Love Live! April Fool’s “CYaZALEA☆Kiss”: References and In-Jokes

This year’s April Fool’s brought out one of the best things ever from Love Live!: the “announcement” of a new 80s-style action anime called CYaZALEA☆Kiss

But the Love Live! fandom and the 80s anime fandom generally don’t overlap, so I’m here to explain some of the jokes/references on both sides.

The name itself: “CYaZALEA☆Kiss”

The characters featured in this video are collectively known as Aqours (pronounced “aqua”), and are the heroines of the Love Live! Sunshine!! iteration of the franchise. These nine girls, in turn, are composed of three idol sub-units with their own distinct styles called CYaRon!, AZALEA, and Guilty Kiss. In the “plot” to this video, the three sub-units must join forces, but rather than calling them “Aqours,” their separate group names have just been mashed together.

It’s sort of like if you called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Leodonphalangelo.”

The narration is a spoof on Fist of the North Star

The introduction of a post-apocalyptic backdrop set in the year 20XX is a reference to the opening narration of Fist of the North Star, a violent 80s shounen series about a world-saving martial arts hero who can make bad guys explode with his fists. In the anime, the narrator explains how in the year 199X, the Earth was ravaged by nuclear war, setting the stage for the series. 

On top of that callback, the over-the-top voiceover featured in CYaZALEA☆Kiss is none other than Chiba Shigeru, the actual narrator from Fist of the North Star! Famously, he’s known for getting more and more ridiculous and impassioned over the course of that series, and he brings that very style to this April Fool’s gag:

The general feel of the opening is an homage to Saint Seiya

From the team aspect, to the outfits the girls wear, to even the swooping logo (featuring 80s cel-animation shakiness), the whole CYaZALEA☆Kiss endeavor is largely based around the 80s shounen manga and anime Saint Seiya. Following a group of heroes who gain special armor and cosmic powers based on the constellations, Saint Seiya is famous for pioneering the “armored pretty boys” genre, and was responsible for bringing many female readers to Shounen Jump.

The general art style is also very reminiscent of the aesthetics of Saint Seiya author, Kurumada Masami.

Sentai colors run amok

At the beginning of the opening video, all the girls in CYaZALEA☆Kiss announce their designated colors, similar to what’s often seen in Super Sentai and other tokusatsu works. But whereas those shows typically have six, maybe seven members at most, there are nine in this case. Not only does this cause a jumbled mess of talking-over, but the actual colors named can get very specific.

Chika: Mikan 

Riko: Sakura pink

Kanan: Emerald green

Dia: Red

You: Light blue

Yoshiko: White

Hanamaru: Yellow

Mari: Violet red

Ruby: Pink

These are the actual signature colors of their respective characters in Love Live! Sunshine!! too. If you buy a glow wand (or “light blade,” as they’re officially called), it’ll come with all nine of these colors.

Though perhaps not intentional, it also harkens back to the sentai parody anime Shinesman, which featured a team of red, gray, sepia, salmon pink, and moss green.

The character designer and artist for CYaZALEA☆Kiss is a famous 80s manga artist

While the overall look of this parody is based on Saint Seiya, the actual artist himself is not Kurumada but rather Shimamoto Kazuhiko, creator of Blazing Transfer Student and Aoi Honoo, aka Blue Blazes

Blazing Transfer Student is a ridiculous school fighting manga. Blue Blazes is an exaggerated semi-autobiographical work about Shimamoto’s time in art college, when his classmates included modern anime/manga luminaries such as Anno Hideaki of Evangelion fame. The former received a 1991 OVA by Gainax (the original Evangelion studio), while the latter was adapted into a TV drama in Japan in 2014.

What did you think of CYaZALEA☆Kiss? Did you appreciate it as an 80s anime/manga fan, as a Love Live! fan, or perhaps as both?

