Deep in the Tiger’s Den is a Het Pairing: Sasuke × Sakura’s Doujinshi Popularity

When I traveled to Japan this past May, one of my activities was to visit various doujin shops such as Toranoana. I like to see what’s popular, to get a general image of trends among hardcore fans. Which titles are popular? Which characters? Which pairings? And unlike doujin events, where many artists release their own works more for passion than profit, Toranoana is about what sells.

In Akihabara, this means going to multiple Toranoana stores, each of which specialize in a certain demographic. One in particular is devoted to girls (though nothing prevents guys from entering and shopping there), and as expected it’s primarily filled with BL.

However, one major exception was actually Naruto. In a relatively small yet dedicated section, surrounded by guy-guy pairings in most every other title, heterosexual romance took to the majority of the Naruto shelf. Of those couples, Sakura × Sasuke was by far the most popular.

I’m not against Sasuke × Sakura by any means, but I have to wonder why does it hold such a special place among hardcore female anime and manga fans. Why is it to the point that other het pairings are outshone, and the normally dominant BL pairings fade into the distance in this one ninja-themed microcosm?

One thing I discovered while searching for reasons is that Sasuke × Sakura is perhaps the most popular straight romantic pairing in English-speaking Naruto fandom, and visibly popular among Japanese fans. Given that context, it might just be the case that its sheer prominence is able to overcome even the fujoshi hegemony of the girls’ doujin scene.

Perhaps one factor is that Sakura is an easy target for female readers to project themselves onto. She’s also closer to the two most important characters in the manga than anyone else. However, given that fujoshi popularity is usually based on the strength of the pairing itself than the individual characters, it makes me skeptical about Sasuke × Sakura being an exception, even if it is a heterosexual ship.

From what I’ve read, a common reason fans support Sakura is her sense of loyalty towards Sasuke. She’s willing to support him through thick and thin, and even oppose him when she feels he needs it. The scene where Sakura tries to stop Sasuke from leaving to join Orochimaru appears to have been a flashpoint for supporters and haters of Sasuke × Sakura, because the former saw Sasuke’s “thank you” and knocking Saa away as him reluctantly pushing away those he cares about, while the latter saw it as an example of Sasuke showing flat, platonic fondness at best. Given the actual outcome of the series—Sakura and Sasuke married and had a child—the fans clearly won out, with Sasuke’s behavior best described as “reliably angsty.” Even as husband and wife, Sasuke’s #1 gesture to show affection is to tap Sakura on the forehead, and then disappear for months or years on end, undergoing secret missions to protect his family Andy his village.

Sasuke × Sakura reigns strong as a premiere het pairing, and I’m not bothered one bit. If any fans would like to help me understand the SasuSaku mind further, feel free to comment!

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[New York Comic Con 2017] Mashima Hiro Panel Thoughts

New York Comic Con 2017’s biggest manga and anime guest was, without a doubt, Mashima Hiro. Mashima came to NYCC after concluding his most famous series, the hit shounen manga Fairy Tail, and he sat down for a couple of panels. While I only have a passing knowledge of Fairy Tail, I attended his Saturday retrospective panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom. An hour later, I came away with the sense that Mashima Hiro might be closest to the mindset of anime and manga fandom than other creators.

Because NYCC had another major shounen manga guest last year in Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi, and because Mashima himself mentioned during the panel that he considered Kishimoto his “rival,” I can’t help but compare the two. Listening to both of them explain their motivations painted two very different pictures. Kishimoto talked about how, at some point, Naruto became a story of redemption, while his becoming a father during the course of his manga’s serialization also influenced the messages he wanted to leave behind. Mashima, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the simple yet effective premise of “what would be cool?” Fairy Tail was apparently powered by questions such as “Who would win in a fight?” and “What kind of magic would be awesome to see?”

