Love Live!, A-RISE, and the Music of Antagonists

As much as I love μ’s, the main group from the original Love Live!, I dig their anime rivals A-RISE (especiallyt their leader Kira Tsubasa) just as much. The reigning champions of the Love Live! school idol tournament, they represent the top of the pyramid, and their music in contrast to μ’s is techno/dance-heavy, with a high-budget sense of professionalism.

In episode 6 and 7 of Love Live! Sunshine!!, we’re introduced to Saint Snow, a duo whose slick dance moves and techno-style music are the first sign that the girls of Aqours have a lot of catching up to do. Given their similarities to A-RISE, I’ve come to wonder if that style of music has come to represent the “adversary” in the franchise.

It’s clear why A-RISE was placed in that position. Initially, μ’s are the underdogs, and A-RISE with their super ritzy high school and position as top idols are there to contrast with the homegrown, down-to-earth feel of the heroines of the story. Saint Snow, though they also hit some stumbling blocks, carry a similar contrast to the rural Numazu area that Aqours comes from.

There’s also a contrast in motivation that seems to come with this style of music. In episode 12, when Saint Snow meets up with Aqours once more, it’s clear that Saint Snow see being school idols as a competition. They want to stand on top and see what the view is like from the summit. This is presented not as a wrong way to approach being school idols, but exists in contrast to Aqours who are in it more for the experience, even if ostensibly they’re doing it to save their school. Similarly, in The School Idol Movie, Tsubasa from A-RISE expresses her ambition to continue being an idol even after she graduates, whereas Honoka is implied to not quite follow that path.

Is there any possibility that the “rival” sound will become associated with the central characters of Love Live!? Or will it at best always be relegated to subgroups within the main cast, such as BiBi and songs such as Cutie Panther?

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Love Live! Sunshine!! and the School Idol Median

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What does it mean to create a follow-up act to a multimedia franchise as successful as Love Live!? That’s the challenge facing  Love Live! Sunshine!! To fans, each of the original girls is something special, something unique, and renewing that fervor can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Of course, a franchise like Love Live! is designed to do just that, across different characters and different iterations of the concept, but it’s still not necessarily an easy task. Though I might be jumping the gun with what I’m about to say, I think the people in charge of Love Live! might now have a much clearer idea of what is most effective, and this potentially manifests in the physical appearances of the characters themselves.
I decided recently to see how the physical characteristics of the μ’s girls stack up to those of Love Live Sunshine!!‘s Aqours. Thanks to Reddit, I found a convenient chart comparing all of their heights and bust sizes. What’s noticeable is that the Aqours members are all closer to each other physically. Toujou Nozomi and Yazawa Nico are at the extremes in terms of bust size (to no one’s surprise), but a character like Hanayo who is above average compared to the rest of μ’s is decidedly normal in the world of Love Live! Sunshine!! Similarly, while half-Italian American Ohara Mari is the tallest, the other girls are also relatively close to her. Keep in mind that the disparity is not especially large, especially when it comes to height. The difference between “tiny” Kunikida Hanamaru and “towering” Mari is a mere 4 inches (or 10 centimeters). Already, there’s a certain narrow range median that reminds me of something anime voice actress Nonaka Ai once mentioned when I interviewed her: she wanted to be an actress but was considered too tall. Similarly, Hanayo’s voice actress Kubo Yurika is the tallest of the μ’s cast. Like Mari, she is 5’4″ or 163 cm.

I think it’s worth entertaining the thought that the success of Love Live! School Idol Project, which grew gradually from a modest success to a cultural phenomenon, has informed the current version in terms of what is the best median to take, at least in terms of physical traits. Moreover, given the seaside venue of Love Live! Sunshine!!, I believe that there is a greater push for sex appeal, though I’m sure they’re aware that keeping the fanservice from going too overboard is important for maintaining Love Live!‘s large female fanbase.

That being said, while they’re more similar in size, I’m not sure the same applies to the characters’ personalities. In many ways, they feel more extreme and more adhered to certain archetypes, such as Yohane’s chuunibyou identity, Kurosawa Dia’s “Kanzuki Karin” levels of haughtiness, or her sister Ruby’s ultra moe shyness. The closest we have to Ruby in in the original was Hanayo, and at this point we’re aware that Hanayo is kind of a maniac. That doesn’t mean the Aqours characters are bad, however. In a way, perhaps it helps to distinguish them further from each other.

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Ogiue Maniax Talking Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans on the Veef Show Podcast

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I stopped by the Veef Show to discuss the latest Mobile Suit Gundam series, Iron-Blooded Orphans. Have a listen, as we have fairly different perspectives on the show, and I’d love to know what you think of the series as well.

For reference, the post I mentioned about McGillis can be found here, and the series I mention at the end of the podcast that I have begun chapter reviewing is here.

So in conclusion, Fumitan Admoss is the best.