Recent Thoughts on Love Live's Nijigasaki High School Idol Club

In the past, the third Love Live! multimedia project, “Nijigasaki High School Idol Club” (previously known as “Perfect DREAM Project”), had somewhat eluded me in terms of its appeal. Certainly, when it comes to Love Live! In general, I’m usually something of a late adopter—it’s usually the anime adaptations that bring me in, as opposed to the games, magazines, or even the songs. I’m also not so big a fan that I’ll follow every crumb of information, or try to pick favorites before I’ve had a chance to learn about the characters.

Two things have changed since then: the Love Live! School Idol Festival All Stars mobile game (hereafter LLSIFAS) came out, and I attended a delayed viewing of the “Love Live! Fest” concert featuring the girls from all three generations. Together, they’ve given me a better insight into how this third Love Live! Is supposed to work, and its concept of “more individualized school idols” has me curious.

As soon as the nine Nijigasaki girls came out on stage at “Love Live! Fest,” it was clear that the thinking behind them diverged from what went into their predecessors. Rather than appearing as a nine-member unit with matching outfits, each of the singers/voice actors dressed like their characters, who themselves all have very different concert wardrobes. So instead of, say, having all of μ’s in white for “Snow Halation,” it was a hodgepodge ranging from a Swedish dress to a fancy nightgown to a kind of Vocaloid-esque ensemble. Their styles were incongruous, and intentionally so. As explained by one of the members, the theme of the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is to emphasize each girl’s uniqueness above all else. It’s quite a departure from previous Love Live! projects, which were all about nine girls working as one. 

Each of the Nijigasaki girls also has their own solo number (in addition to a couple of group songs), which is something that the members of μ’s and Aqours didn’t get until later. I think it actually helps convey what each of their personalities is like, as opposed to trying to figure out which girl is which when they’re all singing at the same time. Asaka Karin is supposed to have a more mature sex appeal, and it comes across in spades when she’s the only vocalist. Speaking of Karin, learning about her character was an experience. First, she came out and called herself the “sexy” one. Then, she called her fans “slaves.” Last, it showed her signature symbol: a high heel (hmm). It dawned on me that Karin (as well as the other eight girls) are likely all going for very different audiences from one another.

LLSIFAS somewhat departs from its mobile game predecessor by having more of an ongoing narrative in the story mode. In Chapter 1, you learn that the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is in a sorry state and on the verge of being shut down. Your goal is to bring back the old members and recruit some new ones, and you basically learn about each of the characters along the way. I think this has been effective in helping me get a better sense of what each of them is all about, with the heavy amount of interaction and the clearer direction doing a good job of showing how the characters are when there’s an obstacle to overcome. Still, I wonder why the forces that control Love Live! as a whole decided to move in this direction for their third endeavor.

I’m not ready to fully embrace Nijigasaki because I find that a bit of resistance is for the best when approaching idol franchises, even the continuation of one I’m already a fan of. The original Love Live! won me over even as I was very skeptical of it, and it took some time for me to enjoy Love Live! Sunshine!!, but it happened eventually. I don’t need to pick a favorite Nijigasaki girl, I don’t need to enjoy every song, and I don’t need to go all-in from the start. That said, I’m looking forward to how the more focused format of an anime will tell their story, and how this idea of individuality will play out. And with a fourth Love Live! project on the way, the Nijigasaki idols will become “senpai” themselves.

Aikatsu as Absurd Idol Anime Turning Point?

Every so often, I think about a specific kind of comic absurdity I see in many idol anime. It’s one thing for characters to be having pillow fights, but it’s another for the heroines to be digging miles-long tunnels, shooting lasers, and scaling treacherous cliff sides with the greatest of ease. Of the franchises that fall under this umbrella, I’ve started to wonder if Aikatsu! is actually a significant contributing factor, bridging the silliness of actual idol media appearances with the impossibility of cartoons. I’m much more of an anime fan than I am an idol fan, so my knowledge and experience in regards to the latter is limited, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I often see clips of idols on variety shows, as well as in their own video specials and the like. There’s a certain lightheartedness portrayed in these instances that creates the opportunity of laughs and gasps. It’s the kind of humor you see more in Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, which initially tried to be a little more “down to Earth” with their characters and presentation, though are willing to stretch the boundaries of believability. The difference between those examples and what we see out of Aikatsu, Purichan, and Show by Rock! (not exactly idols per se, but a similar vibe) is that these three franchises venture into a very different reality where even everyday interactions are colored by the strangeness of their worlds.

