Jyushin Thunder Liger: The Impossible Gimmick

January 6, 2020 marked the end of an era as beloved Japanese wrestler Jyushin Thunder Liger retired. His achievements are many, from innovating the Shooting Star Press (now seen in wrestling matches all over the world) to being perhaps the greatest junior heavyweight ever. One thing that stands out to me in his long career is how insane it is that he managed to embrace his ridiculous gimmick, his outward identity as a wrestler, and elevate it to the point of world-wide recognition.

Jyushin Thunder Liger’s name and look is taken from a manga and anime by Nagai Go, creator of Mazinger Z, Devilman, and Cutie Honey. This by itself isn’t unusual. After all, the wrestling manga character Tiger Mask became a real-life wrestler as well. But Jyushin Liger the fictional work isn’t about wrestling or even athletics—it’s about a boy who can summon and fuse with a “bio-armor” to fight evil. The anime isn’t even considered a memorable classic, and yet, Jyushin Thunder Liger somehow made it not just work, but took it over. Now, when you say the words “Jyushin Liger,” you’re probably more likely to get someone who knows the wrestler than the source material. His entrance theme is just the theme song to the Jyushin Liger anime (and makes zero sense in the context of pro wrestling), but rather than being considered hokey, it brings out raucous cheers.

Imagine if a 90s American wrestler was saddled with a Street Sharks gimmick—not even a big property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—and still wrestled as a Street Shark thirty years later until his retirement brought literal tears to people’s faces. Picture this guy coming out to “They fight, they bite, chewin’ up evil with all their might!” to a standing ovation. That’s basically what Jyushin Thunder Liger accomplished. The closest real equivalent I can think of is the Undertaker, who has played some form of undead wrestling zombe lord (and briefly a American motorcycle rider in the early 2000s) for the majority of his career. Or maybe if RoboCop’s cameo in WCW saw him transition into a regular wrestler who consistently put on great matches.

So here’s to Jyushin Thunder Liger and his global legend. Now let’s see if any new wrestlers come out as Bang Dream! characters.

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.

Quesstions: A Renewed Look at Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack is a defining anime for me. It cemented Gundam in my head as this incredible thing, and its aesthetics (especially its main mobile suits) remain among my favorite ever. That’s why, even though I’d seen the movie plenty of times in my youth and I own a physical copy, I still decided to attend the recent Fathom Events screening. It also didn’t hurt that there was an exclusive new interview with director Tomino Yoshiyuki.

There was one big mishap at my screening, which was that the theater played the wrong audio for about the first ten minutes or so. They eventually fixed it, but were not allowed to restart the movie because it was a Fathom Event. Thankfully, they gave us a free voucher for a future showing.

That mess-up aside, watching the film at my current age made for a significantly different experience compared to when I was a teen in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just that I was older, but that the current circumstances of the world make clear the failure of the story’s adults all around.

Char’s Counterattack is the finale to the ongoing rivalry between the original Mobile Suit Gundam protagonist, Amuro Ray, and his greatest rival, Char Aznable. Both older and in different positions after two different wars—the second of which they fought side by side—it’s a bookend to their ongoing personal, political, and philosophical differences.

One notorious character in the film is Quess Paraya, a young and talented Newtype (essentially a psychic) who willingly gets wrapped up in the conflict. She’s infamous in the fandom as a character nearly everyone hates because she gets in other characters’ ways and acts like a know-it-all despite her age. However, when I watched this time, I could only pity her.

It’s true that Quess can be infuriatingly impetuous and overconfident, but I realize now that her side plot is less about her screwing things up due to arrogance and more about the adults who fail her at every turn. She’s the classic case of a teenager with very real talent and insight but who doesn’t realize how her lack of experience and first-hand understanding of the world limits her. Quess thinks she’s figured it all out but she hasn’t, and when she interacts with Amuro, Char, and even her dad, they all brush her off in different ways or enable her in the worst ways possible. She’s someone who could be guided and mentored, but no one has the time or desire. Even those closer to her in age, who are romantically interested, lack the maturity to be good partners.

