Wishing for Hope, Reaching to Help

I’m grateful to be in a position where I am mentally and emotionally well, even in this pandemic. It’s easy for me to assume that fear and concern over COVID-19 is what’s on people’s minds, but the recent deaths of so many people and figures in my social and fandom spheres just has me hyper-aware of the challenges many face that are likely exacerbated by current circumstances. 

In the world of anime, Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network died in his apartment on May 21, 2020. In wrestling, Shad Gaspard died at age 39 after helping save his son from a rip current on May 17. Another wrestler, Hana Kimura was 22 when she died by suicide on May 23 after online harassment due to her appearance on the reality show Terrace House. And while this isn’t recent, it’s been almost a year since the suicide of gaming youtuber Etika, who was 29. Death may be unpredictable and inevitable, but the fact that they all left so young makes me shake my head in disbelief.

I wasn’t close to any of the people I mentioned, so my perspective is not as a friend or peer, or even necessarily as a fan or follower. Yet, I feel something: sadness, anger, frustration, or maybe something else I can’t describe. In the case of Hana Kimura, I kept saying to myself, “I really need to check out Stardom because she seems like a star,” and now all I’ll have is past videos to reference. It makes me want to reach out to my friends, and those I’ve lost contact with over the years. It’s easy to just assume that the last image you had of them is roughly how they are today, but time passes and people face challenges both internal and external. I always worry about overstepping my boundaries or thinking I’m closer to someone than I actually am, and maybe I just need to find the tiny ounce of courage to get over that and maybe, just maybe, help someone turn away from a bad decision. 

I used to frequent a chat room that was named after the anime Maria-sama ga Miteru (aka Maria Watches Over Us). A few years since I last visited, I decided to stop by, and the chat topic included a person’s name: “So-and-so ga Miteru.” It turns out they had passed away. A couple more years passed, and I visited again. This time, more names had been added to the topic. It feels like I blinked, and more of the people I knew had vanished. As far as I know, none of those deaths were due to suicide, but they stung nevertheless. And while I never really interacted with them on any deeply personal level, it made my infrequent visits feel like “too little, too late.” When it’s related to physical health, there’s only so much any of us can do. When it’s not, it hits differently. 

I hope we can connect to our fellow human beings, those we love and even those with whom we have the barest connection, so that we can help lift up one another. If you’re feeling like life isn’t worth living, reach out to suicide prevention for professional help. If you’re hurting and just need someone to listen, feel free to even leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter

Remember: you’re worth something.

The House in Fata Morgana and Full House: The Inherent Limits of “Pure” Translations

There has been a long history of English-language localizations doing their best to hide the fact that Japanese media is from, well, Japan. Old dubs of Gigantor and Astro Boy would have characters reading the “international newspaper.” Satoshi in Pokemon became Ash Ketchum, and onigiri became donuts, popcorn balls, and even photoshopped sandwiches. Phoenix Wright is suddenly practicing law in California, and a car with the steering wheel on the right side was “imported.” There’s enough that’s gone on over the years that fan skepticism towards translation can be justified, but more recently, there’s been a growing trend of negative criticism about the work of translators, accusing them of overly politicizing a work or introducing “Western” ideas that interfere with the “purity” of the original Japanese work. There are a lot of factors that go into this debate, and not always with the sincerest of intentions, but I’m going to elaborate on how (as the cliché goes) translation is more art than science, and why there’s an inherent limit to such purity arguments.

First things first: I do want to lay down that bad translations can exist. It’s subjective on some level, but I do believe that there is such a thing as a localization taken too far. One example I often think about is the English dub of Ojamajo Doremi, known as Magical Do-Re-Mi. Changing the names is one thing, but that version of the beloved magical girl series would inject extra dialogue and voice-overs to such an extent, often without any basis in the original, that it changed how the anime felt as a whole. At the time, it was an outdated philosophy on children’s cartoons transplanted onto a children’s anime. Another example is in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where Ike’s line, “I fight for my friends,” sounds hilarious in English, especially with the monotone delivery, but that cheesiness is not in the Japanese. The original s closer to “I merely fight for those I must protect,” which changes the contours of what’s being conveyed.

However, there is a large spectrum when it comes to translation and localization. Translation cannot and will not ever be a 1:1 transfer, not even for two very closely related languages such as English and Dutch, let alone English and Japanese. There are cultural differences, disparities in lived experiences, and gaps in what might be considered “common knowledge, before you even get to the mechanics of languages themselves differing greatly.

