Amuro and Aina’s Excellent Adventures: Otakon 2019

Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

With that said, on to the rest of the con report!

Interviews

I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.

As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.

Panels

Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.

Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.

Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.

Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.

In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.

My Panels

Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.

Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.

I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.

For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!

Bradio Concert

Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.

I would see Bradio again, no doubt.

As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.

Other Notes

I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.

Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!

And lastly, some cosplay.

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Idols in Flux: Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow

After months and months of waiting, the film Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow finally hit US theaters for a special two-day event. Although cut from the same cloth as the first Love Live! film, it manages to go in interesting directions while also working extra hard to wrap up the loose threads of the Love Live! Sunshine!! TV series, all while putting an emphasis on fun, friendship, and family.

TV SERIES SPOILERS BELOW

After the third-years Kanan, Dia, and Mari graduate, Chika and the rest of the remaining Aqours members decide to continue as Aqours. When they find out that their new school doesn’t have a high opinion of them and the other former students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School, they resolve to use their school idols skills to win over the skeptics, but they seem to be in a funk. Thanks to some advice from their former rivals, Saint Snow, they seek out the third-years to figure out what they’re missing—a journey that takes them to Italy and back.

Much like the first Love Live! The School Idol Movie, Over the Rainbow is a direct sequel to the end of a TV show where the main characters travel to a foreign country to figure out what they want to do with their immediate futures. Where the new film differs is that by having Aqours continue on—unlike the group μ’s from the previous series—it feels less like one last hurrah and more a move into the future yet unseen. If μ’s comes across as mythical because of how they came and went, Aqours is more historical in that their story keeps going.

The film can feel disconnected at times due to the way it often emphasizes the simple idea of seeing the girls of Love Live! Sunshine!! enjoying themselves and having a good time at the expense of greater coherency, but it makes for an entertaining piece that never feels boring or tedious. Central to this positive atmosphere are the multiple song and dance numbers that push the film squarely into “musical” territory, though the best song of the entire film comes from a somewhat unexpected source.

Also of note is the movie’s side story about the Saint Snow sisters, Sarah and Leah. The latter’s guilt over botching a crucial performance in the TV series is the central pillar of their narrative here, and the way it’s both explored and resolved a alongside Aqours’s troubles is possibly my favorite part of the whole thing. I actually considered titling this review “Saint Snow: The School Idol Movie.” Seeing them also made me realize that Sarah and Leah are basically if Ruby were the older sister and Dia were the younger.

Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow is undoubtedly meant for existing fans first and foremost, but the overall positive vibes and the emotional journeys the characters take feel relatable and resonant for even those unfamiliar or skeptical of Love Live! as a franchise. It encourages viewers to accept change as an opportunity and to believe again when hope seems lost.

Bringing It All Together: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 18

Can Akira overcome himself and finally sing in front of an audience alongside his peers? That’s the big question of Chapter 18 of Hashikko Ensemble. 

Summary 

Still at Nishigafuchi High School’s elite Chorus Club, Jin has declared that the Hashimoto High School Chorus Appreciation Society will put on a small performance of their own in front of the other school’s members. Orihara is against it, having noticed that Akira didn’t sing during their prior practice. Still, Hashimoto ends up going along with it anyway.

While there are clear strengths to the group, notably Jin’s singing and Shion’s piano-playing, it’s clear to the members of Nishigafuchi that they’re still not organized as an ensemble—it’s like four different people merely singing at the same time instead of together. Even then, it’s not really four, as Akira continues to stay quiet to the extent that Orihara takes over the entirety of the bass part. But as his club mates continue to sing, even Akira’s timidity begins to recede inch by inch, until he comes in at the very end, unifying the various sounds for a brief moment. Akira inadvertently matches the subject of their song, a star that’s small but manages to shine.

Akira Did It

As I read through this chapter, I really wanted to see Akira overcome his fear, but I genuinely didn’t know if he would. Page after page, they kept singing while Akira kept his mouth closed, and I found myself cheering for him to break through this wall. When it finally happened, I almost felt like I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, and yell, “You did it!!!”

Between suggesting Hashimoto sing in front of Nishigafuchi and encouraging Orihara to just do the bass part himself if need be, Jin is the main reason Akira is in a position to do more than lip sync. Putting him on the spot like that can seem somewhat mean, but I’d like to think that Jin notices Akira’s genuine desire to sing. Just having attention on Akira wouldn’t work, so it’s crucial that Akira be surrounded by his club mates putting their all into their performance—an open invitation to join them.

I believe Jin is clever and cunning enough for all this to be his plan. He can act naïve at times, and in certain ways he is, but there’s a sharp mind behind those eyes.