There’s a point at which Amuro and Char are fist-fighting while stub arguing, and Char says that humankind is ruining the Earth and something must be done about it, which prompts Quess to immediately join his side despite ostensibly being with the Earth Federation due to her dad. The way Quess thinks she’s on the same wavelength as Char despite knowing so little about him brings to mind a teen on YouTube watching an extreme political video and thinking, “Yeah, I get it!” without realizing how much they’re being manipulated.

But it’s not just Quess who suffers from being a half-broken machine—this is a recurring theme throughout the entire cast. Amuro is trying to be a mature adult who’s both a good soldier but also independent-minded, but can’t shake the ghosts of the past. Char is trying to be a real leader and successor to his dad’s legacy but also can’t come to terms with how things played out with Amuro all those years ago. Gyunei, a soldier under Char, is so close to figuring everything out, but actually thinks that scoring the figurative winning point in the big game will turn everyone to his side. They’re all in shambles, and the film takes away some of their mystique even as it showcases them in gorgeously animated space combat.

In the Tomino interview afterwards, the director described Char in Char’s Counterattack as someone whose star quickly rise in his youth as a pilot, but who finds himself inadequate as a leader partially because he still desires to settle things personally. It positions Char as not the enigmatic rival, and instead a man frustrated by his own limitations but refusing to directly them. It might be no wonder why my teenage self didn’t quite get it.

[Anime NYC 2019] Tomino’s Movie Magic: Gundam Reconguista in G Part 1

At Anime NYC 2019, I attended the screening of Gundam Reconguista in G Part I: Go! Core Fighter, the first of five planned compilation films based on 2014’s Gundam: Reconguista in G TV series. It was one of the events I was looking forward to most at the convention, and not only because legendary Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki was there.

I am a staunch defender of G-Reco because I believe that in spite of its flaws, it has a strong anti-war message which surpasses even the original Gundam‘s in certain respects. Its setting, in an era after the original Gundam timeline, shows what war is like when the cataclysmic devastation of the past is all but forgotten, for better or worse. But I acknowledge that G-Reco did not exactly take the world by storm, as it could be a confusing series, and Tomino’s  “throw you in the deep end” style of no-context dialogue did it no favors.

Thus, I came into the screening with the hope—albeit a tentative one—that these new movies could clean up the rough edges of the series enough to get its ideas and themes across effectively to a wider audience. After all, for every Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy, which is in many ways superior to its source material, there’s a Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation, which feels sloppily put together. However, I immediately noticed that the film is much clearer and easier to follow, allaying my fears.

There are two simple but major choices that make this first G-Reco film less convoluted. First is the decision to condense the series into films in the first place. Second is the heavier use of internal monologue to make character motivations more obvious.

Many of the scenes and plot points relevant to one another in the TV series could be episodes apart, and by the time something came up again, it was easy to forget what information had been communicated already. But in the movie version, everything is more tightly packed together such that ideas and threads are fresher in the memory. It’s easier to see how various aspects of the world-building fit together, and what potential they hold as the story unfolds.

In regards to characters’ inner minds, the TV series suffered from what seemed like constantly inconsistent actions from characters. They’d switch sides, kill those close to them seemingly without much regret, and just be generally difficult to follow or comprehend. The hero, Bellri Zenam, was especially obtuse. Now, however, there are multiple new scenes of characters expressing either through thought (and sometimes even voice) just how they’re feeling and how it’s affecting their decisions. While the film is still characteristically Tomino and can be full of puzzling dialogue, having it be undergirded by these inner monologues helps to prevent the characters from coming off as sociopaths.

The biggest surprise to me is how much better I understood the character of Noredo Nug, Bellri’s friend and possible love interest. Noredo believes in Bellri’s goodness even more than the man himself does, and she’s willing to defend him in this regard even when he won’t do it himself.

