Their Problem is Our Problem: The Promised Neverland, “Coronavirus,” and the Systems that Force Inequality

WARNING: THE PROMISED NEVERLAND MANGA SPOILERS

In Chapter 172 of The Promised Neverland, there’s a collage that’s rather conspicuous, given the actual pandemic hitting the world at this moment. As the heroine Emma is confronting an enemy leader about how differences in positions are the root of conflict, one of the images has a wall with the word “coronavirus” graffitied on it. 

Up to this point, it’s been established that the main characters live in an alternate dimension from the regular human world, but there haven’t been direct calls to the reality in which we, the readers, live. I think this “coronavirus” page is a direct message from the creators of The Promised Neverland, Shirai Kaiu and Demizu Ponsuka, and what that message says is: “The ideas conveyed in this manga are not meant to be taken as mere vague abstractions about generally making the world a better place, but as very real criticisms of society.”

When The Promised Neverland first began, it was an interesting manga about a cat-and-mouse game and a battle of wits in a dystopian setting. Originally, the focus was on escaping an orphanage designed to turn children into food. Then, it was about surviving against the demons on the outside. Over time, however, the series has revealed a greater world where the real evil of the series is not scary human-eating monsters but how the corrosive desire to hold onto power at the expense of the greater good. 

In order to survive, some children strive to become mothers—essentially overseers of the human farms, but also chattel themselves due to being the literal suppliers of the chain through giving birth. Mothers are told that the best among them can become a “grandmother,” supervising all the mothers, making them compete desperately too. It’s even revealed that the demons themselves have an oppressive class hierarchy. Eating human meat is what has allowed them to gain a high level of intelligence, but a steady diet is necessary because otherwise they’ll revert back to beasts. The rulers of their world get access to the best meat, and can thus maintain their already massive advantage. Moreover, there turns out to have been a way to permanently prevent the demons from losing their intellect, but the ruling class purposely and violently obscured that information to keep the masses dependent on those in charge. In other words, everything about society in The Promised Neverland is premised around pitting the lower classes against one another to distract from the intentional systemic issues imposed by those in power.

How does that apply to our own world? “The top 1% hold 99% of the wealth” is about how massive inequality concentrates all the power in a select few who inevitably enrich themselves at the expense of others. In regards to keeping the lower classes at one another’s throats, US president Lyndon B. Johnson famously said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Writer and lecturer Douglas Rushkoff even wrote an article in 2018 about how some of the ultra-rich are preparing for the apocalypse by figuring out how to save themselves while still wondering if it would be necessary to lock down their guards’ food supplies to force loyalty.  And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing how the very same types are retreating further into their massive safety nets, leaving those with less to struggle. It’s crystal clear to me that there’s a similar sentiment at work fueling the overt criticism of the disparity in power and resources in The Promised Neverland

The fact that Weekly Shounen Jump comes out with brand new chapters of manga on a regular and consistent basis can be a blessing and a curse, but one advantage of the accelerated pace of a weekly manga magazine is how quickly it can potentially seize upon the relevant events of the day. What that “coronavirus” graffiti communicates is simple: the crises your heroes are facing in The Promised Neverland are not that far from the problems that plague the very reality in which you live. Emma, as the heart of this series, staunchly opposes false dichotomies that lead to zero-sum situations where one group can only “win” by sacrificing another. Perhaps The Promised Neverland wants us all to be allies in this struggle, and to be aware of the real problems that gave way to our current global crisis: racism, social inequality, intentionally massive disparities in wealth and resources, and an economic environment where those in power are encouraged to let the whole world burn if it means keeping their positions.

Love Live! April Fool’s “CYaZALEA☆Kiss”: References and In-Jokes

This year’s April Fool’s brought out one of the best things ever from Love Live!: the “announcement” of a new 80s-style action anime called CYaZALEA☆Kiss

But the Love Live! fandom and the 80s anime fandom generally don’t overlap, so I’m here to explain some of the jokes/references on both sides.

