Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

A Down Side to Easy-to-Access Anime

Let’s say, if you went to a typical sit-down restaurant in America and order some food. The waiter provides your table with a basket of bread as per custom at the establishment, and seeing you are very hungry the waiter decides to give you extra bread. Is this appropriate? I would think so, and most people probably wouldn’t even bat an eye.

Let’s say, if you spend a few hundred bucks and bought some late-night anime. The anime provides you with the content you thought you were getting. And seeing that this is the home video BD that you now own after parting a few hundred USDs or whatever currency, it provides some bonus material with extra T&A. Is this appropriate? I would think so, but some people calls this pandering.

Actually, it is pandering. But isn’t this wanted? Wouldn’t it be better to have this than not have this?

Hello again, old flame

This kind of made me think, in an orthogonal way, about the price of anime and the nature of its target audience. I am sort of pro-cheap anime in the sense that it makes access easy. And more access is better for access-starved international audience of anime, it’s hand-in-hand with marketing, as far as major areas of improvement for the state of the “anime industry” overseas. It’s more democratic. But I guess as with many things, there are down sides or unintended negative consequences to that. Well, maybe it’s not a negative consequence, but it’s naturally what happens when the signal-to-noise ratio drops.

There’s a fair amount of academic literature on the effects of internet and mass media and “noise” in terms of how to make the internet useful. I think we can apply the same idea to anime in that anime for the masses should be cheap and easy to reach. But anime for specific, intended small groups should be harder. And it is; in that naturally the marketing dollar isn’t there, fewer people care about it and fewer people talk about it.  But when what represents anime overseas is this small sample, what then? Cool Japan is not about Doreamon or Sanae-san but Evangelion or Pokemon right? I guess Pokemon is mainstream in that sense. But people don’t pass judgment on anime because they are in that niche. Anime is a marketing word, but that is probably a bad thing for the medium/genre in the long run, if you want to capture its diversity. Or rather, if you want to capture what passes for anime in the 21st century. Of course, the problem is also kind of the fact that there aren’t many anime titles that fits the Dragon Ball Z kind of profile in the 21st century; as in there hasn’t been more exceptions to the rule for companies like FUNimation to profit on. And all the anime-cancer sentiments is really built on this kind of mentality.

There’s this zone in oversea criticism that this is missed. It’s like all the people who think about anime in the framework of Mamoru Oshii’s works. Like, com’on. Maybe you’ll be more credible from Hayao Miyazaki’s framework. Can you just stick to Battle of the Planets and Speed Racer? Is this even relevant in the 21st Century beyond as a curiosity? Is Tezuka relevant beyond just his influence? Hasn’t anime changed enough in the last 50 years to, you know, come up with something new?

In other words, are people even watching the right anime? Is it because “anime” is too accessible, too plentiful, that people don’t even know what they really shouldn’t be watching? If the only way to watch anime is pony up some $50 or $100 to catch 1-2 cours of it, you probably would really want to know what it is before putting down the money. It makes people care. A lot more.

It also highlights the problem with marketing of anime overseas. There are little ways to “send signals” about shows as to who should watch what, from the homeland. And it’s full of lost-in-translation perils. If we have to rely on the likes of blogs that do season previews, then we are hopeless. I mean at least back in the days, people just hyped specific shows because they knew it was going to be something interesting as a reflection of Japan’s internal marketing and the buzz from its domestic fanbase. Now we just have people writing about every which thing, and it’s hard to say who knows enough or do enough homework to sift through the 50+ shows every season–if to just not get any one of them wrong, let alone more than a few of them right.

Maybe this is a call to people to watch anime in a way that treats it right–not just as disposable internet butt-wipe, a passing joke. Not every show is shovelware, not every show deserves your attention. But do enough to gain the appreciation for those the anime that you will fall in love with, before it happens. Maybe both you and the shows you watch will be better off as a result.

But I realize, the problem is also the general lack of easy-to-use tools. Which makes me think the Real Problem of Anime(tm) is still marketing. Which is odd/ironic, because most anime are just advertisement for something else. But it also makes sense if you think about it, and do more research. If people gets the right idea from marketing material on the get go, they wouldn’t even bother with a lot of the anime out there. But without the societal attitudes and otaku groups that form naturally to lay down the rules for people to watch whatever it is, what passes for marketing in Japan might not even work as is. Instead, oversea fans gets just piecemeal of all of this and who knows how effective that is.


Does Good Writing in Anime Matter?

It’s hard to say.

Aila

I personally enjoy good writing, especially when its the simple, subtle, clever and not outstanding. I also like it when it’s all over the top and you know what they’re doing a mile away. I also like it when in general it displays competence.

In that sense, most anime are written pretty well, but very few are great, and fewer still outstanding. If I want to nitpick from this season’s shows, it might be something like NagiAsu as a good example, and Wizard Barristers as one that could use a lot of work.

On that level, it does seem writing makes a difference. But I’m not sure if it goes any further than the extremes. In the middle,  you have a sea of adaptations of varying quality, and the execution matters a lot more than what the script says. On the other hand, original works tend to vary greatly. Zvezda, for example, is a really high concept but if the execution was not even 80% of what we had, it would have been a very hard sell. WUG is the opposite case, where the writing is clean and simple but it’s got all these difficulties in executing it.

