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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU was an anime that really impressed me in spite of its seemingly cliche-ridden premise, and whenever I talk to others who were skeptical of the show, I recount to them my surprise that I had found something worth watching.

On one occasion, I was chatting with some friends online and explaining how I really liked the fact that the series can get a little serious at times when it comes to criticizing elements of social interaction people take for granted and that the main character has a “loser” perspective that feels different from other similar light novel protagonists. One friend responded that this was exactly the sort of thing he hated about the show, and because it had been a while since I had seen SNAFU I wondered if my own experience was colored by my biases or some other factor.

Since then, a sequel series has started coming out for the Spring 2015 season. While I haven’t had the time to watch as much as I would like, re-visiting this anime through this second season (which by the way is for some reason animated by a completely different studio) has helped me to clarify why, in fact, I enjoy the surly adventures of Hikigaya Hachiman.

Hachiman has a very cynical personality, and his self-described strength is that his particular world view allows him to see problems and find solutions that the popular kids can’t. On the surface it appears as if Hachiman is the rebel who’s too cool for school written by someone who resented the popular students growing up (whether justified or not), but I believe that SNAFU portrays his character with far more consideration. For example, in the first two episodes, Hachiman clashes with a number of other characters, who basically criticize him for his methods, and I think it’s very important that he appears to be affected by their words. Hachiman isn’t the invincible outcast, and he at times unwillingly questions his own mindset. His cynicism is as much a weakness as it is a strength, and it leaves open the opportunity for him to grow and change, or at least acknowledge when he needs the help of others who simply see things differently.

The fact that the series premise is that Hachiman, Yui, and Yukino solve other students’ problems lends itself to also reflecting and showcasing the issues of the main characters themselves. As the series goes along, I think that this quality in SNAFU will become even more important.

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This month I’m happy to say that the Ogiue Maniax Patreon is currently at almost $100, thanks to my generous patrons both new and old. Even getting close to the three-digit mark is kind of like a dream, and I hope to continue to provide interesting content for my readers.

This past month, I’ve gotten around to making a number of posts I’ve been planning for a while, most notably my review of the fujoshi friendship manga Fujoshissu!, my first look at DLC character Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U, and my review of the anime about anime, SHIROBAKO. In the case Fujoshissu! I’d been anticipating writing the review of years.

This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:

Ko Ransom

Alex

Johnny Trovato

anonymous (not Capital A “Anonymous”)

One of my contributors wanted to remain anonymous, but because they fulfilled the “Decide My Fate” tier, I wanted to mention them as I am writing a special post this month. As always, if you’d like to request a topic for me to write, you can pledge $30 or more to my Patreon.  If you don’t want to or can’t contribute that much every month, you can always change the amount to something lower, or force a maximum limit on how much you give.

For this month, I’d like to ask what people want to see out of my rewards and goals. I understand that my goals and sponsor rewards aren’t exactly world-shattering, and while I’m certainly not willing to sell myself out, I’m curious as to what people would like to see. Perhaps Skype conversations once a week on any topic? Post requests with unique twists? Drawing requests? I’m not sure if I’d be able to do everything, but I’d like to at least offer more.

In terms of milestones, I’m open to suggestions. How would people feel about a tongue-in-cheek negative review of Genshiken and/or the character review of Ogiue?

If you were to ask me about my favorite fujoshi-themed manga, I would predictably answer that it’s Genshiken Nidaime. However, if you were to ask me this question before 2010 (when Genshiken re-started), I would have said Fujoshissu!: Maniac High School Girls Comedy by Okachimachi Hato. I’ve mentioned it a few times over the years on Ogiue Maniax, and have even devoted multiple Fujoshi Files to its characters, but I’ve never really spoken about it to any major extent. Now that the manga has concluded after seven years of publication, I find that it’s all the more important that I share what has been one of my favorite manga in recent memory.

Fujoshissu! (meaning “We’re fujoshi!”) is the story of three fujoshi friends who have to navigate high school while in different stages of their romantic relationships. Satou Megumi is the artist of the group and meets a classmate working at a convenience store and developing a mutual attraction. Aoi Yuki is the resident cosplayed, who begins the series already dating her childhood friend. Yoshizawa Eri is the writer, and who finds herself attracted to her younger brother’s best friend.

Though this seems to follow more or less the formula of so many other manga and especially fujoshi-themed manga, what appealed to me about Fujoshissu! from the very beginning was its approach to portraying its characters, as well as their connections to both each other and their respective boyfriends. In many manga about female otaku, be they fujoshi or otherwise, characters are portrayed as having their fandoms factor extremely heavily into how they find significant others. Boys will fall in love with fujoshi because they love their honest enthusiasm, or girls will work actively to hide their BL fandom. Though generally meaning well, these series often reduce their characters to bare-bones elements, with little characterization beyond the extent of their fandom.

Though this has changed since 2008 when the manga first began, I do think it’s important to note how much Fujoshissu! treats the fact of their fujoshi identities very naturally, especially in the development of their respective romances. Being fujoshi is shown to be very much a part of their identities, yet it is not their sole defining trait or the only impetus for their interactions with others. Their relationships do not hinge on whether or not they can accept their fujoshi selves or whether or not the boys are either attracted to or learn to love their energy, but are more multifaceted concerns having to do with topics such as concern for the future, worrying about personality compatibility, body image, among other things.

