When Kirito Met Marcus Fenix

When looking at the generic male protagonist found in light novels, one finds that he usually has some combination of the following traits. First, he’s a guy. Second, he’s Japanese. Third, he has short hair. Fourth, he has a fairly slender figure. Fifth, he has either minor or major otaku vibes. Sixth, he has some trait that speaks towards passiveness, whether it’s an aspect of his personality or some sort of special ability that emphasizes defense or neutralization. Titles that fall along this criteria include Sword Art Online, Ore Imo, A Certain Magical Index, Baka Test, Re:Zero, Rise of the Shield HeroBakemonogatari, and so on. In effect, the Light Novel Protagonist plays a similar role to the “gruff brown-haired white guy,” an archetype that has populated mainstream video games over the past ten years.

The Light Novel Protagonist’s appearance renders him the “everyman,” but taken to a kind of extreme mediocrity. His appearance is roughly that of a teenager or early 20s adult who could probably pass for a salaryman if not for his clothing and lack of a stable job. Even though he’s often a “failure” in the eyes of society, he’s ready to show himself as capable if given the right (often nerdy) circumstances. In this way, the Light Novel Protagonist resembles the Video Game Hero in that both reinforce a rough image of masculinity. Where they differ is that the Light Novel Protagonist is often a kind of “bare minimum” of manhood, while the thick-necked rugged white guys of video games are the apex of masculinity in that arena.

This difference is evident when looking at how generic light novels and generic mainstream video games approach the topic of homosexuality. Putting aside a few exceptions from both sides, the protagonists of light novels are more willing than their angry, shooting counterparts in games to dance the line when it comes to gender. Kirito’s video game avatar gets long hair in later parts of Sword Art Online. Hachiman in My Youth Romantic Comedy and Akihisa in Baka Test find themselves attracted to extremely effeminate male characters. However, not only is the possibility of a homosexual ending unlikely, but the sheer femininity of those ambiguous characters’ appearances renders them essentially girls in all but name. As a result, masculinity and heterosexuality are preserved.

Nevertheless, that difference between portraying a masculine world versus a hyper-masculine world seems to be what allows light novels to attract a female audience a little more easily. This is actually something girls have learned to do for a long time, navigate the “boys’ world of entertainment” and carve out their own spaces, but games like Gears of War seem to actively reject any notion of appealing to people beyond their assumed young, male, heterosexual audience. In contrast, light novels pull from the many tropes of anime, manga, and Japanese games, which exist in a complex relationship of pulling aspects of girl-oriented titles toward male audiences and vice versa (e.g. shounen sports being made for girls, magical girls being made for guys).

The irony might be that, while both the Very Japanese Light Novel Protagonist and the Gruff White Video Game Hero are all about protecting their audiences’ masculinity, the two archetypes probably would not get along if they had to interact with each other. The video game hero is an embracing of old ideals of manliness, while the light novel protagonist tends to be a partial rejection of the former. The Light Novel Protagonist is often a “loser,” while the Video Game Hero is more frequently a “winner,” and the active acknowledgement of both might just be two different approaches to dealing with male insecurity.

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Kiryuin Satsuki and the Curse of Power Girl

I view the DC superhero Power Girl as being almost doomed by her appearance. If you ask anyone with even a passing familiarity with Power Girl about what defines her character, you’re very likely to get the response “boob window.” This is despite numerous attempts to revamp her character, emphasize her personality, and make her more than just eye candy first, superhero second.

This is not to say that Power Girl is an inherently bad or sexist character, whether she’s supposed to be an adult Supergirl (her original origin) or something else entirely. I don’t even think the boob window necessarily has to go. But what fascinates me about Power Girl’s situation is that, for whatever reason, it seems especially difficult for her to escape being seen almost as a character attached to a pair of breasts.

In contrast, when it comes to characters who have overcome a highly sexualized appearance, one need look no further than Kiryuin Satsuki from the anime Kill la Kill. In spite of the fact that her battle uniform looks like a sling bikini on steroids, her personality overwhelms even the sheer and unbridled sexuality of her clothing. Despite her breasts and buttocks often being in full display in numerous scenes what first comes to mind are her other attributes: scowl (with enormously imposing eyebrows), her ambition, and the fact that she literally radiates an aura of light that symbolizes her power.

I find myself wondering, what is the difference between Satsuki and Power Girl, or indeed Power Girl and other female superheroes who have been successfully redefined as more than just their eroticism (note that I did not say more than just their looks—appearance is just an essential part of superheroes, male and female)?

