Sound! Euphonium and Friendship Across Differing Skill Levels

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Whenever a group of people share a common interest, it’s easy to think of them as a cohesive unit of similar minds and opinions. Then reality sets in, and it becomes clear that they’re often from different homes, have different personalities, and even perceive their hobby or passion differently. For the music-themed anime Sound! Euphonium, I find that its character portrayals go a long way in emphasizing the subtle peculiarities of the members of the music club. Friendship and other complicated relations arise from these differences and help to further emphasize the fact that music is what unifies them.

There are large gaps in talent and experience between the core group of four in Sound! Euphonium, and each of their stories are made further complex with their reasons for playing. Reina is by far the most dedicated to the art of music, but it’s not from a pure love of song, as evidenced by her crush on her teacher. Sapphire (“Midori”) is not quite as skilled as Reina but still very strong, and her fondness for instrument mascot characters makes music a lifestyle of sorts. Kumiko has a love-hate relationship with her euphonium, which is gradually revealed to come from a love-hate relationship with her older sister. Hazuki starts off as a complete newbie in all respects who learns the tuba as a social experience.

In spite of these differences, all four characters feel like equals. Their individual relationships might not be evenly developed (Reina is more connected to Kumiko than the others, for instance), but they come across as a close group of friends whose perspectives play off of each other. There’s a vast chasm in ability between Reina and Hazuki, but the paths they take when it comes to their journeys with music feel just as emotionally significant to the individual characters. Although Kumiko is clearly the main character of the story, and Midori is never shown to be in any of the same awkward situations, she still comes across as vital to the quartet.

Sound! Euphonium has a lot of strengths, and chief among them with respect to what was written above was the balance between the development of its narrative and the environment created by its character interactions. Unlike K-On! (a series to which it is often naturally compared), which had being in a band as a theme but was more dedicated to showing slice-of-life comedy hijinks, the goal of reaching Nationals centers and grounds the story in a momentum of forward progression. Having its characters at widely varying skill levels helps to give that challenge of coming together a greater importance, while the sense of equality that exists between them in spite of those gaps creates an almost palpable sense of intimacy.

 

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10 Robots that Deserve to Be Soul of Chogokin Figures (Part 2)

Here’s Part 2 of my list of cool super robots that I think should get that Chogokin Damashii treatment. Check it out, tell me which robos you’d love to see!

By the way, here’s Part 1.

Return to Genshiken: Volume 2 – Loose Threads

It’s time for the second installment of “Return to Genshiken,” where I re-read my favorite manga title with the benefit of hindsight. For those unfamiliar with Genshiken, it’s a series about a college otaku club and their daily lives. Originally concluding in 2006 before restarting in 2010 and finishing once again in 2016. A lot has changed about the world of the otaku, so I figured it’d be worth seeing how the series looks with a decade’s worth of hindsight.

Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume. I’ll be using the English release of Genshiken as well, for my own convenience. Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the old and the recent manga, so be warned.

Volume 2 Summary

This volume introduces a variety of new side characters: Kuchiki the bizarre prospective club member, Kitagawa the strict student committee vice president, and Sasahara’s “gal” sister, Keiko. During this time, Genshiken gains a new member just as it loses one: Saki finally joins (reluctantly), while the club president retires and names Madarame his successor. As for Madarame, he sprains his wrist at Comic Festival for the first time, leading to a true test of his otakudom.

Those Who Left…

It’s interesting to see which supporting characters vanish from the face of the manga after Volume 2.

The first club president plays a big role here as the driving force behind Saki joining. After this point, however, he never appears again. It really feels like something was supposed to come about from him and his legacy, especially given his mysterious senior thesis—a project implied to have something to do with Genshiken itself. There also isn’t another character even remotely like him from this point forward, and his Kuroko Tetsuya-like lack of presence provided a certain humor absent from hereon in. I’m just still surprised that he doesn’t even show up in the two finales this manga has, neither the end of the first series nor the end of Nidaime.

