Star Twinkle Precure’s Excellently Personal Transformations

Precure as a whole is known for its fantastically animated transformation sequences, but I’ve been especially impressed by the current Star Twinkle Precure. They feel especially strong and consistent, and both the attention to detail and little design flourishes make each character stand out from the others.

As the main character, Cure Star is the standard from which the others are contrasted. She sets up the basic premise of the series’ transformations–waving around a pen and drawing while singing about who she wants to be–but there’s also a spring and a bounce that highlights her personality in full. Her dancing feels very loose and casual, and at the same time conveys her eagerness and curiosity. Cure Star already embraces who she is and who she wants to be in her daily life, so she doesn’t seem especially different before and after changing into a Precure.

While all the other girls draw their symbol and stand next to or in it, Cure Milky stays offscreen. She then surfs on top of the heart along a flow of green water, playing off the Japanese word for Milky Way: ginga, or “silver river.” Milky seems to express the most joy over transforming into a Precure, which makes sense, given that she’s the only who even knew about the legend of Precure already. Her outfit has a number of elements that suggest her extraterrestrial origin, but my favorite are the clear, bubbly shoulders. They’re reminiscent of old-fashioned portrayals of aliens at the same time that they adhere to the general Precure aesthetic.

The first really noticeable thing about Cure Soleil is that as he continuously traces a circle, it gets brighter and more intense, almost like you’re staring into the sun. It’s the only initial drawn shape to create a fully rendered image (a sun, of course), which she then emerges out of, as if the flames are transforming her. Soleil’s Precure outfit resembles a flamenco dress, calling back to her Spanish/Latin cultural background, without making her feel like a “token” foreigner character.

Cure Selene’s transformation whispers elegance compared to the others, which are more energetic. Her initial drawing is the only asymmetrical one, and the way she stands inside the crescent moon without being inside of the shape itself leaves an impression—especially with the way her feet are planted apart, toes in. Unlike the other girls, she actually rides the crescent moon she draws, and the arrow she shoots is based on her archery background. Her transformation feels the most “freeing,” as if she’s finally not being held back by her upper-crust upbringing.

Overall, I love how much personality and individuality these transformations have. They really emphasize the idea that these girls are trying to transform into who they want to be.

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Stars: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 14

The Chorus Appreciation Society has its first big argument in Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 14.

Summary

With only one day to submit an application to enter the MHK Concours, the Chorus Appreciation Society is struggling to decide on a song for both practical and personal reasons. Among the considerations: available members, song familiarity, and taste. After a great deal of arguing and even a near-fight between Orihara Kousei and Hachida Shinji (!), they finally land on a song they can all agree on: “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto.

Those Pesky Song Rights

One of the practical considerations that the group has to account for is that any rewriting or adapting of compositions, for the sake of better matching the performers, has to be approved by the original creator. With less than 24 hours to decide, that means this option is out of the question.

Kio didn’t have to place that limitation on his characters—he could’ve written the situation to have more leeway. It does add a bit of tension, however, and it gives ample opportunity for the manga to go into detail about the typical statement of a chorus or ensemble.

What is Normal? What is Otaku?

One of the barriers is Kousei, who refuses to do any songs he considers embarrassing, which rules out all J-pop. Others are ease of performance and familiarity. Akira suggests they do a Studio Ghibli song, seeing how popular, well known, and tasteful they are. Hasegawa Kozue’s eyes light up at the prospect, but she’s shocked and appalled to discover that some of the members have never seen a Ghibli film—namely Jin and Kousei, though Jin has performed some of the songs. Shion also reveals that she’s never watched one, though Kozue is much gentler and more forgiving with her.

This little interaction highlights a number of character aspects. First, the question of whether gruff judoka Kozue is actually an otaku is brought up by the other characters. There’s no clear answer, but at the very least, we know she’s not the kind of otaku to scoff at Miyazaki films. As for why those three in particular are Ghibli virgins, Jin and Shion can be attributed to strict households—Jin’s never even had TV. As for Kousei, it’s likely due to his traumatic, neglect-filled childhood.

