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.

 

Thinking About Hong Kong Through the Lens of G Gundam

Hong Kong has been on my mind a lot as of late. Earlier in the year, I began re-watching Mobile Fighter G Gundam, an anime in which the latter half of the series takes place primarily in the futuristic “Neo-Hong Kong.” A few months earlier, I actually visited Hong Kong for the second time ever—the first time was three decades ago when I could barely remember a thing. Then, in recent weeks, news of Hong Kong has been dominated by the ongoing protests there in response to the Mainland Chinese government. This confluence of events has me wondering about how Hong Kong was traditionally portrayed in media, and imagining the possible Hong Kongs that could have been.

Giant robot fighting tournament aside, the Hong Kong of G Gundam is close to the classic portrayal of the territory in the 1980s and 1990s: tall buildings and a mix of glitz and grime, much like in Bloodsport or the countless works to come out of the famed Hong Kong film industry. One major difference between fiction and reality is that in G Gundam, the Neo-Hong Kong government is the sovereign ruler of all nations—a consequence of winning the previous “Gundam Fight” tournament. It’s extra ironic because G Gundam was made in 1994; that’s a mere three years before Hong Kong was to be returned to China after two hundred years as a British colony. According to a talk by director Imagawa Yasuhiro, the producers of G Gundam were aware of this and didn’t care.

While Neo-Hong Kong being the world’s foremost power is portrayed as a double-edged sword, especially in how the appearance of prosperity hides the damage and decay of the Earth itself, seeing a Hong Kong so powerful contrasts with its relatively declining influence in the real world since 1997. Hong Kong had been a major player on the world stage due to the economic freedoms allowed by its British colony status, and the relationship between China and Hong Kong is meant to be “one country, two systems” in order to maintain the make-up of both, but there has long been a growing fear by residents of Hong Kong that this was never meant to last.

Two areas that point to Hong Kong receding from center stage are the film industry and the pop music industry. Hong Kong’s notoriety in movies is a shadow of its former self, while China increasingly funds and influences major Hollywood productions. Cantonese pop from Hong Kong, which swept Asia in previous decades, had a long lull that it seems to only be recovering from now. This stands out all the more because the prime minister of Neo Hong-Kong in G Gundam is named Wong Yun-Fat (a reference to famed director Chow Yun-Fat), and the fact that G Gundam itself has a full-on Cantopop soundtrack for the second half of the anime.

Visiting Hong Kong, I noticed how different each area of the territory is. Hong Kong island feels like it’s somewhere between London and New York’s Chinatown. Kowloon reminds me more of the Asian cities I’ve been to, and is also the namesake of Neo-Hong Kong’s Kowloon Gundam. I didn’t go to the New Territories, but I hear it’s where you live if you want to get away from everything else. Lantau Island, in the New Territories, is actually the site of the final battle in G Gundam. On Sundays, you’ll see countless girls, many in hijabs, occupying the street. That’s because it’s the only day out of the week that the domestic workers of Hong Kong—from Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian countries—have off. Hong Kong is a place of amalgams and contrasts that reflect an economy of haves and have-nots, not unlike the world of G Gundam.

Hong Kong is still significant in the world, but China’s economic rise is one of the biggest stories of the last two decades. Because of the mainland’s increasing global influence, it makes me doubtful that we’ll ever see more Neo-Hong Kongs in media, Hong Kongs that dominate the Earth. “Hong Kong as powerhouse” is an interesting narrative, but because it’s competing with the tale that the influential are seeking to weave, it might very well remain in the imagination.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Furuya Toru

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019 in Washington, DC. Furuya Toru is the voice behind famous anime characters such as Amuro Ray (Gundam), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and Seiya (Saint Seiya).

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Furuya. I have a few questions I’d like to get the answers to. First, you’re known for many famous roles, but one of your early major ones was Hoshi Hyuuma in Star of the Giants. What was it like working on the show with director Nagahama?

Furuya: That was an anime from almost fifty years ago, and back then I was a middle schooler, and back then, Nagahama-san wasn’t there at the recordings. So I actually don’t have too many memories with him, unfortunately.

