Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Potential Positives of Project Wendy

One of the strangest trends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit YouTube recently, as countless creators began putting out videos centered around Wendy O. Koopa—a character who, in a sense, isn’t one. She’s an alternate costume for the playable Bowser Jr., so the fact that this one skin was singled out above all others reeked of conspiracy. Indeed, it looks like this was all a combined effort by all of these YouTubers to highlight one of the least popular characters in Smash Bros.

In a sense, this is the very definition of a forced meme, though fans seem to be rolling with it. However, there’s another potential consequence outside of fun, stupid jokes involving a fast food restaurant or a Samoan pro wrestler (see above): giving a spotlight to an otherwise neglected character. Bowser Jr. (and his seven Koopaling skins) is one of the least talked-up and least talked-about characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate. In tier list after tier list, Bowser Jr. is placed firmly in low tier. It’s certainly possible that he’s one of the worse characters in the game, but the Ultimate meta is still young (barely a month old), and opinions can changes. What can turn opinions around, then, is research and exposure.

There’s a “million monkeys on a million typewriters” effect to a certain extent. If Project Wendy inspires scores of players, even mostly lower-level ones, to pick up Wendy, Bowser Jr., or any of their alts, then the sheer increase in quantity can push that character further along than any sort of on-paper theory-crafting. That’s the funny thing about competitive gaming: often times, how deep and complex your game is ends up being less important to competition than the player population and their eagerness to push ahead. Regardless of motivation, whether someone truly adores Wendy, or whether they’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon, this is a chance for Wendy and her fellow Koopa Clown Car warriors to get some attention. Characters die when their communities get stagnant, and pushing a meme is one…unique…way to try and avoid that.

I might be a bit idealistic in terms of the long-term effects of Project Wendy, but who knows? The next great Wendy/Bowser Jr. player might emerge out of this crazy effort. Imagine…

Advertisements

Help Me! Why is “S&M” Lingo So Common in Anime and Manga?

Out of the many tropes and trends to come out of anime and manga, there’s one I find especially curious: the casual use of “sadist” and “masochist” to describe characters. It’d be more understandable if it was limited to more sexually charged series, or to describe villains as “sadistic bastards,” but it occurs in just about everything—romances, kids’ shows, sports/competition series, and so-on. You see the letters “S” and “M” thrown around by characters as if it’s the most normal thing to say in a conversation.

In series like Prison School, “S&M” is used conventionally to refer to kinks and fetishes. In other cases, like Chihayafuru, the phrase is more removed from an explicitly sexual context, and could potentially be seen as simply referring to a non-sexual pleasure derived from inflicting or receiving pain. Or perhaps that layer of sexual tension and mild eroticism that permeates many anime and manga also trickle down into the ones that aren’t like that. The same could perhaps be extended to phrases like “siscon,” though many recent anime have gone out of their way to make that particular phrase anything but innocent.

I’m not against this trend of using “S&M” terminology, or at least find no need to take umbrage with it, but it really makes me wonder where the heck it all comes from. Is it a few famous titles? Could it be from some visual novels that got big among otaku? Or maybe it’s from something more mainstream, like classic Japanese literature. Yet, try as I might, any attempts at cursory research turn up fruitless. I get the feeling that there’s no straightforward answer, and that it might be bits and pieces of both Japanese domestic and foreign imported culture mixed together into a complex stew.

If anyone has any expertise on this matter, or knows any potential resources that could point me in the right direction, I’d love to know. This is one mystery that I really want to solve.

 

The Identity Crisis of Twitter

To a great many, social media is just a part of life now. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter, these websites and apps are practically glued to us due to the ever-increasing ubiquity of smartphones. But each form of social media in certain ways replicates the online communication tools of old, and I find that with Twitter in particular, its strengths and weaknesses come from being essentially a highly modular chatroom. The problem is that, while the scope of this “chatroom” can be large or small, individual users only have so much control once it gets beyond a certain size, which leads to Twitter and its users running into an identity crisis of sorts.

It’s true that if you want an absolutely private experience on Twitter, you can more or less make it happen. Set your account to private, only follow a handful of people, and maybe even communicate primarily through direct messages. You can actually just make it about you and your friends. However, there are a few aspects that limit the Twitter experience once you move past that point and want to utilize the site as most others do, which is to operate in this massive space where you can instantly search for what people are saying about any given topic.

