Anime NYC 2019 Hype Post, aka The Craziest, Most Incredible Guests

Anime NYC 2019 is only two days away, and I want to use this opportunity to talk about how amazing the guests are this year. I promise that this is not a paid or sponsored endorsement in any way—these are my genuine feelings, and my feeling is that the guest list this year is just virtually perfect.

First and foremost, you have the legendary director of Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon, and Zambot 3, Tomino Yoshiyuki. I saw him 10 years ago at New York Anime Festival 2009, and I am eager to see his return. He’ll be showing the first Gundam: Reconguista in G film, and as a staunch defender of that series, I’ve gotta go see it.

Then there’s Kimura Takahiro, animator and character designer on Gaogaigar, Godannar, Betterman, Brigadoon, and Code Geass. He is one of my favorite character designers ever, and I’m so, so stoked for him to be in New York.

Speaking of Code Geass, the voice actor Yukana will be making her New York City debut. In addition to playing C.C. in Code Geass (aka the best character in that series), she’s also Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic!, Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura, and Cure White in Futari wa Pretty Cure!

But Yukana is not the only Cure who will be there, as Ise Mariya (Cure Lemonade from Yes! Pretty Cure 5) is coming to promote The Promised Neverland, where she plays Ray. The director of The Promised Neverland, Kanbe Mamoru, will also be at Anime NYC 2019. He’s also the director for one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san.

Megalo Box is an amazing anime and reinterpretation of Ashita no Joe, Moriyama Yo, and both the director and producer, Fujiyoshi Minako, will be attending.

And the Lantis Matsuri concert Friday night will feature both JAM Project and Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!! Having now attended concerts for both groups, I’m pumped to see them again (and again and again in the future, hopefully). Nothing is as fantastic as JAM Project performing “SKILL,” and a part of me is sincerely hoping all the groups involved will join in for a rousing “WHOHhhHHoooHHHooOoooH.”

So see you all at Anime NYC, and I hope these guests get the star treatment they deserve.

 

Flexibility of Ingredients in Giant Robot Anime

On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?

From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited.  Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?

The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much  that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.

I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.

Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.

Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.

Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.

Ogiue Maniax on the Veef Show

I recorded a podcast over at the Veef Show just this past weekend with Andrew of Collection DX fame, and it is up for your listening pleasure.

We talk about a number of topics, but it mainly focuses on things like space travel, the state of anime, and philosophizing about that most sacred of subjects, mecha anime. For reference, my Code Geass post that we mention is this one.

Apologies for the background noise on my end. If you’re curious, that’s the sound of Leidens Ontzet.

So in summary, this:

Plus this:

The Interaction of Mecha Fandom and Code Geass as Mecha/Not-Mecha

I was listening to the most recent episode of the Veef Show, where the argument that Code Geass is not a “robot” show came up by way of another podcaster, Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat. It’s an argument that I’ve heard before from Daryl, whether it was through AWO itself or just talking with him online, and it all hinges on a simple statement: A show which does not focus primarily on robots cannot be called a “robot anime.” The direction the fanbase of Code Geass takes, one that emphasizes the characters in a variety of ways such that arguments about attractiveness and character motivations occur side by side, is used as supporting evidence. Seeing that I just appeared on the Speakeasy Podcast and endorsed Code Geass as a solid mecha show for people who feel a little put off by mecha though, I figured that it would be a good idea for me to say something. Also because I enjoy both the Veef Show and AWO and they’re cool dudes.

While I’m on the side that says Code Geass is a mecha show, I’m not writing this to argue in its favor.  Where one person draws the line between genres (or whether they choose to draw them at all) is predicated to a certain extent on their own preferences (the reason I put the qualifier of “a certain extent” is that obviously a show with zero robots and zero mentions or implications of robots would have a hard time justifying itself as one), and that argument can just go back and forth with no signs of budging. It happens to all sorts of genres, particularly science fiction, which may be appropriate given the subject at hand, but I’ll leave that alone for now. What I really want to do is look at some of the deeper layers of meaning behind the above argument about why Code Geass isn’t a mecha show, as I think it says some things about the anxiety that exists in a fanbase for a genre which perhaps fears irrelevancy. I do not think Daryl necessarily feels this way, but underlying questions still exist within.

