After months of focusing on the same song, the musical possibilities explode.
Still at their summer training camp (of sorts), the Chorus Appreciation Society decides that they will do four songs for the school culture festival. The only catch is that they’re having trouble narrowing down a final list, even after listening to a wide variety of options.
Ultimately, the group decides that the songs will be chosen by three of the singers plus Hasegawa choose, with Orihara abstaining. To everyone’s surprise, despite his previous objections, Jin actually chooses a song with piano. What’s even more surprising, then, is that Akira doesn’t. While the gentle and harmonious tunes of Akira’s pick resonate with the whole group, Shion is clearly upset and calls Akira a traitor for the second time, despite having forgotten about the first incident.
Songs They Didn’t Choose
Normally, I leave the song list to the end of the review as a bit of extra fun. However, since there’s so many this time and they’re such a central part of this chapter, I thought it best to list them all from the beginning, to split the list up, and to make it the main focus of this review.
Part of the fun is also in looking up what all of these sound like to get a better understanding of why they were or weren’t picked. There’s also the inevitable hurdle of manga being a non-audio media, and I think Kio still hasn’t figured out a way to make the visualization of each song feel different, so it can make the reading experience feel a bit incomplete.
Shinji purposely picks a song that everyone is familiar with, given that the established goal is to attract new members and become a full-fledged club. It has a soft pop rock feel, and I think it speaks to the fact that Shinji has gotten into singing but is still all about exploring castles. Even though I personally didn’t know this song, it just comes across as the most conventional choice.
Last chapter, I predicted that Hasegawa would go for a Ghibli song, but she hit me with the curviest of curve balls, instead opting for the main theme of the film Macross: Do You Remember Love? Incidentally, it’s the only song besides “Daitokai” that I’ve actually heard before. Hasegawa has already shown her otaku side numerous times, but this really clinches her geek status, especially with her infodump about the historical significance of Macross as the first idol anime and the importance of Iijima Mari. I would love to see this animated, just so I could hear a men’s chorus version of this iconic anime song.
While Jin’s song is not a capella like originally intended, it’s still technically difficult and speaks to his desire to show his mom that she’s wrong about him. Even my amateurish ears can tell this song is tough, given its pace. In addition to how “Etupirka” really seems to carry Jin’s will, one of my favorite moments in this chapter is seeing Shion get serious about figuring out how to play it.
Akira explains that he picked this song because the melody, lyrics, and harmony are all soft and gentle but also supportive. It makes sense, seeing as he also picked “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” for the M-Con. It’s certainly a shock that he would not pick a song that includes a piano given how hard he fought for it and his feelings for Shion, but to me, it feels like the song itself was strong enough to him that it actually overrode his prior convictions. There’s a certain strength to Akira, even if it’s not always obvious. Either that, or he did it because he’s still feeling awkward when it comes to Shion.
Fun fact: For this chapter, the team behind Hashikko Ensemble actually got help from the composer Kitagawa Noboru!
First, I really want to see this series become an anime now.
Last week, the Japanese animation studio Arms declared bankruptcy. Their legacy is primarily that of sex and fanservice, with titles like Mezzo Forte, Queen’s Blade, Another Lady Innocent, and Ikkitousen from Dragon Destiny on under their belts. But for me, Arms is first and foremost the studio behind the anime Genshiken 2.
Ogiue Maniax started right around when Genshiken 2 first began airing in 2007, and its DVDs were the second anime I ever imported from Japan. In the photo above, there’s also a CD of Genchoken, a Genshiken 2-related radio show starring voice actors Mizuhashi Kaori (Ogiue) and Hiyama Nobuyuki (Madarame).
One unique feature of Genshiken 2 compared to all other adaptations of the manga is that Arms treated it like the other works in their library and brought their, er, considerable talents to fore. Not only was artist Urushihara Satoshi (of Langrisser, Plastic Little, and Another Lady Innocent fame) the animation director on the opening, but there were more than a few scenes depicting extremely vivid nerd fantasies. The most famous might just be Ogiue’s fully animated fujoshi imagination regarding Sasahara and Madarame.
In that sense, Arms’s approach felt like an attempt to give Genshiken a more late-night anime appeal, for better or worse, and the DVDs did indeed uncensor the really racy stuff. However, while Arms certainly went places the manga never did (and thus potentially could have turned away fans of the original), I think that their execution of Genshiken 2 in some ways anticipates the sexually charged alternate Genshiken that is Spotted Flower. In fact, Arms probably would have been the right studio to animate that series if it were possible.
So thanks, Arms. Very rarely do my favorite characters get this much love, and you gave fans of the Genshiken boys and girls something unforgettable.
That all said, bankruptcy isn’t always the end. Who knows? Maybe that Spotted Flower adaptation isn’t completely out of the question.
Kio Shimoku has historically been a very private person, not even revealing his face until 2018. Shockingly, the Genshiken author had his very first audio interview, and it was by a Virtual Youtuber to boot! Luis Cammy is apparently a big fan of Kio’s work, and talked with him for a whopping 80+ minutes.
Translating the whole thing would be a whole endeavor in itself, but you’ll find all the notes I’ve taken from the interview. There’s a lot of it that’s all-new information and insight into Kio’s creative history.
Note that Kio has a remarkably deep voice. Personally, he reminds me a bit of Kugayama from Genshiken.