Traditionally, chatrooms were less people-focused and more concept-focused. Even in the earliest days of AOL, you scrolled through a potential list of chats, picked one that matched your interests or desires, and then joined. Even if it was just to ask A/S/L to everyone, there was a sense that you were stepping into a shared, localized space. Web 1.0 had this feeling in general. With Twitter, you are essentially your own chatroom moderator, and it’s up to you to constantly manage who you want to listen to and who you want to interact with. This kind of customization certainly has its merits, as it lets you really control your experience on Twitter to a certain degree, but having to potentially police your own twitter feed constantly is practically a recipe for decision fatigue. A user doesn’t have to care that much, but that can lead to the next problem: if you choose to take a relatively hands-off approach, that means you can’t control the people who are peering inside.

A common story of many a Twitter faux pas is that a user (often a fairly prominent one) treats their very public and well-known account like it’s still a small, localized experience when things have in fact changed. This person might be using in-jokes that appear crass or downright offensive to outsiders, but is considered to be innocuous teasing by their more immediate circle. They might even get called out by their followers for those words and asked to apologize, and those followers might even have a point. Even so, it can feel like there’s a disconnect between what this particular user thinks is their Twitter experience (shooting the breeze with friends) and what the users at large think is the Twitter experience (a public forum where any and every statement hangs in the air for all to see).

Consider two scenarios of a person in real life who says something racist, not expecting it to be an issue, only to be reprimanded by someone listening. In scenario #1, it’s a private setting where a friend is warning this person that what they’re saying is messed up, and they need to watch how they think and use words. In scenario #2, it’s an open space where everybody’s listening and a stranger shouts down the speaker for being so damn racist. Both cases involve someone rightly pointing out racist speech and that it needs correcting, but there’s a fundamentally different experience between someone who says something around those with whom they’re familiar and while surrounded mostly by strangers. The issue with Twitter is that it can seem like the former on the surface, only for a user to discover that it’s been a public square all along. The perception of extremely public vs. relatively private space explodes and collapses in a way that doesn’t happen when you actively search for servers and chatrooms on IRC or the more modern Discord.

I believe that this folding of public and private on Twitter is also what makes harassment on the platform especially insidious. It’s no secret that certain groups (especially the alt-right) have learned to almost weaponize Twitter’s idiosyncratic behavior. They can make a statement, “innocently” @ another user, and sit back and let their followers dog-pile that user. They can search out people who are discussing a topic, and attack total strangers in their replies. Users might want to interact through Twitter as if they’re just talking to their friends and acquainances, but the search function makes it possible to seek out holders of different opinions and try to verbally abuse them. It’s all too easy to find someone you disagree with on Twitter, and to see them as the enemy.

Chatrooms aren’t and weren’t ever peaches and rainbows. They come with their own hosts of problems, from power-abusing moderators to the active nurturing of toxic spaces by users if they should so choose. I used to be part of a chatroom or two where there were some people with gigantic chips on their shoulders—folks who seemed a little too trigger-happy with their hostilities. I remember a time where I talked about my surprise that a couple of anime voice actors were married to each other, only to get shouted at about how I must be one of those shallow folks obsessed with following the frivolous minutiae of celebrities (but of course said in a much less polite way). I thought the guy was being an asshole, but I also went into that chat knowing that this was a possibility, and that I was ready to fight back and call him out on being unnecessarily angry. Not everyone is willing or should be willing to have to fend off trolls and angry mobs, but Twitter’s public/private collapse makes that fight all the more inevitable for anyone discussing a controversial topic.

I’ve been on Twitter for over ten years now, but I’ve come to realize that I’ve reduced my utilization of its chatroom-esque qualities a long time ago. I still do communicate with friends and mutuals to an extent, but a lot of it is me shouting into the wind and seeing what sticks. Much like this blog here, I use it as a place to experiment with an express thoughts and ideas. Analyzing this shift in Twitter behavior, I think it’s largely because a certain degree of distance is necessary. Those who jump onto Twitter with bleeding hearts inevitably attract sharks. But while there were always sharks, even among the islands of Web 1.0 and 2.0, the social media age means being surrounded by potential predators on all sides.

The Pressure to Morally Justify One’s Fandom Tastes

When I first began to formulate this blog post in my head, the core of what I wanted to write about was something I observed in online fandom: the policing of preference and desire, and the seeming need to couch fandom debates in moral rhetoric. My desire was to focus on the absurd degree by which fans try to justify their tastes by presenting some greater benefit or boon to humankind.

However, I’m not the only one who’s been ruminating on the subject. A recent article about essentially weaponized anti-fandom had explored the subject in depth, the author tracing their observation of this disturbing trend through the pains of trying to transplant the islands of LiveJournal to the complex web of Tumblr. Anti-fandom goes from being passion with a negative bent to a cold and calculated scalpel designed to influence and threaten fans, critics, and creators alike. The article has forced me to approach this post a little differently than I had intended. To that end, I still want to think out loud about that concept of forced justification, but more as the other side of the coin compared to what is described by that author.

