Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Million Live Crash Course

In the year 2015, it is the war of idols. Actually, it’s the war of mobile games. The battles wage across battlefields all over the world, and I’m just here to write about one of them.

There are two schools in mobile games. The newer term for the first class, social games, is really just a cover term for mobage because it’s kind of trademarked in Japan. Well, that aside, the idea behind these games is content delivery. The other type of game is the mobiles games that has some kind of gameplay baked in, but also deliver content around it. Think of it like a sliding scale of pachinko machines or what you might find in a casino. On one end it’s just a RNG, on the other end you have minigame puzzles and what not, like solitaire or blackjack or IIDX (you get the idea), that the numbers change based on what “cards” you have or whatever.

By content, I mean things like the idols that I love. Or rather, the narrative material in which depicts these lovely characters. It’s stuff I will ignore for now because you can find out about it via the well-stocked Project IM@S wiki and the greyer namassuka site.

What this post will cover is the long play, mid-term play, and short-term play goals of the IDOLM@STER Million Live that I stick by. It may not be the best way, and I don’t do anything that blatantly violates the TOS (no botting or multi-accounts or RMT etc), so I welcome anyone with a better approach to let me know. I won’t go over account creation either because I assume you are savvy enough to do that in order to play this game. The only caveat I will make here is that trading is disabled if you don’t confirm with a Japanese phone number, which makes certain things more difficult. I’ll call them out as necessary.

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IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls: How Many Is Too Many?

TL;DR – it’s not about quantity, but quality, once overhead has been accounted for.

Momoka Sakurai

Evirus says here:

There are entirely too many Cinderella Girls. It wasn’t a problem during the first cour when it appeared the show was content with keeping the story on the 14 main idols; that worked for its two-cour predecessor. However, the current season of THE iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls seems intent on cramming more and more of the game’s enormous battery of idols into the anime, presumably attempting to placate ardent fans of niche characters with cameos. Unfortunately, this practice dilutes the show as a whole, making this half of the Cinderella Girls anime somewhat underwhelming.

and concludes with

I’m sure there are disappointed Harada Miyo fans who just want five freaking minutes watching her gap spark plugs, and Yorita Yoshino apostles who want a subplot about her talking to strangers, but neither of these scenarios is likely to do much for the Cinderella Girls anime as a whole. How about spending more time with the ostensible lead trio in New Generations? How about that?

It’s a fair ask, but it’s the wrong ask. Here are some arguments against what Evirus is asking.

First of all, the first season is more or less in line with the same formula as season two, because it cannot possibly focus on all 14 main idols. So what happened was each idol was assigned a grouping and put into the canonical network of interpersonal relationships, and when it’s their turn in the spotlight, we get an group episode. I mean, compare the Miria episode in season 1 versus the Miria episode in season 2. What Miria episode in season 1? The one she just tags along Rika and gets lost? LOL.

I’m just going to interpret what Evirus is whining about as the usual ask in the context of focusing on the development of the main characters. It’s why I say it’s a fair ask. But that’s not the IM@S way.

Which is to say, second, New Generations is kind of meh. Meh in terms of what? There are reasons why there are Yorita fans. Or Momoka fans (in the case of episode 17–look at how those 2-bit minor characters present for fanservice diluted a great episode! Wait). If you took a look at the regularly scheduled elections in the game, you’ll notice one thing: The New Gen girls are just so-so popular until the anime. They may be spotlit as “lead” characters but they cannot carry the show by themselves. That is both true cynically/critically, and true to the theme of IDOLM@STER.

[I am just glad Mio has fans now ;_;]

Also, they’ve been dropping hints on TriPri so I’m sure we’re just going to get a giant ball of mess coming our way when that setup pops. Honestly when Cinderella Project was first announced there was some minor murmur of discontent, because some weren’t sure if Uzuki and Mio can really pull it off.

