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Project Z Revived! “Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 1” Novel Review

Being a fan of Gaogaigar is to know joy and suffering. Its increasingly grandiose-yet-ever-personal story makes for one magnificent crescendo after another. But then, at the climax, fans were left with a bittersweet cliffhanger. The heroes we had cheered for were stuck in another galaxy, the only escapees the two alien boys who found loving home on Earth. For years, fans and characters alike were left in limbo, the one glimmer of hope—a proposed sequel called “Project Z”—dashed by sponsor and studio conflicts.

Then, out the blue, came a new light. Sunrise, the studio behind Gaogaigar, announced their own light novel imprint. From it has sprung The King of Braves Gaogaigar Novel 03: Hakai-oh – Gaogaigar vs. Betterman Part 1, a true novel sequel written by Takeda Yuuichirou, a former staff member on the Gaogaigar anime, and guided by Yonetani Yoshitomo, the original director. The book was created using Project Z as its foundation, so those who kept the fire alive for the Gutsy Galaxy Guard can finally be rewarded.

Note: There is also a two-part novelization of Gaogaigar Final, hence why this one is “Novel 03.” I’ve not read those prequel novels, so I don’t know what may have changed, or what new information might be available in them.

Plot

While there are many parts to Gaogaigar vs. Betterman, the main story focuses on Amami Mamoru and Kaidou Ikumi, the two extraterrestrial boys at the heart of the original anime. Where once they supported the brave robots, however, now they themselves are the pilots. Older and wiser but still full of passion, they pilot Gaogaigo, a combining mecha modeled after the original Gaogaigar with some added new powers. As the heroes of the new “Gutsy Global Guard, ” Mamoru and Ikumi must defend the Earth from old threats (namely the terrorist organization Bionet) and deal with a world where communications are crippled, all while trying to find a way to bring their old friends and comrades home. Looming over everything is a mysterious entity known as “Hakai-oh” (the “King of World-Conquerors”), whose visage appeared in the sky after a fateful event, and who bears an eerie resemblance Genesic Gaogaigar.

A Labor of Love

Thanks to the author and Yonetani’s efforts, the story is just jam-packed full of details from all facets of the Gaogaigar universe. That car above, shown for about five seconds at the start of Gaogaigar FINAL episode 2? That’s Polcott, a transforming robot that becomes a key member of the new GGG. Other new members of the Super Robot Corps reflect the use of Even the Gaogaigo is a “Neuro Mechanoid,” combining the Super Mechanoid technology featured in Gaogaigar with the Neuronoids of Betterman—a robot/occult horror series in the same universe. It makes sense, because without Galeon or Gaofar, they need something that can handle the burden of being the core machine.

Those are just a couple of details that show the unbelievable amount of love and care put into the novel. Whether it’s how characters have grown over a span of nine years, or connecting the mythos of Gaogaigar and Betterman together, or even drawing from all manner of obscure material without feeling forced, it made me happy to step back into its world. Of course, I wanted to know more than anything the fate of Guy and the rest of the old heroes (more on that later), but just seeing how the world has changed is a tremendous delight.

The Betterman side of the story is less prominent, but many of its elements permeate the story. An ongoing plot thread focuses on Lamia warning Mamoru and Ikumi of the threat of Hakai-oh, while also trying to convince his fellow Somniums if they should have a hand in the upcoming fight or leave humanity to their own devices. Many of the Betterman characters are also major players in the story. Chief Akamatsu, the designer of the Neuronoids, is the head of GGG (and apparently, Shishioh Liger’s son!). Sai Hinoki, the heroine, is a science and research officer at GGG as well. Seeing Keita and especially Hinoki at age 28 is wonderful in its own way.

Favorite Moments

Here are two of my favorite details from the novel. First, is that Mamoru still carries around his old GGG beeper. Second, is Gaogaigo’s use of Hell and Heaven. Much like in the real world, Earth in Gaogaigar is now filled with smartphones and the like, but 19-year-old Mamoru still holds onto that memento out of hope, and to keep his conviction to rescue everyone. That one item just says spades about where Mamoru is mentally and emotionally.

