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There have been many attempts over the years to dethrone the Japanese children’s entertainment juggernaut that is Precure, but while Precure is squarely in the realm of the “fighting magical girl,” most of its challengers are themed around mahou shoujo’s sister genre: pop idols. This includes Pretty Rhythm, PriPara, Lil Pri, and the subject of today’s post, Aikatsu!

Aikatsu! began in 2012 as a multimedia franchise consisting of games, manga, and anime. The animated television series, created by Sunrise (of Gundam fame), follows Hoshimiya Ichigo, a girl who enters the idol training school Starlight Academy after being inspired by its top star, Kanzaki Mizuki. Together with her best friend and idol fan, Kiriya Aoi, and others she meets along the way, they engage in idol katsudou, or “idol activities.”

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Sunrise at this point is well known for another popular idol anime, Love Live!, and despite the fact that they don’t share that much staff, the two shows are similar in feel. Both have an overall lighthearted sense of fun and engaging character interactions combined with learning and personal development. Both feature bizarrely comedic moments (the episode where Ichigo gets into an “Obari Pose” and chops down a christmas tree is famous). Both series are also so entertaining in these respects that the actual “idol performance” moments are comparatively less interesting.

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However, one curious aspect of Aikatsu! that differentiates it from Love Live! (and many other anime) in terms of narrative is that Ichigo and the other idols don’t seem to have a concrete goal to aim for. The girls in Love Live! want to save their school and then win the Love Live. Naruto wants to become Hokage. Ichigo’s motivation is this vague sense of “becoming an idol,” but by the first few episodes she already is one more or less, and there just seems to be this general sense of forward progress. This is also what differentiates it from other more episodic works, or series such as Hidamari Sketch.

Aikatsu! has just enough on-going threads in the background and pays attention to its characters’ growth that the series carries a nice sense of continuity. Aoi becomes the mascot for a crepe company in an early episode, and after that you can always see a copy of the advertisement poster featuring her in Aoi and Ichigo’s room. The show also drops hints that Ichigo’s mom is a former idol, and as I continue to watch the series I’m just anticipating that moment where Ichigo discovers the truth. Every time her mom appears on screen, I think, “Will this be it?!” That desire to see Ichigo’s realization is actually one of my main motivations for continuing to watch.

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There’s one last element of Aikatsu! I want to discuss. More specifically, it’s a theory pertaining to Aikatsu!‘s relationship with Precure. When watching Aikatsu!‘s core cast, I could not help but be reminded of the cast of Doki Doki Precure!, which came out in 2013. While the characters are different enough to not feel like copies of each other, Mana’s blonde hair and pink color scheme in her transformed state resembles Ichigo’s, Rikka (blue) plays the role of the more level-headed and smarter best friend just like Aoi, Alice resembles Arisugawa Otome (orange) not only in name but also in appearance, and Makoto’s occupation as an idol (as well as her serious personality) feels akin to Mizuki. I suspect that Doki Doki Precure! may have taken some inspiration from Aikatsu! but I can’t be certain of this. That said, I recently checked out some of the character design notes for Doki Doki Precure! and noticed that Cure Sword (Makoto)’s design originally had longer hair, which would make her more stylistically similar to Mizuki from Aikatsu!

Aikatsu! has been a series on my radar for a while, that I had only briefly engaged with, but given just how entertained I’ve been by it I definitely want to watch more and talk more about it. Expect future posts, maybe?

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After Happiness Charge Precure! failed to live up to its potential, I had hoped that the next series in the long-running Precure anime franchise would fare better. Fortunately, Go! Princess Precure wildly exceeded my expectations to become one of my favorite iterations of the popular magical girl anime. From the serious to the silly, Go! Princess Precure hits a homerun.

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Go! Princess Precure follows Haruno Haruka, a teenage girl who dreams of becoming a princess. As a small child, she met a handsome young prince named Kanata who inspired her to hold onto her love of princesses, in spite of discouragement by others. In the present day, as Haruka comes to the prestigious “Noble Academy” with the goal of learning what it means to be a “true princess,” she finds out that monsters have begun to attack the school, preying on everyone’s hopes and aspirations. Haruka becomes a “Precure,” a magical warrior with the power to defend against the forces of Dysdark, and is soon joined by two other girls, Kaido Minami and Amanogawa Kirara, who also use their dreams to fight back.

