Franxx pilots and realizing how emotionally stunted they are, to the adult/child divide, to the sheer sterility of their cities, something has felt amiss from the start. Perhaps the VIRM being “the real enemy” can feel contrived, but taking a wide view of the series means seeing the depiction of a false Utopia that humankind bought into and that the children had to eventually make up for. Not enough people questioned the gradual consolidation of power around Papa and his organization, APE, or the exact nature of magma energy. Theirs was a society of ignorance, and it led to children like Hiro being punished for trying to fight that ignorance.

Even though Hiro and Zero Two manage to deal a crippling blow to the VIRM, the real challenge is trying to survive as a species without any magic bullets like magma energy. The libidinous energy that was once literally redirected into warfare goes to expressing love, whether that’s through making children, helping children, or just creating happiness. While personal perspective plays a significant role in how one interprets the series’s message, is it strange to see the main cast, poised to change the world since the first episode, end up doing so?

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Being “True to Oneself” and the Necessity of Criticism

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve believed it important for nerds and geeks, otaku and gamers, to be proud of who they are. Back then, from seeing my own experience as well as that of others both online and off, it hurt me to witness people continuously talk about how they have to hide their hobbies. You’d find posts on forums of people talking about how they had to abandon their nerdy interests in order to make friends and get a significant other. And while I’m sure there are more than a few who found greater happiness this way, I could also see plenty who basically lived as frail shadows. As frivolous something like a love of RPGs or an attraction to anime girls could be, I saw it doing subtle psychological damage to those who forced themselves to abandon their passions, and I didn’t want to see people like me be hurt.

A lot of things have changed in the years since. Gaming is undoubtedly mainstream. Shows like The Big Bang Theory have, for better or worse, made the lives of nerds “hip” to watch. People needlessly worry about “fake geek girls.” One of the consequences of the prominence of geek culture is that, where once the main issue for many nerds was trying to get their voices out there, now the latent misogyny of gamer culture has become a real problem. Given this current environment, is it okay to just say, “Be confident and declare to the world that you’re proud to be who you are!” if it means that people are incentivized to harass others?

I understand that there are some generalizations I’m putting forward that are inevitably full of exceptions. Geek culture and fandoms are many-armed and camaraderie across different interests can be fractured. One does not even need to be a “social outcast” anymore to be considered an avid player of video games. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not like asking people to have confidence automatically leads to influencing people to attack others. Nevertheless, I think there is a potential path from self confidence and pride to anger towards and mistreatment of others, one that is dimly lit yet still visible upon closer observation.

To some extent, I think this wraps into the idea of variety of expression as a strength, be it in fiction or in, say, speech and dialogue. Much like freedom of speech, the difficult thing about supporting and celebrating it is that you have to accept that you can’t agree with every opinion or belief, even if you swear that it’s wrong with every fiber of your being. It is the constant potential for change that gives both art and speech strength, and for every poorly conceived anime that might exist there can also exist a work of endless wonder, broadly speaking.

That being said, criticism is necessary, and dissent towards ideas believed to be harmful should not be silenced just for the sake of variety. And I think this is where I find myself when it comes to people found in fandoms who continue to espouse racist, misogynistic ideas. I disagree vehemently with those ideas, but they are beliefs legitimately held by people, and to silence them is to build resentment. At the same time, giving them license to run their mouths and spread hate and harassment isn’t the right thing to do either. Ideally, conversations on matters such as the portrayal of male and female characters in games should happen in the open, rather than as rocks volleyed from across a chasm, but that might be wishful thinking.

I’ve increasingly thought about how wanting to make the world a better place and embracing all the beauty and ugliness of the world requires living a contradiction. However, I don’t believe that this is inherently a problem. Perhaps we try too hard to make every aspect of our life consistent, or to expect our thoughts and beliefs to line up perfectly with each other. If that’s the case, then I can continue to cheer for those who are able to express themselves, while putting more effort to guide those who I believe need it.

Approaching “Isle of Dogs” as an Asian-American Anime Fan

Wes Anderson’s Japanese cinema-inspired stop-motion film Isle of Dogs has been the subject of controversy. Accused of racism (or at the very least racial insensitivity) towards Japan and Asian cultures in general, the movie comes at a time when Hollywood has made numerous missteps in their handling of Asian-themed works, such as the casting of non-Asian Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. As an Asian-American, I initially came out of the film without feeling offended or bothered by its contents and dressing. I still do not believe it to be a nasty film, but as I’ve reflected on my experience with Isle of Dogs by way of my long history as an Asian amd an anime fan, as well as the criticisms others have written, I find that the core issue isn’t so much racism in the “hatred or marginalization of a people” variety. Instead, it’s that the exoticization of Japan in the film can leave Asian viewers feeling we’re being othered, that we’re not the “intended audience.”

