Ghosts in Them Shells

I’m 20 years late, but I finally finished Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which I first started watching all the way back in 2002 (!). Its detective-story approach to the GitS franchise allows it to deliver its cyberpunk world in a fairly straightforward manner that doesn’t necessarily require an inherent love of science fiction. At the same time, it still explores the central concepts of GitS (like the question of identity in a world where fully artificial bodies are ubiquitous) effectively. 

But watching SAC has me thinking about just how different each iteration of Ghost in the Shell is. It makes me feel that almost everyone will naturally and firmly gravitate towards a particular flavor of GitS, even though they’re thematically of the same realm. The original manga by Shirow Masamune revels in the slick aesthetic of its futuristic technology (and dials up the horny to 11). The films by Oshii Mamoru famously dwell on the philosophical implications of its world, with the second film, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, being even more heavily geared in that direction to the point that one can argue that there’s a breaking point at that sequel. I haven’t watched Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045, but I have noticed disappointment, and I wonder if it’s because SAC 2045 is yet another noticeably different interpretation.

Though I say that people are likely to pick one version as their absolute favorite, I actually have trouble deciding for myself. I think this has to do with each GitS delivering a substantially different experience, and I find a type of fulfillment in each. Maybe I’m one of those folks who just loves science fiction as a whole.

The Elegant Design of Suntory’s Virtual Youtuber

There’s a 50/50 chance that saying “the Japanese beverage company Suntory has their own official Virtual Youtuber” would come as a surprise. But the blue-haired “Suntory Nomu” is real (in a sense), and I actually like her design quite a bit. What really stands out about Nomu’s appearance, relative to other VTubers, is how simple and subdued it is. A white dress with blue highlights stands in sharp contrast to the vast majority of Hololive and Nijisanji, who seem to be created with a maximalist philosophy. This latter approach brings to mind broader discussions about character design in media.

(Side note: I’m not sure I need to mention this, but in case it matters, I am not endorsing Suntory products in any way. I generally like their drinks well enough, but that’s about it.)

When looking at Nomu relative to the Hololive members she’s streamed with, the difference is clear. While both have attractive designs, Takane Lui and Aki Rosenthal have all these details, adornments, and colors, resulting in rather complex/complicated appearances. There are practical reasons to make them this way, of course: They need to be immediately distinct and visually appealing to prospective viewers. Rigging/modeling them for animation is a one-time thing, as opposed to needing to be draw them anew every time in the vein of anime or manga. And the expectation is that people will stare at them for extended periods. VTubers need to communicate a good portion of who they are immediately, as viewers can’t be expected to dive into an extensive backstory—and often VTuber backstories are helpful suggestions, at best. 

The decision to go maximalist reminds me of fan discussion surrounding fighting game characters. Fighting games, especially ones not based on an existing property, share a number of similarities with VTubing. There’s no prior context for people to get attached to (as they might in an animation or comic), so having them catch the eye right away while also communicating how they play is important. There’s still quite a bit of range—Compare Ryu or Chun-li from Street Fighter to Sol Badguy or Dizzy from Guilty Gear (especially pre-STRIVE)—but criticizing a fighting game character for being “boring” is typically more about looks and presentation of attacks. That’s actually a big difference with Virtual Youtubers: It does ultimately come down to personality.

But it makes me wonder if significantly simplified designs like Suntory Nomu couldn’t thrive despite the general trends against them. Maybe it’s because so many designs take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach that Nomu’s aesthetics stand out more. Could there be a trend back down to relatively more minimalist designs in VTubing, fighting games, and other similar areas? It’s something I’d like to see, if only because I’m curious how it would all play out among the fans themselves.

Thinking about Authenticity vs. Deception on TikTok 

I like my social media to be text-focused. I’m not camera shy, but I don’t like that to be my primary form of exposure to the world. TikTok isn’t for me, and fair disclaimer: I still have no experience with it. However, when I reflect on my preferences, I remember one significant difference between the internet experienced by Zoomers vs. previous generations: the sheer deluge of disinformation that proliferates in more recent times. In this respect, the desire for a social media platform that emphasizes personal-feeling videos might allow for a slightly better (but inevitably imperfect) defense against bad actors.

