Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

The Idolm@ster Movie Is a Million Live Advertisement

Hey guys, I don’t know if you don’t know, but most anime are some form of advertisement. So why are you complaining about that Mlilion Live is being advertised in the Idolm@ster Movie (Moviem@s henceforth)?

As someone who has been enabled by Moviem@s (and many other things) and started playing Million Live after my trip to Japan this past February, I enjoy my Scamco-driven animated promotional material. Speaking as both a customer and a victim in this sense, the fact that they have to charge money in order to let us watch this stuff is probably way, way, waaaaaaay more obnoxious of an arrangement in this process than the mere audacity for the sprawling Idolm@ster franchise to introduce its next generation of money shakers and movers through advertising. It would be weird if they didn’t try to advertise their games.

On the other hand, buy the Blu-ray, one says. Well yeah I was a hair’s breadth away from buying my second copy after pictures of the Aniplex+ edition flooded twitter a day or two ago. It’s so pimp. But I already put in an order from HMV, which ships with a bonus wallscroll featuring, guess what, the Million Live girls. Isn’t that infinitely more insane? I’m spending hundreds of $ on advertisements. [And shipping.]

Imagine if you are watching TV and all the ads are paid content? But wait, what if the ads were better than the TV program you were watching? I mean, it sounds silly, but the scenario isn’t that far-fetched. In some ways that’s what is happening. If having the Million Stars in Moviem@s jarred you from the fantasy world you were living in, congratulations, Scamco whiffed and couldn’t bring some full-body characterization to the seven girls (Minako, Anna, Serika, Shiho, Kana, Nao, and Yuriko) and thus enable you. Good for you.

But to me, I see it a courtesy. They’re telling you what’s going on, and in some ways focusing the movie away on the ML girls and on the 765Pros is what everyone wanted. It’s just there are some issues to the movie given all these arrangements, and to some degree the results may disappoint some people. If you look at Moviem@s as some kind of as-is, commercially available, hourly-fungible disposable entertainment, you’re missing the point. Moviem@s, for Producers, is IM@S’s totem that embodies the past and future of the franchise, of the idols, of our emotions all together. It’s our M@sterpiece. Of course, it’s perfectly okay to miss the point, but don’t expect any sympathy from us if you stopped yourself from having a good time.

What I recommend, actually, is just watch Moviem@s a bunch of times. This stuff actually has a lot of rewatch value, and you wouldn’t even know it.

PS. By the way I’m just glad Matsuri and Fuka make appearances in this thing after all, as these two are my top ML idols today. There’s a weird time-wrap effect going on when you revisit the thing that enabled you, and you have a different appreciation all together. What’s funny is that the content is even “new” because, well, it’s not some telescoping introspection for years past. It’s barely 8 months!

PPS. The CG concern is real and I understand it, but it is, in the larger scope of things, trivial.


Glow Sticks Are No Big Deal, Except When It Is

matsuri

It’s much ado about nothing in my opinion, but when the four USA Miku Expo concerts–two nights in LA and two more in NYC–banned electric glow sticks, wotas traveling in and from local have to make do with chemical ones. At the same time, it sort of sets some of them off.

I think it’s not a big deal in that ultimately it’s a concert, and doing calls with glowing hand attachments is thoroughly secondary to the main objective. On the flip side, I recognize that for wotagei culture the “cylume” or what we have generecided the American firm specialized in tactical, emergency and industrial luminescent chemical applications, is actually a major symbol of the thing. It’s kind of like what cosplay is for nerd cons. So imagine if an anime con, for example, banned cosplays of a certain type or the use of a popular cosplay material. People will be up in arms.

The funny thing about the whole affair is that the event will be handing out green sticks to all attendees. I think there might be a specific look to the crowd that they are gunning for. In Japan, that’s no problem because that hive mentality hammers people in and people are considerate about which color lights they are raising up in the air. In the Land of the Free, people do concerts however they wish. As I put it, it’s the freedom of worship. Not to mention it is very difficult to find places that sell these lights. At best you can pick up some 8-hour glowsticks for camping or whatever typical celebrations Americans do; the party-oriented electric gear is still largely unique to Japan and sold only there.

