Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Rehabilitation of Juju Tsukuyomi, Episode 9

Very mild spoilers. In fact the title of this post is probably more of a spoiler.

The Yagami Sisters

It’s hard to put my finger on the pulse of Sasami-san@ganbaranai week after week. It’s like there’s some imaginary point out there in space, where if I stood there and took a panoramic photograph of what’s surrounding me, the end result will be a coherent narrative about what it means to be human and what it means to be god, all at the same time making sense what it means to be Japanese. It’s like one of those 3D perspective artwork that canvasses a sidewalk, where when you look at it from a certain angle, it makes up a different image. Right now I’m just waving my head all over like an idiot, trying to find that perspective.

My Shinto-fu is just not strong enough bro.

Still, I found the whole story behind Juju’s death and rebirth, either via time traveling powers or via a deal with the devil, strangely remarkable. She is a spiritual woman with spiritual powers, even without the super-god-powers and the responsibilities it comes with. Maybe it was also because it is one of the biggest Asakawa Yuu roles that I enjoyed in a while. I don’t know.

In the anime we see the story told from Sasami’s point of view. It’s relatively linear as she jumps from timeline to timeline, event to event. Tsurugi met her at one of these points in time. Juju tagged along because somehow she is resurrected in the present and thus also available to be summoned? I’m not sure how it works–probably similar to how Tamamo-no-Mae did its tricks. But I wondered how it seemed from Juju’s point of view.

I guess in the end Sasami handed her powers to Juju, so she can continue to “ganbaranai” lol. Sasami’s explanation on the take regarding her attitude is a good response to the “ganbare” notion. It’s awfully Japanese I guess, both ways. But it is at least a thought that could, arguably, be construed as modern criticism. And how can you have an anime about religion without criticism? I thought not.

At the same time, Juju’s spiritual characteristics has to be constructed in some way that transcend merely her religious position and duties. It’s not just that she has, as what the kids call it these days, super powers. It’s not that she can lead a super-shinto cult-like group, although she’s got what it takes. It’s more about how she embodies both what humanists cherish and what religious people cherish, and it expresses itself in a Binding of Isaac kind of piety but also a “Mom will take care of her worthless child so she can blossom” kind of way. Otherwise she would seem like a pale villain rather than someone who Sasami can honestly seek approval from.

It’s both super gross, super offensive, yet somehow everything works. It’s magic. And in truth that’s the real value of spirituality when expressed as a religious belief. It is supernatural, and I don’t just mean the time traveling; I mean how it can deal with things like regret. But that’s just me speaking.

Lastly, I guess this was more Episode 8 material, but it’s good to see Amaterasu owning up being a hikki in rehab. Now that is true divine humanism.


Ame And Yuki

Caught Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, or simply Wolf Children by the way of the NYICFF, from FUNimation. The sold-out showings today also came with a side of Mamoru Hosoda presenting his works to the crowds. He was much more affable this time around than last I saw him for Summer Wars three years ago. I guess he is receiving things well, having won a Japan Academy Prize just a couple days ago.

I’m going to just dive in to the Q&A-related material, because it explains the film very well. Unfortunately it probably won’t make a lot of sense if you have not seen the movie. To that end, let’s just say it’s a great film and you should watch it.

Mamoru Hosoda

But yes, Hosoda did a great job explaining the film. One of the very first questions during the after-film Q&A was like this:

Q: Why did you make the film so depressing?

*Everyone basically laughs*

Hosoda: How old are you?

Q: I’m 8 years old.

Hosoda: Well, people at different ages might see things differently. While you might think the film is depressing now, when you watch it again when you are 15 or 20 years old, you may no longer think it’s depressing.

There were a few more notes from that question but I don’t remember exactly what they were. What I do remember was that one question/answer lit the lightbulb in my head and it helped me “get it.” I’ll just paraphrase the rest. Basically the idea behind Wolf Children is that he wanted to do a film from the parents’ point of view, and carry it across to the audience (who might very well be children). In fact one of the questions point out exactly how rare it is to have the mother’s point of view throughout the entire film, for the for-the-family, children-friendly animation genre.

