Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Idol Master: The Franchise Is All One

When I took “The iDolM@ster 2″ for the PS3 for a spin over the weekend, much of the game’s aesthetics deviated little from the same arcade feel. The iconic “Project iM@S” logo looks like a page taken out of some failed bemani game pitch. Much of the gameplay is also full of rhythm and beats, leaving no room to complain about that mismatch. But in my mind the game has nothing on what really is, to me, the essence of the franchise.

Of course, that isn’t how the story begin. My first run-in with iM@S (for the sake of sanity it will remain in its insanely abbreviated form in this post) probably has more to do with being born a male East Asian during the time in this world that I did. Although it is a stretch to call that an encounter with iM@S, I think it was fundamental in the makeup of what makes up the average “Producer-san,” the anonymous term in which the various in-game characters refer to as the player.

I think the only other game to date that walked (or perhaps trailblazed) the same path as Project iM@S is Sakura Taisen, and that is one blueprint in which a video games achieve mix-media franchising immortality. It’s one thing to create a game that goes on being immortal (and we can name a dozen of these easily), it’s another to create a game like a caterpillar creates a cocoon. The game may fade over time and yield to newer, glitzier ideas, but the franchise lives on with a dim, but ever-burning core fan base that participates in its extra-curricular activities. It’s just in the case of Sakura Taisen, the cocoon hatches a zombie butterfly of some sort; undying, but not immune to decay.

And like butterflies they were in those kayou shows, those brave actors and actresses, some even came to the stage as experienced stage actors. But yes, some others were, well, the seiyuu idol variety. They had to sing and dance, and act. It was interesting in that they were not only acting out the characters from the show, but also as actors of their own stage personalities.

Back to iM@S–it is entering its 8th year since the very first game. The recent PS3 port and the anime adaptation are sure to bring in new fans for the franchise, or at least get people curious enough to check out the game, like myself. I’m slightly more interested initially at the iM@S live shows, as the cumulation of sentimental energies and collective moments of orgasm from a bunch of male otaku types. And also, seiyuu fandom. I think someone reported like >90% male-to-female ratio at those lives? Not surprised.

The point I wanted to make about stage personalities is important because invariably this girl walks on the stage, and I was like, “heh, I don’t even have to remind myself of this video being Azusa.” I mean, some people commented on how her character in the anime is acted by the same person as in that video, but there is nothing holding you back from seeing it when it is the actual person on stage.

Oh, right, the stage shows: It was “The World Is All One” two-day live July 3rd to 4th, 2010, at Makahari Messe. Day 2 is what I linked above to Danie’s write-up, a solid read if you want to know what actually happened. Day two is also the day to go if you are a Kugimiya fan. In fact both days are good for that. There are a lot of people who really dig this gal, so I’m not going to talk about it too much, besides that I watched that two-BD boxset and now am ready to talk about it.

It is at these sort of fantasy-meets-reality events where we truly get to see the meta. If I were to rank the 13 girls again like how I did for the anime, it would come out very differently. Even more so is the “cumulative” score that true fans of the franchise put on their ranks, combining what they like and dislike about each character, from who stands behind the mic stand in real life and who stands behind the protective layer of their LCD screens, and everything in between.

Well, at least now I can achieve an 80% success rate at identifying the faces of the girls behind iM@S. Which is to say before the anime started, I was probably not even 80% successful at identifying the characters in iM@S. In the few hours I’ve spent with the game, I guess it actually tried to train me to be able to listen to their voices and pick them out. That’s pretty hardcore. All told, there’s a considerable learning curve, lack of a better term, to entry to iM@S fandom. The thing has been around for a while and the games are, while a little easier to get into than Sakura Taisen, are not exactly self-documenting. Sorry Kotori, the voiceovers are not quite enough. There’s just too much crud, as part and beyond the franchise, to wade through at this point.

Instead of writing up what I thought of the two days in a song-by-song blow-by-blow way, I’ll just keep it short(er):

