Well, what a month it’s been. Back in March, the threat of COVID-19 was real, but I did not expect things to escalate so quickly. The number of sick and dead ever increases. We’re seeing the Tokyo Olympics get postponed to 2021 and Comic Market 98 get canceled. New York City and the United States have become epicenters of the virus. I’m among the many currently sheltering in place and doing my social distance thing, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where my life isn’t thrown into total disarray as a result.
Part of that has to do with the ongoing support of my Patreon supporters, especially the following.
Sue Hopkins fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
Not only is it a bit of extra cash, but having this blog and the responsibility of making sure the Patreon is worthwhile helps me maintain a schedule and keeps my mind active. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there’s always something to talk about on an anime blog, even if we’re seemingly entering a new period in the story of humankind.
That being said, if anyone can’t afford to keep up their Patreon subscription for Ogiue Maniax, don’t feel bad about putting it on pause for however long it’s necessary.
What remains to be seen is how many COVID-19-related puns can I make for these monthly updated posts.
Jin reveals an important part of himself while Akira shows his kind heart in Chapter 26 of Hashikko Ensemble.
It’s the Hashimoto Chorus Appreciation Society’s turn at the M-Con competition, but before they go up, Jin has a question for Akira: how does Akira interpret the lyrics to “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars)?
It turns out that while Jin can read up on the history of a song to understand what went into it, he can only ever understand lyrics at face value. After some hesitation, Akira explains in private to Jin that he picked the song while thinking about Kousei, who lost his little brother when they were young. To Akira, it sounds like a song of prayer—an explanation that seems to awaken something inside of Jin. Right after, Jin blabs to Kousei, causing some embarrassed tension, threats of violence, and teasing accusations of Kousei being a tsundere.
That little moment resolved, the guys start their performance, with Kousei drawing the most attention with his delinquent attitude in this more formal concert hall space. As they sing, they impress one of the judges in particular, but in the stands, Yumerun (Jin’s childhood friend) looka extremely annoyed for some reason.
Is Jin Neuroatypical?
Jin has always come across as a huge nerd who’s really into music as a kind of scientific phenomenon. However, based on what we’ve learned over the past two chapters, I’m genuinely starting to wonder if Jin might be somewhere on the autism spectrum, or is perhaps neuroatypical in some other way.
Not only have we learned that he has trouble with making his singing feel more expressive, but now he’s explained that he’s basically incapable of interpreting lyrics on his own. I’m not very familiar myself, but I’ve known people who have Asperger’s, and from what I understand, people on the autism spectrum often have difficulty grasping the emotional meaning behind how things are said, or even sarcasm and the like. Hashikko Ensemble itself hasn’t said anything explicit, but I think it would explain a lot about the character, including how he approaches social interaction.
Akira and Kousei
The fact that Akira showed such concern for Kousei further fleshes out his character. There’s something about his trying to help Kousei out, as well as his interpretation of the lyrics, that reminds me of his childhood friendship with Himari and his love of children’s picture books. Akira is a kind soul, and I increasingly like him as the central protagonist of this manga.
Part of the imagery of Yumerun grinding her teeth is that it “rhymes” with the panel of Shion doing the same out of frustration over not being able to play the accompanying piano. But beyond that, I really can’t seem to figure out why Yumerun is expressing some dismay over seeing Jin sing there. Their mutual past might be even more complicated than I first thought, and I wonder if maybe Yumerun is actually there on behalf of Jin’s mother. If not, maybe Yumerun sees chorus singing as somehow painfully common. I’m sure there’ll be more information in the coming months, but for now, this has me fascinated.
It’s just “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto again this time, but given that it’s front and center in this chapter, I think it’s worth it to go into greater detail about it.
As Jin explains, the song in question was written after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 when the lack of light pollution made the starry sky visible. The stars are a metaphor for people’s souls, and the song itself functions as a song for repose of the soul. Jin’s interpretation as a song of prayer approaches it from a different angle. To him, the lyrics seem like they’re calling out to the souls of those who have been lost, but the second half makes the name of the song sound like a comforting call to those left on Earth.