The thing with the parents’ point of view is that it is a perspective that is incredibly foreign to children. I don’t really think kids can possibly appreciate it. They might see the film for what it is–which is kind of the story about a single mom raising a pair of wolf-kids. It’s not much for show, and in a lot of ways it’s also not obvious as to how the film’s plot ties in thematically towards the end. But I think if we speak about themes, it’s a truck load of parent-angst. I think that’s one of the most brilliant thing you can do for this genre of films, coming from the “something for the parents and something for the kids” point of view.

Another important theme to the film has to do with how people change as they grow up, much like how Yuki was much more like a wolf but went with humans, and Ame was much more like a human but went wolf. It’s another thing Hosoda explained to another curious actual-kid. On that point I thought Ame’s call of the wild was especially well-done.

At least if you find your dad dead in a ditch after him not coming home one day, you now have something to couch your feelings in. And yes, this was one of the more subtle commentaries Hosoda raised at one point to explain the reason behind that scene.

Lastly, 2 more notes:

It took Hosoda and his team three years to make the movie. Before beginning he and his wife was trying to have a kid. After post-production, he became a dad. It’s a pretty cool coincidence given the nature of this film.

The rain animation was top notch. It’s not CG but it’s definitely the miracle of some quality digital composition. The whole dream-land-flowerscape stuff, just visually wonderful.  Shinkai’s new rain anime might not even top the rain animation here, although it will have to come down to a side-by-side comparison to make a final call.


The Role of Harassment in TV Anime; Mori

I’m just going to talk about how lately when I watch GJ-bu, I think of Kotoura-san, and I laugh. And I’m not sure if it is appropriate.

It’s kind of the weird meta joke. You see, in Kotoura-san, the main character is a mind-reader. Her major love interest/friend would tease her by having some naughty thoughts in his head, in which she would play tsukkomi while nobody else is any wiser (until they figured this out). This joke plays out quite a few times.

There was one episode where a rival love interest turned friend, named Moritani (CV: Yurika Kubo), got her embarrassing childhood past exposed as a joke to the group of friends that makes up Kotoura-san’s reoccurring cast of characters. This joke involves Moritani’s family business, which is a local martial arts school. And you probably know how that is. Moritani is the decided heiress of the business, being the only child and the “most powerful” in her school of martial arts. However her parents were not so keen about marketing, so when Moritani was younger they took some now-embarrassing photos of the family and made them into advertisement flyers, some are now in the hands of Moritani’s friends/love interest today.

The joke involves a specific pose, and an enthusiastic yell at the same time: “Mori!” It’s not something you will find much of in GJ-bu–that show is all about chilling and being laid back–but the “Mori” call evokes that image. Instead, GJ-bu features a character named Mori. Mori (CV: Ayumi Tsunematsu) is this older (not sure how old actually) woman who serves as a live-in maid for the family of a few characters in the show. The funny thing is she would always do this one trick every time she shows up, and invariably it reminds me the exact same trick in Kotoura-san. And that trick is also funny too. So it’s very weird.

The greater point I want to make is that I am beginning to feel like a lot of these laid back, “let’s sit around and chit-chat” type anime are beginning to make their slapstick-harassment based jokes more obvious. It’s like watching a Japanese variety show minus the obnoxious on-screen text and picture-in-picture reaction face cameras. I guess it’s funny? But I’m not really a big fan of those kind of programming. It feels both enjoyable and laughter-inducing at times, but also kind of awkward.

Thankfully, at least we get the “Oh Japan you-so-weird” kind of harassment that is only possible in late-night anime. Like brushing hair. Or via extra-sensory perception.

Mori

PS. Mori > Gill > *

PPS. Why don’t people do that for Kotoura-san?

PPPS. So many great maids this season!


