Hibari-sensei’s best of 2015

Ah, gomen nasai.  This post is way overdue, but it’s here now.  I’ve been growing increasingly out of touch with Japanese media.  However, the good news is that 2015 gave more cross-cultural opportunities.  Western rock bands collaborated with idol groups; VAMPS toured U.S.  Katana appeared on TV and will be hitting theatres, giving two Japanese actresses a kickass role.  Our beloved George Takei made his Broadway debut with Allegiance (although sadly, the musical’s run is not very long).

What about Japan?  The trend of music-related anime continued.  Metal could be heard in other genres, and it seemed like feminism was taking off, albeit in an artificial manner.  Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see idol groups that aren’t just full of well-behaved, skinny girls and to have media tackle issues like body shaming and sexual harassment.

As we do every year, JRock247 and NekoPOP writers shared their favorite album covers of 2015.  Click on the links to see what my picks were.  Now onto more bests…

Single – “Rebellion” by DIAWOLF
This new project by Shou and Tora of A9 was a little reminiscent of the band’s old days with “Rebellion”‘s heavy riffs and growling vocals, but the electronic elements showed a different side.  The song’s energy made me excited for more from this duo.

MV – “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina” by Momoiro Clover Z vs. KISS

This was an odd pairing, but the trippy anime style was a good middle ground for these two groups to meet.  It was very amusing to watch the cute Momoiro Clover Z duke it out with rock legends.

Album – Yasou Emaki by Wagakki Band
The question with Wagakki Band was how they would fare with original songs, and this album was an excellent answer.  They already mastered the blend of rock with traditional Japanese instruments, but this time they slowed down to really highlight their musical prowess.

 photo 2015FestivalBigPic_Babymetal_Live_LeedsFestival2015_6__AH170915_zpspad479en.jpg
By Andy Hughes. From NME
BABYMETAL continued to gain momentum in 2015, touring the world and collaborating with members of Dragonforce.  They won several awards, ranging from Vogue Japan‘s Women of the Year to Kerrang!‘s Spirit of Independence Award, and even got their own Funko POP! figures.  Their “kawaii metal” style has inspired new 2015 acts like Ladybaby and BiSH.

Live-action Character – Ren Shimosawa (Heroes Reborn)
After annoying Miko and the audience in the first episode, Ren Shimosawa (played by Toru Uchikado) grew to be charming in his willingness to help others.  His gamer lifestyle was his greatest strength, a refreshing change in a genre where martial arts experts and super-powered individuals are usually the ones winning the fights.

Actor – Rila Fukushima
 photo Volantis-Red_Priestess_zps7hvr4e7v.jpg
From Games of Thrones Wiki
In 2015, Rila Fukushima took roles that counted.  She wrapped up Katana’s heart-breaking storyline on Arrow and then moved onto another hit U.S. TV show, Game of Thrones.  Japan got to see her in Gonin Saga.  Trying to conquer both sides of the ocean isn’t easy, but Fukushima seemed on her way.

Drama –Mondai no Aru Restaurant
A drama that was pitched almost comedically as a battle of the sexes turned out to be a very eye-opening series about the rampant misogyny in Japanese society.  Some of the scenes were gut-wrenchingly difficult, but those moments when paired with the optimism and fortitude that this team of women display made this drama one of the best.

Film – Princess Jellyfish
Technically Princess Jellyfish came out in 2014, but I’m counting it as part of 2015 since the date was December 27.  The film captured the hilarity of the manga/anime’s protagonists without distracting from the story.  Plus it had some honest moments that championed non-conformity and finding confidence.

Anime Character – Saitama (One Punch Man)
 photo woo-chul-lee-_zpsl808x3cj.jpg
“Disaster Level ‘SAITAMA'” by Woo Chul Lee
Saitama was the hero we didn’t know we needed.  He was an ordinary guy who trained hard to become a fighter so strong that he is now steeped in ennui.  If the premise wasn’t ridiculous enough, his awkward appearance shattered all stereotypes and preconceived notions of what an anime hero should be.

Anime – Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
A lot of people had been clamoring for a magical boy series, and did this show deliver.  It stayed true to the genre while parodying it, and it had the most menacing-sounding yet cute villain ever.

Series to Cosplay – League of Legends
From Anime Matsuri 2015
I didn’t always recognize the characters, but League of Legends cosplayers had some of the most well-done outfits in 2015. I’ve actually learned more about the game just from seeing the cosplays.

Listening to: “Akatsuki no Ito” by Wagakki Band

Hibari’s Hi 8: Top cosplay photos of 2015

Akemashite omedetou!  After an unexpected break, I’m back to recap highlights from the past year.  We’re going to start with a Hibari’s Hi 8 Countdown of the most viewed cosplay photos I took in 2015 according to Flickr.  I didn’t count panels since the focus is on the presentation and not the costume.

