Hands-On Experience: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 12

Kurata Shion’s history with piano and some lewd humor make up Chapter 12 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

The chapter begins with Mimi-sensei recalling her past. Growing up shy due to her large chest, she was inspired by a high school teacher to go into teaching herself. Unfortunately, her students treat her more like a friend than an authority figure, leaving her unconfident.

Shion tells the classroom about her own history. Encouraged to learn the piano from a young age by her mom, she eventually developed a form of tendonitis. When she suggested to her mom that she wanted to quit, her mother’s response was that Shion has no ability otherwise—if she stops playing, she’ll have nothing left.

Jin figures out that Shion was taught poor form—a byproduct of being coached by her inexperienced mom. This lines up with everything else we know about Shion: she uses too much force for everything, whether it’s sawing or playing piano. The conversation gets heated, especially because Shion discusses quitting the school due to her seeming inability to learn how to let up on her grip.

Oumi-sensei steps in to try and convey to Shion that there’s more to Hashimoto Tech than just learning trade skills, that it’s about having new human experiences. Mimi-sensei feels the spirit of her old teacher inspiring her, so she offers herself as an open ear. Shion immediately squanders this good faith by asking for a smartphone, to which Mimi responds, “Why don’t you ask your mom?”

Shion leaves, childishly frustrated at Mimi’s response, but accidentally trips and lands with her hands on Mimi’s chest. However, squeezing them and alternating her grip strength helps her figure out what it means to have a gentle touch. Excitedly, she runs to the woodshop classroom to demonstrate her suddenly improved sawing technique. Jin then asks her to try and play piano, and using that chesty eureka moment, Shion applies her new lighter touch to the ivory as well. The Chorus Club has their pianist now.

Poor Mimi-chan

I feel for Mimi, especially how she doesn’t seem to be treated seriously as an adult. Even her heartfelt recollection of how she became a teacher was a setup for a boob joke.However, I like how this chapter revealed that she actually has a tiny bit of an edge when Shion asks her about getting a smartphone. The way the page is framed, with each of them equally prominent in separate panels, makes Mimi’s response feel immediate and somewhat terse while still conveying her generally gentle demeanor.

The Road to Hell

Shion’s past is yet another instance of conflict between parent and child, but unlike Orihara’s situation of neglect, it involves a mom with good intentions. Shion’s case is when a general approach to life (work harder!) fails to take into account the particular needs or feelings of an individual. The fact that her mom actually suggests that Shion has nothing without piano is an all-too-real sentiment from a loving but perhaps overbearing parent, and on some level I can empathize with Shion’s situation more than any other character so far. It also makes me wonder if Kio Shimoku is laying a general criticism towards parents in Japan and the different ways they can negatively impact their children’s lives. As a father himself, perhaps he’s also warning himself—like a reminder to never forget what it was like to be that age.

Because Hashimoto Tech is a vocational school, it brings to the foreground the notion that these are kids on the cusp of becoming adults. For Shion, there’s also the question of what happens when one’s passion or hobby is tied to one’s career. At one point, she reveals that she always assumed a dislike of piano meant a dislike of music in general, and it’s a window into how all the different elements involved with her starting and giving up playing are jumbled together. Decoupling them is one of the outcomes of this chapter.

Talent vs. Hard Work

The question of whether hard work can compete with talent comes up while the class is discussing Shion’s situation. We know Shion’s opinion on this—that hard work can’t compete. Jin disagrees, but what’s especially curious is that Jin doesn’t see himself as talented. The question is if his incredible vocal skills is indeed a product of constant striving, or if he’s comparing himself to some kind of titan. The fact that Jin expresses empathy with Shion growing up with an overbearing mom might say it all.

Songs

Once again, “Kanade” by Sukima Switch. It’s the song Shion plays.

