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And Yet the Town Concludes: Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru Final Chapter (and Other) Thoughts

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Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (“And Yet the Town Moves”) recently concluded its 11-year manga run in Japan. Even to the very end Soremachi captures the souls of the town members who populate its setting, telling their stories with a kind of quirky levity.

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The premise of Soremachi is as follows: Arashiyama Hotori is a high school student, a clutz, an aspiring detective, and (ostensibly) a maid at a cafe. However, this is less a “maid cafe” and more a “cafe that happens to have waitresses dressed as maids.” With only the most nebulous notion of the maid cafe as the focal point of many of its stories, Soremachi proceeds to explore the lives of its characters. From occult mysteries to unrequited teenage love triangles to old men arguing about the past, the manga basically plays fast and loose with its narrative, but the consistent charms and personality traits of its eclectic cast always keep it a joy to read.

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So how does an open-ended manga such as Soremachi close the book on its story? The answer is that it finishes much as it began: frivolous and free-wheeling in its continuous portrayal of an occasionally bizarre “everyday,”

Warning: Ending Spoilers

In the penultimate chapter of Soremachi,  Hotori appears to be visited by a higher-dimensional being. This is not the first time that Hotori has seemingly encountered otherworldly entities. From angels to time travelers to aliens, somehow Hotori’s life has continued to remain fairly mundane. However, this time the visitor gives Kotori a challenge. The following day, there is going to be a typhoon, and Hotori has to choose between saving everyone in town but vanishing from history in the process, or stay alive but sacrifice 3,000 lives in her place.

In the final chapter, Hotori’s classmates are all discussing that there appears to be something wrong with their memories. For some reason, they all seem to remember a classmate, possibly a girl, who was cheerful and energetic. Suddenly, Sanada and Tatsuno, Hotori’s two closest friends, spot a girl on the other side of the building. They follow her, and…

It’s revealed that they were rehearsing a play. Hotori did not sacrifice the memory of her existence, and everything about the mysterious girl lingering in their minds was from the script, which Hotori wrote. They’re chasing her down because she hasn’t written the ending yet, to which Hotori replies that, essentially, if the climax was made dramatic enough, then an ending would naturally follow. The chapter, and the series, ends with Hotori as author-surrogate proclaiming:

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While the conclusion of Soremachi might feel at first to be a cop-out, given that there were plot threads that could have seen resolution, I think it’s all too appropriate for the series. Much like the lackadaisical attitude the manga and its characters took towards its own premise of a “maid cafe,” having a last chapter pretty much negate the gravitas of the previous one, and then turn into a “non-ending” is very indicative of a series about a town that keeps moving. Also, because many of the smaller subplots were able to resolve in the chapters leading up to the end, the series unwinds in a satisfying way.

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My only complaint in the end is not enough of my favorite Soremachi character, Kon Futaba. This is no fault of the manga itself, because she’s actually in it very often, even a couple of chapters from the finish. She’s just amazing, is all.

Further Reading:

And Yet the Digital Manga Moves: Soremachi is Back

Soremachi Creator Ishiguro and His Two Biggest Influences

 

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New Year, New Look: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2017

The Year of the Rooster has arrived, but given the tumultuous nature of 2016 it’s hard to be…cocksure.

Bad jokes aside, it’s time to look backwards and forwards. And as we enter this new year, I’d like to once again express my gratitude towards my Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

You might have noticed things being kind of different. Half on a whim, half as a result of ruminating on the dated look of Ogiue Maniax for the past year, I decided suddenly to change the look of the blog. While I think ultimately it’s the content that matters, I got the feeling that people were turned away by the fact that the site looks like it’s from a decade ago (which it pretty much is). This is actually the first aesthetic change I’ve made in a very long while. The last time was when I moved from Blogspot to WordPress back in 2007!

I’d like to know you think about the new look, so feel free to drop a comment. In fact, don’t be afraid to tell me what you’d like to see out of Ogiue Maniax. I can’t accommodate everyone, of course, but I’m still keen on finding out what my readers think.

