Monthly Archives: November 2012

Slicing Life and Narrative Force

I think it comes down to this. I would like to just lay out my overall thoughts on this topic rather than simply object to what seems like an useful term.

In a nutshell, slice of life is a metaphor, a tortured one, if you will. It describes the kind of pacing and descriptive narratives in which the plot revolves around the everyday life. It’s why I proposed replacing “life” with “everyday life.” It would make a much more accurate descriptor if we want to pin it on the narrative or plot as a point of distinction. It’s like splitting hairs versus splitting a watermelon.

The truth is, the everyday life can have as much narrative force as anything else. This is partly why we can make moving, lovingly crafted biographies. It’s pretty obvious that we watch and read stories where the chain of events follow the characters in the story in a day-to-day manner, and it might even follow traditional trajectories of plot where there are exciting build-up to climatic showdowns and revelations. This is one of the biggest grey area in calling slice of life as a genre or an element.

And then there is K-ON. K-ON is often used as a consensual example of slice of life, but that show is one of the best examples of what constitutes watching a chain of events unfold to drive home some story. Even if often the story is just cute and humorous antics that die to bring forth rich characters, week after week. And K-ON cashes in on that build-up very hard, with entire climatic moments that brings genuine tears in eyes! I don’t know, this is pretty rare even for kuuki-kei anime. I’d go as far as to argue that no “slice of life” anime has done that with the same scale.

There are other works that are labeled in the same way that has amazing stories, and that is why we flock to them. I think Hidamari Sketch and Aria are both prime examples of this, which I think occupies a very different spot even among kuuki-kei anime. To put it simply, there are kuuki-kei pieces that focuses on who, like K-ON, and kuuki-kei pieces that focuses on what and where, like Yokohama Shopping Log or Mushishi.

Compared to, say, a typical Jump manga story, it feels more like a focus on what happens next. I guess that’s where the narrative knife falls. But even then it’s not a clear cut; the more I think about it, the less clean and elegant the metaphoric rule about plot seems to be. Do I care if Takumi yawns in the morning and scratches his butt while talking to his father about racing teams? Where does the knife falls on the entirety of Sket Dance?

And there are other boundary conditions. Consider shows that are made up of short stories, such as Sengoku Collection or Seraphim Call, where each episode or episodic pair unveils some conclusive arc but reveals a little bit about the overall universe. How are these shows different than, say, Darker than Black or Cowboy Bebop, in terms of the nature of the narrative form?

That is the one question I wish people would try to answer, because I have no idea what that should be. I know some people who didn’t like Cowboy Bebop because it lacks that cliffhanger-chained, conveyor belt of a narrative, that there is not much to make of a start or an end, in terms of logical progression of events or in the way the story is told chronologically. But is this something we really want to define via a negative space descriptor? Isn’t it just being lazy? Or is it more about not having the right tools or vocabulary to describe these things? Can we just leave the tortured metaphor about cutting things up, alone?

Anyways, if people think the term has meaning, I’m not against people using it. But what does it mean, and to who? It certainly doesn’t mean much to me, having seen it being used to describe everything from Black Lagoon to Love-Hina, from Bunny Drop to Cosprayers (damn it’s gone from Wiki). Well, that doesn’t bother me much when this fandom still regularly calls Love-Hina as “shoujo.” I think what bothers me is more precisely how we use this fuzzy logic indicator [by the way: what is a chair?] and pretend it is some grand o’ thing. Slice of everyday life is no more or less grand than, well, Takumi scratching his butt. It’s the stories in Aria that are grand, for example, not its genre tags.

What is great is that in the ever-going and never-ending to apply our instinct to categorize the fandom we’re immersed in, we’re coming up with new constructs to describe and explain these new experiences and things. In anime’s case, it’s new also because for many of us, it’s our first and foremost taste of Japan [Insert LOL California roll LOL joke here]. Anime and manga are stories from a strange new world, beyond just as a figure of speech. But that’s just it. If I want to make things clear, I should avoid those terms like slice of life. You’d think my writing is confounding all on its own already, going by the way some people respond to it. Let’s not make up new words [LOL kuukikei] to make things more complicated, unless we have to. And if we don’t need to label Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts slice of life, we certainly don’t need to for Yotsuba& or Yokohama Shopping Log.

