My Visit to the Exhibit “Shichiro Kobayashi: Drama of Light and Shadow”

A painting of an old, small Japanese home, with people huddled around a stove while a woman nearby rolls dough.

I didn’t know who Kobayashi Shichiro was until he had already passed away. But when Anime NYC helped sponsor an exhibit dedicated to his work both in and outside Japanese animation, I decided I should visit this gallery. I then read that he had been a part of the industry since its early days, but what I hadn’t realized is that his art extended all the way into the eras that helped foster my own love of anime.

Unfortunately, I only managed to get there on the last day the exhibit was open. I wish I could have written about it sooner.

A video of Kobayashi Shichiro, with subtitles saying, "Animation, hand-drawn and hand-crafted, is important, precious, and something to be thankful for."

Right after the entrance was a video message from Kobayashi, where he expressed his love of animation and its potential to connect humans with one another. He seemed to lament recent problems in the world and hoped animation could help overcome them.

From there, the pieces on display were both work from anime productions as well as from his own personal art. Some (but not all) of the anime ones were not allowed to be photographed, like the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, Nobody’s Boy Remi, and The Adventures of Gamba, but there were many that could be, as shown below.

An abandoned and destroyed landscape with a cloudy sky in the background.

Urusei Yatsura the Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamers

Two background paintings from Venus Wars, depicting a destroyed stadium and an abandoned oil rig

Venus Wars

A futuristic-looking building against a blue sky from the anime Simoun.

Simoun

Kobayashi, in his role as art director, collaborated with many great anime creators, especially Dezaki Osamu and Sugino Akio. Looking at Kobayashi’s entry on Anime News Network, it’s clear that this was only scratching the surface. What really struck me was his ability to create backgrounds and environments for a whole range of settings, from small towns to science fiction landscapes. 

A fairly realistic self-portrait of Kobayashi painted with watercolor on paper, from the 1960s

His personal art also showcased Kobayashi’s versatility and powerful expressiveness, featuring pieces dating all the way back to the 1960s and going into the 2010s. They ranged from portraits to abstract art to images of nature, with horses being a lifelong subject due to having grown up with them.

An abstract painting with mostly black paint on a portrait-style canvas with a few specks of blue. A thick and textured band of white paint goes across the middle, and curves as if bending under its own weight. Dated around 1965.

Seeing these interspersed along with the anime work, it gave the sense that Kobayashi was truly a complete artist.

A striking painting of a horse in black on red, dated 2021.

In the corner of the gallery was a video playing a “storybook” animation by Kobayashi about one of his favorite children’s stories: The Red Candles and the Mermaid. He had apparently always wanted to make an animated work out of it, and this combination of stills and voiced narration was the fulfillment of that, to an extent. The tale is a tragic one, a lesson about greed and not appreciating others, brought to life here through Kobayashi’s paintings. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of it.

It was brief, but I’m glad to have experienced the work of Kobayashi Shichiro this way, where his backgrounds command attention instead of receding in the face of the stories. It makes me feel that I should appreciate background artists more.

Hololive 3D Concerts and Bringing Different Fans Together

Laplus Darknesss and Amane Kanata from Hololive singing and dancing on stage

I’ve watched the recent anniversary streams of holoX, and in light of the announcement of the Hololive 4th Fes, I’ve been thinking about how holding 3D concerts can carry different types of significance depending on the individual member and what their fans are looking for. Hololive seems to celebrate their stars in a manner inclusive to every Hololive member’s diverse fanbase, and I’m all for it.

It’s no secret that Hololive members can vary tremendously in terms of where their talents lie. Some clearly establish themselves as great performers as soon as they have the chance, like Hoshimachi Suisei. Others don’t necessarily have the background but have worked hard and come into their own, such as Oozora Subaru. And then there are those who don’t reach the level of their fellow VTubers in terms of singing and dancing, but they might have engaging personalities that just make for a special experience.

However, when there are 3D concerts or other major events that bring Hololive members together, they potentially become places where all respective fans can come together and appreciate their favorites for their own particular reasons. Take the Hololive 3rd Fes concert, which was the 3D debut of Hololive English’s first generation. Gawr Gura showcased the singing talent that brought so many fans to her, along with a cute dance. Takanashi Kiara brought a more polished idol flair. Ina came with a soothing voice in a subdued performance. Amelia Watson is definitely not a strong singer, but her choice of music (a weird fictitious anime opening from the show Welcome to the NHK!) put her personality on full display. And, of course, Calliope Mori put her well-established rap skills (that have since led to a contract with Universal Music Group) to good use. Hololive Indonesia’s first generation also made their 3D concert appearances, with Moona’s diva-like poise, Iofi’s adorableness, and Risu’s ridiculous vocal range all on full display.

