Monthly Archives: August 2020

Satoshi Kon, 1963-2010

On the 10th anniversary of Kon’s passing, we need his work today more than ever. For now, there’s a teaser of a documentary about Kon being floating around done by a French film company.

Kon is easily my favorite dead filmmaker. Not that it really helps–but as others said better than me repeatedly, that his ability to craft a movie that blurs the boundary of reality and fantasy is unmatched, especially if we frame it from the bounds of anime filmmakers.

From the perspective of where I live, in an increasingly polarized society due to socio-economic and political reasons, more people are being challenged to tell fiction from facts. Fantasy is ever more the salacious escape from the troublesome world. Clearly, dead man makes no movies. What would it take to get a Kon-type movie capturing the the vibe of 2020? I want some work that appreciates media literacy in this space, it’s something I have sorely missed in the past 10 years…

Like, when the dialogue in this fandom space is buzzing about anime works like Kon’s films, it elevates my quality of life. Literally those things gave people a reason to talk about these complex masterpieces instead of, I don’t know, whatever that’s happening in anime today. Even if Paprika seems to be the only thing people love to talk about on the surface (at least, Perfect Blue is the one everyone seems to remember). I’ll take that over like, I don’t know, the Promares and the Fate/Go_straight_to_Tsukihime_never of the day. Okay, yes, it doesn’t mean other works can’t mutually exist just fine with what I want. But this is the world we live in: no new Kon movie until the foreseeable future? Maybe Shinkai can be the next Miyazaki but what we need, and had always needed, is the next Kon.

Economics of Lapis Re:Lights and Deca-Dence

I need to preface this with a plug of sorts. I blame this blog post on this Youtube channel, which recently I’ve been listening/watching because it occupies a weird mind space where while it regurgitates modern econ textbook content, it’s repackaged in a soundbyte form that is mostly the right spin, as long as you understand where it comes from. It also breaks down some current event topics, which is always helpful.

So there it was, me, watching Lapis Re:Lights on the weekends. Nevermind that the main character’s (center?) head piece has a vaguely biological diagram in the middle. Never mind her, even. Or the rest of the cast except maybe the few foreigners. It’s “just the facts, ma’am” when it comes to the characters that provide us clues to the setting. In Lapis Re:Lights, people perform “orchestras” to collect mana to power its society. Mana seems to be just some elusive notion that is generated by a crowd or a region of a city.

You can refer to other works out there that think about an economy where magic is a part of it. If our economy today is running on 100% clean, renewable energy, what would the economy be like? What if we can turn this energy into goods and products in a way that scales to flexible demand? Can this energy be easily stored and made available, any time and anywhere? Actually we have some ideas to answer these basic questions.

For one, it is a work of labor to do magic. A person can only cast so many spells, based on some notion of skill (I guess, the characters are at a school to study magic). It takes a person some time to cast a spell, and to deal with the result. It also seems like scale is limited (it isn’t the same effort to magically create 1 widget versus a million widgets). A lot of the spells in the show actually do not go into things that directly generate value. Putting on lights in the sky or being able to do fancy acrobatic moves or obtaining inhuman strength are all fine and well, but it’s hard to see how anyone would exchange those things for currency. Students in the show still participate in employment much like our real world.

Mass production is also an unknown in the world of Lapis Re:Lights. The visual depiction of the world seems to be a mid-industrial-revolution European setting. We see elaborate architecture, furniture and designs. Maybe the cobblestones makinig up the roads and sidewalks clue us in, but that could be a magic thing. But someone out there has to be making magic lanterns and other similar things at bulk, right? We see a city, and it seems to be not that small. In that Lapis Re:Lights is a world with craftsmen (Merrybery is a cute!), it might also be a world with distinct social classes, as implicit both by the structure of the students organizations inside the school, and that there are royalties and rich people, versus common folks.

If we put aside things like colonization that fueled the European powers during the industrial age, then it begs the question of how the basics needs of that society is met. Is there a large number of farmers in that world? If not, where do people get food from? How does such a country generate goods and services to trade for necessities? It does seem that the country the anime takes place have commercial relationships with other nations, such as the far east knockoffs countries that sent the 3 students that makes up Konohana wa Otome and the Asian princess in Supernova.

