Anime Expo: Canceled. Otakon: Canceled. EVO: Canceled. But it’s all for the best as we try to keep one another safe in these strange times. I’m thankful to all the organizers for making the right choice, and I hope to see you all at conventions eventually. In the meantime, I find myself trying to make the most of my time spent at home.
Thank you to all my supporters on Patreon again this month, especially these fine folks below.
I’m nobody special when it comes to giving advice, but I hope everyone can enrich themselves and stay sane in these crazy times. As for me, I’m finding great joy in AI-generated memes (like the one you saw at the top of this post), and incredibly dumb and hilarious #partyparrot memes. (The joke is dicks.)
Spotted Flower has long been a bizarre, twisted version of Genshiken, but a couple of side chapters posted (temporarily) for free on the Rakuen: Le Paradis website reveal an extra wrinkle to its story. Portraying two groups of parents, it shows their actions inadvertently corrupting their children.
In Chapter 33.5, the wife (not-Kasukabe) is trying in vain to get her infant daughter, Saki, to raise her head. When the husband (not-Madarame) drops his phone by accident and it shows an old picture of him getting his necktie pulled (much like that famous moment in Genshiken), Saki’s eyes go wide with excitement. When the husband picks his phone back up, Saki’s head follows, and voila, she’s able to lift her head up under her own power. In that one moment, a fujoshi is born.
Then, in Chapter 34.5, not-Ohno has put her two kids, Shin (three years old) and Yuu (one year old) to bed alongside her. On her other side, however, is her husband (not-Tanaka!!), and she’s in the mood for some intimacy.. Not-Tanaka notices that she’s actually wearing pantyhose from a Kakegurui cosplay, which clearly shows that she’s been wanting this, but when she also tries to put on a Yumeko wig, he nixes that idea. The mini-chapter ends with them having sex off-panel, with Yuu being woken up and then lulled back to sleep by the sound of his parents knocking boots next to him.
The idea of seeing these geek parents influencing, even if accidentally, the next generation of degenerate pervy otaku is an intriguing one. What makes it all the more…special…is specifically that it’s the Spotted Flower characters doing this instead of the Genshiken ones. What will the future hold for these kids…?
It’s the Hashikko boys’ first real test: performing at the M-Con!
The Chorus Appreciation Society is up at the M-Con, and their performance impresses at least one of the judges. While they’re part of the “free” section—i.e., participation only—Akira and the rest take it very seriously. In a powerful moment, members of the audience could swear they heard an angel, thanks to the harmonizing by the four on stage. In the final moments, Jin’s thoughts are about proving how great choruses are.
Afterwards, many congratulations are had, including from Shion’s mom and the Nishigafuchi club members who attended. Nishigafuchi’s message is loud and clear: you’re good enough to compete. Elsewhere, Yumerun is observing from a distance, and seems upset about Jin to the point of tears. Hasegawa spots her and, mysteriously, offers to exchange Line account info with Yumerun.
Shuusuke, who was on piano due to Shion’s injury, offers to take a photo of the club (plus associated classmates). However, when Shion tries to assert that she’ll be the one playing for them next time, she trips and falls into Shuusuke’s arms in a repeat of a childhood moment between the two. The situation seems ripped straight out of a romance manga, which causes a great deal of shock and blushing, albeit for different reasons. While Akira very clearly has feelings for Shion, Kousei is just mad that Shion’s nickname for Shuusuke, Shuu-chan, is what he used to call his deceased little brother. In the end, they manage to take a rather awkward but hilarious group photo, while also giving (Mashino) Shuusuke a new nickname: Masshie.
The Judge’s Thoughts
I found the aforementioned judge to be an interesting part of the chapter because it showed how an expert would see a fairly amateurish club and still recognize in them some potential. In my view, the key is when he describes what proper harmonizing is: It’s not about thinking, “I will try to let my voice out in a way that matches up with the others,” but rather, “If I let my voice out, it will match up with the others.”
He also expresses being impressed by the way they transform into tenuto in their performance, which is a musical direction meant to convey “holding a note for its full length.” (I’m not sure I’m using that term correctly, so feel free to correct me!) Jin actually reaches him for comments afterwards, and he encourages them to get more members so they can participate in different types of competitions.
I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.
Romance in the Air?
