Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Correlation Between Perceived Cost and Profit

You know how some people talk about media, they assume that if people pay for something, it will continue to exist? Is it even true?

I’m inclined to think on the whole, that’s just not true. I mean I bought every “main” Sakura Taisen game and where’s #6? And I’m not even counting the US release of ST5. It’s probably better to just concede that the thinking about paying into what exists in the future is just not a reliable indicator. Every single franchise that died had paying customers, and before someone exlaims about not having enough of them, it needs to be established that there has to be a limit (ie., when is it ever enough?), and a personal decision to buy something should have no impact if everyone else is buying the same thing. Certainly that’s not a criteria to any media criticism unless, well,  you actually sell media for a living. Or if you are a normal Joe Schmoe who buy games partly motivated by being able to talk about said game with other guys (for example).

There is a case, however, where it’s really, really clear cut. iM@S DLCs. The other day there was an announcement about how if you sign up for that iM@S Visa credit card, you can get a 10% discount on all future DLC purchases. It’s a small motivation, second to having, well, an iM@S credit card. I mean that would be why I sign up for one (if I could, and I can’t). The bigger issue is that it is until only recently that I realize how much all those DLC stuff costs. PS3’s iM@S2 contained the first 3 “volumes” of iM@S2 DLC available to the Xbox 360 version of the game, which totals to like, 25000 yen. That’s precious money some poor otaku has actually spent on the game. I mean, it’s news enough for Kotaku (well, that doesn’t mean much). It’s more than the cost of the PS3 iM@S LE box set. There are like, what, 8 DLC volumes now for the Xbox iM@S2 line? Imagine if someone had that credit card at the start–they could have saved like $50. And the game is not even a year old.

To me, that kind of numbers says that iM@S is a line of game that will continue to exist, just because it’s so expensive, and yet people are still buying it. I mean, surely that sort of money means there will be iM@S content from now to the infinite future, right? SakuTai Kayo show tickets are way less than that. And that’s just on the Xbox, which is pissant in terms of total reach in Japan. The PSN-PS3 combination will bring in some real cash, surely.

Another missing piece to the puzzle of seeing the “value” of iM@S DLC is understanding how attractive it is. I guess I’m saying it is a missing piece because I didn’t know how it was until I started playing the game. Now I have to fight these urges of trying to plunk down 200-300 bucks on PSN network cards so I can buy all the songs, at 1800 yen a pop.

Yeah, the singing tracks of 12 idols (do Ami and Mami use the same track? LOL) probably warrants a price more than your average CD single. But 4 of these kind of tracks equal the game itself, and 9 purchases of these songs equates to the freaking superduper BD-Game boxset.

But the DLC is really just scratching the surface. I haven’t even mentioned the G4U nonsense (truly, truly) which is like, what, 8000 yen every month times nine, at this burn rate? That makes buying the anime on BD like child’s play (what a great deal! I guess). Or collecting the massive amount of CD content fairly tame.

The list goes on. I think it’s only since the anime adaptation did Bamco really step into the merch game (I really dig these) beyond their software nonsense. But at the prices they’re charging at, this nonsense extrudes the notion that it ought to be hella profitable.

On the flip side, it’s much more difficult to see  how the money rolls in when it’s a cheap thing that is sold in bulk. Like BL on the Kindle store or Funimation’s top sellers. Or almost anything anime-related in America.

Ano Taiga de Matteru

The only thing that reminds me of Toradora, from chara designer Tanaka and director Nagai’s Ano Natsu de Matteru, is the ever-present Remon Yamano. Or as I sometimes call her Lemon Ichigo–she is sweet-sour and ever-refreshing. She also looks like Taiga from Toradora, shedding just a little of her blonde-ish sheen from OneTi and OneTwi.

I think in a nutshell that is the problem I have with Ano Natsu–there’s just not enough of the pin-pointed hooks that distinguished Toradora from many other light novel romance drivel for boys. Let’s get it on the record that I definitely adore the show thus far, and find it entertaining enough to watch it twice a week, once fansubbed and a second time on CR (not to mention the exercise is a good way to hammer out the nuances in the translations; there’s a fair amount of word play in the script). In terms of my time commitment I’m spending 2x more time on this show than any other this season. Well, maybe except Mouretsu Pirates.

