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The Current Genshiken Club Members

The Hokuto Brothers (I think Toki turned out the best)

Yoshimori and Tokine from Kekkaishi

Nonowa etc.

This post was originally a reply to someone asking about the differences in how the fighting games community and the real-time strategy community perceive the concept of “balance” in a competitive game, and why that would be the case.

My skills and experience lie neither in RTS or fighting games (though I have played both), so I can’t offer any particulars about why balance is regarded differently in their respective communities, but I think it is worth thinking about with more fighting games than just SF4, even if it is the biggest one right now.

I think it might be good to take a look at a couple of fighting games whose tiers are considered to be relatively balanced in two rather different ways. The first is the Virtua Fighter series, a game with a Brood War-like (outside of Korea) reputation, a very difficult game that is considered by its proponents to be more exquisitely refined than any other fighting game out there. According to this, the tier list for the latest iteration, VF5: Final Showdown comes out as the following:

“S: Akira
A: Lau, Jacky, Taka, Lion
B: Everyone else

That’s quite close! Even if one character is considered by far the best, no one is considered to have anything close to a “failing grade.” The message from this tier list is indeed “Imbalances exist in this game but it’s close enough that anybody can win with anyone.” Also perhaps important to note is that VF is considered a series where you do not have time to master more than one character because of how complex they can be. This might mean that, like SC2, switching characters/races is considered to be too time-consuming to be worth it.

Let’s look at another game’s tier list: Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star).

S++ : Rei
S+ : Toki – Juda
S : Raoh
A : Kenshiro / Thouther / Shin / Mamiya / Heart
B : Jagi

While there are now 5 ranks instead of 3, rather than call Jagi “D” tier and Rei “S” tier, they give the distinction of having them be “B” and “S++.” The distinction here is that while some characters are good, others are GREAT. The reason why HnK’s tiers are the way they are is that every character in this game has 100% combos and infinites. In any other fighting game, they would be brutally S-rank. However, in HnK, the top characters simply have more 100% combos and more ways to successfully land them. It is considered so imbalanced that it is balanced.

When talking to people who have played both of those games, I find that the main thing they have in common for why they are considered to be as balanced as they are is that all of the characters always have a good amount of options at any point in the fight. There is always more than one way to win. In a fighting game then, a character with consistently few options is always at a distinct disadvantage unless there is something else to greatly counterbalance that.

I think that the key difference between the Real Time Strategy and the Fighting Game, and why in the former the community is quick to say “things are unexplored” and in the latter people are eager to immediately lock in “tier lists,” is how time factors into the strength of your race/character. Consider that, outside of super meter, in SF4 a character’s strengths and weaknesses at 1 second into the match are about the same as in 50 seconds into the match. A character still has the same tools no matter where you place them in time. In SC2 however, time plays an enormous factor. Building your 10th SCV earlier rather than later does different things to the strength of your army. Losing a single SCV early on is much more detrimental than losing a single SCV in the mid or late game. Building particular units at different times affects the strength of a race tremendously, as does attacking with them. Options fluctuate tremendously based on when decisions are made, and an early disadvantage can ripple forward in time. This is often referred to as a “slippery slope,” where once one starts falling behind it becomes tremendously difficult to make it back. All the same though, that disadvantage can be potentially mitigated by a different timing altogether.

So the difference between having a constant, unchanging set of options and one that changes over time based on your own decisions are why I think that “balance” is approached differently by the fighting game community and the RTS community. Fighting game players can look at the tools a character has and determine how they will do at any point in the fight, and from there they can determine tiers and even be comfortable with the idea of imbalance, even early on in the game’s life. RTS players though have to factor in the timing of their decisions affecting the very strength of their army itself (and the ability to sustain that army), and that added variable is what makes the game feel so “unexplored” and difficult to determine the balance of.

Occasionally people say that anime and manga have a dearth of strong female characters, that they are relegated to supporting roles where they must step aside for the male leads. But while such characters do exist, to think that they are the majority of female characters in anime and manga betrays a myopic view of anime and manga fueled primarily by titles designed for guys looking for some kind of power fantasy.

I recently began reading Attack No. 1, a 60s shoujo manga about volleyball and one of the most famous sports manga series ever. Being a 60s title and well before the advent of the Showa 24 Group, I somewhat expected the main heroine Kozue to be demure and dainty and in need of a strong man, but I was proven completely wrong. That part in the anime’s opening where Kozue goes, “But I shed tears. I’m a girl, after all?” That is a complete diversion from what she really is.

In the first few chapters, Kozue is a transfer student who antagonizes the teacher by sleeping through classes, then goes up to the girls’ volleyball team and accuses them of not truly understanding volleyball. She then makes a bet that she can beat their trained team using just a ragtag bunch of complete beginners, and then in order to achieve her goal trains her erstwhile teammates so hard that they collapse from exhaustion repeatedly.

Everyone talks about how Hagio Moto and her comrades revolutionized shoujo manga, and they surely did, but going back even to the prior decade we can see a heroine who shows strength, both inner and outer. And as you continue along throughout the decades, you can see more and more examples. Don’t let the popularity of certain titles and genres blind you.

But I also realize that it’s very easy to call just about any female character a “strong one,” particularly when they are designed to be badass action heroes. These fall into two dangerous categories, the first being the “action damsel,” where a girl is a strong and capable fighter up until the point that she gets kidnapped and needs a man, and the second being the “man in a woman suit,” as Hisui from the Speakeasy Podcast so put it. The issue with the former is that it tends to undercut all of the development a female character might have, while the problem with the latter is that it pushes a very specific idea of what it means to be “strong.”

