Otakon 2022 Interview: Voice Actor Ise Mariya

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington, DC.

My first question is about a role you had in the Precure series, Cure Lemonade. Precure is a very big and popular franchise in Japan, but at the time you played the character, it was still a young series. Was it like to play the character back then, and how does it feel to return to the character for crossover movies and other material?

Ise: I was in the third generation from the start of the series, and right around the time I was voicing the character, it was starting to pick up popularity in Japan.

So as you know, it’s about to approach its 20th anniversary, and I had no idea back when I first started that it would be this popular. Part of that is due to the fact that, yes, this is a children’s anime, but it also gives dreams and hopes to adults as well, and that’s probably what has led to it being so popular.

My next question has to do with the series Panty & Stocking. It’s quite popular with American fans—even more than I’d expected—and a lot of people are happy to see the series come back after 10 years. What was it like voicing Stocking, such an unusual and foulmouthed character?

Ise: I still don’t know if I’m in it, but if they reach out to me to play the character of Stocking again, I’d look forward to it.

I thought it was an interesting series. Panty and Stocking are angels in training, and they take off their panties and stocking and turn them into weapons to defeat demons.The vocabulary they use is rather…tricky?

Ise’s Manager (via webcam): Crazy!

Another character you’ve returned to in recent times is Dragon Kid in Tiger & Bunny, after a decade. Has your approach to playing her changed from how you first played her?

Ise: Tiger & Bunny 2 is 10 years after the original, but it actually hasn’t been 10 years since I’ve played Dragon Kid. Within that period, I’ve done drama CDs and movies, so it doesn’t feel like there was a 10-year gap. But even though Dragon Kid hasn’t aged after a decade, I have, and my voice has deepened and become more adult, so it adds another dimension to the role.

Watching Tiger & Bunny 2, she comes across as more of a senpai—which she is. I think the deeper voice lends itself to that role.

What was it like to play such a bizarrely inhuman character as Foo Fighters in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? How do you perform when the character is in no way, shape, or form a human?

Ise: Let’s see. When Jolyne and the others first meet her, Foo Fighters is a plankton-like lifeform. At the time, she’s like “Uju! Uju, uju!” in a low voice when she’s just a stand. She isn’t quite human, but she’s intelligent and clever, so I didn’t feel that much difficulty playing the character. After she borrows Atroe’s body, Foo Fighters has a childishness about her and a sense of growth she shows alongside Jolyne and Hermes, so I was conscious of conveying that innocence. 

I really enjoy your role as Ray in The Promised Neverland. It’s maybe a somewhat different character from what you normally play, as well as a heavy work. What was it like to voice Ray, especially because he does age over the course of the series?

Ise: In the first season, Ray is willing to sacrifice everything in order to save Emma and Norman—to help them escape. He lives for that, but there’s a darkness about him, and he hides his true thoughts and feelings. He planned things with all this in mind, but when he’s able to confide his secret to the other two and speak those true feelings, it lifts a weight off his shoulders. In the first season, he’s full of heavy and dark feelings. But his position changes in the second season, and he becomes more cheerful.

A less prominent character you’ve played is Akagi Sena the fujoshi from OreImo. Were you familiar with fujoshi and BL culture before the role?

Ise: In Japan, when girls who love anime and manga reach middle school, they’ll—well, I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed—they’ll start to develop some interest in BL. So I can really understand the feelings of those we call fujoshi, and I myself read BL in middle school. It didn’t feel difficult to relate to Sena.

From what I’ve heard, you put a lot of thought into your roles—it’s very clear from your answers. My last question is, what are some lessons you’ve learned that you think would help new or aspiring voice actors?

Ise: In America or in Japan?

It’s a pretty open question.

Ise: Tough question. Being a voice actor involves using your unique voice, but it’s actually not a job that’s only about your voice. Just like a live-action actor, one of the best ways to inform your acting is to gain a lot of lived experience as the foundation for your performance, and it’s good to want as many experiences as possible. When you’re in your teens, you should do the things you can only do at that age—school, friends, falling in love, doing everything someone in their teens does. This will help to inform whatever it is you’re performing as a voice actor.

Thank you! This was a great interview.

Ise: Thank you very much!

