The Healing of Heisei Anime

EvangelionIt’s difficult to succinctly describe or summarize anime and manga in the Heisei era. After all, that’s a lot of time to cover, from 1989 to 2019. But when I think about the works that have come out over the past thirty years, one word keeps coming to mind: therapy.

The Heisei era is defined by many things, but one of the biggest is the bursting of the 80s bubble economy, leading Japan into a recession it’s never fully recovered from. It has affected everyone young and old, flipping norms and assumptions on their heads as the idea of a stable future weakened and crumbled. I find that many of the trends in Heisei anime reflect this uncertainty. Heisei covers the birth of healing anime. It marks the emergence of concepts in Japan like NEETs, hikikomori, and fear of declining birth rates, which then make their way into anime. Deep introspection and escape from reality alike were in full force, asking viewers whether they needed to manually get away or to find solutions.

In that struggle between therapy as problem-solving and therapy as respite, in my opinion there’s no show as emblematic as Neon Genesis Evangelion. While it takes from works past, what Evangelion does so well, and part of why its legacy has endured for so long, is that it pushes the psychological fears and doubts of its characters to the forefront, enveloping viewers in their inner worlds. Their struggle to understand themselves and navigate youth, violence, love, and lust is still powerful today. However, another significant part of Evangelion‘s legacy is the commodification of its characters, their wispy yet mature bodies the subjects of figures, posters, ad campaigns, and more. Their idealized forms themselves provide a form of fantasy that consequently flattens and simplifies their presences.

And yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean the two sides of Evangelion never mingled, and their dual influence is reflected in 21st century anime culture in major ways. Whether it’s Rei as the progenitor of the “emotionless” blue-haired girl trope or Shinji and Kaworu as an evergreen fujoshi pairing (despite, or perhaps because it only lasts one episode), the clash of consumption, creation, reflection, and escape all continue to swirl around today. It’s fitting that the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, which show the characters trying much harder to communicate with one another and overcome the cycle of doubt and despair, is set to conclude in the Reiwa era after a ten-year delay.

The anime of the past three decades hasn’t been all doom and gloom, nor has it solely been a psychological bomb shelter shielding its viewers from the world. Heisei birthed the Yuusha/Brave franchise, with its positive messages (albeit with the occasional sprinkling in of anti-toy-company cynicism). It covered Sailor Moon and Ojamajo Doremi and Precure in terms of magical girl works that give viewers a sense of hope and optimism. Perhaps the function of these shows, however, is that they also provided positive messages to young kids in a society that didn’t necessarily provide it through other means.

While anime as therapy was born out of Japan’s own recent history, I think the global success of anime in the Heisei era shows that there were people all around the world who needed it as well, myself included. As is probably the case for many reading this, my entire otaku history has been in the Heisei era, and in retrospect I have to be amazed at how much it’s shaped my life even from the perspective of “therapy.” I learned to embrace unconventional views of masculinity and femininity through Cardcaptor Sakura. I found peace and comfort (but also artistic inspiration) from Hidamari Sketch. I discovered what means to live with confidence by reading Genshiken. I made introspection a part of my life thanks to Evangelion. This won’t necessarily change just because there’s a new emperor on the throne of Japan, but I hope I can look back again in thirty years with a similar fondness.

This post was made possible thanks to Johnny Trovato. If you’d like to request a topic or support Ogiue Maniax in general, check out the Patreon.

Advertisements

Anno, Evangelion, and the Fleeting Intersection of Creators and Trends

The story of Neon Genesis Evangelion is partly one of a creator who tapped into the zeitgeist of his viewers, who then began to travel along a path divergent from the very people that called themselves his fans. Anno Hideaki is not an isolated incident. Any time a creator makes a sequel and it’s considered to do more harm to the series than good by some (J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Tomino Yoshiyuki and Gundam), there’s a sense that ideas and sensibilities did not align as well as they could have.

Of course, fans are individuals too. What one might call the general fan reaction to something is akin to an aggregate or a median of all of the different values that exist, and one might even argue that there’s no such thing as a singular “audience” or “fandom.” However, I think that’s a significant contributing factor to why it’s so hard for so many characters to achieve great success more than once, why there are so many flashes in the pan. Even when they’re attempting to chase their audience and please them, it doesn’t necessarily work out as they might hope. How likely is it for one person to tap into the collective feelings of a group, and do so consistently over a period of years?

