Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Enjoying the Grancrest Wars

Oh, hey, finally that Sakugablog post on the Record of Grancrest Wars. I say finally, because this show has always been a wild ride on the animation front since its early days last season. The visuals are laden with artistry, if unpolished, and you wouldn’t think twice about it since the story runs on at a neck-breaking pace.

A hair of spoiler material ahead, but nothing that ought to matter.

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Don’t Be the Past; Join the Future

Gacha is here to stay. It’s not going away.

I think it’s really cool and interesting, given my vantage point as a westerner into Japanese (and in a lesser degree, Korean and Chinese) mobile games, to see the wide span of people who stand on the scale of micro transactional free-to-play business model. In some countries, for example, lootboxes are banned. That’s got nothing on the elaborate gacha schemes Japan’s mainline nerd gaming is running on. It is also pretty clear that resistance to this model is gaining some steam over there, as examples of ruined bank accounts get tens of thousands of retweets in the form of youtubers showing off. But in the macro scale, nothing is slowing the drum beat.

When you give your game creators three times the money for the same amount of work, as Japanese gamers gave up as much in mobile gaming than three times their population in US mobile gamers, you will encourage more people to make video games. This is fundamental and it is the rising tide. Console gaming is still going to stay–everything is going to stay. It’s just that more people will be making games for the market where the money is. It’s just that more PR, more attention, more news, and more glam, will be going towards these new games because that’s where the money is. Maybe the Pacific is still a great barrier in terms of what hits mainstream and what doesn’t, but it’s just a matter of time before gacha continues to invade beyond its early footholds that may be a Final Fantasy or Fire Emblem.

The reaction should not be fear, it should be trying to understand how this mechanism can work in video games, in as much as anything else can work in a video game. We survived 3D graphics, Faye Wong music, Disney, the shovelware era, e-sports, Jack Thompson, Valve, and Shemune 3 is even getting made. I don’t think gacha is a bad thing–it’s more like bluetooth.

I see it this way. When Bluetooth took off as a technology in practice, it was in the 90s and early 00s when people used these obnoxiously cheap headsets from China with their Motorola RAZRs. They were literally that, cheap headsets from China. They were not known for quality until when Apple got the “courage” to ditch wired connector for audio and got in their own BT implementation in recent years. The technology has always been there, it just needed companies to better implement it. Radio waves of digital signals are always just that. If your wireless connection can download hi-res audio flacs, then there’s no reason why it can’t go straight into a DAC in/by your ears. However today people associate BT audio with crap, despite you can get stuff like aptx HD or LDAC over Bluetooth which is capable of lossless audio transmission at CD quality. But in general, the public never associate high fidelity audio with Bluetooth because it is still widely and poorly implemented in tech, at least not enough to change the story on it.

The same applies to microtransaction and F2P games. The art of incorporating these things: horse armor(supply/demand) , pay-to-win versus free-play player trajectories and game balance, the experience of buying stuff in game, and the whole nine yard, is science and art combined. But since the world really opened the door with massive scale F2P games with microtransactions in the late 00s, it was more a story of abuse. The reputation of this business model is ruined by some big players who got big quickly at the expense of sustainability of their business as well as the concept. What’s more are the people who spent $10000s on these games and ruined their lives as they were preyed on by various designs that encouraged people to spend more without showing them what they were getting in exchange, at least not in a clear way. It’s a gambling problem revisited. Those stories were billboards to play on that narrative. It reinforces the negative experiences for some and validated the opinions those who did not have the first hand experience.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of boycotting these mechanics, gamers should learn about them and understand that they are not going away. They should instead encourage developers to take MTX more seriously, build it into their game as much as they build their paychecks into their lives–it needs to be just as important as all other parts of the game. It needs to be responsible (be fair and nice to players), sustainable (respectful of the player and other devs), and educational (to show people how it can be done right).

I mean, the best thing I can say is, as an IM@S P over the years, I have seen what gacha looked like in the OG Deremas game, then in Million, then in the various (failed) Playstation efforts for the main line games, then in Deresute and Theater Days, and now in Shiny Colors. There are things that devs did right (Deresute and TD models) and things devs did wrong (Platinum Stars). It was incremental improvement to see the various switches, levers, and things people liked, wanted, needed, being added or taken away.