Of course, there are still a lot of outstanding questions about the fundamentals of the nations in the world, let alone the one the anime takes place in. Is Waleland modeled after a mature European economy like Holland or Norway that we know today? Or like Monaco, where rich people go there to live and tourism makes a big part of the economy, but doesn’t really generate wealth? Or is it more like Liechtenstein, where you have a huge tax haven-style banking and corporate finance system but also a high end manufacturing sector that makes expensive, low-volume, high-tech goods like medical equipment and manufacturing machinery? I mean I would buy their magic tents.

Definitely, if Waleland doesn’t need to import materials to run its energy economy, it can do well exploring expensive magic-infused goods, assuming the global market is mature enough. High-end manufacturing only works when there is enough demand for it, that there is a wealthy group of buyers who would be able to afford it. It could be organizations or individuals, but it’s not clear where the world sits in terms of that. But the vibe you get from this show is Waleland this is a country with a positive trade balance, where a major luxury of its people and a national resource is the magical power that fuels its infrastructure and give reasons for orchestras to exist.

On the flip side of this, in this summer season 2020, is Deca-dence. We know the creator of this series has said that the name is a wordplay on “decadence” and while thematically that is true, the setting is wild in a “reverse Wall-E” kind of way. In it, and spoilers ahead (as of ep7), there are two worlds in the story, one is the “robot” world which is inhibited by digital intelligence–from what we can tell, it is also a physical world even if the anime depicts it like cyberspace. Said digital intelligences can “jack in” to control other avatars in the Deca-dence world, which is another reality, also in the physical world, where these cyborgs and actual humans coexist. In the Deca-dence world, however, when people are killed, they are killed–unless you are a cyborg, in which you only lose your body and you get kicked out of the game (it’s kind of like Permadeath I guess)?

The economics of Deca-dence (the game?) is interesting, because clearly inside the system there is a real economy. I think this is no different than any other video game economy in which NPC (humans?) and players set the price based on supply and demand. There is a proper “sink” in which are the conflicts with Gadolls cost various resources, in terms of equipment needed to fight them, the human casualties, and other damage Gadolls inflict. Looting the Gadolls drive the economy in terms of supplying fuel, food, and other material. I don’t know, for example, where people inside Deca-dence get materials to create robotic parts (protagonist’s cybernetic arm, for instance), or even raw metal used to make those needle pipe things. It seems that there are repair kits people use to fix their homes, and armor plating used to repair the outer wall of the giant mobile rocket-arm-and-home-base. If a humvee gets blown up during the fight against the Gadolls, how do people replace it inside Deca-dence. These are important questions that don’t have clear answers.

That said it’s clear that Deca-dence, as far as a proverbial fish tank goes, is not self-sufficient. It’s clearly not a closed system since Gadolls are created outside of it and put into the game. It’s likely some manufacturing is not done by the facilities inside Deca-dence, although it does manufacture some stuff. I might have missed it, but it never implied all raw material that is needed to create stuff inside Deca-dence came from harvesting Gadolls. Although, as the setting goes, Deca-dence is actually on Earth, so there could still be resources that is harvested from the environment in general.

I mentioned that NPC and PCs set prices in the game, but this is partly true. It does have some kind of developer-set pricing for high end gear, which is really only accessible by external players (who are also called Gears), as it would mean they can purchase upgrades for their Deca-dence characters using currency outside Deca-dence. There is some reason to believe this is actually the case. Which leads us to think about what is actually interesting.

That is, the world outside Deca-dence, to be honest, is way more interesting, even if it is a much more slippery idea. The creation story that the audience is told in episode 2 paints a cyborg new-world in which humanity became nearly extinct, but only after we have uploaded ourselves into cyborgs and live in some kind of hybrid VR world. Deca-dence is really a zoo for humans, but also a “reality” game in which is basically a VR game for the cyborg denizens. So in narrative practice, it is the reverse SAO in which people in the VR is playing a game of reality.

While we were told a lot about the setting, I think much more isn’t really told to us and it’s up to us to find out. In as much the story bothered to tell us that there is an energy cycle in which Gadolls are the core transfer medium in which the cyborgs fuel Deca-dence, the Gadolls have to come from somewhere and there definitely needs be some kind of energy to power that new society of cyborgs. If anything, energy is even more important–it’s not like we can just farm and provide a way to survive anymore.

The idea behind market economics and creating sinks is very relevant to game design, however, so this is possibly the most natural take to our view of this kind of criticism of governing-by-theory, which tangentially is a blow on macroeconomics as well. I think it is kind of a dull blow though, even if it makes an apt analogy of thinking about the lives of main street folks affected by the high rollers on wall street, to use another analogy that gets to the point more succinctly.

