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Most of the fights in the mecha anime Aldnoah Zero follow a roughly similar pattern: In a reversal of the typical structure of giant robot combat, a technologically superior and seemingly invincible enemy is overcome by the tactics and ingenuity of the protagonist Inaho and his allies without the need of secret prototype weapons or trump cards. What I think makes these battles and the opponents’ eventual defeats work really well both narratively and thematically is that their downfall is usually based on them being blinded by arrogance.
One might argue that this is unrealistic, or more specifically that an opponent with such an edge in terms of firepower would likely not have overlooked some of the weaknesses that end up being exploited by Inaho. However, given the culture of the Vers Empire, the feudalistic space culture that attacks the Earth, I find that it makes a lot of sense. The subjects of the Vers Empire, especially their “Orbital Knights,” have been raised to believe that they are inherently better than people from Earth, and that this superiority derives from their discovery and use of a powerful technology called the “Aldnoah Drive.” While from our perspective it’s easy to point out that the “inherent” superiority of the Vers is anything but because it derives from an outside source in the Aldnoah Drive, actually history has shown that similar reasoning, as strangely illogical as it can seem, has often been used to justify similar mindsets or even forms of racism.
Consider the hypothetical example of a nation of people who believe they are simply better than their neighbors because they were born on land that was more arable. Although one could easily say that this is just a matter of luck or probability to an extent, it wouldn’t seem that strange for them to believe that they were somehow blessed by God or some other great power, and that they deserve this blessing on some fundamental level. It’s circular reasoning to be sure, but that doesn’t necessarily stop anyone from believing it.
Thus, the Orbital Knights believe that they are inherently superior in every way over the Terrans, therefore they receive the more powerful technology, therefore they are inherently superior in every way over the Terrans. They buy so much into not only the idea that the people of Earth are too stupid to figure anything out, but that they actually have no Achilles’ heels to exploit in the first place. With nothing to challenge them and without even acknowledging that they may have overlooked something in their robots (or “Kataphrakts” as Aldnoah Zero calls them), potentially preventable defeats are addressed too late.
Genshiken has portrayed elaborate fantasies, some nudity, and implied sex, but Chapter 103 may be the most erotic chapter the manga has ever seen.
At the end of the last chapter, Madarame was headed with Keiko to her apartment. While it was a little unclear (though heavily implied) that Keiko was using this situation to her advantage, all doubts are erased in Chapter 103 as Keiko does everything in her power to seduce Madarame. On the verge of success as she bids Madarame to feel some real skin, they are interrupted by a phone call from Keiko’s boyfriend, who plans to come over. After Keiko casually admits to having affairs pretty regularly, Madarame escapes, though Keiko expects for him to return.
When I say that this month’s chapter is especially erotic, it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first chapter ever in Genshiken that has been primarily devoted to one person’s efforts to seduce another. Not only that, but this chapter creates an atmosphere of anticipation and sexual excitement through Keiko’s actions and gestures, going one step even further than the last chapter. Everything Keiko does, from her decision to shower to her choice of clothes, from her subtle choice of words that boost Madarame’s confidence to her serious bedroom eyes, implies advancement towards sex… not to mention that they’re in such a confined space. While I’m not typically one to analyze erotic manga (and this doesn’t quite count as eromanga in the typical sense), I would like to discuss the first panel in the image below, where Madarame’s hand is above Keiko’s open sweatshirt after she’s invited him to touch her breasts.
There’s a real sense of tension in the panel, created by its size, the lack of word balloons, and especially Keiko’s expression, which conveys excitement, anticipation, and even arousal. What’s also notable is that this eroticism is different from the fanservice scenes in the anime Genshiken 2 (not to be confused with Genshiken Second Season), which at times were virtually pornographic (the studio that made Genshiken 2 is best known for its work on Ikkitousen and Mezzo Forte, among other things). Instead, in terms of portraying sexual acts, this veers closer to what can typically be found in more adult josei manga in terms of buildup.
When looking at this chapter, I get the strong feeling that Kio Shimoku’s work on Spotted Flower is bleeding into his work on Genshiken. After all, he has a history of sorts with this, as the very first chapter of Genshiken II was made at a time when his latest work was Jigopuri, and characters looked much rounder and more in line with a moe aesthetic. One can think of Spotted Flower as essentially an alternate universe Genshiken where a man very much like Madarame is married to a woman very much like Kasukabe, and it has been an opportunity for Kio to portray adult sexual desire with far more detail than Genshiken is known for. Whether that’s through depictions of nudity, scenes about the wife trying to get the husband erect, or just the general expression of romantic lust, Spotted Flower has distinguished itself from Genshiken by being a more mature and sexually explicit series. Keiko’s interactions with Madarame venture deep into that territory, and I wonder if this will have a long-term effect on Genshiken going forward.
I think it’s useful to compare Keiko to Angela, not only because Angela once attempted to seduce Madarame herself, but that they have much in common when it comes to men. In my review of Chapter 93, I mentioned that Angela and Keiko look like they could be friends, and I think it’s no accident that Kio has portrayed them as both aiming for the boob grab as the lynchpin of their pursuits of Madarame. Both of them are quite experienced with sex, and both are aware that, for guys in general but especially a virgin like Madarame, breasts are placed on this grand pedestal. Keiko is even shown planning to moan erotically as soon as Madarame makes his move as a way to draw him in further, a bit of characterization in a sexually charged scene that indicates Keiko’s understanding of Madarame and further shows that she and Angela are of similar minds.
Now, I think a fair number of people, upon reading my description and analysis of Chapter 103, might feel that Genshiken has hit the point of no return. “Seriously? A scene where Madarame is basically about to have sex with Sasahara’s sister? What is this harem stuff? What happened to this manga?” Interestingly, the chapter features an explanation as to how Madarame finally started being viewed as attractive. At one point, Keiko says that seeing an otaku like Madarame in love with a person like Kasukabe who is (from Keiko’s perspective) completely out of his league actually makes him pretty cute in her eyes. In other words, as Keiko puts it, it’s thanks to Kasukabe that Madarame was able to exude his awkward charms. Not only that, but Keiko is sort of fond of no-good, pathetic types as well.
When thinking about the other characters, Sue, Hato, and Angela, they’ve all been shown to have also come from similar angles, either implicitly or explicitly. Sue’s wild denial that she has feelings for Madarame is the direct result of Saki seeing her kiss him. Angela already had a thing for sou-uke characters in anime and manga, and she began making her move upon learning that Madarame was feeling heart-broken. Hato, why, much of the series at this point is about his growing affections for Madarame’s character flaws, and it was even prompted by him learning about his unrequited love for Kasukabe. Of course, with Keiko it’s not as if she only has eyes for Madarame; he’s but one of many that she wouldn’t mind sleeping with. The fact that not everyone interested in Madarame has the same view of sex and relationships (which is often the case with actual harem anime and manga) is part of what makes this story arc intriguing. I do have to wonder if Keiko’s boyfriend is of a similar personality in spite of his greater financial success (he’s a subordinate of the president of an IT company).
