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Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements is a good book that tries its best to call out the rewriting of past events by both the victors and the defeated. While this can detract from the magical aura that surrounds anime and the joy of experiencing anime as more than just a struggle between industry, profit, and glory, it does highlight one recurring trend that shouldn’t be forgotten—many times, when we think of some trend or change as emerging fully formed during a given period of interest, its threads can be traced back much earlier.

One thing that always comes to mind is something that Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki mentioned back at New York Anime Festival 2009, which was that while Gundam started courting female fans much more actively in later years (notably with Gundam Wing), it was the girls who were the biggest fans of the original 1970s work. While things have certainly changed since then, Gundam Wing also did not emerge as some kind of “sudden” targeting of a female audience.

Similarly, when it comes to Clements’ book, one example he gives has to do with the idea that the video game industry is a significant contributor of “brain drain,” that is to say a unidirectional flow of talent from anime to games. While this is often viewed as a symptom of the last decade or so, a product of the mainstream lucrativeness of the contemporary video game industry, Clements points out (on page 194) that this was already occurring in 1992, which would be during the age of the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Famicom. Thus, the battle to keep newer and more rapidly expanding entertainment sectors from drawing away the best of the best is not a relatively new phenomenon, but an ongoing quest.

One last thing I’d like mention is the fact that this brain drain is partially attributed not just to video games’ international mainstream success, but the fact that Tezuka Osamu himself undercut the cost of animation in Japan decades prior in order to get it onto Japanese television. This undervaluing of anime, known as the “Curse of Tezuka,” is what necessitates projects such as the Animator Dormitory Project, an annual fund to provide housing for animators in an industry that pays very little (by the way, that Indiegogo ends today!). To see anime change in the future is perhaps to understand the long reach of past decisions.

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Why are plushies popular with anime fans?

When I got into anime, the internet was a very different place. While I was never part of the old Usenet groups (and in fact I never learned how to use them), I would talk with my fellow fans about whatever was hot at the time. Part of the fan experience was a kind of lighthearted role playing (no, not that kind, and no, not that kind), and one thing I notice was the virtual exchange of “plushies.” These dolls didn’t actually exist, but they were playful gestures to show friendship and support, or to present oneself as cute and fun and lovable. When I think of “anime fans and plushies,” I think of an era of the Anime Web Turnpike and Kisekae (KiSS) dolls, both relics of late 90s, early 2000s internet fandom.

However, that’s not really the case, is it? Plush dolls, whether specifically anime themed or otherwise, still hold the attention of many fans at conventions, online, and (I assume) with each other in other more personal settings. Also, the dolls have become more prominent, whether in artist alleys or through official channels. They might be a chibi Sasuke from Naruto or an alpaca, but they’re out there being sold and traded and loved. There’s something kind of timeless about the idea of owning a cute doll, and it’s not like this is limited to anime fans at all, but anime fans will embrace and hold onto them even after they’re supposed to have outgrown collecting dolls.

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There can’t be only one reason that anime fans gravitate towards plushies. Even with the common interest of Japanese cartoons, people are too diverse for a singular cause. I could see some enjoying them because they just like dolls in general. Others might just want to collect their favorite characters. That being said, I do think that the trope of the chibi or super deformed character has no small influence on the popularity of dolls with anime fans. They appear in official parody spinoffs, in the middle of scenes, and in fanart since the earliest days. Anime fans embrace what is cute, Japanese culture has made an entire industry off of “kawaii,” and in certain ways it’s almost defiant of macho expectations given to both men and women. Frederik L. Schodt wrote in his seminal book on Japanese comics, Manga! Manga!, that part of the reason manga became so sophisticated is that the fans of manga in Japan grew up and refused to let go of their stories. Perhaps plushies are connected to this sentiment, maybe not directly but in terms of a similar mindset and desire to keep the joys of childhood.

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Maybe the association between SD character renditions and plushies are why I consider plushies to be very much anchored in that 90s anime fandom. After all, the 90s were the peak of chibi character content. Though I don’t really see it anymore, super deformed characters were considered such a staple of anime fandom that they were viewed as a defining characteristic that helped to differentiate anime from other forms of animation, right along with big eyes and small mouths. While we’ve since been introduced to a much wider variety of styles, and the trends have changed over time, the anime plush doll still retains the features of a chibi character.