This volume also introduces (and promptly gets rid of) Sawazaki. If you don’t remember him, you’re probably not alone; I even have to constantly look up his name. He’s the other guy who tries to join the club with Kuchiki before Kohsaka inadvertently saps his will to live by kicking his ass in fighting games as Saki shows her affections for her man (as a way to make Sawazaki and Kuchiki feel worse). One has to wonder why Kio decided to bring back Kuchiki eventually but write off Sawazaki, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that Kuchiki is just a stranger person and a more hardcore otaku. Genshiken isn’t exactly a club for the casual fan. While Sasahara is “normal” in a certain sense, it was more like he was in a larval stage and has now metamorphosed into a dork butterfly. In other words, he had it in him all along, and all it took was exposure to actual doujinshi to turn him. In contrast, Sawazaki feels like he just has less potential.

…And Those Who Stayed

In contrast to the first president and Sawazaki, a number of characters end up sticking around for much longer.

Haraguchi is an edge case, as he more or less disappears after this volume but ends up coming back later to give Sasahara advice on making their first doujinshi. When he does show up here, it reinforces what I thought of Haraguchi relative to Kuchiki from the previous volume’s re-read: Kuchiki is a creep, but Haraguchi is a creeper.

Speaking of Kuchiki, we won’t see him again for a while, but he’ll become fairly prominent in Volume 6 and on, as well as ever-present after Volume 10 and the start of Nidaime. At this point, he doesn’t come across as exceedingly bizarre. Either this is because his personality wasn’t well-defined at the time he was created, or because he froze up in a tense moment as he has so many other times moving forward.

Kitagawa, I’ll always remember as being the favorite character of an online friend who passed away a few years back (rest in peace, Cortana). That somber note aside, she kind of reminds me of Ogiue, and it’s kind of a shame that the two never interacted. When she later appears at the first graduation chapter, it’s notable to me that, by not showing her for a while and then bringing her back with a subtle personality difference, it really feels like she grew and changed as a human being. This might just be one of Kio’s greatest strengths as a creator.

And then there’s the biggest one of all: Keiko. In Volume 2, we first see her as the rude younger sister who actually just refers to her brother as “monkey.” While it’s clear that she’s the same character with the same base personality traits in Volume 2 compared to Volume 21, reading her introduction again made me realize just how much she changes over the course of the manga, from an immature high schooler to a mature (enough) adult.

By the time shes in Nidaime, Keiko is a perceptive woman who, while maybe not having the best head on her shoulders, is still capable of being pragmatic and clever. When we first meet her here, however, she’s asking for money from Sasahara because her boyfriend basically abandoned her. Rather than the one in control of her relationships, she’s the one being manipulated. Instead of using her femininity to attract entice, she uses it essentially to pander (we’ll be seeing more of this in the next volume!). It makes me wonder if the reason Keiko distrusts Hato so much in Nidaime is because she sees a bit of her old self in him.

All About Saki

There are a lot of indicators as to Saki’s relationship with the rest of Genshiken at this point. When she discusses Kohsaka having sex with her doggy-style so that he can presumably watch anime at the same time, the other members decide to use that mental image as masturbation fodder. Here, when they all still only kind of know her, she’s still just as much a “hot girl” as she is an antagonistic force and an erstwhile club member. It’s like they still don’t yet consider her a friend, which only makes sense given how much she tries to mess with Genshiken.

When it comes to the actual story of how she joins Genshiken, I wonder how okay it really is from a contemporary perspective. Essentially, the first president blackmails her into joining because he (somehow) knows that she’s been using the club room as a “private space” for her and Kohsaka. While Saki’s suspicion of hidden cameras is never corroborated, it leaves the question of whether or not this development would fly in today’s more socially conscious environment. I don’t think this damages the friendship that forms, but it does put an odd perspective on her character relative to the club.

In general, the biggest impression I get from Saki in Volume 2 is how she’s still so inexperienced when it comes to handling otaku. While she’s still characteristically sharp (her ability to spot plastic surgery might just relate to her being able to recognize Hato as a man), she hasn’t yet mastered the mind of the otaku and how to work both with it and around it. Like Keiko, there’s plenty of development awaiting her in the future.

