Monthly Archives: July 2011

Tanto Cuore or Dipping Into the Madness of Actually Playing Japanese Tabletop Games

So at Anime Expo there was this booth which hawked translated “tabletop” (I use the term in the context of tabletop gaming as found here, and not so much by definition) deck building game Tanto Cuore. It is appropriate to hawk that at an anime convention (but then again, AX is an all-kind-of-things convention when it comes to the dealer’s hall) because this deck building game features the artwork of a lot of pretty popular Japanese artists among anime/manga/game/whatever fans. The game comes in a cardboard box that houses all the cards (and some extra room if you want to sleeve them); about a little bigger than the one Aquarian Age (a semi-popular anime-style TCG from 10 years ago!) card box that I own from waaayyyyyy back. Funny thing is, Aoi Nanase’s characters adorned both of them. What are the odds? I don’t even like her stuff that much!

This particular booth belonged to a tabletop game retailer that is also footing the localization effort for Tanto Cuore, at least from what I can gather (I did not visit their booth). It is originally a Japanese game, and by all means a “maid” spin on the popular deck building game Dominion. For those familiar with Dominion, by “maid” it just means instead of kingdom cards, it’s maid cards. For those unfamiliar with either game, in a deck building game, you basically have a set of cards in which you treat as your “deck.” You then draw from it, and play the cards from the deck for what’s written on the cards. Usually these abilities allow you to add or subtract cards to your overall deck, and/or alter the victory status (get more victory points, change victory conditions, etc). Part of the game is upgrading your existing cards in the deck so you can draw better cards instead of worthless crap cards. Part of the game is playing versus other players and competing for those better cards to add to your deck. Part of the game is managing your deck so it is rid of useless cards, so you can pull off combos. There’s a lot of other stuff that you could do, too, and often times you’re doing several things simultaneously.

So in Tanto Cuore, you do this with maids. And with love. And with serving. And employment. It’s an oddish concept if you think about it. Yeah, look at me, the guy with 20 chambermaids. With a billion victory points. What does this mean? Do I live like a king, because I can afford a dozen employments a turn? Or I have a bottomless pool of love to spend every turn? Or because I have dozens of concubines? How about the maids in the deck but not in my chambers? Why aren’t there more Mariannes to buy? The mind boggles at the implications.

There isn’t a whole lot to this game in proper English yet. From what I can tell, there are 2 expansions released for this game, but in Japanese only. You can also get special promo stuff like this (or this, for the base set). There are character goods if you look at the usual places. At the same time, you can already get the translated rules and card list for the first and second expansions from the usual place, AND from Arclight’s site directly. The localization company wants to bring the expansion over, but only if the sales are good enough. Naturally like other newbie localization efforts they need a lot of marketing help. But there’s a strong board game tie-in demographic that is receptive of this Japanese fantasy lunacy, so the player base probably does exist. I’m just doing my part to get the word out–the game itself is solid, offers some refinement you don’t quite see elsewhere (in an elegant, simple, dare I say, Japanese maid kind of way), and it has the same grip on you that Dominion and its ilks do. It’s legit, even before the whole moe-moe-meido part of the game.

Again, the Japanese company publishing Tanto Cuore is Arclight. Arclight publishes also several other original games, as well as localized western favorites like Thunderstone and proper board games like Powergrid (mmm Funkenschlag). That idol game…seems pretty interesting! And I’ll take most non-Aoi Nanase cover artist any day. There’s also this Anime-Nazi-Bishoujo-Invades-Russia game, which also has translated texts for cards and rules. Tempting! Because it’ll probably never get published in the US LOL.

Last note, this is the romanized list of artists (and links) that worked on Tanto Cuore (base set). I don’t know why they didn’t romanize it on the English language site, because some of these guys are popular names, and BGG already has them listed:

CARNELIAN, COMTA, Takahito Ekuchi, Takuya Fujima, Takehito Harada, Akira Hayase, Kira Inugami, Ishigaa, kawaku, KEI, Souji Kusaka, Misa Matoki, Rin Minase, Miki Miyashita, Misoka Nagatsuki, Nana, Aoi Nanase, Hiroki Ozaki, Poyoyon Rock, Ruchie, Satoru Satou, Mushimaro Tachikawa, Yuiko Tokui, Ofuu Yamadori.

Even the official card lists on Arclight’s site have romanized artist names. What gives?

The Melancholy of Azusa Miura

You’re such a meanie, Author:

In particular, I was reminded that Azusa had a backstory. Not a large or dramatic one, but nonetheless, she graduated from a junior college and found herself unneeded by the society. The only difference with millions of young women with liberal arts degrees that are our contemporaries on both sides of Pacific, she ended in employ of Namco Pro instead of Starbucks. Also, instead of developing a depression, becoming religious, or hooking up on drugs, she is dreaming about the destined person — but is not doing much about finding him.

