Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Sports Anime Should Be about Art

This below post was kind of something that came to mind after I hit “publish” on the previous post, and it’s too big to just edit into my previous post. So.

I actually watched half of S2 marathon style

To summarize my last post, I am just complaining that sports manga/anime stories shouldn’t be taking sports just as a character development vehicle. It’s not to say don’t develop characters. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on intercharacter relationships, teamwork, or any of that good stuff. What I am saying is the way the actual sport is portrayed in sports anime/manga should be taken seriously and more thematically thorough. It should not just be a means to an end.

To go to the next step, maybe Chihayafuru is a good example because that is a pretty hollow example. By that I mean competitive karuta, as much as you dress it up to be, is still not much more than Egyptian Ratscrew. There are techniques, but it’s hardly a game nearly as complex as, say, motor sports in general. Or even most team sports. Is it more complicated and nuanced than curling? Anyway, that’s not the point, and I don’t want to belittle anything. But part of what makes Chihayafuru ticks is how it explains one of the most ethnically obscure sport of Japan to an audience who largely isn’t aware that it is a thing. There’s the whole exploratory angle. It really isn’t a story focused on an audience of pro karuta fans who follows the scene, but we share Chihaya’s point of view, starting a novice, as she explores the world of karuta.

What I enjoyed from Chihayafuru is that it plays pretty hard on the artistic nature of karuta. That the poems’ history as courtesan time-wasters is not lost on the audience. The art to “singing” the poems, for example, interplay with how fast someone can pick up the audio cues and thus get the right card first, is precisely the kind of thing that ties both the athletics and artistry sides of the sport and what it means to people who play it, in light of karuta. It’s not done in light of some intercharacter conflict or struggle, but as a nature of karuta. And in a way that karuta is such a simple game means there were only a few ways they can make these sorts of things stick out in the anime. I think that is a mixed blessing because the story can focus on the “go to koshien” aspect, which is, admittedly a necessity if the game here is foreign to most viewers. I’m also glad, visually, Chihayafuru is all about those artsy things.

And I think that’s the best way to approach sports anime: treat it as art. To use K-ON as an example, music is, by default, treated like art. It is about how it affect our lives. It’s not as much about how competition, pressure, a desire to be successful, self-worth, or whatever teenage angstbait or page-turning trick, but about what it means to learn to be a craftsman in your art. It’s partly what makes team sports so much fun to watch, because it’s not just a single guy doing the physical equivalent of hunting wild boars in a MMORPG until he dings level cap. Mio and Azunyan can practice until their fingers bleed through and their guitars stain crimson, but it’s not what music is about. Just like how abusive and difficult summer camps is what Koshien is about, but not so much what baseball is about. But singing a nursery rhyme when it’s raining outside and you’re doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday afternoon is exactly one way what real life music is like.

This is partly why I really like Oofuri. That is one story where you know whoever wrote it paid the gods of baseball the proper respect. It’s a plain koshien story, sure, and it still focuses on the battery like 90+% of baseball anime, sure, but the treatment of the sport is glorious. You can actually find what is artful about both baseball and Oofuri just by watching a bunch of people play the sport. Despite swimming in its very culturally-specific context of the Japanese high school sports club experience AND the whole Koushien culture context, Oofuri takes a big step beyond just all of that, and talks, well, baseball.

So, yeah, the other big reason why I like Oofuri is because it goes beyond the rigid genre walls of sports anime, the go to koushien schtik, and even the walls of high school baseball stories (and high school stories). Maybe another way out of these barriers for a non-Japanese to enjoy sports anime is through the appeal of these simpler, fundamental concepts like teamwork or raw human emotion and growth/character development. But if the focus is on that, I feel the work would lose its sports appeal.


Sports Anime Is Really about Character Development

This is the trigger, but I gave this topic a lot of thought over the years.

And it still is kind of the same thing.

Sportsball

The problem about sports anime is that isn’t about sports most of the time. I think it might mean I should give ESPN’s oft-praised 30-for-30 a try, because as they say in American sportscasting, it’s still about telling a story. I think the problem with sports anime is not the stories they tell, but how deeply the sports play a role in the story. How does it integrate thematically? I keep coming back to Cross Games (because it’s the most moving sports anime I probably have watched, and it’s also the only Adachi thing I saw to completion) because it’s a great story that probably has nothing to do with baseball, yet it’s about baseball. It is entirely engaging for me as someone who knows about high school baseball in Japan, but it is totally boring as someone who enjoys following the MLB. In that sense, it’s a story that engages me as a person and as someone who knows about the whole koushien religion but not someone who enjoys watching baseball.