The name itself: “CYaZALEA☆Kiss”

The characters featured in this video are collectively known as Aqours (pronounced “aqua”), and are the heroines of the Love Live! Sunshine!! iteration of the franchise. These nine girls, in turn, are composed of three idol sub-units with their own distinct styles called CYaRon!, AZALEA, and Guilty Kiss. In the “plot” to this video, the three sub-units must join forces, but rather than calling them “Aqours,” their separate group names have just been mashed together.

It’s sort of like if you called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Leodonphalangelo.”

The narration is a spoof on Fist of the North Star

The introduction of a post-apocalyptic backdrop set in the year 20XX is a reference to the opening narration of Fist of the North Star, a violent 80s shounen series about a world-saving martial arts hero who can make bad guys explode with his fists. In the anime, the narrator explains how in the year 199X, the Earth was ravaged by nuclear war, setting the stage for the series. 

On top of that callback, the over-the-top voiceover featured in CYaZALEA☆Kiss is none other than Chiba Shigeru, the actual narrator from Fist of the North Star! Famously, he’s known for getting more and more ridiculous and impassioned over the course of that series, and he brings that very style to this April Fool’s gag:

The general feel of the opening is an homage to Saint Seiya

From the team aspect, to the outfits the girls wear, to even the swooping logo (featuring 80s cel-animation shakiness), the whole CYaZALEA☆Kiss endeavor is largely based around the 80s shounen manga and anime Saint Seiya. Following a group of heroes who gain special armor and cosmic powers based on the constellations, Saint Seiya is famous for pioneering the “armored pretty boys” genre, and was responsible for bringing many female readers to Shounen Jump.

The general art style is also very reminiscent of the aesthetics of Saint Seiya author, Kurumada Masami.

Sentai colors run amok

At the beginning of the opening video, all the girls in CYaZALEA☆Kiss announce their designated colors, similar to what’s often seen in Super Sentai and other tokusatsu works. But whereas those shows typically have six, maybe seven members at most, there are nine in this case. Not only does this cause a jumbled mess of talking-over, but the actual colors named can get very specific.

Chika: Mikan 

Riko: Sakura pink

Kanan: Emerald green

Dia: Red

You: Light blue

Yoshiko: White

Hanamaru: Yellow

Mari: Violet red

Ruby: Pink

These are the actual signature colors of their respective characters in Love Live! Sunshine!! too. If you buy a glow wand (or “light blade,” as they’re officially called), it’ll come with all nine of these colors.

Though perhaps not intentional, it also harkens back to the sentai parody anime Shinesman, which featured a team of red, gray, sepia, salmon pink, and moss green.

The character designer and artist for CYaZALEA☆Kiss is a famous 80s manga artist

While the overall look of this parody is based on Saint Seiya, the actual artist himself is not Kurumada but rather Shimamoto Kazuhiko, creator of Blazing Transfer Student and Aoi Honoo, aka Blue Blazes

Blazing Transfer Student is a ridiculous school fighting manga. Blue Blazes is an exaggerated semi-autobiographical work about Shimamoto’s time in art college, when his classmates included modern anime/manga luminaries such as Anno Hideaki of Evangelion fame. The former received a 1991 OVA by Gainax (the original Evangelion studio), while the latter was adapted into a TV drama in Japan in 2014.

What did you think of CYaZALEA☆Kiss? Did you appreciate it as an 80s anime/manga fan, as a Love Live! fan, or perhaps as both?

Voices of a Social Distant Star: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for April 2020

Well, what a month it’s been. Back in March, the threat of COVID-19 was real, but I did not expect things to escalate so quickly. The number of sick and dead ever increases. We’re seeing the Tokyo Olympics get postponed to 2021 and Comic Market 98 get canceled. New York City and the United States have become epicenters of the virus. I’m among the many currently sheltering in place and doing my social distance thing, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where my life isn’t thrown into total disarray as a result.

Part of that has to do with the ongoing support of my Patreon supporters, especially the following.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Not only is it a bit of extra cash, but having this blog and the responsibility of making sure the Patreon is worthwhile helps me maintain a schedule and keeps my mind active. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there’s always something to talk about on an anime blog, even if we’re seemingly entering a new period in the story of humankind.

That being said, if anyone can’t afford to keep up their Patreon subscription for Ogiue Maniax, don’t feel bad about putting it on pause for however long it’s necessary.