Before the screening began, Tomino said that everyone who came for a Gundam movie will be disappointed because this isn’t Gundam. It seems like a tongue in cheek comment, but I think he really meant it in a way. The message he’s trying to convey through G-Reco is trying to target a new audience that isn’t entrenched in the existing Gundam cultural juggernaut—most likely, that’s what stuff like Gundam UC is for.

Because I’ve seen the TV series, it was impossible for me to go in with fresh eyes Still, I strongly feel that this first G-Reco film is a much more refined work, and while it can still be a challenge to follow at times, it is a major step up. I also just recently rewatched Gundam F-91, and that movie just falls apart a third of the way through, whereas Go! Core Fighter was enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout. Provided nothing goes horribly awry with the sequels, I believe that the Mobile Suit Gundam Reconguista in G films will be the definitive version.

 

Anime NYC 2019 Hype Post, aka The Craziest, Most Incredible Guests

Anime NYC 2019 is only two days away, and I want to use this opportunity to talk about how amazing the guests are this year. I promise that this is not a paid or sponsored endorsement in any way—these are my genuine feelings, and my feeling is that the guest list this year is just virtually perfect.

First and foremost, you have the legendary director of Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon, and Zambot 3, Tomino Yoshiyuki. I saw him 10 years ago at New York Anime Festival 2009, and I am eager to see his return. He’ll be showing the first Gundam: Reconguista in G film, and as a staunch defender of that series, I’ve gotta go see it.

Then there’s Kimura Takahiro, animator and character designer on Gaogaigar, Godannar, Betterman, Brigadoon, and Code Geass. He is one of my favorite character designers ever, and I’m so, so stoked for him to be in New York.

Speaking of Code Geass, the voice actor Yukana will be making her New York City debut. In addition to playing C.C. in Code Geass (aka the best character in that series), she’s also Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic!, Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura, and Cure White in Futari wa Pretty Cure!

But Yukana is not the only Cure who will be there, as Ise Mariya (Cure Lemonade from Yes! Pretty Cure 5) is coming to promote The Promised Neverland, where she plays Ray. The director of The Promised Neverland, Kanbe Mamoru, will also be at Anime NYC 2019. He’s also the director for one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san.

Megalo Box is an amazing anime and reinterpretation of Ashita no Joe, Moriyama Yo, and both the director and producer, Fujiyoshi Minako, will be attending.

And the Lantis Matsuri concert Friday night will feature both JAM Project and Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!! Having now attended concerts for both groups, I’m pumped to see them again (and again and again in the future, hopefully). Nothing is as fantastic as JAM Project performing “SKILL,” and a part of me is sincerely hoping all the groups involved will join in for a rousing “WHOHhhHHoooHHHooOoooH.”

So see you all at Anime NYC, and I hope these guests get the star treatment they deserve.

 

Why Are There So Few Recent Titles in Super Robot Wars T?

When a series gets into a Super Robot Wars game, for the first time, it’s a momentous occasion, especially when the game in question is one of the “mainline” iterations. The mecha (or even spaceships these days!) can be from old and obscure works, cult favorites, and even the new hotness. When playing through the recent Super Robot Wars T, however, I noticed that there’s a significant dearth of recent series, and I’m using that term loosely—out of every anime included, only two are from the past 13 years.

Even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. One of the anime referred to above is 2018’s Mazinger Z: Infinity, a film sequel to the original Mazinger Z anime franchise. While technically “modern,” it’s meant to be a nostalgia work. That leaves only Expelled from Paradise, a 2014 film. The next one after that is Gun x Sword from 2005. It’s not inherently a bad thing, and there are a number of welcome surprises in SRWT like Magic Knight Rayearth, Cowboy Bebop, and Captain Harlock. In a Famitsu interview, the director, Terada Takanobu, mentioned that one of their decisions for including new titles was a desire to have something for every age group. So in the sense of newcomers alone, it’s a pretty even split. However, the heavy lean towards the old is still noticeable, and I think a number of factors go into this.