  1. Hibiki – Sharp-looking girl doing her dance moves. Got good presence. Can sing. A winner.
  2. Ritsuko – Slightly less sharp-looking girl making all those fetish points work but not fetishy! As much as one can harp on her singing voice, I think she is the best embodiment of this weird iM@S concert concept.
  3. Miki – Not the bombshell blonde, this Miki carries it on with the full deal. It felt like she’s got what it takes, but yet not what it takes, to do Miki justice. It’s realizations like this that makes this feel like an elaborate seiyuu event rather than an idol live.
  4. Azusa – CHUPA RIKO wwww. No, really, Chiaking is an accomplished entertainer even if her achievements are relatively minor. She can dance and sing and struct, which is more than what most people sharing a stage with her could do. Mucho respect.
  5. Chihaya – I think she sings much better on CD. Also what is up with her hair? They can surely do a better job. BTW I really like LPCM 5.1 and this is something the game was able to deliver too.
  6. Makoto – She’s definitely the most seiyuu-ish looking person on the list, if that made sense. But that’s fine, I think Hirorin is also one of the best performers with good stage presence. Kind of like Hasegawa in that sense.
  7. Iori – I owe her fans an apology for not ranking her last time, but I was limited to 12 and it had to include Ami separately from Mami. I think Kugyuu live was definitely well-received and she appears so…langly. It’s rare to see a girl in this industry like this unless they’re built like a model (which she is not). It was wise for them to not work her as much as they did for some others, and we never really ask so much from Iori anyway. She just needed to be cute and upstanding, and Kugimiya was just that.
  8. Haruka – Eririn is actually just as unremarkable as her character. However, she is still pretty good at getting the crowd going and had good stage presence.
  9. Mami/Ami – If I wasn’t already positively predisposed to Asapon, I would probably rank her lower than Maya-chan. She didn’t quite pass the cute as cute would do, but her vocals were solid.
  10. Takane – It feels like her character is just an overly-embellished version of her on-stage performance. Pretty looking person I suppose.
  11. Yayoi – Guh. Actually out of all the girls I think I respect her the most. You can also tell how none of this is lipsynched given how terrible it was. It was sheer and paper-thin presence that managed to carry the performance. It’s like magic made of unrelenting willpower to carry out an act that just didn’t make sense visually. Again, endless respect–Maya-chan impressed, even if the performance was one of the worst.
  12. Kotori – I was glad she was there, but I guess so was she!
  13. Yukiho – I put her last but I think that is more because she was the least notable. The NEW Yukiho is a bit more of a looker though. Well, I won’t go into details, but someone has to hold the bag, be #12, and it was just the easiest thing to put her there.

I guess in the end I still didn’t really describe the magnitude of that 2-day live. It’s a big deal if you were into it, and I don’t mean into iM@S alone–it is more like if you subscribed to iM@S you probably subscribed to all the things that independently iM@S’s live had as separate parts. It became greater than the sum of its parts, but the sum itself was a big deal already. It’s like you had to be born a certain way and grew up a certain way and got exposed to certain interests, and it comes together like some crazy thing.

But then again, I guess even I too missed the train there.

What is left is trying to know all the songs, and that is a task too tall even for me, lest I get serious. But I just want a short fling with iM@S! I don’t want to turn into this guy (I jest). Even if some of those songs have the cutest/catchiest/funniest calls.

Cultural Exchange: Roman Baths, French Metalwork, Boats and Cars

First of all, I want to share this WSJ article which summarizes a prevalent East Asian attitude about Elitist Japan.

Then, go watch Thermae Romae. It’s an enjoyable show. Not because what is amusing about that show is how it subtly extol exactly that virtue. But what’s even more amusing is the way our time-traveling designer/architect adopts those technologies for his own use.

I mean, it’s almost offensive if you read it too deep.

[Also, when I see Mingosu on stage I always think “FLAT-FACED TRIBE” now. Also #2, inc. iM@S post.]

It makes the cultural exchange in Croisee a little more palatable (rather than boring, I suppose) because now you have at least two cultures of similar status trading things.

As opposed to, say, in Aria, which is more just tourism.

The other day I read an article about how Sony is considering shutting down its battery manufacturing operation within Japan and moving to some other Asian country. That’s how everything in the electronics industry is going these days, as well as many others. But there are still some consumers who cling to that national brand/identity as a synonym as quality. It belies the nature of IP and mass production, at least by today’s standards. Of course, I am not going to disagree to the observed reality that at times, one factory can produce something better than another producing the same SKU, but usually there is some specific reason that can be (and often is) resolved by engineers, managers, and employees, on the road to globalization. I mean don’t Honda and Toyota spend a ton of effort and money to fight this problem?

I think more concretely, and importantly, there’s something to be said that in the end, at the end of the day, at last, we can enjoy Thermae Romae as a fun piece of entertainment. It is just like how I can surely enjoy the tastes of the best French cuisine made in Japan, or the best Japan has to offer, imported from Ohio. Or go to Uniglo and see how everything is made in the same countries that makes clothes for every other brand anyway. This is the truism that props up this whole cultural remix-ism and give people even the slightest reason to give it damn.