In the same podcast, Hisui also says that his problem with the “man in a woman suit” is that it is essentially a shortcut to actual well-developed character portrayal, and that it is pretty much shallow. I pretty much agree with Hisui on this matter, but I also want to address another great danger that comes from associating the idea of “strong female characters” with “tough action hero,” and that is that it implies that the only way for a female character to be strong is to be “like a guy,” or to put it more broadly, that the only way is through physical strength and hardened grit and determination.

Think about that for a moment. It’s bad enough that we define male strength through physical prowess, but to also try to group women in there as well is a grave mistake. Putting characters and fiction aside for a moment, true strength comes from within, it is not something measured simply through muscles and athletic ability. While a person who is physically strong, male or female, can also be strong inside, the former without the latter is an empty shell. Though I know that Hokuto no Ken isn’t the best example of strong female characters, as most of them are there to just stand aside at let men fight men, I think of the little girl whom Kenshiro rescues early on, Rin.

In one chapter, Rin is kidnapped by a gang of misshapen thugs who have terrorized an entire village. In order to oppress the villagers, the gang ruthlessly forces them to walk on a pit of fire, with many casualties naturally resulting. The villagers are gripped with fear, but when it’s Rin’s turn to walk the coals, she remembers Kenshiro’s words, that she cannot give in to fear, that she cannot let them win. Rin willingly walks towards the flames, head held high, and in doing so shames the villagers. If such a little girl has the spirit to fight back, what does that say about all of the full-grown men who cowered in the shadows?

Then Rin eventually becomes some kind of damsel-in-distress and there’s a whole marrying Rin arc when she gets older, but I chalk that up more to the second part of Hokuto no Ken being terrible overall than anything else. But there it is, even in Shounen Jump you can find a display of great inner strength in a female character, albeit temporarily.

One more time, I want to state that strong female characters in anime and manga definitely do exist and in large numbers. If asked, I can even start listing them off, but the important thing to take away here is that you simply have to look in the right places with the right mindset.

Sometimes when discussing shounen fighting series, there are disagreements among fans as to what female characters are considered “strong” and which are considered “weak.” Someone will accuse one female character of being “useless,” while another will point out all that she’s done to help the good guys, and that she’s strong in her own way. While opinions may be opinions, I think that the nature of shounen fighting series makes it difficult for those types of characters.

Hokuto no Ken is a classic example of a series with female characters who are “strong-but-not-really.” Mamiya is a skilled fighter and trains hard to keep up in a world of mutant thugs armed with only a crossbow and some yo-yo’s, but she’s still a few tiers below Kenshiro and Friends. Yuria has great will and even greater compassion, but she’s not a fighter at all, and in this series, as strong as Kenshiro’s own compassion is, fist to face action is at the forefront.

And as much as I like Hyuuga Hinata from Naruto, and as much as I think she is an excellent character, I know that she is not meant to be one of those female characters who is actually able to keep up with the guys when the chips are down. And in fact, as far as I can tell, despite the fact that Naruto is full of skilled kunoichi, there are only two or three female characters in that series who can actually fight on an even keel with the guys: Tsunade, Temari, and maybe Kurenai. Sakura definitely had the potential, and was supposed to end up as being super strong and super determined, but she too has fallen victim to the Shounen Side Heroine Syndrome.

But being physically weaker or lacking in skills compared to the main hero and the guys doesn’t mean a female character will necessarily be “weak.” Nami and Nico Robin from One Piece are both excellent examples of characters who carry their own weight. And even before Nami gets the Clima-Tact and starts participating in battles, her skills are shown to be indispensable to the team. Another good example of a female character who uses the skills that she has and contributes immensely to the overall cause is Tokine from Kekkaishi. Tokine, while not capable of as much sheer “brute strength” as her male counterpart Yoshimori, is able to use her finesse to not only match him but often outperform him.

“But wait, weren’t you the one who talked about how great it is when characters accomplish things at their own pace? Isn’t that one of the great appeals of moe? And aren’t you a supporter of moe?” And you would be right on that, but again I must say that it has to do with the fact that shounen fighting series inevitably revolve around fighting or at the very least getting characters to a point at which they can fight. Basically, the moe series will define strength within the context of their series as overcoming a small adversity which is difficult for them in particular, while a shounen fighting series is all about displays of strength, even if they are fueled by friendship and honor.

The big, essential difference between the Sakura/Mamiya group and the Nami/Tokine group is “results.” Both groups of female characters might not have as much raw skill or ability or training or whatever as the guys do, but one of those groups gets things done. Nami and Tokine don’t just contribute to the overall goal by doing something like blocking the villain’s attack just that one vital moment so that the hero can get in the final shot, but instead actually accomplish significant goals, things that can move the story along. It’s not even that they simply defeat opponents that the others cannot, but that they will do what it takes to win.

This doesn’t even necessarily apply to female characters. All you need to to do is take a look at Usopp from One Piece as a good example of a character who fights with what he has. It’s just that this is often the situation in which female characters find themselves, and often it’s done so that the guys can come in and go, “Stand aside, ladies. It’s MAN TIME.”

…Which is not necessarily a bad thing either, as having the men be strongest in a series for boys makes all sorts of sense. It’s just that if someone’s looking for female characters who really pull their weight to accomplish an overall goal, they may end up disappointed as a result. Though not a shounen fighting series, Legend of the Galactic Heroes can often seem like a sausage fest despite a plethora of genuinely well-written, strong, and clever female characters because of the fact that none of them are out there commanding ships and fleets, i.e. the very activity that is at the absolute forefront of LoGH.

