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In my recent visit to Kyoto, I discovered two interesting manifestations of Japan’s interest in anime and manga. The first I first came upon while taking public transit: posters featuring anime-style high school girls who act as mascots for the Kyoto Subway system’s “Ride the Subway” campaign. After being redesigned in 2015 to match a more contemporary anime aesthetic they’ve really caught on, and have even been featured in TV ads:
The second I had already planned to visit, which was the Kyoto International Manga Museum, an archive of countless manga from all decades that is open to the public. Like the girls of the Kyoto subway, the Manga Museum has its own mascot, Karasuma Miyu, to whom I was immediately drawn. I think it’s clear why, given her design:
Now aware of this Ogiue-esque character (though also clearly much more cheerful in comparison), I felt compelled to buy some kind, any kind, of Karasuma Miyu merchandise. This led me to the light novel known as Kyo Girls Days, written by Motoki and illustrated by Kamogawa. Featuring both the Kyoto Subway Girls and Karasuma Miyu, it not only celebrates the subway and the Manga Museum, but also Kyoto tourism in general.
Kyo Girls Days follows best friends Uzumasa Moe, Matsuga Saki, and Ono Misa as they decide what to do for Golden Week. With an initial plan to visit “power spots” all across Kyoto, they end up running into Karasuma Miyu, who works at the manga museum. Not only a manga enthusiast but also a Shinto miko, Miyu imbues the girls with supernatural sight, allowing them to see the various kami and other spirits that populate the old capital that is Kyoto, and transforming their vacation adventure in unforeseen ways.
Light novels can often follow certain trends. They’re frequently designed to be adapted into anime and manga as part of a media mix. They’ll feature young protagonists to whom an otaku audience can relate, with narratives that emphasize wish fulfillment fantasies or twists on well-worn tropes. Others get more creative, and fight against the reputation of light novels as trashy and lacking in substance. However, a promotional light novel, especially one that is an offshoot of a city government effort to encourage more frequent use of its public transportation, is a unique beast all its own. While this means that there’s a certain inevitable sheen of safeness in Kyo Girls Days, the result is actually kind of pleasant given that there’s less concern over whether the narrative is trying to go for cheap titillation, or objective exploitation of the girls beyond their roles as mascots.
If anything, the exploitation takes the form of the girls being a little too upstanding as people. Moe’s primary qualities are her love of helping others and her encyclopedic knowledge of the Kyoto Subway. Saki is sporty and tomboyish, and Misa is the otaku of the group, who even bought a guitar because of K-On! Another important character, Tokyo transplant, photographer, and Moe’s classmate Shirakawa Sumi, is shy and nervous about befriending Moe. None of them have any particular flaws, the closest being that Saki is somewhat impatient, while Misa is kind of lazy and can often be late to gatherings. In fact, there’s actually a scene where Misa arrives late and blames it on the trains, and Moe’s response is basically, “That’s silly, the trains in Kyoto are never late!” as a reminder that, yes, this is promoting public transit.
Nowhere is Kyo Girls Days do-it-all character roster more apparent than in Miyu. She’s a manga fan who has the entire museum memorized. She’s lived abroad, and is not only fluent in both French and English but has extensive knowledge of French and American comics. On top of that, she can communicate with spirits on a regular basis. Miyu is all-powerful and carries within her the view point that manga is indeed international just as it says in the name of the Manga Museum. One other interesting wrinkle to her character being that she’s actually a college student, possibly as a reference nearby Kyoto Seika University’s famous manga program, which supports the Manga Museum.
And yet, I can’t really begrudge Kyo Girls Days. I knew what I was getting into as soon as I picked it up. After all, it’s like going to an aquarium and getting a picture book about the aquarium; no one should be shocked when it talks about how great things are and how everyone should visit. Conscious of that promotional aspect, the story and narrative are actually very fun and engaging. Even though Moe and the rest of the cast’s personalities and characters are a little too perfect, the portrayal of their lifelong friendship feels solid and convincing. Even the introductions of various Kyoto landmarks are interesting because they taught me a lot about the city, and a clever insertion of a quiz towards the end of the manga is a clever wink and nod to see if the reader has been really paying attention.