Robert Napton’s ANNCast

I don’t know if it’s the best ANNCast, but it’s one of the better ones, partly because it clocks in at a massive 2.5 hours, goes over Napton’s involvement with the comic boom during the early 90s with Image (he worked for them as a writer), some anecdotes from Nippon Books and US Rendition, and it’s basically the final salute/farewell to Bandai Entertainment USA. This podcast is also great partly because it namedropped “Anime Expo 2007” and “Yutaka Yamamoto.” And partly unlike most ANNCasts, it talks a lot about Turn-A Gundam. It’s all over the place. But ultimate I think it’s great, because I think Napton has a narrative going on. And you might know how I like narratives.

The people who have better things to do than to listen to a 150-min podcast can get a detail list over at AODVD/FP thanks to WTK. But I’d like to drop my own spin and do  my own distortions like a crappy dubstep remix. I think all the talk about manga and Napton’s career is actually quite fascinating, but it’s kind of off topic so I hope you’d just go listen to it to get the most out of it.

What’s probably more important is that Napton posted an errata of sorts in the ANN forum which ends with a paragraph that extended the main problem as raised by Quarkboy. Let me reconstruct it here so you understand what I mean.

First, from Napton’s POV, throughout the podcast, the reason why Bandai Entertainment USA closed was because Japan decided to restructure. Bandai Entertainment USA was trucking along, doing the “right things” and making themselves as a sustainable business. The rug was pulled out from under them, as the saying goes. It’s probably good to understand, also, that after the Namco merger, Bandai was really more a collection of independent units/businesses that operated with a lot of independence. As a unit, Bandai Entertainment USA was doing fine however. (For example, as repeated elsewhere, K-ON was doing well.)

It seemed that the Namco-Bandai mothership wanted to come up with an unified international strategy, which is described below. I quote:

I’ve heard things here in Japan from within Bandai “corporate” as to the reasoning for the shutting of Bandai Entertainment…

The reason why it seems so senseless is because Robert is only considering the situation in the US market, as if Bandai in Japan made the decision in a vacuum. The decision to shutdown Bandai Ent. was part of an overall restructuring that affected all parts of Bandai Group’s audio visual units, within and outside of Japan.
The new overall philosophy is that Bandai should make physical products in Japan, and sell them overseas.
You remember how you said it was so silly for Bandai Ent. to have to pay Japan (bandai visual or sunrise) to license the shows? It seemed silly to them too, especially when the market had shrunk so much. Why should Bandai have a licensing and sales unit in the US but not everywhere else in the world, for example?
Their new strategy is to treat videogram sales more like gundam kits, and export Japanese made products to the world. For broadcast and internet license to local companies, and for sales export your Japanese products.
In this new strategy it didn’t make sense to keep a sub company like Bandai Entertainment around. In fact having it license things in the US just made it harder to control a global marketing strategy from HQ. Bandai Group wants to treat the global market as much as possible as a single entity.

A couple days later Napton actually posted some errata to the podcast (you can read it here) but I want to highlight the below:

As for the future, after reading some of the comments, I’d like to make the analogy that President Obama was re-elected because his campaign did a better job on the GROUND in the battleground states. More people knocking on more doors. The R1 US anime market cannot be salvaged without a dedicated ground effort, which cannot be accomplished by manufacturing discs in Japan with subs and dubs and importing them long distance with no one here speaking on their behalf. Aniplex is succeeding at the moment because they have a US based group heading up their North American effort. I would hope in some form or fashion, Bandai Japan realizes that this is the best strategy for the US market because I believe it’s the only way to really accomplish the goal of selling more DVD and Blu-ray product in the R1 market, which is the understandable goal of any company.

I’m inclined to agree with Bob. This is basically how I feel about that Daisuki thing, if you recall. The internet is wondrous. Having Japanese releases with subs is excellent. But it does not address of the value that Bandai Entertainment USA had in terms of a “footprint” of anime in North America. Maybe that footprint is changing, the market is adjusting. Sure. Stuff gets left on the table. What is a footprint anyway? The people, the con presence, the PR, the store they had, the line of manga, all of that has some kind of value. The question is what value is it? What and how should corporate value it? How should consumers value it?

