Do It, Akirapella: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 21

The delinquent fans of Mimi-sensei are here to show their singing chops, and they have some unexpected help. Is it a defection or something else in Chapter 21 of Hashikko Ensemble.

Summary

In a shocking turn, Akira has seemingly joined the enemy as he provides the bass line for Tsuyama and friends’ a capella rendition of Spitz song “Cherry.” A flashback shows the amount of work that went into this, including a couple of the guys learning to sing falsetto and the fruits of Ouga’s practice with Jin and Akira. Takano-sensei is the one responsible for introducing the idea to sing a capella, but it needs at least five people—hence Akira’s actions.

Unsurprisingly, Jin is completely okay with this development, but now Orihara is unusually raring to go. The other group’s performance impresses Mimi-sensei (the judge for this competition), but the Chorus Appreciation Society has come prepared with their own Spitz number.

Takano-sensei’s Lessons

Takano-sensei apparently taught a lot in very little time. This includes the history of “a capella” and its shift from religious use to just “voice-only performance.” She also gives a few tips on how to sing falsetto: try to imitate Michael Jackson’s “Hooo”s and “Heehee”s, and also practice speaking in falsetto. She’s not nearly as technical as Jin in her explanations, but that’s probably a good thing. It speaks to her character and her role as a music teacher.

It’s still not clear why Takano-sensei is helping out, but based on her personality, I don’t suspect anything remotely malicious. Perhaps she wants to teach the students a lesson on life. Perhaps she wants to just shake things up a bit. Perhaps she’s just indirectly teasing Mimi-sensei. I know I want to see more of her, though.

Akira’s Doo-Wops in Art

It’s hard to convey differences in music through art alone, especially if there is little visual iconography to latch onto. The help of the text element in comics and manga makes it a little easier, however, and I love the way that a capella is portrayed in this chapter. Not only are there notes with accompanying percussive “lyrics” to show the a capella, but Akira’s portrayal in particular is great. I can practically sense the deep, deep bass in the image above. It also shows Akira with a sense of purpose rarely if ever seen from him.

Songs

“Viderunt Omnes” was going to be the Chorus Appreciation Society’s song of choice for this competition. Instead, both sides are using Spitz songs to try and win Mimi-sensei’s favor. As mentioned in the last chapter, it’s like her favorite band.

“Cherry” by Spitz

“Sora o Toberu hazu” (“You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly”) by Spitz

Final Thoughts

I really liked that this chapter was dedicated to one performance (with some backstory accompaniment). It’s not often that Kio does such a straightforward chapter, and I think that gives it more impact.

 

 

Banjo & Kazooie: The Ultimate Beginner Character

Banjo & Kazooie have been out for about a month as a playable character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. In looking at how they play and thinking about the purpose of their moves, I’ve come to the conclusion that Banjo & Kazooie are perhaps the best beginner’s character that Smash has ever seen.

Super Smash Bros. is a franchise that emphasizes an “easy to learn, hard to master” approach to fighting games. To this end, the games often have more beginner-friendly characters who are more forgiving to the unaccustomed—Kirby with his multiple jumps to help new players survive offstage is a key example. But it can be hard to balance a beginner character such that their easy-to-use tools are effective at more advanced levels of play without making them too powerful in the hands of an expert. Cloud in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is an arguable instance of being too strong in this respect. He was designed with large, generous hitboxes and a Limit Break system to power him up, all to help fans more familiar with role-playing games than fighting games, but those things ended up being absurd in mid to top competitive play.

Banjo & Kazooie have a lot of things that make them fairly simple to understand for new players. They have three jumps, which makes getting to the stage easier. They’re fairly heavy and fast, making for a durable and mobile character. But the key to their ability to help players of all levels is their special move Wonderwing.