I want to also point out One Outs, a show I dropped about 2 episodes in, because it is ridiculous and honestly I’d rather go sit down and watch that Million Dollar arms movie first. What I want to see is more like, Moneyball. Because one is actually a book about baseball and the other is just gambling. It isn’t to say the cat-and-mouse game depicted in One Outs is not a part of baseball, but it’s characterized in such a way that becomes a very different thing to enjoy; I wouldn’t so much if I didn’t enjoy that gambling aspect. I would say if I was a bigger fan of the sports I might enjoy One Outs on technicalities of how it portrays the sport in such an out-of-box way.

Baseball fans are blessed because Japan loves this sport, so there are probably more baseball manga and anime than most other sports. It’s also easy for me to draw from to make my points because of that. And because Oofuri exists. That is the kind of sports anime I love, because it uses baseball to tell the story, even if ultimately it’s the same human narratives you find in Adachi’s works. It’s just also the same kind of narratives you find on a pre-game show on ESPN. What drives it isn’t the ships or the feelings of the players, but what the sport does to you, how it changes the way you think and see things. This is kind of also why I am sticking with Ace of the Diamond.

Over time I also found an increasing reason to justify why Ro-Kyu-Bu is a great sports anime (as far as sports anime goes–in my opinion very few are any good for fans of sports), and that is precisely why. The story in Ro-Kyu-bu is about a bunch of kids, through their pursuit in basketball, actually learn something about life, and they apply it to their sport. For those people who follow developing pro basketball programs, you know this is actually exactly how it works even at the highest level. And the fact that one of the lolis has a post game just tickles me.

To that point, this is also why I’m not talking about, say, K-ON or Hanayamata (or GaruPan or Love Live or many other similarly formatted stories) in this blog post, because they don’t even enter the picture even if it may be natural to graft on a Go To Koushien trope in the plot for any of those. There needs be some  kind of texture, at least, from the “sports” thing. For me K-ON was actually the closest out of the bunch because it totally channels a form of what music means to people. And because music is such a big topic and experience, it’s hard to box that in the whole sports context. Another one that I see people harp on is Chihayafuru, which feels like a koushien thing through and through and does the sports aspect right, but competitive karuta is as sports as Concentration. It’s about the novelty of the thing, not the thing itself.

And it’s also the distinction between just showing it and explaining it. K-ON is a story that just show you what music is, and what it does to people (eg., not always good!). Oofuri on the flip side is a story that explains everything to you, both directly and through how the story progress, how people relate to each other, and how they develop.

This is actually my biggest critique to GaruPan–by all means it’s a solid sports drama, but it only has one major character development point, which is Miho’s backstory and how she reconciles it with her sister. Seems like a lot of time spent to do very little, at least in that sense.

Also, part of this is just the way how the concept of say, team play and competitiveness, play into character development as showcased through sports. To me that is bull caca in that we’re still telling the same old story told everywhere and does nothing about the sport. If execution is where it counts, then it becomes just a matter of executing the thing on the sports. The catch here is that people come to anime narratives for exactly that–the intercharacter drama, the growth and maturity of individuals, the beauty of friendship, what have you. But who isn’t into this stuff? The sports component is like the moe component, in that it becomes a database element. All too often the sport is merely a subject of respect and not so much a subject of love and passion. It’s not the focus of the story. It’s not thematically thorough.

So yeah, more real sports anime please.


Aldnoah.Zero Wins Round One

I haven’t sampled everything this summer season but I think I’m at a point where I can comfortably say I’m ready to take my picks and go on. Part of this is thanks to not having to worry about 2 noitaminA shows, because of the double-length Psycho-Pass rerun. Part of this also has to do with how FUNimation’s picks this season whiffs everything except The One Show Every Season They License That I Must Watch, so there isn’t any chaff like Daimidaler or Soul Eater Not where the fact that I have negotiate their services put enough of a strain on my attention span that I end up dropping them. [Free S2 completely whiffs at episode 1. It turned into K-ON except with guys and...sorry. Give me some Koushien story please. Oh, there's Tokyo ESP I suppose, which is in limbo but...]

It’s easy to see why I take a liking to Aldnoah.Zero. It’s got the rich SF background, it takes plot progression seriously, with a lot of mind paid to tension and emotional response. Amamiya Sora is icing on the cake (I think she’s getting hype specially in P circles, but also in general now). Ohara drives a mecha? When’s the last time that happened? Wait, don’t tell me Sidonia. Well the real reason is it pushed all my Nadesico buttons.

