The Winter of Our (Dis)Content: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2022

Happy New Year! As I say that, 2022 is off to an unusual start.

On the blog side, there’s been an issue with many of my older posts because the web hosting I used for many of the images has been down for the past month (and possibly more). I hope I can get it fixed sooner rather than later, but the hosting has been unresponsive. Fortunately, most of the content is primarily text, so even as many of the illustrative pictures are not displaying, there’s still plenty to read, if you want to check out the archives.

But of course, any and all web space woes pale in comparison to the unprecedented level of infection that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has brought. Last month, I wondered if I might have to temper my expectations about seeing loved ones in this environment, and that has turned out to be a pretty big understatement. For those living in places with record spikes in infection, I hope you can stay safe and well. Please, please get vaccinated (and boosted if you can), wear a good mask (N95, KN95, KF94, FFP2), and exercise discretion (especially indoors). We can still live our lives, but we should cherish the health of the people around us. While Omicron seems to have a greater ability to infect vaccinated people, it can still be the difference between an unpleasant day and your final one.

I order my masks from Bonafide Masks, but you can get KN95s at a Staples or equivalent shop.

Thanks to my patrons here in 2022, especially the following.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from December:

Going Beyond Limits, for Better or for Worse: Anime NYC 2021

My review of Anime NYC 2021 and all its ups and downs. Also check out my convention review of Pompo the Cinephile!

Daitetsujin 17 and the Wonderful Clunkiness of Tokusatsu Soul of Chogokin

A preview of the next Soul of Chogokin figure turns into an analysis of how the toy line handles live-action series.

Fan vs. Fandom

Thoughts on the difference between being a fan of something and participating in a fandom, inspired by someone close to me.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 47 turns out to be the second-to-last! Can’t wait for next month.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter in December saw him reminiscing about older times.

Closing

In much lighter news, the winter anime season is starting up! I’m still trying to finish stuff from the fall, but in the meantime, I’ve decided on my favorite characters of 2021. Who do you think reigned supreme?

Who Dares Interrupt My Corona-tion?!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2021

A low-angle view of the planet-sized Transformer, Unicron.

The end-of-the-year holidays are rolling around, and I feel like I’m in a strange place mentally and emotionally. I think it’s tied to the assumption that this year’s Christmas would be a far cry from the feelings of hesitation and dread that came with COVID-19 and hot off of the 2020 US elections, and how history might potentially be repeating itself. Virtually everyone I know is vaccinated, including many kids, but reports of the new Omicron variant make me wonder if I need to temper my expectations. And inevitably, it just makes me think of a certain planet-sized Transformer.

(Speaking of which, I got the new blu-ray recently. I don’t know for sure when I’ll re-watch the movie, but it never fails to disappoint.)

On a lighter note, I haven’t been looking at as much anime and manga lately, but there’s a very good reason for that: Super Robot Wars 30. It’s supposed to be over 100 hours, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I am enjoying the hell out of getting to use Gaogaigo and the J-Decker squad, though.

I also attended Anime NYC 2021, but due to my blog schedule, my coverage of it will be in December. Look forward to a review of Pompo the Cinephile!

I wish for safe and soul-comforting holidays for everyone, and I’d like to thank my patrons for the month:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from November:

Real Character: Love Live! Superstar!!

My review of what turned out to be the best Love Live! anime—emphasis on anime.

The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

My long overdue general review of thia fantastic volleyball manga.

Imagine Fourteen Balls on the Edge of a Cliff: Ogiue Maniax 14th Anniversary

An anniversary post turned into a reflection on the site Something Awful in light of its founder’s death.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 46 is more serious than silly, and it provides a window into Jin’s inner turmoil.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter involves sharing his thoughts on erotic manga artists.

Apartment 507

Six giant robot anime came out in Fall 2021. Here are my basic impressions of all of them.

Closing

The world is ever unpredictable, and I hope we do what we can as people to watch out and care for one another. Get vaccinated if you can, look out for your fellow humans, and understand that no one is free until we’re all free.

Away with Ads: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2021

Readers may have noticed something different this month: Ogiue Maniax is now ad-free! And right in time for this blog’s anniversary!