Wonderwing is a versatile forward charge that works as a panic button, a recovery, and a kill move. Newbies don’t need to understand about hitboxes; Wonderwing beats or ties with everything in a direct confrontation. If Banjo & Kazooie are offstage, it lets them recover horizontally and defeat virtually any challenge. It also does over 27% damage, and can close out stocks reliably. While the move is extremely good, however, it comes with a couple of weaknesses that keep Wonderwing in check while giving room for players to learn, optimize their play, and for more experienced players to really use their brains.

The first flaw is that Wonderwing leaves Banjo & Kazooie vulnerable if the attack is blocked. It’s not a huge window, but it’s enough that an opponent who can predict Wonderwing’s usage from being rewarded well benefit from doing so. The move is still a Swiss army knife, and can do a lot for new players, but this flaw should theoretically teach caution.

The second and more significant flaw is that Wonderwing only has five uses per stock, and can only be recharged by losing a stock. This is extremely smart from the developers for a number of reasons. First, it prevents players from spamming the move to no end. They can do it for a short while, but then they have to deal with the consequences. Second, rather than a comeback mechanic, which can teach new players the wrong lessons, it’s a resource that comes at a cost. Every time they use the move, regardless of effectiveness or efficiency, it means they’ll have less of a chance to rely on Wonderwing when they need it most. In other words, it becomes a built-in lesson on resource management and looking at the long-term.

At higher levels of play, Banjo & Kazooie players basically have to know when to utilize Wonderwing and when to keep it in their back pocket. It’s a ridiculously good move that would be the envy of any character, but the fact that its depletion affects so much (disadvantage, neutral, recovery, kill power) means there’s an interesting back and forth that can occur between two players where good usage is immensely rewarding and good counterplay against Wonderwing similarly so.

Through Wonderwing, Banjo & Kazooie give inexperienced players a tool that can help them out in nearly any situation in a fun and rewarding manner. But at the same time, the caveats on the attack, namely the limited uses, encourages players to be smart about its use, thus fostering improvement. More than any other character, I expect Banjo & Kazooie players to grow.

Ooh, Where Does This Door Go?: Aikatsu on Parade! Early Thoughts

Seven years is more than enough time for a franchise like Aikatsu! to do an anime mega-crossover. However, it’s one thing to do the occasional crossover movie or TV special, and it’s another to make an entire series about it. Having watched the first couple of episodes, I can feel a genuine desire to celebrate and respect all aspects of Aikatsu!, but I have to wonder if they’re letting the genie out of the bottle.

The Aikatsu on Parade! Anime (based on the arcade game) ostensibly takes place in the same world as the previous season’s Aikatsu Friends! Kiseki Raki is a transfer student to Star Harmony Academy, where she dreams of becoming a great idol fashion designer. Unbeknownst to her, Raki’s sister has engineered a special school pass for her that in addition to allowing her to transform for performances, gives her access to “doors” that open up to other Aikatsu! series settings.

There’s a lot of care put into this new series to not make Raki seem like a subordinate fangirl to the previously established stars. Her fashion path, more akin to numerous side characters, doesn’t put her in as direct a  “competition” with the older heroines. Also, her personality (basically Dee Dee from Dexter’s Laboratory with a little more common sense) is strong enough to not get outshined by the characters she meets. That being said, she’s still yet to meet the titan that is Hoshimiya Ichigo, which will be the real test. I recently watched the premiere of WWE Friday Night Smackdown, which had The Rock on as a guest, and his charisma is so strong that it overshadowed even one of the biggest current stars in that company.

Perhaps the easiest place to tell that the creators are being thoughtful and considerate as to how the Aikatsu! characters would cross over is the first episode’s ending, where you see practically every significant character ever walking together. They’re grouped in rough categories according to a combination of personality and story purpose, and you can really see that it’s not shallow or haphazard.

Of course Mizuki and Elza would be with each other, and you can imagine each one firmly believing she’s the best. Given that the new series is also going to be having characters from different series singing and dancing together, it’s a golden opportunity for some dream collaborations.

