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In my previous review of the card game anime Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, I stated that the series is the best show of the collect-em-all TCG competition genre that I’ve ever seen. Having finished the series, I stand by that opinion more than ever. Though the climax and resolution of the series is a bit too abrupt, the overall sense of consideration for what it’s trying to convey and the continued growth and progress of its characters on both emotional and “competitive” levels was remarkably deep and a joy to watch.

Spoiler warning.

In the transition to the latter half of the 50-episode Shounen Toppa Bashin, the series moves its characters from elementary school to middle school. This brings with it a whole host of changes, such as the shift to school uniforms. However, what is fundamentally different about the anime from this point forward is that the characters are beginning to be viewed as young adults, even if their designs don’t change that much.

The best example of this would have to be Episode 32. In a seemingly generic boys’ show about playing other people in card games, Shounen Toppa Bashin devotes 25 minutes to exploring the mother of the main character and her feelings of loneliness as she watches her son hit that age where boys begin to emotionally move away from their parents while also dealing with the fact that her husband is never home (he’s out adventuring). As the protagonist Bashin Toppa nonchalantly ignores his mother Hayami (a case of being oblivious in general but also taking her for granted), her sudden disappearance makes him realize that all of the little moments in which she was “bothering” him were actually cries for help and attention. Upon remembering that it’s his responsibility to look after her in his father’s absence, Toppa ends the episode by declaring that card games aren’t as important as their relationship as family.

Toppa’s mother Hayami worried about losing her little boy

The obvious joke with TCG shows (thanks in part to Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series) is that whenever there’s a deep emotional connection, it’s usually in the sense of friendship, that one’s companions give the moral support one needs to overcome any adversary. Though that also exists in Shounen Toppa Bashin to a strong extent (and is better developed compared to other series as well), the situation between Toppa and Hayami is actually a moment where the show says that its own card game is meaningless if it means neglecting those close to you who are in need. The complex emotions of a mother watching her son grow up take center stage in a genre that is more often known for actively ignoring parents entirely.

However, Shounen Toppa Bashin not only expresses this sense of change outside of the card game its purported to sell but within it as well. From the beginning of the series, each character is associated with a certain color-themed deck. For example, Toppa runs a “red” deck, which is primarily devoted to outright aggression, while his main rival Sawaragi J utilizes a “white” deck, which emphasizes healing, defense, and regeneration. Conveniently, both characters are color-coded in their designs as well. Early on in the second half of the anime, Toppa finds that while he’s continuously improved as a player, his red deck has reached its limits. When another character suggests that he incorporate other colors, Toppa’s initial response is that the red attribute is a part of his identity, implying that he thinks using other colors means abandoning his very way of being. Eventually, he realizes the benefits of mixing it up and being able to grow beyond the one-dimensionality of his old methods while still maintaining it as a mostly red-oriented deck. It’s at once both an easy example for kids to learn how to improve their strategy in this game and a way of showing Toppa’s increasing maturity.

The color-coded cast

Similarly, when J goes from friendly rival to antagonistic force in the series, he abandons the white deck that had previously characterized him in order to go for something more varied and ruthlessly efficient. At the finals of a tournament, Toppa confronts J, and at the climax of a fierce, back-and-forth match between the two, Toppa plays a card that can win, provided the opponent has no white cards with which to defend. This is seen as suicide by all of the characters given J’s propensity for that color, but then the show reveals that J’s hand is devoid of any white cards. In other words, in his desire to find the “best” way to win, J forgot who he was. Combined with the lesson Toppa learns earlier in the series about varying his own deck, the result is a greater message of being open to change but not to the extent that you forget who you are and what values are important to you. And all of this is through the card game itself!

The last example of personal and emotional progression I’d like to talk about has to do with something I mentioned in the previous review, which is the development of a character from sideline cheerleader to direct participant. This is the path taken by the character nicknamed “Meganeko” due to her over-sized glasses. While you have examples of both in TCG anime, such as Anzu/Tea in Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters and Asuka/Alexis in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, rarely does one turn into the other, and as in strong a fashion as Meganeko.