I felt that the ads were getting more and more intrusive on the blog if you don’t use any sort of ad block, so I’ve been wanting to do something for a while now.

I’ve also had my Patreon going for more than a few years now, and I wanted the money to go more directly to giving my readers a better experience when reading my posts. I’m thankful to my patrons for allowing me to talk about the new anime season or giant robots or whatever, with special gratitude to the following this month:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from October:

The Anime THEY Don’t Want You to Know About: Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch

I reviewed a lesser known but quite peculiar mecha anime from the 1980s.

The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

My long overdue general review of thia fantastic volleyball manga.

Sora in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Gameplay Thoughts

My personal take on the style and potential of the final DLC character.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 45 might just be my favorite chapter to date. Things are coming to a head between Akira and Jin!

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter has been buzzing with preparation for both his collected-volume releases in September. In a rare treat, he’s actually been retweeting fans who are supporting both Spotted Flower and Hashikko Ensemble, which is how I got retweeted by the man himself!

Apartment 507

A look at the farewell episode for Jigen Daisuke’s retiring veteran voice actor in Lupin III.

Closing

The two things that have my attention as of late are the final Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novel and Super Robot Wars 30, which features that very same story. I’m in a constant internal struggle as to which I prioritize. Do I spoil the novel or the game?

This month is also Anime NYC, and I’ll likely end up going. It’s smaller than New York Comic Con, so I predict it’ll be safer, but it’ll still be important to exercise best COVID-19 prevention practices. Remember, vaccinations will be required!

Ouran High School Ghost Club: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2021

The funny thing about blogging for as long as I have—almost fourteen years, at this point—is that you never know what old entry might somehow get excavated and arrived from the massively convoluted ball of information that is the internet. Or rather, you never know which of your posts managed to have the right accidental SEO to actually survive and be on the front page.

This month, All Elite Wrestling held one of their big pay-per-views, All Out. It was an event with many surprise debuts such as Bryan Danielson (formerly Daniel Bryan) and Adam Cole, and among those appearances was New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Suzuki Minoru. I myself was watching and yelling at the screen as soon as his music hit, but when I decided to just check my blog stats on a whim, I noticed a huge spike in hits. The reason: Hundreds of people were finding my 2018 blog post about Suzuki’s entrance theme, “Kaze ni Nare.” Somehow, some way, that post is still on the front page when you google the song’s title.

Anyway, I hope the following Patreon sponsors take flight like birds and risk their lives to become the wind:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from September:

Standing in a Whirl of Confusion—Gundam Reconguista in G Part II: Bellri’s Fierce Charge

My review of the second G-Reco movie. The films continue to impress.

It’s a Secret to Everybody: Giant Gorg

My review of the lesser-known mecha anime Giant Gorg directed by the legendary Yoshikazu Yasuhiko of Gundam fame.

The Unquenching Desire for Villains: 9/11, 20 Years Later

A serious and personal reflection on a moment that changed many lives, including my own.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 44 sees the characters unite in full force, and reveals the softer side of Kousei.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter has been buzzing with preparation for both his collected-volume releases in September. In a rare treat, he’s actually been retweeting fans who are supporting both Spotted Flower and Hashikko Ensemble, which is how I got retweeted by the man himself!

Apartment 507

A review of 2017’s Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul.

Closing

By next month, the fall anime season will be in full swing. All the big sequels and follow-ups like the new Demon Slayer, JoJo’s, and 86 have my attention. However, the fact that Sunrise is trying their hand again at a new mecha series has my attention. Will Kyoukai Senki be any good, or will it land like a wet fart? The fact that it’s impossible to predict given Sunrise’s track record actually has me more excited.

The final Smash Ultimate DLC character is in just a few days! My dreams will always be with NiGHTS (no pun intended), but I’ll be happy with anyone.

Lastly, speaking of October, New York Comic Con 2021 is on. If you’re going, know that NYC requires full vaccinations for entry for those eligible to get vaccinated. Stay safe.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights September 2021

Much of Kio’s tweeting this month has had to do with the fact that Hashikko Ensemble Volume 7 went on sale on the 22nd, and Spotted Flower Volume 5 is out on the 30th…on top of Chapter 44 of Hashikko! There are lots of inevitable scheduling woes, but he’s actually also been responding to and retweeting readers in a concerted fashion for the first time.