Last, to answer the question I posed in the title of this post: one idol is too many if it is the wrong one. Unfortunately the anime has only enough time and resources to showcase so many characters while giving them a fair shake, and the Animas formula that Deremas anime is following dictated the kind of complex character development which involve a lot of intercharacter exploration, further limiting how many characters the show can write for. There are going to be times when idols most don’t care about go on stage. (I get the feeling Evirus is knee jerk about his comments based solely on the variety show episode, given the 4 season 2 episodes, thus far, are all very similar in the showcasing-extra-idols aspect, at least by the clock.) But so far every time this happens in Deremas anime it was done in a context that goes with the story of that week. It’s the most we can really ask it to do. The concept behind Cinderella Girls is to have at least one idol you care about than trying to sell a handful of idols that you don’t, and unfortunately it also means having to deal with many idols you don’t care about to get to the ones you do.

If they can make such crafty episodes like #17 every week, I don’t think I would care which idol it is about, because quality is what’s important. And much like that episode demonstrates, one can showcase minor characters just fine while delivering a great experience. Quantity is just an obstacle that needs management.

In that sense, the compromise I offer is that the writing has to account for this aspect. I imagine if you weren’t moved by the Big Sisters moment, the whole episode was a little on the dry side. Maybe we can’t please everybody but the same can be said of all the prior episodes. It comes down to just how well the execution is, I guess.

PS. Here’s a man who has not the right idol in the show.


Early Decisions: Summer 2015 Season

If SAO is our standard bearer of Mary-Sues in recent memory, what makes of GATE and Overlord? This is a rhetorical question I suppose. But I find myself honing in on the political undertones first.

Million Lives

Even before that though, there needs a hook, sometimes. What is the hook in Gangsta? Crime and violence? Sex and violence? Grit? Ha. Hahaha. Maybe the whole dogtag thing? Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in but it almost felt like the show is an insult of actual criminals and gangsters? Which may be okay. Perhaps even more okay, if it turns out that way, is if Gangsta becomes an insult of the genre. I don’t know and wouldn’t know, though, because I missed the hook; a reason to watch the next episode. Other than Mamiko’s character not dying in the first episode? Didn’t these people watch Cowboy Bebop? I guess if you were one of those people who watched Bebop as a result of its critical acclaim, maybe I’ll join you on Gangsta.

On that note, if Haramii is the standard bearer of “boob voice” then that could explain why is she in another MMORPG anime? I mean don’t get me wrong I love her role in Overlord. It’s a lovely hook. That show is also my favorite of the season for some reason. It’s like Log Horizon for me. If Log Horizon for you was shipping and the adoring of a little assassin character, maybe Overlord is not for you. Still, the two have some strong similarities in the narrative approach and setting. I realize people don’t prioritize these things the way I do but I feel Overlord is an improvement on the setting building aspect of Log Horizon in some ways.

Speaking of hook, I thought School Alive had a wonderful pilot. It’s the perfect embodiment of that famous(?) fan fiction about Bottle Fairies and split personalities. It doesn’t go that distance however, and I’m pretty meh on zombies. And maybe even more so on crazy (in a clinical sense) anime characters. It does seem quite entertaining so I’m not hung up on the fact that I haven’t gotten around to it. Another season with no time to watch everything I want to watch, is just a fact we have to deal with.

I’m not even hung up on the fact that I didn’t get around Prison School. I thought I would by now but I guess I thought my time would be better used to make maids in eroge or something. Probably not too different than being up to date to the Wife Is the Student Council President except more time consuming.

I feel good about the Hackadoll anime next season–believe it or not it’s my most hyped upcoming show that I can remember off the top of my head. The other shows on the same anime blocks this season are all pretty okay, and they are all served well by the 8-minute format. Even Wooser… I guess. That one seemed a little borderline because some of the recent episodes felt it went on for just too long. In a weird way I’m also looking forward to the cameo they could mix. I mean it’s clear that Miss Monochrome and Wooser are shows that are open to straight cameos. Hackadoll is even more so when the “IP” itself is about discovery of other IP, to the degree that it outright endorses and what not. Kind of like if Gamers or Animate made their own serious shows, what would be in them? I mean the Hackadoll namas… If you are into the WUG seiyuus (and Ueda Reina) they’re a must watch, and you’ll get what I mean by cameos (maybe).

