Category Archives: K-ON

Year in Review 2016: N-listing

I’m putting this out first because the other post can stand by itself, introspection or not. Hey, it’s not March yet.

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Sports Anime Should Be about Art

This below post was kind of something that came to mind after I hit “publish” on the previous post, and it’s too big to just edit into my previous post. So.

I actually watched half of S2 marathon style

To summarize my last post, I am just complaining that sports manga/anime stories shouldn’t be taking sports just as a character development vehicle. It’s not to say don’t develop characters. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on intercharacter relationships, teamwork, or any of that good stuff. What I am saying is the way the actual sport is portrayed in sports anime/manga should be taken seriously and more thematically thorough. It should not just be a means to an end.

To go to the next step, maybe Chihayafuru is a good example because that is a pretty hollow example. By that I mean competitive karuta, as much as you dress it up to be, is still not much more than Egyptian Ratscrew. There are techniques, but it’s hardly a game nearly as complex as, say, motor sports in general. Or even most team sports. Is it more complicated and nuanced than curling? Anyway, that’s not the point, and I don’t want to belittle anything. But part of what makes Chihayafuru ticks is how it explains one of the most ethnically obscure sport of Japan to an audience who largely isn’t aware that it is a thing. There’s the whole exploratory angle. It really isn’t a story focused on an audience of pro karuta fans who follows the scene, but we share Chihaya’s point of view, starting a novice, as she explores the world of karuta.

What I enjoyed from Chihayafuru is that it plays pretty hard on the artistic nature of karuta. That the poems’ history as courtesan time-wasters is not lost on the audience. The art to “singing” the poems, for example, interplay with how fast someone can pick up the audio cues and thus get the right card first, is precisely the kind of thing that ties both the athletics and artistry sides of the sport and what it means to people who play it, in light of karuta. It’s not done in light of some intercharacter conflict or struggle, but as a nature of karuta. And in a way that karuta is such a simple game means there were only a few ways they can make these sorts of things stick out in the anime. I think that is a mixed blessing because the story can focus on the “go to koshien” aspect, which is, admittedly a necessity if the game here is foreign to most viewers. I’m also glad, visually, Chihayafuru is all about those artsy things.

And I think that’s the best way to approach sports anime: treat it as art. To use K-ON as an example, music is, by default, treated like art. It is about how it affect our lives. It’s not as much about how competition, pressure, a desire to be successful, self-worth, or whatever teenage angstbait or page-turning trick, but about what it means to learn to be a craftsman in your art. It’s partly what makes team sports so much fun to watch, because it’s not just a single guy doing the physical equivalent of hunting wild boars in a MMORPG until he dings level cap. Mio and Azunyan can practice until their fingers bleed through and their guitars stain crimson, but it’s not what music is about. Just like how abusive and difficult summer camps is what Koshien is about, but not so much what baseball is about. But singing a nursery rhyme when it’s raining outside and you’re doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday afternoon is exactly one way what real life music is like.

This is partly why I really like Oofuri. That is one story where you know whoever wrote it paid the gods of baseball the proper respect. It’s a plain koshien story, sure, and it still focuses on the battery like 90+% of baseball anime, sure, but the treatment of the sport is glorious. You can actually find what is artful about both baseball and Oofuri just by watching a bunch of people play the sport. Despite swimming in its very culturally-specific context of the Japanese high school sports club experience AND the whole Koushien culture context, Oofuri takes a big step beyond just all of that, and talks, well, baseball.

So, yeah, the other big reason why I like Oofuri is because it goes beyond the rigid genre walls of sports anime, the go to koushien schtik, and even the walls of high school baseball stories (and high school stories). Maybe another way out of these barriers for a non-Japanese to enjoy sports anime is through the appeal of these simpler, fundamental concepts like teamwork or raw human emotion and growth/character development. But if the focus is on that, I feel the work would lose its sports appeal.

Holiday Folly

This Cyber Monday… Find the true power of soft power.

This was a pricey purchase

Flood the market with sweat labor from the K-ON voice actors?

Music Games that Make Sense

While I was plugging away at iM@S Shiny Festa, I realized two things. First, some of the songs have arrangements that are on beat with calls and certain wota moves, and the button presses corresponds to that. I guess as someone who never really got very far in Ouendan, this is a revelation. I mean, this game can teach potential wotas not only the basics about rhythm and how each songs go, but also on which beat things ought to happen, should one chooses to cheer in that manner.

The other thing I realized, perhaps more important to media consumption, is that games like Shiny Festa actually goes with the franchise. It’s not only just another addition or a spoinoff, but it makes sense. Hanagumi Taisen Columns? Not so much. In Shiny Festa’s case , there’s all this “plot” material which may or may not simply add to the canon of the IP or makes these sort-of virtual, 2D idols more like idols and less like characters from some game or anime. But that’s kind of besides the point. I wonder if this is also the case for Project DIVA?