Lastly, let me just go back and give props to 2DT and his essay on Aria. The truth is when we rely only on fuzzy logic, we also invite fuzziness. Is that something we actually want? You are trading for usefulness and in return up new possibilities that might better describe the situation. That’s fine when we are treading familiar and established grounds, but is it in this case? I’d say no, resoundingly. The superior way is to just call it by what it is. And you do that only when you watch it closely.

Look within.

Bakemonogatari, Again

Instead of spending my Thanksgiving vacation doing something constructive, I ended up re-watching Bakemonogatari, from Aniplex’s American release. I’m done with the series and about 1/3 of the way on the commentaries.

Some notes:

Senjyogahara. The first time through I already knew she is a really cool customer and deserved, as reflected by the counts of her adorers, “all that.” I think this is also, however, a well-deserved honor. Put me with the people who find her just a little bit disturbing, I guess. Of course, it is all very much just a device, it’s what the likes of Nisio Isin and his ilks do to words and names of Japanese monsters of yore, something deconstructed and reconstituted. I think that’s what makes her interesting–Hitagi is built harder, better, faster, stronger, and simply more desirable with an efficient moe mileage, so to speak. Now it is entirely a different question as to how each of us, as individuals, find that appealing, or find Hitagi likable as a meta construct of some kind, but she serves as some kind of norm–or maybe she just acts out what normal would be in her own clumsy ways. This second viewing gave me the opportunity to really focus on what she is all about, rather than the text flood that serves as the dressing for some rather simple lot of plot. It’s like using the piano as percussion. Hitagi is like that longing but expressive guitar solo that you happen to perfect on your first try on Expert in Rock Band 3. It’s an artifice that leads to joy. She simply cuts; I only wish characters like her are more of  a frequent happenstance.

Commentary tracks. Speaking of dressing, for a series that is drowned in verbal expressions, the last thing it needs is even more verbal expressions, running on its own tracks (not even on parallel tracks in a lot of cases) that comments on the other flood of verbal expressions going on in the show. You know how the factoid about human vision and how our minds are programmed to disregard all but the most useful visual cues, or else we would overload? That is something that could happen with other senses too. To that degree, I have some trouble enjoying the commentary tracks because I had to devote a lot of my attention just to process everything that’s happening. Maybe this is one of those times a dub would’ve been helpful. I guess it’s doubly tough when I was also trying to listen to the Japanese and interpret it as I hear it, and read what the subs are saying. There wasn’t anything particularly problematic about the content of the commentaries, although it feels a little aimless and the jokes are kind of hit and miss–more miss I guess. You can tell how some of it is pre-orchestrated, and let’s just say I doubt Nisio Isin wrote them. With that being said, I’ll probably plow through, because it is kind of cute and kind of interesting.

There are boobies. I was hoping to get the credit-less version of the cosplay Tsubasa Cat OP, but I guess nobody got that, huh. I also totally forgot about it until I saw the two episodes that had it. It’s a bit of a surprise to see ite; I mean the show is pretty much just about people talking till the cows come home; after the first two episodes the fanservice is fairly muted (even including poor Nadeko’s performance). It’s as if late night anime got…late night…ier, after the series hopped on to the web. Tsubasa Cat’s proper opening is kind of graphic too, for that matter.

The packaging is kind of lame, but it is, like most Japanese-style releases, full of attention to details and it’s outstanding only to those of us who look beyond the spec sheet. It’s probably not worth the $150 if all you want is to own it. It’s worth it if you are a fan of Bakemonogatari to any degree, however. The booklet that comes with it has the obligatory story arc spreads and character profiles. The only thing beyond that is the list of all the end cards, which justifies its existence. As far as bare-bones import Blu-ray box sets go, this one is really, really just bare bones. Anything less is too bare bones; but no real complaints from me. One more note: the back cover has this nice Koyomi Arararagi image which is covered by the spec sheet which is glued to the top of the box. I kind of like how they did that with the spec sheet, I don’t like how it covers the back image–it’s possibly the more striking image on the box.

Overall, this is a show that can stand a repeat viewing. It’s no better than the first time I watched it, however.

PS. Otakon really should invite VOFAN or Poyoyon Rock and get one of them to draw some Crabby crossover.

