Monthly Archives: March 2011

SaiMecha Nonsense, Remembering Mechanical Designs

This is a neat idea, but I don’t have time for yet another one of these. It does presents the opportunity to make me feel slightly excited yet largely apathetic, a “what do I feel in your shoes” moment for my mecha otaku counterparts, coming from someone who can be moe-obsessed at times. Given that I just don’t have time for this stuff, I won’t be emailing in a nomination or anything.

That said, mecha is still the root of my anime fandom, so it’s a good time to do a short list. The very first anime that I was a fan of was no other than Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, and there’s some pretty glorious stuff from that show. In fact from a design perspective the various iteration of the Z has stood pretty well against the test of time. Or maybe because they keep on releasing slightly redesigned versions of it.

I think the fact that Mazinger threw a rocket punch or did super kicks and shot beams out of its chest was all pretty cool to a 6yo, but at the time I was more infatuated with its wings and Aphrodite A’s famous boobie missiles. (I guess I was a moe fag from a young age?) More relatistically, the wing attachment was simply the coolest thing ever (at 6yo), and missiles are obviously weapons of the future. I mean look at how old Mazinger Z is, and we are barely getting started on actual laser weapons in field testing, with some prototype cannons fired from naval vessels. I suppose this is just to say way back then, I was more a wargame/military weapons boy than a pure fantasy person.

Coincidentally I hated how swords are used in giant robot shows. I mean, dude, these are super cool weapons of destruction from the future! Why are they using stuff we stopped using, like, 100 years ago?

Strangely enough, that impulse or leaning doesn’t push me towards “real robot” over “super robot” when the divide was made clear 10+ years later. If anything, how “unrealistic” real robots were became a major turn-off. (The Aestavalis system’s focus over logistics was the only one that pulled it off in my eyes in a convincing manner.) When it comes to anime and mecha, I was mostly a student of design and of setting elements. And when it comes to sexy mecha designs, there were very few that can rival Shoji Kawamori’s work in anime. Macross-style folding for FTL travel? Yea I can get behind that. Variable fighters? Sexy.

The first Macross mecha/spacecraft that I took to was probably Focker’s VF-1. I mean, it’s basically the F-14 in an alternative future. Nevermind that the F-14 is this aging aircraft that should have been retired from the US Navy 10 years before it actually did, it was pure, jet-engine-grade fantasy fuel. I didn’t think much of the Guardian form–I think at first I didn’t quite get the point of it–I mean, it’s a jet with legs? Things like vectored thrust were not entirely clear to me, in the early 90s. Or for that matter, how the basics of flights like how attack and lift worked with each other. Nonetheless, the swept wings, the transformation from plane to robot, the toys that did the same, the “calves” of the ship that was part of a vector thrust thing, the lines and curves, oh my.

I suppose it is a blessing in disguise that I was not well-informed, so something like Macross’s complexity is enough to pull the wool over my childish eyes. At least I was able to ignore the fact that it had arms, as it was at least justifiable in terms of having hard mount points that were on a robotic arm given the range of motion a Valk had.

Speaking of arms and curves and Macross, I was a big fan of those VR-052Fs in Mospeada too, although I was more taken with the way how action scenes and battles were depicted, combining the fact that it is a motorvehicle and a robot. In fact I didn’t get the same kind of feeling until way later that I finally got to see Priss & the Hardsuit girlsShinji Aramaki hit a good spot. It was not the first “moe moe” fusion, as it was later coined, but if sexy models and car ads were like bread and butter, Aramaki’s motorcycle-inspired designs were the equivalent of buttered croissants. It is about mastering streamlined curves, and express loudly through design the function of things it may do.

I think as I got older, my fervor for mecha slowly dropped over time. I think part of the reason was simply because there weren’t a lot of variety. I could never really get into gunpla largely because they mostly looked alike, and between the variants of the same models and how the same model would get different releases based on grades it just kind of turned me off. Other franchises didn’t help much; I’ve definitely watched a lot more anime since then but fewer mecha were as awesome as how child perceived coolness for the very first time.