Final Thoughts

When Shion accidentally trips and is about to fall, Hasegawa (the judo girl) rushes to save her but then accidentally bumps into Akira. If you look closely, Hasegawa was behind the teacher’s lectern a moment before. Either this was a mistake, or she actually slid over the lectern to get there in time.

Also, she likes puns.

Basically, Hasegawa’s awesome.

They’re all awesome.

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The Best Nonsense: “Himote House: A share house of super psychic girls”

The “semi-improv” anime genre began in 2009 with gdgd Fairies, and since then it’s been a source of both laugher and confusion. 2018’s Himote House: A share house of super psychic girls is the latest take on this formula, and it feels in certain ways a culmination of all the previous works. If gdgd Fairies is the pioneer, Tesagure! Bukatsumono the most consistently funny, and Naria Girls the strangest failure, then Himote House is simultaneously the most indicative of experience and the most successfully experimental.

Ostensibly, the series is about a group of girls with super powers who all have trouble getting boyfriends, but the premise (as always) is mostly a pretense to set up joke after joke. Like most of its predecessors, the show is built around varying degrees of scripted comedy and impromptu improv moments. More than any other show of its kind, however, Himote House is willing to break with its own established patterns. Trying to find ways to be attractive to guys gets plenty of laughs, but only because they highlight the absurdity of the characters themselves. An episode at a bathhouse has to be seen to be believed—at once spoofing the exploitative power of fanservice and leaning hard into an awkwardness like no other.

These types of shows live and die by their actors, and Himote House fortunately brings back multiple veterans from past series such as Straight Title Robot Anime and Tesagure! Bukatsumono. Himote House will even occasionally call back to previous series as a nod to the returning fans. The biggest thing of all, however, is that the three of the gdgd Fairies are here too, and that includes seiyuu mega-star and Okada Kazuchika girlfriend Mimori Suzuko. I’m particularly impressed by Mizuhara Kaoru, who plays a very different but equally amusing character compared to her role as shrshr in gdgd Fairies.

As with its predecessors, Himote House hits home if you’re into a kind of disorganized humor that thrives just as much on when jokes fall flat as when they succeed—it’s all about the actors sticking the landing. Existing somewhere in the range between Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Inferno Cop, Himote House is, if anything, memorable.

My Top Handheld Video Games of All Time

When I think about my favorite video games, they’re often less about some remotely objective measure of greatness and more about personal impact. It wasn’t easy to narrow down a list, but I think this runs the gamut of my experiences. I’ve never owned any non-Nintendo portable systems (not counting smartphones), so it’ll be skewed heavily in that direction.

Note that I am not including Nintendo Switch games because that’s a big ol’ can of worms.

In no particular order:

1. Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow

I love the Pokémon games in general, and each one has its own strengths. But for all its flaws, nothing is closer to my heart than the original. That sense of exploration, the thrill of meeting random people on the street and linking up (via cable!) for a battle, going online and discovering communities dedicated to both competition and general fandom—the only games that ever gave this sense of camaraderie were NiGHTS into dreams… (i.e. my favorite game ever) and the Super Smash Bros. franchise. Many of my faves from this generation are ones I love today: Chansey, Vileplume, and Mewtwo.

2. Super Mario Land

So much about this game is memorable. From using boulders as stepping stones to narrow the distance with an Easter Island-headed boss to frantically running from Chinese hopping ghosts to taking down Tatanga in a shoot ’em up finale, there’s so much I can look back on with fondness. But what sticks out most in my recollection is the fact that I actually beat this game for the first time while sitting on the toilet. That sort of experience doesn’t leave you.

3. Super Robot Wars R

This was my first Super Robot Wars game, and it was more than just some fun turn-based strategy. While I was a big mecha head long before I ever got this game, the easy access it gave me to discovering a plethora of big anime series, and the nitty gritty of their robots—Gear Fighter Dendoh, Daitarn 3, Voltes V, and more—only deepened my desire to explore the genre further. And while it’s considered a fairly easy SRW game, that made it all the better as I fumbled through the game with only the barest hint of Japanese literacy. I literally took 70% of the game to learn how to select “dodge!”

