Hypnosis Mic “Rhyme Anima,” aka Yu-Gi-Oh! DMX

It was Spring 2018 when I first encountered the Japanese multimedia franchise known as Hypnosis Mic: Division Rap Battle. I was on vacation in Japan, and on a visit to Ikebukuro, I happened to walk past a Hypnosis Mic collaborative cafe. Not wanting to disturb the customers, I quickly left while wondering what it was I had just seen, though the large images of handsome anime guys with microphones told me that it was something at least idol-adjacent. I eventually learned the gimmick of Hypnosis Mic—rap battles!—as well as its incredibly odd premise (more on that below), which both puzzles and intrigued me. So when the anime was announced (full title: Hypnosis Mic: Division Rap Battle “Rhyme Anima”), I thought it would be my chance to finally see firsthand what this was all about. The result: a show that’s not the most sophisticated work per se, but is consistently fun and ridiculous.

The outline: In the aftermath of World War III, Japan’s government has been taken over by a women-led political group called the Party of Words, who have managed to outlaw all weapons and replaced them with special devices called Hypnosis Microphones. These microphones can affect people physically and mentally, and they’re most powerful when wielded by talented rappers. In this environment, men are only allowed to live in specific areas of Japan called divisions, and in the present time, groups of men from each division are tasked with forming rap crews in order to compete in a tournament known as the Division Rap Battle.

The four main groups of Hypnosis Mic are uster Bros!!! (three brothers from Ikebukuro), Mad Trigger Crew (a combo of yakuza boss, police officer, and military veteran from Yokohama), Fling Posse (a fashion designer, a literary author, and a gambler from Shibuya), and Matenro (a doctor, a host, and a salaryman from Yokohama. Both intra-group and inter-group dynamics between the characters make for prime shipping fodder, especially because the leaders of each have a shared history.

I certainly was confused upon hearing all this first explained to me, as I had a ton of questions about the political implications of the plot. Women are clearly the target audience, so why are women also the primary antagonists of the series? What does it say that women are both responsible for demilitarizing Japan and saving it from itself but also are incredibly authoritarian? What would a feminist activist or a men’s rights activist think if they watched Hypnosis Mic? My best guess is that the setting is mostly a pretense, and that all contradictions are secondary to style and drama.

One thing I have to acknowledge is that because I’ve come to primarily know Hypnosis Mic through the anime, I had a fundamentally different experience from the fans who were there at the start.  In its original format of music CDs, fans could purchase and vote for their favorite groups to advance—akin to voting for one’s favorite idol in AKB48 or Love Live! In its anime incarnation, Hypnosis Mic is mostly about cool rappers shooting music laser blasts with and against one another, like a bunch of hip hop Nekki Basaras from Macross 7. They call forth ethereal sound sets through which they deliver their verbal beatdowns, and it’s heavily reminiscent of how characters from Yu-Gi-Oh! might summon the Blue Eyes White Dragon or the Stardust Dragon. I titled this post after a gag from Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged because it just so perfectly sums up Hypnosis Mic that I couldn’t resist. Also, I think there really is a similar spirit of spectacle between the world’s most famous card game anime and the world’s only anime about superpowered rappers.

As for the raps themselves, I’m not the best judge of quality, even as I’ve been trying to learn. However, I believe there to be a genuine desire from the franchise to make rap exciting and interesting to an audience that is probably not well versed in it, and from what I’ve read, they do use experienced hip hop producers. The lyrics for certain songs can get pretty clever, and while not every voice actor in the series is a bonafide genius on the mic, the quality is generally high, and there are a few standouts.  I’m particularly fond of Jyuto’s bars, the cop character from Mad Trigger Crew. Speaking of them, I don’t know if I’d call Mad Trigger Crew my favorite group, but I do like how Rio (the military guy) keeps accidentally grossing his teammates out by feeding them dishes made with bugs and other unorthodox things—someone I can relate to. My actual favorite character is the leader of the Party of Words, Touhouten Otome, but she doesn’t rap in the anime, so you can see where my preferences lie.

