Aim for Mediocrity

There’s two new shows this season where the apparent premise is that the main characters do not strive to be the very best, like no one ever was. One of these is the moe-powered 25-minute mahjong commercial Saki, and the other is the latest Kyoto Animation cute girls fest about a high school band K-ON! While the titular Miyanaga Saki is simply a mahjong genius who has found a way to merely seem mediocre, and K-ON!‘s Hirasawa Yui is simply a no-talent clumsy girl who’s trying to find something she can sort-of kind-of do, both girls are clearly going for the same goal, which is to be okay.

While both shows are clearly aimed at otaku with their ensembles of adorable girls with relatively harmless personalities, I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of “otaku are afraid to succeed and that’s why these girls aren’t striving to be the very best!” How I personally feel about it is that it’s actually kind of refreshing to not have characters who are entirely about toppling their opposition in a given field. Even if the story turns out that way eventually (a likely scenario for Saki), the fact that it started out that way is pretty nice.

Also, Saki is basically Takumi from Initial D only with mahjong tiles instead of a AE-86 Sprinter Trueno.

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If Only We Could Become Fans of Moderation

Dave Merrill recently posted a survey and history of the seedy, unwashed, giant underbelly of anime fandom in the US. In it, he gives examples, taken from various anonymous contributers, of the people who are often referred to as “that person.” Each anecdote leads me to be grateful that I did not turn out to be the one to take others down through ill personality or whatever, but at the same time I find myself reflecting upon each description. I can see a bit of myself in pretty much every person described, but I also realize that it’s because of the fact that I can only see “a bit” of myself in them that makes all of the difference.

I can relate to the guy who carries his video game consoles with him to every meeting. I can see a person bringing his precious consoles along constantly, hoping for someone to say, “Wow, is that a Neo-Geo?” And then the person would gladly pull it out and a good time would be had by all, and they’d think that console-carrying guy is pretty swell. But then if console carrier never has the initiative to simply propose that they play some of his games, then he’ll still be waiting passively. When presented with someone like this, we’d probably say something like, “Get some confidence, chum.” Lack of confidence and drive is a hallmark of dorks everywhere, after all. It’s dangerous advice, however, when you consider the example of the guy who gives out his own Inspector Gadget porn to everyone.

Inspector Gadget Porn Distributor is what can happen when you tell someone with deep shame that it’s okay to be shameless, that it’s okay to be confident in what they do. The problem isn’t that he draws the images, it’s that it becomes the singular focus of his interaction with fellow anime fans. I believe that not only fans but people in general should not be defined by a singular purpose, as no person is that devoid of depth. And yet, are fans not defined by their obsessions, their ability to take things further than others? How far is too far? It’s a strange dilemma in that we have to learn to constantly set and then break our own limits.

I know that it sounds weird for the person who writes Ogiue Maniax, a blog with obsession in its very title, to be talking about things like tact and reservation, but I think it’s the combination of obsession/devotion and desire for variety in me that has brought me to this place. And while I don’t have the confidence to say that I have the patience or ability to help those fans who are truly in need of an awakening, what I can say is that I hope we can all help to moderate each other.

Can the Dirty Wash Their Hands?

Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the most popular female characters ever. With such popularity, it’s very easy to look at Sakura and assume that she’s just a manufactured collection of moe features, or that she’s purposely designed to appeal to pedophiles, to which she is no doubt a popular character. Here is where I tend to argue that people who claim this to be the case are seeing the fruit and not the root. Sakura was not forged in the fires of Moedor but is rather an innocent character so well-conceived by her creators that people could not help but like her. This is what i believe.

But then consider the creators of Cardcaptor Sakura, the all-female manga duo CLAMP. CLAMP is no stranger to the world of otaku. They love manga and anime themselves. They miss deadlines because they played too many video games. Most importantly, prior to their big break they were doujinshi artists drawing things like Saint Seiya.

Kamichu! is the story of a junior high school girl who finds out that she is a god. It’s a sweet kind of slice-of-life story. The creator of Kamichu! is Naruco Hanaharu, artist of many, many pornographic comics.

