How to Make Otaku Care for the Environment: Kemono Friends

Kemono Friends has taken the anime fandom in Japan by storm. With chart-topping sales in blu-rays, CDs, and more, Kemono Friends is an unlikely success story. How can such a simple-looking 3DCG cartoon about animal people win over the hearts of so many? The answer is by being just off-kilter enough to surprise, and then endearing enough to make a lasting impression.

Kemono Friends takes place in a nature park called Japari Park. The main characters, Serval (the serval cat) and Kaban (the human; kaban means “bag” in Japanese) journey to find out what kind of animal Kaban is. Along the way, they meet other half-beasts, collectively called “Friends,” learning about other species as well.

The initial hook of the series is how Kaban (and in fact everyone they meet) is unable to identify what Kaban herself is. Given the dilapidated state of Japari Park, it hints early on that the world of Kemono Friends is more than it seems. Is it a post-apocalypse? Is it something less sinister? The fact that the show maintains its laid-back feeling despite all of that gives the show an unusual charm that’s difficult to find elsewhere. Moreover, in every episode Kaban-chan inadvertently does something that comes easily to humans but is difficult or incomprehensible to the Friends, e.g. handling tools, analyzing situations, etc., which makes for a kind of intriguingly self-reflective position.

I find that a part of Kemono Friends‘ success is that it carries the DNA lineage of gdgd Fairies, a show that mixes cheap animation, unpredictable humor, and an improv section that lets its voice actresses go wild. The series Tesagure! Bukatsumono is of this vein, and its animation director, TATSUKI, is the director behind Kemono Friends. Although Kemono Friends has significantly less improvisational elements than gdgd Fairies or Tesagure! Bukatsumono, the use of simple CG to create a mellow yet mildly uncomfortable world remains. In fact, if there’s any other show that I think even comes close to Kemono Friends in terms of setting and feel, it’s Straight Title Robot Anime, another gdgd Fairies descendant that’s about robots trying to re-discover the concept of humor in a world where humans are extinct. In a sense, Kemono Friends is an “evolution” of this strand of anime, adapted to fit wider consumption than the niche approaches of its predecessors.

Above: Straight Title Robot Anime

It would be a mistake to wholly attribute the popularity of Kemono Friends to those bits and pieces of DNA, however. Another reason the series works is because it’s actually an incredibly effective environmental awareness cartoon, especially for otaku viewers.

I think the default image of environmental cartoons are fairly overt (and arguably preachy) works: Captain Planet, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Fern Gully. etc. Kemono Friends, in contrast, takes a less direct approach. By merely introducing “Friend” versions of a variety of animals both popular and obscure, giving them personality traits tied to their actual animal behaviors, and contrasting them with Serval and Kaban, they all become memorable characters at the same time they help commit to memory the qualities of those animals. Perhaps nothing emphasizes this more than the eyecatches, which feature actual zookeepers and other animal experts describing the actual animals in great detail. The experts’ words are accompanied by an onscreen depiction of the Friends version of that animal, and the result is something along the lines of how Hetalia or Kantai Collection fandom involves learning more about actual history. In other words, Serval isn’t just a “catgirl,” she’s truly the embodiment of the serval cat, and just might make you want to help out all serval cats.

Kemono Friends isn’t impressive in terms of animation, but it has an odd charisma that works. While the show won’t win over everyone, I believe it takes only two episodes to really determine whether or not someone will enjoy this series. Those who watch it will be rewarded by a show that deftly balances a lot of different plates.

Crested Ibis: The Voice of an Angel Mixed with a Banshee

As for my favorite Friends, they’d have to be the shrill yet friendly Crested Ibis and the detail-oriented and the neurotic Beaver. Fight me.

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 support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Save

Save

Save

Save

[NYICFF 2017] I Didn’t Even Know It: Window Horses

This film was shown as a part of the 2017 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Poetry has never really been in my wheelhouse. As a kid, I enjoyed reading Poe, and I even tried my hand at poetry myself, but my enjoyment of and experience has been limited. Against the odds of my own ignorance/inability to understand things like “iambic pentameter,” the animated film Window Horses created and directed by Ann Marie Fleming has helped increase my appreciation of poetry, a feat I thought impossible.

Window Horses follows Rosie Ming, an aspiring Canadian poet who holds a deep fondness for France despite never visiting it. When she receives an invitation to a poetry festival in Iran, it gives her an opportunity to learn about a new culture, gain a new perspective on what it means to write poetry, and even learns some important details about her own life.

