Monthly Archives: September 2011

Hanasaku Iroha Shoots from the Other Side, But Does It Score?

There are some overt themes, but I think you can figure them out. Maybe it’s worth wrapping it up after it ends; maybe it’s already too obvious.

What I want to talk about is the weird realism presented in anime. I think it’s something that you get used to if you have seen enough Asian live-action drama. The idea is there’s a particular set of conventions, a vernacular, in which you kind of pull in as context to interpret said drama. Anime’s got its own set too, but there’s usually some kind of weird gap between what passes for anime and what passes for J-drama. Shows that tries to ride that gap typically don’t end up well.

What anime that do try to ride the gap typically pleases people who only watch anime because it is somehow slightly different than most anime. But those who are familiar with both sets of vernacular or is just picky about that more live-action-y context will not take too kindly for mixing up those signals.

This is kind of where Hanasaku Iroha shines the most. There’s a sense of realism baked in, starting from the animation direction and artistic direction. I would like to just point out on all the silly “gimmicks” like seeing Ohana and Ko meeting on the pedestrian overpass, or when Satsuki leaps out of the pool of Enishi’s nostalgia trip. Or better yet, the whole angle for Enishi’s film club roots, or how Nako, Jiromaru and Takako all took a dive with their clothes on. Oh, yeah, the fox deity in those feverish dreams from Ohana counts too. And all the train rides! It’s like watching an indie Japanese flick at times. The most impressive thing for me was how Mel Kishida’s funky moe designs got turned around and became their logical, freakish expositions as taken to the animator’s extreme, trying to showcase different body shapes, sizes, of different age and gender; of cute, sexy, unsexy, uncute, or simply too hilarious to care. It was as un-moe as it gets in a way. Ohana’s saving grace was her two flower ribbons (and I guess it gave her twice the vote power in Saimoe?), and if you didn’t tell me Minko-hime is a “hime” I would not have guessed. She’s got style but half the time she looks aghast with those alien-sized eyes sunken in from her early morning routine. If anyone would have passed for moe, it would be Yuina; except her personality kind of ruined things.

But yet, even Yuina’s pampered appearance is a designed contrast to demonstrate Ohana and Minko’s relatively spartan lifestyle. And that goes for everyone in the show: I never really felt pandered to by anyone in the show on the sole basis of appearance. (Then again, it doesn’t take much more than naked high-school girls to get some people excited.) Everyone has a story, and everyone looks his or her part, nothing more. I think that alone is a huge deviation from your average “Aoi Nishimata everything looks alike except hair and apparel” mode of anime character design. In a lot of ways that alone was already worth the price of admission–waking up early Sunday morning and tuning in. I’m going to miss it after it ends in a couple weeks.

I can go on as to how the show did rely heavily on the visual representation of the cast to tell the story. But maybe it’s better to also talk about some of the writing stuff. Like how it is using that whole fest-it-up thing to say something.

Here’s a question: what does love look like? I think as of our confession scene in episode 24, it’s when you’re standing and surveying the land with the one you love in it. At least in this case. I think the show makes its strongest argument in the opening, when both first and second features our Kissuisou family going at it, hustling and bustling. It’s what those CR subs described as “fest it up.”

And going back to my initial point: does the whole hustling and bustling thing work? Does people hustling and bustling in a live-action mode convey the same impact and “look and feel” as opposed to animating it? There’s a sense of grittiness when Nako and Ohana run criss-cross with a pile of trays, as opposed to a more cartoony (see what I did there) feel that you might get with 3D rendered stuff that we’re more familiar with? Does this make sense to you? Or more importantly, do you see what I’m saying and do you agree?


American Anime Cons And Its Role in Transformation of Nerd Culture

Actually the second part of the title is just a long-shot guess.

The first part is a general thing about this post, which is about American anime cons (and this surely extends to Canada as well) and how it is kind of the one weird type of con which has been the forerunner of today’s nerd culture, “offkai” prom kind of thing. The thought came to me in various forms before, but when I was reading Lance Heskill’s blog post about his travels as a Funimation salesman (ok, marketing guy) in his 8-year tenure and God Knows-how-many-shows he has done, it becomes clear. I think part of it has to do with that he also attended more specific sorts of cons, not really anime related. Give it a read here, especially if you know someone who’s curious about anime cons, it’s a good article to share.