Did you know Aniplex+ USA is going to sell a SAO King Blade or some such? Check it out. I don’t know why the Miku Expo organizers just allow official electric lights, such as the official Miku lights they sell in Japan’s events.

Anyway, it still means you can party at Miku Expo with lights, since the ban applies only to electric ones. And even the somewhat-discerning wota will nitpick the quality of these glowsticks, so if you can ship a box or two from Japan or wherever you are from, it might be really nice.

Or you can participate in the “buy a set for you and a set to give away” thing Zalas is setting up. Also, check out his call guides.

[What would be more nice if someone rolled an English-language port of Twipla.]

Meanwhile, Amazon is selling some of the official Cylume-branded stuff. The 8 or 12-hour greens will suffice, but typically what you want are the high-intensity or ultra-high intensity stuff. One place I’ve shopped from is House of Rave, but their shipping costs are high. Amazon is another place–some 3rd party sellers even have first-generation King Blade X10s on sale. But the options are there if you look around. Or you can ask your friends partying up at IM@S 9th to grab a box or two of Ultra Pink or Ultra Green to bring back…


On Hiroi’s Karen Senki

Karen Senki is a cool sounding name, but it also sounds like a rejected candidate name for the Sakura Taisen property, if you get what I mean. But as a subsequent work coming from Oji Hiroi, the creative mind behind the hit Sega franchise in the late 90s and early 00s, it means something.

And I think that’s where I have any kind of hope of Karen Senki being something worthwhile. This guy gets it, understands how it works, at least in a certain context. I don’t think he’s making the next Ghost in the Shell or anything dark and grimy like UTD. Sakura Taisen, as a rule, always had some kind of dark underlining even if we don’t really see that outside of the games (and the oft-panned Sakura Wars TV series). Karen Senki should be no different. It’s the sort of “Let’s Make a Contract” schtik that makes Butch’s signature works stick so well. I think, more importantly, there is notably attention paid to the creative details. Just the logo itself can speak volumes.

karensenkilogo

At episode 2, that’s really all I can assure–it’s the same cheese. If you are familiar with, say, Sakura Taisen 3, except with the harem lead removed, you might imagine a similar sort of feeling. There are plenty of hooks and world-building laid out on the table by that point to keep you thinking about it. It is sufficiently engaging. And the cheese helps us to take things not too seriously, and some of us enjoy that cheese, for example, like those motocycle scenes or the bullet hell scenes. It seems that once you trade for the unlimited ammo perk you can never hit what you try to shoot at.

But you might get all this just from watching the anime. So let’s talk about what Hiroi spoke on at AWA. I think there were two screenings but I’m not sure if Hiroi was at the second one. Anyway, we got some Q&A going.

First, it might help to read some of the pre-release material. I only really cite three of them, but I think they cover mostly the same ground. It boils down to that Hiroi has some vision for the next evolution for what passes as anime. Anime we know today came from the general process of marketing behavior to sell merch to youths of Japan. With fewer youths in Japan than ever, naturally it becomes more arduous to produce works in that format. Instead, by fully embracing 3DCG, Hiroi wants to leverage the advantages of that medium in order to figure out a way to monetize in new ways, such as via mobile or streaming content in ways that are difficult for what passes for traditional animation today. The launch in North America is partly because he wanted to use oversea viewers to create buzz before he launches it in Japan. I see it as a sort of a beta test, and it seems reasonable.

One example he brought up in terms of how 3DCG give him more freedom to do things is in terms of the example he raised in the CR interview. If he wanted a revision, it can be done in days. Another example he brought up at AWA was being able to insert product placement or advertisement into the animation quickly, as a texture or some such. It also can be used in the opposite way, to meet production requirements (eg., remove logos/marks to appease a sponsor) or to meet local requirements (censorship), although he didn’t really say this. What he did say, as an aside, is how much money he made from Sakura Taisen 1.

