Monthly Archives: December 2020

Year-in-Review: 2020

We’re almost at the end of a very wild year. Thankfully time stops for nobody, not even for a boss-level, once in a lifetime year that is 2020. It certainly didn’t stand still for me, else I would have published my 2018 and 2019 review posts!

For many people in the EN speaking world, everyday has been replaced by a new reality. Grappling with Anime blogging seems not only quaint but completely ineffective today as a way to communicate. That said, it’s never only, or mostly, about communication–I write because I want to put words to the things on my mind, how I feel, and really it’s just another way I talk to myself. Talking to yourself is normal, right? It sure seems normal in 2020. In our attention-based online economy today, maybe this isn’t a bad idea. It’s as if you are practicing the golden rule in the most non-platonic fashion, which is better than what I could say about a lot of things out there. In a way it’s like becoming a virtual streamer, where you journal about yourself publicly but also as a performance, just not that extreme.

The impact of coronavirus is clearly detailed in hindsight, even if we are still in the thick. Cons are cancelled. Concerts are cancelled. In-person entertainment all basically shut down. I can’t even go out to eat with friends or visit them at home (well), at least for a while. Online versions of these things became, over time, the substitute. Instead of flying to Japan, I can stay up and mess up my sleep schedule and watch these live streams. Also a lot more of them become easier to buy-in overseas, and can be time-shifted. It’s gotten to the point where I have more lives I want to buy than I actually watch. Is this what living in Japan and having access is like? There were online watashikai, online autograph sessions, and more online stuff on social media and just overall. It is WILD to Zoom seiyuu, let’s just say.

Having more online things for oversea fans is great but it doesn’t make up for the lack of in-person events. For starters, it isn’t just a substitute. I think after we get through the tumble of COVID, these online things are still nice to have. There’s more margin for the stay-at-home streaming solution than theater live viewing and such–we’re paying nearly the same to watch at home versus at a theater, right? Folks who went to watch in person can time-shift and double dip (as I would sometimes want). And then there’s explosion of virtual youtubers this year–HoloEN more like HolyEN.

From an anime-centric point of view, maybe it’s important to remember that as an industry, things didn’t change a lot. Some folks mitigated the impact by working from home. Projects were delayed. Some didn’t matter that much. As an example, I think the story behind Vladlove is worth looking into, which you can now watch the first episode on Youtube (RIP BlooDye).

Anyways, despite what one may say about the state of anime in 2020, there were a list of usual suspects, some better than others. The first vtuber anime series aired in 2020, appropriately. Numerous sequels and one-season tries dotted the slightly less busy landscape, marking the first calendar year in a while where there are fewer anime than the year before it, by a lot.

Personally watching anime isn’t a thing that got impacted from the pandemic. If I spent more time at home, there are the aforementioned large quantity of media from seiyuu and vtubers to consume, plus good ol’ regular TV, things on Youtube, plus old anime. There are still your general bags of free-to-play mobile games, and an occasional console or PC title (where do you play Genshin Impact?). I actually have a rotation going on for login bonuses and some light grind (D4DJ Groovy Mix is actually kind of fun?). If anything I watched less this year than prior, but I think I averaged out pretty close to even. If I crown one mobile game for 2020 it would be Princess Connect Re:Dive though. On that note…

Overall, my favorite shows in 2020 probably are all over the place. When you set the tone in 2020 with Eizouken or Dorohedoro, there aren’t much you can do to match, let alone overcome. On the comfort side, same can be said of things like Koisuru Asteroid or Oshibudo. There was even the new Sakura Taisen thing which, well, was a thing. Nami wo Kiitekure was comfort food (I literally made soup curry during quarantine and it was good).

I guess I’m just going through the seasons in order now? Maybe? These are just the top cuts from what I finished. Ascendance of a Bookworm season 2 was badly needed since that period of early summer was likely the hardest time for most folks. It made shows like Kakushigoto just that much more poignant. I also found myself leaning towards mainstream titles more this year, if you include things like the last of Shokugeki no Soma, Railgun T, and Major 2nd Second Season (I skipped first season…probably for the best), and stuff going on like Dai no Daibouken, Yashahime, Attack on Titan, and Jujutsu Kaisen.

Since I played Princess Connect JP, the anime was a big deal and quite fun, and more importantly it wasn’t too disappointing. Teibou was the surprise show for me that season despite being a tough starter. Sane procedurals like Kitsutsuki Tanteidokoro was good contrast to my usual palette of shows. I mean, I can’t expect Listener to wash away Tsugumomo S2…or Re:Zero season 2 for that matter.