First, as the years go by, what is considered an “old” title vs. a “new” one widens. Second, mecha anime just isn’t the bustling industry it once was, at least not in the same way. Third, I think that, as much as they tried to pull in fans of all ages, their core demographic seems to be working adults somewhere around 25-39, given both the themes of the game and the title selection itself.

For many younger anime fans, a span of five years might very well cover their entire fandom, let alone the now five decades that have elapsed since the original Mazinger Z anime debuted. For Super Robot Wars, this goes double, as it often takes quite a few years for a hot new mecha title to get the spotlight. Back in the early 2000s, Gaogaigar (1997) and Shin Getter Robo Armageddon (1998) were considered fairly young upstarts when they appeared. Now, in Super Robot Wars T, they’re grizzled old veterans. Outside of Super Robot Wars specifically, it’s always fascinating to see a title like Cowboy Bebop (1997 debut but aired on Adult Swim in 2001) go from being the hot new thing in the US to being a virtually canonized masterpiece that’s sometimes more discussed than viewed.

The relative oldness of the entries in SRWT is in part a consequence of how giant robots are simply not the industry juggernaut that they once were. Long gone are the endless number of children’s mecha shows, and the robot anime that do remain know that their audience will often skew older. Super Robot Wars, given its nature as a crossover celebration of what is increasingly a niche genre, is sort of tailor-made for nostalgia, compounding the sense that its appeal does not lie in attracting newer, younger anime fans, but those with a lot of experience watching and loving mecha anime. There are newer titles to pull in, but will they have the same draw as these assumed childhood/youth favorites?

In that sense, it’s interesting to note just where the nostalgia hits hardest for SRWT. Many of the titles are squarely in the 1990s without being made as sequels or reimaginings—Cowboy Bebop, Magic Knight Rayearth, Nadesico, G Gundam, Gaogaigar, and Might Gaine—while plenty of other titles are late 80s or early 2000s. Director Terada mentioned that international fandom was a consideration for which titles to include, and while not the case with every country, I think that the 90s is an especially strong time for fan nostalgia now—or at least the 90s anime they may have seen years later because anime distribution wasn’t nearly as speedy back in the days of VHS tapes and Real Media Player.

It’s also telling that the gimmick of the main heroes is that they’re salarymen, i.e. full-time working adults around ages 25 to 39, instead of teenagers. In some sense, it works as a gimmick, but when past original characters have been decidedly less mundane in their basic premises, the idea of “loyal company employee” stands out. There’s something to be said about how the notion of the salaryman as the default position for adults in Japan has been shattered for many years now, but I won’t go much into it except to say that while a heroine who just really likes a steady paycheck might have seemed like the most milquetoast thing once upon a time, in our current global economy, that idea almost borders on escapist fantasy.

Or maybe the team just really wanted to do a story with Jupiter as a focal point. Between Shin Getter Robo Armageddon, Nadesico, Crossbone Gundam, Aim for the Top!, Gaogaigar, and Cowboy Bebop, the fifth planet from the sun gets major play.

There’s one last possible reason the series is lacking anime titles from recent years: they’re saving them for a direct sequel. While there’s no news yet of a true follow-up to Super Robot Wars T (as opposed to just another game with a completely different cast and universe), there are enough loose threads in this game that a continuation would not be surprising.

Super Robot Wars T and Gaogaigar’s Unspoken Plot Change?

I’ve been playing the heck out of Super Robot Wars T (available via import in English for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4), and as always, I’m into the loving fanfictional goodness that the franchise always entails. When you have all of these different giant robot heroes in the same universe, the interactions are an endless source of amusement and head-nodding affirmation.

Of the many crossover moments little and big, however, there is what I believe to be an unspoken story element that significantly alters the course of one particular series: King of Braves Gaogaigar. This might be mere fan speculation on my part, but I think it also makes total sense.