Translation Errors

As noted above, I’ve been using the English volumes because my Japanese ones have been hard to access and because it’s just quicker for me. I’m wondering if this is a mistake, because when reading this one I noticed some issues with the translation when comparing it to my memory. For example, when Ohno is explaining that Tanaka sewed so much support in her Kuradoberi Jam outfit that she didn’t need to wear a bra, the English version has the girls call him “creepy.” If I recall correctly, however, they’re actually saying that he’s terrifying(ly skilled). Keep in mind that the translation is like 90% fine, but there are just some moments that indicate a lack of close familiarity with not just otaku culture but also the otaku mindset. Granted, this was translated many years ago at this point, and there were just fewer resources back then.

Mebaetame and the Pre-Evolution of Kio Shimoku’s Ar

Volume 2 is the premiere of Mebaetame, the Genshiken circle doujinshi, which is also the debut of Kujibiki Unbalance art. The reported art evolution comparisons as the fictional manga goes on as explored by Kohsaka are interesting, if only for the fact that it’s 2003-ish Kio Shimoku trying to draw extreme stylistic changes. It’s similar to what he’d eventually go through as an artist. You can also see elements of his move between cutesier and more realistic styles.

Final Random Thoughts

Ohno’s cosplay gets me thinking. Back when this volume first came out, Guilty Gear was a big thing. Now, over a decade later, Guilty Gear is again at the forefront of video game fandom. It just makes me wonder if we went from collectively knowing Kuradoberi Jam, to forgetting who she is, to remembering her once more.

Also, in the image of Saki above, Kio uses a small amount of screentone to hint at cleavage. I’m not pointing this out to be a pervert, but to call back to a later statement of his that he had to essentially earn the ability to do nudity. This might be considered the start of it all.

Ah, time.

 

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Tiger Mask W and the Significance of Global Wrestling Monopoly

In Tiger Mask W, a young wrestler dons the mask of the legendary Tiger Mask in order to fight against the villainous wrestlers of the Tiger’s Den. Most frequently, this involves taking on a wrestling company that exists as the outward-facing image of the Tiger’s Den, a thinly veiled World Wrestling Entertainment parody called “Global Wrestling Monopoly,” or GWM for short. The GWM is actually a brand-new creation for Tiger Mask W, something I personally found curious given how much having the most evil force in wrestling also be the largest and most popular. Why didn’t something like the GWM exist in the original Tiger Mask?

Upon reading the original Tiger Mask manga, I realized something: it would have been impossible to reference anything like the WWE. Tiger Mask first began in 1969 and ended in 1971, a time when there was no such thing as an international wrestling organization on the scale of what would become World Wrestling Entertainment.

In 1969, the promotion that would eventually become the World Wrestling Federation and later World Wrestling Entertainment was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. At the head was Vincent James McMahon, father of current owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who ran the WWWF as just one of many territorial wrestling promotions in the US; in the WWWF’s case, it covered the Northeast, especially the New York area. During this time, Bruno Sammartino, one of the greatest WWE champions of all time (if not the greatest), was in the middle of his historic nine-year reign as WWWF champion.

Tiger Mask vs. “Classy” Freddie Blassie

Tiger Mask came from a time long before what many people today think of as wrestling. This was the era before Wrestlemania took the WWF national with Hulkamania, before Ric Flair’s battles with Ricky Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes. Naturally, it’s long before the eras of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and John Cena. In addition to the Tiger’s Den wrestlers, Tiger Mask encounters real-world wrestlers of the time like all-time Japanese greats Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba. He wrestles against big names such as “Classy” Freddie Blassie (who would go on to train Triple H) and Angelo Poffo (father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage).

This is why the strategy used by the Tiger’s Den makes more sense for the period Tiger Mask came from. Unlike in Tiger Mask W, where they’re presented as employees of Global Wrestling Monopoly, the villainous secret organization would train heel wrestlers and send them around the world to various countries and territories in order to traumatize local wrestlers and take their money. Of course, in the world of Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W, wrestling is 100% legitimate, so there’s no such thing as pre-planned matches or notions like kayfabe.

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10 Robots that Deserve to Be Soul of Chogokin Figures (Part 1)

I love giant robots, and I love seeing them turned into Soul of Chogokin figures. Here’s the first five of 10 that I think should get that Chogokin Tamashii treatment!