Even I got a retweet!

Hashikko Ensemble and Spotted Flower Releases

Hashikko Ensemble Volume 7 cover check. Kio seems fine with it.

All Spotted Flower volumes have a plastic cover jacket with characters in clothes that obscures a second paper cover jacket with the characters in underwear. Kio gives a sneak peek here.

Kio mentions that there are store-exclusive extras for Spotted Flower.

Kurotaki Mai in a bunny outfit, as a late celebration of Bunny Day, but also to promote the new release.

The next chapter of Hashikko Ensemble has a ridiculous amount of lyrics and musical effects, but while the work seemed to never end, it’s finally almost over.

With the work on both upcoming volume releases more or less over, Kio decides to do some cleaning.

Kio discusses with 18+ manga artist Ikuhana Niro (who also publishes in Rakuen: Le Paradis) about ways to abbreviate Hashikko Ensemble and Spotted Flower in Japanese. Ikuhana uses HashiAn and SupoHana, while Kio originally uses Hashikko and SupoFura, but also Spotted in hiragana or katakana. Supote is brought up, with the idea that it sounds like Ponite (ponytail).

The Rakuen: Le Paradis Twitter account chimes in that Supote is one sale 9/30.

Kio responds with thanks to those who tweeted about supporting the release of Hashikko Ensemble, Volume 7. He doesn’t quote tweet readers all that much, so it feels special. 

A fan mentions that they’ve always liked Genshiken and stuff, but only recently got into Hashikko Ensemble and wish they did so sooner. Kio tells them to enjoy it at their own pace.

Kio mentions that there are store-exclusive bonuses for Volume 5 of Spotted Flower. (I’ll be getting the Ogino-sensei ones from Melonbooks and Animate.)

A drawing used for promotional store displays for Volume 5.

Kio talks about how intense the Basso Masters from Hashikko Ensemble are.

Kio talks about how he couldn’t find any footage of a three-girl group singing “Zenryoku Shounen.”

Showing his drawing of the Chorus Appreciation Society performing “Etupirka” versus an actual performance.

Other Works

In response to a TSUTAYA bookstore showing its display bookshelf for manga artist panpanya, Kio responds that it’s sandwiched in one hell of a place, given the shelves on each side (Blue Lock, Demon Slayer).

Kio up until recently still was not a fan of Kurita Kan’ichi as the voice of Lupin III ever since he took over the role in the 1990s. However, he’s noticed that rather than sounding like an imitation, Kurita’s performances now have a weight and seriousness that has allowed Kio to finally accept his Lupin.

Fanart of Isako from Dennou Coil. (WATCH DENNOU COIL!)

Kio sees Five Star Stories models and reminisces about when he built his first resin-kit Akatsuki from that series.

Kio retweets an article talking about a journey with toy soldiers that began from a panpanya manga.

Unknown

Kio talks about the good work an “Akio-san” did on photos. What it means is still unclear.

Looking Ahead

This was a pretty tweet-heavy month for all the reasons above. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing less for October, but you never know.
I also posted these highlights right before the 9/30 release date of Spotted Flower Volume 5, so I’m sure I’ll be covering a lot just from that!

God Mars and the Legacy of BL Fan Shipping

There are two success stories to tell about the 1981 giant robot anime Six God Combination God Mars. The first is about a combining giant robot that was better as a toy than as an animated figure in motion: toy sales were strong enough to extend the series beyond its first year, but the awkward stiffness of the titular God Mars itself is something of a running gag (as seen in the YouTube comments here). The second, and I think the one that should get more attention among English-speaking anime fans, is about the tremendous influence of God Mars on Japan’s female anime fandom and doujinshi scene. In a time when pairing same-sex characters from your favorite series was not yet the full-on cottage industry it is today, God Mars was a cornerstone title alongside Captain Tsubasa.

