Trick and/or Treat: Halloween in the Aikatsu! Franchise

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One of the interesting things about the 2014 Aikatsu! Episode “Halloween Night Party”  is how it showed that the holiday was relatively new in Japan. Characters repeatedly translate the English “trick or treat” into a Japanese explanatory sentence as if to hammer home the concept. The first few seasons of Aikatsu! didn’t even have Halloween episodes. But it’s been five years since then, and while it hasn’t been a straight line, the concept of “Halloween” is integrated into Aikatsu! pretty thoroughly. At the same time, the degree to which they embrace Halloween varies significantly, as if it’s unclear from year to year how much they should push for Halloween.

2015’s “YOU! GO! KYOTO!” perhaps barely qualifies as a Halloween episode. Instead, the focus is on a trip in Kansai, where the main trio gets together with Hattori Yuu, a friend of Akari’s who’s made a name for herself as a “tour guide idol” of sorts. The girls help her out with a Halloween special, and they do a themed performance as a follow-up. The lack of “trick or treat” is noticeable.

2016’s “Halloween Magic” returns to the Halloween episode format from 2014, albeit with an entirely different cast of characters in Aikatsu Stars! Not only do they bring back explaining what “trick or treat” means, but they even include a special competition just like in “Halloween Night Party.” This episode stands out to me more than any of the others simply because of Rola’s taiyaki outfit, seen above. Taking a relatively serious character and having her go around in the most ridiculous getup without even batting an eye speaks to her character having a certain charming roundedness. I have to wonder if maybe the concept of Halloween needs to be introduced again for newer, younger viewers coming in. Also, while “Halloween Night Party” made a reference to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Halloween Magic” has one of the characters moonwalk while doing MJ-style “Whoo!”s, as if to say that the King of Pop is as much a part of Halloween as pumpkins and candy.

2017’s “Halloween Surprise” from Aikatsu Stars! places extra emphasis on the “trick” in “trick or treat,” albeit without actually using the words. The second half of this particular series involves a rivalry with another idol school, so the idea of competing takes on a new dimension in this Halloween episode compared to previous ones. Here, participants lose when their heart rate goes over a certain level, so the two sides have to try and scare or surprise one another. It’s kind of a twist on the original formula, and it does a decent job of acting as the stage for a bit of character growth on the character Koharu’s part. There’s a greater emphasis on using Halloween as an opportunity for pushing storylines compared to previous years. Also, for some reason, they reuse the costumes from the previous year. Could it be out of convenience (they already have the character designs laid out), or perhaps the costumes were just that popular?

2018’s “Aine’s Halloween Panic” from Aikatsu Friends! Incorporates Halloween into the show pretty thoroughly without drawing a ton of attention to it. Aine, the most recent heroine, has split off from her Aikatsu partner Mio so that they can train separately and come back stronger than ever. For this purpose, she plays the part in a TV special of a girl who discovers her senpai is a witch. The magical focus is the clear tie to Halloween, but once again there’s no “trick or treat.” In fact, there’s only one trick, as Mirai (seen above) tries to scare a couple characters during the episode. They treat Halloween as the most natural thing—is it a sign that it’s approaching Christmas in terms of cultural integration in Japan?

Looking at all these episodes, a couple things stick out to me.

First, it really is a shame that Yurika, the vampire-inspired idol from the first series, didn’t get any Halloween episodes when she was a more common character due to the relative lack of exposure for the holiday.

Second, the notion of “trick or treat” as a package deal seems to ebb and flow, but its constituent parts, i.e. pranks and candy, remain. One thing worth pointing out is that the tradition of going door to door to trick or treat never took hold in Japan, so maybe it’s no surprise that it would end up as something less codified. That being said, I’m aware that even in the US, trick or treat (especially in big cities) is more organized these days for safety purposes.

So what remains is the aesthetics of Halloween, costumes and all, with a cultural twist. That includes a taiyaki costume, and there’s even one girl in Aikatsu Friends! who dresses as a jiangshi (Chinese hopping ghost popular in Japan). Also, I guess Michael Jackson is part of that aesthetic as well.

Given that the pattern for Aikatsu! Halloween episodes exists, but that each year puts its own spin on the idea, I’m curious to see what direction this year’s takes. Because 2018’s Aikatsu Friends episode took a less upfront approach, could this one be more in the classic style? And with the new giant crossover series Aikatsu On Parade! on its way in 2020, Halloween Idol Activities might very well combine the styles of all previous shows.