With holoX, there is a similar range of strengths and quirks on display in their anniversary concerts. La+ Darknesss (see above) is a ridiculous total package whose impressive vocals and unmatched dance skills both support and defy her “bratty alien demon lord” concept. Takane Lui doesn’t fit the typical image of an idol, but she’s very good at singing while also staying “in-character,” and her choice of songs conveys a sense of maturity. Hakui Koyori is a jack of all trades who also leans into her character the most by adding in puzzles and brain teasers to her concert. Sakamata Chloe is arguably the best singer in the group, with a voice that can seem unreal; she was also the only one to do exclusively solo performances, as if to prove a point. Kazama Iroha’s cuteness shines through in her energetic performances, and it’s clear that she put in a lot of effort to improve her dancing.

It all reminds me of an essay I once read about the differences in presentation between Japanese idols and Korean pop stars: part of the appeal of J-idols is seeing them grow into the role, whereas K-pop stars appear before fans already fully formed. In the context of Hololive, it’s like there’s a purposeful and perhaps even inevitable contrast. While you might have your “J-idol fan” types who want to see their favorites grow and your “K-pop fan” types who love to see perfection in action, a single banner like Hololive allows these groups (and many more) to all thrive in the same general space. 

The power that comes from the variety Hololive has to offer is the way it encourages respect for diversity of talent. People can be fans of different members for different reasons. There are certainly talents whose appeal lies in their sheer skill, and the fans want to see their favorites put their abilities and/or progress on full display. However, there are also Hololive members who aren’t necessarily the greatest performers in one way or another, but their presence on stage makes for a kind of “we made it” moment for their fans. No matter the reason, it emphasizes the idea that there’s no one “right” way for a performance to be, and it encourages the different fanbases to coexist.

Hope and Chaos Take the Subway: Anime NYC 2022

Anime NYC 2022 is the second year in the pandemic era for New York’s biggest anime convention. Last year, the event broke its own attendance records, likely owing to people eager to do something in-person after months and months of restrictions. In contrast, this year felt more like a return to something vaguely normal.

Badges and Registration 

Although I had the benefit of obtaining a press pass, I do know there were issues with supply of general admission this year: both three-day badges and Saturday ones were in short supply. It’s difficult to tell if they’re following in New York Comic Con’s footsteps towards eliminating three-day tickets in general (a move that makes attending the con all weekend significantly more expensive at $65 per day) or if it has to do with COVID-19 precautions.

One thing Anime NYC definitely did seem to take a page from New York Comic Con is a lottery system for seats for major panels in addition to a similar lottery already in place for guest autographs. Attendees could enter online for a chance at these con activities without needing to devote themselves to waiting in lines, and the idea is that it’s also fairer for people coming in from farther away. I understand the overall benefits of this method, though the fact that you have to cancel your reservations in advance should you win (or else risk being ineligible for future lotteries) means that it’s harder to be flexible the day of. I believe being able to make impromptu decisions is part of the fun of conventions, and potentially losing that flexibility can feel like a bit of a burden. Again, though, it might be a net good, and what probably needs to be tweaked is that way fewer panels probably need this system in place.

COVID-19

Speaking of health, Anime NYC did require proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID test, and they enforced that aspect pretty stringently. The same could not be said of masks, however. In panels, staff did a good job of making sure everyone had masks, but everywhere else it was pretty much a coin toss. The city itself has relaxed rules around masking even on the subway, so it’s hard to fight against that kind of momentum, but I wish there was a way to re-emphasize the importance of masks especially in an environment like a convention center filled with tens of thousands of people.

Last year’s con turned out not to be an Omicron super spreader event, despite early reports. I really hope that remained the case for this year, but the relative lack of masking concerns me.

A Note on Attack on Titan

The biggest guest of 2022 had to be Isayama Hajime, author of Attack on Titan. I’m bringing him up first because I actually did not attend any of his events. I follow Attack on Titan through the anime, and I didn’t want to be spoiled. I don’t know if it would have been possible to wait for the anime to conclude before inviting Isayama, but I have to wonder if there were others like me, or perhaps even much bigger fans who were forced to hold back.

Hololive Meet NY

My personal must-see guests were technically not even there: the Virtual Youtubers of Hololive. I prioritized the VTuber stuff because this was my first time at a convention where they had a more significant presence; Anime NYC 2021 had a panel featuring Hololive Council’s five members, and it was a decent enough event that unfortunately had little to no interaction with the fans. For 2022, a more direct VTuber experience was provided through a dedicated booth in the Exhibit Hall in conjunction with VRChat, all as a part of the Hololive Meet series of international con appearances.

