Beyond the Brokeback Pose: Don’t Meddle with My Daughter

It’s obvious from the very first page that the manga Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! (“Uchi no Musume ni Te o Dasuna!” in Japanese) is 1) based on American superhero comics 2) a vehicle for constant fanservice. One aspect I’d like to talk about is how it can bring to the front of our minds the very idea of heroines as sexual ideals for men and its entrenchment in our ideas of superheroes.

Before that, a couple of points. First, to reiterate something I said in an old post, I am not against characters being drawn as sexually desirable in comics, and I’m even okay with works that are pretty much thinly veiled pornography. This is not a criticism of having everyone be unrealistically hot in fictional portrayals. Second, I am well aware of the recent steps that have been taken in American superhero comics to show women neither as strong or weak but as human and capable of growth, such as the Ms. Marvel from Marvel Comics series starring Kamala Khan and Batgirl from DC. These are not the points of this post. Rather, what I want to say is that a work like Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! can help contextualize some of the discussion that surrounds the portrayal of women in comics.

Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! comes from Tamaki Nozomu, the artist who brought us Dance in the Vampire Bund. Whereas his previous work featured a dangerously underage-looking vampire girl, this one focuses on a mother and daughter, both of whom have superpowers. The mother, who in her heyday fought as the “Eighth Wonder,” has now retired, only to find that her daughter has taken up her mantle. If you think this is basically like The Incredibles and has the room for the same sort of kid-friendly family bonding, keep in mind that not only are they drawn in really, really skintight outfits, but the good guys are called “N.U.D.E.” (like S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the bad guys are actually called “Blowjob.” It’s a work that wears its intent on its sleeve.

I think it’s safe to say that most superhero comics that are actually published in the US aren’t quite this blatant and gratuitous in its depiction of the female body. However, many are also not that far off; in a way, it’s as if the manga is actively pursuing the brokeback pose, but achieves this fanservice more through “convenient” camera angles and the refusal of tact. The reason I bring this up is because when you have discussion about the portrayal of women in comics, one common argument I’ve seen is that it’s “just the way things are.” In other words, this is simply how women are drawn in comics. However, Don’t Meddle with My Daughter!, as a manga, lacks that sort of cultural context, and is more a reflection of superheroes as cultural import. Thus it draws into question that very idea of explaining it all away with “tradition.”

It’s true that styles get replicated and imitated because of popularity, tradition, and a number of other reasons that don’t really get thought through extensively. A person new to shoujo manga might see all of these character with tiny noses and sparkles in their enormous eyes and wonder why everything looks the same, and the answer in part is indeed that it’s simply how it is. At the same time, there is room for discussion as to why that turned out to be the case, as well as an opportunity to discuss how this impacts people’s view of shoujo manga and what steps might potentially change this for the better or the worse. It’s not likely going to be the example people turn to in order to show the influence of American comics on the world, but the fact is that the fanservice Don’t Meddle with My Daughter! is clearly a choice working not from an unconscious tradition but from an active decision. This re-contextualization of superhero cheesecake can help to highlight that it’s not as simple as ignoring the highly sexual poses that have been found in comics just because it’s an established style.

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Capitalizing on a New Home: Otakon 2017

“Howatto?! Washington ni?!”

-Jack King, Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo

Introduction: To DC

Otakon has always been my favorite anime convention. With its fan-oriented approach and variety of content, it always feels surprisingly intimate despite its sheer size (it’s generally the largest anime con on the east coast). This year marked a big change, as Otakon moved from its long-time home of Baltimore to Washington DC. It might not seem like that much of a difference—it’s only one extra stop on Amtrak—but for those of us who had grown fond of the previous venue, warts and all, Otakon was synonymous with Baltimore.

