Monthly Archives: May 2016

Anime North 2016: Salt

Will do a warp when I’m more caught up on more important things. I just want to address some of the salt I’m hearing from other producers who went to the show.

Most of it stems from a new system that ANorth implemented this year which gave out tickets for people who wanted autographs. They also gave out tickets to people who wanted a photo with the two voice actresses, Shimoda Asami and Hasegawa Akiko, but that line was largely inconsequential. I guess people want autographs. I wanted pictures, so I got pictures all three days despite not having a ticket one of the times. I also wanted autographs because, well, it’s a chance to meet the guests.

The line up and ticket dispensing experience, shall we say, leaves much to be desired. I think overall this was a step up from prior years where everyone just line up at the autograph area for hours on end, and in exchange you skip the con and such. Now that I said overall, which means in some ways this is inferior (namely the loss of sleep it results in) and this is purely speaking on my own behalf so I can’t say that works for everyone.

The big gain of doing a ticket at the opening of con each day is that you can do all kinds of stuff at the con other than waiting in line until the autograph session. And in either scenario you’ll be waiting in line anyway. In Anime North’s case, however, this means people in line early for the tickets are actually people in line early for the dealer’s room, since that’s where the ticket giveaway was. This complicated the line control for people getting tickets–the stampede, the runaround, the hurt feelings (because you waited earlier than everyone but they just ran around you), and the whole nine yards. Well, it’s more like 30 yards between the booth and the entrance.

The danger of that aside (and it’s important to stress this as a major problem, but I won’t belabor it), the thing is, and it adds to the subsequent salt, all of the problem with that “last mile” of the process can be easily fixed with just a couple changes. Having a lead walker is one. Having the ticket dispensing done outside of the con (there were just 1 con safety guy and 2 staffers giving away tickets–I think the booth girls are actually Berry’s maid friends) is another. Having a single entrance (instead of a 4-wide march into the dealer’s room) is another.

To add more salt to injury, some people tried to engage the ANorth safety/line control staff to tell them that their plan is going to have some issues. Unfortunately this is the kind of thing where some experience dealing with this situation can go a long way, and I’m not sure if that was available. Anyway, the situation was one where there isn’t a lot ANorth line control could do; there’s clearly some gaps between the idea of one group (GR) and another department (public safety). They can’t hold up the line for the dealer’s room, they can’t have people give out tickets ahead of time outside, and they can’t have a walker (nor will it be all that effective). This perceived indifference from the con staff was a twist of the knife.

You know what? This ain't salt water.

But, so what? I think by giving out tickets it merely materializes the reality of trying to get an autograph from a popular guest. There are many of us and only about 40 signs from Hasegawa each day. I am already very happy that I can try/get an autograph all three days and still attend their panels and photo sessions. In an average anime con this would not be even half as good. Now you know how terrible it is in terms of a concrete number: About 40.

There were other execution issues. For example, the autograph tickets allow for 2 signs (which should be changed, IMO, for Hasegawa, once they realized her sign speed is slow), but they didn’t collect the tickets. This means if you had a buddy who was in the other line (one ticket per person), you can both get a Hasegawa turn and a Shimoda turn. It would have taken almost no effort to collect the ticket upon autographing and preventing probably a handful of people looping the line and possibly screwing standby people.

This is where we enter the “security ‘theater'” aspect of the game. One thing great about Otakon is its very open-facing forums where staffs and fans converse about exactly these kind of issues. I’m really glad there are department heads at that con, in past years, who would explain to us why our ideas may not work, or why their ideas would when it doesn’t seem so obvious to me. Or even take some feedback from us and improve the problem areas. And even that is just a perception; actual execution is what matters and nobody is doing a performance review, per se, of how well things worked out year after year. Anime North, per my estimation since the very first one I attended in 2004, was not really that good of a con as far as the people running it goes. It wasn’t bad; they had a good GR and security group, but the rest I really don’t know enough to say. But the whole thing was definitely a big ball of all kinds of stuff, and you can see the tension of a convention that is more about the cosplay/hangout and a con that is somewhat serious about its guests. And its guest list always rotate the same kind of people, the same dub artists and nerd/weeb entertainment acts (wrestling is p. interesting). Pepper in there a few seiyuu and VK/cosplay guests and you have an ANorth.

And this is where I think the salt has to stop. If ANorth didn’t “care” about hardcore otaku producers it would not have had repeated IM@S guests. It would also not have a change into tickets. That’s part of the implementation flaw with doing something drastically different the first time. And it’s up to line control/public safety to do a good job with it, which they clearly did not.

