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

Note: This post topic was requested by Johnny Trovato through Patreon. If you’d like to see a particular topic on Ogiue Maniax, consider becoming a sponsor.

One of the interesting things about the 2014 Aikatsu! Episode “Halloween Night Party”  is how it showed that the holiday was relatively new in Japan. Characters repeatedly translate the English “trick or treat” into a Japanese explanatory sentence as if to hammer home the concept. The first few seasons of Aikatsu! didn’t even have Halloween episodes. But it’s been five years since then, and while it hasn’t been a straight line, the concept of “Halloween” is integrated into Aikatsu! pretty thoroughly. At the same time, the degree to which they embrace Halloween varies significantly, as if it’s unclear from year to year how much they should push for Halloween.

2015’s “YOU! GO! KYOTO!” perhaps barely qualifies as a Halloween episode. Instead, the focus is on a trip in Kansai, where the main trio gets together with Hattori Yuu, a friend of Akari’s who’s made a name for herself as a “tour guide idol” of sorts. The girls help her out with a Halloween special, and they do a themed performance as a follow-up. The lack of “trick or treat” is noticeable.

2016’s “Halloween Magic” returns to the Halloween episode format from 2014, albeit with an entirely different cast of characters in Aikatsu Stars! Not only do they bring back explaining what “trick or treat” means, but they even include a special competition just like in “Halloween Night Party.” This episode stands out to me more than any of the others simply because of Rola’s taiyaki outfit, seen above. Taking a relatively serious character and having her go around in the most ridiculous getup without even batting an eye speaks to her character having a certain charming roundedness. I have to wonder if maybe the concept of Halloween needs to be introduced again for newer, younger viewers coming in. Also, while “Halloween Night Party” made a reference to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Halloween Magic” has one of the characters moonwalk while doing MJ-style “Whoo!”s, as if to say that the King of Pop is as much a part of Halloween as pumpkins and candy.

2017’s “Halloween Surprise” from Aikatsu Stars! places extra emphasis on the “trick” in “trick or treat,” albeit without actually using the words. The second half of this particular series involves a rivalry with another idol school, so the idea of competing takes on a new dimension in this Halloween episode compared to previous ones. Here, participants lose when their heart rate goes over a certain level, so the two sides have to try and scare or surprise one another. It’s kind of a twist on the original formula, and it does a decent job of acting as the stage for a bit of character growth on the character Koharu’s part. There’s a greater emphasis on using Halloween as an opportunity for pushing storylines compared to previous years. Also, for some reason, they reuse the costumes from the previous year. Could it be out of convenience (they already have the character designs laid out), or perhaps the costumes were just that popular?

2018’s “Aine’s Halloween Panic” from Aikatsu Friends! Incorporates Halloween into the show pretty thoroughly without drawing a ton of attention to it. Aine, the most recent heroine, has split off from her Aikatsu partner Mio so that they can train separately and come back stronger than ever. For this purpose, she plays the part in a TV special of a girl who discovers her senpai is a witch. The magical focus is the clear tie to Halloween, but once again there’s no “trick or treat.” In fact, there’s only one trick, as Mirai (seen above) tries to scare a couple characters during the episode. They treat Halloween as the most natural thing—is it a sign that it’s approaching Christmas in terms of cultural integration in Japan?

Looking at all these episodes, a couple things stick out to me.

First, it really is a shame that Yurika, the vampire-inspired idol from the first series, didn’t get any Halloween episodes when she was a more common character due to the relative lack of exposure for the holiday.

Second, the notion of “trick or treat” as a package deal seems to ebb and flow, but its constituent parts, i.e. pranks and candy, remain. One thing worth pointing out is that the tradition of going door to door to trick or treat never took hold in Japan, so maybe it’s no surprise that it would end up as something less codified. That being said, I’m aware that even in the US, trick or treat (especially in big cities) is more organized these days for safety purposes.

So what remains is the aesthetics of Halloween, costumes and all, with a cultural twist. That includes a taiyaki costume, and there’s even one girl in Aikatsu Friends! who dresses as a jiangshi (Chinese hopping ghost popular in Japan). Also, I guess Michael Jackson is part of that aesthetic as well.

