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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.

Mad Max: Fury Road has received immense praise from critics like few films, both of its type and in general, have ever received. With an astounding 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a long and difficult production history, it’s the kind of movie that I would say was easily worth the wait, had I actually realized it existed prior to opening day. Even then, I didn’t even see the movie until a week later, when half the people I follow on Twitter repeatedly sang its praises and articles talked about just how well-executed a film it is, visually, conceptually, and in terms of narrative.

This would normally be the point where I throw in a “however,” but I really can’t. Mad Max: Fury Road lives up to the hype and then some, even to someone like myself whose only knowledge of Mad Max is that it’s a heavy influence on Fist of the North Star. As a newbie to the Mad Max universe, I was taken in by a story that’s fun yet profound, the creative action sequences that give a true sense of continuity as well as cause and effect that never leaves you confused as to what’s actually going on (no shaky cams here), and a cast of characters that are surprisingly largely sympathetic. Mad Max: Fury Road leaves a lot up to the audience to read between the lines, but gives enough so that interpretations aren’t shots in the dark.

One major aspect of this movie that’s gotten quite a bit of attention is that its story can be interpreted as being quite feminist. On the surface this can be surprising, given that the aesthetic of the Mad Max world is centered around machismo cranked up to 11. Arthur Chu at the Daily Beast argues that Mad Max has always been critical of violent, belligerent masculinity and that the greater presence of female characters able to take a broader perspective on history in Fury Road is what finally make this directly obvious. Again, I have no experience with the franchise so I can’t agree or disagree, but along these lines I think there’s an additional component to the movie and its use of female characters that gives the movie a kind of feminist foundation.

The world of Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where water and other supplies are scarce and death is a common sight. In Fury Road, the antagonist Immortan Joe is the cult leader of a religion that combines emphasis on vehicles and technology with Norse mythology, and the result is a bunch of pale zealots spreading violence and destruction wherever they go. Deserts, blood, and bullets are what make up the environment, and what Fury Road does is say, “Well, of course women can be gritty, seasoned veterans of a war-torn Earth.” In this way, it’s kind of like how the anime series Precure assumes as a matter of fact the immense power of its female characters, though Mad Max: Fury Road takes it a number of steps further by removing much of the glamor, and being very deliberate in where the remaining bits of beauty and eroticism come up.

Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is just as much a fighter as the eponynous “Mad” Max, and the elderly female nomads who appear later show their decades of experience fighting both people and their harsh surroundings. Even the five wives of Immortan Joe, characters crucial to setting off the main conflict of the film who were locked away and are highly sexualized (what else would women selected by a cult leader specifically to bear his children be?), but they also show their desire to learn more about the world they were hidden away from, and the fact that their skin is so perfect and their clothing barely hides anything is more a contrast with the world than the sole image of women in the film. The film features women participating in this classically hyper-masculine setting as men typically would, and in doing so argues that it need not be considered a “man’s world” at all.

Another interesting point about the five wives is that, while their original purpose was to be sex slaves, this also affords them the power of knowledge: outside of Immortan Joe’s own family, they are the only ones who know that he is not an immortal god descended from Valhalla, but merely a weak, decrepit old man whose seemingly powerful appearance is a lie. Vulnerability is a persistent theme in Mad Max: Fury Road,  from the fact that Max is haunted by the memory of his dead daughter, to the fact that one of Joe’s fanatical followers, Nux, keeps ending up in different situations that force him to confront his own identity even as he struggles to please his god-king.

The story on the internet is that men’s rights advocates are upset at Mad Max: Fury Road, and while I don’t know how far that stretches even within that particular community, I can see why it might be a cause for alarm in that world. The film utilizes a setting that classically exploits women and views them as play-things (though that’s not to say such stories are inherently bad), and flips it on its head. All the while, the sheer sense of action and excitement is of a level higher than probably any movie in recent memory, so it’s not like focusing on female characters detracted from the presentation. If anything, it’s made Mad Max into something that can bridge generations.

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Check out the list on the Waku Waku +NYC Blog. And no, the answer isn’t “Ogiue in that Cardcaptor Sakura cosplay that one time.”