It’s a sound rejection of the 00s style committee anime mining and it’s interesting in several ways, but we can think about the ramifications later. For one, I don’t know how Karen Senki will pan out. Maybe nobody does.

Maybe this is also why he’s basically bankrolling the series and pitching it his own way, free of interloping influences. For starters, he went with Next Media, which is actually not a problem besides being fancy pants Taiwanese 3DCG house means the animators all understand this “anime stuff” compared to the average North American animation pipeline. I can’t accurately speculate on costs but knowing Next Media it probably isn’t a whole lot. But at the same time I don’t see why he’s doing it solo, essentially, other than to forge some new business method. What I wanted to ask, but couldn’t quite get to, is what the end game is for Karen Senki. Maybe he doesn’t know it yet? But I guess we shouldn’t expect too much differences between it and the average IP, from the consumer point of view, should it prove to be successful enough to continue.

In some ways CR is also a big factor in the context that it’s really your biggest channel so far, so that makes me wonder what CR will do to promote Karen Senki. I hope they’re going to do more than to bring Hiroi to a con and stream the series. [Psst: Bring Meshiya (Karen's CV) to a con?]

The 3DCG is likely the biggest concern for most people about Karen Senki. I think you can judge it as you see it, but from the animation point of view, this is still what I consider as “anime” in that the core components are done by Japanese people, besides the music and the actual animation. It’s definitely blurring lines a lot once you have key creative people from outside of Japan playing a role, so I wouldn’t be troubled at all if someone says it’s not anime (as ANN seems to be saying by not indexing Karen Senki). I’ll post caps of the credits that I think is relevant, so you can make your own judgment on it. I mean, it’s something you have to think about–just because anime has non-Japanese people work on it (and far most anime today is this the case), at what point do we call something not-a-anime? Do we even bother with drawing this line (I do, for the record)?

Karen Senki s1e1

Oh, in case you didn’t know, Fujishima Kousuke is the character designer and Hiroi is the producer, planner, director and writer. And what does “Art Direction Services” actually mean? I suspect this pre-production staff might actually be the one aspect of the production in which tilts Karen Senki as “anime” in my book.

Karen Senki s1e1

Karen Senki s1e1

If we take a more empirical approach to what is anime and what isn’t, Karen Senki is hella anime, I would think. What really bothers me, though, is that it’s got this subtle but sharp edge in the way character animation happens where a smirk or an eye wink evoke the feeling that I’m watching a Taiwanese comedic routine. Maybe it’s because Next Media are the guys who made these silly shorts. Maybe it’s cultural mannerism or something that exhibits through the animation but it feels a little more cartoony than what I’m used to. The CG action scenes are also a little too exaggerated sometimes, that detracts from a sense of realism that permeates throughout the show at episode 2. If you think about RWBY and, say, the stuff Valve makes for Team Fortress, that’s kind of what I don’t want to see in Karen Senki. Thankfully, that’s so far the case, but there are just little hints of the kind of corner cutting that happens with a lower production-value 3DCG animation. Well, maybe corner cutting is putting it too severely, but it’s that sort of attention to details that I want to see.

At the same time, Pixar-level CG is mucho dinero and takes a long time to do well. In that sense I don’t think Karen Senki is going to further anything as far as the whole process of making anime by hand or by computers. It might, on the other hand, explore some new ways to apply what we understand as anime to other mediums. It’s the trade-off he has made.

PS. Urara Takano! That probably shouldn’t surprise anybody.

 


Japan Music Sales Blargh

Lantis Fesst (9/23/2014)

This is the executive summary (by the way of Babymetal)

http://www.engadget.com/2014/09/22/cd-dominates-japan-music-sales/

This is the original article, via the NYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/business/media/cd-loving-japan-resists-move-to-digital-music-.html?_r=0

Here’s an example of doing it too much that it’s making inaccurate statements. (Also worth reading is that last link to an earlier Verge article which did do some justice to this topic–I guess the guy who wrote it up just didn’t get what the first author was trying to say.)

http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/17/6330039/why-are-people-still-going-crazy-for-music-cds-in-japan

Here’s a better one but still a tad off.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2014/09/21/85-percent-of-music-sales-in-japan-are-cds/

The problem of the…problem is that nobody is really wrong-wrong. It’s  more sloppy writing, not really understanding the full picture, not really digging into the core issue. And it’s not like I’m asking for a lot, 10-20 minutes at Google can give you all that is relevant. Also in the mix I find some kind of unsettling presumptions that these tech presses have when they subsequently re-blogged the NYT article. Well, it starts with the NYT.