I think in 2011, what I’m about to say is pretty much obvious for veteran con goers. I remember reading about it when Roland Kelts wrote about it in his book dated 2008, back in 2009, and it seemed all but obvious already by then. San Deigo Comic Con was already huge-large. The whole AX-SDCC convention “complex” was there for everyone in the US to pick on. It even had star power. Infusing that prom-ness, that pomp, that “OMGEEE I GET TO COSPLAY” feel with being able to meet up with a bunch of similarly-interested fanatics from all over the country (and some from overseas), together with special events to get that fan-mania on for you, surrounded by people you don’t know but is otherwise crazier than you are about what you like, it was special. And I think anime cons are a special example of this, and also one of the first examples of it.

I kind of want to point to cosplay culture as a root issue, and distinguish the anime con trend apart from what I call “LARP” style cosplay that is more common at fantasy and SF cons. Because the former it is sort of a fashionable thing for most Americans, the latter it is more like an escapist thing. Even if in reality both are kind of, well, both. The end result, however, is that a lot of cosplayers at an anime con treat it like a masquerade party–you dress up but it is just an outfit. The hesitation I have is that I just don’t know enough about SF cons, having only been to a couple over the years. And more universally, all sorts of people don costumes at cons, it’s hard to generalize. Regardless of why people dress up, the end result is that a lot more people dresses up at anime cons, to the extent that cosplayers no longer stand out at them. It’s one of many factors that makes anime cons progressive and help transform them into what popularly seen as “cons” today. I’m looking at events like SDCC, BlizCon, NYCC, the PAXes, and what not, as examples.

On the other hand, I suppose this was always the case at cons, anime or not, in America. There’s a bit of sloshing to and fro from older game/SF cons to anime and back. It’s just that anime conventions are kind of a locus, an offshoot with more specificity than your average SF-content con. The result is how it may heighten certain aspects of con culture for consumption, as repackaged as something slightly different. Cosplay is precisely what that repacking is. Which, again, like what Kelts have written, is the sort of thread you can trace from 70s SF cons to the SF cons in Japan, and what they do out there, and then what we do out here, and it goes on. It’s a Möbius strip-thread. I just think it has largely infused back into the mainstream and de-alienated costume play in America mainstream nerd culture.

Is there anything more? Probably. Maybe another time.


Meta Fanfiction on Nichijou

It was the usual chatter at the club. Saturday night, in the lower levels of some monolithic, imposing institution of academia, nerds are having fun.

“So why do you like Nichijou so much?”

“It’s not that funny, yeah, do tell.”

“What are you saying? It’s second to Azumanga Daioh.”

The scheduler, at the mention of the club’s time-honored comedy anime meme, turns around to exlaim.

“Really, now.”

Our protagonist, the guy in the corner lounging on one of the portable tables at the back of the room, started to doodle on the white board that he was leaning against. Seemingly unaware of the discussion going on, it was suddenly Shark Week on the white board, with several sharks slowly morphing into existence at the tip of water-based markers.

The discussion, meanwhile, heated up. Some people raised the whole meta-on-meta aspect of Nichijou. Others simply said it was boring. The simplicity of the accusation seems to do more to incite than the accusation itself. Defenders gonna defend. Some enjoyed the trolling, others the hyper-reactions. But detractors just didn’t find it funny. Thankfully, the arguments are on good faith; the fact the club scheduler is interested in the discussion meant it was serious. The nerds all hailed the scheduler as, in other words, the emcee of the night. The curator, the provider, the weekly club meeting is where the members partake in the choice sampling put together by the scheduler. If the schedule provided a screening of Omoide Poroporo, it would mean the same 5 people would sit through the scheduler’s favorite, and everyone would have to go home and fight the raging crowd of drunk frat boys and what else going on at the campus on a Saturday night. If the scheduler provided your latest dose of moe anime, people would have only bear with it in 30-minute doses.

“See, this is a shark. And this is another shark. And they are all sharks.” Remarked the protagonist, quietly. The club president was sitting next to him, along with a couple lone wolves. Already somewhat amused by the sharks, they paid attention as the protag-man started to doodle out the kanji for shark underneath one of them.

Now one of those majestic, terrible creatures, is verbally identified. There are two other unlabeled sharks on the whiteboard, in which the protagonist now writes:

SAME

Under them. The club president’s eyes lit up, but he remained quiet.

“You see, the joke is, they are the SAME. But they are also SAME. If you find this joke funny, then you will probably like Nichijou. If not, you probably won’t.”

The discussion continued, but seemingly elsewhere, far away. And unimportant.


Japan Remains Foreign Despite Anime Exports, Consumption

Colette wrote a great little thing over at CNN’s new geek blog doohicky. But like a wonderful story with an ending you hated, I really had to react to the way it characterizes what is going on with anime today towards the end of the article. And by “today” I mean the past 5 years.

Okay, you can point to Eden of the East for a lot of cool doohickeys, but by not noticing its main social message, a message pointedly for the Japanese domestic audience, it kind of sinks the boat that the article was on.

