Monthly Archives: August 2013

Otaku Anime, Summer 2013

Alicia & Akari

I just want to talk about these titles:

  • Kiniro Mosaic
  • Love Lab
  • Tamayura ~More Aggressive~
  • Going Home Club
  • C^3-bu

When I say “database” I mean beyond Dejiko, I mean more like taking 90s otaku anime and manga and recreate something from remixing the elements common to them. It could be elements of design or writing or plot or whatever. This is kind of a dicey thing to call out because to a degree this has been the case throughout history. The decontextualized remixing, while a much more recent event, is not really unique to anime or manga or games or Japan.

What is, I think, is that these kind of remixes can make up a profitable business model. Well, by profitable I simply mean that; nobody is laughing all the way to the bank. By design it’s a pretty niche deal for both sides of the equation, worth it for everyone involved but probably not a whole lot else. The pluses and minuses of this situation are well-beaten to death by the various cries of moe or whatever nonsense that rules the day. That’s not what I want to talk about anyway.

What I want to talk about is applying the cable TV analogy regarding the number of channels. Things like specialized cable channels as a result of enough players slicing the “mainstream” pie that by not competing you would do just as well as going after the biggest slices. In other words, only when you have 5 or 10 or 15 prime time, big budget TV dramas will the History Channels or the Travel Channels or the Science Channels or the Food Channels of the world become a truly profitable thing, since now you can grab enough watchers who do not give a damn about prime time dramas, and yet still get enough of them to make them worth the while compared to the best alternative (ie., another prime time drama to compete with other prime time dramas). There’s probably some economic term to describe this sort of diversification, would you kindly drop a note if you know?

So what happens when you have 5 cute girls do cute things anime in the same season? What does it mean? Isn’t this a pretty straight-faced indication of the appetite, a vertical measure of sorts, of the anime otaku market By that I mean simply that these 5 shows are straight up kuukikei propositions, s’lice, whatever your favorite term for them is. They are otaku only, and appeals in a similar way. Moreover they’re kind of stacked on each other, working the same kind of magic, even if they do diversify further into subgenres. Maybe in C^3-bu there’s a bit of “go to koushien” in there but I don’t think we can really say even the most well-executed ones (like Girls und Panzer) is…mainstream anything. Of course there are other plainly otaku-pandering anime this season, but I don’t think those shows are competing for the same eyeballs as these shows on the whole; for example, Watamote or Genshiken Nidaime would not share a space with these five. But I might be missing something else. Do tell.

Over the past half decade, it’s easy to see that true Kuukikei shows are the heartbeat of the anime otaku population. I think tracking them across time give you a good idea as to how things are, kind of a “pre-Aria” and “post-Aria” measurement. It’s a bit of a turning point for the evolution of what tickles anime otaku at the core; at least Japanese ones, anyway.

Revising the Anime Blog Shape in the Sky


I want to wake up one morning and see these kinds of headlines in my feed reader:

  • More Space Dandy details
  • The 10 best Imaishi sakuga clips
  • Animusictourney results
  • A Jason Miao-style thin slicing that doesn’t outright omit shows I think are actually good (I guess this could be mid-season slicing)
  • Maid cafe reviews that are actually recent
  • Otakon iM@S cosplay group photos
  • A post about fhana and how to actually get their music, comparing with supercell.
  • Panel transcriptions from Otakon
  • A < 500 word write-up of some facet of the anime industry from an insider
  • A > 2k word write-up of some facet of the anime industry from an industry otaku
  • Same-day reporting about Animelo Summer Live 2013 from the ground
  • An investigative report on Ruifan’s Chinese associates’ financial outlook and supply lines.

Actually this would be bad, because I’ll never get to work on time with that kind of a lineup.


Free: Checking the Database Schema

Just thinking through about a few things in Free. Well, one main thing: I don’t feel the characters are believable teenage boys.

Iwatobi Swimming Club

The way characters assembles in the Database Animal era is the combination of “database” elements. Stories, too, are constructed from archetypal narrative elements. What is new is each and every daring combination of things we know, the cultural remixes that results.

Can we look at Free as just the same constructed elements but with some parts swapped in for the female otaku audience? I think that’s the reasonable take.

While it may be reasonable, I still don’t know if it is really true. I think there are definitely a lot of similarities between Free and past Kyoto Animation works. Maybe a better question would be if we subtract from Free what makes up the similarities between Free and K-ON, what do we have left?