One of the challenges of appealing to younger people on TikTok is that they value authenticity. It’s a nebulous term to be sure, but sleek traditional marketing campaigns can fall short for people who feel distrust when things look a little too polished. This is not to say that TikTok is free from scam artists and propagandists—far from it—but when I began to think more about the nature of text-based online communication, I recall the sheer number of fake accounts that are created to spread false information.

A white supremacist can grab a stock photo of a black person and then engage in digital blackface to share harmful political and social messages. Bots use artificially generated profile pictures to create entirely fake personalities to amplify some poisonous ideology, and if people aren’t looking carefully, one can be fooled into thinking they’re authentic. In contrast, it takes a lot more work to pretend to be black on a video platform than it is on one where all you need is a stolen or fabricated headshot. Deepfakes are an issue, but they’re not at the point where they’re nigh-impossible to spot—at least not yet.

Of course, TikTok is not immune to disinformation. It just disseminates differently, and adjusts itself to an online culture that is not only more video-based but also focused on being “short and sweet”—little nuggets of “wisdom” and “knowledge” that are anything but. I have my concerns about the way TikTok’s algorithm might be even better at sucking people down rabbit holes. That said, I think the difference in this moment in time might be that the imposter who’s claiming to be someone they’re not has to at least put in more effort to pull the charade off.

Best Anime Characters of 2022

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Bojji (Ranking of Kings)

In a massively oversaturated field of boy adventurers and princes with great destinies, it’s easy for a hero to get lost in the shuffle. But that suits that perpetually underestimated Bojji just fine. Deaf and undersized (especially for the son of giants), the hero of Ranking of Kings is one of the finest examples of a protagonist to ever grace the world of anime because of how his combination of cleverness, grit, and a loving heart work as one. What’s most impressive is that while he has a disability, it’s not used as inspiration porn for the able-bodied. Bojji develops himself in specific ways due to the particular challenges he faces, and he is neither wholly defined by them nor portrayed as if they don’t matter. He’s a character who will stand the rest of time.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Power (Chainsaw Man)

There are very few characters that have made as immediate an impact on me in their first appearance, and even fewer who can make me laugh the way Power can. From her slightly archaic manner of speech, to the way she clearly doesn’t think through most things, to her penchant for violence and undeserved self-aggrandizement, Power is a lot to handle. But it’s in the strange yet continuously growing bond between her and Denji that she reveals what can sort of charitably be called a softer side—though it’s more like she’s the type not to care about anything beyond herself until she recognizes it as affecting her emotionally. I love her antics, and I hereby nominate Power for a Nobel Prize in Being Rad.

BEST UNCLE

Uncle (Uncle from Another World)

Here is a character who speaks to me on a deep and powerful level. His love of Sega is second to none, the combination of reclusive awkwardness, gamer brain, and a caring heart (that doesn’t always come across in the best way) makes him an amazing combination of gag character and hero. I’m extremely biased for a variety of reasons, and Uncle was a hair’s breadth away from also being the best male character of the year, but I felt it was more fitting to dedicate a category just to him for 2022.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It was a seriously tough decision picking my two favorite characters of the year. I had to think a lot about the balance between the characters that are closest to my heart vs. those who impressed me the most, and any slight reordering of priorities would have titled the scales in other characters’ favors. In fact, I think 2022 was an unusually strong year for characters in anime, and in some cases, I even held back because I expect them to do amazing things in 2023 as their shows continue. But an entire year is a long time, and I feel like there might be some upsets on the horizon.

Daiblogger XV: Ogiue Maniax 15th Anniversary

I still remember writing this blog’s tenth anniversary post, and how it felt like such a milestone. Now we’re actually half a decade past that?! It makes me realize that Ogiue Maniax is theoretically supposed to be leaving its chuunibyou phase, but will that ever actually happen? I mean, it’s still a primarily text-based anime blog in the year 2022.