 

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River City Girls and the San Fransokyo Aesthetic

River City Girls is a new game in the aged genre of the side-scrolling beat-em-up, and a role reversal of the classic damsel-in-distress story. As friends Kyoko and Misako, the player sets out to rescue their boyfriends by clobbering everyone in their way. As suggested by its title, it’s a sequel of sorts to the classic NES game River City Ransom, which is itself a heavily localized version of the Japanese Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari from the Kunio-kun franchise. Because River City Girls aims to be a successor to both River City Ransom and Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, it takes cues from both the former’s American-esque “dudes with attitudes” style and the latter’s Japanese “yankee delinquents” presentation, resulting in a fascinating mashup of both aesthetics.

Rather than lean in one direction or the other, River City Girls mixes things up. The game takes place in “Cross Town” (from River City Ransom) but the boyfriends’ names are “Riki” and “Kunio” instead of “Ryan” and “Alex.” Japanese street gang figures (banchou) roam the street at the same time as cheerleaders. Kyoko wears a letterman jacket on top of a school uniform while Misako’s takes cues from Japanese fashion, and they both kind of resemble Powerpuff Girls in a way that calls to mind the anime adaptation Powerpuff Girls Z. A story cinematic shows the girls in an American-style school cafeteria.

Some Double Dragon characters even make cameos (Double Dragon was originally developed from the original Kunio-kun engine but with more international appeal). While those games always took place in the US, River City girls specifically uses the Double Dragon Neon versions of the characters, a game that was much more American-facing than Japanese.

The result is that Cross Town comes across in the same vein as Big Hero 6’s “San Fransokyo” and Hurricane Polymar’s “Washinkyo”—a place that’s both Japanese and American at the same time. I can only guess at the reason behind this decision, but I imagine it has to do with the fact that both River City Ransom and Kunio-kun are beloved in their respective regions. There’s a certain generation of Nintendo fan that holds the game River City Ransom in high regard. One part beat-em-up, one part adventure RPG, there really wasn’t much like it back in 1990. Kunio-kun, in turn, has starred in many, many games over the years, and he was a company mascot for Technos Japan. River City Girls aims to please both audiences, and maybe even poke fun at those bygone days of extreme localization.

Because River City Girls is this deliberate combination of Japanese and American, it also begs comparison with another piece of media heavily inspired by manga and retro gaming: Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. In fact, Scott Pilgrim is itself heavily influenced by River City Ransom, as indicated by one of the comics’ characters crying “BARF!” as they’re hit, and the Scott Pilgrim video game being a beat-em-up. The senses of humor found in River City Girls and Scott Pilgrim, while not wholly identical, are similar in their irreverence and fourth-wall breaking one-liners. There’s even a boss fight in River City Girls against a musician just as there’s one in Scott Pilgrim. At the same time, enough time has passed that Scott Pilgrim (itself a love letter of sorts to the NES era of gaming) is old enough to be a nostalgia trip for fans of comics, video games, and other media. That, in turn, makes River City Ransom an even more distant memory in the collective video game and pop culture fandom.

River City Girls is an entry into a genre whose heyday has long since passed that uses 2D sprite graphics and playful animations. In taking from the late 1980s of both Japan and America, and filtering them through a contemporary lens in an age where “anime-influenced” works are more common than ever before, RIver City Girls ends up feeling somehow both extremely current and incredibly nostalgic, instantly dated yet also timeless. It’s an aesthetic I can get behind.

Cure Marine is Evergreen: Thoughts on NHK All-Precure Poll Results

The NHK All-Precure Poll announced its results on September 14th, and I’m happy to say that a lot of the things I voted for did quite well. My favorite show (Heartcatch Precure!) and one of my favorite songs (“Pretty Cure 5, Full Throttle GO GO!”) both got 2nd in their respective categories. But there’s one thing that stands out to me above all else, and that’s how Cure Marine, alias Kurumi Erika, aka my favorite Precure character, is the 3rd most popular Precure.

Last year, I made a post about some other Precure polls I found conducted through the website Naver. These polls weren’t as extensive or far-reaching as NHK’s, which ended up receiving over 600,000 votes, and some of the rankings were very different. For example, Cure Beauty was often at or near the top in Naver’s polls, but in NHK’s she’s at a somewhat less impressive 15th place. The OGs, Cure Black and Cure White, took the top 2 spots of the NHK poll but didn’t even get into the top 10 of the Naver ones. Yet, somehow, Cure Marine placed 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd on Naver and 3rd with NHK. While I’m no statistician, to me that consistency seems remarkable.

What appeals to me about Cure Marine is that her infectious energy, her humorous attitude towards life, and the fact that she’s anything but perfect. Her positivity doesn’t come from just being inherently optimistic all the time, and it’s something she clearly actively works at. Marine has a heart as big as her voice and attitude, and her sheer expressiveness seems to make her a hit with both kids and adults. Really, when you’re right behind the prototypical Precures in terms of popularity, I think it says a lot about how the character has affected fans of the franchise and how well she persists in the memories of those who’ve had the privilege to watch Heartcatch Precure! 

