Thoughts on HoloModels

Augmented reality is a funny thing to me because its appeal feels somehow both obvious and yet elusive. Whether it was participating in Pokémon Go at the height of the craze or seeing people on Twitter post videos of their iDOLM@STER characters occupying “real” spaces, I end up thinking “that’s really cool” and “but do I really want to blur that line?” simultaneously. 

I was asked this month, by Patreon request, to discuss HoloModels, which is an AR figures app by the company Gugenka. Essentially, rather than having physical PVC or resin kit models, you collect virtual ones that you can pose and “place” wherever you want. I had actually seen images of it without realizing what exactly I was looking at, thanks to retweets of the Lina Inverse HoloModel that have been filling my Twitter timeline. “Was it some video game? Maybe a fan project?” I thought.

Before trying out the app itself, my understanding of HoloModels led me to think that the advantage was basically like that of ebooks: the ability to keep a bunch of models without any of them taking up physical space. They can be placed and posed any way you want, so there’s also a certain degree of freedom for creativity. However, when I saw that HoloModels can be resized to pretty much any scale, I realized that the potential I had pictured was too limited.

The versatility of HoloModels means you can have life-size models, as if they’re less figures and more characters who have entered our world. Perhaps you can even pretend that they’re a friend or a lover. And even if you’re not into that sort of thing, you can still use them in a variety of different ways. You can use them in virtual dioramas or even as action figures after a fashion. What’s more, you can’t really “damage” them by accident. And of course, even this view is still probably a drop in the ocean of possibilities.

Because of the proximity of HoloModels to Virtual Youtubers—they’re essentially two ways of blurring fiction and reality together through anime aesthetics—I also had to see if there was any stronger connection between the two. It turns out that the default model you get when you first install HoloModels, Shinonome Megu, has since become a Virtual Youtuber with 40,000+ subscribers as of December 2020. I believe the HoloModels figure came first, based on comparing news articles announcing HoloModels with the oldest video on her channel, but if anyone has more information, feel free to share.

Am I interested in sticking with them? Not really. HoloModel figures are awfully pricey in my view, as less expensive characters run around 3,500 yen, and the Lina Inverse mentioned above is 5,000 yen. I might just be the wrong person to understand the true value of these AR characters—I’d still rather have a physical one, even if I can’t make it Godzilla-sized. That all said, if we compare HoloModels to another form of “virtual character collection,” i.e. mobile game gacha, the luck element is completely removed. That does make me wonder if that gambling high is part of why mobile game character lotteries work in the first place, but that’s another conversation for another day.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can personally request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Introducing the Hashikko Ensemble Playlist

Every month, I review the newest chapter of Kio Shimoku’s manga Hashikko Ensemble. Because it’s music-themed and a lot of real-world pieces play both major and minor (no pun intended) roles in the series, I usually include a list of whatever songs are referenced. 

I’ve decided to begin compiling as many of these songs as I can in a Youtube playlist so that everyone can get an understanding of what the characters are talking about, and what the songs they sing sound like. You can find it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHd9peF8XUw&list=PLFb_D_h-kVDDqmjIUJATecg42foU45IZ9

Not all songs featured in Hashikko Ensemble are on the playlist—did you know that children’s music isn’t allowed to be added to Youtube playlists anymore? But I think it’ll potentially enhance the reading experience.

PS: Spitz is awesome.

Anime Faces: VTuber vs. Horror Games

Horror games are a staple of the Youtuber. Between the sense of anticipation and the payoff of screams of terror, it’s been a classic stepping stone for many of the most popular online celebrities such as Markiplier. So, it comes as no surprise that the horror genre would find a home among Virtual Youtubers as well. Why mess with a reliable formula? But I do notice a difference when a VTuber goes this route: their inherently limited and artificially generated facial expressions transform the experience to a subtle yet noticeable degree.

When it comes to flesh-and-blood streamers, horror games are an opportunity for wild and exaggerated reactions. In some cases, they’re authentic, in others they’re choreographed, and there are surely plenty that fall somewhere in the middle. In essence, it doesn’t really matter too much whether they’re real freak-outs or not, provided they’re convincing enough to make it difficult to distinguish. Either you’re being genuine or you’re a skilled enough performer to seem genuine—or the viewers just want to see someone bouncing off the walls regardless of intent. The line blurs further when it comes to Virtual Youtubers. Which ones use their VTuber image as a disguise to protect their identity? Who embraces their character to be someone they’re not? These mysteries are rife with potential for speculation.

But whether or not the VTubers are being “real,” there is still an additional layer between them and us in the form of their CG avatars. Even if the shouts and shudders are authentic, they’re still being filtered through and limited by software that (as of 2020) does not capture the full range of human emotions that are communicated through our faces. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The relative simplicity of these avatars begins to take on an element of iconography by acting in the abstract and symbolic, which in turn makes it easy to read into VTubers’ expressions what we desire. 