I personally came to know about God Mars twenty years ago, although knowledge about the two aspects of the series came at different times. It was a collection of giant robot anime openings around 2001 that introduced me to the show and its impressive-looking mecha, but it was actually 2004’s Genshiken Official Data Book (of all things) that first brought to my attention God Mars’s popularity with women. Years later at Otakon 2010, voice actor Mitsuya Yuji mentioned among his most popular roles a character from God Mars named Marg. Now, I have the entire series on physical media thanks to Discotek (with 25 episodes up for free on TMS’s Youtube channel), and I’ve finally come to understand what made God Mars one of the granddaddies of fandom pairing in Japan.

Simply put, it’s Marg. Once you know about him, it becomes crystal clear why a female fandom around God Mars developed.

Marg is not the main character. That honor goes to Myoujin Takeru, a guy with psychic powers who discovers that he is actually an alien named Mars sent from the planet Gishin to destroy Earth. However, Takeru manages to defy the evil Emperor Zul and use the very weapon originally meant to eliminate Earth to instead form God Mars and beat back the Gishin Empire. Along the way, he discovers many truths about his original home world, including that he has a long lost brother—Marg—in Zul’s clutches. The dramas that emerge from their familial relationship include attempts to reunite, the pain of separation, and even the crossing of swords due to various plot contrivances. 

Marg is ridiculously beautiful both inside and out. He has lush locks of long green hair, and eyes that can express the deepest kindness but also the most fervent passion. His voice is gentle yet powerful, and his forlorn communications with Takeru express a longing and desire to see Takeru—unless he’s being brainwashed into being the enemy, of course, at which point his anger is spine-tingling. Whenever Marg shows up, he becomes the most captivating figure on screen.

Given that we’re talking about shipping and coupling, it’s not entirely accurate to pin it all on Marg. The popularity of a series among female fans traditionally hinges on the relationships between characters rather than singular personalities, and Takeru himself is no slouch. Not only does he look like a more handsome version of many a 70s robot protagonist, but he is perhaps the angstiest hero ever to grace a giant robot anime. Sure, Shinji from Evangelion is traumatized and depressed, and Heero Yuy from Gundam W is dark and brooding, but they don’t angst the way Takeru does. Naturally, more often than not, that anguish has something to do with Marg. And yes, they’re brothers by blood. Whether that was an additional awakening for fans in 1981, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Even before God Mars, there were plenty of good-looking and charismatic secondary characters in mecha anime. Between directors Tomino Yoshiyuki and Nagahama Tadao, they all but cornered the market: Prince Sharkin (Reideen), Garuda (Combattler V), Prince Heinel (Voltes V), Richter (Daimos), and both Char Aznable and Garma Zabi (Gundam). The key difference between these major rivals and Marg is that the latter is so many things in one. He’s an adversary at some times, but at other times he’s basically a damsel in distress.

There is something I need to make clear: Unlike so many later anime, which could be constructed from head to toe with a female audience in mind (or at least pay regular lip service to that side of fandom), God Mars is still built on the foundation of a toy-shilling kids’ anime. It is 65 episodes long, and not every episode is exactly compelling. There’s an unsurprising inconsistency in terms of the show’s quality with respect to storytelling and animation quality. In addition to the notorious stiffness of God Mars the robot, the anime is rife with fights between characters with psychic powers that revolve around dramatic poses in still shots in lieu of actual movement—a style of action scene the book Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga mocks for its laziness. And dashing canon hopes of brotherly love, the series pairs Takeru with a female character, albeit one with a connection to Marg. In other words, back in 1981, fujoshi had to walk uphill both ways to get their BL shipping fix. 

Even so, a girls’ fandom emerged out of God Mars, and plenty of evidence exists that the creators became aware of this audience eventually. The TV series keeps finding ways to bring him back in different forms. A 1982 movie recap of the first 26 or so episodes reduces the screen time of other supporting characters in favor of more Marg, and the poster advertising the film even features him prominently (see above). A later OVA released in 1988—well after God Mars’s heyday—centers around Marg entirely. A look at God Mars merchandise reveals both official and unofficial works where Marg takes up a lot of real estate.

When I was going over my own prior history with God Mars, I omitted one thing: the game Super Robot Wars D for the Gameboy Advance. God Mars is one of the titles included, and in the game, you can manage to not only recruit Marg to your side but also have him pilot an alternate God Mars from that 1988 OVA in which he’s the star. Once together, Takeru and Marg can perform combination attacks like the “Double Final God Mars.” I can’t help but wonder if there were both kinds of God Mars fans working on this game, bringing together the hopes and dreams of those whose lives were changed in some part by God Mars and its two successes.

