Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Anime Ghetto of America

This is not about the ghetto of an excuse for NYAF in 2010 and 2011, even if that is probably tangentially related. This is about Kuraghime and Tatami Galaxy, and why I think there is some problem with the way some people think about anime. These problems may or may not be related, they just happen to pop in my head in the past 36 hours.

1. Liking is a state of mind. I remember talking to some people about the Passion of the Christ, a controversial film about a gruesome depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus as per the Gospels. The content of the discussion doesn’t really matter, but the conclusion was that the film became more about how you (in this case, secular press versus fundie types) react to a film has just as much to do with you as it does to the film. I think that sort of mirror-transparency is critical in today’s media reviews. I think this is a big reason why it is difficult to take reviews from sites like ANN or Fandompost seriously, unless you’ve hooked on to their particular bandwagon and can appreciate how those respective reviewer-mirrors work. I think over time I have done that for Chris B., but more because he does offer a much more technical-savvy perspective on a video transfer or sound space or whatever, something that is sorely missing among reviews of anime today.

2. The problem is further exasperated, that far majority of anime out there are derivative media crossover things. This means when someone looks at Fate/Zero, for example, they aren’t thinking it is not pandering to the max, but that they are suppose to think it is pandering to the max. [I mean, how can the anime moeficiation of a popular prequel set of light novels to a popular visual novel (that was also consequently “moe-fied” via anime) be not pandering? Seems impossible.] To use an analogy, it’s like we’re in the league of extraordinary lunch box collectors, and then there’s this awesome Twilight-themed lunch box available. Some guy who doesn’t even know what Twilight is beyond what they see in the news reviews the lunch box, and says it’s kind of lame or kind of good, whatever. I’m going to be like, derp. It is missing the point. Maybe that isn’t even a good example because the hypo reviewer at least knows it is pandering, s/he is just not assigning any or assigning the correct value to that part. It’s worse when it comes to some anime: I don’t think this guy is aware of the pandering at all. Or for that matter this other guy, let alone assigning value to whatever.

While it is valuable to have the perspective of someone who would judge Fate/Zero as someone outside of Nasuverse fandom, it feels invariably that they’re doing it wrong. It’s probably because they don’t know the material is pandering. Maybe this is the majority position on a lot of anime for us gaijin, since we’re not living in a deluge of otaku-bait-marketing as our Japanese counterparts may be swimming in, but one can make a strong argument that you can’t fairly judge the work if you don’t have this context baked into your perspective. Again, that hypothetical Twilight lunch box is intended to be sold to your daughters, not hardcore lunch box collectors. By reviewing it like box collectors instead of its intended audience, it feels almost like we’re ghetto-fying the whole thing. There’s this artifice in which we’re trying to fit the anime we consume into said artifice. And for what reason?

I think this is a major issue with the ghettofication of anime. It feels helpless to have to read reviews like that. It feels probably just as helpless to review anime like that while being completely blind to that side of the equation. I say ghettofication because these mix-media slums is where the bulk of the primary late-night TV anime audience lives, and it’s kind of a silo-style, little Hooverville camps that most mainstream people don’t even want to turn an eye to, let alone adventure into and gleam the essences of what makes the inhabitants enjoy the shows they watch. Or I should say, especially on ANN, it feels like they purposely want to stay away from that sort of evaluation. I want to posit this as a problem with anime, and not so much the way people review them–after all, they can review however they want. But the fact that ANN has reviews like this it is just kind of a joke. It’s like suddenly you read a crazy rant from Steve Jobs about how he hates charities or a crazy rant from Roger Ebert about how he hates video games. I mean, LOL? (By the way both are probably untrue.) This is kind of a problem that ANN has in order to obtain any kind of credibility as an reviewing organization. (Then again, this problem can be milked for pageviews! So hey.)

2b. I have this thought about Kara no Kyoukai. That show, too, is a sort of pandering. But among these attempts (IwakamiP gets an extra nod for taking that, Madoka and Fate/Zero to somewhere slightly less ghetto. Maybe.) I’m left to scratch my head and ask if people have otherwise really tried to build a bridge between the otaku and the growing number of kids-turning-into-adults who are friendly to the cause.