The notion that Code Geass does not fall into the genre of “giant robots” is based on the level of presence that mecha possesses within that series. While they appear in virtually every episode in some way or another, they are not integrated into the main thrust of the story, thus the show does not attract fans through its robots, at least not in comparatively great numbers. Given this view, the first underlying element of this argument is a question, “Why isn’t Code Geass emphasizing the mecha?”

The answer can be presented with varying degrees of cynicism, and I will show two here on somewhat opposing ends. The first version is that their goal is to pander to a larger anime fanbase by placing importance on those character traits previously mentioned. Mecha are thrown in for flavor but not much else. The second version is that giant robots for the sake of giant robots do not capture the attention of a wide enough audience. Whether you’re more inclined to express this same idea as the former or as the latter, the commonality between them is the fact that giant robots as a genre, be they super or real or some kind of hybrid, just aren’t that popular anymore. So then the next question that comes up is, “Why aren’t robots popular?”

I don’t have the answer to that. All I can say is, for fans who got into anime because of giant robots, or those who lived in a period where mecha shows made up such a huge part of industry output that it became one of the genres inextricably linked to anime, the idea that robots do not capture the general viewing population’s imagination can be a bitter pill to swallow. The properties of anime that are bringing in fans now may not be what brought people to the table in previous eras. As soon as what you thought was popular no longer is, and you can’t quite figure out why things have changed, it can be baffling. How you reason through this change can depend on how you feel towards what has supplanted your old favorites, and it can be conveyed with different degrees of discontent.

At this point, it’s important to remember that giant robot shows that place enormous amounts of emphasis on the robots themselves and their influence on the story as a whole still do exist and are still being made. The problem with them, however, is that they are few in number, and that as a niche genre it appeals to a dwindling hardcore fanbase. I know that Daryl is also aware of this issue, as must be a great number of mecha fans whether they consciously realize it or not, and embodied in that feeling is the uncomfortableness of having gone from riches to rags, from being one of the premiere fanbases to a minority. I find that in actuality, the negative reaction towards categorizing Code Geass as a “robot anime” comes not from simply definition semantics and pedantry, but from what I think is perhaps the most central question underlying everything: “Why aren’t Code Geass and other shows doing more to convince people to like giant robots?” With that, giant robot shows must thus not only appeal to fans who already like the genre but also act as ambassadors to people who are less receptive.

For that, I point once again to that Speakeasy episode, because the whole purpose of that podcast was to talk about mecha shows that are capable of appealing not to simply those who are unfamiliar with the genre and just need to be exposed to it, but to people who have been burned by giant robots in the past. With some shows, the mere presence of robots can be enough for people to say “no thanks,” but if Code Geass attracts this large fanbase that is willing to stay even with robots continuously present within the show, then it must be doing something to not have them outright rejected. Perhaps all that is happening is that the robots are being conveniently ignored, but before people can even carry the potential to love giant robots, they should be able to tolerate them first.

Have you seen the “V8 VFusion?” It’s a drink whose purpose is to mask its vegetable content with fruity flavor. It’s even advertised by showing people who don’t like veggies drinking and enjoying it. You can make an argument that it’s not really a vegetable juice and you could even probably make a convincing case of it, but then I have to wonder about how much that distinction really matters.

“Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” or “Enpsychopedia Britannia”

It’s a time when Social Darwinism was the overriding philosophy of the strongest empire in the world. It’s a world where the British never knew their limits and conquered many nations with the help of giant robots. It’s a show which you can undoubtedly call “anime,” and depending on who you are, those words can mean you love it or you hate it. This is Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion.

