Monthly Archives: January 2008

True QQ for High Definition

More Pew Pew Less QQ

With some major American studio jumping off the HDDVD ship and onto the BRD bandwagon, maybe that format war will be coming to an end soon.

But that is neither here or there. One small point I want to address is that a while back there are some reports of porn studios siding with the HDDVD format, citing lower production costs. Nonetheless, it’s highly questionable how much weight that has on the format war–simply because when it comes to porn, the internet has long been declared the winner. Indeed, the internet is going to win also in the non-porn category, and it already has started to in some cases in the form of on-demand delivery via cable/telephone providers and, increasingly, things like Apple TV, X-Box Live and Netflix.

That said, there has been fewer TV anime (read: virtually none) that made me think “WOAH Hi DEF” than True Tears. On the grey file trading channels of the intarweb people can find “high definition” encodes of whatever shows. And quite frankly 90%+ of them suck. The reasons why they do vary–sometimes the raw is just a poor upscale; other times it’s the fault of the subsequent encoders for other reasons; frequently it’s just because the source sucked.

The high-def formats are suppose to be attractive, in my eyes, because they wow you. It’s not because they merely look better than what we had before. In fact a tell-tail sign of what is an upscale and what is not–if it doesn’t punches you in the face, it’s not real HD. Sure, you can blow things up and make it look better (especially when it comes to anime) it’s still no substitute for a proper high-def treatment. And while True Tears doesn’t kick my balls like, say, the High-def 5cm/s trailer that was released over a year ago, it stands head and shoulder above its HD kins this season.

High-def anime is now more common than ever. The usual TV broadcast channels are doing the switch. It’s about time we get the same treatment in terms on home video. Com’on Japan. Don’t make me QQ for you.

In fact, the next person who mentions reverse-import gets headshot.

Ashes Unfit for Giant Robots? What Goes with a Shooting Star?

Kugirie ftw~

Over time the Gundam franchise evolved to match what’s appealing and interesting to the youth of Japan. Or Asia. Youth in Asia. Nice Boat.

Sorry, just couldn’t stop myself there.

Uh, while I was somewhat of a fan of good o’ The Brilliant Green in its hay days, the band’s return last year was a big question mark. I think quickly, though, they’ve shown much of their old selves. It’s still a little too early to make a prudent call, but it’s never too early to exclaim “wow I like this” when, well, I like their Gundam 00 single.

But that bothered me. A Buriguri song in a Gundam anime? Yes I know much of the two’s demographics overlap. But so what? That’s like hearing Radiohead on Avatar or something. Well, that’s probably too much of an exaggeration.

And while L’arc en Ciel has anime tie-ins on a regular basis, their last song on Gundam 00 was also a little odd and unfitting. Not that it was bad (and in fact, I like both songs as well as the animation) but something just doesn’t seem right.

It begs the question: what does seem right? I made a reference to a classic KOTOKO song, Onegai Teacher OP, in the title, because I thought that song fit as an example. In fact, I love Second Flight (Onegai Twins) even more, and the overall package that the opening animation for the show was superb and it is something that I just don’t see much at all in recent shows.

And even so, Gundam opening and ending songs have consistently set some kind of landmark–good ones and bad–for anime that came before and anime that follow. I think See-Saw still rakes in the big bucks from their SEED works, and anison people like Chihiro Yonekura got a lot of popularity from her classics in 8th MS Team. If we broaden it to Sunrise “real” mecha shows then the list will probably double with people of more mainstream impact as well, like KOKIA, among some long list of other musical achievers.

I thought about Gundam specifically. Perhaps it felt odd only because I had a preconception of what Gundam is suppose to be like, and the grungy style of alternative rock didn’t go with it? It’s not to say there aren’t other Gundam theme songs that were “out there” or anything, but they somewhat fit the show. Older songs fit the older Gundam shows; fruity songs like Turn-A-Turn fit fruity Gundam anime like Turn-A; Nami Tamaki‘s dance beats did wonders for SEED. So why is Ash Like Snow giving me any problems? It’s hardly the worse or even the most unfitting song-to-show.