If Kio Shimoku is indeed writing Jin as having some sort of neurotypical mind, it would be new ground for him. Genshiken has a lot of eccentric characters, but that series always came across as just a bunch of fanatical dorks who really like anime and manga. Jin’s obsession with music seems driven by something different.
Spotted Flower has always been a difficult series to suss out what the story is trying to say, if anything at all. What once began as a thinly veiled what-if pairing of two Genshiken characters has morphed into a crazy tale of adultery, inadequacy, and a cast of characters where monogamy is rare and polyamory is chaotic and unpredictable. Volume 4 continues this trend, spotlighting all the unusual relationships that have arisen. And while I haven’t consistently reviewed Spotted Flower over the years, this one has a lot of Ogiue—er, Ogino-sensei—so I have an extra reason to write about it.
Last year, I presented a panel at Otakon about Kio Shimoku’s works, and during my research, I came to realize that Genshiken is actually somewhat of an outlier in terms of his catalogue. Most manga Kio makes, including his debut professional manga, involves extremely messy relationships and a whole lot of emotional betrayal—and not in a fetishy way, either. So Spotted Flower is actually a kind of return to the older Kio, and the fact that it hits so hard is because the characters are Genshiken analogues.
Volume 4 has the husband (Not-Madarame) and wife (Not-Kasukabe) returning home with their newborn daughter, Saki. It’s not long after the husband had a one-night stand with Asaka-sensei (Not-Hato), so he’s on-edge the whole time, and literally still feeling it in the ass. The wife doesn’t suspect anything at first, especially because Asaka was very thorough in cleaning up, but the slightest hint of perfume on just one of the husband’s sweaters—as well as some pointed questions later—have her suspecting foul play. The rest of the volume involves the husband and wife reaching out to different friends to express their worries while those friends, in turn, grapple with their own complicated situations. Also, Endou (Asaka’s editor) discovers that Hato has a penis, learns about Asaka sleeping with their beloved senpai, and inadvertently spills the beans to Ogino and Not-Sue.
I think it’s important to lay down just how convoluted the web of relations is in this series. The husband is married to the wife, who just recently had their kid, but the husband slept with Asaka out of a sense of inferiority over the wife’s ex, Not-Kousaka. Asaka is in a relationship with Not-Yajima, who knew well in advance what Asaka was planning and was generally okay with it. Not-Kousaka always really wants to have a threesome, but can’t get any, and it’s probably why he’s no longer with the wife. Ogino is living with Not-Sue and is in a physical relationship with her, but also has a real thing going on with Not-Sasahara, whom she adores. Not-Sue is extremely jealous of Not-Sasahara, and balks at the idea of them in a threesome. Not-Ohno and assumed Not-Tanaka seem to be the only ones exclusive to each other. Whew! What a situation.
One of the biggest gut punches of Volume 4 is when Not-Sasahara explains in clear detail that Madarame’s worries over not matching up to Not-Kousaka are totally unfounded. Specifically, it turns out that the wife’s ex just straight-up left after seeing the baby—which means that he basically gave up, and confirms that the husband fucked up 10,000%. What’s amazing to me is that it’s easy to see where the husband is coming from, but just as easy to acknowledge that he’s garbage.
This also makes me wonder if something like this could’ve happened to the real Madarame and Kasukabe in Genshiken. Fans loved the idea of opposites attracting, but it wouldn’t have been out of the question for Madarame to feel like he could never match up to Kousaka. Madarame and Sue are on similar wavelengths, after all. However, there’s also a lot that’s different about Spotted Flower, and it feels as if this is maybe a symptom of how their world is, instead of the cause. Another notable change is that Endou (who is jokingly implied to be the Yoshitake of this series) never went to the same college as the rest of the cast.