Spider-Asuka and Her Amazing Friends: Aikatsu on Parade! Halloween

Though a little out of season, I’m going to be fulfilling a Patreon request and continuing the All Hallow’s Eve-themed anime posts from September. Here’s a look at Aikatsu on Parade! episode 5, “Lucky Halloween.”

Kiseki Raki and friends are in the original Aikatsu! universe, where they enter an idol costume contest that naturally includes singing and dancing. Highlights are both the show and the characters giving Akari some props, and Mirai Asuka’s off-brand Spider-Man costume.

I’m not deeply connected with Aikatsu! fandom, but I somehow get the sense that Akari isn’t considered as memorable as other protagonists. In a sense, she’s like the Pretty Cure Splash Star of Aikatsu!, with the unenviable task of following the influential original. In this episode, all the characters express a kind of wonder and amazement at her, and there’s the feeling that she’s made a lot of progress relative to where she began—perhaps more than any other heroine.

As for Asuka, given her love of Halloween it makes perfect sense to make her a big part of the episode. Her impish attitude is a perfect fit, though she doesn’t seem as keen on trying to prank people here. Her choice of costume is undoubtedly memorable, and it makes clear that Spider-Man is now considered recognizable in Japan. Yes, there’s the old live-action Toei series with the giant robot and all that, but I suspect this is more because of the Marvel cinematic universe. The not-quite-the-same finger-point web-slinging is a nice touch.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but this is the first Aikatsu! Halloween with a costume contest. Pretty much every other one has been about tricks or games, so having another variation on how to celebrate the Holidays is interesting. As for Raki’s costume, which is basically a giant composite lucky charm, it’s very on-brand for her. I feel like a joke could be made where Raki turns into a luck-obsessed lunatic with a mindset similar to Gudako from Fate/Grand Order. Knowing Aikatsu!, it could actually happen.

There’s one glaring omission in this episode: it takes place in the original series but there’s no Yurika in sight. The vampire goth is pretty much synonymous with Halloween, so I wonder if they’re saving her for Halloween 2020. After all, it’s not unusual for an Aikatsu! anime to run for two years.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll see an off-brand Thanos next year.

This post is sponsored by Johnny Trovato through Patreon. If you’d like to request a topic, consider becoming a patron!

Trick and/or Treat: Halloween in the Aikatsu! Franchise

Note: This post topic was requested by Johnny Trovato through Patreon. If you’d like to see a particular topic on Ogiue Maniax, consider becoming a sponsor.

One of the interesting things about the 2014 Aikatsu! Episode “Halloween Night Party”  is how it showed that the holiday was relatively new in Japan. Characters repeatedly translate the English “trick or treat” into a Japanese explanatory sentence as if to hammer home the concept. The first few seasons of Aikatsu! didn’t even have Halloween episodes. But it’s been five years since then, and while it hasn’t been a straight line, the concept of “Halloween” is integrated into Aikatsu! pretty thoroughly. At the same time, the degree to which they embrace Halloween varies significantly, as if it’s unclear from year to year how much they should push for Halloween.

2015’s “YOU! GO! KYOTO!” perhaps barely qualifies as a Halloween episode. Instead, the focus is on a trip in Kansai, where the main trio gets together with Hattori Yuu, a friend of Akari’s who’s made a name for herself as a “tour guide idol” of sorts. The girls help her out with a Halloween special, and they do a themed performance as a follow-up. The lack of “trick or treat” is noticeable.

2016’s “Halloween Magic” returns to the Halloween episode format from 2014, albeit with an entirely different cast of characters in Aikatsu Stars! Not only do they bring back explaining what “trick or treat” means, but they even include a special competition just like in “Halloween Night Party.” This episode stands out to me more than any of the others simply because of Rola’s taiyaki outfit, seen above. Taking a relatively serious character and having her go around in the most ridiculous getup without even batting an eye speaks to her character having a certain charming roundedness. I have to wonder if maybe the concept of Halloween needs to be introduced again for newer, younger viewers coming in. Also, while “Halloween Night Party” made a reference to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Halloween Magic” has one of the characters moonwalk while doing MJ-style “Whoo!”s, as if to say that the King of Pop is as much a part of Halloween as pumpkins and candy.