I personally don’t engage with anime or anime fans the way I did 15 to 20 years ago, so I don’t know to what extent the old ways of interaction still remain. Do fans still give each other imaginary plushies, or do they now take the form of digital renderings, emojis, or Line stickers? Does this further emphasize the physical aspect of actually owning plush dolls? For the anime fans who carry them through conventions and meetups and such, do they also display them in their everyday lives, or is there still a fear of being judged for being into dolls? This is a line of inquiry I’d be interested in finding out more about. If you have insights of your own, feel free to share them!

I know that, by mentioning dolls, I’m also bringing up associations with the ball-jointed (and often very expensive) kind. I think that fandom might share some qualities with the enthusiasts of plushies, but they’re quite a different group overall. Perhaps I’ll discuss that one while reminiscing about Rozen Maiden and its very passionate followers another time.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

 

 

I’ve been on an “90s anime theme” kick recently, watching various live concert performances and animated intros/outros on YouTube. When you look through them, there’s a recurring tendency in shows of the time to have ending animations highlight the token female character as she existed in the 90s. What stands out to me in particular is that a lot of these girls are designed to be fairly pretty but not excessively beautiful, talented but not too talented.

Frequently, the 90s girl is the protagonist’s love interest, especially in series with heavily male-dominated casts, and in shounen works also works as either an everyman or expositional character to get the reader up to speed on the rules of the story. She’s the ideal support for him and his passionate pursuit of whatever goal or motivation he possesses, and it’s this sideline cheerleader that has more recently fallen by the wayside in favor of a new breed of heroine, who still might not be in the spotlight but possesses some sort of “other” talent. The example that immediately comes to mind is Akagi Haruko from Slam Dunk, who knows a bit about basketball and is the target of affection for the hero, in contrast to Aida Riko and Momoi Satsuki from Kuroko’s Basketball, who have support “powers” for their teams and whose roles as possible love interests are not as prominent (perhaps influenced by the greater fujoshi influence of Kuroko). None of them are stars of their stories, but I think there’s a clear difference between then and now.

If the main character’s love interest is supposed to be an ideal, I have to wonder why they’re so frequently designed to not be quite so ideal in the first place. This could be chalked up to “good characterization” in some cases, and a “boring” or “plain” female character to a potential viewer outside of Japan might be seen as a “yamato nadeshiko” type perfect woman in Japanese culture (e.g. Shinguji Sakura from Sakura Wars). However, I can’t help thinking that there’s something else, like a desire to promote the plain girl as the one young readers of shounen should be aiming for. Pining for the hottest girl around might somehow have been viewed as impractical or even wrongheaded, and that the childhood friend, the girl next door, would be the far better choice. Was anime and manga trying to teach its audience what kind of love would be the more realistic choice, or is it just that having these girls be fairly plain is simply about pushing the heroes further to the forefront?

 

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This time on Apartment 507, I explore the idea of the “anime fighter” and all of its surrounding meanings and associations. Hope you like air dashing!

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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There have been many attempts over the years to dethrone the Japanese children’s entertainment juggernaut that is Precure, but while Precure is squarely in the realm of the “fighting magical girl,” most of its challengers are themed around mahou shoujo’s sister genre: pop idols. This includes Pretty Rhythm, PriPara, Lil Pri, and the subject of today’s post, Aikatsu!

Aikatsu! began in 2012 as a multimedia franchise consisting of games, manga, and anime. The animated television series, created by Sunrise (of Gundam fame), follows Hoshimiya Ichigo, a girl who enters the idol training school Starlight Academy after being inspired by its top star, Kanzaki Mizuki. Together with her best friend and idol fan, Kiriya Aoi, and others she meets along the way, they engage in idol katsudou, or “idol activities.”

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Sunrise at this point is well known for another popular idol anime, Love Live!, and despite the fact that they don’t share that much staff, the two shows are similar in feel. Both have an overall lighthearted sense of fun and engaging character interactions combined with learning and personal development. Both feature bizarrely comedic moments (the episode where Ichigo gets into an “Obari Pose” and chops down a christmas tree is famous). Both series are also so entertaining in these respects that the actual “idol performance” moments are comparatively less interesting.

