Thoughts on Left-Wing YouTube

Recently, I was surprised to discover that an “edgy gamer” streamer I was familiar with from a decade ago had transformed into a notable left-wing figure on YouTube. Steven Bonnell II, known to the internet as “Destiny,” got his start with StarCraft II and gradually becoming a prominent personality with a loyal following and detractors alike. He would argue against policing language, and that the common slurs gamers use were no big deal. And yet, here he is now, not only arguing against using such language, but also being noticeably effective at debating alt-right YouTubers who have risen to prominence on the wings of racism and intolerance.

It’s not just that he makes good points or that he knows how to dissect arguments, but that he hits right-wing figures where it hurts most: in their desire to appear strong to their followers. Regularly, he reveals that the emperor has no clothes, and I think it in part comes from him being so familiar with gamer culture and the things that leave it so vulnerable to alt-right personalities. When others on the left retreat, he’s willing to confront while also not falling prey to their debate traps. It’s something the left needs to learn.

This is also why I was not caught off guard by seeing his name listed in a New York Times article discussing the growing strength of left-wing YouTube as an answer to the hatred spewed by alt-right and manosphere personalities. Like ContraPoints, another major left-wing YouTuber, Destiny addresses the other side’s use of memes, pop culture, and opportunistic arguments head on, exposing their tools and often disarming their tactics without resorting to them. The key is that Destiny, ContraPoints, and the main subject of the article, Faraday, know how the alt-right thinks, and they aren’t afraid to use that knowledge to their advantage.

If I have any criticism for progressives online, it’s that people’s radars are often overtuned. Any slight whiff of conservative political views seemingly sets off alarm sirens in their heads, and there’s an annoying tendency to cannibalize potential allies because they’re not right at the vanguard of progress. Of course, it’s impossible to have a perfect radar, and people I thought to be more moderate in their views have turned out to be disturbingly right-wing. But I truly believe that residing in a left bubble, while good in some ways, can often fail to inoculate people against the disingenuous tactics of the alt-right. It’s important that Destiny and ContraPoints don’t have beliefs that overlap 100% yet are still able to see accomplish similar things.

De-platforming harmful individuals—taking away their ability to communicate en masse—is often a good thing because such people usually hide behind free speech without acknowledging that they’re doing the political equivalent of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. At the same time, I increasingly wonder if “avoid the other side entirely” is creating a kind of frailty in the left that plays right into the goals of the alt-right. Destiny, Natalie, and others like them provide examples of what can be done to avoid that fate: to engage and to understand the other’s goals, and to win the debate in a way that makes the other side look bad to their followers both real and potential.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Potential Positives of Project Wendy

One of the strangest trends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit YouTube recently, as countless creators began putting out videos centered around Wendy O. Koopa—a character who, in a sense, isn’t one. She’s an alternate costume for the playable Bowser Jr., so the fact that this one skin was singled out above all others reeked of conspiracy. Indeed, it looks like this was all a combined effort by all of these YouTubers to highlight one of the least popular characters in Smash Bros.

In a sense, this is the very definition of a forced meme, though fans seem to be rolling with it. However, there’s another potential consequence outside of fun, stupid jokes involving a fast food restaurant or a Samoan pro wrestler (see above): giving a spotlight to an otherwise neglected character. Bowser Jr. (and his seven Koopaling skins) is one of the least talked-up and least talked-about characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate. In tier list after tier list, Bowser Jr. is placed firmly in low tier. It’s certainly possible that he’s one of the worse characters in the game, but the Ultimate meta is still young (barely a month old), and opinions can changes. What can turn opinions around, then, is research and exposure.

There’s a “million monkeys on a million typewriters” effect to a certain extent. If Project Wendy inspires scores of players, even mostly lower-level ones, to pick up Wendy, Bowser Jr., or any of their alts, then the sheer increase in quantity can push that character further along than any sort of on-paper theory-crafting. That’s the funny thing about competitive gaming: often times, how deep and complex your game is ends up being less important to competition than the player population and their eagerness to push ahead. Regardless of motivation, whether someone truly adores Wendy, or whether they’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon, this is a chance for Wendy and her fellow Koopa Clown Car warriors to get some attention. Characters die when their communities get stagnant, and pushing a meme is one…unique…way to try and avoid that.

