Monthly Archives: November 2006

My DBZ Romance – Nana Ball GT

NINE THOUSAND!

Watching Nana is slowly becoming an exercise in farcical appreciation.

Finishing episode 29 was particularly LOL. It’s extremely amusing that during all the dramatic twists and turns, we get sideline dissection by impassioned yet objective third-parties that break all the plays down and hit that “common wisdom” answer like a retired professional NFL player during a post-game TV segment. The only things missing are Eurobeat, consecutive cliff hangers, and never-ending fillers.

Yes, it’s no coincidence that there are SEVEN DRAGON BALLS.

While you ponder this possible connection, give Patrick more of your attention by listening to him laying down the foundational perspective about anime today? It’s rather concise and quick.


Why Do I Bother? Or Asatte no Houkou’s Real Appeal

Asatte no Houkou‘s appeal comes in two folds. The first is the obvious: the scandalous “loli incest” train of thought coupled with a romance triangle with an ex, and all kinds of gutter-fetching implication when the loli turns into oppai doujinshi magnet and spunky meganekko turns into no-nonsense loli. We’ll leave that alone.

The second layer of appeal is in the mystery.

Asahou slowly reveals to us what happened in Hiro’s past and Shoko’s past. With that we can then piece together the motivation behind their behaviors. And they do act rather mysteriously, if you think about it. I think I stuck with watching it only because they held all those cards and let them lose very slowly. The initial uncertainly was partly due to that, but without knowing the full motivation, Asahou has a real hook for me.

Some background, first. If we look at what made Ruri Hoshino the smash-hit loli that she was, part of it was the passive-aggressive, mean-spirited punk attitude she held towards the adult world. Elitism breeds loneliness and independence robs you the opportunity to lean on someone else.

To apply that to Asatte no Houkou, we have to look at our three main characters: Karada, Shoko, and Hiro. Let’s start from the basics…

Every episode we are repeated the line about grasping and slipping away. I’m at a loss as to piece together a well-founded explanation as to how to explain it within the show, but at episode 5 it’s fair to say that it will be important to keep in mind.

Going to Karada first is important. She is easy to understand and so far she provides us with the boundaries; the limiting condition, so to speak, to make good guesses about what will happen thematically and plot-wise. We know she’s an orphaned girl; Hiro takes care of her and she wanted to be more independent and less of a bother to the person who she perceives to owe some emotional and physical debt to. She turned into an adult, but soon realizes that maturity is not just physical growth.

Shoko, on the other hand, returns home to Japan to find her terrible ex ditched all that she gave him to raise Karada. She’s confused and hurt, but nonetheless understands the situation and does her best for Karada’s sake. Shoko is subtle and passive-aggressive. She lets loose in episode 1. By episode 5 we find out how she was when she was little, and it further goes to explain her behavior in episode 1. In retrospect it tells us two things.

Jealousy. She is obviously troubled by Hiro’s affection for Karada; but she’s also somewhat bothered just by her perceived reason of Karada’s condition: that she’s a helpless child and of course you treat kids with the affection they need to turn them into healthy individuals. As we find in episode 5, Shoko learns that just isn’t the case.

Reaction to her change. How would you react if you turned into a little kid and your ex’s foster sister turned into an adult because she wished on a weird stone? Shoko’s no-nonsense approach seems to crack when she confronted Hiro, but it seems to have more to do with Shoko’s unrelinquished ill will towards Hiro, having not completely dealt with her own hurts. I’m uncertain why was Shoko so easy-going about it.

Indeed, because Shoko is an introvert, she doesn’t express her feelings the same way most anime characters do. Yet at the same time understanding her emotions and thoughts go a long way to understand what’s going on in Asahou. I hope the Ruri illustration was helpful.

Tetsu and his family, too, give the viewer some hints. We’re exposed to his family and his family circumstances. We know that he was raised “properly.” We also know he has a cousin who is something of a foil to him. And of course, his sister is a bit of a foil to Hiro. When minor characters speak, because they have so few scenes, what they say is probably important. When Kotomi talked about her family upbringing and how it shaped her personality, it’s a big light going off…

It all goes to Hiro. His cards will be some of the last few Asahou reveals to us. How will it explain his motivation behind his change of heart? Was he too, orphaned like Karada? Will he has to relearn the precious thing that whoever gave him his chance at life wanted he to have that he gave up? I don’t know. But that’s the right place to go.

At least, it’s the place to go if I’m not to drop this show. Less Strawberry Otome Eggs, more real drama please?


Celebrate Comics with Yotsuba

Honey for your thoughts?