Ogiue Maniax: I have another question about Star of the Giants. I’ve heard before that there is a famous episode where a pitch–a single pitch–takes the entire episode. I’ve had trouble finding out more about it. Do you recall this episode, and if so, do you remember what it was like to work on it?

Furuya: There wasn’t an episode where a single throw was one episode, but there was an episode where a single inning was one episode. The anime always did this thing where it would end at a really good place–the camera would stop at the ball right in the air, and many people would want to know what happened next. So I think that went on to be talked about as only one throw in that episode

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask about one of your recent roles. One of my favorite roles you’ve done is Casshern in Casshern Sins.

Furuya: With regards to Casshern, back then, I was at a point in time where I was thinking that I’ve gotten old and there’s lots of new people in the industry, and I’m not gonna have many main character roles like before. But then, Casshern from Casshern Sins was an offer I got directly from the director of Casshern Sins, director Yamauchi, who I had worked with previously on Saint Seiya. I was very honored at the fact that I was able to do the main character, and it was a while since I played a main character for a TV series. Unfortunately, maybe it was the overall theme being a bit dark and heavy, but it did not receive as good a reception as we hoped for, but I really like Casshern Sins.

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a really excellent show.

Furuya: [In English] Thank you so much!

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask you about another main character, one that’s more obscure: the main hero from the anime Groizer X. Did you know that the show is actually apparently quite beloved in Brazil?

Furuya: [In English] Really?! [in Japanese] I didn’t know at all. I’ve been to Brazil three times, and I  knew Saint Seiya was popular, but I never heard anything about Groizer X.

Ogiue Maniax: I read online that it was one of the first mecha shows to come to Brazil, so it influenced Brazil in terms of giant robot anime.

Furuya: I think the people there might not realize I did both Kaisaka Joe from Groizer X and Seiya from Saint Seiya.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is going back to your experience with directors. Director Tomino is known for being a very interesting person. As someone who has worked with him a lot, do you have any favorite stories or memorable experiences with Director Tomino?

Furuya: This is going back to Gundam, but back then, Gundam was a very new and novel concept for a show. As the person who came up with it, I thought he was a genius. I also thought he was a very scary person, but he actually came to all of the recordings we had, and he didn’t give too many directions. But back then, I remember that there were a lot of new female voice actors in the field, and lots of them were having a hard time doing their roles. So Director Tomino would actually be very caring to explain exactly how he wanted some acts to be done. So that was memorable.

Ogiue Maniax: Speaking of female voice actors in Gundam, I was recently watching an anime with Inoue You [the voice of Sayla Mass], and to me, you and Inoue both are fantastic voice actors. Sadly, she passed away, so I wanted to know if you have any lasting impressions or memories of her.

Furuya: You-san was in the business since childhood, so I really looked up to her. She was also a really good cook. Back in the Gundam days, after recording, we would go over to her place to have curry that she cooked.

Ogiue Maniax: That’s wonderful. 

When I think about your performances, you’re very good at playing characters of all ages–young, old, different personalities. Do you have any advice for, say, new voice actors who are trying to achieve that versatility?

Furuya: For new people in the voice acting field, I would actually say they should want to experience many things because my personal experience when I get new roles to play is that I go back and do some research on what kind of role this is, what kind of world this is, and what character I’m doing. I would think long and hard about what kind of voice that character would have. I would go as far as to act the same movements as the characters would be making. So I’d actually do it kind of like a play, where I would actually move the same way and give a thought as to what the character would move like, or what the world is like. In that sense, my approach towards those roles is the versatility I have, and to new voice actors, I would suggest them to get many new experiences so they can give more educated thought on how a character may sound like.

Ogiue Maniax: If there’s one message you’d want people to take away from Gundam, what would it be?

Furuya:

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you very much!