8. Tharja, Fire Emblem (Novachan) – AnimeFest 2015

7. Star Lord and Gamora, Guardians of the Galaxy – Dallas Fan Days 2.0
Fan Days 2.0-9

6. formal Green Ranger and Deadpool plus friends – AnimeFest 2015

5. Daryl Dixon, The Walking Dead (Kevin Lewis) – All-con XI
All-con XI cosplay12

4. Major Motoko Kusanagi and Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Anime Matsuri 2015

3. Kim Possible and Shego (AnnaMaria Bryant and Kyatto) – All-con XI
All-con XI cosplay06

2. Sailor Cosmos (Meg Griffin Cosplay) – AnimeFest 2015

1. Frankie Stein, Monster High (Kyatto) – All-con XI
All-con XI cosplay11

AnimeFest 2015 cosplay and panels

I debated whether I should write up a report since I only attended late Friday afternoon and Saturday.  That time was mostly spent reporting on their concert and helping the Ladies of Power and thus didn’t really have much time to experience the cosplays and panels.  I had planned on going Sunday but was too physically exhausted.  Trying to work normally at your day job and do a con was not the greatest plan.

Maybe next time I’ll join the party…

Friday was mostly to get registered and see if I could catch Arina Tanemura, one of the guests of honor.  The former happened very quickly while the latter was a no-go.  There was a ticketing system for the animation guests of honor, which makes sense considering anime’s and the convention’s steady rise of popularity, but it was not communicated well at all.  I did get to attend Stephanie Young’s panel, “The Vixen’s Guide to Voice Acting and Life”.  She did a great job of tying in her body of work to female archetypes in order to dish out a bit of life advice. As I said, Saturday was devoted to work, but first I had photoshoots.  The Metal Gear Solid photoshoot was a lot of fun.  Many of my peers comment on how old they feel at AnimeFest.  While that may be true, the Metal Gear Solid crowd definitely had a higher median age.

This shot was dubbed “Evolution of Snake”.

If you missed the Ladies of Power panel, then you missed the opportunity to score some free prints.  You can purchase some at ladiesofpower.storenvy.com , and all proceeds with go to charity.  It was great to see people support female empowerment and to advise the younger ladies on how to deal with difficult situations that they may face.

Lady of Power Meghan as Sailor Cosmos

The con made me realize how out of touch with anime I’ve been since I could not recognize many of the cosplays.  At the same time, there are always classics, like Sailor Moon and Pokemon.  Speaking of which, I’ve noticed a steady increase in the number of Eevolution cosplayers and art.  It’s really interesting to see people’s interpretation of the Pokemon.

 photo IMAG0316_zpstbwh6rtf.jpg
Umbreon, Sylveon, and Eevee by Emily Page

AnimeFest is experiencing some growing pains, which can be extremely frustrating.  However I do appreciate that they are taking the time to ask for feedback and that they have expanded their panels to encompass more than just anime (my friend Kyatto did a panel on whales that was very popular).  I also am very glad for the volunteers who are stationed to help out with the A/V equipment and give five minute warnings.  I don’t think I ever thank con staff a lot so here’s to those who keep AFest and other conventions together.

Click here to see the rest of my pics.

Listening to: “left to cry there” by DAZZLE VISION

Hibari-sensei’s best of 2014

My friend Risa shared this graphic on Facebook, and I thought it summed up the year pretty well.
 photo 2014recap1_zpseca70725.jpg
Joking aside, 2014 has offered a lot of queer representationand not just with boys.  When Marnie Was There and Sailor Moon Crystal both offered female queerplatonic (possibly veering into romantic).   The latest Sailor Moon musical brought that into live-action, and J-rock ADAMS returned with more homoeroticism.  Although Japan has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQIA rights and visibility and the yaoi genre contains a lot of problematic elements, 2014 seemed to be a year of oncoming change, especially when it ended with the news of Shikoin Temple offering gay weddings.

Of course, one theme cannot encompass at the past year’s greatest hits in entertainment so read on for my picks.  Also, don’t forget to check out JRock247‘s and NekoPOP‘s top album covers of 2014.

Single – “FxxK Boyz Get Money” by FEMM
With an in-your-face title like that, how can you not give this song a listen?  It evokes memories of early Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and is the perfect anthem for a party’s girl night out.

MV – “White Caress” by ADAMS

A lot can be said about ADAMS’ use of homosexuality as their central theme (I could probably write an entire essay on it), but it cannot be denied that they make a great team with director Ryota Sakai.  “White Caress” is a perfect example of the raw emotion and beautiful symbolism that makes their videos so hard to tear your eyes away from.

Album – Roclassick2 by BIGMAMA
Hard rock-classical music mash-ups are not a new thing, but rather than insert a classical sampling into an original song, BIGMAMA has done the opposite and created a fresh new take on old favorites.  You’ll never think of “Swan Lake” and “Pomp and Circumstance” the same ever again.

Artist – Wagakki Band
 photo 2014recap2_zps7979ae50.jpg From Rocket News 24
Although they debuted the previous year, Wagakki Band started to really attract attention in 2014.  They truly blend the past, present, and future with their rock-meets-traditional Japanese instruments covers of Vocaloid songs.

Live-action Character – Lynn (Black Butler)
The live-action equivalent of Mey-Rin turned out to be the epitome of moe.  Her clumsiness is more endearing, and she has one of the coolest fight scenes.