Again, I like a lot of female characters who might not be the best or the strongest but try their best to do what they can even if they can’t keep up with the boys, characters who do things their own way at their own pace. However, even if a series actually says explicity, “This girl is truly strong because she really tried and her help, however small, was essential for victory,” within the context of shounen fighting “strength” is more defined by the overall setup and themes of the story, and rarely is any amount of lip-service enough to make the readers truly think otherwise.

Anybody who’s read or seen enough of Hokuto no Ken knows that there is a very specific point where the series jumps the shark: the time skip. It was very clear that the series was supposed to end, but editorial interference meant the series had to chug along even if it stopped making any sense at all. And it’s not like Hokuto no Ken was all that dedicated to establishing its canon in the first place, but it got ridiculous and it was obvious that they were running out of ideas.

Perhaps the best example of this shark-jumping is “Kaioh,” one of the major villains after the time skip who is design-wise quite literally “Raoh with a scar on his face,” only his armor is different. He was even voiced by Raoh’s seiyuu Utsumi Kenji in the anime!


The word bubble on this page with Kaioh actually SAYS “Raoh!”

So I ask, who says that the post time skip stuff can’t be cleaned up? It may be many years after Hokuto no Ken first debuted, but that doesn’t mean we can’t finally try to make something out of that material. Some cool characters appear and it’d be a shame to see them tossed away forever. Why can’t some of that pachinko and slot machine money go into, say, revamping Kaioh’s design and this time making him truly original? If there’s an anime, you could give him a different voice actor, change his facial features, etc. I think there’s much potential there.

Shounen fighting is quite possibly the world’s most popular anime and manga sub-genre. Whether it’s Saint Seiya in South America, Naruto in the US, One Piece in Japan, or Dragon Ball around the world, the idea of heroes fighting villains and getting stronger along the way is an idea just about any boy in any country can understand and get behind. But one of the common problems with shounen is the idea of the “power creep,” where newer and more powerful villains keep appearing to challenge the hero to the point that the earlier villains who once appeared legitimately threatening begin to look pathetic by comparison. Tao Pai Pai in Dragon Ball may have been one of the few capable of defeating Goku early on, but by the time Goku turns Super Saiyan 3 the assassin is little more than a distant memory.

I think all shounen fighting series creators are well aware of this danger, but only some try to circumvent it, at least temporarily. As such I’ve included a few examples of attempts to quell the Power Level beast.

The first two series of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure had some degree of power creep, but starting with the third and most popular series starring Kujou Joutarou the series became about outwitting the opponent instead of outpowering them. Here, characters were given their own power sets which changed little to none over the course of the entire series, and all advancements came from figuring out new ways to use abilities already known to the readers, instead of acquiring entirely new powers.

Hokuto no Ken saw fit to make its main hero Kenshiro already absurdly powerful. Kenshiro is not a youth who needs to learn the ways of fighting and to live up to his potential, but a man who already has received the title of master of the world’s deadliest martial art. As such, Kenshiro’s victories are generally won through willpower and using the right moves in his encyclopedic collection of head-exploding strikes. The other move Hokuto no Ken makes is to establish its main villain Raoh relatively early and make him a proper end boss, and also establishing the fact that as far as fighting ability goes, both Kenshiro and Raoh are at similar levels. Even when the series goes crazy with Kaioh and such, this is never quite a problem.

Digimon Adventure 02 saw a problem when it realized that, if left the way things were, the already powerful Angemon could just go Ultimate and leave an unfortunate stain where the evil Digimon Kaiser (Digimon Emperor in the English dub) was once standing. To get around having to make the villain more absurdly powerful than the final opponents in the first series, the concept of the “black rings,” devices which prevent digital monsters from evolving, was created. The solution was that the heroes had to find an alternate means to “power up” which, while incapable of reaching their old heights, gave them a fighting chance. Eventually they overcame the Digimon Kaiser and new villains appeared, but at least for a time the shounen power creep was stayed.

Those are three examples. Can you think of any others?


Ogiue Chika, Goddess of the 2000s

Introduction

We are on the cusp of a new decade, and with such a benchmark on the way it’s only natural for people to reflect on the past, to review what has happened to them and everything they care for. Anime and manga fans are no exception. After all, it’s normal for us to assign certain traits to specific periods of anime and manga, whether it’s nostalgically remembering the “time when anime was GOOD” (which depending on your mileage can be pretty much any period) or analyzing the trends and developments in anime from decades prior, and to really be compelled to fight for the medium we love. Anime and manga thrive on emotion and reflection, and we love it for that reason. With all that in mind, I asked myself a question.

“How will this decade be remembered in the eyes of future anime fans and scholars?”

After much thought, I decided on nine ideas in total which I feel are significantly representative of the 2000s.

The Dawn of Digital Animation and the Proliferation of CG

For about as long as there has been an animation “industry” to speak of, cartoons were done on cels, painted and layered by hand, resulting in a cost-intensive and laborious process. When graphic technology progressed far enough that it became possible to animate shows “digitally,” it’s no surprise that the Japanese Animation industry, known for its significantly lower production costs compared to western counterparts, would by the early 2000s embrace this change. As of today, about the only cel animation holdovers that still exist are Sazae-san and Ponyo. Going hand in hand with the switch to digital is the increasing usage of cg and 3D graphics in anime, again generally as a cost-saving measure. Though 3D graphics in anime have been around since the late 80s (see Char’s Counterattack for example), it was the 2000s where it became a common sight.


