It’s time for another year at the east coast’s largest anime convention! It’ll be Otakon’s final year in Baltimore for the foreseeable future, so I’m hoping to make it a memorable one.

I’ve also got a couple of panels this year, and I hope that you can attend.

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Saturday, August 11, 8:15 – 9:15pm

Panel Room 5

“Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow.”

It’s a panel celebrating dogs in anime! See your favorites, and some you’ve probably never even heard of! My co-presenter on this panel will be Kate from the Reverse Thieves.

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Saturday, August 11, 11:45pm – 12:45pm

Panel Room 1

“Greater Uglier Manga.” [18+]

The sequel to last year’s “Great Ugly Manga” panel. Once again, my co-presenter and I will be showing manga that’s great not in spite of how ugly they are, but because of how ugly they are. As a warning, this year’s iteration is 18+, but keep in mind that this is not just some pornography/hentai panel. Most of the content will still be all-ages.

See you there!

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What does it mean to create a follow-up act to a multimedia franchise as successful as Love Live!? That’s the challenge facing  Love Live! Sunshine!! To fans, each of the original girls is something special, something unique, and renewing that fervor can be like catching lightning in a bottle. Of course, a franchise like Love Live! is designed to do just that, across different characters and different iterations of the concept, but it’s still not necessarily an easy task. Though I might be jumping the gun with what I’m about to say, I think the people in charge of Love Live! might now have a much clearer idea of what is most effective, and this potentially manifests in the physical appearances of the characters themselves.
I decided recently to see how the physical characteristics of the μ’s girls stack up to those of Love Live Sunshine!!‘s Aqours. Thanks to Reddit, I found a convenient chart comparing all of their heights and bust sizes. What’s noticeable is that the Aqours members are all closer to each other physically. Toujou Nozomi and Yazawa Nico are at the extremes in terms of bust size (to no one’s surprise), but a character like Hanayo who is above average compared to the rest of μ’s is decidedly normal in the world of Love Live! Sunshine!! Similarly, while half-Italian American Ohara Mari is the tallest, the other girls are also relatively close to her. Keep in mind that the disparity is not especially large, especially when it comes to height. The difference between “tiny” Kunikida Hanamaru and “towering” Mari is a mere 4 inches (or 10 centimeters). Already, there’s a certain narrow range median that reminds me of something anime voice actress Nonaka Ai once mentioned when I interviewed her: she wanted to be an actress but was considered too tall. Similarly, Hanayo’s voice actress Kubo Yurika is the tallest of the μ’s cast. Like Mari, she is 5’4″ or 163 cm.

I think it’s worth entertaining the thought that the success of Love Live! School Idol Project, which grew gradually from a modest success to a cultural phenomenon, has informed the current version in terms of what is the best median to take, at least in terms of physical traits. Moreover, given the seaside venue of Love Live! Sunshine!!, I believe that there is a greater push for sex appeal, though I’m sure they’re aware that keeping the fanservice from going too overboard is important for maintaining Love Live!‘s large female fanbase.

That being said, while they’re more similar in size, I’m not sure the same applies to the characters’ personalities. In many ways, they feel more extreme and more adhered to certain archetypes, such as Yohane’s chuunibyou identity, Kurosawa Dia’s “Kanzuki Karin” levels of haughtiness, or her sister Ruby’s ultra moe shyness. The closest we have to Ruby in in the original was Hanayo, and at this point we’re aware that Hanayo is kind of a maniac. That doesn’t mean the Aqours characters are bad, however. In a way, perhaps it helps to distinguish them further from each other.

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August is full of fun and surprises. For one thing, I have two panels at Otakon 2016: “Greater Uglier Manga” and “Such Dog, Much Anime, Wow.” The schedule isn’t available yet, but when it is I’ll be making a post.

Another bit of news is that Ogiue Maniax has, for the first time ever, been quoted on the back of a manga! The title in question is Sweetness & Lightning:

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I consider this quite the milestone, and I’d like to thank my readers, but especially my Patreon sponsors in particular for supporting me:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sasahara Keiko fans:

Kristopher Hostead

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I’d also like to congratulate Johnny for winning my Love Live! contest.

Perhaps the biggest news of all for the blog is that Genshiken is ending! I’ve written my review for the penultimate chapter, and I already have emotions welling up inside of me in anticipation for the final conclusion. You’ll be certain that I’ll have a lot to say at the end.

