Monthly Archives: April 2011

It’s Soooooo Japanese, And Other Stuff

Hanasaku Iroha episode 3:

Fanservice, that bathhouse thing, bondage. Is this true? Maybe. But here goes my sensibilities again. I’m glad some kids have stepped up to the plate. Surprise me!

What I can say about HanaIro at this point is that it’s formulaic, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s well-executed but it’s still like a rough gem. What I can say is I like all of that about HanaIro. Some of my recent favorites are exactly this sort of a flawed existence. I also have to say whoever that works at PA Works for this and True Tears really knows how to do fanservice (classic style) correctly.

But you really ought not to listen to me as a metric of what measures with what anime. I’m digging AnoHana too, but so far the fact that Menma reminds me of Index is like trying to enjoy a bowl of tonkotsu ramen with a few ice cubes in it. I’m like, whyyyyyyy. And that whole dead childhood friend thing is also kind of Japanese-y. I’m not sure if I like where it’s going, but at least there’s promise.

It’s like interviewing and selecting HRs by picking those who have promise, and not just whose spec sheet has the bigger numbers and counts. It’s like in Episode One when Chancellor Palpatine talks about Skywalker’s future career “with great interest.” Dirty old people, we are.

Lastly, RIP Osamu Dezaki, we may not know you well but you were one of the good guys.

On Gonzo’s Report, Doujinshi Discourses, New Media x Manga Publishing

So the other day I read some translated financial report from Ko who was seemingly doing it for practice. I was like, hey, cool, stuff about production committees and their puppet companies that manage rights. It is basically this document, or a report from GDH to the public/investors. Unsurprisingly, most of that information is stuff you probably already know if you follow this stuff, in which different stakes holders create these committees and pitch them like investment portfolios. What’s probably more telling is the amount of money these things are, most of them in the 7-digit-USD range. This is notable because we’re talking about total outlay and not just production costs. It includes the money that goes around to pay for TV spots, marketing, and all that good stuff.

Well, that’s Gonzo for you: their hybrid horizontal/vertical integration method aims to change the funding structure for animation production houses. Its success is arguable, but it may be both an example of how it could be done, and what not to do. Curious minds should poke you-know-who for a copy, but since it’s mostly a document for general investors, you probably won’t learn too much besides some potential vectors where things can bottom out, and almost all of them are basically things that are almost boilerplate in terms of insightfulness (ie., hurr we may not be able to execute this strategy if the core fan base do not welcome our products derp). Of course, like any system this complicated, there were a series of good and bad things GDH did over time that contributed to its demise (and subsequent restructuring). The fun part is piecing it together with the help of hindsight.

Reading it also makes me want to dig up some financial docs in terms of how big of a dividend they were issuing in ’05… Yahoo finance probably has it.

The stuff you do stuck on a 4-hour train ride…

I also had an opportunity to read a draft of an academic paper about the doujinshi scene from Alex L. and Andrea. It’s a fairly standard academic paper about social trends and talking about forums of political discourse (parapolitical ones?). I think this paper is being published in some law journal somewhere, so maybe you can even ILL a copy when it goes to print if it isn’t online somewhere eventually. There are a bunch of online law journals now…

The paper itself outlines a straightforward analysis of the role of that protest doujinshi by Takeshi Nogami (that Strike Witches dude), and some vocaloid/NND stuff done in protest or in satire of the now-law Bill 156 out of Tokyo Prefectural government. With the ACE and TIAF rendered irrelevant no thanks to the Tohoku earthquake, we could never really tell what would have happened. It’s like, stating the things you know very well, and then seeing if it fits certain modes of descriptions as per other people’s descriptive framework.

To critique, I would just say that it is a precarious thing to characterize the doujinshi scene in some way that is meaningful. It is like saying, “blogs are political”; but what is the meaning behind it, what frameworks does that open it up to further analysis, what’s the purpose in the statement? I get it’s about fan discourse but I’m not so sure there’s anything really special in that. To that sense, the Vocaloid thing is much more special because there’s actual hijacking going on, rather than Nogami’s straight-forward political satire using original characters and real-life mockery thereof. I mean the only thing different in that case is the context and the forum Nogami’s doujinshi is operating within. In terms of content how can I distinguish that from, say, some guy passing out fliers (ok so it has to have cute anime characters on it?) at C80 about B156?

That just reminded me, I still need to get a copy of it. Maybe it’s not too late to add it to my Anisama 2010 order.