Also, as a final disclaimer, it’s possible I misunderstood some of the things spoken about. If anyone has corrections, feel free to leave comments!
Introduction and Miscellaneous
Luis has been a fan of his work since Gonensei (“The Fifth Year”), an early Kio manga and dark sequel to his prior work, Yonensei (“The Fourth Year”).
As part of their collaboration, Luis sang a cover of the Kujibiki Unbalance opening, and Kio provided drawings of Luis cosplaying as Ritsuko Kübel Kettenkrad for a music video. The video
Is meant to resemble late 1990s to early 2000s galge/dating sim intros. Luis looks like Saki from Genshiken/Ritsuko already, so it was a challenge to differentiate her.
Kio learned about VTubers from manga author gatherings. He doesn’t watch YouTubers much, let alone VTubers.
When asked if he knew how popular his work was at the time, Kio said he didn’t really look at comments online, but felt he rode the wave of the era.
The very beginning of Genshiken was Kio wanting to draw otaku as normal people. He want to madk what he himself wanted to read.
Luis mentions that otaku and their status have changed drastically since the days of Genshiken (when otaku were picked on and persecuted), like how there are light otaku now. Kio says his daughter is in middle school right now, and to her, she doesn’t get the whole otaku-as-negative thing. A group of popular kids in her class have Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba merch. Kio responds, “Times have changed, huh?”
Luis talks about how even regular folks say they like her, and it’s like the wall between normies and otaku isn’t there. Madarame has become a popular representative of otaku (to the extent that he’s Kio’s visual stand-in for this interview).
Kio talks about how, in the very earliest planning stages, the first idea he sent to editorial was about the relationship between Madarame, Kousaka, and Saki. The love triangle was inspired by Ping-Pong Club, the nose-hair chapter in particular. That scene was thought up very early on, back when Genshiken was a mere chick. In a sense, Madarame and his romantic relationships were a part of Genshiken from the start.
Luis talks about her mahjong teacher, Saito Go (a professional player and mahjong VTuber), likes Genshiken. He especially remembers that scene with Madarame and Saki eating sushi together, and then not talking afterward on the train ride home.
Luis points out that Kio likes to use silent panels, which Kio agrees with. However, he thinks it’s overdoing it with those types of panels isn’t good either. The nose-hair chapter ends in silence too. Luis says a lot of information can be conveyed in such panels. Kio says it can convey a sense of realism.
Luis points out that the recording was the day of Saki’s birthday!
When creating character profiles for the compiled manga volumes, Kio had to come up with birthdays. He actually used Gundam Horoscopes to think them up. [This has been mentioned in other sources before, like the Japan-only Genshiken Official Data Book.] Actually, it was sort of like a backwards horoscope, in that he picked a mobile suit that would fit Saki well, and decided the birthday based on that. Sasahara is a Ball.
Personal Questions and Family Life
Kio is into Gunpla. He got into it when he was a 6 thanks to his bigger brother. Plamo-Kyoshiro (the 1980s precursor to Gundam Build Fighters) was his “bible.” He would categorize himself as a plastic model otaku above all else. He still wants to continue it as a hobby, but he’s busy. In Plamo-Kyoshiro, the way they used cardboard boxes in the manga really sparked his imagination as a kid.
Luis asks if Kio’s daughter ever says, “Why is our home filling up with more [otaku] stuff?” Kio says that his workplace is different from his home, so it’s his workplace that gets filled up instead. Doesn’t think his daughter is an otaku, but can’t say for sure. Luis jokes about Kio’s daughter showing up on the live recording and telling him not to say so much. Kio mentions that she doesn’t know about this, so Luis responds that she could come in saying, “It sounds like you’re doing a broadcast with someone from Nijisanji.” Kio comments that she might actually know what VTubers are.
Kio’s daughter has always walked in while he’s drawing manga, so she’s been reading manga for a long time. Kio still reads current manga. Luis says that manga has become like a “communication tool” these days, like, “What? Do you know this title?” as a conversation starter.
Genshiken More In-Depth
Luis describes the first Genshiken as being about ancient otaku. She asks Kio, if there was a Genshiken Third Generation, would it have VTubers and stuff in it? What kinds of characters and what sort of content would it include?
Kio concurs that they’re ancient otaku. His thinking was, “If I try to draw something totally new, it’ll quickly date itself. But if I make them feel older, than it’ll age better.” He doesn’t consider himself to be on the cutting edge. Genshiken came from whatt he personally wanted to draw. As it continued, it progressed into fujoshi stuff.
As for VTubers, once they become old, maybe then they’d show up in Genshiken. Kio says that plenty of current manga have VTubers in them already.
Luis asks if Kio is happy to have ended Second Generation when he did, and Kio says yes. “It felt like, ‘That’s about where it should stop.’” He explains how the sequel started out as a one-shot, but he’s not good at doing extra stories and the like, so he kept on working on it. Kodansha editorial (the publisher of Genshiken) said he should do enough to fill one volume. It was originally supposed to be a short serialization.
Kio began with the thought of “How would Ogiue and the others continue the club?” and of course, it would end up with a bunch of fujoshi. But would it be all girls? What about guys? Hence, Hato.