Though this doesn’t count as horror (unless you have a fear of 1990s boy bands), I’m reminded of that video featuring three different Kizuna AI models “singing” “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys. It’s based on a video of three real-life guys lip-syncing the song, but despite the obvious and intentional similarities, it still feels different. The fact that AI-chan’s “wide-eyed smirk” is more or less the same as her “angry screaming” in other videos is part of the amusement of the character. 

Other VTubers often have fewer facial expressions than AI-chan, and often barely any at all when it comes to VTubers who are just starting out. Still, that’s fine. While having a static image as an avatar is far from ideal, I would argue that the opposite might be even more off-putting. In other words, if a Virtual Youtubers’ facial expressions were too human, it would start to approach the uncanny valley, and I think the whole enterprise would lose some of its appeal.

Or maybe that would be perfect for Halloween and the horror game spirit…

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Hololive EN and Multilingual Fluency Among Virtual Youtubers

Virtual Youtubers continue to be a tour de force, reaching beyond Japan to worldwide recognition. Given this success, as well as the crossover appeal of certain English-fluent VTubers (such as Fujima Sakura, Pikamee, and Kiryu Coco), it was only a matter of time before one of the big VTubers agencies would try to make an active effort to court an English-speaking audience. Thus is born Hololive EN, and with it five new streamers.

The tricky thing with something like Hololive English is striking the right balance in terms of audience desire and accessibility. Speaking in the target demographic’s native tongue does wonders for directly engaging with viewers, and offers an experience closer to what the Japanese viewers typically enjoy. Rather than Inugami Korone’s amusing struggles with English, little gets lost in translation. However, it’s also possible that part of the appeal is the existence of a culture gap—that there’s an element of exoticism found in both the language barrier and the moe idol aesthetic. Veering too far in one direction might alienate certain fans.

The route that Hololive English appears to have taken is to feature VTubers with decent degrees of spoken Japanese fluency—enough to interact with the Japanese fans as well. Their true identities remain unknown (as is standard), so it’s unclear if they’re natively multilingual or if they achieved it through study, but the result either way is that there isn’t a complete disconnect with the Japanese origins of Hololive. The style of English seems to differ from one to the next, whether it’s the cutesy affectations of Gawr Gura or the more natural-sounding speech of Mori Calliope. I think this probably a good way to hedge their bets in terms of figuring out what will garner the most fans, though I don’t know how intentional that is.

While all of them are able to speak Japanese fairly well, written fluency varies significantly between the Hololive English members (unless it’s somehow all an act). Case in point, Takanashi Kiara’s language skills are very strong to the extent that she self-translates, Ninomae Ina’nis appears to have a solid handle, and Amelia Watson can struggle with the basics. Kiara’s advantage is obvious, but I think the ones who are less fluent actually have a certain appeal themselves. Not only do they resonate with those of us who grew up speaking our parents’ languages but never became properly literate, but they’re also relatable to those currently learning Japanese or who want to learn Japanese—no doubt a common occurrence among Virtual Youtuber fans. 

For now, I don’t really have a favorite, but I wish all of them the best of luck. If they find success, I wonder if other Vtuber groups will push harder to have an active international presence.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Otakon in 2020 Was Fun but Strange

Whether it was in Baltimore or DC, part of the Otakon experience for me has always been the trip there and back, for better or worse. It could be smooth sailing, or a train could break down and leave the passengers stuck for hours (this really happened). That’s why this year’s Otakon was such a pleasant surprise. Rather than the three-plus hours it would normally take, the total travel time from bed to convention was approximately 20 seconds. From the start, I could tell there was something very different about this 2020 version of Otakon.

Unlike previous years, Otakon this year was a Saturday-only event on August 1st, which had its ups and downs. For one, while I do like immersing myself in the con environment for an extended weekend, I didn’t have to take time off to attend. And although the food in DC has been great, it usually was a bit of a trek to get anything to eat (even inside the Walter E. Washington convention center). This time, amazing home-cooked meals were just a few steps away. 

Panels and Workshops

Unfortunately, I did not have any panels accepted, so I was purely a spectator. This year, panels were significantly shorter, clocking in at 30 minutes per panel as opposed to the traditional one hour, but I saw it as a way to fit more presenters into the one-day event, making it a net benefit. Notably, the audience for every panel I saw was quite impressive, not only because they often numbered in the hundreds, but also because there was no trouble in getting into the panels despite such large attendance numbers. While there were some audio and video hiccups in some of the panels, they were fairly quick to resolve.