Athrun Zala from Gundam SEED (left) and Gundam SEED Destiny (right)

The unique properties of the digital format influenced every aspect of animation production and aesthetics. Looking at character design for one example, characters are made to be colored digitally now and their features are drawn in ways which facilitate digital animation. As such, the impact the switch to digital has had on anime cannot be underestimated.

Digital Anime is a little over 10 years old now, which is a lot of time and yet not very much at all, and this decade has seen it go through some serious growing pains. In particular, it’s gone under scrutiny as critics from every level of anime, from the highest industry intellectuals to the fans, have pointed out how much it isn’t cel animation. Personally speaking, the classic example of awkward digital animation for me is Gundam SEED, where characters in zero-gravity environments looked like cut-outs awkwardly motion-tweened against a background, something which improved with SEED Destiny. Over time, animators have become more adept at using these “digital shortcuts” more effectively, and now just as you have people championing the days of cels, you also have people who think that digital animation is inherently superior.

The real answer of course is that each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and that it’s best to understand that, but that’s another talk for another day.

Character Over Story

Though there are still plenty of series which try to tell stories and have greater themes, the overall trend over the past few decades has been an increasing focus on the characters in those stories and to view them on a very personal level. While Evangelion is often marked as one of the major points where character emphasis began to supercede story emphasis, it is after 2000 where story truly begins to fall by the wayside. Taken to the extreme, these shows focus everything on intimate character portrayals with little to no narrative progress, eschewing narrative entirely, effectively creating a time capsule where characters are defined more by their static qualities than their active ones. Putting aside slice of life shows such as Hidamari Sketch and Azumanga Daioh, even series such as Haibane Renmei and Eureka Seven which place great emphasis on the grand scope of the world tend more towards the personal. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi in particular is a show whose story and events are more backdrops to display the characters and their workings.


Suzumiya Haruhi and the SOS-Dan

Essentially, this decade of anime and manga has been very much about “getting to know the characters” and treating them as “real.” Sometimes you’re a voyeur, peering into their most private moments. Sometimes you’re a close friend who gets to see them as they really are. In every case, it’s as if the goal is to have an anime viewer see a character and say, “I know what you’re really like.”

Moe

I could discuss moe all day long, but that’s not as important here as the fact that it became such a publicized word in anime fandom around the world. Whatever moe “is” or “is not,” in this decade it was clear that fans wanted it and that companies were eager to sell it.

While the word had been used prior to 2000 (such as in the 1999 visual novel Comic Party), it was after 2000 that the concept exploded and transformed into the beast that everyone knows and loves (or loves to hate). Moe became a buzzword, a rallying cry, and a point of contention as people inside and outside of the industry, as well as fans new and old, debated the effects that the popularization and push of “moe” had on the industry, the art form, and the people. The best example of how far the idea has reached would probably be the fact that Pokemon of all things featured a cute, spunky female character named “Moe” who had a crush on Satoshi/Ash.


Moe‘s name is also a pun on her usage of Fire-type Pokemon

At this point, it seems that moe has reached the height of its popularity and will become a genre that can be utilized in part or in whole. I suspect it will still be revisited in the future, but never again will we have this “moe mania,” perceived or otherwise.

“Softened” Character Designs

Chalk it up to “kawaii” or “moe” or “digital animation” or “influence from visual novels” or anything else, but character designs became softer in the period of 2000-2009. What does “softer” mean? It means rounder facial features, it means smoother curves on characters, it means subtle changes to color palettes that give off a sense of warmth, even in shows where you might not consider that appropriate. That’s not to say of course that “soft” character designs never existed in prior decades, but it was never to the same degree, and it did not seep into nearly every level and genre of anime in existence as it has here. It’s not just the Dengeki Daioh shows which went through this transformation.

It would be very easy to show you a picture of some gruff, manly shounen anime from the 80s and then put it next to something more modern and have people go, “Wow! That’s so different!” but there would be too many variables there, such as the inherent styles of the artists. Instead, I’m going to use a more subtle example.

Suzuki Mikura, Mezzo Forte (left), Mezzo Danger Service Agency (right)

Mezzo Forte is from 1998. Mezzo Danger Service Agency is from 2003. Both character designs are by the same person, Umetsu Yasuomi (who also directed both shows), and both of them are supposed to be the same character as well. Now Umetsu was always known as a skilled animator and character designer whose style leaned a little more towards the realistic side of things. And yet, look at what a difference five years make! If someone like Umetsu felt the winds of change to this extent, I think you can see what happened to character designs in anime as a whole.

Otaku in Fiction

Like many things on this list, the idea of otaku appearing in anime and manga isn’t new or unique to this decade, but the 2000s were when the concept exploded. While you had a handful of works in the previous decade, most notably Gainax’s Otaku no Video, the period from 2000-2009 saw such a growth of stories centered around otaku that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. Genshiken, Welcome to the NHK!, Lucky Star, Fujoshi Kanojo, Otaku no Musume-san, Rabuyan, Mousou Shoujo Otakukei, Tonari no 801-chan, Akibakei Kanojo, and of course Densha Otoko are among the many works which have thrown anime and manga fans into the fictional spotlight. Densha Otoko requires special mention, as its supposedly true story was partly responsible for Akihabara receiving much more mainstream media attention than in the past.

Not only are there stories about otaku now, but the “otaku” and the “fujoshi” have themselves become archetypes used in anime and manga. Go back to previous decades and only rarely will you find an otaku character who’s called an “otaku character.” Rarer still will you find them as main characters. The establishment of the otaku and fujoshi as character types in the world of anime, manga, and beyond is arguably a bigger impact than simply having works centered around otaku. Sanzenin Nagi would most assuredly have found a difficult time existing prior to this decade.