Take for example the go-to mantra of Aikatsu!: “Ai-katsu!” Characters chant it while exercising, practicing, and engaging in pretty much any situation. Sure, it’s just short for “idol activity (aidoru katsudou),” but the way the phrase is treated as this perfectly routine thing everyone understands sets the stage for series after series where the humor is about challenging expectations of what’s normal. Whether it’s the aforementioned climbing, chopping down trees like Paul Bunyan, or visiting an idol school that’s also literally a gigantic cruise ship, the girls of Aikatsu! do what their flesh and blood counterparts cannot—not always because it’s harder for the latter, but sometimes because the laws of real-world physics do not permit them to do the same thing.

So why do I point at Aikatsu! as a possible origin point? It’s because the closest series to it when Aikatsu! first began was Pretty Rhythm, and that franchise was the predecessor for Purichan. Over the course of that transition from Pretty Rhythm to Purichan, the humor changed to something more akin to Aikatsu’s. A little more distantly relevant is the Precure franchise, but even the magical superpowers on display there aren’t quite the same as the at-times Looney Tunes-esque slapstick and accepted norms of Aikatsu!-esque series.

I’m not a deep fan of any of the series mentioned (with the possible exception of Love Live!), so there’s a lot more to potentially deve into. If there’s anything I’m missing or clearly mistaken about, don’t hesitate to let me know.

PS: Today is an idol shared birthday between Hoshimiya Ichigo from Aikatsu! and Sonoda Umi from Love Live! You know what they say: “Beware the idols of March.”

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Play the Anime in Your Living Room: Discovering Anime Board Games and Card Games

When I think of anime and traditional games, e.g. card games and board games, the things that come to mind are Yu-Gi-Oh! or maybe something Pokemon-related. On the more hardcore end are games such as Weiss Schwarz, which allows you to build and cross over multiple series in a competitive TCG, or the digital card game Shadowverse, which carries an anime aesthetic.

What I never knew until very recently is the amount of anime and manga-themed games out there, as well as the degree to which they try to either faithfully capture the spirit of their source material or whatever idea it is they’re trying to convey.

The resource I found that gave me a bit of insight into how deep this rabbit hole goes is Hoobby.net’s Boardgamer section, which you can filter by “anime” or “manga.” Due to issues of accessibility and time, I haven’t had the chance to play any of them (and thus cannot actually give a real assessment), but I can appreciate their existence.

Some of the games focus on a broader theme from anime and manga. “Book Makers,” for instance, puts you in the role of readers of a shounen manga’s tournament arc, and you’re basically sending in reader surveys to determine which characters progress in the competition. Sadly, it seems like the game is out of print, or at least no longer has a functioning website. Perhaps the idea was too niche. Another game, “Light Novel Label,” has the player as a light novel editor fostering your authors.

Others are based on established properties, and it’s in that realm that the sheer variety of the games I found genuinely surprises me.

It’s one thing to have a simulated tactical board game based on Girls und Panzer. It’s a popular title and the competitive tank-battle motif plays perfectly into the format. Even the Love Live! board game isn’t terribly surprising, even if its concept of “make a sub-unit and gather more fans” is more of a stretch than GuP. Where it gets really wild is in examples like the Pop Team Epic card game and the Mayoiga: The Lost Village card game.