Combined with the greater amounts of fanservice in Fairy Tail—it seems as if, after a certain point, every panel in the series of a girl is pinup quality—it just seems like a series that didn’t have especially lofty goals, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a certain kind of purity, and has in its basis much of what makes shounen manga so popular in the first place. It’s part power fantasy, part adventure. The kinds of ideas floating around in Mashima’s head seem to be cut from the same cloth as much of the fandom, especially when taking into account Western fans. Fairy Tail in Japan is no match for One Piece, but I always get the impression that they’re much closer in popularity at least in the US. I feel like this fan space, where crossover dream battles are practically the potatoes of online discussion (the meat is “who do you ship?”), is one where Mashima’s mindset can thrive.

Chouchou and Body Confidence in Boruto

I’ve been enjoying Boruto: Naruto Next Generations quite a bit, even to my own surprise. The series is quite different from Naruto, akin to how the transition from Avatar: The Last Airbender to Avatar: Legend of Korra involves fundamental changes to the world. It’s a new era in the Hidden Leaf Village, and this is reflected in not just the setting, but how the newer generation of characters behave. One of my favorites in this regard is Chouchou, especially because of her body positivity.

As a daughter of the Akimichi clan, Chouchou is a heavyset character just like her father. However, unlike Chouji in his younger days, who was extremely sensitive about comments to his weight, Chouchou barely bats an eyelash to those who would call her fat. She’s confident in her lifestyle, and to anyone who points out how much she eats, she responds that it’s necessary for an energetic girl like herself. She may be larger than her peers, but it’s anything but a negative for Chouchou.

One of the biggest indicators that Chouchou is not meant to be your stereotypical fat character is that she lacks a “fat voice.” It’s very common in anime for overweight characters to have a rounder, deeper voice that is meant to accentuate their size. Instead, Chouchou sounds perky and fun to be around.

That being said, the “fat voice” does appear in an episode with a different character, a film actor who was fired because he put on too many pounds, so it’s not as if Boruto is entirely without fault in regards to its portrayal of fatness. Even so, Chouchou is still a step in the right direction.

 

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[APT507] Stepping Out of the Shadow: Reasons Why You Should Watch Boruto

I was a Naruto fan who stopped paying attention and then really enjoyed the Boruto movie. Now the new  Boruto TV series is out, and I’m actually fairly impressed. Check out my review over at Apartment 507.

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A Mission for Myself: New York Comic Con

General Thoughts

As New York Comic Con has come to rival San Diego Comic Con and become its east coast counterpart, the scope and demand of NYCC are constant points of consideration for any potential attendee. While the convention pretty much improves every year and little can be faulted for how it’s run, the guests they bring, and just the amount of stuff there is to do (aside from perhaps the inevitable over-emphasis on professional and industry panels), I find that there’s a certain evaluative process I notice my friends and me going through every year, which all boils down to the simple question: should I attend next year?

First and foremost, as an anime and manga fan I have to say that NYCC delivered, and in ways I hadn’t expected to affect me so deeply. This year, they most notably brought Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi and Uzumaki Naruto voice actress Takeuchi Junko and premiered Boruto: Naruto the Movie for the first time outside of Japan (see my review here). Aside from some hiccups in terms of the Hammerstein Ballroom venue—the overly strict no food policy went so far as to ban bottled water, and the concert-oriented seating obscured the screen for significant portions of the viewers—it was the most memorable part of the convention for me, and it brought me back to 13 years ago when I was at the height of my own Naruto fandom.

On top of that, the announcement of a Tiger & Bunny film helmed by Ron Howard was the biggest surprise by far of NYCC, and the opportunity to get a personal drawing from Attack on Titan animator Asano Kyouji was a rare treat. While I was unable to get Asano to draw Holon from Real Drive like I hoped (to be fair that show is 10 years old), this image of Sasha from Attack on Titan is the coolest thing I brought home from New York Comic Con:

However, my experience with NYCC made me realize just how disconnected I am from a lot of current fandoms. This isn’t to say that I disliked New York Comic Con, or what it does. I’ve always enjoyed the mix that New York Comic Con brought, between the opportunity to meet professional artists, the focus on entertainment media that has extended out from the superhero movie boom, and just the general celebration of nerd culture. However, partly because I was out of the country for four years, and partly because of my own general taste for things, I haven’t been as deep into certain popular works in recent years as I might have been in the past.

