Monthly Archives: July 2012

You Had Me at Episode 3: Summer 2012

Coming in, I thought this season is a weak season. But after looking around, it’s probably not that bad; maybe even slightly over average. It’s not as great as last season for sure, but looking around I see a lot of bloggers thinking this season is weak. I don’t know. If we throw all these shows on the wall and see which sticks, there might be an average amount of winners in that bunch. Wish times like this I have a magical power that summons empirical studies of whatever at my command. Like, “Magical makeup! Summon science!” [Of course, if you are one of those people who think Fujiko was the best anime last season and only one worth watching, you can save us some time and just go die in a fire.]

I’m ordering this by no order, and shows I don’t list are either ongoing, dropped before I get to 3, or in a couple cases, I didn’t even try them. Hopefully I didn’t miss anything [edit: now that I added Joshiraku].

  • Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita: Thumb up. Solid satire with some bite, and easy to go down like all good satire. So good, I can do episodic, and tempted to do so!
  • Total Eclipse: Thumbs missing. My initial impression of Muv-luv Alternative: Total Eclipse was actually this “pervy” figure of Cryska, followed by Yui with a SMG. You can tentacle some armada if you are interested in more details, plus some backdrop to the Total Eclipse story. I got my first real piece of the action at AX where we got backed-to-back episodes one and two right after a Kurinoko/ayami performance. I think I liked that more. But to be fair, the first episode after the two set-up episodes felt like kind of like this, where it’s trying to “throw back” to a Top Gun-ish narrative. I’m going to wait to episode 5 before really risking for a call since to me the story didn’t quite begin until ep3.
  • Tari-Tari: Thumb up. It paves its own path, which is reason enough to watch if you are interested in the subject matter at all. Looks sharp and entertaining for the most part; just waiting for the story to gel and the CDs to come out.
  • Oda Nobuna no Yabou: Thumb up. Probably the one dark horse anime this season. It’s surprising competent, production-wise. Studio Gokumi x Madhouse = woah. Kanae’s performance props the show up as much as the good pace things are going. Its only drawback is that some prerequisite knowledge about history through the games really helps your enjoyment.
  • Campione: Thumb down. The only things going for it are the delicious fanservice and voice cast. The concept could be interesting but it’s executed in a very dull way.
  • Kokoro Connect: Thumb up. Character drama needs good acting and we have it. I feared Hisako Kanemoto would be the weakest link but with the Yui episode come and gone, she actually did a pretty good job. The animation seems like that knock-off Kyoani style but there’s nothing offensive about it.
  • Sword Art Online: Thumb down. I don’t like it but it’s a compelling watch. The production value is nice and I can empathize with the grief…as in, oh hey you just got trained sort of grief. Or in episode 3’s case, some one in their guild went Leeroy. I suspect though at the end of the series that might become true for actual viewers of this anime, at least the griefing part. The best strategy is to enjoy what little kernels of joy each episode provide you now, rather than later.
  • Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru: Thumb down. Nakaimo is a trash show you can drop but it’s definitely the one good trash show out of the rest of the trash show this season. Main credit for being interesting in terms of plot and presentation. Conceptually it is way worse than most shows this season…if not THE worse. Which also is a credit to its favor if you look at it the other way.
  • Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate: Thumb down. I like this show’s approach to politics and elections but it’s not going to cut it. Only for harem/visual novel types (eg., this is kind of trashy). Not thrilled about the art style, but it does the job. I’ll probably end up watching it LOL.
  • Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai: Thumb down. Sorry to say, Aya Endo fans, but this is worse than QB season 3 I think.
  • Natsuyuki Rendezvous: Thumb up. Why? Because I like the persistent take from the NTR angle. It really juices up this otherwise kind of boring josei fantasy. I’m also impressed how it can fit both manservice and womanservice in that tidy package. Kou Matsuo and his crew aside, it’s back to the basics of noitaminA, which is usually worth at least a look.
  • Binbougami ga: Thumb up. Another show with a potentially downward outlook, the opening episodes have a big impact but it’s the kind of show that often will settle into a pattern and it’ll get repetitive quick. I won’t be surprised if I end up dropping this show in a few weeks. It’s good to hear Hanazawa in an unusual role but I’m not a big fan of this performance. Toilet-level slapstick comedy, however, scratches my itch. It’s like the companion piece of Jintai.
  • Hagure Yuusha no AESTHETICA: Thumb down. Speaking of toilet humor, this one reached bottom first. I think I probably would enjoy this show if it can crank up the level of ridiculous over time, but that also means this show is not for most people. Perhaps if it looked better, a few of the more voracious viewers would give it a chance and get as far as the Kanatan-voiced, stoic-dere loli character….which is to say, yeah, you’re not missing much. If you’re on the Kana Ueda yuri-kei train of thought, though, consider Hagure Yuusha that bullet train from Yuriseijin taking you to heaven. If you like the populist nonsense in this show…well don’t get too serious.
  • Utakoi: Thumb up. Because it’s kind of the dirty josei/shoujo stuff some of you like, but also it’s better than average for its category (edutainment). I probably should drop it, but given how all the shows I want to watch airs between Thursday and Sunday, it fits into those empty Tuesday-Wednesday slots.
  • Joshiraku: Thumb up. I have a soft spot for the stuff that goes on in the ED, but that aside, the jokes tend to come at a good clip and enough of them hit. And sure, I like the girls enough, but more as people than as cute girls. (Are they even cute? Even Kigu?) I realized I can enjoy enough of the jokes raw (which is to say, not very many at all) but the tedious buildup to the punchline makes the whole thing not fun when you’re mired with the not-funny stuff. So I guess dropping this show would be the thing to do if the fansubs stop.