30 Years Ago: Anime in 1990

The first panel of the day I saw Daryl Surat’s “30 Years Ago: Anime in 1990,” which went through some of the highlights of anime from that time. It gave the sense of being a really transitional year, and I appreciated his highlighting of Brave Exkaiser, the first entry in the Brave franchise. He ended the panel with loving praise of the infamous Mad Bull 34, and tied its story of a rule-breaking, trigger-happy cop to current events in a manner humorous yet critical.

Carole and Tuesday

From there, I stepped into the Carole & Tuesday panel. The panel was already in progress, having started with a viewing of the first episode, but because I’d already seen the entire series, I thought it safe to skip. Amazingly, the travel time between Daryl’s presentation and this one was near-instantaneous, so I didn’t miss much. The panel started off with a beautiful musical performance by Celeina Ann (the singing voice of Tuesday Simmons), and led into an interview with her, director Watanabe Shinichirou, and (I believe) producer Makoto Nishibe. One thing I learned was that Alba City, the main setting of the show, is also a city in Cowboy Bebop. They also showed a vide of the recording and animation process, and seeing the amount of effort and collaboration that went into the show gave me a very positive impression.

Chibi Chibi Drawing Time

I normally don’t attend workshops at Otakon, but with things being so convenient this year, I decided to check out Chibi Chibi Drawing Time, which taught people how to draw super-deformed characters. It’s been a while since I scratched my art itch, and I used this opportunity to follow along with the spirit (though not always the letter) of the presenter’s guides. You can see the results below:

Into Another World: A History of Isekai

It’s the big genre that’s been sweeping the anime industry for a while, and thanks to this panel, I got to learn a little more about isekai. My main takeaways are that the introduction of gaming-oriented isekai helped to bring forth non-isekai anime in gaming-heavy settings (think Goblin Slayer and Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?), and that the number of shows seem to multiply exponentially. 2019 looked to have about three times as many isekai anime as in previous years, and I have to wonder when the juggernaut will finally slow down.

Godzilla, Kaiju Eiga and the Amazing Toho Studios

This was perhaps the best panel I saw of the entire convention, as it was meticulously researched and gave a lot of insight into the making of Godzilla as well as the kaiju movies that propelled Toho to additional fame. I was intrigued to learn about all of the different players of this time, including Godzilla director Honda Ichiro and Ultraman creator Tsuburaya Eiji. If you have the chance to see this panel, either in person or via recording, I highly recommend it.

Bootleg Anime from South Korea

I’ve attended this panel by Mike Toole before, but I always welcome an opportunity to see more “creatively appropriated” giant robots. It reminds me that, around the world, you really can’t decouple animation fandom from bootleg products, and it results in interesting products and cultural output nevertheless. I’m still waiting for that Soul of Chogokin Taekwon V.

Overall

I appreciated how different Otakon was for 2020, and the heavy focus on panels appealed to me a lot (I truly think they’ve always been the best part of the con). At the same time, I think I’m still a bigger fan of the regular version. The unusual format meant there were no autograph signings or big live concerts this year, and I didn’t really get to spot any unique or unusual cosplay. I also miss doing interviews.

I wouldn’t another Otakon like this, but I’m hoping 2021 provides a return to the tried and true classic.

Wishing for Hope, Reaching to Help

I’m grateful to be in a position where I am mentally and emotionally well, even in this pandemic. It’s easy for me to assume that fear and concern over COVID-19 is what’s on people’s minds, but the recent deaths of so many people and figures in my social and fandom spheres just has me hyper-aware of the challenges many face that are likely exacerbated by current circumstances. 

In the world of anime, Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network died in his apartment on May 21, 2020. In wrestling, Shad Gaspard died at age 39 after helping save his son from a rip current on May 17. Another wrestler, Hana Kimura was 22 when she died by suicide on May 23 after online harassment due to her appearance on the reality show Terrace House. And while this isn’t recent, it’s been almost a year since the suicide of gaming youtuber Etika, who was 29. Death may be unpredictable and inevitable, but the fact that they all left so young makes me shake my head in disbelief.

I wasn’t close to any of the people I mentioned, so my perspective is not as a friend or peer, or even necessarily as a fan or follower. Yet, I feel something: sadness, anger, frustration, or maybe something else I can’t describe. In the case of Hana Kimura, I kept saying to myself, “I really need to check out Stardom because she seems like a star,” and now all I’ll have is past videos to reference. It makes me want to reach out to my friends, and those I’ve lost contact with over the years. It’s easy to just assume that the last image you had of them is roughly how they are today, but time passes and people face challenges both internal and external. I always worry about overstepping my boundaries or thinking I’m closer to someone than I actually am, and maybe I just need to find the tiny ounce of courage to get over that and maybe, just maybe, help someone turn away from a bad decision. 