I’m curious as to why they decided to make each of the Aikatsu! series distinct…universes? Timelines? Whatever it is, they establish early on that all these idol schools aren’t just in different parts of Japan—they exist entirely apart from one another, as if they’re wholly separate existences. There’s no wrong approach here, but I’d still like to know the creators’ reasoning for going this route.

Aikatsu on Parade! is on track to being a fun, excellent series that gives Aikatsu! as a whole its proper due. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is precarious territory for a franchise to go. Is there really any going back after this? What will it mean for the future of Aikatsu!? There’s no way to tell at the moment, but hopefully everyone in charge knows what they’re doing.

This post is sponsored by Johnny Trovato through Patreon. Top patrons can request specific topics on Ogiue Maniax.

Splatoon Live Concerts and the Expression of Character in Performance

Nintendo Live 2019 in Kyoto featured two nights of Splatoon concerts with holograms of the Squid Sisters and Off the Hook performing onstage. It’s not the first time both pairs have been together, but watching this event made me really appreciate the care put into expressing the individual differences between the characters in accordance with their musical styles.

 

Off the Hook and Squid Sisters (or Tentacles and Sea o’ Colors in Japanese) are very different groups. Pearl as MC and Marina as DJ have very distinct roles in Off the Hook such that their movements are heavily contrasted with each other. Pearl is fiery and aggressive while Marina is laid-back and soulful, and everything about them screams hip hop, which traditionally has liked to draw a sharp distinction between its musicians. There’s really no confusing the Pearl and Marina, and their performances put a bright spotlight on their individuality.

 

Squid Sisters, however, are more akin to a Japanese idol group, and so their performances are more synchronized and feel more choreographed. At the same time, every so often, you’d see a subtle difference in movement—an extra bit of flourish from Callie or a more composed and precise gesture from Marie. It’s especially noticeable at times when both are cheering the audience on, and Callie is bouncing up and down as Marie’s feet stay firmly planted, such as in the video above. The differences between the two are relatively subtle as a result, and idol fans eat this sort of thing up.

Adding these small quirks to Callie and Marie is all the more impressive because a lot of fictional idol media don’t really bother to do the same. When watching an episode of Love Live! or Aikatsu!, there’s often pretty much no difference in performance if two or more characters are doing the same routine in the same song. We’re sometimes told that there’s a difference, but it’s not really shown.

From idols to hip hop and beyond, the musical acts of Splatoon are given presence and personality. This is taken into consideration even in the live concerts. It makes me wonder where a Splatoon 3 will go genre-wise, and I anticipate what Nintendo has in store.

Day 2 Full Concert

Pump Up the Jam: How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?

Sports anime have been a pillar of Japanese animation since its earliest days, but very rarely, if ever, have any shows focused specifically on exercise. In comes How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, a series that emphasizes actively pursuing fitness, whether it be at the gym, at home, or on the beach.

Dumbbell follows Sakura Hibiki, a high school girl who wants to lose weight and attract guys. Surprisingly, on a visit to a local gym, she runs into her rich classmate, who turns out to be an absolute fitness enthusiast. Together, with the deceptively handsome gym trainer Machio, they go through different exercises and approaches for achieving one’s fitness goals—and learning about the role weightlifting can play.

The series has a clear focus on the girls, and there’s no denying that sex appeal is a  fundamental part of Dumbbell. However, there’s an important distinction to make, and the best way is to compare it with another anime that puts focus on exercise: Issho ni Training: Training with Hinako. That short has the viewer watch a lightly dressed girl named Hinako, who goes through her exercise routine as the voyeuristic camera ogles her from multiple angles. But while Training with Hinako uses exercise as an excuse for fanservice, Dumbbell instead uses fanservice to promote exercise. To that end, it actually gives tips on weightlifting and other areas. In fact, the opening theme specifically points out what muscles are worked out by common and popular lifts.

