This film is part of the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival

Studio Ghibli is by far the most famous and well-regarded Japanese animation studio, but over the past two years Ghibli has been defined instead by a sense of finality. Director and co-founder Miyazaki Hayao, known for the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, has declared the challengingly self-critical The Wind Rises to be his last feature-length film. Though not saying anything to that degree, his fellow co-founder, the 79-year-old director Takahata Isao (Grave of the Fireflies), might very well end his career with the artistically beautiful Tale of the Princess Kaguya. For a long time people have been speculating as to what would happen once Studio Ghibli lose Miyazaki and Takahata, leading people to ask who might be Miyazaki’s successor. The problem, of course, is that “the next Miyazaki” is a weighty title that no should be burdened with carrying.

Nevertheless, this is perhaps the challenge that faces director Yonebayashi Hiromasa and his latest film, When Marnie Was There, a book adaptation that has the distinction of being the last Studio Ghibli film in production, at least for the time being. However, while Yonebayashi’s films for Ghibli undoubtedly utilize the “Ghibli look” that is derived from Miyazaki’s personal drawing style, what becomes clear upon watching Marnie (as well as Yonebayashi’s previous film The Borrower Arrietty) is that Yonebayashi’s directorial style is unmistakably distinct compared to the veterans who originally founded and defined the studio.

When Marnie Was There centers around a 12-year-old Japanese girl named Anna, an adopted child who suffers from asthma and perpetually feels like an outsider among both her classmates and her family. Her adopted mother, concerned for her well-being, decides to send Anna to live in the countryside, where the fresh air should be good for her. However, even in a different environment, Anna still continues to feel alone, until she comes across an old, mysterious mansion and a blonde girl named Marnie. She immediately connects to Marnie, while also feeling that there’s something oddly familiar about her.

When I think about both Marnie and how it feels different compared to other Ghibli films, the first word that comes to mind is “haunting.” This is not to say that the film is dark or depressing, and though weighty in its own way, it also feels different from something like Grave of the Fireflies or even Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Much like Arrietty, I find that the film, though basking in its gorgeously rendered environment and all of the little details that go into it, is much more introspective. The narrative conflict is less a manifestation of our inner struggles (as so many films and anime are), and more just a straight-up look at Anna’s own emotions. While Miyazaki cast Anno Hideaki, director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, in the starring role of The Wind Rises, it’s Marnie that feels almost like a Ghibli take on some of the themes of Evangelion. Anna’s somber worldview and her initial resignation towards her lack of sense of belonging make clear that her circumstances are emotionally complex, made all the more difficult by the trouble she has communicating with others.

It wasn’t until the end of the film that I came to realize what it was Anna was searching for, and though I assume this was fully intended given the mysterious air surrounding Marnie and Anna’s relationship, I had jumped to numerous erroneous conclusions while watching. Perhaps it’s my own experience watching other anime, but the friendship between Anna and Marnie appeared to be so intimate that I wondered if Anna and Marnie’s difficulty fitting it might come from the repression of lesbian sexual desires, now let loose through a time-space paradox. I wondered if Studio Ghibli would be so daring, and when taken individually I think these scenes can still evoke that sort of impression, but ultimately it’s nothing so bold. That certainly doesn’t make it a worse movie as a result, though it leaves me to consider what would happen if a studio as renowned and with such international presence as Ghibli indeed made an animated movie with a lesbian protagonist.

Overall, Marnie fits into the rough mold of a Ghibli film, with its attention to environment and space and its story of a young girl learning about herself and about life in general, but it really stands on its own by speaking to that feeling of not being able to quite fit in, and having the solution amount to more than just gaining confidence. Whether Yonebayashi continues with Ghibli or some other studio, I’m looking forward to what he does next.

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This past month I lost one Patreon sponsor while gaining another. While in business this might be called stagnation, I’m actually very grateful that so many of my patrons have decided to continue to stick with me. Of course I can’t hit it out of the park for everyone all the time, so I’m thankful for even one-time contributors.

Speaking of thanks, shoutouts to the following fine folks for being especially awesome patrons.