Grump and Not-So-Grump

I find there are some similar trajectories for Kousei and Shion, in that both come across as hardasses at first but are softened up as they spend more time with the rest of the characters. The big difference is that while Shion just seems gruff but turns out to just be a goof, Kousei’s “lighter” side only comes out in tiny doses which are then exaggerated by everyone else. More broadly, there is a general theme of the Chorus Club/Appreciation Society helping people deal with or overcome their personal challenges.

The title of the chapter, “Ore ni Totte” [To Me], actually comes from a line uttered by Kousei: “To me, singing’s…” Here, he’s expressing what may be some poetic or powerful view of music, and the other members try to eagerly egg him on to express what he means.

It’s also telling that Kousei eventually says he wants to leave because it’s his tastes that are getting in the way, and that he’ll be fine with whatever—there’s a considerate person in there. However, Akira stops him because he wants a song everyone will be happy to work on. Both Kousei and Akira gain points in my eyes.

Songs

As mentioned above, the song they pick is “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” (Behold the Nighttime Stars) by Kyu Sakamoto. The way the characters described it as basically something everyone knows prompted me to do some research because I was unfamiliar with both the singer and the song.

It turns out that Kyu Sakamoto is one of the most famous musicians ever, inside and outside of Japan. In 1963, he became the first Japanese performer to hit #1 on the US Billboard Top 100, and in 1985, he tragically died in the deadliest single plane crash in history.

Other songs mentioned in the chapter include “Kanade” by Sukima Switch (of course), and the Ghibli songs brought up by Jin: “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Stroll” from My Neighbor Totoro, “Carrying You” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and “Country Roads” from Whisper of the Heart.

Final Thoughts

Kio actually made a chart showing all the characters who’ve appeared thus far with names and classes. It’s a lot! It also makes me wonder who we’ll see more of in the future, especially now that we know what to call every one of them.

“Tales of Eternia: The Animation” and the Adapting of RPGs

I was asked via Patreon to look at the Tales RPG series, which I have very little experience with. Given time constraints, I decided to focus my energy on an anime version, knowing full well that such adaptations often do not fully capture what makes the source material appealing. With that in mind, I chose to go in blind on the earliest Tales anime: Tales of Eternia.

My immediate feeling from the first couple of episodes was that the core cast is a fun and likable bunch, and that they stood out above all else. My favorite is Farah Oersted, the martial arts tomboy with an oddly familiar an appropriate voice—turns out she shares a voice with Videl from the Dragon Ball franchise. The show at times felt beholden to its RPG origins, especially during fight scenes, which is not helped by the roughness of the early-2000s digital animation.

But as I kept watching, I wondered just how much ground they were covering from the original Tales of Eternia. Halfway in, it seemed more like they were on their very first missions, when you’re still kind of learning the ropes. By the time a major plot twist comes in, it feels strangely paced—like either the story was moving too slow for something like this, or it had been skipping over too much. At this point, I decided to look at just how this anime maps onto the game.

The answer is that it doesn’t—at least not exactly. The central characters are more or less the same, except drawn in an early-2000s anime style as opposed to the softer designs of the game (or its squat sprites), but the story of the Tales of Eternia anime does not take place anywhere in the actual RPG. Suddenly, it made sense, and the feeling I was getting from the anime version was all too familiar: the Tales of Eternia anime is basically a filler arc.

The challenge of adapting an RPG is tricky because there’s not necessarily enough time to cover everything, so I can see why they took this approach. Shoving the game’s story into 13 episodes probably wouldn’t have done it justice, so going for a wholly original story is an interesting solution. However, the reason it feels so much like filler is because it straddles the line a little too much. The anime tries not to touch the main story so there are no real stakes, but it also seems to assume that this somewhere into it, so the anime isn’t terribly free to take liberties. All that remains is the charm of the characters.

You (Meaning I) Don’t Need to Know Everything

The original intention of this blog post was to review Ikeda Riyoko’s Claudine, a scandalous and emotionally intense look at a man born in a woman’s body and the complications it brings. It provides an interesting contrast to Ikeda’s most famous work, The Rose of Versailles, whose protagonist, Oscar, is raised as a man but is ultimately a woman inside.

However, as I tried to shape my thoughts on Claudine, I began to worry about whether or not I was the right person to be writing about a transgender-focused manga, never mind that Ikeda herself, as far as I know, isn’t transgender either. It’s not as if I haven’t written about similar topics before, but I’ve been increasingly self-conscious about it. My concern with writing about Claudine was that I do not know how actual transgender people might experience its narrative. Is the dominant tragic aspect of the manga considered a step backwards?