However, I will likely not be the only one to tell you that the new location is one of the best things to happen to Otakon. Subjectively, I still have an attachment to Baltimore. Objectively, outside of increased cost, pretty much everything is superior. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is roughly double the size of the old Baltimore Convention Center, meaning less congestion. The adjacent hotel, the Marriott Marquis Washington DC, is bigger and more accommodating. The food choices are greater both inside and outside the convention center, and still fairly reasonably priced. For those who are especially cost-conscious, a Giant Foods supermarket within walking distance is an improvement over Baltimore’s 7-Elevens.

Thus, without even taking into account what happened at the con itself, this new setting certainly provided a more comfortable space for Otakon to put on a show. It was off to a good start right from the beginning.

Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley

One of the best things about having such a large space for Otakon is that the Dealer’s Hall and the Artist’s Alley were easily navigable. Instead of having to wade through a sea of people in order to get anything done, actually going where I wanted to provided little challenge, aside from unfamiliarity with the new convention center. In terms of content, it’s pretty much what you can expect out of a large-sized con. In the Dealer’s Hall, large, official company booths acted as centerpieces with smaller booths on the sides selling figures, posters, manga, anime, and more. The Artist’s Alley had a wide variety of styles, with series such as Voltron, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Persona 5 being especially popular.

One of the hiccups in both areas was a lack of clear marking as to where you were. Booths had individual numbers, but sometimes they didn’t follow a consistent logic, and a lack of visible markings to tell you what row and column you were standing in made things worse. Fortunately, this was brought up at the Con Feedback panel at the end of Otakon, and it’s something they had intended but couldn’t get around to.

There are a couple of other challenges they’ll have to tackle for next year as well. First, the line to the Dealer’s Hall would occasionally get capped. This in itself isn’t unusual, but at one point a friend of mind mentioned that he couldn’t get in while I was already there. But when I looked around, the Dealer’s Hall was the opposite of congested. There was literally room to run around if I so choose. I later realized that it wasn’t the Dealer’s Hall itself that was the issue, it was the space leading to the Dealer’s Hall that was becoming a fire hazard. That’s something that should be addressed by 2018.

The Artist’s Alley also ran into an unfortunate bit of flooding due to a water main break on Saturday evening. A major factor in this was an enormous storm that hit DC. From what I saw, Otakon handled the situation fairly well, and there were no major injuries. This might just be a fluke accident for the first year, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Concert: JAM Project/TM Revolution

This year, Otakon teamed up with the Anisong World Matsuri to bring a number of musical acts to DC. Because tickets cost money (unlike most anime cons), I could only see the Friday concert featuring JAM Project and TM Revolution. As a long-time fan of the former and someone who definitely enjoys the music of the latter, I can say with the utmost confidence that they did not disappoint. Both acts are known for creating not only songs that are good in and of themselves, but for embracing the anime they create music for and elevating them through their compositions. I first saw JAM Project at their US debut back at Otakon 2008, and it was a welcome return.

Both TM Revolution and JAM Project are really adept at making live performances special. Their voices ring out clearly, they get the audience involved, and by the time they’re done you end up feeling like you were part of something greater. Even a few technical hiccups during TM Revolution’s performance couldn’t dent the audience’s fervor.

Before the concert, I had bet on JAM Project and TM Revolution doing an encore together. Most likely, it would be JAM Project’s signature song, “SKILL.” They came through, and the collaboration was everything I hoped for.

For further thoughts on the concert, check out my post on Apartment 507.

The official set list for Otakon 2017 is as follows:

JAM PROJECT

1. Crest of “Z’s”
2. Hagane no Resistance
3. Garo ~Savior in the Dark~
4. The Brave
5. THE EXCEEDER
6. Hero
7. THE HERO!! ~Ikareru Kobushini Hiwo Tsukero~
8. Victory〜Gong
9. Rocks
10. Rescue Fire

T.M.Revolution
1. Inherit the Force
2. Invoke
3. ignited
4. Meteor
5. resonance
6. High Pressure
7. White Breath
8. Hot Limit
9. Flags
10. Sword Summit
11. Heart of Sword

ENCORE
1. SKILL (JAM Project x T.M.Revolution)

Panels

Due to a busy schedule this year and some mishaps on my part, I was unable to attend as many panels as I would have liked. However, this means I can talk about ones I did see in greater detail!