I think that’s it. Other shows of note:

  • Eureka 7 Ao: Episode 12-13 kicks things up a gear, which is sooner than the first series. The setting plays a bigger role than ever, which is nice for long-time fans. I wonder if they can actually tie this in with Xam’d setting-wise wwwwww.
  • Rinne no Lagrange: In Stellvia we have the group-cry episode. Now we have the group-yuri episode. Thanks, Tatsuo Sato. At least you are consistent!
  • Space Brothers: Yawn.
  • Yuru Yuri: Yawn♪♪
  • Sengoku Collection: At least I have no idea what the next episode is going to be about! But it’s getting kind of boring, at least in the past month; they need to spice stuff up.
  • Moyashimon Returns: Put me in the camp of people who think season 1 was special and season 2 is missing that special something. Nonetheless it is still a decent watch.
  • Dog Days: Hopefully season 2 will way surpass season 1. So far it has. But I’m not watching this show~
  • Accel World: I was hoping to see this plot concept earlier, but I guess it’s okay to have this story now.
  • Hyouka: Still really dull, even if the school festival episodes have been really a treat.
  • Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere 2: The barometer is, “will I doze off during any of their long exposition/tirades?” If yes, it’s a so-so episode; if no, it is a good episode.  So far the count is about 1 to 2 and I suspect by the end of season 2 it’ll come close to even.

And I’m still watching Sket Dance. It’s still my type of humor.

PS. What is amazing (again) is that other than Hyouka and Joshiraku, every show on this list is getting a North American “stream.” (Funi’s 2 new shows aside, which I presume they will play catch up at some point in the very near future.) I wonder why…

PPS. I’m actually keeping up with over 20 shows at the moment. And I thought it would get better after last season….time to cutcutcutcut. I guess I did with AKB0048 already…

PPPS. Yep I missed a show. To make up for it, here are some links to peeps from GG and their notes on Joshiraku. It’s pretty fun to read. Check it out.

PPPPS. I went back and watched Joshiraku 3 and slotted it in. And removed Ebiten because, well, it’s just clutter at this point. So yeah. By the way, Ebiten HP is LOLs.