The Bridge to an Otaku’s Heart, Over the River of Bank Accounts

It’s another case when I try to articulate the obvious: Buying stuff–why we do it, what it means.

TL;DR: Sub-licensing companies need to focus on the question “Just because you like it, will you buy it?”

Partly inspired by reading Funimation’s latest survey on what they should license next, I had a moment of clarity in how to articulate this issue. I live in a land where legit DVD and Blu-ray releases are relatively cheap–anywhere from $10 to $50, you can buy a season of something. You can definitely buy a single, new movie at that price, save some crazy special release.

I ask myself: why do we buy what we buy? I can think of lots of different reasons that are common enough: love for the show, wanting to support the creator, liking the physical format, want to collect stuff, convenience, as a gift, etc. The money is not a big barrier at any given SKU in that price range.

Contrast this with people who, for this week, propped up over 6000 copies of HanaIro #7. It’s just an example. A copy of HanaIro #7 is still over 6000 yen at, which is one of the cheapest place to buy Japanese anime (new, not used). That makes it 5800 yen before tax, or about $75 USD by today’s exchange rate.

It isn’t like Japanese otaku are rich people. A lot of people are doing it because they really love the thing, so they can afford the mental fortitude and determination to cut whatever they need to make ends meet. And there are 9 volumes of HanaIro in total (I think). At the same price that comes to $675, which is like, a lot of money for 26 episodes of anime. Well, the actual cost might be a bit more or less, but you get the idea.

All I’m trying to say is the majority of people who buy Japanese releases are people who really loves to own that very specific title. Only truly the rich buy anime just so they can collect stuff. The guilt trip, the store sale bonuses, the ultra-high quality release details, all that and more, are purposed to solicit people who already like a given show to take that next step and become owners, in a physical sense.

[It just occurred to me I bet a lot of people bought HanaIro just because they are fans of particular seiyuu-things. Maybe. Or maybe they work for the Toyama Prefectural government.]

It is in bizarre America land where we still treat TV anime like, well, OVAs. The OVA market is half-dead in Japan, for lots of reasons. The economics just don’t hold up as well today than it did during the “good o’ days.” Well, in America it was still the “good o’ days” until just recently, and today we are still expected to buy the anime we want to watch sight unseen. And not just high quality, high budget OVAs, but almost everything anime. Can this business model truly work in the long run? It seems like a very far-fetched idea. But I guess “sight unseen anime on DVD” still has a market if the price is low enough. Supply can meet with demand when the price is right, to go back to 16th century economics.

I hope you see what the problem is.

[Ok, it’s not immediately obvious what the problem is, but it is definitely why the anime market in America is not growing organically, when there already exists an entire generation who grew up on Pokemon and Japanese video games, who are now entering the workforce. The Naruto Generation is due in another 8 years or so?]

Of course there are some titles, namely movies and OVAs, that could be treated this way. And we continue to do so. And it works. But the bulk of shows that gets pumped out by the usual R1 distros are not such things.

Because nobody respects the gap.

I think this is something everyone is aware of, or at least everyone that matters. Again, I’m stating the obvious. Again, this is why Funimation asks you what they should license, but also what titles you will end up buying. I mean after all this good talk about Redline, does this mean I’m going to buy it on Blu-ray? Probably not, at least not until it’s $10 or something. Kind of like why I didn’t buy FLCL on Blu-ray, since that would quantify as a triple-dip. Seeing Redline in theaters was enough for me.

There are countless ways why someone may buy or may not buy something. That is the bottom line. It has a correlation to quality, but it is not causally linked I would think. I have only my observations to support that conclusion, but I think it is sound.

This is one place where spreadsheets will tell the tale.

The real issue I want to get at is why Japan keeps on making moe anime that some people complain about. It’s because those sort of show fosters some kind of obsessed fans, in the way how idol fans buy everything a group releases, three times over. Shows that largely appeal only to people’s good tastes, however, don’t foster that kind of attitude towards their product. “Cool story bro.” You know the drill. And that doesn’t pay the bills.

Shows like Kaiba or Tatami Galaxy are great, and I like them. But it’s incredibly difficult to feel obsessive about those shows the way I do, say, Manabi Straight. (Did you know that thing is getting a BD remaster?) I’m sure some people loved those shows enough to buy it on home video, but it should not be surprising to see low sales for them, at the usual otaku-only price points.