As for Hell and Heaven, fans of Gaogaigar might recall that the way this finishing technique worked was by combining the protective powers of Gaogaigar’s left side with the destructive properties of its right, allowing Gaogaigar to remove Zonder cores without harming them in the process. Gaogaigo’s works differently. Instead, it takes advantage of the fact that its copilots are Ikumi and Mamoru, bringing together the former’s J-Jewel energy with the latter’s G-Stone energy—a combination shown in Gaogaigar Final to create a power far more than the sum of its parts. Working with the technology, resources, and heroes they have, the Gutsy Global Guard have figured out different ways to protect the Earth.

Other Details

The novel comes with a number of extras. There’s a side story all about what happens with Ikumi when he landed in Australia unconscious (as briefly shown in Gaogaigar Final, above). Afterwords written by Yonetani and Takeda are very revealing and informative, chronicling the struggles of the original toyetic Gaogaigar production, the feeling that there wasn’t enough space to do everything desired in Gaogaigar Final, and the long path to making Gaogaigar vs. Betterman happen. The novel also includes an entire Gaogaigar glossary for every obscure term you might need to know, in addition to a timeline stating where every event—yes even the “Silverion Hammer” side story as well as random side stories from drama CDs—occurs within the Gaogaigar/Betterman universe.

Like other novels/light novels, illustrations are included throughout. Character drawings are by the original character designer, Kimura Takahiro (one of my favorites!), with mecha designs by Nakatani Seiichi, who was an animation director on the original Gaogaigar. The mecha drawings seem kind of weak overall, but I think that’s just because they seem a bit rushed or lacking in polish. Nakatani can clearly do good things with robot designs; they just lack dynamism on still pages.

The Big Questions

Now, I know a good chunk of you want to know what actually happens in the novel. You’ve been waiting years and years to find out the fate of Guy and the rest. So let’s get into…

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS (Highlight to view)
The very start of Gaogaigar vs. Betterman has the old GGG crew (plus Soldat J and friends) trying to get back to Earth through special wormhole technology from Galeon. After that first chapter, no trace of them is seen…until the climax at the end of the book. Mamoru and Ikumi, along with the other new GGG members, travel to Jupiter to confront Hakai-oh, who’s been compressing Jupiter into a black hole (or something like it). During the fight, which also includes an ally in an awesome combined Betterman (built from the monstrous forms of the Somniums), Guy suddenly emerges from a rift in space! Apparently, the rest of the old crew had went ahead previously, but their whereabouts are unknown. Guy, meanwhile, confirms that Hakai-oh is indeed Genesic Gaogaigar, but somehow controlled by a primal force that is the original source of THE POWER.
Guy is without a robot of his own to fight, but thanks to the Limpid Channel through which the Somniums communicate (featured in Betterman), Chief Akamatsu is able to talk to his uncle, Shishioh Leo, and bring along the prototype Phantom Gao. This allows Guy to form Gaofighgar and inform Mamoru and Ikumi of his main goal: get to Hakai-oh and rescue Galeon. However, during a grueling battle where they almost extract Galeon, the robot lion actually repels them and sends them away from Hakai-oh, sacrificing itself in the process. Guy is back (albeit the same age as ten years ago due to time dilation), Hakai-oh is still at large, and J and the old GGG are somewhere in the universe.
I have to admit that I jumped in my seat when Guy popped out. What’s even better is Guy hearing Mamoru’s deepened voice and not entirely recognizing him for a second. To Guy, Mamoru’s supposed to be this elementary school kid, and now he’s about the same age as when Guy first started piloting Gaogaigar. I may or may not have shed a tear.

Next Mission

Suffice it to say, I can’t wait for the next one. It truly feels good to have Gaogaigar back in my life.

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Kino’s Journey: The Ubiquity of the Light Novels vs. the Scarcity of the Anime

How do you end a series about observing humanity’s foibles with an action sequence involving a flock of angry sheep?

The answer is, “Who says it’s an ending?”

