You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘shoujo’ tag.
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.
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.
If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.
If you search online for Witch Craft Works, one of the first things you’re likely to see is the promotional art for the anime, pictured above. It’s an attention grabber for sure, as the image of a tall, voluptuous woman cradling a smaller, frailer man in her arms sends a whole array of messages that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Of these possibilities, one question that arises asks, is Witch Craft Works feminist? I would argue that it is in certain respects, but not necessarily in the way that one might expect. While one may very well approach the gendered role reversal in terms of whether or not it’s a form of empowerment, I find that it’s better to consider it in terms of how it highlights how we view those roles in the first place.
Witch Craft Works is an anime and manga about a meek-looking teenage boy named Takemiya Honoka and his love interest/protector, the practically-perfect-in-every-way Kagari Ayaka, who is also a witch able to command flames. Weak protagonists are nothing new for anime at this point, but whereas a typical story would have the guy “man up” and defend the woman (see Fate/Stay Night, for example), Ayaka is clearly stronger than he is at all times. This is what creates the spark of potential for Ayaka to be a symbol of female empowerment, though people who read into her this way may potentially be disappointed, especially because her clear male-oriented attractiveness (wide hips, very large breasts, long raven-black hair) and moments of obvious fanservice can detract from such a portrayal.
While those unfamiliar with shoujo manga might see the series as more of a role reversal in general, in fact Witch Craft Works is more specifically a genderswap of a stereotypical shoujo manga. Instead of the girl being perpetually late for school and bumping into Mr. Tall, Dark, and Mysterious, it’s Honoka playing the part instead. All of the lines that the male love interest would make about protecting the female protagonist while holding her gently have instead gone to Ayaka. What makes it clearly shoujo as well is the trope of having Ayaka followed by a squad of fangirls who keep all potential partners at bay through bullying and trickery. The main difference, aside from the change in genders, is that the art style is more geared towards a male audience, which opens it up for the criticisms seen in the previous paragraph.
When I say that Witch Craft Works can be interpreted as a feminist work, however, my intent is not to argue that people should just get over the clear idealized appeal of Ayaka for heterosexual male viewers. Instead, the point I want to make is that this role reversal brings to the surface many assumptions we make about how characters behave. Imagine that, instead of Witch Craft Works acting as a reverse shoujo series, we instead made a genderswap version of James Bond, or better yet Golgo 13? In this version, a stoic woman would sleep with guys left and right, who would be so amazed at her instinctual command of the carnal arts that they would beg at her feet for more as she leaves without saying a word. Sometimes, they might get caught in the middle of a gunfight or perhaps themselves be assassins, which would result in them being violently murdered by “Golga 13.” As she goes about putting bullets in the heads of her targets, men and women would sing her praises and talk about how amazingly powerful she is.
Would this be empowering? Perhaps. Would this emphasize equality between male and female characters? Not really, as it’s more just flipping the issue. However, by turning the tables in that way, it would increase awareness of how these tropes are affected by how we perceive characters’ behaviors according to their genders. Witch Craft Works does something similar, only instead of using the typical narrative aspects of a guy-oriented series like Golgo 13, it uses the cultural markers of girl-oriented anime and manga to start with, and then pushes things a few steps further.
One of the arguments by fans of yaoi and yuri as to why they prefer those stories over ones about heterosexual relationships is that there’s less of a power imbalance between male and female. At the same time, categories like “seme” (top) and “uke” (bottom) complicate this issue because they can often be used to express a relationship of domination and submission. Witch Craft Works, through the interactions of its weak male and strong female leads and its mix of guy-oriented and girl-oriented aesthetics, calls to mind all of these different portrayals of romances. Kagari and Ayaka simultaneously behave like a shoujo romance, but also a bit of a shounen one as well, and even embody aspects of yaoi and yuri. Apparently the manga was originally supposed to be yuri itself but was changed to its current form.
