Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Cynical View of Moshidora

So coincidentally, I found that my American-style of thinking does suggest why I can’t take a story about Drucker’s style of management, written for a 21st century audience, seriously. It even doesn’t imply anything about cynicism for Americans (Are we more cynical? I have no idea).

Forbes columnist and econ writer (among other things) Steve Denning wrote the other day (hey thanks JP) about some book that I didn’t read, but I went away with his highlight on some of the challenges facing the American economy in the new century. Among them, chiefly, is one about management. You can read his blog post here. And you should, because I’m going to quote it right here:

Over the last couple of decades, there has been an epochal shift in the balance of power from seller to buyer. For the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, oligopolies were in charge of the marketplace. These companies were successful by pushing products at customers, and manufacturing demand through advertising. But this situation changed.

Today customers have instant access to reliable information and have options: they can choose firms who delight them and avoid companies whose principal objective is taking money from our wallets and putting in their own. The result is a fundamental shift in power in the marketplace from the seller to the buyer: not only do customers not appreciate being treated as “demand” to be manufactured: now they can do something about it. If they are not delighted, they can and do go elsewhere.

The second is a fundamental shift in the workplace where the nature of work has shifted from semi-skilled to knowledge work. Meeting the business imperative of delighting customers can only be accomplished if the knowledge workers contribute their full talents and energy to contribute continuous innovation. Treating employees as “human resources” to be manipulated undermines the workforce commitment that is needed.

As a result, the 20th Century management system—the goose that laid America’s golden egg—stopped delivering. The monumental study by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge shows that the rate of return on assets of US companies is one quarter of what it was in 1965; the life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 has fallen from around 75 years half a century ago to just 15 years today and is falling fast. Only one in five employees is fully engaged in his or her work. And a study by the Kauffman Foundation showed that firms older than five years produced almost no net new jobs in the period 1980 to 2005 (whereas firms younger than 5 years created around 40 million jobs in that period.)

And right after that, Denning starts a section with this title.

The world changed but management didn’t[.]

Drucker’s landmark book was published 1973. It was the pinnacle of 20th century economic power indeed.

If you recall, some basic and fundamental key concepts are used in Moshidora as chapter heading. The two I want to highlight are “customer” and “innovation.” And maybe the whole thing about result-oriented view of measuring success.  Those terms and concepts still mean the same thing in Moshidora as it does in Denning’s blog post. I believe those fundamental concepts introduced in Moshidora are the most valuable things it offered in the way of teaching management. But the way how Minami transformed Kodobuko’s baseball team is a classic sort of thing that today’s marketplace leaders of America (ie, people whose companies with RESULTS) do not do.

When I saw it, I was like, hurrrrrrr. Maybe we should just go back to DRRR and understand how someone like Mikado transforms and apply his human resources. Because that is the way of the future. Or the present. And the way of Moshidora is like “oh Japan, you’re so post-war.” I guess I am more a victim of exposure to random management ideas and not so much a sound schooling of the classics ideas of management. But what good is the classics if what’s happening to Japan’s economy is any demonstration of the results of that line of thought? Besides, if I was teaching kids on how to manage a baseball team, I wouldn’t try to teach them managements concepts, I would teach them the value of cyclic innovation and the benefits of empowering autonomous, small groups. The rest will come naturally.

Satsuki And Hiroko

Evirus isn’t the first or the last person to make the comparison, but it doesn’t come to mind at first, at least to me.

The parallels between Satsuki from Hanasaku Iroha and Hiroko from Hataraki Man are easy to make at first. At a glance, it seems that both are career women who write for magazines. Both are not really attached to a SO, even if Hiroko does have a steady boyfriend and Satsuki has…whatever she has. But once you get beyond that, I don’t think the two are really a good pair for comparison.

I mean, Satsuki raised Ohana on her own.

It’s the one big secret behind Hanasaku Iroha, I think. It’s the question it is begging people to ask, but not really: I think what will happen is that they’re going to save this as a surprise for later.

I don’t want to play up the whole single mom angle, but the fact nobody paid it any attention in their analysis of Satsuki seemed almost like a social injustice. It’s also probably the singularly most progressive part of Hanasaku Iroha’s strange clash of viewpoints. If one can even see it that way. Perhaps it is no big deal to see a line-up of elderly women as the matriarchs of small businesses and clans, as it’s a trope of some sort. (I’m just not sure how realistic that is.) Seeing single parents coming through the way Satsuki does, however, is rare anywhere. Except maybe in anime, lol.