Also, while the body diversity in the series is somewhat limited—the girls don’t have literally the same exact body, but they all fall along conventional ideas of attractiveness—each of them have their own reasons for going to the gym. The main character, Sakura Hibiki, wants to lose weight and look good, i.e. the most expected reason. Soryuin Akemi is obsessed with muscles (both on herself and others) to a fetishistic extent. Uehara Ayaka is the daughter of a retired boxer-turned-coach, and so exercise is as natural to her as breathing. Gina Boyd is a Russian who competes in sambo and arm wrestling, so strength training is just her way of staying fighting fit. Tachibana Satomi, their teacher, is a secret cosplayer who wants to look good for photos and fight the aging process. At the very least, the series promotes the idea that weight loss is not the sole reason to work out.

As one last aside, I once wrote that I’d be interested in a competitive bodybuilding manga because of how the posedown has a heavy psychological element. There is actually a competitive bodybuilding episode of Dumbbell, though it doesn’t quite go as far as I have hoped. Still, it’s forward progress.

How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is not going to upend people’s understanding of weight and diet culture, but it also makes a sincere effort to teach people to exercise in ways that fit their specific situations. It’s as if the show is saying, not everyone can do everything, but as long as you’re moving and sweating, it’ll work out.

The Far Side Booth at New York Comic Con 2019

It’s extremely rare that a convention’s exhibitor’s hall, or any particular part of it, would be the highlight of my con experience. But at New York Comic Con 2019, few things brought me as much excitement as seeing a booth for Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

As far as one-panel newspaper comics go, nothing could match up to The Far Side. Its unorthodox, absurd, and at times dark humor was an incredible influence on me in ways that can’t be underestimated. Perhaps the only reason why it was a “childhood” favorite instead of a perennial one, is that it ended in 1997, in what feels like a bygone era. Before things like high-speed internet and cellphones (let alone smartphones) became commonplace, before print newspapers started folding in droves, The Far Side had already sung its swansong. Seeing it prominent in the year 2019 made me feel like my young and older selves collided—a reminder of how I came to love comics and the things I’ve discovered and accomplished because of that passion.

The actual booth for The Far Side at NYCC 2019 was clever. At the top were various recurring character archetypes from the comic’s run—cows, beehive hairdo ladies, etc.—all stretching out their cheeks and sticking out their tongues. On a wall were four displays, each cycling through different Far Side greatest hits. One of those comics, in which a child at “Midvale School for the Gifted” is trying to push open a door with a giant sign above that says “PULL,” was faithfully replicated at a life-size scale so attendees could reproduce the panel.

This display came on the heels of an announcement that The Far Side is coming back in some form, but what exactly that means is still unknown. Gary Larson famously didn’t like putting his work on the internet, so it might just be him finally catching up to the world and having some kind of singular online resource. If it’s actually new The Far Side comics, well that’ll just make my year.

“Quality over Representation in Comics” is a False Argument

When looking at current discourse over media, one notion hanging around comics and other related mediums is that diversity is somehow “forced.” The argument, so it goes, is that over-prioritization comes at the expense of storytelling and presentation. There is a disingenuous element to this whole line of reasoning where the true motive is trying to keep racial and sexual minorities out of fandom, but you’ll sometimes find people trying to argue this anti-diversity point in good faith. After all, “I love diversity, but quality should come first” seems like an innocent enough stance at first blush. However, the way they think about it is somewhat backwards. Being able to ignore the state of representation in works and judging them primarily on aesthetics is, to a degree, a luxury born out of already being able to see yourself and your values in them.

The image of the strong white man is practically foundational to the superhero tradition upon which American comics were built. Batman is one clear example, but even Superman—who was somewhat secretly coded as an immigrant—could pass as a typical white American on a visual basis. This is not to say that the intent behind their creation was racism, but rather that these stories had to deal with an assumption of what and who was the default.

It’s certainly not impossible for a reader or viewer to see themselves in a character who doesn’t look like them, come from the same background as them, or think and feel like them. In fact, that’s one of the beautiful things about media and fiction. But there’s a difference between being able to do this whenever you want and having to do this because you have no choice otherwise. Even when a new character is introduced as a way to speak to fans who could not see themselves in comics before, such as Stan Lee with the Falcon or Jack Kirby with Black Panther, their good intentions were also inevitably limited by a lack of firsthand understanding that comes with being born a part of black culture—which is where later creators such as Reginald Hudlin and director Ryan Coogler come in.

