Monthly Archives: April 2011

That Anime Character Contest I Get Involved in Every Year…

I have been running a little game over at Megatokyo forums (LOL) for the past few years. Few refers to some number I lost track of, but probably greater than 5. This year, for a change, I wasn’t running the game. But somehow I am now, again.

Long story short,  you get a forum account, you find a poll that has the person(s) you like, and you vote for that person. There’s a schedule of when things happen, and there is a bracket prediction contest in which the winner gets a box of random junk from me and several other people who have stuff to give away. In years past it consists of mostly DVDs, CDs, figures, books of all kinds, stationary, and what weird things you may find in your daily CD Japan email subscription for their goods store. In years past I mail the thing on my own dime, but only as far as Romania. Or was it in some Latin American nation? My geography is not so good. Of course others contributed to the pot via helping out on shipping.

The final round ends in another day or two, and it boils down to Kuroneko versus Homura. I think Kuroneko also headlines Japanator’s “saimoe” contest. That one has a sample size not too different than the one I’m running, maybe 10-15% fewer voters show up there.

I think that is probably going to be a good indicator of Korea’s Best Moe. How will 2ch’s annual Saimoe unfold, that’ll be hard to tell. But I think Homura and Kuroneko are both going to be forerunners, and Kanade will also make a strong show. What are some other “big” polls running out there along the same rules? AnimeSuki does one too, right? And I kind of ignore ISML just because it runs on for way too long and requires too much book keeping.

Personally Ruri Gokou may be the first pure otaku type that I liked since…may be as far back since Hikaru Amano. Man, that’s a long streak. I don’t know how I was largely immune to the girls’ charms from Genshiken, but I was. I typically dislike those otaku-type characters, too. Maybe for once, snark is being done right.

Joy of Mail Order, or How Figures Are the Worst

You know you are buying too much stuff when there’s a backlog of packages to be opened.

I almost miss the days when I would tackle something I get in the post with glee and anticipation. I say almost because I still do on occasion, depending on what I’m getting. I remember getting my N1 last year, that was like Christmas in March. I remember getting my Rakkyo box, but that was more me gawking at the amount of disrobing required to get to a few, simple plastic discs. It’s been a while since I had to do that. There were others but they were few.

The sad thing is, being an anime nerd and collector invariably meaning buying your own loot. It’s something that can’t be avoided, and in fact when you collect seriously, it is part of the art. For the truly serious, it’s gotten to a point where you talk to other collectors and buyers and do it like a MMORPG: via teamwork and/or by proxy. It’s complicated.

The issue I want to examine is how to recapture the same joy we all experience when it happens. It’s Christmas every month or every week, for some people, when they bulk ship from your favorite e-retailers here and abroad. Things like Amazon Prime are basically taking the joy out of shipping (and making it a seamless process). It can’t help but to feel that after a while, it just doesn’t matter anymore. #firstworldproblem indeed. And who should be interested? Those who wants to look at the bright side of life aside, probably retailers. And no, I’m not advocating you should buy each other loot, to somehow salvage this sorry situation. I’m talking more about making the buying experience a little less mercenary and a little more magical.

I collect DVD and Blu-ray Disc media: I buy to archive. It’s not a surprise that probably a good 1/3 of my collection is still shrinkwrapped. So when I get a package of something like that I systematically process it and store it somewhere. It’s only when I end up buying something I found particular attachments for, that I stop and smell the roses. Or maybe I should just slow down, make less money, consume less anime, or some such. But what I find overwhelmingly today is that most SKU from R1 publishers are these no-nonsense stuff, these budget super-econo-bargain sets. We all love a good bargain, but for the archiver they literally are just that: data on a disc. Of course, it didn’t help back in 2005 when there were some value-added incentives, like CDs (more data on a disc!) or T-shirts (worthless and kind of unremarkable, like cheap promo items) or flimsy cardboard crap (lol gondola). Sorry, but no.

The irony is Japan is awesome at making such purchases “value-added.” If you can import anime, why don’t you guys import this other paradigm at retail as well?

It feels entirely against some notion of old-timer otaku, the ones that best described by the likes of Satoshi Kon (RIP) when he talked about his younger days, how Japan, back then, is not a rich or affluent nation. Anime was something that happened once a week on TV, and for a school boy that’s going to be a short 25 minutes of joy to last through a whole week. In comparison we (of the 21st century) are living life in a very different way, yet it’s only in such a prosumer perspective that we can see how awkwardly out of line we are with how things used to be.