One of the ground zero examples at the moment is a game called The House in Fata Morgana, and the epicenter of that debate is the translation of the word tsundere. In Japanese, it’s a slang word that’s been borne out of anime and manga fandom to describe characters who go from essentially hating someone to falling in love with them, or someone who acts like they hate someone but is secretly in love. Meanness and maybe even a bit of slapstick violence often come part in parcel. More importantly to this particular example, however, it’s become a celebrated trope. Tsundere girls are popular both because the inherent emotional conflict is powerful, but it can also have a fetishistic element. In Fata Morgana, the choice was to translate tsundere as “fragile male ego” because, as the translator explains at length, the use of the word tsundere is sarcastic here, referring more to the other character’s abusiveness. It’s not the only answer she could have arrived at, but it ultimately results in a translation that gets across not so much the nitty gritty of what’s being said in Japanese, but rather the essence and the intent behind those words. Yet, because the word tsundere has solidified in fandom, it’s seen by critics as a kind of “pure” concept that needs to be preserved.

One option was to just keep the word tsundere, but to do so would be to assume that every person playing the game would already be familiar with the word. Moreover, no amount of more direct translations could succinctly convey the fact that it is indeed a stock phrase. This, I think, is where a lot of the criticism falls short, because it presumes that one’s own experience with a work trumps everyone else’s. I think back to the Anime World Order review of Dog Soldier, where the translator, Neil Nadelman, explains that he translated instant ramen as “instant noodle soup” because ramen was not ubiquitous enough at the time to just make sense off the cuff. Times have changed, but they haven’t changed enough for tsundere to be common parlance.

One thing that might help people championing the “purity” of translation is to think about the process in the opposite direction, from English to Japanese. Plenty of English-language films and TV shows get imported and adapted, and there are challenges on the other end to localizing those works. I once wrote about how Gone with the Wind has had multiple interpretations of the iconic “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” which don’t break it down word by word but rather try to communicate the curtness and rudeness of Rhett Butler’s dismissive attitude at the end. To translate that more literally would make it lose some of the impact of Rhett’s brevity.

In that post, I also discussed the challenge of giving particular personal pronouns and honorifics usage to characters from English to Japanese. If it were a so-called “pure” translation, there wouldn’t be any such distinctions, but this would be jarring to a Japanese audience, where those elements are woven into the fabric of both language and society. Since then, I’ve come across some interesting examples. First, is the Deadpool movies. Second, is the old sitcom Full House.

In Japanese, Deadpool refers to himself with the unique personal pronounce ore-chan, where ore is a very masculine and impolite way to say “I,” and chan is an honorific that usually is reserved for young children, girls, small animals, and the like. A rough equivalent in English would be “little ol’ me,” but it’s not used in the same way. The Japanese subtitles for Deadpool try to capture his character through his pronoun usage, interpreting and localizing his speech for the audience. 

Similarly, while in the original English-language Full House, many characters refer to Jesse Katsopolis as “Uncle Jesse,” they give the youngest daughter, Michelle Tanner, a unique way of referring to her uncle in Japanese: oi-tan, or a babyish pronunciation of oji-chan (uncle). Neither Deadpool nor Michelle’s phrasings are  “literally translated” into Japanese, but are rather localized based on the characters themselves—who they are, how they act, etc. In this sense, it’s not so different from The House in Fata Morgana and the use of “fragile male ego” because it’s trying to communicate more about who is speaking to whom.

I think the point that needs to be absolutely understood is that there is always, always some compromise when it comes to translating from one language to another. The question, then, is what are acceptable sacrifices in order to get something across most faithfully, given cultures, circumstances, and even mediums. For example, a novel (or indeed visual novel) has more space to give an explanation about some cultural aspect that would fly by in anime subtitles or a manga word balloon, but does the act of throwing in a long explanation shift the work or interrupt the flow of dialogue? Different readers have different priorities, and different translators have to interpret the original works through their own lenses. It’s why multiple translations of the same works exist. 