The Pop Team Epic card game, or more specifically the “Pop Team Epic KUSO [SHITTY] Card Game,” is actively designed to be hilarious but also kind of anti-fun–appropriate for such a trollish manga and anime series. In the instructions, it says, “Whoever remains is the winner. If all players are out, then Bandai Corporation is declared the winner.” The Lost Village’s card game seems to be a mystery/horror game where you play as five of the characters from the anime and try to survive your trauma, but anyone who’s seen that TV series knows that it does not lend itself well to a board game, and perhaps not even to an anime. The most important thing is that you can indeed play as the breakout “star” of the series, Hyouketsu no Judgeness.

Perhaps the most shocking game I found in terms of just existing is the board game for Genma Taisen, aka Harmageddon, from 1983. It’s not entirely out of left field, but I just never expected that anyone would have tried to distill that series into some kind of playable format, though the fact that it predates the Famicom might be a contributing factor.

A lot of the games don’t seem to have much longevity, which is tragic in its own way. Maybe someone will see one of the less beloved games and give it a second chance, and sparking some kind of second wind. Until then, they seem more like curios and conversation pieces.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Ogiue Maniax Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

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.

 

Idols in Flux: Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow

After months and months of waiting, the film Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow finally hit US theaters for a special two-day event. Although cut from the same cloth as the first Love Live! film, it manages to go in interesting directions while also working extra hard to wrap up the loose threads of the Love Live! Sunshine!! TV series, all while putting an emphasis on fun, friendship, and family.

TV SERIES SPOILERS BELOW

After the third-years Kanan, Dia, and Mari graduate, Chika and the rest of the remaining Aqours members decide to continue as Aqours. When they find out that their new school doesn’t have a high opinion of them and the other former students of Uranohoshi Girls’ High School, they resolve to use their school idols skills to win over the skeptics, but they seem to be in a funk. Thanks to some advice from their former rivals, Saint Snow, they seek out the third-years to figure out what they’re missing—a journey that takes them to Italy and back.

Much like the first Love Live! The School Idol Movie, Over the Rainbow is a direct sequel to the end of a TV show where the main characters travel to a foreign country to figure out what they want to do with their immediate futures. Where the new film differs is that by having Aqours continue on—unlike the group μ’s from the previous series—it feels less like one last hurrah and more a move into the future yet unseen. If μ’s comes across as mythical because of how they came and went, Aqours is more historical in that their story keeps going.

The film can feel disconnected at times due to the way it often emphasizes the simple idea of seeing the girls of Love Live! Sunshine!! enjoying themselves and having a good time at the expense of greater coherency, but it makes for an entertaining piece that never feels boring or tedious. Central to this positive atmosphere are the multiple song and dance numbers that push the film squarely into “musical” territory, though the best song of the entire film comes from a somewhat unexpected source.

Also of note is the movie’s side story about the Saint Snow sisters, Sarah and Leah. The latter’s guilt over botching a crucial performance in the TV series is the central pillar of their narrative here, and the way it’s both explored and resolved a alongside Aqours’s troubles is possibly my favorite part of the whole thing. I actually considered titling this review “Saint Snow: The School Idol Movie.” Seeing them also made me realize that Sarah and Leah are basically if Ruby were the older sister and Dia were the younger.

Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow is undoubtedly meant for existing fans first and foremost, but the overall positive vibes and the emotional journeys the characters take feel relatable and resonant for even those unfamiliar or skeptical of Love Live! as a franchise. It encourages viewers to accept change as an opportunity and to believe again when hope seems lost.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Inoue Kikuko

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019. I had the opportunity to sit down with voice actor Inoue Kikuko for an extended period, so this is a longer interview than usual. Inoue is known for many roles, such as Belldandy in Oh My Goddess! and Aina Sahalin in Gundam: 08th MS Team.

Ogiue Maniax: Hello, Inoue-san, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have many questions, as you have an illustrious career, and I’m looking forward to this interview.

Inoue: I’m pleased to hear that! Thank you!

Ogiue Maniax: First, I’d like to ask you about one of your most recent roles, as Tachibana Mayumi, the mother character in Mix. What is it like working on the series and how familiar were you with Adachi Mitsuru’s manga prior to working on the show?

