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As an anime and manga blog largely focused largely on commercial output, it is rare that I will report on and review an Art Show in all of its capitalized glory. However, I feel it important to discuss the “Empty God Core” show at the B²OA Gallery, featuring the works of Japanese artist Umezawa Kazuki.
I am well aware of the fact that anime and manga have been subjects of exploration, self-discovery, and exploitation since at least Murakami Takashi and his “superflat” movement. Often times challenging and presenting the exoticism of Japan’s visual culture, artists like Murakami tend to feel as if they come not from the otaku subculture itself, but are reacting to it as it has grown over times. While I would not go so far as to say that this is some unforgivable flaw in his work, that he may not be a “true” otaku, it does make me notice when a piece of art conveys the perspective of someone who has embraced the lights and sounds of anime and manga as almost existential hazes.
That is the impression I received from Umezawa’s work, though even before I saw the actual show itself I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time thanks to our mutual friend, Ko Ransom. If there is anything that stood out to me most about him at first glance, it would have been his A Certain Scientific Railgun pins adorning his clothing. The one most prominent could be seen on his chest, a chibi version of Nunotaba Shinobu, my favorite character in the Index universe. A teenage scientist with a propensity for interlacing her speech with English, Nunotaba comes nowhere near the default choices for popular characters in her series, so I knew that Umezawa was serious business.
That being said, while I was aware that Umezawa was an otaku before I saw “Empty God Core,” I would have jumped to that conclusion almost immediately if I had come in without knowing a thing. Umezawa’s works consist largely of collages of anime characters, scrambled to the point of almost losing all recognizable qualities, and then rearranged to create futuristic, apocalyptic landscapes and large, god-like figures. I say “almost,” because the first thing I spotted in one of his digital paintings was the characteristic blonde poof of Cure Peace from Smile Precure! Soon after, I spotted bits of other characters as well, but it made me realize how distinct Precure hair is designed to be, so that, even divorced from the very bodies on which they sit, one can see that, yes that over there is a piece of Cure Blossom, and down by the side is Cure Beauty. The iconic nature of anime and manga characters jumps to the forefront, and their fragments are used to construct worlds.
There is a general idea when it comes to anime fandom that a lot of its qualities arose from the perception of 1980s Japan as a kind science fictional space. Like Blade Runner, which envisioned a future city amalgamated from Tokyo and various Chinatowns, the common discourse positions otaku as products of their time, and their subculture a result of changes to the world, the economy, and the degree to which societal values crumble or ossify in response. In this environment, otaku have historically been viewed in a negative light, people who cannot confront reality, loners who can only consume their media in ways which reinforce their divorce from society, while anime and manga become increasingly shallow and lacking in any real substance. What Umezawa’s work does is flip that script on its head, and show how this otaku subculture and its inhabitants can utilize the “vapid” qualities of anime and manga and its devotion to signs and icons of cuteness, beauty, and sexuality as building blocks, as atoms to form universes. Rather than a dystopian cityscape creating the otaku, the otaku creates the dystopian cityscape. He turns lemonade into lemons.
This post is regrettably a little late, but if you’re in or around New York City, the show is running until November 15th. The B²OA Gallery is at 515 west 26th street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm.
Superhero revivals are a dime a dozen, but few are like The Shadow Hero by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew. The basic idea behind the comic is that it provides an origin story to a hero who never had one, the golden age character known as the Green Turtle, but Yang and Liew take it further by essentially “reclaiming” the character for Asian-Americans.
Originally created by a man named Chu F. Hing, the publisher for The Green Turtle had tried to make its titular hero white. Hing, it is argued by Yang and Liew, appears to have defied this order by never showing the Green Turtle’s face, either having him face away from the reader or having his features obscured by a cape or something else. Yang and Liew take this further by actually making the Green Turtle undoubtedly Chinese-American, but what’s really remarkable about this series is that it manages to ground this character in both Chinese culture and that early 20th century United States in which they live so well that it actually made me realize I’ve been missing out on an important component of superhero comics all along.