What I see in the purity arguments of Japanese media fandom is a desire to be rewarded for one’s specialized knowledge, and it’s the perspective of those who revel in being as hardcore as possible. As someone who has devoted decades of energy to anime and manga fandom, as well as thinking about how translations function, I can relate. The unfortunate thing is that it turns experiencing these works into a kind of measuring contest to see who knows more and who has the “real” access to Japanese culture, which is in a certain sense the opposite of what translation is there to do: make something accessible.

Kunio-kun and Double Dragon for Super Smash Bros.

As Smash Bros. Ultimate increasingly becomes a celebration of gaming history on a wider scale, I want more and more to see every video game genre represented in its character roster. Just like how Cloud and Hero represent RPGs, or how Ryu, Ken, and Terry are the poster boys for fighting games, I’d like to see someone represent the beat ’em up genre. In that respect, there are only two possible franchises that I think deserve this honor: Kunio-kun and Double Dragon.

Kunio-kun is the granddaddy of beat ’em ups, starting with the very first game in the genre’s history: Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun. Featuring the brash yet noble delinquent Kunio-kun, it would set the template for the entire genre—full range of movement, enemies on all sides, clever attacks, weapons, etc. It would later influence gaming further though sequels and spin-offs such as River City Ransom

The original Double Dragon arcade game was basically designed on the Kunio-kun engine except with more international appeal. Instead of the specifically Japanese context of gakuran-wearing yankii, it’s about two Chinese-American kung fu brothers named Billy and Jimmy Lee. Which one would be better for Smash comes down to that difference—do you want the very Japanese and explosive Kunio, or do you want the Lee brothers and their global recognition?

Either way, the movesets practically write themselves. In fact, one could say that they have too many moves to choose from. 

Kunio not only has his first game, but he’s also one of the stars of River City Ransom (where he was renamed “Alex” for the US) and is Mario-level in terms of dabbling in other genres. He could squat like a delinquent, Acro Circus though the air, punch people on the ground, and throw a ball straight out of Super Dodge Ball.

For Billy and Jimmy, you also have endless options. Do you base them more on their arcade moves or their console appearances? The Cyclone Spin Kick is obvious, but do you go with the arcade animation or the NES one? What about nunchaku from Double Dragon III or the Double Dragon for NES back elbow? What if they based the gameplay on Double Dragon II, where the B button always means “attack left” and the A button always means “attack right?” In terms of Smash, both the Double Dragons and Kunio can be as orthodox or as unusual as possible.

Given that the beat ’em up genre is long past its heyday, and Nintendo’s apparent desire to use Smash Bros. Ultimate as a promotional platform, it might not seem all that likely to see either Kunio or the Lees. However, Arc System Works (creators of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear) have the current rights, and there was a Kunio-kun Spirit Event in Ultimate. So here’s hoping that any of these brawling heroes have a chance to be newcomers.

My Favorite (?) Anime Computer Games

I was asked via Patreon to write about my favorite anime computer games, which should theoretically be an easy proposition. The only problem: I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, and more recently, I haven’t had much access to a Windows PC, where most computer games reside. Thus, the scope narrows from “my favorites” to “the couple I actually played and remember with some fondness.” Hopefully that still counts.

The #1 title that sticks out in my mind is Melty Blood. Though it hasn’t been exclusively a computer game for a very long time, and it’s nowadays known for the running joke that Melty Blood tournaments can (or are forced) to be held anywhere and everywhere, it did start off as a doujin game on PC. I happened to be part of a fighting game forum at the time the game first appeared, and I had recalled a Japanese forum-goer singing high praises for the Tsukihime franchise as a whole. Lo and behold, here was a game that married those two forces—Type Moon and fightmans—together. 

I was never good at the game by any means, but when I think about that very first rendition of Melty Blood, I mostly recall the little humorous touches that faded away over time in favor of a more competitively robust experience. In the first Melty Blood, when Arcueid and CIel clashed with punches, it could set off a sequence that ended with both of them getting cross countered, Ashita no Joe-style. And whereas Mech-Hisui in later iterations has a more conventional forward and back air dash, she originally had a Jet Scrander from Mazinger Z, and she flew at an oddly steep angle when air dashing. It reminds me of the fictional Kujibiki Unbalance fighting game in the Genshiken manga, where the club members talk about how the game adheres so closely to faithfully capturing the characters’ qualities that the balance went right out the window. 