Kio really went back and forth about whether or not to include a character like Hato. When he was drawing the manuscript, he kept having the feeling of “Is this really okay?” Coming up with the idea of Hato purposely using a more feminine voice is when he finally thought he could make it work. Fujoshi and otoko no ko (boys who dress convincingly as girls) are the main aspects of Second Generation. Kio didn’t want to put Hato through so much hardship, but as the story progressed, he felt that’s what should happen—though he did worry over it.
The original Genshiken was supposed to be in real time, and things moved quickly. But it stopped being that way during the Ogiue story at Karuizawa. At the time, Ogiue was a “problem child” when it came to drawing the manga, as he didn’t know if he could resolve her backstory. It’d be difficult to do that and still maintain the “real-time” thing, and he would’ve selfishly wanted to end the series in the Spring if it had stuck to being in real time. But it took multiple months to get through the Ogiue story.
The series was supposed to end at Volume 8, but then there were plans for the second special official doujinshi [the first one was included with Volume 6]. Because of that, they decided to continue the series up to Volume 9. The original Genshiken features Ogiue’s turmoil, and Second Generation features Hato’s turmoil.
Luis comments how there are the Ogiue fans, and then there are Hato fans. Kio responds, “The Ogiue fans really are somethingl…” and then trails off. [Ogiue Maniax note: I feel attacked.]
There are things that were hard to put into Genshiken, like sexual stuff. That’s where Spotted Flowercomes from. From here, the two jokingly pussyfoot around Spotted Flower’s similarities to Genshiken.
Luis talks about how Spotted Flower is a different world (tongue-in-cheek), but it has kind of a crossover feel. Kio responds that they’re ostensibly different characters. Luis replies that the series is like a “what-if” universe (if-sekai in Japanese).
Kio says it’s not supposed to be them, but through it, he can do what he couldn’t in Genshiken.
Luis says, “What-If Madarame has a ‘Why youuuu!’ feeling.” Kio laments the husband as well.
Spotted Flower was supposed to be just a few short pages for Rakuen: Le Paradis magazine. The resemblance to other characters was originally not planned, but is actually something he noticed after the fact. He didn’t explain the meaning of the title to them when he submitted it [madara means “spot” and saki means “bloom”], so they probably didn’t realize at first. So he figured, “Why not keep going?” and it developed along the way.
“And now there are four volumes,” says Luis..
Kio’s feelings: “It’s not a book that comes out often, but if it interests you, I’m grateful.”
It was one thing when it was just the husband and wife, but then he added the Hato-like character, and the Kousaka-like character, and so on. He still can’t really say for sure that it’s them.
Hashikko Ensemble and Kio’s Overall Career
Luis finds the Hashikko Ensemblemain character Akira cute. Kio says that he began with the idea that Akira would have that gap between his very deep voice and his shy personality.
Volume 5 of Hashikko Ensemble should be coming in September.
Kio says he’s been in the manga business for 25 years. Luis thinks all his works are great, in terms of information provided, emotion, and atmosphere all being wrapped up in them. “It’s no small stuff.” To Kio, he sees all the things she mentioned as his shortcomings Luis comments that she enjoys seeing Kio reflect on his work.
Kio is the type to regret not saying this or doing that. Luis remarks that this is a live broadcast—is Kio okay?
Kio doesn’t recognize his own voice when recording. Luis said she never thought of her voice as anything special but the fans would say it’s cute. Luis compares Akira’s voice to Kio’s. Kio never had any experience with singing or choruses, but figured, why not give Akira a deep voice like himself?
He thinks people who can come up with characters purely from imagination are amazing.
Hashikko Ensemble a story of the passion of youth, but Kio didn’t originally plan it that way. Like Genshiken, he wanted the story to be something ridiculous and fun, and landed on “chorus club high schoolers.”
Luis loves stories about the passion of youth (seishun), like Yowamushi Pedal and Big Windup. Kio replies that he’s never drawn manga in that vein—like Chihayafuru—but thought, “If I put all I had into it, could I draw one?” The characters in Genshiken are all pretty mellow. He wasn’t that good at drawing the kind of youthfulness that appears in Hashikko Ensemble, at first.
Luis makes the argument that the original Genshiken is a “passion of youth” story, because it’about figuring out what club to join and what to do? Like, Kugayama’s waffling on whether or not to draw, or Ogiue’s decision to go, “I guess I’m gonna draw.”
The kinds of “passion of youth” stories Kio enjoys are a little strange—not so much “hot-blooded stuff.” Luis describes Madarame as a hot-blooded otaku. As for being a passion of youth story, what about that story with Saki mentioning Madarame looks good in his new glasses?
Originally, Genshiken was supposed to be a club that doesn’t put anything out. One of the things that made Ogiue tricky is that she wanted to draw herself, so Kio had no choice but to make a story about her trying to get into Comic Festival [the Genshiken in-universe equivalent of Comic Market].
Luis says Genshiken is what made her want to attend Comic Market as part of a circle. She asks Kio if he ever participated as an artist. Kio says yes!
Kio released a doujinshi at Comic Market in 2003 (Luis points out that 2004 was the year of the first Genshiken anime, which Kio totally forgot about).
Kio did not use the name “Kio Shimoku” for Comic Market. He sold 200 books, which impresses Luis. For reference, Luis says that 100 is considered a lot, and she herself sold 50 copies of her own doujinshi at a Comitia [a major doujin event primarily dedicated to original, non-fan works].