Sanzenin Nagi from Hayate the Combat Butler, Otaku Heroine

The arrival of the “otaku hero” is itself indicative of the increasing desire to appeal towards otaku. Just like how many shounen heroes are designed to appeal to kids by being more like them, otaku heroes are created to market towards anime and manga fans, to make it easier for them to relate to the characters and world of the story. At least, that’s the intention. Actual results have varied.

Greater Reverence for the Past in Remakes

Every decade has its remakes of famous and beloved works from the past, but there was something different about the way the 2000s went about it. In order to show just exactly what that difference is, we’re going to take a trip back over 40 years and start at the beginning.

In the 1960s a black and white cartoon called Tetsujin 28 appeared on Japanese television. Taking place in that era (or in “2001” if you follow the Gigantor version), the show followed a boy detective named Kaneda Shoutarou and his remote-controlled giant robot “Tetsujin 28.” He would traipse about the world in his plaid suit and short shorts, righting wrongs and fighting crime, and the show was very popular among kids.

In 1980 someone decided to revive the franchise and Tetsujin 28 underwent “modernization.” Referred to either as New Tetsujin 28 or Emissary of the Sun Tetsujin 28, the new anime sported updated redesigns for both Shoutarou and his trusty metal companion, with Shoutarou ditching his semi-formal wear for an open button-down shirt over a striped t-shirt and Tetsujin 28 slimming down and gaining more “realistic” human proportions. The art was less like its predecessor and more like the other anime coming out at the time.

The series was remade again in 1992 under the title Super Electric Robo Tetsujin 28 FX. Taking place many years into the future, the main character this time around was the son of the Kaneda Shoutarou. Kaneda Masato looked completely like a 90s anime character, sporting wild spiked hair and trading in the old remote control for a remote control gun. The new Tetsujin 28 meanwhile was the biggest departure yet, with its massive armored frame, oversized shoulder pads, and angular features. One look at this show and its designs, and you would be able to determine its time frame almost instantly.

Then in 2004 another Tetsujin 28 was announced. Would the story this time be about Tetsujin 28 fighting terrorists in the 21st century? Would Shoutarou’s be changed into a bishounen? Just how would this Tetsujin 28 update itself? The answer, it turns out, is by revisiting post-war setting of the original anime and manga, putting Kaneda Shoutarou back in his suit and short shorts, and returning the titular robot to its round and cumbersome-looking original design. The main difference was, this time around they could tell an on-going story that wasn’t possible with the episodic nature of the first anime.


Tetsujin 28, 60s (top-left), 80s (top-right), 90s (lower-left), and 00s (lower-right)

 

Here we see the level of reverence that animated remakes in the 2000s have for their source material. As cool as Sugino Akio’s Black Jack from the OVAs looks, it’s more a Sugino design that it is an adaptation of the Tezuka version. Whether it’s the new Black Jack, the new Towards the Terra, or the new Glass Mask, these remakes over the past ten years have all derived their aesthetics from the originals and tried even in their updated redesigns to capture their visual essence, as opposed to re-envisioning the characters almost entirely to fit in with the current trends of animation. Re: Cutie Honey in particular is a prime example, when comparing its opening to the original’s. Even adaptation of 90s series such as Itazura na Kiss and Slayers Revolution went about trying to capture that 90s anime “feel.”

Overall, this decade has done a much better job at looking back then the decades previous, but that might just be because anime is old enough at this point for that to happen in a proper fashion.

The Kids’ Manga of Yesterday is the Adult Manga of Today

Tying directly into the remake reverence, nostalgia for anime and manga has become a greater factor in the industry than it ever has in the past, and it has everything to do with appealing to the adults of today who were once kids. As with the example of Tetsujin 28, the revivals of today differ from the revivals of yesteryear in that while the previous ones tried to update the series for the kids of that era, more current series tap directly into the adult market who have a longing for the anime and manga of their childhood. Whereas Kinnikuman and Hokuto no Ken ran in Shounen Jump (the current home of One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach), Kinnikuman II (1998) and Souten no Ken (2001) run in adult magazines high on nostalgia.


Hokuto no Ken’s Kenshiro (left), Souten no Ken’s Kasumi Kenshiro (right)

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the super robot genre has been approached over the past ten years. Arguably starting with 1997’s Gaogaigar and its realization that adults are watching this kids’ show, super robots have tried to tap into the childhood of those 18 and up. One only has to look at Gurren-Lagann, Godannar!!, Koutetsushin Jeeg, New Getter Robo, Shin Mazinger, Aim for the Top 2 and others to see this trend. While not all of these shows go out of their way to alienate new viewers (and shows such as Gaiking: Legend of Daikumaryu try harder to focus on a younger audience), they are still homages to the themes and tropes of decades past, trying to attract yesterday’s fan today.

 

Accelerated Access to Anime

Looking at the way we watch anime and read manga now, with our streaming videos, official online comics, torrents, rapidshares, and just ease of access to the product, it can be easy to remember that there was a time when getting any anime at all was a diffcult feat, and any show we saw was many years old at that point. But let’s not step back too far, and just consider the fact that there was a time before stores had “anime” or “manga” sections where you could easily buy the latest volume of your favorite series (or not buy, as the case may be).

Speed of information. Speed of communication. Speed has defined this decade as a whole, let alone in the realm of anime and manga, but it’s in the easy access to large amounts of media that anime began to feel like a juggernaut. On the up-and-up, you could buy anime DVDs and manga in mainstream stores and chains, or watch anime about fighting with monsters on Saturday Morning cartoons, or catch Cartoon Network’s Toonami and Adult Swim. On the illegitimate side of things, people began to produce “digisubs,” obviating the need for VHS fansubs and tape-trading. IRC downloads gave way to Direct Connect, which was succeeded by the Bittorrent, which in turn was overtaken in popularity by a new website called YouTube, which ushered in an age of streaming video.