While I don’t want to focus on the short-term too much for a celebration of 15 years, I have to acknowledge that this comes at a time when Twitter is on fire due to the unfathomable competence of one jackass of a billionaire. The reason this resonates with me is that I actually spent the last anniversary post waxing nostalgic on the Something Awful Forums after the death of its founder! And here we are again with another major platform exploding. To go from Lowtax dying to the unfunniest man on Twitter setting $44 billion on fire feels like every year from this point will end up with some piece of the older internet being met with tragedy. What’s next, 4chan’s servers getting eaten by raccoons?

15 years also just makes me feel my age. There are anime fans establishing their tastes and their influences who are as old as Ogiue Maniax (though I get the feeling none of them are reading this blog). I’ve proven the site to possess the magical recipe of longevity known as stubbornness, as even the Patreon is less about making a profit and more about providing a way for the blog to pay for itself. If there’s a way to make big cash-money off it, I don’t have the energy or time to figure that out anymore.

I do worry that as my responsibilities grow elsewhere, I might not be able to keep writing as freely as I do. At the very least, though, there’s a good chance I can outlast the bird app. In the meantime, I’m still loving anime and manga, and I hope my passion for it never fades.

Daiblogger, it is youth.

Daiblogger, it is love.

Something, something, spinning cool weapons.

New York Comic Con 2022 and the Long-Lost Hand of New York Anime Festival

The story of New York Comic Con has long been a move increasingly towards mainstream nerd culture. But what happens when that culture changes into one where comics have ascended?

For years now, I’ve associated this convention with prestige TV shows and superhero movies above all else. Comics are still paid lip service and the Artist Alley still brings some of the biggest names you can imagine, but my attendance and attention have waned over time. Even this year, I only went one day when in the past it would have been three or four. But when I was there, I couldn’t help but notice the remnants of New York Anime Festival, once upon a time absorbed into its bigger and more popular brother we call NYCC, emerging with new life.

It would be inaccurate to treat NYCC like an anime con, but the industry presence in the Exhibition Hall was very noticeable. Big booths for Gundam, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and various anime and manga companies littered the space. And when it came to cosplay, the amount of Demon Slayer, Jujutsu Kaisen, etc. was hard to ignore. There were plenty of other things (including some very excited folks in Cobra Kai uniforms eager to meet John Kreese’s actor, Martin Kove), yet it felt like Cool Japan stepped one foot out of a casket.

I have to wonder if this stems from the big boost anime and manga have gotten during the pandemic. Ever since COVID-19 forced major changes on how people live, one consequence was that people’s entertainment habits changed. Among these shifts were a massive increase in book sales, and among them graphic novels blew up. But among the boom of graphic novels, manga had ascended even further. Anime and manga are almost undeniably mainstream now (at least when it comes to certain major titles), and perhaps it’s only natural for the mainstream-chasing New York Comic Con to follow suit to some degree.

Evangelion + Beavis & Butt-Head = Chainsaw Man

A sketch of a character that is a combination of Shinji from Evangelion, Denji from Chainsaw Man, and Butt-Head from Beavis & Butthead

I was originally going to write about how Chainsaw Man reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s the way Chainsaw Man feels like you’re peering into a creator’s psyche, how it both leans into and plays with various tropes, and importance given to feelings of loneliness. The manga (and soon to be anime) stands out from its peers and defies so much of what we consider “proper storytelling,” and I genuinely think it’s going to become an influence on creators on the level of Evangelion

But the two works are also fundamentally different in a lot of ways, and any actual influence from one to the other is indirect at best. The missing piece of the puzzle is that as much as Chainsaw Man has shades of Evangelion, it’s also reminiscent of Beavis & Butt-Head

Denji (aka Chainsaw Man) isn’t suffering the same type of loneliness that Shinji from Evangelion feels. One could argue that Shinji is a whiny teen too caught up in his own head, but the kind of heavy introspection he (and the other characters) engage in isn’t something Denji does for the most part. Instead, like Beavis and Butt-Head, he rarely thinks things through properly, and is also obsessed with losing his virginity. And similar to Beavis & Butt-Head’s environment, Denji lives in a world that seems off-kilter, as if even that which is considered “normal” is more facade than foundation. Also, Denji is not terribly smart most of the time, but he also has brief glimmers of insight—a kind of Butt-Head-esque quality. 

