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Mizuhashi Kaori is one of my favorite voice actors, and not just because she’s the voice of Ogiue. Her range is quite impressive, and it often makes it difficult to initially figure out that a character is indeed her. As for her role as everyone’s favorite fujoshi character, Mizuhashi has talked before about how she had to learn and practice Ogiue’s Tohoku dialect, not being from that area.
This makes her recent role in Nichijou (aka My Ordinary Life) all the more interesting. Playing the angel character in the bizarre “Helvetica Standard” skits, in episode 9 she tries to teach a demon how to pronounce “chirashizushi,” a dish which is comprised of sushi rice (i.e. vinegared rice) with sashimi on top. Think of it as a pile of deconstructed sushi. Try as she might though, the demon slurs all of the syllables in a distince Tohoku-ben fashion, turning “chirashizushi” into “tsurasuzusu.” “Sushi” when spoken in Tohoku-ben sounds like “Susu.”
I have no idea if this influenced her hiring as the Helvetica Standard Angel, but I think it makes for an interesting circle, going from having to learn Tohoku-ben to successfully play a character with that accent to playing a character who is trying to teach another character not to speak in that fashion.
Recently, I was compelled to watch the Kiddy Grade opening, followed by the opening to its sequel, Kiddy Girl-and. For those of you who have never seen either show, I can best sum up the series as being a “girls with guns, maybe” show in a futuristic science fictional setting, and probably one of the shows that sticks out in people’s minds when you say “Studio Gonzo.”
Actually, the shows can probably best be summed up by watching the openings, which I invite you to do. Don’t worry about it, I’ll wait.
The original was fairly popular back in 2002, and seven years later out came its sequel, which I heard was not that well-received even by the typical diehard Japanese anime fan. Regardless of success or lack thereof however, when I watch those openings back to back, I can feel the flow of seven years of anime history, more than I can with other comparable methods. I can watch all of the Cutie Honey and Gegege no Kitarou openings and perceive the changes that have occurred over decades, but I can’t feel quite as much as with Kiddy Grade. I think the reason this difference exists in me is because this past decade was the time when I as an anime fan (and many others) could watch new shows within days or week of Japan, a dream at best for most people prior to the advent of the internet. I was there, man. It was intense (no it wasn’t).
But I don’t think it’s just the fact that I lived in this period that gives me the sensation of time flowing. It’s a definite factor, no doubt about it, but I think there’s also something different about the qualities of each opening, not just the fact that they feature different characters with different personalities, but also the way they introduce their content. Thus, though I’ve seen both shows either in part or in whole, I’m going to be thinking about them purely from what their openings have to stay about them (though I will be using their names for convenience’s sake).
The Kiddy Grade opening aims to give a sense of intrigue while introducing its main characters as two mysterious and attractive ladies. Eclair, the brown-haired one, is leggy and busty and is portrayed as the “muscle.” The “brains,” Lumiere, is decidedly younger in appearance, and seems to be taken from the same quiet, blue-haired mold as Evangelion‘s Ayanami Rei and Nadesico‘s Hoshino Ruri, though with significantly more smiling. Every scene has them contrasted with each other in some ways, whether it’s Eclair shooting a gun vs. Lumiere throwing a wine bottle, Eclair standing on one side with her lipstick whip with Lumiere and her “data trails” on the other, or the “kiss” scene, again, to create intrigue, sexual or otherwise.
The Kiddy Girl-and opening on the other hand is anything but mysterious in its presentation. It seems to want to convey an everyday sense of fun, and the two main girls are decidedly sillier in the intro compared to Eclair and Lumiere. They also are less different from one another compared to their Kiddy Grade counterparts, with Ascoeur (the pink-haired one) and Q-Feuille (the purple-haired one) having closer body types, though it’s clear that the former is bubblier than the latter. Rather than being presented as enigmas, Ascoeur and Q-Feuille are up-close. Personal, even.
