The “Akagi” Author’s New Mahjong Manga Features an Interesting Lead

Fukumoto Nobuyuki, best known for gambling manga such as Akagi and Kaiji, has started a new mahjong series one year after the end of Akagi, which ran for nearly 27 years in Kindai Mahjong magazine. There’s a twist at the end of the first chapter, however, so read on if you want to know.

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Adhering to Conventions: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2019

It doesn’t happen every year, but this July is going to see Anime Expo and Otakon. If you’re into anime cons, this is a double-edged sword. As I get older, I’m worried I might not have the energy for both.

Many thanks to my sponsors 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

Highlights from June:

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

More love for an interesting manga, especially what it taught me personally.

Dark-skinned Precure: The Importance of Cure Soleil

The significance of Star Twinkle Precure‘s Mexican heroine.

Banjo-Kazooie, Dragon Quest, and the Precariousness of Nostalgia

Looking at how Smash Bros. as a “history of video games” can run up against its role as a vehicle for personal nostalgia.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 17 puts the S in Soprano.

Patreon-Sponsored

The Pros and Cons of $20 Anime Figures

What do you think of these symbols of budget anime merchandise?

Closing

I have two panels at Otakon this year, and I hope you’ll be able to make them. I’ll make another post closer to Otakon so that it’s fresher in people’s memories, but make sure to mark “Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots” and “Genshiken and Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku” on your Otakon schedules!

His Master’s Voice: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 17

We learn a lot—maybe too much—about Nishigafuchi’s students in Chapter 17 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

Nishigafuchi lead tenor Saiga (first name Shinnosuke) is in a funk, and the reason is that Shindou Yui, the lead soprano. Shindou mentioned that she sometimes doesn’t want to thing about how they’re breathing in the same space, and that with the way he keeps panting, he should just run around outside like a dog. To prove himself, he plans on challenging Jin to a competition, but gets punched in the mouth by Orihara instead. Shinji wonders if Orihara did it to defend Jin, but Orihara claims it was because he wanted to sing more Brahms. The punch actually makes Saiga want more because it reminds him of Shindou’s sadistic behavior.

Instead of competing, Jin actually helps Saiga with his singing and breathing (so he didn’t have to breathe the same air as her!), and the results are noticeable. Even Shindou is impressed, though she’s no slouch herself. Afterwards, Saiga goes up to Shindou and asks her…if she can be his master. Shindou happily gives him commands like a dog, everyone is confused (especially Kurata), and the Nishigafuchi adviser awkwardly comments that there are all kinds of relationships these days.

As they’re singing, however, Akira doesn’t, and his old middle school classmate Sadamoto notices again. But before he could say anything, Jin asks if the Hashimoto Chorus Club could perform for everyone on their own. Will Shinji finally sing here?

All Kinds

In the last chapter, Nishigafuchi student Andou described Shindou as appearing gentle but actually having a nasty tongue, and she certainly lives up to reputation. I figured that would be the case, but she far exceeds my expectations. I have to wonder if it’s like an entire club of masochists who enjoy the verbal lashing.

Meanwhile, Orihara’s punching Saiga (potentially) in defense of Jin is kind of a serious tsundere move by way of delinquent behavior. Maybe Orihara really does see him as a friend.

Great Teacher Kimura

According to Jin, Saiga tries too hard to keep his head from lifting up and tries to create too much space in his mouth—things that are generally considered good form in singing, but an area where Saiga overcompensates. The consequence is that the surrounding throat muscles to be overly tense and rigid, and this results in him breathing oddly while performing. To Jin, this might be why Shindou made her dog comment.

To help all of the tenors with this, Jin has everyone do an exercise where they “play catch” with their voices. The idea is that they breathe out like you’re trying to form a parabola, and like it’s coming out the top of your head—like they’re “throwing” their voice to the other team.

Jin is thus portrayed as someone who can teach even an elite singer from an elite school, and it furthers the idea that he’s on another level when it comes to understanding sound and music. It’s not clear what his power level is, but when Saiga challenges him, I was expecting a shounen manga moment where Jin can show his stuff and make clear the size of the disparity between them, but it didn’t happen. Yet.

 

Songs

Referenced last chapter too, they sing Johannes Brahms’s “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op. 74, No. 2.”

Final Thoughts

Is Jin purposely requesting a Hashimoto-only performance so that Akira will feel more comfortable singing, or does he have a different motivation?

Also, Kurata’s utter bewilderment over the Saiga-Shindou thing is the cutest thing.

The Pros and Cons of $20 Anime Figures

I was asked by my long-time Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato about my thoughts on “The effect of budget figurines (like Banpresto sells for $20 each [2,000 yen]) on the anime figure scene.” My first reaction to this was simply, “Figures are expensive, man.” That pretty much sets the stage for my opinion on the subject. They fulfill a necessary space in the grand scheme of anime merchandise, but they could always be better–not in terms of quality but rather honesty.

Personally, I prefer to get higher quality figures even if it means I have fewer overall. The Banpresto figures tend not to have the best paint jobs or face sculpts, and pricier figures just have more attention to detail that I appreciate. I don’t typically go for the most costly ones, though, unless I really, really want it.

But the balance between quantity and quality is different from person to person, and figures can end up being an absurdly expensive hobby. I’ve known people like that, and I’ll be upfront when I say that I don’t think I’ll ever make enough in a year to comfortably keep that up. So in that respect, Banpresto figures are a nice compromise. They’re not going to be the best, but they’re not supposed to be. They’re a valid option for people who want figures but simply can’t or won’t pay for more. And unlike trading figures, which is designed to be a bit of a gamble (you never know which one you’re gonna get!), you know what the figure is going to be.

The problems with $20 anime figures  come from two things, both related. First, their true purpose is as prizes for crane games in Japan. While there are apparently ways to master crane games and obtain them for reasonable prices, most people will probably end up spending more, perhaps even without success. Second, one of the big differences between more expensive figures and less expensive ones is whether you can look at the actual figure itself. Higher quality merchandise has clear packaging that lets you see what you’re buying, whereas the Banpresto stuff is hidden in opaque boxes covered in promotional photos that try to hide the flaws as much as possible. This is intentional but also disingenuous, as it potentially tricks people into getting a figure they wouldn’t have otherwise. In a sense, seeing them unboxed and on display at an anime con is a better thing, but in those cases they’re often marked up.

Ultimately, I don’t think Banpresto’s $20 figures are inherently a bad thing, and they definitely serve a part of the anime fandom that should be catered to. I just wish there wasn’t a degree of deception baked into the whole thing.

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.

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.