A Long Time Coming: Speed Racer (2008)

In 2008, the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer movie made its box office debut. At the time, I was eager to make an outing of it, but by the time anyone wanted to go watch it with me, it was already out of theaters in my city. Over the years, I watched its reputation go from “beloved by a select few” to “cult classic” to “criminally underappreciated gem too advanced for its time” in the eyes of the public, yet for whatever reason I never sat down to actually experience the film myself. Now, 14 years later, I decided to right this wrong, and I’ve come out of it wishing I decided to do this sooner.

Speed Racer is based on the 1960s anime of the same name (known in Japan as Mach Go Go Go), and follows a guy (literally) named Speed Racer. Coming from the appropriately named Racer family, Speed loves cars and driving, but his entry into the circuit world comes tinged with memories of his controversial dead brother, the ex-pro Rex Racer. When Speed is propositioned to join an elite racing team under the auspice of one of the top sponsors, it sets him on a moral and literal battle between cynical big business and genuine passion—through racing, of course.

So many articles and reviews have been written about the Speed Racer film at this point that I doubt anyone needs me to convince them to watch it or give it a second chance. That said, as someone who’s watched a lot of anime (enough to blog about it for nearly 15 years!), I found Speed Racer to be entertaining and engaging in multiple ways without a shred of irony. The movie often looks intentionally flat, as if they had taken animation cels and replaced the characters with real people. The races are intensely energetic, but I never found them difficult to follow, and they always served a very clear narrative purpose to convey specific themes about how the characters like Speed see the world or racing. Not surprisingly, the fast pace at which information is integrated into the greater world, combined with its simple but memorable characters, reminds me of a different anime that is without a doubt descended from Speed Racer’s legacy: Redline.

The divisiveness of Speed Racer as either the greatest thing or an unwatchable mess comes down to a number of qualities, but I think characterization is a big bone of contention. If you’re looking for fully fleshed out beings with layers and layers of complexity and moral ambiguity, this film has maybe one or two of those, tops, if I’m being charitable. Otherwise, you have a literal monkey mascot as comic relief that the Wachowskis could have jettisoned Tom Bombadil–style, but they actively chose to keep. What Speed Racer has in spades, however, are characters as embodiments of groupings of emotions, and the film shows how these feelings drive their decisions and their ways of being. Speed has a number of times where he has to make tough moral choices, but they’re always through the lens of “How does it affect the love of racing that is core to his being?” The characters are very intentionally two-dimensional, and not for the worse.


When the film’s ending credits begin to roll, a remixed Speed Racer theme plays that starts with the Japanese lyrics of the Mach Go Go Go opening, and it feels indicative of how much the film seeks to pay homage to its artistically influential original that captured the imagination of so many people. It’s a clear love letter to the original, but stands on its own as a visual spectacle that drives its story through its aesthetics. For those who can take the step forward to meet Speed Racer where it’s at (or are indeed there already), what awaits is one of the best adaptations of an “anime” feeling to a film of flesh-and-blood people.

Falling Falling Let’s Enjoy: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2022

The summer of 2022 is starting to wind down, and it feels somehow different from even recent years. Maybe it’s that Japan hit a milestone with Comic Market 100 this past month. Maybe it’s the prospect of COVID-19 Omicron-centric booster shots potentially making me feel safer and more comfortable with traveling—including to Japan itself at some point. Or maybe it’s the passage of the largest climate bill in US history, as well as the announcement of a massive student loan forgiveness plan, that gives the vague sense that humanity can do something.

I hope this is a positive turning point, and that we’ll all be in a better position to do the things we love and plan for the future we want to see.

Thank you to my September 2022 Patreon subscribers, notably the following:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Naledi Ramphele

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from August:

Shattering the Old Baltimore Ceiling: Otakon 2022

A huge chunk of the blog this month has been dedicated to Otakon. You can find my thoughts on it, as well as links to interviews, here.

S-M-R-T! I mean, S-M-A-R-T: “Fist of the North Star Side Story: The Genius Amiba’s Otherworld Conqueror Legend”

An amazing premise for an isekai parody starring a second-rate villain from Fist of the North Star.

Mother of Mercilessness: Everything Everywhere All at Once

The rare portrayal of an Asian mom as action protagonist touches on so many aspects of the Asian diaspora.

Kio Shimoku

Kio Shimoku talks on Twitter about how he’s bad at doing panty shots.

And here’s a look at the Spotted Flower version of Angela Burton.

Apartment 507

An early review of Love Live! Superstar!! Season 2, focusing on the concept of the senpai.

Closing

As the seasons change and cooler weather (hopefully) arrives, I also want to think about revisiting some old projects. I keep meaning to do more Gattai Girls, but a lack of time and to some extent motivation has hampered that. I also wonder about continuing the Fujoshi FIles after many years of inactivity, but have to consider the possibility that it’s not my place to discuss how “rotten” fujoshi characters are. I’m not that BL and saw the characters with fascination, and am still wondering if I should let those closer to the fandom take over this sort of endeavor. I’m still entertaining the notion of a fan wiki, but who knows where it’ll end up.

Kio Shimoku Twitter Highlights August 2022

There was a hodgepodge of topics this month from Kio Shimoku’s tweets.

Kio has always had a problem with the air conditioner in his work area, where 28°C (82.4°F) is too hot, but 27°C (80.6°F) is too cold. This year, though, he has an AC that can be set to a perfect 27.5°C.

Kio wishes a happy birthday to Aoki Ume, author of Hidamari Sketch. (Seeing two of my favorite authors interact makes me happy).

At an Oedo Choraliers concert.

Kio reminisces about the Zukkoke Sannin-gumi, a juvenile novel series. Because Kio turns 48 this year, he read the sequel series Zukkoke Chuunen Sannin-gumi (when the child heroes from the original are now middle-aged) and thought it was the best. He thanks the author, Nasu Masamoto.