Next chapter will be about Hato, but the question on my mind is, how will Sasahara react when he finds out about this?! I’ve read comments where people think it’s all over for Keiko x Mada, but I get the feeling that she’s not quite yet done.
Fortune and misfortune came in roughly equal parts at this year’s Otakon, as the best weather in years for the convention mainly served to provide some reprieve for the long and grueling ticket line. Some technical difficulties forced the registration to extend all the way until Friday at 4pm (registration began Thursday). Being press I did not have to deal with this myself, so I don’t want it to sound like I am speaking entirely from personal experience, but I did accompany a couple of friends as they moved through what was a seemingly unending parade of otaku before giving up at roughly the 2-hour mark and waiting for the next day.
Some panel room shuffling this year meant that panels could hold larger audiences, while little details like dividers helped traffic flow along. The bottleneck sky bridge between the Baltimore Convention Center and the Hilton could still get backed up at times, but not quite as much as last year. Again, the weather was a major boon as it meant that even if certain parts of the con got jammed, it was a simple matter of leaving the con center and entering at a different point. Unfortunately, many of the presentations also had tech issues that mostly seemed to stem from the Otakon equipment rather than presenters’ laptops and such. However, Otakon smartly implemented 15-minute breaks between panels, which gave people time to set up and mostly work through any problems, and even if things still went awry it at least only ate into their time somewhat.
Once people actually got into the convention though, Otakon turned out for the most part to be as great as ever.
This year, due to still recovering from jetlag, I took a more relaxed pace compared to previous Otakons. Having no panels to run for myself made this easier, and while the guests were good, none of them were must-see for me. Of course, even simply picking and choosing means that there are still a number of interesting panels. The best industry panels this year had to be the Q&As with director Katabuchi Sunao (Mai Mai Miracle), Otakon mainstay Maruyama Masao, founder and former producer of the anime studio MADHouse and current founder of MAPPA (Kids on the Slope, Teekyuu), and character designer/animator Matsubara Hidenori. Their new project is a film adaptation of the manga In this Corner of the World (previously released on JManga as To All Corners of the World) by Kouno Fumiyo, about a young girl living in Hiroshima during World War II. Kouno previously received critical acclaim over the similarly themed Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, and having read In This Corner of the World myself, I have to say that I am extremely looking forward to this project.
I managed to ask a couple of questions of Katabuchi. One had to do with some criticism of Kouno’s work I’ve seen in the past, where people accused her of not being directly critical enough of the Second World War and issues such as Japan’s militarism at the time. While it’s clear upon reading the manga that the work is actually quite critical and is merely subtle in its approach, I wanted to know if 1) they were aware of this criticism 2) they were prepared to address it. Katabuchi’s response was quite satisfying in this regard, as he himself gave an example of how the original manga does portray a larger world with many political issues but through the eyes of a young girl who isn’t necessarily aware of everything around her but is nonetheless affected by it in her everyday life.
In particular, Katabuchi pointed out how the main character’s desire for a yo-yo is actually a reference to the fact that yo-yos had become popular in Japan at the time, but the manga does not bother to mention this because a little girl would not be thinking about the significance of popular trends to a society. In other words, while this yo-yo example says nothing directly about the political climate at the time, it shows the awareness that the work has about what was happening in society. Given this response, and the fact that an elaborate art exhibition of their layout and design work for the movie showed just how much research they were putting in to depict a pre-atomic bombing Hiroshima, it gives me confidence that the movie will properly tackle its difficult subject matter. While Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises drew a similar kind of controversy (the criticism that it had whitewashed Japan’s role in history), I feel that, similar to Miyazaki’s film, that this will not be a simple black-and-white anti-war film.
The other question had to do with the fact that he actually worked on the, shall we say interesting, American Street Fighter cartoon. No, not the anime film with the dub soundtrack featuring Korn, nor Street Fighter II V, but the one best known for its M. Bison memes. I basically asked if he had any recollection of his experience there, and he said that it had been so long ago that all he remembered was drawing Chun-Li at some point and eventually feeling like he should have been in charge of the whole thing. At another point in the panel, Katabuchi also mentioned how he has an advantage over Miyazaki because Miyazaki is never allowed to direct something like Black Lagoon but everything is fair game for Katabuchi himself.
As for Maruyama, it’s more or less the case every year, but the man is arguably the most important person at Otakon every time he attends. In This Corner of the World is a MAPPA production and so a lot of the focus was on that, but he was of course open to questions in general. I asked him if his production style had changed now compared to his early days at MADHouse on shows such as Aim for the Ace!, but he responded that his approach to production has changed little in the 3+ decades since, as he prefers to give the creators themselves freedom to work. The only drawback is that it means he’s not the best with finances, which is why MADHouse was eventually purchased by Nippon TV.
Another interesting question courtesy of Kate from the Reverse Thieves was whether the subject matter of the current anime Terror in Resonance (terrorism and nuclear weapons) had caused any controversy or run into any problems. Maruyama responded that both he and the director Watanabe Shin’ichirou (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Kids on the Slope) had concerns that the TV stations would refuse to air the show, but that the two of them went forward with it anyway because that’s their style. It reminds me of the production issues that the Coppelion anime ran into that caused it to cover up all overt references to radiation, and I’m personally happy that the same fate has not befallen Terror in Resonance, or at least not yet. Overall, I have to stress that going to a Maruyama panel is always worth it, and as sad as it sounds the man is not getting any younger. That said, he did joke that he’s the same age as Miyazaki but whereas Miyazaki retired Maruyama is doing more work than ever before. Maybe it’s a MAPPA trend to make jokes referencing the famed Ghibli director.
The last guest to attend the convention that was related to In This Corner of the World was Matsubara Hidenori, known for his character design work on the Sakura Wars games and more recently for his animation work on the Rebuild of Evangelion films. He was a guest in 2009 as well, and after having heard how interesting his Q&A was at the time I made sure not to miss it. Sadly I couldn’t ask him any questions myself, but his responses in general were quite informative. In particular, he talked about how glad he was to not have to necessarily draw young, cute girls all the time anymore, and that one of the works most influential to him is the World Masterpiece Theater series En Famille or The Story of Perinne. He also mentioned that while he once tried to switch to using a drawing tablet, in the end he had to go back to pencil and paper.
I briefly mentioned the In This Corner of the World art exhibition, but it really deserves at least is own paragraph to talk about how amazing it is. I’m actually a little sad that photos weren’t allowed because the amount of work and research that went into them is nothing short of astounding. In order to properly capture the Hiroshima area of World War II Japan, they did things like find out how seaweed was dried using bamboo instead of reeds, and they even looked into the train schedules at the time to see what times would be accurate for trains in the backgrounds in certain scenes. A lot of this work would arguably be unnecessary and very few people are even alive today who remember that period, but it shows just how much they want to capture the feeling of living in that environment.