At any rate, that’s just the prereq. Butch lays it on thick Gargantia-style here with the setup. This time it’s a lot more palatable as someone who at least got to episode 5 of Senkou no Night Raid. Joking aside, there’s enough to the series that I want to see how the setting and theme play out. The pacing/plot being enjoyable enough is what keeps me awake, I guess.

Ami looking like Ami from Million Lewd. Million Live I mean.

Speaking of which, I was surprised Hamayamata keeps me awake because it’s pretty dull other than the eye-jabbingly prismatic visuals. I mean that in the best possible way. I rewatched episode one a couple times and it just looked so hyperrealistic in that fancy, let-us-pour-all-the-filters kind of way that it feels out of place. I would be lying if I didn’t enjoy Yaya being not-Kaya and Hana being from scenic New Jersey, though. Can’t wait for Nu’s character. More seriously, it channels a little of Chihayafuru in the feels, and I can’t wait to see what that means in a dance…club sense.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Akame ga Kill, but I did. Another Amamiya Sora show! But this one is clearly a notch down. Could be fun if it has more of a setting to play off of.

I want to like Argevollen, but it is turning out to be the perfect foil to 08th MS Team. As if you ever wanted to see an example of a crap squad mecha anime, there you go. At least do us the favor and make the main character as chill as the ones from Gunparade March or something. Really wanted to like it but it is basically in every way a subset of shows like Aldnoah.Zero … or Sidonia. Minus the KOTOKO.

Glasslip…Satojun takes on Nagiasu? I don’t know what to expect but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. That said, so far it’s a little snoozy. The whole super power bit is a little vague. It’s okay to get started this quickly but I wish we had a little more time to get comfy with the cast first.

Locodol is another show that I thought would be trash but is turning out pretty okay. Kind of wish we can swap Naru from Hanayamata with the protagonist here. I would probably dig this show a lot more if it was as long as Yama no Susume 2. It’s not, which means now it has to have some kind of plot to carry over 15 minutes.

Nozaki-kun is like the shoujo anime that isn’t. I can’t really say I like it because the humor doesn’t work for me as much, but it helps that the MCs are both tsukkomi. Maybe girls like that? Anyways while the concept is intriguing it is pressing all the wrong buttons for me. Can’t fault it for pressing buttons but maybe it’s just not for me.

Rail Wars is the one show this season where I like everything except the actual story here. I love the depiction of faux-real world Tokyo Station or the Japanese attitude about customer service. I like how there are real trains in the anime, down to the last bolt or screw. Unfortunately the rest is sort of bad. Bad in a way where I’d rather go and rewatch parts of Tenchi Muyo? I guess.

Ao Haru Ride is going to be pretty cool in that we finally get Mayayan in a proper shoujo protagonist role. She deserves it. I wish I can say more than that though; just not my kind of thing and when I watch shows like this I get all old fogie like, “Why can’t shows today be like Karekano good”? Maybe this Otaking rant has something in the making of.

Sabagebu is okay. I watched one episode and it was largely forgettable, but it’ll probably be fun enough to keep me up to 3.

I want to try one episode of Love Stage but I’m not that bored yet. Bladedancer could be interesting, and it doesn’t have that “yet another Nobunaga thing” stigma attached, so I might try that at some point.

The new Encouragement of Climb anime is great, but I feel it’s too long.

I watched the Tokyo Zombie live action movie some years back. It was a riot. I hope Tokyo Ghoul is at least around the same level. Somehow I doubt it.

I looked at the 2ch matome posts for Momo Kyun Sword. I had enough.

How can I go back to OFA at this rate? Hopefully by dropping half of the above. I still have 4 more idols to unlock!

PS. None of this really shakes the fact that Zankyou no Terror might still be the best show of the season, but so far there’s not enough data to make that call. Rather than calling it a win for Aldnoah, it’s more like a personal victory for Aldnoah that it did not crash and burn in the pack before it thinned out. It’s almost like watching NASCAR for the car crashes.

PPS. I’m sure to watch more show not mentioned thus far this season. I also owe myself a Puchimas catch-up after my Sidonia catch-up.

PPPS. I’m digging Cap’n Earth a lot more since they switched gears with exploring all the other designer children stuff. ED2 is awesome. Ace is slowing down as expected; finally getting to see baldie pitch should lift spirits. And I omitted the other continuations that I’ll surely catch too, like Illya and Ai Mai Mii… Goes to show how great Encouragement of Climb is.