The ease with which we could find anime made the world feel a little smaller

At anime cons, industry representatives have talked about how Bittorrent, while significant, didn’t cut into their revenues nearly as much as streaming video had. Streaming anime was fast, easy to understand (no “What’s a Torrent?”), and of course it was free. That’s why so many companies are trying streaming video right now; they know that this is where people are turning and they want to get something out of it rather than trying to squash it entirely. Even the Japan side is getting more savvy about this, with Bandai Channel getting into the mix and the rise of Nico Nico Douga. Now we actually have shows which are accessible to international audiences at nearly the exact same minute as a broadcast in Japan. And ironically, some people have shown that it’s still not fast enough.

The Ups and Downs of Internationalization

Back in 2000 I saw the second Pokemon movie on opening day, as I had with the first movie. I distinctly remember it being the summer of 2000, seeing as how the English title for the movie was Pokemon 2000 and all. But as I sat in the theater with friends that morning, I looked at the entrances for a moment and then…they came. Children flooded the theater, seeping into every row and every seat that they could like a single Pikachu-loving blob. In a couple of minutes the theater was packed. This was Pokemon. This was where anime had gone.

Then years later I went to see the 5th movie, starring Latios and Latias in theaters. Once again it was opening day, but this time I was the only person in the theater. Looking back, this should have told me everything I needed to know about the life of anime and manga in this decade.


The Pokemon movies from 2000 and 2003

The anime and manga industries of today struggle as their peers and rivals fall victim to a mix of overzealousness, bad decisions, and a market that just isn’t there even though they wanted it to be. But whether there was ever any actual success, or whether it was built purely on kindle and gumdrops from the beginning, the fact that these companies were even around to be eliminated, the fact that someone could actually think an “Anime Network” would succeed, the fact that another person would think, “We have to make our cartoons more like that anime stuff,” the fact that Anime and Manga could even give the impression of “Making It Big” is amazing in itself.

Conclusion

Anime and manga in the period from 2000-2009 has undergone changes in almost every area imaginable, from the way it’s watched to the way it’s created, from storytelling styles and character aesthetics, to perceptions of the past and the future. Whether it’s for the better or worse, I think ultimately history will have a neutral opinion on this era as the good inevitably came with the bad.

While these changes have been quite major, they do not exist in a bubble separate from history, and if you look closely you’ll find strong connections going back to the earliest days of anime and manga that continuously resonate from past to present. And in a way, this decade was not so different from the ones previous to it in the sense that every decade has brought with it changes to how anime is perceived, received, and produced. What’s different this time though, is that everyone around the world can see them more clearly and talk about them with ease, as we are doing right now.

So that’s 2000-2009 and the look back. Get ready for Part 2, where I talk about where I think anime and manga will be going in the coming years.

By popular(?) demand

 

In thinking about my Taisho Yakyuu Musume-related post from yesterday, I was reminded of one of the difficulties some people have with understanding how varied the appeal of moe can be while still being considered moe. Sometimes people ask, “Why would you want to see helpless girls? Do you like them that way?” And the answer to that is, they’re not helpless, they’re just at a disadvantage, and that has its own appeal from the perspective of a consumer of fiction.

I’m going to present here a quote from the Bible which I think is appropriate given the subject. Better known perhaps as the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30 (New International Version) reads:

14“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents[a] of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

21“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Religious connotations aside, this parable highlights the appeal of watching, say, the girls of Taisho Yakyuu Musume strive to beat a boy’s baseball team instead of aiming for a loftier goal: the desire to watch characters try their best to succeed with the abilities they have. You can even see that not all of the girls are the absolute best at the positions they’re given. Sure, some of the girls are already athletic, but many have to train, some harder than others, and ultimately no one expects them to easily surpass the ones with more training and talent, but we look approvingly upon the progress they’ve already made.

While the parable does not map completely to the case of the Baseball Girls, the gist is that the servant fearing that he was not good enough chose instead to bury his head in the sand and hope for the best. What the master wanted to see from the servant was for him to value what he has, even if it wasn’t as much as the servant with ten talents, and do something with it. What I and others want to see is characters who may not be the most skilled or even capable of simple tasks trying hard to accomplish what they can.

In a more secular vernacular, the proper term would probably be, “Work with what you’ve got.” This is why we enjoy watching moe girls try to cook even though they’re terrible at it. This is why we enjoy watching them learn to play baseball without any indication of skill. We’re not hoping for them to fail, we just want to cheer them on and congratulate them for not running to the backyard and burying their one talent.

Don’t compare the moe girls to those more capable than they, but rather look kindly upon what they manage to accomplish taking into account the amount of “talent” they were given.

For examples of character equivalents of the man with five talents, see: Akagi Shigeru, Kenshiro.

Otakon 2009 was punctuated by a number of personal differences and changes in my life, not least of which were a new method of travel, as well as a variety of new travel buddies. It was also my first year at Otakon as a member of the Press (thanks to the existence of this blog), and while I can’t say that it was as rockin’ as last year’s Otakon, I can tell you that it was a fine experience where I never felt like there was too little to do.