The doujinshi was indeed pornographic, and an original work. It bears resemblance to Kujibiki Unbalance and Genshiken.
Luis talks about how big sister loves Kujibiki Unbalance, to the extent that she put out a pornographic doujinshi starring Ritsuko. Luis helped her a lot with it, including stapling it together.
“Putting out a Kujibiki Unbalance-esque doujinshi yourself is like actually being in Genshiken,” says Luis.
Kio also participated at Comic Market a second time—in 2010. It was a doujinshi based on a “certain space opera that uses Episodes,” flipping around the genders of the character roles involved. The inspiration was that with some wordplay, the title resembled the phrase “Sister Wars.” He drew what was supposed to just be a manuscript based on Episode 1, but it ended up being 350 pages. Kio wanted to draw up to six.
“Please complete it!” Luis says.
“But I wouldn’t be able to sell it!” Kio replies.
[Ogiue Maniax note: One of Ogiue’s characteristics is prolific output, just like Kio here.]
Luis asks if there’s anything he’s watched lately, old anime or new anime. Kio doesn’t have anything, and Luis says his free time to just sit down and watch without moving must have decreased. Kio agrees.
Kio wants to absorb more shows, but just doesn’t have the time.
Questions from Kio for Nijisanji
As future reference for manga, Kio asks if VTubers wear sensors to track movement. Luis responds that it uses 3D tracking. She quickly “corrects” that the animated figure you see is the real her.
Luis says that Kio’s participation in Comic Market makes his manga feel more real.
The two talk more about the Kujibiki Unbalance music video they collaborated on. Kio says it’s like a doujin-style fan work. Luis talks about how she has Genshiken and Kujibiki Unbalance merch. Luis has the Kujibiki Unbalance Ritsuko school swimsuit clear file drawn by the light novel artist, Yagumo Kengou. Kio mentions that the image was a request from him [Ogiue Maniax note: Not 100% sure about this last sentence].
Kio mentions that he gets some harsh comments, but others will say “That’s the kind of author he was all along!” But he doesn’t want to remember himself from the Gonensei era.
What an Interview!
There’s a lot to unpack in this interview. I hope to follow up with an analysis.
Also, I can’t believe there’s a Virtual Youtuber who’s into Genshiken, Kio Shimoku, and mahjong! It’s like someone designed a VTuber especially for me.
Spotted Flower has long been a bizarre, twisted version of Genshiken, but a couple of side chapters posted (temporarily) for free on the Rakuen: Le Paradis website reveal an extra wrinkle to its story. Portraying two groups of parents, it shows their actions inadvertently corrupting their children.
In Chapter 33.5, the wife (not-Kasukabe) is trying in vain to get her infant daughter, Saki, to raise her head. When the husband (not-Madarame) drops his phone by accident and it shows an old picture of him getting his necktie pulled (much like that famous moment in Genshiken), Saki’s eyes go wide with excitement. When the husband picks his phone back up, Saki’s head follows, and voila, she’s able to lift her head up under her own power. In that one moment, a fujoshi is born.
Then, in Chapter 34.5, not-Ohno has put her two kids, Shin (three years old) and Yuu (one year old) to bed alongside her. On her other side, however, is her husband (not-Tanaka!!), and she’s in the mood for some intimacy.. Not-Tanaka notices that she’s actually wearing pantyhose from a Kakegurui cosplay, which clearly shows that she’s been wanting this, but when she also tries to put on a Yumeko wig, he nixes that idea. The mini-chapter ends with them having sex off-panel, with Yuu being woken up and then lulled back to sleep by the sound of his parents knocking boots next to him.
The idea of seeing these geek parents influencing, even if accidentally, the next generation of degenerate pervy otaku is an intriguing one. What makes it all the more…special…is specifically that it’s the Spotted Flower characters doing this instead of the Genshiken ones. What will the future hold for these kids…?
Spotted Flower has always been a difficult series to suss out what the story is trying to say, if anything at all. What once began as a thinly veiled what-if pairing of two Genshiken characters has morphed into a crazy tale of adultery, inadequacy, and a cast of characters where monogamy is rare and polyamory is chaotic and unpredictable. Volume 4 continues this trend, spotlighting all the unusual relationships that have arisen. And while I haven’t consistently reviewed Spotted Flower over the years, this one has a lot of Ogiue—er, Ogino-sensei—so I have an extra reason to write about it.
Last year, I presented a panel at Otakon about Kio Shimoku’s works, and during my research, I came to realize that Genshiken is actually somewhat of an outlier in terms of his catalogue. Most manga Kio makes, including his debut professional manga, involves extremely messy relationships and a whole lot of emotional betrayal—and not in a fetishy way, either. So Spotted Flower is actually a kind of return to the older Kio, and the fact that it hits so hard is because the characters are Genshiken analogues.
Volume 4 has the husband (Not-Madarame) and wife (Not-Kasukabe) returning home with their newborn daughter, Saki. It’s not long after the husband had a one-night stand with Asaka-sensei (Not-Hato), so he’s on-edge the whole time, and literally still feeling it in the ass. The wife doesn’t suspect anything at first, especially because Asaka was very thorough in cleaning up, but the slightest hint of perfume on just one of the husband’s sweaters—as well as some pointed questions later—have her suspecting foul play. The rest of the volume involves the husband and wife reaching out to different friends to express their worries while those friends, in turn, grapple with their own complicated situations. Also, Endou (Asaka’s editor) discovers that Hato has a penis, learns about Asaka sleeping with their beloved senpai, and inadvertently spills the beans to Ogino and Not-Sue.
