February has arrived, and that means new Precure, of course. It’s this odd exception in that February debuts have been typical of the franchise, so I have it on my mind—especially because it’s the 20th anniversary [I’ve been informed that Precure is actually only 19, so oops.]. I still remember seeing the original Futari wa Pretty Cure being mentioned in an English-language anime magazine, and noticing the large combat boots and floppy socks they wore. It’s been a part of my fandom for two decades now, and while I don’t have plans to write a retrospective, I wonder if I should. At the very least, expect a review of Delicious Party Precure.
Moving on from a two-decade-old magical girl juggernaut, I’d like to thank my Patreon subscribers!
Many VTubers have extremely busy designs, but one notable exception comes from a surprising source: a Japanese beverage company.
Kio actually retweeted one of my posts this month!!!
I learned along with everyone else that Love Live! School Idol Festival is shutting down to make way for the sequel game. Given this information, it’s all too perfect that I finally managed to achieve my goal. Will I play the new game? I really don’t know—it depends on how much time I have and what the gameplay looks like.
It was almost 10 years ago when I discovered Love Live! and by extension the School Idol Festival mobile game. Koizumi Hanayo quickly became my favorite character, and so I set out with a simple goal: Make dedicated all-Hanayo teams while also avoiding whaling. It was both a way to show my fandom and to set a fairly concrete goal that I could dedicate my gacha pulls to.
In 2015, I achieved the first step in a long road: a Hanayo Team consisting of all unique versions. Now, in 2023, I have crossed what I consider to be my final finish line: Three all-Hanayo teams with every member an idolized and legit Ultra-Rare (as opposed to free-giveaway URs that have less power as a result).
I have, in my own way, “beaten” Love Live! School Idol Festival, and can finally lay this game to rest—at least until the recently announced Love Live! School Idol Festival 2 shows up. Will I even play the sequel? And if I do, will I maybe dedicate myself to a different character, like Love Live! Superstar!!’s Wakana Shiki? Whatever the case, it’s the end of an era.
Happy Birthday, Hanayo. It’s been fun to cheer for such an intensely passionate character of contrasts, and it’ll continue to be amazing.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GUNDAM: THE WITCH FROM MERCURY
I know I probably shouldn’t do it. Sunrise is notorious for fucking up a good thing by meddling midway, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury has been good. Yet, even if I regret in the long run giving this show praise, I want to lay out my thoughts now, especially after an intense and shocking season finale.
Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is the first major Gundam anime to feature a female protagonist. While there have been heroines before like Christina Mackenzie in 0080: War in the Pocket and Hoshino Fumina in Gundam: Build Fighters Try, no one has been as prominent as Suletta Mercury. It’s a milestone that can easily be mismanaged, but the creators have done an amazing job not just with her portrayal, but also constructing a world that is a significant departure from typical Gundam while also feeling true to the spirit of Gundam and addressing modern concerns.
One of The Witch from Mercury’s biggest adjustments to the lore of Gundams-as-mecha is simple but profound: In this universe, Gundam technology was not originally designed for war. Rather, it was meant to help people with disabilities, and was only made into weapons through the greed of others. The world is dominated by corporations operating from space at the expense of those on Earth, touching upon a very relevant concern about the unchecked power of the moneyed.
It’s within this context that Suletta stands out in contrast to her peers as she enters school for the first time. When we first see her (outside of the traumatic childhood events of Episode 0), she’s a nervous mess of a teen who has never interacted with kids her age, and whose only friend is her Definitely-Not-a-Forbidden-by-Law-Gundam, the Aerial. She seems to have the power to persevere in spite of her anxiety, carrying an innocent-yet-powerful sense of right and wrong. She wants to both make friends and do good, and the wrench she throws into the systems in place at her school is a big one.
The school setting is also something of a first for a main Gundam series, and the way it’s handled is beautiful. While on the surface it makes The Witch from Mercury look like it’s trying to mimic a popular trend, the show successfully does two things to make this work.
First, it presents the school as an unusual place with unusual rules: a place to train students in the use and management of mobile suits, which also features a formalized mecha-dueling system that participants can use to wager and settle disputes. It seems silly, but it’s also contextualized as a kind of sheltered space to protect/mold the rich kids of the corporations running the world and give them advantages to further leverage their positions. This is precisely what Suletta gums up by becoming the “groom” for the “bride” of the school, Miorine Rembran—the daughter of the CEO who owns the school.
