Hip Hop Manga: “Change!” and “Wondance”

Whether by chance or perhaps some broad editorial intent, it’s a curious thing that hip hop culture would be a prominent theme in two currently serialized Kodansha manga in Japan. Change!, running in Monthly Shounen Magazine, is the story of a Japanese poetry-loving girl named Shiori who ends up being drawn into the world of rap battling. Wondance, from Monthly Afternoon, focuses on an athletic boy with a stutter who discovers hip hop dance as a way to express himself. Each series, almost by necessity, takes a very different approach to their respective subjects, and juxtaposing the two highlights the power each work possesses.

Change! naturally places great emphasis on verbal dexterity, and as a series about Japanese rapping, there are also certain aspects to the language that make it differ from English. Japanese has fewer vowel sounds, which means that many more things in the language can technically rhyme, which in turn means that the rhymes that do occur can be even more varied yet precise aurally. The heavy emphasis on syllables also gives Japanese a certain sense of rhythm, especially because extending those sounds can change the meaning of a word entirely.

All of this needs to be effectively conveyed in the manga, and the approach Change! takes is to place more emphasis on word balloons than most manga. Words and syllables can appear larger or more erratic in order to highlight what key words in one line are being correlated with in the next line. The classic staple of many manga, furigana to aid in the reading of difficult kanji, take on added importance due to both the sheer number of homonyms that exist in Japanese and to make sure the reader keeps track of what’s being said syllable by syllable.In the images above, the male rapper connects the word “underground” with “Alice in Wonderland,” working off the fact that andaaguraundo and Arisu in Wandaaraando both start with an “a” and have the similar raundo vs. rando. He then follows up on the next page with Atama no naka made pinku iroka? / Orera no otogibanashi wa Kingu Gidora!, or, “Is even the inside of your head the color pink? / Our fairytale is King Ghidorah!” Pinku iroka lines up perfectly vowel-wise with Kingu Gidora, and the talk of fairy tales follows up to his comparison of Shiori as being as out of her depth as Alice is in her story. While the passionate expressions and the metaphorical imagery shown contribute to the atmosphere and to hammer home the meanings behind the words, the actual word balloons do a great deal of heavy lifting.

In contrast, although Wondance can be fairly wordy at times, when it comes to dancing, the manga is very much in the “show, don’t tell” category. Characters move with grace and intensity, and panels highlighting their steps litter the pages, turning them into virtual collages that practically crackle with energy. Text is sparse, and primarily brief glimpses into how the characters are thinking in the heat of the moment.In the pages above, the main character and Hikaru—the girl who brings him into the world of dancing—are dancing together in a class. The paneling supports the character artwork, emphasizing a sense of the two as a duo in sync with each other on some deeper level. This visual approach calls to mind the elaborate paneling of 1970s shoujo manga such as Swan, where panels cascade and climax in beautiful ways. The drawings capture not just the dance but the emotions of the dancers as well, making their moves the central vehicle for storytelling. In a sense, one doesn’t even need to know Japanese (or have a translation handy) to get the essence of Wondance.

Thus, on the one hand, you have a series where the words are of the utmost importance and another where images hold the power. However, they both draw upon the visual language of comics and especially manga in fundamental ways through their particular emphases. Change! and Wondance capture some of the magic of hip hop culture itself as a multi-medium, multi-angle fusion of various ingredients.

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“Tales of Eternia: The Animation” and the Adapting of RPGs

I was asked via Patreon to look at the Tales RPG series, which I have very little experience with. Given time constraints, I decided to focus my energy on an anime version, knowing full well that such adaptations often do not fully capture what makes the source material appealing. With that in mind, I chose to go in blind on the earliest Tales anime: Tales of Eternia.

My immediate feeling from the first couple of episodes was that the core cast is a fun and likable bunch, and that they stood out above all else. My favorite is Farah Oersted, the martial arts tomboy with an oddly familiar an appropriate voice—turns out she shares a voice with Videl from the Dragon Ball franchise. The show at times felt beholden to its RPG origins, especially during fight scenes, which is not helped by the roughness of the early-2000s digital animation.

But as I kept watching, I wondered just how much ground they were covering from the original Tales of Eternia. Halfway in, it seemed more like they were on their very first missions, when you’re still kind of learning the ropes. By the time a major plot twist comes in, it feels strangely paced—like either the story was moving too slow for something like this, or it had been skipping over too much. At this point, I decided to look at just how this anime maps onto the game.