If nothing crazy happens (like a third Genshiken being announced soon after), I’m considering doing a series of nine posts to review the original series volume by volume. What do you think?

Other notable posts this month include my Patreon-sponsored article on Purity in Anime, my reviews of the Kyoto subway tourism light novel, Kyo Girls Days, and Girls und Panzer der Film, as well as a report on my visit to the university on which Genshiken is based.

It’s kind of a hectic month looking ahead, so I haven’t had time to think of any new projects for the blog. For now, I’m still watching and reading through quite a back catalog, with the intention of clearing up some time to finally review Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross for Gattai Girls. Luckily, it’s now on Amazon, free for Prime users and 99 cents per episode for non-Primes. So, I have no excuses left!

Once again, I’ll be at Otakon, so if anyone wants to come up and say hi at a panel, feel free to do so! I’m actually a tad shy in real life, and it can come across as surliness, but don’t let that scare you.

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I’ve been thinking for a long while about the ubiquity red hair as a feature of prominent female characters in fantasy anime. That’s what prompted this article. It’s a bit sparse in terms of exploring the concept further, but I think it provides a nice basis for future posts (which will most likely be on Ogiue Maniax).

tritem_index_3Anime-style idols (and of course idols in general) have been of the most enduring trends in current Japanese pop culture. Between franchises like The iDOLM@STER, Love Live!Ensemble Stars, and King of Prism by Rhythm, more and more pop up seemingly every week. Trinity Tempo is one such franchise, but what makes it unique is the degree to which it takes the AKB48 “vote with your money” concept to the next level. That’s because Trinity Tempo exists almost purely in terms of merchandise, with nothing else to anchor it.

Ever since AKB48 and their annual elections, the idea of idols competing against each other with fan support has been prominent within that world. Fans vote by getting CDs because one purchase equals one ballot, and the idea is that the more you love your favorite idol the more you will buy buy buy. Currently a little over a year old, Trinity Tempo‘s premise is that different schools compete against each other in idol competitions, and you get to determine who wins by buying merchandise for your favorite team. You literally get to influence how the overall story progresses by spending cash on character-specific goods, with certain items giving you more “votes” than others.

“Where does Trinity Tempo come from?” you might be asking. The iDOLM@STER began as a game with visual novel elements. Love Live! got its start as a series of songs. All of these properties aim for the media mix, with anime and manga adaptations, coverage in magazines, and more, but they tend to have at least one or two initial starting points. After all, how would you know who your favorite characters or what your favorite songs are?

The answer is… there is nothing. No CDs. No anime or manga or games. Trinity Tempo exists almost purely in “merch space,” where potential fans are supposed to be drawn into it based primarily on their attraction to the concept and the characters themselves. Since release there has been at least one Drama CD, but that’s about it.

I think this speaks to the idea presented by Azuma Hiroki that fans take bits and pieces of characters, worlds, and stories and merge them together in what are known as “database narratives.” I’m oversimplifying the idea, but I think it can be argued that Trinity Tempo aims to commercialize the otaku desire to gather these fragments together on a level even beyond something like Kantai Collection. Whether or not they’ll succeed in the end remains to be seen.

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In case you haven’t heard, Genshiken Nidaime ends next month (!!!). Nevertheless, we haven’t reached the finish line quite yet.

Chapter Summary

After a bit of haranguing, Kasukabe and Ogiue finally manage to get Madarame and Sue on the phone together. At that moment, Madarame confesses his feelings for Sue in the one language she truly understands: internet memes and anime references. Deftly avoiding his statements, Sue finally gives pause when Madarame says the magic words—”I think you’re ridiculously moe.” Madarame explains that, while moe, love, and sexual attraction aren’t necessarily the same thing, he wants to believe in moe as an important facet of being an otaku, and Sue is basically the manifestation of his 2D interests in 3D. Finally, Sue agrees, and the two officially become a couple.

That same day, Madarame reveals that he’s finalized the deal on his new apartment, and is moving away, further from the university than he’s ever been. With a new home, and a new girlfriend, Madarame finally moves on from the past but without abandoning his otaku pride.

A Bit of Hindsight

Is this the true nail in the coffin for the canonicity of Spotted Flower? Maybe, maybe not.