10 years later, Kurumi Erika is still unforgettable.

 

Player Avatars No More: Pokémon Masters and the Granting of Personalities to Heroes Past

It’s a testament to the longevity and popularity of Pokémon and its characters that a game could come out where you collect not so much the Pokémon themselves, but their trainers. Whether it’s Sinnoh champion Cynthia or Pewter City Gym Leader Brock, the humans of the Pokemon world have garnered their own fanbases, and the mobile game Pokémon Masters takes advantage of this by bringing them all into one convenient place.

While I find the game itself fun, though not without its problems and quirks, I want to focus one one particular aspect of Pokémon Masters I find interesting. Specifically, it’s the ability to summon player characters from multiple generations of Pokémon as non-player characters that catches my attention because it means Pokémon Masters has to create personalities for them when they were previously empty shells.

Within the main games, only Red (the hero of the first generation) has made multiple appearances as a computer-controlled character, and his personality can be charitably described as “strong and silent.” The only thing he ever says in any game is “…” as a reference to that being the only thing you could say in link battles on the original Game Boy. After that, while certain characters may have had personalities established in adapted material like anime or manga, many liberties end up being taken that causes those narratives to differ significantly from the games. For example, in the anime, May (a character based on the female player character in the third generation games) is the daughter of the Gym Leader Norman. But in Pokémon Masters, it’s Brendan (the male player character) who is Norman’s child. While there’s nothing necessarily “canon” about Pokémon Masters, it still means the developers had to decide how these player avatars behave without a player.

As a result, fans of Pokémon may potentially view these old characters in a new light. Rosa, the heroine from the Gen-5 Pokémon Black 2/White 2, is expressive and quirky, garnering many fans in the process. Brendan appears eager and energetic. Kris, from Gen 2’s Pokémon Crystal, is kind yet feels she needs to improve. Without any real meat to go on, I have to wonder how the developers decided to give which traits to these old player characters. Will these become their established personalities moving forward in the games, or is it a one-off thing only for Pokémon Masters? Personally, my hope is that they end up sticking. The only question left is what’ll happen to the actual player characters of Pokémon Masters in the future—what qualities will the two of them have if/when they show up elsewhere?

C’mon, Get SERIOUS About Terry Bogard in Smash Bros Ultimate

The fourth Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC character has been announced, and it’s SNK posterboy and fighting game icon Terry Bogard from the Fatal Fury franchise. The overall response was mixed, from die-hard SNK fans cheering at his arrival to comments to the effect of “I’ve never even heard of Terry Bogard.”

While I understand that not everyone has had exposure to Terry’s games or even the three Fatal Fury anime that came out in the 1990s, a part of me still feels perplexed at the latter reaction. It’s as if I unconsciously consider awareness of Terry Bogard to be the most common and natural thing, like hearing the name “Frank Sinatra” and at least knowing vaguely that he was a famous singer. The logical side of me gets that Terry isn’t a household name, especially for the younger generations of gamers, but the emotional side of me asks, “But why not?”

In terms of what Terry Bogard brings to Super Smash Bros., he’s clearly not the most iconic fighting game character ever. That would be Street Fighter’s Ryu, who’s already been in the game since Smash 4. Still, Terry matters a lot. He represents SNK, the company behind the Neo-Geo. He represents both the Fatal Fury games and the King of Fighters games, and unlike Street Fighter’s relationship with its offshoot franchises, FF and KoF are both majorly important, with the latter reaching heights of popularity in Latin America and Asia in ways few series ever did. Terry Bogard is a symbol of a company, a console, and two connected video game franchises. He’s like Sonic and Ryu rolled into one.

Terry is one of the coolest, most charismatic fighting game–and video game–characters ever. Even if you don’t know his backstory, he just exudes a kind of charm and attitude that make him hard to forget once you’ve seen him in action. Even his signature victory pose, where he turns his back to the screen and tosses his cap in the air while exclaiming, “OK!” screams personality, whether it’s 1990 or 2019. When you learn about his quest to avenge his dead father by defeating evil corporate tycoon/martial arts master Geese Howard, who’s equally amazing as a character, it just makes everything better.

My image of Terry is also no doubt shaped by the Fatal Fury anime I watched as a kid. In a time when the golden rule was “all video game anime are terrible,” the Fatal Fury 2 OVA was a stark exception. Watching it on fansub repeatedly back in the 1990s (shout-outs to S.Baldric), Terry’s story of hitting rock bottom after losing to the mysterious German warrior Wolfgang Krauser only to crawl his way back up by rediscovering his love of fighting is simple yet memorable.