3. Sating the demand of the mainstream. Continuing in good o’ OWS spirit let us talk about the 1% versus 99%, even if it comes out to be a false dichotomy of sorts. It also pings one of my pet peeve about people who says “anime is a privilege not a right.” I think that saying is largely bullshit–this is not a have-versus-have not issue. This is an artistic proliferation and industry viability issue. I might like my moe anime as much as anyone, and I do a healthy amount of importing (if such a thing can ever be healthy). But that kind “hey I paid for it so” of thinking causes two major problems. First, it drives the have-nots to what all the have-nots do in the 21st century: media piracy. There are some good studies on this topic, and it really comes to artificial barriers to entry to extract cost based on some perception of value that does not optimize supply and demand. In other words, things are unnecessarily expensive and inaccessible due to a variety of reasons (some are forgivable but others are just petty) and not only the content creators and middlemen make less money than they could have, it encourages people to pirate things. It’s a lose-lose scenario. Second, it unnecessarily ghetto-fies the industry. Talent drain and race to the bottom in production cost? Because it keeps on pandering to those who would pay the biggest bucks, because the work, the condition, and the products loses mainstream relevance. I mean how many people entered the anime industry because they saw something awesome when they were little? Tons. I also believe this is a root cause of Japan’s fandom-industry vacuum now filled by doujin production. Is Ghibli all we need? I think that is clearly a “no.” I am not saying no to moe; I’m saying yes to everything. There will always going to be trashy moe crap to consume. We can count on the least risky thing to continue to exist, but that cannot be the dominant thing out there. And in order to do that, it means we have to make anime affordable and accessible. It’s the best thing for both fans and anime industry. It’s also good for society in general.

4. But of course it’s easier said than done. I think the biggest hurdle is that the financing model for anime in Japan just doesn’t lend itself to that sort of business models. The problem comes down to that mainstream production is expensive and they have a much smaller safety net when one flops (and they do all the time). Or not even that; just taking risks to make something of it is, well, risky and potentially expensive. You can just look at Anime-no-chikara and noitaminA for examples. What goes around does come around: if nobody buys Kuragehime, nobody is going to license shows like it. What I propose is not that the problem is nobody buys Kuragehime, but the problem is why should the proliferation of works like Kuragehime depend on people buying it on home video? Shouldn’t our energies be focused on solving the root issue and not run up the same pile of dead horse corpses?

People don’t buy Star Trek (TOS) (mainly because it is really, really expensive), but people loved the show and it went on to become the thing we know today. It’s very profitable. It transformed science and technology in America and abroad by inspiring a generation or two of scientists and engineers, and generally contributed so much good to the world. Not to mention its contribution to science fiction media, TV and film. It may sound mad-old Tomino-esqe but can’t we have that as a goal? It sounds like this has to be a part of whatever solution that flushes out the dirt, the good stuff, from the ghettos and release it to the masses. If there’s all this spite and bad blood between 99% and the 1% we want to be, the going would be tough on the road to reconcile the 1% of anime fans being catered to and the 99% of fans who don’t even want anything to do with that 1%.

[BONUS ROUND: 5. This is why I find Colony Drop problematic–they seek to reinforce this ghettoficiation; I should say, that is the schtik that they make a clapping noise upon, that cardboard wall of makeshift tents in which we live in. I’m just hoping that is offset by CD pointing out such a ghetto actually exists. They do not do this explicitly, but maybe they should.]


Brainstorming Guilty Glares

 

“Oh, I forgot this turns you on.”

“Are you disappointed that I couldn’t turn you on more?”

“I forgot there are other people working at the office.”

“That smoking pose, so cool!”

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

The cosplay is mightier than the sword.

“Get back in the kitchen.”

“You’ve got me confused with some wan wan wan else”

“Are you checking me out? Because I can’t tell under your bangs.”

“You know, Kyouko-san never taught me the correct reaction-face in these kind of situations.”

How does Inori’s clothes stay on her?

Can you wag your tail?

Smoking cosplay.

“Chi-ha-ya Furu–furu furu moooooon.”

Japan.

“I’ve got nothing.”

“That’s what she said.”

“No, it’s not the plot device you’re looking for.”

Collarbones.

[Insert your own captions below]


Thinking about Fanservice, Considering “Infodump”

Just tying some thought down to a peg somewhere, so bear with me.

Elsewhere, I mentioned that the oft-complained about treatment of Fate/Zero’s verbose scenes describing the nitpicking details the…fourth? Holy Grail War is fanservice. I think once I mentioned it on this very blog, if not directly then indirectly. This is, in my opinion, is another way to approach the bigger issue of the role of fanservice as illustrated on the Cart Driver.

I think fanservice (sexual sort) is no different than any other kind of prurient material. It’s seen as the kind of pejorative you use to describe pornography–there is a single-minded purpose, or maybe a sort-of-broad, but singular, general purpose in which the media operates within. However I don’t think that describes accurately of how fanservice is in anime, or just how popular media has transformed over the past years. Can porn be entertaining? I’m sure. Can it be entertaining as what we categorize as non-porn? I’m pretty sure of that too; tho that is just a guess as it is thoroughly a category of media I am not versed in.

