Chala Head Chala vs. Rock the Dragon and the “Image” of Dragon Ball Z

In a recent blog article, I wrote about how the character of Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z is portrayed differently in Japanese and English, and how this has resulted in something of a divide among fans. The article was a surprising success, quickly becoming one of my most popular posts in recent memory, and the numerous responses I received (especially on Twitter) prompted me to think more about how Dragon Ball Z (and the Dragon Ball franchise in general) is perceived differently depending on how a person came across it.

Is Dragon Ball a gruff fighting series, or a heartful adventure? How big a role should comedy play before it goes too far? Many factors go into how the series is viewed, including whether or not someone started with adult or kid Goku, but I came to realize another influence: theme songs. On some level, I believe that the core difference between how Dragon Ball can be summed up in the contrast between “Rock the Dragon” and “Chala Head Chala.”

Before I delve more deeply, I do want to say that, while I prefer “Chala Head Chala,” my taste in music is not important here. Nor is the fact that “Chala Head Chala” came first. Tthe anime is based on the manga, which has no actual sound at all, let alone opening and ending themes. “Being the original” is not a sound argument to make. What I will be focusing on is mainly, how do each of those themes make its viewers feel?

“Chala Head Chala” feels fairly light-hearted, with quite a few odd lyrics (“If I discover a dinosaur in ice, I want to balance it on top of a ball” ???), yet there’s also a quiet sense of gravitas thanks to Kageyama Hironobu’s warbling voice. While the theme does suggest action and excitement, it emphasizes more a sense of “adventure” and “discovery,” though perhaps not to the same extent as the Dragon Ball opening, “Makafushigi Adventure.” Most of the visual imagery in the opening is concentrated on movement—flying and running. Motion is the key.

“Rock the Dragon” is all about heavy use of electric guitar riffs. The song puts all of its emphasis on high-octane thrills, and the the lyrics (as repetitive as they are) further push to the forefront the idea that this is not just a series with action, it’s the action series. Instead of the first image being a rotating dragon ball, it’s the dragon itself in all of its majesty and glory. All of the footage aside from that is fighting, fighting, and more fighting.

If I had to greatly simplify, I’d say that “Rock the Dragon” is more about “body and spirit,” and “Chala Head Chala” is more about “heart and soul.” They both introduce the same overall series, about Goku and his allies taking on ever-increasingly powerful threats to the Earth, but one revels in the fighting and the other suggests fighting as a means of expressing character. Because of this difference, I think it cements different core images of Dragon Ball in people’s minds, and this affects how subsequent works (Battle of Gods, Dragon Ball Super) are received as well. Looking ahead, the opening of Dragon Ball Super, “Limit Break x Survivor,” is actually a kind of middle point between “Chala Head Chala” and “Rock the Dragon” with a dash of “Makafushigi Adventure.” Could it be the theme that unites Dragon Ball dub and sub fans once and for all?

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Tonight was the Night: The End of VGCW, Video Game Championship Wrestling

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 marked the final episode of Video Game Championship Wrestling, and the end of one of the most bizarrely enjoyable spectacles I’ve ever known.

VGCW was a federation that used the WWE video games’ “Create a Wrestler” feature to fill its ranks with video game characters, celebrity gamers, and even Vegeta and Nappa from Dragon Ball Z. Pitting not human opponents but rather (often incompetent) computer-controlled wrestlers against each other, VGCW stood out amidst a universe of “Let’s Plays” and eSports titles in ways few other phenomena could. VGCW was the flagship show for the VGCW Network, which also includes a women’s federation and a developmental one.

One of the more fascinating aspects of VGCW was the fanbase that surrounded it. Viewers in Twitch chat would cheer on their favorite wrestlers, despite knowing full well that their rabid typing would not actually affect the routines and patterns of the AIs. While story threads presented by the creators of VGCW provided the stakes for many matches, what has been really the heart and soul of this whole concept of video game AI wrestling is the ability for the fans to willingly give meaning to the actions of these virtual marionettes who represent out favorite heroes and villains.

While the same could be said of actual pro wrestling, the difference is that audience interaction there tells the wrestlers if they’re doing well and if they need to change anything to keep the audience’s attention in a predetermined match. In VGCW, match results are unknown even by the creators.

I remember seeing Little Mac redeem himself by knocking out Dracula and throwing him in a casket. I recall Phoenix Wright returning from captivity to vanquish his alternate-dimension evil doppelganger (affectionately known as Phoenix Wrong), an achievement celebrated by having Fall Out Boy’s “Like a Phoenix” play over the end credits (see above). I enjoyed seeing the Gameshark force the wrestlers to leave WWE 2K14 and enter the N64 game WWE No Mercy. Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, wrestled and defeated Jesus, teamed with Deus Ex 2 hero Adam Jensen, became an all-powerful villain, and died. Scorpion from Mortal Kombat is arguably the greatest champion of all time with his record six title defenses.