Someone mentions buying all of the Zukkoke Chuunen Sannin-gumi, to which Kio replies, “Amazing.”

Kio is two volumes away from finishing Zukkoke Chuunen Sannin-gumi and loving it. A fan of the soccer team Sanfrecce Hiroshima replies that the Hiroshima-born author actually had a collaboration with that time, and that a lot of the matches during that period ended up being very zukkoke (unusual, foolish).

Mourning the death of Kobayashi Kiyoshi, the original voice of Jigen Daisuke in Lupin III, who played him up until last year.

Kio promoting some new digital chapters of Spotted Flower, specifically starring Not-Angela! A fan replies with an emoji for panties, and Kio finishes the statement with “Please”—another reference to Genshiken and Spotted Flower.

Mourning another apparent death. This time, it’s illustrator Suzuki Masahisa, who passed away back in June.

Kio bought a new printer with a scanner function, and has moved his old massive scanner capable of handling A3-sized (manuscript) paper off his desk. He mostly works digitally now so it’s not always practical, but that old one comes in handy with things like scanning in paper drawings to use as extra materials for manga volumes.

Having more room on his desk means being able to use a dual-monitor setup, so he can look at references while drawing. He does this most often with women’s clothing.

A fan expresses how much they love “An-san” (Not-Angela), to which Kio replies that all three extra digital chapters this month revolve around her.

Promoting the third of the extra Spotted Flower chapters.

b, the huge Kimura Jin fan, asks Kio if he wants to promote a special campaign that lets you read the first two volumes of Hashikko Ensemble until August 31, and Kio does just that.

Kio has gotten around to gathering the film recordings and books he needs to put into manga what he couldn’t before. When asked what he’s drawing and if it can be shared on Twitter, Kio replies that it might be possible but it’s better to play it safe.

Kio talks about how exciting it would be go to the live talk event for Hirakata Ikorusun, author of Special, and ask about what happens in the final volume. (Hirakata debuted in Rakuen, the magazine Spotted Flower runs in).

Kio admonishes himself for still not being good at drawing panty shots after 28 years as a manga artist, and also for still putting in panty shots after 28 years.

Apparently, it’s not exactly for “work” (or is it?).

Hololive TEMPUS, Nijisanji ILUNA, and Attractive Male Designs

Cover Corporation and Nijisanji, the two heavyweight companies of the Virtual Youtuber world, both recently launched a new generation of English VTubers. TEMPUS and ILUNA respectively are new steps forward for their respective organizations, with HoloTempus being the first English-language Holostars (the “dudes” counterpart to the all-girl Hololive) and ILUNA being the first mixed-gender debut group for Nijisanji English. The initial announcements were made close to each other, inevitably leading to comparisons. Among the topics of debate were who has the better character designs, with people taking sides and criticizing the other for being uglier.

Normally, I really don’t care about this sort of petty, contentious arguing. And in terms of determining who’s “better” or “worse,” I still don’t give a damn. However, what interests me is that I find TEMPUS and ILUNA to have taken different approaches to portraying attractive men. The distinction can be roughly categorized as “hardcore bishounen” (TEMPUS) vs. “mainstream bishounen” (ILUNA).

It’s not a perfect analogy, especially because each individual VTuber has a unique artist behind them. But when you look at each group’s aesthetics, as well as the actual visual styles, the comparison only grows stronger. The TEMPUS designers include Kurahana Chinatsu (Uta no Prince-sama) and Komiya Kuniharu, and the VTubers have such sharp chins and body proportions that one expects more to find in BL or even CLAMP manga—the kind of look parodied by Gakuen Handsome. In contrast, ILUNA’s designers feature among them Arisaka Aco (Bestia) and Amaichi Esora, and their VTubers have a softer appearance that reminds me of something like Genshin Impact. Given that, it’s almost no wonder that fans have found this to be a topic of contention.

But Ultimately, while visuals do play a role in Virtual Youtuber popularity, personality is also vitally important. Picking favorites comes down to how each individual balances what they care about, though I think it would be best to not bash someone for liking one over the other, as long as the core reason isn’t some bizarre tribalism. As for me, I haven’t watched enough of them overall to pick a top guy, though finding out Vesper Noir has a thing for Carmen Sandiego makes me like him.

“Angela” Arrives in Spotted Flower and Is Powerful Indeed

I made a mistake when it comes to Spotted Flower.

In a story where the characters are like older, alternate-universe doppelgangers of the cast of Genshiken, not everything fits together perfectly. Characters look a little different in ways that can’t always be explained by changes in age, size, or fashion. So I long figured that the blonde living with Ogino-sensei (Not-Ogiue) was actually an amalgam of Ohno’s two American friends, Sue Hopkins and Angela Burton. After all, this character may have had much of Sue’s demeanor, but her figure and proportions were a lot more like the buxom Angela’s. Turns out, however, that there is a Not-Angela, and she’s more powerful than I could’ve imagined.

Not-Angela’s big change is that she’s somehow gone from being all-in on “boys’ love” to being obsessed with “girls’ love,” as she calls it). According to Not-Sue, she likes any story where you can see the sense of love showing, though the fact that Not-Angela has her stuff adorned with yuri buttons makes it seem like that’s not the whole story.

The Genshiken Angela was implied to be very sexually experienced compared with most, if not all of the other characters—not surprising, given most were socially awkward dorks. Spotted Flower is a different beast, as it’s a story where sex and promiscuity are present in spades. Yet, even here, the aura Not-Angela gives off is still a level above the others, even if not much is actually shown. That said, a very exposed Not-Angela both gets a gratuitous shower scene and also tries to have a threesome with Not-Sue and Not-Ogiue the first night she’s there, so it might just be a matter of time.

