Ogiue Maniax Chats About Zambot 3 on The Cockpit Podcast

I was recently invited on The Cockpit, a mecha-themed podcast, to discuss one of my favorite anime ever: Muteki Choujin Zambot 3. We get into what makes the show interesting and pioneering, and why it still holds up today for the most part.

If you want to read my old review of Zambot 3, you can check it out here.

And if you want to hear my previous Cockpit appearances, I’ve also been on to talk about Brave Police J-Decker, King of Braves Gaogaigarand Pacific Rim.

[APT507] Mama Got Back: Ookumo-Chan Flashback Chapter 1 Review

I’ve written a review at Apartment 507 about the new manga by Mysterious Girlfriend X author Ueshiba Riichi. It’s kind of unexpected, to say the least.

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Less Slots, More Anime Plots: AnimeNEXT 2017

In 2016, New Jersey’s largest anime con left its long-time home of Somerset. Having already struggled with limited space for an ever-growing population of attendees, AnimeNEXT moved to Atlantic City and a nice, spacious convention center. I personally did not attend AnimeNEXT 2016, which is why my con experience this time around was as much a learning experience about Atlantic City itself as it was another opportunity to see what the con itself had to offer.

I found AnimeNEXT 2017 to be a success in spite of some pitfalls. Contributing to this overall positive yet mixed reaction is how Atlantic City both contributed to and hindered how welcoming the con felt.

Getting to AnimeNEXT

It all starts with the trip to Atlantic City itself. Having come from New York City (and having spoken to other attendees from New Jersey and elsewhere), the transportation options are rather limited. No trains go there—only buses. The ride itself is only two and a half hours on a good day, but buses in general can be unreliable compared to trains or planes. The closest airport is Philadelphia.

There’s a NJ PATH stop right at the Atlantic City Convention Center where AnimeNEXT is held, but few lines actually go to it. For many residents of New Jersey, their only choice is ground transportation, and even in that scenario the road leading into and out of Atlantic City encourages traffic congestion. In other words, be prepared.

Convention Center and Surrounding Area

In contrast to all that inconvenience, the Atlantic City Convention Center is great. Located within walking distance of multiple hotels, I never had any significant trouble getting where I needed to both heading towards the con and at the con itself. The convention space is a great size for the amount of attendees, and there are few bottlenecks to slow people down.

There were some logistics issues I noticed throughout the convention, like the different parts of the con crew’s chain of command didn’t quite communicate as it should. Because a lot of the staff is likely volunteers this is understandable, though I’d still like to see it improved upon in the years to come. It was also a step down from previous years in this regard, but this can always be corrected.

Food can be hit-or-miss. One issue is a lack of convenience stores, so getting quick snacks requires going well beyond the safety of the touristy areas. However, there are a number of restaurant establishments that provide a decent bang for your buck. Wingcraft has excellent burgers, Cavo Crepe Cafe features a variety of crepes, and White House Subs with its two-foot long sandwiches (pictured above) is an American institution that quickly became my favorite place to eat.

Atlantic City can feel like a sad place, as if joy has been gradually drained from it over the course of years. The hotel I stayed at, Bally’s Hotel/Casino, would emit this odd smell whenever I entered it. Aside from gambling, there isn’t all that much to do outside of the con, which can be both a blessing and a curse. While it limits the number of people who will go to AnimeNEXT as part of an overall sightseeing trip, it means the people there are much more active at the con itself. Fortunately, there’s plenty to do within that context.

I did play the slots a bit. I won four whole dollars, and made sure to shout, “HELLOOOOOO” every time.

Fan Panels

AnimeNEXT has always had a decent focus on panels, especially fan panels. Because it’s not as difficult to get a chance at AnimeNEXT compared to larger cons such as Otakon (while also being located on the panel-friendly east coast), aspiring newbies and veterans alike can try their hand at presenting in front of audiences. That was still the case this year, but there seemed to be an even greater desire to pack the panel schedule to the brim.

The result was plenty of interesting content, but with some hiccups along the way. The actual events schedule came incredibly late, making it difficult to plan in advance. Panel slots were shuffled almost to the last second. Some panelists actually had panels scheduled against themselves. The organization of previous years seemed to falter in 2017.