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

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

McGillis from Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is More Char than Char

McGillis_Fareed-5_G-Tekketsu-5Ever since Char Aznable became one of anime’s most memorable characters, many Gundam series have included similar rivals for their heroes. In general, they’re enemy pilots of roughly equal power who wear masks or something similar to hide their faces, and who often have their own ulterior, if noble, motives. Most recently joining the likes of Zechs Merquise, Harry Ord, and more is McGillis Fareed from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and his approach to being “a Char” is probably the most well-realized out of all of them.

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans spoilers below.

Throughout the original Gundam, Char Aznable is willing to (and has!) back-stabbed even his closest friends because his true goal, to get vengeance for the death of his father, overrides any sort of sentiment he might possess. McGillis is incredibly similar. He’s willing to sacrificing childhood friends for the sake of accomplishing his motives, but in a way he might also be even more scheming and cut-throat than Char himself. While Char might sabotage some of his own side for personal reasons, he never actively leaked information to the enemy or tried to orchestrate both sides to fall in his favor.

McGillis has gone from being a fairly interesting character to being one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the next season of Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Given the overall quality of the show, I really, really hope the series doesn’t suffer from Sunrise “half-way point syndrome” like so many of their mecha anime, where in an attempt to become more successful a show loses what made it special in the first place.

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How Evangelion References Ideon

This post is dedicated to Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat, who over 10 years has pointed out repeatedly that people will bring up the relationship between the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and Space Runaway Ideon without knowing exactly how they connect.

Love it or hate it, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is one of the most influential and well-known anime ever. The story of youths with crippling psychological problems who must fight to save the Earth resonated with many, and anime came to copy, challenge, and rethink Evangelion in the years since. However, Evangelion itself carries its own influences from shows of yesteryear. For this post, I’m going to be writing about one of the major progenitors of Evangelion, Space Runaway Ideon, because it’s often brought up as evidence against Evangelion‘s originality and innovation, without thorough understanding as to what Ideon did and did not do relative to Evangelion.

Evangelion is just a rehash of Ideon,” the argument goes, but structurally they don’t have very many things in common. The city structure, otherworldly invaders, time limits, and the sense of scale when the titanic EVAs fight the similarly enormous Angels all come from Ultraman. In fact, if you want to see just how much Ultraman influenced director Anno Hideaki, check out the manga Insufficient Direction, drawn by his mangaka wife, Anno Moyoco (Hataraki Man, Sugar Sugar Rune). The escalation of trauma and the mistrust between humans comes from DevilmanIdeon, while bearing a few minor similarities to these series, brings something else to the table.

To understand Ideon, it’s useful to start at the beginning. Its story takes place in an era of space exploration and colonization. A group of archaeologists discover three ancient vehicles, which they find out can be brought together to form a giant robot called Ideon. During this time, they also encounter an alien race of conquerors called the Buff Clan, who possess legends about Ideon as a mighty god of ancient times. Though they take a number of casualties, the humans escape with Ideon, and spend the rest of the series fending off attacks from the Buff Clan with the help of the Ideon.

This sounds pretty par for the course for the time in which it was airing (early 1980s), but one thing made Ideon, as a mecha, different: it didn’t like to behave. The pilots from the very beginning are even unsure as to how to rouse Ideon from its dormancy. It powers up and powers down seemingly with a mind of its own, as indicated by a mysterious display called the Ide Gauge. If there’s a pattern as to how strong Ideon will be in any given fight, it is utterly unclear to the humans responsible for it. It is ancient alien technology that they are unable to fully grasp.

Then, deep into the series they find themselves cornered and at the brink of death. Suddenly, the Ideon achieves a power greater than anything seen before, and wipes out the enemy in an instant. Though they’re happy to have escaped with their lives, one important detail looms over their thoughts: it was not by the humans’ actions that they were rescued. Rather, they were at the seemingly serendipitous whims of the Ideon itself. As they continue on their journey, and as they continue to fight the Buff Clan, the heroes are made increasingly aware of the fact that the Ideon is powerful enough to destroy entire worlds, rend galaxies into nothingness, and wipe out civilizations… and they have absolutely no control over it. In the Super Robot Wars games, the power of the Ideon’s strongest attacks, Ideon Sword and Ideon Gun, are labeled as having infinite range as a reference to this, though the mechanics are gamified into something manageable).

If you’ve seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, you probably know where this is going. Some of the most iconic scenes in Evangelion are when the EVA-01, the protagonist Shinji’s mecha, goes berserk. During these pivotal moments, Shinji somehow falls unconscious or is unable to fight, and the EVA roars to life with a mind of its own. It fights like a beast, clawing, biting, and tearing. Its chilling cry becomes a wake-up call to the human characters who believed that they could control all of this technology and power. In the cases of both Ideon and Evangelion, the power granted to the heroes ironically creates a sense of helplessness because of the loss of control. Unlike older giant robot anime, such as Mazinger Z or even Reideen the Brave which featured a similarly sentient super robot, the spirit of the hero, or indeed all of humanity, is made to feel small and insignificant in Ideon and Evangelion. Where Evangelion differs is in its deeply introspective focus, of characters and the deep, torturous labyrinths of their psyches, and so it would be incorrect to say that Evangelion simply copied Ideon.