I do have to say though, the first 2/3 of the article is a good summary, if it kept things brief in order to get to the point and you miss out on a few details. The last bit is just what seems off. It reads:

So what’s changed? Japan has. As Japanese culture evolves, so has the tone of Japanese media. The evolution towards anime with lighter subject matter seems to indicate that Japan needed to laugh more and worry less.

Around the time that “slice of life” shows started to explode in Japanese popularity, it became obvious to the dedicated Otaku viewer that the heart of anime was changing. For example, the average length of a show has changed from 26 episodes to 13, giving directors a little over half the time to build a story and allow characters to develop fan followings. Production focuses on quantity over quality, with twenty or more shows airing every season.

This lighter approach has not taken the reins of the anime industry completely: There are deeper stories to be found in its animated films, such as “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” and series such as “Eden of the East”, which explored topics such as technology, terrorism and political uprising.

To some, it may appear as if Japan has traded a willing exploration into the darkness for escapism in the form of silliness, but the rising popularity of comedies shows that Japanese audiences are enjoying them tremendously. Especially after the Tokoku earthquake earlier this year, the country needs more reason than ever to stay positive and lighthearted, and perhaps shows such as this help to fuel them.

Okay, so we know that anime’s first golden age that America is aware of is in the 80s. The article seems to imply as much. And anime has always evolved ever since it was created who-knows-when in the early parts of 20th century. Even before Tezuka took it to prime time. Slice of life anime [ugh I loathe the term] has been around for a long time, too, technically dating back when TV anime was more stand-alone, kind of like cartoons on TV as we know it (as that’s what they were).

But what about the Akiba boom of the 90s? Maids? Tsundere? The parade of the database animals? Satoshi Kon? I mean Hosoda’s Girl Who Leapt Through Time is great and I believe Colette just watched it not too long ago, so the name stuck. But this geek view is more like the weeaboo view. It’s very mainstream-western-press-centric, American-centric, and misses the point of why anime like Eden of the East was created in the first place: to address its laundry list of social ills from the Lost Generation. There’s also the usual missteps regarding the licensing business about licensing internationally, like why titles that runs forever are shunned over for 13-ep shots that makes easier pitches and sales. With the economy in neutral gear, Japan’s desperate publishers and squeezed animator pool can only shoulder so much creative risks, once the OVA market dried up and shifted into the late-night anime model starting from the late 90s.

For a CNN article, it was pretty nice and I think it addresses well with the majority of the anime-familiar public audience that reads English news on the web. But in the end, the article poses a question about American perception of anime over time and wants to posit that wall of natural ignorance as its perch, the origin of the point of view. It seeks to empathize with other people on this perch and not those of us who’s gotten closer to the ground to see why things are the way they are, let alone the actual Japanese people and the anime industry that’s actually in Japan.

If this is the majority point of view for the American mainstream geek, I’m going to ask the next question: has anime really gotten anime viewers closer to Japan’s actual cultural and social interests? Do we really know what’s going on? The answer is obvious–because they rather care about how much fanservice is in anime today rather than why it’s there, like that, in the first place.

And what’s truly lamentable is how a post like that overlooks the development of the fandom in recent years. Precisely because now you have Americans (and other non-Japanese) with papers and thesis about the way Japanese pop culture influences Japan, America, and the rest of the world. You have books and books of academic press (and some non-academic stuff) about anime and manga and Japanese video games. You even have a Danny Choo, if you want another person who’s been on CNN. In fact, you have people talking about “moe blobs” or “tsundere” in the comments. Oversea fandom itself has since evolved from the time that everyone would put Cowboy Bebop on the highest pedestal: we have a generation of fans who are now asking the why questions, and engaging the works on a much deeper level. These are the people who are real geeks and nerds, those people who are not just tourists gawking at and enjoying these weird Japanese cartoons, but actually learning about them and engaging them on the ground level (or as close as their contexts would allow for).

Amusingly, Colette is the kind of person who asks the why questions. She even uses it to lead off the end of the article.  So maybe this isn’t really about Japan or even anime at all: this is more about a school of thought, a particular tribe within a subculture in America. I mean I remember when I was first watching Toonami’s Midnight Run. You know which title got me excited? Gundam Wing. Gundam! On American TV! For the first time!  The biggest Japanese symbol of geek has now landed on a channel everyone can actually watch! But it’s not even mentioned in Colette’s article. So you know, even before the narrative about the “downfall of anime” or whatever has begun, one could just easily say nothing about anime has really changed, when compared to the pairs of eyes watching Toonami before and after their formative, teenage years.