Perhaps I’m just not taking Gundam 00 seriously enough? Or maybe music marketing is just being too aggressive? Sigh.

The Perils of Human Interrelatedness

Go give the springboard of this post a read if you had not yet the chance. I think I may just be parroting what Owen said there, but I think the subject deserves a very good scrub on its own. It’s hard to find a good beginning to tackle this multi-threaded concept, so I’ll start with the boring stuff that comes from my personal life. Or even more boring, classic English literature? Oh, also Longcat Post warning!

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

The near-cliche “what’s in a name” comes from Shakespeare, but the last time I used the term was in a debate in regards to legalizing homosexual marriages. In the US, this is a debate that has been going on for some time. The state I live in is now the latest state to legalize it, although the local legislature decided to give gay “marriages” a different name.

But name is really at the stake here. Or rather, the representation of a social status. Quite frankly no one really care about names; but names and labels have practical significances and real-life ramifications. I am not a baptist I have been schooled in the way some American baptists [and look how I avoid that label, lolz] school their kids in regards to dating and, uh, I think the term is “courtship.” To be honest I’m not sure I get all of it, but the takeaway was some pretty practical and pragmatic things people don’t do because it can be difficult to talk about your relationship in the meta with someone you are infatuated with (puppy love). And of course, the teaching was a way to do these things.

One of the things I learned is to define the context and boundary of your relationship. Ever use the “it’s complicated” tag on Facebook? It’s good to know we can define our relationships that way in this day and, but that’s a copout. What’s nice is that the social networking smartasses at Facebook gave something that doesn’t have a label a label (and more to their credit, that they recognize the need for such a vague label; many others before it did not), so people can be comfortable about it. But what’s not nice is that this copout trivializes what’s truly important about a relationship–the relationship itself, and not the social status it gives.

The conservative Christian babble goes on to talk about how kids need this education because they just follow what they see on TV and do whatever that they like (which is true); and without properly defining and understanding the relationship, kids are vulnerable to emotional trauma as a result of poorly handled relationships they experienced from the past (which is also true). But I think the jury is still out on what the cure is for this kind of stuff, if there is one.

From way left field, when I was reading this book a year or two ago I ran across a similar thread in the context of providing a perspective for copyright industry/law reform. The point is human beings do things out of a wide variety of motivation. And it differs from person to person even if two people are doing the same thing. When two people take a vow of marriage, they may define marriage differently than the next couple who booked the same chapel the day later. And as I alluded above, homosexual marriage is not the same as heterosexual marriage by the accounts of many, as an example.

The same concept applies to labels like “boyfriend” or “friend” or “it’s complicated” or “Capulet.”

And which is why I’m 100% supporting Eriko’s experiment, although she’s doing it wrong. I’d expect a real genius to be more methodological about it. But anyways…

Right, Eriko jokes aside, back to anime romance. Honey & Clover is mind blowing in some ways. Granted, in the genre of josei romance drama, this is not at all unusual, but as anime, it’s rare. For those of us who follow TV anime closely we know shows like H&C is quite rare. Too often the breeds of josei shows take the more shoujo route and gets deep into introspection, and frankly the internal workings of a woman-to-be is like Latin to a penguin for many others–puzzling and incomprehensible. To contrast I thought Ai Yazawa’s Nana‘s main strength (if not Ai Yazawa’s primary strength as a storyteller) is a balance between the introspectives and the external perspectives, so it was not a surprise that the show itself was a fun watch with a lot of fans. It was able to engage the audience in more levels than just the inner struggles and conflicts of a couple girls tied by fate.

I suspect one reason why most shoujo/josei anime take the introspective route for the same reason why shows like Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei works so well in this medium–because labels make good caricatures. When the whole scope of your dramatic tension rests on the intersection of social norm and personal goals, it’s hard to draw it out short of going on the Nice Boat. Indeed, Nana is filled with soap opera level trash drama, and that’s really what the Nice Boat was about, sans the violence.