Lastly, Ko’s been translating more stuff. This time it’s about the manga industry as two guys chat about it during some marathon session over drinks and what have you. And unlike the previous two articles I vaguely talked about, you can read this one publicly. So do give it a read. It is a 5-part report/transcript and it is still being updated as of this writing.

I haven’t had much of an impression between the dialog between Ken Akamatsu and Kentaro Takekuma but let’s just say that I’m on the pessimistic side of things. There are reasons why Japan is a country known to resist changes in its business practices, a country that has draconian copyright protection laws, a country that has problems fostering start-ups (good luck Akamatsu-sensei!), a country with a growing generational inequality in the workplace, and a country that has not truly recovered from its economic bust since the 1990s. These things are not coincidences. The silver lining is simply that, there’s always an opportunity in situations like this.

Anyway, I look forward to the subsequent parts of that round-table-thingy. I’m fairly unschooled when it comes to manga, so anything like that is educational enough to worth my time.

It’s So Japanese

More musing on HanaIro before I “clear my palate” for Anohana.

The loose coalition of anime fans, or maybe better put, otaku, west of the Pacific, is a diverse group of people. It’s probably many more times diverse than Japan’s domestic crop of late-night anime watchers, pundits, NEETs and hikkis, academics and industry. Just in the Americas alone we have people coming from just about every background you can think of. We have people who may be Japanese transplants, jamming away at Saint Seiya like as if it was 1995 in Brazil, or a bunch of mid-western, white American girls still longing for their teenage years, fawning over Sailor Moon. Well, wait, those people wouldn’t be watching these late night anime in the first place, right? (Wrong?) Ok, in that respect maybe things aren’t so different.

But once we remove that anime context, we are as different as left is from right, conservative as is from liberal, rich from poor, empowered from disenfranchised, homogeneous versus diverse. Or better put: Japanese, or not Japanese. It’s stating the obvious: the world is a diverse place, especially outside of Japan.

I think this is one of the underlying power of anime as a cultural export–its ability to set its own rules, its own context, it’s own instance of Oraclethat cultural database. With it we can unite. Contrast to, say, food culture, it’s difficult to find that sort of a bridge between different people groups since that is something not foreign at all to, well, all of us. Anime is foreign to all of us. Probably even to many Japanese! Well, that kind of anime anyways.

Hanasaku Iroha is a simple example of where this cracks down. It’s like forcing people to watch Japanese TV dramas. Admittedly, what happens in Hanairo is more of an extreme example, but even as I say extreme, it really isn’t really extreme to many people. Being slapped by your grandmother is always an extreme thing, but the difference of it happening within an Indian or Chinese household versus in a typical American, white, urban household is probably better summed up better by American comedians exploiting immigrant families with localizing children interacting with their new neighbors and classmates. [I have a skit in mind for this but I just can’t find the link for you at the moment. Hey look at this.]

Just how seriously should this group of Gen-Y/Millennials take corpeal punishment? Especially when Minko isn’t even related to Ze Grand Baba? Will any of them even think of it as a sign of affection and endearment? How about Ohana’s triple-decker? Surprise me, guys!

I mean, that’s just the beginning. Those who studied Japanese culture or have some exposure via first or third party narratives probably would know about the whole Senpai-Kouhai thing, so that shouldn’t be a shock. The rape thing I mentioned last post is, while somewhat misleading, has a place in this context. It’s like how one can make an argument for the the whole prostitution subtext in Spirited Away. We’re not really diverging from the formula here in HanaIro, if you think about it.

It’s so Japanese! It borderline offends my Chinese sensibilities (ok, not really), let alone my American ones (I think, I’m not sure). Thankfully the western anime-blog-otaku-fandom-sphere-thing is doing all the outrage better than I could ever, and that is probably annoying me more than what sewn-together pieces of the thematic puzzle that we have at episode 2 can possibly ever could. Because at worst, HanaIro can’t be any worse than Summer Wars (and its Yoko Ono reference). Well, I suppose they could make Nako into someone with some kind of hidden talent that saves the day, but that would actually make the show better. Don’t you prefer a tall, athletic, and graceful high school girl from the countryside over a shota bait? Aki Toyosaki not withstanding?

And don’t get me started on the “oh bad mom abandoning your kawaii daughter” thing. This is what makes HanaIro already 10 times better than Summer Wars.

Adjusting Expectations Against Impressions, or Rape as Plot Device

Over the years I’ve been getting better and setting expectations that are realistic and are often met, when it comes to trying out new anime. Sad to say, often this means “lowering” the expectations against hype. The good news is that there are still shows on a regular basis that meets some of my expectations, or even exceeds.