As an anime fan for the past two decades, I’ve seen both the anime being produced and my own experience with them change. When I first got into it, anime was something very foreign, very different, very exotic. Compared to the cartoons I was familiar with, it did seem like a new world, made all the better by the fact that I, as an American living in the US, was not its assumed audience. While the anime industry is increasingly aware of the global market (see the whole “Cool Japan” push by the country’s government), some of that “otherness” persists, reflecting the 99% ethnically Japanese population of Japan.

For example, in many anime set outside of Japan, the main character is often still Japanese, or at least half-Japanese—as if to assure the target audience that there is a relatable point. The spacefaring Macross franchise, now decades old, reflects this tendency in its many protagonists’ names—Ichijou Hikaru, Isamu Alva Dyson, Nekki Basara, Kudou Shin, Saotome Alto, and Hayate Immelman. So when the American exchange student Tracy Walker showed up, I saw her in the same light as those Macross characters, even if she isn’t the protagonist. While I don’t agree with the notion that she’s a “white savior” character, but rather an awkward yet well-meaning character with a bit of a self-righteous savior complex, I registered her in my mind as that American audience stand-in character. However, thinking about that moment was when it clicked for me: if she’s supposed to stand in for the American viewer who’s stepping into this film ostensibly about Japan, what does her presentation say to Asian-Americans watching it? One potential interpretation: Asian-Americans are second-class Americans in the theater.

That’s not the message that Isle of Dogs communicated to me, and I think that the lack of Asian actors playing the dogs themselves isn’t too big a deal, but I can definitely see why the film’s presentation can make Asians like myself feel like strangers in our own home. By extension, I can see why non-Asians could be sensitive to what they’re seeing as affronts of cultural appropriation. The film’s decision to leave the Japanese untranslated (outside of a literal interpreter character summarizing what some of the characters say on occasion) didn’t affect me too greatly; I’m fluent in Japanese. But the decision to not subtitle them means that direct engagement with those characters is lost for the assumed audience, and for non-Japanese-fluent Asian viewers, it can potentially create a greater sense of alienation. Again, for me as an anime fan, something like “Megasaki City” isn’t offensive because it doesn’t sound too far off from “Tokyo-3” (the 3’s pronounced “three” like in English) from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but the film is rife with imagery and symbols that might end up feeling less like loving homages and more like snarky plundering if the Asian-American audience already feels like they’re being told to “stand over there.”

I’m not familiar with Wes Anderson films, so I can’t speak to his auteur style. I’m also not an expert on Kurosawa Akira, so I have only a vague sense of how Anderson references him and other Japanese filmmakers. At most I’m very familiar with Miyazaki Hayao. Within this limited personal context, my feeling is that Anderson through Isle of Dogs tries to exoticize not Japan, Japanese culture, or Japanese people, but rather the feeling of wonder and difference that he got from Japanese film and filmmakers. One of his core staff members, Nomura Kunichi, was apparently brought on specifically to help with authenticity and treating Japanese culture with respect.

Because those films are so associated with foreign interpretations and expectations of Japan, however, drawing from those sources so readily while unabashedly acknowledging them through the Japanese setting of Isle of Dogs can make audiences, such as Asian-Americans who have to deal with the challenges of being Asian-American, bristle with suspicion. Bringing up the question of cultural appropriation is important, and I think the film itself has enough teeth (no pun intended) to stand up to the doubts and concerns, but those questions should not be ignored or assumed to “not really matter.”

 

Canon vs. Fanon vs. Headcanon

“Headcanon” is an interesting term to unpack. It’s essentially an oxymoron that says, “I want to believe in how I interpret a given story over whatever the official narrative says,” making it a contradiction with a strongly postmodern bent. Headcanon, by meaning, lies outside of “canon,” but it’s also a different beast from “fanon,” which often carries a communal element.

As it has gained traction, headcanon increasingly butts heads with the other two. But while the battle of headcanon vs. canon might appear to be the more prominent fight for fans, I think what really defines much of the fandom divisions of the current age is the struggle of headcanon vs. fanon, and how this conflict plays out contributes to the extreme reactions seen in fandom online.