Yotsuba&! is a heart-warming manga written and drawn by Kiyohiko Azuma, the creator of Azumanga Daioh. Perhaps if you read my blog you would know this already.

What makes Yotsuba&! great is not so much how it celebrates life, but that it does so with its own style, and it’s a great style. Channeling proverbial fundamentals of life and everything through the focus of a child is something that is frequently done in American comics–the ones you can find in the newspaper. The shtick is nothing novel. But rather, I think, what makes Yotsuba&! distinct is how cute it is. And this is not the sexualized, contextualized cute that Japanese pop culture is famous for.

To elaborate, reading Charles Schultz’s Peanuts (or something similar) can often result in the same mental and emotional response. It paints a slightly different picture of childhood and a different perspective of the world. That’s good–we want competing worldviews embodied in shared experiences as different works. It isn’t how charming or pathetic, but both positive and negative feelings, that we get from reading these works that defines them.

Seeing a grown-up problem with an adult’s perspective of a child versus the perspective of a child looking at a grown-up’s world is a scale that I propose where we can understand the appeal of these kinds of works. Sinfest is easily my favorite take about adults looking at adult problems, but pining for that childlike idealist feel. On the other hand the popular Calvin & Hobbes paints sophistry while giving deference to a child’s perspective over an adult’s. Yotsuba&!, I think, is akin to a child’s takeover of an adult’s world.

Continue reading


What’s Truly Ugly at Midnight in the Red Garden of Teen-Angst City

Liz's blinking! SPOILERZ!

Red Garden continues to be a compelling watch for me. I admit, I have a soft spot for angst-girl protagonists. I’ve been always a huge fan of girls like Priss and Robin…

But Claire, Kate, Rose and Rachel are not really like those prima-donna lead figures. In fact, I think they’re really the split personalities embodied by a Priss-type character. The interpersonal drama and the internal drama going on between the gang as well as with each gang member seems to be the expository pie we’re served.

With Rachel acting like this, she’s definitely leading the pack in … something.

So what’s ugly? It’s the fight scenes. Remember Uchuu no Stellvia? There’s this awesome episode about 2/3 of the way through the show, where the girls have a pow-wow and cried a lot? Now imagine that, but you have it every episode, and instead of self-acceptance and coming to terms with one another, you have psychotic terror involved with life, death, and coming to terms with existential implications.

It’s way worse than any complaint you can leverage against its visual style or art form, IMO. In episode 4, Rachel goes nuts a bit; that’s as expected. But episode 6? Sigh. The only relief I have is that they’ve gave away to that Gantz-like, shock factor; the subtle conspiracy is beginning to set in, and aside from the incessant wailing it is actually not too terrible.

Sigh, who am I kidding? It’s still over the top. Like their dresses.


The Rise of a Networked-Economic Giant; or Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die

In Yochai Benkler’s book The Wealth of Networks, he explored the internet’s potential in transforming human society by comparing behavior of people living in advance economies between a industrial mode of information production and network mode of information production. In some ways it is a repackaging of the common, copyleftist argument about freedom–“free as in free speech, not free beer.” However, Benkler raises a contention that a networked, non-proprietary approach to creating valuable, marketable information can be just as good, if not superior to a classical, industrial mode of production of information. Benkler does this through both economic ally and in social and political terms. While his example of the open-source movement in the software industry is a common banner that copyleftists rally under, the generalized approach Benkler used to explain the situation can be applied across-the-board, to most, if not all, useful information that is produced today under an industrial mode of information production.

Taking a bottom-line, cynical approach, I ask: Is Google’s long-term strategy as a business entity to create a niche in the market and in the landscape of copyright law, a sustainable goal? While the public cannot be certain what goes on in Google’s board meetings, one can reasonably construe their recent actions, marketing strategies, and overall philosophy to suggest several things:

1. If one can fairly presume that Google is full of smart, intelligent managers, lawyers, and businesspeople, then their success thus far these past few years means a switching of gears that they are going to be in this business for the long haul. Google has not existed even for 10 years, and many years less in the eyes of the public (and investors). Given their position as a leader in the internet-related industries, they now have the wherewithal to take new kinds of risks and pioneer the future in this mostly uncharted area of business and law.

