Monthly Archives: February 2017

Animal Watching: Friends Explaining Kemono Friends

I did say, there’s some novelty and amusement from seeing people trying to figure out what’s Kemono Friends about. I tried to take a crack, too, it’s only fair, but let’s talk about some of the other attempts.

I think there’s a very narrow/thin layer between this and this. FWIW I thought the CR take is bad, and in poor taste. I think credit should be given where it is due, in that the product is good–as good as anime typically gets. That said, it is a difficult task, so maybe I am too hard on it. The problem is explaining why it’s good is difficult, in that like most good anime, it’s not just one or two things that are good, but a bunch of things. You can pick and choose, or you can say it’s good without really doing a good job saying why. Neither really captures what makes Kemono Friends popular, though.

In other words, the Venn diagram between peak academic interest, good aniblogger critique, and “clickbait traffic riding that meme money” in this situation is “why is Kemono Friends so popular”? Only if it’s easy to figure out!

The point I’m trying to make is explaining why Kemono Friends’ meteoric rise to popularity feels meme-like. It is because what makes it good is something that you get like how an entertaining meme propagates itself. It’s both textual and contextual. It’s kind of like good animation, where it doesn’t take a genius to enjoy the dancing in Maid Dragon or Konosuba, but in this case you can’t explain it with an animated gif.

This is why I find the CR take a little bit problematic. The issue isn’t world building, although that is going to be the thing in the front of your mind space when you think about the show at least at first. It’s what drives the conspiracy theory. But to chalk it up as archeological take onto fictional world building misses all the nuances that makes Kemono Friends good–namely, there are a lot of good things about the show the article just doesn’t even talk about. It feels like the writer doesn’t get why the show is good. Conspiracy theories and good world building can’t lead to two million people watching episode one of a janky CG show.

To be fair, it’s good to have these articles, and it’s a difficult topic, so I hope more people take a formal crack at it.

It’s also fair to continue to pick at what Kemono Friends do right. A lot of the early thoughts are centered on conspiracy theories and the like, as to why humanity has declined. But I think that aspect of the show is the carrot on the stick, the real story about this story is that so far, it has been a story in which the protagonist learns about herself.

There is a category of literature in which the concept of finding yourself is the central gist. I think of Kemono Friends as a Greek epic, in which this post-apocalyptic society builds around the person who asks, “who am I”? The journey may not be larger-than-life but Bag-chan’s smarts help them move along the way to overcome various problems. There’s even an oracle. It’s kind of funny that Bag-chan was told that she is human, but what is human? Isn’t it the unique attribute of our self-consciousness that separates us from animals? The story where Serval escorts Bag to the great library, on its face, is an epic, in which both Serval and Bag learn about themselves.

But this is not why Kemono Friends is memetically explosive in its popularity. This is just one of many reasons why Kemono Friends is good. It’s also good in that it doesn’t get into the philosophical stuff (probably because it’s unintended), even though the setup is there. It’s easy to hook on an “it all comes tumbling down” sort of event to end this show, but it would be a mistake. Instead, the human is someone who is smart, who can use tools, who can read, and who can cook. (But amusingly enough an alpaca can make tea, and the owls are deceptively manipulative.) Let’s see where it goes!

Kemono Friends: Friendship Is Lost Technology

A is for Apple is a common refrain for children educational multimedia programs. I’ve seen it (or something close to it) in books, on TV, on a DVD, in a video game, in a board game, in all kinds of toys, and obviously on the internet. Learning and trying to understand the basics of our world is what little kids do. If learning is lifelong, we all do it when we were little at any rate.

Kemono Friends sort of reverse engineers the experience for us. We learn how cable carts work. We know how a cafe works. Or what a bus does. Or how to cook, in general. The mysteries of life are about the questions we don’t realize we could ask, and not just the questions we have no answers to. All Bag-chan wanted to know is who she is. This is the existential question, of all existential questions. Arguably it’s the only question that truly matters.

In its ruthless-but-with-baby-gloves inquiry, Kemono Friends reveals obvious answers to obvious questions: Yes, it is as we think, Bag-chan. But in the process it only answers every other question we dare to dream to ask. And since this is a Japanese cartoon, Kemono Friends is set in a post-apocalyptic world, unlike another show I’m trying to infer to with this blog topic. Because it’s anime, we are concerned about trauma, not just happiness. The ending sequence of post-bubble, abandoned amusement parks does more talking than the rest of the show. It isn’t just about furries or they are girls. It’s about the overall messaging.

Which is to say, when you’re like this guy, it’s like trying to create an anti-abuse subsystem for Twitter, but all you get to use is a TI-84. There’s some novelty and amusement from seeing people trying to figure out what’s Kemono Friends about–not so much to do what I try to do, but to merely put it in one of their mental bins. I think that’s kind of why humanity is in decline, I guess. But I think, much like Bag-chan, this journey is only fun if you come unencumbered. The messaging may be meme-tinted, but people stay in Japari Park because there’s something worthwhile behind it all.