That said, there were plenty of interesting stuff, ranging from Escaflowne’s pulley-driven artifacts, CLAMP’s crystalline beasts, and even occasionally invoking from the best, such as the first scenes of Gundam 00. Maybe I just got too old for Gundam Wing and just right for Syd Mead: Turn-A featured innovative designs, just none very awesome . Maybe I was too young to hold the classic GM or the Guntank dearly in my heart (although the GM did age gracefully, perhaps much more so than anything else in UC): I appreciate the variety, even if to me it is not diverse enough. It’s good, but not moe, you know?

I do like a strong sense of industrial design; but unlike many others like myself I am not overly taken with things like, say, the glorified forklift from Alien 2. Still, I was in utter delight when Railgun featured one of the best take on the forklift weapon with those sexy grapple rocket punches (did it ever get a name? I guess). Tethered! I wish I can take the GAMA home. The MAR hardsuits were already pretty neat (but they were more like the tepid oasis lost in a sea of sand–yes, I am a hardsuit fan, no there are not enough hardsuits anywhere) but that final boss thing takes the cake. Sure beats a weird alien fetus anyways.

Speaking of Railgun, it was probably the last time I felt that dissonance when everybody else watching the show were busy oogling at middle schoolers, and other than Mii I could care less what they were really doing. It’s a solid show that somehow featured something everyone can appreciate (a cool final boss) but that was not what people were looking for.

I’m just limiting myself to humanoid stuff. I have no idea if it counts, but many of the Guild ship designs from Last Exile were superb. Ao no Rokugo’s submarine is something I want one for myself as well. I will probably never be able to afford a replica of ND-001 or any of her sister ships. The Kildren fighters in The Sky Crawlers were one of a kind. Macross Frontier reinvented the mothership/carrier concept with Macross Quarters, and it now is one of my favorite spacecrafts in general. Well, that is technically a humanoid mecha too, although I don’t think of it that way per se.

Let’s just stop here. Because I can go on…and on and on. I don’t really keep up with the newest development in the anime mecha world, nor do I want to. All my database-animal receptors for mecha are present and working, and that’s the thing that truly matters.


Run Ichika Run

Ok, so it finally made sense. Ichika is someone that unites the girls in their simple goal of… winning for whatever their hearts desire. Revenge, currying favor, satisfaction, confidence, whatever it is that drives the multi-national cast, all for one, one for all. It’s a pretty neat theme. Thanks, episode 11.

In that sense, Infinite Stratos is an exceedingly appropriate anime during a time of crisis in Japan. Japan needs our help, so France, Germany, China and the UK are going to step up to the plate and help ’em out right?

In the “final” ending sequence, people are running in sync. In the previous ones, Ichika ran at the same pace only with one other girl at a time. Who knew running would bring it all together? I guess it would be something I noticed earlier if I wasn’t spending all my time staring at Charlotte’s legs.

Other random comments about Infinite Stratos ED:

  • The Japanese chick is the tallest and biggest! Wau, what a bold statement.
  • Only if all the English chicks are oujosamas.
  • Wait, if Laura’s pants are designed like the skirts, why aren’t Orimura’s?
  • I like this seiyuu ensemble thing. Anime otakus do, too, generally. I think I’ve liked them like, every season. Or do I just like Marinajou’s and Hiyocchi’s vocals?
  • There’s no way they are running at the same speed, since their legs are of different lengths.

I guess I’ll leave the obvious LOL-American (not quite anti-American) and the usual nationalist slants to someone else.


JamPro Symphonic Is What Again?

What is this, I don’t even…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1nCo-cMhIk&w=400&h=244]

Okay, where do I put my money, you social-media-sharing bastards from Japan? No, not just the music, I want the video–that video someone from Lantis obviously leaked on to the internet to promo the CD that’s coming out. Plus, where’s all the solos?


All Good Girls Have Twin-Tails Inside

I’m sympathetic to 2DT’s take. I always thought Azusa was someone who had to be liken to in some way to a previous experience. The stereotypical saccharine-filled neko-mimi sweets-lover is not why she won Saimoe last year, nor is it why Azusa is probably my favorite K-ON girl (tho I think Yui is still the best, whatever that means).

