Category Archives: Simoun

How to Enjoy Chuunibyou Media

Mary sue is a loaded term, which is why when appropriate, chuunibyou seems like a much better alternative when describing TV anime; “chuunibyou” is sufficiently new and foreign enough that most people aren’t quite sure what it is yet. To the point, both terms address fundamental complaints in terms of realism and suspension of disbelief.

Of course, when we deal with anime, certain things are going to be taken as is. Realism in this context has to do with the way the audience engages the material. For instance, most of us attack late-night TV anime as character and drama pieces. We care about character development, and often times you see people try to approach even gag 4koma adaptations from that angle, resulting in a mismatch and the resulting 3rd party chagrin. When I watch Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood I watch for what’s happening to who and what plot is being unraveled and realized, and how are the good guys going about to do their thing as far as the hook goes. I don’t really care about the type of ammunition being used in the frozen environs versus the desert, or the type of socks the military issue to soldiers in those environments–but somehow I am suppose to care about the automail people wear, because it’s kind of an plot device. I guess I’m not suppose to sweat the small stuff.

With that in mind, let’s look at choir drama Tari Tari. In a recent episode, a petty thief was subdued by the power of costume play and hot-powered vocals. The marathon bike chase scene where the costumers chased, on foot, the biking thief that leads into the vocal performance probably did not help either the pursuers and the criminal. Still, we are suppose to believe that the guy on the bicycle is some how even more tired than the high school 3rd years in their tokusatsu outfits. When the second bar of the song kicked in, we are to believe the thief was mesmerized by Wien’s brave visage in front of the setting sun, in some way. Perhaps we can swallow that Sawa’s mother somehow had these outfits, that happens to fit these one-size-fits-all Japanese bodies (along with their one-size-fits-all character designs, maybe), along with the opportunity to make some money on the side. This is drama, we can chalk all that stuff up to coincidence, right? Just like how there’s a thief who’s pocketing something in public, during a public event, right? What’s Japan’s crime rate again?

I suppose it is much better to care about petty things like that, than where would Sawa ride Saburo around–there are not a lot of places around there to fit a fine animal like Saburo without running into people. It’s like the scenic shots across Enoshima, with the Choir And Sometimes Badminton Club running up and down the seaside mostly by themselves. It’s strange because it’s probably full of people if you ever visit Enoshima in real life. To Tari Tari’s credit, thankfully we don’t typically ask these kinds of questions, because we are preoccupied with Konatsu’s plight and the characterization of the group. That’s how we engage with Tari Tari.

But why would I ask these questions? Because I was thinking about it. This is the strange tension between going all Chitanda on something, versus checking your brain at the door and just enjoying something without asking too much questions. The former is great if you can get the audience engaged but you probably don’t want them to ask too many questions and poke through the thin veneer–a beautiful production may be reduced to its component gear-works. This is basically what has happened to SAO for me. This is why being too chuunibyou in the story is problematic. It makes the audience ask the wrong kind of questions.

A better example of this is actually Guilty Crown. In that case, the chuunibyou factor was not extreme, but it was enough, that when combined with its convoluted web of messy plot devices, conspiracies, and strange character dynamics, people have no choice but to engage with straight questions that GC’s flimsy web can’t handle. And once we see the underlying mechanics, we can’t help but to point out where it could’ve been better, because we all have seen it done better somewhere else.

On the flip side, you can see how a story like Hyouka can be very engaging without letting people know its ultimately chuunibyou underbelly. After all, it’s just a boy-meets-girl story where the boy feels like he holds all the cards, and the girl is at least kind enough to let him know about how she wants to approach the situation without outright manipulating him. The end result was a less-predictable life for the boy, a knock and a notch down from that specific, middle-school disease. [If you read my blog and you didn’t know Houtarou starts out in Hyouka with a Type A case of chuu2byou, well, now you know.] It’s very Japanese too in how the men have all the face, because the women are great people who save them.

As an aside, this is partly why I have a hard time watching shows like FMA and mainstream shounen stuff, because precisely I think too much, and those shows ultimately reveal their underbellies if you batter it enough for long enough (most things do). From experience, outside of One Piece, it’s probably never pleasant. I think there are shows that also target this specifically, to their benefit: Simoun comes to mind as a great example. I also think of certain meta shows like Seitokai no Ichizon as a way to both celebrate that problem and bring to catharsis that sort of frustration.

Lastly, I don’t have to explain about shows where that do require checking your brain at the door, right?

PS. I think I just used chuunibyou two different ways in my post, I hope you didn’t get confused.

