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Every so often you may have seen me link to blog posts that I’ve written for Waku Waku +NYC, which is a new Japanese Pop Culture Festival in Brooklyn. Waku Waku +NYC is set for next weekend, August 29th to 30th, and while some of my readers are complete con veterans at this point and others might not have other been to anything of the sort, I encourage everyone to go because it’s going to be a different experience from the typical anime con.
The main things that probably separate Waku Waku +NYC from similar shows is that, in addition to having cool anime guests—like Mega Man and Mighty No. 9‘s Keiji Inafune and veteran anime screenwriter Takao Koyama, who worked on such shows as Saint Seiya, Time Bokan Series, Dragon Ball Z, Slayers, and The Brave Express Might Gaine, —there’s also going to be a huge emphasis on mixing things up. Rather than keeping each all of the various elements of Japanese pop culture in their respective bubbles, Lolita fashion will be encouraged to intermingle with Japanese hip hop and EDM, for example. It’s also going to feature a cool area full of delicious eats called “Savory Square,” which will be serving authentic Japanese food from some of the most notable restaurants in both Japan and NYC. Probably the main attraction is Dotonbori Kukuru, which will be flying in from Osaka to serve the classic Osakan snack, takoyaki.
Waku Waku +NYC will be spread across multiple locations in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. These are the Brooklyn Expo Center, Wythe Hotel, Verboten, Transmitter Park, and Brooklyn Bowl. They’re all within walking distance of each other, but a shuttle will also be available.
I hope you can make it to Waku Waku +NYC. If you come, you might be able to spot me. I’ll be running around the venues conducting interviews.
A number of years ago I was in an online conversation with a friend who refused to be critical of anime. While others argued that this didn’t make sense because every person has to prioritize likes and dislikes to some degree, my friend rebutted that it was not their own role to pass judgment or to push their own taste on others. Rather, what they preferred to do was to match a show with what someone was looking for, a librarian’s approach rather than that of a critic.
While in the end this was only one person with a very particular way of viewing media, I find that it encapsulates an unspoken (or perhaps sometimes unconscious) disagreement among fans within all sorts of popular media, from games to anime to comics as to how people should view and engage with media. This philosophical disagreement can in some sense be described as “modern,” the idea of aiming progressively towards an ideal, vs. “postmodern,” the idea that there are essentially multiple truths.
I will give two examples. The first comes from the popular site Anime News Network, and the other comes from the Super Smash Bros. online community.
Anime News Network is a general anime and manga site with news, an encyclopedia, and reviews. As is typical of a review site, its writers will often talk about a specific work, list their likes and dislikes, what they might find interesting or problematic about a series, and then give letter ratings. On the forums, this inevitably leads to some strong disagreement, where people respond as if they are being personally attacked by the review, while calling the reviewer out for bias.
I’ve seen the argument that ANN forum posters do not understand what it means to a review a series, and that they should not be so close to their anime that they would feel personally offended by a harsh review, but the more I think about it the less I think it’s that simple. Rather, what happens is a difference in how engagement with anime is perceived. The reviewer will tend to state their opinion in a manner to try and convince the audience that, as a reviewer, their thoughts have significance, and while the idea that a review is an opinion is thought to be implied, it’s a tendency of “good” English writing to state things somewhat authoritatively. This results in the sense that the goal of reviews, and what anime fans should be doing, is progressively refining their tastes. The more they watch, the more discerning they should become.
However, many forum-goers see things differently. While they often look towards the review for validation and thus see the reviewer as someone of importance (and indeed when the reviewer and the posters’ opinions align they tend to express positive feelings), there’s also a strong sense that a lot of these anime fans are not trying to become more critical, to develop better taste in anime. Rather, they’re trying to find the anime that suits them on some mental or emotional level, and because some reviews will criticize some social aspect of a work (portrayal of women, for example), this becomes a point of contention because from their perspective it can seem as if the reviewer is trying to invalidate the work and its readers, when it really comes down to a difference in philosophy. From the reviewer’s side, the forum posters might appear to be people with no taste, who don’t understand what reviews are generally meant to do. It’s like two different conversations are happening.