I’m pretty shocked that Genshiken is coming to a close once more. Given this sudden news, it makes me think a bit differently about these past few chapters. While I’ve seen complaints that the Madarame harem story took too long to reach its conclusion, I was okay with that length while under the assumption that we’d get to see a lot more. Now, however, we won’t even get to witness the younger Yoshitake sister’s college debut. We won’t get to see how Madarame and Sue’s relationship grows. We won’t get excited as new members of Genshiken are made. Because of this, a part of me now wishes that the harem arc would’ve finished sooner so that we’d have room for more stories. I know manga publishing doesn’t necessarily work that way, but a guy can dream, right?

The Case for Susanna Hopkins

Moving onto Chapter 126, this one hits with the force of a battering ram. Where once we thought Madarame’s romantic life would fall back into stasis for the time being, here it is, pried wide open by the power of Kasukabe Saki. Seeing as the series is ending so soon, Kasukabe’s actions might be construed as a kind of deus ex machina. However, can a character be simultaneously a deus ex machina and a realistic character at the same time that all of her actions are perfectly in-character? In Genshiken, it seems, anything is possible.

The lines that Madarame uses this chapter are as follows: “The moon is pretty,” which is an indirect way of saying, “I love you”; “About Sue, Madarame- !”, which is the romance manga standard for many interrupted confessions, and finally, “Sue makes me pig out! Oink oink oink!” All of these are varying forms of otaku communication, and it shows what about Madarame and Sue makes sense as a couple. Madarame is an otaku, through and through, and Sue is the only one truly capable of matching him in terms of power level. That’s not to say that none of the other potential partners would not have made sense, and I think this is in the manga’s favor. We’re left with one of four possibilities, and when looking at the outcome, a particular set of messages is conveyed.

Liberty, Equality, and Moe

I think it’s very telling that Madarame’s explanation about his attraction to her revolves around the idea of “moe,” and how he contrasts it with erotic attraction. While he doesn’t position them in a dichotomy—moe can lead to sexual attraction and vice versa, as was the case with his feelings towards Kasukabe—Madarame’s decision to go with the “moe” one is an embracing of his continued desire to be an otaku. Madarame feels like he needs to grow up. Times are changing, but that doesn’t mean that Madarame has to “graduate” from being exactly the kind of otaku he is, which is an old-school geek with old-school geek tastes.

In other words, Sue lets Madarame be himself in a way the others wouldn’t, even if they would have made nice couples anyway. Sue not only possesses all of the features that Madarame loves in anime characters, being a “blonde loli with a rude attitude,” but she’s also his equal where it counts for Madarame: as a fan of anime and manga. Because of this, Madarame is moving on with one aspect of his life by separating himself from Shiiou University as the anchor he could not (or did not want to) escape, but he is still projecting his core being as he moves ahead. Where once Madarame was an otaku tied to the past, now he is an otaku looking ahead to the future. Also, Sue still attends the university so he’ll probably be around sometimes anyway.

Madarame’s decision to go where the moe is doesn’t have all that much in common with the other couples in Genshiken. Ogiue projects her BL version of Sasahara onto the real person, but this acts more as a kind of intimate bonding (and implied foreplay). and she increasingly shows how much she loves the actual Sasahara. Ohno and Tanaka came together over their shared hobbies, but it’s in the space of passion and community. Kohsaka and Kaminaga both have non-otaku partners who are fairly different from each other. And even though it doesn’t really count, Kugayama wants to get to know his beloved Cabaret Club girl Rino better. To put it differently, Genshiken presents many possible avenues of romance for otaku. There is no one size fits all, whether the significant other is an otaku or not, and so Madarame’s choice to embrace moe (and Sue in the process), is the path he, as an individual, takes, and his way of navigating the nebulous border between 2D and 3D.

I know the Madarame/Hato dynamic and the end of that possibility leaves a bitter taste in many fans’ mouths, but I do want to point out something very noteworthy in this chapter. When Madarame is comparing his prospective partners in terms of moe, he mentions that everyone but Sue would better be categorized as “sexy.” When asked about whether that includes Hato, Madarame says, “Hato too.” In other words, Madarame feels sexual attraction towards Hato (though whether it’s Hato the boy or Hato the boy dressed as a girl isn’t clear), and his decision for going with Sue is something that almost transcends the flesh. Madarame being very quite possibly bisexual is something I don’t think anyone expected from Genshiken originally, and it’s kind of amazing to say at all now that it’s come to this.