The question  I ask here is, can a character truly be innocent if their creator has publishing material under their belt that is anything but? Is extensive experience on the adult side of manga a detriment to one’s ability to produce works of innocence, and if so is the damage too much?

I personally believe that it is possible to wash your hands clean and have work that is separate enough that they do not hold sway over each other if the creator so chooses. However, I know that some would disagree with me, and I have little confidence that I’ll be able to just outright convince people otherwise, especially if it’s a strong belief. What I will say is that in comics in general, there’s a lot of proof of comic artists around the world who have done children’s comics and then some “extra” work on the side. Are they all condemned as well?

That said, I do draw the line at a certain point, which is when you draw smut of your own characters who are supposed to be innocent. So sorry, Gunslinger Girl, you have author-drawn doujinshi of the non-wholesome variety. You do not pass this test.

Factoring Time into the Visual Aesthetics of Anime

Having spent yesterday and today hesitating on whether or not to buy the special edition Cardcaptor Sakura movies, I decided to sit down and watch some episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura, to see if it would swing my decision one way or the other. As of now, it’s still undecided, but just like every other time I’ve decided to re-watch Cardcaptor Sakura, I was reminded of how good the show looks. Years from now, the show will still look good. And this got me to thinking about the way time relates to an anime’s visuals.

In animation, there is a race to see the visual quality of animation improve over time. Though it’s not as drastic or hotly contested as the race that video games have gone through, it’s not uncommon to hear from people that a show looks outdated. This is a dangerous way of thinking, as it assumes that the shows you like today will be considered inferior in ten, twenty years. One might say then, that “timelessness” is the ideal to pursue, but at the same time I don’t think “timelessness” of visuals is necessarily a good thing. Much like how making anime for an international audience can take away some of the uniquely Japanese aspects of anime, I think a similar problem can occur when the creators of a show try to isolate it from its own time. At the same time, this isn’t an excuse for a show to look bad or have poor art direction and using either “timelessness” or “representative of its time” as an excuse.

Different shows seem to approach this issue of time and its relation to the animation quality. In Cardcaptor Sakura, it’s the well-thought-out “camera” angles, transitions, and just the way the show flows naturally from scene to scene and action to action that makes it stand the oft-mentioned “test of time.” Koutetsushin Jeeg and Re:Cutie Honey, both updates of 70s Nagai Go works, merge the visual cues of 70s anime with a modern sense of perspective and consistency towards animation. Casshern SINS, a current show, takes an interesting approach. Its main character is said to be immortal, and to show this the design of Casshern references anime throughout the decades. Casshern himself is a 70s anime character, while his hair and musculature are similar to 80s characters, his figure and facial features are reminiscent of 90s bishounen, and the overall aesthetic of the show is very modern. Anne of Green Gables, a 1979 anime series directed by Grave of the Fireflies director Takahata Isao (with Miyazaki on staff as well), is an adaptation of an already well-known novel, and though there wasn’t a lot of resources in animation at that time, they worked with what they had to make the show very engaging.

“Working with what you have” may not always produce the best or most well-remembered shows, but I think it’s an important step in making a show whose visuals will be well-remembered years down the line when what was once cutting-edge will become as old-hat as wearing a skinned sabretooth tiger. One thing that Cardcaptor Sakura, Koutetsushin Jeeg, Re:Cutie Honey, Casshern SINS, and Anne of Green Gables have in common is that you can see the sheer amount of effort put into these shows. Judging “effort” is tricky business, and might even be scoffed at as impossible or even arbitrary, but when there’s this much effort involved I think you can’t help but notice. And when people, year after year notice this, that’s when a show’s visuals can be called “timeless.”

Though if you don’t aim for “timeless” art direction, that still doesn’t mean your show cannot be great.

Filler is Not the Iru: Shugo Chara Thoughts, Yet Again

It’s recently come to my attention that a lot of the viewers of the Shugo Chara anime are disappointed at the amount of “filler” in it, especially when compared to the manga. I do not see what the fuss is all about.

I have not read much of the manga, so I do not have that basis for comparison, but I find the show at its current pacing to be very satisfying. Some episodes advance the overall plot, while others are fairly episodic and resolve themselves quickly. Either way, I get a delightful 20+ minutes of Cool & Spicy, and really, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind at all if the entire show was episodic.