Her relationships with the cast seem more or less similar to her Genshiken counterpart’s, including having a thing for Not-Madarame and a long friendship with Not-Ohno. Curiously, Not-Sue seems to have even more of a love-hate relationship with Not-Angela, though no real hints have been given as to what could have changed, or if it’s tied to the fact that both original versions had a thing for Madarame in Genshiken. It’s not a complete about-face from what their Genshiken versions had, but it just seems much more aggressive. Also, she seems to dislike Not-Sasahara, claiming that he’s the type to ask for a threesome, which cuts a little deep with a tinge of irony, given recent developments.

Not-Angela’s last appearance involves her flying back to the US, but not before teasing Not-Madarame by mentioning the striped panties she’s wearing—a personal weakness of his, and one that his wife, Not-Kasukabe, is all too aware of. This suggests that Not-Angela found out about this detail at some point and is taking advantage of it, but given the adultery that Not-Madarame engaged in not long ago when his wife just had their daughter, it feels tinged with a kind of uncomfortableness only Spotted Flower can bring.

I wonder if we’ll end up seeing a meeting between Not-Angela and Not-Kohsaka at some point. They’re probably the most eager to get in people’s pants out of everyone, though I don’t see anything happening between the two. 

Shattering the Old Baltimore Ceiling: Otakon 2022

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center. A large redstaircase cuts through the middle, with escalators on each side. Blue signs saying "Registration" and "Photosuite" show that this is Otakon.

Out of all fan conventions, I consider Otakon the one can’t-miss event. There’s certainly a sentimental component, as I’ve been attending for about 15 years at this point, but I think their approach to the concept of the anime con is vitally important: a celebration of anime fandom that’s not for profit and also gives respect to both the creators of the works and the fans themselves. This year, Otakon 2022 shattered its attendance record with a whopping 40,000+ (roughly 6,000 more than the previous record), and I’m glad to see it thrive after a combination of a risky move to Washington DC saw an attendance drop and the arrival of a global pandemic threatened its very existence.

COVID-19 Measures

Anyone who follows Ogiue Maniax knows that I do not take COVID-19 lightly. I’m a firm believer in the science that says vaccinations provide significant protection against severe disease and death, and that good-quality masks are an important tool for mitigating spread. I’m also not so naive as to think COVID couldn’t possibly be at the convention. So why did I still decide to attend, especially with the Omicron variants being so infectious? There are multiple reasons.

First, above all else, is that Otakon’s COVID-19 policy reassured me that they take the pandemic seriously. Much of the US has been opening up in rather unsafe ways (if they had ever closed down at all), and some other notable conventions had tried to roll back their masking and vaccination policies despite the prevalence of the Omicron variants. However, Otakon maintained that attendees must either be vaccinated or present a negative PCR test result, and that masks are mandatory. A few more things could have been done, like requiring vaccinations and boosters, period, but it’s understandable that some people still can’t get vaccinated for reasons other than hesitancy. In my view, Otakon cared more about people than attendance numbers.

Second, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is quite spacious and has tall ceilings that can help keep air circulating—it’s being in stagnant air in small, enclosed spaces that is especially high-risk, and I could do what I can to avoid those situations and/or make sure I didn’t take my mask off under any circumstances.

Third, I trusted my own risk management. In situations that are too crowded around me or where the mask usage rate is clearly lacking, I could make the decision to change plans or abandon ship and head back to my hotel. Although it might mean not getting to see something or someone I was looking forward to, it was something I was willing to accept. You can’t do everything at Otakon anyway. I did eat out with friends once, but it was on a Sunday when the majority of attendees had already left DC.

A dish consisting of egg, sea urchin roe, and salmon roe.

Of course, COVID safety only goes as far as whether people actually follow them. In that regard, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of people wore masks of some kind and wore them over their noses like you’re supposed to. It wasn’t perfect, and there were plenty of ineffective cloth masks still being worn, but I think having the firm requirements come from the con itself might have encouraged attendees to follow their example. I also literally saw security go after someone with no vaccination/COVID-negative wristband in a reassuring sign of vigilance. Score one for mandates. 

Issues

That’s not to say the con ran 100% smoothly, however.

I enjoy getting autographs from creators, and Otakon is often good at inviting a variety of interesting guests from Japan. However, ever since the move from Baltimore, the autograph area has been in the same space as the Dealer’s Room, resulting in a less-than-ideal situation. Attendees wanting to get their stuff signed have to deal with the massive crowd trying to get into the Dealer’s Room to shop, and I thought about giving up on more than one occasion because I was worried about being surrounded by people and increasing the chances of infection.

Exacerbating this was the fact that there was a major pedestrian traffic jam in the underground tunnel connecting the Marriott to the convention center on Saturday. Normally, this is the ideal way to get to the con if you’re staying at the hotel (as I was), but the huge delays meant I couldn’t return to my room and retrieve something I hoped to get autographed until it was too late. However, that was fairly small potatoes compared with the fact that those trying to make their way through the tunnel could be stuck in there an hour or even longer. There were also lines snaking out from the Marriot and at the convention center, and on a hot summer day too. It seems like the culprit is a confluence of factors, including the gigantic boost in attendance numbers, some confusion over COVID-19 protocols, and some mechanical failures that meant inaccessible escalators. Whatever the case may be, I hope Otakon is prepared to deal with this next year

An autographed copy of Bionic Commando for the NES.

Fortunately, I actually did manage to get a couple of things signed in the end: an old family copy of NES Bionic Commando from back in the 1980s, as well as a special edition of a My Youth Romantic Comedy novel from the author and staff (not pictured).

Interviews

After my hiatus from interviewing last year, I managed to speak with some guests for 2022. Check out the following interviews:

Ise Mariya

Gugenka, Inc.

Industry Panels

Furukawa Toshio & Kakinuma Shino

A photo of Kakinuma Shino and Furukawa Toshio at their panel. Next to them is the host and the interpreter.

