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With a lovable cast of characters, in-depth look into the world of anime production, and numerous references to famous creators and works,  SHIROBAKO has been a darling of the internet anime fandom, particularly among those who consider themselves to be, if not among the most informed anime fans, then at least those who desire to be more informed. While SHIROBAKO is not the first anime to delve closely into its own industry, I believe it is the first full-on 26-episode television series to do so, and this allows it to show multiple facets that are involved when making anime, while also giving them room to breathe and to garner appreciation.

SHIROBAKO centers around Miyamori Aoi, a young animation production assistant at Musashino Animation Productions (aka Musani), a once-renowned anime studio that is trying to rebound and recover its reputation. Back in high school, Aoi and her friends in the school’s anime club created their very own animated short, with the hope of someday working together professionally to create it for real, which has led them each into different areas of the anime industry: 3DCG, voice acting, writing, 2D animation, and of course production. As each of them deal with their own struggles in trying to get closer to their dreams, which include wondering if anime is right for them after all, Aoi and the others learn about what it takes to make an anime, and all of the joy, stress, and sleepless nights that go into it.

P.A. Works, the studio behind SHIROBAKO, has a reputation for producing very specific sorts of works. Whether it’s True Tears, Tari Tari, or Hanasaku Iroha (which I love), many of their shows involve cute high school girls and a lot of emotional drama. It’s a formula that works for some but is like poison to others, and with SHIROBAKO we have a work that successfully toes the line between the two. These aren’t high school girls but rather young professionals, and though many of the women in the anime are purposely designed to be attractive, there’s more than enough focus on anime production that the show hardly feels like a cute girl/melodrama delivery system. In a way, because of how taxing anime production is (as has been revealed in numerous articles and interviews over the years), a bit of melodrama doesn’t seem surprising between people fighting back their tears so that they make an absurd deadline.

A more cynical part of me thinks that the girls are there to an extent to be the gateway to introduce those anime fans obsessed with cute girls to what goes on behind the scenes, and that the series in general is very much designed to promote the anime industry and encourage people to join. It’s also a problem that they don’t really acknowledge the enormous component that is the anime industry’s outsourcing of in-between animation to other countries including Korea, the Philippines, and India. However, there’s no denying that the series is rife with genuine information to learn and appreciate, and that the characters, regardless of their base intent have convincing personalities and stories as to why they’re in the art and business of making anime in the first place.

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For the record, my favorite characters are Imai “Diesel” Midori (one of Aoi’s old club mates who possesses a strong desire to write for anime, a thirst for research, and an ever-enthusiastic personality), Toudou Misa (another club mate who works in 3DCG and has to decide if she wants to play it safe with her career or take a chance), and Sugie Shigeru (the oldest veteran animator at Musani who, while enormously skilled, doesn’t quite fit into the current era because he “can’t draw moe”).

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, SHIROBAKO is rife with references to both real people and real anime. Aoi’s favorite series is Mountain Hedgehog Andes Chucky, based on Mountain Rat Rocky Chuck. One episode centers around the importance of the Idepon films, or Space Runaway Ideon. Numerous posters seen in the background throughout the series include parodies of Casshern, Lunlun the Flower Child, Ghost in the Shell, and much, much more.

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As for people, this is probably what gets people to scramble to anime production staff lists the most. The above-mentioned Sugie is based either on MADHouse founder and animator Akio Sugino, legendary animator Mori Yasuji, or some combination of the two. The real identity of Musani president Marukawa Masato is blindingly obvious to anyone who’s been to Otakon in Baltimore and attended a panel by MADHouse and MAPPA founder Maruyama Masao. Evangelion director Anno Hideaki and voice actor Itou Shizuka are among the many, many real industry veterans to appear in slightly altered forms in SHIROBAKO. Combined with the anime parodies it makes for a somewhat addicting game of “figure out the reference” that, unsurprisingly, appeals to a lot of fans who have devoted themselves to learning about anime.

The day after I finished SHIROBAKO I had a thought: often times when it comes to anime or other forms of media that fictionalize a given craft, technology, or profession, people who are deeply involved in those areas can easily nitpick these series in terms of accuracy. While I don’t have firsthand experience in the anime industry (though I’ve done a bit of work as an animation production assistant myself), I almost feel as if SHIROBAKO is defying the “well actually’s” of the world to say something. Who better to talk about creating anime than the people who create anime? Perhaps the answer is those whose voices haven’t been covered. Maybe we’ll next get a series from the perspective of the in-betweeners.

SHIROBAKO is available on Hulu and Crunchyroll.

PS: I recently found out that the Japanese terms for in-betweens and moving images in general are the same: douga, just like what you see in Nico Nico Douga. Nooo, this isn’t confusing at all.