The answer is that it doesn’t—at least not exactly. The central characters are more or less the same, except drawn in an early-2000s anime style as opposed to the softer designs of the game (or its squat sprites), but the story of the Tales of Eternia anime does not take place anywhere in the actual RPG. Suddenly, it made sense, and the feeling I was getting from the anime version was all too familiar: the Tales of Eternia anime is basically a filler arc.

The challenge of adapting an RPG is tricky because there’s not necessarily enough time to cover everything, so I can see why they took this approach. Shoving the game’s story into 13 episodes probably wouldn’t have done it justice, so going for a wholly original story is an interesting solution. However, the reason it feels so much like filler is because it straddles the line a little too much. The anime tries not to touch the main story so there are no real stakes, but it also seems to assume that this somewhere into it, so the anime isn’t terribly free to take liberties. All that remains is the charm of the characters.

Rokudou no Onna-tachi: When Krillin Wins

In 2016, I found out about Rokudou no Onna-tachi, a new manga that was a fresh and interesting take on the well-worn harem genre. As I continued, my opinion of it only grew. Even now, I find myself regarding Rokudo no Onna-tachi more highly than ever. There are many aspects of this series that contribute to its success, but fundamental to all of it is the portrayal of its protagonist, Rokudou Tousuke, as a true underdog. In a sense, he’s the Krillin of the series, but Rokudou no Onna-tachi is a story where Krillin is the main character, and he succeeds because he’s not the strongest, or the toughest, or the smartest.

To recap, Rokudo no Onna-tachi is about Rokudou Tousuke, a meek high school kid who casts a spell on himself to be more popular with girls. However, what he didn’t know was that the spell was very specific: it only attracts delinquents and “bad girls.” Most notable among them is Himawari Ranna, the strongest and most terrifying brawler in town. It turns out that bullies are a lot friendlier when your ostensible girlfriend can shatter concrete with her fists, but Rokudou is the last person to want to encourage violence, so he actively tries to prevent Ranna from sending every person they meet to the hospital. Along the way, Rokudou manages to befriend an eclectic group of people and through a combination of friendship, guts, and kindness, accidentally becomes the “shadow boss” of his school.

I call Rokudou no Onna-tachi a delinquent harem work, but it leans much more toward the former descriptor than the latter, and I think the series is all the better for it. While there is a romantic aspect of sorts, as the series has progressed, a majority of the focus has been on Rokudou’s shounen protagonist-esque ability to win over his antagonizers with or without the attraction spell (which he can’t get rid of, no matter how hard he tries). And even when it comes to the delinquent girls who fall head over heels for him. What’s more, “being hot to bad girls” doesn’t give him much of a leg up in a fight, so his ability to stand up to bigger and bigger threats speaks more to his qualities as a human being than anything else.

And yet, while romance doesn’t define the series, the central relationship between Rokudou and Ranna is still interesting and vitally important the tone of the narrative. If Rokudou is indeed a Krillin, that sort of makes Ranna the Android 18 of this story, in that she’s the more powerful of the two. However, her role is arguably closer to that of Goku, or even Saitama in One Punch Man. She’s an unstoppable force in a fight, and many physical conflicts in Rokudo no Onna-tachi are a matter of anticipating the carnage to come as soon as she gets where she needs to be. She’s not a heroine with a tragic backstory or a brash amazon with a hidden soft side, and even those moments of loving infatuation toward Rokudou humorously highlight a central tenet of Ranna’s being: violence is everything. That dynamic of contrasting personalities between Rokudou and Ranna fuel both the comedic and the dramatic parts of the manga, and it’s all the better for it.

If Rokudou no Onna-tachi had just stuck to pure silliness, making jokes about how an endless parade of nasty girls were getting googly-eyed over a tiny loser, then it would have worn out its welcome far too quickly. But if it had swung too deep into the serious and dramatic, then I believe it would have had a harder time standing out from the pact. It’s because Rokudou can be portrayed as this unlikely hero, and that the series can swing between silly and serious so effectively by using his constantly being out of his depth, that the manga is such a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Oh My God, Becky, Look at His Hands: Teasobi

One of my favorite manga in recent memory has been Mogusa-san by Ootake Toshitomo, about a girl with an unstoppable appetite. Its sequel, Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite, concluded last year, leaving me to wonder where I might see Ootake show up next. The answer is his brand-new series: Teasobi, or “Hand Play.”