What remains to be seen is how many COVID-19-related puns can I make for these monthly updated posts.

Blog highlights from March:

Friends with Consequences: Spotted Flower, Volume 4

It’s been a few years since the last volume of Spotted Flower, and it ramps up the insanity of this Genshiken what-if like nobody’s business.

Brief Thoughts on Anime, Manga, and COVID-19

It’s the talk of the town…! I’m curious as to how the current pandemic might shape the storytelling and themes we find in anime and manga going forward.

Space Cases: Star Twinkle Precure

The recently finished Precure series is not just yabai, it’s kirayabaa~.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 26 has me legitimately wondering if Jin might be on the spectrum.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu as Absurd Idol Anime Turning Point?

Idol anime can get quite zany these days. Is Aikatsu! the reason?

Apartment 507

I wrote a review of the Nintendo Switch version of Touhou Gensou Mahjong.

Closing

Stay safe, and remember that we’re all in this together.

Oh, and uh, look behind you.

April Fool’s ha ha ha…

Brief Thoughts on Anime, Manga, and COVID-19

It’s rare that anything can have such a visibly profound global impact, but that’s what we’re seeing with COVID-19. I find it funny that I tried last year to predict what the 2020s would hold in store, and it hasn’t even been six months before everything has gone sideways. For many people around the world, it has disrupted various aspects of life, and even the anime and manga industries have already felt its effects. Notably, A Certain Scientific Railgun T was delayed for a little while specifically because of the novel coronavirus, and its situation portends to a general trend going forward.

But COVID-19 likely won’t just change the production logistics of anime and manga—there’s also storytelling, themes, visual expression, and just about all the things we might take for granted or perceive as the norm. While we’re probably see works that either try to explore disease and pandemics (either directly or metaphorically), even more escapist entertainment is going to have the specter of the coronavirus hanging over. What does a harem manga even feel like in an era of social distancing? What about seeing characters just give one another hugs? To what extent well even the fantasies of fiction feel odd? In recent days, I’ll look at old videos from a month ago—including but not limited to anime and manga—and their tacit assumptions about the world already feel…dated.

Another big factor is how globally common the problem of COVID-19 has become. Something like 9/11 affected the US differently compared to other countries (though the US’s actions continue to have widespread effects). 3.11 hit Japan in life-changing ways, but that’s not as much the case in other areas. COVID-19 feels different in that its basic consequences are similar the world over. The disease spreads very easily, and it doesn’t discriminate. Old people are most at risk but no one is necessarily “safe.” Restaurants, theaters, and other social gathering sites cannot function as normal. Staying home as much as you can in order to help out is the name of the game. This universality means any media or entertainment made in response to COVID-19 will be understood virtually anywhere. 

Incidentally, Season 2 of the Cells at Work anime was just announced for January 2021. How ironic it would be if that series got delayed due to these circumstances…

The way COVID-19 has changed and will continue to affect everyday life is difficult to fully grasp, and I hope humankind can come out of this safe and sound and ready to tackle whatever problems still face us. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how our art and entertainment reflect this new world.

Recent Thoughts on Love Live's Nijigasaki High School Idol Club

In the past, the third Love Live! multimedia project, “Nijigasaki High School Idol Club” (previously known as “Perfect DREAM Project”), had somewhat eluded me in terms of its appeal. Certainly, when it comes to Love Live! In general, I’m usually something of a late adopter—it’s usually the anime adaptations that bring me in, as opposed to the games, magazines, or even the songs. I’m also not so big a fan that I’ll follow every crumb of information, or try to pick favorites before I’ve had a chance to learn about the characters.

Two things have changed since then: the Love Live! School Idol Festival All Stars mobile game (hereafter LLSIFAS) came out, and I attended a delayed viewing of the “Love Live! Fest” concert featuring the girls from all three generations. Together, they’ve given me a better insight into how this third Love Live! Is supposed to work, and its concept of “more individualized school idols” has me curious.