Another quality I enjoyed about the light novel is that all three of the subway girls speak in Kyoto dialect. It can be hard to follow, but it positions them as true Kyoto natives, and gives their portrayal a more authentic feel.
It’s unlikely that Kyo Girls Days will ever be translated officially, just because its main focus is getting native Japanese people to pay more attention to Kyoto and its subway system. It’s not really something that translates too well to an audience that enjoys light novels (or light novel adaptations) in other countries. At the same time, I wonder if it could be released by a Japanese tourism agency for use in the US and around the world. While it wouldn’t be serving the exact same purpose, it could still motivate people to travel to Japan and check out the Kyoto area.
Pokemon Go is by far the most clear indicator of Pokemon‘s cultural impact in the United States. While there are plenty of other examples, from perpetually high sales numbers to the unprecedented Twitch Plays Pokemon, the way that Pokemon Go literally became an overnight sensation and has people of all ages running around their towns and cities trying to catch Pokemon takes the presence of the franchise to another level.
While I personally am not as obsessed with Pokemon as I was 14 years ago, I still find myself drawn to this new take on an old idea. What I’ve found is that the catching element has made me fall in love with Pokemon all over again, but the way that evolution works still leaves something to be desired.
Over the years, catching Pokemon in the main games has felt fun but also kind of like a chore, especially after playing them for so many years. However, I still remember what it was like to first venture into Viridian Forest in Pokemon Red, the first time I encountered Articuno in the Seafoam Islands, and just that overall sense of wonder when one unexpectedly comes across Pokemon. Even though all of the current species in Pokemon Go come from the classic 151, and so I’m more than familiar with all of them, I find myself getting excited over spotting a Jynx or running into a Squirtle. Even though the ARG elements of Pokemon Go don’t feel like a perfect immersion, they’re good enough.
Where I think the game falters is its current approach to evolving. Instead of leveling up or using stones or trading as one could in the first games, all evolution and strengthening of one’s Pokemon is done through collecting candies and stardust. All candies and stardust, in turn, are obtained by catching more of the same species. This makes it so that, while the catching mechanics are fun, I feel no sense of personal connection to the Pokemon I am catching because I cannot use them in anything other than gym battles. When I get a Pokemon to evolve, they do not feel like comrades with whom I have developed a bond over the course of an adventure, but rather just something I feed sweets without their participation.
Pokemon Go has only just come out, and in spite of its numerous bugs it’s still quite fun to play. This speaks well for the basic appeal of the game, and I think it won’t go away even as it eventually adds newer Pokemon. I just hope that the game will let me feel like the Pokemon I catch matter more than they do, and that I can share my victories, defeats, and growths as a trainer with them.
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While there are a lot of unique and unusual aspects to Kimi Nakare, this chapter brings something I thought I’d never see: a charming scene of a bishounen masturbating in a non-pornographic title.
Returning to the end of Chapter 2, we see Hayato confronting Nobuko and asking her about her feelings. Nobuko (still dressed in a monkey suit) says it can’t happen, and Hayato reflects on how cute her blushing face is… while in the bathroom. After finding “relief” and profusely apologizing to Nobuko in his mind, he goes to continue his work.
Told by his manager that his image as both an idol an an innocent guy means dating is out of the picture for him, Hayato goes on-set to do a comedy skit with Nobuko, but finds that their humorous roughhousing is giving him a stiffy. Also, despite his best attempts to hide his attraction to Nobuko, the others quickly figure it out, and one of his fellow WARP members reminds him how important not being in a relationship is for idols.
However, the next morning they discover that one of the other members of WARP was caught leaving a girl’s apartment, and that it’s going to be a PR nightmare. Now, Hayato knows exactly the danger he’s in should he pursue something with Nobuko.