At the beginning of the series, Meganeko is essentially Toppa’s close childhood friend, unwavering supporter, and tacit love interest. Around the half-way point of the series on their last day of elementary school, Toppa and Meganeko have a fight because Toppa just wants to go play more “Battle Spirits,” whereas interprets his behavior to mean that all of their cherished memories of elementary school and their friendship mean nothing to him. Rather than merely waiting for Toppa to realize his mistake, however, Meganeko decides to learn how to play “Battle Spirits” in secret in order to understand him better and to basically meet him half-way, thus showing her active desire to better herself.

Meganeko, from supporter to equal

The typical series would have Meganeko learn the basic rules of the game and place value on simply the fact that she tried at all while at the same time placing her on a skill tier below the “important” characters. Shounen Toppa Bashin, instead, actually defies this trend by transforming Meganeko into a formidable competitor as well. Through her training, Meganeko becomes about as proficient in “Battle Spirits” as Toppa in a lesser amount of time. Not only does she find her own identity within the card game (a yellow “spell and support” deck), but she also ends up overcoming an opponent who had previously bested J, and even meets Toppa himself in the semi-finals of a tournament. Though Meganeko loses in the end, the show presents their battle and Toppa’s reactions in such a way that it’s clear that she has firmly established herself as Toppa’s peer in the very field he so cherishes through her hard work. By the end of the series, neither wins nor losses are guaranteed for Meganeko (or any of the other characters for that matter), which further highlights her position as being equal to that of Toppa, J, and the rest of the core cast.

Overall, Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin is able to provide characterization and emotional development at various levels, both in direct relation to the card game after which the series is named and with respect to the realistic concerns that might face children as they grow up. The former can be seen in how Toppa and J are symbolized and represented through their personal decks and strategies, while the latter is most evident in the amount of care and attention the series gives to the relationship between Toppa and his mother. Furthermore, the character Meganeko presents a mix of these two aspects while also showing how a “cheerleader” female character can transform into a direct participant in an anime, thus providing a potential template for other characters as well. The cumulative effect of these and many other aspects of Shounen Toppa Bashin result in a series that is worth emulating.

Name: N/A
Aliases: Daigouin Pyonko (大豪院ピョン子)
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Hanaukyou Maid Tai

Information:
“Daigouin Pyonko” is a doujinshi artist who wears bunny ears and ends all of her sentences with “-pyon.” She is a friend of the Hanaukyou household’s maid Suzuki Ikuyo, though their relationship is somewhat antagonistic. She created the doujin Kappa Buta, a yaoi doujin about a kappa and a pig (likely a reference to Journey to the West or one of its adaptations).

Fujoshi Level:
Other than the unusual animal content of her doujinshi, nothing else is known.

New York Comic Con 2014 was my first in five years. I wasn’t around for the dissolution and complete integration of New York Anime Festival. I did not see the claustrophobia-inducing crowds created by people sneaking in that nearly drove some of my friends to never, ever go back. I was not around as the aging Jacob Javits Center itself expanded as best as it could to account for not only this convention but others as well. My experience with NYCC 2014 is almost that of a time traveler, as what I have to mainly compare it to is an old existence, before this convention was being labeled as the San Diego Comic-Con of the east coast.

As much as a convention should be about being a magical and informative experience where fans connect to the media they love as well as to their peers, the first thing worth mentioning about NYCC 2014 is its use of RFID badges. I was informed of their inaugural usage last year, but seeing them in action made me fully aware of the boon they provide to both the convention goers themselves and the staff running the entire thing. Essentially, attendees must use a card to check in and check out of the convention area, which not only cuts down on the number of people who shouldn’t be there but means that there are plenty of opportunities to actually relax and take in the con experience. Just having a space that is outside the convention building itself but still part of NYCC was so beneficial, as it allowed attendees to catch some fresh air if they needed it. Though I didn’t know anyone personally who had difficulty handling large crowds (and the NYCC attendance population is around a staggering 100,000), I suspect having not only the front entrance but other outside spots may have been a life saver for some.