In the case of the fandom surrounding competitive Super Smash Bros., since 2008 there has been an on-going tension between fans of different iterations of the franchise. Amidst frequent arguing over the years, there have been proposals for fans of the different games to unite under one banner and respect and support each other, but almost without fail someone will ask the following:
“Why should I support a game I don’t like/is terrible? What’s in it for me?”
This way of thinking views the Super Smash Bros. games not as different takes on a core idea with varied gameplay experiences, but a series where one game in particular is the best and the others should live up to its example. This assumes that there is one right way to make a competitive Smash game, and that, the further away you get from that approach, the less competitive and interesting a game becomes. More importantly, however, this mindset assumes, rather than bringing in more people of different tastes and opinions, it is better to cull other games in order to further refine the ideal competitive environment.
Relative to the idea of unity across the Smash franchise, it is assumed that supporting “lesser” games is insincere, thus compromising one’s own tastes and, for some fans, going against their “objectively” derived conclusion that their game is simply the best. In contrast, basis for unity, the reason why it is touted as a goal for the competitive Smash Bros. community, comes from a different place. The idea is that, not only does the idea of a fun, competitive game vary from person to person and that those with whom you disagree might see something that you don’t, but that there should also be mutual empathy. Rather than focusing on which game is the best and why fans of the others simply aren’t seeing things correctly, this unity in a sense prioritizes people and their hard work over the games, which implies that, while playing the right games are important, it’s a very individual and subjective choice.
I don’t know if these differences are simply a matter of personality, or upbringing, or just the manner in which people are exposed to their hobbies and interests, but that’s less important to me than having people be aware of these varied mindsets when talking to others. Even though we might all be called “fans” of the same things, even within specific categories there are dissimilarities as to what we consider to be fundamentally important. If you’re an anime fan, what’s more important, the anime or the fan? If you’re a gamer what’s more important, the game, or the er (this is a less effective play on words)? This is not a black or white situation, as different people might even value different aspects of particular media. For example, someone might truly believe that books are in the eye of the beholder, but that music should be held up to higher standards. While this might seem to be hypocritical, I think it’s quite possible for it to be a positive thing, as it potentially allows people to see the other perspective more clearly. Each side, although they might have different goals or motivations, aren’t automatically invalidated.
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Though it can be said that previous games received changes among releases in different regions, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U is the first official game in the franchise to receive regular balance patches. With every patch that comes out, people, including tournament champions, aspiring game designers, and just fans of the series give their thoughts and opinions, and a lot of it revolves around whether or not a character is now “good” or whether or not a character who was seen as too powerful is now “fair.”
I’m not a game designer. I’m not even much of a competitor. So, take all of this with its own massive grain of salt. The way I see balance, and the directions of the buffs and nerfs that have happened to the characters in Smash, is that it’s not solely a matter of making a character viable or able to win tournaments, but rather…
1) Making their strategies clear, effective, and unique…
2) While maintaining the identity of the character
3) Allowing them to on some level fight the rest of the cast…
3) While also giving other characters an opportunity to fight back
When it comes to game design, based on what I’ve read and even what I’ve seen Smash creator Sakurai’s comments on game design, 1 and 2 are the most important. He chooses characters for Smash based on what they could bring to the series on a gameplay level, which is why, for example, Bowser Jr. fights in a clown cart and isn’t just a tiny Bowser. It gives him a variety of tools and an overall feel that you don’t get with Bowser, namely the feel of an aggressive trickster. While certain characters over the course of Smash have been “clones,” using other characters as a template with a few tweaks, they’re more time-savers in the development process than anything else, and should be judged differently.
The result is that, when buffing or nerfing characters, I believe that the thinking isn’t “How can we make them just as good as the top characters?” That’s probably not that difficult: just improve frame data, make a bunch of hitboxes bigger, make hits stronger and faster, etc. etc. Rather, it’s about “how can the characters be expressed more effectively?”