The 2017 anime of the light novel Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World is garnering mixed reviews. This is partly because the series seems to be less focused on atmosphere and consistent theme compared to the 2003 version, despite them taking from more or less the same source material. One major point of contention with the newer series is its choice of final episode, adapting the story “Field of Sheep”—a story that borders on Schwarzenegger-in-Commando-esque antics featuring a ring of fire, driving through sheep in a jeep, and a dramatic lone gunman standoff with the woolly foes.

Because the anime clearly skips around chronologically from episode to episode, I decided to take a look at which episodes come from which chapters. Out of a currently 21-volume light novel series, most are taken from around volumes 7 through 9. “Field of Sheep” is by far the newest story, coming in as the final chapter of Volume 20. It’s likely even the latest chapter at the time the 2017 anime went into production.

It seems unusual to end a series on such an odd note, but that’s only within the context of the anime. Kino’s Journey rarely gets new adaptations. There’s the 2003 series, the 2017 one, and two films in 2005 and 2007 in between. It’s been 14 years between TV series and 10 years between animated versions. It’s possible that it’ll take another 10-15 years to get another one, perhaps leaving fans scratching their heads.

But for light novel readers, it can’t really be considered an end by any stretch of the imagination. Even though it’s the last part of Volume 20, the sheep story is yet another entry into the world of Kino’s Journey, which shows no signs of stopping. A new volume has come out pretty consistently (about once or twice a year) for the past 17 years. Volume 21 just came out in October of 2017. In other words, to the anime viewer, “Field of Sheep” is an unusual curtain call. To the light novel fan, it’s just another stop in Kino’s travels.

I have to wonder if the point of adapting that sheep episode last is just a way to say, “Read the light novel!” Except, it only works in Japan (or if you can read Japanese). For those abroad who rely on anime to get their Kino’s Journey, they’re left in an arguably baaaad situation.

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Nerds in the Mist: Katou Megumi and the Role of the Non-Otaku

With a series title like How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, a certain image comes to mind. Given the existence of Japanese dating sims, the success of “raising sims” such as Gainax’s famous Princess Maker series, as well as the tendency towards popular otaku tropes such as nerd protagonists in harem situations, it’s easy to assume that the series is about creating a bland, milquetoast love interest. Is this an attempt to revive the old-style dating sim heroines such as Kamigishi Akari from To Heart, that childhood friend who once stood at the top of the harem totem pole? Is Katou Megumi, the titular “boring girlfriend”—more accurately “boring heroine” in Japanese—one man’s “ideal waifu” the way Asuna from Sword Art Online is, or something else entirely?

To my surprise, Megumi’s aggressive mediocrity actually turns out to be a subversion of her seeming purpose as a no-personality love interest or another character in the yamato nadeshiko mold. While the fact that the other characters keep talking about how aggressively mediocre she is might point in those directions, her role in Boring Girlfriend is closer to that of Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken—the “normal” one who contributes by being an outsider.

In works about groups of otaku there is often a non-otaku, though their purposes can differ. In Otaku no Video, the main character Ken is the “commoner” who gradually falls in love with the otaku lifestyle, while his girlfriend, Yoshiko, becomes increasing disgusted. The dating sim Comic Party (as well as its anime adaptations) follows a similar pattern, with protagonist Kazuki becoming more involved with doujinshi as his sporty childhood friend (and canon love interest) Mizuki just can’t seem to fathom what these nerds are jabbering about.

Owing to the fact that Genshiken gradually pushes its characters from the relative safety of a college environment into the real world, Saki as the non-otaku becomes a kind of guiding force. While she begins the series antagonizing the otaku and begrudging the fact that her boyfriend is an otaku, she eventually becomes a close friend whose understanding of human social interactions (notoriously lacking in otaku) provide answers that the others could not arrive at by themselves. While she isn’t as aggressive and outspoken as Saki, Megumi in Boring Girlfriend accomplishes the same things by being more observant than the perpetually self-centered and inward-looking otaku characters she has befriended.

