Dreams Before Harems: Why I Like “We Never Learn”

We Never Learn is a popular harem manga currently running in Weekly Shonen Jump, and one I actually like a good deal. With the anime debuting next season, I’ve been thinking about why I’m fond of this particular series over other similar works, and I realized something. While We Never Learn is indeed a harem series, and thus shipping is ostensibly an important factor for enjoying the series, I find that I don’t actually care about pairings at all, and this makes the series better for me.

Because the anime is coming out this season, I’m going to make this post as spoiler-free as possible. Actually, I don’t even think I need spoilers to explain my point, so it works out.

The basic plot of We Never Learn has high school boy Yuiga Nariyuki tasked with tutoring two of the smartest girls in school. However, while Furuhashi Fumino is a genius of literature and the arts, and Ogata Rizu is a math and science wizard, their respective dreams are to go to college in their worst subjects instead. Along the way, other girls join the cast, and the close calls with Nariyuki never stop, in typical harem fashion.

One thing clear from the start is that each character has their own goals they want to reach. Sparks fly and fanservice abounds, but their attractiveness doesn’t define who they are as people. Moreover, they’re all supportive of one another, and this makes it a refreshing experience.

Nariyuki could end up with anyone, or no one. Any of the girls could end up with each other. Perhaps they might all marry random, unrelated characters. To me, none of it truly matters, because I want all of them to succeed in ways beyond relationship success. While the girls and their cuteness is a major part of We Never Learn, you want to see these girls achieve their dreams as they try to overcome genius with hard work in a Rock Lee-esque way. The fact that the geniuses they’re to beat are themselves makes it all the greater.

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Help Me! Why is “S&M” Lingo So Common in Anime and Manga?

Out of the many tropes and trends to come out of anime and manga, there’s one I find especially curious: the casual use of “sadist” and “masochist” to describe characters. It’d be more understandable if it was limited to more sexually charged series, or to describe villains as “sadistic bastards,” but it occurs in just about everything—romances, kids’ shows, sports/competition series, and so-on. You see the letters “S” and “M” thrown around by characters as if it’s the most normal thing to say in a conversation.

In series like Prison School, “S&M” is used conventionally to refer to kinks and fetishes. In other cases, like Chihayafuru, the phrase is more removed from an explicitly sexual context, and could potentially be seen as simply referring to a non-sexual pleasure derived from inflicting or receiving pain. Or perhaps that layer of sexual tension and mild eroticism that permeates many anime and manga also trickle down into the ones that aren’t like that. The same could perhaps be extended to phrases like “siscon,” though many recent anime have gone out of their way to make that particular phrase anything but innocent.

I’m not against this trend of using “S&M” terminology, or at least find no need to take umbrage with it, but it really makes me wonder where the heck it all comes from. Is it a few famous titles? Could it be from some visual novels that got big among otaku? Or maybe it’s from something more mainstream, like classic Japanese literature. Yet, try as I might, any attempts at cursory research turn up fruitless. I get the feeling that there’s no straightforward answer, and that it might be bits and pieces of both Japanese domestic and foreign imported culture mixed together into a complex stew.

If anyone has any expertise on this matter, or knows any potential resources that could point me in the right direction, I’d love to know. This is one mystery that I really want to solve.

 

Mystic Eyes: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2019

2019! It’s time to look back briefly at all the resolutions I failed to keep (like getting literate in Dutch), and then ignore them to keep myself looking ahead. When it comes to Ogiue Maniax, I don’t recall making any blog-specific resolutions, but maybe I should…

As we go into the new year, I’d like to express my gratitude towards my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

A special shout-out to Johnny Trovato, who actually went as far as to send me a holiday card. Thank you!

My favorite posts from December:

The Dynamics of Hugtto! Precure’s Gay Couple

Hugtto! Precure has a lot of strengths, and its semi-under-the-radar same-sex couple says a lot about the show.

Gattai Girls 9: “Mobile Police Patlabor” OVA 1 and Izumi Noa [Anime Secret Santa]

For the second year in a row, it’s a dual-purpose Gattai Girls + Secret Santa review! Incidentally, my very first Anime Secret Santa was actually the first Patlabor movie.

Best Anime Characters of 2018

My picks for the best characters of the year. Who were your faves?

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 11 focuses on the girls we’ve seen, and it’s one of my favorite chapters yet.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu Friends! Knows How to Celebrate Christmas

I hope Aikatsu! never loses what makes it so fun.

Closing

So for New Years’ Resolutions, I think I’ll challenge myself. Hopefully I’ll remember to check back on this in January 2020.

1) Have more overall visitors to the blog compared to 2018.