Summer Cure Makes Me Feel Fine: Tropical-Rouge! Precure

Precure is not exactly what you would call a dark franchise. While it’s capable of addressing serious ideas and can communicate mature messages, the brightly colored heroines and generally upbeat tone bring a certain expected level of happy enthusiasm. Even within this context, 2021’s Tropical-Rouge! Precure is by far the most energetic Precure series to date. From its delightfully spastic opening to its ever-active and ever-cheerful protagonist, the show radiates positivity. But Tropical-Rouge! also proves itself to be capable of tackling tough subjects and giving hope to viewers that they can take steps towards their dreams, whatever those may be.

Premise, Motifs, and Themes

Middle schooler Natsuumi Manatsu has spent most of her life on a tropical island, but has recently moved to Aozora City to live with her mother. There, she encounters a real-live mermaid named Laura, who aims to become the next queen of her people by finding one of the legendary Precure: warriors who can stop the dreaded Witch of Delays from stealing people’s Motivation Power. Manatsu turns out to have what it takes to be a Precure, and transforms into Cure Summer to defeat the Witch’s Yaraneeda monsters. Full of pep like no one else, Manatsu has always wanted to do all that she can, and now that includes being a Precure. As she recruits others in school to become fellow Cures, they form the Tropical Club, a kind of “do anything and try everything” group that’s eager to help others.

Tropical-Rouge! Precure is mostly episodic, so the series operates mostly as a showcase for its cast’s distinct personalities with some occasional Big Plot or Character Development moments that give a bit of forward momentum to the narrative. The primary motifs are makeup and tropical imagery, while the main theme is the struggle between finding the inner will to go and just do “stuff” and feeling the desire to put things off in ways that prevent people from resolving issues in their lives. Not all of it meshes together neatly (the makeup aspect can often feel tacked on), but the way each character navigates the motivation/delay dichotomy makes for a robust cast with complex feelings who have more dimensions to them than their frenetic presentation in the opening might suggest. 

Characters and Motivations

Of the main cast, there are those who try to figure out what path they want to take but are having trouble figuring out what speaks to them, and there are those who know full well what their goals are but are prevented from moving forward.

The fashionable Suzumura Sango (Cure Coral) and Manatsu are examples of the former, with Sango gradually learning that not every dream needs to involve being in the spotlight. Manatsu, for her part, is one of the best executions of a “heroine without a concrete direction” I’ve seen in anime. It’s often easy for that kind of personality to feel flimsy or emphasize their generic “everyman” qualities, but the message conveyed by Manatsu is simple and profound: Even if you’re not sure what you want to be when you grow up, you should at least do what you want most in the moment. You remain motivated by staying true to yourself, and the learning process is a reward in itself.

Meanwhile, the athletic Takizawa Asuka (Cure Flamingo) and bookish Ichinose Minori (Cure Papaya) are great examples of those who feel their dreams may be last. As revealed later in the series, Asuka had a falling out with a friend that led her to stop pursuing tennis, and their soured relationship stems from a disagreement over how to react to an injustice done to you when your decision can affect others. Minori wants to be an author, but a bad experience with her old literature club has led her to put down her pen—and has her worried that she’s limited by her focus on reading about the world instead of experiencing it.

The stand-out character to me is Laura; I even picked her to be one of my best of 2021. Laura’s  charming-yet-abrasive personality regularly steals the show in more ways than one, and I love how her identity as a mermaid isn’t forgotten or minimized over time. At the same time, you really get the sense that not all mermaids are like her, and that her confidence and ambition are wholly her own. And unlike the others, she understands perfectly well what her dream is (becoming queen) and will do all that she can to achieve it, but the lessons she learns about ambition and sacrifice end up being surprisingly profound and defy the notion that you should be forced to choose the path that causes the fewest waves (no pun intended).

And amidst all these different dynamics, what’s impressive is how Tropical-Rouge! animates its characters such that their general roles are emphasized while avoiding having them fall too neatly into their designated archetypes. Manatsu’s a whirlwind of expressiveness, but she isn’t just blindly optimistic, and this comes across in the fact that her reactions, both happy and sad, are nevertheless big. Minori, in contrast, is often not as outwardly emotional as the others. However, one gets the sense that she has a rich inner world, and that she isn’t stoic—she merely doesn’t react as powerfully on the surface. In this way, the characters feel multifaceted but also easy to understand even for younger viewers.