Princess fever has taken over amidst the enormous popularity of Frozen in Japan, and Go! Princess Precure asks, “What is a princess?” While this question (as well as the thematic flourish of the series) can potentially be criticized on a surface level as sexist and regressive, a closer look shows that Go! Princess Precure aims to claim the concept of the princess as a symbol of hard work and kindness towards others. To this point, a major villain of the series, the powerful Princess Twilight (no relation) even confronts Haruka (Cure Flora) with the idea that one can only be born a princess, and while she’s technically more correct than Haruka in terms of how it works in real life, Go! Princess Precure shows how Haruka, Minami (Cure Mermaid), and Kirara (Cure Twinkle) strive to embrace the idea of a “princess” as being the product of one’s effort. In other words, according to Go! Princess Precure, being a princess doesn’t make you a better person. Rather, being a better person who strives for their dreams and helps others is the key that allows any girl to become a princess all on their own.

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Not only is Go! Princess Precure strong thematically, it’s just an incredibly solid show in general. In terms of animation, it has some of the finest fight sequences in all of Precure as early as episode 1, and while it rises and dips in quality as is typical of a year-long anime, its overall consistency as well as its high points are notable. The outfits and character designs are all on point (In terms of narrative, the series benefits from an entertaining main cast with well thought out character development. Flora’s story at the half-way point connects to that greater theme of “princess” self actualization. Kirara as the donut-loving fashion model eager to speak her mind is one of the most unique Precure characters ever (I voted her as my favorite among the Princess Precures for this reason). The supporting characters, though not quite on the level of Heartcatch Precure!, grow admirably throughout the series as well.

Perhaps most notably, when the anime introduces a fourth Precure late into its run, she does not overshadow the rest of the cast. It’s a common problem for shows like Precure or Super Sentai, where in an effort to push the new character and her toys she ends up practically taking over the show. Honestly, I can’t recall a single bad episode.

Go! Princess Precure might be quite the hard act to follow. Whether it’s in comparison to the rest of Precure or as an anime all on its own, Go! Princess Precure is simply an outstanding work that embodies a lot of what is best in children’s shows and the magical girl anime genre. I highly recommend anyone, even those skeptical of mahou shoujo, to take a look.

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smileprecure-yayoidadWhat is appropriate for an audience of American children? This is a concern that comes up all the time with cartoons, whether it’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic‘s first season explicitly giving moral lessons to live up to its E/I (Educational/Informative) Rating, or the decision to change Japanese names to English ones when adapting anime. Though it feels out of place in this current era, the recent Glitter Force goes to great lengths to hide its Japanese origins as Smile Precure!, one of many series in the long-running Precure franchise. While the edits are not surprising, and obviously I’m not in the target demographic of little girls, I do worry about the point at which these edits hinder animation for children in terms of addressing difficult but important subjects.

When Glitter Force was first announced, it was described as having 40 episodes, down from the 48 in Smile Precure! Fans and curious onlookers speculated as to which episodes would be cut. With the first half of Glitter Force available on Netflix, we now know the first three.

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Two of the episodes are clearly gone for being “too Japanese.” While we could have a debate as to what that even means, in this case it was because they were just too difficult to edit around. One is an episode about okonomiyaki, and while you can call it Japanese pizza all you want, kids know what pizza looks like. Saban wants their young audience to feel like the show is taking place in a city or town much like their own. Another episode guest stars actual Japanese manzai comedians. Not only are there potential likeness rights issues, but manzai comedy is notoriously difficult to translate. Again, makes sense.

The third episode cut is where my main concerns come up. Titled “Thank You, Papa! Yayoi’s Treasure,” the story involves Yayoi trying to recall memories of her late father. In an otherwise silly series, it naturally stands out as a serious and heartfelt story.

It’s not surprising why they would remove it. They want Glitter Force to be even more of what Smile Precure! is: a cartoon that generally emphasizes fun characters, positive female role models, and vibrant animation, which can then be used to sell toys. Even in Japan, series like Ashita no Nadja failed to be commercial successes possibly because of its moments of gravitas. However, decisions such as removing the story of Yayoi’s dad feel as if they contribute to the long-standing belief that cartoons for children can’t be serious, that they’re incapable of respecting children’s intelligence. Why can’t a fun kids’ show take some time to say something more, and maybe let parent and child feel sad together?