Autumn Cleaning

I’m in a figure state of mind: sales, selling stuff, cleaning, putting things where they belong…and did I say cleaning?

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Ghibli Retrospective 2012 @ the IFC Center: Spirited Away, Ocean Waves

I’m not sure if anyone made the connection yet, but what does Spirited Away and Type-Moon-verse’s Mahoutsukai no Yoru have in common? Actually there are probably several things, but there is one specific thing I’m looking for.

This time around Spirited Away feels almost like, well, a great film. I really enjoyed it much more this time, and details that didn’t pop out at me when I watched it times prior, did. The way Chihiro shook during her first night at the brothelbath house; the visiting of her parents during the first morning subsequent; how Chihiro ate the mud-dango [insert some Sencolle reference], and then applied it on her friends later; the way she held down a flapping dragon; and most importantly, the answer to the question I posed earlier, which has nothing to do with Chihiro.

I made that weird connection very early on in this viewing and it sort of pinned down the attitude I held throughout the film. Yubaba’s bickering with the people around her and the big baby now makes a lot more sense, as well as the way Zeniba treated Sen and her friends. Well, maybe I should credit having fully absorbed the Totoro experience between now and the last time I saw Spirited Away. It helps to unpack a lot of the details. Or maybe just that since then and now, I saw roughly like, Ghibli’s entire catalog of feature films? Oh wait, still no Yamada’s. At least when Chihiro did her bid-goodbye line at the end, it reminded me how Lin reminded Chihiro to do the same in the very beginning. I guess that’s just me showing weakness! Or maybe it’s the result of my training–of watching all this Ghibli in a short period of time.

I took the two films as double headers because I could. Ocean Waves made a nice chaser. So did my 2nd supper made up of shawarma, bakalva, and mint tea in between the films. In retrospect, Ocean Waves is a much more subtle film but yet much easier to process. You can enjoy it without thinking too much, and “get” all of it. Or at least that’s how it feels at this point. Within 60-70 minutes it makes a very compelling case, and in a lot of ways it feels like what a Makoto Shinka should’ve done if he were to direct a Ghibli film.

The thematic takeaway this time feels a little odd. For some reason I focused a lot on the 1-year reunion scene, in the way all these kids fondly think back to their high school times, ups and downs. Remember the scene right before it, one dude punched the other, one girl got scared but made a bunch of other girls mad. But now they’re having a great time. Is that how I feel today? Is Akiko Shimizu’s point spot on? I guess that’s the thing–some things gets even better. It’s a very positive way to look at the loss you had in your earlier days. It’s very practical and yet romantic, although at this point I’m not sure how Matsuno thinks about it. Maybe Shinkai is just telling his side of the story, 10 years later.

The Ghibli retrospective grinds on!

Seasonal Ghibli Afflictions, 2012 Edition

It [NSFW] might not cause pain per se, but it’s a hassle to catch a bunch of movies in the span of such a short time. And it’s often on a weeknight. Invariably each movie is a hit in the wallet and in the overall consideration of time, but invariably it is all so very much worth the while.

The North American distribution of Ghibli works, GKIDS, is throwing another feast of Ghibli screenings in NYC starting this week and ending on Dec. 20. Hopefully I will be able to catch a bunch, most notably the ones I missed from last year. Well, I’m not sure I will watch twelve movies again, but definitely at least 2. Spirited Away is up next, and hopefully Castle in the Sky and the Yamadas will finally make their entries in this blog at some point. I still owe Kiki a date! So that’s 3-4 films, and hopefully I can catch them all. (What’s scary is that I think I can watch Porco another three times! It’s been about a year, after all.)

You can find all the details here.

More realistically speaking, I think I’ll end up watching: Spirited Away, Kiki’s, Howl’s, Ocean Waves; maybe Yamada’s, maybe Totoro, and/or maybe Pompoko. Whisper, Porco and Laputa are long shots. Hopefully, also, I can catch the “dub that I haven’t seen before” for some of these, as I’ve heard only the English dubs for some, and Japanese dubs for others. Well, I’m not going to worry too much on missing the English dub other than Kiki’s (which I have at home anyway). So even if I go for broke I’m not going to catch 10 or whatever many films that I did last year. That’s a good thing.