Of course, all of this is not to say that New York Comic Con 2014 was neither magical nor informative, as I found it struck a fine balance as a convention of industries, artists, and fans in terms of activities and opportunities. New York Comic Con is a for-profit venture, designed to make money and to benefit all of those who take part in it on the industry. For one thing this means greater industry presence in both the panels and the showroom floor, and fewer fan panels where enthusiasts can analyze and discuss particular interesting angles of the things they love. However, as much as I’m used to industry panels being fairly by the numbers affairs about shilling products (not that there’s anything wrong with it), at NYCC these panels, although different from fan-run events, still carried with them a lot more meta-discussion of the industry and what it means to be “in” comics. You have to expect the sales pitch to some degree, but it was rarely much of an issue.

For example, I attended a couple of panels about women in comics (be they characters or creators or fans or anything else), and it involved industry professionals of all sorts who didn’t necessarily all agree with each other discussing an important topic in a way that encouraged further conversation instead of necessarily having as their primary agenda the sales of their own products. In the “Women of Color in Comics” panel, for instance, you had both industry veterans and independent creators. One veteran emphasized the idea that if you want to change how the big companies see women, you have to know how to communicate in their language, bring portfolios that old white men would understand, while some of the freelance artists stressed the importance of being able to work for yourself to create the characters you want.

The women in comics panels were illuminating and informative overall, though I do have one criticism for a prevailing sentiment I saw: when asked about how to deal with men who aren’t even aware that there is sexism and discrimination in the industry and its fandom, the answer I saw most often was “who needs those guys, forget them.” I understand that dealing with ignorance getting asked “what sexism?” for the 1000th time is a trying, perhaps soul-draining experience, but I do think that it’s still a group of people who need to be addressed and who might honestly just not know.

It’s actually quite impressive how supportive of female fans and creators New York Comic Con was. In addition to the panels, there were large “Cosplay is Not Consent” signs that were noticeable but not terribly intrusive which aimed to prevent sexual harassment of cosplayers by appealing to the human brain’s ability to think ahead. I hear it was largely effective, though without context I do wonder if some people thought that the signs were saying that cosplaying was not okay.

Maybe this has to do with the number of artists, writers, and creators as guests instead of marketing folks, but in a lot of the panels I attended I felt that the audience was let in on their creative processes at least to some extent. Obviously they’re not taking advice from attendees, but it seemed like the answers reflected the personalities and styles of those who gave them. Notably, when manga artist Obata Takeshi (Death NoteHikaru no Go) spoke, it was clear that he was not a people person, and was unaccustomed to the spotlight. When he explained how he worked, his answers were muddled like so many other artists I’ve met. In contrast, at one of the Image panels, Matt Fraction could talk up a storm and really present the job of comics writer as something not so much glamorous but intense and personal. While obviously I can’t agree with their sentiments, seeing the panelists at the European Comics Artists panel thinly veil their displeasure towards manga was also similarly revealing.

Before going to the con, I received some useful advice for attending panels: always line up an hour beforehand. It doesn’t matter how small a crowd you think a panel is going to get, because more likely than not you’ll be on the wrong end if you don’t play it safe. Bizarrely, the lines felt rather relaxing. They were times to rest one’s feet, to chit-chat with friends and sometimes strangers, and in my case to play against other people in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. I matched my Mega Man against others and had an exciting time. More importantly, though, the fact that the lines were able to remain these fairly civil affairs (aside from The Walking Dead panel according to what I heard at con feedback) indicates how effective this year’s organization was. At Otakon one year, I had a friend from England who found it mind-boggling that a place could be so bad at queueing. While I don’t know if NYCC could hold up to his superior English line standards either, I think it would have at least gotten a higher grade.

Overall, what might be the strangest thing about my NYCC 2014 experience is that I expected a rushed, frantic time where I would feel overwhelmed to the point of some bizarre euphoria. At times, coming down the escalator and seeing the absolute mob of people in the main lobby made it seem as if I were about to descend into a pit of madness. However, what I actually got was a relaxed, comfortable experience learning about the things I love and trying my best not to spend all of my money. Now if only I didn’t have to buy four 1-day tickets because all of the 3-day tickets sold out in like two minutes, then it would’ve been a lot better.

