I’m Happy to Have Chihayafuru Season 3

The Chihayafuru anime is back after nearly six years, and I’m just thrilled. Rarely is there a series that so deftly balances interpersonal drama, the excitement of competition, and the effective portrayal of its characters through both of those aspects.

Chihayafuru is about playing karuta, a game based on matching cards to recited poetry. It looks like the kind of thing kids would play when they’re bored, and it is. However, the series does such a convincing job of making competitive karuta look like a fierce and deep game, and it does so without necessarily needing to go for an over-the-top presentation. There’s nothing like ancient Go ghosts, basketball powers, or ultra mahjong luck. The “powers” aren’t otherworldly, but rather play styles based on individual traits and personalities, with just a slight dramatic flair. Chihaya, the heroine, doesn’t have superhuman ears, but the idea that she has better hearing, and that it pushes her toward a more aggressive style makes sense. Her old friend Arata’s memorization is uncanny, but not beyond the realm of mortals, and the fact that his grandfather was a former king of karuta gives him ample reason to have spent time on the game.

When the series introduces new characters and potential rivals, it rarely feels contrived or as if certain characters are clearly there to take the loss. Whether they’re former queens, players from other high schools, or even small children, they feel very human, both through their personal motivations and idiosyncrasies, as well as through their play. A lot of series bank on having large casts, but Chihayafuru‘s maintains an intimate feel.

Here’s to another season, and the hopes that we’ll be getting lots of emotional intensity and bad t-shirts.

(All hail Shinobu.)

 

Bite Me: Yofukashi no Uta Initial Impressions

Kotoyama, the author of Japanese snack-themed manga Dagashi Kashi has a new manga: Yofukashi no Uta (“Song of Staying Up Late”), named after a song by the band Creepy Nuts. Eschewing a specific focus on a product or gimmick this time, Yofukashi no Uta maintains a similarly entertaining and humorous format of back-and-forth banter, a mysterious girl who seems out of this world, and a boy who feels stuck in place.

Yamori Kou has been having trouble sleeping lately, as if he’s missing something. His malaise causes him to inadvertently push friends away, and he wanders around at night aimlessly. He meets a girl, Nanakusa Nazuna, who seems to enjoy the evening hours with a cheerful and gregarious attitude, but who turns out to be a vampire. Nazuna gets a taste of Kou’s blood, which turns out to be unusually delicious, and after some conversation, Kou decides he wants to be a vampire himself. However, in order to be turned, he must fall in love with her.

The basic dynamic between Kou and Nazuna is that Kou is okay talking about romance but gets easily embarrassed when discussing raunchier topics, whereas Nazuna is the opposite. Their contrast is fairly similar Kokonotsu’s and Hotaru’s from Dagashi Kashi, but without the focal point provided by candy as a consistent topic. I admit that I do miss the dagashi talk, but I also understand that that can’t just retread old ground. And the way Kotoyama writes character interactions is still charming, so it’s in good hands.

One big difference between Yofukashi no Uta and Dagashi Kashi is chapter length. Whereas the latter tended to be only about eight pages or so, the former is more standard shounen manga size. It gives the manga more room to breathe, and I’m curious to see how Kotoyama does over time with more space.

I’m going to try and keep up with the series however I can. With Volume 1 on sale in Japan November 18 (along with a Dagashi Kashi collection of artwork), it’ll be a great opportunity.

 

Ooh, Where Does This Door Go?: Aikatsu on Parade! Early Thoughts

Seven years is more than enough time for a franchise like Aikatsu! to do an anime mega-crossover. However, it’s one thing to do the occasional crossover movie or TV special, and it’s another to make an entire series about it. Having watched the first couple of episodes, I can feel a genuine desire to celebrate and respect all aspects of Aikatsu!, but I have to wonder if they’re letting the genie out of the bottle.