  • Cute girls versus ikemen (let’s ignore Kou for the moment)
  • Athletic rather than culture club; swimming versus “keiongaku”
  • Inclusion of the opposite sex
  • Fanservice

I think none of this is particularly problematic. By problematic I mean if I watch an episode of Haruhi I might coincidentally see all those elements at play there as well, and nobody thinks twice about Haruhi. So it’s not just “genderswapped K-ON.” Rather, it is more like just Haruhi.

What I find difficult about Free, aside from any concerns of the gender-specific fanservice sort of thing, is that the characters don’t behave the way I imagine them to be. For a point of contrast, check out this series that is kind of popular with some fujoshi: Ookiku Furikabutte. Big Windup, as it’s localized, is actually a seinen manga adaptation with a very sports-centric appeal in which happens to feature many database elements that fujoshi and female otaku look for. The anime, coincidentally, is also pretty good. But in that show, despite how touchy feely or at times feminine some of the guys act, these characters come across to me as believable high schoolers, in the “go to koshien” sense (man I haven’t used that term unironically in a while). Yes, even the hand-holding part. [They certainly do some weird stuff.]

That is a lot more than what I can say about Free. Haru, clearly, has a swimming thing going on for him. We can put him in the “eccentric” bin. But how about Makoto, Rin, Rei and Nagisa? Rei and Rin seem like the most masculine of them all in some ways (certainly physically), perhaps because they are a blockhead and a tsundere–both generally gender-neutral traits. I can give Nagisa a pass–these kind of people do exist as high school boys, but I think if such a person exists they are going to be really annoying to deal with, speaking as an average guy. Maybe that’s just how Nagisa is with his close friends, I don’t know. It just seems too much of a copy-paste sort of deal, where you take 50% Mugi and 50% Yui and add a dash of Ritsu. I probably have the most problem with Makoto, who seems just motherly. I know guys who can be motherly, but generally they are portrayed like this. And Makoto does not remind me of that guy whatsoever; Makoto reminds me of a more believable version of 30% her and 70% her. At any rate, the point is none of the main guys exhibit anything particularly masculine as character traits.

Well, I am also making a call with 4 episodes in, so things will likely change. The least I could do to reserve the right to change my mind and say this is more a first impression than some kind of judgment, maybe a bit of a prediction. Perhaps it’s more of an indictment of the problems common to Kyoani works. What I really want to get across is that when I watch Free, I don’t really see a story about some guys swimming, I see some muscle-blobs swimming. Where’s their humanity? I don’t feel this way with K-ON, but that’s probably because K-ON doesn’t get deep enough about character traits to really paint that kind of a picture. We might see flashes of the characters’ worries and inner thoughts in K-ON, but it’s pretty much a story at a very low depth to begin with, and the deepness largely relies on framing a passive sense of melancholy through the passage of time. It’s a lot more lifelike than Free, let’s just say.

So I guess what I have problems with isn’t exactly how girl-pandering opens new ways to reassemble the database; it’s more because Free seems to take the theme and story somewhere different than the characters that it swims with. Well, let’s hope Kyoani proves me wrong.

PS. About Kou… Maybe it’s the reason why some people can handle watching all those cool-girl Houko Kuwashima reverse harem anime, when it really isn’t meant for them. I think if there’s a character worth watching for, people will watch the show, to the degree that they can put off the detracting elements of the show. I know that’s the reason why I can tolerate a lot of anime originally written for girls. And it goes back to simply having quality story, theme, characters, direction, music, acting, whatever. That said, I’m not saying Kou is such a thing.

Yoko Kanno’s Piano Me @ Otakon 20

A slightly less nerdy version of this post has appeared on Jtor, but this goes on…and on. With fewer images.


So at Otakon 2013 there was a concert from Yoko Kanno. I’m going to just talk about it from my abused, biased point of view as a Kanno fan over the years. Just a little intro, I started tracking this chick from Macross Plus, but that wasn’t until 1998 or about (given the large time lag between info and stuff back in the 90s). By then she’s already gotten Escaflowne out there, and Bebop was just a couple years since. Let alone the stuff before Macross Plus from both games and anime.