Well, maybe not that worthwhile. Pretty okay for an anime though.


AMV as Performance Art

Just want to opine and pine on a fandom thing out west, the anime music video. TL;DR is that Twitter has killed the AMV, much like how overall, social media transformed blogging, cosplay, and fandom in both general and specific ways.

First of all, I liken AMV like performance art. It’s like what you do in a very elaborate and purposeful Vine (RIP). There is always power in putting motion to music, and this is why it is only exaggeration to say AMV is dead or someone or thing has killed it. But that scene isn’t growing, at least from the consumer side. Just like stand up comedy or theater tropes in the age of mass media, those things will still continue to exist, just in a different way, not like how they were before cable TV or the internet, for example.

The big “get” in my mind is how AMV is different than, say, fan art, fan fiction, or the doujinshi, in that it is not really a platform. People make AMVs because they evoke emotions, because they are funny, or dramatic, or whatever. It’s not because the latest fad is the Emperor Penguin or the Shoebill, and Bin1’s modus operandi is to cross anything with IDOLM@STER. Or that you’re using a fan-fiction-concept content publishing platform like an actual fanfic or a slash artwork, because you thought your idea needs to be put into form.

Well, which is not to say people make AMV not for those reasons, but people don’t watch AMVs for those reasons. Instead, they go to a booru or tumblr or whatever. If you put a bunch of people inside a convention programming room and show some cool anime that solicited their emotions along with English-language (usually) music, that would be pretty neat. Just like how MST3K to, say, Lensman anime, can be pretty neat in the same setting, but it doesn’t mean people care about Lensman anime or even want to touch it with a 10′ pole.

In a nutshell, people made AMV because they were cool, not because they wanted to express something unique to the medium. It isn’t to say there are no AMVs that were made like that, or people who think differently than what I’m describing, but that’s not what AMVs were known for. Cool animation put to almost-random songs is definitely how 99% of AMVs are.

To look at things differently, in this day and age, JP MADs still exist and new ones continue to be relevant, but they too have been changed over time to fit the social medium paradigms of the day. JP side focuses largely for comedy (which is probably the main flag signaling the difference in why people created MADs vs AMVs, considering the genre gaps), and as alternative narrative platforms, a bit more like vlogging or fan videos (at least from my IM@S lens bias). But the odds of people finding relevance of a supercut loop of Toradora, in 2017, is much higher than anything Naruto to Linkin Park, just because of memetic reasons. Those reasons live on, even if nobody watches the original video anymore.

As someone who grew up as a fan with cons, in a way, I have some fond memories of AMV viewings as I used to go to them all the time. I stopped only because it took more effort to follow than what I was getting out from it, and while it’s easier to make an AMV than ever, I pursued it only as a fan of the source material. I think it’s fair to say a lot of people don’t follow AMVs anymore because of social media changing the way we consume these little things. We don’t typically put the enjoyment of such on the same level as what we are fans of. But even if you are, and you check out the AMVs to your fav works, that’s really just a recipe to find interesting narratives but mediocre works. It’s about people who are talented that keep at it and still do it to convey an actual message, not just to put cool scenes to nice songs. Performance art is fine by itself, but it is no longer relevant in this cultural economy, unless you take it a level higher.

Too Bad the Idol Diet Hasn’t Made a Diet Joke Yet

It’s actually fair to say Idol Jihen, or Idol Incidents, is similar to an Aikatsu arc. The story are as similar to children’s cartoon (or my stereotypical understanding of such) as late night anime gets. It is just a framework or vehicle to put some database, database, in your anime.

But I think it’s better to look at Idol Jihen as a headtrick. The fact that idols are your congressional representatives, and sometimes they solve problems using idol powers, are the trick. The teach is how to be active politically, and what it means.

If your President was an idol, would you support him or her? Would his or her political opponents be old and fat men and women dealing shadily in the night inside expensive eateries? More importantly what otaku character traits will your President have? Is he or she a Honkers or Kasumi? Or an Amami Haruka? Or Shimada Mayu? This is what most of us care about, but this is also the part that’s not really important in the larger scheme of things. I think I speak for all the lolicons in the world that the weaponized feelings of children is a great plot device that we can use more of, at least in moderation. It makes for a great distraction, to not let yourself engage the material critically.

[This is similar but different than Akibastrip anime, which is using social involvement and caricature of Akiba’s socio-economic problems to identify, well, stuff to market? I think? I’m most likely wrong but can someone explain to me how Akiba’s Trip isn’t just a giant Earphones plug (along with all their guest musicians/seiyuu), sponsored by Maidreaming?]