During this volume, Ogino initially tries to suss the truth out of her editor boyfriend, and when he refuses to budge, she lays one hell of a deal out: in exchange for telling her what the husband spoke to him about, she will agree to a threesome with her and her blond girlfriend. The look on his face is one of deep, soul- and libido-igniting conflict, and the fact that he apparently doesn’t give in is testament to this character. Ironically, it probably makes Ogino like him even more.
It can be difficult to figure out Kio’s intent, but there’s perhaps a clue in the extra story provided in this volume. The wife is talking about how she read Ogino’s new manga, which is more out and out BL. The husband responds, “Isn’t it good that she’s doing what she wants?” The wife follows up and says, “But I think her previous work was better.” Maybe Spotted Flower is just unchecked Kio Shimoku, for better or worse.
Given that Spotted Flower chapters come out at a snail’s pace, it’s wild how far the story has come. It’s really impossible to tell how things will resolve, but the way it portrays the differences between willing unorthodox relationships and those built on deception means things are probably going to get worse before they get better. The fact that a child is involved makes the sting that much more severe.
PS: I managed to get both a general purchase bonus, as well as a Toranoana store-exclusive one featuring Ogino and her blonde, Sue-esque roommate. Does it count as Ogiue merchandise when it’s technically not Ogiue?
At the end of last year, I hoped that 2020 would turn out better. I’m starting to doubt whether that’ll happen. But before I get too somber, I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters.
Sue Hopkins fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
The big news of the day is COVID-19, the new and highly contagious coronavirus. Even within the specific realm of Japanese culture (let alone the rest of the world), it’s causing schools to be closed, anime and music events to be canceled, and even the Tokyo Olympics might not be safe. Asia is in a panic, cases of the infection are cropping up all over the world, and here in the US, an utterly incompetent executive branch is more concerned with the stock market than people’s well-being.
I don’t intend to panic nor cause others to panic, but I hope that everyone, no matter who they are, take care of themselves. Don’t try to power through sick days. Get the help you need. Get a flu shot to reduce the chances of your flu-like symptoms actually being the flu.
Now, back to your regular scheduled Ogiue Maniax update.
A request to write about anime-themed games turned into a discovery of some quite creative traditional games.
I wrote a little bit about Jimbocho, the book town of Tokyo.
Economic impact is inevitable, but I’m curious as to whether COVID-19 will have any creative impact in terms of the anime and manga that will be made. How appropriate it is that the current season of Precure, Healin’ Good Precure, has a medicine and environmental theme.
Another new character brings further insight into Jin’s history in Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 25.
The Hashimoto Tech Chorus Appreciation Society has arrived at M-Con, nervous about competing. Day One is just for observation, though, and they see Nishigafuchi (the school they visited previously) succeed. They’re also worried about Shuusuke not showing up after he tore down Jin so thoroughly, but luckily, he arrives. However, another figure appears as well: a girl named Shouji Yumerun, a classmate of Jin’s when they were kids, and when she looked very different.
Yumerun mentions becoming a pupil of Jin’s mom, and that this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—words meant to comfort, it seems, but which have the opposite effect. Jin begins to think about why it is he’s so unable to be naturally expressive, and how he gathers people who make up for this weakness. The chapter ends with him getting ready to ask Akira a question.
I’m actually surprised to discover that Jin sees himself as talentless, and that all of his singing ability comes from hard work and study, if only because he has come across as such a natural in previous chapters. In Naruto terms, he’s the Rock Lee everyone thinks is a Sasuke, and it makes him more relatable in some ways.
Another character Jin reminds me of is Mike from Monsters, Inc. Like Mike, Jin has the theory down but can only take it so far due to a lack of natural ability. The fact that Jin has such an eye for talent further reinforces this image while also adding an extra wrinkle to his character. He finds people with the raw potential he himself lacks, almost to an intuitive degree.
We get another new character in Yumerun, who drops some hints about Jin’s past and his relationship with his mom. Apparently, Jin and Yumerun were classmates, and he helped bring her into music. Now, she’s studying under Jin’s mom, and she thinks this means Jin doesn’t have to worry about being talentless anymore—implying perhaps that Jin felt pressure to succeed his mom, and that maybe Yumerun has a thing for him?