Hayato’s O-Face is Something Special
While Tonari no Young Jump is no stranger to fanservice or even sexually charged situations in its series, I think what makes this all the more unusual is the combination of Hayato’s appearance and the subject of the series itself. Kimi Nakare thus far has been sweet and innocent enough that seeing a panel literally devoted to him orgasming is a pretty big shocker. While plenty of good-looking guys show up in shoujo and josei titles and do far more, the fact that Hayato has on his mind a character who’s traditionally unattractive transforms the moment into something more memorable and perhaps even impossible to forget.
Still Romantic, Though
In a sense, however, the fact that it’s masturbation and not full-on sex actually makes it both more intense and somehow also sweeter. He is actually so in love with Nobuko both physically and mentally that she can turn him on even while wearing a dumb monkey costume. The manga does such a great job of showing how Hayato perceives her, and moments like the aforementioned orgasm and the hard-on he gets while performing just add to the idea that this attraction to Nobuko is not only genuine but derived from a special place that normal folks who’ve never experienced such passion can even relate to. That’s impressive, both in terms of how this sort of thing has been portrayed in a manga format, and for Hayato as a character.
Did I spend this entire chapter review talking about a guy in manga masturbating? I sure did! Then again, I once reviewed an entire series where the theme was jacking off.
Kimi Nakare is still a great romance manga.
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With that out of the way, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled monthly blog update.
As always, much thanks to my Patreon sponsors:
Sasahara Keiko fans:
Yoshitake Rika fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
A special thanks to Diogo in particular for giving me an amazing present: Volume 1 of the Brazilian edition of Genshiken!
A new season of anime is on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to checking out as much as I can. I’m most looking forward to Love Live! Sunshine!!, which started airing just this past weekend. Unfortunately, I tend to watch many more shows than I have time to write about, so often some of my favorite series don’t end up getting blog posts dedicated to them. I’m considering doing something about that, but it’s always a small struggle between writing about the anime and manga that no one’s looking at to get them more exposure and talking about the things I like that people already have some familiarity with so that there’s an easier connection to be made.
I think that, due to a lack of time, my posts have started getting a bit shorter again. I believe that there are strengths and weaknesses to larger and shorter entries, but it also means that Ogiue Maniax might feel more like the scratchpad for my thoughts that it originally was in the first place. What do you readers think of this, and is there any kind of preferred ratio for you?
June’s post of the month has to be the review of Genshiken Chapter 125. I know, I know, Genshiken is a highlight every month, but I think this is a real case of the manga zagging when you thought it would zig, and it more than anything else reminds me of how wonderful a series Genshiken is.
I also have more reports from my trip to Japan, including my visit to two different Love Live! events, and a look at Comic Store Wonderland in Osaka, which is home to a ton of amazing autographs from famous manga artists. The Hanayo bag I bought at the doujin event is quite possibly my favorite piece of merchandise from Japan. Taketayo~
Another highlight is my review of the new Cardcaptor Sakura manga. CLAMP is back! I mean, they’ve never left, but I just lost interest after years and years of Tsubasa and XXXHolic. This new CCS really feels like a return to form, and I’ve already got plans to get each issue of Nakayoshi as it comes out in Japan.
Lastly, I wrote a post about Mystic Archives of Dantalian, as requested by Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato, where I explore the show’s intersection with the idea of chuunibyou.
As always, if you’re interested in having me write about something, you can make a pledge through Patreon. And if you’ve ever wondered why that tier is so high, it’s actually because I really want Ogiue Maniax to still be a space where I share and explore my thoughts, and so having the blog just be about fulfilling requests isn’t what I really want. However, because I’m also always eager to broaden my horizons, I invite the opportunity to make me watch or read or talk about something I might not have thought of otherwise.
I hope you all have a great July. I’ll be spending the month getting panels ready for Otakon in August. If any of you are going, I look forward to possibly seeing you.
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.
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 being 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
The battles themselves are fantastic. It’s rare 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. 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 its favor because one can easily grasp many of the girls’ motivations in only a few minutes, which works well for a movie format. 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.
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.
