Love Live! and the Four Tendencies

I recently read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, a self-help book about how to better understand certain facets of oneself and others. While it’s been helpful in my personal life, I also noticed that it can be an informative way to understand characters and character interactions in fiction. Often, characters are designed relative or in contrast to those around them, and seeing how they respond to each others’ expectations can shed a lot of light on those dynamics. For this blog post, I decided to take a look at how the four tendencies can apply to to the cast of the original Love Live! School Idol Project.

An explanation of the four tendencies can be found on Rubin’s blog:

In a nutshell, it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution)…

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)

  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations

  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

So let’s take a look at the girls of μ’s!

First-Years

Hanayo is a questioner. At first, she seems like an obliger because she’d been unable to fulfill her childhood wish to become a school idol, but that’s more because she was convinced she couldn’t. Once persuaded, she fully embraces the idea. Same goes for taking over as president of the school idol club. When she does have a strong stance, such as rice being the best food in the universe, Hanayo is stalwart.

Rin is an obliger. Her main reason for becoming a school idol is to help Hanayo; otherwise, she’s relatively undisciplined if left to her own devices. She believed for most of her life that she couldn’t/shouldn’t wear skirts and dresses, but that’s more because she projected the standards of others onto herself. Only when the other μ’s girls give her new expectations to fulfill—that she can wear them and that she is beautiful—does she change her mind.

Maki is a questioner, and not just because her signature catch phrase is “What the heck?! You’re not making sense.” Left alone, Maki is extremely self-motivated and fulfills inner expectations easily—as seen in her goal of studying medicine, and when she writes a song for μ’s prior to joining. However, she won’t do anything she doesn’t think is off-base. Of course, sometimes that logic is “this would benefit Santa Claus”…

Second-Years

Honoka is a rebel. While it might seem unusual for the team leader to be the rebellious type, it’s clear that Honoka’s inner fire only blazes when something truly interests her, especially if others think she can’t do it. Her starting a school idol group is in itself the product of defying outer expectations. At the same time, she completely shirks both inward rigor if left to her own devices unless, again, it’s something she cares about from deep within.

Umi is a textbook upholder through and through. If her unmatched self-discipline and desire to ensure everything goes right wasn’t enough evidence, her love of schedules, regimens, and pie charts guarantee that she can’t be any other tendency. Her fear of having carefully laid plans go awry also points in this direction.

Kotori is an obliger. Considerate and prone to indecision, she’s at her best when supporting Honoka and Umi’s decisions. Even her costume-making seems motivated more by the positive expectations of others. Her alter ego, the legendary Akiba maid Minalinsky, is the result of her trying to work on her confidence—by being in a customer service job where she has to project strength and ease.

Third-Years

Nico is a rebel. She does what she wants, when she wants, unless she decides for herself that something is the right choice. She might seem like a questioner based on how much she researches proper idol etiquette, but it’s clear that she lives and dies even more by her passion. Before μ’s, she was always fully convinced she could be a school idol; it’s just that her drive and desire to actually keep it up was sapped by the resignation of her old partners. When μ’s calls her in to join them, she quickly falls back into her self-proclaimed role of “super idol.”

Eli is an upholder. Whether in μ’s or the student council, she still shows a strong sense of responsibility to both herself and those who need her. Mature and strong-willed, Eli will get everything done that she can, but on her terms. Eli also definitely isn’t a people pleaser, and believes in tough love as only a former Russian ballerina can—as seen when she first confronts the rest of the girls with what it means to truly be able to dance.

Nozomi is an obliger. On the surface, she looks like more like a rebel, but her backstory reveals that she values friendship above all else. Nozomi can be aloof because she’s suppporting Eli, and to a lesser extent the rest of the girls. In fact, Nozomi explains that seeing Eli essentially refuse to show any weakness is what drew her to befriending and helping Eli.

Overall

Doing this exercise made me realize are some of the vital distinctions between characters and how they behave. For example, while RIn might be seen as generally stronger than Hanayo due to her energy and fun-loving personality, you can see how their different responses to both outer and inner expectations shows that they complement each other in important ways. Of course, fiction doesn’t wholly map onto reality, and the four tendencies framework isn’t exactly a rigorous scientific study, so it’s not like these interpretations are set in stone. If you think certain characters better fit different tendencies than I’ve categorized, I’d love to see you responses!