Tomino Yoshiyuki’s “Big Picture”: Why the Gundam Creator Can Be So Hit or Miss

Director Tomino Yoshiyuki is a perplexing figure in the anime industry. He’s the creator of Gundam, which makes him a legend to a certain type and generation of anime fan. He’s been described as passionate and even frightening by those who’ve worked with the man. Also, because his anime range from legendary to seemingly non-sequitur nonsense, Tomino has a George Lucas-esque reputation, where people can’t tell if he’s a genius, a fool, or a one-hit wonder. While this might mark Tomino as an inconsistent director, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that a major factor in the effectiveness of his anime is length. Tomino is a creator who’s better with longer-format series than shorter works.

I think one of the roots of all this is the way he approaches setting up an anime. In a recent episode of the Anime World Order podcast on the Tomino-helmed mid-2000s animation Wings of Rean, the hosts referenced an interview included with the DVD release. When asked  about his approach to film by using a classic ramen analogy (do you start with the ramen itself or with the steam that suggests its presence?), Tomino says that he prefers to start right at the point the noodles reach the lips—and if the lips are sexy, all the better. This seems like a very roundabout answer that might not make sense at first glance, but it’s actually a very good description of how Tomino constructs narratives.

Take Reideen the Brave, Tomino’s first ever directorial work on a giant robot anime. Instead of calmly introducing the main characters, the villains, the stakes, and finally the wondrous robot (as was typical of even the best robot shows of the time), Reideen the Brave‘s first episode comes a mile a minute. The main character, Hibiki Akira, is playing soccer with his friends! Suddenly, DEATH AND DESTRUCTION AROUND THE WORLD AS LANDMARKS CRUMBLE. A voice calls for a hero to awaken. It speaks directly to Akira and tells him the AGE OF DEMONS has come about, and that he needs something called “Reideen!” A LIGHTNING BOLT HITS AKIRA.

Keep in mind that, including the opening, less than five minutes have passed.

I love this first episode because it really puts the viewers into the thick of things and leaves us to try and piece together everything going on. As I’ve watched more and more of Tomino’s works, this is clearly a trend, evident in shows from all across his history with anime, such as Space Runaway Ideon, Overman King Gainer, and Gundam: Reconguista in G. It’s the directorial equivalent of shoving someone into the deep end of the pool and asking them to make it to the surface, and when there’s enough intrigue laid out, it can become a fine motivator to stick with a series. However, this can be a double-edged sword, and the other side of that blade produces his more maligned works, like Garzey’s Wing and Wings of Rean. If that rush of information isn’t compelling enough, or doesn’t leave enough meat to sink one’s teeth into, it becomes a poor framework to build on.

My belief is that Tomino is a “big picture, big philosophy” creator who tries to show fragments of a world to give it a sense of scope and significance. By doing this, he tries to actively challenge viewers to think about the real world. The issue is that the “little picture” often escapes him. This is perhaps why creating convincing romances is one of his weaknesses—the development of relationships is a very intimate and local thing. He does fine with established romances, and he’s great at placing a romance within the greater context of a world in motion, but the actual motions of love burgeoning between two people seems to escape him. Instead, he goes for instant love: newtype psychic explosions and the like.

When Tomino has enough room to really lay something out, like in Ideon or Mobile Suit Gundam (even though those two series originally had their runs cut short), the blanks he establishes in the beginning can be slowly fleshed out and given dimension by him or whatever staff he has. Turn A Gundam is probably the best example. It was allowed to run its full length without being cut down at the knees like those other earlier anime, and the result is just a sprawling story where emotions and human actions ripple through outer space.

However, it always seems as if Tomino tries to make “big picture” anime even when time is much more limited, and this is why the shorter works end up feeling so inscrutable. Longer works can breathe, but there’s literally not enough time to fully expand on the forces that Tomino is trying to convey in his works. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the five-minute Ring of Gundam is so incredibly obtuse, even compared to the infamy of Garzey’s Wing. Something like Reconguista in G falls in the middle. There’s a lot of rushing from one moment to the next, but also plenty of indicators of how the world has changed since the era of the old Gundam anime, and the unceremonious death of one of the series’ main antagonists works satisfyingly well given the groundwork laid out by those episodes. It’s just that individual character actions often go unexplained.