Critical analysis of preferences in storytelling and art, be they one’s own or the preferences of others, is an important part of the relationship between creative endeavors and their effects on people and society. It’s not wrong that a series like Tintin, which early on featured racist caricatures, would fall under rightful scrutiny, and that those decisions open up important conversations, or that superhero comics are having to confront the sexism and racism that has been entrenched in its veins on both content and creator levels. However, there has been a trend of fans who try very hard to prove that their particular fandoms are fundamentally superior (or indeed that others are inferior), as if fandom reflects wholly one’s dedication to the moral fiber of society. Perhaps it’s all an act, as the article implies, a feigning of outrage to achieve a selfish goal, but I believe there are also fans who feel that they cannot like something unless it gels 100% with how they view themselves on that moral level.

This is a potentially harmful philosophy to abide by, not just for those who are potentially attacked by this sort of fan, but directly dangerous to the fan themselves. When a  “problematic fave” enters the conversation, the situation descends to  whether or not liking something in fantasy reflects some moral or personal shortcoming. From there, it’s a short step to accusing each other of not believing in the greater good strongly enough.

When we still don’t have real answers as to how people’s relationship with fiction affects everyone (whether broadly or on an individual basis), it comes across as a desperate desire to not be on the wrong side of the barrel. Either that, or they risk ending up like the character Nishikinomiya Anna from the anime/light novel Shimoneta. Anna, who was raised from childhood to be the perfect representative of moral fastidiousness, turns out to be dangerous and depraved in certain ways. However, because she was brought up to believe that she is pure and just, she rationalizes her behavior as being inherently moral because she is inherently moral herself.

My concern is that in an environment where there is (rightful) social pressure to be more open and to not hold beliefs that demean other people, it can become all too easy to believe that every word you say carries deep significance to such an extent that people feel they cannot be frivolous. If one feels that their words must reflect their fundamental being, then it also becomes dangerous to think that every piece of entertainment you consume has to be morally justified, as if it fits into a greater picture of a consistent and righteous self. It makes me think that these fans feel disdain for the fact that humans are often contradictory, and rather than understand and accept that, they see admonishing their peers for their inconsistency as the better choice.

One-One Chuushingura: Ogiue Maniax 11th Anniversary

11 years of Ogiue Maniax feels…strange. Because it comes right after the 10th anniversary milestone, it feels a bit like a new beginning. I’m honestly not entirely sure how to approach celebrating 11 years, so I’m going to be pretty off-the-cuff with this post.

Sometimes it hits me just how much time has passed. Titles that I remember being the hot new thing back in 2007 are now seen as retro classics by a huge portion of anime and manga fandom. What’s more, the way we approach fandom has changed entirely—case in point, YouTube has gone from being the strange new thing to being the place fans go to for anime reviews. As someone who stuck with writing for the most part, it’s been interesting to see the rise and fall of anime blogging. The fact that my blog views are roughly around where they were in 2008 feels like I’ve made a return back to the early days, but everything’s different. The world, the internet, even I’m not what I was 10 or 11 years ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind.

As much as I’d like to be able to reach more people, I’ve come to realize that trying to follow the trends of what you should talk about can be like a shackle on your creativity and autonomy as a creator of content. It’s not necessarily easy to talk only about the latest and hottest thing, but on a personal level, I would find it to be stifling. If I’m interested enough in a current show to say a couple of things, then that’s great. But I’d rather not feel forced or compelled to hit on a specific subject just because it would get more eyeballs on me in the short term. Besides, you never know when the thing you did in the past will come sliding back into the spotlight. Just this past month, I suddenly saw a huge uptick in visitors to Ogiue Maniax. The reason: LeSean Thomas linked to my interview with him from Otakon 2016.

This might all seem unusual to say when I’ve had my own Patreon for the past few years, but there’s a reason I’ve set up my highest-tier reward in a particular way. It’s $30 because I don’t want it to be absolutely impossible for the typical anime fan to afford, but I don’t want it to necessarily take over the blog either. I also give myself the freedom to approach any and all topic requests on my own terms, so I can take these requests as both a way to give back to any patrons who decide to take me up on that offer and as a personal learning experience. It’s very easy to get trapped in a particular mindset or view, and having someone literally say, “Well, why not check this out?” can be very helpful.