I think it’s important to lay down just how convoluted the web of relations is in this series. The husband is married to the wife, who just recently had their kid, but the husband slept with Asaka out of a sense of inferiority over the wife’s ex, Not-Kousaka. Asaka is in a relationship with Not-Yajima, who knew well in advance what Asaka was planning and was generally okay with it. Not-Kousaka always really wants to have a threesome, but can’t get any, and it’s probably why he’s no longer with the wife. Ogino is living with Not-Sue and is in a physical relationship with her, but also has a real thing going on with Not-Sasahara, whom she adores. Not-Sue is extremely jealous of Not-Sasahara, and balks at the idea of them in a threesome. Not-Ohno and assumed Not-Tanaka seem to be the only ones exclusive to each other. Whew! What a situation.
One of the biggest gut punches of Volume 4 is when Not-Sasahara explains in clear detail that Madarame’s worries over not matching up to Not-Kousaka are totally unfounded. Specifically, it turns out that the wife’s ex just straight-up left after seeing the baby—which means that he basically gave up, and confirms that the husband fucked up 10,000%. What’s amazing to me is that it’s easy to see where the husband is coming from, but just as easy to acknowledge that he’s garbage.
This also makes me wonder if something like this could’ve happened to the real Madarame and Kasukabe in Genshiken. Fans loved the idea of opposites attracting, but it wouldn’t have been out of the question for Madarame to feel like he could never match up to Kousaka. Madarame and Sue are on similar wavelengths, after all. However, there’s also a lot that’s different about Spotted Flower, and it feels as if this is maybe a symptom of how their world is, instead of the cause. Another notable change is that Endou (who is jokingly implied to be the Yoshitake of this series) never went to the same college as the rest of the cast.
During this volume, Ogino initially tries to suss the truth out of her editor boyfriend, and when he refuses to budge, she lays one hell of a deal out: in exchange for telling her what the husband spoke to him about, she will agree to a threesome with her and her blond girlfriend. The look on his face is one of deep, soul- and libido-igniting conflict, and the fact that he apparently doesn’t give in is testament to this character. Ironically, it probably makes Ogino like him even more.
It can be difficult to figure out Kio’s intent, but there’s perhaps a clue in the extra story provided in this volume. The wife is talking about how she read Ogino’s new manga, which is more out and out BL. The husband responds, “Isn’t it good that she’s doing what she wants?” The wife follows up and says, “But I think her previous work was better.” Maybe Spotted Flower is just unchecked Kio Shimoku, for better or worse.
Given that Spotted Flower chapters come out at a snail’s pace, it’s wild how far the story has come. It’s really impossible to tell how things will resolve, but the way it portrays the differences between willing unorthodox relationships and those built on deception means things are probably going to get worse before they get better. The fact that a child is involved makes the sting that much more severe.
PS: I managed to get both a general purchase bonus, as well as a Toranoana store-exclusive one featuring Ogino and her blonde, Sue-esque roommate. Does it count as Ogiue merchandise when it’s technically not Ogiue?
We don’t get much Genshiken news these days, but the Hashikko Ensemble official Twitter account recently tweeted about Yamamoto Nozomi, the voice actor for Ogiue Chika in Genshiken Nidaime, congratulating her on getting married. Accompanying the tweet is the drawing by Kio Shimoku of Ogiue in a wedding dress seen above.
Yamamoto is the second actor to play Ogiue, after Mizuhashi Kaori. Yamamoto’s other notable roles include Jogasaki Rika in The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls and Bouhatei Tetora in Joshiraku.
There’s also an interaction in the replies where Yamamoto thanks Kio, only for the account to mention that it’s not Kio but rather his manager (who she’s met before) handling social media. However, the Twitter account did have a message for Yamamoto from Kio:
“You did so, so much for the anime. When I found out you got married, I had to draw something. May you have many years of happiness!” (Kio)
At the end of every year here at Ogiue Maniax, I pick my favorite characters of the year. Usually, it’s one male character and one female character, but exceptions have been made for, say, nonbinary characters or, well, personified abs. So now that I’ve picked characters from 2010 all the way through 2019, it’s time to decide the best characters of the decade!
Note that I’ve taken three important characters out of the running—Ogiue Chika from Genshiken Nidaime, Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and Yang Wen-Li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: De Neue These). The reason is simple: They are three of my absolute favorite characters of all time, and I would easily pick them if they were available as options. Ogiue, Tomoyo, and Yang deserve their own hall of fame. so to keep this competition fair, they’ve been excluded.
Of these two decisions, one was incredibly easy to make and one I mulled over for many hours leading up to this. Kurumi Erika was a no-brainer—her energy, ability to inspire action and positive change, her all-too-human behavior, and her legendary facial expressions all make her an unforgettable character in my eyes. She’s simply amazing in a way few characters are, and it’s clear that many anime fans agree with me, given her ranking as the third most popular Precure in the recent massive NHK poll.