Because Saki begins from a place similar to Yoshiko in Otaku no Video and Mizuki in Comic Party, Megumi doesn’t quite have the same development as her. Instead of that period of conflict with the otaku, the changing dynamic comes from the gradual reveal that Megumi indeed has a mind of her own, and that her seemingly mundane nature throws a wrench in the assumptions of the others. Moreover, her “boring” status provides a sharp contrast to the other girls in the series, who fall more in line with familiar tropes: a tsundere, an adorable underclassman, a cooldere, a tomboy cousin.

While those other characters have their origins in the same era that spawned Akari from To Heart and Mizuki from Comic Party, taste in otaku consumption has changed over time such that characters with more extreme and pronounced character traits tend to be more popular. The shape of “moe” has changed, and everyone but Megumi falls into that line. However, because Megumi is present, and because the series is named after her, it’s as if Boring Girlfriend is setting up and knocking down its own pieces to say, “Subtlety has its place.”

In this sense, How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend and Megumi remind me of two other series. The first is My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It’s a series that also goes against what its title implies and plays around with its characters supposed archetypes to create a greater sense of depth. The other is The World God Only Knows, which features the character Kosaka Chihiro. Though she has a different personality compared to Megumi, and that series has only one real otaku character, Chihiro fulfills the role of being defiantly “normal.” Her behavior runs against everything that Katsuragi Keima believes in as someone who bases his life entirely on dating sims, and Megumi by virtue of her supposed blandness accomplishes much the same.

 

Friendship Never Dies: Ojamajo Doremi 16

doremi16

A sequel is a curious thing, beholden to the expectations created by the original. If you stay too close to what came before, then the work runs the risk of being a pointless retread. Stray too far, and the spirit that made the work special can fade away. Across multiple year-long seasons, the magical girl anime Ojamajo Doremi, managed to never grow stale. Between its lived-in world, genuine respect for its young audience, characters both central and supporting who truly grow as human beings, and a sharp sense of both drama and humor, it’s an example worth holding up.

But what happens when the next sequel is not only removed from the elementary school days of the anime, but also in another medium entirely? That question is what brings me to the main topic of this review: Ojamajo Doremi 16, the first in a series of light novels that shine the spotlight on Harukaze Doremi and her friends in the exciting new world of high school.

At the end of Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan!, Doremi and her classmates graduate from elementary school. However, rather than continuing on into middle school together, Doremi and her closest friends all go their separate ways in pursuit of their dreams or in support of their loved ones. At the same time, while they had spent the last four years as witch apprentices, they ultimately decide to forego their abilities as they stood on the cusp of becoming full-fledged witches, preferring to live as humans. Three years have passed, and now high school is on the horizon. Doremi discovers that her old friend Senoo Aiko is in town, having moved back from Osaka, and together with Fujiwara Hazuki have reformed their original trio. Not surprisingly, their reunion also becomes a new encounter with the Witch World they had left as kids.

One of the challenges of the light novel comes in how to convey that these are the same characters as the ones from the anime, only older. To this end, the vocabulary of the first-person narrative of the light novel, Doremi’s that is, effectively conveys the idea that she’s matured quite a bit. At the same time, it is clearly Doremi speaking, as her voice sounds very close to the same girl from back then, whose clumsiness belied a special talent for inspiring others. The other characters share similar changes. It can be hard to imagine them as their current selves and not just picture their smaller selves from the anime, though the updated character designs from Umakoshi Yoshihiko (who worked on the Doremi anime originally) certainly help.

Another sign of this change comes in the form of romance. Love for the main cast was never much of a focus for the Doremi anime, and even in this light novel it doesn’t play the most major role, but it underlies many of the other stories that take place. Hazuki’s close friendship with misunderstood delinquent and (bad) trumpet player Yada from their elementary school days has blossomed into a full-on relationship. Aiko is mentioned as having had some boyfriends, but is currently single. Kotake, the boy who began the series picking on Doremi but clearly fell for her by the final TV series, has grown tall and handsome, as well as becoming the star of the high school soccer team, and their being 16 potentially allows them to communicate in ways that they could not as immature kids.

