Monthly Archives: January 2011

Organizational Management, Ouroboros Wave

Getting warmed up for MoshiDora fer reals dudes.

I exchanged a couple words with 2DT a couple days ago over twitter, and he reminded me how despite Spice & Wolf is a sheep in wolf’s disguise in terms of hard-hitting econ concepts (ie., it’s kinda basic as far as econ concepts go), it forwards some key big-picture notions to a hopefully-young-enough audience that they may be intrigued by them. In the first book the biggest one of these is the notion of silver content as it ties into the power, wealth and prestige of a country issuing them, and how even you could have a ton of money, it can still bankrupt you because some bits of information get leaked (namely, how your money has the just the tiniest less amount of silver than previously thought), despite that there is intrinsic value in silver. I thought learning how to charm a wolf-woman was the far more practical advice offered in the light novel series, the art of relating with somebody in which the bargaining chips are not so easily quantified.

We can extend the same views to Ouroboros Wave, the somewhat-neglected Haikasoru title from late last year. I think it came out with Rocket Girls (which I also finished recently), and since it is kind of this generic not-so-near SF anthology about human colonization of the solar system that feels almost too stereotypical, it didn’t get a lot of attention. I think the fact that it is an anthology hurts it; as a series of short stories there aren’t much in terms of the overarching threads connecting the story other than the setting. A few characters show up in a couple different stories, but it doesn’t matter if you read the story they were first from since only one interesting thing carries over, and it wasn’t a big deal if you missed it. At least, other than the setting, of course.

A strength and weakness shared by most of these short stories is that they all have the same kind of theme and concepts, may it be a story about catching a terrorist on Mars or investigating alien life under the polar ice cap of Europa, the same kind of “magic wand” gets waved around. The story is not very strong on characters, except perhaps the first of these. On the other hand, the strong similarities in theme and concept it has with other franchises like Crest of the Stars and Mobile Suit Gundam (UC timeline) enables some decent comparisons. At the same time though, it shows how those two series entirely overshadow this one when it comes to characterization.

What I want to pick on is Ouroboros Wave’s incessant notion of organization. I understand this is coming from a Japanese cultural context. And frankly Japan is not known for its progressive, productive and innovative management styles in their corporate environment. The social structures and culture just don’t allow for it. Looking at it from that perspective, the notions proposed in Ouroboros Wave in regards to its modular and performance-driven organizational society is a radical notion. It’s almost Borg-like in that there’s an unstated equality between everyone in terms of understanding their role in the mission of their lives, and it’s very Japanese. At the same time it goes to criticize hierarchy and the forceful fitting-in, that passive-aggressiveness in which is part and parcel with that sort of work culture.

It would be fine and another not-very-noteworthy footnote to Ouroboros Wave if I saw it from that perspective. To me, organization management is just like any other branch of information technology or logistics in which we can empirically march towards a technologically superior mode as t approaches infinity. Just like how we didn’t have airplanes 200 years ago and spaceships 100 years ago, we didn’t have the assembly line 200 years ago or Scrum 100 years ago…

And the problem is, while the proposed organizational structure in Ouroboros Wave escapes the worst kind of mistakes (that Nisioisin makes regularly: being outright outdated by today’s standards or completely wrong), they were kind of just there. It’s like telling the reader how there’s FTL drive, and you keep on talking about there’s this FTL drive, but you never even wave your hand to explain how it works beyond current understanding of these things. In other words there’s no equivalent of a “warp bubble” in Ouroboros Wave’s notion of organizational structure. It is as if the way people organized themselves today was not subject to any kind of rational reason as to why they do it in the first place. I guess “the webs” is kind of that? Or a break with tradition (which would sell to a Japanese audience I suppose)? But it seems like an answer to the wrong question. I mean maybe it’s just that the company I work for operates in a manner not too unlike the one described in the book (Earth is not exactly small, after all), so I know some of the challenges are in those situations. Ouroboros Wave addressed none of them, and that is a big letdown in my opinion.

Still, I guess to some people (since this is mostly targeted for young teens and teens) it can be an eye-opening kind of thing. Like how the popular understanding of technology applies not just to Dysonspheres and personal electronics, but also project management and corporate governance, or how currency trading involves large volume and fast reactions. It’s the usual head trick of applying today’s tech to illustrate a bright future, in the meanwhile teach some curious reader a thing or two about something they wouldn’t know. I just didn’t think Ouroboros Wave did a good job at that.

