Monthly Archives: August 2012

Sword Art Online Mid-raid Ready Check

Sword Art Online is an enjoyable watch, but I don’t particularly enjoy many aspects of it. I think with a broad stroke I can write off most of the things I don’t like under “this is way too chuu2.”

Such things include, for example, the paternalistic nonsense in the latest episode when Asuna was being stalked, or how Kirito is just this projection of all things chuunibyou (a “beater” duel wielding double phalluses made of the hardest material you can find and is probably the highest level character soloing mobs (almost) nobody can!), someone who is able to do everything important himself except all the domestic stuff, so he has some excuse to interact with cute girls, or generally the design of the MMORPG is not only outdated, but has some glaring problems that borders on anacronism. The list can go on, but it tops out at “why is a solo freak playing a MMORPG?” Because we have a term for this, and it’s not Beater–it’s Retard. Only an idiot play a MMORPG by himself the whole time. I guess even bots play with each other in those games! Yea yea he does play with someone else and he will play with other people eventually, but this loner attitude is for losers.

I’m not really a big MMORPG player nowadays, although I paid my dues in EQ and WoW over the years, plus handful of other games that I just dabbled in. I enjoy being hooked on it, and in a perverse sense I see the setup for SAO as the ultimate vacation. “Hey boss, some evil cyberterrorist hijacked my body so I have to play this game until I beat it, or I die. Can I take a sabbatical? Oh my health insurance will cover the cost of living, niiiice.” Do you ever feel like that? My friend who already put in his PTO days for Pandaria probably would agree. What’s more, our SAO overlord enslaved an entire server full of people, so you will have people to do stuff with even at all times, day and night.

I read this post not too long ago and it reminds me the one thing SAO did right that, say, .Hack//sign did poorly. That is exactly how the video game interact with reality in a way that the viewer can associate with. Back in the late 90s, .Hack appealed to the type of people who actually played, say, RO Beta or EQ, and the nods in the game are a great way to build on that connection between viewer and material. Fast forward to today, I think that alone is definitely not enough. SAO does refer to game mechanics, too, but it adds the whole dimension that, coincidentally, I could really care less for but elevates the show: a solid standalone narrative. You could treat SAO like a fantasy novel and ignore that they’re trapped inside this VR thing, living lives like fictional characters in a fantasy story. I think by cutting out (admittedly very potent plot juice) the real life aspects, it makes SAO an enjoyable story about MMORPGs as narratives like a MMORPG. Think of SWTOR without all the traveling.

To that end, I’m taking the assumption that a game is only a game when it’s fun to play. When it gets too personal or too serious, it’s going to require some change in perspectives. Fundamentally, that is going to happen when you try to rope in a couple friends for a weekend night crawling dungeons online, or any other similar activity. It just gets less personal and more business-like when we’re talking about 25 or 40 people and their collective weekend or whatever time zone they happen to be in, in order to not stand in the fire and make the other 39 people’s lives miserable. In FFXI’s and EQ’s cases, this number can be up by even more. In other words, MMORPGs are often very serious business, at least up to say 2009 or so.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that a honest look at MMORPG culture and fandom necessarily cannot be encapsulated by a chuunibyou-driven narrative. Think of the Guild for example; it’s more about normal, everyday lives. It’s not about some guy who is super powerful and beats all his foes. He doesn’t suffer any real setbacks. But because now we don’t have this everyday life thing to get in the way, we can enjoy SAO for what it is: just yet another hero’s quest, the ones that typifies the single player experience. There is not much MMO-y about SAO besides that other characters can interact with you; once you strip the gamer-game-character-dichotomy, it’s all just a fantasy setting with people in it.

Because, indeed, you can’t save the world in FFXI all alone by yourself, that’s for the home versions of such games. Juggling this dichotomy and undercutting the fundamental fact about MMORPG life makes SAO ultimately a sad exercise in excessive chuu2-ness, but also one that can be enjoyable as a single-player media that typifies the TV-viewing and novel-reading experiences. Personally it makes SAO a very difficult pill to swallow because I enjoy MMORPGs for largely different reasons, but I know for sure there are all kind of people out there who probably gets that power trip out of it.