Second, it takes those setting elements of the school and uses them to drive home certain themes and metaphors. The Witch from Mercury has often been compared to Revolutionary Girl Utena, and while the abstract symbolism and allegories aren’t as robust and dominant here, they still carry a lot of weight. Not only are the yuri vibes undoubtable and a more overt step into that territory, but the duels are very revealing about each character and their motivations. The balance is very reminiscent of G Gundam.
So when the other shoe drops in Episodes 11 and 12 as a real battle begins, it really highlights what an isolated environment the school really is. Duels are playtime and ways to establish hierarchy. Combat is where lives are lost. The competition between corporations is only one factor when the tensions between Earthians and Spacians can lead to such death. And when Suletta emerges as being surprisingly okay with murder (for the “right” reasons, like saving people), her lack of hesitation is downright frightening. It’s why Miorine’s reaction at the end is so powerful. She and Suletta worked out their emotional differences and trust issues, but now here’s an unexpected side called “Suletta can literally smash someone into a bloody stain and not bat an eye.” It really is like Utena and Anthy switched spots.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the similarities between Suletta’s mom and Char Aznable, and how they go beyond the masks. I was mostly thinking about their presentations and mannerisms, but this has made me realize there’s a vital aspect of Char’s character I didn’t look at enough: the unwavering desire for revenge. And so it begs the question—what would Char do of he has a child? The likely answer is “shape them into a bringer of vengeance.”
I hope The Witch from Mercury can live up to the greatness we’ve already seen. Please let this one get through okay. The next time I write about this series, I imagine it’ll be as a Gattai Girls entry.
Yesterday, I watched the Hololive COUNTDOWN LIVE 2022▷2023. It involved 3D concert performances by a variety of members including two of my faves, the currently COVID-stricken Haachama and the on-hiatus La+ Darknesss. I highly recommend it, especially the crossover sections between the girls of Hololive and the boys of Holostars. This clearly takes some inspiration from Japan’s long-standing end-of-year musical event, Kohaku Uta Gassen, but I’ve never actually watched it.
Looking back, it didn’t hit me how long the past year felt until I saw Kio Shimoku mention that Hashikko Ensemble concluded back in January of 2022. At times, it’s like the days move by all too quickly, and other times, it’s like they slow to a crawl. I can’t tell at this point how much of it is the prolonged funk of the pandemic and how much is just me getting older.
But here we are at the start of 2023 and the Year of the Rabbit, at least if we’re going by the solar calendar. Whenever I think about it, I find myself remembering a certain old flash video from the 2000s. Thankfully, someone uploaded it to Youtube, so I can inflict it on a new generation.
January’s Patreon subscribers are looking good. Thank you, everyone, and here’s to another fine (?) year.
At the start of the year, I feel myself wondering if I should be doing more both with Ogiue Maniax and outside of it. One thing I’ve thought about is starting a Substack, but I have no idea how I might divide my writing. In my head, there’s no real differentiation between “regular” posts and “premium” ones, and I’d probably have to figure out some way to make it worthwhile. One possibility is to break off the VTuber stuff into its own dedicated area in case it’s becoming too intrusive, but I don’t think it’s that bad currently.
I could also do premium posts on Patreon, but that sort of runs into the same issue. If anyone wants to see that sort of content (or if you even hate the idea), feel free to leave a comment. I think I care less about the money at this point and wonder more about how to promote Ogiue Maniax in 2023. All the old ways seem to be vanishing (and Twitter is constantly on the verge of collapse because of its moronic new boss), and I still haven’t caught up.
Whichever ways things go, though, I hope you’ll keep reading.
“Char clone” is a fan term to describe a certain character archetype in Gundam. It references Char Aznable from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, and is typically used with a constellation of certain traits: some combination of a rival to the protagonist, who’s masked, morally gray, and mysterious. But while Char clones are practically a given at this point in the franchise, Prospera Mercury from Gundam: The Witch from Mercury might be the most Char of them all.