Of course I can’t ignore the music itself either. Music isn’t my specialty, but I can tell you that Kiddy Girl-and‘s song is clearly sung by the voice actors of the heroines, whereas Kiddy Grade‘s with its mellow tones is not, and both songs lend themselves to the descriptions I gave. While having the seiyuu sing the opening was nothing new in anime even before 2002 (Slayers, Sakura Wars, to name a couple), I’d say that they’re supposed to be singing as the characters in the Kiddy Girl-and opening.
So then what are the big changes that this transition between openings represents? Well I don’t know if I’d call them “big” per se, but I feel that the Kiddy Grade opening exemplifies what was typical of its time, and the same goes for the Kiddy Girl-and opening. The much more “futuristic” vibe of the Kiddy Grade opening leads to the future-as-typical feel of its sequel’s intro, in a sense representing an increase in slice-of-life/”the everyday,” as well as a move away showing narrative-type elements as a prominent reason to watch. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is an example of Azuma Hiroki-esque breakdown of the anime “Grand Narrative” though, as that’s a lot more complicated than just “less plot in anime.” Of course, there’s also the feeling that “moe” has changed as well, as I think that all four girls are supposed to be “moe” to certain extents, and seeing how their “moe” is conveyed in those openings is probably more indicative of that seven-year gap than anything else.
Neither of the shows are particularly amazing or special, and are probably best described as “the median” or “mediocre” anime, depending on how kind you want to be. However, that’s exactly why I think their contrast shows the path anime has taken so well, because while it’s great to see how the really pioneering, experimental, and enormously popular works operate, looking at the middle of the road gives a good idea of how anime as a whole moves.
I’ve got another Kaiji-related video on Tumblr, featuring that game which is deceptively complex…and deadly.
Warning, recent episode spoilers.
Born and raised in the US, having studied in Japan about 5 years ago, and currently living in the Netherlands, I consider myself quite fortunate to have been on three different continents for long periods, enough to say that I wasn’t simply a tourist. The benefits have been many, but the one that is perhaps most important to me is that I’ve gained a bit of perspective on how things work differently from country to country. As an otaku, this of course applies to my pursuit of anime and manga as well, and so I want to just talk about my own firsthand experiences in this regard.
Before I go into detail though, I think it’s important to highlight a few points about myself:
First, my English is my native language, and I have studied Japanese for a number of years and am reasonably fluent in it. I cannot read any other languages to any decent extent, and I can only understand one other when spoken.
Second, my available “access points” varied from place to place, meaning television, internet, etc. Also, I was in Japan before streaming anime became a big deal, whereas currently I am living through the age of the official streaming simulcast alongside everyone else. Well, sort of, but I’ll get into that later.
Now because I’m native to the United States, I’ve seen my fair share of how anime/manga and its surrounding fandom and industry have changed over time, but as I’m not looking to make this a history lesson I’m going to mainly focus on the state of obtaining anime from about 2005-2010. In that period, whether it was in college or back home, I had cable television and high-speed internet, as well as the fortune of living in a city with Japanese book stores (or at least a Japanese grocery when it came to college). I used the TV and internet to varying degrees to satiate my desire for anime, and as my Japanese improved I was encouraged to start buying manga in Japanese as they tended to be less expensive even with import mark-up, especially if they were used books.
Even ignoring the untranslated titles, anime and manga have been quite accessible, whether it’s through downloading, Cartoon Network’s (increasingly sparse) anime line-up, or just going to the Barnes & Noble to pick up a volume of something. Companies are currently trying to increase their internet presence, with more and more titles, including older ones that are no longer available otherwise, being streamed on sites such as Hulu and Crunchyroll. The genres available were and are surprisingly diverse, particularly when it comes to manga, though they don’t cover everything Japan has to offer, just because some things simply do not sell in the US (and some titles that were released certainly did not either).
