When Anime Babies Get Real

Babies in anime and manga serve many differing purposes. They can mark the passage of time, or a transition into a new stage in life. In series for young girls, they’re often a way for children to emulate their parents. Whether they’re a source of comedy, an adorable presence, and evil force in the world, the role of the baby is myriad and generally based on the audience being served. Among these varied works, the baby portrayal that tends to catch my attention the most are the ones that get a little “real.” These depictions aren’t necessarily trying to portray the entire baby-raising experience, but they will bring up the inherent difficulty in bringing up a small child. Even when they’re doing it for laughs, there is a sort of sobering effect that can potentially apply to all ages and demographics.

s2e4hana The first baby that comes to mind is Hana in Ojamajo Doremi. In the second season of the magical girl franchise, titled Ojamajo Doremi ♯ (“Sharp”), elementary school girl Doremi receives a magical witch baby from a tree. From one season to the next, she and the other girls take care of her. In many similar series, such as Doki Doki! Precure, the baby is often just there for cuteness factor, or maybe to sell a few baby-themed toys. Doremi plays it differently.

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In one episode, Doremi, generally a clumsy girl, is having immense trouble taking care of Hana. She gets so frustrated by it, and the fact that the other girls are scolding her for doing a poor job, that she runs home to her mom looking for comfort and understanding. Instead, her mom slaps her (off-screen), and basically says, “If you get hurt, you just feel bad. If there’s no one to take care of Hana, it’s a matter of life and death.” In that moment, Doremi’s mom makes a crystal-clear point about how literally helpless an infant is, as well as the responsibility and strength absolutely required for their sake. Hana still acts the part of the precious anime baby, but even as a burgeoning witch with immense magical powers, reality sets in.

However, if we’re talking harsh depictions of the mental and physical toll babies can take on their parents, then one need look no further than Jigopuri: The Princess of the Hell. A short, two-volume manga by the author of Genshiken, Kio Shimoku, Jigopuri follows a young widowed mother named Ayumi and her newborn child, Yumeko. In contrast to the older characters, who all have a more typical moe look, Yumeko is drawn strangely hyper-realistically. The manga portrays raising Yumeko as a harrowing experience. Ayumi occasionally wishes ill on her own daughter due to the stress she causes, and feels immensely guilt over it. In one chapter, as Ayumi attends a meeting for new mothers, she finds out that others occasionally look at their children with disdain as well, which gives her immense joy and relief.

Unlike Doremi, which targeted an audience of young girls presumably into the idea of playing pretend-mama, Jigopuri ran in a magazine targeting adult otaku, Monthly Afternoon  which might be why it wasn’t terribly successful. It’s just not the kind of thing otaku are expected to know or care about. I find it kind of funny that a series targeting small children could deliver a serious message about raising children and then go on for two-three more years, while adult men rejected a similar message.

Nevertheless, I think that attempt to confront a reluctant or perhaps ignorant audience of certain truths or circumstances is what I find appealing about the “real” baby, even if seeing an infant girl with invisibility powers as per JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4 garners more laughs. In fact, I think of Spotted Flower, another Kio Shimoku manga about an otaku and his pregnant wife (who gives birth in the second volume) is kind of a do-over of Jigopuri. Even though it runs in more of a josei magazine, Rakuen: Le Paradis, it’s a compromise of sorts. Perhaps just as Hana is a magical baby with fun powers, having an otaku father can settle it into a more comfortable place.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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Over Half the Movie is Tank Battles: Girls und Panzer der Film

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Girls und Panzer is quite upfront about what’s in it: you have the cute girls, and you have the tanks. In spite of its seemingly vapid approach, however, the TV anime is actually quite robust, and I rate it very highly. But a television anime is different from a film, and a major question about the film sequel, Girls und Panzer der Film, is whether it can succeed similarly in spite of the new format. In this respect, I find Girls und Panzer der Film to be a very strong work, but one which is not as adept at drawing in skeptical or uninitiated viewers as its TV prequel.

Synopsis

Taking place right after the original TV series, Girls und Panzer der Film follows tactician Nishizumi Miho after she has led the ragtag rookies of Ooarai Academy to become the champions of competitive tank sports. Having defeating her former school in the grand finals, their efforts were supposed to save the school from being shut down, but because of a legal loophole their work isn’t done yet. With the help of old friends and foes alike, Miho and Ooarai Academy continue to fight for their school.