While Prospera Mercury is indeed a masked character, she’s also unique in that she’s the mother of the heroine, Suletta Mercury. And this isn’t a Darth Vader–esque secret either: Suletta knows she’s her mom, and Prospera even takes off her mask on a regular basis. At this point in the story, they haven’t fought, and there’s nothing saying that they will in the future. Prospera doesn’t have a noteworthy color scheme, she isn’t battling her daughter on a regular basis, which might appear to disqualify her from the ranks of Char clones. But what she does have is body language and a cryptic/veiled way with words that immediately brings to mind the Red Comet himself.
Prospera “Momznable” Mercury is voiced by Noto Mamiko, who’s famous for her gentle voice. Yet, every time she speaks, I can practically hear Char’s actor (the inimitable Ikeda Shuichi) reciting those lines. And every time Prospera is shown interacting with others, it’s like I can picture Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (the original Gundam character designer), drawing her making those exact physical expressions. It’s uncanny, probably intentional, and gives me goosebumps.
Other Char clones have the visual trappings or follow the tropes. Be it Zechs Marquise, Schwarz Bruder, Lancerow Dawell, Mr. Samurai, Harry Ord, Raww Le Kleuze, McGillis Fareed, or others, they look and act the role of the Char. But Prospera Mercury captures the soul of Char, and it makes her the most intriguing figure in all of The Witch from Mercury.
Many viewers have remarked on the similarities between The Witch from Mercury and another anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both feature heroines having to protect a prized bride in ritualized duels that involve cutting off a symbol to win (an antenna and a rose, respectively). It’s hard not to make the comparison. But I think the fact that we are seeing “Utena Gundam” so readily embraced is a sign that the Gundam fandom has progressed in ways I couldn’t have seen years ago. This is especially the case when looking at a different spiritual predecessor to The Witch from Mercury, 1995’s Mobile Fighter G Gundam.
There was a time when G Gundam was the black sheep of the family. Eschewing the backdrop of war for a gigantic mechanized fighting tournament, many fans regarded it as antithetical to what Gundam was supposed to be. But as the decades have passed and new fans have come to the franchise and brought new perspectives, the notion of Gundams in formal duels isn’t viewed in such a negative light anymore. We even got a tournament anime about fighting with Gundam model kits! There might be an inherently ridiculous quality that seems to (double) harken back to 70s super robot shows like UFO Robo Grendizer, but that doesn’t mean such a series can’t be serious and insightful in its own way.
The larger setting of The Witch from Mercury, beyond the school, clearly sets up a world where the shady politics of militarism and capitalism shape events in ways worth analyzing that feels very current but connected to the past. When the duels are viewed in this context, they feel not so much separated from the outside as connected to the larger problems that exist. In this sense, it truly does feel like the child of G Gundam and Utena, but also the grandchild of Gundam itself.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island can be described as one of the most elaborate shitposts ever.
This doesn’t mean the film is bad—quite the opposite, in fact. But it’s precisely because Cucuruz Doan’s Island turns out to be a solid work that makes it even more of a shitpost.
Cucuruz Doan’s Island was originally Episode 15 of the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, about an AWOL Zeon soldier who is now raising orphans on an island that the protagonist, Amuro Ray, crashes on. It’s infamous for a variety of reasons, not least of which are its abysmally off-model animation quality, and the fact that Director Tomino refuses to let it be included in releases outside of Japan. It’s an early instance of a yashigani crab episode, the kind of thing that seems to embarrass all involved. Well, what if 43 years later, they decided to turn it into a feature-length piece with the budget of a full-fledged animated film?
It’s about as cheeky a move you can make, especially because the idea of re-animating something from First Gundam like this isn’t really done. Sure, there’s Gundam: The Origin, but while the manga is a retelling of the entire story of the One Year War, the anime version mainly covers events before that conflict, making it a prequel of sorts.
Doing More with More
So how do you stretch a 20-something-minute episode into a full movie? Well, you give it More of Everything. There’s more fights: Doan is shown in his Zaku to be fending off unwelcome island visitors from the start, and even has a tussle with the Gundam early on. There’s more plot: The White Base crew’s visit to the island, as well as Doan’s former role in the Zeon forces are given greater context. There’s greater stakes: The threat of worldwide catastrophe looms in this film in a way it never did as a TV episode. There’s more characters: Doan goes from having four orphans to having about three times as many (including an older boy who’s jealous of Amuro), and a whole new platoon of Zeon soldiers is incorporated into the story. Also, Char Aznable shows up (of course), but only in a literal fever dream.
