The Babymetal Problem

I am a Babymetal fan. I have been since I first heard them back in 2015. I love the music, the visual aspect, and, perhaps most importantly considering recent events, the girls. Babymetal has seen enormous success not just for an idol group, but as an international metal band over the past few years, selling out arenas and festival dates with every tour. Fans of the group have had the pleasure of watching Su, Moa and Yui grow and develop as musicians, and thus have built a strong connection to them. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the absence of one of the three figureheads of Babymetal, Yui-Metal, would spark outcry from fans.

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Before I get into anything, yes, I know that Japanese idol groups work differently than western metal bands. I know that idols are only really idols when they are still young, so replacing them isn’t anything new. But it’s the way in which Koba and the other minds behind the group have gone about current events that is making fans so angry. It started in December of 2017 when it was announced rather abruptly that Yui would not be performing in the band’s shows in Hiroshima due to health issues. This in itself isn’t anything to get worked up over. Fans wished Yui a quick recovery and that was that. Questions starting rising after the death of guitarist Mikio Fujioka in January as to who would replace him and how it would affect the group.

But then the group’s marketing team went silent, only announcing new merchandise or tour dates. Not once did they address Mikio’s passing or the state of Yui’s health. Then a few days ago the band released a music video for their new song, which didn’t show the girls at all, and lacked Yui and Moa’s backing vocals, which got fans speculating even further. So, naturally, when the band played the first show of their 2018 world tour in Kansas without Yui and with two unnamed backup dancers, the fanbase collectively lost their shit.

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I’m not going to speculate as to whether or not Yui is out of the band or if she’s simply still sick, which, judging by the band’s relentless shcedule over the past few years and her apparent loss of weight may very well be the case, but I want to address the complete lack of understanding of western media and music that Babymetal’s team has been displaying. It would have saved the team a lot of trouble to simply announce at some point over the past FIVE MONTHS that a change was being made, or that Yui is still in poor health. If Yui isn’t performing for personal reasons, simply let the fans know that she won’t be performing. I don’t follow idol culture that closely, but I know that groups change over time, swapping out old members for new ones, and that’s perfectly fine if that’s what Babymetal is doing. But this band isn’t just an idol group. They are a full-fledged metal band, like it or not, with a massive western following. A following who cares about these girls, and many of whom don’t follow idol culture outside of this group. Of course they are going to get upset when a change is made without them knowing.

This stems into the backlash that the group’s team has been receiving from fans in Kansas who bought their tickets to see the three-piece that they know and love; not two members with two backup dancers (and from what I’ve read, Moa-Metal didn’t sing in the show at all). This isn’t to shit on the backup dancers, who from what I saw did a good job, but if I payed money to see a once-in-a-lifetime performance put on my one of my favorite bands, I would want to get what I payed for. This once again falls on the lack of communication from the team.

Not a word has been said yet about what has been going on with the group. All across social media the group has been silent, which is only ading fuel to the fire. Amuse’s stocks have been dropping rapidly because of this, and the whole fanbase is in a frenzy. I think this whole thing is the result of a simple lack of communication. Western fans like to know when major changes are made, especially a change as drastic as this. And, as I said before, if it simply comes down to Yui still being ill, it is Babymetal’s team’s responsibility to let the fans know.

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We will all see what the hell is going on with the group when they have their next show on May 10th in Austin. Hopefully, Babymetal’s team will release some sort of statement before then, but with the way things have been going over the course of 2018, that seems very unlikely.

If Yui is sick, I wish her a fast recovery. If she’s left the group, I wish her a bright and successful future. Either way, the fans deserve to know.

-Daniam

 

Hinamatsuri’s Take On Family

I said in my previous blog on Megalo Box that Hinamatsuri is one of my favorite new anime this season. Aside from the beautiful animation and great central cast, the show is fucking HILARIOUS. That’s not a term I use lightly when referring to anime, as a show needs to be really truly funny to make me laugh, but Hinamatsuri has already wrangled up more than a few bouts of heavy laughter from me. The show’s sense of humor is so dry and tight-lipped, but almost every scene has put a big, dumb smile on my face, and I love it. If you haven’t seen Hinamatsuri yet, I implore you to do so. Episode 3 just aired earlier today, and it may have been my favorite yet. And it should be said that I don’t typically read manga, as is the case here, so my analysis is based strictly on what we’ve seen so far in the anime.