I also attended the panel for character designer Kozaki Yuusuke, and while I’m not quite the fan that others are (having only barely played No More Heroes and never having played Fire Emblem: Awakening), it was fun to see him take audience drawing requests. The two images above were the result of this, and it turns out that Kozaki even drew the cover art for the Otakon guidebook this year. This was quite noticeable as generally the artwork for Otakon stuff has traditionally ranged from subpar to mediocre. It also made me really want to read his manga Donyatsu, which is about donut-shaped dogs and cats in an apocalyptic world; in one of the images above, Donyatsu is featured being eaten by a Fire Emblem character. The main reason Kozaki was at Otakon, however, was to promote a new anime project, Under the Dog, which based on its initial material is trying to invoke a Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex-type feel but with more action. In fact, at the panel they mentioned getting an animator who worked on GitS. If you want to help make it happen, a Kickstarter went up just this past week.
While the guests are generally great at Otakon, it’s the fan panels that are in my opinion the heart and soul of the experience. Compared to Anime Expo, for example, Otakon boasts a much larger set of non-industry panels, which results in a general sense of genuine enthusiasm over the experience of watching, reading, and thinking about anime, manga, and related topics.
The first panel of the convention that I attended was the Intro to Josei panel, and it was clear that they were inexperienced as presenters. The panel had two parts to it, a brief history and rundown of the significance of josei (manga for older women), and then some examples of interesting titles. Their intentions were good, but the panel had two main problems. First, it felt like two panels in one, with the seam between the history and the examples made especially visible by the fact that the first and second halves just felt completely different. Second, it was more of an introduction to J-Drama panels than one about josei anime and manga, as all of their visual examples came from dramas, even in cases where anime counterparts were available (like Nodame Cantabile). The result was that the panel didn’t feel like an introduction, but more a brief gleaning of what’s available. If they could include more anime and manga and really figure out what they want to say, then I think it would be much improved for the future.
I’ve known Daryl Surat for a long time now, and have listened to the Anime World Order podcast for even longer. As was the case last year (and possibly the years before that, I can’t remember), Daryl was a featured panelist at Otakon, and he always manages to have a strong mix of smart and stupid that keeps things fresh, entertaining, and even educational. While his Anime’s Craziest Deaths panel is an Otakon mainstay at this point and pretty much always delivers exactly what its title states, he also did a panel on ninja in anime, one on the long relationship of influence that exists between pro wrestling and anime, and one on showing some of the many references in Kill la Kill. The ninja panel was the lightest in terms of content and was more about seeing how wide and varied the perception of ninja has become to include just about anyone doing anything as long as they’re called a ninja. The pro wrestling/anime panel approached that connection from a unique angle, positing the idea that, more than simply being about one referencing the other and vice versa, some of the very fundamental storytelling aspects of anime and manga (particularly shounen fighting works) are influenced by the wrestling storylines that were popular when television first emerged in Japan. It also went into detail about the female pro wrestling scene in Japan and how it was for a long time not about appealing to men through sexy outfits but about giving girls idols to aspire to, which then created certain archetypes in anime and manga as well. Really great panel, I recommend going even if people don’t have an interest in pro wrestling.
The Kill la Kill references panel 1) made me want to watch Sukeban Deka, the show about a yo-yo-wielding delinquent girl that inspired much of Kill la Kill 2) emphasized that what makes Kill la Kill work is that it does not live or die by its references but uses them to enhance the experience (something I agree with). It was fun to see the audience’s brains light up as they realize how many things went over their head, and also great to see how many Kill la Kill fans were at Otakon (more on that later). I have to give a very personal thanks to Daryl, because while he mentions appropriating this post of mine on the puns and wordplay in Mako’s spotlight scenes, he gave me full credit for it and even encouraged people to come read Ogiue Maniax. The applause I got at the panel was one of the best moments of the con for me.
I also attended two of the fan panels run by members of the Reverse Thieves, “The Visual Stylings of Kunihiko Ikuhara” and “The Measure of a Man. The Nature of a Hero: A Fate/Stay Night Panel.” The Ikuhara panel focused on the Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum director and the unique flair he brings to his work, tracing his visual motifs from his days on Sailor Moon to his more recent work. One thing that they really emphasized was how important pattern and repetition were for Ikuhara, which along with his use of visual cues from dramatic theater really shows how Ikuhara values graphic design in his animation work, and doesn’t treat it simply as “drawn film.” As they mentioned, it’s easy to believe that Ikuhara does things purely for style’s sake and that it doesn’t contribute to the overall narrative at all when in fact it very much does, but it could have been highlighted even better. Although there were some technical mishaps, Alain’s Fate/Stay Night panel was also quite successful. In showing how each of the three main story paths in Fate/Stay Night follow a different philosophy in terms of what it means to be a “hero,” Alain pointed out how attempting to mash them all together for the first TV series led to its downfall because it was literally putting three conflicting sets of ideas together. I remember years ago seeing fans of Tsukihime being similarly upset over that anime, and given that it is also a Type-Moon property I can’t help but feel a similar thing happened there.
This might not sound especially different from the panels I normally attend, but by being less focused on must-see events, I also was able to be more experimental in my con experience. For example, while a former boss of mine was big into sumo, I had never really gotten into it myself. However, being somewhat aware of the fact that sumo takes a lot of skill, going to the Sumo Demonstration on Saturday was actually pretty informative. There, five-time US sumo champion Kelly Gneiting took on the world’s largest Japanese man, Yamamotoyama Ryuuta, and showed the flexibility and strength required to be a sumo wrestler. To give you an idea of what it takes, imagine trying to lift 500 lbs. that is actively trying to push itself against you, adding more weight and stress to your attempt. It’s no wonder that matches last only a short while and require long breaks.
Another unusual panel that leaped out of the schedule was something titled “Gunma Prefecture Office” with no description to accompany it. What could it be? Was it actually people from Gunma’s tourism division? It turns out that it was something along those lines (though not in an official capacity), as former Otakon president Alice Volkmar introduced the crowd to the Gunma Prefecture and all of its little details. The things I got most out of it were that hot springs are a big deal there (which of course makes me want to visit), and it’s known for its three mountains, all of which are featured in the intense races of Initial D. Truth be told, I was originally considering just asking Initial D questions the entire time.
The last panel I will mention is the Otakon Game Show, a perennial Otakon feature that has both contestants and audience participating in a battle of who knows more about anime. It’s generally fun, though I feel like the questions are too geared towards knowledge of minutiae from popular shows and not so much a well-rounded knowledge of anime, and the ask the audience section needs to go. I also had problems registering my phone for the audience participation section, and many of my answers did not go through. Other than that, it was a fine time.
I do have to say, though, and this might just be me nitpicking, but yaoi does not rhyme with kazowie. That’d be like saying Aoi rhymes with Howie.