(I also didn’t have any panels this year. Better luck next time?)

The first was “Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga,” which looked at many of the bad boys of shoujo and how their behavior can reflect an often implicit hand-waving of abusive relationships. It looked at both works that ignore its characters’ abusive behavior towards their partners, as well as those that call the characters out on it. The presenter also took time to point out the difference between enjoying something as fiction vs. understanding how it would play out in reality, so it’s not as if it was an automatic admonishment of the audience’s tastes. I thought it was a strong panel overall, but it could be taken to the next level. Perhaps it could even go into understanding why the trope of the abusive boyfriend as lovable partner is so popular and occurs in so many well-received anime and manga.

I would also like to compliment the presenter on giving her stamp of approval to how the series Kiss Him, Not Me approaches the subject of abuse, because while the series is thoughtful in a lot of ways, its initially flippant handling of weight and beauty can really turn people away—even I was put off by it. The fact that the presenter used it as an example showed that she wasn’t trying to automatically write off certain series but was actively trying to figure out what messages these shoujo series send.

Another panel I attended was “Iyashikei: Animated Healing.” It focused on the so-called healing genre of anime and manga, explaining the emotionally therapeutic aspect of such works and why they garner such loyal fans. It was a very thorough panel that showed a wide variety of series that can be considered iyashikei, including both classics and genre-bending examples. One thing the panel didn’t get into but I would have liked to see was the tendency towards an assumed male viewership for healing anime. Still, it was well-presented and informative, and I’d look forward to checking it out again.

Screenings

I had the opportunity to see two films, one of which was a world premiere. I’ve written more extensive reviews for both.

In This Corner of the World

Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

Interviews

I also interviewed a few of the illustrious guests at Otakon! This year, it was the dynamic seiyuu duo of Furukawa Toshio and Kakinuma Shino, as well as an interview with the director of Eureka Seven, Kyouda Tomoki [stay tuned for that one!].

Final Thoughts

The move to Washington DC is the best decision Otakon has made in years. There are very few drawbacks I can think of, outside of a sentimental attachment to Baltimore (and its delicious crab cake truck), but I know that my experience is not necessarily shared with everyone else.

Second, you want to hear other random thoughts about the con, I also appeared on a post-Otakon podcast over at Ani-Gamers. We recorded it right after the con closed on Sunday!

To end this report, here are some cosplay highlights, as is Ogiue Maniax tradition.

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The Fujoshi Files 171: Kon-san

Name: Kon (コン)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Dating
Origin: Happy Fujoshi: Boku to Kon-san

Information:
Kon is an artist who draws highly homoerotic doujinshi of muscular characters. Her boyfriend, in turn, draws highly moe doujinshi. They have an agreement never to press the other about their tastes. Kon is in her 30s but refuses to admit it.

She is a fan of the tokusatsu series Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan, draws fanart, and works at a maid cafe.

Fujoshi Level:
Other than her preference for built men in her drawings, nothing else is known.

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The Star that Shines Brightest: Thoughts on the Aikatsu! Five-Year Anniversary Crossover

“Five years of Aikatsu! sounds strange. Sometimes, the series seems like it’s been around forever. Other times, I remember it as one of the many young upstarts nipping at Precure‘s “anime for young girls” throne. However my feelings sway, the reality is that the show is long enough now to have a mega crossover event.

In episodes 69 and 70 of Aikatsu Stars!, the characters if the latest series encounter their predecessors from seasons past. While there are plenty of interactions across the cast, the main focal point is how heroine Nijino Yume meets her protagonist senpai, Oozora Akari and Hoshimiya Ichigo.

One thing is crystal clear after these episodes: out if all three main characters, Ichigo is by far the most memorable and the most meme-able.