Throughout the weekend, different Hololive members (primarily the English ones) held hour-long live shows while streaming remotely. Due to what I assume are various limitations, they didn’t use any of their standard 3D models, instead opting for less complicated ones already familiar to fans: Smol models, BEEGSmol models, and also the VRDance ones

For personal reasons (and because I didn’t want to make it an all-Hololive weekend), I was only able to see two shows in full.  The first I saw was an enthusiastic morning exercise routine (though not in the radio taisou sense) by Mori Calliope that led to all sorts of 3D wackiness. The second, and one of the highlights of the entire event, was a special Anime NYC edition of the Chadcast that became something even more special due to technical mishaps.

The BaeRys Show

Normally, the Chadcast is a three-person monthly show on Youtube by Calliope along with Hakos Baelz and IRyS. None of them are among my absolute favorites as individuals, but as a trio, they’re practically a must-watch. I was looking forward to a convention-exclusive Chadcast, but as the crowd gathered for it, only Baelz and IRyS appeared. Jokingly announcing that this was actually the first episode of the “BaeRys” podcast, the two informed the crowd that Callie’s internet wasn’t working and so she likely couldn’t join in. 

While unfortunate, this also meant getting a full 60 minutes of pure BaeRys, the official name for the pair. I’m not a dedicated shipper, but their interactions are among my favorites because they have such excellent chemistry together. The running joke in the fandom (that is also embraced by the VTubers themselves) is that they‘re constantly getting married and divorced, and so the two played various games meant to reveal “interesting” sides of each other. Questions included “Would you rather vomit on your idol or get vomited on by them?,” “Truth or Dare: Have you ever peed in a pool?,” and (with the help of a fan) “What are three things you like about each other?” 

Watching their antics made me aware of what Callie adds to the Chadcast. Baelz and IRyS’s favorite drinks are coffee and soda, respectively, and BaeRys is very much like drinking coffee soda: a surprisingly refreshing combination, but one that can be overwhelming. Callie, then, is a savory (American) biscuit you eat in order to temper the intensity of coffee cola, and so one’s preference at any given time for Chadcast or BaeRys has to do with whether you want a balanced taste or to experience the extremes.

Along with the streams, there were three other booths offering official Hololive merchandise: Bushiroad (for items related to the Weiss Schwarz card game), Omocat (for exclusive crossover art), and Animate USA (for Hololive Meet–themed items). Buying $40 worth would get you a ticket you could exchange for a Hololive fortune, but attendees could also get a fortune for free if they have a VRChat account. I just so happened to create one because of the recent Code Geass x FLOW VR concert, so I managed to snag two fortunes, one for flagship Hololive Tokino Sora and one for Indonesian member Kaela Kovalskia. 

I do have a couple complaints about how things were handled with Hololive Meet. First, the space provided meant everyone had to stand because sitting would create a fire hazard, and my feet still haven’t fully forgiven me. Second, you had to buy $40 of Hololive merch at one store in order to get the fortune ticket, so you couldn’t spread it across all three. Other than those issues, I’m glad I finally got to see what a “live” Hololive event is like. Next on the bucket list is getting to see my favorites, Haachama and holoX. 

High Card

Among the anime premieres at Anime NYC was the first episode of a series called High Card, written by Kawamoto Homura (writer of Kakegurui) and his younger brother, Munoh Hikaru. It was actually the first screening anywhere, including Japan.

While there is a playing card motif to High Card, it’s not really a gambling anime so much as it is an action-oriented work that revels in absurdity and spectacle, exemplified by its tag line: “Are you ready? It’s showdown!” A special deck of cards has been scattered to the four corners of the Earth, and they have found owners of various types. The cards confer special powers that range from the powerful to the ridiculous (and sometimes both), and at the center of the story is a young thief trying to get money to save his orphanage. Like Kakegurui, the cast of characters is off-the-wall and full of dangerous and sensual individuals, though this time it’s mostly guys instead of girls. The creators said they were inspired by Kingsman, and it shows.

During the Q&A section, Munoh talked about how coming to New York City was amazing because he’d only ever seen it in images and on the screen. He then joked that he’d yet to see Spider-Man or the Ninja Turtles (the latter mention was omitted by the translator for some reason).

Wit Studio

It’s rare to see a current anime studio with a pedigree as strong as Wit Studio: Attack on Titan, Great Pretender, Ranking of Kings, and most recently Spy x Family are among the works they’ve produced. At Anime NYC, multiple staff members for Spy x Family were invited as guests: President and CEO George Wada, as well as artist Syo5 (pronounced “Shogo.”) They held a panel that was a combination of Q&A, insight into the creative process, live-drawing session, and early preview of Spy x Family episode 8. 