Hypnosis Mic is a trip, and the anime is worth checking out just to see with your own two eyes that such a show really exists. I love the idea that the franchise as a whole is potentially introducing rap and hip hop to people who might not have bothered with it otherwise; something akin to Hamilton. Much like how Hetalia inspired fans to learn more about history, it can be a gateway into discovering an entire musical genre. Though hat I really wonder is, how would the real world’s rap greats look in the world of Hypnosis Mic? Would someone like Tupac, Rakim, or Eminem summon rhymes so strong that they shatter the Earth itself?

Japanese vs. English Yu-Gi-Oh!: How the Two End Up Being Almost Different Shows

Yu-Gi-Oh! is one of those prolific anime that needs little introduction to the world at large. Its cultural penetration is tremendous, and its characters and monsters are iconic. The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime is also a series from a bygone era of heavy localization for Japanese cartoons, and one consequence is that, in many ways, the show America received and then exported to the world is significantly different from the original. It’s a song and dance as old as anime in America, but the result is that audiences potentially come to enjoy each version for differing reasons as well.

The Japanese and English versions of Yu-Gi-Oh! (Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters in Japanese, to distinguish it from a previous anime by Toei) are not wholly dissimilar. They both feature over-the-top personalities fighting for their lives and dreams through a trading card game. But when looking at the presentation of characters, music, and duels, the two diverge significantly—perhaps to the extent that they could be regarded as two different shows—even when factoring out what would be called censorship, e.g. removing references to death or religion.

Characters

Characters between versions of Yu-Gi-Oh! are generally the same archetypes, but there are instances where they vary greatly. Anzu Mazaki is nowhere near as friendship-obsessed as Tea Gardner. Katsuya Jounouchi doesn’t have the Brooklyn accent, but he’s still kind of a delinquent with a heart of gold. The biggest example of character disparity is undoubtedly Seto Kaiba.

Viewers familiar with Kaiba’s English incarnation know him as an extremely arrogant bully who almost can’t help but simultaneously self-aggrandize and belittle others every time he opens his mouth. He also has an extreme skepticism towards the occult to the extent that even when transported to an ancient, illusory world, he maintains that it’s all holograms.

Japanese Seto Kaiba, while still arrogant, is nowhere near as condescending. Instead, he’s more curt in his speech, and comes across as a no-nonsense individual who has little time or concern for goals outside his own. He’s also extremely intense about the things he cares about, puts himself into every duel, and is more willing to believe in the unknown than his English counterpart. What’s more, while both have fierce rivalries against Yugi, the Japanese version is more willing to give respect where it’s due, even if grudgingly.

Neither is necessarily a better character, but the way they approach scenes with their different personalities shapes and transforms the overall feel of the anime. Scenes of Kaiba in Japanese that are about emphasizing his passion become scenery-chewing exercises in English. Characters in the English Yu-Gi-Oh! can come across as practically parodies of their Japanese versions (which, as an aside, makes Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged all the more interesting).

Music

To a generation of Yu-Gi-Oh! fans, “It’s time to d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-duel!” is a downright iconic refrain. The music in the English version is made to sound tough and cool, like whoever or whatever it accompanies is a ridiculous badass. Though the Japanese music can also be described with similar adjectives, it comes with another dimension—a sense of personal emotional weight.

Take for example the second opening, “Shuffle,” by Okui Masami (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Scrapped Princess). There’s energy and excitement, but also dread tinged with sorrow. When the chorus hits, there’s a swath of emotions telling the audience that the stakes are high. Those feelings come across, likely even if the listener doesn’t understand Japanese.

English Yu-Gi-Oh! has one opening theme, whereas Japanese Yu-Gi-Oh! has five distinct opening themes, so it’s possibly unfair to compare them when the latter has so many opportunities to change. But one element common to all the Japanese themes is a sense of melancholy mixed with power. While that is arguably just a product of the tendency for anime songs to add some sadness, it still means the Japanese series front loads the expectation that the story is an emotional trial.