Given that the end of the year just passed, the blog has been full of reflective articles and the like. Check out my picks for best anime characters of 2016, read my Anime Secret Santa review of Queen Millennia, and take a look at what’s in the final volume of Genshiken. I also took a picture showing off in part one of my Christmas gifts: Nendoroid Shidare Hotaru from Dagashi Kashi!

I also finally got around to reviewing the first volume of the fantastic Ojamajo Doremi16, the light novel sequel to the beloved early 2000s magical girl anime. And leading off from November’s post on the latter part of the original Aikatsu!, I wrote something about Aikatsu Stars!

And over at Apartment 507, I discuss both the end of Sabagebu! and what this bizarre survival game-themed manga brought to shoujo manga, as well as some of my favorite anime openings that came at the tail end of 2016.

The last article I’d like to mention is my very first of the new year, about the manipulation of time in adapting manga to anime. I think it’s a good way to start off 2017, personally.

 

 

[Anime Secret Santa] Queen Millennia, Ah-Ahhh, Savior of the Universe

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NOTE: This review is part of the 2016 Reverse Thieves’ Anime Secret Santa Project

While I don’t religiously embrace the works of Matsumoto Leiji, I consider myself a loving fan. The Rintaro-directed Galaxy Express 999 film is far and away my favorite work of Japanese animation ever, and the gravitas-laden feel of Matsumoto’s manga never ceases to draw me in. When approaching the film adaptation of Queen Millennia, however, I came to it with a vague inkling that I should expect something different. Years ago, the film was discussed by the podcast Anime World Order, and the main thing I remembered from that review is the fact that its director, Akehi Masayuki, is not exactly known for subtlety. With films of bombastic super robots and handsome shounen heroes to his name, my expectations could be summed up as “Matsumoto through the lens of wild action and spectacle.”

Queen Millennia certainly lives up to that expectation, but what I find more prominent is just how discombobulated the entire film feels.

The story of Queen Millennia is set in the far-flung year of 1999, and centers around a woman named Yukino Yayoi, who, unbeknownst to her co-workers, is actually the secret alien queen of the Earth. Having overseen the Earth for the past 1000 years as one of many millennial queens dating back to time immemorial, Yayoi (real name Promethium II) is set to abdicate her position for the next successor and return to her home planet of La Metal. However, La Metal has its own plans and now seeks to destroy the Earth. Queen Millennia must now defend her adopted homeland from her own people with the help of a young boy named Hajime.

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There is a generally haunting quality to Matsumoto Leiji works that appear even in adaptations, and Queen Millennia is no exception. Scenes of destruction, pans over wide swathes of land and outer space give the impression of an expansive universe with a great deal of history. However, at numerous times during the film, the atmosphere feels as is if it all but takes over the film, sacrificing the coherency of the narrative along the way. There are numerous plot points in the film come too abruptly and then fade away, as if the viewer is only given the Cliff Notes version of events.

We learn almost immediately that Yayoi is Queen Millennia, a role whose purpose is woefully under-explained. When the soldiers of La Metal attack the Earth with their futuristic spaceships, they’re held back by the weapons of Earth, including fairly outmoded ones such as harpoons and catapults. For some reason, despite ruling over the Earth secretly for thousands upon thousands of years, and even bringing up the fact that humankind is violent and prone to war, the La Metallians mention that they did not expect the people of Earth to have spears and rocks. The film picks up towards the end, especially when the spirits of the former Queen Millennias are summoned, and they each have secret space battleships buried in the Earth with their faces emblazoned on the bows, but that sort of energy and bizarre presentation feels like it should have come much earlier.

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I suspected that Queen Millennia was suffering from being a film adaptation of a longer series, and I was right. There was both a five-volume manga series by Matsumoto, as well as a 42-episode anime. If you go to Wikipedia and read the plot summary, it makes a lot more sense and gives the impression that many important plot points are set up and executed over a long period. The Queen Millennia film, in condensing all of that into two hours, leaves a good deal of story by the wayside.