Oh, right, my problem: the show is lacking a lot of key things that catch people’s attention. Granted at episode 6 we’re still half way in the climatic vacation arc. If you think Taiga and Yuusaku Kitamura’s confession in episode 2 of Toradora was pretty neat, remember that a couple has already got together and done it by episode 7 of OneTi. That’s the kind of things I’m looking for. (No, not the “doing it” part although I’m all about Mio dialing up her game, coincidentally. Go for it!) Of course, none of this stuff happened yet. Yet. Is it yet too late?

In a nutshell, it’s fair to say that Kuroda’s writing has improved by this much since Onegai Teacher. One could say the handling of romantic frustration in AnoNatsu is pretty slick. I’m not here to disagree with any of that. I’m just waiting on the payoff. The Minori Kushieda moment. The Ami-awakening moment. The cut of Yamada sulking in the rain. None of that has much to do with Kuroda I think.

Oh right, Nagai also worked on Honey & Clover, in case you didn’t read about it in the links earlier. So then, when will it happen? It has to, right?

I’m patient, however. I think it would be ironic to say the least that I can handle 5 episodes of Marika getting to learn the ropes of being a pirate, versus six episodes of romantic frustration build up like a bottle rocket, waiting to shoot into the skies. But I think I can only take so much of this sophomoric teasing for so long. [Nagi’s vocals is excellent aural sex, by the way; fits a dirty label like I’ve Sounds to a tee.]

I remember Onegai Twins. There was something similar–more like a bottle rocket of awkwardness in which results in that cute, dark-hared girl with glasses taking the short end of the stick. She was a champ, I thought, but it brought only short-term relief and a messy out for that character. It’s just like Herikawa’s post-confession wet-rag status. Well, it’s more like she became a defined, determined being and I ended up cheering for them even more. Is this what pushes the buttons for me? Is this moe? At any rate, the confession was just the midway point. The problem maybe is just that.

This is the school of adolescence through hard break hearts, folks. There are already enough tigers (and cougars?) on earth that when you’re orbital bombarding bombshells, the good girls do not stand a chance.

Anison’s Slow Road

Congrats to Shimokawa and Koyama, tying the knot at their respective ages!

I think it’s a good opportunity and it feels right to bring up Mikuni Shimokawa’s CXCO’s past. They debuted around the same time as Morning Musume (1998) and this Akimoto-P project obviously didn’t fare as well, and disbanded only after a year. Shimokawa was 18-19 years old at the time, and she was one of the top girls in that lot.

Well, it feels right because I’ve been playing iM@S all this time, surely. It’s also nice to see how Shimokawa’s career twisted and turned in the past 10+ years, making her solo debut right around that time. If you remember your early 00s anison themes you  might remember that occasionally some idol will do an OP or ED here and there.

I know I’m not the only person who really enjoyed Mikuni Shimokawa’s variety of light pop music over the years. And she’s been associated with a few projects of note over time. Well, you know her songs, like her FMP tie-ins. But have you seen the idol vids she was in? Here are some more, OH MAN SO OLD.

I’ve been listening to Shimokawa ever since 2002. She’s been with me all over the place, on trips abroad and at home, while at work or writing at my desk during some grim and happy times. It’s got some wetness to it, all these memories that I can associate with her music. So it’s a lot of fun to reminiscence to her music, with this latest announcement. Plus there’s this “remember the fallen” aspect to this, LOL, with forgotten idol groups. I wonder if AKB48 people even care?

Idols and idol groups may come and go, but Shimokawa’s contribution to anison is just as valuable; if you’ve been reading those 2ch repost blogs you might have noticed some study about how up to a third of teenagers have purchased an anison CD today. That means in another 40 years something like a sixth of Japan’s population would have done something like this. That’s pretty amazing. Of course nobody can pin that to the efforts of one person or even one group, but I’d like to believe that everyone chipped in, and laid down a brick to build that house of anison.