2) Be more topical, though without trying to chase the latest popular trend. Try to maintain that balance where I’m still writing for myself, but I give my take on the things anime fans care about.

3) Increase my overall Patreon sponsors by the end of the year, even by one!

To quote a great president, “We must move forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”

Tree Skills vs. Skill Trees: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 11

The path to a full Chorus Club is revealed, and the super-intense Kurata Shion gets center stage in this month’s chapter of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Orihara is now a part of the Chorus Club, and Jin needs just one more member and a faculty advisor to get formal “Appreciation Society” status. If he can, he wants someone who plays piano.

Meanwhile, Kurata is getting advice from Oumi-sensei (the gray-haired one), who suggests that she join the woodworking club to improve her skills and to relax a little. However, the over-serious Kurata (who’s also revealed to be quite the spaz) refuses, seeing it as frivolous fun that gets in the way of Hashimoto Technical’s purpose as a vocational school. Both shy towards her fellow female classmates and frustrated at her lack of talent, she runs away, only to accidentally bump into Akira and the Chorus Club. Curiously, instead of making a typical startled noise, she lets out an F♯2 note.

In judo class (apparently a staple of Hashimoto Technical), Kurata is participating along with Hasegawa and her friend. Hasegawa, it turns out, is actually the daughter of a prominent judo family, and tosses around both one of the school’s judo club members and Orihara effortlessly (while also simultaneously ogling the latter). Kurata and Hasegawa’s friend are practicing against each other, but when a sudden pain in Kurata’s hand causes her to fall over, she reveals that her tendonitis is flaring up—as a result of her piano-playing!

Kurata’s Situation

Kurata doesn’t know how to crack eggs, and can’t seem to even run on a school racetrack without going off-course. If there’s any character she reminds me of, it’s Mio from Nichijou, who can’t seem to follow rules of any kind when it comes to sports or competition. I also love the way they reveal her music background, with her unusually melodic yelp.

I might be sounding like a broken record, but Kurata’s the latest in a long line of interesting characters in Hashikko Ensemble. First, there’s the fact that her antagonism towards the Chorus Club is kept mostly to herself—in fact, Jin and Akira don’t even really recognize her. Second, is that her dislike of the Chorus Club had seemed personal on some level, but the hints we get as to why this is the case make her and her story all the more intriguing.

It’s clear that Kurata has a musical background of some kind and that it’s limited by her tendonitis. Was a potential piano career derailed by health issues, leading her to lose faith in putting her future in something as fragile as musical performance? Is it perhaps pressure from parents? How much does she actually believe what she’s saying when she declares her preference for the pragmatic, and how much is she forcing herself to think this way? I’m really looking forward to finding out more.

As for what she’ll do as a potential Chorus Club member, one would think piano, but the fact that she has trouble playing might mean she’ll be another singer instead.

Hasegawa’s Unusual Friendship

Hasegawa and the other girl who’s always with her (whose name might not even have been mentioned yet) are so different from each other that you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be close, but they say outright that it’s just a natural product of there being so few girls at the school. From what I can tell, while it likely began out of convenience, it transformed into a genuine friendship at some point. Now, they’re trying to get closer to Kurata too, but she’s as nervous and unsocial as they come.

I really enjoy how it doesn’t take much to portray Hasegawa and her friend as fleshed-out characters with an authentic-feeling history. This feeling of realism is one of Kio Shimoku’s greatest strengths.

As for Hasegawa’s judo background, I got a good chuckle out of how she actively eggs on the judo club. Also, i wonder if her love of beefy dudes is because of her family or not.

Songs

No music this chapter, aside from some basic voice lessons.

Final Thoughts

In a flashback, Kurata asks why the Japanese shorthand for “smartphone” is sumaho and not sumafo, as if it doesn’t make sense. I AGREE. IT’S ALWAYS BOTHERED ME.

Smashing-Good Holidays: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2018

Ogiue Maniax just celebrated its 11th anniversary, and it feels like quite the milestone. However, as much as that has been on my mind, my head space is currently occupied 80% by Smash Bros. Ultimate. 4 days to go!!!

I’m always grateful for my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi. Many thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Here are also my favorite posts from November:

Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

An exploration of how heavy reference usage differs between geek entertainment and rap.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

The current Precure series likes to go places.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

My overview of Anime NYC 2018.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 10 feels like the end of one story and the beginning of another.

Patreon-Sponsored

An Amateur Look at the Atelier Games

How mellow can an RPG series get?

Closing

I promise that not every post I make for the next 6 months will just be about Smash Bros. That said, I get the feeling there will be plenty to go around.