Duels

Because of the character and music differences, the duels themselves take on distinct feels, despite the fact that they play out largely the same way in both languages. In English, the duels act as wild displays of the characters’ ridiculous personalities. When Kaiba or Yugi pull off some combo and win the game, it’s like the cherry on top of a cake of absurdity. When a character then explains the logic behind their actions (keep in mind that they pretty much make things up as they go along), the response I have is, “Sure. Whatever you say.”

In Japanese, however, because all of the characters carry a greater sense of personal conviction, and the music is filled with greater variations in emotion, the duels reflect those self-serious attitudes. Even though the actual moves and explanations are more or less similar to the English version, the Japanese characters deliver every word like it’s the most important thing in the world. When hearing them explain their actions, it’s easy to feel as if everything they say makes complete sense, even when it doesn’t.

Both versions create tension and end up in the same positions in terms of story, but what draws viewers in to keep watching the duels feels like the difference between an action game and an adventure game—similar in many ways, but different upon closer inspection.

So What?

Nostalgia plays a tremendous role in how Yu-Gi-Oh! is remembered. Those who grew up with one version or another might very well be as attached to them on a deep and personal level. The desire for the “original” can also fuel disagreement over which version is better. The fact that the Japanese version came first arguably positions it as the “true” story, even though it is adapted from a manga and has its fair share of filler arcs. But even when factoring out nostalgia and reverence for the original and/or “Japanese-ness,” the two versions are different enough that, if you were to re-dub the entire series with the same English voice actors but with a script and music closer to the Japanese version, the experience would be quite different. The English Yu-Gi-Oh! makes the series feel more like an exercise in excess and bombast. The Japanese Yu-Gi-Oh! leans more towards melodrama and intensity.

At a far enough distance, the distinctions made above between English and Japanese Yu-Gi-Oh! can seem trivial. Being built from the same core, they capture a lot of the same important points in terms of story and character. But t’s because the disparities appear mainly when taking a closer look that feelings about which iteration is better can be so strong. Viewers were treated to different sets of emotions and different images of the characters. One version does not wholly deliver the desired effect of the other, leaving those unfamiliar with the “other” either unsatisfied or intrigued.

 

 

 

Observations Concerning Dub Openings

I’ve recently become interested in examining modern (mid-90s – present) dub anime openings to see how they correlate to the notion that children have very short attention spans that are gradually decreasing as time passes.

Note: If you’re looking for a point or thesis, there really isn’t any. All I present here is possible evidence.

I began by comparing dub openings to their original Japanese counterparts. This has nothing to do with quality of music (or lack thereof), so you won’t find me making any comments regarding the actual themes.

YOHOHO HE TOOK A BITE OF GUM GUM.

Okay, last one. I promise.

Aside from the difference in length (the common 1 minute, 30 seconds in Japanese openings is hardly ever reached), the biggest difference I’ve seen is in the rate at which imagery will flash on and off the screen. In the English openings, there tends to be a much higher rate of changing imagery.

I give as an example a Yu-Gi-Oh opening in English, and one in Japanese. They are both the “second” openings, but keep in mind the English dub has fewer openings overall. To keep from having the different songs influence you, I suggest turning down the sound.

English

Japanese

As you can see, the dub opening is just a lot more frenetic, eager to keep your attention with rapidly changing colors.

I next focused my attention on Pokemon, as it is perhaps the most famous of all dubbed anime for children. Interestingly, the English opening is actually not that much faster-paced than the Japanese one in terms of imagery. It’s certainly slower than the Yu-Gi-Oh opening and both of these shows are 4Kids shows (or at least Pokemon was back then).

English

Japanese

But what about the idea that children’s attention spans are getting shorter? I took a look at every dub opening of Pokemon, and I noticed that over the years the Pokemon openings have actually gotten shorter.

The first few openings were 1 minute long.

Then it dropped down to 45 seconds per opening.

Now, the most recent openings have been 30 seconds apiece.

I know the examples I provided were primarily from 4kids, but keep in mind that the most recent Pokemon openings were dubbed by the Pokemon Company itself, so it’s not something exclusive to them. There’s also the realization that a lot of kids watching Pokemon today were not even alive when the series began airing in America. Just what has spurred this diminishing of time devoted to Pokemon openings? The Yu-Gi-Oh openings (including GX) are 1 minute long. Is it because the show is meant for a slightly older audience?