Actor – Fuka Koshiba
Fuka Koshiba is a fairly new face, but she’s making a name for herself.  First, she excelled in Kiki’s Delivery Service, carrying the whole movie on her shoulders as the eponymous protagonist.  Then her heart-breaking portrayal of a bullied student in the second season of GTO made her one of the most memorable cast members.

Drama – Boku no Ita Jikan
This show was raising awareness on ALS before the ice bucket challenge.  Not only that, it depicts a common struggle of today’s college grads: the often frustrating search for a job.  Haruma Miura deserves lots of recognition for his portrayal of a young man who discovers that he has ALS, and seeing him share the screen again with Mikako Tabe in a more mature role was really sweet.

Film – Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
 photo 2014recap3_zpsa6281074.jpg
I haven’t seen The Legend Ends (which was released late 2014) so I can’t comment on that.  While this one leaves the audience hanging at the end, it is still one of the most stunning anime adaptations that does not shy away from the gritty realism of war.

Anime Character – Shogo Senga (Love Stage!!)
How can you not love the idea of Daigo voicing a caricature of himself, created by his sister no less?  Shogo is also the only character who had enough sense to do something about his brother’s rape. While the seriousness is downplayed as part of his outrageous devotion, he is a rare voice of opposition that yaoi needs more of.

Anime – Sailor Moon Crystal
Even with the weird animation (particularly in the transformation sequences), this series deserves accolades for promoting female strength and friendship.  It’s inspiring a new generation of girls to overcome their insecurities and provides a breath of fresh air from all the reverse harems and all-male series.

Series to Cosplay – Attack on Titan
This anime made Kareshi, who doesn’t normally cosplay outside of my dragging him into couples costumes, actually work on a costume on his own.  The design is iconic and so cool that even my friends who don’t watch anime love it so this trend is going to continue past 2014.
DSC_2093 Overbeck as Dot Pixis

Listening to: “Swan Song” by BIGMAMA

Ainu anime and manga characters

When Disney announced that they were making a film adaptation of Marvel’s Big Hero Six, I was excited.  Then I was extremely disappointed and irritated to discover that Fred, who was Ainu in the comics, was whitewashed.  How often do we have an indigenous character in animation?  Not a lot in America, and not very much in Japan either.

Probably the most well-known Ainu characters are Horokeu (“Horohoro”) and Pirika Usui from Shaman King.  The anime actually depicts an entire tribe and uses Ainu symbols in the characters’ outfits.  Furthermore, Horohoro’s guardian spirit, Kororo, is based on a race of tiny people in Ainu folklore called the koro-pok-guru.  The struggles of Shaman King‘s Ainu (as depicted in the manga) center less on oppression and more on the conflict between their conservationist lifestyle and the incoming Japanese developers.
Pirika and Horo Horo photo horohoropirika.jpg
Pirika, Horohoro, and Kororo. From mewpudding101.

Samurai Champloo, on the other hand, does address the oppression of the Ainu in the two parter, “Lullabies of the Lost”.  Although his ethnicity is not explicity stated,  Okuru wears clothing similar to traditional Ainu garb.  He lost his due to an epidemic and torching by the Matsumae clan, which in reality did come into conflict with the Ainu.  Despite being an antagonist, Okuru is portrayed sympathetically.

The Matsumae also make an appearance in the manga and film, The Dagger of Kamui. Its main character, Jiro, is a half-Japanese, half-Ainu young man who desires to learn about his parentage.  Part of his journey brings him face-to-face with the oppression of the Ainu.  Going a step further, the series address the oppression of Native Americans when Jiro goes abroad and meets a half-French, half-Native American girl.

Leave it to the Father of Manga, Osamu Tezuka, to write stories about the Ainu.  The first of such manga is Brave Dan about a boy named Kotan Nakamaru who has trained to be his people’s savior.  Along with a tiger named Dan, he searches for the lost Ainu treasure.
Brave Dan photo bravedan-manga02_zpsbaf1eaa6.jpg Kotan and Dan. From Tezuka in English.
I couldn’t find much about Shumari, other than that it is another adventure story and is about the reclamation of Hokkaido.

Oftentimes Princess Mononoke‘s Ashitaka and his people are attributed to being Ainu.  They are actually Emishi, an indigenous group from northern Honshu.  There has been scholarly debate over whether they are related to the Ainu.  Hayao Miyazaki sides with those who connect the Emishi to the Jomon, and thus it can be inferred that he portrays Ashitaka’s people as such.

However, Miyazaki is connected to another anime with an Ainu character.  His solo directorial debut was with the adaptation of the manga, Yuki’s Sun.  The heroine, Yuki, befriends an Ainu boy named Ryuuta and also meets an Ainu man named Akarupa who is connected with her.  Only the pilot was ever created.

These were the anime and manga that I could find information on.  I’m sure there are more, but there remains a serious lack of representation.  It’s a big issue in both Japanese and American media, and we can only hope that through awareness will this improve in the future.

Listening to: “Sakhalin Rock” by OKI DUB AINU BAND