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.

Know Your Role and Open Your Mouth? Beastars Season 2

WARNING: SPOILERS

There’s no denying that Beastars is a very horny series. It centers around a carnivore and herbivore falling for each other despite the kaleidoscope of social and physical taboos, and it’s not afraid to get freaky in all the more predictable ways as well. With respect to this premise, one of the more compelling aspects from Season 1 of the anime is the notion that to fully follow or defy one’s own instincts is faulty, and that a balance is necessary. I did not expect Beastars Season 2 to push that idea to extremes.

At the end of Season 1, Legoshi the wolf has recently rescued Hal the rabbit from the Shishigumi, a lion mafia that was planning to eat her. They aimed to consummate their love, but their instinctual relationship as predator and prey make that impossible. Now back and school as classmates, they’ve gotten closer, but there’s still a palpable awkwardness. On top of that, a killer is still on the loose at school, and Louis the deer (who was the academy’s brightest star) has disappeared. But while Legoshi devotes himself to protecting herbivores and transforms himself so that he can fight like them, Louis re-emerges as the new leader of the Shishigumi. The carnivore has taken the role of the herbivore and vice versa.

Legoshi and Louis are opposites through and through, and nowhere is this clearer than in how they view what it means to be strong. To Louis, carnivores like Legoshi are the epitome of power. They’re aggressive attackers by nature who overwhelm their targets, and there’s just no substituting that with hard work and wishful thinking. To Legoshi, however, Louis’s ability to inspire others and stand tall in spite of his inherent limitations as an herbivore is the very definition of strength.

At the climax of the season, however, the two end up taking their traditional roles, albeit with a twist. In order to defeat a common foe, Louis literally offers his leg to Legoshi to devour as a way to power him up. Louis tries to shift the burden entirely onto himself by saying he’ll declare Legoshi innocent, but Legoshi counters that he won’t let Louis take on all the responsibility of this decision. They both arrive at their “natural” relationship, but instinct is only a part of it. In the face of an enemy who threatens the peace, they find a compromise of sorts. It’s their valuing of the other’s archetype-defying strengths—Legoshi’s kindness and Louis’s boldness—that allows them to arrive at this controversial decision. They do the wrong thing in service of a greater good.

An added layer is that the lower leg Legoshi eats also was the last physical proof of Louis’s darkest secret: He was originally meant to be meat to be illegally sold on the black market. Ironically, by becoming what he desperately sought to avoid, but by doing it on his own terms, he is fully able to break away from that same past. Louis’s actions simultaneously reinforce and challenge the carnivore/herbivore dichotomy.

The way that Beastars and its characters defy the expectations placed on them is what makes the series such an unusual and fascinating work. They refuse to fit neatly into any categories or stereotypes, and any attempt to box them in is met with such vigor that it practically jumps out of the screen. Reason and instinct once again both factor prominently, but their relationship and distinctions are further blurred, just like with carnivores and herbivores.

Remembering Watanabe Chuumei

Composer Watanabe Chuumei (real name Watanabe Michiaki) died on June 23, 2022 at the age of 96. At first, the name didn’t ring a bell for me, but I initially saw the news thanks to a tweet from Obari Masami of all people, and it began to click. 

Watanabe was actually responsible for the music in Mazinger Z, helping to set the template for all future giant robot anime. The original singer, Mizuki Ichiro, reminisced and posted photos together. Watanabe also did the music for Dangaioh (an Obari series), including the unforgettable opening, “Cross Fight,” which features a duet of Mizuki and Horie Mitsuko. Another series with songs by that titanic combo is Godannar (one of my favorite anime), of course also composed by Watanabe. The Godannar soundtrack includes callbacks to Space Sheriff Gavan, whose opening is by Kushida Akira (who also sang for Godannar). Watanabe has a prolific career in tokusatsu, and among his songs are one of my all-time karaoke go-to’s: the Toei Spider-Man.

The above chain of thoughts is a little convoluted, but that’s how my brain was processing the info as I realized just what an impact Watanabe’s music has had on me both directly and indirectly. He was the man who made the songs for some of my favorite shows, but also for the shows that inspired my favorite shows. His style is exactly the energy that makes me feel good when I sing myself (however poorly). And his work manages to sound both classic and timeless. It could be dropped into any era, and while it wouldn’t necessarily sound like it all fits perfectly, the emotional impact would shine through.