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The Fujoshi Files 177: Arai Tamako

Name: Arai, Tamako (新井珠子)
Alias: Tama-chan (珠ちゃん)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Barakamon

Information:
A middle school student and resident of Gotou Island near Kyuushuu, Arai Tamako is an aspiring manga artist who wishes to be published in a shounen magazine. However, unlike the typical manga for a shounen publication, Tamako combines an eccentric art style and bizarrely violent content that one might see in a more avant-garde magazine. She is best friends with Yamamura Miwa, with whom she occasionally bickers but also teams up with to tease the weak, be they younger or older. Tamako also has a younger brother, Aki, who is more level-headed.

Tamako discovered BL by accident at a younger age, and though she claims that side to be a small part of her general interest in manga, she is afraid of the other residents of Gotou Island finding out the truth. On top of that, the arrival of master calligrapher Handa Seishuu to the island has sparked her fujoshi imagination, especially when it comes to the (imaginary) relationship between him and high schooler Kido Hiroshi.

Fujoshi Level:
Though Tamako originally struggled to suppress her fujocity, over time she has increasingly let it slip through. She reaches the point where she is on some level trying to assert her fantasy in reality by suggesting somewhat openly to Seishuu and Hiroshi that something should happen.

Ensemblers Assemble: Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 2

It’s the second chapter (and the first regular-sized chapter) of Shimoku’s new manga!

Summary

Kimura Jin wants members for his ensemble club, and he’s asking the quiet yet unusually deep-voiced Fujiyoshi Akira to join. Akira’s reluctant, but Jin has a proposition: if he can help Akira speak more loudly, Akira will join the club. Akira tentatively agrees.

But while Jin calls it an ensemble “club,” it’s more of an “appreciation society” at the moment—the distinction being that a group only gets club status if it has five or more members and an advisor. Jin’s first choice for advisor, Takano-sensei, refuses because she’s more of a violin specialist than a vocal one.

Jin’s also not the only one trying to get a club off the ground, as a friendly (?) rival in Hachida Shinji, who has dreams of forming a “mountain castle club.” Shinji is skeptical of Akira’s chances of speaking at a normal level, to which Jin replies that Akira’s body will understand.

As the three continue to talk/argue, they run into the Class 5 teacher, Kitano-sensei, who’s lecturing a blond delinquent-looking student named Orihara. Unbeknown to Kitano, Orihara is actually wearing noise-canceling earphones. Jin pulls out of Orihara’s ears to have a listen, prompting Orihara to start swinging at Jin, which then causes Akira to instinctively yell out. His voice is so deep and resonates so much that it astounds everyone. Jin’s first thought: Akira has “singer’s formant,” i.e. the ability to sing both loudly and clearly, which usually only comes with musical training.

Story in Motion

So now we’ve established the initial goal, and it’s the classic “getting enough club members” story—a tried and true trope that I don’t mind one bit.

If things go as typically expected, Orihara is on track to becoming a member. I have to wonder what his for might be, both character-wise and voice-wiser. Hachida Shinji is a potential member as well. Maybe they’ll pull the “combined club” trick, a la Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai with its “eastern magic and napping society.”

Shinji

As an aside, the idea of a club dedicated to studying mountain castles is tremendous, and I hope Shinji gets his wish.

I also think Kitano-sensei will be their advisor, but that might just be wishful thinking. Her brief appearance has already made me a fan. She’s adorable!

Another character I think is going to make a splash is a female classmate named Hakamada. In this chapter, Jin asks her what music she’s listening to, and something about the way she’s framed says to me that she’ll be significant somehow.

Jin is a Character

The way that Akira ends up yelling out plays perfectly into Jin’s notion that he’ll understand what to do “with his body”—as in almost by instinct. But is Jin actually the calculating type? He sure doesn’t seem that way. And yet, he’s also the one who offered Akira exactly what he wants.