Inoue: With regards to the manga artist Adachi Mitsuru, you could almost make his work a genre—the Adachi Mitsuru genre of manga. They’re very close to my heart, and I don’t think it’s just me who thinks so. Most of the Japanese people I know who read manga might feel the same as me. I believe that in a way, you can say it’s almost nationwide, his manga. So when I got the role for Tachibana Mayumi in Mix, I was very happy that I was able to become the mother of the main characters.

This is because I believe that Adachi Mitsuru manga are very unique—very docile, very gentle. This is something we are seeing less and less of these days, with the very fast-paced and exciting styles of anime these days, but Adachi Mitsuru has a style that’s more slow-paced and gentle, but very deep in thought. So I believe these are distinct and very unique values too that are very important in this day and age, and I am very happy to take part in such a great work.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is about the character Aina Sahalin in Gundam 08th MS Team. It was a series that ended up with two directors due to the unfortunate passing of Director Kanda. How would you compare working with Director Iida to working with Director Kanda on 08th MS Team?


Inoue: With regards to Aina, back when I got the role for her, I was a relatively new voice actor, and I believed that Gundam was far beyond what I was able to do back then. I was auditioning for many things but not all auditions would go great, and Gundam was a very big franchise even back then, so being able to get the role of Aina was a special moment for me.

The director Kanda-san wasn’t someone I was able to talk to often, as I was a very new voice actor at the time, and I couldn’t really muster up the courage to go and talk to him as much as I would have liked to. In that sense, I regret not being able to get the courage back then because when Kanda-san passed away, I had very sad thoughts because I wasn’t able to talk to him anymore.

When Iida-san took over the project, I believe that the 08th MS Team story had been passed on in terms of the theme still being there, and I do believe we—Kanda-san, Iida-san, and I—were all on the same page in terms of saying that in war, you have these things happen. There’s an anti-war message in there, and in that sense, I believe we were all on the same page, and Iida-san took on the torch after Kanda-san very nicely.

Ogiue Maniax: You’re generally known for playing very gentle and kind characters, but one character you’re also known for is I-No in the Guilty Gear series is famously extremely rude and aggressive. What do you focus on differently when playing a character like I-No, as opposed to your other more famous roles?

Inoue: In terms of characters I’ve played, I-No is a very unique character because she’s very foul-mouthed, one might say. So when I got the lines for I-No in the studio, I was actually going, “I can’t say this out loud! But I’m a voice actor, so I have to overcome this, right?” So I went in there and shouted horrible things, and I didn’t know how to feel. But now, when I look back, I really feel that I grew as a voice actor then, and now I love the character very much.

At first, I felt kind of bad for saying her lines, and I didn’t really comfortable saying them, but after a while it actually became pleasurable.

Ogiue Maniax: More recently, you’ve been playing characters who are not just motherly and kind but literally mothers. I noticed that, often-times, even though they’re small parts, they are quite memorable, and people remember your characters even though they appear for only one or two characters. Two examples I can think of are Ban Kenji’s mom in Heartcatch Precure and Nishikino Maki’s mom in Love Live! How do you enjoy these roles, and do you bring your own ever bring your own experiences as a mother to your performance?

Inoue: When I was still a new voice actor, the very first role I ever got as a regular role was as a mother character. That was when I was in my 20s, when I wasn’t a mother, but I still got a mother character. And after that, another mother character. And after that, another mother character. All of these characters I had were mothers, so I actually thought, “What is it like to be a mother?” I referred to my mother, as she’s the kindest person I know of, and I actually think she’s the kindest mother in this world, so I would channel her into myself and make myself act like her. But after becoming a mother, I noticed that I was taking these roles very naturally, and I didn’t have to refer back to my mother on all these literal mother roles. It might have become second nature

Ogiue Maniax: Your daughter, Inoue Honoka, is also in voice acting. Has there been any advice you gave her about working in the industry?