Mouretsu Pirates Are Like Maid Cafe Maids

I mentioned it elsewhere but let’s drill down on the maid cafe aspect of Mouretsu Pirates. Yes, the maid cafe. I think it’s important to realize why it exists, why it plays a role in Marika’s life, and what it really means so far. For sure, it is beyond merely fanservice.

I think it’s important to go to episode 1 and understand why the two spying Bentenmaru members went on a discussion on anachronism. To be sure, the maid cafe is a fad-sort of thing. It is costume play. The best maid cafe in Japan actually provides that sort of European-y high class atmosphere for your dining pleasure. But 99.9% of maid cafes are just normal cafe with a cosplay theme, and the stuff we do at a maid cafe different is pretty much unique to them. It’s closer to a host club than a cafe sometimes.

To say that something like a maid cafe survives in to the distant future, hundreds of years later, and then in a civilization light years away from Earth? It’s close to text book anachronism.

The same can be said of piracy; or perhaps better put, privateering. If you subscribe to a Star Trek-ish view of the future, well-managed societies, even space-faring, probably would not need to take up arms to plunder luxury space cruiser-liners. Spaceships are still expensive, it makes little logical sense to jostle billion-dollar wares and putting your life on the line to rob what may be carried on persons, unless everyone is hauling millions of dollars worth of gear on them. I mean, of course, space travel may be something very inexpensive in Marika’s world. I don’t know. But it seems unlikely given how big of a deal it is to travel to the stars. That is a setting’s leeway.

Certainly it makes even less sense for privateers, who pirate out of some hired-gun contract. Aren’t they technically employed? I would imagine they pirate out of some personal desire to make careers out of it.

Here is the first thing to consider. Maids working at a maid cafe provides the illusion that they are maids hosting their masters and madams or whatever they call their patrons. They aren’t actually maids in the “live in” or “indentured servant” or “slave” sense of the term as it is classically used. Right, they’re just paid to roleplay. In the same manner, Bentenmaru’s brand of piracy is the same kind of put-on show where everyone go through some kind of preconception about space piracy (And…who has these kinds of preconceptions? And more importantly, what are they?). Instead of a maid uniform, Marika wears some ludicrous Harlock-lite thing.

In other words, maid cafe maids aren’t really maids, they just pretend to fit your maid-fitting fantasies and take your money. Likewise Marika’s space piracy is  not really about piracy (they’re privateers to begin with), they just pretend to fit your pirate-themed fantasies and take your money.

To segue to the next point, the Maid Cafe crosses with Piracy, in that both are also jobs. That make money. You know there is some value in having kids take up a part-time job when they are in  high school or college, the whole training in the work place sort of thing. Gone is the concept of a pirate being some kind of romantic Kentucky-born actor. In, is the idea that, at least on the Strip in Vegas, they don’t literally rob those who stand and watch the free show at the Treasure Island hotel. It still beats being a plain robber on the high seas, I suppose, because real pirates don’t last very long. I thought the Maid Cafe thing actually comes around and becomes not only an useful metaphor but also a fitting job for Marika in terms of the career trajectory she’s on.

Anyways, this fake-pirate thing is a nice headtrick. But at the same time it makes you wonder what is going to happen to the actual piracy aspect of it. I suppose by today’s standards, gone are the stories about a maid (eg., Mahoromatic) and in are the stories about people pretending to be maids (eg., … Mahoromatic and every other anime with a pretty girl in it). The same could apply exactly to pirates, if there were enough pirate anime around to make a statement about piracy (if not, just blame One Piece). I mean fictional accounts of pirates are wonderful and all but it would be a whole new adventure when our play-to-pay pirates run into some dangerous situations and still go through the same piracy hijinks. It’s like if your live-in maid was a hamster of epic (erotic) proportions, or if your live-in maid had a thing for breast enlargement and ran on batteries.

I guess, the real question left to ask is, just what about piracy can we expect of Mouretsu Pirates? Because both maid cafes and space privateering, arguably, are anachronisms. What is the spin? Would it involve getting into a dangerous situation and being able to get out of it using Marika’s talents at decision making, while at the end, to never forget ring up a customer? These are important qualities to cultivate at a young age, folks.

Two girls one cup indeed.