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Hinamatsuri places its central focus on the character of Nitta, a Yakuza who lives alone in his penthouse apartment where he spends his time collecting rare, expensive vases. One night, for no reason at all, a metal capsule appears in his apartment containing a young girl, Hina, who is revealed to be an incredibly gifted psychic. After she threatens to break all of his prized vases, Nitta reluctantly allows Hina to stay with him in his home. He soon finds out that she may be of surprising use to him. It’s the relationship between these two characters that the show has been spending the bulk of its time on, and we’ve been able to see the beginning of a familial relationship take shape. Nitta has become a father figure to Hina, though he chooses to ditch her in the second episode to try his best to get lucky. Hina, though spoiled at first, begins to try her best to be a good daughter to Nitta in the third episode, though we’ll have to wait to see if she actually succeds.

This father/daughter relationship is fun to watch as it grows and develops, but there is another character that I have yet to talk about who acts as Hina’s foil in the show; this being the character of Anzu. Anzu, like Hina, is a psychic who appears in the city in a silver canister, though she seems more cocky and sure of herself than the stoic Hina. When we first meet Anzu, she is trying desperately to hunt Hina down and bring her back to wherever they came from, which culminates in a brilliant psychic showdown that had me rolling. It’s in the third episode, however, that we really get a feel for Anzu’s character.

After failing to retrieve Hina and finding herself unable to return home, Anzu resorts to theft to take care of herself. After she pisses off one too many store owners, she’s taken in by a community of homeless men. At first, the men are apprehensive and look down on Anzu, but after she sings (kinda) a song for them, they realize that she’s just like some kids they know in their own lives. The relationship between Anzu and these homeless men is downright precious, and really solidified this show as one of my favorites of the season. But the reason I’m writing this right now is to discuss the differences between Hina’s home life and Anzu’s new life, as they couldn’t be much more different.

Nitta spoils Hina in every way imaginable. She gets whatever she wants to eat, goes wherever she wants to go, and can essentially do whatever she wants to do, so long as she doesn’t blow up Nitta’s apartment or break his vases. And until the end of episode 3, she acts very much like the spoiled brat you would expect the daughter of a wealthy Yakuza to be. Anzu, on the other hand, and in spite of the fact that she was cocky and self-centered upon introduction, is adopted into essentially nothing when compared to Hina. She has to work all day picking up cans just to make enough to eat, and she spends all of her first-day earnings on booze for the guys in the camp. However, she quickly builds a strong relationship with her adopted homeless family and learns that she can earn what she needs to survive through hard work.

Neither of these characters are living their lives “wrong”, per-say, but it becomes clear how a difference in one’s surroundings and those who raise them can have a profound impact on said individual’s life. I haven’t even mentioned the hilarity that is Hitomi’s character arc so far, but you’ll have to watch the show to enjoy that to its fullest extent.

This was just a short rant about some of the reasons why I’m so in love with this show. It wasn’t necessarily as in-depth as my previous blogs, but eh, who cares? Hinamatsuri is a fantastic anime, and one that you definitely shouldn’t miss.

-Daniam

Megalo Box: The Art of Nostalgia

Over the past few years, Western culture, particularly in the entertainment industry, has experienced a surge of nostalgia unlike any before. Television, books, movies, and even clothing have all made a change leaning towards the styles of the 80’s and 90’s, all to a mostly positive response from the public. Stranger Things, the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s “It”, and most recently in the film industry, the movie Ready Player One, which was roughly 90% nostalgia and 10% film, were all massive successes, breaking records and changing the face of pop culture as we know it. Even music has been returning to some of its roots to incredible success, most notably bands like Greta Van Fleet, who adopted a sound so close to that of rock titans Led Zeppelin that it blurs the line between tribute and plagiarism, but still they manage to sell out every show they play in seconds.