In the original 1997 Gaogaigar TV series, the main character Shishioh Guy uses an attack called Hell and Heaven to finish off monsters. A little into the series, however, he discovers that using the attack too much does severe damage to his cyborg body, and that overusing it could lead to death. In response to this, his team (known as GGG) creates a new, alternative finisher called the Goldion Hammer, which becomes his default decisive blow through most of the series. It’s only in desperate times when the Goldion Hammer isn’t available that Guy will resort back to Hell and Heaven.

But in Super Robot Wars T, when you meet Guy, the Goldion Hammer is nowhere in sight, despite the story being well past the point in the anime where he was supposed to get the Goldion Hammer. And yet, Guy shows no signs of excessive use of Hell and Heaven. On one level, this is likely a gameplay pacing decision, to keep Gaogaigar from having its strongest attack early on, but I think there’s also an in-story explanation: he simply didn’t have to use it as much in the SRWT universe.

Whereas Gaogaigar and GGG alone fought against EI-01 and the Zonders in the anime, in the game, they occasionally received help from Watta and Tryder G7 (from Muteki Robo Tryder G7), as well as Maito and Mightgaine (from The Brave Express Mightgaine). In other words, in SRWT, Guy had enough assistance in his many battles that, by the time we meet him in-game, he isn’t anywhere near as overburdened as he is in the anime.

It’s considerations like the above which make Super Robot Wars T (and Super Robot Wars in general) such a treat. I’m looking forward to seeing whatever other crazy moments are in store.

The Real Captain Planet: Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn

The 1990s Brave franchise—most famously known for its swan song, King of Braves Gaogaigar—is a series of children’s anime centered on boy heroes and their heavily merchandisable giant robots. While the overall quality varies, each show indicates a push and pull between being half-hour toy commercials, displaying impressive mecha animation, telling stories that kids enjoy, and imparting important lessons for young viewers. Over the years, I’ve been told multiple times that one of the turning points is 1992’s Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn: the third entry and first to attempt a more mature and long-form story. Having finally watched it, I can see a more serious yet also a scattershot approach that belies the competing forces dictating the direction of Da Garn.

Takashiro Seiji is a normal ten year old boy whose mother is a news anchor and whose father is a member of Earth’s Global Defense Force. When a mysterious robot attacks the city, he comes across a power lying within the Earth itself that manifests itself as a giant robot guardian known as Da Garn. As the masked commander, Seiji leads Da Garn, and eventually other robot allies who emerge, against ever greater threats—especially the enemy’s ongoing attempt to rob the Earth of its “planet energy.” There’s an ongoing environmentalism and world peace theme underlying everything, exemplified by a line from the opening theme: “This planet is our cherished ship.”

Due to this show’s opening, I once had a very mistaken impression of Seiji. The way he’s drawn and animated in it, there are times when he looks like an adult. It’s almost as if they either hadn’t decided his age, or figured that making him look 6 feet tall and muscular would make for a more exciting intro regardless of how odd it looks. Whatever the case, my expectations had to be modified, though Seiji’s quality voice acting from Matsumoto Rica (best known as Satoshi from Pokemon) helps keep him an endearing if somewhat typical protagonist.

The robots, in typical Brave fashion, are all about combining. Da Garn combines with a plane and a train to become Da Garn X. Later robots combine together and then get additional partners to combine together. However, they’re also kind of a thematic hodgepodge. Da Garn himself is a police car. He gets plane allies and motor vehicle allies. Then they start introducing robots based on animals, even making it seem like one is going take over as the star of the show, as if someone said, “The surveys say kids like lions!!”

There are so many mecha, and they’re given so few opportunities to show their personalities, that only a handful ever get highlighted, leaving many to be less memorable. In contrast, it’s hard to forget any of the robots in Brave Police J-Decker or Gaogaigar. Even compared to a series like Girls und Panzer (which also groups a gigantic cast into “squads” with collective personalities), Da Garn can feel sparse in terms of characterization. The main exception to this glut is an antagonistic robot named Seven Changer, who (of course) has seven different forms, and whose cool arrogance is delivered effectively by Koyasu Takehito (Dio in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).