Nevertheless, the fan panels themselves generally overshadowed those issues. Not only that, but most audiences were decently sized from what I saw, which isn’t always the case with AnimeNEXT.

Gattai! Giant Robots of Yesteryear was a giant robot anime recommendation panel. Run by the crew over at the Cockpit, it was helpful even for a big mecha fan like myself with many shows under his belt. I’m intrigued by F.L.A.G., for one thing.

Let’s Dive! The History of Cyberpunk Anime was quite informative, including giving a good understanding of what “cyberpunk” means. There was an issue with his laptop partway through the presenter’s panel, but it was clear he knew the material well, as he kept rolling without any visual aids. My only complaints were that I didn’t recall a definition for “biopunk” (which the guy categorized as different from cyberpunk), and a lack of the anime Real Drive—a cyberpunk anime with an actual diving theme.

Anime Burger Time, from the mind of former Crunchycast host Evan Minto, is a celebration of all things burger in Japanese cartoons. As someone who loves food and also once ran an equally ridiculous panel about dogs in anime, I hold my respect and admiration for Evan’s endeavors. The most fun part of this was that attendees were encouraged to bring and eat burgers during the panel.

Criticism of Popular Anime was my least favorite panel I attended. The presenter’s intent seemed to be to take down those who flaunt their tastes as superior by saying everyone’s favorite anime are bad, but it mostly came across as a lesson in negativity. If anything, I’d like to see the opposite panel, one that can argue in favor of any show, no matter how dire.

I happened to run two fan panels myself, The Art of Stock Footage with Patz from the Cockpit, and Sports, Robots, and Romance: The Works of Tadao Nagahama. If you came to either of them, thank you very much. I’d like to give a shout-out to the two folks who came to the Nagahama panel half an hour early.

 

Industry Panels

If the fan panels are good at AnimeNEXT, then the industry panels are fantastic. The con brings some stellar guests and seems to encourage panels that go beyond the typical Q&A or simplistic presentation one might find at other conventions.

Studio Trigger, creators of Little Witch Academia, are no stranger to New Jersey. Returning for their fourth year, the sense of fun they bring to their panels, Trigger is arguably the staple highlight of AnimeNEXT. One of my favorite aspects of Trigger’s interactions with their American fans is their continued surprise over Inferno Cop‘s popularity, They even brought another exclusive episode of Inferno Cop to their panel, featuring a certain wall-loving president opposing our flaming-skull hero. The fact that they don’t show these outside of AnimeNEXT makes them feel that much more special, and it was of course the perfect place to announce a second season.

Due to scheduling conflicts of my own I was unable to attend their dedicated panel on Little Witch Academia. From what I was told, however, it was extremely informative and painted a surprisingly dark image of LWA lurking underneath its surface. Apparently, many of the girls in that series have tragic pasts that simply aren’t highlighted in the show itself.

As an aside, it’s funny how people think of Trigger as one of the premiere studios for animation quality (a reputation they well deserve), but that they’re also known for a work that is blatantly anti-animation in Inferno Cop.

Studio MAPPA, creators of Yuri!!! on ICE, gave a close look at what went into one of the biggest anime hits of 2017. The biggest takeaway from the panels was that the attention to detail among the staff bordered on the absurd. Whether it was hiring a professional figure skater clothing company to design the characters’ outfits, specifying which screws on their skates are present (real figure skaters adjust this based on personal preference), or animator Tatenaka Junpei showing a rough animation of the episode 1 performance from a different angle, it’s clear that no one slacked. While director Yamamoto Sayo was not present, it was clear from the staff that she was obsessed with figure skating.

They also showed a blu-ray bonus feature: an exhibition by character Yuri “Yurio” Plisetsky. Thanks to a scintillating appearance by Otabek during the special, the fangirls roared to life on a level almost akin to a Beatles live performance.

I’d also like to point out that their panels actually got substantial attendance, something that usually does not happen for Japanese guests who aren’t voice actors. I have hope that the fans’ love for the characters of Yuri!!! on ICE is so strong that they can branch into appreciating other aspects of anime and anime production.