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The existence of the term chuunibyou is fascinating to me. Most famously used in the series Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai, it basically means someone who has the aesthetic sensibilities of a middle school student. What this translates to is a desire to feel special, to believe that there is more to one’s life than its simple and mundane surface, and this is most frequently portrayed in Japanese media as characters who claim (or like to pretend) that they have magic powers, cursed body parts, and have access to the “Akashic Records.” What is maybe less talked about, at least on the English-speaking side of the things, are the works that spawn this kind of sensibility in the first place. What an American anime fan might label as “anime as hell” can often also be called “chuunibyou,” and it’s from this perspective that I’d like to talk about Mystic Archives of Dantalaon.
Originally a light novel series, Mystic Archives of Dantalian takes place post-World War I. Hugh Anthony Disward receives a key and instructions from his dead grandfather to become the new Keykeeper of the “Bibliotheca Mystica De Dantalian.” There, he meets a young girl in gothic lolita clothing named Dalian, and discovers that the Mystic Archives are a collection of “Phantom Books,” each of which possess fantastic, supernatural abilities. As Keykeeper, Hugh (along with Dalian) must pursue cases of Phantom Books run amok, using the power of the Archives.
Just from the basic premise alone, there’s just a lot of “this world is not as it seems” sensibility, but it doesn’t stop there. The anime’s visual presentation, akin to Gosick or Croisée in the Foreign Labyrinth, emphasizes a dark and moody atmosphere. The fact that Hugh accesses his powers by plunging his hand through a large, transforming keyhole in Dalian’s chest, as well as the fact that use of those powers comes from reading mystical books with flowery prose aloud, pushes the series into clear “chuunibyou” territory.
However, one thing that stands out to me about the series is actually how Hugh is presented as a character. Although Hugh has these supernatural abilities, he himself seems like a normal fellow. This isn’t to say that he’s bland or generic, but rather that he presents himself as calm and fairly level-headed without going into “perfect stoic badass” territory or “generic everyman.” The result is that Hugh, while having access to chuunibyou qualities, doesn’t encourage chuunibyou behavior through his demeanor. Even when reading from the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian, he comes across as a regular guy. If one were to pattern themselves after him, it would come not with an overwrought sense of self, but more like “just a dude who happens to have powers.”
That’s not quite true for Dalian. Not only is it hinted strongly that she’s older than she looks, but she combines many of the qualities that can inspire others (specifically chuunibyou) the desire to be her. Her words typically imply that she’s much older than she looks. She is the gateway to these magical archives that house the most forbidden knowledge of the universe. Even her gothic lolita aesthetic works in this direction. Dalian exudes mysteriousness, and I think you can easily find the kinds of characters that are indirectly parodies of her type: Kuroneko in My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute, Kobato in Haganai, and so on.
As an aside, I wonder why so many Gothic Lolita characters end up being similar in Japanese media. In terms of actual real-life wearers of Gothic Lolita fashion, I’ve come to learn that a lot of it has to do with wanting to defy or push back against the expectations placed upon people in terms of appearance, sexuality, age, and other related areas. In anime and manga, the Gothic Lolita often combines a recurring mix of qualities that contrast innocence and maturity. Dalian speaks with an air of authority, but perks up like a kid at a candy shop when the prospect of eating delicious sweets shows up. Victorique from Gosick behaves the same way, as does Shinku from Rozen Maiden. The idea of the Gothic Lolita character carries with it not just a visual personality but also behavioral elements as well, and I wonder to what extent the two sides inform each other to perpetuate this character type further.
My discussion of Mystic Archives of Dantalian isn’t a criticism against the series for being chuunibyou, or that only those who are interested in works like that could possibly enjoy it. The anime has a lot going for it, from its atmosphere to its mysteries, and it overall makes for an involving and entertaining work. What the chuunibyou elements grant Mystic Archives of Dantalian is a kind of self-seriousness that can be overwhelming at times, but can also be welcome when one wants to enjoy a story that revels in the idea of the unknown.
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.
I’ve recently begun a new article series over at Apartment 507 where I review Japan-only manga apps. This time I’m looking at the Detective Conan app, which (surprise!) is dedicated to Detective Conan manga.