If you ever want to hear from voice actors who love their craft and want to prepare the next generation, it has to be these two industry veterans. Furukawa is famously the voice of Piccolo, Moroboshi Ataru, and Portgas D. Ace. His wife is probably best known as Naru (Molly) from Sailor Moon. Together, this husband-wife voice team provided insight on how they train talents at their school, the ways they introduce emotion to their roles, and how to sound like you’re moving around without actually doing so (because the mic won’t pick everything up). One insightful thing I learned is that COVID-19 has upended the tradition of having everyone in the same room to record a scene (which made for better recordings, in my opinion), though important dialogues might still result in a two-person session.

I actually interviewed them back in 2017, but forgot to ask them about one of my favorite works: Zambot 3, where Furukawa played Shingo. This time, I got the chance to make up for that omission, and Furukawa answered that Tomino had very meticulous instructions and planning for voice actors, and he’d talk with each voice actor one by one. Furukawa said it was a very theatrical experience compared to other roles, though I don’t know if “theatrical” is a euphemism for something else.

Studio Trigger’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

While it wasn’t my first choice for aTrigger anime screening, I was still curious to see what they had in store for the first episode of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. I’ve never played Cyberpunk in any form, but I was glad to see that the studio’s approach emphasized the dystopian qualities of its, well, cyberpunk setting over the “cool factor.” The stark class differences and crushing hand of capitalism make the hero’s anger all the more poignant. 

After the screening, the staff showed some of their early character design sketches. The two things that stood out to me were the degree to which they had to revise to match the Cyberpunk video game creator’s vision, as well as the fact that they straight-up said the main girl character (who barely shows up in episode 1) was inspired by Motoko from Ghost in the Shell as they explained the big influence that cyberpunk as a genre had on them as artists.

At the end, they teased the SSSS.Gridman + SSSS.Dynazenon movie, which I’m eagerly awaiting.

Bigwest’s Macross Panel

A photo of the Macross Panel showing the introductory slide that says "Welcome to Bigwest's Macross Panel"

When I found out there was going to be an official Macross panel at Otakon, I felt it was my duty to attend. After all, official Macross panels have never really existed in the US prior to 2022, with the closest being whenever Kawamori Shoji is a guest. One of the biggest moments of the panel was when they showed a video of the various Macross anime (narrated by “Maximillian Jenius” Hayami Sho), and a loud cheer erupted around Macross 7. The panelists mentioned that the title would have induced silence not so long ago—a sign of the changing times. Personally, I think that similar to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, anime fandom had to catch up to Nekki Basara instead of the other way around.

This panel has since garnered a bit of controversy due to the fact that Otakon announced that there would be something special. To Macross fans, that can mean all sorts of things because of its unusual history when it comes to licensing and the legal issues with Harmony Gold/Robotech. Speculation ran rampant: Could it be Do You Remember Love? A new Macross? Something completely out of left field?

It turned out to be the very first US screening of Macross Frontier Short Film: The Labyrinth of Time, which was originally shown before the Macross Delta Zettai Live film. It was a treat to see and it was downright gorgeous, though not quite the first thing to come to mind as a special surprise.

Discotek Media

If ever there was a US anime company with a catalog made for me, it would be Discotek. Even when they’re not licensing titles off my wishlist, they’re giving others similar dreams. While Machine Robo: Battle Hackers is not everyone’s first choice for long-sought-after anime, their willingness to put out such obscure works is appreciated.

By far, the two big titles announced here are Space Sheriff Gavan and the complete Urusei Yatsura TV series. Neither hit me on that deep level, but the audience went bananas for both. I’m well aware of the significance both shows have to tokusatsu and anime fandom, and I’m looking forward to checking both out. 

At a dinner with friends, I learned that Gavan is such a big deal in Malaysia that it’s become a part of the language itself. Using the word “Gaban” there means to describe something as epic or to evoke an image of bravery. I have to wonder how many works of television and film can make similar claims to fame.

My Panels

I’ve done plenty of panels at Otakons past, but this year is the first time I’ve had to do two back-to-back. I had considered asking for one of them to be moved, but the prospect of getting them both out of the way in one fell swoop was appealing as well. Thankfully, the vast majority of the panel rooms were in close proximity to one another this year, making the transition a relative breeze.

The first panel was “Hong Kong in Anime and Manga.” The idea was to explore different ways in which Hong Kong’s people, culture, and environment are portrayed in anime and manga. There was a technical hiccup at the beginning that delayed the start by five minutes, there were no real issues otherwise. I was surprised that there were very few Cantonese speakers in the audience, but that just meant I had underestimated the need to explain the language aspect of Hong Kong, and could adjust on the fly. I also noticed how big a reaction a clip of Cantonese-speaking VTuber Selen Tatsuki received, which gave me an idea of her extensive reach.

I hope people enjoyed the panel. I managed to briefly talk to a couple of folks who enjoyed the panel (including a longtime reader!) before I had to hoof it out of there. I was also informed that I might have made more than a few people interested in checking out G Gundammission accomplished.

The second panel was “Mahjong Club: RIICHI! Ten Years Later.” It was the revival of a panel I last presented in 2012 alongside Kawaiikochans creator Dave, adjusted to take into account the many opportunities English-speaking anime fans have to play Japanese mahjong compared to a decade ago. One big adjustment we made was to deemphasize some of the nitty-gritty of the rules and to better convey the excitement and tension of a game of mahjong. For the most part, the audience was new to the panel (but not necessarily new to mahjong), so I hope we were able to give something for everyone who watched us.

There was an issue with text on our slides getting cut off; it’s something we can fix when we do this again in another 10 years (?).

Fan Panels

A History of Isekai

Isekai is the elephant in the room when it comes to modern anime, and a panel about its history could easily strike a shallow cord. Luckily, this one focused primarily on the works leading up to Sword Art Online, mentioning the mecha isekai of the 1980s, the shoujo isekai of the 1990s, and the outsized influence of The Familiar of Zero. It’s debatable whether something like Urashima Tarou can count, though if it does, then it’d be amusing to show the anime Urashiman. Of course, not every title can be mentioned in an hour, even if it means missing out on the fantastic opening to Mashin Hero Wataru.