I’ve written a good deal about the potential for romance and love triangles in Hashikko Ensemble, but I’ve tried not to focus too much on it because I didn’t want these reviews to overly emphasize that side to the extent that people might assume this was a primary focus of the series. That being said, it’s now crystal clear that Akira has a thing for Shion, and that it wasn’t just him being somewhat naively overprotective. There also might be something going on with Yumerun too, but those tears are kind of ambiguous.
I still wouldn’t quite classify Hashikko Ensemble as a romance manga, though. Rather, it’s a story about human connections through the world of music, of which love is one possibility. It’s exactly the kind of story Kio Shimoku excels at, and why I continue to be such a big fan of his.
Back to the subject of Yumerun, I would think that everything about this chapter—the encouragement Jin got to find more members, Yumerun’s reaction, Hasegawa’s gesture—would lead to her joining them. However, that would first require her to transfer to Hashimoto Technical High School, an environment likely unsuited for her implied musical talents overall. It would be a hell of a move, and if it happened, it would signal some very clear intent on Yumerun’s part.
I also got a kick on the little swerve we got in terms of Kousei. It seemed like he had some feelings for Shion, but it turned out to be something about his little brother instead. It’s a bit of dark humor that ironically lightens the moment.
Naturally, the only song this month is (once again) “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto.
It’s clear from previous reviews that I didn’t quite understand what the “free” part of M-Con meant. I took it more as like, an “open competition,” as opposed to being the distinction between “For Fun” and “For Glory,” to use Smash Bros. terms.
I think this is probably inevitable with my writing about Hashikko Ensemble because of how music is not my forte. It makes me want to see someone who does know a thing or two about music read and review this series!
Comedies based on perpetual misunderstandings can be really hit or miss. Characters misunderstanding one another’s intent and motivations can work as an endless source of humor, or it can eventually lead to frustration over a lack of progress. The manga series Spy x Family by Endo Tatsuya falls square into this category of humor, but it’s able to achieve a nice place between its overarching plot and its chapter-to-chapter antics that keeps it fresh, enjoyable, and even a little heartwarming.
Spy x Family tells the story of Twilight, an unparalleled spy who is given an order to start a family in order to get close to this next target. In order to make the charade seem as real as possible, he takes on a new identity (Loid Forger), adopts a daughter named Anya, and finds a woman willing to pretend to be his wife (Yor Forger). However, while Loid is extremely good at his job, what he doesn’t realize is that his new family members have their own secrets. Anya is actually a telepath, and Yor is actually a top-class assassin known as “Thorn Princess.” They all have their own reasons for wanting to keep this act going, with only Anya knowing the full truth but loving every minute of these bizarre circumstances.
In both story and presentation, this manga is superb. The character designs are excellent and the artwork is consistently solid no matter the situation or setting. The characters themselves are endearing and memorable. Every time I finish a chapter, I find myself wanting more. Spy x Family juggles a lot of balls in the air, whether it’s shifting settings between its three core characters, switching between comedy and action (or a mix of both), or portraying the way they grow closer even as they continue to keep their respective cards close to their chests.
The closest manga I can think of in terms of being this good at the “comedy of misunderstandings” shtick is Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, but that title is far more extreme when it comes to keeping its characters forever ignorant. Spy x Family, on the other hand, is more than willing to have both long- and short-term plot threads, and it does each kind so well, I would be easily satisfied if it stuck with one or the other. However, it manages to pull both off well, and we’re all the better for it. I think part of the reason Spy x Family succeeds despite not taking the Nozaki-kun route is that there’s actually a character who is privy to what’s really going on in Anya Forger. From her hilarious reactions to everyone’s true thoughts and feelings, to the contrast between her powers and her lack of smarts, to her strong desire to keep the charade going so that she can keep her happy little nuclear family going, Anya might just be the lynchpin of this series.
Spy x Family is available on VIZ’s Shonen Jump app, and chapters come out roughly once every other week. There’s a lot to love about this series, and I don’t see it wearing out its welcome anytime soon.
Amid these uncertain times, a strange success story involving one of my current favorite manga artists has emerged over the past few weeks.
Ootake Toshimoto, author of Mogusa-san and Teasobi, has been drawing a comic series titled 1Iine 1 Yen de Bangohan o Taberu Harapeko Joshi, or in English, Hungry Girl Eats Dinner Where 1 Like Equals 1 Yen. The premise: Minori Mogusa, the perpetually hungry heroine of Mogusa-san, is in a situation where she gets 1 yen for every Twitter like. Then, she’s supposed to use the amount earned in each comic on her next dinner. In the first strip above, she has 0 yen, so she’s “air-eating.”