There are two major context points that separate Satsuki and Power Girl. First, unlike Power Girl, Satsuki is introduced in Kill la Kill in her full-body school uniform rather than in her skimpier attire. Second, whereas Satsuki’s existence is defined solely by one television series, Power Girl has been a part of comics for decades. While the circumstances of 2010s Japan and 1970s United States are substantially different, I suspect that Power Girl would be remembered very differently if she arrived on the scene the way Satsuki does in Kill la Kill: as someone grandiose and powerful. Perhaps it would even be possible for her to keep the boob window and still be thought of primarily for her superheroics and feats of strength.

Or perhaps my view of Satsuki is too charitable. Maybe the imprint she’s left on anime and its fandom, especially those who know Kill la Kill only from images, is just her near-naked body in a battle bikini.

Power Girl appears to be a victim of historical inertia. No matter what is done with her character to turn her away from a primary emphasis on her breasts, focus always returns to her iconic cleavage cut. Whether it’s possible to overturn this might require not just an amazing creative team where artist and writer are working towards this goal, but a comics fandom willing to accept this change.

 

The Revival (?) of Studio Gonzo

Kaleido Star: One of Gonzo’s Best

One of the persistent problems in TV anime production is the tendency for shows to start off strong and end disappointingly. Frequent culprits include inconclusive or unsatisfying endings, visible decline in animation quality as a series reaches its conclusion, or a lack of clear direction after a certain point (usually midway). Once upon a time, there was one studio particularly emblematic of this trend, and its name was Gonzo. To my surprise, Gonzo appeared in the news in 2016 because of its purchase by Japanese ad agency Asatsu-DK.

The path for Gonzo back to stability and relative prominence is an interesting one, and while I don’t have the inner details of just how Gonzo accomplished this, I want to discuss from my own fan perspective the ups and downs of Gonzo over the past 15+ years.

Back in the early 2000s, Gonzo shows would hit the ground running. Series such as Kiddy Grade, Vandread, and Last Exile, were full of attractive and memorable characters, and their action scenes were rife with flash and pizazz. Gonzo had two main strengths. First, was the quality of their animation. Second, was that their shows often looked visually “cutting edge.” Just as the turn of the 21st century carried with it the last vestiges of the 20th century hope for a world of flying cars and such, so too did Gonzo shows have a futuristic feel. In my own view, no studio embodied the essence of the period’s anime more than Gonzo, especially when factoring in their prominence on American store shelves, and their work on Afro Samurai.

Unfortunately, they would often start to meander around the halfway mark before barely sputtering towards the finish line. It was such a common problem for their works that terms such as “Gonzo ending” and “Gonzo show” were used among fans to describe such troubled productions. Even the Gonzo shows that people praised, especially science fiction/fantasy action works like Bokurano and Strike Witches, were often only considered good enough in that their positives would outweigh the notorious Gonzo negatives. Only a couple of shows, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, and Kaleido Star (about an aspiring circus acrobat) ended up with none of the common problems plaguing Gonzo. With the rest, it was often said among online fans that sticking with a Gonzo show came at your own peril. Fool me once…

A quick glance at their releases shows just what was fundamentally wrong with Gonzo: they bit off more than they could possibly chew. For years, multiple shows of theirs came out practically every season, and each time they all but repeated the same mistake of starting strong and ending weak. Just about every series clearly went over both time and monetary budgets for the sake of style. Perhaps the lowest point of Gonzo’s existence came in 2009, when Gonzo began animating the yuri mahjong series Saki. About two-thirds of the way through, they could no longer keep up production, and they were replaced by a studio called Picture Magic. From there, they began to fade into obscurity, working only on smaller projects usually at the behest of other companies.

However, this might have well been what saved them from the brink. Gonzo’s problem was that they were always good at micro elements such as action scenes, but faltered with macro elements like overall story and pacing. But when they could serve the role of just helping others with action, they could shine. Notably, when the Street Fighter IV expansion Super Street Fighter IV came out in 2010, they replaced the more artsy and avant garde Studio 4ºC as the provider of 2D-animated cut scenes for the famous fighting game series. Studio 4ºC has many strengths, mostly in terms of its creativity and willingness to push the boundaries of abstraction in animated works, but conventional portrayal of fight scenes was not in their wheelhouse and it showed. For Gonzo, on the other hand, it was a perfect fit.

Since then, they’ve come back to directly producing works, such as Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing in 2011 and the Bayonetta anime in 2013. When you look at Gonzo’s output now, it’s clear that their approach has changed. Where once they tried to cram six or seven shows into a single year, now it’s generally one or two. If they’re working on more shows, it’s usually in conjunction with other studios, such as with Thermae Romae in 2012. For better or worse, they’re not even as focused on action, as their recent works tend to be more comedic, most notably the recent 2015 show Seiyu‘s Life. All the while, they still assist other studios. Perhaps what Gonzo needed was experience, going from the wild abandon of their proverbial youth to something much more reserved.