That’s not to say that Akari and Yume are bad characters or uninteresting. However, everything about Ichigo leaves an impression. Like in so many other franchises or enduring works, being the original confers a kind of aura of greatness. Whether it’s Amuro Ray from Gundam, Superman, or Cure Black and Cure White from Precure, there’s a sense of reverence for being the first.

But it’s not just being the inaugural protagonist that elevates Ichigo; it’s that she comes across as amusingly superhuman compared to the other two. Like Cure Black and Cure White in their own crossover specials, Ichigo is portrayed as the strongest. She scales cliffs with ease. Her skill with an axe is so notable that the crossover puts special emphasis on it. I’m fact, nowhere is the animation as lovingly handled as the tree-chopping scene, as the anime plays with dynamic angles, fluid animation, and perspective. Yume and Akari recede into the background in the face of Ichigo’s might.

If you look at the S.H. Figuarts figure for Ichigo, she actually comes with an axe. It’s an identifying element for fans. What would Akari and Yume come with? It’s less obvious. One might argue that they’re more subtle as characters, and that this is a strength, but even Cure Black and Cure White don’t overshadow their Precure successors this much.

It might sound like I’m being critical of the franchise for not developing its later heroines more, or of the crossover episodes for not doing a good enough job, but I’m not. I found the crossover episodes to be a fun celebration of all things Aikatsu! I especially enjoyed seeing the previous S4 (Yume’s senpai group before she got to the top of her school) and Soleil (Ichigo’s group) perform. It was also great to see my favorite, Ichinose Kaede. My thoughts on Ichigo are more of an observation.

On a final note, I thought the character designs for Aikatsu! and Aikatsu Stars! would clash more, but they really don’t. I think they made the original Aikatsu! girls’ faces a bit rounder to make the different casts more visually cohesive. This is generally the sign that a crossover knows what it’s doing.

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.

Otakon 2017 Interview: Furukawa Toshio & Kakinuma Shino

At Otakon 2017, I sat down with a husband-wife duo who are also two veteran voice actors of the anime industry. Furukawa Toshio is probably best known for playing Piccolo in Dragon Ball Z, while Kakinuma Shino was Naru in Sailor Moon (Molly to dub fans!).

I did not have enough time to ask any Piccolo questions, but if you love giant robots it’ll be worth your while.

Mr. Furukawa, Ms. Kakinuma, thank you for this interview.

My first question is to Mr. Furukawa. You played the role of Kenta in Mirai Robo Daltanias, so you had experiencing working with Nagahama Tadao. What was it like working with him? 

Furukawa: I actually worked with Mr. Nagahama before Daltanias, on The Rose of Versailles. But the time of Daltanias was during the super robot era, with the iconic huge robots in Japanese culture. He brought me in saying, “You know, we have a role for a prince for you. He’s a really good-looking character. Why don’t you come in?” So that’s how I came on the boat.

He was a very gentle person, and as a director he never stopped smiling. He was a very kind figure.

I’d also like to ask you about a different, maybe very different, director: Tomino Yoshiyuki. What was it like working with him as Kai Shiden in Mobile Suit Gundam?

Furukawa: Mr. Tomino is on the opposite spectrum, I’d like to say. He is relatively the stricter type. He’d give long lectures when we were young and starting off with First Gundam. He was known as the scary kind of director.

My next question is directed to Ms. Kakinuma. When it comes to anime based on manga, oftentimes anime-original stories are considered to be not as important or significant. But the romance between Naru and Nephrite is considered a fan favorite. What was it like voicing Naru for that story?

Kakinuma: When we were voicing for Sailor Moon, unlike some of the works now where there’s a manga established, we were doing it at the same time that the manga was going on. Some of the people who worked on the anime didn’t even know that romance doesn’t happen in the manga. So when we voiced it, we were doing it as if it were canon.

You’ve both been in the voice acting industry in Japan for a long time. How do you feel it’s changed over the course of your careers?