Array of Public Opinion Blossoms in the Crack of Weekly Broadcast

Okay, can I spoil on Madoka Magica episode 3 now?

It is the sort of little joys in my life, to be able to tune in to a fanbase that expressed their surprise, dismay, anger, joy, admiration and how eyes lit up when the collective of us pondered the meaning behind Kyubey’s unphased face, that never-changing :3 expression. The undigested SPOILER of a certain SPOILER drops onto those pin-top tables, feeling as if we’ve attended the wrong tea party. No queen spoke of “off with her head” but we did get a really large dose of Faust, and when you get that along with the word “contract” it shouldn’t take a lawyer to have some alarm go off.

The most pretty expressions this week are the fan artists and the graphical remixers. As TheBigN mentioned previously, Pixiv is one of the earliest spot. I guess there might be some kind of speedsubber mentality at work there, but it’s not just them. I think 2ch, 4chan and all the usual spots have a lot of fun takes of episode 3’s surprise twist.

But how can you enjoy these potentially short-lived outbursts if you don’t follow this show on a weekly basis? I suppose to an extent you could enjoy it by an exercise of empathy, but I doubt it can capture even 80%, let alone 100% of the festive feeling I’ve seen expressed. Especially if in the next episode, we get a big turn-around that may nullify this little shocker.

Well, we’ll know in a couple hours!

ANNCast Notes, Janurary 22, 2011

I have this love-hate thing with ANNCast; they often bring on some good guests, but the two opinionated guys put their trademark ANN spin on simple facts in a way that just makes good troll material. Aroduc can learn a thing or two from them. But anyways, take a look at the podcast page and the notes. Listen to it if you want, but I kind of made this post so you don’t really have to.

I am going to skip over the pre-interview portion, except for one morsel of food for thought in regards to Bill 156 and pushing the line. Food for thought if you did listen to the first part. And maybe if you watch Star Driver. I quote:

Yeah, school stories mean love. An interesting love-pattern is a necessity for a school. And so, with this show, “kisses” will feature throughout. (lol)

There are all sorts of kisses. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, through the glass, and so on.

All the director and I could think about was coming up with variations on kisses that were more stimulating than anything that had been depicted in anime before, including ones that would make people go, “You’re calling that a kiss!?” (lol).

Star Driver is a Sunday morning cartoon.

So, Darth Anime Drug Pusher speaketh. I take notes:

  1. This is exaggeration, but re-releases are killing the industry! Why? Because it slows down habitual buyers, and makes the scene less interesting. New licenses drives up interests.
  2. Sub-only sells (but we know this one), in terms of making ends meet and making a buck for him.
  3. Wide-release, casual-friend titles bring organic growth, not so much for immediate profit.
  4. Different retailers will experience the anime fandom’s purchasing power differently. It’s a disclaimer but it should be well noted.
  5. Zac transits into Aniplex’s expensive box sets, ROD and Rakkyo. But wait, they didn’t talk about the ROD box at all?
  6. As observed, the Garden of Sinners preorder is selling beyond expectations, confirmed Shawne. It’s beyond his expectations anyways. More importantly Shawne predicts that they will run out of them!
  7. The discussion naturally segues into that added value does promote people’s behavior in handing over money for physical goods. It’s a big reason why people do such a thing.
  8. Dissing paper-thin boxes. [Hey ADV how’s it going?] I think by cheap we all think FUNi’s SAVE line and certain S23 releases, for example. I think you know what I’m referring to, I hope. But there’s an end to that market, and Shawne highlights this spectrum in his customers.
  9. Blu-Ray uptake is serious business. So are SKUs. But that’s typical retail talk for ya. I’m not going to read too much into this but a good geek can probably shed some light on what all this is, if you are into retail talk. Basically he says at the $5-10 markup between a BD SKU and a DVD SKU, the uptake on BD is significant.
  10. The discussion goes into this “how to serve cash-only buyers” tangent. RS still takes cash and check and MO, after all. This cash customer tangent is more about generational shift than actually access. Think about it. If you were 12 years old when you watched Shuffle as it got fansubbed, you are about 18 years old now. What can we sell to kids? It’s a complex problem.
  11. This retailer can’t tell if streaming helps or hurts sales. But he is saying that streaming does combat consumer info gap and make people take plunge (if they want). It matches what TAN is doing. Man, imagine if you just make eps 1-3 of Madoka available… Or stop simulcast of Level E at ep 3.
  12. Merchandise going away? I’m not sure personally, but I agree that it is limited. I agree that we do need more merchandise in the market. There’s a lot of meat on t his question but I don’t think Shawne wanted to go into it since Zac is leading (the witness) too much :(
  13. Stockout problem with manga is huge, and he is right. By that he gives the example of trying to buy a whole series, but can’t since certain volumes are out of stock and RS can’t fulfill it or fulfill it on time. It turns away wanting buyers. And it is up to the publisher to fix this. I’d guess that it is the system that is broken, but what do I know? This problem needs a lot more exposure because it is probably the best way to state the same problem people complain about when companies drop the ball for their bottom line. It’s a negative feedback loop when you leave money on the table like this.
  14. The big picture is, well, one I can believe in. Quit blaming us for your own ineptitude, R1 industry guys. He states this at around the 59 minute mark, but it’s not in ANN’s show notes. It’s key.
  15. Borderpolcaypse is, well, not my field of interest but what Shawne said. It does affect me; I spend some money at Borders. Then again I have Amazon Prime… And RightStuf.
  16. There will be 3 Utena sets! It will be released for the collector minded. Good thing we don’t have dates yet for those of us saving up dough.
  17. “We definitely have seen new products come out.” I like how he sneaks it in there while playing it down. But it’s serious business if I read this correctly, to go back to point #1.
  18. Copyright clearance is frustrating, just like Japan!
  19. Yes, Sora no woto has a great story. People who think it’s just moe are the cancer of the industry IMO.

And that’s a wrap!

Or, wait, it’s BONUS ROUND.

I took a look at this week’s RS’s top charts after listening to the podcast. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why it’s note-worthy. First of all, this week RS is running a FUNimation sale, where they cut the usual 40% off MSRP on most of their titles. Second, FUNi recently announced a pretty nifty trio of SKUs:

  • Ga-Rei Zero DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series (Hyb) Limited Edition
  • Ga-Rei Zero DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series (Hyb)
  • Eden of the East Movie 1: King of Eden DVD/Blu-ray (Hyb)

The podcast briefly mentioned this. The two Ga-Rei Zero sets are different by $3 at RS, plus the LE comes with a bonus item and an artbox. That’s not important besides that most people would buy the LE, given the MSRP is at $65 and $60, respectively, for this 13-episode set. What is really important is that all three are combo DVD/BD SKUs, so it gives us a reference point to show how well BDs sell in respect to DVDs. For all the hoopla Shawne throws in the air about BD uptake, what does it really look like?

Never mind that Summer Wars BD is on the top of the DVD list as of this writing, here are the top 11 entries on the DVD chart (1/25/2010 3:30 PM EST), 11 because, you know, just in case. As you can see Summer Wars BD and DVD are both on the same list. I emphasized the combo SKUs.

  1. Summer Wars Blu-ray (Hyb)
  2. Eden of the East Movie 1: King of Eden DVD/Blu-ray (Hyb)
  3. Sacred Blacksmith DVD Complete Series (Hyb) Limited Edition
  4. Black Butler Season 1 DVD Part 1 (Hyb) Limited Edition
  5. Durarara!! Part 1 DVD (Hyb)
  6. Ga-Rei Zero DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series (Hyb) Limited Edition
  7. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom DVD Part 1 (Hyb) Limited Edition
  8. Chrome Shelled Regios DVD Part 1 (Hyb) Limited Edition
  9. Black Butler Season 1 DVD Part 2 (Hyb)
  10. Summer Wars DVD (Hyb)
  11. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom DVD Part 2 (Hyb)