For guys, this is a rare opportunity to see what it feels like for a male character to be made a damsel-in-distress, though the conclusion for them won’t necessarily be that this is a problem, and that the role is diminishing men as a whole. It’s possible that this can even be viewed as something desirable, that men rarely get the chance to feel the desire to be rescued, to have their troubles eliminated by someone more powerful than themselves, even less so when the rescuer is a woman (usually it’s a father or something along those lines). Instead of manifesting an empathy for weakness through moe girl character, it can be achieved through a boy, and there isn’t even a need to berate him for not being “man enough.” At the same time, male viewers can see the boy damsel, take comfort, and then return to endless images of macho heroes. Women, on the other hand, leave Witch Craft Works and go back to a sea of women being captured and waiting for their saviors. As a result, Witch Craft Works ends up emphasizing the fact that the “damsel-in-distress” issue is not that the trope is inherently dangerous or detrimental, but that it has been historically reinforced repeatedly as something “for women.”
By playing with the standard rules of its storytelling style but flipping the script, Witch Craft Works serves to make us aware of those storytelling tendencies, especially those found in anime and manga. and to look at them more critically. In that respect, Witch Craft Works is capable of contributing to feminist criticism.
This is a follow-up to my previous post, A Sexy Star is Born: Thoughts on the History of Romance in Shoujo Manga.
While romance has been the dominant force in shoujo manga for over 40 years, lately I’ve begun to wonder if a quiet revolution is occurring within the shoujo manga industry, or at least within the publisher Kodansha.
For example, recently there has been a comedy manga about young girls who use model guns and play in survival games. “But Stella Women’s Academy C³-Bu isn’t shoujo!” you might say. You’d be right, except that I’m actually talking about the shoujo manga Survival Game Club! by Matsumoto Hidekichi.
What’s remarkable about Survival Game Club! is not only that it’s a manga which eschews romance in favor of firearm gags, but that it runs in Nakayoshi, a magazine whose primary demographic is 5-10 year old girls and whose alumni include Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. These aren’t jaded manga experts looking for the next big thing, they’re readers who just want to enjoy their comics (and their free goodies). That said, the expectations for 10 year old readers might be surprisingly different, given that Survival Game Club! starts with one of its characters threatening a train molester.
Survival Game Club!
Other titles currently running in Nakayoshi include No Exit/Deguchi Zero by Seta Haruhi, about a school for aspiring actresses which becomes a survival horror story, and Kugiko-chan by PEACH-PIT (Rozen Maiden, Shugo Chara!), a gag spinoff of a manga about a ghost who is said to drive nails into people’s eyes. Both of these series not only revolve around a horror theme but are fairly unorthodox when it comes to art style.
According to Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt), the shoujo magazine Bessatsu Friend began to shift away from romance because of manga by artists such as Suenobu Keiko. Notably, her 2009’s manga Limit, a story about a group of girls in a life or death situation where the social statuses afforded to them by their school cliques no longer matter and feelings of betrayal and revenge run high, stands out as being very far from the romance-centered stories associated with shoujo. While Bessatsu Friend targets an older age group compared to Nakayoshi, I wonder if its influence slowly bled down to the younger audience.
The sense that there’s a quiet revolution isn’t just coming from shoujo manga which de-emphasize romance, however, as there’s a sense that titles about love and relationships are approaching them with greater mindfulness and breadth of topics. For instance, 3D Kanojo by Nanami Mao, about a popular girl and her otaku boyfriend, deals with the lack of respect that sexually active girls can get. One story from the girl’s past involves her trying to express her feelings of frustration and loneliness to her then-boyfriend, only to realize that he wasn’t really listening and was trying to just make out with her. Pochamani by Hirama Kaname, about a chubby girl and her handsome boyfriend, looks at body image issues and the ability to be confident in an appearance which does not fit the social standard. In both cases, these manga are about relationships already in motion as opposed to the journey towards one, and so bring to attention the challenges which can confront couples.
Of course, this is all more or less a hunch, and while I read a good deal of shoujo manga I’m not as well-read in it as other bloggers like Magical Emi or Kate from Reverse Thieves. If anyone can provide examples to further prove (or even disprove) the idea that shoujo manga has begun to move somewhat against its long-standing conventions of love and romance, I’d be more than welcome to hear it.
A common complaint against shoujo manga is that it’s too obsessed with romance. When you look at shoujo as a whole, love is not just a major factor in a lot of series, often times it’s the only factor. It all boils down to a simple question: “Why can’t shoujo manga be more ambitious?”