Even in terms of meme culture, Terry Engrishy quotes are a staple of old fighting game forums. “Pawaa Wave!” “Pawaa Geezer!” [Geyser] “Are you OK? BUSTAA WOLF!” “Hey, c’mon, c’mon!”

As for how Terry will play in Smash, I assume he’s going to be like Ryu and use command inputs, but he’s also perfect for Smash in that his special attacks map perfectly to B moves. Neutral B has to be Power Wave, Side B Burn Knuckle, Up B Rising Tackle, and Down B Crack Shoot. He’s already a very mobile character, and that fits in well with a platform-fighting game in ways that Ryu and Ken never could.

November isn’t that far away, but it still seems like forever. I’m looking forward to Terry Bogard balance debates and all they entail. Also, I saw someone on Twitter suggest an Obari Masami-style costume for Terry based on his look from the anime, which I’m all for. Between that and Mark of the Wolves bomber jacket Terry, and we have a heck of a presentation.

Girls und Panzer and the Potential for Propaganda

What I’m about to say might sound like I made up the whole thing, but I swear it’s true.

It was at a screening of the Love Live! Sunshine!! film that I struck up a conversation with a young mother. Although she was there in part to accompany her daughter, she was clearly an anime fan herself. At some point, the series Girls und Panzer came up, and she expressed skepticism over the tank-battling anime. From the tone of her voice, I could sense her concern over glorification of the military, and the potential role of the series as propaganda for something more sinister.

I tried to assuage her fears and present the anime as more of a sports series with a plot close to that of Love Live (save the high school from shutting down by winning a big competition). I don’t know whether or not she ultimately believed me, but I understand her hesitation, especially given today’s political climate. Although I consider myself a fan, in a world where guns are glorified and strongman politicians try to create cults of personality built around violence, I sometimes grapple with my fondness for Girls und Panzer.

I’ve argued before that Girls und Panzer separates a love of tanks and strategy from a love of warfare and nationalist loyalty, and I still believe this to be the case. In the anime’s setting, tanks are considered purely for friendly competition, and all ammunition is designed not to kill. There’s even a team of characters introduced in the first film who are basically a criticism of meaninglessly charging toward defeat out of a sense of “honor.” But it’s not as if the series is impossible to interpret as pro-military, especially if one takes only a surface glance at it. And in this world, sometimes a surface glance is all anyone has time for.

Girls und Panzer is not entirely devoid of concerning elements, as I think it’s hard to actually fully decouple tanks from their origins—especially because all the tanks in the series are from around World War II. As an individual viewer who tries to stay open yet critical, I feel that I’m able to stay open but at least somewhat skeptical. I can see what the series does well and the positive messages about keeping things in the realm of mock combat, and at the same time, my radar goes up for more alarming aspects. However, I’m aware that it’s possible someone more naive or predisposed to enjoying the glorification of military violence might take from Girls und Panzer what they want, and in the process twist the friendliness of the series into a “cute girls tell me war is good” message. It’s the old Gundam problem, where toy sales of cool giant robots obfuscate the anti-war message. As to whether or not Girls und Panzer is anti-war, it at least portrays a world where true war no longer exists.

Having the heroines use the minds and tools available to them to overcome opposition and achieve their goal is simple and effective storytelling. Couching it in historic military hardware makes it a near-endless pool for nerds to deep-dive into. But while I truly think that the series is not made to push people towards a militaristic patriotism, I can’t deny that some of the ingredients are there. It sounds odd to say that supervision is necessary to watch Girls und Panzer, but I think there’s a certain truth to it. If someone can’t provide their own voice of reason and caution, it can be treacherous territory.

Masaka Fall in Fall Dato?!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2019

As autumn comes around once more, and the summer hear theoretically wanes (oh, that climate change), I’d like to say “thank you” to my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Highlights from August:

At Otakon 2019, got the opportunity to interview with two Japanese voice acting greats, Furuya Toru and Inoue Kikuko. Both of them went great, and I highly encourage everyone, but especially Gundam fans to read them.

And I guess it was a very Gundam month, as I also wrote a piece about my intersecting thoughts between G Gundam and the current state of Hong Kong.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 19 introduces a bunch of new and possibly antagonistic characters, expanding the Hashikko universe a little more.

Patreon-Sponsored

My Favorite Switch Games is pretty self-explanatory.

Closing

This month’s blog coverage is kind of dominated by Otakon, but that’s sort of an inevitability with it being such a big event, and one where I feel that I get the best coverage for interviews and the like. My plan is to do more anime and manga reviews/analyses, as well as a few unexpected topics.

I’m also considering simplifying my Patreon sponsor tiers, as the number gags I introduced to reflect Genshiken fandom might make the whole thing too unwieldy for newcomers. If anyone has thoughts on this, I’d like to hear.