Given that the pattern for Aikatsu! Halloween episodes exists, but that each year puts its own spin on the idea, I’m curious to see what direction this year’s takes. Because 2018’s Aikatsu Friends episode took a less upfront approach, could this one be more in the classic style? And with the new giant crossover series Aikatsu On Parade! on its way in 2020, Halloween Idol Activities might very well combine the styles of all previous shows.

 

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A Look Back at an Aikatsu! Halloween

In the spirit of the month, I was asked by Patreon sponsor Johnny Trovato to look at one of the Halloween episodes of Aikatsu! I chose episode 106 of the original series, which takes place after Akari has become the new main character. It’s a fun episode characteristic of all that is good and enjoyable in Aikatsu!, though a few elements stood out in particular.

Whenever the characters say, “Trick or treat!” they immediately follow by explaining in Japanese what exactly that means: “If you don’t give me candy, I’m going to play a trick on you!” It’s a redundancy that not only has to make up for the language barrier—a little kid might not know the English words—but also speaks to the fact that Halloween as a concept is still relatively new in Japan. If you look online, you’ll find articles talking about how it didn’t get any traction until the 21st century, and now it’s featured in multiple anime.

I wouldn’t read too deeply Aikatsu!‘s interpretation of Halloween—I reckon it’s as much tinged with the Idol Activities spirit as anything else. If the episode didn’t feature some wacky game that highlights all of the characters lovable quirks, then I would’ve been shocked. That’s where Aikatsu! consistently shines, though. You just know that if they’re doing a Halloween episode, vampire-style Idol Toudou Yurika is going to have a moment. They even make the expected (and desired) joke that Yurika wearing a cape and fangs while exclaiming that she’ll suck your blood isn’t that different from how she normally behaves.

“The day Yurika visited your Halloween party was the most important day of your life. But to me, it was Tuesday.”

I watched this episode semi-isolated from the rest of the series, so I don’t know exactly what has transpired beforehand. However, it reinforces something I’ve felt about Aikatsu! in general, which is that the first season’s characters seem to have the most clear-cut personalities, which makes it easier to do these silly one-off episodes. I still don’t always quite get what Akari and her friends are supposed to be like. They seem a tad more subdued, which can work better over the long term but maybe isn’t as attention-grabbing at first sight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA#t=9m5s

It would be remiss of me to end this post without mentioning the teacher, Johnny Bepp, and his unnamed homage to Michael Jackson. With a vaguely “Thriller”-esque piece playing in the background, Johnny-sensei encourages the students to do the famous zombie dance (or whatever it’s called), which exhausts every student around—except Akari. I would think that a dance sequence from one of the finest performers ever would be absolutely grueling for even the girls at an idol academy, though in hindsight I guess this is actually a bit of characterization for Akari as a girl with immense stamina. In this case, I don’t know if it’s the “obvious” gag per se, but the payoff is again reliably satisfying. Kudos, Aikatsu!

Given that this episode is quite a few years old at this point, I am curious to see how the Aikatsu! Halloween episodes have evolved as the holiday itself has become more popular in Japan. Maybe that’ll be something for next year!

 

Halloween Means Precure!

I’ve come to realize that my favorite Halloween-themed episodes in anime come from the Precure franchise. This might be because it runs all year long (thus making holiday celebrations a common part of the shows), but I also think the mix of magic (in the form of magical girls) on a night associated with the occult works in its favor. Out of the many Halloween-themed instances of Precure, three stand out in particular: an episode of Suite Precure, another from Maho Girls Precure, and the movie Go! Princesss Precure: Go! Go!! Gorgeous Triple Feature

Before I proceed, here’s the requisite SPOILER WARNING.

Suite Pretty Cure

One of my main criticisms of Suite Precure is that, once a major character development moment passes, the show acts as if the new status quo is the way it’s always been. The key example of this is when the character Siren goes from antagonistic cat character to fellow human Precure. All of her history as a villain is seemingly forgotten after a couple episodes. The one major exception comes in the Halloween episode, where the now-Kurokawa Ellen dresses up as a cat girl. When a classmate asks about her costume, Ellen (without missing a beat) casually begins to mention that she used to be a cat, which prompts the other Precures to jump in and brush it off as a joke. It’s a clever bit of continuity in a show which often put it on the back burner.