As for Armin, it was a closer call, but what ultimately made me land on him is what he represents in Attack on Titan. The series’s world is one where fear reigns and unthinking violence is often born out of the frustration of not knowing if you’ll survive to the next day. But Armin Arlert shows the value of having a more considerate and broad-minded view of the world, and the way he complements Eren and Mikasa further highlights how important and necessary it is to have individuals like Armin in the world to subtly challenge assumptions. He’s brave without being brash and thoughtful without being hopelessly indecisive.
Erika and Armin are characters who I wish could inspire many more both in media and in people themselves, and I declare them my favorite anime characters of the 2010s.
Another decade of anime and manga has passed, which means it’s time to reflect on all the things that have happened in and around our favorite Japanese art and entertainment forms. With more anime than any time previous, there’s an overwhelming amount of history to look at, so I’m going to be focusing on what I consider interesting and/or important trends.
This decade more or less began and ended with painful events that have shaped and will continue to shape Japan and its anime and manga industries for years to come. March 11, 2011 was the day that a combined earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing nuclear meltdowns. July 18, 2019 was the date of the arson attack on Kyoto Animation, killing over 30 people, injuring even more, and leaving the famed studio’s main building in flames.
The Fukushima triple disaster was brought in part by nature but also human negligence at the highest levels of authority, and it destroyed villages, displaced people from their homes, took lives, and contaminated land and water. The area, one known for its rice crop in a nation where rice is a staple food, had to deal with the all-too-familiar fear that nuclear power conjures up in Japan via Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Fukushima’s consequences are far, far bigger than any one industry, but that’s precisely why they have had an indelible effect on anime and manga. Suddenly, there was the realization that whatever anti-nuclear messages existed in pop culture weren’t enough. It was almost too poetic a timing that Coppelion, a manga about genetically engineered girls having to rescue human survivors in a post-meltdown Tokyo, began only months prior to Fukushima. Anime such as Madoka Magica that were aired during that period suddenly had their surrounding contexts changed.
But the disaster also brought support from across the anime and manga industries to Fukushima and the surrounding Tohoku region. Creators left messages encouraging and praying for a revival, and as the land has started to improve (though to what extent is up for debate), there’s an active push by the government to encourage tourism and purchase of local goods. Anime and manga also play a role here too as part of the campaign to bring people back.
In contrast, the Kyoto Animation attack was like a direct strike to the heart and soul of the anime industry. Not only was it the worst domestic attack since World War II—even worse than the Tokyo sarin gas attack—but KyoAni has been a pioneer of better wages and better gender equality in anime in addition to their creating popular and critically acclaimed works. It’s unclear how the anime and manga industries will react to this over time (aside from better security), but the biggest question mark will be about what could have been.
There was a lot of talent lost, notably The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhiand Kobayashi-san’s Dragon Maid director Takemoto Yasuhiro, and it’s sad that they will have the chance to keep working and creating. There is one bright side, however: KyoAni has started up their animation school again, and their mission to prepare the next generation is more vital than ever.
An aside: One odd bit of humor to come out all this was that the days after the disasters, the only commercial on Japanese TV was apparently ads telling people to greet each other more. These drove Japanese viewers nuts, so some of the more artistic ones started turning the animal mascots in these commercials into transforming robots.
Fujoshi Integration and the Permanence of the Otaku Hero
Back when I originally started Ogiue Maniax in 2007, one thing I was interested in was the portrayal of otaku characters, and by extension the fujoshi characters that began appearing more and more at the time. Going into 2010, this feeling was still quite strong, but as I continued to keep an eye on series with otaku in them, it became harder and harder to keep up. The Fujoshi Files, my on-going archiving of fujoshi characters, is on semi-hiatus right now because I’ve simply been overwhelmed by the fact that you just never know when a fujoshi character will show up for two episodes in an obscure TV series. In other words, otaku characters aren’t just commonplace now—they’re arguably an over-saturated archetype.
This is especially the case with the isekai genre and fantasy light novel series, where having an otaku of some kind (it doesn’t necessarily have to be an anime otaku) is de rigueur for the kinds of power fantasies that are ubiquitous in that realm. But the prevalence of the Otaku hero isn’t even limited to that particular world. Onoda from Yowamushi Pedal and Deku from the wildly popular MyHero Academia, both straightforward shounen leads, have otaku minds. At this point, sometimes it’s easier to ask whether a protagonist isn’t an otaku.
Moe in Moderation
Throughout the 2000s, it was “moe” this, “moe” that. There were haters, there were supporters (me included), and those caught in the middle. In 2019, however, it’s past its prime (at least in the old familiar form) to the extent that the term itself has faded immensely in the otaku lexicon.
In hindsight, I think of moe as like a food with a very intense and peculiar flavor that is probably good in reasonable doses. The problem is that people gorged on it until they got sick, and had to eventually learn when less is more. The occasional smorgasbord happens, not now you see hints or accents of moe in more things—music, horror, and even the most serious and mature titles. It’s part of why I think sports series have started to gain traction in the United States when there was like success in the past: people realized that the core appeal of sports anime and manga was less the athletics themselves and more the human drama that comes with exploring characters’ weaknesses and struggles. Even a softer shounen hero like Tanjiro in Demon Slayer has moe qualities that quite possibly outstrip even his sister’s tremendous qualities.
I one commented to anime podcaster and ex-Crunchyroll guy Evan Minto that Eureka Seven was a moe show. He found it absurd, but I was serious, because moe came from empathizing with its characters vulnerabilities. Just because a character can be moe doesn’t mean they’re useless, and I think that’s a big lesson that has been taken to heart by anime and manga as a whole.