Another game I enjoyed a lot was MegaMari, a fan game that basically took the characters of Touhou and put them into a Mega Man clone. It was more than just a reskin, however, as the game took Mega Man’s famed platforming and added Touhou’s signature bullet hell. Nothing in Mega Man (except perhaps the abusiveness of later entries into the Mega Man X series) could compare to the ridiculous yet beautiful sprays of icicles and swords, and that was in addition to old blue bomber staples like the Quick Man stage instant-kill laser beams. I was never able to complete MegaMari on account of the difficulty, but I appreciated the marrying of two great flavors. It also introduced me to a lot of Touhou characters I didn’t know much about otherwise—Konpaku Youmu, Saigyouji Yuyuko, Reisen Udongein Inaba, and so on.

While my experience with anime computer games is extremely limited, there is one area I wish I could explore more: the Japanese home computers of the 1980s, such as the PC-88 and the PC-98. This is especially because there are a lot of secret shames buried within that time, and it’d be a fun and enlightening experience. Probably the closest I’ll be able to get without jumping through too many hoops is to just get the PC-98-inspired VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action on the Switch. Although that game isn’t made in Japan, it actually got a variety of official art made by Suzuki Kenya (Please tell me, Galko-chan!) for the Japanese release. 

Expect my thoughts on that game in the near future?

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Shields or No Shields? Platform Fighters and the Question of Defense

As a long-time fan of Super Smash Bros., I’ve been curious about the recent expansion of the “platform fighter” subgenre, especially in indie gaming. Over the past six years or so, more and more titles have been developed that follow the basic Smash formula. I’ve mostly watched tournament matches to try and get a sense of what each game is about, but more recently I’ve been able to try some out. Playing them made me aware of an odd trend: a lot of these games do not have shielding or anything akin to blocking as a sustained stationary defensive option.

The five indie platform fighters I’ve paid attention to are Rivals of Aether, Brawlout, Brawlhalla, Slap City, and Icons Combat Arena (which is being succeeded by Vortex Rising). Of these titles, only the last two have Smash shielding. The first three have, at most, workarounds. Rivals of Aether has parrying, Brawlout has a spot dodge and a Guilty Gear-esque burst system, and Brawlhalla has a spot dodge.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with removing shields from a game, but the decision stands out because of how fundamental blocking is to fighting games as a whole. It’s one thing to have weak shields like in Smash Bros. Melee or Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it’s another to eschew the mechanic wholesale—doing so removes the classic rock-paper-scissors balance of blocks > attacks > throws > blocks. Indeed, while Brawlout technically has grabs, they don’t really function all that differently from striking attacks. The fact that the posterboy for Brawlout, Paco, is a wrestler becomes largely a matter of aesthetics.

The big question is simply, why remove the most basic defensive technique there is? After all, while there are clear similarities between these Smash-inspired games, they’re also not necessarily going for the same exact gameplay. Moreover, as different as the actual Smash titles are, they all have shields. 

The answer, it seems, is to try and capture that ineffable quality called “hype” while keeping players from being overwhelmed by complexity.

In the case of Rivals of Aether, its creator describes the lack of shield as a product of both practical limitation and creative decision-making:

Grabs and Shields were removed from Rivals to decrease defensive options and to reduce animation scope by removing throws.

The aggressive focus on Rival’s engine reflects my style as a player. I gravitate toward rushdown and so does RoA’s middleground.

The RoA fans themselves seem to love this, arguing that it emphasizes aggressive gameplay, making things more thrilling overall. Meanwhile, the official Brawlout website has this to say:

Rather than slow-paced defensive battles, Brawlout goes all-out with the lightning-fast aerobatics which platform fighters are famous for.

By focusing on aggressive mechanics, new players will be able to easily nail impressive combos while not feeling overwhelmed by friends who’ve had a bit more practice.

Brawlhalla doesn’t have any specific mission statements, but its free-to-play nature and its overall mechanics also hew in this direction.

Generally speaking, strong defenses frustrate those eager to be rewarded for offense, and that goes double for less experienced players and viewers. Even titles with crazy combos and pressure like Dragonball FighterZ have people getting salty about players who “spam block.” But there’s also the specific context of when many of these platform fighters began development: during the rise and fall of Smash 4. A frequent criticism of the Wii U entry was that shields were too strong, and discouraged the kind of high-pace aggression Melee is known for. Ultimate itself responded to this feedback by weakening shields in certain ways. The shield-less indie games essentially took it one step further. 