I used to frequent a chat room that was named after the anime Maria-sama ga Miteru (aka Maria Watches Over Us). A few years since I last visited, I decided to stop by, and the chat topic included a person’s name: “So-and-so ga Miteru.” It turns out they had passed away. A couple more years passed, and I visited again. This time, more names had been added to the topic. It feels like I blinked, and more of the people I knew had vanished. As far as I know, none of those deaths were due to suicide, but they stung nevertheless. And while I never really interacted with them on any deeply personal level, it made my infrequent visits feel like “too little, too late.” When it’s related to physical health, there’s only so much any of us can do. When it’s not, it hits differently. 

I hope we can connect to our fellow human beings, those we love and even those with whom we have the barest connection, so that we can help lift up one another. If you’re feeling like life isn’t worth living, reach out to suicide prevention for professional help. If you’re hurting and just need someone to listen, feel free to even leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter

Remember: you’re worth something.

I Found Out the Dagashi Kashi Author [Might Be] a Woman Thanks to My Favorite Virtual Youtuber

CORRECTIONS: Thanks to a comment, I learned that “mom” and “dad” is a term describing the character designer of a Virtual Youtuber, which made me realize that the designation in the description isn’t necessarily the other person who shows up in the video. A further look at the video descriptions shows that the woman teaching Sugomori to draw comes from the manga school Manga Kyoushitsu Minato Mirai. I’ve edited the post because the possibility is still there, but have removed the incorrect information.

I’m not terribly into the whole virtual youtuber thing, but I do have my favorites. Recently, my #1 is Sugomori, a manga reviewer who covers everything from popular titles to more obscure ones.

She’s not one of the major ones right now, but I appreciate her focus on manga over games. Some of her videos (like the one above) have been subtitled into English, so you can enjoy them even if you don’t know Japanese.

However, I’m not just here to recommend a Youtube channel. I also want to point out the connection between Sugomori and Kotoyama, author of Dagashi Kashi and Yofukashi no Uta.

Sugomori’s character design is actually by Kotoyama, as she explains in her introductory video. That’s a pretty huge get for a Virtual Youtuber, I’d think. But also, Sugomori calls Kotoyama “mom” (okaa-sama) in her descriptions.

I don’t know if Sugomori is actually Kotoyama’s daughter, or if it’s just a joke or something [Turns out it’s a joke]. Whatever the case, I was surprised at the possibility that Kotoyama might be a woman! It would be cool if that turns out to be the case.

In conclusion, watch Sugomori, read Kotoyama. Enrich yourself.

Insane in the Menbre: 22/7 Anime vs. Youtube Thoughts

When the anime for fictional idol group 22/7 was first announced, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My only exposure to them was through the Youtube channel of Fujima Sakura, one of the characters in the franchise. Played by Sally Amaki, a Japanese-American who moved to Japan to become an idol, the resulting videos were surprisingly off the wall. Videos like the one about using “menbre” as cutesy shorthand for “mental breakdown” set the tone for 22/7 in my mind as this quirky idol group that wasn’t afraid of gallows humor. Contributing to this was the fact that Sally Amaki herself would express on Twitter some of the challenges of being an idol and talk about her love of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to the extent that fans threw bags of them onto the stage at Anime Expo. It was like 22/7 and Fujima Sakura peeled back just a layer or two of the idol illusion—enough to entice but not to ruin.

So I jumped into the first few episodes of the 22/7 anime wondering if any of the above would be reflected. To my surprise, the series has taken a completely different approach: a mostly serious show about conflict and self-doubt. Fujima Sakura is a prominent part of the series, but she’s not the main character. Instead, it’s primarily about Takigawa Miu, who’s portrayed as having a crippling lack of confidence stemming from childhood difficulties. There’s tension from the very beginning in ways that I don’t see from many other idol anime. To some extent, the dramatic nature of the 22/7 anime in contrast to the silliness of the Youtube channel feels like when you go between the Love Live! anime vs. the mobile game or the Drama CDs—only that difference is dialed to 11. 

I appreciate the anime’s take on things, partly because Miu is such a different heroine compared to those found in other idol series. Whether it’s Amami Haruka (The iDOLM@STER) or Kosaka Honoka (Love Live!), they tend to fall under this umbrella of “generally optimistic and cheerful girls who are pretty normal but try their best.” Starting with someone who’s struggling internally from the very beginning (and not just in an “I’m too plain” sort of way) is pretty refreshing. The anime also has other eccentricities that at the very least pique my curiosity, such as the mysterious “wall” that gives the members of 22/7 their orders. It reminds me of a similar entity in AKB0048, only it actually seems even more bizarre in the 22/7 anime because of the relatively mundane setting.