Love ’em or hate ’em, this I think this situation is why production by committee/audience testing exists. If you want lightning to strike twice, why not try to find out as much information as possible? Why not try to approach the group mindset with a smaller group of your own? It’s safer and arguably more reliable.

The issue with this approach is that it’s more likely to discourage risk and experimentation. This doesn’t mean it can’t ever result in strong works, but the Mr. Plinkett review of the current state of the Star Wars franchise explains it well. Disney knows exactly what the fans love about their beloved far, far away galaxy, and will keep tapping that well for as long as they find if feasible. These can be favorite characters, changing trends in how people perceive media (gender and racial diversity), or something else, but rarely would a work like this try to challenge or anger its audience.

This, I believe, is the danger zone that Anno saw all those years ago as fan response to Evangelion became one that encouraged an objectification and consumption of its characters. That conversation is more complex than this post is going to get into (and keep in mind that I’m not necessarily against either side), but it keeps me thinking about the divergence of creators and fans.

Fighting for Inspiration: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for March 2016

This month I’d like to thank the following Patreon supporters, as well as my unnamed patrons as well. You’re all awesome and I’d like to talk with you all someday (and many of you I have!):

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

One thing that I’ve noticed is that my patrons come from all over the world, and I know that support for anime can be hard to come by in some places. It’s why I’m thankful for living in a major metropolitan area. Between the New York International Children’s Film Festival, and screenings of both The Boy and the Beast and Kizumonogatari, March is going to be kind of a crazy month for anime here. What’s your situation like?

Nothing’s really out of the ordinary for Ogiue Maniax this month from a content perspective. There’s the new Genshiken review (what an intense chapter!), the return of Patreon-sponsored posts in my review of Garakowa -Restore the World-, and a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time: an overview of the thematic relationship between Space Runaway Ideon and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Lately I haven’t been trying to broaden my horizons in terms of writing, and I wonder if it’s causing me to stagnate some. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not developing or changing or taking risks with my writing enough, and at times I struggle to come up with new topics to write about as a result. This is actually why I’m grateful for patron Johnny Trovato, because getting outside topics to write about can spark some inspiration. Just as a teaser, this month’s requested topic is an anime I’ve been wanting to delve into more after dipping my toe in many months ago, so this is the perfect opportunity.

Though maybe it’s because I’m playing more video games, things like Fire Emblem Awakening (I know I’m a game behind!), Splatoon (in my first Splatfest ever!), and of course Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. I attended a local tournament this past weekend and did okay, getting 13th out of 35 players. It’s not much, but I enjoy just checking things out and seeing where my Mewtwo stands. I don’t think that it’s bad to play games, of course, but perhaps I need to redirect my attention back to anime and manga a bit more.

To end off, I do want to mention something I’m doing over at Apartment 507, where I also blog. After the success of my analysis of Yazawa Nico from Love Live!, I’ve decided to tackle all nine main girls (and maybe a few more!) over the next few months in the leadup to Love Live! Sunshine. For February I’ve written about Sonoda Umi, so check it out if you’re all about the Umidaaaa!

 

How Evangelion References Ideon

This post is dedicated to Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat, who over 10 years has pointed out repeatedly that people will bring up the relationship between the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and Space Runaway Ideon without knowing exactly how they connect.

Love it or hate it, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is one of the most influential and well-known anime ever. The story of youths with crippling psychological problems who must fight to save the Earth resonated with many, and anime came to copy, challenge, and rethink Evangelion in the years since. However, Evangelion itself carries its own influences from shows of yesteryear. For this post, I’m going to be writing about one of the major progenitors of Evangelion, Space Runaway Ideon, because it’s often brought up as evidence against Evangelion‘s originality and innovation, without thorough understanding as to what Ideon did and did not do relative to Evangelion.