I’m struck by Yumerun’s words, particularly when she says to Jin, “You won’t be told anymore to stop escaping into the chorus just because you lack talent.” What I interpret this to mean is that Jin likes singing in a group because it better hides his deficiencies. Rather than just being a passion, it’s also a defense mechanism.
In the Mind But Not in the Heart
Every chapter review, I record all the music terms that crop up, partially because they’re in Japanese and not necessarily common knowledge even for fluent speakers. But it’s also because I have little to no musical knowledge or ability, so I feel the need to try and understand. The fact that Jin has a somewhat similar struggle makes these sections take on a new meaning of sorts. As someone not musically inclined, it’s hard for me to tell if these flaws of his are really that basic or if it’s the difference between being decent and being elite, though the fact that no one at Nishigafuchi said anything makes me think the latter.
In this instance, Yumerun brings up all the things Jin has trouble with: enunciating s, k, and z sounds; the nuances of syncopation; and techniques for emotional expression. Apparently, he can understand it on paper, but has trouble doing it himself. Syncopation is “a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats.”
No songs this month, but the fact that the previous storyline is officially known as the “Spitz arc” amuses me.
The Chorus as a place where people who lack in certain areas can support one another feels like the story of a team sports manga, as opposed to ones about individual competitors. Hashikko Ensemble might not have the attractive characters or the pizzazz to attract regular sports manga readers, but I wonder if this possible theme of “the sum being greater than the parts” might resonate still.
A couple years ago, I noticed a trend in characters that I called “busty failures”—a translation of the Japanese terms ponkotsu plus kyonyuu. Their primary qualities are, as the term implies, big chests combined with a tendency to be unreliable wrecks. In hindsight, maybe “busty disasters” would’ve been a better choice.
Often times, characters breed unspoken archetypes, which lead to categorization. At some point, these archetypes might become explicitly acknowledged by the very medium they’ve come from. I think the busty failure has reached that point with the recent four-panel gag manga Ponkotsu Musume no Nichijou (“Failure Girl’s Everyday Life”) by Kawakami Masaki.
The series is as expected: an attractive girl (name: Ponkotsu Ato) tries to get through life but mucks things up in the process. It’s fanservicey as all heck (as implied by the cover), and lacks any sort of topical veneer like Dagashi Kashi does with the “cheap snack foods” gimmick. It’s very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get title.
In other words, Ponkotsu Musume no Nichijou is geared towards a very specific audience, i.e. the kind of person who revels in busty failures. Personally speaking, I think I’d prefer just a little more substance. A series so unabashedly horny isn’t inherently bad, and the character does feel more relatable than other instances of the archetype, but it could aspire to more. Who knows? Maybe it’ll go places over time.
January 6, 2020 marked the end of an era as beloved Japanese wrestler Jyushin Thunder Liger retired. His achievements are many, from innovating the Shooting Star Press (now seen in wrestling matches all over the world) to being perhaps the greatest junior heavyweight ever. One thing that stands out to me in his long career is how insane it is that he managed to embrace his ridiculous gimmick, his outward identity as a wrestler, and elevate it to the point of world-wide recognition.
Jyushin Thunder Liger’s name and look is taken from a manga and anime by Nagai Go, creator of Mazinger Z, Devilman, and Cutie Honey. This by itself isn’t unusual. After all, the wrestling manga character Tiger Mask became a real-life wrestler as well. But Jyushin Liger the fictional work isn’t about wrestling or even athletics—it’s about a boy who can summon and fuse with a “bio-armor” to fight evil. The anime isn’t even considered a memorable classic, and yet, Jyushin Thunder Liger somehow made it not just work, but took it over. Now, when you say the words “Jyushin Liger,” you’re probably more likely to get someone who knows the wrestler than the source material. His entrance theme is just the theme song to the Jyushin Liger anime (and makes zero sense in the context of pro wrestling), but rather than being considered hokey, it brings out raucous cheers.