I’m not sure if this is the presentation of 22/7 its creators wanted all along, or if maybe it’s intentionally different in order to achieve a different kind of appeal, but it’s an attempt at doing something compelling. I don’t mind it, though one potential consequence is that Sally Amaki’s Twitter seems a lot cleaner and more professional, which might ironically take away from her and Fujima Sakura’s original appeal. Sometimes a diamond in the rough stands out precisely because of its situation.

Nijisanji, Hololive, and the Virtual Youtuber Kayfabe

Since I last wrote about Virtual Youtubers close to two years ago, the scene has grown far beyond any one individual’s ability to keep track. One consequence of this, as I’ve come to learn, is that individual acts have started to form collectives that increase visibility for all. Two of the big ones are Nijisanji and Hololive, both of which utilize a less expensive approach called Live2D that is clearly less robust than whatever it is Kizuna A.I. has. I find the presence of groups like Nijisanji and Hololive to be curious intersections of how people interact with the internet in current times. 

Virtual Youtubers (VTubers) are essentially one part Hatsune Miku, one part livestreamer, and one part idol–the result is a kind of weird unspoken contract between viewers and creators where the notion of “authenticity” is relative rather than being some kind of absolute. One of the complaints that streamers often receive, especially if they’re extremely over the top, is that it’s all an act, and that they’re just playing to the audience in order to get more eyeballs on them. People like streamers with whom they can feel some kind of genuine connection, and a layer of “fakeness” can be a turn-off in that respect. But with characters like Tsukino Mito (Nijisanji) or Haato Akai (Hololive), there’s an obvious understanding that what you’re seeing and getting just isn’t a “real person.” At the same time, there’s still a desire that these characters aren’t fully constructed, and that some of the actual individual behind the anime mask will peek through just a bit sometimes. Fujima Sakura (who isn’t in Nijisanji or Hololive) is a prime example of this, though in that case, the person behind the character (Sally Amaki) is already well known, as is the fact that Sakura as a VTuber is part of a greater project: 22/7.

I mentioned Hatsune Miku here (and in the previous post about VTubers) not just because she’s a cute anime girl mascot who people collectively imbue with a personality and history, but because part of her charm is that her voice doesn’t sound entirely realistic. There’s an artificial quality to her that adds to her appeal, and to some extent, I can see this being the case with Nijisanji and Hololive’s VTubers because Live2D isn’t super-smooth. There’s a kind of choppiness that can drag you out of the illusion pretty easily, so you have to kind of let it work its magic on you. Perhaps it’s closer to pro wrestling in that respect. In a way, the flaws even lend themselves to a greater sense of authenticity, in that these VTubers are not presenting a supremely polished (and arguably overproduced) product. 

However, just the fact that Nijisanji and Hololive are these collectives adds another wrinkle. There’s this kind of understanding that cooperation is of mutual benefit to all those involved, but the fact that prospective VTubers basically earn the opportunity to enter these groups calls to mind the very nature of Youtube as a platform dependent on click-throughs and crossovers as a means to garner more attention. It’s not that different from something like Game Grumps, but the veneer of anime avatars makes VTubers a little more mysterious but also makes me wonder just where they’re all coming from. To what extent are they professionally honed products and to what extent are they amateur endeavors–and for that matter, does Youtube explode that difference?

It might not be such a bad thing that people can so easily become Virtual Youtubers these days. I myself have considered doing more Youtube in the past, but I’m just not a fan of putting my face out there for all to see. The way the members of Nijisanji and Hololive do it, on the other hand, provides an alternative for those who want to be out there without exposing too much of their identities. In a time when the difference between the online self and the offline self is all but disintegrated, doing this Virtual Youtuber thing can be an oasis of anonymity, albeit within a profit and attention-seeking environment.

This post was written based on a request by Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic, check out the Ogiue Maniax Patreon.

2010–2019 Part 2: Looking Back

Another decade of anime and manga has passed, which means it’s time to reflect on all the things that have happened in and around our favorite Japanese art and entertainment forms. With more anime than any time previous, there’s an overwhelming amount of history to look at, so I’m going to be focusing on what I consider interesting and/or important trends.

I also covered some of 2010–2019 through my review of my old predictions, so for the sake of keeping a long post from getting further out of hand, I’ve kept further discussion of topics there to a relative minimum.

Bookended by Tragedy

This decade more or less began and ended with painful events that have shaped and will continue to shape Japan and its anime and manga industries for years to come. March 11, 2011 was the day that a combined earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing nuclear meltdowns. July 18, 2019 was the date of the arson attack on Kyoto Animation, killing over 30 people, injuring even more, and leaving the famed studio’s main building in flames.