In Fandom, Is Age Just a Number?

As I scroll down Twitter these days, I’ll occasionally happen upon what seems to be an insightful article or piece. I know it’s probably worth reading, and that I’d get something out of it, but something prevents me from clicking and actually looking. I’m not exactly sure why that’s the case, but the fact that the people who wrote these pieces (or decided to link to them) often feel like they have something to prove about themselves exhausts me. At the same time, I’m well aware that a younger me from 10 years ago would likely have thought differently, and would be more eager to engage.

I think this is what it feels like to mature/grow older. Not enough for an actual IRL mid-life crisis, mind you—more like the fandom version. I think it’s clear from my posting history on this blog that I still engage with my passions pretty regularly, but something else that probably comes across is that I sort of exist in my own world. Sure, I read and view what catches my attention, I think about where the industries and fandoms are going, and I keep writing as an exercise in contemplation. And I talk to other fans every so often. However, what I don’t really do is actively engage with the fandom at large or try to explore the absolute depths of a given topic. More and more, I feel in my body that time is finite, and I’m not sure I have what it takes to go full-steam ahead on any fandom, general or specific. Heck, I don’t even listen to podcasts as much as I used to, and that was an easy way to check out the opinions of others.

Doing my own thing isn’t actually all that terrible. Perhaps one of the reasons I interact less is because the discourse is poisoned by how social media currently works. Still, it comes with a drawback of me feeling disconnected from other fans, especially younger ones who grew up from grade school with manga in their local libraries and such. I’m happy we’ve gotten to that point of easy access, but it fundamentally changes the presence of manga in one’s life. Similarly, the fact that The Simpsons has become the mark of a Millennial/Gen Z divide based on whether people engage with the original jokes or the memes that sprung out of them is fascinating, yet revealing of the passage of time.

I also know that to many older individuals, I still probably come across as a young and spritely sort, and that there are plenty of people with decades on me who still have passion and energy. Taking that into account, maybe the sensation I’m experiencing is that I’m aiming to walk a few blocks to get to my destination, and I’m seeing others sprint or run marathons. My journey is worthwhile, but it’s short and more leisurely, and even though it’s not a competition (and I don’t view it as such), I nevertheless can’t help but notice the people who pass me by.* It’s less about comparing accomplishments and more about being on different wavelengths, and I’m getting used to shifting between them.

*For the record, I used to be part of a casual running group, and I was anything but swift, so I also know this feeling from actual experience.

Love Live! and Playing with Canon through Songs

In Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club Season 2, the character Takasaki Yu struggles to write a song for her friends in the club to perform. When she finally finishes it, the song is revealed to be “TOKIMEKI Runners,” a piece that celebrates the individuality of each member. In the context of this anime, it’s a new creation, but in terms of the actual real-world release schedule, it was actually their first. It makes me think about how Love Live! has these funny divergences between versions of the same groups, and the pliability of its story as a result.

Similar situations occur in the first Love Live! anime. For instance, the very first song they perform is “START:DASH!!,” but the actual first single was “Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE.” In the former case, the school idol club was a mere three members at the start. In the latter case, the group already has all nine members. In fact, in the anime, “Bokura no LIVE Kimi to no LIFE” is performed only when the full team has assembled. Rather than it being the introduction to Love Live! that it was conceived as, it serves as a culmination and turning point. 

While there are versions that have come first, like the singles for OG Love Live! and a mobile game for Nijigasaki, they hold no special authority over the fandom. Materials are there to be used in whatever way fits. Old songs become new. New songs become old. Character qualities that are developed over time by the voice actors/singers in one iteration might be presented as long-established in another. In essence, I’m a fan of the fact that there’s not really a specific “canon” other than the broad strokes.

Lots of Brain with a Bit of Heart: Combat in Girls und Panzer das Finale

After years of waiting, I finally got the chance to watch Girls und Panzer das Finale: Part 2 thanks to a sweet sale from Sentai Filmworks. The second in a planned six-part film series to wrap up the “girls in tanks for sport” franchise, Part 2 is definitely not a standalone movie. It introduces no new characters, doesn’t have any real major revelations, and is probably better thought of as an extra-long TV episode. Even so, I don’t mind one bit. What I’ve come to remember just from sitting down with this second movie is that there is something inherently joyful to Girls und Panzer, and I think it comes down to how it handles the portrayal of combat.