Plain-looking Shijima “Shijimi” Nagisuke seems an unlikely boyfriend for the attractive and popular Fuchizumi, but she sure doesn’t see it that way. After all, in her eyes, he’s gorgeous and manly—or at least his hands are. That’s right: Fuchizumi is really, really into hands and fingers, to the extent that Shijima’s not sure if she even sees him from the wrists up.

To a degree, Teasobi resembles Mogusa-san—a normal guy, an eccentric girl, and a strange connection between the two. However, it actually reminds me more of the bizarre romance manga that I’m rather fond of, series that focus on the idea that a unique bond between two individuals is somehow deeper, more powerful, and more sensual than just a normal physical relationship. Think Nozoki Ana (centered around a peephole), Sundome (about avoiding climax), and one of my absolute favorites, Mysterious Girlfriend X (features literal spit swapping).

But whereas those series all delve into the sensual in graphic or at least eyebrow-raising ways, what sets Teasobi apart is that it’s focused on that most seemingly innocent of loving interactions: hand-holding. There’s nothing rated X about the physical contact between Shijima and Fuchizumi, which ranges from clasping fingers to thumb wrestling to high fives, but Fuchizumi’s enthusiasm makes it seem somehow more taboo. It’s fun, silly, and a bit thrilling.

Only a few chapters are currently out in Japan, but I’m definitely enjoying Teasobi. It brings a new meaning to the concept of “secret handshakes.”

An Odd Fusion: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 13

The club finally comes together, sort of. What lies ahead is to find a common goal!

Summary

With Shion joining in and Mimi-sensei as their advisor, the Chorus Club is officially formed! …Except technically, they’re an appreciation society, one step below a true school club in terms of legitimacy. So the Chorus Appreciation Society doesn’t even have access to the music room.

On top of that, to keep Shinji in the group, the Chorus Appreciation Society’s members all join his Mountain Castle Appreciation Society…but with one exception: Shion refuses because she doesn’t care about that sort of thing. In order to make everyone happy, two sideline spectators decide to join Shinji: Hasegawa–first name Kozue–and her previously unnamed friend, Katou Kanon.

Even the “appreciation society” status is tenuous, so Mimi-sensei suggests that they get some results by entering the MHK Chorus Concours (aka M-Con). While Jin doesn’t really care one way or another about it (there are separate competitions throughout the year, so it’s not like one big tournament, baseball-style), Akira actually does, to everyone’s surprise. He can notice how unpracticed and limited he is, and he wants to improve. His quiet enthusiasm manages to convince everyone else, so they agree to try. The only problem, as Mimi-sensei points out, is that the deadline for submitting songs is today!

Katou Kanon

At last, we have a name! A couple of chapters ago, I had to write about her interactions with the other characters, and I kept having to say “Hasegawa’s friend” and the like while hoping it wouldn’t seem awkward. Thankfully, that’s finally over–and Hasegawa got a first name too! This certainly isn’t the first time that a manga, let alone a Kio Shimoku manga, has withheld character names until later. The bully trio in Eyeshield 21 took forever and a half to get names, and Asada Naoko in Genshiken was known for the longest time as either “Nyaako” or “cat-mouth girl.” At least Kanon got her name revealed in the original manga, and fans didn’t have to suss out Asada’s name in one of the anime’s episode credits!

In any case, this probably means Kanon is going to be a more prominent character. Still, I wonder how often are the Kanons of the world are just background characters who happen to fall into more involved roles, and how often that’s planned well in advance.

Chimera Clubs

I’m quite fond of the trope where two clubs with insufficient members have to join together to stay alive. It was fun in Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, and while a group that discusses mountain castles isn’t as absurd as a napping society, I’m confident Hashikko Ensemble will make it entertaining. I do hope we get to see them visit a castle at some point in the story–maybe as part of a training camp?