Tomino Yoshiyuki will continue to be a divisive creator because certain elements considered to be fundamental to good storytelling are things he either can’t do or doesn’t care for. However, his desire to convey big ideas,  challenge viewers politically, and make them put in work while watching his anime is something to admire. This approach is poorly served in shorter works, because Tomino doesn’t try to compromise, but if given enough room he produces some of anime’s greatest.

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Ogiue Maniax Talking Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans S2 on the Veef Show Podcast

It’s another go at Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans on the Veef Show! Following our season 1 podcast, we discuss the finale to this newest series. I’m warmer on the series while Veef is colder, but it’s interesting discussion overall.

Fight for Survival, Dream for the Future – Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Gundam is a massive and unwieldy franchise. With a history spanning over four decades of anime, sequels, spin-offs, alternate universes, and more, after a while the distinctions between each Gundam series starts to blur. Each time there’s supposed to be a “unique” take on Gundam, they will often carry enough of the common tropes to be familiar, or will slowly jettison the new elements in favor of going with the tried and true. This is the perpetual challenge that Gundam faces, so it is to my surprise that not only did I enjoy the recent Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans TV series (which is not the shocking part; I love Gundam in general), but that I felt it maintained its identity and its high quality despite it being just the kind of series set up to derail itself.

Iron-Blooded Orphan (IBO) takes place in a futuristic world where battles are waged using giant robots called mobile suits. The story centers around the characters Mikazuki Augus and Orga Itsuka, two boys who belong to the bottom-most rung of society, uncharitably called “human debris,” and who at the start of the series are essentially indentured child soldiers for a mercenary group. Early on, they and their fellow human debris rebel against their masters, create their own mercenary group called “Tekkadan,” and fight to try and find a place in a world that literally calls them garbage. Along the way, they meet a number of allies, notably Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a young aristocrat from Mars with lofty ideals of justice and equality, an encounter which changes their lives.

On the surface, Mikazuki as the pilot of the Gundam Barbatos appears to be cut from a certain cloth of Gundam protagonist. As a highly skilled pilot who has fought from a very young age and whose lack of expressiveness makes him appear emotionless, Mikazuki is descended from previous characters such as Heero Yuy from Gundam W and Setsuna F. Seiei from Gundam 00. Where Mikazuki differs from the other two is how IBO highlights his connections with Orga.

Mikazuki is cold and merciless to his enemies, but within his friendship with Orga (it’s perhaps better to call them “brothers”), there’s a very unique connection. Mikazuki is not an empty shell, but he sees in Orga a strong ambition, and he essentially acts as a right arm for the sake of his long-time companion. Similar relationships exist between Mikazuki and Kudelia, as well as between Mikazuki and a long-time female friend named Atra Mixta. Other notable characters are Naze Turbine, a man who literally has a harem of women as his ship’s crew but is actually more about empowering women by giving them skills and educations, and McGillis Fareed, a high-ranking officer who shows what happens when friendship and ambition collide. These characters and relationships are among the many that collectively create a narrative where camaraderie and family persist in the face of harsh odds. IBO never abandons that sense of family, and it is crucial to understanding the role of Tekkadan in all of the conflicts that occur as the series moves towards its conclusions.

One notable aspect of IBO relative to past Gundam series is that, in spite of the series being subjected to the dreaded “split-season” approach, it remains remarkably consistent. One of the major pitfalls of many mecha anime from Studio Sunrise over the past 10 years or so is a tendency to try and improve aspects of the series based on marketing and merchandising feedback. Often times, the series end up losing much of what made them special in the process, but this never really happens with IBO.

In terms of emphasizing toy sales over story, IBO actually shows a great deal of restraint. According to series lore, Gundam Barbatos is just one of 72 different Gundams used in a previous conflict known as the “Calamity War.” In another series, especially one more focused on profits from merchandise, it’s likely we would have seen all 72 show up onscreen. However, even at the conclusion of IBO, only a handful appear. The Barbatos itself is also supposed to have a feature that allows it to integrate the weapons and abilities of other mobile suits, but the anime never really puts this front and center. Changes that occur in the Barbatos more reflect the changes and traumas that Mikazuki goes through as the series progresses.