Then something dawned on me. While I consider my constant desire for knowledge a strength, this pursuit of expertise has its downsides, one of which is an inner need to say things from a place of authenticity that isn’t necessarily in reach. I expect myself to be able to understand everything eventually on a deeper level, but in some situations, as with the transgender experience, there’s only so far I can go. While there are many ways I don’t match up to the ideal male image society upholds, I don’t know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in my own skin to that degree—to feel like who I appear to be on the surface isn’t who I am.

What I’m realizing is that it’s okay that my knowledge will forever be limited to a certain degree. I don’t need to try and be an expert in everything; I can listen to the voices of those with direct experience and those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of equality. Support when I can, guide when I can, and learn when I can: that’s the way to approach life, especially as I grow older.

PS: I’m well aware of the irony of me taking what should have been a review of a manga about a member of a trans man and making it all about me realizing the limits of my emotional knowledge when it comes to trans people. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Rokudou no Onna-tachi: When Krillin Wins

In 2016, I found out about Rokudou no Onna-tachi, a new manga that was a fresh and interesting take on the well-worn harem genre. As I continued, my opinion of it only grew. Even now, I find myself regarding Rokudo no Onna-tachi more highly than ever. There are many aspects of this series that contribute to its success, but fundamental to all of it is the portrayal of its protagonist, Rokudou Tousuke, as a true underdog. In a sense, he’s the Krillin of the series, but Rokudou no Onna-tachi is a story where Krillin is the main character, and he succeeds because he’s not the strongest, or the toughest, or the smartest.

To recap, Rokudo no Onna-tachi is about Rokudou Tousuke, a meek high school kid who casts a spell on himself to be more popular with girls. However, what he didn’t know was that the spell was very specific: it only attracts delinquents and “bad girls.” Most notable among them is Himawari Ranna, the strongest and most terrifying brawler in town. It turns out that bullies are a lot friendlier when your ostensible girlfriend can shatter concrete with her fists, but Rokudou is the last person to want to encourage violence, so he actively tries to prevent Ranna from sending every person they meet to the hospital. Along the way, Rokudou manages to befriend an eclectic group of people and through a combination of friendship, guts, and kindness, accidentally becomes the “shadow boss” of his school.

I call Rokudou no Onna-tachi a delinquent harem work, but it leans much more toward the former descriptor than the latter, and I think the series is all the better for it. While there is a romantic aspect of sorts, as the series has progressed, a majority of the focus has been on Rokudou’s shounen protagonist-esque ability to win over his antagonizers with or without the attraction spell (which he can’t get rid of, no matter how hard he tries). And even when it comes to the delinquent girls who fall head over heels for him. What’s more, “being hot to bad girls” doesn’t give him much of a leg up in a fight, so his ability to stand up to bigger and bigger threats speaks more to his qualities as a human being than anything else.

And yet, while romance doesn’t define the series, the central relationship between Rokudou and Ranna is still interesting and vitally important the tone of the narrative. If Rokudou is indeed a Krillin, that sort of makes Ranna the Android 18 of this story, in that she’s the more powerful of the two. However, her role is arguably closer to that of Goku, or even Saitama in One Punch Man. She’s an unstoppable force in a fight, and many physical conflicts in Rokudo no Onna-tachi are a matter of anticipating the carnage to come as soon as she gets where she needs to be. She’s not a heroine with a tragic backstory or a brash amazon with a hidden soft side, and even those moments of loving infatuation toward Rokudou humorously highlight a central tenet of Ranna’s being: violence is everything. That dynamic of contrasting personalities between Rokudou and Ranna fuel both the comedic and the dramatic parts of the manga, and it’s all the better for it.