Digital Anime Fansubs: 2000 to Now

This panel was about the rise of digital subs around the turn of the millennium, and it focused mainly on the changing formats+file sizes, the brand-new frontier of getting anime straight from Japan within days (as opposed to months or even years), as well as the ways that fansubbers tried to establish their identities through practices like fancy karaoke effects. It was probably a fun introduction to this era for people unfamiliar with it, though I wonder if there would be a way to establish a more detailed history. It wouldn’t be easy by any means, due to the fact that this sort of subject isn’t really recorded, but maybe collecting anecdotes from fellow fans (or fansubbers themselves, if possible) could be cool.

A Sophisticatedly Unsophisticated Look at Fanservice

This was a panel by Gerald from the Anime World Order podcast, and I actually saw a fledgling incarnation of it ten years ago at Otakon. It was interesting to see him tackle the topic again, and there were definitely shows I remembered—namely the infamous Manyuu Hikenchou. This time, the panel had a more concrete idea of what it wanted to show, which is fanservice in terms of being things that are gratuitously superfluous. In that regard, the panel did take things to the next level, though I thought it still didn’t quite hit the mark on what would be considered traditionally “fanservice for girls,” which I think is more rooted in context and relationship dynamics than jiggling bits and crotch shots. 

Showings

Otakon 1994 AMVs

One of the pleasant surprises this year was that the con decided to screen the original Anime Music Video Contest from the very first Otakon 28 years ago. It was a window into the past, particularly in terms of the shows that were being used (Riding Bean, Bubblegum Crisis, Detonator Orgun, and so on), and it’s even more impressive when you realize that digital video editing was still in its infancy back then. 

There was a particular video that was considered “non-competing” that seemed to grossly revel in detailed depictions of violence against women. While I could see the argument against showing it at all, I do think having it available as a sign of what the fandom was like, warts and all, has at least historical merit. I would say I hope this isn’t a thing anymore, but I don’t typically watch AMVs anyway.

Wada Kaoru and Hayashi Yuki Sunday Concert

A photo of a concert from far away.

Despite the prominence of K-pop at Otakon this year (enough to have Hangul on the front cover of the physical guidebook for the first (?) time!), the only concert I attended was for the music of composers Wada Kaoru (Inuyasha, Yashahime) and Hayashi Yuki (Haikyu!, My Hero Academia). I wasn’t familiar with a good chunk of the songs, but the contrasting styles between the two made for an interesting experience you usually don’t get when the focus is on a single act. The real treat was during the encore, when they played along with the combination orchestra+rock band.

Cosplay

Conclusion

So that was Otakon 2022! It had some hiccups that made me remember that attending a convention is a conscious choice that requires risk assessment, but I definitely had a great time overall. I’ll leave off with a gallery of cosplay photos I took throughout the event. Cheers to another fine year, and I hope all my fellow attendees made it out healthy in the end.

PS: If you want to hear me talk more about Otakon 2022 (even after this massive review), I was a guest on the Otakon 2022 episode of Anime World Order!

Know Your Role and Open Your Mouth? Beastars Season 2

WARNING: SPOILERS

There’s no denying that Beastars is a very horny series. It centers around a carnivore and herbivore falling for each other despite the kaleidoscope of social and physical taboos, and it’s not afraid to get freaky in all the more predictable ways as well. With respect to this premise, one of the more compelling aspects from Season 1 of the anime is the notion that to fully follow or defy one’s own instincts is faulty, and that a balance is necessary. I did not expect Beastars Season 2 to push that idea to extremes.

At the end of Season 1, Legoshi the wolf has recently rescued Hal the rabbit from the Shishigumi, a lion mafia that was planning to eat her. They aimed to consummate their love, but their instinctual relationship as predator and prey make that impossible. Now back and school as classmates, they’ve gotten closer, but there’s still a palpable awkwardness. On top of that, a killer is still on the loose at school, and Louis the deer (who was the academy’s brightest star) has disappeared. But while Legoshi devotes himself to protecting herbivores and transforms himself so that he can fight like them, Louis re-emerges as the new leader of the Shishigumi. The carnivore has taken the role of the herbivore and vice versa.

Legoshi and Louis are opposites through and through, and nowhere is this clearer than in how they view what it means to be strong. To Louis, carnivores like Legoshi are the epitome of power. They’re aggressive attackers by nature who overwhelm their targets, and there’s just no substituting that with hard work and wishful thinking. To Legoshi, however, Louis’s ability to inspire others and stand tall in spite of his inherent limitations as an herbivore is the very definition of strength.

At the climax of the season, however, the two end up taking their traditional roles, albeit with a twist. In order to defeat a common foe, Louis literally offers his leg to Legoshi to devour as a way to power him up. Louis tries to shift the burden entirely onto himself by saying he’ll declare Legoshi innocent, but Legoshi counters that he won’t let Louis take on all the responsibility of this decision. They both arrive at their “natural” relationship, but instinct is only a part of it. In the face of an enemy who threatens the peace, they find a compromise of sorts. It’s their valuing of the other’s archetype-defying strengths—Legoshi’s kindness and Louis’s boldness—that allows them to arrive at this controversial decision. They do the wrong thing in service of a greater good.

An added layer is that the lower leg Legoshi eats also was the last physical proof of Louis’s darkest secret: He was originally meant to be meat to be illegally sold on the black market. Ironically, by becoming what he desperately sought to avoid, but by doing it on his own terms, he is fully able to break away from that same past. Louis’s actions simultaneously reinforce and challenge the carnivore/herbivore dichotomy.