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However, one curious aspect of Aikatsu! that differentiates it from Love Live! (and many other anime) in terms of narrative is that Ichigo and the other idols don’t seem to have a concrete goal to aim for. The girls in Love Live! want to save their school and then win the Love Live. Naruto wants to become Hokage. Ichigo’s motivation is this vague sense of “becoming an idol,” but by the first few episodes she already is one more or less, and there just seems to be this general sense of forward progress. This is also what differentiates it from other more episodic works, or series such as Hidamari Sketch.

Aikatsu! has just enough on-going threads in the background and pays attention to its characters’ growth that the series carries a nice sense of continuity. Aoi becomes the mascot for a crepe company in an early episode, and after that you can always see a copy of the advertisement poster featuring her in Aoi and Ichigo’s room. The show also drops hints that Ichigo’s mom is a former idol, and as I continue to watch the series I’m just anticipating that moment where Ichigo discovers the truth. Every time her mom appears on screen, I think, “Will this be it?!” That desire to see Ichigo’s realization is actually one of my main motivations for continuing to watch.

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There’s one last element of Aikatsu! I want to discuss. More specifically, it’s a theory pertaining to Aikatsu!‘s relationship with Precure. When watching Aikatsu!‘s core cast, I could not help but be reminded of the cast of Doki Doki Precure!, which came out in 2013. While the characters are different enough to not feel like copies of each other, Mana’s blonde hair and pink color scheme in her transformed state resembles Ichigo’s, Rikka (blue) plays the role of the more level-headed and smarter best friend just like Aoi, Alice resembles Arisugawa Otome (orange) not only in name but also in appearance, and Makoto’s occupation as an idol (as well as her serious personality) feels akin to Mizuki. I suspect that Doki Doki Precure! may have taken some inspiration from Aikatsu! but I can’t be certain of this. That said, I recently checked out some of the character design notes for Doki Doki Precure! and noticed that Cure Sword (Makoto)’s design originally had longer hair, which would make her more stylistically similar to Mizuki from Aikatsu!

Aikatsu! has been a series on my radar for a while, that I had only briefly engaged with, but given just how entertained I’ve been by it I definitely want to watch more and talk more about it. Expect future posts, maybe?

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I wrote a post over at Apartment 507 looking at the nostalgia for the Showa period that seems to be cropping up in anime. Leave a comment either here or there and tell me what you think!

The term “Mary Sue,” originally meaning a kind of overly perfect self-insert character in fanfiction who would be dropped into a story to solve all of its problems, has been a battlefield of sorts in popular culture. Characters are called Mary Sues if they show even the slightest bit of wish fulfillment, and in response there is a feminist movement to reclaim the term, fueled by the idea that idealized male characters are the norm and similar female characters are unfairly maligned. This is what is fueling discussion concerning the character Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. However, I feel that, as the discussion over which characters are and aren’t Mary Sues due to their perfect (or perfectly dramatic) natures, the fact that the term derives specifically from fanfiction gets lost in the shuffle, and that it is crucial to remember that its origin comes not from big blockbuster movies but from fans of popular culture navigating their chosen works and worlds.

Before I go into greater detail, I want to make a few points clear. First, I do not think wish fulfillment characters are inherently bad, whether they’re male, female, or something else entirely. Second, I believe fanfiction does have merit as a space for active participation, as a source for good and/or interesting stories, and everything else in between. Third, I understand that the meanings of words can change over time. Basically, this isn’t a criticism of fanfiction, or lack of originality, or a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the natural evolution of language.

The earliest known use of the term “Mary Sue” comes from Star Trek fandom, specifically from Paula Smith’s parody of a common trend in Star Trek fanfics at the time. Essentially, many stories would involve a young girl (most Star Trek fanfiction was written by women in the 1970s) who would become the center of attention, would have some unique visual identifier that instantly screamed “unique,” and would have just enough tragedy to emphasize how special they are. While you can think of many characters in fiction who fulfill these categories (Uzumaki Naruto, Bella in Twilight), I think the real key to the “Mary Sue,” and why its fanfic origins are so important to remember, is that by being the center of attention they were viewed as 1) drawing focus away from the world and characters that form the basis for that fandom 2) their idealized natures, rather than feeling universal, felt overly specific to the point of making it difficult to empathize.