While there are plenty of differences, the actual feel of Doremi 16 in terms of how its stories are told feels right at home. Rather than try to tell one grandiose plot in the span of its 300-odd pages, the light novel tells many smaller stories that both stand alone well and build off of each other to varying degrees, creating the sense of connection between characters that Doremi as a series is so good at. One of Doremi‘s greatest strengths was its excellent side cast, and in Doremi 16 you get to find out how they’ve also grown, whether because they’re the focus of these new stories, or because they simply exist as part of the world.

Fiction-loving Yokokawa Nobuko became a successful manga creator in middle school alongside artist and friend Maruyama Miho. Segawa Onpu, idol and former magical girl antagonist, has struggled with the transition from child star to full-blown actress. Doremi 16 brings you right back into their stories, and it feels immensely satisfying catching up with them, and it never gives the impression that the light novel is simply asking its readers to wax nostalgic purely for its own sake.

At the same time, however, I have some doubts as to whether someone could approach Doremi 16 without any prior experience with the series. I do think it’s excellently written in general, but it relies heavily on a cast of characters that have been previously established through years of anime. While I believe that the light novel quickly sums up its characters well so that you can get an immediate sense of who they are, I’m not sure how much it would matter to a complete newbie to the Doremi universe that Nagato Kayoko, who once suffered from a crippling fear of going to school, has now actually won awards for academic excellence. New characters are established, but the return to the town of Misora where Doremi and the others live is a significant factor in this book’s appeal.

That might appear to contradict the notion that Ojamajo Doremi 16 isn’t just for nostalgia, but it would only truly be a nostalgia-focused work if its story simply dwelled on the good times of the past. Instead, Doremi 16 actively builds on the paths that the girls of Ojamajo Doremi take towards the future, and it encourages readers to similarly reflect on their own lives. Although the three years from elementary school to high school isn’t nearly as long of a wait as the seven-year lull prior to the light novel, I can imagine that the high school world of Doremi 16 is a reminder that time brings about change, and that friendship and discovery are on-going processes whose magics are well worth exploring.

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HEY YOU! RIDE THE SUBWAY: Kyo Girls Days Light Novel Review

In my recent visit to Kyoto, I discovered two interesting manifestations of Japan’s interest in anime and manga. The first I first came upon while taking public transit: posters featuring anime-style high school girls who act as mascots for the Kyoto Subway system’s “Ride the Subway” campaign. After being redesigned in 2015 to match a more contemporary anime aesthetic they’ve really caught on, and have even been featured in TV ads:

The second I had already planned to visit, which was the Kyoto International Manga Museum, an archive of countless manga from all decades that is open to the public. Like the girls of the Kyoto subway, the Manga Museum has its own mascot, Karasuma Miyu, to whom I was immediately drawn. I think it’s clear why, given her design:

miyu-and-mamyuu

Now aware of this Ogiue-esque character (though also clearly much more cheerful in comparison), I felt compelled to buy some kind, any kind, of Karasuma Miyu merchandise. This led me to the light novel known as Kyo Girls Days, written by Motoki and illustrated by Kamogawa. Featuring both the Kyoto Subway Girls and Karasuma Miyu, it not only celebrates the subway and the Manga Museum, but also Kyoto tourism in general.

kyogirlsdays

Kyo Girls Days follows best friends Uzumasa Moe, Matsuga Saki, and Ono Misa as they decide what to do for Golden Week. With an initial plan to visit “power spots” all across Kyoto, they end up running into Karasuma Miyu, who works at the manga museum. Not only a manga enthusiast but also a Shinto miko, Miyu imbues the girls with supernatural sight, allowing them to see the various kami and other spirits that populate the old capital that is Kyoto, and transforming their vacation adventure in unforeseen ways.

Light novels can often follow certain trends. They’re frequently designed to be adapted into anime and manga as part of a media mix. They’ll feature young protagonists to whom an otaku audience can relate, with narratives that emphasize wish fulfillment fantasies or twists on well-worn tropes. Others get more creative, and fight against the reputation of light novels as trashy and lacking in substance. However, a promotional light novel, especially one that is an offshoot of a city government effort to encourage more frequent use of its public transportation, is a unique beast all its own. While this means that there’s a certain inevitable sheen of safeness in Kyo Girls Days, the result is actually kind of pleasant given that there’s less concern over whether the narrative is trying to go for cheap titillation, or objective exploitation of the girls beyond their roles as mascots.