I want to savor the experience. Isn’t this something obvious? Why is almost nobody selling it? Or are we too accustomed of doing it ourselves for cheap? Sorry, but as much as people are good at it, it still falls short at a pro’s take. I guess that’s part of the problem too, right? That there are no pros working at this in the anime space, sans importing from Japan.

Granted, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing–probably neither. But I think the way we approach this sort of consumption will have a drastic impact in the way we view the stuff we consume. It reminds me of Last Exile, the value of water, and the strange eats Lavie and Claus had a chance at towards the very end. Except it’s not so populist, just elitist. And maybe this is one place where we can see a clear democratizing effect of internet on media. For one, not only I can buy, without too much effort, special orders that were originally available to Japanese buyers, but even finding out about them in the first place is a big deal. We lose some, but we gain some too.

It’s easy to see it in the distribution of anime, but it’s harder to see it in other tracks of the same fandom. I am going to single out figures only because out of all the unopened stuff I own, those take up the most space, and have the most “value” to be opened, and yet I have the most of these packed and unopened… Still, the compulsion to buy figures never really ceases in correlation to accumulated number of figures. At worse it is a problem (again, #firstworldproblem) but that is an issue separate and usually unrelated to the desire to buy the latest pretty thing. I mean, a number of collectors buy figures that they don’t know about just on the merits of a figure’s design and craftsmanship. It’s like getting stone lions for my front doors, except these are nubile anime girls or giant robots (but small-sized) with colors of the rainbow.

And typically this habit all started somewhere, probably with some not-so-nerdy-but-a-little-bit dude’s physical desktop (not the one on your PC) where you could put a UFO catcher thing here or a Nendoroid there, it’s kind of cool; like putting a work-friendly-sized photo of your wife (not waifu) on your desk. Then it just goes on from there. Sooner or later you might find yourself in this situation. And then from there it is truly a slippery slope to something like a top scorer on this site, unless common sense or your bank account stops you.

The value in this stuff is the aesthetics appreciation, and maybe for some interior decoration, on top of the usual achievements and ticks for collectors. So it behooves buyers to “consume” figures by digging into them. It’s a great “Christmas” effect item. And all of these reasons points contrary to the issue I’m having.

And I don’t know why. The only explanation I came up with is that the “savoring” thing I previously describes is the thing I buy figures for. And once you’ve got a lot of them lined up, you probably want to take it easy and slowly. You know, to savor the whole present-opening experience. It’s totally creepy, but it’s the only one that makes sense.

That, and I’m running out of display space so I would have to spend some time to make room first. I suppose there is no point reasoning with a man and his 8″ plastic little army of Sabers.

So, That Magical Girls Genre Subversion…

Spoilers for Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica ahead.


Continue reading

Things I Learned From Anime: Spring 2011 Edition

Good ideas:

  • It’s not okay to catch giant salamanders in the stream, naked.

  • You can beat yourself up over your inner weakness, not because it makes you weak but because it makes you want to kiss some video game nerd.

  • It’s always good to pay Matsurika.

  • Don’t visit your elementary school at night.

  • Don’t run inside a supermarket.

  • Be nice to the crêpe lady.

  • To modulate the smell of your fart, do it in the bath.

  • You don’t just eat meat, you defeat it.

  • Ninja Warriors are better than normal wars.

  • Segues make great weapon platforms.

Bad ideas:

  • To neutralize someone much stronger than you, take away their favorite field hockey stick. It will make them totally weak. (inb4 Sket Dance is a much better magical girl subversion than Madoka.)

  • It’s okay to call your girl your asset. In fact only winners do this.

  • The world is a much better place if crazy people wrapped themselves in futons.

  • As long as you provide insightful examination to the inner qualities of the real-life individuals, it’s okay to write them into your slash light erotica.

  • You can get away with fake yuri breast-sucking as long as you are a magical boy in drag, in an all-girls school. (This one isn’t so bad isn’t it.)

  • Virtual reality makes you learn stuff faster.

  • It’s okay to carve graffiti into things you don’t own as long as you are a little kid.

  • Chasing a wild monkey will lead you to fateful encounters.

  • Physical touching makes a strong first impression. Be sure to poke that person’s face.

  • Hire your shoujo manga editors based on their looks.

  • Drink Pepsi Nex.

  • Combine a prison with an amusement park.

Special Madoka Bonus Idea:

  • Madoka Died For Your Sins.