To end this long rambling let’s just recap why this is interesting–settings are interesting in any work of fantasy, ultimately, because fantasies are fantasies are a reason. Underpinning any sufficiently robust depiction of any world is its economics. And you would at least think throwing key terms into the explanation of a core plot element would at least mean something.

In Deca-dence’s case, I think ultimately a post-scarcity, demand-based economy is its own criticism. But short of lecturing people on macroeconomics I don’t know what would really work as a compelling and entertaining story. Maybe this is why I watch those videos on Youtube.

Blogging About Anime, August 2020

It’s been a while since I wrote about my seasonal watches. Having MLB back on TV seems to provide me a kind of anchor, rhythm-wise. It is arguable that pro team sports is a good or bad idea in the US, in mid-2020, when/where the pandemic is still raging strong. But that seems like just par for the course in 2020, a year that the lowest of bars in politics, health, and communication are all up for argument.

The lowest of bars in anime is also up for arguments. I have some baseline opinions about Uzaki and how generally cutesy anime with sexual overtones have some link to pedophilia or grooming. But that also seems like an overtly obtuse argument used by tribalists who are not really interested in talking about anime. It’s like, just because you can use candies to lure kids into unmarked vans, they are bad? So let’s forget about the main use cases for candies and just say they are for pedophiles? I guess that is the low bar of media literacy up for grabs, in this era of our 2020. I mean, the candy industry does way more money than the anime industry (and tons of Aniplex titles, well), so maybe we can let that pass. Unmarked vans, though, tsk tsk tsk.

That being said, it is a strawman that I encountered–I have yet talk to any live human who would hold the opinion about Uzaki in such a way (in connection to pedophilia). The original complaint back last year about Red Cross Japan using Uzaki to promote a blood donation drive comes down to TPO, so it turns out, which is really nothing controversial. National, high profile charities should not perpetrate sexist stereotypes is a no-brainer. Need more blood, I guess.

The anime itself is surprisingly watchable. Uzaki is an irritating character that gets increasingly charming, and the cast also gets increasingly self-aware. Nothing to write home about, other than having a so-to-speak controversial urn where piss takes go into the huge drain in the internet sky. Maybe Uzaki’s …uzai-ness is part of the ethos behind those poopy takes.

Some anime on hiatus from last season have resumed. I think the best out of those I am enjoying is Major 2nd second season and Food Wars. It’s kind of odd that my tastes lately have shifted onto these arguably mainstream works. Major 2nd is especially praiseworthy with interesting characters and articulate, if a bit too convenient, baseball knowhow. The level of baseball IQ demonstrated by the show is beyond any middle schooler team, even if it’s one of those things coaches and parents who are hardcore baseball types would know. If you have kids this is not a bad watch to teach them about baseball. The way it plays up gender in teenage sports leagues gives me a Disney channel vibe.

Another last-season pickup is the historical fiction racing anime Appare-Ranman. Talk about weird character dynamics. A literal child is in this anime, a literal chinese woman is in this anime. A bunch of Americans, literally, are in this anime. And Japanese people, of course. It is extremely Japanese in a lot of ways, especially for an anime that takes place in a fictional world where America is a thing, that being the country they are in. But I guess these are not really relevant since everyone speaks Japanese or English in this anime, or whichever dub track you select. Is it post-racial or racist-but-who-cares? I don’t know if I care at this point. The premise is so whack that any appeal to historical underpinnings will be lost in all the noise. As an aside, BNW, Iron, and GM? One is not like the other two. Also that guy is French! LMAO.

Along the same line, something is remarkable about Deca-Dence, but the overall thing felt really slippery. I don’t quite have a grasp on the story or the characters–like I get what’s happening, but the post-humanity humanity of it is hard to sympathize. Like, robots are just robots. It’s the risk when you set up a setting that is quite smart but the level of discourse is not much more advanced than Spongebob Squarepants. The setting is visually grand and a bit all over the place at first. It features a sort of cyberspace kind of thing and a sort of meatspace kind of thing, but I wish they would just explain it to us in the way I just phrased it, as inverted.

Picking things up again is the new season of Oregairu and it is the most beautiful image of codependence ever. But it is a pretty neat non-binary depiction of relationships in which things are clear enough that words can describe, but you’re struggling to find them. It’s not so much a story with any emotional investment on my end, given how these really wordy stories play out over a long period (the first season started in 2013, if you forgot like me). It is simply a thing of beauty that came and will pass, again, like the autumn leaves or melting snow or whichever passing-of-four-seasons analogy you’d like.