This is the top 10 BD list

  1. Evangelion, Neon Genesis: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance Blu-ray (Hyb)
  2. Eden of the East Movie 1: King of Eden DVD/Blu-ray (Hyb)
  3. FLCL Blu-ray Complete Series (Hyb) – Classic Line
  4. Ga-Rei Zero DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series (Hyb) Limited Edition
  5. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Blu-ray Part 4 (Hyb)
  6. Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE OVAs Blu-ray Collection (Hyb)
  7. Chobits Blu-ray Complete Series (Hyb) – Classic Line
  8. Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 1 Blu-ray Part 4 (Hyb)
  9. Soul Eater Blu-ray Part 1 + Part 2 (Hyb)
  10. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Blu-ray Part 3 (Hyb)

It might be noteworthy to realize that Amazon is selling Summer Wars BD for about a buck less than RS’s sale price, but RS is offering a bonus item with your purchase. It shouldn’t be surprising to see Eden of the East combo topping both charts, since I can’t figure out if it’s Evangelion 2.22 or Summer Wars BD topping the BD chart I’m going to ignore them. Higashi no Eden was a hot property from 2009-2010 and it’s finally getting the full movie treatment, which kind of caps off yet extends the plot. Combine the purchase power of DVD and BD groups and naturally it’s a fast seller.

The strong slant of FUNi titles just shows that the sale is going on, really. But it also says that the DRRR hype machine is working somewhat. On the BD side, it was entirely expected because FUNi puts out far more BDs than anyone. In fact the highest non-FUNi BD title on today’s chart is, heh, Garden of Sinners, at #11 (or #12 if you account for the SKU error).

You know what that tells me? Other than Eva and Summer Wars (and maybe FLCL), RS’s BD and DVD purchase bases are one and the same–core anime fans who buys a lot of anime, on a regular basis. There’s no real distinction between the two. Considering that the Summer Wars DVD preorder numbers are just a little bit better than Rakkyo box preorder numbers, what does that say about those people choosing to buy DVDs when a BD option is present? It’s small. But once you consider that Summer Wars BD tops … one of the charts, it does mean that BD pickup has increased a good amount over the year.

We also have some confirmation on Shawne’s BD pickup theory based on DVD-BD price gap, and how it’s across the board. Summer Wars BD MSRP is $5 more than the DVD version, which is $3 with a 40% discount. Looks like $5 is a magic number. If you need confirmation, the same is repeated over at Amazon, where Casuals shop. The $16.99 (after discount) Summer Wars DVD is ranked 1155 in Movies & TV, but the $19.99 BD is ranked 341. And if we keep looking down at that rabbit hole that is Amazon sales rank, Eva 2.22 BD is at #266 at $24 after discount, and the DVD is at a whopping $13 after discount, ranked at #555. (Man, that is some cheap Eva.) My first instinct was to say Shawne was spot on, but I don’t know where the long tail curves over, so maybe he’s only somewhat right. Not only the Eva 2.22 BD $11 more than the DVD on Amazon, it’s almost twice the cost. That should suggest the narrowing gap between BD and DVD. But is it narrowed? Who knows, Eva is a title that pierced the core fan bubble by a long mile, so there might be a lot more casual buyers, among other factors. At least it doesn’t seem to be widening.

The Spoiler And How It Implicates in the Simulcast Nonsense

This post contains no spoilers, at least not on the face.

The latest about Madoka Magica from Urobuchi’s, writer, twitter, is a spoiler for the show, 3 episodes in. I am not too concerned about his sadly feeble attempt to mislead, but it does show that the intent to surprise is fully present.

As an anime guy who watches anime and talks about it on the internet, spoiler, well, I shouldn’t have to tell you if you are reading this–they’re a double-edged sword or a necessary evil. Whatever and however you think they are and feel about them, they are unavoidable to an extent. Some might even seek them out on purpose. It’s also a great way to troll, as seen in Madoka’s case, as well as countless previous instances. Probably most recently famous for the Snake Kills Dumbledore meme [wow, 2005?]. Or maybe something else newer.

But if Shinbo doesn’t want to spoil you, maybe that is the best way to enjoy the show? Maybe it is best to enjoy Madoka without reading up and speculating too much? Well, whatever floats your boat, but that seems like a sensible thing to do.