And I can probably go on and show you how sad it is when people enjoy their power tripping on MMORPGs, because all that has happened is a player demonstrating his or her own pathetic nature for the world to see. It’s fine if you power trip all you want in some single-player experience, but, again, this is why it’s Retarded to be a Kirito in real life. Friends don’t let friends play MMORPG by themselves.

He isn’t a guy I dislike, but Kirito (and to an extent, Asuna) should really take a back seat and enjoy their GLOOP GLOOP moment, out of our view. Meanwhile, MORE DEBAN plz.

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A Tale of Two Wifus: Makoto’s Meteoric Rise

Let’s get it straight: I don’t have such a thing. Call me old fashion, but I have a top 1o list. This 2D substitute-functionality has never changed, but I never really feel like I got anything out of the de-ghetto-ization through public acknowledgement for such things. I certainly don’t mind that if you do, or don’t.

Anyway, I ran across the birthday of Makoto Kikuchi the other day and I figured to compare just her pixiv entries with Kobayakawa’s celebration on pixiv, whose birthday was on the 17th, a couple weeks back. Makoto is on the 28th. More relevantly, Makoto came into existence to the public some time in 2005, where as Rinko Kobayakawa debuted with the hit DS wife game, Love Plus, in 2009.

Between 2005 to 2009, the Idol Master (iM@S for short and sanity) franchise has not gone very far. It saw moderate successes as an arcade game and for the Xbox. There was a hardcore contingent spending money steadily, but it did not grow. What mixed marketing efforts turn up mostly to be failures. Under a new plan, the second iteration of iM@S, which debuted with the DS and PSP games, and iM@S2 for the Xbox 360, marked a much better run, that probably capped ultimately with the iM@S2 PS3 and anime releases. Safe to say, its popularity is at an all-time high right now.

Here is the pixiv tag for Makoto’s birthday. Keep paging back to see the old stuff, dated to 2008. If it was easy to grab dates, I would post you a chart, and it would probably look parabolic.

I can’t even find one for Rinko’s birthday in 2012. Or in 2011 or 2010. However, this is how many pages back, in 2010, and you can see for yourself.

Taking a step back, this pixiv fight doesn’t really say much. On one hand, iM@S fandom is cultivated with blood and tears and countless money for DLCs. It’s been brewing for a while now. Seven long years! Love Plus, on the other, is half as old and just gone through a rough patch with the 3DS release, enduring delays and bugs.

Still, very few franchises truck on like Bamco and Columbia’s lovechild. I think this picture sums it up.

Episodic Blogging Threshold

A quote (text re-formatted):

Anime blogging is done with two classes of readers in mind: those who have watched the anime and those who have not. The first class is by definition spoiler-proof. It looks for joint celebration, detail clarification, and/or nostalgic kick. The second class is spoiler-sensitive and looks for advance information. Blogging for the two is generally incompatible, but a blogger cannot know the future class breakdown. One approach is a non-spoiling celebration, such as Visual Retrospective at Ani-nouto. It’s quite effective, but still a compromise. When I read the following as a 2nd Class Reader, I had not the clue about the power of the transmission:

[Insert some cool observation]


[Insert some cool observation #2]

YES[spoiler removed]

Wow yes. I didn’t consciously notice it.

Still, 2nd Class people reading about [insert show here] will not understand either.

I am open to blogging on an per-episode basis. I do find the exercise fun when the show and I make a good match. I also think it is just as powerful as “1st Class” or whatever. It’s all in how you write and posture it.

Personally, I find this sort of thing a lot more natural; that care-free, easy-flow, low-word-count format and approach open the door to blogging about a much wider variety of stuff. The trade off is that having some constraint help structure your thought and give your readers something to expect or anticipate, and you kind of don’t get that. The idea is to associate ideas from one to another, and from a person to another through these shared experiences. Do I speak to you as a person trying to share some new information, or do I speak to you as a person trying to relive the same thing we watched?