Unlike those shows, Honey & Clover, to be specific, is a show about a bunch of strange people. I think that’s one thing we often forget when we watch this show, as strange people are dime a dozen in anime. What makes the strange an important factor in Hachikuro is how, actually, they live in a normal world. It’s no big deal to harbor a vampire when you are made of paper, right?

To pull it together some, a big part about Nana is about the two women (and the people around them) and how they relate to the web of people around them. It’s no surprise that this modern drama deals a lot with people’s self image and how it reflect on the people they relate with. The same is also true with Hachikuro and Kimikiss anime, but unlike the typical josei/shoujo variety, we’re spared with much of that introspection from the feminine perspective. Instead, we’re just seeing what people are doing, how they may be “fighting.” And in good shounen style, even commentators who give insights on others’ relationships and struggles. When we do introspect, it’s from a guy’s point of view. And that’s just a wonderful breath of fresh air for both genders.

Fact remains, romantic relationship can be complicated; and it’s those complicated ones that draws viewers and readers to your story as they appeal to real people with real relationships. Simple labels are helpful in real life but they rarely are precise or sufficient when things get complicated. (If you can even get two people to agree on how to define a label like that with workable precision…) In fact, the biggest charm of Hachikuro, for me, is how it totally destroys the common sensibility of putting labels on your relationships. Instead, Hachikuro focuses on relationships first and foremost; on the interdependence of people and the drama that arise as these interdependence change and evolve along with the characters themselves. People’s needs are met, and it is brutally honest about it while done with respect for modesty and good character; a sense of humbleness in spirit of how we are never more than the people who got us here in the first place. It’s the anti-Nice Boat.
That contrasts well Nana, I think, which is more of a common-place, self-centered “fight” between passion and pride. It appeals to the realist but one has to question the theme behind it all. It’s got the girl talk aspect down.

So where does Kimikiss land? It’s really a shounen romance, but why does it feel so different from your harems and the typical galge adaptations? Does it show its mainstream roots?

I don’t know for sure, but I guess at least two things:

Like Hachikuro, there is some degree of introspection. It’s less, but it’s split between the main cast–especially Mao. The involvement of Mao in the double-triangle that plots out the romance polygon in Kimikiss anime seems heavy at this point. Her struggles actually gets externalized a little more than what you’d expect if she’s going to be a major impetus in the latter part of the series as she faces off with Kouichi, so it’s expected to see Yumi take up some screen time and see the focus of the show swing away from her now. Basically, Kimikiss anime has a narrative progression not unlike Hachikuro in how the different plot threads resolve in a balance manner between boys and girls.

Second, to go back to the long ass nonsense in the first half of this post, we deal with labels in a way that eludes the bulk of anime and manga out there. What kind of relationship does Yumi have with Kouichi? Kouichi with Mao? Kazuki with Eriko? Mao with Kai? We are no longer concerned if they are going to “hook up” although Kimikiss clearly acknowledges this when Yumi and Kouichi was “affirmed.” It’s a weird compromise. Feelings and relationship first, labels second.

Well, it’s hard to say for sure at this point. I need more! And not just because so I can find out what happens; Kimikiss is this gem in the rough that has been charming its way on to the top of my mind’s stack. Only if it wasn’t just half an hour per episode. This is the kind of show that I can go for in the hour-long format.


Arcueid has her Marble Phantasm, but Steve Jobs has some tricks too.

When I was watching Tokimeki Memorial: Only Love last year, I thought it was an amusing romantic comedy from a guy’s angle. This Tokimemo anime is a classic Konami franchise adopted to be about dating and romantic stuff. What distinguishes it from most other romantic stories is the complexity of human interaction required from the protagonist’s point of view. It follows a simple paradigm:

Guys are mysteriously simple.