As soon as the nine Nijigasaki girls came out on stage at “Love Live! Fest,” it was clear that the thinking behind them diverged from what went into their predecessors. Rather than appearing as a nine-member unit with matching outfits, each of the singers/voice actors dressed like their characters, who themselves all have very different concert wardrobes. So instead of, say, having all of μ’s in white for “Snow Halation,” it was a hodgepodge ranging from a Swedish dress to a fancy nightgown to a kind of Vocaloid-esque ensemble. Their styles were incongruous, and intentionally so. As explained by one of the members, the theme of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is to emphasize each girl’s uniqueness above all else. It’s quite a departure from previous Love Live! projects, which were all about nine girls working as one. 

Each of the Nijigasaki girls also has their own solo number (in addition to a couple of group songs), which is something that the members of μ’s and Aqours didn’t get until later. I think it actually helps convey what each of their personalities is like, as opposed to trying to figure out which girl is which when they’re all singing at the same time. Asaka Karin is supposed to have a more mature sex appeal, and it comes across in spades when she’s the only vocalist. Speaking of Karin, learning about her character was an experience. First, she came out and called herself the “sexy” one. Then, she called her fans “slaves.” Last, it showed her signature symbol: a high heel (hmm). It dawned on me that Karin (as well as the other eight girls) are likely all going for very different audiences from one another.

LLSIFAS somewhat departs from its mobile game predecessor by having more of an ongoing narrative in the story mode. In Chapter 1, you learn that the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is in a sorry state and on the verge of being shut down. Your goal is to bring back the old members and recruit some new ones, and you basically learn about each of the characters along the way. I think this has been effective in helping me get a better sense of what each of them is all about, with the heavy amount of interaction and the clearer direction doing a good job of showing how the characters are when there’s an obstacle to overcome. Still, I wonder why the forces that control Love Live! as a whole decided to move in this direction for their third endeavor.

I’m not ready to fully embrace Nijigasaki because I find that a bit of resistance is for the best when approaching idol franchises, even the continuation of one I’m already a fan of. The original Love Live! won me over even as I was very skeptical of it, and it took some time for me to enjoy Love Live! Sunshine!!, but it happened eventually. I don’t need to pick a favorite Nijigasaki girl, I don’t need to enjoy every song, and I don’t need to go all-in from the start. That said, I’m looking forward to how the more focused format of an anime will tell their story, and how this idea of individuality will play out. And with a fourth Love Live! project on the way, the Nijigasaki idols will become “senpai” themselves.

Aikatsu as Absurd Idol Anime Turning Point?

Every so often, I think about a specific kind of comic absurdity I see in many idol anime. It’s one thing for characters to be having pillow fights, but it’s another for the heroines to be digging miles-long tunnels, shooting lasers, and scaling treacherous cliff sides with the greatest of ease. Of the franchises that fall under this umbrella, I’ve started to wonder if Aikatsu! is actually a significant contributing factor, bridging the silliness of actual idol media appearances with the impossibility of cartoons. I’m much more of an anime fan than I am an idol fan, so my knowledge and experience in regards to the latter is limited, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I often see clips of idols on variety shows, as well as in their own video specials and the like. There’s a certain lightheartedness portrayed in these instances that creates the opportunity of laughs and gasps. It’s the kind of humor you see more in Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, which initially tried to be a little more “down to Earth” with their characters and presentation, though are willing to stretch the boundaries of believability. The difference between those examples and what we see out of Aikatsu, Purichan, and Show by Rock! (not exactly idols per se, but a similar vibe) is that these three franchises venture into a very different reality where even everyday interactions are colored by the strangeness of their worlds.

Take for example the go-to mantra of Aikatsu!: “Ai-katsu!” Characters chant it while exercising, practicing, and engaging in pretty much any situation. Sure, it’s just short for “idol activity (aidoru katsudou),” but the way the phrase is treated as this perfectly routine thing everyone understands sets the stage for series after series where the humor is about challenging expectations of what’s normal. Whether it’s the aforementioned climbing, chopping down trees like Paul Bunyan, or visiting an idol school that’s also literally a gigantic cruise ship, the girls of Aikatsu! do what their flesh and blood counterparts cannot—not always because it’s harder for the latter, but sometimes because the laws of real-world physics do not permit them to do the same thing.