The Aikatsu on Parade! Anime (based on the arcade game) ostensibly takes place in the same world as the previous season’s Aikatsu Friends! Kiseki Raki is a transfer student to Star Harmony Academy, where she dreams of becoming a great idol fashion designer. Unbeknownst to her, Raki’s sister has engineered a special school pass for her that in addition to allowing her to transform for performances, gives her access to “doors” that open up to other Aikatsu! series settings.

There’s a lot of care put into this new series to not make Raki seem like a subordinate fangirl to the previously established stars. Her fashion path, more akin to numerous side characters, doesn’t put her in as direct a  “competition” with the older heroines. Also, her personality (basically Dee Dee from Dexter’s Laboratory with a little more common sense) is strong enough to not get outshined by the characters she meets. That being said, she’s still yet to meet the titan that is Hoshimiya Ichigo, which will be the real test. I recently watched the premiere of WWE Friday Night Smackdown, which had The Rock on as a guest, and his charisma is so strong that it overshadowed even one of the biggest current stars in that company.

Perhaps the easiest place to tell that the creators are being thoughtful and considerate as to how the Aikatsu! characters would cross over is the first episode’s ending, where you see practically every significant character ever walking together. They’re grouped in rough categories according to a combination of personality and story purpose, and you can really see that it’s not shallow or haphazard.

Of course Mizuki and Elza would be with each other, and you can imagine each one firmly believing she’s the best. Given that the new series is also going to be having characters from different series singing and dancing together, it’s a golden opportunity for some dream collaborations.

I’m curious as to why they decided to make each of the Aikatsu! series distinct…universes? Timelines? Whatever it is, they establish early on that all these idol schools aren’t just in different parts of Japan—they exist entirely apart from one another, as if they’re wholly separate existences. There’s no wrong approach here, but I’d still like to know the creators’ reasoning for going this route.

Aikatsu on Parade! is on track to being a fun, excellent series that gives Aikatsu! as a whole its proper due. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is precarious territory for a franchise to go. Is there really any going back after this? What will it mean for the future of Aikatsu!? There’s no way to tell at the moment, but hopefully everyone in charge knows what they’re doing.

This post is sponsored by Johnny Trovato through Patreon. Top patrons can request specific topics on Ogiue Maniax.

Splatoon Live Concerts and the Expression of Character in Performance

Nintendo Live 2019 in Kyoto featured two nights of Splatoon concerts with holograms of the Squid Sisters and Off the Hook performing onstage. It’s not the first time both pairs have been together, but watching this event made me really appreciate the care put into expressing the individual differences between the characters in accordance with their musical styles.

 

Off the Hook and Squid Sisters (or Tentacles and Sea o’ Colors in Japanese) are very different groups. Pearl as MC and Marina as DJ have very distinct roles in Off the Hook such that their movements are heavily contrasted with each other. Pearl is fiery and aggressive while Marina is laid-back and soulful, and everything about them screams hip hop, which traditionally has liked to draw a sharp distinction between its musicians. There’s really no confusing the Pearl and Marina, and their performances put a bright spotlight on their individuality.

 

Squid Sisters, however, are more akin to a Japanese idol group, and so their performances are more synchronized and feel more choreographed. At the same time, every so often, you’d see a subtle difference in movement—an extra bit of flourish from Callie or a more composed and precise gesture from Marie. It’s especially noticeable at times when both are cheering the audience on, and Callie is bouncing up and down as Marie’s feet stay firmly planted, such as in the video above. The differences between the two are relatively subtle as a result, and idol fans eat this sort of thing up.

Adding these small quirks to Callie and Marie is all the more impressive because a lot of fictional idol media don’t really bother to do the same. When watching an episode of Love Live! or Aikatsu!, there’s often pretty much no difference in performance if two or more characters are doing the same routine in the same song. We’re sometimes told that there’s a difference, but it’s not really shown.

From idols to hip hop and beyond, the musical acts of Splatoon are given presence and personality. This is taken into consideration even in the live concerts. It makes me wonder where a Splatoon 3 will go genre-wise, and I anticipate what Nintendo has in store.