The way that Beastars and its characters defy the expectations placed on them is what makes the series such an unusual and fascinating work. They refuse to fit neatly into any categories or stereotypes, and any attempt to box them in is met with such vigor that it practically jumps out of the screen. Reason and instinct once again both factor prominently, but their relationship and distinctions are further blurred, just like with carnivores and herbivores.

Ogiue Maniax Talks Otakon 2022 on Anime World Order

I was recently a guest on the long-running Anime World Order podcast to discuss this year’s Otakon! Joining me was my friend and mahjong partner-in-crime, Dave of Kawaiikochans fame.

Readers of Ogiue Maniax might remember that I once gave AWO a shout-out as one of the influences that inspired me to start this blog. Sixteen years later, I’ve made the big time.

Otakon 2022 Interview: Mikami Masafumi and Kiral Poon (Gugenka, Inc.)

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington DC. Gugenka, Inc. is a company that describes itself as “Sales of digital goods and technical research on Japanese animation using advanced contents such as VR/AR/MR.” Mikami Masafumi is the CEO, and Kiral Poon is the CTO. 

How did you get into the business of 3D, VR, AR—these sorts of subjects?

Poon: Do you mean academic side, or…?

Anything, really. If there’s an academic element, then definitely talk about it. If it’s sort of an amateur hobby, or…just what inspired you to take this up…

Mikami: We were originally making AR stuff for movie promotions, and we slowly moved that content into VR. That became for VR anime promotion, where we promote anime with our VR abilities.

Poon: One of the examples would be the Sailor Moon VR that we built. That is also, like, a movie for Sailor Moon Crystal promotion, and then we did the VR game for the event. And in the end now it’s on VIVEPORT for free, but it was originally promotional content.

I first became familiar with Gugenka through the HoloModels app.

Poon: Really?!

Yeah. I found out about it from a reader, actually.

Poon: When did you hear about it?

A couple of years ago, I think?

So what was the origin of the decision to make virtual AR models? Was the plan from the start to work with established properties?

Mikami: The way it started off was, you know how we have anime figures in real life, right? What if we could make digital versions of anime figures?

In physical figures, it’s probably not a real surprise to see on your figure rack a Dragon Ball character and a Re:ZERO characters side by side. But then in VR contents, it was an uphill battle to get the understanding to have two characters of different IPs sitting on the same app.

Poon: I’d like to actually convey my two cents on that. Japanese companies are really, really, really restrictive on the IP stuff. The more I work with them, the more I think that’s so crazy about it. Masafumi back in the day, he tried very hard. One problem is, how can you line up two different IPs together without any problem with the IP company. Cause they usually want to have their own world, right? When it’s in the real world, it’s just figures, so they don’t care about it. But in digital, they usually have control with their applications. So Masafumi was actually the producer. He is the one who actually produced it and persuaded those companies to do it together. The reason he can do that is because this company has a long history with these companies and these movies. He already knew these people, and that’s why he did it. It is not easy at all, in my opinion.

I’ve heard similar things about the game Super Smash Bros. When it comes to the director, Sakurai, it’s only because he has such a strong reputation in his industry that he’s able to convince all these different…

Poon: Yeah, exactly. In Japan, when you work, it’s not only about ability, but also about how people trust you. So that’s the case.

I also want to point out why this app exists, which is that there’s limited space around the world. We usually line up a lot of figures—I buy my own figures too—they take up a lot of space. In AR applications, you stick them into the space, and you can display them anytime. It’s just like an RPG item box, where you just bring it up anytime—exactly like that. That’s really convenient, and you can do more than with actual figures. You can move the pose and change the face. With real figures, you have to change the parts, and there’ll be lines on the face you don’t want. But with digital figures, you don’t have that problem. So that’s one of the main reason I can tell you why we created them.

You actually anticipated my next question!

[laughter]

So moving on, Gugenka has collaborated with virtual stars of all kinds. You have Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. You have Virtual Youtubers like Kizuna A.I., Tokino Sora—and I remember that when I got the Gugenka HoloModels app, there was Shinonome Megu

Poon: You did a good job. People don’t even know that one.

So what do you think about the fact that people are embracing virtual characters, and have you noticed any changes in the degree to which people are embracing them?

Mikami: Right now, everyone has their own different characteristics, and everyone would probably be able to express themselves differently in different bodies. I believe that our app would enable everyone to express themselves in their own body of their choice.

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the concept of virtual spaces to the forefront, as friends, families, and businesses try to gather online through various chat programs but also in creating virtual space. How has the pandemic affected your approach to virtual spaces? Has it cast a new light on them?

Poon: So with virtual space, during the pandemic, we have actually been trying to increase our opportunities with all these restrictive companies. In my point of view, usually Japanese companies tend not to do remote work and exhibitions lots online. But because of the pandemic, they start thinking about it, and they approach us. Of course, sometimes we approach those companies—“Hey, do you want to do it?” Usually, it’s the case that they will ask us about doing online exhibitions. Before, there were, like, no exhibitions, but because of the pandemic, we have those events hosted by Gugenka.

For example, the closest one would be the MF Bunko J one that we just did with Kadokawa—the light novel one. It’s a really popular real-world event in Japan. And there’s live concerts, like the Sanrio Virtual Fes. We tried to make it realistic, and we have a very good reputation on that event with VRChat. And of course, we also connect with all these partners from Japan—VRCast and other platforms. And I connect with all others across the world and have partnerships with them, like VRChat. After that, people started realizing what we’re trying to do to make people closer in distance, and display things in HoloModels, and also create your character through MakeAvatar.

You’ve worked on many events, and I know it’s hard to pick a favorite, I guess, but I’ll ask anyway: Do have any events you’re surprised that you managed to work on?

Poon: I guess I’ll let Masafumi answer first, and then I’ll answer.