Supposedly that Hayamin anime with Red Riding Hood naming is good. That’s like people saying Oremonogatari is good. It would be nice if someone can go into details and elaborate on how they could be relevant.

I am also watching Rokka. It’s not that good, in fact every episode felt off-putting. It does serve well with a choppy pace of things, so in this instance I enjoy the plot more so than anything. It takes its time during these “unusual” moments, almost awkwardly, so that could be why every week it feels off-putting. It’s like you  know a cliffhanger is coming but the show misses its timing in telling you what you already know. Maybe I’ll drop at some point, but I’d like to give all the new characters a chance to make an impression. So far only the main dude guy is of any interest… Pikasha playing the lead female is well-deserved but the precarious princess probably won’t get her day in the spotlight until much later.

The opposite problem happens in Million Doll. The concept and story are both right up my ally and the level of meta-ness is perfect, but the anime is lacking to say the least. I kind of hoped the animation is at least good enough so I remember everyone’s names by like 5 episodes, but given the very short length I can cut it some slack. Crunchyroll recently streamed episode 5.5, which means we now get to see Yuiton’s full length legs with English subtitles. That I can accept, since she is just there the whole time, but of the entire length of the fan meeting, why those segments? Specifically, why the segment that points out she’s from Osaka? LOL. I guess it works.

That nicely segue into Sore ga Seiyuu, which is obviously a must watch for me. It’s sad people compare it to Shirobako when the two are actually nothing alike. Of course, they are also entirely alike in their glamorized/deglamorizing view of the industry, but why would anyone watch something like that? Joke aside, it’s nice to finally see some drama this week. It’s funny to see how Kugyuu and Hocchan are in their cartoon flesh. It’s especially amusing if you think about the various versions of herself that Horie had to play in the recent years. That said unless you are a seiyuu otaku of some measure this is not exactly going to be enjoyable. In a lot of ways, Sore ga Seiyuu gives you the inside look at a voice actress’s internal thoughts rather than the internal working of an animation project. It’s much more personal and also a lot less compelling/hit or miss, unless you have already a hook there.

[Here’s an aside. Take Yoshimura Haruka as an example. She’s still a “newbie seiyuu” in the technical sense, soon to graduate out of that bracket. It seems that she shares some of these exact anxieties our protagonists share, if you read this interview. Even the way she name dropped Pe and Nu, or her coleads from Shirobako… Also, thank goodness for IDOLM@STER, right?]

What is always enjoyable is great seiyuu performances. I feel like that every time I watch Monster Musume because there is nothing else redeeming about the show. The voice acting is carrying it. Well, maybe one other thing: the political undertone. I mentioned in a chat once but if we think about MonMusu as a harem with fantastical creatures combined with harem characters, we realize isn’t the only IP on the market with that concept. Even Bakemonogatari and the like, really, is merging the plight of a young girl with the notion of some eastern phantom. And it’s not alone. Normal, quiet guy’s life gets upended by rowdy and over-excited young women trying to bone him? Except this time, they’re not Cat Planet Cuties. The monster fetishes aside, isn’t this what we can call, for the lack of a better term, a “gaijin harem”? The immigration issues too certainly highlight this. How does a normal, if model, Japanese specimen deal with these foreign intruders? They clearly mean well but they’re a handful, as they gaijin smash into your heart. What to do?

Joke aside, Monmusu doesn’t deserve 2 paragraphs, let alone faint praise in the form of thematic exploration of its parallel with western notion of liberty and romance (and other aspects of everyday life…Cat Planet Cuties does, though). Maybe Charlotte does, but I can’t watch that show objectively devoid of my Mocho biases and tendencies. It’s a great show and her character is decidedly similar to her business persona. The story and characters are who you expect them to be, knowing Charlotte’s Maeda Jun roots. I hope for the best, and PA Works so far is doing a good job. And knowing that, we are way too early in the game to pass any real judgment on it, even if the story has been placing hints along as expected.

The other original title I like this season is Classroom Crisis. It can be really good, it can be mediocre, but it probably won’t be bad. It’s a little boring but I’m ossan enough to enjoy that kind of boredom. Cobalt is a great song and probably my favorite this season. There’s also some social commentary as undertone here that’s pretty enjoyable, if kind of wrong-headed.