4. Metroid: Zero Mission

This is about as good as Metroid games get, and it’s a pretty flawless work in general. However, it means even more to me because when I studied abroad in Japan, it was pretty much the only game I had with me. So what’s a guy to do except play it over and over and over again? And given that I love boss fights (especially final bosses!), I had one save slot for Mother Brain and one for Mecha Ridley.

5. Ghost Trick

This is a certified masterpiece. The gameplay is ingenious and addictive, like a series of Rube Goldberg devices with an occult twist, and the story is charming and heartwarming. It also gave me plenty of reasons to cheer on my girl Lynne in WVGCW!

“Ha ha! I died again!”

6. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

While inferior to its Wii U counterpart in almost every way, the fact that it made a portable, 60 fps Smash game possible with only a few compromises (no Ice Climbers) on an increasingly dated system is nothing short of incredible. Letting me play Mega Man in Smash Bros. for the first time ever is reason enough to get on this list.

7. Greenhouse (Game & Watch)

The first time I unlocked Mr. Game & Watch in Super Smash Bros. Melee, I was floored. My family had owned a few Game & Watch games over the years, and my favorite among them was Greenhouse. The first time I got over 999 points and caused the score to flip over back to 0 was an achievement for my young self, and the simple yet frantic fun of its dual-screen format made it an entertaining option even though the Game Boy was already a thing by the time I played it. In a way, it’s a timeless game.

8. Tetris (Game Boy)

C’mon, it’s Tetris. There’s no need to explain the appeal of this absolute classic, but the Game Boy’s A-theme is the definitive Tetris song, and that alone will keep it in my memories forever.

9. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

The Ace Attorney games are so clever and full of personality, both in terms of characters and gameplay. It’s just a memorable series through and through, and the deduction-based system is both gripping and easy to get into without devoting much time. Of the iterations I’ve played, I still feel like I enjoy the first game most of all. Extra bonus points go to the DS version’s extra story, which introduces Ema and Lana Skye, my two favorite characters in the entire franchise.

10. Fire Emblem (aka Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade)

The first Fire Emblem game to hit the US is still my favorite of that franchise. The characters are amazing, and not even just the obvious ones—I’m currently playing Fire Emblem Heroes with Serra set as my favorite while I’m trying in vain to get a Ninian of any kind. The animations are so vibrant and seared into my brain. Who can forget seeing Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood using their sacred weapons for the first time? Even the gameplay is my favorite. Basically, what I’m saying is, bring back the ability for mounted units to carry other units!

Do you have any handheld games that are in your emotional pantheon? Let me know!

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This blog post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic on Ogiue Maniax, check out the Patreon.

The World Wide Web of Human Pain: SSSS.Gridman

If you were to ask me what my favorite Power Rangers-type show was as a child, it would undoubtedly be Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad. I distinctly recall running around the house yelling “SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI!!!!” mimicking both the theme song and the TV commercial jingle. So while I’ve never seen the original Gridman the Hyper Agent in Japanese that provided the source material, SSSS.Gridman was an instant must-watch—especially because it was being made by Studio Trigger (Little Witch AcademiaKill la Kill).

SSSS.Gridman is ostensibly about a boy named Yuuta who can merge with a computer entity called Gridman the Hyper Agent and use his abilities to fight off giant monsters attacking their city. However, it quickly feels more like a bizarre paranormal mystery that seems eager to deal out the truth piecemeal. Often times the show is seemingly less concerned with personal character development and more about pulling back the curtain. One of the biggest questions is how the monsters and even Gridman himself, who were previously confined to the computer realm, are manifesting in the real world.

The result of SSSS.Gridman‘s peculiar mixture of ingredients is that it can feel like a never-ending ocean of information to explore in both profound and frivolous ways. Somehow, it simultaneously presents itself as both a shallow case of “geek-info/reference overcharge” and an introspective look at the pain and suffering of human interaction.

