Monthly Archives: September 2011

Building a Course

This is a pretty cool way to get your canon or must-watch hard-on addressed. I mean, if you want to approach it academically and build a syllabus or something, the end result would be a little bit focused on ideas, than just what you like.

Because a liberal education approach seems to fit in this topic most easily. It’s not like people want to become animators, right? Right? We’re beyond just posting our favorites here.

So what would I do? I’m going to start where once upon a time when Satoshi Kon was answering a question at the screening of Paprika during one of this so-called “retrospective” Q&A session. The question was about what Kon would recommend an aspiring animator to do, and the answer was something like he wouldn’t recommend you to become an animator in Japan. Not that he recommends against it, but I hope you know how it goes. The notion is that a good survey of anime information today will give you the full picture as to why he said what he said, and understand why he said what he said. In more details, these are the concepts and questions that will guide this hypothetical course:

Why would a well-recognized and talented Japanese animator not recommend being one? What sits at the core of this conflicting opinion? Why would we accept this opinion as reasonable (or not)? And so, in other words:

Why would Japanese young adults aspire to become animators?

As for the substantive portion of the course, I’m not sure how I would approach it–maybe from a film study perspective? It’s not an area of expertise for me, but I think for a semester survey class worth of maybe 3 credits (I guess that typically translates to 6-9hr/wk since credits are often tabulated differently) US undergraduate workload, the amount of work you can assign really is the number one limitation rather than how good the prof is at demonstrating knowledge and analysis. (Is this how all film studies prof feel?)

The topics? I guess to use the question I set up as a guide, it would include at least (in no order):

  • brief history of modern anime
  • the finance structure of anime today
  • change in animation technology in the past 20 yr
  • popular subject matter, theme
  • mobile and internet consumption

Then to address the “why would” question, probably case-study some shows that were quoted as “top” picks? Here are some examples; I don’t have the time to really dig into which animator quoted for which shows–shows that were singled out by other animators as their favorites or as example of great anime–but just a few off the top of my mind (in show – director pair)

Anne of Green Gables (select eps)  – Yamakan

Future Boy Conan (select eps) – Kazuya Murata

Gundam (original movie trilogy) – somebody?

Lupin III (select eps) – someone else?

Castle in the Sky – Shinkai

Rose of Versailles – STAR DRIVERUtena/Ikuhara


For each named director I would probably select something more excerpted. The chronology of the course and syllabus would follow by the study of the specific works, and the topics will be worked into the syllabus based on what gets studied. For example:

  1. Week 1:
    • Admin stuff
    • Anne of Green Gables (select eps)
    • Some history stuff, basic what is anime questions
    • Ground work for visuals and direction in anime.
  2. Week 2:
    • Kannagi (select eps)
    • more finance stuff
    • changes production techniques
  3. Week 3:
    • Future Boy Conan (select eps)
    • more history stuff, some spotlight on Miyazaki, etc.
    • more on themes, etc
  4. Week 4:
    • Eureka 7/White Reflection/whatever
    • more production technique
    • more on themes
    • op/ed/music video biz
    • change in technology

et cetera.

Depends on the course load, you can add more content per week and the compare-contrast sharper (I was party hardy at undergrad and the weekend would toast my memory with a DC10 save vs willpower or something) so the material could be better viewed back to back in the same week. Also that would free up later parts of the semester to watch the really interesting things. Like Nanoha or Fractale. LOL.

Man, now I want to go and dig out all those interview questions about what shows Satoshi Kon watched when he was young. I remember him making references to it but I don’t remember what it was. Because I have to work in Millennium Actress in there somehow. Maybe some future animator can call dibs back?

Why So Serious, #1?

I appreciate that cohesive trail of bread crumbs leading me from pasture from pasture, with sharks that you can jump over (while wearing leather jacket and a hairdo from the 70s) in between. I also greatly appreciate the work people pour into talking about Mawaru Penguindrum, and discovering the depth of its internal cohesion. I won’t link to them again, so I hope you know where to look already.