And fans need to still let devs know–I think this is happening regardless. As we move towards a more patron-like model (F2P games are basically 10% of the players subsidizing the other 90% of players since they make up 90% of the revenue), indie gaming and other more targeted style of content delivery, it’s utmost important to build that communication channel between developers and players. Short of that, devs need to do better to survey the landscape and look next to them.


Game Saves World Billions in Productivity with Region Block

[Below is parody content?]

Popular movies and video games have long since been correlated with productivity loss. For example, popular science fiction franchise Star Wars has been the lead in this category, when its blockbuster film launches lead to countless students and employees to call out to go to the theaters on release day. Similarly, the recently launched Japanese video game, THE IDOLM@STER: Shiny Colors, cause millions of dollars in loss productivity, following its recent launch last week.

In a stroke of genius, the developers of Shiny Colors limited the game for play to Japanese internet users only. By region-limiting the HTML5-based game platform, Bandai Namco has saved an estimated $50B USD in productivity loss, experts say.

The free-to-play video game platform is the latest entry in the popular franchise, THE IDOLM@STER. The Japanese-gamer oriented properties started in 2005 and has spawned countless video games, TV shows, movies, and tie-ins of all kind, such as a mixed-reality VR theatrical show. While domestic audiences still beared the brunt of the damage in loss productivity, the prudent business move limited the damage to just Japanese domestic businesses.

“It is a noble sacrifice,” said financial analyst Akihiro Nakamura from UBS. “The joke was that the devops were going to all call out sick and play during launch, but the region blocking already saved us millions across our Americas and Europe branches. Despite their best efforts otherwise, Bandai-Namco is still going to boost their prospective stock price for this fiscal year just on the preliminary revenue projections.”


Spring 2018 Anime Selections

Here are some impressions, as per usual. On a personal note, I recently signed up for HiDive, and it doesn’t have Apple TV support, which is what I use to watch probably 75% of anime these days. It also doesn’t have Chromecast support, which is what I use to watch ~15% of anime these days (only usually because I’m at a friend’s house or Apple TV is having issues). The two technology platforms are kind of interchangeable, since I use both at home for various things. The rest of the time I watch either on my phone (because I’m on an airplane) or on my PC (because I happen to be in front of it), in that 10% remainder. It also means HiDive is kind of worthless to me right now.

The problem with HiDive is that it doesn’t support how I watch anime most of the time. If it takes less effort to me to XDCC some files and watch it on Apple TV via Plex, than load up the video I want on HiDive, cast my whole phone, then hit play, this competing product is just a waste of my time that happened to cost money. Would it be OK for me to subscribe and not use it? I guess so. For now, the only real way to watch stuff on HiDive, short of inside a browser, is that I can dial up a video on my phone and stream my phone Airplay/Chromecast-like, but this sucks if all you have is your phone, and not a second device to play with in your living room. It is very much a first world problem, but this entire blog is more or less a first-world-issues only site.

That’s not even mentioning all the bugs in the Android app. And how the web version is making the same mistakes that plagued FUNi’s website back when they were solo on the streaming. Anyways.

On a less ranty, but still ranting, note, I picked up the EN version of BanG Dream game, administered out of Singapore. It’s perfectly fine and provides an updated experience than my first run-ins with the original JP version so long ago. They fixed most of the tuning issue with stamina usage and event point system. The more fleshed out exchange system now has some balance with grinding up character training mats. There are more songs you have access to right out of the gate, if just the newer covers alone.

Playing it also reminds me what I didn’t like about the game, which is having to put up with songs you don’t like or don’t want to listen to during multiplayer. This is why I almost never choose Random for song selection, anyway. Oh, and the usual abusers in the game that coast or outright cheat.

Then again, I get why some people instant-disconnect after the song selection screen. I really don’t have to want to put up with one more listen of Shuwarin. I’ve not fallen that far yet but it’s getting close. It would be really great if the game lets you blacklist a few songs!

OK, enough sidebars. Here are the initial offering (which is bound to shrink as the MLB season wears on).

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Explaining Anisong World Matsuri 2018: Part 2

Part 2 is from the organizer end.