For the recent finale, the championship match featured Ganondorf, the only triple crown winner in VGCW history, against perennial underdog Zubaz—a rejected Street Fighter design popularized by the Super Best Friends YouTube channel who became a playable character in the bare-bones fighting game Divekick. On top of that, they actually commissioned former WWE announcer Justin Roberts to announce the match. Calling VGCW a wild ride would be an understatement.

My personal connection to VGCW lied not just in the excitement it brought, but also in that it helped me deal with tension in my life. When I first started watching VGCW, I was still living in the Netherlands, and due to the pressure of trying to finish my dissertation I could sense that my nerves were constantly frazzled. Watching anime and reading manga was fun, but it wasn’t relaxing because consuming titles caused my brain to keep firing on all cylinders. During this time, I found that what soothed the cacophony inside my head was episodes of VGCW. It was, in a certain sense, my version of “healing anime” such as Aria.

I have to give a shout-out to the defunct multiplayer spinoff called “NWTOH,” which first featured a bizarre entrance for obscure Final Fantasy VI character Banon. A shining example of what one might call “anti-cinematography” due to the non-sequitur nature of its transitions, Banon’s entrance can make me laugh so hard that I can literally feel the stress leaving my body every time I watch it:

Although the main VGCW show is gone, it leaves with successors and descendants. All of the more recent episodes are on YouTube, and a little digging around can uncover older ones as well. Women’s Video Game Championship Wrestling (WVGCW) is gearing up for its own finale. Developmental show Extreme Dudebro Wrestling (EDBW) still has some life left in it, and might just step out of the shadow of VGCW now. Belmont Wrestling Alliance (BWA), which will be live tonight, recently made its return, and it has perhaps the most eccentric and eclectic roster of all.

To Bazza, TOH, and everyone who worked to make me and the other VGCW fans sports entertained, thank you.

 

Just Enough Magic: Flying Witch

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When it comes to stories about witches, it’s quite common (and perhaps even expected) to have magic be prominent. Whether it’s American sitcom classic Bewitched, Archie’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic, or an anime and manga like Witch Craft Works, the influence of spells and sorcery is, if not grandiose, at the very least quite large. The anime Flying Witch is a much mellower series in comparison. As a show where just the lightest of touch of the supernatural appears, it makes for a most delightful series.

Adapted by J.C. Staff from the manga by Ishizuka Chihiro, Flying Witch follows the daily life of Kowata Makoto, a teenage witch who moves in with her cousin Kuramoto Kei’s family as part of her coming of age. Residing in Aomori Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan, the people there still have a fairly strong connection to nature, and just going back and forth from school is enough to take in the greenery. For the most part, magic doesn’t make much of an impact, but when it shows up it’s just enough to make their world feel a little bit more unusual, and a little bit more wonderful.

Though the show consistently succeeds at its sparse but effective interaction between the human and witch cultures, the most memorable example has to be in the very first episode. Makoto is walking home from school with her new friend, Nao, when she sees an unusual plant. For anyone who’s familiar with stories about witches and wizards this is a red flag. Sure enough when she gives it a hard tug a mandrake pops out and gives its shrill cry.

flyingwitch-mandrake

As Makoto cradles the demon plant, she cheerfully explains to an aghast Nao that it’s a good thing that they found a young Mandrake because an adult one can literally send people to the hospital or worse. The anime doesn’t stop being this fairly laid-back series, but the result is that the tiniest bit of magic feels that much more amazing.

What also helps Flying Witch is that all of its characters, guys and girls, are extremely charming. Makoto’s older sister Akane is a more experienced witch whose penchant for mischief contrasts delightfully with her younger sibling. The Kuramoto family is entertaining all around, whether it’s the dad’s thick Tohoku accent being indecipherable for Makoto or Kei trying to get his little sister Chinatsu to try more vegetables.

The fanservice in this show also has a deft touch akin to its use of magic, to the point that it might not even be right to call it fanservice. Just to be clear, generally speaking the female characters in this series are all extremely attractive, but Flying Witch never goes out of its way to show them off. When it focuses on Makoto or anyone else, the anime just lets the audience see how nice they look without lingering or leering.

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Another notable aspect of Flying Witch is its focus on Aomori, because it at times feels like a promotion for the prefecture. In fact, it makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons it was adapted from manga to anime. The Tohoku region has in recent years been known more for the Fukushima disaster, and a lot of effort has been put into reviving the region in terms of agriculture, tourism, and more. A series like Flying Witch might be just the thing to really get people to visit Aomori and Tohoku again.