As for why they have be an Appreciation Societies, it’s rather telling to me that the real reason is basically a transfer of burden. According to the Wood Ensemble Club’s advisor, Ochi-sensei, it took them forever to get that coveted “club” status, so Mimi’s new club should have to go through a similar ordeal. In a way, it’s like an extremely light form of hazing that you’d see elsewhere–earning your place and all that–only applied on a slightly broader scale.

Where Do Their Motivations Lie?

Jin’s initial rejection of M-Con is one thing, but his reasoning for agreeing provides even more insight into his mind. He cares little for competitions, but the sheer amount of singing a group has to go through to even get ready for one is more or less his idea of paradise. To him, the actual recital portion is just icing on the cake. In other words, here you have a guy who just loves singing for the sake of singing.

But on the flipside, I’m not sure how much Akira is motivated by a simple desire to improve and how much he’s being influenced by guilt. As shown in the chapter, Akira still remembers being in middle school and only pretending to sing, and he still feels pretty bad about it. He’s slowly learning to embrace his extremely deep voice thanks to all his singing, but I wonder if he’ll grow to appreciate music and singing all on their own.

Music

Continuing from last chapter, Akira and Jin continue to sing “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. While that particular song has been featured multiple times throughout the manga so far, it’s interesting to note the part that’s highlighted in Chapter 12.

君が僕の前に現れた日から
何もかもが違くみえたんだ
朝も光も涙も、歌う声も
君が輝きをくれたんだ

Ever since the day you appeared before me
I see everything differently
Morning, light, tears, even a singing voice
You gave me your shining brilliance

In other words, the lyrics of “Kanade” pretty much set the theme for all of Hashikko Ensemble.

Final Thoughts

Two last things, each about a different character:

The more I see Kurata Shion, the more I realize that she’s a ponkotsu character–essentially someone who seems capable on the surface but is really a comedic wreck. Just about everything she does in this chapter makes me laugh, from her goofy face while playing piano to her innocently mentioning how lacking Akira’s singing is without realizing how tactless she’s being.

Orihara appears in this chapter to talk about how he won’t do any dumb songs (which means he’ll do them if they’re not dumb). When I see him talking, I picture a specific voice in my head: Jotaro from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. If ever there’s an anime adaptation of Hashikko Ensemble, I hope they get Ono Daisuke.

Winter 2019 Anime Impressions

We’re a couple of months into the winter 2019 anime season, and I was asked by Johnny, one of my Patreon sponsors, for my thoughts thus far. Here are the current highlights, in my view.

The Promised Neverland

Based on a popular Shounen Jump thriller/psychological horror manga, it’s very notable that this adaptation is airing during the Noitamina timeslot–a space generally dedicated to appealing to older audiences. While I follow he original comic and thus know many of the spoilers, it’s still an incredible watch. If anything, The Promised Neverland is strong enough to carry the entire season by itself.

I was surprised to find out that the anime’s director is Kanbe Mamoru, who also directed one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. Both shows have an amazing sense of almost palpable atmosphere, so maybe it’s not so unusual after all.

Boogiepop and Others

I recall the 2000 Boogiepop Phantom anime being amazing, but it’s been so long since I watched it that I barely remember what it was about. Thankfully, the current Boogiepop and Others (which is actually a prequel to Boogiepop Phantom) is plenty strong. It’s a bizarre occult mystery series where it feels like each discovery is just one small step in an infinite void of darkness. Even the characters themselves have this almost numbing quality that makes you want to sink further in. There are few characters I want to simultaneously know more and less about than Boogiepop.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Elite, super-rich schools are a fairly common trope in anime, from Boys Over Flowers to Ouran High School Host Club, and they can be pretty hit or miss. I was pleasantly surprised by Kaguya-sama: Love is War because while it’s pretty much a “will they or won’t they” romcom, the premise is almost backwards compared to expectations. Rather than it being about hopelessly oblivious teens not realizing their own feelings for each other, it’s about two characters who are clearly interested in each other but see romantic confession as a sign of weakness. Thus, they’re constantly playing a game of chicken to see if they can get the other to ask them out first.

I like to think of it as like a mirror version of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. The only thing is that while I’ve enjoyed the episodes I’ve watched, I wonder if the joke might wear itself thin eventually.

Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan

Adapted from a manga that ran in Monthly Afternoon, Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan is an eccentric series about a single woman living in Tokyo. The anime is made all the more absurd by a Pop Team Epic-esque approach, where each episode is animated and directed by a different staff. The after-episode interviews last a liiittle too long, but it’s almost supplemental so not a big deal.