Ko Ransom

Alex

Johnny Trovato

There are also a few others, but they’ve chosen to remain anonymous, and I can appreciate that.

Last month’s most popular post was Smash Bros. vs Traditional Fighters and What Lies at the Core of Fighting Games, where I wrote about different philosophies concerning simplicity vs. complexity between different fighting game communities. Part of the reason it got so many hits is that I posted it to Reddit myself, but I do think it’s some of my better work. I know I’m more of an anime and manga blogger, but I do have interest in video games and other things as well, and I hope, even if you’re not quite into everything I enjoy, that I can at least make you think.

A few questions for my readers to end off:

1) What kinds of rewards do you think would be interesting for Patreon sponsors of Ogiue Maniax?

2) What do you think of review posts that cover more of the middle point of an anime as it’s airing, as opposed to ones that wait until the very end? They kind of serve two different functions, with the former being more “in-the-moment,” and the latter being more retrospective. I’m aware that some anime fans like to keep up with the new season as much as possible, while others prefer to wait and build up a back catalog, and I’m curious as to which type reads Ogiue Maniax more.

rollinggirls-motorcyclefallSource: Kirishii

The Rolling Girls is currently my favorite anime of this season, even more than Yuri Kuma Arashi which I think is incredible. Both shows have quite a bit in common with each other in terms of creative visual presentation, but whereas Yuri Kuma Arashi has more of a theatrical and fairy tale feel, Rolling Girls I think can best be described as “charismatic.” When watching I sometimes feel like I’m falling in love, not so much with the girls in the story, but rather with how its world is presented and how its people move through their environment. I’m not sure just how popular The Rolling Girls is inside or outside of Japan, but I’d like more people to watch it, so I’m hoping to make a convincing argument as to why it’s at the very least an interesting show, as well as a refreshing and invigorating experience.

The overarching premise of The Rolling Girls has Japan split into a variety of independent territories, somewhat like a contemporary warring states period. In this new era, different factions try to get ahead, either by fighting other territories or through peace. People are divided into two categories: exceptional individuals known as Mosa (meaning “valorous individuals”, translated officially as “Bests”), and the regular masses who at best provide support in conflicts but mostly stand out of the way, known as Mobu (literally “Mob” but translated as “Rests”). Without going into too many details, the somewhat off English subtitle for the show explains its concept well: “Rolling, Falling, Scrambling Girls. For others. For themselves. Even if they’re destined to be a ‘mob.'”

In other words, a group of girls, despite not having any superhuman abilities, try to do their best in their crazy world, and following them has been an absolute joy.

rollinggirls-alwayscomimaSource: Beautiful World

I imagine that the first thing people will notice about The Rolling Girls is its colorful palette, attention to environment and backgrounds, and stylish animation, reminiscent of Kyousou Giga and to a lesser extent Kill la Kill. Any time a character says something, does something, or even just stands still, there’s an energy and vibrancy to their actions. The Rolling Girls has the feeling of a really dazzling billboard come to life, and while anime is no stranger to slick animation and bright colors, what I especially enjoy about the series is how this presentation emphasizes the connection between the characters and their world.

At the time I write this, the narrative and the world of the story have barely begun to unfold as they travel from one place to the next, experiencing the unique customs and cultures that have arisen since Japan broke apart as a nation. I want to find out more about their world and their characters. It’s kind of like Kino’s Journey in certain respects, only without the idea that the beauty of the world is in its ugliness, and even sometimses reminds me of Redline in the way that the world seems to be constantly teeming with activity. The aesthetics of the show enhance the world-building not so much because of beautiful backgrounds or other more expected ways, but because the world and the people seem to be breathe as one, and that breath is somehow chaotic and erratic and all the better for it.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Name: Wakaba, Chikage (若葉千影)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Susume! Otome Road

Information:
18 year old Wakaba Chikage is an apprentice manga artist who, unlike her sister Chiharu, is open with her identity as a fujoshi. Chikage is also Chiharu’s opposite in many other ways, rejecting fashion and makeup while favoring yaoi with big burly men. For this reason, she is also fond of Chiharu’s hairy teacher Mr. Kumada.