The live drawing was more a showcase of how Syo5 works on color palettes, taking an adorable line drawing of Anya Forger as the Statue of Liberty (with her dog, Bond) and adding a sunset to it. During the panel, Syo5 discussed how the color palettes in Great Pretender weren’t realistic, but were meant to have a different feel for each part of the world the characters travel to, and coloring the Anya of Liberty was a showcase of a process similar to what went into Great Pretender

Ranking of Kings also got plenty of love from the Wit staff and audience alike. They mentioned that they’re trying to get the next season done in 2023, and Syo5 showed some of his conceptual drawings that established the general look of the anime.

Eating at the Javits

There were no onsite food trucks this year, so all nearby food options were basically in the Jacob Javits Center itself. Fortunately, between the stalls in the exhibit hall and the Javits dining area, there was actually a decent number of food options. Granted, they were all overpriced to hell and back, but that’s inevitable with con food. 

For those eager to relish in Japanese culture, the exhibit hall had Go Go Curry (a perennial favorite of mine), ramen, bento from BentOn, okonomiyaki from Okonomi, and a few others. I’ve tried pretty much all of them before (though not necessarily in the context of Anime NYC), and the quality is quite good, even if it costs too much. For those who didn’t want to pay the “weeb tax” (or wait in line for a long time), options included burgers and chicken, dumplings, empanadas (Nuchas) Korean food (Korilla), and even Indian food (Curry Kitchen). Overall, the variety was welcome, given the circumstances. I remember a time when you could barely get anything resembling good at the Javits, and I’m glad to see that has continued to change.

Cosplay, Etc.

Overall

Anime NYC 2022 had a few firsts for me, notably when it came to seeing Hololive Virtual Youtubers in a more direct fashion. In that respect, it was an unforgettable experience. While I prefer cons with a greater amount of fan panel programming, I also understand that this is not what Anime NYC is about. Attendees seemed generally to be in high spirits, but I do have concerns about it getting more expensive to attend, as a lot of anime fans are not rolling in dough. If they can keep bringing the guests people want to see while finding ways to make it affordable, I think things will be looking up for next year.

My First VR Concert: Code Geass x FLOW

I’m not big into VR. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done anything virtual reality–related. But this past summer, I interviewed the heads of Gugenka, a company dedicated to various forms of entertainment that blur the line between analog and digital. Thanks to that interaction, I recently received an invitation to participate in a Code Geass x FLOW virtual concert. It’s not a bad combo: I have generally fond memories of the Code Geass anime, and FLOW has done some of my favorite anime songs ever. So, even if my VR experience is limited to a demo booth in the 1990s and a Hololive Myth anniversary event, I decided to give it a shot.

Not only was it my first virtual concert, it was also my first time using VRChat—a program I only knew of through watching Virtual Youtubers. Getting things to work took a lot of coordinating, requiring me to link a variety of apps and accounts across various sites together. It might get easier with experience, but I was definitely confused, and I still doubt I fully grasped it all. 

Because I don’t own a VR headset, I used VRChat on my desktop PC, and the experience was more like a first-person shooter (or like  Incidentally, that’s also a form of entertainment that’s not really my cup of tea, but once I got the hang of it, I started to see the appeal of being able to navigate virtual spaces in a more naturalistic way. (It also let me understand how Gawr Gura navigated the aforementioned HoloMyth event.)

The actual concert consisted of five parts, each time starting with a speech from Lelouch (voiced by Fukuyama Jun), which was then followed by a song performance from FLOW. There were actually two ways to view the concert: VRChat and a Japanese streaming service called Showroom. Because of my own confusion, I actually watched the first song in Showroom, which acts more like Youtube or Twitch, but is aesthetically set up to resemble a simplistic movie theater. At first, I figured this was just the way the concert was, until I saw a bunch of 3D models run right in front of FLOW, clearly showing that Showroom wasn’t the only way to experience the event. That’s when I decided to switch and try VRChat after all, despite some earlier troubles.

One thing that complicated this process was that joining each part of the concert meant having to leave VRChat and click a link that would then send a message to VRChat with a special invite to the next “world.” The need to jump back and forth was a bit unintuitive, and I actually missed the 2nd part of the concert as a result before I figured out how the whole thing works. Once I got back on track, things finally fell into place.

This is when I finally understood exactly what Gugenka meant by having “instances” that allow their virtual events to have some flexibility for viewers. In the case of this Code Geass x FLOW concert, one could join in real time to mimic being part of a public concert, or one could join at a specific moment so that you can either coordinate with a smaller group or to make sure you didn’t miss anything. This isn’t permanent, however, as there were still specific overall time frames where the concert parts were available, and then they would go away. The difference is that if you missed something by, say, 10 minutes, you still had 45 minutes to watch from the beginning.