Jin might look like a typical anime otaku, but he really is a music otaku through and through. He carries around a device to measure the number of Hertz in people’s voices and appears to have both a technical and intrinsic understanding of singing. What’s more, he hears an anime song and thinks “Ghibli? Disney? Eva?” as opposed to something more hardcore.

Jin’s vocal range really is absurd. It was established in the first chapter, but here he basically shows that he can cover most of the guy parts (as well as some girl parts) and only really needs Jin for the deepest registers.

By the way, Akira is actually a bass, not a baritone! I madea mistake in my description last review. Chalk that up to me having no real music knowledge.

Singer’s Formant

Speaking of being a total newbie when it comes to music, I’m still not entirely sure I understand Singer’s Formant. As far as I can tell, certain sounds don’t carry as well, so singers train to be able to project loudly and clearly over even orchestras in large spaces. Correct me if I’m wrong!

I also found this video, which might help explain things better.

Songs

If you’re wondering what that “anime” song is that Jin is asking about at the beginning, it’s. “Trancing Pulse” by Triad Primus from The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls.

Final Thoughts

Actually, a lot of teachers are introduced quickly in this episode and they all seem full of personality. I’m looking forward to seeing which ones become more prominent as the manga progresses.

Until next time!

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A Look at Precure Popularity

I’ve been looking at various Precure polls lately, in part due to a desire to see how a franchise that’s 15 years old is remembered. The polls I consulted were Japanese character rankings from 2015, 2016, and 2017 as compiled by user insight_led, as well as a more recent one from the Japanese-language anime news site Anime! Anime! Being a decade and a half old means opinions can change over time (or according to the age of the voters), which is what I normally would expect, but there are some surprises.

Character Popularity

Looking at the Naver rankings, here are the top 10 characters from each year, along with the tallies each one accrued, based on comments on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Also, kids were not included in the votes; if that core audience was allowed to vote, there’d likely be a significant difference.

2015 (Go! Princess Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (1,541)
  2. Cure Marine (1,224)
  3. Cure Passion (1,107)
  4. Cure Twinkle (750)
  5. Cure Pine (624)
  6. Cure Happy (580)
  7. Cure Ace (575)
  8. Cure Lovely (489)
  9. Cure Peace (440)
  10. Cure Heart (432)

2016 (Maho Girls Precure airs)

  1. Cure Beauty (20,041)
  2. Cure Happy (15,580)
  3. Cure Marine (12,824)
  4. Cure Peace (12,682)
  5. Cure Passion (8,107)
  6. Cure Twinkle (7,750)
  7. Cure Heart (7,432)
  8. Cure Lovely (6,999)
  9. Cure Scarlet (6,890)
  10. Cure Miracle (6,619)

2017 (Kira Kira Precure a la Mode airs)

  1. Cure Happy (12,450)
  2. Cure Beauty (11,394)
  3. Cure Marine (8,924)
  4. Cure Peace (8,804)
  5. Cure Passion (6,409)
  6. Cure Flora (6,102)
  7. Cure Lovely (5,877)
  8. Cure Heart (5,322)
  9. Cure Blossom (5,285)
  10. Cure Chocolat (5,180)

Based on these three rankings, what surprises me is how little recency bias actually seems to influence results. Cure Beauty and Cure Marine are consistently top 3, even as the total counts fluctuate. There appears to be something enduring about both of those characters, which is all the more interesting because they’re 1) in unrelated series 2) almost polar opposites in personality.

For Cure Beauty, the reasons generally given for her popularity are that she’s an ideal combination of strength, intelligence, and beauty. Out of all Precures, Beauty most closely matches the yamato nadeshiko (traditional ideal Japanese woman) in both looks and demeanor, so I wonder how much that’s a factor.

When it comes to Cure Marine, however, the queen of comedic intensity defies expectations for why fans come to love Precure characters in the first place. As mentioned in those rankings, while pretty every other character generally gets comments like “I want to be her” and “I want to be with her,” Marine’s are mostly “I wish she were my best friend.” Seeing as Marine is my favorite Precure character, I’d like to think the Japanese fans also just have incredibly good taste.