I just want to highlight something probably profound, and it sums in a nutshell the core complex as demonstrated by Ringo up to this point. This is in the form of a translated liner note from Utena R2 DVD release volume #2. Or rather, someone else had highlighted this

Let us suppose that a certain man has fallen in love at first sight with an idol he saw on TV. The possibility of him making the idol his lover is near zero, but it is not entirely zero. However, rare is the man who would strive with all efforts to make the idol his lover. Instead of making such effort, he buys her records, goes to her concerts and enters her fan club. In other words, he enjoys her as an “idol”. Such behaviour blurs his feeling of wanting to make her his lover. This world of ours is full of such blurriness. To say “no” to such blurriness and to strive for the object of your desire, you have no choice but to become a duelist and confront the world and all its cruelty in the face. Episode 7 (“Unfulfilled Juri”) is a story about “miracle”. Arisugawa Juri, who is a student council member highly regarded by all teachers, a national-level fencer and a beautiful young woman, had one weakness – “miracle”. It may seem contradictory that she believed requited love would be a “miracle,” and yet she denied that such miracle could possibly occur. If she truly believed that such love was unrequited for certain, then she might as well call it an impossibility instead of calling it a “miracle”. She called it “miracle” precisely because she wanted it to occur even though it was unlikely to occur. The reason why she wanted to deny it is because she knew the pain of not obtaining it. May we not say that Juri was the most duelist-like duelist in the sense that she continued to be a duelist fighting for this miraculous power called “the power to revolutionize the world” while knowing this pain? Juri challenged Utena to a duel because the latter said she could believe in miracles. Juri was probably jealous of Utena’s innocence and felt angry. Juri lost the duel even though she was technically the superior fencer. Just as Miki who lost the duel due to “the shining thing” which was his weakness, Juri was defeated by Utena who fought the duel without such mental distractions.

To say “no” to blurriness, and to be defeated by the very thing that one stood up to fight for while knowing full well the hurt it would bring – that is the duelist’s sad fate.

What it reads like, to me, is some kind of fable in a modern world. It is serious! I mean, it’s a message that you can really take it to heart, and change the way you think about certain things in a drastic way. That’s great.

To switch gear completely: For me, what made Utena stick was not just its beautifully crafted visual and aural magic of modern themes, but also its spot-on comedy. Yes, in other words, I watch Mawaru Penguindrum for the penguins, too. What I find kind of disturbing is how few people find that an important part of the show.

Well, I should correct myself: a lot of people probably do; but it isn’t in vogue to talk about comedy. Still, it’s such an integral part of the presentation. It’s really a matter of perspective in which I ask this question, thus:

Does Ringo make you laugh?

She does for me. She also goes over the line a lot of the times, and that’s partly what makes it a little weird to laugh at or with her.

I half think that when we see those 3d-popup children’s book scenes, that’s what’s really what we’re suppose to see, the lens in which we overlook Ringo’s conquest of Tabuki. There’s also another meta perspective about this: we already see the difference between Yuri and Ringo’s play on Keiju’s mind and emotion, when Ringo and Shoma do their slapstick show involving carps, frogs, and what not. I mean, sure, someone did get run over by a car and that is not a laughing matter (in real life), but is it here? Not if #2 has anything to say about it.

In a way I think 2dt’s point about that “enjoy the show” mysticism is just a high brow brush to acknowledge that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and just by looking at the parts individually, we are at risk of missing the big picture. I think one of the risks is, like all jokes, the toaster oven of over-analysis. You don’t want to dry this stuff up of its humorous juices!

Mawaru Penguindrum 11


Steins;Gate, the Distant Avalon

There are some light spoilers in this post. And since I’m going to talking about overarching points to Hanasaku Iroha and Steins;Gate (and make a couple other references), it might make more sense to have seen most/all of those first before you try to read this.