The creation of fanons requires two elements. First, much like headcanon, fans need to prefer some aspect of their own interpretations over something that is unsatisfying in canon by way of quality or omission. If Pokemon fanfic writers prefer a grittier world, it’s because the franchise is geared towards a kinder vision and they want something else. Second, there needs to be some kind of consensus. Not every fan needs to agree about a pairing, but enough fans must exist for a romantic coupling to gain traction, especially if it’s a dominant part of the fan discourse.

Headcanon, however, obviates the need for mutual agreement. The use of the term, though not inherently confrontational, carries with it a notion of the individual over the group. While fans might cross-pollinate ideas, it comes down to each and every fan, instead of what a community thinks.

This potentially leads not just to differing views of a work’s value, but also a disparity between what it means to be a fan and what it means to be in a fandom. Speaking from personal experience, over the years, I’ve gradually moved away from large, online communities to a closer circle of friends. Now, when I encounter “the fandom” of something, it can be like stepping into a foreign country, even down to being exposed to unfamiliar lingo. I wonder how my interpretations, headcanon or not, can differ so much from the dominant ideas in a given fandom collective.

In hindsight, this is rarely surprising. It’s uncommon for a single person to arrive at the same conclusion as a group, and even one group’s ideas will not align with another’s. A person who is truly alone, in the sense of not having others to talk to, would only have themselves to debate with. Moreover, when people form communities around a hobby, they have a high chance of bringing in like-minded peers; all the more so when fandom is a catered experience via Twitter or Tumblr.

Fanon isn’t some monolithic creature. There are multiple fanons, much like how it’s impossible to have every headcanon be exactly the same. One can even argue that a single property can have multiple canons, as long as it never fully defines which version is “official.” But the conflict between fanon and canon is generally old and fairly easy to understand. There’s what the creators say, there’s what the fans say, and even the most tightly controlled work will have moments left to interpretation. Moreover, because the Word of God, so to speak, carries a kind of authority, fanon is positioned as a kind of rebel entity.

But when the fight is headcanon vs. fanon, it’s the fanon that turns into the empire. If a lone fan wants to be accepted, they’ll have to take on enough of the assumed truths of the group, or be willing to encourage debate and disagreement. Because of how fans are so capable of tying their fandom to their personal identity and values, disagreements can hit close to home, or be seen as an affront to one’s beliefs. This is why a focus on social consciousness and progress, even though those concepts aren’t bad ones, can lead to a kind of zealousness that can create a negative image. The way a fandom thinks, even if it’s ultimately in a positive and beneficial direction, can become very hostile to outsiders, i.e. those who have not been baptized in the fires of fanon.

I think one of the major factors contributing to the ways in which headcanon, canon, and fanon clash is, likely to no one’s surprise, social media. It simultaneously allows people to connect while also in a sense isolating them from each other, while the internet itself has long been a space where beliefs, no matter how big or small, are defended seemingly to the death; one set of words vs. another. There’s no sign of it stopping any time soon, but I hope to see a greater awareness of the value of both individual and group mindsets in fandom.

AOL Instant Messenger: In Memoriam

December 15, 2017 will be marked in history as the day AOL Instant Messenger finally died, and with it, a chapter of my online fandom lays to rest.

Long before AIM came on the scene, I was a kid in elementary school who got to try America Online thanks to my family. While the signature “You’ve got mail” chime and the constant refrain of “A/S/L?” weren’t major parts of my childhood, they eventually paved the way for the chat program that would be my go-to form of internet communication for close to two decades.

What began as a way to simply talk to fellow fans in various circles, be it NiGHTS into dreams fanfiction, Pokemon multiplayer strategy, anime, or more. Like so many awkward nerds out there, I had a hard time making friends online, but somehow was able to pour my heart out to those on the other side of my keyboard. I was young, dumb, and full of overwrought emotion, but so were the people on the other side. I remember those early days of my internet life fondly, and lament that the internet as a full-on escape all but died with Web 2.0, let alone the social media landscape we have now.

Out of all my memories using AIM, what probably stands out to me most are the genuinely heartfelt conversations I had with people I truly considered to be my friends, whether we eventually met IRL or not. It felt good to listen to others, and it felt good to have others listen to me, as we shared the things that we found difficult to express to others in person. This might apply more generally to the internet, but at times I felt AIM saved me.

Truth be told, I had still been using it pretty regularly up until the announcement that it was finally going away for good. I know we live in a newfangled world where supercharged messaging programs are a dime-a-dozen, but AOL Instant Messenger will always be my #1.

