I’m Bad at Understanding Rhythm, but the Manga “Wondance” is Changing That

For the life of me, I’ve always had trouble with musical concepts like rhythm and beats. Even though I was in a couple of band classes as a kid, and even when I’ve tried to read up on it or look up videos, I just couldn’t wrap my head around these things. But recently, I think that’s starting to change, and I actually have manga to thank.

I recently began reading a new hip hop dancing-themed series called Wondance. Because that genre of dance is likely unfamiliar to many readers, the manga uses its main character as a way to introduce ideas. Kotani Kaboku is a basketball player with a speech impediment who discovers that dancing might just be a way for him to express himself, and he even applies some of his b-ball knowledge to his new interest.

In Chapter 4, titled “After-Beat,” Kaboku’s dance teacher talks to her class about a crucial difference between the music they might be accustomed to (J-Pop, anime songs, etc.) and the kind they’re dancing to now (hip hop, R&B, and funk)–what part of the beat the music (and thus the dancing accompanying it) emphasizes. If a basic beat is “1-2, 3-4,” then pop music tends to emphasize the “1” and the “3” while hip hop emphasizes the “2” and the “4.” The “2” and the “4” are called the “after-beat. To put it differently, if the beat track of a song goes “bumm-chh, bumm-chh,” the “chh” is the after-beat.

For anyone who’s into music and dance, this is probably child’s play, but this one page was actually the catalyst for me to actually “get” ideas that I knew of but could never actually understand. That simple explanation above, as well as the demonstration of dance moves at the bottom of the page, opened up a window I thought would be forever inaccessible. I listened to both anime songs and hip hop, my ears now aware of that difference in emphasis. When I watched videos teaching about beats, I had a better notion of what they were saying.

There’s even a moment from Chapter 3 of Wondance that subtly introduces these ideas, and in hindsight it’s actually brilliant. Kaboku notices something about the rhythm of hip hop dancing, and he compares it to dribbling in basketball: if the rhythm of the basketball is down-then-up, then hip hop feels like the “up” is being emphasized, and it’s the prime moment to make a steal. In other words, the ball hitting the floor is the “bumm” and the ball returning to the hand is the “chh.” When I remembered that scene, it hit me like a sack of potatoes.

While I highly doubt that I can ever truly feel the beat as so many others can, or apply it to something like rap or dance, I feel like a new world has opened up to me. It’s almost like learning a new language. I also think it might say something about me that it took reading a comic in a foreign language to finally comprehend something as pervasive as music, but maybe that’s part of the beauty of comics. And between Wondance in manga and Tribe Cool Crew in anime, I hope we see this genre continue to grow.

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Crossovers on the Brain: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for June 2019

E3 is next week, and I’ve been trying to finish Super Robot Wars T so I can devote my full attention to whatever Smash Bros. Ultimate shenanigans Nintendo has waiting for us. I wonder if I can get really into a third ridiculous crossover franchise and go straight over the edge.

Before, I get into Ogiue Maniax highlights from the past month, I’d like to thank my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

 

My favorite posts from May:

Spoilers Matter

My counter-argument against the idea that obsession with spoiler warnings hurts more than helps

“Very East-Coast Avengers.” War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas

A look at Marvel Comics’s new All-Asian team, and what it could mean.

Growing Step by Step: Run with the Wind

My review of a really great anime that gives some really important life lessons that I hope people take to heart.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 16 continues the Chorus Appreciation Society’s excursion to another school.

Patreon-Sponsored

The Healing of Heisei Anime

A retrospective of sorts on anime of the Heisei period, which ended recently with former Emperor Akihito’s abdication.

Closing

You know what’s an expansive crossing over of many major players? That’s right, the Mueller Report.

Sure is worth reading, if I do say so myself.

Menagerie, Menagerie: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 15

In this chapter, we see our first school outside of Hashimoto Tech! How will these students react to the eccentricities of the main cast?

Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is running into a few walls. This is partly because so many of its members lack experience, partly because of clashes in personality (especially between Orihara and Shinji), and partly because Mimi-sensei herself doesn’t know much about music. Thanks to the reluctant help of music teacher Takano-sensei, however, the Chorus Club gets a chance to do some inter-school practice. They visit Nishigafuchi Private High School, a strong music school with numerous accomplishments in competition and automatic entry into the elite Nankan University. It’s the Hakone Academy of choruses, in Yowamushi Pedal terms, perhaps.

The Nishigafuchi students are surprised at the wildly varying appearances and demeanors of the Hashimoto students. The Hashimoto students split off into their respective vocal sections, but when Akira goes to meet the other bass vocalists, he’s recognized by a student from his middle school days, Kidamoto, who asks what he’s doing there.

Pronunciation 101

There’s an interesting demonstration of some tongue exercises led by Jin. Namely, he shows how while Japanese people are typically taught vowels in the order of “A, I, U, E, O,” the more natural and comfortable order for the mouth would be “I, E, A, O, U.” I rather like how the manga drops bits of knowledge like this, as it both lends an air of authenticity while also making a kind of narrative sense given Jin’s scientific approach to music.

Too Many (?) New Characters

A lot of characters are introduced in this chapter, namely students at Nishigafuchi. Because there are so many, including the leaders of each of their club’s chorus section, I wonder which of them will be important down the line. It’s hard to tell with Hashikko Ensemble, given how we already have some minor characters ascend. I get the feeling that the bass leader, Honma Tadashi, will play a role in helping Akira improve.

As for Takano, she reminds me of the characters from FLCL, and not just in terms of her full lips and pouty face. She has a kind of laid-back slyness that feels like a mix between Haruko and Mamimi.

Kidamoto

Possibly the most important new character is Kidamoto. While he doesn’t stand out at first blush, but I do like how Hashikko Ensemble is utilizing him. At the very beginning of the chapter, his face shows up in one panel (see the top image), but his level of importance is still unknown. Then, when Hashimoto Chorus Club arrives, he reacts to someone’s appearance but it’s not immediately clear who he notices, creating a bit of anticipation in the story. Is it Jin, who’s presumably somewhat infamous in local music circles? Is it Shion, who competed in piano? The fact that it turns out to be Akira is both surprising and intriguing.

So what is the relationship between Akira and Kidamoto? Is it just that Kidamoto knows about how Akira pretended to sing in middle school during class performances? I’m looking forward to getting the answer, as well as seeing how this challenges Akira.

Character Humor Deluxe

There’s a lot of excellent humor this character-based humor in this chapter that I enjoyed immensely. One is Hanyama (the bald student) expressing his sudden urge to join the Chorus Club just from watching Mimi-sensei’s adorable conductor practice. Another involves one of the students at Nishigafuchi wondering if everyone from Hashimoto is going to be delinquents (on account of it being a technical/vocational school), only to have her expectations simultaneously subverted and affirmed by the contrast between Jin and Orihara.

My favorite of all, however, is seeing Shion constantly get distracted in class by Takano-sensei’s piano across the hall. As mentioned by Takano herself, her specialty is the violin, so even as a music teacher she’s not going to be impeccable on the ivory. Seeing Shion jerk her head at every flub Takano makes (summed up entirely in one panel) is such a perfect little character moment for Shion. It not only speaks to her own piano skills, but also hints at the same personality underlying her attitude towards the Chorus Club in the earlier chapters.

Overall, much of Chapter 15 emphasizes what an eclectic hodgepodge of people are at the center of this story. I expect to see Jin upend the Nishigafuchi students’ expectations with his vocal range, as well as other similar surprises.

Songs

The song they’re practicing for competition, “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto, appears again in this chapter. It’s to be expected moving forward.

Another song, one that Shion decides to play on piano (and thus not helping with practice) is Friedrich Bürgmuller’s 25 Études faciles et progressives, Op.100 (25 studies for piano) L’Arabesque. It’s part of a series of pieces designed to help young pianists improve their skills.

Final Thoughts

I often wonder if I’m actually doing this manga justice. There are a lot of little details in the panels that can seem frivolous but also add a lot to the core character dynamics that fuel the series. Hashikko Ensemble grows in fits and starts, but that’s also what makes it so appealing.