TMS, the studio behind ReLIFE, held a panel similar to MAPPA’s focused on the animation process. One thing that was different from MAPPA was that they did have a voice actor: Ueda Reina. One thing I had not known prior to AnimeNEXT was that she’s also something of a popular idol. At the front of the panel room was a group of dedicated idol fans, adorned in merchandise from various idol franchises, hanging on to Ueda’s every word. While I thought it took a bit too much attention away from the TMS animators (who talked extensively on framing a certain scene in ReLIFE to emphasize its scandalous qualities), it did ultimately get more people to attend the panel.

I also had the opportunity to interview TMS, Trigger, and Mappa. Those transcripts will be showing up on the blog over the next few weeks.

Autograph Adventures

I actually did not learn of Ueda Reina’s popularity with idol fans at one of the TMS panels but rather while waiting in line for her autograph. I knew her as the voice of Mobuko, the Nurse Joy-esque background characters from the anime Tesagure! Bukatsumono. However, when I looked at my fellow attendees waiting for the TMS signing, I saw that most of them were obviously into idols. In fact, the three guys in front of me were cosplaying as Aikatsu! characters. Idol enthusiast supreme Omo informed me that Ueda has actually made appearances in The iDOLM@STER, Aikatsu Stars!, and is an idol in her own right. One fan even brought a life-sized cutout of Ueda’s iDOLM@STER character.

The rest of the TMS crew there, animators Kosaka Tomochi and Yamanaka Junko, were no slouch either, even if they did not have the drawing power of a voice actress/idol. Because both had a lot of experience working on Detective Conan, I brought something from the popular series for them to sign.

Overall, the TMS autograph session went off without a hitch. The same could not be said of Studio Trigger’s.

At this point, Trigger is pretty much a marquee guest for AnimeNEXT, and people will come to the con specifically to see them. As a result, while lines are not “supposed” to form until closer to the designated time, a loose mob began to form. The staff remarked that this was a fire hazard, so people were told to disperse. However, the staff continued to tell people not to line up even though it was actually getting close to the time on the schedule, and an argument ensued between the staff and some of the attendees.

In the end, due to the confusion over lining up, many people who had waited for two or more hours could not get autographs, and due to the fact that the Trigger staff likes to really take their time on sketches, only 30 people out of a significantly larger line managed to get their autographs. In comparison, twice as many got the opportunity with TMS. To me, the saddest thing was that some had clearly wasted their entire day trying to get a Trigger autograph only to fail. I managed to get some myself, but this was mostly due to good fortune and an understanding of how con lines and con staff work. This shouldn’t be necessary.

I’m considering not going to their signing at all the next time I attend AnimeNEXT, just so that others can get the opportunity. The bright side of all this is that the disappointed fans are proof that Japanese guests who aren’t voice actors can garner a sizable crowd. Often times, when it comes to Japanese staff at anime cons, their lines are short that you can practically stroll in and get one.

I should also point out that I did not even try for the Yuri!!! on ICE autographs, knowing the power and ferocity of its fanbase. I heard it ran into some problems, but I did not experience it firsthand.

Concerts, or Rather “Concert”

I attended only one musical performance this year, which was for the official Capcom Music Tour. It was decent, but also kind of underwhelming. It was clear that they only had a limited time to perform, but I was surprised that they only managed to fit in one Mega Man song, especially because that series is praised for its music. Moreover, a video preview at the beginning showed tunes from various old classics, such as BIonic Commando, which made the fact that those songs didn’t appear in the concert proper sting that much more.

In Conclusion, AnimeNEXT is Good, Atlantic City Ehhhh

The con is actually great. It’s spacious, there’s plenty to do, and they bring great guests. Atlantic City is not so exciting, and even a city like Baltimore (where Otakon used to take place) whose crime rate is kind of notorious makes the touristy area feel welcome. In Atlantic City, the tourism section is geared towards gambling, and that atmosphere definitely does not work for me. In spite of this, I think AnimeNEXT is definitely worth attending because it more than makes up for the faults of its location.

On a final aside, AnimeNEXT took place during a Hanayo event in Love Live: School Idol Festival, which meant that I could be found feverishly playing the game at random times during the convention. While there, I happened to photograph a couple of cosplayers of Hanayo and Rin, and one of them asked to exchange School Idol Festival info. It was the very first time anyone ever asked to friend me for LLSiF in real life, so to that Rin cosplayer, I’d like to say thanks.