To Khara, Sonuis, Fish151PKMN, OGT, and all the others out there: thanks for the memories.

Teikoku State of Mind: Anime NYC 2017

When a brand-new convention decides to call itself “Anime NYC,” it’s practically asking to have the deck stacked against it. Running a first-year convention is no small task, doubly so if it’s in the heart of Manhattan. And with no reputation to go by, potential attendees may feel reluctant to try things out. Small attendance numbers can mean a lack of overall interest and the inability to justify the high costs of NYC, while large numbers means a greater chance of disaster striking if mismanaged. As a longtime resident of New York City, I’ve seen cons come and go, but somehow, someway, Anime NYC went so swimmingly that I almost can’t believe it was real.

General Impressions and Exhibitor’s Hall

Those who attended New York Anime Festival and the first few New York Comic Cons might recall what it was like to go through the Jacob Javits Center without feeling like sardines. Walking through Anime NYC felt reminiscent of that environment, as the con was fairly heavily populated but with plenty of elbow room to spare. Panel rooms were right next to the Exhibitor’s Hall, making transitions between checking out the goods and listening in on industry and fan talks. Special events were held in a Main Event Hall that was a fair distance away, though nowhere near as disorienting as, say, the Baltimore Convention Center where Otakon used to take place.

Because it was so easy to navigate (without the space feeling overly empty), I came out of the three-day con feeling satisfied yet unstressed. Usually one comes with the other due to the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything done, or because there’s so little to do at the event itself that boredom and lethargy set in. Anime NYC struck a Goldilocks-type balance with a schedule that thrilled but did not overwhelm body and mind.

A major contrast between Anime NYC and NYCC is that the latter is focused on being a general comics pop culture event, with a film and television presence that all but overshadows the “comic” in comic con. Anime NYC, on the other hand, is first and foremost concerned with anime and manga. A few features branched out from that core, such as the presence of Overwatch voice actors who were there to meet the fans and sell autographs, but this was certainly no “anime ghetto,” as fans took to calling New York Anime Fest when it began to be dissolved into NYCC.  For those who love anime and love a big convention feel but think New York Comic Con’s a bit too much, Anime NYC has potential to be a gathering point for anime fans in the tri-state area.

Concerts

Anime NYC featured two concerts that shone in different ways. The first was Anime Diva Night, while the second was the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert.

At Anime Diva Night, three Japanese musical guests performed as part of the Anisong World Matsuri. Two of the singers, Ishida Yoko and TRUE, are amazing vocalists in their own right, but the third, Yonekura Chihiro, was the reason I wanted to attend. She’s the voice of so many amazing anime themes over the years that it almost doesn’t compare. Notably, she sang the opening and ending themes to Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team.

While having Yonekura alone would’ve sufficed in my case, all three did a wonderful job. Some singers sound significantly better in the recording booth than they do onstage, but this was not the case for the Anime Diva trio, who sounded incredible even though the makeshift Main Events Hall did not have ideal acoustics.

The concert had a somewhat unusual format. Rather than move from one act to the next, each performer would do a few songs, perform a duet with another, and then the newer singer would take over before the next duet. There were two rotations in total, with all three singers performing together at the start and end of the show. All of the group performances were cover songs of popular anime themes—”Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” “Moonlight Densetsu,” “God Knows,” etc.—while the solo acts were their signature songs. Yonekura did indeed sing the Gundam 08th MS Team opening, but also an old favorite of mine in “Will” from the anime Hoshin Engi (aka Soul Hunter). Highlights from the other two singers included TRUE performing the first Sound!! Euphonium opening and Ishida doing arguably her most famous song, “Otome no Policy” from Sailor Moon R.

There were a couple of songs that didn’t make the concert that I was hoping for: Yonekura’s “Yakusoku no Basho e” from Kaleido Star and Ishida’s “White Destiny” from Pretear, but it was a small loss for an otherwise amazing concert.

The Gundam Thunderbolt Concert was highly unusual compared to what typically happens at an anime con performances. Generally, they’re closer to Anime Diva Night, sounding like the j-pop or j-rock one expects out of anime. To have the Gundam Thunderbolt composer Kikuchi Naruyoshi lead a jazz band himself on saxophone was a truly rare treat, and it’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve had at an anime con. The closest equivalent I could think of was Kanno Yoko’s concert at Otakon 2013.