Anime, Writers: The I Can’t Remember Version

You can skip to the bold letters if you want the TL;DR version.

If I remember correctly:

So there was this con and I was there. There was a panel at the con, and I was in the panel room, as I sat on the right side of the room, towards the front. That panel featured two or three guests from Japan who worked on some anime that was being promoted at the time, and it was a fairly big show. One of them was the writer for the show. And this all took place some years back, maybe before 2009, I honestly can’t recall.

If you have ever been to one of those things, things being guest of honor panels, you would expect most of the panel to be Q&A, as was this one. People queued up at the mics towards the front, and I can’t remember if it had 2 mics or 1; it may have had 2. The one panel moderator took questions from both sides like a round-robin load-balancer, in that case.

I wish I had a name for this writer-guest, it would have made writing it up so much easier. The grey matter isn’t cooperating, and I can narrow it down some, but the internet lists don’t have the right name. I can’t remember much else, besides that there was some tricky detail to that show in the writing and someone did ask how that person came up with the idea.

As for a different name, what I am trying to say has to do with how some people criticize about Mari Okada. I’m fine with free-market exchange of thoughts and critical thinking about Okada and Lupin the Third. I just want to shed some light in terms of how it could possibly went down so we attribute praise and blame accordingly, or at least, in a less-wrong fashion when we could. Let’s first recognize unless we are privy to how it exactly went down every time, we can’t really say, and we are not really in position to know for sure unless we have the facts. So the next best thing fan could do is either:

  1. shut up, or
  2. find out how the typical industry practices are and extrapolate and guess.

I like #1 a lot but I guess we have no choice here, right?

At that fuzzily-remembered panel, the writer-panelist explained his role in the overall project. He was the “head” writer. He had to work with the core creative folks–director, guys who storyboard, whatever, I can’t remember if it was a novel adaptation or what–and come up with the overall plan. And then he worked with some writers who banged out the detail scripts for each episode, by assigning portions of the story to them. He also wrote some of the scripts himself. I think for that particular project he wrote almost the entire thing himself, but he mentioned that he has written for other shows where he was one of the hired hands who just did specific episodes as according to specification. I also believe he had some supervisory tasks after the episode scripts were done, just to go over and make changes for continuity and other reasons.

“Series composition” is often the title credited for this role. There are also other lead writing type titles (series concept, scenario, etc) but you get the idea.

I have another name: Tatsuo Sato. This guy is probably best known for being the director (and the guy responsible) of the Nadesico TV show and movie. I recall hearing about Nadesico’s writers from Sato himself (at a con, of course), who basically said they had a lot of talented writers who just wrote great things that he took wholesale and left them as is. I think the episode previews betrayed it as much. In this capacity I think Sato acts (like most of the time for directors) as the guy who coordinates the scripts. He applied them as he saw fit. Compared to his ongoing Mouretsu Pirates, the approach is somewhat more conservative as you see Sato penning more episodes himself.

Basically my point here is that what the writer’s input in any given anime project varies greatly, and going by one name or one title isn’t going to be very helpful. When Hideyuki Kurata showed up in vintage form in Kannagi episode 7, you know he’s the guy writing it. But could you tell he was the “series composition” credit for Kaminomi or Dragon Crisis? Actually his ardent fans probably can, but not most of us. You can kind of tell it in OreImo but that’s a stretch (I still believe Kurata is the X-factor that turned a trash anime to a chart-topper). Most of the time he is just playing it safe, adopting the source material, but sometimes Kurata shines, because he is given the latitude to do so. Besame mucho, for example.

If we want to look at Okada, and why you like or dislike her, it seems a lot more sensible to deeply nitpick the original works she wrote over the adaptations, like (1) Fractale (which I imagine she just took cues from Hiroki Azuma and Yutaka Yamamoto) or (2) Hanasaku Iroha (which seems almost like her brainchild) or even (3) AnoHana (which seems more Tatsuyuki Nagai than anything), except that is still a questionable gauge as I parenthetically expressed. When it comes to Okada’s Fujiko, I’m thinking case #3 applies–it’s way more Sayo Yamamoto than anyone else; perhaps even more than Monkey Punch. In contrast, I think Okada hammed it up in her adaptation of Hourou Musuko, who is credited to write and lead the script effort, if you want a real point of criticism. I enjoyed the show, but I imagine that tickled the manga fans.

Kind of a deja vu here.