Top 10 rankings are surprisingly difficult for me, because I think I dwell on them longer than you’re supposed to. Still, I understand that they’re accessible and easily digestible content and a great way to introduce anime and manga fans to series they may not have heard of, so you’ll see my try them every so often.

Of course, feel free to leave comments, either here or at the link above.

I’ve written a blog post on Sailor Moon as my introduction to Japanese food over at the Waku Waku +NYC official blog. If you’re interested in me waxing nostalgic and rambling the way you expect out of Ogiue Maniax, take a look.

Sailor Moon Was My Gateway into Japanese Food

I’ll be a regular contributor to the Waku Waku +NYC blog from now on, so look forward to more posts from there in the future. As always, I will continue to devote myself to Ogiue Maniax as well.

If you’re curious, Waku Waku +NYC is an upcoming Japanese popular culture festival from August 29-30 in Brooklyn, NY. Unlike a lot of anime cons and Japanese events, this one looks to more thoroughly integrate food with Japanese anime, games, fashion, etc. If you’re even half as interested in eating and watching anime as I am, it might be worth your while.

Magical Angel Creamy Mami

I recently learned (thanks to Japanese popular culture scholar Patrick Galbraith’s new book The Moe Manifesto) that Magical Angel Creamy Mami is not only an influential magical girl anime but the very first anime about an idol. In other words, idols and magical girls have been conceptually tied to each for decades now. You can see this not only in the the fact that you’ll get the occasional idol + magical girl still (Cure Lemonade and Cure Sword in the Precure franchise, for example), but the fact that the latest competitors to magical girl anime have been idol-themed shows, such as Aikatsu! and Pretty Rhythm, both of which feature magical girl-like transformation sequences. I think Creamy Mami is especially significant here because the majority of magical girls prior to it were more “witch girls,” characters who already have magical powers without the need for transformation and use them for mischief.

Of course, the common trait of magical girls and idols is that they both feature cute girls, and with idols especially they’ve always occupied a position where they are innocent yet sexual, and I don’t mean that necessarily in an “idols are creep magnets” way. Both men and women respond to idols for a variety of reasons, and a lot of it is tied to the image they present. They can be somewhat literal idols for girls and targets of affection and desire for men, and this can be seen in how idols are used in anime. While Creamy Mami built an unexpected older male audience, for example, Superdimensional Fortress Macross reveled in it by combining the idol with the extremely prominent aspects of science fiction and giant robots. The 1970s brought forth a lot of giant robot anime, and the 1980s saw the time when those who became fans of robots and SF began creating their own works, as seen with Kawamori Shouji and Macross and later Studio Gainax and their Daicon III and IV animations. Many of these creators said, “I like SF, and I like cute girls,” and created a defining combination of anime where mecha and other forms of fantastic technology are mixed with cute girls.

Daicon IV

It can also be argued that the girl in the Daicon animations is herself a magical girl, but the connection between magical girls and science fiction is especially evident in the 1990s and the advent of the fighting magical girl, most notably with Takeuchi Naoko’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. While Sailor Moon does not feature giant robots, it’s undoubtedly influenced by the Super Sentai (i.e. Power Rangers) franchise with its own transformation sequences, color-coded costumes, and monster of the week fights. Super Sentai is not only traditionally marketed at boys (though this too changes as they eventually start trying to appeal to the “moms” market), but it’s also more broadly tied to tokusatsu, the costumed fighters and rubber monsters genre that more or less literally means “special effects.” What I find significant here is that when it comes to categorization of genres in Japanese, you often see “SF/tokusatsu,” tying things back, at least somewhat, to science fiction.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

Moreover, the manga group CLAMP have been fans of titles like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Saint Seiya, and Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, and have produced titles such as Magic Knight Rayearth, which features magical girls in a swords-and-sorcery world who also gain the power to summon giant robots. “Rayearth” itself is the name of a giant robot, thus making the title itself reminiscent of the naming scheme of many mecha anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V. It’s as if these female creators have taken the works that were made “masculine” by Kawamori, Gainax, and others, and in a sense re-feminized them in a process that created something new and exciting.