In his posts on Miiverse, Sakurai mentioned that the character Marth is meant to fight like a fencer. Thus, he was designed to be weak when fighting in-your-face but does massive damage when striking with the tip of his sword, which requires you to understand and master spacing as a concept. Ever since Super Smash Bros. Melee, the second game in the series, Marth has at his base been all about grace and positioning, and theoretically rewarding players for fighting with that fencing mentality.
However, in both previous games that Marth was featured, he could short hop through the air and do two quick swings with his sword (his forward air), and then recover quickly. The question is, then, does having a double forward-air which he could then recover quickly from upon landing follow along with this fencer archetype? While I think it might be argued either way, I think a lot of people who played and played against the character, as well as probably Sakurai himself, have seen how double forward air is less about grace and more about brute force, just bullying your way through lesser opponents and sometimes even greater ones too. Thus, it’s out, never to be seen again, and instead everything about Marth emphasizes not only being rewarded for good spacing, but HAVING to space well. That’s why his f-smash is shorter than previous games, but it kills earlier than ever. That’s why he has the end lag on key moves but even tilts can kill when spaced properly. It challenges you to be the fencer OR ELSE. All of his (and Lucina’s) buffs emphasize this game plan further.
So why then has Roy changed so drastically from Melee? Again, this is only my own thoughts on how this might have come about, but I think that Sakurai looked back at Melee Roy and what he intended Roy to be, and realized the result didn’t match the planning. He was, as we all know, mainly a worse Marth. So, in order to emphasize the whole idea of having the sword that does more damage up close, and also perhaps giving him a feel akin to Melee, he was given high movement specs, effective throw combos, etc, and in exchange he gets wrecked off-stage. Roy’s character identity becomes a swordsman who charges in and values offense over defense, and any buffs or nerfs that happen to him in the future will likely still reflect this concept.
In other words, Concept/Meaning > Viability from a game design perspective. Of course, it’s not bad if you have both, but balancing a character in the context of a video game isn’t just making them stronger or weaker but doing it in a way that allows the individuality of the character, and thus the person who plays that character, to shine through.
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 be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.
This month I received the following topic request:
“Keeping interest in your hobbies through the trials of life.”
I wonder if it’s more than coincidence that I would get this at a point where life is busier than it’s ever been. I used to think I understood what being busy meant, and that keeping up with your hobbies is simply a matter of carving out time, like watching shows during mealtime, or playing a game or reading a manga while commuting. That still applies to some degree, but I realize now that sometimes it’s not possible to carve out bits and pieces of time if your spirit isn’t up to it.
Everyone’s day is a bit different, and if the issue is being too busy for your hobbies, the first question that I think needs to be asked is, does your hobby help you mentally/emotionally? What I mean is, when you’re done working through the day or week, whether that’s at a job or in school or taking care of your family, does watching anime, playing games, etc. make you feel better or worse? I don’t mean this is a narrow way either, like the way “healing anime” is meant to provide stress relief, though there’s nothing wrong with that genre. Rather, there are many different ways that your hobbies might motivate you.
Maybe you want to constantly refine your tastes and experience the best of the best. Maybe you need a good laugh. Maybe you see it as an opportunity to bond with friends. Whatever the case may be, it shouldn’t feel like a burden more than anything else. Even if it’s “work” to keep up, there should be some level of satisfaction associated with it. If you have a completionist mentality, then make sure it provides you more joy than disdain, and if you’re the type who enjoys watching shows you hate so you can make fun of them, at least make sure that it provides energy and doesn’t drain you, whether you see it as a form of stress relief or because you believe you have some responsibility to tell others to avoid bad things.
It might also be possible that you’re so busy that you can barely do one thing, and you feel terrible for not being able to keep up with as much as you like. Not being able to watch or play as much as you’d like is why you’re losing energy and motivation. In that case, I think it’s still useful to prioritize in the way I mentioned above, but to think of your lack of time as an inspiration. Look at all of the things you haven’t done or watched or played, and how satisfying it’ll be when you get to it. If it turns out that it’s not so fun after all, maybe put it on the back burner or drop it entirely if that’s your style. Sometimes not finishing something doesn’t mean you didn’t love it enough, it just means you didn’t finish it. That’s all.