I was originally not planning on attending any concerts this Otakon, but upon remembering that the band Altima consisted of not only one of the singers from Fripside (A Certain Scientific Railgun) but also motsu from the recently disbanded group m.o.v.e. (Initial D), it meant I had to check it out if only for a little while. This wasn’t the first time I got to see motsu as I actually attended another con where he was a guest, Anime 2012 in the Netherlands, so I knew that the man brings the hype. The music really got me pumped up, but I actually had to leave the concert early as I could feel it destroying my ears (I failed to bring earplugs).
I am also not big into J-Rock, but X-Japan member Yoshiki has such a reputation about him that when I managed to get a ticket for the concert I also decided to see what he’s all about. You may have to forgive me for being ignorant when it comes to X-Japan, but I had no idea that their style was a mix of heavy metal and classical. Yoshiki was there more for the latter side, performing primarily classical-style pieces on piano while accompanied by a string quartet and a singer. The highlight of the concert was when he played a song in tribute to two members of X-Japan who had passed away over the years, a long, 10+ minute torrent of emotions that culminated in Yoshiki smashing the keys as if he was trying to shove them through the piano itself. This was actually a transition from his classical self to his metal self, as suddenly two other X-Japan members made a surprise appearance and rocked out. I apologize for not knowing their names.
Because of the fact that I personally did not approach Otakon as frantically as I had in previous years, in a way it would have been difficult for the convention to have disappointed me. That’s not to say that Otakon made no effort to make this year as enjoyable and as comfortable as they could, but I did not run into any major problems that ruined the con experience. The only thing that is a concern is the gradual countdown until the move to Washington D.C. in a few years, and the farewells we’ll have to bid to Baltimore and its food.
I’ll sign off here with a collection of cosplay photos. Shout outs to the Nogami Aoi cosplayer for referencing something as cool as Zettai Karen Children, the Yazawa Nico and Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live!) cosplayers in the photo all the way up top, the impromptu and unintentional VGCW match, and all the various Jakuzure Nonons that attended. Given that she has more outfits than just about anyone else, it was fun seeing how many variations of Nonon I could photograph.
BONUS: motsu achieving the speed of light
Having finally seen Future Boy Conan, I’ve come to the conclusion that this 1977 anime is probably the work that most directly represents two of the major themes in Miyazaki Hayao’s earlier works, environmentalism and Marxism. People are likely more familiar with the former, which figures prominently into works such as Nausicaa, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke, while the latter tends to be a bit more subtle. While the characters of Future Boy Conan aren’t rolling out banners with pictures of Karl Marx on it, the criticism of capitalism and the dangers of “unthinking” technological progress as associated with a post-industrial society are too strong to ignore in Future Boy Conan. It makes for an interestingly political work, though perhaps what is equally impressive is that the series does not neglect to build up a rich cast of characters, an interesting world, and a sense of fun and wonder, whether is characters are traveling on land, sea, or air, that perhaps even contributes to that Marxist underpinning.
Future Boy Conan takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has had most of its land masses submerged due to the use of “super electromagnetic weapons,” said to be even more powerful than nuclear weapons. At the center of the narrative is Conan, a boy whose life of hunting and fishing has granted him unusual (almost superhuman) strength and swiftness, and Lana, a telepath girl who holds the secret to reviving the limitless power source that is “solar energy,” and together the two must evade capture by the technological city of Industria, whose leader Lepka wants to use solar energy for his own selfish desires. Here, the series’ warnings about the abuse of technology and issue of greed are clear, but this is also contrasted with scenes of Conan using his nature boy powers to baffle his enemies like a freakishly powerful Dennis the Menace tormenting Mr. Wilson. The result is a work that is clearly in its championing of communal lifestyles and living closer to nature, but I can’t tell if the series’ own sense of action and adventure make for a “Trojan Horse” through which these political concepts are introduced, or if those fun and more lighthearted elements are the very means by which these arguments are made.
Much like some of the more lighthearted Studio Ghibli films, Future Boy Conan can be approached in a variety of ways. Certainly it can be seen as this highly political work. It can even be watched for historical or cultural significance, being an early work from not only Miyazaki but also the other big Ghibli director Takahata Isao. However, these need not be the primary reasons to watch Future Boy Conan, as it’s just as strong in terms of its sprawling sense of epic adventure and its attention to animation and even just the fact that it’s a simply an engaging story. Outside of its original context or the Marxist and environmentalist themes, Future Boy Conan is extremely approachable without needing to be a fan of older anime.
If you do pay attention to the political aspects of Future Boy Conan, however, then there is much to chew on. Nowhere is the criticism of capitalism stronger than in Lepka’s characterization. His problem isn’t just that he is clearly a horrible human being, but rather that his time spent at the “top” means that he has no conception of how people really are. To him, the masses comprise an amorphous engine meant to serve him, and he has no idea what it really means to be a leader. This also ties in with the series’ warnings about abuse of technology, as it is through his reliance on technology as a means to control the lower classes that he is increasingly both literally and metaphorically distanced from them. in this respect, it’s especially noteworthy that the prospect of a renewable energy source, a dream of humanity both inside and outside of fiction, is viewed with skepticism in Future Boy Conan. Although I don’t agree entirely with its message, the fact that it encourages us to be wary of the possibility that limitless energy might not satisfy those whose ambitions are to always have more is a warning message that’s still relevant today.
I find it kind of funny that I finished Future Boy Conan not long after having seen The Wind Rises, which is said to be Miyazaki’s final feature-length film. Whereas The Wind Rises is partly about the costs of living according to one’s passions, Future Boy Conan strongly exhibits a more youthful sense of idealism with its post-apocalyptic environment that makes way for what is more or less a communist agrarian utopia. Here is a man who has changed, and if we take his works each as their own “Miyazaki,” I wonder what kind of debate they would get into.
When it comes to the anime Sabagebu! Survival Game Club!, a show about girls in a high school airsoft club, one of the more surprising aspects of the show is that it is in fact a shoujo manga. The anime even acknowledges this, pointing out how it runs in Nakayoshi, the same magazine that has featured series such as Cardcaptor Sakura.
As true as this may be, it is still easy to get the impression that the show still doesn’t quite look or feel particularly shoujo even when putting aside the whole survival game aspect of its premise. As it turns out, this is because while the show is indeed adapted from a girls’ comic, there are actually a number of differences between the manga and anime that result in a fairly different product in certain ways. This is not an argument for which is better or worse, merely a laying out of just how these two iterations are set apart from each other.
I find that there are three elements in particular, at least when looking at the early chapters and episodes, where the Survival Game Club! anime and manga differ significantly.
1) The Anime and Manga Simply Look Different
Both versions of Sabagebu! depict cute girls using fake guns, but they each take unique approaches. With the characters, the anime designs appear closer to something from a more male otaku-oriented work. The manga, on the other hand, utilizes character designs that appear flatter and more in line with the flowery aesthetic of a typical shoujo manga.
This contrast is also evident in how the anime portrays the girls that are meant to be more attractive, giving them a kind of round, three-dimensional curvaceousness that is not present in the manga. In the comparison image above, the anime version of the character Maya has a gravure idol-like quality to her, whereas Maya in the manga has a look more akin to a fashion model, or perhaps even a fashion drawing.