From Dennou Coil to SAO: We’ve Gone Post HCI

Technology moves really fast, especially in areas where there is a lot of economic incentive to innovate. HCI stuff, big time. But it wasn’t too long ago that science fiction begin to imagine what it would be like in the next “dimension”; the orthogonal turn from linear improvement of, say, how fast and power computers are, but to how these faster and more powerful computers enable things that we cannot even dream of doing before. For example, AI is one of those very staple thing, but mimicking intelligence is as old as when the first monkey learned from mimicking the next. None of these forefathers were big about, say, streaming from the cloud. Or being able to torrent to dropbox. Or be able to control sex toys via USB.

The reality of the situation is that, well, reality has long since caught up to fiction. When Google demoed their skydiving glasses (go to 1:27:00 or so) during this past Google I/O, the only thing missing was Densuke. The reality was that wearable visual augmentation hooked up to a computer with network capabilities was something that was around since I was in undergrad, and that was a long ass time ago. It was just a problem of how practical you can make it, and figure out what the heck people would use it for. I think Brin & co is still working on that.

So what does fiction do when reality has caught up to it? In Japan’s case, you make a moe heroine and pour some kind of white, viscous fluid on her, using this new technology. Yep!

Well, entertainment and fanservice aside, I think Sword Art Online approaches the whole virualized reality thing by playing on the experiences of hardcore MMORPG gamers. And by that I mean games like UO, EQ or FFXI, and by that I mean definitely not WoW, although WoW probably gives players enough of an in given how similar that was to those two games. While it probably isn’t the first anything to build on some kind of new HCI paradigm, SAO is the first one that I know which builds on the newly introduced concepts that came with the advent of MMORPG.

By definition, MMORPGs are constructs that are significantly different than their historical, single-player-offline sort of deal. Compare that to, say, Dennou Coil’s Densuke or thermonuclear beard war, people probably have an easier time imagining dealing with the mechanics of SAO (the game) than having to walk Densuke everyday, even if we do walk our dogs and what not. There’s just too much of a gap between walking your dog versus walking your virtual dog that lives in your glasses; or rather, since we have no idea how it walking your virtual dog, we can only think of it like walking with a real dog. On the other hand, we can imagine a virtual reality WoW experience easily, and it is nothing like actual WoW.

(The point I want to make by excluding games like WoW is because I get the feeling SAO is created by someone who has realized how punishing and annoying some of these games are. And WoW is basically the polar opposite of punishing. The whole exclusive, “leet” streak Kirito takes is all too much for me to take seriously without questioning the credentials of what’s at stake, or how this story got to the point it did by episode 3. Soloing in a game means different things if you grew up with FFXI versus, say, any WoW and post-WoW games, let’s just say.)

Anyway, I think it would be interesting to see if SAO is indeed pulling from the viewer/reader’s experience to construct the emotional context that the story takes place. It certainly is considered otaku material, so we do have that going. If we contrast SAO with Accel World, I feel that connection is the biggest difference between the two. In SAO you feel like playing a MMORPG (albeit in a very chuu2 way); in Accel World it feels like just another chuu2-shounen manga formula.

PS. You know SAO is otaku lit when the game is populated largely by guys. In reality more women play MMORPGs than any other types of games! At least, in the west.


There Is No Such a Thing as a Slice-of-Life Genre

One of the neat things about being a fan for a while (I’d say at least 6 years) is the opportunity to see your niche fandom evolve. When I was watching anime in the 90s, there was no such a thing as “slice-of-life” genre. In fact the term didn’t really come into its own until maybe the 2004-2006 period, when iyashikei shows were hitting the late-night airwaves in full force.

The relationship between kuuki-kei or iyashikei shows and slice-of-life seems almost too obvious. The placid everyday-ness of a lot of those shows inspires the use of terms that describes the everyday. I think I might have liked it more if “slice-of-life” was called “slice-of-everyday.” In fact, it might as well be called “slice-of-everyday-life.”