On top of all that, Doan’s Zaku for the film has been purposely designed to be thinner and with a different head construction compared to the standard. This is actually a reference to it being horribly off-model in the original TV series, which has now become the catalyst that has transformed artistic mistakes into the baseline for a unique mobile suit design. This is perhaps the biggest indicator of the somewhat trolling nature of Cucurzu Doan’s Island.
Hindsight and Evolution
Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, the original character designer from the TV series, is actually the director of this film, and it shows. In many ways, it feels more like an episode of Giant Gorgthan Gundam in the way characters interact with and explore their environment. The character designs in the film are very clearly based on Yaz’s more modern work a la Gundam: The Origin, but there’s also something about the way characters move that evokes their personalities more powerfully than even some of the best episodes of First Gundam. When Amuro walks around the island, he does so with an awkwardness that really hammers home the fact that he was originally an introverted tinkerer who got thrust into piloting the most powerful weapon of the time. The ways he walks, runs, and reacts come across as possibly even neurodivergent, and makes him feel that much more out of place in the world where he lives.
In this way, one of the remarkable things about Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the way it acts simultaneously as a nostalgia piece and a work that reflects on Gundam’s long history. In addition to being an opportunity to see the old White Base crew in action again, there are all sorts of details that convey a kind of homecoming. For example, when you see Zeon soldiers (Doan included) react to the presence of the Gundam with fear and awe, it both makes sense in the context of the story and as a nod to the fact that this is the RX-78-2, the Ur-Gundam. Pretty much all the old characters are there with their original voice actors (provided they’re alive). It’s very clear that Furuya Toru and Furukawa Toshio are four decades older and can’t quite play teen characters as naturally as they used to, but they also bring just as many years of experience and refinement to the roles.
There’s another aspect of Cucuruz Doan’s Island as a do-over that stands out to me, and perhaps to anyone who cares about Gundam lore: Despite being a remake of a TV episode, the movie places itself more in the original film trilogy’s version of events. In addition to the complete absence of the Core Fighter—the cockpit plane that was used as part of the “docking” sequences used in the TV series to give it more of a “super robot” aesthetic like Gundam’s predecessors—Cucuruz Doan’s Island also features the Core Booster vehicle that was created for the trilogy. And while I can’t remember offhand the exact sequence of events, the flow of the story seems to place it more in the trilogy’s timeline of events as well. This, too, feels like Yaz trying to correct past mistakes.
Beyond the Time
I’m not sure which would be funnier: this movie leading to an international release of First Gundam with the missing episode, or if we actually end up with the movie available to purchase but still no Episode 15. Either choice would add onto the legacy of Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island as arguably the ultimate shitpost, and I have to wonder if other properties might attempt something similar.
When I first began playing Super Robot Wars 30, I wanted to write a review immediately, but I decided against it because I wanted to complete one run of the game to get a fuller impression. Now, nearly 200 hours of playtime later, I have the opposite problem. There’s so much in here that I feel like I have more I’ve forgotten than I’ve remembered. I’ve already given my thoughts on certain specific elements of the series, including DLC packs 1 and 2, the way the game handles the Gaogaigar storyline, and the attack aesthetics of the Ultimate Dancouga unit, but here, I just want to lay out my broader impressions.
Super Robot Wars 30 is named as such not because it’s the 30th game but because it’s to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the franchise. To that end, there are a number of callbacks to its roots, from the fact that you can use the original RX-78-2 Gundam to specific guest characters making appearances. The roster is no mere nostalgia dive, though, as it consists of plenty of series old and new—both in terms of the release date of the source material from which these mecha come from and when they first appeared in SRW in general. L-Gaim and Victory Gundam are two franchise veterans making long awaited reappearances, while J-Decker, SSSS.Gridman, and Knights & Magic make their mainline debuts here.