Best Precure “Villains” Ever?

The strength of the cast even extends to the antagonists. The Witch of Delays’s henchmen—including Chongire the crab chef, Elda the (extremely adorable) shrimp maid, and Numeri the sea-cucumber doctor—are some of the most entertaining villains ever, and it’s mostly because they’re not that dedicated to their cause. 

All of them come across as stealing Motivation Power from people because that’s part of their conditions for serving the Witch, and they’d really rather be doing what they were originally hired for—or in the case of Elda, play with dolls because she isn’t that into being a maid either. Seeing Chongi-re stop a fight because he needs to go check on something cooking really says it all, and what I love about that is it gives the bad guys a bit of depth while contributing to the generally lighthearted nature of Tropical-Rouge.

Final Thoughts

Tropical-Rouge! Precure is the kind of series whose unbridled energy can be both empowering and exhausting, like having a friend who’s eager to contact you anytime to see if you’re up for going out. They have a million possible plans, and you’re not sure where they lead, but one thing becomes clear as you try to find your way. That is, there are many possible paths to take—gentle ones, steep ones, straight ones, winding ones—and none are necessarily wrong as long as they encourage continued movement. 

“Moving water never grows stale,” as the saying goes, but neither does the water need to be a rushing current. Between Manatsu, Laura, Sango, Akira, and Minori, viewers can witness a variety of different personalities and how they handle the unique challenges that face each of them—as well as how they can help one another along.

Best Anime Characters of 2021

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)

For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.


Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)

In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs. 

But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.

Final Thoughts

There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place. 

I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.

Wellness for the Self, Wellness for the World: Healin’ Good Precure

Healin’ Good Precure might be either one of the best-timed anime ever or one of the worst. With themes of environmentalism, medicine, and even personal wellbeing, the anime began in February 2020 right as the threat COVID-19 was starting to increase. As a result, the series lost about a month’s worth of episodes (ending at 45 instead of around 50), and the pandemic only further increased the importance of its message. As it came back from the production delay, I myself wondered if the series would change anything to directly address COVID-19, like facemask equipment or social distancing beams.

The answer, it turns out, is “not really.” In hindsight, however, this might not be such a bad thing. Although often fairly simplistic in its messaging, Healin’ Good Precure focuses less on harsh and gritty truths, and more on the idea of trying to take care of both people and the planet together, with a few surprisingly insightful gems along the way that I hope the kids watching take to heart.

The premise: Hanadera Nodoka is a kind and gentle middle school girl who, not long ago, was hospitalized with an unknown illness. Having finally recovered and now moved to Sukoyaka City with her parents, she looks forward to doing all the things a healthy person does, but her life changes when she encounters a magical rabbit. The rabbit, named Rabirin, is one of three “healing animal” trainees who have escaped from the Byo-gens, virus-like invaders whose goal is to “undermine” everything they infect. Bonding with Rabirin to protect the healing animal princess Rate, Nodoka becomes Cure Grace, one of the legendary warriors known as Precure. Soon, she’s joined by other girls at her school who also bond with healing animals, and they fight to treat the Earth’s maladies.

In terms of overall cohesive storytelling, Healin’ Good is not one of the strongest Precure entries. It takes a mostly episodic approach with major narrative developments at mostly abrupt and expected intervals, and some of those developments are actually kind of bizarre if you think too hard about them—like something that could be read as a pregnancy metaphor but probably isn’t supposed to be. 

That said, the series sports some impressively expressive animation, and the fights often feel like the characters have some real heft to them—not always the case in Precure. The main cast of characters are also interesting, relatable, and inspiring enough to make the watching experience enjoyable overall. The contrasts between the three main Cures—Nodoka, Chiyu, and Hinata—mean that each girl has their own challenges they need to face and overcome, though the amount of attention paid to each of them can feel weirdly lopsided. More episodes seem to be devoted to Chiyu’s more ambitious goals of becoming a competition high-jumper and family innkeeper, though I don’t know if that’s just a result of losing those five or so episodes to the production delay.

Another factor to its credit is that I think Healin’ Good has not only some of the least annoying mascots ever, but they’re also some of the best support characters Precure has ever seen. Rabirin, along with her companions Pegitan and Nyatoran, act as both foils and complements to their human partners, and their desire to get stronger in order to keep the Earth from experiencing a fate similar to their own world feels genuine. Moreover, Rate gets a surprising amount of development that’s actually welcome rather than overshadowing the Cures.