My trip began Thursday afternoon, where while on the bus to Baltimore and then on the city bus to Downtown Baltimore we argued about moe in all of its forms, seeking to wrestle the elusive beast to the ground with mixed results. Baltimore that day was a breezy 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the kind of weather perfect for strolling through the city carrying luggage. Dropping off our belongings at the hotel, we went off to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and met up with esteemed guests such as Patz, Ed Sizemore, and Clarissa from Anime World Order. A variety of fine topics were discussed, such as the joys of showing little kids the Real Power Rangers and the deliciousness of beef (conclusion: it is very delicious).

Upon returning to the convention center to get our badges, we realized that there was a line still snaked around the building that normally would not be based on past experience. I luckily had my badge waiting for me at Press Ops, but many were not so lucky. It was yet another sign that this year’s Otakon was Different. The lines would continue throughout the weekend.


The Pre-Registration Line for Otakon 2009

I also had dinner with people on Friday and to a lesser extent on Saturday, meeting the rest of the AWO crew, Erin from Ninja Consultant and others who I can’t quite remember because the table was quite long. If you’re willing to sit down and relax, the downtown Baltimore area is good for food, and if you’re able to travel further out there are also some excellent restaurants. If you want fast food, that’s also available, and if you want to save money on food I recommend Grape Nuts and Parmalat. Grape Nuts is a dense cereal in a small box and is very filling and nourishing. It has the Ogiue Maniax seal of approval.

Food aside, there were so many events each day that they’ve started to blur in my head, and instead of discussing what happened chronologically I’m going to talk about things more categorically.

Industry and Otakon-related panels I attended were the Funimation panel and the Opening Ceremony panel. Funimation, as you might know already, announced some big-deal shows, namely Casshern Sins (which I reviewed here), Eden of the East (one of the best shows of last season), and the “Dragon Box” master edition remastering of Dragon Ball Z just like the one the Japanese have.

The opening ceremony also marked the second year that Madhouse animated a special opening for Otakon, akin to the Daicon IV opening of legend. This year’s animation incorporated the entire Otakon staff and had numerous references both eastern and western. If you wanted to see the Enterprise duke it out with the Yamato, this was your chance. Unfortunately, we were given the news that the director of the Otakon 2009 Opening Animation, Endou Takuji, had died the week prior, and our condolences go out to a man who reached out to American fandom so readily. Endou was also the director of Record of Lodoss War, a show which many fans in America consider vital to their beginnings as otaku.

As you might guess from the title of this post, guests this year were remarkably good in their decision to not constantly dodge questions and defer to others, though it still happened occasionally when it had to.

Yamamoto Yutaka, aka Yamakan, dropped down answers to questions which clearly showed him putting in some genuine thought and not just defaulting to stock answers. One person asked him how he got to be a director, and his response was that he wanted to be an animator but then couldn’t draw so he had to pick something else that would let him work in anime without drawing talent. To follow up, I asked what he thought of Takahata Isao, director of Grave of the Fireflies, because Takahata is also a director who cannot draw. Yamamoto answered that Takahata is one of the two directors who inspired him to get into anime, and that he considers the Anne of Green Gables anime directed by Takahata to be pretty much THE finest example of an anime TV series and how to tell a story in that format. Sadly, he would not reveal the second despite prompting.

I also asked him about Tonari no 801-chan’s anime debut, and he said that the original author asked him personally to do it, and that he felt destined to do it. Other highlights from Yamakan include his belief that what’s most important in animation is having characters stay “in-character” (and anyone who’s seen Tsugumi in Kannagi can attest to him putting his money where his mouth is), his desire for fellow anime creators to be capable of being creative with each other so that they may grow and improve, and his belief that today’s anime creators lack strong enough personalities akin to Miyazaki, Tomino, and Anno. As you can tell, he was not a “normal” Japanese guest and I am grateful for that.

Oh, and as for his definition of moe: If you like it, it’s moe for you.


Frederik L. Schodt

Frederik L. Schodt (apparently pronounced “Shot”) meanwhile revealed very good knowledge of the scanlation scene and an understanding of its appeal, as well as being good at handling the audience at his Astro Boy panel. At his Q&A panel, I asked him about instances where either American culture values in Japanese comics made them unapproachable by an American audience and vice versa. For the manga example, he pointed out how works are still censored to an extent, and that some companies are forced to claim the girls in their media are 18+ when they clearly are not given the context of the story, and that most of the genres of manga in Japan never come to the US, such as mahjong manga. His answer for American comics that were deemed not appropriate for a Japanese audience was even more interesting.

Schodt had accompanied the great Wil Eisner of all people to Japan, as Eisner was interested in publishing his works there and and there was a Japanese publishing company which published non-Japanese artists. However, when shown the work of Eisner, the company said that he had to rework it to flow more like a Japanese comic and have it read right to left. Eisner, who was over 80 years old at the time, naturally did not want to entirely redo one of his comics which had sold successfully internationally for decades and so the deal was off. He also talked about how much he likes The Four Immigrants Manga by Japanese immigrant Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, a comic from California in 1927 which is written in a sort of simultaneous Japanese and English (thus requiring knowledge of both to read properly), and is arguably the first existence of a comic book in America, as well as predating Tezuka’s debut by a number of years. After the panel, I got Schodt to autograph my copy of Dreamland Japan.

While I did not manage to score any one-on-one interviews, I did attend some very informative press conferences. There was a sudden press conference with Maruyama Masao (head of Madhouse), Ishiguro Noboru (director of Macross and Legend of the Galactic Heroes), Kikukawa Yukio (producer of Legend of the Galactic Heroes), and Matsubara Hidenori (character designer for the Ah! My Goddess anime), which started off with Ishiguro and Maruyama deciding to just sit in the audience and act like they were members of the press. At this point we had some fun interviewing the translator in the room, asking him throwaway questions such as, “Who are your translating influences?” and “What made you decide to become a translator?” When the press conference actually began, as it were, it turned out to be one of the most informative hours of my life. This press conference will most likely appear online in its entirety at some point so you don’t have to worry on that front, but there are a few highlights I’d like to mention.