The Ideon TV series ends more abruptly than almost any other anime you will ever see, and a proper finale would be provided in the form of two movies, one recap and one conclusion. In the movies, the secrets of the Ideon are explored, and it’s through those secrets that further connections to Evangelion can be seen. The second movie, Be Invoked, reveals what causes Ideon to awaken and gain power: life energy. The Ideon throughout the series appears to respond better to children than to adults, and even better to babies. Though there is nothing explicitly written as to why this is the case, and I’m inserting my own interpretation into this to an extent, I believe that it has to do with the fact that children are both more full of life, and are not as warped by their experiences as the cold, cynical adults.

As the fight between the humans and the Buff Clan rages on, it turns out that meteors have been raining down on both planets, wiping out their homes. The implication behind these mutual apocalypses is that the Ideon itself and its Id energy have been testing the two sides to see if they can reach some sort of peace. Because the two sides refused to understand each other and just kept on fighting, the Ideon basically decided that both civilizations are not worth saving as they are. Hence, meteors. Ultimately, even as this is all happening, the Ideon fights the Buff Clan’s ultimate weapon, the Ganda Rowa. The two destroy each other, triggering a massive explosion that wipes out life on the surrounding planets. The spirits of those who died, both human and Buff, gather together as if all is behind them.

A few similarities to Evangelion appear here. First, the effectiveness of children as a source of “power” for the Ideon is similar to how the Evangelions appear to only function when piloted by 14-year-olds. Second, the protective element of the Ideon towards those children resembles how the EVAs have souls within them that (for the most part) are the mothers of the pilots themselves, who go berserk to save their children. Third, the Ideon’s desire to bring these two warring civilizations, and the final moments of Ideon itself, resemble the Human Instrumentality Project at the center of Evangelion. The Human Instrumentality Project is the idea that, by having all of humanity merge together, we will be free from the problems caused by people being unable to properly communicate their feelings. When we are all as one, there will be no suffering. Again, however, even if you factor out the newer works (the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, the manga’s alternative ending), Evangelion does not say the same things because of the greater focus on individual characters and their personal emotions. Ideon thinks on more of a macro scale than Evangelion‘s micro approach, despite the fact that both series involve the death of humanity.

Overall, the influence of Ideon on Evangelion can be summarized as the exploration of humans having to deal with powers beyond their control, and the apocalyptic consequences of those who continue to make mistakes even with this knowledge in mind. I hope this has been useful to you, and if there is anyone who would like to add new points, expand upon the existing ones above, or even argue against them, I welcome you to make a response.

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Realism: Gundam Thunderbolt vs. Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans

As the progenitor of the “real robot genre,” every time a new Gundam series comes out the question of its realism comes up. Even though its robots tend to be brightly colored and increasingly full of weird weapons, the simple formula of mecha as tool of war endures. Just this past year, we’ve had both Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, which follows a group of child soldiers, and Gundam Thunderbolt, which combines a gritty feel with a more hard science fiction feel. Which is more realistic? Does it matter?

I don’t intend to actually answer these questions. Rather, I’m bringing them up to try and start a discussion about the ways in which we try to position the idea of realism in something like Gundam. It’s not the first time I‘ve talked about it on this blog, either. With the first episode of Gundam Thunderbolt available, however, I can’t help but feel that it’s probably the Gundam a lot of the fans who revel in a certain image of realism have been looking for. One might call it the Macross Plus of the Gundam franchise in this respect. Its hard SF aspects, both in terms of presentation of technology and its expected character types, provide an interesting contrast to Iron-Blooded Orphans, which has a more contemporary “anime” look, cute girls and handsome boys and all. One can almost detect a generation gap in Thunderbolt vs. Iron-Blooded Orphans in terms of anime fandom; Thunderbolt feels like it came out of the science fiction conventions from which anime cons originally grew from.

In turn, Iron-Blooded Orphans seems more divisive in terms of what it tries to do with its realism, its young boys trying to carve a place in the world because of their circumstances as child soldiers. Of course, child soldiers aren’t new to Gundam. One could argue that the earliest protagonists of Gundam were child soldiers, but in this case it’s more the young guerilla archetype, seen also in Gundam 00. I do see Iron-Blooded Orphans get a bit more flack, and though my sample might be skewed by the fellow fans I interact with and observe, I think it has to do with how Iron-Blooded Orphans, unlike Thunderbolt, carries a kind of more “feminine” aesthetic that does not jive with more traditional images of realism as gritty.

Of course, grittiness does not automatically equal realism, but I think we’re trained to believe it. It’s one of the biggest trends of modern video games, and while there are plenty of games that push against it, many kids are growing up being taught by games and media that this is what “real” looks like. That said, Gundam Thunderbolt still has elements of the fantastic, and perhaps in the space between it and Iron-Blooded Orphans we can find versions of “realism” to satisfy all of those looking for it.

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