It’s important to note that anime took quite a long time to get big, and it was only really with the advent of Pokemon that it became such a big deal. While it’s come quite a long way, it’s still considered quite a “niche” thing, and a lot of works which can survive in Japan based on overall higher readership there will most likely tank in the US. Anime as “anime” is still quite young compared to the rest of the world. Anime and manga are definitely accessible in the America, it just takes a bit of effort to really sink yourself in, and although it takes a while to feel the limitations in genre, you may eventually feel it. Also remember that the US is big, and that my experience can be quite different from someone living in, say, the Midwest.
In Japan I had television but no reliable internet, and while I hear that most otaku in Japan use a Tivo, I unfortunately did not own one, which meant that I had to follow the official schedule in order to keep up. While it could be trying at times, there was a certain thrill in planning my days around the TV broadcasts. The fact that Futari wa Pretty Cure Max Heart and Zoids: Genesis ran simultaneously on two different stations meant I had to choose, which is something that has never really been an issue with anime fandom in the US, at it was rare that two stations would be showing anime at the exact same time. I myself didn’t have to deal with this since the days when Pokemon would chase Digimon out of its time slots. If there was a show on late at night that I really wanted to catch, say, Glass Mask, I would go to sleep early so that I could wake up at 1 or 2am, watch it, and then go right back to sleep. I also remember getting home from a trip to Akihabara, pedaling hard as I could so that I wouldn’t miss the beginning of Gundam SEED Destiny. That also reminds me of when I had faith in Gundam SEED Destiny. Those were innocent times.
(By the way, I chose Pretty Cure).
Manga though, it’s hard to live in Japan and not see comics available for sale. In addition to larger bookstores and specialty shops, you could find the latest manga magazines in convenience stores, your Jumps and Sundays and such. While those stores didn’t carry everything, you could still find some surprising titles; it was through a convenience store that I found the Hulk Hogan manga. The ubiquity of manga was especially advantageous for just sheer exposure: by buying just a few magazines you could get a pretty wide range of works, from good to otherwise.
One unique advantage I had while in Japan was that I had access to the library of the school at which I was studying abroad, which meant access to their extensive collection of anime on DVD. Nowadays it’s not that hard to go online and find all these obscure titles, but back in 2005 this library’s DVD collection went well beyond what was fansubbed (and probably still does today), with series such as Zambot 3 and Tetsujin 28 in their entirety. I know I just picked two robot titles too, but trust me when I say there was more.
So when it came to anime or manga, despite my internet situation I probably had more titles available to me than I ever had before or since. The only trouble of course is that it’s all in Japanese, and while my Japanese is good I’m still not comfortable with it, let alone comfortable with it five or six years ago despite the rapid improvement that living in Japan itself caused. In any case, the main point to take away here is how easy it was to just be surrounded by the stuff.
A few months ago, Irish anime podcaster Eeeper wrote this letter where he pointed out the difficulties in being a European anime fan, particularly in this current age where anime is officially streamed. Before I arrived in Europe, I could see his point and could agree, but it was only after I actually started living here that I could really feel it.
Having high-speed internet but no TV here, online is mainly how I watch things. When it comes to the streaming of anime, Europe seems to get left out pretty often. The entirety of Hulu is off-limits save for a single, terrible-looking show (not anime in case you’re wondering). Funimation’s video site automatically redirects to a generic company page. This is something I previously only really experienced when I couldn’t watch the official Japanese-only episodes of Bakemonogatari on their official site. It’s not all bad, as some shows on Crunchyroll work just fine. However, others do not, and you get these really odd situations, like how Naruto Shippuden is available for me to watch but the original Naruto is region-blocked. The fact that I just came from the US, where I recently watched all of Kekkaishi and Slayer Revolution (and Evolution-R) on Hulu, makes me very aware of this disparity. That said, internet here is quite fast and what I can watch I get in a flash.