Makami: I would say Kitty-chan’s Sanrio Virtual Fes is probably my favorite. I can take pride that I participated in it. The reason is that the people who are enjoying the real stuff Sanrio produces, as well as the artists and VTubers—they all come together in one event, so I thought it was a good event.

Poon: I’ll add two cents about the Sanrio virtual event because there’s not many people who know about the event in the US. After I did the panel, people were all surprised. This is a real diverse event that includes actual artists like AKB48—famous, real artists like HoneyWorks. There were also virtual artists like Kizuna A.I. and other VTuber characters. And then there’s also the system that we created so that we can bring this all in, and with synchronization with the timing we can make it feel like a live event. 

What that means is, what if you join late but your friends have been in for five minutes? In a usual game, well, you start from zero, and you play it, right? But in real life, you’ll be seeing things five minutes late. What you’re seeing with friends is the same thing, and when you wave, and when you sing, you’re doing the same thing. This is what makes a huge difference with the Sanrio Virtual Fes event. We created a synchronization system to make sure everyone had the same experience, same timing to all these artists. And it’s a huge event because there’s more than a hundred songs. I didn’t sleep for two to three days just to check the songs, and it was crazy. I wish one day we could join us for the second one. So that’s the Sanrio Virtual Fes.

That actually makes me think: Sometimes, due to the pandemic and the increasing use of online spaces, people want to get together for a karaoke session, right? But due to the differences in synchronization, it can cause problems for people who want to sing together. Is there a possibility of creating a space like that for regular users?

Poon: So there’s a lot of problems in terms of people’s preferences. During the event, there’s a separate instance we created to adapt for each person. For example, if your computer is weak, but you still want to enjoy the event, there’s something called shitei [appointed] instance, which means you are pointed to that instance, and we make sure you can have the best experience in that instance. But because it’s a social VR, if you want to see the group, there’s something called jiyuu [free] instance. But if it crashes, or you just want to enjoy the experience with your weak computer, you can still go to the appointed instance. 

But also, furthermore, for the paid content, there’s outfits using the MakeAvatar app. It’s like when you dress up as Mickey—or Marvel characters because Disney owns Marvel—and you go to Disneyland. So it’s the same thing as when you go to Sanrio Puroland; you dress as Mochipoly, as they call it. It’s really cute, and you can buy the hat from Kitty, or Keroppi. 

There are two reasons for that. First, is because of the story. It’s best delivered that way. It feels like part of them, and it’s real good. When you look at pictures, it’s really nice. Second, is the performance. We want weak computers to also get in easily. So we think about all that and plan the event that way.

I know a lot of people around my age became anime fans in part or in whole due to Slayers

Poon: Ooh!

So I was pleasantly surprised to see both a HoloModel of Lina Inverse—I saw the author, Kanzaki, constantly promoting it—

Poon: Man, I’m surprised you know Slayers, and that we did that?

And you created the Slayers 3D Live event. Were there any fun, creative challenges involved with working with this property?

Poon: Actually, Masafumi was talking about Sanrio, but my favorite event was Slayers. The reason for that is the equal system that I was trying to build. I’m actually the director of the concert for the live event in Tokorozawa Sakura Town. 

So we actually have the live event, and then the sequences. We have HoloModels of Slayers, and usually it would be a waste that you can’t use them on other games. It’s really expensive to build a really high-quality CG model. We have the models, we have the live event in Sakura Town in real life, so it feels like Lina Inverse is there, and she does the song. Then, we host this event online in NeoChat so everyone can join. And then in the end, it’s sold on blu-ray. So this whole flow is the equal system that we try to tell those IP companies that we can balance promotion and also maybe earning a little money for the company. That’s why it was my favorite event, because all the systems of the Sanrio event are based on the Slayers event. 

I’m surprised. Even though I didn’t do a lot of promotion for it, I’m surprised that you and—actually, one more person at the panel, he said he knew it, and he actually joined the event. I’m actually touched because I want North America—like myself from Canada, and there’s also the US—I want them to join us. But there’s limited resources, and there’s a problem that we didn’t have enough English translation at the time. So in the future, I’m trying to push everyone to do more English support. Good question. I want to talk more about Slayers!

Kiral, one of your interests, as written in the Otakon guidebook, is creating technology to help make life easier for animators. There’s an ongoing issue about animators being overworked and underpaid?  Do you think your work can help deal with this issue?

Poon: Do you know Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero? That is one of the good examples of using good 3DCG in movies that doesn’t feel weird. Because sometimes it feels weird in 3DCG. There’s one good example, that you can have an efficient way of moving, and then you can have more stories to deliver to people. 

So that is great, and it’s efficient, but to your question, can it solve the overtime and overwork problem? In some ways, but it comes down to the culture in Japan. Let’s say you need less people for the same project, right? Well, you just hire less people for the same work—there’s a chance like that. But it depends on the company. They could be, like, “Oh, there’s less work now, so now everyone doesn’t have to be doing overtime, and they can go home, right? So there’s two approaches, and it comes down to culture, I think, partially. But the reason I want to focus on technology and I keep improving that, like with Slayers, is to try io make it more toon-like with cel shaders—to make it more efficient. But can that solve the core problem is the question.

Are there any Gugenka products or services that get less attention that you think people should know more about?

Mikami: In regards to what I want people to know more about, it’s basically everything: HoloModels, MakeAvatar, virtual events. But I kind of believe there are two major points that I think we need to focus on to have a wider number of people know about us and these events. 

One is that there is a time difference between Japan and the US. While we were able to get past the problem of distance because we could bring people together from vastly different parts of the world, we can’t really get past the problem of time at the moment. So, I believe what we want to do in the future is maybe have different events for different time zones to address the time issue.

The other thing I want to focus on is basically localization of the English versions for these apps that we have. We need to be able to disseminate this information about the apps and events, and it’s not as easy as Google or word-for-word translation because sometimes they miss the mark or have different words we would like to use. Also, the thing about media is basically that over here in the US, it’s not like we have a strong understanding of where the media pipelines are. So I believe what would be best is if we could get to know the media people here, and how to best communicate with our fans so that we could disseminate the information to everyone interested in an effective manner.