The tide of current children’s animation is actually going against this entrenched view. Shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and even to an extent shows like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long have brought weight and substance to kids’ entertainment. Glitter Force could have also contributed to this, and it might very well still be able to, depending on how they handle the second half, but things are looking grim. With five episodes on the chopping block, my worry is that they’ll cut the most character development-heavy episodes.

(Or even worse, the Happy Robo episode.)

I actually don’t think Glitter Force is that bad of a dub. The acting’s decent, the characters still look hilarious, and the edits they’ve made to bits of the story and such are odd but not deal breakers. I also understand where Saban is coming from, and given that they have all this successful Power Rangers money and all, they probably know more about marketing to American kids than I do with my obtuse-for-a-casual-audience anime blog. I can even see how Smile Precure! was probably the best fit for an American audience. That said, I’m not a fan of how they had to go to great lengths to write around the fact that Reika/Chloe is extremely Japanese, to the extent that they ended up removing her stern dedication to 道, “the path,” the seeking of truth and oneself. In Glitter Force, they replace it with “GF.”

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I also feel as if I really cannot trust them with any other Precure series, especially not the stronger ones like Go! Princess Precure or Heartcatch Precure! If they can’t let a deceased father by, how are they going to handle Cure Moonlight’s path to redemption, Cure Flora’s introspective confrontation at the middle point, or any of the other equally powerful or memorable stories?

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I made an appearance on the Reverse Thieves’ podcast to talk about the first episode of Glitter Force from Saban Entertainment, the Power Rangers-style adaptation of Smile Precure!

What happens when Cures become Glitters? Apparently a lot of constant never-ending dialogue.

I’m surprised we didn’t make more Saban opening theme jokes, but can’t win ’em all.

What is good character design?

Different people will have their own ideas about what helps the design of a character (including myself), but over the past few years I’ve begun to consider more how the elements often described as contributing to character design are a kind of double-edged sword.

Take the idea that a character should have a unique look achieved through simple yet elegant means, and that they shouldn’t be mistaken for anyone else in the cast. This is ideally achieved through stylization, and to some extent exaggeration. For example, I find the character designs in Heartcatch Precure! to be fantastic, and part of this is achieved because the girls are varying heights, and that their distinct personalities come across very clearly in the way they look. However, that same dedication to simplicity and really conveying a character’s particular characteristics through their appearance are the same tools that can be used to, for example, create harmful stereotypes. How do you make a character look more Asian? Give them squinty eyes and buck teeth, because that will immediately communicate their Asian-ness.

Of course, there’s a significant difference between making a character that expresses their uniqueness through their design, and drawing to conform a character to a general stereotype in that one is about individualizing and the other is about generalizing, but I think that the two ideas exist on the same spectrum. Take for example a political cartoon mocking a particular politician through the use of symbols and signs meant to represent that individual. A large hooked nose in this case might become the symbol of a racism against Jewish people in another context. The very tools artists use to express ideas of love, equality, and growth can also be used to spread hatred, discrimination, and regression.

I am pro-freedom of expression, so I do not believe in restricting even the more negative and harmful uses of art, but I do understand that a price is paid as a result. Images persist that can strip young people of confidence, make them feel as if they never have a chance in the world. While one way to combat it is to provide even more positive images, the inevitable difficulty is helping them to navigate all of the disparate messages without necessarily forcing them to be blind to everything that’s out there. When the strategy to helping others out is to block their access to material that might change them, then that itself can become a problem.

I myself don’t entirely know the point I’m trying to get at, but I believe it’s something along the lines of “artists have a lot of responsibility.” Whether you use your art to fight for a cause, against one, or just want to draw things that are cute, cool, gruesome, even actively traumatizing, that is a decision to be made, and to be felt, and you it is good to be prepared for the consequences that arise.

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Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura is one of my favorite characters ever, from one of my favorite anime ever, and if you’re not a fan of Tomoyo… what’s wrong with you? Whereas normally I would hesitate to buy even some of my most beloved heroines, Nendoroid Tomoyo was a no-brainer. Upon seeing it go up for pre-order, I hit purchase and looked back with zero regrets. Sakura merchandise is common, but Tomoyo much less so, and I couldn’t let this sort of thing pass me by.