Is this why K-ON’s marketing falls into a pit once the license switches hands? All of this is non-trivial, important stuff that the average consumer kind of misses. In this “American fans party, don’t pay” atmosphere of narratives, I like Napton’s “Star Blazer mountain” narrative because ultimately the middlemen are the true critical failure point. It’s just now we’re dressing it in greater clarity. It’s reasonable to expect unreasonable fans to go crazy on Turn-A Gundam at a panel, even if that is a bad thing. That’s what is suppose to happen. It’s not reasonable to expect fans to reason with you on the causes why Japanese licensors are disconnected with the US market realities, even if that is a good thing. Because that is the whole point to the localization business.

But I think this is not a story about good and bad, people or business decisions. This is a story about how things are changing. Here we have Napton, a guy who got into anime because of Star Blazer. Now we have people like EJ, who … what does he even like? I mean it in a “is this guy just a dude workin’ or is he like, a fan?” kind of way. Napton namedropped a bunch of the new guards of marketing. He even namedropped some Japanese guys who get it, like LOL Henry Goto. Well, good for them. I just hope all these baton hand-offs resolve with fewer stranded licenses and laid-off employees. It’s the least that could be done.

Kiraboshi!

Instead of a billion post-scripts, I just want to highlight other notable points of the podcast. I mean, that’s why this is worth listening to. I’m not really a podcast guy but there are some quality ANNCasts after all, such as this one.

According to Napton, they sold out of FLAG at A-kon. Why? Is it because of some autographing tie-in? That’s my best guess. FLAG underperformed, which is no great secret, but somehow it sold well in Texas and nowhere else. Wonder why?

He mentioned Anime Expo 2007. I think some of my fellow seiwota chasers agree that it was a tragedy of a con. Napton didn’t go into details, but I’ve heard enough from everyone else to figure out what was going on… You should too. I think you get the best “heat” if you actually go to AX and interview some of the people in line for autographs. It’s things like this that bonds Marketing Directors with congoers.

Yamakan got a name drop. His statements that rattled the 2ch-types got referenced to. And yeah, spot on bros. And the Endless Eight dub idea sounded neat–Napton said there was an internal idea about having different people dub E8 and have role switches, but it didn’t work out so the idea didn’t go.

His point about the Bebop dub and how those actors connected with R1 anime’s humble beginnings made a lot of sense. As someone who doesn’t track dub actors directly but is invariably always just one degree removed from that scene, it’s a pretty fascinating look.

There were a fair bit of discussion regarding Bandai Visual. It seems that where it failed isn’t the idea but in the execution. While the strength of the titles as an issue was obvious from the get go, the whole distribution aspect is something you wouldn’t know until probably a good bit after the fact. I wonder how Loy got roped into that in the first place.

What’s equally enlightening is the “changing of the Bandai Entertainment” image. I guess I never really saw it that way, partly because anime itself has changed in a similar way, so it was more like out of the growth of the licensing more titles? I don’t know. It always licensed shows like, say, FLAG, anyway.  There was always the Gundam series of the day. Bones shows. I think maybe when Bones started doing weird things, maybe then? I can understand why Napton namedropped Soul Eater. That did feel like a Bandai title. Heck, Full Metal Alchemist (both series) felt like a Bandai Entertainment title. I guess you can see how it goes. Maybe the better question to ask is, are they changing the image in part due to the licensing pressure as a result of having too narrow of a focus in a field that isn’t widening? I suppose Lucky Star was like, the one turning point for them.

In some sense, this podcast isn’t as “enlightening” on a factual level. I thought it was more like a canvassing of an era (90s and 00s) from someone who was both in it and as an observer. But there are some pretty interesting stuff, especially if you followed this sort of news throughout that period.


