I’m not too interested in the actual thing that is Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, aside from some technical aspects–the music, the Japanese dub (which I don’t get in the US), and the overall reception. To me Cowboy Bebop is like the Civil War–it’s all done in the past. You still see the occasional Confederate flag, and kids learn about it in Youtube videos, but that’s pretty much it.
However what’s never done is the Spirit. And I’m all for the Spirit of Cowboy Bebop to descend onto the popular discourse yet again, and this time with the largest crowd it ever had. I still remember seeing Watanabe at BAAF talking about The Movie and how if it made a million bux in the North American Box Office they will make more. A million USD is about one and a half million USD 20 years later, adjusted for inflation, so that’s a tiny fraction of what Netflix spent, which is still not a lot versus other TV remakes today.
Originally I was going to write up a recap for 2019 (and finish my recap of 2018), but I just didn’t get around to it in late December due to work and other unexpected things taking up time and attention. This January, I’ll try to work on them.
The plan was also, instead of a list or list of lists, I was going to write in bigger strokes some of the trends and the big picture view of some stuff; thus.
For starters, we are right in the thick of the next wave of original content localization, with more free-to-play mobile games being ported to English than ever. FGO being a top-10 gross revenue game in 2019 is a big deal, one which doesn’t even seem odd as Japan has always been a powerhouse when it comes to video game/electronic entertainment. But for those of us who followed this franchise from the start, it is a surprise that no one could have really seen 20 years ago.
The meaning behind it is that unlike manga and light novels, we are doing an 180–these incredibly (comparatively) effort and cost-intensive properties can have their showdown across the Pacific because they also make a truck load of money. Not even One Piece or (and?) Naruto can make a billion US bucks in a year (and yet they are still gated heavily by their publishers…oh well). Let along random B-grade light novels. Or any print books for that matter.
On the other hand, it’s easy to translate books and manga–that’s why escalation is so rampant. And it’s relatively easy to localize anime and the non-online kind of game content. As an IM@S fan I know all too well the problem when Bandai Namco is your game’s publisher, judge and executioner all in one, and that multinational beast is going to face some challenges in this ever-evolving landscape where there’s a lot of money to be had only if they could agilely maneuver to fight for a piece of the biggest pie in all of electronic entertainment. So Money is only motivation–the rest is incredibly difficult work (in some cases).
How that trickles down to the nuances of why someone loves some anime character is harder to see, and that’s where we introspect with our 20/20 glasses on, looking into what has happened to gleam some insight to produce, hopefully, good foresight.
Eventing culture is both being normalized and regurgitated overseas. The best example I can give is the flower stand thing. Like, why do people do it at cons? Does TGS have flower stands? I guess for the event? It is kind of weird to do it for the guests of the event… But as per the usual case with weeaboo culture, this is basically the morpheus strip where the West take whatever pieces of the culture they want from the East and repurposes it for their own, usually out of context (or only in the context of Reddit, Youtubers, and random blogs). It is what it is on some level, and it’s mostly fine as long as it’s only kids blowing disposable income to stan some Asian celeb, and remain mostly fun and games.
And that’s just flower stands. I think there are other examples, but let’s keep it under control and make sure it doesn’t cost pain or suffering, or even minor irritation, folks.
Thanks to largely Bushiroad pushing their more niche, event-tie-in content into English, we also see more of it via their guests appearances and Chara Expo USA. It is still a different story regarding localizing concerts, but live viewings seems to be taking off.
If we think of anime and games (and as I write this sitting in a hotel at Arizona, attending TaiyouCon, pro baseball) as what connects the West and the East, the long terms growth of anime films (both the snobby kind and the TV anime excuse kind) necessitates the same distribution overseas. The growth of anime movies for struggling theaters out in North America is a bright sign. I just think how the Konosuba film did in 2019, and of course, Promare, covers that spectrum quite nicely. It is also still a shame that Americans won’t get to see Shinkai’s new film until 2020 but the rest of the world have already put Weathering With You to bed now. I think that’s just because it is a stupid business reason but it is still unfortunate.
Speaking of the Konosuba film, some anime con better bring Takahashi Rie to America in 2020. Isn’t it amazing that so many theaters in North America screened that little pre-movie intro interview?
From the con front, I think we are well in ripe territory for competent, for-profit entities to provide actually good anime con experiences to adult fans in the anime side of things. In my view, the biggest barrier so far is actually that profit-seeking motive trying to outthink execution with galaxy-brain approaches. It is much sensible to copy what already works and just focus on how to execute better. And I don’t mean just con runners, but also service providers for cons. I think we still have a long ways to go when many cons aren’t even done picking the lowest hanging fruits. As attendees become more sophisticated and well-off there will be more headroom for growth.
In this decade, I hope, there ought be more scalable way to make sure that basics like line management and registration are not messed up for any con. We were already there for the most part in the 2010s, and even more so as fan con management services provide more layers of services such as RFID badges and badge mailing. We really shouldn’t have ticketing server screw-ups, even for high-demand weeb concerts (and better ways to handle those as well other than just an online rush). There are just not too many events with that many attendees.