 

Why Emma in “The Promised Neverland” is a Fantastic Character

With the first season of The Promised Neverland anime over, and having personally caught up to the manga as it’s throwing around major revelations, I thought it would be a good time to write about why I think Emma is one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory. I’m going to keep details vague to avoid spoilers for both anime viewers and manga readers, so hopefully everyone can enjoy.

By virtue of being a female protagonist in a Weekly Shounen Jump manga, Emma is an exception in a magazine that is, at least on the page, overwhelmingly male-dominated. In this position, it would be all too easy to make her a passive character who supports others, but what she contributes to The Promised Neverland makes her the heart and soul of the series.

Emma’s character is cut from a more traditional shounen hero cloth: she’s idealistic, compassionate, prefers actions over words, and is unusually good at making friends. But while this attitude is often a surface point for a lot of characters, Emma’s attitude runs directly into the central conceits and challenges of her own series. To believe in “helping everyone” in a harsh world can seem hopelessly naive, yet that conviction is what gives her strength.

The important thing, however, is that as much as she seems to possess a “have your cake and eat it too” puppies and rainbows mentality, she’s not unrealistic or devoid of pragmatism. She understands that her path isn’t the easy one, but at the same time believes that being all too ready to sacrifice others “for the greater good” leads down a much darker path. In maintaining this view, she brings those who would otherwise dwell in the murkier areas of humanity into the light.

Because of her outlook, she somewhat reminds me of Eren from Attack on Titan, albeit with a relatively cooler head on her shoulders and less proclivity for violence. Emma, like Eren, prompts and motivates others to go beyond their comfort zones through her actions. Unlike Eren, however, Emma is motivated less by anger and more by love.

Emma doesn’t do the impossible. Rather, by pushing her own limits and maintaining her compassion, she makes clear to herself and everyone around her that their perceived boundaries (whether internal or external) can be challenged. In a world seemingly made up of constant dichotomies, she strives to find a third, fourth, or even fifth path.

Hip Hop Manga: “Change!” and “Wondance”

Whether by chance or perhaps some broad editorial intent, it’s a curious thing that hip hop culture would be a prominent theme in two currently serialized Kodansha manga in Japan. Change!, running in Monthly Shounen Magazine, is the story of a Japanese poetry-loving girl named Shiori who ends up being drawn into the world of rap battling. Wondance, from Monthly Afternoon, focuses on an athletic boy with a stutter who discovers hip hop dance as a way to express himself. Each series, almost by necessity, takes a very different approach to their respective subjects, and juxtaposing the two highlights the power each work possesses.

Change! naturally places great emphasis on verbal dexterity, and as a series about Japanese rapping, there are also certain aspects to the language that make it differ from English. Japanese has fewer vowel sounds, which means that many more things in the language can technically rhyme, which in turn means that the rhymes that do occur can be even more varied yet precise aurally. The heavy emphasis on syllables also gives Japanese a certain sense of rhythm, especially because extending those sounds can change the meaning of a word entirely.

All of this needs to be effectively conveyed in the manga, and the approach Change! takes is to place more emphasis on word balloons than most manga. Words and syllables can appear larger or more erratic in order to highlight what key words in one line are being correlated with in the next line. The classic staple of many manga, furigana to aid in the reading of difficult kanji, take on added importance due to both the sheer number of homonyms that exist in Japanese and to make sure the reader keeps track of what’s being said syllable by syllable.In the images above, the male rapper connects the word “underground” with “Alice in Wonderland,” working off the fact that andaaguraundo and Arisu in Wandaaraando both start with an “a” and have the similar raundo vs. rando. He then follows up on the next page with Atama no naka made pinku iroka? / Orera no otogibanashi wa Kingu Gidora!, or, “Is even the inside of your head the color pink? / Our fairytale is King Ghidorah!” Pinku iroka lines up perfectly vowel-wise with Kingu Gidora, and the talk of fairy tales follows up to his comparison of Shiori as being as out of her depth as Alice is in her story. While the passionate expressions and the metaphorical imagery shown contribute to the atmosphere and to hammer home the meanings behind the words, the actual word balloons do a great deal of heavy lifting.