If Rokudou no Onna-tachi had just stuck to pure silliness, making jokes about how an endless parade of nasty girls were getting googly-eyed over a tiny loser, then it would have worn out its welcome far too quickly. But if it had swung too deep into the serious and dramatic, then I believe it would have had a harder time standing out from the pact. It’s because Rokudou can be portrayed as this unlikely hero, and that the series can swing between silly and serious so effectively by using his constantly being out of his depth, that the manga is such a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

In Defense of Jiren

The Dragon Ball franchise is famous for many things, and one of them is its gallery of iconic antagonists. Piccolo, Vegeta, Freeza, and Cell are some of the big names Goku has faced over the years, and they each make a lasting impression. The recent Dragon Ball Super series introduced a major antagonist in its multiversal “Tournament of Power” arc, a mighty warrior from another universe named Jiren. But unlike the others, Jiren is considered by many fans to be a disappointingly generic villain. It’s an argument I can see, but in the end one I don’t quite agree with.

Indeed, if you take Jiren as a villain, he seems to just be generic in his obsession with power and sacrifice–just another big body for Goku to overcome. However, this approach to Jiren’s character isn’t quite accurate: Jiren may be opposing Goku, but he’s not a villain. He’s a hero of his own world, one he presumably has defended from threats comparable to the ones Goku has faced, and he gained his power through the circumstances and decisions that comprise Jiren’s experience.

The crucial difference between Goku and Jiren is that the latter’s life is full of pain and loss that made him choose a life of isolation and rejection. Where Goku would defeat and befriend those he faced, Jiren would destroy. Where Goku attains power for self-improvement and new experiences (i.e. fight stronger opponents), Jiren does it almost out of a sense of obligation or duty. Where Goku is goofy, Jiren is dead serious. What Goku has to overcome when fighting Jiren is not some evil machinations or even a chaotic force like Majin Buu, but a different in philosophy borne from a universe that did not have a Goku.

Put another way, Jiren could have been the protagonist of his own anime or manga, one where suffering and cynicism dominate. Perhaps you can think of a couple of titles that fit the bill. But just like how Goku embodies certain values as the core of Dragon Ball, Jiren would be the center of his own narrative and all that such a scenario entails.

So Jiren might come across as “uninteresting,” and he might not necessarily be as compelling a foe as the most well-known villains of Dragon Ball, but he acts as a different kind of foil. If ever he shows up again, there’s plenty of room to explore his character.

Privilege is a Super Meter: A Fighting Game Analogy

The concept of “privilege” is a tricky one, because it’s extremely apparent to those who lack it, and yet often unnoticeable to those who possessed it. And given the dominance of the white male in gamer culture, others have attempted to make video game-based analogies to help the unaware comprehend “privilege.” But the most prominent comparison, the idea that being privileged is like playing a game on easy mode, is ineffective for multiple reasons. While its simplicity gets the point across easily, it’s also pretty antagonistic and liable to make people defensive. “How dare you say my life is easy, just because I’m a man?”

So I propose a different analogy: being privileged is like starting each round of a fighting game with a full super meter.

Not everyone is familiar with fighting games, so this bears some explanation. Typically, when you start a match, both characters have full health, maybe somewhere between zero to 50% super meter, and placed at a neutral distance where neither has an automatic leg up on the other. Super meter is a gauge that, when sufficiently full, gives access to powerful moves that can aid players in various situations.

A full super meter at the start of a round does not guarantee a win. It does not replace or remove the need for skill, hard work, or experience. It can be squandered to the point of being useless. Some players might end up perpetually unable to truly take advantage of it. However, even if it never gets explicitly utilized, the presence of that full super meter at the start of each round influences player and character interactions from top to bottom. Just by its existence, that meter affects how your opponent perceives you.

If all you ever do is fight other people who also start with a full meter, you might never notice that there’s an issue. But as soon as you fight someone who doesn’t have this perk, the dynamics change. Imagine two players with the exact same talent and skill, playing the same character, but only one of them has that meter. The two should be able to do the same things, but one starting with more resources makes it so that what should be even exchanges are always potentially lopsided. The player with the super meter has access to additional options. That means not only does it let that player get out of tight spots they wouldn’t otherwise, and press advantages that they already have, but when only one person has that starting meter, a “neutral start” isn’t actually neutral.

That’s the thing about privilege: it subtly affects how you are perceived in the world and what you are thought to be able to get away with. It doesn’t automatically mean those who are privileged have a leg up in every situation compared to those who aren’t, but its influence permeates aspects of life big and small without anyone even having to try. It’s why assuming that everyone is on a level playing field is the classic sign of someone who is privileged and unaware of it, but also why it can be so hard to grasp for those ignorant of its existence.