Shimoseka is clearly socially interesting, but it’s also interesting from the seiyuu perspective. And beyond that, the story is a little interesting. I don’t think it’s tapping into the full potential of the premise and I’m not sure I like how it exists in the school context because that puts the weird things it can pull in line with other stories in the same setting, but I’m willing to let it prove me wrong. At the very least it can be fun on the basis that the anime is about a bunch of perverted jokes.

I tried the first episode of several shows above and dropped them, but also Aoharu x Machinegun, Actually I, and Ushio & Tora (which had a really good episode 1 that’s just like the one I saw 15+ yr ago). I don’t think I would mind watching more but there wasn’t anything compelling. Actually the first one up there was particularly tough, since it’s not my kind of thing? I probably would be watching Symphogear except I cannot be arsed to undrop shows from years ago. Praise it more guys, maybe I will change my mind (lol).

On the notes for sequels, I am enjoying Non Non Biyori a lot, and this take is brilliant. Less brilliant is Working season 3. It puts me to sleep. In fact it inspired me to track often each show this season has done so:

[Title]: [Ep count that I fell asleep on]/[Ep count watched]

Working!!!: 4/5
Monmusu: 2/6
Classroom Crisis: 0/6
Gate: 0/6
Non Non: 0/6
Rokka: 1/5
Gatchaman S2: 1/3
Charlotte: 0/6
Shimoseka: 1/3
Sore ga Seiyuu: 0/6
Overlord: 0/6
IMAS CG: LOL/Every episode twice

I think I fell asleep on an ep of Wakaba Girl. Anyways, I ignored the short stuff because of the obvious reasons. Back to Working. I think it’s the A/B format each episode uses, it would mean the slow part of the ep puts me away and I would wake up on the good part or vice versa. Not much I can do besides trying to watch it not when food coma is coming or at a time when I am not tired. I guess a positive way to spin this is that Working is disarmingly funny, and relaxes me. The negative way to spin this is that it’s just a boring same-recipe-every-time gag that has expired last season.

I’m also of two minds on Gatchaman Crowds Insight (two different minds), so I’ll keep that to myself for now and make a call later once I am more caught up. It’s on the to-watch list for sure.

Still up to date on Food Wars and Baseball A.

Yeah I’m watching IM@S CG. Lately it’s been good. Not sure that is because the episodes are good or I’m still under the influence of 10th. Most likely both.

Last but not least, Teekyuu backlog ever increasing. And I don’t mind the least.


Otakon 2015: Wrap

I flew back to the States on Wednesday 2 weeks ago. Technically I landed in SFO on that Tuesday evening out of a red eye from HND, but my connecting flight out of SFO is yet another red eye to EWR. It was pretty rough, considering I started that calendar day in Osaka.

A day later I was in a Baltimore bar eating wings. I’m not sure if that was the smartest of ideas. I still don’t know, now that I’ve gotten the con done and away with, back to the daily grind. (I think the Shake Shack on Sunday before my drive back home was a worse idea. But now I know they leave cans of Old Bay on the tables there, presumably for your fries.)

Again...

Otakon 2015 is perhaps most notable for being less crowded than the past couple years. I forget if they released the numbers but everything felt spaced out. This is most notable the few times I had to cross the 300-level bridge in the BCC and the walkway to the Hilton. The dealer’s room felt less crowded too, according to some of my friends. I didn’t see a big difference personally.

It also feels like this year’s Otakon, as a result, ran pretty smoothly in general. I only lined up for one autograph, although I probably could have gotten more. I wanted to take it easy, you see, so I tried. It was a little funny to see the same faces I saw in Japan just the week before, but such is how things go.

If there was a major fail, it was me missing out on face time for Toyonaga. I stuck firmly on the Park Romi track, sans the Garo panel on Friday. I think even her Saturday autograph session was not too difficult if you woke up early enough for the line up going in. In person, she’s quite playful, perhaps an even more uninhibited Yuzunee. When they said at AX about this Kill la Kill cast…is like this, it’s true. It’s something to say about theater types I guess.