The more proverbial glass ceiling that Hiroko explores is something that women face everywhere. Its approach is honest and simple, actually, and I think that’s how it wins readers. Single-motherhood is a tough subject to be sympathetic about once we get beyond the pity factor and when we start to analyze the real difficulties and hurdles they have to overcome. It’s not a common thing people experience, so it’s difficult to just throw it in there. It wouldn’t surprise me if the schtik in Hanairo was more akin how it is in every other anime, and is just an easy way to add a chip on our protagonist’s shoulder, or something.

Figures: the Panel

If you have any feedback about what I’m writing below, please leave a comment. I am curious as to if this is a concept worth exploring in a panel format (at say, a convention). It’s not like I’m running a panel or anything (yet), but it always sort of sat somewhere in my mind after listening to a couple of them last year and the year before.

If I stole all of Happy Soda’s choice shots and put it on a nice slideshow and ran it for 30 minutes, would that make it an entertaining panel at a con?

  • Alternatively, if I stole some of Happy Soda’s choice figures and put it in a nice gallery (possible hands-on!), would that make it an entertaining panel at a con? How about both?
  • Would the slideshow go better with music?
  • If the slideshow played in the background for 30 minutes, in which during that period three dudes were talking about figures, would you pay attention to the dudes (probably not)? What do you think these dudes should be saying to catch your attention?

What kind of people would go to a figure panel? Collectors? Would-be-collectors? Random people who are wondering what is up? Photogs? Gunpla peeps? Toy people (in general)? People with a couple figures? People with a couple hundred of them?

  • How many different types of collectors are there? Would it be useful (I think so) to storyboard your common figure buyer/collector types?
  • Critiques of different types?
  • Why do we do it? Little plastic wimmens swimmins? Little plastic dudes dancing?

Is it more useful to describe how people “interact” in figure collecting? What are commonly the things to do? How do you find the right place to hang out on the internet, so to speak?

  • A list of links? Forums?
  • Blogs? Making one? Reading one?
  • and like?
  • How to spend your money, ie., follow all the figure news and PR? You don’t need help for that I’m sure.

Photography? Figure scene is vibrant with the photos of figures. They are the loudest.

  • Should we steal Super Rats too? Or at least, his blog posts?
  • Are there anyone else we should be ste–, er, learning from?

Buy & Sell? Do we need panel speak on those (I’m leaning towards yes)?

  • Domestic? Import? Price discrimination? Wholesale?
  • Proxy?
  • Used? Budget?

History? Did anyone collected anime figs in the 90s? Up to the PVC boom? Do you even care about what happened in the scene before 2007? Are you Patrick Macias?

Figure care? How to clean figures? How to put together a Detolf? Fight lean? Is this something obvious or worth talking about?

Help me out guys. If any of the questions I raised sounds interesting, or is something you’d like hear answered, let me know.

Pinpointing Miku’s Success: Miku the Barbarian

I think this “repetitive stating the same obvious thing I’ve stated before” post is brought to you by the tragic loss of Tomoko Kawakami. Seeking solace in making something out of the obvious, stating it over and over again, as if it would make it true(r), is not too far from wishing something bad would not have had happened. At least this wasn’t something very sudden unlike this other dude cancer claimed not too long ago.

Taking a Han-centric view of historic China, when the Mongolians invaded (time and again), as they’re known to do from time to time, the Chinese built walls. Great walls, by all means. It didn’t do much good in the long run, and it’s probably hailed more so as a human tragedy over any sort of engineering marvel (well, it was one still) that it has now become. But it was a sign of civilization’s progress. In Sid Meier’s world, it kept barbarians away. [It took the Qing to finally put Mongolians to rest once and for all, until when the Soviets got involved.]

Now they’re knocking at the gate in the latest Japanese invasion. Instead of hairy horde of horsemen, it’s digital media made overseas, riding on vacuum tubes or underwater optical cables or whatever. Instead of quivering Chinese magistrates, it’s the masses that makes up the largest consumer nation in the world. What holds them back is this “Japanamerica” nonsense: culturally, America does not compute Japan, except there’s this weird cyclic, Lazy Susan-ish overlapping interests, fandoms, and fans. If the nomadic Mongolians hailed from the untamed steppes of central Asia, then Miku’s horde launch attacks from the uncharted reaches of the internet. Well, figuratively uncharted (as in charted only in a GPS sense).

I wrote about Miku’s ability to enable creative people before. What I’ve just rephrased is part 1.5 or 2.5, the practical, shorter version of the same thing. It’s a “you” generation icon. (It’s another reason why it is popular!) But instead of the money it takes to produce one of these other bands that have done it before, we have an off-the-shelf solution that is really easy to do and only cost a couple hundred bucks. After all, the varying Mongol hordesmen are just ordinary dudes, no different than any of us. I think.