If you’re a fan of Detective Conan, check it out. You can buy Japanese iTunes cards at Apartment 507, which will help you make purchases through the app.
I realized that I’ve been giving the wrong name for the main guy. It’s Hayato, not Shuuto, and I somehow missed that despite it being written clearly in the very beginning of Chapter 1. Sorry about that.
I’ve since gone back and changed the previous chapter review. I hope this hasn’t impacted your enjoyment of this series or my reviews!
Also, a better translation of this title might be Thou Shalt Not xxx. It’s the same structure used in Yosano Akiko’s “Thou Shalt Not Die” power in Bungou Stray Dogs. Maybe I’ll call it that from now on, maybe not. What do you think?
In Chapter 1 we got to see the world from Hayato’s point of view, and Chapter 2 was a Nobuko’s-eye view. This time, it’s primarily from their other close friend that we’ve seen in previous chapters, Natsumi.
Chapter 3 mainly takes place in the past, when Hayato and Natsumi were classmates in elementary school. They’re putting on a play about a prince (Hayato) and multiple princesses, but Natsumi gets picked on by the other girls for being poor and not very “princess-like.” Hayato, being the naturally good guy, defends Natsumi, including being wiling to not participate in the play. Natsumi develops a crush on Hayato, and is inspired to start acting thanks to him, but learns the painful truth from day 1 that his heart belongs to Nobuko.
Back in the present of the main narrative, it’s revealed that this chapter takes place between Chapters 1 and 2, after Hayato first confessed to Nobuko. Natsumi quietly asks if Hayato’s feelings could possibly be love, given how young he was at the time. However, Natsumi senses her younger self telling her something important: Natsumi was only a kid when she first noticed Hayato, and she knows those emotions are genuine.
A Slowly Expanding Cast
I wondered last month to what extent Kimi Nakare would begin to fill in its side characters, and the process has already begun. What I perhaps didn’t expect (though in hindsight maybe I should have) is that there would be a love triangle. I guess it’s maybe technically not a triangle depending on how you define it (Hayato only has eyes for Nobuko), though it’s also looking not to be as much about the exclusive world between Hayato and Nobuko as I first thought. I am a little apprehensive because I know how heavy and meandering love triangle manga can get, but I have faith in the creator Ohachimachi Hato’s ability to weave an interesting tale with endearing characters.
Who Will You Kiss? Me or That Girl?
Nevertheless, the chain of emotions is established, but one interesting wrinkle to this tried-and-true formula is that Natsumi is clearly the more attractive of the two girls. Whether she’s supposed to be relatively plain in the mold of the typical shoujo protagonist, or she’s supposed to be extremely beautiful isn’t entirely clear (were the girls who picked on her jealous or just snotty brats?), but she has all the features typically desired in a girl in manga. Natsumi is quiet, has a good heart, and just comes across as “better girlfriend” material. And yet, she’s the one on the backfoot, because Hayato is just enraptured with Nobuko.
It’s not unusual for the third girl in the love triangle to be at a disadvantage because of personality or because there’s some kind of charisma that the main girl possesses, but it’s also usually not to this extent. There might be some similarities to Kimi ni Todoke, but Natsumi is no Kurumizawa Ume, and Nobuko is two steps beyond the eccentricities of Kuronouma Sawako. Just the fact that Nobuko’s only appearance in this chapter is in the form of a comical rendering just pushes home the idea that Natsumi is competing with a force perhaps unlike any other in romance manga.
This is definitely not the Chapter 3 I was expecting. While I worry about love triangles a bit, I’m also looking forward to where the manga goes from here.
In my most recent trip to Japan, I attended two different Love Live! events in one day. The first was “Bokura no Love Live! 12,” a doujin event. The second was “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016″ (School Idol Festival Thanksgiving 2016) in Ikebukuro, an official event held in celebration of the School Idol Festival game. The contrast between an event that revels in fan expression and one that presents everything in an official capacity is interesting to me, because I think it shows both the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to fandom.