I originally got into Code Geass before the show even started, as the pedigree of the character designs had me very intrigued. As if to say that this show was meant to on some level be eye candy for both male and female fans, the character designs are an unholy alliance between Shoujo Manga Superstars CLAMP (Cardcaptor Sakura, X, Magic Knight Rayearth, XXXHolic, Tsubasa), and veteran artist of well-developed women Kimura Takahiro (Gaogaigar, Betterman, Godannar, certain Viper games, Gun x Sword). When episode 1 appeared on the scene I was quick to snatch it up.

What was presented to me was an interesting twist on the giant robot genre. The main character didn’t have unwavering courage. He had a traumatic past, but not the kind that leaves a character hating conflict. What we got was Lelouch Lamperouge, a tactician first and foremost, who sees battles beyond the one-on-ones between giant robots. He’s also secretly Lelouch Vi Britannia, exiled prince of the Britannian Empire. There was a character who filled the role of your more standard giant robot hero, but he was made into a supporting, if important, character in Kururugi Suzaku.

My favorite character turned out to be a beautiful immortal named C.C. (pronounced C-Two), who gives Lelouch a mysterious power, the titular “Geass.” A Geass, at least in the case of Lelouch, is a contract which gives him the power to exert his will over another person and have them do anything Lelouch wants, as long as it’s within the ability of that person (no telling a man with no arms to clap). C.C. is tied into every aspect of the plot, and this is hinted at from the start, which gives her an air of mystery more inviting than even her sweet ass, an ass powered by an insatiable love of pizza (Pizza Hut in particular). There’s a ton of characters in Code Geass, as is expected of a major Sunrise show, and combined with the designs it’s the kind of situation where you’re bound to find a favorite, no matter how minor they are. There’s the (not really) quiet girl Kallen, the optimistic Britannian princess Euphemia, the lovable eternal side character Rivalz, and many more. Most likely it’ll be the Britannian Emperor, voiced by Wakamoto Norio. If you don’t know who he is, you’ve probably listened him before anyway.

Code Geass may give the initial impression of being some combination of Gundam and Death Note, and I even describe Code Geass as what SEED Destiny should have been, but calling it Gun Note can be a bit misleading. While Code Geass does have a highly intelligent protagonist matching wits with opponents from afar and possessing an occult power which gives him a significant edge, the show never really bothers to show you every minute detail in strategy. Seeing the battle of wits isn’t nearly as important as knowing that a battle of the wits took place. Code Geass, at its core, is all about being theatrical. Lelouch gives passionate inner monologues, and his voice change between his innocent high school student personality and his rebellion leader guise of “Zero” has nothing to do with convincing realism and everything to do with upping the melodramatic nature of the show. When a plot hole presents itself in Code Geass, and there are a LOT of them, my first response is never to nitpick, but to allow myself to be swept up in whatever’s going on and the emotional responses of the characters.

Convincing emotional responses are the work of a stellar voice cast. I mentioned Wakamoto Norio, but I think the stand-out role is probably C.C. as voiced by Yukana. Normally known for a more polite, feminine voice as seen in Tessa from Full Metal Panic and Cure White from Pretty Cure, Yukana’s C.C. voice is significantly deeper and more powerful. C.C. sounds like she has so much knowledge and experience that you the viewer should be honored that you even get to hear her speak. I liked Yukana already, this made me like her more.

It’s possible you’ve heard some of the controversy over the second season of Code Geass, Code Geass R2, and it has entirely to do with time slots. Originally Code Geass’s first season was set to air in Japanese prime time, but then was bumped to a late-night time slot. This resulted in a retooling and the adding of elements more favorable towards late-night viewers, e.g. fanservice. The show was a surprising success and when its second season got greenlit it got moved to the prime time slot that it originally had, but in doing so it was expected to draw in new viewers and had to backtrack a little to teach the prime time fledgling viewers all about Code Geass. This set back production and altered the plot in ways unknown, but the team in charge of Code Geass fought valiantly to keep it under control.

Code Geass’s strengths and weaknesses lie entirely in the fact that it’s a show which tries to please everybody. I wouldn’t say that the result is that it ends up pleasing nobody, far from it in fact. Just don’t get the wrong impression as to the kind of show it is. It is not Gundam, it is not Death Note, it is not Kingdom Hearts. You still might not like it in the end, and may think some of the plot points irreconciliable, but it’s as good a ride as any. Don’t call it a train wreck, call it a runaway train which managed to get to safety.