To be fair, most shoujo manga adapted into anime try to go for a more “neutral” look compared to the particular and well-known stylizations of shoujo manga. One need only look at the original Sailor Moon anime and compare it to its manga (or the designs of the recent Sailor Moon Crystal anime). Sabagebu! is no exception in this respect.
2) The Anime Pads Out Scenes from the Manga
In their review of the first episode, the Reverse Thieves mention that the anime feels like it’s adapted from a 4-koma (panel) manga even though the original Survival Game Club! comic does not utilize that format at all. While one could argue that this is just a matter of having so many 4-koma manga adapted into anime, I find that the real culprit is the fact that many of the scenes in the manga are extended in the anime. The result is that the connective tissue that carries one moment into the next in the manga is obscured by the added animation.
So far, this is often done by creating elaborate gun fight scenes where the manga ends up either showing less (or nothing at all), but this padding also comes from increasing the amount of mean-spirited behavior or by adding more cultural references. For example, here is a scene where the character Urara is acting upon her jealousy over the club president’s fondness for the protagonist Momoka by using a stretching exercise as an excuse to place Momoka in some painful wrestling holds. The manga and anime, however, approach things somewhat differently.
While in the manga the joke is supported through the characters’ dialogue (Urara falsely claims that she “doesn’t know anything about armlocks!”), the anime just piles on further wrestling techniques. The two gags are similar, of course, but the expansion seen in the anime is more akin to how shows like Azumanga Daioh have been adapted in the past.
The venomous behavior of the characters in the anime also ties in nicely to the next point.
3) The Protagonist’s Personality is Nastier in the Anime
In the anime, after Urara fails to separate Momoka from the club president, she goes off to cry by herself. Momoka follows her and offers her hand, only to do this:
This causes Urara to fall in love with Momoka instead, becoming a masochist for Momka’s sharp jabs, both literal and metaphorical. While in the manga Urara also ends up with a strange crush on her, Momoka does not engage in any sort of physical retaliation at all. In fact, whereas Momoka in the anime has a general philosophy of “payback” that heavily defines her character, in the chapters of the manga I’ve read this is not prevalent at all. Perhaps it’s a change that came over time, and was retroactively added back to earlier portrayals of Momoka when it came time to adapt the manga into anime.
This is not to say that Momoka is entirely a fair and meek shoujo heroine, but her personality in the manga is somewhat closer to what one might expect out of a girls’ romance comic… only without any real romance and with lots of guns.
Whether animated or on paper, the basic appeal of Survival Game Club! is how it brings a type of crass humor that is rare in the demographic/genre of shoujo, and does so through subject matter that is rather unusual. The key difference between the two is that whereas the manga juxtaposes its shoujo visual style with the content and its characters’ behavior, the anime takes the roughness of the cast to the extreme and changes the designs to be more in tune with other cute-girls-doing-things shows. Personally speaking, I think I prefer the manga’s approach more because of how bizarre it looks within that shoujo aesthetic, but I do have to say that there is some appeal in Momoka’s vindictive behavior in the anime.
As suggested in the last chapter, Madarame and Kugayama visit Keiko’s cabaret (i.e. hostess) club. Though Keiko at first turns up the charm typically expected of a hostess, she quickly reverts to her familiar, sharp-tongued self upon finding about Madarame’s recent inner conflict over receiving Valentine’s chocolate from Hato. When it comes time for Keiko to switch out with another girl, however, Madarame asks if Keiko can stay because in spite of being a girl Madarame feels like he can talk comfortably with her. Many hours later, Madarame wakes up from a drunk stupor only to find out that it’s 3am in the morning. Madarame goes to find a 24-hour internet cafe to crash at, but Keiko suggests he come over to her place.
The Almost-Romantic Misadventures of Madarame (If They Ever Begin At All) is such a strange place to be at when you think about how Genshiken began and Madarame’s original role as alpha otaku. Obviously the awkwardness around women was there from the start and has persisted to even this most recent chapter, but now Genshiken is actively presenting Madarame pairings for people to ship and feeding solid arguments for each. In the case of Keiko, we see Madarame able to actively argue and interact with Keiko in a way that looks natural. Not only that, the fact that Keiko herself quickly reverts to her true self instead of continuing her performance as a hostess means that this attitude is reciprocal. Perhaps if this were a different manga, Keiko would say something like, “I can’t help but be myself around you!”
I bring this up not to board the Keiko x Mada train, but in order to preface something I’ve felt about the past two chapters. I find that, perhaps more than ever, the manga gives the impression of a sense of “progress.” In other words, while obviously many characters have changed in major ways throughout the series (Ogiue most of all), the smaller developments in Madarame feel potent because of how relatively small they are. To some extent, this has to do with the fact that these chapters have concerned characters from the older generation like Madarame and Kugayama, but what’s even more significant is that, even though these conversations feel comfortable, there’s a new context around them in the form of Madarame’s girl troubles that also tinges it with just a bit of exciting unfamiliarity.
Having never been to a host or hostess club, anything I know about them comes from media (anime, written articles, etc.), so I was a bit surprised to find out about all of the little things they do to get your money. While I’ve heard that people spend lots of money on their hostesses, what I didn’t know was that they actively switch every 15 minutes or so and that the only way to keep talking to your preferred girl is to spend money on them in the form of drinks. It reminds me a lot of how contemporary free-to-play games work, giving the customer a small taste and using the allure of continued immersive entertainment to lighten their wallets.
In that sense, the cabaret club is not that different from cute girl-oriented games such as Love Live! School Idol Festival or Kantai Collection, especially when it comes to all of the tricks the girls use to keep a guy enticed. School Idol Festival presents little “stories” where the girls talk about their favorite things, and there’s always the implication of an ambiguous romantic attraction to you the player (“Maybe next time, I can wear other outfits for you!”). Similarly, in this chapter, Keiko demonstrates a number of tricks of the trade. Showing a bit of cleavage is an obvious one, as is presenting a cutesy and demure persona through her attitude and posture, but it didn’t even occur to me until she dropped the act and crossed her legs that her original way of sitting with legs pressed together is clearly suggestive. This doesn’t mean that bare, uncrossed legs are always about sending signals, but in the context of a cabaret club and its employee it’s pretty clear what the true motive is.
I believe that Keiko’s familiarity with the use of a persona to attract men, perhaps not only due to her current profession but possibly also due to the circles she’s run with in the past, is what makes her so skeptical of Hato. Seeing Hato act so girly while knowing that he’s really a man (and sees himself as a man), most likely Keiko thinks that Hato must have some kind of ulterior motive or is not presenting his true self. After all, she fakes her personality for work every day, and knows what will get a guy to pay more attention (and money).