It’s also notable that these games, as much as they want to emphasize an almost Melee-esque speed, also try to make competitive-level play more accessible than Melee—a desire to, as the old saying goes, be easy to learn and difficult to master. Brawlout, RoA, and Brawlhalla all try to streamline Smash and especially Melee mechanics to remove some of the execution barrier, whether that’s removing the need for “smash attacks” (Brawlhalla) or simplifying wavedashing (RoA).

However, it’s impossible to fully solve the “problem” of strong defense, blocking mechanic or no. Turtlers always seem to find a way, especially when their opponents want to attack without much forethought. Even Brawlhalla, with its flimsy spot dodge, has seen players frustrated by defensive styles. For example, one asked how to fight passive/defensive players, while another understood how to beat spot dodge (bait it out and punish), but hated playing passively.  

There’s another aspect to consider. Smash Bros. shield is a signature aspect of the franchise, and for a long time, it was unique among fighting games. A barrier that successfully guards against nearly everything at first, it shrinks over time, leaving the user more exposed and more prone to getting stunned into a dizzy state (shield breaking) . It’s one way to introduce weaknesses into blocking, which traditional fighting games usually go about through the concept of high/low mix-ups. But perhaps, because the Smash shield is so iconic, the games that do incorporate it seem even more like “clones.” An alternative form of blocking that’s simple and reasonably effective could be the answer to set future platform fighters further apart. In this respect, some games have been trying their own renditions of shielding. Vortex Rising is implementing one-way shields that are inherently vulnerable to cross-up attacks (i.e. attacks that can land behind your opponent where they aren’t protected), while a newcomer to the platform fighter genre, Slayers for Hire, is going for something more akin to a Street Fighter IV-style “focus attack” (for Smash players, that would be Ryu and Ken’s down special).

The shield-less platform fighters have thus far sought to discourage stationary defense and encourage more active movement, and the players who have gravitated towards these games have found them to be enjoyable. But I have to wonder if aggression can truly be considered as such if there isn’t enough to oppose it. In other words, is rushdown truly rushdown if there isn’t an equally strong defense it needs to crack? Whatever the answer may be, having games that remove blocking entirely may bring about interesting results.

Recent Thoughts on Love Live's Nijigasaki High School Idol Club

In the past, the third Love Live! multimedia project, “Nijigasaki High School Idol Club” (previously known as “Perfect DREAM Project”), had somewhat eluded me in terms of its appeal. Certainly, when it comes to Love Live! In general, I’m usually something of a late adopter—it’s usually the anime adaptations that bring me in, as opposed to the games, magazines, or even the songs. I’m also not so big a fan that I’ll follow every crumb of information, or try to pick favorites before I’ve had a chance to learn about the characters.

Two things have changed since then: the Love Live! School Idol Festival All Stars mobile game (hereafter LLSIFAS) came out, and I attended a delayed viewing of the “Love Live! Fest” concert featuring the girls from all three generations. Together, they’ve given me a better insight into how this third Love Live! Is supposed to work, and its concept of “more individualized school idols” has me curious.

As soon as the nine Nijigasaki girls came out on stage at “Love Live! Fest,” it was clear that the thinking behind them diverged from what went into their predecessors. Rather than appearing as a nine-member unit with matching outfits, each of the singers/voice actors dressed like their characters, who themselves all have very different concert wardrobes. So instead of, say, having all of μ’s in white for “Snow Halation,” it was a hodgepodge ranging from a Swedish dress to a fancy nightgown to a kind of Vocaloid-esque ensemble. Their styles were incongruous, and intentionally so. As explained by one of the members, the theme of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is to emphasize each girl’s uniqueness above all else. It’s quite a departure from previous Love Live! projects, which were all about nine girls working as one. 

Each of the Nijigasaki girls also has their own solo number (in addition to a couple of group songs), which is something that the members of μ’s and Aqours didn’t get until later. I think it actually helps convey what each of their personalities is like, as opposed to trying to figure out which girl is which when they’re all singing at the same time. Asaka Karin is supposed to have a more mature sex appeal, and it comes across in spades when she’s the only vocalist. Speaking of Karin, learning about her character was an experience. First, she came out and called herself the “sexy” one. Then, she called her fans “slaves.” Last, it showed her signature symbol: a high heel (hmm). It dawned on me that Karin (as well as the other eight girls) are likely all going for very different audiences from one another.

