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It is a somewhat common mistake to assume that Japan as a wholly foreign and alien culture despite events such as the influence of China on its development, the appearance of Commodore Perry, and various interactions with nations such as Portugal and the Netherlands. However, no matter where it comes from, Japan’s own history can be considered unique (and just about any culture or area can say the same), and there are certain implicit and assumed elements that can permeate Japanese culture.

I was asked by Johnny Trovato to address broadly the subject of how theological differences between Japan and countries with more of a Christian history affect how anime and manga are viewed. Truth be told, even though I’ve watched plenty of series which reference religion and spirituality such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha, and Hermes: Winds of Love (don’t watch that last one), I’m not really an expert on the subject. I originally planned on tackling the subject from a fairly limited perspective, but fortunately I recently discovered a book called Holy Ghosts: The Christian Century in Modern Japanese Fiction by Rebecca Sutter. While it’s not quite on the subject of Japanese religions and beliefs, it did help me to realize an aspect of Japanese culture, media, and literature that I believe sheds a bit of light on how religious beliefs are used in anime and manga.

One of the more major lessons I took away from reading Holy Ghosts is that Japan has historically approached religion in a rather pragmatic way. Shintoist, Buddhist, and Confucian beliefs exist together in Japan, but only as far as they’re convenient. When Portuguese Jesuits arrived in Japan and sought to convert its people, not only did the Japanese sometimes interpret Jesus as a kind of “Buddha” that conformed to their own polytheistic views, but many of the daimyo who converted did so because the Portuguese also sold firearms. Spirituality exists, but it has existed to to serve the people, rather than having people be absolutely beholden to one or more gods. Even the idea of the Emperor as god was a response to the prominence of other religious beliefs being used as tools to control territory.

To take what is probably too big of a leap into the present day, I think we can still see this tendency at work when it comes to the utilization of religious aspects in anime. Evangelion famously features Christian imagery and mythology mainly as a way to provide something fairly exotic to Japanese viewers, while Spirited Away is just as much about encouraging young people to rediscover nature regardless of overt spirituality. This, I believe, is where a good deal of the confusion or dissonance might lie when it comes to how people in the United States and other traditionally Christian cultures interact with anime. Of course, not every person who lives in those countries is necessarily religious, and there has been plenty of media that plays fast and loose with the Bible, from Bruce Almighty to Teen Angel (I still love that show, by the way), but often there’s some kind of counter-play with the assumption that many people know at least the basics of Christianity and that there are plenty who firmly believe in its tenets.

I’m going to use two examples of media, one from the US, and one from Japan. Xena: Warrior Princess was a popular show when it aired. Having begun as a spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journey, it at first focused mainly on ancient Greece and the presence of Greek Gods. Eventually though, they decided to branch off and include Christianity in the show. Xena meets both David and Jesus, and any historian would probably tell you that it makes no sense. It didn’t matter in the show itself to a certain degree, but it was directly up against the value of Christianity in the US, and how accurate or (intentionally inaccurate) a work it was factored into how it was perceived.

Now contrast this with Devilman, the story of a teenager who gains the power of a devil so that he can fight other demons. Its creator, Nagai Go, stated that he designed Devilman to resemble a bat, even though that’s not quite the imagery people in countries more familiar with the idea of Satan and Hell would utilize. Eventually Satan himself appears, and he turns out to be a hermaphrodite because Lucifer has been described in some texts as being as such. However, the main value of Lucifer’s dual-gender appearance is visceral shock, and Devilman as a whole didn’t have to take into account how much its readers would be going to church every Sunday. Devilman, if I recall correctly, also mixes in various spiritual beliefs including Japanese ones, and it all effectively works to (on a somewhat pragmatic level) help the story along.

The idea that religion isn’t this overwhelmingly powerful subject in Japanese culture and society isn’t necessarily shared by all who live there, of course, but I think there’s a lot in the old adage that says, in Japan, you have a Shinto birth, a Christian wedding, and a Buddhist funeral. That synthesis of beliefs and the ability to mold them into whatever you want defies the idea of religion as this overwhelming, monolithic thing that cannot ever be altered, and anime and manga are proof of that.

youkai

The Yo-Kai Watch video game series has been a smash hit in Japan, even managing to outsell Pokemon. Recently there has been news to start bringing the franchise and its accompanying merchandise to English-speaking audiences, and the main character of Yo-Kai Watch, Amano Keita (pictured above, right), has become Nathan Adams. This leads me to speculate on the specific choice made here, and to think about how it compares to the meaning inherent to the original name.