Whether by fists or by vehicles, I find that fights in action-oriented anime largely fall under two categories: brain-oriented and heart-oriented. “Brain-oriented” means ones where characters win or lose because of strategic or tactical circumstances. They don’t necessarily have to be “realistic;” there just has to be an internal logic. Stand battles in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which focus on overcoming an enemy’s specific strengths and weaknesses, are a prime example. “Heart-oriented,” on the other hand,” comes down to essentially “they won because they wanted it more.” Most battles in Fist of the North Star are this way, even though the series ostensibly is a clash of different martial arts—ultimately, it’s about Kenshiro’s righteous anger. It’s also not uncommon to see hybrids that aim to achieve satisfaction in both. Gaogaigar is a notable example of a hybrid, especially because it involves taking a heart-based skill (“bravery”) as a power source for brain-based decisions while fighting (“the G-Stone is powered by bravery.”)

Girls und Panzer revels in its battle scenes. But while Girls und Panzer has a good deal of heart to it, that’s really not what side its bread is buttered on. Its tank battles are brain-oriented through and through, and what I find interesting is just how much the series avoids expository dialogue to convey that focus. Whether it’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or Legend of the Galactic Heroes, brain-oriented fare often revels in that verbosity, and while I don’t worship at the altar of “show, don’t tell,” Girls und Panzer does make for a very compelling experience. In das Finale: Part 2, concepts like positioning are conveyed mostly visually without the need for diagrammatic maps. While I most definitely don’t have any sort of practical combat experience (in tanks or otherwise), the film makes you feel like you’re both an outside observer and in the thick of it. 

Of course, brain-oriented battles assume brains, and that it’s not just a bunch of empty tanks on autopilot. In this respect, characters in Girls und Panzer serve an important function. Aside from being cute girls whose personalities satirize cultures around the world (including Japan), their behaviors provide windows into how they think and approach both competition and life in general. For example, the first fight in das Finale: Part 2 comes down to exploiting underlying intrateam rifts by utilizing commonalities in certain tank designs, and it is incredibly silly while also making total sense.

A part of me can’t believe that Girls und Panzer is coming up on its 10-year anniversary. But every time it shows back up, I know that it’s going to deliver. The love and effort poured into the franchise is hard to deny, and the sheer amount of earnest fun is virtually palpable. Its breed of brain-oriented combat is still rare in this day, and as it gradually rolls to the finish line, I hope others take up the mantle.

I Wish Virtual Youtubers Became a Thing Much Sooner

One of the biggest transformations that occurred from the internet of my younger days to that we have now is the integration of the web into our flesh-and-blood lives. Whereas once you could reasonably maintain some kind of distinction between “online” and “IRL,” the latter term isn’t even really used anymore because it’s kind of pointless. Every major platform wants you to integrate because it helps them make money.

I’m under no false assumptions that Virtual Youtubers are some defiant rebellion against the greed that makes companies share information, but what they do represent is a purposeful separation of selves between who you are among close friends and who you are to an audience—while also making it obvious that there is a distinction in the first place. Of course, there are plenty of famous cases of performers being very different in public and private (see Freddie Mercury for one famous example), but the use of stylized moving avatars reduces the chances of the two sides being conflated.

The way VTubers have reintroduced and even kind of re-normalized an element of pseudonymous presentation makes me wish that they arrived sooner. Perhaps the internet would look different if VTubers were more quickly embraced before Facebook, et al could make everyone think that putting photos of yourself everywhere for all to see should be the default.

Very broadly speaking, that’s what online icons and avatars were for. And when it comes to hiding your face but wanting to communicate, things like chat rooms and voice chat have and still fulfill that function. But where VTubing is able to go a step further is in its ability to convey facial expressions that add an additional layer of interpersonal connection while also keeping that active and outright facade in place. How much more comfortable might people be talking “face to face” if the faces are virtual? 

In the video above, Apex Legends player discusses his favorite Virtual Youtubers, but also brings up all the points I’ve made above. Namely, he likes the fact that it gives viewers something to look at while still maintaining some semblance of privacy for the streamer, even if it’s for someone who shows their face normally.

I understand the programs used by VTubers can be expensive and time-intensive, especially if you want something professional-looking like your favorites. Still, I imagine a world where this sort of thing becomes accessible to a great many more people, and they can maybe engage with their online communities more comfortably.

Why Did I Ever Stop Reading Fanfiction?