From left to right: Kikukawa, Maruyama, translator, Ishiguro, Matsubara

One interesting set of answers was everyone’s response to the anime they would love to make if they could. Matsubara said he would love to adapt the Tezuka manga Dororo into an anime, and even has the support of Maruyama. Maruyama meanwhile said that there were so many he’d like to have made and that’s why he makes them. Ishiguro wants to make a story set in Tokyo in 1948 that he’s been wanting to make for 30 years and even has the entire story plotted in his head. Kikukawa’s dream anime is to adapt the Darkover series of science fiction novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Another interesting answer was one to my own question, where I asked Ishiguro to talk about his experiences with the deceased Nagahama Tadao, creator of Combattler V, Voltes V, and Daimos, as well as one of the directors of Rose of Versailles. Nagahama, as it turns out, was actually in puppet theater of all things before he became an anime director. Also, when working as a director he would act out every part, male and female, in the script to give a better idea to his staff as to how the story should go. Finally, because he had no talent for drawing, whenever he wanted to make corrections to a key animation (and he inspected every single one), he would write a detailed description on the back as to what needed changing. Nagahama is not terribly popular in the US even among old school fans so this was an amazing bit of information to find out. I personally cannot wait to ask Tomino this question at New York Anime Festival.

While the other press conference I attended with MELL was not nearly as informative, what I found was that MELL opened up to us much more than I would expect from a musical guest. We found out that, despite the heavy use of English in her songs she was never good at it in school, she had her first band at around the age of 15 or 16 where she sang for a college band, and that she mistook a guy for a girl due to his elaborate cosplay of a Victorian era character.

MELL was also one of the concerts I attended at Otakon, the other being the Tamura Naomi concert, and both were beyond my expectations. I am no music expert and my music vocabulary is entirely lacking, but I will say that MELL and her band knew very much how to perform and keep the audience in the mood. She sang songs from Black Lagoon and Rideback, and showed off why she’s well regarded among fans.

Sunday’s concert with Tamura Naomi showed how incredibly powerful her voice can be, as she demonstrated that the notes she hits in those opening themes she sings are notes she can hit in a live performance. Highlights of the concert include her own rendition of the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There, and her Rayearth songs, namely Yuzurenai Negai (1st series opening), with which she ended her concert.

I also held my own concert on Sunday where I sang the theme song to the Golgo 13 NES games. In case you didn’t know, the song actually has lyrics!

My dealer’s room experience was also a most pleasant one as I managed to get everything I was looking for, specifically Ogiue-related…merchandise… as well as the recently released Revoltech Souther from Hokuto no Ken, or, as he’s known on the box, “Thouzer.”

On the fandom side of things, while I did not pay much attention to cosplay I was glad to see a good variety of costumes. While you had your endless Sora from Kingdom Hearts and the general love for Naruto and Bleach you usually expect, I also got some pleasant surprises, such as a cosplay of Kitarou and Nekomusume from Gegege no Kitarou.

Something I did not approve of was the near-total lack of Tainaka Ritsu when it came to K-On! cosplay. I like Mio too and all, but the ratio of Mio to Ritsu was unacceptable. I’m just saying.

The fan panels I attended were all well-run and had people who at least to some extent knew what they were talking about. The Neo-Shounen panel run by Daryl Surat succeeded in its goal of showing how Shounen as a concept changed over the years, mainly in its desire to appeal to both male and female readers, and the Lost in Translation panel was a good beginner’s panel for those interested in seeing some of the difficulties of translating from Japanese to English. The Mecha Appreciation Panel had knowledgeable panelists, but the format was a little haphazard and could have used some focus. If you ran this panel, I was the one who said “King J-Der” for coolest Gaogaigar robot.

I also went to the Anime Recruitment panel by the Reverse Thieves, which provided very good advice for how to get people into anime without scaring them off, offering tips such as, “If your first attempt fails, don’t press the issue. Instead, give them time to cool off, like three weeks or however long it takes.” I’ve spoken before on how difficult I find recommending anime to be, so I will take this advice to heart.

I had a personally vested interest in attending the Otaku TV and Genshiken panels, both run by Viga the Otagal, and was curious as to how these panels would go. Overall, they did a good job of showing the audience what these shows are all about, though I think Viga was a little too spoiler-friendly and it could scare off people who would want to see these series otherwise. Still, I was very glad to see such significant attendance for Genshiken-related panels. After the Genshiken panel, someone in the audience actually greeted me as a reader of Ogiue Maniax and asked to take my picture. Whoever you are, that made my day and I thank you.

Viga said in her Genshiken panel that she believes “The Psychology of Ogiue” would provide enough material for an entire panel, and I am inclined to agree. Keep on the lookout for that.

Overall, I have no serious complaints about Otakon this year, as I feel that the events I would have complained about I simply did not attend, such as the apparently misleading title of the “Sailor Moon’s Influence on Hentai” panel. The fact that Daryl Surat’s Anime’s Craziest Deaths got shut down because no one actually knew what Apocalypse Zero was disappointing, but I’m sure both sides will know how to better handle it next year. As a member of the Otakon press, I also would have felt better if I was told in advance that I would not be getting any interviews, rather than being left dangling. However, because this year’s Otakon was so packed with activities and intriguing and intelligent guests, I can say that this was one of my finest convention experiences, and everyone I traveled to Otakon and back with agreed wholeheartedly.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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