Video games are no stranger to changing characters’ names to make them more culturally accessible, but a question arises as to whether there is any meaning lost (or even gained) in localization of names. For example, a lot of Pokemon characters names gain become much more explicit in terms of wordplay though in a way that has less to do with the inherent meanings of names and more to do with how they sound or have built up associations through culture and history (Lance the Dragon Master, Brock the Rock Gym Leader).

In the case of Amano Keita (which sounds like a fairly typical Japanese name) in Japanese his name references very specific things, and because the name has official kanji it becomes easier to see what it could mean. Amano Keita is 天野景太, where 天 means “sky/heaven,” and 景 means “scenery/view.” The Ama in Amano is on a basic level associated with the Japanese goddess Amaterasu (EDIT: It also might very well refer to Amanojaku, a demon-like creature in Japanese folklore. Thanks to Zack Davisson for informing me!). Thus, Amano Keita’s name basically means “a view of the heavens,” which I think associates him with spirituality and mythology and thus the titular youkai in Yo-Kai Watch.

What about Nathan Adams? Initially, what can’t be ignored is the fact that “Amano” and “Adams” sound somewhat similar. I have little doubt about that.

In terms of basic meaning, a Google search reveals that both Nathan and Adam are Hebrew in origin (Adam being a little more obvious in that regard), so there might very well be a continued connection to heaven and spirituality through the name as well. At the same time it probably won’t earn the ire of those who don’t wish to associate Judeo-Christian beliefs with the Japanese occult, because even though Nathan means “gift from God,” Nathan Adams is also fairly generic-sounding and few truly associate names like “Christopher” with Christ anymore.

However, I’m not sure if this is the actual reasoning, because as explained above, I don’t know the degree to which a localization would actually pursue the deeper origins of names, especially because they don’t have the benefit of kanji to make things explicit. That said, sometimes names are selected because of how they sound, with different kanji used to transform it into a “real” name, similar to English. For example, the female character in Hurricane Polymar is Nanba Teru, or “Number Telephone.”

There is another way in which the English name can be associated with the spiritual and the occult, which is The Addams Family. This, I think is actually more of a likely origin, and while Yo-Kai Watch isn’t focused on the macabre the way The Addams Family is, there’s still that connection with the afterlife, ghosts, and monsters. As for Keita vs. Nathan, I wonder if Nathan was picked because it sounds close to “nature.”

While it’s difficult to draw firm conclusion, I believe that both names spirits and the occult/celestial, though due to cultural differences their exact meanings don’t exactly draw from quite the same concepts. I get the feeling little of this will actually matter in terms of how the character of “Nathan Adams” is perceived, but it was at least fun to explore the potential connotations of his name.

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ryuugaminemikado

Ryuugamine Mikado is the protagonist of the light novel turned anime, Durarara!! His story is that he decided to from a “gang” online on a whim called the Dollars, and due to its lax rules for membership (if there were truly ever any at all), it becomes a social phenomenon both on and off the internet. Mikado himself is not a very strong-willed individual, he rarely ever actually has to act upon his role as the anonymous founder of the Dollars, and even then he is not a leader in the traditional sense.

Ryuugamine (竜ヶ峰) is literally “dragon’s peak.” Mikado is more complicated.

The term “mikado,” generally written either as 御門 or 帝, refers to the Emperor of Japan or his estate, but is an extremely archaic and obsolete term. However, while Japan had long since dropped that particular term, probably since at least the 13th century, Western texts still continued to use it well into the 20th century. In other words, in current context, “mikado” has connotations of misunderstanding and mislabeling. Mikado the character’s name is written as 帝人, which literally means “emperor man” but is more a way to make “Mikado” look like an actual Japanese name.

In other words, “Ryuugamine Mikado” is very fitting when you think of the Dollars, with its enormous reach and influence, as the “dragon” and Mikado himself as its misunderstood and illusory “emperor.”

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comicit-issue1-cover

Last month, the publisher Kadokawa Ascii Media Works announced a new manga magazine. Comic it advertises itself as a publication for “adult otaku girls” who “want more than just romance in their stories.” As if to emphasize its defiance of the common trope that manga for women revolve around love stories, its first issue came out on Valentine’s Day.

