The Popularity of Plushies

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Why are plushies popular with anime fans?

When I got into anime, the internet was a very different place. While I was never part of the old Usenet groups (and in fact I never learned how to use them), I would talk with my fellow fans about whatever was hot at the time. Part of the fan experience was a kind of lighthearted role playing (no, not that kind, and no, not that kind), and one thing I notice was the virtual exchange of “plushies.” These dolls didn’t actually exist, but they were playful gestures to show friendship and support, or to present oneself as cute and fun and lovable. When I think of “anime fans and plushies,” I think of an era of the Anime Web Turnpike and Kisekae (KiSS) dolls, both relics of late 90s, early 2000s internet fandom.

However, that’s not really the case, is it? Plush dolls, whether specifically anime themed or otherwise, still hold the attention of many fans at conventions, online, and (I assume) with each other in other more personal settings. Also, the dolls have become more prominent, whether in artist alleys or through official channels. They might be a chibi Sasuke from Naruto or an alpaca, but they’re out there being sold and traded and loved. There’s something kind of timeless about the idea of owning a cute doll, and it’s not like this is limited to anime fans at all, but anime fans will embrace and hold onto them even after they’re supposed to have outgrown collecting dolls.

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There can’t be only one reason that anime fans gravitate towards plushies. Even with the common interest of Japanese cartoons, people are too diverse for a singular cause. I could see some enjoying them because they just like dolls in general. Others might just want to collect their favorite characters. That being said, I do think that the trope of the chibi or super deformed character has no small influence on the popularity of dolls with anime fans. They appear in official parody spinoffs, in the middle of scenes, and in fanart since the earliest days. Anime fans embrace what is cute, Japanese culture has made an entire industry off of “kawaii,” and in certain ways it’s almost defiant of macho expectations given to both men and women. Frederik L. Schodt wrote in his seminal book on Japanese comics, Manga! Manga!, that part of the reason manga became so sophisticated is that the fans of manga in Japan grew up and refused to let go of their stories. Perhaps plushies are connected to this sentiment, maybe not directly but in terms of a similar mindset and desire to keep the joys of childhood.

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Maybe the association between SD character renditions and plushies are why I consider plushies to be very much anchored in that 90s anime fandom. After all, the 90s were the peak of chibi character content. Though I don’t really see it anymore, super deformed characters were considered such a staple of anime fandom that they were viewed as a defining characteristic that helped to differentiate anime from other forms of animation, right along with big eyes and small mouths. While we’ve since been introduced to a much wider variety of styles, and the trends have changed over time, the anime plush doll still retains the features of a chibi character.

I personally don’t engage with anime or anime fans the way I did 15 to 20 years ago, so I don’t know to what extent the old ways of interaction still remain. Do fans still give each other imaginary plushies, or do they now take the form of digital renderings, emojis, or Line stickers? Does this further emphasize the physical aspect of actually owning plush dolls? For the anime fans who carry them through conventions and meetups and such, do they also display them in their everyday lives, or is there still a fear of being judged for being into dolls? This is a line of inquiry I’d be interested in finding out more about. If you have insights of your own, feel free to share them!

I know that, by mentioning dolls, I’m also bringing up associations with the ball-jointed (and often very expensive) kind. I think that fandom might share some qualities with the enthusiasts of plushies, but they’re quite a different group overall. Perhaps I’ll discuss that one while reminiscing about Rozen Maiden and its very passionate followers another time.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

 

 

Plain 90s Anime Beauties

I’ve been on an “90s anime theme” kick recently, watching various live concert performances and animated intros/outros on YouTube. When you look through them, there’s a recurring tendency in shows of the time to have ending animations highlight the token female character as she existed in the 90s. What stands out to me in particular is that a lot of these girls are designed to be fairly pretty but not excessively beautiful, talented but not too talented.

Frequently, the 90s girl is the protagonist’s love interest, especially in series with heavily male-dominated casts, and in shounen works also works as either an everyman or expositional character to get the reader up to speed on the rules of the story. She’s the ideal support for him and his passionate pursuit of whatever goal or motivation he possesses, and it’s this sideline cheerleader that has more recently fallen by the wayside in favor of a new breed of heroine, who still might not be in the spotlight but possesses some sort of “other” talent. The example that immediately comes to mind is Akagi Haruko from Slam Dunk, who knows a bit about basketball and is the target of affection for the hero, in contrast to Aida Riko and Momoi Satsuki from Kuroko’s Basketball, who have support “powers” for their teams and whose roles as possible love interests are not as prominent (perhaps influenced by the greater fujoshi influence of Kuroko). None of them are stars of their stories, but I think there’s a clear difference between then and now.

If the main character’s love interest is supposed to be an ideal, I have to wonder why they’re so frequently designed to not be quite so ideal in the first place. This could be chalked up to “good characterization” in some cases, and a “boring” or “plain” female character to a potential viewer outside of Japan might be seen as a “yamato nadeshiko” type perfect woman in Japanese culture (e.g. Shinguji Sakura from Sakura Wars). However, I can’t help thinking that there’s something else, like a desire to promote the plain girl as the one young readers of shounen should be aiming for. Pining for the hottest girl around might somehow have been viewed as impractical or even wrongheaded, and that the childhood friend, the girl next door, would be the far better choice. Was anime and manga trying to teach its audience what kind of love would be the more realistic choice, or is it just that having these girls be fairly plain is simply about pushing the heroes further to the forefront?