But while the expectation was that she’d get maybe a few hundred likes, and could build a meal based off of that, reality panned out very differently.
The first comic received 70,155 likes. 1 yen is about 1 cent USD, so that’s about $700. Mogusa freaks out.
The second comic received 115,117 likes, or about $1,150. Below is Mogusa gorging herself on 200 pieces of expensive fatty tuna (as well as some salmon roe) in one sitting.
By the next comic, a rule was implemented so that the ratio would be 10 likes = 1 yen in certain situations to keep things reasonable.
Not only have these manga strips been cute and hilarious, but it’s giving Ootake and the character of Minori Mogusa a lot more exposure. It’s even to the point that other artists have started their own version of the 1 Like = 1 Yen dinner format. It’s fantastic. I love the hell out of the Mogusa-san manga, and I’m genuinely happy to see Ootake getting the notoriety I know he deserves. I hope this gives Ootake a lot more opportunities, and that the world will come to appreciate Mogusa as just an amazing character.
In Chapter 172 of The Promised Neverland, there’s a collage that’s rather conspicuous, given the actual pandemic hitting the world at this moment. As the heroine Emma is confronting an enemy leader about how differences in positions are the root of conflict, one of the images has a wall with the word “coronavirus” graffitied on it.
Up to this point, it’s been established that the main characterslive in an alternate dimension from the regular human world, but there haven’t been direct calls to the reality in which we, the readers, live. I think this “coronavirus” page is a direct message from the creators of The Promised Neverland, Shirai Kaiu and Demizu Ponsuka, and what that message says is: “The ideas conveyed in this manga are not meant to be taken as mere vague abstractions about generally making the world a better place, but as very real criticisms of society.”
When The Promised Neverland first began, it was an interesting manga about a cat-and-mouse game and a battle of wits in a dystopian setting. Originally, the focus was on escaping an orphanage designed to turn children into food. Then, it was about surviving against the demons on the outside. Over time, however, the series has revealed a greater world where the real evil of the series is not scary human-eating monsters but how the corrosive desire to hold onto power at the expense of the greater good.
In order to survive, some children strive to become mothers—essentially overseers of the human farms, but also chattel themselves due to being the literal suppliers of the chain through giving birth. Mothers are told that the best among them can become a “grandmother,” supervising all the mothers, making them compete desperately too. It’s even revealed that the demons themselves have an oppressive class hierarchy. Eating human meat is what has allowed them to gain a high level of intelligence, but a steady diet is necessary because otherwise they’ll revert back to beasts. The rulers of their world get access to the best meat, and can thus maintain their already massive advantage. Moreover, there turns out to have been a way to permanently prevent the demons from losing their intellect, but the ruling class purposely and violently obscured that information to keep the masses dependent on those in charge. In other words, everything about society in The Promised Neverland is premised around pitting the lower classes against one another to distract from the intentional systemic issues imposed by those in power.
How does that apply to our own world? “The top 1% hold 99% of the wealth” is about how massive inequality concentrates all the power in a select few who inevitably enrich themselves at the expense of others. In regards to keeping the lower classes at one another’s throats, US president Lyndon B. Johnson famously said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Writer and lecturer Douglas Rushkoff even wrote an article in 2018 about how some of the ultra-rich are preparing for the apocalypse by figuring out how to save themselves while still wondering if it would be necessary to lock down their guards’ food supplies to force loyalty. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing how the very same types are retreating further into their massive safety nets, leaving those with less to struggle. It’s crystal clear to me that there’s a similar sentiment at work fueling the overt criticism of the disparity in power and resources in The Promised Neverland.
The fact that Weekly Shounen Jump comes out with brand new chapters of manga on a regular and consistent basis can be a blessing and a curse, but one advantage of the accelerated pace of a weekly manga magazine is how quickly it can potentially seize upon the relevant events of the day. What that “coronavirus” graffiti communicates is simple: the crises your heroes are facingin The Promised Neverland are not that far from the problems that plague the very reality in which you live. Emma, as the heart of this series, staunchly opposes false dichotomies that lead to zero-sum situations where one group can only “win” by sacrificing another. Perhaps The Promised Neverland wants us all to be allies in this struggle, and to be aware of the real problems that gave way to our current global crisis: racism, social inequality, intentionally massive disparities in wealth and resources, and an economic environment where those in power are encouraged to let the whole world burn if it means keeping their positions.
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. Akira’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.