Inoue: At first, when Honoka said she wanted to become a voice actor, I actually felt a bit uneasy because in this day and age, when the market has very talented people at such young ages, and it’s a very difficult place to succeed in. But I found out that she’s very studious and really wanted to become a voice actor, so I looked at her scripts, and at home, we would practice together. I’m not sure if this would count as advice, but what I said to her was, “When you speak, you’re not speaking with your mouth—you’re speaking with your heart. All these lines that you say, they’re from your heart, and your mouth is only where they come out. It’s really from the heart, so don’t let the mouth get to you.”

Ogiue Maniax: There’s a character you play in Fate/Grand Order named Scheherazade who has a growing friendship with a character named Nitocris. What do you think of that relationship, especially through the summer event?

Inoue: At first, I thought Scheherazade was very docile and didn’t have her emotions show on the surface, so I was very happy when these lines hinting at their friendship came up. Scheherazade felt lonely at first, so having a friend who comes up in her lines makes me feel happy for her now.

Ogiue Maniax: Another role that I think a lot of people remember you for is Kazami Mizuho in Please Teacher! How did you feel playing the role, and somewhat related, what was it like in your brief appearance in the anime Waiting in the Summer?

Inoue: As I referred to earlier, at the time of Please Teacher!, many of my roles were mother or big sister-type roles, and I still kept getting those roles. But Mizuho was a character who was a proper heroine in the sense of being a main female character. At the time, I was much older than when I first started out, so I thought I might not get the role, that it might be impossible for me. But when I auditioned, I got the role, so as a voice actor, getting the role of Mizuho was very significant. I actually thought that, after I had played Mizuho, I felt I had lived a good life, and that I didn’t have any regrets from then on.

In regards to my appearance in Waiting in the Summer, let’s just say that I can’t comment too much about the voice due to difficult reasons, so let’s just keep that a secret.

Ogiue Maniax: I’ve actually read that you voiced the character Princess Vespa in the Japanese dub of the American movie Spaceballs. It’s kind of a cult favorite in the US—did you know what it was before you played the part, and do you know how the movie was received in Japan?

Inoue: I actually had no idea that it had such a cult following in the US! It was such a long time ago, so I can’t remember what it felt back then, but I’m sure that one of the things I was thinking was, “Wow, what a movie! Are you even allowed to do this?” That’s one thing I’m certain I felt.

Ogiue Maniax: Going back to the fighting game genre, you played a character named Lily McGuire in the Fatal Fury OVAs and movie. What was it like working on that series, and what was it like acting opposite Terry Bogard’s voice actor, Nishikiori Kazukiyo, especially because he appears to have more experience in live-action than voice acting?

Inoue: Fatal Fury was a very memorable franchise because the director was Obari [Masami]-san, who was relatively young back then. When I think about directors, I always imagine someone relatively older than me, but he was very young, and it was a very fun project too. So I kind of thought that it was interesting how someone this young could have such an interesting project going.

As for Kazukiyo-san, is he from Johnny’s?

Ogiue Maniax: Yes.

Inoue: Oh, right! I couldn’t really talk to Kazukiyo-san much, so I can’t comment too much on him. Sorry about that!

Ogiue Maniax: This is my last question, to follow up on the previous one. Do you have any interesting stories about working with Obari-san on Fatal Fury?

Inoue: As I said earlier, for the question about 08th MS Team, back then, voice actors didn’t really talk too much with the directors directly. There was a big wall of people between the director and voice actors. We couldn’t talk too much to many of the directors, but Obari-san was actually a bit different. He was very friendly, and we were able to talk to him very openly. In that sense, he was a very kind character.

These days, I don’t work as often as I did back then, but being in the industry, being around a similar age when we were doing Fatal Fury, and having matured in the same time in the same industry, I feel proud every time I see his name in the credits of an anime. I am very pleased to have worked with him back then.

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you!

