Aikatsu Stars Season 2 and Notions of Perfection

The second season of Aikatsu Stars! begins from an interesting place. After the end of the first season, heroine Nijino Yume becomes a member of S4, the top idol group at her school. In Pokemon terms, this would be equivalent to having Ash start a series as a member of the Elite Four. She’s not just improved, she’s established as one of the best. Given this setup, I find it interesting how Aikatsu Stars! season 2 brings up the difference between “great” and “perfect.”

Confronting heroine Nijino Yume is a new rival idol academy called Venus Ark, which travels around the world on a cruise ship looking to poach idols from other schools. At the head of Venus Ark is Elza Forte, who, much like deceased pro wrestler Curt Hennig is known by one word: Perfect. There’s even a tangible symbol of perfection in the form of wings that appear only when a perfect performance is given, and at the start of the series “Perfect Elza” is the only one who has them.

But what does it mean to be perfect? Does it mean to never lose? Does it mean performing in such a way that it would be the equivalent of a perfect score in the Aikatsu Stars! arcade game? As the primary rival of the season, Elza is there as a goal to aspire towards and overcome, much like Shiratori Hime in season 1. Whether Yume will beat Elza or not is up in the air, but my hope is that Yume challenges the concept of “perfection” as presented by Elza. Perhaps Yume could show that the best possible performance is not necessarily a perfect one, but the one that connects to the audience best even if mistakes are made.

I understand that Aikatsu Stars! is based on a card-based arcade game that has a more concrete idea of what it means to play a “perfect game,” as well as cards that just have better synergy. However, the first Aikatsu! series (back when Ichigo was the main character) went above and beyond those restraints, and season 1 of Aikatsu Stars! really emphasized a balanced mix of product placement and story. I don’t need for the development I’ve described above to happen, and it’s not even the only way for the series to be strong, but I’d like to have a series where the kids watching don’t feel the need to strive for “perfection,” only their best.

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Kiryuin Satsuki and the Curse of Power Girl

I view the DC superhero Power Girl as being almost doomed by her appearance. If you ask anyone with even a passing familiarity with Power Girl about what defines her character, you’re very likely to get the response “boob window.” This is despite numerous attempts to revamp her character, emphasize her personality, and make her more than just eye candy first, superhero second.

This is not to say that Power Girl is an inherently bad or sexist character, whether she’s supposed to be an adult Supergirl (her original origin) or something else entirely. I don’t even think the boob window necessarily has to go. But what fascinates me about Power Girl’s situation is that, for whatever reason, it seems especially difficult for her to escape being seen almost as a character attached to a pair of breasts.

In contrast, when it comes to characters who have overcome a highly sexualized appearance, one need look no further than Kiryuin Satsuki from the anime Kill la Kill. In spite of the fact that her battle uniform looks like a sling bikini on steroids, her personality overwhelms even the sheer and unbridled sexuality of her clothing. Despite her breasts and buttocks often being in full display in numerous scenes what first comes to mind are her other attributes: scowl (with enormously imposing eyebrows), her ambition, and the fact that she literally radiates an aura of light that symbolizes her power.

I find myself wondering, what is the difference between Satsuki and Power Girl, or indeed Power Girl and other female superheroes who have been successfully redefined as more than just their eroticism (note that I did not say more than just their looks—appearance is just an essential part of superheroes, male and female)?

There are two major context points that separate Satsuki and Power Girl. First, unlike Power Girl, Satsuki is introduced in Kill la Kill in her full-body school uniform rather than in her skimpier attire. Second, whereas Satsuki’s existence is defined solely by one television series, Power Girl has been a part of comics for decades. While the circumstances of 2010s Japan and 1970s United States are substantially different, I suspect that Power Girl would be remembered very differently if she arrived on the scene the way Satsuki does in Kill la Kill: as someone grandiose and powerful. Perhaps it would even be possible for her to keep the boob window and still be thought of primarily for her superheroics and feats of strength.

Or perhaps my view of Satsuki is too charitable. Maybe the imprint she’s left on anime and its fandom, especially those who know Kill la Kill only from images, is just her near-naked body in a battle bikini.

Power Girl appears to be a victim of historical inertia. No matter what is done with her character to turn her away from a primary emphasis on her breasts, focus always returns to her iconic cleavage cut. Whether it’s possible to overturn this might require not just an amazing creative team where artist and writer are working towards this goal, but a comics fandom willing to accept this change.

 

[APT507] The Canon of Kanan: Love Live! Sunshine!! Character Controversy

I wrote a followup to my previous Apartment 507 post on Love Live! Sunshine!! character Matsuura Kanan. It goes into the character’s differences across various formats, and my own disconnect from other aspects of Love Live! fandom.