For Hymn: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 10

In this chapter, the secrets of Orihara—his hearing and his traumatic past—are revealed in full.

Summary

Waking up inside the nurse’s office, Orihara explains that he suffers from a chronic high-pitched ringing in his ears. Jin figures out that Orihara suffers from a slight degree of hearing loss due to overexposure, specifically in the 3khz range—the same frequency as a baby crying or a woman screaming. Jin, however, believes Orihara’s brain is likely still picking up sounds at 3khz even if his ears aren’t, which is why Orihara can somehow “hear” things that he “can’t hear.”

During this talk, Orihara reveals two things about his past to the others. First, his little brother died. Second, the one time he was able to get rid of the ringing in his ears was in third grade, at a recital by a choir of old men, and a specific religious foreign song—hence, why he keeps listening to similar music. For this reason, Jin uses his connections to bring Orihara back to that choir from his childhood and have him repeat the same song. Hearing it again, Orihara is moved, but while Jin’s scientific explanation seems right, Akira has a simpler one: Orihara was healed by this music. Envisioning (?) a young voice from heaven speaking directly to him, Orihara smiles.

Later, at school, Jin comes barging in to get Shinji and Orihara (given name Kousei) for chorus club practice. Orihara is now an official member of the Chorus Club. The days pass, and coming up now is the MHK Concours—aka M-Con—an amateur chorus competition!

Music: When Science and Magic Collide

Orihara’s story, in my eyes, adds an interesting wrinkle to the ongoing theme of music as something that straddles the line between the known and the mysterious. Jin’s explanations make sense, yet I can’t help but wonder if Orihara’s deceased little brother might actually be trying to communicate with him. The manga itself never really says one way or the other, but regardless of the actual (meta-) physics, it’s notable that Orihara feels the song in his head and in his heart. There’s an important lesson here about how even as we might “understand” music on a theoretical level, there’s still an almost magical or spiritual quality to song that captivates the soul. As dominant as Jin is in this manga, his perspective isn’t the only one.

That being said, I doubt the manga is trying to push any sort of religious angle. It seems more an acknowledgement of the significance of the church in Western music.

Bouncing Back from Tragedy

Orihara’s story is the heaviest I’ve seen a Kio manga get, and that’s including Ogiue trying to commit suicide as a kid. There’s something really tragic about child abuse, and the degree to which Orihara’s anger is a product of his trauma. Although not said outright, it’s extremely likely that the guy suffers from PTSD. The story basically implies that Orihara can’t hear the 30khz frequency because he was constantly being subjected to the anguished screams of his mom and his brother. And somehow, the series manages to swing around into silliness not long after.

It’s really not easy for a narrative to get so serious and then switch back into lighthearted humor, but I think Hashikko Ensemble does it well by actually making the awkwardness in that transition more prominent. In particular, when Orihara mentions his deceased brother, Jin seems to obliviously bring the topic back to music and science. But is Jin as ditzy as he acts? His ambiguously strained relationship with his dad, or indeed something else, might hint at this being a willful act of feigned ignorance.

Songs

The featured song this chapter is “Viderunt Omnes,” a Gregorian chant composed in the 11th century by Protein. Gregorian chants were traditionally used in Roman-Catholic churches.

Final Thoughts

Next chapter promises to focus on Kurata, whose intensity and dislike of the frivolous has me intrigued about her. However, given how quickly the manga jumped from “Orihara’s on board” to “Competition!”, I’m worried that Hashikko Ensemble is suffering from a lack of popularity and his rushing things forward. I genuinely think this is a very strong manga from Kio Shimoku, so I hope it has a long life ahead of it.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

I had nothing but praise for last year’s inaugural Anime NYC, which I felt was the right size, scope, and level of focus for a New York City anime convention. But it can be difficult for a sequel to live up to a hit original, so I was curious to see how the second time around would fair.

Spoilers: It was pretty fantastic.

Exhibitor’s Hall, Artist Alley, and Moving Around

Once again, Anime NYC hit it out of the park in terms of having the right amount of space. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, as too little space means crowding and delays for all attendees but too much space can make a convention feel empty and isolating. Aside from absolute peak hours in the Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley, I never had any trouble moving from place to place. There might come a point where Anime NYC starts to outgrow its space, but the con this year only took up a portion of the Javits—it actually shared convention space with a pet-oriented event called Petcon. In other words, there’s plenty of room to expand.

I also want to re-affirm something I mentioned last year, which is how much I like the Artist Alley space for Anime NYC. Located on the top floor of the Javits, the area is surrounded by glass, which allows plenty of light to come in. At the best times of the day, it makes you feel like you’re walking through a gallery boutique, albeit filled with fandom ships of Voltron: Legendary Defender. As an aside, I was happy to see so much Cardcaptor Sakura stuff this year; perhaps a sign that the recent Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card made an impression.