I might be a bit idealistic in terms of the long-term effects of Project Wendy, but who knows? The next great Wendy/Bowser Jr. player might emerge out of this crazy effort. Imagine…

The Significance of the Classic Anime Devilman in Devilman Crybaby

Devilman Crybaby made quite a splash when it was released earlier this year on Netflix, introducing Nagai Go’s classic series to a new generation of anime and manga fans. While there are stylistic differences stemming from both difference in era and the aesthetic of director Yuasa Masaaki, Devilman Crybaby is largely the same as the original 1972 Devilman manga at its core, showing that the series’s story of a human who uses demonic powers to fight other demons and its themes of human strength and ugliness are still culturally relevant.

While Devilman Crybaby is hardly the first adaptation, spin-off, or sequel, it does do one thing that most other Devilman works try to shy away from: it incorporates elements of the kid-friendly 1972 Devilman anime TV series. In that cartoon, Devilman is closer to a superhero than a brutal demon in appearance and demeanor. Even his theme song calls him a “hero of justice” while listing all of his special ability (Devil Wing, Devil Eye, Devil Beam, etc.).

It’s so different from every other iteration of Devilman, and Devilman Crybaby repeatedly uses it in such specific scenarios, that I believe TV anime Devilman has special significance in Crybaby beyond providing an addictive remix of the classic theme song, which can be found below.

Whenever that song, “Devilman no Uta” is used, there’s an element of innocence or human compassion attached. It’s often paired with an actual image of the TV anime Devilman himself, who shows up on television screens or on YouTube videos and the like. It’s especially prevalent in Ryo’s flashbacks, where a young and orphaned Ryo can be seen staring at the green, heroic Devilman on TV. Ryo appears to be drawn towards it.

There’s a third symbol too: Devilman’s actual design in Crybaby. Devilman adaptations tend to draw more from the manga than that old anime series, and this extends to the aesthetics of Devilman himself. In almost every version, Devilman feels more like a beast than a man, and Crybaby’s is generally no exception. However, there are times in Devilman Crybaby when Devilman himself feels more reminiscent of the “hero of justice.”

Devilman the character can be thought of as having two original strains—the Nagai manga original and the classic TV version—with different iterations veering towards one or the other. If a work wants to hint at a more hyper-violent Devilman, they portray him along the lines of the manga. If, however, it wants a cleaner and friendlier Devilman, then the TV version is the way to go. Crybaby Devilman strikes a very interesting middle ground. While he has the fur, the facial features, and the overall demonic appearance, he takes aesthetic elements from the TV version. Namely, he has those distinct stripes on his shoulders, and he’s often portrayed with a blue/greenish tint to his skin. It’s unclear if his skin is actually supposed to be green, or if the creative lighting of the series just makes it look that way, but there’s a clear commonality between Crybaby Devilman and TV Devilman, at least in part. What’s also noticeable is that the green skin seems to be most noticeable in scenes where Akira is trying to defend the innocent, like when he protects a group of innocent people from being stoned to death out of fear that those poor souls “might” be demons.

In other words, the incorporation of elements of the TV anime Devilman into Devilman Crybaby isn’t merely for referential purposes, or a clever wink and nod—It’s actually important to the themes and symbolism of the series. While Crybaby largely follows the plot of the original manga and not the TV anime, the presence of the superheroic Devilman is ongoing, and it hints at Akira’s inherent goodness. He struggles with himself and the devil inside, but Akira ultimately wants to fight for what’s right and just, whether his foes are human or demon. The old anime Devilman is who he aspires to be, even if he ultimately cannot live up to that ideal.

A Look Back at an Aikatsu! Halloween

In the spirit of the month, I was asked by Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato to look at one of the Halloween episodes of Aikatsu! I chose episode 106 of the original series, which takes place after Akari has become the new main character. It’s a fun episode characteristic of all that is good and enjoyable in Aikatsu!, though a few elements stood out in particular.