Anime Expo 2014: Wrap

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was great that I had a blast at AX, but this is probably the worst AX that I’ve attended, and probably the worst AX in a long while. And given AX’s reputation for the screw, that says a lot.

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On Attention Management, Whining about No Time to Do Stuff

This blog post is brought to you by having LLSIF crammed down one ear and OFA down the other. My weakness, apparently, is video games, not anime.

Few things say "Summer" harder than this crossover

I live in a bizarre world where j1m0ne watches and blogs more about anime than I do. Probably because I just don’t have the time to watch crap. I’m like 3 behind Daimidaler and Soul Eater Not (Soul Eater Not is kind of hard to watch, admittedly). I barely can keep up with No Game No Life, Love Live, Nanana, Diamond Ace and Ping Pong. I still would love to catch up on Brynhildr and Kawaisou, and I just caught up with Chaika. [BTW Ping Pong is far and away the best anime this season. There might be a tad of the "Asian" factor but still.]

Why is this?

  1. I go to too many cons. It’s okay that I give up my weekend time traveling to fun places (Toronto! Chicago! Seattle! Boston! And then there’s “scenic” Somerset, NJ …) but this means it’s really hard to watch anime. The funny thing is this is just an excuse in that I know other people who went to the same cons I did and are caught up. For me the time is second to how going to cons just drains me of attention-focusing juices so when I get home after work I’m prone to do not much.
  2. I have too much extracurricular things. I’ve been taking the past week easy but I do write for JTOR and have other stuff to do. Like this blog. I also went to see that FUNI-attempt at Ghost in the Shell in theaters thing couple weeks ago. I met up with famous Dutch blogger Psgels earlier this week. Lots of stuff to do. It’s summer in the city and it’s all fun stuff. I guess this is the kind of thing that separates people who sit at home and watches everything and those who don’t.
  3. I have too much non-extracurricular things. Like real-life obligations that are related to the cons I go to, pushed back by the cons I go to, and just in general.
  4. I have a job that just takes a lot of time and mental wherewithal.
  5. I haven’t been sleeping as much as I’d like, because of above things, and it makes watching slower and contemplative stuff more difficult (See: Soul Eater Not).
  6. One For All. I’m about two thirds the way through my first run and it feels just kind of like a streamlined version of IM@S2. The main difference here is that the story isn’t so much settled on just one character that you pick, but you actually do have to raise everyone, so it feels a lot more game-y. The story does come in chunks as you pass specific ranking goals. The new appeals mechanics are interesting but I haven’t really had the time to explore them because I’m too focused on making money and gaining EXP. Times like this make me appreciate the English-language scene for the various IM@S games, as when I started on IM@S2, there was a lot of text written for it so it’s easy for me to just research. Now I have to play it the “hard” way.
  7. I’ve been playing the English version of Love Live School Idol Festival mobile game. It’s fun in a way where IM@S is fun in that I want to jab my ears until they go deaf. I have to say, the music is actually better in LLSIF than, say, Shiny Festa, except the singing take a step back so a balance is achieved. I think the main difference is that in this event/microtransaction driven game the pressure is on to grind, versus in Shiny Festa the fun is in the gameplay and the videos. TL;DR, one is a job, the other is a hoobies. Unfortunately I already have too many jobs.
  8. Last but not least, Million Live. Because having four jobs is not enough. I can go on, but this mobage takes the opposite spectrum–if you want to rank, it still takes good amount of play time. If you want to rank without paying, then it’s like four times the play time.

It’s like this strange concoction of sleep deprivation and fake idols [like Jumbo Shrimp] that swims in my mind. It’s like knowing I want to watch Puchim@s, I want to watch it on FUNi and “support” whatever, but it’s such a PITA to do 3-minute episodes on a site that is a pain in the rear to search through hundreds of episodes. I’m too lazy to torrent. Too lazy to search a xdcc bot on the web and input like 50 GETs. I guess I’ll just wait for the director cut version in a few months/year.

It’s not easy being cheesed out of your time and money.

PS. Is it me or the Snow Halation episode kind of underwhelming? Is this how people feel about M@STERPIECE?

PPS. My idle mind is full of idols lately. Maybe that is not a coincidence, at least I feel that way.

PPPS. Speaking of which, I started doing some slides for that panel I wanted to put together, just because why not.