The Active Pursuit of Anime and the Effects Thereof

Anime fans in the west have had a long history of actively seeking out their anime. Be it trading tapes, taking time out of your day specifically to go to anime clubs, figuring out the arcane secrets required to get shows off of irc, learning how to use bittorrent, or even searching on Youtube, there has always been the push to find more anime. There is a sort of mental devotion, however small, to finding new shows or finding more of a particular show, and I believe that just as much as it is a reflection of the hardcore fan’s mindset, it can also influence that mindset as well. It is both cause and effect.

When one downloads or otherwise looks for episodes of Pretty Cure, there’s some sort of labor involved, and from that labor it makes sense to want sufficient value in return, to (misappropriately) use some of Karl Marx’s terminology.  Thus, when that episode of Pretty Cure has no progress, when it feels like the last episode, disappointment occurs. Then you might think, “This show isn’t worth my time.” And it might not be. However, keep in mind that most anime in Japan is shown on TV, and the TV acts as a passive medium for most mainstream shows. Anime like Pretty Cure air on weekend mornings, so there’s no need for staying up late or setting a VCR or Tivo. It, like so many other shows, becomes simply a part of a weekly routine, something that can be enjoyed in addition to other activities by the viewer, such as eating breakfast.

It becomes a custom, like saying hi to your neighbor every morning (feel free to substitute neighbor with anyone else). Anyone who woke up for Saturday Morning Cartoons is probably familiar with this feeling. Sure, there are shows you like more than others, or would have to sacrifice one for the other if they aired at the same time on different channels, but the familiarity makes it less of a new shirt and more of a warm blanket.

Having started to watch Eureka Seven in Japan, I originally thought it was going to be a warm blanket, that Eureka Seven would be mostly episodic and carried on the characters’ strong personalities and their interactions. When I noticed those interactions causing permanent changes in those characters, I became more involved, and before long it started to become an active pursuit, where I would purposely go to sleep early on Saturdays to catch Eureka Seven early Sunday morning. I think this gradual shift from blanket to shirt is part of what made me so fond of the show.

I think some of the success (or lack thereof) of anime aired on TV in the US has very much to do with being situated in a way that makes them accessible to passive viewers. Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing aired at convenient, after-school time slots. Cowboy Bebop was on around midnight, when it’s late but not too late. Gundam SEED was saddled by a poor time slot that got progressively worse. Adult Swim seems to be pushing Code Geass off a cliff with a 5am time slot, and I think they are well aware of the active/passive fandom dichotomy that occurs. I mean, you could say that viewers should just set their vcr’s to record, but then that involves labor, and the viewer then pretty much has to be a fan.

And while it’s great to be an anime fan, not everyone who is a potential viewer or a potential fan starts off this way.

The Ending I Want for Code Geass

Odysseus u Britannia, eldest son of Emperor Charles di Britannia, is the Hitou Nami of Code Geass. He is a man who did not find anything odd about being married to a tiny little girl. Had the marriage gone through, he probably would’ve spent their honeymoon making hot cocoa and playing board games with Tianzi. He is the master of milquetoast, the avatar of average, the sultan of sterile. Somehow, in a family of conniving psychos, Odysseus remains completely sane and, more importantly, completely alive.

As such, he is easily my favorite male character in Code Geass. And with that said, I can think of no better conclusion that for Odysseus to become the new Britannian Emperor while the rest of the royal family dies.

And the moral of this story would be…

This is What You Would Call a Cut Back Drop Turn 04

Sorry, I just had to say it.

I won’t review Code Geass R2 just yet. The show’s still in its initial setup stage. All I’ll say is that so far the show is quite enjoyable, though I don’t approach it like it’s some big bad mystery to solve. Code Geass is like Greek Theater, except I have no idea if it’s a comedy or a tragedy.