Television vs. Film

When it comes to the TV anime, I don’t believe it is absolutely necessary to be a fan of both cute girls and tanks. The show sports strong narrative and characterization as well as celebration of military hardware (as well as war simulation as competitive sport), such that a lukewarm reception of one aspect could be saved by the other. Because the series was more structured and more adept at its dramatic progression, it ends up being more enjoyable than other shows of its ilk.  It’s only when either one or both elements together create wariness in a viewer (dislike of moe designs, fear of the show’s potential role as military propaganda) that the anime doesn’t really work.

Girls und Panzer der Film makes no concessions. The film immediately starts with a tank battle and ends with a tank battle. In contrast to many anime, films, etc. where we see either multiple small battles without any real sense of connection between them, or the focus is on a single duel, the last fight is a continuous 50-minute campaign. It showcases elaborate strategies on both sides, lovingly introduces new tanks to the story, and brings together characters in battle that had previously never joined forces. This film is made for people who love Girls und Panzer, and while it happens to have a solid and enjoyable story overall, newcomers are clearly not its target audience.

Slim but Effective Character Narratives

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The battles themselves are fantastic. It’s rare in even the most action-packed shows and movies that a single battle will go for nearly an hour, especially one where you have a strong sense of where all the pieces are positioned and how they influence each other. Girls und Panzer der Film accomplishes just that. However, I have to re-emphasize that the concluding battle is so long that you have to enjoy tank combat at least a little bit. Either that, or you have to be so invested in the characters that seeing them develop and grow gives you great joy, even if it’s amidst the explosion of tank shells.

That’s not to say the film meanders needlessly, or that it doesn’t know how to tell a story. Girls und Panzer der Film, despite its enormous cast of fan favorites, keeps its narrative nice and focused. Perhaps nothing is more surprising than the fact that fan favorite Akiyama Yukari does not take over the film, but that’s because it isn’t really about her. While considered a possible weakness of the original TV series, the light characterization of Girls und Panzer (where characters are defined either in groups or from a few simple and easy-to-grasp qualities) works in the movie’s favor because one can easily grasp many of the girls’ motivations in only a few minutes. Seeing Miho reunite on good terms with her sister Maho (the commander of the team she defeated in the championships) was a joy. Even my favorite character, Anzio’s squad captain Anchovy, makes an appearance, and shines in her own special way.

Girls und Militarism

The elephant in the room (though not really because I already mentioned it), is to what extent Girls und Panzer der Film promotes militarism. While it’s easy to write Girls und Panzer off, either as a series that is clearly designed to get Japanese men to enlist in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces or as simple fluff that shouldn’t be overthought, I don’t think it’s so simple.

When it comes to the question of whether Girls und Panzer glorifies war and militarism, the answer is yes and no. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but let me explain. On a surface level, the appeal in this respect is obvious. Get people to fall in love with the girls, associate them with tanks, and you might see some otaku driving them once they hit enlistment age, and while the anime isn’t quite that simple, that initial impression carries a lot of power. That being said, if you watch the series, tank combat is presented as a sport akin to archery or soccer, and it presents a world where tanks are no longer weapons that take millions of lives but rather tools for friendly competition. Is this whitewashing history, or is it presenting a kind of utopian alternative? I think cases can be made for both, which is why it’s more complicated than what is evident at first glance.

So where does Girls und Panzer der Film fit into all of this? I argue that, even as it celebrates tanks and tank combat, the film makes a rather prominent criticism of patriotism. In the movie, a new school is introduced call Chi-Ha-Tan, where the girls try to make up for their lack of skill with sheer fiery gusto. However, they’re also constantly sabotaging themselves because of the members’ desire to preserve their “honor.” When comrades are taken out, they believe that the best solution is to charge the enemy and fall in glorious combat. They despise turning their backs to the enemy, because they need to make up for everything. Unlike Saunders Academy (the American school), who believe in overwhelming force as a strategy, they have no actual strategy, and are instead merely victims of their own zealousness.

In other words, the science of senshadou (way of the tank) reigns, and foolhardy aggression (the kind of thing encouraged in Japanese citizens during World War II) is a mistake.