I don’t really read fanfiction these days, but that hasn’t always been the case. My very first internet community was a video game fanfic site, and I spent quite a few years indulging in the hobby. At some point, though, I simply fell out of it—and I haven’t returned since. When I see people I know who are well into the realm of adulthood like me who still read and write fanfics, and when I see something like Archive of Our Own spring up around two decades after I quit, I can’t help but wonder where the differences lie. Why did I stop whereas others have kept going?

While reflecting on all this, I came to a conclusion: I stopped reading fanfiction because I no longer need it to fulfill the reason I began in the first place. The root desire that led me to fanfics no longer applies to me today.

What Fanfiction Gave to Me

When I first discovered fanfiction, it came at a time when many of the things I enjoyed felt confined in certain narrative ways. Video games like NiGHTS into dreams… had plots and characters, but they were very sparse and minimal—more vehicles to get people playing than elaborately unfolding stories. Many cartoons I grew up with, like King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, never reached proper conclusions. This was also the era of anime OVAs at the video store, and those were often just little samplers not meant to be complete stories. 

What fanfiction gave me was the opportunity to explore these limited settings. It often felt like the canon product only gave us a thin slice of the worlds they were presenting. I wanted to see how other people imagined what was beyond the visible parts of those universes, both external (other physical areas and aspects) and internal (the internal worlds of characters beyond what is shown to us). Of course, fan sequels were a huge part of this, continuing the stories where they might have ended (in my opinion) too soon.

Why I Stopped Reading, Maybe

However, more and more of the stories I experience now feel more complete and more satisfying. The worlds they portray are endlessly complex and intricate, sometimes even overly so. Rather than wanting more and more, I find myself often wanting less and less. And if there is some unresolved element, I’d rather use my energy to move on to another piece of entertainment. My current mindset is, why read fanfic of one manga when I can read two manga instead? Not only that, series like Naruto literally have gotten sequels, and while there’s plenty to potentially disagree with when it comes to the direction Boruto has taken, I don’t feel strongly enough about it to check out fan versions. Heck, I’m not even that interested in reading the multiple endings of We Never Learn, where the author drew out a happy ending for each girl.

This isn’t to say that everyone should do what I do or be where I’m at. Fanfiction is great, and it holds so much energy for joy and discovery. I also look at what seem to be the common directions that fanfics go these days—alternate-universe settings for characters, shipping, etc.—and those aren’t really my jam either. In my younger days, I searched for Gundam Wing fanfiction because I wanted to see people come up with their own mobile suits. What I got instead was decidedly not that. Fair game, but not what I was seeking.

Maybe I’ll Be Back Someday

It would be silly of me to say “never.” What the past couple years has taught me is that the future is indeed unpredictable, and I may find myself in a place where I need the comfort of fanfiction. See you in another decade maybe.

Expectation vs. Reality in My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! X

After finishing Season 2 of My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, I’ve been thinking about how the “villainess as protagonist” that has reached English-speaking fans over the past couple years, but also the specific qualities that make the character of Katarina von Claes especially charming. What I realized is that it’s her contrast between her perception of herself and the reality of who she is to other people. She thinks of herself as a cunning mind, but she’s actually incredibly naive.

The premise of the series is that Katarina is a girl from Japan reincarnated into the body of a “villainous elder daughter” character from her favorite visual novel. Knowing the often unfortunate (if not deadly) fate that awaits her along every route, she tries to rewrite game history and avoid all bad endings for Katarina. In doing so, however, she ends up making all the boys (and even some girls) fall for her as she breaks down social mores of high society through being a Machiavellian spaz. Katarina can both concoct a years-long scheme to future-proof herself, but is utterly clueless to the affections of those around her (until they’re made beyond outright).

I was trying to think of a similar character, and what I came upon is a very different heroine who is actually also an isekai protagonist who reincarnated into a girl’s body: Tanya Degurechaff from The Saga of Tanya the Evil. The subject matter may differ (magical international war vs. magical romance), yet the similarities are prominent. Like Katarina, Tanya’s goal is to survive, but their mistaken ideas about how other people think constantly throws wrenches in the works and leads to more trouble. In both cases, there’s a comedy of errors.

Will we see a Season 3? I think there’s enough material from the light novels and enough love for the series that it’s bound to happen. Katarina’s too charming not to have more, and the inconsistency between her self-image and how others perceive her is too strong to deny.