The evolution of fan lingo is not a big deal. I can deal with onions and cours as well as anyone. The problem I have with “slice-of-life” (henceforth SOL) is that it is ill-defined in the usual case. Or rather, it is only descriptive one-way. For example, I can say show X is a SOL show and we can think about how X maps to what we define as SOL as a genre or an attribute to a show. But I have a very hard time taking people’s recommendations for SOL shows. Besides the archetypal kuuki-kei stuff (Yokohama Shopping Log, Aria S1 and S2) you get shows like Hyouka or Manabi Straight in the mix. I’m like, please pass the crackpipe?

In other words, it makes sense as a tag on ANN or MAL, but it makes no sense as a topic for discussion. It’s just too vacuous. Moreover it is kind of a ghetto term. Nobody calls The Simpsons or Firefly a SOL show. Or for that matter just about any non-anime show out there. Why do anime fans use this term? It also propagates like an undead zombie, as I previously ranted on. Every time I run into someone using the term in a serious way I want to kill a kitten? Can we seriously switch to “healing” or “ambiance” as tags? Please?

I guess a more seasoned response to the SOL mapping problem is that anime fans historically have been horrible at mapping things. If I had a dollar every time someone calls Love Hina a shoujo story I would’ve been able to probably skip a mortgage payment, just for example. But that’s not a problem to me because those well-established terms have very clear definitions as applied to genre. My fundamental problem with SOL is that even if you know every single piece of information about a show, you still probably cannot firmly decide if a show is SOL. The best you could do is to convey a probability (probably a bell curve of sort, this would make an interesting experiment) that by saying this show is SOL when asked to name a SOL show, what % of people will agree with you. Because the bottom line is that SOL is a matter of more about feelings than any textbook definition. It’s like moe. Which explains why it is a good way to express the attributes of a show, but not a good way to prescribe a list of shows that shares a certain attribute. Perhaps that is enough for any language, but merely agreement is just superficial understanding, that “agree to disagree” sort of BS.

In a way, by coining this term, we have allowed ourselves to open up this construct for further discussion. Just what defines SOL for each person probably can fill the skies of internet boards and forums like how someone professes wifehood for his or her favorite character. It may be cause for celebration and it might be okay to cherish the process that goes on to explore the nature of the SOL, but how can we, on further examination, avoid this linguistic confusion between SOL and, say, kuuki-kei? Or perhaps in a more mercenary sense, will the term SOL ever graduate from common use, beyond as a parameter in the greater database that marks the likes of TVTropes or ANN? It seems to be stuck as a short hand, rather than a discussion topic. Probably precisely because the idea behind “slice-of-life” is bogus when rigorously applied to a genre (and many other things). And I will probably keep ranting about this until I stop running into people using this term in a functional, non-ironic way regarding attributes of anime series.

Or maybe I should approach it the other way around: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS SLICE OF LIFE YO.

[Think of this post as an updated version of the same rant I posted in August, 2010, which is now partly recovered.]


Otakon 2012: Day -8

Here we go again.

As usual the otakon forums is a wonderful resource, and even if I am by proximity not that far from it, it’s still a good 3-hour drive. That’s like almost as far as Shimoda to Tokyo! [/Natsukise]

Oh, first of all, they have now officially released the schedule. They are saying they will use Guidebook, but on the app it only lists Otakon 2011 and it’s showing the old schedule on there as of this writing (11am Eastern).

And as usual, all of this is subject to change. And I mean all of it.