The series is full of odd details that aren’t exactly vital but add to a certain meta-ness that can enhance enjoyment of SSSS.Gridman. Two side characters in the series actually come from a yuri short story by the series director. Most if not all of the characters in the anime are based on a Botcon convention-exclusive mirror-universe series called Transformers: Shattered Glass. it’s a strangely elaborate reference to make, almost purely for enjoyment’s sake (and to get the Transformers fans jumping out of their seats), or perhaps as a wink and nod to the fact that the company Takara had a hand in both Transformers and Dengeki Choujin Gridman. Even the title, SSSS.Gridman seems to be willing to play into its own American adaptation. After all, how else would a fan of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad interpret the series?

But then the anime also makes references so as to hint at the true natures of its characters, or to foreshadow what’s to come. It’s really deep-cut stuff that generally involves using monsters and motifs of past tokusatsu works (especially from Tsubaraya Productions, the studio behind Ultraman and Gridman), and far beyond my knowledge or experience to have picked up without outside reference (thanks to Mike Dent!) However, it’s not as if one needs to get every in-joke or obscure callback to understand SSSS.Gridman and where it’s going. The series is another showcase of one of Studio Trigger’s great strengths: the ability to put in all of that under-the-surface content for hardcore fans without alienating newcomers. The references aren’t a barrier to entry so much as a reward for the faithful, and it’s as much a sign of love as the very movements of the monsters themselves, who despite being animated in 3DCG are made to behave like people in rubber suits as a way of replicating the live-action feel of the original Gridman.

Right to the end, SSSS.Gridman seems to change and shift, and it can be difficult (though not impossible) to predict where it’s truly headed. Watching the series unfold is a quiet yet boisterous joy that captures simultaneously the anxieties and wonders of both childhood and adulthood.

What Does Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” REALLY Mean?

Japanese tidying and organizing guru Marie Kondo (aka Konmari) has a new Netflix show out where she helps people around the United States unclutter their spaces and, potentially, their lives. Predictably, the series has generated mixed opinions, as those who love having “stuff” are resistant to the notion that throwing things out could lead to happiness. One particular point of contention comes from Konmari’s core idea that we should only keep things that “spark joy.” This has been especially controversial among book lovers, as the notion that one should only keep books that “spark joy” is viewed as antithetical to the purpose of books.

This actually isn’t the first time this backlash has occurred. Back when Kondo’s book first came out in English, it was received with similar skepticism.

However, is sparking joy—that is to say, “create a feeling of comfort and placidity—really what Konmari is trying to say? What I’ve found is that the phrase “spark joy” is a somewhat narrow translation of the original Japanese. Instead, in the original language, Konmari uses the terms tokimeki and tokimeku (the meanings of which I’ll explain below), and knowing this can potentially change how one views her Konmari Method.

(Note that this is not meant to be a scathing criticism of the book’s English translation so much as it is a lesson in the difficulties of translation and localization that are inherent to the whole process).

Tokimeki in Japanese means “throbbing” or “palpitation,” but is probably better translated as “heart-pounding excitement.” If you follow Japanese anime, manga, and video games, you might see the term pop up quite often: Tokimeki Memorial, Tokimeki Tonight, etc. Tokimeku is a verb form of this—”to induce heart-pounding excitement.” While that overlaps somewhat with “sparking joy,” the two can carry very different meanings, and tokimeki doesn’t necessarily hinge on a sense of bliss or unabashed happiness that the word “joy” can imply. Things, including books, can disturb and perturb and still create excitement.

In fact, the Japanese title of her first book (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in English) translates literally to Life’s Heart-Pounding Cleaning Magic. In other words, tokimeki is a part of the title itself.