Fujoshi Level:
Chikage is able to approach being a fujoshi at full force, uninhibited by social pressures.

The vacation has turned into a house party. As Keiko and Angela try to butter up Madarame with alcohol and sex appeal, Yoshitake and Ohno give Kuchiki somewhat similar “VIP” treatment. Kuchiki asks Ohno if he can touch her breasts, who unsurprisingly refuses, especially when Kuchiki references Ohno’s tendency to avoid getting a job. Hato gets tired of Angela and Keiko and tries to make Madarame jealous by appealing to Kuchiki, but accidentally makes him pass out from too much alcohol. After some arguing where Keiko and Angela try to use this as an opportunity to be alone with Madarame, Hato and Madarame are tasked with bringing Kuchiki back to the hotel.

This chapter has made me realize that breast-touching, or the prospect of it, has been a recurring theme of sorts in Genshiken Nidaime. I know that might sound kind of absurd, but hear me out.

Between Kuchiki futilely requesting Ohno, Madarame’s risque evening with Keiko, and even the fact that Kuchiki has already indeed crossed this threshold (albeit unconsciously), the “value of boobs” has been present for many chapters. At first glance, this might very well appear to be the descent of Genshiken into something cliche and unrecognizable, but I think that there’s a certain critical or observant eye towards the division between guys and girls that still exists to a certain degree in Genshiken, otaku culture, and perhaps even culture at large.

The reason I believe this to be the case, though for the most part it’s probably just an opportunity for jokes, is that one of the notable differences about the second series compared to the first is the mostly female main cast. It’s a point I and others have brought up again and again, to the extent that it’s arguably not even necessary to repeat, but Genshiken currently consists of this very candid, almost unglamorous look into the lives of these female otaku. Even in this very chapter, you have Kuchiki talking about how every guy in Genshiken secretly wanted to feel up Ohno juxtaposed with three girls in the bath, casually nude, talking casually, while none of them are the “targets” of this desire. On the one hand, breasts are almost a holy grail of manhood, a reflection of the mentality of the Genshiken old guard. On the other hand, girls are letting it all hang out and breasts aren’t a big deal, an indicator of how things are now.

All of this is further contrasted by Angela and Keiko. There’s a certain chasteness among the other characters and even the idea that the boob grab is this life-changing event, and then there are these two characters who are so far beyond the borders of whether or not a guy has touched a breast before, so distant from even the question of virginity, that I can imagine the other people on this vacation seem almost quaint to them. In fact, they’re utilizing their breasts for the exact reason of appealing to Madarame’s innocent awkward otaku mindset, and even the Madarame Harem itself consists of two characters who are highly experienced when it comes to sex and relationships, and two who are absolute beginners. In a way, it reminds me of the image and existence of otaku culture itself, which is in a way childish (this is not a bad thing) but also filled with adult concerns (also not a bad thing), and I don’t even mean that in an “otaku suffer from arrested development” sort of way.

What I think this all leads to is an emphasis that there are many different perspectives at work, to the extent that the idea of the otaku is not as simple and monolithic as it once was. This is perhaps what Tamagomago was trying to get at when he said that the concept of “otaku” as we knew it no longer exists.

While I don’t want to put too much into author intent, it’s a fact that Kio Shimoku is married and has a kid now. He knows and has had the experience of touching a breast. In fact, I bet a lot of manga creators have had this experience, even the ones who draw the most fanservicey, harem-y series around. I have to wonder how much Kio has maintained this theme for the purpose of remembering that being an awkward, unsocial guy who can’t even talk to girls can make it seem as if breasts are attainable only in fantasy, only he’s tempered it by taking into account the point of view of girls as well, not as objects of desire, but as people. In the case of Angela and Keiko, and perhaps even Hato, they’re people actively working to present themselves as objects of desire. Hato himself might be the center of this storm, a male otaku who is also a fudanshi, who has to come to realize his own sexual orientation, and who actively works with symbols of the feminine both inside and outside of notions of romance. Even this chapter features male Hato in makeup for the first time, as if to say that the borders within himself are becoming nebulous. That’s not to say that guys can’t wear makeup, but for Hato makeup has a very specific function.