To expand on both points, when we look at anime and see the generic shounen hero with a unique and special power, or the generic shoujo heroine who all the boys fall in love with, they can be seen as attempts to have a broader, more general appeal. Even if they end up being cliches, and even if they’re considered by more hardcore fans as being “boring”—though I think this comes from a time when fandoms were more niche and the deepest fans tended to prefer the subversive/evil/morally gray characters—there is a desire for broader appeal. When a character’s quirks or backstory or overall qualities make them wish fulfillment for people at large, that is different from when those same traits make them inaccessible to a reader due to being overly specific. In other words, when a character feels as if they are designed solely to appeal to only the author and no one else, then the term “Mary Sue” comes to light.

Of course, even that criteria is subjective, as different people will connect to different characters, whether they come from fanfiction or not. Also, if the “Mary Sue” was such a problem that Paula Smith had to address it, perhaps it could be argued that there were enough people with that same fantasy that it could be considered a broad enough desire to not be thought of as “overly specific.” It also needs to be pointed out that the Mary Sue derives from an amateur space, where writers do not have editors or marketers or even the need for a coherent narrative. These sorts of stories tend to happen naturally from those who do not consider common “good story rules” such as conflict, character depth, etc., and in a way we all have our Mary Sue stories inside of us where everything just goes right.

However, the idea of the Mary Sue did not originally come from an explicit connection to women, narratives, and society, but rather an implicit one. Because Star Trek fanfiction was the domain of women, it is possible to argue that its values developed in a feminine space, which when expanded to also include men to a large degree made Mary Sues a target for criticism and conflict in ways that trivialized the wish fulfillment of women more than men. Perhaps the biggest issue with the “Mary Sue” is in her name: chosen to be generic, and to reflect a recurring type of character in fanfiction, the doubly feminine nature of the moniker infuses it with gender values. Even though alternatives have been created for males (Gary Stu, Marty Stu), they simply never caught on as much. It’s also interesting to note that criticism of the Mary Sue originally took place between women.

I have one last question to ask: does the term Mary Sue even need to be reclaimed? Have men really seized it as their own, or has it never really left the grasp of women at all?

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This is a sponsored post. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The fact that anime and manga about food is a “thing” is one of the commonly referenced points to show how diverse Japanese animation can be. Rather than fighting with weapons or fists, characters will often try to outmatch each other in the kitchen, and the results are as diverse as Mr. Ajikko, Yakitate!! Japan, The Drops of God, Fighting Foodons, and indeed the current Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.

However, I have to wonder if America is that far off from getting something similar, based on the direction that the Food Network has taken over at least the past five or six years. Where once the main feature of the cooking-oriented Cable channel was the variety of personable chefs making food from around the world look amazing, now the most common feature on Food Network has been competition through cuisine. Chopped. Food Network Star. Iron Chef America. Cake Wars. 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. Guy’s Grocery Games. Food Feuds. Food Fight. Throwdown with Bobby Flay. The list goes on.

While one obvious difference between food anime (which doesn’t have to be about competition but frequently is), and these Food Network shows is that one is inherently fictional while the other thrives off of the idea that they’re real people engaged in real rivalries with each other, they share a similar air of dramatic narrative. Both find ways to make something as visually appealing but not as lively as, say, sports or fighting, have more intensity. Close-ups on fine knife work. Flames roaring as someone stir fries using a wok. Unfortunate accidents and injuries. All of this works together to make food preparation a fierce, perhaps even macho world in a bid to get more guys to watch Food Network in the first place.