Funny enough, given my perspective and tendencies I find myself applying The Spoiler Problem on the whole directly to the simulcast situation. It isn’t really a big surprise considering time delay and exclusivity are common methods for content owners to make profit and distinguish themselves over their competitors–there’s money in it. People want their stuff now, ASAP. I am not going to point fingers at DirecTV customers and call them impatient because they can get Hollywood films over their satellite dish faster than Netflix, but you get a bunch of them calling people who watch fansubs that exactly. That makes no sense to me, especially how some (very large and pervasive) media companies encourage this behavior. Can’t we stick to calling them people who break copyright laws? Because that’s all there is to it.

I mean, put it this way, in order to enjoy Madoka fully you pretty much have to avoid a spoiler that is 3 episodes in. The surprise element is pretty much gone if you follow any of the anime episodic blogs or chatters from Japan. Heck if you read #madoka on twitter you will basically get spoiled. As someone who prizes enjoyment of his anime above all else anime related, I really sympathizes to those Madoka fans who have to get their anime first, in this specific case, just so they can keep swimming.

I guess that’s not a real problem anyone has to be concerned about, since we live in a media-rich society with instant communication and broadcasting via the internet. In other words, we struggle with this all the time. It’s no different than picking up the newspaper on Friday and read about the reviews of new films coming out. Except in that case, if I really cared, I could just go watch it in theaters that same day then read the reviews. Where as in the anime case, copyright law says  you are SOL. Sorry, can’t read twitter or blogs for the next 3 months!

But instead of griping or whatever, I think of it as a Real Life Problem and an opportunity for profit. That’s how startups are born, people! Because this applies not only to anime, but it applies to all manners of media and it applies to all forms of consumption. Like this little twitter client. Or something like Crunchyroll.

Shiki and Satisfaction

Shiki was one of the two shows I wanted to marathon from the last season. It’s particularly notable to me for its lineage, being another anime adaptation of Fuyumi Ono’s works. Yea, I liked Twelve Kingdoms, and no, I passed on Ghost Hunt, too. Now that I’ve watched it as it’s almost all out and all done, hopefully I can put it down as fast as I’ve finished it. Naturally, minor spoilers are ahead.

In terms of genre, I think Ono writes for a horror-for-girls kind of thing in Shiki. In some ways that makes sense in Shiki, there are some pretty obvious elements where it feels natural to graft BL things onto them. I think typical for a girl-focused/mainstream work, also, there is a lot of strong poetic justice plays. There is a theme about retribution, divine, natural or man-influenced. Also I wonder how would anyone get the abandoned by God thing without knowing Cain and Able’s story.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot to say about Shiki except that during the whole build-up to the gruesome end to the series, I was being fed lines and after lines of how these vampire people are more people than vampires. And this happened not only as plot material, but as some kind of thematic element. I thought it was trying to speak a message that is about sympathy. In the end I realize it wasn’t the case. It was more a message about doing the right thing that is laced with sympathy. Shiki’s justice is swift and poetic; I can’t really say much bad things about that.

The problem is I have few good things to say about Shiki. Seishin’s plight as a human being might be the only angle, but I don’t quite get it in that ultimately his kindness lead to the death of those who probably didn’t deserve to die. Remember: Cain is the transgressor! In as much part of that become a purified, if meaningless, struggle against and for selfishness, it is just a little too calculated.

Speaking of calculated, Natsuno is clearly Able. In fact his circumstantial werewolfing is kind of a huge break, making him pretty much the victim the entire way through the show. It’s kind of nice to see the guy who was mean as the guy who is doing the right thing, for a change. A foil for Megumi for sure. I guess revenge is okay if they’re a bunch of undead bad guys?

Character analysis aside, Shiki just didn’t deliver enough. It got to a point where it is campy, and it just didn’t mix with all these serious characters. Well I should say, there were all these comical characters not contributing much to the overall impact of the series. There were some turning points in the plot where satisfaction, pity and other things they wanted to solicit just didn’t really come out of me. I guess there were a couple “Don’t invite them in!” or “Don’t open that window!” moments where it worked out okay, but I didn’t watch in a group where that dynamics was present to make the effect enjoyable.

I suppose after all is said and done I can understand why some people thought this was an anime-of-the-year caliber show, but to me it’s just your average Toradora-7/10 kind of fare. And that is being really generous, largely on the account of its production values.

Lastly, whoever edits Shiki’s Wikipedia entry should be slapped around a bit for putting major spoilers in the character descriptions, as it is in-line with the main article. Oh well, maybe you won’t believe it’s true.