Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

It’s Not Comedy

I’m not a huge fan of portmanteau, so consider this a factor of bias.

Dream team

I was reading the APR a few days ago and someone made a comment on how Shirobako is a dramedy. It was like a trigger, in that I thought several things in rapid succession, like, what drug is Mike on? What is dramedy anyway? Is Shirobako a what? What was it again? What does it even mean? I guess he is based in Socal so the language flows a certain way? Is this just me overreacting?

Well, in a specific context, the term dramedy means the same as, and as far as I can google, dramatic-comedy or comedy drama or any combination of those two terms. It also means more or less what it says–a hybrid of sorts specifically in the TV/radio drama sense. In a more rigorous scheme, many dramatic-comedies are probably still just dramas. The term (or the hybrid genre) grew as a factor of mass marketing and a need to distinguish different types of TV shows.

Because, truth is, everything is to a degree comedic. Most sad stories have moments of levity and humor. Most happy stories contain serious themes. It’s not something categorically you want to spin out meaningfully in earnest discussion. And again, really something specific to American mass entertainment (TV/movies) and its subsequent development thereof.

The “triggering” nature of this line of thought stayed with me a while and I ran into a couple pieces which reflects these. For starters, there’s an interview with comedian Chris Rock that might be worth reading for various other reasons, but let me pull one part here. [Bold for interviewer, some formatting removed]

I don’t think people understand how hard it is to write comedy. The gestation period, the trying out of jokes, the whittling them down — a lot of people may not understand that, in some ways, drama may be easier.

It’s not may. It is easier.

Go on.

It just is. Hey, man, I loved Gone Girl. Loved it. But you could probably get other directors — I’m not saying they’d make it as good as Fincher, but you could get it from beginning to end and get a reaction out of it, where you can’t really do that with comedy.

Every moment has to pay off.

In this sense, comedy’s really fair. It’s not like music, where you can hire Timbaland and he gives you a beat and a song, and even though you can’t sing it’s a hit. Comedy, especially stand-up comedy, it’s like: Who’s funny?

It’s a ruthless marketplace.

It’s the only thing that smacks Hollywood out of its inherent racism, sexism, anti-­Semitism. It makes people hire people that they would never hire otherwise. Do they really want to do a show with Roseanne Barr? No, they want a thin blonde girl.

But she’s funny.

She’s just funnier than everybody. I’m not even sure they wanted to do a Seinfeld show, but he’s just funnier than everybody.

He’s not a matinee idol. He’s Jewish, nerdy. And recently he said publicly he was somewhere on the autism spectrum as a comedian.

He bores easily. I bore easily. Not because I’m on some spectrum, but because I hear so many conversations again and again. So many people come up to you, and not enough people try to take into account what you’ve heard already.

Let’s put it this way. Take Anchorman. Now switch the directors of Anchorman and Gone Girl and give them their movies to do. Adam McKay’s going to get closer to Gone Girl than Fincher is going to get to Anchorman.

Absolutely.

It’s not even close.

Okay, but Woody Allen—

I don’t even think Woody does comedy. I think he does dramas with jokes. They’re all sad at their core.

It’s pretty clear, in my opinion, Shirobako (and majority of TV anime) are dramas. Sure, they have jokes and can be funny, but that don’t make a comedy by itself. It’s the Teekyuus and Azazels of the world that are comedy, when I (and others) lament that nobody blogs about comedy. Because it’s friggin hard to write about comedy. It’s friggin hard to make a good comedy, let alone doing this whole Japanese cartoon dance across the Pacific (and Atlantic in some cases).

Which comes back to Shirobako. The director of the show, Tsutomu Mizushima, is known for comedy. His auteur voice honed in Crayon Shin-chan, which is pretty much the home of modern children comedy cartoon in Japan. Long story short, Mizushima brought his comedic touch to the humorous moments of Shirobako. And Chris Rock says as much. [Some formatting removed, Bold for interviewer.]

I would love to be a 60 Minutes correspondent.

What would you want to cover?

I would cover anything. I mean, I’d be in Ferguson right now, and it would be in-depth, and it would be funny.

It’s hard to do funny in journalism.

No, it’s not. It’s all in the cut.