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It’s been six months since Mewtwo was announced as a downloadable character for Smash 4, but it’s felt more like a lifetime. With the vague arrival date of “Spring 2015″ and not a single image beyond a basic character model, information was scarce, and it left Mewtwo fans such as myself starving. Then came the April Nintendo Direct, which not only showed Mewtwo in action and gave an April 28th release date (April 15th for people who registered both games through Club Nintendo), but also revealed the return of Mother 3 hero Lucas as well as a worldwide poll asking who you want in Super Smash Bros. Suffice it to say, it’s been crazy.

(More on the poll in the future. Stay tuned!)

That brings us to today. As one of the many people who bought and registered both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions, I’ve had the privilege of getting early access to Mewtwo, and I’d like to give my impressions. This comes from the perspective  of someone who used the character avidly in Super Smash Bros. Melee (though not so much in a high-level competitive sense), as well as a long-time fan of Mewtwo as a character.

On an aesthetic level, Mewtwo looks so much better than it did in Melee, with body proportions closer to more recent depictions (taller, smaller head, etc.), as well as much more detailed animations. Though all of Mewtwo’s moves are more or less the same as they were back in the Gamecube era, they all have an extra bit of flair that really captures the essence of the character. When Mewtwo does a back throw, it effortlessly lifts the opponent through its telekinesis and, with its eyes closed as if it’s discarded a piece of trash, launches them. The voice, which I know was a bit of a concern for people, is actually just the same as its Melee voice, veteran theater actor Ichimura Masachika. Actually, it’s literally the Melee clips re-used, only that we don’t get the option of changing the game language to Japanese and hearing Mewtwo speak actual lines. I’m not totally against English dubs, but a part of me would have been a bit sad if this had been replaced.

In terms of gameplay, the first thing I want to say is that it actually took me less time to figure out how Mewtwo is supposed to function as a character than it did for me to learn Mega Man, who has been my primary character (the spotlight will now be shared between Blue Bomber and Genetic Pokemon). Once you get a sense of Mewtwo’s attributes, including its attacks, its speed, and its weaknesses, its game plan becomes clear. Mewtwo is a glass cannon, with an overwhelmingly powerful offense contrasted by being one of the lightest characters in the game who’s also one of the largest targets out there.

Especially coming from the perspective of a Mega Man player, Mewtwo’s attacks flow together incredibly well. A lot of its attacks, namely down tilt, up tilt, Side Special (Confusion), and Down Special (Disable) are designed to set opponents up for juggles or follow-ups. There aren’t very many reliable combos from Mewtwo, but a lot of the character is about forcing 50/50 guessing situations that favor you in terms of reward, and you can do things like Confusion -> down tilt, dash attack, forward air, second jump into up air. If you’re not someone who plays and found that a bit confusing, just know that Mega Man by comparison is lucky to get more than 3 hits on an opponent while juggling.

Another feature of Mewtwo’s is that it’s actually much faster on the ground now compared to Melee, and both the range and power of its attacks have been increased. Dash attack in particularly is affected positively by this new-found speed and range, as it’s easy to catch someone landing with it, pop them up in the air, and start a juggle. Mewtwo also now sports some of the most tremendous and reliable kill power in the game. Shadow Ball has more kill power than Samus’s Charge Shot and can be spammed more reliably than Lucario’s Aura Sphere. Up Smash comes out quickly and is absurdly strong, KOing many opponents off the top at about 90%. Forward Smash and Down Smash are slow but powerful, and their weak points can be mitigated through setups such as Confusion and Disable. In particular, if you Disable someone at about 80% and charge a smash attack, they’re almost assuredly going to get taken out.

Mewtwo also eats shields for breakfast, and it’s kind of frightening to see just how effective it is at whittling them down. Many characters have attacks that can either destroy shields or do massive damage to them, but none are quite as reliable and effective as Mewtwo’s Shadow Ball. Its only real weakness is that it takes a while to charge, but once you have it at full power, it has positive effects whether it hits or is blocked, and its erratic trajectory can make it difficult to avoid through dodging. Even if it doesn’t hit anything, Mewtwo can act quickly out of the move allowing follow-ups, and for those characters that love to reflect projectiles, Mewtwo now has a properly-working Confusion that can send it right back for a game of Ocarina of Time-esque volleyball.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Mewtwo without some strong throws, and it sports some of the best around. All of them do significant amounts of damage, somewhere between 9-11%. Back throw is a decent kill move, and up throw is the strongest in its class. With a good amount of rage (in Smash 4, characters become stronger as they take more damage), up throw can KO most opponents between 120-140%. While that might not seem too impressive, and it’s actually weaker when compared to Melee, it’s important to remember that, unlike many other killing throws (which are mostly back throws), Mewtwo’s is reliable at pretty much any point on the stage, instead of requiring you to be closer to one side or the other.