To conclude, here are some of my convention highlights.

  • Attending my first Avatar (Legend of Korra) panel only to realize that it might be the last Avatar panel ever.
  • Getting Obata Takeshi’s autograph on Volume 1 of Hikaru no Go.
  • Obata would have liked to draw Otter no.11 as an actual manga.
  • Meeting at last my long-time internet friend David Brothers.
  • Asking Juanjo Guarnido (author of Blacksad) about whether the extremely popular comics that the Franco dictatorship in Spain used as propaganda still had any influence today (his answer was no).
  • Being like, maybe one of two people to cheer for Tribe Cool Crew at the Sunrise Panel. I yelled so loudly one of the panelists immediately looked at me. Also, watch Tribe Cool Crew. My review of it is pending.
  • TURN A GUNDAM LICENSED (also First Gundam). I was actually repeating Turn A Gundam like it was a mantra, as if I were trying to cast a magic spell. I guess it worked?
  • Seeing all of the animators’ demo reels at the Kakehashi Project (The Bridge for Tomorrow) panel. A lot of the work reminded me of the more visceral art that often appeals to me yet is rarely found in anime. I especially liked the work of Shiroki Saori.
  • Watching the US premiere of the Kill la Kill Episode 25 OVA. It was a great revisit of the series, and in one brief moment during one of Mako’s speeches I swear she transforms into Baron Ashura from Mazinger Z.
  • Playing all that Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS with people.

Name: Fuji ()
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: N/A
Origin: Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture II

Information:
Fuji is a former classmate and fellow art club member of Hato Kenjirou, Konno, and Kaminaga. She still maintains her friendship with Konno, as well as the others to a lesser extent. She is relatively calmer than Konno.

Fujoshi Level:
Little is known, other than that she was a part of the “fujoshi” group in her high school art club.

genshiken2daime-blurays-small

Thanks to the combined efforts of manga translator kransom, ANN Astro Toy reviewer Dave, and especially the very dangerous wah, I finally have in my hands the Japanese Genshiken Nidaime (aka Genshiken Second Season, aka Genshiken II). While it’s been a while since the show came out, I’m still quite happy to add it to my collection. Now I just need to get the English-language release from NIS America, whenever that’s coming out.

Now why would I buy Japanese blurays at exorbitant prices instead of waiting for a more reasonably priced US release? It’s because, at the end of the day, I am the Ogiue Maniax.

Above the bluray discs themselves you can see both a signboard from Kio Shimoku and an illustration collection. Both of these items are included because I had preordered all four volumes at Toranoana. This was available at multiple anime shops in Japan, and I chose Toranoana because it came with the Ogiue and Sue signboard, as well as an illustration collection with the two on the cover as well. Those of you who have shopped or have tried to shop from Toranoana are probably aware that they only ship within Japan, and it’s thanks to wah’s generosity that I was able to give them a temporary home first, while the other two helped traffic it over. Again, thanks to all of you, next meal’s on me.

genshiken2daime-signboard-small

It’s been a while since I really went in-depth about the topic of moe, but here’s me and the Veef discussing the topic. If there’s anything I’d like people to get out of it, it’s to not take such polarizing stances about the topic.

Tomorrow is the start of New York Comic Con 2014, and I for one am pretty excited. Though I’ve attended NYCC in the past, it’s actually been five years since I was last able to attend, and I’ve heard from people that it’s changed a lot. Heck, people over the past couple of years have been talking about how it rivals San Diego Comic Con now, and that is certainly not the convention I left back in 2009.

I know that at a con this big I won’t be able to do everything I want, but here’s some stuff I’m considering.