What really brought this point home to me was how much I enjoyed the Justice League Reunion panel. Seeing Carl Lumbly talk about bringing his cultural heritage to the role of the Martian Manhunter as an immigrant with a traumatic past, finding out that Justice League Unlimited was a clever and creative compromise with a soulless marketing engine that wished to use the cartoon purely as an action figure commercial, and hearing Kevin Conroy sing “Am I Blue?” flooded me with so many fond memories of what made that series great. It made me recall the character of A.M.A.Z.O. and how incredibly deep and interesting his story was, and the “Ask the Justice League” portion was downright hilarious, especially Martian Manhunter’s greatest enemy being “a villain made of flaming Oreos.” It made me want to find this feeling again within more non-Japanese works.

This is certainly not a criticism of the current state of animation; many fantastic works have been and are still being created. Rather, it has made me aware of just how much a connection to the “nerd mainstream,” as it were, fuels New York Comic Con. NYCC is a for-profit convention backed by the entertainment industry, and it will aim for the works that hit the widest audience, or at least the widest audience within a niche. This is what fuels the decision for a Firefly panel, or indeed inviting a manga megastar like Kishimoto. Rather it fuels my desire to expand my interests further than where they are currently, to get a better sense of the zeitgeist of current American (and non-American!) fandoms.

Exhibitor Hall, Artist Alley, and Panels

Again, when it comes to the actual con, there was much to enjoy. In the Exhibitor Hall, I got the chance
to try Street Fighter V, say, “Domo” to Ninja Slayer, and get that cool Sasha drawing from Asano.

The Artist Alley, as always, was a great place to meet artists, find out about new works, and see the trends that fuel the creators. Superheroes are a no-brainer, anime is less prominent but if it is it’ll be something that captured the imaginations of American fans, such as Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon. Stylistically, I made just one purchase at Artist Alley this year, issue 1 of a comic called Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk, the premise of which is exactly what it sounds like. The Artist Alley filled with everything from amateurs to industry veterans, with talent abound. However, I tasked myself with a challenge, which was to find something that spoke to me, that didn’t rely on name recognition, and that wasn’t too tempered by my own preferences for specific types of characters or heroes. Gudsnuk’s drawings resonated with me the most because of the humor and soft, cartoony style. If you’re curious, you can read the comic online for free.

The other highlight of the Artist Alley might have been seeing a small kid, probably no older than 6 or 7, hand a copy of Days of Future Past to Chris Claremont.

As for panels, it’s no secret that a for-profit con like NYCC will have a different flavor from a fan-oriented endeavor such as Otakon. I generally enjoy the latter kind more when it comes to programming, but NYCC has a pretty consistent track record of quality, possibly because it’s such a big deal now and encourages industry hosts to bring their A-Game, as seen with the Justice League Reunion.

The Kishimoto panel was a rare opportunity to get into the mind of one of manga’s most successful creators. While the questions were curated, the host did a great job of opening up Kishimoto, and I’m sure that him no longer having to keep deadlines or worry about how his answers might influence sales of Naruto allowed him to give responses that were a bit more candid than what is usually seen from Japanese guests. Probably the best thing I found out from the panel was the friendly rivalry shared by him and One Piece‘s Oda as Shounen Jump‘s two frontrunners, as well as the titles that influenced him most. That said, I hope the audience that was mostly silent after hearing Kishimoto mention Tezuka Osamu’s Phoenix get the chance to find out more.

“Push Boundaries Forward: Gender, Diversity and Representation in Comic Books,” featuring Marjorie Liu, Darryl Ayo, David Brothers, Amber Garza, Jeremy Whitley, Joey Stern, and Shannon Waters was one of many panels over the weekend that focused on addressing the changing dynamics of comics creators and readers. Both the audience questions and panelist answers showed a strong desire to move forward, to learn, and to understand that greater diversity in comics is a multifaceted challenge that never ends, and is ultimately beneficial to comics as a whole.