To sum it up, it’s basically assuming that by not adopting, or adapting fast enough, the services that in 2014 people know well of, such as Rdio or Spotify, Netflix or iTunes Music Store, that Japan is not “embracing the digital.”

That is just the first problem, by the way. Japan is one of the very first to “embrace the digital.” What happened is that because they are early adopters, Japan’s various licensing bodies went to work to protect and monetize its properties. They want a shot at it; they wouldn’t just cough it up to the apparent market winner just because. There is a reason why Sony didn’t license to iTunes until 2012 domestically–it’s because they see iTunes a competitor to their own digital businesses, much like iPods are competitors to Sony’s PMPs over the years. Is it fair to call that protectionist? Maybe. But isn’t it just normal competition, where entities that own the whole stack can leverage rights to benefit the platforms it invested in? Apple doesn’t publish any music, I mean, can you imagine what would happen if that’s the case? Japan’s strange CD-based ecosystem affords Sony (and others) to play hardball with their competitors in the licensing space, where as they couldn’t fold fast enough in other markets.

There are a bunch of other factors behind why JP publishers are reluctant to license to the likes of Spotify. One of it is partly what the NYT article touches on, is that these Japanese businesses are too slow to abandon ship and switch, as execs busily maintain the status quo. The other is the high prices at CD sales, and the great fear that it comes with as new business models subvert, especially coming from foreign companies that are used to a much lower physical price point. If you bought anything off iTunes Japan you would know. These are major incentives for Japanese rightsholders to not cooperate with foreign companies trying to enter the Japanese market. These are what I expect these articles to actually talk about.

What disturbs me is that none of the articles recognizes that they’re all expecting American (and UK for Spotify I guess) brands to march into Japan as if they own the place. OK maybe I shouldn’t expect so much in Verge’s case but I expected more from NYT and Forbes, that they’d at least respect this huge business and cultural gulf between Japan and the rest of the world, just in general, in terms of this industry. But nope, not even a word to recognize this. That’s not even starting to talk about the things they did recognize, such as music rental, or how a hard core physical purchasing culture has been fostered (and along with it a very strong used goods economy–it feels as if none of the above writers has ever sets foot inside a Book-off in Japan), doing streaming digitally ala Spotify and the like may not work at all as a core business.

[On the Book-off note, doesn't it strike people when Japan's #1 used media chain can establish international branches? That's the kind of prestige reserved for very successful brands.]

And it’s not for lack of trying. On the domestic end or abroad. But all too quickly these articles seems to parrot a strange reluctance, and calling it strange, without really trying to actually explore why it is so.

But of course, it’s not such a bad thing–here’s one article that posits an interesting correlation to the strangeness: age.

The whole convo we’ve had on twitter is probably worth a read, if just to act as a sounding board for your own theories.

Between Tsutaya, Book-off, old people who buy old music everywhere, and all the other things that make Japan different, is it really a surprise that what works for Americans and Brits won’t work for Japan? And should it? It’s as preposterous as suggesting that Americans can buy more CDs if there are more idols in the USA.

Or maybe it’s not really that outrageous.

PS. Read some reports from 2012. Government output on study of music demographics, who buys what where, new media use, etc.

PPS. I’ll be hiding at AWA this weekend. Come and say hello. I’ll be wearing around a Myu happi one day and an IM@S 9th happi another day, which are probably the two most distinctive things you’ll find inside my luggage at AWA, I hope.


Under the Dogfluence

This girl is throwing money at us, right?