To a fair extent, this criticism is justified, but I finished reading the English-language release of Hagio Moto’s The Heart of Thomas recently and the afterword by Matt Thorn provided an interesting context to the romance-heavy nature of shoujo as we know it. Thorn writes about how, in contrast to the shoujo manga of the time which assumed that girls had no interest in stories in the more adult side of relationships, manga like The Heart of Thomas were revolutionary because they introduced the thrill of romance and sexual desire to shoujo manga. This is not to belittle the shoujo manga before Hagio and her contemporaries as somehow inferior as that’s certainly not the case, but it’s clear there was a trend of chaste stories about daughters reuniting with their mothers and such, which was supplanted by shoujo manga as love story. Romance in shoujo is the 800 lb. gorilla now, but it wasn’t always that way.
It actually reminds me about one of the biggest difficulties in discussing depictions of women with respect to feminism, which is that both the denial and exploitation of women’s sexuality have been used to control women in the past, and good and bad intentions exist within various a complex array of cultural contexts. Romance in shoujo manga is a way for readers to learn about their own desires, but perhaps at the same time also a way to control their interests.
On a certain level, the reason behind the proliferation of romance-based shoujo is obvious: money. Girls liked romance, it sold a lot, and so it became de rigueur for an entire industry. It’s understandable, as is the criticism against it. While romance is just the thing that many fans (including myself) look to shoujofor, at this point, it could stand to have some more variety.
The funny thing is, I’ve recently begun to suspect shoujo manga is undergoing just such a transformation, but I’ll leave my thoughts on that for a follow-up post.
I’ve been thinking a lot about female characters in anime and manga recently (not exactly a surprise, I know), and it’s something where, even if I don’t have a fully formed argument or point to make, I feel compelled to write something down. Forgive me as I meander through my own thoughts in an attempt to piece it all together.
About a month ago I was reading the comments section on polygon.com in regards to the portrayal of female characters in video games. I can’t remember which game they were talking about, but one commenter said something along the lines of, “You shouldn’t bring up Japan when trying to show strong women in video games because it’s such a sexist culture. Just look at anime and manga,” and it made me bristle. I do think Japanese culture is sexist in many ways, but the idea that this perception of Japan as sexist made it impossible for Japanese fiction to have really good female characters in this person’s eyes bothered me because I’ve seen plenty from every period of anime and manga.
I know it was just one comment on a video game article, but it got me thinking more broadly about what people see in anime and manga, and to what extent the image of anime and manga as sexist is fueled by what people want to see. I recently saw a comment that criticized Heartcatch Precure! for encouraging girls to be stereotypically feminine by having the character of Itsuki, who normally dresses like a boy, express a desire to be more girly. While I know there are plenty of examples of tomboy characters who end up feeling like they need to dress like girls to attract their male love interest, Itsuki’s story is more about how she suppressed the side of her which enjoys cute things out of a somewhat misguided sense of duty and responsibility. Yet, rather than taking this as the message, it was like as soon as the person saw the rough outlines of the stereotype, surely it would play out the same as always.
There are most certainly a good deal of works which go out of their way to objectify women for male consumption, but I just find that there are also plenty of instances of well-portrayed women and girls in anime and manga. Whether it’s Princess Jellyfish or Rideback, Kekkaishi or Gowapper 5 Godam, it seems like these female characters get ignored because they’re, somewhat ironically, not as eye-catching as a Queen’s Blade or an I Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! There seems to be this idea that anime = sexism, and while even the works I mentioned as strong examples aren’t entirely devoid of sexism themselves, I also don’t think it’s as simple as just slapping the misogynist label on Japanese media as a whole. Messages regarding women in anime and manga can be so diverse and divergent.