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I don’t own a lot of Nendoroids. In fact, my first one was a Kinomoto Sakura (seen above) that I received as a birthday present. Quite smartly, my friend purchased it because he (correctly) expected that I would not hesitate to pick up Tomoyo. Thus, I don’t have a lot to compare to, and I’m extremely biased, so I’ll call this less a review and more of a celebration.

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Nendoroid Tomoyo is mostly based on her anime design, as opposed to the softer shoujo look of the Cardcaptor Sakura manga. However, one thing that they did bring from the manga was a hint of Tomoyo’s lavender hair; in the anime it’s more of a gray. When I think about it, rarely do figures try to replicate the look of shoujo manga, likely due to how complicated and not designed for 3-D they are. At least with anime, you can rely on more solid colors.

Tomoyo comes in a standard Tomoeda Elementary school uniform, and has a choice between a hat or a hairband, as well as smiling and ecstatic faces. I’ve gone with the hat + sparkly eyes combo for these photos in order to achieve maximum radness, but what really takes this figure over the top is the inclusion of her signature camcorder.

Remember kids, this anime was made in the early 2000s, before mobile phones could take HD-quality video. Back in her day, Tomoyo would have to walk 20 miles uphill both ways in the snow in order to film her lovely Sakura-chan and add to her massive archive of Cardcaptor Sakura footage in her private viewing room inside of her mansion, under watch by her squad of lady bodyguards.

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It’s supposed to have a swing-out screen, but a small missing part makes it impossible to attach. I’m not sure if it was defective or if I had simply lost it while taking it out, that’s how tiny the connecting piece. The other flaw is that the giant head is rather unwieldy, especially with the hat, and sometimes moving it around can cause Tomoyo’s noggin to fall off.

Overall, it’s a fine addition to the collection, and when I think about it, I am fortunate that the characters I like tend not to get a ton of merchandise. That’s what I would say…if I didn’t get into Love Live. That’s for next time.

 

WARNING: This post contains Go! Princess Precure spoilers

There’s a recurring problem in the Precure franchise, which is basically a post-resolution amnesia to any significant narrative climax. This is especially evident when a new Cure is introduced or an evil character turns to the side of good, complete with a new human guise free of all of the old visual cues that marked her as being on the side of “evil.” In the process, these girls usually not only take the spotlight because they’re so new and exciting, but their newer forms are so fully integrated into their now-human lives that it’s like the show wants you to forget their past.

As a result, while the prospect of a turncoat who sees the light is generally thrilling, the addition of this new Cure to the main team often comes with a small helping of fear and dread. When Go! Princess Precure first introduces its evil rival character, Princess Twilight, the possibility that she would become the fourth Precure in this new series was already there, but the following questions would come up while watching. First, will this new character overshadow the old girls. Second, will the series act as if she’d always been everyone’s best friend?

22 episodes later, we have our answers. Twilight is really Towa, a princess who was kidnapped and brainwashed when she was a little girl, and Cure Flora, Cure Mermaid, and Cure Twinkle are able to rescue her and restore her memories. Thus begins the potential process for Twilight to essentially be “Cure-washed,” but Go! Princess Precure rather impressively makes the misdeeds of Towa’s past a part of her story and her struggle. Even after being rescued and having her original appearance restored (Twilight had long white hair while Towa’s hair is red and done in elaborate curls), Towa is shown to still be in Twilight’s original dress, and the switch away from this outfit is actually a plot point in Episode 23. Even more indicative of the show’s desire to not forget about “Princess Twilight,” however, is Towa’s transformation into Cure Scarlet.

When Towa transforms into a Precure, there are a number of interesting visual cues that she seeks not to totally divorce herself from her problematic past. First, the villains of the series have pointed elf ears, and when Towa becomes Cure Scarlet she also retains this feature. Not only that, but the transformation sequence actively emphasizes the shape of her ears.

Second, her her hair goes from being a bright red to a pale pink, closer to the white of her Twilight form.

Finally, the ever-present fire in her transformation sequence, though a different color from the flames used when she was evil, are so powerful and overwhelming that they appear sinister and frightening. While past fire-themed Precures also had blazing infernos bursting forth from their bodies, in the case of Cure Scarlet it’s almost as if they’re hinting that she’s liable to commit arson. Of course, that’s not the actual point of the transformation, but it again points to a character who might be “good” but hasn’t necessarily forgotten or ignored her wrongdoings, even if they were arguably beyond her control.