Deep and complicated stuff that we see in shows like Hachikuro is really exclusive to the realm of josei and shoujo dramas. A man who lives to save up what he owns for the woman he loves? That’s pretty epic manliness. And a higher standard than most people who’d even set themselves even if they think about it clearly. It’s not to say the more common form of love is inferior, but more like Mayama is really awesome…for a stalker.

Anyways, all of that is about 5 levels too high up compared to your high-school first-love scenario that I’m enjoying through Kimikiss. All in all, it’s a shounen romance done right. It’s done so right, in fact, that at times it seems really pedestrian and boring. But at the same time, it’s so much fun to see such a charming execution of puppies playing with each other.

That’s right, they’re all puppies. The guys are simple, but the girls are simple too. Well, they’re not so simple at first glance–yet it all boils down to that cutsy wubby stuff that is made of pink and high school proms …in the 60s.

It’s a reality distortion field. How you buy in to Kimikiss or not is a matter of how good suspension of belief works in the context of Kimikiss anime’s construction of its setting and atmosphere.

There’s a reality distortion field of a wholly different sort in Tokimemo Only Love. It’s the one that you may be familiar with if you’re a fan of Kawaii Jenny! or some other nonsense like … well, nonsense. MUSUMET? Not that bad I think. It’s just that everything is so shiny and exaggerated to the strength of the medium that is anime drama.

The end result, however, is not flattering. Perhaps it’s foolish to take any anime of this caliber seriously but it’s hard to do it when the chicken plays a plot hook. Well, take no offense True Tears fans I guess.

The masters behind Hachikuro is behind Kimikiss, and it shows, let’s just say that much.

Legitimization of Your Fanboyish Behavior

Well, I guess it’s a little more than LOL copyright. This is kind of a comment to my own blog post in a way.

Thanks to Avatar and others (and maybe over at CCB), I’ve managed to say more than what I originally did, and in the process came to realize that this is really a viable possibility. Yes, fansubbing can be reasonably dealt with, outside the shadow of law. I’m glad to run into blogs and editorials of people who are continuing this conversation, because I think it is helpful.

Granted, this is more like a pipe dream than something feasible in the near future, but it’s a start (or a checkpoint?) to the legitimization of fansubbing. To me, fansubbing is a thing that fans do–can we at least legitimize, well, fandom? In general? I don’t really care about specifically fansubbing all that much. This blog post is not just about the economics of it, as some people have previously thought. It’s about the way people live, or will live, in the future.

Here’s an example. I like CLAMP. They’re good at design, specifically. In fact they’ve made a name for themselves as designers in a competitive marketplace with notable power in their brand. Now insert genki-go-lucky, CLAMP-loving, cosplayer teen. Congrats, you just have witnessed the mind set of copyright infringement! I mean, this is probably the least sinister example. It doesn’t involve obscene stuff (porn), it doesn’t involve a tarnishing of CLAMP’s IP (I guess unless you’re an old, fat man trying to do a CCS cosplay or something? I dunno.), nobody loses money, and what’s more, it’s a widely accepted practice that is pretty kosher even in commercial venues. Everyone loves cosplayers, they make good centerpieces for conventions, sets the mood, and it makes great front page pictures for local newspapers.

Is casual, fan cosplaying fair use, however? It’s non-commercial and fairly transformative, but it’s a taking of the entirety and engaging in conduct that is, well, infringing in likely arenas of commercial practice by the rights holder (and the gap has already been bridged in some other instances). In other words, a lawyer could say to the fans that you can’t make and sew your own outfits to resemble these characters. You have to license the right to do so, or buy it from a commercial vendor who did. That is the sad state of affair today. Sure, perhaps if you are an individual there is no incentive for a copyright owner to go after you. But what if you want to start a cosplay cafe? Or sell doujinshi? Or make an AMV collective website and make money via donation and ads? And of course, form a fansub/scanlation organization? The list is long and growing, and it’s all copyright infringement (with a shaky fair use defense at best for them all). As fans do it on their own, they are protected by their own poverty and the inhibiting cost of a federal and/or international lawsuit (at least in the US). But it’s still copyright infringement and the law itself stands in the way between collaboration between the fans and the publishers that lives off the fans, even if neither side cares for it in this context. This legal divide is particularly evident with the debates and controversies surrounding the semiannual Comiket and the doujinshi culture, but the same legal problem comes up in other places too. Traditionally in the US authors and creators have gone after fanfiction writers that produced works they didn’t like, and even entities like Blizzard and Sony-Varent took legal action over fan uses of their MMORPG content they didn’t like.