And there is still a part 3 to this. Soon, hopefully.

After Madoka: The Past-Due Future

Now that a couple months have lapsed since I first saw those spoileriffic conclusion to easily the most talked-about anime in 2011, what is there left to say about Madoka?

This post is spoiler free.

My own view of the show is not too far from Wah’s, at least on a technical level. [I get the feeling that he “criticizes” it only because he didn’t like it, compared to the average Shinbo x SHAFT production (which he is borderline irrationally in love for), so I doused it with the proverbial grain of salt.] If I had to use one word to describe Madoka, it would be inventive. The most inventive thing about Madoka is its visuals. A lot of its sharp and jarring directorial cues and visual tricks were already hallmarks of another best-selling anime, Bakemonogatari. And others. To that end, and especially if you subscribe the view that SHAFT’s anime are like things coming out of an iteratively refining process, an assembly line of adaptations, so to speak, then Madoka is simply the latest and best thing.

In other words, I think what’s really inventive was all the contractors the producers roped into putting Madoka together. SHAFT is a studio that contracts out to some of the rising stars from the scene for their work, to the degree that they could. Madoka isn’t the first time they’ve done it; it’s better to say that they have been doing it for years, and the whole thing is finally coming together. It is a refinement. Still, in essence, Madoka was very much of a 1+1=2 product, in that the end result is the sum of its parts. Great parts, they are; I think people were right to assume that Shinbo x Urobuki x Aoki x Kajiura made a powerful combination, and the hype was well-deserved, if we can still remember the months leading up to Madoka’s debut.

Of course, I think it wouldn’t be fair to just say that Madoka was “just sum of its parts.” For one, great parts don’t always make great anime. It’s safe to say that the Madoka collaboration works because Shinbo is pretty good at this now. The original anime gambit pays off because things went according to plan, earthquakes and tsunami aside. There is evidence that magical girls show can sell if it channels some kind of character-centric pathos. And Urobuchi is pretty much one of the top VN hack dudes at this sort of thing. It’s funny, because compared to “Buchi’s” CV, Madoka is, hands-down, uplifting.

So you get an “uplifting” show with strong character-driven pathos as hook while featuring innovative visuals, hacked into the magical girls framework and expectation. The end result is a best-seller is probably not a big surprise to anyone. Well, it’s kind of a surprise in the sense that it bucks the trend. There are a lot of magical girls anime over the years, and especially the ones that appeals to that mysterious group of people so-called otaku; Madoka bucks that trend. And what makes it so is the something that still made Madoka a little more special, a little more attention-hoarding, than the average otaku anime of the same pedigree.

But that something isn’t something we’ve never seen before. I believe it’s the same thing that sold three seasons of Zetsubo-sensei and Hidamari Sketch, or Bakemonogatari. It’s the reason why Wah loves his little SHAFT thing. It’s also the same thing that I am getting rather weary of. Back in 2008 this someething was the bee’s knees, but in 2011 it feels that Madoka was the corner that Shinbo should have turned years ago; instead of Bakemonogatari, we should’ve had something a little more ground-breaking already. In fact, one could even see the original Nanoha series as attempt #1, if we read into the history of magical girls for adults. Were we ready for this kind of stuff back in 2004-2005? We may never know. But to me that is just a sign that we’re years behind where we could have been.

I ask this question because I still remember 2005.  I can tell you that something like Madoka is what we needed in 2005, something to punctuate the moe trend during its loudest hour. Because something like Madoka can actually stick, maybe, and by sticking I mean trending. Or alternatively, we just weren’t sufficiently sick and tired of it at the time and we didn’t complain as loudly as we do now. That is besides if Aniplex’s mercenaries can even do something like that, to pull off the troll, to get hype, during the coolest hour of Cool Japan.

Maybe we were not ready; maybe SHAFT still had a lot of kink to smooth out (see: how badly Bakemonogatari was delayed). Maybe the global great recession was at fault. I don’t know. It’s the fresh breath of air that we could’ve used, is all. It’s the thing that ef was (except nobody took it seriously), but now with 100% more star power (Tenmon is better than Kajiura, you heard it here) and not trapped by the weirdest content owners for anime ever. Madoka is great. It just came up a little too short, a little too late. I just hope SHAFTxShinbo and the rest of the industry are going to keep on playing catch-up.

[Homework: Imagine Geneon USA’s last license was a show named Madoka instead of Nanoha…]