Are people upset about diverging from the manga too much? The Cardcaptor Sakura anime took a lot of liberties with the source material. If you compare the Clow Decks of the manga and anime, the anime’s Clow Deck is practically triple the size of its manga counterpart. That is a lot of added material! The character of Li Meiling didn’t even exist in the original manga.

People are even complaining about Shugo Chara getting a second season, for fear of even more filler. Worrying when a good show gets more episodes is ridiculous. This is par for the course for magical girl shows. Considering recent examples of other magical girl shows which got extended, I see no harm. Pretty Cure only got better when it became Pretty Cure Max Heart (I know there are other Precure series, but they use completely different characters), and Fushigiboshi no Futagohime Gyu! is just as good as the first Futagohime series.

I see no reason to despair. More Shugo Chara is good. Shugo Chara at its current pace is good.

Why I Like Ogiue, Part 3

Otaku obsess over characters, and I am certainly no different. Hell, I named my blog after obsession #1. I’ve often been asked though, how is it I could maintain what is now an almost 3-year-long interest in the character of Ogiue, especially in this age of constant fansubs where the viewers are witness to new characters every season. I really don’t know if I have a complete answer to that, and this post is going to be about trying to find a reason.  Warning: meandering ahead.

First, I think Ogiue is totally deserving of it. I believe her to be one of the most unbelievably complete and well-rounded characters in anime and manga. Actually, this applies to pretty much every other Genshiken character as well. What puts her above the rest is that she’s attractive to me.

Aside from that, however, is the fact that I have a tendency to carry long-term obsessions with characters in general, and it just manifests itself most strongly with Ogiue. Maetel, Tomoyo, Eureka, Cagalli, Hinata, in many, many cases once a character manages to catch my eye, they never quite leave. Some have faded a bit over time (Filia from Slayers TRY for example), but for the most part the strong presences of my past are not overridden by the strong characters of the present.

The real question, then, is why exactly am I able to obsess over characters for significantly longer periods of time compared to some of my peers? One possibility is that I form what feels like an emotional bond with the characters such that even if the quality of the character is not as great as I imagine, even if they turn out to be fairly big cliches, my memories of fondness for the characters are much stronger than objective reasoning. If they are indeed strong characters with strong emotions, such as Eureka, then that connection becomes much stronger and much longer-lasting. That said, I don’t think I’m all that susceptible to pandering fanservice characters (no matter what type of fanservice it may be), but there are always a few. I don’t call them guilty pleasures because they never really are.

I don’t think all that many people actually just cast their preferred characters aside when a new season starts, and the primary difference between me and some friends becomes how we display our passion for anime and its characters. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve stuck with the Ogiue paraphernalia (avatars, name tags, this blog) for quite a while. It’s the public display that is more important. New, strong characters appear every season, but I stick with Ogiue.

Maybe it’s just how I want people to think of me, but I feel more like I’m compelled to do so, because she is that strong of a character.

Who was there before Ogiue?

While this blog is indeed called Ogiue Maniax, I thought I’d talk about two of the girls of anime who I called and still call my favorites, particularly the ones prior to my discovering Genshiken.

Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura has, in terms of favorite characters, been #1 for a very long time. Her devotion to Sakura, her desire to help those she cares for, and just the strength of her compassion makes watching her in Cardcaptor Sakura simply a joy every time. In fact, to give you an idea of how highly I think of Tomoyo (or maybe how highly I think of Ogiue), I am going to have to rewatch some Cardcaptor Sakura so I can determine to myself which is currently #1 to me.

Maetel from Galaxy Express 999. Prior to Ogiue, she was the most beautiful character I had ever seen. I remember seeing the GE999 movie in a theater about 8 years ago, and it changed my life. Galaxy Express 999 is the best anime I’ve ever seen, and the timelessness of Maetel’s character contributes to that feeling immensely. Watching 999 leaves me very emotional, so it’s no wonder I consider Maetel not only one of my favorite characters, but one of the best characters in fiction, period.

There are of course more, but we’ll save those for another day.