A large con like Anime North is run by hundred/thousands of people, and it doesn’t matter if they are volunteers or paid, if they are not held accountable. So in this case, the fans ought to hold them accountable for problems that was within their area of influence to do something to fix. Fans themselves should also try to be more level headed, because this salt is just a figure of speech and it ain’t gonna cure meat, let alone anything else. It’s important to be reasonable and constructive in the criticism. It’s important to understand the human limitations of ANorth and its staff and volunteers.

Personally, though, I just didn’t think it was a huge deal. Maybe it’s because I got lucky and scored a ticket (about total of 80-90 were given away each day) all three days. Maybe because I’ve had worse and know that the alternatives to this system are often worse, personally. Maybe I cut ANorth some slack because they are doing a new system for the first time. Maybe because I’m old and mellow? I’m not even bothered that I bought 35CAD worth of food for the line on Friday and got $0 back in donations, but that’s probably because it was CAD and CAD is like worthless right now versus USD LOL. Maybe it’s just perspective. Which is why I think this is more about theater than actually fairly distributing tickets. It’s more about getting fan feedback and understanding what they want, which in this case, just a normal line all by itself without the need to stampede. I don’t know what is within ANorth’s power and what isn’t, so from a constructive criticism point of view this is all I can do. But the saltiness needs some bounds. I understand it’s an emotional thing and I feel the salt is necessary to a degree, if just as a coping mechanism, but don’t let that cloud rational judgment.


Ueshama Elevates Dumb Characters

mira

I had a hard time coming up with something short and concise to describe the kind of characters Ueda Reina is particularly good at. Well, maybe not even; it’s more like how do I describe the lead of Bakuon without making slurs regarding people with disabilities. This is more a quick quip about Harmony and Bakuon, so let’s not tread those dangerous waters.

The thought came to me when I watched Harmony the other day. Harmony is Project Itoh’s best novel (and also the most critically regarded one), and because he was one of those writers who’s really taken into the “Tom Clancy style” of storytelling, Itou’s fleshed-out books probably will all work well for the silver screen. Well, it certainly did not disappoint.

Going into the movie I had no particular takes on the seiyuu for the movie, realizing only the lead role played by Sawashiro. Her husky voice probably bleeds into a certain other gun-touting SF anime heroine in the news recently. It’s probably an unavoidable comparison especially for a western audience, but Tuan is a more nuanced character and I think Miyukichi tried to bring that out best she could. She’s gotta be emo enough to ramp up to the climax, after all.

Like Empire of Corpses, there are these somewhat obtuse same-sex ships in Harmony, but it doesn’t really detract from the story in that it helped to slot in the plot device behind Kirie’s obsession for Miach, at least. What really sold the story was Miach. Kirie was a blunt instrument in some sense, perhaps better suited as a dude, now that I think back to her role is in this situation. Still, by being a girl there’s this some tension you can diffuse with their relationship, so the focus could be made more so on the conflicting feelings she has for Miach without having cisgendered romance clouding everything. However, internally constructed, I don’t know if Kirie sold it; the character was conflicted but it wasn’t clear how much the audience had to go on to infer to her inner desires. Miach sort of had to play the onion peeler to get us all the way home, largely through her final scene.

And I really just want to talk about how Ueshama was great as a psychotic world-ender in this role. Short of spoiling the movie let’s just say that this is why I had a hard time coming up a way to group Miach with Bakuon’s Hane (who could be described as a glorified bike sponge). And as a semi-frequent viewer of Hacka Channel it just made sense that Ueda is perfect for these kinds of high tone and low brow roles. If you had a scroll at her anime CV it might give you some insights. If youngin voice actresses of Japan get typecasted at all, Ueshama would be slotted as an oujosama type. In reality she escapes that sort of a thing in general and has already played a wide variety of character types in her short career. Arguably, her role in Harmonie is almost the opposite as her role in Harmony, right?

In this season she voices Hane and Kuromukuro’s Sophie, and those also make a good opposite-pair. The power of this woman who can be cool-cute one moment and old-adorable the other is pretty much already amusing enough on its own. And I don’t really have taken any interests in her via the usual route; purely through her acting and her on-screen charm, I guess.


My Million Live Playlist

I looped a lot of IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE songs a lot the past twelve months, but after the third anniversary live I think I’ve been focusing on just a handful. Feels like worth sharing with you which, if only as a time-frozen snapshot of how it feels like.