While superheroes have been created since the beginning by people of practically every ethnicity (the most famous example being Superman’s Jewish creators), they have traditionally exuded predominantly a sense of whiteness. This does not make them bad stories or bad superheroes. Nor does it make them unrelatable. I don’t need to have my uncle shot and killed to understand why Peter Parker takes Uncle Ben’s famous great power, great responsibility line to heart. After all, I’m mostly a manga reader and I do not connect all that directly to Japanese culture, either. However, what’s amazing about The Shadow Hero is that, as an Asian-American, the relationship the protagonist Hank Chu has with his family hits so close to home that it makes me feel as if my own culture, that hybrid of my parents’ values and the values of the country I was born and raised in, is being expressed right there on the page.
The best example I can think of comes fairly early in the story, when Hank’s mom is rescued by a Superman-like hero and becomes enamored with the idea of superheroes in general. Wanting the best for her son, she decides Hank should be a superhero too, and goes above and beyond to try to make it happen. Whether it’s dragging him close to chemical spills or getting him to train in martial arts, the mother has her mind set on the idea that the best future for Hank is for him to don a cape and tights and fight crime.
When I replaced the word “superhero” with doctor, lawyer, engineer, pharmacist, or whatever is the most current profession that my parents and older relatives and their friends mention as being the most reliable path to success and prosperity, it all just clicked in my head. Here in The Shadow Hero was something my siblings and I, as well as many of the kids we knew growing up, would encounter on a regular basis. We knew their eagerness over this one thing could be a bit much, but we knew they meant well.
Other signs of Chinese culture can be found throughout. The main villain’s daughters are named after mahjong titles. When Hank first becomes a superhero, his mother makes him an outfit with the Chinese character for gold/money on it, because in Chinese culture it’s common to wish people well by saying that they’ll makes lots of money. This sounds like something you’d do to mock DC superhero Booster Gold, but here you can sense the mother’s earnestness, as well as Hank’s own conflicted feelings towards her.
For the longest time, I’ve felt that I do not look enough at comics that represent Asian American culture. Over the years, seeing David Brothers consistently question the marginalization of black characters in superhero comics and how this is reflective of the historic injustices done to the black community in the United States has made me aware of how little I look at my own culture in the mediums that I love. The Shadow Hero, and that sense of inherent cultural understanding I experienced, made me even more keenly aware that there is so much more I can do.
I recently finished Initial D: Final Stage, which brings the story of teenager Fujiwara Takumi and his inhuman drifting skills to a satisfying conclusion. I had been keeping up with Initial D on and off for almost 15 years now, which is kind of crazy to think about, but what was even bigger shock for me was realizing (thanks to the show’s ever-present exposition) that all of Initial D, whether that’s over 700 manga chapters or its anime equivalent, takes place in the narrative over a span of two years.
It’s nothing to get worked up over, and there are series with even more drastic disparities between publication and in-story time frames (see Akagi and Megatokyo), but there’s something about Initial D which feels different. It’s almost as if there were indeed 15 years’ worth of racing action crammed into two.
Other facts I wasn’t even aware of are that the manga itself ran for about 18 years, and that the author Shigeno Shuuichi was born in 1958. Somehow he was able to maintain the racing manga for almost two decades, rendering his work about as timeless as the very Eight-Six Trueno that’s at the center of Initial D.
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.
It’s come to my attention that within the next couple of months or so, three of the manga I love and have kept up with for many years are concluding. These titles would be Mysterious Girlfriend X, Fujoshissu!, and 81 Diver, and each of these titles has a special place in my heart.
Mysterious Girlfriend X
Each work appeals to me in different ways, though they all have the recurring theme of “bizarre romance.” However, of the three, this concept applies to Mysterious Girlfriend X the most, and it might very well be Mysterious Girlfriend X which first introduced me to the genre. Mysterious Grilfriend X is a work that I find to be often misunderstood as some drool fetish extravaganza, and once it ends I’ll definitely be writing a review of the whole thing. In the meantime, you can read it online at Crunchyroll.
Of all of the manga starring fujoshi main character, Fujoshissu! is my favorite outside of Genshiken. I’ve mentioned it on Ogiue Maniax in the past, but I regret not talking about it more actively. What I like is that it’s a fun shoujo manga about three friends at various stages of their respective romances and how they (mostly) comfortably incorporate their personal lives into their otaku selves. Like Mysterious Girlfriend X, I’d also like to write a more extensive review when all is said and done. Though not available in English (by any means), you can read the first (and last!) chapter on Comic Walker in Japanese.