Furukawa: When I began, “voice actors” not really a thing. We were a subgenre of the bigger category of actors, where there were actors, stage actors, etc., and voice actors were part of the mix. During that time, we were not well recognized. If you look now, though, you have voice actors appearing on TV. I’ve even appeared on TV myself. I’d like to say that we’ve gained a kind of citizenship. We’re now more recognized.

Kakinuma: Recording has changed from when I began until now. For example, when I first started, we were voicing things that were on film, projected. When a part was over, we would have to reel in the film to record again if we needed to. Now, you don’t have that “reeling in the film” time; you can just click and go back to your previous scene. It saves a lot of time.

It’s normal now to see a kind of timeline on the bottom of the screen showing where you are in that span. By going to that, you don’t need a sense of timing anymore. But back then, since there were no timelines whatsoever, we needed a kind of specialized skillset.

Furukawa: TV equipment also changed. For example, nowadays we have multidirectional digital surround sound, which gives you the ability to hear all around you from all sorts of different channels. But back then, we didn’t have any of that, so we expected everyone to hear from the two speakers. Everyone speaking at the same time would be the same as mixing everything together. Now, if you did that, you might not get the same experience, so you need to split the channels in recording. So technology has advanced, but this has gotten us to take additional time in the recording process.

My last question is about Muteki Robo Daiohja, another giant robot series. What was it like working on it compared to Daltanias?

The biggest difference is that, while they’re both in the era of prolific super robots and space and everything, Daiohja is kind of a parody. Although they’re both similar—I got to play a prince in both anime—the biggest difference is that Prince Mito’s name derives from Mito Koumon, the very famous Japanese period drama about a prince taking out all the evils in his era. Daiohja had a lot of these elements. The characters Skad and Karcus came from Suke-san and Kaku-san from Mito Koumon. Everything about it was pretty much a parody of Mito Komon, so that’s the biggest difference I felt.

Thank you again for the interview. I look forward to your continued successes in your careers.

[APT507] One Punch! Part 2: JAM Project’s Rising Fame at Otakon 2017

My very first post as a writer on Apartment 507 was speculation that JAM Project would soar in popularity thanks to One Punch Man. Now, I’ve written a follow-up due to the group’s recent performance at Otakon 2017. Check it out!

Planetary Remix: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage for Otakon 2017.

To this day, Eureka Seven is one of my favorite anime ever. From the pacing to the characters to the messages conveyed, it is a joy to watch and to think about. Over the years, Eureka Seven has returned in many different forms, from an unusual experiment in “re-casting” its characters, to a flawed sequel. At Otakon 2017, I got the chance to see the world premiere of Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1, the first of a new trilogy of movies, I had to wonder just what form it would take. The result is something I certainly did not expect.

The general story of Eureka Seven is the science fictional romance of Renton Thurston, a teenage boy from a nowhere town, and the titular Eureka, a teenage girl who is actually of a mysterious other species known as “Coralians,” and one of the few to take human form. A world filled with giant robots, music, and youth culture, the original anime exuded a sense of style and sincerity that few works manage to capture.

Hi-Evoluton 1 actually starts off as a prequel to the events of the TV series, portraying the “Summer of Love,” the mysterious event where Adroc Thurston—Renton’s father—saved the world and became a hero. The second is a Throughout the original television series, it’s hinted that the events of the Summer of Love didn’t quite go as officially reported, so it gives insight as to just what caused the conflict. For this first half hour of the film, all of the animation is new, and we get to see a number of characters who would come to play pivotal roles in the main series, including Eureka herself.

The second part of the film is where things get unusual.

It’s common for movie series based on popular franchises to front load its films with existing footage and familiar scenes, such that the first film is a time saver, a money saver, and a way to catch unfamiliar viewers up with what a work is all about. Mobile Suit Gundam did this, Space Battleship Yamato did this, and most recently it’s been the hallmark of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. Most of the time, these Part 1’s tend to be straightforward, acting as quick compilations/retreads that change little from the original material but set up the possibility for future deviations.

