Opposites Connect: 3D Kanojo – “Real Girl”

3dkanojo-couple-small In 2013, I came across a shoujo manga called 3D Kanojo by Nanami Mao, Although I had some initial misgivings based on the title alone (it means “3D girlfriend”), the series ended up becoming one of my favorite manga. It recently finished just last year, so I’d like to give my overall thoughts about this excellent work.

The idea of a socially awkward young man winning the affections of the beautiful girl has long been a popular trope. America has seen Revenge of the Nerds, Beauty and the Geek, and the hyper-popular The Big Bang Theory. Japan has been home to Densha Otoko, and numerous manga and anime premised around this idea such as The World God Only Knows and Love Hina. Within these works are three recurring ideas: the nerd as underdog, the nerd as the nice guy vs. the jerks, and the notion that nerds carry hidden charms buried deep inside shells of social awkwardness.

One difference between the stereotypical image of the American “geek” and the Japanese “otaku” is that while the geek guy worships at the altar of characters who are live actors (e.g. Princess Leia), otaku go for the “2D girls” of anime, manga, and games. Reality, where actual “3D girls” reside, is thought to be a frightening realm that can eat otaku alive. So, with a title like 3D Kanojo, I had wondered if this might be one of those wish fulfillment fantasies where an otaku boy gets the girl just by being nice without any real substance, while the girl ends up as some kind of virginal ideal, a typical “2D girl come to life” scenario. Fortunately, within one chapter 3D Kanojo defies those assumptions, and shows itself to be a robust, considerate, and even progressive approach to this idea.

When the series begins, Hikari Tsutsui is an otaku who is unable to handle social interaction outside of talking to his only friend, a fellow hardcore fan. His ideal girl is a magical girl from an anime. One day at school, he sees one of his classmates, the beautiful Igarashi Iroha, being accosted by a guy angry at Igarashi for cheating on him. When the guy tries to hit her, Tsutsui jumps in to defend Iagarashi.. only to get his ass kicked because he’s a wimp with no physical ability.

At first glance, this is ground already traveled by stories like Densha Otoko and Back to the Future—a chivalrous act by a geek shows the strength of his heart, and makes the girl fall in love with him. However, with 3D Kanojo, the relationship even at the early stages possesses a lot more depth. Many times, the girls in these stories only appear to be very sexually active but are actually secretly virgins, giving them a sense of idealized purity. Not so with Iroha, who freely admits that she was two-timing the guys she was with. Rather than shunning her for being a “slut,” Tsutsui accepts her for who she is, especially once the two of them spend more time together and are able to open up to each other more readily. What’s important isn’t that she’s had others in the past, but how they feel about each other now. And as the series continues, it becomes clear that their love for each other burns red-hot.

It isn’t all roses, of course. Romantic rivals show up for both character, such as an otaku girl and a handsome guy (it’s a shoujo manga, after all). Igarashi’s sexual experience isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s intimidating for a guy who, up to that point, didn’t even talk to girls other than his own mother. Tsutsui’s constantly questioning whether or not he’s good enough for her, but it’s important to note that she’s doing the same just as often. In spite of how different they are on the surface and even in many elements of their personalities, there’s a mutual longing for understanding.

While I thought highly of the series very early on, there is a particular chapter that solidified my opinion that 3D Kanojo is a great series. Most of the time, the story is told from Tsutsui’s perspective, but in one chapter it’s Igarashi’s head we’re in. Through her, we see her relationship history. As an extremely attractive girl, she’s had numerous suitors, but the apparent issue is that all of them only paid attention to her appearance. In this way, her looks became a curse. At one point, she had even tried to open up to a boyfriend, only for the guy to treat it as basically, “There, there. Okay, now that I’ve comforted you, are you gonna put out?”

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Here, it becomes plainly obvious what Igarashi saw in Tsutui. He isn’t just generally “nice” and “considerate,” he connects and empathizes with her on the level both of them desire. While occupy different strata of the high school hierarchy, both of them are familiar with being unfairly judged by their looks, and their ability to see what is truly inside each other is what draws them closer and closer.

Ultimately, even as the series goes through some fairly well-worn shoujo manga plot developments, the sheer robustness of this core relationship, as well as a solid cast of supporting characters, keeps the series from feeling old-hat. I felt a genuine desire to cheer on Tsutsui and Igarashi, not because they were “supposed” to be together as the main couple, but that everything they had been through together showed why they should be as one.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that 3D Kanojo technically isn’t the real title. That’s how it’s written out, but due to quirks in how the Japanese written language is used, it’s actually supposed to be pronounced “Real Girl.” In retrospect, the two titles fit this series perfectly. While Igarashi comes across at first as the mysterious girlfriend of the “3D realm,” her “realness,” both in the sense of her lived human experience and her candor, are what foster her romance with Tsutsui.

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How Dragon Ball Super Made Dragon Ball Better

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Surprising even to me, it turns out Dragon Ball Super is actually really good. I’ve written a small post detailing how Dragon Ball Super has improved upon its predecessors. Take a look!

I Have a Choco: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2017

February might be Valentine’s Day Month, but how much I’ll actually discuss romance on the blog remains a mystery even to me!