LLSIFAS somewhat departs from its mobile game predecessor by having more of an ongoing narrative in the story mode. In Chapter 1, you learn that the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is in a sorry state and on the verge of being shut down. Your goal is to bring back the old members and recruit some new ones, and you basically learn about each of the characters along the way. I think this has been effective in helping me get a better sense of what each of them is all about, with the heavy amount of interaction and the clearer direction doing a good job of showing how the characters are when there’s an obstacle to overcome. Still, I wonder why the forces that control Love Live! as a whole decided to move in this direction for their third endeavor.

I’m not ready to fully embrace Nijigasaki because I find that a bit of resistance is for the best when approaching idol franchises, even the continuation of one I’m already a fan of. The original Love Live! won me over even as I was very skeptical of it, and it took some time for me to enjoy Love Live! Sunshine!!, but it happened eventually. I don’t need to pick a favorite Nijigasaki girl, I don’t need to enjoy every song, and I don’t need to go all-in from the start. That said, I’m looking forward to how the more focused format of an anime will tell their story, and how this idea of individuality will play out. And with a fourth Love Live! project on the way, the Nijigasaki idols will become “senpai” themselves.

Welco Metot Henex Tlevel: “Sonic the Hedgehog” Movie Review

I originally was on the fence about seeing the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. But the praise it received from those I trust to have loving but honest opinions about Sega convinced me. So in preparation, I basically went all-in on Sonic. I finally played (and beat) Sonic Mania, which I had put off for a long time. I filled my playlists with songs from Sonic and Sonic-adjacent sources. In a way, it was a homecoming for me, because my very first online community was actually a Sonic and NiGHTS fanfiction site. A part of me will always love the blue hedgehog.

One thing that struck me about the film is how, despite Sonic having a continued presence throughout the decades, Sonic the Hedgehog the movie is essentially a nostalgia film that nevertheless has appeal to kids today. It’s not set in the past (smartphones exist), and the way they portray Sonic as kind of naive and lonely fits better in today’s environment, but the overall buddy flick sensibility feels like it comes straight out of the 1990s, when Sonic was at his peak in terms of recognizability. Even though Jim Carrey isn’t portrayed with the classic girth of Robotnik, he comes across as how the character (described as having an immense IQ but the maturity of a child) could have been translated well to film even in the 90s. In fact, Jim Carrey probably could have played Robotnik back then as well.

Sonic the Hedgehog the movie is a surprisingly solid movie that feels faithful to the core spirit of Sonic as a “cool dude with attitude.” So much could have gone wrong, and the fact that it was inches away from being a total disaster makes it all the more miraculous. Most notably, the original design for Sonic in the movie was met with such widespread panning that they had to redo all the CG. And it matters a lot! That re-design basically was the difference between Sonic being an endearing character and one who induces nightmares.

The artists responsible for fixing Sonic’s look also got their studio shuttered before Christmas in the worst thank-you ever. If all the success this film has achieved doesn’t somehow go back into paying all of these employees who helped save this movie, then my opinion of it will sour immensely. But for now, I think Sonic the Hedgehog is worthy of praise.

It’s fitting that both Sonic the Hedgehog the movie and Sonic Mania are processed blasts of the 90s. Perhaps it took those three decades or so for the nostalgia to come around and make the Sonics everyone wanted into a reality once more.

 

Nijisanji, Hololive, and the Virtual Youtuber Kayfabe

Since I last wrote about Virtual Youtubers close to two years ago, the scene has grown far beyond any one individual’s ability to keep track. One consequence of this, as I’ve come to learn, is that individual acts have started to form collectives that increase visibility for all. Two of the big ones are Nijisanji and Hololive, both of which utilize a less expensive approach called Live2D that is clearly less robust than whatever it is Kizuna A.I. has. I find the presence of groups like Nijisanji and Hololive to be curious intersections of how people interact with the internet in current times. 