The Star of the Con: Furuya Toru

Without a doubt, the biggest guest for me was Furuya Toru, the veteran voice actor behind roles such as Amuro Ray (Mobile Suit Gundam‘s protagonist), Pegasus Seiya (Saint Seiya), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and more. He is, without exaggeration, a legend of the industry, and this was my first opportunity ever to see him. I wanted his autograph and to get some insight from his decades of voice work in anime.

The autograph aspect hit a snag from the get-go, though not entirely through Anime NYC’s fault. For signings, the convention went with a mix of paid sessions and free ticketed ones, and Furuya’s was the latter. This required lining up outside the Jacob Javits convention center Friday morning, which also just happened to be the morning after one of the biggest snowstorms in New York City history. People were made to stand in the cold, despite the fact that there was plenty of room indoors. To Anime NYC’s credit, the con issued an apology the next day and allowed people to line up inside the convention center for Saturday and Sunday. That didn’t solve all the issues with autographs—I’ll get to that later—but it at least showed that they were willing to respond to complaints.

Fortunately, I was able to get an autograph ticket, and I was able to thank Furuya for putting so much passion into his many roles over the years as he signed my Gundam movie DVD box set. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

As for Furuya’s panel, it was a mix of both moderated discussion and audience Q&A. Sadly, I was unable to stay for the second part, but the first half provided plenty of highlights. One of my favorite exchanges was when the moderator, Kyle Cardine, asked Furuya about playing the character Ribbons in Gundam 00, who’s thematically an evil version of Amuro. Furuya responded that while he was the narrator in Gundam 00, it was “his kouhai” who played Ribbons. For those unaware of the joke, Ribbons is clearly Furuya (his voice is unique and unmistakable), but the role is credited to “Sougetsu Noboru”—a pseudonym that cheekily means “Moonrise,” a wink to the studio that makes Gundam, Sunrise.

I actually had the chance to provide Kyle a question to ask Furuya as well (thank you Kyle!). Specifically, it was asking about his experience working with director Nagahama Tadao on Furuya’s first big series, the seminal baseball anime Star of the Giants. Furuya gave a look of surprise, and then responded that he didn’t really interact with Nagahama, as the man didn’t attend the recording sessions much. However, he also mentioned that he was only fifteen years old when he played Hoshi Hyuuma, the protagonist of Star of the Giants, and that if the show hadn’t been so wildly successful, he probably wouldn’t have ever become a professional voice actor.

This answer is interesting to me, partly because I asked a similar question back in 2010 to another star actor from a later Nagahama anime: Mitsuya Yuji, the voice behind Aoi Hyouma from Combattler V. In contrast to Furuya’s response, Mitsuya actually said that Nagahama pushed him to improve his performance. This says to me that Nagahama must have changed in the years between Star of the Giants and Combattler V. Or maybe the director felt Furuya needed less guidance, even at a young age? It’s startling how talented Furuya can be, given how well he can modulate his voice between younger and older characters.

One minor mishap from this panel was that the moderator Kyle tried to ask him about Director Tomino Yoshiyuki, but something got lost in translation and Furuya didn’t give a real answer. Here’s hoping he comes to New York again, so we can get a second chance at this.

Shintani Mayumi and Studio Trigger

Another big Japanese guest at the convention was voice actor Shintani Mayumi (Haruka from FLCL, Nonon from Kill la Kill, Rikka’s mom from SSSS.Gridman). She was a speaker at the Studio Trigger Live Drawing/Q&A panel, and it gave me the opportunity to ask her about her experience on the 2000 anime Brigadoon: Marin & Melan. At first replying that the topic was unexpected  Shintani went into details about a memory from that time. Her character in Brigadoon, Lolo, resembles a cat, and so she played the role in a feline manner. However, it’s eventually revealed in the show that the cat-like appearance is a disguise to hide its true form, and seeing a closet full of “cat skins” was a shock to her. She then talked about how Brigadoon still has passionate fans.

Afterward, I received a nifty Gridman standee as a prize.

I’m truly glad to have asked Shintani about Brigadoon, but I was also a bit torn at first as to who to direct my question at. I really wanted to pick Koyama Shigeto’s brain about his Darling in the Franxx mecha designs or ask producer Wakabayashi Hiromi about whether they watched Superhuman Samurai  Syber-Squad as research for SSSS.Gridman. However, I’ve had the fortune of interviewing Trigger in the past, so I decided to focus my attention on Shintani, who’s a rare guest at US anime cons.