At this point I’ve seen a lot of 60s and 70s shoujo, and I’ve noticed a clear trend of mischievous tomboy heroines from that time period. Even putting aside an extreme example such as Oscar from Rose of Versailles who was raised as a man to uphold her family’s proud military tradition, you have Candy from Candy Candy, who’s adventurous and constantly challenging the conceitedness of the upper class, and Angie from Petite Angie, who is portrayed as an extremely clever detective. You have Ayuko from Attack No.1, whose aggressive desire to win at volleyball inspires the rest of her teammates, and Yumi from Sign wa V! who initially plots to sabotage her teammates because of how much she despises volleyball. Hiromi from Aim for the Ace, Lunlun from Hana no Ko Lunlun, Masumi from Swan, the list goes on and on. All of these characters have their fair share of personal agency (even if it’s not always an ideal amount). Given that the trend of the strong, mischievous tomboy was clearly a “thing,” and I do believe it continued in some form well beyond the 70s (Utena is an obvious one, but perhaps Lina Inverse from Slayers counts too, for example?), I just have to wonder about the disconnect between that and the perception of anime and manga as inherently misogynistic and where it may have come from.
Is it a matter of age of these older titles, that if people were able to access the works these characters are from, that they would change their minds? Is it that shoujo doesn’t act enough as the “face” of anime and manga? Could it be that, as much as we’d like to think we’ve gone beyond the stereotype, anime is still viewed as essentially “porn or Pokemon?” If the ratio were different, and there were just fewer fanservice titles or works where girls are basically a cheerleading squad for the heroes, would detractors be more charitable towards anime and manga, or is it inescapable as long as some titles are still like that? For that matter, to what extent does the western image of the submissive Asian woman affect and interact with how people see all female characters coming from Japan, and how does it differ from the similar stereotype as viewed by Japan (I can of course admit that it’s there too)?
What shapes people’s views of female characters in anime and manga? I guess that’s the question I want to explore the most.
I’ve been watching Say “I Love You” (aka Sukitte Ii na yo), and it’s a really good romance series that I would almost describe as a mix of Kimi ni Todoke and Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai in the way it has the unlikely relationship and the awkward personalities. Granted, that description might also apply to the other shoujo romance this season, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (My Little Monster), but where Kaibutsu-kun has more of the humor, Say “I Love You” I feel really delves into issues of self-image.
In episodes 3 and 4, we’re introduced to a character named Mutou Aiko, who is thin and beautiful, but what we learn over the course of these two episodes is that such seeming perfection comes with a price. In her case it’s serious scars on her body as a result of extreme crash dieting, prominent streaks along her stomach that you can’t even begin to describe as “stretch marks.” The scars really caught my attention that episode because of how they contrast with her outer image of absolute beauty, especially when you take into account that shoujo characters and even anime characters in general tend to have “ideal” skin. Or, to put it more accurately, because anime and manga tend to consist of simpler colors and shading, even small changes to characters’ appearances come across much more prominently; drawing a single line for a wrinkle pretty much means that wrinkle looks deep no matter what.
By having those dieting scars and having them visible to the viewer, even Aiko’s anime-esque perfection feels different because one can see the amount of effort put into it, that it didn’t just happen by default. By feeling “manufactured” in this sense, it also ends up feeling more realistic, that this is not her natural beauty but something she has to constantly work at. Perhaps more importantly, it also says a lot about her character that she thinks the scars on her naked body were worth the appearance she gives to the rest of the world.
Recently, debate about shoujo manga has centered around “girliness.” Although the word can have multiple meanings, in the context of shoujo it generally refers to pink hearts, sparkles, and school romance, all things you may very well see if you are to pick up a random volume of shoujo. Writers have been addressing how the girliness of shoujo is seen by people of all varieties, girls, guys, those intimately familiar with manga and those who hardly know anything, and any issues that arise from that perception.
The definition of shoujo manga comes into question as a result. Is shoujo defined by those aesthetic and thematic tropes, or is it something much broader? Is shoujo manga simply any comic that runs in a shoujo magazine, no matter the content? But while these are all very good questions, I feel like they are obscuring a very important idea that is more fundamental to manga and storytelling in general.
Setting aside whether or not shoujo is limited by tropes, average girls and impossibly handsome men covered in hearts and sparkles do not preclude good storytelling. It may not be someone’s cup of tea to read about the trials and tribulations of a 14 year old’s love triangle, but there is no ironclad rule stating that such a story cannot be not only entertaining but also legitimately good and able to speak to a wider audience.