Virtual Youtubers (VTubers) are essentially one part Hatsune Miku, one part livestreamer, and one part idol–the result is a kind of weird unspoken contract between viewers and creators where the notion of “authenticity” is relative rather than being some kind of absolute. One of the complaints that streamers often receive, especially if they’re extremely over the top, is that it’s all an act, and that they’re just playing to the audience in order to get more eyeballs on them. People like streamers with whom they can feel some kind of genuine connection, and a layer of “fakeness” can be a turn-off in that respect. But with characters like Tsukino Mito (Nijisanji) or Haato Akai (Hololive), there’s an obvious understanding that what you’re seeing and getting just isn’t a “real person.” At the same time, there’s still a desire that these characters aren’t fully constructed, and that some of the actual individual behind the anime mask will peek through just a bit sometimes. Fujima Sakura (who isn’t in Nijisanji or Hololive) is a prime example of this, though in that case, the person behind the character (Sally Amaki) is already well known, as is the fact that Sakura as a VTuber is part of a greater project: 22/7.

I mentioned Hatsune Miku here (and in the previous post about VTubers) not just because she’s a cute anime girl mascot who people collectively imbue with a personality and history, but because part of her charm is that her voice doesn’t sound entirely realistic. There’s an artificial quality to her that adds to her appeal, and to some extent, I can see this being the case with Nijisanji and Hololive’s VTubers because Live2D isn’t super-smooth. There’s a kind of choppiness that can drag you out of the illusion pretty easily, so you have to kind of let it work its magic on you. Perhaps it’s closer to pro wrestling in that respect. In a way, the flaws even lend themselves to a greater sense of authenticity, in that these VTubers are not presenting a supremely polished (and arguably overproduced) product. 

However, just the fact that Nijisanji and Hololive are these collectives adds another wrinkle. There’s this kind of understanding that cooperation is of mutual benefit to all those involved, but the fact that prospective VTubers basically earn the opportunity to enter these groups calls to mind the very nature of Youtube as a platform dependent on click-throughs and crossovers as a means to garner more attention. It’s not that different from something like Game Grumps, but the veneer of anime avatars makes VTubers a little more mysterious but also makes me wonder just where they’re all coming from. To what extent are they professionally honed products and to what extent are they amateur endeavors–and for that matter, does Youtube explode that difference?

It might not be such a bad thing that people can so easily become Virtual Youtubers these days. I myself have considered doing more Youtube in the past, but I’m just not a fan of putting my face out there for all to see. The way the members of Nijisanji and Hololive do it, on the other hand, provides an alternative for those who want to be out there without exposing too much of their identities. In a time when the difference between the online self and the offline self is all but disintegrated, doing this Virtual Youtuber thing can be an oasis of anonymity, albeit within a profit and attention-seeking environment.

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Byleth and the “Fire Emblem” Tactical Spirit in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”

The new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character announcement did not exactly hit with a great bang. Byleth, the player avatar from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, is arguably even the most predictable choice possible. However, in spite of hype-addicted fans not getting their fix and my own neutral feelings towards Byleth, I find their gameplay reveal to be an interesting look into the developers’ latest attempt at capturing Fire Emblem‘s tactical gameplay in Smash.

Fire Emblem is a turn-based, fantasy-themed strategy RPG series where you control different characters with unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s a game that discourages charging in headfirst and instead emphasizes positional advantages and careful advancements. Because the games are not as action-packed as Smash, it has required a greater degree of interpretation to translate the Fire Emblem representatives. Marth (and by extension Lucina) has the highest walking speed in the series, allowing him to swiftly move in and out of enemy range. Robin is one of the slowest characters in the game, but has a mix of long-range magic and close-range sword attacks to try and trap the opponent in a bad spot. As mentioned by Sakurai in the Byleth gameplay video above, most of the Fire Emblem characters in Smash have Counter attacks in order to replicate the retaliations that happen in the original game’s combat sequences.

Byleth comes equipped with a multitude of different weapons, each of which are tied to a particular general direction. Upward attacks are done with a chain-like sword, side attacks utilize a spear with long reach, downward attacks are performed with a slow but powerful axe, and neutral attacks use a bow and arrows for fighting from far away. This plays into the multitude of weapons in Fire Emblem: Three Houses and their properties, such as accuracy, effective range, etc.

In turn, what I think Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is trying to capture by linking specific weapons to specific directions is the spirit of the positional and preparatory thinking that goes into playing Fire Emblem. Byleth is likely encouraged to fight at different distances depending on what the opponent’s priorities are. This applies to some extent with every Smash character, but with Byleth especially, it looks like there is no cure-all attack that can be used by default to cover multiple situations, such as Link’s neutral air or Mr. Game & Watch’s Fire trampoline.