2017’s “Halloween Surprise” from Aikatsu Stars! places extra emphasis on the “trick” in “trick or treat,” albeit without actually using the words. The second half of this particular series involves a rivalry with another idol school, so the idea of competing takes on a new dimension in this Halloween episode compared to previous ones. Here, participants lose when their heart rate goes over a certain level, so the two sides have to try and scare or surprise one another. It’s kind of a twist on the original formula, and it does a decent job of acting as the stage for a bit of character growth on the character Koharu’s part. There’s a greater emphasis on using Halloween as an opportunity for pushing storylines compared to previous years. Also, for some reason, they reuse the costumes from the previous year. Could it be out of convenience (they already have the character designs laid out), or perhaps the costumes were just that popular?

2018’s “Aine’s Halloween Panic” from Aikatsu Friends! Incorporates Halloween into the show pretty thoroughly without drawing a ton of attention to it. Aine, the most recent heroine, has split off from her Aikatsu partner Mio so that they can train separately and come back stronger than ever. For this purpose, she plays the part in a TV special of a girl who discovers her senpai is a witch. The magical focus is the clear tie to Halloween, but once again there’s no “trick or treat.” In fact, there’s only one trick, as Mirai (seen above) tries to scare a couple characters during the episode. They treat Halloween as the most natural thing—is it a sign that it’s approaching Christmas in terms of cultural integration in Japan?

Looking at all these episodes, a couple things stick out to me.

First, it really is a shame that Yurika, the vampire-inspired idol from the first series, didn’t get any Halloween episodes when she was a more common character due to the relative lack of exposure for the holiday.

Second, the notion of “trick or treat” as a package deal seems to ebb and flow, but its constituent parts, i.e. pranks and candy, remain. One thing worth pointing out is that the tradition of going door to door to trick or treat never took hold in Japan, so maybe it’s no surprise that it would end up as something less codified. That being said, I’m aware that even in the US, trick or treat (especially in big cities) is more organized these days for safety purposes.

So what remains is the aesthetics of Halloween, costumes and all, with a cultural twist. That includes a taiyaki costume, and there’s even one girl in Aikatsu Friends! who dresses as a jiangshi (Chinese hopping ghost popular in Japan). Also, I guess Michael Jackson is part of that aesthetic as well.

Given that the pattern for Aikatsu! Halloween episodes exists, but that each year puts its own spin on the idea, I’m curious to see what direction this year’s takes. Because 2018’s Aikatsu Friends episode took a less upfront approach, could this one be more in the classic style? And with the new giant crossover series Aikatsu On Parade! on its way in 2020, Halloween Idol Activities might very well combine the styles of all previous shows.

 

Gattai Girls 10: “Mobile Police Patlabor” OVA 1 and Izumi Noa [Anime Secret Santa]

Introduction: For the second year in a row, I’m combining my Reverse Thieves’ Anime Secret Santa entry with my Gattai Girls review series—posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

The year is 1988, and the long-standing image of giant robots in anime fluctuates between either fantastic heroes and gritty, expansive science fiction. In this environment, one multimedia franchise decides to ask a simple yet potential-laden question: how does a society police its citizens in a world where mecha are commonplace?

In the near future of Patlabor, humanoid robots are commonly used in various industries, the police have also decided to incorporate mecha known as Patrol Labors into their forces. Patlabor follows Special Vehicles Unit 2, a ragtag bunch of eccentrics who solve Labor-related crimes. While there are multiple iterations of Patlabor, including anime, TV series, OVAs, and films (all of which apparently have branching continuities), this review will be focused on the first OVA series, titled simply Mobile Police Patlabor, but also known as Patlabor: The Early Days.

At first, Patlabor presents itself as a fairly low-stakes works, with its eclectic cast of officers and mechanics trying to deal as much with each other as the crimes they’re supposed to prevent. However, it gradually reveals concerns that are deeper and broader than first expected—provided you peel back the curtain a little bit. Over the course of the seven episodes of the first OVA series, those “Labor crimes” (not sure if pun intended) often speak to underlying social issues in Japan such as the struggle between pacifism and militarism that has affected the nation since World War II.