However, this issue cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of being a “summary movie,” because other even longer Matsumoto works have been successfully adapted to film. The aforementioned Galaxy Express 999 film takes a massively long-running manga and anime and transforms it into a feature-length work, but the compromises made for time help connect the narrative rather than scramble it. They visit far fewer planets, but the ones they do are directly relevant to the events at the climax of the film. Notably, when they reach the last stop, the name of the planet is changed from “La Metal” in the original to something that effectively drives home the major plot twist while also transforming what took minutes in the anime TV series into mere seconds. While I haven’t actually taken a look at the TV series or the manga of Queen Millennia, very little gives me the impression that it has these sorts of considerations built in.

Ultimately, I think the positive qualities of Queen Millennia are its excellent atmosphere, its strong emotions, and its visual spectacle. The issue with it is that these qualities come at the expense of a coherent story, and much of the time devoted to showing fights or the world could have been used to provide a better sense of the stakes at hand and the significance of Queen Millennia herself much earlier in the film. By the time the film starts to pick up, it’s already about two-thirds over, and it leaves a feeling of what could have been.

Last note: What is going on with this guy’s hair helmet? He’s taking the Jotaro hat-hair thing to a whole other level.

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The End of Sabagebu!: A Shoujo Manga of Girls, Guns, and Greed

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Sabagebu!: Survival Game Club ended this month, and it’s one of my favorite shoujo manga of the past few years. Check out my thoughts on this bizarre series at Apartment 507, and why I think it has a place in manga history.

America the Moeful: Genshiken Volume 21

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Chapter 127 may have been the end of Genshiken’s serialization, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over yet! As fine patrons of the Society for Modern Visual Culture know, the volume releases always come with extras. So, I’m going to give my thoughts on some highlights.

First and foremost, it is absolutely necessary to talk about the cover, which features Sue in a somewhat bizarre cosplay of Ritsuko from Kujibiki Unbalance. It certainly doesn’t look like any prior incarnation of Ritsuko from Genshiken, and that’s because…it isn’t.

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The cosplay actually comes from the thinly veiled alternate universe Kio Shimoku manga Spotted Flower. For those unfamiliar with it. The premise basically asks, what if a person very similar to Madarame married someone just like Kasukabe? In it, the unnamed wife, pregnant and sexually frustrated, winds up seducing get husband in that very same outfit.

In other words, Sue (who has become Madarame’s girlfriend) is cosplaying a cosplay worn by a parallel universe Madarame’s wife as a way to get some nerd boott, who is in turn a reference to Kasukabe and her Ritsuko cosplay from Genshiken, which is the defining moment when Madarame fell in love with her.

Talk about peak meta. And we haven’t even opened the book!

Inside, you have the standard comic strips between chapters. I won’t go through all of them, but I do want to draw attention to my favorites. genshiken21-ninjaslayer2First is one where Yoshitake mythbusts every idea that Sue has about ninjas. In reaction, Sue makes a Ninja Slayer reference: “Kill all ninjas! Yeeart! Guwah!”

Here we have Sue, an American otaku, referencing a book series that was supposedly created by Americans who love Japanese culture, which was then translated into Japanese, buy is actually a satirical look by Japanese creators at the American obsession with ninjas. Did I say we hit peak meta before? I might have been mistaken.

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The second is after Madarame and Sue start dating. Hato gives some helpful advice, just in case: “Sue lives next to me, and the walls are thin, so keep that in mind.”

This leads to the final post-chapter content, which caps off Genshiken Nidaime. In the last series, it revolved around a discussion of whether Kasukabe is moe. This time, it has to do with how pathetic Madarame and Kuchiki are in different ways.

At his graduation after-party, Kuchiki brags that he has taken Madarame’s first kiss. Ohno exclaims that surely Sue’s more than made up for that deficit, but this is far from the truth. Not a kiss (let alone anything else) has happened, and the members of Genshiken contemplate just how much of a wimp Madarame is. Kuchiki gets upset over the fact that he never got a girlfriend in college, and has the gall to ask Ohno once again if he can touch her boob, just once. Ohno, unfortunately, is very drunk (as tends to be the case with her at parties), and she actually agrees, going so far as to comply when he asks if she can remove her bra partway underneath her sweater. However, Kuchiki makes his attempt, Yajima gut checks Kuchiki. Sadly for Yajima, all this does is awaken a new fetish in Kuchiki. Everyone is happy that he’s graduating and going away.