To put it in the right context, 2DT saw the light because he realized that Azusa is actually based on some real-life notion of ideals. In the comments he explicitly stated this connection (emphasis and added link mine).

I wasn’t so much a fan of her myself… until I realized that all the students I have who are like her, I love! [] Such a sweet, good child. I understand her classic moe pull.

I’m not going to talk much about that classic moe thing (by the way, classic moe is better a term than old moe, because there’s, well, actual old moe involving old people). It is different than the somewhat more mature, hime-cut Yamato Nadeshiko moe (Really? You’d think a Yamato Nadeshiko is naturally attractive?) that is better characterized by Mio, so even “classic” is not exactly a great moniker. Furthermore, moe is so dead, I would rather not talk about it if I could avoid it.

What I will share, however, is my previously-mentioned (well, it was over a year ago) note on how I like K-ON because I see that band dynamics play out in my own experience. In short, Mio reminds me of this guy I know. He is adorable, musically talented and everyone likes him, just like Mio is among her friends. Both of them had a fan club. Well, YMMV, as it is with anything personal.

People are multi-motivational and complex things. It takes time to get to know them, and it is is tough to do fiction where part of the charm comes from mapping characters to actual people in a typical yet lifelike way. The good-girl appeal, however, is always going to be a draw to people who like them. I think it channels some sense of righteousness that many of us have within us, a sense of right and wrong, or good and evil. And going by that measure, that applies to most. I just want to separate out the two different kinds of good girls.

So the story goes, to begin with a scene from Conan the Barbarian (lol thanks JP):

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?

Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.

Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?

Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

Thanks to a certain parody subber, I have long since fallen with Simoun–more importantly, Mamiina. Simoun has a large cast that comes together for some pretty delicious drama. One of these is exactly the very heart-warming, turn-around good girl that newfags may find familiar in the character Kyouko Sakura from Madoka Magica, if Simoun is unfamiliar to you. Just like Kyouko, Mamiina is not a model citizen. In fact there’s nothing to her that makes me want to stick a pair of cat ears on her head. It’s the difference between a stray cat and a house cat, I guess. But it’s just that Mamiina screams loudly, through her actions, that she is indeed the very sweet, good girl you find in Studio Ghibli’s adventures, even if she is at times antagonistic.

The same idea plays out along the lines of all these Azusa-type moe characters. This is where 2DT’s observation comes into play, but only to a point. Because while we have our Kikis and Sheetas, there’s the Sans and, arguably, Nausicaas in the Ghibli lineup. I’m going to say that there are two sides to the Good Girl archetype, and the difference between the two is a philosophical divide in which only some of us can reconcile.

Back to Mamiina. She is a good girl because she jumps this gap between antagonism and protagonism in order to demonstrates her inner qualities, and she does the Right Thing at the Right Time. It leaves an emotional crater, a desired dramatic impact, especially when framed in the context of her intercharacter relationships. But at the same time, I can imagine a Mamiina-type character would be the nemesis or rival to an Azusa-type character (it probably is the plot to some battle show, wouldn’t surprise me). Without the external stimulus that put these characters through the crucible of tragedy or suffering, maybe the difference between the two types of good girl archetype lies within the answers between the random Mongol and Conan. Conan was just some normal barbarian at first, after all.

Another hypothetical may demonstrate better. Remember the YuiAzu episode? Let’s say if we replace Azusa with the antagonist version of Azusa, what would instead happen is that rather being a type A Good Girl, the antagonist Azusa would not volunteer to help Yui with the performance, yet later on do so anyways for some plot-specific reason. It seems like a typical gap moe tsundere type thing, but that is not directly relevant to a demonstration of character. You can be good or bad and still possess this duality.

I suppose that’s all part of the specification of being good; there is a strictness within Azusa’s tenderness, or the flip side of the coin, a tenderness in Mamiina/San’s intensity. It turns some of them evil, some of them slaved to passionate antagonists, some to reason and some to strange plot devices about clones. I’m not sure how much I can stretch this, but all I’m trying to say is that are Good Girls among us, and there are many. And like girls generally, they have a plurality of face!


Reiterating the Problem

Why am I doing this? Probably because I am conditioned to do so upon certain keywords. It is as if after x period of time since the last regurgitation, upon hearing a certain key phrase (or in the viral sense, when a certain idea enters the mind) I will then attempt to express a certain thing. This thing, well, you can read below.