I can relate to Rosie Ming’s initial naivete on various levels. I lived in Europe for a number of years, and while it wasn’t my first time being out of the United States, interacting with people from all over the world made me realize just how “American” my way of thinking is. I’m also Asian like Rosie, and am woefully under-educated when it comes to my own ethnic history. At one point, Rosie is talking to an exiled Chinese poet named Di Di, without being aware of the significance of1989 in Chinese History—the year of Tiananmen Square. I was continuously invested in seeing Rosie’s horizons expand as she learns about the political power of poetry, about why Iran is considered a land of poetry, and the ability for poetry to convey thoughts and feelings both large and small.

The film goes to great lengths to animate the poetry recitals themselves, with the style and imagery different according to the contents of each poem. Along with the impressive readings from the voice actors themselves, I felt myself being moved by the poems in Window Horses in ways I would have never expected given my own general lack of interest in poetry. One line that stood out to me in the film was the idea that poetry needn’t be and shouldn’t be enjoyable only by the educated and intelligent. The ability to feel the power of a poem is perhaps even more important, and I definitely felt their impact while watching Windows Horses, albeit with assistance from the film’s visuals.

Given the content, I was genuinely surprised to find out that Window Horses wasn’t an autobiographical film along the vein of Persepolis. In a Q&A after the film, Fleming mentioned her own multicultural background (half-Chinese, born in Japan, moved to Canada) as the inspiration for Rosie Ming, and that her experiences with people from all around the world provided the basis for many of the film’s characters. The result is a film with a great deal of universality, and one I’d encourage anyone to watch.

As for me, I might actually dare myself to actually start writing poetry. Perhaps I should spare everyone my inevitably amateurish scrawls, but then I think about Rosie’s own willingness to just go out there and put her heart on the line. It’s inspirational.

[NYICFF] Share, Care, Dare: My Life as a Zucchini

This film was screened as part of the 2017 New York International Children’s Film Festival

Children’s fiction is built on the stories of orphans, carrying inherent challenges that are easy to understand no matter one’s background or upbringing. The question that faces any narrative concerning orphans is how to portray both the hopes and sorrows of such an experience. The French/Swiss animated film My Life as a Zucchini, directed by Claude Barras, portrays and balances the lives and trials of orphan life brilliantly.

Based on a book by the same name, My Life as a Zucchini centers around a young boy named Icare, who is given the nickname Zucchini (Courgette in the original French). One day, after an accident occurs while Zucchini is playing with his mom’s empty beer cans, he ends up having to live at an orphanage. Faced with a new environment, Zucchini learns about the lives of his fellow orphans and all of their unique circumstances.

My Life as a Zucchini is animated in stop-motion, and the models used carry an eerie charm to them somewhat reminiscent of the characters in Edward Scissorhands. They can be called cute, but due to the characters’ appearances, particularly their eyes, there is a constant mix of pain and joy present in their expressions. This aesthetic matches well with the narrative content of the film, which pulls its punches only slightly in depicting the characters’ struggles. This is certainly not a film that patronizes its young target audience.

The element of the film that struck me hardest was the different varieties of sadness that existed in the children at the orphanage. Zucchini carries around a beer can; the only memento he has of his mother. One boy, Simon, is a bully of sorts, but it’s clear that he uses this bravado to mask the pain of not having his parents. One of the girls is implied to have been abused by her father, which has left her with some expressions of trauma, though it should be mentioned that the other children are shown to play with her and treat her like one of their own. Somehow, however, it is one of the cutest and seemingly innocuous moments that claws at my heart. Another girl’s mother was deported, and whenever she hears a car pull up to the orphanage she runs out and yells, “MOMMY?!” only to be disappointed over and over.

I want to emphasize that this is not a film about showing the crushing horrors of reality, and that the kids’ lives at the orphanage are portrayed with a great sense that life can get better, and that in many ways it’s not so bad for them now. After all, many are there to escape from worse circumstances, and there’s an unspoken bond of trust and understanding between Zucchini and the rest.

One surprising element of the film is that it actually talks about sex pretty candidly, especially for a kids’ movie. It takes the form of kids trying to figure out what happens when a man and a woman get together, but the statement “his willy explodes” should say it all. I have to wonder if it caught any of the parents off guard.

My Life as a Zucchini is a powerful work that resonates emotionally on many subtle levels. It’s definitely worth watching no matter your age. I see it as a way to open up to the conversation on a number of difficult topics with your loved ones, whether they’re your children, your parents, your relatives, or your friends.