Poon: I actually have the same feeling. When we do the panels, people actually come to me and say, “I didn’t know Gugenka before—MakeAvatar, HoloModels—but now I’m going be a core fan and support it.” So I’m touched, and also really happy that people enjoy our service. 

Like, with MakeAvatar—I don’t think you even know this much yet—but this allows us to use different parameters. The tech part is really hard—I tried so hard on this tech from January—and finally, you can use different kinds of morphs to different kinds of faces. The idea is, usually anime characters are a little bit more the shounen young type, but I want elderly people to also be cool. Even if you’re old, you should be really handsome because you do your own thing. You could be chubby, you could be muscular—allowing the diversity is human, and it should be possible in your own character. That’s why we have all these features.

Of course, we have the SD character, that is, the small one. The main reason we built this one is because we support Quest, cell phone, and browser, so we want the workload to be lower. But we have new, high-quality MakeAvatar that allows you to change clothing and stuff. And the business model would be to buy the cosplay—the costume—and the IP company gets paid, and the user is happy. So you can export to VRChat, VirtualCast, to see online on Vroid Hub, or browser games. 

We think in the future maybe we can do more promotion in the US and more people could take advantage of this. You could become a VTuber easily. I could host a panel and just teach you to use the app, and you could be a VTuber for free. And we have the face-tracking support in this, which means it can detect your muscles and move. In normal characters, it only supports simple expressions like A-I-U-E-O and smlle, angry, crying—that’s it. But we support really detailed motions on this.

Thank you!

Otakon 2022 Interview: Voice Actor Ise Mariya

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington, DC.

My first question is about a role you had in the Precure series, Cure Lemonade. Precure is a very big and popular franchise in Japan, but at the time you played the character, it was still a young series. Was it like to play the character back then, and how does it feel to return to the character for crossover movies and other material?

Ise: I was in the third generation from the start of the series, and right around the time I was voicing the character, it was starting to pick up popularity in Japan.

So as you know, it’s about to approach its 20th anniversary, and I had no idea back when I first started that it would be this popular. Part of that is due to the fact that, yes, this is a children’s anime, but it also gives dreams and hopes to adults as well, and that’s probably what has led to it being so popular.

My next question has to do with the series Panty & Stocking. It’s quite popular with American fans—even more than I’d expected—and a lot of people are happy to see the series come back after 10 years. What was it like voicing Stocking, such an unusual and foulmouthed character?

Ise: I still don’t know if I’m in it, but if they reach out to me to play the character of Stocking again, I’d look forward to it.

I thought it was an interesting series. Panty and Stocking are angels in training, and they take off their panties and stocking and turn them into weapons to defeat demons.The vocabulary they use is rather…tricky?

Ise’s Manager (via webcam): Crazy!

Another character you’ve returned to in recent times is Dragon Kid in Tiger & Bunny, after a decade. Has your approach to playing her changed from how you first played her?

Ise: Tiger & Bunny 2 is 10 years after the original, but it actually hasn’t been 10 years since I’ve played Dragon Kid. Within that period, I’ve done drama CDs and movies, so it doesn’t feel like there was a 10-year gap. But even though Dragon Kid hasn’t aged after a decade, I have, and my voice has deepened and become more adult, so it adds another dimension to the role.

Watching Tiger & Bunny 2, she comes across as more of a senpai—which she is. I think the deeper voice lends itself to that role.

What was it like to play such a bizarrely inhuman character as Foo Fighters in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? How do you perform when the character is in no way, shape, or form a human?

Ise: Let’s see. When Jolyne and the others first meet her, Foo Fighters is a plankton-like lifeform. At the time, she’s like “Uju! Uju, uju!” in a low voice when she’s just a stand. She isn’t quite human, but she’s intelligent and clever, so I didn’t feel that much difficulty playing the character. After she borrows Atroe’s body, Foo Fighters has a childishness about her and a sense of growth she shows alongside Jolyne and Hermes, so I was conscious of conveying that innocence. 

I really enjoy your role as Ray in The Promised Neverland. It’s maybe a somewhat different character from what you normally play, as well as a heavy work. What was it like to voice Ray, especially because he does age over the course of the series?

Ise: In the first season, Ray is willing to sacrifice everything in order to save Emma and Norman—to help them escape. He lives for that, but there’s a darkness about him, and he hides his true thoughts and feelings. He planned things with all this in mind, but when he’s able to confide his secret to the other two and speak those true feelings, it lifts a weight off his shoulders. In the first season, he’s full of heavy and dark feelings. But his position changes in the second season, and he becomes more cheerful.

A less prominent character you’ve played is Akagi Sena the fujoshi from OreImo. Were you familiar with fujoshi and BL culture before the role?

Ise: In Japan, when girls who love anime and manga reach middle school, they’ll—well, I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed—they’ll start to develop some interest in BL. So I can really understand the feelings of those we call fujoshi, and I myself read BL in middle school. It didn’t feel difficult to relate to Sena.

From what I’ve heard, you put a lot of thought into your roles—it’s very clear from your answers. My last question is, what are some lessons you’ve learned that you think would help new or aspiring voice actors?

Ise: In America or in Japan?

It’s a pretty open question.

Ise: Tough question. Being a voice actor involves using your unique voice, but it’s actually not a job that’s only about your voice. Just like a live-action actor, one of the best ways to inform your acting is to gain a lot of lived experience as the foundation for your performance, and it’s good to want as many experiences as possible. When you’re in your teens, you should do the things you can only do at that age—school, friends, falling in love, doing everything someone in their teens does. This will help to inform whatever it is you’re performing as a voice actor.

Thank you! This was a great interview.

Ise: Thank you very much!