I don’t know if it’s because I started with Showroom and ended with VRChat, but in Part 1 of the concert, FLOW was being shown as video footage of the actual members, whereas after that, they were 3D models. In the VRChat experience, it was amusing to see people running up to the stage to get as close as they can to FLOW, while others would use the squat command to make viewing easier. The music was great (of course), but in some ways, the people-watching was better. I remember seeing one attendee in particular swaying and moving with a clear joy over getting to be there. 

Tickets were 6,600 yen minimum, with a deluxe package that costs a great deal more. I don’t regularly attend concerts, virtual or otherwise, so I thought it was kind of steep. That said, understanding the kind of experience it’s supposed to be, and knowing that other virtual events cost similarly, I think I would pay for the right event. It also costs a lot less than actually flying to Japan to see a band in the flesh. 

While the virtual experience can’t be a full replacement for a live performance, there’s a bit of joy in knowing you’re experiencing the same thing as people living in Japan. It also creates a great opportunity for those who don’t have the means to travel for concerts to do something more interactive. Especially in a time when COVID-19 is still affecting people around the world, it’s also a solid choice for those who are too afraid to travel to another country.

I want to end by talking about a funny incident that occurred. For one song, I hopped into the VRChat world, only to find myself somehow transported a great distance away from the waiting room. Confused, I tried getting closer and closer to the space, only to start hearing chatter from Japanese attendees who were discussing someone who looked to be stuck. Soon, I realized that the person they were talking about was me, and they were trying to help me get out of whatever weird glitch I was in. After resolving the issue, they asked if I was okay—to which I jumped up and down to show everything was fine. The way these random people looked out for me put a smile on my face, and it actually made the concert more enjoyable overall. 

I’m not going to say that this is a universal experience for virtual spaces, but it reinforced the interpersonal connections these sorts of events can provide.

I Started Reading the Saint Seiya Manga

Pegas Seiya and Dragon Shiryu facing off with their armors shattered, their respective constellation animals prominently shown in the background

Saint Seiya is a series I’ve long known about, but one I’ve never really engaged with at its core. Sure, I loved Saint Seiya Omega. The opening theme and anthem of the franchise, “Pegasus Fantasy,” is always great at karaoke. When the characters came around on SaltyBet, things were bound to get interesting. And years before all that, I caught episodes of the English dub that committed the sin of replacing the aforementioned anthem with a middling cover of “I Ran.” Yet, I put off experiencing the original works—until now. I began to read the manga (available in English on the Shonen Jump app), and I certainly have Some Thoughts.

Because of subcultural exposure and the fact that I explore and research a lot about manga, I already have an image in my head of Saint Seiya as a work about guys teaming up to fight gods from Greek mythology using special celestial armors called “Cloth.” I know it is the pioneering work in the “boys in armor” subgenre from which spawned works like Samurai Troopers, Shurato, and Reideen the Superior. I’m fully aware that in terms of worldwide popularity, the US is the exception rather than the norm: the franchise is a beloved classic. And as for its reputation for featuring pretty boys engaging in passionate battles rife with blood and tears—a combination has made it a hit with all genders—that really says it all. Intensity, thy name is Saint Seiya. What I wasn’t prepared for is just how different the manga feels at the beginning, and how many twists and turns it takes even in the first handful of chapters.

Nothing says a certain series or franchise has to stay the same forever. Consistency can be good, but it’s not the only path to greatness. When it comes to classic Jump manga especially, there’s more than a few examples of significant pivots. Kinnikuman starts as an Ultraman parody and ends up as a wrestling story. The card game that defines Yu-Gi-Oh! in pop culture was originally a one-off story. YuYu Hakusho goes from detective mysteries to tournament arcs galore. While Saint Seiya doesn’t stray quite that far from its early roots of armored boys fighting fiercely, there are definitely points at which it feels like the author, Kurumada, was playing it by ear. 

There’s a lot about different characters defying established order without readers having knowledge of what that order is, exemplified by the protagonist Seiya. He’s trying to find his sister, and in order to do so, he has to get this magical Greek armor, but then he refuses to play by the rules and instead escapes to Japan to…enter a tournament? But even that ends up being a pretense to meet the other “Bronze Knights,” who are adversaries turned eventual allies. And the incarnation of the goddess Athena, whom they’re apparently meant to fight for, begins the story as a snobby rich girl whose dad has adopted like a hundred orphans to be potential Cloth bearers. Well, okay.

Saint Seiya seems more built on spectacle than anything else, or perhaps its plot is just a pretense for putting on display these cool guys in hot fights. I say that not as a criticism but more as an observation, because I think that such an approach does make for a memorable work, as it’s more about the aura of excitement than trying to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” This early on, I know that Saint Seiya hasn’t reached the pinnacle of its power level yet, and I think I’m going to appreciate that journey. 