Whatever the situation, I know that if I were in Japan, I’d be giving giri choco to 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

Given that this will be the tenth year of Ogiue Maniax, I decided last November to do a Genshiken series 1 re-read. I’ve started with Volume 1, and you should expect to see them come out every other month. (I would have said bi-monthly but that phrase can also mean “twice a month,” so…) I’ve already felt like I’m stepping back into a different world, so I’m looking forward to the next article too.

Speaking of Genshiken, I also wrote a little post comparing Kasukabe Saki to Love Live‘s Nishikino Maki. The latter’s cooldere attitude reminded me of Madarame’s fantasy version of the former.

Perhaps the most important post I’ve written this month is on the subject of butts in anime. In it, I detail increasing presence of large rears in Japanese animation, and put forth my own hypothesis on why this has occurred. The seeds of this post have been germinating in my head for a very long time, even before Ogiue Maniax ever began. If you want to see more content like this, let me know. I just hope it doesn’t take me another 10 years to write one!\

I was also sad to see the end of Soredemo Machi ga Mawatteiru aka And Yet the Town Moves. It’s a very unique series in a lot of ways, and I look forward to seeing what the artist does next.

On the video game side, I’ve written a couple of posts thinking about what how players view competitive games, and what they can potentially do to both bring in a bigger audience and keep them from running away in fear.

As for this month’s Patreon-sponsored post, I looked at the subject of babies in anime and manga. My rating of babies is based on how much they make their parents suffer, I guess. If you have a subject you really, really want me to write about, it’s just a one-time $30 pledge.

If you’re wondering why I have it at that price, it’s just because I don’t necessarily want the blog to consist primarily of requests as opposed to my own ideas. That being said, I am considering maybe offering a poll with three or four topics that can be voted on with Patreon pledges. Is this an idea readers would be on board for?

Overall, I think this was a pretty solid month. I don’t have a wholly solid idea of what’s going to come next, but it might be a bit less review-heavy compared to this one.

 

 

 

 

Return to Genshiken: Volume 1 – The Old Guard

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Welcome to the very first “Return to Genshiken,” a new series of posts where I revisit the very first Genshiken manga series. For those unfamiliar with Genshiken, it’s a series about a college otaku club and their daily lives. Originally concluding in 2006 before restarting in 2010 and finishing once again in 2016. A lot has changed about the world of the otaku, so I figured it’d be worth seeing how the series looks with a decade’s worth of hindsight.

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 old and the recent manga, so be warned.

Volume 1 Summary

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Sasahara Kanji is starting as a freshman at Shiiou University, a college in the Tokyo area. He wants to join an otaku club, and after some false starts winds up in a club called the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, or “Genshiken.” While he believes himself to be nowhere near as hardcore as the other club members, he discovers that he fits in well with the laid back atmosphere.  As he learns the ropes about the otaku life, he’s also joined by other new members, including cosplayer Ohno Kanako, the usually handsome supernerd Kousaka Makoto, and Kousaka’s non-otaku girlfriend, Kasukabe Saki.

Back in Time

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I must say, reading the first volume of Genshiken really is like going through a time warp. Not only is the visual style of the manga starkly different compared to how it ends up by Volume 21, but the aesthetic of the characters the Genshiken members themselves are obsessed with is a trip down memory lane. During this period, Genshiken makes references to series like To Heart and The King of Fighters, and the world of the otaku just seems…smaller somehow.

In one chapter, Tanaka is examining a garage kit of a cute girl model, and he remarks that female characters’ faces are getting rounder and cuter as of late. Keep in mind that this was back in 2002, before the K-On!‘s and the Bakemonogatari‘s of the world came along, the time of series like Star Ocean EX. Character designs like Lina Inverse from Slayers and Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War were still holding strong.

It’s also notable that the character profiles included between chapters bother to list each person’s “favorite fighting game character.” Fighting games still exist today, but it should be noted that they began to die out around 2003 before being revived in 2009 with the launch of Street Fighter IV. I think we’re catching the tail end of the fighting game craze.

Perhaps the most major difference between Genshiken and Nidaime is that the latter mainly focused on fairly contemporary references in order to emphasize that its values were more current. In contrast, the original Genshiken, by starting at a point where years and years of otaku history preceded it, draws from the previous decades in order to establish its characters and their preferences.

Memories Refreshed

There are a lot of things that happen in Volume 1 that I pretty much forgot, and a lot of things that, having recently finished Nidaime, stand out as likely reference points for the second series.

I did not remember that Sasahara joins Genshiken because Kohsaka scares him from the Manga Society. Given how close they become later on, it’s almost surprising to go back and see just how intimidating Kohsaka appears to Sasahara. It makes sense: Sasahara is a meek fellow, and he’s suddenly confronted with this idea that guys like him might populate the Manga Society. And just in general, most of the main cast of awkward nerds—Sasahara, Tanaka, Madarame, Kugayama—get really uncomfortable when it comes to regular-looking guys.