Also, over time my goals with regards to expectations have slightly shifted. These days my primary goal in having any expectations at all is to increase the enjoyment of a particular encounter with a new show. Realistically speaking it just isn’t any fun to be pessimistic.

There may be other things in play in my case in which helps me adjust expectations, such as my tendency to not be familiar with the source material unless it’s that once-a-blue-moon light novel that I’ve read ahead of time. I think I can handle adaptations from books; Hollywood has prepared me well. I can’t say much about manga or, good luck, video games. Well, I guess I do read a handful of manga, but in the past half a decade or so, there were probably only one or two manga that I’ve read before I saw the anime of, like Bakuman. The end result, for that Bakuman adaptation, is that “the manga is just what you need to read.” And I think watching the anime about a couple’s promise to get the man’s manga adopted into an anime so the woman can voice act for it is way too meta. Reading the manga? Just right. More pertiently, I put my anime in one bin, and the manga in the other. I am just not a manga person, I guess.

I think there are also reasons to believe adaptations are better off judged on its on merit for more accurate adjustments on expectations. The reasons can come in a variety of ways, from being totally unfaithful to source material, to source material being unhelpful to predict the end result, to the fact that it can completely overshadow the adaptation. Of course if you are coming to an adaptation for the reasons that it is connected to the source material, none of what I said makes would make any sense. But in that case you are basically a fish in a barrel and don’t have much of a choice, right?

The other notable thing, which we have a great example of this season, is targeted marketing and why they are targeted. I think it’s easy to get hyped up on a show like Star Driver, because it’s got your typical alternative-mecha vibe all over a mainstream sort of package. It’s a Sunday morning cartoon from BONES. The only thing better would be if it was from SUNRISE. Or is a GUNDAM anime. (Or, for that matter, Sket Dance.) But that is hype for everybody. On the other hand, while most people won’t give two-poops about PA Work’s 10th Anniversary project Hanasaku Iroha, it has just the right amount of hype for just the right kind of people that it is rather highly anticipated from certain circles (namely: emofag-sakuga types, like me). It makes a noise of a drop of a pin outside of those circles (well, it is a SU FEE AH animu, so you’ve got that factor). Despite its stellar pilot episode, I don’t think anyone who didn’t care about the show before would care about it until they were told to go watch it. But it was exactly how targeted hype can make a positive impact on expectation for someone like myself.

Hype can also be a negative indicator for setting expectations. Like the Persona 4 anime that just got announced. Because, well, there’s this thing called a track record. But more importantly, the hype is basically purely from the fact that Persona 4 is well-liked. There is little in terms of the animation production itself that is worth being excited over about. Usually this is a tell-tale sign of suckage.

The real question is, would it be worse than SofuTeni, to put it in perspective of the very present? I think most people do not get Sofuteni enough to be a good judge, so let’s just leave it out there: it’s a softcore…show, as you should expect. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see the content being as is. I mean, there are good reasons why people prefer hardcore over softcore as a matter of principle, after all, and I don’t just mean pornography. But some people don’t have that preference.

I think this season has been a good example (or in other words, challenging to assess realistic expectations) of a variety of things that can go wrong in guessing how a show would be before it airs. Another example would be shows like Tiger & Bunny. Who knew what it was? And maybe, who knows what it is? I think it is a huge mystery, and it isn’t even a very mysterious show. Much like the still-anticipated Madoka anime, part of what makes it charming is the whole mystery behind it. It’s another reason to be cautious about your expectations.

In the more bizarre, circumstantial sense, you get shows like 30-sai no Hoken Taiiku where it could be very enjoyable…if it was not censored all to hell. Maybe it is reason to pick up the source material, or better yet, the eventual uncensored home video release. But there’s not much to fight against arbitrary censoring. I mean I knew it would be censored, but not to this extent. So that’s a downer example: the stars aligned but it was censored.

I guess I’m ruined by Qwaser’s AT-X/web release.

To steer away from porn (again), my expectations were pretty spot on for A-channel and Nichijou. The latter was especially true-to-notion and KyoAni’s brand of humor. I find myself surprised slightly by just how much I was wishing Nichijou to be Lucky Star’s stead, and Lucky Star to never have existed. A-Channel was also surprising in that it is weird in a hard-to-describe way, which made it remarkable [albeit not much else]. It’s hard to be disappointed by weird Japanese 4-koma anime adaptation if you were expecting them. I mean, why wouldn’t anyone be expecting that, right? [I think I shed a single tear when I saw Studio Gokumi’s name showed up somewhere, but that’s beside the point.]