I kind of wish that the last moments of Genshiken didn’t have Kuchiki at the center, but it isn’t all bad. In particular, I like the notion that Madarame still hasn’t quite gotten over his awkwardness with girls. In fact, the very idea of him having a girlfriend has probably short-circuited his brain. And if anything, it makes me very aware of just how dramatically Sasahara and Ogiue’s relationship escalated once it hit the threshold. The two of them literally starting having sex with each other once they got on the same page, which is probably not the image we ever had of otaku.

The last things I want to talk about are the extras I received with Volume 21.

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I ordered from the Japanese comic store Comic Zin, and with it came a 4-page bonus illustration featuring artists associated with the Genshiken universe. It has Koume Keito (artist of the Kujibiki Unbalance manga), Yagumo Kengou (artist of the Kujibiki Unbalance light novel), as well as Kio himself. It also features a message from Tamaru Hiroshi, creator of Rabuyan, a manga about a Madarame-esque loser.

First editions of Volume 21 also get a version of the “Thank You Messages” compilation that came with the final chapter in Monthly Afternoon. It also features brand new color art for its cover, featuring most of the now-gigantic cast of Genshiken. I love the drawing of Ogiue on here; she honestly looks so cool.

So that’s that. I’ll see you (hopefully) in January, as I start my look back on the first Genshiken. But before that, I still have another post to make, about Kasukabe Saki. Keep an eye out!

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New York Comic Con 2016 Essay #3: The Artist Alley vs. My Expectations

For this year’s New York Comic Con (which is now months ago, whoops!), I’m doing something a bit different with my coverage. Instead of doing a standard con report, with overviews and opinions on panels, artist alley, etc., I’m going to be writing a series of essays based on things I saw at NYCC 2016. Think of it like extended thought exercises and musings inspired by the con.

While manga is closest to my heart, I love comics in general. Even if individual titles aren’t my cup of tea at times, and even if I find myself going back to Japanese comics more often than not (for reasons both rational and irrational), I never want to stop giving different types of comics a chance. This is one of the reasons I’m generally eager to visit the Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con. Though it’s been years since I looked forward to Wednesdays (the day when new comics in America come out), I still opened myself up to the artists of NYCC 2016 with a simple desire: I wanted to be wowed, to be drawn to them and convinced to read more.

Perhaps I set too unfair a standard for myself and for the artists there.

I want to emphasize that I think the New York Comic Con Artist’s Alley is full of incredible talent. These are hard-working artists, each of whom have their own stories when it comes to how they came to comics. Also, given that NYCC is built on American comics culture, a lot of it would be the things you’d expect: superheroes, graphic novels, and certain approaches to cartooning and anatomy that have grown out of the American tradition. I think all of these things are great and have their own unique strengths worth exploring, but when it came time to find something that, pardon the cliché, spoke to me, I just wasn’t able to.

I feel that the decision-making process I went through as I looked from booth to booth was vague, even to myself. It’s not that I had any specific criteria. For example, I enjoy seeing comics about cool girls doing cool things, but I’d find that the particular arrangements that existed in the Artist’s Alley fell into recurring categories that made them all blend together to a certain extent. If they weren’t female superheroes, they were girls who wanted to show how much they defy gender expectations. These are both very good things, but it’s as if, in the rush to seize these ideas and the momentum they carry (whether for profit, social consciousness, desire to create interesting stories, or something else entirely), they ended up collectively dulling the product in my eyes.

I believe that a lot of the problem lies with me. When you distance yourself from something as I have, you tend to look at it in broader strokes. The opposite is often true if you get too deep into something. For example, when it comes to anime I’m a long-time Gundam fan. I’ve seen nearly every series, and I appreciate the subtle nuances and varying approaches that they bring, for better or worse. To someone outside of Gundam fandom, it just all looks like robots fighting wars and characters giving speeches. Thus, when I looked at Artist’s Alley as this well of potential to bring me back into the fold, I think I was expecting it to have much more of a gravitational pull than it had any right to. After all, if you’re at an Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con, it’s natural to assume that you should already be into the stuff. It’s not the responsibility of the artists there to “convince me” to give American comics more of a chance, only to convince me to check out their work.