Going forward to Nidaime, it frames how Yajima feels upon entering the club all those years later. While Sasahara felt threatened by Kohsaka alone as a kind of living contradiction, Yajima sees herself as being practically surrounded by Kohsakas. Ohno is attractive. Ogiue is very attractive. Yoshitake’s surprisingly fashionable. Hato is Hato.

While I thought Madarame’s lamentations over all the sex talk in Chapter 125 was more of a general callback to how the club used to be, I find that it’s actually specifically in reference to the guys overhearing conversations from others about how much sex they have that can be found in Volume 1. If you just read Volumes 1 and 21 back-to-back, it is a stark contrast that the characters would go from freezing up and sweating nervously when some fellow talks about doing three girls in one day, to Sasahara and Tanaka both mentioning how they wish they had more sex with their girlfriends. Similarly, the way Madarame freezes when he sees Kohsaka and Saki kiss for the first time is possibly the long setup to the fact that he’s too passive to even get something started with Sue even after they start going out.

Another moment i had forgotten the exact details for was the very first Kujibiki Unbalance discussion we ever see. First, I had no idea that Kujibiki Unbalance is supposed to be a shounen manga, given its makeup. Second, the characters talk about the fact that the school in Kujibiki Unbalance is supposed to be a mix of various real schools—a self-aware nod to how Shiiou University is itself an amalgam of real schools.

Saki the “Time Bomb”

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In this volume, the manga refers to Saki as a “time bomb” whose effects influence Genshiken in unforeseen ways. Looking back, this statement is more profound than I think even the author Kio could’ve imagined. She fundamentally changes a great deal about the club over time. It’s because of her that the members of Genshiken grow and evolve themselves as people, beyond the otaku stereotypes to varying degrees.

Outside of the possible exception of Sasahara, whose sister Keiko is very much the “gyaru” type, Saki is Genshiken’s biggest exposure to the “normal” world before the members start graduating. Because of her, Ohno goes from shy wallflower to mother figure for younger otaku. Madarame changes himself as he discovers his feelings for her. Ogiue learns to open up as well. She is a force for change in the club, and one might even argue that she’s the real protagonist of Genshiken, at least initially.

I also noticed that the presence of the real world outside of Saki is much more prevalent in Volume 1. The aforementioned bro talk situations happen. Saki herself gets hit on by guys looking for a quick fling. As the series continues, that realm fades from view until Saki is the primary example of it. And even then, Saki herself changes as she gets acclimated to being friends with otaku.

Comic Festival

I recall that, prior to my discovering Genshiken, my main exposure to the idea of “Comic Market” came from two anime: Comic Party and Nurse-Witch Komugi-chan. Suffice it to say, that’s kind of a strange combination. While Comic Party had a couple of Kuchiki-esque creepers, it was mostly portrayed as a fairly tame event. With Genshiken, however, seeing the final barrier of Sasahara’s shame come undone gives the full doujinshi-purchasing experience. In a way, doujin events are where you confront your true self, and see what values lie within. What are your real priorities? What fundamentally tickles your fancy? It’s a time for reflection.

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Before Kuchiki, There Was Haraguchi

I think there’s a common feeling throughout Genshiken fandom that Kuchiki is an unnecessary element. Who wants to read about a guy with the absolute worst social skills, whose behavior is grating and downright pathetic? However, in Volume 1 Kuchiki has yet to appear. Instead, within early Genshiken exists the character of Haraguchi, and in many ways he provides an interesting contrast with Kuchiki.

Haraguchi is portrayed as an opportunist who likes to lord it over others. A member of all three otaku circles (Anime Society, Manga Society, Genshiken), it’s implied that each group barely tolerates him. Haraguchi works by making connections and ingratiating himself to those who “matter,” and he’s viewed as a leech who mooches off the success and passion of others. Haraguchi is that guy who gives orders without ever actually contributing, and the result is that no one in the universe likes him.

A similar dislike of Kuchiki is certainly prevalent, but for as much as can be said about Kuchiki’s flaws, being a manipulative person isn’t one of them. He’s obnoxious, lacks self control, has a tendency to give TMI, and perpetually irritating, but he’s also absolutely honest and upfront about who he is and what he enjoys. I think it’s ultimately why he’s allowed to stay with the club. Kuchiki is a man of innumerable faults, but he’s not a scumlord like Haraguchi.

Art in Progress

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As I looked for the best image to include in this post, something hit me: the panel layout in Volume 1 is much less refined and elegant than what it would become. While there’s a nice sense of variation in terms of panel size, the composition isn’t as strong, the borders are rather rigid, and the pages don’t flow nearly as well. I’ve looked ahead a couple of volumes and it mostly seems the same, so I wonder if there’s a point at which it truly changes.

Actually, when looking just at the differences between chapters in Volume 1, the art style already begins moving towards the more familiar Genshiken style. As the series begins, the character designs are more similar to Kio’s previous works, and by the end of the volume they’re definitely getting softer. The difference between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 is significant enough that I suspect they were drawn months apart. That’s what happened with Nidaime, where the pilot chapter still had the feel of Jigopuri.

Final Aside

I thought the portrayal of underage drinking was a Nidaime thing. Apparently not! It happens wit Kasukabe and Kohsaka right from the start.

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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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