Culmination of Ideas

Near the end, when Akira finally joins in, Jin’s thinks about how everything is come together for their group. In doing so, he brings up a lot of the terms that have come up in previous chapters—high-pitched tones, low-pitched tones, overtones, and singer’s formant. It’s as if this chapter is there to bring together all these concepts, and to show that the Chorus Appreciation Society has managed a breakthrough. The rough direction that the series has been taking has tightened up.

I read a bit more about singer’s formant—the ability for a singer to sound louder than an accompanying orchestra despite that seeming impossible—and realized that a less technical explanation works in introducing the idea. Essentially, singer’s formant is what opera singers are trained to have, and Akira more or less has this quality to his voice without any sort of practice required. It’s his nine-tailed fox, one might say.

Four in Unison

An interesting thing about the art in this chapter is how it shows the characters at different angles in a way that emphasizes how uncomfortable Akira is, as well as how they’re all over the place as a group. The key angle, however, is when they’re facing left, as it gradually goes from being only able to see Jin and Shinji, to an imagine situation of all four silent, to eventually Akira joining in and completing the group. It’s not easy to convey the impact of a song through image and text alone, but I can really feel that unity and harmony (pun somewhat intended) in the spread above.

Songs

The only song this chapter is “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto. It’s the song they’re planning on singing for the MHK competition.

Final Thoughts

Akira seems to have finally found himself. Now I’m just wondering if his childhood friend Himari is eventually going to sing as well, or if she’s going to be outside the club forever.

I also continue to be entertained by Andou, the sadistic soprano. At the beginning of the chapter, she mentions wanting to here Hashimoto’s performance, but it’s clear that she’s motivated by a desire to see them flounder. To her, something like an out-of-tune band that knows how bad they’re doing is probably the ultimate pleasure. The core group of Hashikko Ensemble is plenty quirky, but this makes it seem like there’s a whole ocean of weirdoes out there.

 

Locking Horns: Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day Review

The anime TV series Sound! Euphonium is a satisfying work that deftly balances the human drama of relationships with the emotional charge of music, competition, and the different degrees to which its characters embrace those elements. After two seasons, the story ended in a fairly satisfying if open-ended place, and it’s interesting that the sequel film, Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day, would focus the entirety of the main character’s second year into a roughly two-hour movie. The result is that the film is primarily about how Kumiko and the other remaining members of the Ensemble Club have changed, but also where they still need to go.

WARNING: SOUND! EUPHONIUM TV SPOILERS AHEAD

Having reached third place at Nationals, the Ensemble Club of Kitauji High School—filled with players of tubas and contrabasses and (of course) euphoniums among other instruments—got a peek at the top and are eager to go higher. But with all the third-years graduating, the complexion of the club is blind to undergo a dramatic change. Kumiko, now a year older, is tasked with guiding the incoming first-years. While she’s come to understand what it means to be passionate about her own music-playing, being a mentor is an unfamiliar challenge for her, especially with some of the eclectic new students who have signed up. Perhaps the most significant of these is Kanade, whose social interactions seems Machiavellian at times.

By virtue of medium, the A Brand New Day  covers a lot of time in less than two hours, so it can often feel more like a series of vignettes. It eschews the slow burn and gradual character development of the TV series in favor of highlighting the most dramatic moments, and also using the crop of new first-years to show how much the core cast has changed, and also where they have room for growth. For example, both Kumiko and Kanade are euphonium players who try to go along with the flow, and who are afraid to step on others’ toes, but their similar behavior comes from different places, and Kumiko has learned to mitigate this side of her to some degree. Hazuki, who only started playing the tuba in her first year, is constantly with two new tuba players with a lot more experience. Midori finds herself mentoring a younger fellow contrabass who, like her, is sensitive about his name. Reina mentions that the first-years all think they’re ready for competition but aren’t—somewhat ironic given that she was the freshman prodigy just a year ago. One of the messages of the film, and part of what makes it feel so transitional, is that experience, both in music and in life, are factors that can’t always be replaced by talent and genius alone.

There’s also a bit of romance sprinkled throughout the film, but the boy-girl situation Kumiko finds herself only serves to emphasize the heavy yuri vibes between her and Reina. The former is full of nerves and panic, while the latter is like watching someone put on a comfortable shirt. It makes me wonder what the source novels are like in regards to this subject.

Not all the characters are given much screen time, but that’s also because this film’s story runs concurrent with Liz and the Blue Bird. Another Sound! Euphonium film, it centers around Mizore and Nozomi, who were major parts of the second TV series. One more interesting thing is that the Japanese name of the film, Sound! Euphonium the Movie: Oath’s Finale, is very different from the official English title. I wonder if the word “finale” was thought to be too confusing, especially because the film is anything but a conclusion.

Sound! Euphonium – Our Promise: A Brand New Day is a welcome reunion with the musicians of Kitauji High School, but it comes across more like set-up for what’s to come. I’m looking forward to the next film to see how Kumiko and the others continue to grow.

 

World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

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.

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.