I find a few things fascinating about the premise behind Comic it. I’ve often seen readers, male and female, criticize shoujo and josei manga for being so focused on romance, that it seems to come at the exclusion of other possible and interesting narratives. However, it is quite intriguing that the demographic that is assumed to be most dissatisfied with the state of manga for female readers would be otaku, hardcore fans of manga. This also assumes that for many non-otaku readers, the state of manga, and romance in manga, is fine. Of course, the idea that there should be “more than just romance” also implies that the manga in this magazine will still feature love and relationships.

There’s another aspect of their advertising, however, that is less apparent. The term “adult otaku girls,” or onna otaku joshi, essentially indicates grown women who are otaku, but are still girls at heart. Though they continue to age, they’ve never let go of the thrill of being otaku. In a way, this seemingly feeds into the celebration of you that is common to Japanese culture and its portrayal in anime and manga, but I wonder if it’s also a jab at it, that youth is a product of the mind, rather than the body.

Below I’ve translated a chart included with the article on Natalie Comic linked above, which is designed to help readers figure out which stories in Comic it they’d enjoy. Note that all of the possible results emphasize the word “girl” instead of “woman” in the same manner as described above, and that there are some… interesting… yes/no questions on this chart.

comicit-chart-translation

According to the article, these categories indicate the following.

Kizuna Girl: You’re into families and brothers, and are moved by connections and bonds.

Mama Girl: You’re into helpless guys and the dramatic joy of seeing them change, as if you were a mother or older sister.

Fujoshi: You’re into buddy stories and past connections, and special relationships between guys

Subculture Girl: Though you appear to be just like everyone else, you’re actually a little peculiar, and you’re interested in philosophies of love that are a bit different.

I’ve yet to read Comic it, but I’m highly interested in doing so. I’ve already ordered a volume, and  plan to review it for Ogiue Maniax in the future.

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I’m someone who’s interested in anime and manga about “nerds,” be they otaku, fujoshi, geeks, or any number of labels. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this stuff, and I’ve noticed that often when a character speaks using internet lingo in real life, the translation to English, whether it is official or fan-derived, often utilize some fairly offensive terms. A riajuu (someone who is content with their real life situation) becomes a “normalfag.” An otoko no ko (a boy who dresses rather convincingly as a girl) becomes a “trap.” On the one hand, it would be simply a matter of just not using those terms. On the other hand, I could see the argument that if a character is, say, someone who spends most of their time on internet messageboards, that the Japanese equivalent terms should be met with equally ubiquitous terms among English speakers. If term A comes from 2channel, why not look to 4chan for the English equivalent? However, the very fact that the vocabulary has this negative quality makes me feel that there is something buried deep within how internet anime fandom has structured itself that tends towards insults.

Obviously not all anime fans use these terms, but they pop up in a number of places that are not directly connected to the fandom that populates 4chan and similar sites. In this respect, one thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to how these phrases are used, it’s not simply a matter of trying to offend or upset others. For example, just as often as someone will call another person a “normalfag” or something similar, internet posters will use these terms to refer to themselves. At the same time that such phrases are clearly derived from words being used as insults, they’re also embraced on some level, becoming what I see as self-deprecating badges of honor, somewhat like willingly calling oneself an otaku or a geek. That said, the –fag suffix is clearly meant to maintain its offensive qualities, and as much as attempts are made consciously or unconsciously to separate the purely insulting quality of the phrase from its origins deriding homosexuals, it is nevertheless still present.

In contrast, “trap” is  a term where the connections to homophobia cannot be denied. This is not to say that everyone who uses the word is trying to be insulting, and even I’ve thrown the term out in the past before later reconsidering my own vocabulary, but the origins of the term and the implicit meaning behind it is obvious. The basic etymology is that an extremely feminine male character excites a presumably straight guy, and when he finds out it’s really a boy it makes him feel “tricked.” The important thing to consider here is that this is not merely some imaignary scenario but that people have genuinely felt this way, and the term is on some level a way of maintaining a sense of heteronormativity. Just the same, however, is the fact that some of those guys who have been “fooled” into arousal eventually realize that they are especially sexually attracted to the concept of the crossdressing boy. Whether or not that makes them actually gay or not (Is attraction towards men somehow solely about the “penis” or is it something more holistic? For that matter, what about the Kinsey scale?), often I see the term “trap” then used willingly, from people asking for more. Again, as with “-fag,” there’s this sense of mild self-hatred with use of the term trap, because just as people announce their love for them there’s also the implicit idea that they are not normal because of their interest and do not consider themselves normal. In some cases, they might not even be realizing what they’re saying.