Of course, as established previously, Keiko does have some degree of attraction towards Madarame, and so this changes the dynamic of their hostess-customer relationship in this chapter. However, I find that her approach to getting Madarame, while comparable to her hostess strategies, is still significantly different and perhaps even closer to Angela’s approach. When originally trying to get with Madarame, Angela told Ohno (in the between-chapter extras) that she had intentionally emphasized her dynamite body around him so that her image would linger in his mind (Angela specifically says that he wanted Madarame to masturbate to his memory of her). Although Keiko doesn’t utilize the same sledgehammer method as Angela, it’s also clear that Keiko knows exactly what her words imply when she invites Madarame over to her place at 3am in the morning, and that this has instantly planted a seed into Madarame’s imagination. Keiko the hostess nudges and winks, Keiko the person presses the issue.
Even though he doesn’t have much of a presence in this chapter (or well, ever), there are these little things the chapter presents about Kugayama that I find interesting. After Madarame wakes up, Keiko informs him that Kugayama paid for everything, and that it looks like he makes more than a decent wage. While we’ve seen Kugayama employed for a long time now, this gives me the impression that he’s become a true otaku salaryman, in the sense that while he may not have much time anymore he’s able to devote his earnings to continuing his fandom. Additionally, while Kugayama is secretly praying that Madarame won’t buy an expensive drink for Keiko with the expectation that he’ll be treating Madarame to it, Madarame himself doesn’t even consider the notion that he’s doing this on Kugayama’s own dime (or 10-yen coin ha ha ha ha please don’t kill me). There’s just something there that makes me really feel their friendship even though we don’t see it too often anymore.
The last thing I want to mention is that the next chapter preview reference this time is actually from Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, the bizarre anime where Captain America and friends are kind of like Pokemon. Kio frequently makes both obscure and recent references, but this one actually caught me by surprise more than any other.
Selector Infected Wixoss (pronounced “Wicross, not “Weak Sauce”) is Highlander meets Yu-Gi-Oh! meets Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Girls are chosen to become special battlers in a card game, with the goal of becoming the mugen shoujo, or “eternal girl,” and having their wishes granted. However, if a girl loses three times, she loses that opportunity. Of course, as one might expect given the constantly foreboding atmosphere of the show and even its opening, there’s a twist or three.
It’s actually really hard to avoid the comparison with Madoka Magica, not simply because it makes for a convenient point of reference, but because the strengths of Wixoss—its exploration of its characters’ wishes, and the way it incorporates the “Wixoss” card game into its narrative—are best explained relative to the popular magical girl anime. The main character Kominato Ruuko is, like Kaname Madoka, an innocent and cheerful girl with no particular wish of her own despite being thrown into this scenario where one’s heart’s desire is the most important thing, but as the series explores Ruuko’s character and her lack of “motivation,” she also reveals herself to be clearly different from Madoka.
Whereas Madoka’s hesitation is more because she keeps seeing the horrors and consequences of being a magical girl, Ruuko realizes that deep down she needs no reason to play the cruel game that is Wixoss other than that she simply enjoys it. Ruuko thus ends up exhibiting shades of Ryu from the Street Fighter video games, someone who lives for the thrill of the fight. However, because people potentially sacrifice their happiness when playing “Wixoss” as a means to an end, Ruuko feels immense guilt from the fact that she derives such pleasure from the game itself. Just the fact that the pure joy of playing is put into question, albeit not in an especially deep manner, gives Wixoss an interesting platform to think about this whole wishing business. Additionally, the show is a bit less concerned with the aftermath of wishes gone wrong and looks more at the pain of trying to fulfill one’s wishes.
The scriptwriter Okada Mari (Aquarion Evol, The Woman Called Mine Fujiko) can often be a divisive figure as her tendency to challenge social and sexual taboos in her work (in this case incest) while showing a penchant for the melodramatic can come across as heavy-handed. In this respect there’s a clear similarity to Madoka Magica, where writer Urobuchi Gen regularly has his characters announce their feelings and the despair associated with them. One noticeable difference between the two, however, is that Okada clearly has a better understanding of how girls behave and interact with each other. I’m not a girl so I can’t speak from firsthand experience, but in talking to girls about their experiences, the sort of underhanded and subtle tactics of exclusion are closer to how girl bullies operate. This alone gives Wixoss a sense that it treats its characters less as vessels for ideas or specific personality types as Madoka Magica does (which is not to say that the characters in Madoka are bad, just that they serve different purposes), and more as different manifestations of worries.
I believe this is the first show to specifically mix the TCG anime genre with a primarily female cast, and what I find especially surprising is the fact that “Wixoss” is actually a real card game, which makes me wonder if its marketing is successful or not. Most accompanying media for collectible card games in Japan present their TCGs into the most exciting and wonderful experiences ever, something that will help you make friends and cherish competition., and while Wixoss does this to an extent, the decidedly dark bent of the anime highlights the fact that players tend to suffer tragically when playing. It’s clear that the actual mechanics of the card game play second fiddle to the characters and their narratives, especially because the show doesn’t do much to explain how the game works, but in the end the actual real-life game is still there, and while it would be unreasonable to call players of the official TCG masochistic or anything like that, I’m sure the concept of the show is something quite a few keep in mind as they play.
There’s a strong sense of a yin-yang relationship in Selector Infected Wixoss between pleasure and pain, joy and tragedy, gain and loss. Strangely enough, however, though the anime definitely pushes itself as a “dark” series, I find that enjoyment of it doesn’t necessarily require a fondness for heavy works or an interest in deconstruction or subversion. The experience of watching Wixoss is not so much about horror as it is introspection, and the light that exists within the series is worth paying attention to as well.
Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.
Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferrably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.
For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.
Juusou Kikou Dancouga Nova, the 2007 sequel to the 1980s anime series Choujuu Jishin Dancouga, can be considered in some ways the epitome of an “average” anime. A more accurate description, however, would be that it’s a show that is overall somehow fun and satisfying despite not living up to a lot of the ideas it presents, which is evident in not only its narrative but also its sense of characterization.
The basic premise of the anime is that four unrelated people in Japanese society are summoned to pilot the mighty super robot Dancouga Nova, which intervenes in battlefields around the world in order to aid the losing side. However, rather than simply aiding the weak, this mission of Dancouga Nova’s is quite literal, as it will defend a military force one day and attack it the next, depending on that force’s relative strength in any given scenario. It’s an interesting idea to be sure, and Dancouga Nova even takes some steps to explore its consequences (a journalist character actively questions whether or not Dancouga Nova’s actions are merely creating stalemates that perpetuate war, for instance), but given the obvious question of what this will all possibly lead to, the series responds by more or less dropping the issue like a hot potato and shouting, “aliens!!!” Then they fight the aliens and it’s fairly exciting, but it leaves one wondering where the rest of the story went. As an aside, for some reason I find this less disappointing than how Gundam 00 transitioned between similar plot points despite being a stronger work overall.