Overall, because of how delightfully mellow yet powerful the show’s humor and characters are, Flying Witch has become one of my favorite anime of the year. When I get the opportunity, I’m definitely going to pick it up, possibly in multiple formats. If you want to check it out, you can find the entire anime on Crunchyroll, and Vertical Comics is releasing the manga in 2017.

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Discussing Hulu’s Anime Eradication on the Speakeasy Podcast

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Hulu is removing hundreds of anime from its catalogue on June 1st, and I hopped onto the Speakeasy Podcast with Alain to talk about it and to speculate about what it might mean for anime streaming in the future.

If your favorite show is on Hulu, there’s a good chance it’s also on other legitimate streaming services, but it’s still notable because of how big Hulu is.

Sadly, this means Hulu viewers might no longer be able to experience the excellent Show by Rock!!

 

 

 

The Importance of Twitch Chat

One of the most common pieces of advice when it comes to the internet is simply, “don’t read the comments.” Whether it’s arguments about Justin Bieber on YouTube music videos or angry and insensitive comments on an article about a sensitive topic, comment sections can become minefields. It makes sense that we’re advised to ignore comment sections. However, while that’s generally sound advice, I think that it’s a mistake to believe that comment sections do not matter at all, especially in our current environment where social connections (both strong and weak) are made through online media.

Nowhere is this more relevant than with sites that utilize live chat feeds, such as Nico Nico Douga and Twitch. The difference between watching a game on Twitch with and without chat is basically the difference between watching alone or watching with a crowd. For those who want to share in the excitement of something as it happens (like a virtual crowd at a pro wrestling event), it becomes a vital part of the spectator experience. At that point, it’s not just about wanting to see comments or not, it’s about being a part of a collective bonding.

If you want to know how important the live chat is to Twitch, you only need to look at one of their more recent developments: saved chat logs for VODs. In the past, if you wanted to see what the chat was like for a previously recorded stream, your only hope was that someone captured it with the chat in progress. Now, anyone can step in a week or a month after a broadcast and see what people were saying at the time, and in many ways it enriches the experience. Imagine watching an old football game or something and having the crowd muted out. It certainly wouldn’t be the same, and while I understand that by not watching it live the experience changes anyway, there’s now a middle point.

This brings me to what I really wanted to talk about: the degree to which Twitch chat can become an unwelcoming place, and the potential harm it can cause. For me, personally, I experience this when I watch a Smash 4 tournament, and the chat is inundated with comments about how boring the game is, and how people can’t wait for Melee. It doesn’t matter how interesting the actual game being played is, people are ready to criticize and diminish its value. I think Smash 4 is awesome, and to some extent the trolls are just being trolls, but it results in an inhospitable environment that can turn away people who potentially have interest in a game. Perhaps they see huge portions of the chat calling the game a snooze fest, and think, “If this many people are saying that, maybe it is boring after all.” Or perhaps they just don’t want to deal with all of the nonsense and would prefer to watch another game with a chat that isn’t secretly hoping for the clown from Showtime at the Apollo to drag away what’s currently on.

That’s only a “your game vs. my game” scenario, though. Consider the tendency for Twitch chats to explode with comments whenever a girl appears on stream. I understand, lots of guys are horny, and by connecting to Twitch through one’s own personal devices, be they computers, mobile phones, or whatever, there’s a sense that what you’re seeing is merely an extension of your private space. Talking with your friends about how that girl was incredibly hot isn’t a bad thing, but stream and chat become this nebulous space where private and public intersect, and it’s not surprising that women would choose to hide their identities in chat, or prefer not to participate in the zoo that is Twitch chat (though that zoo can be fun and positive too).

In fact, I think comments online in general are a kind of extension of private space into public territories that can be both welcome and unwelcome. In a way, this blog is doing the same thing, as is Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else people are placing a part of themselves into their words. Social media and the internet as it exists today is not a separate entity from the real world. Ignoring elements of “IRL” space can be done too, but it usually comes with the awareness that it is cutting you off from a certain experience and resonance with others. Doing the same online might be necessary at times, but we shouldn’t act like the solution is to just encourage everyone to turn their eyes away from the problems that exist. The problems themselves need to be addressed too.

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Flying Witch x Smash Bros

[Apartment 507] Is “Voltron: Legendary Defender” Copying Anime?

I wrote a post looking at Voltron: Legendary Defender and its transformation sequence compared to that of King of Braves Gaogaigar. You can check it out at Apartment 507.