I’m Pleasantly Surprised that Hidamari Sketch Hasn’t Ended

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Though I’ve been away from the series for a while, I recently read Volume 8 of the Hidamari Sketch manga. Rreleased in the US as Sunshine Sketch, it covers Sae and Hiro’s transition to college and the arrival of a new girl named Matsuri. With graduation and all that it typically entails in anime and manga, I expected this volume to be the last, so color me surprised when I found out that the series is still continuing.

Fan favorite K-On! had a similar change, but while I loved the move to college for K-On! and the transition into a new environment, I also know I’m the exception. It’s very telling that the series didn’t continue much longer after that. If I try to look at it from an unbiased perspective, it was perhaps too sudden a change in terms of how time seems to flow (or not flow, as the case may be) in K-On! Prior to graduation, Azusa is the only major underclassman in that series who was also a club member, and the rest were all of the same age. As a result, when they go to college, the focus shifts sharply away from their familiar and beloved high school setting, while the girls who remained in high school don’t have quite the group dynamic that readers loved over the years (even if Ui deservedly got more of a spotlight).

I don’t think Hidamari Sketch will have that problem, or at least not quite so much. When the series began, it was already about senpai and kouhai, whether that’s Sae and Hiro in contrast to Yuno and Miyako, or how later characters both older and younger are introduced. There is a greater sense of the forward progression through high school, even if Hidamari Sketch is moe slice of life comedy at its most mellow. Also, because it’s only a part of the cast moving on (not to mention that Sae, Hiro, and probably even Natsume still show up), the transition also doesn’t feel quite as jarring.

I’m looking forward to reading more, and I’m especially looking forward to Miyako as a terrifying high school senior.

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The Versatility of the Kyoani Face

Though a fair number of anime studios can be characterized to some extent by the types of shows they put out, the only current ones I can think of that have a house “look” on a character design level are P.A. Works (SHIROBAKO, Hanasaku Iroha) and Kyoto Animation (Suzumiya Haruhi, Tamako Market). I think this is especially noticeable with the latter studio, as the “Kyoani Face” is instantly recognizable, and is even sometimes imitated, such as with Sound of the Sky.

While watching the first episode of Kyoto Animation’s newest work, Sound! Euphonium, it occurred to me how versatile the Kyoani face is to a certain extent. It’s not so much that Sound! Euphonium alone that made me realize this, but rather that it was a slow culmination of watching their shows over the years. Namely, i find that their iconic face can be fitted, or perhaps was slowly adapted over the years, to match not only a variety of body types but also a range of character designs from cutesy caricature to more realistic proportions.

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The most obvious example of this would probably be the Free! character designs, shown above, but I think you can see it in their more historical tendency to make stories about cute high school girls. All of these characters are supposed to be roughly the same age, and yet while they share that signature look in terms of their faces, their bodies are all noticeably different. I’ve even made all of the characters the same “height” in order to emphasize this.

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From left to right: Ritsu from K-On!, Hazuki from Sound! Euphonium, and Gou from Free!

Of course, not every one of their shows uses the Kyoani face of course (Lucky Star being the notable exception), but I think it goes to show just how important that particular facial structure is to the identity of the studio. Otherwise why would they use it again and again? At the same time, I wonder if it also shows Kyoto Animation’s willingness to experiment, at least within their particular areas of specialty, in terms of both story and visuals.

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The Oginyan: Genshiken II, Chapter 62 Supplement

In Chapter 62 of Genshiken, nearly all of the girls cosplay, and in my review I talked about how appropriate it was that Ogiue would cosplay as Azusa from K-On! Upon reading the more recent chapters of the K-On! manga though, it hit me that Ogiue-as-Azusa is an even better fit than I first thought.