With more BRS, AKB0048 and Aquarion EVOL  under our collective belts, care we re-evaluate our initial assumptions? I thought BRS was pretty much spot-on in terms of the writing being a work of interpreting the lyrics by Okada, except people kept confusing it with the original OAV and ignore the obvious connection to BRS’s song lyrics. And it was something if you don’t “get” you won’t enjoy (in that sense very much like Book of Bantorra and Simoun, both shows Okada worked on). I don’t really know what to think about AKB0048, as not enough content is yet available to decide on the writing. Aquarion EVOL is awfully like Hanasaku Iroha’s pretentious tension, with her signature ups and downs, if you take a look at it from a structural perspective (and she’s “series composition” on both, naturally). In fact I’d guess that the two feel as different as they are on the screenplay level because Okada wrote all of Hanasaku Iroha, and only a third of EVOL.

[Times like this I’m actually very happy that the average anime script give voice actors sufficient room to play their roles in drastically different manners, even if in terms of the chemistry, the same writer tend to deploy the same tricks across different works. Or else Andy W. Hole would turn into a balut.]

If I want to nitpick on Okada’s writing, I would totally attack the way she creates dramatic tension in the script. Just saying. And at any lower level/higher resolution of detail in terms of nitpicking I will have to go bust out episodic credit lists, and I don’t really have any motivation to do so (ie., I think Simoun episodes 15-16 are freaking awesome). If you want to venture out on your own, that’ll be an educational experience I’m sure. For example you can look at how Book of Bantorra is divided up, and report back what the end result of collating the first four episodes did.

Maybe people should start criticizing someone easier to identify by his flourishes, like Yousuke Kuroda. You know, just for practice.

PS. I recall some writeup at ANN that explained screen writing for anime in detail and in a more exacting manner rather than my usual meandering style. Anyone got a link to it? I don’t remember/cannot find it anymore.

All Good Girls Have Twin-Tails Inside

I’m sympathetic to 2DT’s take. I always thought Azusa was someone who had to be liken to in some way to a previous experience. The stereotypical saccharine-filled neko-mimi sweets-lover is not why she won Saimoe last year, nor is it why Azusa is probably my favorite K-ON girl (tho I think Yui is still the best, whatever that means).

To put it in the right context, 2DT saw the light because he realized that Azusa is actually based on some real-life notion of ideals. In the comments he explicitly stated this connection (emphasis and added link mine).

I wasn’t so much a fan of her myself… until I realized that all the students I have who are like her, I love! [] Such a sweet, good child. I understand her classic moe pull.

I’m not going to talk much about that classic moe thing (by the way, classic moe is better a term than old moe, because there’s, well, actual old moe involving old people). It is different than the somewhat more mature, hime-cut Yamato Nadeshiko moe (Really? You’d think a Yamato Nadeshiko is naturally attractive?) that is better characterized by Mio, so even “classic” is not exactly a great moniker. Furthermore, moe is so dead, I would rather not talk about it if I could avoid it.

What I will share, however, is my previously-mentioned (well, it was over a year ago) note on how I like K-ON because I see that band dynamics play out in my own experience. In short, Mio reminds me of this guy I know. He is adorable, musically talented and everyone likes him, just like Mio is among her friends. Both of them had a fan club. Well, YMMV, as it is with anything personal.

People are multi-motivational and complex things. It takes time to get to know them, and it is is tough to do fiction where part of the charm comes from mapping characters to actual people in a typical yet lifelike way. The good-girl appeal, however, is always going to be a draw to people who like them. I think it channels some sense of righteousness that many of us have within us, a sense of right and wrong, or good and evil. And going by that measure, that applies to most. I just want to separate out the two different kinds of good girls.

So the story goes, to begin with a scene from Conan the Barbarian (lol thanks JP):

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?

Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.

Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?

Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

Thanks to a certain parody subber, I have long since fallen with Simoun–more importantly, Mamiina. Simoun has a large cast that comes together for some pretty delicious drama. One of these is exactly the very heart-warming, turn-around good girl that newfags may find familiar in the character Kyouko Sakura from Madoka Magica, if Simoun is unfamiliar to you. Just like Kyouko, Mamiina is not a model citizen. In fact there’s nothing to her that makes me want to stick a pair of cat ears on her head. It’s the difference between a stray cat and a house cat, I guess. But it’s just that Mamiina screams loudly, through her actions, that she is indeed the very sweet, good girl you find in Studio Ghibli’s adventures, even if she is at times antagonistic.

The same idea plays out along the lines of all these Azusa-type moe characters. This is where 2DT’s observation comes into play, but only to a point. Because while we have our Kikis and Sheetas, there’s the Sans and, arguably, Nausicaas in the Ghibli lineup. I’m going to say that there are two sides to the Good Girl archetype, and the difference between the two is a philosophical divide in which only some of us can reconcile.