What I find is that these terms are turned against others, as if to maintain divisions (we’re this way, you’re that way), or they might turned inwards to be used as a defense mechanism to keep outsiders away. Can a person survive the barrage of insults they receive and still be there? Are they “one of us?” To share a common vocabulary, after all, is one of the easier ways to become “accepted” in a community. At the same time, the fact that these phrases are often used in a self-deprecating manner communicates the idea that they don’t necessarily feel as if they belong to the majority, be that the majority of society or the majority of an immediate online community. The easy thing to say would be that this all derives from “hate,” but the fact that it appears to be “hate” not only for others but also for oneself leads me to believe that the use of these terms is an attempt to carve out an identity while feeling somehow “abnormal.”

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This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.

As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.

Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradictions. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.

I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.

Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.

However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.

Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.

While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.

In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.

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.

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Fighting games at this point are decades-old. While it’s debatable what can be considered the very first fighting game, what is indisputable is which game is responsible for popularizing the genre: Street Fighter II. That game, as well as all of its upgrades, are the standard by which all other fighters are judged, and it’s had a profound effect on how people discuss fighting games in terms of gameplay and strategy. However, if Street Fighter II is the archetype, there are a number of deviations from it, and one that’s become increasingly popular in recent years has been the Super Smash Bros. series.

Whereas in the past these two communities, traditional fighters and Smash, remained fairly separate (and one even unfairly mocked the other for not being a “real” fighting game), over the past year with the release of the latest Smash Bros. games, this has begun to change. One curious outcome of this has been that, when it comes to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, a number of notable traditional fighting game community (FGC) members have taken to it, such as EVO Champion Infiltration and commentators Ultra David and James Chen, but it has also received negative attention from many players of the Super Smash Bros. Melee, what is widely considered the most technical and mechanically difficult game in the franchise. The reason I believe this disparity exists is not only because of a difference in terms of the games themselves, but also a difference in how these respective communities have argued for what makes their games great.

The arguments made by many Melee supporters as to why it’s the superior game tend to revolve around the slew of difficult techniques that expand the range of possible moves available, as well as a heavier emphasis on free-form combos. The idea is that, while Melee is simple on the surface, being a game that was intentionally designed to be more accessible than the traditional fighting game, it in fact hides layers and layers of complexity. What might appear to be a game that is competitively limited due to its simplicity is in fact only the first step into a demanding realm of technical depth and discovery. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U lacks many “advanced techniques” and is slower-paced, and is therefore seen as an inferior game.

Perhaps this reasoning is a product of the way in which the FGC would dismiss Smash Bros. as a whole as “kiddie games,” but, whatever the case, this is the rhetoric that has been built up from Melee, that simplicity makes way for complexity, and that complexity equals depth. In the documentary The Smash BrothersMelee commentator Prog likens the difficulty of Melee to Starcraft, a game that is also known for its mechanical difficulty that leads to a wider range of options for a player, with the idea that this leads to a kind of expressive freedom (though it should also be noted that the documentary’s director, Samox, chose to include that in the first place).

EG|PPMD—recent champion of Apex 2015, the largest Melee tournament ever—shares this sentiment:

EG|PPMD: Melee allows me to express myself on a very profound level. I am not just playing the character, I am my character. I am not just playing against my opponent, I am communicating with that person deeply and getting to know them on a very personal level and conversing on that level with the game as a medium.

Said differently, the depth and speed of the game allow me to really bring myself out. Competition is also incredibly fun! I would be really surprised if another game gave me this feeling, but that would be awesome if it did happen.

In contrast, the most prominent arguments as to why traditional fighting games are great take the opposite angle. Traditional fighting games are known for being difficult to learn on the surface, due to specialized inputs (quarter-circle forward + punch makes Ryu throw a hadouken, while just hitting the “special move” button for Mario makes him throw a fireball) and complex combos, but the prevailing philosophies are of the mind that the ideal core of fighting games, what makes them really worthwhile and competitive, is a foundation of simplicity and elegance, and that this is what leads to depth.