To go back to anime, the oft-maligned panty shot, for example, is classic example of fanservice, but it often has a role in a work. I think one of the best example of this is in Kara no Kyoukai #1–it is among Nasu’s earliest works, and it is kind of, shall we say, dreary. Something like a panty shot actually helps to punctuate a generally very serious film with something that will trigger a predictable response from its predominantly otaku audience. It serves like a pick-me-up in the middle of that one-hour film.

I mean just imagine if Fate/Zero episode 1 had a cute (not exploitative) fanservice scene in the middle of the episode. I think it might still turn off a group of viewer not that interested in the material, but it would serve well for pacing’s sake for viewers not invested in Nasuverse, but is interested in otaku media. I’ll come back to this example later.

The bigger point I’m trying to make, and I think Cart Driver totally failed at discussing, is that fanservice in anime often do serve a purpose–most sort of pandering in anime these days do. The important thing is to understand the context of the reasons behind why fanservice type X and for audience group Y because of…why? I think that should be the focus of the discussion.

It kind of addresses my main pet peeve when it comes to discussion about these sort of complaints. A lot of people dismiss some anime titles and write them off for reasons they think are objective, but in reality it is just a fancy way to say “title Z does not pander to my interests.” I think in the post-database-animal days of anime it is a lot more honest and simple to say that, for example, “battle manga” style characterization and plot progression is, just like any table, column or cell of a database, is something exchangeable, interchangeable, and is a thing that some people will like and others dislike or don’t care about. Instead, otaku interests focus on execution of applying these elements to the work. (I think this is a big reason behind the rise of the sakuga otaku overseas as people slowly catch on.) Everything has a plot, most anime have characters, and the way certain things are written or developed usually is out of some purposed database concept, a set of checkboxes, if you will, in which the way things are executed make the most sense if you first identified what those checkboxes are. That is, unless you want to look for something at a place where that thing isn’t intended to be there, and likely isn’t going to be there. (And that is not to say you won’t ever find it or even that is a pointless thing to do, but it seems like an exercise of fitting a square peg into a round hole.)

In other words, using an expanded definition of what “fanservice” refers to, when a viewer encounters a block of content on the show that panders to a specific group that viewer isn’t a part of (or perhaps more aptly, a group that the viewer doesn’t even wants to be associated with at all, or is entirely unaware that the content segment is tailored for that group), that becomes a detriment to the viewing experience. So when someone like that watches Fate/Zero ep1, they may understand that ultimately it is some kind of characterization and setting the ground work, but it would appear very dry to them. It is a little bit better than the hypo where a prude sits through a (sexual) fanservice scene, because in that case often you get the reverse impact where the scene signals to viewer that this is not the show s/he is looking for. In Fate/Zero’s case, the viewer would just miss out on the entertainment portion of Fate/Zero episode 1 and is thus left with just the dry crumbs of circular-walk-talk. If the purpose of the double-length episode 1 of F/Z is to educate and entertain, people who aren’t interested in the more otaku-ish aspect of Nasuverse or just aren’t aware of them, will miss out on the entertain part. [Maybe they should’ve played karuta!]

Well, at least I can see why ufotable went that way. Urobuchi does do tl;dr from time to time (remember the entropy lecture in Madoka?), and given the compressed nature of episode 1 (after all, it’s stuff they are required to go through to get to the money shots, might as well get it over with one shot), inserting all these referential entertainment and interests into the exposition may be the most logical way to go about it. Unfortunately that just isn’t what a western/Hollywood-bred audience is used to. The alternative, to use a personal anecdote, is like when I tried to watch Game of Thrones TV, it takes a few episodes to just to get all the names straight. And by a few episodes that is 2 or 3 hours, versus 3 or 4 22-minute segments (ie., well under 2 hours) that is Fate Zero eps 1-3. And just to finish the anecdote, I didn’t like the fanservice (both the sexual kind and the pandering-to-people-who-appreciates-the-details-from-the-book kind) so I dropped the show. But it wasn’t for the lack of or poor execution on HBO’s part.

This overall notion of fanservice is, I guess, the reason why I said Fate/Zero panders to otaku. Even if on the merit of the thing, there’s a lot to like just from a general nerd-geek sense. You’ve got fancy legendary historic figures that a western audience would be familiar with (the historical fiction aspect) doing some visually excellent stuff, with a fairly dynamic plot that is expansive and multidimensional, with a well-developed cast of characters (as far as in terms of the novels) that are largely interesting.

In a sense, what I’m saying is, in full circle, in agreement with notions that Fate/Zero clumsily executed certain aspects in the adaptation. But the reasons behind them are not what I think some claim they are. I mean as someone who is invested in Nasuverse I think it’s hard to argue that episode 1 wasn’t at least intriguing, even if it is a lot of TL;DR. Or, as others have put it, despite that it is TL;DR.