So to me those two are really the same. I think ultimately it’s like a con. We celebrate together in different ways, and in the end it all kind of blurs for the outsider and freak out the locals. We party under the banner, regardless.

PS. Top image celebrates not just Makoto’s Kikuchi’s birthday, but also to cheer for her in her first contest in Saimoe 2012. Nekopuchi love is genuine!

Manabi Straight Press

Does the role of Momoha Otori in Manabi Straight reflect a particular philosophy about press and its place in self-regulating societies?

I don’t think I can jump and say that the specific circumstances reflected by Manabi Straight Episodes 8-10 parallels some larger, real-world political situation. Maybe it is similar to some real-world student movements within the confine of schools, I don’t know. At any rate that is not what I want to discuss. It is more relevant from looking at how Momo is written to be this detached, aloof individual who records the actions of the student government and understand the plight of those girls first-hand. She reports that, the plight. That is exactly where Momo plays her role in the show–to show the viewer, what she reports is the truth, albeit re-arranged in her own ways.

In a sense, this is very different than the typical view of the press in the typical student council-type anime. Pretty much the view of the press in the school setting is the opposite–some self-motivated go-getter whose objective is to sensationalize by characterization to troll viewership. Even in the latest Hyouka episodes, the relationship between people and press comes out a little closer to a classified service. Which is, coincidentally, how the press is for a lot of people who have to directly work with the people behind mainstream press orgs, in the real world. It’s better than zero-sum, but invariably it feels a degree removed from what the audience understands as truth. Perhaps both ways of viewing the press understand that ultimately the press, still, functions as a narrator or a storyteller. There’s some kind of narrative which invariably spins in some way. It’s really just if this spin reflects some acceptable version of what we feel is truthful.

Of course, the truth is not so simple. The great thing (perhaps the one of many concepts that played out in the show which earns its self-titled moniker “utopia”) about Momoha in that story is that despite the truth isn’t a very complicated thing (eg., they need % support to make the festival happen), how the people understood even such a simple situation varied greatly, and reacted to it very differently. While ultimately Momo is appealing to emotion for Mutsuki and Mei, when she hijacked the broadcast, the effect of something relatively simple becomes profound because people understood it very differently, and now they get to see something they couldn’t (ie., why the student council desperately wanted the festival to happen). It’s the kind of activist behavior that we typically do not associate “real” press with. It’s different than, for example, the promotion video, which is suppose to impress, even if it also is informational.

In essence, that is the role of the press. Or rather, it’s what happens after just the facts. There is a lot of space in which the press re-arrange and re-mix something simple and give it depth to tell something that is beyond the surface. Say politician wants policy X to happen, the press’s job is to tell the world why the politician wants it to pass, etc. To an extent, that is exactly what the public needs to know to make informed decisions in a democratic society. I think that’s kind of at the heart of the way Manabi Straight depicts Momo’s role.

Of course, what passes for moving and amusing montages of cute girls doing cute things in one place is sappy political propaganda of opposition party platform at the other place, in another world. Once we go beyond the facts, it might be fair game for anything and everything. But blah, that’s no good. It’s important to recognize that understanding the perspective of an other is actually the ultimate calling in interpersonal communication and one of the greatest achievement for journalism in my mind.

Hyouka Is Really Japanese

I’m no authority or even a studied person on what constitutes Japanese-ness, so take this more like a reactionary response than any level-headed discussion about cultural attitudes or the way how Japanese people behave in stereotypical social situations. I think I might have taken a course in undergrad to this extent, but that was it. I got an A playing weeaboo music for the class project and comfortably being the only person in that class that wasn’t also taking a Japanese language course. Easy A was easy. At any rate I forgot a lot of the course, despite walking away with some wide brushes about how Japan is like an onion or the way people communicate (such as BICS and CALP) and the way it affects how we interact socially. I also learned (more like forgot amirite) about passive aggression, in a textbook context.