Guests and pawprints and Hancocks

  • Aya Hirano doesn’t seem to have a standalone autograph session. When she was first announced way back (good job on Otakon for outing this one early) the word was already that she will autograph after her concert (assuming with the usual sales of goods–and all its potential stipulations) and maybe a separate autograph session. I think that is a safe bet, given how typically this has happened in times past. For some reason I have a hard time finding the concrete start time for her concert, but it is on Sunday afternoon. The only remaining question is if she will sign just anything, or it has to be something you bought with her new label.
  • Ai Nonaka and Gen Urobuchi are visiting Otakon on behalf of Aniplex and their Madoka effort. Great! Because that probably means they will have a booth autograph session. I’m going to guess that will also include the dub actress for Kyoko, Lauren Landa. But checking for booth times? You know the drill.
  • Since the cat is basically out of the bag, Otakon debuts its first Korean act, VIXX. That’s the “guess the guest” answer (or so we think) for their ongoing contest. It’s kind of a game changer, yeah? They have not announced the other guest for their Friday night concert, but she has an autograph session on Sunday at the same time as Maruyama and Nonaka. And yeah, that might be another opportunity right at/after the concert!
  • Otakon is probably going to announce more guests this week. There might even be some music acts for their Thursday matsuri thing, which hopefully will also involve a better list of food vendors. Last year it was kind of pathetic.
  • Lastly, get a refresher on the autograph policy. Note that depending on how they run it, there could be tickets and non-tickets. I read somewhere it may be a system where they will give tickets to people who are not in the first line, if the autograph line runs too long. The usual 1-hour lineup time stands as previous Otakons, so there’s no real major reward for getting there more than 2 hours before start time. But who knows how these things will go?

Panels

Well, this is more like advertisement than something to check out, but if you find yourself looking to do something, and the time fits, check out these guys.

  • Dave and SDS are doing their mahjong show again. I hope they showcase at least a little of that advance MJ play we see in Saki Achiga-hen. I might even be there!
  • Super Rats is up for being harassed by you at the figure panel he cohosts with Andy and jdcseiken. The timing is unfortunate but I hope they get a nice crowd going. I mean, I’m pretty sure there will be some giveaways. Maybe.
  • There is a Satelight panel. I have no idea what it is but people are suspecting it is an industry panel given the description was written.
  • Mangagamer’s panel coincides with my friend’s panel on ero for the ladies. Otakon is neat in that they run “serous” content even at 1AM. Mangagamer’s panel, at Otakon, tend to be a snore though. It’s just a question if they can announce anything there or not. Certainly something to do after an Oriole’s game.
  • NISA has their anime and game panels back-to-back. Looking forward for something cool there. If I recall correctly last year they were pretty much missing at Otakon. Hopefully they can engage the East side a little more? I probably should look up what their dealer room presence is.
  • Funimation is throwing a Geneon retrospective panel on Sunday. That is kind of funny.

Food and others

  • The skybridge is in the process of being removed. I think Baltimore realized those bridges are kind of dinky and no longer trendy like how they were in the 70s. Also they want to funnel more traffic to the ground level…which is to say it’s kind of lame. This actually just means the bridge to that cool Korean food-by-the-pound place, coming from the ex-Windham/now-Sheraton is gone, so you will have to walk on the ground level for part of it. I believe the skybridge connecting the Hyatt and Sheraton, as well as the whole plaza area towards the inner harbor are still intact, but the future looks grim for those things.
  • The inner harbor pavilions have some updates. I believe one of them were renovated earlier this year? Anyways, more food options.
  • The food truck scene in B-more has improved since last year. With the O’s in town for a homestand all weekend (Thursday is a day game versus the Rays, and then a weekend series against the A’s–check out Calaggie’s plans for that, LOL) you can be sure there will be some of that if you walk just towards the park around the Hilton. Hm, wonder if any Japanese guests would be into that.
  • The most exciting food news this year is how Otakon runs right in the middle of the Baltimore restaurant week. In typical restaurant week fashion, participating restaurants will offer prix fixe meals at a fixed, uniform price; 15 something for lunch and 20 or 30 something for dinner. Reservation is typically highly recommended. Best thing to do is scope out the menu and offerings on the official site, and call ahead no later than probably Monday.
  • It’s going to be pretty hot this year, but I don’t think an extra 5 degrees make all that much of a difference to me. I’ve already optimized my Otakons to avoid the heat. All the more to thank the Ice Cold Water For Only One Dollar dude.
  • The Matsuri on Thursday is promising real improvements from last year with better food options. It’s something to do instead of waiting in line, for sure. They just haven’t announced all the details yet. So far I hear some more food options and more bands, rather than just one band last year. There will be a Taiko drums thing first up, then a workshop, then a DJ, then band #1 (a 3-piece VK outfit), then DJ again, then band #2 (A Chinese traditional/rock band). They’re still signing those bands I guess but a “guess the artist” thing is running in the forums, for any Matsuri attendees who can go and claim their prize.