JAM Lab launched sometime earlier this year, as a portal so pros can research and contact Japanese management and artists. Given the way Japan does business, it is hard to cold call them. Anime’s cultural cache is recognizant and I think it’s always good to be available if an opportunity rises. JAM Lab fills that need somewhat. It also tries to fill the informational gap, by posting interviews, translated reports and ranking news, what have you.

JAM Lab provided a couple interviews, namely the head SOZO guy who is responsible for the AFA brand, and Inoue who is the head of Lantis and is heading up the Anisong World Matsuri shows. Inoue’s interviews are still being posted this week, as of this writing, but it already has shed some light on the AWM shows and how they’re approaching it. What’s kind of missing is the eventual Lantis 20th anniversary tour, assuming that’s what will happen again. [At AnimeJapan this year, there was a public talk stage between the organizers of Anisama, Animax Musix, and Lisani. It’s also worth checking out if you are interested in that stuff, if you can find it on youtube or nico…]

Please do read Inoue’s interview besides what I’ve quoted, because it’s interesting unless you already know the general story about him. I’m just going to quote what stands out in relevance to the topic of AWM and what to expect…

So I’m going to move on to talking about your company Lantis. Now that I know how Lantis all started, can you tell me the type of business Lantis is doing once again?
-So Lantis was established in 1999, and this is our 19th year. In prior to move onto our 20th year, as you know Lantis is a record company that makes anime and game music. Of course we do concerts as well. We are going to join forces with Bandai Visual, which works on motion pictures as well as some of Takeshi Kitano’s movies. Our company is going to be called Bandai Namco Arts starting April of this year. So for people reading this article, the company’s name will change within a few days. The name Lantis will stay as a label and logo.

Quoted only because now it’s BNA. It’s still not quite the same as the BN Live Creative sub brand? Not sure TBH, Bandai Namco reorgs makes no sense to me (rip BE USA).

[]With next year marking the 20th year, are there any projects or events that left a big impression on you for the last 2 decades?
-We do a lot of concerts and events with our partner group Bandai Namco Live Creative. We do about 800 shows a year.

800!?
-Yes(laughs). Not every day but there are concerts taking places in different prefectures as well. We’ve been able to do a lot of these events and on our 10th year, we did an event called Lantis Matsuri at Fujikyu Highland Conifer Forest. After that, on our 15th anniversary, we did Lantis Matsuri at 4 different prefectures, Aichi, Sendai, Osaka and Tokyo. After that, we were able to do Lantis Festival overseas in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Singapore, and Korea. Being able to do that with artists that grew up with you as well as well as staffs and making an event from scratch is probably the most memorable thing we ever did. Next year, 2019 will mark our 20th year so we are thinking of doing an event celebrating our anniversary.

Different countries too?
-Speaking of different countries, we were able to do Anisong World Matsuri after Lantis Festival. It was a concert consisting of artists not just from Lantis but with Japanese artists and musicians from other labels and companies as well.

Seems like the event is going to keep getting bigger.
What’s the advantage and what’s interesting about doing business with specializing in anime songs?
-Well, it’s going to change a little starting next month but, there were no labels that only specialized in anime and game songs. I think the biggest advantage is being able to team up with companies such as Pony Canyon, Kadokawa and other companies and makers to make music as well as motion pictures. The company is going to change but we are still going to be making music and motion pictures with other companies. So that part will not change.

Basically, this is the thinking for Lantis 20th. AWMs are both learning experience and test grounds for future endeavors. The truth is as Inoue tells it–there are fans here. Question is more like, will it be worth their while to overcome? As we all know, it costs a lot of money to throw the AX AWMs. However since there is a business interest, they can adopt and scale, so it’s possible for the Japan side to hold the risk and streamline future live events oversea. Quoting from the 2nd interview–

I heard about Lantis expanding overseas so I would like to talk about the past, present and future goals. Lantis is getting bigger by year, what triggered you to start thinking about expanding overseas?
-We have a project called JAM Project. It stands for Japanese Animation Song Makers. A project to make Japanese Anime Songs. We started this project around 2000 and in 2008, on their 8th year they were able to hold a concert at the Budokan which was their goal. After that, we had a discussion about what their next goal is going to be. That’s when we decided that we should expand overseas and bring anime songs to the rest of the world.