I sometimes describe Denji as being cut from the same cloth as Monkey D. Luffy, but I realize now that this analogy is limited because while they share some things in common, Denji doesn’t have that sense of justice and camaraderie. I realize now that a better comparison is to say that Denji is Shinji combined with Butt-Head. He’s kind of shallow, yet his emotions nevertheless feel real and honest, and ultimately he’s not a bad guy. I think it’s part of what gives Chainsaw Man a strange profundity. 

And if Denji is Shinji + Butt-Head, that would mean the character of Power can be viewed as Asuka + Beavis. Asuka is aggressive and trying to constantly prove herself, while Beavis is like a bizarre embodiment of Freudian id who also comes across as naively innocent at times. It totally works, is something I’m currently telling myself.

Could you imagine what it would actually look like if you tried to cross over Evangelion and Beavis & Butt-Head? It would be a spectacle of the absurd, gross yet fascinating—Chainsaw Man to a tee. In a series where characters grapple with emotional problems that run the gamut of silly and vapid to deep and soul-rending, everything feel bizarre and unstable, and when you add a layer of hyperviolence on top of everything else, you get a series that’s incredibly hard to match.

Dear Media Companies, Stop Trying to Flood My Brain

I am tired of media and entertainment companies trying to monopolize my attention.

Fourteen years ago, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe had begun bringing to the silver screen the crossovers that defined superhero comics, I was on board. I love a good superhero team-up, and the MCU films came without decades of baggage. When the first Avengers movie hit theaters, it felt like just the right amount of reward for time spent.

Fast forward to now, and I just cannot keep up, nor do I want to. The problem isn’t just that Marvel is putting out so many more movies and TV shows. I really don’t mind sprawling mega franchises that fans devote their hours to. Nor is it that I’ve just gotten older. Rather, what I’m bothered by is that Marvel seems to be trying to push out all other competition from people’s brains until they’re all that’s left.

Compare this with something like Pokémon. You could easily spend every waking hour (and potentially even your sleeping ones) to these Pocket Monsters. But Pokémon doesn’t act like every game, manga, and anime is interwoven, nor does it imply that missing even one of them means failing to have the whole story. In fact, almost every game starts from the assumption that it’s introducing new players to the world of Pokémon, and they don’t draw specific attention to prequels. Marvel, however, wants you to watch show after show, film after film.

Another example of mind-monopolizing media is just gacha games in general. Between the stamina bars that either encourage players to spend money or keep a close eye on when they refill, the constant limited-time bonuses, the never-ending new stories, and the gambling-esque character rolls themselves, I constantly find myself wishing I could enjoy these games. That’s not to say that I avoid them entirely, but I have to actively minimize their presence in my life. The worst of them take from the old Farmville school of essentially holding your game hostage.

I’m not inherently against Marvel, mobile games, or similar, but I can’t stand how they discourage exploration by trying to monopolize attention. I love to explore different stories, different forms of art, and different creators. I’m not going to be nerd-guilted out of that passion.

The Language Barrier of Tsukino Mito

Tsukino Mito is one of the first Virtual Youtubers under the popular Nijisanji umbrella, and one of its most successful. At over 900,000 subscribers, her position is enviable. Yet, for as big a deal as she is, I had found it odd that Mito has not already cracked the million-subscriber mark, despite the fact that four other Nijsanji members have managed to achieve that milestone. I believe her to be one of the absolute funniest VTubers out there, but I’ve come to realize that Mito’s strength, that amazing sense of humor and delivery, is kind of a double-edged sword when it comes to her growth.