Because IBO keeps its feet firmly planted and doesn’t fly off-track in a desperate attempt to cater to market research, Tekkadan never stops feeling like Tekkadan. No matter how powerful Mikazuki becomes, and no matter how much Tekkadan’s forces are bolstered, they never stop feeling like an underdog. The steps they take to get further are microscopic compared to the vastness of what surrounds them, especially when it comes to the realm of human society. One of the recurring aspects of IBO highlights this well. While Tekkadan gains military power, their approach to life, which is to treat themselves as a family first and a mercenary group second, often leaves them lacking and inexperienced in terms of diplomacy. On multiple occasions, success on the battlefield is contrasted with failure politically.

The story told in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans feels like just a small slice of a vast world and history. Whether this is the end of the IBO universe or the start of something more, I come away immensely satisfied.

New York Comic Con 2016 Essay #3: The Artist Alley vs. My Expectations

For this year’s New York Comic Con (which is now months ago, whoops!), I’m doing something a bit different with my coverage. Instead of doing a standard con report, with overviews and opinions on panels, artist alley, etc., I’m going to be writing a series of essays based on things I saw at NYCC 2016. Think of it like extended thought exercises and musings inspired by the con.

While manga is closest to my heart, I love comics in general. Even if individual titles aren’t my cup of tea at times, and even if I find myself going back to Japanese comics more often than not (for reasons both rational and irrational), I never want to stop giving different types of comics a chance. This is one of the reasons I’m generally eager to visit the Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con. Though it’s been years since I looked forward to Wednesdays (the day when new comics in America come out), I still opened myself up to the artists of NYCC 2016 with a simple desire: I wanted to be wowed, to be drawn to them and convinced to read more.

Perhaps I set too unfair a standard for myself and for the artists there.

I want to emphasize that I think the New York Comic Con Artist’s Alley is full of incredible talent. These are hard-working artists, each of whom have their own stories when it comes to how they came to comics. Also, given that NYCC is built on American comics culture, a lot of it would be the things you’d expect: superheroes, graphic novels, and certain approaches to cartooning and anatomy that have grown out of the American tradition. I think all of these things are great and have their own unique strengths worth exploring, but when it came time to find something that, pardon the cliché, spoke to me, I just wasn’t able to.

I feel that the decision-making process I went through as I looked from booth to booth was vague, even to myself. It’s not that I had any specific criteria. For example, I enjoy seeing comics about cool girls doing cool things, but I’d find that the particular arrangements that existed in the Artist’s Alley fell into recurring categories that made them all blend together to a certain extent. If they weren’t female superheroes, they were girls who wanted to show how much they defy gender expectations. These are both very good things, but it’s as if, in the rush to seize these ideas and the momentum they carry (whether for profit, social consciousness, desire to create interesting stories, or something else entirely), they ended up collectively dulling the product in my eyes.

I believe that a lot of the problem lies with me. When you distance yourself from something as I have, you tend to look at it in broader strokes. The opposite is often true if you get too deep into something. For example, when it comes to anime I’m a long-time Gundam fan. I’ve seen nearly every series, and I appreciate the subtle nuances and varying approaches that they bring, for better or worse. To someone outside of Gundam fandom, it just all looks like robots fighting wars and characters giving speeches. Thus, when I looked at Artist’s Alley as this well of potential to bring me back into the fold, I think I was expecting it to have much more of a gravitational pull than it had any right to. After all, if you’re at an Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con, it’s natural to assume that you should already be into the stuff. It’s not the responsibility of the artists there to “convince me” to give American comics more of a chance, only to convince me to check out their work.

I still plan on taking a similar approach to Artist’s Alley next year with some adjustments. Instead of hoping for something to call out to me and speak directly to my soul, I’ll drift towards anything that catches my fancy. I shouldn’t expect a revolution, but I should at the very least leave the door open for minor reforms.