It seem like a business that isn’t really market-researched, but at the same time, they are building the market.

You’re probably aware that there are many anisong fans oversea, do you feel that there is a difference in what’s popular depending on the country?
-Not so much anymore. They seem to like similar things but in South America, such as Brazil, Tokusatsu songs seems to be popular. Songs for Kamen Rider was actually broadcasted with the episode. So the attendees would be people who used to watch Tokusatsu when they were younger. In Europe, I noticed Dynamic Production work and anime like Gurren Lagann and Mecha were popular.

This is actually a bit of news to me, but I guess what I really want to know is, how is South America doing taste-wise? I already know about toku down there, which is why JAM Project loves Brazil and the like, but it doesn’t say anything about other genres. By the way, they’re totally going to South America for Lantis 20th, if you read between the lines.

I’ve noticed that Lantis has been attending oversea events for a long time now and now Lantis is holding their own events oversea. Can you tell me a little bit of how it is working with Amuse and holding your own event?
-We do Lantis Festival which is a festival only for Lantis. But I also thought that depending on the place, there is more demand on something that Lantis alone cannot provide. There may be demand for Avex pictures, Sony Music Entertainment, Horipro, and Amuse which helps us book artists internationally because they have branches out in different countries. We are now shifting to work with oversea companies and hold the risk in doing oversea events.

Amuse is important because they are the people cons deal with in order to get these things set up, at least for AFA and AWM. I don’t really know how they could do this for other countries or countries that don’t have big presences. In a more practical sense, Amuse is only really needed because of AWM and other large events that’s being set up. What makes American events good are proximity and access, neither really a big aspect for AWM-type shows. Well, except by proximity meaning you don’t have to fly to Japan, I guess. So that is kind of a different narrative for eventers looking for that sort of a thing.

If you look at Otakon’s guest list over the years and its progression closely, you would know that is closer to the ideal back end setup–strong GR and a history of solid venue for JP acts to access a sizable US crowd. The promo is there albeit limited in a non-profit sort of way. There is merch support, and fans can even see shows without paying an extra ticket on top of the con admission. It’s a good arrangement until we realize this severely limits the access of acts. Ultimately you are on a tight budget, you can only fly folks over who are not asking for a serious appearance fee, and frankly there’s no way to leverage scale because you are capped from soliciting more money. It might take 150 people to do AWM at AX, but that’s 2 or 3 shows and each with many acts. If we go with a country club way of thinking, it’s time for Otakon to change gears and buy that golf course, and at least Japan is doing it for them.

Let me wrap up this business talk with one semi-hypothetical anecdote. Last year we had an anikura thing at AX. It was not an AX program, as I am entirely unaffiliated. It’s billed as an after party to AWM day 0, but we had a showing of about 180 people. It was enough to cover all the costs (including some food even). We advertised purely by word of mouth. I want to do this again this year by the way…

Anyways, the point is, a lot of the flat costs or sunk costs are the venue, the human resource costs of processing payment, getting people registered, signing people in, etc. It didn’t matter if the event had 100 or 200 people, or if the DJ were my friends or JP guests as, those don’t affect the core costs of the event. If my budget is, say, $5000 or $25 for each person with a 200 cap, because I can’t budge what I charge people, I would be capped there. Let’s say I was able to get all the back end costs to $2500, that leaves $2500 to fly a DJ and his manager over, and put them into a hotel room (and a volunteer handler to drive them around). That’s very bare bones.

Using the same numbers, if I was able to change what I charge people (for example, if I use crowdfunding and set stretch goals for autographs and what not) I can probably get 2 guests if I just raise the average payment per attendee to $38, just $13 more. I can even leverage the same volunteer handler LOL. To translate, for example, if Otakon sold concert tickets, they can then increase the guest list because they’ve paid a lot of the sunk costs regardless, and it’s fairly efficient to pass some of the added cost to attendees, assuming they are really scaling it here and providing what the audience wants.

I think for cons, AWM just makes this proposition a lot easier to deal with, if not the concept possible to start.