Sue’s Meta Powers

Before I bring this review home, I want to talk more about Sue as an entity of fiction. Though it isn’t ever explicitly stated who the most popular character in Genshiken Nidaime is, many signs point to either Hato or Sue. It’s Sue who was made into a DLC costume for the game Akiba’s Trip, who was made into a hug pillow, and who is increasingly prominent on the store-exclusive bonuses for buying new volumes of the manga in Japanese. Could this popularity have been a factor in deciding the final couple?

Another aspect of Sue that bears mentioning is the fact that she’s able to make not just anime and manga references, but references to Genshiken itself. Sue’s way of saying, “Yes, I will go out with you Madarame!” in this chapter comes from twisting a quote from Zenigata from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro: “He stole something quite precious: your heart.” Except, Sue replaces “your heart” with “my panties.” One might think she’s just being weird, but this is actually the very line that Ogiue thinks when Sue flies back to the US in the first series while still wearing the underwear she borrowed from Ogiue. As one might remember from early on in Nidaime‘s life, Sue was somehow even able to reference Ogiue’s self-introduction (in spite of her not even being there at the time!). Sue actually might just be some kind of metatextual alien.

In Closing

One more chapter, and next month is Kuchiki’s graduation. In the meantime, enjoy these Ogiue moments. Though it’s a Sue-centric chapter, it was actually rife with Ogiue goodness.

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Name: N/A
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Happy Fujoshi: Fujoshi no After 5

Information:
This un-named fujoshi joins her friends at a karaoke joint after a doujin event. She participates in the singing of anime themes and is into the pairing of Randy x Gerdt.

Fujoshi Level:
When looking in music stores, she actively searches for “Randy x Gerdt-esque” songs.

Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements is a good book that tries its best to call out the rewriting of past events by both the victors and the defeated. While this can detract from the magical aura that surrounds anime and the joy of experiencing anime as more than just a struggle between industry, profit, and glory, it does highlight one recurring trend that shouldn’t be forgotten—many times, when we think of some trend or change as emerging fully formed during a given period of interest, its threads can be traced back much earlier.

One thing that always comes to mind is something that Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki mentioned back at New York Anime Festival 2009, which was that while Gundam started courting female fans much more actively in later years (notably with Gundam Wing), it was the girls who were the biggest fans of the original 1970s work. While things have certainly changed since then, Gundam Wing also did not emerge as some kind of “sudden” targeting of a female audience.

Similarly, when it comes to Clements’ book, one example he gives has to do with the idea that the video game industry is a significant contributor of “brain drain,” that is to say a unidirectional flow of talent from anime to games. While this is often viewed as a symptom of the last decade or so, a product of the mainstream lucrativeness of the contemporary video game industry, Clements points out (on page 194) that this was already occurring in 1992, which would be during the age of the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Famicom. Thus, the battle to keep newer and more rapidly expanding entertainment sectors from drawing away the best of the best is not a relatively new phenomenon, but an ongoing quest.

One last thing I’d like mention is the fact that this brain drain is partially attributed not just to video games’ international mainstream success, but the fact that Tezuka Osamu himself undercut the cost of animation in Japan decades prior in order to get it onto Japanese television. This undervaluing of anime, known as the “Curse of Tezuka,” is what necessitates projects such as the Animator Dormitory Project, an annual fund to provide housing for animators in an industry that pays very little (by the way, that Indiegogo ends today!). To see anime change in the future is perhaps to understand the long reach of past decisions.

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Love her or hate her, Okada Mari’s got quite a resume of anime at this point. I’ve written about what I think are her best works, and I’m curious to what extent people think I’m out of my mind.