Evangelion is just a rehash of Ideon,” the argument goes, but structurally they don’t have very many things in common. The city structure, otherworldly invaders, time limits, and the sense of scale when the titanic EVAs fight the similarly enormous Angels all come from Ultraman. In fact, if you want to see just how much Ultraman influenced director Anno Hideaki, check out the manga Insufficient Direction, drawn by his mangaka wife, Anno Moyoco (Hataraki Man, Sugar Sugar Rune). The escalation of trauma and the mistrust between humans comes from DevilmanIdeon, while bearing a few minor similarities to these series, brings something else to the table.

To understand Ideon, it’s useful to start at the beginning. Its story takes place in an era of space exploration and colonization. A group of archaeologists discover three ancient vehicles, which they find out can be brought together to form a giant robot called Ideon. During this time, they also encounter an alien race of conquerors called the Buff Clan, who possess legends about Ideon as a mighty god of ancient times. Though they take a number of casualties, the humans escape with Ideon, and spend the rest of the series fending off attacks from the Buff Clan with the help of the Ideon.

This sounds pretty par for the course for the time in which it was airing (early 1980s), but one thing made Ideon, as a mecha, different: it didn’t like to behave. The pilots from the very beginning are even unsure as to how to rouse Ideon from its dormancy. It powers up and powers down seemingly with a mind of its own, as indicated by a mysterious display called the Ide Gauge. If there’s a pattern as to how strong Ideon will be in any given fight, it is utterly unclear to the humans responsible for it. It is ancient alien technology that they are unable to fully grasp.

Then, deep into the series they find themselves cornered and at the brink of death. Suddenly, the Ideon achieves a power greater than anything seen before, and wipes out the enemy in an instant. Though they’re happy to have escaped with their lives, one important detail looms over their thoughts: it was not by the humans’ actions that they were rescued. Rather, they were at the seemingly serendipitous whims of the Ideon itself. As they continue on their journey, and as they continue to fight the Buff Clan, the heroes are made increasingly aware of the fact that the Ideon is powerful enough to destroy entire worlds, rend galaxies into nothingness, and wipe out civilizations… and they have absolutely no control over it. In the Super Robot Wars games, the power of the Ideon’s strongest attacks, Ideon Sword and Ideon Gun, are labeled as having infinite range as a reference to this, though the mechanics are gamified into something manageable).

If you’ve seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, you probably know where this is going. Some of the most iconic scenes in Evangelion are when the EVA-01, the protagonist Shinji’s mecha, goes berserk. During these pivotal moments, Shinji somehow falls unconscious or is unable to fight, and the EVA roars to life with a mind of its own. It fights like a beast, clawing, biting, and tearing. Its chilling cry becomes a wake-up call to the human characters who believed that they could control all of this technology and power. In the cases of both Ideon and Evangelion, the power granted to the heroes ironically creates a sense of helplessness because of the loss of control. Unlike older giant robot anime, such as Mazinger Z or even Reideen the Brave which featured a similarly sentient super robot, the spirit of the hero, or indeed all of humanity, is made to feel small and insignificant in Ideon and Evangelion. Where Evangelion differs is in its deeply introspective focus, of characters and the deep, torturous labyrinths of their psyches, and so it would be incorrect to say that Evangelion simply copied Ideon.

The Ideon TV series ends more abruptly than almost any other anime you will ever see, and a proper finale would be provided in the form of two movies, one recap and one conclusion. In the movies, the secrets of the Ideon are explored, and it’s through those secrets that further connections to Evangelion can be seen. The second movie, Be Invoked, reveals what causes Ideon to awaken and gain power: life energy. The Ideon throughout the series appears to respond better to children than to adults, and even better to babies. Though there is nothing explicitly written as to why this is the case, and I’m inserting my own interpretation into this to an extent, I believe that it has to do with the fact that children are both more full of life, and are not as warped by their experiences as the cold, cynical adults.

As the fight between the humans and the Buff Clan rages on, it turns out that meteors have been raining down on both planets, wiping out their homes. The implication behind these mutual apocalypses is that the Ideon itself and its Id energy have been testing the two sides to see if they can reach some sort of peace. Because the two sides refused to understand each other and just kept on fighting, the Ideon basically decided that both civilizations are not worth saving as they are. Hence, meteors. Ultimately, even as this is all happening, the Ideon fights the Buff Clan’s ultimate weapon, the Ganda Rowa. The two destroy each other, triggering a massive explosion that wipes out life on the surrounding planets. The spirits of those who died, both human and Buff, gather together as if all is behind them.