What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Shirobako’s dramatization aside, isn’t it just presenting to us the everyday realities of the anime production desk? Since the 90s there has been a lot of otaku-oriented stories with otaku and people we desire within; but this one is about industry folks, not you and me. It’s not to say racism in America parallels the moe cancer, but the way we tell either story follows the same principles behind telling stories. I can see why someone can think Shirobako is a comedy. It’s in the cut. And Mizushima cuts it a certain way that brings a certain levity. But it is not, say, the Office. Or Wagnaria. I feel that Shirobako can seem light because we are cutting pretty close to the bone and to home; it’s also part of the dramatization package to protect both the show and the people it talks about. Most of all, the humor helps to make a dry topic fun to watch.

I don’t fault Mike (who is a swell guy AFAIK) for dropping the most cromulent, triggering portmanteau (for me) in a random internet comment sort of thing, but that’s just misleading TV gossip language and it makes me sad. Which is to say a lot of people out there probably don’t even know good comedy if it punched them in the face, because they don’t even have the life experiences, the current events, all that current-events wherewithal that Chris Rock referenced, to really get it good. Nothing wrong with that; we all have to start somewhere. So let’s. And in my opinion the first step is to get out of that consumer-oriented mind set, that overly database-minded idea that comedy is just yet another flavor like slice of life or sports, a row in a table. It’s a wholly different animal.

But really, the language, the level of discourse on comedy, on the anime social network stuffs, is so rudimentary that if something stood out it’s not even recognizable. Do we ever get beyond timing and puns?

PS. Wikipedia on dramedy is redirected to comedy drama. If you read the talk pages, dramedy basically gets laughed out into tragicomedy, which is really more than what anyone needs to know.


Project Itoh Hype

I let loose a silent cheer when the news of noitaminA’s adaptation of his works came to the fore earlier this year. It wasn’t clear what works the late-night anime segment was going to bring us, so hearing that his biggest two (outside of MGS) works are coming is even more of a cause for cheer. Or maybe it’s the two I’m familiar with?

And seeing the various teaser trailers coming out reminds me that different people have different takes on his works. IIRC Viz’s Harmony came with a little afterwards that mentioned in passing how Itoh spent much of his final years in the hospital. Japan, after all, likes to commit their patients much more so than the west. And that passing familiarity with the feeling inside the hospital walls is a part of his repertoire in expressing whatever he was gunning for.

Invariably, I guess, I made the connection between that and other fictional works where the protagonist(s) end up dying of some fatal diseases or what not. There are a few people can relate to, I hear they’re a little popular. But in a way, what Itoh Project brought us is a much more moderated and mature take. It’s what most of us would write if we were in his shoes. The ending to Genocidal Organ especially was hilarious and appropriate fit to that mentality, even if it might not fit the rest of the book as much. Well, you can decide for yourself.

Guns, needles, whatever. Hype, though, nonetheless.

PS. It confused me for a second but noitaminA is calling these adaptations “Project Itoh” which is a word play on “Itoh Project.” The two novels are written under Itoh Project, as a matter of reference. (Insert just as keikaku TL note.jpg here.)


The Devil in the Details

Chii Sweet Home is the most difficult anime ever

As I was watching ME!ME!ME! last night, I thought about Shirobako. That’s not unusual these days, that every Thursday my mind kicks into Shirobako mode, starting out in the morning as matome blogs and Japanese twitter start to fill in with other viewers who are either anticipating it or have watched it. The day rolls on as the first wave of EN viewers tweet their reactions and responses, following up later in the day with viewers who have normal day jobs and can only watch it after work. I had somewhat of an abnormal day so I wasn’t able to catch up to Ema’s struggles until late.

Looking at ME!ME!ME!, that Animator Expo clip, it is a music video done by a budding animator that worked on a bunch of post-Gainax products–Panty Stocking, Khara’s Eva 3.0, what have you. It struck me in a way that is both poetic and sufficiently cred-hawking that separated the work from what typically passes as sexually aggressive and violent cartoons from Japan. The story might just be about the corruption of moe in how what we hold on as dear memories with our earlier 2Ds have transformed us (as in, a certain otaku subset) into dead people, being force fed of all this sexually gratuitous media over the years. It’s not something you can easily describe and come out as not condemning. It’s kind of like walking around Akiba and being handed tissue papers with scantily clad cartoon girls on the wrapper. It’s kind of like seeing Yaraon showing eroge PR posts in your news feed. It’s like, well, /a/ and 2ch, with a side of Sad Panda.

Poetic, because I found ME!ME!ME! to be a nice illustration of spiritual death. Regardless of its value at cultural criticism, at any rate, the barrage of tittays to the Japanese subcultural consciousness in this section of modern visual media induces some reaction for people who are sensitive to that type of content. And the only reasonable ways to combat it are either to ignore it, or grow indifferent.