Not so with Hi-Evolution 1. While it certainly would have been possible to just cut and splice the TV series into a large recap movie, the film instead decides to focus on a particular crucial arc of Eureka Seven. When Renton leaves the Gekko (the ship of anti-government rebels of which Eureka is a part), he ends up living with a couple named Ray and Charles Beams, and in doing so matures tremendously within a short span. In the original TV series, this doesn’t happen until about 13 episodes in, so the fact that the movie cuts out such a large chunk of the early episodes is unorthodox in itself.

Combined with this, however, is the fact that the film then decides to play with time. Instead of presenting its events chronologically, Hi-Evoluton 1 sees fits to go back and forth in time constantly, marked by black and white transitions of “Play Back” and “Play Forward.” It can be jarring, and much of the audience’s audible reactions showed a desire for the film to just dispense with the jumping around. For me, I kept wondering why the director, Kyoda Tomoki, decided to do things this way when a standard compilation approach would have theoretically been much easier.

I have three thoughts. First, focusing on Renton’s time with Ray and Charles over the beginnings of his relationship with Eureka juxtaposes him with Adroc’s portrayal from the beginning of the film. Second, the order in which the scenes play out is not chronological but rather an “emotional order.” Third, the creators of Eureka Seven seem to see their works not as ways to return to the world of their creation, but as a way to “remix” them.

Renton is shown to be quite similar to his father in the sense that both have strong convictions do what they feel is right even if it means everyone’s against them. The crucial difference, which gradually narrows over the course of the film, is maturity. Adroc risks himself to save Eureka, but it comes from a kind of wisened, fatherly position, as well as that of someone who understands the consequences of going against the world. Renton, impetuous youth that he is, initially doesn’t quite fully comprehend the tough decisions. By manipulating the progress of time, Hi-Evolution 1 seems to want to first juxtapose the turbulent emotions of teenage Renton and then gradually draw them closer to Adroc’s convictions. I find it notable that Adroc is voiced by Furuya Tohru, famously the voice of main hero Amuro Ray in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Not only is there a kind of parity in terms of movie compilation trilogies, but it makes thematic sense that Renton is the “descendant” of Amuro.

Music is a major part of Eureka Seven. Characters’ names, robots, ships, supernatural phenomenon, almost everything is a reference to music (the most obvious one is probably “Ray” and “Charles”). There’s a lot about rhythm and musicality in the series, and it gives me the impression that the creators treat it as a kind of “song.” The full English title is Psalm of Planets, Eureka Seven, after all. The previous film, Pocketful of Rainbows, was an experiment in seeing how different a story they could tell by using existing footage. In it, Renton and Eureka’s circumstances are far different, and even their personalities don’t quite match up with what fans were familiar with. In other words, it felt like a heavy remix of a familiar song, one in which the original tune is almost unrecognizable.

Hi-Evolution 1 feels like a remix that tries to retain more of the source than Pocketful of Rainbows, but still desires to be its own thing. It has the same characters and general story as the TV series, but with a few touches that emphasize different elements more. In particular, the relative lack of Eureka in the film is rather conspicuous, as is the complete absence of Eureka’s “rival,” Anemone. At the very least, we know the answer to the latter, The film concludes with a “next movie preview” showing her that is rather surprising to say, the least. I’m going to leave this exact spoiler ambiguous, but I will say that it looks like Hi-Evolution 2 is going to be deviating more heavily from the TV series, just like Evangelion 2.0.

After the film, Kyoda did a moderated Q&A. In it, he revealed the staff’s code names for the first two films. Hi-Evolution 1 is “Renton 7.” Hi-Evolution 2 is “Anemone 7.” If we think of these films as highlighting and drawing out different essences present in the TV series and creating new melodies from them, the general direction of this trilogy starts to make more sense.