Idol Jihen, for example, doesn’t solve episode 6’s ghostly problems with magic of Aomori Ringo Powers (they are delicious) but flat out is making a stance on dreams of space (a very otaku-friendly position) being chipped and kicked to the curb by more pedestrian monetary concerns. It would be pretty true to life to say that people in national lawmaking bodies bicker about how to spend pork, that is a summary of episode 6 in half a sentence. In that way, Idol Jihen is extremely convincing because the narrative is akin to low-effort propaganda. Just talk to people who care about NASA and NASA’s budget over the past 50 years and this is basically their position in a nutshell, but the way that narrative came about in Idol Jihen is rather, what’s the word, romantic yet pragmatic?

I could go on in detail about the issues in Idol Jihen, but I just want to point at one more thing: the sense of principled governance. One of the best shield behind criticism in politics like this is that you are advocating for your constituency. Sure, everybody says this, even if s/he is outright wrong and knows it. Which is why every villain in Idol Jihen breaks that trust as an elected official, and when it isn’t (such as episode 7), the point was about having internal consistency and being a person of principle. It’s a strong and clear signal. This is good, in that the stories in Idol Jihen honors the core tenant of government by principle, and the vilification is about the kind of behavior that people typically vilify in governance–cronyism, autocracy, putting the power grab before the common good.

PS. If you want to go one more meta up: Idol Jihen is as blunt as a trout, because nuance is a losing strategy in politics. If you are explaining, you’re losing.

Avex Ban

For people who care as to why they can’t import certain Avex things, you can pursue this or that. Truth is it’s likely that none of these guesses are on the dot, although in general we can all agree that this is an internal business decision on Avex’s part. The main facts we should keep in mind are:

  1. Amazon Japan has been cancelling or not fulfilling certain Avex orders, and as others mentioned it’s largely in regards to CDs.
    1. It’s key to know that this impacts CD, BD and DVDs.
  2. CD Japan is doing it unilaterally following their email announcement.

The Sakugabooru theory is largely due to Avex Japan wanting to pay deference to Avex Asia and to discourage people from importing. This has to do with mostly music sale, and does not explain why Avex would block video sales. Ultimately, the prices between Japan and, say, Taiwan releases of anime are wide, and the latter is translated into Chinese; OTOH you don’t need subtitles to enjoy some WUG music. Justin over at ANN mentioned things that are not really related to music sales, and at any rate he didn’t quite address why they would not sell CDs besides that it’s a business decision to defer to regional publishers.

The good point about Avex being a very internationally focused company is important to take to heart–this is where Sakugabooru’s link to that investor business deck makes sense. Avex did establish a North American entity last year, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense in light of the sales ban. It’s likely there’s something internal that’s happening that leads to this decision, only to make sense when some other things, yet-to-be-announced, happen.

The main problems with all these explanations is that they don’t highlight where their guesses don’t make sense. Yes, a relatively small percentage of sales go internationally, but the impact on retailers are not going to be even. They are not just going to eat their shoes. Nor are we in the 90s anymore, when region-based sales for e-commerce is hard to do. Export-focused retailers will have a lot to lose (CDJ is probably the biggest victim of this), and I don’t think you can hand-wave it away unless you are an Avex exec, willing to make concessions (not publicized of course). It also does not explain why CD Japan said that the ban applies only to a majority of titles, and not all titles. It’s not going to be explained by the production committee rationale, at least not by itself.

It’s safe to say that multiple reasons are behind the ban, partly due to business decisions, licensing agreements, and the general climate of the industry. It’s really weird, at least IMO, that there’s this anime Blu-ray lens hovering over this discussion since Avex’s ban doesn’t really impact that–it’s largely related to their music business first. And here’s another point where the committee/anime video licensing POV doesn’t make a ton of sense: It’s not like the committee on Yuri on Ice are made up of companies that never produced other works, works that have Blu-rays published in Japan and then exported. Yeah sure each committee and contract is different, but it just doesn’t ring true to me that there would be this difference just for Avex’s titles. Or rather, it would mean there are a couple companies in play which are having some issues elsewhere, causing this result.

Anyways, I am impacted by this as much as all of you, since being a WUGner means buying Avex products. I think it’s important to realize this is happening not because Japanese people are xenophobic, but because the Japanese music industry is ass-backwards when it comes to internationalization. (Xenophobia might be a related root cause, but solving that isn’t going to fix this kind of issues.) It’s got nothing to do with the handful of eroge makers who banned exports (and I’m really weirded out that people would make the connection with, say, Visual Arts, even though that shouldn’t be so weird).

Your guess is as good as mine as to why Avex decided to not allow retailers to export things. We can take shots as to reasons why but I can say with some certainty that it’s not just one reason why, given just how a lot of these reasons don’t make sense by themselves.

PS. I wonder if other folks impacted (and … hopefully people actually impacted, not just a handful of people who can’t import Takkyu Musume) have figured it out, and if they have more facts to share. So far all the anecdotes I’ve heard personally are from anime Blu-ray importers and WUGners, which is a teeny tiny bit of the iceberg.