 

 

World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

Real vs. Perfect: The Two Opposing Idol Values

1983’s Creamy Mami was the first idol anime, and it made an idol out of Mami’s voice actor as well. Watching her videos from back then, a 15-year-old Ohta Takako comes across as awkward and unaccustomed to the spotlight, even in “Love Sarigenaku” above, her most “grown-up” song. Compared to many of the slickly produced pop hits of later years, Ohta can come across as almost unprofessional, but that’s exactly where her appeal lies. When it comes to Japanese idols, there are two general directions: “unrefined and real” or “polished and perfect.”

When comparing the Japanese idol juggernaut AKB48 to the K-Pop sensation Girls’ Generation (who have been enormously popular in Japan), the latter visually comes across as a much more “professional-looking” group. While calling them idolsTheir dance and choreography are on point, and their music videos make them look like a million bucks. But while the girls of AKB48 have a kind of awkwardness about them, and many aren’t the greatest singers, there’s a sense of them “trying their best,” and this is exactly what the fans want. In other words, perfection isn’t necessarily desired. It can be, but that strain of inexperience and perseverance is just as strong.

These dual forces can be seen in idol anime in spades. In Love Live! School Idol Project, the main characters are the ragtag group μ’s (pronounced “Muse”), and the defending champions are the practically-professional A-RISE, who come from the richest high school in Akihabara. In Aikatsu!, Hoshimiya Ichigo is shown as having some kind of natural spark of genuineness that contrasts her from the seemingly unassailable Kanzaki Mizuki. And in Macross Frontier, the main love triangle features, as seen above, the humble waitress Ranka Lee (right) vs. the sultry Sheryl Nome (left). In every case, what causes the “small fry” to ascend isn’t that they transform into polished and perfect idols, but that even as they improve, that unrefined and authentic quality shines through. Perhaps it says something that the main heroines of these shows tend to lean that way as well.

And yet, as touched on briefly in the beginning, voice actors who play idols in anime actually end up being idols themselves. When the girls of Love Live! hold live concerts their flaws come out, but that’s part of the appeal of seeing them in person. When watching the characters in the anime or in music videos, that imperfection doesn’t come across in the performances so much as in the dialogue and supporting materials. A similar phenomenon exists all the way back with Creamy Mami. She comes across as much more “polished” than Ohta Takako does, yet they share the same voice.

An interesting case of the strange interaction with the 2D vs. 3D and real vs. perfect contrasts are those that toe the line, like Hatsune Miku or virtual youtubers. With Miku, her limitations—the fact that her voice sounds robotic—is considered part of her appeal. With virtual youtubers, the fact that there’s a person performing behind the character is much more obvious, and the idea that they start to break down or break character is what lends a sense of “realness.”

In this regard, California-born Japanese idol Sally Amaki is especially interesting. A member of 22/7, an “anime-style characters” idol group in the vein of Love Live!, she plays the bilingual character Fujima Sakura while bringing along her own fans as Sally. Not only does she perform the virtual youtuber role as Sakura, but her native English fluency brings an interesting dynamic that highlights a sense of “realness,” especially for English-speaking fans. Not only is there often a contrast between Sally’s “cute, practiced idol” voice and her Californian mannerisms when switching between Japanese and English, but she’ll mention something that only someone growing up in the US would know off the cuff. This lets American fans connect with her sense of authenticity in ways that they might not have been able to in the past.

In the end, “real vs. perfect” is not a true dichotomy by any means, and every idol/idol group approaches that divide in different ways. Whether you’re an idol fan or not, which do you prefer?

Love Live! and the Four Tendencies

I recently read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, a self-help book about how to better understand certain facets of oneself and others. While it’s been helpful in my personal life, I also noticed that it can be an informative way to understand characters and character interactions in fiction. Often, characters are designed relative or in contrast to those around them, and seeing how they respond to each others’ expectations can shed a lot of light on those dynamics. For this blog post, I decided to take a look at how the four tendencies can apply to to the cast of the original Love Live! School Idol Project.