One of the PR points repeated in the Under the Dog crowdfunding campaign (disclosure: I backed it) is that these creators struggle with production committees not taking a stab at the global audience, and instead are inwardly focused on the domestic, “moe” crowd. This sounds okay to me, but it also sounds like a truism and misses the point.

I am all for addressing that risk-averseness and the tendency for these funding committees to ride that bicycle, so to speak, that there is no gain if no risk is taken. However I think poorly of the “targeting oversea audience” bit. It basically comes down to how we define anime and why we like it.

In some sense, I work on the assumption that ultimately Japanese fans like a lot of the stuff oversea fans like. There is a huge common ground. The question is more so, how do we tap the wallets of these people, who are probably not going to dole out $$$ to buy a standee, or whatever iconic act of being able to gravy-train a vertical.

In that sense, it’s putting the money before the product. A more natural perspective is how do we enable the creation of “marketed animation projects” in which delight fans per se, but are outside the influence of that creative committee? By “marketed animation projects” I mean distinctly something that’s not like the pioneering crowdfunded project, Kick-Heart.

Kick-Heart (disclaimer: I backed it) is a cool art short (15 minutes) by Masaaki Yuasa and given the amount of work that went into it, I think it’s a fair trade. In this sense we are engaging the production of animation in a pure way: backers pay and get what they paid for. We are literally buying anime. You are not even buying an ad that’s made to sell what it adopted from, let alone buying into some long-term arrangement (eg., being a P, or something about identity politics, whatever) that is more like a relationship than a simple purchase. I’m not sure anyone who isn’t into arthouse-type animations will pay into Yuasa’s kickstarter in a significant way. That’s not to mention, if you will recall, the whole significance of Kick-Heart Kickstarter about funding independence and giving animators good enough pay. It never was clear if crowdfunding can be a solution to those issues then, and even today, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. The problem with that is, to me, that becomes a false motive in terms of why a rational entity will put money behind a crowdfunding effort, once the rhetorics and sense of bandwagoning fade away. In other words, it is all idealism, not really something backed by a matter of practical proof.

Of course, I do hope that there are enough of us out there that would gladly fund a lot of anime, over time, via crowdfunding. I just think the four that I’ve backed (Santa Company, LWA2, UTD, and KH; and they’re different from localization projects like BGC, Mai Mai Miracle, Time of Eve, etc.) only indicate that there’s money there. And it’s probably one reason why (of many) Japan hasn’t gone ahead with a more land-grab style production en mass on Kickstarter. It’s a legitimate concern as to how much money per period of time that the crowdfunding community can support in terms of anime productions. After all, anime is kind of expensive to make well. Given the cost of failure on a crowdfunding project (which probably deserve more study from a bizdev point of view), is it worth the while to have more animators pitch on Kickstarter? It’s a real question that we need answers to before we can answer questions that Hiroaki Yura kind of parried about how crowdfunding is an alternative to committees.

Which is to say, UTD is not any of this. To me, UTD wants to create something cool, and the anime is just a vehicle. What I like about their PR, despite their aging assumption on anime fans and fansubs, is that they clearly just wanted to do this anime in ways they exactly wanted. I’m not going to ever disagree with that being a good reason to head to the crowdfunding market. But that implies some things. For example, most likely Ishii has already pitched the idea at some point and he wasn’t happy with the changes. The question is then, why did they wanted to do it? Because, if you’ve read their sales pitch, is because the creative team behind UTD believes in Ishii’s script and ideas, and want to turn it into something. And I’m not sure they can deliver, because that something is not just an anime.

I think here are some questions people should ask:

1. Why anime? And not, say, a video game? This struck me the most relevant after thinking it through. And the answer, as far as I can gather from reading the various AMA or KS updates or Otakon reports, is because some of the creative people wanted to do an anime because of prior experiences, relationships and situations. To that I think it’s great, but also it reflects sort of on the nature of the production. In Ando’s capacity, anime is probably the best format, and I expect that group to hand in some quality work–maybe not GITS movies level but certainly very good. But when you commit to release an OVA, you are kind of committing to a certain release format (Short Piece aside, I guess), a certain way of funding it, and a certain way of marketing it. This changes dramatically once you want to release a PS4 game, or a live action movie, and it can actually address some of their concerns from the funding point of view.