While the above video is super corny, it reflects the lessons taught by great players such as Tomo Ohira, who is featured in that video and is often argued to be the first king of Street Fighter II its earliest days. For another example, take the fighting game player turned game designer David Sirlin, who argues that what makes fighting games games truly interesting is the level of mental interactions that come from “yomi,” or reading the mind of the opponent. Others such as Ultra David have argued that yomi isn’t as important as developing and executing a strategy, but the emphasis is still on the idea that technical complexity should ideally make way for something more basic and fundamental. This is what drives Divekick, a stripped-down fighting game that attempts to get to the core of fighters by limiting players to two buttons and emphasizing spacing and reads.

Although what I’ve shown above are not universally held beliefs by either community, I wanted more to show that they exist and are prominent parts of each community’s identity when it comes to their games. I also don’t want to give the impression that the communities believe that complexity vs. simplicity and their relationship with depth is black and white in either direction, nor that the games necessarily reflect the philosophies described above 100%. Rather, it’s more about how people visualize depth, and why the idea of depth becomes so subjective.

As for why all of this matters, there are two points to consider as to why traditional FGC members might praise Super Smash Bros. for Wii U whereas Melee enthusiasts might look down upon it. First, much like Divekick, the Super Smash Bros. games with their simplified commands have already removed a surface layer of complexity, and to many experienced fighting game players this is seen as a positive. Complexity hides an elegance of simplicity and what makes fighting games truly beautiful. These players want to introduce this beauty to as many people as possible, and Smash Bros. allows this.

Second, while previous games in the Super Smash Bros. franchise were devetrloped by its director Sakurai Masahiro with a team that was more experienced in other genres, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was developed with the help of Namco, which is known for fighting games such as Tekken and Soul Calibur. Although there haven’t been any specific statements made on this matter, I believe that the development team, rather than viewing Melee as their template, looked more to conventional fighting games for ways to add competitive depth to Super Smash Bros. and that the mechanics of the new game reflect this. In discussions with Dave Cabrera, a friend and someone much more knowledgeable about fighting games than I am, he had a similar impression. Ultra David and James Chen also state how they find Melee to be a more momentum-based game similar to the also-unconventional Marvel vs. Capcom series while Smash Wii U is more positional, similar to Street Fighter games.

The result is a clash of perspectives. On the one hand, the Melee community, which has developed its conception for what makes a good competitive game based on Melee and the idea of hidden complexity, sees Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as lacking many of the elements that made Melee great, and that it is therefore a lesser experience. On the other hand, the fighting game community, which bases its standards for fighting games on Street Fighter II and the idea of hidden simplicity, has in this new Super Smash Bros. something that exemplifies that concept while also catering more to their tastes. Whatever the reasoning, it’s clear that there are two different philosophies at work driving discussion. As for how these two ways of thinking can meet, I recommend you watch the video below of Bruce Lee, replace “martial arts” with fighting games, and consider how each side could potentially use his words to support their respective arguments.

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Artist: Haepo Heidi

After having watched the famous bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron (1977) featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, I think that bodybuilding might not be such a bad premise for an anime or manga series.

The reason I came to this conclusion is that there is an important performative aspect to bodybuilding competitions, and I could see this being depicted in a manner similar to a series such as Ariyoshi Kyouko’s Swan, which is about ballet, or Miuchi Suzue’s acting-themed Glass Mask. The way that both the appearance of the body and the way that posing factors in as a way to highlight one’s strengths and obscure one’s weaknesses can provide ample material to dramatize matches and for an exposition-type character (e.g. Speedwagon in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Ryousuke in Initial D) to go into some extremely granular detail: “His arm is at 47 degrees instead of 44 degrees, causing it to look slightly bigger than it actually is!!!”

I think the real meat of a bodybuilding competition manga would be the freestyle pose-off, where bodybuilders try to make themselves look better and the other guys look worse by changing their poses in response to what the others are doing. There’s the psychology between the competitors and the psychology of how the judges are perceiving the interaction between them, and so it would perhaps be a nice way for a strategist type to psyche his opponents out. When Akagi with Muscles makes his opponent feel smaller, this could even be represented in the art by having a guy suddenly shrink down to half his actual size.

And if you want them to look freakishly muscular, just get Baki the Grappler artist Itagaki Keisuke to work his magic.

Extra points if this were a shoujo manga.

