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.

Rock-Troll Remake: “Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island”

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island can be described as one of the most elaborate shitposts ever. 

This doesn’t mean the film is bad—quite the opposite, in fact. But it’s precisely because Cucuruz Doan’s Island turns out to be a solid work that makes it even more of a shitpost.

Origins

Cucuruz Doan’s Island was originally Episode 15 of the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, about an AWOL Zeon soldier who is now raising orphans on an island that the protagonist, Amuro Ray, crashes on. It’s infamous for a variety of reasons, not least of which are its abysmally off-model animation quality, and the fact that Director Tomino refuses to let it be included in releases outside of Japan. It’s an early instance of a yashigani crab episode, the kind of thing that seems to embarrass all involved. Well, what if 43 years later, they decided to turn it into a feature-length piece with the budget of a full-fledged animated film? 

It’s about as cheeky a move you can make, especially because the idea of re-animating something from First Gundam like this isn’t really done. Sure, there’s Gundam: The Origin, but while the manga is a retelling of the entire story of the One Year War, the anime version mainly covers events before that conflict, making it a prequel of sorts.

Doing More with More

So how do you stretch a 20-something-minute episode into a full movie? Well, you give it More of Everything. There’s more fights: Doan is shown in his Zaku to be fending off unwelcome island visitors from the start, and even has a tussle with the Gundam early on. There’s more plot: The White Base crew’s visit to the island, as well as Doan’s former role in the Zeon forces are given greater context. There’s greater stakes: The threat of worldwide catastrophe looms in this film in a way it never did as a TV episode. There’s more characters: Doan goes from having four orphans to having about three times as many (including an older boy who’s jealous of Amuro), and a whole new platoon of Zeon soldiers is incorporated into the story. Also, Char Aznable shows up (of course), but only in a literal fever dream.

On top of all that, Doan’s Zaku for the film has been purposely designed to be thinner and with a different head construction compared to the standard. This is actually a reference to it being horribly off-model in the original TV series, which has now become the catalyst that has transformed artistic mistakes into the baseline for a unique mobile suit design. This is perhaps the biggest indicator of the somewhat trolling nature of Cucurzu Doan’s Island.

Hindsight and Evolution

Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, the original character designer from the TV series, is actually the director of this film, and it shows. In many ways, it feels more like an episode of Giant Gorg than Gundam in the way characters interact with and explore their environment. The character designs in the film are very clearly based on Yaz’s more modern work a la Gundam: The Origin, but there’s also something about the way characters move that evokes their personalities more powerfully than even some of the best episodes of First Gundam. When Amuro walks around the island, he does so with an awkwardness that really hammers home the fact that he was originally an introverted tinkerer who got thrust into piloting the most powerful weapon of the time. The ways he walks, runs, and reacts come across as possibly even neurodivergent, and makes him feel that much more out of place in the world where he lives. 

In this way, one of the remarkable things about Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the way it acts simultaneously as a nostalgia piece and a work that reflects on Gundam’s long history. In addition to being an opportunity to see the old White Base crew in action again, there are all sorts of details that convey a kind of homecoming. For example, when you see Zeon soldiers (Doan included) react to the presence of the Gundam with fear and awe, it both makes sense in the context of the story and as a nod to the fact that this is the RX-78-2, the Ur-Gundam. Pretty much all the old characters are there with their original voice actors (provided they’re alive). It’s very clear that Furuya Toru and Furukawa Toshio are four decades older and can’t quite play teen characters as naturally as they used to, but they also bring just as many years of experience and refinement to the roles. 

There’s another aspect of Cucuruz Doan’s Island as a do-over that stands out to me, and perhaps to anyone who cares about Gundam lore: Despite being a remake of a TV episode, the movie places itself more in the original film trilogy’s version of events. In addition to the complete absence of the Core Fighter—the cockpit plane that was used as part of the “docking” sequences used in the TV series to give it more of a “super robot” aesthetic like Gundam’s predecessors—Cucuruz Doan’s Island also features the Core Booster vehicle that was created for the trilogy. And while I can’t remember offhand the exact sequence of events, the flow of the story seems to place it more in the trilogy’s timeline of events as well. This, too, feels like Yaz trying to correct past mistakes.

Beyond the Time

I’m not sure which would be funnier: this movie leading to an international release of First Gundam with the missing episode, or if we actually end up with the movie available to purchase but still no Episode 15. Either choice would add onto the legacy of Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island as arguably the ultimate shitpost, and I have to wonder if other properties might attempt something similar. 

Life, the Universe, and Battling – Pokémon Legends: Arceus

For better or worse, the Pokémon games have stuck to a tried-and-true formula that has brought it great success for nearly 30 years. While there have been some oddballs, the clear emphasis on the series has been on a fairly gentle-yet-complex turn-based experience that allows it to remain popular and accessible. For those wanting more—like a real-time battle experience—it can feel like a futile wish.