Hanasaku Iroha is about the craft and pride, it is about calling and following and forging a way. It is a message about generational empathy through shared exercise of overcoming adversity with a dash of cognitive dissonance and a twist of estrogen. The key ingredient is attitude. In episode 25 Nako identifies the difference maker (without spelling it out), the one thing that makes Ohana the special little girl Tohru pinned as awkward and clumsy, but ultimately she does “fest it up”; to bring a certain joy to the people around her. Just like how both opening sequences are the Kissuisou staff bustling and hustling, and it’s fun to watch. (Well, to be fair, it’s not just attitude, but that is the key ingredient.)

Steins;Gate is about doing what you’re called to do despite the situation that you have endured thus far.

To bring up Chaos;Head first for a second, the story of that is about this NEET/socially maladjusted dude and his semi-delusions. In Steins;Gate, the same idea is diluted by this compelling piece of time-traveling SF mystery, but it’s still there. We’re talking about a band of people who are also needy socially for one reason or another, with a protagonist that is socially maladjusted with some delusions of his own.

The main difference is that Takumi’s issues are played as some kind of mad-man ranting. Okarin’s issues are just an extreme case of chuunibyou. This difference is a matter of perception as the way each anime presented the eccentricities are different. I think on paper they are much closer than it seems. [And I think this is why I keep referring to Chaos;Head in Steins;Gate’s context, despite the discrepancies between the two anime. That, and Super Special.]

To finally get to the punch, ever read about people complaining about self-esteem education in public schools in the 90s? And how it may be blamed for certain emerging trends towards young people and their attitude about life and people? Not that I want to apply it to Steins;Gate, but the mechanism behind the claims may be similar. If we take the perspective that Okarin is the victim of Japan’s lost decade (in a way he symbolizes that entire crowd), and in a way Steins;Gate is some larger symbol about generational conflicts, it can be said that the present state of things can be blamed on the past state of things, and those who had control over the past. I mean, the penultimate “villain” and Kurisu’s little back story makes this painfully clear. The symbolism and analogy are just only beginning, here. What is Okabe fighting for? For a better future, am I right? [Can I have some Suzuha x Doreamon doujinshi?]

Is this why Steins;Gate can be seen as a strange coming-of-age story in which Okabe goes through these trials to redo and undo D-mails written out of the lingering regrets and uncertainties from their original senders? Only if we were [insert something regret-like] while growing up in the late 90s? Well, except Moeka’s case; but she’s kind of nuts already. The plot generator makes a compelling case, re: being able to change the past in order to change the present and future. If you read this NYT blurp about the book I linked above, it does also make the argument that this sort of self-esteem education can make you hardier. I don’t know if it does; but in traditional Japanese ways, it’s about slapping you in the face a few times so you get over yourself, so you can be yourself. I think that too would make you hardy, probably more so than staying delusional about that secret agency with acronym beginning with an S. Or was it a C? Heh, C.

Then again, this slapping business go way back. Mayuri’s up to date with her real-mecha anime history YEAH (massive nerd cred in my eyes)!

PS. I really want to do a tutturu collection, but ugh no time little motivation. I guess I should see if someone did it already.

That Trouble Child

Summer is on its last legs. I find all this all too depressing; where did my August/September go? Where are my summertime memories for 2011? Looking back I think I kind of want to redo this year. There were a lot of opportunities that I could have capitalized on better, but all in all it wasn’t so bad that it leaves me with a sour taste in the mouth.

The strange cloud in my mind this morning is punctuated by this picture showing up on my feed.

I mean, it’s only meaningful because I miss watching the, er, bodacious little kid and her rag-tag gang of think-alikes. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my life right now but when that brisk weather hits the northeast it feels like some biological switch gets flipped a certain way, I go automatic into nostalgia mode regardless of what’s happening. So seeing that loli-face banner was almost timely.

I think this is why I envy not the gorgeous west coast weather at all. I want my four seasons.