That’s Mewtwo on offense. Mewtwo on defense is another matter, as it is actually one of the lightest characters in the game, even easier to KO than Mr. Game & Watch. Combined with its large frame, it takes attacks easily, and doesn’t have many moves that can keep it from being juggled. Somewhat similar to Mega Man, Mewtwo’s main game plan is to drift towards the edges to avoid follow-ups, and thankfully a combination of excellent air speed, huge jumps, and the best teleport in the game means that it can often escape. However, because Mewtwo is so frail, it sometimes doesn’t matter, as a stiff breeze can send it reeling. In other words, the basic principle of Mewtwo is to deal a crazy amount of damage before the opponent gets the chance to touch you, otherwise you’re probably in trouble. In this way, Mewtwo somewhat resembles Akuma from Street Fighter, another character known for having high damage and low health.

Regardless of how good Mewtwo is as a character in the end, the collective effect of all of this is that Mewtwo feels more representative of the character’s original concept. In the original Pokemon games, Mewtwo is among the strongest in the game, with insanely high offensive stats and relatively good defensive stats. In an effort to promote game balance, the creators of Smash 4 clearly decided to make these aspects more extreme by giving it such terrible defenses, but I think this plays into Mewtwo’s character more than what it had in Melee, which generally amount to having a few decent moves wrapped up in a bunch of terrible qualities. Now, at least those terrible qualities are equally met with terrifying potential on offense. Destroy or be destroyed.

I do find it kind of interesting that the two characters I picked are the ones that are deceptive in terms of size to weight ratios. Mewtwo is very large and extremely light, while Mega Man is much heavier than he looks. It also means that their game plans are also somewhat opposite, as Mewtwo is a very unforgiving character while Mega Man can be afforded more mistakes. Whether they complement each other or succumb to the same issues, only time will tell.

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

Years ago for a final project in college, I created a comic about a girl who delivers piles of garbage around the world. The concept was intentionally strange, as my goal in creating it was to make the comic feel just earnest enough that readers would question just how serious I was. Upon seeing the Korean animated film Satellite Girl and Milk Cow at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, I found myself having the same experience I intended for my audience, and perhaps because of this I feel a bit of a connection to this film.

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow follows a dormant Korean satellite Il-ho who comes back to life after hearing the singing of a mediocre musician named Gyeong-cheon. Mysteriously transforming into a human-looking girl in order to find him, it turns out Kyung-chun has had his own change as well: due to heartbreak, he’s become a cow. As the two of them learn about each other, they have to deal with a magician that steals animal livers using a plunger and a a robot demon that devours people who have become animals, all while being helped by a sentient and magic roll of toilet paper named Merlin. How did any of this happen? Was it magic? Technology? The film certainly doesn’t bother to explain much, but that’s also its charm. The story unfolds at a rapid pace filled with both absurd and deadpan humor while always treating its characters’ feelings as just genuine enough that it really leaves an impression. It’s nonsense most of the time, but who said nonsense couldn’t be the source of a whole range of thoughts and feelings?

Visually, the film is very basic yet serviceable, though on more than one occasion it becomes very clear where shortcuts were used in animation. I don’t mean to say that it’s wrong to “cheat” on animation, as on some level it’s so much work to animate something that I expect it to happen, but at times an overuse of motion tweening (when things slide along a little too smoothly) and some awkward stills and camera zooms really stick out in Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. Even so, I find that these small issues don’t really detract from the main bizarre thrust of the film, and the numerous sight gags worked just fine. Not to give away too much, but my favorite gags involve Il-ho’s ability to launch rocket punches, and the considerations she makes in terms of rocket punch storage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Satellite Girl and Milk Cow outside of the film itself is the fact that it was the poster movie for the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival. Knowing absolutely nothing about the film prior to seeing it other than the promotional poster, I think it lives up to its role as the face of the festival for this year. The kids in the audience seemed to love it (or at least were caught up enough in the oddities of the film to have it keep their attention), and while of the films I saw I liked When Marnie Was There best, Satellite Girl & Milk Cow to me feels like a film that has wide appeal across age groups as long as you’re someone who can get into its unusual groove. It’s the kind of film that’s really difficult to riff on, because every time you think you’re saying something clever, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow will seemingly wink back at you with one eye, while starring at you with utter conviction using the other.