The Felicia Day panel was pure Q&A, and that’s exactly what the audience wanted out of it. Incredibly charismatic in that awkward way that appeals to geeks most, Felicia Day genuinely engaged her audience with an attitude that was both deeply caring and kind of flippant, bringing a realness to her answers. The best moment was when she complained that you couldn’t have sex with her character in Dragon Age 2, which her manager had ordered the studio against.

The Sunrise panel showed once again that they’re one of the direct-from-Japan studios to really get what it means to throw a panel. In addition to the surprising news about Tiger & Bunny, their announcements were varied and spoke to different portions of their audience. By the way, if you heard a couple of loud guys cheering for Giant Gorg, that was me and Patz from the Space Opera Satellite Podcast. We were serious, too. Giant Gorg is a rare series directed by the character designer of the original Gundam, and had been in licensing hell for years.

GORG!!!

Yo-kai Watch is also a thing.

Finally, I decided to attend a screening of a Love Live! concert, partly to satisfy my curiosity about this particular aspect of Love Live!‘s media mix, and to see the fan reaction. What I got out of it is exactly something I mentioned in my review of The School Idol Movie: the series is extremely malleable by fans, going from a warm, inspiring story full of interesting characters to a mountain of instant memes at the drop of a hat. As people shouted at the character Ayase Eli, “DON’T LET YOUR DREAMS BE DREAMS,” I wondered if that could somehow be parlayed into the slogan of Love Live!: “Make our dreams alive!”

Cosplay

As with most con reports at Ogiue Maniax, I’d like to leave off with some cosplay. Truth be told, I wasn’t digging a lot what I saw, but Sunday really turned it around.

Rediscovering the Ninja Spirit – Boruto: Naruto the Movie

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s New York Comic Con 2015 coverage. Major spoilers for the Naruto anime/manga and minor spoilers for Boruto: Naruto the Movie are included.

Once upon a time, I was a huge fan of Naruto. Having both read the manga and seen the anime from the very beginning, I can still remember what got me hooked onto the series in the first place. The rich world of competing ninja villages provided the space for elaborate and creative battles. The fact that every character, hero or villain or somewhere in between, had their own stories and their own pasts that shaped who they are made it so that Naruto could be so many things to so many people. I wanted explore their society, to imagine what powers and characters would appear next. I have many fond memories of Naruto that can be best summed up by the fact that, even if he was never among my favorite characters, Uzumaki Naruto himself embodied not only a sense of tragedy but also the drive and empathy to move forward and help those who are similarly lost.

At some point, however, I fell off the Naruto fan wagon. Sure, I still enjoyed it to an extent, and I more or less kept track of what was going on, but I found that the continuously escalating power creep of shounen manga and the ever-growing and unwieldy cast just made Naruto feel as if it had lost focus. I don’t mean that it didn’t know where it was going, but rather that when the series became chapter after chapter of gigantic, virtually city-sized attacks, those humble beginnings of Naruto and his companions trying to navigate their world got lost in the shuffle.

This is why I actually enjoyed Boruto: Naruto the Movie so much. It felt like a return to the foundations of what made Naruto great, yet also does not deny all of the artistic and narrative development that happened since then, power levels and all. It encapsulates Naruto and eternal friend/enemy/rival Uchiha Sasuke’s growth by showing how they pass their experience on to the next generation.

At the start of the Boruto, it’s been many years since Naruto saved the world. Naruto’s son is Boruto, whose mother is Hyuuga Hinata (who is my favorite Naruto character). Unlike Naruto, who was an orphan and shunned by his community due to housing the fox spirit, Boruto must deal with the fact that his father is the world’s greatest celebrity. Naruto, who has since fulfilled his dream of being Hokage, is so busy that this leaves little time for Naruto to be a father, and Boruto lashes out against that. Understanding between father and son, as well as the value of hard work, are ultimately the main themes of the film.