The Fukushima triple disaster was brought in part by nature but also human negligence at the highest levels of authority, and it destroyed villages, displaced people from their homes, took lives, and contaminated land and water. The area, one known for its rice crop in a nation where rice is a staple food, had to deal with the all-too-familiar fear that nuclear power conjures up in Japan via Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Fukushima’s consequences are far, far bigger than any one industry, but that’s precisely why they have had an indelible effect on anime and manga. Suddenly, there was the realization that whatever anti-nuclear messages existed in pop culture weren’t enough. It was almost too poetic a timing that Coppelion, a manga about genetically engineered girls having to rescue human survivors in a post-meltdown Tokyo, began only months prior to Fukushima. Anime such as Madoka Magica that were aired during that period suddenly had their surrounding contexts changed.

But the disaster also brought support from across the anime and manga industries to Fukushima and the surrounding Tohoku region. Creators left messages encouraging and praying for a revival, and as the land has started to improve (though to what extent is up for debate), there’s an active push by the government to encourage tourism and purchase of local goods. Anime and manga also play a role here too as part of the campaign to bring people back.

In contrast, the Kyoto Animation attack was like a direct strike to the heart and soul of the anime industry. Not only was it the worst domestic attack since World War II—even worse than the Tokyo sarin gas attack—but KyoAni has been a pioneer of better wages and better gender equality in anime in addition to their creating popular and critically acclaimed works. It’s unclear how the anime and manga industries will react to this over time (aside from better security), but the biggest question mark will be about what could have been.

There was a lot of talent lost, notably The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi and Kobayashi-san’s Dragon Maid director Takemoto Yasuhiro, and it’s sad that they will have the chance to keep working and creating. There is one bright side, however: KyoAni has started up their animation school again, and their mission to prepare the next generation is more vital than ever.

An aside: One odd bit of humor to come out all this was that the days after the disasters, the only commercial on Japanese TV was apparently ads telling people to greet each other more. These drove Japanese viewers nuts, so some of the more artistic ones started turning the animal mascots in these commercials into transforming robots.

Fujoshi Integration and the Permanence of the Otaku Hero

Back when I originally started Ogiue Maniax in 2007, one thing I was interested in was the portrayal of otaku characters, and by extension the fujoshi characters that began appearing more and more at the time. Going into 2010, this feeling was still quite strong, but as I continued to keep an eye on series with otaku in them, it became harder and harder to keep up. The Fujoshi Files, my on-going archiving of fujoshi characters, is on semi-hiatus right now because I’ve simply been overwhelmed by the fact that you just never know when a fujoshi character will show up for two episodes in an obscure TV series. In other words, otaku characters aren’t just commonplace now—they’re arguably an over-saturated archetype.

This is especially the case with the isekai genre and fantasy light novel series, where having an otaku of some kind (it doesn’t necessarily have to be an anime otaku) is de rigueur for the kinds of power fantasies that are ubiquitous in that realm. But the prevalence of the Otaku hero isn’t even limited to that particular world. Onoda from Yowamushi Pedal and Deku from the wildly popular My Hero Academia, both straightforward shounen leads, have otaku minds. At this point, sometimes it’s easier to ask whether a protagonist isn’t an otaku.

Moe in Moderation

Throughout the 2000s, it was “moe” this, “moe” that. There were haters, there were supporters (me included), and those caught in the middle. In 2019, however, it’s past its prime (at least in the old familiar form) to the extent that the term itself has faded immensely in the otaku lexicon.

In hindsight, I think of moe as like a food with a very intense and peculiar flavor that is probably good in reasonable doses. The problem is that people gorged on it until they got sick, and had to eventually learn when less is more. The occasional smorgasbord happens, not now you see hints or accents of moe in more things—music, horror, and even the most serious and mature titles. It’s part of why I think sports series have started to gain traction in the United States when there was like success in the past: people realized that the core appeal of sports anime and manga was less the athletics themselves and more the human drama that comes with exploring characters’ weaknesses and struggles. Even a softer shounen hero like Tanjiro in Demon Slayer has moe qualities that quite possibly outstrip even his sister’s tremendous qualities.

I one commented to anime podcaster and ex-Crunchyroll guy Evan Minto that Eureka Seven was a moe show. He found it absurd, but I was serious, because moe came from empathizing with its characters vulnerabilities. Just because a character can be moe doesn’t mean they’re useless, and I think that’s a big lesson that has been taken to heart by anime and manga as a whole.

Plus, you can still totally find all-you-can-moe buffets whenever you feel the need to go nuts.