Day 2 Full Concert

Pump Up the Jam: How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?

Sports anime have been a pillar of Japanese animation since its earliest days, but very rarely, if ever, have any shows focused specifically on exercise. In comes How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, a series that emphasizes actively pursuing fitness, whether it be at the gym, at home, or on the beach.

Dumbbell follows Sakura Hibiki, a high school girl who wants to lose weight and attract guys. Surprisingly, on a visit to a local gym, she runs into her rich classmate, who turns out to be an absolute fitness enthusiast. Together, with the deceptively handsome gym trainer Machio, they go through different exercises and approaches for achieving one’s fitness goals—and learning about the role weightlifting can play.

The series has a clear focus on the girls, and there’s no denying that sex appeal is a  fundamental part of Dumbbell. However, there’s an important distinction to make, and the best way is to compare it with another anime that puts focus on exercise: Issho ni Training: Training with Hinako. That short has the viewer watch a lightly dressed girl named Hinako, who goes through her exercise routine as the voyeuristic camera ogles her from multiple angles. But while Training with Hinako uses exercise as an excuse for fanservice, Dumbbell instead uses fanservice to promote exercise. To that end, it actually gives tips on weightlifting and other areas. In fact, the opening theme specifically points out what muscles are worked out by common and popular lifts.

Also, while the body diversity in the series is somewhat limited—the girls don’t have literally the same exact body, but they all fall along conventional ideas of attractiveness—each of them have their own reasons for going to the gym. The main character, Sakura Hibiki, wants to lose weight and look good, i.e. the most expected reason. Soryuin Akemi is obsessed with muscles (both on herself and others) to a fetishistic extent. Uehara Ayaka is the daughter of a retired boxer-turned-coach, and so exercise is as natural to her as breathing. Gina Boyd is a Russian who competes in sambo and arm wrestling, so strength training is just her way of staying fighting fit. Tachibana Satomi, their teacher, is a secret cosplayer who wants to look good for photos and fight the aging process. At the very least, the series promotes the idea that weight loss is not the sole reason to work out.

As one last aside, I once wrote that I’d be interested in a competitive bodybuilding manga because of how the posedown has a heavy psychological element. There is actually a competitive bodybuilding episode of Dumbbell, though it doesn’t quite go as far as I have hoped. Still, it’s forward progress.

How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is not going to upend people’s understanding of weight and diet culture, but it also makes a sincere effort to teach people to exercise in ways that fit their specific situations. It’s as if the show is saying, not everyone can do everything, but as long as you’re moving and sweating, it’ll work out.

The Far Side Booth at New York Comic Con 2019

It’s extremely rare that a convention’s exhibitor’s hall, or any particular part of it, would be the highlight of my con experience. But at New York Comic Con 2019, few things brought me as much excitement as seeing a booth for Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

As far as one-panel newspaper comics go, nothing could match up to The Far Side. Its unorthodox, absurd, and at times dark humor was an incredible influence on me in ways that can’t be underestimated. Perhaps the only reason why it was a “childhood” favorite instead of a perennial one, is that it ended in 1997, in what feels like a bygone era. Before things like high-speed internet and cellphones (let alone smartphones) became commonplace, before print newspapers started folding in droves, The Far Side had already sung its swansong. Seeing it prominent in the year 2019 made me feel like my young and older selves collided—a reminder of how I came to love comics and the things I’ve discovered and accomplished because of that passion.

The actual booth for The Far Side at NYCC 2019 was clever. At the top were various recurring character archetypes from the comic’s run—cows, beehive hairdo ladies, etc.—all stretching out their cheeks and sticking out their tongues. On a wall were four displays, each cycling through different Far Side greatest hits. One of those comics, in which a child at “Midvale School for the Gifted” is trying to push open a door with a giant sign above that says “PULL,” was faithfully replicated at a life-size scale so attendees could reproduce the panel.