I had some fun watching Tower of God and thought God of High School would be also fun, guess I was wrong. Rental Girlfriend provided enough, uh, juice for the Summer I guess. You sure need some juice to power through OreGuile S3, I guess. Or Maou Gakuin.

Beyond another Monster Girl anime (which is surprisingly OK) and Uzaki (which is surprisingly tame), there was Deca-Dence, which I’ve spoken about. I feel that has to be the biggest let down of sorts this year. Akudama Drive and the latest Jun Maeda anime (the cake didn’t rise again, as it were) aside, there were other interesting nuggets, like Golden Kamuy S3, but also surprising items like D4DJ and Assault Lily.

With the last 2 weeks of the year, I recently rewatched season one of Mariasama ga Miteru, which is soothing, and low-stakes, for something that could be called the Catholic school yuri bible-level masterpiece of an anime series. Hearing so much vintage Ueda Kana brings me back to a haughty and spirited performance as she played the underworld goddess in Babylonia. It’s the bridge in which 2020 felt started on the right foot. It was supposed to be FGO’s big year–and for the most part it has been, especially for EN. I was hyped about CG 7th Osaka. That bluray came and went, and I made clips of the concert for listening on the go.

The washout on concerts did a huge hit on IDOLM@STER and Love Live. Somehow D4DJ and Bandori are hanging in there, but the more conservative big company take meant that Shiny Colors really got screwed over with having to rely only on the game to launch Noctchill. We did finally get that no-audience concert stream, but it just isn’t the same. Million Live is on its 7th year, so maybe we can live just with Kanshasai (or, in another word, Chupa) and THANK YOU over Zoom? There isn’t even new cast lol.

D4DJ, on that note, did as well as you could have imagined. It did not really feel that it was hit by the pandemic much, but this was more of a case where we don’t know where they would have gone if they didn’t have a pandemic blocking packed raves from happening. The anime seems like a godsend for this series, which breaks some ground being streamed on Youtube. I mean, if late night anime is an advertisement for your media-mix franchise, may as well make it the most easily accessible thing, right?

As 2020 wore on, the impact on day to day life definitely diverged between countries that did well (many East Asian places) and countries that did badly (many western nations) on managing the pandemic, in terms of events. If there was ever a compelling reason for otaku to support science-based policy for their local governments, this was it. Fighting the pandemic and fully reopening the economy were never at odds with each other–only completing the former will make the latter possible.

This was the most clear to me when I watched Asakura Momo’s live tour this year–having won tickets to the coveted Fukuoka stop, then having it cancelled, then again having it reboot in Makuhari Messe Event Hall, with social distancing, then finally shown as an online stream. I’m glad at least I got to see it.

Well, at least I didn’t spend money doing pre-lottery and having that cancel on me like Shiny 2nd. Somehow that didn’t bother me as much?

To backtrack to an earlier train of thought: the move to online did enable some interesting new formats besides just youtubers youtubing–Cinderella Girls did a 24-hour stream which is probably the one and only of its kind. It was a festival of sorts, and there were a lot to take away from the festivities. I mean, it’s a lot of fun variety shows and weird in jokes, many of which didn’t really land to be honest. There are still interesting technology at play, such as that AR stuff that youtuber concerts use, but to some interesting effects. It’s the kind of thing you think about–did the pandemic make it happen? Yes. How about IM@S website reboot and the two assistant-producer youtubers?

The usual chika idol game fared poorly with COVID–many idol groups disbanded or members left in 2020. I think this just cannot be helped, since they are on the extreme end of how musicians make living through the live concert experience. That said, 2020 was when the world discovered things like, SoundOrion and Dialogue+, both projects really getting into the swing in 2019 and had to kept going in 2020, or else. Some of the other groups went pretty quiet this year. And then there’s Aå¿œP which is going to end… In a way, you’re kind of glad that some things ended before 2020, so they had proper farewells.

A similar story can be said of Lapis Re:Light, which hit its anime stride in mid year this year, but the live content is all on freeze, so instead we can watch it on Youtube. It’s not bad, but it just does not feel the same for something so new. You wonder what the producers and planners of that IP was thinking when they put together the full product.

It’s definitely a tale of many different stories when we look at the response to 2020 from various entities from Japan putting out this content. Let’s just say, thankfully, this also meant someone like myself can prop up an online event like Kurocon, and have it work out. I don’t know how much I can say about two events we did but it’s definitely something very educational. All of us are dealing with a new reality and trying to make it work, with varying success.