Plus, you can still totally find all-you-can-moe buffets whenever you feel the need to go nuts.
Perhaps due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the American conception of the superhero (in contrast to the Kamen Rider, for example) is now a regular part of anime and manga. Putting aside the Marvel and DC co-productions, this decade has seen Tiger & Bunny, One Punch Man, and My Hero Academiaall reach enormous success (albeit not always for the same reasons). You also have series like Heroman, and the fact that Disney’s Big Hero 6 film has a Japanese protagonist perhaps says something about the desire for international appeal.
It’s interesting that so many specifically embrace an American aesthetic, whether it’s red, white, and blue motifs in its characters or American-style cities as settings, and it really speaks to the fact that they’re aiming for that “capes” aesthetic. However, what’s even more noteworthy is the way these manga and anime have been embraced by superhero comics fans as being better at telling superhero stories than many current American comics.
Superheroes also create an amazing bridge for being American comics fans to come to manga and for manga fans to check out American comics. It’s perhaps easier than ever to transition between the two.
Steps Towards Mainstreaming LGBT
Queer romances have long been a part of manga and anime—Hagio Moto’s Heart of Thomas from the 1970s is generally considered the first one shounen ai manga. The portrayal of BL and yuri can differ significantly from real relationships, with the former often being for the pleasure of non-queer audiences, but this openness has attracted many fans, and there are more and more works that try to support a queer audience as well. But Japan is still in many ways a conservative culture, and positive mainstream depictions of non-heteronormative characters can come with a lot of baggage.
While there is still a ways to go, there is a general trend towards more consideration for LGBT characters these past ten years. Gatchaman Crowds, for example, features three characters each with different types of non-cishet expression, going beyond the original Gatchaman and Berg Katze’s dual genders while keeping them respectful. Genshiken Nidaime (aka Second Season aka Second Generation) has a crossdressing fudanshi with complicated feelings at the center of it’s story who tries to navigate the difference between BL fandom and homosexuality. Yuri!!! On Ice features the gradual development of a clearly gay relationship as its core, but its lack of standard BL flourishes engendered a debate about whether it should be called BL at all. Tagame Gengoroh’s My Brother’s Husband won both Japanese and international acclaim.
One stand-out example of LGBT becoming a little more mainstream in anime and manga, to me, is how it’s been handled in the Precure franchise. While it’s always had its yuri fans, and Kira Kira Precure A La Mode even strongly hinted at something between two of its characters, it’s 2018’s Hugtto! Precure that made an entire subplot out of the burgeoning gay relationship between two minor characters—one of whom is implied to struggle with his self-directed homophobia. While the franchise still doesn’t have the courage to say the word “gay,” it at least has these characters holding hands, giving hearts to each other, and telling presumably very young viewers to not let anyone else define who they are. Sailor Moon had Neptune and Uranus, but this is another layer.
From Sekai-kei to Game-like Isekai, Ironic Isekai, and Beyond
In the previous decade, one of the popular genres of Japanese fiction, especially in the realm of anime and manga but also light novels and games, was sekai-kei. Literally meaning “world-style,” it’s actually almost the opposite of what you probably think. Instead of being focused on world-building, it’s about stories where the outcome of the world rests upon the relationship between two characters. I would call Haruhian example of sekai-kei because their fate rests upon Haruhi and how Kyon interacts with her.
I feel that, since 2010 or maybe even a little sooner, we’ve been seeing fewer and fewer sekai-kei stories. In their place has been a surge in isekai (transported to another world stories) that’s impossible to ignore.
Isekai is nothing new, and there are examples in modern Japanese fiction dating back to the 1970s. Even Gundam director Tomino’s Byston Well series is an isekai. The big difference now, however, has been the game-like approach to isekai. Whether the hero is literally trapped in a video game (Sword Art Online, Log Horizon) or where it’s simply an extremely game-like universe (KonoSuba, Re:ZERO, Overlord), there’s a presumption about RPGs as a common-knowledge experience. Here, the fate of the world usually rests on the hero who’s simultaneously underpowered and overpowered. Rather than necessarily being about exploring the new world, these stories have been mostly either power fantasies or responses to power fantasies.
Japanese scholar Azuma Hiroki wrote about “game-like realism” in the sense of a reality with no beginning, middle, and end, and plenty of alternate realities. While it doesn’t map perfectly, current isekai can be seen as a kind of attempt to wrangle these notions back into a straightforward, albeit open-ended and often meandering format.
Isekai has gotten so prevalent that some online novel contests have even begun to forbidisekai entries. But it also means that it’s ripe for parody. The Devil is a Part-Timer! is a reverse-isekai where a hero and a demon lord end up in modern Japan. The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious plays on an idea that many RPG players are familiar with: making absolutely sure everything is perfect to the point of virtual neurosis. They’re not all winners, but there’s a desire to explore isekai as an archetype, and it’ll be interesting to see how far this goes.
The Ascendance of Mobile Games
Part of the story of the 2010s the world over is the rise of mobile games, and in Japan this translated to character-focused gacha. These digital waifu and husbando slot machines are a powerful thing, and the devotion they engender can veer straight into “gambling addiction” territory, but it also can’t be denied how much of an influence they’ve had on anime, manga, and fandom.