Personally speaking, I can’t go all in on the Konmari Method, as I love collecting things, on top of also believing in having a strong library for both reference purposes and personal satisfaction. However, when it comes to books in particular, I’ve recently thought over how I view books and their importance. The purpose of a book is to be read, and whenever I finish a book, I find myself wondering, “Is this book better off on my shelf within arm’s reach, or being out there in the world for someone else to find?” There’s never a consistent answer, but I find it’s an important question to ask myself. Those who think letting go of their books is an inherent problem might consider how books that don’t excite them might find a home with someone else.

Dreams Before Harems: Why I Like “We Never Learn”

We Never Learn is a popular harem manga currently running in Weekly Shonen Jump, and one I actually like a good deal. With the anime debuting next season, I’ve been thinking about why I’m fond of this particular series over other similar works, and I realized something. While We Never Learn is indeed a harem series, and thus shipping is ostensibly an important factor for enjoying the series, I find that I don’t actually care about pairings at all, and this makes the series better for me.

Because the anime is coming out this season, I’m going to make this post as spoiler-free as possible. Actually, I don’t even think I need spoilers to explain my point, so it works out.

The basic plot of We Never Learn has high school boy Yuiga Nariyuki tasked with tutoring two of the smartest girls in school. However, while Furuhashi Fumino is a genius of literature and the arts, and Ogata Rizu is a math and science wizard, their respective dreams are to go to college in their worst subjects instead. Along the way, other girls join the cast, and the close calls with Nariyuki never stop, in typical harem fashion.

One thing clear from the start is that each character has their own goals they want to reach. Sparks fly and fanservice abounds, but their attractiveness doesn’t define who they are as people. Moreover, they’re all supportive of one another, and this makes it a refreshing experience.

Nariyuki could end up with anyone, or no one. Any of the girls could end up with each other. Perhaps they might all marry random, unrelated characters. To me, none of it truly matters, because I want all of them to succeed in ways beyond relationship success. While the girls and their cuteness is a major part of We Never Learn, you want to see these girls achieve their dreams as they try to overcome genius with hard work in a Rock Lee-esque way. The fact that the geniuses they’re to beat are themselves makes it all the greater.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Potential Positives of Project Wendy

One of the strangest trends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit YouTube recently, as countless creators began putting out videos centered around Wendy O. Koopa—a character who, in a sense, isn’t one. She’s an alternate costume for the playable Bowser Jr., so the fact that this one skin was singled out above all others reeked of conspiracy. Indeed, it looks like this was all a combined effort by all of these YouTubers to highlight one of the least popular characters in Smash Bros.

In a sense, this is the very definition of a forced meme, though fans seem to be rolling with it. However, there’s another potential consequence outside of fun, stupid jokes involving a fast food restaurant or a Samoan pro wrestler (see above): giving a spotlight to an otherwise neglected character. Bowser Jr. (and his seven Koopaling skins) is one of the least talked-up and least talked-about characters in Smash Bros. Ultimate. In tier list after tier list, Bowser Jr. is placed firmly in low tier. It’s certainly possible that he’s one of the worse characters in the game, but the Ultimate meta is still young (barely a month old), and opinions can changes. What can turn opinions around, then, is research and exposure.

There’s a “million monkeys on a million typewriters” effect to a certain extent. If Project Wendy inspires scores of players, even mostly lower-level ones, to pick up Wendy, Bowser Jr., or any of their alts, then the sheer increase in quantity can push that character further along than any sort of on-paper theory-crafting. That’s the funny thing about competitive gaming: often times, how deep and complex your game is ends up being less important to competition than the player population and their eagerness to push ahead. Regardless of motivation, whether someone truly adores Wendy, or whether they’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon, this is a chance for Wendy and her fellow Koopa Clown Car warriors to get some attention. Characters die when their communities get stagnant, and pushing a meme is one…unique…way to try and avoid that.

I might be a bit idealistic in terms of the long-term effects of Project Wendy, but who knows? The next great Wendy/Bowser Jr. player might emerge out of this crazy effort. Imagine…