When I say that Boruto feels like a return to the Naruto of old without shunning what it became, what I mean is that it really captures a sense of the inner struggles of its characters within their elaborate world of ninja fantasy, while also communicating the passage of time perhaps better than the manga itself ever did. For the younger generation, it gives a strong sense of what motivates each and every character, while remaining sharp and complete as a story. For the older generation, one can feel the developments, through their interactions and especially through the fighting, that brought these familiar faces to where they are now. Rather than being in the haze of hundreds of chapters or episodes, the movie conveys just how much these characters have grown over the years, both within their universe and as characters in a work of fiction. When Naruto harnesses his ultimate powers, what jumps out is the sense of hard work, pain, and joy that led him to this point.

While Naruto has always been a story of generations, particularly the young both surpassing and learning from the old, a story dedicated to exploring the relationship between father and son is something new to the series. Sure, there was the arc where Naruto finally meets his father, among other examples, but for the most part Naruto is generally a manga and anime where parents’ legacies are more important than the parents themselves, who are either dead or in the background. Naruto was an orphan, Sasuke’s parents were murdered by his own brother, Sakura’s folks were still alive but hardly relevant. Now, not only is it Naruto and Hinata with children of their own, but most of the rest of the characters as well, and it’s a joy to see the direct connection between generations play out in greater detail.

I watched Boruto as part of the 2015 New York Comic Con, which, much to the delight of Naruto fans, invited Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi and Naruto voice actress Takeuchi Junko as guests. During his first interview of two, Kishimoto mentioned that he had remained true to his vision for the ending (which he came up with back in 2009), one where Naruto ultimately saves Sasuke from himself. Looking back, it made me realize just what Kishimoto had been going for at a point when Naruto as a story seemed to be getting crushed by the perils of long serialization (Naruto ran for 18 years). There was a point in the manga when it seemed to transform into the Sasuke Show, that it was it turn doomed to a fate of meandering and directional changes. Now, I realize that it was meant to show Sasuke’s descent into darkness so that Naruto could be the light that guides him out of it, but again, within that long weekly shounen struggle it’s all too easy to lose sight of the overall context.

In contrast, Boruto suffers no such issues, and that helps it stand out in a significant way. The movie keeps at a fine pace in spite of the gigantic cast of characters. It would be all too easy to falter by showing too many characters doing too many things, but this is really Boruto’s story in the end, and it’s a satisfying and heartfelt one.

The last thing I want to say is that, at certain points in the movie, I was on the verge of tears. Thinking back, I recall the same thing happening upon seeing the tragic story of Zabuza and Haku, Naruto’s first real antagonists, play out beautifully. It was at that point all those years ago when I realized that Naruto was something special, and Boruto feels very similar. A part of me, the part that remembers what it was like to first discover Naruto and to be fascinated by its world, would like the story of Uzumaki Boruto to go on, but overall I would be fine if this ends up being Naruto‘s swan song.

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Naruto: Victory is Mine!!!

Naruto final chapters SPOILERS.

As an anime fan, I don’t have a lot of character pairings to which I’m super devoted. However, the closest I come to having a true “ship” is Naruto x Hinata. Based on how their relationship began and has developed over the course of Naruto, I find that it makes the most sense, and had hoped that Hinata would have her happy ending. After all, Hinata saw before anyone else how hard-working Naruto is, and was the first to understand his pain, wile Naruto is the catalyst for Hinata’s own growth.

Now that the final chapter of Naruto all but confirms that Naruto and Hinata not only end up together but even have a couple of kids, all I can say is…

WE WON!

That said, I never actually participated in any “shipping wars” or whatever. However, I finally understand on some level the joy that more dedicated shippers feel when their desired pairing ends up being canon. There’s a strange satisfaction in knowing that all of the little moments that caught my attention as a reader ended up bearing fruit.

Now all that’s left is for me to someday feel the agony of defeat, but for the time being:

Oh, and for all of the confusion and convoluted plot developments, it looks like Naruto ends just fine.