Though I had the opportunity to take a look at both, a question occurred to me as I was traveling from one to the other: if I could only go to one, which one would I choose? I took this from the perspective of a Koizumi Hanayo fan. At the doujin event, I could buy Hanayo-dedicated fan comics from people I knew were fans of Hanayo as much as I am (if not more!). I found a bunch of amazing comics and parody works, and I even got a couple of amazing tote bags that might be my favorite purchases of my entire Japan trip. There’s sort of an interesting magic to buying things in person that get lose with just ordering online, and it’s enhanced when you know the person behind the table put their heart and soul into it. Overall, it was one of the best highlights of my trip to Japan.
However, doujinshi are, of course, not official portrayals of the characters. This is in many ways the advantage of fanart, fanfiction, etc., but what’s also clear is that the fan material feeds off of the official presentation. Much for the art at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” was clearly inspired by the images found in magazines, the mobile game, and everywhere else. There is a kind of power to official merchandise because it presents the characters at their best, but it’s also limiting because they can’t stray too far off from what is deemed “okay.”
For example, the shirts being sold at “Thanksgiving 2016” were all prints of existing art that could be found in lots of places, while the merchandise sold at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” felt a little more unique because they weren’t officially sanctioned images slapped onto clothing. That’s not to say official Love Live! merchandise has to look blunt and straightforward (I actually also got a swank Love Live! polo shirt just the day before these events), but they seem to lean in that direction.
Another instance of the difference between events has to do with yuri and pairings. Love Live! encourages yuri to a certain degree, but has to keep it implicit because it’s supposed to appeal to all sorts of people (and indeed I saw everything from little girls to businessmen at Thanksgiving 2016). A doujin event, on the other hand, can go as explicit as possible in more ways than one, and can even merge the innocent with the racy and have them all exist in one place. Characters can be drawn to fit the whims of the artists to a greater degree with the doujinshi, but they necessarily must feed off the source material at least to a certain extent. Nico/Maki doujinshi can go the distance, but the dynamic between them is rendered through the anime, the game, and other canon resources.
Official events also have resources on their side. One of the highlights of “Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016” was a live School Idol Festival game where nine different people played simultaneously, each one commanding one of the buttons by stepping on them. The cards being used where all nine of the μ’s girls, but with special outfits for the event, and they were surrounded in a mall by throngs of fans dancing and singing along. A doujin event really couldn’t pull that off to the same capacity, nor could they be the place to get official Love Live! Final μ’s Concert shirts, which were a popular item at both events that granted legitimacy to the wearer’s fandom.
The division between official and unofficial events can be rather gray because of how the two feed into each other. The output of fans, albeit more often in the form of monetary purchases, informs the official companies responsible for Love Live! just what the fans are into. The fans, as mentioned, take inspiration from the official material, and convert it, thus spreading the joy of Love Live! further.
It’s hard to choose between the two when both have so much merit, but ultimately I think I would have gone for the doujin event just so I could have that experience of walking around and buying fan-made works. It’s sort of the difference between attending fan panels and official panels at conventions. The official panels are where you can meet the creators, but many times they’re curated and micromanaged heavily, whereas doujinshi and fan panels can stray from the “company line” so to speak. This makes them, in my opinion, overall more interesting, but I’m well aware that all of the Hanayo rice memes required the source material to emphasize it in the most amusing ways.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is actually a little card found in the bag of freebies from Thanksgiving 2016 which is a drawing of some of the School Idol Festival-original girls. Unlike The iDOLM@STER, there is a clear stratification between the main girls (be they μ’s or their successors, the new group Aqours), who are considered “Rare Cards,” as opposed to the “Normal Card” girls that are basically fodder for the former. Here, even at this official event was a small token of appreciation for the lesser idols, and a part of me wishes that someone, be they official creators or doujinshi creators, would take the next step and flesh them out. The result would be different on either side, but both would provide value in their own ways.
PS: I mentioned a freebie bag for “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016,” and I happen to have an extra one. I’ll be holding a contest soon to determine the winner, so stay tuned!