 

 

 

 

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[APT507] Rokudou no Onna-tachi: A Follow-Up Review for the Delinquents-Only Harem Manga!

Some months ago, I wrote a quick review of an interesting new manga, Rokudou no Onna-tachi. Now, I’m back with a follow-up, looking at the direction this odd series (where all the girls are angry delinquents!) has gone, and my latest impressions. Check it out on Apartment 507!

Magic School Bus Meets Terminator: Cells at Work

 When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the human immune system. Just the idea of the body’s natural defense system warding off and destroying invaders was enough to fill pages of drawing books. I even imagined a video game where the player controlled cartoon white blood cells to fight disease! This is exactly why the manga Cells at Work feels like my childhood dream come true.

Cells at Work tells the story of the human body through its cells, personified into more typical-looking humanoid manga characters. From a hardworking red blood cell delivering nutrients to a stoic but diligent white blood cell fending off harmful bacteria, each representative cell is so entertaining to see that you almost don’t realize you’re learning.

While some series based on anthropomorphic characters prefer to keep their reality-based facts as subtext for character interaction, and others are essentially illustrated textbooks, Cells at Work strikes a more even balance. Each chapter involves the body having to deal with some crisis, such as allergies, the flu, and even cancer cells. The manga goes through the varied ways by which the immune system handles these threats, giving the cells highly entertaining personalities that encapsulate well their roles in defense. Platelets are adorable little children who act as construction workers. Killer T Cell is a lymphocyte with an appetite for destruction, and many of his fights are incredibly bloody (pun intended).

As long as there’s no worry about depictions of violence, I think this would be the perfect reading for a classroom biology class. Along the way, narration boxes explain their actual function in the body, with the actions of the characters making the information easier to remember.

I love this comic. The fact that it combines two of my favorite things ever (the immune system and manga) would be enough, but it’s also just very well written and drawn. The series is currently out in English both in print and digitally from Kodansha Comics, and I highly recommend it.

Now, time to watch Osmosis Jones.

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Return to Genshiken: Volume 3 – Stimulation Simulation

What is Return to Genshiken?

Genshiken is an influential manga about otaku, as well as my favorite manga ever and the inspiration for this blog, but it’s been many years since I’ve read the series. I intend to re-read Genshiken with the benefit of hindsight and see how much, if at all, my thoughts on the manga have changed.

Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume. I’ll be using the English release of Genshiken as well, for my own convenience. Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.

Volume 3 Summary

Love begins to claw its way into the awkward otaku world of Genshiken. Tanaka shows Ohno the wondrous world of Gundam models. Madarame finds himself alone with Kasukabe Saki in the clubroom, and the situation is too much for his poor nerd heart to handle. Keiko tries to put the moves on Kohsaka by trying to understand the otaku mind. Sasahara gets his first computer and his first private dating sim “experience”…

But trouble is on the horizon, as Saki accidentally sets a pile of old Genshiken garbage on fire. The volume ends with a lot of burnt paper and a frantic Saki.

Love, not Lust?

The “Madarame alone with Kasukabe” scene is, in my opinion, the most significant part of Volume 3. Madarame trying to use his dating sim knowledge IRL is of course quite humorous, but in hindsight, the repercussions of this moment are tremendous. It is essentially when Genshiken as a series began to transition its characters out of the cocoon of their otaku worlds. As we know from later volumes, they never stop being otaku, but this is where the chinks in Madarame’s armor begin to show.

When Madarame finally confesses to Saki in Nidaime, Madarame considers this the point when he first fell in love with her. Looking at the chapter, the symbolism is right there: he forgets his bag full of doujinshi, an item which he’d have treasured above all else. In that moment, 3D overwhelms 2D, and not even Madarame himself fully realizes it until much later in the series.

This first attraction on the part of Madarame is not based purely on the physical aspects of Saki. It wouldn’t make him nearly as nervous otherwise. In the same volume, when Ohno tries to get her to wear a cat ear-adorned frilly maid headband, the guys in the club are quick to fantasize about a cat-maid Saki slowly becoming more subservient. In the previous volume, more than one of the guys intends to use Saki as masturbation material. And when Ohno falls in the water at the beach and ends up showing her polka dot swimsuit, the guys are clearly aroused. With Madarame and Saki, it hits him deeper than where his desires typically lie.