Reaching the million-subscriber mark as a VTuber generally means having some kind of reach beyond Japan. Perhaps they’re already fluent in another language, like English or how Kobo Kanaeru got so big in Indonesia, her songs are being played in live settings like in the video above. Maybe they sing and dance on a regular basis. Or they could be really expressive, and the emotions they display while streaming reach across language barriers.

Mito, however, doesn’t really have any of those traits. That’s not to say she isn’t talented or hardworking, and 800,000+ subscribers is nothing to sneeze at, but the essence of her humor makes it harder for non-Japanese speakers to latch onto her. Her whole gimmick is that she’s supposed to be a class president who sounds very prim and proper, until you realize that what she’s actually been discussing can be incredibly dire. 

In other words, if you just listen to how she says something, Mito sounds perfectly normal, or at least soothing in a Bob Ross sort of way. In contrast, someone like Hyakumantenbara Salome plays the obnoxious ojousama role to a tee, while distinct voices like Oozora Subaru and Sakura Miko are entertaining just from how their voices sound. The example of this difference that really caught my attention was from Haachama’s video about her trip to Enoshima—many of the comments are people saying that they can’t understand a thing Haachama says, but they still love her energy. 

Mito has even mentioned being told that it’s hard for overseas fans to get into her (only 3% of her viewers are from abroad), and it’s because she does the long zatsudan chit-chat streams. She’s a very fast talker, and combined with her gentle-yet-deceptive delivery, it can be difficult for non-Japanese-fluent viewers to latch onto anything she says. She inadvertently winds up relying on the clippers to grab snippets of her streams and make them digestible, but even that involves a greater amount of work compared to clipping other VTubers.

Watching her original introduction video, Tsukino Mito said her initial goal was to get 1,000 subscribers. While she’s far surpassed that marker of success, the fact that she’s still not broken that million-subscriber mark shows the point at which the language barrier starts to become a real obstacle for the majority of non-fluent viewers. Nevertheless, I hope she can hit that milestone someday.

Hololive TEMPUS, Nijisanji ILUNA, and Attractive Male Designs

Cover Corporation and Nijisanji, the two heavyweight companies of the Virtual Youtuber world, both recently launched a new generation of English VTubers. TEMPUS and ILUNA respectively are new steps forward for their respective organizations, with HoloTempus being the first English-language Holostars (the “dudes” counterpart to the all-girl Hololive) and ILUNA being the first mixed-gender debut group for Nijisanji English. The initial announcements were made close to each other, inevitably leading to comparisons. Among the topics of debate were who has the better character designs, with people taking sides and criticizing the other for being uglier.

Normally, I really don’t care about this sort of petty, contentious arguing. And in terms of determining who’s “better” or “worse,” I still don’t give a damn. However, what interests me is that I find TEMPUS and ILUNA to have taken different approaches to portraying attractive men. The distinction can be roughly categorized as “hardcore bishounen” (TEMPUS) vs. “mainstream bishounen” (ILUNA).

It’s not a perfect analogy, especially because each individual VTuber has a unique artist behind them. But when you look at each group’s aesthetics, as well as the actual visual styles, the comparison only grows stronger. The TEMPUS designers include Kurahana Chinatsu (Uta no Prince-sama) and Komiya Kuniharu, and the VTubers have such sharp chins and body proportions that one expects more to find in BL or even CLAMP manga—the kind of look parodied by Gakuen Handsome. In contrast, ILUNA’s designers feature among them Arisaka Aco (Bestia) and Amaichi Esora, and their VTubers have a softer appearance that reminds me of something like Genshin Impact. Given that, it’s almost no wonder that fans have found this to be a topic of contention.

But Ultimately, while visuals do play a role in Virtual Youtuber popularity, personality is also vitally important. Picking favorites comes down to how each individual balances what they care about, though I think it would be best to not bash someone for liking one over the other, as long as the core reason isn’t some bizarre tribalism. As for me, I haven’t watched enough of them overall to pick a top guy, though finding out Vesper Noir has a thing for Carmen Sandiego makes me like him.