If we bypass all these nuances and just look at their MAL ranking or some silly nonsense, it might paint a different picture. It’s partly why I said it doesn’t matter a whole lot in the middle. I suspect this is also a big reason why people complain about the overabundance of moe-type anime, or anime that relies heavily on canned, episodic slicing of some sort of atmospheric depiction of a scene. Because those shows do just fine. It’s kind of like when you read Ben from Anipages on Telecom animator’s layouts or some such. Because that stuff, when it’s well-executed, is beautiful. The writing can be just icing on the cake.

In that sense, writing is like playing a strategy game: there’s micro and there’s macro. With this artificial distinction, I think strong macro will typically lead to success, but of course all I’ve been saying just now is that the trend has been the opposite.

I wonder if it’s just an otaku thing? Is this why Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere has fans?

But to circle back, if we look at a straightforward kiddy show like Gundam BF, it’s got that same rhyme and reason, that smart macro formula for success. Even if the writing is just sort of average. So I guess there’s not much conclusive that we can say about writing other than that even before you start laying words on paper, you need to know what you’re doing already.


Kill la Kill

Spoilers. Spoilers everywhere.

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Idol of Character

"Special feeling"? Sure Danbooru taggers.

Writing about WUG over here got me thinking. In episode 10, the Wake Up Girls encounter a variety of other idol groups from the Tohoku region, including a gag style group that goes by the name of Demons of Oga. It reminds me of Babymetal a lot. In the usual “wheel of morality” way there’s a deeper message about WUG and idol groups in that week’s episode, which is about some kind of trait or essence of an idol group.

I’ve been thinking about this as it applies to not only actual idol groups like AKB48, Perfume or Momoclo and the like, but also groups like μ’s or 765Pro. What is special about each of them? And if the fans and the public ultimately define what these essences are for the group, how would I define it?

[It also makes me think, a lot, about the concert report I'm writing. I fear it's going to get to ~14000 words at the end and I'm going to tack on another 5000 or something just for concluding thoughts. It's safe to say my vacation to Japan may have exhausted me mentally and physically but it's energized me in some other ways. So this post might be a bit like a safety valve in that sense.]

Getting existential about idols is sort of how I do idols. [This is also probably why I don't do much idols, at all.] It’s like seeing those images of HK or SG Lovelivers bowing down before their goddesses and it makes you think. It’s like making a joke about the Ten Commandments. I’m not so sure if it is more appropriate to quote Key the Metal Idol or quote, I don’t know, Nietzsche. But it never really occurs to me to look at it from the opposite side of the poster wall–how does Bushiroad or Lantis or Bandai-Namco think about it? How does Gami-P feel when he has to put together an agenda for “third vision” planning meeting? Likewise, how does Eriko Nakamura feels when she shares a stage with her new-ish coworkers like Hasshi or Koroazu? Maybe that is something we can think about. Sure beats trying to get into Yamakan’s shoes–are we making gods or what?

The way I define 2.5D is probably different than how you define it. It’s definitely something I realize on my trip, and on twitter, and from all the Ps and Lovelivers and Oukokumin that I met. And it’s very interesting and mind-broadening, I guess. We definitely express our affection for these idols in very different ways. We not only internalize it differently (I wonder how do these companies internalize the idols they produce) but we might even perceive them differently. Kind of like how I still don’t appreciate Asami Imai nearly as much as the next guy. I mean I like her a lot more now that I’ve seen how she sets her presence on stage, in the flesh, but it’s… well, let’s just say she is a part of what makes IM@S very special to me. And it’s people like her that I think the idol world will not be able to reproduce. It’s the Mingosu and the Chiaking of the idol worlds that makes IM@S special. It’s why Nakamura is great. It’s people like Shikaco that adds a flair to seiyuu-idolness that gives it a sort of levity that isn’t so much manufactured as much as “oi we let you do this because I think nobody else is gonna.” And then you have people that falls in the gap, like Kido Ibuki. It’s these little things, to me, that defines the essence of these idol groups, even the fake ones like ClariS because at the very least they’re still brands.

Ultimately it’s the WUG-chans that will inherit the earth. They are true everyday girls. It’s like the chika idols that bust their butts on a daily basis trying to make it. But otaku like me just can’t be settled with that, can’t we? I need this artifice. It is to no disrespect, but such is the 2.5D way, where it’s not just a personal god, but an international, mixed-media intellectual property-based venture that revenue-shares, whose avatars can optionally be hand-drawn or fully computer-generated. You know, when it just takes too much time and resources to animate the old fashion way.

This is the Yamakan spirit. It’s a Sony. And to circle back to WUG, it’s a pretty nice artifice…and it’s not a Sony, go figure.


Character Designs in Kill La Kill as Translated by Cosplay

Satsuki, Ryuuko, Mako

The anime con season in North America is getting into swing. Kill la Kill seems to be trending among top costumers and the like.

It’s times like this I wish the guys at Trigger would fess up that they made these scandalously dressed heroines partly to get some cosplayers to show some skin. Of course, this being just my own wish and probably does not reflect the truth, but I think if Kojima would fess up this much, it might just be a matter of semantics.

So I think it’s important to track where Trigger dudes are going this summer? So far we have Director Yoshinari plus Kaneko (art director) and Hori (animator?) at Animazement, so maybe these guys will make some comments to this degree. We’ll see. American cons are a great way for fans to mix with creators, so I hope Trigger dudes will get an eye full at North Carolina. And maybe we can ask why … are the two (somewhat titular) characters dressed that way.

Either way, if you are man or woman enough to parade out there in battle mode Senketsu or Junketsu, you have my respect. I’ll save the question for your wisdom later.