So why do I point at Aikatsu! as a possible origin point? It’s because the closest series to it when Aikatsu! first began was Pretty Rhythm, and that franchise was the predecessor for Purichan. Over the course of that transition from Pretty Rhythm to Purichan, the humor changed to something more akin to Aikatsu’s. A little more distantly relevant is the Precure franchise, but even the magical superpowers on display there aren’t quite the same as the at-times Looney Tunes-esque slapstick and accepted norms of Aikatsu!-esque series.

I’m not a deep fan of any of the series mentioned (with the possible exception of Love Live!), so there’s a lot more to potentially deve into. If there’s anything I’m missing or clearly mistaken about, don’t hesitate to let me know.

PS: Today is an idol shared birthday between Hoshimiya Ichigo from Aikatsu! and Sonoda Umi from Love Live! You know what they say: “Beware the idols of March.”

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Simon’s Rival?: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2020

At the end of last year, I hoped that 2020 would turn out better. I’m starting to doubt whether that’ll happen. But before I get too somber, I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

The big news of the day is COVID-19, the new and highly contagious coronavirus. Even within the specific realm of Japanese culture (let alone the rest of the world), it’s causing schools to be closed, anime and music events to be canceled, and even the Tokyo Olympics might not be safe. Asia is in a panic, cases of the infection are cropping up all over the world, and here in the US, an utterly incompetent executive branch is more concerned with the stock market than people’s well-being.

I don’t intend to panic nor cause others to panic, but I hope that everyone, no matter who they are, take care of themselves. Don’t try to power through sick days. Get the help you need. Get a flu shot to reduce the chances of your flu-like symptoms actually being the flu.

Now, back to your regular scheduled Ogiue Maniax update.

Blog highlights from February:

Mewtwo vs. Mewtwo: Notable Voices in “The Wonderland”

Two of the voice actors who have played Mewtwo show up in the same movie! Also, The Wonderland is great, and you should check it out.

Talkin’ About Shaft: Oogami-san, Dada More Desu

The end of a cute and racy manga about a girl with an incredibly dirty imagination.

The Source of Life: “Ride Your Wave” Film Review

Yuasa Masaaki’s new film is great, and its message powerful.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 25 reveals more about Jin’s family, and the fears and doubts he has about himself.

Patreon-Sponsored

Play the Anime in Your Living Room: Discovering Anime Board Games and Card Games

A request to write about anime-themed games turned into a discovery of some quite creative traditional games.

Apartment 507

I wrote a little bit about Jimbocho, the book town of Tokyo.

Closing

Economic impact is inevitable, but I’m curious as to whether COVID-19 will have any creative impact in terms of the anime and manga that will be made. How appropriate it is that the current season of Precure, Healin’ Good Precure, has a medicine and environmental theme.

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.

Byleth and the “Fire Emblem” Tactical Spirit in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”

The new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character announcement did not exactly hit with a great bang. Byleth, the player avatar from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is arguably even the most predictable choice possible. However, in spite of hype-addicted fans not getting their fix and my own neutral feelings towards Byleth, I find their gameplay reveal to be an interesting look into the developers’ latest attempt at capturing Fire Emblem‘s tactical gameplay in Smash.

Fire Emblem is a turn-based, fantasy-themed strategy RPG series where you control different characters with unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s a game that discourages charging in headfirst and instead emphasizes positional advantages and careful advancements. Because the games are not as action-packed as Smash, it has required a greater degree of interpretation to translate the Fire Emblem representatives. Marth (and by extension Lucina) has the highest walking speed in the series, allowing him to swiftly move in and out of enemy range. Robin is one of the slowest characters in the game, but has a mix of long-range magic and close-range sword attacks to try and trap the opponent in a bad spot. As mentioned by Sakurai in the Byleth gameplay video above, most of the Fire Emblem characters in Smash have Counter attacks in order to replicate the retaliations that happen in the original game’s combat sequences.

Byleth comes equipped with a multitude of different weapons, each of which are tied to a particular general direction. Upward attacks are done with a chain-like sword, side attacks utilize a spear with long reach, downward attacks are performed with a slow but powerful axe, and neutral attacks use a bow and arrows for fighting from far away. This plays into the multitude of weapons in Fire Emblem: Three Houses and their properties, such as accuracy, effective range, etc.