Such themes are the wheelhouse of the OVA’s director, Oshii Mamoru, and he gets even more philosophical about the intersection between technology and society in his Patlabor films. Here in the first OVA, though, Oshii doesn’t go nearly as hard on his pet topics, and the result is a comparatively much more straightforward story. The OVA is much more willing to be a police drama with some underlying political messages, and thus more approachable for those who might feel the films to be too overbearing.

But it’s also impossible to shake the idea that Patlabor cares relatively little about what it presents on the surface, especially when it comes to the treatment of the ostensible protagonist, Izumi Noa. If one were to guess what Patlabor is about from just the opening alone, one would assume that Noa is the star of the show, as she relaxes with, takes care of, and fights in her beloved Patlabor, Alphonse. In fact, she’s the only character who appears in it at all! Yet, somehow, the clear poster child for Patlabor as a whole only ever has a semi-major part at best in any of the episodes.

It’s not as if Noa is portrayed as useless or incompetent or in need of big, strong man to rescue her, but her general character—tomboyish robot lover with a knack for piloting—seems to have the least connection to the series’s underlying focus on the intersection between politics and technology. In contrast, Shinohara Azuma is the son of the president of a Labor-manufacturing company, while Goto is the deceptively intelligent and wily chief whose past has him confront the militaristic elements of Japan. Even the other prominent female characters, Kanuka Clancy and Nagumo Shinobu, seem to get more screen time than Noa because they’re tied much more deeply with the police system. Ironically, the woman who was to be the heroine by virtue of her neutral and apolitical passion for mecha ends up feeling more like a side character.

Overall, Mobile Police Patlabor seems to embody much of the OVA spirit that permeated anime in the 80s and 90s by providing an opportunity for projects to go in unique and interesting directions. The result is a fascinating series, but also one that seems in conflict with itself at times.

Aikatsu Friends! Knows How to Celebrate Christmas

Christmas is a different holiday in Japan compared to the United States. Even putting aside the religious vs. secular aspects, December 25th is traditionally seen in Japan as more of a romantic occasion featuring cake and fried chicken, and various anime and manga throughout the years have reflected this. That’s why I was surprised to see that the Christmas episode of Aikatsu Friends!—aptly titled “Merry Friends Christmas”—feels so at-home with a more American conception of the holiday.

The episode begins with drawing lots for a big idol tournament. Once the matches have all been decided, each duo goes out to practice and to shore up their weaknesses. The portrayal of “idol activities” is always a highlight of the Aikatsu! franchise, and watching the two goth girls weight-lift using an oversized die and a black crystal ball to shore up their weak stamina reminds me of why I enjoy these shows. What’s more, I like that it doesn’t dedicate the entire episode to Christmas, as it minimizes the sense that this is a one-off break from the main story. The celebration is woven into the overall momentum of Aikatsu Friends!

Heroine Aine decides to invite her partner Mio and their rival teams to have a fun Christmas party, and there’s just something familiarly heartwarming about the gathering. The exchanging of presents, the overall sense that the competition doesn’t overshadow their friendships, and the festive mood would fit right in with US Christmas TV specials—but with all of the morals about kindness and giving merely implied instead of said outright. It’s the sort of execution that makes me wish Aikatsu! could get a real foothold outside of Japan, even though I realize that its success is tied in heavily with the arcade games.

As with every Aikatsu! Christmas, they end with a rendition with of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with a characteristic rap section that talks about turning a holy night into a party night. At this point, and I have to wonder what the reason is behind keeping the song from year to year. It’s not a bad thing, but I would have expected them to switch it up from series to series—maybe some “Jingle Bells” or “Deck the Halls.” Maybe it’s just what the fans expect, and hearing the latest generation of Aikatsu! stars give their own take on the song is itself a tradition.

Overall, it’s an excellent Christmas episode from Aikatsu Friends, and an excellent way to set the mood for the holidays. It also makes me wonder if the image of Christmas has changed in Japan! That investigation will have to be for another time.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.