Half-Truths as Roadblocks in Language Improvement

On occasion, I’ve noticed fans of Japanese pop culture to take statements at face value when they shouldn’t. This is not to single out anime fans over any other groups, but in threads online discussing the ambiguous gender of Monogatari character Oshino Ougi, it’s often pointed out that Ougi has said, “I’ve always been a boy,” even though Ougi is portrayed as highly deceptive and loves to twist words. While there might be a number of reasons that mistakes like this happen, from simple misreadings to not understanding characters to even possibly mental conditions such as autism, what I think is a significant factor is also how experiencing something in another language can make it difficult to assess lies.

When learning a language, or taking in information in a way that requires extra attention, I’m considering the idea that the more advanced you are, the more you are able to correctly understand nuances in context and presentation. Take for instance the idea that sarcasm in English is something conveyed through voice. However, if one does not understand the cues by which sarcasm is supposed to be voiced, or it’s a statement that’s written rather than spoken, the desire to convey sarcasm can get lost. Thus, it’s not surprising that Oshino Ougi’s manipulative language and behavior might not come through either, especially because people were already discussing the character prior to Ougi’s appearance in the anime, and had only either Japanese light novels or unreliable fan translations of said novels to work from.

Perhaps it can be said that learning a language requires a level of truth to be established. When learning basic vocabulary and rules of a language from square one, it probably wouldn’t help to pack your statements full of lies. While simplification can be important (you don’t want to inundate someone with all the exceptions first), setting in stone a stable foundation comes hand in hand with making sure that what someone learns is how to express things. Only once at least a rudimentary base is established should playing around with the language happen, and eventually from there the possibility of creating statements that essentially mean the opposite of what they are, which can only be gleaned from context and prior knowledge. At least, that’s one idea. I do not profess to being an expert at this topic.

 

 

The Glory of NEETS, and the Creation of an Archetype

How did being a NEET become an endearing quality in fictional characters?

NEET is a term first created in the UK and imported to Japan. Standing for “Not in Employment, Education, or Training,” it’s another way of saying you’re unemployed and probably mooching off of your parents, and most likely somewhere in your 20s to 30s (or beyond). The United States has a similar stereotype in the basement dweller, but whatever the phrasing, it would normally be rather unusual to have such characters be figures of admiration, desire, and more. And yet, this is exactly what we’ve seen out of Japanese media. The geek girls of Princess Jellyfish admit to not having jobs and relying on their folks, but readers connect with them rather than shunning them. Futaba Anzu, one of the characters in THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, is not technically a NEET (she has the job of being an idol), but embodies the spirit, being a lazy lay-about whose shirt features the classic slogan of the NEET: “If I work, I lose.”

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People don’t necessarily cheer for the forthright and responsible (some would say boring) characters in fiction, but there’s something in particular about embracing the NEET that seems strange on the surface to me, as it’s not exactly an admirable quality in normal contexts. At the same time, there’s a rebellious element, and many have argued that Japan’s economy, rather than the NEETS themselves, are to blame. But the rebellion feels a bit…pathetic, even if possibly admirable.That’s not so much in the sense that NEETS are losers, but it calls to mind the image of an inept geek try their hardest to go camping, only to get lost and fall in a hole. In the end, they’re safe because they can just go back to their home, but within their specific circumstances they’ve tried, even if they end up looking like fools in the process. There’s a tinge of failure, or perhaps fear of failure, and maybe that’s why people connect to them.

One possibility is that a lot of people are or have experienced being NEETS, and it’s probably no coincidence that a character like Anzu would be popular from a mobile game revolving around management of idols. After all, idols are a kind of illusion that fans willingly fall into, and I wouldn’t be surprised if being a NEET inspires the desire to break away from the real world, justified or not. However, one thing that is made clear from Princess Jellyfish and Futaba Anzu is that, at least when it comes to fictional portrayals of NEETS, what defines them first and foremost is passion for something, but most especially passion for the impractical.

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Anyone who’s watched anime or read manga for a long time has noticed a kind of reverence for the teenage years, and one factor behind that is the idea that it’s the time in your life when you can truly devote yourself to a task regardless of its practicality. As mentioned by Bamboo on The Anime Now Podcast’s review of Love Live! The School Idol Movie, the difference between an “idol” and a “school idol” in the world of Love Live is that even if you can’t succeed as the former, you can become a beloved school idol through hard work and passion for your beliefs. It’s a safe space away from the realities of a harsh industry. NEET characters, whether they’re older (Princess Jellyfish) or not (Futaba Anzu), appear as if they want to extend this mindset into their later years, fighting against a society that tells them to grow up.

Given the ways in which middle school and high school are framed within Japanese media, it’s maybe no wonder that this happened. It’s supposed to be the prime of your life, the time when your soul burns brightest, and then you’re supposed to quietly file it away or adjust it to how the real world works. Even if it’s arguably socially irresponsible to do that, I think it’s understandable, and maybe this is where NEET characters really draw their power from. They’re characters who hold onto their dreams, but tinged with the colors of reality that contextualize them in ways that don’t turn their impractical aspirations into a pure fantasy.

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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.