Oh, I went to her big and awesome show in 2009, Cho-jiku Tanabata Supersonic. It was at the Saitama Super Arena, which held about 18,000 or 16,000 people, I don’t remember exactly (the hall has configurable sized seating). Yoko Kanno doesn’t really do concerts, so that was a huge deal–not to mention it combines, for the first (and probably final) time, many of her collaborators in the ’00s, such as the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Seatbelts. And given various issues this was an one-time only live that will probably never hit DVD or Blu-ray.

Now, what is Piano Me? From Otakon 20’s Sunday concert page:

Otakon’s Sunday Concert features the world premiere performance of Yoko Kanno’s presentation new project, “PIANO ME”, at Otakon. For this concert, the simple intimacy of one performer with one instrument will be enhanced by experimental live visuals that respond to her performance.

Our Sunday show with Yoko Kanno is aiming for a different vibe, reminding us that beauty and wonder can come from the power of something as simple as timeless music performed live on a single piano. It’s a statement that no matter how big and crazy Otakon can feel, we can still create those special, intimate moments where an amazing artist can connect directly with fans and make magic happen.

Speaking as a survivor of the BEST YOKO KANNO CONCERT EVER, Piano Me is going to the same place but using a different instrument. It’s like walking down Broadway with a marching band or by your lonesome self. You still get to Harold Square from Time Square, but the feeling is…the same? I don’t know about you, but Tanabata Supersonic can still be intimate, even if I was in a room with like 18,000 people, inside the Saitama Super Arena.

I think there’s a lot to be said about Piano Me, however. It’s about 40 minutes, and it featured a lot more than just a woman and a piano–there’s about a whole short movie’s worth of visual effects going on, plus accompanying synthesized audio and pre-recorded backing tracks. What’s weird is that I think you will have to be a real Kanno freak to get a complete tracklist down. She played both medleys and full songs, and it’s tough to pick out what the medleys were consisted of,  because it’s all jammed in there good. Here are two forum threads at Otakon Boards talking about the set lists. As of this writing, Otakon has released the official set list, so that talk is kind of moot.

The promo video for the show kind of gives you the idea what it’s like–reinvented piano arrangements of Kanno classics played seamlessly into each other. Other than a handful of songs, it’s just sets of medleys. We took a break right after Gravity so she can put on the pant…legs… of the piano, setting up the grand piano as a projector screen.

Kanno’s mannerism during Piano Me was very noteworthy. Well, cute doesn’t begin to cut it. Here we have this girlish-behaving but “man she’s just like Ed” kind of a woman on stage, who hops to the piano and kicked off her shoes to begin the show.

Actually, the producer came on stage first to welcome Kanno, and gave an explanation of how Piano Me would work. Rather than tell you what he said, here’s a quote from the Otakon guest relations guy for backstory:

When we met with Kannos’ team in March, they showed us test footage of the projection technology and we talked about options — but at that time they had misunderstood the scale of Hall D. We straightened that out and they continued to work on the show that way.  Their *ORIGINAL* proposal (end of 2012) was a full orchestral performance with a symphony — something that I would love to do one day, maybe, but something well out of our budget and honestly, it’s been done. Their second proposal was this new experimental a/v interactive show they had been playing with. It would showcase Kanno at her best (just her and a piano), but had a playful and interactive aspect that made it perfect for the vibe we were going for.  Thus we became the premiere for PIANO ME

Back to the show: so the set begins with Tank–or wait, there was some kind of standing ovation to get the show on the road. She hops to her piano, shoes, etc. Now, Tank.

The song is well known but in that energetic frenzy, the piece melts into the next after another round of applause (standing ovation #2…well I lost track after like 5 of these, but almost all of them were). The second and third pieces were definitely medleys, as with the fourth which seamlessly ends with Gravity (which is probably the fifth(?) piece, or the end of the 3rd piece, however you want to count it).

So yes, then she hopped around the grand piano to pull up the pants legs. So from my seats (2nd row, right most section, 3rd seat from the left) I can see that the piano was just a black grand. Maybe a Yamaha. Actually I saw this during Chiaki Ishikawa’s set when I was right by the stage taking pictures. Oh, maybe I should go back a tad?

The concert hall is set up with the stage in the middle and about 4 columns of seats set up, each column fitting somewhere between 15-20 seats. The middle was this tech booth area with cameras set up, along with the horizontal walkway across the concert hall (also known as Hall D). There are two screens to the front, one left and the other right of the stage. Chiaki Ishikawa has a keyboardist and her solo voice to carry her 5-song set, the opener. It’s kind of cool, though she did not sing my favorite. Before Ishikawa’s set started, on stage was this drape-covered piano and a keyboard setup to the side of it. A single microphone on a stand sit alone at the center of the forward stage, with the piano behind it.