Shintani also got asked about playing Miss Shamour in Go! Princess Precure, and she basically replied that Miss Shamour shouldn’t be a Precure because then she would be too powerful. What’s more, at the start of the panel, Shintani recited Nonon’s signature “Nani sore?!” to audience applause. Totally worth it.

Other highlights of the panel include Wakabayashi’s desire to put Inferno Cop into Smash Bros., the ridiculous video from Anime Expo they showed of them clowning around and expressing how behind they are on their new show Promare. They also had an extended discussion on who to blame for the cockpits in Darling in the Franxx. Koyama and Tattsun (the translator) claimed that it was because doggy-style is Wakabayashi’s favorite position, while Wakabayashi said it was the result of seriously considering what would make sense for the show. The producer also said that there were six members of the design staff, and any one of them could have spoke up.

DENPA and Asada Hiroyuki

Coincidentally, the Studio Trigger panel was followed immediately by a live drawing/Q&A panel for Asada Hiroyuki, author of Tegami Bachi (aka Letter Bee). He was there to promote the manga Pez, which is being translated and sold by the new manga publisher DENPA. The company’s focus seems to be on eclectic prestige titles, as they also brought artist Murata Range over, and are publishing the eerily beautiful An Invitation from a Crab by panpanya (which I highly recommend).

As for the panel itself, it actually had a soothing music track playing the entire time—what I was told was Asada’s drawing music. Unlike with Trigger, which was more of a Q&A with a live art session as a backdrop, this felt like the live drawing was the main star of the show.

Autographs: Ups and Downs

I understand that autographs are never an easy situation for any convention to handle. No matter how an event tries to plan for them, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t. In that respect, I don’t especially mind the ticket system for signings, which involves lining up to get a voucher to attend an autograph session later, but there are a couple of criticisms I have for Anime NYC’s approach.

First, on Saturday and Sunday, it required lining up at 8am, and given that people will line up early for autographs, it usually means getting there by 7am or earlier. For anyone not staying close to the Javits, it means perhaps having to wake up as early as 5am. Another drawback is that everyone is in the same line for autographs, which is a problem I also have with Anime Expo in Los Angeles. The fact that all of the autographs are funneled into one line means that even if your desired guest isn’t one of the super-popular ones, you still have to deal with all the people who are waiting for the mega-stars.

I hope Anime NYC does some things differently. First, having lines at the start of the day is a good idea, but try to make them at least a little later. Second, ticket lines for autographs should be split in a way that makes it faster for everyone. If those changes can happen, I think it would benefit everyone.

Screenings

Sunrise showed the first twenty minutes of Gundam Narrative at their Gundam panel, and it enticed me enough to want to finish Gundam Unicorn and to see where the film will go from there. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the way it somewhat re-frames the way society looks at Newtypes has me intrigued.

I also caught the Kase-san and Morning Glories film. It’s a gorgeous animated movie about two girls in love, and the way it explores the depths of their feelings is thrilling on a mental and emotional level.

Concert

I attended the Saturday Anisong World Matsuri concert at Hammerstein Ballroom, which featured Kitadani Hiroshi and Kageyama Hironobu of JAM Project, Nakagawa “Shokotan” Shoko, and idol titans Morning Musume. Despite being standing only for non-VIP audience members, it was one of the best anime concerts I’d ever been to. The mix of idol fans and anisong fans actually made for non-stop excitement, as each performance highlighted the best of the old and the new in a roller coaster of bright spots. Shokotan and Kitadani sang “Pegasus Fantasy” from Saint Seiya, followed later by Kageyama and Shokotan doing “Soldier Dream”!). Kageyama and Morning Musume joining forces for both “Love Machine” (a Morning Musume classic, I’m told) and “Chala Head Chala” (the first Dragon Ball Z opening). By the end, everyone came out to perform “THE HERO !!” from One Punch Man together. Hearing members of Morning Musume shout, ‘NOBODY KNOWS WHO HE IS!” will go down as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

However, my personal absolute highlight of the entire concert was Kageyama performing “Heats,” the opening to the 1999 OVA Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. It’s one of the first songs that really made me pay attention to Kageyama and one of his greatest, but the age and obscurity factors made me think I’d never hear it performed live. I am incredibly glad to be wrong.

In Closing

From top to bottom, Anime NYC 2018 was a great event. There were some hiccups, especially when it came to managing autograph lines and the cold weather, but I eagerly await 2019. My only regret is that I didn’t get any interviews for Ogiue Maniax this year. If the convention gods find it in their favor, I hope I can ask next year’s guests some solid questions.