Show Popularity

According to the Anime! Anime! poll, the top 3 most beloved Precure series are as follows:

  1. Go! Princess Precure
  2. Futari wa Pretty Cure
  3. Heartcatch Precure!
  4. Kira Kira Precure a la Mode
  5. Smile Precure!
  6. Maho Girls Precure!
  7. Fresh Pretty Cure!!
  8. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go!
  9. Yes! Pretty Cure 5
  10. Futari wa Precure Max Heart
  11. DokiDoki! Precure
  12. Suite Precure
  13. Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star
  14. Happiness Charge Precure!

It should be noted that given the purpose of the site, the general audience for Anime! Anime! would skew towards older and more interested in anime as an industry. One goes there to read essays about and interviews with creators, as well as following general anime news. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that the most popular iterations of Precure are 1) the original pioneer 2) the series with (in my opinion) the strongest narratives and overall messages. What I’m more surprised about is how well this top 3 aligns with my personal tastes. I consider Heartcatch and Go! Princess to be #1 and #2, respectively, and the unrefined, yet innovative quality of the first Pretty Cure to be a big part of its charm.

While the character rankings and the series rankings are from two different sources, I find it remarkable that character popularity and series popularity don’t really line up. Based on my personal experience, this isn’t a complete shock, but I think it really goes to show that memorable characters can exist almost apart from their sources. Cure Heart is a top 10 (out of 51) character, but Doki Doki! Precure is a bottom 5 (out of 14) show, according to the above sources. It’s also interestingt to me that Cure Marine comes out ahead here. She’s considered a top 3 character, and Heartcatch Precure! is seen as a top 3 show.

Go! Princess Precure is considered the best Precure anime, but interestingly enough, it also has among the worst toy sales out of the entire franchise.

Go! Princess Precure is third from bottom

One might assume that a greater focus on quality storytelling might conflict with how one of the purposes of Precure is to sell toys, but this is not necessarily the case. According to the chart above, the most successful Precure in terms of merchandise sales is actually Heartcatch Precure! There’s perhaps a challenge in being able to achieve high marks in both, but it’s not impossible. The fact that one doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the other is simultaneously reassuring and daunting.

Conclusion (or lack thereof)

I’m not a statistician and I don’t pretend to be. I’m also unsure if there are any truths deeper than what I observed, like how Cure Marine is the Nintendo Switch of Precure (doesn’t compete directly with other Precures and is the better for it), and that toy sales and show quality almost exist on separate planes.

So in closing, Heartcatch Precure! and Cure Marine are the best. Fight me.

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Imaginative, Inspiring: Next Door Spy

This review is part of coverage for the 2018 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Danish animated film Next Door Spy by director Karla von Bengston is a cute story of growing up and fighting to have the confidence to believe in oneself and one’s passions. Couched in a “kid in new town” setting with a splash of film noir, Next Door Spy is consistently witty and inspiring.

Next Door Spy follows the appropriately named Agatha Christine (AC for short), a girl with a love of mysteries who’s constantly playing detective to her mother’s reluctance. Her family has just recently moved to a new town in Denmark for a fresh start, but while AC sees it as the perfect opportunity to scope out new crimes, her mom (a police officer) just wants AC to be a little more “normal.” When AC learns that a local grocery has been a victim of shoplifting, she gets to work—and her prime suspect is an aloof skater boy.

The film is mostly down to earth, but is inter-spliced with black and white noir renditions of AC acting out her detective dreams. It’s an entertaining juxtaposition particularly because AC’s true love for investigation is on display. Her cherished PI’s hat and coat, along with her various makeshift gadgets, are just the right degree of “obtainable fantasy” that can inspire kids to do more yet still feel like movie magic. The mystery and non-mystery elements weave together cohesively to make all of the characters, even the adults, feel relatable.

Next Door Spy succeeds as a family film because it’s great for adults and older children looking back and younger children looking forward. Just about everyone can benefit from having a bit of AC in them.