The drape, mic stand and keyboard set up was gone by the time Kanno hopped out, of course. There was a 15-minute break between the two acts.

At any rate, after Gravity, she went to each of the 4 legs of the piano and pulled up these foam-looking fabric and buttoned them to the undersides of the piano. The piano itself is covered with the same material. In addition of pulling up the pant legs (there has to be a better phrase for this?) she opened up the lid–it’s hilarious because it doesn’t seem like she could, so the producer guy came out to help her. Moe~!

It’s right around then I noticed the additional pedals by the piano pedals. Like 6 or 8 of them.

The modified piano with its raised lid became a projector. Seems like there are just 2 different projectors, one is angled in a way so that the visual looks “flat” when projected on the slanted surface of the open lid, and a second projector covered the vertically flat part of the piano’s body.

The background of the stage is also lit and colored, used for projection, all that jazz. For what it’s worth, Kanno’s outfit–short black pantaloons with a tux-like one-piece top in white–and cat ears (see trailer video). There’s this white pipe coming out of the piano bench (also wrapped in the same material as the piano) which I assume is some kind of cable that’s covered.

The white parts of the stage served as the screen for various pieces. The last song before the two encores–Power of the Light (with a weird middle portion that I can’t ID) had this full-blast starfield and the stage was all colorful and what not, except the black parts (Kanno’s shadows, mainly).

Did I mention we sang along to Gravity? When I heard the intro chords my back shivered and knew immediately. It’s that kind of a play… I got so excited that I turned my Kingblade on, which only leads to admonishment from the guy next to me. I didn’t want to be a meiwaku so I turned it off–this is not Supersonic Tanabata after all, even if the lightstick waving would fit right in PIANO ME.

Yes, we were told to sing along when we know the song. Which means we all tried to sing The Real Folk Blues to mild success. There were enough people who remember the song up towards the front so I can follow along. Alternatively, read her lips. It’s kind of funny when she took some note at the chorus’s opening so everyone can go real loud, THE REAL FOLK BLUES. Well I mumbled the rest of the time, although I kind of remember the lyrics from way back when, having done some karaoke to it.

It is then I think PIANO ME should get fansubbed. Because, that’s what we do, right?

The first song that made use of the projector setup naturally came right after Gravity, and it’s some Escaflowne melody. The projector showed a couple yellow balls in the form of the moon that turns into a hiyoko. You know how it goes. This is kind of a small-time running joke from Kanno and only her supernerds probably get it. I’m not even sure if it’s funny or what. Well, anyway, it’s a little skit to the music, much like a couple of the songs from Tanabata Supersonic.

After the chicken, there was a track from GITS where the lower part of the piano displayed this EKG graph that moved to the music. She sang along to Monochrome with some synth backed voices. Very chill piece.

I believe after that there was some kind of medley again and at some point it turned into TRFB. Which you know from above. After that little song, she says something to the extent that this is the last song–well, that’s darn short if it was! Thankfully it wasn’t.

The next piece is a full video project where we see the journey of this plastic bag played to Wo Qui Non Coin, complete with vocals. Mono no awareeeeeeee. Actually it’s kind of funny because of the precise light control, the two vocals we see only the piano lit, and it was dark everywhere else. Unless of course if you were right next to the stage. The video occupied the full piano-screen. It’s just live action footage and AFAIK there were no easter eggs.

From there, Kanno busts out Power of the Light and it is right around then my jaw actually drops fer reals, like. The Brain Powered piece is just one of my favorites from her, although this variety feels just like, something is up in the middle and I don’t know what. As referenced above, there are these star-like lights on stage, full blast.

When that was done she ran off. The audience did the “encore” call like a classical music concert with ceaseless clapping. Kanno returns…only to play the big surprise hit of the afternoon: The Star Spangled Banner. USA USA USA.

We sang along to that one.

Clapping, ovations, calls, bows and waves, she plopped down for an encore of Tank (just like the first one but even faster). And that was it!

Except that isn’t exactly it. The full Otakon 20 Kanno experience also included an early-morning line-up for autograph tickets, various gnashing of teeth over concert passes, the aforementioned autograph sessions on Saturday and Friday, and generally geeking out with other Yoko Kanno nerds. Like this one chick who keeps on talking about how she’s been to Tanabata Supersonic. She’s done it more than wah, and that’s saying something. You can see her ebulliant nonsense even in the comments on this post.