Star Twinkle Precure

Does this count as a winter 2019 season anime? The year-long franchise always runs on Precure time (starts and ends in February), but I’m going to include it because the series is already awesome. It’s taking a different approach compared to its predecessor, Hugtto! Precure, but I appreciate that. The outer space/aliens theme is a welcome first that I hope they explore in greater detail. The main character, Hoshina Hikaru, fulfills the “energetic and enthusiastic lead” role like so many other central Cures before her while still managing to feel unique. The show is vibrant and fun, and I expect good things from it.

So what series have been catching your attention? Which have you stuck with? Let me know in the comments, if you’d like!

This post was made possible thanks to Johnny Trovato. If you have any topics you’d like to see on Ogiue Maniax, check out the Patreon.

The Real Captain Planet: Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn

The 1990s Brave franchise—most famously known for its swan song, King of Braves Gaogaigar—is a series of children’s anime centered on boy heroes and their heavily merchandisable giant robots. While the overall quality varies, each show indicates a push and pull between being half-hour toy commercials, displaying impressive mecha animation, telling stories that kids enjoy, and imparting important lessons for young viewers. Over the years, I’ve been told multiple times that one of the turning points is 1992’s Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn: the third entry and first to attempt a more mature and long-form story. Having finally watched it, I can see a more serious yet also a scattershot approach that belies the competing forces dictating the direction of Da Garn.

Takashiro Seiji is a normal ten year old boy whose mother is a news anchor and whose father is a member of Earth’s Global Defense Force. When a mysterious robot attacks the city, he comes across a power lying within the Earth itself that manifests itself as a giant robot guardian known as Da Garn. As the masked commander, Seiji leads Da Garn, and eventually other robot allies who emerge, against ever greater threats—especially the enemy’s ongoing attempt to rob the Earth of its “planet energy.” There’s an ongoing environmentalism and world peace theme underlying everything, exemplified by a line from the opening theme: “This planet is our cherished ship.”

Due to this show’s opening, I once had a very mistaken impression of Seiji. The way he’s drawn and animated in it, there are times when he looks like an adult. It’s almost as if they either hadn’t decided his age, or figured that making him look 6 feet tall and muscular would make for a more exciting intro regardless of how odd it looks. Whatever the case, my expectations had to be modified, though Seiji’s quality voice acting from Matsumoto Rica (best known as Satoshi from Pokemon) helps keep him an endearing if somewhat typical protagonist.

The robots, in typical Brave fashion, are all about combining. Da Garn combines with a plane and a train to become Da Garn X. Later robots combine together and then get additional partners to combine together. However, they’re also kind of a thematic hodgepodge. Da Garn himself is a police car. He gets plane allies and motor vehicle allies. Then they start introducing robots based on animals, even making it seem like one is going take over as the star of the show, as if someone said, “The surveys say kids like lions!!”

There are so many mecha, and they’re given so few opportunities to show their personalities, that only a handful ever get highlighted, leaving many to be less memorable. In contrast, it’s hard to forget any of the robots in Brave Police J-Decker or Gaogaigar. Even compared to a series like Girls und Panzer (which also groups a gigantic cast into “squads” with collective personalities), Da Garn can feel sparse in terms of characterization. The main exception to this glut is an antagonistic robot named Seven Changer, who (of course) has seven different forms, and whose cool arrogance is delivered effectively by Koyasu Takehito (Dio in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

Speaking of villains, I’m not sure if I’d call them particularly strong, but they are definitely memorable, and they’re explored in great detail. Many of their identifies are initially a mystery, and they’re woven into the simultaneous small-town/global atmosphere in interesting ways. As the series progresses, their stories are increasingly a part of the narrative, and it allows Da Garn to touch upon ideas that would make less sense with Seiji or any of his friends. In fact, I’d argue that the anime doesn’t really find its footing until it starts to do more with its villains.

Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn ends up being the kind of work that is best viewed as taking a step beyond its trappings and its immediate predecessors while still somewhat beholden to them. It’s polished in some areas like visual presentation and general momentum of its narrative, but it sometimes succumbs to the weight of all the different expectations placed upon it. But while it may be outdone by later Brave series, it’s still a joy to experience, quirks and all.