This chapter review has turned more into a small essay, it seems. I think I’ll cut it short here so I can mention a few other things. Yajima’s mom continues to show that she’s more Yoshitake than Yajima. Mimasaka continues to confirm that her attachment to Yajima is probably something bigger. In the extras of Genshiken Volume 17, Angela tried to send Madarame some dirty footage of herself for Valentine’s Day(whether it’s photos or video they never show or say) , but they got intercepted and destroyed by Ohno before reaching their destination. I have to wonder if Angela is operating under the assumption that he was able to see it.

As always, I prefer to end each review talking about or showing something Ogiue-related, and sadly I could not fit “on the title page Ogiue is wearing that boob window sweater that’s become a popular meme in Japan” into what I was talking about above. It’s the obvious joke, that Ogiue doesn’t have the size to properly fill out that sweater, an idea that fan artists have already leaped on with other similarly-proportioned characters. While I know that Genshiken is full of references to popular culture (Sue makes references to both Dragon Quest and Sakigake!! Otokojuku this month), it’s much rarer for a meme of this kind to reach the pages of Genshiken. At the same time, no one really draws Genshiken fanart, so I guess it’s up to the creator himself to undergo the task.

What’s funny is that, if not for the boob window, this is very much the kind of outfit that Ogiue would wear.

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Though I don’t mention it often, over the past year or so I’ve become a fan and regular viewer of Video Game Championship Wrestling, a weekly show streamed on Twitch that uses characters from video games and has them play out both matches and stories similar to an actual WWE show, with free pay-per-views (an oxymoron yes) that cap off each arc. During this time, I’ve come to realize how interesting the concept of pro wrestling video games are.

Whenever a video game is based on a “real world” activity, be it shooting people, playing basketball, or building TCG decks, the games are designed to simulate some activity where the intention is to win or lose. With pro wrestling, however, the point isn’t to overpower the opponent but to put on a show, and to merely mimic the idea that these two wrestlers are really going at it. This is what’s known to wrestling fans as “kayfabe,” or supporting the illusion that everything happening in wrestling is 100% real, and to go off-script or to break that illusion is a “shoot.” In that sense, a wrestling video game is akin to a video game about Shakespeare, where you would have to perform plays in front of an audience and receive their applause.

The gameplay mechanics that go into these wrestling games are a reflection of this performative quality, especially as time has passed and things have gotten more sophisticated. In the “drama” of wrestling, matches go back and forth, wrestlers have “signature moves” that tell you when they have the momentum, and they have “finishers” that generally net them the win should they land. If you look at a bad old wrestling video game, like Wrestlemania for the NES, it fails to follow “wrestling logic.” You punch and kick and never use holds, while occasionally a power-up symbol floats by and makes you stronger. Very few of the wrestlers can even perform their unique finishers, and overall there was clearly little effort expended to make it “feel” like wrestling beyond slapping some popular faces on and making the background a wrestling ring. In contrast, more successful games of the era such as Tecmo World Wrestling do a much better job of replicating the idea of a wrestling match, by doing something as simple as giving the characters unique finishers and having dramatic cut-ins when used on worn-down opponents.

In the case of WWE 2K14 (which VGCW utilizes for its show), there are actual built-in “drama” mechanics such as the fact that a wrestler can make a “comeback” that replicates digging deep when the chips are down.  You have signature moves that can build up into finishers. All of the attacks are things that have happened in the history of the WWE (or at least in some sort of televised wrestling). While there is obviously a wide chasm of difference in terms of technological and graphical power between an old NES game and a PS3 game, what’s more important is that the latter is practically a game whose display is fundamentally based on “storytelling” rather than “competition.”