Many questions indeed.

Doing this Brooklyn Translation Makes it Difficult to Concentrate: Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (in Japanese)

Little Kuriboh’s Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, where one man acts out the roles of (almost) every character with surprising skill and summarizes the absurdity of the English version of Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Monsters,  has become quite an internet phenomenon. You are probably aware of this, but one thing that you may not be aware of is that it has reached back to its original source, as one Japanese fan has subtitled Little Kuriboh’s work and put it online. You can also see it on Nico Nico Douga under the names 遊戯王要約シリーズ or 4分でわかる遊戯王アニメ.

What is fascinating about this first of all is that we get to observe the other side of the fansub mirror. Normally, even the Japanese subtitles for English shows that we see are professionally done.

What’s even more interesting is observing how the translator makes various attempts to localize the translation just enough for the Japanese speakers. Characters’ names are in Japanese, but the subtitles point out that “Jonouchi” is speaking with a “Brooklyn Accent.” Characters’ unique speech is kept intact, as Pegasus, according to the subtitles, still speaks in random Engrish and says “de~~~su” a whole lot. “Super Special Awesome” is just “Super Special.”

And of course, one of the big challenes is puns and wordplay, and the guy does surprisingly well. One of my favorite examples is his translation of the famous line from the “evil” Kaiba, “You don’t stand a GHOST of a chance,” said by characters who are ghosts or at least resemble them. Translated literally it doesn’t make much sense.

The translation the subtitler went for is “勝利のチャンスは「霊」だ” (Shouri no chansu wa rei da). It literally means “The chance of you winning is “a ghost.”

Here’s the fun part: the word used for ghost is pronounced “rei.” There’s another kanji with a pronunciation of rei, 零, which means “zero.”

In other words, “The chance of you winning is zero.”

So bravo, Japanese Yugioh Abridged subtitler. Your wordplay kung fu is mighty indeed, and I bow to you.

OP/ED OP/ED

The opening credits, or intro, of a staple of TV and animation. it’s a combination of sound and image designed to inform the viewer and pull them in. it is basically a commercial for the show you are about to watch with the secondary effect of giving credit to the people who are responsible for the show. The ending credits continue to list names of all the people who work on a show, and though it is not always the case, especially on American TV, it can be used to leave the viewer with a certain feeling. Japanese animation is of course no exception, but somehow anime has become what I think is the standard for openings and endings. There’s something special and different about the openings of Japanese animation compared to the animation of the rest of the world, and I’d like to know what it is.

I don’t think it would be too farfetched to say that a significant portion of anime fans love, welcome, and even expect the shows they watch to have good opening and ending credits. It’s the reason why fansubbers try so hard with their ridiculous karaoke effects. It’s the reason why I’m going to Otakon to see JAM Project. And I believe that it is a common factor in turning people into anime fans in the first place.

Anime openings can cause budding otaku to go, “Wow, this is different and good!” It’s not like non-Japanese cartoons are without good or memorable openings. I bet you there’s plenty of people out there who at least have a cursory knowledge of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme, or children (and adults) who could sing the Kim Possible opening as well. And while one can argue that anime openings have “better” music, it’s not like anime is without its repeated-title-shouting-style intros (see above concerning JAM Project, or should I say, its individual members).

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of professionalism. Not only is there an industry trying to make money off of it, but musicians, at the very least on a surface level, appear to approach these songs as if they were any other pieces they’ve performed. Directors are hired on specifically to direct the openings and endings. People’s livelihoods can depend on whether or not the opening credits are a hit with the audience.

I’d like to think that the root cause of the culture of successful openings and endings is passion and respect, but it’s an overly optimistic view of things. I just know that there’s something which makes the openings and endings of anime different and better.

PS: I haven’t even begun to think about dub openings and how they factor into all of this, though I’m sure that shouting, “It’s time to D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-DUEL!” will get a reaction out of people

PPS: I lied, this isn’t really an opinion or an editorial.