A few similarities to Evangelion appear here. First, the effectiveness of children as a source of “power” for the Ideon is similar to how the Evangelions appear to only function when piloted by 14-year-olds. Second, the protective element of the Ideon towards those children resembles how the EVAs have souls within them that (for the most part) are the mothers of the pilots themselves, who go berserk to save their children. Third, the Ideon’s desire to bring these two warring civilizations, and the final moments of Ideon itself, resemble the Human Instrumentality Project at the center of Evangelion. The Human Instrumentality Project is the idea that, by having all of humanity merge together, we will be free from the problems caused by people being unable to properly communicate their feelings. When we are all as one, there will be no suffering. Again, however, even if you factor out the newer works (the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, the manga’s alternative ending), Evangelion does not say the same things because of the greater focus on individual characters and their personal emotions. Ideon thinks on more of a macro scale than Evangelion‘s micro approach, despite the fact that both series involve the death of humanity.

Overall, the influence of Ideon on Evangelion can be summarized as the exploration of humans having to deal with powers beyond their control, and the apocalyptic consequences of those who continue to make mistakes even with this knowledge in mind. I hope this has been useful to you, and if there is anyone who would like to add new points, expand upon the existing ones above, or even argue against them, I welcome you to make a response.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

 

 

 

 

Correcting Past Failures Through the Super Robot Wars Games

The Super Robot Wars series, which crosses over various mecha anime across history in the form of turn-based strategy video games, is known for trying to make giant robots look their best. One way in which this is accomplished is through the attack animations, which have become increasingly detailed, dynamic, and beautiful as graphics have improved, such that even the less popular and even less good-looking series of yesteryear appear to have a new lease on life.

However, on a few occasions there will be an attack, even an ultimate attack, that will within the context of the source material be followed by failure or tragedy, and I find it pretty funny to see when the makers of the Super Robot Wars games try to compensate for this in some way. Below are a few examples.

(Spoilers for some series below).

The first comes from King of Braves Gaogaigar Final.

The mighty King J-Der, rival and ally to Gaogaigar, launches its strongest attack, the J-Phoenix. In the OVAs, this attack is unsuccessful in taking down the enemy, but of course you can’t have that happen in the video game. I personally interpret that pause at the end of the attack animation in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 to be a vestige of that past failure.

The second example comes from Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen (also known as Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!).

In the final battle, archetypal hero Kabuto Kouji sends a shower of Rocket Punches at Dr. Hell, ending it off with a final blow with a “Big Bang Punch.” However, in the actual anime, while the attack succeeds, the consequences are revealed immediately after to be arguably worse than if Kouji had not defeated Dr. Hell. It turns out that Dr. Hell, while evil, was also trying to prevent an even more evil force from succeeding. While this is acknowledged in the Super Robot Wars Z games through its story, as the games move along you can just keep using the attack mission after mission. The fact that the background doesn’t just suddenly turn red to signal further horrific developments almost feels as if something is missing.

The third comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

When the Angel Zeruel appears, it’s the toughest enemy that Ikari Shinji and the other Evangelion pilots have ever faced. At one point Asuka, desperate to prove herself, launches a non-stop artillery volley at the Angel, only for it to prove utterly ineffective. In the anime, this is one of the stepping stones to Asuka’s total breakdown at the end of the series, but in the video from Super Robot Wars MX below shows it being used to defeat opponents with few problems.

As I mentioned, most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars don’t really have this issue, and generally it’s all about celebrating their successes and having fun with characters from multiple series working together. Though, if most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars were to come from failures in the original anime, that might say something about where mecha anime as a genre has gone.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

[Waku Waku +NYC] Before the Death of Superman, There Was Ultraman

A couple of days ago Google had a Doodle celebrating the birthday of the creator of Ultraman, Tsuburaya Eiji. I wrote a post over at the Waku Waku +NYC Blog talking about the influence and impact of Ultraman. It talks about the Australian Ultraman, Evangelion, and more.

I’ve Been Wanting to Draw this Comic for a While

orbitalbombardment-small