81 Diver is possibly the most hilarious manga I’ve ever read, at least Kinnikuman-level. Fortunately, I’ve already written a review of it which I still stand by, but might still do a final wrap-up (though I’m many volumes behind so it’ll take a while). It’s a shougi-themed manga that is great because, and not in spite, of its ugliness.
In a way, it’s like he end of not just one era but rather multiple ones. I feel as if I came to each of these manga at different points in my life, and they’ve rewarded me by being unique, unusual manga that make me feel good to be a fan.
Over on the Smash Bros. subreddit a poster by the name of Revven made a post advising people not to go into the upcoming Smash Bros. games hoping to find the key aspect that makes it more like Melee (the competitive gold standard of the franchise) but to approach it on its own terms.
In order to help people understanding this point, I wrote up an analogy that’s turned out to be pretty effective, so I’m posting it here for posterity.
Imagine that Melee is pizza. People love it, it’s got all of this flavor and depth.
Then Brawl comes out and it’s chicken soup.
Obviously, a lot of people would prefer pizza over chicken soup, but then you hear some of the complaints: “What the hell is this? This tastes all wrong!” people declare. “I’m trying to pick up a slice but my hands just get all wet, and I try to eat it with a fork but I barely get anything!”
But there are people who are eager to “prove” that chicken soup is fine, and all it takes is finding and adding the right key ingredients. “Hey, it might be chicken soup now, but if we add some mozzarella and some tomato sauce, you’ll see that it’s great!” No matter what they do, though, it just doesn’t taste like pizza, it doesn’t feel like pizza, and people are disappointed in it even more.
In the end, it’s not wrong to like pizza more than chicken soup, and it might even be possible argue that pizza is a superior food in general. Hell, maybe Brawl wasn’t even a particularly good chicken soup and was just soup in a can. However, because people were unable to see or accept the fact that chicken soup isn’t pizza, they also failed to approach it on its own terms. Instead of trying to add the right seasoning that would match the flavor profile of chicken soup or using a spoon, all they had were hands dripping with broth, and a look of dissatisfaction.
I had an epiphany recently: Stardust the Super Wizard is the American superhero comics equivalent of the anime Chargeman Ken!
Even if you’ve never heard of either title there’s nothing to worry about, as their first point of similarity is that they’re both obscure titles which have garnered fanbases specifically due to their lack of quality. Their second point of similarity is that little effort is made to expand on the characters themselves, as both Ken and Stardust can be defined as 1) heroes 2) who kill villains and 3) that’s it.
The third point of similarity is what allows them to be spoken of in the same breath (not that I think people have), which is that both titles are utterly irresponsible when it comes to the stories they present. I don’t mean that they glorify violence or that they don’t send the proper moral messages or that they’re limited by the cultures in which they were created. The reason why I use the word “irresponsible” is that both Chargeman Ken! and Stardust the Super Wizard consist of adventures where, if one were to stop and think about what goes on in them, they break down into a kind of pure spectacle that isn’t so much morbid or horrific as it is just somewhat…thoughtless.
Chargeman Ken‘s most infamous episode is titled “Dynamite in the Brain.” I’d recommend you watch the video above first (it’s only 5 minutes long) to get the full impact, but to summarize: the episode is about an innocent scientist with a bomb implanted in his head, but rather than trying to figure out a way to remove the bomb, Ken decides to just unceremoniously dump the scientist out of his personal jet. As Ken activates the trap door underneath the scientists, he quickly says, “Professor Volga, please forgive me!” as Volga lands on an enemy aircraft and explodes. The thing that really drives home the sense of thoughtlessness though is the fact that at the end of the episode the characters are talking about how Volga, the man Ken literally ejected out of his ship and watched as he exploded in mid-air, is looking down from the skies above. It’s like giving a eulogy for someone you shot to death five minutes ago and expecting people to take you seriously.