Thursday

Walt Disney Studios Tomorrowland and Walt Disney Animation Studios Big Hero 6. 1-2:30pm, Main Stage 1-D

Comics – What We’ve Lost, What’s Ahead. 2:15-3pm, 1A01

Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra: Book 4. 5:15-6:15pm, Empire Stage 1-E

 

Friday

“Marry, Do or Kill?” What Will it Take to Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics? 11:15am-12pm, 1A05

Voltron: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Presented by Perfect Square. 2-2:45pm, 1A21

Weekly Shonen Jump Presents: Takeshi Obata. 5-5:45pm, 1A10

CBLDF: The Battle of New York – Creativity, Censorship & the Comics Code. 6-6:45pm, 1A18

 

Saturday

Sunrise Official Panel. 1-1:45pm, 1A21

The Mary Sue Presents – Strong Female Characters: The Women Shining in Geek Media. 1:15-2pm, 1A01 (Conflicts with above)

Vertical Manga 2014. 5:15pm-6pm, 1A14

Kill la Kill Episode 25. 8:15-10pm, 1A06

 

Sunday

Image Comics: I is for Inventive. 12-12:45pm, 1A10

Kakehashi Project – New Japanese Animation Talent. 1-1:45pm, 1A21

Kodansha Comics. 2-2:45pm, 1A18

The Mary Sue Presents – All on the Table. 3-3:45pm, 1A21

Free! and Free! Eternal Summer spoilers below.

Whenever Free! ends, it really knows how to communicate its core values, whether it’s the original series or Eternal Summer. Ostensibly about competitive swimming, these finales basically say that, unlike so many other sports anime and manga, that winning not only isn’t everything, but it isn’t even that important in the first place.

At the end of season 1, the character Rin joins his old friends for a relay at a high school competition, revitalizing the lifelong bond he’s had with them. They swim better than they ever have before and even win the race, but run into the issue that Rin is from a different school that’s also competing at the event. The team is disqualified, but what’s emphasized here is that getting first was not the point. Rather, what they have truly achieved is strengthening their relationships with each other.

In the final episode of season 2, the main cast reaches the nationals for relay, and during the race each character has a vision of the joy of swimming. The main character, Haruka, is the last member to race, and upon entering the water sees his teammates swimming alongside him. When he reaches the finish line, everyone cheers, and we’re greeted with images of the team smiling and hugging. By all narrative and film convention, it looks as if they had won the whole thing, but later we see that they only got 6th place. They weren’t celebrating their championsip, but their accomplishments as a group. Moreover, Haruka, who throughout Eternal Summer has felt pressure over the fact that becoming a professional swimmer means having to care about trophies and times, ultimately finds that, for him, winning is merely a way to swim more, a means to an end.

Free! is geared towards a female audience. Whether it’s the well-animated flexible and muscular swimmers’ bodies on the cast, gentle yet strong personalities, or their close and sometimes tumultuous bonds, this is an anime that provides visual fanservice in a way that not even series like The Prince of Tennis or Kuroko’s Basketball could offer. Those other series, still grounded in their shounen sports manga formulas, end up emphasizing winners and losers first and foremost, but Free! is all about the relationship known as friendship, reflecting a desire to get away from the stereotypically male desire of victory through competition.

This is not to say that manga for male audiences based in competition necessarily always emphasize winning (see the manga Touch!), nor that there is no such thing as a manga for a female audience that stresses the competitive environment (Chihayafuru). However, when looking more broadly, what I find is that series that try to draw in men and boys primarily will often use friendship and teamwork as a means to victory, while series that target women and girls will do the opposite and use competition as a means to friendship and teamwork.

Sometimes targeting a demographic isn’t wholly intentional, but this is how a fanbase is formed anyway, and other times it can be hard to tell which is which. It might even flip back and forth throughout a given series. Free! doesn’t have any of that ambiguity. It knows exactly what it wants, and in the end we have to wonder for ourselves if winning is that big of a deal.

Name: Kaminaga (神永)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Engaged
Origin: Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture II

Information:
The former de facto leader of her high school art club’s fujoshi contingent, Kaminaga is a skilled artist and consistently “rotten”-minded woman. She shares an unusual relationship with Genshiken member Hato Kenjirou, as she is not only engaged to Hato’s brother Yuuichirou, but Hato now crossdresses in a manner where he becomes nearly the spitting image of Kaminaga. Hailing from Niigata prefecture, her fiancee is extremely “normal” while still being aware of Kaminaga’s fujoshi side. Kaminaga insists that Hato call her “big sister,” and tries to dispense advice albeit from her BL-loving perspective.