Brigid Alverson equates shoujo manga with trashy romance novels, stating, “You read your chosen genre for relaxation, not literary quality.” While I do read shoujo for my own comfort, I also actively look for literary quality in it and am frequently rewarded as a result. I do not believe that it is some rare feat to find strong storytelling and strong characters in shoujo, whether it’s from the 70s or from this past decade, and that is also largely because I do not see shoujo as being limited by convention.
I’m not saying that one should just accept everything without a critical eye, but simply that when the reward is less stellar, one should not necessarily condemn the tropes from holding back shoujo, but perhaps view it as an individual story failing to use those elements in an effective manner. The potential for good, strong fiction is still there and the fact that the heroine’s parents died, conveniently leaving her to fend for herself, is not a death sentence for quality. It is not only possible to appreciate both shoujo which has all the trappings of “girliness” as well as shoujo which eschews that aesthetic, but to appreciate both on equal levels. Just because you enjoy the unorthodox doesn’t mean that the orthodox is inherently worse or vice versa. Shoujo is both and everything in between, and in every case, whether the manga are adhering to convention or not, good stories can be told, and found, on a regular basis.
This look at Takemiya Keiko’s 1970s shounen manga To Terra… is inspired by the “Manga Moveable Feast,” an ongoing project dedicated to having a variety of manga-passionate minds discuss a specific title. I owe a lot to To Terra…, and have been wanting to talk about it for a long time, and I believe that this is my best opportunity. I’ve included a synopsis of the story to make for easy reading, but this month’s MMF host, Kate Dacey, has written an incredibly informative introduction to To Terra…, and I really do recommend that you read it, whether it’s before, after, or even during my post.
My very first experience with Takemiya Keiko’s To Terra… came in the form of Frederik Schodt’s book, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Animation. Displaying a single page on the margins of that book as an example of science fiction manga, the image of a young boy moving through what appeared to be a futuristic network of clear tunnels was like a visual shock, telling me that there was more to the anime and manga that I loved than the few shows I had seen. “Toward the Terra,” as its title was originally translated, had me not only wishing to someday see this series but also to look more closely at anime and manga as a whole. and it all came from an image.
That was in 2000, and it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally got to see for myself what To Terra… was all about. After the initial shock of actually seeing To Terra… in the bookstore, I picked up the first volume, consumed it, and finished the saga as the rest of the series came out. As I look at the series again, however, I become more and more aware of its influence on future manga artists, and though I cannot trace the exact path from Takemiya to the creators of today, I want to talk about the connecting threads that are visible to me.
To Terra… takes place in a time when man has polluted the Earth (Terra) almost beyond habitability and has moved into space. Their goal is to slowly re-cultivate the planet over many generations, but in order to ensure that humans do not repeat their past mistakes and let their greed and unchecked emotions overwhelm their need to save Earth, humans have turned to computers to regulate their lives. One tragedy that comes from this “Superior Domination” or “S.D. Era” is the fact that the “Mu,” children with ESP who are able to resist some of the programming that all “normal” humans receive, are perceived as a threat and thus eliminated in order to preserve the integrity of the new society. Through all of this, a 14 year old boy named Jomy Marcus Shin becomes the bridge between the humans and the Mu and eventually a revolutionary, discovering the truths and lies behind Superior Domination and Terra itself.
One of the first aspects of To Terra… that throws people off is the fact that To Terra… is indeed a shounen title, even if Takemiya is more well-known for her work in shoujo. To Terra… was written for boys, and it shows in many ways. It is a science fiction epic full of action and intrigue, spanning a long period of time, skipping years between parts. Jomy himself is portrayed as having a lot of power and potential but also as extremely unrefined in those respects, qualities you see even in today’s shounen protagonists such as Uzumaki Naruto and Sumimura Yoshimori (Kekkaishi). But the shoujo influence is still there, and though I cannot say this with 100% accuracy, I truly do feel that Takemiya’s shoujo experience manifests itself in To Terra… in a way which paves the road for many of the shounen titles which have followed it.