Stardust the Super Wizard, unlike Ken, has a seemingly infinite array of superpowers which have little rhyme or reason, but similar to Ken his application of them shows little in the way of foresight by the character or the creator. Just look at the punishment he dishes out to the villains of his story, where the issue isn’t that his solutions are strangely grotesque but that they almost exist in another dimension of thought.
Both Chargeman Ken and Stardust the Super Wizard operate on a level beyond even GI Joe‘s image of sanitary militarism or the violent works of Nagai Go. And this is why they’d be the best crossover ever.
In Episode 23 of HappinessCharge Precure!, the character Cure Fortune reveals a new attack: Precure Oriental Dream. Cure Fortune appears in a Middle Eastern-influenced outfit and performs a dance that causes the enemy minions to fall over. Upon seeing this, I made the following tweet.
I was making a reference to a seminal book in post-colonial studies, Edward Said’s Orientalism from 1977. In it, he famously argues that the “Orient” is not a neutral description of an area of the world, but a conglomeration of various cultural, philosophical, academic, and imperialist modes of thought and action that position the “East” in such a way so as to define the “West” as superior.
That said, this is not me trying to demonstrate my knowledge. Instead, what I would like to point out is the fact that, as important as I’ve known this book is, I’d still never read it, and it was only after making the joking tweet that I decided to actually seriously sit down and look at Orientalism. Seriously, it wasn’t the fact that I should be aware of how my growing up in the United States while being Asian might have influenced my perception of Asia, nor was it being in the company of intelligent people who have used this book as the background for their own investigations into cultural perceptions that prompted me to open it up. It was a dumb joke I made on Twitter while watching a magical girl anime.
I’m not sure if I’m an awesome or a horrible human being.
While at this point we have an understanding of the concept of a “weak” protagonists in giant robot anime thanks to characters like Ikari Shinji from Evangelion, rarely are main robots allowed to exude an image of weakness and vulnerability as well. If we even look at Shinji himself, while he’s known for being passive and lacking in will, the actual EVA-01 looks monstrous and acts even more terrifyingly.
In most cases when there is a “weak mecha,” it ends up being a joke character’s ride, whether that’s Boss Borot from Mazinger Z or Kerot from Combattler V. In terms of actual main-focus giant robots, the closest this concept gets its maybe Dai-Guard the almost-literal “budget robot,” or perhaps the perpetually incomplete Guntsuku-1 from Robotics;Notes. Maybe the Scope Dog from VOTOMS counts because it’s so disposable, but like Dai-Guard it still at least looks strong.
Of course it only makes sense that mecha tend to be on the powerful side; they’re giant mechanical humanoids after all. It’s just something I’m starting to consider a potential limitation of the genre and an interesting space to explore.
This is how I imagine King K. Rool (from the Donkey Kong Country series) would be if he were in Super Smash Bros. I’ve got at least a couple more of these on the way, so if readers are interested then they’ll have more to look forward to.
For King K. Rool, I made it so that each of his special moves references a different game in the Donkey Kong games produced by Rare, so Krown Toss = DKC, Blunderbuss = DKC2, Helicopter Pack = DKC3, and Punch Flurry = DK64. I’ve seen lots of other people come up with similar ideas, but what can I say? It makes complete sense.
While King K. Rool much larger than Donkey Kong in a lot of the games, I wanted to make them roughly equal in size so that it comes across as more of a rivalry between two powerhouses, as opposed to the David vs. Goliath feeling of Mario vs. DK or Mario vs. Bowser. K. Rool is not quite as strong or as quick as DK, and his movements are a bit awkward, but makes up for it with some nice ranged attacks.
Krown Toss is for space control and bits of damage, while the Blunderbuss is for KO power. The longer you charge the Blunderbuss, the more (randomized) projectiles it shoots out. Helicopter Pack is highly controllable but very slow and thus an easy target for edgeguarding, while Punch Flurry is good for clearing crowds but exhausts K. Rool afterwards. He doesn’t actually punch all that much in DK64 but I figured having yet another ground pound character would be overdoing it.
His Final Smash is based on the giant leaps he takes in DKC; I imagine it being fairly similar to PK Starstorm only that K. Rool himself is also a “projectile” in this case. Of course, he would have his running attack from the first DKC.