On that note, here’s a couple podcast episodes from Anisong Talk from Kurocon’s namesake, which sums up kind of how I feel in general regarding anime songs. Overall I think there have been pretty solid entries from both anisong groups and seiyuu artists in 2020. If I had to pick one to rep it would be Ueda Reina, and I hope to see her first live, which is postponed to early 2021…sometime? Maybe? Not looking that likely but gotta carry that hope.

And while people may talk bad smack to 2020, and I respect that, we need to also remember the good things that also happened this year. I think a lot of the good that happened in 2020 reflected our collective effort to make a bad year better. It is humanity’s lemonade after being given lemon. So as the clock tick towards new years, cheers! Bottoms up, with your cup of kool aid of peace and hope.

By the Grace of the Gods

This adaptation of the same-named isekai light novel is pretty low key and comfortably paced. The focus seems to be healing, or iyashikei, but more so for the protagonist than the audience. Is that still iyashikei? I do think it provides a gap that allows some more, uh, spicy interpretations. By the Grace of Gods, Kami-tachi ni Hirowareta Otoko, or Kamihiro for short, is kind of lukewarm but interesting, to me anyways.

The setting more or less follow the bricks outlined by various video game mechanisms. I get the most vibes from World of Warcraft, but it could be many others in the same genre. What’s also notable is that the 11 or 12yo protagonist periodically checks in with the Gods in the isekai, who watches over him a bit like an idealized set of parents (all three of them), who doesn’t pester their son who live far away all the time with phone calls–wait that might be just me. The gods live in their own realm, and don’t physically manifest in this isekai.

The joke goes, though, that the child has a middle-aged worked-to-death salaryman’s soul. Instead of learning how to code, the child just have a very stable sense of what a functional and sustainable business looks like. He ends up being a manager of a slime-dry-cleaners and a part-time adventurer, taking odd jobs farming mobs in an abandoned mine or cleaning the sewers using the same slimes.

If you liked how Tensura has world building, in the good old MonHon style, Kamihiro just boil it down to how slimes can do everything, given enough of them, and enough different varieties of them. Later on, these slimes (which are tamed, a bit like familiars) are trained to run the laundromat and automate the cleaning process, while player-character types would handle the transaction and upkeep of the shop.

There are a few big “moments” in this show that comes down to the main character making some big decisions. One of them is the decision to join up with some adults who happen to be neighborhood big shots, letting our protagonist settle in the town that they run. Another is the one when he end up opening up the slime laundry shop. Let’s take a look.

As someone who started out living on his own as a 10-year-old, physically, he didn’t know what was going on in this isekai besides the initial guidance he got from the gods. Rest of the way, he figured things out through trial and error (and as per isekai light novel troupe, guided by pop cultural knowledge from anime, game, and light novels). He was able to tame and control slimes, which, in this world, is low level stakes. Noblefolks train their kids on them. What is different is that Our protagonist takes slime taming seriously and was able to figure out a few rare varieties, including the cleaner slime that will become the thing that runs the dry cleaners.

Running into these grown men, and learning that they were nobles, were a big deal. As someone on the receiving end of power harassment in the other world, and as a proper Japanese adult, the protagonist knows what could go wrong if the powers that be were not benevolent. By associating him with this new society, he will be relying on the graces afforded by the locals extended to this outsider. As you know, Japan is this kind of a society, and this is how the show approaches the protagonist’s standing and association.

The other big decision, starting his small business, spent a lot of time doing the logistics as a small-brain kind of stakes, which is a fun thing since that’s the appeal of something like, say, Animal Crossings. It’s like doing the thing many of us want to do with most of the complicated hardship removed. And as it ought to be–viewers don’t really need to spend that much time doing paperwork with our prodigious slime-cleaner. Instead, we see that he thinks through how his employees will be treated, how they’ll live as live-in workers, including even their treatment and meals.

And that is well and good. In that sense, as someone who thought about this show as not only about a flock of party parrots, or someone who runs a small business, but as something regarding our protagonist’s earthbound history–basically dying to a “black company” working him to death–isn’t this more about labor rights? Yet, this series takes on the view in the polar opposite–we are here to do our bosses/lords bidding, and we live and die as a result of these decision makers and the systems they empower.

It explains why it’s called “By the Grade of the Gods” because that’s the way this kind of naive thinking works. It’s not about personal or labor rights, or rather, it is the fantasy in which you don’t need such rights. Rules and regulations are not really necessary when there are no cheaters and people who would exploit things for their own profits at the expense of others. You might still need laws as guiding stars for a society, but if people treat each other as they would treat themselves, maybe it’s a lot less complicated.