Conclusion

Girls und Panzer der Film deftly balances its two extreme components through efficient storytelling, compelling action, and overall cleverness. It’s not as newbie-friendly as the TV series, both in the sense that it’s a direct sequel and because the tank combat is much more important, but it also doesn’t let the desire for fanservice (both technological and girly) get too much in the way of a solid narrative. It even adds an interesting new angle on the image of itself as a work that promotes militarism. Girls und Panzer der Film does a lot in two hours, and leaves a lot to contemplate, even if the movie might seem pretty light on thoughtful content otherwise.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

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Fun New Experiments: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2015

The past month has been quite fun for Ogiue Maniax. First off though, I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters for believing in me and my writing:

General:

Ko Ransom

Alex

otarsus

Anonymous

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

If you haven’t checked out what I’ve written over the past month, I think I’ve put out some pretty good work this time around. As part of New York Comic Con I reviewed Boruto: Naruto the Movie, which is the bookend to the long and popular Naruto franchise. I also finally got around to talking more about my current favorite food manga, Mogusa-san, and I make a pretty convincing argument as to who’s the best moe character of 2015.

My Genshiken chapter review this month felt somewhat heavier than my previous ones, but I think it makes a good partner with my most recent post, which covers my own thoughts on the recent harassment issue in the Steven Universe fandom.

No sponsored posts this time around, but if you’re interested in having me tackle a specific topic of your choice, I take requests from sponsors who have pledged $30+ on my Patreon.I’m trying a few new things with Ogiue Maniax, as while I love the blog I do wonder if it’s grown stagnant and unwieldy in certain respects. First, while many of my articles are fairly long, I’ve started including some shorter posts as well. Back before 2010, when I would write one post per day, my output was more about getting ideas out there and making them short and sweet. Although I think longer posts have their merit in that they allow for more in-depth explorations of ideas and so I would never do away with them, I am wondering if shorter posts can reach people in a different way.

Second, I’m dipping my toe in YouTube. I do not believe I will ever fully get into the YouTube game, but I was thinking of it as a different medium to get my thoughts across. Today I’ve released the first in what could be a series of “1-Minute Reviews,” based on my past reviews on the blog. The idea, as implied, is that I give my take on an anime in 60 seconds or less.

Third, I started up a Facebook page for Ogiue Maniax. I’m currently not entirely sure what its use is, but I’m open to suggestions.Finally, I’ve created an Ogiue Maniax Skype Group for any Patreon supporter who contributes $2 or more. I’m curious to see if anyone would be interested in chatting with me or other readers directly. I’m still unsure if I would do video chat, but voice chat is something I’m open to. Just contact me through Patreon with your Skype name and I will add you to the group.
So tell me what you think!

 

2015’s Best Moe Character

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I recently re-watched the awesome Mad Max: Fury Road, which has reminded me about something very important: Nux the War Boy is the most moe character of 2015.

Nux, like the other War Boys, is afflicted with cancer which makes him barely able to stand. Despite his crippling illness, he tries his best to achieve glory and be shiny and chrome.

Moe.

Nux, though part of a religious cult that emphasizes death and war, is in a sense innocent. He has a sense of naive, wide-eyed wonder about the world and his glorious leader, Immortan Joe. He knows little of the world, but he slowly learns.

Super moe.

Despite his efforts, however, his clumsiness often gets the better of him, and it leaves you feeling sorry for him. Seeing Nux curled into a ball as he laments the fact that the Gates of Valhalla denied to him three times, you just want to give him a hug.

So moe I could live, die, and live again.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

And Then Came Comic Con: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2015

September I feel was kind of an exciting month, and I think I’ve put out some of my best articles in a while. Chief among them are my review of Love Live! The School Idol Movie and a monthly sponsored Patreon post, “The Rise and Fall of Saimoe.” In fact, even though it’s against the rules of my Patreon, I want to extend my gratitutde to Johnny Trovato, who while no longer a patron was the first to take me up on my offer to write posts based on topics chosen by my patrons. Thanks, Johnny.

Over the past month I’ve introduced a new type of pledge, where you can pledge a certain amount based on your favorite Genshiken character. In all honesty it’s just an excuse for me to make bad puns, so that’s why the amounts are all over the place. Of course, this also means that there are now different categories for sponsor shout-outs.

This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:

General:

Ko Ransom

Alex

otarsus

Anonymous

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Kyubey Bryant

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

I haven’t gotten to all of the Genshiken characters yet, but if there’s one that you really want to see (Kaminaga? The younger Yoshitake? Ohno?), then speak up! It’ll be interesting to see which characters are still the fan favorites after all this time.

As for what’s on the horizon, New York Comic Con is this week, and I’ll be attending all 4 days! Of course I’ll have a con report for everyone to read, and you’ll be able to (most likely) catch me at a number of panels. Of course, given the hectic nature of NYCC, there’s no telling for sure!