I still plan on taking a similar approach to Artist’s Alley next year with some adjustments. Instead of hoping for something to call out to me and speak directly to my soul, I’ll drift towards anything that catches my fancy. I shouldn’t expect a revolution, but I should at the very least leave the door open for minor reforms.

Idol Activities are Serious Business: Aikatsu Stars!

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In contrasting the different eras of the popular idol anime series Aikatsu!, I once used a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure analogy. If the original heroine Ichigo is equivalent to Jotaro, then her successor Akari is the Josuke of Aikatsu! If this comparison holds water at all, then the latest series, Aikatsu Stars!, must be the Steel Ball Run of the franchise, and therefore its main character, Nijino Yume, must be its Johnny Joestar. In other words, it’s a new world, a new setting, and all ties to past series have been more or less severed.

It’s unclear to me whether this “reset” was necessary, but then again it’s how the Precure franchise has rolled for the past 14 years. Whatever the case may be, to the discerning eye Aikatsu Stars! reveals itself to be a different beast. While it shares plenty of similarities to the Aikatsu! of years past, there are enough changes to make it feel like a new and almost separate entity.

Aikatsu Stars! follows Nijino Yume as she enters the prestigious idol school, Four Stars Academy, in order to chase after her idols, the mega-popular group known as S4. What she lacks in experience she makes up for in enthusiasm, as well as a strange potential that seems to only manifest itself when she’s directly onstage.

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The summary above mirrors both Ichigo and Akari’s own stories, but where it begins to diverge is that Aikatsu Stars! feels like a more serious story with higher stakes. This isn’t to say that the show is dark or cynical; they’re not poisoning each other and putting thumbtacks in each others’ lockers. However, whereas Ichigo is confronted in the early episodes by her classmate Ran’s fairly cutthroat attitude and quickly overturns it, I sense a much greater emphasis on rivalry in Aikatsu Stars! Adding to this feeling is the impact of S4 themselves. As the premier female idols, they give off the impression of being nigh-untouchable, their minds occupying a world almost beyond the reach of regular mortals. Not even #1 idol Tachibana Mizuki in the original Aikatsu! quite has that aura.

The most noticeable change with Aikatsu Stars!, however, is the new character design aesthetic. The girls and guys of Aikatsu Stars! have smaller frames and rounder features, giving them a look that feels to me be to more “gender-neutral.” What I mean is, the original Aikatsu! had designs that I see as closer to shoujo manga. Their large eyes weren’t just expressive, they were almost like miniature planets. With Yume and the rest of the Aiaktsu Stars! cast, the designs more resemble a balance between girls’ anime and bishoujo anime for guys. It’s effectively The iDOLM@STER meets Peach-Pit, the artist duo responsible for works ranging from Shugo Chara (shoujo) to Rozen Maiden (seinen featuring cute doll girls).

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While the characters are all different and look different, there’s one semi-subtle link to the franchise’s lineage, which is that the girls of SF4 match the main four in original Aikatsu in terms of hair color. Blond, blue, red, and brown are all present, and although their personalities don’t really line up at all, it can’t possibly be a coincidence.

There are a couple of other differences which I think make Aikatsu Stars! rather interesting. The first is the greater prominence of male idols. Yume meets a boy who turns out to be a member of M4, the top group from the academy’s male division. The previous Aikatsu! as far as I know only barely bothered in male characters. Is this the influence of successful male idol spin-offs, such as Pretty Rhythm: King of Prism?

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The second is that the series implies a greater and more diverse range of possible idols. Sure, Aikatsu! has things like an American idol, and one who likes to dress as a vampire. But Aikatsu Stars! has a teacher who has a rock background, and the first ending theme is an S4 dubstep song. What other possibilities exist? I want to find out.

Aikatsu Stars! feels more tightly focused and more dramatic, but I do wonder if this comes at the cost of the more lighthearted fun of the original series. That being said, there’s nothing so far that tells me it’s going to plummet or lose its footing. I look forward to seeing Aikatsu Stars! build on itself, and even if the episodic hijinks don’t feel as strong, it looks on-track to being a more polished work overall.

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.

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