This display came on the heels of an announcement that The Far Side is coming back in some form, but what exactly that means is still unknown. Gary Larson famously didn’t like putting his work on the internet, so it might just be him finally catching up to the world and having some kind of singular online resource. If it’s actually new The Far Side comics, well that’ll just make my year.

It Was Me, Jin! It Was Me All Along!: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 20

Why fight when you can sing? It’s Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 20!

Summary

Tsuyama (of the Mimi-sensei-loving quartet) and Orihara fight under the former’s mistaken belief that the latter sexually assaulted Mimi-sensei. Evenly matched, the situation is eventually defused when Mimi-sensei herself explains that nothing happened and Hasegawa lied about Orihara squeezing Mimi-sensei’s breasts. Tsuyama and his friends still discover it’s Shion who’s the true “culprit,” but at least a couple of them don’t seem to mind at all.

Jin uses the audience gathered from the fight to his advantage, and suddenly announces a 4 vs. 4 singing competition between the Chorus Appreciation Society and Tsuyama’s group.

We learn in a flashback that Tsuyama is actually a pretty good singer, but they’re not exactly ready for this contest. The music teacher Takano-sensei offers to help them. Also, unbeknownst to his friends, the gorilla-like Ogawa (nickname “Ogre”), goes to the Chorus Appreciation Society for help in learning how to sing better. The reason: he doesn’t want to hold the others back. Jin begins teaching him about how to deal with being out of tune.

Back in the present, Tsuyama’s group are about to sing “Cherry” by the Japanese pop group Spitz (Mimi-sensei’s favorite band) against the Chorus Appreciation Society’s “Viderunt Omnes,” when suddenly, Ogawa hands his microphone over to Akira, in what looks to be a shocking betrayal!

Not the Best Handling of Rape as a Subject

I want to preface this minor criticism by saying that I don’t think Kio Shimoku is trivializing or supporting rape in any way, and what I sense from the story is that this little fiasco is more about a false rumor run rampant. Hasegawa, for her part, didn’t even say the word okashita (variously “rape,” “violated,” etc.)–it was Tsuyama who interpreted it that way.

However, given the increasing awareness we as people have about women not being believed when it comes to sexual assault, having a girl like Hasegawa start this rumor is not the best look for the series. For me, it’s not a deal breaker, and I still love the heck out of Hashikko Ensemble, but it’s potentially playing with fire.

Anyone Can Improve Their Singing

Jin makes a helpful point this chapter about how getting better at singing in tune depends on how tone deaf someone is. A person who can recognize that they’re not singing well can, over time, learn to adjust. Someone who is tone deaf, on the other hand, will need another person to tell them when they’re off, but this can still be a path to improvement.

It gives hope to folks like me who are musically challenged.

Friendship Between Misfits

While I originally thought that Tsuyama and his friends might become antagonists of sorts, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, what I see is a group of people who are kind of weird and arguably pretty creepy, but who have one another’s backs. I find it touching that Ogawa thinks so highly of Tsuyama (who encouraged him to work out so that no one could belittle him) that he would go to the enemy for help in learning how to sing. In a way, it’s like these guys are the cast of Genshiken, only all of them are like 10-15% Kuchiki. The clear path is for at least some of these guys to eventually join the Chorus Appreciation Society, but I wouldn’t be surprised at a few twists and turns.

Also, the fact that two of them are into yuri but two of them don’t seem to care that much makes for a small but interesting distinction among their group.

Songs

As Mimi-sensei talks about her fondness for Spitz, the following songs get mentioned:

“Cherry”

“Robinson”

“Sora o Toberu hazu” (“You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly”)

“Viderunt Omnes” is also brought up again. Orihara basically refused to sing anything else.

Final Thoughts

Despite all the weirdness with Hasegawa, her running commentary for the Orihara-Tsuyama fight is a highlight of this chapter. The way she compares Orihara’s enormous strength to Tsuyama’s speed and technique fills me with glee.

I highly doubt that Akira is doing any sort of real heel turn, but I’m looking forward to how it pans out. I assume that friendship will win over all, and Shion will gain some strange new guardians.