The overall result is a character that I’m looking forward to seeing develop. While there’s no guarantee that she won’t end up overshadowing the rest of the characters, I have greater faith in Go! Princess Precure because of how consistently impressive and high-quality the series has been up to this point.

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I found Otakon 2015 to be something of an unusual beast, in the sense that a normally fierce dragon might seem uncharacteristically docile. At first I thought that this might be due to my unusual circumstances. While in years past I was able to attend Otakon all three days, this year I had to skip out on Friday. However, rather than it affecting my perspective in an adverse way, I realized it actually made a truth all the more clear: attendance was significantly down compared to previous years, from an average of 33,000 over the past five to about 28,000 for 2015. This is why, when I began my Otakon attendance on Saturday, what would normally be the most heavily populated day of the con was…surprisingly easy to navigate.

Given the continuous growth of Otakon prior, this might all come as a surprise. However, after discussing it with some friends and fellow fans, we came up with a few possible reasons. First, the music guests this year were not A-List, and this would mean that the attendees who normally came to Otakon for the concerts might have skipped out. Second, and probably more importantly, Baltimore was in the news not so long ago, and as many anime con attendees are fairly young. It would not be surprising to see parents fearing for their children’s lives, even if they allowed them to attend Otakon in years past.

Thus, less traffic, less tension, though for those who did make it, a relatively more relaxing experience… unless you were going for the Romi Park autograph line. In that case, it was probably a no holds barred slugfest with the winner getting the right to hear Ms. Park recite a line by Edward Elric, Shirogane Naoto, or any of her other famous roles. To the victors, it would of course have been worth it.

Park Romi’s Wild Ride

I was originally not planning on attending the Saturday press conference for Park Romi. At the last second I changed my mind, and it turned out to be the best voice actor press conference I’ve ever seen. Normally, seiyuu tend to give very safe answers. All of their characters are their favorites, they can’t give too many production details or insider secrets, and overall it’s just an opportunity for them to promote themselves in a benign, marketable way. With Romi, her personality gave the impression that she would never be able to play that safe route, even if she tried.

She talked about blacking out while auditioning for Air Master after uttering the most fierce battle cry. She pointed out how she loves Syrup from Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go and the fact that he’s a walking contradiction (a penguin that flies, that’s innocent yet also cynical). She mentioned going to the karaoke box to wear her voice out in order to portray the pain and trauma that drives Edward Elric in every situation (she described him as her most difficult role ever). She even talked about what it was like to grow up Korean in Japan. Throughout the Q&A, what impressed me the most is that we gradually got a well-rendered image of Romi as a person and a voice actor. As someone who’s always felt a little bit on the outside, perhaps due to her upbringing and ethnic background, she’s been able to connect to characters who do feel a little off, or feel like they go against the grain. She mentioned always playing villains as if they’re the heroes in their own mind, and it pretty much all clicked into place.

One thing that many people will probably be talking about for years to come is that “Edward Elric” is a HUGE Adventure Time fan, a show where she voices the main character Finn for the Japanese dub. Normally one might think of this as a promotional ploy, but her passion for it was oozing. I heard at the previous panel on Friday that she mentioned her favorite show she’s worked on is Adventure Time. When asked what show she’d like to do more work on, the answer was Adventure Time. Which characters does she like the most? Finn, and Lemongrab. In her own words, “I like violence.”

I was able to ask her one question, which had to do with her work on the anime Ojamajo Doremi:

Ogiue Maniax: You play the role Majo Ran on Ojamajo Doremi. What was it like working on the show and with Director Satou Jun’ichi?

Romi: It was a fresh-feeling place there. Lots of cute girls!

Satou was a man who was very deep. He put a lot of thought and passion into everything he did. He was like a big brother type. But he did care a lot about details. Details, details, even more details. So you can guess that the recordings took many, many hours. (In English) Many, many hours.

However, the absolute highlight of her press conference was when Alain from the Reverse Thieves asked what it was like to work with director Tomino Yoshiyuki on the series Turn A Gundam. Tomino, who appeared at New York Anime Festival back in 2008, is famous as being a rather eccentric personality, and it’s always interesting to hear stories about him. Romi Park added to the legend of Tomino by describing to us her experience working with him on not just Turn A Gundam but also a previous show, Brainpowered.