Oh, there is an official set list. For the sake of repeating it–

Yoko Kanno piano me
2013.8.11@Otakon, Baltimore

Nomad Soul
Innocent Green
Resonance of the earth
Gravity  ~Baltimore special medley

Apollon Blue
Power of the Light

Someday My Prince Will Come
The Real Folk Blues
Wo Qui Non Coin

– encore2-
Star Spangled Banner

– encore3-
Tank! (reprise)

** Please do not put numbers before the song title.

That came straight from the Piano Me people.

Here’s a pull quote from Kanno made for the press–

piano meを通じて出会えたすべての皆さんに感謝します。」
Thank you for not leaving me by myself on the stage. I was very happy we could make music together. To the people who were waiting for me, to the people who gave me this opportunity, to everyone I met through “piano me”, Thank you!- YOKO KANNO

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the image of Kanno sitting on the piano bench, making a heart shape with her hands, and a handful of people doing the same from the crowd while the rest are applauding. We were all standing, except for her, of course. The piano is raining hearts. And that’s basically what it is like.

It’s actually reminiscent of Kanno’s first Otakon show in 1999, where she hammered out a quick and dirty 20-minute piano solo set. We stood up and clapped too, but only maybe twice. A handful of people asked for encores. I guess Bebop wasn’t on Cartoon Network yet. This was when they would squeeze such a thing into the opening ceremony…

But this time, the crowd is into it 101%. And it was magical both ways.

Originally I wanted to write this concert up in light of the animusictourney, but it kind of became its own thing. The point here is that it’s really about context. In PIANO ME’s case, it’s also about the nature of interactive consumption for otaku, for fans, for live music. It’s the overlap of all three things that makes PIANO ME such an unique and unforgettable experience. We were both there to listen and to participate. We tuned into Yoko Channel. We sang and cheered and the byproduct is not a pretty DVD, but amazing memories that will last a long time. Feels, if you will.

Kanno loot

Well, thank you too, space cowgirl.

Otakon 2013: Wrap

Chiaki Ishikawa

Otakon 20 is as good of a con for a turning point as any. It was as good as any Otakon for Yoko Kanno and Shinichiro Watanabe to return. In that sense it’s not special. But of course, because of these two people Otakon 20 (which is just the 20th Otakon, not the 20th anniversary–that’s next year) became something quite special.

I mean, this Otakon is like the “Hey Let’s Troll Japan with Premiers” con.

Piano Me – If there’s a Guinness World Record of # of anime nerds dropping jaws simultaneously, we might have beaten it. Okay, we probably didn’t–because the concert hall + simulcast room fits maybe 7000-8000 people tops, people had to get in line for tickets days prior, and it’s generally a pain in the rear. But man, it was a slice of Kanno Glory at its finest–whimsical, emotive and generally makes you want to stand and sing along. Invariably it brings back ALL THOSE FEELS from that magical Tanabata show from 2009. I’m surprised I didn’t cry. So when WAH shows off of being at that show, I actually get where he’s coming from, because Piano Me is directly related to that stuff. It’s a slice of Cho-Jiku Tanabata Supersonic. If I were to break down Tanabata Supersonic into parts, it would be like, there’s a “Macross Frontier” part (see: AX2010), and the creative art project piano part (see: Piano Me). There are other parts of course, like “Warsaw Philharmonic”  part or “Seatbelts” part or “crowd interaction” part or “music art project pt.2” part or “encore” or you get the idea. Tracklist here. I will probably go into details on this in a separate post.

OreImo S2 OAVs – Manabi didn’t throw a straight all right! But I think Otakon’s audience reacted honestly and appropriately. Fushimi got his response.

Space Dandy – Sure is dandy. Write-up here (by Sal) but I provided the assets. After Watanabe’s first panel, it was all Space and Dandy. I didn’t stay for the Q&A in his second panel but he went into details in the setting. There are a lot of jokes (think Beta tape in Bebop) in the setting. I also remember LOAE making a lot of jokes, which is kind of funny because I guess he does talk in a way that reflects how Watanabe thinks, except he doesn’t actually speak that way. Somehow there’s a glimmer of hope spotting Fushimi-sensei in Watanabe’s Sunday panel.

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