This is also on top of existing developments. For example the cruise cons, the resort hotel cons, and that fans are doing their own hanger-on events on top of cons. Wota Peace Party is one such thing, and I wish there are easier ways for enterprising fans to plug into a con and cons to help those fans leverage these experiences so they can run their own “panels” so to speak. There are no reasons to be strangers, you and I. It’s about time for the Room Party to grow up, and maybe that could happen in the next 10 years.
As for con programming, I also think it is high time we actually import Asian best practices. I want more engaging guest panels based on their entertainment skill strengths. If Aniplex is going to fly Yuki Aoi to NYC, it would be a damn crying shame to not have her perv in front of your attendees. That’s what all the fans know her for! I mean why else did you spend all that money? What for? There are other examples like this. I know it can be hard to actually think about the content of the panel from the perspective of putting up a show–most industry style panels are closer to marketing to exec decks than actual fun stuff, but there is no excuse to put on $10000s of HR into an offsite location and just have them read off a spreadsheet. It is a poor use of money, time and effort. I’m glad at least some folks get this, but please put some of that money into use to bring us enjoyable context that properly flex the guests charm points. You want to make fans, you want them to be engaged, so it’s time to go all the way. Don’t fly 1000s of miles to meet us and only stumble on your last step.
Also related to this but coming from the other side of the world, maybe the next 10 years is when Japan-hosted otaku experiences will actually take off. Or I hope. The Love Live concert tours (and the upcoming Numazu tour) is something that Japan has really tried to do with wide ranges of outcomes. More often than not it doesn’t work, but guided tours are an easy way to bridge the gap, given if the fandom is old enough and reach critical mass of eventers. The work I’ve been involved in the past 10 years with showing some Producers the ropes probably helped, but the only horn worth tooting is the greater Bushiroad-Brand fandom that brought in the folks through their work with both the mothership and their fellow fans. Eventers all across the English-speaking world also helped to cobble together enough information to funnel folks far and wide into Japan, paving the way for more to follow. I think it’s rewarding to see the little drops of participation all of you contributed bearing some long-term results. And this just goes back to why some folks are so hung up on flower stands LOL.
In Oresuki, the anime about meta-4th-walling romantic polygonal turned actual plot, the characters all have nicknames from different flowers. The flowery names take on literary significance both as summaries of the character concepts respectively, but also for fun and jokes. There is also a flower language layer in which is both in-universe and in interpreting the theme.
What I really want to talk about is Japan and its view of the Dandelion, or Tanpopo. This flower gets romanticized a lot in Japanese films and TV, as well as anime, games and manga. But as an American I just cannot bring myself to like it.
It is a bit like how a hardcore terran marine cannot quite bring him or herself to like zerglings. You dehumanize them. You fight them all of your life. You know they are worthless weeds, literally. You don’t even really think about it other than annual chores that took up countless hours since your childhood, eliminating it from the places that you call home. Or if you own one, also the time (and money) spent dealing with the plant pest. Sure, it’s neat that the plant propagates by airlifting its seeds. Sure, it is a hardy species in which can survive in all kinds of temperature zones. You can even eat its flowers, or make it into tea or whatever (I don’t recommend this in North America, just because of residential and commercial herbicide in use).
Which is to say I was delighted to see a character named Tanpopo in this anime, being literally the stupidest thing alive, being sidelined by the main characters. Unlike most depiction of tanpopo in JP media, this one is a lampoon of such. It isn’t her fault and her intentions may be acceptable, but Tanpopo is a nuisance.
I was reading the ANN Forums on the latest #kickvic topic and it is pretty easy to spot out the one or two posters who takes that Shield Hero narrative. I quote here:
Here is my issue with this whole thing. These rumors have existed for years and there is supposed evidence and testimonies and even his voice colleagues yet he was still getting jobs and invited to cons.Â
if there is evidence, charges should be pressed and taken to the police and not to the internet mob.Â
and as for the voice colleagues, their words are as good as dirt. The guy is a supposed sexual predator. Yet you still worked with him or never came forward publicly before so either A. They were worried about their careers making them complicit, B. They didn’t care or C. They are lying.Â
But like, I think this is the fantasy that almost never happens. Occam’s Razor for one, but also just statistics is stacked against that one White Male Privilege Celebrity.
The Shield Hero story here is precisely that some well-intended man unintentionally crosses line to be accused for some male-privilege violation when in reality it wasn’t even that bad, and is probably forgivable. But this is neither here or there in Vic’s case–there is a clearly established pattern of abuse already. Granted, the facts on the situation is not always clear, and we definitely only know partial information, but the information present is largely condemning (some are questionably condemning), so thus here we are.
But I think given the play on our sense of justice, the internet mob is often and too often the first destination. This is what breeds that “SJW” mentality but also the other “hands that clap back” such as GG and whatever anti or alt groups out there. I think the real perversion of justice however is the wasted energy talking about this, and not realizing there are actual victims and there are actual things people can do to improve the situation, all sorts different things many people can do in very different capacities.