 

They Grow Up So Breakfast: Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite, Volumes 1 and 2

mogusashokuyoku-chicken

Mogusa Minori, the namesake character of the manga Mogusa-san, is my spirit animal. Her bottomless appetite, sheer love for food, and the ecstasy one her face when she does eat speaks to me on a level beyond personal. The series finished in 2016 at ten volumes, but while the conclusion of Mogusa-san would be a sad affair under normal circumstances, it was immediately announced that there would be a sequel of some kind. The result is a new series titled Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite (Mogusa-san Shokuyoku to Tatakau), and though it is clearly of the Mogusa-san lineage, it’s also a remarkably different manga in many ways.

Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite takes place two years after the events of Mogusa-san. Mogusa is now 18, has graduated high school, and is in a long distance relationship with Koguchi Torao, the boy who befriended her in the first series. Koguchi has moved to Kyoto to learn about becoming a professional chef, while Mogusa is headed to college in Tokyo. As a full-fledged adult, Mogusa has declared that she will no longer succumb to her cravings and will eat “only” three meals a day, partly to show that she’s matured and partly for the fact that food costs money. Unfortunately for Mogusa, Tokyo is a land of culinary temptation, and tasty devils beguile her at every turn.

The most significant change from the original Mogusa-san to the sequel is that the former is told from the perspective of Koguchi, while the newer series is from Mogusa’s. Rather than viewing Mogusa as this adorable yet eerily superhuman being, we’re seeing the world from Mogusa’s eyes, and understanding her hunger pangs in a more direct way. Because the series is about Mogusa-san trying her best to not use her many refined techniques for sneaking massive bites (instead of trying not to get caught), Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite feels somewhat closer to a traditional food manga.

This subdued approach goes hand in hand with the fact that Mogusa is older. In a certain sense, it’s like the jump from shounen to seinen manga. As a 16-year-old, Mogusa is defined more by innocence and over-the-top antics, but as an 18-year-old she has a somewhat greater air of maturity. In other words, when teenage Mogusa ate, it was like watching a Dragon Ball Z fight. When adult Mogusa eats, it’s like watching Spike take on some thugs in Cowboy Bebop. In this respect, I do miss the style of the first series to some extent, but I can appreciate the new world of possibilities this direction opens up.

Another element I miss from the previous series is the cast of characters, many of whom were either instantly endearing or grew to become as such. However, this doesn’t mean that the side characters in Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite are inferior, just that I long to see her old classmates. In Tokyo, Mogusa manages to meet a wide variety of interesting individuals, with a couple of characters in particular standing out:

mogusashokuyoku-mito

The first is a woman named Mito Shinobu, a beautiful fellow student at Mogusa’s college who’s actually a former delinquent trying to become more feminine. Mogusa and Mito bond over their mutual desire to become more mature, but Mito is unaware of the fact that Mogusa can eat her under the table five times over and instead views Mogusa as an example of girlishness to aspire to. She’s not a foil for Mogusa in the same manner as Tabe (the professional eater from the first series who sees Mogusa as her eternal rival) or Chigumi (the picky eater whose narrow range of taste lies opposite Mogusa’s ability to eat anything), but Mito’s interactions with her are consistently entertaining.

mogusashokuyoku-currycoke

The second notable character is a guy named Kamishita, the president of the Gourmet Club on campus. While I previously believed that Mogusa was the character that resembled me most in the world of anime and manga, Kamishita is even closer. Not only does he enjoy food, he’s constantly experimenting with unusual combinations, like nattou on dessert pizza (!). His willingness to try bizarre food mashups, but more importantly his appreciation for them, sends friends and lovers running for the hills—an experience I know all too well.

mogusashokuyoku-hamburg

One aspect of this sequel that is worth focusing on is the idea that Mogusa is eating less. After all, this is potentially disconcerting given the number of girls out there who starve themselves trying to get in shape or because they’re dissatisfied with their body images. Mogusa never really appears as if she gains or loses weight, so in that respect she’s a fairly unrealistic character given how much she typically ate in high school, but it’s worth pointing out that, even though she’s trying to control her diet, she’s not exactly munching on celery sticks. Mogusa is able to eat three to ten times as much as the average person, and even as she sticks to three meals instead of six or more, all of her portions are massive. She eats hamburg steaks so big that one could feed a family of four, and when she brings onigiri to school for lunch she takes five massive ones with her.

Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite might very well be my favorite manga currently running. Like its predecessor, this manga speaks to the inner recesses of my soul in ways few others can. You might call it… today’s recommendation.

Save

Save

Making an Ass Out of Me and Me: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2017

mahogirls-sleepingbags

Perhaps I should do a review of March Comes in Like a Lion this month. It’d be the kind of super dumb joke I adore?