In my recent visit to Kyoto, I discovered two interesting manifestations of Japan’s interest in anime and manga. The first I first came upon while taking public transit: posters featuring anime-style high school girls who act as mascots for the Kyoto Subway system’s “Ride the Subway” campaign. After being redesigned in 2015 to match a more contemporary anime aesthetic they’ve really caught on, and have even been featured in TV ads:

The second I had already planned to visit, which was the Kyoto International Manga Museum, an archive of countless manga from all decades that is open to the public. Like the girls of the Kyoto subway, the Manga Museum has its own mascot, Karasuma Miyu, to whom I was immediately drawn. I think it’s clear why, given her design:

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Now aware of this Ogiue-esque character (though also clearly much more cheerful in comparison), I felt compelled to buy some kind, any kind, of Karasuma Miyu merchandise. This led me to the light novel known as Kyo Girls Days, written by Motoki and illustrated by Kamogawa. Featuring both the Kyoto Subway Girls and Karasuma Miyu, it not only celebrates the subway and the Manga Museum, but also Kyoto tourism in general.

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Kyo Girls Days follows best friends Uzumasa Moe, Matsuga Saki, and Ono Misa as they decide what to do for Golden Week. With an initial plan to visit “power spots” all across Kyoto, they end up running into Karasuma Miyu, who works at the manga museum. Not only a manga enthusiast but also a Shinto miko, Miyu imbues the girls with supernatural sight, allowing them to see the various kami and other spirits that populate the old capital that is Kyoto, and transforming their vacation adventure in unforeseen ways.

Light novels can often follow certain trends. They’re frequently designed to be adapted into anime and manga as part of a media mix. They’ll feature young protagonists to whom an otaku audience can relate, with narratives that emphasize wish fulfillment fantasies or twists on well-worn tropes. Others get more creative, and fight against the reputation of light novels as trashy and lacking in substance. However, a promotional light novel, especially one that is an offshoot of a city government effort to encourage more frequent use of its public transportation, is a unique beast all its own. While this means that there’s a certain inevitable sheen of safeness in Kyo Girls Days, the result is actually kind of pleasant given that there’s less concern over whether the narrative is trying to go for cheap titillation, or objective exploitation of the girls beyond their roles as mascots.

If anything, the exploitation takes the form of the girls being a little too upstanding as people. Moe’s primary qualities are her love of helping others and her encyclopedic knowledge of the Kyoto Subway. Saki is sporty and tomboyish, and Misa is the otaku of the group, who even bought a guitar because of K-On! Another important character, Tokyo transplant, photographer, and Moe’s classmate Shirakawa Sumi, is shy and nervous about befriending Moe. None of them have any particular flaws, the closest being that Saki is somewhat impatient, while Misa is kind of lazy and can often be late to gatherings. In fact, there’s actually a scene where Misa arrives late and blames it on the trains, and Moe’s response is basically, “That’s silly, the trains in Kyoto are never late!” as a reminder that, yes, this is promoting public transit.

Nowhere is Kyo Girls Days do-it-all character roster more apparent than in Miyu. She’s a manga fan who has the entire museum memorized. She’s lived abroad, and is not only fluent in both French and English but has extensive knowledge of French and American comics. On top of that, she can communicate with spirits on a regular basis. Miyu is all-powerful and carries within her the view point that manga is indeed international just as it says in the name of the Manga Museum. One other interesting wrinkle to her character being that she’s actually a college student, possibly as a reference nearby Kyoto Seika University’s famous manga program, which supports the Manga Museum.

And yet, I can’t really begrudge Kyo Girls Days. I knew what I was getting into as soon as I picked it up. After all, it’s like going to an aquarium and getting a picture book about the aquarium; no one should be shocked when it talks about how great things are and how everyone should visit. Conscious of that promotional aspect, the story and narrative are actually very fun and engaging. Even though Moe and the rest of the cast’s personalities and characters are a little too perfect, the portrayal of their lifelong friendship feels solid and convincing. Even the introductions of various Kyoto landmarks are interesting because they taught me a lot about the city, and a clever insertion of a quiz towards the end of the manga is a clever wink and nod to see if the reader has been really paying attention.

Another quality I enjoyed about the light novel is that all three of the subway girls speak in Kyoto dialect. It can be hard to follow, but it positions them as true Kyoto natives, and gives their portrayal a more authentic feel.

It’s unlikely that Kyo Girls Days will ever be translated officially, just because its main focus is getting native Japanese people to pay more attention to Kyoto and its subway system. It’s not really something that translates too well to an audience that enjoys light novels (or light novel adaptations) in other countries. At the same time, I wonder if it could be released by a Japanese tourism agency for use in the US and around the world. While it wouldn’t be serving the exact same purpose, it could still motivate people to travel to Japan and check out the Kyoto area.

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