As far as fanservice goes, Monster Girl Doctor and Kanokari are probably the top picks. Kanokari story is easily the most problematic thing by a country mile this season, it’s so bad that I really didn’t want to watch it at times. On the plus side, it has a fair amount of cultural cache and ultimately the episodes tend to turn out to be enjoyable overall. Once the story gets on its groove I think it will fall victim to general relationship polygonalism and dull its lame-brain, protagonist-takes-for-story-sakes kind of plot justifications.

Maybe the real reason why Kanokari has legs is that it is controversial, as opposed to Monster Girl Doctor which is just WYSIWYG. It is definitely a work where the element of surprise is not its forte, yet it can still occasionally deliver.

In a different programming track, the fantasy light-novel-anime adaptation flavor this season for me is Maoh Gakuin or Misfit of Demon Academy or whatever. It’s absurd in a fun way and plays on your preconceptions. The power fantasy is on the boring side of things but it does a good job withholding information to keep you interested. I also like how the anime tries to cram a lot of information in terms of last minute reveals.

I’m watching Gibiate. It’s sort of interesting if you look at it as an anime watcher’s anime. In premise, time-traveling samurai, ninja, and warrior monk kicks apocalyptic ass seems like a perfectly cromulent 1980s anime plot. You add the bit about self-recording, the virus, the show-in-a-show take, the zombie tropes, and in the end it’s a swamp of animation production issues bookended with unusual music choices. Also some interesting voice cast here. Trainwreck? Brilliantly bad? More like, just oddish.

There’s this anime about idols and magic school, which is tied to a KLab game franchise in the making (out soon?) called Lapis Re:lights. They had a fully-costumed seiyuu live thing last year (or several?). The idol units in the story all play a short live performance for us throughout the anime series, which gets a Youtube cut without the in-episode dialogue. It’s worth checking out if that’s your thing. Honestly, this is a bit too “love live” for me, but overall it’s worth mentioning. In some ways it’s the same formula as Love Live but more tailored to the prototypical otaku notion. Also, this song has a few sextillions in it.

Is this it? I think this is mostly it. I tried a few episodes here and there, like the fishing anime. The characters don’t do much for me but there’s a level of meta here where just like the protagonist, you end up liking the outdoor activity (or the depiction thereof) despite the annoying people? I don’t know. It’s more than what I can say about Peter Grill, although that show is interesting to think about, and kind of icky to think about, so it doesn’t occupy much thinking time. Umamusume shorts are cute and sweet. What else? I’m probably forgetting something as usual.

Theater Days: Year Three

Theater Days launched June 28, 2017. I still remember having to deal with it on the flight to Anime Expo after it went live server-side and thinking about how much to kakkin in the early days. It would not be hard to guess that I will still be playing it 3 years later, at the time.

To reminisce a bit more, on June 28, 2019, I was in Japan, just finished with day one of ML6th Tour Fairy Station. Days later I would get to see the anniversary celebration in Akihabara, while I was en route to Anime Expo. Notable, mainly, because I had changed my flight to do it. This paints the backdrop for 2020, as the pandemic has wrecked a lot of it.

Going from the highs of having UNION@IR Special announced to this year’s general blank of (almost) 6 months since Kanshasai, we’re in the same place the rest of the world is in–a lot of uncertainty and adjustments. As a non-essential good/service, Million Live generally took a back seat to the real life crises the world face today, but at the same time it can be a salve to those hunkered down at home during this time.

I think this is a nice pivot opportunity for the franchise. One, it did the full month of live streaming leading up from the make-up nico nama (thanks Zoom) to the anniversary stream. That brought the fans together online and celebrated when the world didn’t give us much to celebrate. Personally I did the exact thing they did in the months leading up to June so it was a nice reliving the same thing, but once again with more experience.

With UNION@IR and the end of the MTGeneration phase of things, I thought it was good that the series didn’t take a break and swapped into the MTWave series. It chopped up the units to form new ones, although separating 765AS from the Million Stars. With Theater Challenge though, it was pretty sweet to see how Emily or the handful of 765AS might surprise guest in each other’s events.

Well, that was just wishful thinking. What really should have happened, as it were, was Million Live’s first outdoor live concert at FujiQ, complete with sunset UO songs, Glow Map, and fireworks when the stars came out. There we would have shed buckets of tears (assuming the weather held out) while they announce the TV anime project. Imagine all of that PLUS all the TC cameos? That would have been nuts.