Comics and comics culture benefit not just from having a wide range of possible stories, but also giving the opportunity for a greater range of people to experience those stories while still feeling like they are as important and as special as anyone else. The many decades since the golden age of comics have brought the world an ever greater range of heroes of all colors and walks of life, with different authors and artists being able to leave their marks on this history. And even if a particular title is perceived as being too blunt or ham-fisted in its championing of certain groups or just diversity itself, having voices out there saying, “How you live and how you are is perfectly fine. You can dream!” is an important precedent to make, especially because it’s all too easy for an industry or culture to slide back into ignorance.

 

Burn to Fight: Promare

Promare, the new anime film from Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop) and director Imaishi Hiroyuki (Gurren-Lagann) is a visual spectacle that encapsulates everything that makes the studio stand out among its peers.

Starting from its announcement all the way to its release, there had been a deliberate vagueness around what Promare is even about. The only things available to potential audiences were some character designs that seem to draw inspiration from previous Trigger anime, a very basic plot outline, and the sense that the creators themselves weren’t always entirely sure what the premise was. Even the meaning of the title, Promare, is kept secret. But rather than this ambiguity being a weakness, it has actually ended up being a strength. There’s a certain degree of “feel, then think” that Promare emphasizes, and the result is an energizing work that comes across as a kind of full-body experience.

Promare takes place thirty years after a great disaster. One day, random people around the world suddenly began to spontaneously combust and gain the ability to control games, causing significant changes to society. The protagonist, Galo Thymos is a brash but courageous fellow who believes strongly in the firefighter spirit, and who works for the group Burning Rescue. As he deals with the flames, he begins to discover that everything he knows about the flames and the people who create them, is far from the truth.

The beginning of the film can be challenging to comprehend because it’s so visually overwhelming. The art style largely eschews black outlines, and the heavy use of flat, vibrant color planes along with the constant emphasis on action makes it initially difficult to even know what to concentrate on. However, this assault on the senses acts as an introduction to the aesthetic of Promare, and by the middle of the film, it was like my eyes had fully adjusted to the world. By then, virtually everything, particularly the fighting, was a treat—somehow artistically daring yet also comfortably familiar, like avantgarde pro wrestling.

This is not to say that the film is all pizzazz, without any worthwhile storytelling. While wrapped in a package of flashy action scenes and detailed animation, there is a strong message about taking the steps to understand more of the world around you, including those you’ve misunderstood, and unjust actions you may have previously ignored. The characters are similarly simple yet multifaceted.

Without spoiling too much, the film is packed with the things people come to Trigger for, and as someone who resonates with the Studio’s themes and aesthetics in general, it was right up my alley.

So in conclusion, abolish Freeze Force.

Welcome to This Crazy Time: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2019

October is a special month for many reasons, including New York Comic Con and the fact that it’s my wedding anniversary month!

I’d like to express my thanks to my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi. You give me even more reason to keep writing.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Highlights from September:

Girls und Panzer and the Potential for Propaganda

My conflicted view of being a Girls und Panzer fan today.

The Real Pressures of Being Asian-American: American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang’s comic is over 10 years old at this point, but it still hit me hard

River City Girls and the San Fransokyo Aesthetic

What happens when a game tries to be Japanese and American and retro at the same time?

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 20 is a good story about friendship, but has some unfortunate elements.

Patreon-Sponsored

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

Closing

Last month, I said something about doing more anime and manga reviews, but that didn’t end up happening as much as I’d hoped. And now a new season of anime is pretty much upon us. Luckily, I do have some posts ready, so I’m looking forward to making up for what I couldn’t provide in September. I know I didn’t make any promises, but I still want to make sure Ogiue Maniax is an anime and manga blog first and foremost even as I approach other topics

 

It Was Me, Jin! It Was Me All Along!: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 20

Why fight when you can sing? It’s Hashikko Ensemble Chapter 20!