While the most obvious sign of Takemiya’s experience in the genre of “girls comics” may be the expressive art style so indicative of 70s manga for girls, the shoujo influence can be felt much more profoundly in the way that To Terra… makes you very aware of the relationships between characters. This is not meant in the romantic sense, though some of the closeness between the mostly male cast could be interpreted as such, but in the way the characters are portrayed relative to each other. As you read To Terra…, you are constantly aware of the differences in philosophy and overall outlook on life that characters possess, the parallels that exist between them in terms of history and personality, and anything that really makes you notice that To Terra… is a personal story about people existing alongside other people, even if it is steeped in a grand narrative.
The heavy emphasis on relationships was rare then for shounen manga, and it is still somewhat rare today, but you can see great number of titles that, even for the briefest of moments, take a play from the book of To Terra… and have you thinking less about battle and competition and more about the interplay between two individuals, from the early banter between Ichigo and Rukia in Bleach, to the works of authors such as Adachi Mitsuru (Touch!, Cross Game) and Takahashi Rumiko (Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha).
Again, I cannot tell you if any of these creators actually looked directly to Takemiya Keiko for inspiration, but I do believe that the example she set in To Terra… nudged shounen manga along the path that would unite it with many of the facets of shoujo manga and vice versa. Though we think of the fusion of genres in manga as being a relatively recent thing, To Terra… shows that it has been a long process, and personally speaking I believe we are the better for it.
Back when I was first really getting into anime, the thing I was into that a lot of other guys weren’t was shoujo. Sure you had your Sailor Moon fans and all, but it was the genre I truly enjoyed, even if others might make fun of me for it, and I was dedicated to finding more. I considered myself an aficionado of shoujo.
But that was years ago. When I looked back recently, I realized that my knowledge and experience with shoujo had been far outstripped by those areas in other genres. When I look at my manga collection now, the majority of it is seinen, and there are just a lot of titles and authors in shoujo that are unknown to me. What happened to the kid who loved his Cardcaptor Sakura?
That’s why as of late I’ve been upping my shoujo manga intake from all genres. Whether it’s newer stuff like Gakuen Alice and Penguin Revolution, or old classics like Attack No. 1, Swan, and Candy Candy, I’ve set a loose goal of bringing myself up to speed and having people say, “There’s a guy who knows a lot about shoujo manga!”
And of course I’m enjoying myself along the way.
The year was 1973, and a young anime studio named Madhouse began work on its first big series, an adaptation of a popular tennis manga called Ace o Nerae! or Aim for the Ace! as it translates in English. Running 26 episodes, it was directed by Dezaki Osamu and had character designs by Sugino Akio, a duo that continues to work together even to this day, including Rose of Versailles, the 90s Black Jack OVAs, and Space Adventure Cobra. They also worked together on every other anime adaptation of Aim for the Ace!
With that in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to just put the openings of each of the Ace series next to each other, if only to see how time, money, and experience have affected the same series over the course of two decades.
1973’s Ace o Nerae!
1978s Shin Ace o Nerae!
1988’s Ace o Nerae 2!
It might be a little unfair to compare openings, but I feel that doing so is a good indicator for seeing how an anime series wishes to be first seen. When you look at the 1973 opening vs the 1978 opening though, you can already see a world of difference. Character designs in Shin Ace are cleaner and more consistent, perhaps at the expense of some of the wild and untamed artwork that characterizes the original. Everything is also much-better animated, with fewer visible shortcuts being taken. Fast forward to 1988 and of course you can see a huge change, brought on by overall progress in anime, an OVA-level budget and changing visual trends in anime (and in real-world fashion). Keep in mind though that unlike, say, Cutie Honey, where each incarnation is done by a different studio and different people at the helm, Ace 2 has the same core team as the first Ace, and what you’re seeing here is direct evidence of how they changed over the course of 15 years.
I think the biggest difference between the original and the later series is that by the time of Shin Ace, the anime is actively trying to portray human figures in a three-dimensional space, and Ace 2 even moreso. If you look at the original TV series, even in the opening it never wants to tell you exactly where the characters are in any given moment. It feels closer to a manga brought to life, for better or worse. In that regard, I feel that the original has a certain charm that the others lack, the kind of appeal that comes from seeing just how much people could do with so little.
Really though, I just think they should have kept the hair from the first TV series throughout each incarnation. That includes the live-action series from a few years ago.