A lot of this stuff is in flux, so most like I will just do a follow-up post for Otakon prep rather than update this one.


Jintai 3 Redux: We Are, Again, All Part of the Problem

I looked around at the various reads on Jintai 3 [is animenano even picking up most of the blog posts with that tag?] a little and I think we can go the extra mile, do you agree? For starters, I’m going to take this as a proper satire. Furthermore I’m going to assume certain norms as the de-facto positive assumed by Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, or Humanity Has Declined.

For example, the ability to occasionally have meat to eat is generally a well-considered thing. It is in this context in which we consider the livelihood and living standards of our lovely UN mediator, the Main Character (MC). I guess here’s the third thing–I’m going to take the episodes not in an individually-wrapped vacuum, but all together. The fairies and their factory, their sentient chickens and mysterious industrial products, the village girls’ inability to slaughter these things.

Actually, it appears that while the country life MC lives in looks more like life in the 19th or early 20th century, the prevalence of electricity and other amenities such as books and steam automotive suggests not so much a perceived “tech level” but a thematic setting. Perhaps European-inspired? I can’t say too much, because it seems prudent to assume a certain level of malleability in the way Jintai includes popular cultural references using the setting. For example, I’m not sure how to explain that the livelihood of MC and her friends are under the charge of some regulatory agency (such as, no eating of mysterious canned goods), which is an artifact of the late 20th/early 21st century living for the most part. Or that there’s electricity available in the home.

Anyway. There is ultimately a pervasive feeling that I had about episode 3 that reminded me of the settings of fabulous British literary luminaries such as Bronte or Austen, the same stories in which made them a require read in American mandatory education. Naturally so, those influences continue their pull from beyond the respective authors’ graves, even in Japanese culture so many years later. Even in the development of the subculture of BL. I suppose even moe culture today can be traced to 19th century German lit? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Can we say the same about the smooth yet cunning satire in Jintai? That I think is up for debate. My personal opinion is that ultimately the subject matters in the first three episodes are not really painted in a positive manner. At all. I think it is fair to say there are some issues, and these issues can be multifaceted. Some of the different sides of the issues being explored by Jintai have been picked and absorbed in its probably-post-apocalyptic setting as a show of farce. Others are just made fun of. Some are once-overed as food for thought. Indeed, we cannot fly.

I think it is fair to extrapolate episode 3’s subject matter of BL and fujoshi mockery to include popular entertainment and fan-driven culture in general. I believe this is ultimately supported by Y’s primary mission, as I previously mentioned, that to archive the human history, technological advances and culture, is a job nobody really cares too much about in the end. That is the key concept in episode 3 which gets repeatedly reinforced by the little plot things. Such as how the UN doesn’t really care about what Y is doing; society doesn’t really care about Y’s comiket-reference; and Y doesn’t really care about Y’s assignment.

I think it’s fair to conclude, furthermore, that this attitude in which allows Y to do whatever she wanted, using technology and resources that might be better served in other efforts, is actually the key attitude being mocked by episode 3. It might be okay, at least based on one read, to have the girls all over the country to carry on in their own merry ways, turning and tossing in their sleepless nights, wondering about the plot of some romantic escapade in a yet-to-released volume of some manga. It might be okay for otaku culture to continue to exist. Episode 3 explicitly validates its cultural value and the mechanism cultural values propagate, after all. But how can anyone look at what Y was doing and think it is a good thing, without basically ignoring the entire setting to the show? Perhaps it is permissible, but is it beneficial?

In fact, I think this is one of the universally-taught, quality trait to satire. It again reminds me of Austen and her ilk. Perhaps Jintai is more like Swift? I guess it behooves me to stop here, lest I want to talk myself into a particular circle of hell reserved for that kind of people.