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The digital manga service Manga Box can be something of a game of Russian Roulette in terms of quality. Certain titles, such as Girl and Car on the Beat, I’ve found to be extremely entertaining, while others much less so. Lately, I’ve found one reason to keep coming back, and that’s B-Ball Goddess.

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Known in Japanese as Basuke no Megami-sama, this manga follows a girl named Nimi Miyuki, who moves from Tokyo to Shimane Prefecture after a confession goes embarrassingly south. In Shimane, she meets the local basketball ace, Sakomizu Shou, who convinces Miyuki to join the women’s basketball team at their school. Though Miyuki is seemingly without talent, Shou is convinced that she has what it takes.

Manga about basketball is hardly new, and manga about girls playing sports even less so. However, B-Ball Goddess combines a really good understanding of how to portray cute girls with a strong sense of physicality and the excitement of a basketball game, all without resorting to especially gratuitous fanservice (most of the time) or shounen manga-esque displays of basketball super powers. For me, it’s quite telling that, in conversations with writer, comics critic, and long-time basketball fan David Brothers, he found Kuroko’s Basketball to be somewhat unbearable, but B-Ball Goddess to be solid and fun. I’m not sure if that means that all basketball fans would enjoy B-Ball Goddess, but I think that’s about as good an endorsement as it gets, shorts of an actual NBA player praising it.

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One of the more prominent aspects of the manga is the Umpaku dialect found in Shimane and its surrounding regions, of which the most common is Izumo-ben. While Miyuki and most other girls in the series speak using standard Japanese, older characters and Shou herself utilizes the dialect.  Of course, this being a manga that’s translated into English and all, a decision must be made as to whether the English should portray this difference or ignore it entirely. No choice is inherently correct, but I do have to wonder how the translator for B-Ball Goddess decided upon their solution.

As far as I can tell, the Umpaku dialect has been replaced by a thick Irish or possibly Scottish dialect, and while this works okay for the most part, at times Shou is almost impossible to understand. Unlike in the original Japanese where kanji can help readers understand what’s really being said, English has no such luxury in general. Thankfully, for particularly obtuse terms translation notes are usually provided, though it’s not Japanese to English but rather English to English.

You can read the first chapter of B-Ball Goddess online, and the Manga Box app is free on both Android and iOS.

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

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been able to attend the NYICFF. While in the past I mainly prioritized Japanese animated films, I’ve recently been making more an active effort to diversify my interests in animation. Hearing others talk about the frequently stunning visual presentation of French animated films, I decided to take a look at Mune.

An important note to readers from anime and manga fandom: it’s pronounced “Myuun,” and is not about what you think it is.

Directed by Alexandre Heboyan and Benoît Philippon, Mune centers around a world where the sun and moon were brought to the planet long ago, and the guardians who must guard the movements of these celestial bodies. The protagonist of the film is a night creature named Mune, who despite viewing himself as a nobody, ends up in an unlikely position of power and responsibility.

I found Mune to be a film whose main strength was the portrayal of an intriguing world that revolves around the clever elaboration of its own creation myth. The way the planet divides between day and night, the designation of creatures that thrive not only in day or night, but also dawn and dusk, and especially the designs of the inhabitants all worked to give a sense of a living world. What most impressed me were the towering giants that pulled the sun and moon across the sky, one a four-legged rock golem, the other a camel of sorts, though I also need to mention the antagonist Necross, a dark and menacing figure with a waterfall of lava continuously pouring out of his chest. Another notable aspect of its visuals is that Mune uses primarily 3DCG animation but occasionally switches to traditional 2D animation when presenting either stories of the past or other worlds.

However, when it comes to narrative and characterization, Mune falls short where it matters most, in Mune himself. While other important characters have some sense of growth throughout the movie, such as the well-meaning but arrogant sun guardian Sohone who learns the importance of selflessness, Mune changes, sort of, but it feels incomplete. This is not to say that a protagonist necessarily needs “character development,” but the film specifically sets him up to have a character arc where he discovers that the true power was in him all along. The issue is that Mune’s realization of confidence is not only rather abrupt, but doesn’t really require him to learn anything. If this were a Dreamworks film, I could picture them overlaying I’ve Got the Power. Similarly, one of Necross’s demonic minions is shown to struggle with the idea of being “evil,” and I had assumed this would set him up to contribute to the plot more, but he mostly ends up as comic relief.

A lot of similarities, though perhaps mostly surface ones, can be drawn between Mune and Disney’s Hercules. I feel that, if the film had borrowed more of the character progression that the latter shows, then it could have been more complete in its storytelling. While a work of animation can certainly succeed without the need for denouement and all that by focusing on its aesthetic qualities, Mune comes across as being stuck somewhere in the middle.

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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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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.

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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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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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