In regards to body image in particular, the character Eri is focused on extensively, and her story really explores the idea in ways that are frequently ignored in manga in general. Eri is depicted as short and chubby, and not just “chubby because the manga says she is” as one often finds in series (Yomi in Azumanga Daioh being a notable example). Though not lacking in fashion sense, she reveals over the course of the manga that, due to having internalized a great deal of bullying she experienced when she was younger, she doesn’t believe herself to be beautiful. To Eri, her fashion choices compensate against her own self-perceived ugliness, and she doesn’t even believe her own boyfriend when he says he finds her to be attractive. The combination of not just having this subject talked about but having a character who at first glance reasonably shows through her design why she would come to this conclusion is remarkably poignant, as is the ultimate resolution of this particular narrative.

Even with subjects this emotionally heavy, however, the manga always feels delightfully romantic and fun because of how close and invigorating the friendship between the three main girls is depicted to be. The depths of their personalities come across in times of joy just as much if not more than in times of pain, and their shared hobby of anime, manga, and BL becomes the lens through which we see this deep friendship. It also embraces a manga aesthetic that for the most part can be called shoujo, but the roughness of the artwork is not quite the same as what you’d normally see, more of a BL style that’s been re-translated back into shoujo such that it embraces the expressive qualities of its own lines much more thoroughly.

Interestingly, Fujoshissu! runs in Sylph a magazine largely devoted to BL stories. While the subject matter of fujoshi isn’t that far off, it also shows that a manga title need not be entirely beholden to its own magazine’s themes, and that readers of BL can have just as much interest reading manga about other topics. This isn’t exactly a revelation, especially with magazines such as the recent Comic it, which advertises itself as being manga for female otaku that aren’t so obsessed with love, but the fact that Fujoshissu! successfully ran for seven years shows that this quality is appreciated.

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Though a fair number of anime studios can be characterized to some extent by the types of shows they put out, the only current ones I can think of that have a house “look” on a character design level are P.A. Works (SHIROBAKO, Hanasaku Iroha) and Kyoto Animation (Suzumiya Haruhi, Tamako Market). I think this is especially noticeable with the latter studio, as the “Kyoani Face” is instantly recognizable, and is even sometimes imitated, such as with Sound of the Sky.

While watching the first episode of Kyoto Animation’s newest work, Sound! Euphonium, it occurred to me how versatile the Kyoani face is to a certain extent. It’s not so much that Sound! Euphonium alone that made me realize this, but rather that it was a slow culmination of watching their shows over the years. Namely, i find that their iconic face can be fitted, or perhaps was slowly adapted over the years, to match not only a variety of body types but also a range of character designs from cutesy caricature to more realistic proportions.

freeguys

The most obvious example of this would probably be the Free! character designs, shown above, but I think you can see it in their more historical tendency to make stories about cute high school girls. All of these characters are supposed to be roughly the same age, and yet while they share that signature look in terms of their faces, their bodies are all noticeably different. I’ve even made all of the characters the same “height” in order to emphasize this.

kyoanigirls-comparison-small

From left to right: Ritsu from K-On!, Hazuki from Sound! Euphonium, and Gou from Free!

Of course, not every one of their shows uses the Kyoani face of course (Lucky Star being the notable exception), but I think it goes to show just how important that particular facial structure is to the identity of the studio. Otherwise why would they use it again and again? At the same time, I wonder if it also shows Kyoto Animation’s willingness to experiment, at least within their particular areas of specialty, in terms of both story and visuals.

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Chapter 111 of Genshiken II more or less features Madarame on top of Hato for the entire duration. Is it a sign of Madarame’s feelings gradually changing, an extended comedy scene, a heart to heart pep talk, nerds nerding it up, or something more?

I find it very appropriate how the conversation between Madarame and Hato goes, with respect to the mix of anime/manga analysis, sexual confusion, genuine desire to help, and how all of this connects to the basic premise of Genshiken as the story of a club of awkward otaku. Almost as soon as Madarame accidentally falls onto him (see last chapter), Hato starts to talk about Madarame as a “lucky pervert” (lucky sukebe), the trope often found in anime and manga (especially harem series) where guys and girls will accidentally fall on each other in compromising positions. Like gusts of winds blowing skirts up, it’s generally regarded as something that only conveniently happens in fiction. By mentioning it, Hato attempts to deflate situation and, as we can later see, to avoid having his imagination go wild. “It finally happens, but it’s when I’m a guy. How unfortunate for you.” While “This isn’t manga!” has itself become a trope of Japanese comics, here I think it’s used to different effect as a way to highlight Hato and Madarame’s characters.