I Have a Choco: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2017

February might be Valentine’s Day Month, but how much I’ll actually discuss romance on the blog remains a mystery even to me!

Whatever the situation, I know that if I were in Japan, I’d be giving giri choco to my Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Given that this will be the tenth year of Ogiue Maniax, I decided last November to do a Genshiken series 1 re-read. I’ve started with Volume 1, and you should expect to see them come out every other month. (I would have said bi-monthly but that phrase can also mean “twice a month,” so…) I’ve already felt like I’m stepping back into a different world, so I’m looking forward to the next article too.

Speaking of Genshiken, I also wrote a little post comparing Kasukabe Saki to Love Live‘s Nishikino Maki. The latter’s cooldere attitude reminded me of Madarame’s fantasy version of the former.

Perhaps the most important post I’ve written this month is on the subject of butts in anime. In it, I detail increasing presence of large rears in Japanese animation, and put forth my own hypothesis on why this has occurred. The seeds of this post have been germinating in my head for a very long time, even before Ogiue Maniax ever began. If you want to see more content like this, let me know. I just hope it doesn’t take me another 10 years to write one!\

I was also sad to see the end of Soredemo Machi ga Mawatteiru aka And Yet the Town Moves. It’s a very unique series in a lot of ways, and I look forward to seeing what the artist does next.

On the video game side, I’ve written a couple of posts thinking about what how players view competitive games, and what they can potentially do to both bring in a bigger audience and keep them from running away in fear.

As for this month’s Patreon-sponsored post, I looked at the subject of babies in anime and manga. My rating of babies is based on how much they make their parents suffer, I guess. If you have a subject you really, really want me to write about, it’s just a one-time $30 pledge.

If you’re wondering why I have it at that price, it’s just because I don’t necessarily want the blog to consist primarily of requests as opposed to my own ideas. That being said, I am considering maybe offering a poll with three or four topics that can be voted on with Patreon pledges. Is this an idea readers would be on board for?

Overall, I think this was a pretty solid month. I don’t have a wholly solid idea of what’s going to come next, but it might be a bit less review-heavy compared to this one.

 

 

 

 

What People Want Out of Competitive Games (Part 2): Power and Powerlessness

“It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master!”

One of the unicorns pursued by designers of competitive games is to create something that is enjoyable (and competitive) at all skill levels. However, there’s a tricky balance to maintain, because if you skew it too much towards the most advanced players, then only those willing to place countless hours towards honing their skills can enjoy the game. On the other hand, if you cater too much to the beginner, then the overall competitive depth of the game may suffer as better players find that there is less for them to do as they improve. What’s more, some players want to feel like they always have a fighting chance, while other players want to feel the sheer power of a superior opponent bearing down on them, something that tells them how deep the rabbit hole goes. Leaning towards any of these options isn’t inherently wrong, but I think trying to appeal to as many different types of players as possible is an admirable goal in itself.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about what it means to enjoy a competitive game. In Part 1, I wrote about how, while the classic image of the competitive gamer is the “Spike”—someone who prioritizes using the most effective and efficient strategies to win—the current esports/competitive gaming field is comprised much more of “Timmy-Spikes”—people who love to win, but prefer to win with style and flash. What I’m about to say might sound obvious, but I think there are two unifying factors for players of all skill levels and of different philosophies when it comes to enjoyment of video games that involve facing off against opponents both human and AI.

  1. Players love to feel powerful
  2. Players hate to feel powerless

It’s pretty simple, but I think that there’s a lot that can be extrapolated from these two statements.

Whenever I read comments and forum posts about competitive games, there are certain recurring complaints. “This game doesn’t let me play the way I want to. “In this situation, there’s pretty much nothing I can do.” “It’s not fair that this game lets people worse than me win.” Now, some of these complaints might just be rationalization of one’s flaws or simply the act of making excuses, but I find it worthwhile to think about these statements in terms of notions of power/powerlessness.

Let’s look at some examples.