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Magical Angel Creamy Mami

I recently learned (thanks to Japanese popular culture scholar Patrick Galbraith’s new book The Moe Manifesto) that Magical Angel Creamy Mami is not only an influential magical girl anime but the very first anime about an idol. In other words, idols and magical girls have been conceptually tied to each for decades now. You can see this not only in the the fact that you’ll get the occasional idol + magical girl still (Cure Lemonade and Cure Sword in the Precure franchise, for example), but the fact that the latest competitors to magical girl anime have been idol-themed shows, such as Aikatsu! and Pretty Rhythm, both of which feature magical girl-like transformation sequences. I think Creamy Mami is especially significant here because the majority of magical girls prior to it were more “witch girls,” characters who already have magical powers without the need for transformation and use them for mischief.

Of course, the common trait of magical girls and idols is that they both feature cute girls, and with idols especially they’ve always occupied a position where they are innocent yet sexual, and I don’t mean that necessarily in an “idols are creep magnets” way. Both men and women respond to idols for a variety of reasons, and a lot of it is tied to the image they present. They can be somewhat literal idols for girls and targets of affection and desire for men, and this can be seen in how idols are used in anime. While Creamy Mami built an unexpected older male audience, for example, Superdimensional Fortress Macross reveled in it by combining the idol with the extremely prominent aspects of science fiction and giant robots. The 1970s brought forth a lot of giant robot anime, and the 1980s saw the time when those who became fans of robots and SF began creating their own works, as seen with Kawamori Shouji and Macross and later Studio Gainax and their Daicon III and IV animations. Many of these creators said, “I like SF, and I like cute girls,” and created a defining combination of anime where mecha and other forms of fantastic technology are mixed with cute girls.

Daicon IV

It can also be argued that the girl in the Daicon animations is herself a magical girl, but the connection between magical girls and science fiction is especially evident in the 1990s and the advent of the fighting magical girl, most notably with Takeuchi Naoko’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. While Sailor Moon does not feature giant robots, it’s undoubtedly influenced by the Super Sentai (i.e. Power Rangers) franchise with its own transformation sequences, color-coded costumes, and monster of the week fights. Super Sentai is not only traditionally marketed at boys (though this too changes as they eventually start trying to appeal to the “moms” market), but it’s also more broadly tied to tokusatsu, the costumed fighters and rubber monsters genre that more or less literally means “special effects.” What I find significant here is that when it comes to categorization of genres in Japanese, you often see “SF/tokusatsu,” tying things back, at least somewhat, to science fiction.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

Moreover, the manga group CLAMP have been fans of titles like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Saint Seiya, and Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, and have produced titles such as Magic Knight Rayearth, which features magical girls in a swords-and-sorcery world who also gain the power to summon giant robots. “Rayearth” itself is the name of a giant robot, thus making the title itself reminiscent of the naming scheme of many mecha anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V. It’s as if these female creators have taken the works that were made “masculine” by Kawamori, Gainax, and others, and in a sense re-feminized them in a process that created something new and exciting.

If we’re talking influences though, Sailor Moon and CLAMP works such as Cardcaptor Sakura are huge in and of themselves, and their shadows can be seen in a number of anime from the 2000s on. Sailor Moon basically transformed magical girls to such an extent that many assume that fighting magical girls have always been the norm, and Precure has come up as a spiritual successor that has lasted even longer than Sailor Moon. The protagonist in Sunday without God practically is Cardcaptor Sakura protagonist Kinomoto Sakura, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which has as its primary audience older men, clearly takes a lot from Cardcaptor Sakura as well. In the case of Nanoha, it also incorporates an increasing level of science fiction from one series to the next, as the franchise goes from technology-based magic staffs that shoot lasers in battles reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam to spaceships and interdimensional travel. Once again, the magical girl as cute girl is tied to SF. As for idols, they not only haven’t been forgotten, either in real life or in anime (as seen with series such as Love Live! and the aforementioned Aikatsu!), but Kawamori makes his return in the form of AKB0048, a series that not only features idols as magical girls of sorts both piloting and fighting giant robots in a story that spans a galaxy, but is directly based on one of the biggest real-world idol acts in Japan today.

AKB0048

It’s as if magical girls, idols, and SF have been doing a song and dance for years and years, changing partners along the way but always being drawn to each other. They’re seemingly tied together by the fact that just a few tweaks to either appeal to a male or female audience more, while the fact that people will not necessarily stay within the genres or types of entertainment that they’re “supposed” to remain with. Cuteness is a versatile tool that at times reinforces societal and gender norms while other times becoming a tool to defy them, and this continues to influence anime to this day.

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