Ogiue and Azusa are somewhat similar in personality in that they both act stubborn but are in reality actually pretty easy to persuade, but they also have similar positions within their respective clubs and within their stories. Ogiue and Azusa are both younger members who join the current incarnations of their respective clubs after they have been well-established. They then both end up taking over their clubs after the other members graduate. In either case, this seemed like a good opportunity to stop the series. Genshiken was originally complete at volume 9, and for K-On!, rarely does a moe slice-of-life show about high school girls end up going past graduation (see Azumanga Daioh). But both series continue on, showing Ogiue and Azusa in their roles as leaders while also giving face time for the older former members.

There are also a bunch of smaller things, like how both clubs are notoriously bad at getting new recruits. With how Kio Shimoku ends each chapter with some line from an anime or manga title, I am 99% confident that he picked Azusa as Ogiue’s cosplay for these reasons.

Cross Fight, Cross Fight: Genshiken II, Chapter 62

What was once fated to shine brightly for a few moments in the grand scheme of the universe now has been given new life, as Genshiken II has shed its limited-time status and has revived itself as a fully serialized title. That’s right, Genshiken is back in full force and I can only be pleased by the news. Almost as if to symbolize this new beginning for Genshiken, Chapter 62 feels almost like another introduction to the series and the madness contained therein. Let’s take a look.

As Angela returns for her third trip to Japan and Yabusaki puts the finishing touches on her Fullmetal Alchemist doujinshi, Ogiue is working frantically to complete the second half of her debut as a legit manga artist. Luckily she has the help of the current Genshiken freshman as well as Sue, but the whole situation begins to derail when Hato becomes self-conscious of the fact that his facial hair is growing in. Yajima suggests that Hato wouldn’t have this problem if he dressed like a guy, given that guys aren’t embarrassed by facial hair, but Hato has no men’s clothing with him. Fortunately(?), Ohno left everyone some cosplay outfits, but things get quickly out of hand and everyone ends up working on Ogiue’s manga while cosplaying.  Even Ogiue decides to join the “party” in an effort to take responsibility. The chapter ends with Yabusaki coming in to help Ogiue, only to lecture them for goofing off. Naturally, Ohno deeply regrets not being around for this rare occasion of cosplay goodwill.

So, this heavy chapter obviously has a ton of references, and it’s not exactly big on character development, so I think it’s a good idea to find out just who they all are. Some of them I got, some of them I needed to do some internet detective work. Here’s a list of the costumes worn by each Genshiken member.

Yajima: Yagyuu Juubee Mitsuyoshi, the rather large and voluptuous heroine of Sekiganjuu Mitsuyoshi.

Hato: Ashikaga Yuuki, the cross-dressing main character of the School Days sequel, Cross Days.

Yoshitake: Kurashita Tsukimi, the Jellyfish-obsessed protagonist of Kuragehime.

Sue: The titular character of Comic Master J, a super manga assistant.

Ogiue: Nakano Azusa, underclassman guitarist from K-ON!

The entirety of Ohno’s selection for Hato consists of crossdressing characters. Though I can’t recognize all of them, at least one of them is Maria from Mariaholic. Yajima’s outfit is arguably the most embarrassing, coming from a manga series by the character designer of badonkadonk resource Real Drive, but given Yajima’s personality that must have been the most conservative outfit of the bunch. It’s interesting that Ohno would see “overweight girl” and interpret that as “cosplay as thick ladies,” though it makes sense in retrospect. Yajima’s outfit this chapter shows that she’s actually quite busty, and much like when Ogiue first cosplayed way back when though, it kind of makes you aware of the fact that Yajima’s baggy clothes are partially the result of shame. How appropriate it is then that Yoshitake is dressed as a character with a similar dilemma.

Ogiue as Azusa of course makes it own kind of sense, especially when you factor in the fact that the girls of the light music club pushed Azusa towards the Azunyan cat motif somewhat resembles Ohno’s own constant persuasion of Ogiue into cosplay. In fact, Ohno can draw a number of parallels to K-ON!‘s Yamanaka Sawako.