Speaking of villains, I’m not sure if I’d call them particularly strong, but they are definitely memorable, and they’re explored in great detail. Many of their identifies are initially a mystery, and they’re woven into the simultaneous small-town/global atmosphere in interesting ways. As the series progresses, their stories are increasingly a part of the narrative, and it allows Da Garn to touch upon ideas that would make less sense with Seiji or any of his friends. In fact, I’d argue that the anime doesn’t really find its footing until it starts to do more with its villains.

Brave Fighter of Legend Da Garn ends up being the kind of work that is best viewed as taking a step beyond its trappings and its immediate predecessors while still somewhat beholden to them. It’s polished in some areas like visual presentation and general momentum of its narrative, but it sometimes succumbs to the weight of all the different expectations placed upon it. But while it may be outdone by later Brave series, it’s still a joy to experience, quirks and all.

Aikatsu Friends! Knows How to Celebrate Christmas

Christmas is a different holiday in Japan compared to the United States. Even putting aside the religious vs. secular aspects, December 25th is traditionally seen in Japan as more of a romantic occasion featuring cake and fried chicken, and various anime and manga throughout the years have reflected this. That’s why I was surprised to see that the Christmas episode of Aikatsu Friends!—aptly titled “Merry Friends Christmas”—feels so at-home with a more American conception of the holiday.

The episode begins with drawing lots for a big idol tournament. Once the matches have all been decided, each duo goes out to practice and to shore up their weaknesses. The portrayal of “idol activities” is always a highlight of the Aikatsu! franchise, and watching the two goth girls weight-lift using an oversized die and a black crystal ball to shore up their weak stamina reminds me of why I enjoy these shows. What’s more, I like that it doesn’t dedicate the entire episode to Christmas, as it minimizes the sense that this is a one-off break from the main story. The celebration is woven into the overall momentum of Aikatsu Friends!

Heroine Aine decides to invite her partner Mio and their rival teams to have a fun Christmas party, and there’s just something familiarly heartwarming about the gathering. The exchanging of presents, the overall sense that the competition doesn’t overshadow their friendships, and the festive mood would fit right in with US Christmas TV specials—but with all of the morals about kindness and giving merely implied instead of said outright. It’s the sort of execution that makes me wish Aikatsu! could get a real foothold outside of Japan, even though I realize that its success is tied in heavily with the arcade games.

As with every Aikatsu! Christmas, they end with a rendition with of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with a characteristic rap section that talks about turning a holy night into a party night. At this point, and I have to wonder what the reason is behind keeping the song from year to year. It’s not a bad thing, but I would have expected them to switch it up from series to series—maybe some “Jingle Bells” or “Deck the Halls.” Maybe it’s just what the fans expect, and hearing the latest generation of Aikatsu! stars give their own take on the song is itself a tradition.

Overall, it’s an excellent Christmas episode from Aikatsu Friends, and an excellent way to set the mood for the holidays. It also makes me wonder if the image of Christmas has changed in Japan! That investigation will have to be for another time.

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.

 

Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Manga Chapter 1: Go Read It!

Us Gaogaigar fans had long waited for a new sequel, a call that was answered this past year through the Hakai-Oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novel series. In more recent news, Sunrise announced a manga adaptation, and the first chapter has been available online for the past month or so.

Having read through the first novel, this manga seems to be adapting the contents pretty faithfully. This might go without saying, but the key advantage of the manga version is that it’s more visual—a welcome thing given that Gaogaigar as a whole thrives on visual spectacle.  It’s also a lot easier to follow if your Japanese language proficiency isn’t especially strong.

I’m not sure what the schedule is for this manga, but I’m hoping that having it so easily accessible means that Gaogaigar fans will be able to rally around it, and really give it the attention it deserves.