I am no jazz aficionado, but thanks to the concert, I felt as if I began to understand the almost primal appeal that jazz holds for listeners. As I listened, an analogy popped into my head: jazz is like constructing a human being from music. They can be loud one moment and quiet the next. They can be a mess of contradictions, yet still function. I’m unsure if this will send me towards checking out more jazz in the future, but my curiosity is definitely piqued.

I’ve been more or less referring to the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert as a “jazz performance,” but that’s not entirely accurate. To everyone’s surprise, the concert also included performances by the singers of some of the 50s/60s-style pop songs from the Gundam Thunderbolt anime. In the context of the series, the two main characters, Io and Daryl, are two soldiers on opposite sides of a war who each listen to music as they battle. Io is an intense man who loves equally powerful jazz, while the handicapped Daryl prefers softer ballads.

At the Gundam Thunderbolt panel, Kikuchi mentioned that these are basically his two favorite genres of music, and he thought both fit the characters well. Interestingly, while the Gundam Thunderbolt manga included jazz already, Kikuchi composed entirely new songs that he felt fit Io’s character better.

One funny coincidence of sorts when it comes to Kikuchi’s choice to add a golden oldies aspect to the Gundam Thunderbolt score is that one of the biggest names in classic mid-20th-century American pop, Neil Sedaka, once composed the theme songs to Mobile Suit Z Gundam in the 1980s. I’d be curious to know what Kikuchi would think about this.

Artist Alley

More than Exhibitors’ Halls, Artist Alleys at cons can be affected heavily by the space they occupy. Regardless of the artists’ skills, or the amount of people in the alley, a bad space can make an attendee want to leave as quickly as possible, while a good space encourages more browsing and exploring.

Anime NYC’s is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Held on the top floor of the Jacob Javits Center, natural light shined down on the entire Artist Alley from an entirely windowed roof. At times, it almost felt like an outdoor European boutique, which made it just a pleasant place to peruse.

I purchased a few items at the Artist Alley, mainly from Japanese artists (something of a rarity even at anime cons). One booth was ran by the wife and assistant (pictured above) of manga artist Ohno Junji, creator behind the manga for obscure titles Mobile Suit Gundam: Missing Link and Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin MSD: Cucuruz Doan’s Island. Unfortunately, the artist couldn’t attend himself. They were selling art packages from Ohno himself and his assistant, Ally Suwabe:

Ohno Junji

Ally Suwabe

Axel Rex is Ohno’s original web comic he drew for Kodanasha/Yahoo!! Comics from 2008 to 2009.

The other Japanese artist attending was Tatsuyuki “Mikey” Maeda, who’s worked for the past 10 years as a manga assistant. In a way, while manga artists themselves only attend cons sparingly, their assistants are even rarer. Maeda was selling a short guide called “Secrets of Manga: Basics of the Tools & Trade.” In it, he gives various technical tips to aspiring manga creators, the kinds of things that often get glossed over in favor of “character design” and “how to draw mecha.” The guide talks about differences in pen nibs (such as what you should use if you have a light touch vs. a heavy hand), how to effectively use white-out, and more. I highly recommend it.

Panels

Gundam Thunderbolt Panel

Panels are an important part of the con experience for me, though due to my schedule I could not attend as many as I would have liked. Still, the Gundam Thunderbolt panel was highly informative, as were the Inifini-T Force and LeSean Thomas panels.

Infini-T Force is a current 3DCG anime series crossing over the classic heroes of Tatsunoko Production—Gatchaman, Casshan/Casshern, Hurricane Polymar, and Tekkaman. The fact that Tatsunoko, one of the most influential anime studios ever, had a con presence at all was the main reason I decided to attend their panel. Overall, it was a fairly basic introduction to Tatsunoko, but I like that they conveyed a bit of the studio’s historical significance. They’re one of the most influential studios ever, pushing the limits of animation in Japan since their inception in the 1960s. They were also willing to discuss a bit of the reception Infini-T Force has received in Japan, such as the fact that the primary female character is a little contentious to Japanese audiences. This is also somewhat unusual for Japanese companies, and was somewhat refreshing.

The LeSean Thomas panel was a general Q&A, but was one of the highlights of Anime NYC. It was inspiring to see attendee after attendee express how Thomas inspired them to keep working at their art, and how his success as a creator of color gave them the courage to never give up. I previously interviewed him at Otakon 2016, and he does make for an excellent role model.