While the series takes a fairly kid-gloves approach to the challenges it presents (not surprising from a kids’ show), there are aspects of Healin’ Good that I think are meant to teach the young viewers to face up to a world that’s increasingly headed towards multiple disasters both potential and real. When the Byo-gens infect an area of the city, failing to stop the infection only makes the monsters stronger. In this, I can see a metaphor for climate change and the need to slow it down as soon as possible, because while keeping the Earth from warming up to the point of substantial environmental change is a monumental task, it’s a lot easier than trying to bring the Earth back from that point. Additionally, all the doctor imagery strewn throughout Healin’ Good, from parents’ professions to the idea of “treating’ the planet to even the girls’ transformation lab coats might encourage more girls to go into pursuing careers in medicine and fight the sexism that pervades medical schools in Japan. In that sense, I think it builds on some of the positive messages found in its immediate predecessor, Hugtto! Precure.

It’s also notable that those very same kid gloves start to come off towards the end. There is a moment late in the anime where Nodoka is faced with the dilemma of trying to help an injured enemy who is responsible for much of her pain. But where many past stories would make its heroine some kind of saint, Healin’ Good emphasizes the need for self care, and that there is no requirement to lend a hand to someone who has harmed you, especially if you only end up feeling more hurt as a result. In other words, kindness is not a resource that should be exploited, and girls should not be expected to sacrifice their well-being because they’re supposed to be “caring.” Similarly, the environmental message calls out the complicity of humanity by the end, though is ultimately positive, as expected.

As much as I would have found it interesting, I realize now that Healin’ Good Precure did not need to tackle COVID-19 head-on. Face masks are already commonly accepted in Japan, so there’s no need to encourage people to wear them. The infection rate, although a real concern, is not nearly as bad in Japan as it is in other parts of the world (especially the good ol’ US of A). And as for not emphasizing social distancing, the series was probably created with the hope and expectation that we’ll eventually be able to return to some semblance of our former life, and that kids should be able to see what normal social interaction looks like.

Instead, we have a Precure anime that aimed to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world through an approachable lens of the familiar magical girl tropes. Although the final product doesn’t have the riveting and finely tuned narratives of some of its predecessors, that’s not the only measure of an anime’s success—and no, I don’t mean toy sales. What Heain’ Good Precure has in spades is ambition to make improve society by encouraging a positive and humanitarian spirit in its audience. The world thirty years from now will hopefully be a better place.

A Beam Rifle in Precure?! Z Gundam’s Iconic Sound Effect

Mobile Suit Z Gundam is a classic anime series, a successful sequel and a template for other 80s robot anime. One aspect of it that really sticks in my mind but is less talked about is the sound design. In particular, the sound of beam rifles in Z Gundam is rather iconic, as it’s noticeably different compared to every Gundam anime before and after.

I basically never hear that distinct Z Gundam beam rifle sound anywhere else (that’s not just featuring the Z Gundam itself), with one big exception: the fighting magical girl franchise Precure.

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard the use of the Z Gundam beam rifle sound in Precure—I think it might have been in Kira Kira Precure a la Mode—but ever since then, I can’t help noticing it. In Episode 32 of Healin’ Good Precure, the monster of the week makes pretty much that exact sound when firing a blast of energy (see 17:43 in the link).

It’s so strange to me. Of all the places for the beam rifle to show up, why Precure? There’s no studio connection (as Gundam is from Sunrise and Precure is from Toei Animation), so they’re not necessarily working from the same stock library. You won’t even find the sound in other mecha series—though maybe hearing it in a giant robot anime would bring up too many comparisons? I wonder if the sheer genre distance between the two allows Precure to use the SFX? Or could there be some Gundam fans in charge of sound production at Toei who like to incorporate the beam rifle into episodes. For that matter, I think I’ve even heard the classic Newtype flash on occasion while watching Precure.

More broadly, this all makes me want to know why the Z Gundam beam rifle sound just never really went anywhere beyond that one series. Personally, I think it has a great tone that sounds like a powerful yet precise weapon. Perhaps it was too iconic for its own good, but I guess for now, it’ll live on in the battles of modern anime’s most prominent transforming heroines.