While this could be extended to, say, fighting games (which take a lot of cues from martial arts films and anime), with the wrestling game there’s a greater sense of mixing up what is real and what is fake because of the origin of the wrestling itself. As with so many things that dramatize combat, certain techniques would never work or would be too impractical in a realistic setting In the game world, but the wrestling video games take it a step further because supporting and maintaining kayfabe is in a way the key to victory. To win is to play along with the rules of wrestling as performance, and to do otherwise is perhaps in its own way a form of shoot.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Name: Wakaba, Chiharu (若葉千晴)
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Susume! Otome Road

Information:
Wakaba Chiharu is a 16 closeted fujoshi. Unbeknownst to her classmates, she enjoys drawing doujinshi of bishounen, and fantasizes over her classmates, Okamoto Kei and Tajima Ryouichi. Her favorite anime is Cat-eared Akira, a series for which she owns a good deal of merchandise, including a life-sized doll of Akira. Her older sister Chikage is also a fujoshi.

Fujoshi Level:
Chiharu is able and willing to indulge in her fantasies to the fullest extent right in the middle class.

Have you been watching The Rolling Girls? So far, it’s one of my top 3 shows of the Winter 2015 anime season. I’m planning a larger write-up for the series, but for now I wanted to point out a small reference in Episode 4 of the show.

Episodes 3 and 4 take place in an area named “Always Comima,” a land that is a perpetual Comic Market doujinshi festival. At one point, the girls end up at a house in Always Comima, whose owner once met one of the girls, Kosaka Yukina, who gave her gratitude by drawing a portrait of their family. You might have noticed that the portrait looks somewhat…peculiar.

The style used in the portrait is actually a reference to a manga artist named Jigoku no Misawa, or Misawa of Hell. Having gained popularity among 2ch users, Misawa is mainly known for his bizarre one-panel comics depicting silly-looking characters trying to act cool.

While his claim to fame is like some Bizarro version of Family Circus, Misawa’s actuall had a few manga long-form published in Jump SQ by Shueisha, the same company that puts out Shounen Jump. I’ve only read Kakko Kawaii Sengen! (“Cool-Cute Proclamation”), which features a girl who is known for being clumsy and popular with the boys, while still looking like this:

Kakko Kawaii Sengen has actually received an animated adaptation, and some merchandise to go along with it.

If you’re interested in checking out Misawa of Hell’s stuff and you have a smart device, then you’re in luck. His series, The Great Phrases Women Fall for, is currently available translated into English on the Manga Box app.

iOS

Android

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

harupolishi-yandereface

There’s a popular joke when it comes to manga that is rooted in the harsh realities of failure in the industry. Known as “Our Battle Continues!”, it is the signal of a title that has been abruptly canceled, and usually shows the entire cast of characters appears in the last panel charging towards the “unknown.” The Attack on Titan anime even references this, as the final end card for the first series is an image by the original author, Isayama Hajime, parodying the idea. Sadly, there are countless manga that have had to resort to this, including those which showed great potential but were nevertheless unsuccessful.

In the case of the 5-volume Haru Polish from 2011, it’s clear that there was neither a lack of talent nor a lack of interesting ideas or characters that led to its “Our Battle Continues!” ending. Rather, it was simply unable to attract a large enough audience to keep going.

harupolish-youngharu

The main character of Haru Polish is Okamoto Haru, a high school girl who is so obsessed with swords that she borders on Fighter from 8-Bit Theater-like behavior. As a small child, she came across a mysterious blade at her grandparents’ place, and ever since that day she’s been looking to reunite with it. Being denied the opportunity to reunite with her beloved blade even as she reaches high school, she decides instead to join her school’s Iaido Club to get her fix. Though Haru is completely untrained, the president (and only member) of the club sees great, perhaps even disturbing levels of potential in her. The title refers to the fact that the Japanese word for polish, migaku, can refer to both polishing a blade and refining oneself as a person.

It would normally be simple enough to determine how a manga like this would go. You have the club expand, you have its members fight in practice or in tournaments, and you leave plenty of room for depicting cute girls swinging swords. It’s arguably even expected, given its creators’ histories: Totsuka Masahiro is probably best known for Bamboo Blade and Minamoto You [pronounced “Yuu”] is responsible for Asu no Yoichi. However, while much of this does indeed happen, there were clearly some problems along the way. This is best exemplified by the fact that the character actually only have one team match, and it’s in the final volume of the series, when the writing was likely already on the wall for Haru Polish.