So, with all this happening in the West, it only makes sense that the anime community might undergo the same kind of movement. And it’s a show like this season’s Megalo Box that proves that point.

I just finished watching episode 3 of Megalo Box, and I will admit that these opening episodes have been the strongest I’ve seen in a while. The animation is rough, but beautiful. The music has an undeniable charm that sticks in your mind long after each episode has ended, and the setup is perfect. I mean, the whole damn thing is essentially a retro-punk sci-fi boxing tournament arc. How can that not be cool? But it is very obvious that this show is doing its best to replicate the style of 90’s classics that people of my generation have been longing for for years. Shows like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, which, might I add, were both huge in Western anime culture during the 90’s, have their trademark styles stamped all over this show, and, though I love this show, at times it seems to be trying just a bit too hard to capture that classic charm. The classic “See You, Space Cowboy” title card at the end of almost every Cowboy Bebop episode is now replaced with a graffiti-scribbled “Not Dead Yet . . .”. The desert slum Junk Dog calls home is a spot-on recreation of the landscapes of Trigun. As original as the anime seems compared to the other big players of the season, it sometimes borrows more than it can give back. But in spite of all of this, it’s still one of my favorites of the season, ranking up there with Hinamatsuri and Steins;Gate 0. And I think that might be because I’m one of the people who longs for that classic style to make a comeback.

For those of you who don’t know, Megalo Box is a retelling of the all-time classic boxing manga Ashita no Joe, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Though it’s obviously taking some liberties with the style, Megalo Box is very much a classic-style sports anime. It’s rough, and doesn’t beat around the bush by throwing pretty boys and teen melodrama at you. It’s as straightforward as a sports anime can be, which is something that we haven’t seen in a while. The 90’s-style animation fits this kind of story to a capital T, and I think that’s part of the reason why it’s been working so well so far. But I asked myself during the third episode, would this show be as good as it is without the nostalgic aspect?

When people first started talking about Megalo Box, a couple words were being thrown around more than any others; those being “animation” and “art-style”. In all honesty, that was what got me interested in this show in the first place. The teaser poster was so intriguing, that many people found themselves adding the show to their plan-to-watch list without even knowing what it was about, or that it was another adaptation of Ashita no Joe. Had the teaser poster been more generic, or the animation and art-style of the show itself been more modern with sanded-edges and a pretty, digital feel, would people care as much as they do? Even with all the nostalgic elements thrown in, Megalo Box is far from being one of the top contenders of the season. Is it rising in popularity? Sure, but I think it’s safe to say it will never reach the level of success of shows like My Hero Academia, GGO, or Tokyo Ghoul. If it had been a modern-looking show, people would never have talked about that teaser poster or the first few episodes as much as they have been. Sure, the story is still classic, but how many sports anime have come and gone recently that tell the same underdog story without ever reaching the success of shows like Haikyuu or Kuroko no Basket? It’s hard to say for sure that Megalo Box wouldn’t have the same level of success it does if it wasn’t for nostalgia, because after all, the fresh aspects of its plot and the incredible pacing alone would keep many people interested, but would they have given it a shot in the first place?

I enjoy Megalo Box very much, and yes, it’s because of the style of the show that I got interested in the first place. I’m staying because the show is legitimately great, with fast-paced storytelling, likable characters, a soundtrack to die for, and one of the best first episodes I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s very clear that this show is cashing in on the nostalgia wave that has hit Western culture recently. If this show manages to finish as one of the top contenders this season (which very well might happen, considering the almost ridiculous level of success Yuru Camp managed to achieve last season), would other studios try to recapture that success and bring back a more classic style? And if they did, would that be a good thing? I know I’ve been praising 90’s anime and saying how I want that style to make a comeback, but that may not be what’s best for the industry today. I think it really is just the nostalgia of the way things were that’s driving so many anime fans to want that. In ten or twenty years, when animation techniques are different and styles change, today’s new anime fans may long for shows to be made like they were in their childhood. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a show like Megalo Box actually work, but I think it would be best for the industry and the community if “diamonds-in-the-rough” like Megalo Box remain just that.

But you can bet your buns I’ll be glued to my screen every Thursday for the next couple months.

-Daniam