American-Style Superheroes

Perhaps due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the American conception of the superhero (in contrast to the Kamen Rider, for example) is now a regular part of anime and manga. Putting aside the Marvel and DC co-productions, this decade has seen Tiger & Bunny, One Punch Man, and My Hero Academia all reach enormous success (albeit not always for the same reasons). You also have series like Heroman, and the fact that Disney’s Big Hero 6 film has a Japanese protagonist perhaps says something about the desire for international appeal.

It’s interesting that so many specifically embrace an American aesthetic, whether it’s red, white, and blue motifs in its characters or American-style cities as settings, and it really speaks to the fact that they’re aiming for that “capes” aesthetic. However, what’s even more noteworthy is the way these manga and anime have been embraced by superhero comics fans as being better at telling superhero stories than many current American comics.

Superheroes also create an amazing bridge for being American comics fans to come to manga and for manga fans to check out American comics. It’s perhaps easier than ever to transition between the two.

Steps Towards Mainstreaming LGBT

Queer romances have long been a part of manga and anime—Hagio Moto’s Heart of Thomas from the 1970s is generally considered the first one shounen ai manga. The portrayal of BL and yuri can differ significantly from real relationships, with the former often being for the pleasure of non-queer audiences, but this openness has attracted many fans, and there are more and more works that try to support a queer audience as well. But Japan is still in many ways a conservative culture, and positive mainstream depictions of non-heteronormative characters can come with a lot of baggage.

While there is still a ways to go, there is a general trend towards more consideration for LGBT characters these past ten years. Gatchaman Crowds, for example, features three characters each with different types of non-cishet expression, going beyond the original Gatchaman and Berg Katze’s dual genders while keeping them respectful. Genshiken Nidaime (aka Second Season aka Second Generation) has a crossdressing fudanshi with complicated feelings at the center of it’s story who tries to navigate the difference between BL fandom and homosexuality. Yuri!!! On Ice features the gradual development of a clearly gay relationship as its core, but its lack of standard BL flourishes engendered a debate about whether it should be called BL at all. Tagame Gengoroh’s My Brother’s Husband won both Japanese and international acclaim.

One stand-out example of LGBT becoming a little more mainstream in anime and manga, to me, is how it’s been handled in the Precure franchise. While it’s always had its yuri fans, and Kira Kira Precure A La Mode even strongly hinted at something between two of its characters, it’s 2018’s Hugtto! Precure that made an entire subplot out of the burgeoning gay relationship between two minor characters—one of whom is implied to struggle with his self-directed homophobia. While the franchise still doesn’t have the courage to say the word “gay,” it at least has these characters holding hands, giving hearts to each other, and telling presumably very young viewers to not let anyone else define who they are. Sailor Moon had Neptune and Uranus, but this is another layer.

From Sekai-kei to Game-like Isekai, Ironic Isekai, and Beyond

In the previous decade, one of the popular genres of Japanese fiction, especially in the realm of anime and manga but also light novels and games, was sekai-kei. Literally meaning “world-style,” it’s actually almost the opposite of what you probably think. Instead of being focused on world-building, it’s about stories where the outcome of the world rests upon the relationship between two characters. I would call Haruhi an example of sekai-kei because their fate rests upon Haruhi and how Kyon interacts with her.

I feel that, since 2010 or maybe even a little sooner, we’ve been seeing fewer and fewer sekai-kei stories. In their place has been a surge in isekai (transported to another world stories) that’s impossible to ignore.

Isekai is nothing new, and there are examples in modern Japanese fiction dating back to the 1970s. Even Gundam director Tomino’s Byston Well series is an isekai. The big difference now, however, has been the game-like approach to isekai. Whether the hero is literally trapped in a video game (Sword Art Online, Log Horizon) or where it’s simply an extremely game-like universe (KonoSuba, Re:ZERO, Overlord), there’s a presumption about RPGs as a common-knowledge experience. Here, the fate of the world usually rests on the hero who’s simultaneously underpowered and overpowered. Rather than necessarily being about exploring the new world, these stories have been mostly either power fantasies or responses to power fantasies.

Japanese scholar Azuma Hiroki wrote about “game-like realism” in the sense of a reality with no beginning, middle, and end, and plenty of alternate realities. While it doesn’t map perfectly, current isekai can be seen as a kind of attempt to wrangle these notions back into a straightforward, albeit open-ended and often meandering format.

Isekai has gotten so prevalent that some online novel contests have even begun to forbid isekai entries. But it also means that it’s ripe for parody. The Devil is a Part-Timer! is a reverse-isekai where a hero and a demon lord end up in modern Japan. The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious plays on an idea that many RPG players are familiar with: making absolutely sure everything is perfect to the point of virtual neurosis. They’re not all winners, but there’s a desire to explore isekai as an archetype, and it’ll be interesting to see how far this goes.