In that respect, another point that some food anime and Food Network shows have in common is the use of sex appeal. While it’s much more noticeable for a series like Food Wars!, where the girls are drawn to be curvaceous, and eating good food is a downright orgasmic experience, I think it’s no secret that a lot of the Food Network’s female stars are dressed in ways that enhance their bodies. This isn’t a criticism of the use of sex appeal, and especially for TV it’s par for the course. Food and sex are also not unfamiliar companions, and I could see two arguments coming out of this: first, that sex appeal can add to the excitement of food, or second, that the sort of “excitement” it brings emphasizes anything but the food. Food Wars! strikes a “balance” by pushing both to the extreme.

That’s not to leave out the other common type of food anime (and especially manga), however. One of the other common trends with food-themed works in Japanese visual media is an emphasis on travel, discovery, and healing. These series are built upon finding the next interesting food, or having a particular dish or beverage be exactly what someone needs to fix an emotional problem in their life.

Perhaps what might bridge the gap and possibly even get an animated food series on something like Food Network would be to add drama through presentation, to take something like a documentary and try to give it greater expressiveness through the art of animation.

Or they could just make a series where Fieri is a Super Saiyan.

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This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Touhou is an interesting phenomenon. Beginning as a passion project for a game developer, this ostensibly “amateur” shmup in the tradition of R-Type and Ikaruga replaces spaceships with cute girls, introducing a wide variety of characters with distinct yet generally simplistic personalities. This has given fans plenty of room to position and interpret the characters in their own way, using the barest scraps of evidence as the catalyst for imagination. While not the first franchise to encourage this, with Touhou it’s particularly noticeable given its popularity at doujin events and the like, but it’s also interesting to note what has come in a post-Touhou environment. In particular, I feel like Kantai Collection has to be viewed within this lens, and so this post is mainly about a comparison between Touhou and Kantai Collection from an outsider’s perspective.

On a personal level, outside of Magic: The Gathering, the biggest nerd fandom that I’ve barely scratched the surface of is probably Touhou. Sure, I’ve drawn a crossover fanart between Cirno and Esports personality Day[9], and I’m a fan of bkub (particularly his New York Comic Con special featuring “the Deadpool”), but I’ve never played any of the actual games. In fact, the only Touhou game I’ve ever played is the doujin game Mega Mari, which is more of a Mega Man game than anything else. However, I’m well aware of Touhou‘s presence, if only because my surrounding environment is “other geeks,” and inevitably among hardcore anime fans there will be Touhou fans as well.

The same goes for Kantai Collection, a browser-based strategy game where battleships are personified as cute girls, except I arguably know even less about it. I’ve watched a few episodes of the anime, I know which character design I like best (Tenryuu), and I know that the game plays with supply and demand because you have to win a lottery to even get to play it in the first place. I’m also aware that it’s become Touhou‘s rival in terms of popularity, with a big difference being that Kantai Collection actively employs popular and professional artists, whereas Touhou‘s official art is famously lacking in refinement.

The relationship between Touhou and Kantai Collection is therefore a tricky one in terms of how these respective series have prompted fan production that hinges on interpretation in their fanbases (which also have plenty of overlap).  Whenever I see the two, I feel as if Touhou is primarily this product that just had an intentionally simplistic presentation that fans took and expanded into their own world. Kantai Collection, in turn, with its voiced characters, better artwork, and overall presentation invites that sort of activity from fans, and revels in being able to provide that space.

In other words, it’s as if Kantai Collection saw how Touhou inadvertently had its characters transformed into commodities through the efforts of its fans, and actively sought to replicate that through careful planning and razor-sharp marketing. That means actively trying to appeal to what fans want. Whether that’s a good thing or not is personal opinion, of course, and I’m hesitant to label it as “David vs. Goliath” in the traditional sense, especially because the border between an amateur and professional artist in Japanese games, anime, etc. can be so nebulous. However, I feel like perhaps part of what made Touhou appealing to its fans in the first place is that “amateur” environment, even if it’s indeed populated by professionals. There’s a rawness to it, a kind of unregulated frontier that’s continuously re-shaped compared to Kantai Collection with its carefully measured attributes, that makes more room for the fan to be in a sense also a creator.

 

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I wrote a post for the Waku Waku +NYC blog about the potential significance of the word “Insight” in the sequel to Gatchaman Crowds. What’s funny is that if I never became a part of Waku Waku I probably would have never known or even thought of this.

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