This has nothing to do with an collaborative enterprise like open source coding, and the strength in public domain against the monopoly (and subsequent control) of proprietary code and patents. It doesn’t even have all that much to do about fighting to restore balance, the power of the past leeching away from the future of you and me in the name of “lol support the artists.” (Even if the end result is some kind of naughty kiddy porn? But don’t we have laws to address that in the parallel?) Fact remains Japanese (and Korean and Chinese and Vietnamese and whatever) animators are already some of the lowest paying workers in this industry, but did anyone or any organization do anything about it? Then again, the industry has plenty of other problems to worry about, and fans too should give all of this a damn (and we don’t).

It’s about legitimizing fandom. It’s about free speech, not free beer. The latter is just a side effect, that, I believe, will continue to exist until the end of time. Sure, the excuse “They Might Be Pirates” can justify the paranoid ways some media companies operated, but is it even a rational thing to do in light of expanding your revenue? Does it even work? Can anyone actually do anything about it? Like propping up the sinking city of Venice, or transplant it to an alien world? You get to keep your pristine world order but at what cost? (Maybe media company execs can use some iyashikei anime too?) I propose a cheaper alternative to fight this particular kind of piracy: legalize it.

Still, the first step about legitimizing fandom is to, well, be legit. Fans have to make a statement about our identity and our condition. For most people this means simply buy the anime you like (as well as the merchandise that you like). Assert your identity through commercial impact, like a good capitalist. As much as I detest R1 DVD art boxes and super LE $$$ releases (because they’re usually low quality from a design point of view, and you’re not getting what you are paying extra for), I buy them because I like it. Isn’t that how it is suppose to work? I have a figure of Haruhi Suzumiya riding high with her Gibson, because I thought that was a captivating imagery, not because I want to support Atelier-Sai and how it makes a living for sculptors riding on the coattails of other people’s intellectual properties. I don’t buy stuff just to “support the artist” because some artists out there are just not worth supporting, and you do better writing them a check as donation than to support them than via some 3rd party which takes a 80-98% cut of the money you give. Besides, what does it say about the artists working for those publishers anyways? The moment we start down that “support” road it becomes a moral and ethical quagmire that betrays the fundamental principle behind charging money for intellectual property: creators and publishers can charge money for it because their IP and services have intrinsic value.

To me that last sentence is the crux of the copyright debate. Fans have to value the stuff they like; if they don’t then we shouldn’t expect publishers and creators to value the stuff they produce. And vice versa–the middleman has to value the creators’ creations beyond merely “business as usual.” The popular misconception that strikes the chord of common conscience is just a hair off. In other words, sure, people should get paid for their labor, but crappy products from hard work is still worth crap, and you shouldn’t be forced to pay for it, even if people “consume” said crappy product the same way they do with a quality work in a mass media context. IP is not commodity like a bar of soap; it’s not like a pile of iPods stocked outside on the street. And the general failure to treat IP as, well, IP, is one of the worst remaining traces of the industrial revolution-era misconception holding back progress in the 21st century. And this is a sin repeated by fans (can we even call them fans?) and by the industry alike.

It’s almost like the objectification of women, except as applied to artistic expressions instead.

Can we just say “support the arts” instead of “support the artists”? I believe most people know the music or TV show they listen to or watch better than how either is produced and financed. Besides, may it be artists or consumers, the art is what we are ultimately after anyways. And ultimately I believe supporting the arts will support the artists indirectly, and that’s a truer reflection of how things really work.