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Aikatsu! and Idol Franchise “Experiences”

As Aikatsu Friends! inches ever closer, I find myself thinking about the longevity of Aikatsu! as a franchise. By this October, it’ll be a whopping six years old—a lifetime when it comes to children’s anime. Where other similar series have tried to compete, few have managed to hang on as Aikatsu! has. One of its closest competitors, Pretty Rhythm, eventually pivoted towards the male-idol-centric King of Prism series. Either by outlasting or outmaneuvering other idol series, Aikatsu! feels as if it’s conquered its own niche—though the exact nature of that niche is what I’m trying to figure out.

There are, of course, key differences between Aikatsu! and other idol character franchises. Series like King of Prism and Idolish 7 utilize male idols in a desire to capture a different market. Love Live! and The iDOLM@STER feel like they skew older. Macross Delta and Symphogear have idols as thematic flourishes as part of a greater science-fiction story. They cover various demographics, as well as various degrees of idol presence. Yet I feel there’s another element of difference that isn’t accounted for, as if Aikatsu! and Love Live! occupy different compartments of mental space, at least personally.

While this is only a tentative thought exercise for the sake of categorization, if I had to describe that difference it would be as the following: With Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, I’m most interested in how the idols will react, but with Aikatsu! I’m most interested in the actions they’ll take. The way I phrased it makes it seem as if it’s a contrast between more passive characters and more active ones, but that’s not quite right. Instead, it’s more that the girls of Love Live! seem to draw their appeal from the way they behave and influence each other, while the girls in Aikatsu! feel as if they influence the environment around them.

Perhaps the reason I see Aikatsu! different is because of the fans and how they express their love for the series on social media compared to other idol anime lovers. Other series appear to celebrate cuteness and style. Fans of Aikatsu! revel in an aura of power and excitement. At the heart of this fan output remains the indelible images of Ichigo, that very first Aikatsu! heroine, as she climbs those cliffs and wields that axe. It’s as if Ichigo and her successors reshape and navigate the land while other idols move through it.

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Really Funny, Really Real: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

This review is part of coverage for the 2018 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

As much as fans of animation might sometimes want cartoons to be treated as merely humorous entertainment for children, there’s something downright impressive with a work that works as kids’ comedy and sticks the landing. Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert’s The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales succeeds so well that to talk about it as a “funny cartoon” seems inadequate—yet it’s the perfect description.

Broken up into three segments, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales is an anthology centered around a farm and the Looney Tunes-style animals that inhabit it. The first segment sees a pig, along with his well-meaning but incompetent duck and rabbit friends, try to deliver a human baby to her parents. The second features the ironically titular “big bad fox,” who ends up having to raise the very chicks he’s trying to eat. The third is a Christmas special, where pig, duck, and rabbit try to fill in for Santa Claus and deliver presents to the world. All of them are loosely connected, presented as if all the animals are performing a stage play for the audience for comedic effect.

What makes The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales work so well is that the humor is very much a part of the narrative, giving the jokes a proper sense of continuity. In many other cartoons, humor consists of a series of jokes (sometimes references, sometimes not) that come one right after another. If they’re too reliant on single punchlines or winks and nods, the whole thing starts to feel less like an experience and more a joke-delivery system. But the film sets up, executes, and nails both its major and minor gags, even throwing in some sensibly heart-warming moments in the process. Contributing to the levity of the entire experience is the art style of the film, with varying widths in the line work and a bright palette that looks as much picture-book as it does comic strip.

My favorite segment is The Big Bad Fox, and I assume that the creators thought the same if they decided to feature it in the title. There’s a constant turning of expectations centered around the fox’s relationship to his “children,” and the sight of three adorable little chicks fully believing they’re apex predators never stopped being entertaining. It’s sort of like if the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons featuring the chickenhawk were taken up a notch and then given a bigger heart.

After the film’s screening, the creator Benjamin Renner was interviewed. He described the origins of the film as comics he used to draw for his family as Christmas and birthday presents, often about how the animals lost the “real” presents along the way. While answering the audience’s questions (all from kids), my big takeaway is that Renner provides a strong example of how the ideas and inspirations of one’s childhood can still thrive and inspire in adult, professional life.