That’s just one read. There are many ways to interpret ME!ME!ME!, and I think that’s what makes this particular entry in Animator Expo particularly artful.

But what about Shirobako? I think it comes down to the concept of monozukuri. In the same way, crafters make their art speak through its own being, in that sense that an anime is a sufficently malleable medium that one or one hundred people can come together and create, that there is a body of voices in the work as well an individual voice, in which each design or cut or scene or line of dialog or piece of music come together to express. It might be a pulse-thumping video where a bunch of tits are shooting anti-air weapons at you, or a struggling young adult trying to make it in her dream career. The details say a lot. Like how NunuIguchi took RuruEma’s donut. It’s got so much stuff imbued in that momentary exchange in which leaves us (or at least me) falling behind trying to unpack it. Or rather, in the usual case, food for thought after the weekly dose is over. Will we get a follow up? I hope so.

How hard was it to write and direct, and to animate something like this? I don’t even want to know. Yet it is right here, laid bare in front of us. The spirit of SHIROBAKO is screaming like the all-cap letters in English script it is written in (officially).


Autumnal Miscellany, Unconfirmed Hearsay for Lantis Fest Vegas

You would think for the month that I stop going to cons I would blog more. Nope. Forcing myself through the trials of conventioneering pushes thoughts through the grey matter in the forms of traveling stimuli, from the basics like flying through the sky or walking in a sea of cosplayer, to meeting new people with new ideas, it all adds up to the basic substance that drives my fan-like behavior. This relaxing Autumn air, on the other hand, keeps me contemplative and chill.

If it was a normal Autumn, being contemplative is all good for blogging too, as I consider just the simple stuff we watch: the life-likeness of Shirobako, the tricks up the sleeves of Sora no Method, why I don’t enjoy Parasyte, is Gundam Build Fighters Try still as magical, why is FUNi’s streaming business still a pain to my interests, what not. All stuff I can talk about. Except I have no energy or time to. I don’t even know if I can revisit my M@STERS of IDOL WORLD write-up now that I am giving the Blu-rays their third time around.

I still want to write that Eventer Manifesto thing about 2.5D emergence. Maybe I can do it as an Otakon Vegas panel.

Sphere

Over the weekend I heard from Nekocon about Puchim@s getting a North American release with DVD+subs only. That’s cool. It’s puchimas so you aren’t really getting THAT much more with a Blu-ray. I ought to be importing it anyway. Since FUNi has posted about this, we have confirmation. What tickles the mind is their eventual treatment and localization of Ping Pong. How do you localize that? It feels like opening the Ark or scratching your fingernails on a blackboard, trying to change Japanese into English, you hear that, Mister Fukunaga? Isn’t it some allegory to American, white-washing cultural imperialism? Or a sad reflection to the American consumer culture? This is not some General Tso’s chicken at work here.

Similarly, I heard that Lantis Matsuri Las Vegas will finally start something maybe this week. There will be a VIP tier. The shows may be 3 hours or so long each day, featuring 7 different artists. I wasn’t at the con so all of this is hearsay. Otakon Music Fest was 3 different artists and ran for about 3 hours as well, so I really wonder about this. More on that note: there will be collaborative events between Otakon Vegas and Lantis Matsuri, that much we have indirect confirmation via the Otakon forums. What we now know (by hearsay) is that some artists will stick around on Sunday and have some event at the con. There won’t be autograph sessions as far as I hear, but panels probably. I was actually quoted a flight time: if it’s after 5:30pm on Sunday, you are OK. Vegas airport is quite close to the main strip, so that is believable.

I can also foresee the incoming gnashing of teeth regarding Lantis Fest promo. I mean, seriously, they have to do a better job. For example it’s roughly 2 months away until the festival, and we only have unofficial confirmation of 3 of the 7 guests. One is the same Nekocon guest, Sayaka Sasaki, who leaked her own attendance at Vegas (unofficial official announcement?). The other two are (un)confirmed via the ANN Lantis Fest Kanto interviews. Common sense would also indicate Jam Project’s presence. But if they don’t tell us who the heavy hitters are by the time VIP tickets go on sale, there will be people straddling that line, because Lantis carries some big time guests where a number of people would drop everything for. Com’on u’s! Com’on StylipS! Com’on IM@S ML! A Sphere Is Fine Too! Among others.

I’m going to chalk up the delay on Lantis Fest Tohoku that’s coming up this weekend. I suspect after that wraps up, we’ll get some info pronto.


Autumn 2014 Coverage

I haven’t watched everything I wanted to yet (this almost goes without saying these days), but here goes.