Fujoshi Level:
Kaminaga may be the most powerful fujoshi in all of Genshiken. Not only does she pair her fiancee with his own younger brother, but she was able to immediately spot who reacted at “appropriate” levels (Ogiue and Hato) upon hinting at this concept. In addition, she was more than willing to spend an evening drinking with Yuuichirou and his former judo teammates just so she could watch a group of burly men wrestle around.

One of the anime I looked forward to most this past season was Aldnoah.Zero. Although from the beginning it feels heavily derived from many other popular and classic mecha anime, it increasingly reveals itself as a series that can stand on its own merits. Akin to a patchwork quilt, Aldnoah.Zero takes all of these influences and merges them into something that is also remarkably fresh and new.

The story in Aldnoah.Zero focuses on the effects of a lopsided war between the Earth and the extremely powerful space empire known as Vers. Having been resoundingly outgunned in their previous conflict due to the power of the Vers’ giant robots, the Earth has seen an uneasy peace for many years. However, an attempt to bridge the two sides ends in disaster, which leads the planet back into a battle it likely cannot win.

At first glance, Aldnoah.Zero looks like it comes from the Code Geass school of cool teens fighting political battles, yet it also has clear influence from Gundam. Which Gundam though? Its basic Earth vs. Space Colonies plot and its “ship on the run” ongoing storyline resemble the original Mobile Suit Gundam. The way each of the factions in the enemy Vers forces treat the Earth like a battlefield to assert the pride of their respective clans is more reminiscent of Mobile Fighter G Gundam and the literal use of the Earth as a ring for different nations to battle it out. Then there’s the princess-in-disguise plot thread, which evokes the events of Turn A Gundam. On top of all of this, while he looks less muscular, the character Inaho’s logical nature, reticent personality, calm under pressure and his decision to consistently use what amounts to a generic no-frills mecha calls to mind Chirico Cuvie, the hero from Armored Trooper Votoms. In certain ways, it’s a strange mishmash that typically only works in something like the Super Robot Wars games where the “rules” of cohesiveness can be bent liberally, but Aldnoah.Zero manages to pull it off gracefully.

This is probably most apparent in how Aldnoah.Zero handles mecha battles. Given an opponent with vastly superior technology, the rag-tag Earth forces that we follow have to rely on wit and ingenuity, while also taking advantage of the fact that the Vers soldiers tend to be a little too overconfident in their weaponry. The battles are one of the highlights of the series, and what makes them interesting and consistently both fun to watch and intellectually stimulating is the fact that the gap is so large that it more or less feels like the “real robots” of the Earth vs. the “super robots” of Vers, and seeing just how Inaho dissects the opponents’ mecha. Usually sides are either individual robot vs. monster (Mazinger Z), military vs military (Mobile Suit Gundam), dominant real robot mowing down enemy forces until the enemy comes up with something equal (Gundam W), or super-powered equals, which makes what Aldnoah.Zero does remarkably rare, if not outright unheard of.

The series even goes out of its way to make sure this technological and aesthetic contrast is there for the viewer to see in every battle. The mecha designs of the Orbital Knights look fanciful and tend to incorporate more fantastic weaponry such as rocket punches, beam swords, and powerful energy barriers, while the Earth forces use mostly ammunition. Even the one moment when the series could have given Inaho his own protagonist-level prototype weapon gets subverted, as he decides to remain in his mass-produced grunt machine.

Of course, not everyone will care about the quality of the robot action, but the story itself looks to be holding up well. Aldnoah.Zero has a lot of narrative elements that, again, feel as if they’re hitting notes from past anime, but for the most part they drew me deeper into their world rather than making me question how everything fits together. Of particular note is the character Slaine, a Terran on the side of the Vers forces who is caught in the middle, and who may be the real main character rather than Inaho. That said, the first season just finished recently, and we are left at what is clearly a turning point. It’s difficult to judge how the story will turn out in the end, as these kinds of series can often crash and burn from the changes they decide to make the second time around, but for now I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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