You know what else I adore? The support of my Patreon users!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

As I think about all I’ve written on the blog, a thought occurs to me: I might subconsciously assume more knowledge in my readers than I should. This is not an assertion that people who read the blog don’t know enough, but rather that I’ve written about so much over the years that it colors how I write on Ogiue Maniax. Because I avoid trying to repeat myself too much, I feel that I leave too many things unspoken, things that are worth explaining or elaborating upon for readers who are learning of certain elements of anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture for the first time. For this reason, I plan to be more conscious of newer audiences as I write. I’m aware that anime fans nowadays prefer to get their info from YouTube, but I should still make a greater effort to account for people who haven’t been reading my blog for 5+ years, i.e. most people.

Moving on, here are this past month’s blog highlights:

Two series I enjoy concluded recently: Maho Girls Precure and 3D Kanojo. The latter I’m especially fond of, and it’s one of my favorite shoujo manga in recent memory.

I also wrote about the incredible voice acting by Ishida Akira in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, as well as the ambiguous morality of Saga of Tanya the Evil.

And i you want to learn about one of the stranger Japanese manga one-shots out there, look no further than Chiyo’s Lips, a title about a relationship based on popping pimples (you might not want to read this over lunch).

March is shaping up to be quite a month, as it’s time for the New York International Children’s Film Festival. I’ll be seeing a whole bunch of movies in the next few weeks, so expect some reviews! I’ll also be writing up my re-read review of Genshiken volume 2.

See you on the lamb side!

 

 

 

Absolute Destiny Cardpocalypse: Lostorage Incited Wixoss

lostoragewixoss-suzuko

Combining the trappings of Yu-Gi-Oh! with the zero-sum world of Madoka Magica, the Wixoss franchise is an oddity among card game anime. Although based on an actual existing TCG, its narratives tend to be less “buy our things” and more melodramatic human relationships with an occult twist. The latest series—the bizarrely named Lostorage Incited Wixoss—continues this trend, but trades in the “be careful what you wish for” theme of its predecessors for a new challenge.

Overview

Clumsy Homura Suzuko and capable Morikawa Chinatsu are the best of friends, but when Chinatsu moves away the two lose contact with each other. Fast forward to when the two are teenagers, and both girls get involved with Wixoss, a collectible card game that appears innocent on the surface but has mystical origins. A handful of players are chosen as “Selectors,” pitting them against each other in a battle for their own memories. Players are given special cards with sentient girls called “Lrigs,” and whoever wins enough earn the chance to restore or change one of their memories. However, every loss destroys one of their memories. As a result of both becoming Selectors, Suzuko and Chinatsu end up on a course for a difficult and painful reunion.

Oh!! That’s a Card Game

lostoragewixoss-coincards

One of the key differences between Lostorage Incited Wixoss and the older Wixoss anime is that the latter were made before the shows’ creators had any idea as to how the actual game’s mechanics work. Much of it was therefore just used purely for dramatic effect. With this newer series, there appears to be much more of a coherent portrayal as to how the game is supposed to work. Where Selector Infected Wixoss and Selector Spread Wixoss used the TCG aesthetics as a vehicle for characterization and character development, Lostorage strikes more of a balance between the thrill of seeing two people face each other in a competitive environment, and highlighting the players’ stories. The key example of this is the “coin bet” system, where characters can wager special coins—essentially their “star chips” in the parlance of Yu-Gi-Oh!—to activate unique special abilities, with the caveat that this is literally putting their memories on the line.

Even as the show presents the game in a better light, however, one of the curious aspects of Lostorage Incited Wixoss that it shares with the other Wixoss anime is that they don’t exactly inspire a strong desire to play the TCG. It’s one thing when Yu-Gi-Oh! has its heroes fight against the forces of darkness, but when the game of Wixoss is portrayed as a source of endless anguish I’m not sure what feelings it’s supposed to conjure up in its potential player base.

Intimacy and Hatred

lostoragewixoss-photo

The highlight of Lostorage is the complex relationship between Suzuko and Chinatsu, a corrupted twist on the concept of childhood friendship (with mild yuri elements) that offers vague glimmers of hope throughout. As kids, Suzuko looked up to Chinatsu as everything Suzuko wished she could be. When she gets her Lrig, she bases the card’s appearance and personality on her image of Chinatsu as someone to aspire. To Chinatsu, however, Suzuko is a reminder of the false facade of strength that she’s had to keep up since childhood Thus, much of the series is about Chinatsu trying to erase her own memories of Suzuko in order to destroy their friendship, while Suzuko attempts to save it.