The character Atarashi Ako is herself dressed as a princess, which is also a joke based on her true identity. Amusement all around!

Maho Girls Precure

The Harry Potter-esque world of Maho Girls Precure lends itself perfectly to a Halloween episode. One of the running jokes of the series is the way that visitors from the Magical World will sometimes forget that they’re supposed to be hiding their identity and will just casually mention things that the Muggles (so to speak) shouldn’t know. Halloween is presented as a major exception, because in the festive, costumed environment, magicians can come as they are because people will think they’re dressed for the occasion. Even then, the Maho Girls find a way to push the limits. The star of the show in this instance is probably Haa-chan, the third Precure and by far the most powerful of the trio in terms of magic. She appears throughout the episode in bizarre costumes, like a mummy complete with sarcophagus, and an alien being taken away by Men in Black.

It’s just a fine episode of nudges and winks and fulfilling the expectations one might have for a Halloween episode in a show about wizarding magical girls.

Go! Princess Precure

Go! Princess Precure: Go! Go!! Gorgeous Triple Feature is actually an entire Halloween-themed movie, consisting of two shorts and one longer standard Precure movie. It was (appropriately) released on October 31, 2015. Go! Princess is already one of the strongest entries in the franchise, and many of its strengths—animation, charismatic characters, strong and positive themes—can be seen in the movie. Interestingly, the main thing the film seems to take from Halloween is the prominence of pumpkins. Whether they’re jack o’ lanterns or pumpkin desserts, the iconic Halloween vegetable seems to overshadow the costume and trick or treat aspects of the holiday. In a way, it’s probably the best of the three story-wise, but the weakest in terms of Halloween hijinks.

I do need to make a special mention in regards to the movie-exclusive transformation, though. The Cures here have a special Halloween-themed power-up that is appropriately flashy.

So those are some of my favorite Halloween anime. In the 90s, the holiday wasn’t a big deal in Japan, but has grown in prominence over the past couple of decades. If we were to move away from Halloween the holiday and more towards “monster”-themed anime, then Kore wa Zombie Desuka? would rank much higher. If you have your own special Halloween shows, feel free to leave a comment.

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 support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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It’s Halloween, but it’s not Cosplay

Tomorrow I’m going to a one-day-early Halloween party where costumes are mandatory, and so I’ve decided to go as an anime character. I won’t say which one, but don’t worry, I’m not going dressed as Ogiue. While I’m going to a Halloween party as an anime character, in my mind I don’t consider it cosplay. There’s a distinction I’ve created in my mind, and I don’t know how valid it is, but I think it has to do with the amount of effort exerted in making the costume.

Aside from a few minor purchases, the costume I’ve assembled is base primarily on clothing I own already, and none of it required any sort of modifications. I am not sacrificing my existing clothing and transforming any of it into permanent costume status, nor have I done any handiwork to make it more than it already is. This is why I believe myself to be “dressing up” for Halloween and not “cosplaying” for Halloween.

Nothing wrong with cosplay, though I try not to get involved with the cosplay community to any great extent. It’s more of a personal mental thing, this situation of mine.

Girls, are you having trouble coming up with a Halloween costume?

Might I recommend the “Ogiue” costume.

Ogiue wears plenty of outfits throughout the series, so clothing-wise there shouldn’t be too much trouble. You can go with the classic hoodie from her first appearance, but make sure to wrap your arm in bandages to go with it. Alternately you can go for Ogiue incognito at Comic Festival. Wearing men-sized shirts is also Ogiue-appropriate. And there’s always the Renko cosplay option.

The hair of course is the difficult part and seeing as my hair is not long I can’t give any real tips. Perhaps you could construct a fude out of a spare large paint brush, or create some sort of fude clip to add to your existing hair. If this is too much trouble, don’t forget that Ogiue has other hairstyles, such as the high school hairstyle (perfect in conjunction with incognito Ogi), the junior high style, or even the heavy side bangs from volume 9.

And to top it off, secretly carry some yaoi.