Other than that, the only panel of note that I attended was the Aldnoah Zero panel where Joanna punched through a deck of production materials while Aoki-kantoku and producer Nagano talked shop. They’re pretty serious about this so the panel was on the dry side. Loot-wise though they gave out some scripts, which was pretty sweet.

I attended the Love Live 3rd live screening thing. The abridged video didn’t have Snow Halation. I gave out some UOs in advance because people were asking for it (and I just have some on me). I guess they got trolled. Watching Love Live in the flesh is pretty fun, and there’s something to be said about the dance choreo when it matches the songs that has anime or CG PVs. I’m not sure what else there is to it though. It’s as if the concept relies less on individual charm but more on the “idoling” concept? Not quite, because the individuals do get their usual spots and memory bomb moments. I don’t have the right words here to describe it, but it’s a little different than what I’m used to.

The dealer’s room was okay. Nothing to write home about, besides that I ended up buying some LTHs to fill out my collection. I guess this is the second set of IM@S CDs I have collected. Another way to spend money I suppose, with Live Theater Dreaming on the horizon.

I again spent more on food than on merch this Otakon. Go figure.

The rest of the con time I spent doing lines and concerts at the end of the lines. To just get it out there, Oreskaband is legit and very good. They had a show this past Thursday downtown and I was too tired to hit that up, but you should’ve if you aren’t allergic to ska, and have a thing for Japanese girl bands. I feel that’s the same schtik with Draft King, just sub ska with rock, but their show could have done more to inspire confidence, let’s just say.

The former-Stereopony-turned-new-leaf band did a bunch of covers at their show. I think they have promise but it didn’t feel like the band is all together yet. With that said, they were still entertaining. I also managed to not go to their panel (or Oreskaband’s). Was Nohana always this rocking? She was rocking.

Back-On performed on Thursday at the Otakon matsuri and that’s a more familiar kind of thing for me. They’re an oddly fitting group for Otakon’s music set this year. I can rep them. The turnout was pretty okay for their show, probably a few hundred people, but that’s the Matsuri in a nutshell.

Well, it’s really the usual this year. I went to hang out and eat meat. And maybe shake the jetlag while at it. I don’t think it all quite worked out, but I’ll live and learn.

PS. Food wise, Fogo served us the $30 special. We went to Kona Grill and while the food was pretty good the service was super slow. We were seated at around 10:15 and some of us didn’t get our food until almost midnight. Pre-game on Thursday was more or less the same. I had to slowly amp up my eating over the weekend due to an illness that started while I was in Japan, but by the end of it I think I still made things work out with no issues. We did hit up the new Chipotle that replaced the Cali Tort location and it works out as you’d expect. The lines were a little on the slow side but it’s a good break from JJ if you wanted something on par with streetside food but with more QC. And of course, the aforementioned Shake Shack.

PPS. Doing a con after an exhausting 10th trip was not the best idea. I was zombie all week after and slept all day on the weekends to recover. I think it was more 10th than Otakon, though. It was a really, really exhausting trip, partly because of my usual packed agenda (besides eventing I went all over), but also you should never underestimate Seibu Dome in mid July. Seesh.


Million DD, Of Seiyu And the White Box

MD

So all that idol nonsense swimming in my head the past couple years come to ahead in Million Doll, the anime of a manga about underground idols. It reminds me of a few things. When I was a fresh undergrad one thing my English Lit professor stated/taught is that by the time we study it in academia, it’s dead. It was in reference to Stephenson’s landmark cyberpunk novel, and by the 90s I think that’s a safe statement to make.

Does that apply to commercial exploitation too? By the time an anime with “chuunibyou” in its title became a thing, is chuunibyou dead by 2012 (pretty much)? Doujinshi and the comic market dead by the mid 90s (resoundingly yes)? The idol otaku dead in 2015? Maybe. A dude in the USA was able to already internalize all those concepts back in 2013-2014? I guess making anime does take some time (even at 8 minutes a piece).