Consider the Fate franchise, which went from being once defined by its original visual novel to being known primarily through the absurdly successful and profitableFate/Grand Order mobile game. Also look at Granblue Fantasy, which helped make the company Cygames into a major player—the Granblue Fantasy anime shows a budget few can even dream of.
Even The iDOLM@STER, which began as console games, has in part taken on new life by having a virtually limitless selection of idols to obtain through its apps. Love Live! found success through various channels, but there are many people who became fans solely through the School Idol Festival game. And Kantai Collection technically started as a browser game, but it’s cut from a similar mold, and it’s notable that it’s become one of the franchises that dominates Comic Market.
There have been tons of light novel anime and manga adaptations, but the amount of works based on mobile games steadily increased over the decade as well. This doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad—Rage of Bahamut Genesis is one that sticks out to me as exceptional—but it’s certainly become a crowded field where “adaptation as advertisement” and “adaptation as mark of prestige” exist in the same space.
Anime as Faithful Reproduction Instead of Creative Interpretation
In decades past, whenever there was an anime adaptation of something with multiple paths—a dating sim, for instance—the common approach was to synthesize all of the different routes into a single story with the canon heroine being the winner. But starting in 2010 with Amagami SS (or possibly something even sooner) it started to become more common to adapt every path. Each couple of episodes was basically a different what-if where the protagonist ends up with a different girl. The most extreme version of this might be the movies fully dedicated to the alternate stories of Fate/Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel.
In a way, it’s an extension of what we saw with Kyoto Animation’s adaptations of Key games. While those shows still synthesized all the routes, there was a more active adherence to the look and feel of the source material, right down to using the original theme songs. Anime, rather than trying to do its own thing with the material given, is more likely to try and stick to the script. Filler arcs or anime-original material were out, and season delays were in, for better or worse. 2009’s Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (intentionally made to follow the manga’s story more than the first anime) also set a precedent.
Not everything is about adhering to a source material, however. While nostalgia is a strong force in media and entertainment, it’s still possible for a remake or re-imagining is able to go well beyond and turn into something unique and special. Every decade has its own fair share of excellent revivals, but I found the 2010s to be full of especially smart and creative takes on classic franchises. The aforementioned Gatchaman Crowds took the idea of the superhero team and pushed it into an age of social media and gamification. Devilman Crybaby is essentially the original Devilman manga retold, the signature art style of Yuasa Masaaki gave it new life and also highlighted the fact that a lot of the 1970s manga’s theme resonate just as much, if not more today. The Rebuild of Evangelionmovies have all been impressive and have dared to go in strange directions, though we’re not actually seeing the conclusion until 2020 rolls around. In the most on-brand move possible, director Anno Hideaki became depressed after the third film, and it wasn’t until he directed the excellent Shin Godzilla (another update to a classic franchise) that he found the spark to go back to Shinji and friends.
Once, getting translated anime and manga the day after release in Japan was a foolish dream. Then, with the advent of high-speed internet it became technically possible—but it was the domain of speed subbers and speed scanlators, with the requisite decline in quality. But now we’ve had a decade of not just quick releases but ones that are official, whose success can and will be noticed by Japan. Crunchyroll, HiDive, and Comixology are among the many resources available to fans, and while Netflix is often not technically a simulstream most of the time, its presence in the world of online streaming can’t be denied.
This is partially a tale of the direction of technology. More smartphones and better tablets mean streaming decent-quality images is more likely than ever before. Gone are the specific limitations of the past that made trying to view anime and manga a chore. It’s also the story of Japan being dragged into the current age, as much as its companies (especially manga) have tried to resist the digitizing of these mediums.
The amount of legal digital anime and manga options is ever increasing even in Japan. Comic Walker and Book Walker make following new releases almost trivial. Bandai Channel is more expansive than ever. Many manga publishers have series that start off as free webcomics now. Notably, the second iteration of One Punch Man started on Tonari no Young Jump. The amount of digital users keeps rising around the world, and it’ll likely not stop for a long time.
What Lies Ahead
While it’s mere coincidence, the fact that Japan is heading into the next decade of anime and manga alongside a newly coronated emperor seems poetic. For Part 3 of the 2010–2019 series, I’ll be giving my predictions as to where I think anime and manga will go in 2020 onwards.
Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.
With that said, on to the rest of the con report!
I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.
As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.
Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.
Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.
Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.
Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.
In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.
Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.
Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.
I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.
For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!
Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.
I would see Bradio again, no doubt.
As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.
I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.
Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!
Otakon 2019 is this weekend, and I recently appeared on the Reverse Thieve’s Pre-Otakon Speakeasy Podcast. We go into what panels we’re doing and what panels we’re looking forward to, so have a listen if you’re inclined and share your thoughts and expectations.
As for Ogiue Maniax’s panels, I have two this year.
Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku
Saturday, 7pm-8pm in Panel 7 (Room 146C)
Artist Kio Shimoku is best known for the manga Genshiken, but his career is filled with plenty of other fun, daring, and thought-provoking titles. Come and learn about Kio’s life, works, and artistic evolution!
Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots!
Sunday, 1245pm-145pm in Panel 5 (Room 151B)
When giant robots and romantic relationships collide, there’s bound to be chaos, drama, and more than a few messages about peace between peoples. See how some of the most iconic and fantastic mecha anime approach the perennial trope of star-crossed lovers!