The Impenetrable World of Otaku

Aside from the ratio of boys to girls, one of the major differences between the first Genshiken and Nidaime that really stands out to me is just how much the former tries to introduce the world of the otaku. There’s a chapter about building Gundam models, there’s another about buying a computer, and the use of “normal” folks like Keiko and Saki positions the manga as easing laymen in. At the same time, there’s something about the portrayal of otaku that renders their conversations as opaque, and it’s not just the knowledge itself that creates this sensation. As someone familiar with most of what the characters are talking about, the way they present information just sounds very exclusive, as if it were a kind of defense mechanism. When the girls of Nidaime chat about their favorite pairings, the space they create through conversation somehow feels more accessible.

Turning Points

While this volume features what is arguably the most important moment for Madarame in Genshiken (especially the first series), it’s also of great significance to Saki. Her panicking over accidentally starting that fire is the first time Saki comes across as vulnerable. While she’s usually able to handle everything, this makes it clearer that she’s invincible when it comes to social situations but not physical dangers. While her full transformation into a member of Genshiken (not just in letter but in spirit too) comes in Volume 4, this is the pivot, the point of evolution.

Keiko also begins the transition here, as she slowly begins to understand the otaku mind. This comes out full force in Nidaime when she tries to seduce Madarame, but by then it’s tempered by a slightly more forethought. This is only the beginning of the beginning, though. Her actual key moment, in my opinion, comes when she stops calling Sasahara “monkey.”

Ohno is still extremely shy at this point, and it reminds me that she almost becomes a completely different character as the series progreses. The change is to some extent gradual, but if I recally correctly, the actual moment that triggers her more drastic metamorphosis into open, motherly figure is when Ogiue is introduced as an antagonistic force of sorts. Naturally, I’m looking forward to that next volume!

Doujin Fighting Games

This volume’s Mebaetame (the Genshiken club doujinshi magazine) is a review of the various characters in a fictitious fighting game based on everyone’s favorite series, Kujibiki Unbalance. The portrayal of this game is a real throwback to the days when doujin fighters were all the rage. Nowadays, the qualities that defined doujin fighting games—long combos, air dashes, anime aesthetic, etc.—have all become features of official, professionally produced games. BlazBlue, Arcana Heart, Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, Aqua Pazza, and of course Melty Blood (which began as a doujin game before transitioning into something found in arcades and played in tournaments) are all of this lineage.

The Genshiken members talk about how the game is more faithful to the characters than trying to be a balanced (or good) fighting game. Personally speaking, it’s what one wants out of a doujin game: a love of the series takes priority over trying to be, to use a more recent term, “eSports now.” It reminds me of a doujin fighter I really enjoyed back in the day called Magical Chaser. It was themed around magical girls!

The English translations for these Mebaetame entries are rather awkward, and suggest someone who is unfamiliar with fighting games in general. I say this from the perspective of having many more online resources, as well as a long history interacting with fighting game enthusiasts, so I understand that it’s simply not easy trying to adapt that lingo. If you know fighting games at all, you’d probably have a fair idea as to what the characters are trying to say.

Final Random Thoughts

Two little details in this volume really date the series. The first is when the club is giving Sasahara advice on buying a new computer. The second is when Madarame talks about watching the episode of Kujibiki Unbalance he recorded.

As the other members guide Sasahaa, they talk about how 200gb is needlessly large for a hard drive—a sentiment that predictably would garner laughs today. Madarame also talks about how the US is obsessed with big hard drives, and to my American perspective I don’t quite understand what the big deal is. It’s not excessive if you use up all the space!

Later, when Madarame suggests they watch Kujibiki Unbalance again, he pulls out a VHS tape. I always wondered at what point I would see video cassettes as artifacts. I guess now’s the time…

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[APT507] Stepping Out of the Shadow: Reasons Why You Should Watch Boruto

I was a Naruto fan who stopped paying attention and then really enjoyed the Boruto movie. Now the new  Boruto TV series is out, and I’m actually fairly impressed. Check out my review over at Apartment 507.

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