What I found interesting about Million Doll was how expository it is. The tension it sets up at episode 1 is not unlike what we see in the oversea fandom. You have on one hand scenesters (like me, kinda) that attend events and socialize with other fans, and meet and greet guests. This often costs lots of money, money that could be better spent on, say, actually supporting the industry by buying Blu-rays or importing or what not, rather than putting that money into hotel rooms, eating out or plane tickets. I mean I will probably spend more money on flights this year than my annual figure budget during its highest peaks as a collector, something to think about.

The tension over money is less in Japan, simply because the cost to attend events in terms of time, money and effort is way less. In Japan, you have eventers (Million Doll call it DD, which is not exactly how the term is used today…if you want a clue on how “dead” this subject is today) and you have the guys who do their cheering at home and online. That’s a valuable group of fans as well.

[Tangent 1: IM@S is all about wrapping up both into one. Its 10th anniversary live (NEXT FREAKING WEEK AAAAAH) is its largest effort yet.

Tangent 2: Must resist talking armchair idol industry aaaah.]

The exposition reminds me of the first attempts at exploiting these subject matters as theme and setting. The Comic Parties or Animation Runner Kurumis. It’s not Shirobako, which does a lot of explaining, but it has to. It also doesn’t explain a lot; I don’t think it needed to explain why Aoi-chan was pulling Initial D moves. What doesn’t explain a lot this season? Actually compared to Sore ga Seiyuu, Million Doll is a-okay. It strives for a fair mix given its 8-minute span.

Sore ga Seiyuu’s mechanism is closer to seeing the animated GIF of a running rotary engine for a car nerd. For seiyuu otaku it’s like seeing the cartoony behind-the-scene look at how things work. It’s quite fun and fascinating if you’re already interested in the subject, and more so if you already know most of the references, technical or social or historic or whatever. It’s not like the usual “same concept in new skin” where you can put a Koshien plot in a tank battle, or maybe something more primitive and personal like the office of a production company (that happens to make anime).

It’s kind of like Plastic Memories was not an Asmov story purely, but just using the skin. Maybe Sore ga Seiyuu is the Martian for tech nerds, but even more specific in terms of subject matter. You get the point.

Anyway, I enjoy all these “explanation” type anime because at some level, learning about things I am already interested in is fun to me. The dose is twice as deadly when the show presents things you can learn along with things you already know, posited like pop cultural references. Yes, that middle-schooler is as good at voice acting than all the Love Live girls. Because that’s life.

And I think Sore ga Seiyuu has to keep it straight, because if you believe Shirobako, being a newbie seiyuu is the most depressing thing (relatively). Meeting the famous Nozawa Masako (nickname: Makosan (and even I am too green to apply this term)) would make anybody’s day.

Just to kind of wrap up this rambling, I feel the first impression session for these shows is just going to hurt to read as a bunch of contextless guys trying to make sense of the dynamic demonstrated in both of these shows. The way Ryuusan’s eyes looked…I KNOW HOW IT FEELS aaaah.

PS. Million Doll goes by MD in initials. And MD is … well? I guess someone who’s read the manga ahead can tell us if they pull this joke or not.

PPS. Kecek. Kecha. Yes I know. But nobody calls it that. Maybe that’s because early day wotas don’t sweat inside jokes. Or at least we get as far as OAD and call it a day?

Episode 1

How does that even work?

PPPH. We may have DD. There isn’t a Kuso DD yet. And as a related tangent, there’s also my grand theory about western eventers having to be DD by necessity.

PPPPS. It is important to realize that idol otaku (wotas) are not the same as those of us who dig 2.5D or 2D idols, by definition. In reality they are actually quite different in Japan. People who like seiyuu are by necessity into anime and games and the like, and obviously people into anime characters are the same. Idol otaku has, strictly speaking, nothing to do with any of that. In the anime context all of these things kind of dissolves together if you don’t have that perspective. This is only important in understanding the history of what came first, and what culture imported what aspect from what other culture. For example, Japanese idols have changed drastically the last 20 years, and so have anime, and the two have some pretty curious interplay both in terms of the industry and concepts, as well as how fans react to all that.