2. Why the assumption that there are enough people out there that would enjoy a 1997-style, GITS/Akira-influenced story? Those are successful anime franchises that failed to monetize in a big way in recent years. Does UTD address this concern? I mean if you are any kind of an old aniota over in the west, you might remember the large number of failed western-targeting anime works that dotted the 90s? Do we really want another Armitage or Appleseed? Do we even want to cater to fans who like Armitage and Appleseed today?  [Bonus: Do we even want to cater to fans who liked Sword of the Stranger? It's a great movie that gained little traction in the USA.]

[Okay, I guess we can even go a step further and talk about making anime on nostalgia and is it really a good idea rather than spend that energy to make something newer, but I don't think we're far enough to make a claim like that.]

3. How are they going to market it? Without the help of production companies how can you reach the not-hardcore, or fallen-out fans who might actually enjoy UTD more than fans who like modern stuff in the post-moe period?

4. What if UTD sucksis not so good? This is the kind of concern that SC, LWA and KH are immune to. The fact that Yuasa is making an anime is already going to bring a smile to my face; even if he drew stick figures it’ll turn out awesome, because the guy is a freaking genius and we measure the output of his work on its merit (ie., Art House vs. Hollywood). LWA episode 1 is “young animators” and there’s no way LWA episode 2 is going to be worse as that limitation is gone. And at worst it’s not going to be worse than Kill la Kill as far as an animation vehicle, so that’s a baseline guarantee because of what we know about Trigger as a 100% Trigger production. In KH and LWA the backers are literally buying animation for animation’s sake. UTD strikes me more like “hey Ishii has a cool idea/script and these pro animators want to do it, let’s let them.” which is perfectly okay but it really requires a lot of faith. CANAAN comes to mind. And that’s sort of the ironic complication about UTD–part of it is about the hype, but the hype works against the clarity to ascertain the quality of the production. In other words, if Yura and company took the money and created something nobody liked, they still have to be okay with it. We have to be okay with it, even if that’s not what they’re selling anymore. Is this true?

I don’t want to come away being negative, and there’s a good reason not to be. UTD is actually the kind of anime kickstarter that is more anime than most. By that I mean the UTD crowdfunding addresses directly the problem about making “anime” as we know it. LWA and Kick-Heart, to me, is not what people think when they think about anime. It’s not televised and it’s not a marketing campaign to sell crap. That UTD kind of wants to not be such a thing but is kind of asking people to fund it so it can behave similarly is a direct challenge to that committee-based production model. This is the real crowdfunding anime against the machine, guys.

PS. What if Santa Company tanks? Answer: It is impossible. Santa Company is an anime about kids and Santa Claus, it’s a bulletproof concept like cute babies or weird Japanese animal mascots. And maybe that’s a more honest approach: the buzz words used for UTD triggers. As an anime fan who’s been around since Akira, I lost track how many crap shows tried to use that moniker to sell itself over the 25+ years since. I’m not so sure those marketing terms are any good; actually the fact that anime fandom in the west are still stuck on it is a troubling sign. And to be less unfair, that includes fans who tried to describe shows using that word, or just because a certain staff worked on Akira or Evangelion or Bebop or whatever popular works these animators have connections to. Calling me a skeptic is a truism, and it’s important to see UTD for what it is. Thankfully it’s nothing that terrible.

PPS: Kickstarter for UTD, ANNCast, Live Stream, Reddit AMA, Otakon stuffs?

PPPS: Here’s something fundamental about the way I see anime. On this blog, I tag my anime as categories and via WordPress, I use a parent category to track all these names for shows. The parent category is called “Franchises.” I realize this is not how most people look at anime, but somebody’s got to do it. I like, and it tickles, that UTD’s marketing bucks my way of doing things from the get go.