If we’re talking influences though, Sailor Moon and CLAMP works such as Cardcaptor Sakura are huge in and of themselves, and their shadows can be seen in a number of anime from the 2000s on. Sailor Moon basically transformed magical girls to such an extent that many assume that fighting magical girls have always been the norm, and Precure has come up as a spiritual successor that has lasted even longer than Sailor Moon. The protagonist in Sunday without God practically is Cardcaptor Sakura protagonist Kinomoto Sakura, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which has as its primary audience older men, clearly takes a lot from Cardcaptor Sakura as well. In the case of Nanoha, it also incorporates an increasing level of science fiction from one series to the next, as the franchise goes from technology-based magic staffs that shoot lasers in battles reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam to spaceships and interdimensional travel. Once again, the magical girl as cute girl is tied to SF. As for idols, they not only haven’t been forgotten, either in real life or in anime (as seen with series such as Love Live! and the aforementioned Aikatsu!), but Kawamori makes his return in the form of AKB0048, a series that not only features idols as magical girls of sorts both piloting and fighting giant robots in a story that spans a galaxy, but is directly based on one of the biggest real-world idol acts in Japan today.

AKB0048

It’s as if magical girls, idols, and SF have been doing a song and dance for years and years, changing partners along the way but always being drawn to each other. They’re seemingly tied together by the fact that just a few tweaks to either appeal to a male or female audience more, while the fact that people will not necessarily stay within the genres or types of entertainment that they’re “supposed” to remain with. Cuteness is a versatile tool that at times reinforces societal and gender norms while other times becoming a tool to defy them, and this continues to influence anime to this day.

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cureprincess-gunblow

Once again, I’ve sat down with Alain from the Reverse Thieves to talk anime. This time, we discussed the end of HappinessCharge Precure! You can also hear our thoughts on the overall quality of the series, as well as how it stacks up to previous anime in the Precure franchise.

Check it out here.

 

Although I watched the original TV series of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, only recently did I finally see the movie trilogy. I’ve already laid out quite a few of my thoughts about the series including its status as a magical girl show  and how I felt about its ending, but revisiting Madoka has prompted me to contemplate certain aspects of the series some more.

Back when the Madoka Magica TV series first concluded, I remember kransom mentioning to me that one of the reactions from the Japanese fandom was this idea that Madoka was essentially the bookend for the era of anime that began with Neon Genesis Evangelion. That sounds pretty lofty and exaggerated, but when I was watching the movie I was reminded of the amount of indecision that goes into Madoka’s character. One of the questions throughout the anime is whether or not Madoka will indeed become a magical girl, but when she doubts and hesitates it’s shown to actually be to her advantage, while for Shinji it’s considered a clear sign of his weak, pathetic nature. The notion that lacking resolve can in some sense be a good thing because it means you think more carefully about the consequences and those around you is something that can be easily swallowed up by a society that tends to prioritize “getting things done no matter what.”

Another thing that struck me watching Madoka again was the presence of the abstract, mosaic-like qualities of the Witch realms by Gekidan Inu Curry. I was already familiar with his work from the Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei intros, but when I thought about the fact that this bizarre yet beautiful work has been utilized in shows like Madoka, it made me wonder how many people have been exposed to this more unorthodox artistic style that would not have given it the time of day otherwise. I think it’s often easy to criticize SHAFT as a studio for taking on shows that frantically emphasize otaku tastes, but that very quality of “moe” (or “captivation” if you will) has also been the door into a higher level of artistic expression that isn’t quite as bound by the conventions of anime, if only temporarily.

Anyway, I might do a review of the movies, especially the third one, but no guarantees on that.

In Episode 23 of HappinessCharge Precure!, the character Cure Fortune reveals a new attack: Precure Oriental Dream. Cure Fortune appears in a Middle Eastern-influenced outfit and performs a dance that causes the enemy minions to fall over. Upon seeing this, I made the following tweet.

I was making a reference to a seminal book in post-colonial studies, Edward Said’s Orientalism from 1977. In it, he famously argues that the “Orient” is not a neutral description of an area of the world, but a conglomeration of various cultural, philosophical, academic, and imperialist modes of thought and action that position the “East” in such a way so as to define the “West” as superior.