The reason why I’ve spent so much time emphasizing this idea of getting energy from your hobbies is that, if you don’t at least prioritize the hobbies that actually drive you forward or give you strength, then the busy days will feel even longer and busier. The problem of not having enough time to follow all of your hobbies isn’t quite the same issue as the problem of burnout, but they are similar in that they can make the day feel longer, and in fact the former can become the latter if those “hobbies” drain your strength. Again, strength in this context can mean many things, and how you define that is a personal matter.
EVO finals Sunday is currently underway! I wrote a blog post for the Waku Waku+NYC blog detailing some of what I think are the more interesting aspects of EVO’s history. Here’s an excerpt below:
The Evolution Championship series, also known as EVO, is the largest fighting game tournament in the United States, and it’s set to return to Las Vegas this weekend. Having been in existence for 14 years through multiple iterations of fighting games, technological changes, and even generations of gamers, what I find most fascinating about EVO is that, true to its name, it is both a showcase of a survival of the fittest philosophy, as well as an example of change and adaptation.
I wrote a post on the Waku Waku +NYC blog in honor of Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 55. Here’s a sample below:
Yesterday, Nintendo announced to the world that its president, Satoru Iwata, had passed away at the age of 55 due to a bile duct growth. The weight of his death was immediately evident, as fans and industry veterans gave their condolences, but also their respect for a great man in the industry who made a difference in more ways than one.
Hi Score Girl is the story of a beautiful romance where a young gamer who meets a girl who’s even better at Street Fighter II than he is. Though antagonistic at first, they begin to develop a friendship, and eventually something more. If you ever get the chance to read it, I recommend checking it out, as does my good friend Dave of Kawaiikochans fame. It’s a shame that the anime adaptation (and a lot of other things) got cut down at the knees due to SNK arguing copyright shenanigans.
I noticed a few things about the girl in the story. First, she has long, thick black hair. Second, when she plays Street Fighter II, she picks mainly big, bald, and/or burly characters: Zangief, Dhalsim, E. Honda. In fact, when she plays Final Fight, she selects Haggar. Third, her name is Ohno.
I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or what, but I’m looking forward to the possibility that one Ohno might cosplay as the other. Also, now that I think about it, the Ohno in Hi Score Girl is more like a cross between Ohno and Sue, given her violent and eccentric temperament.
Over the past month, Ogiue Maniax finally hit the $100 mark on Patreon. I think that’s a pretty great milestone, and I’m thankful to everyone who’s helped out. I would consider this one of the more important events as of late, except that I actually also recently received my PhD and that kind of trumps everything else. Looking back, my academic achievement is a direct extension of a route that began with Ogiue Maniax all those years ago, and having my writing be appreciated on multiple levels fills me with a sense of wonderful pride (that’s also fleeting because I’m kind of self-doubting).
This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:
Both Patreon-sponsored posts this month had interesting topics, I think. Touhou, Kantai Collection, and the Idea of the Controlled Fandom Experience is a post that came out of a request to talk about Touhou in general, but because Touhou is in such a different place compared to where it really began to make a mark in the English-speaking fandom, and because there’s so much competition in the mental space of otaku, I had to make it about Kantai Collection as well. For the other one, Miyamoto Ariana, “Japanese-ness,” and Black Cosplay, I’m not someone who normally thinks about beauty competitions or even cosplay, but the achievement by Miyamoto I think inevitably ties to a lot of ideas about identity and identity politics that even extends to the cosplay community.
This past month I also went and replaced my old Patreon milestone, the internet meme post, with a new challenge. At $150 I will now write a genuinely negative review of Genshiken, focusing mainly on its flaws (and not fake mascots ever). As my favorite manga ever, and because I tend to be positive overall with the blog, I see this as a challenge for myself. If you’re interested in seeing me squirm, this is your chance.
I still want to think about the whole Skype conversation reward, but it’s more a time concern than anything else at this point. I also am not sure how valuable talking to me actually is. Maybe once I get myself a silky smooth baritone voice, I can bump it up something fierce.