In some ways, I miss aspects of the old Gonzo. In particular, I was fond of how they often strove to be ahead of their time, even if it didn’t bear any fruit and also tanked their earnings in the process. Back when Strike Witches first aired, obtaining anime was very different. There was no Crunchyroll for legal streaming. DVDs were much more expensive than blu-rays are today. Torrents dominated, but even sharing over IRC and DC++ still happened to a small degree. In this environment, Gonzo said that they would distribute Strike Witches, episode by episode, DRM-free, and at a fairly decent video quality.

Gonzo tried to legitimize online anime viewing at a time when it was seen as impractical or even impossible, and were among the first to jump on board with the revamped Crunchyroll—a site that had gone from piracy central to forging legitimate relationships with Japan. But if it’s the difference between going out in a blaze of glory and charred bills or keeping their heads above water and slowly paddling along, then I think it’s better for Gonzo’s sake that they’ve changed. Maybe once they find themselves on terra firma, they can unleash the passion of their youth once again.

Valentine’s Day “Dead Eyes Extravaganza”

In honor of Valentine’s Day, that romantic holiday transformed in Japan into a way for girls to express their feelings for guys, I present an image mosaic of one of my favorite character traits: dead or empty eyes.

deadeyes-mosaicCreated using Mosaic Maker

Dead eyes, that is to say empty eyes without luster, are usually associated with characters who have been mind-controlled. However, I’m more fascinated by them when the characters who have them are in full control of themselves. Rather than being a sign of a loss of will, they’re often symbolic of something else. They can be intensity, trauma, otherworldly perspective/experience, or even a swirling madness. Just think about how all many of the characters in the image above have notably different personalities!

Do you have a favorite character in the image above? Is there a dead eyes character you’re a fan of? Let me know!

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How Dragon Ball Super Made Dragon Ball Better

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Surprising even to me, it turns out Dragon Ball Super is actually really good. I’ve written a small post detailing how Dragon Ball Super has improved upon its predecessors. Take a look!

I Have a Choco: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2017

February might be Valentine’s Day Month, but how much I’ll actually discuss romance on the blog remains a mystery even to me!

Whatever the situation, I know that if I were in Japan, I’d be giving giri choco to my Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Given that this will be the tenth year of Ogiue Maniax, I decided last November to do a Genshiken series 1 re-read. I’ve started with Volume 1, and you should expect to see them come out every other month. (I would have said bi-monthly but that phrase can also mean “twice a month,” so…) I’ve already felt like I’m stepping back into a different world, so I’m looking forward to the next article too.

Speaking of Genshiken, I also wrote a little post comparing Kasukabe Saki to Love Live‘s Nishikino Maki. The latter’s cooldere attitude reminded me of Madarame’s fantasy version of the former.

Perhaps the most important post I’ve written this month is on the subject of butts in anime. In it, I detail increasing presence of large rears in Japanese animation, and put forth my own hypothesis on why this has occurred. The seeds of this post have been germinating in my head for a very long time, even before Ogiue Maniax ever began. If you want to see more content like this, let me know. I just hope it doesn’t take me another 10 years to write one!\

I was also sad to see the end of Soredemo Machi ga Mawatteiru aka And Yet the Town Moves. It’s a very unique series in a lot of ways, and I look forward to seeing what the artist does next.

On the video game side, I’ve written a couple of posts thinking about what how players view competitive games, and what they can potentially do to both bring in a bigger audience and keep them from running away in fear.

As for this month’s Patreon-sponsored post, I looked at the subject of babies in anime and manga. My rating of babies is based on how much they make their parents suffer, I guess. If you have a subject you really, really want me to write about, it’s just a one-time $30 pledge.

If you’re wondering why I have it at that price, it’s just because I don’t necessarily want the blog to consist primarily of requests as opposed to my own ideas. That being said, I am considering maybe offering a poll with three or four topics that can be voted on with Patreon pledges. Is this an idea readers would be on board for?

Overall, I think this was a pretty solid month. I don’t have a wholly solid idea of what’s going to come next, but it might be a bit less review-heavy compared to this one.

 

 

 

 

From Cutie Honey to Keijo!!!!!!!!: The Rise of Big Butts in Anime History

NOTE: This post is NOT SAFE FOR WORK

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Introduction

For as long as there has been fanservice in anime, there has been an emphasis on rear ends. Few things are more associated with anime (for better or worse) than the panty shot, and the form-fitting suits in works such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell have helped to bring posteriors to prominence. However, I believe that buttocks have not remained static over the course of anime’s history and that, over the past 10-15 years, we have reached a point where big butts are “in.” The purpose of this post is to show this gradual change in tastes while also positing some possible reasons that this change has taken place.

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