Thu. Oct. 8
5:30 – 6:30 pm
VIZ Media Presents: An Evening with Masashi Kishimoto, Creator of Naruto
Location: Main Stage 1-D Presented by AT&T
Panels & Screenings
Fri. Oct. 9
8:00 – 9:30 pm
Love Live! School Idol Project
Location: Room 1A05
Panels & Screenings
Sat. Oct. 10
11:15 am – 12:15 pm
CBLDF Presents: Comics Censorship in 2015
Location: Room 1A05
Panels & Screenings

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Otaku Culture, and the Specter of Censorship

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.

As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.

Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradictions. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.

I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.

Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.

However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.

Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.

While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.

In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.

It Just Works Better: Tantei Opera Milky Holmes TD

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for me to write about, or just like my writing and want to sponsor me, check out my Patreon.

milkyholmestd-milkyholmes

The original Tantei Opera Milky Holmes is an anime I viewed as largely a disappointment. Ostensibly about a group of cute female detectives with superpowers, the premise is more window dressing for moe comedy and reference humor. That combination can be okay, but in Milky Holmes the jokes are very hit or miss (mostly the latter). The majority tend to be rather one-dimensional (That’s from that anime! Haha!), though every so often there would be a truly impressive gag. Case in point, I fondly remember the “Baritsu” gag, which spent an entire episode setting up the name of a semi-fictional martial art found in the Sherlock Holmes novels in order to deliver a pun based on the climax of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. However, because the show felt so flimsy and the humor fell flat so often, when it came to the next one, Futari wa Milky Holmes, I felt little need or desire to check it out even if there were some brighter moments.

I’ll be honest when I say that, if it weren’t for my Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato, I probably would not have given the franchise a second look. As wide as my tastes are in anime, and as willing as I am to give shows a second chance, I had ignored it in favor of other current series. That’s why I was rather surprised to find that the third and latest anime, Tantei Opera Milky Holmes TD, is pretty much an improvement all around compared to its original predecessor.

milkyholmestd-jojo

While the humor continues to be a mixed bag of weak, one-note references and stronger, more developed jokes, what makes Milky Holmes TD work better is that its story provides just enough stability that the anime doesn’t live or die by its gags alone. The four main characters, Sherlock, Nero, Cordelia, and Hercule (all named after famous fictional detectives), must solve a rather bizarre missing “persons” case. An idol, whose songs are powered by fairies that have been a part of her since birth, have gone missing, and nobody knows who is responsible. What makes this mystery even more difficult is that the fairies end up in the bodies of people who are unassociated with the original crime, and so the girls of Milky Holmes work towards finding them one by one, with the ultimate goal being to find the original culprit. Though not much actual detective work goes into the series, it’s enough to get a sense of progress from one episode to the next, and to inspire a viewer to feel invested.

Essentially, as the girls find each of the fairies, there is this general forward movement where they move one step closer to accomplishing something. In contrast, although the first anime starts off somewhat similarly with the Milky Holmes girls themselves losing their powers and by extension their positions as the best detectives in school, that storyline doesn’t go anywhere until the last episode (which admittedly was an enjoyable finale). I doubt that existing fans of Milky Holmes care too much for that sort of thing, at least within the context of Milky Holmes itself, but I think it gives an “in” for those who might otherwise pass it up. It might not seem that significant, but I believe this is the sort of thing that can expand a franchise’s fanbase, if only a little.

milkyholmestd-raohmarshmallow

Speaking of abilities and reputation, I like the fact that the Milky Holmes girls are re-introduced in Milky Holmes TD with a kind of reverence. I think it’s meant to show just how far the Milky Holmes media franchise has come, and that while they were “rookies” of sorts in the original, now they’re back and better than ever. Also, because they have their powers and at least try to make use of them, you can believe that they’ve actually had past success in helping others out. It’s a fine line, I think, because it’s not like the girls show powerful deductive reasoning, and for the most part that is barely even a consideration in Milky Holmes. However, having capable yet humorously hopeless characters appeals to me more than just having them be all but useless.

From my perspective, you can more than easily skip the original series and go straight to Tantei Opera Milky Holmes TD. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but I think it stands a better chance of drawing in an audience beyond those who think “cute girls and anime references” are enough content. Now if they start to better utilize their detective and phantom thief motifs better, then it’ll really turn some heads.

PS: Akechi is the best character.milkyholmestd-akechi