Healin’ Good Precure and the Age of Coronavirus

In recent weeks, many of the anime that were on hiatus due to COVID-19 have begun returning, and one question that arises is how these series might be affected by the delay going forward. Many, like Demon Slayer: Mugen Train and The Millionaire Detective, are adaptations, and so wouldn’t be affected content-wise. Similarly, historical fiction like Appare Ranman! can easily ignore current events. But there is one series I’m looking at as potentially being deeply impacted by coronavirus on a story level, and that’s Healin’ Good Precure.

The main motifs of Healin’ Good Precure are healthcare and the environment. The girls essentially act as doctors trying to heal different Earth spirits when they fall ill, their interactions with their fluffy mascots take a veterinary angle, and their magical dresses briefly resemble physician lab coats during transformation. It’s an incredible coincidence that this would be the Precure series we have in the middle of a global pandemic, but here we are.

The Precure franchise as a whole does not have any source material—the anime are the original works. Everything else, from manga to video games, are subordinate to it. What this means is that there’s no source material to reference or adhere to, so it likely has a degree of flexibility in terms of potentially changing its story. The fact that Precure shows are typically around 50 episodes also means there’s plenty of time to pivot and try to take into account current trends and real-world concerns. Also, while the series was on hiatus, the official Precure LINE channel actually had videos featuring Precure stuffed dolls talking (via the voice actors) to kids and playing games with them, so i think there is an awareness that children are feeling the effects of self-quarantine and the like.

While I don’t think Healin’ Good Precure is going to do anything as drastic as explicitly introduce coronavirus into the show, I do wonder if they’re going to try and incorporate some of the good behavior into the girls’ special moves or equipment. For example, what if one of the mid-series upgrades are special magical masks that give the Precures enhanced powers? What if the girls learn a special attack that requires them to stand six feet (or two meters) apart from one another? Of course, it’s also possible that the show will keep ignoring the environment created by COVID-19 in the hopes of giving young kids an image of how things are “supposed to be.”

Regardless of how far Healin’ Good goes to address current events, Precure’s general positivity and supportive messages are very welcome. I’m just waiting to see how far it goes.

Interdependence Day: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2020

It feels like 100 years have passed since June and July. The world feels liable to change in the most drastic ways, but also to revert back to the same old ignorance. We’re all just individuals in the end, but I hope that we can enrich ourselves just as much as we help those around us. As COVID-19 spikes around the US, I want everyone, even those I vehemently disagree with, to have long, healthy, and fulfilling lives, and to remember that we’re in this together. It shouldn’t be “every man for himself” in this situation.

Thank you to my Patreon sponsors, who support me even as I deviate from the main topics of this blog at times.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy (NEW PATRON!)

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I like to think that everyone who follows Ogiue Maniax knows my passion for anime and manga is genuine, even if there are times when more important things are at stake.

Blog highlights from June:

Beyond “Friendship, Hard Work, and Victory”: The Promised Neverland

A full-series review of one of the best shounen manga ever.

Beastars and the Fight Against Behavioral Absolutism

My interpretation of what Beastars has to say about civilization.

Learning About the Butterflies and the Bees: Saotome-senshu, Hitakakusu

A great and silly boxing-themed romance comedy series. Highly recommend.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 29 shows a bit of tension between Akira and Jin—a first for the series.

Patreon-Sponsored

Thoughts on Open-World RPGs and the D&D Legacy

It basically turned into a post about JRPGs vs. WRPGs.

Apartment 507

The Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba manga has finished. Could this mean one of the overall best anime adaptations ever is on its way?

Closing

A new anime season is upon us, but in this current situation, that means a lot of shows that went on hiatus due to coronavirus are coming back. I’m most stoked for Healin’ Good Precure, which is finally going to be streaming on Crunchyroll in the US. It’s time for Precure to claim its rightful place!

Between Mister Rogers and Transformers is Precure

I had the opportunity to watch the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and one of the topics it discusses is the origins of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kind of counter-programming to the fast-paced “bombardment” that was (and continues to be) a staple of children’s television. Mister Rogers was meant to slow things down, and give kids a quieter and more contemplative half hour for them to learn and grow. Fred Rogers’ decades-long show took on an important challenge, but there’s the seed of doubt about its efficacy on people like myself, who remember their young childhood TV experience more along the lines of action-packed cartoons like Transformers or GI Joe. How do you reconcile the allure of such shows with the noble cause of trying to help kids learn to be better people? 

Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a trend of including public service messages in those merchandise-shilling action shows—”Knowing is half the battle!” as GI Joe would say—but they would often come across as unbelievably hokey or even disingenuous. Going from watching GI Joe’s forces blow up an enemy Cobra base, to seeing kids learn how to install a smoke detector—it never felt right.

I began to think about if there were any children’s series out there that integrates a nice balance between satisfying action and good advice to children, and one answer popped into my head immediately: Precure. More than a few magical girl shows carry a strong sense of positivity and wonder—in fact, I once referred to 2001’s Princess Comet as being distinctly Mister Rogers-esque—but they often don’t hit that pleasure zone that comes with watching heroes vanquish villains the way Precure does. After all, its origins are built on “a magical girl show from the director of Dragon Ball Z, and while its staff has changed numerous times, it still more or less maintains that legacy. But when you also look at the various heroines throughout Precure, they serve as confident and inspiring role models for young viewers in ways that almost betray the heavy consumerism that it also engenders.

Consider Cure Yell in Hugtto! Precure, who’s all about giving support to those both looking for their dreams and those pursuing them. Or how Cure Flora in Go! Princess Precure overcomes a major problem by realizing that the power to change and improve comes from within. Or how Cure Heart in Doki Doki Precure! reaches for the stars in everything she attempts. These heroines are only the tip of the iceberg, as many individual episodes also try to speak to the concerns and worries of children, and how to deal with the complicated and confusing emotions they experience growing up.

I think this is why I am, and likely always will be, a fan of Precure. Its creators know the power of being a GI Joe, but it also knows the value of being a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Striking that middle ground can come at a price—a muddled message, perhaps—but attempting that alchemy is valuable in a world where ideals and cynicism alike clash with each other on a daily basis.

Space Cases: Star Twinkle Precure

The Precure franchise always goes out of its way to convey a positive, inspiring message. 2018’s Hugtto! Precure is all about telling kids that they can do anything and be anything. 2007’s Yes! Pretty Cure 5 focuses on dreams and aspirations. The recently concluded Star Twinkle Precure, then, centers around curiosity about the cosmos and the creative power of imagination, and I think it does a splendid job of marrying its ideas together into an enjoyable and uplifting series.

When the twelve Star Princesses (greater beings based on the Zodiac who are responsible for maintaining the universe) are attacked by an intergalactic force known as the Notraiders, they turn themselves into Princess Star Color Pens and send themselves across the universe to prevent their power from being taken. Three aliens, a girl named Lala, a blob named Purunsu, and a fluffy fairy named Fuwa, are tasked with retrieving and restoring the princesses. They travel to Earth, where they encounter Hoshina Hikaru, a human girl who loves to draw and loves the stars. Hikaru and Lala soon discover that they can transform into warriors known as Precures to fight the Notraiders. Along the way, they make new friends and allies, among them Cure Soleil (Amamiya Elena) and Cure Selene (Kaguya Madoka), as they continue their fight to save the universe.

Star Twinkle Precure is one of the most consistently strong Precure anime I’ve ever seen, with my biggest criticism just being that it celebrates the quackery that is horoscopes. I know it’s popular, though.

The characters–whether or not they’re heroines or villains, stars of side characters–are generally compelling and develop in interesting ways over the course of the series while still maintaining the cores of their identities. This even includes Hikaru, Cure Star, when often times the main heroine in these team-based magical girl shows often end up feeling somewhat generic. The series is also paced well over its 49-episode run, with more self-contained episodes rarely wearing out their welcome, and more plot-oriented episodes successfully building on one another. The theme of space travel means a strong sense of wonder and discovery both internal and external, and as the series progresses, the concept of “imagination” is explored in interesting ways–especially in terms of the heroines’ more positive use of imagination vs. the villains’ “twisted” imaginations that prey upon fears and doubts. The animation also rarely falters, and the big fights during dramatic moments in the series are nothing to sneeze at.