If anything, the exploitation takes the form of the girls being a little too upstanding as people. Moe’s primary qualities are her love of helping others and her encyclopedic knowledge of the Kyoto Subway. Saki is sporty and tomboyish, and Misa is the otaku of the group, who even bought a guitar because of K-On! Another important character, Tokyo transplant, photographer, and Moe’s classmate Shirakawa Sumi, is shy and nervous about befriending Moe. None of them have any particular flaws, the closest being that Saki is somewhat impatient, while Misa is kind of lazy and can often be late to gatherings. In fact, there’s actually a scene where Misa arrives late and blames it on the trains, and Moe’s response is basically, “That’s silly, the trains in Kyoto are never late!” as a reminder that, yes, this is promoting public transit.

Nowhere is Kyo Girls Days do-it-all character roster more apparent than in Miyu. She’s a manga fan who has the entire museum memorized. She’s lived abroad, and is not only fluent in both French and English but has extensive knowledge of French and American comics. On top of that, she can communicate with spirits on a regular basis. Miyu is all-powerful and carries within her the view point that manga is indeed international just as it says in the name of the Manga Museum. One other interesting wrinkle to her character being that she’s actually a college student, possibly as a reference nearby Kyoto Seika University’s famous manga program, which supports the Manga Museum.

And yet, I can’t really begrudge Kyo Girls Days. I knew what I was getting into as soon as I picked it up. After all, it’s like going to an aquarium and getting a picture book about the aquarium; no one should be shocked when it talks about how great things are and how everyone should visit. Conscious of that promotional aspect, the story and narrative are actually very fun and engaging. Even though Moe and the rest of the cast’s personalities and characters are a little too perfect, the portrayal of their lifelong friendship feels solid and convincing. Even the introductions of various Kyoto landmarks are interesting because they taught me a lot about the city, and a clever insertion of a quiz towards the end of the manga is a clever wink and nod to see if the reader has been really paying attention.

Another quality I enjoyed about the light novel is that all three of the subway girls speak in Kyoto dialect. It can be hard to follow, but it positions them as true Kyoto natives, and gives their portrayal a more authentic feel.

It’s unlikely that Kyo Girls Days will ever be translated officially, just because its main focus is getting native Japanese people to pay more attention to Kyoto and its subway system. It’s not really something that translates too well to an audience that enjoys light novels (or light novel adaptations) in other countries. At the same time, I wonder if it could be released by a Japanese tourism agency for use in the US and around the world. While it wouldn’t be serving the exact same purpose, it could still motivate people to travel to Japan and check out the Kyoto area.

Shimoneta, Censorship, and Education

Censorship is a difficult subject to explore because the battle over it is rife with conflicting and contradictory values. On the one hand, it usually derives from good intentions, specifically the desire to avoid exposing people to that which is deemed morally inappropriate. On the other hand, it can be a tool for control, especially when the standard for what is morally right is itself flawed through biases such as racism and misogyny. To create a work of fiction around the idea of censorship is to potentially step into a minefield.

Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist is an anime adapted from a light novel. Its premise is that Japan has outlawed dirty words, dirty thoughts, and of course dirty pictures in order to improve public moral health. High schooler Okuma Tanukichi is the son of an infamous “dirty-joke terrorist” who resents his father and seeks to reunite with his childhood love, Nishikonimya Anna, a symbol of purity and righteousness. However, he ends up getting roped into joining a dirty-joke terrorist organization known as SOX (substitute the O), led by a girl clad in only a cape and a pair of underwear on her head who goes by the name “Blue Snow.”

Though a comedy, I don’t find the series to be that funny. Then again, it would have been foolish of me to expect extremely clever jokes from a series premised around trying to restore people’s ability to shout, “PENIS!” Rather, what ended up interesting me was how it tackles censorship, and how I can’t find myself in total agreement with its ideas on the matter.