Then invariably I think about the K-ON PSP game. And how that is really, in a way, another way games can make sense in the big picture–it’s the game that makes the thing they tease you about come true. In that game you get to play and watch the band play their songs–the same songs you hear from their CDs and from the anime–except they’re actually playing it like real musicians. It’s all in-game graphics, not pre-rendered stuff, so you can even create your own set given the components provided you within the game. It doesn’t quite complement K-ON fandom in that way, rather, it’s like the fantasy that comes true.

Now, for iM@S, “fantasy that comes true” would partly be the various concerts and live performances, I think. In my case, it was more a gateway rather than a fulfillment, but nonetheless I probably ought to make time and watch more. Like that 7th Anniversary concert that came out last week.

Slicing Life and Narrative Force

I think it comes down to this. I would like to just lay out my overall thoughts on this topic rather than simply object to what seems like an useful term.

In a nutshell, slice of life is a metaphor, a tortured one, if you will. It describes the kind of pacing and descriptive narratives in which the plot revolves around the everyday life. It’s why I proposed replacing “life” with “everyday life.” It would make a much more accurate descriptor if we want to pin it on the narrative or plot as a point of distinction. It’s like splitting hairs versus splitting a watermelon.

The truth is, the everyday life can have as much narrative force as anything else. This is partly why we can make moving, lovingly crafted biographies. It’s pretty obvious that we watch and read stories where the chain of events follow the characters in the story in a day-to-day manner, and it might even follow traditional trajectories of plot where there are exciting build-up to climatic showdowns and revelations. This is one of the biggest grey area in calling slice of life as a genre or an element.

And then there is K-ON. K-ON is often used as a consensual example of slice of life, but that show is one of the best examples of what constitutes watching a chain of events unfold to drive home some story. Even if often the story is just cute and humorous antics that die to bring forth rich characters, week after week. And K-ON cashes in on that build-up very hard, with entire climatic moments that brings genuine tears in eyes! I don’t know, this is pretty rare even for kuuki-kei anime. I’d go as far as to argue that no “slice of life” anime has done that with the same scale.

There are other works that are labeled in the same way that has amazing stories, and that is why we flock to them. I think Hidamari Sketch and Aria are both prime examples of this, which I think occupies a very different spot even among kuuki-kei anime. To put it simply, there are kuuki-kei pieces that focuses on who, like K-ON, and kuuki-kei pieces that focuses on what and where, like Yokohama Shopping Log or Mushishi.

Compared to, say, a typical Jump manga story, it feels more like a focus on what happens next. I guess that’s where the narrative knife falls. But even then it’s not a clear cut; the more I think about it, the less clean and elegant the metaphoric rule about plot seems to be. Do I care if Takumi yawns in the morning and scratches his butt while talking to his father about racing teams? Where does the knife falls on the entirety of Sket Dance?

And there are other boundary conditions. Consider shows that are made up of short stories, such as Sengoku Collection or Seraphim Call, where each episode or episodic pair unveils some conclusive arc but reveals a little bit about the overall universe. How are these shows different than, say, Darker than Black or Cowboy Bebop, in terms of the nature of the narrative form?

That is the one question I wish people would try to answer, because I have no idea what that should be. I know some people who didn’t like Cowboy Bebop because it lacks that cliffhanger-chained, conveyor belt of a narrative, that there is not much to make of a start or an end, in terms of logical progression of events or in the way the story is told chronologically. But is this something we really want to define via a negative space descriptor? Isn’t it just being lazy? Or is it more about not having the right tools or vocabulary to describe these things? Can we just leave the tortured metaphor about cutting things up, alone?

Anyways, if people think the term has meaning, I’m not against people using it. But what does it mean, and to who? It certainly doesn’t mean much to me, having seen it being used to describe everything from Black Lagoon to Love-Hina, from Bunny Drop to Cosprayers (damn it’s gone from Wiki). Well, that doesn’t bother me much when this fandom still regularly calls Love-Hina as “shoujo.” I think what bothers me is more precisely how we use this fuzzy logic indicator [by the way: what is a chair?] and pretend it is some grand o’ thing. Slice of everyday life is no more or less grand than, well, Takumi scratching his butt. It’s the stories in Aria that are grand, for example, not its genre tags.

What is great is that in the ever-going and never-ending to apply our instinct to categorize the fandom we’re immersed in, we’re coming up with new constructs to describe and explain these new experiences and things. In anime’s case, it’s new also because for many of us, it’s our first and foremost taste of Japan [Insert LOL California roll LOL joke here]. Anime and manga are stories from a strange new world, beyond just as a figure of speech. But that’s just it. If I want to make things clear, I should avoid those terms like slice of life. You’d think my writing is confounding all on its own already, going by the way some people respond to it. Let’s not make up new words [LOL kuukikei] to make things more complicated, unless we have to. And if we don’t need to label Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts slice of life, we certainly don’t need to for Yotsuba& or Yokohama Shopping Log.

Lastly, let me just go back and give props to 2DT and his essay on Aria. The truth is when we rely only on fuzzy logic, we also invite fuzziness. Is that something we actually want? You are trading for usefulness and in return up new possibilities that might better describe the situation. That’s fine when we are treading familiar and established grounds, but is it in this case? I’d say no, resoundingly. The superior way is to just call it by what it is. And you do that only when you watch it closely.

Look within.