Cosplay

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

In Conclusion

Given how much I’ve praised Anime NYC, it might seem like I’m a paid shill, but I assure my readers that this is not the case. The con was actually executed so smoothly that there’s little I can complain about that would be the fault of the convention itself. While I attended for free as press, even the weekend ticket was affordable, especially compared to New York Comic Con ($60 vs. over $200 to buy four 1-day NYCC passes).

At approximately 20,000 attendees, Anime NYC has already become one of the larger anime cons in the US. The convention appears to have done a sound job of attracting locals, and I’m curious to see how much more it can grow. If the convention keeps up this level of quality, I’d be happy and proud to call Anime NYC “home.”

 

Tonight was the Night: The End of VGCW, Video Game Championship Wrestling

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 marked the final episode of Video Game Championship Wrestling, and the end of one of the most bizarrely enjoyable spectacles I’ve ever known.

VGCW was a federation that used the WWE video games’ “Create a Wrestler” feature to fill its ranks with video game characters, celebrity gamers, and even Vegeta and Nappa from Dragon Ball Z. Pitting not human opponents but rather (often incompetent) computer-controlled wrestlers against each other, VGCW stood out amidst a universe of “Let’s Plays” and eSports titles in ways few other phenomena could. VGCW was the flagship show for the VGCW Network, which also includes a women’s federation and a developmental one.

One of the more fascinating aspects of VGCW was the fanbase that surrounded it. Viewers in Twitch chat would cheer on their favorite wrestlers, despite knowing full well that their rabid typing would not actually affect the routines and patterns of the AIs. While story threads presented by the creators of VGCW provided the stakes for many matches, what has been really the heart and soul of this whole concept of video game AI wrestling is the ability for the fans to willingly give meaning to the actions of these virtual marionettes who represent out favorite heroes and villains.

While the same could be said of actual pro wrestling, the difference is that audience interaction there tells the wrestlers if they’re doing well and if they need to change anything to keep the audience’s attention in a predetermined match. In VGCW, match results are unknown even by the creators.

I remember seeing Little Mac redeem himself by knocking out Dracula and throwing him in a casket. I recall Phoenix Wright returning from captivity to vanquish his alternate-dimension evil doppelganger (affectionately known as Phoenix Wrong), an achievement celebrated by having Fall Out Boy’s “Like a Phoenix” play over the end credits (see above). I enjoyed seeing the Gameshark force the wrestlers to leave WWE 2K14 and enter the N64 game WWE No Mercy. Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, wrestled and defeated Jesus, teamed with Deus Ex 2 hero Adam Jensen, became an all-powerful villain, and died. Scorpion from Mortal Kombat is arguably the greatest champion of all time with his record six title defenses.

For the recent finale, the championship match featured Ganondorf, the only triple crown winner in VGCW history, against perennial underdog Zubaz—a rejected Street Fighter design popularized by the Super Best Friends YouTube channel who became a playable character in the bare-bones fighting game Divekick. On top of that, they actually commissioned former WWE announcer Justin Roberts to announce the match. Calling VGCW a wild ride would be an understatement.

My personal connection to VGCW lied not just in the excitement it brought, but also in that it helped me deal with tension in my life. When I first started watching VGCW, I was still living in the Netherlands, and due to the pressure of trying to finish my dissertation I could sense that my nerves were constantly frazzled. Watching anime and reading manga was fun, but it wasn’t relaxing because consuming titles caused my brain to keep firing on all cylinders. During this time, I found that what soothed the cacophony inside my head was episodes of VGCW. It was, in a certain sense, my version of “healing anime” such as Aria.

I have to give a shout-out to the defunct multiplayer spinoff called “NWTOH,” which first featured a bizarre entrance for obscure Final Fantasy VI character Banon. A shining example of what one might call “anti-cinematography” due to the non-sequitur nature of its transitions, Banon’s entrance can make me laugh so hard that I can literally feel the stress leaving my body every time I watch it:

Although the main VGCW show is gone, it leaves with successors and descendants. All of the more recent episodes are on YouTube, and a little digging around can uncover older ones as well. Women’s Video Game Championship Wrestling (WVGCW) is gearing up for its own finale. Developmental show Extreme Dudebro Wrestling (EDBW) still has some life left in it, and might just step out of the shadow of VGCW now. Belmont Wrestling Alliance (BWA), which will be live tonight, recently made its return, and it has perhaps the most eccentric and eclectic roster of all.

To Bazza, TOH, and everyone who worked to make me and the other VGCW fans sports entertained, thank you.