2. Jessica Litman’s Digital Copyright lays out a solid foundation and a rather cynical view of US copyright law. In part, she argues the current statutory regime is the direct result of many elaborate and complex negotiated-for bargains between the traditional players in the copyright industry. While Litman, Benkler, and many others warn the senselessness and unfairness of applying laws meant to enforce economic competition between businesses to everyday Joe and Jane, the fact that Google (and the majority of players in the higher level of abstraction of the internet market–to exclude telecom interests and ISPs from the picture) had no say during the late 1990s round of legislative negotiation, it leaves new players in new media little choice in dealing with laws that are designed keeps the old players in power. Indeed, this entire school of thought did not start to mature until years after the passage of the DMCA. (Perhaps talk about Yahoo here?)

3. Are Google’s lawsuits a form of impact litigation? No doubt, by bringing novel and new issues before courts, Google is trying to set laws in favor to itself. In fact, if Litman is right, the court may be the only real legal venue where Google can seek relief; and especially if the legislative process is as slow as Litman (and in the history of US copyright law) claims. But as a rule, outside the court room, lawsuits have deep and complex implications for businesses. One of the key implication is in the battle of mindshare. (Bruce Keller’s presentation about the ad-based model of Google and the comparison to TV and radio elicited in me a feel of irony in light of the big picture.) Google is viewed in the eyes of the public directly, and its good will with the public affects its earnings in a very direct way (as opposed to book publishers or the Author’s Guild, as examples of Google’s opponents). Thus, Google has a stake in swaying the law to embody a wider fair use, or more free use, in alignment of public interest. Google can paint its opponents in a light of how established players, lacking that judicial agility, fight to retain the way they do business against innovative technology. It is both a marketing ploy and a legal strategy.

4. This ties in with the perceived, Lessig-like argument about fair use. It is generally accepted that a business method relying on a legal interpretation of fair use is an extremely risky one. While that never stopped VHS and Betamax manufacturers, the full force of the copyleftist argument is that some of the new things we can do through new media seems to violate the section 106 bundle of rights, they shouldn’t. These uses should not even be “fair use,” but free, un-infringing use. However short of legislative changes, Google’s only alternative is to have a court declare that it is “fair use.” Once realized that these reforms are very pro-public and against the interests of the established, entrenched corporate interests in old media, the public will tend to rally towards Google, its free services, and its vision of a freer informational future.

5. The nature of a internet search engine cannot be reduced to the like of a yellow pages or any analogous argument someone may make in court as a biased counsel. The web itself has been transformed entirely by search engines; Google’s success alone is more than enough to testify to its significance. It can be fairly said that ultimately Google is a middleman in the balance of consumers, creators, and middlemen, but how will the courts appreciate the value Google adds to our economy today? How will the courts appreciate the value of YouTube? MySpace? Will it go the way of Grockster; or the VHS?

Conclusion: What does Google stand to lose if they do not press on at this time? This is the $64,000 question, but does sound business sense means anything in an industry that is fast-changing, dynamic, and highly developing? With high risk comes high rewards. The fact that Google is such a threat to traditional players in consumer media (and an ever-growing list of other traditional players), there are reasons to believe this is going to be the case only if Google breaks the ties of the legislative binds that hinders it as a corporation in competition with other economic entities interested in the same slice of the consumer pie. Why say yes to licensing when you can always say yes to licensing later? The cost of litigation plus even a poor settlement seems little when the entire future of the world’s information industry is in the balance. To call Google’s attorneys as “believers” is probably more fitting rather than calling them prophets, but that is exactly what is in the balance for them.

===

Yeah.

The above is a rough outline of what I plan to write in a week’s time into a short paper. (And forgive the random references that I make with no clear meaning as to what it refers to, just for my own sake.) The relevance to all things anime is small but it’s an answer to a question plaguing the content industry. The internet has long since been the worst kept secret to wealth in this information revolution. How do you make a buck? How do we work with fansubbing to make a buck?

Indeed, if what keeps fansubbing alive is the monetary barrier to bring a suit to a wide range of people all over the world, to sue potential customers of Kadokawa Shoten, Bandai, MediaFactory, King Record, and what have you…

1. Why hasn’t there been more concerted effort to bring “fansub groups” down?

2. Fansubbing has evolved. But where will this go next? To elaborate, since the days where we pipe text through a genlock to mail SVHS tapes in a SASE envelope to today where we can produce MTV-style parodies with Aegisub and put it on YouTube, things has changed. The legal liability and economic incentives changed. The use changed. The users changed. And it will continue to change. I find it disturbing that I have to make a distinction between fansubbing in various contexts.

3. What other relevant questions can we ask? What are all the stakes? Whose stakes are important? To whom?

What I would really apperciate are references and critiques if you can throw them my way. I’m still in mid-research, so to speak, so that sort of stuff can be very valuable for me. Pretty please?