Happy Easter? I guess? LOLOL whoever thought Madoka had anything to do with Good Friday LOLOLOL. I am missing a few shows, so forgive me. In fact I am still not done with watching ep1 of all the shows I want to check out…

Waking Up From K-ON

This post is probably a K-ON spoiler, if that’s possible.

I really feel a connection with K-ON, especially with the way how K-ON season 2 ended, with its final (for now, anyways) school festival and that glorious afterglow. It’s like having the right amount of sourness along with something sweet, or perhaps better put, sweet sorrow that is Azusa’s farewell. Or was season two’s ending a goodbye to the rest of us? It’s this stuff that runs through my head when I punch away slowly at random keys, just unlocking yet another character’s entry in yet another soft-boiled image album track. Is Mio a Little Girl or is Hello Little Girl actually trying to be nu-gaze-ish? Did people who worked on the image songs for the series actually tried to inject something into the way the songs are arranged? I’m probably reading too much into it.

K-ON! Houkago Live aside, it’s getting to a point where an oversea fan’s interaction with the K-ON franchise is almost entirely within the commercial context. I think the least I could do to give the whole relationship is to write about it, to define it, to state the meaning it has given me. And when I realized this, it’s all really just sad.

It’s like reading about what Toyosaki blogged after the K-ON S2 live a couple months ago. It’s something pretty special for the tens of thousands who went, but in the end it’s just yet another anime-made-for-hire (albeit in the KyoAni way, which may not be the standard committee style, I don’t know). A piece of plastic or limited edition concert good is not going to love you back, although in this case a continuation of the manga (and inevitably, more anime) is probably as close as it gets to that.

Maybe this is when mining for sequels becomes a celebration rather than the milking of the loyal handful. It’s all in the little things, the details, that you can feel the love, or not.

Feinting sincerity aside, for some reason I feel the creators or some of the core people who had a hand in making K-ON the thing that it is also enjoyed that connection. It’s just that the way we interact with each other and with the franchise material is through the same bloodless machine of capitalism as one would with anything else that required you paying money. To that, the perhaps equally soulless doujin products that the wall booths sell at Comiket at least contain some traces of life despite the shallow, pornographic content (for those who fits the description). I guess we can do better if we look toward truly like-minded expressions in fandom, rather than the usual “let’s just draw what’s popular for a quick buck” kind of thing that prevails much too much these days.

Doujinshi aside (and its implications, worthy of further examination for sure), the only other thing over the years that I’ve settled on as worthy of keeping is to make some great memories. And I guess that meant I should have tried to go to the “Come With Me” live or at least, hope for a home video release. Well, making memories is not always possible, and often infrequent. Perhaps that’s why I value them?

I might have sounded unappreciative about the state of the anime fan overseas when it comes to at least paying for anime locally that I can enjoy, but I do appreciate all the work and passion that went into the stuff now that I own (legit or otherwise). I even appreciate those expensive imports with English subs (and dubs at times) on them nowadays. It’s just that compared to fans in the ’80s and ’90s, the aspects of fandom that went beyond the buying and selling of anime hasn’t really improved by a whole lot. If anything the biggest change is how we’re approaching a saturation point in terms of anime cons (at least in North America) that are big enough to provide another way to connect creators, creations and fans. It’s still one (and more) layer of crud, of drama, and what have you. But that might be more “human” than the well-oiled marketing machine that the Japanese deal with, because at least “they’re here because we love them.”

It’s kind of funny to look at K-ON S2 in this context. I bring my baggage to the show (don’t we all?) and look at it from that angle: what are concerts, right? Aren’t they just yet another venue, another framework in terms of interactions between the band and the audience? It’s been way too long since recorded music has changed the way we experience music, that this human element of simply playing a song adds so much more impact to someone who didn’t grow up with that kind of lo-tech intimacy with music. And I grew up with some experience with music in a live setting (albeit in a typical Asian-American way). But it’s not just me of course. It’s the same reason why Azusa cries when the girls played Tenshi ni Fureta yo! It’s the same reason why some teared up when they watch that. It’s the same reason why it is actually so powerful, that it has already transcended the context of music.

Which is probably why people make novels and movies about friendship and memories in high school, and not (so much) about the nature of music and the evolution of it and the context in which it alters lives, flow of money, and the way people view the world. But that’s just one drop in a large bucket of human relationships and experiences, in the way we relate to each other and the things around us. It’s just that in K-ON’s case, there’s a really gorgeous view from the cliffs of meta, and it’s too bad so few of us get to enjoy this animated adventure from this vantage point.