The world of Shimoneta, or more specifically the elite school in which most of its story takes place, is an environment where people are so sheltered from profanity, pornography, and obscenity that they cannot even recognize it when it is literally thrown in their face. Aside from a few eccentrics who are either extremely good at hiding their feelings or have their interests tied up in other things (one character’s interest in sex is mostly from a scientific point of view), they are mentally unable to process their own sexual desires. From here, I believe it is easy to see why a series like Shimoneta can be simultaneously uncomfortable yet thought-provoking even if one potentially disagrees with it. The idea that the removal of dirty jokes from a country has rendered its men and women psychologically immature could be utilized as both an argument against “political correctness” and an argument against oppression of people’s rights to be sexually active. After all, women are attacked both for having sex and not having sex.

Where Shimoneta stands on the subject feels somewhat unclear even after finishing the series, and this has a lot to do with the fact that the series is rife with anime and light novel tropes. Anna, for example, turns out to be a stereotypical yandere character whose burning desire for Tanukichi (she can literally smell his scent from hundreds of meters away) swings his view of her from aspiration to monster, while her large rack and hourglass figure clearly make her a sexually attractive character. At the same time, Anna is the very symbol of how a lack of sex education can negatively affect a person. Because she has been taught that righteousness is the polar opposite of profanity, she believes that anything she does in the name of righteousness is by definition pure, even if it involves pinning Tanukichi to the ground and trying to take his virginity against his will in highly sexually charged scenes.

What is Anna? Is her behavior more representative of a warning towards keeping people ignorant about sex, or is she a nymphomaniac designed to thrill the audience? For that matter, what is the ethical standing of a little girl character clearly designed for a lolicon audience, whose hair is shaped like a penis? Is it an innocent joke, or has it gone too far? And in this way, is Shimoneta directly commenting on actual society (assuming Japan but perhaps it can apply elsewhere)?

I feel that the ambiguity of that last question is what makes Shimoneta worth watching, at least for a few episodes. It opens up a potentially interesting conversation about how we view media, and even in disagreement I believe it can be a fruitful discussion.

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The Tears of Sound! Euphonium

Anime is no stranger to characters crying. Whether it’s Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star or the entire cast of Alien Nine, tears are fairly ubiquitous. Over the past 10 years, however, there’s been one studio that’s stood at the top of the salt mine, and that’s Kyoto Animation. When they animate characters bawling, the tears are so physical, so three-dimensional that they practically become characters unto themselves.

Kyoani’s new show, Sound! Euphonium is no exception to this trend. Particularly in the penultimate Episode 12, the main character Oumae Kumiko has a scene where she just cries her eyes out. However, while on a technical level this is what we’ve come to expect, within the contest of the narrative itself the tears in Euphonium they take on a new meaning compared to their old works.

[Spoiler warning]

What makes Kumiko’s tears different and indeed special within the greater works of Kyoto Animation is what they represent. In prior shows, tears generally came from some kind of deep trauma or suffering, as if the characters were so overwhelmed by their particular circumstances or the horrible truths of their existences that crying often meant a kind of cathartic, primal action. Reason gives way to sheer passion, so to speak, and the result is a very Key game-esque scenario, not surprising given how many Key games they’ve adapted.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 11.01.04 PM

However, in Sound! Euphonium, Kumiko’s tears are specifically tied to her reason and logic. They’re not caused by her simply being overwhelmed by emotion, but are also tied to the fact that she knows exactly what’s causing them. At that point believing that, despite all of the time and effort she poured into improving, that she would be denied the opportunity to play as part of the ensemble in one of the most important points for a Euphonium in their competitive recital, Kumiko’s tears are frustration towards inadequacy. In doing so, those same Kyoani blobs of liquid gushing out the character’s eyes transform from this generally moe trait to actually conveying the sheer weight of failure, or at least the self-perception of failure.

In a way, in older series from Kyoto Animation, the tears were about being not in control of one’s own life. In Sound! Euphonium, there’s still that sense of lack of control, but it’s paired with a character’s earnest attempt to master her own destiny, and to fall short in the process. Sorrow through action, rather than inaction, is what defines that moment in a series that already places more active motivation in its characters than many other similar series.

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