Cutie Panther is one of my favorite Love Live! songs. It’s intense, has a catchy beat and melody, and stands out from most of the other stuff that comes out of that franchise. When you actually listen to the lyrics though, it ends up sounding like something a stalker (or maybe a yandere character?) would be thinking.
Below are some of the choice lines. Translation is taken from this School Idol Festival wiki.
(Who are you with?
No way, you’re not allowed to be with anyone besides me)
I love you! You should be falling in love with me
I love you! That’s the right thing to do
Icy words, a gentle gaze… The prize at stake is you!
The rules of love are so hot
They exist to be broken
I miss you! It’s not wrong if it’s out of love
I miss you! That’s what intense love is like
Again, I don’t think this ruins the song, as it’s still my #2, but it sure does make them sound like stalkers! Also, there’s a history of catchy yet creepy-sounding songs, including a lot of old denpa songs (is that still a thing?) from visual novels. The most famous stalker song is probably “Every Breath You Take” by The Police:
If you’re curious, my ranking for Love Live songs is 1) After School Navigators 2) Cutie Panther 3) Shocking Party
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 be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.
Touhou is an interesting phenomenon. Beginning as a passion project for a game developer, this ostensibly “amateur” shmup in the tradition of R-Type and Ikaruga replaces spaceships with cute girls, introducing a wide variety of characters with distinct yet generally simplistic personalities. This has given fans plenty of room to position and interpret the characters in their own way, using the barest scraps of evidence as the catalyst for imagination. While not the first franchise to encourage this, with Touhou it’s particularly noticeable given its popularity at doujin events and the like, but it’s also interesting to note what has come in a post-Touhou environment. In particular, I feel like Kantai Collection has to be viewed within this lens, and so this post is mainly about a comparison between Touhou and Kantai Collection from an outsider’s perspective.
On a personal level, outside of Magic: The Gathering, the biggest nerd fandom that I’ve barely scratched the surface of is probably Touhou. Sure, I’ve drawn a crossover fanart between Cirno and Esports personality Day, and I’m a fan of bkub (particularly his New York Comic Con special featuring “the Deadpool”), but I’ve never played any of the actual games. In fact, the only Touhou game I’ve ever played is the doujin game Mega Mari, which is more of a Mega Man game than anything else. However, I’m well aware of Touhou‘s presence, if only because my surrounding environment is “other geeks,” and inevitably among hardcore anime fans there will be Touhou fans as well.
The same goes for Kantai Collection, a browser-based strategy game where battleships are personified as cute girls, except I arguably know even less about it. I’ve watched a few episodes of the anime, I know which character design I like best (Tenryuu), and I know that the game plays with supply and demand because you have to win a lottery to even get to play it in the first place. I’m also aware that it’s become Touhou‘s rival in terms of popularity, with a big difference being that Kantai Collection actively employs popular and professional artists, whereas Touhou‘s official art is famously lacking in refinement.
The relationship between Touhou and Kantai Collection is therefore a tricky one in terms of how these respective series have prompted fan production that hinges on interpretation in their fanbases (which also have plenty of overlap). Whenever I see the two, I feel as if Touhou is primarily this product that just had an intentionally simplistic presentation that fans took and expanded into their own world. Kantai Collection, in turn, with its voiced characters, better artwork, and overall presentation invites that sort of activity from fans, and revels in being able to provide that space.
In other words, it’s as if Kantai Collection saw how Touhou inadvertently had its characters transformed into commodities through the efforts of its fans, and actively sought to replicate that through careful planning and razor-sharp marketing. That means actively trying to appeal to what fans want. Whether that’s a good thing or not is personal opinion, of course, and I’m hesitant to label it as “David vs. Goliath” in the traditional sense, especially because the border between an amateur and professional artist in Japanese games, anime, etc. can be so nebulous. However, I feel like perhaps part of what made Touhou appealing to its fans in the first place is that “amateur” environment, even if it’s indeed populated by professionals. There’s a rawness to it, a kind of unregulated frontier that’s continuously re-shaped compared to Kantai Collection with its carefully measured attributes, that makes more room for the fan to be in a sense also a creator.