 

[Apartment 507] Myriad Colors Phantom World is Like a 90s Anime

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I’ve written a post about Myriad Colors Phantom World over at Apartment 507, and its similarities to anime of the 90s such as Slayers and Saber Marionette J. What do you think? Is Phantom World a “1990s anime in 2016 clothing?”

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Mazinkaiser SKL and Madoka Magica embody the spirit of 1990s anime and anime fandom.

That I included Mazinkaiser SKL in that statement is not much of a surprise, I imagine. It’s the robot whose name stands for “Skull” because it’s covered in skulls, and its plot, characters, and levels of ultra-violence are taken straight of the worst best OVAs of the era. Mazinkaiser SKL has what thrilled anime fans of the 90s, and it would not have looked out of place next to the likes of MD Geist and Bubblegum Crisis.

My choice of Madoka Magica might be more puzzling, but I insist that in some ways it houses the 90s anime (and anime fan) spirit even more than Mazinkaiser SKL. When you look at how the series has been captivating fans, you see recurring comments in regards to how dark it is, or how it subverts the genre. Even if people don’t necessarily have a good understanding of the original genre being addressed, when it comes down to it Madoka Magica is attracting fans because it feels “different” and worth discussing and thinking about at length. The way people talk about it reminds more of the way people discuss Akira, Ghost in the Shell, or Evangelion than the way conversations about Suzumiya Haruhi or Code Geass go. Madoka Magica has that certain something that thrills people into dividing anime into Madoka Magica and everything else. While the difference is that Akira drew in non-fans and Madoka Magica isn’t really going beyond the existing fandom, it seems to be hitting fans with the same shock that Goku’s death gave to me as I realized cartoon character’s could die after all.

So while Mazinkaiser SKL is aesthetically an anime ripped straight out of the 90s, a time traveler from a different era whose ways may seem at odds with the current day, Madoka Magica takes the effect anime had on anime fans in the 90s and translates that emotional impact across time onto the current fandom. Whether or not these shows will be remembered in another ten years is unknown, but at the very least in the here and now they connect the decades together.

A, Er, It’s the 90s: Casshern OVA aka Casshan Robot Hunter

Immortality has been a dream of man for as long as he has walked the Earth. For some, immortality means having an indestructible, ageless body. For others, it means living through the memories of others, or having their exploits retold in song and splendor. In the case of a robot with a penchant for chopping other robots in half named Casshern, all three apply, though he might not always like the result, especially when it’s in the form of a 1990s OVA.

In the 90s, the animation studio Tatsunoko Pro went about reviving some of its most popular franchises from its early years. Without a doubt the most well-known remake among English-speaking fans was Tekkaman Blade, a TV series based loosely on the classic series Tekkaman the Space Knight, as it managed to find its way into syndication under the name Teknoman. The second most famous remake however was an OVA based on another classic,  Neo-Human Casshern, about a man who is transformed permanently into an android in order to stop a massive robot revolt from conquering the world. Called simply Casshern, this update would be released in English as Casshan: Robot Hunter, and would air on the Sci-Fi Channel’s anime block, alongside movies and other anime such as Akira and Project A-Ko.

There are two things I want to make clear at this point. First, while I gave that nice history lesson there, I did not grow up with Cable and thus was not a part of that segment of anime fans who grew up on the Sci-Fi Network’s anime showings. Second, at the time the OVA came out there was no official romanized spelling for “Kyashaan,” and so they decided to go with “Casshan” at the time. Nowadays however, it’s officially spelled as “Casshern,” and in conforming with this standardization and for consistency’s sake, I am going to refer to the OVA in this review as Casshern OVA or Robot Hunter.

What is immediately apparent about Casshern OVA is that it is all flash and little to no substance. The story is there, and just like its source material it’s about a human robot fighting against the odds and punching holes in bigger, burlier robots, but it lacks sufficient amounts of connective tissue between scenes and between individual episodes which results in a bare sense of story coherency at best. Its purpose and goal is to look nice and pretty, and it succeeds in that regard, but only if you like the character designs, animation styles, pacing, and direction that embodies 90s anime aesthetics to the fullest extent. Even the fanservice is distinctly 90s-style! Not only can you can instantly tell when it was made, but the extent to which Casshern OVA is a product of its time is made all the more evident when you compare it to the ultra-stylized 2009 remake, Casshern SINS.

To those fans who grew up with 90s anime, it may just be “the way anime looks,” but for younger fans the look of Robot Hunter can be very, very different from today’s action series such as Black Lagoon. To sum up the 90s “serious action” aesthetic, it’s comprised of this exaggerated realism which permeates everything, but especially the male characters and their angular musculature, as well as the female characters and their sculpted curves. It’s the direct descendant of the 80s OVA aesthetic, which sought to give a sense of three-dimensionality to character designs.

I can only picture the staff responsible for Casshern OVA getting all excited and going, “The old Casshern is a classic, but it’s kind of dated now. That’s why we gotta make it right! We gotta make this thing timeless!” Despite (or perhaps because of) their best efforts, Casshern OVA ends up being more dated than even its 70s predecessor and its child-like sense of drama and wonder.

At the very least, it has the awesome Casshern Introduction Speech.

Throwing away his only life,
Reborn in an invincible body,
Here to obliterate the Demons of Iron,
If Casshern won’t do it, who will?

Bonus Assignment: Compare and contrast all three Casshern Openings and tell me what you think of each one.