And once you start to see things from “support the arts” perspective, it’s just a different world. And why things like legitimizing fandom becomes so important. As fans naturally we want to share what delights us, and we want to produce derivative works based on these things that delight us. A cursory view into history tells that is how anime companies started in the North America–fans who wanted to make it legit. It’s a history that has repeated itself times and again. It’s how human beings have done it in all of recorded history. It’s how we make more art. We just can’t outlaw that.

It’s also about working together, too. It’s pretty clear that people are willing to pay for anime, and pretty much mass media in general. The question is how to extract this money efficiently and give it to the people who produce anime, without making too much of an economic footprint that suppresses creativity. And I think fans are willing to work with companies in exploring new options to make this exchange of money for services work better. It’s natural to say that, at one extreme end, a guy can go around with a sawed-off shotgun and hold people up at gunpoint, demanding them to buy stuff; or at the other extreme just have people make and publish works for free for all, and take up a donation (although this does work for some businesses). It’s important, I believe, to have a rational dialog between publishers and consumers. It means people have to stop and listen–or else it’s just a shouting match, not a dialog. At any rate, this ongoing dialog will help to figure out what works for us as fans and businesses, and what doesn’t. A site like AoDVD, IMO, is what we need, but it shouldn’t just stop there. And of course we have other tools in our disposal beyond just that, and we should use them.

That’s not to mention many creators and animators are fans themselves, naturally. Invariably legitimizing fandom legitimizes creators, as well. I think this is a necessary step to incorporate and bring closer the distance between creators and people who appreciate those creators’ works. For example, the ongoing dispute (did it end?) between Rowling’s plans to publish an official Harry Potter encyclopedia clashed with plans to publish a book version of the Harry Potter Lexicon, the premiere fan site which even Rowling herself used as a reference in working on the books. It’s just another unfortunate example that the copyright industry we have in place today doesn’t jive with the shrinking distance between fandom and creators, squeezing and trespassing onto the middleman’s territory. Sure, thankfully this will never happen in the US for anime because most anime companies are poor, but it shouldn’t even be an issue. Imagine if decided to publish a book on Studio Ghibli and got shut down by Disney? Hmm, I guess it’s not impossible.

Anyways. In a nutshell, I think fans and companies can only work together to deal with issues like fansubbing and doujinshi when we honestly confront each other in a loving way; that we are only here today because we care about the anime/manga/game/whatever we like. The legal barrier that protects the rights of the licensees only gets in the way when it is not put in light of faith in the enterprise of artistic works, but focused merely on money gained and lost. It puts the fans on the defensive and the companies the shoes of oppressors when in reality they’re just between the frying pan and the fire. Fans may be able to say whatever they want but corporate execs can’t because of these laws. It’s not to say we should discard these rights, but rights and entitlement come with responsibility and hard work that justifies them. We need laws to encourage industry practices that bend but not break. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition; with just limited rights you can still operate a simple business model of selling merchandises and DVDs effectively, and what good is it to sit on all the exclusive rights when you can’t even take advantage of the bulk of these rights?

So to sum it up: fight for your rights. When I say fight I don’t mean cause an argument or shoot people. In a Christian context resistance starts with a death of self in the service of love for other. It’s a fight against complacency and the convenience that robs creativity. It’s a fight against greed and against the principalities of this world (like how the past clamps onto the future). It’s only violent in love. Voting with your money speaks volume louder than a meager blog post (as the good book says, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”). Louder still is the silent majority who choose to not spend any money for whatever the reason. But as fans you are obligated to preach what you are crazy about–that’s part of the job description. That’s why I’ve been prodding Momotato again and again, because while he hasn’t watch a lot of shows this past year (witnessed by the 50% reduction in post count), it serves as a barometer to the health of the industry. It also works well as a non sequitur to end this long rambling thing of a post.