That said, clearly this “other world” is not even that world–we know that there are monsters that will steal, kill and pillage from civil society–such as the goblins that were exterminated in the mines. We know that there are bandits that our protagonist has slain during his solo adventures based on his own recollection. We know our protagonist is enterprising and thinks about the edge cases. He is curious. But maybe not so much on the social science side.

Given all this I’m hesitant to call By The Grace of God anything like “good” but it doesn’t seem “toxic” or even “bad.” It nurtures a fantasy that is way, way too specifically asian in my opinion, and the other execution problems I omitted in this post probably dooms this anime series any kind of intrinsic entertainment value worthy of recommendation. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting hypothesis, as with many of these isekai light novel stories. It just took this show a while to develop that core idea.

IDOLM@STER Pop Links Beta

THE IDOLM@STER POP LINKS, or Popmas, as they say, is a new game published under the IDOLM@STER brand and it is the first and only game that includes the 5 currently active brands of the …franchise. Or should I say they’re sub-franchises? Anyways, the open beta is going on and it will run for about 4 days, ending after the weekend is over.

For more about the nitty and gritty, you can read this blog article and it goes into some details. Just to repeat what it says, the open beta and a few online streams and videos are all we have, which are entirely subject to change between now and launch later in 2021.

The creator of Popmas is NHN PlayArt and they created the currently-active Disney Tsum Tsum game, which is available in English speaking countries. Give that a spin and you then have some idea what Popmas is. They have other games, mostly rebranded stuff for other IPs, but one kind-of original in #COMPASS, which is a 3v3 RTS kind of a game. On that note, also they have a lot of dead games.

I think the other noteworthy items to point out is that the lead producer on the game looks really young. Kitajima Nao (KitaP/Kitajii), as described during the title announcement stream, had the idea when she first joined the company and was later put in charge on said idea (seems to be not too much later either).

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Just How Much PriconneR Global Version will be Censored?

Short Answer: I have no idea, but likely. Oh yeah, there is finally news on Pricone EN version, which will launch on March 2021.

There is some rumbling about censorship regarding the way DanMemo was handled, which was published also by Crunchyroll Games. This is not at all relevant here, given CR is not the one running the Priconne ship. Still this is something to consider given Pricone EN version is a real global version.

I think the real question is, the EN/global version of the game is going to be available in just about every region except the ones that don’t do Google (ie., China). It might also be locked out of existing localized countries like Korea, Taiwan/HK/Macau, and Thailand–although I don’t see why they need to. Japan is also possibly locked out just because CR games don’t Japan, even if there is basically no reason to do so. (For what it’s worth, the Youtube videos from CR Games channel are geoblocked in Japan.)

The truth is, Princess Connect: Redive is a really tame game. It goes for the cute factor, which is ironically what torpedoes it on the Japanese internet for being a lolicon game when it really took off last year/earlier this year. It’s got a lot of cute little girls in this game, and while they don’t show a lot (with maybe exception of the actual demon that is Akari) there is definitely some sexually suggestive content involving minors. There is also some sexually suggestive content involving adults, for example Io, who, well, is explored in this youtube video covering the details of the EN Priconne announcement.

If this was a game targeted for North America only, I don’t think any of the content in the game is worth censoring. It’s pretty tame versus your average late-night anime.

But for countries like Australia? I really don’t know. Or any of the other more conservative regimes and cultures? Is Pricone ready for that? I guess we’ll find out. Most likely the game will just sit in the app store, and CR (and their partners) will target some key regions to advertise. For the most part these products run on words of mouth and are very siloed-in in terms of actual advertising. In other words, Pricone is not something that should see the light of day anyways, probably even in Japan.

My personal take is that Pricone is really tame, the racy stuff is not a big part of the game, even if it can be front and center if you look for it. For the most part, the game errs on the conservative side. Unfortunately(?) for Japan, that means presenting U18 characters in ways that other cultures may find uncomfortable. Between Ilya, Akari and Io I think things might have some changes. Which is to say, it’s for the most part cosmetic except maybe some of Akari’s lines?

Still, this is again not anywhere close to typical anime on Crunchyroll, so I don’t know what the deal is with any possible censoring. I’m thinking they won’t, just because it’s not something that is worth the upside given the downside. Maybe they’ll not make some things into wallpapers? That could be all that there is to it.