One of the important messages woven into the anime is inclusivity. Not only is there the basic idea of discovering and appreciating aliens from outer space such as Lala, but Star Twinkle Precure is the first series to have a human, Earth-born Precure who is not fully Japanese. Elena is Half-Mexican, Half-Japanese, with darker skin than the rest of the main cast, and her biracial heritage is highlighted in multiple episodes. A few episodes are even dedicated to her or her family dealing with feeling different from other Japanese kids. The only downside is that the series doesn’t come out and say “racism” or “discrimination,” but the implication is there, and it is powerful. I hope Precure eventually finds the courage to bring controversial topics right to its viewers without being so vague, confident that kids are smart enough to understand.

Of the Precures themselves, I’m fond of Hikaru’s love of the unknown and her catchphrase, “Kirayaba…!” but I think my favorite might be Lala, aka Cure Milky. I think her transformed outfit is really great in the way it conveys the space alien motif (namely, the clear shoulder bubbles), but I also like her backstory, about how she comes from a planet where a lot of thinking and doing is done for its people by computers, and how she wants to overcome that. But really, all of the girls are great here, and there’s no wrong answer. I hardly wrote about Madoka, but her story about carrying the weight of her dad’s expectations of perfection is something a lot of kids could benefit from seeing.

Overall, Star Twinkle Precure is just an incredibly solid series that I think communicates its messages and themes extremely well. I think it’s great for both newcomers to Precure and longtime fans alike.

One last important note: the second ending is basically Precure vaporwave, and it is fantastic.

2010–2019 Part 4: Best Anime Characters of the Decade

At the end of every year here at Ogiue Maniax, I pick my favorite characters of the year. Usually, it’s one male character and one female character, but exceptions have been made for, say, nonbinary characters or, well, personified abs. So now that I’ve picked characters from 2010 all the way through 2019, it’s time to decide the best characters of the decade!

Note that I’ve taken three important characters out of the runningOgiue Chika from Genshiken Nidaime, Daidouji Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and Yang Wen-Li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: De Neue These). The reason is simple: They are three of my absolute favorite characters of all time, and I would easily pick them if they were available as options. Ogiue, Tomoyo, and Yang deserve their own hall of fame. so to keep this competition fair, they’ve been excluded.

THE FINALISTS

2010

Koibuchi Kuranosuke (Princess Jellyfish)

Kurumi Erika, aka Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)

2011

Kaburagi T. Kotetsu, aka Wild Tiger (Tiger & Bunny)

Tsurugi Minko (Hanasaku Iroha)

2012

Nishimi Kaoru (Sakamichi no Apollon: Kids on the Slope)

Yanagin (Daily Lives of High School Boys)

2013

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Ichinose Hajime (Gatchaman Crowds)

2014

Sei Iori (Gundam Build Fighters)

Kiryuuin Satsuki (Kill la Kill)

Andy and Frank (Yowamushi Pedal)

2015

Sunakawa Makoto (My Love Story!!)

Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live! The School Idol Movie)

2016

Yurakutei Yakumo (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju)

Shidare Hotaru (Dagashi Kashi)

2017

Kevin Anderson (right) (Tiger Mask W)

Mauve (ACCA 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)

2018

White Blood Cell 1146 (Cells at Work!)

Aisaki Emiru (Hugtto! Precure)

2019

Wataya Arata (Chihayafuru Season 3)

Emma (The Promised Neverland)

And the winners are…

Armin Arlert (Attack on Titan)

Kurumi Erika, aka Cure Marine (Heartcatch Precure!)

Of these two decisions, one was incredibly easy to make and one I mulled over for many hours leading up to this. Kurumi Erika was a no-brainer—her energy, ability to inspire action and positive change, her all-too-human behavior, and her legendary facial expressions all make her an unforgettable character in my eyes. She’s simply amazing in a way few characters are, and it’s clear that many anime fans agree with me, given her ranking as the third most popular Precure in the recent massive NHK poll.

As for Armin, it was a closer call, but what ultimately made me land on him is what he represents in Attack on Titan. The series’s world is one where fear reigns and unthinking violence is often born out of the frustration of not knowing if you’ll survive to the next day. But Armin Arlert shows the value of having a more considerate and broad-minded view of the world, and the way he complements Eren and Mikasa further highlights how important and necessary it is to have individuals like Armin in the world to subtly challenge assumptions. He’s brave without being brash and thoughtful without being hopelessly indecisive.

Erika and Armin are characters who I wish could inspire many more both in media and in people themselves, and I declare them my favorite anime characters of the 2010s.