Given these issues, it would be reasonable to expect the show’s treatment of its characters to be equally inconsistent. This is indeed the case to a fair extent, as the members of the Dancouga Nova team are all defined by sets of traits that seem destined to lead jokes about their personalities that fall pretty flat, (though they don’t come across as unbearable). Dancouga Nova gunner Tachibana Kurara for instance does the Golgo-13-esque “Never approach me from behind” thing, but the fact that she says it every time the situation calls for it turns it from an interesting character trait to a catch phrase that wears out its welcome (like most of the quips in the series). Main character and team leader Hidaka Aoi has the fewest of these qualities, which makes her lead position more enjoyable than if anyone else had as much of a spotlight.
However, whatever weakness in plot and characterization that exists in the show, it’s worth nothing that its portrayal of the female pilots is for the most part neither putting them on a pedestal above men nor subordinating them to supportive roles. A number of series that focus on groups of female characters both inside and outside of the mecha genre have a tendency to be about how beautiful and wonderful the girls are, a setup which has its place, but here the team of four is divided between two men and two women, all of whom contribute in battle evenly.
(It’s also interesting that all of the pilots are adults, rather than teenagers).
An additional female character is added later, but is shown to be just as effective as the others (and for a while is even their rival). Aoi herself is more or less a solid if underdeveloped character in terms of her portrayal, and while one possible criticism might be that she lacks agency in that she’s thrown right into the thick of things with little say in the matter, that’s more a problem for all of the characters in the show regardless of gender. In fact, the only point of “inequality” might be that the female characters (Kurara is a narcotics officer, Aoi is a professional racer and model) are more glamorous than the guys’ (salaryman and hobo). However, beyond this, neither male or female characters are rendered useless, and even the sole situation that might be considered a “damsel-in-distress” situation is more a matter of a female character staying to fight knowing that she’s at a clear disadvantage due to a number of factors wholly unrelated to her gender.
This is not to say that this series is aiming for a strong sense of feminism. On some level, all of the girls in Dancouga Nova are clearly supposed to be attractive feminine ideals, albeit in different ways. Fanservice, or more broadly the overt sexualization of its female characters, is certainly present in the series in quite a noticeable way. However, while creatively positioned camera angles and bouncing breasts appear throughout the anime, at the same time they are also not so prominent that fanservice becomes raison d’être for Dancouga Nova unlike a number of other similar series. For the most part, the anime keeps the “cheesecake” separate from the fighting, so battles do not consistent of prominent T&A shots while the female characters are being tossed around in their cockpits. Some revealing shots do occur in the action scenes, but they’re usually brief and fairly mild, and instead the summoning of weapons and the destruction of enemy mecha comes across as powerful and mostly gender-neutral.
When it comes to Aoi in particular, I do find it notable that while she is a fairly hot-blooded type as befits a super robot protagonist, she still comes across as relatively subdued as far as passionate yelling pilots are concerned, especially when compared to the hero of the original Dancouga, Fujiwara Shinbou. In contrast, there is a similar character in Dancouga Nova, Kamon Sakuya (the homeless one), but his attempts at playing the role of the 70s super robot hero are, like Kouji from Godannar, mostly a source of comic relief. A part of me wonders if this is making some kind of statement, that the old school nekketsu inevitably makes way for a newer type to fit modern times. I must admit that my impression of Dancouga comes mainly from its appearance in Super Robot Wars and just a little bit of the actual show, but even from this partial view Dancouga is famous for its passionate yelling and a dynamic visual style that makes even standing still an exciting assault of flashing lights and colors and crazy exaggerated proportions courtesy of Obari Masami (animator on Dancouga, director of Dancouga Nova). Perhaps in light of this, the look of Dancouga Nova is not as exaggerated either. I would have chalked this up to “digital animation,” except Choujuushin Gravion, also directed by Obari, proves otherwise.
Dancouga Nova is a simple show that presents a female mecha lead who, while not exactly at the forefront of feminism, is strong, confident, narratively significant, and passionate enough that it’s easy to wonder why more characters aren’t like Aoi. It’s not so much that she’s a shining example of a great protagonist, but rather that she (or a character like her) should be the base line of what is minimally required for a heroine in this type of show. Aoi can be a bit simplistic, but in that way that defines a generation of male heroes in giant robot anime. Of course, as Dancouga Nova shows, being able to portray a female character well doesn’t necessarily mean a show itself is going to be amazing or that it won’t have its fair share of problems, but all the same Dancouga Nova is made better for having a lead like Aoi.
Since the last chapter, Madarame has been mulling over Hato’s Valentine’s chocolate. Feeling a sense of happiness over receiving them yet also confused and alarmed by this very reaction, he seeks the advice of Kugayama, who is the only other guy out of the old Genshiken crew to not have a significant other and thus won’t spill the beans to the girls. As the two get increasingly drunk over some barbecue, Madarame reveals where he believes the confusion lies: to him, Hato is a man and therefore someone Madarame can relate to, whereas women are so foreign to him that he doesn’t know how to even begin dealing with their affections. Kugayama suggests going to a soapland to help him get over his fear of women, but realizing that it’s probably too big a jump for either of them they consider instead going to a cabaret club, more specifically Keiko’s.
For a chapter basically consisting of two scenes and a brief look into Yajima’s attempt to improve her figure drawing with the help of Yoshitake, there’s actually a whole lot to unpack. At this point, it’s something I expect from Genshiken even putting aside my own tendency to analyze the series in depth, but the more I thought about the simple events and topics of this chapter, the more complex the exploration of otaku sexuality and its perception in the otaku mind becomes.
Although I’ve had to re-assess the manga’s messages when it comes to attraction and sexuality a number of times, at this point one thing continues to be certain: Genshiken presents the idea that one’s “2D” and “3D” preferences neither overlap entirely nor are they truly separate. It wasn’t that Hato was in denial when he originally said his preference for BL existed purely in the realm of doujinshi and the like, but that he honestly felt that way. However, as we’ve learned, even the distinction between “2D” and “3D” is tenuous, as the characters of Genshiken ship real people (or at least imaginary approximations of real people). I would argue that BL was not Hato’s realization of homosexuality, but something which made the idea a distinct possibility in his mind that helped him to clarify his feelings for Madarame.
While I don’t think Madarame is having the same thing happen to him, I do think his actions in this chapter reflect a similar semi-disconnect between his 2D and 3D desires. Consider the fact that one of Madarame’s warning signals was that he began re-playing his otoko no ko eroge. One would expect the situation to be that ever since Madarame received the chocolates that he began to look into those games, but he in fact had them for a while. While Madarame maintained is self-identity as heterosexual, he was playing those types of games the whole time, and as implied in the chapters where he first discusses his experience with those games, it’s less about being into guys 2D or 3D and more about the use of sexual expression coded generally as “female” in otaku media that appeals to him. Hato, who similarly performs “femininity” looks to be hitting the same triggers in Madarame, and the very fact that this deliberateness in the end positions Hato to be male is also what makes Madarame feel as if he can relate to Hato better than any woman.