The Ascendance of Mobile Games

Part of the story of the 2010s the world over is the rise of mobile games, and in Japan this translated to character-focused gacha. These digital waifu and husbando slot machines are a powerful thing, and the devotion they engender can veer straight into “gambling addiction” territory, but it also can’t be denied how much of an influence they’ve had on anime, manga, and fandom.

Consider the Fate franchise, which went from being once defined by its original visual novel to being known primarily through the absurdly successful and profitable Fate/Grand Order mobile game. Also look at Granblue Fantasy, which helped make the company Cygames into a major player—the Granblue Fantasy anime shows a budget few can even dream of.

Even The iDOLM@STER, which began as console games, has in part taken on new life by having a virtually limitless selection of idols to obtain through its apps. Love Live! found success through various channels, but there are many people who became fans solely through the School Idol Festival game. And Kantai Collection technically started as a browser game, but it’s cut from a similar mold, and it’s notable that it’s become one of the franchises that dominates Comic Market.

There have been tons of light novel anime and manga adaptations, but the amount of works based on mobile games steadily increased over the decade as well. This doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad—Rage of Bahamut Genesis is one that sticks out to me as exceptional—but it’s certainly become a crowded field where “adaptation as advertisement” and “adaptation as mark of prestige” exist in the same space.

Anime as Faithful Reproduction Instead of Creative Interpretation

In decades past, whenever there was an anime adaptation of something with multiple paths—a dating sim, for instance—the common approach was to synthesize all of the different routes into a single story with the canon heroine being the winner. But starting in 2010 with Amagami SS (or possibly something even sooner) it started to become more common to adapt every path. Each couple of episodes was basically a different what-if where the protagonist ends up with a different girl. The most extreme version of this might be the movies fully dedicated to the alternate stories of Fate/Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel.

In a way, it’s an extension of what we saw with Kyoto Animation’s adaptations of Key games. While those shows still synthesized all the routes, there was a more active adherence to the look and feel of the source material, right down to using the original theme songs. Anime, rather than trying to do its own thing with the material given, is more likely to try and stick to the script. Filler arcs or anime-original material were out, and season delays were in, for better or worse. 2009’s Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (intentionally made to follow the manga’s story more than the first anime) also set a precedent.

Fantastic Remakes

Not everything is about adhering to a source material, however. While nostalgia is a strong force in media and entertainment, it’s still possible for a remake or re-imagining is able to go well beyond and turn into something unique and special. Every decade has its own fair share of excellent revivals, but I found the 2010s to be full of especially smart and creative takes on classic franchises. The aforementioned Gatchaman Crowds took the idea of the superhero team and pushed it into an age of social media and gamification. Devilman Crybaby is essentially the original Devilman manga retold, the signature art style of Yuasa Masaaki gave it new life and also highlighted the fact that a lot of the 1970s manga’s theme resonate just as much, if not more today. The Rebuild of Evangelion movies have all been impressive and have dared to go in strange directions, though we’re not actually seeing the conclusion until 2020 rolls around. In the most on-brand move possible, director Anno Hideaki became depressed after the third film, and it wasn’t until he directed the excellent Shin Godzilla (another update to a classic franchise) that he found the spark to go back to Shinji and friends.

Official Simultranslations

Once, getting translated anime and manga the day after release in Japan was a foolish dream. Then, with the advent of high-speed internet it became technically possible—but it was the domain of speed subbers and speed scanlators, with the requisite decline in quality. But now we’ve had a decade of not just quick releases but ones that are official, whose success can and will be noticed by Japan. Crunchyroll, HiDive, and Comixology are among the many resources available to fans, and while Netflix is often not technically a simulstream most of the time, its presence in the world of online streaming can’t be denied.

This is partially a tale of the direction of technology. More smartphones and better tablets mean streaming decent-quality images is more likely than ever before. Gone are the specific limitations of the past that made trying to view anime and manga a chore. It’s also the story of Japan being dragged into the current age, as much as its companies (especially manga) have tried to resist the digitizing of these mediums.

The amount of legal digital anime and manga options is ever increasing even in Japan. Comic Walker and Book Walker make following new releases almost trivial. Bandai Channel is more expansive than ever. Many manga publishers have series that start off as free webcomics now. Notably, the second iteration of One Punch Man started on Tonari no Young Jump. The amount of digital users keeps rising around the world, and it’ll likely not stop for a long time.

What Lies Ahead

While it’s mere coincidence, the fact that Japan is heading into the next decade of anime and manga alongside a newly coronated emperor seems poetic. For Part 3 of the 2010–2019 series, I’ll be giving my predictions as to where I think anime and manga will go in 2020 onwards.