Instead, none of that happened. At the most, we got to buy 3rd Anniversary goods from Gift, Amiami (btw one retail staff caught the rona recently), and Asobi. Yes, for about a week there were some stuff in Akiba Animate and Atre by the station, as things were. But it’s probably not a great idea to go there, in this kind of a situation. At least a month ago the coronavirus cases in Japan didn’t spike like it did recently as of this writing.

The Third Anniversary event came and went. Just a brief note on that–even though I wasn’t at Anime Expo as it was cancelled, I ended up being super busy running KuroCon. At least after it was over I had some time to grind up top 1000 for Matsuri, although what was hard is the forced nature of the rest-and-boost mechanism. I had a busy dayjob, so there were only so much of time outside of that 9-hour rest period in which I can play, and I had to also grind that boost once a day during the week after KuroCon. It was not the easiest thing, just because 9 hours is a tad too long. I certainly do not even (get to) sleep 8 hours a day, and before and after I sleep were my prime playing hours.

Bugs and repatriation aside, the Glow Map event went by uneventfully. Glow Map itself is sort of just OK, maybe not as cool as Flyers but also not as emotional as Union, so a happy middle. The outfit glowing was almost as impressive as how it was basically the menu background from the game. I mean, really? That is cool in a very dorky way–but not dork enough to be fashionable? Maybe? Not sure I dig the shoes but it was a focal point of the outfit.

The QOL changes from the game as of the 3rd Anniversary was mostly in the new outfits that you can now unlock via getting the 3rd Anniversary SR to four-stars. It now require you get points to awaken the cards, most of it coming from playing lives and unlocking missions that give points. Some of the biggest sources are Full Combos, and number of Million Lives.

Believe it or not that is a real game changer. Fundamentally, people like myself play Million Live Theater Days for content. And I think it’s not just me–a lot of people do this over trying to rank highly or get a high score. It’s not that kind of a rhythm game. Content, as I mean it, comes in the form of lives and commu–so songs, performances, stages, special characters, and outfits. Anniversary SRs give new outfits (and free gems–which gives outfits and characters and commu). So now there is a reason to get Million Lives and FC, beyond FCing each song once and forever. Because, let’s be honest, most achievements in Theater Days are next to worthless.

Also, the game now introduces the B-side type event, which revives MTG B-side tracks as new event songs, using existing MTG units. As of this writing the BORN ON DREAM event is going on, and so far it is both a good move to open up more content (Another outfits for the full team) but also a definite minus as it replaces rebooting a pre-Theater Days unit into Theater Days. In essence no new unit is introduced unlike every event up until now (save for the Anniversary ones I guess). We got a fun minigame, even if it doesn’t really keep your attention for long. Having a booster deck like the Twin Stage event seems gimmicky, since it took no effort for me to hit that 20% bonus. The bonus commu lines are bare-bones, but at least it’s good if you are a fan of the unit.

Since none of the MTG units really wowed me, I’m not too sure how to feel about this new event type, or having to deal with another 11 more units. It’s hard for me to not see this as a way to “ramp down” the content in the game so more stuff can be regurgitated. That in itself is not a huge problem, and I don’t have an issue with that per se–maybe after all the pre-Theater Days content is in game, I’ll be happier about this.

The more important thing has to do with a slew of other changes introduced in the 3rd Anniversary updates. One is the Birthday Live gacha. Not that you can pay 2500 paid gems for some next-to-worthless bragging rights, but you can gacha for all the SSRs for that idol up for the first 2 years. That is turning out to be a great bargain, even if it isn’t a guarantee, due to the high rate and the small pool. There are other small tweaks, like the booster deck in the b-side events, that rewards some players over another, and in ways that’s not exactly predictable. You can see why they did these things, both as balance and as a way to get new producers caught up, to lower the barrier a little. For a price.

Will it work? I don’t know. I’m not sure if I like these changes, but in the big scheme of things it is not a big deal. Just like how eventually all the LTH, LTP, LTA, and LTF events will have their week in the game, well before the heat death of the universe.

It just feels a little weird for folks who have invested $$$$$ into the game during earlier days, or into pre-Theater Days content. I mean, sure, do what you want… What I want, really, is more content: songs, dances, outfits, subunits, everything. And switching it up, not doing the same thing again. And blow it up. All the things that made Chupacabra great, and maybe not the things that makes Chupacabra divisive.

PS. Major feelios when 765AS live goods on sale included unit goods for Arcana and Xs. Man that would be flight worthy to see Rabbit Fur lmao.