There is no special message in any of it, I’m afraid, and actually Azusa was developed for original games, before the higher education bubble became this apparent in America. But if creators play their cards right, she may become more popular than ever. Many people might relate, even in Japan.

The immediate reaction is, well, such a person probably doesn’t exist in that particular format. The 30-sai version of Azusa is a much more likely candidate (she works in a library? Slightly a step up from Starbucks, but obviously a destination of liberal arts degree holders). But the truth remains; people unmatched remain unmatched unless something happens.

But I think the better angle is that Azusa isn’t someone we can identify ourselves with; she’s more like the leftover meal from this generation of herbivore males. Here is the alternative take. We can say, via simple supply versus demand, that the consequences of single folks working longer hours and deeper into their lives, with more people getting married later in life, is that there will be people who may want to get married at an earlier age, but couldn’t because the supply is lower. It is a weakly negatively reinforcing cycle. Weak in that people tend to want to get married, and just because it is more difficult it doesn’t usually stop them from continued pursuit. For those single folks seeking out there, the lesson is:  Don’t give up; Carpe diem and all.

I like this angle better because ultimately IM@S is about, well, admiring young ladies while they entertain us. In a sense that is not too unlike what you would do with your spouse. Or so I hope. At least at some point in your relationship (when applicable)? I don’t think IM@S’s narrative cares about self-identification as much as drawing affection (and in the real idol industry, in the mind space) from the audience. Granted in these kind of things, usually there’s some kind of back story in which identification helps to disarm the audience and buy into whatever story that is being sold. But the core of an idol identity is one that is still just a step different than just you or me. Even the girl-next-door types is not exactly the girl-next-door in the urban, isolated sense; more like the childhood friend that you really didn’t know is a knockout until she debuted in some gravure magazine.

For the record, I also agree with ani-nouto about the general idea behind the character; but I can also imagine Azusa projecting a pretty fierce AK-Field IRL.

The Niconico Meme Malaise

It’s commonly known and accepted that during the “golden age” of anime in the mid 2000s, and also a part of the reason behind the uptake of sites like Youtube and NicoNico Douga, is the fact that you can watch anime on those sites as a part of a shared experience. Specifically, people watched anime on Nico because of the comments as enabled by the floating comment system that overlays text over video. It was hilarious.

It’s interesting because 2005 was when sites like Youtube started to get real traction with the public. It was new; people uploaded all sorts of videos there and then passed links to their friends. How that fits into the social context that makes up the overall notion of social media on the internet was something to be figured out. But, as you see today, there is probably not much room left for something like Nico’s famous overlay text system. Youtube eventually opted for a similar overlay technology for annotation, and it’s used to serve ads as well, but it was just not the same.

Just to muse on it some more: since Nico is launching a US portal with simulcast anime content, will we ever “recreate” the same sort of thing? The whole “anime is more fun when watched with folks” kind of thing, for certain shows? I’m not sure, but I am leaning towards no. Maybe the moment has passed. Maybe westerners no longer care for anime in that kind of viewing factor, and maybe those who do are more concerned about repeating memes than to offer insightful, interesting and funny comment that goes with watching anime in that context. I mean, who wants to read youtube comments?

But you would think a Pachinko anime makes great content for people to trash. So I did it. And it kind of works; actively commenting on it made watching it a little more bearable, but it was a bit of a hassle to pause when typing. However, even the best seiyuu talent cannot save something like Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise.

I just hope this does not stop them from rolling out t-shirts at cons to everyone. Or not bring over their trademarked animated gifs (I noticed they were adorning the blog section of the site…)

The other day I also managed to watch Blood-C on Nico. The results are partly what I feared but also partly promising. A few good caps made it a lot more amusing, while there were also a lot of dumb meme repetition that didn’t really belong. It’s notably different than my other viewings (R-15 and Twin Angel) because I waited for almost a week to catch Blood-C, and it’s probably the highest profile anime they’re streaming. Those two…well, it’s sparse. You can find those streams on Nico’s channel page.

Which, is to say, it’s a totally different beast even compared to their Atlantis launch live stream last week, which I watched for about 30 minutes. That one looked pretty okay… And it isn’t that memes are a problem; it’s how you use it.

PS. Is it me or the way text scrolls in English need to be adjusted? Or is my reading bandwidth taxed having to both read the subs and the scrolling comments? Maybe both? I find it much easier to read short comments since they stay on screen longer, where as long comments fly across the screen crazy fast. And like Twitter, it’s much more likely to need to write long comments in English than it is in Japanese. This requires some tweaking on Nico’s part.

Mawaru Penguindrum Episode One, Three Days After

My thought of episode 1 of Mawaru Penguindrum is not too dissmiliar to my thoughts after my first run-in with FLCL: very entertained, intrigued, very intrigued, rather. It’s got your Ikuhara-style sexuality (both visually and baked in the story) laced with hints of confusion. I think sexy-confusion is pretty sexy. It’s like a drug. And for that to work, it’s gotta haul butts on the technical; Penguindrum is quite the visually engrossed work. Arguably, it’s one of the best looking anime this year thus far. The sexuality piece is exactly how it plays in Utena. The fairy tale angle, too, except I don’t think that is being the focus this time. It’s too early to say too much about themes, although there’s a lot of food for thought already.