Shirobako – This show is by far my most favorite thing this season. Chalk it up to my aniota senses, but if there was an anime made for the anime otaku, this is it. It’s not to say non-anime otaku will not enjoy it, or that all anime otaku would, but I get the feeling for people who don’t just enjoy watching anime, but also the craft of it, it’s a special treat. It’s the memo our TV anime industry guys writing for the rest of us.

Rage of Bahamut – Mappa really pulled out the stops for this one. I really don’t like the main dudes so far but the show is really good overall. I did try out the mobile game some years ago (around the time when Kamiyama did those commercials). So far this is nothing like the game.

Vanadis – It’s another pulp swords & fantasy story, and it’s got both what I like and dislike about this category of anime from Japan. I’ll stick with it a bit but well-endowed valks only go so far in 2014. Chaika might be filling my quota for this.

Celestial Method – Solid show featuring the usual little girls and their CVs. The big hook for me is that Nansu takes the lead–perhaps the most capable of the Torahamo group. And I think as long as the story goes that way it will be a watershed moment for her in my book. Given the nature of the story it’s not for everyone, but it works for me so far.

Akatsuki no Yona – Solid show I would watch. Dropped after 1 ep because it’s not for me and I won’t have the time.

Amagi Brilliant Park – Kyoani male fanservice vehicle. If you think of the theme park in Amaburi like this anime, the entrance fee is validated when you see the four fairies do their schtik. Or whatever Bunta-kun’s actual name is. Or both. That said no simulcast means perpetual omo delay on watching this. It’s no Hyouka so I’m not holding my breath on the other stuff. Ayako doctrine x2 this season is a good thing.

Cross Ange – If the cavity search is to get people to talk about Cross Ange, it worked perfectly. I keep saying, though, that an anime which premise is sexy ladies riding transformable flying-bike mecha in skimpy outfits fighting dragons that shoot lasers and MIRV fireballs can not go wrong. Cross Ange dares me on this point, but I think it knows where it stands on things.

Twintails – Fun show. May help combat my lack of sentai intake; actually at this point there are no other draws for this besides that sentai angle and the usual seiyuu factor. Hearing Marei say lewd things is actually not that lewd? She’s really good at it.

G-Reco – I like it a lot, but not enough to keep watching weekly. Will try to catch up hopefully once we approach 1-cour, especially if I hear good buzz.

Gundam Build Fighter Try – Not as engaging for me on the uptake compared to GBF, and I have mixed feeling for the main character (the ero aspect aside). I even have mixed feeling for the other main characters, but the trio concept is novel. I guess I never really took to Reiji anyway. Still, the concepts and fight scenes are good, so I might stick with it. Having it on Youtube makes things easy.

[Insert complaint about FUNi’s website here.]

Your Lie in April – Good stuff, but short of sublime. At episode 1 it has not gotten my attention yet, at least episode 2 did better.

Log Horizon S2 – Despite the somewhat sketchier production values, it’s more of the same, which is good, because it was already good.

World Trigger – JUMP trigger warning more like.

Trinity Seven – Demon Lord harem high school concept with Harami lead is a sure sell. It knows not to drag its wet feet here so at least it’s passable entertainment.

Yuyuyu – Reminds me of Kyousogiga, which is a mixed blessing. Will stick with it till 3. Madokagellion is fine as is but I think it’s going to skew a little.

Girldfriend (Kari) – Fun fluff, seiyuu quiz. Say it with me everybody, CHLOE LEMAIRE.

Fate/stay night UBW – This is the version that hopefully would solve the “need to play the game to enjoy content” problem Type-Moon has.

Inou Battle – It’s true to the spirit of chuu2, and the way Trigger takes on a “sit in the club room all day” type anime is intriguing. Enjoyable, but ultimately a futile thing to try to watch. I’ll forge on a bit more at least.

Garo – It’s pretty cool on episode 1, but not sure if I can spare the time to follow. I suppose now as good as any.

Still to watch: Psycho-Pass 2, Seven Deadly Sins, Terraformars, In Search of the Lost Future.

Continuing on Chaika, Log Horizon, Ace of Diamond.

Shorts – Karen Senki, Yukarin waifu anime (I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying), and SeHa is AOTS.

PS. Real AOTY is the iM@S movie, right? Right? Having the ability to rewatch parts or all of it on demand is a power I need to wield more responsibly.

PPS. Real destroyer of my free time is SSA blu-ray OMG I can watch this all day (and I will)!