In order to get people to not just like, but buy, anime, there needs be some kind of added factor. A franchise, a release, whatever, needs to build that allegorical bridge. Sure, you can simply drop prices, but the distance between my heart and the show would not have moved closer by even one centimeter.

On Google Search, Ads, And Anime

The other day I was thinking about who matters–a company that created a set of products sells it to their customers. By some chance or reason a lot of non-customers end up with the same products and it took off, generated a scene. What should the company’s response be?

Do the voices and activities of these uninvited third parties matter? I’m thinking it does in some cases, and it does not in others. The very obvious use case of this is in media piracy when you have a niche, expensive release of something (like a galge) and it is then widely pirated (perhaps even fan-translated) and enjoyed by a lot of people, perhaps even more people than the number of legitimate purchasers of the game.

In this case, the people who pirated the game should only have a say as someone who has played the game in the way they did. For example, if most people who bought the game prefers one particular way (for example, physical releases over digital) and most people who did not prefers another way, it would make little sense for the game company to change their ways that would isolate the people who buy the game to satisfy those who didn’t. Ideally, you want to satisfy both groups, and satisfy those who didn’t buy the game on the promise that it will lead to those who didn’t buy the game to buy the game. And outside of that promise, it’s hard to say what and how would motivate the example game company.

I mean, I suppose there are examples like societal pressure (eg., Rapelay incident) which influences how game companies behave. Government regulation and stuff like the Tokyo Nonexistent Youth ordinance, too. The government is not a consumer, a customer, or a player (typically), so I’m not sure how it fits, but the government reflects the general public (typically) so it is an instance where non-buyer of a game would influence the game company almost in a direct way.

And then there is the topic of this post. Relevance.

To actually talk about anime now, one major pet peeve I have is when I go google the title of some show, way too often the results end up being illegal streaming sites or download sites. I realize you can actually issue DMCA takedown requests for google search results (and I invite license holders to do so, if anything, just to improve Google’s search results). It’s even worse when it comes to manga, but at least in those cases a lot of these semi-legal or illegal sites are actually the best sources of information on the material.

WSJ today posted the story of a US Federal Government sting operation that painted Google as a criminal organization of willingly advertising illegal activity, specifically of pushing ads of foreign illegal pharmacies to US customers. And as an ex-Adsense customer I know I have served ads, on occasion, that advertised these kinds of sites. It was hard to fish for them because it comes and goes, and 99% of the time I was on an ad-blocking browser, but I saw them.

This stuff is a real concern. Granted, it doesn’t really matter in the big picture, but better SEO and fluency with Google search from a marketing perspective will deliver a better experience for everyone who wants to work with your title, even if they are not buyers.

The real question is how does non-purchaser’s web activity increase the relevance of these illegal sites. That is what I mean earlier by relevance. As you might know, Google rank its search results by how “relevant” a particular link is to the search query. Loosely speaking (since nobody but Google knows how it works exactly) it means how pages link to each other, and the “quality” of a web page adds or removes credence to the things a page links to. So if a very popular forum links to some DDL sites, those sites will get props. There are companies out there that create content on the web to “game” Google search ranks that is the basis of “SEO” or search engine optimization. And that is beyond the less controversial stuff, like developing your webpages in a way that is friendly to Google’s web robots that index and discover your page’s contents and display them the right way on the search results page.

Of course, it’s not to ignore the “real relevance” of non-purchasers on purchasers, let alone the content publisher. That is why copies of things are given to press to review, and why word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool. Similarly it can lower sales in such a way. I think one example that shows up statistically is how piracy-before-purchasing can change some potential buyers into non-buyers, after they have sampled the thing and found it not satisfactory [which says nothing about such an effect being, in my opinion, a very good thing] or otherwise undesired due to some other reasons [which could be a bad thing].

The responsible thing to do, in light of this, is actually police the things you link to. As a blogger it is clearly one venue where it could happen (and I profess linking to at least a couple sites where wholesale copyright infringement was at hand, despite the quality and legitimate information it provided). Other places include twitter, Google+, forums, and lots of other fixed web media. You know what? If you manage the online presence of a brand, the least you can do is make a website that is informative. So many companies fail on this in the anime/game/manga sphere it is incredible.

For companies, it is to monitor relevance and get people to realize the impact, both as purchasers and non-purchasers. But also to respect people who don’t buy your stuff, to the degree that it facilitates people who do buy your stuff. This is a vague statement to put into practice, but that has to be the overarching goal, I think. What I invite people to do is storyboard specific use cases. I think the better you are at this, the more likely you will be successful at niche markets like for anime, manga, and bishoujo/otome games.