Sakurai points out some of the examples of the weapons’ limitations. The spear has tremendous reach but is weak up close and has problems with vertical movement. The axe is cumbersome, but has many ways to foil evasive measures and low attacks. The bow has a point at which it must fire, forcing The long-range weapon into being a commitment if you want some serious power. He doesn’t say much about what the sword can’t do, but I imagine it will primarily function as an anti-air.

There are plenty of characters who have multiple weapons that are meant to attack at different angles, but in many of those cases, those moves are usually exclusively special moves. Because the directional theme is tied to Bayleth’s normals and specials, it highlights a different kind of tactical thinking. If you want your sword attacks to be effective, you have to be at a distance where the lance is a poor choice, for example. And you can’t make up for it like Mario could with a quick jab vs. a slower fireball because all of Bayleth’s forward-reaching attacks are lance-based. In other words, Bayleth’s vertical spacing is substantially different from their horizontal spacing, and the player has to adjust accordingly.

The more I delve into how Bayleth is designed, the more impressed I am with the thought and concept behind the character. The game could’ve given them a weapon-switching mechanic, for example, but associating a weapon with a direction means that understanding the right spacing for Bayleth also means understanding the right stage positioning as well. It hints at the same feeling as putting the right unit in the right spot in Fire Emblem and allowing the enemy to fall on your blade.

 

Creme de la Creme: Why Alcremie Should Be a Smash Bros. Character

With more Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters on the way (including but not limited to the last Fighters Pass entrant), I’m throwing my hat in the ring as to who I think would be the right Generation 8 Pokemon representative. While it’s a longshot for sure, I’m throwing my hat in the ring in favor of the Cream Pokemon, Alcremie.

There are three reasons I think Alcremie would be the ideal Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield character. First is Alcremie’s Gigantamax form. Second is that she already comes with a huge variety of colors to base costumes on. Third is the unique gameplay she would provide.

Gigantamax

The signature feature of the Galar region in Pokemon Sword and Shield is Dynamaxing, where Pokemon grow to massive size and gain all sorts of new abilities. A select few Pokemon have the ability to do a more advanced form of Dynamaxing called Gigantamaxing, and Alcremie is among those capable of the feat. Moreover, her Gigantamax form is visually striking, as she turns into a giant multi-tiered cake. It’s perfect for a Final Smash, especially with Gigantamax Alcremie’s signature move, G-Max Finale. It attacks and heals at the same time, and would likely be somewhat similar to Princess Peach’s Final Smash.

Color Palettes Galore

As of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, each Smash character has eight costumes. For other Pokemon, there haven’t been many canon options for colors, resulting in things like purple Charizard and yellow Mewtwo. For Alcremie, however, this is anything but a problem. In Sword and Shield, Alcremie actually has dozens of possible physical variations based on the specific way it evolves from its previous form, Milcery. Rather than the developers having to work towards picking colors and trying to get approval, they can just say “let’s pick Matcha Cream and Rainbow Swirl” and call it a day, confident that the Pokemon Company won’t take issue.

Gameplay

For the most part, the Pokemon that appear in Smash Bros. are kind of similar. They have very animal-like appearances and their animations translate that aesthetic to their moves. But Alcremie is living whip cream who’s slow but with high special stats, and who specializes in support moves and fairy-type attacks. The closest we get to that is Jigglypuff, who only became a Fairy type in Pokemon X and Y. Alcremie could be a low mobility but high range character, hitting opponents with Dazzling Gleam while also using Decorate to provide support. If they wanted to take this further, developers could even make it a team specialist.

An Alternative 

In all likelihood, Alcremie could be too left-field even for Smash Bros. In that case, I think an almost equally good choice would be Grimmsnarl, who also has a cool Gigantamax form but unlike Alcremie has a more conventional body type. On top of that, Grimmsnarl is used by the ever-popular Sword/Shield character Marnie, giving it potentially a built-in fanbase.

The Cream of the Crop Always Rises to the Top

The DLC character of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate have mostly been third-party guests, but Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are absolutely big deals in the video game landscape. Alcremie would be a quirky but appropriate mascot for the Galar region, and I think it would have both general appeal and the opportunity for some creative game design.

Now, if only they’d go back and give Generation 3 a proper representative as well…