Interestingly, everyone except Ogiue is dressed as a main character, despite the fact that Ogiue was pretty much the central focus of the second half of the original Genshiken. If I were to be somewhat liberal with my interpretation, I’d say that this is symbolic of the direction of Genshiken II, where the new girls are starting to establish themselves as the main stars of the new series. As I’ve said before though, I’m quite okay with this, despite my fondness for Ogiue, as it feeds into one of the themes of Genshiken, that of the continuous renewal of the club.

Looking forward, with Angela around, the chances of a Sue-centric chapter rise greatly. And in the spirit of Sue, we’ll end with a fourth-wall-breaking image.

Left-Handed Basis for Purchase of Anime Goods

For many anime companies in the US, the million dollar question is, “Why are so many fans willing to spend so much money on anime-related merchandise but not anime itself?”

One avenue of thought says that because a lot of people download these shows or obtain them for free and do so for so long, a lot of them simply take having free shows for granted. Figures and posters and such, however, cannot be obtained for no money. But I think this is looking at things on too narrow a level. I believe there’s something that manifests itself in different ways according to different types of fans, from moe fans to Naruto devotees to mech heads.

I think there’s a strong desire to get closer to the characters and the world of the anime, beyond what an anime shows. Even if it’s not real, we want to get as close to real as possible. By buying that left-handed bass, a person can feel like they have a bond with Akiyama Mio. By buying that Temari fanart at a convention, a person can affirm their fondness for the sand kunoichi, and in a much more direct and efficient way than simply buying the Naruto anime (which as a whole has like, 2% Temari content tops). By buying that Master Grade Qubeley MK II, a person can bring the fantastic realism of a mobile suit into the actual reality of their home, with the tactile nature of model kit building also contributing.

For the most part, anime fans definitely enjoy the anime they watch, but the anime itself remains in its own world behind the TV screen or computer monitor. Fans want to pull that world past the 4th wall and engage it more directly. But it’s impossible to make the world of anime our own, so the best we can do is buy tangible products that let us get as close as possible.

The Light Pathos Club

The second season of K-On! begins with the girls of the light music club heading to their clubroom. Already there, Yui plays a quiet tune on her guitar evoking  a feeling of renewal and change tinged with nostalgia. The subdued nature of this first scene then carries over into the rest of the episode and beyond. As K-On!! has progressed, there has been a distinct overarching focus on the the idea that high school is almost over for the founders of Houkago Tea Time and that things will never be the same.

While present to a certain extent in the manga, Kyoto Animation’s adaptation seems to be focused on showing the subtle magic of the senior year of high school, before the girls become adults and get that much closer to the real world. A semi-running gag in the manga about the ex-student council president turning out to be Mio Fan #1 now features that same character as a mature college student looking fondly on her high school memories. An entire episode is devoted to Sawako, the club supervisor and closet former metalhead guitarist, and her recapturing some of the passion of her youth. In general, the lighting in K-On!! is very soft, again hinting at a strong feeling towards the ephemeral. The message from Kyoto Animation is loud and clear.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, as I think it’s an attempt to add a bit of depth to K-On!, but I’m not sure how much K-On! needs or even wants it. I understand that high school is a big deal and all. My memories of high school are among my most cherished, and it’s because I had very close friends with whom I could be myself, which is also the case in K-On!! However, because it was only somewhat there in the source material, some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and the end result is that it kind of feels forced in.

What are your thoughts on the direction K-On!! has taken?

K-On! Manga Too Extreme for TV

K-On!! episode 8 kind of disappointed me.

Before anyone knew that there would be  second season, I was reading K-On! manga. In one chapter, Yui is having trouble deciding her possible career path, and everyone else gives some idea of where they’re headed after high school. This includes Mugi, whose response clearly contains an underlying meaning.

If it wasn’t obvious before (and it was pretty obvious), Kotobuki Tsumugi plays for the other team. Not only that, but the sharper girls picked up on it long ago. She’s a lesbian, and others know she’s a lesbian. I laughed pretty hard when I first saw this, and it’s still one of my favorite moments from the manga.