Imagine if a 90s American wrestler was saddled with a Street Sharks gimmick—not even a big property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—and still wrestled as a Street Shark thirty years later until his retirement brought literal tears to people’s faces. Picture this guy coming out to “They fight, they bite, chewin’ up evil with all their might!” to a standing ovation. That’s basically what Jyushin Thunder Liger accomplished. The closest real equivalent I can think of is the Undertaker, who has played some form of undead wrestling zombe lord (and briefly a American motorcycle rider in the early 2000s) for the majority of his career. Or maybe if RoboCop’s cameo in WCW saw him transition into a regular wrestler who consistently put on great matches.
So here’s to Jyushin Thunder Liger and his global legend. Now let’s see if any new wrestlers come out as Bang Dream! characters.
Hot on the heels of Teasobi and Change!, another one of my current manga of choice has ended. In this case, it’s the quirky romance manga Oogami-san, Dada More Desu, or in English, Oogami-san is Letting More and More Out.
The story of Oogami-san follows Oogami Meiko, a teenage girl with an overactive and dirty imagination. She writes erotic fiction, constantly fantasizes, and spends significant portions of her day thinking about guy parts, all while keeping this side of her secret. She becomes curious about one of her classmates, Shinichirou Yaginuma, a quiet and distant guy, but she soon discovers that he has a secret: anyone who touches him blurts out whatever they’re thinking deep down. For Oogami, her true feelings come out as “Show me your dick.” That’s the start of their relationship.
It’s a pretty gimmicky romance manga at the start, but the early chapters are really carried by how fun and expressive Oogami is as the main character. Her and Yaginuma both have things they don’t want to share with others, and they sort of become mutual confidants. But as the two grow closer and even make other friends, the series goes into not judging books by their covers, bullying, overprotective parents (who have a genuine reason to be that way), jealousy, and other topics that give Oogami-san more weight—all without abandoning the ridiculousness of its base premise. It’s a ribald comedy with a touch of seriousness, where characters love and learn and one of them likes to talk about penises. A lot.
Oogami-san, Dada More Desu concluded in December, and the 7th and final collected volume came out in Japan on January 23. It’s the kind of bizarre love story that is right up my alley, and I think it’s definitely worth a read.
A new character flips everything upside down in Chapter 24 of Hashikko Ensemble.
Shion has sprained her wrist, and the Chorus Appreciation Society is forced to do something about it. Given a few options, they ultimately land on getting an alternate pianist to accompany them, though Akira expresses that he doesn’t think anyone could really replace her. Shion pulls a favor with her mom, and gets an old acquaintance/friend to take her place: Mashino Shuusuke, a guy who carries around a sun umbrella and who just has an aura that screams “elite.”
However, after just one song, Shuusuke finds the Hashikko boys to be fundamentally inadequate. He critiques each of their weaknesses one by one—and actually declares Jin to be the most hopeless of all! While the rest of the group is eager to prove Shuusuke wrong, Jin seems uncharacteristically glum.
Their Unique Problems
It’s interesting to see where each character’s singing flaws are, as pointed out by Shuusuke. It’s not easy to convey in comics, so the exposition is welcome. Also, it might be a hint at how the characters might develop over time.
Akira is trying too consciously to sing low, and his enunciation is suffering. He’s pushing his vowels out at the expense of his consonants.
Kousei doesn’t sing with purpose. According to Shuusuke, Kousei comes across as someone who thinks passion and feeling can make up for that, but it can’t.
Shinji is a total beginner, so there’s not much to be done there. Shuusuke says this as if there’s nothing specific he could say to help, which makes Shinji all the angrier
Jin knows how to “sing,” but what comes out of him isn’t “music.” In terms of criticisms, this one hits the hardest.