During the recording for episode 1, Park recalls delivering the main character Loran’s famous line, “Everyone, come back here!” as he shouts to the moon, imploring his people to return to Earth. After first delivering the line, Tomino BURSTS through the door of the recording studio and begins to shout at her, to put more emphasis into it. “HERE! HEEEEERE!” he shouted, as he had his arms stretched out to the side. In episode 2, when Loran hits his privates accidentally, and Park delivered an unconvincing impression of it (having no direct experience), Tomino came bursting through the door again, exclaiming to her that this particular kind of pain is extremely intense but fades quickly. What was most telling about this was the fact that the Japanese MAPPA staff that was on the sidelines (Romi was here as promotion for the anime GARO) could be seen snickering, unable to fully control their laughter.

A few hours later, I also had a chance to interview Gundam X director Takamatsu Shinji, who had also worked with Tomino before, to add to the bizarre portrait of the creator of Mobile Suit Gundam. You can read that interview here.

Panels

Otakon is famous for its strong programming track, full of passionate fans who do extensive research in preparation for their panels, as well as industry panels aware of the fact that Otakon attendees tend to be savvier. For me, it’s one of the absolute highlights of going to Otakon every year, though this year I was only able to attend a few. And yet, from what I heard, I wasn’t alone.

It turns out most of the panels this year were either mostly full or at max capacity, which is rather unusual because generally only the biggest guests and the well-known, charismatic panelists get that much attention. To give a clearer image, usually the Studio MAPPA panel is sparsely populated. 10, maybe 20 people tops who know what a wonderful guest Maruyama Masao (founder and former head of Studio MADHouse, current MAPPA founder and president) is, and how insightful his responses are, but this year I heard that the MAPPA panel was impossible to get into. Now, keep in mind that this is also the year where attendance was down (early reports say the attendance was over 28,000 whereas Otakon these past few years has seen attendance records of over 30,000), a situation that brings up quite a few questions about the demographics breakdown for Otakon attendees, as well as their behavior.

Could it be that the Otakon attendees who normally would have made that extra 2,000+ wouldn’t be the ones attending panels? Perhaps the less famous music acts also meant people looked for something else to do and filled the panel rooms instead. Maybe the overall audience has been getting older and more appreciative of panels. In the specific case of MAPPA this year, it might be the case that people have begun to appreciate them more after they released two high-quality action/fantasy shows (GARO the Animation and Rage of Bahamut: Genesis), and I’ve heard that the success of SHIROBAKO and its reference to MAPPA founder Maruyama Masao (“Marukawa Masato”) was a significant factor as well.

In terms of fan panels, I attended both of the Reverse Thieves’ panels this year. I consider them good friends, but it’s not simply because I know them that I decided to sit in. They do good work and always capture the audience’s attention. Most importantly, they encourage people to check out anime they had no idea about, and expanding people’s knowledge about anime and manga is something i’m always for. Between the new “I Hate Sports: A Sports Anime Panel,” and their staple “New Anime for Older Fans,” the fact that these panels filled rooms with both people and their delightful reactions shows that fans aren’t stubborn when it comes to looking for shows beyond what’s familiar to them; they just need the right guides to get through the darkness and the seemingly infinite possibilities that come with the new slew of titles every year.

I also attended Mike Toole’s “Bootleg South Korean Anime” panel, though sadly could not attend its spiritual companion ran by another individual, “DPRKartoon: Anime from North Korea” (see above comment about panels filling up more quickly this year). Mike is known for being an excellent presenter, and he showed his chops not only in this panel but also his moderation for the Discotek Industry panel immediately afterwards, though I felt like the South Korean Anime panel wasn’t as tightly tuned as I’ve come to expect from a Mike Toole panel. Nevertheless, it exposed me to the unique history of Golden Bat in Korean animation, a superhero from the pre-manga kamishibai era of Japan, whose later anime was allowed to air in Korea in spite of bans on Japanese media because Korean staff had worked on the show. When a later iteration of Golden Bat appeared in Korea, he resembled a certain much more famous Bat-themed superhero, except that this “Bat-like Man” (though Golden Bat originally looked more like Ghost Rider with a cape) flew, laughed like a maniac, and show lasers from his fingers.