In turn, what I think Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is trying to capture by linking specific weapons to specific directions is the spirit of the positional and preparatory thinking that goes into playing Fire Emblem. Byleth is likely encouraged to fight at different distances depending on what the opponent’s priorities are. This applies to some extent with every Smash character, but with Byleth especially, it looks like there is no cure-all attack that can be used by default to cover multiple situations, such as Link’s neutral air or Mr. Game & Watch’s Fire trampoline.

Sakurai points out some of the examples of the weapons’ limitations. The spear has tremendous reach but is weak up close and has problems with vertical movement. The axe is cumbersome, but has many ways to foil evasive measures and low attacks. The bow has a point at which it must fire, forcing The long-range weapon into being a commitment if you want some serious power. He doesn’t say much about what the sword can’t do, but I imagine it will primarily function as an anti-air.

There are plenty of characters who have multiple weapons that are meant to attack at different angles, but in many of those cases, those moves are usually exclusively special moves. Because the directional theme is tied to Bayleth’s normals and specials, it highlights a different kind of tactical thinking. If you want your sword attacks to be effective, you have to be at a distance where the lance is a poor choice, for example. And you can’t make up for it like Mario could with a quick jab vs. a slower fireball because all of Bayleth’s forward-reaching attacks are lance-based. In other words, Bayleth’s vertical spacing is substantially different from their horizontal spacing, and the player has to adjust accordingly.

The more I delve into how Bayleth is designed, the more impressed I am with the thought and concept behind the character. The game could’ve given them a weapon-switching mechanic, for example, but associating a weapon with a direction means that understanding the right spacing for Bayleth also means understanding the right stage positioning as well. It hints at the same feeling as putting the right unit in the right spot in Fire Emblem and allowing the enemy to fall on your blade.

 

Best Anime Characters of 2019

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Wataya Arata (Chihayafuru Season 3)

I’ve always liked Arata since the original Chihayafuru, but it’s in Season 3 that he’s really won me over. As the grandson of a former karuta master, Arata has lofty expectations that both positively motivate and burden him. He’s a super-rare talent who combines hard work, natural game sense, and unmatched memorization skills. In a way, this makes him almost too good a character, but it’s this recent season in particular that really builds on his story and shows the challenges that face even someone like him. Before, his setbacks had more to do with trauma and guilt, but here, we can see that even this genius still has struggles in his chosen passion. One of the key points is Arata trying to figure out where his responsibility ends and his dream begins, and that conflict is wonderful. Everyone has their own mountain to climb.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Emma (The Promised Neverland)

In detailing what makes Emma an amazing character, I once wrote that “In a world seemingly made up of constant dichotomies, she strives to find a third, fourth, or even fifth path.” What I mean is, as the heroine in a dark world where pain and trauma are commonplace, Emma stands as a shining example of the strength of compassion. Where others, even her closest friends, see happiness as a zero-sum game, Emma shows empathy and an unwillingness to accept sacrifice as the only way. Rather than holding her back, these qualities allow her to surpass her own limitations and encourage others to do the same. Emma is idealistic but not blinded by it, toeing a line that is supremely difficult.

MOST HONORABLE MENTION

Yang Wen-Li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These)

Given that much of my impression of Yang’s character comes from the previous anime adaptation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I didn’t want to include him in the running. However, I wanted to make sure that Yang gets his much-deserved due as one of the greatest anime characters ever, and a figure almost unparalleled in being both a fascinating individual and a role model par excellence. As the series itself describes Yang, he is the master strategist who hates war—an oxymoron of sorts, but an essential description of a man who sees war as a blight but understands the need to operate within the system to ensure the best outcome. He’s also a staunch defender of the principles of democracy, and will defend it even to the detriment of himself. In a time when democracy around the world is under attack, he is a uniquely aspirational figure.

Final Thoughts

I think this year has been full of characters who are able to rattle the chains of history and who understand the need to think beyond themselves, but also don’t forget themselves in the process—and that includes ones not mentioned here. Whether it’s karuta, fighting a dystopian society built on greed and capitalism, or striving to find a balance between lofty ideals and the reality of a corrupt government, these characters are an inspiration.

Normally, this would be how I end the year, but there’s a bit of a twist this time: a final post deciding the best characters of the decade! Keep an eye out.

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