Manga is a bit of a different situation. In terms of the internet, no official sites as far as I can tell have blocked their manga from European access. In terms of actual physical books, comic stores aren’t amazingly common in the Netherlands, but cities are generally small enough that you don’t need too many, and cities with more comic stores are only a short train ride away. Going to Amsterdam takes about half an hour, which is longer than it took me to get to Manhattan, and the selection of manga (as well as European comics) can be surprisingly extensive, usually taking the form of English-translated titles imported from the US or Dutch-language books. One interesting thing to note is that some titles get translated into Dutch before they are translated in English, possibly owing to the fact that manga and anime have had a strong presence in Europe way before the “anime boom” ever hit the United States. In fact, a friend told me that Urasawa’s works were available in Dutch way before they were in US bookstores. It might also have to do with the proximity to Belgium, which has its own rich comics history and influences the regions around.
On that note, one big difference with the Netherlands and Europe more generally is that everything is more packed together. While traveling by train in Japan is somewhat comparable to doing so in the Netherlands, Japan is still an island, while going from where I live to Belgium, an entirely different country, is a mere 3-hour train ride. Europe also gets a good deal of titles that the US does not, but they’re mainly for people who speak French and alas neither I nor Eeeper (I assume) are capable of this feat.
So there’s a bit of my anime experience across three countries. I of course cannot speak for every anime fan who has lived in the countries I have, let alone the countries where I have never set foot, but I hope that this post helps to bring a bit of understanding to fans around the world, to see the varying circumstances that affect our fellow fans. If you want to chime in with your own experiences for any country/area that I did not cover, feel free.
Recently, after years away from the Naruto anime, I decided to check out a few recent episodes of the second series, Naruto Shippuuden. Watching the opening, I saw the Konoha ninjas fighting off an invasion of their home village, with each character getting their own time in the sun, as if the intro wanted to tell you that each and every character is Important. Given the immense cast of Naruto and the 90 second limit of the opening, this means that each character gets no more than a few moments. In fact, Uzumaki Naruto himself, our titular protagonist, hardly has more screen time than others. All in all, the opening is quite hectic.
Afterwards, I decided to go back and watch the very first Naruto opening, and right from when the orange ninja beckoned me to ”C’mon,” I was getting an entirely different feel from the Shippuuden intro. Instead of the scores of figures that currently populate the series, the first opening features only four characters. Rookie ninjas Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, as well as their teacher and leader Kakashi are each focused upon extensively, and it makes the newest opening feel almost claustrophobic by comparison.
Part of this has to do with the open-endedness of the first opening. With no specific plot developments to hint at, it’s as if the characters and the intro itself are given room to breathe. You get a real sense that these characters are important, Naruto in particular. In a way, it’s quite relaxing.
I compared Bleach openings, too. Once again, the simple, yet heavy emphasis the first opening puts on Ichigo and Rukia differs a good deal from the almost overwhelming number of characters featured in the current opening. Taking a step back, the sheer contrast between then and now seems to speak towards the character bloat that the most popular shounen fighting series almost inevitably experience. If you go and watch every opening back to back, be it Bleach or Naruto, you can really experience the cast creep.
Having an enormous cast of characters in a shounen title is not anything new. Kinnikuman for example sports so many wrestlers that it can be difficult to keep track of everyone. However, the anime’s openings do not try to partition roughly the same amount of time for every character. They do not try to say that everyone else is almost as important as Kinnikuman himself. And while there are a number of differing factors between Kinnikuman and Naruto, not least of which is the fact that Naruto simply has more openings, I think it also highlights the increased focus on a ”pick your favorite” method of presenting characters in anime and manga.
Essentially, I believe the reason that later Naruto and Bleach openings feature so many characters with roughly equal screen time is that they know each character has their own fanbase, and they want those fans to feel that their favorites are getting treated right. While I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with this, it still makes me miss those simpler times, when it was mainly just Ichigo and Rukia.
If you want to check out the openings I’ve referred to in this post, Crunchyroll has the latest episodes of Naruto and Bleach. As for the older ones, I’ve provided links below. Keep in mind that due to copyright policies and such, most of these videos are modified somewhat, usually by making them widescreen when they originally weren’t.