Having lots of series is always an overall good thing for SRW, but I got decision paralysis when thinking about which units to deploy on multiple occasions. I’d want to bring out anyone who might be plot-relevant for a stage or at least have interesting dialogue with boss characters, but that didn’t always narrow it down. I’d waffle between doing what’s beneficial strategically and what’s cool thematically, and this might have made an already long game take even longer. It’s to some degree a curse that I accept with the blessing of a robust roster.
There is so much content in SRW30 that it can be overwhelming. While many missions are optional and a lot can be played out of order, I was struck by a sense of FOMO many times. What funny stories are on this stage? How did these characters get together? As someone who wants to revel in that fanfiction-esque lore, skipping felt wrong.
One problem with that, however, is that every so often, I’d trigger a compulsory mission, whereby the intermission screen flashed red and locked me into a specific next plot-relevant stage. I don’t mind their presence so much as that the game itself never really explains what trips them off. I specifically remember playing some EXP-farming missions (called “Fronts” in the menu), not realizing that doing so meant I didn’t get to see how the sixth member of Team Rabbits from Majestic Prince joins.
The game feels like it was designed to be fairly lenient, as if it was assuming that SRW30 would be a lot of people’s first Super Robot Wars. This wouldn’t be surprising, given that it’s the first officially translated SRW game to show up internationally on Steam. Even at the hardest difficulty (at least originally), it was possible to upgrade and improve your units to brute force your way through. They would later add a “super expert” mode that put it closer in line to a classic SRW experience, but having a really tough game isn’t necessarily what I want or expect, and the initial absence of a hardcore mode isn’t really an issue to me.
Rather, if there’s any major criticism I have of the gameplay, it’s the lack of stage variety. There are a number of levels that have specific win conditions, but they felt too few and far between, and even they felt like they came from a general template. On top of that, for whatever reason, SRW30 refuses to take advantage of a classic system that is literally built into the game: terrain differences. In many SRW entries, there are stages with bases or areas where units can recover HP while on top of them (usually 30%). They usually exist in missions where you have to defend an area, or perhaps they’re being used by a stubborn boss that you have to dislodge. However, not a single stage I played had any such spots, even when it would make sense both gameplay- and story-wise.
A Final Dynamic Special—usually a combination attack with Mazinger and Getter robots, would have been nice too. Given the anniversary theme of the game, I’m surprised it didn’t include one.
I think this review may come across as more negative than I actually feel about the game. I think that’s simply because the game is so long that it took me months and months to complete, and my view is tinged by a patina of fatigue. SRW30 has a lot to offer, especially from a mecha fanservice perspective, and it feels satisfying to successfully utilize your units’ strengths and mitigate their weaknesses through smart play. I just wish there were more opportunities to do that.
One of the highlights of any Super Robot Wars game is seeing how awesome mecha look in their attack animations. So when Ultimate Dancouga first performed its ultimate attack in Super Robot Wars 30, I expected the kind of spectacle associated with its designer, Obari Masami. After all, he personally designed this exclusive version of Dancouga for the game, and his penchant for flashy action poses is unmistakable. When I first saw Ultimate Dancouga strike the characteristic warped-perspective sword pose seen above during its Dancou Shinken technique, I could only think “Yep, there it is!”
But then a few other thoughts immediately followed. “Why didn’t I associate this Obari Pose with Dancouga’s finishing moves in SRW?” “Did it even strike the Obari Pose in older titles?” “Did it ever Obari Pose in the original anime?!”
That’s when I remembered: The 1980s anime Super Beast Machine God Dancouga predates the Obari Pose, which emerged in the 1990s with the Brave franchise! In fact it’s sometimes more commonly known as the Brave Perspective and Sunrise Stance, among other things.
Sure, recent toy releases make reference to the Pose, but it’s not the same as having it in the show itself. And while there’s been plenty of creative license with attacks throughout SRW, their desire to capture the flavor of the source material is likely why the Pose never made it in. On top of that, the Dancouga TV anime was Obari’s first credit as mecha designer, so the series holds a special place in his massive body of work.
So UltimateDancouga ends up being a kind of “combination” of two aspects of Obari’s legacy: It’s his first professional mecha design striking his signature pose. It’s not technically going full circle, but there’s a wholeness to Dancou Shinken that makes it satisfying.