Otakon was the inaugural industry panel for Discotek Media, and I had to attend to know just what kind of minds were responsible for licensing Mazinger Z AND Shin Mazinger. It turns out, the aforementioned Mike Toole works for them, though he cites the owner of Discotek being a fan of good ol’-fashioned violent cartoons as a major contributing factor. The panel reminded me that I need to own Horus: Prince of the Sun, and even though I’m not a huge Gaiking fan or anything, the announcement of its licensing drew me towards it, rekindling my old desire to watch “all of the robot anime.” What was perhaps most impressive about the panel was finding out that they got an artist to faithfully recreate the bad-looking American Street Fighter cartoon art for their DVD box set. Given how badly that often turns out (have you seen the old boxes for the 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon?!), I am truly impressed that it looks so great and terrible at the same time.

One set of panels I did not attend due to advice given to me was the panels run by Pony Canyon for their new shows. Bringing directors known for their extensive and storied catalogues, it turns out that questions were restricted to only being about the shows they were there to promote. As someone who loves exploring the history of anime and picking creators’ brains, that was an instant turn-off. I hope that Pony Canyon learns their lesson for next time.

One More Panel: Mine

Last year, due to time constraints and fear of not finishing my thesis, I decided to skip out on preparing panels for Otakon. This year I submitted a couple, and fortunately the one I really wanted to do made it through. That was “Great Ugly Manga,” inspired by my love of 81 Diver, and the fact that the concept of “bad-good” is still relatively foreign to a manga-reading audience (though less so a comics-reading audience in general). I worked with super ultra manga expert Ed Chavez (who also has an appreciation for the awesomely ugly), and together we worked to try and convey the idea that sometimes “bad” artwork enhances the impact of a manga, whether intentionally or not. The panel ran a bit quickly, finishing early, which makes me wish we packed it with more stuff, but that’s a lesson learned for next time. I do really want to do the panel again.

Artist Alley/Dealer’s Room

I came to Otakon this year a little more prepared to spend money on trinkets and goodies, but ended up getting less than I expected, which is probably best for my wallet. Of the purchases I made, the one that sticks out most is an excellent little double-sided charm from Suzuran, which now adorns my recently-purchased smartphone. In terms of official merchandise, most of my purchases actually came from the Pony Canyon booth. I did not go for their extremely expensive bluray sets, especially because $75 per disc sounds absurd to my ears, but I like the shows that they’re involved with a lot, and wanted to support them in a way they might potentially understand. I came away with a t-shirt and poster of Sound! Euphonium, as well as a CD from Rolling Girls, both anime that I highly recommend. As an aside, I also ended up with a free Love Live! School Idol Movie poster for some reason I still don’t quite understand. Will I frame it and carry it with me to the New York premiere of the Love Live! movie? Only time will tell.

The Real Hero of Otakon 2015: Crab Cakes

So anime is cool and all, and Otakon is the largest anime convention on the east coast, but Baltimore is supposed to be known for their crabcakes, and it’s supposed to be a part of the Baltimore experience to eat some awesome ones. Unfortunately, in the past the ones I had were more decent than incredible, but this all changed when a truck decided to carry some of the best crab cakes ever, and parked itself in front of the hotel I was staying at. To describe how good Flash Crabcakes are is to mention that I regret more than ever the fact that Otakon is leaving Baltimore in a couple of years. I also learned that things named Flash tend to be amazing, whether it’s the superhero, the Starcraft player, or indeed the super lump crabcake. The program that spawned Animutations gets a pass for its accomplishments, even if it’s become a bit senile and deranged.

Countdown to the Beginning of the End

Despite the fact that this Otakon didn’t seem quite as outright exciting as previous ones, I came away from it having two of the best interviews/press conferences I’d ever conducted. It was truly a pleasure to pick the brain of two industry veterans, and my only real regret was not being able to attend any Maruyama Masao panels due to scheduling conflicts.

I also left this year’s Otakon aware of the fact that only one year remains in Baltimore. While I think the move to a larger convention center in Washington, DC is probably the right move, I do feel some concern for the city of Baltimore itself. After all, Otakon is a huge money maker for them, and even if attendance was down, there’s a difference between losing 5,000 tourists and losing 33,000, all of whom want to eat in the area. Will there be another convention that tries to fill the vacuum left by Otakon? The battle for MD/VA begins.