Whenever the characters say, “Trick or treat!” they immediately follow by explaining in Japanese what exactly that means: “If you don’t give me candy, I’m going to play a trick on you!” It’s a redundancy that not only has to make up for the language barrier—a little kid might not know the English words—but also speaks to the fact that Halloween as a concept is still relatively new in Japan. If you look online, you’ll find articles talking about how it didn’t get any traction until the 21st century, and now it’s featured in multiple anime.

I wouldn’t read too deeply Aikatsu!‘s interpretation of Halloween—I reckon it’s as much tinged with the Idol Activities spirit as anything else. If the episode didn’t feature some wacky game that highlights all of the characters lovable quirks, then I would’ve been shocked. That’s where Aikatsu! consistently shines, though. You just know that if they’re doing a Halloween episode, vampire-style Idol Toudou Yurika is going to have a moment. They even make the expected (and desired) joke that Yurika wearing a cape and fangs while exclaiming that she’ll suck your blood isn’t that different from how she normally behaves.

“The day Yurika visited your Halloween party was the most important day of your life. But to me, it was Tuesday.”

I watched this episode semi-isolated from the rest of the series, so I don’t know exactly what has transpired beforehand. However, it reinforces something I’ve felt about Aikatsu! in general, which is that the first season’s characters seem to have the most clear-cut personalities, which makes it easier to do these silly one-off episodes. I still don’t always quite get what Akari and her friends are supposed to be like. They seem a tad more subdued, which can work better over the long term but maybe isn’t as attention-grabbing at first sight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA#t=9m5s

It would be remiss of me to end this post without mentioning the teacher, Johnny Bepp, and his unnamed homage to Michael Jackson. With a vaguely “Thriller”-esque piece playing in the background, Johnny-sensei encourages the students to do the famous zombie dance (or whatever it’s called), which exhausts every student around—except Akari. I would think that a dance sequence from one of the finest performers ever would be absolutely grueling for even the girls at an idol academy, though in hindsight I guess this is actually a bit of characterization for Akari as a girl with immense stamina. In this case, I don’t know if it’s the “obvious” gag per se, but the payoff is again reliably satisfying. Kudos, Aikatsu!

Given that this episode is quite a few years old at this point, I am curious to see how the Aikatsu! Halloween episodes have evolved as the holiday itself has become more popular in Japan. Maybe that’ll be something for next year!

 

The Unreality of Virtual Youtubers

If you haven’t heard of virtual youtubers, they’re a recent phenomenon that might be the ultimate intersection between anime fandom’s love of cute girls and the ever-rising prominence and allure of youtuber as identity/occupation in Japan. Virtual youtubers are quite similar to regular old youtubers in that they’re online video hosts who use charismatic and often energetic performances to entertain fans, but their difference is most easily understood by watching:

While a number of the virtual youtubers out there play up the idea that they’re robots, AI, or some kind of existence outside of normal reality, one thing I find noteworthy is that they don’t have quite the same sense of appeal through artificiality as a Vocaloid. Hatsune Miku and Megurine Luka don’t sound like anything like a normal human being, but that is precisely what makes them memorable.

With virtual youtubers, there’s still a very human component behind the voice and video filters that you can feel come through to varying degrees; at the very least, there’s a sense of human-esque imperfection conveyed, as opposed to the uncanny valley of Vocaloids. Kizuna AI has a very smug, almost Yazawa Nico-like attitude that can come back to bite her in the ass. Kaguya Luna sounds like she’s always on edge, and the fact that she sounds like she’s being recorded in a garage hints at the reality behind her. Ojisan’s youtuber persona is a cute, small fox girl, but he doesn’t even try to hide his identity as an older man.

The conveying of “humanity” even comes across in small, subtle elements. You’ll see Kizuna AI videos featuring lots of clear cuts—a common style for youtubers, especially for the more bombastic types. At the same time, she constantly has this windswept appearance that doesn’t make sense (see her ribbon fluttering constantly!), but it makes her appear more active and lively.

Perhaps the biggest thing about the virtual youtuber concept is that it’s simply not meant to cater to the same audience as idols, virtual or otherwise. They can be good singers, but they don’t have to be. They convey a sense of closeness, but they inevitably keep a greater distance because the performative aspect of the virtual youtuber is more obvious. Toeing the line between natural and unnatural is part of why anime characters in general capture so much attention, and virtual youtubers also take advantage of this.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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?

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.