  1. Take the classic idea that “throwing is cheap” from the early days of arcade fighting games. Why was it considered a dishonorable tactic? It’s because, for many players, the act of blocking makes them feel powerful (or at the very least safe). The ability to just block high/low and stop/weaken the opponent’s offense is a simple and easy way to make a player feel better. Throws destroy that false sense of security, creating a sense of powerlessness. It’s up to the player being thrown to learn how to deal with it, and of course many have over the years, but that feeling of vulnerability (and the fear of vulnerability) is why so many throwers got punched over the years in arcades.
  2. One of the complaints about Heroes of the Storm from other MOBA players is that the leveling system, wherein all players on a team gain levels at the same rate instead of having it determined on a per-player basis, means that individuals cannot become the stars of their team. Similarly, while Street Fighter V has its supporters, one criticism from detractors is that the combo system SFV isn’t complex/difficult enough to allow for players to distinguish themselves. In other words, they feel that the game is shackling them, stripping them of power at moments when they wish to feel most powerful.
  3. In Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void and previous versions, the Protoss race is usually the cause of much ire (or should I say “Aiur” dohoho), and they’ve been described as a “coin-flippy” race. The idea is that there is no skill involved, that it’s merely a 50-50 guessing game for a lot of their strategies. For enemies of Protoss, this is the reason they’re strong and annoying. For users of Protoss, this is why they’re weak and frustrating. When you break it down, hinging your success or all-or-nothing strategies is the epitome of the “power/powerlessness” dynamic.

Power can take on many forms. Training is power. Knowledge is power. Good teamwork is power. Outwitting the opponent is power. Overpowering the opponent is, well, a show of strength. Even in pay-to-win games that don’t reward skill but rather how deep your pockets are, the very idea that you can just outdo your opponent because you have more money can be a power trip. Different players experience feeling powerful through different means, and it’s why they likely gravitate towards their chosen games.

For instance, I believe that part of the reason Super Smash Bros. Melee and Starcraft: Brood War have such a loyal scene that considers most other games inferior is because it has many ways to make players feel powerful. They both require constant practice to keep one’s skills at a serviceable level. Both games are clearly stratified in terms of skill level, as knowledge to and access of specific non-obvious techniques creates a divide between those who know and those who don’t. Perhaps most telling of all, in both games, even simple movement, e.g. controlling your army to compensate for Brood War‘s poor pathing or utilizing dash dancing and wavedashing in Melee for basic neutral interactions, involves “advanced actions.” At the same time, these are also the reasons why many prefer to play other games.

As much as a robust player base is needed for a strong competitive scene, one of the challenges of trying to make a  competitive environment more accessible is that, ironically, players who are trying to be “competitive” might not realize what it entails. Street Fighter V took the route of simplifying controls and execution barriers so that players could theoretically reach the point where they’re matching wits more directly. The problem is that many players don’t necessarily want that close, intimate experience of trying to out-think the other, making this “simpler” game even more daunting. Nothing’s worse than feeling, in the words of Fatal Fury villain Geese Howard, “predictable.”

Instead of having multiple paths to feeling powerful, such as training technical skill, to dampen the pain of losing on the mental level (or vice versa), new players are left feeling powerless.

I’m not a game designer, so I can’t profess to know the exact mechanics of “fun,” but I believe that one possible key to making competitive games fun for all is that players should be able to have moments where they feel powerful no matter their skill level or experience. Moments of feeling powerless cannot be avoided 100%, but if there are enough instances that can make a player feel like they did something, that might just be enough to soften the negative impact of defeat.

“I lost, but did you see that awesome shot I made?”

“I lost, but my team and I almost brought it back.”

“My opponent really got me in the end, but I could tell they were scared for a second.”

This might very well be why so-called “comeback mechanics” exist in games, like desperation moves in Fatal Fury 2, X-Factor in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or Ultra Combos in Street Fighter IV. They give something to the losing player when the chips are down, a glimmer of hope to keep them in the game. The tricky element of this, however, is that this can end up actually making winning players feel powerless. The common complaint of comeback mechanics is that they “punish the better player,” and while that’s debatable in terms of the actual effect on the game, that doesn’t prevent people from feeling that way. It might not sound important, and it might sound terribly subjective, but feeling that something is cool, fun, and indeed powerful is subjective already.