Back to Mamiina. She is a good girl because she jumps this gap between antagonism and protagonism in order to demonstrates her inner qualities, and she does the Right Thing at the Right Time. It leaves an emotional crater, a desired dramatic impact, especially when framed in the context of her intercharacter relationships. But at the same time, I can imagine a Mamiina-type character would be the nemesis or rival to an Azusa-type character (it probably is the plot to some battle show, wouldn’t surprise me). Without the external stimulus that put these characters through the crucible of tragedy or suffering, maybe the difference between the two types of good girl archetype lies within the answers between the random Mongol and Conan. Conan was just some normal barbarian at first, after all.

Another hypothetical may demonstrate better. Remember the YuiAzu episode? Let’s say if we replace Azusa with the antagonist version of Azusa, what would instead happen is that rather being a type A Good Girl, the antagonist Azusa would not volunteer to help Yui with the performance, yet later on do so anyways for some plot-specific reason. It seems like a typical gap moe tsundere type thing, but that is not directly relevant to a demonstration of character. You can be good or bad and still possess this duality.

I suppose that’s all part of the specification of being good; there is a strictness within Azusa’s tenderness, or the flip side of the coin, a tenderness in Mamiina/San’s intensity. It turns some of them evil, some of them slaved to passionate antagonists, some to reason and some to strange plot devices about clones. I’m not sure how much I can stretch this, but all I’m trying to say is that are Good Girls among us, and there are many. And like girls generally, they have a plurality of face!

Team Simoun Needs Your Help!

Until 10~11pm Japan time, you can still vote for Rimone in the 2007 Saimoe contest. Tomorrow The-Very -Good-Girl Mamiina will be up in the running, so please support her as well! If you like Simoun and is curious about Saimoe, you can read about what Saimoe is here, as well how to vote in the world-wide contest about Japanese anime 2-D chara popularity.

Or if you’re really lazy, just:

1. click here at least 1 hour (ideally 2) before 8:58AM US Eastern time, keep the new window open.
2. Wait two hours (or right after 8:58am if you are getting this in really last-minute), then refresh that window you kept open. Keep it opened.
3. click here and then click on the top most thread that has a number less than 1001.
4. Scroll down to the bottom with the text box, input the code [[balhblabhab]] from step #2 (including the [[]]) into the text box.
5. If you are voting today (up to Monday, Sept. 10 US Eastern time), next line in the text box put in <<リモネ@シムーン>> — the text string starting with << and ends with >>. If you are voting tomorrow for Mamiina, put in << マミーナ@シムーン>> instead.
6. Click the button next to the text box. Should be the only one on the page.
7. Click again on the button on the next page (scroll down a bit maybe).
8. ???
9. Profit!

That is, if nothing went wrong. A lot of European ISPs seem to work fine. No proxies will likely to work with this. It sucks for me, but hey, it’s worth a shot for VERY GOODNESS.

An Entertaining Uninstall Redux

Flowers for Ishikawa

Chiaki Ishikawa at AX explains a lot about Uninstall. And how Simoun’s production was full of girls.

Yea, some guy booted the audio from her show. To save you the trouble of having people yell into your ears by listening to that hour-long thing, here are some tidbits:

1. As an anisong singer (she explained what that was) she really got into it through Kajiura’s collab in Gundam Seed. Their partnership had a deep impact on her, it seems. She has been doing solo only a year or two.

2. Speaking of anisong singing, she wrote Uninstall in a way that people (in Japan) will recognize that it is an anisong. So, naturally, Ishikawa sang “a ni song, a ni song.” HAHAHAHA. You go girl. Only a song’s writer can mock the song’s fan the best? Oh, oops, I’m suppose to keep this secret! (Isn’t this on the internet already? But I bet not a recording of her singing just that…)

3. Which songs? Annaniisshodattanoni, Kimigaitamonogatari, Yasashiiyoake (she soloed), Uninstall, Utsukushiikerebasoredeii, Kimiwabokuniniteiru, and Obsession. Ugh @ Obsession. I hate this song. Well, I think she sang it better here than on the CD at the least…

4. She doesn’t do many lives at all. (Ugh)

5. I can use a picture of her costume? LOL.

Speaking of Uninstall, though, there’s also Ishikawa’s blog and it talks about that a bit (under 7/3). Among other things. For someone who saw the first Gundam series when she was little (I guess this is heading 6?), she’s a champ for toughing it out on this AX trip…and wow, that’d also make her someone who was inspired (well, maybe subconsciously) by it and ended up working on the franchise, even if probably unintentionally. It’s all up there.