Best Duo

Best Couple

Bester Couple, Oooooh Yeahhhhhh

precure5gogo-team

The original Yes! Pretty Cure 5 was in certain ways a radical departure back to the familiar. Whereas the previous Pretty Cure shows had focused mainly on duos, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 went with the five-girl sentai team, reminiscent of Sailor Moon. In execution, it ended up being neither a better or worse decision in that each character still received plenty of the spotlight, but what really made the series stand out to me were the unique villains (a literally evil corporation with company hierarchy and everything), as well as a dedication to showing its heroines eating that surpasses even the likes of K-On!

The sequel, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, brings a fresh coat of paint that keeps with the spirit of its immediate predecessor. Right from the first episode, the new outfits are much improved from the bizarrely beige/yellow costumes from the previous series, and the attacks are flashier and more impressive: Natsuki “Cure Rouge” Rin’s “Pretty Cure Fire Strike” involves kicking a soccer ball made from flames, for example. The characters’ personalities still provide plenty of humor and opportunities to talk about food, as well as some nice moments of development. The new characters bring excitement and intrigue, especially the mysterious Milky Rose, who comes to save the Cures but initially positions herself neither as ally nor enemy, and eventually starts shooting rose-shaped clouds of shrapnel.

precure5gogo-lemonade

Overall, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go is actually a sequel that improves on the original, as rare as that is.  The show takes the time to how far the characters have come from the previous series, like when protagonist Yumehara Nozomi (Cure Dream) ends up tutoring Rin’s younger siblings and introduces to them her unique approach to learning. It also continues to do a great job of just showing how the characters are more than two-dimensional, like how Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade) is clever yet surprisingly naive at times, and how Akimoto Komachi (Cure Mint) takes her writing very seriously. That said, I can’t help but feel it lost a couple of important gems in the process.

The first is that the new group of villains, even if some of there are individually interesting, aren’t quite as memorable as the Nightmare Corporation from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. While an evil museum collector is a nice concept, and his assistant Anacondy brings in some of that much-loved evil bureaucracy (you can’t be truly evil until you’ve mastered evil paperwork), it just doesn’t feel quite on the same level. The second oversight is just a lack of Masuko Mika the school reporter, whose insatiable appetite for journalism and a desire to find out the secret identity of the Cures led the way to some of the funniest and most heartfelt episodes of the previous series. In fact, her doppelganger Masuko Miyo (intentionally a reference to Mika) probably gets more appearances in HappinessCharge Precure! than she does in Go Go.

If someone liked Yes! Pretty Cure 5 it’s hard to think they’d vehemently dislike Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, and I even think the sequel can be viewed on its own without any prior exposure to Precure in general. That said, I do think that watching the first series can help, as it does a much better job of showing where the girls came from and how they developed over the course of their narrative.

precure5gogo-spinylobster

There are two things I want to mention at the end. First, one of the most memorable gags for me is the gag above, which reminds us that Minazuki Karen (Cure Aqua) is indeed extremely wealthy. Second, if anyone ever wondered who the animators’ favorite character was, the exquisite fight scenes with Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade) removed any and all doubt.

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After a five year hiatus due mostly to not be in the United States, I am making my triumphant return to AnimeNext in Somerset, NJ from June 12-14. I also have two panels I’ll be running alongside the Reverse Thieves’ Alain.

Precure Party

Friday 2:15pm -3:15pm BW Panel 6

We’ll be talking about the crazy enormous Precure franchise that’s now 11 years old and even more popular than Sailor Moon ever was in Japan. Whether you’ve never heard of Precure or you’re a die-hard fan, we think you’ll have a great time seeing magical girls punch monsters in the face.

 

Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha

Sunday 11:15-12:15pm BW Panel 6

Love triangles and star-crossed lovers are a common trope of giant robot anime, but this panel focuses on the series where romance is of central importance to the story. See how love has evolved over time in the world of mecha. We’ll be featuring shows such as Macross, Aquarion, and more!

 

Also, I’ll definitely be at this panel if you want to chat in person

 

Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop, and [Redacted] with Studio TRIGGER

Saturday 9pm-11pm Panel 1

 

See you there! I hope we can all sing the Inferno Cop theme together. Also, if you’re cosplaying Fight Club Mako, I’ll give you a high-five.

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