PS. What about the Marika in a school uniform? That one is the fun one to talk about.

Ghibli Challenge #END – Arrietty, Graves of the Fireflies

This is it (minus a couple stubs that I lost).

I figured I need to wrap it up sooner or later, and it’s already late.

Because I saw only a screener of Arrietty and I’m not suppose to blog about it until some pre-determined time, I’ll keep my impressions mostly focused on the things you really should know. Well, I guess given it’s due out next week, RIGHT NOW is the time to blog about Arrietty, right, Disney? Never mind that the Japanese Blu-ray has been out for some time.

So I saw Arrietty some time in January. I figured it would be a great way to cap out the 12-days-of-Ghibli thing I’ve had going. And it was. Except it was not the 12th film. More like the 10th film. And I didn’t ever get to number 12. It was on a snowy afternoon that I trained up the west side to Symphony Space. The place was packed, given that it snowed quite a bit the night before. Lots of kids, as it was an 11am showing.

Well, no matter. I made it just in time and the screening was even delayed. I figured it also had to do with the snow.

Walking out of the theater I was actually stoked to find out that the NY International Children’s Film Fest, the #1 destination of new anime films in the city, was hosting A Letter to Momo. That and Shinkai’s Hoshi ou o Kodomo. The latter I’ve seen enough times (thanks Otakon!) and knowing what the former is, I am really excited. You should go see it when you can. Anyway.

Arrietty is awesome in the sense that there’s a real impression of scale and sound and smallness and the oppressiveness of large, vertical archetecture. And there’s some parkour-ish stuff. The dub was solid. For Ghibli, it’s rather intense.

Also, gosh, that hairclip. SO MOE.

Film #11 was Graves of the Fireflies, and I cheated here: It’s just something I saw on home video because it has been way too long since I’ve last seen it, I had to come up with something of an opinion on the film for a feature I’m working on for Jtor. I’m always kind of conflicted counting Graves as a Ghibli film, because it is not–they don’t own it. It is Ghibli-made, so that’s what counts, but as a result of not owning it (or rather, their parent company not owning it), you never get to see it along with the rest of the Ghibli films and they can’t publish it in the same trade dress that Disney is pumping out in Japan for the BD re-releases of Ghibli’s lineup.

I’m not sure what is there to say about it besides that it’s definitely the best Takahata film. I would also like to call it the best slice-of-life anime, motivated because that’s what it is and I want to mock people who group anime by such a label.

The other thing is, as much as it is a quality war flim, Graves was a much better experience for me as a film about poverty–the inability to meet the needs of the neediest in society. Sure, there’s this war context that drives the changes in the lives of the children, but it is a giant decoy. The problem is not so much about the circumstances, but the human relationship that was driven and tested by the circumstances. When you stop and actually think about the story (something I recommend you do with caution, for Ghibli films, unless it is Spirited Away) you might have different opinions based on your context with WW2 in Japan. But that’s not really the focus here. It’s plainly the tragedy as a result of the war and the breaking down of the social structure, that safety web, which normally holds a society and the people in it together. It isn’t that everyone in Japan is a starving war orphans–in fact, plenty of people are doing fine, even if many are strained by the events going on. It is the most vulnerable and unfortunate among society that suffers the sort of fate we see in Graves.

What is truly shocking is that this is something that happens over and over again, across the world. Even today. But if you were stuck on the war context you might not be able to connect the dot. I mean, ever read The Grapes of Wrath? Many different things can drive that sort of unraveling of societal ties. War is just the easy one.

Of course, I think the film can be enjoyable if you just allow yourself to wallow in the pitifulness of it all. And maybe that is its intent. But I think that would be short-changing a fairly powerful portrayal of suffering. Furthermore, it’s really a downer! How can you enjoy something like this without at least contextualizing it a little? It’s like, it feels bad feeling good seeing the way those slick American bombers were illustrated, bringing horrific suffering to innocent civilians. But dude, they’re so shiny!

And thus ends the Ghibli Challenge. GKID’s Ghibli festival has already made landfall in California and some other place I think. It’s going to be Austin this month, so catch it there! Catch it everywhere!