I believe the fact that Hato is a guy during this situation is an important factor, and not simply for the possibility that Madarame might be feeling something for Hato even without his female guise. Rather, it’s because Hato is a guy that Madarame can speak comfortably to him in this situation and even encourage Hato to not be so down on himself. Madarame basically says to Hato to stop mentioning “reality” as if it’s the final destination, the end of hope, the cruel master that rules over him, and uses his own feelings about Hato giving him chocolates as the example of how Hato’s actions have meaning, pperhaps playing into the idea that reality is a social construct and that people can attempt to change reality through the same channels. At the same time, he engages in a dialogue with Hato that follows a similar flow to the typical Madarame/Genshiken discussion over anime, manga, moe, and other otaku topics. In a way, because Madarame has a tendency to freeze up when confronted with the opposite sex, even though it’s clear that he is attracted to them, all of this could only have happened when Hato was a guy.

As mentioned above, Hato tries to use otaku talk to deflect, but Madarame actively engages with it to bring the situation back to “reality.” I think it’s because, while Madarame certainly doesn’t confuse fantasy for reality, he long ago embraced his 2-D complex and his love of anime for all of its worth, seemingly at the expense of his connection to the real world. Of course, the current arc with its emphasis on potential romance for Madarame is partly about how much this has changed, and the more I think about it, the more I find it interesting just how these two characters, as well as every other character in Genshiken, approaches that anime/fantasy vs. reality question in different and fascinating ways. It’s actually one of the topics that’s been with Genshiken throughout, and perhaps it should be the subject of a future post. It’s been a long time since I wrote about Genshiken outside of these chapter reviews, after all.

I think at this point it’d more than make sense for Madarame x Hato to happen, but at the same time I find that the other girls have their own interesting interactions with Madarame as well, so it’s not like this one outshines the others. In that sense, perhaps Genshiken provides more of a “harem” feel than most actual harem series, because often times those will have one girl clearly stand out among the rest as the “main heroine.” For Genshiken, all of the possible Madarame romances have potential, and all operate under different dynamics. Connected to this somewhat, when Madarame brings up the topic of BL, which Hato tries to mentally resist, he says that this situation isn’t right for Madarame, who’s supposed to be an “uke.” While admitting that he doesn’t really know anything about BL in the first place, Madarame replies that Hato is the only person out of the “harem” where Madarame would probably be the aggressive one, even if alcohol were to be involved.

Upon reflecting on Madarame’s words, I find that he’s actually right. Only Hato would end up in this situation because Angela, Keiko, and Sue are very strong-willed. With any of the three girls, with the possible exception of Sue, it’s hard to imagine them even in that position, and if Angela and Keiko were it’d probably be of their own devices, an intentional seemingly passive action to appeal to Madarame’s otaku senses/fear of women.

In any case, I feel like this is a point of no return for Madarame and Hato, not least because they were “interrupted” by Kuchiki, rather than breaking apart of their own volition. Whether or not it ends in love, pain, or just mutual yet awkward friendship, they’ve arrived somewhere new.

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Name: Okamoto, Yuriko (岡本百合子)
Alias: Elizabeth (エリザベス)
Relationship Status: Married
Origin: Cyber Yaoi Girl

Information:
Okamoto Yuriko leads two lives. When she is at home, she is a respectable wife and mother from a well-to-do traditional family, clad in a kimono. When among her fellow yaoi fans, however, Yuriko becomes “Elizabeth,” clad in gothic lolita and Harajuku-esque fashions. When asked why she wears such clothing, Yuriko insists that it’s because they look good on her, though those around her tend to disagree.

Yuriko is one of the fans Tanaka Mitsuki befriends as she becomes a part of the online Ai no Doronuma fandom. Yuriko runs her own Aidoro fansite, and also writes yaoi short stories. She also defends her son’s use of the internet despite her mother-in-law’s claims that it hurts his grades.

Fujoshi Level:
Yuriko once walked into a situation with her husband and his mistress, and then mentally turned the woman into a guy in order to fuel her next yaoi short story.

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shirobako-director

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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shirobako-misa

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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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.

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.

Upon hearing Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U for the first time, I was convinced that they had brought back the original actor, Ichimura Masachika, from the film Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, it actually turns out to be someone doing an excellent imitation (with the help of a voice filter), and whose acting chops are impressive in their own right. While the new actor Fujiwara Keiji might not have the cred of being an established theater actor like Ichimura is (he’s most famous for playing the titular character in the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera), you might know him for some of the following roles:

Ladd Russo in Baccano!

Nohara Hiroshi in Crayon Shin-chan

Kuzuhara Kinnosuke (Biker Cop) in Durarara!!

Holland Novak in Eureka Seven

Maes Hughes in Full Metal Alchemist (both original and Brotherhood)

Ali-al Saachez in Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Hannes in Attack on Titan

Jake Martinez in Tiger & Bunny

I actually had my suspicions because Mewtwo makes certain sounds in the new Smash Bros. that I don’t recall from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I chalked it up to my own faulty memory. It’s also a lot more difficult to hear because only the Japanese version has voiced victory quotes. It was the same in Melee, except you could change the language settings there to Japanese, which is how I and a lot of other people learned that Mewtwo had victory quotes in the first place.

Here are videos of the old and new voices for you to compare:

Old (ignore the skins; they’re from a mod)

New

And for fun, here’s a video of Ichimura Masachika as the Phantom of the Opera:

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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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