I’m also curious as to what others have to say about it. Below is a link list to other blogs that talked about the first episode. If I missed someone, it’s because I missed someone when I combed animenano’s feed. I’m sure plenty of people are talking about Penguindrum, so that’s going to happen.

And here they are, in no particular order:

Note on SHAFT: I think it’s very good that people are picking up that piece. Some of the directorial tricks are indeed seen in recent SHAFT works, extensively, and people picked them up. I already have made an argument about SHAFT-isms and its timing. I think Penguindrum would, too, be even more awesome if it aired in, say, 2009. Just so it can get more mileage out of the tricks nobody was using (so much) back then. Out of this sample of 22 posts only one person talked in depth about the typography and the communication design aspect. I thought that whole thing was a big part component of its visual presentation, and it’s also a thing Shinbo x SHAFT employed extensively. It is not without purpose, but for us avid viewers, especially the newer types, it’s going to be what we’re used to. I mean, I thought it was kind of interesting how it keeps on showing us train stuff. I guess we gotta wait until a train otaku blogs Penguindrum.

On that note, the Galactic Railroad thing is pretty neat. Good to see it in detail already.

Pinpointing Miku’s Success: Part 3

The third point that I alluded to a long time ago is pretty simple: Miku has leveled-up to become a character franchise.

A better term, perhaps, is payload. It’s like a bomb (to truck on with the Mongol horde analogy) that exploded in Japan, fueled by its decentralized nature on top of a willing and pliable culture of doujin production crossed with YOU-generation-tube producers and viewers. Has this fire burned hot enough to jump a very large pond called the Pacific? I don’t know. I’m guessing yes, because we had that Mikuopolis thing after all.

But in fewer words, Miku is like a delivery system. Its payload vary, but if we can pull this off, well, the world is hers for sure, or possibly so:

Witness the elder, Kitty. She took a seat at the Mikufest booth at Anime Expo 2011. As she should be.

Before we talk about virtual idols, we need to talk about character franchises, because that’s what virtual idols are. Japan is particularly known for its variety of cute characters that form the business methods to drive corporate bottom lines. How does Miku fit in? I think that image explains it all right there: It’s a delivery system. What goes in it is up to you. In the case of Anime Expo’s Mikuopolis, it’s Toyota PR’s pocket change. But Hello Kitty has no issues doing a collab, since the two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Put it in another way, why would we launch missiles and rockets with nothing in it? No; we do so to delivery the payload. Miku is the deliverywoman, the carrier, the platform, the API. The results are whatever we put in it. If it’s a PR campaign from Toyota, we’ll get…bacon-wrapped hot dogs? If it’s supercell, it’s some music that springboards the group/ryo into a major contract. Really, it’s whatever you want. Just as random vocaloid producers can make something out of Miku, so can a large corporation and their pet characters. That Miku allows for individuals and organizations of all sorts of sizes to be worn under the same blue wig is a big point that I’ve been trying to describe in all my previous posts.

In their present day iteration, Miku and her friends are a bunch of strange Japanese things, coming from an American perspective, and I think it is good to ask questions about vocaloid’s adaptive powers outside of Japan. It’s one of the curious thing about Miku in the first place as Japanese people were boggled by the same synthetic idol back in ’07 and ’08, and for years Westerners struggled to figure out Miku’s formula (if it exists) in the age of new media. Looking back, that’s what John was going for; Lelangir’s post is a good complement.

But let’s look in contrast. Hello Kitty needs her own managers and producers to make Hello Kitty media–games, anime, audio CDs, whatever. She kicked butts internationally and took names because her cuteness is universal. This is why I thought John missed the point: Miku can care less about any of that. Which is pretty cool, right? Toyota’s marketing campaign might incidentally expose people to what/who Miku is, but it’s still about Toyota’s cars at the end. It doesn’t necessarily add or delete anything “special” about Miku’s appeal, any more than a truck load of pornographic doujinshi would makes Miku a nymphomaniac. That kind of means-to-ends-ness is necessary if Miku is to take off the ground in America, beyond merely an imported curio. She’s only a messenger, after all. It would be interesting to say that Miku’s popularity in America is because she is cute, but that is no different than saying Miku’s songs are popular in Japan because they are popular. It sidesteps the point that Miku is what we like about Miku, and naturally we selectively fill and reinforce those contribution into the Miku “canon” with what majority of us like.

I think, in the end, it’s this kind of fractured-togetherness, the many-faces-of-Miku (as described by Kylaran) which makes up the roaring crowd at Miku’s concert. On the day that we cheered for a platform of expression with waving glowsticks, we were also really cheering at a reflection of our desires.