Only if people are mature enough to distinguish fantasy from reality.
[By the way I’m going to Japan later this month, also some family/friends obligation in other countries as well. See you WUG-side. And yes I will try to finish my Year-in-Review post…]
[Rather than finishing my year in review, here goes a diversion.]
I too watched the first/preview episode of The Rising of the Shield Hero adaptation. It was a bit compelling but probably slightly more uncomfortable than compelling. The problem I have with it is its narrative voice. It reads(?) like someone is writing a light novel that target incels as the audience. That in itself is not terrible but seeing a show pandering to someone, no matter who, is not a great sign. It is not about the false accusation of rape, but the construction of the characters and motives surrounding it, that marks it poorly for the online lynch mob. (BTW linking Jeko because my post is basically a rebuttal of his and reading that motivated me to write this one.)
This post came to my mind primarily because, well, you can have a dramatic story about a hero who was falsely accused of rape, and not be misogynistic. He is right in that the innocent accused alone doesn’t make it per se misogynistic. So what makes Shield Hero so misogynistic thus far? Shield Hero is misogynistic because it reduces the women in the story to less than human specifically to further its emotional narrative. This is exactly what incels do as a fundamental concept to their cause. Of course, this is just based on one episode and I should overall disclaim that I don’t know what the story is like after this point besides from reading the Wiki entry. Given the quality of the story and the way the events are presented, though, I don’t expect it to be anything good. I certainly could be wrong (well, am I really wrong on SAO)?
So far in the series, things are not so offensive because, well, even the main character is hardly beyond a pile of tropes and I think even Nasu Kinoko wrote more compelling characters in the 90s than this. It is below par for the course for this genre. When you are eyeballing a pile of trash, that pile of trash is a bunch of trash, so even the bad ideas fail to be that terrible. I enjoyed Shield Hero e1’s general production quality (I guess it was technically the preview, so not the actual first episode). The baseline concept is not the worst among all the isekai light novel adaptations I’ve watched in the past couple years. I do like how the different heroes came from different versions of Japan. I even like (based on Wikipedia) how the main character grows to trust his female slaves over time, despite his trust issues with people, and despite that they had to actually utilize slavery as a key story element and not just some side dressing.
The unfortunate thing is, you can tell a story about a guy who suffers through all these common psychological issues without framing it using modern misogyny. Albeit almost as bad, but last year’s How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord similarly tacked this issue in a subplot without too much ick. (Although I was swimming in quite a bit of ick as is at the time.) I guess it is cool and hip and meme-worthy with some folks to tell a story Shield Hero tells. I am not particularly arsed by this because, ultimately, this is a work of fiction (and fantasy at that) and mature viewers (definitely not appropriate to show this kind of thing to children without parental guidance) should be able to realize what it is.
I think the story could be a lot better right off the bat by basing the main character not as a freeloader nerd laughing at bitches in his light novel. That is totally not the right way to start this story. If we want to go heavy with a fake rape accusal, Shield Hero will have to open with some heavier story elements, rather than just giving us the dumb lines he has been saying and the defensive (and borderline hypocritical) attitudes alone. I mean, maybe this indicates the author’s attitude about this particular plot element. It also doesn’t help, even before encountering the rape accusations, the main guy came across like a giant tool to begin with, and his cheerful “hey I’m in an Isekai Light Novel wink-wink-wink” attitude was the only thing that makes me want to root for him. This is also why that whole rape not-trial scene seemed really trite and a giant pander to incel thinking–as literally here’s a guy don’t own up to their tool-ness and blame others for their own failures, even if it may be a natural reaction and he might have a case for it. It’s a simple lesson in narrative storytelling–you are not suppose to be presenting facts of an internet argument to win your viewers’ sympathy. In terms of trustworthiness, our hero has very little one episode in because he has not done anything to earn any, so his plight also will ring hollow in the hearts of the viewers. Worse, it makes you think who would? Someone who was falsely accused of rape too? LOL.
Hopefully all those things I mentioned are just setup for future character development. It should be clear that despite the misogynist elements in this particular light novel turned anime, the core of the story is very, uh, staple, to use a nicer word. There is too much poor execution, so much unoriginality, enough to blunt of any strong message it wants to actually send at this point. I think it’s a lot easier, if you want to talk about misogyny regarding Shield Hero, to run a Bechdel test after the season is over. Truth is anyone who still want to discuss after sticking around probably already have their minds made up.
PS. How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord is a fun, but really bad mary sue sort of a story. It makes SAO S1 look good (aside from the fact that SAO S1 does…look quite good, but that’s not what I mean). And now we have something even more problematic. Dare I predict in another 2 years we will have even worse garbage (and I will probably still watch it….). Or, I can’t believe Death March is the best generic Isekai anime in the past year. Well it does have Suki no Skill…