Or for that matter, Sengoku Otome. I guess I’m not quite done with porn yet, but maybe I can take this opportunity to revisit Samurai Girls, as it did that porn thing much better, with more pizzaz. Even in Rio’s case, they really were pretty creative with some of those battles. Perhaps it’s just an example of “you win some, you lose some,” as Time Paradox Battle Maids of WTF (which would be a superior title) was somewhat of a disappointment. I’m not sure if it is a cultural bias, but plot with your fanservice anime? I don’t really need it, but there is a tendency for those with it to do better than those without. Too bad it’s hard to tell if there will be a plot or not in that kind of stuff, ahead of time. Especially when it sacrifices the actual selling point of the shows for the plot points.

That, and among other reasons, is why I recommend having little to no expectations at all before going into a new season of anime. I realize it’s not a practical solution for everyone–instead spending the 5 minutes or whatever it takes to read some first-impression post or a teaser fag-chart, or even the 2 minutes it takes to see a trailer, it’s probably more effective to just watch the damn thing. No expectations, besides the absolutely necessary (genre, target audience, format, notable creators involved). It would have salvaged your 20+ minutes if you watched OreTsuba (and waste another 12 episodes worth of your life trying to follow it this season), and you could have looked up what it was after you saw the first episode (like any sane person should, should the show interests him). Just do it before the rape cliffhanger, for the love of all things good.

I mean it’s beyond the language barrier even. Not to mention most of us don’t scrub clean of Japanese-language sites that speculate on this stuff and get our Japanese brethren’s consensus first, but even then stuff like censorship can still screw with you. It’s tough.

Last Christmas I…

Just going to toss these thoughts down before they fly away with the Spring breeze.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? – Korean Zombie Desk Car – It’s my most enjoyable, uh, romp this season. It has just the right kind and right amount of randomness. It’s the sort of otaku show that they make every season, that has the kind of self-referential humor that pisses some cancer-speaking-people off and just annoying enough with its senseless plot to highlight that the point of this exercise is all those things otaku like about…things otaku like. Mousou Yuu! Boobs! References to Kira Kira! Of course the drama was pretty amusing that they can even pull it off, but I am not sure if it was used to the show’s benefit.

The only thing left to do is to make Korean Zombie Desk Car our version of Ankoiri Pasta Rice.

Level E – Really enjoyed the show, just as it is. It’s just retro enough, and I really like the ED for some reason.

Fractale – It’s a nice try Yamakan. The story and the composition is all “there” but it just didn’t come together. Which is probably more unusual than I would expect? How many shows like this fall flat? I think noitaminA is flushing them out.

Hourou Musuko – Best show of the season, and I didn’t even read the manga (nor do I really want to). Pretty much everything about this show is spot on, except how we had to squeeze episodes 10 and 11 together. It does have the “you don’t really need to have a vested interest about transgender issues” thing to it, but I think even that is done just right as to not alienate people unnecessarily. OP and ED are not my bag of tea but they are very well done.

Freezing – It was pretty okay except for the horrible pacing for a boobs show. I don’t get why people say the manga is good either. It feels a bit like High School of the Dead, just much less well-produced.

Infinite Stratos – This is the true moe show for this season. Half of which is because of Charlotte. The other day I karaoke’d Straight Jet, and it went down pretty smooth. It’s a quality tune. The ED, as mentioned previously, is cool ensemble stuff.

Dragon Crisis – This is the moe show for the season, and except Yukana’s character, it’s not even that moe. The one quiet girl was more WEIRDO than moe, the Kugyuu character is Yet Another Kugyuu Character and Rose isn’t setting any records there (not even sure if it sets the “most number of times Kugyuu repeat the same word per episode” record). Maruga and everyone that comes after only offer boobs, and not much else. Maybe you can make a case for furry girl but I don’t want to waste my time. Oh wait, oops, too late.

Star Driver – Save the Best Kiraboshi for Last. What he said.

Kimi ni Todoke – I like the first season more, but this one at least pays off. That said, I’m indifferent about the overall story the series covered in season 2. It doesn’t even make me RAEG like it does for some others. The thematic content, however, was pretty interesting terms of talking about communication.

Casulties: Rio, Gosick, Beelz (I should’ve just go watch Gintama), Merry, LOLOL Index.

The Other Type of Casualty: Madoka