Chihayafuru’s Edutainment Value

Episode 6 is, in many ways, the episode I was looking for. It combined something that I understood (the protagonist and her buddy) with things I am more interested in (the new girl and how her personality clashes, the explanation of the poems, the context of karuta beyond just being a game). In fact, this episode is very compelling to me in the same way how Kanade’s explanations of the “Chihaya furu” poem was an eye-opener for Chihaya. I mean, now I get the ending visuals LOL.

Oh the joys of viewing things without context.

The coolest meta perspective is how the whole Chihayafuru-is-Japanese-heritage angle. By explaining those famous poems and their origins you get this whole-package history lesson. It transforms, in a very earnest sense, entertainment into education.

But that again is without the context of already knowing the stuff. I mean you must get into the problem where you have this artful story about high art and the only people who are interested in are history fujoshi and acafan-types. In the end everyone who watches your show already knows what you’re getting at. Does this complete the mission? I don’t know.

I mean if I learned something, maybe I can answer “yes” instead of “I don’t know.” But ultimately it’s got the impact of a gaijin hearing about some tidbit about Japanese history–about as much impact as it would on a 14 year-old Japanese kid dozing off in lit class because he just took the entrance exam 6 months ago, and doesn’t have to cram anything until the year after, and this history stuff is as useful as karuta to a non-Japanese. As in, karuta is pretty much useless if you’re not Japanese. I mean I don’t even think it’s useful for actual Japanese people.

Anyway, Chihayafuru is a solid show. I didn’t really like the back story bit; partly because it’s a bit contrived, and partly because Chihaya is too one dimensional for someone getting most of the spotlight. The solid production carried me through, and partly with the promise of this muda-bijin returning to her post-puberty prettiness. I’m only hoping the “crew gathering” part of this will be more interesting, since the focus shifts away from selling me something (ie., developing the protagonist, trying to convince us that karuta is not a joke) to stuff actually happening.


Otaku Bunches of Dolts

There is something charming about watching crappy-looking animation about people struggling with lower-class living. I think Kaiji is a good example. Ben-to does the same kind of thing. I mean I laughed out loud when I saw this:

Just in case it isn’t obvious, it seems whoever was doing the background just went on the web and took images from supermarkets or something and shopped them in as sprite things. Which I guess is okay! I don’t know. And I’m going to assume shopping jpegs into your background without even smoothing out the artifacts, count as a cheap, time-saving thing to do. And it is the kind of thing a DVD/BD release will fix up for that audience (and as well, paying customers deserve better).

If we accept anime is animation made on the dirt cheap, invariably something like this is potentially a desirable thing to do…if things like visual integrity can be stretched a little for the sake of commercialization of disposable entertainment as expressive artworks, reflecting the reality of today’s increasingly commercialized cultural landscape. It probably gets ironic if I dig deep enough, so I’ll spare you that nonsense.

The thought I had was more along the lines of some praises for Akiyuki Shinbo’s cost-cutting stuff, how his slow transformation of anime from expressive motions to expressive slideshows, and more importantly the ability to appreciate the latter as some kind of entertainment, reflect some kind of conditioning. I mean it used to be the case (and still is in a way) that fans trash that sort of anime paradigm–did someone say something about Fate/Zero’s talking heads? Or better yet, Stand Alone Complex’s? I mean those are big-budget anime (as far as anime on TV goes). But there is some kind of directional design in the way the scenes progress. JP’s detailed it as well. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a slideshow made of quotes from a light novel or just some woman walking in circles.

[Damn it ufotable! Quit doing that.]

I wonder if there is some kind of information resolution thing at work. Acting via facial expression and the like; some of those things require paying some degree of attention and the ability to process information a little bit more than beyond the level of instinctively comprehending body language. I think anime and manga aren’t the sort of mediums best at expressing that sort of subtle expressions; or rather they make their marks by exaggerating those things.

The thought continues in the form of so-called inforgraphics. I generally despise them; preferring heavily in the form of xkcd’s hard work. I would probably state further that I have nothing against inforgraphics as an idea, except that most of the ones I’ve seen are undesirable in the sense that it is closer to numerology than expressing information in a way that is truthful. To use an analogy, it’s like trying to write rhymes with disregard of what the rhymes mean. Maybe it’s an outright example where truth and beauty can be 100% at odds, but it runs against the way I prefer to idealize the pursuit of both. It is also very database-animal-ish. I think for a lot of people it comes down to having an x% of content catering to the person while achieving a y% of entertaining value, and then it will pass the test. Even if in the end you get something neither beautiful nor truthful, what comes of it becomes interesting enough that it will sell DVDs and Blu-Rays.

It is in such context that I find something like Ben-to a lot more honest and despite its questionable production, much easier to enjoy.

PS. Did Sato wear…the anti-zettai ryouiki?