The female sex is something Madarame has viewed his entire life as a realm of distant fantasy, only barely entering his purview of reality when Kasukabe suggested that maybe they could’ve had something if circumstances had been different. This, I think, is why Madarame has trouble deciding what he feels in reaction to Sue and Angela (via Ohno) giving him romantic chocolates as well. Madarame has expressed interest in 2D characters similar to Sue, and there’s no doubt that he finds Angela attractive on some level, but they’re a foreign existence, both figuratively and literally. In that sense the anime girl and the real girl are equally “farfetched.” This is also what makes the Chekhov’s gun that is Keiko’s heavily photoshopped business card so powerful. Not only is it the case that Madarame’s refusal to visit the cabaret club back in Chapter 59 potentially overturned the next chapter, and not only is Keiko one of the other girls into Madarame, but Keiko herself plays a “character” at her workplace. Even firmly within the realm of “3D,” the line between fantasy and reality blurs.
Another thing I find interesting about this whole notion that Hato’s feelings are easier to respond to because Madarame can relate to them as a fellow guy is how this somewhat mirrors one of the reasonings touted for why people get into BL of shounen manga. Traditionally, female characters and love interests in battle/sports/competition manga have been on the sidelines, and most of the displays of fiery passion consist of male rivals and enemies confronting and antagonizing each other, which leads to more time and effort to devoted to those relationships than the ones between the hero and his would-be girlfriend. While this isn’t quite the same as what Madarame and Hato have, what is similar is this concept of guys being able to understand each other on some deeper level (or with girls in yuri), whether it’s intrinsic or something that’s developed over time. In the case of Madarame, it’s perhaps an inevitability given his inexperience with women. In a way, Kugayama’s solution of breaking the “mystique” of the opposite sex through the use of a “professional,” while extremely typical in various cultures (there was even a King of the Hill episode on the subject) is itself also a breakthrough for the otaku-minded, as it involves a desire to get away from the ideal of sexual purity and enter “reality,” though even that conception of the world is fueled by a fantasy. There’s a more I could say about Kugayama as well, but I’ll leave it alone for now except to say that Kugayama in some ways occupies Yajima’s position.
As for the scene with Yajima, Yoshitake, Hato, and Sue, although it’s fairly short, it is notable that Yajima is actually trying to improve her drawing despite being previously resigned to suck at it forever, and Hato’s mention that he’s been drawing manga lately is likely going to mean that he’s gotten past his previous dilemma of only being able to draw BL when dressed as a girl and a rather bizarre style when as a boy. The “disappearance” of the two voices that accompanied Hato (his other self and the other Kaminaga) were likely a prelude to this development. I suspect we’ll see more in the next chapter.
Also, Ogiue does not appear in this chapter but is at least mentioned twice, once when Madarame believes Sasahara would definitely tell her if Madarame were to divulge his secret struggle, and once when Yoshitake states that it was Ogiue’s suggestion for Yajima to do some rough sketches.
A few years ago I went to an event at Japan Society in NYC where Satou Dai of Cowboy Bebop and Eureka Seven fame was a guest. In the lobby, they had design materials from shows he’s written for, and among the works on display was something unfamiliar which caught my eye. This anime was Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, a show whose character designs by Shimogasa Miho (probably best known for Demashitaa! Powerpuff Girls Z) stayed with me for years. Having finally decided to take a look, and it turns out that Shounen Toppa Bashin is actually a show that’s surprisingly strong in the categories you wouldn’t expect a trading card game-themed anime to even take into consideration, such as personal psychology and portrayals of parent-child bonds. It’s one thing to be an anime like Selector Infected Wixoss, which tries to mess with the conventions of this genre, but this very first Battle Spirits doesn’t subvert so much as challenge and uplift.
The basic premise of Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin is about as standard as it gets: kids (and adults) love a trading card game, and they somehow are able to access another dimension and battle with 3DCG monsters. They challenge each other, enter tournaments, form friendships. It basically sounds like a Yu-Gi-Oh! clone. What is notable, however, is that the character relationships in Shounen Toppa Bashin really stand out in a way that I would expect more from a Satou Jun’ichi magical girl show (Ojamajo Doremi, Fushigiboshi no Futagohime) than a TCG merchandising engine. I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that the man responsible for the series composition of Eureka Seven would also give an impressive showing here.
For example, when you see the extremely straightforward, shounen fighting spirit main character Bashin Toppa talk to his mom Hayami (both pictured above), you get a real sense that his energy and attitude come directly from how she’s raised him. Rather than ignore or deny that familial connection as is often the case with anime, the show uses it to give a real sense of personality to Toppa, to show that his simple-mindedness is also surprisingly deep. After all, what does it really mean to always look ahead, to always want to “Break through the front,” as Toppa often says? It sort of reminds me of Sei and his mother in Gundam Build Fighters, though it also doesn’t hurt that Hayami is not only a classy lady just like Rinko but a taxi driver famous for her Initial D-level driving.
There are a lot of other examples too, but I’ll only mention one more. Another source of delightful interaction comes from the fact that the devious ace player Suiren is actually the popular idol My Sunshine, and Toppa’s inability to see through her disguise in spite of how much time they spend together is pretty hilarious. At the same time, however, it’s also the impetus for Suiren to open up to others and to form friendships with the rest of the main cast. The character designs by Shimogasa really shine here, which reminds me somewhat of Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter and its own strong character designs and personalities. Speaking of character designs, they’re probably at their best when looking at the show’s ending videos.
Seeing all of these characters with really simple yet vibrant personalities interact with each other in clever and entertaining ways while sporting those strong character designs just makes the show a joy to watch to the extent that it pretty much overshadows the card battling aspect of the series, which almost feels intentional given how much the show rushes through the matches. Usually, when it comes to TCG anime like Yu-Gi-Oh!, the drama is mostly focused on the card game, seeing step by step how the hero overcomes his opponents, but Shounen Toppa Bashin is different. In fact, in most episodes it generally skips a lot of turns to get straight to the climax of a match. The result is that, like Yes! Precure 5, the “fights” seem supplemental to the characters. Maybe not the best for selling the “Battle Spirits” card game, but purely as an anime I would rate it higher than most other shows in its genre.
There is one TCG-relevant aspect, however, that I do find unique to Shounen Toppa Bashin, which is that the anime makes an effort to show how the characters gradually gain experience with the card game they’re playing in a way which is easy to follow. Toppa is head-strong and prefers a straightforward approach of busting through his opponent, for example, but then loses a match early on because he doesn’t take into account strategies which more directly counter his deck type. By the next battle, you see this weakness made up for it to an extent, and then strengthened further in a following match. It’s a nice touch to show that the characters are learning, instead of just seeing them bust out a new deck with “all-new secret strategies!!!” (though that happens sometimes too). What also helps is that a lot that both male and female characters are considered strong players, and everyone will take games off of each other fairly regularly so there are no real “weak links” in the core group, and even those who start off that way improve over time.
I’ve only watched 26 episodes so far, but I definitely look forward to seeing how the show continues to unfold. It’s the kind of show I wish more morning boys’ anime would be.