I mean, if I want to find a download link, I’ll add the search term “download” to the query :p

Judge Book by Cover: Winter 2011 Edition

Another year, another season, another activity under the sun. Three-ep test time, right?

Danshi Koukosei no Nichijou – Nichibros is great fun. But I am not compelled. I think Nichijou was more compelling, despite significantly less gut-busting fun. Maybe it will grow on me. Maybe not. It’s still a lot of fun though.

Symphogear – Only if Polyphonica was like this. That said I ought to drop it. Wake me up when Minami Takayama shows up again. What is up with Nana Mizuki and crap anime anyways? At any rate, the weird feeling that I should go suffer through Blood-C first before this prompts me to do that first before watching any more Symphogear. Which is probably unlikely.

Kill Me Baby – It’ll probably be fun to watch at 2x speed. But not for me.

Ano Natsu de Matteru – Probably my most anticipated anime coming out of the first 3 episodes. There is a warmth to the characters and the animation radiates love. Kind of like how iM@S was. And believe it or not, Ichigo Morino (kind of wondering what would go with Umino) takes the spot of the first fixed pose PVC moe girl figure I ever owned. But actually, even if none of what I said just now is true, I would’ve put AnoNatsu in the #1 spot on the strength of episode 3 alone. It’s just a terrific piece of witty rom-com in the span of 23 minutes. It’s this kind of stuff that elevates late-night otaku fantasy into the realm of something that can be taken seriously as entertainment.

Mouretsu Pirates – Definitely my most anticipated anime going into this season. Does not disappoint. I am fine with the slow pace.

Rinne no Lagrange – This and Aquarion fight a bitter fight to see if it can fit into my even more restricted anime viewing time. It has an edge because it is on Hulu.

Aquarion EVOL – Just like the old series. But unfortunately I didn’t like the old show that much. I get the feeling it will be a mid-season call for this one, or will it have more staying power than Gundam AGE? One weird thing I noticed is how watching the OP and ED without any subtitles drastically improved my viewing experience. It’s like there is a saturation point in terms of what happens on every cut at any given time. The credits actually reduces the load on my sensory organs, but the subtitles (especially my favorite Karaoke subs) pushes it way over the edge and you missout that immersive experience as your eyes begin to ignore the stuff the subs breaks out from one moving frame to the other. Or at least it was for me.

High School DxD – Boobs are great, aren’t they?

Nisemonogatari – I wish I could just say “Boobs are great, aren’t they?” Definitely will finish it, simply because despite how much I find Nisioisin’s tricks worthless, they are quite entertaining. Also, at this point how can anyone take this show beyond pure fanservice? I have a hard time taking it seriously at all, maybe at the most as a funny word problem.

Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai! – Better known as Papakiki or “Listen to Me Girls, I Am Your Father!” it is more like, well, a planewreck than a train wreck. The first two episodes does a great job making a serious matter serious in this heavily saturated genre of man meets loli. The only question left is will the man meats loli? Also, the sempai character is kind of interesting.

Knight in the Area – Sums up why I have a hard time embracing shows like Cross Game, which I further contemplate if it has to do with why sports manga will never fly in America. Also, carwreck lol.

Another – I generally dislike horror as a genre, but this show is so gorgeous I don’t know if I can drop it. Also, Chihiro vibes where? Episode 3 ends with a very nice punch. Too bad she was my favorite moe character in the show; also makes a great first target.

Amagami SS+ – Glad it only has 2-ep arcs. First arc was kind of dreadful actually. But at this point I might as well finish. Good thing about 2-ep arcs is that any bad stuff only lasts for so long before another two reroll. Rihoko arc has proved to capture a bit more of the charm from the first series already!

Inu x Boku SS – I’m blogging it over at Jtor, and so far it is a deviation from what we typically expect out of David Pro. While I’m not holding my breath on it I expect it to be actually entertaining enough along the lines of, say, Maid-sama. Except instead of the annoying feminist blunders, it’ll have a lot of fujoshi baits. Or I hope. Ending is a great little nod.

Thermae Romae – It’s short and sweet. Being educational is a bonus. Also I’m really happy that it is only 6 eps long, because I’m not sure how much more of this I can handle.

Poyopoyo – It’s short and sweet and I can handle cats like this.

Recorder and Randsell – It’s short. Watching this on CR makes me wonder why am I not watching Morita-san or GDGT Fairies instead? But being on CR and being short means I can watch it on the commute.