That all said, I have had to make adjustments to Ogiue Maniax, especially in being careful with my language and approach to writing. This blog, at its core, is a way for me to explore ideas, and it’s part of the process to throw out half-formed ideas to see whether or not they stick. However, as I get older, and as the world around me changes, I feel a greater responsibility in terms of how my words (or lack thereof) might encourage harmful behavior from others. I still feel it important to ask questions about how we as people interact with anime, manga, and all threads related to those topics, but there’s a certain benefit of the doubt I can no longer give to geek culture as a whole. I saw the early seeds planted in fandom that have driven campaigns of racism, misogyny, and downright misanthropy in this world, and I considered myself separate. I keep thinking about all the times I failed to speak up, or all the times I may have inadvertently defended dangerous mindsets, and I feel almost compelled to make up for my errors.

Man, that got heavy.

I guess I’ll end off by saying this: Ogiue Maniax has been an 11-year reflection of myself as a work in progress. It’s an experiment full of successes and failures (and increasingly fewer Fujoshi Files…) where a conclusion still cannot be seen. But I’m also encouraged by this, and I feel that it’s taught me some important life lessons. No matter where we are, we always have the chance to change and to better ourselves. Don’t base your own worth or the worth of your achievements on comparing yourself to others. See only who you were yesterday, and try to move forward from there.

SSSS.GRIDMAN and Character Design (In)consistency

Takarada Rikka and Shinjou Akane are the two female leads of SSSS.Gridman who are grabbing the attention of fans due to their extreme attractiveness. The characters were clearly designed with the other in mind, as their proportions are more or less inverse from each other. Rikka is more bottom-heavy, with bigger thighs and a slim torso. Akane’s design emphasizes her upper body by having a large chest and skinny legs. They’re made for thirsty fans to draw lines in the sand, based on which features they’re truly drawn to.

The decision to create these contrasting designs might be a bit of a double-edged sword for the staff, however. What I’ve noticed is that the anime itself, as well as its merchandise, has trouble keeping track of the visual distinctions between Rikka and Akane. In any given image, Rikka might be portrayed as extra busty, or Akane might be drawn as voluptuous from top to bottom. If this were fanart, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise—it’s not uncommon to see fanartists give characters whatever proportions they want. But these are the show’s own artists and animators flubbing.

Anime, because it involves so many hands and a whole lot of outsourcing, is prone to inconsistencies, so this is not a criticism of the skills of any of the staff. What I am saying, then, is that Rikka’s and Akane’s designs are especially troublesome for animators and artists because they’re not how anime typically creates contrasting female characters. Usually, busty girls are thicker all over, and less chesty girls are more svelte all around. If not that, then designs will feature the same basic body type overall, even as the characters change in specific areas.

Because anime TV production is notoriously crunch-heavy, I could see a lot of artists and animators having to default to their natural instincts when drawing characters. If they’re not accustomed to drawing characters with such clearly defined proportions like Rikka and Akane, then it would be all too easy to draw what “seems right.” And because Rikka and Akane are not wildly different from each other (unless we’re talking fanart), they also can’t exaggerate to the point of caricature either. It’s a tough middle ground to strike.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

Episode 35 of Hugtto! Precure was the second time the anime dedicated an episode to childbirth. It makes sense, given that much of the series is about raising a magical baby who might just be the key to saving the future. What makes this particular episode different, however, is that it actually tackles a serious topic in Japan: the stigma against “unnatural births.”

In the episode, Hana and the other Precures help out at a hospital, where they meet a mother who’s there to get a C-section, and is feeling nervous about it. She talks about how she feels like she made a lot of mistakes with her and her husband’s first daughter, and she wants to do anything right this time. Childbirth can be an especially difficult experience (to put it mildly), so it’s only natural that a mother would be anxious about it, but her expressions in the episode seem to indicate something deeper.

As it turns out, Japan has one of the lowest C-section rates in the world (about 10-20%), reflecting a culture that believes that “natural births” are inherently better. Most hospitals in Japan apparently do not even give epidurals to deal with pain, under the belief that the pain felt during labor is supposed to connect a mother to her child.

The mother in Hugtto! Precure wants to correct all the mistakes she made in raising her first child, but C-sections are viewed by many in Japan as an inherent mistake. It’s a challenging position to be in, to say the least. It’s the sort of difficult story that director Satou Junichi is famous for, as seen in his work on Ojamajo Doremi.

At the same time, the anime shows the doctor encouraging the use of C-sections, describing them as safe, and the mother does ultimately go through with it. By portraying the mother’s decision in a positive light, the episode reveals that it’s actually about trying to remove the negative association Japanese people have with C-sections. Moreover, Hugtto! Precure is a show that’s watched by young girls and most likely their parents, so it has the potential to educate two different generations to not look upon medical intervention during childbirth with disdain—a viewpoint that can potentially save lives.