A Hurdle for Jin
I find the introduction of Shuusuke to be one of my favorite story developments so far because it’s the first time that Jin has been challenged as a character. Up to this point, Jin has always been the fount of knowledge who knows more about sound and music than anyone else. To have that called into question, to have someone say that Jin’s singing is merely technically proficient, is a major change-up. Adding to this is the fact that Shuusuke is clearly a legitimate talent at the piano.
The only times in the past that Jin has looked even remotely that taken aback is when he mentions his mom. We have the sense that there’s something messy underlying his interest in music, and I have to wonder if Shuusuke’s comments are related in any way.
Shuusuke and Shion (and Akira?)
As implied by the chapter’s title page, there’s a history between Shuusuke and Shion dating back to their piano concert days (Shion, as we see, has always been herself). There’s a clear frustration he has over her choosing to go to a technical high school–my best guess is that he saw her as a rival, or at the very least, someone who’s wasting her talents. There might not necessarily be any romantic sparks (or at least not reciprocal ones), but the “childhood friend” history is a reliable, if not as common a trope as it used to be. Given Akira’s bit of blushing early in the chapter when he comments on Shion being irreplaceable, there might be some tension there.
“Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto make another appearance here.
In frustration, Shion says that it’s actually Shuusuke’s fault that things aren’t going well, and that they’re much better when she plays. It’s hard to tell if she’s just being stubborn or if there is some merit to her words, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the answer is in the end.
I find that my favorite manga tend to finish in groups, and now following Teasobi is the news that the rap battle-themed series Change! is done. This was clearly not the intended way to go out, as it basically leaves off with an “our fight goes on!”-style non-ending. Despite that disappointment, I think it’s a really worthwhile manga that does its subject justice.
Change! revolves around Kozono Shiori, a meek girl at an elite high school who also has a love of the art of the Japanese language. She discovers that a classmate of hers, Miki, has been sneaking out to a club (how scandalous!), only to find that it’s a hip hop club where rap battles are the main event. While she initially writes it off, Shiori (now MC Shiorin) realizes that rap resonates with her deep fondness for Japanese poetry, and enters a new world.
One of the main themes of Change! is that while Japanese rap could be seen as just an importing of American culture, it is just as much a part of Japanese (and international) culture as classical poetry. There are elements of the Japanese language, such as the combination of onyomi and kunyomi ways of pronouncing kanji, that make rapping in Japanese a unique experience. Shiori also draws comparison between rap battles and an old Japanese type of poetry competition called uta-awase. While this can come across as an attempt to justify rap’s existence, Shiori’s role in the story emphasizes the idea that the lyricism of rap can be enjoyed by those with an open mind and an appreciation for good wordplay. In this respect, she’s somewhat similar to Tupac, who could be inspired by things like Shakespeare and the music of Kate Bush.
The manga puts more emphasis on the artistry of rap and hip hop than how it grew from specific cultural circumstances, and there’s relatively little notion of its origins in African-American neighborhoods or its ability to give a voice to those who might not have one otherwise. Despite that, there’s a clear and genuine love for rap that permeates the series, and I can understand why a series that’s probably introducing a lot of people to the world of hip hop in the first place might not delve into deeper topics—especially because it ended before its time.
Speaking of, another sign that the manga was in trouble was that the digital versions of Change! started to get a new title: Waka no Ojou-sama Rap Hajimemashita, or A Japanese Poetry Princess Gets into Rap. Titles usually only get this when it seems like not enough people are even giving it a chance. See Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat) and Gundam Sousei (aka The Men Who Created Gundam) for examples.
There’s an episode preview in the first Genshiken anime where one of the characters talks about how all the best series get canceled early. Sometimes, I really believe it—because while manga can be an avenue for very unique and off-kilter comics, many ambitious series never get the chance to keep flourishing. Chances are slim, but I hope Change! can come back in some form (it would make for a great anime!). I wish the best of luck to Soda Masahito, Tomiyama Hiromiya, and lyrics supervisor Shinpeita on their future projects, and thank them for a fine piece of art.