On Hiroi’s Karen Senki

Karen Senki is a cool sounding name, but it also sounds like a rejected candidate name for the Sakura Taisen property, if you get what I mean. But as a subsequent work coming from Oji Hiroi, the creative mind behind the hit Sega franchise in the late 90s and early 00s, it means something.

And I think that’s where I have any kind of hope of Karen Senki being something worthwhile. This guy gets it, understands how it works, at least in a certain context. I don’t think he’s making the next Ghost in the Shell or anything dark and grimy like UTD. Sakura Taisen, as a rule, always had some kind of dark underlining even if we don’t really see that outside of the games (and the oft-panned Sakura Wars TV series). Karen Senki should be no different. It’s the sort of “Let’s Make a Contract” schtik that makes Butch’s signature works stick so well. I think, more importantly, there is notably attention paid to the creative details. Just the logo itself can speak volumes.

karensenkilogo

At episode 2, that’s really all I can assure–it’s the same cheese. If you are familiar with, say, Sakura Taisen 3, except with the harem lead removed, you might imagine a similar sort of feeling. There are plenty of hooks and world-building laid out on the table by that point to keep you thinking about it. It is sufficiently engaging. And the cheese helps us to take things not too seriously, and some of us enjoy that cheese, for example, like those motocycle scenes or the bullet hell scenes. It seems that once you trade for the unlimited ammo perk you can never hit what you try to shoot at.

But you might get all this just from watching the anime. So let’s talk about what Hiroi spoke on at AWA. I think there were two screenings but I’m not sure if Hiroi was at the second one. Anyway, we got some Q&A going.

First, it might help to read some of the pre-release material. I only really cite three of them, but I think they cover mostly the same ground. It boils down to that Hiroi has some vision for the next evolution for what passes as anime. Anime we know today came from the general process of marketing behavior to sell merch to youths of Japan. With fewer youths in Japan than ever, naturally it becomes more arduous to produce works in that format. Instead, by fully embracing 3DCG, Hiroi wants to leverage the advantages of that medium in order to figure out a way to monetize in new ways, such as via mobile or streaming content in ways that are difficult for what passes for traditional animation today. The launch in North America is partly because he wanted to use oversea viewers to create buzz before he launches it in Japan. I see it as a sort of a beta test, and it seems reasonable.

One example he brought up in terms of how 3DCG give him more freedom to do things is in terms of the example he raised in the CR interview. If he wanted a revision, it can be done in days. Another example he brought up at AWA was being able to insert product placement or advertisement into the animation quickly, as a texture or some such. It also can be used in the opposite way, to meet production requirements (eg., remove logos/marks to appease a sponsor) or to meet local requirements (censorship), although he didn’t really say this. What he did say, as an aside, is how much money he made from Sakura Taisen 1.

It’s a sound rejection of the 00s style committee anime mining and it’s interesting in several ways, but we can think about the ramifications later. For one, I don’t know how Karen Senki will pan out. Maybe nobody does.

Maybe this is also why he’s basically bankrolling the series and pitching it his own way, free of interloping influences. For starters, he went with Next Media, which is actually not a problem besides being fancy pants Taiwanese 3DCG house means the animators all understand this “anime stuff” compared to the average North American animation pipeline. I can’t accurately speculate on costs but knowing Next Media it probably isn’t a whole lot. But at the same time I don’t see why he’s doing it solo, essentially, other than to forge some new business method. What I wanted to ask, but couldn’t quite get to, is what the end game is for Karen Senki. Maybe he doesn’t know it yet? But I guess we shouldn’t expect too much differences between it and the average IP, from the consumer point of view, should it prove to be successful enough to continue.

In some ways CR is also a big factor in the context that it’s really your biggest channel so far, so that makes me wonder what CR will do to promote Karen Senki. I hope they’re going to do more than to bring Hiroi to a con and stream the series. [Psst: Bring Meshiya (Karen’s CV) to a con?]

The 3DCG is likely the biggest concern for most people about Karen Senki. I think you can judge it as you see it, but from the animation point of view, this is still what I consider as “anime” in that the core components are done by Japanese people, besides the music and the actual animation. It’s definitely blurring lines a lot once you have key creative people from outside of Japan playing a role, so I wouldn’t be troubled at all if someone says it’s not anime (as ANN seems to be saying by not indexing Karen Senki). I’ll post caps of the credits that I think is relevant, so you can make your own judgment on it. I mean, it’s something you have to think about–just because anime has non-Japanese people work on it (and far most anime today is this the case), at what point do we call something not-a-anime? Do we even bother with drawing this line (I do, for the record)?

Karen Senki s1e1

Oh, in case you didn’t know, Fujishima Kousuke is the character designer and Hiroi is the producer, planner, director and writer. And what does “Art Direction Services” actually mean? I suspect this pre-production staff might actually be the one aspect of the production in which tilts Karen Senki as “anime” in my book.

Karen Senki s1e1

Karen Senki s1e1

If we take a more empirical approach to what is anime and what isn’t, Karen Senki is hella anime, I would think. What really bothers me, though, is that it’s got this subtle but sharp edge in the way character animation happens where a smirk or an eye wink evoke the feeling that I’m watching a Taiwanese comedic routine. Maybe it’s because Next Media are the guys who made these silly shorts. Maybe it’s cultural mannerism or something that exhibits through the animation but it feels a little more cartoony than what I’m used to. The CG action scenes are also a little too exaggerated sometimes, that detracts from a sense of realism that permeates throughout the show at episode 2. If you think about RWBY and, say, the stuff Valve makes for Team Fortress, that’s kind of what I don’t want to see in Karen Senki. Thankfully, that’s so far the case, but there are just little hints of the kind of corner cutting that happens with a lower production-value 3DCG animation. Well, maybe corner cutting is putting it too severely, but it’s that sort of attention to details that I want to see.

At the same time, Pixar-level CG is mucho dinero and takes a long time to do well. In that sense I don’t think Karen Senki is going to further anything as far as the whole process of making anime by hand or by computers. It might, on the other hand, explore some new ways to apply what we understand as anime to other mediums. It’s the trade-off he has made.

PS. Urara Takano! That probably shouldn’t surprise anybody.

 


4 Responses to “On Hiroi’s Karen Senki”

  • NegativeZero

    The 3DCG is the sticking point for me. I feel like it’s still way too far off from being good enough yet. Still feels extremely stiff and stilted. So far the only 3DCG anime that I’ve watched where it kind of worked okay was Arpeggio and even then, it just took one or two bad shots or movements – in particular when a character would turn their head from front-on to a 3/4 view – to jar me right out of it.

    That said, it’s not impossible to make 3DCG look pretty good. It just seems like a lot of the animation groups doing it in Japan are using it for fairly niche products as a way to save money and so they aren’t putting much budget or effort into it. I find the resulting poor quality 3DCG far more unappealing than similarly low-budget 2D anime.

    • omo

      It’s going to vary from person to person, but Arpeggio is often pointed out as kind of the number one full-CG (and even then it’s more like 90% than 100%) anime that works in this context (business). I am going to sort of point to the fact that there will always be detractors for this format because it kind of stops being hand drawn animation but at the same time there’s more than enough of a critical mass of people who don’t really let that bother them.

      You are right that part of it is also a matter of cost (time and resources and money). Karen Senki is particularly rough in my opinion, but it’s still done in a way where it’s consistent and submersion is definitely possible.

  • DiGiKerot

    Huh, even though you mentioned it in the post below as well, I somehow managed to not dot the connections with it being that Oji Hiroi being involved in this. I feel a little bad for just writing it off as a CG cartoon I had no interest in now…

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