Winter 2013 Week 7-8

The Civilization Blaster kids

Just want to do the TL;DR equivalent to reaction faces. I’ll try to keep it spoiler-free. Think of this post like “this week’s anime ‘turning points’ or ‘highlight’ or ‘peak episode’ or whatever.”

Shinsekai Yori Episode 21:

You know it is coming, it’s heavy and painful but yet full of drama potential, dripping with faint hopes, antagonism, despair, and a sense of loss. The watermill bit was brilliant. The writing in the sky is cool and I wonder why they don’t do it more often. The babies, well, are thankfully not as grotesque as it could have been.

The revealing of the key character in this episode was done well. It fooled me briefly but I guess it was kind of what I expected as the “worst case scenario.” The numbers all made sense chronologically. It’s the sort of conclusion you know it has to be. And it was. Yet you are powerless against it even if you knew what was coming.

Zetsuen no Tempest Episode 20:

Speaking of chronology, the biggest clue that wasn’t in this week’s episode was when… How do I talk about the 2nd half of Tempest without spoiling the first half? Let’s just say there is this character who got this power, and when he was introduced he briefly mentioned something about when the power began to manifest. That was a pretty big clue. It’s a clue that I kept in the back of my mind during the “This Week in the Being-Samon-Is-Suffering Logic Quiz Class” discussion as to what is the plot logic problem of the week. However I didn’t put two and two together. I knew whats-her-face is going to do whats-her-other-face in, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this. And let me just say that if you want to enjoy this show, you should do your best to not find out whats-her-face is going to be like this. Because it’s such a delightful surprise.

I ought to highlight Zetsuen no Tempest actually. It’s shaping up to be a very enjoyable watch. I think a big issue is that in order to praise it I have to spoil it, and without spoiling it all I can say is in a couple paragraphs. So here goes.

At heart Zetsuen no Tempest is a plot-logic-driven narrative. The story revolves around a defined boundary condition (or two or three) where the characters have to figure out what is the best thing to do, like a Clue game in terms of determining who is what is like how and when. The characters don’t really “develop” except for, strangely, the character who starts out dead.

The character that does develop is the second reason why Tempest is great. It’s like the one glimpse of romanticism, the Shakespeare quoting girlfriend that drives a revenge plot forward in which two best friends will end up at each other’s throats, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. This beautiful character is at odd with the story’s logic in the same way that too is the part of the puzzle that paints a rational image of irrationality. It’s enough to obfuscate even simple logical conditions; she is the ultimate lampshade, to borrow TVTropes (who just borrows from, aptly, Shakespeare). In a nutshell:

And what’s more, it has some kind of significance in the story. It’s a theme.

Unfortunately, also, it is not an adventure anime, even if it poses as such. It’s a dumb show where the characters tries to figure out some weird mystery that is basically “magic” and unless you’re invested, it all seems kind of trite and you really empathize with Samon. Poor Samon.

gdgd season 2 Episode 8

Best episode of anime of the season. Prereq thing to watch. If didn’t see it before, try reading this. Or the TL;DR version. It also helps if you played Monster Hunter or played Mario Kart or something, but meh.

Da Capo III Episode 8

Oh. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah? Maybe. Only if Senren Kagura was like this? Thankfully Senren Kagura isn’t like this. It’s been a very long time since I last saw an episode of Baywatch but this is kind of like it no?

Vividred Operation Episodes 7-8

The power of friendship is a very sweet set of jets. Akane gives you wings. Vividred Operation, naturally, gives you a lot more than that–all the fireworks, all the drama, the tearing bedside in the hospital. It was, truly, a … self-titled sign.

Vividred Operation... lol

Runner ups:

The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke Episode 8 wraps up the inevitable flashback arc. It’s kind of a let-down honestly but it got the job done.

Seitokai no Ichizon Lv.2 Episode 7: If you were following Seizon S2 (it’s on air, after all), this week is Ringo’s proper intro. You remember Ringo right?