So of course I was looking forward to this very scene in full color and animation once K-On!! was announced. And right when I realized episode 8 would be the episode, I sat there, waiting for the gag to hit.  I waited, and waited, and then… they removed it entirely?!

The only reference to it is that Mugi mentions going to an all-women university, but then it completely bypasses the setup and goes into some thing about the difficulty of the school she’s applying to.

Adapting a 4-koma manga into a full half-hour TV show requires adding extra material, but what gives? Did the K-On! manga cross some line that was unacceptable for Kyoto Animation? Are they worried that it damages Mugi’s image in some way? They animated a scene hinting at Mugi’s preferences in season 1, but in a situation where it’s made almost explicit, they shrink back in fear? Could it be that they think having her so clearly in the other camp might alienate some of her more devoted fans? Or perhaps their vision of Mugi doesn’t line up with the original author’s. It’s almost as is Kyoto Animation saw this and went, “Whoa! Too far! Are you trying to break the illusion?”

Maybe it’s the fact that it pretty much reveals Mugi as a lesbian lesbian, who likes girls, as opposed to just the one girl as you so often see in yuri material (especially yuri material written for guys). There, like in yaoi, the love seems to go “beyond” gender, but with Mugi that’s just how she is. So then I have to wonder if the problem is that it’s just too much to just outright state her sexual orientation in that manner.

Hopefully I’m wrong and they’re just saving the gag for another time. In that case I apologize for ruining the joke for people.

Oh and if you’re wondering, no, Mugi is not my favorite member of the band. I’m on Team Ritsu. But actually my favorite character is probably Nodoka.

Hah! It Was Only a Dream…

About two weeks ago, I made a post talking about the “spinning room” effect used in the opening to K-On!! Thinking that was going to be the end of it, I was surprised to have actually had a dream about the very same topic.

In the dream, I was showing someone the K-On!! opening, particularly the aforementioned effect, when suddenly the video started to act kind of funny. The video started to slow down, and at first I thought that maybe it was a problem with my computer as it’s not exactly what you would call “new,” but then the angle of the view itself changed, with greater focus on each individual character playing their instrument as the spinning room effect was still going on. I particularly remember the emphasis on Tsumugi and Ritsu, as the camera seemed to really sit there to showcase the size of their musical instruments.

Funny thing is that it actually took me a few hours after I woke up to even realize I had a dream, and didn’t actually try to show the K-On!! opening to someone. Also, I’m not sure if what I saw in my dream was the idealized version of the OP I had hoped for, but I think it was somewhere in that direction.

K-On and On and On!!

In college, a teacher gave me some good advice on animation. He was a 3-D animation teacher, and he knew full well how time-consuming it could be, and how rewarding it was to make something really impressive. His advice, however, was a message of artistic prudence. I don’t remember the exact words, but the message was basically, “Don’t get so attached to a bit of strong animation that you reuse it to excess.” I was reminded of his words while watching K-On!! (the second season of K-On!).

In the new opening, there’s a very distinct part where the camera pans around the five girls of Houkago Tea Time, and it’s really some impressive animation, especially because while the background of the clubroom is 2-D, the girls themselves are still animated in 2-D, and overall it looks pretty natural.

So it looks really nice. But then they use the effect again. And then a third time. At that point, I think it’s just excess.

The opening for the first season also had something similar, a shot where all the girls are playing together that gets reused about three times total. However, in my opinion the recycling isn’t as jarring for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t have that three-dimensional rotation effect going on like the new opening, where that piece is so different from the rest of the opening that you notice it immediately. The shot in K-On!! sticks out like a really nice-looking sore thumb, and it becomes all the more obvious when they use it another two times. Second, the first opening changes the background between usages of the stock animation, and while this can be seen as simply being lazy, the change in scenery makes the reuse more comfortable to the viewer.

If they really, really wanted to use the revolving camera effect that much, I think a good solution would have been to put more camera movement in the scenes right before that animation to ease the transition into it.

Not that Kyoto Animation is reading this blog, of course.