An explanation of the four tendencies can be found on Rubin’s blog:

In a nutshell, it distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution)…

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)

  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations

  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

So let’s take a look at the girls of μ’s!

First-Years

Hanayo is a questioner. At first, she seems like an obliger because she’d been unable to fulfill her childhood wish to become a school idol, but that’s more because she was convinced she couldn’t. Once persuaded, she fully embraces the idea. Same goes for taking over as president of the school idol club. When she does have a strong stance, such as rice being the best food in the universe, Hanayo is stalwart.

Rin is an obliger. Her main reason for becoming a school idol is to help Hanayo; otherwise, she’s relatively undisciplined if left to her own devices. She believed for most of her life that she couldn’t/shouldn’t wear skirts and dresses, but that’s more because she projected the standards of others onto herself. Only when the other μ’s girls give her new expectations to fulfill—that she can wear them and that she is beautiful—does she change her mind.

Maki is a questioner, and not just because her signature catch phrase is “What the heck?! You’re not making sense.” Left alone, Maki is extremely self-motivated and fulfills inner expectations easily—as seen in her goal of studying medicine, and when she writes a song for μ’s prior to joining. However, she won’t do anything she doesn’t think is off-base. Of course, sometimes that logic is “this would benefit Santa Claus”…

Second-Years

Honoka is a rebel. While it might seem unusual for the team leader to be the rebellious type, it’s clear that Honoka’s inner fire only blazes when something truly interests her, especially if others think she can’t do it. Her starting a school idol group is in itself the product of defying outer expectations. At the same time, she completely shirks both inward rigor if left to her own devices unless, again, it’s something she cares about from deep within.

Umi is a textbook upholder through and through. If her unmatched self-discipline and desire to ensure everything goes right wasn’t enough evidence, her love of schedules, regimens, and pie charts guarantee that she can’t be any other tendency. Her fear of having carefully laid plans go awry also points in this direction.

Kotori is an obliger. Considerate and prone to indecision, she’s at her best when supporting Honoka and Umi’s decisions. Even her costume-making seems motivated more by the positive expectations of others. Her alter ego, the legendary Akiba maid Minalinsky, is the result of her trying to work on her confidence—by being in a customer service job where she has to project strength and ease.

Third-Years

Nico is a rebel. She does what she wants, when she wants, unless she decides for herself that something is the right choice. She might seem like a questioner based on how much she researches proper idol etiquette, but it’s clear that she lives and dies even more by her passion. Before μ’s, she was always fully convinced she could be a school idol; it’s just that her drive and desire to actually keep it up was sapped by the resignation of her old partners. When μ’s calls her in to join them, she quickly falls back into her self-proclaimed role of “super idol.”

Eli is an upholder. Whether in μ’s or the student council, she still shows a strong sense of responsibility to both herself and those who need her. Mature and strong-willed, Eli will get everything done that she can, but on her terms. Eli also definitely isn’t a people pleaser, and believes in tough love as only a former Russian ballerina can—as seen when she first confronts the rest of the girls with what it means to truly be able to dance.

Nozomi is an obliger. On the surface, she looks like more like a rebel, but her backstory reveals that she values friendship above all else. Nozomi can be aloof because she’s suppporting Eli, and to a lesser extent the rest of the girls. In fact, Nozomi explains that seeing Eli essentially refuse to show any weakness is what drew her to befriending and helping Eli.

Overall

Doing this exercise made me realize are some of the vital distinctions between characters and how they behave. For example, while RIn might be seen as generally stronger than Hanayo due to her energy and fun-loving personality, you can see how their different responses to both outer and inner expectations shows that they complement each other in important ways. Of course, fiction doesn’t wholly map onto reality, and the four tendencies framework isn’t exactly a rigorous scientific study, so it’s not like these interpretations are set in stone. If you think certain characters better fit different tendencies than I’ve categorized, I’d love to see you responses!