New York Comic Con 2022 and the Long-Lost Hand of New York Anime Festival

The story of New York Comic Con has long been a move increasingly towards mainstream nerd culture. But what happens when that culture changes into one where comics have ascended?

For years now, I’ve associated this convention with prestige TV shows and superhero movies above all else. Comics are still paid lip service and the Artist Alley still brings some of the biggest names you can imagine, but my attendance and attention have waned over time. Even this year, I only went one day when in the past it would have been three or four. But when I was there, I couldn’t help but notice the remnants of New York Anime Festival, once upon a time absorbed into its bigger and more popular brother we call NYCC, emerging with new life.

It would be inaccurate to treat NYCC like an anime con, but the industry presence in the Exhibition Hall was very noticeable. Big booths for Gundam, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and various anime and manga companies littered the space. And when it came to cosplay, the amount of Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, etc. was hard to ignore. There were plenty of other things (including some very excited folks in Cobra Kai uniforms eager to meet John Kreese’s actor, Martin Kove), yet it felt like Cool Japan stepped one foot out of a casket.

I have to wonder if this stems from the big boost anime and manga have gotten during the pandemic. Ever since COVID-19 forced major changes on how people live, one consequence was that people’s entertainment habits changed. Among these shifts were a massive increase in book sales, and among them graphic novels blew up. But among the boom of graphic novels, manga had ascended even further. Anime and manga are almost undeniably mainstream now (at least when it comes to certain major titles), and perhaps it’s only natural for the mainstream-chasing New York Comic Con to follow suit to some degree.

Gattai Girls 12: “Idolmaster Xenoglossia” and Amami Haruka

Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.

Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.

For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.

— 

At face value, Idolmaster: Xenoglossia is a perplexing title. Why in the world would the very first anime for The iDOLM@STER, a video game about managing Japanese idols, be a mecha series where the girls strive to save the Earth rather than give successful stage performances? When you get under the surface, though, it results in an even greater cognitive dissonance between the franchise’s origins as an idol sim franchise and this science fiction story ostensibly built on its foundation.

The confusion begins from the very basis of Xenoglossia. The premise is that high schooler Amami Haruka is unexpectedly recruited to potentially become one of the “Idolmasters,” pilots of world-defending robots called iDOLS. Outside of Xenoglossia, the name of the franchise refers to the player as an idol producer. That’s a simple enough change to accept given the story’s setting, but where the show throws the hardest curveballs is the portrayal of its characters.

Despite this being a franchise where fans support the actors who play their favorite idols, the entire voice cast was changed for Xenoglossia. It’s an extremely odd decision in hindsight, but what makes it all the more strange is that the changes don’t stop there: age, size, personality, and more are drastically altered to the point that many characters become almost unrecognizable. The best example is the character of Takatsuki Yayoi. In The iDOLM@STER proper, she’s a small and energetic girl in her early teens known for her high-pitched voice and signature squeal of excitement. In Xenoglossia, she’s noticeably taller and bustier, is the only actual conventional idol in the show, loves to wear mascot outfits), and is much more antagonistic towards Minase Iori. 

I’m not a huge The iDOLM@STER fan, but I’ve watched the anime and have a decent idea of the core cast and their personalities. On some level, it’s impossible for me to fully divorce my preconceived notions, but this level of change is beyond rare. The closest example I can think of is the first Comic Party anime, where a high schooler got aged up and a middle schooler got aged down for seemingly no reason. It’s as if the creators of Xenoglossia just looked at some preliminary character sketches and just went their own way without regard for the source material. 

Funnily enough, the only character who’s mostly like her original self is the franchise’s flagship heroine and Xenoglossia protagonist, Amami Haruka. Her personality remains optimistic and hard-working, though tinged here with a bit of self-doubt as to what she’s capable of. But when she’s surrounded by an endless parade of bizarre doppelgangers, something always feels a little off. If one can ignore that to a degree, the show gets more enjoyable.

In terms of Haruka or any other character’s portrayal as giant robot pilots, they’re never upstaged by any male characters swooping in to save the day; in fact, there aren’t any male pilots at all. Different characters struggle with different aspects of being Idolmasters, and much of the plot is built around striving to overcome those challenges. There’s also a great deal more nudity and sexual behavior (including possibly incest?!) than would be expected of something based on The iDOLM@STER—which might be a dealbreaker for those who strongly believe in the whole “idol purity” concept, but still feels kind of odd for even those of us who don’t.