That said, this is not me trying to demonstrate my knowledge. Instead, what I would like to point out is the fact that, as important as I’ve known this book is, I’d still never read it, and it was only after making the joking tweet that I decided to actually seriously sit down and look at Orientalism. Seriously, it wasn’t the fact that I should be aware of how my growing up in the United States while being Asian might have influenced my perception of Asia, nor was it being in the company of intelligent people who have used this book as the background for their own investigations into cultural perceptions that prompted me to open it up. It was a dumb joke I made on Twitter while watching a magical girl anime.

I’m not sure if I’m an awesome or a horrible human being.

orbitalbombardment-small

If there’s one thing about Dokidoki! Precure that really stands out, it’s the characters.

You might be thinking, “But isn’t that true for just about every other Precure you’ve reviewed?” It’s certainly true that the characters tend to be a substantial part of Precure, and with its “enemy transforms people’s selfish desires into monsters whom the heroines must fight with the power of magic sparkles and martial arts action” premise Dokidoki! Precure is pretty typical for the franchise. However, with respect to its heroines, Dokidoki! Precure differentiates itself from its predecessors in that it really pushes the concept of its main cast as role models and targets of wish fulfillment. The girls of Dokidoki! Precure are larger than life even before they transform into magical girls.

Take Hishikawa Rikka, Cure Diamond. She’s a level-headed student council vice president, the best friend of main character Aida Mana, and the top student at their school. Her dream is to become a doctor, and the fact that she’s already studying medicine in middle school is pretty amazing. In terms of ambition and power, she’s already at a level higher than most previous Precure characters, who are usually just the ace of their athletic teams or club heads or whatever. She’s also in a way the least impressive of the Dokidoki girls.

Left to right: Kenzaki Makoto, Yotsuba Alice, Aida Mana, Hishikawa Rikka

Mana, Cure Heart, is student council president. She also gets high grades (though not as high as Rikka), and is sought after by all of the sports clubs because of her all-around amazing athletic skills. On top of that, Mana is relentlessly energetic yet cool under pressure, able to handle the work of ten people without breaking a sweat. Mana is perhaps the most effective leader in Precure history, and yet even she’s no match for Yotsuba Alice (aka Cure Rosetta), who is the kind-hearted heiress of a powerful business conglomerate, well-versed in a variety of martial arts, and is basically what you’d get if Daidouji Tomoyo mega-evolved into Batman (complete with badass butler). And even that arguably pales in comparison to Cure Sword, the last surviving warrior of a kingdom destroyed by evil and greed, who has escaped to the human world in the guise of Kenzaki Makoto, pop idol sensation, while bearing the burden of having to restore her fallen homeland.

All of the central characters in Dokidoki! Precure are outstanding beings, and the degree to which the anime is able to live up to that standard is essentially what dictates the strengths and weaknesses of the series. Dokidoki! Precure follows a pretty typical children’s anime pacing, where there’s a lot of episodic content and then a swell of story during the end of each approximately 13-episode chunk, and although there are plenty of episodes which explore the characters’ impressive qualities, there’s a sense that they could have done more. Alice is  the biggest example of this, as every episode about her ends up being amazing but are also few and far between. Similarly, I thought Makoto’s reverse-identity (her real name is Cure Sword) wasn’t portrayed with as much consistency as the concept could have handled.

Also I really wished they kept using the awesome bows from the middle of the series, perhaps the most impressive Precure toys ever in terms of giving young viewers the chance to wield things that look like actual weapons. …Maybe that’s why they went away.

I’ve seen some people be critical of Mana, saying that she overshadows the other characters, but I never found this to be the case. The issue isn’t that Dokidoki! Precure devotes too much to Mana, or that Mana is somehow too perfect to be a protagonist, but that many episodes are designed to be formulaic and self-contained to a fault. If you look at the episodes which are devoted to the greater narrative, they do an excellent job of pushing things forward, and by the end the story wraps up nicely with a conclusion unprecedented in Precure.

While I enjoyed watching every week, Dokidoki! Precure ends up being one of those shows which benefits from having a list of “important episodes,” especially because the show concludes very well in spite of some large plodding spaces in the middle of its run. At the same time, if you’re comfortable with kids’ show pacing, it’s not much of an issue. Dokidoki! Precure is reliable as an introduction to the franchise as a whole, while its different take on characterization can be refreshing for those already familiar with Precure.

PS: The first ending of Dokidoki! Precure is actually now my favorite Precure ED ever. Maybe it’ll be yours too.

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