Karen & Ritsuko

It’s a long list even after some heavy pruning, so in the interest of keeping a short list, I’ll just have two: the top 10, and the next 20 or so. The tiers reflects more my sentimental attachment than anything, but within tiers there are no ranks. To put it into perspectives, as of this writing, there are something like 152 Million Love vocal songs.

Youtubes and what not links when available.

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Spring 2015 First Opinions

Imocho #2

I had a pretty busy month between mid-March and mid-April. Two cons and a Japan trip will do that to you I guess. Most of that time suck went with the Winter season, but I think I’ve finally caught up with Spring enough to have some time to write about the currently airing shows.

It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t watch any anime in the winter, but more like I didn’t feel I watched enough. Maybe I’ll end up going back to some and at least finish the ones on the back burner, like Dimension W. And one of these days I will catch up to Concrete? I don’t know and I probably shouldn’t promise. Anyways, on with it:

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Armchair Quarterbacking: Animator Wages

I think it was a couple weeks ago when the animator wages survey results was published by JAniCA. It made its rounds as usual. Here’s just a link to one of many.

The last coverage I read was one of the matome blogs blogging the Japanese translation of 4chan reactions to someone posting Yuyucow’s translated averages. I’m like, this is like a cow eating grass in one stomach and regurgitating it and re-eating it into another (no pun intended). But also /a/ sure does not get it. And I think it’s important to have some context.

(o・∇・o)

Obviously I don’t have first (or much second) hand experience as an animator trying to make it into the industry. And it might even be fair to say the vets who have been doing it for 10+ years might faced different challenges as people who are trying to be an animator in Japan today.

Making animation, for the most part, is something you learn on the job. You can certainly enroll in some higher level classes and pick up trade skills in academia, but typically people (and industry) approach this as you would an associate’s or trade degree. I mean if you enroll and graduate from Kyoto Animation’s schools, I’m sure you can start well as an animator but that’s a very specific kind of training you have gotten. Learning to animate is something you can certain do it yourself, too. In the past 10-15 years this has been something actually possible because of advanced (piratable) software you can run on consumer laptops, and rendering would only take tens of minutes for a short clip. Nerdy enough, you can pull a Shinkai (he’s really nerdy). Today, it’s even more accessible for artists to fool around with animation.

The story/use case goes like this. So when people join the animation biz in Japan as an animator, typically they start as in-betweeners. And on that JAniCA report we know they don’t make much money per month. We can double check this pretty easily because in-betweeners are typically paid by the drawing, and you can work backwards and estimate how many drawings are produced on average, and how much time it takes. at the super low price of 100 yen take home pay per drawing, we’re talking about 925 drawings per month. Is that a lot? A little? Assuming an inbetweener work 5 days a week on average of a 22-day work-month, that’s 42 drawings a day roughly. Does that sound way too low?

So one thing off the bat is that a lot of inbetweeners do not work full time. I mean given this kind of pay, it makes sense; it’s like master and doctorate students working for pay to fund their life while slaving away under a form of academic apprenticeship. Animators too work in this form, at least on a certain level. Meanwhile the freelance-y nature of the job gives them flexibility to work somewhere that pays better.

The real issue with low in-between pays isn’t that it’s not enough to live off of, although that too is problematic. The real problem is the entry pay is too low compared to other things people with similar aspirations and skills could be doing. That’s the core long-term issue with Japanese hand-drawn animation. Or any industry with low wages, excessive working hours, and high stress. Without new and young people going up that apprentice ladder, there will be talent drain, as fewer and fewer people learn the craft as more of the seniors leave the industry, or people quitting half way. Making a living as an in-betweener is possible, it would be very hard, and it might limit the potential pool of applicants to people lucky enough to be working with a KyoAni or living in their parents’ home, but it’s not how the numbers suggest how it’s typically done.

What’s also good to note is that inbetweening is the kind of grunt work you unload on the new guy in the animation studio, if they need that extra work to learn, but it’s literally the kind of grunt work that could be eliminated through better automation and computing advances. There are a suite of software that will auto-inbetween for you, when you insert the key frames. And these software will only get better as time goes on, to the degree that established animation companies might use it. In-betweening is typically checked as they’re colored anyway, so that low-paying job might disappear altogether in the near future and fold into some kind of in-between check or shiage role.

Anyway, the freelance/part-time/full-time kind of nature of majority of Japanese animator professionals is something we have to take into account in looking at data like this, because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.