The relationship between the Idolmasters and their iDOLS also arguably runs counter to “idol purity” because the way they talk about the robots makes them seem on some level like giant mechanical boyfriends—especially the main iDOL, Imber. The robots are shown to be sentient on some level, and the way some characters work to become worthy of and accepted by the mecha while others treat them like companions comes across more like romantic fiction at times. The entire setup of Xenoglossia is conducive to this, showing itself to be the kind of anime where the requisite to becoming Idolmasters has angst-filled drama baked in.

Idolmaster Xenoglossia we got could never be made today. It came out at a time when The iDOLM@STER was a much smaller deal, as evidenced by the fact that the girls are all based on their designs from the first game rather than the revised versions from The iDOLM@STER 2 that have since been codified. This early on, Xenoglossia followed in the fine (?) tradition of titles like Lunar Legend Tsukihime, where it was assumed that a fledgling idol manager franchise needed a boost in star power and storytelling from the anime industry. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot, and if they were to attempt this again, it’d be all but inevitable that the characters would adhere much more closely to their original selves. It’s a historical curiosity, indeed.

Paying It Forward: Love Live! Superstar!! 2nd Season

In 2021, the first season of Love Live! Superstar!! made a powerful impression on me. With its tightly written story centered around heroine Shibuya Kanon’s lifelong struggle with performance anxiety and stage fright, it stood out in a positively memorable way. One of the aspects that helped the storytelling was its relatively small cast of characters compared to the Love Live! franchise standard, so when it was announced that Season 2 of Superstar!! would nearly double the main group from five girls to nine, I worried that the series might lose what made it work so well.  Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, and Season 2 has turned out to be a solid follow-up that does a good job of playing off its predecessor—and also introduces my favorite member in the process.

Love Live! Superstar!! 2nd Season picks up from where the first left off. The elite Yuigaoka Girls’ High School has accepted the School Idol Club and their group, Liella! Kanon has managed to overcome her issues and can sing loudly and proudly on stage. There’s unfinished business in that Liella! couldn’t make it past the preliminaries of the Love Live! competition. The character arcs are mostly resolved, do the question becomes, what story do they tell given that fact?

The answer is to introduce new girls and place an emphasis on a senpaikouhai dynamic that isn’t really present in other Love Live! anime. While other series actively celebrate the lack of such hierarchical distinctions, Superstar!! 2nd Season puts it front and center. That’s not to say it’s big on seniority, but the perspectives provided by experience becomes a key factor in the narrative.

The senpai characters do receive episodes of their own (like a hilarious one about gamer addiction), but they seem to get less screen time overall, and even theirs will link back to the new girls in some way. This is likely by design, as it not only does this work to introduce all the first-years, but it provides a clear indicator of progress for the original five as seasoned school idols who must mentor the next generation. After all their hard work, Kanon and the other senpai have gotten so good that they accidentally scare off most of the new student body, who are too worried about not being able to live up to the standards set by Liella! Like the ongoing debates over fighting game design, Superstar!! 2nd Season asks what is the right balance between granting accessibility and rewarding ambition. 

Superstar!! 2nd Season idoes a good job of differentiating the new girls from their upperclassmen, though they can at times feel a little less three-dimensional. The big sticking point is that they seem to adhere more to anime character archetypes, but they’re developed well enough that it becomes less of an issue over time. Also, I have to admit that I myself can be a sucker when the tropes fall in my favor, such as in the case of my Liella! favorite, Wakana Shiki. She’s an aloof scientist with a secret soft side, and her similarities to Nunotaba Shinobu from A Certain Scientific Railgun (including liberal peppering of English phrases into her speech) is both noted and highly welcome.

As Superstar!! 2nd Season progresses, it gradually brings the focus back to the original girls of Liella!, reviving and adding new angles to some of the challenges from Season 1. For example, a rival antagonist shows up who reignites criticisms of school idols as being inherently mediocre artistically, adding a bit of Zhong Lanzhu–esque flair along the way. But the lessons Kanon has learned from her own challenges and the results of that mean her answers to the questions posed to her reflect the positive changes she’s made.

Overall, Love Live! Superstar 2nd Season manages to be a great continuation that builds on a solid foundation. While it risks getting bloated, its broader character dynamics help to mitigate that concern. What results is an anime that shows what Love Live! is capable of.