So, like, why do I think Anime no Chikara is important? I think it is important because it’s kind of neat attempt at a programming block. But more because it is an effort to create original anime. I mean, why don’t people ask why is Yamakan making an original via Fractale, as a way to “fix the industry” he ranted on about, for example? It’s not an arbitrary thing.

When we talk about media mix business strategies, we’re talking about the usual deal where you take some kind of idea and create it across one or more media. So let’s say you have a novel, and you make an anime based on it, then you make a radio show, and video games, and manga, what have you. You make money from one idea via many different outlets. Then you can spin it off the traditional way, with figures and toys and other merchandise.

The thing is, Japan is very good at this. By good I mean it within certain sense of the notion of “good,” where we can take any idea and cheaply produce a line of things you can sell across different mediums. It’s good marginal value. And if you know anything about Tezuka’s Curse you would understand how that can be a problem: the thing is cheap to create compared to how much it is sold for, but the people making the buck are those who are selling, not those who are creating.

Put it in other words–when we want to value and reward creativity, we have to accordingly pay for it. When that creative process is unhinged from the copyright mechanism, it will be subject to market pressure, especially when it is butting heads against other monopolies (well, copyrights). If we look at the global export of anime-based medium from Japan versus every other mass medium except maybe video games, you can see how it is disproportional when comparing the money and thought space it occupies domestically versus overseas. But in Japan, the copyright financing structure protects manga and print publishers, and hangs animation houses to dry.

It is a very different situation, in other words, when Japan adopts some manga or light novel for a media mix project, than your latest Hollywood comic book adaptation or resurrecting your childhood in another inferior summer blockbuster. The latter is largely motivated by marketing and playing safe, the former is more about who controls the copyright and who is being paid with lucrative royalty contracts or added sales from advertising.

For example, when Ume-sensei gets her cute, sunlit manga adopted, she probably also gets a pretty penny from the production committee. But what does Shaft get out of that deal? [SHAFT! /zing] Well, it’s not a bad deal for them, after all, because animation studios get their money from anime sales, and Hidamari Sketch sold above the Manabi line.

But there is the problem. The animation production team is probably the #1 responsible party in producing everything we love about HidaSketch on this side of the Pacific. The manga is more like added sales: without it, Ume Aoki’s art school adventure will just sit as yet another4koma gag manga in a sea of them. [Imagine making the case for K-ON if you want to talk about this inequity.] When we buy the manga or a cute figure of a worm, it’s not because of Ume-sensei’s manga. It’s because some producer types realized this title will make good commercial sense as an anime, and is a good match with the talents at Shaft. I’m hoping you are well-familiar with the whole anime-as-paid-advertising thing, yeah? It feels like we like the commercial more than the thing it is selling us.

Of course, that’s partly because the commercial is the thing it is selling us: If you are the anime publisher and the anime studio, whose income is increased with the sale of the anime itself, you do have an incentive there. It’s just that being the non-copyright-owner of the original material, they have really no stake in the production committee beyond the anime itself. Everything on top of that is at the mercy of the various parties splitting that pizza-pie-chart of net revenue from any given joint production venture. It’s like going to a shop for their kanban musume, but she is actually the owner’s daughter and gets no bonus for sitting pretty and dealing with creeps like us.

To contrast, for an anime original like Sora no Woto, we’re talking about someone who puts money behind the animation production team as the main copyright owner. It is still financed in a committee structure–for example, Azone probably could care less which entity owns what in the committee–but that extra royalty money from licensing merch is now going back into animation production, rather than keeping some dead tree media afloat. And even so, a media mix of anime original can result in novelization and manga spinoffs that will also help sell dead tree stuff. It’s probably more commercially sound to publish a tie-in than something entirely original, too, for the manga publisher.

The alternative, you know, is do what Bandai does. Unless the financing structure for anime in Japan changes, we’re going to be dealing with people whining about moe or stagnation or how anime used to be better until Kingdom Come. But who knows, maybe it is easier to fix people’s ignorance than to fix the way Japan does business.