Rather than being a continuous story, there is clear evidence of the series stopping and starting over and over again as it re-calibrates to find its audience, going from the everyday hi-jinks of a club, to something about occult curses within swords, to its last hurrah that includes both the aforementioned team match and then a time skip. It’s such a shame that it was unable to find success, because I think the series is legitimately entertaining. It has endearing characters, detailed and vibrant artwork, and manages to stay fun and fresh even as it is recomposed over and over again. If only one of them had hit home with its readership, then I think it could’ve been something great.

harupolish-team

There are two comments by the creators of Haru Polish that speak towards its inability to grab a readership. The first comes from the artist Minamoto, who states at the end of Volume 1 that he was originally feeling glad that he could now do a series that was lighter on fanservice and didn’t really have panty shots, only for the editor to come in and tell him that Haru Polish needs more panty shots (and indeed this is where the manga goes). The second comes from the writer Totsuka, who, in the final volume states that he introduced a male character named Shun (written with the same kanji as Haru) in order to act as a second protagonist because readers just didn’t understand or connect to Haru. I was actually surprised by this because Haru was by far my favorite character while reading due to her cute appearance, her infectious love of swords, and, as seen in the first image above, her tendency towards yandere faces that don’t require her to want to stab a boyfriend (a welcome change to that character type in my opinion). It makes sense though, given the magazine that Haru Polish ran in.

The original home for Haru Polish was Shounen Champion, published by Akita Shoten. While Jump, Magazine, and Sunday are the big names of shounen manga, Shounen Champion essentially is the greatest bastion left of old-fashioned, rough ‘n tumble dudes fighting, series that are meant to appeal to boys above all else. While there are an increasing number of exceptions to the Champion style, such as Squid Girl, even its current most popular title, Yowamushi Pedal, clearly reflects its Champion origins even as it simultaneously embraces its large fujoshi audience. Both Shun and the use of panty shots were attempts to grab the Champion audience, but in the end Haru was possibly too strange a heroine for them. It’s to the credit of its creators that, even as the series began to wind down, it put is best foot forward, with amazing images such as this:

harupolish-killingintent

I want to end by talking about one of the most interesting stylistic flourishes of Haru Polish, which is its use of ink splotches to depict imaginary blood. The intent behind this is to represent an Iaido practitioner swinging a sword with real killing intent. Within the context of the manga, because the characters do not use real weapons (being a high school club and all), this becomes a way for the manga to show that, if they were really fighting, their opponents would probably be dead. In this first and only team match, depicted above, the manga reaches the absolute height of its visual style, as if the creators were saying, “This is what could have been.”

Indeed, I wish there were more.

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Over the years, I’ve written a couple of reviews on Ogiue Maniax for a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan called Donburiya. It served many types of Japanese foods, but as per its name, its claim to fame was its donburi: large bowls of rice with various toppings on them. I’m truly sad to inform everyone that Donburiya closed its doors at some point over the past few months, and I only found out upon arriving and seeing the entire place abandoned.

I haven’t been this upset about losing an excellent food joint in a long while. The last time this happened, it was The Pink Teacup, a soul food restaurant that literally, literally served the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. In that case, the flavor penetrated the chicken all the way down to the bone, and in the case of Donburiya just about every dish I ever ordered there had a similar level of quality. Whether it was the Chirashidon (sashimi), Oyakodon (egg and chicken), Katsudon (pork cutlets), or Unatamadon (eel and egg), or even the curry, I will cherish my memories of that restaurant.

I know it might sound silly to some, but as people might have picked up from my writings, I’m a huge food enthusiast and food is a very emotional subject for me. To lose a place that has served me well, not only in terms of the quality of its dishes but also as a space to gather with friends and to celebrate, makes me wish I could’ve gone back just one last time.

By the way, if anyone knows any fantastic donburi places in New York City, I’m all ears. And mouth.

 

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