Summary

Tsuyama (of the Mimi-sensei-loving quartet) and Orihara fight under the former’s mistaken belief that the latter sexually assaulted Mimi-sensei. Evenly matched, the situation is eventually defused when Mimi-sensei herself explains that nothing happened and Hasegawa lied about Orihara squeezing Mimi-sensei’s breasts. Tsuyama and his friends still discover it’s Shion who’s the true “culprit,” but at least a couple of them don’t seem to mind at all.

Jin uses the audience gathered from the fight to his advantage, and suddenly announces a 4 vs. 4 singing competition between the Chorus Appreciation Society and Tsuyama’s group.

We learn in a flashback that Tsuyama is actually a pretty good singer, but they’re not exactly ready for this contest. The music teacher Takano-sensei offers to help them. Also, unbeknownst to his friends, the gorilla-like Ogawa (nickname “Ogre”), goes to the Chorus Appreciation Society for help in learning how to sing better. The reason: he doesn’t want to hold the others back. Jin begins teaching him about how to deal with being out of tune.

Back in the present, Tsuyama’s group are about to sing “Cherry” by the Japanese pop group Spitz (Mimi-sensei’s favorite band) against the Chorus Appreciation Society’s “Viderunt Omnes,” when suddenly, Ogawa hands his microphone over to Akira, in what looks to be a shocking betrayal!

Not the Best Handling of Rape as a Subject

I want to preface this minor criticism by saying that I don’t think Kio Shimoku is trivializing or supporting rape in any way, and what I sense from the story is that this little fiasco is more about a false rumor run rampant. Hasegawa, for her part, didn’t even say the word okashita (variously “rape,” “violated,” etc.)–it was Tsuyama who interpreted it that way.

However, given the increasing awareness we as people have about women not being believed when it comes to sexual assault, having a girl like Hasegawa start this rumor is not the best look for the series. For me, it’s not a deal breaker, and I still love the heck out of Hashikko Ensemble, but it’s potentially playing with fire.

Anyone Can Improve Their Singing

Jin makes a helpful point this chapter about how getting better at singing in tune depends on how tone deaf someone is. A person who can recognize that they’re not singing well can, over time, learn to adjust. Someone who is tone deaf, on the other hand, will need another person to tell them when they’re off, but this can still be a path to improvement.

It gives hope to folks like me who are musically challenged.

Friendship Between Misfits

While I originally thought that Tsuyama and his friends might become antagonists of sorts, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, what I see is a group of people who are kind of weird and arguably pretty creepy, but who have one another’s backs. I find it touching that Ogawa thinks so highly of Tsuyama (who encouraged him to work out so that no one could belittle him) that he would go to the enemy for help in learning how to sing. In a way, it’s like these guys are the cast of Genshiken, only all of them are like 10-15% Kuchiki. The clear path is for at least some of these guys to eventually join the Chorus Appreciation Society, but I wouldn’t be surprised at a few twists and turns.

Also, the fact that two of them are into yuri but two of them don’t seem to care that much makes for a small but interesting distinction among their group.

Songs

As Mimi-sensei talks about her fondness for Spitz, the following songs get mentioned:

“Cherry”

“Robinson”

“Sora o Toberu hazu” (“You’ve Gotta Be Able to Fly”)

“Viderunt Omnes” is also brought up again. Orihara basically refused to sing anything else.

Final Thoughts

Despite all the weirdness with Hasegawa, her running commentary for the Orihara-Tsuyama fight is a highlight of this chapter. The way she compares Orihara’s enormous strength to Tsuyama’s speed and technique fills me with glee.

I highly doubt that Akira is doing any sort of real heel turn, but I’m looking forward to how it pans out. I assume that friendship will win over all, and Shion will gain some strange new guardians.