Evangelion + Beavis & Butt-Head = Chainsaw Man

A sketch of a character that is a combination of Shinji from Evangelion, Denji from Chainsaw Man, and Butt-Head from Beavis & Butthead

I was originally going to write about how Chainsaw Man reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s the way Chainsaw Man feels like you’re peering into a creator’s psyche, how it both leans into and plays with various tropes, and importance given to feelings of loneliness. The manga (and soon to be anime) stands out from its peers and defies so much of what we consider “proper storytelling,” and I genuinely think it’s going to become an influence on creators on the level of Evangelion

But the two works are also fundamentally different in a lot of ways, and any actual influence from one to the other is indirect at best. The missing piece of the puzzle is that as much as Chainsaw Man has shades of Evangelion, it’s also reminiscent of Beavis & Butt-Head

Denji (aka Chainsaw Man) isn’t suffering the same type of loneliness that Shinji from Evangelion feels. One could argue that Shinji is a whiny teen too caught up in his own head, but the kind of heavy introspection he (and the other characters) engage in isn’t something Denji does for the most part. Instead, like Beavis and Butt-Head, he rarely thinks things through properly, and is also obsessed with losing his virginity. And similar to Beavis & Butt-Head’s environment, Denji lives in a world that seems off-kilter, as if even that which is considered “normal” is more facade than foundation. Also, Denji is not terribly smart most of the time, but he also has brief glimmers of insight—a kind of Butt-Head-esque quality. 

I sometimes describe Denji as being cut from the same cloth as Monkey D. Luffy, but I realize now that this analogy is limited because while they share some things in common, Denji doesn’t have that sense of justice and camaraderie. I realize now that a better comparison is to say that Denji is Shinji combined with Butt-Head. He’s kind of shallow, yet his emotions nevertheless feel real and honest, and ultimately he’s not a bad guy. I think it’s part of what gives Chainsaw Man a strange profundity. 

And if Denji is Shinji + Butt-Head, that would mean the character of Power can be viewed as Asuka + Beavis. Asuka is aggressive and trying to constantly prove herself, while Beavis is like a bizarre embodiment of Freudian id who also comes across as naively innocent at times. It totally works, is something I’m currently telling myself.

Could you imagine what it would actually look like if you tried to cross over Evangelion and Beavis & Butt-Head? It would be a spectacle of the absurd, gross yet fascinating—Chainsaw Man to a tee. In a series where characters grapple with emotional problems that run the gamut of silly and vapid to deep and soul-rending, everything feel bizarre and unstable, and when you add a layer of hyperviolence on top of everything else, you get a series that’s incredibly hard to match.

Truly Something for Everyone: Splatoon 3

In Splatoon, ink is everything. It’s how you take down opponents, it’s how you advance and retreat, it’s how you control space, it’s how you assist allies, and it’s how you win. This core mechanic is so smart, creative, and well-executed that it basically provides a solid foundation for every game entry. Unless the creators actively screw things up, it’s hard to mess with such a successful formula. However, while a bit of a spitshine would produce a decent enough sequel, Splatoon 3 has gone above and beyond to take the lessons from its predecessors and create a more fun and more refined experience.

The bread and butter of Splatoon is its multiplayer, where teams of four compete. While the basic gameplay remains fundamentally the same, and I’m nowhere good enough to notice subtle differences in weapon ranges and the like, it’s very clear that the developers put a lot of thought into improving things. For the more competitive sort, ranked battles now have two types of games available so you can play the ones you enjoy more. For everyone in general, the new generation of super weapons builds on an important development that’s happened over the course of many games. The original Splatoon was famous for having invincible supers with such great power that games revolved around them. Splatoon 2 dialed this back a bit, and now Splatoon 3 puts an even greater emphasis on interactivity and counterplay.

But not everyone is into competing against other players, of course. Fortunately, Splatoon 3 provides alternatives. The first is the return of Salmon Run, a multiplayer co-op experience against waves of computer-controlled enemies. The second is the best story mode thus far, delivering in every way that matters. Like previous games, the singleplayer story mode works as a nice introduction to the games’ mechanics, but the actual plot itself is actually filled with thrilling surprises that provides great fodder for long-time fans without alienating newer players.

Speaking of avoiding crushing beginners, while it’s clear that the Octo Expansion was a major influence on how this turned out, fortunately it’s not as harsh as that Splatoon 2 DLC. I still get chills thinking about the Octo Expansion’s hidden final boss, Inner Agent 3, and I expect an eventual Splatoon 3 DLC to be similarly expert-focused.

I do have a couple complaints about the game. One is that the initial tutorial basically requires players to use the motion controls. While I prefer that method of control myself, I know people who just cannot get accustomed to that setup. Between that and requiring a shooter-type weapon (technically also my preference) to get through most of the singleplayer, and I think that perhaps not enough has been done to help those who don’t prefer the default style of Splatoon but still want to enjoy it. Another is that many of the maps in online play feel a little cramped, and as someone whose preferred weapon (the N-Zap) thrives on mobility, I find myself feeling at times like there’s no escape. I think I can probably adjust to that, though.

Overall, Nintendo has really hit it out of the park with Splatoon 3. It’s basically everything I was hoping for, even as I’m still trying to get used to all the changes. This one’s a winner.