The pseudo-open-world of Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t exactly the game to answer these prayers, but it is the most daring title to date. It’s sort of a middle ground between various poles—not a full-fledged main title entry, but one that still maintains most of the core concepts of Pokémon. The open field at the center of the Sword and Shield games is greatly expanded upon here, and is in fact pretty much the feel of Legends: Arceus. The game also incorporates some real-time gameplay elements that put your trainer in peril instead of just your Pokémon, but battles inevitably come down to a turn-based experience, albeit one where the mechanics have a few added twists. All this makes for a fairly refreshing game that’s like a foot pressing halfway on the gas pedal. Some things feel familiar and other things are real surprises.

The premise of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is that you have been transported back in time to an era before the Sinnoh region was even called by that name. You arrive right on the cusp of the invention of the Poké Ball, which means that the so-called Hisui region is a place with a fundamentally different relationship with Pokémon consisting of fear and reverence. I was genuinely surprised to have the player character experience a time slip, and I have to wonder why the developers went with this angle instead of just having it be a child of the past. The story is decent enough, but I think the gameplay itself is what’s most interesting.

Because this is supposed to be a historical period that’s also more dangerous for regular folks, the new mechanics (or sometimes lack thereof) feel like both a throwback and a new frontier. There are no features like traits or even held items, let alone something as modern as Dynamaxing, giving me a real Generation-1 vibe at times. I experienced a number of moments where I was worried about a Pokémon having something like Levitate, only to quickly realize that such things don’t exist in Hisui. 

The really major change comes from the way attacks can have different “speeds” to them, such that while battles are still fundamentally turn-based, sometimes you or your opponent can go two or more turns in a row. Combined with the fact that things like status effects and stat buffs/debuffs work quite differently all around, and the result is something familiar, yet strangely new. Also, sometimes, you’ll have to fight 1v2 or more, whether because you caught the attention of multiple wild Pokémon, or you’re fighting someone whose village culture is one where having multiple Pokémon out to do battle is perfectly normal. It’s not like any standard rules have been codified yet—which adds to the feel that this game takes place in a bygone era.

As for the real-time elements, the main ones are special boss fights against guardians known as “Noble Pokémon,” where you have to pelt extremely powerful Pokémon with bags of soothing balm and create opportunities to engage them in a proper Pokémon battle. The added factor of having to learn boss patterns and how to best dodge their attacks brings a dexterity element mostly absent from older games, but the awkward transition into battle mode feels like it could use some work—like a bizarre cousin of chess boxing. Maybe if you still had to dodge collateral damage while your Pokémon is engaging them, it could integrate the two pieces better.

There are hints that the upcoming Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are going to utilize at least some elements of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, though to what extent is still not entirely clear. While I do enjoy that real-time aspect, I’m not sure if I necessarily want it for the main series. I personally would be served with a solid hybrid between real-time and turn-based, but when I think about the fantastic accessibility of Pokémon that has allowed players young and old to approach it regardless of dexterity, and of the stories where kids have learned to read because they played these games, I don’t want that taken away. Maybe we could live in a world where Pokémon can somehow be both, and everyone can be happy.

Thoughts from Girls und Panzer das Finale Part 3

As Sentai Filmworks gradually releases the Girls und Panzer das Finale films, I look forward to watching them and following the tank girls on this last endeavor. This time, it’s Part 3, and it continues to bring the things that make the series memorable.

To call them films is perhaps a tad misleading, as they usually have about 60-minute run times, and there isn’t really a complete narrative arc from start to finish. It’s probably better to think of them like hour-long OVAs, or perhaps even old black-and-white serials a la Flash Gordon.

das Finale is surely not meant for anyone but veteran fans of the show: The fact that episodes end in mid-match cliffhangers means they have to quickly establish the situation or rely on the viewers to remember where they are. Here, the movie begins with the heroines of Ooarai Academy engaged in a surprisingly difficult battle with the previously weak Chi-Ha-Tan Academy. As the story progresses, evidence of character growth (mainly in the arena of tank combat, of course) relies on having prior knowledge of how they behaved in the prequel works. Case in point, seeing the first-years team start to come into their own in Part 3 means knowing where they started. And while it’s technically not personal development, seeing Mako in a night battle acting hyper-alert—in contrast to her lethargic daytime self—is something I can appreciate both as a gag and a story element for a fight.

Even more than the TV series or der Film, das Finale focuses on tank battles. The willingness to more or less portray protracted fights and not skip around is appreciated. Although the matches between the non-Ooarai teams naturally get less screen time, the ways they show one school overcoming another (as well as how and why) puts the brain-centric combat of Girls und Panzer on full display.

If there’s one thing to take away from Girls und Panzer das Finale Part 3, it’s the way that it emphasizes the importance of protagonist Nishizumi Miho, whose tactical mind is arguably unmatched in the series. The question it presents in this context is whether the rest of Ooarai can step up to the plate when needed. I expect the later films to make this an increasingly prominent theme as we get closer to the end, and I have faith that the team will shine.