It’s times like this that I thank the heavens and what’s on earth that enable my anime habit. I always kind of pride myself on at least being able to watch a good chunk of what is out there every season. To do that takes a lot of time, which basically means giving up my reading and gaming time, in the past 3 seasons. There were a glut of anime that just appealed to me. And when that spare time decreases (for whatever reason), there’s just not much left to give but to watch less. I have always resigned to the fact that the circumstances change, like the seasons, and invariably there would be bumps and mismatches in the rotating schedules of “how many shows I can follow at every given week” versus “how many shows I want to watch at every given week.” And so when I “drop” a show, it is often no fault of the show; it’s all on me.

Looking back at my old blog posts, I too find that often times it is because I really don’t want to write about something that doesn’t leave me with stuff to think about–I literally have nothing to write home about for the majority of anime that I end up watching. Plus a couple shows that are just challenging to write about, so I dare not. And that is not a fair litmus test of these shows and more of my inability and lack of will to write about them. It’s pretty clear that I prize anime first, blogging and analysis second. Or rather, they’re just natural extension of someone who is thinking about them and is extroverted enough to publish his soiled laundry.

It’s in tough or uncertain times that, like Manabi, you hold on to some precious concept that found a home and developed roots within your soul, that you rely on to get through those times. Manabi Straight’s story, to me, is still the standing example, in its gradient-hair glory, of the best stuff on earth. I just want to get that off my chest.

Required Viewing Lists Are

Just to bounce off this post.

I remember high school. We didn’t have required reading lists for English/lit classes, but there are invariably a series of things we had to read for class. Why? Because we would talk about the things we read for class, to analyze and learn to think of the things we read critically. We would be taught to construct arguments and learn how to find support for those arguments. We were kids who didn’t know what to read, anyways. The familiarity of the canon of English literature among American kids, even the studious ones, is something mostly ingrained from their teachers and curriculum and rarely something self-taught.

The work wasn’t fun. Sometimes it’s just mind-numbing. Sometimes it was easier to crank out words to fulfill limits of assignments than really try to enjoy what I was doing. And maybe that’s the better way to approach it–I didn’t want to develop a knack for all-nighters; relying on them is a fool’s errand after all. Having the due date expressed in terms of minutes instead of days can be exhilarating! I learned the taste of caffeine and how to get by without it at 5am, but I never learned how to get by without sleep. It made for interesting memories, but I would rather have something else instead.

Those are not the things you want to learn to like, anyway. It shouldn’t be the thing that makes studying 18th c. British lit exciting. It makes more sense to make required reading lists to be meaningful in the context of the education you were going to get.

In a nutshell, I don’t think enjoyment has anything to do with required viewing lists. If the titles on a list happen to be enjoyable, great. If not, no big deal. Just like how you have or haven’t seen or read on the list has anything to do with anything, besides having a head start on the curriculum. If you watched all the shows I would like you to watch, great! The sun still rises next morning. If not, it just means now you have something to check out or debate about. I mean it seems like the only problem with those lists is by implicitly leaving things out you’re saying something about those things. It’s like being a jerk, walking around with a “your [favorite band] sucks” T-shirt. And that’s more a jerk being a jerk than anything about lists or implicitly or explicitly leaving something out. N-list based blog posts are all about that, and they tend to be popular partly for those reasons.

What is absolutely right is that creating the list is couched in a context. High school English lit is the context of my example, for example. Today, such lists typically come out from some kind of reason related to being able to communicate with some shared basis of understanding. I mean, it’s kind of like having some passing familiarity with the Bible if you want to talk shop at a seminary. Or how can I make references to boats and cabbages without you having passing familiarity with Yoakena or School Days? How can we talk about Gundam without, well, a passing familiarity of the various timelines and settings? Or being able to talk well for Mawapen and not having seen Utena? I suppose you could do all of those, but it just doesn’t seem like you could do just as well as a version of you that has seen them. So “required viewing” lists are more like “if you watched all this, you are my kind of fan, you belong in my church of /whatever/.”

Now if you just want a list of anime to wank off to, may it be for /m/ech freaks or disgusting moe otaku, you want to ask for a “wanking viewing list” or some such. Problem solved! As long as whoever curates such a list make it meaningful and presents it in a way where that meaning is taken the right way, I think people can knock themselves out.