This conflict is very different from anything in the previous Wixoss anime, and the fate of their friendship does drive the story along effectively. And yet a part of me also misses how unique Ruuko from Selector Infected Wixoss was as a protagonist. The strange joy she feels from matching wits against other opponents despite knowing about the horrors of the game was an interesting source of conflict, but I also understand that doing this again would’ve just been treading old ground.

Given this strange love-hate relationship between Suzuko and Chinatsu, Lostorage Incited Wixoss resembles elements of Madoka Magica even more than Selector Infected/Selector Spread Wixoss, with the two of them possessing a kind of Madoka-Homura dynamic. When I think about it further, though, it’s actually closer to an Utena-Anthy relationship from Revolutionary Girl Utena: a girl who wants to be the light of hope for another girl who falls further and further into corruption.

Overall

Much like the previous two Wixoss series, Lostorage Incited Wixoss provides a mostly dark, cynical twist on the typical “TCG anime” formula. What sets Lostorage apart is that the stories of the characters comes across as much more personal and interconnected due to the use of “memory gain/loss” as an overarching premise. It lacks some of the surprising punches of the old Wixoss, but is a much more stable and coherent narrative overall.

Save

Save

Coast to Coast: Saga of Tanya the Evil

tanyatheevil

It’s very tempting to categorize Saga of Tanya the Evil according to its appearances. What else would you do about a series where a Japanese man is reincarnated as a blonde magical little girl in an alternate universe version of Nazi Germany? Is it fetishizing the Third Reich? Is it making an argument for authoritarianism and militarism through the lens of contemporary anime tropes? Questions abound, and yet I find that this anime is very difficult to gauge its moral direction, if there is any at all.

Tanya is a little girl who in another life was a ruthless salaryman dedicated to staying the reliable course that is assumed of his profession. So devoted a company man is he that he fires one of his employees for a minor infraction. Believing in the superiority of a detached, logical mindset, he fails to anticipate that his ex-employee would be so despondent as to push the salaryman in front of a moving train. At that moment, the man receives a message from God but refuses to believe in the existence of a higher power, which prompts God to reincarnate him as Tanya.

As Tanya, she has kept her memories of her previous incarnation, and at only 10 years old joins the imperial military due to her extremely high magical aptitude. Similar to her previous life, she sees the military as the steady course to a comfortable life, but a variety of contrivances both divine and coincidental cause her to consistently put her life (and her beliefs) in peril.

Given this back story, it’s possible to argue conflicting points. For example, the refusal by Tanya to let God control her could be seen as a defiance of fate and religion, but the fact that Tanya is constantly denying the existence of a supreme being despite everything that happens might render it a point in favor of religion. For me, I find that the main point of conflict and confusion when trying to analyze this series is actually the question of whether it’s supporting Tanya’s mindset or criticizing it (or maybe both!).

Tanya’s desire for the most stable track in life, and the calculated way she goes about it, has the appeal of an older science fiction protagonist. Often, she’ll say one thing and think the other, and it’s usually in service of appearing like an upstanding member of society in order to further her own desires. However, the subsequent derails that keep Tanya from that comfortable life might be a criticism of the Bubble Economy mindset that has been the cause of much anguish ever since the Japanese recession began. Where once the path to success was all but assured for many Japanese salarymen, that foundation crumbled underneath them, leading to (among other things) a crisis of masculinity.

Perhaps this is the reason why Tanya is a girl in the first place. While it’s normally assumed that older male anime fans gravitate towards young female characters due to a desire to be with them, there’s also to some extent a desire to be them. The assumed idyllic life of cute girls, and the innocent mindset that is supposed to come with that, holds what I believe to be a particularly strong appeal to those whose lives are slowly ground down by the engine of corporate society. That being said, the fact that Tanya maintains her previous life’s Japanese salaryman/mildly sociopathic mindset seems more confrontational than those kinds of series usually are.

In this respect, the series that I think holds the greatest connection to Saga of Tanya the Evil, it’s actually Strike Witches. In terms of setting, the two are quite similar: alternate versions of World War II Earth where magic and technology come together to give young girls flight and military might. Strike Witches is much more in the vein of the types of series I described in the previous paragraph, because while the story is about war, it’s as if the world is an extension of the characters’ identities as cute girls. With Saga of Tanya the Evil, this concept is taken to its extreme. Tanya is akin to a Strike Witch if that world actually had the image of military machinery beyond lighter aesthetic elements.

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 support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Save