The truth is, I think deep inside I have a hard time liking that full blown, stereotypical Japanese mentality. There’s always just a little bit of it that rubs me the wrong way. To turn it around, I understand its pragmatic approach to life and its sense of aesthetics, but I smirk when I read things like this Hideki Anno quote, or sigh when I read about Hideki Matsui’s porn collection. I mean, seriously, sometimes it is in good fun, but at the same time it is not a reality I would like to imagine myself in, for example, working for a Japanese company or just dealing with the everyday in Japan, like sorting trash (okay I guess that isn’t so bad, I do it already). Culture is great and all, but so is progress.

I think Hyouka ultimately is about this sort of throw-back, classical way of looking at the world. To engage the anime on the level of its animation, or character development, or even the way it dissects classical detective fiction, these are all great ways to enjoy the work. But ultimately a lot of the themes and core issues Hyouka dealt with, 17 episodes later, are just very Plain Jane Japanese problems. The sense of aesthetics from its inaka-y locales down to the way how Irisu taught Chitanda how to manipulate men are all very, well, traditional Japanese. It conforms to all sorts of stuff. The feeling that you are going to the township library to look up an old newspaper excerpt to understand how your 7th grade teacher feels about helicopters almost speaks of a sort of mannerism that, almost, no longer exists today, the sort of feeling that exist more for inaka societies and absent in that fast-paced, urban way of life. There’s a sort of charm in that, of course, but it also seems just really quaint.

For entertainment, being quaint is okay. It’s not even that part of the show I dislike per se. At worst, it’s just dull. The thing I dislike the most about the way this Japanese-ness perpetrates Hyouka is its use of passive aggressiveness as the central complex for its emotional motivation for far majority of these human mysteries. And invariably so, every Hyouka mystery revolves around decoding the motivation of a specific individual, and almost every time it is because that individual has some unspoken or bottled-up problem. It’s because they are passively aggressive. In the Movie Club arc, this “issue” was at its apex, at least in terms of both how retarded and how creepy it can be. It doesn’t come across in the same way as, say, Higurashi, but in a way the true cause of the script writer change is almost akin like someone being “taken home” and the victim’s best friend is actually helping to cover it up. It makes for a fitting mystery but also an extremely dull motivation, at least when nobody actually dies or when it doesn’t cause some homeroom drama. To put it to perspective, it’s hard to imagine how enjoyable Higurashi can be without its supernatural elements, or simply imagine…Ookamikakushi.

Despite my general hesitation towards that specific pitch of the Japanese mindset, Hyouka still has something for me to like beyond the animation. Think back to the first story arc, we’ll recall that the ultimate punch line is in English. The way a native-English (or non-Japanese, at least) speaker react to that revelation is entirely different than a Japanese kid in the 古典部. In other words, I can’t help but to laugh. It’s that sort of half-baked grafting of foreign (or perhaps, progressive, like … Niece of Time w) notions which gives Hyouka the balance that it needs, although it can be easily argued that it still isn’t enough. I thought the manga club “let’s troll Mayaka” session during the school festival arc was the show’s highlight, complete with the right costume play for the right characters, enough to say something. It’s like you have this pre-arranged semi-team-bully thing going on but what is being tested is the strength of an individual, because they don’t want to get their way, or rather, get her to go their way. In a way it also sums up the impact of certain foreign schools of thoughts (see: repeated references to Holmes and Christie books) affect traditional group-think, shedding light to something rather traditional.

PS. Watching Hyouka every week helps me understand all the people who hated on Guilty Crown and still watched it every week. I think this might be the first show in a very, very long time where after the episode ends every week I exclaim some variety of “man this is the dullest anime ever,” “man this is so boring,” “LOL that is the stupidest motivation,” or some variety thereof.

PPS. I think the SNK cosplay by Mayaka’s senpai is very meaningful, in contrast of the vocaloid outfits. I’m not sure if it’s just me thinking there’s something more to her outfit choice or what, but it has to be on purpose. In a way I guess that is a little similar to the Joshiraku episode 4 scene, in which the selection of cosplay is trying to say something.

PPS. Hyouka is the sort of show where the “gap humor” is great when you summarize each episode/story arc in one simple sentence. And invariably you can always do it.

PPPS. Hyouka feels like 10 years too early compared to say, Un-Go.