In contrast, although Wondance can be fairly wordy at times, when it comes to dancing, the manga is very much in the “show, don’t tell” category. Characters move with grace and intensity, and panels highlighting their steps litter the pages, turning them into virtual collages that practically crackle with energy. Text is sparse, and primarily brief glimpses into how the characters are thinking in the heat of the moment.In the pages above, the main character and Hikaru—the girl who brings him into the world of dancing—are dancing together in a class. The paneling supports the character artwork, emphasizing a sense of the two as a duo in sync with each other on some deeper level. This visual approach calls to mind the elaborate paneling of 1970s shoujo manga such as Swan, where panels cascade and climax in beautiful ways. The drawings capture not just the dance but the emotions of the dancers as well, making their moves the central vehicle for storytelling. In a sense, one doesn’t even need to know Japanese (or have a translation handy) to get the essence of Wondance.

Thus, on the one hand, you have a series where the words are of the utmost importance and another where images hold the power. However, they both draw upon the visual language of comics and especially manga in fundamental ways through their particular emphases. Change! and Wondance capture some of the magic of hip hop culture itself as a multi-medium, multi-angle fusion of various ingredients.

The Confession: “The World God Only Knows” Five-Year Retrospective

April 12, 2019 marks the five-year anniversary of a momentous occasion: the day of the final and most important love confession in the manga The World God Only Knows. There’s a lot that’s special about this particular ending, not least of which was the internet’s powerful reaction to it, best encapsulated in the image below, which collects before and after reactions toward the reveal. For those who want to avoid spoilers about this series, or those who would feel offended by typical 4chan speech, it would be best to turn back now. For those who want to stay, I hope you like hearing me wax nostalgic about what makes this conclusion so great.

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Changing of the Guard in Fandom

ComicsGate, or what remains of it, has been a thinly veiled campaign to bully women out of comics, and the “movement” itself is hardly worth talking about as anything more than unjustified harassment. However, I find that it pulls its energy from a profound change occurring in readers of the superhero genre: the ever-increasing presence of women as both readers and creators, and with it, a change in how the comics-reading community determines what is worthy of praise. I’ve seen it on a personal level, as I went from understanding comics fandom as a boys’ club filled with casual sexism and jokes about Hal Jordan’s punches to one where a mutual understanding and acceptance of such things can no longer be assumed.

I previously wrote a blog post exploring the interaction between canon, fanon, and headcanon, and in it I used those terms the way one would when talking about narrative continuity. However, I think the contrast between those concepts still exists if we use the other definition of “canon”: the commonly accepted masterpieces of a given medium. The challenging of “canons” and “fanons” in that sense is what I’ve seen as a result of the changing demographics of superhero and comics fandom. Over the course of many years, women and girls have come in with their own ideas about which artists to respect and what ideas should be taken away from a given comics, and those deeply entrenched in the older ways feel the ground shifting beneath them. Guys like that can be vulnerable to a smooth-talking neckbeard snake whispering to them, “They’re changing the rules. They’re outsiders. What happened to the things that matter?” Losing the place they belong can be more important to some than trying to address political issues in communities.

Fandom is built in partly on passion, partly on accruing knowledge and experiences. This combination lets fans both embrace that which they love—be it a book, musician, film, or anything else—and perhaps even take it to places that the work by itself would never travel. Fandom creates communities and communication, and it encourages fans to pool their resources together and establish some common ground. But when that common ground is challenged, or finds its foundation shaken by newer generations eager with different preconceived notions of what’s good or acceptable in both people and works, it can create schisms between fans.

In a way, it reflects the world’s politics at large, as previously established majorities have seen their numbers slowly dwindle in ways where numbers alone will not let them hold onto power, and a loss of influence can be downright frightening for those accustomed to always being on top in their own universes. Even if there’s an intellectual understanding that the actions of today are meant to address certain past injustices, it can be a bitter pill for those who assumed a stable foundation in their comics fandom.